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.
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).