Saturday 27 November 2010

Sub-Par All Round

I can’t get enthusiastic about our fortunes in the FA Cup this year at least, and the paltry Valley crowd suggests that many others feel the same. The surprising thing was that the players must like it, as they managed to engineer another game in it to play. If I was Parkinson I’d make sure (injuries permitting) that the same X1 start on a cold evening in Luton. It would serve them right. I’ve nothing against playing within yourself, conserving energy etc; and the run of recent games has left us with some tired legs, along with some injuries. But that’s no excuse for just playing poorly and making a team like Luton look half-decent. On the balance of play, quality of passing, chances created, a replay was the least Luton deserved. But quite frankly if they were any good they would have won, so patchy and uninspired their opposition proved to be. Were it not for their boorish fans and their players’ dire attempts at diving (well, one worked as they got a penalty) we might even have felt like cheering them at the end.

Our only excuse, if there is one, is that for most of the game we were actually winning. At half-time I think we would all (players included) have taken the final whistle there and then. Instead it proved to be a game that we simply didn’t take the opportunity to do enough to kill it off. We were lulled into a false sense of security by the early first goal and the fact that after their penalty equaliser we regained the lead quite quickly, giving the impression that we could score as and when we wanted to. For too long after that it looked like a case of get the ball to Reid, or someone else, something will happen, we’ll score again and it will be all over. Well, we didn’t and proved unable to raise it after they levelled it again. Also, by putting all the kids on the bench and not playing a couple from the start, Parkinson wasn’t really able to change things around with substitutions, at least not without taking risks. Not smart, making it an afternoon that nobody comes out of with any credit, including the fans (those there and those not).

With Semedo presumably at least doubtful and not risked, Dailly still suspended, and Martin not available, Parkinson put out what was just about the strongest possible side. Anyinsah returned to partner Benson up front, McCormack predictably came in to play alongside Racon, both Reid and Wagstaff started, giving us two genuine wingers, while Llera came in alongside Fortune, with Jackson and Francis at full-back. It looked like a line-up that would have too much attacking threat for Luton to cope with. However, when commitment levels aren’t what they should be and players don’t work hard enough to create space a lot can go wrong, especially when the two central midfielders play like complete strangers. For a lot of the game it would have been good to see us string one pass together.

It all looked too easy early on. Luton started brightly, but in our first serious attack Reid crossed well and Anyinsah was standing all alone in the box. He had enough time to read War and Peace before unchallenged planting the header in the net. I don’t think he even had to get off the ground. Luton continued to play what football there was, but their inability to time runs and stay onside suggested that the threat was limited. There was a scare when a shot came back off the post, plus an unfortunate moment when Benson gave the defender the usual shove when the ball was running out of play, only for him to go headlong into the advertising board. It could have been nasty and Benson was yellow carded.

The relative calm was shattered as Luton were awarded a penalty. I’d have to see it again to be sure; it looked like a soft one, but there was a clumsy challenge and their guy took full advantage. Elliot saved the kick well, but the rebound fell kindly for them and the taker headed it home. It only took a few minutes to regain the lead. Decent work down the right produced a cross which seemed to get deflected and looped up. Jackson did what he has been doing often of late in midfield, timing a run into the box to perfection. There wasn’t a big gap between the post, the goalkeeper and a defender, but he found it. Scare over, that should have been the cue to impose ourselves. Instead it provided the excuse to lapse back into indifference.

The second half progressed much as the first, with Luton having no problem in finding a pass and us struggling to retain possession, but with the threat to our goal looking slight. Fortune and Llera were dealing well enough with anything in the air; on the ground both looked less assured. The main attacking outlet was Reid, who on several occasions looked as though he could break through to kill off the game. But nothing quite worked well enough. Benson seemed to get through only to fall over. It looked as though it wouldn’t matter at the end of the day, especially when Luton lost their second appeal for a penalty (just why the ref didn’t book the guy if he saw it as a dive I can’t say). But another Luton move forward saw us covering the box well enough, with plenty of bodies between the ball and the goal, only for their guy to latch onto a loose ball and curl an absolute beauty across the goal and into the net.

It was no more than Luton deserved. By then Sodje had come on for Anyinsah, who faded in the second half, but the change didn’t make much difference. The game ran its rather dismal course and the final whistle couldn’t come soon enough. The flying jacket may keep the body warm but the feet were suffering. There will be a midweek replay, but I suspect we won’t take as many there as they brought to us. The team will be pretty much on its own for that one, but for that they only have themselves to blame.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Unlucky to save the penalty kick only for the rebound to sit up for their guy. Can’t remember any other difficult saves, once more can’t be blamed for those that went in.

Francis: 6/10. Passing was often wayward, but got in a number of decent crosses and did the defensive stuff well enough.

Jackson: 7/10. Linked up well with Reid and got in the box for a very well taken goal. Should take less of the blame than most others.

Fortune: 6/10. They actually created few decent chances and he and Llera weren’t really responsible for what went on in front of them.

Llera: 6/10. Generally good game, but still looks fragile and makes the occasional serious mistake. Was turned in the first half but got away with it by getting a free kick, made a similar mistake in the second half by going for a ball and not getting it.

Reid: 7/10. Failed to make the decisive contribution (although the cross for the first goal was good enough), but seemed to carry the attack almost single-handed at times.

Racon: 5/10. At no stage of the game did we control midfield. No shortage of effort, but may have made the challenge for their penalty and more important showed no sign of being able to play with McCormack. I hope the two of them sort it out as Semedo is bound to miss other games.

McCormack: 5/10. Some good work, but same issue as with Racon. Sort it out.

Wagstaff: 4/10. Just a poor game all round. Struggled to find space or get past his man. Has much more to offer than he showed today.

Anyinsah: 5/10. Looked rusty and faded in the second half. Took his goal well enough. We have missed him and I hope today was a useful work-out to get back to full swing.

Benson: 4/10. Fell over when in his best position of the game, picked up a silly yellow card, and was otherwise ineffective in holding up the ball or winning balls in the air. He is the goalscorer we’ve been craving, but today was a bad game for him.

Sub: Sodje – 5/10. Didn’t have the same impact as with other recent sub appearances, but the team wasn’t working well enough for him to make a difference.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Sometimes I Just Hate Opposition Keepers

No especially happy endings tonight and the run ends at five. There should have been – and would have been had it not been for two outrageous saves by their keeper. Elliot’s been very instrumental in our post-Brighton run, so we can’t complain too much about a goalkeeper earning his side a point. But we didn’t win, so we can. After the spate of games of late both the team and the crowd were somewhat subdued, especially with the second home game running having to attack the Covered End in the first half. It never helps. We played well enough in patches to have won and if we’d scored first could have won comfortably, against a very ordinary Bristol Rovers. But tonight we weren’t clinical enough when the chances came and committed the sin of falling behind. Some tired legs, along with tired fingers from all these bloody match reports. So let’s try to keep it short (by my standards).

With Dailly starting his suspension Fortune got the nod over Llera to replace him alongside Doherty, which he deserved after Saturday’s substitute appearance (although when Doherty was injured in the second half it raised the question whether Llera might be overtaken in the pecking order by our new Dutch loan signing Siep). And with Wagstaff available again but Anyinsah not, Reid dropped back to the bench, with Martin and Benson continuing up front.

We started very brightly, with Martin featuring in most of the moves and Racon and Semedo getting the sort of grip on midfield that they never really managed against Yeovil. Some decent interplay produced a couple of shots, but the early breakthrough didn’t come and the game settled down to a more patient pattern, with Bristol not causing any real problems (a bit of pace and trickery here and there but nothing else) and us trying to carve out openings. The quality of a lot of the approach play too often wasn’t matched by the end-result, however, especially as at the first sign of a decent position created everyone seemed to run away from the man with the ball and into the box rather than continue with what had been working well.

The first half was notable for one of the daftest bookings I’ve seen for a while. The ball had gone out for a throw but rebounded back onto the pitch and when their guy went to knock it back Fry ‘fouled’ him. I wasn’t aware you could be yellow carded for a foul when the ball isn’t in play. But what do I know about the rules except when the ref gets it wrong?

The decisive moment of the first half and perhaps the game came late on when it seemed for all the world we had scored as a cross was connected with, by Wagstaff I think. But their keeper instinctively thrust out a hand and turned it wide. It didn’t seem to matter too much at the time, but as the second half continued in much the same vein as the first and we were struggling to create clear-cut chances it started to, especially as they turned the game on its head by scoring. A corner was headed out but only to their guy, who invited the challenges and instead of shooting himself slipped the ball square to another. He had the time and space to measure his shot into the bottom corner.

Still plenty of time to turn things around, but the onus now was on upping the effort and doing things quicker. McCormack had already replaced Semedo, who seemed to have picked up a knock; Reid came on for Fry, with Jackson dropping back to full-back as on Saturday, then shortly after Sodje came on for Wagstaff, with Martin moving wide right. As in the previous game, Sodje in particular made a real difference in terms of making things happen, through his running and physical presence. But his evening was to prove the complete curate’s egg as he could, perhaps should, have had a hat-trick.

By now Bristol had something to hang on to and the crowd were getting a little restless. Groans started to accompany misplaced passes, especially when the ball started to go long. I don’t think there was any intention to do that, but when defenders have no easy available outlet you can’t always blame them. It’s incumbent on those in front of them to create the space. However, before things went sour we did get the equaliser. A low cross was driven in from the left and must have come off somebody as it went in. Reid was initially given the credit but the BBC site at least has given it to Benson – which would be good as it breaks his Valley duck.

Still about 15 minutes to go and time for the winner. A good cross from the right found Sodje in space and his header was to produce their keeper’s second superb save to deny him. But thereafter Sodje was to make a pig’s ear of the opportunities that came his way. He found himself goalside of the defender and seemingly with only the keeper to beat but seemed to be waiting for a repeat of Saturday’s pull back for a penalty and the defender took the ball off him. And late on he was in a great position inside the box but instead of shooting passed it to Martin, who had a tighter angle and shot wide. McCormack also had a shot well saved, but at the other end Bristol should have scored again, with their guy clean through only to shoot wide of the goal.

The BBC stats show us having had 12 attempts on target during the game (plus three off target) against three for them. That pretty much summed it up, but tonight we didn’t get the breaks that we have had in recent games and their keeper’s saves mean that, while disappointed, there’s no feeling of having been robbed. Might need some fresh legs for Saturday, though, as the number of games may be taking its toll.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. The standard score for a game in which he did nothing wrong but had very little to do. No chance with the goal.

Francis: 8/10. I thought both full-backs were excellent tonight. Not every pass was accurate, nor every cross, but got forward in support well enough and solid defensively.

Fry: 7/10. Decent game and as with Saturday no reflection on his performance that he was substituted.

Doherty: 7/10. Much more solid game than on Saturday, although Bristol’s limited attacking ambitions probably helped the cause.

Fortune: 7/10. Slotted in for Dailly to good effect, may be benefiting from getting the match practise he needed.

Jackson: 6/10. Not among the goals tonight; no complaints over a reasonable display, but of course he doesn’t provide a genuine winger’s contribution when the opposition are sitting back.

Semedo: 7/10. Another consistent and effective contribution. Hope the knock isn’t serious.

Racon: 7/10. Excellent first half in particular, in defence and attack; didn’t come up with a decisive contribution but threatened to do so, especially when linking up with Martin.

Wagstaff: 6/10. Thought he should have been capable of more in exposing a rather pedestrian full-back, but nearly added to his goal tally.

Benson: 7/10. Without Anyinsah he’s having to bear the brunt of the target man’s job and he did it OK, but as on Saturday we needed a more physical presence up front in the latter stages as he and Martin were getting outmuscled. Hope he did score the goal to break the home duck.

Martin: 8/10. I’d give him man of the match for us tonight (reluctantly their keeper would get it overall); he was excellent in the first half especially, took the knocks that came his way, and almost nicked it at the death.

Subs: McCormack (7/10 – he looked better for me tonight than against Barnet in the cup; worked hard enough and one decent shot); Reid (6/10 – probably his cross for the goal, livened things up initially when he came on); Sodje (6/10 – I don’t know whether to give him an 8 for the impact he had or a 4 for his finishing; he started the first game of the season, scored, and hasn’t started one since; is he suffering from lack of match practise?)

Saturday 20 November 2010

Strange Game, Great Ending

You can’t win five on the bounce in this league unless you are by some distance better than other teams or you get some luck. I’ll take a win by any means any day of the week, but the fact is that in terms of quality, chances created, opportunities to win, this one was about equal, between the team second and that second from bottom. It was a game that, given the league positions, we would have been disappointed not to win, but also one that for a period we would have settled for a point. And while the highlights will look good quality was in short supply through most of the game. We could as easily have lost as won and at the moment I’m not quite sure what that says about us (and Yeovil, but that’s for others to speculate on). I’m delighted with the response to the Brighton game, with our league position, and with the prospect that a promotion challenge is looking increasingly likely (well, we are second and closing the gap). Nobody’s pretending that we can consistently roll over teams in the fashion of a week ago. But then maybe I’m just a miserable old git; it’s a game of fine margins and we’ve just won a five-goal thriller, so as ever we take it and move on.

The unavailability of Anyinsah and Wagstaff meant some selection decisions and some restriction of options. Parkinson went for Benson and Martin up front, as for most of last Saturday’s game, with Reid operating down the right and Jackson on the left side. The rest of the team picked itself.

There’s no question that Yeovil started the brighter, with no intention of a defensive approach. Their cause was helped by some very uncertain defending in the early stages, with Doherty looking particularly capable. We were struggling to find any sort of rhythm or midfield control. So of course we simply scored a goal out of keeping with what had gone before. A throw-in was knocked on to Martin, who took it down the right side and delivered a peach of a ball in. Jackson timed his run to perfection and while the strike wasn’t clean it sent the ball into the corner of the net. That all suggested that whatever their qualities Yeovil had a soft underbelly. And so it was to prove.

I thought that goal might knock the stuffing out of them, but instead they levelled the game not long after. A ball through was blocked but their guy was alert to a hole between our defenders and ran into it, before shooting low into the bottom corner. As the game progressed it was surprising that so much was aimless, but good chances continued to be created at either end. Martin danced through and shot just wide, Benson curled one just past the far post, and he got on the end of a free kick but put it over the bar. They had their moments too, but on balance during this period we were just about getting on top. And we went back into the lead as Racon found himself in space inside the box and hit a shot on the turn. It was a splendid finish, In fact all three goals had a quality about them that belied the indifference of much of the play. There was still time before the break for Yeovil to almost level again, but Elliot turned aside a goalbound shot.

Ahead at the break, the question seemed to be whether we would get another and run out comfortable winners. But Yeovil to their credit continued to take the game to us and had another period of if not dominance one where they were tending to win the challenges and if anything play the better football. They got their reward when Dailly was penalised; the free kick was muffed, but instead of clearing the lines Racon miskicked and the ball went straight to their guy, who promptly buried it into the top of the net.

OK, things aren’t going well and we need to go out again and win the game. Benson and Martin together up front were having good moments, but without control of the game and too many balls played aimlessly forward there was a case for a more physical presence. I thought it was the right move to bring on Sodje, move Martin out wide, and switch Reid to the left, where he might be more effective. And that was what Parkinson did, taking off Fry and dropping Jackson back. Only problem was that the strategy went out of the window shortly after as Dailly picked up a straight red.

I thought Dailly was unlucky, but it wasn’t a dreadful decision by the referee. The way I saw it, the ball was played over Dailly’s head and running sideways with the ball over his shoulder he jumped and probably did connect with his arm to their guy’s face. There was nothing malicious or intentional, just one of those moments when it’s down to the ref’s interpretation. He’d been a fussy git all afternoon and had given most of the decisions their way. He could have decided it was nothing, or given a yellow card. Instead out came the red and suddenly we were not only level but a man short against a team that had already created enough to suggest that we would have trouble holding out.

Fortune came on for Reid to shore up the defence, with a narrower three in midfield. At that point I would have taken the point, but the game took another twist in an instant. A ball into the box found Sodje the right side of the defender, who manhandled him to the ground. It was a clear penalty and an obvious red card. Their keeper clearly hadn’t read the match programme, in which Jackson talked about his spot kick against Peterborough, and the same sort of shot produced the same end-result. In an instant we were in front and with equality of players restored.

There were still about 10 minutes plus stoppage time to play out, but the period was negotiated reasonably comfortably, despite an odd back pass, helped by Fortune slotting in very effectively. McCormack came on for Martin to shore things up. Nobody in red wanted another twist to a strange afternoon and there wasn’t to be one. Cue Elliot’s celebration, booing of the ref, and a welcome glass. It was far from perfect all round, we didn’t play as well as in some other games, but another three points in the bag and another home game coming up. I’ll settle for that.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. No chance with either goal and at least one excellent save before half-time. Otherwise commanding after his splendid performance on Tuesday.

Francis: 6/10. Got tricked down the line a couple of times, but generally seemed OK. But the defence overall was edgy today.

Fry: 6/10. Much the same. No obvious mistakes and no criticism of him to be taken off to change the team around.

Doherty: 5/10. Perhaps a little unfair, but in the first 30 minutes or so he seemed to me very shaky and it had a generally unsettling effect on the defence. But improved as the game went on.

Dailly: 6/10. Has to lose a mark for the red card, which could have cost us the game. I think it was just one of those moments where he was caught unbalanced and made a clumsy challenge. Losing him for three games is going to hurt.

Reid: 6/10. Good moments as usual, but didn’t look comfortable on the right side and when defending had one horrible moment where he let the ball run and let their guy in.

Semedo: 7/10. Solid enough, but we didn’t control midfield. Also, got into a good position twice in the second half and elected not to shoot. Go on Jose, have a punt.

Racon: 6/10. Took his goal well, but also takes the rap for their second as he made a hash of the clearance.

Jackson: 8/10. Let’s given him the man of the match today. Two goals in successive games (now top scorer), wide left, then back to full back. And when the penalty came along he made no mistake.

Benson: 7/10. Unlucky not to score in the first half but with too many hopeful balls forward struggled as the main target man. Hope the lack of Valley goals doesn’t become an issue.

Martin: 7/10. Great ball in for the first goal and caused them problems. Like Benson wasn’t in the game as much in the second half.

Subs: Sodje (7/10 – made a difference when he came on and he got the penalty which turned the game in our favour); Fortune (7/10 – good contribution coming on at a difficult time, won most of the challenges); McCormack (not enough time for a rating, but contributed in the time-wasting before the end).

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Elliot Gets The Plaudits

After Saturday I think we were ready to forgive almost anything tonight – except perhaps extra time. I was even willing to pardon my partner Suzanne for preventing me from taking a trip to Peterborough (this is grossly unfair, but as they say history is written by the victors; my mother persuaded my father to go Christmas shopping once instead of the home game and that one turned out 7-6). And let’s just accept tonight for what it was, despite all the nonsense written in the programme. It was a game to win with as little effort as possible and move on; after Reid scored everyone in red was ready for a hot bath. It was an opportunity for some players to remind Parkinson they are around, but of them nobody took the chance – and in front of a crowd a little above 4,000 perhaps they have mitigating circumstances.

With Semedo, Martin and Anyinsah out of the equation, there had to be changes to the line-up. Fortune came in to give Doherty a rest alongside Dailly, who never seems to need one. Francis and Fry made up the back four. Not surprisingly McCormack came in to partner Racon in central midfield, but whether or not they were told to do so it seemed odd to me that McCormack spent most of the game, at least until the latter stages, in a more advanced role than Racon, despite his recent goals. If that gave us an odd shape, we also had Wagstaff, Jackson and Reid alternating in a flexible formation, with Abbott effectively the lone striker. Reid did seem to have a roving role, until he embarrassed their full-back to score the goal, after which he seemed to decide that’s the position he wanted to occupy. As an exercise in options it might have had merit, but the end-result was disjointed, with Racon not able to get forward and Abbott unable to hold the ball up for others to run, although in his defence the service was poor.

There was an early scare as Barnet hit the post with an early effort, but in general we did enough to have most of the play in the first half, without looking especially dangerous. Francis found himself up against a speedy and tricky winger, albeit one who looked like he tends to fluff the final ball, and provided an excellent example of how to handle the situation: a mix of timely tackles and the occasional shove. The game was going nowhere in particular when we took the lead out of nothing. Their full-back should have had the situation under control but dwelt on the ball and Reid took it from him and outpaced him. Rather than looking for any pass he simply went on and scored at the near post. It was a very well taken goal, but one that no defender should be proud of having given away.

I can’t remember any other notable incidents of the first half and at the break we were reasonably comfortable. But that only served to encourage all concerned to take it as easy as possible. When you start a game slowly and aren’t truly up for it it is hard to turn around. And after the break Barnet clearly decided that with nothing to lose they might as well take it to us. The second half was to be all about Elliot.

Wagstaff was replaced at the break, with Benson coming on and Jackson going wide right in a more conventional 4-4-2 set-up. If we thought that would create more of an attacking threat we were mistaken. Benson was to play his part, with one delightful flick to set up McCormack for a run through which should have ended with a better finish and just as important one moment in our own box where he put his head in where it hurts to clear. But Jackson looked uncomfortable on the right side and, with Reid after his goal flattering to deceive – and guilty of standing still instead of tracking his man in a dangerous position, which led to another Elliot save – we continued to struggle to make anything happen. Most of Elliot’s saves were good, including turning a Basey free kick around the post, but a couple at least were outstanding, including one at the near post from a McLeod shot (he came on as a substitute) and a one-on-one which he blocked.

Doherty came on for Fortune to try to ensure we kept what we had, and later Abbott departed for Sodje, to no obvious effect. It was a case of running down the clock – and to be honest, despite Elliot’s saves I’ve been more nervous in a pre-season friendly. When you’re 1-0 up on a night like tonight you just want the final whistle and to be spared another 30 minutes. It all came soon enough.

The games have been coming thick and fast and I’m not going to moan about tonight, even though on chances created Barnet will feel they have been robbed. Others may disagree, but I’m not bothered about a third-round FA Cup tie (except for the money). I’ll never want us to lose, but tonight , the prospect of Luton or Corby, and the Southend Johnstone’s Paint Trophy exercise, plus the ‘southern semi-final’ against Brentford are all games you just hope improve the gelling of the squad and can be negotiated without injury and suspensions for more important tasks. Let’s get serious again on Saturday as after the recent results and given the league position the bar has been raised, with two home games coming up and the chance to really push on. The reaction to the Brighton result has been spot on; taking it easier tonight was understandable. I just hope we haven’t used up our allocation of luck.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. I don’t know what constitutes a perfect score; in football there always has to be the potential for more, but he was man of the match by a distance. If we make it through for a money-spinning third-round tie Murray owes him a pint.

Fry: 7/10. Reasonable enough game; was a touch unlucky to pick up a yellow card.

Francis: 7/10. I thought he was excellent in the first half against a difficult winger, but came under more pressure in the second as they went for it. Like Fry wasn’t able to get forward to much effect, given problems in front of them.

Fortune: 6/10. No obvious mistakes, but did seem to play the game without really imposing himself, or paying too much attention to distribution.

Dailly: 8/10. Composed and assured, Mr Reliable.

Reid: 6/10. Extra mark for the goal, but quite frankly after that his performance disappointed me. He’s good enough to have run them ragged but didn’t. Has to do more to be demanding a starting position.

McCormack: 5/10. Disappointing. I thought he’d slot into the Semedo role and play as if he had something to prove to Parkinson. Instead he was more advanced than Racon, which seemed to suit neither of them.

Racon: 6/10. Decent enough first half but barely featured in the second. He’s started scoring goals but was in my opinion too deep tonight.

Jackson: 5/10. Suffered from accommodating both Reid and Wagstaff and then being played out right in the second half. Back to normal position on Saturday I hope.

Wagstaff: 6/10. Not sure whether he picked up a knock or whether taking him off was tactical. Looked lively in the first half when he and Reid were switching around.

Abbott: 5/10. Service to him was usually poor, but didn’t do enough to suggest that he deserves a starting place ahead of Benson, Anyinsah and Martin. Missed opportunity.

Subs: Benson (6/10 – the flick and the defensive header, not a great deal else but we weren’t looking to go forward much in the second half); Doherty (7/10 – his coming on for Fortune didn’t exactly tie things up at the back as hoped); Sodje (5/10 – like Benson struggled to make an impact as we were effectively playing out the game).

Thursday 11 November 2010

Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone

We knew it was coming, and the reasons for it, but a quick check on the club website today was depressing. We have, inevitably, joined the ranks of the cheap, unoriginal, ghastly, packaged, ad-ridden ‘Football League interactive’ websites. Up flashed an ad for Specsavers. Borrowing another phrase from The Boss, I wish I were blind. If Mr Happy keeps popping up I might have to burn down every Specsavers’ outlet in the hope that he’s hiding in one of them. We just have to pray that, like our stay in the third flight, it will prove to be a temporary aberration and binned at the earliest possible opportunity (can we make it a condition of a takeover?). Time then for a few things that have made me laugh of late, to brighten at least my mood.

In common with the rest of humanity, I might have no interest in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (having ditched the opportunity to exit gracefully we are now in the position where we have to go on and win the bloody thing). But I’m still sad enough to have sat in front of the PC through the game on Tuesday night to check progress on the BBC site. Couldn’t help being drawn to checking the details of the Wycombe v Bristol Rovers game going on at the same time (perhaps an after-effect of our own recent home reversal). Wycombe, 1-5 down at home with 10 minutes left, end up losing 3-6. Sounds like a proper spanking, then you look at the stats (yes, it’s getting sadder). Possession? 50-50. Corners? 9-2 in favour of Wycombe. Bristol’s attempts on target? Five - and only nine including off-target. Even ignoring how a team can manage to score six with no own goals and have five on target (I do remember Middlesbrough winning 3-2 at Arsenal and registering one attempt on target all game, the victory coming courtesy of two own goals), it sounds like one of those nights when nothing goes right and the opposition score with just about every shot. Sack the manager because he must have run over a cat or be paying for the sins of a previous life.

While we’re on Bristol Rovers, it’s disappointing to note that according to reports they are trying to farm out a certain Dominic Blizzard on loan, to give him some playing time. Our home game against them is coming up in a couple of weeks and I for one was looking forward to letting him know just what we think about his tackle on Basey – and more to the point Trollope and Blizzard's reaction to it. There will still be the opportunity to howl at the disgraceful Trollope, but if Blizzard’s available why don’t we take him on? I’m sure we could find a suitable position for him.

If Wycombe and others are feeling a little down, there is of course always someone worse off than yourself. I keep tabs on the progress of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, and a recent check on the CFA Groupe B table, which showed Duchere eighth in the 17-strong league (but with a game in hand over a few of those above them), also drew my attention to Louhans-Cuiseaux. A quick check reveals that Louhans is a “market town of great charm” in south-east Burgundy (just north-east of Macon). It “lies on one of France's prettiest small rivers, the River Seille, and has a delightful mediaeval charm and tranquil atmosphere”. Cuiseaux it seems lies just a little to the south. The two villages – which merged their football teams in 1970 – sound absolutely spendid places to visit. But they have a truly pants combined team, this season at least. Their record so far reads ‘played 10, won 0, drawn 0, lost 10, goals for 3, goals against 31’. In this division you get three points for a win, one for a draw, and one for showing up. Louhans-Cuiseaux’s points tally is 9, suggesting that they decided not to turn up for one of the games. Their best result of those played is having held the opposition to a 1-0 victory (yes, it was Duchere). I’ve no idea if the manager’s already been sacked yet, but if not might be worth getting down to the bookies.

I suppose if you’re bang in the heart of Burgundy there are compensations when your football team is propping up the table. All of which brings us back to Charlton, as the club has just announced that there will be a trial sale of real ale in the ground for the Yeovil game. Can we not find it in our hearts to ship in a case of the local Louhans-Cuiseaux tipple, on a trial basis of course, for the following game? The beer trial is apparently in response to requests from fans. Please take this as the start of a request campaign. If nothing happens, I’m going to start writing letters and if that doesn’t work I’ll hunt you down. Just as soon as I’ve sorted out Mr Happy from Specsavers.

Monday 8 November 2010

Investor Criteria: Jordan Need Not Apply

The season, and more or less everything else Charlton-related, just keeps getting more confusing, at least for a simple soul like myself. On the fresh investment/takeover front, as ever I have no idea what is or might be going on behind the scenes (anybody looking for actual news here please stop now); and nobody can blame Richard Murray for not being specific in the statement released by the club. If anything has to remain confidential until signed, or at least a formal offer made, it’s on this front. But the latest report from the BBC, citing a “senior source at the club”, seems reasonably blunt, suggesting that the Beeb at least is confident about its facts.

The weekend speculation, from the somewhat less reliable source of The News of the World, focused on Peter Ridsdale apparently trying to put together a deal to take us over, one that was prompting divided opinion on the part of the board (which is a little odd as Murray’s is the only opinion that matters). That prompted a denial from him, that the reports were “categorically untrue and without foundation” and that “at no time have I made a bid for Charlton nor do I intend to do so”. That does of course leave it open whether he could be involved in a bid in some way, shape or form. Then came the club statement on the site, that the process of actively seeking investment “continues”, that “we have constant conversations with interested parties” (pedant linguistic point here: regular, ongoing conversations fine, constant conversations not), but that “we’d like to make it clear to supporters that no deal is imminent”. All fine and good.

The subsequent BBC report claimed that a takeover bid led by Sebastien Sainsbury had been rejected, on the grounds that the offer had not come with proof of funds. The report referred to Ridsdale in the context of him being involved in a rival US bid advised by the MD of Citibank’s sports finance unit, who apparently tried to buy Cardiff and Hull. Given that Sainsbury was reportedly involved in a failed bid in 2004 to buy Leeds and that he apparently in July registered a ‘takeover vehicle’ called Charlton Athletic 2010 Ltd, this leaves entirely open whether the NoTW simply thought that all roads lead back to Ridsdale, or whether he is involved in some way without having or intending to bid himself. We just don’t know and maybe never will. If there was a bid by Sainsbury and if it was rejected for lacking proof of funds, clearly that leaves the door open for a fresh effort addressing those concerns.

Our backstop is Murray’s repeated pledge that “the future of the club is paramount in my thoughts, and the identity of any new owners or investors is of huge importance to the board and I; they have to be right for the board and the club”. We can’t tell whether he means that Sainsbury or Ridsdale might not meet our ‘fit and proper person’ criteria, but maybe there’s mileage in applying some simple risk/return profile rules.

It’s reasonable to apply four ratings/rankings for any prospective new owner (a new investor is a different matter; anyone with a cheque that doesn’t bounce for a minority stake would be acceptable). In an ideal world a new owner of the club would have the personal credentials of a Nelson Mandela (I would have said St Francis of Assisi but as a life-long committed atheist he would have failed my test), the assets of at least an Abramovich, the style sense of a Mourinho, and no property-related vehicles. The last criterion has to be applied because of the obvious risk involved in The Valley and/or training ground being used in an asset-stripping purchase; it shouldn’t be necessary as Murray’s pledge is clear. The third is just a subjective variable which can be used at random in the event that there are areas of doubt; it would have been useful in eliminating Gold and Sullivan. For reference purposes, and with a note to his own recent comments, Jordan scores zero on all fronts and can be considered the benchmark for the unacceptable, even if he came backed by sole rights over China’s foreign exchange reserves.

There are of course acceptable trade-offs. I have nothing but respect for the way that for example Barry Hearn has run Orient, not simply throwing money away in a fruitless pursuit of ‘success’. But we don’t need a replacement for Murray of this nature as there would, for us at least, be no upside. An acceptable financial commitment is required, ie some person or group that will only see a return with us at least stable in The Championship with aspirations of a return to The Premiership. It’s taken a few years for even the very flush owners of QPR to get that team into a position to challenge for a place in the top flight. We all have patience if things seem to be moving in the right direction (as three wins on the spin demonstrate). The Dubai guys in different global and regional circumstances would have been fine, especially if Murray had a continuing role.

Of course, where it all gets messy is when we attract interest from all the flotsam and jetsam of the football world with no real interest in the club other than making a buck (ie selling it on at a higher price within a few years). Not necessarily bad if it works, but a bloody disaster if it doesn’t (when the tax bills start running up and suddenly we find the ground’s truly on the line). I’ve no idea where Sainsbury sits in that context, but it’s fair to say that there would be doubts about Ridsdale, especially in view of the comments of others. Trouble is, overseas money would have to be attracted by the long term prospects (of course they’d learn to love us and the club) as anyone with the funds available could presumably get a half-decent Championship club.

So, all as clear as mud. With nothing imminent, we wait, and think about matters on the pitch. I was in Amsterdam when we took on Swindon and spent the weekend trying to catch up rather than taking a trip to Barnet. Didn’t sound like a thriller and of course a replay has mixed implications: yes, as Elliot says on the site another game can help with the gelling process, but it will presumably be a game that will cost us money on the night. I know it’s wrong, and for sure the prospect of a second-round home tie against Luton or Corby gives even us with our recent cup record a decent shot at making the third-round draw. And that in turn could help boost the coffers. But money aside I just don’t at present look forward to the possibility of a third-round clash with one of the ‘big boys’. It would just serve as a reminder of what used to be. As and when we’re back in The Championship a cup run, or just a game against Premiership opposition, is an attractive prospect as it would be enticing, holding out what could be in the future, rather than what has gone before.

It (I hope) goes without saying that tomorrow night’s clash against Southend will also see me absent. I made it there last season for the league game, but a second trip for a competition even the final of which is not appealing (done the Full Members Cup Final, which is on a par) is too much to take on board. There are restrictions on how many of the recent starting X1 we can rest, but I hope the allocation’s used in full. And in what’s becoming a list of sorry excuses, Peterborough on Saturday is unlikely. Lyon comes to London this weekend and I’m not sure this is what Suzanne had in mind when she said she’d like to see more of England.

Which just leaves one abiding thought concerning reaction to the Brighton game. Did the level of criticism from many have a positive impact? It shouldn’t have, and I’d be tempted to say instead that in the subsequent three games we’ve had the breaks when against Brighton we didn’t (which is not to say we were unlucky to lose), but you never know. How do we go from shipping seven goals in two games to three successive clean sheets? Greater focus on cutting out simple mistakes and greater emphasis on defending? Again, shouldn’t be necessary, and again it’s clear from the highlights that Swindon at least could easily have taken the lead, which could have meant a different outcome. Small margins, but if there’s a lesson it has to be most games this season are going to be won or lost by a few key moments – at least until we’ve fully gelled and roll over all who stand in our way.