I was a bit slow off the mark to begin a report this time around, indulging in a post-match glass while watching the remainder of the rugby, possibly also reluctant to be sound negative again. So I had a quick check on the club site for a detail and saw the opening to that report on the game. It began with a suggestion that this was a “second sickener in seven days”, going on to comment that “Charlton threw everything they could possibly muster at Birmingham City, dominating the game from start to finish but came away from nothing to show for their quite valiant efforts”.
That is indeed one way to view the game, but it’s a rose-tinted glasses one. We did dominate possession, had far more attempts on goal. But against a poor side that looked shorn of confidence themselves we conceded the vital first goal, allowing them to sit on what they had, and showed such a lack of belief in the final third that I don’t think anyone was surprised that we didn’t score, or get anything out of the game. I know I wasn’t – and I truly wanted a different outcome.
We looked like what we are, a group thrown together without cohesion, short on confidence, with a confusing line-up that didn’t work. That was Thuram-Ulien in goal, Wilson and Evina as the full-backs, Morrison and Wood in central defence, Jackson and Poyet in central midfield, Cousins wide right, Ajdarevic notionally wide left, and Sordell and Ghoochannejhad (Gucci) up front. Now let’s take a negative interpretation of that line-up. A keeper drafted in who is getting to know the defence in front of him, one full-back coming back from suspension who we know is best in a more advanced position, the other full-back who we were apparently ready to send out on loan, a central midfield that comprised a captain struggling to get back to full fitness and a very promising youngster (Poyet), who was to have a very decent game but one that looked like a fair copy of the other very promising youngster (Cousins) who was obliged to play out of position, with a front pairing that doesn’t look for a minute like working, with two similar players looking to make similar runs (all of which was summed up when they collided going for the same ball).
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but surely you make a choice between Poyet and Cousins, for a game, and either choose an outright winger (Green) or keep the guy who played last weekend at right-back (Nego) and have Wilson ahead of him. And stripped of Kermorgant, Smith and Pigott as target men, whether or not incoming Parzyszek was ready the combination we went with didn’t look like working. Individually both Sordell and Gucci had good moments; as a pairing and a combination it didn’t work. The upshot was a set-up that couldn’t go long, no pace down the flanks, and no drive in midfield. Every decent team knows its strengths and plays to them. I honestly don’t know what we think they are. That we dominated the game was down to Birmingham’s lack of ability and ambition and solidity at the back from Morrison and Wood, plus the defensive cover that Jackson and Poyet provided.
We were unfortunate on balance to be behind at the break. For all the problems with the line-up and familiarity, we had a number of opportunities. One corner headed back to Ajdarevic who could only head tamely at the returning Randolph, a move that ended with the ball breaking to Cousins whose shot lacked conviction, a decent shout for a penalty when Sordell seemed to be upended, and a scissor-kick from Ajdarevic that forced a save. At the other end, Birmingham had a flick at the near post from a corner and nothing else, except their goal.
It seemed to me to be a poor decision by the linesman to give a foul for a nothing jump in the air between two players. But from the free-kick whoever was supposed to be picking up Macheda didn’t do the job and he flicked a header into the bottom corner. I don’t think that Thuram-Ulien had much chance, but some around me disagreed. Have to see it again.
The first goal in this game always looked crucial and so it proved. Birmingham hadn’t threatened but had scored; we had opportunities but failed to take them.
Nothing really changed in the second half. Quite frankly you felt that if Birmingham had some belief they would score again and kill off the game. They took their time. Their second, when it came, was a decent example of how to score on the break, with a series of passes ending with Macheda converting. We had scrambles, shots, moments of potential, but nothing that counted. There was no sense that we could turn this game around and we didn’t. Changes saw Green and Church come on for Jackson and Sordell, with Cousins moving back inside, then at the death Parzyszek coming on for Poyet.
Sometimes moments sum up a game and a situation. We had three free-kicks in potentially dangerous positions. There was a time when Jackson curled them in, but his attempt in the first half didn’t clear the wall. In the second Ajdarevic tried his luck, which was on target but had neither the direction nor the pace to trouble Randolph. For the third, Green took up the challenge and completely mishit it. Then a late cross saw Parzyszek half-heartedly jump with no chance of getting to the ball, only for it to fall to another incomer to balloon it over the bar.
The positive today was for me Poyet, who gave an assured performance. I felt sorry for Morrison and Wood, who played well but must wonder what’s going on around them. Wilson was decent enough but lacked the zip and conviction going forward that we hope for, while Evina looked vulnerable against a decent winger. Of the newcomers, Gucci looked useful but obviously got on the wrong side of the ref who believed he was looking to dive at every available opportunity. Thuram-Ulien had very little to do apart from the goals, and I don’t think he could be blamed for them. Parzyszek had no time on the pitch to be able to judge, but did look lost while he was on. And then there’s Ajdarevic. Fellow Addicks were encouraged by his performance. He was involved in some of our best moments and had chances to score. For me, he looked like a decent player in a good team but someone I wouldn’t want to be in the trenches with. Someone who is happy to make flicks in his defensive third, which resulted in us losing possession in a dangerous situation, doesn’t (yet) appreciate what a Championship relegation battle is about.
No player ratings as it is too early to tell. Suffice from me to say today we were a little unlucky. If we’d scored first it may well have been different. But don’t get blinded by the stats. We ended up well beaten by a poor team, albeit one that brought in on loan a forward from Man Utd who had the quality to win the game.