I was going to pen something quickly in advance of the Yeovil game (and the mini-spell of three games in six days, which is going to test resources) along the lines of not wanting to hear any moaning from the crowd, whatever happens, and the notion that in recent games the players seem to be trying too hard, perhaps feeling the pressure of trying to stay in touch with the top two and performances suffering accordingly. But Phil Parkinson has beaten me to it. His comments in last night’s club email were: “We really need our supporters to get right behind whatever team I pick from the first minute to the last" and “a few of the lads have almost been trying too hard, so we need to relax everyone and settle down”. So all I can say is I fully agree on both counts (well, I’m far too verbose to leave it at that, so it’s not really all I’m going to say).
Of course we’re all disappointed with the outcome of the past five games. Looking at Killer’s comments in the programme for the Tranmere game (after the home defeat against Orient) he was talking in terms of getting a win that day by any means and then perhaps securing seven points from the following three away games. Such a return of 10 points would have seen us right up there with 64 points, two behind Norwich and two above faltering Leeds. As it is, with just three in the bag we’re down to fourth and as close to dropping out of a play-off spot as getting in the top two.
Too bad. It’s happened. We need to get back on track with the three games coming up. A while back, when the team wasn’t playing well but getting results, I said I wasn’t going to complain about how we performed as long as the points were accumulated. Since then we’ve continued to play poorly and (unlike against Hartlepool for instance) haven’t had the breaks. So perhaps its time to just concentrate on playing, forget the league position, and for the players to perhaps even look like they’re enjoying the game. That is for sure where the crowd comes in. Howling at every misplaced pass, scorned opportunity does nobody any good. But the quid pro quo from the team is possibly to show more intent to play football. With the departure of Dickson and McLeod our forward options don’t include pace, so the idea of getting behind defences with hoofed balls forward – of which we have played far too many of late - has to go out of the window. What is the point, for example, of picking Racon and bypassing midfield? On Monday night the game was just passing him by (any injury he may have picked up would have been a stiff neck watching the ball sail over his head in both directions).
To support the point about relaxing, Bristol Rovers’ first goal was a classic example. A corner to the near post saw just about every Charlton player go to the ball, as if to try to do other defenders’ jobs for them. The result was that when the ball was flicked on nobody was there to defend it. And going forward we seemed to be heavily reliant on getting the ball to Bailey in a shooting position. Fair enough, he’s delivered almost all our goals of late, but it isn’t going to work every time. We saw what can happen when we get the ball out wide (Sam’s cut inside and low cross clearly should have been converted, which would have meant a different game).
As regards team selection, I’ll back whatever Parkinson comes up with. But for what it’s worth, here’s my Plan A and Plan B. Presumably the incoming Jackson will go straight in, given the absence of Basey and Youga and with Solly really being Richardson’s back-up (why is it that full-back positions have been so problematic in the past few years?). The defence has been shipping goals consistently of late and there has to be a strong case for bring Llera back, with either Sodje or Dailly taking a break, although with one enforced change at the back already Parkinson may feel it’s better to go with continuity elsewhere.
The real issues are 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 (or whatever else you may call it) and Bailey in the middle or wide left. I’d go with the latter, at least at the start against Yeovil, even though they would presumably be happy with a point and may be on the defensive. I can understand Parkinson going back to the Semedo/Racon central partnership that worked so well early in the season, but it worked in a 4-5-1. This time around I’d pair Racon and Bailey in the centre, with Reid and Sam out wide. Bring back Shelvey in the hole and go for McKenzie (assuming he is fit) as the lone out-and-out striker. It’s taking a chance, with a very attacking midfield and no obvious holding player (Semedo), but there’s no perfect set-up and we’d be back to a midfield set-up that should return to passing the ball (and one which should produce goals).
So for me its: Elliot, Richardson, Llera, Sodje(S)/Dailly, Jackson, Reid, Bailey, Racon, Sam, Shelvey and McKenzie. On the bench in addition to Randolph you’d have to have Solly, Sodje/Dailley, Semedo, Wagstaff, Spring, and two from Burton, Mooney and Sodje(A). If Parkinson opts for 4-4-2 I’d still go with Bailey and Racon in central midfield and the two wide men.
Finally, nice to see from the club's email that Monday night's ref has been in touch with the club to apologise for not having given Blizzard a straight red. For that he deserves credit. It just leaves Trollope in a class of one in the world still (publicly at least) in denial. In an ideal world the League would be allowed to accept the ref's word and give Blizzard a retrospective red. And bring in that charge against Trollope for bringing the game into disrepute.