Sheffield United earned a fine point at high-flying Peterborough last night in what will probably be Chris Morgan’s last match in charge before the appointment of a new manager.
London Road has been a graveyard for opposing teams this season with Crawley Town the only side to previously deny Peterborough maximum points.
However, a tenacious and well-disciplined display saw United deservedly add their name to the list.
The appointment of Morgan, who is expected to make way for Nigel Clough ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Crewe Alexandra, has heralded a marked improvement in the visitors’ performances and the 35-year-old will hand over a club in much better shape than when he first arrived.
Morgan has conducted himself impeccably since stepping into the breach following David Weir’s departure nearly a fortnight ago. So, as he prepares to relinquish control, it was fitting to see United go about their business with a confidence and purpose which belied their lowly position in the rankings.
Only the width of the crossbar prevented Lyle Taylor, who has rediscovered both confidence and form under Morgan’s tutelage, from blazing them in front while Febian Brandy and Conor Coady also went close.
Peterborough improved after the interval but the tactical acumen United demonstrated to deny Darren Ferguson’s charges what would have been a seventh consecutive League One victory highlighted that Weir’s permanent successor will inherit a squad bristling with possibilities rather than, as some mischievously claimed after its wretched start to the season, a lost cause.
Indeed, had Bobby Olejnik not thwarted substitute Jamie Murphy during the closing stages, then United could well have prevented the hosts from drawing level on points with leaders Leyton Orient.
Morgan, speaking on the eve of this match, made no secret of the fact he expected it to mark the end of his brief reign as caretaker.
Having identified stifling Peterborough’s attack as the key to success, he marked the occasion by making two changes to the starting eleven which had overcome Port Vale three days earlier with Simon Lappin and Coady both earning recalls.
It was a ploy which worked well during the opening exchanges as, despite enjoying plenty of possession, Gabriel Zakuani’s speculative effort represented Peterborough’s only chance of note until Danny Swanson 10th minute shot rebounded off George Long’s legs.
Coady, whose loan deal from Liverpool is set to be reviewed in January, remains a work in progress.
But the skills which have prompted staff at the club’s Melwood academy to predict he is destined for a bright future were in evidence when, moments before Long was forced to intervene, he escaped his marker with a deft feint and charged forward into space.
Olejnik, Peterborough’s Austrian born goalkeeper, was relieved to see Coady snatch wildly at his shot. But the former under-21 international was dancing nervously on his line soon after when Brandy edged ominously towards the by-line.
The United winger’s shot, like Michael Doyle’s attempt minutes earlier, was smothered before it could trouble Olejnik.
But Brandy’s intervention marked a sea change in the pattern of the contest as Morgan’s charges began to seize control.
Tony McMahon was only inches away from collecting Stephen McGinn’s slide-rule pass while Ryan Flynn, cautioned midway through the opening period by referee Roger East, peppered Olejnik’s area with a series of tempting crosses.
Peterborough’s climb to second place has been powered by the goals of Tyrone Barnett and Britt Assombalonga although, as Morgan had acknowledged, they entered this match having kept clean sheets in four of their previous five outings.
Ferguson, seemingly well placed to deliver an immediate return to the Championship following a contentious relegation five months ago, opted to name the Zaire-born marksman on the bench for the visit of opponents fighting to claw themselves away from danger at the other end of the table.
Striving for his fourth promotion in charge of Peterborough, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Wrexham midfielder thought Barnett had broken the deadlock in the 27th minute but the centre-forward could only direct his header into the side-netting.
Paul Taylor followed suit 60 seconds later but United responded with another attempt from Doyle which deflected behind for a corner.
The visitors, watched by co-owner Kevin McCabe and fellow director Selahattin Baki, a close confident of new investor Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad, continued to impress with Taylor’s thunderous 36th minute drive cannoning back off the woodwork and Brandy dragging agonisingly wide after seizing upon the rebound.
Although Long denied Paul Taylor at the near post soon after the re-start, United again demonstrated their new found durability when McMahon’s drilled attempt was deflected behind for a corner and Coady was inches away from threading a low centre towards Marlon King.