Well, well. Two home wins in a row, both with clean sheets. No, we’re not getting really excited yet. As before, two away games coming up and plenty still to be done before we can really dare to hope. That sort of attitude seemed to be reflected in the crowd today. I’ve been to noisier funerals. But what the hell. Take the win and move on. Killer got it right with his bet this time. Plymouth were there for the taking and we could/should have won much more comfortably. But we’ve lost at home to poor sides before this season, so we can allow ourselves a decent celebration.
The line-up saw the defence as expected, with Elliot in goal, Murty and Youga the full-backs, and Hudson and Ward in the centre. Racon was given a starting slot, alongside Spring, with Soares out right in preference to Sam and Bailey deployed on the left side of midfield instead of Sam starting on the left. Up front Dickson kept his place and the surprise was that Kandol started instead of Burton. As a spectacle the first half, one moment excepted, was one of the worst I have seen. We looked disjointed and short of a game plan, while Plymouth were ponderous and equally low on confidence.
There were chances. Plymouth had one early on after two defenders went for the same ball and allowed space behind them, but their guy put it over the bar. And our nerves were not helped by a very unsettled start by Elliot (who did steady himself and went on to make decent saves). We had a header and a couple of shots which should have resulted in their keeper having to work harder. But the chances were all about mistakes and the succession of poor passes, poor control and hopeless lofted balls, from both teams, provided a depressing contrast with the way Swansea had been playing in the cup earlier in the day.
However, as the game progressed Dickson and Kandol started to cause some problems and something of an understanding, while their pace and tendency to go for the unpredictable offered hope. Soares offered the occasional run. Midfield was a congested mish-mash in which Racon and Spring coped OK but without dominating.
Then lord above a moment of sheer class. From a corner the ball was knocked out to Racon in some space outside their box. It seemed easier to shoot with his right foot, but he turned left and delivered a superb curling shot into the top corner. The contrast with all that had gone before was dramatic. Plymouth had the chance to respond in kind, with a free kick given in a dangerous area. But their curler came back off the bar. The remainder of the half was much like what went before, but somehow it just seems better when you’re winning. And the second half was a completely different story.
I really think the game turned on a half-time substitution by Plymouth. They took off a right-sided midfielder and brought on a lump to play up front. Suddenly they were far more open at the back and the pace of Dickson and Kandol, plus Soares, started to simply tear them apart. In a 15-minute spell the game should have been put to rest. We won a rather soft (but perfectly correct) penalty for handball, but although Bailey struck it hard their keeper, Larrieu, who during this period kept them in the game, held out a strong hand and the chance went begging. Then a deflected ball looped up in the box and fell to Bailey, who went for power and put it high into the North Stand.
Other good chances followed but finally Dickson flicked on for Kandol, who played an excellent ball into the box for Bailey to run onto. He took it square past the keeper and tucked it away. Valediction. For what it’s worth I’d give the man of the match award to Bailey. He clearly wasn’t comfortable wide-left, but never stopped trying. In the first half he was injured in our box putting his head in where it hurt to avert danger. He missed the penalty and then the great chance, but didn’t hide. Whatever division we end up in next season he looks like Matty Holland’s natural successor.
The rest of the game was fairly low-key, with Charlton content with what they had. Dickson, who had been yellow-carded, was taken off to a deserved standing ovation – and it was noticeable that the chances stopped coming with Burton on (although to be fair we weren’t pressing as hard). There was just time for Plymouth to be gifted a one-on-one by a dreadful back pass, but the guy put it wide. We really won’t play a worse team this season on that performance, with a special pat on the back for Sturrock for making the half-time switch which changed the pattern of play so much.
So, onwards and upwards. Neither the fans nor the players were jubilant. It was a necessary win if we are to retain any hope of staying up. Now its back to whether we can carry it on on our travels.
Elliot: 7/10. Strangely dodgy start, with errors and confusion. But after the first 15 minutes he saved everything he had to and was more comfortable with high balls.
Murty: 8/10. Excellent performance. Not much going forward, but gave his all and ensured that nothing dangerous came at us down their left side.
Youga: 5/10. Undoubtedly a poor game. He seems low on confidence and has lost the exuberance going forward that he used to show. Needs to get it back (and I really hope he does, because when he is playing well he adds a great deal), otherwise Basey will be back in the team.
Ward: 7/10. Coped competently with a succession of aimless high balls, with Plymouth playing to his strengths. Will face tougher tests, but so far so good.
Hudson: 8/10. Another who had a rather iffy start to the game, but once he settled put in another impressive display – again, against very poor opposition.
Bailey: 9/10. As outlined above, I don’t care that he missed a penalty and a great chance. He got in the right position to have another and never stopped working. Playing wide-left clearly isn’t ideal for him, but was asked to do a job and did it.
Racon: 8/10. Has to get an extra point for the goal. Otherwise tidy and looks capable of more. I just want to see that shot again (and again).
Spring: 7/10. Not a great game, but always involved and clearly has some nous about him (one excellent moment when he was found wanting for pace but made sure we kept the ball).
Soares: 6/10. Mixed game. Contributed significantly in the attacking spell but failed to deliver telling balls or get on the end of them. More to come.
Dickson: 8/10. Very good game and deserved a goal. Made a nuisance of himself, won more balls in the air than he had a right to, and made one fabulous break down the right, skipping past challenges to set up a chance. His pace means defenders can never be comfortable.
Kandol: 7/10. Might just be the player to work alongside Dickson. All-round game looked fine, but he didn’t impress with his shooting.
Subs: Burton 5/10 (game was effectively over when he came on). Not used: Shelvey, Holland, Sam, Randolph.