Peterborough United rise to the big occasion once again

Johnstone's Paint Trophy winners Peterborough United celebrate Britt Assombalonga late penalty. Picture: Ian Burt Johnstone's Paint Trophy winners Peterborough United celebrate Britt Assombalonga late penalty. Picture: Ian Burt

Monday, March 31, 2014
12:07 PM

Peterborough United proved yet again that they can continue to excel on the grandest of stages.

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Rather than wilt under the pressure and expectancy of a third visit to Wembley, Posh appeared to revel in one of the biggest days in the club’s 80-year history. Yes, they rode their luck at times against an excellent Chesterfield side, but they never lacked belief. A strong trust in each other that they could get the job done.

While the stats and opinion will side with the lower-level Spireites’ excellence, Darren Ferguson’s heroes made sure they carved their name into the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy record books with their first win in the Football League’s biggest cup competition. And at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

Especially to those near 20,000 fans who turned London a Cambridgeshire-based shade of blue to cheer on their beloved players – that were playing in white on the day. They haven’t had much to celebrate during an inconsistent League One season following relegation from the giddy heights of the Championship. But yesterday they could proudly puff out their chests and declare that they support Peterborough, the 2014 winners of the Football League Trophy.

Many would have made the journeys to London’s capital during the memorable play-off finals in 1992 and 2000 more in hope than expectancy. The same could be said during 2011’s end-of-season shoot-out at Old Trafford. But this time, they travelled with the knowledge their side are big-game specialists. And that they contained the know-how and experience to make their fourth big day out in 20-or-so years another winning one.

Even when they were on the ropes, and everyone knew they were, in the middle of the first half, Posh rode the storm. They dug deep. They kept the faith. And so did their noisy supporters who roared themselves hoarse. For they realised that the London Road club only know how to succeed when they get the rare chance to do so.

As they chased their first major trophy, United displayed the sort of conviction that only champions display. The realisation that they had to take their opportunities when they came their way. And that, in essence, is what made the difference.

When Shaun Brisley’s header was spilled embarrassingly by keeper Tommy Lee on seven minutes there was loanee Josh McQuoid to poke home. Of course it was his first goal for Posh. On the biggest day of his spell in Cambs, he produced the goods, with arguably his best display away from parent club Bournemouth.

From that moment, Paul Cook’s classy charges showed why they will probably join Peterborough – if they’re not promoted – next season. The Derbyshire outfit zipped the ball around delightfully in a manner that is not often seen by a side outside of the country’s top tier, let alone League Two. But for all their good build-up play, they couldn’t produce a finishing touch. And it came back to haunt them.

The otherwise impressive Sam Morsy missed an absolute sitter and Ian Evatt headed straight at Bobby Olejnik when he should have netted. Posh were let off the hook and they made their opponents pay on 38 minutes. In swung Danny Swanson’s free-kick and Brisley rose highest to thunder in his side’s second, and first of the term. He simply wanted the header more than anyone else. He almost knew he was destined to win it.

Even when Eoin Doyle got the goal his efforts deserved, following Morsy’s immense run and cut-back, early in the second period, Posh stayed calm. A few nerves may have started to fray when the energetic Joe Newell stupidly got himself sent off for kicking out at the man who created the Spireites’ lifeline. However, while some sides would have crumbled, United grew in stature. Like it was their time to see the game out. As if it was another moment to succeed when others fail. And despite playing with 10 men, few could have argued that Posh’s one-goal advantage was in danger.

Mark Little chose his moment to finally break forward from right-back and saw his marauding advance ended by Liam Cooper. It presented 27-goal record signing Britt Assombalonga, who had a fairly quiet afternoon, with the chance to overcome the JPT final misery he endured while on loan with Southend United last term. Lesser men may have fluffed their lines. But of course the red-hot hitman didn’t as he waited for Lee to move and almost apologetically rolled the ball straight down the centre of the goal to start a party that will have continued all the way back to the Fens.

While Ferguson and his players can be criticised for their struggles of sorts this campaign – let us remember they’re sixth, not 16th – they weren’t found wanting when there was silverware at stake. When happy memories were on offer rather than miserables ones. Chesterfield more than played their part in a decent final but nobody will remember that when they look at the list of FL Trophy winners.

They will see the name Peterborough United etched into the annals of time.

And if Posh do finish in the play-offs, which they should, few would bet against them to succeed in another showcase game in the capital. Because history suggests they never fail to rise to the occasion.

- To read a match report from yesterday’s game, and to see a picture gallery, click here.

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