I was at both the Yeovil and Barnsley games. Didn’t feel up to match reports, not least as I don’t want my (unabated) negativity towards the actions of our owner to interfere with the usual objectivity (in a Charlton sense of course). So here are some fairly random thoughts about the games taken together.
Different outcomes of course, but not dissimilar games or performances. Four of the five goals in the Yeovil game were the result of defensive howlers; Barnsley were really not essentially stronger opposition but made fewer mistakes than Yeovil at the back and scored through poor defending and a fluke; Yeovil carried more of a threat than Barnsley but didn’t take their chances when on top having equalised quickly after our opener. Perhaps the two games were summed up by the fact that against Barnsley in the second half a low cross from the right was gathered by their keeper (as it should have been); a similar ball in against Yeovil was spilled, allowing Sordell to put the ball in the net (and give us a 3-1 lead). After 20 minutes or so last night I thought that Barnsley really had no weapons to hurt us with. Then they got a corner and M’Voto began his lumber forward. Me and some around me said something along the lines of ‘he’s bigger than everyone else, don’t let him get on the end of it’. Once he’d got goalside of his marker and the ball was delivered in the right area the end-result was sadly predictable. Yeovil allowed Dervite to get free in the box from a set piece and paid the price.
So against limited and vulnerable opposition, one storming victory and celebrations by most, one demoralising defeat, one which will reinvigorate all the clubs around us, and very little really between them. I wouldn’t say we were lucky to beat Yeovil; they made mistakes and paid the price; we were unfortunate against Barnsley to the extent that their second was just one of those things from a nothing move, but we can’t say we deserved more from the game. The sad fact was that having failed to convert two good opportunities in the first half (the Harriott header and the Jackson effort which curled just over), until scoring in stoppage time we failed to make their keeper work through the second half, despite being behind at home. That’s not good enough and raises questions about team selection.
Of course the games are coming thick and fast and our ‘head coach’ and his team have to make decisions about who is in need of a break, with us only able to guess. But I’d suggest (with the benefit of hindsight) that the Barnsley game was a tad more important than away at Brighton. Playing Morrison at right-back against Yeovil was enforced (although what this says about the progress of Nego goes without saying), but it cost us. Their first came as a result of three of the back four moving up but the fourth (I think it was Wiggins) hanging back, playing them onside, which resulted in a two-on-one. That was disorganisation and I’m tempted to believe that the players are used to Morrison doing the organising from the middle. I can’t say that Morrison would have handled M’Voto better from Barnsley’s corner, but it couldn’t have turned out worse.
At the same time, if Cort is to play a meaningful role for us in the remaining games he needs time on the pitch (Solly’s welcome reappearance is surely evidence of that too as he couldn’t really be expected to last 90 minutes last night). His welcome reappearance as a sub against Yeovil has been followed by …. nothing. If there was a game to give Morrison a rest surely it was Brighton, when Cort might have been given some game-time. Of course Riga may have made selections on the basis of the opposition’s forwards and their strengths and weaknesses, but (with no slur on Wood and Devite) I can’t believe that if we are putting out our strongest team in key games Morrison wouldn’t be starting (and no, I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories about who makes team selections and his contract situation as that would be prejudice and not based on any evidence).
We struggle to score goals and last night over the 90 minutes did not create enough. We can look at the forwards (Sordell’s failure to convert his effective one-on-one), the formation (it seemed to me something like a 4-2-1-3 with Sordell flanked by Obika and Harriott) but also the choice of players for certain positions. Cousins’ emergence this season may have been overshadowed of late by that of Poyet, but I would like to know the thinking behind playing a guy who has spent his fledgling career as a full-back and centre-half and more recently an effective defensive midfield player being asked to play in the hole? Perhaps it was felt that he could win the ball further forward and help keep Barnsley under pressure, which he often did. But also quite often last night he was finding himself in situations which were crying out for a surge of pace, or a telling forward pass, to exploit the opportunity. I don’t blame him, just whoever thought this was a square peg for a square hole. I thought we had learnt that wide right didn’t exactly get the best out of Cousins (he ended up there again against Yeovil when we switched Jackson inside to tighten things up); I hope we learnt last night that this is a position that others are better suited to and that he is allowed to shine where he seems most comfortable.
Of course our fixture list has meant a need for some rotation (I did feel a while back that expecting Cousins and Poyet to play two games a week for the rest of the season was a very big ask and that alternating them in their best position might be an idea, but they are still turning out), but I’m still mystified by what has happened to some players. I remember the post by Wyn Grant about ‘a song for Peter’. Having arrived and made a substitute’s appearance, that song is presumably ‘Nowhere Man’, at least for this season. Pritchard is nowhere to be seen, Nego makes one appearance and then is overlooked in favour of Morrison when we need an emergency right-back. From the way Wiggins left the pitch last night there has to be concern about his availability for the games over Easter at least. Presumably the two options are Jackson dropping back or a return for Evina, who can hardly be match-fit and may not be in the right frame of mind for the task. Then there’s Petrucci. Brought in on loan (with Championship experience), makes the bench, comes on as a sub, then nothing. There may be good reasons for all of this, but for the final few weeks we need to be aware of our strengths and playing to them. Last night’s selections didn’t smack of that to me.
I do feel that somebody at the club needs to take Harriott to one side to work on the mental side of the game. He has to have real confidence in his ability, which means being able to deal with (inevitable) mistakes without them affecting you. He clearly desperately wants to do well and having made a hash of the header at the far post tried to make amends, only to make more errors, inviting the (unwelcome) negative response from sections of the crowd which compounded the effect and ended up with his being subbed.
I also feel that there is one positive change, a very simple thing, in the way we are playing compared with under Sir Chris. The cliché is pass and move, ie when you play a simple pass you should immediately move to make yourself available for a simple return if nothing else is on. It’s not rocket science, it makes the opposition move around, creating space. Previously I felt we passed and stood still, leaving the guy with the ball precious few options other than to lump it forward (and get blamed for doing so). We pass the ball around better now not just because of the introduction of Poyet but because players are working more when we are in possession.
All the rest – disgust, alienation, season ticket renewals and ‘deadline’ debacles, nonsense in the programmes etc – can be left to one side for now. Five games left, culminating in away at Blackpool (and yes, I remember the last time we went there in need of a result to try to stay in the second flight). I want nothing other than for us to stay up – and so does Suzanne, who gets her final chance for this season at least to attend a game on Friday.