Milton Keynes Dons 3 Peterborough United 2: Predictable chaos

His own squeaky bum time was over. Manchester United are champions of England for the 19th time. And he was never going to get any squeaks out of the luxurious cushioned seats of the Stadium: MK anyway.

Time to watch his son squirm nervously as Peterborough United aimed to set up a cushion in their League One play-off semi-final first leg at Milton Keynes Dons. The Fergusons were in town.

The knight has rarely presided over a defence like that on which his son’s hopes of a return to the Championship rest. At Ewood Park, he had Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at his disposal. There were, admittedly, echoes of his goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak’s display at Blackburn in the performance of Peterborough’s substitute goalkeeper Paul Jones. However, the Posh bring to mind not Ferguson senior’s Manchester United but one of their famous adversaries – Kevin Keegan’s swashbuckling Newcastle United side.

Forward they go, relentlessly. Generally, you can spot a flat back four hovering somewhere outside their penalty box. The rest is up for grabs. Grant McCann tends to patrol the area in front of the back four and you can rely on Craig Mackail-Smith to buzz around the opposition defenders like a child with ADHD. Then you have four more players, including what often look like free roles for both George Boyd and Lee Tomlin. And Sir Alex Ferguson’s son overseeing it all from the sidelines like a mad professor.

It would be easy for outside observers to overplay Peterborough’s wildcard value. Just because they scored 106 goals in their 46 league games this season doesn’t mean there isn’t a system. But it is still safe to say Peterborough have provided more entertainment in the current campaign than any of the other 71 clubs in the Football League. In fact, even in the lottery of the play-offs, it was always a safe bet that they would provide the most entertainment in this series of fixtures too.

They were helped by the pair of stalemates offered up by the Championship on Thursday and Friday, while there were a couple of goals at Dean Court and two more at Plainmoor yesterday. And, inevitably, five at Milton Keynes. And two red cards. And one of the strangest penalty decisions of the season.

Peterborough began strongly and were ahead when Craig Mackail-Smith stabbed home the rebound from close range following David Martin’s parry. The visitors continued to pile forward in their own inimitable fashion, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing joining Boyd and Tomlin in roaming across the field with menace. The home side finished the half on top, but Peterborough’s defence looked unusually solid despite injuries to Gabriel Zakuani, who was substituted, and Joe Lewis, who wasn’t. Not until half time, anyway…

With substitute keeper Jones joining the action at the interval, Peterborough set about unravelling all their good work with fifteen minutes of madness. Tommy Rowe’s misdirected defensive header led to an MK Dons equaliser, scored by Daniel Powell. Then the Peterborough wall leapt above a low free kick from Sam Baldock and the home side were ahead just five minutes into the second half. When Angelo Balanta skipped past some half-hearted challenges inside the area before beating Jones at his near post to make it three, the tie looked to be slipping away from Ferguson’s side.

Peterborough’s Charlie Lee then accumulated two yellow cards in quick succession, the first of which was extremely harsh and the second of which was extremely stupid, to further weight things in the favour of Milton Keynes Dons. Posh are never to be written off though, even when the odds are stacked against them. Ferguson’s men will kick off at London Road with just the one goal to claw back to claim parity after a bizarre penalty award gave Grant McCann the chance to score Peterborough’s second goal of the first leg. Stephen Gleeson may have made a small amount of contact with Posh right-back Mark Little’s leg, but any foul certainly took place outside the box. The subsequent straight red card for Gleeson was equally baffling.

It is becoming a cliche among anyone with an interest in the lower leagues, but the one thing you can bet on when Peterborough United take to the field is that the results from the City Ground and Madejski Stadium earlier this week will not be repeated – Posh don’t do goalless draws. Thursday’s return tie will be fascinating. Recommended viewing.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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