Sunday 28 March 2021

Getting To The Wire

Hope everyone else has got over the two points wasted against Wimbledon; can’t say I have, given how important they could prove. With the others having played a game or two since, and ahead of the potentially crucial next game at Doncaster, there’s the opportunity to update where we are projected to finish on points-per-game basis and what might be required to nick a play-off place.

With nine games left for us we can forget about the top three. Hull, Peterborough and Sunderland have established a clear gap from the rest and are on course to rack up around 85 points for the full season (for the record PPG currently points to Hull being the team to miss out, but it’s very close). One of the three might fall away, but if anything it’s more likely that the close race between the three will end up going to the wire and that will mean a massive incentive (and pressure) on these three to win every game. The fact that we still have to play these three is not to our advantage as even if we beat them we are not going to catch them. Just means that to achieve our objective we will need to get good results against the teams currently going for automatic promotion.

PPG currently points to Lincoln finishing fourth, on 77 points. We do of course play them too. At the moment Blackpool, Doncaster and Portsmouth are the favourites to take the next three places, each on course for 74/75 points, with one of the three missing out (marginally that’s Portsmouth right now). Then there’s a gap to Ipswich, on a projected 70 points, then just behind us and Oxford on 69/70. Accrington and Fleetwood have fallen away and, although Gillingham might go above us in the league today, they would remain below us on a PPG basis (and quite frankly if we end up below Gillingham we will not be in the top six).

Now of course everything will change with each game, but it’s indicative that while there are three competing for the top two spots there are also three grouped together for the final two play-off places. They too will be going toe-to-toe to the end and they, plus Ipswich, are the teams we really want to be playing (and beating) now, not the top three. We do still play Doncaster, Lincoln and Ipswich. They are games we quite probably simply have to win if we are to close the current gap.

It still looks as though the target to make a play-off place is 75 points or thereabouts. For us that would mean 19 points in 9 games, including six against teams above us. So, win the three ‘6-pointers’ (Doncaster, Lincoln and Ipswich), win the three against lower opposition (Plymouth, Crewe and Accrington), and look to get results against the top three. It is a very tough task now (and an impartial observer would probably point to the four points we dropped recently - with the last-gasp penalty against Oxford and the failure to put away Wimbledon when we had the beating of them – as crucial).

Of course we take it one game at a time, can’t do anything else, and of course the picture will change. We hope that Adkins will be working some magic on the training ground and firming up his thoughts on team selection and formation as we do have to play better than of late. That may sound harsh as in March we’re unbeaten in six with three wins and three draws. We managed that against moderate opposition, we now have to replicate the results against better teams. That said, if we continue with the ‘win, draw, win, draw’ sequence to the end of the season we would end up with exactly 75 points. Simples.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Two Points Thrown Away - And Not By Howler

All the thoughts about the start of a new era, the desire to play attacking football, and long-term visions and goals at least for me disappeared today. We needed to win, nothing less, hopefully beautifully but ugly would be perfectly acceptable too, to go into our two-week break, before the potentially key game away at Doncaster, having done what we can to put the pressure on others. That meant I really didn’t care whether that meant adopting a defensive approach to the game or going all-out attack, the result was all.

We didn’t get the result we wanted, although we ended up getting one we didn’t deserve, which isn’t overlooking the fact that their equaliser was obviously a howler (and their first was pretty bad). Having been the better side in the first half, despite having to make a formation change early in the game due to Washington’s injury, we contrived to make further adjustments, both in formation and then with substitutions, which progressively removed our attacking threat and left us disjointed. Yes, Wimbledon deserve credit for their second half performance; yes, tiredness may have played a part; but I don’t think I’ve been more angry this season as we threw away two badly needed points.

In the event Adkins (and we assume he was either picking the team or giving Jackson’s choices a seal of approval) opted for the same starting X1 and subs bench as Tuesday night. So it would be 4-4-2,  Pearce and Famewo in central defence, flanked by Gunter and Maatsen, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie in central midfield, with Morgan and Millar out wide, and Stockley and Washington continuing up front.

Wimbledon started the brighter of the two sides, and after a couple of minutes Washington chased a ball out and seemed to pull a hamstring. He initially managed to continue but was soon on the deck and, although able to walk off, his afternoon was over. It was initially surprising that instead of either Aneke or Schwartz coming on, to keep a front two, Jaiyesimi got the nod. He took up his position wide right, with Millar on the other flank, Forster-Caskey and Shinnie together and Morgan moving to play in the hole, behind Stockley on his own up front.

That change worked, as through the first half we were the better team, decent in possession, created chances, and scored two goals. Our first, on 10 minutes, did have an element of good fortune. Amos hit the ball out and seemed to rather scuff it, but it fell nicely to Morgan, in a position that he wouldn’t have been in were it not for the formation change. He controlled it and played it wide left to Millar, who took on the full-back and crossed from the by-line, and the ball found its way into the net. My first reaction was an own goal, but it seems somehow Stockley managed to twist his body to make the decisive connection. Lucky beginning but after that good play all round.

We didn’t lead for long as defensive frailties reared their ugly head. Millar lost the ball but as Wimbledon played the ball forward to Pigott both Famewo and Pearce converged on him but neither got the ball, which was moved on to their guy, who cut back inside Gunter and hit the shot across Amos and into the far corner. Both centre-backs taken out of the play going for the same ball. Has happened before and it cost us again today.

Nevertheless, after 20 minutes we were back in front. Again it came from down the left, with Millar once more teasing their full-back and squaring it to find Jaiyesimi in space. He took a touch then struck it cleanly into the net.

For the rest of the second half we were on top without extending the lead. Shots came in, from Millar, Morgan and Shinnie. But for some reason we did seem to change the formation again, with Millar seeming to move alongside Stockley, Morgan moving wider right, Shinnie on the left, and Jaiyesimi playing in the hole. Just why Millar – who had laid on our two goals and clearly had the beating of their guy – was moved is a mystery to me. Might have been a case of trying something a little different for a while, but the only person who welcomed the change was their full-back.

At the break it felt like a bad game not to win, but with the suspicion that we would probably need to score again to win. After all, Wimbledon weren’t going to give up tamely if just one behind in the final stages of the game.

As at the start of the game Wimbledon were brighter at the start of the second period, but we seemed to have weathered that. Indeed, Shinnie came close to extending the lead with a lovely piece of skill to create the space for a shot which went just wide. We did nevertheless seem a little unsure whether to be pressing for a third or trying to keep the game tight. In any event the game changed, for the worse, after 65 minutes. We’d tried playing out from Amos early in the second half and nearly came a cropper. This time it was played square to Famewo, who tapped it back towards Amos and ended up gifting it to their guy to put it into an empty net from close range. It was a horrible mistake, also one that seemed to unsettle Famewo for the rest of the game (should take a leaf out of Nabby Sarr’s book, these things happen, get on with it).

Now we had to win the game again. Plenty of time left to do that. On 67 minutes it was time for Chuks, the problem being how to accommodate him. Millar was the one to give way, which removed a major attacking threat. By now Wimbledon had their tails up and were starting to create real opportunities. A ball into Pigott saw him take it a little wide but still take the short from a narrow angle, which rebounded off the post.

On 77 minutes we made a double-substitution. Pratley and Schwartz were introduced, with substitute Jaiyesimi withdrawn along with Morgan. This meant Aneke dropping deeper. Now I cannot for the life of me understand why you bring on a guy like Chuks to play as a second forward and just 10 minutes later tell him to drop into midfield to accommodate a different second forward. You might argue that it was a way to get all three forwards on the pitch (and as Aneke was to hit the post at the death that is a fair argument), but it left Aneke like a fish out of water (and looking out of sorts as he picked up another yellow) and us with no wide players, having pulled them apart when we played with two.

Shortly after Wimbledon had a shot blocked but then drew a foul on the edge of our area, inside the D. Pigott curled it over the wall and down, but Amos diving to his right dived well to make the save and keep us level. We were hanging on, although into three minutes of stoppage time and Aneke almost won the game – and break Wimbledon hearts – as he took the ball on in the box and shot hard only to hit the near post.

On the balance of play you might argue that a draw was a fair result, with us the better side in the first half and Wimbledon in the second. Wimbledon would point to the fact that having levelled they were by far the more likely to win the game; we would highlight that both their goals were defensive mistakes. The bottom line is that through unenforced formation changes we became less effective as the game went on. We had the beating of them, only to stop doing what had put us in that position. I’m left scratching my head exactly why and angry over what it led to, two points thrown away. Sure Famewo will take some flack for the error, but that doesn’t tell the real story.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. One excellent save, good takes for crosses, not really his fault for their second but was obviously involved.

Gunter – 7/10. Decent game I thought, might have been tighter on their guy for their first goal but otherwise sound, even if he must have been confused just who was playing in front of him.

Pearce – 6/10. Lots of good stuff, but suspect for their first goal he was again chasing a ball that wasn’t his – and didn’t get there.

Famewo – 5/10. The poor mark isn’t really for the mistake, it’s for the reaction to it. Yes, you just cost us a goal; it happens, move on. Instead he seemed unsettled for the rest of the game, and did have his hands full with Pigott.

Maatsen – 6/10. Not a bad game, stuck to the task.

Morgan – 7/10. Looked effective when moved early in the game to play in the hole, shifted wide right, substituted.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Kept things ticking over in a bright first half, less effective in the second as we changed shape.

Shinnie – 7/10. Another who played his part in the first half and faded in the second as we lost control of the game.

Millar – 7/10. Someone, one day, will explain to me why a guy who sets up two goals and has his opposite number on toast is asked to change position and ends up getting substituted.

Stockley – 7/10. Gets an extra mark for the goal, I’ve still no idea how he scored. Otherwise worked hard but found it tough going.

Washington – No mark, only on the pitch for a few minutes.


Jaiyesimi – 7/10. Played well when played in his usual position, found space well in the box and took his chance calmly. Was later moved around and substituted.

Aneke – 7/10. Not his fault he was asked to play in midfield having come on as a second forward. Almost won the game at the death.

Pratley – 7/10. No complaints, came on and did a job.

Schwartz – 5/10. Came on and didn’t do a job.


Friday 19 March 2021

Win Then Put The Feet Up

And so it begins, the Nigel Adkins era. We all hope it will be one of the most glorious in our history and he has the goodwill and support of all Addicks for sure. By any reckoning, and irrespective of whether it is the choice we would have made, it is at the least a decent appointment and may prove much more than that. Thankfully, the process has been concluded quickly as there is work to be done and really either Johnnie Jackson needed to be given the job for the rest of the season ahead of tomorrow’s game or someone else appointed, otherwise the uncertainty would have taken its toll, however professional the attitude of the players. Also positive, so far at least there’s no indication that JJ will be joining Lee Bowyer at Birmingham.

So all we need is Adkins and Jackson to get them up for it and make the right selections to get a victory tomorrow. No disrespect to Wimbledon intended, just that we need the points (I appreciate they do too). A win would set things up nicely as with no game then until 2 April we can if not put our feet up at least sit back and watch the others drop points, see how we’re placed by the time we go to Doncaster for what could be a vital game.

I know no more about Adkins’ capabilities and strengths than the next football fan, while his track record can be given either a positive or a negative slant. He has dropped out of the football limelight since leaving Hull, but seems to be making the right noises and seems to be itching to be back.

I was pleased that when discussing the development of young players through the academy he stressed balance, the need to also have experienced pros alongside them. Yes, we love it when a player emerges from the youth ranks into the first team – and hopefully now under Thomas Sandgaard we can enjoy it more, as there’s a better chance that a rising star won’t be flogged off to the first bidder. But it’s not the primary goal. If there was a moment when there really was no way back for Duchatelet and Meire it was when, having had to ditch the network ‘vision’, they came up with the great selling point of us being able to see the Premiership stars of the future.

Our club does not exist to produce young players, it develops young players because it makes good sense for us to do so and (we hope) contributes to the real goal of moving up the football league. And while ‘one of our own’ succeeding is always a plus, I really didn’t care that Super Clive never went through our academy or couldn’t speak English.

As for Adkins being excited by TS’ vision, I just never knew that I too had an ‘exciting long-term vision’. I thought it was just natural to want the team you support to be competing at the top level, especially as we have had a taste of it. Seems the only difference between my vision and that of TS is that mine involved us being there right now, or tomorrow at the latest.

Nobody is going to judge Adkins on whether or not we make the play-offs this season. The odds are against this – although it does mean a ‘no-lose’ for him as we do have a realistic chance. If we fall short, so be it, we regroup and see how the squad is reshaped for the next campaign, with Adkins able to make his mark in that process. That is all for the future, for this season much depends on us hitting the ground running under the new man with the right result tomorrow.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Updated Sums, Hope Springs Eternal

For those looking for some quantification, however subjective, of our chances of making the play-offs, an updated points per game and projected points total, after what has been a far from perfect but largely successful March (three wins and two draws out of five), sees us currently sitting in 10th place. A projected points total of 70.3 would see us fall short of sixth by three points. For the record, on this basis Peterborough and Hull take the automatic promotion places, while Sunderland, Lincoln, Doncaster and Ipswich (in that order) go into the play-offs.

For sure the end-result is going to be different from that, too many games to be played and too many permutations for any confident forecasts. But the main conclusion has to be that to date in March we have managed to keep ourselves in the picture, averaging a touch more than the two points per game we probably need to make the top six. Now with the exception of Oxford (and that penalty) this has been against teams in the lower half of the table. If we are going to keep going what can now be called a run we are going to need to up the performance levels as we come up against the better teams. Last night, for example, in 10 minutes we might have let in four goals, did let in two, and against better opposition it could have been game over.

Given that we have a gap to close to make the top six, it might be thought that it’s an advantage to be playing a number of the teams above and around us in our final 10 games. We still have to play Doncaster, Lincoln, Sunderland, Ipswich, Peterborough and Hull. But that’s not really the case. Unless we go on an entirely unlikely blistering run and beat all-comers we are not going to make the top two, or the top four. So playing the top four only means we will be up against good teams (for this division), at least on paper making the task of getting the points more difficult. Really we want to be playing the others in contention for the final play-off spot, to close the gap, and otherwise weak teams to (hopefully) rack up the points.

In that context the games against Doncaster and especially Ipswich loom large. Goes without saying we first need to take care of business against Wimbledon on Saturday, after which we can put our feet up and (hopefully) watch some of the others drop points. (I’m not sure but if the game against Crewe scheduled for 27 March is postponed due to internationals – a fellow Addick tells me it is but the club site and others are still showing it as going ahead – we don’t play again until 2 April.)

After 30 minutes of the game last night we would all have written off any lingering thoughts of the play-offs and instead turn attention to TS’ decision over our next manager. Now surely he has a dilemma. As long as the play-offs and promotion are a realistic possibility, which they are (still well short of an even bet), does he want to risk bringing in a new man or stick with JJ to the end of the season? I’m not persuaded there would be a ‘new manager bounce’; it might work in the Premiership, but why would you get one with 10 games left and the team reliant on loan players? Not questioning their professionalism but why would they go the extra mile for a new manager in such circumstances, whereas they played for Jackson last night.

Much depends I guess on whether TS already knows who he wants and whether that person might not be available for long. If that’s not the case, surely the best decision is to confirm Jackson for the remainder of the season – assuming of course that he doesn’t get an offer to join Lee Bowyer at Birmingham and accepts it. With Curbs as either formal or informal mentor, gives us the best chance I think of giving it a real go.

Not sure anything meaningful can be gleaned from the betting on who will be our next manager. Obviously most if not all have Jackson as favourite, while the odds on Michael Laudrup shortened quickly and Skybet, unlike others, has Nigel Adkins as joint favourite. Looks like Curbs and Chris Wilder have drifted out, perhaps on the basis that if it was to be either there would have been a quick announcement, perhaps just because nobody’s putting money on them. Nothing to do but wait.


Tuesday 16 March 2021

Game Of Fluctuating Emotions

On Saturday evening, after our failure to beat Shrewsbury, this game was looking like a must-win, to give a return of 7 points out of 9 from the group of three home games. With the departure of Lee Bowyer to pastures new, it took on a different hue. Would Johnnie Jackson join the ranks of those with a 100% record while in charge of Charlton, or lay a claim to getting the job at least until the end of the season? Would his team selection mark any departure from what had gone before (‘oh Johnnie Jackson, he picks the team for me’)? And would the players be revitalised or no longer give a monkey’s, given that it was hard not to interpret Bowyer’s resignation as at least in part an acceptance that this season we are highly likely to fall short? No definitive answers of course, but it proved to be a game of outrageous swings of fortune as we turned self-inflicted chaos into a deserved victory.

The team selection was in one sense not revolutionary, with two changes from Saturday, but read another way it was, as for I suspect the first time this season we would be starting without either Watson or Pratley. Whether this was down to an assessment of the opposition or JJ taking a different line from his predecessor is an open question. So the defence was unchanged (Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Famewo, Maatsen), as was the front two (Stockley, Washington), while in midfield Forster-Caskey returned after his rest. But while Millar and Morgan kept their places as the wider options Shinnie was brought in to start, with Watson and Pratley on the bench.

Rather than trying to outline the major incidents, perhaps the game is best summed up by how we all felt at key points along the way:

15 mins – Reasonably relaxed. Fairly even start to the game, both teams finding their feet, but we just had a decent move which almost had Millar clear, put behind for a corner.

20 mins – Angry. Opposition needlessly given a head start, another home game to chase. There was danger in our box, but just why Maatsen decided that it might be OK to barge a player over with no chance of getting near the ball is a mystery. Clear penalty, guy sends Amos the wrong way.

30 mins – Laugh or cry? We’d just conceded a second goal after two close shaves as Bristol Rovers took us apart. A fairly aimless ball forward by them prompted an audacious attempt to chip Amos from close to the touchline, the ball beating him but falling just wide. Then it was Amos to the rescue as a one-two put their guy through in the box, only for Amos to stick out a leg for the save. Then it was saint to sinner as their guy advanced but was a long way out when he tried a speculative thump. Amos presumably read it off the foot and its initial trajectory as he ended up diving to his left and being beaten by a ball which ended up in the centre of the net. If he’d stood still it would probably have hit him. Now at this point you wondered if the players would just throw in the towel and whether the rest of the game would descent into black farce, as against Blackpool.

40 mins – Cheered up. Glory be, we had levelled it. First, and crucially, we got one back just a couple of minutes after falling two behind. A cross from the left was half-cleared and Shinnie controlled on his chest then hit a great shot on the half-volley into the corner of the net. Then Stockley challenged for a high ball on the edge of the area and went down in a heap, inviting the referee to give him the decision, which he did. Forster-Caskey and Morgan shaped up to go either side and it was the former who dinked it over the wall and into the net.

45 mins – Anticipation. At the break it felt like we’d dug ourselves out of a very big hole, albeit one we had largely created with a couple of costly mistakes. Having done that, could we go on and win the game?

97 mins – Content. Whether as a result of our efforts or, as Steve Brown suspected, Bristol Rovers running out of steam, we dominated the second half. There was the fear that at 2-2 we would be robbed by some last-minute deflected effort, but Rovers never once threatened, or at least not until the final minute when their substitute goalkeeper – who’d come on after their keeper had been sent off in stoppage time for a challenge on Aneke outside the box, Chuks bravely going for a high ball and taking the hit – went up for a last-gasp free kick for a foul committed by Aneke.

Through the second half it really was a question of whether we could get the winner. Maatsen and Millar down the left had set up Washington, who tried to place it but with no power. Jaiyesimi then replaced Millar (who did not look happy at the decision) on the hour and caused them some problems, while Washington was increasingly getting joy running the channels. Aneke came on for Stockley with about 20 minutes of normal time left and with less than 10 to go the goal came, albeit curtesy of some good fortune. A long ball forward saw Aneke challenge and Washington run beyond. The ball did indeed get flicked on for him, but he looked well offside. In fact it had come off their defender. If Aneke had won the header Washington would surely have been flagged, but instead he managed to poke the ball past their keeper. It came back off the post but he kept running to knock in the rebound.

After that, aside from Morgan getting a yellow (Shinnie had one earlier), Pratley coming on for Shinnie as we entered stoppage time, some pretty poor attempts at taking the ball to the corner flag, then their keeper getting the red, the game blessedly passed without serious incident at our end.

So after 30 minutes we were ready for the beach (if that’s allowed by the time summer comes), after 97 we were back looking at other scores, where we stood in the table, and where we might reasonably sit allowing for others’ games in hand. With hindsight, as Curbs pointed out, the key moment was Shinnie getting one back shortly after we went two down. Without that the picture might look very different now. Instead JJ was able to laud the players’ character and determination and bask in the glory of that 100% record. Bring on Saturday and let’s see if we can indeed make a fight of it.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 6/10. He hasn’t made many mistakes this season but the one tonight was a bad one, unless it proves there was some deflection on the shot. Afraid to say that this did overshadow the excellent save that had kept the score to 0-1 shortly before.

Gunter – 6/10. Nothing exceptional at either end I can remember, but kept going and played his part.

Pearce – 8/10. Another good game, full of commitment.

Famewo – 8/10. Equally impressive.

Maatsen – 6/10. Leave aside the penalty he gave away and the mark would undoubtedly be higher as he put in good work at both ends. But how can you? It was a daft piece of defending that cost us a goal, could have cost us the game.

Morgan – 6/10. At half-time remember thinking he’d passed backwards just about every time he’d received the ball. But he had a better second half.

Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Worked hard, generally at the heart of our efforts, scored a good goal. No question we work better as a team when he’s fit and playing.

Shinnie – 7/10. Generally good stuff, also scored the crucial goal to get us back in the game. But really struggled with his delivery from corners in particular, we ended up wasting a lot.

Millar – 5/10. He might not have liked being taken off but it was clear he was struggling and, while always looking a threat, not making good decisions in good positions.

Stockley – 6/10. Worked hard, but struggled to have a real impact on the game, unless you count winning the free kick for our second. Would have been more of a threat if we could have put in some decent crosses into the box for him.

Washington – 8/10. What a difference a little confidence can make! He’s scoring goals and his all-round play is a notch better than before, making good runs and holding it up well. And when fortune smiles you end up latching onto a ball from potentially an offside position, poking it goalwards and it rebounding off the post back into your path. Sometimes you make your own luck.


Jaiyesimi – 6/10. Made a nuisance of himself but not able to make a decisive contribution.

Aneke – 7/10. A handful as ever, bravely put himself in the firing line to draw the foul that had their keeper sent off.

Pratley – Not on long enough for a mark, but did manage to avoid a card.

Monday 15 March 2021

An Exit With All Good Wishes

At the time of writing it wasn’t entirely clear whether Lee Bowyer jumped, was pushed, or jumped ahead of expecting to be pushed. It is reasonable to infer that as there was no club statement ready to be released, the news of his departure was not known in advance by Thomas Sandgaard, so a de facto sacking looks unlikely. More information will no doubt come to light, including whether the rumours of problems with some of the recent club appointments are true, whether if Bowyer goes to Birmingham as speculated he was tapped up, and of course who will take over, whether or not immediately.

My abiding feeling is one of sadness, that Bowyer was unable to overcome the many obstacles that stood between us and promotion this season. Such a departure is a reflection of failure. Whether anyone else could have succeeded is a moot point; equally it’s daft to suggest that his leaving was in any way inevitable. It matter little whether or not he’s lost this dressing room as come next season there will be an entirely new one. The only issues are whether TS felt he was the right man to oversee the restructuring of the team, whether Bowyer himself wanted that task, and related to that whether he has indeed another job lined up.

I don’t much care either that Bowyer took decisions on team selection, formation, substitutions etc that didn’t pay off. No manager can claim perfection on those fronts. What was far more important was whether he was learning from the experience. If a surgeon is about to operate on me the last thing I want to hear from him/her is ‘I’ve never made a mistake’; I’d much rather hear ‘I got this wrong and know why, never happened again’. We will now never know how he would have progressed with us, I hope he flourishes elsewhere (or has a great time back with the fish in la belle France).

At the very least Bowyer saw us through an exceptionally difficult period and gave us a fabulous day at Wembley. When the spivs claimed the left our club in better shape than they found it the claim was dubious; nobody can question that we are in a much better condition now than when Bowyer took over, even if we are still in the same bloody division. He contributed significantly to the revitalisation of the fans’ mood, once Duchatelet had been pushed into a back-seat role, and displayed a maturity that must still make those of us who remember him coming into the team as a scruffy (but very good) urchin chuckle. We will I’m sure always be grateful.

On the question of who next the only immediate option to speculate on is whether Curbs is a possible. If he is (wants the job, terms acceptable etc), I think it is a no-brainer, with the right support (and Curbs was always good at picking a No.2, if Johnnie Jackson departs and/or not felt to be the right guy). At the least I hope there’s a conversation.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Could Have Been Worse

Having won the first of three home games on Tuesday night, you felt four points from today and next Tuesday would be the minimum requirement, with six obviously welcome. But I did have a sense of foreboding that today’s game might not be a classic as walking across Blackheath in the morning there was a veritable gale blowing, while not long before the game we had a hailstorm. And it wasn’t a classic, or a win.

It might have been better, could easily have been worse as having gone behind in the second half we missed the first opportunity to level things but took the next, only to almost blow it in the final five minutes as the substitutions to chase the game and try to win it left us unbalanced and we coughed up three good chances. In the end a draw was a fair result, Shrewsbury may well feel they deserved all three as for much of the game they did a job on us.

The team showed only one actual change of personnel, with Forster-Caskey not fully fit and/or in need of a breather Famewo came in, giving a back four in front of Amos of Gunter, Pearce, Famewo and Maatsen, with Pratley moving out of central defence and into central midfield alongside Watson, getting the nod for that role over Shinnie or Morgan. It meant an experienced/aged midfield pairing, with Bowyer taking the ‘tried and trusted’ option and the emphasis on keeping it tight, but it wasn’t going to be a day for too much creativity and nice passing. Millar and Morgan were retained in the wide position, athough which one on which side remained to be seen (in the event Millar was on the left), while Stockley and Washington continued up front.

Shrewsbury had the best of the first 10 minutes, with their rather fluid formation causing us problems and us proving rather slow out of the traps with misplaced passes. But that period didn’t last and we slowly got more of a grip on the game, pushing them back and dominating possession. With Shrewsbury happy to drop quickly behind the ball it was clearly going to be a struggle to break them down, but we’d seen the same in midweek and then patience was eventually rewarded, so there was no reason to panic.

In truth in the first half we had some decent positions but only one real chance. Just after the half-hour Maatsen got forward down the left and squared the ball for Stockley in space. He tried to place the shot but was probably too careful with it and the keeper saved comfortably. Better placement or a full-bloodied wellie and we might have been ahead. There was one unsettling moment at our end as a cross from the left saw Amos come out for it and try to punch, only to connect with their guy’s head. He’d already got his head to the ball and it was going wide, but you felt that if he’d missed the ball there would have been a fair shout for a penalty. Otherwise the only real point of note in the first half was Pratley picking up a yellow for pulling back one of their guys, which raised the spectre of another red.

At the break we can’t say we were unfortunate not to be ahead as we’d only created one real chance and not taken it. We had after the first 10 minutes nullified Shrewsbury as an attacking threat, but their ambitions in that area had in any event been limited. On top but yet to turn that into goals, again all very reminiscent of Tuesday night. Just needed one of their defenders to clatter into one of us and give away a penalty and all would be well.

As at the start of the game we began the second half rather sluggishly, with Shrewsbury more prominent in our half. We picked up another yellow as Maatsen tracked a guy back a long way and was judged to have fouled him. The free kick was notable, for providing the best laugh of the afternoon. It was a long way out, noted at the time the guy can’t shoot from there. But he did, only that it was more with the instep than hitting through the ball, was hit to the centre of the goal, and from 30 yards or so it ended up as more of a back pass to Amos than an attempt on goal.

More worrying, on 55 minutes the game changed as for once we went to sleep and the back and Shrewsbury took advantage. One of theirs had the ball on the right side and was put under no pressure at all, no challenge. He looked up and to be fair put in an excellent cross. It eluded both our centre backs and their guy seemed to have run away from Gunter. He ended up placing his header into the net from close range. A collective defensive mistake rather than anyone making a howler.

That did throw us and for some minutes Shrewsbury looked like they could add a second, understandably getting a lift. And just after the hour Bowyer rang the changes, to personnel and formation, with Pratley, Millar and Stockley replaced by Shinnie, Smith and Aneke. That involved a change to a midfield diamond, with Watson at the base flanked by Shinnie and Morgan and Smith at the point.

For a while we struggled to get used to the new set-up, but as we did we went on to create the opening that should have seen us draw level. Nothing too complicated but Washington played the ball in from the right side and it found Aneke with the goal gaping. He put too much on it and, as in a previous game, instead of finding the net came crashing back off the bar. Hitting the bar is still a miss; and this was a bad one in a game of few clear-cut chances.

There was a nasty feeling that that could be that, a decent chance in either half not taken. But we kept at it and with a little over 10 minutes of normal time left we did equalise. It was a goal almost entirely of Washington’s making, and a demonstration of how to finish coolly and clinically. There seemed little on as he collected the ball in the box, but he turned and drifted inside with it, dummied, then hit it back across his body low into the corner of the net. The keeper might have saved it but as Steve Brown in the commentary box pointed out by his movement Washington had given himself the option of putting it in either corner. He had the time to think about what to do and executed the job of putting the ball into the net very well.

That, we hoped, would be the cue to go on and perhaps win the game, at least to be pounding on Shrewsbury’s door as they tried to hang on to a point. Instead just after we made another change, bringing on Jaiyesimi for Morgan. Fair enough you’d think, he would slot in on the right. But instead he ended up playing in a more central position and now we seemed to be making it up as we went along. And Shrewsbury very nearly took advantage.

In the final couple of minutes and then five of stoppage time, instead of us peppering their goal, we three times almost gifted them the points. A poor pass to Gunter saw him then give away possession, only for their guy to blaze over. Then a bad defensive header left Amos stranded and instead of chipping into the net their guy hit it over. And there was another chance at the death that I can’t remember but by then was just thinking please give us the final whistle.

That was the way the game turned out. It would have been different if we had taken the one decent chance in the first half, if we had not gone to sleep for Shrewsbury’s goal, if Aneke had buried the chance he had. On the other side of the coin having fallen behind against a team that doesn’t concede many we kept going, after missing one did manage to equalise, and then could easily have lost it at the end. So we take the point (we don’t have a lot of choice); if we'd lost the mood would be very different, but now Tuesday is another must-win game.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Another game where he was not called on to make great saves, although there was one he turned round the post. Did come for one in the first half he didn’t make.

Gunter – 6/10. No complaints, but through the game we didn’t create much down the right side and he may well have been at fault with their goal.

Pearce – 7/10. Another decent game, just have to look at both our centre-backs’ positioning for their goal.

Famewo – 7/10. Mostly solid, good strength, but also erred towards the end in their flurry of chances.

Maatsen – 7/10. Most of our attacking threat came down the left and in this he played his part.

Morgan – 6/10. Fair enough, did good work, but we struggled down the right side.

Watson – 7/10. Fairly effective in protecting the back four, although for much of the game that wasn’t needed.

Pratley – 6/10. Reasonable game before he was taken off, although another yellow had us on tenterhooks.

Millar – 6/10. Also some good work, just not his best game for us and looked a little jaded.

Stockley – 6/10. Less effective than in most previous games. Looked a little tired.

Washington – 8/10. Not just the goal, his movement and hold-up play caused them problems. But he did take the goal well, the other forwards could learn from him about being cool when the chance comes.


Shinnie – 7/10. Thought he was tidy and effective.

Smith – 7/10. Also decent contribution.

Aneke – 6/10. Missed a glorious chance in a game of few good opportunities.

Jaiyesimi – 6/10. I’m just curious why he came on and didn’t seem to slot in as a wide player.

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Calculator Back Out

Must admit I thought we were done with the calculator for this season, but two wins and a draw out of three (we’ll gloss over the fact it was so close to three straight victories) have seen our points per game figure rebound from 1.419 at the end of a miserable February to 1.500. Extend that for 46 games and you get 69 points, almost certainly not enough for a play-off place but at least with that goal more clearly on the agenda, having been all but kicked off it.

To recap on some numbers, past history suggests that with 70 points you would be very lucky to make the play-offs, with 75 you have a decent chance, and with 80 you are virtually assured an extension to the season. Going on just average points per game projected over 46 matches and currently the team sitting in sixth place is Blackpool, despite being 11th in the table, as they have only played 30 and their projected points total of 73.60 edges out both Ipswich (73.31) and Portsmouth (72.48). For now at least we have to forget about the top five positions (for the record fifth-placed Doncaster, with 55 points from 31 games, would have a projected total for the season of over 81).

Of course everything is going to fluctuate with each round of games, especially as teams around the top play against each other, and these calculations are merely indicative. But as things stand it’s reasonable to suggest that six teams, including us (and in the current table down to Blackpool), are in a struggle for that sixth place. On points per game we are playing catch-up in 11th place, but we are thanks to recent results in the mix.

For us to make it to 75 points and a decent shot at a top-six finish we need 24 points from our remaining 12 games. Simple enough calculation, equally obvious that it implies having to win at least half of them, probably more. At home to Shrewsbury on Saturday and Bristol Rovers on Tuesday. Win those two games and we’d be on 57 points from 36. Then the requirement to make 75 points becomes 18 points from 10 games, or 1.8 per game. Still a step-up from the prevailing average (1.58) but a considerable narrowing of the gap at both ends.

Now this isn’t being arrogant about the chances of us winning the next two, merely to state what we need to do. They are both if not must-win games pretty close to it, if we are to remain in the mix. Pressure? Perhaps, but that’s what the game is all about and you want players who react well to this kind of pressure, who step up when it gets to the business end of a season. We’ve shown this kind of ability previously this season and there’s been a rekindling of it in the past three games, after the Blackpool debacle. Now it has to be extended, built on.

On a different subject, I was going to have a minor rant. My sister normally gets me the club calendar for Xmas, but as I was away this year it didn’t happen. So, thinks I, must be at a lower price by now given that nearly 20% of the year has passed and as we’ve already shed some of the players featured. Checked on the site and it was still bloody full price, when other items were reduced! How does that work? But there has now been an adjustment, the calendar is down in price, so one will be ordered. My only decision now is whether to get in addition a cut-price home shirt, in readiness for Wembley (whether or not we end up being able to go). As they say, it’s the hope that kills you.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Victory Founded On Not Giving Away Goals

This time around it really was a case of cut the crap, win or bust. Nothing to do with the opposition, everything to do with our season and hanging on to the slim hope of making the play-offs. Three home games in a row had to begin with a victory if the long-awaited ‘run’ was to begin and home form not to wreck the season. And we did indeed get the win and the points. Not easily, not beautifully, but well enough. Everything was down to the first goal against determined and organised opposition and for once there were no gifts from us, or wonder strikes, and without fashioning clear-cut chances eventually our pressure told and a brace from Washington, the first from the spot, saw us home, despite Northampton pulling one back in stoppage time with only their second attempt on goal (and first on target).

The team showed four changes, two of them anticipated as Matthews wasn’t available after his injury on Saturday and with nobody surprised that Famewo was given a rest. The decision by Bowyer was to bring back Pratley after his suspension and put him into central defence, rather than Oshilaja, who is still out of favour (but on the bench). That meant in front of Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Pratley and Maatsen. With Watson assumed to be in front of the back four, we had Forster-Caskey plus a returning Morgan (for Smith) and Millar, with Stockley coming in for Aneke and Washington retaining his place but with it unclear whether he would be a second forward or in a wide position. On the bench for the defence would be Oshilaja, for midfield Shinnie, Smith and Jaiyesimi, with Aneke and Schwartz the alternatives up front.

It proved to be a basic 4-4-2 but with Millar operating on the right side, Morgan on the left. And after Northampton almost caught us napping in the first minute, briefly getting in behind, we were bright in the opening period, moving the ball well and on the front foot. We were happy to go long to Stockley, who was winning most in the air, or down the flanks, where Gunter and Maatsen were providing decent support to the wide men and Washington was finding space in the channels.

As on Saturday we struggled to turn good possession and positions into clear chances. A low cross from Gunter flashed across the goal without a touch, a Stockley header was gathered by their keeper, Washington set up Watson who shot over. Northampton did have what proved to be their only shot on goal until stoppage time before the half hour, when their guy got in behind again on our left side and fired it in hard across the goal but wide. And shortly after we had our best chance of the half as a corner was flicked on at the near post by Watson and Pearce just failed to get a meaningful contact to put it into the net.

Not long before the break, after Morgan had seen yellow for a pull back on a guy who had got beyond him, there was a potential turning point as the Northampton full-back who’d been causing a few problems jumped for the ball against Pearce in Aneke fashion and caught him with his arm. All down to interpretation as Aneke has seen red and yellow for similar challenges. The ref opted for a yellow, which was probably fair enough.

At half-time we were reasonably satisfied in that we’d given almost nothing away and could have been in front, deserved to be ahead on balance of play and attempts on goal. There was just the nagging doubt over whether we would fashion the chances to win the game.

The game changed (for the better) on the hour. Maatsen and Millar, who had changed wings to try his luck, combined down the left and won a corner. It was headed away but up in the air and Forster-Caskey saw an opening and ran strongly towards it. What happened next is also down to interpretation. Might be said their guy misreads the ball and takes JFC out, or that he was watching the ball and there was an unintentional coming together. If I’m honest I’d veer towards the latter, but it would have been a foul anywhere else on the pitch so a penalty seemed fair enough. There was a break while Forster-Caskey was helped up and as Northampton looked to stall, probably well aware of what happened on Saturday. But Washington kept his nerve and placed the spot kick wide to their keeper’s left, if not into the corner then low enough and wide enough to prevent him from getting anything on it.

After that Northampton had to change their gameplan, with Steve Brown pointing out that they were now leaving players up the pitch for possible breaks although in general we were not looking likely to let them in. Aneke came on for Stockley, who had begun the game very well but was looking tired as the game progressed, while Pratley managed to spark a minor altercation by moving across their guy as the ball was going through to Amos, taking a kick for his trouble.

Shinnie replaced Forster-Caskey with around 15 minutes of normal time left and by this time, although we looked solid defensively, you had the feeling that Northampton would have to start throwing everything at us sooner or later. Which made it all the sweeter when we gave ourselves a cushion with a goal fashioned from open play. Aneke, who had just seen a header turned over the bar, was played in close to the touchline. Everyone expected a hard, low cross but instead he checked back inside and laid it off for the incoming Shinnie. His shot was palmed away by the keeper but only to Washington, who calmly fired it low into the net.

No reason to suppose that Northampton might score twice in a game in which they had still had just the one shot. Smith and Schwartz came on for Morgan and Washington, denying him the chance of a hat-trick. We went into four minutes of stoppage time and when a good Maatsen block conceded a corner nobody was worried. Decent ball in, decent run not properly tracked, and their guy heads across Amos into the far corner. OK, just a couple of minutes to play out but crazily Aneke put in a poor challenge to get a yellow and give them a free-kick to lump into the box. It was headed on but fortunately Amos gathered and that was that.

Points secured. Have to say that Northampton did their homework and set up to keep things tight, probably assuming that we were prone to errors at the back at home. The difference was that this time we gave away nothing, which meant a very different game to others we’ve seen at The Valley this season. We can’t say we blew away the opposition but for once didn’t give ourselves a mountain to climb; and for that the defence and those around them take the credit. What the win will mean it is too early to say, we will find out more on Saturday.

Player Ratings (but with not much differentiation as nobody deserved a poor mark, everyone played their part):

Amos – 7/10. Didn’t have a save to make before they scored and he had no chance with that one. Otherwise made a few important claims to high balls to limit their threat from set-pieces.

Gunter – 7/10. Decent game, got forward to good effect too.

Pearce – 8/10. I’d just about make him man of the match again. Took the blows but dominated their forwards, aggressive challenges without overstepping the mark.

Pratley – 7/10. Made his contribution, good defensive work, and by and large kept out of trouble.

Maatsen – 7/10. Thought he looked more composed and focused than of late, good to see.

Millar – 7/10. Again not quite the match-winner but might have been, some excellent stuff especially when he switched to the left side, plus good covering back to help the defence.

Watson – 7/10. Good game, effective in protecting the back four and keeping play ticking over, unfortunate to get a yellow.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Effective, hard-working as ever, won the penalty through seeing an opening and putting himself in the position, sensibly withdrawn to save something for Saturday.

Morgan – 7/10. Good to see him back in favour, worked well down the left side in the first half although did get caught out once and paid for it with a yellow.

Stockley – 7/10. More threatening early in the game than later, couldn’t today turn arial dominance into goals.

Washington – 7/10. Much more involved than is sometimes the case, especially in the first half. Didn’t get flustered when the opportunities came his way.


Aneke – 7/10. An extra mark for the vision to set up Shinnie which led to our second goal, one less for a last-gasp challenge which gave Northampton the opportunity to put the ball into our box.

Shinnie – 7/10. Took over from JFC to good effect.

Smith & Schwartz – Not on long enough for marks.



Saturday 6 March 2021

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

You know, today I wanted to just see a good game of football. To qualify that, there are very few games we’ve lost that I would mark down as good, so of course victory was still paramount. But behind that I wanted to see us play well, with commitment for sure but also without fear, against what we assumed would be decent opposition (and I’ve no axe to grind with Robinson, he failed for us and like in a marriage when it all goes sour you focus on the negatives, but succeeding with Mad Roland at the helm was not easy).

In the end we had the good, the bad, and of course right at the end the ugly. The good was the effort put in, nobody shirked and there were plenty of tired bodies still being put on the line, epitomised by Famewo somehow lasting to the end of the game. Coupled with that was generally good defending and cover from the midfielders. The bad came in the form of, like Tuesday, poor decision-making in the final third as reasonable positions were not turned into goal-scoring opportunities in what proved to be a game of few chances (although the BBC’s stats showing a combined 24 shots and only 4 on target were misleading as some on target were deflected or blocked). The ugly came right at the end as Schwartz took on the job as penalty-taker after Stockley had been tripped and struck it well but not high or low enough and saw it saved. Sure, over the 90 minutes a draw was the fair result, but as Curbs said afterwards “who cares?”.

The team …. well bless my cotton socks was unchanged from Tuesday, including the substitutes. That meant in front of Amos, Matthews, Pearce, Famewo and Maatsen, with Watson in front of the back four. However, whereas on Tuesday night we had Forster-Caskey and Smith in central midfield flanked by Washington on the left and Millar on the right, with Aneke up front, this time Millar returned to the left wing, Washington played as a centre-forward, and Aneke was asked to fill in to the right. Whether this was the result of something Bowyer and his team had spotted remains to be seen, but it was evident in the early minutes that Washington and Aneke were shrugging shoulders at each other, seemingly unsure who was to take up which position.

From the off it was an even contest, with plenty of probing but both defences on top. Washington was getting into good positions without making the most of them, although on one occasion he was going to be played in only for their defender to deliberately stick out a hand to block the pass, the referee crazily giving nothing (was he confused by the rule change?). Millar lost the ball and made the foul to prevent them breaking, picking up a yellow where their guy had not, while at the other end the only moment of concern – aside from an injury to Matthews which saw him replaced by Gunter - was when Pearce decided to go for a ball that Famewo seemed to have covered, almost letting their guy in.

We did have a chance, when Aneke got clear, passed to Millar, who laid it on for Forster-Caskey advancing into the box. It was a tight angle and his shot went over the bar. That was effectively balanced out by a powerful Oxford shot which might have been heading in only to be deflected behind for a corner. And the half ended with Aneke judged to have caught the defender with an arm when jumping for the ball, of course echoing his recent (overturned) red card. This time the ref gave him a yellow, leaving Chuks looking confused over what he might be doing wrong.

At the break you had the feeling that one goal for either side would win it. It was all competitive, committed, but lacking in quality. That did if anything put even more of a premium on not conceding, as chasing the game would have been very tough.

It wasn’t surprising to see Aneke replaced by Stockley for the second half, which is no reflection on how he had played but rather an acknowledgement that this was no game in which to go down to 10. Other than that the game continued much as before. Watson picked up a yellow for a routine foul. It was something of a surprise, therefore, that both teams came close to breaking the deadlock around the hour mark. First, Oxford benefited from a little confusion in our defence and their guy took it along the edge of the box, looked up, and his shot crashed back off the inside of the post and out, with Amos beaten. Immediately we broke and Millar was played in, advanced to the box, and curled a shot just wide of the far post.

It calmed down again for a while after that flurry of excitement and with around 15 minutes of normal time left, and players starting to tire, Bowyer made a triple-substitution. Off went Watson, Smith and Washington, on came Shinnie, Jaiyesimi and Schwartz. It was a bold move, leaving us with two wingers and two forwards, without the defensive covering midfielder. In our exchanges at the time I sent out ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man, this is Schwartz’s moment’, and surprisingly he did touch the ball not long after coming on.

As the clock ticked down you had the feeling that it would be awful to lose it at the death and that a point wasn’t so bad. We were still producing the occasional moment, with Stockley having a header from a free kick only to be given offside, while the ref decided that a wayward pass from Oxford which hit him should be rewarded with a bounced ball giving them possession close to our box. That danger passed.

And then. In the second minute of stoppage time, a throw-in on the left side went into Stockley, who somehow managed to control it on his chest and turn the other way, only to be tripped. I don’t know if it was a stonewall penalty, have to see it again. All I know is that it was given and with the clock showing the game effectively over we had a penalty to win it. With Washington off the pitch, Schwartz stepped up. He hit it to their keeper’s left but he guessed correctly, it was at a height which meant he could get there, and an outstretched arm deflected the ball onto the bar and over. The final whistle came immediately after.

What can you say? We all know we didn’t deserve to win (or to lose), but that’s the beauty of football. I don’t care what the win would have meant for our play-off prospects, that’s for tomorrow. I only know that it would have put a big smile on my face.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Another game where he wasn’t required to pull off any blinding saves. Did spill one he should have held, had no chance with the one that crashed off the post.

Matthews – 6/10. Had to leave the pitch injured after 18 minutes.

Pearce – 8/10. Another immense effort. Did make a mistake going for one in the first half that was for his partner to deal with, gave away a free kick or two, otherwise did all we could ask.

Famewo – 8/10. I’d make him man of the match for us, just because it was clear from the first half – after a run back to cover – that he was struggling but kept it going until the end. I’d be surprised if he’s available for Tuesday.

Maatsen – 7/10. Put in a shift and was less exposed than on Tuesday, also got forward to good effect.

Watson – 7/10. Pretty effective in front of the defence, no complaints.

Millar – 7/10. So close to being the match-winner, had the beating of their full-back, just not able to deliver the end-product.

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Decent game, almost scored a couple of times in the first half, otherwise worked his socks off.

Smith – 7/10. Did good work before seeming to tire in the second half. Linked up well with others.

Aneke – 6/10. No real complaints for the first-half display but seemed a little confused by being asked to play wider and, with another card for an aerial challenge, needs to sort this out before it becomes a real problem.

Washington – 6/10. Almost but not quite, whether on the ball or looking to receive it.


Gunter – 7/10. No complaints, did his job.

Shinnie – 7/10. Thought he did well, some timely interceptions.

Jaiyesimi – 6/10. Fair enough but didn’t seem to get the chance to affect the game in the final third.

Schwartz – 6/10. Not going to mark the guy down for not scoring a penalty. Forget it, we still need him to deliver.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

A Win To Ease The Pain

Let’s just say that after Saturday (and what has gone before) hopes and expectations for tonight had been adjusted. Avoiding the sort of defeat that might send us away to do the calculations regarding relegation rather than the play-offs, keeping a clean sheet, and putting in a determined performance would I think have been listed as the priorities. And in that context we got what we hoped for, a win to ease the pain.

The team showed no less than seven changes from Saturday, although it was more rotation than revolution. In front of Amos we had Matthews, Pearce, Famewo and Maatsen. With Pratley out of the reckoning Watson started, there was the welcome return of Forster-Caskey, while Smith started and Millar kept his place. Up front Stockley was given a breather, with Washington retained and Aneke starting, his red card (and with it a four-game ban) having been overturned. On the bench Oshilaja and Gunter provided the defensive options, Shinnie and Jaiyesimi for the midfield, with Stockley and Schwartz the forward alternatives.

It looked like a 4-4-2 but proved to be more of a 4-1-4-1, with Watson sitting in front of the defence, Forster-Caskey and Smith flanked by Millar on the right side this time, while Washington played more as left-sided midfielder than second striker, although he seemed to alternate between the two. What the set-up did mean was that the emphasis was more on passing the ball and retaining possession, with the two central midfielders having some freedom, aware that Watson was covering behind them.

And in the first half we did take the game to Wigan, generally controlled the play, had the better opportunities, scored one and really should have had a penalty to round things off shortly before the break, finishing well on top. If there was a criticism it was that we didn’t make the most of promising positions, with too often the final pass or cross into the box overhit, best choices not made, and the actual shooting wayward. But we were playing football and actually passing to each other, with Smith and Forster-Caskey working effectively, Millar always lively, and Washington working hard. At the other end, Wigan threatened sometimes but I can’t remember Amos being forced into a serious save, with Pearce and Watson both making a number of important interceptions. In actual fact Wigan’s best chance came in the first few minutes as they were given too much space down their right and a fairly routine cross split our two centre-backs only for their guy to head wide. It was a dispiriting moment as it was reminiscent of too many poor goals conceded, but to the players’ credit didn’t happen again.

Instead Wigan’s centre-backs conjured up a howler of their own to enable us to take the lead. Washington played it forward for Aneke to chase, but they were first to the ball and seemed to have things under control. Instead their two hesitated, seemed to leave it for each other, and Aneke kept going, finding himself in the clear with the ball. He slotted it under the keeper and into the net. The other two moments of the first half also involved Chucks. On the half-hour Millar combined with Matthews down the right and the cross in wasn’t dealt with but seemed to take Aneke by surprise and he couldn’t convert. Washington shot over from a good position and then with half-time getting close Aneke chased a ball inside the box. He tussled with their centre-half and that ended with Aneke off-balance being clearly shoved over. Just how a defender can make a challenge that ended with both arms outstretched and the forward thrown to the ground and get away with it is absurd, especially when compared with the two penalties given against us on Saturday.

At the break the disappointment was that we were not a couple to the good, giving us a cushion. Wigan looked tired and rather out of sorts. However, to their credit the second half was a different affair. They upped their game, changed formation, and we were pegged back. Our chances came more on the break now and Wigan had extended periods of pressure. One spell saw shots deflected behind and both Matthews and Maatsen tested, but Wigan never managed to turn good positions into clear-cut chances, through a mix of good defending (praise be it’s about time), us getting bodies behind the ball, and indifferent finishing (primarily the shooting).

We did have opportunities to extend our lead and probably make the game safe. Millar shot over from a good position, Washington had a shot blocked after Matthews had created the space down the right, and later Millar made an excellent run into the box only for his shot to beat the keeper but not their guy behind him on the line. Just after that effort Millar was taken off for Jaiyesimi. And more changes followed, with a double-substitution, Smith and Aneke (who had gone down with a possible hamstring) departing for Gunter and Shinnie, with this prompting a switch to a back three/five with Gunter slotting in and Matthews and Maatsen becoming wing-backs and Washington effectively on his own up front. Finally, at the end of normal time Schwartz came on for Washington (and we can only assume that Stockley was carrying a knock as it would have been the obvious alternative). While Wigan huffed and puffed we actually saw out the game reasonably comfortably in the end, their most dangerous spell having come earlier.

We know that three points tonight don’t make up for the other recent results. But let’s just enjoy a win, the fact that the players can’t be faulted for effort and commitment, and that although we often weren’t precise enough in the final third in the first half we played some decent stuff getting there and in the second dug in well enough to keep the points.

Player Ratings:

Amos – 7/10. Not required to make any outstanding saves, one dodgy moment with a cross that he didn’t get to (he seemed to be blocked and a free-kick was given) but otherwise dealt with all that came his way.

Matthews – 7/10. Did come under pressure at times in the second half and once or twice their guy cut inside into dangerous positions, but also put in a shift and was effective going forward, almost setting up Washington.

Pearce – 8/10. Has to be our man-of-the-match, a number of decisive blocks and a committed display.

Famewo – 7/10. Decent game. Can’t remember him featuring often but aside from that early opportunity their forwards were well contained.

Maatsen – 6/10. Plenty of good stuff, but Steve Brown in the commentary box was pointing to some poor play during Wigan’s spell of pressure and highlighting areas he needs to improve defensively – and he knows a great deal more about defending than me.

Watson – 7/10. Better display. The game and the role suited him, make the interceptions, play it out, which he did well.

Millar – 6/10. Was a threat and more effective than of late, but guilty of not making the most of situations he helped to create, with crosses and shots that could have been better (although he was unlucky with the one off the line).

Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Effective in the first half in along with Smith dominating midfield in the first half.

Smith – 7/10. His best game for us, neat and calm in possession, although less influential in the second half as Wigan got on top.

Washington – 6/10. Put in a shift both down the left and alongside Aneke, but like Millar didn’t deliver the end product.

Aneke – 7/10. Did deliver the end-product once, although the chance was rather gifted to him, might have had a second and should have had a penalty.


Jaiyesimi – 5/10. Probably confusing for him as he came on to replace Millar on the right then not long after was playing almost up front/in the hole, while by the time he came on we were being pushed back.

Gunter – 6/10. Slotted into central defence well enough.

Shinnie – 6/10. Not really an opportunity to do much.

Schwartz – Not on long enough for a mark, which is just as well as in the five minutes he was on the pitch he didn’t touch the ball.