Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Full Circle

I’ve really nothing against Rochdale. Honest. After all, I’ve never actually been there (not for the want of trying, when we made it as far as Walsall before hearing the game had been called off). It might be a lovely place (although somehow I doubt it). But their football club will now, for me, forever be associated with the two worst points in my time as a Charlton supporter.

On 6 January 1973, on a freezing evening, I watched us play Rochdale at the old, open-plan and vast Valley. One of a crowd of 5,048 (yes, it is useful having the Essential History to hand). We’d been relegated from the second flight the previous season (by one point, having picked up three points from the final 10 games, rounding things off with a 0-5 defeat at Blackpool) and this was my first taste of the third division. It didn’t seem pretty. We actually won, 1-0 (King Arthur, who was to bag 29 for us that season, his first with us), but looking around the empty East Terrace and the isolated pockets of huddled fans for the one and only time in my life I questioned the wisdom of being an Addick. To my eternal shame, I briefly contemplated the idea of switching to Palace. I’d been taken there for a game and I was struck by the fact that their fans actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a temporary aberration; I soon realised that they weren’t really happy. They couldn’t be.

That was the first three seasons we had in the third flight, marking what was then the worst period in the club’s post-30s history in terms of league position. For the record, that stands as finishing 14th in 1973/74). It wasn’t exactly plain sailing thereafter, as we all know, but to say there have been more highs than lows is something of an understatement, at least excluding the past six seasons (including this one). But now, having gone down 0-2 away to Rochdale to stand 13th in the division, there’s a feeling for me at least of having gone the full circle. But this time around, perhaps not being the callow and impressionable youth that I was (some may say not much has changed regarding mental age), there’s no question about the allegiance.

Yes, it does mean that the season ticket application will be filled out. On that front, I do think the new owners – who so far have impressed with their comments and actions - missed a trick, albeit one that would have cost some money. Renewing a season ticket in March/April and shelling out the cash for something that you only start utilising in August is something done grudgingly when there’s a real chance of having your seat nicked or when (as a year ago) we were clearly broke. It would have been a modest and appreciated gesture this time around to have announced that the deadline for renewals had been put back to, say, end-May. That would at least give a little time for us to take a break and start the process of self-delusion. The end-result in terms of actual renewals would I’m sure have been the same and the loss of interest on the revenue for one month might have been a price worth paying for making us feel better.

I declined the opportunity to use my ticket yesterday to make a fresh attempt to reach Rochdale. As I never got around to getting a refund either, this does raise the question whether I have in my possession an asset which has appreciated or depreciated in value. Notionally, until a few days ago it had a face value of £20, being the refund available. But if you factor in the cost of a trip to the ticket office, including the time taken, maybe it might have been worth a tenner. As a saleable item I think it would have gone for less (in fact I’m claiming the greatest waste of time in the history of emailing from having offered it to fellow Addicks). But now, an unused ticket for a game that will come to be seen as the trough of the current cycle, surely its value can only increase over time? I plan to hold onto it as a reminder of tough times until we are back in The Premiership; then I’ll flog it on ebay for a small fortune.

For the record, two colleagues (both currently on the run from men in white coats) did make the trip last night and this is what came in from one of them, stuck somewhere in the north on a wet night in March: “Just heading back down M6. Decent enough performance tonight, despite the result. Team looked better with lots of quick passing and several attempts on goal. First goal was shot from outside box when we should have closed player down quicker. Second was close range knock-in from disputed corner. Wagstaff had a good first half then was marked more closely. Parrot had good second half - lots of challenges & kept running. Elliott hardly had a save to make. BWP had best chance at 1-0 but lob of keeper didn't have enough pace to beat defender on line. Can't really believe we lost as we deserved at least a draw. Guess that's what happens when you're on this sort of run. Oh well, if we play with this much energy on Saturday we’ll tonk Orient”.

I’m actually looking forward to Saturday. Orient will bring a few with them and it might be a decent game. No pressure on us, nothing except pride (and contracts) to play for. Sir Chris might be talking in terms of a mini-season remaining, but his thoughts must be turning to who he wants to keep and who’s for the chop. Personally I hope he picks Jenkinson. I don’t really blame the kid for wanting to take up offers from elsewhere; he is, after all, a callow and impressionable youth. But it might help his character development if he gets a taste of the fact that all actions have consequences. Put him in the starting X1 and substitute him after 5 minutes.

As others have written before this post, last weekend was marked by news of the death of Paul Weaver, aka Charlton North Downs. I’d sent him an email wishing him a Happy Xmas with the hope we’d meet up before a game before too long. When on Saturday there was a reply I thought great, he must be planning on a game. But it was from his sister informing me of his death. I can’t say I knew Paul well; we’d met at one of the bloggers’ lunches and a couple of times for drinks before a game. But what came across was both his enthusiasm for all things Charlton (and tennis) and his good nature. I can’t imagine anyone meeting him who might not have liked him. All our condolences go to his wife and all of his family. And as others have suggested, whatever location we find ourselves in this Saturday there will be glasses raised to him.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Hard-Earned Point

When at 0-1 Llera’s effort came back off the underside of the bar and we didn’t get the penalty for him being manhandled to prevent a clean contact, most of us thought it was going to be another of those games of late where whatever else might be said we didn’t get the breaks. Instead we did manage the equaliser –and a very nice goal it was too. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes we might well have won it, although bringing on Doherty for the final couple of minutes to shore up the defence was a fair indication that, given our circumstances, it was more important not to lose it at the death. It was a merited point, earned through effort and commitment, with Southampton for all their poise and organisation not creating much themselves in the way of goalscoring opportunities and ending up paying the price for wanting the game to be over once they’d gone ahead.

The team saw the first three names changed, with Elliot surprisingly fit to return in goal, Solly given the start ahead of Jenkinson and Francis, and Bessone returning at left-back to replace the now departed Fry. Llera and Dailly were retained, with Doherty as back-up, as were Semedo and Parrett in central midfield and Nouble and Wright-Phillips up front, while the wide berths saw Wagstaff keep his place but Racon chosen over McCormack on the right. Still no place from the start for Eccleston or Reid, so again genuine attacking threat down the flanks was sacrificed for solidity.

The plus side of this approach was our generally being able to contain Southampton, especially with Bessone doing splendidly defensively to neutralise the threat of the much-vaunted Oxlade-Chamberlain. The downside was inevitably little or no service to the front men, who had to feed off scraps. And through a rather edgy first half you had the impression that we were one mistake away from again finding ourselves in a position from which it would be hard to get anything from the game. They looked dangerous from set pieces, with one or two nasty moments, while Racon flashed a low ball across the face of the goal. But for the most part, with Semedo and Parrett not surprisingly still working out how to play together, obliging Racon to keep moving inside, the play was scrappy. No bad thing to make it to the break on level terms, but again there was that fear that we would let one in sooner or later; after all, you have to go back to early February and nine consecutive games for our last clean sheet.

There was no real change in the second half as Southampton continued with their own measured approach and both defences generally on top. But the deadlock was broken after about an hour, with an element of controversy. Parrett I think had gone down with a knock but like Southampton it appeared from where I was sitting that Llera had simply overhit a pass into touch. We tried to claim it was deliberate, but they weren’t buying it and from the throw worked their way down the line to win a corner. A half-clearance dropped inside the box for one of their guys to volley in a low shot. There was an air of inevitability about it, not from the flow of the game but from our recent experience.

However, there was no getting on the players backs. It’s a different situation when you’re up against a strong Southampton side with a large following to going behind at home against Exeter, Carlisle, Tranmere and Brentford – or anywhere against Dagenham & Redbridge. Instead the players’ heads didn’t drop and with Solly and Wagstaff getting more joy down the right and Racon influential we were at least still competing, without creating much. But to get something out of the game we did need more of a threat, so Eccleston duly replaced Wagstaff. Wright-Phillips had fluffed his only opening to date, miscuing a low cross, and again it seemed that the Llera effort would end up being the decisive moment. But with about 15 minutes left Eccleston picked up the ball, moved inside and played a square pass to Parrett, who dinked it over the defenders and into the box for Wright-Phillips to toe-poke it past the keeper. It’s what the guy does, we just need to supply the ammunition.

With the fans’ spirits raised and the momentum with us, for a while that we might even win the game. Anyinsah came on for Nouble and I think most of us expected Reid to make another late appearance. However, Southampton regrouped towards the end and went in search of a winner of their own – including a loud shout for a penalty which left me and the ref unmoved and a near disaster as Dailly directed a header back which Elliot had not been anticipating - and by the end, with Doherty on, we were ready to take the point. It’s not as if we harbour thoughts of a play-off spot any more and in the run we’re on the priority was not to give up what we’d won back.

The most encouraging thing about tonight was that players’ heads didn’t drop and the supporters responded in kind. That attitude, if sustained, should be enough to truly stop the rot after the false dawn of a home draw against Tranmere.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. In truth he didn’t have much to do and had no chance with the goal. If the Dailly back-header had resulted in a late winner for Southampton the ratings for them both might have been different.

Solly: 7/10. Decent game, as he compensated for the lack of physical presence with good work going forward in the second half.

Bessone: 8/10. My man of the match for coming back from injury and seeing off their main attacking threat, who was replaced in the second half. Some iffy passes early on, but hopefully he’s due for an injury-free run.

Dailly: 7/10. No complaints here, especially as he ensured that his header back was weak enough to be gathered by a prone Elliot.

Llera: 8/10. A game without howlers in defence is a good one for Mig and, as against Brentford, he was within a whisker of scoring. Deserved to keep his place tonight despite Doherty being available again.

Racon: 7/10. Influential in most of our better attacks and helped out when needed in the centre. No lack of effort despite being asked to do a job which clearly isn’t the one he wants.

Semedo: 6/10. Struggled in the first half especially as he and Parrett looked like strangers, but worked his way through it and more dominant in the second half, which helped to turn things back our way.

Parrett: 6/10. It is clearly asking a lot for a young player to come into a struggling team and be expected to make the play. Opinions afterwards were mixed, but I thought he struggled throughout. However, gets an extra mark for the decisive contribution to the goal.

Wagstaff: 5/10. Came into it more in the second half, but still for me isn’t providing much more at the moment than nuisance value, especially with the goals having dried up.

Nouble: 5/10. Was well contained by their central defence. Had little in the way of service but expect a bit more in the way of causing problems. Still too early to judge.

Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Overall contribution limited and picked up another silly booking. But the guy scores goals and that’s more than enough for me.
Subs: Eccleston (8/10 – high mark for a 15-minute cameo, but unsettled them from the off and helped fashion the goal); Anyinsah (6/10 – no time to make any real impact); Doherty (played a blinder for the two minutes he was on).

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Bad Choices

I could have flown to Lyon on Friday evening and had a relaxing weekend; wine, food and a laugh at the rugby (no, I wouldn’t have laughed). Instead I chose to delay departure to be able to take in today’s game, despite the prospect of having to surface at 03.30. We all make mistakes (and live with the consequences). Before the match, after Tuesday’s defeat, I really just wanted to watch a good game of football. After 20 minutes it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case, so I’d settle for a narrow, scrappy win. As that prospect faded there was at least 0-0, the scoreline both teams deserved. But such is our luck at the moment we didn’t even get that. It meant the game could be summed up by three headers from corners: our two from Llera hit the bar and brought out a superb save by their keeper, their uncontested one found the net. Brentford hardly deserved the win, apparently their first at The Valley since 1926 or something. But they’ll take it, as we would in their place.

The team - in the absence of Elliot, Bessone, Doherty, Jackson, Anyinsah and Benson (and Youga) – saw Fry return at left-back, with Jenkinson switching to the other side in place of Francis, Dailly and Llera in the centre, McCormack and Semedo in central midfield, Racon and Wagstaff taking the wide positions, and the incoming Nouble partnering Wright-Phillips up front. As a combination it was perhaps understandable, but I’m old enough and daft enough to think that you begin a game with your best team. Exactly why the two wide players we chose were considered better options than Eccleston and Reid (or at least one of those two) mystifies me. And the problems of looking to make changes were to be compounded as first Dailly (at half time) and then Jenkinson (replaced by Fortune and Solly respectively) had to depart through injury, leaving Powell with only one further change to try to win the game.

The first half was a case of poor football from two competitive but struggling teams punctuated by the occasional half-chance, usually the result of an error. Brentford had two early shots, one well saved by Worner, and then we had a couple, with Racon unlucky with a decent strike and then Wagstaff shooting over from a good position inside the box. Neither side had any sort of ascendency and for most of the time the defences were in control. What was worse was that both teams seemed to think that was OK. The game was one-paced and quite frankly dull.

It really didn’t change in the second half. Nouble you might say was having trouble finding his feet, having just arrived, but he gave the impression of having that problem period. To be fair he stuck at it and did have some moments. Our best period saw Racon well placed inside the box, but this time the shot was on his right foot and went over the bar, and then the corners, with Llera causing some mayhem as they just couldn’t handle him. If one of the two headers goes in at least the ending would probably have been different. But they didn’t and after that we failed to fashion a decent strike on goal. Brentford managed to smother Llera from further set pieces and the referee was never going to give the penalty rather than the free kick against us for the wrestling that went on. Reid came on for Racon, but to little effect. All that was left was the corner for them in the last minute of normal time to round off the day.

One point from seven games means that the rest of the season is about forgetting the league position and just focusing on improving. I want to see the players look as if they’re enjoying themselves; sure, it’s not easy when you’re losing, but the pressure and expectations have disappeared. We’re all resigned to another season at this level (although I can’t say I’ve rushed to fill out the season ticket application form) and I just want to try to enjoy what’s left. If the midfielder from Spurs is half-decent he has to start in the next game, along with Eccleston and/or Reid. At least there’s a week before the next one.

Player Ratings:

Worner: 8/10. Couple of decent saves and dealt with high balls much better than I’ve seen from him before. Didn’t seem to have a chance with the goal.

Jenkinson: 7/10. Another decent game before having to go off. But I have to say I don’t agree with those happy with Francis being dropped. Maybe he can use a break, but dropping to third-choice is harsh.

Fry: 6/10. No real problems but didn’t feature much going forward. I thought we might have switched him inside when Dailly went off.

Llera: 8/10. Deserves a good mark as he almost won us the game and managed to go through a game without a defensive howler (although someone has to take the rap for not picking up their guy for the goal).

Dailly: 7/10. No problems here either, hope there’s no serious problem.

Racon: 5/10. Playing out of position, some decent moments, including the first-half shot, but blew the chance with his right foot in the second.

Semedo: 5/10. In a game when we were never going to get caught for pace at the back he wasn’t able to contribute much. Worked hard enough.

McCormack: 4/10. Just ineffective. I’ve been in favour of him getting a run in the team, given the problems of the Semedo/Racon combination, but quite frankly we’ve had a good look and there doesn’t seem to be much there.

Wagstaff: 4/10. Came into it more in the second half after shooting over in the first when he should have hit the target, but still not a sufficient contribution.

Nouble: 5/10. Surprised on occasions and unfair to judge the guy just yet; no lack of effort.

Wright-Phillips: 5/10. No real service and generally contained.

Subs: Fortune (6/10 – OK, just want to see their goal again); Solly (6/10 – Good to see him getting a run, but tough on Francis); Reid (4/10 – I’m not sure he actually touched the ball; if he did I don't remember it).

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Glass At Least Half-Full

This proved to be a glass half-full one, which at least ended the drought. Times are hard when a home draw against Tranmere is something not to be disgruntled about, but at least this time we weren’t beaten and after a disappointing first half managed to raise our game sufficiently to come away with something. We might have even nicked it, which would have been due reward for both the effort made after the break and for an utterly unpleasant Tranmere performance. There’s was a mix of time-wasting from the start, cynical fouls when in danger, and no shortage of shoves off the ball, all of which overall wasn’t punished sufficiently, but the ref or us. But they were coming off a bad run themselves and you can’t moan too much. If anything their lack of ambition when ahead was what cost them the extra two points.

There was no 4-4-3 today. Instead, with Llera getting the start instead of Fortune for the injured Doherty, McCormack returned in central midfield, with Racon moved wide left to replace Reid and Wagstaff on the other flank. Powell squared the circle by dropping Eccleston to the bench, with Benson partnering Wright-Phillips. It was a tighter set-up, one which addressed the problem in midfield against Carlisle, but also one which could be questioned for the choices out wide; we’d seen Racon play wide left before and it hadn’t been great. But most important, having set out a more protective stall, the sin was in still conceding first.

The first half was far from any sort of classic. Tranmere were for the most part content to sit behind the ball, having a central forward and a fast wide guy capable of causing us problems on the break. And with our football far too one-paced (and that pace was very slow) there was a great deal of passing the ball around in our own half to no great effect. It was better than hoofing it forward, but there was seldom any suggestion of sufficient movement to try to pull Tranmere out of position. They sat back and watched most of it. All might have been OK had we made it to the break scoreless, but Francis made the error, being dispossessed as we were moving forward. The ball was played through to their forward. It looked to me like he might have gone too soon and was offside, but it was close and wasn’t given. Instead he moved on to beat Elliot.

Having been gifted the lead, the remainder of the period continued as before, the only incident of note being Elliot getting injured (he seemed to twist his leg/ankle). He made it to half-time, but was replaced by Worner after the interval. Half the game had passed and we hadn’t tested their keeper, with Racon struggling to get involved in any meaningful way and Wagstaff anonymous. Tranmere will have felt very comfortable.

There was no real change early in the second half, although if anything Tranmere seemed even less interested in trying to kill off the game with a second. As they ceded even more ground, and we raised the effort, winning more second balls, we progressively pegged them back, which in turn saw Racon and Wagstaff feature more prominently, with Semedo and McCormack taking a grip on the game. The danger seemed to be a repeat of their first goal gift, as defenders bringing the ball forward occasionally got it badly wrong, Llera giving the ball away in a bad position and even Dailly guilty of the same crime. But the balance of play was shifting in our favour and we managed to level things up. Wagstaff was fouled and Llera strode forward to hit what looked like a beautifully curled shot into the bottom corner, with their keeper not moving. If there was a deflection I didn’t see it.

That encouraged the crowd and lifted the team and the momentum was clearly with us. There were still enough bodies back for Tranmere to limit actual chances, but the rest of the game was about two crosses. First, they worked a position and the ball was squared in the box in the direction of an unmarked player. Fortunately for us, it went a couple of yards ahead of him. Later, Francis delivered the ball of the day, a curling ball in which saw three Charlton players in turn lunge at it and fail to make a decisive connection. McCormack and Wright-Phillips had by then been taken off for Reid and Eccleston (with Racon moving back inside) and the niggling thought was whether if SWP had still been on the pitch he would have been there to score. That’s what he’s in the team to do – and what he has done to date.

Eccleston broke forward on the right side in a promising position, given his pace, and was hacked down. We had a late shout for a penalty as the ball seemed to strike an arm in the box, but while I screamed as well, and would have welcomed it being given with open arms, it would have been harsh, with no obvious intent. Four minutes of stoppage time and some curious final decisions by the officials ensured the ref being booed off, but more important the players deserved and received applause, for the effort and application if nothing else.

Only a point, but we have to see it as if not a real step forward at least not another one backwards. Two more games coming up in short order and, while there are going to be tired limbs, the one on Tuesday night is looming large if we are to retain serious play-off ambitions. Today we were without Jackson, Anyinsah, Doherty, Bessone (and Youga) and lost Elliot, hopefully not for a spell. Testing times.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Have to see the goal again to see if he had a chance of stopping it. Otherwise a couple of decent saves, although did drop one high ball.

Francis: 6/10. Deserves a higher mark than some others might give him. Made a mistake, a bad one. Others did too without the same end-result and his ball into the box in the second half should have given us the winner.

Jenkinson: 7/10. Continues to quietly impress. If Bessone is coming back, with him and Solly around you can see why Powell is thinking about whether extending Fry’s loan is the best available option.

Llera: 7/10. Could have been man-of-the-match and at least deserves credit for coming in and making the most of it. And he scored the goal. But bundled over their guy to give away a free kick on the edge of the box and made a mistake playing the ball out that could have cost us. I guess with Big Mig there’s always going to be the occasional hairy moment but showed courage and commitment despite having had to sit and wait for months.

Dailly: 7/10. Generally assured and tried to take the game to them when bringing the ball out of defence.

Racon: 8/10. For me gets the nod as MotM. Struggled with the wide role early on but stuck at it and became increasingly influential as the game progressed.

Semedo: 7/10. Held things together well and was instrumental in ensuring that once we’d got a grip on the game we kept it.

McCormack: 7/10. Didn’t get everything right, but decent enough game with some good moments. Better.

Wagstaff: 7/10. Poor first half when we were crying out for some creativity down the flank, but made more space in the second half and made enough of a pest of himself to make things happen.

Benson: 6/10. Took on more of the target man role and his play outside the box was better than earlier in the season. But he was one of the three who failed to convert the cross and that should have been his moment.

Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Didn’t score for once, but was involved and caused some problems; just wasn’t able to be there for the cross.

Subs: Worner (6/10 – one decent save but did drop one cross and got away with another when he was fouled); Reid (6/10 – didn’t turn the game when he came on but that’s not easy; a bit unlucky to have to start on the bench); Eccleston (7/10 – might have won us the game with the late break had he not been taken out).

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Desperate Stuff

If I was a cantankerous old git this afternoon it just got a lot worse, although I'm too depressed to be angry. If it was better balance we were seeking tonight, to say the least, didn’t provide it. Half the team looked jaded from too many games while others were rusty from too little involvement of late (perhaps no reserve games is costing us). By the end there was uniformity of a sort: in lack of confidence and effectiveness. When the Carlisle fans started singing ‘your ground’s too big for you’, with a sub-13,000 attendance it was hard to disagree. And we now have balance with two runs of four in a row.

This one’s going to take a while to digest and four consecutive defeats – against Hartlepool, Exeter, Notts County and Carlisle for heaven’s sake – even longer. For me, the drawbacks of 4-3-3 were made even worse than before by changes to the team, presumably enforced. No Jackson or Anyinsah and, with Abbott having gone home, Reid came in for a start on the left while Wagstaff joined Wright-Phillips and Eccleston up front. It was a sort of 4-3.5-3.5 with I guess the emphasis on pace and movement. The trouble was Carlisle swamped central midfield. This meant that Racon and Semedo were overwhelmed and the service to the front men was cut short, with defenders too often having to try to play something over the top or in the air, where we had no chance. We clearly had the potential to trouble them in their half, as shown by the opening goal, but were entirely unable to play through midfield or exert any sustained pressure and eventually that told as Carlisle turned possession into goals.

Carlisle started tentatively and for a while became more scared as Eccleston and Wright-Phillips showed what they could do. An excellent run by the former saw the ball delivered to the latter, who had the time to put the ball away with some aplomb. That should have been the cue for more to exploit their weaknesses. Instead Carlisle, while showing no real threat, found themselves able to hold and pass the ball by sheer weight of numbers in the key area. The service forward became more sporadic and with Reid taking time to get into the game the possession statistics must have made poor reading for us. They grew in confidence and we committed the cardinal sin of letting in the equaliser before the break. Again there seemed no real threat, but too much time and space was given to them down their left and when the ball was squared, while the shot took a nasty deflection to take it wide of Elliot.

Give a dog a bone and what do you expect? Their hopes were raised and at the break the game was going away from us. I thought there would be a change made then, but with Doherty having limped off (to be replaced by Fortune) it carried on as before. I’m honestly struggling to remember the two more goals that they scored. I think I’m already in a process of trying to blank it all out. Both were poor defensively, but the abiding memory was more our inability to get anything going through the second half – which wasn’t helped by the referee’s failure to punish cynical fouls by Carlisle when danger threatened. They’d already had a couple booked and perhaps one of those two might have seen red. The fouls merited yellows, but the only further time the card was used was for a player kicking the ball away to waste some time. Them going down to 10 might have provided some balance.

Of course once we were behind players became more nervous of mistakes, given the crowd reaction to each misplaced pass. There wasn’t a lack of effort through to the end, but lack of confidence usually shows up in being scared to make mistakes and insufficient running off the ball. Reid got more involved as the game went on and there were some moments when we threatened. But not enough of them and we failed to turn good positions into real scoring chances. I don’t think their keeper actually had a shot to save in the second half, which given the potential firepower we had out tonight said a lot. Benson came on for Eccleston and with Wagstaff moving wide and Benson at least in with a chance in the air the shape looked better – although Eccleston had again looked the class act when on the pitch. And in any event by then the game was up as Carlisle were prepared to chase and harry to keep what they had.

There’s another three games in a week coming up, two at home, so no respite or real chance to pause for breath and consider options. As a friend remarked after the game, you can’t even really point at one or two players; neither can you fault the effort. It really wasn’t the fault of Semedo and Racon that they were overrun, or of Wagstaff for trying to play through the middle and it not working. We are in a crisis now and for me the simpler gameplan is to play Reid and Eccleston on the flanks, Wright-Phillips and Benson or Anyinsah up front, and Semedo and McCormack in central midfield – with the brief to protect the defence and move the ball out wide. If we’re not able to play through midfield it’s not Racon’s game. If we decide to do that, with Jackson available, you have to choose between Wright-Phillips or Eccleston up front – and that’s a difficult one. I’m afraid, Sir Chris, the onus is on you to come up with the answers.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Some very good saves and no criticism from me for the distribution. May have been culpable in one of the goals, I just don’t remember.

Francis: 6/10. Loses a mark again for the quality of balls into the box, which was disappointing.

Jenkinson: 7/10. It’s been an impressive introduction.

Doherty: 6/10. Nothing much wrong before he had to go off.

Dailly: 6/10. Creaked a bit tonight but not really sure whether that was due to trying to hold the defence together as we came under pressure through weight of numbers coming forward.

Semedo: 6/10. Tackled and covered manfully, but in an area of the pitch where we were outnumbered.

Racon: 5/10. Against Notts County the pitch was impossible to play football on and tonight Carlisle ran over or through him.

Reid: 5/10. Looked short of match practise and low on confidence but grew into it as the game progressed. Just failed to make it count.

Eccleston: 7/10. Laid on the goal and looked lively throughout. Our most potent threat going forward.

Wright-Phillips: 7/10. Could be a 5 for the work outside the box, although he did put in a shift tonight, or a 9 for the finishing. Just can’t argue with the goals ratio.

Wagstaff: 5/10. Played down the middle before but with different partners. Tonight it didn’t work. More involved when moved out wide.

Subs: Fortune (5/10 – looked very rusty and that may have cost us); Benson (7/10 – did improve the picture but by then it was too late).


We all know that everything in life is Kafka. I just wonder what Kafka would have made of the modern world; he might have preferred being a gigantic insect. Sometimes I would. In a previous incarnation I employed a former UK ambassador to East Germany. He’d spent most of his life analysing the minutiae of Kremlinology, the meaning behind who stood next to whom on the balcony. Then the Wall came down and all you needed to do was ask. He would have torn his hair out had there been any left. But of course, while everyone was suddenly passing on information now you didn’t know what was true and what was spin. You just can’t win, at least not in this life (and there isn’t another).

There was a simpler time, before the internet, when you made decisions based on trust. You had no choice. They might be lying but there was no way of telling. Now, not only is everyone a bloody expert but you’re expected to become an expert given all the information to hand. I have certain areas of expertise (I hope), but when your boiler conks out and someone tells you to choose a Worcester Greenstar 28i only for the next guy to go for a Vaillant EcoTec Pro 28kW life begins to get not just complicated but desperately dull. There’s no shortage of websites telling you which one is best: either, depending on which posts you read. Seems Worcester used to be the bee’s knees but have got worse since Bosch took them over, while the Vaillant uses a steel something instead of an alloy, which apparently is good. Then O2 tell you you can have a Samsung Wave 525 free on £10 tariff, a Samsung Wave 723 free on a £15 one (unless you tell them you are leaving and that becomes £10), or a Samsung Wave 2 on a £15 tariff but with a £60 charge (extra £60 per year over two years plus charge equates to £180, roughly the difference between the cost of buying that or the older ones).

Oh, and there’s trying to buy a new sofa, which - according to friends and the power that is - is long overdue (I managed to get a couple more years out of my old friend by sawing it in half and bolting the good half to the armchair). Only my living room is wedge-shaped and nothing in the wraparound options fits (except a build-it-yourself option which would mean writing off a day to construct it). Then there’s decisions on fabrics and colours ....

Men can’t help acting on impulse they used to say. Sorry, but I’m not one of them (well, of course I hope I am if you know what I mean) – unless you include making rash decisions based on pure exasperation and despair at the time taken to accumulate and digest the information. I like to pretend to make considered decisions but I’m not sure this is possible any more, if you want to have enough time to work, sleep and eat (never mind trying to update hopelessly out of date links from this site and other essentials, all of which does rather beg the question of why this post and the time taken?). Perhaps I’m just not wired for the modern world and maybe there’s a solution. A review of a book in the Sundays provided an account of someone who had a serious blow to the head and after surgery awoke to find that he could speak fluent Italian after having struggled for months previously to get past first base. Maybe before long we can all go to the quacks – who will after all have nothing to do except doll out pills to wrinklies as everyone self-diagnoses these days – for regular, focused, administered blows to the head to reprogramme us to adjust.

This ramble may have something to do with having emerged from the banks results season and seeing a window of opportunity to pause for breath before Amsterdam early next week and Lyon a couple of days after (and having ended the task of converting videos to DVDs – except two Charlton seasons highlights which refused to copy – which followed last year’s vinyl and cassettes to CDs; you see, I am getting there). Thank heavens for the escape to a Charlton game and the chance to discuss the merits/drawbacks of 4-3-3 and rant/cheer without the slightest possibility of influencing the outcome. And I don’t have to check anything on the internet to be able to talk endless bollocks about Charlton over a pre-match glass.

So where’s the link? Well, as transconfiguration goes waking up and finding that Pawel Abbott may have morphed into Benni McCarthy is as good as it gets. Until of course we discover that McCarthy might do a passing impression of Ralph Milne, being out of condition and out of favour at West Ham and having apparently run up some £200k in ‘fat fines’ there. Seems Sheff Wed passed on the option of taking him on loan. Still, surely even a fat Benni couldn’t be slower than a fit Abbott – although let’s not carp. When they come to write the next history of Charlton and our brief enforced spell in the third flight he will get a mention in dispatches for at least not pretending to be anything other than he was. I just can’t see him featuring in an all-time Charlton ‘top anything’ chart.

Which brings us back to tonight. With luck this nonsense will get buried under yet another match report, never to see the light of day. But it will be interesting to see whether Sir Chris sticks with 4-3-3 – and if so, and if it doesn’t work (ie we are losing), whether the end of the honeymoon period morphs into polite calls from the crowd for a change of formation. We’re simple souls (or at least I am) and victory is all that counts tonight; then at least it’s five wins out of eight rather than four and four and something of a crisis.

I do hope to avail myself of the opportunity when in Lyon to take in another Lyon Duchere game, a home fixture against Auxerre B. And at the moment I’ve never been prouder of my growing affiliation with Duchere. I’ve been following the fortunes of another club in their league (CFAB), a certain Louhans-Cruiseux. They’ve set out their stall this season by not only losing every game (badly) but seemingly having failed to turn up for one match. They’d run up 20 straight defeats and secured 19 points (you get a point for being there). But I looked the other day and, glory be, they’ve won one. And yes, it was against Lyon Duchere. Don’t ask me what happened (if I had the time ...perhaps the other Charlton/Duchere supporter out there?) but the results show a 2-1 home win for L-C. They now have the record of played 20, won one, lost 19, goals for seven, goals against 55 (seems the defence is tightening up as they were averaging three in per game). Duchere are coasting along in mid-table and must have felt generous. Carlisle are coasting along in mid-table ......