Sunday 19 December 2021

No Grounds For Complaint

The start of the confirmed JJ era, all of us desperate to continue the climb up the table towards those top six places. He took over with a tough away fixture and nobody expected anything less. Play as we have done recently against Sunderland, Rotherham, Plymouth before of course, and Ipswich and we’d be confident of taking something from the game; play as we did when a little jaded, as against Morcombe and Shrewsbury, and we’re in danger. It proved to be the latter and, while we were unfortunate to be behind at the break, we can have no complaints about the outcome as we were decidedly second-best through the second half and could easily have conceded more.

The obvious question is why? The principle factors would seem clear. First, losing Famewo, Washington and Davison to Covid will have disrupted preparations and left us weaker on the pitch and from the bench, especially given the form the first two have been in of late. Although Leko showed well in the first half, his is a different style to Washington and collectively it just didn’t run as smoothly, while moving Purrington to be the third centre-back saw Soare occupy the wing-back role on the left side and he struggled to influence the game. Second, we were up against determined opposition, eager to get a win under their belts for their new manager; and once they had something to hang on to they raised their game and fought tooth and nail, eclipsing our effective central midfield.

Third, simply too many of our players had a below-par game. Gilbey and Lee were less effective going forward than of late, while Jaiyesimi had a poor first half, when he either crossed badly, passed sloppily, or miscontrolled the ball. And it might have been worse. Gilbey saw yellow in the first half for a poor challenge which involved him off his feet and studs showing. It would have been very harsh but I was a little relieved the ref hadn’t interpreted it as a red. Then DJ went to sweep the ball clear and only succeeded in connecting with their advancing forward. At first sight it looked a penalty to me.

Fourth, just the ebb and flow of the game and the importance of scoring first. Nobody questions we had the better of the first 20 minutes or so, Plymouth looking very subdued. The Stockley free header from a free kick and another set-piece ball into him might have produced the opening goal and a different game. Instead, although Plymouth were coming more into the game towards half-time, they would have been content to reach the break with the game scoreless and instead found themselves ahead, curtesy of a good attack down our left and an astute pass forward which led to the shot well saved by MacGillivray, only for the rebound to fall to their guy who managed to bisect two defenders and the keeper and in off the far post. With hindsight that changed the game, although at the break I suspect we all felt ‘OK, it’s happened, now we need to up our game and go and win it’, which simply didn’t happen as we failed to muster an attempt on target.

Fifth, and this is the more worrying element, this is the third consecutive disappointing away performance and result. Against Morcombe we gave up a two-goal lead and we lost to that late foul at Shrewsbury. Fatigue was assumed to be a factor, this time around we had the break between games but were three down and the possibility that more players were under the weather. We will only find out in due course if we can realistically just write off the game as a reflection of that disadvantage and not indicative of a deeper problem in getting the balance right when playing away from The Valley.

We have to see how the whole football situation develops over the days/weeks ahead in light of Covid. But as things stand Wimbledon away on Boxing Day takes on huge significance. If we want to prove that we don’t have a problem playing away, that we still have a chance of the play-offs (and that on that basis there is justification for something extra from the transfer window), we need really a win.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Not As Pretty But Gap Still Narrows

We all knew what we wanted from the game yesterday – a repeat/extension of Tuesday night’s performance against Ipswich, leaving out the first 20 mins or so. We didn’t really get that, but what we did get proved good enough. We weren’t able to reproduce the dominance and attacking threat we showed before, there was – like after the Plymouth game – just less verve and with this slightly less physical effort. Also, unlike on Tuesday night our opponents didn’t fold once they went behind. It all resulted in a much more even contest, one which Cambridge will undoubtedly feel hard done-by to come away with nothing, having fashioned effectively two one-on-ones in the second half. That they didn’t was down to MacGillivray and their finishing.

The team saw one change, with Jaiyesimi taking a breather and swapping places on the bench with Lekko. He’d looked rather unsure of the task of playing wing-back, but with a few more days to get used to the requirements, and with more game-time under his belt, played his part defensively as well as going forward. And on that front he was our main threat through the first half, causing them no end of problems – although crucially when Purrington put in a cross from the left which went to the far post he hadn’t gambled and made the move to get on the end of it.

Let’s face it the first half was scrappy, we struggled to get things moving. Perhaps fatigue, perhaps the horrible conditions, perhaps the opposition. But it mattered not in that as on Tuesday night we’d taken the lead. Lekko’s attempted cross was blocked and he laid it back into the path of Gilbey, who instead of curling it in for Stockley’s head played a shorter ball into Washington, with his back to goal. If his first touch was deliberately crafted to give him just the extra space and room to turn and shoot it was sublime, as the defender was never close enough to shut him down and instead the low shot through his legs went into the far corner.

Cambridge had their moments, creating mayhem in our box one after Famewo was surprisingly shouldered off the ball and also one of their guys shooting just wide of the post from a good position. The only other point of note for me from the first half was that I felt the ref dealt very well with two incidents. First, Famewo appeared to me at first to swing an elbow and connect with their guy’s face, I feared it would be a red. But the ref didn’t overreact and when we had the chance to see it again it was clear that Famewo was using his arm to help him keep position; he did catch the guy but not with any swing of the elbow. Second, their forward caught Pearce in the face with one. Here too there was no real intent. A yellow for both, nothing more. (And in the second half, when Pearce took another and Stockley got involved the ref was again calm, waited for the dust to settle, then acted appropriately.)

At the break I think we fancied ourselves to get another and perhaps run out fairly comfortable winners. But that didn’t happen. Instead Cambridge matched us all the way and had two great opportunities to level the score. First Dobson was for once caught out in midfield, advancing to make an interception and not getting there, which created the space for their guy to play in the forward. MacGillivray moved out quickly to shut down the space and excellently blocked the effort. The second time was more of a long ball which their forward read better than two of our defenders and slipped into nick it past and advancing MacGillivray. Nothing he could do about that one, but thankfully it drifted just wide of the post.

Like on Tuesday we had to wait until late in the day to be able to relax. Soare, who’d come on for an injured Purrington (after DJ had replaced Lekko), put in a cross from the left which was headed out but blocked, falling nicely for Washington. Once again his first touch proved to be decisive and he drilled it home. Queue repeat celebrations, six minutes of stoppage time (but not quite enough for Morgan to enter the fray).

The positive take on the game is no doubt that we won despite not being at our best. And perhaps the main message was a reinforcement of what JJ has already said: when we are really on song we’re a match for anyone in this league, the obvious other side of the coin being that when we are not we need to dig in and will have problems against decent and determined teams like Cambridge.

I’ve got a bit out of the habit of player ratings of late, but I’d make MacGillivray my Man of the Match. I saw ratings for the Ipswich game giving him 6. How do you score a keeper who hasn’t had a single shot to save? Can hardly penalise his score for that. Yesterday he was instrumental in us staying ahead in the game, which would have taken a very different shape if they had equalised. Of course Washington takes plaudits too, for a brace of well-taken goals, while Pearce put in yet another committed display despite looking in clear discomfort (and taking a couple in the face).

So now a chance to rest some weary legs - and surely to sort out JJ's status - ahead of a trip to Plymouth, who having come to The Valley riding high at the top have now lost four and drawn one out of the last five, and lost their manager. Sitting now in sixth, it is their place in the league we covet. Let’s hope the gap has narrowed further before Santa turns up.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Back On Track

I think the requirement for tonight was clear: to demonstrate, through both the result and the performance, that the points dropped at Morecombe and Shrewsbury will come to amount to nothing more than a blip – and in tandem with this there is no fading of the positive JJ impact, that the opposition weren’t starting to suss us out. To be fair we didn’t know how Ipswich would shape up, having just got rid of their manager.

Fair to say we got what we wanted. After an uncertain start, once we scored there was really only one team in it, the only problem being that it took us until almost the end to make the points safe. For that Ipswich’s keeper takes a good deal of the credit, although we were not clinical enough in taking very good chances. That is, really, the only criticism as we were dominant in all areas of the pitch and had the leaders. I don’t know if Ipswich had a poor evening, if we made them look poor, or both. If there was one area in which they let their fans down it was in their reaction to going behind, it seemed to stun and undermine them rather than prompt them to raise their game. And although they enjoyed a reasonable amount of possession they had nobody able to provide the spark and galvanise others to get back into the game. Quite frankly, they looked a lot like we did under Adkins.

The team and squad was always going to be about availability, as it is fair to say that if all are available we could pretty much guess the starting XI. The return of Stockley was assumed, and it had been indicated that Pearce would be available again (but that Blackett-Taylor would be on the injured list). Both were indeed confirmed, with Clare retained as the third centre-back rather than Gunter, Purrington and Jaiyesimi the wing-backs, the midfield trio of Dobson, Gilbey and Lee, plus Stockley and Washington up front. On the bench Elerewe and Soare provided the defensive options, Watson and Kirk for midfield, plus Leko and Davison for the attack – really a much better balanced mix than often of late, reflecting players being available again.

Ipswich did start the brighter and in the first 10 minutes at least we struggled to put anything together, especially as Lee began by sending a corner and a free-kick straight down their keeper’s throat. We did get more into it after that, with a good run and cross from Purrington on the left leading to DJ heading over. But let’s be honest, when we took the lead on 25 minutes we can’t say it had been coming and there was no inkling of the change to the game that goal would produce.

Washington, as he was to do all night, found space between their defenders, timed his run well to just stay onside, and was picked out with a ball from Dobson played into the channel on the left side. He took it on and from a narrowish angle hit a shot which their keeper parried well, only for Stockley to be first to the rebound and hit it crisply low into the net.

Taking the lead inflated us, just as it deflated them. For the remainder of the first half it was just a question of whether we could take advantage of being on top to extend the lead. But a succession of half-chances came and went. Washington showed great control to take down a high ball and get a shot away, only for it to be blocked, Stockley headed over from a corner, Gilbey played in Jaiyesimi for another effort blocked. Washington this time (unlike against Rotherham) didn’t get away with a push in the back to win the ball. Ipswich did have one or two dangerous situations with balls into the box, but no actual attempts on target.

In the second half Ipswich did seem to play more direct and did cause a few problems early on, although the returning Bonne was cutting an increasingly frustrated figure. However, it was us almost adding to the lead as Stockley played in Washington down the right, his cross was deflected but bounced down and over their keeper, and Purrington coming in at the far post seemed set to score, only for his header to be rather too central, allowing their keeper to get across and save. And as Ipswich’s enthusiasm seemed again to fade, a Purrington low cross evaded everyone, Lee saw an effort blocked, as did Gilbey, then Lee had a close-range header saved after a knockback from Purrington.

Just past the hour Ipswich brought on another prodigal son, this time in the form of Pigott to partner Bonne. It didn’t change anything as next Dobson won the ball, played it wide to Washington, and his ball back across picked out Lee but his shot was too central and the keeper saved again. Clare had a long range shot saved.

With about 20 minutes left, after Pearce had unceremoniously pulled down their guy and jogged away with a yellow, DJ was replaced by Leko. The next action was an astonishing run by Gilbey, who almost made it through on his own. I remember thinking as the clock ticked down, can we please just score again and put this game to bed, we all know what can happen. The next big chance was route one as MacGillivray’s long clearance was flicked on by Stockley and Washington seemed to be in. He hit a shot across their keeper, who stuck out a leg to keep them in it. A Lee free kick near the byline found Pearce whose knockdown was met by Washington but the shot turned around for a corner. For good measure Leko got in on the act, running inside and getting off a shot. Another save.

Just when we were starting to really get concerned we did get the goal to put the game to bed. Washington managed to keep the ball alive down our left and worked it back to Lee. He spotted a run from Gilbey and picked him out. There was still plenty to do, but Gilbey nicked it inside and went past their defender, now only the keeper to beat. And this time he was given no chance, the ball planted into the far corner of the net. Cue mass celebrations and considerable relief inside and outside The Valley.

If you were to be hypercritical there were elements that weren’t perfect. DJ did his defensive duties well but seemed a little hesitant going forward, while Leko will need more instruction in the art of playing wing-back if he is to be considered for the role (presumably Blackett-Taylor will be back). Lee had a less effective game than before, wasted some set-pieces and didn’t convert some good chances; but he was still able to pick out Gilbey for the decisive second. And Washington did everything tonight – except put the ball into the net.

If we can end every game with just such issues to point out we will all be very happy. In the end the performance echoed that against Plymouth, we allowed them not a single effort on target all night, with MacGillivray having not a shot to save. Famewo made the odd bad choice (which did not escape Steve Brown) but generally dominated their forwards physically, as did Pearce, while Dobson was once again quietly very, very effective. Collectively they were up for it and clearly shared in the delight of an excellent team performance. Another like that on Saturday please.

Monday 6 December 2021

Time To Plan For Jan, Starting With JJ

Since the appointment of Johnnie Jackson on a caretaker basis my guess has been that Thomas Sandgaard would wait until the approach of the January transfer window before making a further decision – give him a permanent contract, make him manager until the end of the season, or bring in a replacement. That time is now fast approaching, a point underlined by Ipswich disposing of their manager (albeit after an embarrassing FA Cup result).

Basically the thinking would be something like this. By say mid-December, do we have a realistic chance of getting promoted (based on both position and momentum)? If yes, what do we need to do to increase the chances; if no, we start planning for next season. Clearly we have benefited from JJ’s installation and I’d suggest that replacing him before end-December with someone else would not deliver any fresh ‘bounce’ likely to increase our chances of promotion. For me, changing horses now would be tantamount to more or less writing off this season and preparing for the next campaign (it might be considered advantageous in that respect to have in place early the next manager to get the basics relationships sorted in preparation for summer transfer activity rather sooner than last time around). It would not be surprising to see the players draw similar conclusions and, whether consciously or not, take their foot off the pedal.

It follows from that, for me, that if we consider ourselves as having a reasonable chance of promotion this season, the decision is then between either a long-term contract for JJ or an extension of his position until the end of the season. That would in turn pave the way for decisions over what we might do in January to build on the positive momentum (leaving aside the last two away games) and have a real run at it – and I don’t mind admitting that I’m in favour of anything that increases our chances of going up this time around (and vice versa, which drives my attitude to the unwanted distraction of an FA Cup run and the simply unwanted Papa DoDa thingy).

That said, it’s TS’ money and if he, for whatever reason, believes that the club will be better off with an alternative manger, so be it. Presumably by now he will have seen enough of other candidates to know who would take over, so that all would happen quickly. It would be disappointing, somewhat surprising, but ultimately something we as supporters would have to go along with.

When it comes to the January window, the options and priorities would seem fairly obvious – even if the answers are not. Whether or not we need a new centre-back depends entirely on assessments over the availability of Inniss, Lavelle and Pearce, plus whether Elerewe is considered ready as at least a regular squad member. The midfield and wide positions look covered, while up front whether or not we need another (the outright goalscorer) would seem to hinge on whether Burstow is considered to be ready to play a material role through the rest of the season and/or whether Leko is seen as primarily playing as a second striker (giving us effectively Stockley or Davison and Washington or Leko/Burstow). These are decisions for the manager to be primarily responsible for, at least in terms of detailing what we need if we are looking to strengthen.

I wouldn’t criticise TS for taking this long to decide on JJ. But the time for contemplation and looking at options is pretty much over now. And surely our club is big enough for two guitar players.

Sunday 28 November 2021

Narrow Margins

No question that hurt. We’d I think pretty much reconciled ourselves to the fact that we hadn’t played well enough, against another lowly but resolute opponent, to be able to claim we deserved to win; but losing in stoppage time to a ‘goal’ that so clearly should have been ruled out is another matter. Going into the game you’d have said a win and dropping the points against Morecombe was repaired, four points from the two games a good return, a defeat and you have to question whether at least the initial the JJ bounce has run its course, a draw and we’d feel a little disappointed but fair enough, depending on the circumstances. As it is, the loss and the circumstances inevitably leave us feeling gutted, even if JJ is right to focus on 14 points from 7 games.

For Shrewsbury’s goal, it is worth remembering that we got our equaliser against Rotherham (well-deserved as it may have been) curtesy of a clear shove in the back on their guy by Washington. In both cases I’d suggest that you had a forward playing the percentages: no chance of getting the ball so no downside to trying to influence play with a foul, worst that can happen is the ref gives the free kick against you and if he misses it you never know. The refs in League One are inconsistent enough to make it well worth trying; with VAR both goals would have been ruled out.

With around 10 minutes to go, the game scoreless and horrible in windy conditions, the situation was created whereby either side could have nicked a fortunate winner. In stoppage time the ball actually dropped in their box to Gilbey, but instead of firing in the winner he scuffed his shot. Narrow margins. And although we look back on the lion’s share of possession, they could have scored twice in the opening spell – one cross inches away from being converted then the powerful strike which MacGillivray superbly turned over the bar. The sum total of our real efforts on goal was Gilbey’s first-half shot, two headers either side of the break from Washington, and a fierce drive from Lee – all of which amounted to routine saves by their keeper. Might add in the cross which was headed out from under the bar by their defender.

The concerning aspect for me about both the Morecombe and Shrewsbury games was our failure to impose ourselves and win the games in the second half. In both games we were brighter and more inventive before the break. That surely points to the fatigue we have all been pointing to, plus the lack of good options on the bench. I suspect most would agree that if Stockley and Pearce had both been available we would have taken more than the one point. It isn’t that those on the bench are not good players, just that we are short in key areas (up front and central defence) while the midfield trio of Dobson, Gilbey and Lee has been working so well that you don’t want to alter that during a game.

It's also reasonable to suppose that the opposition have been doing their homework and worked out how they want to counter our threat. Shrewsbury began the game very much on the front foot, but one they didn’t get their early goal they focused more on getting players behind the ball, leaving no space for Lee in particular to utilise. That really meant our threat had to come down the flanks, but while Blackett-Taylor caused them problems moving Purrington into central defence did curb the threat on the other side, with Soare looking rather rusty.

We know that in both games the zip and verve which we saw against Plymouth has just not been there. Has to be back by the time Ipswich come visiting if the momentum is to be restored. Barring injury Stockley will be back for that one, perhaps Pearce too, and with Leko now back in the frame and Jaiyesimi having a further break to rebuild the energy we should be in better shape physically and mentally. Of course in the interim there is the small matter of sending out a side for the Papa John’s thing and avoiding the embarrassment of an FA Cup exit to Gateshead. Quite frankly just want those games out of the way so that we can focus on the ones that matter and getting back on track after a blip.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Glass Half Full

After Saturday’s performance and result, it wasn’t just the dressing room that was bubbly. Were we perhaps just a little guilty of letting expectations run away? Could we deliver again? It proved to be a case of glass half full/half empty, the only problem being that at one stage that glass was full. It was a game which for most of the time we looked like we would win, we had the possession and the opportunities to win, but this time came up short as we allowed Morecambe a way back into it. Fact is the zip of Saturday wasn’t there tonight, it was a game too far; but the positive was the fact that having been pegged back to 2-2 we didn’t lose the game, keeping the unbeaten run under JJ going. And if we win at Shrewsbury on Saturday it will look like a good point.

The team news centred on whether or not Pearce would be fit and whether there would be roles for Leko, who apparently travelled and could be available again, and/or Burstow. In the event Pearce didn’t make it and Gunter started, making it the same back three in front of MacGillivray which finished the game on Saturday, with Elerewe taking Gunter’s place on the bench. The rest of the team was predictably as you were, no resting of any tired legs. The composition of the bench – one replacement defender, one replacement forward, four midfield/wide midfield – reflected available resources and served to underline that the last thing we needed would be another injury.

We’d barely taken our seats when we went in front. Good work down the right side saw the ball find its way into Davison, who slid it back out to Jaiyesimi in space. He drilled it in, probably more a cross than a shot, but their keeper failed to gather it and ended up helping it on its way into the net.

And after a little over 20 minutes of reasonable control we extended the lead. MacGillivray collected and looked up, picked out Washington in space with a long clearance. Their centre-half made a mess of it, allowing him to get on the end of the ball and to chip the keeper from outside the box. After Saturday’s assured finish from Lee’s through ball, it was another good conversion.

With a two-goal cushion and seemingly in control thoughts immediately turned to being able perhaps to play within ourselves, take the foot off the pedal a little after the effort put in on Saturday. We didn’t really get the chance to find out as almost straight after Morecambe were back in it, curtesy of a soft but probably correct penalty. Gunter was being manhandled by Stockton but didn’t go down, only to get turned and to make contact with the centre-forward, who gratefully went to ground. It was either a penalty or a yellow for diving, probably just about the former. Stockton dispatched the spot kick and the game changed.

We continued to have the lion’s share of the play through to the break, without creating another clear chance. And nothing much changed in the second half, Washington turning in the box but saw his effort blocked, as was a fierce shot from DJ, then Dobson joined in with another. We were to pay for not extending the lead again as on 72 minutes Morecambe equalised, a fairly simple case of a corner swung in and a guy not being marked heading home.

I have to say at that point, with us already looking jaded and increasingly sloppy in possession, I feared we would go on to lose the match. We managed to avoid that outcome, without testing their keeper at the other end. A tired DJ gave way for Blackett-Taylor on the right side, followed by Gunter coming off and Kirk on, with Purrington moved inside. Both the replacements had their moments, without delivering a telling one. Finally Burstow came on for Davison with only a few minutes of normal time remaining; and with only three stoppage time minutes added the ref still managed to blow for the end of the game before we were able to find out whether Dobson’s shot might have produced a winner.

We finished the stronger of the two sides, Morecambe looking pleased with their point. Understandably it felt like a couple of points dropped, fact is we didn’t create a really good chance in the entire second half. It was a game too far, now just hope the team has the time to regroup and refresh in time for Saturday, perhaps with one or two of the injured back available. Disappointed – which is itself a reflection of the raised expectations now – but give Morecambe some credit; they were dogged and put in a shift to get themselves a very hard-earned point. What our point will mean for us will only become clearer after Saturday’s game.

No point in player ratings for tonight, they would all be similar and everyone was a little off the pace compared with Saturday. Give Man of the Match to Washington, second accomplished finish in two games.

Monday 22 November 2021

Belatedly Joining In The Celebrations

I’m afraid first celebrations then painting and decorating (plus a drive back to Lyon from Givry) prevented any match report from me. But just in case there is any doubt, like every other Addick I was just bloody delighted (again). We went toe-to-toe with the team leading the league and didn’t allow them to play, leaving them looking like they had an off-day, and created a fair number of opportunities through good play of our own, taking two of them. The possession stats were, in this context, entirely irrelevant.

Nobody is in any doubt we merited the win on the day – and to their credit I’ve not seen any dissenting voice from a Plymouth fan or official. Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe’s assessment, according to the BBC, was that: “It wasn't for the lack of trying, we didn't have that cutting edge at the top end of the pitch. The turnovers were too quick and we knew what they would try to do and try to counter on us, and there was a bit of sloppy play on our behalf by individuals. But it's football, they're human beings and sometimes they're going to make mistakes. We weren't quite at our best while Charlton were." I’d only take issue with the idea that we were at our best; that is surely yet to come.

Within the well-deserved plaudits perhaps a note of perspective. On Saturday we scored at just the right times (glossing over the fact that one off someone’s backside in the 95th minute would have been fine), which gave the game the shape it adopted. At half-time for sure we had been the better side but there were concerns: first, we hadn’t scored; second, Plymouth would probably come out better in the second half; and third, they did have opportunities in a game of few clear-cut chances. We know the best teams win when not playing well and it wouldn’t have been a big surprise had Plymouth upped the tempo after the break and nicked the first goal, after which it would have been a real struggle to get something out of the game despite having played so well.

Instead, as the game was entering its final third, we scored the massively important first goal, curtesy of both an assured finish by Purrington but also poor defending. Three Plymouth defenders ended up jumping for the cross against one of us - and all missed it; and although Purrington did well to keep the ball down and hit it true, their keeper let it in under his body. Now in the first half we had got away with a couple of errors in defence, in the second I think just one. First, Pearce moved up, apparently to play offside, only for someone to his right not going with him, leaving the space in behind. It was exploited and only a fine save by MacGillivray kept the scoresheet blank. Second, Famewo, despite having a storming game overall, was caught out once which nearly cost us. Third, Jaiyesimi – also outstanding, especially in the first half – was running on empty and saw the ball played behind him to their guy, who was able to drill in a low cross that very nearly resulted in a goal (fortunately it didn’t get a touch from one of theirs and then Purrington was able to avoid putting it into his own net).

That goal understandably galvanised us, especially as it came just minutes after Pearce had been forced to leave the pitch injured, creating doubts about whether a defence containing a midfielder and a full-back in the central area would be able to cope, without Pearce’s leadership. We did look edgy at the back for a while and if the goal had not come then it is quite possible Plymouth would have grabbed the initiative.

Even so, as the clock ticked down we were facing the prospect of a final 10 minutes or so of really backs-to-the-wall stuff. A number of players had given their all (Davison and DJ were the ones taken off but it was a close call for others whose legs were giving out). Plymouth’s height advantage might have told from a set piece. Instead, just as we were girding our loins for the challenge, Lee goes and plays one of the balls of the season to pick out Washington in space. And he resembled Mendonca as he waited for their keeper to make a move then played it over him and into the net. It was an excellent finish. We get the lift again at just the right time, air taken out of their tyres (to the extent that we could easily have scored another couple).

I suppose the point is that yes, we undoubtedly deserved the win but also we got the breaks. That’s not going to happen every week. We have good reason to have faith in the resolve of this team now, given the way they fought for a point against Rotherham after going behind. But we can’t expect now to just breeze past opposition of lesser quality than Sunderland, Rotherham and Plymouth. The approach to the games of late has been spot-on and that simply has to be replicated if we are to extend the run and continue to climb the table.

Now for sure that’s not going to stop us noting that, although the gap to sixth is still nine points (and yes, Sunderland and MK Dons have played fewer), there are now ‘only’ six teams standing between us and a play-off spot. Successive away games against teams battling for their lives at the bottom up next, then a well-deserved break (not before, please). 

Sunday 14 November 2021

Defence Takes The Plaudits

Today we were looking for at least a point and to continue the positive momentum in terms of performance and league position. We got both, albeit after a bruising encounter that didn’t have a lot in common with the beautiful game. That wasn’t surprising, given the opposition and especially after both teams were reduced to 10 men before 20 minutes were up. What was most pleasing was the way the defence, plus midfield, stood up to the physical challenge; Pearce and Famewo were both simply immense.

The team saw two enforced changes, with Gunter and Washington unavailable, which with Inniss, Lavelle, Matthews, Forster-Caskey and Leko on the injured list did leave us looking rather threadbare in key positions. Seems the Orient cup game was used as a trial run as Clare was asked to do an impression of Pratley and fill in as the third centre-back, to keep the formation unchanged. On the bench we had no recognised forward as a replacement, two wide men (Kirk and Blackett-Taylor), three midfielders (Watson, Arter and Morgan), one defender (Elerewe) and a keeper (Henderson). Basically anyone fit enough was in the squad.

It had been a fairly even and scrappy first 15 minutes, with us enjoying more possession and carving out a couple of decent positions, only for the end-result to be poor shots from Davison and Gilbey. Burton’s front line looked powerful and mobile, everything looked up for grabs. Then from our corner Stockley and Oshilaja, recently of this parish, renewed acquaintances and wrestled each other to the floor. Just who did what was still unclear after the available replays, certainly an arm of Stockley was swung behind him, before players from both sides joined in. When the dust settled, and by the look of it on the advice of the linesman, both players saw red. Needs further examination and comment before there can be any condemnation or redemption of either player.

On the face of it nothing changed. We kept our formation, just playing with one striker instead of two, while Burton opted to make no change either. In the first half it did seem to make little difference as we were enjoying the bulk of possession – and most important shortly after the fracas we had a precious lead. A corner on our right played short produced an ordinary cross but it was flicked on by Famewo, then seemed to get a touch off one of their defenders, and Purrington then did very well to dominate their guy and head into the far corner.

The rest of the first half we were generally in control, albeit picking up yellow cards consistently, once again highlighting the inconsistency of referees. First Lee was booked for a foul, fair enough. Shortly after their guy follows through late on Pearce, no card. Then Jaiyesimi picked up a very silly yellow for a kicking away the ball in frustration, Davison in the second half kicked it away after conceding a free kick and nothing was done, while at the death Famewo also saw yellow – which rules him out of next Saturday’s game – for time-wasting, only for many more blatant such actions by us in the second half to go unmentioned. That said, the ref did redeem himself as there was a key moment on 40 minutes, as for once we were caught out, a ball squared into our box saw their forward nick it past MacGillivray and go down. At first sight you feared penalty, but the ref wasn’t buying it and correctly booked their guy for a dive.

The second half was a different affair. Burton came out with more intent, with probably Hasselbaink having continued his verbals directed at JJ (which were understandably returned) against his players. And in the first few minutes they had what proved their best chance of the game. Their guy on the left found space in the box and drilled in a fierce, head-high shot which MacGillivray managed to block with an outstretched hand. Another crucial save by him to protect a lead.

Increasingly, and not surprisingly, we found it difficult to find a decent out ball and retain possession, being short of a forward, with more players in our half of the pitch than theirs. Davison was working his socks off as usual but we were increasingly playing on the break and relying on the defence to hold firm. We did have moments when we might have scored again, but they were fleeting and never amounted to a clear-cut chance.

With around twenty minutes left Blackett-Taylor came on for Davison. You could see the rationale: Davison was knackered and CBT might just be able to find and use the space, if we could get the ball to his feet. It didn’t really happen but was worth a try. Dobson made a rare error with a stray pass intercepted, putting us in danger, but Famewo bailed him out. And late on Elerewe came on for DJ, who looked either injured or just out of gas, with Clare moving into midfield.

It was never easy, but with the exception of the Dobson pass we didn’t cough up any gifts for them, kept our shape and discipline, and basically as an away team defending a one-goal advantage for 50 minutes you couldn’t have asked for more. I made Famewo my MoM, with Pearce close behind (he really has stepped up to the plate as first Inniss and then Lavelle dropped out), plus special mention in dispatches for Clare, doing a job which obviously isn’t his natural game but proving up to the task, even though not surprisingly early in the game Burton were testing his area.

So now it’s nine points and 11 teams between us and sixth place. No point in dwelling on that too much as yet, as we know coming up next will be an on-fire Plymouth and, although we will have Gunter and Washington back (possibly Matthews and Leko too?), Famewo and Stockley will be unavailable. At least we know that with all week to prepare. Let’s just bask a little longer in three wins and a draw and the focus being now entirely what is above us rather than around and below. And I must admit on a Sunday morning sparing a thought for Adkins. He tried his best but must now be wondering what on earth he did that was so wrong, for his departure to be followed by such a turnaround. Hope he learns from the experience and gets another chance before too long.

Monday 8 November 2021

Recent History On The Side Of JJ

Banana skin avoided. Personally I’m in the camp which couldn’t give a monkey’s about the FA Cup, just not relevant to us at present (different matter when we’re in the Championship but let’s get back there first), but nobody wants an upset and interruption to the positive momentum. After all, JJ is ensuring that TS has no decision to make at the moment, except whether and when he judges that the time is right to either make the position his until the end of the season or on a longer term basis. After all, while the more desperate Premiership clubs may be using the international break to make managerial changes, our decision-making time really comes in advance of the January transfer window.

We are all mightily relieved that two wins and a draw have not just pulled us out of the relegation zone but set us thinking about whether we dare to hope of the play-offs. OK, let’s not kid ourselves, of course we do. Every season we play in this division has to be deemed a failure if we do not get promoted. That’s not to say we have any right to be higher than anyone else, just the yardstick by which we measure our success and failure. There are another 30 games to play, 90 points up for grabs. Right now 11 points and 12 teams stand between us and sixth spot, with nine league games to go before the window opens.

This isn’t about whether we will need reinforcements and in what positions (that poacher in the box to give us another option keeps cropping up in my head). Presumably we will be getting Inniss and Lavelle back before long, while Forster-Caskey will hopefully reappear too. It is about whether as we get towards 2022 we are closer to the top six and have a realistic prospect of going up, despite the disaster of the first 13 games. If the answer is yes, TS surely then (if the decision has not already been taken) has to think whether our chances are maximised by retaining/confirming JJ (and if we are closer to the top the answer would surely be yes, if we are not we could be planning for next season).

With that in mind, a note from a fellow Addick about Charlton always doing better with a former player at the helm set me thinking. I was astonished to realise that it’s now 35 years (leaving aside the maths for the months) since we last won promotion with a manager who was not a former player (Lennie Lawrence). Since then we have had, according to my simple research, 20 managers. Just three of them – Curbs, Sir Chris, Lee Bowyer – have won promotion, so in that sense 17 of them failed (OK, that does include caretakers, while Jose Riga could claim success of a sort, when he took over Powell’s team).

Of course it’s not that simple, many other factors involved, not least the fact that nine of them (give or take a couple) had the crippling limitation of Duchatelet being in charge for their tenures. But looking at it another way, in the past 35 years every former player we have appointed manager has won us promotion (if you really want to split hairs the exceptions here are Keith Peacock and Ben Roberts).

Those looking to spoil the beauty of the argument will no doubt point out that two of the former players (Curbs and Bowyer) also were in charge when we were relegated. But surely if we are arguing that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, history would seem to be on JJ’s side.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

A Game Of 'Ifs' But Improvement And Progression Maintained

Encouraging again, not perfect (more quality and precision in the final third please) but honour was satisfied, might have been better, could have been worse, what is now an unbeaten run continues. It proved to be more than usually a game of ‘ifs’, starting with the major imponderable: if the ref, Scott Oldham, had not been poor, highly inconsistent in his interpretation of what was and what was not a foul, and erratic and ultimately inadequate in his use of the cards, the game would have turned out very different. Both goals could have been ruled out and Rotherham would have played the final 30 minutes with 10 men.

As for the Doncaster game the team was unchanged barring enforced switches (then Gunter and Pearce for Matthews and Lavelle), with Leko unavailable and Jaiyesimi keeping his place, with Kirk added to the bench. And from the start it was clear – if there had been any doubt before – that we were facing a somewhat stiffer test than at the weekend. Rotherham through the game proved to be strong, mobile, well-drilled (especially dangerous from set pieces), and not averse to use of the dark arts, with a tumble to the ground usually accompanied by theatricals. In that they may have taken encouragement from the ref’s performance.

Stockley picked up a yellow very early on for allegedly leading with his elbow, the Rotherham players clearly aware of a reputation and calling for a more severe punishment. A booking, irrespective of the duration of the game, fair enough. Stockley surely has to work on not challenging in this fashion, or subsequently winding up the ref with some chat. But thereafter through the game whenever he was hauled to the ground or pulled and pushed little was done, the ref seemingly intent on avoiding a tough call on who fouled first. Famewo saw yellow for a professional foul as Rotherham broke around the half-way line. Again, fair enough, but this was shortly after their guy had pulled back Gilbey, who had wriggled free around the corner flag and was advancing into the box. No card. Then in the second half their defender was correctly booked for a late tackle only to repeat the sin, again on Gilbey, further forward. A lecture but no second yellow. A big call but a pretty clear-cut one and the ref bottled it (to the extent that their guy was almost immediately substituted).

As for the football, the first half proved fairly even but you have to say Rotherham had the edge. There were periods when it looked likely we would fall behind as and when one of their dangerous positions turned into a chance. We too had our moments, most obviously when Washington from close range was unable to get either the pace or direction with his header to beat their keeper. And just when you thought it was on to the tea and oranges to regroup, Rotherham took the lead. A throw-in led to the ball being curled to the far post, their guy managed to shift it back inside, and another one was first to it to hit the ball high into the net. We protested, but even the TV team couldn’t work out why: foul throw, ball over the line, offside? Seems with replays their guy may well have used his hand to divert the ball back from around the byline. To be fair it was a hard one to see at the time, would have needed VAR.

That laid down a challenge for the second half. Had we done all we could and were behind to a strong team, or was there more in the locker? Proved to be the latter as we created far more and much better chances than them, generally bossing the game. Washington was played in but a heavy first touch saw him only able to nudge the ball close to their keeper, who saved, then Gilbey missed a gilt-edged one. A ball into a crowded area was headed down to him around the penalty spot. Not a cert as there were bodies between the ball and the net, but he chose power, leant back, and blasted it over the bar.

Then we had another ‘if’. If MacGillivray had not stuck out a strong paw and blocked a strong, goalbound header from close range we would have gone 0-2 down and there would probably have been no way back from that. He did, we stayed in the game.

Our equaliser came with about 10 minutes left. The ball was somewhere up in the air and on its way down, covered by their defender. Washington shoved him in the back and out of the way, collected the ball, advanced, saw Stockley draw defenders away, then his low shot took a deflection and went in. I confess I wasn’t that excited as surely the foul would be given, if the ref had been watching. Contact when challenging for the ball, fair enough, a shove in the back when the ball is not being contested is perhaps a different matter. It looked to me like a good foul from a wily professional: no chance of getting the ball without fouling so a percentage one, worst that can happen is the foul is given. But do we care?

We were the more likely to nick a winner in the time that remained, but it wasn’t to be. An honourable draw. JJ generally kept his power dry, with Blackett-Taylor coming on for DJ just before our goal but otherwise no changes, despite an energy-sapping encounter. That was probably a reflection of just how well we were playing and the feeling that a goal was on the cards. There again, the only real options were Clare (no problem here but not the player likely to change the game), Davison (would have been for either Stockley or Washington and that would have been a gamble), or Kirk (a risk too far surely). Not that many options when we were behind and looking to get level or having done so trying to weigh up whether to play safe or go for another.

Man of the match for me just about went to Lee, who was instrumental in our good second-half work, with special mention in dispatches for Gilbey (who again made things happen), Pearce (for another warrior performance), and MacGillivray (for the save that enabled us to go on and get a point).

I suspect a cup game at the weekend and a sort of break will be good for us – as long as there is no upset of course. Some tired legs can be rested, a few can get valuable game-time, and more important perhaps the work on the training ground can focus on cohesion and precision in the final third. We heard JJ talk before about most of the time being devoted to how we act when not in possession, the benefits of which have been clear. More of that for sure, but we are reasonably sure now what – barring injuries – the team, squad and formation will be for the next few games. So an opportunity to work on the partnerships – while us fans try to calculate how many games it will take before we have closed the gap on sixth place. And that is a much nicer place to be in than a few weeks ago.

Monday 1 November 2021

Considering The Options

As we gird the loins for the next test of our revival - one that will in some senses complete the mini-challenge: tough away game against team around the top, win against the odds; need to blow away a struggling team and avoid what would have been a banana skin; now a real test of our improvement against a team in a play-off spot which has won four and drawn one of its last five – it was interesting to hear Curbs talk of how those being pulled into team/squad through injuries have both an opportunity and a challenge.

So far, leaving aside for now Forster-Caskey (whose welcome return will hopefully give JJ a real selection headache before long), we’ve lost Inniss and his replacement Lavelle to injury, had Matthews not available against Doncaster, now face the prospect of Leko being sidelined (also hopefully not for long). The immediate replacements were pretty straightforward: Pearce in for Lavelle/Inniss, Gunter in for Matthews, and DJ on the right side. It would be surprising to see changes for Rotherham (possibly Matthews back in of course, possibly not). The greater issue is, with us playing better and seemingly finding our feet, who is going to fill places on the bench – and who is left in the cold for a while longer.

The players currently not in the starting X1 and not automatic choices for the bench are (leaving aside the goalkeeping position) Soare, Watson, Arter, Morgan, and Kirk. You can’t include Clare, Blackett-Taylor and Davison as they are all involved, in and around (by the way, to ensure I wasn’t forgetting someone I did check the first-team squad on the club site and was a tad surprised to see Alfie Doughty included), nor Elerewe. The real question I think is whether we can maintain the style of play under JJ in the event that we lose another player to injury or suspension.

We might have a large squad now but we are not entirely blessed with options in defence and up front. If Pearce or Famewo become unavailable (before either Lavelle or Inniss returns) either Elerewe is given his chance or we press Gunter into a more central spot (or ask Orient for Pratley back). At the moment up front Stockley and Washington are starting and Davison is (for now) a replacement. Nobody else if Leko is injured.

The options we have are really in the wide positions and central midfield. For the former, DJ played well against Doncaster after Leko was forced off and CBT is next in line. Kirk really only gets a look-in at present if either of those two are not available. That’s as it should be, he had some games and I think played poorly. I hope there’s a good deal more to come from him, up to him to prove it to JJ and to perform when he gets his chance again. Much the same can be said of Morgan. He started the season as a No.10 but that position requires goals and he has since been pushed out by a combination of Lee becoming indispensable and Gilbey playing better. The Adkins experiment of playing Morgan in front of the back four, like that of Kirk in Lee’s position, simply didn’t work.

Watson we know can do a reasonable job, but Dobson has set a high standard; if Watson gets called on to replace him it will require greater energy and drive than before for us to maintain the pressing game higher up the pitch. Arter was unfortunate to drop out through injury when playing well. Losing Dobson would be a serious blow, but one of Watson, Arter or Clare would have the opportunity to step up and be asked to do what he has done in the last two games. Replacing Lee would be more problematic, probably you’d move Gilbey into his slot and perhaps bring in Clare; the alternative would be to give Morgan the chance, if he is impressing in training.

If you assume the same starting X1 for Rotherham except DJ in if Leko is unavailable, with six places on the bench up for grabs (excluding Henderson) you’d assume Elerewe plus one from Matthews (or Gunter if the starting positions are reversed) and Soare. Davison and CBT take up another two. Watson and Clare presumably the final two spots, unless Arter is available and preferred to either of them. The two that you’d say are still likely to have to remain patient are Morgan and Kirk. Hopefully they will take a look at Dobson and think ‘my turn will come and I will be ready for it’.

Saturday 30 October 2021

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Fair to say that JJ’s odds on being our next manager will have shortened further today as we turned in a performance that was pretty much everything we were hoping for. Sunderland was of course tough but today we waited to see whether we could put away a team which might, like us, be struggling around the bottom but which also won last Saturday, perhaps also show further signs that the squad does after all have the qualities to succeed.

We scored four, could have made double-figures, kept a clean sheet and really prevented Doncaster from creating any clear chances (the stats show they had no shots on target, but I think there were a couple of shots that were but were blocked well before they might have reached MacGillivray). Just as important, we looked as if we knew what the gameplan was and executed it. You could quibble about some of the passing, and some of the finishing, but not the purpose. Whether or not Doncaster are a poor team, we made them look like one today.

The team and formation was pretty much as you were, although with Matthews apparently picking up a knock and Lavelle now on the sidelines for a while formally there were two changes, Gunter coming in and Pearce in the starting X1. Just how you describe the formation is a matter of interpretation, whether Purrington is playing left-back or wing-back, whether Washington or Lee is a second forward (more clear this time that Washington was indeed up front, Lee in an advanced midfield role). What is important is that we attacked and defended as a team, plenty getting forward when the opportunity was there but also back behind the ball when out of possession (and it was telling that in his post-match interview JJ mentioned that most of the work in training has been on what to do when we don’t have the ball). And instrumental in that has been Dobson.

Let’s be honest, the first 20 minutes were pretty scrappy, with Doncaster enjoying plenty of possession, while we suffered what looks like another groin injury as Leko was unable to continue, Jaiyesimi coming on to replace him. We still managed to create the only chance of the period, one which we were unfortunate not to score from (or instead give credit to their defender). A cross from the right saw Stockley compete but not get on the end of it only for it to run on to Purrington. He dinked it back inside to Lee. His shot beat the keeper but was somehow blocked on the line.

So it was still a slight surprise that we took the lead, with the opener carrying some good fortune. Purrington, who had already been booked, won a free kick on the left and Lee curled it in. It ended up beating Stockley’s attempt to get his head to it but then also their keeper, who was left stranded as it continued its path into the far corner of the net. 10 minutes later and the game was, with hindsight, effectively won. We had the ball in a threatening position only to lose it, seemingly setting Doncaster off on a dangerous break, only for Dobson to steal it back and slide it forward down the right side to Gilbey. He tussled with the defender both outside and then inside the box, then went to ground. That gave the ref a decision to make and he gave the penalty. A soft one no doubt but probably just about the correct call. Washington stepped up and as their keeper moved to his right planted in the net to his left.

With Doncaster clearly dispirited the only surprise/disappointment was that we didn’t add to the lead before the break. A Washington shot was well saved, then after Dobson played in Washington his cross was somehow not converted by a combination of Purrington, Lee and Stockley.

Just before the break the Doncaster manager saw yellow for a vocal protest and it pretty much summed up how they must have felt. The only issue was whether or not they would come out fighting in the second half and whether we might pay for not finishing the game off with a third.

In the event we needn’t have worried. More chances came and went in this period, Stockley forcing another save from their keeper then having had it teed up for him on a plate by DJ heading rather tamely. But on the hour mark any concerns were eased. Lee was fouled just outside the box on the left side and opted to shoot low to the keeper’s right. It was a decent effort but spilled and Stockley was on hand to tap in the rebound. For good measure, with still over 20 minutes left we scored a fourth. A cross from the right side to the far edge of the penalty area saw Purrington far more determined than his marker to get on the end of it. His header back across goal might have been saved but wasn’t.

Thereafter it was just about whether we would add to the total (we didn’t, although another cross almost produced what would have looked like an own goal, coming back off the crossbar), whether we would keep a clean sheet (we did), and who might be rested a little with Tuesday’s game in mind. Clare came on for Lee, Davison for Washington. Then whether or not it was pre-arranged, the Sir Chris leap from the tunnel was performed first by Dobson, then by Pearce, and finally by Euell.

We know that Tuesday night against Rotherham will see tougher opposition. By the same token, it will probably be another similar set-up (presumably Leko won’t be available) and the players are looking like they are getting familiar and comfortable with it. Certain combinations are working well, with Gilbey looking good in tandem with Lee going forward, confident that Dobson will not leave us exposed if we lose possession. One step at a time. It will be a different challenge to both Sunderland and Doncaster, the acid test being whether the defence will be able to deliver a third consecutive shut-out.

Player Ratings:

MacGillivray – 7/10. What mark do you give a keeper who had nothing to save?

Gunter – 7/10. Decent game, Matthews’ injury giving him another opportunity earlier than he might have expected. Nothing dramatic but when the defence gives away nothing the defenders should get some credit.

Pearce – 8/10. Kept it simple and one slice apart error-free. Not once did Doncaster get in behind us.

Famewo – 8/10. Same as Pearce really in that he did what was necessary entirely competently; also pleasing that he seems calmer than a couple of weeks ago.

Purrington – 8/10. Scored from the most difficult chance he’s had in the past couple of games, otherwise effective in making things happen down the left.

Dobson – 9/10. For Sunderland and today, he’s providing the energy and effort in front of the defence and just behind the attack, helping to compress the game for the opposition when they have possession. Good to see.

Leko – No mark, only on the pitch for the first 15 minutes, hopefully not too bad an injury as he has been excellent and we need him.

Gilbey – 8/10. Seems to be enjoying the greater freedom to play now that he has Lee and Washington for company and Dobson behind.

Lee – 8/10. Really does add quality going forward, another impressive game.

Washington – 7/10. Having him in the team instead of another wider player is working well at the moment.

Stockley – 7/10. He really should have had a hat-trick, but that will be for another day.


Jaiyesimi – 8/10. Did well to come on early in the game prove a threat throughout, some quality crosses put in.

Clare – 7/10. No complaints but the game was truly done and dusted by the time he came on.

Davison – No mark, only on right at the end.


Wednesday 27 October 2021

Same Again Please

All a bit late in the day I know, but that’s the trouble with bloody winning, no sense of urgency when there’s nothing to moan about (especially when there was an appointment to keep at a nearby domain right after the final whistle and your partner is already frowning at you for having spent two hours in front of a screen rather than digging holes in the garden as we need to get our new vines planted before winter sets in). A fellow Addick who couldn’t watch the game (there are advantages to being tucked away in Burgundy, aside from the obvious) asked whether it was a case of ‘transformation or perspiration’. You’d have to say it was a mix of the two, with a bit of overdue good fortune thrown in.

The perspiration was a necessary condition for getting something out of the game; JJ’s second in charge was always going to be a tough one, but in some ways that helped. Too often this season we have played as if the opposition had no right to score against us, seemingly shocked by their temerity when they did (and usually did again). That didn’t apply playing away at Sunderland. Even without the change of manager the squad should have been up for it; and it was.

Transformation came in the form of some personnel changes. At full-back Matthews and Purrington came in for Gunter and Soare – and both had good games (leaving aside Purrington’s inexplicable miss in the second half; he scored from a similar position/situation at Wembley after all). In midfield Dobson was given a start against his old team and provided the best protection for a defence that we’ve seen since Pratley was discarded. And up front/wide Washington was brought in from the start ahead of Blackett-Taylor, Jaiyesimi (both of whom did make the bench) and Kirk (who did not). Now whether that amounted to a formation change as well I couldn’t be sure; if it was Washington and Leko either side of Stockley and Lee in support it was as you were; but others more knowledgeable than me talked of Washington as a second forward with Lee deeper and Purrington pushed further forward. Whichever way it was only a matter of degrees, but Washington gave us more options than before as both he and Lee moved around.

The other real change only came half an hour into the game as Lavelle pulled up injured and was replaced by Pearce. Nobody can say how the game would have turned out had that not happened; and if we’re talking fine margins Pearce could have been the villain of the peace if the ref had given Sunderland a penalty when the ball hit his hand (would have been tough but have seen them given; the Sunderland manager and others have been critical of the decision since, although it should be noted that the highlights of the game on the Sunderland club site, which run to 9 minutes, didn’t bother to include the incident). Just as Lavelle might have been culpable after early on he was turned and seemed to fall over, resulting in one of the two early shots which might have seen them take the lead.

In the event, with Pearce the defence looked better organised than before. Whether that was down to him, to Dobson’s work in front, the full-back changes, or all of the above nobody can say. Of course if Lavelle has joined Inniss on the sidelines we may have further games to find out.

My reading of the game was that Sunderland started the brighter and we were wobbly, as evidenced by their two early chances, both of which were saved smartly by MacGillivray, the next spell was pretty even, but then they finished the first half the stronger, seemingly turning the screw, drawing another save from MacG. So we were perhaps slightly fortunate to be level at the break. But I also felt we edged the second half, creating the better chances (Purrington’s, Lee’s blocked shot, and of course the Stockley goal), with Leko running them ragged.

Sure it would have been a different game if their shot from inside the box had been an inch or two lower rather than cannoning back off the bar, and their later curler from outside the box had dipped sooner than it did. The difference from before is that we simply didn’t gift the opposition goals. And then having taken the lead we had something to hold on to, which we did if not comfortably then with more ease than we did away at Fleetwood in the final minutes.

Quite simply that has to become the norm, with JJ stressing that a marker has now been set which the team cannot fall back below. We of course are already thinking about how many games it might take to close the gap on sixth place, but there’s no question that Saturday’s game against Doncaster is still massive. Win the game and we are quite possibly out of the relegation spots and on a clear upward trend; lose it and we are back where we were, in fact a place lower than before Sunderland. Doncaster are no doubt feeling much like us in that a win and a draw from their last two games leaves them one more result away from being on the fringes of the drop zone rather than deeply immersed in it.

Things can after all change quickly: just one clean sheet and we no longer have the division’s second-worst goals against record – now no less than seven teams have let in more, albeit only one or two. One thing that hasn’t changed over the past week is that JJ is still given the shortest odds on the next Charlton manager, with nobody else (including Jason Euell) inside 10-1. Another victory and he’ll be an even stronger odds-on favourite. May it come to pass.

Thursday 21 October 2021

Back To The Future Or New Broom?

So another page turns. The Adkins era in Charlton history ended up lasting for seven months and, like most such tenures (and the careers of most politicians), it ended in failure. Regrettable but there it is, the club wishes him well and I’m sure so do most if not all Addicks.

I’d assume this leaves us with three options: internal promotion (ie JJ given the job, at least to the end of the season); back to the future (Curbs or Sir Chris); or a new broom. It’s reading between the lines but the fact that the club announced that JJ is caretaker manager (assisted by Euell) without any specified time period (ie to the end of the season) suggests to me that, while he may be in the mix, TS is not inclined to confirm at this stage at least that JJ will be given a run in the post. If he was, presumably that would have been the basis of talks yesterday and today’s announcement would have been different.

Personally, if Sir Chris wanted to return (and to walk away from his coaching role with the England side and position at Tottenham) he would be my first choice. This isn’t harking after the past, rather that the guy has unfinished business with us, is a Charlton legend, may want to be outright manager again, and would be our best option if he does. It is, however, reasonable to assume that he is very happy with the job(s) he has.

Curbs being given an official position, whether manager or mentor, would now (IMO) be a very positive move, if JJ (or indeed Euell) is being groomed for the job. I had hoped that Adkins was at least talking to him, but a formal role while Adkins was still manager would have looked like undermining his position and may well have caused confusion. The situation is now different. Whether Curbs wants a formal role is of course another matter, as is whether TS favours that route. It’s fair to assume that Curbishley would not put up with any interference on team selection matters and would place a greater emphasis on getting results over playing nice football, which may not be music to TS’ ears. Of course for now there’s no issue over new signings/departures. If it’s Curbs, on whatever basis, more than fine by me.

If it’s to be an outsider obviously Wilder is the name most often mentioned, given how close he came to managing us before and in view of his success at Sheff Utd. He may of course, unlike Adkins, want to bring his own people in to assist him – and there’s no way of telling if he would be to TS’ taste. Howe gets mentioned but really, if TS managed to attract him to us right now he truly would have the gift of the gab (and presumably the wallet to match).

All we can really say right now is that the odds on an outsider, whoever it may be, shorten the longer we go without further news. And the chances are we won’t get anything more than rumours and hearsay this side of the Sunderland game. JJ does of course have a 100% record as caretaker manager and it is going to be fascinating to see who he selects for the match. Fitness and availability will no doubt be instrumental, and there’s hardly going to be an upheaval in selection; but we could get some insight into just who it might be felt has not been pulling their weight and whether or not the Adkins formation was universally backed.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Familiar Failings

Have to say I thought that never in my lifetime would I have an evening at the end of which we could be bottom of the third division; and with almost a third of the season gone. It proved to be another game which, if taken in isolation, might be written off as ‘one of those nights’. But it’s all happened too many times: poor periods of the game (in this case the first half), goals given away cheaply, chasing the game again from behind.

What went wrong this time? With Lee and Arter not available, replacements were required if the formation was to be retained (which it was). Kirk was dropped (not surprising after Saturday), Stockley came in for Davison (fair enough), Blackett-Taylor and Leko were chosen as the wide men (decent enough), while Morgan came back in but not to play as a No.10, rather as the holding midfielder in front of the defence, with Gilbey more advanced and Clare included.

It didn’t work. Accrington’s formation gave them a spare man in midfield, usually Pell, which they used to good effect. An already fragile defence had a player in front of it not accustomed to the role, while Gilbey – who had a good game in many respects – had his best moments running at them in positions in which we had presumably picked CBT and Leko. Lee’s effectiveness has been in linking up the play, bringing others into the game. We ended up being repeatedly caught out by their spare central midfielder and unable to really utilise the two wider forwards (Leko was dangerous throughout, CBT in flashes).

Post-match Adkins not surprisingly focused on the second half; because the first half was very poor and could have seen Accrington out of sight. A clumsy challenge by Morgan chasing back resulted in a free kick which Pell converted excellently; another from a near-identical position saw his shot to the other side crash down off the bar and quite probably over the line; Soare was perhaps fortunate to stay on the pitch, having given the ref a decision to make over a possible headbutt (Pell went down like a pack of cards but did then seem to think better of it as he didn’t roll around clutching his face); and when Leko had a tame shot just before the break that was our first effort on target. We had in fact equalised by then, thanks to Gilbey’s driving run and low cross, which resulted in an own goal. But the stats at half-time made for very sobering reading. Half of the game wasted, lucky to still be in it.

We were much better early in the second half, with the same personnel, just as a result of higher intensity. Then against the run of play defensive frailties proved our undoing again. From a position on the left their guy was given the time and space to send in a low cross; two defenders went with one guy, leaving Pell alone to plant the ball into the net. All far too easy. Then to compound the situation their right-back was allowed to run with the ball, move inside, and hit a shot through the tracking Morgan’s legs and inside the near post.

With still around 25 minutes left and Accrington not exactly high on confidence themselves, we did get back into it, pulled one back – this time thanks to Washington (who had come on for Clare, at the same time as Davison replaced Blackett-Taylor) chasing a lost cause and his blocked cross sitting up well for Stockley – and might well have scrambled an equaliser in the dying stages. We did after all by then have Stockley, Davison, Washington, Leko and Jaiyesimi, plus Gilbey, on the pitch. But it wasn’t to be.

Nobody questions that Morgan’s a decent player, but as the first line of protection for an error-strewn defence it was an unnecessary risk. His foul resulted in their first goal, his allowing their guy to move inside onto his favoured left foot resulted in their third, while their second goal can be attributed both to poor organisation inside the box and nobody tracking Pell. That there was not a fourth was down to some profligacy on Accrington’s part and the absence of goal-line technology.

Now only Morecambe have conceded more goals than us this season (they have scored eight more than us). We sit 22nd in the league with two wins out of 13, already four points from safety (plus a worse goal difference). We’ve gone beyond hoping that the transfer window recruits would produce a quick turnaround in form, even Scottie Minto was last night reluctant to talk about the points gap to a play-off spot. Of course a top-six finish is not impossible, but it is totally pointless to consider it in our position. We are not yet in a desperate relegation struggle, but soon will be unless we perform better and start to churn out results. And we all know that won’t happen until we stop conceding 2/3 goals every time.

Whether Adkins lasts the rest of today remains to be seen. That is entirely Sandgaard’s decision. He may be thinking about the long-term plan, which in essence all of us support. However, we are more focused on the fact that this is our fifth season out of the last six in the third flight and that as things stand the best we can hope for is to make it six out of seven. Every season which ends with us still in the third flight is regarded by Addicks as a failure, that’s just a fact. I suspect we still haven’t got our heads around the notion of relegation to the fourth division being a possibility. I know I haven’t.

Monday 18 October 2021

Frailties Highlighted, Not Positives

Well that was horrible, wasn’t it? My only consolation was watching the game on a stream from Burgundy and being able to switch off and drown a glass to forget as opposed to the poor souls who were there and had the long trek back. It was another game devoid of positives, one which instead focused attention on areas we are falling short. We ended up being outplayed by a team which passed and moved better than we did and which in the final stages of the game wanted it more. On another day we might have got away with a fortunate draw, might even have had a smash-and-grab if Stockley really was blocked off/pulled back in the box. Equally nobody was in any doubt that we didn’t deserve anything from the game.

As was the case in the immediate aftermath of the closing of the transfer window and the influx of players, it was the optimism that did for us. ‘Adkins names unchanged team’ is not a headline used much of late (must admit I did have a vision of him working through the night on different combinations but ending up unable to decide and just thinking ‘sod it, send out the same again’). The hope that the better performance and victory at Fleetwood might mean the turning of a corner and us putting together a run and move up the table. Instead we staring at one win in five, just two in 12, and debating whether or not Adkins has to be replaced.

Did we learn much? We already knew that Lee has made himself central to the set-up of the team, linking play, bringing others into the game, and getting on the end himself. We all saw the bright start we’d made fade away once he was forced off after 20 minutes. We don’t have an absolute like-for-like (I’d say the closest is Morgan, but he wasn’t on the bench) but could have asked either Washington or Gilbey to play the part. Instead Kirk was moved inside and Blackett-Taylor came on to keep the formation. That lasted until half-time, when Leko moved inside and Kirk back wide; he had a little more influence.

Whether out wide or inside Kirk had an awful game, never threatening, always peripheral, rounded things off with a dreadful pass inside which nearly cost us a goal. He has to have more in his locker than that. Blackett-Taylor gave us only a couple of glimpses of what he is capable of going forward, while was a liability when we were out of possession. Add in that Davison was well and truly in the pocket of their centre-halves and our forward threat was, after the start, virtually non-existent, until Stockley provided more of a presence.

At the same time, there are games when things don’t click going forward and then, especially away from home, you look to keeping things tight. Instead we conceded twice, yet again. Sure, their first was one of those freak goals, on the face of it not about defensive frailty. Yet as was pointed out in the post-match analysis, it came from a set piece half-cleared when we failed to push up out of our own box. In a crowded area things can happen. And we repeated the error in stoppage time, allowing Lincoln to play the ball back into a packed penalty area. And we’d only just got away with one headed in but given offside. Looks like a lack of defensive organisation, the back line and others failing to work as a unit. Where the blame for that might lie is for Adkins and others to determine – and rectify. Problem is we’ve seen it before enough times this season. In open play Famewo and Lavelle are the obvious choices, but neither seems to be the leader on the pitch; in a crowded area defending a point away from home Pearce’s qualities come to the fore.

There was ample evidence and time available on Saturday to acknowledge that our gameplan wasn’t working and to make changes. We would have lost nothing by taking off Kirk and bringing on either Washington - to play wide, or as a second forward with Leko moving wider – or even bringing on Matthews or Pearce and switching to a back five. Also an argument for bringing on Stockley and leaving Davison on as a front pair. We equalised with effectively 30 minutes left to play. Could rightly argue that we had changed with Stockley on the pitch and that having drawn level we might have had the wind in our sails. Instead, and for that perhaps you give Lincoln credit, they grabbed the initiative and progressively got on top, to the point where with perhaps 15 minutes left you have to take a fresh look and conclude that further change was needed.

Next up it’s Accrington at The Valley tomorrow night then the trip to Sunderland on Saturday. No game at this stage of the season can be considered ‘must win’. But ‘must improve’ is another matter.


Wednesday 13 October 2021

Veni, Foedum, Tum Omnia Pirum Informibus

So it was a case of ‘veni, foedum, tum omnia pirum informibus’. Ronnie Schwartz is clearly not going to be listed among the Charlton greats, but his cameo career with us will I’m sure be remembered. Sure, there have always been signings which came with great expectations soon to be dashed (Barry Endean, Maurice Setters, Ralph Milne, Francis Jeffers spring to mind). But I can’t think of another which began so well – comes on and scores that goal against Rochdale – and fell apart so quickly – next contribution is to block a goal-bound shot to deny us a winner, followed by the penalty not converted at the end against Oxford, which technically cost us a play-off place, then brief substitute appearances marked by the absence of contact between him and the ball, a failure to return for pre-season, injury, then agreed exit.

He leaves with no hard feelings, we wish him well, especially in dealing with any personal issues (although opinion may shift if we hear he’s signed as a free agent for Portsmouth or the like). Sometimes things just don’t work out. It actually reminds me of a Frasier episode when the brothers hear about an actor they revered as schoolboys having fallen on hard times and resolve to restore him to his rightful position by staging a one-man show for him, only to discover that he (played by Derek Jacobi) was a total ham. I have the image of TS having seen Schwartz score goals and keeping him in mind as just what we needed last January, only to discover …

I’m really just glad the affair is over, would have been better if it had been done and dusted at the end of last season. If it had dragged on it would have given the unwanted impression of Sandgaard wanting to pick the team when clearly Adkins didn’t see a role for him (unless of course there was a material change in performance).

The fact is that in a fairly short space of time we have, with I’d say the arrivals of Lee and Leko, achieved stability of a sort in terms of formation if not personnel/partnerships. We are consistently playing a variation on 4-4-2 which could be described as a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3, depending on whether Lee is slotting in as a second forward, alongside either Davison or Stockley, or playing deeper and linking play. He’s doing both, so the technicalities don’t really matter. The formation relies on a back four, two central midfielders, and two either side of the front one/two.

How close are we to a settled starting XI? Not that far off I’d suggest. MacGillivray is first-choice, with Henderson waiting for loss of form or injury. For the back four it’s either Matthews or Gunter on the right and Purrington or Soare on the left, with, absent Inniss, Lavelle and Famewo as the two centre-backs (and Pearce and Elerewe the back-ups). The main forward is either Stockley or Davison, Lee plays, the wider guys up front are one of Blackett-Taylor, Kirk or Washington on the left, Leko on the right (with Jaiyesimi the replacement). That really leaves the central midfield two.

We have Watson, Arter, Dobson, Clare, Morgan and Gilbey to choose from (hopefully Forster-Caskey again before too long). Only two of those six can start and the choice is up to Adkins. Personally I’d be inclined to assume that you have either Watson or Arter as one of the two, unless the choice is to pair Dobson and Clare (and it was interesting to note that in the Mickey Mouse cup we had those two in central midfield with Morgan, Stockley up front, and Jaiyesimi – it looked like a starting XI from the beginning of the season).

With choices for most positions, I’d suggest the bench is going to be very important – and I’ve been surprised by the choices on that front for recent games. You really need the bench for three purposes: replacements for injured players (in extremis for a dismissal), replacements providing fresh legs/replacing underperformers - ie in both cases like-for-like – and to change the formation if it isn’t working and/or we are chasing the game. We went into with Fleetwood game with only Pearce as a defensive replacement. Why? Seems too much of a risk to me, I’d have him and one of the unchosen full-backs. Presumably either Davison or Stockley is on the pitch and the other on the bench. Taking account of the reserve keeper, that leaves three other places. One needs to be a central midfielder, one another wide man, the third a second for either of those two positions.

The piece in the jigsaw we are missing is the outright goalscorer, the guy to score that scrappy one from a knockdown. It should have been Schwartz, just didn’t happen.

Sunday 3 October 2021

Cautious And Qualified Optimism

The French time difference doesn’t help when it comes to doing post-match reports, especially when your partner thinks you’ve been spending the last couple of hours sitting on your backside doing nothing while she’s been toiling away, when there are fish to gut and a BBQ to prepare. She just doesn’t understand what hard work it is to get through a Charlton game at the moment (ever?), especially the final 10 minutes away at Fleetwood defending a one-goal advantage in the face of a barrage of long throws and corners. If it was tough for us, Adkins must have been feeling it too, given the pressure he has been (and probably still is) under.

So how highly should we rank the performance and result? Think you’d have to say something between a six and seven out of 10. We would have taken three points ground out any old how, but it was better than that, some genuine positives. Just have to qualify them by the context of the opposition and the fact that the game would, as Curbs stressed, probably have turned out differently if Fleetwood had taken the lead in the first half with their one-on-one, while much of our good work would probably have been overshadowed had one of those late onslaughts seen us concede an equaliser, as might easily have been the case.

Adkins had opted for the same formation – a sort of 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, depending on whether Lee was operating as an outright second forward or in a deeper role. Fact is he seems to combine the two, to good effect. The full-backs from Tuesday night were both replaced (Gunter and Soare for Matthews and Purrington), as were the two central midfielders (Arter and Gilbey for Watson and Clare), while Kirk returned wide-left (replacing Blackett-Taylor). With Stockley and Washington, plus Clare, Morgan and Blackett-Taylor on the bench, what struck me was that we had just one defender, Pearce, in reserve. Looked like a gamble.

The game itself ebbed and flowed. After a non-descript first 20 minutes, during which we dominated possession but created nothing of note, Fleetwood had their chance, quickly followed by Lee setting up the returning Kirk with half the goal to pass the ball into but put it wide. Then not long before the break Leko, who had been dangerous from the start yet had also picked up one of the dafter yellow cards of the season, played the ball inside and kept moving in that direction, to the left side, where Kirk gave him the ball back around the edge of the area. He took one step to the right and fired in a kind of daisy-cutter. It was the kind of shot you don’t expect to end up in the net, but it may have taken a touch or two from any of three defenders who stretched but just failed to cut it out, then passed their keeper into the far corner.

We had a couple more chances to extend the lead before half-time, going into the break good value for the lead. But the feeling was that Fleetwood, kicking into the wind, had been content to play on the break and that the second half would probably be a different story.

It was in that it took Fleetwood only around five minutes to be back level. Lavelle was close to getting turned just outside the box and pulled back their guy, conceding a free kick in a very dangerous position: enough distance to get the ball over the wall and under the bar, the angle to be able to go either side. In the event their guy curled a dipper over the wall and through MacGillivray, who as was pointed out later had taken a step to his right as the kick was taken and was caught wrong-footed, like the step backwards as for Wycombe’s first goal).

We were flustered for a little while, Gilbey getting yellow for a poor late arial challenge and us almost getting caught out as their guy pulled the ball back from an unlikely position only for it to have crossed the line for a goal kick. But a couple of fresh chances turned the tide. First Lee latched onto a loose ball as their keeper parried a Leko shot and squared it, only for Davison not to be able to connect, then from a tight angle Davison hit a fierce shot which clipped the outside of the far post.

That was to be his final contribution as a knock saw him replaced by Stockley – and he took less than 10 minutes to score what proved the winner. Good play across midfield ended with the ball played to Leko in space on the right. He took on his marker for pace and squared it, for Stockley to smash it high into the net. 

Not long after Blackett-Taylor came on for an understandably tiring Kirk, we nearly put the game to bed as Stockley was sent clear just inside their half. He wasn’t going to outrun their defenders from that far out, but played it left to Lee, whose fierce shot just cleared the bar (with him claiming their keeper had touched it). Then a little confusion as Leko was about to be subbed only for Arter to go down with cramp. Both carried on but soon Arter departed, Clare coming on.

That just left the final 10 minutes and six of stoppage time to endure. We managed to do that, just, although I’d say the Fleetwood club site reporter was overdoing it a little to suggest that “everyone in the ground was shocked that the game didn’t end on level terms with a goalmouth scramble right at the end”. He also suggests in his account that Stockley scored our second “completely against the run of play”, which rather overlooks the two near misses which preceded the goal.

The positives include being able to regroup after Fleetwood’s equaliser and going on to win the game; the obvious delight on the faces of the players at the final whistle, suggesting it meant a lot to them; and the fact that we carried a goal threat throughout the game. Leko will deservedly take the accolades; he even managed to turn his moment of madness in the first half into a positive. Not content with a silly pull of the shirt as his marker went past him deep in the Fleetwood half, he held onto the shirt and continued to pull it, making a yellow for him a stone-cold certainty but also eventually prompting a reaction from their guy which saw him booked too. That, as Leko mentioned after the game, put him on the edge as if he (the Fleetwood guy) brought him down it would probably be red (to be fair to the ref Leko did commit a foul after his booking, prompting Fleetwood appeals for another card, which were rightly rejected).

However, for me the stars were Arter and Gilbey (glossing over his yellow card), who both put in real shifts, with Lee not far behind. He does give us good continuity with intelligent movement and passing.

We so badly needed a win and we got one. We have now a lengthy break at least devoid of fresh speculation over Adkins’ position and renewed hope that an effective team can be forged from the large squad. Cautious and qualified optimism.