Thursday 19 December 2019

Will He Stay Or Will He Go?

It’s not yet clear whether Lyle Taylor has turned down the new contract offered as part of an as yet unfinished negotiating process or whether he has made up his mind to leave in January. As in most cases there is a strongly positive outcome for us, a clearly negative one, and plenty of grey in between.

The strongly positive result is that Taylor signs a new contract in the very near future, ie before the end of December. That would end the matter and leave Steve Gallen and our new owners all of the January transfer window to make changes they want to. His re-signing before the end of January for me still falls very much into the positive category. We are in a relegation struggle and a fit and motivated Taylor would be a massive factor in staying up. You’re lucky if any replacement gels quickly and there no doubting that the team plays at its best when he is part of it.

The strongly negative outcome is of course the uncertainty dragging on through January and Taylor being sold at the last minute. Past history indicates we are not very good at dealing with those situations. I’d also list as negative Taylor not signing a new contract with us but not being sold, perhaps with a pre-contract signed for the summer. We would then be in the twilight zone, unsure if Taylor will be up for the struggle (and then doubts about how fans would react if it looks like he is not).

What is clearly needed is resolution. If Taylor makes it clear that he wishes to leave there will be no griping from me. He’s 29 years old and this would probably be the final move higher of his career (if it is possible to go higher than Charlton). Nobody should blame him even if it proves to be just about the money. He’s been an outstanding player for us, played a central role in our promotion, and has been a leader on the pitch. That some fans might feel in some way betrayed by someone they have made a talismanic figure deciding to walk away really is their problem, not his.

Just please Lyle, make it clear very soon, for your own benefit if nothing else. There is no reason to part on bad terms, if him and us must part. If he is indifferent to such concerns he is not the man we thought he was. Who knows where paths will lead and when they will cross again.

Whatever the outcome, if Taylor leaves now and were to return to The Valley at some point in the future, I’d applaud him. There’s an element I guess of ‘salute the rank, not the person’. He has played a major role in our recent history; it’s not an exaggeration to say that without him we would be scrapping it out in League One and probably with the lunatic still looking for a buyer. That contribution should not be forgotten.

I though the booing of Karlan Grant during the Huddersfield match was a little silly but not outrageous (as opposed to the abuse he received on social media, which was shameful, disgusting and utterly unacceptable). I can’t blame anyone for taking the opportunity to advance their career and to escape from Duchatelet’s oversight. But when the history of Charlton is updated he isn’t going to get more than a line: ‘Brought into the first team too soon, had a number of chances to shine, finally got it right and after a very good half-season took the chance to get away’.

What I do find absurd, if it is repeated, is the booing of Scott Parker, if it gets repeated when he brings his Fulham team to The Valley in January. Parker is a Charlton legend and we don’t need to go over the reasons why. To say that he deserves our respect and thanks really ought to go without saying. Yes, he left us in acrimonious circumstances. That is unfortunate. But it should in no way overshadow what he did in a Charlton shirt.

There’s no question surely that if Taylor goes he will need to be replaced. I’ve no idea if and when Hemed might be available, which leaves Bonne and Aneka plus Leko trying to operate as another forward when he is surely a big asset playing in a wider and freer role. Our midfield problems can be fixed with players returning from injury, but options up front are too few to be confident. We need to know soon what they are.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Another Tough Night

Ahead of tonight’s game there was no doubt what was expected and what was hoped for. A much-weakened team without a win in eight games, coming off the back of what was by all accounts a poor performance at Boro, up against a side one place above the relegation spots and themselves without a win in five. Needless to say you take any sort of ground-out, ugly win – and don’t go in anticipation of a demonstration of the beautiful game, especially on a wet pitch in blustry conditions (to the point where it wasn’t just the North Stand lower tier running for shelter from the rain).

And in that context the first half didn’t disappoint. Bowyer opted for a back five with Pratley sitting in front of it, which with the full backs not venturing past the half-way line left Gallagher to contest much of midfield almost on his own, to try to supply a disparate trio of Bonne, Leko and Doughty. It looked as though the instructions might have been ‘keep it very tight, keep a clean sheet to the break, if we’re lucky we might nick something at the other end, then we’ll change it at some point in the second half’.

To say the forward players were feeding on scraps would be an understatement. A ball bounced over their defender’s head to let in Doughty but he shot over the bar, one or two set pieces (one after Lockyer – I think – made a good break forward only to be taken out, their guy picking up a yellow), and that was about it. At the other end Huddersfield’s front two (including Grant of course) had pace and movement, but our set-up afforded them no space. One routine save for Phillips (plus a strange decision from him to head a ball away when he was well inside his area; if he wasn’t sure fair enough), some threat from corners was the sum total. They’d had more of the ball but to that extent our gameplan had worked.

So at the break we’d had 45 minutes of pretty horrible stuff but the promise of a different second period attacking the Covered End, with a certain someone on the bench. One thing worth noting was that Gallagher had picked up a yellow, for his fourth or fifth slightly mistimed challenge, but he showed commendable maturity after that by adjusting his approach, not giving the ref an excuse to give him another but remaining combative.

The second half was likely to be different – and it was. Huddersfield found ways around our defenders twice early on (at least once from a corner) and both times hard, low shots prompted superb saves from Phillips to turn them around the post. In a game in which the first goal was becoming increasingly important it was only thanks to him that we were still on level terms.

However, after those scares we started to come into things more. It was noticeable that Solly was getting further forward, Sarr was bringing the ball out down the left side more often (not always to good effect but always with intent), and with the urging of the crowd we were starting to look as if we might carry a threat, although Bonne and Leko were being well marshalled by their defence (I kept noticing their number 27, Stankovic, who dealt with everything).

With 20 minutes left on the clock the change we expected was made, Taylor making his long-awaited return. Have to say I was a little surprised that it was Leko who made way. Not that he was having much of an influence but as I’d have liked to see what we might have done with him and Bonne either side of Taylor (and shortly after Doughty was replaced by Vennings). The change lifted the crowd again and we went looking for the winner.

And we did produce two moments when it might have come. First, good work down the left involving Gallagher and Bonne produced a low cross just behind Taylor but running onto it was Solly. He hit the shot well but a defender threw himself in the way to block. Then arguably the game’s defining moment as a ball into their box was deflected up and Sarr and Taylor seemed to combine to get it over the line. However, the linesman’s flag had gone up well before the ball was in the net. Seems Bowyer is saying it should have been a goal, I’d have to see it again.

Huddersfield did themselves have a moment or two in the final 20 mins, including one situation when their guys were lined up on the left side of our box in isolation only for the ball not to find a way through to them. But in that final 20 period there was really only one side looking to win the game – and looking likely to.

Into three minutes of stoppage time and it looked like we’d have to take the point. But a move down their left saw the ball covered by Solly, should have been a routine clearance. Instead he rather lamely knocked it out straight to their guy, who advanced and put in another low cross. Like the two before it early in the half the ball in was hit well and this time Phillips could do nothing about it. And shortly after the final whistle went.

One advantage of drowning your sorrows after a game rather than dashing back to scribble something is you can have a look at Bowyer’s comments. He said the players gave “absolutely everything”, which was undoubtedly the case, no questioning the effort and commitment. He added “we score a goal that gets disallowed for offside – He’s not offside”, which is possible, have to see the replays. He also said “we didn’t get anything that we deserved from the game today” and that “in the second half it only looked like one team was going to win it”. I’d say almost. In the final 20 minutes we were the team going for the win, but that was after two saves early in the second half which kept us in the game. Over the 90 minutes (45 really given that the first half was a waste of time) I’d guess a neutral would say a draw would have been fair and of course losing in stoppage time is always a kick in the teeth.

It's tough, the chances are we’ll drop some more in the table with tonight’s games, and we’ve Hull on Friday evening, with Bowyer indicating that Taylor shouldn’t be risked to start the game. Whether there’s any reshuffling of the small pack for that game remains to be seen as until Taylor is fully match-fit (and signed up on a new contract) we are bit in limbo. The real decision will probably be whether to stick with a back five and Pratley in front of it.

Player Ratings:

Phillips – 9/10. His two saves kept us in the game, no chance with their goal.

Purrington – 7/10. I saw nothing wrong and, like Solly, he got forward more often in the second half.

Solly – 6/10. Might have been an 8 rating if his shot had found the net and if he hadn’t made such a hash of the clearance for their goal.

Lockyer – 7/10. Can’t really have any complaints about the central back three, all of whom did their job.

Pearce – 7/10. Perhaps still looks a little rusty, one or two unnecessary fouls conceded, but overall sound.

Sarr – 7/10. Defensively a mistake or two and mixed results going forward, but he does give you something different.

Pratley – 6/10. Nothing wrong with him being asked to protect the defence, but with five of them didn’t leave much over for the midfield to cause them any problems.

Gallagher – 8/10. The mark isn’t because he had a great game. He didn’t. But he was aware enough to adjust after his yellow card, strived manfully with little help in the first half, and was involved in most of our best moments when we went more on the attack in the second.

Doughty – 6/10. Bright in the first 20 minutes or so but became increasingly peripheral as the game went on (to be fair he was subbed for the final period when we attacked most).

Leko – 6/10. Not much went his way and like Doughty was taken off for our most attacking period. Doesn’t look comfortable trying to play more centrally with a partner and had little joy against their centre-backs.

Bonne – 6/10. Kept going but for much of the game was outplayed by their defenders and didn’t manage to hold the ball to wait for support. We wait to see if he can form a good partnership with Taylor (or of course if he or Taylor leaves in January).

Subs – Taylor (6/10 – no miracle return, but that would have been expecting too much); Vennings (6/10 – questionable whether it was the best choice to send him on into an area where we were struggling to compete).