Friday 30 January 2009

Here Come The Cavalry

At least the team for Burnley is starting to take shape. The cavalry has arrived in the form of centre-half Darren Ward from Wolves and striker Tresor Kandol from Leeds (I think). Ward I believe originated from Millwall and arrived at Wolves via Palace, while Kandol was recently on loan with the Spanners. So they should feel if not at home reasonably aware of where they are headed. Just as well really in view of our, ahem, injury situation. I just hope they haven’t forgotten their boots on the way down – or perhaps the club is going to save some money by telling them to stay up north until tomorrow and make their own way to Burnley. They can meet the other players on the pitch.

With confirmation that Fortune is out for the season and the fresh news that Gray will not be pulling on a Charlton shirt again in this campaign at least (bugger, why didn’t he take the Stoke loan move?), plus the confirmed absence through injury for tomorrow at least of Hudson and doubts about Murty’s fitness, it was a case of having to do some very quick business. It would appear that the club has given up on efforts to get Brown from Hull, so I imagine there was a rapid scan through the ‘centre-halves available’ list over the past couple of days. So be it.

Ward has to be viewed as the first name on the team sheet for tomorrow. Presumably alongside Holland, unless Youga is switched to the centre. That’s where the options end, with Semedo still sidelined. Elliot deserves to retain his place in goal and the full backs will have to be Murty or Mouatouakil and Youga or Basey. The main decision regarding the rest of the team is whether to stick with the 4-4-2 of Tuesday night or revert to 4-5-1. At least there are options. If it’s the former, presumably Bailey and Spring will form the central partnership (with Holland needed elsewhere the only other options are an early return for Racon or switching Ambrose inside).

There is a decision to be made on the wide berths. If Soares keeps his place on the right either Sam is retained on the left or Ambrose comes in for that position. Personally I’d opt for Soares on the bench at the moment and put Sam back on the right, where he is clearly more comfortable, with Ambrose on the left. But its a fine decision, especially as Soares may well have more of an impact than in games to date as he gets used to the players around him.

If it’s 4-5-1 with Burton on his own, the decision is whether to play Shelvey or Ambrose in the hole. I didn’t see the cup game at Norwich, but by all accounts Ambrose played well and at the moment I’d be inclined to opt for him, with Shelvey a possible impact sub. If we go with two strikers it looks like Burton plus one of Kandol, Dickson or the returning Fleetwood. To my mind front twos are all about partnerships. Parkinson and Kinsella are much better placed than me to determine which combination has the greatest chance of success, especially as I know bugger all about Kandol.

So, two possible teams depending on the formation. As reports suggest that Burnley have defensive injury problems of their own, I’d be inclined towards 4-4-2 in an effort from the start to outscore them. How about: Elliot, Murty/Moutaouakil, Ward, Holland, Youga, Sam, Bailey, Spring, Ambrose, Burton, Kandol/Dickson. Subs: Randolph, Shelvey/Soares, Moutaouakil/Basey, Shelvey, Dickson/Kandol/Fleetwood. I think that’s just about everyone. If its 4-5-1, you include Soares and move Shelvey/Ambrose into the hole at the expense of one of the strikers.

Either way we are going to put out a team with players out of usual position and possibly five who have been at the club for a matter of weeks (clearly in one or two cases hours). Again, so be it. Much was said at the AGM about the drawbacks of relying on loan players, but just what was the club supposed to do about the centre-half situation? Someone had to come in and needs must.

Whatever the team selection, the injuries cannot be used as an excuse for a tame performance. The lift to morale from Tuesday night and the effort and commitment put in by the players simply has to be sustained if we are to have a chance of staying up. Tomorrow is in many respects a greater test of character than Tuesday.

On a sour note, it is disturbing to read about the complaints of Palace fans regarding their treatment on Tuesday night. There is no excuse for the club not to investigate the matter fully and to take action if appropriate – or indeed to exonerate the stewarding if the allegations are unfounded. At the AGM there was a collective reminder about the Charlton way of doing things. I have full confidence that the club will stick to those principles.

Finally, there’s always someone worse off than yourself (part XX1). You just have to feel for Killer these days, or rather the charity (Demelza Care For Children) which benefits from his matchday bets. The poor guy has been bending over backwards through the season not to put the money on us losing and the returns must be truly miserable. For Tuesday night he had the chance to put the lot on a glorious victory and went for the draw. Don’t remember him missing opportunities like that when he wore the shirt.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

AGM Notes

So after all it was a masterstroke to hold the AGM the day after. Note to Palace fans: ‘sha na na na na na na naaah, sha na na na na na naaah na, sha na na na na na na na, who’s f*****g laughing now?’ For today at least we are. And I’ve just seen the news that Kuqi is apparently not ready to stay at Palace next season on a “reduced contract”. Personally I’d write it on a postage stamp after last night’s display.

The meeting was an appropriate mix of gloom/realism and resolute optimism. The early proceedings inevitably had an element of the commissariat about them as resolutions were voted on. As those seated at the top table could pass on the nod anything they wanted it was pure formality. I even resisted the temptation to vote against the retention of the company’s accountants (only on the grounds that I know someone else who would like the business).

On finances, it would appear we are on course this season for a loss of up to £0.5-2.0m (I think that was the cited range). One illuminating question was with respect to the amount in the accounts cited for last year’s money spent on ‘new’ players (£12m) and how did this square with the sums quoted for transfers in. It would appear that the figure is the cash outgoings from the club for transfers, which included staggered payments for players under the Dowie regime. That doesn’t entirely square with Derek Chappell’s chairman’s statement in the accounts, which said that the sum was for “new players for the 2007/08 season”. Bit more care with the wording please as I, like others I’m sure, assumed the figure included wages of players signed.

More important, it was made clear that if we stay in the Championship the board is targeting cutbacks for next season of £10m. That seems appropriate given the loss of the parachute payment and probably lower revenues from other sources. When asked about the extent of cuts in the event of relegation, Steve Waggott indicated an additional sum of £3m. Given that if we are relegated the drop in revenues is surely going to exceed that sum, it would appear that either the board cannot realistically cut further in the time available or is not inclined to plan for more. Either way, it is hard to see us avoiding a significant loss next season if we are relegated. How that would get covered remains to be seen. May it not come to pass.

That inevitably led into the administration question. Chappell gave a less than resolute rejection of the possibility, commenting that there is no plan to go into administration. I’m inclined to assume that this was a realistic statement, amounting to ‘never say never’, rather than an indication that there may be no plan but it is an option.

The remainder involved a number of useful insights into player, managerial and strategy issues. One overall point first. After the meeting early this season with Murray one of our number (I think it was Drinking During The Game if memory serves) wrote that he seemed rather tired and by implication perhaps ready to back out. It was fair comment at the time. However, today there were no such signals. Murray (and Chappell) gave a spirited defence of the board’s commitment and enthusiasm, plus a timely reminder of how much they had put into the club (only to see the value of the asset decline substantially). It was a good display, one which didn’t hide their disappointment at the situation we find ourselves in.

On current player issues, the board talked of hoping to bring in two new faces before the closing of the transfer window. One, not surprisingly (and now urgently in view of Fortune’s injury last night) is a centre-half, the other possibly a striker. There was discussion of the merits of Dickson (but no mention of Todorov) and the indication was that he still has some growing up to do before he merits a starting place but that it is expected he will stay with us. There was some doubts cast on whether Gray is up for the fight. It was indicated that Wright will be allowed to go out on loan as with Racon and Zhi to return it is unlikely he would be forcing his way into the first team in the near future (although one note of caution was that Racon’s knee still isn’t 100%). The Shelvey situation remains unresolved. The club has apparently offered him a good contract to stay but there can be no guarantee that he will sign. We will just have to wait and see.

The realistic question was posed as to whether Parkinson had been appointed just because he was there and cheap (or rather would have been a further expense to dispose of). The board was realistic in stating that the club was in no position to attract a top and proven manager, but also strong endorsement of Parkinson and the effect he has had on the players and that, together with Kinsella (and yes, I did miss his run to the Covered End last night; just as I didn’t realise we picked up a trophy at Wembley until later I was too busy going ape-shit), they are formulating the sort of side they want. It was said that Parkinson has totally different ideas from Pardew about the type of player he wants (although to some extent that has to be fashioned around what is possible in our situation). Special mention was given to Murty and the impact that he has had on the dressing room.

The impression was that the board is much more comfortable with him than Pardew, while acknowledging that nobody disagreed with his appointment at the time. One aside was that having signed Iwelumo at the start of this season when strikers had to go Pardew apparently said Big Chris was first on the list, on the grounds that with him around the other players were just inclined to play long balls in his direction. That sounded like a sad indictment of his managerial abilities; the players don’t have to just lump it forward because he’s there and without him this season we have, in my opinion, lacked at least a fall-back when chasing games. Whether he simply had to go because of wages is, of course, another matter.

The board indicated that Pardew’s attitude was simply that we were better than the rest. Fine when its proved on the pitch. Note to Nigel: your comments on Charlton players being ashamed of themselves for not putting in the sort of effort seen last night have some merit but can’t tell the whole story. You have to ask why the manager couldn’t get that commitment out of them, why he had brought some of them here in the first place, and the draining effect all round on such a long winless run. Last night should serve as a reminder to the players the sort of effort needed to win games in this division. It must be easy to blame bad luck etc for losing and you can simply forget the collective effort that needs to be put in on the pitch. Hopefully last night will prove an enduring reminder.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Joy Of Joys

Heavens be praised. Give me a V. Give me an I. Give me a K .... Sorry, but it’s been a while and I can’t quite remember the words. Seemed to get to the players. There we all were waiting for the Chris Powell leap of joy – and they’d all forgotten what they were supposed to do. Or maybe nobody had the energy left, or legs to stand on after the bruising tactics of a very limited Palace side. Maybe the linesman with the yellow flag could have done it. He did bugger all else all night. And what sort of a ref was that? Tough on dissent and timewasting, indifferent to elbows and shoving. Well, you’ve got to have something to carp about haven’t you? And there’s always someone worse off than yourself. They’re all on their way back to Norwood.

YEESSSS!!!!!!! Break open the cognac and the big cigars. Our boys have won. And they deserved it. Not on the balance of play, not on possession, but because we scored a goal and they didn’t and because everyone was prepared to put whatever was necessary in the way. We’ve been on the wrong end of that sort of game often enough. And we didn’t really have to use any of our accumulated store of good luck to do it. For a team that had nearly all of the ball in the second half Palace produced one dangerous moment with a shot over the bar from inside the box and one shot which Elliot saved at his near post. It was a reflection of their paucity of imagination; most of the time they just lumped it up towards Kuqi.

For the record, the team saw Elliot in goal and Murty returning, with Youga retained from the cup game at left-back. Hudson passed the fitness test (just as well) and lined up alongside Fortune. Bailey and Spring took the central berths, with Sam switched to the left to accommodate Soares on the right and a return to 4-4-2 saw Gray and Burton up front.

The early exchanges were lively enough for me to break habit and take a few notes. We could have had a penalty in the opening minutes but not surprisingly the officials saw nothing, Spring could and perhaps should have opened the scoring, timing his run superbly to get close to a curled ball in but failing to make meaningful contact. Some more trickery from Sam saw him fouled outside the box but continuing to no good effect; it was by now becoming obvious that he doesn’t trust his left foot to deliver crosses.

Then came the moment, after about 15 minutes. Sam was the provider, putting in an excellent cross from the left. Defenders, forwards and the goalkeeper all seemed to go for it and a defensive header looped up and took an age to drop to the waiting Spring. He kept his nerve and fairly smashed it in. He does indeed look a lot like Bryan Hughes, getting into the box to good effect.

After that it has to be said there was no need for notes. Palace continued to have most of the play, but produced only two dangerous moments in the first half, with one low cross just evading whichever lump was closest and one header over the bar. At the break it was edgy but we were ahead and that’s all that mattered. Bailey and Spring were not surprisingly finding it hard to retain the ball, Soares had good moments but wasn’t an easily found outlet. Youga seemed hell-bent on just not making any mistakes. Gray and Burton I thought did very well in the first 25 minutes, making a real nuisance of themselves, but as the delivery to them deteriorated they had a diminishing effect as the game wore on.

The second half saw us progressively pushed back, with their full-backs becoming ersatz wingers and Sam and Soares spending most of their time in defence. What I feared could be a key moment came when Fortune turned an ankle on landing and couldn’t continue. The number of times our players, including Elliot, were fouled on the way back to earth was remarkable, but again, no action from the ref. Holland came on to play centre-half and not surprisingly this encouraged Palace to kick it even higher. He took a while to find his feet, going for every ball and being pulled out of position, but settled down to play a sterling part in the game.

Palace made changes, with a couple of nobodies replacing some others. With Gray and Burton struggling it was a timely move to take off the former and bring on Dickson, whose pace gave them something to think about – and who almost gave us the cream on the cake. With the minutes ticking down (by then Basey had come on to bolster midfield, with Sam departing) and groans at five additional minutes (although in truth it could have been more, with a number of stoppages and six substitutions), Dickson got on the end of a long ball out on the right. He shaped as if to go for the corner flag but as two defenders ambled towards him he flicked it inside and left them for dead. A low cross was just deflected by a defender before Burton could get to it at the far post (although in those circumstances I would have preferred to see Burton throw everything at it and take the defender with him into the net). It was the sort of inventive moment that Palace had spent 95 minutes failing to produce.

All that was left was the jubilation of the final whistle. Tonight is for celebrating, tomorrow is about starting to think of two difficult away games and the desperate need to make sure tonight is the start of a run. They earned the plaudits tonight, but tame defeat away on Saturday and the win will count for little - except in those quiet corners of Norwood. Sorry, I forgot, they don’t care about us, do they?

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. Saved everything he had to and collected crosses. Only fails to get a perfect 10 as in the final analysis he only had one real shot to save.

Murty: 8/10. Seemed very much up for the battle and gave it all. No chance to go forward, but struggled on despite taking knocks.

Youga: 6/10. I’m a fan of Youga, but having been left out he seemed desperate not to make a serious mistake and that seemed to inhibit him. I hope a run in the side will see him settle again and be more influential.

Hudson: 10/10. Simply superb. Excellent interceptions and challenges. I think tonight he had something to prove after recent games and did it. If he wasn’t fully fit his performance was even better.

Fortune: 8/10. Dealt well with high balls when static, but not always alert when a more dangerous ball came in. Does have a habit of heading the ball away but into central areas.

Sam: 8/10. Gets an extra mark for the cross for the goal. Clearly isn’t comfortable on the left but kept going.

Bailey: 7/10. No shortage of effort and commitment. Only downside was that in partnership with Spring we are short of physical strength in central midfield.

Spring: 8/10. Tonight the comparisons with Hughes are for good reasons. Hope he is settling into the side and continues to get better. This was his best game to date – and he took his chance when it came.

Soares: 6/10. Good moments in the first half but still finding his feet, not surprisingly. No signs that he didn’t know which side he was playing for, but spent so much time behind the ball had little chance to cause them problems in the second half.

Gray: 6/10. Good first half, but tired and became increasingly ineffective chasing punts upfield. We him and Burton together we are not blessed with pace up front and in the second half that showed.

Burton: 6/10. Much the same as Gray, battled hard in the first half but posed no threat in the second.


Holland: 9/10. Once he had settled after a nervy start he was excellent. Added a calming influence by being able to hold the ball better than anyone else.

Dickson: 8/10. Made a difference when he came on and started to unsettle defenders that had previously been very comfortable. With McLeod and Waghorn gone and Todorov out of favour can we really afford to sell him?

Basey: 6/10. No time really to judge.

Can’t just end on such a sober note. YEEEESSSSS!!!!!

Monday 26 January 2009

Take A Bite

I don’t know who coined the phrase, but its fair to say that tomorrow night involves a large shit sandwich and we’re all going to have to take a bite. I was among those who sang long and hard, in the wake of Kitson’s finest moment, ‘we’ll never play you again’. Well, the usual motto is if you can’t take it don’t dish it out. With Palace selling out their allocation there must be one or two who remember the song and we’re going to get it back with interest. So be it. I hope collectively we take it with dignity. Look on the bright side. At least I don’t have to sit next to Jordan; and unlike a friend I don't have to sleep with a Palace fan.

Let’s just hope (of course) that we win the game. Then it can be choruses of ‘can we play you every week?’ If not, it’ll have to be the fall-back of ‘Charlton ‘til I die’ and ‘we’ll be back’. Either way for crying out loud let’s keep our dignity and remember our Kipling regarding triumph and adversity. Murray and Jordan have done enough to lower the temperature, hopefully drawing a line under their unpleasant spat. Palace as a club can’t be held responsible for the disgusting behaviour of a few of their followers a year ago; and I assume most if not all of the perpetrators are paying an appropriate price. We’re not Millwall.

On the subject of charmless nurds, what planet is that ‘Arry on? I realise we still have a desire to see Darren Bent do well wherever he is, but what sort of manager, let alone one that is supposed to be strong in the area of man management, comes out with the sort of comments he made after Bent’s miss? It was a bad one for sure. But all strikers miss chances and it was no worse than that by Adebayor for Arsenal on Sunday. You don’t hear Wenger suggesting that his missus could have scored it, or the Gallic equivalent (especially not if he was looking to sell the player and maximise the price).

Maybe Wenger did say something to that effect but it was all lost in translation. This seems to be a common problem, as I was reminded when checking on the fortunes of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, since the resumption after their highly civilised, extended Xmas break.

The final match before the break had seen La Duch obviously with other things on their minds, the team going down 3-1 away to Monaco B. The resumption saw the eagerly-anticipated clash with Lyon B, the reserves of Olympique Lyonnais. Here was the chance for Duchere to show their arrogant rivals the merits of team spirit, collective desire, and will to win. Unfortunately, like a recent trip to Sheffield, things did not quite pan out that way. Duchere went down 5-1 at home. It seems OL’s reserves had a point to prove and put out a very strong team.

I asked my partner Suzanne to provide some information on the game from local newspapers. This was the reply:

“Olympian reservists reinforced by Piquionne and Fabio Santos made one mouthful of Lyon la Duchère which cannot hope better than to be their own spectators. A long time ago that Lyon-Duchère ACE had not undergone such “déculotté” (means “without boxer" - a very bad defeat) in Balmont stadium… Beyond our memory in any case. But with good to look at there, the players of Karim Bounouara do not even regret to have so much they were dominated of the head and with the shoulders by an Olympian reserve it true is reinforced by Fabio Santos and Piquionne. Or perhaps if, that to have been spectators as of their adversaries, endorsing at no time the costume of revanchists which suits them so well in this type of confrontation.

The troop of Robert Valette did not require such an amount of it, which found the opening as of the ninth minute of play by Piquionne, with the reception of a long balloon of Abenzoar (0-1, 9th). Abused, strolled, Nanou and its partners passed very close to the correctional one when a little later omnipresent Piquionne butted against Jaccard after being played of two defenders in surface (12th). Dimensioned Lyon-Duchère ACE, it was necessary to wait half an hour of play to see the first alarm worthy of this name in front of the cage of Hartock, works of Chapdaniel of the head which obliged the Olympian gatekeeper with the parade (34ème).

Gonnalon which takes the top on Nanou and it is OL which s' fly away towards a clear victory… The seizure on the play remained however for the visitors, who almost logically rised the addition before the pause by Gonalon of the head on corner (0-2, 44ème). The buildings however seemed to want to revolt with the return of the cloakrooms with a head to end carrying of Brain which missed the framework (46ème). The second occasion was the good one for the attacker duchèrois which reduced the score after having distorted company with Fabio Santos on the left side (1-2, 53ème). The hope thus reappeared for Lyon-Duchère ACE… Not for a long time! Six minutes after the reduction of the score indeed, Court was given the responsibility to recall which were the owners on the ground by converting an offering into withdrawal of Foot (1-3, 59ème), before Piquionne does not mislead fourth Jaccard once after an air deviation of Foot (1-4, 64ème). The carrots were thus cooked for Duchèrois which, like a symbol of their passivity of the day, conceded a last goal gag in the stops of play: Dedola quickly played a frank blow for Pied which marked with an empty aim whereas everyone still discussed the fault (1-5, 94ème). There some days like that.”

There are indeed. We should bloody well know. I shouldn’t carp about the translation as the language barrier has served me well through the years. The good news is that an upcoming trip to Lyon will coincide with a home game for Duchere, against Saint-Etienne B. Before then of course there is the little matter of garnering a few points ourselves. Starting tomorrow night.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Administration Thoughts

Of course there’s always a silver lining. If the worst happens (come on, its not inevitable yet), next season us old farts are going to bore everyone else rigid with postings about the last time we went to Northampton and assorted tales from the old third flight. Oh, what fun we had. Actually it still raises a totally puerile and schoolboy humourish chuckle to remember the infamous conga (in which I hasten to add I did not participate at the time) to the tune of of ‘we’ll be running ‘round the Orient with our willies hanging out’. Just the recollection of times when you could run around the terracing brings a tear to the eye, usually as this generally involving numbers running around to avoid the chasing opposition pack.

The coach on Saturday (and may I add it was splendidly arranged and organised, even to the point of the lady inquiring after the game with a straight face to someone whether they had enjoyed it; it was just the Abba that spoilt my attempts to get into a catatonic state for the return) did afford the opportunity to finally read the club accounts. That was going to be the motivation for a post on the administration rumours, but most of the necessary has been done with Wyn Grant’s posting and subsequent comments.

For what it’s worth my reading of our situation and options tally with those comments, namely that the potential advantages of going into administration do not look compelling – unless of course significant bills have been run up since mid-2008. Richard Murray made it clear at the meeting early this season that the intention was to run the club on a breakeven basis from now on. This goal may have foundered on subsequent events, including Pardew’s reported pay-off, but its hard to think that the comings and goings to date have thrown the finances that far off plan. Or at least nothing that the sale of Shelvey wouldn’t correct, if rumours are to be believed.

As I understand it, under the revised rules players contracts etc are ring-fenced, making administration to cancel and restructure the playing staff bill off the agenda. That leaves admin staff contracts, trade creditors, and other creditors, primarily the bank and the directors. Usually a club goes into administration because one or more creditor, often the Inland Revenue or the bank, are owed sums that are impossible to repay (or in Ken Bates’ case as a natural consequence of having brought in Ken Bates). In that respect the bond issue seems to have been a sensible and timely restructuring.

Nevertheless, and with the caveat that I’m no expert on football clubs’ finances, it has to be noted that monies owed to the bank are material. The company had reduced its overdraft with the bank from £9.2m in mid-2007 to only £1.4m. But there were three bank loans as of June 2008 totalling £7.1m (down from £8.2m a year earlier), costing £1.2m this year to service (as over half is on a floating rate at least the club will be saving a bob or two from the base rate cuts). Plus an overdraft of £1.4m this means that as of mid-2008 the club owed the bank (HSBC it seems, so don’t say a word against them) some £8.5m. When you add in trade creditors of £4.1m you start to make a case for administration. However, contrary to rumour banks are not entirely daft. The loans and the overdraft are secured by charges over the club’s assets, ie The Valley. Administration to try to clear bank debts would mean the ground being sold (have we been here before?).

As for the directors, the bond issue means that the accounts show a £14.6m debt to corporate bond holders. There is a servicing cost (also cut by lower base rates) and one might think that the bond holders would be shooting themselves in the foot if the club went into administration. However, like the bank facilities the bonds are secured by a debenture over the group’s assets – ie The Valley. If there is a danger of forced administration it would arise from the bond holders collectively deciding that the game’s not worth the candle and cashing in, along with the bank, from winding up the company and selling the ground (so any more criticism of Murray et al and I’m coming round). I’m inclined to assume they are not the sort of person that would do that. Just to be sure, we should be hoping for a continued slide in property prices to take the value of The Valley to a level which would ensure that there were insufficient funds to justify the move. It is more likely, if the club is not sold in the interim, that the bonds will end up being converted into ordinary shares further down the line. Aaah, this means a further dilution of the value of my shares; such is the world we live in. In truth conversion would be another act of good faith by the bond holders.

Like any set of company accounts it is an history lesson. The headline loss was shocking, but I don’t think anyone was really surprised (it underlines the extent of the backing that was given to Pardew at the start of last season – and of course the understandable desire to get back to where we belong). To assess the current situation you would need to be closer to the club than I am to know the extent of the cutbacks made since mid-2008. With that in mind, I thought the best place to look for comparison would be the books of another club in a position not dissimilar to our own. I also wanted to look at the accounts of a third-flight club to get an idea of the revenues base we might expect if we are relegated, but I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t have until the end of March to report. And let’s not forget that the TV deal for next season is crap for League One. So part to of this lengthy ramble will have to wait a while.

The obvious choice for a Championship club for comparison was Southampton (far be it for us to hope that another club will go into administration, but we have to get off the bottom one way or another). In the year to mid-2008 Southampton paid out staff costs of £16.9m. The club employed an average of 129 football employees in the year, 43 commercial staff and 16 in administration. In 2007/08 our staff costs were £23.7m (albeit down from £34.3m the previous season) with an average of 85 football staff and 101 for admin, commercial and stadium management. It is to be assumed that our staff costs have been further substantially reduced this season, although whether they have been brought into line with those of Southampton remains to be seen.

As regards the revenues base, that for Southampton in 2007/08 totalled £14.9m, down from £23.3m the previous year (and they reported an operating loss before player trading of £12.5m). Ours was £26.7m, down from £35.9m. Southampton’s income from broadcasting was £2.9m (from £8.1m the previous season), ours was £13.5m. I’m assuming that the parachute payments fall into this category as other comparisons are similar (match day recepiepts, commercial etc). I shudder to think what the correction will be if we are in the third flight next season.

This has gone on long enough and I have a cassoulet in the oven and a bottle of cognac that’s just crying out to be reduced. Bottom line is whatever necessary corrections to our cost base have been made this season, one way or another there will have to be further huge corrections for the season ahead. Not exactly news is it? If we sell Shelvey and anyone else so be it. Just how large the adjustment will be depends of course on which division we are in. Barring a benefactor rebuilding is going to take years. But we’ll still be here (hopefully not with our willies hanging out).

Saturday 17 January 2009

Another Big Step Backwards

Let’s not get off on the wrong foot by thinking there were no positives to be taken from the day. The coach made good time getting back (having had no means of contacting Cambridge Addick to take him up on his kind offer of a lift it was to be the coach for me), enabling me to pen this nonsense and watch Match Of The Day, the rain held off while strolling around Hillsborough, and the pastie at the service station on the way up was half-way palatable. On the downside, I had hoped to get through the rest of my life without having to endure any more Abba and Mama Mia in particular, only to find myself trapped on the return and unable to avoid the dreadful DVD that was played. Oh, and the football was a shambles.

The day started early. Too bloody early. Walking down from the station it felt like Brad Davies in Midnight Express going through the airport. With every step there was still the option to turn around and go home, something with hindsight he (or rather William Hayes) presumably would have done. The coffee pot would have still been warm. But no. Having experienced Operation Ewood Park and a few others there was a sense that maybe this time. Only this time the fleet of coaches comprised two. Having stepped on there was no turning back.

Commenting on team selection and formation with the benefit of hindsight is always handy. But with Parkinson having, as he admitted, some difficult choices to make after victory in midweek all that can be said was that he got them wrong, or to put it another way we played poorly and lost badly. Giving Elliot a rest seemed a fair decision and Randolph came in. Basey got the nod at left-back while Soares came straight in on the left, with Bailey and Spring in the centre, Sam on the right, and Shelvey in the floating role. With Burton unavailable Gray came in as the lone striker, despite having appeared during the week to have been on his way out.

Nothing overly controversial, so what went wrong? Playing Shelvey in the hole has worked in games not least as he created space, was given the ball, made chances for Burton, and got on the end of things. However, he seemed to play like another central midfielder today and instead of working the ball through midfield and down the flanks we opted to play a succession of chipped balls to Gray, who either flicked on to no-one or found himself outnumbered. Bailey and Spring found themselves losing the physical challenge, with neither of them providing effective defensive cover, Soares was peripheral, and collectively the midfield played like strangers – hardly surprising given that two of them have only just joined us and one is a teenager finding his feet.

Far from coming out of the starting blocks, fired up by having at last secured a victory, the opening exchanges saw us nervous, unambitious, disorganised, and lacking in movement. The overriding impression was that at 0-0 we were happy. Wednesday took a while to get going, but when they did Potter (a loan signing I assume) looked a handful while Jeffers was unsettling Hudson and Fortune in a way that Gray was singularly failing to do. Hudson did a good job containing him in the first half, but the constant irritation he provided seemed to take its toll through the game. With Soares looking like he had only just been introduced to teammates only Sam offered a threat, worrying Wednesday with his pace.

As so often this season, once the opposition upped the pace we conceded goals. A shot from the edge of the box took a deflection but I thought Randolph got his hand to the shot, only to divert it into the corner of the net. Then a corner to the far post and two Wednesday players free, one of whom decided to head it into the net. Should Randolph have come for it? Seems, like Weaver, that’s not what he does. In any event, where was the marking?

We managed a couple of shots in the first half, plus one moment when Sam nearly got in. But against that a dire defensive header let them in for a one-on-one which Randolph saved splendidly and Jeffers was played through only to slice wide. Add in a couple more stinging shots from them and at the break we could have no complaints at being behind.

2-0 down and a formation that wasn’t working. It was crying out for a change, especially to someone who remains mystified why Todorov is fit for the bench but is always overlooked and with Dickson another alternative. Personally I would have taken off Gray and Shelvey and brought the pair of them on. Instead we continued as before, the only change being Murty getting caught by a late tackle and having to depart, with Moutaouakil coming on to play left-back.

We needed a goal from somewhere to get back in it, but the game was killed off (if it hadn’t already been) by an especially painful Wednesday third. Hudson had time to direct a header right to one of two Charlton players but put it between them and into the path of a Wednesday player. He cut in, played a low cross, and Jeffers cleverly let the ball run past Randolph and slotted it in from a tight angle. He took some pleasure in the goal, taking off his shirt and leaving it off until the obligatory booking.

Game over, so Dickson came on for Soares. He at least looked lively and made a few things happen, although as someone wanting to be off he seemed more intent every time he got the ball on trying to get his name on the scoresheet than considering options. Sam had faded and barely saw the ball in the second half, Moutaouakil got forward but gave the ball away in bad positions, and with heads pretty low defensively we were close to falling apart. Hudson seemed to be unravelling and Fortune offered little support. Randolph distinguished himself with a great double save, but could have been sent off after bringing one of theirs down on the edge of the box, escaping with a yellow.

Somewhat surprisingly we actually scored. Out of nothing. The ball was played to Spring and he put in a stinging low shot into the corner of the net. In other circumstances it would have been a peach, as it was it barely raised a cheer. There was no suggestion of a dramatic comeback and to round things off a last-minute penalty was awarded and dispatched.

There were few boos, just some at half-time, more a collective sense of despair mixed with some gallows humour. When we failed with a free kick the Wednesday fans started singing ‘that’s why you’re going down’. A minute later, after another misdirected pass, the Charlton fans broke into ‘that’s why we’re going down’. There was no lack of commitment, just a total lack of cohesion, drive, ambition, movement – and too often an inability to do the basics.

Just like the Forest game, this was another big blow. Wednesday weren’t bad; they were strong and covered well, played to a pattern, and had forwards that were a handful. Their pricing for the game had ensured a good crowd and boardroom changes seem to have given them a renewed commitment. But they weren’t world-beaters. Just another OK team that beat us with something to spare.

It’s hard at the moment to see where we go from here. Forget about the cup tie next Saturday, send the reserves. Next up for real is Palace. A performance like today against them will be hard to forgive, so there’s 10 days on the training ground to try to forge a cohesive unit. Please get on with it.

Player Ratings:

Randolph: 6/10. Made some excellent saves but might have done better with the first two goals (maybe I’m being harsh, let’s see the replays) and almost got himself sent off.

Murty: 7/10. With our luck he’ll now be out for a while. Did OK but no more.

Basey: 5/10. Indifferent game. Seems short of pace and offered very little going forward.

Hudson: 5/10. Tough game and he seemed to be losing it in the second half. Playing so often in a struggling team may be getting to him.

Fortune: 5/10. Featured very little; no obvious mistakes, but another game when the defence has shipped goals easily and the central combination has to be questioned. Seems we tried for another defender on loan and it’s not hard to see why with these two our only recognised centre-halves.

Soares: 5/10. Too soon to judge.

Bailey: 4/10. He seemed to struggle throughout the game and the pairing with Spring looked short of drive, strength and imagination.

Spring: 5/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal but otherwise peripheral. Seems tidy but a lot like Hughes used to be – not especially fast, not especially strong.

Sam: 7/10. Our only real threat, but saw little of the ball in the second half.

Shelvey: 5/10. Not a good game. Seemed to be playing more as a third central midfielder this time and struggled to contribute. No lack of effort.

Gray: 5/10. Found himself having to deal with a lot of hopeful balls played in his direction and outnumbered, but didn’t threaten and didn’t look like scoring.

Moutaouakil: 5/10. Got forward well as usual, but a couple of poor passes nearly cost us dear and gave away the last penalty.

Dickson: 6/10. Came on when the game was lost and made some things happen, but looked like someone who wants out.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Beyond The Pale

‘War’s not going very well you know’
‘Oh, my God sir’
‘We’re two down and the ball’s in the enemy court. War’s a psychological thing, Perkins, rather like a game of football. You know how in a game of football 10 men often play better than 11?’
‘Yes sir’
‘Perkins, we’re asking you to be that one man. I want you to lay down your life Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It’ll raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate Perkins’
‘Pop over to Breman Perkins’
‘Take a shufty’
‘Don’t come back’
‘Goodbye Perkins. God I wish I were going too’
‘Goodbye sir. Or is it au revoir?’
‘No Perkins’

Or to update, and with apologies to Beyond The Fringe, the season needs a futile gesture. Just bought a ticket for the Sheffield Wednesday game.

Wednesday 14 January 2009

Kids Exit, Now Saturday Comes

And I’d already written the opening: Bloody football, just like the buses, don’t get a win for 18 games and then two come along on consecutive nights. It wasn’t to be. The under-18s came up against a Tottenham team that was bigger, stronger, more cohesive, and which had in John Bostock a player who at the least knows how to hit a shot.

This probably wasn’t the best night to judge the capabilities of the prospects and the game went away from them with two goals either side of the break. And having only witnessed the cup games last season and the one tonight only tentative conclusions can be drawn. That said, the vibrancy and fluidity of the team of a year ago, at least until the quarter-final against a strong Sunderland side, was not really in evidence. The 4-5-1 set-up, which had allowed the space for Uchechi (what has happened to him?), Shelvey, Wagstaff and others to make things happen was replaced by a standard 4-4-2.

With Shelvey having more important duties these days, the team nevertheless contained many of the faces of a year ago: Christie in goal, Solly at right-back, Long (now playing further forward), Stavrinou (who had excelled as the defensive midfield player in front of the back four), Mambo in central defence, Godfrey up front. Of these the player who seems to have developed most is Mambo, who looks better balanced and more assured a year on.

Outmuscled in midfield Charlton were often chasing the ball as Spurs were happy to play it around. Indeed, in the first 10 minutes we barely got a kick. But as the first half progressed we came more into it and started to create a few chances in an open and entertaining game. Spurs threatened also, with one shot coming back off the post and a low cross from the left somehow not converted at the far post. But Long and Pell had their moments too and Godfrey was played in only for their keeper to save well. It seemed we would go into the break all square, but Bostock decided to have a shot from some way out and it fairly flew into the top corner. Christie had no chance, nor would any other keeper on the planet.

At half-time it appeared that the next goal would probably determine the outcome as it was hard to see us coming back if we went two down. And the game was indeed effectively killed off when Bostock carved his way through the defence and wrong-footed Christie with the shot. That was effectively game over, with a third strike for Tottenham rounding things off. We didn’t have a worthwhile chance in the second half as Spurs shut things up, but at least there was time for the splendidly named Tamer Tuna to make an appearance coming on as a substitute.

So, that’s over for another year. Who knows what the world will look like next time around. But this is no time for gloom, that was reserved for last Saturday and Sunday. Let me be the last to say glory be a win at last. Does it count as a win if nobody saw it? Well, if I can finish off in time I can get to see the highlights programme on ITV to get confirmation that we did indeed win, that Ambrose scored, that the result was so shocking that Norwich had no alternative but to sack their manager, and that Southend beat Chelsea.

Thoughts turn to Saturday. What does Parkinson do now that a changed side went and won? Of course either Basey or Youga will come in at left-back to replace McEveley, whose cameos were encouraging but who now becomes another case of what might have been. Moutaouakil got a game last night but presumably Murty will return at right-back, while Hudson and Fortune have no competition in central defence. I do think there’s a case to be made for bringing back Weaver if he is now fully fit. Elliot has done nothing wrong and it would be tough on him to be replaced, but we have continued to concede goals and maybe he could use a break. And of course Randolph played in goal last night.

Ambrose played in the hole and scored, as he did last season against Ipswich. Maybe he just saves his vengeance for East Anglia, but if we stick to the same formation does he keep his place there or does Shelvey return to play behind Burton? In central midfield, with our run of depressing injuries continuing with Semedo, it looks like two from four: Holland, Bailey, Spring and Wright. At least we’re reasonably well covered in that area, although the availability of Zhi and Racon can’t come soon enough. I’m assuming that Wagstaff and Yusseff will stand down – and that Todorov and Dickson, who must have thanked Parkinson for the opportunity to travel up to Norwich for the joy of sitting out the game on the bench, will go back to waiting in the wings.

I’m that daft that I’m contemplating going on the coach. I truly need my bumps felt. I sent an email around to compatriots yesterday to canvass opinion on the merits of going to Sheffield, with a resounding silence the result. I guess I will have to decide tomorrow. Maybe televised confirmation that we did actually win will help to tip the balance one way or the other, or just possibly I will have come to my senses by the morning. There’s always a first time.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Hard Times

Everyone knows full well the implications of this defeat. Thoughts on chances of survival can wait for another day. Let’s just focus on the game – and get it over with as quickly as possible, for the consolation descent into a wine bottle just won’t wait. And at least half of the crowd at the start have a head start on me by leaving early.

Parkinson went again with the formation as against Norwich, with Shelvey in the hole. With Bouazza having done a runner Ambrose returned to fill the wide left berth, Spring went straight into the team alongside Semedo in central midfield, while Murty and McEveley not surprisingly were named as the full-backs and Hudson returned to partner Fortune. Otherwise it was as you were, with Sam out right and Burton as the lone forward.

My thoughts in the first 20 minutes were that Forest had singularly failed to do their homework as, like Norwich, they were taken by surprise by the formation and failed to pick up Shelvey. The result was he played in Burton twice in the early stages. On the first occasion Burton shot into the side-netting from a narrow angle and on the second their keeper managed to smother the shot. Those proved to be the best chances we had all game, although half-chances came and went. We undoubtedly dominated the first half an hour, with Ambrose involved, Spring looking effective but understandably a little rusty with some misplaced passes, and Sam threatening. But as in previous games after the opening salvo failed to produce the crucial goal we started to look less effective and the opposition came into it more, with Tyson and the thoroughly unlikeable Earnshaw buzzing around to no great effect.

There was an enforced change before long as Semedo was caught late by a bad tackle which went unnoticed by the officials. He had to go off, to be replaced by Holland. The change didn’t seem at the time to weaken us, but it did limit our options later in the game as Spring tired.

As Forest came more into the game what has become a regular pattern at The Valley this season was repeated. We failed to score when on top and conceded poor goals when the opposition ventured forward. Their first was indeed a poor goal to give away. A cross from their right seemed harmless until the first defender failed to get in a decisive header and merely flicked it on to the far post, past the second defender. It was gathered, returned, and after the first effort was blocked Tyson buried the chance. A few minutes later a decent shot was palmed away by their keeper, Holland played a bad ball forward, and it was returned with interest. Earnshaw easily got the better of Hudson and strode forward to chip Elliot. At that point we had had four decent shots and a couple of half-decent ones, they had two attempts on goal, and we go into the break 2-0 down. Unlucky for sure, but not unusual for us this season.

We badly needed a goal early in the second half to galvanise the players and the crowd. Forest not surprisingly were content to sit back and play on the break, with the result that the our formation was becoming progressively less effective. Ambrose disappeared from the game, Shelvey became frustrated, and only Sam provided an effective outlet, although this time to no great effect. We did have two free kicks in dangerous positions, but Shelvey hit the first well over the bar and playing a little safer with the second only curled it into the goalkeeper’s arms.

A change was needed, but the double substitution when it came failed to improve things. Waghorn and Gray came on up front, with Burton and Spring going off, Shelvey dropping back into central midfield. This to my mind asked an awful lot of Shelvey. A reversion to a basic 4-4-2 should have seen him replaced, but with Spring going off and Holland already on there was I suppose no real option.

The longer the game went on the more depressing it became for all concerned, including the players. We got the ball into the box enough times but it never quite fell – or to put it another way nobody had the predatory instincts to be in the right place at the right time. Ambrose did have a couple of decent shots but the day was summed up when Shelvey played a corner quickly to Sam in space in their box. Instead of the drilled shot billowing into the net a mishit ball bobbled closer to the goal only to be hacked clear.

By now the crowd were leaving in droves and the news of five added minutes only deepened the gloom, seemingly limiting the chances of getting the 17.07 train back. Those that remained were at least not overly inclined to boo at the finish. It wasn’t the worst performance of the season, not by a distance. But the result was all that mattered today.

Friday 9 January 2009

Random Thoughts

Seems we do after all have a game to go to tomorrow. And obviously a bloody important one. The number of home games we have left against teams that we would either expect (in normal circumstances) to beat or desperately need to beat is of course getting ever smaller and we simply have to win if we are to build on the relative improvement in performances of late. Every game (the exceptions that prove the rule being the coming replay against Norwich and conceivably a fourth round tie, hopefully against Orient) is now a cup final.

I find I’ve been writing less and less of late. There have been good reasons but also I’ve been feeling that there hasn’t been a great deal to say (it could be that I’ve nothing useful to say, but that’s never stopped me before). The die is cast regarding the manager and the type of team he seems to be putting together. There’s little point in quibbling and not much more in trying to speculate on who might come in during the window. It’s not as if we would have heard of any of them. There was a time .... but that’s long gone. Suffice to say that a 34-year-old right-back coming in for a month with the avowed intention of getting fit isn’t going to get the pulses racing, but who cares? If he does a job – which means getting clean sheets at home especially – it will have been good business.

The departure of Bouazza leaves me indifferent. Clearly its not positive, given the disruption to Parkinson’s plans, but in my opinion he hasn’t delivered for us what he looks capable of. It might look a little strange for Fulham to take him back and then offload him to Birmingham, but I guess it makes sense from their perspective. He is more likely to look good in a winning team, potentially increasing his value (or confidence if he returned) and Birmingham are more likely to shell out some money for him when the time comes. No hard feelings (at least not compared with their last-minute unjust equaliser and the sight of Murphy turning in good performances for them; damn, damn).

The sad element for me of Murty coming in is that it is further evidence, if such were needed, that Parkinson doesn’t rate/doesn’t trust Moutaouakil or Youga. We have brought in Cranie, McEveley and now Murty (assuming he plays right-back for us) to play instead of them. Both must be wondering why on earth they ever decided to come. Unless they wait in the wings for better luck next season it looks as though they will add their names to the list of signings over the past couple of years that just haven’t worked out. It is a long one (and Sinclair, Dickson, Fleetwood and McLeod would seem to fall into the same category).

If the rumours about Brown from Hull are true (and with only two recognised centre-backs we clearly need another), I would have thought that’s it for the defence. We’re back to three goalkeepers if Weaver is fit, Murty and McEveley are presumably the first-choice full-backs, while Hudson and Fortune for the moment have no competition for places. Holland playing there would seem to confirm that Semedo is not considered for that role.

Up front its fair to assume that Gray, Burton, Waghorn (if he stays) and Todorov (if he can play) are the main choices, with McLeod and Dickson in the cold. There are rumours of another coming in, but we are not especially short of numbers. What we lack as yet is a winning combination and that, for the moment, has to be dependent on just what combination we choose in midfield.

With Bailey out tomorrow it’s fair to assume that Holland and Semedo will play in central midfield. Without Bouazza the options out wide are Sam, Ambrose and Shelvey, depending of course on whether Parkinson repeats the formation against Norwich, using Shelvey in the hole and Burton as effectively a lone striker. Whether that is possible without two genuine wide men with some pace is questionable, but we shall see. And it’s not that long ago that Ambrose played in the hole. It’s difficult to think in terms of a midfield structure for the rest of the season until we know if and when Zhi and Racon are going to be available.

So still some way short of anything like a settled side – or stable finances if the accounts are anything to go by. I’m not inclined to get too spooked by last season’s loss, although it should serve to underline the backing that Pardew had to engineer a quick return to the Premiership. I’d be more interested to know how we are faring this year, given Richard Murray’s understandable intention of running the club now on effectively a break-even basis. That plan has probably gone out of the window in view of Pardew’s pay-off and what is now a desperate need to avoid relegation – and the further substantial cutbacks that would entail. Oh Dubai, so much to answer for.

Saturday 3 January 2009

Another Tale Of What Might Have Been

I hope no-one reading this is expecting a positive assessment. My abiding thought coming away from the ground was just how bad does a team have to be to get beaten by us? Certainly the Norwich team of the first half was bad enough. That over 90 minutes we can’t say we deserved to win is about as damning an assessment as I can come up with. They made changes, were more positive, and once more we were neither good enough to hold onto a lead or to regroup and win a game that in the first half at least was there for the taking. The new faces had better come in quickly because we are so short of self-belief and conviction that it is becoming painful.

It’s just not good enough to think about why we have the upper hand in games for periods but can’t play well for 90 minutes; we all remember how superb we were for 20 minutes against Bristol City. The fact is that at this level every game is going to have periods when you are on top and when the opposition is on top. Our basic problem is when we do have the upper hand we either don’t score at all or don’t kill off the game; when we come under pressure we concede goals. Not strong enough in key areas. This game may not have been important compared with the next home fixture, but getting a win of any sort would have changed the atmosphere for the visit of Forest. They just went and won at Man City.

Stripped of Hudson, Gray, Waghorn and McEveley and with Cranie having gone back to Portsmouth and Ambrose unwell, anyone on the books could have been named in the squad. As it was, Moutaouakil came in at right-back while Basey was preferred to Youga at left-back, and rather surprisingly Holland instead of Semedo was asked to play centre-back alongside Fortune. Semedo and Bailey formed the central midfield partnership, with Sam and Bouazza down the flanks. Burton played as a lone forward and Shelvey was brought in to play in the hole. I have to say that my starting X1 would have been different. Todorov, Dickson and Youga would have been in my team; instead they were on the bench along with Wright, McLeod, Wagstaff and the returning Randolph, leaving them to wonder just how bad things have to get before they are picked.

However, the plus was a roving role for Shelvey and in the first half at least Norwich singularly failed to pick him up. With that formation we needed good contributions from the wide players and Bouazza and Sam – after an anonymous first 25 minutes – did what was necessary. And Burton did the lone forward’s job better than I expected on past performances. With Moutaouakil after an indifferent start (which nearly cost us a goal) getting forward to far greater effect than Cranie ever did, and Holland slotting in admirably, the set-up worked better than I thought it would, which is both to the credit of the players and a reflection of how bad Norwich were in the first period.

With little or no threat from the opposition (except at set pieces, which is par for the course), it was a case of whether we could fashion chances and get ahead. And we did. An excellent ball out to Bouazza, he took it on and squared it. It looked like a 50-50 but Shelvey coming in at pace made it his and buried the chance. Well worked, well taken. Then for the remainder of the half we had the opportunities to kill off the game. A Fortune header from a corner was tipped over but the two best opportunities went begging. First Bouazza was in space down the left and instead of repeating the dose for Shelvey went for goal and missed. Then from the other flank Sam drilled in a shot-come-cross which a couple of flailing bodies at the far post just failed to get on the end of.

Half-time and the abiding thoughts were surely we can’t fail to win this one, can we keep it going, and can Norwich be as bad again? We know the answers. They made a double-substitution at the start of the second half and looked more composed – and more determined after I assume a suitable bollocking. We did have a couple of shots which were well saved but increasingly we were being pushed back and lost control of midfield, while Bouazza and Sam were getting less joy out wide. Thoughts were turning to whether it was time for a change as Shelvey and Burton were looking tired and we were being outplayed.

No changes came and instead Norwich passed their way through our team from their own half, culminating in a turn and shot from some former Arsenal trainee with a Finnish name. OK, it happens. Still enough time to go out and win it. Fact is we didn’t have fashion another chance worthy of the name. Youga came on for ... Burton. Basey was pushed forward and Bouazza went into the middle to play somehow with Shelvey. Then Dickson replaced Shelvey. Youga looked rusty and Basey carried no threat going forward. Dickson did create one chance with a run and cross, but we looked shapeless and vulnerable. In the last 15 minutes it wasn’t us going to win the game and the final whistle made it another case of what might have been.

Well, that’s happened too often. Change gotta come and soon. I don’t know what Todorov has to do to get a game, or just how crocked he may be, Dickson still looks like he has something and I’d be disappointed to see him go, but if we aren’t going to play him so be it. If he goes he’s just another that with us hasn’t progressed enough, or hasn’t played enough football to have the chance to develop. Shelvey was the clear plus point (Holland pushed him close for man of the match) but do we stick with this formation with the players returning and those we assume are coming in? No easy answers.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. No chance with the goal, did everything else capably (apart from one clearance that went for a corner).

Moutaouakil: 7/10. Not everything he did worked, but far more mobile than Cranie and provided good support for Sam going forward.

Basey: 6/10. OK at left-back but looked poor when pushed forward, the change didn’t work.

Fortune: 7/10. Nothing wrong, nearly scored, but another home game without a clean sheet.

Holland: 8/10. Did what he was asked to do admirably. So what’s new?

Bouazza: 6/10. If he’d squared the ball second time around and Shelvey had scored again we would probably have won the game. Ineffective when moved inside.

Semedo: 6/10. OK, nothing dramatic, but with Bailey we lost control of midfield in the second half.

Bailey: 6/10. Having scored two against QPR getting into the box went back to a more holding role.

Sam: 5/10. One good moment, but was nowhere to be seen in the first 25 minutes and failed to deliver in the second half.

Shelvey: 8/10. Tired in the second half but was the player that Norwich failed to cope with in the first and was nearly a match-winner.

Burton: 7/10. Better game for us as lone striker than playing alongside Gray. The case for signing him is still unproven, but did a job today.


Youga: 5/10. Looked out of sorts. We need to either pick him and stick with him or let him go. With McEveley I assume coming back it doesn’t look like the former, which is a pity as when he plays well he is our best option in the position.

Dickson: 7/10. Not much chance to impress in a game that was going away from us before he came on. Am I mistaken in thinking he could still be a match-winner for us? Parkinson obviously thinks so.