Saturday 30 March 2013

From Awful To Sublime Victory

From the ridiculous to the sublime doesn’t seem enough. It was really a case of from the totally bloody awful to blessed victory via some rare luck at home - but also some character that sometimes creates that luck. Given the implications of a defeat, it seemed like the season in a game. And we emerged with three points. Sometimes you don’t ask about the whys and wherefores, just bask in it. We have been a bit dry at The Valley and for once the breaks went our way at home. But we also displayed the character you need to make your own luck as a dire start to the game was progressively turned around, pivoting on the goal that got us back into the contest.

The team was surprising. Hamer returned in goal, which was fair enough after Button had failed to really take his chance, but with Cort still unavailable it seemed that Taylor succumbed to something late on as Dervite partnered Morrison in central defence. And Hughes came in to partner Jackson in central midfield, with Pritchard moving wide right and loanee Gower on the bench. Haynes lost his place up front, with Fuller partnering Kermorgant. It meant beginning a game with new pairings in central defence and midfield, with two players with little match-time between them – and whatever the reasons we began the game like a bunch of strangers.

In truth, it was the worst first five minutes we could have envisaged. Instead of coming out of the traps all guns blazing, we meekly rolled over. Bolton carved out three more than decent chances, with one blazed over, one not taken, but the third resulting in a goal. Dervite for some reason decided to give their guy a few yards space and a fairly simple ball played in saw him turn and shoot unchallenged, giving Hamer no chance. In these minutes we barely touched the ball and were left watching a team that looked stronger, faster, more confident, and more technically adept. It wasn’t so much boys against men as an awful mismatch. With the crowd also subdued, to say that we feared the worst is an understatement. Having missed out on the euromillions lottery, I felt tempted to get back out to the betting booth to see what might be salvaged from the afternoon.

As the game seemed to settle a little, we went two down. No pressure on the ball in midfield but no obvious danger as their guy pulled the trigger. From the East Stand it looked like a poor one for Hamer to let in, although fellow Addicks in the North Stand were more sympathetic. Fact was, a not especially sharp shot from some way out found its way into the net.

So, after 20 minutes we’d created nothing, looked lethargic and disjointed, and had conceded two goals against a side looking more than capable of more. At this point putting money on Bolton to win seemed a waste of time as the odds would not have been attractive. But what do I know? I don’t know whether Bolton relaxed, but for us it was about getting some sort of toe-hold in the game. And crucially we did get back into it before it went away from us completely. For that, the credit goes primarily to Jackson. He played a couple of one-twos around the edge of the box and then finished with aplomb. It was a moment than you couldn’t have predicted, but hauled us back into a contest that seemed to be beyond us, especially as it suggested a fragility in their defence if pressure could be applied.

At least we were back in it. The remainder of the half saw some good flashes from Harriott, one moment from Fuller, but most tellingly less threat from them as the defence pulled itself together and we were at least competing in midfield. The other side of the coin was nothing happening up front, with Kermorgant subdued and Fuller seemingly playing in flashes. What seemed insignificant at the time was that Ricketts picked up a rather harsh yellow card for them. The break came with us at least in the game but still behind and up against a decent team with dangerous forwards,

It still looked like a tough ask, largely as you’d have put money on Bolton scoring again. But this time the breaks did go our way; and Fuller was instrumental in making them happen. He made the most of being pulled down with his back to goal and the ref pulled out a second yellow for Ricketts (I think). The second yellow was fair enough, but if I was a Bolton fan I’d feel a bit aggrieved at being down to 10. Who cares? The free kick was in a very similar position to the one against Millwall. That time Kermorgant missed by inches. This time his effort was closer, coming back off the post. Merde, but the ball broke to Dervite and he put it into the net.

Suddenly we were level, against 10 men, with the game there to be won. Bolton were, to say the least, rattled, and Fuller made it count. He cut into the box and was flattened. The only surprise was that Kermorgant grabbed the ball instead of Jackson, but glory be the outcome was positive as Yann hit it firmly into the bottom corner. An hour gone and now we were winning, against 10 men.

Now, control the game, see it out, preferably score another to put it to bed. None of those things really happened, but while there were a few iffy moments we did manage to prevent any clear chances for Bolton in the remainder of the game, especially as Knight seemed reluctant to go forward for set pieces. Gower came on for Hughes, who had acquitted himself well after a rusty start, and then it was Wilson and Haynes for Harriott and Fuller. With the maximum substitutions and a break for a change of officials, the sign showing seven minutes of stoppage time was not exactly welcome. But all that the extra time brought was another red for them, as one of their subs managed to pick up another yellow. The final whistle followed and we’d won a game that few would have predicted after 20 minutes.

What to make of it? Was it just character that pulled us around? The contribution of Jackson at the low point of the game was crucial, while Fuller, after an indifferent first half, made vital contributions to our equaliser and winner. I just can’t get away from those small margins again. Against Millwall the free kick missed by inches; today it came back off the post and ended up in an equaliser. I can’t make sense of it but am very happy. Suzanne agreed before the game that if we won I could drink the St Joseph. So let’s bask in the pleasure, look at the statistics that suggest we are as likely to win at home if we go 0-2 down as not, and breathe a little easier when looking at the table. And just enjoy the wine.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. Have to see it again, but from where I sat it looked a bad mistake for their second. You just can’t get beaten at your near post from there. But was assured after that.

Solly – 7/10. Generally sound and one wonderful moment in the second half when he won a ball going forward he had no right to, only to be hauled back.

Wiggins – 7/10. Still seems to be finding his way back when it comes to getting forward, but effective in defence.

Morrison – 7/10. Take away the first 20 minutes and it would have been a much better score, but Ngog was a real handful.

Dervite – 6/10. I’d blame him for their first as seemed well off the pace and gave their guy all the time he needed. But like others improved after the start and was in a good spot for the equaliser.

Harriott – 7/10. Caused them problems, just didn’t seem to always make the right choices when it came to taking them on or laying it off, while the shooting was a bit wayward.

Jackson – 9/10. His goal, which he made out of nothing, hauled us back into a game that was almost lost before it had begun. A captain’s performance.

Hughes – 7/10. It was a big ask for him to start and the rustiness did show. But he stuck at it and as we improved so did he.

Pritchard – 7/10. Influential and hard-working but not decisive as his work and choices in the final third didn’t come off.

Kermorgant – 7/10. Strangely subdued in the first half when nothing was working up front, but took two set pieces that produced goals and almost scored at the far post with a splendid header.

Fuller – 8/10. The first-half mark would have been much lower, but he was there when it mattered and fashioned their first sending off and then won the penalty.

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