Four seasons in a row Posh have exited after a 90 minute dalliance. Barnet, QPR, Oxford United and now Cheltenham Town have all kicked them into touch at the first opportunity.
But, in this season of all seasons, disappointment should be tempered by relief. A good run in the Carabao Cup this term could have meant four successive Tuesday nights with no crowds, no atmosphere and no prospect of making any cash, unless you were lucky enough to draw Salford, Leeds United or whichever club Sky Sports are currently obsessing over.
Competition sponsors and the marketing department of the EFL were probably pleased to hear Darren Ferguson show alarm and disappointment at defeat at the hands of League Two opposition, but even an arch competitor like the Posh boss will see rich consolation in the opportunity to get players fitter (big money summer signing Jonson Clarke-Harris didn’t step onto the pitch apart from to deliver a few sprints after the game) and to remind the others that a fast passing tempo and aggressive attacking propelled his team into promotion favouritism towards the end of last season.
Of course Ivan Toney’s departure leaves a huge hole, but his absence couldn’t entirely explain the lethargy on show from the home side. Only when Sirki Dembele was travelling at pace with the ball did Posh threaten, and he did it often enough to ensure visiting goalkeeper Josh Griffiths was the clear man-of-the-match on his Football League debut on his 19th birthday.
Griffiths made one early blunder by kicking the ball straight to Ryan Broom, but he raced off his line to thwart the former Cheltenham man in the ninth minute. After that he was terrific, tipping a first-half shot from Jack Taylor over the crosbar, fingertipping a precise Mo Eisa strike around the post and then delivering the match highlight by keeping Dembele’s 20-yard free-kick out of the top corner. When Griffiths then palmed Demebele’s 82nd minute strike to safety Posh appeared to accept defeat was inevitable and the visitors cruised home.
Cheltenham had taken the lead in the 59th minute through Liam Secombe’s 20-yard half volley after a cross had been cleared straight to him. Within 60 seconds Eisa had struck the crossbar from an acute angle, but Posh couldn’t sustain pressure against a well organised side playing exactly the same formation, one that made wingbacks on both sides ineffective when going forward.
Cheltenham had their moments, most notably when Posh defender Frankie Kent inexplicably played Alfie May through and when Andy Williams raced clear, but Christy Pym came to the rescue with his foot on both occasions. Williams also grazed a post after fooling Nathan Thompson inside the Posh area.