Well, that was just what the doctor ordered. It wasn’t perfect (just as the Colchester game wasn’t the worst ever), it wasn’t particularly exciting as a contest, at least for the second half. But there were encouraging performances through the team, there was some very good football played at times (with the caveats that some showboating went awry and that it’s much easier to do the elaborate stuff when the pressure is off) and it’s very nice to think about room for further improvement on the back of a 4-1 win and ahead of the tough games coming up. Are we playing much better now or was this down to the quality of the opposition? Probably both, but we'll only really find out in the next few weeks.
Blackpool did play their part as the perfect guests. A goalkeeper (ex-Addick Rachubka) who looked even more ill at ease with crosses than Weaver, an open defence which did not seem to have done their homework (you don’t allow – or shouldn’t allow – forwards to cut inside you on to their favourite side), and a lively enough attack to keep the game interesting. They could easily have scored more than one. They leave with our best wishes for their contribution, although it is a mystery how they are in mid-table while Colchester came to us bottom of the table. Just goes to show what happens in this division when you have an off day and are chasing the game for most of the time as opposed to being handed a two-goal start.
In the end Pardew opted for the same starting eleven as against West Brom, which basically meant opting for the more mobile combination up front, the only change being on the bench where the attacking intent was underlined with Semedo providing the only defensive cover and Iwelumo, Dickson and Thomas to provide the options. In the event the subs weren’t really needed, with three coming on for a run-out more than to try to change the game.
We started well enough, although those around me in the East Stand seemed intent at getting on Ambrose’s back before a ball had been kicked (to be fair he went on to give them plenty of ammunition in the first half by too often failing to get back to help out Youga, the end result being an outstanding first-half display by the full–back). The pattern was set as our first corner was swung into the box and Rachubka stayed on his line, the result being panic even though no Charlton player was anywhere near the ball. The second corner saw him come out, only to demonstrate why he had previously stayed put. A terrible flap at thin air allowed a determined Bougherra to head into an empty net. And not long afterwards Varney collected the ball on the left edge of the box and was allowed to move inside before dispatching a precise shot into the bottom corner. A good goal for him but a poor one for the Blackpool defence.
Then just as we were texting friends about how poor Blackpool were a shot from outside the box flew over Weaver. I’m not sure if he could/should have got to it, tomorrow morning’s highlights should tell. But before we had time to get seriously worried at half-time we scored a third, with Zhi scoring from inside the box. However lively Blackpool looked going forward, the impression that they could concede at will thereafter seemed to drain their confidence and motivation.
The second half was free of tension, especially after we scored from another corner. This time Bougherra’s header came back off the post for Zhi to get his second. There was still time for Thomas to come on and miss an easy chance to break his duck for the season, for Dickson to come on and to get himself in a couple of good positions without being able to take full advantage, and for Moutaouakil to match Youga’s first-half display with an excellent demonstration of overlapping skills and passing. In the end all that was missing was the fifth goal to send us home truly purring.
The negatives (how nice to be searching for these)? Taken individually all of the back five played well, at times very well. But at no stage was the defence as a whole rock-solid. Blackpool created good opportunities, even in the first half when the game was still a contest. Up front, while Varney and McLeod provided pace and movement neither looked totally convincing. McLeod had good moments but too often didn’t make the most of openings. Varney scored and worked hard to usually good effect, without looking like a true goalscorer. And while Holland and Zhi both had excellent games, Ambrose seemed off the pace and Sam was contained (and was the first to be substituted).
Weaver: 7/10. Not sure about the goal (make it an 8 if he had no chance) but dealt well with everything else, including some tricky shots in the second half, and seemed to be communicating more with his defence.
Moutaouakil: 8/10. I thought he had an iffy first half, but in the second really warmed to the task, both defending and going forward. May still need more games to get fully back up to speed, but if he does there’s a lot to look forward to.
Youga: 9/10. Excellent. Came under a lot of pressure in the first half and dealt with all of it. I especially liked the fact that he made his mind up quickly what he was going to do, which gave the opposition little time to react. Suzanne will be very pleased with our full-backs (yes, I know Youga isn’t French but he came to us from Lyon).
Bougherra: 7/10. Perhaps deserves an 8; after all, he scored and his header came back off the post four our fourth. But the defence was often stretched, especially in the second half, and could have conceded more than one.
McCarthy: 7/10. His form since coming back into the team is a major plus as he could have a big effect on the rest of the season. Acts like a leader, something which has been missing.
Sam: 6/10. Was often involved but didn’t make the most of his pace advantage or the combination with Moutaouakil.
Holland: 8/10. Another good all-round display, with endless energy and commitment. Tough on Semedo to be trying to oust him from the team.
Zhi: 8/10. I thought this was the best I have seen him play in central midfield. Scored two and made telling contributions with his tackling and passing.
Ambrose: 6/10. Too often seemed to be allowing the game to pass him by, going forward and back. Should be more influential given his ability.
Varney: 7/10. Not great but took his goal well and worked hard to good effect most of the time, through the middle and out wide (after Ambrose went off).
McLeod: 6/10. Doesn’t look the finished article and things aren’t really working for him, but showed flashes of the obvious potential that he has.
Subs: Not really fair to rate any of them as the game was over before they came on.
A word for the ref, Mr Singh. He and his officials had excellent games, only one yellow card (although Moutaouakil got away with a clear tug back that should have been a second).
I want to end on a sour note. No thanks to the programme editor for including a reference to Gary Nelson having just enjoyed his 47th birthday. Many happy returns Gary, but how is it possible that all through his Charlton career this sweaty, knarled old veteran was younger than me?