Saturday 30 October 2021

Just What The Doctor Ordered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player Ratings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Wednesday 27 October 2021

Same Again Please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 21 October 2021

Back To The Future Or New Broom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Familiar Failings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 18 October 2021

Frailties Highlighted, Not Positives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday 13 October 2021

Veni, Foedum, Tum Omnia Pirum Informibus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 3 October 2021

Cautious And Qualified Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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