For the first time since 1992, Peterborough United are headed to Wembley Stadium following their penalty kick triumph over Swindon Town in the Southern Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Monday night
Peterborough and Swindon headed into this second leg on 2 goals apiece following the two sides’ 2-2 draw at London Road 12 days ago. That result was a disappointing one for the Posh as they had led Swindon 2-0 before the halftime break and 2-1 with a man advantage after Swindon’s Jay McEveley was sent off for a high kick on star Peterborough striker Britt Assombalonga. That thought withstanding, the first leg’s result set up a cracking culmination of the tie at Swindon’s County Ground, where both sets of fans came out in numbers to support their respective sides and potentially see them secure a famous day out at Wembley, one Peterborough had not enjoyed in over 20 years while Swindon had made the JPT final just 2 years ago, losing out to Chesterfield on their big day.
The match started out in chaotic fashion with Peterborough having the better of possession and fiercely attacking the Swindon goal, with Robins ‘keeper Wes Foderingham forced into an early stop to deny Assombalonga from nearly 30 yards out on 11 minutes as Foderingham did well to deal with the swerving shot. Swindon settled down soon after this brief scare, with Danny N’Guessan the target of several long balls out of defense as Swindon’s top striker, the controversial Nile Ranger, was ruled out prior to the match by boss Mark Cooper due to a hamstring injury. N’Guessan’s work up top nearly came to fruition inside of 15 minutes, as Swindon had a decent penalty shout when he was tripped up by Craig Alcock, but no decision was given.
Despite this, Swindon still found the Peterborough goal before the interval, with Alex Pritchard firing home from close range after a game of pinball in the box resulted in the ball falling straight to his feet before he fired into the bottom left corner past a hung-out-to-dry Robert Olejnik in the Peterborough goal. The goal itself was one born out of panic as Alcock’s clearance attempt was poor at best, striking a fellow Posh defender and bouncing to Pritchard, who calmly did the rest to put Swindon in front in both the game (1-0) and the tie (3-2) heading into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, Swindon boss Mark Copper employed a 4-4-2 formation designed to match-up with Peterborough’s layout, in an effort to sure up his side defensively and prevent any cheap goals from foiling their plans of advancing. Conversely, Darren Ferguson had on-loan striker Josh McQuoid enter the fray as a halftime substitute to try and link up with Assombalonga up front, with the AFC Bounemouth based McQuoid replacing the previously ineffective Kyle Vassell at the forward position.
The move nearly backfired immediately for Ferguson and his Peterborough side, as N’Guessan was allowed acres of space in the Posh box and nearly poked past Olejnik to double Swindon’s lead, but the ball rolled just mere inches wide of the frame of goal and quite frankly gave Peterborough a stern wake up call just 3 minutes into the second half. It was a call they heeded though as the remainder of the half followed a repetitive pattern of Peterborough attack, followed by Swindon clearance, and Peterborough attack again. However repetitive the pattern was though, it equally proved to be ineffective as the high crosses Peterborough sent into the Swindon area were more or less swept away with ease by the sturdy defensive combo of Nathan Byrne and Troy Archibald-Henville.
The Swindon defense could only hold out for so long though, before one of the Peterborough crosses went unimpeded and found the head of who else but Assombalonga, who expertly headed past a frozen Foderingham to level matters on 75 minutes and silence the thus far vivacious Swindon crowd. As time ran out on both sides, substitutions were made to prepare for the penalty kick shootout that was to follow as there is no extra-time played in JPT matches. Among the changes made were Swindon’s bringing on Ben Gladwin for a much fatigued N’Guessan and Tijane Reis for the on-loan Jacob Murphy. A final free kick for Peterborough just outside the Swindon 18 yard box was the only thing standing between the tie and a penalty shootout, and when Assombalonga struck the shot there were some around the County Ground who thought it would go in, but Foderingham did well to parry it aside and penalty kicks would be needed to book the first of 2 Wembley slots for the JPT final.
Swindon were drawn to kick first, and elected midfielder Massimo Luongo to be their first penalty taker. Luongo approached the spot confidently enough, yet botched the penalty tremendously by sending it soaring over the bar and deep into the unused Stratton Bank Stand. Peterborough responded with Assomobalonga, whose penalty squirmed through the palms of Foderingham and in to give the Posh an early lead. Both sides converted their 2nd round spot kicks with Yaser Kasim scoring for Swindon and Michael Bostwick doing the same for Peterborough.
Peterborough’s advantage was lost on the 3rd set on penalties though, as Alex Pritchard scored for Swindon but Danny Swanson failed to match for Peterborough and all was level with 2 kicks left. Archibald-Henville and Grant McCann made it 4-4 before Tijane Reis produced a real clunker of a penalty for the Robins, lofting the ball both high and wide of the left post as Swindon boss Mark Copper looked on in absolute disbelief/terror/fury.
That left it all up to Peterborough captain Tommy Rowe to send his side to Wembley, a feat he had no trouble achieving as he slid his penalty to the right of a late moving Wes Foderingham as Peterborough make their first ever trip to the New Wembley and their first trip to Wembley Stadium in 22 years while Swindon are left to gripe about their lack of finishing.
Peterborough will face either Fleetwood Town or Chesterfield in the final on March 30th.