Friday 29 January 2021


So it seems that two have exited, with Smyth recalled by QPR (and immediately dispatched to Accrington) and Bogle to make the switch to Doncaster. Of course we wish both of them well, sort of. Neither has really made a mark with us but that’s the way it goes sometimes – and I’ll not have anyone suggest that one of the conditions of Bogle’s move is that he plays against us in April. No doubt for that quip he will come back to haunt us, and since we are up against Accrington in the final game of the season Smyth could do the same.

I’m a little disappointed, probably more than most, that Smyth has left. Clearly we now have the numbers not to require Bogle, but looking at what we have now there still seems to me to be a gap for a wide-right attacking player – especially as we risk becoming over-reliant on Millar down the left. But so be it, unlike at other stages of the season – when we have been periodically short of either defenders, midfielders or forwards – we are able to talk of options, whether or not the two departures clear up room for another to come in.

For the defence, I think some praise is due, despite the goals conceded/errors made. Pratley and Gunter have filled in as best they can, Pearce has struggled on return from injury but never lacks heart, while Oshilaja has I think improved with each game since being included after his return, the key issue for me being a tendency towards rash challenges (or what look like them) in dangerous areas. It can’t be easy for Pearce and Oshilaja in particular to step up well aware that Inniss and Famewo, if fit, would be expected to resume their pairing, given how effective it has been. Of course there are other issues involved, such as how we defend as a team and whether we play with a protective midfielder in front of the back four etc, but the numbers speak for themselves.

And while it may be old school I think partnerships apply as much for central defence as attack. Many moons ago I interviewed Jack Charlton and he told me he asked Alf Ramsey why he picked him as he clearly wasn’t one of the best two centre-halves around. Apparently Ramsey’s reply was that he had the best defender in the world (Bobbie Moore) and needed someone to complement him, and that Charlton was the best available of that type. Clearly Inniss and Famewo were a partnership as the latter was well aware that the former lacks a little pace and compensates. Now I don’t know why for sure, but Pearce and Oshilaja together looked uncomfortable, Oshilaja looks better with Gunter, probably be the same with Pratley (and perhaps the same would apply for Pearce).

That does for me suggest that if (as is indicated) Famewo is back some time before Inniss it is questionable whether he can form a good partnership with Oshilaja. That’s for LB and his team to look at and decide. Sometimes it’s like the boat going faster without having the fastest individuals doing the rowing. It just does. And if that means retaining Gunter (and Pratley as back-up) in central defence to pair with Oshilaja, Famewo or Pearce, so be it.

For the midfield, the arrival of Millar and the form of Forster-Caskey have firmed up options. We can play with a flat midfield four (Forster-Caskey with either Pratley or Watson in the centre, Millar and someone else wider), with a diamond (Forster-Caskey flanked by two such as Shinnie and Morgan with Millar at the point), or potentially a 3/5 with Maatsen as one wing-back and Millar as a No.10. Whereas until recently Waston or Pratley were the first names on the sheet, we have shown we can function with neither – but have the option of them. I can’t help thinking that Pratley has played out of his skin since returning from suspension because Watson will be after his place, Forster-Caskey – especially with Shinnie back - has shown we can operate without the Watson/Pratley alternative, and LB might be threatening to put him back to centre-half if he doesn’t perform.

So much here depends on Millar. If he plays on the left the midfield takes its shape from that (and Maatsen as a wing-back is not then an option). It’s why I regret Smyth going as if something happens to Millar he would be the option to keep the same structure, with an attacking wide man, with the person chosen for the right side switched to the left. So for me Forster-Caskey and Shinnie start (with Gilbey in reserve), sometimes with the Watson/Pratley option (and Pratley is in possession of the shirt), Millar wide left or in the hole (with Williams his current back-up), and the right side still up for grabs (Morgan, Gilbey, Williams   or Maddison – provided that the rumours of him not being happy are untrue, if they are he can leave as we don’t need any of that).

For the front two, we just haven’t seen enough of Schwartz or Stockley to be drawing any conclusions, but as things stand now its two from four with Aneke and Washington. If it’s to be ‘big man/little man’ then Stockley and Aneke take one place and Washington/Schwartz the other, depending on who hits it off together.

Clearly there is likely to be rotation in this area (and for Saturday there are doubts over whether Washington will be fit), but at least in general we are now talking about tweaks and options rather than wholesale changes from game to game. We can’t be far from getting it right, as Bowyer has suggested, but whether the season runs out before we can fire on all cylinders remains to be seen.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Howlers Avoided, Points Secured

Here we go again, another Tuesday, another game, another game against a team in the lower half of the table. Same priorities as before, three points and everything else would be forgiven. And we just about managed that in a game which saw us take the lead early on then progressively surrender territory and possession (the BBC stats showed us on 30% for the game) but maintain defensive discipline to see the game out. It was rather like Peterborough without the clangers and the other pertinent stat was we had three attempts on target to their four, Amos did what he needed to but was for once well protected against a team which played football but was unable to turn decent positions into clear goalscoring chances.

We knew we’d be without Maatsen for the game, with Bowyer having indicated that fit or not he’d be given a rest and Purrington brought back in. And this proved to be one of four changes from Saturday, with Shinnie coming in for Williams and the front two changed. Washington and Stockley started, with Aneke and Schwartz on the bench, where they were joined by the returning Watson (plus Pearce, Morgan and Williams, and Aneke and Schwartz, with no sign now of either Bogle or Smyth, further evidence to assume that he is on his way back to QPR). What wasn’t clear from the details was whether it would be a basic 4-4-2 as we began on Saturday, with Millar and Shinnie taking the wider midfield berths, a diamond as we went for in the second half, with Millar as the point, or a front three, with Washington and Millar either side of Stockley.

It proved to be the basic set-up and in the early stages, despite another pudding of a pitch, Millar was making his presence felt down the left side. The only surprise was that he ended up scoring as the result of a ball in from someone else. After an even first period, before 20 minutes were up and just after Washington and Pratley had nearly combined for an opener, Washington put in a cross from the right that Stockley nearly collected but instead ran to Millar. He was in acres of space but still had a keeper and a couple on the line to get the ball past, which he did with a well struck low shot.

MK Dons not surprisingly upped their effort and we were getting put under pressure. But we got the break for once as a corner of theirs to the near post saw a flicked header come back off the foot of the woodwork. That was as close as they came before the break, with plenty of effort being put in to deny them space in our final third.

It felt very strange to be winning a game at half-time, for the break not to see changes made. As it happens our first change came not long into the second half as Washington went down with an injury and was replaced by Schwartz. And although MK Dons were dominating possession we were having the better chances. A Forster-Caskey free kick curled just over, and after their advancing centre-back had his pass intercepted Schwartz played it on to Millar only for him to get a little too close to their keeper, who managed to smother it.

Going into the final 30 minutes and we were still just about coping, although Oshilaja seemed to be caught out once and Amos came to the rescue. Aneke came on for Stockley and Morgan for Shinnie, with no changes to the formation but we were finding it hard to keep the ball now or to find an outlet. We weren’t hanging on but were being tested, with Millar doing as much work now around our box as theirs. A couple of free kicks were conceded in dangerous positions but either the wall made the block or the shot was off target, or in one case deflected over. We did manage one breakaway, only for Aneke to be unceremoniously taken out.

Just ahead of four minutes of stoppage time Pearce was introduced for Millar but we were to be spared the heartache of the last-gasp equaliser, not least as MK Dons continued to try to work the ball around, right up to the last.

So tonight the plaudits go to the defence, even if Millar’s was the standout performance. We kept a clean sheet against Bristol Rovers recently but that was largely due to their poor finishing. Tonight we maintained discipline where it mattered and were rewarded with the points. The game won’t live long in the memory, and no doubt MK Dons will feel rather aggrieved at having lost, having had so much possession. But it will very much do for now.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Did all that was asked of him without having to make any outstanding saves (there was one shot which resulted in a corner which he may have been responsible for).

Matthews – 7/10. Much better display than on Saturday, even if there wasn’t much chance to get forward.

Gunter – 7/10. Good game, helped to keep their front two under wraps pretty much throughout the game.

Oshilaja – 8/10. As for Gunter and a little more, robust against an experienced opponent.

Purrington – 7/10. Slotted in well, no complaints – except perhaps that Millar was required to make some telling interceptions in his area of defence.

Shinnie – 7/10. Decent game in a slightly unfamiliar role on the right side of midfield.

Pratley – 7/10. Another consistent performance in a game which put a premium on competitiveness against a five-man midfield.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Not much chance to shine going forward but also put in a shift.

Millar – 8/10. Probably man-of-the-match for the second game in succession. Always a threat, scored the goal, effective in defence, might have been a perfect display if he’d scored with the second-half breakaway.

Washington – 7/10. Was involved in most of our better moments in the first half, including the goal.

Stockley – 7/10. Still getting up to speed, no problems with the commitment and work rate, not much chance to shine in terms of opportunities.


Schwartz – 6/10. Difficult to come on as a forward in the second half when we were playing pretty much on the break.

Aneke – 6/10. The same, hard to make an impression.

Morgan – 7/10. More involved and played his part.

Pearce – Only on for stoppage time.

Saturday 23 January 2021

Perhaps Hard Done-By But All Too Familiar

This game was first and foremost about getting three points against a team struggling around the foot of the league, one which has conceded more goals to date than any team other than Burton (which of course did not stop them trouncing us recently). Whether or not we are realistic in our expectations, the goal for this season is promotion, which for now means staying in touch with the top six places in the expectation that as players return and we sort out how to play together we improve, peaking when it matters. The secondary goals included keeping a clean sheet, progress on partnerships in key areas, and perhaps a look at our new striker. What we had was another disappointment in that we failed to win a game that we should have done, mitigated by the fact that we came precious close to losing it.

The team saw changes from Peterborough, most notably Pearce dropped to the bench while Bogle and Smyth were out of the team and not among the subs. It looked like a basic 4-4-2 with Gunter partnering Oshilaja in central defence, Matthews and Maatsen the full-backs. In midfield the central combination of Pratley and Forster-Caskey was retained, with Millar on the left flank and Williams coming in on the right, while Schwartz was given his first start up front, alongside Aneke. With Watson and Maddison not yet ready, the back-ups on the bench were Pearce for the defence (but no Purrington), Morgan, Shinnie and Gilbey in midfield, and Washington and new boy Stockley up front (not sure why Smyth didn’t merit a place to give us a different option; obviously choices have to be made but did we really need three replacement midfielders?).

Swindon started brightly, but then almost gifted us the lead. A back pass was intercepted by Schwartz, who shaped to turn it around their keeper, only for him to get a faint touch and divert the ball onto the post. Have to say it was a decent save, one which proved very important as within five minutes we were behind. A long ball over Matthews saw their guy take it in his stride, cut back inside Matthews far too easily, and send in a powerful shot to the near post. It was well struck, but Amos will be disappointed not to have kept it out. Another lead conceded as a result of mistakes, another game to chase.

It did look in the first 30 minutes or so that we would be able to do that, as we created a number of good positions, with both Millar and Williams getting joy down the flanks and Aneke as ever a threat. But the end-result was only half-chances (especially an Aneke header over the bar), the period rounded off by us hitting the woodwork for a second time. Millar drew a foul right on the edge of the box on the left side and curled in a shot which had the keeper beaten but flicked the top of the bar.

Not long after, with their second shot of the game, Swindon were 2-0 ahead. Started again down their left and this time the ball was played square, their guy got to it just before Millar and his shot took a deflection off Oshilaja which was enough to beat Amos.

At the break we had 57% possession and six shots against two for Swindon. We would have felt hard done-by had it not been a familiar story. Once more we were staring at having to score three times to win a game. But as against Rochdale there was the feeling that there were more goals to come and if we managed to get one back everything would be up for grabs. The game was far from lost.

Bowyer made a change at the break, one involving a formation shift. Williams was taken off and Shinnie sent on, with Millar moving more central at the head of a diamond, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie playing sort of either side of Pratley. The balance of play stayed the same and, after a couple of near misses for Pratley and a scare when Amos came out of his goal and was almost caught out, we did get back into it. Millar and Pratley combined and it ended with a curled cross to the far post, where Aneke had lost his marker and headed home.

Still more than 30 minutes on the clock. Schwartz did put the ball in the net but from an offside position, Morgan came on for Pratley (now he and Shinnie operated either side of Forster-Caskey), and on 64 minutes we should have been level. Millar and Morgan combined down the right side and eventually the cross came in. Aneke had time and space from close range, but instead of converting simply he thumped it and it hit the underside of the bar and out.

Not long after Maatsen went down and limped off, to be replaced by Pearce, with Gunter switching to left-back. And with around 15 minutes left Bowyer had his final throw of the dice, withdrawing the front two for Stockley and Washington. We continued to create chances, with Washington working space well but his shot was blocked, as was Forster-Caskey’s effort from the rebound, with the commentators claiming a handball (hard to say, would need a replay). But by now we were starting to look desperate and Swindon had the opportunity to seal the points. We were caught out down their left and their guy cut back inside Shinnie and squared it, only for their forward to hit the post. I think it was Swindon’s third shot in the game – and their first not to result in a goal.

Instead, in the final minute of normal time we got lucky. The ball was worked well down the left and out to Millar, who passed inside to Forster-Caskey. He made a pig’s ear of his shot but it was intercepted by Shinnie, who looked to be in an offside position but obviously wasn’t. He tucked it home.

In six minutes of stoppage time both sides had a glorious chance to win the game. First Swindon ended an attack with the ball laid back to a guy inside the area. He opted to try a sort of chip and got it wrong. From that Morgan played a glorious long ball forward that was well collected by Washington, who seemed to have played it too far but managed to get a touch to take it wide of their keeper, only to be unable to get the angle right to put the ball in the net. It hit the side netting and that was the game.

On any normal assessment of the game we should have been the winners. But the fact was they scored twice and can’t be blamed for adopting a conservative approach. I don’t know what Bowyer can do to stop us leaking poor goals, but until we do we simply can’t complain about not winning games.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 5/10. Has been excellent all season but has to take his share of the blame for their first goal, powerful shot but into an area that a keeper is going to be disappointed to be beaten.

Matthews – 5/10. Sluggish start to the game cost us as he was easily beaten for the goal. We were also undone down his side late in the game. Disappointing, especially as we know how good he can be.

Gunter – 7/10. Filled in well enough at centre-back then left-back, albeit against a team not busting a gut to get forward.

Oshilaja – 8/10. Good game. Can’t blame him for the deflection for their second, just one of those things. Otherwise efficient and effective with no rash challenges.

Maatsen – 7/10. Reasonable game before the injury, hopefully it won’t keep him out.

Millar – 8/10. My man of the match. Didn’t quite produce the end-product but ran them ragged throughout the game.

Pratley – 7/10. Did his job, got into the box a few times and came close to scoring, sacrificed after the change in the shape of the midfield.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Another decent game, controlled his area of the pitch.

Williams – 6/10. Didn’t play badly despite being subbed at the break, plenty of good work in the first half but no end-product.

Aneke – 7/10. Could have been the match-winner and should have been, scored well but really was a poor miss with the second chance.

Schwartz – 5/10. After his chance in the first minute was almost anonymous, aside from putting the ball in the net from an offside position. Disappointing, but far too soon to be drawing any conclusions.


Shinnie – 7/10. Played his part and scored, good to have him back.

Morgan – 7/10. Also instrumental, involved in one goal.

Pearce – 7/10. Fair enough, although Swindon did have chances in the last 10 minutes.

Washington – 6/10. So nearly the hero in the final seconds.

Stockley – 6/10. Not an explosive first outing, have to wait and see.


Tuesday 19 January 2021

Paid For Mistakes

Merde. At half-time we really didn’t care that this was a dire spectacle being played out in awful conditions on a rutted surface with more mud than grass. Winning 1-0 you just wanted more of the same, ie no chances and little football. Instead we gifted them an equaliser and that really turned things, then compounded the error with a further mistake to go behind. And then it was Peterborough’s turn to run down the clock, which they managed quite comfortably as we were by then unclear how to stop scrapping and start playing football.

One look at the conditions was enough to confirm that this game would tell us next to nothing about our development, what combinations to start with etc. Suffice to say this was a night for Pratley and Pearce to be brought straight back, the former replacing the suspended Morgan, the latter enabling Gunter to return to right-back in a basic 4-4-2, with Bogle and Washington starting up front. The surprise on the bench was Harness named as the substitute keeper, Maynard-Brewer not available.

The first 10 minutes or so were pretty even, featuring a decent Maatsen strike over the bar, then we were ahead. A free-kick played in saw Pearce muscle his way past his marker, who obliged by taking a handful of his shirt. Only question for me was whether Pearce had committed the first foul, if not no doubt about the penalty. Washington stepped up and put it low past their keeper.

That enabled us to focus on not getting caught out, keep the game tight and scrappy, and win the individual battles. Pretty it wasn’t, competitive is certainly was, especially as the referee seemed to be trying to make allowances for the conditions. Some times he got it right, some times not (Pratley, no stranger to the odd foul or two, was taken out twice by bad and potentially dangerous challenges but no card was shown, while others ended up with a card for next to nothing). At the same time, with Millar and Smyth looking dangerous down the flanks and Bogle and Washington threatening, there was the possibility of adding to the lead.

There were free-kicks given away, one or two dangerous balls in from Peterborough and a moment late on when Smyth was first caught out of position but then recovered well to shepherd their guy away from goal. But the bottom line was we reached the break with Amos not having had a serious shot to save. More of the same in the second half would do.

Indeed, it was Peterborough who felt obliged to make the changes early in the second half as they looked to up the tempo. There was danger and a suspicion of Pearce holding a guy down to prevent him going clear, but nothing was given. And the game was to turn in a minute just after the hour. From a set piece the ball went to the far post, Pearce nodded back, and Gunter was in space inside their area. It wasn’t easy to beat a keeper and defender on the line with a ball with no pace on it and he headed over. While we were thinking about that one the ball was hit long, allowed to bounce, and suddenly Pearce and Oshilaja were both going for it. Almost inevitably their guy gets a touch past them both and the second forward is through on goal. He made no mistake.

That was the cue for our first changes, with the front two replaced by Aneke and Schwartz, then not long after Shinnie making a welcome return to the action, replacing Forster-Caskey. We were creating the odd decent position without really looking dangerous, but even then the thought was OK keep it going, we’ve made a mistake and let them back in but we’re still generally in control. Instead we were to slip up again, with a little over 10 minutes left on the clock. Shinnie apparently lost his footing (I thought he was fouled) and the ball was taken off him, played forward quickly and their guy was again in the clear. For the second time of asking he made no mistake.

That really was it as we never looked like getting back on level terms. Williams and Gilbey came on for Smyth and Millar but if anything we were more now to fall further behind, with their guy given his third opportunity, this time Amos saving well. Peterborough were able to see it out by a mix of time-wasting and doing the things that we were doing in the first half.

This one’s going to leave a bitter taste for some time to come. We’d done a job on them in the first half and for the first hour or so we were generally in control of a dreadful game. And then we made mistakes, which to be fair they capitalised on well. And we found no way back into the game as the changes made left us less cohesive, even if they were understandably given the leg-sapping conditions and the concerted effort put in. On balance of play, chances etc we deserved to take something from the game, but we weren’t robbed and in the final period of the game we were second-best.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. One good save, other work, no chance with the goals. 

Gunter – 7/10. Put in a shift in an ugly game.

Pearce – 6/10. Think the blame for their first goal has to be shared equally between him and Oshilaja, was perhaps fortunate not to be penalised (with cards) for some desperate attempts to stop their guys, but did win the penalty.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Plenty of good stuff but still the goal plus a rash challenge that gave away a free kick on the edge of our area.

Maatsen – 6/10. A fellow Addick said after seeing a replay of their second goal that he gave up on chasing the guy. Have to look at that again. Otherwise good work again with Millar going forward.

Smyth – 6/10. Tough conditions for someone to play it on the ground but was a threat throughout, just a pity that he made one or two wrong choices when in good positions.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Competed hard in a game which gave no marks for pretty football.

Pratley – 7/10. To say that he was competitive would be an understatement. But highly instrumental in keeping Peterborough subdued for much of the game. If we were to have a man of the match I’d give it to him.

Millar – 7/10. Looked capable of being a match-winner, some excellent runs and kept possession well.

Washington – 7/10. Pretty effective, played well, more involved than in some other games.

Bogle – 6/10. Caused them problems without getting on the end of anything.


Aneke – 5/10. If you give the mark for impact on the game it’s fair for tonight, struggled to get into the game.

Schwartz – 5/10. The same really. Expect more from both of them going forward.

Shinnie – 5/10. Unfortunate as regards their second goal but it happened.

Williams – 5/10. Unable to make an impact in the final 15 minutes, hard time to come on as Peterborough were by then just spoiling.

Gilbey – 5/10. Much the same.

Sunday 17 January 2021

Big Decisions For Tuesday Night

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m as delighted as anyone that we won and that we looked more cohesive as a team with the selections and formation, and agree that we deserved to take the points. But if you were asked to choose the difference between the last two games it was quality of finishing of the opposition (and the contrast in our own). While Rochdale from every decent position they got into in the first half finished with aplomb, Bristol Rovers were lamentable. Their tally of 20 goals in 19 games is only better than that of Northampton (arguably also Blackpool on a goals-per-game basis). That tells its own story.  

So yes, Oshilaja played well, Gunter did a decent job at centre-back, but let’s not pretend that the defence was solid. Just take a look at the Sky Sports highlights of the game and the first three snippets involved pretty basic long balls simply collected by their guys and taken into dangerous positions. The first two were shot into the side-netting, the third produced the save with his leg by Amos. And the horrible scuff from an unmarked position inside our box didn’t even get past the editor’s cut. All this before we had produced an effort on target.

Also, for sure a win is a win. But we won courtesy of a fluke goal. Yes, before and especially after we had golden opportunities to add to the total but we contrived not to put the ball in the net, or to avoid one of our own when trying to. And yes, goals change the course of games, we can never say what might have happened had their defender on the near post not stepped over Forster-Caskey’s undeflected corner. But consider two other perfectly viable scenarios. First, Bristol took at least one of their presentable first-half opportunities and we were again chasing the game, then Forster-Caskey’s corner does not go straight in and we miss the golden chances to equalise. Second, after Morgan’s sending off Bristol equalise at the death with their clear header inside our box in stoppage time, with Bowyer having not made defensive substitutions to defend a lead. Under either we would all have been screaming blue murder at either our inability to avoid the opposition scoring first and lamentable finishing, or our inability (again) to protect a lead in the final minutes and the waste of another two points.

Fine margins indeed. And sure, as supporters we are nothing if not fickle. But my two points are first, that Bowyer has some important decisions to make for Tuesday night’s game against Peterborough; and second, that we may now be seeing the framework of a team that really ought to be in the promotion mix, especially in a division which sees the sterile and unlovable (if our game against them is any guide) Lincoln clear at the top.

A couple of weeks ago Watson or Pratley (along with Amos) would have been first on the teamsheet, in the defensive midfield role. The picture has changed with both the bringing in of Millar and Schwartz but also the evidence that Forster-Caskey, given the job of commanding the midfield from a central position and a run of starts, has risen to the challenge. Morgan also looked good in the central role before he blotted his copybook, but with him now unavailable for Peterborough does Bowyer bring back the now available (unless my arithmetics are sadly inadequate) Pratley, running the risk of Forster-Caskey not being so comfortable if obliged to adapt again, or instead go for Gilbey, who doesn’t deserve the chance on recent form but is the choice (assuming Shinnie is not available) as a straight replacement for Morgan, as seen yesterday, or does he shuffle the pack again and change the formation in light of different opposition?

It looks to me one of those ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ choices, depending on the result, but that’s what managers are paid for. It’s up to him and his team, who have forgotten more about football than we will ever know, to weigh up the pros and cons, with the advantage of knowing how fit or otherwise the players are.

With Millar and Schwartz coming in and especially with Millar starting I think the attractions of a diamond midfield, utilising either Williams or Maddison at the point, are much reduced (and in any event Maddison is on the injured list). We have been forced to play recent games without an outright defensive midfield minder (of course whoever plays carries out defensive duties) but now (or soon) it is a decision whether that suits us best. If Millar starts on the left it effectively rules out (at least to start games) using Maatsen in a more advanced role or as a wing-back. Given the understanding that these two seem to have from the start, no point in tinkering with the left side. That means someone on the right for balance in a 4-4-2. Williams did well enough yesterday in the position, but I’d say it’s still up for grabs, at the moment between him and Smyth. Now playing 4-4-2 with Millar and Smyth would get the pulses racing, but is it too much of a risk for Bowyer defensively (let’s face it with Williams out wide we are taking that risk, even if he covered well yesterday)? In the central two positions, Forster-Caskey has to be the first, then the decision is who to accompany him. Is Gilbey up to it or is Pratley the safer option?

The dynamics up front have also changed, because we seem to be discovering that Aneke can, if pushed, last a game, while Schwartz in his two cameos to date has shown both that he will score more goals than Washington or Bogle and that he seems capable of forming good partnerships with a second striker. I like Washington, for his intelligent movement and goals. But overall do we get enough from him, especially as he’s given no indication of forming a partnership with either Aneke or Bogle? My suspicion is that when fully fit Schwartz will be capable of linking up with either of the other three, including Washington, but I’d guess there is unanimity among Addicks that a combination of Aneke and Schwartz will be optimum.

That in turn leads us to the issue of what would be our best starting X1, if all are fully fit and available (and of course not ignoring the need for changes for some games and during games). Amos, Gunter/Matthews, Innis, Famewo, Maatsen would indeed seem to pick itself, with Pearce, Oshilaja and Purrington the back-ups. Put in Aneke and Schwartz up front, Millar on the left wing, Williams/Smyth on the right (possibly Maddison too), and suddenly there are only two starting slots left, the central midfield pairing. The options would be Watson, Pratley, Forster-Caskey, Morgan, Gilbey, Shinnie, plus Maddison and Williams. At the moment Forster-Caskey is in pole position and, while I’d happily defer to LB and his team, my choice alongside him would be Shinnie, perhaps Watson. Tough on Watson and Pratley, but they would undoubtedly continue to be instrumental in and around the starting line-up, with no doubt further injuries and suspensions altering the available mix.

Of course, of my ideal X1 currently only seven are currently available to start (no Innis, Famewo, Shinnie or Schwartz). But on paper at least it looks to me like a team and squad more than capable of competing with the best this league can offer. May the pieces fall into place quickly, but before then we have Tuesday.


Saturday 16 January 2021

Another Mixed Bag, Including Positives

On the face of it we went into this one as underdogs, at least on the form guide. No win in five for us, another centre-half down to add to a lengthy list of the injured and unavailable, and with it unclear as yet whether scoring four against Rochdale was a sign of what’s to come, as the two new players bed in. Up against a side that had won three of their last four. What we enjoyed was a direct contrast with Tuesday as today both teams were unable to hit the proverbial barn door and a match we should have won reasonably comfortably ended up being decided by a fluke (read defensive howler, this time not from us). No matter, we took the positives from Rochdale and can do the same again today, even enjoying the funnier side, which today included a cameo from our new Dane which he will want to forget.

The side showed three changes from Rochdale, one enforced. According to Lee Bowyer the defence picked itself (which I’m not sure Purrington would agree with), with in front of Amos Gunter and Oshilaja the central pairing flanked by Mathews and Maatsen. Forster-Caskey seemed to be joined in central midfield by Morgan, in for Gilbey, with Williams and Millar in the wider positions, and up front Washington starting (as Smyth dropped to the bench) alongside Aneke, who having lasted the full match on Tuesday evening started again, with Schwartz presumably not yet fit enough to start one. It looked like a 4-4-2 but we’ve been fooled before.

The first half was rather a damp squib. We generally dominated, with Forster-Caskey and Morgan controlling their area, Maatsen and Millar looking good down the left, and created decent situations, without producing an effort on target. Aneke, who looked unstoppable against Rochdale and scored a couple, seemed to have morphed into his alter ego Bogle as he fluffed from inside the box a couple of times. Indeed, with Bristol’s forwards equally inept when the goal came into view, we were about 40 minutes into the game before either of the keepers was called into action, with another Bristol long ball taken down into our box but the shot well saved with his leg by Amos. That sparked a retort as at the other end Aneke forced a save from their keeper with a low shot, Williams putting the rebound over the bar.

At the break you felt that we ought to prove too strong for Bristol, too many weapons, but we hadn’t turned territorial advantage into goals. Also, although the defence was holding up, it was worrying that Bristol didn’t have to work hard to create their openings. Generally a long ball into an area was enough, whereas our good moments tended to be the result of much more intricate play. No matter, for a change we were not behind.

No changes made at half-time and the game continued much as before, with us having the upper hand but not making it pay. Before the hour Bristol made a change and apparently switched formation to a back five. Oshilaja picked up a yellow for a rash challenge and not long after the deadlock was broken, in bizarre fashion. Good work by Washington and Aneke resulted in a corner. Forster-Caskey stood over the ball with Millar on hand for a short one. Instead he then ran along the line towards the goal, the ball was clipped in towards him and next thing we knew it had curled into the net, with their guy on the near post and keeper seemingly blaming each other. It was unclear whether or not Millar had got a touch: the BBC credited him with it but the suspicion was that he had made no contact, a view perhaps not surprisingly reinforced after the match by Forster-Caskey.

The goal understandably changed the game as Bristol had to press forward, which did result in them creating opportunities but also left us space to exploit, which we did until it came to the point of putting the ball in the net. With about 20 minutes to go Bowyer made three changes, with Williams, Washington and Aneke giving way for Smyth, Schwartz and Bogle. Three changes of personnel but no change in formation.

Not long after Morgan picked up what proved a significant yellow with a pull back. Then Bogle intercepted and played in Smyth, who lost out due to a poor first touch, a Bogle flick almost found Schwartz, then a glorious chance for us to get some breathing space went begging. Smyth was found again down the right and he delivered a good low cross, which evaded the first guys but then was on a plate for the incoming Schwartz to tap into the net. He’d come on against Rochdale and curled in a screamer, but the fox in the box turned something else as he managed to get his feet in a tangle and instead of scoring tumbled over.

Would we regret that miss? Bogle almost worked his way through and then, with around five minutes left of normal time, as on Tuesday, we found ourselves down to 10 men. Morgan challenged late for a ball being cleared by their guy and his momentum brought a coming together, clumsy by Morgan rather than anything else but few complaints about the yellow card (and red) which followed.

Not surprisingly Bristol redoubled their efforts, while we withdrew Smyth to bring on Gilbey to take over in Morgan’s position. And Schwartz had another contribution to make to ensure the score stayed 1-0 as from a free kick Gunter’s shot appeared to be goal-bound only for the Dane to get in the way – and from an offside position. That meant we were still biting the nails into five minutes of stoppage time as Oshilaja made a crucial block inside the area. There was still time for Schwartz to play in Bogle for a one-on-one with the keeper, who saved, and for Bristol to put a free header in the box over the bar before what was, with hindsight, an entertaining second half was brought to a close.

Three points, the first clean sheet in ages. If we focused on the positives after a 4-4 draw with Rochdale we might as well again this time around and overlook the fact that a team with more quality in front of goal would have converted some of the chances they had, while we had the chances ourselves to have made the game safe well before the end. Still plenty of room for improvement and a tough test to come against Peterborough, with Morgan unavailable but Pratley presumably back, perhaps one or two of the injured list as well. Onwards and let’s make it upwards.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Really had just one outright shot to save, shortly before half-time, and did his job well; otherwise just a matter of dealing with crosses.

Matthews – 6/10. Decent enough. Didn’t feature as an attacking threat but can’t remember any poor moments.

Oshilaja – 7/10. Perhaps deserved an 8 as he made excellent interceptions and blocks, none more so than the one late on which probably prevented a goal. Still picked up a yellow for a rash tackle and feared he might repeat the exercise.

Gunter – 6/10. Filled in well enough. Might have got on the scoresheet too had it not been for his shot getting blocked.

Maatsen – 7/10. Undoubtedly gives us good options going forward, especially as he and Millar look as if they work well together.

Williams – 6/10. Worked hard and was involved in some of our good moments, but not strong in front of goal when half-chances came his way.

Forster-Caskey – 8/10. My man-of-the-match (and he got that vote from Steve Brown and Scott Minto afterwards too). Assured on the ball and competitive off it, seems clear he is benefiting from the run of games in his best position.

Morgan – 6/10. Has to be marked down for the poor decision to make the challenge that resulted in his dismissal. Otherwise he’d had a very good game at both ends of the pitch.

Millar – 7/10. Pretty effective, caused them problems all game, even assuming he doesn’t claim the goal.

Washington – 6/10. Some good moments but still the feeling that we’re not getting enough out of him, plus no real sign that he’s forming an effective partnership with another.

Aneke – 6/10. Still a handful but today started rather poorly and ended up not taking the chances that came his way.


Smyth – 7/10. Started with a poor touch in a good position but then gave us an outlet which might easily have produced another goal.

Schwartz – 5/10. Look, we’re excited he’s here, we loved his introduction against Rochdale, but today he missed a sitter and then got in the way of a shot probably going in.

Bogle – 6/10. Did good work but failed to convert the one-on-one to make the game safe.


Tuesday 12 January 2021

Might As Well Focus On The Positives

Perverse as it might sound, I was looking forward to tonight’s game, after having to sit out the Accrington Stanley match (just add no longer able to get a one-day Sky Sports pass in France to the never-ending list of adverse consequences of Brexit). Even though it was Rochdale. When we talk of Sunderland we always think Wembley, for Carlisle read promotion; but Rochdale always seems to conjure up desperate periods (in particular for me that freezing January 1973 night when a crowd of just over 5,000 was scattered around The Valley to watch King Arthur notch the only goal of the game).

Perhaps many went into tonight’s contest in that sort of mood, but I just wanted to enjoy a game of football, hopefully get a look at the two new players and some notion of how the next churn in personnel and formations might pan out, maybe even get to cheer a goal or two. Perhaps the past four games (and more if we’re being honest) have served to lower expectations as I think everyone knows that we have to be playing considerably better all over the pitch to have thoughts of promotion. Also, I wanted to see some signs that the players wanted to be out there, that they were enjoying themselves and ready to fight for each other. For sure a team (and a manager) not winning is usually miserable, but the spirit and commitment we showed against Portsmouth and Ipswich has gone missing of late and we need it back.

I’m not sure if I really enjoyed it but it undoubtedly had its moments and its positives, if there’s any hair left that hasn’t been torn out. Ship four in the first half, courtesy of a starting formation which failed miserably due to an awful match-up, then almost win it in the second thanks primarily to Aneke’s prowess, see Schwartz get off the mark with a beauty, share eight goals, then instead of the winner in the final five minutes or so we almost let it slip again after Pearce picked up a harsh second yellow for challenging for a ball that he surely had to go for. It was, as they say, a good game for the neutrals, although I’ve no idea what Bowyer will make of it. Hopefully like the rest of us he can see the funny side.

We knew we’d be missing Innis, Famewo, Doughty, Shinnie, Watson, Pratley and Maddison. So when the bench was added in not many missed out. The defence seemed to be unchanged, with in front of Amos Pearce and Oshilaja flanked by Gunter and Maatsen. The changes saw Williams in for Morgan and Aneke replacing Washington, which with Forster-Caskey and Gilbey retained along with Millar and Smyth suggested either a 4-4-2, with Williams and Millar in the wider positions, or a 4-3-3 with Millar and Smyth either side of Aneke.  Either way, with Millar, Smyth and Aneke starting and the bench including Bogle, Washington and Schwartz it didn’t look as though we would be prioritising defence.

I doubt that many would have guessed from the starting X1 that it would be a back five, with Maatsen and Smyth given the roles as wing-backs, in a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, whichever way you look at it. The only problem was that the set-up matched Smyth, who isn’t going to win many outright physical contests, against 6’ tall Germany-born and ex-Palace wide man Baah. Rochdale didn’t take long to realise that this was something they just might be able to exploit. Thirty minutes in and three goals later we changed formation.

We’d made a reasonable start but on 12 minutes Rochdale created an overlap down their left, with Smyth turned inside out. Ball into the edge of the area to an effectively unmarked guy who shot inside the far post. On 20 minutes Pearce was sidestepped by their guy, who played in another who also shot well to score. Another game, another two goals conceded. That seemed to annoy Aneke and he picked up the ball outside their area, powered into it, brushing aside attempted challenges, and slotted the ball under their keeper. But any hopes that this might mark the start of our comeback were dashed on the half-hour as Baah just skinned Smyth and scored again, the finish once more leaving Amos with no chance.

That prompted the formation change, to a back four and a 4-4-2, with Gunter moved to right-back and Smyth up front to partner Aneke. It would be wrong to suggest that Rochdale were less of a threat after that, but at least they had to work to create openings. Not Smyth’s fault, just placed in an impossible situation in an unfamiliar position and not given the help he needed.

Before the break we were back in it as a Forster-Caskey curling shot took an important deflection off a defender’s head and looped over their keeper. Right, you think, we have the initiative, Millar and Smyth causing problems for them and Aneke just far too powerful for them to hand. Instead Gilbey mistimes a tackle and emerges from the subsequent fracas with a yellow, to add to the one Pearce picked up for taking out one of their guys. Their guy lined up to shoot and did, firing it into the net where you assumed a wall would be in the way.

Down 2-4 at the interval but by no means out of the game as we’d shown we could score, had many more efforts on goal than Rochdale (culminating in one just before half-time that Williams blazed over the bar), if only they would stop scoring every time they had a shot. It could easily have been 5-5 at that stage.

Two changes were made, with Gilbey and Smyth replaced by Morgan and Schwartz. And it didn’t take long for us to pull one back. Aneke took the ball on, Schwartz played it out to Gunter on the right, and his cross was met in turn by Chucks to head in. Just a couple of minutes later we were level, with Schwartz opening his account for us with what was the pick of the evening’s goals. Gunter dispossessed their guy, Williams took it and played into Aneke, he laid it on for the Dane, who scored with confidence. 4-4 and still over 20 minutes left.

Rochdale not surprisingly appeared shell-shocked but did gradually get their way back into the contest, helped by Aneke seeming to tire. But with around five minutes of normal time left he almost grabbed the winner and a hat-trick. Millar ran the ball from within our half and played in Chucks, only for their keeper to turn his effort around the post. That was the closest we came as not long after Pearce picked up his second yellow for the challenge on their keeper and for five minutes of stoppage time we were hanging on again, relying on Amos to keep us level (which he did) and prompting the introduction in the final moments of Matthews for Millar.

The final BBC stats showed we had 21 shots to their 13, but both sides had seven on target. I think at the break Rochdale had had five efforts on goal and scored four. It was that sort of night. So we might as well take the positives and gloss over failing to beat a team at the wrong end of the table. You don’t often concede four and not lose.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 8/10. Don’t think any of the goals can be laid at his door, did effective work in the second half, especially late on with one turned around the post.

Smyth – 5/10. What mark do you give a forward/winger asked to fill in as a wing-back and go up against someone twice his size who would be a handful for any defender? Really not his fault, had 10 minutes up front then subbed at the break.

Gunter – 6/10. Should have been giving Smyth more help in his normal area in the first half, good second half and instrumental in us getting a point.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Some good challenges, seemed to read the game well. But we let in four and he sometimes looks as if he’s playing on the edge.

Pearce – 6/10. Not going to mark him down for the second yellow and red.

Maatsen – 6/10. Another who had a better second half, especially when he was able to link up with Millar going forward.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Much of what we did revolved around him, got a goal (might have been deflected but you have to buy the ticket), but in the first half especially Rochdale were able to run through and beyond our midfield.

Gilbey – 5/10. Difficult game for him, also culpable for our being overrun too often, gave away the foul for their fourth, subbed at the break.

Williams – 6/10. Was influential but didn’t make a decisive contribution going forward and blazed a good chance over the bar.

Millar – 7/10. Not a lot worked for him in the first half but he persisted and was more effective in the second. Clearly is going to give us a good attacking option.

Aneke – 9/10.  Scored two, could have had another couple, and even managed to last the full game. They couldn’t cope with him.


Morgan – 7/10. More influential than in recent games, better performance, did pick up a petulant yellow for dissent.

Schwartz – 8/10. Have to love the way he took his goal, also some intelligent approach play and crafty use of the body to block opponents but not give away free kicks. Good start.

Washington – 6/10. Only on for 15 minutes and half of those we were down to 10 men.

Matthews – Only on for the final minute.

Saturday 2 January 2021

Back To The Drawing Board, With A Couple Less Pencils

Whereas ahead of some recent games the focus was as much on the performance and evidence of progress as the actual result, I think this time around it was a case of win by any means or at least avoid defeat against an assumed rival for a promotion spot, with keeping a clean sheet high on the list of priorities. We were aware that Hull’s plans for the game had been disrupted by Covid-19, although to what extent was unclear, and that three defeats and a draw in their last four games – which had seen them fall back from being potential runaway leaders to third place - meant that their confidence might have taken a knock.

That was the preamble. What happened was another disappointment to say the least. With a square pegs and round holes approach we struggled in the first half to put together anything coherent, looking dangerous only from set pieces and having perhaps just one opportunity to score, when a knock-down was followed by a Bogle air-shot. At the same time we conceded the first goal again and might have let in more. We changed formation at the break and looked more coherent for a while, only to go down to 10 men on the hour, when it seems a rather petulant flick out by Pratley was interpreted as violent play. Going behind had made it an uphill struggle, going down to 10 made it a mountain to climb, and when we went 2-0 down around 15 minutes to go that became whatever the next stage of difficulty is. The remainder of the game was irrelevant.

The team showed only two changes from Plymouth, one of which was enforced, with Aneke’s suspension meaning a start for Bogle alongside Washington up front. The other switch was Williams dropping down to the bench for Morgan, which with Maddison also not starting pointed to a traditional 4-4-2 rather than a diamond, with Gunter, Pearce, Pratley and Matthews in front of Amos, Watson and Forster-Caskey in central midfield and Morgan and Maatsen in the wider berths.

The major incident in the opening period was an injury to Watson, looked like a hamstring, before 10 minutes were up. He was replaced by Gilbey. No change of formation but just a little more uncertainty perhaps over just who would do what, with already Matthews and Maatsen playing on their unfamiliar sides and Pratley continuing his enforced impression of a centre-back. Hull were pretty content to allow us to keep possession but adept at ensuring that nothing resulted from it, with too many wayward passes and insufficient movement to create space.

Hull’s attacks carried much more threat and it was no surprise that they took the lead before 20 minutes were up. For some reason there was a gaping hole where Gunter was supposed to be and a ball forward found their guy in space. Pratley went to him but when the cross was made it deflected to hit Amos and bounced out to another of theirs, who was left with a tap-in.

It could have been worse soon after as Hull executed a training ground free kick. A short square pass seemed odd but their guy curled in the cross and as our defenders were running out their guys were running in. A free header should have been converted by was directed straight at Amos. Up to then we had only a couple of Pearce headers to show for our efforts, but from another set-piece he this time nodded down, presenting Bogle with the opportunity to smash the ball into the net. His leg did swing but the foot connected with nothing. The commentators suggested a bobble. Perhaps.

Before the break Hull came close to a second as Pratley missed a through ball, only for their guy to blaze over. And we had some curious behaviour by the ref around yet another set piece, which saw him consult with players, talk to captains, then run over to the touchline for a conversation with the two managers. Heaven only knows what the problem was, or what was said. But the incident led to more confusion as first we appealed for a penalty as their keeper punched clear, only for Pratley to be flattened outside the box. It was all getting rather fractious and frustrating, not least as Hull insisted on kicking the ball away every time a decision went against them but the ref did nothing to stop it.

We needed to change things at the break and did. Bogle was replaced by Smyth but more important we switched to a back five, with Matthews and Maatsen moved back to their normal sides to form the wing-backs, Gunter, Pearce and Pratley as a central three. Add in a little more focus and determination and in the early exchanges in the second half we looked more coherent and in better control.

On the hour Williams came on for Morgan, getting the nod over Maddision to provide more of a forward threat behind the front two. We didn’t get the chance to find out if that would work as a few minutes later we were down to 10 men. Williams appeared to be fouled but the ref clearly felt he was looking for a decision and when he picked the ball up that decision was a free-kick for Hull. Harsh but so what? Until it seemed the linesman drew the ref’s attention to something that Pratley said or did. First impressions were some comment out of place, later it seems that their guy stopped and caused a collision, prompting Pratley to flick out a boot at him.

With hindsight that was really the game done then. We switched back to a back four, with Gunter and Pearce the central two. But what forward threat we had evaporated and before we could think about a final onslaught to get a point against the odds Hull scored again. A run across our defence looked offside but nothing was given. The guy’s cross was headed against the bar but the rebound was played to another who fired in.

All that remained to be decided was whether we would manage to keep 10 on the pitch as Pearce picked up a yellow for complaining when Hull kicked the ball away yet again, while Forster-Caskey saw yellow for a pull-back and then missed an attempted clearance and connected instead with a Hull player. Could easily have been interpreted as a second yellow.

Clearly there’s going to have to be some honest talking in the dressing room as we came up short again today. For Friday’s game we will get Aneke back but will presumably lose Watson and Pratley, while there will be considerable debate about formations, how to get the best out of the squad we have, and what changes to that squad might be coming now the transfer window is open. It isn’t rocket science to point out that since losing the services of Innis and Famewo we have struggled as a team and basically ship too many goals. This was a hard game to take any positives from, plenty for Bowyer and Jackson to be working on.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Really had very little to do, unlucky with their first, no chance with their second.

Gunter – 6/10. I don’t know where he went to for their first goal but it was a big hole. Otherwise no problems whether at full-back or centre-back.

Pearce – 7/10. Wholehearted as usual and played pretty well.

Pratley – 5/10. Can’t be definitive about the sending off but he gave an inept ref a decision to make and going down to 10 cost us any chance of getting something from the game.

Matthews – 6/10. Please let this be the last game to have him starting on the left side. Not his fault, but everything looked laboured when he was that side – and for the brief spell as a wing-back on the right he looked far more comfortable and effective.

Watson – Can’t give a mark as he was injured before 10 minutes were up. Have to assume he’ll be missing for a few weeks and that is going to be a big loss.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Some erratic passing in the first half but generally one of our more effective performers, especially as he wasn’t asked to play in a wider role.

Morgan – 6/10. Not especially effective in the first half out wide or closer in for a while in the second, struggled to have an impact on the game.

Maatsen – 6/10. Three positions for him during the game, not an easy one to find space in.

Washington – 6/10. Some good movement and intelligent runs but ultimately didn’t cause their defence too many problems.

Bogle – 5/10. Poor half, missed our only decent chance of the game.


Gilbey – 6/10. Not a bad game but wasn’t able to create much.

Smyth – 5/10. Not easy for him as not long after his introduction we were down to 10 men.

Williams – 5/10. Much the same, we didn’t get the chance to find out if he could have turned the game.