Wednesday 29 September 2021

Hard One To Take

Is there anything useful to be said after a 1-4 home defeat? If we were around the top of the table you might dismiss the game as one of those things that happen - better side for most of the first half, even second half, scores still tied with 20 minutes left, near misses either side of their second goal etc. But we’re not. We are second-bottom of a league which we view as a failure to be in with one win in 10, 17 goals conceded, now three defeats and two draws in the last five since the addition of new players. So before any thoughts on the game the question right now for us all, including TS, is Adkins out now, yes or no?

I’ve been in the ‘give it a little more time’ camp and just about still am, but with provisos. The three factors which for me count in his favour are: first, that the players are still trying their hardest, no sign on the pitch that he has lost the dressing room; second, a major problem is clearly the fitness levels of too many players, pinpointing and addressing that issue (and perhaps it is just game time) doesn’t necessarily involve changing the manager; and third, it is still a new combination of players, a factor that can’t last for much longer but is still material. Now if in the morning after it looks as if the players are turning against him the balance shifts in favour of Adkins going now – and I suspect that through the day all Addicks will be glancing at the club site to see if there is news to that effect, nobody will be surprised if there is.

As for the game, it reminded me a lot of the Gillingham match. Bolton actually had one or two moments in the first 10 minutes when they might have scored, but for some last-ditch interventions. Instead our pressing paid a dividend in that we forced a mistake, fed Leko on the right, and his cross was converted. And for the rest of the first 30 minutes we were clearly in the ascendency, playing decent football, covering well and preventing any Bolton threat, looking capable of adding to the lead. At Gillingham the game changed at the break with their substitutions; last night we just seemed to lose momentum heading towards half-time and Bolton, who perhaps had been biding their time, aware that our good spells don’t tend to last, came more into it. And they equalised, with echoes of Wycombe’s first, a guy allowed to cut inside from the left and shoot low into the far corner.

We all wanted to see us come out for the second half and reassert the previous dominance. That didn’t happen, perhaps as the danger men down the flanks started to run out of steam, perhaps as Bolton raised their game. As Curbs was to stress later, whoever scored next would probably go on and win. It was almost them as their guy’s flicked header went just wide, almost us curtesy of Davison’s curler which shaved the post, proved to be them with a deflected shot, then we came within a whisker of levelling things with Washington getting in behind and chipping the keeper, probably should have scored but went just wide.

The awful third Bolton goal, in by then pretty dire conditions, finished the game with 10 minutes of normal time left, by which time we were looking a spent force physically, then after our panic substitutions bad defeat became a rout with a farcical fourth as some of our defence held back and others charged forward to try to play offside.

So for sure 1-4 was hard on us, if the game is taken in isolation. In a remarkably fair match report in The Bolton Times it was noted that this was the eighth time in 10 games that Bolton had gone behind, so perhaps it was no surprise that they took being behind in their stride. The report acknowledged both that Bolton “must have been fairly pleased to have jogged back down the tunnel on level terms” and that “the game entered into the last quarter finely poised and a winner nearly impossible to predict”. What is missing from the assessment is that through the first quarter of the season we have not been responding well to challenging situations and too many times have coughed up crucial goals in tight contests.

So what might we change for the better, aside from the manager? I thought the selections in defence were good, as was playing two wide men and balancing this with a couple of combative midfielders in the central positions. All of this worked well enough in the first half, but we proved incapable of keeping it going. Both Leko and Blackett-Taylor ran out of steam (only the former was replaced), while both Clare and Watson departed early. If we had had another winger on the bench (DJ or Kirk) we might have kept the shape better, and I was surprised that it wasn’t Arter who came on in midfield as Clare tired, again to keep the shape.

So there are still plenty of options, even if after last night the major question regarding the team seems less about what combinations and partnerships we might work on and more which players are capable of lasting a full game. If Adkins keeps his job for Saturday it will surely be with the knowledge that another defeat then, in whatever circumstances/conditions, would be the end of the road. After all, much as we enjoy the matchday TV show, listening to Deano, Curbs and Scottie Minto discussing how many points we are from a play-off spot seems a little divorced from reality. 

Tuesday 28 September 2021

Some Basics

Having had to pass on Saturday’s game (a combination of loss of internet in Lyon and painting walls in Givry – more on all that another time), I’m happy to accept the views of fellow Addicks having watched the highlights that we were a tad fortunate to avoid defeat but that there were some positives. We’re all well aware that with so many choices of players and formations we have yet to find any favoured and successful formation to be at least Plan A or combinations in key areas – and with Stockley no longer an automatic selection if fit you can really only say that MacGillivray falls into that category - so each game is a test of whether we have moved towards desired outcomes (even if through the elimination of some options that didn’t work). Yes, we all want to be moving up the table but that will be the result of getting some basics right.

I don’t like to pontificate on these matters as I’ve never played the game to any decent level and happily defer to those that have. Also, we’re not au fait with fitness levels or able to look into the whites of the eyes on the training ground, or spend sufficient time to consider how the opposition will shape up. With these provisos, here’s my take on some basic options.

Again, goalkeeper is sorted, at least for now. Whether we play a back four or three/five is up for grabs, although the notable experiment with the latter, against Wycombe, was a failure. We defended the box in depth only to allow their guy to jink around outside it and score, then played watch the ball inside the area. The loss of Inniss is a blow, thrusting Lavelle to the fore, and it looks as though Famewo, having been effective alongside Inniss, is a little out of sorts without him. Pearce we know can do a job but will get found out for pace in an open game, as against Portsmouth. At the same time, Matthews, Gunter, Purrington and probably Souare (I can’t be certain) are decent full-backs but are not wing-backs, there is a difference. Gunter had that role against Wycombe and I don’t remember him crossing the halfway line.

So if we play a back three/five it is really a five and we accept the limitations that imposes. Maatsen last season was able to be a wing-back but I can’t think of anyone available now. So for me, unless we are going to try to grind out a result and have a midfield for that too, it’s a back four. I don’t know if Famewo is having a harder time this season, think we all expected him to be an automatic choice, but if fit and available I’d like to see him chosen to forge an understanding with Lavelle. Then pick full-backs for defensive capabilities.

How the rest of the team sets up stems from the choice up front. I don’t buy the ‘playing Stockley encourages others to just hoof it up to him’; equally, the ability to win headers 30 yards out and with back to goal is not the crucial factor. Stockley is our most potent weapon in the air in the box – and that depends on service from the flanks. Blackett-Taylor has been a revelation and we look a different team when he is on the pitch and not knackered. He is the most likely to deliver into the box, which of course can be on the deck (as for Davison’s equaliser) but also in the air – yet twice in recent games as he has come on/gone off Stockley has gone off/come on. I would like to see Stockley and CBT on the pitch together.

If those two start/are paired, you have to look at a partner for Stockley, someone to convert the half-chances. Fact is, having been unable to offload Schwartz and get a replacement, we only have one option here, Leko. Washington is a decent, intelligent forward but not a poacher. Lee might be able to play as an outright forward but I don’t really know. If not, and if Leko isn’t considered up for the job, change the set-up and system.

Davison has impressed (especially in the first half against Gillingham) and is now a real alternative to Stockley. If he starts we assume a more flexible set-up, perhaps a front three with players either side, or Lee or Morgan in a No.10 role. For that to work those players simply have to contribute goals. So you look to Washington, Lee and Leko, keeping Blankett-Taylor in reserve against a tiring defence (but please more than 10 minutes at the end, assuming he is fit enough).

With no shoo-in midfield combinations, who gets the shirt in that area really (for me) depends on the combination up front. For example, although they seem to have gone backwards in the pecking order, Kirk and Jaiyesimi as outright wingers are an option. But if you play them both, as we have, you surely need to shore up central midfield with two defensive-minded players, whose job is to win the ball and feed it to the flanks. Otherwise you get overrun, as we have been. The set-up which we adopted in pre-season, of Dobson and Clare plus Morgan in the hole, only (IMO) works if the No.10 – be it Morgan, Lee or Gilbey – scores goals.

Plenty of questions and few answers – but quite frankly the answers aren’t going to come from us, these are decisions for Adkins and his team, who are far better placed to make them. What I would add though is that I’m no fan of a manager prowling the touchline during a game. Curbs liked to be detached and left the job of bawling out those on the pitch and communicating instructions to his number two. For me a manger concentrates on the key aspects of the game: is it working, if not what might we change, when do the subs come on etc. Those decisions I’m not convinced come best from a touchline consortium.

Equally, I was a little surprised to read the part of the Trust’s account of the Roddy/Gallen meeting when Roddy commented that TS “comes to training every day, he has breakfast with the players and comes to team meetings”. Why? It is great that he is involved but here too surely there needs a little distance. TS is the guy who will decide on all the key aspects of the club’s development (aside from how much The Valley will end up costing). Equally, like us supporters he is never going to have the insight and understanding to make decisions about who plays and how we play best. Each to their own styles of course, just that styles, like formations on a football pitch, all have their pluses and minuses.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Progress, More Needed

Yes, it was a welcome improvement. After the severe disappointment of Cheltenham and the humiliation of Wycombe it had to be. We weren’t outplayed, we didn’t lose, and in the first half we played positive, effective football going forward and would not have been flattered by a much larger lead at the break. Within a team which showed seven changes from Saturday, there was a good return from Purrington (and Matthews had a good game too), later a welcome one from Gilby, Pearce had a much better game, looking less rusty and working well alongside Lavelle, Watson was a calming influence in front of the defence, Lee was mobile and effective (and scored), Davison worked to good effect to link up and bring others into the play, and in the first half Blackett-Taylor destroyed them, going past his opposite number at will.

On the other side of the coin, once Gillingham tightened up and made a couple of changes at the break the game changed. We were fortunate not to concede a penalty early in the second half (I thought hands were raised to block a shot), did let in the equaliser after being caught napping again from a short corner, could easily have let in more (some desperate blocks, a fingertip from MacGillivray diverting a low cross to prevent a certain goal, then most obviously a shot from inside the box which cannoned back off the post), and - in contrast to the first half - once again players were looking to bring the ball forward but looked up and saw no viable options, no willing runners. Having terrorised Gillingham in the first half, Blackett-Taylor barely had a kick in the second.


We did have chances in the second half too, with their keeper pulling off two saves in quick succession, first to deny Davison what looked like a certain goal then to turn away Lavelle’s effort from the resulting corner. So I’d say in the first half we outclassed a badly organised Gillingham team, in the second we were matched by a more determined – but still pretty pedestrian – opposition who created more and better chances in that period. Nobody really doubted that overall a draw was a fair result; we look back especially on Washington’s first-half one-on-one and would have expected to run out winners if that had been converted, Gillingham will point to the one off the post and the penalty not given.

So it is progress, something to build on. Whether it means a formation (return to a back four) we will stick with is of course up to Adkins. The decision to drop/rest Stockley, either to give him a break or to oblige the rest of the team not to lump it forward in the air, worked overall, although I thought he was brought on too late in the game to replace an understandably tiring Davison. I’m not convinced by the argument that you should drop the big guy rather than those not following instructions, and this isn’t a new debate. I remember a similar one after the Premiership era concerning Iwelumo. But the fact is Davison was effective in the first half, and worked his socks off through the game. Presumably Adkins and the team will look at Portsmouth’s set-up and decide whether or not to stick with the change.

The avoidance of a fresh shambles and evidence of progress will at least keep at bay most of the calls for an immediate sacking of Adkins. I’m happy on that one, for now, to sit on the fence. We are rightly concerned by some of what appear to be glaring tactical errors and especially an impression of chaos. Perhaps injuries played a part, but I’ve no idea how players like Arter, Dobson and Souara react to being in the starting line-up on Saturday and not even on the bench for Tuesday. They, like us, perhaps have to show a little patience.

So far Sandgaard has only made two blunders: signing (and retaining) Schwartz and using (in a quote posted on the club site) the absurd phrase “the proof is in the pudding”. Just how and why have people started to use that combination of words? It is gobbledegook at best. The time-honoured phrase is of course ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. That makes sense, conveys a meaning, has purpose, like our first-half showing. ‘The proof is in the pudding’ by contrast is just a lazy way of trying to say something using fewer words and by doing so entirely losing the plot. Wycombe? We all hope that a third faux pas does not prove to be keeping Adkins. For that to be the case he needs to demonstrate continued progress towards shaping a now large squad into an effective team delivering results and moving steadily up the table. We had a good 15 minutes against Wycombe, a very good 45 last night ....

Saturday 18 September 2021

No Steps Forward Today

By a strange combination of circumstances I got to watch today’s game (or most of it, when my international stream wasn’t deciding to periodically cut the access), my first since the opener against Sheffield Wednesday. If the world wasn’t turned upside down enough, being in a lower league than certain other teams, recently Brentford v Brighton is listed as a top-flight game, we get beaten at home by Cheltenham, and today we go into a game against Wycombe as underdogs. No matter, fair play to these other teams (except the ‘certain other teams’), and at the end of today’s game nobody was in any doubt about who deserved the points.

Ahead of the game there was I think almost a certain relief (not mixed with pleasure) that we didn’t have to be thinking about whether or not Inniss would be fit to start, and if he was how long he might last. We live without him for the foreseeable future, apparently also someone called Schwartz. So for me much of the focus of the game would be on Lavelle, to see if he looks like stepping up quickly, as we need him to do. Before all of that, we had to see just what combinations Adkins would decide to go with, with nobody confident of what the formation and starting line-up would be after the recent signings and the shocker last Saturday.

In the event he went for changes, six in fact from the Cheltenham game. No DJ, no Kirk (both absent from the bench as well), no Matthews, Morgan among the subs. Instead in front of MacGillivray would be a back three/five, with Lavelle and Famewo joined by Pearce and Gunter and Souare operating as wing-backs. Dobson and Arter would take the central midfield slots, with Leko and Washington either side of Stockley. A 3-4-3 if you like, with two debutants (if you count Arter as such). On the bench would be Harness, Elerewe, Clare, Morgan, Lee, Blackett-Taylor and Davison.

I thought it looked like an odd structure. Wing-backs fair enough, but then having a front three in tandem seemed curious. Also, as pointed out often in the commentary by Steve Brown, there were quite a few on the pitch with very little match time in their legs, while there were combinations being tried for the first time in a real game.

We actually played quite well in the first 15, perhaps 20 minutes. Arter was seeing a fair amount of the ball, Stockley was giving ample evidence that he had the beating of another back line in the air, while Leko and Washington both probed. Nothing in the way of clear-cut chances, best being a combination of the front three leading to Leko shooting from a narrow angle.

However, as the game progress Wycombe started to take control – and to look threatening when the ball was around our area, with McCleary increasingly influential. Just after the 20-minute mark Pearce mishit a clearance which led to a squared ball in and a prodded shot, one which came back off the post with MacGillivrey beaten. It seemed to lay down a marker as quite frankly for the next 60 minutes we barely got a look-in and were thoroughly outplayed. For the remainder of the first half it was a case of whether Wycombe would turn their increasing dominance into goals, or whether we could make it to the break and regroup.

We didn’t make it. A few near misses, some last-ditch interventions kept the scoresheet blank until beyond 40 minutes. But then we found ourselves with a number strung across in a line defending the box and not enough bodies outside it to prevent McCleary, who’d already put one shot narrowly wide from a similar position, setting himself up with a jink inside and hit a decent shot low into the far post. It looked like one that MacGillivrey should have got to, despite some bodies in the way, and Bob Bolder pretty much confirmed that impression during the break.

There was still time for Wycombe to almost extend their lead a couple of times, with a guy sent through poking his shot wide then a cross to the far post headed back across goal but not converted.

The stats at half-time showed we actually had 51% possession but three shots, one on target, against 12 for Wycombe. Decisions for Adkins to make as Wycombe’s forward line was pulling us apart. Change players? Change the formation? Or give it more time. Proved to be the last as no changes were made and there was an ominous feeling that if Wycombe got a second it could get very messy.

The second half saw more of the same, with no sign we might be able to turn things around and looking more likely to go further behind. McCleary turned Gunter, who took him down and collected a yellow, with the shot from the free kick curled just over. And before the hour mark Adkins did make a first change, withdrawing Leko, who had faded along with the rest after a bright start, for Lee. Another 10 minutes passed and then it was Blackett-Taylor on for Souare, who had also picked up a yellow.

That change might have been the catalyst for an improvement, as Blackett-Taylor was to go on to be our best player by some distance. But before that could be seen we went 2-0 down and the game was effectively up. It was a horrible goal for any defence to concede, a dire one when there were three centre-backs out there. A Wycombe free kick caused problems as Stockley found himself up against two down their left, allowing their guy all the time in the world to pick out a cross. That was half-cleared but it went back in, a free header back across goal, and there was McCleary to nod into an open goal from a yard or so off the line. Our defenders were all static.

It was getting embarrassing and Wycombe could easily have made it three. Pearce picked up a yellow. But with the game seemingly in the bag, Wycombe made substitutions themselves, and in a short space of time the threat to our back line was effectively removed, leaving a team just waiting for the final whistle. They nearly didn’t make it.

With about 10 minutes left we had a free kick in a decent position and a good ball in was nearly met by Stockley. From the corner Lee made himself available for a short one and almost made something happen. Then – understandably in the context of the overall position of the game but very strangely for anyone picking up on a possible momentum shift – Adkins withdrew Stockley, for Davison. He had been getting little joy or support, but with Wycombe’s attacking threat having now disappeared there was surely a case for leaving him on and getting more bodies alongside him.

Indeed, Blackett-Taylor was by now causing them all sorts of problems down the left. None of this mattered as long as Wycombe had a two-goal cushion, but we were forcing the pace now and as we moved into five minutes of stoppage time we pulled one back. A Washington snap shot was diverted behind for another corner and from this one, Lavelle powerfully attacking one to the far post and heading it firmly into the roof of the net.

Only a few minutes left but even so we nearly made Wycombe pay for their complacency as two scrambles in their box saw one hoofed off the line and the other not converted. There was just time as Wycombe broke for Famewo to take a yellow for the team, making it four of our back five, which perhaps said it all. And with that the ref brought down the curtain.

A serious optimist might say we started and ended the game well. But nobody’s going to be fooled by that. Once the good start faded we were outpassed and outplayed, conceded two goals and might have let in five, and had no meaningful attempt on goal until the final period after Wycombe had made their substitutions. We seemed in defence to be caught between defending the box in numbers and being unable to pick up players (or the ball) outside it, ending up conceding from a shot just outside the area and two free headers, betwixt and between, which suggests a lack of communication and familiarity. With our wing-backs not offering much going forward, our central midfield was outnumbered and overrun, while the service to the front three was non-existent.

To say there is a lot of work to be done getting players to gel and settle into formations they are comfortable with is a massive understatement. For me the only plus point of the game was Blackett-Taylor. Never seen him before, but he stood out. That was, unfortunately, it.

Player Ratings:

MacGillivray – 5/10. Do feel it was an error for their first goal, should have saved it. Mistakes are made and we know he’s still very heavily in credit for the season so far.

Soare – 6/10. Started brightly and seemed to link up well getting forward. But that didn’t last, took a knock with a poor challenge to get a yellow and was subbed.

Famewo – 6/10. Plenty of effort and good stuff, important interceptions and blocks. But the defence didn’t work well collectively today and for that they all have to take some blame.

Lavelle – 6/10. Hard to tell from the game overall, obviously took the goal well.

Pearce – 5/10. Looked uncertain at times and some poor clearances.

Gunter – 5/10.  No sign of him playing today as a wing-back.

Dobson – 6/10. Decent contribution in terms of last-ditch challenges around the box, good second half free-kick.

Arter – 6/10. Another who started the game well and progressively found himself unable to hold or use the ball effectively.

Leko – 5/10. Faded after good start, like the others up front found himself feeding on scraps.

Stockley – 5/10. Not he day today as he was unable to turn his arial superiority into a real threat.

Washington – 5/10. Some good moments but no more.


Lee – 5/10. Unable to make a decisive contribution.

Blackett-Taylor – 8/10. Might have been against a tiring defence but he was a real threat.

Davison – 5/10. Only on for the final 10 minutes.