Friday 2 November 2018

Give Lennie His Due

It really has come to something when there's so little inclination to comment on our aged owner’s latest deluded utterings. We know he’s talking nonsense (yet again), everyone else in football knows it too (blimey, even Simon Jordan can see through him). I suspect Duchatelet knows it himself; even he can’t be so self-delusional, just not brave enough to acknowledge the truth and do something about it – ie sell the club. But we live in an age when truth and facts sometimes count for little and perhaps even a little publicity which isn’t entirely negative might for him make taking the time to give the interview worthwhile.

I haven’t listened to the interview. Just don’t have the time to waste; and quite frankly we’ve heard it all before. TalkSPORT have an obvious interest in playing up the piece, but just how it can be presented in the fashion it has been is laughable. “After many years of silence ...” The silly old codger doesn’t actually know how to zip it, just look at the stream of embarrassing interviews over recent years (and throw in his various insults to Charlton supporters published on the club site). ‘... to discuss the ongoing turmoil at The Valley and the backlash from angry fans since he purchased the club in 2014”. Let’s get it right, the fans became angry not when he purchased the club – just look back at what was written then, he was almost universally welcomed – but in response to what was done subsequently.

That’s already too much time wasted on him. The days when we were anxiously awaiting takeover news are long passed. We applaud those who are behind ROT and back their efforts, stand ready to support any fresh protest(s) organised by CARD, and in the interim would suggest that if the words are anything other than ‘I have sold the club’ there’s nothing we are interested in hearing from Roland, just keep writing the cheques.

That pretty much sums up my feelings at present as I flit back and forth between London and Lyon. Certain more pressing events on two Saturdays ensured no appearance from me at The Valley in October and as things stand I can’t see any change on that front.

On a happier note, I had been thinking about recent comments by Chris Solly covering his opinions on the difference between this season and recent years, and others’ thoughts on what Lee Bowyer has brought to the squad (this was before our recent blip in results but of course still stands). Then by chance the subject of Birmingham cropped up: basically for my sins when back in the UK I’d been coerced into going there for an event on a Saturday and mentioned to a colleague this would mean that having managed to avoid the place since 1987 I’d have gone there twice in the past year (I’ve since remembered that’s not strictly true - I nipped there and back for Birmingham v Charlton in 1998, before the play-offs, when Sasa was immense and got us a point with a 0-0 draw – but no matter).

The colleague made the fatal mistake of asking me what was the event in 1987? And like Arlo Guthrie I proceeded to tell him about the play-off play-off against Leeds in four-part harmony with tales of Peter Shirtliff and the others including John Sheridan, the free-kick that never was and the seven minutes of extra time to go with us one down and the glorious ending and shouting and howling with delight. That led to me watch again the Yorkshire TV coverage of the game.

I’m pleased to say that it’s still not possible to watch those highlights without reliving the emotions. But that’s not really what I was going to talk about. What struck me now was the team that Lennie Lawrence had compiled. If you wanted a dressing room full of guys with character and determination you could rely on when the chips were down could you do better than one containing Bolder, Humphrey, Reid, Shirtliff, Miller, Peake, Walsh and Gritt (add in Melrose for good measure)?

That in turn got me thinking about the Charlton teams that have truly succeeded in recent times – Lennie’s team which won promotion and stayed in the top flight that night, Curbs’ play-off heroes, Sir Chris’ record-breaking promotion team, now just possibly – and hopefully – a side put together by Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson. And if that proves to be the case you can make a strong case for a chain that runs through the whole time – and the person who can claim some responsibility for starting the whole process.

Lawrence was in charge when Curbs was first brought to The Valley in 1984 and when he was brought back again in 1990. Only Curbs himself can say to what extent he benefited from watching at close quarters how Lawrence selected players he wanted for the situation the club was in, putting an emphasis on hunger and character. But he learnt that from somewhere and was something that he carried through as manager of our club. During that time, while back at The Valley but before the Premiership years, Bowyer was coming up through the ranks and, although it isn’t evident that he always benefited from wise counselling at that time, perhaps some of the lessons learnt then are standing him in good stead now.

Of course some years later Curbs brought in Sir Chris. Fortunately he had already had some years at Southend and Derby to rid himself of the bad habits he would have picked up early in his playing career and then had the opportunity to see at close hand what Curbs had to teach to an aspiring manager. And when his turn came one of the players brought in to turn things around on the pitch was of course JJ, who has now taken a place in the Charlton managerial structure.

Now for sure there have been others before and since who would deserve a special mention in any account of our recent years (and plenty who would get a mention for less positive contributions). But in terms of a clearly-defined Charlton baton being passed on you involving players to managers I think have to start with Lawrence and continue with Curbishley, Powell and now Bowyer/Jackson. The first three won promotions, may the fourth do the same.

And on that note, it’s right and proper that the 1998 Play-off Final is commemorated and those players and manager honoured, as mentioned in the latest CAST email. But we seem to have allowed the 1987 Play-off Final to have gone unnoticed. Better late than never, I’d like to see a suitable gathering for Lennie and as many of his promotion and Play-off teams as possible. When you add in the fact that Lawrence was in charge when (thanks to Killer) we staved off relegation on the final day of the 1982/83 season, at a time when relegation then could have finished us off, and through the subsequent bankruptcy and closure of The Valley, it would I think be a good opportunity for us to recognise in particular his contribution to our club, not least since his legacy may well be continuing.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Why Does Club Statement On Bonuses Avoid Facts?

Yes, Roland’s done it again. No wonder his shoes need duct tape, he shoots himself in the foot so often. The statement on the club site related to the staff bonuses issue could have kept to facts, to inform supporters of the owner’s side of the story and his understanding of it. But no, there’s an unsubstantiated attempt to portray the club employees who are aggrieved at their treatment as “an employee or small group”, a silly attempt to insult CARD, and a truly daft attempt to suggest that the affair might have impacted on the sale of the club.

According to the statement, “the ownership believes the fans and the EFL deserve to know what really happened as the truth has been misrepresented”. (As an aside, isn’t it laughable to talk of ‘the ownership’ as if it was some sort of entity, or consortium, and not just a deluded individual.) When it’s added in that apparently Roland has changed his mind and will now meet the EFL (sometime in October), perhaps it’s reasonable to conclude that after all the EFL has some teeth as Duchatelet is clearly rattled. We can but hope.

If the purpose of the statement was to inform, it might have been better to stick to facts. I have absolutely no idea if the club employees are or are not entitled to a bonus. To determine that you would need to read the relevant job contracts and to talk to the individuals concerned to ascertain whether or not they were given verbal or other assurances that bonuses would be paid, and on what basis. The club statement refers to them as ‘discretionary bonuses’. If they are indeed that, they cannot be tied to performance targets, they are indeed paid (or not) at the discretion of the employer. However, CARD, in its piece on 24 August, stated that Duchatelet “has reneged on promises to staff concerning bonus payments”. The Daily Mail piece of 20 August stated that “Sportsmail understands that the controversial Belgian has reneged on a promise to pay 10% of salaries if specific targets were met across all areas of the club”. If bonuses were indeed related to the meeting of 'specific targets' they are no longer discretionary. 

So perhaps the club statement could have provided clarity on matters of fact. Do the employees’ contracts contain clauses on bonuses and, if so, are these bonuses indeed entirely discretionary? Did Duchatelet make promises to club staff regarding bonuses, whether discretionary or not? If the answers – ie facts – are that any bonuses are entirely discretionary and no promises were made by the owner, Roland is in the clear and the club statement should have said as much, if the goal was to inform. As there are no such statements, you have to conclude that the goal was something else, to muddy the waters and to try to shift blame. Not as if there isn't form on that front. 

The statement also notes that the Mail piece was published on 20 August, “before the decision not to pay a discretionary bonus was communicated to the employees”. I assume this is intended to cast some doubt over the motives of those who fed the news to the Mail. Instead it highlights at best appalling staff management. Clearly at least some staff believed they would be paid bonuses. Instead it appears they heard ... nothing. The owner didn’t think they merited being told of his decision, nor did any club official (if they had been informed of the decision). Communication only came after staff had put the issue in the media, forcing a response.

If the ownership was indeed bothered about the reputation of the club the situation would not have been allowed to arise, employees would have been informed of a decision on bonuses in advance of their expected payment. If the ownership cared one jot about the people working for the club the situation would not have been allowed to arise. A kind interpretation of events is incompetence, for which the ownership could apologise. A statement which studiously avoids dealing with the facts of the matter and instead looks at misrepresentation and shifting blame should be taken up by the EFL in the October meeting.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

The Emperor's New Shoes

Life’s a bitch. I’d half-written something reasoned and considered (and long-winded of course) ahead of Friday’s planned protest at the EFL offices, about whether fans are true stakeholders in a club and, if they are, whether we have been and are being treated as such by the interested parties (Duchatelet, potential purchasers of our club, and the EFL). Then we see the South London Press articles covering Lee Bowyer’s comments about our owner, so made some adjustments. Then we get the fresh incoherent outburst on the club site, which does have all the hallmarks of being written by our absent owner. So sod it, he’s had his latest rant, I’m in the mood for one too.

We have collectively wasted so many hours trying to peer into the dark recesses of our owner’s mind. All been a waste of time, there’s not much there. Someone who believes himself to be rational and intelligent concludes after years of owning several clubs that football involves emotion? Does he seriously think that this deep insight is something fans are unaware of? I picked up one of those little message signs for my partner Suzanne some years ago which said: ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. One of the saddest aspects of his stewardship of our club (leaving aside the mess his daft ideas have left our club in) is that he clearly has derived no enjoyment from involvement in football (‘ah, but it’s all been a valuable social experiment ...’). Every fan of every club has. His loss.

Couple this with the suggestion that it’s all really been a ‘problem of communication’. From the statement: “One of the key factors that has played a role in the differences between the fans and the ownership has been around communication. Therefore the club has written to the EFL ... once they have analysed the past communication and have a broader awareness of all the facts ...” Is he serious?

Let’s recap. We were told from the start that we just had to accept how Duchatelet does things, when supporters first raised real concerns we were fobbed off with the promise of communication once relegation had been avoided only for this to amount to a summer ‘open day’, and since then any real meetings – other than those to discuss the price of Bovril inside the ground – have been extracted through the regime’s gritted teeth and have never involved Duchatelet. Our role from the start of his stewardship has been to pay our money, cheer to the rafters (before a little post-match dance), and worship the ground that Roland walks on, however much doo-doo that involved having to wade through. Not realistic. I just hope that the EFL read between the lines and, being fully aware of the facts, conclude that Duchatelet’s decision to send a lackey to the meeting with them says all they need to know about communication.

Let us not forget – and don’t laugh, or point out the grammatical and language mistakes – that there is a ‘Club Charter’ on the official site. This says that “our fans are the heartbeat of this club they are what makes it so special and we want them to feel that this is their home” (we’ll gloss over the fact that it is our home, if our owner was not such an idiot we would have made it feel like it was his too). Given actual experience of Duchatelet’s stewardship, up to and including the current treatment of club staff, this just underlines how cheap words can be if nobody is held properly and consistently to account.

One fellow Addick recently told me that for him the stupid and utterly unacceptable £1.50 ‘transaction charge’ for the privilege of printing out matchday tickets at home was the final straw and behind his non-attendance this season. I’m actually reading a Bill Bryson book in which he praises British humour, citing when he bought a ticket for a train to Manchester and asked for a receipt only to be told ‘the ticket is free but it’s £18.50 for the receipt’. What was a joke in 1995 has become a reality – and I really don’t care if other clubs do the same, doesn’t make it acceptable.

And here I digress, because it’s got to go in somewhere. I recently received an email from Virgin Media, and I quote: ‘We understand that a price rise is never welcome. Yet with broadband usage increasing across our network by 31% last year, we need to continue investing in it so that you’re brilliantly connected to the stuff you love’. So let’s get this right, you’re planning to charge me more to fund the investment you need to make to cope with more customers? Are you telling me that if you had no new customers my bill would stay the same? And you expect me to go along with this? At one level I admire their honesty but it is utterly unacceptable and they have lost my custom. Add in a recent ISP renewal where at the last minute when making a payment they throw in a £3 ‘non-auto renew administration charge’ then send me an email pointing out the ‘key benefits’ of auto renewing. Number one: ‘You won’t have to pay our admin charge on your next renewal’. Don’t worry, there won’t be one.

Back to the issue at hand. I don’t think many Addicks expect much to emerge from the EFL meetings with the regime’s lackey and the Trust. I actually have, I think, more sympathy than most for the EFL (not forgetting the ill-informed and shameful comments made by the EFL chief after the Charlton v Burnley game). It is after all no more than a group set up to represent the interests of football league clubs (a majority of the board comprises club officials), it is not a regulatory authority. Arguably there is a need for the latter, one with actual teeth. Just that the EFL isn’t it.

Even so, it has intervened and if it is not to be made to look ridiculous it would I think be best advised to meet the Trust - which we can be confident will provide it with a ‘broader awareness of all the facts’ – and turn down the opportunity to talk to the mysterious ‘consultant’ Lieven de Turck, or any other club ‘representative’, and request that Duchatelet gives them his version of events (and solutions) direct. If he is too infirm to get to a meeting in the UK, go to Belgium to meet him – and charge him (not our club) the costs.

Not going to happen, is it? Duchatelet’s statement added that “we have also asked the EFL to consider: are the cost efficiencies helping the sale of the club? Are the protests helping the sale of the club?’ To save the EFL time, the answer to the first is that they are irrelevant to any sale of the club, to the second ‘yes’. That would allow the EFL to move quickly to the heart of the matter, namely whether or not there is a sale process, whether or not the statements made by club officials (primarily Richard Murray and De Turck) still hold true, and just why Duchatelet has been unable to sell the club.

Let’s be fair here and include the comments made by Lee Bowyer. Our new ‘permanent’ manager – who also stated that a contract to the end of the season was his idea, not Duchatelet’s – reportedly said that “after the recent protests he (Duchatelet) rang on the Sunday and said: “Are you OK? Is everything OK?” He cares. Probably a lot of people wouldn’t want to hear it but he said: “I’m not going to just sell to anybody, because I care about the club”, adding “he has backed me ... all a manager wants is backing from the owner and I’ve had that”.

Bowyer has said and done nothing since coming back to Charlton which might work against taking his remarks at face value. He can only speak from his experience. Fair enough. If Duchatelet had treated other coaches/managers in the same way we would almost certainly not be in the mess we are now. We know that he has not. If it indicates that Duchatelet and Bowyer get on OK at a personal level, so much the better. Does it suggest that Roland is finally learning from his mistakes? Perhaps. But it’s unlikely, Duchatelet’s word means nothing. And it’s all far, far too late.

At one level I hope the EFL will be kind to him. They will be dealing with someone who the evidence suggests just can’t make decisions, because his version of the truth, that which needs to be communicated and which is rational, involves such delusion. The most striking comments for me remains Murray saying early on that Duchatelet had two objectives for Charlton: to break even and to get into the Premiership. Irreconcilable from the start, especially after the FFP rules on which the network concept (one adopted by others well before Roland) relied were predictably ignored. So what next? Err ... He wants communication and rationality but can’t manage either. He wants to sell the club but can’t achieve that. No wonder he doesn’t buy new shoes. It’s not that he likes the pairs that are falling apart, he just can’t work out how to get new ones.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Acid Test For Roland?

See that the South London Press is reporting that Lee Bowyer is “hoping to hold talks” with Duchatelet over his caretaker manager status now that the loans window has closed. Seems to me like our absent and absent-minded owner could face something of an acid test.

If I’m an owner of a club that I’m about to sell I’m not really in a position to offer a change of status/new contract to an employee; indeed, if there is a real process of due diligence going on, or even one completed prior to a sale, it is likely I would be prevented from doing so, unless I have the express consent of the prospective buyer (and it should be kept in mind that it was with the agreement of the Australians that Bowyer was kept on to the end of last season). It is possible that is the case and that Duchatelet will be obliged either to tell Bowyer that he cannot change his status at this point in time, or that he will go away and ask the Australians if he can have their permission to do so. After all, a permanent appointment would involve a term and a cost to new owners if they wanted to make a change. I’m guessing that the latter would rather stick in his throat.

At the same time of course if the answer for Lee is not in the positive, there has to be a risk that he will simply walk. From his reported comments – when asked if he saw any problems with his status being changed Bowyer replied “I can’t see why there would be” – it is clear that Bowyer feels he has kept to his side of the bargain (and we have every reason to believe that to be the case) and now the onus is on Roland.

Any owner who had as a priority the good of the club, including getting Charlton promoted back to the Championship, would surely do the necessary. Any owner who places greater emphasis on trying to avoid any reduction to an ‘agreed’ sale price (a phrase which does now have to be taken with a generous dose of salt) would be prepared to let Bowyer walk. It should be a no-brainer, but our owner has a track record of getting no-brainers wrong, for obvious reasons.

We just have to wait for the outcome and draw our own conclusions. In the interim, a most enjoyable weekend was spent in the capital of Europe, Strasbourg, including a visit to the splendid European Parliament there, a walk over the Rhine to say hello to Germany, and availing myself of the opportunity to get better acquainted with the cuisine of Alsace (which while splendid is perhaps better suited to winter than summer).

This all followed a Friday evening watching Lyon Duchere dispatch bottom-placed Drancy 3-0 to strengthen their position at the top of National, France’s third division. It has to be said that unlike one at Roots Hall the game was not a nail-biter. We arrived five minutes after kick-off and before the match clock had reached 12 Duchere were 2-0 to the good. A corner was horribly missed by the Drancy keeper, leaving an open net to head the ball into, then a badly misplaced pass in midfield and a slip by a defender opened the path for Duchere’s central striker to take the ball to the edge of the area and slip it past the keeper.

Most of the rest of the game was spent with Drancy pluckily trying to get back into it, which included leaving a large number of players up front at times. Duchere couldn’t even be bothered to punish them on the break it seemed. Instead the Duchere keeper made one superb save to turn a free-kick around the post and there were one or two more near misses, before with about 20 mins left a throw-in from an innocuous position was allowed to run and Martin Robinson-style the Duchere guy dipped his shoulder, ran onto it, and scored from just outside the box. There was time left for Drancy to miss a penalty but the truth was they’d given up goals far too easily. It wasn’t a night to draw any conclusions about Duchere’s ability to stay around the top, but did seem apparent that Drancy will struggle to stay up.

Onwards and upwards for both of us.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

He May Be In No Hurry But We Are

Is there anything useful to be gleaned from the latest interview given by our distant and departing owner, in the context of his singular failure to be able to sell our club (ie ignoring the drivel he spouted on other matters)? Nothing decisive obviously as he’s still in situ and no real indication of how close/how close to collapse a sale might be, given that nothing he says can be taken at face value. The most relevant quote (using others’ translations) could be that he is apparently “not in a hurry” to sell the clubs he still owns, but he’s not going to suggest otherwise if he is in a price stand-off with at least the Australian consortium regarding us.

We have to accept that he can try to wait it out if he chooses to, he has the cash. The implication is that we have to increase the cost to him of prevarication, not necessarily in purely monetary terms (ie boycott) but by upping the ante when it comes to his profile and reputation. The CARD protest on Saturday may not have been supported by all Addicks, but the publicity generated in the wake of Duchatelet’s decision over staff bonuses was entirely positive (which is not to say that continued protests at The Valley would be a good idea) and the way is clear for ROT to take the protest to where it will hopefully have the greatest effect.

Those involved in that initiative deserve our full support. We know he gets prickly when he attracts bad publicity (the timing of the latest managed interview is no coincidence) and downright annoyed when it is close to home, when it exposes his shortcomings (you can’t make a fool, only expose one) and is geared around correcting his version of events. He may at least publicly be indifferent to how long a sale takes, we cannot be because we have an interest to defend: the wellbeing of our club.

On the face of it Duchatelet’s other relevant comment, that his investing in football was a “mistake”, is to be welcomed. At least it suggests that he is not having second thoughts about getting out. And when he says that supporters’ protests don’t bother him it rather flies in the face of the evidence: he said before that he sold Standard Liege because the fans didn’t like him (and let him know it). What he really means is the protests don’t affect him because he doesn’t care about what happens to Charlton and because they are distant. Hopefully that will change.

Now although we should just ignore the rest of what he said, you’ve got to love his references to rationality and emotions, as if he embodies the former. “My conclusion is that the recipes from the business world do not catch on in football”, or “the parallels with politics are striking; they are two worlds where emotions win from logical thinking”. What delusional garbage! Football is a business, part of the business world. Any logical person would try to understand a little about a business before deciding to invest in it. A rational person would understand that to succeed in this particular business you need the support of stakeholders (ie fans) and therefore not go out of his/her way to insult and alienate them. And the protests against his ownership are, at their heart, entirely rational: our club cannot succeed under his stewardship, ergo ... When politics is added to his ‘mistakes’ (ie failures) all you are left with is a guy who made a lot of money in an industry he understood and was around in the right place at the right time.

As for the takeover, I’ve no insights/information. Only one comment regarding the Australians as some have expressed surprise at their hanging on rather than switching their attentions to another club. Seems to me that, assuming the Australians are the Australian Football Consortium, they have rather painted themselves into a corner. Their webpage says that their rationale – wording which is presumably repeated in their prospectus – is “to acquire an underperforming English football team with a view to elevating the club back to the Premier League”. So the club has to have been in the Premier League (arguably just the top flight) before and to be clearly considered to be underperforming.

The latter has to rule out any Championship side as they are either outperforming or are just one good season away from the promised land (or both). From the bottom two divisions which clubs have been in the Premiership and are underperforming? Sunderland for sure, but they are not on the market having only recently changed hands. Portsmouth too, but they are on the way back and also were bought recently, in 2017. With due respect to Barnsley and Bradford, they may be disappointed with their current third-flight status but cannot be said to be clearly underperforming (unless like with Peterborough’s owner there are inflated expectations). I’d suggest only Coventry might seem to fit the consortium’s bill following their promotion.

So I don’t think the Australians have many options available to them if they are to stick to their requirements, which I’m assuming they have to (or tear up whatever investment commitments they have secured and start again). Perhaps they are just out to show Duchatelet that others can be as stubborn as he can.

In the meantime I will be able to take in a game on Friday night. Lyon Duchere’s campaign in France’s third division (National) began quite quietly with a couple of draws (2-2 at home to Rodez, 1-1 away at Quevilly Rouen). But then they won 1-0 at home to Boulogne in the third round of matches and followed this up with a 3-2 win away at Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas. That win has lifted them to top of the table. And on Friday evening they will entertain Drancy, who having been promoted last season currently sit bottom of the table with one point from four games.

It’s far too soon even to suggest that the game is a potential banana skin for Duchere. But a good performance in front of the massed ranks of contented home supporters and a victory might get something of a buzz going.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Back In The Merde

Bloody hell. We’re back well and truly in the merde if this quote from Lee Bowyer is to be believed. “On Saturday I had an email from the owner saying that Pat (Bauer) is staying. He said that Pat is a massive part of our defence and we need to keep him because he improves our chances of promotion”. There haven’t been many positives over the last 18 months or so, but Duchatelet pretending that he’s far too busy to be involved with Charlton has been one of them. If the extended delay to a takeover, and the absence of a CEO, is leading to the daft old buzzard taking more of an interest again and expressing views on footballing matters past experience indicates we can expect a debacle.

Don’t get me wrong, if Bauer stays that will indeed be great news. If he’s up for staying then together with Pearce it’s a well above-average centre-back pairing for this division, especially as they have had a season playing together. If the two full-backs Solly and Page can stay fit, and if Phillips makes the shirt his own, we would have a first-choice defence to match against most if not all others in League One. But of course there are plenty of ‘ifs’ involved, including whether Bauer is tempted by the new offer on the table and whether Roland would accept a fresh, higher offer (even a repeat one if he changes his mind after another month of losses). Plus there is the issue of the number and quality of the back-ups who will undoubtedly be needed.

Surely at this stage, given the position we’re in, it is nothing more than wishful thinking to talk about a promotion challenge. To say we can mount one is fair enough, but there’s every reason to expect more sales – the current talk seems to be of Ajose going overseas – and no knowing the quality of who may be brought in. And if there’s one acid test at present it’s surely that no club in this league with promotion on its mind would accept a bid of £200k for Magennis just because its cash up front (reportedly). Bowyer may have been expecting him to go but if the details are correct Bolton have got an absolute snip – and we have been fleeced, or rather our owner just doesn’t care.

After all, while the first-choice defence looks decent, the options up front clearly do not. Not long ago, even though we knew there would be changes, we had on paper Taylor and Magennis in the frame as target men, Vetokele and Ajose to compete as the goal-scoring accompanying forward, with the renamed Grant perhaps available. It was competition for places and options available, which is what you need if you are planning to get promoted. Have to say I don’t understand Bowyer’s comments on this front, when talking about Taylor being a straight swap for Magennis and what more needs to be done: “We have to bring in someone who is a bit more versatile – it won’t be another out-and-out striker. It will be someone who can play that position like Karlan Grant – out wide or up top. Otherwise I could have four strikers for two positions.”

I think having four strikers for two positions is entirely desirable. Plus we now have the small matter that Vetokele is injured and unavailable for some weeks, Ajose is rumoured to be off if Roland can find anyone with cash in the bank for him, and Taylor himself is a doubt for the start of the season at least. And if we’re relying on the goals coming from deeper positions Fosu, Clarke and Reeves are all apparently out for varying lengths of time.

Injuries of course happen (although the implications of players losing time when fitness levels are expected to improve are worrying), we don’t know yet who may be brought in. Suffice to say this is not ideal preparation if a club has promotion as its objective. For Charlton, while of course we have no divine right to be higher than the third flight, I hope I never see the day when we view a season in League One in which we are not promoted as anything other than a failure. If we don’t get promoted this campaign we will set the unwanted precedent of four consecutive seasons in the third flight, for the first time in my lifetime.

In that context, it is surely blindingly obvious to every Addick that our only realistic prospect of mounting a real challenge is for a takeover to finally go through. If Duchatelet stays it is of course his right to sell anything that moves, he owns the club, he pays the bills. Just don’t insult the intelligence of the supporters by mentioning promotion while you do it. Sorry, I forgot: ‘Duchatelet – insulting the intelligence of supporters from the start’.

This all of course leads to whether or not to support CARD’s call for a boycott or the Trust’s polite decline to do so at this stage. Nobody wants to protest but the decision has to be down to whether there is sufficient reason to believe that doing so will help to accelerate a sale (heaven forbid he actually decides he wants to keep us; in that event all hell will quite rightly break loose). If yes, we do it, despite the short-term implications; if no, forget about season tickets and spending inside the ground but turn up. There’s no right or wrong decision, just a personal assessment of the pros and cons.

As things stand, to the best of our (collective) knowledge the Australians are still trying to buy us (by the absence of evidence to the contrary I think we can now assume that the supposed second bidder does not exist but apparently there might be another one emerging), Duchatelet still wants to sell (albeit at a daft price, seemingly based on a spurious revaluation of the property involved), and we really don’t know exactly why it hasn’t happened yet but hope that it will soon. Simples.

Any decision by me on a boycott is pretty academic for now. I’ll be in Lyon until end-September, by which time perhaps, just perhaps, a sale will have been concluded. No question if I was in London I would not be buying a season ticket until new owners were installed, that’s easy. For individual games right now, tough call. Let’s perhaps focus not on whether CARD is right, on decisions individuals take, but on us being united in our desire for Duchatelet to be gone.

Friday 22 June 2018

The Art of the Deal

I honestly can’t remember a time since starting this blog when I’ve had so many times of starting to scribble only for something to get in the way, or just to realise that whatever the motivation for starting I’m going to end up with the same conclusion: back in March I was looking forward to a return to London at the start of April coinciding with confirmation of a takeover and a return to The Valley; we’re now in June, World Cup in full flow, close to pre-season gearing up, I’m back in Lyon, and it still hasn’t happened. For a Belgian and a bunch of Australians not to be able to organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery has to be seen as a reflection of serious shortcomings.  

Along with everyone else I’ve been trying to keep up to date with the comments from those in the know (of which I am not one). We were warned not to expect anything dramatic from the statement and in that sense were not disappointed. True to form, even something so bland managed to sound confused. “The current ownership would like to assure the club’s supporters that the running of the club will remain its priority throughout this process.” Come again? ‘This process’ has been going on for at least six months, while the ‘current ownership’ was previously happy to remind us that our club is only a small percentage of his business interests and cannot be expected to take up much of his time. Add in that we are happiest when he isn’t actively involved in the running of our club, given his unerring ability to screw things up, and the only sensible response from Addicks is ‘please don’t get involved in running the club, sell as quickly as possible, and in the interim keep paying the bills with money you will never see again’.

It would have been out of keeping with the regime’s ownership of our club were it not to end in farce. I can’t say to what extent the actions and possible shortcomings of the Australian consortium might have contributed to this, if at all – the latest suggestions that they don’t have the money to buy the club lock, stock and barrel would, if true, put them in the dock alongside a seller asking a daft price. And the process hasn’t smelt right from the time that Richard Murray was pressed into commenting on it. No potential purchaser of a business would embark on due diligence if there was another buyer, one which apparently had also agreed a price, doing the same. And if you have agreement on a price in February and no deal has been done in June either there is gross incompetence involved – not brinkmanship - or one or both parties is not acting in good faith. Complexities? All deals are complex, with various interested parties; it’s only when there is bad faith involved that complexities actually scupper deals. If agreement can’t be reached, if say one side has promised something it cannot deliver, you walk away.

There’s a lot of nonsense said and written about making deals. Donald Trump apparently considers himself to be a gifted deal-maker (that is of course an understatement, he evidently considers himself to be a brilliant deal-maker). Only problem is if you look at his track record it’s obvious he is a lousy deal-maker. He can’t accept this because of his absurd arrogance: he believes that making good deals requires high levels of intelligence (which is true): ergo he must be a good deal maker because if he is not (which is true) he is not intelligent (also true).

As for deals being like poker, utter nonsense. In a game of poker you are playing the odds when knowledge can never be complete, you don’t know for sure what your opponent has in his/her hand, or exactly how he/she will play it; you are playing the odds and sometimes bluffing. One person will walk away with the other’s money, there is a winner and a loser, nothing else (when it comes to each hand). It is a game to be won or lost. Any corporate or bilateral deal on such terms would have no chance of being concluded unless one side had just lost a war – and even then it would prove a recipe for later disaster, as history has demonstrated all too often.

Poker requires certain skills, not ones which are required to cut good deals (plainly daft to suggest that deal-making involves ‘balls’; it doesn’t). If you are bluffing in poker, that may be the best course of action. But how do you bluff when your ‘opponent’ has been allowed to go through the books and knows all that there is to know about what is being bought or sold? In that context ‘bluffing’ is to negotiate in bad faith and to run close to fraud by concealing certain facts. When a deal is done, just as when we might buy a house, clauses in the agreement are included to cover certain unpredictable or unforeseen eventualities, other information coming to light etc. Now there wouldn’t be much point in playing poker if you win a hand by bluffing only to have your opponent ask for his/her money back because they were misled.

Some people can’t cut deals because they fear that if the other party is agreeing to their terms/price they must be ripping them off. So they try to squeeze (or perhaps sell a part of the business or one of its assets and hope to get away with it) or to bluff (perhaps suggest that there is another buyer willing to agree to his/her terms). Usually any such efforts prove counter-productive. After all, if an asset is worth say £1m, based on its full potential being realised over the next 10 years, why on earth would anyone want to pay £1m for it? There would be no upside, no profit motive. So the seller either accepts a lower price or has provisions in the deal which mean that he/she will also benefit if the value of the asset rises in the years following a deal.

The only good corporate/bilateral/multilateral etc deals are those which involve all parties benefiting, depending on their interests (of course if there is a seller in desperate need of quick money there is scope to beat him/her down in price – but that’s not a bluff, just taking advantage of information to hand). It’s (one reason) why Brexit negotiations are especially difficult as the sides are discussing how to limit the damage from something with no upside (over the medium and long term as well as the short term), which is a much more difficult calculation than agreeing a division of future benefits. Add in that in our case it’s even possible that Duchatelet is so twisted that he would want us to fail under new owners; after all, a sale now and promotion next season would leave nobody in any doubt (except Duchatelet himself) who was to blame.

Where does this leave us? In a truly absurd position whereby a caretaker manager – and Lee Bowyer certainly deserves our thanks and appreciation for taking on the task – is looking to shape a squad in the most testing of circumstances. We wish him well and in the interim try to enjoy the World Cup and hope we are in a better position by the time it ends.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Roland Finally Says Goodbye

Personally I’m absolutely delighted with the interview given by Roland Duchatelet to the News Shopper. Not for what he said – which it goes without saying is insulting, mean-spirited and reflects either a total disregard for the truth or a deeply delusional mind – but for the fact that it amounts to a valediction. If there was a slight disappointment that apparently Andrew Muir has returned to Australia for a couple of weeks, suggesting no long-awaited confirmation of a sale for a little longer, it has been balanced by the fact that Roland has publicly said goodbye.

You’ve got to love the final quote in the article, when Duchatelet admits to having made a mistake. Not for the debacle which followed shortly after he bought the club, which nearly resulted in us being relegated that season, nor for the failure which his daft ideas and the those he kept around him brought on our club. Rather his error was not to rebut the “lies” told by former members of staff, which were apparently sparked by their discontent at a stop to their free tickets. Consequently the fans were “misguided” and “missed a big chance” which was that he “would have been able to bring the club into the Premier League”.

It’s either completely laughable or very sad. I prefer the former. I suspect that it will become a standing joke between Addicks in the future. Whenever we lose a game (it will probably happen) we will turn to each other and say ‘if only we hadn’t believed those lies and given Roland and Katrien the support that they deserved we’d be in the Premier League now’ and then collapse in laughter.

Saturday 12 May 2018

Jackson Goal Ensures Duchere Suvival

I do appreciate all this rather pales into insignificance in the context of tomorrow’s game and what looks like the impending confirmation of the takeover. But perhaps it will provide a diversion as we wait for the main events, especially as the outcome of the final round of games in National, France’s third division, attracted some attention given the end-result.

To recap, in this ridiculously tight division of 17 teams (usually 18 but with one, Bastia, missing this season) with one game left Red Star were confirmed as champions with one of Grenoble or Beziers taking the second promotion spot, the other going into a play-off against the team finishing third-bottom of the second division. At the other end Creteil had been relegated some time ago, they’d just been joined by Marseilles Consolat, but then any one of eight teams – including Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team - could have taken the final relegation place. No need for nail-biting if the team going into the final game in that last relegation place, Entente SSG (otherwise called Sannois Saint-Gratien), lost their game, away at Grenoble, who still needed a result if they were to hold onto second place and automatic promotion.

Duchere, who sat in 12th place on 39 points, went into the last game knowing that a win at home to Chambly and they were safe for sure. A draw would probably be enough, given all the other teams involved, but a defeat and they’d be relying on at least one of the three teams below them to lose to stay up. Chambly themselves, on 40 points, were not guaranteed safety.

So nobody was especially surprised by the cagey start to the game, with a bumper crowd of 572 (just over double this season’s average attendance, the lowest of the league) having taken advantage of free admission for the game. But Duchere were looking more threatening going forward and nerves were eased after 12 mins as they took the lead. A cross from the right to the far post was headed back into the middle. There didn’t seem to be a real threat, but the appropriately named Jackson Mendes – who had indeed been running down the wing for us – managed to get enough on his header and to divert the ball into exactly the right spot, into the corner of the net just under the bar.

After that Duchere had a purple patch and four or five good opportunities to add to the lead and ensure a reasonable cushion. They didn’t take any of them, and did have a reminder of the danger they were still in as just before the break Chambly hit the post with a header from a cross of their own. No matter, La Duch were still winning and with half-time came the opportunity to see how the other results were shaping up.

Staring out from the mobile screen was Grenoble 1 Entente 2. Wow. Surely it wouldn’t end like that, but what did it mean for the placings? Grenoble’s rivals for the second promotion spot, Beziers, were at home to Les Herbiers. Remember them? The team that had won the previous week, to allow them we all thought to enjoy the French Cup Final on Tuesday evening against PSG without fear for their place in the third division. Plenty of deserved attention as a village of 15,000 took 15,700 to the game. There was no miracle, PSG winning 2-0, but plenty of plaudits for Les Herbiers’ plucky performance and wonderful cup run. But it wasn’t exactly ideal preparation for another game on Friday evening, especially given the opposition. So no surprise that Beziers were 1-0 to the good. Although Pau were also losing (at home to champions Red Star), with Cholet a goal to the good at home to Creteil and Concarneau winning away at Laval, remarkably Les Herbiers had dropped into the final relegation place.

Tough on them for sure but by no means done and dusted. Surely Grenoble – who had actually scored first in their game - wouldn’t actually lose at home to Entente. Still 45 minutes to go.

For Duchere, and Chambly, this meant that their game took on a rather different complexion. For Chambly, as long as Les Herbiers lost they were safe. For Duchere, as long as Les Herbiers lost a draw was good enough to survive, but a defeat and I really don’t know; they would end up on the same number of points as Les Herbiers – and simple goal difference doesn’t seem to cover placings in this division. So although they game didn’t descend into a players’ deal not to try to score, both teams were content to keep things as they were – as long as the picture elsewhere didn’t change.

There were more goals. Early in the second half Les Herbiers conceded another at Beziers, making them increasingly dependent on Grenoble turning it around. But incredibly it was Entente who scored again, to go 1-3 up at Grenoble. Then Les Herbiers’ chances of anything from their game all but disappeared as they went 3-0 down. With around 20 minutes left Les Herbiers did actually get one back but there was to be no comeback. Nevertheless, their hopes of survival were boosted as Grenoble scored a second with a little less than 10 minutes of normal time to go. At the time it looked as though one more goal for Grenoble and they would get automatic promotion and Entente would drop back into the bottom three/four, Les Herbiers surviving. To add to the drama, Creteil had equalised at Cholet and if they scored a winner it would be Cholet who went down; Pau had managed an equaliser at home to Red Star, taking them a point above the bottom teams; and Concarneau had been pegged back to 1-1 at Laval, leaving them on the same points as Pau.

Heaven only knows what the atmosphere was like at Grenoble for those final 10 minutes. We at Duchere were enjoying following the scores – but not with indifference. If Chambly had equalised – and they did have one or two chances, as did Duchere – it would only require one more for them and it could after all be La Duch facing the drop. But that was not to happen. Both teams settled for what they had and were able to celebrate survival when the final whistle blew.

As it happened there were no more important goals – although Beziers added a fourth to add to Les Herbiers’ misery. Entente somehow held on to their 2-3 lead and took the three points, lifting themselves to 11th place on 40 points, the same as Pau (10th), Chambly (12th) and Concarneau (13th). Cholet held on to their home point to finish on the same number of points (39) as Les Herbiers but placed above them in 14th. And Les Herbiers, having enjoyed the attention and glory of a cup final and with a celebration at their ground planned for Saturday, found themselves relegated.

Duchere? Would you believe that the win lifted them to sixth place in the league. Anyone in the future looking at the final league placings would have no idea that going into the final stages of the last game they could still have been relegated. The celebrations at the end in front of the home fans were genuine and well-deserved. Last season had been Duchere’s first in this league and they enjoyed it, coming close to securing promotion at the first time of asking. This time around it had been tough, very tough. It would have been easy to have fallen away and gone back down; instead in recent weeks they pulled out wins away at Grenoble and Laval and a draw at Red Star, plus that vital home victory over Boulogne. They displayed character and resolve and can look back on the campaign with pride as they plan for next season.

Les Herbiers? No doubt it hurt last night and today. But I suspect that when they’ve had the chance to reflect if they’d had a choice between a cup final and relegation versus staying up they may well have gone for the former. They can tell their grandchildren about the day they took on the mighty PSG long after a relegation has been forgotten.

Us? Needless to say another Jackson goal (or three) tomorrow would be very welcome.

Monday 7 May 2018

May The Satisfaction Continue

It proved to be a weekend of relative satisfaction on the football front. We duly saw our play-off place confirmed with no need for any fresh contribution from ourselves; Lyon Duchere secured a highly-commendable 0-0 draw away at Red Star, which was not enough to guarantee their survival in France’s third division but comes close. So not perfect on either front but in both cases outcomes we would have taken without hesitation a few weeks ago.

Let’s face it, once Plymouth were behind at Gillingham we pretty much ceased to be the focus on any attention, given the mathematics and the much more interesting fluctuating battle between Rochdale and Oldham to avoid the drop. Johnnie Jackson has already acknowledged that the news unavoidably affected the effort from us on the pitch. With hindsight, we earned our top-six spot with the victories over Shrewsbury and Portsmouth and one curtesy of Pearce’s backside while Plymouth lost their final two games. Consequently all he and Lee Bowyer will have learnt, according to all reports on the game, is that neither Zyro nor Kaikai took the opportunity afforded to make a case for being in the starting XI on Thursday. So be it, but let’s hope that does hurt them as they will very probably be called on to play a part before the season’s over.

By default the indication is that Magennis and Ajose move back to the fore. I can’t exactly speak from extensive experience of watching them play together, and its’ a little unfair to draw any conclusions from the home game against Blackburn. But there was no evidence that day of a natural understanding between the two, really little link-up in their play. More often than not, if Magennis won the ball in the air Ajose was too far away to take advantage. I hope that if they are working on anything in training this week it is how each of them might work to get the best out of the other. It’s never too late for a little fine-tuning.

Otherwise we just pray that Amos doesn’t trip over the carpet if he goes up to collect the Player of the Year award tonight, that certain others are also wrapped in cotton wool over the next few days, and that the football gods smile on us on Thursday (and then again on Sunday).

For Duchere, the permutations going into the final round of games on Friday evening are clearer – but still many. Notionally they could win the final game and end up fifth in an 18-team league (probably that’s not possible given who will be playing whom, but even I’m not sad enough to spend time working that one out), or lose and get relegated. It is that tight. While Duchere were getting their point away at Red Star (which was enough to confirm them as champions, so perhaps there was a little collusion), some others around them pulled out the stops. Pau won away, Avranches and Les Herbiers (who are about to take on PSG in the French cup final) won at home, while Chambly secured a point against Beziers (which leaves Grenoble rather than them likely to take the second automatic promotion place). The losers on Friday were Marseilles Consolat, who lost and are relegated (along with Creteil), and Cholet, who were beaten at Dunkerque.

So one relegation place yet to be filled – and eight teams go into the final game knowing that it could be them. Duchere are now 12th in the league, now below Pau and Concarneau but still above Les Herbiers – all of them on 39 points, with Avranches and Chambly on 40 and not yet safe. On 38 in 14th are Cholet and on 37, sitting in that last spot, are Entente SSG.

In the final round of games Entente (elsewhere known as Sannois Saint-Gratien) are away at Grenoble. Anything less than a win – against a team on their own patch which still seems to need a point to guarantee promotion – and they can only potentially catch Cholet, who are at home to relegated Creteil. If Cholet win that game, for Entente it’s win or bust and their focus turns to any one of the six teams on either 39 or 40 points, most obviously the four on 39 – Les Herbiers, Pau, Concarneau, and Duchere.

So Duchere go into the game knowing that if Entente lose or draw they are safe, that if they (Duchere) win at home to Chambly (now in ninth place but on 40 points and not certainly safe) it is also time to celebrate irrespective of other results. A draw would be enough for Chambly but for Duchere? Now here I don’t know – and nobody in a certain Lyon office knows either. I’d be inclined to say it’s not certain as Duchere have a goal difference of -4 and Entente one of -6, so a win for the latter by two or more and it would suggest they go above Duchere. Only problem is that the table as is shows Duchere above Concarneau on the same number of points but despite the latter having a goal difference of 0. Other sites have slightly different orders for teams on the same number of points. So perhaps it’s head-to-head results (in which case Duchere and Entente drew both times this season – but 2-2 at Duchere and 1-1 at Entente, so would away goals count in this situation?).

Clear as mud, unless anyone out there can help. All I hope is that when next weekend is over we feel as content with the outcome as we are now – or alternatively that we are dancing around celebrating an actual takeover, although the assumption now is that such timing would only be possible if we’re not going to Wembley. We’ve waited this long, a few weeks more won’t hurt if it means we achieve both our goals.

Friday 4 May 2018

Duchere's Fate Not Yet Decided

Most Addicks will no doubt be content to switch off from football this evening, ahead of tomorrow’s confirmation of a play-off place (or a play-off for a play-off place, or not as the case may be). But those of us who split our time between south-east London and Lyon and who follow Lyon Duchere (admittedly the sample size is not large) will be holding our breath as the scores come through from the penultimate round of matches in National, France’s third division. Let me try to set the scene, for those who may not have been following developments in this ridiculously tight league.

My last update on Duchere’s fortunes followed a vital 1-0 home win against Boulogne in the 27th round (of 34), a game which I witnessed and which took them up to eighth in the 18-team league (in reality only 17, apparently resulting from the extreme demotion of Corsica’s Bastia for financial irregularities) but still left them only two points above a relegation place (four of 18 go down, which this season means three of 17). Next up for Duchere was a tough away game at promotion-chasing Grenoble. They only went and won it, 2-1, albeit with luck on their side. Grenoble had a player sent off after just 25 minutes but still took the lead early in the second half. Duchere managed an equaliser and then had a one-on-one with the keeper, who saved the attempt on goal only for it to rebound off a defender trying to get back and into the net. Duchere walked away with the points against their far better-resourced near neighbours, putting a big dent in Grenoble’s promotion push.

That result left Duchere with a reasonable cushion, albeit with no realistic chance of a late promotion bid. But since then it’s got tricky again. In round 29 Duchere’s poor home form came back to haunt them as they lost 0-1 to Dunkerque. Renewed anxiety seemed to be eased with round 30 as once more Duchere went to a promotion-chasing team, this time Laval, and came away with a victory, 1-0. All was lined up for a win in round 31 at home against all-but-relegated Creteil, which would surely cement their place in the division for next season. However, all Duchere could manage was a 1-1 draw, taking the lead with about 20 minutes left and then conceding just a couple of minutes later. And in round 32 Duchere had yet another tough away game, at Beziers, and this time couldn’t upset the form book, going down 0-1.

So now Duchere have slipped back to 11th in the league, still some comfort from the number of teams below them, but are back to being only two points above a relegation place, on 38 points with two games left. And for good measure tonight Duchere will travel to top-of-the-table Red Star, who are all but promoted but require one point to be mathematically sure – and to be confirmed as champions, with Grenoble and Beziers fighting it out for the second automatic promotion place, the loser probably going into a play-off (Rodez have an outside chance of finishing second or third).

Tonight Duchere could of course return from Paris with the three points, which would guarantee survival; a point would be a great result and could be enough, depending on other results. Creteil have gone and will finish notionally second-bottom, but the two other places are undecided. Marseille Consolat are currently 16th on 34 points. Tonight they travel to Boulogne and a defeat there would possibly send them down (although they are at home to Dunkerque in the final round). At the moment the splendidly named Les Herbiers occupy the final relegation place. Tonight they are at home to Laval, who have fallen away in the promotion race and may already be on their holidays (but in the final round are away at Beziers, who may well need to win to get promoted).

In between Duchere and the relegation places sit (reading up) Pau, Entente SSG, and Avranches. Pau are this evening away at Creteil, who have only pride to play for; they finish the season at home to Red Star, who may by then be in party mode. Entente have only one game left, in the final round (notionally tonight they have a home game against the non-existent 18th-placed team), when they are away to Grenoble (who like Beziers will probably need to win). Avranches are away to Rodez this evening and round things off with a home game against Boulogne.

For Duchere, again a win tonight and they are safe, a draw and it’s looking good – but a defeat and it’s probable that they will need something out of the last match, at home to mid-table (but still not yet mathematically-safe) Chambly. Since Entente get no points this evening, the worst that can happen to Duchere – if every result goes against them - is that they would drop to 14th, one place above the relegation places (Marseilles Consolat can’t overtake them yet).

That of course means that everything is still in Duchere’s own hands. Whatever happens tonight, a win at home in the last game and they are safe irrespective of what others may do. Shouldn’t be so hard, against a team with probably nothing to play for. Just that Duchere’s recent home form is lamentable. They’ve won only four out of 15 at home this season (drawn seven and lost four) and if memory serves (oh come on, I can’t check everything) that victory over Boulogne is their only home win this year. Add in what would probably be some very nervous players out there and who knows what might happen.

Never fear. This Englishman witnessed their only home victory this year and, as chance would have it, I will be in Lyon for next Friday’s game (I realise there are probably some important Charlton games coming up but I’m back to a Lyon trip each month and couldn’t manage a mid-month trip or risk Wembley after that). I hope my services as a lucky omen are not required, but if it’s all to play for could be quite a night.

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Still Work To Be Done

For sure last night’s result materially shortened the odds on us being in the play-offs (more likely now in sixth rather than fifth place, but them’s the breaks). But Bowyer and the team can’t go into the final game at Rochdale thinking that it is a done deal. Plymouth win, we lose and a six-goal swing is unlikely but far from being only a theoretical possibility, especially as Plymouth will know from the start what they have to do away at Gillingham: not just win but win by at least a couple of goals, which means attack from the start (and if they win by four and we lose by two we would miss out – unless our result is something like 4-6, in which case Plymouth would need another to top us on goal difference rather than being level and it going to goals scored). It surely helps our cause that they are not exactly rip-roaring, high-scoring, having netted two fewer than us so far.

How the match at Rochdale plays out could be influenced by the news from Gillingham and Northampton (who are at home to Oldham, the team Rochdale have to overtake if they are to stay up). If Oldham are losing badly and our game is level, we could have a players’ pact to keep it that way as a draw would suit us both (of course we need to win to have a chance of taking fifth place but that requires Scunthorpe losing at home to Bradford). There’s a slight regret that the Scunthorpe-Plymouth result does rule out the reverse scenario: that with 20 minutes to go in our game a draw is no good to either us or Rochdale, so both teams go desperately in search of a winner; for the neutrals watching it on live TV that would have been fun. And of course if we hear that Oldham are winning at Northampton, it’s reasonable to suppose that Rochdale’s motivation would wane.

Quite rightly the line from Bowyer and the players will no doubt be that they step out on Saturday evening intent on winning the game. A draw would suffice but – unless you’re an Italian team of the 1960s or most Premier League teams playing away at Man City – you can never go into a game with the mentality of playing for a draw. That said, there can’t be any question of selecting players carrying knocks if that would threaten their availability for the play-offs; neither can there be a case for giving key players a rest as it isn’t over yet. At least they have the rest of the week to make these decisions – and perhaps most important we are not in the position (unlike Plymouth) where we have to consider altering the team’s set-up in order to chase a game.

So in all probability it will be a two-legged affair against Shrewsbury followed by a Wembley final against Rotherham or Scunthorpe. Do results against these teams during the season matter? I’d say not a lot – especially given the up and down nature of our season – but at the margins yes. We’ve lost twice to Scunthorpe and not scored against them, conceding three goals. That could be coincidence or it might be because their formation and players have certain advantages when it comes to being matched up against us, factors that would be in the back of the minds of management and players. It might be only a psychological edge, it might be more than that. Perhaps in that context it favours us that we can only play Scunthorpe in a one-off final. In reverse, we’ve done the double over Rotherham, scoring five and conceding one. That puts the question marks in their heads if we were to meet at Wembley.

Of course those thoughts don’t count for much as we’re assuming it will be Shrewsbury over two legs. We lost at home to them 0-2 and won at their place 2-0. So read into that what you will. We might argue that our home defeat against them, in February, came at a bad time for us and proved to be the first of three successive defeats. When we won at their place we were under a new management team, one which has revitalised our season. If I was them I might suggest that by the team we played at their place it was win or bust for us, while they were already seeing an automatic promotion spot slipping away.

Just looking at the records of us and Shrewsbury this season and it’s apparent why they are third and we are sixth: not much difference in goals scored, with both teams struggling on that front (58 and 60 respectively in 45 games), but they’ve conceded only 38 – the best in the league except for Wigan – and we’ve let in 50. But perhaps even that is balanced by recent performance, with us putting together three straight wins – and three clean sheets – and six wins and a draw in nine, while Shrewsbury haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last four and have won only two of their last eight. We can claim to have the momentum, they would say they’ve been resting ahead of the play-offs to be physically and mentally prepared.

All you can really say is that it will probably be close, very close. The stand-out statistic in the nine games so far under Bowyer is that we’ve won every game in which we’ve scored first – and haven’t won any when we conceded first. Put together two low-scoring teams and that surely underlines how important it will be to get ahead. So let’s get Saturday out of the way first and then reassess.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Reward For Sheer Effort And Determination

Sometimes in football you get what you deserve. Today we had all the luck that was going, scoring with our only shot on goal, courtesy of a wicked deflection, while Blackburn crashed a header off the underside of the bar, drew at least two stunning saves from Amos, and had spells when it seemed they must score only for bodies to somehow get in the way. There was also a curious incident just before half-time which I’d have to see again, because at the time I was waiting for the referee to award Blackburn a free kick just outside the box and pull out a red card for Konsa. But the luck was earned and if games are won on determination and effort we deserved the victory. The commitment of each and every player couldn’t be questioned – and although other results meant that the win did not guarantee us a play-off place, if that level of focused effort is continued we should not only get the berth but go into the extra games in a very positive frame of mind.

The game itself fell some way short of a classic, with both defences on top for the most part and very, very few actual chances. Blackburn may have already guaranteed their automatic promotion and apparently rested some players, but they wanted to put on a show for their travelling fans, still had an interest in becoming champions, and had enough quality in defence to pretty much shut out our front two and a real threat going forward. To match that required hard work. A lot of hard work.

We lined up with a back four in front of Amos of Page, Bauer, Pearce and Konsa, a midfield quartet of Marshall, Kashi, Forster-Caskey and Reeves, with Magennis and Ajose up front in a basic 4-4-2. Contrary to previous indications, Johnnie Jackson took a spot on the subs bench, but the assumption was that he would only come on for the last minute or so if we were comfortably ahead. That didn’t happen.

I made a mental note after 10 mins that basically nothing had happened. Blackburn moved the ball better than us going forward and seemed to have a forward and a wide guy to cause us problems, but we were holding our own. What was missing for us was any real drive going forward, there was nothing apparent to pull them out of position and to create opportunities. If you play 4-4-2 you are looking for the two wide guys to get into decent positions to provide the ammunition and while Reeves sometimes found himself in space on the right he was usually isolated. Instead our threat emerged on the other flank as Marshall started to influence the game.

Basically Marshall did the unexpected and, while it didn’t always come off, that gave Blackburn something to worry about while balls towards our front two were not giving them problems. And after around 20 minutes Marshall worked a little space and was brought down, giving us a free kick in a decent position. The ball into the box was headed out but not far and it dropped to Pearce. He took the shot and no doubt it would have been saved, but it took a strong deflection off a defender to completely wrongfoot their keeper and leave him with no chance. Some days it goes for you.

Nobody in the ground doubted how important scoring first could prove; we’ve won every game under Bowyer when we have and being ahead allowed the team and the crowd not to get edgy about needing to create chances and chase the game. And for the remainder of the first half the game continued in a similar pattern, with Blackburn looking more of a threat than us but most of the time running up against the brick wall of Bauer and Pearce, assisted by those around them. Marshall not only won another free kick in a dangerous position (which came to nothing) but also put in a vital defensive header and then an interception to chest the ball back to Amos. We did have a moment when it looked like Page might nick the ball before their keeper in the box, but he ended up getting a yellow card for his efforts.  

We were reasonably content to get to the break ahead, but before that we had the strange incident. Reeves did well to win the ball but after cutting across one or two tackles declined the option to shoot with his left foot and kept going sideways, only to be dispossessed. The ball was played long and for once we were caught short of numbers and backpeddling. It was passed towards their guy on the left side of the box and, after the linesman declined to raise his flag for offside, it looked as though Konsa put in a tackle, got nowhere near the ball and left their guy on the deck. I may have misread the situation but I was expecting the free kick to be given, possibly a penalty if the ref decided the tackle had been just inside the area, and a red card to be pulled out. But nothing – and to be fair Blackburn didn’t seem to put in much of a protest.

At half-time Amos hadn’t had a shot to save (he did have to get his hand to a rather nasty cross) but aside from Pearce’s deflected effort neither had we. No matter, we were winning and the result meant far more than attractive football.

The second half proved to be a much more testing affair as Blackburn upped the pressure and we were pushed back. One spell early on set the trend as Amos was called on to produce his first save and when the dust settled Page was still on the ground. A stretcher was required, with Dasilva the obvious replacement. We wait to find out whether the injury puts an end to Page’s season. Blackburn made a couple of changes, one of their guys got a yellow for stopping Marshall from breaking down the line with a waist-high challenge, and the game settled into a pattern of us managing to fend off most of their attacks but looking unable to get anything going in their half. The effort involved in stopping them was beginning to show through and every now and then we looked as though we were only just managing to hang on.

I’m not sure which came first but there was another spell of Blackburn pressure, which included Amos sticking up an arm to block a goalbound shot and some desperate last-ditch tackles, and that Blackburn corner. Their guy found some space and met the cross with a solid header, only for it to come back off the bar. An inch lower and the game was level. As it was, we had a stronger feeling that just possibly this was going to be our day.

Through the final 20 minutes or so there were tough choices for Bowyer to make regarding substitutions. Some were tiring and the lack of a threat to their goal meant that you could make a case for changing either of the front two. Mavididi came on for Ajose with around 10 minutes left of normal time, and after that Aribo came on for Reeves. But although we had one totally move totally out of character with the rest of the game – which saw a series of passes and flicks get us into a dangerous position – all we really wanted was the final whistle. Seven minutes of added time were signalled and by now we were looking to take the ball to the corner flags. Where was Tony Watt when we needed him? Mercifully eventually the time ran out and we had the points.

There was the fitting ovation for Jackson after the game, and some very tired limbs made it around the pitch to take the applause. Without question today they earned it. All we can do it wait to see how Scunthorpe and Plymouth sort it out on Tuesday evening. Today’s win didn’t prove decisive (except in the context of if we hadn’t won the play-offs would have been unlikely) but we know that a victory at Rochdale on Saturday means we would finish fifth or sixth, a draw could be enough depending on the other results, but we could still miss out. Whatever happens, nobody can doubt that Bowyer (and Jackson) have got the players giving their all – and we’ve never asked for more.

Player Ratings (again, if the ratings were for effort everyone would get a 10):

Amos: 10/10. Why less? Has to be man of the match. I think he pulled off two superb saves, took every cross, made no mistakes.

Page: 8/10. Looked composed, not too much going forward but this wasn’t a day for taking chances. Hope the injury isn’t serious.

Bauer: 9/10. He and Pearce truly stood up today to everything thrown at them. Immense.

Pearce: 9/10. Blackburn provided a huge test from start to finish and the central defensive pairing was crucial to us winning the game.

Konsa: 7/10. Early on it looked as though he might have problems with their guy, but he stuck to the task and if anything grew into the game. Still not sure about that tackle.

Reeves: 6/10. Plenty of effort but looked rather out of position wide right and struggled to really affect the game.

Kashi: 7/10. Not much opportunity to show what he could do going forward but involved throughout.

Forster-Caskey: 6/10. Here too plenty of effort and given the game not much opportunity to shine with the ball.

Marshall: 8/10. At half-time I had him as man of the match, just for making things happen. Did fade in the second half but was brought down when he had the chance to break.

Magennis: 6/10. Got little change out of their central defenders but never gave up on the task.

Ajose: 6/10. Much the same, but ran his socks off.

Subs:  Dasilva (7/10 – took over from Page and made no mistakes); Mavididi (6/10 – little chance to influence the game in the final minutes); Aribo (6/10 – also only came on late on).