I’ve been struggling a bit over the weekend (OK, let’s keep a sense of perspective, I wasn’t losing sleep – but then again the end of the world would probably not disturb my slumber, which is, I’m led to believe, a sure sign of a clear conscience) to work out why I felt so cheesed off about the game on Saturday. We are well aware that the team is a work in progress, we didn’t lose, and we can’t say we were robbed (the penalty was harsh but not ridiculous). Having pondered the matter, my reaction seems to be down to two related factors and one variable – that being I was in a foul mood anyway due to various non-football matters (including having sacrificed at least one glass of pre-match wine for the fruitless exercise of quizzing technical support in nearby PC World and Currys).
The relevant issues concern the still lingering matter of expectations. For me at least there was a lengthy period of gloom (interspersed with the occasional lighter moments when football wasn’t to the fore) following the play-off defeat. We all knew what was coming player-wise and by around July I think I was ready for a season of struggle, with a focus on survival on and off the pitch. But, as Leonard Cohen commented recently, hope kept breaking out. I was genuinely encouraged by the comments made by Doherty after he signed (yes, he’s a seasoned pro and knows what to say, but they had an air of conviction) and then we picked up Reid on a free. The subsequent filling of certain places kept the mood going, then I was off on hols and while away we won our first two games. Perhaps something good was really going on.
Since returning I’ve seen (leaving aside the irrelevant cup games) a worthy draw with Oldham, a rather fortunate victory over Notts County, and Saturday’s game. In between we’ve been turned over at Huddersfield and lost at Exeter and managed a draw at Tranmere. Something of a reality check on the pitch, while off it some of the contents of the match programmes seemed designed to lower expectations. We should all praise honesty and openness, but from Abbott we had “I may be a journeyman but ... clubs have paid money for me more or less every time” and “I don’t want to sound too big-headed, but I think I’ve done pretty well at each club, perhaps apart from Swansea”. Then on Saturday there was the following classic from Benson: “I’d love to stay in football, but I know that accountancy is always an option for me”. I know there’s nothing to be gained from looking back, but we do have to endure the sight every weekend of former players (and there’s no shortage of them) reopening wounds.
At the same time, we have the club site regularly reminding us how few points we are off the top and/or a play-off place (the sort of useless information that you get with the tasting notes on the wine in cases delivered: ‘best drunk before 2014’ – what are they on? Lucky if it lasts the week), Murray stressing that “I am expecting at least a top-six finish” and that “we must do everything possible to get back into the Championship”. Amen to that, but league positions and aspirations don’t mean much when we are all aware that the imperative is steady improvement on the pitch as they players get used to each other; if that happens the results will follow.
And that’s where Saturday hurt. Because for the first 15-20 minutes (let’s not say the first half, because we took our foot off the gas and let them back into the game well before the break and before we’d finished them off) we played some truly good stuff (admittedly against limited and at the time scared opposition), with Racon and Martin to the fore and Anyinsah and Benson looking lively. Hopes raised again, only to be lowered as we retreated into a shell of hopeful/less long balls. Half-full or half-empty? If we’d held the 2-1 lead the balance might have been in favour of the former. We should perhaps just be encouraged by the demonstration that we can turn it on. Doing it through a game and consistently each match may well be too much to expect just yet; I just hope we don’t lose sight of what is possible.
On the matter of honesty and openness, what about managers giving reasons for substitutions at the time? I had no idea that Anyinsah was taken off at half-time because he’d picked up a strain (I don’t check the club site before writing anything, preferring instead to cobble together impressions of a game, which does mean a tendency to miss key points and the occasional mistake over who did what) and this did influence how I interpreted the second-half performance. A simple ‘substitution for the Addicks .... due to injury’. Of course, true honesty would be too much to hope for (‘substitution for the Addicks ... due to him playing crap’ or ‘because he dissed me in the dressing room’), but sometimes there is confusion in the crowd over a change made for good reason. That reason doesn’t always filter through.
Perhaps the only conclusion (should there be one) is that the problem is mine, not theirs. As long as all are giving of their best we have no real reason to carp – and if they are it is incumbent on us to give of our best too in terms of support. Saturday may have been a slide rather than a rollercoaster, but the season, for a while at least, looks like being the latter. May it end on a high.
(Just for the record, being a grumpy old git was compounded by Jackson’s choice of music at the end of the programme. The selections are usually an endless stream of moronic dirge that passes for popular music these days, but Jackson added Jungleland by Bruce Springsteen. At last, someone with a bit of class in selection – but he went on to apologise for this one being “a bit out there”! The whole world’s mad except thee and me ... and I’m not too sure about thee.)