You’re never going to be truly satisfied with a draw at home when the second half is goalless and you have the majority of the chances on offer. But in the circumstances it didn’t feel that bad; a late winner would not have flattered us (and there were possibilities) while Blackburn, after a fairly traumatic 24 hours, were content to see out the game. If there was a neutral’s man of the match it would probably have gone to their keeper Robinson, which says enough, even though the best chance to win the game has to go down as an unwanted block by Wright-Phillips (more of that later). You had the impression that after losing their manager the night before the game they were happy with a point, and that after losing another striker we weren’t too disappointed either, unless Jackson’s injury proves to be serious.
The surprise before kick-off was that Fuller was out of the picture (I have checked the club site and it cites illness). Rather than Smith getting a start (or a late call going out to Scunthorpe to recall Clarke), the choice was to go 4-5-1 with BWP ploughing a lone furrow and Hollands returning in a packed midfield. Now in my book 4-5-1 works in one of two ways: either you are Spurs with Allen, who did nothing except for knocking the ball in the net (repeatedly) after a midfield including Hoddle, Ardilles et al did all the work, or you are Chelsea with a Drogba and Robben and Duff either side. We did once have the latter, with Bent up front, Thomas and Rommadahl out wide, and a midfield of Murphy, Smertin and Kishishev. It’s why I couldn’t bring myself to join in the booing of Murphy; he was petulant, abrasive and generally dislikeable, and he threw his toys out the pram when leaving us (having not been recalled for England and dropped by Curbs when we switched back to 4-4-2). But he played in the best Charlton team I’ve ever seen.
I guess the point is that with a five-man midfield you need fluidity, especially if it’s not a de facto 4-3-3. The formation was forced on us, and in the end we nearly came away with the win. But in the first half especially there wasn’t enough movement to really make it work. It needed one of Hollands, Stephens and Jackson to be bombing forward and too often they played their natural game. Not really criticism of them, or of the formation, but there was a feeling in the crowd (I think) that goals would be hard to come by, unless Green and/or Kerkar made the difference, or Morrison and/or Cort produced something from a set piece. In the event, it was a case of almost, on all fronts.
It was another edgy start, with us trying to adapt to not knocking balls forward in the air and both wingers trying to come to terms with the fact that a decent cross from out wide would probably be fruitless. Sometimes the ball had to be hit high and part of the problem was that Wright-Phillips managed to win some, to his credit but to no practical advantage given that nobody was going to be further forward than him. But we had a couple of half-chances, with a Cort header going over the bar and a Kerkar shot-come-cross going narrowly past the far post. Just when we seemed to be finding a way into the game they scored, after around 15 minutes.
You have to say it was a decent goal. Their midfield guy saw an opportunity to make a well-timed run forward down our left side and for once Solly was caught out. The ball was delivered well, he ran on to it, past the static Solly, and finished well, giving Hamer no chance. The thought at that point was that there was still enough Premiership quality about them that we might find it difficult to get back into things, especially with Rhodes up front. That it didn’t turn out that way is to our credit as Cort and Morrison kept a tight grip on their forwards and as the midfield won possession, providing the basis for us to have the better of the balance of play.
That said, we got back on level terms in fortunate circumstances. A set piece cross in and their guy decided to shove one of ours. He fell nicely to the ground and with the ref having a clear line of vision there was no doubt it was a penalty. Soft, unnecessary, but unquestionable. Robinson faffed around but Jackson’s conversion record gave us confidence. He went for a drive down the middle but Robinson’s legs were left trailing and the kick was blocked. However, the ball was never really cleared and when it found its way back into the box Jackson met it on the full and it flew into the roof of the net. Back on level terms after about 30 minutes and it seemed it could go either way. Blackburn still looked capable of scoring, but we were starting to dominate possession and managing to break up their attacks, while Kerkar was steadily coming more into the game. The one further chance of note in the first half was a Green shot from inside the box that took a deflection and cannoned back off the post.
The second half simmered but never really caught fire as the second goal wouldn’t come. Worryingly, Jackson went down and after lengthy treatment couldn’t continue, casting some doubt about his availability for the games coming up. In practical terms, Pritchard coming on did give us more movement and fluidity as he seemed to have a truly free role behind BWP. Kerkar was starting to give their full back a torrid time and Green was finding space on the other flank, supported by Wilson, which created a game in which we were happy to take a set piece, to allow Morrison and Cort to come forward, or for the wide men to take a shot. And shots there were. Green sent a free kick over the bar and after that a swerving one that Robinson managed to turn away for a corner. One corner found Cort at the far post and his header back produced a scramble which saw Robinson fist the ball away from (probably) not fully over the line.
Blackburn threatened periodically, but generally it was about whether we would get the winner. In the event the best chance came from another free kick. As it floated into around the penalty spot both Morrison and Wright-Phillips had beaten an offside ploy. Morrison got the flick and there’s little doubt that it would have gone in, with Robinson stranded, but BWP had shaped up for it as well and the deflection saw the ball hit him instead of nestle in the net. Can’t really blame Wright-Phillips for it as he’s a forward shaping up to score, but if he hadn’t made the run it surely would have gone in. I did think we should have had another penalty at the death as Cort rose at the far post and was clearly shoved while in the air, stopping him getting in a clean header. It was perhaps one for the linesman to spot but it went begging. For some reason Evina was given the final 30 seconds on the pitch, replacing Kerkar, who had threatened to be the match-winner, although with set pieces in the last couple of minutes I thought we might have sent on Smith – or anyone to add to the aerial threat.
So, far from perfect, but in its way creditable. For the most part we nullified Blackburn as an attacking threat, after their goal had suggested we would struggle to do so. The five-man midfield seemed something cobbled together after the loss of Fuller; it had its pros and cons but with a bit more crispness in the passing and more movement it could have won us the game. The concerns are Jackson going off and Fuller not being available, given the unavailability for the foreseeable future of Kermorgant and Wiggins. Hopefully in both cases it proves to be nothing worrying.
Hamer – 8/10. As against Palace, what mark do you give a keeper who has no chance with a goal scored, few other efforts on target to deal with, but copes capably with everything else?
Wilson – 7/10. Another competent game. Did get caught out once in the second half as he had gone forward and suddenly there was a gap, but at the moment you can’t argue with Powell’s decision regarding Wiggins, however tough it is on Evina.
Solly – 6/10. Has to lose a mark for their goal as it was his area and their guy stole a march on him. Otherwise no problems at all.
Cort – 8/10. No errors I can remember in defence, won everything in the air, and at the other end the guy is just a constant threat. What more can you ask for (except turning the headers into goals)?
Morrison – 8/10. My man of the match as his display was near faultless. Should have come away having scored the winner for us.
Kerkar – 8/10. Grew into the game and his threat seemed to increase. Adapted to the fact that often having worked a good position there was no point in slinging in a cross as BWP was outnumbered, but when there’s a Fuller or a Kermorgant to aim at it should be good.
Jackson – 6/10. Having been switched inside for Ipswich he had to adjust to a central three. Not a bad game, but between the three of them it would have been good to see more fluidity. The penalty save is just one of those things and he buried the chance that followed quickly after. Just hope the injury isn’t serious.
Hollands – 6/10. Much the same as Jackson. Effective but not dramatic.
Stephens – 7/10. He tended to pull the strings when we had possession. Could have been marked down for one bad set piece.
Green – 7/10. The shooting was mixed but he too could have been a match-winner. Some times you feel he should be making himself more available for an easy pass, but the space he found in the second half could have been decisive.
Wright-Phillips – 7/10. Asked to do a different job and applied himself to it well. There was one chance that fell to him late on and he didn’t get too much on it. But I’m not going to mark him down for blocking Morrison’s header. He’s a striker and it’s his job to get on the end of things.
Subs – Pritchard (7/10 – did make a difference as he found the space between midfield and Wright-Phillips that others hadn’t); Evina (oh come on, on the pitch for 30 second and didn’t touch the ball; he’s every right to be disappointed but I hope his mind is still right).