For the neutral the game won’t live long in the memory; well, it won’t live long in anyone’s memory. We didn’t lose, we kept a clean sheet, but that was about it. At the end there was no sense of despair; our fate had been settled some time ago. The game presumably does mark the end of Tom Soares’ spell with us; the guy didn’t even make the bench, let alone the team. Otherwise, apart from decent spirit and commitment, a sparkling display from Racon (who was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch), and a competent defensive display at The Valley (and there have been far too few of those this season), the only surprise was Preston’s lack of ambition. For play-off contenders they put in a lame display.
The starting X1 was surprising. No Soares, no Spring, with Ambrose coming in to play wide left and Zhi in the hole behind Kandol, while Shelvey was given a start in central midfield – at least for the first 20 minutes. It looked disjointed from the off. Ambrose and Bailey left us short of pace and real attacking intent down the flanks, Zhi made intelligent runs but usually found himself running out of options, and Racon was subdued in the early period, seemingly constrained by uncertainty over where Shelvey would go. After about 20 minutes Zhi and Shelvey effectively swapped roles.
The only meaningful moments of a truly dull first half were Hudson getting free in the box to get in a header from a corner, but making a poor contact, plus a shove in the back on Kandol in the area which went unpunished. Preston put in a couple of dangerous crosses but nothing more, looking themselves short of pace and relying on a couple of lumps up front. Neither side looked capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and an inept stalemate seemed on the cards.
It did get better. The unhappy Ambrose was replaced at the break by Sam. Ambrose had got into some good positions in the first half, but he singularly lacked the drive and confidence to make anything of them. I can’t take any pleasure in watching a decent footballer so out of sorts. Sam was lively early on and with Racon increasingly influential we looked the more likely. But little of this translated into a goal threat. Dickson finally came off the bench, the surprise being that Butterfield was the man replaced, with Bailey dropping to right-back and Shelvey moving out wide left. The obvious replacement would have been Shelvey. We are all delighted that he’s signed a new contract and expect him to be one for the future (if he does indeed stay). But he was largely peripheral.
Taking off a recognised defender looked as if it might cost us more as shortly afterwards Hudson went down and disappeared quickly down the tunnel. Given that Preston’s only real threat was from crosses suddenly we had a problem, but eventually Holland stripped off and as ever fitted in seamlessly.
It only remained to be seen whether either side would eek out a surprise winner. Dickson made a few things happen, but actual chances were thin on the ground. The one real moment came with a header from a corner, from Kandol I think, which was turned over the bar by their keeper. And an excellent move initiated by Racon and ending with him shooting over from a good position. That was about it.
Elliot: 7/10. Had very little to do, but dealt well with some crosses and everything else that came his way.
Butterfield: 6/10. Struggled to make things happen going forward when in tandem with Ambrose, but defensively OK. A little surprising to see him taken off.
Youga: 6/10. Still to me looks a shadow of the enthusiastic player of a year ago, but did his defensive work.
Hudson: 8/10. He and Ward dealt very well with the aerial threat and seldom looked in trouble.
Ward: 8/10. As with Hudson, good display.
Ambrose: 5/10. Everything about his body language is bad, started brightly enough but once a few things went wrong (and some in the crowd got on his back) became increasingly ineffective. No surprise to see him subbed at half-time. Will that be his last appearance in a Charlton shirt?
Racon: 9/10. Please let us keep him next season. Kept the ball in difficult positions, moved forward well, showed a level of skill that set him apart.
Shelvey: 6/10. Struggled to have an impact on the game. Some good touches but we still expect too much of him at this stage.
Bailey: 7/10. Having to play out of position, but as ever gave it his all – and made one superb block in defence in the second half.
Zhi: 6/10. Dropped back to central midfield during the first half. Decent enough display.
Kandol: 7/10. Played the lone striker role well enough.
Sam: 6/10. Started brightly and made a difference to the game, but didn’t make it count where it mattered.
Dickson: 6/10. Same as Sam really.
Holland: 8/10. What can you say? Will he have the legs for another campaign in a lower division?