Saturday, 26 December 2009

One Point (Heroically) Gained

There are draws and draws. Last Saturday was undoubtedly two points dropped, with us failing to hold leads of 3-2 and 4-3 against 10 men. Nobody left the ground today thinking anything other than this being a splendid, merited point secured in the face of extreme adversity. Well, Swindon fans might quibble with ‘merited’, but it was nobody’s fault but theirs that they thought the game was over when they went 2-1 up. Like last Saturday, it should have been. But, as we know, football is .... that sort of game. And today was great entertainment, not just for the spirit we showed in playing a game with nine men for more than a half but also for the tactical options it threw up, for both teams. Just how do you play with nine men – and how do you play against them when you have got in front?

For what it’s worth I think Parkinson got it spot on – except for the decision not to substitute Sodje(S) when he was bloodied. And now the spotlight is on Colin Cameron to come up with any previous case of a Charlton team taking something from a game played with nine men for more than a half. I can’t remember one.

The line-up was unexpected, to say the least. We knew we would be without Sam and Mooney, but I doubt that many would have predicted a 4-4-2 line-up which involved Bailey moving back out left, Wagstaff being dropped, and Llera coming in for Dailly. Shelvey came in to partner Semedo in central midfield, with Spring operating on the right, while Sodje(A) got the nod over McKenzie, McLeod and Dickson (all of whom were on the bench) to partner Burton up front.

Whatever the tactical plan was at the start, it went out of the window through the first half as we switched from 4-4-2 to 4-3-2 and then 4-3-1. A messy opening period was notable for Burton squandering a golden opportunity to head us into the lead and then Sodje(S) collapsing after an aerial challenge. It seemed serious from the start, but instead of a bad landing it turned out to be a head wound and a period of more than five minutes of us playing with only 10 on the pitch. Well, at least that gave us some preparation for what was to come. Given that no substitution was made the assumption was that Sam S would return. Indeed, he did, with a bandaged head. So it was less of a case of a rush of blood to the head than an absence of such when he dived into a challenge with both feet off the ground from a set piece. Whatever was going on in his head, I’ve seldom seen a home sending off greeted with such little complaint (of course we booed, but that’s obligatory). It was a straight red and nobody could argue.

The next crucial moment saw Sodje(A) challenged in the box and going down. The referee had a decent view and said no penalty. Seen them given, but not this time. That didn’t stop Burton continuing the debate and picking up a silly yellow card for his troubles. We’d already seen signs of indecision in Swindon’s defence and we exploited them to score an excellent first goal (if I’m honest I can’t remember if we scored before the first sending off or after it, but that’s celebratory red wine for you; and I’m far too lazy to check the club site). A cross from the right was worked back to Shelvey on the edge of the area and he took deliberate aim to curl a beauty into the bottom corner. His return was mixed before the goal, with some misplaced passes, but that moment just underlined the potential. There is something special about a player that gets a half-chance and instinctively makes the most of it.

One up but down to 10 men. Semedo had dropped back to central defence and Spring and Bailey tucked in to keep the shape. But a difficult situation became dire as Burton had one of those Henry moments and got caught. He was almost in but the ball bounced awkwardly and the keeper came out to collect. I thought at first that Burton was given a very poor second yellow for the challenge on the keeper (which really wasn’t a foul), but enough others pointed out that he had instead had a truly daft moment and had used his hand. Out came yellow again and suddenly the game took on a very strange tone. Like Sodje, you can’t say it was real intent; but like Sodje you have to say the ref had no real choice having already booked the guy. Dumb and dumber is too harsh; these things happen. But in the same game, and in the first half...... The ref deserved criticism for giving a free kick against Semedo and for not booking one or two of their guys for persistent fouling on high balls. But however much it hurts for nothing else, having set out his stall by booking Burton first time (and in that at least he was consistent, later booking Basey for a reaction to not being awarded a corner and one of their guys for dissent).

We managed to scramble out the remainder of the first half, but I think we all would have taken a draw at the break. Playing with nine you need to be tight – and lucky, because there’s no way you are going to stop chances being created. Parkinson kept the same (reduced) team for the second half, which was reasonable as long as Sodje(A) would be replaced when his legs had gone, chasing enough hopeless causes. It was all about defending and holding what we had. But instead of a desperate last 10 minutes two goals from Swindon changed the picture. First, a ball in from the right was met by their forward who gave it enough of a touch to send it into the bottom corner, with no chance for Elliot. No need for a change in formation as 1-1 would still have been acceptable, although around this time McKenzie came on to do the running around up front job with fresh legs (although unlike previous substitute appearances it was rather less effective). But with about 15 minutes left another from the right went across the goal and found their guy at the far post to score.

Heads were not surprisingly down, but then the onus shifted. Swindon just wanted the game over and thought it was won. We were bruised but had nothing to lose, so Wagstaff came on for Omozusi and then Dickson came off the bench. Instead of going for the throat Swindon took their foot off the pedal and that allowed us to hope; any set piece or opportunity. With a couple of minutes left that moment seemed to have arrived as Wagstaff got in a low cross from the right and enough bodies followed it in. But instead of a decisive touch the ball was left sitting a couple of yards off the line and was cleared.

With four extra minutes signalled we were just baying for another chance to get the ball in their box and hope for the best. Instead we were treated to the absolute delight of Swindon, who could have surrounded all our players from any set piece, watching as a ball to the far post was turned past their defender by Llera who then applied the deftest of lobs over the keeper. Cue pandemonium and a desperate howl for the final whistle after the resumption.

Llera takes the accolade as man of the match. He came back into the side and found himself with two different partners in the first half, then scored an absolute beauty. Semedo did superbly as well, as did Elliot in stopping what was possible. Basically this isn’t a game for player ratings as all nine deserve full marks. Sodje(S) had a bad moment and will no doubt hold up his hands for it; Burton had one silly moment and one aberration. But sod it, the pain of a stoppage time equaliser against us has just been more than balanced. You cannot beat a last-minute goal to get something out of a game, one in which all concerned on the pitch deserve credit. I just hope their not too knackered for Monday.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Two Points Dropped

‘Eight goals, and I’m still hacked off ...’ I’d have settled very happily for a 1-0 ground out result, but derbies do strange things to players and today was no exception. Conceding two equalisers to a team down to 10 men is bound to stick in the throat, especially with the second one coming in stoppage time. Over the full game we can have no complaints about having to share the spoils. Fact is overall they showed better control and passing than us through the match, with livelier and often quicker players, all of which left our central midfield outgunned, our wingers peripheral, and our defence with a severe case of the jitters. Anyone other than Millwall and you’d say they earnt their point. We failed to impose ourselves on the game. But it remains one we should have put to bed in the second half – and failed to do so; it was also one that we might have struggled to get back into having gone 2-0 down were it not for excellent work by both Mooney and Burton.

You can’t concede two penalties and have a player sent off and feel the ref did you any favours. But he did. He made a mistake and gave a corner which led to their second goal and didn’t even book the guy for the first penalty. Mooney was set to shoot and if it was adjudged a foul should have gone. The two penalties we were given cannot be considered contentious and on that basis we could have gone in at the break 2-1 up against nine men. Whether we would have made two extra men count is another matter. Otherwise I though the ref handled a difficult game quite well, clamping down early on the inevitable clashes, which involved booking both Sam and their guy, and then avoiding the temptation to square things up by giving Sam another yellow when he played the ball out with his boot a little high (and their guy ducking in).

Team selection was not contentious, with the defence picking itself (given the injuries), and the rest unchanged from Stockport. I thought it was a little surprising that Racon didn’t make the bench, which was heavily weighted towards the forwards, with Spring getting the nod.

The early exchanges were scrappy and indecisive, with plenty of niggly challenges, although it was indicative that from the off we struggled to get Sam and Wagstaff in the game. I’m one of Semedo’s biggest fans, but him and Bailey together in central midfield does leave us short of creativity and guile and places an emphasis on getting the wide men going. Today I thought Semedo was guilty too often of aimless balls hoofed clear, and the wingers guilty of not creating the space to make themselves available; too often we failed to keep possession and usually gave the ball away cheaply.

Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Millwall took the lead. It was one of those defensive howlers that happen sometimes. Two guys covering the ball (I think one was Basey) and making a mess between them, allowing their forward a clear run on Elliot. He didn’t fluff it. So, something of a wake-up call, but nothing really changed. Instead it remained mixed and before long the ref had made his gaffe by giving them a corner. It should have been cleared but wasn’t and ended up dropping to someone in a blue shirt (no, I really don’t care who) to put away.

It was starting to look like a crisis, but the saving grace proved to be the ability of Burton and Mooney to make the most of scraps. The ball was worked down the left and fed through to Mooney. He appeared to be about to shoot when challenged and the ref pointed to the spot. Burton delivered one of the best penalties you could wish to see and we were at least back in it. And before the break we had another. This time Sam seemed to be about to shoot and was brought down from the side. The added bonus was the red card and when Burton duly scored again the match had taken a very different complexion, with us going into the break with a spring in our step and a song in our throats.

It didn’t take long for things to get better, with one of the best goals you’ll see at The Valley or elsewhere this season. A cross from the right was nodded down by Mooney and Bailey from the edge of the area shaped and hit a waist-high ball soundly into the net. A couple of minutes later and it was the first chance to kill them off. A cross to the far post somehow was not headed home, by Mooney I think. One more and surely it would be effectively all over. Instead Millwall carried on playing their way and pegged us back, with our extra man counting for nothing. With the game tending to be played in our half it was only their woeful shooting that kept us ahead, but before long one at the near post was superbly saved by Elliot only to rebound to their guy to score.

The onus was back on us and we did indeed score again. We did, because I saw the scoreboard and afterwards the players kicked off from the centre circle. But exactly what happened I couldn’t say. All I know is that there was a scramble and suddenly we were celebrating. A friend said it was a headed own goal and I’ll take him at his word. Surely this time we wouldn’t blow it. But again the opportunity for a two-goal cushion went begging as Sodje(A), who had come on for Mooney (who seemed to fall awkwardly) only had to square it to Burton for a one-on-one but badly scuffed the pass.

McKenzie came on for the ineffective Wagstaff – and had far more of an impact, often looking threatening in a wide left position. And as the clock ran down Spring came on for Sam to tighten things up in midfield. But Millwall continued to press and to cause problems with their movement and after the fourth official had indicated five minutes of added time their guy moved down the right, evaded a couple of challenges, sold Dailly a dummy before squaring it for someone to score at the near post.

That finally proved to be it. Probably a great one for the neutrals but for us it was two points if not thrown away then not taken up. There was no question which set of supporters was happier at the end. ‘What a game’ was the text reply to the final score from my partner Suzanne. Not really.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Don’t think he stood any chance for the goals and did the rest capably. Not his fault.

Omozusi: 7/10. I missed his early games for us and am rather surprised that some fans seem to think his worse than he looks to me. Can’t attribute any of the goals to him.

Basey: 6/10. Some good work and plenty of tackles. But seemed to have a hand in their first and their final two came from down the left.

Sodje(S): 6/10. Won many headers, but you can’t play central defence and concede four and expect a good score. Would be a lower score if I could pin down why they caused us so many problems; just seemed a collective bad day.

Dailly: 6/10. As with Sodje. He’s been outstanding for us this season, but today our lack of pace in some areas seemed to cost us.

Sam: 5/10. The yellow card seemed to bother him; especially in the second half he should have counted for more with our extra man but struggled to find space and use it.

Semedo: 5/10. Nothing really wrong with the covering and protective work, but we simply failed to control midfield and his distribution out of defence was below standard. Not one of his better games.

Bailey: 7/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal, but he too has to be capable for our lack of midfield dominance.

Wagstaff: 5/10. Seldom in the game as an attacking force and did fail to connect well with one good opportunity.

Mooney: 8/10. Intelligent work in partnership with Burton. Neither has great pace, but they worked us back into the game from two down. Should have scored himself though after we had gone 3-2 up.

Burton: 8/10. Made a right nuisance of himself through the game, even when crowded out, and scored the penalties superbly.

Subs: Sodje(A) (5/10 – had one big moment which could have sealed the game and made a mess of the pass); McKenzie (8/10 – out wide but got involved and went past players, looked good); Spring (not enough time for any mark).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Enjoying It? Not Likely

I’ve heard a fair bit recently from others saying they are enjoying this season more than any other for some years, including the last few in the Premiership. Personally I can’t go along with them; in fact I think they’re barking. It’s not about airs and graces, thinking we are in any way too good for the third flight (although I still tend to feel that – Leeds, Norwich and Southampton excepted – when we win we’ve beaten rubbish and when we don’t what on earth went wrong to lose to that lot?). Nor is it about entertainment value, or the quality of the football. Being a simple sort of soul I’ve never felt bad about a Charlton win and never better than resigned after some defeats. It's not even about getting less media coverage than even Scottish football for crying out loud (and I preferred the Sunday morning highlights show rather than being treated as a necessary afterthought following Match Of The Day).

For me it’s all about just how bloody important for us getting promoted is. We all know how crucial each of the last three seasons has been. One bad season in the Premiership was enough to change our world, with hindsight we had one decent shot at going back up (and blew it), and getting relegated from the Championship turned a financial crisis into a full-blown disaster. We’ve now got one real shot at going back up and if we fail to take it we pretty much know the consequences. If we go up, next season, as Richard Murray indicated at the recent Q&A, is hardly going to be a cakewalk. It seems we’d have a decent chance of keeping much of the current squad and on that basis of being able to compete, but – barring takeover of course – there’s going to be no thought of anything more and no suggestion of money to spend (hardly surprising given the current plight of Watford, Palace etc). Fail to go up and I would imagine most of those out of contract will be encouraged to walk and everyone else moves up a rank. It will of necessity be a long-term recovery plan based around home-grown talent.

I’ve started and built a couple of (small) businesses. But I’ve never had to deal with the consequences of running a company which has seen its turnover drop from £41.9m to £23.6m in three years, with the prospect of a fall to around £10-11m in the current year (largely through the loss of the Premiership parachute payment). I can’t think of another industry where this would not result in one of bankruptcy, takeover by another company in the same business (for next to nothing), or of course a state bail-out (I’m ready to take on anyone who might suggest that Charlton is not systemically important). In these circumstances it can look truly astonishing, and laudable, that there have been decisions taken (the academy, offers for players) which have involved not selling anything that could be moved.

Of course, there is common interest in going for broke (sorry, promotion) this year, given the alternative. There was a price to pay and the directors have stumped up; hopefully the decision pays off, in terms of the value of the asset at least. In the early years of my main business I became accustomed to the accountant’s notes to accompany the annual accounts. Usually something along the lines of justifying treating the company as a going concern even though the balance sheet and P&L looked like Dubai on a good day (in relative terms). Not surprisingly the Charlton Athletic plc annual report for 2006 contained no note about being a going concern. That for 2007 saw the inclusion of a note to the effect that additional working capital, player disposals and “facilities” from the group’s bankers “in the opinion of directors allow the group to continue its normal day to day activities for the foreseeable future”, justifying the ongoing concern approach. The note was repeated almost verbatim in the 2008 accounts. For 2009 we have an assessment that “ongoing support from directors and banks that in conjunction with the potential to raise funds through future player sales” allows the accounts to be prepared on a going concern basis, which sounds a little like a pledge to sell.

Basically we are at present only different from Chelsea and Man City in terms of the size of the bankrolling of the club by directors (and of course their ability to continue to provide the readies). I still have a slight query over why the fresh investment by the directors was in the form of loans rather than equity. This isn't to suggest that the equity has any value in the event of a takeover (clearly it doesn't), but unless there are practical considerations against issuing new shares the only good reasons for making it debt would seem to be the remote possibility that at some stage in the future the interest would be paid and to possibly ring-fence the money and get something back in the event of a takeover. Corporate bonds held by directors and related companies are secured against the group's assets - ie The Valley - as are bank loans and overdrafts (we may say the club owns the ground but in truth effectively the directors as individuals and the bank do). Bottom line is if they do good luck to them, they've earnt it.

The figures for the year to end-June 2009 underline that if we get promotion turnover next season could amount to perhaps £11-13m against say £9-10m if we don’t (assuming another drop in season ticket sales and matchday revenues, plus some difference in TV money in the Championship). Might not sound like much of a difference, but clearly the closer proximity to the promised land (the Premiership) increases the value of the club, would probably ease relations with the bank, and would make achieving a breakeven position significantly easier. Let’s not forget that Murray indicated at the start of last season that running a breakeven position was pretty much the goal – and we ended up with a net loss of £8m. In addition to probably not being able to cut running costs sufficiently I would imagine that the influx of loan players – in the desperate bid to avoid relegation – plus Pardew’s severance costs contributed to the overspend.

I can’t imagine that even with all the cuts made we will avoid a material loss this year (that is after all the message from the fresh investment by the directors) and I would doubt if there’s the stomach for another significant cash injection from the current board if we fail to get promoted. Of course player sales can alter the figures, most obviously Shelvey (especially if he is unable to carve out a role in the current favoured 4-4-2 formation); so can cup runs, but we’ll gloss over that possibility at least until next season. But surely it is a case of promotion and we can just about manage; failure to go up and it really is time to cut our cloth accordingly.

Given this backdrop, I don’t mind admitting I’m really struggling to actually enjoy games this season. Time enough for that when we are on an even keel. I love it when we knock in a couple and would love it more if we added a further couple, as this would mean the points in the bag long before the final whistle. And I don’t give a monkey’s if we grind out 1-0 wins every game to the end of the campaign (or at least until we are promoted). Curbs attracted far too much criticism from some for placing little weight on entertainment value. There’s going to be none from me this season at least every time we get points – especially on Saturday.

Monday, 14 December 2009

End Of The Road For The Kids

The daily email from the club provided a timely reminder that there was the FA Youth Cup game tonight at The Valley. Having foregone the delights of Stockport (it’s bad enough for any place to be an offshoot of a larger town, but being next to Manchester?) duty called, despite the absence now of a train from Blackheath to Charlton when you need one. It was after all the last chance to enjoy a trip to The Valley this side of Christmas.

The young Addicks lined up with Binks in goal, Cousins and Morris as the full backs, Mambo and Jenkinson in central defence, with a midfield of Bellamy, Warren, Pell and Carter and Tuna and Perkins up front.

The early exchanges set the pattern for much of the game, with Chelsea comfortable in possession and moving the ball around, with Charlton initially at least it seemed placing a priority on containment. We had to work hard to get the ball and tended to lose it quickly, the exception being good work down the right by Bellamy, often assisted by Cousins. But aside from the odd dangerous cross we weren’t unduly stretched – save for one of those moments when Mambo took one for the team, getting in the way of a fierce shot on a cold night which made everyone in the crowd wince. We had the first real chance, courtesy of the Chelsea keeper. Obviously uncertainty at the back when dealing with high crosses is something they teach them from a young age, as he spilt a cross only for the shot to be blocked.

Chelsea’s delivery from set pieces always looked threatening, however, and on the half-hour the deadlock was broken. A wicked ball in saw Binks caught in no-man’s land and one of their defenders got the flick to send it into the net. If the keeper took a little of the blame for that one he was to be faultless for the remainder of the match, making some decent saves and one outstanding one to turn a shot round the post. By contrast their keeper was keeping our hopes alive, almost making a hash of a backpass to let us in shortly after and then in the period just before the break dropping another cross from a corner, resulting in two blocked efforts on goal. And just on half-time we created the chance to draw level, with Tuna played through. However, this time the keeper was out smartly to smother the shot and what was to prove to be our best chance until late on went begging.

Not squaring the game before half-time by one means or another was to prove pivotal as if anything Chelsea took more of a grip in the second half. Their two wide men created chances and their abundance of possession made it difficult for us to apply any pressure. Azeez came on for us for the second half, replacing Carter, with Tuna dropping deeper, while not long into the second half Morris was to pick up a knock and was replaced by Anderson, with Cousins switching to left-back. Aside from a curling Pell shot we seldom threatened, while Chelsea could have extended their lead as an attempt to catch them offside went awry and their centre-forward found himself with only Binks to beat, only to put it wide. And just when it seemed we might gear up for a barnstorming attempt to take the game to extra time Chelsea did score again. A quickly taken short corner was whipped in and the ball broke to said centre-forward, who this time scored.

That seemed to be it, but after Jordan had come on for Warren and the game moved into stoppage time we did manage to pull one back. A corner broke to the edge of the box and Cousins got onto the loose ball, kept the shot controlled and with a deflection it found its way into the net. Five minutes earlier and things could have been different, but there was almost no time left and, as on Saturday, the final whistle blew to leave the home team frustrated.

Certainly no shame in the defeat against a very well organised young Chelsea side, one which managed to drain the life out of our lads for much of the game, especially with a capable defence (when the keeper wasn’t involved). For me special mention in dispatches would go to Cousins (beaten once or twice, but looked the part at left and right-back and scored the goal), Binks (exemplary aside from their first goal and kept us in the game), Jenkinson (who led by example) and Bellamy (who was instrumental in most of our best moments in the first half). Like the first X1, that’s the annoying and distracting cups out of the way now, nothing to divert attention away from the real stuff, resuming Saturday.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Another Professional Performance

Not one to stir the blood, but on a wet and rather low-key afternoon we did what was necessary. Southend will probably feel aggrieved to have come away empty-handed, having often dominated possession. And some around me were talking of us having ‘got out of jail’. I didn’t see it that way. Southend had the physical advantage over us all over the pitch and only in patches did we pass the ball well enough to threaten to put them away. But we were in front for most of the match and were reasonably comfortable through the second half in particular, with their main threat coming from set pieces. These were dealt with admirably for the most part by the defence and if the win wasn’t comfortable and we really didn’t fire on all cylinders it was just about deserved.

The line-up saw Richardson return at right-back – a decision which may have backfired as he was unable to continue in the second half, Omozusi coming on at the break - and Basey continue on the left, with Youga still out injured. The vacant spot in the centre of midfield caused by Semedo’s suspension was taken by Racon, while Wagstaff started again wide left, with Sam on the right (and unlike against Brighton they didn’t swap positions through the game), and Burton and Mooney continuing together up front. The rest of the team picked itself, with Bailey continuing in the centre – and being the subject of sustained abuse from the Southend fans, who seemingly still bear a grudge about him decamping to us.

The early play was scrappy and Southend had more of the play, with their front two happy to drop deep to pick up possession. In that role they were effective through the game; when it came to putting the round thing in the netty thing they were pants. The first decent chance fell to us, with the ball worked down the flank and played in to Mooney, who didn’t make the most of his chance. The shot was blocked and ran on to Burton and then to Racon, both of whom failed to convert. Then it was their turn, with what proved to be their best opening all afternoon. Defenders were drawn to the right side and when the ball was squared one of their number was alone in the box, with time to kill. Instead of burying it first time he cut inside to make a better angle and allowed Elliot to make an excellent save.

We were lacking fluidity, with Racon struggling to get into the game and two wingers not getting any decent service. But it wasn’t long before we took the lead. Sam was once more the provider, playing a ball in from the right that seemed to be going through tamely to the keeper before Burton nipped in with a vital deflection. Burton was to go on to give a demonstration of the art of how to play as a target man and an outlet against bigger defenders, often (sometimes legally, sometimes craftily) keeping us on the front foot by ensuring that their centre-backs were unable to make telling headers clear. The goal proved to be the catalyst for our best period of play, with Racon coming more into it and the passing and movement improving. A couple of half-chances went begging, although Southend always seemed a threat from set pieces, especially with Racon in particular giving away a number of free kicks (which eventually saw him pick up a yellow card).

At the break it seemed far from a classic, but there was enough encouragement for us from uncertainty in their defence, if only we could raise the game and get better service to the wide men and get more of a grip on midfield. But for entertainment value the second half was disappointing. We seemed content to play on the break and seldom threatened, quite content with defending a 1-0 lead, which gave Southend ample possession. But with the defence well organised and they did all their best work outside the box and aside from a couple of shots from free kicks - including on in a dangerous position which their guy put over the bar, only for the ref to take exception to something and book their player before making him retake it, with the same outcome, and one which saw Bailey pick up a yellow - I can’t remember them having any chances. Elliot dealt well with the crosses that came in, while Sodje(S), Dailley, Basey and Omozusi had excellent games.

Sodje(A) came on for Mooney, who had a decent game but failed to convert his one real chance, while later Spring replaced Racon to see out the game. By the last 15 minutes we were content with what we had and saw out the rest of the game reasonably comfortably. Another professional and committed display on a wet afternoon, which coming on the back of the win at Brighton (and with victories for Norwich and Colchester too) nobody should be complaining about.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. One excellent save in the first half and thereafter he dealt with everything he had to. Actually a faultless performance, but to get a 10 they would have had to have had more shots on target.

Richardson: 7/10. In retrospect he clearly must have been struggling with the injury and was replaced at half-time. Hope he hasn’t put back his return to full fitness.

Basey: 8/10. Excellent work at the back. Not much going forward, but it wasn’t that sort of game. Like all the other defenders he was up against physically stronger opponents, but only once (when in the first half he was outpaced by their guy going forward) did he come off second-best.

Sodje(S): 8/10. Probably just about man of the match for me. Powerful headed clearances and basically he and the others ensured that Southend had very few opportunities to score inside the box.

Dailly: 8/10. As with Sodje, telling interceptions and an intelligent and effective game.

Wagstaff: 6/10. One or two good pieces of play, but generally struggled to get involved. It was significant that Sam had an equally mixed game but he was involved in just about all our telling moments.

Bailey: 7/10. Tough game, given their muscle in midfield. Stood up well to the task, as you’d expect.

Racon: 6/10. Not the best of returns, with frustration sometimes getting the better of him as they knocked him off the ball. Was instrumental in our best period, but had little opportunity to dictate the play.

Sam: 7/10. Often frustrating and often a little static when we needed to create space. But again, our best moments involved him.

Mooney: 7/10. Decent enough game, caused them some problems, although with neither he nor Burton blessed with great pace we perhaps didn’t put their defence under enough pressure. If we had more goals would surely have come as they looked far from assured at the back.

Burton: 8/10. Excellent exhibition of how to lead the line against difficult opponents. Scored the goal and was a thorn in their side all afternoon.


Omozusi (8/10; let no-one down in the second half and seems to be improving with each game); Sodje(A) (6/10: failed to have an impact on the game, although by the time he came on we were not going forward much; it is his last appearance for us?); Spring (7/10: came on and did an effective job to see out the game).