Tuesday, 30 December 2008

La Bonne Annee

I suspect that everyone who does one of these has been poised keyboard at the ready today to pen thoughts on either the end of the custodianship of Phil Parkinson or of the merits of confirming him as manager. It is possible that out of respect following the sad news of the death of Sailor Brown the club has delayed any announcement. If not (and a preview of the cup game against Norwich has now taken the prime spot on the club website), the silence is getting deafening. And, in the words of Thomas Cromwell (well, strictly speaking in the words of Robert Bolt attributed to Cromwell), “there are many kinds of silence”.

The absence to date of any statement confirming Parkinson in the post has to at least increase the chances of him not being retained. With no more matches until the other side of the end of the year and with the January transfer window about to open I cannot see the logic of delaying any confirmation of his staying if he is to stay, unless perhaps a new man is being brought in, his appointment cannot yet be confirmed, and it is intended that Parkinson stays on as assistant (the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially if it costs us more money to pay him off). Yes, he is talking in terms of who the club is targeting to bring in and of consultations with the board over possible signings. But he is duty-bound to talk as if he is staying. Perhaps Richard Murray is still using up his available mobile calls and texts to try to persuade a certain A. Curbishley that there is some good reason (ie good for him) to come back.

By delaying any announcement Murray and the board have lost any opportunity to present retaining Parkinson as a positive decision. Nobody can suggest with a straight face that his record in charge presents the compelling case for an extended appointment that Steve Waggott talked about in his column in the QPR programme. The best that the club could realistically come up with if Parkinson stays is something along the lines of “the improvement in performances since Phil took charge have not yet been reflected in actual results and the board believes that he is the man best placed to help us avoid relegation”. If this is to be the case it would have sounded more convincing a couple of games ago.

There can be a difference between poor decisions and decisions that don’t work out – and like economics football can never be a science as you can never repeat the experiment. Over the past couple of years just about every decision the club has made can be said to have fallen into the latter category, some (especially some signings) obviously make it into both. But I don’t think you can include managerial appointments as obviously poor decisions. As ever it depends on the alternatives available and the circumstances. You can look back on the whole affair and say that whatever alternative path had been taken things couldn’t have turned out worse. But nobody can say for sure things would have been better. Most of the time it was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In my opinion the one decision that was poor was to insist to Curbishley’s replacement that he accept a structure involving Les Reed as number two and Mark Robson as number three rather than trusting the new man to bring in people he would be able to work with. Even then there is no guarantee that things would have turned out better.

After selection process which only served to underline the paucity of the candidates who applied for the job, Billy Davies would have become Charlton manager if he had said ‘yes’ when the post was offered; his strange prevarication opened the way for Iain Dowie, a choice which while not ideal was not widely criticised at the time (except of course by a certain someone who felt a little tangoed at Dowie’s move north). Not long after the board was faced with a choice of persevering with a manager who they doubted could turn things around and whose behaviour seemed to be arousing concern or being criticised for acting too soon. Having decided on a change the options were either to turn back to one or two of the candidates who had applied for the job first time around, launch another possibly extended application process (with no guarantee of anyone better applying than before), or elevating Reed. Even now there are obvious pros and cons from the decision taken.

Once Pardew became available the board acted to get him in, with Reed doing the decent thing and standing aside (and whatever his failings as a manager he deserves respect for what he did with Charlton under Curbishley and the dignity of his departure). No quibbles there. Notwithstanding the considerable problems involved in inheriting someone else’s team and having to oversee numerous comings and goings, as pointed out elsewhere the board could reasonably have expected a better return on its investments under Pardew. And this season his position became increasingly untenable. Once the decision was taken to sack him the board was faced with a similar problem to that of a year ago: whether to risk wasting time that we didn’t have in advertising the post or giving a chance to the man on the spot. Pros and cons again.

Like all football supporters we have delusions of grandeur. But to think that a couple of months ago some were thinking that someone like Sam Allardyce might take the job – and that we could afford someone like him – is a reflection of how we have failed to adjust to our new reality. It is only recently that the pitch announcer has not been reminding us that although we are near the bottom and playing pants a play-off spot was only a few points away. I’m daft enough to think that Curbs could conceivably not dismiss in an instant the idea of returning (and no, this wouldn’t be a perfect solution, just one that would be a damn sight better than anything else within our capabilities).

We all feel the pain of decisions that haven’t succeeded. But spare a thought for Murray. The value of his asset has plummeted over the past 18 months and even then there was the brief prospect of being bailed out by Dubai. Our punishment is to quite possibly endure once again the old Third Division; his own particular Sisyphean pleasure is to continue to pay for the decisions made.

I’m not going to speculate on whether Parkinson stays or goes, or on who should replace him. I don’t know the full range of options. Equally, I’m not going to think about who we should sign, at least not until the process begins, save to highlight that the most staggering statistic for this season is our total for goals conceded at home games. Parkinson is talking in terms of three or four new faces and these are players who will have to come pretty much straight into the first team and gel quickly. It isn’t new faces we’re talking about but another new team.

Instead I’m going to get up a little late, get driven over to the Croix Rousse market to buy a duck or a goose (possibly a Bresse chicken), have a pastis or two once the shopping is done before returning. I’m not going to cook said animal, so the afternoon can be spent in a suitably chilled fashion, the day culminating in traditional festivities. And yes, once refreshed and Eurostar permitting I too will be back at it howling and shouting come Saturday (if only so Murray can enjoy the New Year gift of a cup victory cheque). It’s just that every time I think about singing ‘things can only get better’ I remember when we sang it at Old Trafford at half-time in the cup game, after Schmiekel had been sent off. They didn’t. So with that in mind, I hope all and sundry truly enjoy La Bonne Annee in 2009.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Mixed Emotions Again

Another game which left mixed emotions at the final whistle. There are clearly positives to take from a vastly improved second-half showing, some good individual performances, and no lack of effort overall. But does that mean we should draw a veil over an inept first 45 minutes, which could easily have seen us beaten at the break? Perhaps we should just focus on a uniformly poor display by a certain P. Taylor, the man in green. His mistakes resulted in both of their goals and generally he was conned by some unsavoury ‘professionalism’ from an unlikeable QPR. Did he redeem himself in the last minute by disallowing their final ‘goal’? Perhaps. But if he’d given the penalty for handball before they went up the other end the question would not have arisen.

Despite their new-found riches it’s been hard to have strong feelings one way or the other about QPR. A few fond memories from many years ago. But their money seem to have gone to their heads and a Portuguese manager has lost no time in instilling some of the black arts of the game. Sneaky fouls, writhing in agony over any challenge, complaints over every fair tackle. I had no intention of booing Lee Cook, who I thought tried his best for us last season. But that all changed when a preening brat insisted on celebrating his free kick goal in front of the North Stand. Good riddance to a nothing club.

With McEverley returning early from injury (and still seemingly stripped of a position on the team sheet in the programme) and Basey dropping to the bench, the rest of the team was unchanged from Derby and Norwich. Shelvey made it to the subs bench too, alongside Holland and Burton, with no places for Gillespie (who is going back to Sheff Utd), Todorov (just what he has done wrong I cannot say) or Dickson (soon seemingly to depart), let alone the out-of-favour Youga or Moutaouakil.

We started OK but without much attacking intent and the game shaped up as so many before this season. The opposition slowly played their way into the match and started to look threatening. Their movement going forward was better than ours and it started to tell. But their almost inevitable opening goal owed much to a poor decision by the ref. Bouazza shaped up to hook the ball clear from outside the box only for their inrushing guy to come in on the blind side, duck his head, clutch his face, and win a free kick in a near-perfect position for a curler. With Charlton declining to put a player on the line Cook duly picked the top corner and went on to celebrate like a child. He deserved a smack on the wrist and to be sent home early to bed with a yellow card.

The goal further deflated an already lifeless performance and it almost became a lost cause before half-time but for an outstanding reflex save by Elliot. 2-0 at the break and it would surely have been game over. As it was, QPR went into the break looking entirely comfortable. Another 45 minutes during which the opposition’s keeper had no meaningful save to make. One blocked shot from Bailey and a few corners. That was it. Nowhere near enough effort, movement, or drive.

The second half seemed a continuation of the first before Sam and Bailey intervened. The former, who had been one of the bright spots of the first half (albeit not to much effect) worked the ball down the right and put the cross in just the right place for a late-arriving Bailey to make it his own. A truly excellent goal, well worked and just reward for a determined and well-timed run.

Suddenly tackles were going in and QPR were knocked out of their rhythm. Once ruffled they resorted to cheap shots and complaining. It was a far more exciting period and Sam was terrifying their full-back, while Bouazza was getting some joy on the other flank. Gray and Waghorn were well shackled through the game, but with Bailey and Semedo (who came in for some stick from some quarters with some erratic passes but who was also highly instrumental in us getting back into the game) winning more possession we at least carried a threat.

Half-chances were coming more frequently and we were having the best of it. Only for the ref to intervene again. This time he ignored Blackstock blatently barging the defender off the ball, taking it on to drill the shot into the far corner. Well taken but an obvious foul missed by a poor official. Fortunately this time, especially attacking the Covered End, the effect wasn’t entirely deflationary and another ball in saw players on the ground and Bailey stooping to head the ball into the net.

The last 10 minutes and it could have gone either way. Burton had come on for an ineffective Waghorn, then Basey and Holland for Bouazza and Semedo (who nearly blotted his copybook by inviting the ref to send him off for a shove after their player had kicked out at him). The key chances fell to Sam: the first a free header at the far post with the goalkeeper beaten by the cross, but he put it wide. Then he cut in and saw the shot blocked. All that remained was some sustained injury-time pressure from QPR, our final handball appeal, and their breakaway which saw a shot come back off the post and then buried, only for the officials to do the decent thing and disallow it. I’m not sure why but I think there had been a clear shove on McEverley to knock him out of the way. It was the sort of challenge QPR had got away with all match.

Of course its another home game where we have dropped points. A further extension of the winless run. And another game which could have been lost in the first half. It was also a game that with a bit of good fortune at the end we could easily have won. For that the main thanks have to go to Elliot, Sam and Bailey. It is also another game from which the positives won’t mean a great deal if we follow it up with a lame away defeat. Will it be enough to confirm Parkinson in the post? The suspicion remains that this is a case of cash as well as what viable alternatives there are. I just want the uncertainty to end quickly, one way or the other, so that we can do as much as possible to sort out the loan signings and whose staying and whose going. Let’s get on with it.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. His first-half save was absolutely vital. Can we go back to having a player on the line for dangerous free kicks please?

Cranie: 6/10. Not bad but some poor crosses when he got up in support of Sam and didn’t really add much going forward.

McEverley: 8/10. Must have been knackered at the finish, provided good support going forward. Victim of another QPR rollaround to pick up a yellow card.

Fortune: 7/10. No obvious mistakes but another game without a clean sheet – and someone allowed themselves to get barged off the ball for their second.

Hudson: 7/10. Same as Fortune.

Bailey: 9/10. Two goals have to make him joint man-of-the-match. At half-time the rating would have been 5 but much improved second-half irrespective of the goals.

Semedo: 7/10. Was equally responsible for wresting the game back out of QPR’s grip. Some wasted passes, but the guy never stopped working, made some crunching (and fair) tackles. Nearly marked down for giving the ref the opportunity to send him off.

Bouazza: 6/10. Poor first half, much better second. He made some excellent runs out wide and in the middle and wasn’t far off being a match-winner.

Sam: 9/10. Would have got the full 10 if the late header or shot had gone in. Threatening and effective and set up the first for Bailey beautifully (as he did for Waghorn against Derby).

Gray: 5/10. No change all afternoon against robust defending. Could have been awarded more free kicks but didn’t make enough of a nuisance of himself.

Waghorn: 5/10. Also ineffective, probably down to the quality of defender compared with Derby.

Burton: 5/10. No different from Gray or Waghorn.
Basey: 5/10. Less of a threat than Bouazza when he came on.
Holland: Only on for a couple of minutes.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The Case For An Early Decision

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.

Monday, 15 December 2008


I thought football was supposed to be a funny game. I suppose some neutrals watching on TV might have seen the funny side. But I can’t. Lucky generals? It’s a good job we weren’t at Waterloo or Napoleon’s descendents might still be in power in London. These things are supposed to even themselves out over a season, but the fact is they don’t for teams at the bottom. Coming away from the match tonight felt like after Pardew’s first home game in charge against Fulham, when we were robbed in the last minute by a linesman’s error. Robbed may be a little strong, but Derby were poor and deserved nothing. We were better than of late and were a hair’s breath away from the three points. I was tempted just to write b******s. That word just about sums it up, although I hope the players and the fans can take heart from what nearly was and carry it on.

Trying to be rational, it was far from perfect. We were better than against Coventry, Derby provided poorer opposition. But for the first time since early October we were actually in front in a home game. At last we got ourselves in a position to win a game. That we didn’t hold on was cruel, but there you go. With apologies to Lee Hazelwood, I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me. I hope it feels like that in the morning.

The team saw Weaver replaced in goal by Elliot, which was a little harsh (I would have actually made Weaver my player of the month as he didn’t let a couple of poor games affect him) but you can’t argue with the decision; and Elliott did nothing wrong (except a rather poor imitation of Sasha when it came to their penalty) and a lot right. With McEveley out (and seemingly removed from the team sheet in the programme) Basey got the nod. Holland was rested, with Semedo returning to central midfield to partner Bailey, while the reshuffling of the loan signings saw Waghorn come in for Burton and Sam returned in place of Gillespie wide right. One of the notable features was the Dad’s Army bench: Weaver, Todorov, Gillespie, Burton (plus Youga).

In the first half an hour we were livelier than against Coventry, with Waghorn causing more problems than Burton since he came here and Bouazza more involved than in most games (although frustratingly he often failed to make himself available for Basey, which contributed to one or two poor clearances). A run and dangerous cross from Bouazza and then a ball that ran loose to in the box and a shot came crashing back off the post.

Then came the two moments that set the tone for the game. Just as against Coventry the opposition seemed to be making more headway and sure enough their chance came. A dangerous cross from the left and their bald guy had a near free header. He failed to connect properly and it went wide. If that had gone in it would have seemed like Coventry all over again – and would really have tested the crowd’s support. This time it didn’t.

Then we scored a quite excellent goal, the sort of centre-forward’s strike that have been few and far between since Gray came to the club (which seemed to inspire him and he had I thought one of his best games for us, probably helped by the greater mobility of Waghorn as his partner). It was well worked to him and he ran onto the ball and buried it. Saints alive, we’re ahead in a home game – and managed to hold the lead to the break, with the players applauded off the pitch.

Derby made changes early in the second half which made them much more open, but also a little more dangerous. We did manage to exploit the space to create chances. A foul on Bouazza and a free kick just outside the box, then Bouazza played into space with only the keeper to beat only for him to shoot over. We seemed more likely to score a second than they were to equalise, but after they had one ruled out for offside a cross from the right saw a hand stuck out and a rather soft penalty conceded.

At least heads didn’t drop and with the game still pretty open we continued to look the more likely. Finally Gray and Semedo managed to release Sam down the right and he did superbly, cutting back inside rather than playing an early ball in and picking out Waghorn inside the box. His shot took a deflection but had enough on it to loop up and into the net.

As the game wore on we seemed to be holding them quite comfortably, not having to chase the game. Burton replaced Waghorn, who had taken a knock, and Gillespie came on to good effect for Sam. But there were tired legs out there and four minutes of stoppage time was not what we wanted to hear. Derby had no choice but to try to get the ball into the box and their last-gasp efforts saw a couple of throws, the last of which produced a cross, a deflection off a Charlton defender, and the ball swept home by Ellington. Those around me were convinced we were well over the four minutes, but for the sake of appearances the ref played on after the kick-off for a full twenty seconds.

There are for once positives. We put ourselves in a position to win and didn’t end up throwing it away. There was no questioning the commitment and application, just the need for a post-match inquiry as to just who did what to deserve this sort of luck. Elliot looked assured, dealt with high balls well, and had no chance with their goals. Cranie was solid after an indifferent night against Coventry, Basey played well with the exception of one or two mistakes, while Fortune and Hudson generally had the measure of their forwards – but two balls into the box were not dealt with and we paid the price. Semedo and Bailey worked tirelessly, Bouazza, perhaps boosted by his player of the month vote (yes, I was mystified), was more active – but missed the chances to have buried the game. Gray was much improved, Waghorn offered us more mobility (and compared well with an ineffective Varney) and Sam deserves special praise for the way he set up the second goal. Finally, the crowd were, for once, excellent, even at the finish. Please can we provide this support when we are losing.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. No impression of nerves, assured performance. Having chosen him he looks set for a run in the side.

Cranie: 7/10. Not much going forward, but defensively sound.

Basey: 7/10. A couple of errors in the first half but got away with them, useful deliveries from set pieces.

Fortune: 6/10. Seemed to be having a good game, plenty of balls well won in the air. But we conceded two goals as a result of crosses, with another ruled out for offside.

Hudson: 6/10. As with Fortune. A lot of good work, but another two conceded.

Semedo: 7/10. Has had a tough time of late, but with a limited and primarily defensive role did a job.

Bailey: 6/10. Plenty of tackles and covering, but still struggling a little to pick out passes and to make the team tick.

Bouazza: 5/10. Oh, Bouazza. I said I would judge him only on whether he scores and tonight he missed the chances. On that basis it should be a 0, but I thought he actually contributed more for the team than before and at least got in good positions. Could have been a match-winner but wasn’t.

Sam: 8/10. As before not everything goes right for him, but in previous games he has delivered some telling crosses and tonight our second goal was as much his as Waghorn’s.

Gray: 8/10. Much improved, led the line well and took his goal well.

Waghorn: 8/10. He offered a good deal more than Burton has so far and scored. Two central forwards scoring in the same game. When did that last happen?


Burton: 5/10. Didn’t say any significant contribution.
Gillespie: 7/10. Superb at running down the clock when we needed to and almost stole in at the far post to score.

Now I’m going away to cry into a bottle.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Please Sir, I Want More Straws

What is there to say? Were we poor? Undoubtedly. Were Coventry good? Not really, although they had a plan and weren’t the abject no-hopers that came to town at the end of last season. Were we unlucky? A little, although if you make your own luck you have to say we didn’t do enough to earn the tag. Did the players deserve to leave the pitch to a chorus of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’? Not really, but if the supporters can’t call for the manager’s head any more someone has to take the rap; and after the sixth consecutive home game without a win and 12 overall there’s a lot of frustration to go around. Empty spaces on the terraces on a quiet, cold evening accompanied by a nervous, timid display. Are we in a full-blown crisis? Without doubt.

Let’s deal with the game first. Weaver and Cranie were passed fit; Semedo dropped to the bench and Holland returned to play alongside Bailey; and Gray too took a place among the subs, with McLeod leapfrogging both Todorov and Dickson to start alongside Burton. Otherwise it was as you were, with the defence and wide players unchanged.

We probably shaded the first half an hour without really threatening. Gillespie was working well and Bailey and Holland were at least matching their opposite numbers. Burton was allowed the time and space for a shot, a couple of decent crosses went in, and Hudson met a corner well to bring a save out of their keeper. Not bad, but not much of a return. At the other end Coventry started slowly but became more threatening as the half wore on. McEveley slipped while backtracking and seemed to damage his shoulder (if it was dislocated allowing him to play on until Semedo had warmed up was at the least rash). After Semedo came on their player, Simpson, seemed to get more joy from getting wide and running into space (as well as winning challenges in the air by leading with the elbow). A dangerous cross to the near post well met by Hudson, then the ball in the net but ruled out for offside (although in days gone by it would have been given for their guy being played onside).

I began to think that at least the relative improvement under Parkinson of going in at half time at home on level terms was going to continue. But a whipped cross from their left and Simpson ploughed through a static defence to get on the end of it. Just another game in which sooner or later the opposition created a chance – in this case by one player reading a good ball in and showing the determination to make something happen – and took it while we tried to play steadily and hope that something would pay off. But with Burton and McLeod far too static and shackled the percentages were never really being made to work in our favour. We didn’t make enough happen to say we were truly unlucky at the interval – although perhaps it would all have been different if the referee had seen fit to award an appropriate amount of injury time. Two minutes after at least two breaks of longer than that for injuries and then the substitution. Clutching at straws? Well clearly, but what else is there to clutch at?

The second half seemed to be meandering along in a similar fashion when McLeod managed to move onto the ball and get goalside of his marker in the area. There was contact and, while the penalty was soft, it looked like the correct decision. Having given the penalty the only question was why their defender, who was undoubtedly the last man, stayed on the pitch. That decision too changed the game. Burton delivered an unstoppable penalty and suddenly it was game on, with a chance for the crowd to get involved and lift the team.

It doesn’t need saying that the one thing you can’t do in that situation is give the lead back straight away. A silly challenge and a free kick, taken many yards ahead of where the actual offence took place. And this time it was an unstoppable free kick that flew in off the far post, giving Weaver no chance. Cue return to frustration and despondency.

There was a double substitution, with Todorov coming on for Burton and Gillespie, who was injured on the touchline, replaced by Gray (just why it wasn’t Sam to keep the shape I don’t know), with McLeod moving wide. As in previous games Todorov’s introduction seemed to lead to more things happening. But the game was getting stretched and we were just as likely to concede, leaving players forward, as score again. And it was the final 15 minutes that were the most depressing.

Basically, lacking shape and bereft of ideas, and with players tiring, the mistakes came thick and fast. Misplaced passes, poor control, being outplayed by an average team. It all seemed to weigh on the players, whose mood seemed to be summed up by a challenge by Cranie which smacked of ‘I don’t care if you send me off’. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes things would only have got worse. There was nothing more on the bench, nothing more in reserve, and we were being beaten by Coventry.

There will be time enough for reasoned comment over the next few days – although the best thing we can all do is forget about football until Monday and leave it to the players and management to sort it out. It’s what they’re paid for. There are some things that we might usefully change, in particular dropping the very tentative approach adopted under Parkinson. With McEveley looking likely to be out for a while Moutaouakil may return (although whether he wants to is another matter) and I’d also bring back Youga. We’ve bolstered height and strength in defence in return for attacking possibilities and we’re still conceding goals – and not scoring, or creating many chances. Oh, and that notion that the new guy might prove to be lucky. Forget it.

Player Ratings:

Weaver: 7/10. No chance with either goal. A little tentative on some crosses but that’s nothing new.

Cranie: 5/10. That tackle late on suggested to me either he was very tired or was past caring (or both). Seldom got forward.

McEveley: 6/10. Not on long enough for a proper rating.
Semedo: 5/10. Disappointing. Seemed tentative and was getting caught out by Coventry’s tactics, found it increasingly difficult as the game wore on to make passes.

Hudson: 6/10. Can’t say he had a bad game, with one superb interception in the first half. But he is the captain and there was insufficient sign of him providing leadership as things were going wrong.

Fortune: 6/10. Didn’t see him do much wrong, just another game where we concede goals.

Bouazza: 2/10. I said previously that given the lack of contribution to the team from him I’ll rate him on whether he scores. He didn’t and his contribution was unchanged. He is clearly capable of a lot more but if he doesn’t produce it for us what is the point of playing him?

Gillespie: 6/10. I thought he had a reasonable first half, although his crossing from good positions too often provided an easy catch for their keeper.

Holland: 7/10. Decent first half, tried to up his contribution as things went wrong, tired towards the end and made mistakes. No shortage of effort but is it enough?

Bailey: 5/10. OK first half, with some good tackles, but too often he looks up with the ball and doesn’t see or feel what to do, hesitates, and is caught in possession. In part its the fault of those in front of him and their lack of movement. But it’s also about awareness.

Burton: 5/10. Good penalty but nothing much else.

McLeod: 6/10. Won the penalty but nothing much else. Deserves some praise for not hiding when things were not working.

Todorov: 7/10. I’m not sure what he needs to do to start a game. He continues to look by some distance our best forward. Maybe he’s still not up to 90 minutes.

Gray: 5/10. Not effective after coming on.