Following a remarkably even first half, three strikes after the break from Sammie Szmodics, Jonson Clarke-Harris and Jack Taylor respectively, moved the Posh to the top of League One as Plymouth Argyle fell to defeat.
Ryan Lowe fielded an unchanged side from Argyle’s goalless draw with Rochdale on Saturday, with top scorer Luke Jephcott lining up alongside January signing Niall Ennis at the front of a 5-3-2 formation. Conor Grant and Byron Moore began either side of the three centre-backs in an attacking wing-back role.
Peterborough United also went unchanged from their weekend tie, as manager Darren Ferguson was content with their 3-0 win over AFC Wimbledon. The Posh set up in a 4-4-1-1 shape, with Saturday’s star man Szmodics starting behind Clarke-Harris.
Story of the match
Second-placed Peterborough started much the brighter side and they enjoyed a great deal of possession in the opening exchanges. Fast passing ensured the build-up play was neat and incisive as Argyle’s resilient defence was forced into retreat. Errors began to crop up as the defence was put under immense pressure from a breathless high press.
The visitors saw the first chances of the match go begging as the clock ticked across the quarter-hour mark. Szmodics was presented with an excellent opportunity to test youthful ‘keeper Michael Cooper after he latched onto a wayward pass, but the 25-year-old’s blistering shot flew straight into the glovesman’s grateful grasp.
Szmodics was called into action just minutes later when he found space on the edge of the box. Setting himself up on his right foot, the Englishman opted to curl the ball towards the bottom-right corner but was caught by a late sliding tackle as his shot bounced wide.
Argyle woke up and dug in as the onslaught continued. Ironing out the wrongdoings of the early stages, they finished the half well as Szmodics, who had identified himself as a threat, was afforded very little breathing room.
The Pilgrims even had an attacking spell of their own as the half came to a close. Lowe’s men worked a rapid attack on the right flank with Moore looking to float a cross into the centre. When the cross did eventually arrive, it was cleared only as far as Panutche Camara, who brought the ball under control and drilled an effort towards Christy Pym. The 25-year-old reacted well to the strike and palmed the ball to safety.
Peterborough kicked off the second half in style as they put themselves in the lead within a minute of the restart. Joe Ward got in behind on the right wing and fired a teasing, low cross across the edge of the six-yard box. The elusive delivery squeezed between Cooper and his defenders for the ever-present Szmodics to turn home at the far post.
The Posh doubled their lead 15 minutes later through Clarke-Harris. Unmarked, the 26-year-old steered the ball home with ease after Ward had found him with a sumptuous, curling pass from out wide on the right for his 12th assist of the campaign.
A flurry of substitutions late on instilled a new lease of life to a plateauing Argyle strike force, but they failed to yield a goal as a relatively un-tested United defence kept their discipline and saw the visitors through a rare positive spell for Plymouth.
The match was sealed with five minutes left to play. Midfielder Taylor received a neat ball from Siriki Dembele in stride and struck the ball first-time from 25 yards with the outside of his right boot. It looked in from the moment it left the 22-year-old’s foot, and the ball sailed into the top-right corner despite Cooper’s best efforts.
Takeaway from the match
United are on their way up
Peterborough felt hard done by when last season was decided on a points-per-game basis, and it seems for good reason. Although not at their best tonight, they reigned supreme in a war of attrition on the road, which is nothing to be sniffed at. Chances were few and far between, but a clinical strike partnership made sure United got across the line.
Man of the match
Joe Ward – Peterborough United
Ward did very little wrong tonight as his exploits down the right flank won the match for his team. Two delightful crosses did all the hard work for Szmodics and Clarke-Harris as United’s glistening second-half claimed all three points.