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.
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.