So the dream is over, so shortly after the nightmare went away. It is some consolation for being cruelly robbed of two points yesterday – if Sir Chris says we should have had two penalties for me they were nailed on – that they wouldn’t have made any difference when it comes to keeping the play-offs possibility alive for the final round (barring of course Palace going into administration). However, while I was pretty relaxed about the outcome yesterday, having seen the daft post-match comments from Tony Mowbray I wish we had indeed mullered them.
When anyone begins by saying “with respect ...” the chances are what follows shows anything but. His full quote on the BBC site was “with respect, in my opinion we should be beating teams like Charlton here at our place. And the fans think so too”. In that case you are all suffering from the sort of denial apparent from Dean Saunders’ remarks: “forget this game, we should never have been in this position”. Sounds a bit like the old joke about ‘well, I wouldn’t start from here’. To be (a little) fair to Mowbray, on the Middlesbrough site his quote is a little different: “With total respect to Charlton, who have finished the season strong, I feel we should be beating them”. But the message is essentially the same.
I’ve absolutely nothing against Boro (among our entourage there is a Boro fan who now views Charlton as her second-favourites) or Mowbray, who usually comes across as a decent guy. But for the record, Mr Mowbray, with total respect, there is absolutely no good reason for you or any Boro fan to be thinking in such terms. When Middlesbrough came to The Valley and took us apart, we didn’t question that the better team had won, with Boro then looking like a shoo-in for the top six at least. I have no idea why they’ve fallen away so badly; clearly Mowbray doesn’t either. Suffice to say it can’t have anything to do with some misguided idea that there Boro are a ‘bigger’ or ‘better’ team/club. If Mowbray really meant to say something like ‘if we want to get promoted we need to be winning games like this – but we didn’t because we are falling down the league while they are climbing up it and we’ve blown it anyway’, fair comment.
So, all that remains is to have a bit of fun on the last game – but at the same time ensure that we at least hold onto ninth place, which will be a more than respectable outcome. Given that aside from the first few games of the season we’ve not been anywhere near the play-offs until the last couple of weeks, it doesn’t feel like a case for ‘what ifs’. I think there was too much disruption to the team in the first half of the season, largely due to injuries but also some filtering out of some players struggling then to cope with the step up, for a serious and sustained promotion bid to have been feasible, following the failure (for whatever reason) to land some targeted players. We should be happy that we are ending the season on a high and in good shape. But if we have to indulge in the blame game, aside from the inexplicable decision to hand over 11 points to a couple of local rivals, in hindsight it is possible to point to Birmingham’s two stoppage-time equalisers which cost us four points that we deserved. Stoppage time was blindingly good for us last season but it’s only been the last two home games when for this campaign we’ve more or less evened things up.
There will be time enough after the formal end for the debriefing, awards, and assessments of what will constitute continued progress next season and what we might need to do to make that possible. But for me, as reflected in some of the recent comments from Morrison in particular, the biggest plus has been no loss of the character and commitment of the squad which showed through in bucketloads last season. It’s fair to say that last season we did indeed get our Charlton back and this season we’ve kept our Charlton. The credit for that goes to the players and to Powell and his staff, plus the fans, whose support at key points (most obviously Cardiff) was vital. You do generally get back what you put in. More of the same next season please.
With our promotion hopes killed off in the afternoon, it is apparent that in the interests of the entente cordial (especially with my French partner Suzanne in London for the weekend) Lyon Duchere decided that they should turn their backs on their own ambitions, to wait for us to go up together. They had a top-of-the-table clash last night at home to Strasbourg in CFA Groupe B, with six teams closely grouped for the one promotion place. They lost 1-5. A victory would have seen Duchere move up to second, behind Raon l’Etape, who could only muster a 0-0 draw at home. As it is, they drop back to sixth, six points off first place with only four games left to go. As Saunders reminded us, strange things do happen in football. But both Duchere and Charlton will settle for progress this season but no cigar. Suzanne and I will settle for the rabbit I’m about to smother in wine and plonk in the oven, plus a good bottle of St Joseph, followed by her excellent first effort at tarte au praline. Plus a cigar or two for me in any event.