Saturday 31 October 2020


 If this game was a test of character the result was a pass with distinction. In it’s way it was absolutely magnificent and speaks volumes about the spirit in the dressing room. Deprived of Innis and Watson, plus confirmation of the long-term injury to Doughty, and up against a team bang in form. Faced with that challenge every player stepped up and played their part; the defensive tracking back of Williams and Washington was just as important as their contributions going forward. Nobody suggests that it was perfect, mistakes were made, and it looks like we’ve lost Famewo for a while, ending the game with a full-back and midfielder in central defence. But I think every Addick bloody loved it and tonight all concerned deserve every credit.

With changes enforced the team lined up with what looked at first like a back five in front of Amos of the returning Matthews, Gunter, Famewo, Pratley and Maatsen, but proved to be a back four Gunter in the centre and Pratley kept in midfield. He was joined there by Forster-Caskey, Shinnie and Williams, with Washington and Bogle up front, Smythe presumably taking a rest and joined on the bench by Aneke, along with a youthful midfield trio of Morgan, Vennings and Levitt, with Purrington the only obvious defensive option.

Four minutes into the game Portsmouth probably should have scored. We won the ball back inside our area but confusing between Maatsen and Amos saw their guy nip in and take the ball. From the by-line he crossed and the shot was swept over the bar. It was a chastening start, but quite frankly that was the closest Portsmouth were to come to scoring.

The early period was quite mixed apart from that chance, Pratley was given the benefit of the doubt with a challenge that might have been interpreted differently. We probed, as did Portsmouth, but nothing decisive. But that changed on 25 minutes as we took the lead, in some style. Forster-Caskey looked up and picked out Maatsen advancing into the box on the left, he managed to get to it and squared it across goal, and Williams of all people, as if he’d read the handbook his manager has been pressing on him of late, ran in to knock it into the roof of the net.

The rest of the first half was a case of almost and nearly, for both teams. No clear-cut chances were created and at the break it was pretty evenly balanced. But the fact was we’d played another 45 minutes and not conceded a goal; indeed, aside from the early mix-up we’d not given up more than half-chances, with Amos dealing well with balls in but not called on to pull off any real saves.

Portsmouth probably got a rollocking at half-time, being told to up the effort. And with them making a change we were under the cosh early on, tending to play on the break and conceding a fair amount of possession. It was telling that before the hour was up Amos was given a yellow for time-wasting (the fact that after that he wasted far more time than before, going to ground every time he gathered the ball, we will gloss over). We were conceding some free kicks around the box, fortunately they were wasted.

Maatsen picked up a yellow after losing possession going forward and on 70 minutes it was time for changes. Aneke came on for Bogle – who I thought was more effective than in previous game, although nothing fell for him in front of goal – and Smyth replaced Williams. Shortly afterwards the game got tougher for us as Famewo brought the ball out of defence, turned inside, and immediately kicked it into touch and went down clutching his thigh. It seemed a formality for him to go off, replaced by Purrington. This meant Pratley dropping back into central defence with Maatsen taking a more advanced position.

It looked as though the final 20 minutes or so would be a real struggle. But desperate closing stages were avoided, magnificently. Washington worked the ball well across their box and played it wide to Smyth, who put in a cross to hang up at the far post. It was an open invitation for a big guy to outmuscle a defender and just head it in – which is exactly what Aneke did. You had to feel slightly sorry for Bogle, getting replaced before that sort of cross came in.

That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Portsmouth and we played out the final period reasonably comfortable, to the extent that Portsmouth were reduced to a nasty, frustrated kick out around the corner flag as we were wasting time, one which went unpunished. Five minutes of stoppage time and all we were concerned with was not losing the clean sheet record. Which we did.

I’m not going to give player ratings. A blanket 10 is deserved, including the subs. It wasn’t a game where you analyse individual performances and highlight some errors. It was one to celebrate what a team of committed individuals can do. I hope they are all enjoying it tonight, I know I am. Besides, deciding on ratings would take time and there's a large glass of red to be consumed. 


Friday 30 October 2020

No Excuses

They say football (indeed most, if not all, sports) is at least as much mental as physical. I think we’ll find out a lot about our squad on Saturday. You might say we already know a great deal as since the takeover there has been no questioning the resolve, determination and character of the players, newcomers or not. No arguments there. Just that we know we will be going into the Portsmouth game in a state of some adversity, given injuries and suspensions, up against the league’s leading scorers on the back of three consecutive wins of their own.

While four consecutive wins and five clean sheets in a row would suggest a high level of confidence, we’ve yet to see how the revamped team will react to going behind in a game. The reaction to the setback of Innis’ sending off was excellent, but we had something to defend and there was no need to chase the game. Sooner or later, unfortunately, we are going to concede a goal; you don’t have five clean sheets in a row without some luck (in addition to very good defending and goalkeeping).

Also, we’ve been playing two games a week for some time now and some might be feeling it, while to the injury list of Pearce, Oshilaja and Gilbey there’s the terrible addition of Alfie Doughty, for at least four months according to Lee Bowyer. And of course for the next game we will be without Watson and Innis, two leaders on the pitch, due to suspension.

This could sound like setting up excuses for failure. On the contrary, it’s to stress that these things shouldn’t be used as such. It’s up to others to step up to the plate and make damned sure that there’s no let-up and to Bowyer and his team to make sure that the attitude is once more spot on.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Curate's Egg Of A Performance But Three More Points

 After three straight wins and four consecutive clean sheets, the abiding question going into tonight’s game was whether we could keep the run going. In the event we did, in what proved to be a real curate’s egg of a match. We were pretty poor in the first half but scored twice, were much improved after the break but ended up rather under the cosh after Innis was sent off with about half an hour still to play. Ultimately we won because Oxford’s prettier play in the first half came with no end product, while in the second half they failed to take one of a couple of chances to get back into the game.

The rotation approach that Lee Bowyer is currently favouring was maintained, with fresh changes to the starting line-up, albeit one enforced by the absence of Doughty. The defence picked itself (with Purrington back on the bench and no place there yet for the freshly-signed Matthews), with Gunter, Innis, Famewo and Maatsen in front of Amos. Both Watson and Pratley came in, joined by Shinnie (with Saturday’s starters Forster-Caskey, Levitt and Williams among the subs), while it seemed to be three up front (or one down the middle with one either side) with Washington joining Bogle and Smyth, while surprisingly Aneke made the bench (the indications had been he would not be fit for this one). It actually turned out to be more a 4-4-2 with Smyth playing wide right, effectively replacing Doughty.

As on Saturday, when for the first 45 minutes we were lacking some muscle in midfield, in the first half tonight the midfield balance didn’t look great. We struggled to put together passes or to find space, with the long balls we hit seldom finding their target. By contrast, Oxford were efficient and moved the ball well, enjoying the lion’s share of possession, especially as we conceded a number of free kicks. Just that sometimes that doesn’t count for much, as we demonstrated by scoring twice while Amos wasn’t called into serious action (he did dive bravely to collect the ball after a fierce free kick which he couldn’t hold, while a full pitch length run from one of their guys ended with him shooting over). 

Just after the half-hour there seemed no obvious danger as Gunter managed to find Shinnie. But he swivelled and played in Washington in space. He advanced into the area and calmly slotted it into the net underneath their keeper’s body. It came against the run of play, but no less welcome for that. And shortly before the break Bogle collected a throw-in and advanced only to be held back. The free kick was in a decent position on the left side, with a right-footer capable of going over the wall or around it to the far post. Shinnie went for the latter and struck it fiercely with curl on it and their keeper was again found wanting, failing to lay a glove on it.

Who cares about possession when you’re two to the good at half-time (especially when you check the league table and see we'd then gone up to 5th)? And in the first 15 minutes or so of the second half we actually played much better. Perhaps Oxford were obliged to chase the game and left more space available, but we started to actually pass the ball to each other and looked threatening, albeit with Watson getting his obligatory yellow card early in the period.

By now another goal from us would effectively seal the win but one for Oxford and it’s a completely different game. And in that period both were possible. What looked like a training ground routine from a corner saw Maatsen hit one on the volley, then for once Innis and Famewo were caught out with a ball between them and ended up giving away the free kick on the edge of the area, only for their guy to curl it over the bar.

On the hour and Oxford were starting to look rather desperate, reflected in a double substitution and a rather nasty, late cheap shot on Famewo. But Innis picked up a yellow for holding back their keeper who’d gathered from a corner. It looked like taking one for the team, but having done that you have to be a little circumspect with your next challenge – and he wasn’t, getting there just a little too late. Out came the card again and we were out of the blue down to 10 men.

Pratley dropped into the back four and Washington came deeper into midfield, but Bowyer opted to make no actual changes. And we were rattled as Oxford gained fresh heart. The should have pulled one back not long after as a cross from the right was knocked back to a guy in space, but he shot over badly. Then Gunter took a yellow card and Watson might have seen a second one (and red) when he used his arm to make an interception. Finally, with around 15 minutes of normal time left a ball into the box found their guy on the left side but his shot was well saved by Amos. For Oxford another case of if only, but that really proved to be about their last real opportunity.

In the final 10 minutes we actually created the better chances. Two Oxford defenders collided and the ball ran free for Bogle to surely take on into the box and shoot. Instead he seemed to back up and drew a cheap foul, only to shoot into the wall himself from the resulting free kick. That proved to be Bogle’s final contribution as he was replaced by Purrington, with Maatsen playing ahead of him and Washington moving back to centre-forward. It was Purrington who set Maatsen off on a good run into the box, only to fail to control the ball played back to him.

As the clock ticked down not surprisingly we were applauding the time-wasting in the corner, and especially a wonderful run out of defence by Shinnie, who seemed to take on all of the Oxford team and emerged with a free kick. Forster-Caskey came on for Washington as we went into four minutes of stoppage time, and by now Oxford’s sting had been drawn and we played out the game.

Plenty of positives to be taken again from what proved to be a gritty performance in difficult circumstances after Innis’ sending off, all of which did overshadow a rather poor first-half display, despite the goals. A number of players made major contributions to the cause – and that commitment will be needed again on Saturday as we take on Portsmouth without Watson and Innis.

Player Ratings

Amos – 8/10. Didn’t have a lot to do but once more made the save which needed to be made and dealt with everything else.

Gunter – 8/10. Can’t remember him putting a foot wrong, even the yellow he picked up was one for the team.

Innis – 6/10. Has to be marked down for the sending off. The first yellow was a little rash but having received it he needed to be very careful and instead made a challenge which gave the ref no option but to issue a second yellow. A real pity and we will undoubtedly miss him on Saturday.

Famewo – 8/10. I’d give him man of the match tonight (probably his turn as everyone else in defence has been getting them from me). Really does look an astute bit of work getting him in. Did give away one free kick on the edge of the box but generally frustrated the Oxford forwards who found no way around him.

Maatsen – 8/10. Not going to mark down for the incident where he was left upfield and couldn’t get back to their guy who ran the length of the pitch. Otherwise he held up in the first half and might have contributed to a third goal.

Smyth – 8/10. Put in a real shift. Not everything came off but he was a threat throughout.

Watson – 7/10. OK performance but the yellow cards are becoming a standing joke and tonight he almost saw red.

Pratley – 7/10. I’m not yet convinced that he and Watson play well together as they look to occupy the same space, but stuck to the task and played his part when he moved into the back line.

Shinnie – 8/10. Really effective all-round performance, including a goal and that superb run out of defence on his own.

Washington – 7/10. Took his goal well, worked hard throughout, back into midfield, then back up front.

Bogle – 6/10. No shortage of effort, would have liked to see him take the ball on into the box and shoot when it ran through to him in the second half, instead of looking to draw a foul, but perhaps by then his legs had gone.

Subs – Purrington (7/10; decent enough effort, although should have done more with the chance that came his way); Forster-Caskey (only on for a minute or so).

Monday 26 October 2020

Some Options Shaping Up

 We’re only 7 or 8 games into the season, but from an elitist point of view the division is already shaping up as might have been predicted. If you asked such an elitist which are the ‘big clubs’ in League One, I’d imagine that person would say that after Charlton you have (in no particular order) Hull, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Sunderland. Add in Peterborough and Doncaster, two teams you’d imagine would be in the mix, and a wildcard in Lincoln, and thanks to our three-game winning run you have the top eight as it stands.

No disrespect intended to any of the other 16 teams, and acknowledging that any one of them can end up promoted, even prove to be the best team in the division; but if that elitist looks at those now below us in the league he/she might be tempted to say none of them you would look at and say ‘what on earth are they doing down there?’ Obviously Wigan are there because of off-field issues and may regroup, Blackpool would point to history and the fact that they were in the Premiership more recently than us. But that’s about it.

We’ve already played three of the seven still above us (would have been four but for the Ipswich game getting suspended), with the undistinguished record of one draw and two defeats. But those games fall into the pre-Thomas Sandgaard team era (technically Sunderland was the first game of the era but came before the new team arrived). For me, Doncaster were impressive, strong and know how to play together to a system. Lincoln looked hard-working but basic; they were fortunate to beat us when we barely had a team. Neither did Sunderland look likely to storm the division. Hull, Ipswich, Peterborough (clearly the form team at the moment, along with us) and Portsmouth (also in form having won four out of the last five) I have, as yet, no idea.

Obviously we will have a better idea about Portsmouth after Saturday, but that game aside, and without wishing to tempt fate, the fixtures through to the end of November pit us against teams currently below us: Oxford (H), Fleetwood (H), Orient (H), Rochdale (A), Gillingham (A), Burton (A). And at least as far as the league is concerned, once we get beyond Fleetwood on 3 November the hectic pace of fixtures does ease off (there will be the first round of the FA Cup thrown in for good measure for us, hopefully we can avoid the second round), which should allow for more time for knocks to heal and for the emergence of something like a settled squad.

It's perfectly fine that Lee Bowyer, in the wake of Saturday’s game, commented that he will continue to rotate players. The issue against Northampton wasn’t rotation as such, rather not having either Watson or Pratley starting in a game which was a real scrap in dire conditions; that did Levitt and Forster-Caskey no favours I think, with the change made at the break. Sure, changes will be made, but at least some of the areas are becoming clearer.

Amos has been excellent so far this season and is now the first name on the teamsheet if available. The back four currently picks itself, as on Saturday, with Pearce and Oshilaja currently not available and Purrington now assumed to be back-up for Maatsen (although it will be too much to expect him to play every game). If the rumours are correct and we resign Matthews, it’s another good option (especially if Doughty is out for a while and cannot in extremis operate as a full back/wing back), although the assumption is that Gunter would be first choice for the foreseeable future. Surprisingly Barker seems to have fallen out of favour for now (or is he injured?) but is surely still in the mix. As a fellow Addick pointed out this morning, what is set to be our second-string back four – Matthews, Pearce, Oshilaja, Purrington – could easily have played as a unit in the Championship last season.

Equally, the picture up front is reasonably straightforward, with Davison going out on loan, even if the best combination has yet to emerge. Aneke or Bogle and Smyth or Washington. I don’t see the latter pair as like-for-like, and suspect that if all are fit and available the pairing of Aneke and Smyth would be best to start a game, but Bogle is really still getting up to speed and Washington has had a decent start to the season.

It's really in midfield where it is a bit of a mess, primarily because Gilbey got injured and Maddison is still getting fit. To Watson and Pratley and Forster-Caskey and Levitt you add Shinnie, Williams, Morgan, Vennings and of course Doughty. That’s 11 in total, an abundance if all are available, but right now the options are more limited, down to eight if Doughty is out and effectively six if you assume that Watson and Pratley don’t both start and the same now for Forster-Caskey and Levitt (perhaps they would work as a combination if there is a minder behind them). Perhaps if Matthews comes in and Doughty is out, Gunter could be moved further forward.

For all these decisions in Bowyer we trust. There’s a lot more still to find out about this group. I hope it never happens but for example how will they react to going behind? The spirit and determination has been excellent so far, if that’s maintained we will stay rightly optimistic.

Saturday 24 October 2020

A Struggle For Sure, But Three More Points

 I think we (supporters) went into this game with slightly different expectations from the previous two. For Wigan and Blackpool we were hoping to see signs of promise from the new signings, encouragement for the future, not much more. This time around, after consecutive wins and three clean sheets, thoughts were turning more to another three points from a team that had made an ordinary start to the season and continuing the move up the table. In the event we got the points but from a game where the conditions – howling wind and sometimes driving rain plus a poor pitch - and the opposition made it a struggle from the first kick to the last.

It would be wrong to say the starting X1 contained real surprises, given that nothing is yet decided as regards combinations in key areas; but I doubt that many would have won the prize for predicting it. The defence did pretty much pick itself (barring further injuries), with Pearce and Oshilaja still unavailable and Purrington presumably very much in the naughty corner (and suspended). In front of Amos were Gunter, Inniss, Famewo and Maatsen (who had come in against Blackpool to such good effect), with no defender on the bench save ersatz centre-back Pratley. Up front, with apparently Aneke not fully fit, Bogle and Smyth got the nod with Washington on the bench. The real surprises came in midfield, with neither Watson nor Pratley starting. Instead it was Forster-Caskey and Levitt, accompanied by Doughty and Williams, with Shinnie, Morgan and Maddison the potential replacements.

It looked like a 4-4-2, if Williams and Doughty occupied the wide midfield positions, or a 4-3-3 if either of those two were to take a more advanced position (which did seem to be the case with Doughty and Smyth starting off either side of Bogle). The absence of a defensive blocking midfielder (ie Watson or Pratley) did seem a risk, even though the defence had looked solid in the previous two games. And so it proved as in the first half we were really pretty poor. Northampton set out their stall with a long-ball game, complemented by long throws around the box. Simple but in the conditions reasonably effective. By contrast Forster-Caskey and Levitt didn’t seem to know how best to play together, their early long balls generally failed to pick out a target, and Doughty, Williams and Smyth barely got a look-in.

We started poorly, had a spell of around five minutes midway through the half when it seemed like we might get getting to grips, then lapsed back to poor. We were grateful to get to the break still on level terms. The BBC game stats at the break said we had two shots, one on target, but I’m blowed if I can remember them. Instead we were, not for the first time recently, indebted to Amos, who contributed another outstanding save. A free kick from their right was curled in low and connected by their guy, only for Amos to leap to his right to turn it away (and then be required to kick the ball clear while on his back). Otherwise the only point of note was that the defence again acquitted itself well while Northampton might have had a claim for a penalty as their guy seemed to go over a Bogle leg when turning (it would have been very soft but you never know).

At the break the competition was to try to recall a worse 45 minutes of football, with some thought as to how Bowyer might change things. And Levitt was withdrawn for Pratley. Perhaps harsh on him but clearly not a game to suit his skills and one when we really needed someone much better equipped to scrap – ie Pratley. He did make the difference, so too it seemed did kicking into the wind. 

It was still poor stuff for sure, but after 54 minutes we had a corner on the left. It was played in to the far post, Innis nodded it back into the mix, Bogle seemed to control it but with his back to the goal, and Pratley took matters in hand by smashing it into the roof of the net. The first goal in a game like this was always going to be crucial; and we only had to wait a few minutes more for a second. Amos gathered the ball and saw Doughty available. Storming run down the right to the byline and the ball squared, not to a Charlton player but to a hapless defender running back who succeeded in burying it with aplomb.

Still 30 minutes plus of the game to go and much work to be done, horrible work, just intercepting, hacking clear, chasing lost causes. But we did this ugly stuff well and Northampton, despite having a number of corners and long throws, never seriously threatened (there was one shot after a half-clearance into the side netting). Again, credit to the defence for that, as well as those in front of them, with Pratley to the fore but also Forster-Caskey much more effective alongside him. Doughty was replaced (by Shinnie) after a run down the right ended with him fouled and hobbling off, hopefully nothing serious, while later Williams was withdrawn (Washington). The final stages were just about not letting Northampton back into the game and that was achieved.

At the end the commentators acknowledged that Bowyer might have got the line-up wrong and that was my impression too. Sometimes Plan A doesn’t work, it was changed. And although nobody will remember the game for the football, we can take heart from the effort and commitment put in. Happily it suggests that the dressing room is united and that is another plus.

Player Ratings

Amos – 8/10. Could be a 10 in that he didn’t put a foot wrong, made the outstanding save to prevent us going behind, saw the potential for a delivery to Doughty which led to our second goal.

Gunter – 8/10. Another real shift put in, again signs that he will be able to combine well with Doughty going forward.

Innis – 9/10. Give him man of the match. Lost count of the clearances and interceptions. Nothing pretty (including the kicks into touch) but this was not a day for finesse.

Famewo – 8/10. Another excellent display. Northampton were able to create few chances despite the difficulty in judging balls into the box.

Maatsen – 8/10. I doubt that he has played in many games like this one. Adapted to the conditions and contributed to the clean sheet.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Poor first half but much better after the break alongside Pratley.

Levitt – 6/10. Not a game to judge him on. Harsh on him that he was taken off at the break (it could have been Forster-Caskey) but the personnel change to bring on either Pratley or Watson was needed.

Williams – 6/10. Much the same as for Levitt really. Barely had a look-in in the first half, more involved in the second but hard to have a real impact given the conditions.

Smyth – 7/10. Worked hard but not a day when his pace could be effectively used.

Bogle – 6/10. No shortage of effort, still looks rusty but we can give him time.

Doughty – 8/10. Our most effective outlet going forward, instrumental in the second goal. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious.

Subs – Pratley (8/10; he might have been the only player on the pitch loving it, scrapped like a good-un and scored the first goal); Shinnie (7/10; not easy to influence the game as we were 2-0 up before he came on and it was all about seeing out the game); Washington (7/10; not on long enough for a proper mark).

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Give The Defence The Plaudits

After the promising signs from the new players in the win against Wigan, I think tonight we were looking pretty much for more of the same, still too soon to expect real cohesion. What we got was a game shaped by sendings off at the start and before half-time, a controversially disallowed effort, but in the end a second consecutive 1-0 victory curtesy of an Aneke header in the final 10 minutes and ground out by a very effective defensive display.

Having said earlier in the day that he was looking to rotate the forward options, the main changes to the team from Saturday involved Bogle and Washington replacing Aneke and Smyth as the front two, while Purrington was given a start in a back four (along with Gunter, Innis and Famewo), with Pratley moving back into midfield alongside Watson, with Doughty (bandaged head and all) and Shinnie, with Forster-Caskey moved to the bench.

I’ll confess I was still finishing off a little work when the game kicked off and missed the first couple of minutes, which was rather unfortunate as after 52 seconds Blackpool were down to 10 men. Apparently it involved Bogle being held back, but to date I haven’t seen a replay. There aren’t many games when a minute in you have to think about changing the set-up to exploit such an opportunity and perhaps not surprisingly we kept the same shape, with if anything Pratley given more license to go forward. With Blackpool making a change we were still up against two banks of four, even though we would enjoy the lion’s share of possession through the first half.

As the game developed our threat was coming down the right with Doughty, ably supported by Gunter. At the same time Blackpool seemed to carry a threat down their right and after just five minutes Purrington was caught out and flattened the guy, getting a yellow card that it was hard to quibble with. We did create moments through the half and some half-chances, usually involving Bogle (brought one down but couldn’t get a shot on target, headed over from a good Watson cross), but by and large Blackpool were comfortable enough as we weren’t working out a way to make the extra man count.

As half-time approached you figured that Bowyer would think about tactical changes to go for the win. And then a ball forward down our left side and Purrington was isolated again against their winger. He ended up wrestling him to the ground and as the ref walked towards him you just knew what was coming. A second yellow and it was 10 against 10. I can’t imagine what Bowyer thought of it, inane play. Purrington’s only defence is that with an extra man and him on a yellow we should not have let him get isolated against a guy who was clearly causing him problems. But you don’t take a second yellow for the team before half-time.

At the break the feeling was indeed one of frustration. We’d had a man advantage for just about all of the game and had failed to force their keeper into a save, despite Doughty giving them a run around and Bogle looking capable of producing something. Our play had by and large been slow, enabling Blackpool to sit behind the ball. And now with the numbers evened up it looked like a case of which manager would get the tactical decisions right.

Bowyer took off Pratley and brought on Maatsen, allowing Doughty – who had dropped back to cover Purrington’s position – to move back up. And after an even first 10 minutes or so we had what amounted to our first real chance followed by the moment when it looked as though we had taken the lead. Doughty hit an excellent crossfield pass which Maatsen took forward. It ran on to Bogle whose shot from a dangerous position was blocked. The resulting corner was swung in and Innis rose to head powerfully into the net. I was up and shouting but the next thing Blackpool were complaining, seemingly on the grounds that Bogle had got a touch on it from an offside position before it crossed the line. Referee and linesman consulted and after an age it was indeed ruled to be no goal. I’d need to see a replay to draw any conclusions but from what I saw Innis’ header was all but in and if Bogle had interfered it wasn’t the smartest bit of play. But I may be doing him an injustice.

On the hour Aneke came on for Bogle, shortly followed by the seemingly obligatory yellow card for Watson and then Smyth replacing Washington. We were still shading it, helped by the fact that the defence was operating effectively and protecting Amos’ goal well. Just a case of whether we could nick the winner. Which we did. In the final 10 minutes of normal time Maatsen sent in a cross from the left to the far post, Doughty headed it back, and Aneke was there to head it into the net.

Probably still more than 10 minutes to play out and we did that pretty well, helped by Aneke and Smyth causing them problems up the field but also some storming work by Innis and Famewo, not giving their forwards a real sniff. We might even have grabbed a second as Smyth wriggled through and it fell to Watson, who shot over again. No matter, despite six minutes of stoppage time we saw the game out with no major alarm for the second consecutive game, something of a contrast with last season.

For me the defence deserves the plaudits tonight. Innis was immense again, at least when not playing the ball forward, while Famewo was equally impressive. Gunter did his defensive work and was more prominent going forward than on Saturday, while Maatsen looked as though he has been well schooled and slotted in very effectively. We are of course very much still a work in progress, but so far so good.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Did nothing wrong at all, dealt with balls in the air and some routine shots.

Gunter – 7/10. Another good display, sound defensive work and this time more evidence that he and Doughty might work well together going forward.

Innis – 8/10. Yes, his first-half distribution was a bit patchy (especially gave it away once in a poor position), but defensively he was excellent, some storming challenges, and could well have even scored the winner.

Famewo – 8/10. Equally impressive and effective. It’s only been two games but if we can keep this pair fit Pearce might have a tough job getting back in (in a back four at least).

Purrington – 4/10. Well, what mark can you give? He was up against a tricky guy but flattened him first time around for an obvious yellow then wrestles him to the ground to sacrifice our one-man advantage.

Shinnie – 7/10. Nothing dramatic but a quietly effective display. One criticism might have been allowing Purrington to get isolated for his second yellow.

Watson – 7/10. Another yellow card, couple of shots blazed over the bar, but felt he had a better game today and generally controlled things in front of the defence.

Pratley – 7/10. Was surprised that we started with both him and Watson in midfield, but with the sending off he was able to play an advanced role. Tactical move to take him off at the break.

Doughty – 8/10. For me this was a much better performance than of late, delivering more of an end product. He was our main threat through the first half in particular, was involved with the goal.

Washington – 6/10. Worked hard but didn’t have much joy in the final third.

Bogle – 6/10. If he did get a touch to rule out Innis’ effort it wasn’t exactly a welcome one. Was a threat and clearly had an impact in their guy getting sent off.

Subs – Maatsen (8/10; deserves the mark for an assured display, didn’t get caught out defensively and looked good going forward, involved in the goal); Aneke (8/10; OK, only on for around half an hour but scored the goal); Smyth (7/10; just a cameo today but looked lively).


Saturday 17 October 2020

That Will Do Nicely

I'd politely suggest the commentary team might have over-egged it a little at the finish, talking of a ‘crucial’ three points, but most welcome indeed they are. I’d probably have said taking all three was the icing on the cake, as there were plenty of positives to be taken from the game. With another four debutants, some of whom have literally just arrived at the club, it would have been unrealistic to expect everything to work smoothly. But the signs from individual players were very encouraging, while the team effort put in to defend a lead at the end bodes well. So I’d suggest Lee Bowyer and his team can afford themselves a pat on the back for the work done and look forward to seeing where this group of players can go (before back to work for another game shortly).

We lined up with a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 if you like), the centre-backs in front of Amos being Famewo, Inniss and Pratley with Doughty and Gunter the wing-backs. Watson anchored the midfield with Forster-Caskey and Shinnie joining him, while Aneke was chosen to lead the line and Smyth starting alongside him. On the bench were Maynard-Brewer (now with the chance to establish himself as our second keeper with the departure of Phillips), Purrington, Williams, Morgan, Levitt, Bogle and Washington.

The early exchanges were a little sloppy to be fair, from both sides, interspersed with good moments, often involving the pace of Smyth. Even then, although the passing and coordination wasn’t there, the movement and understanding had gone up a level from what we had seen before. I wrote down after 10 mins ‘good news, we are better’. Never mind that, there was a game to be won, and as it progressed we did get on top.

Good work down the left saw Smyth played in and his low cross was flicked goalwards by Forster-Caskey, saved by the keeper. Aneke was causing them problems and when Smyth was bundled over Forster-Caskey took the first of what proved to be three free kicks around the box. This one nearly hit the mark, clipping the top of the crossbar.

After 20 mins we seemed to be in a good place, working well enough. But Wigan suddenly sparked into life and could easily have taken the lead in a five-minute spell. Their No.11 was causing trouble down our left, putting in a good cross headed behind for a corner. And from that corner their guy got in a strong header from close range only to be denied by a superb save from Amos. Gunter harshly picked up a yellow for his first foul, then a cross from his side, Doughty missed the header clear inside the area, and their guy shot just wide. Famewo slipped and almost let one of them in. I thought at the time that we had gone a bit long-ball, looking to get Smyth and Aneke in with early balls, the result of which was that Wigan enjoyed better possession.

However, we weathered that small storm and came back. From a throw-in Pratley flicked on and a great touch from Aneke saw him nick it past his defender, only for the keeper to come out and smother the resulting shot. Then Forster-Caskey’s second free kick was won, again by Smyth. Just a couple of inches lower than the previous one and we’d be ahead; instead this one went some way over the bar.

The half was extended by a nasty head injury for Doughty, which saw his head swathed in bandages. But at the break it was a case of reasonable satisfaction, plenty to be happy about, but thanks to Amos for not being behind, as was the case against Sunderland.

The second half was pretty scrappy for a while, with Watson picking up what is becoming his customary yellow card (if it was for the foul awarded he was unlucky but it may have been for his reaction to the ref’s decision). It was pretty open and both sides will have been feeling that getting the first goal could prove crucial; and it could have gone either way. Aneke managed to play in Pratley, only for their keeper to save again, although Wigan did have the ball in the net after Famewo had tried to usher it out for a goal kick only to be robbed but fouled in the process.

On the hour Aneke was replaced by Bogle, which really did seem a case of like-for-like. And shortly after Forster-Caskey advanced and drew a foul, affording him a third free kick. This one was further out and more central, seemed much less potential than the previous two. But this time he curled it low and seemed to catch out their keeper and it went in off the post. The deadlock broken, the manner somewhat surprising but most welcome.

Still 25 minutes of normal time to go and the question then was how long would the legs of the new guys last? After Smyth picked up a yellow and another long stoppage for a clash of heads, this one involving Inniss, Shinnie came off, replaced by Purrington. This meant a change of formation, to a back four, with Pratley moving into midfield. And perhaps not surprisingly, given that they were behind and we were making changes, Wigan began to press.

With a little over 10 minutes of normal time left one of their guys cut in from the left and Amos blotted an otherwise perfect copybook by spilling the shot, with the rebound scrambled away. And not long after came the real episode when Wigan might have levelled, indeed perhaps felt hard done-by not to have done so. Panic defending somehow kept the ball out only for it to fall to their guy around the penalty spot. At what point the challenge came in (just before or just after the shot) wasn’t clear. The shot went wide and the ref gave the goal kick. Would really have to see it again to say whether or not we got away with one.

That was as dangerous as it got. We actually saw out the final minutes, and seven minutes of stoppage time, reasonably well, might even have nicked a second as after the narrow escape we went up the other end and Forster-Caskey nicked it and squared it just behind Pratley. Washington came on for Smyth and, although the final act involved Amos making another save, we saw the game out reasonably well (OK, bloody well compared with many recent cases of trying to defend a lead to the finish).

Did we deserve the win? Overall just about. It was a game we could easily have lost, had it not been for Amos’ first half save, or drawn. But on the balance of play we shaded it. We had been the more adventurous and dangerous of the teams. Wigan will probably feel a little hard done-by to lose, but no more. And there’s no question we will be the happier tonight, for the result for sure but just as much for the promise that we saw from the new arrivals.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Would have been a 9 but for the spilling of the shot in the second half. His first-half save was another key moment and everything else he did was faultless.

Gunter – 7/10. Didn’t see much of him as an attacking wing-back, and his harsh yellow might have inhibited him a little (you don’t want a red on your debut), but his defensive work was impressive.

Famewo – 8/10. Impressive. Does his work effectively and has a happy habit it seems of not giving away free kicks. Really does look to be a very good addition. 

Inniss – 9/10. Perhaps not everyone’s choice but I’d make him my man of the match. Really looks like he does what it says on the can, solid and reliable.

Pratley – 7/10. Decent game, both in defence and when moved into midfield. Managed to get forward to good effect too.

Doughty – 7/10. Didn’t produce a decisive contribution and was quiet in the second half, but may well have been suffering from the head injury.

Watson – 7/10. Decent enough, even though the yellows keep coming.

Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Really good performance, looks like he thrived with the formation and with the different players around him. Some loose passing in the first half, managed to score with the least dangerous of his three free kicks.

Shinnie – 7/10. Good debut. Nothing especially noteworthy but played his part.

Aneke – 7/10. Led the line well, caused problems with his pace and ability to do the unexpected. Has to prove he can last a full game. 

Smyth – 8/10. No question his pace and movement gave us something we have lacked. If he proves he can score goals that would be very good.

Subs – Bogle (7/10 – came on as others were tiring and we were happy with the status quo, too early to draw any conclusions); Purrington (8/10 – that mark is for me deserved, even though he wasn’t on for very long; the guy has seen us sign another left-back, from Chelsea, and you might have forgiven him if that had affected him; instead he put in a shift); Washington (7/10 – on the pitch for less than 10 mins).

Monday 12 October 2020

Time To Make The Pieces Gel

Some of the pieces on and off the pitch are it seems being put in place. I’ll confess I don’t know what ‘technical director’ means in practical terms (and I can’t say I’ve found out from the various comments since his appointment), but we all welcome Ged Roddy and hope he will both gel well with the other key individuals and make an important contribution to our progression.

It is reasonable to suppose that, having declared that he would be a hands-on owner as sole director and CEO (which seems to be in keeping with the way he runs his other companies), Thomas Sandgaard preferred Roddy and no effective number two to bringing in Peter Varney to effectively run the club on a day-to-day basis. That’s fine. As Varney himself commented it’s important that TS runs Charlton in a fashion that suits himself. There has to be some concern that everyone ends up reporting to TS, which can cause confusion if roles and responsibilities overlap in some areas, but any such problems will just have to be dealt with. We have had enough instability to last for a very long time and would not look favourably on anyone rocking the boat at this stage. If TS finds out further down the line that he can’t manage to be hands-on for everything, let’s hope he realises that in good time and changes tack then.

It’s a little tempting to say that this all sounds rather like Duchatelet’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach, as outlined by Miere. The difference, however, is that in addition to Duchatelet’s ego he had a daft plan and inadequate people around him yet still expected supporters to just turn up and cheer. If there is some parallel to be drawn it might instead be that Duchatelet’s low-grade network plan was scuppered by the entirely predictable undermining of the Fair Play rules; now along comes TS with a plan to get us back to the Premiership in a short space of time just as the plan is being outlined to reduce the number of teams in the Premiership to 18. If that goes through it will of course make it somewhat more difficult to get into the promised land.

On the pitch, the arrival of Chris Gunter fills the right-back hole while Omar Bogle makes it three available forwards, according to Lee Bowyer; he did say for Sunderland we had only one available fit forward, which seems to suggest that Josh Davison is either not fit or not yet viewed as a first-team option. If that’s the case it points to perhaps one more forward being brought in and Davison going on loan for a while.

Another forward might seem to be a luxury, but not if we are serious about a promotion challenge this season. With Conor Washington, Chucks Aneke and Bogle we have strength and options but are perhaps lacking someone who does his best work in the box, a poacher. A marquee forward signing can be the final piece in the jigsaw, as it was with Yann Kermorgant for Sir Chris and before him for Curbs both Darren Bent and Clive Mendonca. Now I don’t know if Yann can be talked out of retirement for one more season (at the least once The Valley is full again hopefully he will be invited over so we can give him the send-off he deserved), but the addition of someone likely to notch the 20+ goals a season that would probably put us in promotion picture would look good to me.

We don’t know yet how Bowyer is going about formulating the way he wants to see us play. He wasn’t giving clues in the recent interview, saying: “what I’m trying to do is get the personnel so I can change in game; I’ll always start with the formation I think is right but I’ll always have a Plan B”. Sounds fine, but I’m a simple soul who believes that the best teams know their strengths and play to them, whatever they are, rely on partnerships in key areas, and have a strong spine from back to front. There’s no perfect formation in football and undoubtedly flexibility is required. The team under Powell which ran away with this division was just so much better than the others that it could afford to pretty much stick to Plan A throughout – although even then we began that season without Kermorgant and reliant on the goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Without an outright goalscorer you do look for a good contribution from midfield. And that might explain why Bowyer is looking for more end-product from the likes of Jonny Williams. He clearly expects a double-digit contribution (over a full season) from a match-fit Marcus Maddison and for others to at least chip in.

It is just too soon as well to be drawing conclusions about who Bowyer sees as his ‘go to’ players. As for a spine, the last promotion team had it with Dillon Phillips, Patrick Bauer, Darren Pratley, and Lyle Taylor. Once it’s resolved whether Phillips is staying or going and whether its him or Ben Amos the first part of the spine looks fine. Jason Pearce ought to be the rock of the defence but we don’t have a return date for him, presumably either Pratley or Ben Watson will be the midfield anchor, while we have to wait and see how the three forwards gel (and of course whether it’s a pairing or one up front that Bowyer will favour).

After confirming the signature of Gunter, Bowyer reportedly said that he still wanted another five signings. With Bogle secured that still means room for more. And let’s face it, if we do get another four in we will as it stands have a pretty big squad, unless some depart for pastures new. Bowyer’s task so far this season has been to get enough bodies on the pitch; now it turns to making the requisite parts work.

Saturday 3 October 2020

A Lucky Point

 There were conflicting views on the merits (or otherwise) of this afternoon’s contest among fellow Addicks in the post-match zoom call. For me, perhaps influenced by having got up at the equivalent of 3am to get a train from Lyon to London to begin a 14-day self-isolation, it felt like a game we just to get out of the way before a two-week break and the opportunity to fill in some pretty obvious gaps. And we should be grateful for the point, earnt courtesy of a fabulous Amos save and a dreadful Sunderland miss, given that we didn’t have an effort on target, despite playing against 10 men for the final 20 minutes or so. When they come to detail the great Charlton v Sunderland contests, this one will be quietly papered over.

Given the abundance of resources in midfield but few defenders and only one outright forward available, it wasn’t surprising that Bowyer tinkered with the formation, starting off with what might have been called a 3-6-1, or a 3-4-3, depending on which way you looked at it. Basically in front of Amos we had Pratley, Famewo and Purrington as a back three with Oshilaja and Doughty as wingbacks. Watson started alongside Levitt and debutant Vennings, with Oztumer having a sort of free role in support of Washington up front.

Plan A clearly didn’t prove to be a success. After a scrappy start Sunderland started to get joy down their right/our left, working space with perhaps Doughty guilty of not tracking back well enough. One ball in was overhit but then they did the same again, then a third time, with this time a block from Amos. After about 25 minutes we changed the formation, back to a back four with Purrington going to left-back. That meant even more of an overload of bodies in midfield and if anything less cohesion and a more open defence.

From a corner routine that caused us problems Sunderland worked a free header, Amos diving to his right to turn it around the post. We gave the ball away from our own throw and ended up throwing bodies in the way of shots inside the box, then with half-time looming yet another break of theirs down our left produced a cross and a guy running onto it, only for him to blaze it over the bar. For the record we had a shot from Oztumer blocked by one of our own.

You’ve got to love the commentary team at the break when one of the guys was criticising Sunderland’s passing before acknowledging that they had “probably” the best two chances of the half. They had created all the chances of the half, one of which produced a superb save and another which was harder to miss than score.

At the break Oztumer gave way for Williams. Oztumer I thought had played well against Lincoln and was probably the only player going forward in the first half looking to make things happen. Just wasn’t working for him though, poor choices on the ball. Perhaps Bowyer felt he wanted to give Oztumer and Williams a half each to see if either or both might grab the chance before Maddison gets fit, Gilbey returns from injury, and we have more forwards in.

This meant a sort of Plan C as Williams and Doughty formed a sort of front three with Washington, although it still amounted to Washington on his own. And for a while the game went through a sort of lull, yellow cards were handed out, there were shots but no real chances, although a throw-in from Williams which was picked up by their guy caused some confusion.

The game did, however, change on 70 minutes as we brought on Aneke for Vennings (which amounted I guess to Plan D), who had acquitted himself well enough in a congested midfield. Almost immediately a long ball was flicked on by him and Washington got to it just before their guy. Looked like he was just beaten to the ball but he was the last man and the card was red. Now, 20 minutes to go, two forwards on, against 10 men. We had the opportunity to go on and win the game.

We didn’t take it. With about 10 minutes left Maddison made his appearance from the bench, for Levitt. And we might have nicked it when a ball into the box found Aneke in a bit of space, but he failed to either control it or get a strike on goal. And in the end it was Sunderland who almost got the winner at the death, with another dangerous ball into the box and a dramatic header clear from Maddison.

In time we may see the positives from this game. A point was secured, however undeserved, another two players made their debuts, some were able to get minutes into their legs. But we were disjointed, lacked coordination and cohesion, and didn’t do the basics nearly well enough. If it wasn’t for the fact that we have a new owner and we expect much-needed additions to the squad we would be looking very warily at our prospects for the season. As it is, we can just forget this game and get on with the team rebuilding.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Deserves to be man of the match for a decent block and then an excellent save. That won us a point.

Doughty – 5/10. Not an impressive performance, whether at wing-back, winger, third forward etc. Saw enough of the ball but failed to make a meaningful contribution today.

Purrington – 5/10. Did nothing wrong as a third centre-back but we were as weak on our left side when he moved to full-back as we were before the change. 

Pratley – 6/10. Put in another shift in a position that is clearly not natural for him.

Famewo – 7/10. Decent enough game, covered well in a back five and a back four.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Didn’t really get the chance to see how he would have shaped up as a wing-back as we changed formation.

Watson – 5/10. OK but nothing more, did the work in front of the defence, picked up another yellow card.

Levitt – 5/10. Not an easy game for him as we seldom had good options in front of him when he was looking to play a killer pass.

Vennings – 6/10. Tidy first performance. Nothing dramatic but fitted in well enough.

Oztumer – 5/10. Was involved in what we did create in the first half, but not much worked for him today, looked frustrated.

Washington – 6/10. Hard to give a mark for a guy who for most of the game was barely involved as he outnumbered.

Subs – Williams (5/10, similar to Oztumer in that things didn’t really come off for him); Aneka (7/10, made a real difference when he came on, just a pity he made a hash of the half-chance that came his way); Maddison (6/10 – not on for long but was able to give an indication of why Bowyer wanted him in).

Friday 2 October 2020

Numbers Point To Flood The Midfield

Lee Bowyer and his team have more than enough credit in the bank for nobody to really carp about the sale of Bonne to QPR, assuming the price was indeed ‘right’. He may go on to do great things, he may not, just too early to tell. Another club likes what they see and has paid for it, for us he is far from irreplaceable, unlike a certain Taylor at the end of last season. But he does of course need to be replaced. As things stand we have Washington, with Aneke awaiting a return to action (we hope and assume) after his testing positive for Covid-19 and Davison not in favour at the moment at least (to the extent of having been on the bench for Lincoln but not featuring in the club website first team squad – which is up to date with the new signings and Bonne already taken out).

At least the Bonne situation is resolved. Hopefully before long so too will be the picture for Phillips and Doughty. I’m sympathetic to Bowyer not selecting Phillips, despite his heroics last season, as long as the expectation is he will be leaving. No point in a defence getting used to one keeper if he’s going to be off. If instead he stays until January at least there is a decision to be made between him and Amos and selection goes back to being on merit. If Celtic do up the offer for Doughty and he goes, again at least there will be clarity and we can focus on the replacement options; if not, the stage is set for him to play a key role this season.

So as things stand we have one listed forward available for tomorrow’s game, unless Davison gets the nod. So be it, no doubt that will change soon. But it does underline the contrast between the defence and attack and midfield, where we are suddenly blessed with options but where Bowyer will have to find his best combinations and alternatives. In defence, aside from the goalkeeper situation, with Pearce sidelined we currently have Barker, Purrington, Oshilaja, Famewo plus Pratley to select any four from.

Set that against Pratley, Watson, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey, Levitt, Williams, Oztumer, Maddison, Doughty, Morgan, and Lapslie (plus Vennings perhaps coming through). I think the options can be narrowed a little in that either Pratley or Watson provide the defensive cover, never both in the same midfield, while it’s hard to see Oztumer and Williams together in the same line-up (unless we’re in desperation mode chasing a game in the final minutes). I don’t get paid to make the selections, but with four of the midfielders being recent signings I’m assuming Bowyer has a better idea than me just what mix is going to work. We were told Gilbey is box-to-box while Maddison is expected to score and create goals for us.

Simple mathematics suggest that given our current imbalances a five-man midfield has to be an option (or four with one in the hole, a diamond, or some other combination), perhaps with Pratley in a defensive three. We might as well flood the centre and look to midfielders to get into the box as on numbers alone it would look like playing to our (current) strengths.