Peterborough boosted their automatic promotion hopes with a 3-0 triumph that sent Port Vale plunging back into the relegation zone.

The hosts ended a frustrating first half on a high when Joel Randall’s 25-yard thunderbolt sailed past helpless keeper Connor Ripley – courtesy of a double deflection off Vale men Rhys Walters and Alex Iacovitti – to hand them the lead seconds before the break.

Randall, Ephron Mason-Clark, Ricky-Jade Jones and Kwame Poku had all squandered good chances before Ripley pulled off a fine save to deny Archie Collins, but the following corner – taken short by captain Harrison Burrows to Randall – led to Posh hitting the front.

Burrows followed up his EFL Trophy final heroics with another goal as Posh doubled their lead 11 minutes in the second half.

The captain struck for the 12th time this season when he sent Ripley the wrong way from the spot after Ryan Loft’s pull on Josh Knight.

And Burrows was again involved when Posh put the result beyond doubt in the 86th minute as his left-wing cross was headed into his own net by the unfortunate Iacovitti.

Vale fell back into the bottom four on goal difference as they failed to manage an attempt on target until second half stoppage time when substitute Uche Ikpeazu’s blast was spectacularly tipped over by Jed Steer.

Darren Ferguson knows Peterborough are in with a chance of automatic promotion from League One after a 3-1 victory over Stevenage.

Posh, with a game in hand, closed to within four points of the top two after reeling off a fifth successive win.

The visitors should have had a penalty for a Josh Knight handball just after the half-hour before Posh snatched a 44th-minute lead from the spot through Harrison Burrows.

Jadel Katongo doubled the lead with a stunning first English Football League goal of his career in the 64th minute before Kwame Poku smashed in a 77th-minute clincher as Posh climbed into fourth ahead of a super Saturday when they host table-topping Portsmouth, while second-placed Derby do battle with Bolton in third.

Nick Freeman hit a consolation for Stevenage, who remain in the final play-off spot.

Ferguson said: “We were nowhere near our normal quality, but I can’t expect us to be perfect all the time.

“What I do need is for us to find a way of winning games and we did that by being ruthless.

“We made it hard for ourselves but we still managed to overcome an opponent who were just as tough as we knew they would be. Stevenage are not sixth in the league for no reason at this stage of the season.

“We told the lads a while ago to stay in touch and get to March. I always felt this month would be pivotal and that we really had to go for it, and there’s no doubt we’ve got a chance.

“We’ll roll the players out again on Saturday against Portsmouth. It’s the sort of game you want to be involved in.

“They’ve been the best team so far, they’re bringing 4,000 with them and we need our fans more than we’ve needed them all season.”

Stevenage are one point above seventh-placed Blackpool as the play-off race hots up.

Boss Steve Evans insisted: “The best team lost tonight. We just were not as clinical as Peterborough were.

“The balance of the game changed when we didn’t get a penalty and Peterborough did get one.

“I’m not disputing theirs is a penalty, but there is a clear and obvious handball in their box in the 31st minute and the referee gives a goal kick.

“We’re somehow going to have to go above these decisions to get into the play-offs. Managers get the sack, but referees just get told to be better.

“It’s always a problem when you’re not scoring goals. We have to take our chances more but we’re going through a little spell where our strikers are not finding the net.

“Peterborough are a wonderful team to watch when they get into flow and I wish them every success. I really hope they go on to win promotion and the Bristol Street Motors Trophy as well.”

Peterborough continued their charge back into League One automatic-promotion contention by beating play-off chasing Stevenage 3-1.

Harrison Burrows’ spot-kick, a stunning first league goal for 19-year-old Jadel Katongo and Kwame Poku’s clincher earned a fifth straight league success.

Stevenage would arguably have been disappointed to still be level at the break after being the dominant first-half side, so Luther James-Wildin’s reckless challenge on Ephron Mason-Clark to gift the hosts a 44th-minute penalty – coolly converted by Burrows – will have come as a hammer blow to former Posh boss Steve Evans.

Evans’ Stevenage also had the first big chance of the second period when Posh keeper Jed Steer pulled off a full-stretch save to keep out top-scorer Jamie Reid’s header.

But it was Posh who found the net again as Manchester City loanee Katongo embarked on a marauding run from inside his own half, exchanged passes with substitute Malik Mothersille and steered a low shot past Taye Ashby-Hammond in the 64th minute.

Mothersille was again the architect when Poku sealed the points with a ferocious 77th-minute finish before Nick Freeman hit a consolation in the 85th minute for Stevenage as they slipped to a first defeat in five games.

Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson feels his side are hitting top form again as the race for promotion in Sky Bet League One intensifies after they hammered rivals Northampton 5-1 in the Nene derby.

This was the Posh’s third league win in a row which moved them to within five points of second-placed Bolton, with their current run coming after four straight defeats threatened to derail their push.

Ferguson said: “We had a blip and they’re a young group – if we had gone through the season without a blip, I would have been surprised.

“When you go through bad times in the season, you have to make sure you’re strong enough to go back and improve when you’ve made mistakes, failures and losses because they’re the ones that define the season.

“We had to make sure we got over that and there’s no question the Blackpool game (in the semi-finals of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy) to get to Wembley has really been a huge shift in momentum.

“But then to win three league games, two of them derbies, is a credit to my players.

“It was all-round a very good performance.

“I thought each member of the team and the subs, it was all-round a very confident performance, and it was a very good result.”

Northampton led after nine minutes when Marc Leonard’s cross was headed in by Jon Guthrie, but Peterborough never looked back after Ephron Mason-Clarks’ 25th-minute equaliser from Jaden Katongo’s low ball across.

Kwame Poku’s whipped finish completed the turnaround three minutes later before Joel Randall poked in a third for the Posh after Poku’s mishit ran off Jack Sowerby.

Hector Kyprianou’s header just before the hour effectively made the game safe, with Josh Knight completing the rout five minutes later after Randall’s corner wasn’t cleared.

Northampton boss Jon Brady said: “We’ve got to hold our hands up and that’s a tough night that’s tough to take against your local rivals, but hats off to them, I thought they were excellent.

“I thought the goals we gave away were very soft tonight.

“We started off, we got the goal then conceded two pretty quick goals and it wasn’t good enough thereafter.

“I’m not going to paper over any cracks and we’ve got to hold our hands up, we’ve got to defend better and be more solid in those moments – defensively we weren’t good enough.

“We’ve got to defend those goals so much better and we’ve got to make sure we get it right for Saturday (at Cambridge) and bounce back.

“We were very good earlier on in the season when we beat them at home 1-0, and today we had a bad night and we’ve got to make sure we get it right on Saturday.”

Peterborough moved within five points of the Sky Bet League One automatic promotion places following a 5-1 demolition of Northampton Town in the Nene derby.

The Cobblers actually struck first at the Weston Homes Stadium, but they collapsed in the face of an onslaught from a rampant Posh side who recorded their third win in a row.

Northampton went ahead in the ninth minute when Marc Leonard’s inviting cross following a short corner was nodded in by captain Jon Guthrie at the back post.

But Peterborough were level in the 25th minute when Jadel Katongo played in a terrific low ball that was finished off by Ephron Mason-Clark.

Kwame Poku then completed a rapid turnaround three minutes later when he whipped a shot into the bottom corner and it was 3-1 just before half-time when his mishit came off Jack Sowerby for Joel Randall to finish.

The Posh were relentless in the second half, with Hector Kyprianou heading in just before the hour and Josh Knight completing the rout after Randall’s corner wasn’t cleared.

Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson insisted it is all about results after Posh kept themselves in the League One promotion battle with a 2-1 win over Exeter.

Kwame Poku struck the winner midway through the second half as Ferguson’s tactical tweak worked to perfection.

The attacking talent bagged his 10th goal of the campaign after being shifted into a central position from his usual wide berth.

Posh had hit the front in just the fourth minute through leading scorer Ephron Mason-Clark, but Exeter levelled nine minutes before the break with a long-awaited Tom Carroll strike.

The midfielder ended a near seven-year drought with a 20-yard half-volley which took a huge deflection and looped agonisingly over keeper Jed Steer.

But Poku ensured Posh pocketed the points and that’s all Ferguson cared about.

He said: “The most important thing today – as it will be going forward – is not the performance. It’s all about getting results.

“Credit to my players because I said to them at half-time that they had to find a way of winning the game of football and they did it.

“Kwame going central made a big difference. They couldn’t live with him in there.

“We knew there was space to exploit. He gets away from opponents so quickly and fortunately he got us a winner.

“The early goal gave us a great start, but sometimes that can be a hindrance.

“The whole atmosphere went a bit flat after that. I don’t know whether everyone just thought we were going to go and beat them by three or four, but they are a tricky team to play against.

“Getting back-to-back wins was really key. We know this is a pivotal week for us.”

Exeter chief Gary Caldwell admitted: “The result is a big disappointment, but I have massive pride in our performance and the way we went about it.

“We gave a bad first goal away the first time Peterborough had really got into our half, but the players got back into the game.

“I felt we were the better team in the first half. Our press was outstanding and we were really aggressive without the ball.

“The second half was a case of two teams going out to win the game, but we had a 10-minute spell where we gave the ball cheaply after winning it.

“We were just kicking the ball away and inviting more pressure rather than trying to pass out of trouble and Peterborough scored in that period.

“Peterborough are the best team in the league for me in terms of quality and the way they play, but for large parts we matched that and kept going right to the very end.”

Kwame Poku kept Peterborough in the promotion picture with a second-half winner in a 2-1 triumph against Exeter.

Poku struck the decisive blow with a fine 68th-minute finish from just inside the box for his 10th goal of the campaign.

The winner saw boss Darren Ferguson’s tactical tweaks pay dividends after Poku had been shifted into a central position earlier in the second half.

Posh had previously hit the front in just the fourth minute when Ephron Mason-Clark pounced for his 17th goal of the season after Malik Mothersille’s strike was parried by Viljami Sinisalo.

But League One’s lowest scorers City clawed their way level nine minutes before the break when Tom Carroll struck for the first time in almost seven years.

The midfield man – whose last goal came for Swansea in an April 2017 Premier League clash against Stoke – was a fortunate scorer with a 20-yard half-volley which took a huge deflection off Jadel Katongo and looped agonisingly over keeper Jed Steer.

Vincent Harper then squandered an excellent chance to put Exeter ahead early in the second period before Posh took control and Poku earned the points – but not before ex-Posh man Mo Eisa and debutant Millenic Alli went close for City in nine minutes of stoppage time..

Peterborough capped a memorable week by claiming bragging rights with a 1-0 win at managerless arch-rivals Cambridge.

Having reached the EFL Trophy final on Tuesday, Posh grabbed the decisive goal 10 minutes into the second half.

In a seemingly unthreatening position, Ephron Mason-Clark delivered a cross from the left which evaded everyone in the box before finding the far corner of Jack Stevens’ net.

Their pressure had been building before half-time, with Archie Collins clipping the top of the bar from the edge of the box and the unmarked Kwame Poku somehow firing Malik Mothersille’s cross wide.

The hosts – who saw manager Neil Harris leave this week to return to Millwall – threatened themselves, with Jed Steer saving well from Jack Lankester’s effort and from the resulting corner Elias Kachunga headed in before being denied by the offside flag.

Having scored the opener, Mason-Clark nearly turned provider but substitute Hector Kyprianou thumped his effort onto the bar before Joel Randall’s shot was deflected just wide.

Cambridge’s big chance to equalise came on 80 minutes but Danny Andrew fired narrowly wide from 20 yards.

Grant McCann’s return to London Road ended in defeat as Peterborough moved into the FA Cup third round with a 2-1 win against Doncaster after surviving a late fightback.

Harrison Burrows opened the scoring after just three minutes with an incredible piece of luck that saw his cross from the left sail over everyone and bounce into the top-right corner.

Kwame Poku and Ricky-Jade Jones both wasted great one-on-one opportunities to add to the lead in the first half but it was Ephron Mason-Clark, a McCann signing, that added the second after 53 minutes.

After picking up the ball on the right of the box, he cut inside and hit a brilliant curling effort right into the bottom corner.

The League Two side responded to the setback well and pulled a deserved goal back with 15 minutes to play when Mo Faal powered home a header from Joe Ironside’s cross.

Doncaster almost completed the comeback in stoppage time but Kyle Hurst’s volley crashed back off the post.

Peterborough manager Darren Ferguson bemoaned “two individual errors” for his side’s 2-1 League One defeat at Wigan.

The hosts had enjoyed the better of the first half, with on-loan Fulham winger Martial Godo giving them a sixth-minute lead and Jordan Jones hitting the bar.

But a formation change helped to transform the game after the break, with Kwame Poku equalising nine minutes after the restart, and David Ajiboye sending another shot whistling just past the Wigan post.

Just as it looked as though Posh would force a second goal, however, Wigan struck with eight minutes to go through substitute Callum McManaman, whose rasping strike from the edge of the box secured all three points.

“It’s a bad result,” acknowledged Ferguson, whose side lost for the first time in 10 league matches.

“To lose any game is a bad result but, given the nature of the game, it’s a very bad result.

“In terms of how the game went, two individual errors have cost us. When you’re playing against a team like Wigan, they are a good team, but they gave us a lot of respect.

“They sat back off us, they changed their shape, they were happy for us to have the ball at the back, and it was too slow.

“Once they get the goal, it becomes very difficult. And the goals we conceded stopped any kind of momentum we tried to get in the game.

“In saying that, in the second half I thought we were excellent and we still should have got something out of the game.

“The formation change worked, we dominated them, and we were getting one-on-ones out wide against a winger (Jordan Jones). We had to isolate him, we managed to do that, and we caused them all sorts of problems.

“Look, a lot of the performance was very good, and a lot of the details were very good.

“To come to Wigan and do what we’ve done, when they were penned in, is very good. But individual errors have cost us a result.”

For Wigan boss Shaun Maloney, it was a fifth win in six matches, against a side he feels will be up there at the end of the campaign.

“It was a brilliant win against a really good team,” he said.

“When I analysed Peterborough, I watched one of their games, and it was probably the most impressive performance I’d seen so far this season. And we’ve played some really good teams. Portsmouth, Oxford, to name two.

“I really enjoyed the first half, we tried to limit their space, and when they had the ball, I really liked what we did.

“In the second half, they came out really aggressive, and when they equalised, all the momentum was with them. I felt like there was a 15-20 minute period when it could have gone either way.

“Then we have that bit of magic from Cal at the end, and then we have to defend with everything we had. Sometimes the games you win like that, they give you more joy.

“I have to say again, I thought it was a brilliant game, and a huge win against a team I genuinely feel will come very close to the top two at the end of the season.”

Darren Ferguson was relieved to survive an “unprofessional” second-half wobble as his side held off a fightback from 10-man Blackpool to win 4-2 at Bloomfield Road.

Posh appeared to be cruising as goals from Kwame Poku, Harrison Burrows and Ricky-Jade Jones put them 3-0 up inside an hour against a home side who had Oliver Casey dismissed shortly after the restart.

But the hosts scored twice in the space of four minutes through Kenny Dougall’s header and Sonny Carey, who was first to the rebound when Nicholas Bilokapic parried James Husband’s shot to set up a grandstand finish.

It needed a stoppage-time strike from Ephron Mason-Clark, who had earlier missed a penalty, to make the points safe and Ferguson was left to reflect on a mixed performance.

“We were excellent for 60 minutes and we stuck to the game plan,” he said.

“We were very good and we were dominant. But even at 2-0 we got sloppy, and then a great third goal and you’re thinking ‘game over, just manage it. Can we put a real statement out and put them to the sword?’.

“Then 15 minutes later, we’re hanging on. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We were all over the place and it was just unprofessional.

“We managed to see it through and a good counter-attack and a great finish by Ephron. Any time you come here and you win, it’s a great result because these will be in the top six, I’m absolutely certain of that.

“We’ve now gone to Bolton away, Barnsley away, these away, Portsmouth away; a lot of teams that will probably end up in the top six, I think, and we’ve come out pretty unscathed.”

Posh climbed to fourth following their victory while Blackpool sit seventh, three points outside the Sky Bet League One play-off places.

Tangerines boss Neil Critchley had nothing but praise for the way his side battled back into the contest.

“I’m proud of a team that’s given absolutely everything in really difficult circumstances,” he said.

“If you’re going to lose a game of football, then lose like that.

“I’m disappointed to lose, obviously. I think we could have started the game better, I thought we were a little bit tentative, which was not the message before the game, but I thought we grew into it.

“Our response to going 3-0 down was magnificent, unbelievable. The players gave absolutely everything. At 3-2, we had them, we felt we could get something out of the game at that moment in time.

“You could see tiredness towards the end and we made a mistake and they scored. So much happened during the game. Even though we’ve lost, I’m still very positive about what I saw in the second half, especially.”

Crisis club Cheltenham had two players sent off as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Peterborough on a night to forget.

Troubled Town – still without a win or a league goal all season – were dealt a major blow when James Olayinka was sent off in just the fourth minute after catching Ephron Mason-Clark in the head with a reckless boot.

But the 10 men came agonisingly close to opening their account for the campaign when Aidan Keena thumped a 25-yard shot against a post 10 minutes before the break.

Posh eventually took command with two goals in seven minutes in the second half as Harrison Burrows played a key role.

Burrows steered in the 54th-minute opener after Kwame Poku’s low cross was diverted into his path and then delivered a corner for Jonson Clarke-Harris to head home a second goal after 61 minutes.

Town’s night got even worse as substitute Nathan Butler-Oyedeji was sent off in the 88th minute after receiving two cautions in quick succession.

Peter Kioso then smashed in his first Peterborough goal from 25 yards in the fifth minute of stoppage time to add more pain for under-fire Cheltenham boss Wade Elliott.

Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson praised his side’s belief after goals from Hector Kyprianou, Jonson Clarke-Harris and Kwame Poku saw them come from behind to win 3-1 at Barnsley.

The home side took the lead through Barry Cotter six minutes after the break before Kyprianou equalised with 16 minutes remaining.

Clarke-Harris struck two minutes later and Poku added a third five minutes from time.

Ferguson said: “From the moment we went behind, I thought we were absolutely outstanding.

“It was a really good game and a good advert for the league. Two really good teams.

“I thought that both teams had moments in the first half. Nick (Bilokapic)’s made a couple of good saves and we’ve probably had the more clear-cut chances.

“I told the players at half-time that we had to be more ruthless.

“We lost a soft goal but the reaction to losing the goal was outstanding.

“Even if we’d lost tonight, with that performance, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.

“I wouldn’t have been as happy but I would have been delighted with the way the players responded after going behind.

“As a manager, I was delighted with the belief that they kept thinking they would get something out of the game and that’s what we did.

“We just kept going and we were relentless. The first goal was fantastic. It was really, really good play and a great finish.

“Then we just stepped on the gas a little bit and managed to win the game.

“Absolutely delighted with the performance of the players. A young team with real belief.

“If you’re going to be successful, you have to come to Barnsley on Tuesday nights and get results and we’ve managed to do that.

“I’m delighted with the amount of chances we created and overall I’m delighted. No-one’s getting carried away – it’s a good start but it’s just a start.”

Barnsley head coach Neill Collins was disappointed to see his side lose their grip on the game after going ahead.

He said: “That will take a little bit of digesting. For everything that we did well for the first 55 minutes, I thought we then proceeded to do the opposite almost.

“Up until that point, the team had been fantastic, both sides of the ball, against a very good side.

“I thought we deservedly took the lead and should probably have been ahead at half-time.

“We came out and felt confident that we could get that goal, but then I’m not quite sure why we then proceeded to lose the cohesion that we had and stopped doing the things that we’d done so well.

“I felt that we just became sporadic and more individualistic at times. Despite a couple of warning signs and the goalkeeper in particular making one fantastic save, the goals were cardinal sins in terms of ones we gave away.”

Peterborough came from behind to win 3-1 at Barnsley with an impressive second-half performance featuring goals from Hector Kyprianou, Jonson Clarke-Harris and Kwame Poku.

Barry Cotter had put the hosts in front six minutes after the break but it only served to spark the visitors into life.

Peterborough’s Ephron Mason-Clark threatened early on, forcing Liam Roberts to make a save.

At the other end, Nicholas Bilokapic was tested by Jon Russell and Nicky Cadden.

Roberts then made another important save, thwarting Randall after he was put through by Kyprianou.

The home side took the lead when Cotter sent in a low driven cross from the right which found its way into the back of the net.

Roberts made fine saves to deny Randall, Poku and Clarke-Harris before Peterborough equalised.

After 74 minutes, Peter Kioso reached the byline and pulled the ball back to Kyprianou, who fired into the far corner of the net.

Clarke-Harris struck two minutes later, netting from close-range following Poku’s scuffed shot.

Poku added a third five minutes from time, firing into the roof of the net after creating space for himself inside the area.

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