Tuesday 30 June 2020

Another Point Added

No question we would have taken this result before the game like a shot. Third consecutive clean sheet, two wins and a draw since the resumption. Sure, the others around us are picking up results too, but we focus on ourselves. And this was another disciplined and effective performance. Although the priority throughout was on defence, for a couple of spells in the first half we knocked it around very well and looked as if we could score; and early in the second half we almost had a tap-in but for an untimely intervention by their defender. Not surprisingly in the final period we were under the cosh, but we were really only opened up twice - Phillips pulled out another excellent stop for the first and their guy messed up the second - and emerged the more pleased with a point of the two teams, a decent return for another gritty display. The fact is they didn’t score and that always gave us something to hold on to.

You’d have got pretty good odds I suspect if you had predicted the starting line-up, with seven changes from Hull and QPR, only Phillips, Lockyer, Pearce and Cullen being retained. We switched to five at the back, with Lockyer, Pearce and Sarr in front of Phillips flanked by Doughty and Lapslie, a midfield trio of Cullen, Field and Forster-Caskey, Green providing the link and Aneke pretty much the lone striker. Hemed and Matthews didn’t make the bench. The suspicion when looking at the line-up might have been that we were viewing anything out of the game as a bonus, but that would be very unfair to those on the pitch, who came in and did a job, even if there were probably some tired legs at the end.

I thought if anything we edged the first half, in terms of good situations, with neither side fashioning a clear opening. Some shots, often from Cullen, Green and Aneke linking up for the former to get in one which was blocked, and Doughty troubling them with his running with the ball. At the other end our problems early on seemed to come down the left as Lapslie was caught out a couple of times, but before long we tightened up on that. In addition to the drinks break play was broken up by Field taking a knock and not long after him involved in a clash of heads which resulted in him leaving the scene early, replaced by Pratley (so much for his rest), and their forward following not long after.

There were real chances in the second half. What proved to be our best one of the game came when a ball half-cleared was turned back in by Doughty and it appeared that Forster-Caskey only had to knock it into the net but their defender somehow got in a blocking tackle. Just after the hour changes were made by both sides, with Bonne for Aneke and Oshilaja for Lapslie for us, followed by a couple of changes for Cardiff. And as the commentator noted their substitutions, especially Hoilett, threatened to turn the game.

They did work some space and got Hoilett free on the left side of our box but his effort across the face of the goal was superbly turned away by Philipps. Not long after half our defence played for offside and allowed Hoilett the space to control and turn in the penalty area, but he made a mess of the eventual shot and the danger passed. And Green’s final contribution was a challenged adjusted to be a push that saw their guy tumble in the box, only for it to be judged to have happened just outside.

Going into the final 10 or 15 minutes we made the last adjustments, with Morgan replacing Forster-Caskey and Purrington coming on for Green. By now, with the exception of Doughty running with the ball and an occasional set piece, we were pretty much done as an attacking threat. But we kept that discipline and with Phillips dealing well with a ball in from a free kick given unfairly against Oshilaja we were able to play out the game.

We know what’s coming up next and it will be interesting to see which combinations Bowyer opts for on Friday. What we can be confident of is that whichever players get the nod they will continue to give their all. Three games into the nine-game mini-season and it really couldn’t have gone much better.

Player Ratings:

Phillips – 9/10. Once again no other mark is possible as he pulled out the save when called on and otherwise dealt with balls into the box.

Doughty – 9/10. Excellent game, both covering and especially taking the ball out of defence (if we pass over the first time, when he misjudged where the touchline was).

Lockyer – 9/10. Another resolute performance at the heart of the defence.

Pearce – 9/10. Same from him. Seems to me he is playing better now than at any other stage of the season, immense work rate.

Sarr – 9/10.  Any doubts about his ability to slot in after not being selected for the first two games soon disappeared. He stayed focused and disciplined throughout, sprayed one or two delightful passes.

Lapslie – 8/10. The early instances of being caught out might have cost us, but after that spell settled and played well.

Cullen – 9/10. My Man of the Match. Really outstanding, won and kept the ball, moved it well when required, and appeared in and around their goal with some threat.

Field – 8/10. Only lasted 35 minutes before having to go off after the clash of heads, unfortunate. But we were playing well when he was on the pitch.

Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Decent game, kept things ticking over, almost on hand to score the winner.

Green – 8/10. Worked hard and effective in possession, carried a threat, just didn’t manage to fashion a real opportunity.

Aneke – 8/10. Played well and while he was on we had an out ball.

Pratley – 9/10. Came on not long into the game and did what he does.
Oshilaja – 8/10. Helped to shore up the left flank when he came on, timely tackles, penalised unfairly when their guy ran into him.
Bonne – 7/10. No shortage of effort but playing as effectively a lone striker is not his game.
Purrington – 7/10. Not on for long, did make a poor choice going forward and ended up taking a yellow for a pull back.
Morgan – 7/10. Similarly only the final 10/15 minutes when we were content to run down the clock.

Saturday 27 June 2020

All We Could Ask For - Again

If last Saturday’s win was massive, this one comes a close second. And as a week ago the players did everything we could have asked of them, which is to the credit of Lee Bowyer and his people. You felt before the game that we should be able to outcompete QPR, given the difference in importance of the result for the two sides, and that proved to be the case (which is not to say QPR did not try). When you looked around at the end and looked for the key people of the game, they were all in red shirts.

We lined up as against Hull, with a basic 4-4-2, Hemed and Bonne up front. And we came out of the traps the faster, playing some decent stuff. Nevertheless QPR caused the first moment of danger as Lockyer made his only mistake of the afternoon, willing ball to go out for a goal kick only for their guy to get around him. That he got away with no yellow card for the pull back which followed was astonishing. No matter, the free kick was excellently punched away by Phillips and before long we had a second corner of the game. The first had sailed harmlessly over everyone but this one was on the money and Pratley made it his. Their keeper seemed to go the wrong way at first and was unable to adjust in time, palming the header onto the inside of the post but not keeping it out.

With the goal in the bag we didn’t sit back but perhaps inevitably QPR came more into it, giving the ball away less in key areas and picking up free kicks. One bit of danger involved Oshilaja getting clipped by their guy as he went past and although the ball ended up in our net the free kick was given our way. At the other end some great approach play ended with Hemed in space just inside their area, although he seemed to stumble as he shot and the chance went begging. Morgan found space down the left and somehow his low cross evaded everyone. Then Bonne was played in down the left and, with nobody managing to stay with him, he opted for the shot from a tight angle (perhaps a Jensen deft chip would have worked better), which was turned aside for a corner.

QPR enjoyed more of the game in the final 15 minutes or so of the half, giving the ball away less and with our front two getting less service. But at the break we were in a good position, playing well. Aside from the couple of dodgy moments we had protected our goal well, gave up no clear opportunities with Phillips not having a shot to save despite QPR looking confident in possession. By contrast we had one and could have had another.

Felt that if we could start the second half as we did the first and grab a second we would be able to see out the match. But it was QPR who began the brighter and fashioned what was to prove their best chance of the game. Patient build-up play ended with a ball into the box that caught us for once short of numbers and their guy found the space for the shot. But Phillips pulled off an excellent save to push it away.

We had a couple of decent situations but failed to make the best of them and as the hour was up the changes began. Hemed, who had been very good in the first period of the game but seemed to fade, was replaced by Aneke and Doughty came on for McGeady, who had played his part.

We went on to create more opportunities, almost getting Bonne played in, Aneke turning in the box but not connecting properly with the shot, opportunities from corners, a ball in finally headed into the net by Bonne, who had been so far offside for so long that the linesman eventually had to flag. But not surprisingly we were playing more on the break by now. The only time we got caught out was when Oshilaja made a hash of a good position outside their box and they sprang forward quickly, the resulting panic seeing Pratley trying to hold the fort and getting a yellow while an offside flag brought the move to a conclusion. Oshilaja gave way for Purrington not long after.

As we entered the final 10 minutes the priority was keeping possession and running down the clock. Bonne and Morgan departed, replaced by Green and Field, with Aneke operating as the lone forward (which he did very well, carrying the ball to the corner flag when necessary). Understandably it looked like we were trying to tie things up. And we did indeed see out the game, including five minutes of stoppage time, without serious alarm, almost grabbing a second as Doughty created something out of nothing and got in a decent shot turned away for a corner.

A neutral might say that QPR were a little unlucky to get nothing from the game, but they didn’t have a match-winner in their side. For us, Phillips made the crucial save when we needed him to, Matthews was outstanding, Lockyer and Pearce kept out just about everything thrown their way, Oshilaja made crucial tackles. In front of them Pratley – who I would make my man of the match – worked tirelessly and made crucial contributions in both boxes, Cullen was equally effective, Morgan, McGeady and Doughty (and Green) all contributed well, while the forwards ran themselves into the ground. Again, nobody could have asked for more.

With the later games still going on we have an away win for Luton while Hull and Middlesbrough are both winning. As things stand despite consecutive wins we are still only three points above the relegation spots, which will be cut to two if Huddersfield get anything from their game tomorrow. Cardiff away is obviously going to be tough, but all we can do is focus on ourselves. Nobody can question we have the character needed to stay up.

Player Ratings:

Phillips:  9/10 – Made the save when we needed him to, dealt with everything else.

Matthews:  9/10 – Thought he was excellent from start to finish, against lively opponents down the flanks.

Lockyer:  9/10 – Can’t really dock him a point for the error which ought to have seen him pick up a yellow. Otherwise, as against Hull, outstanding.

Pearce:  9/10 – Determined, committed and effective.

Oshilaja:  8/10 – Like a week ago gave away rather too many free kicks for comfort and was fortunate to get the free kick when their guy went past him. But also made loads of tackles and interceptions.

McGeady:  8/10 – Good performance, intelligent use of the ball.

Pratley:  9/10 – Outstanding and tireless, plus he got the goal. As the commentator pointed out when the changes were being made you thought Bowyer might take him off to avoid the risk of a second yellow, but that proved not to be necessary.

Cullen:  9/10 – Truly effective work in relieving the pressure on the defence, knows how to buy a free kick when we need the breather.

Morgan:  8/10 – Another good game, both on the right and the left after Doughty came on.

Bonne:  8/10 – Ran himself into the ground. Thought he was a bit sluggish early on but put himself about and came close to getting on the scoresheet.

Hemed:  8/10 – Very effective in the first 30 mins but did fluff his shooting chance and was fading by the time he was replaced.

Aneka: 8/10 – Must scare the life out of defenders given his pace allied to physique. Held the ball better in the late stages than a week ago.
Doughty:  8/10 – Impressive contribution in the final 30 minutes, almost got a second for us.
Purrington:  8/10 – Slotted in very well for the final stages.
Green:  8/10 – Not much chance to affect the game but played his part.
Field:  8/10 – As with Green, not on for long.

Saturday 20 June 2020

Well Deserved In The End

Wow, what a win! We all know how important it was. Nobody outside the club could be sure how the team would perform after the enforced break; I don’t think we could have asked for more. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but whereas at the break we might have been fortunate to be ahead (even though in addition to scoring we had the best chance), at the end Hull could have no complaints about the result. Indeed, we should have scored more while Hull looked increasingly impotent, like a side that has forgotten how to win. For that the credit goes to Lee Bowyer and his team for the preparations, and to Lockyer and Pearce for their marshalling of the defence.

We lined up with Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce and Oshilaja in a flat back four in front of Phillips, with Sarr and Purrington the two missing out and on the bench. McGeady, Pratley, Cullen and Morgan made up the midfield, with Hemed and Bonne up front in what looked like a straightforward 4-4-2. With nine on the bench and three absentees, I’m not sure anyone missed out.

Both teams were pretty open in the first 20 minutes, perhaps adjusting to the situation and working each other out, which made it quite an entertaining spectacle although I suspect most of us would have preferred something tight and dull. Hull started the brighter but we did get into it after a while to suggest we could hurt them if we had enough of the ball. However, if there was a difference between the two sides, which ran through the first half, it was in the forwards’ ability to hold the ball and retain possession. Theirs could and ours couldn’t, with the result that we were unable to build pressure and found ourselves increasingly under the cosh.

We also found ourselves ahead after 20 minutes. A corner should have been dealt with by their keeper but he flapped and Pearce put his head in among the boots at the far post and bundled it into the net. Brave when it mattered, just what we needed.

We also had the chance to extend the lead when a ball across the face of the goal only needed a touch but Hemed arrived at the far post too late. But Hull were having the bulk of possession and for a period of time we seemed to wobble, giving away a series of free kicks. Oshilaja not only gave away a few but also seemed to get concussed with a clash of heads, then injure himself stretching to give away a foul just outside the box. For that period he looked flustered. But when their chances came Hull didn’t take them. There was an air shot, shots wide and over the bar.

At the break we were probably fortunate to be ahead, on chances and balance of play. But it wasn’t our fault that Hull didn’t take advantage of good situations and their keeper failed to deal with a cross.

Early in the second half our problem still seemed to be an inability to retain possession but as the minutes ticked by we were coping and if anything starting to boss the game and had the chances to extend our lead. A ball in saw Bonne in space in the area but he put the header wide. He really should have put that one on target. Then good work down the left saw Oshilaja in the clear only to fail to pick out a red shirt with his ball across. Of course we worried that not scoring again from such good positions would prove very costly.

The changes were started by Hull with a triple substitution after around an hour, including the introduction of Magennis, who proved to be a handful from the off. Our first change saw Morgan give way for Doughty. Morgan had done well but the change perhaps gave us the possibility to have someone capable of carrying the ball into their half. Not long after Purrington came on for Oshilaja, who had looked more composed in the second half, then Aneka for Hemed. We now had a couple of players capable of running past players – and Chucks announced his arrival by breezing past one of their defenders.

Going into the final 10 minutes it was Williams on for Bonne and Field for McGeady, who had played his part, with legs no doubt getting heavy. But through it all Lockyer and Pearce continued to repulse everything thrown at them, as Hull increasingly resorted to long balls forward.

The final spell was by no means comfortable, it never can be at 1-0 and we’ve conceded too many this season in stoppage time. But it was played out without disasters and we were all able to celebrate in our own ways, with Hull looking very down and out.

We’ll worry about QPR in due course. For now we hope everyone returns from Hull safely and Bowyer, his team and squad are able to enjoy the trip back. Pat yourselves on the back guys, you did yourselves and us proud.

Player Ratings:

Phillips – 7/10. Can’t remember a real save he had to make, but can’t penalise a keeper for that. Dealt with what came his way.

Matthews – 7/10. Tested in the first half in particular by their guy, who is a handful, but stuck at it and came out on top.

Lockyer – 9/10. Outstanding. Timely tackles and blocks, kept calm under pressure, my man of the match, just edging out …

Pearce – 9/10. Gave his all, scored the goal, and the fact is Hull looked progressively blunter as the game went on.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Has to be marked down slightly for the spell when he was conceding free kicks, picked up the yellow. Perhaps he was concussed. Certainly looked more composed in the second half.

McGeady – 7/10. Decent game, showed flashes of what we hoped he would deliver for us.

Pratley – 7/10. No shortage of effort as usual and sterling performance in front of the back four.

Cullen – 7/10. Tough test for a first day back and stood up well.

Morgan – 7/10. Pretty good stuff, given accolades by the commentator when substituted.

Bonne – 6/10. We did struggle to hold the ball up front and he failed to convert the good chance in the second half.

Hemed – 6/10. As for Bonne, and he failed to connect with the ball across the box in the first half.

Subs:  Doughty (7/10 – made a difference with his ability to run with the ball and relieve the pressure); Purrington (7/10 – played his part, no mistakes I saw); Aneka (7/10 – would have been an 8 if he’d held the ball better in the final minutes when we were crying out to keep possession, otherwise was a real handful and hope to see more of him); Williams (7/10 – unable to see much of the ball once on but brought fresh legs); Field (7/10 – can’t remember him featuring but was only on for the period of seeing out the game).

Thursday 11 June 2020

Any Sense To Make Of It All?

It’s hardly surprising that our latest ‘change of ownership’ has prompted a somewhat muted response from most Addicks. We can’t exactly go around hailing the dawn of a new era when we have no idea if Paul Elliott and his consortium is in it for the long haul (and if so on what basis and with what objectives), if he’s someone taking advantage of an opportunity for a quick purchase and resale (perhaps or perhaps not involving the Varney/Barclay combination), or indeed if he’s part of some daft plot involving Nimer aimed at screwing Southall (and if that’s the case you can bet your house that it will end up in court, along with the possible reversal of the sale of our club to ESI via the claims of the former directors).

I’m not ITK on any of these fronts, have no idea who Elliott is. It’s too early for Companies House to have published the presumed filing for the change of ownership of ESI. And the statement on the club site published yesterday quite frankly raised more questions than answers. Here is apparently a new owner, our next chairman, someone with no known background in football, with the opportunity to outline to major stakeholders (ie the fans) why he has got involved etc (and a little reassurance from a property developer that his plans do not involve a move away from The Valley would not have gone amiss).

Instead we get “I will be looking to ensure the stability of the club moving forward so we can look to put behind us the recent boardroom events and concentrate on building a unified boardroom and a unified football club”. Fine as far as it goes, but come on. Anyone can build a ‘unified boardroom’ if you own the company and if Donald Duck was in charge there would be more chance of a unified club than under Duchatelet. Understandably it was added that “our immediate focus will be on getting behind the team and the Manager and giving ourselves the best opportunity of staying in the Championship”. Other than presumably providing a guarantee that wages will be paid and the prospect that for a little while the focus of attention will switch away from a boardroom farce it’s hard to see just what that might involve, especially as we await the EFL’s verdict on what went on before.

Have Nimer and Southall definitely left the scene? Obviously we hope so. Personally I find it hard to believe that Nimer would have walked away with no cash, taking a £1 offer for the club. That 35% of whatever sum was paid would end up in Southall’s pocket is, I think, unavoidable. There are laws to protect the interests of minority shareholders, for obvious reasons, and if Nimer was dumb enough to have given Southall a stake in ESI more fool him. Live with the consequences. I also find it hard to believe that Southall will have written off any outstanding invoices he has submitted to the club for his so valuable services and his such precious time. So perhaps the new owners, if they stay long enough, will still have some dealings with him.

If Southall’s swansong was his absurb threatening of the Trust, including his pompous comment about his having made time in his “incredibly busy schedule” (I’m assuming that schedule is rather less busy now, until he finds some other scam), Nimer also leaves us with a laugh. “I have made the difficult decision, having received advise, and listening to fans wishes …” He didn’t exactly listen to the wishes of the fans in January (‘Dear Nimer, please inject a bucketload of cash for some players instead of dicking around’) but apparently is listening now. Well that’s good, because no doubt plenty of Addicks are expressing their wishes now as regards what Nimer might do next. Please continue to follow their wishes.

And perhaps the best news yesterday was the report that Duchatelet is apparently “furious” with what has happened. Good, he is largely responsible for the current state of affairs and we deserve some payback. The heart of the problem is the daft price that Duchatelet has been asking for our club. A series of what seemed like serious potential buyers were put off, leaving only chancers who saw an opportunity to make some money. Duchatelet has ended up dealing with such ‘investors’ because of his own stupidity (we know he doesn’t like rules but the first one for investment is when you are considering whether or not to put more money into a venture you own you pay no regard to what has gone in to date). And I can’t buy into the notion that he would be able to ‘force’ our new owners to buy The Valley and the training ground. If I understood the ESI deal correctly, ESI has an option to buy at an agreed price; and you cannot compel someone/something to take up an option. If Duchatelet ends up having to renegotiate the price, he would be stupid not to.