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).

Friday 27 April 2018

Dusting Off The Scarf

Towards the end of my sojourn in Lyon I was reasonably confident that a takeover would go through before my return (early April) and that would pave the way for going to the Scunthorpe game. In the event no confirmed deal kept me ambivalent and as it happened other commitments got in the way. This time around? Assuming a fellow Addick has done the necessary, I will have a ticket and I’ll get to my first game of the season. Hopefully there will be at least one more, I still haven’t been to the new Wembley.

Lest there be any doubt, for me this doesn’t amount to an end to boycotting, as things stand it’s a one-off. If we get promoted and Duchatelet is still our owner come August, I will not be there. And while it’s every Addick’s decision when it comes to a season ticket for next year, I hope nobody has renewed and will not until a sale is confirmed. In that context, a bumper turnout tomorrow tells a new owner how things can be, provides a reminder to Duchatelet of the extent to which he’s screwed things up, and would amount to a fitting tribute to Johnnie Jackson, even though he’s not going to be on the pitch let alone running down the wing for us and it may not be his last game at The Valley. Hungry Ted penned a splendid tribute to the guy and I can only endorse it, can only add that the opportunity to join in the tribute is alone a good reason for going tomorrow.  

Among the daft things that Duchatelet has said, the suggestion that protesting Addicks wanted to see the club fail is right up there. Rather we had reached the conclusion – based on evidence, after initially welcoming him - that our club could not succeed (however that is defined) with him at the helm – unless of course he changed his spots, which has never been on the cards. It must have been so much easier for him to believe his claim, given that the alternative was that there was something wrong with himself.

Equally, among the duplicitous and inane claims from Meire, one of the most insulting to fans’ intelligence was the one to the effect that (I can’t remember the exact words) most would accept the regime did a good job in its first season (remember that one: the sales in January and drafting in of utterly inadequate replacements, the sacking of Sir Chris ...). That season we stayed up despite the regime – and if we get promoted this season it will be a repeat performance.

Duchatelet hasn’t changed. If he had there would be an apology for his failed experiments with our club and for the insulting of the fans. All that has happened is that he’s convinced himself that he is far too busy to be bothered with us. The fact that his lack of interference, plus Meire’s jumping ship, have created better conditions for our success is no doubt lost on him. By the same token, if we get promoted and Duchatelet gets a better price, I really don’t care (of course if the prospect delays a sale I do). If he tells himself for the rest of his life that he was a success as our owner, I don’t care. Self-delusion is his problem. Like every other Addick I only want our club to succeed: promotion and new owners are not incompatible goals.

We all pretty much know the permutations for tomorrow: we win and the guarantee of a play-off place can only be denied us if Plymouth beat Rotherham and Scunthorpe also win (given that those two will play each other next week); we draw and it’s down to the other results and the final round of games; we lose and we really have to hope the other two screw up.

Does it help us that Blackburn are already promoted? Has to. Perhaps not materially, for sure it’s a tough game for us, but some impact at the margins. Sure they would like to be champions, but that’s just not the same motivation, especially so soon after promotion has been confirmed and as becoming champions is not in their own hands. Let’s hope – for our sakes – that Wigan move swiftly into a 6-0 lead at home to Northampton and the Blackburn players and fans can just sit back and celebrate their success.

Saturday 21 April 2018

Almost Back In Our Own Hands

Wow, what a win! And coupled with Plymouth losing at Northampton;  just a pity about Scunthorpe. I can’t comment on the performance (and didn’t get to see the home game against Scunthorpe) but it seems that under Lee Bowyer/Johnnie Jackson we are getting used to spurts of the good and the bad. Starts with three wins in a row and all was suddenly looking good again for the play-offs, perhaps with some real momentum behind us. Then the away draw at Bristol Rovers, the defeat at Wimbledon, and home loss against Scunthorpe, with all the reports outlining a marked dip in performance. With four games then left we were suddenly staring at possibly having to win them all – and so far it’s two in the bag.

We have reached the stage of the season where the mathematical possibilities are narrowing significantly. Wigan are up, Blackburn all but promoted with them, Shrewsbury and Rotherham in the play-offs. Then it’s really two from three to join them: us, Scunthorpe and Plymouth. Mathematically Portsmouth, Peterborough and Bradford could still make it; but that would require some very strange results from those above them.

We may sit fifth but making the play-offs still isn’t quite back in our own hands. We could win our two remaining games, end with 74 points, and miss out – but the odds would be heavily in our favour. Scunthorpe have a maximum potential points total of 76 with three wins, so do Plymouth with four to play. But perhaps crucially they will play each other, so 76 is the maximum possible for only one of them – and if either wins their game, 74 points would be enough. Of course Scunthorpe and Plymouth could draw their game, leaving them both with a potential maximum of 74 also. In that event, Scunthorpe currently hold the whip hand with a goal difference of 11, ours stands at seven, Plymouth’s just three. But if we’re assuming that Plymouth win three of their final four we could still be edged out.

What seems reasonable to say is that if we win our final two games it is highly probable we will be in the play-offs. Fail to win one of them and it’s likely we will miss out – although no doubt there will be twists and turns. Home to Blackburn, who need one win from their final three games to guarantee automatic promotion, and away to Rochdale, who need every point they can get if they are to avoid relegation – they would have been out of the bottom four today if they hadn’t conceded an injury-time equaliser at home to Bradford.

Of our two rivals, Plymouth are up next with a game at Rochdale on Tuesday evening. If Rochdale win, we will know that winning our final two will be enough; if Plymouth win, they will join Scunthorpe on 67 points. While we entertain Blackburn next Saturday, Scunthorpe will be away at MK Dons, which you have to say is entirely winnable for them, while Plymouth are at home to Rotherham, who must now be preparing for the play-offs. Then on Tuesday May 1 we have the Scunthorpe versus Plymouth game. And on the last day of the season, while we travel to Rochdale, Scunthorpe will be at home to Bradford, who by then will surely be on their holidays, while Plymouth are away at Gillingham. Not often we get favours from them.

So it’s highly likely to go to the wire, but looking at what’s ahead you’d favour Scunthorpe to win at least two of their final three, giving them 73 points leaving aside the Plymouth game. Plymouth’s defeat today at Northampton was, for us, massive; and you suspect that with four games to play and three of them tough on paper just possibly they will fall away. But that would still leave it up to us. Fail to beat Blackburn and a maximum of 71 points will probably not be enough.

At this stage of the season every team is pretty much where they deserve to be. Some may say we’ve been far too erratic, sometimes too downright poor to merit a play-off spot. Who cares? There is of course the overriding issue of seeing the back of Duchatelet, but new owners and promotion is still a possible combination.

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Strange But Still Welcome Reassurance

Leaving aside the very sad news that Ray Wilkins has died, today I’m not sure which is for me the more remarkable: that my three-month sabbatical in Lyon is already up or that I’ll be returning to London tomorrow (SNCF permitting) with the fool still owning our club. While the former has seemed all too brief, the latter was, at least until today, going well beyond a joke. We as supporters have been on the end of nothing but contempt from Duchatelet since he bought the club, so we shouldn’t really be surprised by his apparent indifference to us as stakeholders, to the well-being of the club, or even the standing of the only other current director, who had been made to look at best impotent and ill-informed and at worst – I’d assume unfairly - deceitful.

When the director of a company states that “the terms of the deal, including the price, have now been agreed between the parties and we are now just waiting for their respective lawyers to finalise the sale and purchase agreement” and over a month later nothing has been confirmed or made public, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that either something in the deal has gone wrong or one or more of the parties is not acting in good faith. So in that context at least the club statement released today provides some welcome reassurance.

Have to admit when I first saw the report in the News Shopper that the Lee Bowyer/Johnnie Jackson management set-up would be extended at least until the end of the season I was wondering how’s that going to work, if the sale of the club is still imminent such a decision would be down to new owners? However, according to the statement, “it has been confirmed that one of the conditions of the sale, agreed by both parties interested in purchasing” will be the retention of the two. The statement also quoted Murray as saying that “the takeover hasn’t moved as quickly as we had envisaged” but also that “there are still two parties looking to purchase the club and everything is close”.

Unusual for sure, to after all this time apparently still have two competing potential purchasers, with neither seemingly being treated as a preferred bidder, and with both prepared to go along with the retention of Bowyer/Jackson. And with still no idea why a deal is taking so long to conclude. Unusual but I guess not surprising given the seller. So if Harry Kewell – who just from what we see and read seems to have behaved perfectly correctly through the period of speculation – did indeed say his goodbyes to the players at Crawley (he probably didn’t), he’ll have a little explaining to do, as should whoever raised the notion that St Mirren’s Jack Ross had been having an ‘informal dialogue’ with Charlton over recent days. That seemed to make no sense at all. Last but not least, whoever was behind the shortening of odds on Sir Chris coming back (in the very near future at least) would seem to have lost out.

So, a clear path for the management team through to .... well, whatever awaits us over the next few weeks, either disappointment by 5 May and time for the summer hols, glory at Wembley on 27 May and an end to the purgatory of League One, or something in between. For me, what’s a self-respecting boycotter returning to the UK supposed to do?

The pros and cons are obvious to all: it’s been more than two seasons for me, a little longer and we can all party when we know the deal is done, the boycott was after all until he is gone, in the best interests of our club; against we all want to get promoted, the departure of Karl Robinson and the turnaround in performances and results under Bowyer/Jackson has been remarkable – and worthy of our full support;, return now, shout and sing to the rafters, and the double success of promotion and a change of ownership can be ours.

In light of Murray’s statements I had pretty much got around to the idea that I’d be back at The Valley for the final few games. That was predicated on an assumption that say by the end of March a deal would have been done; and in recent days I’ve been questioning whether after all it would be best to wait. Ultimately the departure of Duchatelet is the most important consideration - not that I’m suggesting for a moment that he will be swayed by what we do individually, it just needs to be driven home, if he were still in any doubt, that there is no possibility of his retaining ownership and the club prospering.

I’ve got until 14 April to make my mind up. Right now I’m inclined to get a ticket (unless of course they are still asking for pledges of ‘good behaviour’). Perhaps I’ve got a bit of a taste for it again (and after their very timely 1-0 home win over Boulogne Lyon Duchere only went and won 2-1 away at then league-leaders Grenoble, who had a player sent off in the first half; two wins and suddenly from a relegation place staring them in the face Duchere sit seventh), more than that as long as we are confident that the takeover is happening what is to be lost by going along for the run-in?

Sure, it’s possible that Duchatelet is having his own private joke at our expense and doesn’t really mean to sell the club (or is changing his mind over the need for a sale). Unlikely but possible. But even in this event, who would the joke be on? What has been remarkable through his stewardship is how little, if any, enjoyment he gets from football. He clearly has no real taste for it, no understanding of it (and no wish to learn). It’s hardly surprising he’s made a pigs ear of his involvement in football (as in politics). If it turns out the jokes on us, he might have a sterile chuckle to himself; we will enjoy whatever the rest of the season brings. I’m already laughing at the fact that of all the managerial changes under Duchatelet the only one that has worked has been the one he (and Meire) wasn’t responsible for.