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).

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