Wednesday 30 April 2014

Take A Bow Sir Chris, Your Team Won Tonight

We are staying up. And for that credit is due. Mostly to the players; they kept the spirit, determination and focus that was necessary through the past few months. Jose Riga deserves credit too. He inherited a situation not of his making, helped to keep that spirit going, and achieved an end-result that was all that could be asked for. But tonight I hope one guy is raising a glass to himself, and that’s Sir Chris. It was the values that he helped to install, the players that he chose to bring to the club, that won out in the end. Take a bow Sir Chris, because you deserve it. Along with Jose.

We won tonight because we got the breaks when it mattered, but also because we had players that at crucial moments in a game took things by the scruff of the neck and made something happen. Of course there was a difference in motivation, which is not to say that Watford made it easy. Just that when it came to the crunch Hamer made an outstanding save, Jackson made a run that turned the game, Wilson made a run and delivered a cross – oh, and yes Harriott buried two on his left foot.

This isn’t really a match report. We’ve all been celebrating avoiding the final day dramas – and if Kermorgant can notch a few on Saturday it might be a perfect end: Morrison the worthy winner of player of the year (for his efforts in the past three seasons), Wilson a worthy runner-up, and Kermorgant deserving of the bronze. But a few details.

We set up with a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 depending on how you look at it, with Wilson and Harriott playing either side of Sordell. It offered the opportunity for more down the right side than before, but also nothing for either ‘wide’ man to create much, with Cousins once more in a sort of ‘in the hole’ position. No matter, much depended on how Watford approached the game: on their summer holidays already or in a carefree mood? It proved to be something between the two. Nobody could say they didn’t care, but they didn’t care enough and that counted.

The first half was all about two incidents. First, Harriott had the ball facing the goal and the world and his dog thought, if you’re a Watford defender, don’t let him get the space to shoot with his left. They did. The shot didn’t exactly find the corner of the net, but their keeper was a replacement and it went in. Well taken, but poor defending. Then they had a corner and from it Hamer pulled off what could reasonably be described as the save of the season, somehow scrambling to his right to turn the header onto the bar and safety.

Having grabbed the lead and held it to the break, it was tough to see what might happen next as thoughts of us scoring again tended to fade. We all knew we’d be happy with the final whistle. Again it seemed down to Watford as much as us in a cat and mouse game. And we let them back in. They’ve scored a bucket-load of goals this season and they are, quite frankly, used to scoring. So when Dervite allowed a ball to bounce over his head their guy took full advantage and buried one into the roof of the net.

At that stage, most neutrals would have backed a Watford win. You couldn’t see where a goal for us might come from. Thoughts turned to a draw not being so bad, perhaps allowing us and Blackpool to play out 90 minutes of keep-ball. But Obika came on for Sordell, who had worked hard enough in a tough ask, and one of his first contributions changed the game. He held the ball well and delivered one into the box that Jackson just thought might be his. He made it his, going through the defender’s lunge and then poking it past their keeper. As the scorer of a crucial goal no-one was more appropriate. He made the run, took the chance, and was rewarded.

Now with our tails up and something to defend again, Watford’s discipline went a little. Their spoilt brat of a left-back had previously lost his rag for a while and both the ref and the linesman failed to notice him tripping Wilson in an off –the-ball incident, one about as cynical as it gets. No matter, he was to pick up a yellow shortly afterwards and everyone had taken note. And then Wilson decided to make him pay, by getting down the right and delivering a peach of a cross to the incoming Harriott. He just will never hit a sweeter volley as this one did find the corner of the net.

3-1 and to round things off their guy picked up a second yellow – an iffy one as Poyet had ducked into the ball, but only justice for the one that went unnoticed by the officials. As last five minutes go this was as good as it gets, with few nerves and much to celebrate.

This isn’t the time to talk about what happens next. Suffice to say the players that won us the game tonight take the credit, along with the guy that brought them to our club. I’d quite like to see the team on Saturday made up of those that were brought in to ‘strengthen’ us in January turn out and see what happens. But that would be trite, and unfair on Riga. I can’t sing ‘Jose Riga’s Red and White Army’ but that’s not a reflection on him. Tonight we celebrate and our board should breathe a big sigh of relief, that the spirit that was in the team before they took over survived.

Saturday 26 April 2014

No Complaints, Still Up To Us

We all know that at this stage of the season it’s less about performances than results. In that context, with Yeovil and now Barnsley unable to overtake us, we might already have enough points, if Doncaster lose their final game away at Leicester. We know that a win on Tuesday night will see us safe, a point and Blackpool and us could play out 90 minutes of keep-ball to both stay up (barring a dramatic shift in the goal difference). So in that context today was a missed opportunity but no more. It was also a game that we can have no complaints about losing.

We knew that this was a game that Blackburn had to win to have any chance of the play-offs and after 10 minutes I thought that if we emerged with a point it would be a good result. Blackburn weren’t brilliant, but they were strong, carried an aerial threat, and were quite frankly better than us in key areas. Like most games it could have turned out differently, if we had levelled with the penalty, or prevented a very preventable first goal for them. Level at the break and who knows, attacking the Covered End. Instead we conceded a second and, despite getting one back out of nothing, having let in a third were grateful that it didn’t end in a rout.

The team saw a predictable back four, Jackson and Poyet in central midfield, Cousins and Harriott occupying the wider berths, Ajdarevic in the hole, and Sordell operating as a lone striker. It wasn’t a bad set-up, especially with Sordell on a high after his hat-trick, and the early exchanges were fairly even. Harriott on the left was involved and AA caused them some problems, but what was lacking seemed to be precision. It was notable that early on Fox misplaced a pass to Harriott then the latter lost the ball in a bad position which almost cost us. Blackburn must have looked at it and thought ‘keep the shape and the discipline and on the balance of play we should win’.

That impression was only strengthened by the first we conceded. A fairly innocuous ball in from the right should have been cleared but their guy went for it with more intent and got in a header, one that surely should have been saved by Hamer but somehow a combination of him and the post saw the ball creep in and Hamer emerge looking hurt. A bad one to let in and a surprising way to go behind to a team that looked capable of making things happen in more conventional ways.

Our lack of precision continued as Ajdarevic turned well to get in a shot only for it to curl over the bar and as a free kick won on the edge of the box – a curious one as the linesman flagged for the foul, the ref waved advantage, and then brought the play back for the foul when that led to nothing – saw Jackson put in a very tame effort. Perhaps that was on his mind as minutes later a long ball to Harriott in the box saw him take a heavy touch but then get taken down by their defender for a penalty. I’m not entirely sure of the rules here either, but this was a guy moving inside and about to get a shot off and fouled for a spot kick. Why no red card? It was surely a goalscoring opportunity. No matter, we have the penalty. But instead of Jackson stepping up Sordell grabbed the ball and made it plain this one was for him. Fair enough, just score. Instead it was a weak effort at a saveable height and Robinson chose the right way to go. Exactly why Jackson didn’t demand the ball only he and Sordell know.

Behind at the break and the onus is on us to turn the screws. Instead they scored again as a free kick was delivered well and a contest in the air between their forwards plus defenders and ours was won comfortably by them, with a header planted into the net. Now we had a mountain to climb but out of the blue we reduced the arrears, a goal entirely of Sordell’s making. He received the ball with back to goal outside the box, but turned well, took a touch, and then curled a shot into the bottom corner. A flash of genuine class and one that really meant it was game on.

Almost immediately we made our first change, with Ghoochannejhad coming on for Harriott. But before we had the time to see how that would work out the game was effectively sealed by a third for them. Cousins lost the ball badly and this time it cost us. They worked it forward and with decent exchanges played in a guy who scored.

With a cushion restored for them the onus was back on us to do something about it and more changes followed. Church came on for Ajdarevic and we switched to a sort of 4-4-3, with Cousins now searching for yet another unsuitable role. We buzzed around a bit but failed to create a decent scoring opportunity. The change that I felt was needed was to bring on Wilson to play wide right as Solly, not surprisingly still feeling his way back, was seldom getting forward and we needed some fresh impetus down that flank. Instead the final change saw Petrucci come on for Jackson and while there were a few hopeful shots we ended the game feeling grateful for the woodwork and a couple of Hamer saves preventing the final scoreline being wider.

We were beaten by a better side on the day as we conceded poor goals and failed to take the few opportunities that came our way, most obviously the penalty. It made it for us something of a game of heroes and villains. Sordell fluffed the penalty then scored a superb goal out of the blue. Jackson put in a poor effort from a free kick, didn’t take the penalty, then almost curled in a second-half effort from another set piece. Hamer made a hash of their first goal but then helped to keep the scoreline vaguely respectable. All adds up to a collective performance that wasn’t good enough to beat a decent team.

No player ratings as really they don’t matter any more. Win on Tuesday night and we can draw a line under a season that we all have differing opinions about and start to think about the next. Lose or draw and we have a sweaty final round to negotiate, one where the it will still be in our hands but which we can do without, especially as one of my nieces decided some months ago to get spliced on.

Friday 18 April 2014

Point Gained Or Opportunity Lost Down To Others

When one team’s one and only real possibility to score is when a keeper makes a hash of clearing a ball and the other’s is one cleared off the line from a corner, neither side can have any complaint about 0-0. To our credit, we defended well; the other side of the coin is that Bolton played like they are already on their holidays and just might have been there for the taking, with more belief on our part. Whether this turns out to be a decent point gained or an opportunity lost is now down to the results of others.

The team saw Fox come in for the injured Wiggins, Morrison return for Wood, Ajdarevic and Ghoochannejhad in place of Harriott and Obika, and Church in for the unavailable Sordell, with the unfortunate Cousins now shunted from a position behind the lone striker to a sort of wide right. Defensively the choices were perfectly understandable; offensively it looked like a case of whether the two wildcards (AA and Reza) would be able to combine to cause them problems. The fact that they were not left the onus on the defence to keep a clean sheet, which thanks to the dramatic clearance off the line it did. What was perhaps curious was that five of those on the bench for Tuesday night started the game, albeit with two enforced changes. Rotation or no idea of the best starting X1?

I’m really not sure whether to take the positive interpretation of the game – that we restricted Bolton to very few opportunities – or the negative – that having built up the game to turn The Valley into a ‘sea of red’ to cheer the team to victory we didn’t have the belief to take the game by the scruff of the neck and beat a team that, although perhaps more proficient, were lacking in motivation. Like so many games this season it probably boiled down to who scored first. Neither side deserved to, which left the game to turn on a goal-line clearance and a decision by the ref and the linesman: if they decided that Church was brought down by their keeper it’s a penalty and a red card and we probably win. They looked at each other but presumably neither felt willing or able to make a call in our favour.

There’s not much point in going through the game in sequence. The first half passed without any meaningful attempts on goal. We had some decent patterns of play but nothing in the final third. They looked as though they were capable of more but were snuffed out by good defending, with Fox slotting in well and Morrison playing as if the decision to leave him on the bench against Barnsley was plain daft. At the same time, when Bolton left the pitch at the break I doubt that their defenders had had an easier 45 minutes this season. Some neat passes, some decent movement, but absolutely no suggestion that this would result in a scoring opportunity.

Bolton began the second half with some more purpose and for a while threatened to get the goal that would probably have secured the points for them. I’m not sure of the sequence of events after their corner that saw the ball hooked off the line, or indeed who did the hoocking, but it looked goal-bound from where I sat and I was mighty relieved. Our moment saw their keeper dawdle with a back pass and Church nip in. For a second it looked as though he would put it into an empty net, only for him to end up on the floor. Whether he slipped or was taken down would need some TV replays to determine, but it seemed to me that it was the latter, in which case we were robbed.

After that the changes came, to no great effect. Reza and Ajdarevic were replaced by Obika and Green, and after that Church departed for Hughes, with for a while Green playing as a second forward, then out right as Cousins had to try to find another position. Nothing made much difference and quite frankly the game petered out into the stalemate that most neutrals would have bet on after five minutes.

The positives for us were the assured performance of Fox, the stability to the defence from the return of Morrison (which of course begs the question of why he missed the crucial game against Barnsley), and the decent work by Poyet and Jackson in protecting the back four. The BBC stats indicate that we had 18 attempts on goal; the fact that I can’t remember a single one is, for me, a fair reflection on the chances of them producing a goal. So we sit and wait now to see what the others do. If this report sounds dull, sorry but that was the game. 

Thursday 17 April 2014

There Is Still Hope

It seems that after all there is still hope that the end of the season will see some reversion towards normality rather than an extension of prevailing distortions. I don’t mean just our winning the final five and Millwall getting relegated, which are givens. Apparently (according to the BBC site) Cardiff are alleging that Palace ‘cheated’ with respect to alleged efforts to get their starting line-up before their game in April and are calling for the Premier League to take ‘serious action’.

Now I’m not privy to the details, or the truth of the matter; but it seems obvious that a 10- or 20-point deduction should be the end result. It is after all written into the statutes of the Premier League that Palace will never survive in the top flight. Enforcing this without some due cause might be problematic, so this seems to be an ideal opportunity for the Premiership to demonstrate that it takes its responsibilities seriously.

As for our laudable call to turn The Valley into a sea of red for the Bolton game, through supporters turning up wearing current or retro home tops or ‘any items of clothing which are predominantly red’, I will ensure that my partner Suzanne is suitably attired. As for me, well I do have a ‘Chris Powell Charlton and England’ T-shirt, but it is predominantly white and I’m not entirely sure that’s what the club has in mind. My first Charlton kit was the white with red shoulders, so that doesn’t fit the bill (which is another way of glossing over the fact that I could barely stretch it enough to get my head through now). I will comply, for now. 

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Thoughts On The Games

I was at both the Yeovil and Barnsley games. Didn’t feel up to match reports, not least as I don’t want my (unabated) negativity towards the actions of our owner to interfere with the usual objectivity (in a Charlton sense of course). So here are some fairly random thoughts about the games taken together.

Different outcomes of course, but not dissimilar games or performances. Four of the five goals in the Yeovil game were the result of defensive howlers; Barnsley were really not essentially stronger opposition but made fewer mistakes than Yeovil at the back and scored through poor defending and a fluke; Yeovil carried more of a threat than Barnsley but didn’t take their chances when on top having equalised quickly after our opener. Perhaps the two games were summed up by the fact that against Barnsley in the second half a low cross from the right was gathered by their keeper (as it should have been); a similar ball in against Yeovil was spilled, allowing Sordell to put the ball in the net (and give us a 3-1 lead). After 20 minutes or so last night I thought that Barnsley really had no weapons to hurt us with. Then they got a corner and M’Voto began his lumber forward. Me and some around me said something along the lines of ‘he’s bigger than everyone else, don’t let him get on the end of it’. Once he’d got goalside of his marker and the ball was delivered in the right area the end-result was sadly predictable. Yeovil allowed Dervite to get free in the box from a set piece and paid the price.

So against limited and vulnerable opposition, one storming victory and celebrations by most, one demoralising defeat, one which will reinvigorate all the clubs around us, and very little really between them. I wouldn’t say we were lucky to beat Yeovil; they made mistakes and paid the price; we were unfortunate against Barnsley to the extent that their second was just one of those things from a nothing move, but we can’t say we deserved more from the game. The sad fact was that having failed to convert two good opportunities in the first half (the Harriott header and the Jackson effort which curled just over), until scoring in stoppage time we failed to make their keeper work through the second half, despite being behind at home. That’s not good enough and raises questions about team selection.

Of course the games are coming thick and fast and our ‘head coach’ and his team have to make decisions about who is in need of a break, with us only able to guess. But I’d suggest (with the benefit of hindsight) that the Barnsley game was a tad more important than away at Brighton. Playing Morrison at right-back against Yeovil was enforced (although what this says about the progress of Nego goes without saying), but it cost us. Their first came as a result of three of the back four moving up but the fourth (I think it was Wiggins) hanging back, playing them onside, which resulted in a two-on-one. That was disorganisation and I’m tempted to believe that the players are used to Morrison doing the organising from the middle. I can’t say that Morrison would have handled M’Voto better from Barnsley’s corner, but it couldn’t have turned out worse.

At the same time, if Cort is to play a meaningful role for us in the remaining games he needs time on the pitch (Solly’s welcome reappearance is surely evidence of that too as he couldn’t really be expected to last 90 minutes last night). His welcome reappearance as a sub against Yeovil has been followed by …. nothing. If there was a game to give Morrison a rest surely it was Brighton, when Cort might have been given some game-time. Of course Riga may have made selections on the basis of the opposition’s forwards and their strengths and weaknesses, but (with no slur on Wood and Devite) I can’t believe that if we are putting out our strongest team in key games Morrison wouldn’t be starting (and no, I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories about who makes team selections and his contract situation as that would be prejudice and not based on any evidence).

We struggle to score goals and last night over the 90 minutes did not create enough. We can look at the forwards (Sordell’s failure to convert his effective one-on-one), the formation (it seemed to me something like a 4-2-1-3 with Sordell flanked by Obika and Harriott) but also the choice of players for certain positions. Cousins’ emergence this season may have been overshadowed of late by that of Poyet, but I would like to know the thinking behind playing a guy who has spent his fledgling career as a full-back and centre-half and more recently an effective defensive midfield player being asked to play in the hole? Perhaps it was felt that he could win the ball further forward and help keep Barnsley under pressure, which he often did. But also quite often last night he was finding himself in situations which were crying out for a surge of pace, or a telling forward pass, to exploit the opportunity. I don’t blame him, just whoever thought this was a square peg for a square hole. I thought we had learnt that wide right didn’t exactly get the best out of Cousins (he ended up there again against Yeovil when we switched Jackson inside to tighten things up); I hope we learnt last night that this is a position that others are better suited to and that he is allowed to shine where he seems most comfortable.

Of course our fixture list has meant a need for some rotation (I did feel a while back that expecting Cousins and Poyet to play two games a week for the rest of the season was a very big ask and that alternating them in their best position might be an idea, but they are still turning out), but I’m still mystified by what has happened to some players. I remember the post by Wyn Grant about ‘a song for Peter’. Having arrived and made a substitute’s appearance, that song is presumably ‘Nowhere Man’, at least for this season. Pritchard is nowhere to be seen, Nego makes one appearance and then is overlooked in favour of Morrison when we need an emergency right-back. From the way Wiggins left the pitch last night there has to be concern about his availability for the games over Easter at least. Presumably the two options are Jackson dropping back or a return for Evina, who can hardly be match-fit and may not be in the right frame of mind for the task. Then there’s Petrucci. Brought in on loan (with Championship experience), makes the bench, comes on as a sub, then nothing. There may be good reasons for all of this, but for the final few weeks we need to be aware of our strengths and playing to them. Last night’s selections didn’t smack of that to me.

I do feel that somebody at the club needs to take Harriott to one side to work on the mental side of the game. He has to have real confidence in his ability, which means being able to deal with (inevitable) mistakes without them affecting you. He clearly desperately wants to do well and having made a hash of the header at the far post tried to make amends, only to make more errors, inviting the (unwelcome) negative response from sections of the crowd which compounded the effect and ended up with his being subbed.

I also feel that there is one positive change, a very simple thing, in the way we are playing compared with under Sir Chris. The cliché is pass and move, ie when you play a simple pass you should immediately move to make yourself available for a simple return if nothing else is on. It’s not rocket science, it makes the opposition move around, creating space. Previously I felt we passed and stood still, leaving the guy with the ball precious few options other than to lump it forward (and get blamed for doing so). We pass the ball around better now not just because of the introduction of Poyet but because players are working more when we are in possession.

All the rest – disgust, alienation, season ticket renewals and ‘deadline’ debacles, nonsense in the programmes etc – can be left to one side for now. Five games left, culminating in away at Blackpool (and yes, I remember the last time we went there in need of a result to try to stay in the second flight). I want nothing other than for us to stay up – and so does Suzanne, who gets her final chance for this season at least to attend a game on Friday.

Thursday 3 April 2014


Coming up to the weekend and I feel like I have a decision to make. Almost a month since I last watched a game, at Bramall Lane, unless you include the first five minutes of the home game against Huddersfield for the tribute to Sir Chris (after which I took my leave). I was away in Lyon for the Millwall trip and the home game against Bournemouth (which I might have gone to just to applaud Kermorgant), passed on the Burnley home game (despite having scheduled the return from France to be able to make it), and had no inclination to make trips to Nottingham, Derby or Leeds. Now we have two home games coming up and I’m torn.

I appreciate that many people, true Addicks, will not understand this (which is a polite way of suggesting that some may draw some rather unflattering conclusions). I’m not that sure I fully understand it myself. Fact is I’ve never watched us, or wanted to watch us, feeling in any way ambivalent or indifferent. Perhaps I shouldn’t ask for so much (‘hey, why not ask for more?’). What I know is that late winners against Bournemouth, Forest and Leeds not long ago would have had me howling with delight, haring around whichever place I was in (for the record these were Lyon, a Nepalese restaurant in Greenwich, and Blackheath respectively). Instead they left me cold. ‘One of us is changing, or maybe we just stopped trying’. It isn’t too late baby, not yet, but it does all seem to be fading like the Beatles on Hey Jude.

The reason I’m torn about whether to turn up for Reading and Yeovil is that my disgust at the actions of our owner, and what these say about his motivations/intentions, is at least partially balanced by admiration for the way that players such as Hamer, Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison and Jackson have maintained their commitment and determination despite what has happened (which is not intended as any slur on others, including the newcomers). Sure, they’re professionals and they’re paid to play. But it does seem to me a testimony to their character that in a game of fine margins, where just a small drop-off in attitude can swing games, they have kept the faith. They do deserve our support. Strangely the fact that we are out of the bottom three makes that seem less of an imperative (obviously not least with games against Yeovil and Barnsley coming up it’s still a scrap with an uncertain outcome).

This is where ambivalence comes in. Hamer makes a great penalty save in stoppage time to secure us two points. Marvellous. Only problem is the last time a keeper of ours made a vital penalty save was Alnwick away at Ipswich, only for him to be shamefully pushed out of the club against the wishes of the manager (the fact that his move to Orient has ended badly is irrelevant to the circumstances of his departure). Bringing back Obika on loan is clearly welcome. But let’s not forget him picking his Championship X1 early this season and choosing Kermorgant up front, singing his praises and saying how much he enjoyed playing alongside him. Or overlook our new head coach saying we were trying to get in another forward before the loan window closed (despite an abundance of actual numbers now) and our being linked with any available ‘target man’ before recalling Pigott. And the utterly predictable but equally moronic sacking of Powell, motivated by reasons other than the best interests of the club (except as perceived by one man) still makes my blood boil.

So what decision? I just don’t know yet. One of my useful but occasionally annoying (for all concerned) habits is to put off decisions that don’t have to be taken until they do. It may come down to a choice on Saturday morning, or at least over a pre-match glass.

What I do know is that the deadline for the early renewal of my season ticket will pass with nothing from me. Whether one for next season is eventually purchased will have nothing to do with what division we end up in but will be down to what we learn in the months ahead about our owner’s real motivations for buying us, sufficient to move me away from the feeling that it will all end in tears (mine, not Duchatelet’s). The acknowledgement in the recent club statement of the desire for consultations with supporters groups (including I trust the Royal Oak group) is appreciated; the reasons given for them to be put off are insufficient. Of course there is time for them to be held now if they are viewed as any sort of priority, which would mean making the time. I may end up renewing my season ticket but right now I just can’t lay my hands on a pen or a stamp.

In the interim, think of me as one that lov’d not wisely but too well (oh come on, if I can’t filch a bit of Shakespeare to end with you’re a hard bunch).