Given our home record for the bulk of last season, it wasn’t exactly uplifting to lose 0-1 in the only pre-season friendly at The Valley. If Paddy Powell had brought his boots, he might have made a difference. As it was, Inverness Caledonian Thistle defended well, were well organised, and over the 90 minutes also had the nearer misses until we pressed in the final part of the game. Good luck to them. There were after all some guys in the pub who’d flown down from Scotland for the game. The only problem with them was that their colours and badge were just a little too close to the Sparrows whose ground we once borrowed.
I hope nobody’s expecting a full match report, this was a friendly. But for the record we put out something close to a current first choice X1: a not surprising 4-5-1 formation comprising Hamer, Solly, Wiggins, Morrison, Dervite, Harriott, Gower, Jackson, Stephens, Pritchard and Kermorgant. The only problem was that according to a Scottish guy ICT, managed by Terry Butcher, know how to defend and are content to sit behind the ball. 4-5-1 puts a premium on midfielders breaking forward to support the lone striker and the wide men getting the better of their full-backs. Neither happened often enough to cause them problems.
In the first half, aside from a couple of Pritchard low crosses-cum-shots, we created one proper chance, albeit a good one. A good ball in and Kermorgant timed his run and leap perfectly. He just didn’t get enough power or direction on the header to beat the keeper. By contrast, ICT hit the outside of the post with a curled shot that gave Hamer no chance at all, and a loose ball in the box should have been converted but the half-hit shot was able to be smothered by Hamer. We dominated possession, but quite frankly the quality of the balls going forward, and most of those into the box, was poor, the midfield was too static and one-paced, and their full-back was shutting Harriott out of the game.
At the break it seemed to be a case of doing things better and faster. That didn’t really happen and with ICT sitting back the game as a spectacle was dying a death. Not surprisingly changes came, with Green replacing Stephens and Pigott coming on for Gower (plus Evina for Wiggins and towards the end Cousins replaced Dervitte), with Pritchard moving inside. But as we were expecting us to increase the pressure they broke the deadlock. An exchange between Pigott and Jackson went wrong and they broke. Although Pigott tracked their guy back he didn’t catch him. The danger seemed to have passed as their guy’s ball out wide was overhit, but it was kept in, squared, and someone running onto it slotted it past Button (who had come on at the break).
The goal made more of a game of it as we pressed forward, with Pigott making things happen, Harriott coming more into the game and looking threatening, and Jackson threatening to get in behind their defence. But everything was just a little off, perhaps encapsulated by a curate’s egg of a performance from Kermorgant. He worked his socks off, but tried a few things that raised the eyebrows and, having won a free kick in a dangerous position by running into their defender’s elbow, proceeded to curl it about a yard off the ground into the wall.
The result doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things. And the match won’t live long in the memory (defeats seldom do), apart from the much deserved plaudits for Colin Powell. But we are only a week away from the start of the season and the performance should raise some concern, even given the context. We all know we need more strikers brought in, and on today’s evidence a team coming to The Valley with a gameplan built on containment against 4-5-1 will fancy their chances of keeping a clean sheet and getting something at the other end.
Nobody from us took the game by the scruff of the neck. Stephens had the opportunity but ICT just didn’t allow the space in the final third for him to make telling passes, Gower was tidy and efficient but no more, while Jackson and Pritchard both played in poor balls from decent positions. Surprisingly I’m not sure that Wiggins got across the half-way line in the first half and it took us too long to realise that against a team set up for containment a more aggressive and adventurous approach was needed. Allowing them to score first was the real sin – and we saw that happen too often at home last season. It was perhaps indicative that I took along to the game a new toy, a camera, to try out the features. I wanted to wait for a Charlton corner, set-piece, ideally penalty to try out the rapid shots function. I know I didn’t have the opportunity until late in the game.
So no disaster, but a slightly sobering experience. Schoolteacher’s report comment would read ‘need to work harder next week’. ICT are no mugs (they finished fourth in Scotland last season and had supporters of their own to impress) and provided a tough examination; it wasn't Welling as an intro. Today we did not pass it.