Monday, 17 December 2012

Reading Between The Lines

Losing’s always a bitch. No matter how deep you bury it (don’t even try to stay awake for the Football League show, forget the Sunday papers, skip all other reports), and no matter how unfortunate we might have been. Sir Chris’ comments (I couldn’t hide from everything) seemed to echo how Peterborough must have felt after the game at The Valley, when they looked better placed to win before Fuller let rip. Narrow margins for sure, but with Saturday’s game marking the formal halfway point in the season (unless of course we are denied automatic promotion and have to settle for the play-offs) nobody can say they don’t deserve to be where they are in the table (the obvious exceptions to the rule being two teams mysteriously in the top six).

The result means we’re as midtable as you can get: 7-8-7 and a goal difference of zero. It’s nice to view it as only seven points off a top-six spot (especially as we know two of them will be vacated in the second half), but perhaps more realistic to see it as 12 points from third and 11 from third-bottom, with Ipswich’s upturn and Peterborough’s win at Cardiff providing more evidence of how tight the division is and how quickly things can turn either way. Saturday’s game at Sheff Wed is as much about maintaining/extending the gap from the bottom clubs as closing that on those above us.

Of course that’s not the full story. Having been 21st in the league after the Middlesbrough game we are, despite Saturday, still on a rising trend. And although the unbeaten run’s over, that spell (four wins and three draws out of seven) shows what can be done and that we are competitive. For that run, the team, the manager and the fans (for their response during the Cardiff game) deserve a pat on the back. The pressure was on, especially at home, and with a bit of luck along the way the players responded. We’ve had our Charlton back for a season-and-a-half; for me the most encouraging thing about this campaign to date is that the spirit and character that got us promoted has remained intact. Perhaps no real surprise as those qualities are embodied in the manager and his staff, but reassuring nonetheless.

Whether we can continue rising of course remains to be seen; by definition, the higher you rise the tougher it is to rise further. For that to happen, even to bring the play-offs into the equation, we almost certainly have to continue to get better. That could come about simply as a result of an end to the injuries disruptions and greater cohesion/understanding between the players; it might involve some tinkering in January. I’m assuming that there’s no money to be spent – and there’s no compelling case to be made for splashing out, with the team improving and with decent competition for places in almost all areas. But just how loan signings are managed remains to be seen. Seaborne is apparently still with us on a week-to-week basis, Hulse’s three-month loan must be up at the end of the year, with the same for Frimpong, while Holland’s loan with Swindon ends in early January. So irrespective of transfers there are decisions to be made, some which may not be in our hands.

In the absence of changes to the squad, it really is a case of looking to improve week in, week out, through sheer hard work. The calendar works against a comprehensive mid-season player review as after Saturday afternoon there’s the small matter of dealing with Santa, plus the necessary preparations for my partner Suzanne’s next London visit (these include fumigating the flat). She was happy to comment in an Xmas card that Charlton can be proud of having French players, then up pops a Frenchman in a different shirt to score a brace against us. The entente cordial will be restored in time, especially if we can both cheer goals from Kermorgant, Kerkar and/or Devite when she is in attendance for the Ipswich game.

However, there is one stand-out statistic worth noting. We are currently joint bottom of the league, with Huddersfield, when it comes to leading scorer. Huddersfield actually have at least three players on four goals, while the next team above the pair of us is on seven. Most teams have a leading scorer on close to 10 (the range goes up to 22 for Burnley’s Austin). Having a major marksman is no guarantee of success of course (Cardiff top the league but their top scorer is only on eight), and we all know the main reason (injuries) for our position on this front. Behind Jackson on four, we have four forwards on three but Fuller has started just six games, Hulse nine, Haynes five (often operating out wide) and Kermorgant nine.

The strike rates are respectable, the players just haven’t been available often enough. The contrast is Wright-Phillips’ return of one goal from 10 starts, which has to be (perhaps along with Hollands’ slipping down the ranks) the main disappointment of the season to date. With Kermorgant missing for much of the time, and with the early games when they played together indicating that what worked so well last season might not be enough in this league, BWP can have no complaints about currently being out of the starting XI. I just hope he’s keeping his spirits up as there’s no doubt he will called on sooner or later. To thrive in the second half of the season we will need at least four of the five forwards available (whether or not we choose to go with one outright forward) and better understanding between them as they play more games together.

This still doesn’t explain what had to be one of the worst bets on offer since football began. Like many others I made sure I was in the ground earlier than usual for the Brighton game, to take in the anniversary celebrations (and I don’t mind admitting having a tear in my eye when the Portsmouth highlights were shown; I was there but haven’t played the videos/CDs for a while). Having arrived early, thought I’d consider a flutter. They had the team on display on the board and Wright-Phillips was offered at 20/1 to score a hat-trick. Now 20/1 isn’t exactly generous for any player to notch three; when the guy’s in question’s not even in the team, indeed a team playing with one up front, I decided the euromillions lottery offered a better risk/return profile.

It was splendid and appropriate to have Richard Murray on the pitch at the break to pass on his thoughts. Nice of him to thank a range of people (including all shareholders who lost money), but was there a hint of mischief in mentioning those behind Voice of the Valley, given the club’s silence about the dismissal of Rick Evreritt? In the programme, Michael Slater made a joke about our being informed of the move from The Valley by leaflet, adding “to think that some people now question the current board’s level of communication with the fans!” Sorry, not appropriate; and, as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s no excuse for the behaviour 20 years ago, but it was a different era (flicking back through my programme collection throws up real gems, such as a sentence on Killer leaving the club). More recently, we had a fans’ representative on the board (whatever the actual merits of that) and access to annual accounts. We even knew who the owners of the club were and their ambitions.

Communication is not just about being personable and approachable; it’s also about being as open as possible with information on sensitive issues towards interested parties, which we the fans are. Compared with a few years ago we have considerably less access to information about the state of the club we love. We don’t know if there’s truth in the rumours of a possible sale, whether Paul Elliott is being courted to become chairman, the full story of boardroom changes, and what the attitude of the board is towards money being/not being available. We know what might have happened had the club not been bought (leaving aside whether that would have involved going into administration) and the purchase ensured considerable goodwill towards the new owners. More openness on current affairs would help to ensure that goodwill doesn’t get eroded.The anniversary celebrations reminded us why we feel a bit special and the qualities, from top to bottom, that make us feel that way.

Enough negativity, it is supposed to be a season for something else. And as it’s now impossible to go anywhere without being assailed by bloody carols it is perhaps time to wish all and sundry a splendid Xmas and truly successful New Year. Cheers.

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