Peterborough United (3)
McQuoid 7′, Brisley 38′, Assombalonga pen 78′
The 2013/14 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final had really crept up. It had been more than a month since the nail-biting second leg at home to Fleetwood that had seen us book our place in the bottom two divisions’ showpiece fixture, but to be quite honest I hadn’t really noticed the time passing by at something of an accelerated speed. Perhaps it was to do with the heavy university workload I had been enduring, or perhaps it was because the fact that I was off to watch Town at Wembley for the second time in two years had served to nullify a great deal of the anticipation. Whatever the reason, I hadn’t been calendar-watching in the weeks building up to this one.
I very nearly didn’t end up making it to the game at all, as it happened. In what I can only (somewhat generously) describe as a genuine triumph of the human spirit I was able to cover the distance between my house and the train station on foot, leaping onto the train a mere two minutes before it departed. Sweaty and breathless, I sat down in first class for a pleasant journey down to the capital. Upon arrival in London it really didn’t take too long at all for me to realise that I had effortlessly accomplished whatever the polar opposite of “dressing for the weather” is, wearing two coats over my Chesterfield shirt (with a sweater and a hat in my bag) despite the fact that the temperatures in the capital were touching on 20 degrees. Oops.
After wandering down to South Bank in the sunshine to kill some time, I finally decided to head out to Wembley, although my crippling lack of understanding with regards to how the underground works cost me dearly. I actually missed the kick off (double oops) and ended up taking my seat with some 4/5 minutes on the clock. And that was when a day that had, up until that point, been going oh so very well (my good fortune with the train, the weather, finding £10 on the ground outside the stadium) all began to go so horribly, horribly wrong. Grant McCann whipped in the corner from the right onto the head of Shaun Brisley. His effort was limply palmed away by the normally reliable Tommy Lee for Josh McQuoid to poke the ball into the net and send the hoardes of Posh fans into fits of jubilant ecstasy. Not the ideal start, but there were still more than eighty minutes left to play.
The early setback really seemed to fire up the Spireites, who threw wave after wave of attacking pressure at their League One opponents. To the supreme disdain of the assembled Town supporters, though, we were unable to convert any of these chances into that all-important equaliser. Shots were hit softly and straight at Bobby Olejnik. Sam Morsy sliced the best opportunity of the half agonisingly over the crossbar with the Peterborough net at his mercy. It was an attempt that encapsulated the Spireites’ performance in front of goal for the whole afternoon. As we attacked and attacked, I began to get that uneasy feeling that sooner or later we were going to get sucker punched, and on 38 minutes my worries were realised. Another corner, another goal. This time it was from the left, but once again it landed on Brisley’s head. Lee didn’t even get close as the powerful header flew past him to all but seal the victory.
As half time arrived, I was quick to take to Twitter and voice my frustrations at the performance of Eoin Doyle, so it was perhaps little surprise that eight minutes after the restart the Irishman restored a glimmer of hope. Morsy made up for his earlier gaffe by driving purposefully through the heart of the Posh defence before squaring the ball across the penalty area. Doyle made no mistake from all of six yards, slotting the ball home to bring the travelling Spireites faithful to their feet. There was a small child who kept hitting me in the face with his scarf during the celebrations, but I didn’t even care, such was the utter elation that this goal had brought about.
Hopes of a comeback were buoyed even further soon after. Morsy was once again the man at the centre of attention, as a clumsy late tackle brought down Joe Newell. That should have been that, but the Posh midfielder kicked out petulantly. Andy D’Urso wasted no time in producing the red card, ensuring that Newell’s afternoon was brought to an early end and truly firing up the men in blue. I dared to dream. We had just under 25 minutes left to play against ten men, and we had been in the attacking ascendancy for some time. The game was well and truly in our hands. And yet, five minutes later, it all evaporated into nothing. Rash challenges at the back have haunted us all season; we can’t seem to go ten minutes nowadays without conceding a penalty and sadly the fact that this game was being played out on the national stage did not make it an exception.
Mark Little’s jinking run into the far side of the box was swiftly ended as Liam Cooper slid right through him. Even from my seat at the opposite end of the stadium I could tell that Mr D’Urso had called it right. Peterborough’s goal machine Britt Assombalonga stepped up and made no mistake from the spot, sending Tommy Lee the wrong way and capping off a professional – if somewhat uninspiring – performance from the Posh. It was the 28th goal of what has been nothing short of a banner campaign for the Congolese forward, who is doubtlessly going to have the eyes of bigger clubs on him come the end of the season. For the Town fans, it simply capped a miserable afternoon. The mercy of the final whistle came some 15 minutes after that and we filed out of the stadium.
Had I not seen us win the competition on an equally sunny day back in 2012 then this defeat would probably have hurt a lot, but as it was I was frustrated more than anything else. It was a long journey back to Manchester with nothing to show for it, but hey – at least I got to have a nice day out in London. Onwards and upwards, with all fingers crossed that we manage to keep above the playoffs and avoid another trip back to Wembley come the end of May.