I’ve always claimed myself to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie having been on all the white-knuckle rollercoasters in the country, but no rollercoaster will ever compare to that draw against Peterborough United, and more specifically that decision by John Busby, writes Charlie Beeston.
Imps fans will remember it well, maybe not the game itself, they may not even be able to clearly recollect the incident in question, but they’ll remember that feeling they had afterwards; I know I certainly do. The game wasn’t just any league match. The aim for both sides was simple, if they get a point, they clinch automatic promotion, but if we win, we still had a chance, an outside chance, but a chance nonetheless, but before the game we had all effectively accepted our fate was playoffs, hadn’t we? Yet by half time that had all changed. Suddenly we believed. We were in third place only five points behind with two games left in the ‘as its stands’ table. We were championship chasing.
As happens every Saturday at 2pm, my Dad and I were both looking at the team news, speculating why certain players were benched and trying to predict how we’d line up. It seemed the formation was staying as the typical 4-3-3 we’d seen most of the season, but the team was certainly not at full strength. Brennan Johnson, a player now looking at being sold for £20 million+ to a Premier League side next season, was not in the squad due to an injury sustained against Shrewsbury the game before. McGrandles was also not in the starting XI, with Tayo Edun also on the bench. Walsh, who along with Jackson are currently the punchbags of our defence this season, was also out injured which was a big shame due to his form at the time. Regardless, Grant, Rodgers, Scully all started and it looked a team that could get us a win, and they came out fighting for it.
The first hour of the game we looked like nobody could beat us. Anthony Scully opened the scoring with an unmarked run into the box to head home from Harry Anderson’s pinpoint cross. Morgan Rogers then won us a penalty and Grant, very unsurprisingly, slotted it into the bottom left corner. Then the second half began and watching the game with my uncle, he was making comparisons between us and Barcelona’s Tikki Takka tactics. I wouldn’t have gone quite that far but it wasn’t that outrageous. Scully made it 3-0 early in the second half with a wonder strike from outside the area that finished off a perfect attacking move. We felt on top of the world. Then it began. Similarly to Walsh, Bridcutt has also been slated by our fans this season due to his age and injury proneness, but he was the driving force for us that game. He came off for McGrandles in the 64th minute and in the 65th they scored through Siriki Dembele and we began to look a little flat. I am in no way blaming Connor for what was to come but that change clearly affected us. Looking back now, it seems an unfamiliar story from this season. Go a goal or two up, look flat and inevitably concede, but that was a rarity for last season. Game management was a strong part of our game. Looking back at results, we only dropped points from winning positions in six games last season, whereas so far this season, that number is already up at eight. One of those six however, was this game.
Only ten minutes after they got on the scoresheet for the first time, they had got two back. This time it was the league’s top scorer from last season: Jonson Clarke-Harris. A deflected free kick, that managed to evade Alex Palmer, got Peterborough back within a goal of clinching automatic promotion. So, we held on, we fought valiantly and it looked set to be a victory. Until….
The 95th minute rolled around, the last minute of added time. We had 10 men behind the ball, and they kept pushing. If they’d have got the goal from open play and a well worked attack, I’d probably be writing a whole different article about a different game right now. It would have been a frustrating but fair draw. Instead, Szmodics picked up the ball in the area and made a slightly heavy touch. Instead of going into a challenge to try and win the ball, he turned his back to Scully, leaned forward and slipped straight over. Or at least that’s how the rest of us saw it. John Busby, not so much. He blew the whistle almost immediately and gave a penalty which was subsequently tucked away by none other than Clarke-Harris. I was shocked. Bewildered. How could he have made such a blatantly wrong decision and get away with it. There was no excuse. I even remember two or three days later he came out and apologised for his mistake but that was too late. The chance had gone. My Uncle, who was round watching the game with us, said ‘thank you for inviting me’ at the final whistle and just left without saying another word. What could be said. The shock soon turned to anger but what could be done then? The decision had been made and that was it. We were destined for playoffs and Peterborough celebrated their promotion.
The most frustrating part about that whole day was the rollercoaster and also how it will forever be remembered by Imps fans. It should have been a day of celebration. We confirmed our spot in the playoffs. A position we never saw ourselves being in at the start of the season. We overachieved massively. Yet that game will be remembered for the horrendous decision, the bottling of a three-goal lead and the feeling we all felt after the game. Nevertheless, last season was something to be proud of, and although this season is not quite living up to the same standards, it’s given the club a solid foundation to build on both on and off the pitch.