Sunday 30 January 2011

25 Miles From Rochdale

In years to come we will sit around the fireplace, laughing through the DVDs of the horror years when we dipped back into the third flight, and compare notes on how close to Rochdale we made it before hearing the game had been postponed. If truth be told it wasn’t really 25 miles, that just made a better headline. But having set off around 08.00 we’d gone past Walsall and were resuming the relentless drive north after a coffee break, sometime after 11.00. In fact we were just debating whether this game could attract the least media attention in the club’s recent history, given the cup ties going on, when the radio mentioned Rochdale. It couldn’t be a special report on Sir Chris’ second game in charge, so we didn’t really need to hear confirmation.

My immediate thoughts turned to ‘back to bed by 14.00’ (followed shortly after by wondering why on earth I had made the late decision to go to The Valley on Thursday to buy a ticket; I’d even missed the train I went for, someone had been trying to tell me something). But sometimes you find yourself in a situation you can’t control. I was in a car with two fellow Addicks (and two of their offspring), both committed to the cause of taking in as many football grounds as is possible in the space of one lifetime. In fact, one is involved with the site dedicated to doing the lot ( Without a moment’s thought their reaction was: another game and another ground. The most I could do was turn thoughts to somewhere south of where we were rather than continuing north, in the interests of the eventual return time. We managed to narrow the choice to Stevenage v Reading in the cup (but with some doubt about getting in), Walsall v Bristol Rovers (and another chance to boo a certain Blizzard), or Oxford v Cheltenham in League Two.

We’d all done the old Manor Ground (for a game that led to my receiving a letter from a certain Ian Maxwell when the club had dodgy owners and I was indirectly working for Captain Bob). But the Kasaam Stadium meant another tick in the table all round and for me represented the second-best option after an afternoon on the sofa. So that’s how a photo of the functional but rather non-descript – save for it being a three-stand ground, with a car park behind one of the goals - Kasaam Stadium finds its way onto this site.

It proved to be an enjoyable enough game, albeit it was a tad on the cold side (and timings meant that thoughts of a decent pub lunch in the centre of Oxford, to at least partially compensate for being deprived of the Rochdale pie I was anticipating, went by the board). It doesn’t merit a full report, but the spoils were shared as Cheltenham, who started both halves the brighter and had the livelier forwards, saw an early lead wiped out. Oxford had enough of the second half to have won the game, forcing a couple of excellent saves from Chelthenham’s Elliot-lookalike keeper, but ended up being grateful to their own custodian for saving a penalty late on, awarded after one of the said forwards turned well in the box and got flattened.

All that was left after that was to sit in the car while every other vehicle funnelled out of the one exit of the designated parking area. Ah well, another Saturday in the life of an Addick.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Eat Your Heart Out, Bony

After the game we were all trying to remember exactly what Napoleon said about generals and luck. I’ll look it up tomorrow. I’ll do a lot of things tomorrow. But tonight I’m a bit jaded and just want to enjoy the moment. We can think then about formations, combinations, options etc. Today it’s about Chris Powell and his 100% success rate as Charlton manager – and ordering a takeaway before I fall asleep. It’s been a long day, but I’m happy. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, a win of any sort will do.

We could reflect on a first-half performance that were Parkinson still in charge would have seen the team booed off at the break. We could ponder on the fact that Benson missed a good chance before Walsall scored and that today Plymouth had a shot on the volley at 0-0 that could have gone under the bar, only for them to gift us a goal that came out of the blue. But, in the words of the immortal Lee Hazelwood, I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me. And I really do want to be up – and stay up.

In his first game in charge, Sir Chris opted to keep the formation utilised by Keith Peacock in two difficult away games, with Jackson and McCormack occupying the wide berths and Wagstaff supporting Anyinsah up front. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things tight as we’ve conceded too many goals at home. But the limitations of the formation were on full display in the first 45 minutes, which after the enthusiasm of the start must rank as the most mundane for some time. The only notable effort from them was a cross which should have been headed home but glanced off their guy’s head (only for the ref to give a corner), plus a mix-up which nearly let their only real threat, Bolasie, in, with the otherwise superb Dailly taking one for the team by pulling him back. The only notable effort from us was a ball played in for Wagstaff to attempt to chip their keeper, who proved to be bigger than the effort required. Otherwise, all that was notable was the dire quality of our crossing, with at least four set pieces seeing balls sent in down the throat of that keeper.

Things seemed to be getting worse early in the second half as that volley whistled wide. It was the sort of effort that Malcolm Allison said if it goes in you blame the tealady. Elliot could only watch and, like the rest of us, hope. They also had a shot and a header and if they’d scored at that time who knows what would have happened. But whatever deities Chris prays to were on our side and having survived we took the lead in the daftest of fashions, albeit with Wagstaff deserving much credit for chasing a lost cause. A poor pass backwards was followed by a worse pass to the keeper and Wagstaff just followed the ball and nudged it past a helpless keeper into the net. Crowd lifted again and something to hold on to.

The only problem, if it was one, was that the changes we could make would make our set-up more attacking. The first was enforced as Jackson was flattened after getting on the end of a cross. For me it looked like a penalty as their defender was nowhere near the ball, although Jackson had got his header in. He struggled on for some minutes but departed, with Reid coming on. The next change saw Racon withdrawn and Eccleston coming on for his home debut, with McCormack moved inside to partner Semedo, and Wagstaff moving out wide. We now had the attacking 4-4-2 formation that promised a greater attacking threat when all we really wanted was the final whistle. The final alteration saw Abbott replace the hard-working Anyinsah and as the clock wound down a ball through found Eccleston with the chance to show us his pace and ability. Again luck was on our side as the tackle saw the ball fall kindly for him, but there was no luck about the finish, with the shot dispatched into the corner of the net.

Glory be, victory and no nail-biting moments to end with. Instead we were able to enjoy the final moments of a game that for its quality and goalmouth incident will not live long in the memory. But for the occasion and the outcome, I’ll cherish it for some time to come. I made it to the pub, I made it for Sir Chris’ arrival, and we won. Oh happy days.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Standard mark for a keeper that had very little to do other than deal with back passes. That may owe something to a greater emphasis on keeping a clean sheet, or the fact that Bolasie aside Plymouth offered little threat and seemed strangely subdued. Who cares?

Francis: 7/10. Decent enough game, although I think he was involved in the mix-up with Dailly which nearly cost us.

Fry: 6/10. Not bad, but loses a mark for taking a couple of the poor free kicks in the first half. Crosses which hang in the air in the middle of the goal are food and drink for a big keeper.

Doherty: 7/10. Didn’t feature much, but that’s fine for me for a centre-back when we’ve had a rare clean sheet.

Dailly: 8/10. The mix-up aside, he was superb. His reading of the game struck me through the match, plus the fact he was our most effective carrier of the ball out of defence to help get things going.

Jackson: 7/10. Did threaten to get in a couple of times and has a great habit of appearing in the box. Not a natural winger as regards attacking threat, which is a problem when the same applies on the other flank.

Semedo: 6/10. Decent enough, just sometimes hope for a bit more than being combative when we’re looking to create going forward.

Racon: 6/10. Worked hard but made no telling contribution. Fact is we look to him for inspiration going forward and in the first half especially it was in short supply.

McCormack: 8/10. Looked like a fish out of water wide-right in the first half, but deserves credit for sticking at it. More involved and more effective in the second half, won headers, and did the necessary job when moved inside.

Wagstaff: 7/10. Generally ineffective in creating space or getting the combination right of dropping deep and providing a threat. But gets the extra mark for a goal which changed the game and which was reward for sheer enthusiasm.

Anyinsah: 7/10. Worked tirelessly with little support. Not enough time to see whether he and Eccleston will be the best combination.

Subs: Reid (6/10 – loses a mark for having got in good positions adding to the list of poor crosses); Eccleston (8/10 – if a guy comes on and scores he has to get a good mark, let’s see more); Abbott (7/10 – wasn’t on for long enough for a proper assessment).

Man of the Match: Who else? Sir Chris. Enjoy the day, now the work really begins.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Wishful Thinking

My main wish for the weekend is that the 08.27 from Lyon Part Dieu to Lille departs and arrives on time. If it does, I can get the 12.05 (French time) from Lille to St Pancras, arrive in time to make it back home to drop bags, get to the pub for a slug of crap wine, and most important to be there to cheer Sir Chris on his return. We cheered him out and I want to be there to cheer him back in. But if the 08.27 doesn’t run to schedule .... When I booked the tickets I thought it might be a close call, but at the time the risk of being a bit late for Plymouth didn’t seem so important. Events, dear boy, events.

The week in Lyon got off to a good start. I had three wishes then: pastis at Croix Rousse (which was pretty much guaranteed), glorious victory at Sheff Wed, and a win for Lyon Duchere. It proved to be two out of three (and if I were being honest I would have sacrificed the two for the third). I’ve missed the two games of the Peacock Charlton managerial era so can’t comment on them, but Saturday evening produced a thoroughly entertaining contest between Duchere and Sochaux B, albeit one played out in front of a disappointingly small crowd.

Sochaux are currently mid-table in France’s equivalent of The Premiership and the first thing that strikes you about their reserve team is that they’re bloody big. It seems to be a familiar theme when Duchere mix it with the big teams’ second strings (of which there seem to be four in CFA B, including this year Paris-SG but not Olympique Lyonnais). We missed the first 10 minutes, having been glued to the BBC site in the hope of a late winner at Hillsborough, and arrived to groans from the crowd as Sochaux took an early lead. What was apparent from the early play was that Sochaux had a couple of forwards who were bigger, stronger and faster than their opponents. If there was space behind the defenders, all they needed to do was knock it forward and bulldoze their way through. And although Duchere had weapons of their own, especially a very sprightly if erratic winger, there was no real surprise that they fell further behind. Their excellent keeper of recent years seemed to be missing and the new guy was also, well erratic. He pulled off a blinding save to turn away a shot for a corner, but when the ball was half-cleared it fell nicely for the Sochaux guy to volley it back. There should have been no problems, but the Duchere keeper did a Carson/Green and let the shot pass under his body.

However, we all know that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead and as Sochaux started to knock the ball around in defence with little intention they seemed to relax, believing the job was done. Come on, draw your own parallels, although perhaps they were just getting cold as without ballboys play was not exactly continuous. Whatever, before the break Sochaux played a pass too many and said nippy winger latched on to the ball and fairly rifled it low into the net.

So, 1-2 at the break, but it still looked as though Sochaux could score more at will. The next goal would prove crucial. They had the chances to score it early in the second half, but a combination of slack finishing and good fortune for Duchere kept the game alive. Despite their air of assurance Duchere were causing Sochaux some problems and the crowd’s spirits were surprisingly lifted when a silly tackle in the box, on a Duchere player going away from goal, resulted in a penalty. I’ve seen Curtis, Hales, Mendonca and Jackson (and others) put them away from the spot, but I swear I’ve never seen a better penalty. Drilled shot into the top corner. (Note on penalties: I cannot for the life of me understand a forward not wanting to take them; Killer wasn’t a great penalty-taker but he knew he’d score more times than not. It’s understandable that any team has a designated penalty-taker who might not be one of the forwards, in our case Jackson; but for me Benson and Anyinsah declining to take one even in a shoot-out is disappointing. If they’re not confident in their ability to score from the spot something is wrong. Chris, make them practise until they drop.)

Sochaux seemed offended that Duchere had the audacity to equalise and set about putting things right. But as so often the case Duchere raised their game, with something to hold on to (and stiffened the midfield with a substitution and generally compressed the game). Sochaux started to struggle to turn possession into scoring opportunities. Duchere seemed more than content with a point, but glory be Sochaux made a mess of clearing a corner and the loose ball was smashed home. French regional third flight it may be, but it meant three of the cleanest strikes I’ve ever seen in one game.

There were still 15 minutes to go and the question was whether Duchere would hold on. Sochaux pressed, but there just wasn’t the space they enjoyed in the first half and as their frustration grew – not least over the reluctance of Duchere players to go and get the ball when it went out – La Duch managed to play out the game reasonably comfortably. They even had the opportunity on the break to make a pigs ear of a three-on-one of the like not seen since Charlton v Fulham in a different era.

Cue the final whistle and joy for the 100 or so of us in the crowd, hearty congratulations between the Duchere players on winning a game that for most of the time they had no right to, and the Sochaux giants creeping off to the dressing room for a well-deserved bollocking. Just goes to show, whatever level there’s always hope (or despair) when the score reaches 2-0.

This post was going to be on what I would say to Powell were I Keith Peacock filling him in on the squad etc. But that will have to wait for another day as Morgan Stanley’s results are looming large (after Goldman Sachs yesterday) and, this being France, I’ll have to get to the shops before they all decide to decamp for lunch and turn away customers just as they’re getting hungry. What’s the point of offering great food if the shop’s shut? This post will have to just be about wishful thinking. The Cote Rotie has been qwaffed, along with a majestic offering from the Ventoux region and one from Languedoc. Tonight I hope it will be a Croze Hermitage and with the restaurant booked for Friday night my wish is for it all to be rounded off with a good St Joseph. But if I had one wish it would be to make it to the Rose of Denmark by 2pm on Saturday for a small bottle of red vinegar.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Welcome Back Sir Chris

From the ridiculous to the sublime! Sir Chris set to return to The Valley as manager, a true ex-England saint taking over rather than the ex-England sinner we had feared. For sure it’s a risk, but sometimes gut instinct is a good guide. I had to stop and think exactly why I would have despaired had Wise been brought in, even leaving aside conspiracy theories, after someone asked the question in a comment. The instinctive reaction was that Wise was all wrong, which you can then try to explain in more prosaic terms. Hearing that Powell is about to be confirmed for me prompted a smile and a good feeling. That’ll do for now, especially as the creative juices aren’t exactly flowing at the moment (how would you feel after an extra night’s stay in Amsterdam prompted by a celebration bash the downside of which was having to surface at 04.00 for the flight back so that I can unpack and then pack again to go off to Lyon tomorrow?)

The process of finding a new manager also seems to have been conducted well. It was pleasing to see that Howe said that the two clubs which wanted him to decamp (us and Palace) did it by the book (the fact that he seems to be off to Burnley is a matter between him and Bournemouth). Tracking the news from abroad it seemed clear that the fact that Curbs didn’t get the Ipswich job but wasn’t ushered in as our new manager closed the book on that one, with the bookies going on to make Johnson favourite. That in my view would have been a reasonable option, although I’d been pondering on the outside possibility of Dailly being persuaded that the time might be right to take on the job, with Peacock retained to carry some of the load. Instead we’ve got someone with a cast-iron guarantee of the fans’ complete goodwill, whatever the reservations about experience.

(Note to players: if things go badly in the coming months don’t think that the crowd will be turning the heat on the new manager; we all desperately want him to succeed and it’s far more likely that those on the pitch will take the rap; so make bloody sure you do all you can to make it work.)

What does the appointment say? My first reaction is that it suggests that the new owners are taking a realistic approach to the chances of promotion this season. We’re in with a shout, given our position, but with Brighton some points ahead and Southampton having ominously moved through the field, plus the fact that we haven’t been playing like world-beaters, I think we’d all grab a play-off spot now if that was on offer. Bringing in Powell should give the place a lift, which we hope will extend to performances on the pitch, but it’s not the sort of appointment that suggests a ‘promotion or else’ attitude. Barring abject disasters, Powell will have to be given next season as well as this to prove himself, which points to the sort of steady progress that the owners have talked about (which is not to say that the objective for this season doesn’t include promotion if possible and more enyoyable football).

I should add that in previous posts I wasn’t trying to say that I believed there was a conspiracy going on regarding sacking Parkinson – rather that if Wise had been given the job I would have belived that and that for me it wouldn’t have reflected well on the new owners. He hasn’t so there’s an end to it (of course for those who like conspiracy theories they had lined him up only to be taken aback by the strength of the fans’ opposition to the idea and changed plans). Instead we have a new manager we like, admired as a player and as a person (see, we long ago forgave him for his unwise dalliance with Palace, which must have been forced upon him as an unsuspecting youth). I do believe I even shook his hand at the Champions dinner (along with Keith Jones). And yes, it will feel good to get some positive media coverage rather than the ‘fresh evidence of Charlton’s slide’ of recent seasons. So well done the new owners.

Saints preserve us, if that wasn’t enough we’ve even got something concrete out of a promised deal, with Liverpool’s Eccleston coming in on loan for the rest of the season. Fast, young, eager forward who one assumes will be able to play alongside Anyinsah or Sodje and putting the pressure on Benson, hopefully also providing the sort of movement and threat to get the best out of Racon and Martin. If that means, as Wyn Grant for one has mentioned, Abbott going out on loan, well I don’t think there will be too many tears.

You see, just the appointment of Powell and we’re coming over all optimistic again. That will do for now for me. Just the dream ticket on Saturday to look forward to: couple of pastis at the Croix Rousse market, some port to get me through the scanning of the BBC website to track our trouncing of Sheff Wed, then off out to watch Lyon Duchere win in the evening. May it come to pass.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Waiting And Hoping

The past few days have I guess gone as well as we could hope for, although having put Keith Peacock in temporary charge it would have been rather churlish to deny him the opportunity to clock up at least one game in charge of Charlton. I just hope we’ve gone overboard in our fears that Wise will get the job; the new owners can’t be blamed for the bookies making him odds-on favourite (it is nice to see that he’s eased back in the betting from 1/4 to 2/3), although the cliché is that you are judged by the company you keep. We continue to wait and hope that it isn’t him.

So who do we want? There are it seems now two names that are entirely to be desired but extremely unlikely to be tempted by the opportunity, or to fall within our price range. Curbs for me would be a shoo-in if he expresses an interest; I’d go so far as to suggest that the first task last week should have been for Murray, Varney et al to at least put it to him. Of course there are drawbacks in going back, but even if he’d never been at Charlton he would be by some distance the best manager currently whiling away the hours that we could hope for. And if Martin O’Neill can be currently cited at only 33-1 anything has to be possible. Roy Hodgson would be a marvellous alternative. It’s disappointing that he’s not been successful at Liverpool, especially since it would appear to remove another obstacle in the way of the Rednapp getting the England job. And I can’t imagine that he would be interested in dropping this far. I can only hope.

Those aside, do we want a gnarled old campaigner who might have an immediate galvanising effect on the players or do we look to rebuild more with a younger alternative? It would help if the new owners’ comments on their objectives were more consistent. Michael Slater has been quoted as saying that “what we won’t do it create unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky expectations”, that “we will always live within our means”, and that the aim is “to make steady upward progress”. That’s fair enough (although I doubt we are currently as a club living within our means), but what about the other comments cited elsewhere to the effect that nothing less than promotion will do and that given the position we are in sacking Parkinson was geared around going up? The positions aren’t contradictory, but overall I think the impression is that we’re in with a decent shout of promotion and that the new manager has to hit the ground running and be available quickly, especially if we want to make a couple of signings. That for me suggests a bias for experience and motivation rather than long-term potential.

In that context I don’t think you can rule out the likes of Coleman, Southgate, Taylor or Hart or Waddock, even though they’re don’t currently have the shortest odds. I also think the current odds of only 3/1 for Howe look much too short. It’s worth stressing that I have no problem with a suitable manager who has Palace or Millwall connections. That’s not why Wise is unacceptable. Of the longer shots, I’ve always liked (in the non-Biblical sense) Wilkins. He’s measured, thoughtful and would, like Poyet at Brighton, establish a pattern of play for the team. Of course his knowledge of the third division would be limited, but if we want an ex-England player I’d choose him over Hoddle any day. I have to say that there are some others in the betting I’ve never heard of (I could look them up to disguise my ignorance but life’s too short).

Perhaps KP will lead us to victory tomorrow and over the next couple of weeks establish a claim for the job. The Spurs game has acquired more interest, given that another man has to assess what is our strongest available team (without the suspended Benson). But as I said before I won’t be there. I just don’t care about the cup as long as we are languishing in this awful division. There’s also the small matter of having to get to Amsterdam on Monday morning and then at the end of the week to Lyon, returning – Eurostar permitting – in time for the Plymouth game. I do expect to be able to take in a Lyon Duchere home game next weekend; it might make a welcome break. The Valley half-full to watch dire football isn’t a treat and a lot of good supporters have decided to jack it in. It’s not surprising that Wise is viewed by a good number more as the final straw. All I’m asking is that it is anyone else and that he takes us up, however it’s done.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Wrong Decision For Me, But All Down To Choice Of Successor

We’ve all had the chance to sleep on it, although imperfect information means that no definitive judgement can be reached. To know whether the decision to sack Parkinson was the right one we would need to know what the new owners’ real thoughts were at the time they put in the offer, whether they already know who they want to be manager, what was said and done after the Swindon game – and most important whether the change sees us go on to secure promotion. If it does, it will have been the right move; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. As removing the last imponderable would require a certain divinity, it is reasonable to see the decision as one that we might on balance agree or disagree with – personally I’m in the latter camp - but one which we as supporters should in principle back.

However, in this case the choice of new manager will go a long way towards cementing first impressions of the new owners – and first impressions can be lasting. I have absolutely no problem with new guys coming in and deciding that Parkinson was not the man to take us forward. They’ve bought the club and they are writing the cheques, while Parkinson’s record in charge is hardly such that there would have been howls of outrage.

On Parkinson’s record, I don’t really blame him for relegation from The Championship. The failure to rebound first time after relegation from The Premiership was the real disaster, when despite being unbalanced we had a squad that should have gone back up. Pardew carries the can for that. With the subsequent intention to try to balance the books and shed the better (overall) and highest paid, Pardew then failed to produce a team capable of holding us steady in The Championship, with Parkinson taking over a club in decline. However, last season was a failure as once more we had greater quality than those around us and didn’t make it count. If Parkinson had been sacked at the end of last season there could have been no complaints, but we all knew the situation. That would have cost money and, given that so many players were going to depart, he looked as good an option as any we might have attracted to build a new, cheaper team. Keeping him on then was a reasonable decision, albeit one borne out of necessity.

That leaves this season. Let’s not forget as it began we had no idea if we would be facing another relegation battle. From the squad that was printed in the Swindon play-off game we’d lost Richardson, Youga, Bailey, McKenzie, Burton, Sam, Basey, Spring, Dickson, Sodje(S), Sinclair, Fleetwood, Mooney, Randolph, Borrowdale, Forster and of course Shelvey. Good riddance in some cases, but nobody in their right mind could pretend that those brought in would give us similar quality. The best we could hope for was that a new team would gel quickly enough and have the desire and commitment to allow us to compete. In that context, Parkinson’s real problem this season has been expectations raised by a better-than-expected start, plus the fact that our best performances have been away from The Valley. Suddenly we were back to demanding promotion – and attractive football. That we are where we are in the league is a reflection of the lower quality of the other higher-placed teams than last season and a good job by Parkinson and his staff.

I don’t think it’s an accident that especially of late we have struggled at home. Other clubs do do their homework after all. In Racon, Martin, Reid and Wagstaff, and Benson, we have players who thrive on space. When teams are disciplined and get behind the ball quickly, these players tend to be ineffective. This does raise the reasonable point that in this division, against average defenders, we might have played the percentages more at home and made more use of the physicality of Sodje and, yes, even Abbott. And yes, Parkinson’s decisions for the Swindon game were poor, but that doesn’t excuse the attitude and performance of the players on the pitch. One bad night at home every now and then is inevitable, but Brighton, Walsall and Swindon in short order are enough to raise concerns about our tactics. But sufficient to get the manager the sack? Not in my book, in isolation. Manager of the month to dismissal a few weeks later.

This backdrop leaves me in the camp that is of the opinion that sacking Parkinson is on balance, at present, a poor decision – unless of course what comes next is better. Basically I don’t think Swindon was enough to conclude that change of any kind was needed, even though the atmosphere at The Valley for Swindon fluctuated between dead and poisonous. What gives me additional concern is the tone and content of the statements made by the new owners. The references to not winning since November and ‘recent performances’ etc simply smack of trying to justify a decision already taken. And the clear reference to sacking Parkinson being a board decision – implying that Murray was in favour – also at least sounds duplicitous. Perhaps he was, but it certainly wasn’t his decision to take. He was in no position to disagree, unless he was prepared to resign from the board. Retaining Murray on the board is a positive move by the new owners, but I would bet my life savings on him not being around for long.

The new owners don’t need to win a popularity contest. They’ve bought the club and are entitled to make whatever decisions they feel will bring success to Charlton. That is what we all want and that is what they will be judged on (if they fail it’s their money lost). We can all accept a degree of double-talk in suggesting wanting to keep Parkinson only to sack him days later. But that leads us back to his replacement. If it is Wise, recent events will have been nothing more than a farce and we would discover that our club is now in the hands of people whose word cannot be trusted. If by some miracle it is Curbs I will cheer them to the rafters. If it is someone else, we accept the change and get behind him and the team – and hopefully whatever money is available will not have already been spent.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Parky Gone; What's The Sub-Plot?

Life’s a bitch. Many’s the time I’ve tried to stay awake for the League show after Match of the Day to bask in a glorious victory and failed miserably. Last night for some reason there was no problem in staying wide awake for more punishment, as well as to hear the rumours of a big bust-up after the game. And after rumours through the morning there’s confirmation on the club site that Parkinson has been sacked, along with Breaker and Kinsella.

According to Slater, “clearly improvement is needed on the field ... recent performances have simply not been good enough” and “last night’s defeat convinced us as a board that change is required now while we are still in the hunt for promotion and that we must appoint a new manager to give us every chance of going up”. The only further comment is that a caretaker management team will be announced “in due course”.

Initial reactions are seldom accurate and perhaps a good deal might come out about post-match exchanges (I did write last night that it was the time for some home truths to be expressed but had no idea they were at the time). And clearly the case for Parkinson to go was strengthened last night. But I have to say I’m deeply sceptical that the new owners, who following the takeover were expressing support for Parkinson, came to some sudden decision as a result of one game, however bad it was. To sack him and say ‘recent performances’ have not been good enough doesn’t sit with taking over and talking about discussing with Parkinson how to strengthen the team etc.

We will only know I guess when the caretaker team is unveiled. If a certain D.Wise is involved I for one would be inclined to conclude that the new owners were just looking for an excuse.

Monday 3 January 2011

Depressingly Bad

Some days nothing goes right. When you look back on a match during which we’ve played 4-5-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-3, when your most reliable defender makes a horrible ricket to gift a goal, and when you take off a centre-half and then concede two headed goals from corners, you know it’s been bad. But when you add in insufficient effort and commitment and lack of basic skills (control, passing and movement), plus the fact that aside from a deflected shot and a decent strike when the game was lost the only other near miss was another crazy deflection, you realise that luck wasn’t by a distance the most important factor. The only excuse for today was fatigue, being the third game in less than a week. But if players find extra energy for an irrelevant cup game against Spurs on Sunday I’m going to be furious. Today’s game was far more important and we blew it.

Parkinson did make changes, with Fry and Doherty dropping out (I don’t know if injuries were involved), meaning Jackson dropping back and Fortune coming in. We’d all thought that Benson would be unavailable, but presumably the club is appealing against his red card and he took his place on his own up front, despite the availability of Sodje and Abbott, who were both on the bench. McCormack came into a five-man midfield, along with Semedo and Racon, with Reid and Martin the wide men.

You can’t say the formation worked. While Martin and Reid threatened down the flanks in the first half, the system left McCormack as the spare man. That was a real case of square peg in a round hole. I felt sorry for him as he tried to move around to little effect, with no indication that the other two in the centre were able to link up with him. Despite this, the first 30 minutes were pretty even and weren’t too bad, even if as against Walsall at home we weren’t showing the sort of pace and movement to unravel a team looking to get men behind the ball. It was all too slow – and when we did get the movement right, with Racon threading a delightful pass to Martin, the linesman mistakenly gave it offside. We did take the lead, with Jackson getting into the box and despite Swindon appeals for handball got the shot in, only for a strong deflection to take it up and over the keeper into the net. The problem was the goal didn’t force Swindon to change their shape or approach and encouraged us to sit back a little. If we had held the lead to the break the game may have turned out differently, but after a couple of dangerous balls in from their left which might have been converted a third found their forward. His shot was well saved by Elliot but the rebound went straight to him and the scores were tied.

The second half began in similar fashion and we continued to struggle to make things happen, often because the necessary (and elementary) control of the ball and passing just wasn’t good enough for any level. Reid (who had been a little fortunate in the first half only to get a yellow for a bad challenge after he overran the ball) and Martin were becoming more peripheral and changes were necessary. McCormack went off for Abbott to revert to 4-4-2 and Wagstaff replaced Martin on the right side. However, before we had a chance to see how that might work we went behind. Dailly received the ball facing his own goal and with players bearing down seemed to realise he was in trouble. But it was one of those occasions when the head sends incomplete messages and instead of hoofing it anywhere he ended up miscuing and falling over, leaving their guy to take it on and score.

Parkinson’s response was to take of Fortune and bring on Sodje. It was a gamble, with still perhaps 20 minutes to play; and obviously it backfired. In the space of a few minutes two corners found us short of markers. The first was simply nodded home at the far post, the second headed back for their guy to score with his head. Game up, embarrassingly. With everything from us understandably by now going long, we did have the sight of Abbott swivelling well in the box to hit one home. But there was never a suggestion that this would be the springboard for a dramatic turnaround.

Enough people had left well before the end to spare the team heavy boos at the final whistle. But this time they were merited. I thought we were better against Brighton than the scoreline suggested and that losing to Walsall was worse. This one was worse than Walsall. Please don’t tell me that the dressing room is full of committed, happy players and that the team spirit is all that it needs to be when we are outbattled and outpassed by Swindon, as we had been in our previous two home games. There’s a lot of thinking and a lot of work to be done, maybe some home truths to be said about some players who today weren’t up to the task, if that is to challenge for promotion. To add to the misery, Parkinson chose an initial formation that didn’t work and went on to change things in a fashion that contributed to a very bad defeat.

I’ve been away for a delightful New Year jolly to Porto with my partner Suzanne. So any belated thoughts I might have on the takeover news will have to wait. Suffice to say that if there was a cheque involved Murray had better hope it cleared before the new guys watched today’s game.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. No blame for him as the goals weren’t his fault. Just one thought that he seemed reluctant to come off his line for crosses in the first half and with a centre-half taken off might have decided to go for subsequent corners. Couldn’t have turned out any worse.

Francis: 6/10. Worrying that their dangerous crosses in the first half came from his side, but it did seem that their most effective players were down the left.

Jackson: 6/10. Notched his 12th of the season, assuming he’s credited with it. Quite remarkable, even allowing for the penalties. Felt today that Reid was often isolated but the blame for that has to be in midfield.

Dailly: 5/10. Has to be marked down for the mistake. They’ve been few and far between, so we just have to forget it. He was actually our best player when it came to bringing the ball out and trying to get things moving in front of him.

Fortune: 7/10. Actually thought that he and Dailly in the first half played well and contained their threat. Taking him off was just a gamble that cost us.

Martin: 6/10. A lot of good and nearly productive work in the first half, was involved in most of our good moments. But he faded. Why was he not used as the spare man in midfield when that role requires movement and speed of thought?

Semedo: 5/10. In a game where the opposition is content to retreat behind the ball when they lose possession his combative skills were seldom in evidence; that in turn tended to show up limitations when it comes to creating space and making telling runs/passes.

Racon: 4/10. Just an all-round poor game. With the extra body in midfield we should have dominated that area. We didn’t. We needed him to be lively and penetrative, but today he was ineffective.

McCormack: 4/10. His saving grace is that he was asked to play a role that he is clearly not suited to. Was redundant in the first half and substituted in the second.

Reid: 5/10. Became progressively less influential through the game. They marked him tightly and the inability of those alongside him to create space meant he usually found himself with too much to do.

Benson: 4/10. Just not suited to play as a lone front man as he has doesn’t have the necessary aerial ability, speed or strength. He’s a goalscorer.


Abbott – 6/10 (It couldn’t have turned out worse if he’d started alongside Benson and did take the goal well); Wagstaff – 4/10 (no impact at all); Sodje – 4/10 (can’t remember him touching the ball).