Before we start, I’ve got two gripes, one pertinent to the game. First, turning over the front page of the programme we see an outline of pre-season friendlies shaping up and the statement that “Addicks boss Chris Powell has reiterated that the team remains firmly focused on finishing the current campaign with the maximum number of points possible”. If so, why are we supposed to have been firmly focused on renewing season tickets for next year? Having to do so in early April rankled last season and it does even more this time around. Second, just what are we trying to achieve in the games left? We can’t plan for next season as we don’t know who stays, who goes and who comes in. So the stated priority is to achieve as many points as possible. There’s a lot to be said in other circumstances for consistency in team selection, and for retaining players who perform, but today we had on the bench Nouble, Eccleston and Reid. And we select a team with a central midfielder wide left and two finishers up front.
The team selection meant we were compact and competitive – and once again there was no lack of effort and commitment from those selected. It turned out to be a game we were unlucky to lose, but also one that at especially at half-time you wondered whether the fire-power on the bench would, if utilised, had contributed to a much more enjoyable experience. Fact is we played hard and ended up losing. Couldn’t have turned out any worse and the alternative might have been more fun. Huddersfield, after all, were not exactly world-beaters.
This for me was the interesting discussion after the game. Is it a positive that Powell is rewarding players who come in by keeping them in the team, or is it a negative that he doesn’t seem to be selecting on perceived merit/ability when available? Llera came into the side when Doherty was unavailable and played nine in a row. Now Fortune, who was on the bench for that spell, is given the nod with Dailly absent. Francis made a bad mistake nine games ago and hasn’t featured since. Eccleston hasn’t started a game since the start of March, nor has Reid. Nouble came straight into the team but now, apparently fit, isn’t first choice. I wish I could see the pattern, but I can’t. Eccleston and Nouble probably won’t be around next season, but we knew that when they came here and I thought the priority is to get as many points as possible.
Huddersfield proved to be big and strong, organised, but nothing to get excited about. They looked like a slightly poorer version of Southampton. Good luck to them if they go up, but I’d rather this division loses Southampton for next season as there’s nothing there to fear for the next campaign. Their attacking threat seemed to amount to trying to find Kilbane out wide at every opportunity – and overall Bessone handled that threat well, leaving aside the first-half trip that wasn’t given – and a big guy in the middle. No change of pace, no real intricacy, just another team full of worthy endeavour. That said, there were a couple of periods, one in each half, when they raised their game and the pressure they put us under might have produced results.
As for us? I don’t want to be too critical as with some luck we could have won and deserved a point. The defence, protected by Semedo, coped well with almost everything thrown at them. The midfield competed, with Stewart showing he has more in his locker than McCormack, although it’s not yet clear whether he is looking to stay or to get fit to impress someone else. He got on the end of two moves early in the second half to get shots in, the first decent the second, from a better position, fluffed. Wagstaff had a much better game for me than of late, being involved both halves, while Racon continued to apply himself in a position not suited for him. Benson acquitted himself well, with intelligent and effective play with back to goal – but lacked conviction when it came to shooting opportunities – while Wright-Phillips did more work outside the box than I expect. What was missing, throughout the game, was effectiveness where it mattered. We had shots and half-chances but nothing you could say that really tested their keeper. The same could be said about them.
For much of the game the teams cancelled each other out. The longer it went on, the more intruiging it became as at 0-0 it was there to be won. In the end they scored. An aimless ball forward was miscontrolled by Wagstaff and fell to their guy, who was fouled. The free kick was parried by a hand being raised by someone in the wall (or so the ref decided) and was advanced to the edge of the area. What happened next I’d have to see again, but when someone can blast a shot through what was supposed to be a wall into the centre of the net someone hasn’t done their job. No blame attached to Sullivan in goal.
That left about 10 minutes to get something out of the afternoon. Reid came on for Racon, but surprisingly that was the last change. We had to resort to going longer, but the option chosen was Doherty moving up front. Perhaps too many things about this season were summed up in the final seconds, when Reid took the ball in space going forward. It looked like right place, right guy. He trod on the ball and the moment was lost.
The guys on the pitch deserve credit for their effort. But the result means that the focus shifts from one win, one draw, one defeat in three to three games without a goal, and one win (and six points) in 15. Four left to play and, sorry to say, none of them matter a damn. It will be over soon.
Sullivan: 7/10. What rating do you give a keeper who’s dealt with all the minor stuff competently and had no chance with the goal?
Bessone: 7/10. Decent game as he was up against their main attacking threat. Caught out a couple of times, but is doing enough to suggest his name on the teamsheet next season would be welcome.
Solly: 7/10. Nothing wrong. I’m just at a loss to what happens next season in a choice between him and Francis, who’s unlucky to be out of the side.
Fortune: 7/10. The defence as a whole did little wrong today; aside from a poor job by a wall it would have been a clean sheet. Fortune played his part in this.
Doherty: 8/10. For me he’s disappointed a little this season; I expected more in terms of leadership and drive. But with Dailly absent he played his part and was effective in breaking up many of their attacks.
Racon: 7/10. What to do with Therry is one of the decisions for next season. Last campaign Bailey ended up playing out wide because he couldn’t nail down the central position. Stuck to the task through the game, wasn’t substituted because he was playing badly.
Semedo: 7/10. Solid and effective. An inspiring early tackle to win the ball, even got forward a few times and had a header on goal. Maybe he’s got the taste for scoring goals.
Stewart: 7/10. Decent but not great. One of the two shots early in the second half might have produced a different result.
Wagstaff: 7/10. For me, much better than of late. No histrionics and instead he was involved and often effective.
Benson: 6/10. Good work with back to goal. But for me him we took one look at Eccleston and Wright-Phillips together and decided that wouldn’t work and him and BWP isn’t the combination either. He was brought in to score goals and his efforts on goal lacked conviction.
Wright-Phillips: 6/10. It was that sort of game where chances were few and far between. He’s shown what he can do and just needs to be fed.
Subs: Reid (5/10 – not really his fault, but that moment in the final seconds summed things up; how much football has he actually played in the past six months and to expect him to come on and deliver immediately is unrealistic).