What to make of that one? At least this time around it was a case of marked improvement in the second half after a first 45 minutes that was as much of a shambles as much of Tuesday night. And we so nearly went home with a real spring in our step. Nobody was looking for perfection, just improvement and commitment. And at least some of that was evident in the second half as the (changed) team seemed to have more of an idea what it was supposed to do.
From Tuesday night out went Youga (presumably Pardew saw the game more like others in the West Stand than me), Bouazza, Holland and Gray. Hudson returned at centre-back to partner Primus but perhaps surprisingly Cranie was retained. When the team was announced, with Basey brought in and Moutaouakil keeping his place, I assmed we were going three/five at the back with two wing-backs. But no, it was 4-4-2 with Cranie deployed at left-back, Wright coming in to partner Bailey in central midfield, Basey and Ambrose playing wide, and McLeod coming in to partner Varney. Dickson didn’t even make a place on the bench (nor did Youga or Gray, or Semedo for that matter), with the spots going to Elliot, Todorov, Sam, Bouazza and Holland.
McLeod and Varney was one of the forward combinations I had speculated on, given their rather surprising success together in a few games last season. But along with everything else in the first half it didn’t work. Instead Basey and Ambrose gave almost no attacking outlet, Wright and Bailey looked as if they had been thrown together at the last minute, with nerves added to the mix, and McLeod and Varney, rather than running the channels, seemed to try to operate as a standard front two and got no return from the very limited service they received.
If I were the Burnley manager I would have been furious at half-time as this was a game so obviously there for the taking and we hadn’t been finished off. A better team would have taken us apart. As it was, while we had no attempts on goal, they at least summoned up the effort to get the ball in the net twice. The first time the Burnley player was clearly in an offside position when the ball was played through but it also very clearly came off the top of a Charlton player’s head. The linesman flagged but the referee waved play on, with the player allowed to cut inside, past a few halfhearted challenges, and shoot. The ref gave a goal but was persuaded to talk to the linesman, who presumably reminded him of the rules. There was no such reprieve a little later. A poor corner was headed back to the taker and a half-clearance was returned, took a deflection and left Weaver rooted to the spot. Nobody was really surprised.
After that in the first half Burnley did little to suggest that are anything more than an average team. But average was looking more than enough to see off a team that was woefully short of confidence, ideas and structure.
It had to change and Pardew duly took off McLeod for Todorov, with Primus also giving way (presumably an injury), with Cranie moving to the centre, Basey dropping back to left-back, and Sam coming on to provide much-needed pace and attacking intent down the right, with Ambrose switching sides (or rather not having to bother to run over to the East Stand side for the second half). And the game seemed to turn early in the half as completely out of the blue Todorov received the ball and played a penetrating pass forward. It was a reminder that we can play football. Suddenly there was a game on. A cross from the left found two Charlton forwards well placed to score, but the header went straight at the keeper – prompting ironic cheers from the (very patient and supportive) crowd that we had finally managed an attempt on goal.
The improvement seemed in danger of petering out, but just when we needed it the equaliser came, courtesy of a Todorov header from a corner, with the Bulgarian showing the presence to move back from an offside position just in time to create the space.
During the final 20 minutes or so it could have gone either way. Burnley had a fierce shot that for all the world looked a goal, only for the ball to bounce down off the bar and presumably not cross the line. We had a couple of smart shots and at least for the most part showed we could pass, with Sam and Moutaouakil causing considerable problems for Burnley down the right. Then as we were approaching the end of normal time the chance came. A little luckily the ball broke to Varney running through on the right side of goal. He managed to nick it past the keeper, leaving him a little wide but with only one defender in the way. A couple of touches to steady himself but then the defender managed to spread himself and made a legitimate block. It was the sort of chance that is taken without thinking when things are going well. But that’s all it was; a missed chance.
Over the 90 minutes we couldn’t say we deserved to win, but we did deserve something for the vastly improved display in the second half. A last-minute winner would have been a little harsh on Burnley – but bloody nice all the same. The feeling at the end wasn’t so much despair at not having won, just relief that two halves of abject football spread over two games might mark the nadir rather than what we really have in store.
Weaver: 7/10. Don’t think he had a chance with the goal and after that had very little to do apart from come for a few crosses and watch Burnley’s one good effort come back off the bar.
Moutaouakil: 8/10. Looked more in the game than on Tuesday night, when he was rusty. Benefited from Sam coming on in the second half and gets an extra point for a superb defensive header in the first half.
Cranie: 5/10. Just why he was asked to play left-back only Pardew knows. It was a slap in the face for Basey, even if Youga’s services were dispensed with. Looked poor in the first half but more comfortable once again when playing as a centre-half.
Hudson: 8/10. Made a significant difference coming back. Held the team together in the first half.
Primus: 7/10. Not sure if he was injured or Cranie was preferred at centre-back for the second half. Seemed OK when dealing with Burnley’s usually limited attacking threat.
Bailey: 5/10. Sorry, but this was another poor game. A partnership with Holland in the centre looks limited but a substantial improvement on one with Wright. He didn’t seem up to assuming the senior role and dictating play and in the first half, along with Wright, was all at sea. He has been a real plus since joining us, but Tuesday and today are reminders that he’s not the finished product yet.
Wright: 6/10. Not an easy debut by any means and for much of the time the play passed him by. There’s no judgement on him after one game but I hope he will settle into the team and improve.
Ambrose: 5/10. During the first half we were crying out for him to get more involved and take some responsibility. It didn’t happen, but when we were playing better as a team in the second he started to feature more. Still an enigma.
Basey: 5/10. A little harsh perhaps. Good delivery from set pieces, but didn’t look like the answer playing left-side midfield during the first half, dropped back to left-back in the second.
McLeod: 4/10. Just a bad first half. I hope he is going to come back stronger, but looked as if he will need more time to get up to speed.
Varney: 6/10. Oh Luke. Please just forget about the miss, you got the chance. Managed very little in the first half but like everyone else perked up in the second with a formation that left us at least looking more like a team.
Todorov: 8/10. Quite simply, he made others play better and added class and cohesion in the second half. And he scored.
Sam: 8/10. Much better showing than on Tuesday night, when he saw as much of the ball but was far less effective. Caused Burnley real problems although didn’t always provide the end-product.
Holland: 7/10. Not enough time for a real score, but you know what you get with Matty. I thought Pardew should have brought him on for Wright or Bailey sooner as our lack of control in the centre could have cost us the game against a better team.