Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Poor And Paid The Price

Thanks a bundle Santa. Two away defeats, a drop down the league, and some pressure on for a performance and a victory. We didn’t get either and today was a worrying display. There’s no point in trying to focus on a spirited second-half effort to get something out of the game. For a start it wasn’t that spirited; when you get one back with 20 minutes to go, at home, you expect more. Yes, we could have nicked a point, but even if we had it wouldn’t have disguised the error-strewn, limp and uncoordinated first half display, or the fact that Ipswich saw out the final period reasonably comfortably. Even given their keeper’s uncertainty with the high ball and our focus on it.

The team saw a bit of a shake-up of the available options. Jackson and Kermorgant dropped to the bench, while Kerkar and Wright-Phillips didn’t make the subs (Harriott did). Fuller returned to supposedly partner Hulse up front, making it a 4-4-2, but while both have their merits and put in shifts it would be wrong to suggest a partnership as they spent the first half competing for balls in the air 20 yards apart. Green came in, with Haynes on the other flank, with Frimpong and Stephens after his suspension in the centre, while the back four and keeper were unchanged.

With the exception of a couple of moments – an early shot-come-cross from Haynes which was palmed over and a superb free-kick from Stephens after Fuller had been upended which came back off the foot of the post – the first-half was at best tame and otherwise shoddy. The crowd was thin on the ground and the atmosphere lacking, which all contributed to a low-key affair from our perspective. Instead Ipswich, without doing anything spectacular, showed how to control midfield with a physical presence mixed with movement and feed a front two who had some idea of how to play together. One big guy and a lively partner full of confidence, supported by midfielders who made timely and angled runs forward. It wasn’t rocket science but it won them the game.

After the mixed opening their guy cut into the edge of the box and a clumsy challenge by Frimpong sent him tumbling. The only question was whether he still had control of the ball, no doubt about it being in the area and as penalties against us go it was pretty uncontestable. Campbell stepped up and put it high and wide – although with Hamer going the right way I think he would have saved it had it been on target. Instead of the let-off inspiring us, we remained subdued. There were moments, from a number of individuals, but nothing coordinated or indicative of a team knowing what it is meant to do. Instead the game arguably turned on two moments after half-an-hour. First, we had the Stephens free-kick, which was worthy of a goal but didn’t even come back off the post at the right angle for incoming forwards. Second, a few minutes later at the other end we conceded a soft goal. The ball went across the goal to beyond the far post and everyone followed it, only for it to be pulled back to an unmarked Campbell who finished with ease.

Goals do change games and having gone behind we really needed to get to the break and regroup, with perhaps some straight talking from Sir Chris. Instead Stephens was caught on the ball in a dangerous area and while the resulting shot was well blocked by Hamer it fell to their bigger forward to put it in the net. Two poor goals to concede and they’d missed a penalty. And it was raining. Not exactly what I’d promised my French partner Suzanne and not exactly what I’d been asking for either.

The second goal meant changes were essential, to add more drive and determination, hopefully more accuracy too. Frimpong gave way for Pritchard and Green for Jackson, but a number of others could have been replaced. We needed an early goal to get back into the game and the best chance of the half did indeed come not long into the second half. A ball towards the far post had Jackson bearing down on it, only for Fuller not to get a call or be aware and try to take it on. The excellent chance went begging and the nature of it seemed to sum up the game.

Ipswich, who had been wasting time from very early on, entered the second half with no great intentions of going forward and this did give us more of the play, with Pritchard making a difference (to the extent that they brought on Rio-Coker to try to nullify the effect) and Solly getting forward more in support of Haynes down the right. But it was really a case of an away team 2-0 up sitting back rather than us driving forward with intent. The aerial threat was always there, but the right delivery or right connection never came.

Instead we did get back into the game with enough time as Solly broke into the box and was flattened by a challenge as poor as that of Frimpong. Jackson was on the pitch, but seemed to pass on the opportunity and instead Haynes stepped up to plant one in the top corner of the net.

Still 20 minutes to go and it should have been game on. Instead we still struggled to really put them under pressure. Kermorgant stood on the sidelines to probably replace Hulse, until Fuller stretched for one and pulled something to depart a few minutes later. One free kick went narrowly wide, there were a couple of scrambles in the box, and the final moments saw Hamer up for a corner and Kermorgant hook one over his head which went just over the bar. But if I was an Ipswich fan I would have said they saw out the game relatively untroubled and would have felt aggrieved if we had grabbed an equaliser.

Today’s display was not good enough. It might prove to be a case of just insufficient tempo and drive in a poor first half, leaving us to chase a game in a fashion that was never going to be pretty. More worrying for me was the impression that there wasn’t much of a game plan before the start. We put out what looked like an attacking formation but had two forwards miles apart, a midfield that was out-thought, and hesitancy in defence. For me every decent team knows its strengths and plays to them. Today I didn’t really know if we were intent on a long-ball game (and if so why do it half-heartedly?) or something else, while we’ve shipped six goals in three games. Getting the best out of the component parts still looks a work-in-progress, with the possibility of more changes to the squad in January depending on loan signings.

Not the end to 2012 I was hoping for (I have to pass on the Derby game on Saturday as Suzanne and I are off to Brussels to see in 2013), especially with the sad news of the passing of Colin Cameron (which does put a football match into context). But the year has seen many other much better moments. Can we please have another year like it overall, just not like today?

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 7/10. Can’t be blamed for either goal (arguably the parry for the second might have gone somewhere else, but it was a decent save in itself), might have saved the penalty if it had been on target, and not much else to do.

Solly – 7/10. If you had to pick a man of the match for us it would have been him. Won the penalty and did nothing wrong that I saw.

Seaborne – 6/10. Defensively seemed fine, especially in a tough first half, but something happened to his control and distribution in the second half as suddenly everything he touched went astray.

Morrison – 5/10. Strangely uncertain in the first half as their movement from midfield and combative front two caused us problems, while their first goal was just poor from a defensive perspective.

Cort – 6/10. Much as Morrison. The fact that the defence was untroubled in the second half really doesn’t count for much.

Haynes – 7/10. Not everything worked for him but was a threat throughout and took the penalty perfectly.

Frimpong – 5/10. We were outplayed in midfield in the first half and his clumsy challenge gave away a penalty.

Stephens – 5/10. Has to lose a mark for losing the ball that led to their second, while a number of the passes in the second half didn’t come off.

Green – 5/10. Perhaps unlucky to be replaced at the break as others were as ineffective, but failed to make an impression.

Fuller – 5/10. Did hold the ball up well, won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but surely if you play with a partner up front you have to try to make it work together.

Hulse – 5/10. Found himself competing for balls with no support and then one of a number jumping for them in the second half.

Subs – Pritchard (7/10 – did make a difference by adding more energy and drive in midfield); Jackson (6/10 – might have been different had Fuller not taken the ball away when he was poised to score early in the second half); Kermorgant (6/10 – his late hook over the bar nearly sent me home content if not happy; but this time it didn’t).

Monday, 17 December 2012

Reading Between The Lines

Losing’s always a bitch. No matter how deep you bury it (don’t even try to stay awake for the Football League show, forget the Sunday papers, skip all other reports), and no matter how unfortunate we might have been. Sir Chris’ comments (I couldn’t hide from everything) seemed to echo how Peterborough must have felt after the game at The Valley, when they looked better placed to win before Fuller let rip. Narrow margins for sure, but with Saturday’s game marking the formal halfway point in the season (unless of course we are denied automatic promotion and have to settle for the play-offs) nobody can say they don’t deserve to be where they are in the table (the obvious exceptions to the rule being two teams mysteriously in the top six).

The result means we’re as midtable as you can get: 7-8-7 and a goal difference of zero. It’s nice to view it as only seven points off a top-six spot (especially as we know two of them will be vacated in the second half), but perhaps more realistic to see it as 12 points from third and 11 from third-bottom, with Ipswich’s upturn and Peterborough’s win at Cardiff providing more evidence of how tight the division is and how quickly things can turn either way. Saturday’s game at Sheff Wed is as much about maintaining/extending the gap from the bottom clubs as closing that on those above us.

Of course that’s not the full story. Having been 21st in the league after the Middlesbrough game we are, despite Saturday, still on a rising trend. And although the unbeaten run’s over, that spell (four wins and three draws out of seven) shows what can be done and that we are competitive. For that run, the team, the manager and the fans (for their response during the Cardiff game) deserve a pat on the back. The pressure was on, especially at home, and with a bit of luck along the way the players responded. We’ve had our Charlton back for a season-and-a-half; for me the most encouraging thing about this campaign to date is that the spirit and character that got us promoted has remained intact. Perhaps no real surprise as those qualities are embodied in the manager and his staff, but reassuring nonetheless.

Whether we can continue rising of course remains to be seen; by definition, the higher you rise the tougher it is to rise further. For that to happen, even to bring the play-offs into the equation, we almost certainly have to continue to get better. That could come about simply as a result of an end to the injuries disruptions and greater cohesion/understanding between the players; it might involve some tinkering in January. I’m assuming that there’s no money to be spent – and there’s no compelling case to be made for splashing out, with the team improving and with decent competition for places in almost all areas. But just how loan signings are managed remains to be seen. Seaborne is apparently still with us on a week-to-week basis, Hulse’s three-month loan must be up at the end of the year, with the same for Frimpong, while Holland’s loan with Swindon ends in early January. So irrespective of transfers there are decisions to be made, some which may not be in our hands.

In the absence of changes to the squad, it really is a case of looking to improve week in, week out, through sheer hard work. The calendar works against a comprehensive mid-season player review as after Saturday afternoon there’s the small matter of dealing with Santa, plus the necessary preparations for my partner Suzanne’s next London visit (these include fumigating the flat). She was happy to comment in an Xmas card that Charlton can be proud of having French players, then up pops a Frenchman in a different shirt to score a brace against us. The entente cordial will be restored in time, especially if we can both cheer goals from Kermorgant, Kerkar and/or Devite when she is in attendance for the Ipswich game.

However, there is one stand-out statistic worth noting. We are currently joint bottom of the league, with Huddersfield, when it comes to leading scorer. Huddersfield actually have at least three players on four goals, while the next team above the pair of us is on seven. Most teams have a leading scorer on close to 10 (the range goes up to 22 for Burnley’s Austin). Having a major marksman is no guarantee of success of course (Cardiff top the league but their top scorer is only on eight), and we all know the main reason (injuries) for our position on this front. Behind Jackson on four, we have four forwards on three but Fuller has started just six games, Hulse nine, Haynes five (often operating out wide) and Kermorgant nine.

The strike rates are respectable, the players just haven’t been available often enough. The contrast is Wright-Phillips’ return of one goal from 10 starts, which has to be (perhaps along with Hollands’ slipping down the ranks) the main disappointment of the season to date. With Kermorgant missing for much of the time, and with the early games when they played together indicating that what worked so well last season might not be enough in this league, BWP can have no complaints about currently being out of the starting XI. I just hope he’s keeping his spirits up as there’s no doubt he will called on sooner or later. To thrive in the second half of the season we will need at least four of the five forwards available (whether or not we choose to go with one outright forward) and better understanding between them as they play more games together.

This still doesn’t explain what had to be one of the worst bets on offer since football began. Like many others I made sure I was in the ground earlier than usual for the Brighton game, to take in the anniversary celebrations (and I don’t mind admitting having a tear in my eye when the Portsmouth highlights were shown; I was there but haven’t played the videos/CDs for a while). Having arrived early, thought I’d consider a flutter. They had the team on display on the board and Wright-Phillips was offered at 20/1 to score a hat-trick. Now 20/1 isn’t exactly generous for any player to notch three; when the guy’s in question’s not even in the team, indeed a team playing with one up front, I decided the euromillions lottery offered a better risk/return profile.

It was splendid and appropriate to have Richard Murray on the pitch at the break to pass on his thoughts. Nice of him to thank a range of people (including all shareholders who lost money), but was there a hint of mischief in mentioning those behind Voice of the Valley, given the club’s silence about the dismissal of Rick Evreritt? In the programme, Michael Slater made a joke about our being informed of the move from The Valley by leaflet, adding “to think that some people now question the current board’s level of communication with the fans!” Sorry, not appropriate; and, as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s no excuse for the behaviour 20 years ago, but it was a different era (flicking back through my programme collection throws up real gems, such as a sentence on Killer leaving the club). More recently, we had a fans’ representative on the board (whatever the actual merits of that) and access to annual accounts. We even knew who the owners of the club were and their ambitions.

Communication is not just about being personable and approachable; it’s also about being as open as possible with information on sensitive issues towards interested parties, which we the fans are. Compared with a few years ago we have considerably less access to information about the state of the club we love. We don’t know if there’s truth in the rumours of a possible sale, whether Paul Elliott is being courted to become chairman, the full story of boardroom changes, and what the attitude of the board is towards money being/not being available. We know what might have happened had the club not been bought (leaving aside whether that would have involved going into administration) and the purchase ensured considerable goodwill towards the new owners. More openness on current affairs would help to ensure that goodwill doesn’t get eroded.The anniversary celebrations reminded us why we feel a bit special and the qualities, from top to bottom, that make us feel that way.

Enough negativity, it is supposed to be a season for something else. And as it’s now impossible to go anywhere without being assailed by bloody carols it is perhaps time to wish all and sundry a splendid Xmas and truly successful New Year. Cheers.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hard-Earned Point

So, no glorious victory to celebrate the anniversary; instead a hard-earned point against a decent side (albeit one that mixed some of the dark arts with passing football). On the balance of chances Brighton will feel they should have won; that they didn’t was down to poor finishing, at least two superb saves by Hamer, and one last-ditch deflection of a goal-bound shot. The annoying thing was that despite their possession and chances the two they did score were the result of a mistake and a deflection (ours were, of course, sublime). Add to that we were robbed at the death. Final minute of stoppage time and the ball’s deflected for a corner. Flashed through my mind that Cort would come on and that, given their uncertainty from set pieces, one of he, Hulse, Kermorgant, Morrison or Devite would nod in the winner to spark delirium. The ref gave a goal kick. Ah well, I’ll dream about it tonight.

Sir Chris opted to make a few changes, with some welcome selection problems to work out. Seaborne didn’t make the team (or the bench) with Wilson returning at right-back and Solly switching sides; with Morrison available again, Cort was the one to give way rather than Dervite (perhaps the thinking was that Brighton wouldn’t be playing the ball in the air); Stephens and Frimpong were the central midfielders, with Jackson and Haynes out wide, Pritchard in the hole (although he and Haynes seemed to alternate) and Hulse effectively the lone striker, with Kermorgant dropping to the bench.

We could have been behind in the first couple of minutes as their guy, who may have moved offside (it looked a close call) scooped it over the bar at the far post, while Hamer was to pull off the first of his splendid saves, making himself big to block a one-on-one, possibly with his face. Brighton as expected were knocking it around, but we were keeping our shape and put together a few probes. There followed a game of ‘who scores from corners’. Our first went harmlessly into the keeper’s arms, but the second, from the other side, was flicked on at the near post and was buried by the onrushing Addick. It was given first as Stephens but seems it was indeed Wilson. Just how and why he was in that right spot is a mystery, but full marks for the run and finish. Our next corner saw Morrison get clear but his header went over the bar, while at the other end a Brighton corner caused panic and almost an equaliser.

Understandably having taken the lead we were content to let Brighton knock it around at the back, looking to rob them in midfield and counter. But after looking reasonably comfortable for a period we let them back in after half-an-hour as a rare hopeful lofted ball forward from them saw Morrison make the mistake. He miscued the header up in the air and off balance their guy up front picked it up and before Morrison could get back to him buried it low inside the post. No point dwelling on it, Morrison knew he’d erred and it cost us.

The remainder of the first half was pretty even as having levelled Brighton were more content to take their time, while we continued in the same vein, with Hulse pretty isolated and not much coming down the flanks. After the break the game continued in a similar fashion and for a while became rather scrappy. Aware of their hesitancy from set pieces, Brighton resorted to a mix of shirt-pulling – and hair-pulling – to cope, with the officials seemingly oblivious to it all.

However, Brighton seemed to be gaining the upper hand and had a period of wasted chances. Hamer pulled off his second great save and when their guy seemed sure to score one of our number deflected the shot for a corner. They also fluffed a couple, but just when it seemed we were on the rack we produced a move to break the deadlock. The spark I think came from Stephens shaping up to play it wide right and instead switching direction to Hulse, who moved it out to the left. The ball in produced something of a scramble and it seemed the chance had gone, only for Pritchard to slide the loose ball past the keeper.

At that point the final whistle would have been welcome, but with 20 minutes or so to go we were far from home and hosed. Indeed, passes in midfield started to go astray, with Stephens guilty of one at least which ended up with a foul close to the box. Second time around, a hospital ball across to Wilson saw him lose out and their guy go on to be brought down on the edge of the box. LuaLua had come on as a sub and you feared the worse. However, when the shot was taken it seemed as though the wall had done it’s job, only for their fans suddenly to be celebrating. Seems the shot took a deflection, leaving Hamer no chance.

Kermorgant had just come on for Haynes, with Pritchard going out wide and us reverting to a 4-4-2. For the remainder of the game it was a case of them looking more likely than us to grab the winner, but with Kerkar on for Jackson you felt that if he could get the service something might still go our way. In the end, neither happened and at the finish both sides seemed reasonably satisfied with the draw after an entertaining game. Just a pity about that last-gasp corner we should have had.

We keep our unbeaten record going (and we haven’t lost at home now for four games), we move up a couple of places, and move on to Bolton and Sheff Wed away before Santa arrives. No euphoria, but the next best thing.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 9/10. Two excellent saves, dealt with corners when he could, and no chance with the goals.
Wilson – 9/10. My man of the match for today. First game back and no signs of rust, scores a goal and looked a real threat going forward. One late run seemed to go on and on and caused them all sorts of confusion. I’m not going to mark him down for their second goal as for me the fault lay in the pass.
Solly – 8/10. They just didn’t know enough that he plays just as well on the left as on the right. They do now.

Morrison – 6/10. It was a bad mistake for their first. These things happen. Otherwise sound against a team which caused us problems around the box with their movement.

Dervite – 7/10. Composed and decent game. They did create chances but not through anything he obviously did wrong (I’ve no idea who might be culpable for the wall not doing its job for their second).
Haynes – 6/10. Not the sparkling return we hoped for, out wide wasn’t able to use his pace to good effect. But after the lay-off it’s good to have him back available.
Frimpong – 6/10. Effective first half, but it’s not easy chasing shadows against Brighton and seemed to fade in the second.
Stephens – 6/10. Mix of good and bad. I may be being unfair if the second-half misplaced passes weren’t his, but they cost us. On the other side of the coin, his vision set up our second.
Jackson – 6/10. Struggled going forward against a rugged defender, worked hard but not especially influential today.
Pritchard – 6/10. Here too good and bad. Often knocked off the ball or was crowded out and perhaps didn’t provide sufficient support for Hulse, but he scored the second.

Hulse – 7/10. Often isolated but did the lone striker’s role well enough and might have nabbed one.
Subs – Kermorgant (6/10 – not especially influential in the 20 minutes he was on, but we weren’t seeing much of the ball); Kerkar (6/10 – only on for about 10 minutes and didn’t get the service he needed to make an impact).

Friday, 30 November 2012

Regrets? I've Had A Few

I have been trying to pin down the definitive reason for my not making the trip for tomorrow afternoon’s game. My French partner Suzanne is in London for the weekend and, while she was willing, I was hesitant. We do have a little family duty to perform, which offers a decent enough excuse. But ultimately it’s because I swore I would never visit the New Den (and also pledged ‘never again’ for Selhurst Park). I spent many of my formative years in Bermondsey (I may not have been the only Addick in SE1 but was the only one at Galleywall Road Junior School) and went to more than my fair share of games against Millwall, while also having a ringside seat to watch the Saturday evening street mayhem which in the 1960s/70s followed many home games. Like getting caned at school, it may (or may not) have been character-building; I just don’t feel inclined to repeat the experience.

I do nevertheless feel more than a twinge of guilt at not being there, to add to the necessary support - and, as after Kim Grant in the snow, I will regret not having been there to witness the triumph. Non, je ne regrette rien (which for the record is a love song; Piaf doesn’t sing about an attitude to life but rather that she doesn’t regret anything and wouldn’t change anything because everything has led her to where she is now, with the man of her dreams; I might suggest to Suzanne while she is here that she must feel the same way, but this probably hinges on whether I overcook the veal steak tonight).

ith the surprisingly early return of Kermorgant, seemingly Haynes and Wilson being close to being available, but understandable doubts about Fuller being fit after the strain of his wonder-strike, I’m not going to speculate about what 11 might take to the pitch. With Morrison unavailable (of all the games to miss!) presumably Taylor or Dervite will partner Cort. Injuries aside (Wiggins, Evina, Wilson, plus Taylor) and stop-gaps at full-back (Kerkar and Morrison), the defence this season has pretty much picked itself. Clearly the same can’t be said about the midfield or attack, which raises the question of just which combinations might work best in the event that all the players are available.

I may be outdated, but I do still think in terms of partnerships, or at least combinations, in all the key areas. At present, we have four main forwards - Kermorgant, Hulse, Fuller and Haynes – all of whom present a good case for inclusion (when was the last time we had four forwards all of whom scored the last time they started?) and a fifth – Wright-Phillips – who was expected to be the focal point of our attack this season. There’s also Cook. It is an abundance of riches but with no clear first-choice options. Kermorgant’s ability in the air and the intelligence of his work stand out, but so do Fuller’s ability to hold the ball and use it to good effect, Hulse’s goals-per-game ratio, and the fact that Haynes is the one with the pace (as well as having scored three games in a row). The classic combination would point to Haynes plus one of the other three, based on whichever works best in training. Sometimes partnerships do just click. I can’t help salivating at the possibility of Haynes getting on the end of Kermorgant’s flicks, but where does that leave the others?

Midfield is if anything even more complicated, this time because nobody has made the case for being a shoo-in. When it comes to the wide positions, my liking is for one outright winger (Kerkar or Green) and one more defensive-minded (Jackson or Wilson); I remember thinking that Gordon Hill and Steve Coppell were an optimum combination (before the latter came off the rails and went on to become associated with the wrong part of SE London). Of course that’s not set in stone, depending on the opposition, while there’s Wagstaff and Pritchard available too. Kerkar had a poor game on Tuesday and has I think yet to show what he can really do, Green is undoubtedly the best crosser of the ball we have (and can chip in with goals). Add in the fact that Pritchard and Jackson have been playing both out wide and in the centre, and we have options aplenty, just no clear Plan A.

In central midfield, you choose two from Jackson, Stephens, Pritchard, Dervite, Jonsson and of course Frimpong. Frimpong has started the two games for which he’s been available, but who is his best partner? Stephens is our main play-maker, while Jackson is our captain (and leading scorer).

It would be nice to provide some answers, or at least stronger opinions. But I’m happy to leave it all to Sir Chris and to back whatever choices he goes with, which is another way of saying I really don’t know. What should work to our advantage is the fact that available options means competition for places. In any event, the pasta and veal isn’t going to cook itself and I have to get to the shop with my winning euromillions lottery ticket before they close. Otherwise Suzanne will have something to regret.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Best Team Always Wins

I’m a simple soul, easily made happy. I’ll take playing badly and winning over anything other than playing well and winning. Every day of the week. And we all know we didn’t play well. For much of the first half and much of the second, Peterborough were more fluid, cohesive and created the better openings, while we played like a team of strangers, which is not surprising as the front two and the central midfield pairing will never before have started a game together. In our defence, they didn’t score when on top, we went ahead with something completely out of the blue, but once we did they showed why they are struggling as their response to going behind was poor. They looked like a team used to losing and our second – which crowned the return of Kermorgant – gave a result that was no reflection of the game but left me, that simple soul, happy enough.

Team selection was again surprising. We are all delighted that Yan is back, but a starting place was asking a lot after his time out – and tough on Hulse who after scoring dropped to the bench. With Seaborne available again Kerkar moved forward and that meant Stephens taking a rest, with Jackson moving inside to partner Frimpong. He did (in my view) have a subdued game on Saturday, but the downside was yet another change. Perhaps Sir Chris was looking at weaknesses in their side and opted for more of a long ball approach; perhaps the absence of movement and lack of understanding between players resulted in balls hit forward when no other option was available, with Kerkar and Pritchard having moments but not really influencing the game from the wide positions.

The game began brightly enough as Kermorgant announced his return with a shot on the turn that brought out a decent save, while what has to be said was Kerkar’s one material contribution to the game was a delightful ball along the line which resulted in a cross that Jackson headed wide. But as on Saturday we were also uncertain at the back early on, with Hamer failing to deal with a couple of balls into the box and uncertainty in midfield leading to a number of set pieces which with more accuracy Peterborough could have scored from. After the early flurries from both teams, the game deteriorated as we struggled to make anything happen and they failed to turn promising moments into anything tangible. For the neutral, it was not pretty stuff.

I can’t remember incidents of note in the latter stages of the first half, except for Morrison taking a yellow for the team after we were left exposed again (does that mean a suspension for Millwall?). Fuller was having a frustrating time as the ref failed to decide in his favour on a number of challenges, Kermorgant looked understandably rusty, nothing was coming down the flanks, while Frimpong and Jackson were being outpassed and outrun.

The second half seemed to be shaping up much as the first. Early on Kermorgant was nearly played in but couldn’t find the space in the box for the shot, then Pritchard got on the end of a cross only for his effort to hit the outside of the post. This flurry over, Peterborough took control of the game and had the period when they could well have won the game. They passed and moved better than us and especially ran straight through our midfield. They had a corner and we lazily left two against one, which led to a shot which bounced back off the post. A few minutes later we were caught in the same fashion. Hamer pulled off one very good and a few other routine saves. The game was more than slipping away from us as they came to realise it was there for the taking. If they’d scored then, it probably would have been curtains.

Something had to change and Frimpong, who had been far less assured than on Saturday, departed, with Green coming on and Pritchard moving inside. But that change didn’t explain what happened next. Fuller’s frustration seemed to be steadily mounting (and the crowd weren’t far behind, taking it out on a ref who was booed off at the break having done nothing wrong that I saw), so he decided to score. There was really nothing much on, but from a distance out he simply hit a beauty of a shot into the roof of the net, giving their keeper no chance. There’s a part in a Flashman novel where he describes fluking a hat-trick in a cricket match and then feigning injury to make sure nothing could detract from the glory. I don’t say that Fuller’s shot was a fluke (it wasn’t, it was superb), or that the knock he took in taking it was feigning injury (it wasn’t), but it was like showing what you can do and then retiring to the applause. He went off to be replaced by Hulse.

Peterborough must have been exasperated, but instead of responding positively their heads dropped. They may complain about the outcome of the game, but would be better of looking at why. We didn’t really play any better, but rounded things off with a goal that – as on Saturday – showed how simple it can be when you do things well. The ball was worked out to Green, he took it on and sent in a delightful cross. Both Hulse and Kermorgant closed in on it and for an instant it looked as though the former would divert it wide of the latter and we’d blown it. Instead it held up and Yan was able to slide the ball in.

That just left time for Kermorgant to take his own round of applause, with Jonsson coming on for the final few minutes, and for Peterborough to stew in their own juices until the ref put them out of their misery. I thought before Saturday that four points from the two home games would be a satisfactory return; just how we fashioned that combination from a game we should have won and one we could well have lost is just another footnote in a season.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. One good save, but the early problems with balls into the box can’t be overlooked, especially after seeing the highlights from Saturday.

Solly – 8/10. No complaints at all, good game and no adverse reaction to the penalty on Saturday.

Seaborne – 7/10. First time I’ve seen him, decent enough game in defence but not a lot worked down the left side for us going forward after one or two moments in the first half.

Morrison – 8/10. I thought he was excellent in holding together a defence that was put under a lot of pressure by the failings of those in front of them.

Cort – 7/10. One bad error in the first half, but otherwise fine in clearing and blocking what came his way.

Pritchard – 6/10. Some moments wide right but not enough, almost scored with a good header, then switched inside to reasonable effect.

Jackson – 5/10. They went through our midfield far too easily and when we were in possession the passing and movement were inadequate. Hope it’s more a case of unfamiliar partners.

Frimpong – 6/10. No coordination with those around him and seemed less influential than on Saturday. Perhaps tonight’s problems were more about combinations than individuals.

Kerkar – 4/10. I’ve been a fan of his to date and think there’s a good deal more to come. But to say he was anonymous in the second half is something of an understatement. Truly disappointing game.

Fuller – 7/10. Would have been much less as tonight it wasn’t working for him as the ref just didn’t buy the complaining. But what can you say about that shot? In one flash it turned a game that was more than going against us.

Kermorgant – 8/10. In rational terms, the mark is generous as he and Fuller showed no signs of a partnership made in heaven, he struggled to get into the game especially in the first half, and looked rusty. But as the game progressed the intelligence of his work (the way he looks around him before challenging for a ball to see what sort of contribution is best) came through, and he scored. If the programme is correct and his family were there to watch him, he has to get the man of the match. We can be rational next time.

Subs – Green (7/10: as on Saturday showed others again how to cross the ball; and this time it was converted); Hulse (7/10 – very unlucky to be dropped/rested after scoring and the effort when he came on was to be applauded); Jonsson (ah come on, he was only on the pitch for a couple of minutes).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Embracing Uncertainty

Aside from the loss of two points that were within our grasp, perhaps the most frustrating thing about Saturday was that we are left in limbo. We all crave certainty – and I’m starting to get the impression that this division just doesn’t offer any.

Did Cardiff mark a real turning point? Would it come to mark the end of our poor home form? And would three straight wins herald a more settled side? All Saturday ended up offering was more questions. Fresh injuries meant enforced changes to the side, the sending off changed the pattern of the game, and a draw meant the verdict on home form has to be on hold. Instead of four in a row, possibly twelfth in the league, three points off a play-off spot with another home game coming up, we have to look down as well as up (and on that front I’m as confused as Sir Chris indicated in his recent comments). A bloody penalty with a couple of minutes left. (For the record, having seen the BBC highlights Hamer would have been docked another point for his role in the build-up to the penalty, while I can’t believe that I attributed Fuller’s part in our goal to Solly; I really must start taking notes.)

We are getting used to the fact that in this league, this season, and at this stage of the game any team can beat any other, home or away. One indication of how competitive it is comes from the spread of points per game from top to bottom. In the Championship, with no outright duffers and no clearly superior sides (if Palace can go top anyone can), the spread of points is 24 from 18 games, ie 1.33 per game. The figure for the Premiership is 2.0, making it by a distance the least competitive of the four divisions (that for League One is 1.50 while for League Two it is only 1.30). Perhaps that’s a reflection of the teams relegated from the Premiership last season not exactly setting the division on fire, but when Bristol City can turn over Middlesbrough on their own patch all things are possible, including losing at home to the bottom side.

Maybe the Championship can be looked at from two different angles. It’s a bit like purgatory (were such a thing to exist) as you are just one good season away from the promised land – or a bad one away from the hell that is League One. Just about all the teams have either had a recent taste of the Premiership, or feel that they really should be there (the possible exceptions being Peterborough, Bristol City, Millwall and Palace). The alternative view – which doesn’t come naturally to a born pessimist – is that the Championship is the best fun to be had, if you can embrace uncertainty. I don’t think we can yet as the idea of returning quickly to where we just came from is too horrible to contemplate; but perhaps we will learn to love it.

I suspect that at this stage of the season the division will start to really shape up as the better teams benefit more often from the narrow margins that determine most games and as the mental side of things – winning mentalities and expectations – become more important. A team that thinks of itself as mid-table perhaps won’t stretch itself quite so far; one with a top-six finish being the expectation (or at least the clear measure of success and failure) may end up winning games they have no right to. With the loan window shut and another seven games before the end of the year (and the January window opening), this is perhaps the period which defines each team’s season.

That for me exacerbates the annoyance at the loss of two points on Saturday – and makes the Peterborough game crucial (well, at least until the one after). Lose it and Cardiff becomes the exception rather than the rule; win it and we’re at least still heading in the right direction. I don’t believe in either, but given a choice between heaven and hell it isn’t saying much to vote for the former.

As we have turned up in the league, Lyon Duchere are I’m afraid to say stuttering. Seven wins and three draws from the first 10 games and a six-point lead at the top has become seven wins, three draws and two defeats as a 2-1 defeat at the weekend away at what were lowly Montceau has followed the home reverse against Villefranche. And with Villefranche thumping Belfort 4-1 at home, the lead for Duchere has been cut to two points (possibly one if Moulins win their game in hand). Time - as Michael Cain famously said in The Man Who Would Be King – to polish up your buttons and leathers, shove ramrods up your jacksie, and act bold. Same for us as for them.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lack Of Precision Costs Us

It doesn’t need to be said that the outcome was frustrating. Ahead at home against 10 men with a few minutes left and when you don’t win you hardly go off dancing to the pub. If we’d seen out the game and taken a rather indifferent 1-0 win there would have been no complaints from me. We didn’t, so the focus has instead to be on the fact that we didn’t play well enough to merit all three points. There’s nothing wrong with possession football when you don’t need to chase the game. But there is when it’s done with insufficient purpose and not well enough. There was a lack of precision in passing and especially crossing through the afternoon and not doing things with sufficient pace and accuracy meant that, despite playing for over an hour with 10 men, Huddersfield were always in with a chance of taking something from the game. They deserve some credit for the way they played, but as demonstrated by our goal they should have been finished off. We didn’t produce enough of those moments of quality.

The line-up was surprising, the result apparently of injuries to Seaborne and Haynes. Fuller came in to partner Hulse up front, Stephens returned for Jonsson and was paired in central midfield with Frimpong, with Jackson moving back out left. With Kerkar in the starting X1 I must admit it took me a few minutes to work out who was missing. Turned out he dropped back to left-back to replace Seaborne, who seems to be following the pattern of ‘every Charlton full back except Solly gets injured’. The welcome news was Kermorgant taking a place on the bench.

With a changed midfield and back four, we began the game very shakily and were lucky not to pay for it. Huddersfield broke well and seemed to pick up on a makeshift left-back and a new guy in central midfield, driving forward with some intent. After a few minutes a squared ball presented their guy with a near open goal, only for him to balloon it over the bar, while Jackson managed to clear one off the line. At the other end, the lively Fuller created a decent chance all on his own, but having done the hard work put the shot narrowly wide of the far post. With these efforts, plus a couple of scrambles in their box, the real surprise was that after 15 minutes the game was still goalless.

Both teams then seemed to settle and the game quietened down. Fuller was causing them problems, but Hulse was struggling to get into the game and the threat down the flanks was only sporadic, while the midfield contest seemed finely balanced as Frimpong started to show what he could do by keeping things ticking over. However, the game changed after half an hour as Morrison won one challenge and went in full-blooded for the second one. Their guy was at least equally committed and clearly the ref must have seen him either off his feet or leading with his studs as with Morrison rolling over from the challenge the red card came out. I’d have to see it again to be sure. It seemed harsh (but welcome) but if he was off his feet he can have no complaints.

Not surprisingly the Huddersfield fans and players didn’t see it that way and for a while there was a danger of the ref deciding to even things up as their fans howled for every decision. Cort went up for a high ball and with their guy going down holding his head there were cries for another red, thankfully ignored. The ref did seem to be getting shacky, giving Pritchard a yellow for nothing (having correctly booked their guy previously for fouling Pritchard who would otherwise have gone clear on the edge of the box). At the same time Kerkar was getting away with blocking their guy down their right.

It was all a bit scrappy and a feature of the remainder of the first half was our poor deliveries into the box from a number of corners and free kicks. Having overhit one which sailed into the net against Cardiff, Stephens seemed to be trying to repeat the trick. One nearly worked, but mostly the balls in were easy pickings for their keeper, wasting good opportunities.

All square at the break. The fact is that the red card changed the game but not really the task in hand. Losing a forward just meant 4-4-1 for Huddersfield and, while their attacking threat was much curtailed, when we had the ball we were still facing two banks of four in front of us, with if anything less space than before as they understandably prioritised keeping their shape and getting behind the ball. There’s always a danger against 10 that the tempo drops and players drift into playing safe passes. It places an emphasis on precision – and through the afternoon we weren’t precise enough.

The first 10 minutes or so of the second half saw more of the same, with Huddersfield keeping their shape and us not doing enough to open them up. And then, when my thoughts were turning to substitutions to try to exploit the extra man, we produced the one moment of real quality. Solly on the edge of the box dummied had Pritchard outside him but first dummied beautifully to take out another defender before sliding it to Pritchard. He took it on, delivered the right hard, low cross, and Hulse was in the right place to plant it into the net. Simple when it’s done right.

The goal took the pressure off as Huddersfield made no change in formation; they still looked potentially dangerous, but with Cort and Morrison marking just one we were broadly in control. Knocking the ball around and going backwards is no bad thing in itself in these circumstances, but what was lacking was the other side of the coin, namely still looking to create as clearly another goal would have finished off the contest.

Frimpong picked up a knock and was replaced by Green, with Pritchard moving inside. And around that time the chance to kill the game finally arrived. The ref played a good advantage as Fuller took the ball on after a foul on someone and with players either side taking defenders away he jinked into the right position. But the shot went just wide of the post.

Fuller left the scene shortly after, with Kermorgant replacing him. Now it was just about seeing out the game. A final onslaught by Huddersfield was to be expected as they had nothing to lose, but there was no gung-ho approach. Instead they fashioned what for us proved to be a mad minute that cost us two points. One cross was almost converted, the next was somehow beaten out, but with the defence in some disarray their guy went over following a challenge by Solly and the penalty was awarded. Again, I’d have to see it again as it was all a bit of a mess, but there didn’t seem to be too many complaints from us (there seemed to be more intent to ensure that Solly wasn’t dismissed). Their guy scored.

That still left about six minutes including stoppage time and, with the ball not surprisingly going long, we did have two late chances. Two of ours went for a ball in the box and got in each other’s way, a header was just about beaten round the post by their keeper, and Pritchard almost bundled one in. But it wasn’t to be and there was no doubt who was celebrating at the finish.

Huddersfield will no doubt feel they deserved a point. If we’d played to a higher standard they wouldn’t have been in with the chance to take something from the game. We did see out a game 1-0 against 10 men against Burnley, but they still had chances. This time we didn’t keep a clean sheet and that makes the inability to create enough moments of quality to kill off the game my abiding concern.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. Perhaps harsh, but the saves made were routine and that minute of madness when crosses weren’t dealt with cost us.

Solly – 7/10. Would have been my man of the match, for his role in our goal and inspired tackling in the second half. But it was his challenge for the penalty.

Kerkar – 6/10. I’m not going to give a bad mark to a guy playing out of position. Settled after an iffy start to the game, but just doesn’t look comfortable at the back – and we missed his threat further forward.

Morrison – 7/10. Solid, all-round performance, no complaints. Just would have been nice to see him and others carry the ball forward against 10 men (OK, he did carry it forward once against 11).

Cort – 7/10. No problem here either, but same point about helping out going forward. For most of the game – apart from the first 10 minutes - he and Morrison were comfortable but often marking space.

Pritchard – 6/10. Not a bad game, delivered the one quality ball into the box for the goal.

Frimpong – 7/10. Decent first game after rather confused start. Seems comfortable playing at a higher tempo than those around him, which may say more about them than him.

Stephens – 5/10. A little disappointing. He’s there to pull the strings and for the most part we were too slow and predictable. Also his crossing from set pieces was poor.

Jackson – 5/10. Unremarkable game. Why when against 10 men did we not move him back and Kerkar forward?

Fuller – 7/10. Nearly a very good game as he was a handful for them and created chances. Trouble is, two of the best came his way and he put both of them wide.

Hulse – 6/10. Largely anonymous in open play but was in the right place at the right time to score – and almost notched a second.

Subs – Green (6/10 – barely saw the ball having come on, but delivered one peach of a cross which almost produced a goal); Kermorgant (6/10 – came on for the last 10 minutes to help see out the game; barely featured if truth be told, but great to have him back in the fold).

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Good Luck Danny

Some rise and some fall. Jenkinson and Shelvey at least now have England shirts to compensate them for the pain of no longer playing for Charlton, but it seems Hollands has joined Wagstaff (plus Sullivan and Clark) in the ranks of those deemed surplus to requirements and/or in need of improvement if they are to thrive at Championship level. Wagstaff always looked like he needed to add to his game (some of the winger’s basics) to make the grade but does have time on his hands; Hollands is more disappointing in that last season he was more than one star among many. If I hadn’t voted for Morrison for Player of the Year I would have put my tick against his name (while being perfectly happy for Solly or Wiggins to get the award). He was steadfast, matched up with a string of partners through the campaign, and chipped in with goals. If he comes back to us stronger and with confidence rebuilt, terrific (and I see from the club site that Sir Chris is saying that he still has a future with us); if he doesn’t, I hope he thrives.

The writing was I guess on the wall when the entirely necessary drafting in of another full back, Seaborne, turned into a rather more surprising influx of three, including holding midfielder Johansson. I have noted that others’ match reports have sometimes flagged poor performances by Hollands which I confess I didn’t pick up on. Often I felt the midfield in general hadn’t functioned, not helped by a lack of movement around the players involved, but maybe I wasn’t focusing enough on why (or just suffered from the rose-tinted glasses that I'm happy to never entirely take off). If Powell doesn’t think that reuniting him and Stephens on a regular basis (perhaps with Dervite or Johansson just plonked in front of the defence) will work well enough, at least for now, that's fine by me.

Absent for now Kermorgant, Wiggins, Hollands, Wagstaff (although I see that he is apparently back at The Valley after not impressing at Orient) and with Wright-Phillips having to wait for another chance to prove he can be a 20-plus a season striker at Championship level, the tweaking of the squad that we were assuming during the summer has turned into something more revolutionary. Powell’s pre-season intention to try to have Plans B and C ready and available has been superseded by the injuries and what we are finding out about the squad at this level. We must be on Plan Q by now, with presumably R about to come into play at the weekend.

We began the season (or at least I did) thinking in terms of a solid, reliable defence, a reasonable if untested (at this level) midfield, and a bit short of quality back-up options up front. We now have a defence with enough options in the centre (Morrison, Cort, Taylor, Dervite) and at least now two full-backs. The two emergency options used at full-back against Middlesbrough and Cardiff (Kerkar and Morrison) can’t be said to have worked (which is no reflection on their abilities in their rightful positions), but in essence, with Hamer continuing to fend off Button, all that has changed now is Wiggins dropping out. It still looks like a better than average unit at Championship level, especially when Morrison is in the centre.

The midfield last season was more than adequate, but after our style of play became more basic (which is certainly not a criticism given the outcome) with the introduction of Kermorgant it was more functional than dynamic. If we didn’t blow them away early we tended to wear teams down, with the midfield not blessed with pace but usually winning the battles, getting the set pieces, and contributing more than a fair share of goals. I think it’s been apparent this season that more was needed. We have had options aplenty, just not yet a stable, successful combination (Dervite and Pritchard against Middlesbrough quickly became Jackson and Stephens against Cardiff). Basically Hollands is out, at least for a while, Wagstaff and Green are currently subs/squad players, Jackson has adapted back to a more central role to accommodate Kerkar (and without Wiggins to bomb past him Jackson wide-left has sometimes looked peripheral), Stephens is first-choice, and the wide-right slot seems to be taken up by Pritchard and Haynes. With Dervite/Johansson available as a holding player, we seem to have the numbers, with perhaps a need now for a more settled line-up to develop greater understanding.

The midfield choices and formation have been heavily influenced by the injuries to Kermorgant and Fuller (and before them Haynes and Cook). There’s no question that if it’s a lone striker its Hulse and that, with goals in consecutive games, Haynes is ahead of Wright-Phillips if it’s a front two. With Fuller back in contention, at least we’re back up to four or five – but with no reason to alter the current first-choice as Hulse provides a nice foil for Haynes. With another away game coming up, this does seem like a case of it not being broken so don’t fix it (injuries allowing).

My regular Amsterdam trip for work this week meant I missed the Bristol game and I won’t be able to get to Burnley either. I’m going to have to wait for the Huddersfield/Peterborough games to get my next fix, but there’s nothing especially wrong with that if we keep winning the games I don’t see and all I can look back on is the Cardiff match.

However, I am obliged to note that while our first back-to-back victories of the campaign have settled the post-Boro nerves my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, suffered their first reversal of the season at the weekend. The first 10 games of the season produced seven wins (including one against PSG B) and three draws to give them a six-point lead at the top of CFA Groupe B even at this early stage. But a 0-1 home defeat to Villefranche, who move up to second, has trimmed it back to five. Villefranche made it out of CFA2 a year before Duchere and, much as I like the town, hopefully this result will just prove to be a blip in Duchere's drive to make it into National (effectively the third division). I’m already starting to look at the fixture list for early 2013 to time my next visit to Lyon. My partner Suzanne is better than me in the planning stakes and booked a while back for another couple of trips to London this year, including Xmas when hopefully our game against Ipswich will eradicate her memory of the Boro match.

If there's any benefit to be taken from that game it's that Suzanne was miserable for at least the 24 hours afterwards (before she headed back to France). I didn't think about it at the time, but I realise now that it amounts to proof positive that the lucky girl has become a true Addick.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Plaudits To The Crowd

I hope nobody expects a blow-by-blow account of tonight’s game; there had to be glasses afterwards. Let’s just summarise the main points. First, it was a triumph of character and determination. Second, we deserved it. Third, the crowd were magnificent. There was a realisation that out of necessity we were putting square pegs in round holes, perhaps even a thought that a message needed to be sent that Sir Chris has the backing of the fans, and the impact on the team was a true turning point. That and some iffy decisions by the officials, which in the end balanced out.

Faced with another selection poser, with Wilson and Evina out of the picture and Razak having been recalled, Powell opted to move Morrison to right-back, with Dervite dropping into the back four and Solly again switching flanks. Stephens was recalled to pair Jackson in the centre, with Pritchard and Kerkar providing the width and Haynes getting a start alongside Hulse. Against a fluid and confident Cardiff side, and on the back of another home reverse, it could have fallen apart – and nearly did.

The game had barely begun before Cardiff conned the officials to take the lead. A corner was sent into the near post, but as it was taken Helguson shoved his marker out of the way. It was a blatant, deliberate, and practised foul, let go by an indifferent linesman and tolerant ref. Suddenly he was all alone to deflect the ball past Hamer. But the tone was set by the reaction of the crowd, even though it got worse before it got better. Another corner resulted in the ball going back and forth, hooked back from perhaps beyond the goal line (although this time you have to give the linesman the benefit of the doubt from being in a better position), and eventually falling to their guy. This time the defence looked calpable, having failed to deal with it, and suddenly we were 0-2 down.

At that point the crowd could easily have turned. The team seemed to expect it and heads looked like dropping. Instead the fans’ response was sustained singing for the team and for Powell. There might have been an air of desperation, but so what? It was true support when it was needed most. And at least it sent the message that they were in it with the players and, with Cardiff taking their foot off the pedal (it had for a while seemed so easy), the game turned, dramatically.

A neutral, even perhaps the Cardiff manager, might be inclined to suggest that we got back into it through a foul on their keeper. A ball in seemed to be his, but Hulse did the job that Helguson had done before and prevented him from getting it clear. The loose ball dropped to Jackson to finish off. And with Cardiff a little stunned we drew level before the break. Another corner and Jackson rose majestically (and seemingly unmarked) to head home.

At the break, what to think? We had been level at half-time against Middlesbrough and went on to lose 1-4. We knew that the team was patched up, that Cardiff going forward would cause problems for most teams in the league above, and that a point taken then might not have been a bad outcome. We also knew that sometimes, just sometimes, other qualities win out.

Enter Madam Fortune. Because when Stephens hit a free kick in from the left I hung my head and said he’d overhit it. What do I know? Their keeper had come off his line and ended up flapping at the ball as it sailed over him into the net. If he meant it I apologise. Long way to go in the game, but you could sense from their reaction that a game they thought was won had suddenly turned and the onus was on them to respond in the same way that we had. In that they failed as we showed that there’s ability too, alongside character.

I’m really not sure about the build-up to our third, but eventually the ball went into the box and Haynes seemed to be falling over. If he can score when falling down that’s fine with me. With Cardiff not quite sure how to react, we went on and scored again. This time the build-up was more measured and threatening, with a near miss followed by a good ball in and Hulse getting on the end of it.

5-2 and ecstasy. We’ve been deprived at home for a long time and the final whistle would have been welcomed. We didn’t switch off, but there followed a period when Cardiff might have got one back, only this time they didn’t get the breaks that others have had at The Valley. I even commented, going into a daft six minutes of stoppage time (we even had two at the end of the first half following no substitutions and one trainer’s appearance), that I felt comfortable. Not for long.

I don’t want to dwell on just how we conceded twice in stoppage time, or how we allowed a minute or two when they might have levelled. I just know it would have been somewhat hard to take had they equalised. They didn’t. The goals and the frantic final seconds took a bit of the gloss off what should have been a merited ovation at the end, with Sir Chris not milking it from the tunnel either. But I don’t care. We won a game tonight that at one point you probably could have got 20-1 against. Turning points only come with hindsight, but as a reminder of what it takes to win at this level – and what can be done when you have the crowd behind you – let’s enjoy it. I don’t even care that we sent Palace top.

Player ratings tonight would be inappropriate. Suffice to say that Jackson proved his worth with a couple of goals, Haynes showed Wright-Phillips what extra is needed at this level (and BWP when he came on seemed to realise it and put in a proper shift), and Hulse was superb. But any Man of the Match award goes to the crowd.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Unhappy Day

A train from Charlton to Blackheath doesn’t exactly give you time to work out a positive gloss on a 1-4 reversal at home. I’m not sure more time would provide answers, other than that when you play against a strong side and it’s 1-1 at the break you feel the next goal is vital. If you gift two in the first 15 minutes of the second period it’s probably game over. It was – and if the game had gone on longer it could have been worse; but for the post and Hamer’s saves it would have been. But the game was lost with their second and third goals. We’re left with BBC statistics showing one attempt on target out of eight for us, and eight out of 12 for them. Sobering stuff when it comes to relative quality, especially as on the balance of chances we had at least edged the first half.

The surprise was that there were changes to the line-up after away points at Leeds and Wolves. Seemingly Evina was injured and Sir Chris opted to move Kerkar to left-back, with Jackson operating ahead of him, and to bring in Wright-Phillips, in a 4-4-2 with Hulse up front, Solly and Wilson down the other flank, and Pritchard and Dervite in central midfield. Like most set-ups, it had pros and cons. In most areas we would be likely to lose the physical battles (perhaps we would have lost them against Middlesbrough whatever team we put out), but it offered possibilities.

Indeed, with Dervite having an impressive first-half, and Pritchard and BWP winning balls they had no right to, we managed to disrupt their play and cause them some problems. An early chance was headed over by Pritchard and the mood turned positive after 10 minutes when we took the lead. It was a mistake from them as their guy was robbed of possession, but once Hulse was played in he steadied himself and scored from the edge of the box. Well taken, encouraging. We just didn’t know then that it was as good as it was to get.

Boro seemed to take a while to get into their stride and weren’t causing us serious problems, but the equaliser followed before too long. They got a free kick and you have to say it was an absolute pearl of a delivery in, curled from the right side and inviting someone to get on the end of it. Somebody did and gave Hamer no chance with the header. OK, not a disaster, we were still in the game. And while Boro were more composed than us through the remainder of the first half we created half-chances that could have seen us take the lead. One in particular was a cross which beat their keeper and seemed to have Cort on the end of it. Something happened to the header, but as the ref gave a goal-kick it may have been diverted wide by one of ours.

At the break you had the feeling that Boro were more likely than us to win the game, and that it could prove to be a case of men against boys, but we were in it with chances. Wilson had taken a knock late on and it was clear that he couldn’t run, so it was no surprise to see a change. Powell went for Stephens, with Pritchard moving out wide. He started with a superb pass, followed it with one into touch, and then came the mistake that cost us. I thought it was a poor Stephens pass that was intercepted, although a fellow Addick says it was Morrison. Either way, with us caught on the back foot the ball was played through to their guy to score with relative ease.

That made it tough, and within 10 minutes the game was beyond us. It was a soft goal, just a ball played up, flicked on, and a guy in space running on to score. I’m not sure where to apportion the blame, but the fact is they didn’t have to work hard to score it. I thought after we went 2-1 down Kerkar should have been moved back up ahead of Jackson, but even at 3-1 nothing happened. And we waited a further 10 minutes to make changes. These involved Wright-Phillips leaving the scene (he’d struggled to make an impact, but when you’re trying to get back into a game at home you need goals), to be replaced by Haynes, and Cort replaced by Cook, with Dervite dropping back into the back four, leaving Pritchard to move back inside again. I don’t know the thinking behind Cort going off, but again when you need goals he’s more likely than others to get one from a set piece. So arguably two goal threats had departed.

It didn’t get better (which is no real comment on Haynes or Cook). Instead our heads had dropped collectively and we were beginning to unravel, badly. Boro had the game won and went on to hit the inside of the post, Hamer saved well, but the fourth came just on 90 minutes as a ball across the box was tapped in at the far side. Stoppage time was only going to bring another for them, so the final whistle was something of a relief, even for me.

There’s no question now that home form is a crisis, not a problem. Boro were strong and full of confidence after recent results, but they’re not that good. Strong and – perhaps the key difference – finished well and punished our mistakes. We got worse as the game went on, albeit a reflection of the goals scored. Cardiff come on Tuesday night and the pressure is really on. The mistakes have to disappear and perhaps we have to decide in advance just what we focus on. The reversion today to 4-4-2 left us undecided and we lost. Badly. Suzanne is not happy and I’m not best pleased either.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 8/10. No chance with the goals, dealt well with high balls, and pulled off a couple of decent saves towards the end.

Solly – 6/10. Nothing obviously wrong defensively, but once Wilson left the scene the threat down that flank disappeared.

Kerkar – 6/10. Stood up well in the first half, but too often in the second found himself having to do a winger’s job.

Morrison – 6/10. Not sure whether to dock him or Stephens the point for the pass that led to their crucial second goal. Seemed fine as usual, but we conceded four goals.

Cort – 6/10. Surprised he was taken off, but may have been struggling against the movement that led to their second and third goals.

Wilson – 7/10. Seemed effective and nearly got in one before being clattered and leaving the scene.

Dervite – 7/10. Was impressive in the first half, looked like a quality footballer capable of different roles. Less visible in the second and then dropped back into defence.

Pritchard – 5/10. Did some good things, ended up playing in the centre, out wide, then back centrally, but at the end of the day the contribution wasn’t effective enough.

Jackson – 5/10. Worked hard enough. Free kick that went just over in the first half, but overall not influential. Just don’t understand why he and Kerkar didn’t switch when we needed more attacking threat.

Hulse – 7/10. Tough game against big, strong and experienced centre-backs, but has to get a mark for taking his chance. Let’s see against lesser opposition.

Wright-Phillips – 5/10. His game isn’t about holding the ball well away from the box and nothing we did inside their box came off.

Subs – Stephens (6/10 – unless it was his pass for their second goal); Cook (6/10 – game was over before he and Haynes came on); Haynes (6/10).

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sending 'Em Home Miserable

I’ve never enjoyed listening to commentary on a Charlton game when not in attendance; somehow you can’t get a sense of perspective and every time the commentator’s voice rises you fear the worse (or at least I do). So for the past two games that’s meant whiling away the minutes pretending to work, with the BBC site for news and the radio on. It’s also meant pleading for the final whistle, unaware at the time that these entreaties coincided with Wright-Phillips and Hulse failing to convert the chances to give us what to the unenlightened might have appeared to be unlikely victories. I don’t think it’s just natural pessimism; it was just that, having both times come back from being behind at the break, taking something back with us from two very difficult away games seemed very important. And you always assume that it’s the home team going all out for the win.

Fact is we’ve managed to send Leeds and Wolves fans home feeling rather miserable. Perhaps not as miserable as us after Watford and Barnsley, but miserable nonetheless. The inconsistency and narrow margins of the season to date can be summed up in two ways. First, my mood following the game (once the feeling of having been cruelly robbed each time we haven’t won has subsided). In chronological order this has been satisfied, ecstatic, content , miserable, suicidal, miserable, delighted, content, miserable, ecstatic, distraught, happy and happy. That sort of record is probably matched by the supporters of nearly all the other teams in the division, with the possible exception of Leicester and Cardiff, plus Ipswich (and of course Palace, who cannot be other than miserable and, as these are human emotions, Millwall). Second, I realise it’s stretching a point (and does not gloss over poor performances at home), but with that bit of luck in stoppage time we could have come away with all three points from Birmingham, Leeds and Wolves, and even a point from Derby. Those extra points would see us on the fringe of the play-offs rather than a couple of points off a bottom-three place.

I’m not saying we necessarily deserved those points, or that we haven’t had some luck too (Leicester will have been disappointed not to have got at least a point against us, while Doyle’s block yesterday at 1-0 to them takes some beating). But the games cited all involved the final few moments when if things had gone for us there would have been no time for the opposition to respond.

Consequently, while not delighted by it, I’m not too bothered about the league table (yet). We’ve shown that we’re competitive against some of the best sides in the division and capable of beating them when we play well. Yes, we’ve also shown that we can lose against anyone if the standards drop. And I don’t think the disruption to the side from injuries should be overlooked. We all expected tinkering with the team rather than revolution. You’d have got long odds in the summer on us about a quarter into the season beginning a game without Wiggins, Taylor, Hollands, Stephens, Green, Wagstaff, Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips, plus a forward (Fuller) brought in and injuries for Cook and Haynes.

Of course, Hollands and BWP were available for the recent games and not selected. In Wright-Phillips’ case that’s as much down to formation and the availability of a suitable partner for him (and a replacement on the bench) as form, although on form alone he can’t really complain. It’s fair to say that at the start of the season thoughts of a top half finish were probably based on an assumption of BWP and Kermorgant between them scoring at least 20 goals, preferably more. Without Kermorgant, and now without Fuller, we’ve had to find another way.

That’s the tough away games behind us for a while, so thoughts have to turn back to what we do at home. After the failure to win in a pair of home games, Sir Chris went for a formation (4-5-1) that brought victory away at Blackpool. He stuck with it for a home game and it didn’t work, resulting in changes at the break (which also didn’t work). Having commented after the Barnsley game that among other things we don’t operate with an outright defensive central midfielder, Powell plonks Dervite in the role, in a 4-1-4-1 formation, for the Leeds game. It works and he scores. It worked well enough against Wolves too. But do we stick with it at home?

For me the answer has to be ‘yes’. The players in possession of the shirt deserve to keep it if they’ve performed (and it’s notable that in the two away games the substitutions came late on). Also, we are coming up against tough opposition. Middlesbrough come to The Valley on the back of four successive wins and then it’s Cardiff, top of the league and having won eight of their last 10. There shouldn’t be the kind of pressure on us to make the pace in these games as there was against Barnsley in particular. We – the crowd and the team - might need to be very patient.

On Saturday this may well mean Sir Chris and the team ignoring well-meaning shouts from a French person in the crowd to charge forward and score bucketloads of goals (of course if we do charge forward and score bucketloads of goals no-one will be happier than me). My partner Suzanne will be there for the Boro game. While she loves a trip to The Valley, and hasn't been for a while, she will be the first (perhaps the second) to admit that she doesn’t necessarily admire the beauty of a tactical, cagey and defensive 0-0, or a disjointed, ugly 1-0 win (for us). I’m ready to live with it and she just might have to.

If she wants flowing football and goals she can walk the couple of hundred yards from her flat to watch Lyon Duchere. They have won six and drawn three of their first nine, scoring 17 in the process, to top CFA Groupe B with a five-points lead, having beaten Moulins last time out in the top-of-the-table clash (this weekend was the cup). I hope to be there with her before too long, but I’m afraid more important things need to be dealt with first.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Home And Away - Any Lessons?

Sir Chris commented after yesterday’s game that “we haven’t done ourselves justice at home and clearly that’s something we need to arrest”. Can’t argue with that as a record of 1-2-3 and four goals in six games (the figures are of course even worse if the first of the six is stripped out) speaks for itself – or does it? To put it another way, is our poor home record to date something which requires a fundamental change in approach (and/or players) or just a reflection of the nature of the league, our relative strengths, even luck? If there is an answer, for me it’s that there are good reasons for the contrast between our home and away records (with the latter standing comparison with virtually all others in the league and better than those of the top two). Whether this leads onto the possibility of changing things for the better is another matter.

You have to start (I believe) with knowing your strengths (and weaknesses) as a team. We are not blessed with great pace, don’t play an out-and-out passing game (nor have an overt long-ball approach), we don’t operate with an outright defensive midfielder, and we’ve suffered disruptions through injuries. More positively, even without Wiggins we have a solid defence (six conceded in six at home is reasonable, as is seven from five away), which is also credit to the midfield doing the necessary covering, we are a threat from set pieces, especially with Cort (although losing Kermorgant doesn’t help there – and when both Kermorgant and Jackson are out the first-choice options for shooting also go), are still in the process of integrating new players, and there remains a good team ethic, with no shortage of effort and commitment.

For me, this suggests it’s always going to be a fine line between playing well or badly as a team (and the result), with the margin down to the tempo, movement and precision. It’s also where the element of luck comes in as nicking a first goal makes a big difference. In each of the away games that turned out well (Ipswich, Blackpool and Birmingham, even if we didn’t quite win that one) it was 0-0 at half-time. When you are the away team, there’s a feeling that that’s fine; don’t have to change anything, keep it tight and with a bit of luck we’ll score one or two. The two that didn’t (Forest and Derby) saw us (I think, but wasn’t there) have the same approach but these times we made mistakes and conceded goals.

Of the home games, Leicester was very much the exception to the rule. They went for it from the start, probably believing that in an open contest they were more likely to come out on top (and their record since supports the approach). That gave us space to exploit and in the first half of that game we used it well. Contrast that with Barnsley. They play their style of football but for me most tellingly had that blond guy plonked in front of their defence. That largely negated the strengths of having Razak in the hole behind Fuller. He blotted out the space that the formation might have exploited. Not many teams (if any) are going to come to The Valley with Leicester’s approach, especially as any half-decent scout would be able to suggest ways to play against us based on the evidence to date. All the other five to date have been much tighter – and all went away with points.

When playing at home against teams that, like us away, are reasonably happy at 0-0 (and happier at 0-1) it is inevitable that the space going forward will be restricted. That of course makes it more difficult to pick out a telling pass and, with teams seldom getting caught out by a gung ho attacking approach breaking down, can result in too slow a tempo, and easily give the impression (which transmits to the crowd) that we are playing badly (which in relative terms is true as nothing much gets created). Again, away from home there’s no real problem; at home the pressure can mount.

Powell opted for a formation for an away game which worked well. Indeed, I took a look at the Blackpool site match report and it concluded with the following: “Blackpool continued to toil away for a way back into the game, but found attacking inspiration strangely hard to come by on this occasion, as they struggled to find any way through the Addicks’ defence”. That could have been written for us about a number of home games, including yesterday. Sir Chris opted to keep the formation for a home game but whereas as against Blackpool 0-0 at the break was fine, this time he felt the need to make changes (to be fair it seems that there was no shortage of chances created in the first half against Blackpool). Would he have done the same if we had been the away team?

So, what’s to be done? Powell added that for coming home games “even if it’s an ugly performance and we kick a 1-0 win, I, like many of our supporters, would settle for that at the moment”. I’d count myself among them. It means being ready to be very patient. That may be less of a problem in the next two home games, against Middlesbrough and Cardiff, as with no disrespect to Barnsley intended there will be less thought of them being games that we should win (there should have been no such thoughts ahead of yesterday as Barnsley showed they are a good side). The reality is that unlike last season we don’t have a settled side (the surprise a year ago was how well and quickly a new team gelled; let's not forget that we started yesterday with four players new to the team) and are up against materially better opposition; we simply aren't going to be able to overpower teams in the fashion that we so often did last season.

That said, I do think there are areas we can improve on. I often feel during games that we are an extremely hard-working side when not in possession but lack movement when we have the ball. Every player with the ball has to have an easy pass as an option and that’s down to players doing more of the thankless task of moving to make themselves available. Too often it seems to me that a player looks up and too many are standing still. The counterpart to this is simply doing things better, being braver with the passing and expecting to have to make decisions faster in this league. That's part of the stepping-up process.

All of this may not mean much when it comes to the reality of two tough away games and Fuller joining Kermorgant and others on the injury list. BWP can’t play a lone striker role – unless we pack midfield and play through it, effectively ignoring a ball up to the striker. I guess the options are to bring in Hulse to either play alone in a 4-5-1 or with Wright-Phillips. Whatever the options chosen for the two games, we are in the weeks ahead going to have to work out the new Plan A in difficult circumstances. In pre-season Sir Chris was talking about having different options and did do some tinkering. But as long as the midfield shapes up and plays the same they are minor variations on a theme. Injuries have limited the options in any event, putting the emphasis on character and resolution in the week ahead. The team showed those qualities in spades last season.

Finally, I’m not close to the club, don’t have contacts there, so have no real idea what is going on behind the scenes and what the departures might really mean. Suffice to say that when a guy like Rick Everitt is sacked by the club and – whatever the reasons for him leaving – doesn’t merit even the briefest official appreciation of his contribution to Charlton over many years it reflects poorly on those in charge. That it seems Wendy Perfect is following him out of the door, apparently of her own volition, only compounds the effect. Silence in this context risks being interpreted as indifference to, if not contempt for, the feelings and opinions of the fans.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Not A Day To Remember Fondly

Merde. Not a lot, if anything, went right today. It began at sparrow’s fart French time, with a mouth like the proverbial bottom of a canarie’s cage (well, it was my last night in Lyon for a while and a lot needed to be finished off). At St Exupery the doubts surfaced with the announcement of a 20-minute delay to the flight, which was soon updated to 45 minutes. What became an hour became two as we didn’t have a slot to take off. That meant the dash from Gatwick had to involve going straight to the pub, where there was just enough time to sling one glass of wine down my throat. No matter, a victory and all would be well (enough). Just wasn’t to be, due to two factors: first, we didn’t play well enough; second, the ref doesn’t give a stonewall penalty.

Sir Chris opted to keep the 4-4-1-1 formation that had secured the splendid win away at Blackpool, with Razak supporting Fuller up front, Kerkar and Green out wide, and Hollands and Stephens in the centre, with no changes either in defence. No real problems there, but I don’t know if my own sense of lethargy extended to the rest of the crowd and onto the pitch as the first half proved to be something of a stalemate. The tone for first-half shooting was set by Razak, whose ambitious shot from closer to the half-way line than the goal drifted harmlessly wide, as were just about all of Barnsley’s efforts. They seemed to have a propensity to shoot from not especially dangerous positions – and to send them wide in any event.

Our play was steady but lacked zip and too often foundered on their blonde-haired guy, who spent all the afternoon sweeping up effectively in front of their defence. There were flashes, not least from Razak and Fuller, and a splendid run and cross from Kerkar. And a couple of free-kicks, the first (from Green) being blocked and the second (Razak) turned round the post. But if you’re summing up 45 minutes and that’s it, it’s a fair indication that the game didn’t have the bumper crowd on the edge of its seats. Aside from their poor shooting Barnsley did create one decent chance, as a cross from the left saw their guy and Hamer engage in a game of spot the ball, before it ended up in Hamer’s arms.

0-0 at the break was a fair reflection of the game. Barnsley had moved the ball around well enough but didn’t look threatening; we hadn’t moved it with enough precision or pace to disrupt them. What had been notable was the ref’s apparent desire to let the game flow, which is fine in principle but meant that one or two late challenges by them went unpunished and in general we weren’t getting the better of the physical contest.

Changes came at the break, with Wright-Phillips coming on for Razak and Jackson for Hollands. The former, basically a change in formation (back to 4-4-2), was reasonable and in itself no real reflection on Razak’s display, which was promising even if he didn’t seem to exploit the space between midfield and defence (perhaps due to that blonde git). The latter was a little curious as it seemed to involve like-for-like in terms of position. Perhaps Sir Chris was thinking in terms of set-pieces. Fact is the second change came back to hurt us later on.

The formation change didn’t seem to disrupt Barnsley, as they went about their business. And in a 15-minute spell they took the initiative and grabbed the goal that was to prove decisive. They first squandered the best chance of the game to date, as a guy arriving at the far post unmarked opted not to head the ball in but rather to try to get his foot on the ball, sending it over the bar. Seemed par for the course, but as the announcer confirmed the crowd and we were all looking at the big screen number suddenly one of theirs had made inroads on our right side. Instead of the expected cross he moved away from the byline and curled one into the far corner of the net. It was a finish out of keeping with the rest of the game.

That should have stinged us into action, but not a lot changed. Until the other decisive moment of the game. Solly advanced into the box to get onto a ball inside and seemed (no, was) upended from behind. It looked to me a stonewall penalty. Whether or not their guy touched the ball (as the ref seemed to be indicating) he had gone through Solly to get there. One big decision to make and he bottled it. Final judgement has to await the TV highlights, but I think he just screwed it up. Irrespective of the balance of play, his indecision cost us dear.

Pritchard came on for Green, with not a great deal coming down the flanks, and Barnsley continued to frustrate most of our efforts to make something happen. One or two balls into the box, always the threat of Cort at a set-piece, but nothing much else, with Fuller looking less effective as the game wore on and BWP not getting a sniff in or around the area. If we were getting downhearted, the mood got worse as Fuller pulled up and quickly departed, presumably with a hamstring.

All that was left was the final hurrah, with Cort moving up front. In fact in the final five minutes or so, down to 10 men and with nothing to lose, we did start to cause them problems, with Wilson seemingly able to move down the right and past their guys with impunity. One late scramble in the box, but in truth Barnsley saw out the game (I think they made three substitutions in stoppage time) relatively untroubled, even when Hamer came up for the last corner.

We should have had a penalty and that could have changed the game. It wouldn’t have hidden the fact that we didn’t play well enough, with not enough verve, adventure or accuracy. But we might well have taken a point and moved on. Instead we have to reflect on what is becoming a dire home record. Four goals in six at home speaks for itself. Fuller will presumably be out for a few weeks, all of which leaves Sir Chris with some serious thinking. The first-half wasn’t great but was even, the change in formation at the break didn’t make things better, and the use of a second substitute then cost us when Fuller had to depart. Suddenly Hulse and Smith move up the ranks of available choices and we are left with the feeling that the team has to show more daring in games, especially at home.

To round things off, and with a couple of additional friends down for the game, we retired to the Oak. But like many others simply gave up waiting to be served by an indifferent and poorly organised bar staff. The way the day’s gone I’ll probably find that Khans has run out of food. I just hope that the ref has as miserable day tomorrow as I did today.

Player Ratings (I don’t think about these in advance, but that they all turned out, for me, similar, was a fair reflection of the fact the fact that nobody really did enough to hurt them, while nobody was especially bad):

Hamer – 7/10. Once again, what mark do you give a keeper who had no chance with the goal and otherwise no serious shot to save?

Wilson – 7/10. Can’t be sure whether he was culpable for their goal as I was watching the screen at the time. Got forward to good effect late on, although the balls in failed to find a target.

Solly – 6/10. A bit harsh as he should have been getting the plaudits for a run into the box which produced a goal from the spot. But he did seem to lose his rag after that, perhaps not surprisingly, and with a yellow card came close to getting a second.

Cort – 7/10. Distribution occasionally naff, but that’s not really his game. We failed to find his head with set pieces but defensively nothing wrong.

Morrison – 7/10. No complaints here, defended effectively and a game of very few chances means both back fours cannot be blamed.

Kerkar – 7/10. Was involved in most of our brighter moments and clearly had the capacity to cause them problems. Still a plus for me and hopefully will become increasingly effective in turning the threat into goals.

Hollands – 6/10. Not exactly a dramatic first half, but can’t really see why he was taken off at the break. The change didn’t exactly turn the game.

Stephens – 6/10. Equally unexceptional. Fact is throughout the game we failed to control midfield, even with the first-half formation.

Green – 6/10. Not effective enough. I can’t remember him getting past their defender, or delivering a telling cross. Perhaps symptomatic of a very tight game.

Razak – 7/10. Showed promise in the first half and nearly made a couple of things happen, although instead of his introduction creating a more fluid midfield the others seemed to rely on him alone to support Fuller, while their blond git closed out the space.

Fuller – 6/10. Bright enough in the first half, but seemed to get more shackled as the game progressed before his early departure.

Subs – Wright-Phillips (6/10 – worked well enough away from the box but nothing came his way in it); Jackson (6/10 – nothing of note in the second half, when we failed to create a single decent chance aside from the penalty); Pritchard (6/10 – no real chance to shine but perhaps helped create the space for Wilson to get forward late on).

Monday, 8 October 2012

Disjointed - But Not So Bad

There is I suppose something odd about doing a post when in essence I’m doubtful that I have anything to say; belatedly expressing delight at the Blackpool result doesn’t seem to cut it. But popular consensus is that’s never stopped me before, so perhaps it’s best to scribble and see where the path leads.

If there is a theme it’s that through no fault of my own the season seems to be passing me by. I’ve managed just three of the 10 games so far, having had to forego home games against Hull (wedding in Lille) and Watford (work-related Amsterdam trip). Work doesn’t make midweek away trips especially easy and while Forest was in retrospect possible Ipswich was ruled out (my partner Suzanne chose that weekend for a London visit and when faced with the option of a day’s outing or a slow-cooked leg of lamb ... well, she is French). Any thoughts of Blackpool were ruled out by returning from Amsterdam with the office bug.

The way things are looking it’s not going to get any easier. I’m off to Lyon for the week ahead and, easyjet permitting, will fly back in time on Saturday morning to get across town for Barnsley. But the next Amsterdam trip could rule out the home game against Cardiff and to round things off Suzanne’s penchant for forward planning meant that we booked to go to Brussels for new year, only to discover when the fixture list came out that we head off the day Ipswich come to town. I’m still pondering whether it’s possible to watch the game and still make the last Eurostar, or just hoping that for some reason they bring forward the kick-off, but my prevarication is starting to cause concern in Lyon as the prices tick up with each passing day.

It all makes things rather disjointed, which is a fair assessment of the season to date (you see, there’s always a link). Three games witnessed to date and the season almost a quarter gone. I’ve seen a win, a draw and, according to the record books, one defeat (albeit one that is blessedly fading from my memory; give me another couple of weeks and it just won’t have happened). Add in the loss of Kermorgant and Wiggins, as well as Taylor, Jackson and Wagstaff, plus the new guys who’ve come in, and it’s given rise to an air of uncertainty that we learnt to live without last season. And it’s a fine line at the moment between uncertainty when we hover around the drop zone and opportunity/excitement when a win sees us looking upwards. Any team which includes three consecutive defeats in the first 10 games isn’t going to be among the early pace-setters and we’ve yet to manage back-to-back wins; it’s Barnsley’s role to get rid of that unwanted statistic.

The decision to drop Wright-Phillips for Blackpool will have been a tough one, but another Addick who attended the Ipswich match commented that he had a poor game there – and the result speaks for itself. Wilson seems to be taking his opportunity, however tough it is on Evina, and the little I’ve seen so far of Kerkar was positive. I can’t comment at all on Razak (or Dervite for that matter), but it’s an exciting move, especially if this works well for Fuller (and signing him was nothing less than a master-stroke). It remains to be seen whether Sir Chris will keep the formation for a home game, but you have to say why not? If there is a figure which stands out from the table it’s four goals in five home games.

I have rambled on before about the contrast with last season, but a fellow Addick pointed out that it’s actually been a number of seasons since we began a campaign without a clear idea of what would constitute success (and failure). At this stage we can only rank the priorities (starting with the blindingly obvious), especially as each time the media tags us as ‘struggling’ Charlton we respond with an away win. Progress is good enough for me as we have time to think about our own ‘next level’ (which is a spurious link to allow some criticism of the normally sensible Mick McCarthy who recently on Radio 5 trotted out the silly line that somehow it was Charlton fans demanding more that led to Curbs’ departure).

And it seems we are not alone in making progress. My adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, has made an explosive start to their CFA Groupe B campaign. With five wins and three draws from the first eight games – including a 4-3 victory over PSG B - they top their league. If my timings weren’t all so screwed up I would be there to witness their next game, at home to second-placed Moulins. But that would have meant no Barnsley game. Guess while I am in Lyon I’ll have to settle to Suzanne’s slow-cooked leg of lamb, washed down with whatever we pick up at the wine fair during the week. Like the league table, it ain’t all bad.