I haven’t as yet quite managed to shake off the holiday cobwebs (the process usually lasts as long as it takes for Palace to fall back to the bottom of their division after an early flourish), so when returning from last night’s unexpected treat I’m afraid that the attractions of food, drink and sleep proved too much. Consequently all I’m going to offer up are some reflections on what proved to be a thoroughly entertaining Charlton v Reading reserves match. I’ve no gripes at all about Sir Chris putting out the current second eleven (only wish we were allowed to do the same for the Johnsons thingy), nor even for shelling out £2 on the outdated programme; after all, that still leaves me £198 ahead on the season to date as the points from the first four games ensured I collected on the first bet with my friend (whether I see the readies is another matter as he’s currently arguing that the bet involved us getting specifically eight points rather than eight-plus; I have the emails to prove otherwise).
So, what did we learn last night? First and foremost, that some footballing clichés (if not all clichés) usually have an element of truth. Never make a substitution when the opposition has a corner. Chris, that’s any substitution. Replacing a centre-half when the opposition has a corner, even if the guy has picked up a strain, is just asking for trouble. I said as much when the move was being made and the resulting confusion let Reading back into the game and ensured a rather different final 15 minutes or so than might otherwise have been the case (although in truth they were enough chances at either end through the game to have kept us guessing; on chances I reckon we should have won 5-3). Second, can the fans please not encourage a sense of panic if and when we get pegged back (to date we’ve gone 2-0 up in each of the five games, extended the lead in one, held it in one, conceded but held on in two, and pulled back to a draw in one). It’s a time for increased support but not suddenly groans at errors and outrage at refereeing decisions against us, all of which cannot help nerves on the pitch.
Third, as things stand we can be satisfied (in a number of cases more than satisfied) with the ability of those waiting in the wings to do a job when called on. Clearly we don’t know whether there will be further comings and goings, with continuing doubts about whether Elliot, Francis and/or Benson will end up staying. Quite frankly in each case I hope they do. Last night I had Francis as my man of the match (I don’t know if he was trying to impress the boss or someone else in the stands), while Benson took his goal very nicely and still looks to me like the back-up goalscorer in the event of Wright-Phillips not being available (I’m pleased we’ve signed Euell but am inclined to see him as another option rather than the one we turn to first if – perish the thought – BWP gets injured or suspended). We may now be well covered if Elliot does go, but if either of the others do we would need to bring in a replacement.
Individually, these are my comments (rather than any ratings) on last night’s players:
Hamer – Sensible selection as Sullivan is something of a known quantity and it gave him the chance to show Reading what they’ll miss. Looks big and strong and made a couple of outstanding saves. Only negative for me was some indecision and uncertainty with crosses.
Francis – I thought he was excellent. One very dangerous ball in was cleared behind wide of the goal, tackled well, and was key to our second goal getting forward. I haven’t seen Solly so far this season, but on last night’s display Francis should be pushing him hard.
Evina – Clearly a different option to the more reliable Wiggins. Reading seemed to target his lack of height and he did get caught out a couple of times by their winger in the second half. But undoubtedly offers something fresh going forward and as we saw can operate left-midfield (Solly came on late in the game). Only problem for him (and others) may be getting and staying match fit without reserve games.
Doherty – Impressed in that he played well and was up for the game, despite having to accept not being first choice, and seemed to have a positive influence on Mambo alongside him. We know he’ll do a decent job as and when required.
Mambo – Undoubtedly positive as he gave every indication that he is maturing as a player. Didn’t stand out, but for a centre-half that’s usually a plus as it means no bad mistakes. If he continues in this vein he can be included as the fourth centre-back.
Bover – Interesting game for him, being asked to play wide left when I’m sure he’d rather be in central midfield. Part of the learning curve as he gets used to English League One football. No doubt he’s one for the future, but not just yet. Struggled to get truly involved and in a league game would probably have been taken off sooner than he was, but did manage to end with a flourish, cutting in and hitting the post before going down with cramp.
Hughes – By accident I spoke to a Norwich fan at the start of the week and he was less than complimentary about his abilities. Looks set to play the role of Spring, who came in to play the role of Bryan Hughes – unlikely to be first choice but reliable when needed. Looked like a sensible addition as a squad player (especially if Alonso remains the invisible man).
Pritchard – Lively, enthusiastic, nearly scored. Hopefully will press the current central midfield pairing, although here too the absence of reserve games may not help his progression.
Green – Had the opportunity last night to show Powell that he should get the nod over Wagstaff and didn’t really take it. Nearly scored with a couple of wicked corners (although presumably other clubs will pick up on that trick) but missed the target early on having cut back to open up the goal and wasn’t all that involved through the game. I think we’re going to have fun as the two wingers battle it out through the season to show who should be first choice.
Benson – Took his goal well, ghosting in late and undetected. For me our major vulnerability as of now is what happens without BWP and Benson is the best alternative natural goalscorer.
Euell – Good game against some big defenders and he too arrived in the box at the right moment to score. I’m not sure he signed up in anticipation of having to chase for 90 minutes, but it will have done him good. I felt years ago that converting him to an attacking midfielder was a mistake and having him around undoubtedly increases our options.
Anything else? Well, only to add that in the years to come there will no doubt be the question posed on sports and general quizzes ‘what links the Italian towns of Longoio, Colico and Stresa?’ The answer is that a certain daft English holidaymaker was in each to receive news of a glorious Charlton victory at the start of the 2011/12 promotion season. And I’ve got the embarrassing photos to prove it.