Saturday 26 December 2020

Not Sharp Enough At Both Ends

Today we looked for improvement from last time out against Swindon, in terms of both quality of performance and the result. Oh, and I was assuming a Range Rover would be coming my way. On all fronts, as against Swindon, the end-result fell a little short of expectations (especially as the guy who won the draw for the car was called from the pitch and wasn’t even watching the game). We didn’t defend well enough to win, again conceding twice, while too often we made the wrong choices in the final third.

That sounds ominously like a lack of quality where it matters, probably also an element of players being asked to take on different tasks and that creating at least initial confusion. Bottom line is we didn’t play well enough to dominate the game or to feel hard done-by with a point. Plymouth will probably say it was a game they were just as likely to win as us. We’re feeling frustrated that we’re not blowing teams away. Perhaps we need to lower our expectations.

The team saw three changes from the previous two outings, with Gilbey, Maddison and Bogle dropping to the bench to be replaced by Matthews, Williams and Aneke. But nobody was sure what that would mean in terms of formation. Could be a back five – with Gunter alongside Pearce and Pratley in the centre and Matthews and Maatsen as wing-backs - or a back four and either Gunter or Matthews lining up in a more advanced role. The club site talked of a back four of Matthews, Gunter, Pearce and Maatsen, with Pratley in midfield, but there was also talk of Maatsen starting in midfield.

In the event it was a back four, with Matthews switched to left-back. Maatsen did indeed get the more advanced role, with Forster-Caskey the other side of Watson and Williams offered the chance previously afforded to Maddison to play just behind a front two of Washington and Aneke. On the bench Smyth made a welcome return from injury, plus Morgan returned from isolation, but still no sign of Shinnie, who I think we’ve missed more than we expected to.

After five minutes we were behind, with our defence exposed. Guy played in down the left as we appealed for offside, Watson went to challenge him close to the by-line only to be comprehensively side-stepped, ball pulled back to their guy who was alert enough to escape defenders and slot the ball past Amos. It was a goal that smacked of collective uncertainty on our part.

For the next 20 minutes or so we dominated possession, created some reasonable positions, but looked just as likely to let in a second as draw level, with Plymouth breaking quickly and in numbers. Most of our good work involved Williams, although he sometimes just failed to get the weight of pass right (while the shot he had is best glossed over), and Aneke was holding the ball up well and playing in others. Washington was found in the box and he looked to repeat his recent curler, but this time his effort was well saved, Maatsen had a decent shot parried. Equally their guy went past Pratley with some ease, forcing the foul.

No matter, on the half-hour we drew level, perhaps in fortunate circumstances. A corner saw Aneke challenge their defender, who knocked off balance only turned it towards his own goal where Gunter was able to pounce and knock it in from close range. The ref’s interpretation of what was a foul (and what merited a yellow) did vary through the game, but if he’d given the foul against Aneke I don’t think we would have too much to complain about.

No matter again, we are level, now let’s see if we can get a proper grip. We were level for three minutes. Then a free-kick from an innocuous position was headed towards our goal then hit one of ours, to bounce down between defenders and Amos. Their guy was again the most alert and ran between the two to score from close range. Perhaps unlucky but nobody tracked his run.

All to do once again. And if anything we were fortunate not to fall further behind shortly before the break as their guy seemed to have a free header from a corner. Then just on half-time Maatsen let fly from outside the box and his screamer cannoned back off the bar with their keeper well beaten.

No changes at the break and the first 15 or so minutes of the second half were much the same as before, us pressing but looking susceptible to fast breaks. We had a free kick for handball just outside their box, with Aneke’s shot hitting the wall (and shortly after he picked up a yellow with a late tackle). Good positions but no real chances created, their keeper not being worked.

The first changes came around the hour. Watson and Williams made way for Morgan and Maddison. Williams/Maddison was a straight swap, but with Watson off and Pratley kept in defence Forster-Caskey moved to the more central position in front of the back four. And it only took a few minutes for the changes to pay off. Ball played to him some way out, but he drew a challenged and nutmegged their guy, ran onto the ball and fairly drilled in a daisy-cutter from outside the box. A great example of a player getting just reward for a piece of positive play, making something happen.

Over 20 minutes left, now can we go on and win the game? The opportunity seemed to be there, with Morgan slotting in well and by now Plymouth looking tired, perhaps having expended a lot of energy with their breaks forward, perhaps also them ready to settle for a point. And we did fashion the chance that should have won the game. Maddison managed to keep the ball in play inside their box and squared it for Washington. It seemed laid on a plate but he ballooned it over the bar. Steve Brown in the commentary box said it hit a bobble just as he went to hit it, which may be the case. Otherwise it was a bad miss.

With hindsight that was as near as we came. Bogle came on for Aneke not long afterwards and, although he had his moments, we didn’t seriously threaten again (Washington did play a good ball low into their box but nobody was there). In fact Plymouth played out the final period, including five minutes of stoppage time, quite comfortably, even threatening once or twice to get a winner themselves. Smyth came on for Washington with a few minutes of normal time to go and did find space, only for Morgan’s ball to him to be overhit; and Morgan did blot his copybook with a poor ball out of defence which led to a Plymouth shot.

At the final whistle nobody was holding their head in their hands at two points cruelly denied. The BBC’s match stats show we had 64% possession and had 13 shots to their 9, but both sides had five on target. We were behind twice and Plymouth might argue that our first goal should have been a foul and our second was just a moment of magic out of the blue. Bottom line is we’ve not kept a clean sheet for five games now and it’s pretty obvious that if you concede two you it’s tough to win, not impossible but tough. Not just the defenders, Brown got it right from the commentary box when he pointed out how quickly Plymouth were able to get the ball from their defence to our final third. We know that things would be different with Innis and Famewo but still plenty of work to be done defending better as a team.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. No chance with either goal, not a great deal to do otherwise.

Gunter – 6/10. Nothing wrong that I saw but not much in evidence going forward and takes share of responsibility for defensive failures.

Pearce – 6/10. Much the same really, nothing wrong but ...

Pratley – 6/10. Just about on effort. But often defended like a midfielder, pulled out of the centre, might have given away a penalty when he slipped. He’s doing sterling work for the team, just wish he didn’t have to in this position.

Matthews – 6/10. Can only assume Purrington was injured (he wasn’t on the bench) or there was some particular reason Bowyer opted to switch him to the left. Summed up by his attempt to cross the ball with the outside of his right foot rather than use his left.

Watson – 6/10. Was badly caught out for their first goal, otherwise decent enough.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Involved throughout, gave a decent account of himself when switched to the more central position.

Maatsen – 7/10. Not great with the final pass but lively in this position, might easily have got on the scoresheet with his shots.

Williams – 7/10. Was instrumental in a position which I’m sure he enjoys. But also was tiring when taken off.

Aneke – 7/10. Good game outside the box, nothing today came his way inside it. 

Washington – 6/10. Did good work but often made the wrong choices in possession and badly missed the chance that really should have put us ahead and might have won the game.


Morgan – 6/10. Did make things happen but final pass wasn’t controlled enough and poor late clearance nearly cost us.

Maddison – 8/10. For the goal alone deserves the mark. He will try things that don’t come off, but today one did.

Bogle – 6/10. No barnstorming finish from us today and we faded as an attacking threat in the final 10 minutes.

Smyth – Only on for a few minutes.


Saturday 19 December 2020

Disappointing Display And Points Squandered After Initiative Surrendered

Ahead of today’s game there was almost a feeling that with the postponement of our midweek game we’d been denied third spot, putting the onus on us to ensure a win today against opponents in poor form in order to make up ground lost through no fault of our own. Plus we were looking for evidence that the positive display in the second half against Wimbledon was indicative of what we might expect from a team still learning how to get the best out of each other.

We were, it has to be said, disappointed on both fronts as a patchy, too often scrappy, display saw us fall behind, draw level before half-time, then take the lead and have the initiative, looked like we’d go on to win by a few against pretty ordinary opposition. Instead we failed to make the most of some opportunities to score again, made a change to the formation which basically contributed to handing over the initiative to the opposition, and went on to concede an equaliser at the death. Two points squandered (adding to the two against Shrewsbury) and also questions to be asked about the tactics.

The team was unchanged from the last time out, which meant 4-4-2 (but a diamond midfield) with Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Pratley and Maatsen the defence, Watson flanked by Forster-Caskey and Gilbey and Morrison forming the point, with Washington and Bogle up front. The unusual week between games perhaps enabled Bowyer to shelve rotation this time around, while leaving things unchanged meant that we might get some insight into whether the rip-roaring, free-scoring Addicks performance against Wimbledon was down to the formation adopted or the changes made in the second half (Aneke and Williams coming on), or a combination of the two.

The first half proved to be something of a reminder that in the first period against Wimbledon we hadn’t set the house on fire. We had the upper hand in the first 10 or 15 minutes without really troubling them, a Washington shot being the only effort I remember, as we found it difficult to get through or around their five-man midfield. Swindon then did come into it more and asked a few questions, to the extent that it was not out of the blue that they took the lead.

They knocked it around on the edge of our area, we had chances to get it clear but failed to do so, and it finished up with a one-two which left their guy in space on the right side. Maatsen committed himself and their guy turned inside, slamming the shot past Amos.

That was the cue for renewed effort on our part and we had one or two openings, with blocked shots, Maddison kocking in dangerous balls, Pratley with a clear header from a corner but not connecting well, Bogle with a shot deflected over the bar. The downside was that we still hadn’t tested their keeper and too often there just wasn’t fluidity or effective movement. I made a note of one moment after the half-hour when Forster-Caskey got the ball in a decent position and looked up, with four or five Charlton players just ahead of him all standing still.

Nevertheless, perhaps as a reward for effort we did draw level with something of a gift. Their defender let the ball through under his foot and that left Bogle with just the keeper to beat. He took it around him and despite what looked like a foul managed to convert. A few minutes later, however, Bogle missed a sitter as instead of blasting into the net he tried to craft the shot and made a hash of it. We nearly paid for that as from a corner Swindon worked what looked like a practised move, ball to the far post headed back and their guy looking to sweep it in only for good defending to deny him.

At the break 1-1 was just about fair, but remembering the previous game we had expectations that we’d turn on the gas again and win it. And there was no waiting around as Aneke came on at half-time for Bogle (while an injury early in the second half saw Swindon lose one of their three Smiths).

Really nothing much happened early in the second half, Forster-Caskey taking a yellow for the team with a pull-back. But on the hour we went ahead. Good work down the left ended with Washington, possibly offside, who squared it to Aneke, possibly offside, who tapped it in. No flag, fair enough.

Now in front, you really did expect us to go on and win well, if we could take advantage of the space we were finding. A second change saw Purrington come on for Forster-Caskey, with Maatsen moving to the right side of midfield. Might have been down to shoring up the defence as guy Maatsen was up against was a handful, might have been due to a Forster-Caskey knock and/or the fact he was on a yellow. Either way the formation was the same.

We were now getting in to reasonable positions going forward (while another substitution saw Swindon reduced to only one Smith on the pitch) but making poor decisions. One break looked like four on two but the pass forward by Gilbey was poor and gave away possession, then Gilbey improbably jinked his way through only to again choose the wrong option. And with about 20 minutes to go we made another substitution, this one more puzzling. Maddison was taken off and Matthews came on, we went to a back five with Gunter moving inside. I suppose the rationale was to shut up shop, but it left a midfield of Watson, Gilbey and Maatsen, with possibly Washington dropping back too. The change seemed to herald us playing deeper and invited Swindon onto us. It also meant that Gunter wouldn’t be bombing down the line as he had against Wimbledon.

Into the final 10 minutes and it seemed we might be able to play it out, even looking dangerous on a few more occasions, these generally involving Washington. But he in turn chose the wrong pass, or to try to cut inside instead of shooting and losing possession. Gilbey shot over, Purrington picked up a yellow. Then in the final minute of normal time we conceded a corner. Ball in moving away from goal but their guy somehow managed to divert it back goalwards and Amos a little off his line couldn’t get a hand on it as it went in under the bar.

Swindon were happy with their point and we no longer had the personnel to chase the game in four minutes of stoppage time (especially as I assume we couldn’t make another substitution, having made three separate changes, so Williams sat it out). Two points dropped for sure and plenty to reflect on as we take the break for what is to pass for Christmas. Bottom line is we weren’t able to reproduce the second-half display against Wimbledon and weren’t able to close out the game.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 6/10. No chance with the first goal, some culpability over the second I think as he was off his line for a ball he couldn’t collect.

Gunter – 7/10. Decent enough game, but whereas against Wimbledon his bombing down the line in the second half was instrumental in our win today he gets switched to centre-back for the final 20 minutes.

Pearce – 7/10. No complaints, sound performance, not culpable for the goals. Plenty of good work.

Pratley – 7/10. Much the same, was generally effective and while we conceded twice I can’t remember Amos having another serious save to make.

Maatsen – 6/10. Was up against a much stronger opponent and stood up well, but was turned for their first goal.

Watson – 8/10. My man of the match. Very assured display, read it well, won tackles, kept things moving.

Forster-Caskey – 6/10. Hard with our formation today to make dents in a five-man midfield when those around you too often are standing still.

Gilbey – 6/10. Disappointing with his end-product today.

Maddison – 6/10. Not as instrumental as against Wimbledon, saw less of the ball, still looked capable of the decisive pass.

Bogle – 6/10. Got his goal but missed a very good chance soon after.

Washington – 6/10. Too many things from him today just didn’t quite work out, from shots to crosses and passes.


Aneke – 7/10. Another goal, we failed to capitalise after it on the fact that he had the beating off them.

Purrington – 7/10. Can’t complain, came on and did his job.

Matthews – 7/10. Much the same.


Saturday 12 December 2020

Improved Second Half Wins The Points

Now that was, in the end, just what the doctor ordered: five goals, including ones from midfielders getting into the box, and a storming second half performance when we needed to up our game after a mixed first half, one in which we’d dominated without creating clear-cut chances, then scored a beauty out of the blue, only to concede twice in three minutes to go into the break behind.

The team saw in front of Amos Pratley asked to drop back again into central defence alongside Pearce as Famewo wasn’t able to overcome a training ground injury (with Oshilaja on his way back on the bench), Gunter and Maatsen completing a back four. Midfield, with Morgan and Shinnie unavailable, was a diamond with Watson flanked by Gilbey and Forster-Caskey and Maddison forming the point behind a front two of Bogle (back for a start, Aneke on the bench) and Washington. My thought before the game was that this should be the position for Maddison to shine in, he’s been given the opportunity, up to him to take it.

It proved to be a competent but rather uneventful first 20 minutes, during which we dictated the play, with Maddison indeed prominent, but hadn’t really fashioned an opening. I marked it down as 18 minutes before a real shot in anger (a couple had gone before), with Pratley heading back from a free-kick and Gilbey getting one in which was saved. Shortly after, very much against the run of play, we very nearly went behind. A ball in from their right was deflected past Amos, who was coming out to gather, and it seemed they were bound to score, only for Gunter to get there first and clear.

Another 15 minutes went by without real incident, except for a poor tackle on Forster-Caskey which at least merited a yellow but wasn’t even given a free kick (the ref’s approach to yellow cards was to prove inconsistent to say the least) and the returning Piggott being given too much space to get in a shot. We did then break the deadlock, rather out of the blue. Moving out of defence Pearce looked up and played an excellent ball forward for Washington. He still had a lot to do, but turned inside and then curled a super shot into the far corner of the net. On the balance of play we deserved to be ahead, but on chances to that point Wimbledon had been closest. No matter, relax a little, play some football, get into the break.

That might have been the plan, but it went out of the window not long after. A ball forward found Pigott on the edge of our box and our defenders all backed off and allowed him to turn and look up. Like Washington before him he curled one into the far side of the net. Excellent strike but should never have been given the time and space. And it got worse as their guy managed to keep the ball in play along the goal-line and had a shot blocked by Amos for a corner. From that the ball was half-cleared, only for again too much time and space to be afforded to someone to put it back into the mix and find two Wimbledon players unmarked. The second of them headed beyond Amos into the net.

At the break there was an element of fair play to Wimbledon. They’d kept their 3-5-1 shape, defended well, and taken their opportunities. We’d been not sharp enough in our passing and movement, one moment aside, and defended sloppily at times and paid the price. We would have to play better to get the result we wanted.

There did indeed seem a greater sense of urgency when we resumed. Maddison played in Bogle but his control let him down, while a Wimbledon break from our corner created a three-on-two but they failed to take advantage. And on 52 minutes we made the changes, with Aneke and Williams coming on for Bogle and Gilbey. No change in formation, just personnel.

Almost as soon as he was on Aneke was causing problems, just failing to get his head onto a chipped cross, before he was ridiculously yellow carded for something, followed by a Wimbledon player shown yellow for stopping us taking a quick free kick, which they had been doing in the first half without comment. Then their keeper, who had already been timewasting, saw yellow for a disagreement over whether the ball was in the right place for a goal kick.

Back to the football and just after the hour we did draw level. Good work down the right between Waston and Maddison, on to Aneke. His shot was blocked but fell to the onrushing Forster-Caskey who scored. And before we had time to digest that one we went ahead. Gunter again found space down our right and squared it, for Williams to run onto and convert, from pretty much the same spot Forster-Caskey had found. Midfielders making runs into the box paying dividends!

There followed a spell of around 10 minutes when we had the opportunities to score again, to presumably kill off the game, but didn’t take them, raising the risk of a sweaty end to the match. Into the final 10 minutes of normal time and we made another change, Maddison – who had been involved in many of our better moments and was always trying to make something happen – went off for Purrington, with Maatsen moving further forward and Williams switching into the point of the diamond position.

Shortly after we did get the goal that effectively wrapped up the points. And it was a gift. Their defender slipped as he went to clear and Aneke pounced, taking it wider before shooting into the net. Wimbledon didn’t look like coming back from that, and after Oshilaja had come on for Washington to shore things up, they suffered the indignity of conceding a fifth. Purrington and Maatsen made space down the left, Maatsen played it inside, Williams’ shot hit the post, but Purrington put in the rebound.

All’s well that ends well as they say. What was pleasing for me was that at the break we clearly needed to up our game and we did, although the extra threat that Aneke brings was clearly a key factor. We need midfielders to be scoring goals and today they did, by making runs into the box. The stats showed we had 16 shots, 10 on target, much higher than some recent games. Plenty still to work on but the fans at the game, including Thomas Sandergaard, will have gone home happy. Me? The performance and the result merit a good Givry Chambertin, just to compensate for the fact that if we hadn’t conceded the penalty at the death against Shrewsbury we would be second tonight.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Don’t think he was at fault for either goal, dealt with everything else.

Gunter – 8/10. Made decisive contributions today at both ends. His first-half clearance prevented a goal and in the second half his attacking forays made a real difference.

Pratley – 7/10. Did again what we asked him to do, but we did give them too much time and space at times and paid the price.

Pearce – 7/10. The same, although deserves special mention for the pass to Washington for our first.

Maatsen – 7/10. A little sloppy at times in the first half but nothing serious, and also contributed going forward in the second half.

Watson – 7/10. Decent game, provided the protection and ensured things ticked over.

Gilbey – 6/10. Played his part but not especially instrumental and replaced before the hour.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Gets the extra mark for being in the right place to score when one came back off their keeper.

Maddison – 7/10. I suspect he’s always going to have critics but one thing about him is he makes things happen. Not everything came off but he was involved in most of our good moments.

Bogle – 6/10. Worked hard as ever but a couple of times he should have made more of opportunities and didn’t cause their centre-backs too many problems.

Washington – 7/10. Thought he was rather ineffective in the first half, then he goes and scores a blinder.


Aneke – 8/10. No question he made a difference and was a key factor in the win. 

Williams – 7/10. Played his part and scored again!

Purrington – 7/10. Only on for around 10 minutes but scored.

Oshilaja – Can’t give a mark for five minutes but good to have him back available.


Friday 11 December 2020

Spread The Positivity

 It’s already been stressed elsewhere what a pleasure last night’s Trust-arranged Q&A with Thomas Sandgaard proved to be. Amen to that, thanks to TS and the Trust. The transcript’s already been published by the Trust, so people not able to listen in can read for themselves what was said, but just as important as the words were the tone, the openness, the evident willingness to listen, and the positivity. The contrast with what has gone before, at least since early 2014 (let’s be fair, the spivs did make some effort to communicate before it all fell apart for them, Duchatelet/Miere saw contact with the fans as a necessary evil, perhaps an opportunity to tell fans what Roland wanted but limit any fans’ input to discussions over the price of Bovril), could not have been starker.

Everyone will have their favourite moment/answer. Mine, which harks back to a familiar theme, is when TS was asked about his motivation for getting involved with Charlton as, it was jokingly suggested, it can’t be for the good his health. On reflection TS pointed out that in actual fact it probably is good for his health as he is enjoying himself. Spot on. I always found it sad that Duchatelet, by never being remotely interested in Charlton or football in general, or trying to unearth the reasons behind the appeal (he already knew everything of course), never seemed to get any pleasure from owning football clubs. To be fair, we never saw him with a smile on his face over anything, but it did make you wonder why he opted to get involved with football (other than as a sterile social experiment having failed in politics, or to try to prove a point that he knew how to make money from football while others couldn’t).

For now, TS is going to have to take our word for it that he has made very many Addicks, myself included, very happy. No doubt there will be bumps along the way, perhaps it will take us a year or two longer than we expect to get into the European competitions, but if the attitudes stays the same the guy can expect the continued full backing of the fans.

TS was asked basically what in return we could do to help. Fill out The Valley when we can and bring in friends and family, as well as help develop supporter networks. We may not be able yet to do the former, but we can start with some groundwork on the latter, by spreading the word that it’s going to be fun for all of us and why not come on board for the ride. Our club has been in the news for years for less than positive reasons, we can help counter the impression left and encourage others to return and new Addicks to be initiated.  

Saturday 5 December 2020

Poor Game Ends In Frustration

After Tuesday night’s defeat no doubt today we were looking for improvement, hopefully in terms of both the performance and the result but at least one of them. In the event it was generally gritty stuff, especially in a sterile first half, but with a goal from a rare moment of quality it looked like we’d come away with the points, especially as we somehow made it through the final 10 minutes without Shrewsbury getting a leveller, largely thanks to Amos and the bar. But just when it seemed we had made it to the finish line we managed to create a final moment of panic and gave away a penalty, which was duly converted. Over the whole game you’d say a draw was a fair result, but no question who was feeling happiest at the final whistle.

The team saw in front of Amos the return of Pearce to the defence, alongside Famewo who had himself come back from injury during Tuesday night’s game. Gunter got the nod over Matthews at right back, Maatsen returned after his suspension in place of Purrington. In midfield Watson was accompanied by Pratley, finally getting a break from his central defensive duties, plus Gilbey and Forster-Caskey, while Aneke started with Washington. Seems that Shinnie, who took a knock in midweek, was not fit and Maddison was also absent, apparently ill, added to Innis and Smyth (and Levitt and Oshilaja).

It looked like a 4-4-2, although we played more like a 4-1-3-2, with Watson in front of the defence and Pratley ahead of him, flanked by Gilbey and Forster-Caskey. It looked a solid set-up, but you did wonder where the width would come from and about the absence of pace.

And let’s face it the first half was a bore. Neither side was able to impose itself or fashion a decent chance, let alone score. We had to wait 17 minutes for the first real moment of note, with Gilbey making space on the left and curling the ball in, Aneke almost got onto it and then someone else at the far post, but no meaningful contact came from either. Shrewsbury had a free header from a corner as Gunter was on the ground, over the bar. Gilbey picked up a yellow, followed by Aneke, and just before the break a long kick out by Amos was taken down very well by Washington, who skipped past the defender, only to find himself on his own and his cross was put behind for a corner.

That really was it. Plenty of effort, also plenty of misplaced passes from both sides and little movement. We did look composed at the back, equally Aneke was finding himself up against three centre-backs and looking frustrated, looking to feed off scraps. Basically neither side seemed to have the pace or the wit to undo the other.

There was a little more intent from both sides early in the second half and both enjoyed a spell of relative pressure, with a Shrewsbury guy clipping the bar with a curled shot. For us Gilbey was wide with a curler of his own, after which he went off, along with Forster-Caskey, for Morgan and Williams. It was a change of personnel rather than formation, with Morgan on the left side and Williams on the right.

After another 10 minutes the usual change took place as Bogle came on for Aneke. And shortly after, completely out of the blue (but with two of the subs involved) we took the lead. The ball was played up to Bogle’s feet, around the centre-circle. He turned and played a pass to Williams moving forward. Outside him Gunter was bombing down the line and Williams fed him. The ball was squared and Watson came into the box at the right moment, hitting it into the net via a deflection.

About 15 minutes of normal time to see out – but stung by going behind, and perhaps energised by their own substitutions, Shrewsbury woke up and put us under pressure. Gunter was beaten in the box, only for their guy to cut in for a better angle and lose it, then with less than 10 minutes to go we got away with a real scramble. The bar was hit, Amos saved, then the ball was scrambled away. That near miss prompted another change by Bowyer, with Matthews coming on, presumably to shore up the defence on the right side. Embarrassing though it was for him, the only real options were to take off either Williams, who’d been on the pitch for less than 25 minutes, or Washington and go to one up front. It was the former and Williams trudged off.

In the final minutes and into stoppage time and now it was Amos keeping us ahead with a couple of excellent saves. It seemed as if we had got away with it, then Morgan managed to slice a ball forward and sent it towards our box, Pearce and Famewo seemed unsure what to do, we panicked and their guy was felled. Nobody could dispute the decision and, although we had hopes that Amos would save us once more, it was not to be.

Of course you can’t concede an equaliser in the final minute of stoppage time without feeling you’ve just thrown away two points, whether or not overall you deserved them. There was positives to be taken, most obviously the return of Pearce (and Famewo), but having played Gunter and Pratley out of position for so long, out of necessity, we now had Forster-Caskey and Gilbey playing in positions which did not get the best out of them. A draw isn’t a disaster and at least we have a week now to regroup. But the stats now show that we’ve won only one in the last five and the school report has to say ‘room for improvement’.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Almost won us two points single-handed. He really is having a splendid season, we’ve not missed Phillips at all.

Gunter – 6/10. Was given the nod over Matthews to start at right-back (he was the incumbent before having to move inside) but was caught out a couple of times and it was his challenge for the penalty.

Pearce – 8/10. Good to see him back, the defence was sound until we scored but we creaked in the final 10 minutes.

Famewo – 7/10. Much as Pearce, decent game.

Maatsen – 7/10. Not everything he tried came off going forward but covered well and did the defensive stuff with aplomb.

Watson – 8/10. Much better performance I thought than in midweek, looked assured and got his name on the scoresheet.

Gilbey – 5/10. Perhaps still finding his feet and I’m not sure he will if we play him in this position.

Pratley – 6/10. Reasonable enough contribution, thought we’d see more of him cropping up in the box than we did.

Forster-Caskey – 5/10. As for Gilbey, hard to see him thriving being pushed into a widish position.

Aneke – 5/10. Frustrating game for him, feeding off scraps and outnumbered.

Washington – 5/10. Overall disappointing in that he didn’t really pair up with Aneke and his good moments were few and far between.


Williams – 5/10. Played a part in the goal but only on the pitch for a short time.

Morgan – 5/10. Harsh but it was his slice which led to the confusion and their penalty.

Bogle – 6/10. Also involved in the goal and started well, but we didn’t feature much as an attacking threat after we’d scored.

Matthews – 6/10. Can’t really give him a mark, or blame him for the fact he was brought on to shore up the defence and we conceded a goal.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Saturday's Options

My partner Suzanne sometimes laughs at me for being a ‘slave to routine’ (sometimes she laughs at me for other reasons). Out of bed, turn on PC power supply, go to kitchen, fill and turn on kettle, prepare coffee, glass of OJ from the fridge, back to ‘office’, turn on PCs, back to kitchen, pour water onto coffee, take coffee and mug to office, take Ipad and OJ into bathroom for the shower and Radio 4. For the record the routine is different in Blackheath as there are stairs and a radio involved, but you get the picture.

What she refuses to acknowledge is that while this is going on I am working: reminding myself what I need to focus on, what I expect to do, how I intend to address certain problems. Now I can walk and chew gum but I can’t do these things properly if I’m trying to work out her latest preferred location for my cafeteria and just why she is in the bathroom when she must be aware I am walking towards my shower Ipad and OJ in hand.

It's the same in other areas. We learn to drive, or touchtype, by going through dull routines, until they are second nature and automatic. That way you can concentrate instead on the important stuff, like looking out for other cars, reacting effectively to a developing situation rather than wondering which is the brake.

The point is (and I think there is a point) that there is a downside to player rotation and regularly changing the formation. This is not to overlook the positives of the approach, at least the former: in this division the games come thick and fast, injuries and suspensions are inevitable, while flexibility and ability to change when things aren’t working is highly desirable. I’d suggest the objective of having two players for every position and having some rotation of personnel is positive, as is an ability to change formation during games in response to events. But I don’t think that overlooks that it is also desirable to know your team’s strengths and how to play to them, to have a Plan A. And right now we don’t.

I also think player rotation and formation changes can have a mentally draining effect on players. Take the extreme opposite. Some of us remember Cambridge under John Beck, saw them play us at Upton Park and they were booed off the pitch at half-time for the dire nature of their play (but they were winning 2-0). Their defenders had clear instructions to wellie the ball out towards the sidelines (to win a throw, advance down the pitch winning more throws, then launch a bomb into the box for their giants to score); their forwards knew that whenever a defender got the ball this would happen, so automatically they anticipated it. Now nobody wants to follow this example, but the point is that this makes football easier to play, there’s not much of a thought process and players can move in anticipation of what their colleagues are about to do. Right now our players are sometimes bombing down the pitch with the ball, sometimes hoofing it long, sometimes trying to press – and more often than not the rest of the team is guessing what might happen next, which works against players making runs in anticipation of being found and can create the impression of a flat performance, one lacking collective energy.

A fellow Addick last night pointed out that we match up well against stronger sides, beating them for determination and focus and winning the physical battles. Keeping things tight in defence, despite the loss of central defenders, and in midfield was the cornerstone of victories against Portsmouth, Wigan, Ipswich etc. But when teams like Burton and MK Dons come along, teams brave enough to pass it, run at us, and pull us out of position we look second-best. That may be a reflection of areas we are weak in, including pace (without Smyth and Doughty), also I suspect is down to us not having an effective Plan A when the onus is felt to be on us to make the running in a game.

OK, we know we are still a work in progress with a large number of new players, some of whom haven’t played much football, while injuries have taken their toll. We have good reason to expect us to get better (and Bowyer has stressed that we are ahead of a reasonable curve in that sense). Some players are playing not in their favourite positions I suspect, not just Pratley and Gunter. So perhaps it’s time to take a step back and consider what might work well as a current Plan A – all acknowledging of course that Bowyer, Jackson et al have forgotten far more about football than I will ever know.

Start with some limitations. Up front, with Smyth injured and Davison on loan we are down to three strikers, one of whom is not trusted to last 90 minutes. Bogle is valued for his work wearing out the opposition and giving way for Aneke to benefit (of course it’s not that simple), neither of them has so far shown signs of being able to form an effective partnership with Washington.

At the back, we know the team if all are fit and available. Amos sits behind Innis and Famewo while Gunter and Matthews compete for a spot, as do Maatsen and Purrington. Pearce and Oshilaja are currently not being considered for a starting place (but obviously will feature at some point). Without Innis and with Famewo now back, the first question to be answered is who plays best alongside him, out of Pratley and Gunter, or whether a back three would be favoured. Leave that to one side.

In midfield we have an abundance of players, just no partnerships and nobody laying an undisputed claim to a starting place. Assume first that either Watson or Pratley play in the holding role. Then remember that without Doughty or Smyth we have no natural wide players. Morgan fills in there on one side, but I think it’s a waste to have Maddison do the same. Let’s leave Levitt to one side for now and consider the options: Shinnie, Gilbey, Forster-Caskey, Pratley/Watson, Morgan, Maddison, Williams, possibly Vennings too.

Taking all this together, I think our available resources point in favour of a 4-5-1 formation. Subject to fitness and form on the training ground, my inclination would be to start with a back four in front of Amos of Matthews or Gunter, Pratley, Famewo and Purrington. With a midfield five, have Maatsen play wide left (he’s certainly looked capable of that) and either Morgan or Mathews/Gunter wide right (I’d assume Morgan). Pair Watson and either Shinnie or Forster-Caskey in central midfield (I think they get the nod over Gilbey at the moment for this role), then have Maddison playing a more advanced role, with licence to bomb forward (and if he doesn’t take the chance offered Williams is the replacement, or Gilbey).

Up front I’d go with Washington. We don’t have to be wedded to starting with Bogle or Aneke and swapping them sooner or later. Bogle has not yet been effective in holding the ball up and his first touch doesn’t I think lend itself to him operating as a sole striker. Aneke is not expected to last 90 minutes. So start with Washington – and have both Bogle and Aneke available from the bench to really bully defenders later on and to be able to mix things up if necessary. With such a set-up we’d be looking for goals from midfield and to play through midfield, with two wide men and good defensive cover, taking out the option of hoofing it up to a big guy. We’d also have players who can change position if needs be.

I suspect that after last night we’re all giving some thought to what sort of team and formation we’d choose, not because of any lack of confidence in Bowyer but just because it seems as if at the moment places are up for grabs and nothing is settled. Burton outfought and outscored us, MK Dons outplayed us. So be it, it’s a long campaign, in Bowyer we trust.

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Sobering Defeat

The 2,000 lucky souls who attended tonight will no doubt have been glad of their free cup of hot chocolate, as a cold early winter’s day turned into a damp and cold one before the game, then a dispiriting, damp and cold one after it. For our part you hoped the players would have in mind that not being fully on their game against Burton saw them come a cropper and wouldn’t be thinking that a match against a supposedly struggling side might be any sort of stroll. There was no such complacency tonight, rather MK Dons had the beating of us through a clearer game-plan and greater coherence, which is another way of saying we looked like a collection of players not used to playing together.

The team saw four changes from Saturday, two enforced (Maatsen’s suspension and Smyth’s injury). In front of Amos were Matthews, Gunter, Pratley and Purrington. Whether it would be a flat midfield four or a diamond remained to be seen, with Watson accompanied by Shinnie, Morgan and Gilbey – who perhaps tellingly got the nod ahead of Maddison with Williams starting on the bench – and Washington fit enough for a start alongside Bogle, who started in place of Aneke.

However, what proved to be a simple 4-4-2 proved to be no match in the first half for MK Dons’ 3-5-2. They started the brighter and caused us problems from the off, with their forwards finding space and midfield runners able to beat us for pace. That they failed to turn several promising moments into goals was down to poor final balls, poor control at the death (especially a one-on-one with their guy seemingly more intent on claiming he was fouled), and good goalkeeping, with Amos making two or three decent saves. In the first 20 minutes or so our best moments came from pressing their keeper into poor clearances. It was telling that Watson was giving away free kicks, while Morgan was given a final warning, then Pratley did get yellow as he seemed to tangle with their guy on the ground (who was also given a yellow).

We did improve as the half progressed, perhaps as the commentators suggested due to an injury to their playmaker. Gilbey came more into it with some penetrating runs, while Washington came close a few times, opting to try to bring down a cross he might have hit first time and almost converting a Purrington cross at the near post. But in general our front two were well contained, with Bogle winning some headers but to no great effect and otherwise not able to hold up play, and our midfield struggled to contain their runners, putting our defence under pressure.

It was no surprise that Bowyer made a change at the break, with Maddison replacing Shinnie, who it was suggested might have taken a knock. If anything this made us weaker in the central midfield area where we were overrun in the first half, although we were looking to Maddison to provide a greater attacking threat.

Nothing much changed in that MK Dons continued to create chances but were denied by Amos. And once more our threat involved their keeper, with a ball forward chased down by Gilbey only for the keeper to head it over him then fluff the clearance, leaving us scrambling to get in an effort while he was out of his goal.

On the hour Bowyer made a double substitution, with Aneke replacing Bogle and Williams on for Morgan, followed not long after by Famewo coming on for Watson, with Pratley moving into midfield. Just what the formation was by now was hard to tell, with Washington and Maddison in wide areas and Williams moving around. Nevertheless, we had then probably our best short period of the game as almost by willpower we came close to taking the lead. A Maddison Crossfield pass found Washington, who cut inside but saw his shot saved, then a combination of Aneke, Maddison and Williams managed to work the ball down the right and we had numbers in the box. The ball eventually broke to Pratley, who shot over the bar. And a Maddison break and cross was almost converted by Aneke.

Just as it seemed we might be taking the game by the scruff of the neck, with MK Dons forced onto the back foot, they went up the other end and scored. Nobody closed down their guy in midfield and then there seemed to be confusion over who was picking up who, leaving a simple pass to a guy in space in the box, who shot past Amos.

With about 15 minutes of normal time left there was the time to turn it around, but we became increasingly desperate, increasingly reliant on a long ball to find Aneke. It was only after two minutes of the four added on (which became five with an injury) when we almost scored an equaliser which we scarcely deserved. Ball into the box and pressure on it, their keeper parried it but it fell to Pratley, who lifted it over the bodies only for it to rebound off the crossbar. And that was indeed that.

This was a more sobering defeat than Burton. Individually the players worked hard, had good moments and bad; collectively we fell well short. It highlighted that we are still very much a work in progress, with no strong spine as yet and no combinations in the key areas. MK Dons exploited our lack of cohesion and with better quality in the final third would surely have won comfortably. We might have gone second tonight but ended up with a clear lesson that we will need to improve considerably if a top-two position is to be within reach.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. By a distance our man-of-the-match. Have to see if he might have done better with their goal, did come out for a cross and didn’t make it, otherwise it was a faultless performance with some excellent saves.

Matthews – 7/10. Another good display, up against a tricky player but not caught out, although was involved in the general confusion over who was doing what for their goal.

Pratley – 6/10. Can’t be blamed for the pressure our defence was under and fact is when he moved into midfield he twice came closer to scoring than anyone else.

Gunter – 6/10. Worked hard at it, did get caught out on occasions.

Purrington – 7/10. By and large he had a good game.

Morgan – 6/10. Some good moments, perhaps unlucky to be taken off.

Watson – 5/10. Was left exposed by others in midfield and too often saw the ball passed forward and their guys just run beyond him.

Shinnie – 6/10. Nothing dramatic but I think we lost what little cohesion we had when he went off at the break.

Gilbey – 5/10. Some good moments in the first half running with the ball, but didn’t seem to do much defensive covering and was less prominent in the second half. Also when on a yellow almost got in the way of a quick free kick, which if he had done would almost certainly have resulted in a second yellow.

Bogle – 5/10. Worked hard, won some headers, but not much movement and couldn’t control and keep the ball.

Washington – 5/10. A night for him when things just didn’t quite come off. Might have taken the shot in the first half instead of trying to bring it down, might have crossed in the second rather than shooting from a tight angle.


Maddison – 6/10. Unable tonight to make a decisive contribution, but he does make things happen.

Aneke – 6/10. Didn’t fall for him in the box tonight.

Williams – 5/10. Unable to make an impression.

Famewo – 6/10. Very good to see him back.