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.