Saturday, 12 April 2008

Blowholes In The Wind

When everyone comes to review the season there will be pivotal games we point to in what is now effectively confirmed as a season of failure (please let it be over). For me Hull and Preston at home stand out as awful performances, with Scunthorpe away another key game. But this one was as important as it comes. And perhaps most appropriate are the words that Churchill gave about the Anzio landings in WW2. He said “I had hope that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale”. I didn’t quite hear the blowholes, but stranded whales was what we got.

Four games left and four wins needed. And a week ago we win away from home when all is just about up and after our goalkeeper is sent off after three minutes. You think, bloody hell they’re going to be up for this one. Instead for the first 45 minutes we created nothing. Half the game gone and their keeper yet to make a save. We also managed to gift Southampton a goal, but that was the lesser sin. The real one was not grabbing the game by the throat. The result was allowing a poor, limited Southampton side to have something to hold onto through the second half. We were better then and could have won the game, even with the last kick. But it’s silly to think we were unlucky not to win. Too many things were wrong and for the most part the desired wildcat was indeed a stranded whale.

In the event Randolph got the nod over Elliot in goal. Bougherra and McCarthy were the central defensive partnership, Semedo and Holland were retained in central midfield, Cook and Zheng played out wide, while Iwelumo and Lita were partnered up front. If there was a sense of imbalance you only needed to look at the bench: a sub keeper (Elliot) plus Ambrose, Thomas, Gray and Varney. Attacking intent is all well and good, but were is the ambition in Semedo and Holland in central midfield, with Zheng out wide? The changes that were made through the game exposed the paucity of the thinking from the start.

It would be a mistake to say that the game was shaped by their silly goal. We started at a snail’s pace and continued in the same vein thereafter. The goal itself I need to see again. Their forward missed an absolute sitter, with the ball looping up off his boot. I confess I looked away laughing with relief, only to be informed that between them McCarthy and Randolph had contrived to score. These things happen. Poor, but what was worse was the fact that their keeper didn’t have a shot to save in the first half. We had two moves worthy of the name. That was it.

At the break Semedo was withdrawn for Ambrose, while Gray replaced Iwelumo. Semedo had a poor 45 minutes, but far too often he found himself in positions where a creative midfielder is required. Please correct me if I’m wrong but we signed him as a centre-half. With Holland injured early in the season he played superbly in the holding role, winning the ball and laying it off. Why on earth do we expect him to play an expansive role alongside Holland? He looked totally uncomfortable, about as uncomfortable as Zheng out wide. Two players out of position and suffering accordingly. What were we frightened of? Southampton streaming through our central midfield with their pace? Please.

Only two players came out of the first half with some credit. Cook was lively and threatening through the period, while Halford did all that could be asked of him. For me Halford went on to be our man of the match. Lita went from hero last week to total waste of space (more below).

Overall the second half was better. We equalised as Gray opened his account with the sort of set-piece header that we assumed Iwelumo would score. And just by sheer weight of will from players such as Halford and Holland we gained the upper hand. Thomas replaced Zheng, Ambrose failed to finish the best chance we were to have, although Wright may claim it as an exceptional save. And with the last kick of the game Thomas failed to convert a through ball with only the keeper to beat.

On the second-half display you could say we were unfortunate not to win. But even forgetting the goal we gave away the first half was unacceptable. Against a poor team we created nothing, in a game where everything was up for grabs. Just not good enough. In many respects.

Player ratings:

Randolph: 5/10. It’s harsh, but what can you say? Their goal was a true calamity which I would need to see again to properly apportion blame.

Halford: 8/10. Couldn’t fault him for effort and commitment, and he managed to make things happen going forward, including winning free kicks in dangerous positions.

Thatcher: 4/10. Did enough defensively but that was it. Seldom got forward and when tested resorted to poor fouls. Looked average even at this level.

McCarthy: 7/10. I’m not sure how to rank him before looking again at their goal. It was that bad, but otherwise was seldom tested by a very limited Southampton attack.

Bougherra: 7/10. Much the same without being involved in their goal.

Cook: 7/10. Excellent first half, but disappeared in the second. Not really sure what happened but he just didn’t feature after the break.

Semedo: 5/10. Played poorly, but it’s just not right to expect more of him than to be a holding midfielder. Not his fault he was picked and asked to do a job that's beyond him.

Holland: 6/10. Plenty of effort but didn’t do anything to stick in the mind. Basically just less effective than in most games.

Zheng: 5/10. Looked uncomfortable out wide. I was among those thinking he needed a break having played so many games alongside Holland; but it’s one thing to have a rest, another to be brought back in a position which doesn’t suit. As with Semedo, not really his fault.

Iwelumo: 6/10. We played poorly in the first half and he was replaced at the break. Harsh on him because he was a good deal better than his partner.

Lita: 0/10. There’s obviously a danger in ranking a goalscorer: he scores and it’s a 10, he doesn’t and it’s a 0. There’s also a danger in thinking ‘I scored two goals, I’m a superstar’ and playing like a total waster. He could have made the difference today and he failed totally, especially given his propensity to go to ground at every available opportunity. Stay on your feet and score. His performance today was a timely reminder why Reading are prepared to let him go out on loan. As it's over for us I hope it's the last we see of him.


Ambrose: 5/10. Came on at the break and played in central midfield. Could have been the hero but the best chance of the game fell to him and Wright made the save.

Gray: 7/10. Came on and scored. Fair enough. I hope it bodes well for next season.

Thomas: 4/10. Came on, delivered some appallingly poor crosses, then missed the chance to win the game at the death. Perhaps Reading will take you back with Lita because overall this season you haven’t deserved your wages.


Anonymous said...

Hard to disagree with this except for your rating of Halford which for me is very generous. I thought he wasted a lot of possesion today and after a very promising start against Palace I think he's been disappointing.

I travelled to the game today with real hope but on reflection perhaps another poor performance was inevitable. In his post match interview Alan Pardew said he knows what the problem is. Well he could have fooled me because his tactics and team selections since the New Year seem continually to have "missed". After the excellent performance against Blackpool he talked about the importance of pace, "I like my teams to have pace" he said, and with Moutaouakil, Youga, Varney and McLeod you could see what he meant. What has happened to that philosophy?

The irony is that the team have often been overrun in central midfield because Pardew has chosen to play with two wide players. Beginning with the second half against Wolves he's abandoned that approach and played with a narrower middle four (i.e. just one wide player) which makes sense. However, in this system it is even more important to have pace and athleticism at full back and not surprising therefore that we look very static with Halford and Thatcher. Just what have Moutaouakil and Youga done wrong? I know I'm saying this with the benefit of hindsight, but the January window was a disaster for Charlton and I don't just mean the sale of Reid. Pardew would have been much, much better off if he had been "forced" to work with what he already had. The signings of Gray, Halford, Lita, Cook and not forgetting Sinclair have completely confused the issue. Ex those players and with a fit Lloyd Sam we'd most likely be in a play-off berth aleady.

What is it they say? "Keep it simple stupid". Well, unfortunately, the manager tried to be clever and seems to have messed up completely.

Anonymous said...

Halford was O/K but not great, he launched at least five crosses straight behind the goal.
Lita wasn't that bad! Yes he went to ground to easily, but looking at our strikers, he's not the worst.
I felt McCarthy should take the rap for the Soton goal. Randolph was coming along the goaline to get the ball, Mccarthy stood in his way without attempting to clear it. If he had moved out Randolph would have gathered. However, some of Randolph's handling was a bit nervy.
The second half we were crying out for a right winger. Why not put Varney there? He has pace and can get behind defences.
Finally the Ref. I don't usually get into ripping up refs. Their job is difficult and they only get one look at every decision. But some of his decisions today were baffling! Not least the decision to award 3 mins. additional time at the end of the first half. There had been no subs. No trainer had been on the pitch and i saw no deliberate time wasting.

Anonymous said...

Daggs - Richard Wright wasted about 3 minutes on his own in the first half. Having seen the goal again, I agree that McCarthy should take most of the blame, though perhaps Randolph should have shouted at him to get out the bloody way.

Anonymous said...

In my view, Semedo was to blame for their goal. He gave away a really silly free kick that lead to the scramble in the penalty area, resulting in the goal. He didn't look comfortable and was giving away so many fouls that Pards had to withdraw him as a red card was surely imminent.
Randolph did look nervy but it's not surprising, his first proper touch of the ball had been picking the ball out of the back of the net with many around me blaming him loudly.
All told, Southampton were a very poor side that we should have beaten with ease. As usual bad tactics, players out of position and a general apathy from key players lead to another below par performance.
Lessons need to be learned.
If they are, the only way is upwards for next season!
Good to see you yesterday.

Anonymous said...

I think it was General Lucas who was blamed for Anzio by Churchill - he said he had done all he could with the resources he had and it could have been a lot worse. It was General Clark who chopped and changed in the persuit of getting into Rome before the D-day landings.

Well Pardew has paid the price for chopping and changing (particluarly up front) in chasing the Rome that is promotion. OK I'll leave the metaphor alone now.

As a season ticket holder said to me yesterday - he wouldn't recognise most of the team if they passed him in the street. So next season we will have less players and a steadier team to get behind. Youga and Moutouakil as full backs, McCarthy and Bougherra. Midfield of Holland, Ambrose, Zheng and (?Sam) and stick with Iwelumo and Varney/Dickson up front.

And we'll end up just like Southampton.

Anonymous said...

Almost as comical as Saints' goal, were the chants of 'Wino, Wino' at a certain Charlton blogger in the Rose Of Denmark before the game.
Great summary of the match as usual BA.
At least we can forget about the play-offs now, but I can't say i'm looking forward to next season yet.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Just give it a little time; by August we'll all be gagging for another fix.

Have to say their chants were the only vaguely sensible thing they had to say.