Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Give The Defence The Plaudits

After the promising signs from the new players in the win against Wigan, I think tonight we were looking pretty much for more of the same, still too soon to expect real cohesion. What we got was a game shaped by sendings off at the start and before half-time, a controversially disallowed effort, but in the end a second consecutive 1-0 victory curtesy of an Aneke header in the final 10 minutes and ground out by a very effective defensive display.

Having said earlier in the day that he was looking to rotate the forward options, the main changes to the team from Saturday involved Bogle and Washington replacing Aneke and Smyth as the front two, while Purrington was given a start in a back four (along with Gunter, Innis and Famewo), with Pratley moving back into midfield alongside Watson, with Doughty (bandaged head and all) and Shinnie, with Forster-Caskey moved to the bench.

I’ll confess I was still finishing off a little work when the game kicked off and missed the first couple of minutes, which was rather unfortunate as after 52 seconds Blackpool were down to 10 men. Apparently it involved Bogle being held back, but to date I haven’t seen a replay. There aren’t many games when a minute in you have to think about changing the set-up to exploit such an opportunity and perhaps not surprisingly we kept the same shape, with if anything Pratley given more license to go forward. With Blackpool making a change we were still up against two banks of four, even though we would enjoy the lion’s share of possession through the first half.

As the game developed our threat was coming down the right with Doughty, ably supported by Gunter. At the same time Blackpool seemed to carry a threat down their right and after just five minutes Purrington was caught out and flattened the guy, getting a yellow card that it was hard to quibble with. We did create moments through the half and some half-chances, usually involving Bogle (brought one down but couldn’t get a shot on target, headed over from a good Watson cross), but by and large Blackpool were comfortable enough as we weren’t working out a way to make the extra man count.

As half-time approached you figured that Bowyer would think about tactical changes to go for the win. And then a ball forward down our left side and Purrington was isolated again against their winger. He ended up wrestling him to the ground and as the ref walked towards him you just knew what was coming. A second yellow and it was 10 against 10. I can’t imagine what Bowyer thought of it, inane play. Purrington’s only defence is that with an extra man and him on a yellow we should not have let him get isolated against a guy who was clearly causing him problems. But you don’t take a second yellow for the team before half-time.

At the break the feeling was indeed one of frustration. We’d had a man advantage for just about all of the game and had failed to force their keeper into a save, despite Doughty giving them a run around and Bogle looking capable of producing something. Our play had by and large been slow, enabling Blackpool to sit behind the ball. And now with the numbers evened up it looked like a case of which manager would get the tactical decisions right.

Bowyer took off Pratley and brought on Maatsen, allowing Doughty – who had dropped back to cover Purrington’s position – to move back up. And after an even first 10 minutes or so we had what amounted to our first real chance followed by the moment when it looked as though we had taken the lead. Doughty hit an excellent crossfield pass which Maatsen took forward. It ran on to Bogle whose shot from a dangerous position was blocked. The resulting corner was swung in and Innis rose to head powerfully into the net. I was up and shouting but the next thing Blackpool were complaining, seemingly on the grounds that Bogle had got a touch on it from an offside position before it crossed the line. Referee and linesman consulted and after an age it was indeed ruled to be no goal. I’d need to see a replay to draw any conclusions but from what I saw Innis’ header was all but in and if Bogle had interfered it wasn’t the smartest bit of play. But I may be doing him an injustice.

On the hour Aneke came on for Bogle, shortly followed by the seemingly obligatory yellow card for Watson and then Smyth replacing Washington. We were still shading it, helped by the fact that the defence was operating effectively and protecting Amos’ goal well. Just a case of whether we could nick the winner. Which we did. In the final 10 minutes of normal time Maatsen sent in a cross from the left to the far post, Doughty headed it back, and Aneke was there to head it into the net.

Probably still more than 10 minutes to play out and we did that pretty well, helped by Aneke and Smyth causing them problems up the field but also some storming work by Innis and Famewo, not giving their forwards a real sniff. We might even have grabbed a second as Smyth wriggled through and it fell to Watson, who shot over again. No matter, despite six minutes of stoppage time we saw the game out with no major alarm for the second consecutive game, something of a contrast with last season.

For me the defence deserves the plaudits tonight. Innis was immense again, at least when not playing the ball forward, while Famewo was equally impressive. Gunter did his defensive work and was more prominent going forward than on Saturday, while Maatsen looked as though he has been well schooled and slotted in very effectively. We are of course very much still a work in progress, but so far so good.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Did nothing wrong at all, dealt with balls in the air and some routine shots.

Gunter – 7/10. Another good display, sound defensive work and this time more evidence that he and Doughty might work well together going forward.

Innis – 8/10. Yes, his first-half distribution was a bit patchy (especially gave it away once in a poor position), but defensively he was excellent, some storming challenges, and could well have even scored the winner.

Famewo – 8/10. Equally impressive and effective. It’s only been two games but if we can keep this pair fit Pearce might have a tough job getting back in (in a back four at least).

Purrington – 4/10. Well, what mark can you give? He was up against a tricky guy but flattened him first time around for an obvious yellow then wrestles him to the ground to sacrifice our one-man advantage.

Shinnie – 7/10. Nothing dramatic but a quietly effective display. One criticism might have been allowing Purrington to get isolated for his second yellow.

Watson – 7/10. Another yellow card, couple of shots blazed over the bar, but felt he had a better game today and generally controlled things in front of the defence.

Pratley – 7/10. Was surprised that we started with both him and Watson in midfield, but with the sending off he was able to play an advanced role. Tactical move to take him off at the break.

Doughty – 8/10. For me this was a much better performance than of late, delivering more of an end product. He was our main threat through the first half in particular, was involved with the goal.

Washington – 6/10. Worked hard but didn’t have much joy in the final third.

Bogle – 6/10. If he did get a touch to rule out Innis’ effort it wasn’t exactly a welcome one. Was a threat and clearly had an impact in their guy getting sent off.

Subs – Maatsen (8/10; deserves the mark for an assured display, didn’t get caught out defensively and looked good going forward, involved in the goal); Aneke (8/10; OK, only on for around half an hour but scored the goal); Smyth (7/10; just a cameo today but looked lively).


Saturday, 17 October 2020

That Will Do Nicely

I'd politely suggest the commentary team might have over-egged it a little at the finish, talking of a ‘crucial’ three points, but most welcome indeed they are. I’d probably have said taking all three was the icing on the cake, as there were plenty of positives to be taken from the game. With another four debutants, some of whom have literally just arrived at the club, it would have been unrealistic to expect everything to work smoothly. But the signs from individual players were very encouraging, while the team effort put in to defend a lead at the end bodes well. So I’d suggest Lee Bowyer and his team can afford themselves a pat on the back for the work done and look forward to seeing where this group of players can go (before back to work for another game shortly).

We lined up with a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 if you like), the centre-backs in front of Amos being Famewo, Inniss and Pratley with Doughty and Gunter the wing-backs. Watson anchored the midfield with Forster-Caskey and Shinnie joining him, while Aneke was chosen to lead the line and Smyth starting alongside him. On the bench were Maynard-Brewer (now with the chance to establish himself as our second keeper with the departure of Phillips), Purrington, Williams, Morgan, Levitt, Bogle and Washington.

The early exchanges were a little sloppy to be fair, from both sides, interspersed with good moments, often involving the pace of Smyth. Even then, although the passing and coordination wasn’t there, the movement and understanding had gone up a level from what we had seen before. I wrote down after 10 mins ‘good news, we are better’. Never mind that, there was a game to be won, and as it progressed we did get on top.

Good work down the left saw Smyth played in and his low cross was flicked goalwards by Forster-Caskey, saved by the keeper. Aneke was causing them problems and when Smyth was bundled over Forster-Caskey took the first of what proved to be three free kicks around the box. This one nearly hit the mark, clipping the top of the crossbar.

After 20 mins we seemed to be in a good place, working well enough. But Wigan suddenly sparked into life and could easily have taken the lead in a five-minute spell. Their No.11 was causing trouble down our left, putting in a good cross headed behind for a corner. And from that corner their guy got in a strong header from close range only to be denied by a superb save from Amos. Gunter harshly picked up a yellow for his first foul, then a cross from his side, Doughty missed the header clear inside the area, and their guy shot just wide. Famewo slipped and almost let one of them in. I thought at the time that we had gone a bit long-ball, looking to get Smyth and Aneke in with early balls, the result of which was that Wigan enjoyed better possession.

However, we weathered that small storm and came back. From a throw-in Pratley flicked on and a great touch from Aneke saw him nick it past his defender, only for the keeper to come out and smother the resulting shot. Then Forster-Caskey’s second free kick was won, again by Smyth. Just a couple of inches lower than the previous one and we’d be ahead; instead this one went some way over the bar.

The half was extended by a nasty head injury for Doughty, which saw his head swathed in bandages. But at the break it was a case of reasonable satisfaction, plenty to be happy about, but thanks to Amos for not being behind, as was the case against Sunderland.

The second half was pretty scrappy for a while, with Watson picking up what is becoming his customary yellow card (if it was for the foul awarded he was unlucky but it may have been for his reaction to the ref’s decision). It was pretty open and both sides will have been feeling that getting the first goal could prove crucial; and it could have gone either way. Aneke managed to play in Pratley, only for their keeper to save again, although Wigan did have the ball in the net after Famewo had tried to usher it out for a goal kick only to be robbed but fouled in the process.

On the hour Aneke was replaced by Bogle, which really did seem a case of like-for-like. And shortly after Forster-Caskey advanced and drew a foul, affording him a third free kick. This one was further out and more central, seemed much less potential than the previous two. But this time he curled it low and seemed to catch out their keeper and it went in off the post. The deadlock broken, the manner somewhat surprising but most welcome.

Still 25 minutes of normal time to go and the question then was how long would the legs of the new guys last? After Smyth picked up a yellow and another long stoppage for a clash of heads, this one involving Inniss, Shinnie came off, replaced by Purrington. This meant a change of formation, to a back four, with Pratley moving into midfield. And perhaps not surprisingly, given that they were behind and we were making changes, Wigan began to press.

With a little over 10 minutes of normal time left one of their guys cut in from the left and Amos blotted an otherwise perfect copybook by spilling the shot, with the rebound scrambled away. And not long after came the real episode when Wigan might have levelled, indeed perhaps felt hard done-by not to have done so. Panic defending somehow kept the ball out only for it to fall to their guy around the penalty spot. At what point the challenge came in (just before or just after the shot) wasn’t clear. The shot went wide and the ref gave the goal kick. Would really have to see it again to say whether or not we got away with one.

That was as dangerous as it got. We actually saw out the final minutes, and seven minutes of stoppage time, reasonably well, might even have nicked a second as after the narrow escape we went up the other end and Forster-Caskey nicked it and squared it just behind Pratley. Washington came on for Smyth and, although the final act involved Amos making another save, we saw the game out reasonably well (OK, bloody well compared with many recent cases of trying to defend a lead to the finish).

Did we deserve the win? Overall just about. It was a game we could easily have lost, had it not been for Amos’ first half save, or drawn. But on the balance of play we shaded it. We had been the more adventurous and dangerous of the teams. Wigan will probably feel a little hard done-by to lose, but no more. And there’s no question we will be the happier tonight, for the result for sure but just as much for the promise that we saw from the new arrivals.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Would have been a 9 but for the spilling of the shot in the second half. His first-half save was another key moment and everything else he did was faultless.

Gunter – 7/10. Didn’t see much of him as an attacking wing-back, and his harsh yellow might have inhibited him a little (you don’t want a red on your debut), but his defensive work was impressive.

Famewo – 8/10. Impressive. Does his work effectively and has a happy habit it seems of not giving away free kicks. Really does look to be a very good addition. 

Inniss – 9/10. Perhaps not everyone’s choice but I’d make him my man of the match. Really looks like he does what it says on the can, solid and reliable.

Pratley – 7/10. Decent game, both in defence and when moved into midfield. Managed to get forward to good effect too.

Doughty – 7/10. Didn’t produce a decisive contribution and was quiet in the second half, but may well have been suffering from the head injury.

Watson – 7/10. Decent enough, even though the yellows keep coming.

Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Really good performance, looks like he thrived with the formation and with the different players around him. Some loose passing in the first half, managed to score with the least dangerous of his three free kicks.

Shinnie – 7/10. Good debut. Nothing especially noteworthy but played his part.

Aneke – 7/10. Led the line well, caused problems with his pace and ability to do the unexpected. Has to prove he can last a full game. 

Smyth – 8/10. No question his pace and movement gave us something we have lacked. If he proves he can score goals that would be very good.

Subs – Bogle (7/10 – came on as others were tiring and we were happy with the status quo, too early to draw any conclusions); Purrington (8/10 – that mark is for me deserved, even though he wasn’t on for very long; the guy has seen us sign another left-back, from Chelsea, and you might have forgiven him if that had affected him; instead he put in a shift); Washington (7/10 – on the pitch for less than 10 mins).

Monday, 12 October 2020

Time To Make The Pieces Gel

Some of the pieces on and off the pitch are it seems being put in place. I’ll confess I don’t know what ‘technical director’ means in practical terms (and I can’t say I’ve found out from the various comments since his appointment), but we all welcome Ged Roddy and hope he will both gel well with the other key individuals and make an important contribution to our progression.

It is reasonable to suppose that, having declared that he would be a hands-on owner as sole director and CEO (which seems to be in keeping with the way he runs his other companies), Thomas Sandgaard preferred Roddy and no effective number two to bringing in Peter Varney to effectively run the club on a day-to-day basis. That’s fine. As Varney himself commented it’s important that TS runs Charlton in a fashion that suits himself. There has to be some concern that everyone ends up reporting to TS, which can cause confusion if roles and responsibilities overlap in some areas, but any such problems will just have to be dealt with. We have had enough instability to last for a very long time and would not look favourably on anyone rocking the boat at this stage. If TS finds out further down the line that he can’t manage to be hands-on for everything, let’s hope he realises that in good time and changes tack then.

It’s a little tempting to say that this all sounds rather like Duchatelet’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach, as outlined by Miere. The difference, however, is that in addition to Duchatelet’s ego he had a daft plan and inadequate people around him yet still expected supporters to just turn up and cheer. If there is some parallel to be drawn it might instead be that Duchatelet’s low-grade network plan was scuppered by the entirely predictable undermining of the Fair Play rules; now along comes TS with a plan to get us back to the Premiership in a short space of time just as the plan is being outlined to reduce the number of teams in the Premiership to 18. If that goes through it will of course make it somewhat more difficult to get into the promised land.

On the pitch, the arrival of Chris Gunter fills the right-back hole while Omar Bogle makes it three available forwards, according to Lee Bowyer; he did say for Sunderland we had only one available fit forward, which seems to suggest that Josh Davison is either not fit or not yet viewed as a first-team option. If that’s the case it points to perhaps one more forward being brought in and Davison going on loan for a while.

Another forward might seem to be a luxury, but not if we are serious about a promotion challenge this season. With Conor Washington, Chucks Aneke and Bogle we have strength and options but are perhaps lacking someone who does his best work in the box, a poacher. A marquee forward signing can be the final piece in the jigsaw, as it was with Yann Kermorgant for Sir Chris and before him for Curbs both Darren Bent and Clive Mendonca. Now I don’t know if Yann can be talked out of retirement for one more season (at the least once The Valley is full again hopefully he will be invited over so we can give him the send-off he deserved), but the addition of someone likely to notch the 20+ goals a season that would probably put us in promotion picture would look good to me.

We don’t know yet how Bowyer is going about formulating the way he wants to see us play. He wasn’t giving clues in the recent interview, saying: “what I’m trying to do is get the personnel so I can change in game; I’ll always start with the formation I think is right but I’ll always have a Plan B”. Sounds fine, but I’m a simple soul who believes that the best teams know their strengths and play to them, whatever they are, rely on partnerships in key areas, and have a strong spine from back to front. There’s no perfect formation in football and undoubtedly flexibility is required. The team under Powell which ran away with this division was just so much better than the others that it could afford to pretty much stick to Plan A throughout – although even then we began that season without Kermorgant and reliant on the goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Without an outright goalscorer you do look for a good contribution from midfield. And that might explain why Bowyer is looking for more end-product from the likes of Jonny Williams. He clearly expects a double-digit contribution (over a full season) from a match-fit Marcus Maddison and for others to at least chip in.

It is just too soon as well to be drawing conclusions about who Bowyer sees as his ‘go to’ players. As for a spine, the last promotion team had it with Dillon Phillips, Patrick Bauer, Darren Pratley, and Lyle Taylor. Once it’s resolved whether Phillips is staying or going and whether its him or Ben Amos the first part of the spine looks fine. Jason Pearce ought to be the rock of the defence but we don’t have a return date for him, presumably either Pratley or Ben Watson will be the midfield anchor, while we have to wait and see how the three forwards gel (and of course whether it’s a pairing or one up front that Bowyer will favour).

After confirming the signature of Gunter, Bowyer reportedly said that he still wanted another five signings. With Bogle secured that still means room for more. And let’s face it, if we do get another four in we will as it stands have a pretty big squad, unless some depart for pastures new. Bowyer’s task so far this season has been to get enough bodies on the pitch; now it turns to making the requisite parts work.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

A Lucky Point

 There were conflicting views on the merits (or otherwise) of this afternoon’s contest among fellow Addicks in the post-match zoom call. For me, perhaps influenced by having got up at the equivalent of 3am to get a train from Lyon to London to begin a 14-day self-isolation, it felt like a game we just to get out of the way before a two-week break and the opportunity to fill in some pretty obvious gaps. And we should be grateful for the point, earnt courtesy of a fabulous Amos save and a dreadful Sunderland miss, given that we didn’t have an effort on target, despite playing against 10 men for the final 20 minutes or so. When they come to detail the great Charlton v Sunderland contests, this one will be quietly papered over.

Given the abundance of resources in midfield but few defenders and only one outright forward available, it wasn’t surprising that Bowyer tinkered with the formation, starting off with what might have been called a 3-6-1, or a 3-4-3, depending on which way you looked at it. Basically in front of Amos we had Pratley, Famewo and Purrington as a back three with Oshilaja and Doughty as wingbacks. Watson started alongside Levitt and debutant Vennings, with Oztumer having a sort of free role in support of Washington up front.

Plan A clearly didn’t prove to be a success. After a scrappy start Sunderland started to get joy down their right/our left, working space with perhaps Doughty guilty of not tracking back well enough. One ball in was overhit but then they did the same again, then a third time, with this time a block from Amos. After about 25 minutes we changed the formation, back to a back four with Purrington going to left-back. That meant even more of an overload of bodies in midfield and if anything less cohesion and a more open defence.

From a corner routine that caused us problems Sunderland worked a free header, Amos diving to his right to turn it around the post. We gave the ball away from our own throw and ended up throwing bodies in the way of shots inside the box, then with half-time looming yet another break of theirs down our left produced a cross and a guy running onto it, only for him to blaze it over the bar. For the record we had a shot from Oztumer blocked by one of our own.

You’ve got to love the commentary team at the break when one of the guys was criticising Sunderland’s passing before acknowledging that they had “probably” the best two chances of the half. They had created all the chances of the half, one of which produced a superb save and another which was harder to miss than score.

At the break Oztumer gave way for Williams. Oztumer I thought had played well against Lincoln and was probably the only player going forward in the first half looking to make things happen. Just wasn’t working for him though, poor choices on the ball. Perhaps Bowyer felt he wanted to give Oztumer and Williams a half each to see if either or both might grab the chance before Maddison gets fit, Gilbey returns from injury, and we have more forwards in.

This meant a sort of Plan C as Williams and Doughty formed a sort of front three with Washington, although it still amounted to Washington on his own. And for a while the game went through a sort of lull, yellow cards were handed out, there were shots but no real chances, although a throw-in from Williams which was picked up by their guy caused some confusion.

The game did, however, change on 70 minutes as we brought on Aneke for Vennings (which amounted I guess to Plan D), who had acquitted himself well enough in a congested midfield. Almost immediately a long ball was flicked on by him and Washington got to it just before their guy. Looked like he was just beaten to the ball but he was the last man and the card was red. Now, 20 minutes to go, two forwards on, against 10 men. We had the opportunity to go on and win the game.

We didn’t take it. With about 10 minutes left Maddison made his appearance from the bench, for Levitt. And we might have nicked it when a ball into the box found Aneke in a bit of space, but he failed to either control it or get a strike on goal. And in the end it was Sunderland who almost got the winner at the death, with another dangerous ball into the box and a dramatic header clear from Maddison.

In time we may see the positives from this game. A point was secured, however undeserved, another two players made their debuts, some were able to get minutes into their legs. But we were disjointed, lacked coordination and cohesion, and didn’t do the basics nearly well enough. If it wasn’t for the fact that we have a new owner and we expect much-needed additions to the squad we would be looking very warily at our prospects for the season. As it is, we can just forget this game and get on with the team rebuilding.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Deserves to be man of the match for a decent block and then an excellent save. That won us a point.

Doughty – 5/10. Not an impressive performance, whether at wing-back, winger, third forward etc. Saw enough of the ball but failed to make a meaningful contribution today.

Purrington – 5/10. Did nothing wrong as a third centre-back but we were as weak on our left side when he moved to full-back as we were before the change. 

Pratley – 6/10. Put in another shift in a position that is clearly not natural for him.

Famewo – 7/10. Decent enough game, covered well in a back five and a back four.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Didn’t really get the chance to see how he would have shaped up as a wing-back as we changed formation.

Watson – 5/10. OK but nothing more, did the work in front of the defence, picked up another yellow card.

Levitt – 5/10. Not an easy game for him as we seldom had good options in front of him when he was looking to play a killer pass.

Vennings – 6/10. Tidy first performance. Nothing dramatic but fitted in well enough.

Oztumer – 5/10. Was involved in what we did create in the first half, but not much worked for him today, looked frustrated.

Washington – 6/10. Hard to give a mark for a guy who for most of the game was barely involved as he outnumbered.

Subs – Williams (5/10, similar to Oztumer in that things didn’t really come off for him); Aneka (7/10, made a real difference when he came on, just a pity he made a hash of the half-chance that came his way); Maddison (6/10 – not on for long but was able to give an indication of why Bowyer wanted him in).

Friday, 2 October 2020

Numbers Point To Flood The Midfield

Lee Bowyer and his team have more than enough credit in the bank for nobody to really carp about the sale of Bonne to QPR, assuming the price was indeed ‘right’. He may go on to do great things, he may not, just too early to tell. Another club likes what they see and has paid for it, for us he is far from irreplaceable, unlike a certain Taylor at the end of last season. But he does of course need to be replaced. As things stand we have Washington, with Aneke awaiting a return to action (we hope and assume) after his testing positive for Covid-19 and Davison not in favour at the moment at least (to the extent of having been on the bench for Lincoln but not featuring in the club website first team squad – which is up to date with the new signings and Bonne already taken out).

At least the Bonne situation is resolved. Hopefully before long so too will be the picture for Phillips and Doughty. I’m sympathetic to Bowyer not selecting Phillips, despite his heroics last season, as long as the expectation is he will be leaving. No point in a defence getting used to one keeper if he’s going to be off. If instead he stays until January at least there is a decision to be made between him and Amos and selection goes back to being on merit. If Celtic do up the offer for Doughty and he goes, again at least there will be clarity and we can focus on the replacement options; if not, the stage is set for him to play a key role this season.

So as things stand we have one listed forward available for tomorrow’s game, unless Davison gets the nod. So be it, no doubt that will change soon. But it does underline the contrast between the defence and attack and midfield, where we are suddenly blessed with options but where Bowyer will have to find his best combinations and alternatives. In defence, aside from the goalkeeper situation, with Pearce sidelined we currently have Barker, Purrington, Oshilaja, Famewo plus Pratley to select any four from.

Set that against Pratley, Watson, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey, Levitt, Williams, Oztumer, Maddison, Doughty, Morgan, and Lapslie (plus Vennings perhaps coming through). I think the options can be narrowed a little in that either Pratley or Watson provide the defensive cover, never both in the same midfield, while it’s hard to see Oztumer and Williams together in the same line-up (unless we’re in desperation mode chasing a game in the final minutes). I don’t get paid to make the selections, but with four of the midfielders being recent signings I’m assuming Bowyer has a better idea than me just what mix is going to work. We were told Gilbey is box-to-box while Maddison is expected to score and create goals for us.

Simple mathematics suggest that given our current imbalances a five-man midfield has to be an option (or four with one in the hole, a diamond, or some other combination), perhaps with Pratley in a defensive three. We might as well flood the centre and look to midfielders to get into the box as on numbers alone it would look like playing to our (current) strengths.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Does The World Follow The Fortunes Of Charlton?


We’re not far short of a week into the Thomas Sandgaard era and no indication yet of anything to rock the boat off the pitch, although on it the outcome at Lincoln wasn’t exactly what we had in mind – and even what I might have bet on until close to half-time. Yes, the result was infinitely less important than the ownership change, but nevertheless. Had hoped for a real spring in the players' steps, to reflect the enthusiasm of the interview with Sandgaard and Lee Bowyer. We sort of had it for the first half but Lincoln did a job on us in the second, having been gifted the lead, getting bodies behind the ball.

The lessons I’d take from the game were that first, it underlined that the loss of both Pearce and Aneka has really hurt us. We started the game with two debutants and introduced a third, with Amos and Barker still feeling their way in too. Hardly surprising that we are not as yet a cohesive operational unit aware of its strengths and how to play to them. I thought Oztumer took his rare opportunity well, he made things happen and when he and Levitt were pulling the strings in the first half we were looking pretty good. As they faded and were replaced we lost tempo I thought. Williams has different strengths and relies on some space to run with the ball. Against Lincoln that just meant coming up against a brick wall. And to be fair we’d run out of steam well before their late second goal (whatever happened to putting someone on the line?).

Perhaps the players are as mentally tired as the fans. It has felt very strange this week not having to contemplate what the next twist and turn might be (please let there be none), not to think about protests and how to register our dissatisfaction, not to have to follow the transcript of the latest court hearing. It doesn’t help of course that we can’t really meet up with fellow Addicks and raise an extended toast to our new owner before a lengthy ruby to round things off. Strange times indeed.

No matter, let’s focus on the fact that the Sandgaard/Bowyer interview was an absolute joy to listen to, to hear a Charlton Athletic owner talk credibly in terms of long-term goals on the pitch rather than an experiment, some desire to prove some point (guess who), or hollow pledges which nobody bought into (more recent). He sounded also as if he would enjoy the ride (I always found it rather sad that there was never any sign that Duchatelet actually got any pleasure from involvement in football). That, as Bowyer told him, Sandgaard will get a hero’s reception when the day comes for fans back inside The Valley is beyond doubt. Since the news broke I’ve been unable to get rid of the gravelly voice of Lee Hazlewood: “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me”. I hope our rock start owner would approve.

And let’s face it, it’s really not just us Addicks who should be celebrating our upturn in fortunes. I’ve been working on a thesis, one in its infancy that I hope will prompt more detailed study in academic circles to establish its veracity and what we can learn from it. There does, however, seem to be a strong correlation between Charlton doing well and the world progressing/being optimistic. When either turns positive the other tends to follow, with some lag – and vice versa. Just look at the facts.

We can begin with most of the world celebrating the end of WW2 and what happens virtually in the same breath? Charlton lift the FA Cup. More recently, as we plummeted to near-bankruptcy in 1984 and left The Valley in 1985 Ronald Reagan was getting a second term in the US and the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded. As we turned things around and secured promotion to the top flight later in 1986 (staying there until 1990), things brightened for the world in general, leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (and after that the Oslo Accord etc).

Fast forward to more recent times and of course we were relegated from the Premiership in 2007 (could argue that the turning point was appointing Dowie in 2006). What followed of course was the onset of the financial crisis – and as our fortunes soured further so the world went to pot as well. We get lumbered with Duchatelet and the world post-crisis recession, then the Brexit referendum, Trump and Covid-19.

Our fortunes have now undoubtedly taken a major turn for the good. I guess we have to see if the world follows suit, again, and if so the thesis gains more credence. While I’m not looking to fill in the obvious gaps as regards the next step, we will get a good idea in early November with the result of a certain election the other side of the pond. 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Let It Be So

I may be the last to break out the bubbly, get out the dancing shoes, and echo every other Addick’s heart-felt welcome to Thomas Sandgaard. I’m ready and waiting, with a large glass of red (to be followed by several others and a cognac). And I can’t wait any longer (this is France after all and I'm an hour ahead). But there’s that nagging part of me that still wants confirmation, which basically amounts to hearing that Paul Elliot has either been paid off or is now taking legal action against his former legal team for gross incompetence, preferably the latter.

Yes, we’re well aware that TS has good people working for him; and just about everyone involved wants it to be a fait accompli. Perhaps acting quickly to make funds available and, with confirmation that the EFL’s tests are not a problem, to sign up some of those players waiting in line will help strengthen the impression that this is a deal that cannot be unwound. But I don’t put any store by the notion that because TS’ legal team is very good it necessarily means that the case is watertight. Legal teams offer advice and take instructions, they do not decide the course of action or the outcome, inside or outside court.

I find it astonishing that Elliot’s team might have left such a simple loophole, to allow TS to buy the club from ESI rather than ESI itself. I also don’t know how a court might react if told that some individuals gave testimony in court that they had no evidence of an imminent takeover (of ESI) while being well aware of a plan to buy the only asset that ESI owned. There is such a thing as the spirit of the law and it has bite, so does any suggestion of courts being treated with contempt by those being economical with the truth.

Just what TS paid to ESI for the club could, I think, also be material here. If he paid a material amount to ESI, Elliot could seek redress by seeking to get all or part of that money. It would be an utterly desirable outcome to see Elliot, Nimer and Southall tear themselves apart and blow all the money available to them on legal fees. If instead TS paid the notional £1 it could, to a court, smell.

So please forgive me for still having those concerns. Hopefully by the time I wake up tomorrow they will have gone. Then I’ll just have the hangover to worry about.