Friday 7 May 2021

Duchatelet Still Barking

Reading the reports of Sir Chris’ account of his time with Duchatelet sent me off to check to see if the dotty owner of our stadium has been up to anything lately. Seems he’s been upsetting some football fans closer to home, if a piece in Voetbal Belgium is anything to go by. I’ve done little more here than run the piece and associated comments through an autotranslate and added a few words. I think it needs no further explanation; but in the words of Paul Simon, still crazy after all these years, and still mired deep in self-denial.

It seems that in the wake of the failed European Super League there has been talk of a ‘BeNeLiga’. The report says that Duchatelet does not expect that will come to fruition either. “The people who are against the BeNeLiga are idiots, who have self-interest or who don't think carefully,” says Roland Duchâtelet at PlaySports. "Or they should have gone to school longer, because they are stupid. Humanity has more fools than intelligent people. That is unfortunate, but that is the fate of humanity”, said the former chairman and owner of Sint-Truiden VV, Standard Liège, Charlton Athletic, CD Alcorcon and CZ Jena.

It seems these comments sparked a “massive response at Voetbal International. A selection of those responses:

“Perhaps if he had done things smarter himself, he could have learned at school that addressing people like that in a derogatory and inappropriate way only arouses aversion. What an idiot he is!” 

“So Mr. Duchâtelet calls me stupid while he doesn't even know me, and with me several million people.”

“Just as crazy as that president of Real Madrid and Barca, but in miniature. There is nothing wrong with self-interest, but to call other people stupid idiots is a sign of lack of self-reflection.”

"So everyone with a different opinion or train of thought to him is a fool according to him ..."

“This is another one in the “you either agree with me or you're a penguin” category. Certain politicians also like to use this style. If Duchâtelet really had a good plan, he wouldn't have to vomit this nonsense.” 

"Spoke the man who helped Charlton, Ujpest, Standard and Sint-Truiden to their destruction." 

“That is very mature, people with a different opinion than you are called stupid. Come up with arguments and start the conversation. Scolding people is really not going to help. That only makes me an even bigger opponent.”

“The trick to morally dismiss people with a different opinion as stupid, I know it all, is very hip. But that is precisely what is not very intelligent. Convince people with arguments, respect a different opinion.”

“Sorry, but if you need such strong wording to convince people that the majority is wrong and you have the wisdom, then I don't trust it.”

“So this Belgian dismisses a large part of the Dutch people as stupid? Well… that helps to bring people closer together”.

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Season Extended Until Sunday

I suspect for most of us it was with mixed emotions that we logged on this evening for the penultimate game of the regular season, after two points from three games almost certainly our penultimate game period. There was no telling what frame of mind we might be in, perhaps even how up for the game Lincoln might prove with their play-off place already secured, while it went without question that nothing but a win would do. And anyone hoping for a prettier spectacle than Saturday’s horror show might not have been taking into account the fact that it was blowing a gale outside.

The team showed four changes from Saturday and what looked like a change in formation, back to the 4-5-1/4-3-3 which had previously been deployed. In front of Amos there would be a back four of Matthews, Inniss, Famewo and Purrington. Watson returned as the defence’s protector, with Forster-Caskey and Gilbey alongside him. Millar was back in at the start and Maatsen on the right side, both either side of Stockley as the lone forward. From the bench Gunter and Pearce provided the defensive options, Pratley and Morgan for midfield, and Washington and Aneke up front. It wasn’t exactly reassuring to see Adkins’ pre-match comment that “I’m taking a gamble on a few players tonight because we have to”.

The first-half was something of a non-event. We didn’t manage a shot on target (and only two shots in total), although Millar should have done better than hitting it well over the bar late on having cut inside. In general we struggled to get the two wide men really into the game and Stockley was isolated, our lack of threat emphasised by Stockley putting a cross into a deserted box. Lincoln were dangerous early on and came very close to taking the lead after 10 minutes, a ball played through our defence which was claiming offside but Maatsen on the far side was clearly playing them on. Their guy hit it hard but too close to Amos, who blocked well. Otherwise Purrington was caught out and picked up a yellow for the foul that followed, Forster-Caskey picked up an injury and had to depart, replaced by Morgan, as did the referee.

Lincoln did seem to fade as an attacking force through the half and at the break there was the impression that two teams were playing as if there wasn’t a lot riding on the result. Certainly it was hard to square our efforts with the need for a win, although we were in the game and it was still there to be won.

And there was a clear statement of intent at the start of the second half, as Aneke came on. Purrington was sacrificed, perhaps because of the yellow, but as we switched to a 4-4-2 Maatsen moved to left-back and Gilbey took a wider position on the right. The game changed.

Within a minute of the restart we were ahead. Lincoln must have wondered what hit them. A good attack saw Stockley move it on to Millar. His cross was blocked but Watson moved it forward again to Gilbey. He turned and clipped in a cross to the far post, where Aneke nodded it down into the path of Stockley, who hit a crisp half-volley into the roof of the net. Lincoln immediately went up the other end and almost equalised, Watson being caught out, but minutes later we came close to making it two as Chuks just couldn’t quite get his shot away, then Morgan intercepted and moved it on to Chuks again only for his shot to be saved. Then a Millar cross was only just too high for Stockley.

We did double our lead not long after. Maatsen went on a galloping overlap and his cross was blocked for a corner. Whatever happened as far as movement and players being blocked off, Morgan curled it to the far post and Inniss was all on his own. The header from close range didn’t need to be too powerful to beat a despairing keeper. And shortly after that it was effectively game over. Millar took it down the left, fed it into Aneke. His shot seemed to be covered by the keeper but a defender waved a leg at it and ensured it cleared him and went into the net.

All that was left to do was play out the final twenty minutes or so. Not surprisingly we eased up and Lincoln did have a few moments, but as the clock ran down we were looking comfortable. With less than 10 minutes left Aneke picked up a yellow and crazily a few minutes later needlessly put in a rash challenge from behind, felling their guy. It should have been a second yellow and red, perhaps we have the injury to the ref in the first half to thank as the replacement was lenient in the extreme. And with a couple of minutes of normal time left Lincoln did get one back with a decent shot, then in six added minutes Amos was required to make another save, while Pratley, who had come on to replace Aneke to ensure he would be available for Sunday, still managed to get a yellow himself. But we had done the damage and took the points.

We know it still probably won’t be enough, the permutations for Sunday are pretty straightforward. We need help from Burton, Accrington Stanley and Hull. That’s bound to put the focus between now and then on what might have been, the obvious points dropped (even the possible implications of Lincoln’s goal and goal difference if we were to draw at Hull and the other two lose). But at least tonight we did what we had to do. Man of the match? Aneke changed the game and would have been a shoo-in but for almost getting himself sent off.

Sunday 2 May 2021

Let's Not Forget, It's Been A Very Good Season

We’re all feeling gloomy about yesterday’s result(s) almost certainly finishing off our play-off and promotion chances, resigning ourselves to another season in the third flight. We will never be comfortable in this division. But I do think we are, perhaps understandably, losing sight of the bigger picture. This has, after all, been our best season since 2012/13. Duchatelet still owns The Valley, so isn’t completely out of the picture, but if it had been a choice between promotion and Duchatelet still owning us and what we’ve ended up with – a decent owner we can all get behind, getting out from under the nightmare of ESI, and not going out of business – I know which one I’d have gone for (and of course I wanted promotion too).

Today Man Utd v Liverpool was postponed because of fans’ protests. It wasn’t that long ago I was among those throwing pink pigs onto the pitch. Those days we hope are behind us as a fan base and if we’re moaning today about the deficiencies of the squad (and as others have pointed out we should at least acknowledge that in just about every game the players have given their all, no lack of effort and determination), what we’d like to see change on the pitch, perhaps we ought to be taking a minute or two to count our blessings.

If we’re on the subject of teams having a tough season, it wasn’t that long ago I considered myself an adopted supporter of Lyon Duchere. I watched them get promoted twice, from the French regional equivalent of the conference to a regional fourth division, then remarkably to National, the French third division. And they stayed up, punching well above their weight, with an attendance that would normally be around a few hundred. They had a longstanding coach who had overseen the rise.

Things changed before the end of last season as absurdly what was an open stand (the only covered stand at the Stade de Balmont) suddenly had stewards restricting access to a roped off VIP section. Then the news broke that the team from an unfashionable district of Lyon would be rebranded and moved to the other side of the city, with the president of the club outlining his plans to ditch the Duchere element of the club and get it into the French top flight within a few years. The coach left and a new team was bought for this season. If you google Lyon Duchere now you get Sporting Club Lyon and the lie that the club “took its current name in June 2020 in a rebranding exercise voted for by the fans”. The fans did not vote for the rebranding exercise, they were presented with a few options, variations on a theme, with none of them mentioning Duchere.

How did it go? On Friday evening what was Lyon Duchere went down 1-3 at Le Mans to confirm their relegation. They sit bottom of the league with 28 points from 32 games and with just two games left they cannot now get out of the bottom four and avoid the drop. So it will be back to the regional fourth division for Sporting Club Lyon. Whether or not the president will, like Duchatelet, tell himself he’s now too busy to bother and walk away remains to be seen. But the next time our name is erroneously brought up as the example of fans wanting to take the ‘next step’ and getting their comeuppance, cite Lyon Duchere instead.

Saturday 1 May 2021

Door Slammed Shut

Win or bust today, nothing else mattered – except of course for the other results. We didn’t win, Portsmouth and Oxford did. Mathematically it’s still possible, but we all know how unlikely it is: we have to beat Lincoln and Hull and hope that neither Portsmouth nor Oxford win their final game (unless we close a six-goal deficit on goal difference with Oxford in the process). Two points from three games, when it came down to it we weren’t good enough to make the top six. Yes, we have to go for it on Tuesday night, but mentally I suspect we’re already done for. I even felt mixed emotions with Chuks last-kick equaliser as keeping alive a glimmer of hope only prolongs the agony.

There were decisions to be made on personnel and formation and it was clear that the team meant a move away from the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation that we’ve gone with of late, but switched from during the game against Crewe, to a 3/5/2/5/3/2. In from the start came Gunter, Innis, Pratley and Washington (for Matthews, Purrington, Watson and Millar, three of whom moved to the bench but with Watson missing out completely). That meant a back five, with Gunter and Maatsen as wing-backs and Pearce, Inniss and Famewo. Pratley would be partnered in midfield by Forster-Caskey and Gilbey, while Stockley would have a partner up front in the form of Washington. On the bench Morgan, Shinnie and Millar would give options in midfield and Aneke the change up front (for the defence presumably if one of the centre-backs had to come off Gunter or Pratley could become the third centre-back).

The purpose of the formation and how we would play at least the first half were pretty clear from the start. Accrington had been scoring goals for fun of late (I watched the highlights of their game against Portsmouth and it looked like it could easily have been 6-6). And to an extent it worked. Every ball was hoofed forward, while we prevented them from having a clear sight of goal. To say that it wasn’t pretty was a massive understatement; it was dreadful to watch. But if we won that really wouldn’t have mattered. The pitch was narrow, the wind blowing, and nobody cared much about possession. It seemed to be all about territory, with both teams expecting to get something from a set piece.

After 25 minutes we were leading 2-1 on shots, with one over the bar apiece (ours was deflected and should have been a corner). On 30 minutes Accrington came close to breaking the deadlock, producing a scramble in the box with a couple of shots blocked. And right on 45 minutes their guy cut inside Inniss rather too easily and put in a shot from a narrow angle, hitting the bar.

That was it. But getting into the dressing room at half-time Adkins and the players will have known that, although Oxford had gone from being a goal up to 2-1 down, Portsmouth had done the opposite, equalising quickly at Wimbledon having gone behind and scoring twice just before the break. That only increased the pressure to win the game and meant that at some point in the second half, unless we had gone ahead, Adkins would have to change the formation and go for it.

That proved to be the case. In truth in the first period of the second half we were rather fortunate not to have gone behind. Accrington were finding more space around our box and starting to dominate. Pearce was caught out and had to pull down his guy on the edge of the box, taking a yellow, and from the free kick Stockley somehow managed to divert the ball behind for a corner. Before the hour was up the first change came, Aneke replacing a tiring Washington, but the formation was unchanged and the game continued as before. Amos had to turn a shot around after their guy had beaten off Inniss and from the corner we switched off and Accrington played it short, with two of theirs against Aneke. Forster-Caskey saw yellow for a professional foul. But with a little over 20 minutes to go we did have a break and after Maatsen was almost clear it was played towards Stockley, who was taken out just outside the area. Forster-Caskey curled the shot towards the near post but with their keeper beaten it went just over.

That was the cue for changes to chase the game. Pearce was sacrificed for Millar and we switched to a 4-4-2, with Gilbey on the right. Fair enough, we have to win, we needed to fashion something in the final third, and getting Millar on was a priority. But I thought it was poor not to make further changes to adapt to the new formation, if not immediately then shortly after. We were now playing 4-4-2 and could use fresh legs. Why not bring on Purrington to help shore up the defence, either for Maatsen or to allow him to go wide right, perhaps Morgan as a better option on the right side than Gilbey. But nothing more was done.

With 10 minutes to go it felt like the season was in the balance. And the balance swung very much against us as Accrington scored. Their guy got past Famewo and into space, took it into the box, and shot well low into the corner. Seemed like game up. We went into four minutes of stoppage time and for some reason changes were made then. Morgan and Shinnie came on, for Pratley and Forster-Caskey. It seemed irrelevant until right at the death Millar was upended, Morgan curled in a decent ball, and Aneke diverted it past their keeper. As on Tuesday night, there was barely time to kick off.

I wouldn’t blame Adkins for the choice of formation, for the changes to bring on Aneke and Millar. Fact is we had a gameplan and it didn’t pay off. We might have played expansively and been beaten, who knows? In other circumstances a point might have been a decent result. Today it wasn’t, with Portsmouth seeing out their game and Oxford coming from behind to win.

No player ratings today, it was a game where they were asked to play a certain way which was never going to look good. We have come up short this season and there are many reasons for that, all of which can wait for another day.