Let’s not get off on the wrong foot by thinking there were no positives to be taken from the day. The coach made good time getting back (having had no means of contacting Cambridge Addick to take him up on his kind offer of a lift it was to be the coach for me), enabling me to pen this nonsense and watch Match Of The Day, the rain held off while strolling around Hillsborough, and the pastie at the service station on the way up was half-way palatable. On the downside, I had hoped to get through the rest of my life without having to endure any more Abba and Mama Mia in particular, only to find myself trapped on the return and unable to avoid the dreadful DVD that was played. Oh, and the football was a shambles.
The day started early. Too bloody early. Walking down from the station it felt like Brad Davies in Midnight Express going through the airport. With every step there was still the option to turn around and go home, something with hindsight he (or rather William Hayes) presumably would have done. The coffee pot would have still been warm. But no. Having experienced Operation Ewood Park and a few others there was a sense that maybe this time. Only this time the fleet of coaches comprised two. Having stepped on there was no turning back.
Commenting on team selection and formation with the benefit of hindsight is always handy. But with Parkinson having, as he admitted, some difficult choices to make after victory in midweek all that can be said was that he got them wrong, or to put it another way we played poorly and lost badly. Giving Elliot a rest seemed a fair decision and Randolph came in. Basey got the nod at left-back while Soares came straight in on the left, with Bailey and Spring in the centre, Sam on the right, and Shelvey in the floating role. With Burton unavailable Gray came in as the lone striker, despite having appeared during the week to have been on his way out.
Nothing overly controversial, so what went wrong? Playing Shelvey in the hole has worked in games not least as he created space, was given the ball, made chances for Burton, and got on the end of things. However, he seemed to play like another central midfielder today and instead of working the ball through midfield and down the flanks we opted to play a succession of chipped balls to Gray, who either flicked on to no-one or found himself outnumbered. Bailey and Spring found themselves losing the physical challenge, with neither of them providing effective defensive cover, Soares was peripheral, and collectively the midfield played like strangers – hardly surprising given that two of them have only just joined us and one is a teenager finding his feet.
Far from coming out of the starting blocks, fired up by having at last secured a victory, the opening exchanges saw us nervous, unambitious, disorganised, and lacking in movement. The overriding impression was that at 0-0 we were happy. Wednesday took a while to get going, but when they did Potter (a loan signing I assume) looked a handful while Jeffers was unsettling Hudson and Fortune in a way that Gray was singularly failing to do. Hudson did a good job containing him in the first half, but the constant irritation he provided seemed to take its toll through the game. With Soares looking like he had only just been introduced to teammates only Sam offered a threat, worrying Wednesday with his pace.
As so often this season, once the opposition upped the pace we conceded goals. A shot from the edge of the box took a deflection but I thought Randolph got his hand to the shot, only to divert it into the corner of the net. Then a corner to the far post and two Wednesday players free, one of whom decided to head it into the net. Should Randolph have come for it? Seems, like Weaver, that’s not what he does. In any event, where was the marking?
We managed a couple of shots in the first half, plus one moment when Sam nearly got in. But against that a dire defensive header let them in for a one-on-one which Randolph saved splendidly and Jeffers was played through only to slice wide. Add in a couple more stinging shots from them and at the break we could have no complaints at being behind.
2-0 down and a formation that wasn’t working. It was crying out for a change, especially to someone who remains mystified why Todorov is fit for the bench but is always overlooked and with Dickson another alternative. Personally I would have taken off Gray and Shelvey and brought the pair of them on. Instead we continued as before, the only change being Murty getting caught by a late tackle and having to depart, with Moutaouakil coming on to play left-back.
We needed a goal from somewhere to get back in it, but the game was killed off (if it hadn’t already been) by an especially painful Wednesday third. Hudson had time to direct a header right to one of two Charlton players but put it between them and into the path of a Wednesday player. He cut in, played a low cross, and Jeffers cleverly let the ball run past Randolph and slotted it in from a tight angle. He took some pleasure in the goal, taking off his shirt and leaving it off until the obligatory booking.
Game over, so Dickson came on for Soares. He at least looked lively and made a few things happen, although as someone wanting to be off he seemed more intent every time he got the ball on trying to get his name on the scoresheet than considering options. Sam had faded and barely saw the ball in the second half, Moutaouakil got forward but gave the ball away in bad positions, and with heads pretty low defensively we were close to falling apart. Hudson seemed to be unravelling and Fortune offered little support. Randolph distinguished himself with a great double save, but could have been sent off after bringing one of theirs down on the edge of the box, escaping with a yellow.
Somewhat surprisingly we actually scored. Out of nothing. The ball was played to Spring and he put in a stinging low shot into the corner of the net. In other circumstances it would have been a peach, as it was it barely raised a cheer. There was no suggestion of a dramatic comeback and to round things off a last-minute penalty was awarded and dispatched.
There were few boos, just some at half-time, more a collective sense of despair mixed with some gallows humour. When we failed with a free kick the Wednesday fans started singing ‘that’s why you’re going down’. A minute later, after another misdirected pass, the Charlton fans broke into ‘that’s why we’re going down’. There was no lack of commitment, just a total lack of cohesion, drive, ambition, movement – and too often an inability to do the basics.
Just like the Forest game, this was another big blow. Wednesday weren’t bad; they were strong and covered well, played to a pattern, and had forwards that were a handful. Their pricing for the game had ensured a good crowd and boardroom changes seem to have given them a renewed commitment. But they weren’t world-beaters. Just another OK team that beat us with something to spare.
It’s hard at the moment to see where we go from here. Forget about the cup tie next Saturday, send the reserves. Next up for real is Palace. A performance like today against them will be hard to forgive, so there’s 10 days on the training ground to try to forge a cohesive unit. Please get on with it.
Randolph: 6/10. Made some excellent saves but might have done better with the first two goals (maybe I’m being harsh, let’s see the replays) and almost got himself sent off.
Murty: 7/10. With our luck he’ll now be out for a while. Did OK but no more.
Basey: 5/10. Indifferent game. Seems short of pace and offered very little going forward.
Hudson: 5/10. Tough game and he seemed to be losing it in the second half. Playing so often in a struggling team may be getting to him.
Fortune: 5/10. Featured very little; no obvious mistakes, but another game when the defence has shipped goals easily and the central combination has to be questioned. Seems we tried for another defender on loan and it’s not hard to see why with these two our only recognised centre-halves.
Soares: 5/10. Too soon to judge.
Bailey: 4/10. He seemed to struggle throughout the game and the pairing with Spring looked short of drive, strength and imagination.
Spring: 5/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal but otherwise peripheral. Seems tidy but a lot like Hughes used to be – not especially fast, not especially strong.
Sam: 7/10. Our only real threat, but saw little of the ball in the second half.
Shelvey: 5/10. Not a good game. Seemed to be playing more as a third central midfielder this time and struggled to contribute. No lack of effort.
Gray: 5/10. Found himself having to deal with a lot of hopeful balls played in his direction and outnumbered, but didn’t threaten and didn’t look like scoring.
Moutaouakil: 5/10. Got forward well as usual, but a couple of poor passes nearly cost us dear and gave away the last penalty.
Dickson: 6/10. Came on when the game was lost and made some things happen, but looked like someone who wants out.