Well, we got there in the end. Would have felt decidedly cheesed off had it finished 0-0 as it was one of those where you felt if we scored one we would get three or four against another very ordinary side (let’s be generous, there was an element of us for long periods making them look bad). We still might have done if the first goal had come 10 minutes earlier, especially if more of their players had followed Dublin’s lead in trying to square the books (in their eyes) with Danny Mills.
I really like Norwich, go there often for business, regard an away trip there as one of the best of the season, with a good atmosphere and welcoming pubs (thanks for nothing fixtures compiler for making it Boxing Day for us this time around). But whatever sympathy one might have felt for them missing out on a point disappears with the reaction of their players and their manager. Some apologies are due, or at least the removal of some partisan blinkers, with some comments presumably aimed at diverting attention from the paucity of their ambition on the night (our defence still showed signs that it could dissolve into blind panic if put under pressure).
We do sometimes see games differently from the other side (although I have always regarded my version of events as the truth, pure and simple). So rather than penning a detailed match report I thought it might be better to see how the Norwich Pink ‘Un local paper viewed proceedings, with some comments added.
“The Canaries suffered the cruellest of blows last night as two late penalties crushed their hopes of snatching a valuable, and unlikely win, at The Valley …. City had looked good value for a point but as the match entered the final few minutes, disaster struck.” Cruellest of blows? I think not, we’re not talking last kick of the game here. And just how was a win, however ‘unlikely’, going to be fashioned by a team which managed one meaningful effort on goal all night? As for Norwich being good value for a point, well it was 0-0 with around five minutes to go.
”Charlton sub Izale Mcleod was at the centre of it all, going down under a challenge from Gary Doherty and then, within three minutes felled by Julien Brellier.” Why say ‘going down under a challenge’ instead of ‘fouled by …’ It was a clear penalty, so why try to insinuate a dive?
“To add to manager Peter Grant's woes, skipper Dion Dulin was given a straight red card after an altercation with Danny Mills”. An altercation? From what I saw Dublin first kicked out at Mills, which merited a straight red in itself, and then squared up to him, possibly using his head (or maybe trying to draw Mills into something similar).
This is how the Norwich paper read some of the Mills incidents: ”… within a minute (of the start of the second half) Charlton had two players requiring treatment; Varney after slipping in the area and Mills, for a bloody lip after a challenge by Simon Lappin.” So that would be the challenge that left Mills missing two teeth then. “The temperature increased again when Huckerby fell to the ground clutching his face after a chase with Mills”. And then: “the fans were baying for Huckerby's blood when he took out Mills just before the hour mark, the City man earning a yellow card for his efforts - Mills presumably left to pick up his Oscar at a later date.” That is just near libel. A dreadful and premeditated attempt by Huckerby to carve through Mills could have seen a red card if Mills had not got up and got on with it (he even seemed to be saying to the ref he shouldn’t send him off).
As for Norwich manager Peter Grant, he said that “everybody has seen what Mills has done to Huckerby” and that “it was not a head-butt - if it had been a head-butt he would still be lying there”. Further pearls of wisdom included: “the player that was on the pitch should have been off anyway; he swung his elbow at him (Huckerby) and he deserved to go”, adding that "Dion would not have headbutted Danny. He would not have reacted like that. It's always important to finish a game with 11 men but unfortunately circumstances dictated we couldn't because somebody cheated.” So obviously it wasn’t a case of a player losing his cool and trying to exact revenge with the game already lost.
Now I really have no idea if Mills elbowed Huckerby, or if he did whether it had been deliberate. But what followed for the remainder of the game were either attempts at simple retribution, which the ref rightly punished (again, Huckerby could easily have gone), or efforts to spark Mills into retaliation. Either way, just how was Mills a cheat? He didn’t play-act when scythed down or when Dublin kicked him. Thug maybe, but cheat seems inappropriate.
As for the rest, Grant’s tactical acumen is perhaps illustrated by his view of the first penalty. “A kick up the pitch, we let it bounce and all of a sudden it's a penalty kick.” So, it clearly wasn’t a case of a fast forward with a more direct running style than the man he replaced being brought on to exploit tiring central defenders.
Overall it was a good but not great performance, perhaps a 7/10. Again, if we had scored in the first 20 minutes, when we were in total control, we would probably have won very comfortably. There were to my mind a number of pros and cons.
I was less impressed than others with Luke Varney. He was willing and got in some very good positions but didn’t make the most of them. He is very reluctant to use his left foot and he missed a one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the second half. He looked to me like a confidence player and maybe just putting one in the back of the net will be enough. I thought we did miss Todorov and his ability to disrupt a defence with his movement and lay-offs. But hats off to Izale McLeod. He hasn’t set the place alight since his arrival but proved to be just what was needed on the night, especially with Iwelumo generally well marshalled by Dublin and Doherty.
I would have liked to see Zheng and/or Semedo taking more chances with runs into the box. When Varney was carving through their right side in the first half somebody should have been bombing through to get on the end of a squared ball. And allied to this for long periods we tended to play at the same, measured pace. We passed well and there was good movement, but with Sam having a mixed night (some moments were excellent) we seemed to miss someone driving forward at pace.
The defence. Bougherra had perhaps his best game for us to date, while Weaver pulled off a very good save from Norwich’s one real effort on goal. However, there was always the feeling (or maybe it’s just me) that panic wasn’t far below the surface. I’m not sure we’ve got it right yet; maybe Sodje will fit in alongside someone.
Bah humbug. The positives did outweigh the negatives by some distance. We played intelligent and purposeful football, usually involving Andy Reid, and created enough good openings to have scored four or five. And we have cover and competition in just about every position. We look well placed to cope with the inevitable injuries and suspensions (well, with Mills and Thatcher these aren’t going to be far off).
Third in the table and another home game coming up, with Leicester perhaps providing our toughest test to date, despite their league position and change of manager. And to round things off, here’s Peter Taylor: "I am not confident (of keeping my job) but I just don't know because I have not spoken to (owner) Simon (Jordan).” Trust me Peter, you don’t want to.