When you boldly venture from the pub to the ground for your first real game of the season, you have fairly clear objectives in easy order: a win, a clean sheet, some entertainment. We got the entertainment, in a fashion somewhat unexpected, but not the first two priorities. Given that when the game was suspended we were 0-3 down and howling for more rain, but when it was formally called off it was 1-3 at half-time against 10 men, like last Saturday, it could have been better – and it could have been a good deal worse.
Let’s start with the decisions taken by the referee. After the game I think I was more sympathetic than most. He tried all he could to provide an opportunity for the game to be concluded. The fact that at 0-3 he would have had every Doncaster player and staff member shouting in his ear that they had no problems with the conditions, and at the same time everyone with a Charlton association howling for it to be called off (and, like me, offering to pour more buckets of water on the pitch) can’t have been easy. There was no water visible on the surface, but buckets of it just below, which made most passes and tackles difficult to make and predict. The fact that we’d got back into the game, and they had a guy sent off, perhaps made it easier for him, as did the fact that there’s no way another 45 minutes could have been completed. He called it off when there was no realistic prospect of things getting better, every chance of them getting worse, and in addition to a sizeable element of farce danger to the players. So show him some sympathy.
Now to the less savoury aspects of the 45 minutes that we saw. Our defending, individually and collectively. None of the goals they scored could be attributed to the conditions (indeed, they would probably have scored their second sooner had it not been for the conditions). Every ball they played forward looked capable of producing something, especially the set pieces, when they knew what they were going to do and we were guessing. We’ve conceded two against Bournemouth, two against Barnsley, one against Middlesbrough, and three in 45 minutes against Doncaster. I can’t comment on what’s gone before, but today it was rank. If we don’t get this sorted out, and quick, we are in trouble.
The game had barely begun when a throw to them on the right side was delivered to one of their front two, in acres of space. It was on Wiggins’ side, but is it his job to pick up the guy behind him? He crossed, they scored simply. Second goal saw a ball across the box which, fortunately for us, stuck in the area instead of going to their guy to score. Hamer hoofed it away, only for the ball to be played forward again, Morrison to throw his arm up for an offside that never was, and for it to go wide, ball in again and a simply conversion from their big centre-forward. Goal three was a corner played to the back of the box, to a guy with nobody around him, allowing him to put in a forceful header which was parried but rebounded off one of theirs into the net. Unlucky perhaps, but who was picking up the first guy?
Add in the fact that other set pieces saw their guys set up prepared plays and came close to scoring more, with us chasing shadows, and you had what amounted to chaos in defence.
At the other end things were a good deal better. We forced three excellent saves from their keeper and looked capable of scoring, helped by the movement of Church and the perseverance of Kermorgant. With Gower winning his fair share of tackles and Cousins looking accomplished, plus Harriott’s pace, there was every reason to believe that we’d get some on the scoresheet. But if you’re shipping goals at the back it just doesn’t mean that much. Fact is we were 0-3 down when the game was suspended and at that point all we wanted was the clouds to open.
The 18 minutes after the break to complete the first half saw Church convert a loose ball in the box to give us hope, then their guy put in the sort of five minutes that must make any manager despair. You’re well up away from home, look capable of scoring more, so the priority has to be not to let the opposition back in. Instead he clattered into the back of Kermorgant (and then possibly kicked the ball away) to pick up a yellow, then minutes later got involved in a water-induced scrap to get a merited second. Muppet.
The positives today were Church and Cousins. But if we continue to defend in today’s fashion, we’re in trouble. I can’t pinpoint the reason, that’s for Sir Chris and his staff. But forget the idea that the conditions were to blame. Defend like that and you lose. Period.