Wednesday 30 September 2009

Guest Contributors' Run Of Games Without Win Continues

With work commitments precluding a trip to Colchester last night (they will also deny me the joys of a return to Elland Road and ensure I am out of the UK for the Barnet game), I am indebted to another colleague for a match assessment. This one comes comes from Poorsodhastolivewithapalacefan Addick.

I knew it was gonna be trouble when I smelt manure as we stepped out of the car – welcome to the countryside. The usual epic round of emails and text messages had finally co-ordinated a posse of 12 of us to the Weston Homes stadium, some attracted by the visit to a new ground and the prospect a further victory in our unbeaten run so far. The satnav was certainly confused, recommending several times that we do a U-turn as we approached the ground. Maybe we should’ve heeded it.

All was going swimmingly until Llera decided to head a cross from deep from the right back to Elliot... who wasn’t there! We seemed to be still in shock when Colchester’s big striker found another long ball dropping to him over the heads of our back four and lashed it into the far corner from inside the box on our left. We then needed to up it right from the start of the second half to get anything out of the game, like we did at Leyton Orient. But we just carried on as in the first half and eventually suffered our first defeat of the season. Three nil was perhaps a little harsh but no doubt we deserved no points.

The ground is a neat little affair, reminding some of the new den but without the rust. Personally I thought it was a bit like Rushden’s stadium only a touch bigger. Capacity about 11,000 expandable up to 18,000, but with a crowd of only just over 7,000 last night I don’t think it will require expansion for some time yet. A reasonable test of a new stadium I decided would be if they had some wine on offer... and they had! My fellow beer drinker was similarly excited at the prospect of some Greene King IPA but he gave the verdict “cooking beer, too cold”. The Australian red wine, however, was the nicest I’ve tasted at a football ground, which isn’t saying much, though rather overpriced at £3.80 for 18.75 cl.

Off to our seats and encouraged to hear the team and subs were the same as on Saturday against Exeter. The pitch looked small, and, indeed as if it had been recently narrowed. A sure indication of a poor home team I thought. We started fairly brightly with Bailey, Youga and Sam prominent. Burton managed to get through onto about 4 long balls while the home defence stood and watched but the chances all went as he took too long and allowed chasing defenders/goalkeeper to catch him. Not what we’ve come to expect. There were a couple of instances where low cross from Bailey went flashing across the face of goal with red shirts in attendance but no telling touch was applied. This gave the old feeling that it was only a matter of time – a false one in the end.

Colchester did seem to be winning more of the physical challenges in the middle of the park however, and up front, muscling Dailly and particularly Llera away. It was then that I noticed that Lisbie was deployed wide on Colchester’s right for some reason, which I was quite happy about – he seemed less effective there. He did a few tricks, as we know he can do, but it was all far away from the danger area. So they had a big lump up front and a nippy guy. I felt we missed Semedo as our 5 in midfield was being matched, in determination at least, by their 4.

As has happened so far this season we seemed to be content to rely on the opposition cocking up their chances, one memorable shot from their big guy going for a throw. Then suddenly, after about 20 minutes, we showed them how to find their target. As Llera’s header went goalwards there was that horrible anticipation by the crowd, rising in volume as the ball rolled ever onwards, just beating Elliot’s about turn, sprint and dive. I was in the home end (well, side) in order to accompany some in-laws who reside in Colchester, and can report the locals enjoyed celebration and laughter in equal measure. Having witnessed so many donations this season it was about time we returned the compliment.

Given our form this season I was still confident however, a feeling I’ve not had since the last time we gained a promotion. Llera seemed determined to make up for his error when we had a set piece in their box shortly after. But two minutes later confidence was further tested as our defence again showed its generosity, copying the home efforts when they had earlier given Burton the red carpet treatment. This time, however, with confidence buoyed, their forward found the target. Two nil. Deja vu from when Pardew’s team came to this town. A feeling of bubble bursting was stirring uncomfortably in my loins. On that occasion we fought back and could’ve won it. It would need a similar effort after the break.

The rest of the first half swung slowly towards the home side as they won the physical challenges and our wide men were less and less effective. Burton looked isolated more and more. When the second half started and I saw Richardson walk slowly over to take a throw-in I could see the required determination was not going to materialize and I feared the worst. So many of our players were not having the impact on the game that we know they can have. Only Racon seemed to be at his normal level. Bailey was not seeing so much of the ball. I began to work out what subs should be coming on, picking out Spring as a bit of a weak link – Racon seemed to be yearning for Semedo to be alongside him.

But poor old Parky, taunted by the home fans to tell them the score, was overtaken by events. Elliot, who had earlier caught or punched dangerous balls away well, came and failed to deal with another long ball (the pitch must have been small as goalkeeper’s kicks were regularly landing in the opposite penalty area), and yet again the balls ‘stuck’ instead of being cleared. In the ensuing melee their striker managed to flick the ball with his right foot towards our unguarded goal. Three nil, game over. We really didn’t look like coming back now.

Parky rang the changes now and things improved a bit but too little, too late: Spring made way for McLeod and we went 4-4-2 – initially lively but too quickly petered out; Llera was finally put out of his misery, and will have felt somewhat uncomfortable as some prodigious leaping by his replacement, Sodje, repeatedly headed away from their big guy up front – Llera may have to rely on Sodje’s injury, which flared up again as the game wore on, to get his place back (ed note: Sodje is off soon for the Nigeria squad). The only other incidents of note I can remember were yellow cards for Burton (lashed out a bit in frustration at continually failing to beat his marker) and Shelvey (charged into an opponent (and a team mate I thought), nearly getting a red card). Can’t remember their keeper having to do too much. We were outfought. I think maybe we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by the poverty of the teams we’ve played so far this season – we seemed to expect opponents to wilt in front of us. With Aidy Boothroyd stamping his image on his team we never earnt the right to play.

So the depressing feeling of defeat was with us again after several months’ absence, exacerbated by being kept in for 30 minutes in the car park while the tiny crowd dispersed, and then having to drive through several villages while the A12 was being resurfaced in places, and then getting to the A20 junction and finding it was closed. Why do these things only happen after a defeat?

Player ratings:

Elliot: 7/10 – would’ve been 6 but he was dominant in the air, at least until the third goal.
Richardson: 7/10 – got forward well for a change and one of the few to have a decent game
Youga: 6/10 – too often found wanting in defence, though did get forward well in the early stages
Dailly: 6/10 – not as dominant as we’ve come to expect
Llera: 4/10 – bit of a mare for him, discord in the back for (that I saw early signs of against Exeter) was centred on him
Spring: 5/10 – failed to fill in for Semedo quite so well as against Exeter – with Llera, will cause Parky to think about reshuffling the team for the first time this season
Racon: 7/10 – looked stylish in possession and determined in defence but couldn’t do it all on his own
Sam: 6/10 – showed his usual skill but not enough end-product. Happening too often
Baliey: 6/10 – good work and our most likely outlet but in the end not effective. 6 maybe a bit harsh but his early work didn’t result in a goal.
Shelvey: 6/10 – not effective enough, failing to chase to win the ball back after losing it too often
Burton: 5/10 – it was too easy for Colchester’s defenders and he fluffed several chances in our early dominant period.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Take The Win And Move On

We managed to make hard work of that one. Or rather it seemed like we wanted it to be easy and Exeter weren’t simply content to play patsie. The instructions seemed to be blow them away early and coast the game, to save energy for the two away trips coming up next week. And it nearly worked, as in the first 25 minutes we must have had at least 10 attempts on goal. But nothing went in and by the time the first goal came, shortly before half-time, we had lapsed into some pretty ordinary stuff, which continued for most of the second before we were gifted what turned out to be the winner.

Shock, horror, a change to the starting XI. Semedo was presumably unfit and was replaced understandably by Spring. No real problem there – and Spring went on to have a fine game – but the only concern was whether this would disrupt the team, in particular Racon, who has looked very comfortable alongside Jose so far this campaign. In the event it mattered little, which is credit to Spring. Although over the final two-thirds of the game we were pretty poor, I’d put this down more to an apparent desire to conserve energy than the change to the team.

We did come out of the blocks well and to borrow another cliché if it was a boxing match .... With Sam causing problems down the right and Exeter both unable to hold the ball and carrying no evident attacking threat we could easily have been two or three up. There were no glaring misses, just a succession of half-chances. Bailey and Youga put in superb crosses which weren’t finished off, while a free kick in a very dangerous position on the edge of the box saw Shelvey shoot weakly (is there something in his contract which says he has to take every attacking free kick and corner?).

Without at least one goal for our efforts and the early storm seen off, not surprisingly Exeter came more into it. And while not looking especially dangerous they were assisted by some individual mistakes. Richardson was caught out badly once and later gave away an unnecessary corner which produced a powerful header well cleared on the line by Bailey, while Llera, who again looked dominating for most of the time, horribly misjudged one cross (was the sun in his eyes?) which almost let them in.

By now the crowd were getting restless and it came as a little surprise when we took the lead. A short corner was well played in and Bailey managed a deft touch to convert. Relief all round and at the break it seemed like one more and we could all go home happy.

Unfortunately even against modest opposition scoring goals often requires effort – and for most of the second half that was lacking. Pass and move is great, but pass and stand still kind of defeats the object. Too often players were static and when one – most often Racon – tried to raise the tempo and make things happen they ended up isolated. There were good moments, but not the sustained control of the game we saw early on. And Exeter again grew in confidence. Their left-winger was a problem all afternoon and again mistakes crept in. Elliot, who otherwise had a fine game, made a complete hash of one cross and was fortunate to see the ball headed over. They did open us up through the middle once, but the effort was ruled offside.

McLeod came on, this time for Burton rather than Shelvey. And after an indifferent start he was to show Deon’s talent for being in the right place as Exeter gifted us a second. Shelvey found himself in a good position on the left but put in a poor cross. Instead of one of the three defenders hoofing it clear, their keeper came and palmed it out to around the penalty spot, straight to McLeod’s feet. For a forward who the manager says just needs a goal to really kick on you couldn’t ask for much more. He didn’t miss. (It’s a small point, and I’m delighted with the way we are playing this season, but it’s evident that at this level you are often gifted goals and sometimes just getting the ball into dangerous areas is enough to produce mistakes.)

That we all thought was game over. Wagstaff came on for Racon, with Sam – who was anonymous in the second half – switching to the left and Bailey moving inside, presumably to shut up shop. Instead a shot was pushed out by Elliot, who then managed to turn to follow-up over the bar. And there was still time for a cross to be headed home to give Exeter some hope. The goal came as the fourth official was signalling three minutes of injury time and, with a little messing around by the corner flag, the time was played out, with Sodje coming on in the final seconds (did this extend the game as I reckon the officials added at least five minutes). As he’s off for the Nigeria squad I trust this won’t prove to be the shortest appearance in a Charlton shirt (and as noted in the programme, with Llera only one booking away from a suspension we could have problems in the games ahead).

So, general relief at the final whistle and, although it wasn’t a great display overall, if it was a win negotiated without too much exertion that’s fair enough. We will find out over the coming week. I didn’t much care about Leeds’ last-minute winner; it’s far too early to be that concerned about whether we are first or second - and in any event whether we are top next Saturday will be down to how we cope with the next two away games.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Sound overall but loses a point for the misjudged cross.

Richardson: 7/10. Was up against a tricky winger and was found out once or twice, but kept at it and got forward well in the second half.

Youga: 8/10. Solid defensively and got forward well throughout the game.

Llera: 7/10. As with Elliot, loses a point for one bad moment, but generally impressive.

Dailly: 8/10. I thought he had an excellent game, good interceptions and a calming influence.

Bailey: 8/10. Scored the goal, headed off the line, plus some dangerous crosses. Hope the investigation from Norwich comes to nothing.

Spring: 8/10. I’d make him my man of the match. Read the game well and kept things ticking over, with a couple of very timely tackles.

Racon: 7/10. Never stopped trying to make things happen, but ended up down some blind alleys, usually through lack of support.

Sam: 7/10. Very good early on, but disappeared from the game in the second half as we struggled to get things working going forward.

Shelvey: 6/10. Not especially good today, shot wide from a good position. Might claim an assist for the second goal, but it would be stretching a point.

Burton: 7/10. Some very good link-up play, but was tiring in the second half (maybe feeling the nose?).

Subs: McLeod (7/10 – wasn’t setting the game alight, but was in the right place for the second); Wagstaff (6/10 – no time to have a real impact); Sodje (10/10 – didn’t put a foot wrong).

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Happy Coincidence Of Interest?

With a signed copy of Lennie’s book in my sweaty palm, looks like an early night with a mug of cocoa for me. Can’t wait. The great man was looking very well and of course we wish him every success with Bristol Rovers – although not to the extent of denying us promotion, or to letting them have Chris Dickson for less than his true worth (on that one perhaps it would be in our interest to let the player himself decide an appropriate valuation; I still harbour hopes that he could return as there’s no doubt he has something, but the odds on that now would seem to be pretty long).

Promotion for us this season – or bust (if not bust the forced sale of a number of players, again). That would seem to be the (albeit very welcome) message from news of the investment of £7m in the club from seven directors. The board must have been well aware ahead of the transfer deadline that the prospective Varney takeover was either dead in the water or close to it. That would have left the directors with a clear choice: sell players and accept that rebuilding will take some years (if £7m is the estimated shortfall it would have taken more than Shelvey going), take the offer on the table (if it ever was on the table) and avoid player sales but see your investment wiped out, or stump up the further cash necessary to fund the club on current plans “throughout the 2009/10 campaign”.

The negative interpretation is that despite cuts made since relegation we are some way away from balancing the books, which given the pre-deadline player retention had looked likely in any event. As things stand, therefore, a failure to get promoted this season will mean more of the same – decisions on fresh expenditure cuts and/or fresh investment. We haven’t fully adjusted to being a third-tier club and are not counting on remaining one. The board must clearly be praying that Parkinson delivers.

Before merited praise of the directors’ actions is delivered, let’s just be a little realistic for a minute. If I was faced with the choices that seemed to confront the board over the past couple of months, and assuming I could write the cheque, the splendid start to the season would seem to make further investment a sensible decision purely on the grounds of personal interest. No takeover, no fresh investment, and player sales would have risked killing off thoughts of promotion this season at least, which could in turn have seen season ticket sales for next season fall sharply (along with merchandise income etc). On that basis the value of the directors’ personal investment would remain very low for the foreseeable future. A takeover which (if reports are to be believed) would have meant no return for the current shareholders (ie the board) would on the face of it give all the potential upside (in the club’s value) to the incoming owners. Instead, a collective new investment of £7m could, if the club is promoted, see the value of the directors’ total investment rise significantly. On that reading putting in £7m and betting on promotion rather than handing over the club for nothing (for them personally) looks like a perfectly sensible decision in view of the start to the season we have made.

This isn’t being cynical. The board, while acting collectively in the best interests of the club (which as directors they are legally obliged to do), is made up of individuals who have to give some consideration to the investment they have made. There has to be potential conflict of interest in any company which is run by the people that own it (or strictly speaking own the vast majority of it). It’s not an unusual situation. In this context, for the board to have turned down an offer for the club (assuming there was a concrete one) which could have been in the interests of the club but not necessarily themselves might have raised concern. To turn one down and to then provide what was needed to keep the club going without player sales would seem to me to be a happy coincidence of interest for all concerned (including us fans).

While joining those in expressing thanks to the directors for stumping up, there is even now an information shortfall (which will no doubt be addressed in due course). We are informed that seven directors have provided fresh investment totalling £7m. But no word yet whether that is in new shares, in additional debt for the club, or some other instrument. The club statement said that “significantly, the directors who had previously agreed to apply some of this investment to purchase the training grounds have now agreed not to complete those purchases ... as a measure of their commitment to the club, as well as putting in fresh money”. I’m just not quite sure what the real difference is between buying an asset (which if memory serves correct the club had the option to repurchase) and investing in the company that owns the asset, whether in the form of equity or debt. Also, the statement referred to the training grounds, not all the transactions previously mentioned (which included some property close to the ground). Are these still going through?

It is reasonable to suppose that a future sale of the club would be cleaner if it was evident that it still had ownership of the training ground. According to Chappell, “attracting new investment into the club continues to be our primary objective”. This is somewhat stronger than the normal attitude of being open to any realistic offers, so the whole issue of a takeover is (understandably) not going to go away. Chappell did note that “there has been a degree of frustration among supporters at the lack of information” through recent months but that “legal and corporate obligations have restricted what we have been able to say”. Fair enough, no-one expected chapter and verse to be made public, but given the time involved and the ongoing speculation simple and brief statements of fact would not have hurt the club, or I imagine contravene confidentiality. And in a piece touching on conflict of interest, while we have directors who are fans and investors, and supporters, the club also has shareholders who are not directors.

Perhaps this does lead to supporting a case for a supporters’ trust – not as some antagonistic pressure group, or to replace the work being done by the fans’ forum, but to amalgamate the interests of small shareholders and season ticket holders (and other fans). With my partner Suzanne in London last week I couldn’t make the meeting to discuss options (and haven’t read up on the outcome), but maybe there’s a case.

With thanks to Uttlesford Addick for the Norwich report, it will be back to long-winded and inaccurate assessment come Saturday. The news of Norwich’s last-gasp equaliser put me so out of sorts that I had to have another bottle of anaesthetic and completely forgot to put out the plum jam and mulberry sauce to accompany the duck (yes, a l’orange if shoving one inside said bird is what it amounts to). No more pain on Saturday please.

Saturday 19 September 2009


As Blackheath Addick couldn’t make the match he has subcontracted the task to me - Uttlesford Addick. Living in East Anglia myself now he felt I wouldn’t just fill the blog with unnecessary jokes about people from the more rustic parts of the country. In fact I was proudly saying to my sister as I set off for the match “Hey mum, isn’t it great I’m going to be on the Interweb”.

Visiting Norwich is like visiting a friendly aunt – it’s a fine place with friendly people and good beer. To make sure I didn’t get the wrong impression of rural folk they even had Morris dancers in the square. Presumably this was the warm up act before the bear bating and witch burning. Since I was here last however (Kinsella winning rocket with his left foot if I remember correctly), the aunt has had a major facelift, silicon injections – the lot. Instead of the old Coleman’s factory and the old munitions work we get Riverview Heights executive homes and instead of the worst boiled burger I ever tasted (1985) we get Delia’s delectable pies.

I thought it was going to be a tough one and so it proved. On a steamy day and with a new manager Norwich were always going to be up for it. An unlucky defeat to MK Dons on Monday only added to their ardour. There were a few changes to the line-up from the previous 7 matches … well OK it was only the mascots that were different. At the start Norwich were fast and direct, firing in crosses to Grant Holt from all directions. We looked OK until an almighty goalmouth scramble after 10 minutes with the ball somehow hacked to safety. On 10 minutes we started to get things together and after some Racon and Sam interplay Sam jinked to the byline and got in a low cross but the lead was soon to come. On 17 minutes Sam and Richardson combined dangerously and Sam’s cross was charged down for a corner. Shelvey took the corner and as the big men all failed to make contact there was Burton to score with a superb diving header from 12 yards.

After a bit more Norwich pressure Charlton took control. Sam was a thorn in their side during this spell and cut inside to shoot with his left foot. The keeper saw it late and made a good save but the best bit soon came. After a bout of Norwich crosses Charlton broke and the ball came to Sam who made it to the byline and crossed sweetly. Shelvey with the ball almost behind him managed to steer the ball to his left with his head. It was so sweetly placed that the keeper didn’t bother to move 2-0. The supporters were singing “we want seven” and we just had to see out the half when on 43 minutes Richardson put the ball safely into touch to wind down the clock. Unfortunately they were alert and a quick throw found Hoolahan who raced clear and despite a lunge from Llera scored at the near post.

The second half was frankly a frenzy of Norwich pressure after a quiet first 10 minutes. The midfield was being stretched or bypassed as Shelvey ran out of steam. Bailey who got involved in some shenanigans before the break looked frustrated and tired as the heat got to him and apart from a weak shot from Shelvey we didn’t show the guile to get through their ordinary looking defence. The crosses were pouring in and Elliot handled superbly or punched when he had to. He also pulled off a miraculous save with 10 minutes to go, the ball flying up from a volley. On 85 minutes McLeod (on for the tiring Shelvey) was put through on the left after some excellent work by Youga. Cutting in he shaped to curl a shot into the far corner but missed when he should have scored.

Despite the relentless pressure the defence looked composed and confident until the last minute when a deep cross came in from our right. Elliot saw the danger and went to punch with Dailly in attendance but the ball bounced off Holt’s head and bobbled slowly over the line. The Norwich supporters celebrated like they had won the game and in fairness with the amount of possession and chances they had they probably deserved their point. As for us a win would have been magnificent given the pressure but if we can get away points against the top teams (and Norwich will be one of them) and keep winning at home then there’s nothing to get upset about.

At this point I should probably comment on electoral reform or the French third division but frankly I know fuck all about them so here are my ratings.

Elliot 8/10 Good handling under pressure and two superb saves but should he have punched the ball away having made the decision to come for their equaliser ?

Richardson 8/10 Strong and did well against the excellent Hoolahan but should have been more alert to the throw-in that cost us the first goal

Youga 8/10 Looked calm and with Bailey out of sorts had a lot of work to do

Bailey 6/10 The fracas seemed to get to him and he was at walking pace by the end.

Llera 7/10 Some excellent last ditch tackles. He looked commanding at times

Dailly 7/10 Did his job well and even went charging up the field in the (vain) hope of a through ball in the first half

Semedo 8/10 Did what he does well and was often our calmest during the storms

Racon 7/10 Caught on the ball a couple of times but had his work cut out in the second half when the forward players tired and no easy outlet

Shelvey 8/10 Looked a different class before he tired. Took his goal well

Sam 9/10 Thrilling at times during the first half . Took the ball to the line or jinked inside and kept their defenders guessing.

Burton 9/10 An almost faultless game. Holding the ball well, bringing in other players, winning headers he had no right to win and a great goal.

Wagstaff 6/10 Came on for Sam but didn’t really help to ease the pressure when we needed him to

McLeod 6/10 A golden chance to seal the game but blew it.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Reality Check, But No Cause To Panic

Two points dropped or a point gained? Like most 1-1 draws you look back and think about missed opportunities – and there’s no doubt that having got back on level terms early in the second half we went on to create the chances to have kept the winning run going. But they didn’t go in when we were on top and at the end we were, if not hanging on at least looking less likely to win it than Southampton. So no real complaints – and certainly no cause for panic. Southampton were a cut above any other team I have seen us play against this season and their robust style caused us problems, with some key players below par, perhaps because they weren’t allowed the opportunity to play they enjoyed in other games.

However, in truth the problems today stemmed from the defence – and in particular Llera. He has been superb in other games for us, but today let’s just say he had a bad day at the office. In the first half he was pulled out of position too easily, beaten on the ground too easily, and ended up often chasing shadows. It affected his game generally (resulting in poor clearances) and seemed to unsettle the whole defence and team. It’s clearly wrong to blame one player, with some others not looking as assured as in other games – Semedo was far less conspicuous than previously, Bailey and Shelvey struggled to win their battles, and Racon became embroiled in the physical aspect of the game and seemed flustered. But the result of uncertainty in defence was an inability to consistently control possession and the game. And unlike other matches this season I was nervous towards the end as Southampton looked quite capable of snatching a winner. Maybe for that we should just give the opposition some credit.

With Bailey and Racon passed fit it was the same starting line-up, with no surprises on the bench either. It was clear from the opening exchanges that Southampton were up for the game and they almost took the lead in the first few minutes. Appeals for offside went begging as a Southampton player stole in at the near post and it took an excellent block by Elliot to deny them. As the game settled we started to dictate and push them back, but the relative simplicity of their game plan – they were far happier than us with the ball in the air and to break up play – worked against real dominance, especially with a referee reluctant to produce a card for persistent fouls. Our passing during this period wasn’t crisp enough and although there were good moments – Sam was played in superbly but was muscled out, perhaps unfairly – we didn’t create a clear opportunity. As the half drew to a close Southampton did. A dangerous ball in from the right needed only a touch from one of them, who had got in front of their market, to divert it past Elliot.

We hadn’t played well enough in the first half for this to be any sort of injustice, especially given the uncertainty in defence, and the assumption was some choice words at the break from Parkinson. But there were no signs of any change to the pattern early on. Just when concern was mounting we were, as before this season, gifted a goal. We worked a good position down the left, but the cross seemed to be easy for their keeper. I guess he collided with their defender, or they left it for each other, because instead of being gathered the ball went through to Burton, who made meaningful enough contact to put it in the net. A present for sure, but who cares?

Over the next 20 minutes we went on to create the chances that should have won us the game. We had the ball in the net twice, only to be denied by the linesman’s flag. I’ll need to see replays to be sure. The first one was a delightful ball in from the left which Burton perhaps should have buried but his touch on was then finished off at the far post, by Shelvey I think. It’s quite possible the second touch was offside. The second looked to me like a good goal, with a ball from the right finding a player (I really don’t know which one and I’m not going to guess as like most others I was jumping up and down at the time) stealing in at the far post to put it away. Bailey was played through but a poor first touch saw the chance go betting. And finally Youga went on a mazy dribble that took him past the entire defence only for his shot to come back off the post.

However, nothing went in and counted and towards the end Southampton came back into it, with a few substitutions giving fresh legs (Chris Perry departed with a well-deserved reception from the Charlton fans). Sam landed awkwardly and seemed to turn an ankle, with Wagstaff coming on. But that was the only change we made. I thought that there was a case for bringing on McLeod for Shelvey towards the end to perhaps give us fresh impetus, but that didn’t happen. And through this period we continued to struggle to contain their attack, holding out the risk of losing late on. An always fractious encounter saw one melee and there were injuries and stoppages – which made the decision to add on four minutes at the end nothing more than a joke. But at least the referee bottled the major decisions, as Southampton had a fair shout for a penalty late in the day.

At the close there was a feeling of what might have been, given our period of dominance and chances, but also an awareness that against tough opposition today we came up a little short to truly complain. Again, I think a large part of this was because we were uncomfortable in defence.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. Another superb save and no chance with their goal. Missed once cross, but otherwise very sound – and deserves an extra mark for some excellent early distribution which set up promising attacks.

Richardson: 8/10. Caught out once, but otherwise an excellent game. Got forward well.

Youga: 7/10. A few odd moments, including a booking for deliberate handball, but his run would have been another goal of the season contender had the shot not come back off the post.

Dailly: 7/10. Some good interceptions, but has to take some responsibility this time for the defence not looking as composed as in other games.

Llera: 5/10. Sorry, but this was a poor display – in contrast to what has gone before. He was exposed early on and it seemed to unsettle him for the rest of the match. One to look at the tapes and work on it, but also one I trust just to put down to a bad day at the office.

Bailey: 6/10. Usual committed display, but missed an excellent chance to (probably) win the game.

Semedo: 6/10. Here too it may be a case of giving the opposition credit, but he seemed far less effective than in recent games and seldom featured with the ball.

Racon: 7/10. Some excellent touches and took some rough treatment in a physical encounter. But seemed that it got to him and didn’t always choose the best option, especially some simpler distribution to Sam when their full back was struggling (after being tackled heavily by Richardson).

Sam: 8/10. Always a threat and should have had better service in the second half especially. Hopefully the injury won’t prove serious.

Shelvey: 6/10. Not his best game. With the play often fragmented and Southampton bypassing midfield struggled to impose himself.

Burton: 8/10. It may have been a lucky goal, but he’s there to score them. Also some excellent hold-up play and distribution.

Subs: Wagstaff (6/10: No real influence on the game in the time he was on).

Pardew: 8/10. He may not deserve it, but he seemed to take the period abuse well enough and sent out his team in the right frame of mind to get a result.

Friday 11 September 2009

Pre-Match Nerves

For the first time since the start of the season it would appear we have team selection issues for the next game, given doubts over whether Bailey and/or Racon will be fit. It’s great (and something of a contrast to the past three seasons) to have a settled side – and to have options in reserve. But if either or both don’t make it there will need to be decisions made over whether to simply draft in replacements or whether the shape of the team gets altered.

If Bailey is not fit, Parkinson would seem to have the choices of playing McKenzie wide left (which would be a tad ironic, given his interview in The Mercury about looking forward to playing as a central striker), opting for the youthful promise of Holden, or bringing in Wagstaff from the start and playing either him or Sam on the left side. All are possible and there’s little point in suggesting a preferred option, given I have no idea how the new arrivals are shaping up in training. What is perhaps more worrying is compensating for the work that Bailey does in defence, which will be hard to duplicate.

If Racon doesn’t make it, the obvious choice would be to bring in Spring as a straight replacement. The alternative would be to switch Bailey (if fit) inside and choose one of the above options for wide left. That’s one that’s down to Parkinson and how he feels about who would play best with Semedo, whose partnership with Racon is clearly something we don’t want to be disturbed. I guess it would be a slap in the face for Spring if he didn’t get the nod, and on the grounds of minimal disruption it looks like the sensible option.

If neither Bailey nor Racon are fit, it would raise the broader question of whether to revert to 4-4-2, perhaps with Shelvey occupying a wide position rather than playing in the hole. That would seem to be down to whether Burton and one of McKenzie, McLeod or Dickson (unless he does go out on loan to Gillingham) are striking up a good partnership on the training ground.

Clearly we have to hope that all are fit and there are no changes. If it ain’t bust .... And Parkinson deserves the benefit of any doubt with his decisions if changes are enforced. I just don’t want his manager of the month bubbly (or more pertinently my weekend) to be spoilt by losing to Pardew.

He’s bound to get a lively reception, but I won’t be joining in any booing. We embraced him as the potential saviour when he came to us – and he nearly pulled it off. Were it not for that linesman’s decision in injury time against Fulham it all might have been so different. What happened subsequently revealed his shortcomings as a manager, but nobody’s perfect and perhaps he will learn from mistakes. We won’t look back on his tenure with anything but pain and sorrow, but that doesn’t in my book give rise to booing (compared with a greedy git who leaves the club for bigger riches elsewhere – yes, I do mean you Darren Pitcher). I guess there is a case for alienation on the grounds of his attempt in the media to present himself as the ‘former West Ham manager’ rather than a ‘failure at Charlton’, but it’s a close call. Let’s just beat Southampton and leave Pardew to his own world.

Pardew’s return does raise one issue in my mind. In the early games in The Championship after relegation we had a strut and arrogance about us, which came from the manager and the players. We outclassed a number of teams and for a while a return to The Premiership looked highly likely. Then it appeared that visiting teams both upped their game against us and worked out better how to stop us playing (you might say they worked on our shortcomings, including an inability to score or to prevent goals against, which is not a happy combination). There has to be a danger that this will be the case this time around. We haven’t yet come up against a team determined to shut us down and defending in numbers. Hopefully it will become clear that teams in this division are just not good enough to adapt their game to stopping us, but we’re in the spotlight now and there to be shot at. If we have to change the team for Saturday it might just provide the occasion for less coherence than of late against stubborn opposition that may still have a residue of Championship class.

I hope this all proves to be just pre-match nerves and that the evidently better spirit among the players (is this installed or just the result of winning games?) will see us through. I am really encouraged by the attitude they are showing during and after games and if Bailey and Racon aren’t a part of it on Saturday it’s up to the replacements to make sure it’s business as usual.

Just one more cautionary note. Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, saw their splendid start to the season (three straight wins to top the league) suffer its first hiccup with a 0-1 home defeat against Montpellier B. Some day we’re going to lose. Let it not be tomorrow (or the week after and the week after that for that matter).

Saturday 5 September 2009

Five Sublime Minutes Enough To Win

With neither the greasy spoon nor the glass of wine before the game helping to assuage my hangover, I was grateful for another well-contested but ultimately quite comfortable win. There are days when high excitement and nail-biting finishes are very enjoyable, but I’m pleased this was not one of them. Although better than Walsall, Brentford lacked a real cutting edge and, like Walsall, their best chances came when we were coasting at 2-0 up. Having been gifted the opener, the game was all but won with a five-minute spell of sublime possession and movement which bamboozled Brentford and ended with Burton playing in Sam, who finished like a man who’s forgotten what it’s like not to score. The game was worth it for that spell alone.

Same starting line-up once again, with Sodje named as one of the subs, while of the forwards Dickson remained out of the picture (the programme contained a piece outlining the prospect of him going out on loan), with McLeod, Wagstaff and Tuna named; presumably McKenzie needs a little time to get up to speed. The early exchanges were quite even, with Carl Court always offering Brentford an outlet, and we were taking some time to get into our stride. Then just as the crowd were getting a little restless Brentford gave us the lead. A cross-field ball into the box in the direction of Sam produced a weak header by their full-back, which left Sam clear. Instead of shooting from a narrow angle he looked up and squared it to Burton in acres of space. I’m not quite sure what happened next as with a goalkeeper and defender on the line Burton’s effort didn’t seem to go cleanly into the net. Never mind, everyone was soon celebrating, so it must have gone in.

The goal settled us down and the midfield started to click into action. Brentford tried to respond, but some promising situations came to nothing, thanks to a general reluctance on their part to shoot, some timely tackles, and the occasional great block, especially one from Semedo after their winger had got to the byline. Charlton seemed to have a point to prove and embarked on that spell of pass and move, as if to demonstrate that if they were so inclined they could outclass their opponents. The ball was worked forward and back and around, finally it was played to Burton who deftly played in Sam, who buried it in the corner. When the DVD of this season comes out I hope they have the sense to include the whole period of play, not just the end result.

Brentford faced embarrassment and responded with a couple of crude tackles, one on Burton and an especially poor one on Bailey, which might have merited more than a yellow card. In both cases, with our player receiving treatment we had to take the resulting free kicks down to 10 men. Silly rule, when there is no flexibility allowed. Nevertheless, we saw out the remainder of the half without much further incident.

It was surprising that Brentford didn’t really up the pace early in the second half, as they needed a goal to get back into the game. But I guess most teams at this level don’t really have a higher gear. As it was we had the chances to put the game to bed, but this time didn’t take them. Bailey and Youga twice created mayhem down the left and squared first to Burton, who shot badly wide, then to Shelvey, who hit over. A third goal and we could have really relaxed, but as it was Brentford weren’t entirely out of it and, with Court giving Llera some problems, Charlie MacDonald coming on, and their left-winger tricky, Brentford enjoyed their best spell in terms of chances. The real one came when Court escaped his marker and got on the end of a cross. The header had goal written all over it, but Elliot pulled off a wonderful reaction save to turn it away.

They did also hit the bar from a free kick, and deserve credit for sticking to their task, but as the game came to a close we were pretty comfortable. Most of the time Brentford were let down by poor delivery from set pieces. Wagstaff had come on for a tiring Sam, while McLeod replaced Shelvey – and caused problems with his pace. He almost scored having worked his way into the box, their keeper pulling off a good save, and when he did put the ball in the net was ruled just offside. Pleasing to see he looked up for taking the opportunity, with McKenzie now waiting in the wings.

So that was it. Another game, another win. And next up its former West Ham manager Alan Pardew. Have to think about what reception he deserves; let’s not forget he was the near-saviour for us when he joined, and no doubt he didn’t want to fail in the following season-and-a-half. I’ll settle for another win and let Pardew well alone to see if he can learn from his mistakes.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. Would have been a 9 for that fantastic save, but has to lose a point for coming for and missing a couple of the more dangerous crosses.

Richardson: 8/10. I thought he had an excellent game. Got forward much more than in previous appearances, to good effect.

Youga: 7/10. Decent enough game and worked well with Bailey down the left.

Llera: 7/10. Not as comfortable and assured as in some other games, with Cort providing a very physical challenge, but won the headers that mattered.

Dailly: 7/10. Caught out a couple of times, but generally calm and assured – except when berating Llera once or twice. Good to see they care and three goals conceded in six games, with four clean sheets, speaks for itself.

Bailey: 7/10. Seemed to struggle to get going in the mixed early period of the game, but came into it more either side of the break and put in the usual committed display.

Semedo: 9/10. My man of the match again. Another splendid display of helping to protect the defence, including a great block when we were in danger, plus good work going forward and astute use of the ball.

Racon: 7/10. Not bad at all; one move which he instigated down the right in the second half could have resulted in a goal even better than the second we scored.

Sam: 8/10. A constant threat and took his goal superbly. To go from can’t score to three in two games has to give him a good boost.

Shelvey: 7/10. A mixed game, should have scored, but he gets involved in so much of what we do.

Burton: 7/10. His goal was handed to him on a plate, but you’ve got to be in the right place to score them; he was in the right place again in the second half but missed badly. Otherwise generally good work bringing others into the game.

Subs: Wagstaff (7/10 – well, he can’t score straight after coming on every time); McLeod (8/10 – looked lively and dangerous, good to see that he’s still got something to offer us).

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Positive Deadline Day Shock

I just wanted to be the last to add my voice of congratulations to Parkinson and the board for what was and wasn’t done yesterday. As others have commented, and as outlined on the club site, we brought in players in positions where we were light and kept everyone we wanted to. I don’t know anyone who’s responded negatively to what’s been done – and it’s all left me in much better spirits. After all, we are well aware what transfer deadline day has done to us in the past - most obviously Scott Parker (which was not our finest hour as we had ample time to line up a replacement as it had been clear for some time he was off) but also for me the last-second transfer out of Dannie Murphy (which effectively marked the end of the final strong team put together by Curbs). By contrast it was almost enjoyable watching the BBC site as the minutes ticked down (working from home does have its advantages).

The way that Parkinson has rebalanced the squad compares very favourably in my opinion with the efforts of Pardew a year ago (we’ll draw a discreet veil over Dowie). And you would have got long odds just a few months ago that Bailey, Shelvey, Racon and Semedo would be still with us, so whatever the true state of our finances the board gets top marks again for commitment (indeed, on a risk rating assessment it’s only provision of information where the score is poor). For the fourth season in a row we have reshaped the team and you have to say that the one we have now is, with the possible exception of the first season in the Championship (come on, with the players we had we should have gone back up), it looks like the one best suited to the task in hand – which is now undoubtedly going up. I had thought at the end of last season that such thoughts should be off the agenda, given the finances, although this does mean that it has the appearance of ‘Monte Carlo or Bust’ as a failure now to go up would surely be followed by another necessary round of sales (barring takeover of course).

A quick look back at the changes made throws up very few causes for regret. Of those out of contract (primarily Fortune, Holland, Zhi, Ambrose, Todorov, Weaver, Wright) the need for another year out of Mattie’s legs has diminished, Fortune’s departure has been covered, keeping Zhi (always unrealistic) would have been an expensive luxury if he had ended up competing with Shelvey for the place in the hole, Todorov, while perhaps poorly used last season, was a spent force for us, Weaver was presumably expensive and, while I wish him well, Palace fans will sooner or later realise that Ambrose only scores against Ipswich. Of those sold - Hudson, Gray – both can be considered excellent business (especially given wages) with Llera coming in and Gray’s signing just about the last act by the now-sacked Barnsley manager. Of those sent out on loan, Moutaouakil was clearly out of the picture, and Fleetwood has done nothing for us to date. It’s probably only Kandol and Ward from the end of last season that I might have regretted not being able to bring in permanently (the former not least for the glimpse of a partnership with Dickson).

We now have first-choices and back-ups in most positions: Elliot and Randolph in goal, Richardson and Solly at right-back, Youga and Basey left-back, Llera, Dailley and now Sodje at centre-back (with Semedo, Youga or Basey as emergency cover). Wide-right we have Sam but also Wagstaff pushing him and Shelvey or Bailey possible cover, wide-left it’s Bailey and now Holden. In central midfield the Racon and Semedo partnership is flourishing, with Spring available and Bailey to switch inside if needed. And while it’s 4-5-1 for now at least with Shelvey and Burton, McKenzie, Dickson, McLeod and Tuna are all available either from the start or as subs (I guess there’s still the possibility of one of them going out on loan).

Five games in a row with the same starting line-up, a clear formation and now options to change it as and when required, and a spine to the team (Elliot, Llera, Semedo/Racon, Shelvey/Burton). It’s been a while since we could say that. Of course things are going to go wrong sooner or later, whether through injuries, suspensions or loss of form. But the changes for whatever eventuality would seem clear (provided of course Sodje gets and stays fit).

So it’s positive thoughts all round. All that’s left to do is to sort out an acceptable greasy spoon for Saturday (given the start time), try to resolve the ongoing debate with a fellow Addick about the relative merits of two routes back to Blackheath from the ground (funny how a simple exchange can morph into the philosophy versus science debate and a detailed examination of distances, gradients, travel options, quality of life while walking, and the meaning of language), and to keep sending Suzanne pretty pictures of Norwich (early indications are not encouraging).