Tuesday 28 September 2010

Happy Endings All Round

Obvious enough, but all’s well that ends well – and this time we exited with smiles on our faces. The game provided something of a contrast with Saturday, with us not reaching the highs seen early on against Dagenham but maintaining a more consistent standard through the 90 minutes, the defence collectively and individually proving solid, with the return of a prodigal son assisting, and with rising frustration among the crowd as MKDons had more of the play than us in the second half – and as the referee annoyed everyone with some of his decisions – offset by the late winner.

There’s a curse on my pre-match consumption at the moment. Having been restricted on Saturday by a poor decision on my part, this time it was off at 17.30 to say ‘happy birthday mum, see you in a year’ - or sooner if I need to do some laundry (sad but true), then away at 18.30 to hop on a bus to get to the Rose of Denmark. Should have been a doddle, but having missed the 486 and opted for the next 89, the bloody thing decided to break down at the bottom of Shooters Hill. Made it in time to slug down a glass, but no more.

With something of an injury crisis going on, no-one was sure of the team. In the event Fry came in at left-back, with Jackson playing wide left, and Fortune replaced Llera in the centre alongside Doherty. Wagstaff moved over to the right, Semedo and Racon in the centre of midfield, with Martin teaming up with Benson up front. That kept an emphasis on avoiding a descent to a long-ball game, although the question mark was how fit some of those named on the bench – Reid, Abbott, Sodje - would prove to be if needed.

We clearly had the better of the first half, without setting the game alight. Martin probed, Semedo was strong and effective, Racon alert and active. But Wagstaff barely featured and Benson was struggling to hold/distribute the ball which, with the midfield not exactly bursting forward at every opportunity, resulted in chances proving infrequent. After Saturday we all wanted to see the ball passed and not lumped forward, but for that to happen there has to be options available and space created by movement. When that doesn’t happen defenders on the ball can find they have little choice but to play it long. To their credit they were doing everything to avoid that. Perhaps surprisingly the best chances featured Semedo, who ran on to a through ball only to prove unable to get a clean shot off in time (a goal kick was given and no penalty, so it must have been a decent challenge, but with the ref you just couldn’t tell) and also had a decent effort from outside the box saved. Martin also broke through but having been unable to move the ball beyond the defender checked inside, only to be pulled back by the defender; there was just enough time for others to come into the picture to make the card yellow and not red. The shot from the free kick sparked shouts from the crowd at least for a penalty.

So not much drama, but a decent and encouraging first half, especially with the defence restricting them to a tame header over the bar and a wasted free kick, after another of the ref’s strange decisions (compounded by the fact that he allowed them to take the kick at least a few yards further out than whatever offence there was – and it was clearly a case of their forward backing into Doherty – which improved the chances of getting it over and under; no worries, it went well over). From the defence there was the odd misplaced ball forward, the occasional wayward header, and perhaps a few too many free kicks given away, but all – including Francis, who in my opinion had another excellent game – were generally winning their individual battles, helped by good protection from Semedo and Racon.

There was no obvious change early in the second half, but as the game wore on not surprisingly as the home team the emphasis was on us to make something happen. And as the pressure increased we seemed to be trying to force things, with little success, with the result that MKDons started to get on top, in terms of possession at least. There were a couple of hairy moments, one save from Worner but also a badly spilled ball which caused some panic. But with things not working for Benson and Martin changes were expected. The crowd were calling for Reid, but how fit was he? The first move saw a disappointing Wagstaff replaced by Abbott, with Martin moving out wide. Abbott did give us more of a physical presence, but touch and precision were still lacking. The ref was making so many odd decisions (sometimes in our favour as well) that even the right ones started getting booed, a fair sign of growing frustration in the crowd.

Finally the fans had their way and Reid came on for Jackson. It proved to be decisive late in the day as for once MKDons found themselves caught out numbers wise and Reid delivered a telling low cross from the left. Suddenly there were at least three queuing up to get on the end of it, so woe betide anyone who squandered the chance. As it was, Benson got there first and tucked it away. A lot of his play tonight was disappointing, but he made sure he was in the right place to break the deadlock.

After that it was just a case of whether we would repeat Saturday’s error, but the final few minutes were played out without real alarm and a welcome three points were secured. That only left the decision on who should replace Elliot for the tunnel leap and some well-deserved boos for an inadequate referee. I shall miss Saturday’s game at Brentford as there’s a surprise mother’s birthday party to attend (no, I don’t think there’s much danger of this being seen), but if the defence produces as solid a display as tonight and Benson can nick another I’ll be pleased (come on, we can’t fail to provide another win for my mum).

Player Ratings:

Worner – 6/10. Well protected and had little to do, but loses a mark for the dropped ball. Seems excellent dealing with shots, but command of the area and dealing with high balls musn’t turn into a weakness.

Francis – 8/10. There seem to be mixed opinions on him, but I’m impressed with what I’ve seen. Good game tonight, won the important challenges, crossing decent, and I don’t really care about one or two hurried clearances.

Fry - 8/10. Also deserves praise. Reads the game well, which allows him to make good interceptions.

Doherty – 7/10. Solid and effective, but did induce the ref to award a number of free kicks, whether or not they were bad decisions.

Fortune – 9/10. Let’s give him the man of the match. No mistakes that I saw, sensible assured defending. Seemed to be struggling with a knock in the second half but managed to run it off.

Jackson – 7/10. Did a fair enough job of providing width on the left, clearly not a true winger but he’s not meant to be.

Semedo – 8/10. Thought he was excellent, especially in the first half. Seems to have taken the captain’s responsibilities to heart. Could have scored when seemingly through, but gets marks for getting there.

Racon – 7/10. Surprising that it was Jose and not Therry that was bursting through from midfield, but otherwise good game and kept it going through the 90 minutes.

Wagstaff – 5/10. No getting away from it, he had a poor game. Seems the switch to the right didn’t suit him and struggled to get involved. No surprise he was the first to be taken off, but hopefully just proves to be a bad night for him.

Monday 27 September 2010

Expectations, Expectations

I’ve been struggling a bit over the weekend (OK, let’s keep a sense of perspective, I wasn’t losing sleep – but then again the end of the world would probably not disturb my slumber, which is, I’m led to believe, a sure sign of a clear conscience) to work out why I felt so cheesed off about the game on Saturday. We are well aware that the team is a work in progress, we didn’t lose, and we can’t say we were robbed (the penalty was harsh but not ridiculous). Having pondered the matter, my reaction seems to be down to two related factors and one variable – that being I was in a foul mood anyway due to various non-football matters (including having sacrificed at least one glass of pre-match wine for the fruitless exercise of quizzing technical support in nearby PC World and Currys).

The relevant issues concern the still lingering matter of expectations. For me at least there was a lengthy period of gloom (interspersed with the occasional lighter moments when football wasn’t to the fore) following the play-off defeat. We all knew what was coming player-wise and by around July I think I was ready for a season of struggle, with a focus on survival on and off the pitch. But, as Leonard Cohen commented recently, hope kept breaking out. I was genuinely encouraged by the comments made by Doherty after he signed (yes, he’s a seasoned pro and knows what to say, but they had an air of conviction) and then we picked up Reid on a free. The subsequent filling of certain places kept the mood going, then I was off on hols and while away we won our first two games. Perhaps something good was really going on.

Since returning I’ve seen (leaving aside the irrelevant cup games) a worthy draw with Oldham, a rather fortunate victory over Notts County, and Saturday’s game. In between we’ve been turned over at Huddersfield and lost at Exeter and managed a draw at Tranmere. Something of a reality check on the pitch, while off it some of the contents of the match programmes seemed designed to lower expectations. We should all praise honesty and openness, but from Abbott we had “I may be a journeyman but ... clubs have paid money for me more or less every time” and “I don’t want to sound too big-headed, but I think I’ve done pretty well at each club, perhaps apart from Swansea”. Then on Saturday there was the following classic from Benson: “I’d love to stay in football, but I know that accountancy is always an option for me”. I know there’s nothing to be gained from looking back, but we do have to endure the sight every weekend of former players (and there’s no shortage of them) reopening wounds.

At the same time, we have the club site regularly reminding us how few points we are off the top and/or a play-off place (the sort of useless information that you get with the tasting notes on the wine in cases delivered: ‘best drunk before 2014’ – what are they on? Lucky if it lasts the week), Murray stressing that “I am expecting at least a top-six finish” and that “we must do everything possible to get back into the Championship”. Amen to that, but league positions and aspirations don’t mean much when we are all aware that the imperative is steady improvement on the pitch as they players get used to each other; if that happens the results will follow.

And that’s where Saturday hurt. Because for the first 15-20 minutes (let’s not say the first half, because we took our foot off the gas and let them back into the game well before the break and before we’d finished them off) we played some truly good stuff (admittedly against limited and at the time scared opposition), with Racon and Martin to the fore and Anyinsah and Benson looking lively. Hopes raised again, only to be lowered as we retreated into a shell of hopeful/less long balls. Half-full or half-empty? If we’d held the 2-1 lead the balance might have been in favour of the former. We should perhaps just be encouraged by the demonstration that we can turn it on. Doing it through a game and consistently each match may well be too much to expect just yet; I just hope we don’t lose sight of what is possible.

On the matter of honesty and openness, what about managers giving reasons for substitutions at the time? I had no idea that Anyinsah was taken off at half-time because he’d picked up a strain (I don’t check the club site before writing anything, preferring instead to cobble together impressions of a game, which does mean a tendency to miss key points and the occasional mistake over who did what) and this did influence how I interpreted the second-half performance. A simple ‘substitution for the Addicks .... due to injury’. Of course, true honesty would be too much to hope for (‘substitution for the Addicks ... due to him playing crap’ or ‘because he dissed me in the dressing room’), but sometimes there is confusion in the crowd over a change made for good reason. That reason doesn’t always filter through.

Perhaps the only conclusion (should there be one) is that the problem is mine, not theirs. As long as all are giving of their best we have no real reason to carp – and if they are it is incumbent on us to give of our best too in terms of support. Saturday may have been a slide rather than a rollercoaster, but the season, for a while at least, looks like being the latter. May it end on a high.

(Just for the record, being a grumpy old git was compounded by Jackson’s choice of music at the end of the programme. The selections are usually an endless stream of moronic dirge that passes for popular music these days, but Jackson added Jungleland by Bruce Springsteen. At last, someone with a bit of class in selection – but he went on to apologise for this one being “a bit out there”! The whole world’s mad except thee and me ... and I’m not too sure about thee.)

Saturday 25 September 2010

More A Slide Than A Rollercoaster

I just haven’t had the time to add my sixpennethworth about the anniversary of the ‘last game’ at The Valley. I too had my piece of turf, which survived in a Chinese takeaway dish for about a year. I still have the cuttings that I took; and when I shuffle off this mortal coil and someone goes through my stuff they’ll probably find a bag of what looks like ... well, they will probably conclude that I smoked some very strange stuff in my time. It’s hardly a day to celebrate, but getting Lennie and Robert Lee back was appropriate. Would have been good if the team had delivered the win. Instead what was delivered was the most disappointing of the small number of games I’ve managed so far as a splendid start (not just since we scored) was progressively squandered and then a get out of jail goal at the death wasn’t held on to. If not unforgivable, bloody close. We know we have no divine right to beat anyone, but when for the first 15-20 minutes you demonstrate how much better than the opposition you are, to fail to take the points is criminal.

The team was as against Tranmere. Worner again got the nod over incoming Luke Daniels in goal, while Jackson held onto the left-back berth ahead of Fry, Francis picks himself at right-back, and Doherty and Llera were retained in the centre of defence. Wagstaff and Martin took the wide slots, Racon and Semedo central midfield, and Anyinsah partnered Benson up front. And the opening 10 minutes were a delight. Racon was fully involved and linking up well with Martin in particular, Semedo was controlling midfield, and assisted by their defence (in particular a goalkeeper who seemed totally incapable of reading the flight of a cross, or getting anywhere near one), we could have been three up. Martin cut inside and hit the bar, Wagstaff forced their keeper into a decent save (he seemed OK with shots), and from a corner Doherty headed against the woodwork. Just when you start to think it might be one of those days the goal came. It was a carbon copy of the Doherty header, only this time Llera got on the end of the cross to head in from a couple of yards.

Dagenham & Redbridge were looking like rabbits in the headlights (bottom of the league and without a goal let alone a point on their league travels so far) and yes, if it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped. Trouble is, when you score a goal that simple there’s a tendency to start thinking that all you need to do is sling in a cross and more will come. It was basically downhill from then on as we first took our foot off the pedal. It didn’t seem to matter for a while since as and when we picked up the pace we looked capable of scoring more. But they came into the game more, starting to realise that they weren’t beaten yet. A poor Llera ball forward was returned with interest, only for their forward to shoot tamely, and at least it seemed we would make it to the break ahead, allowing Parkinson to stress that the game wasn’t won yet.

Instead the officials intervened just before half-time (funnily enough until then I though the ref at least was having a good game, playing good advantage on occasions and being largely unnoticed). The ball went out of play for a throw to us, as indicated by the ref, only for the linesman to insistently keep his flag pointed the other way. The ref had been closer to the ball (his ‘assistant’ struggled all afternoon with the idea of keeping up with the play) but allowed himself to be overruled. Ball into box and a rather lame challenge in the air saw their forward change direction. Even though he didn’t look like getting near the ball, the penalty was given. It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it was very soft.

OK, you think during the break, you’ve got to up it again and win the game. Instead we got worse. Parkinson decided to replace Anyinsah with Sodje, even though he’d been causing them problems with his running and looked lively. I’ve no problems with Sodje, but the thinking seemed to be ‘it’s easy to score against them with balls in the air, so we’ll bring on another big guy and hoof it forward’. Racon and Martin became less and less involved and, not surprisingly, with something to cling onto Dagenham were playing with determination. The tables had indeed turned.

Not long into the second half I said I thought we were going to lose, and if it hadn’t been for a couple of good saves from Worner we may well have done. Llera was caught out a couple of times by a more than useful front man (apparently someone they brought in on loan recently) and not only were they looking more determined than us, they were passing the ball better. Wagstaff was replaced by Reid, but that proved to be a cameo as he seemed to pull something and had to be replaced himself maybe five minutes later, with Fry coming on and Jackson moving forward.

The fans were getting more than restless as it appeared that points were going to be thrown away and as we struggled to get anything going through the second half. Just when it seemed we would have to settle for disappointment, on the stroke of 90 minutes we scored. Nothing complicated, but this time the cross (from the left) wasn’t aimed at the keeper’s throat, instead pulled back and an inrushing Jackson had the time to get enough on the header to see it beat the keeper’s dive. At last, praise the lord, let’s get out of here with a win we didn’t deserve. Instead with four added minutes there was still time for them to work the ball down the right and deliver a wicked cross that was converted from a few yards out. That just left the disappointment.

Over the 90 minutes Dagenham deserved their point; they might have claimed all three. That sentence along is damning enough. If you’re going to try to win the game by playing football for 15 minutes you need more than one goal to show for it. And if Parkinson told them at half-time to go long I hope he learns that aimless punts forward aren’t enough to beat anyone. There’s still a lot of improvement to come, we are told, and it starts on Tuesday night. It’s my mum’s birthday, so I’m not the only one hoping for a treat.

Player Ratings (have to say these do look strange, but I’m struggling how to mark players when for many they would have earned 8-9 for the early showing and 4-5 for the second half; perhaps today the truly bad mark goes to whoever determined how we would play in the second half):

Worner: 8/10. Kept us in the game in the second half with a couple of very good saves. Have to watch it again to see if there was any fault for their second goal.

Francis: 7/10. Another impressive display; he looks to me like a very good piece of business.

Jackson: 7/10. Comfortable at the back and goes forward later on to score the goal that should have been the winner.

Doherty: 7/10. Very good game; assured and won most of what he went for. Should have scored with the first header though.

Llera: 6/10. Headed the ball out and in very capably, but was caught out on the ground. Don’t know who was penalised for the penalty.

Wagstaff: 6/10. Bit of a curate’s egg of a game. Lively early on but seemed as though scoring three in the league already meant shooting was a priority over getting quality balls into dangerous areas.

Racon: 6/10. Also impressive in the opening phases, but barely seen in the second half as the ball usually sailed over his head forward or back.

Semedo: 7/10. First-half I had him as our man of the match as he was strong and active, taking the captain’s role with relish. But nothing much worked for anyone in the second half.

Martin: 7/10. Same again. Early in the game seemed capable of beating them on his own.

Anyinsah: 7/10. I couldn’t see the case for taking him off at half-time, but so be it. He emerges with more credit than most for not being involved in the second.

Benson: 5/10. Disappointing. I’ve been quite impressed with him to date, but today it didn’t happen. One decent header in the second half but struggled to hold the ball up (admittedly not easy given the service) and basically didn’t cause problems and wasn’t involved in the key moments. Don’t care about him not scoring yet, just keep the head up.

Subs: Sodje (5/10 – I’m a fan of his and think he’s been unlucky not to have started games recently, but his coming on today didn’t work out). Reid (how can you give a mark for five minutes?). Fry (6/10 – no problems, but did seem to get away with one rather nasty tackle).

Saturday 11 September 2010

Welcome Win, But More Questions Than Answers

Strange game, but there was no point before, during or after when I wouldn’t have taken a 1-0 win with open arms, especially after two defeats. The positive interpretation is that we matched and eventually overcame Notts County, and that the game is all about putting the ball in the net. But there are plenty of other sub-plots and questions raised that make this a satisfying win, but one that says little about how the rest of the season will go. Take it and move on, but sub-plots abound.

The referee was instrumental in much of how the game played out. As ever, you need to see it again to be sure, but I’d bet my house it was a stonewall penalty for us early in the match as their defender got nowhere near the ball in the box and bundled over the forward. A goal then and the edginess might have eased and the game different. And just to top and tail it, when we were wasting time at the death the linesman clearly signalled a corner for us, only to be overruled by the man with the whistle, with the goal kick leading to a last-gasp header in the box that if it had been either side of Elliot would have levelled up the scores. The ref had two other important decisions to make. First, he booked Hughes early in the game. That had the desired effect of forcing that unpleasant individual to subsequently temper his aggression, which limited his effectiveness. Second, he gave them a penalty, about which there’s no real argument. But Hughes was to crash it down the middle, against Elliot’s legs, and the moment proved not to be decisive (or rather decisive in our favour).

It seemed to me that Parkinson had decisions to make on the starting line-up and there were some surprises. I don’t know if Llera is injured, but with Dailly seemingly out for a while (why on earth did he stay on the pitch against Dagenham & Redbridge?) it was neither him nor Fortune that got the nod. Instead Fry linked up with Doherty, with Jackson returning at left-back. Parkinson stuck with McCormack and Semedo in central midfield and Abbott over Sodje alongside Benson up front, with Reid and Martin providing the width. So be it, but the first half exposed the limitations.

That the first period ended goalless was due to the ref’s decision on our penalty and the excellence of Elliot. We struggled, badly. There were flashes of invention from Reid and Martin, with one late cross almost producing a goal; but Abbott was causing no problems and Benson feeding off scraps, while in the centre of midfield we were being outmanoeuvred. Doherty and Fry were coping pretty well, although one hoof forward from their keeper saw the ball bounce over the first and then Hughes read the bounce better than the second, only to put it over the bar. Otherwise a superb tip around from Elliot kept it level. You have to say that in the first period we didn’t cause them enough problems and looked short of ideas, while struggling to keep them out.

To his credit Parkinson made a necessary change at the break. Racon came on for McCormack and there was a notable improvement, with a spell of early pressure. It didn’t amount to a great deal, however, with no material chances, and before too long it looked as though we would have to come from behind. Reid collected the ball outside our box, but with defenders moving forward inexplicably lost it and set in play a chain of events that saw their forward, well brought down. We got away with a yellow card for it, but were sitting back to accept the inevitable only for Elliot to pull off the save and Hughes powered it down the middle.

The game was at least evenly balanced now and more changes were made. Rather surprisingly the next was Benson departing for Anyinsah rather than Abbot departing. But that followed soon after, with Sodje coming on – with a head bandage that looked like he’d had the entire contents removed after last Saturday’s clash of heads. There’s no getting around it. Sodje made more things happen and with about five minutes left we broke the deadlock.

A throw down the line saw Sodje prevent the defender from intervening, Martin took it on and instead of swinging in a cross played a shorter ball inside for Anyinsah to run on to. He scored through the keeper’s legs. Cue County bringing on a certain Burgess, who looked not so much like a basketball player as a prop forward with the height of a basketball player. Not surprisingly the final minutes were played out with us looking to waste time and them hoofing it into the box. We coped well enough, except for another wild clearance from Reid, until the final seconds after the ref’s second serious gaff. Elliot saved well to preserve the points but from a free header the guy should have buried it.

So, three very welcome points after two defeats. What must worry Parkinson (and me) is that two of his summer signings – McCormack and Abbott – had to leave the scene; and with both change we looked better. We’ll take the win (indeed any win) but it still looks to me that decisions have to be made about how we intend to play, and which players represent our strongest starting XI. One thing that’s not in doubt is that Elliot earned us points today. Fry made a decent case for starting alongside Doherty while Dailly is not available, while Martin and Reid (with Wagstaff available too) remain the class acts and the source of our real strength. How we get the best out of them – in terms of both supplying them with the ball and finishing things off – remains unanswered. I think Benson had a decent game and was unlucky to go off, but with his replacement scoring the winner I’m hardly complaining. Just what the case is for Abbott over Sodje to start is another matter, unless Abbott can show us more or Sodje’s head bandage turns him into a mummy.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. One moment in the second half saw him seem to lose the flight of a ball in and produced an awkward moment. Otherwise it would have been a 10. Penalty save, splendid save in the first half.

Francis: 7/10. Another decent and solid display. Might have given a bit more going forward, but no problems for now.

Jackson: 6/10. No complaints, but seemed a little hesitant on returning to the team and might have offered more going forward.

Doherty: 8/10. Solid and resolute, except for the one over the head that nearly let in Hughes. A lot came his way and he dealt with nearly all of it well.

Fry: 8/10. Impressive first display, especially in tandem with Doherty. More mobile and intelligent tackling. Just a shame about that ... one over their heads.

Reid: 6/10. One of the bright spots in the first half and had moments in the second. Only problem is they included giving the ball away for the penalty, which might easily have cost us the game, and another wild clearance.

McCormack: 5/10. It’s neither his problem, nor Semedo’s, that they don’t look like they can play together. Neither seems to know what to do alongside the other. They’d better get it worked out, because we are really perming two from three in the centre and suspensions and injuries are going to take their toll.

Semedo: 6/10. He had a not bad game, but the first-half failure was just as much down to him as McCormack. Seems much more comfortable with Racon, but that’s not the point.

Martin: 7/10. The guy can clearly play and I hope continues to improve with those around him. Gets an extra point for the pass to Anyinsah for the goal, which showed an awareness that too often was missing from others.

Abbott: 5/10. Just didn’t show enough, or cause them enough problems (I don’t give the opposition scores, but their No 12 was superb).

Benson: 6/10. Would have liked to see him given some time alongside Sodje. Still promising, just hope we don’t wait too long for the first goal.

Subs: Racon (7/10; made a difference in the second half, has to build on it and force his way into the starting XI); Anyinsah (8/10; what can you say when a guy you know nothing about comes off the bench and scores the winner?); Sodje (8/10; made more happen in his time on the pitch than had gone before, just hope the bandage isn’t permanent).

Friday 10 September 2010

Test For County-Charlton Alliance

With the inconvenient interruptions of holidays (which ruled out Bournemouth and Orient), fellow Addicks’ birthday parties (Exeter), a natural aversion to all things north (Huddersfield), and another Amsterdam jolly meaning I’ve managed just one game in anger to date this season (Oldham), and with the Dagenham & Redbridge encounter having had all the feel of a pre-season friendly, I can’t help feeling that for me the season really starts tomorrow. I’m helpfully reminded by the club site that despite one point in three we are still only two points off second spot in the league, but a record of 2-1-2 and a goal difference of zero what was a splendid start has been well and truly balanced. Three home games out of four coming up in the rest of this month could well go some way to setting the real tone for the season, even if the assumption (hope?) is that as the squad gels we will get steadily better.

There do seem to be a few selection issues for Parkinson for tomorrow’s game. Fry or Jackson at left-back? Is Dailly fit? Is Fortune going to get the nod over Llera to partner Doherty if not? Which two for central midfield out of McCormack, Semedo and Racon? Martin or Wagstaff wide right? Sodje or Abbott to partner Benson up front? I’ve got my personal preferences on each count, but I just haven’t seen enough games, let alone how things are shaping up in training, to take issue with any of the decisions. In at least the three central areas of the pitch it has to be about partnerships and which combination works best. None of the possible combinations are established and to some extent that means neither is the style of play.

With Reid, Martin and Wagstaff available, you can make a case for saying that the real strength is out wide, with an emphasis on service to the target man and Benson the intended main goalscorer. That in turn might imply keeping central midfield as secure as possible, with McCormack and Semedo, as seems to be Parkinson’s recent preference, at least away from home (and after Racon had a poor game against Oldham). But to get the best out of wingers they usually need to be fed the ball early and the main impression I came away with from the Dagenham exercise (in addition to a favourable first outing for Benson) was good interplay between Racon and Martin, especially after Therry was lifted by his goal. That wasn’t enough for him to get the nod for Exeter, but again three home games coming up might shift the balance.

Some Addicks may not be fully aware of the strong fraternal bond that exists between Charlton and Notts County. The Charlton-County alliance was forged in opposition to a Brighton-Wrexham ‘axis of evil’ in days of yore at university. The drive down from Sheffield to Meadow Lane to watch The ‘Pies was a regular excuse to drop into the County supporter friend’s aunt’s place pre-match for cod and chips. If proof of the goodwill between the two clubs was needed it was provided in buckets by a New Year’s Day drive with said friend from London to Nottingham to watch Charlton and County play out a 0-0 draw on a quagmire of a pitch; I don’t think the ball moved more than 10 yards either side of the centre spot all afternoon. Germany v Austria eat your heart out.

The four teams in question have tended to go their separate ways in subsequent years, but life goes in cycles and three of them are back in the same league. We are currently separated from County in the league by just a single goal and the bond means that I will be satisfied with a victory by only one or two (any attempt to explain away a defeat on the grounds of brotherhood will of course be total cobblers).

One thing about having a partner in Lyon and a monthly work-related trip to Amsterdam is that you are constantly trying to book flights to satisfy competing demands (my carbon footprint isn’t exactly commendable, although I’ve never owned a car). Relaxed weekends in Lyon are a delight. Food market, pastis then back for an afternoon of wine and cigars while something is being concocted in the kitchen (no, I’m not that much of a misogynist, I’ll do the same in London) have a certain appeal, especially if rounded off by a Lyon Duchere home game. But making sure they don’t get in the way of the truly important things in life is complicated. A week in October is planned, but there’s Amsterdam early in the month and we’ve got just one home game (before the last day) bang slap in the middle. I’ve a feeling that there’ll be increased work demands coming up that will make it impossible for me to make it to France around the 16th of the month – and if Suzanne believes that she’s a good deal less smart than I believe.

Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, don’t have a home game on either 16 or 23 October, so I can’t see a viable way to combine a trip with increasing my tally of their games. Well, that said they are away at Besancon on the later date. A quick check indicates that it’s somewhere to the east of Dijon, which if not around the corner from Lyon has to be doable. I’ve done some daft away trips in my time (as above, plus Lyon Duchere at somewhere I can’t remember) but this one might need some selling to the power that is, especially as she does the driving. Seems Besancon is a ‘City of Art and History’ and has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 2008, with Wikipedia describing it as having one of the most beautiful historic city centres in France. That might help in promoting the trip, but then skipping the town centre for a France CFA Groupe B football match might be a step too far – unless Suzanne is a good deal less smart than I believe.

A week ago I was going to say it looks like business as usual for Duchere this season. The first four games of the season produced two wins and two defeats, with three goals scored and two conceded. But it seems last Saturday they went and trounced Chasselay 4-1 at home. I don’t feel in a strong position to comment on Chasselay’s defence, but it must be truly pants. The result has lifted La Duch to fourth in the 17-member league, with 15 points from five games (you get a point for turning up). In fact they’re only two points off top spot. Seems both of my teams have a target in mind for Saturday.