I remember being told many moons ago that if you’ve got something to say but don’t know how to say it, don’t say it. So a touch of blogger’s block, mixed with work priorities and a reasonably debilitating bout of flu, has encouraged some quiet reflection on our plight. Also, I’m happy to admit that I’ve been disinclined to publish much negative outside of what might sometimes (I hope) pass for constructive criticism. Enough of that, let the verbage resume.
I wasn’t at the Norwich game, but talked at length with a Norwich supporter friend who was, someone with the benefit of no prior knowledge of our tactics or players (gone are the days when people could reel off the names of Charlton players, now the most we can hope for is ‘oh, that’s where he is now’) and certainly no bias against us. He said that we were by some distance the worst team he’s seen at Carrow Road for a very long time. He suggested that Charlton went there desperate for a 0-0 (probably better to say hoping to nick something and hold on) and that Norwich were almost bad enough to let that happen. But with no attacking intent, no support for the forwards from midfield, and with the wide players misfiring (he thought Sam looked useful but very wayward with his crossing, Bouazza he remembered as a good player at Watford but wondered what had gone wrong) it was for him only a question of whether Norwich would fashion a decent chance and score.
I did remind him of the Hudson shot (he accepted that and pointed out that Marshall just makes those kind of saves), the Semedo shot (no, didn’t remember that one) and one dangerous cross in the first half (ah yes, that was a bit threatening). Doesn’t exactly add up to 90 minutes of pulsating action does it? Perhaps his most damning assessment was that once Charlton had to open out a little having gone behind it was easy pickings for Norwich, who he said should then have scored more. Finally, he was astonished that at only 1-0 down Norwich came under so little pressure in the final few minutes. I had to say it sounded like a number of games I had seen this season.
Usually even in a poor season you look at purple patches. At least ours have to still be ahead of us. Back-to-back wins are usually a good indication. Not only have we not had any back-to-back wins, only twice so far this season (away at Doncaster and Notts Forest, then home to Burnley and away to Ipswich) have we had back-to-back points. In other words almost every time we have won or drawn we have followed that up with a defeat. Our longest unbeaten run(s) this season stands at two. To say that the team has got used to losing is stating the obvious.
Assuming that a perfectly understandable desire to avoid Millwall is an insufficient reason to aim for a return to third-flight football, what is to be done? Of course the decision over the manager has to come first. I have no complaints that Parkinson was given the chance in a caretaker capacity and given a little leeway to avoid thinking that each game might be his last in charge. Six games can’t amount to a fair crack of the whip. But it’s long enough to come to some conclusions – and they can’t be positive.
I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Alladyce/Rednapp ‘new broom’ effect is automatic. But it’s not rocket science to suggest reasons why such changes can have an effect. Usually the new broom comes into a club in crisis and is consequently unencumbered by the pressures of failure. To players they must seem like a breath of fresh air whatever they do on the training ground; and of course there is extra effort on their part to impress early on. As long as the new guy has enough nous to harness the brighter mood and direct it, pointing out to the players that they are excellent and that it was all the fault of the last manager, while focusing on the basics, the effect can be dramatic – especially if there is a bit of luck on the pitch. We’ve also seen that internal promotions can work, at least for a while. At Sunderland Sbragia raised morale and seems to have allowed the players more freedom on the pitch, which they have been good enough to exploit.
What I have yet to see work well is a manager instilling confidence in the team he has taken over by commenting that “everyone is waiting for the January transfer window to open .... I doubt that anyone could argue with the fact that this squad needs improving”. I read these comments from Parkinson in the programme for the Derby game with astonishment. What on earth is he trying to do? Win brownie points for honesty? Sorry, you get brownie points for delivering improvement (hopefully leading to points). There are many successful styles of management (although anyone who thinks the way to discover them is a management course shouldn’t bother); all involve leadership of a sort and all involve various ways by which you can maximise the talents available to you. Sometimes they involve lying, or at least playing with the truth. I’m not suggesting we praise deception in itself, but the style of management that involves saying ‘you’re crap and I want to get in new players’ usually ends in tears. After all, if a player is out of the squad at present just how good is he meant to feel about himself? Answer is you put in a transfer request (and who can blame you?).
In my opinion Parkinson has brought some stability to team selection and some plain talking, welcome developments after what had gone before (was it only a couple of months ago that Pardew was reassuring us in the programme that he was not just using Charlton as a stepping-stone?) But on the downside he has singularly failed to ease the tension gripping the players or to lift their morale and confidence. And the ‘back to basics’, safety-first approach has not worked on the pitch. Under Parkinson we have had three tame away defeats with just one goal scored, a poor home defeat, and two relatively encouraging home draws (any benefits of which were quickly wiped out by defeat in the next game) – against six of the most ordinary teams in this division. Of course if Derby had not equalised things might look different. But these moments matter. If Fulham had not been handed their equaliser against us maybe Pardew would still be in charge of a Premiership team. All ifs and buts and might have beens.
Despite the above, I’m not just going to conclude Parkinson has to go. I don't sign the cheques. But I do feel that now is the time for a decision on him as each game becomes more important – and there are two left before the year is out. There were good reasons for Richard Murray to say no decision until January. But by now he must be pretty sure himself whether Parkinson is the best available option. Only he and Chappell are in a position to know, on the basis of our finances and the CVs in the top drawer. If they feel Parkinson is the best bet why not give him a boost and come out and say now that he has the job until the end of the season? That would at least enable Parkinson to be thinking in terms of firming up his plans for the January window; also, if things start to go badly against QPR on Boxing Day it would work against the crowd turning (perhaps even the players for that matter), as at least we would know this is it for the rest of the season and we have to try to make the best of it.
If Murray and the board have all but decided we have to make another change, the only good reasons for not making it now would seem to be the timing of the availability of a replacement and the fact that they said Parkinson would be in charge until the end of the year. Murray might also be forgiven for not wanting to have to play Santa two Christmases running by sacking a manager just before the festive season.
At the moment I can’t get excited about the prospect of Parkinson staying in charge. But I’d rather find out now that he is if he is going to be than in January. Then we can focus on what goes on on the pitch (hopefully that will work in favour of another rallying call) and the possibility of making a better fist of a transfer window than in the past. If he isn’t going to be retained beyond 31 December, don’t hang the guy out for another two matches; we haven’t got the games to spare.