Sunday 28 November 2021

Narrow Margins

No question that hurt. We’d I think pretty much reconciled ourselves to the fact that we hadn’t played well enough, against another lowly but resolute opponent, to be able to claim we deserved to win; but losing in stoppage time to a ‘goal’ that so clearly should have been ruled out is another matter. Going into the game you’d have said a win and dropping the points against Morecombe was repaired, four points from the two games a good return, a defeat and you have to question whether at least the initial the JJ bounce has run its course, a draw and we’d feel a little disappointed but fair enough, depending on the circumstances. As it is, the loss and the circumstances inevitably leave us feeling gutted, even if JJ is right to focus on 14 points from 7 games.

For Shrewsbury’s goal, it is worth remembering that we got our equaliser against Rotherham (well-deserved as it may have been) curtesy of a clear shove in the back on their guy by Washington. In both cases I’d suggest that you had a forward playing the percentages: no chance of getting the ball so no downside to trying to influence play with a foul, worst that can happen is the ref gives the free kick against you and if he misses it you never know. The refs in League One are inconsistent enough to make it well worth trying; with VAR both goals would have been ruled out.

With around 10 minutes to go, the game scoreless and horrible in windy conditions, the situation was created whereby either side could have nicked a fortunate winner. In stoppage time the ball actually dropped in their box to Gilbey, but instead of firing in the winner he scuffed his shot. Narrow margins. And although we look back on the lion’s share of possession, they could have scored twice in the opening spell – one cross inches away from being converted then the powerful strike which MacGillivray superbly turned over the bar. The sum total of our real efforts on goal was Gilbey’s first-half shot, two headers either side of the break from Washington, and a fierce drive from Lee – all of which amounted to routine saves by their keeper. Might add in the cross which was headed out from under the bar by their defender.

The concerning aspect for me about both the Morecombe and Shrewsbury games was our failure to impose ourselves and win the games in the second half. In both games we were brighter and more inventive before the break. That surely points to the fatigue we have all been pointing to, plus the lack of good options on the bench. I suspect most would agree that if Stockley and Pearce had both been available we would have taken more than the one point. It isn’t that those on the bench are not good players, just that we are short in key areas (up front and central defence) while the midfield trio of Dobson, Gilbey and Lee has been working so well that you don’t want to alter that during a game.

It's also reasonable to suppose that the opposition have been doing their homework and worked out how they want to counter our threat. Shrewsbury began the game very much on the front foot, but one they didn’t get their early goal they focused more on getting players behind the ball, leaving no space for Lee in particular to utilise. That really meant our threat had to come down the flanks, but while Blackett-Taylor caused them problems moving Purrington into central defence did curb the threat on the other side, with Soare looking rather rusty.

We know that in both games the zip and verve which we saw against Plymouth has just not been there. Has to be back by the time Ipswich come visiting if the momentum is to be restored. Barring injury Stockley will be back for that one, perhaps Pearce too, and with Leko now back in the frame and Jaiyesimi having a further break to rebuild the energy we should be in better shape physically and mentally. Of course in the interim there is the small matter of sending out a side for the Papa John’s thing and avoiding the embarrassment of an FA Cup exit to Gateshead. Quite frankly just want those games out of the way so that we can focus on the ones that matter and getting back on track after a blip.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Glass Half Full

After Saturday’s performance and result, it wasn’t just the dressing room that was bubbly. Were we perhaps just a little guilty of letting expectations run away? Could we deliver again? It proved to be a case of glass half full/half empty, the only problem being that at one stage that glass was full. It was a game which for most of the time we looked like we would win, we had the possession and the opportunities to win, but this time came up short as we allowed Morecambe a way back into it. Fact is the zip of Saturday wasn’t there tonight, it was a game too far; but the positive was the fact that having been pegged back to 2-2 we didn’t lose the game, keeping the unbeaten run under JJ going. And if we win at Shrewsbury on Saturday it will look like a good point.

The team news centred on whether or not Pearce would be fit and whether there would be roles for Leko, who apparently travelled and could be available again, and/or Burstow. In the event Pearce didn’t make it and Gunter started, making it the same back three in front of MacGillivray which finished the game on Saturday, with Elerewe taking Gunter’s place on the bench. The rest of the team was predictably as you were, no resting of any tired legs. The composition of the bench – one replacement defender, one replacement forward, four midfield/wide midfield – reflected available resources and served to underline that the last thing we needed would be another injury.

We’d barely taken our seats when we went in front. Good work down the right side saw the ball find its way into Davison, who slid it back out to Jaiyesimi in space. He drilled it in, probably more a cross than a shot, but their keeper failed to gather it and ended up helping it on its way into the net.

And after a little over 20 minutes of reasonable control we extended the lead. MacGillivray collected and looked up, picked out Washington in space with a long clearance. Their centre-half made a mess of it, allowing him to get on the end of the ball and to chip the keeper from outside the box. After Saturday’s assured finish from Lee’s through ball, it was another good conversion.

With a two-goal cushion and seemingly in control thoughts immediately turned to being able perhaps to play within ourselves, take the foot off the pedal a little after the effort put in on Saturday. We didn’t really get the chance to find out as almost straight after Morecambe were back in it, curtesy of a soft but probably correct penalty. Gunter was being manhandled by Stockton but didn’t go down, only to get turned and to make contact with the centre-forward, who gratefully went to ground. It was either a penalty or a yellow for diving, probably just about the former. Stockton dispatched the spot kick and the game changed.

We continued to have the lion’s share of the play through to the break, without creating another clear chance. And nothing much changed in the second half, Washington turning in the box but saw his effort blocked, as was a fierce shot from DJ, then Dobson joined in with another. We were to pay for not extending the lead again as on 72 minutes Morecambe equalised, a fairly simple case of a corner swung in and a guy not being marked heading home.

I have to say at that point, with us already looking jaded and increasingly sloppy in possession, I feared we would go on to lose the match. We managed to avoid that outcome, without testing their keeper at the other end. A tired DJ gave way for Blackett-Taylor on the right side, followed by Gunter coming off and Kirk on, with Purrington moved inside. Both the replacements had their moments, without delivering a telling one. Finally Burstow came on for Davison with only a few minutes of normal time remaining; and with only three stoppage time minutes added the ref still managed to blow for the end of the game before we were able to find out whether Dobson’s shot might have produced a winner.

We finished the stronger of the two sides, Morecambe looking pleased with their point. Understandably it felt like a couple of points dropped, fact is we didn’t create a really good chance in the entire second half. It was a game too far, now just hope the team has the time to regroup and refresh in time for Saturday, perhaps with one or two of the injured back available. Disappointed – which is itself a reflection of the raised expectations now – but give Morecambe some credit; they were dogged and put in a shift to get themselves a very hard-earned point. What our point will mean for us will only become clearer after Saturday’s game.

No point in player ratings for tonight, they would all be similar and everyone was a little off the pace compared with Saturday. Give Man of the Match to Washington, second accomplished finish in two games.

Monday 22 November 2021

Belatedly Joining In The Celebrations

I’m afraid first celebrations then painting and decorating (plus a drive back to Lyon from Givry) prevented any match report from me. But just in case there is any doubt, like every other Addick I was just bloody delighted (again). We went toe-to-toe with the team leading the league and didn’t allow them to play, leaving them looking like they had an off-day, and created a fair number of opportunities through good play of our own, taking two of them. The possession stats were, in this context, entirely irrelevant.

Nobody is in any doubt we merited the win on the day – and to their credit I’ve not seen any dissenting voice from a Plymouth fan or official. Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe’s assessment, according to the BBC, was that: “It wasn't for the lack of trying, we didn't have that cutting edge at the top end of the pitch. The turnovers were too quick and we knew what they would try to do and try to counter on us, and there was a bit of sloppy play on our behalf by individuals. But it's football, they're human beings and sometimes they're going to make mistakes. We weren't quite at our best while Charlton were." I’d only take issue with the idea that we were at our best; that is surely yet to come.

Within the well-deserved plaudits perhaps a note of perspective. On Saturday we scored at just the right times (glossing over the fact that one off someone’s backside in the 95th minute would have been fine), which gave the game the shape it adopted. At half-time for sure we had been the better side but there were concerns: first, we hadn’t scored; second, Plymouth would probably come out better in the second half; and third, they did have opportunities in a game of few clear-cut chances. We know the best teams win when not playing well and it wouldn’t have been a big surprise had Plymouth upped the tempo after the break and nicked the first goal, after which it would have been a real struggle to get something out of the game despite having played so well.

Instead, as the game was entering its final third, we scored the massively important first goal, curtesy of both an assured finish by Purrington but also poor defending. Three Plymouth defenders ended up jumping for the cross against one of us - and all missed it; and although Purrington did well to keep the ball down and hit it true, their keeper let it in under his body. Now in the first half we had got away with a couple of errors in defence, in the second I think just one. First, Pearce moved up, apparently to play offside, only for someone to his right not going with him, leaving the space in behind. It was exploited and only a fine save by MacGillivray kept the scoresheet blank. Second, Famewo, despite having a storming game overall, was caught out once which nearly cost us. Third, Jaiyesimi – also outstanding, especially in the first half – was running on empty and saw the ball played behind him to their guy, who was able to drill in a low cross that very nearly resulted in a goal (fortunately it didn’t get a touch from one of theirs and then Purrington was able to avoid putting it into his own net).

That goal understandably galvanised us, especially as it came just minutes after Pearce had been forced to leave the pitch injured, creating doubts about whether a defence containing a midfielder and a full-back in the central area would be able to cope, without Pearce’s leadership. We did look edgy at the back for a while and if the goal had not come then it is quite possible Plymouth would have grabbed the initiative.

Even so, as the clock ticked down we were facing the prospect of a final 10 minutes or so of really backs-to-the-wall stuff. A number of players had given their all (Davison and DJ were the ones taken off but it was a close call for others whose legs were giving out). Plymouth’s height advantage might have told from a set piece. Instead, just as we were girding our loins for the challenge, Lee goes and plays one of the balls of the season to pick out Washington in space. And he resembled Mendonca as he waited for their keeper to make a move then played it over him and into the net. It was an excellent finish. We get the lift again at just the right time, air taken out of their tyres (to the extent that we could easily have scored another couple).

I suppose the point is that yes, we undoubtedly deserved the win but also we got the breaks. That’s not going to happen every week. We have good reason to have faith in the resolve of this team now, given the way they fought for a point against Rotherham after going behind. But we can’t expect now to just breeze past opposition of lesser quality than Sunderland, Rotherham and Plymouth. The approach to the games of late has been spot-on and that simply has to be replicated if we are to extend the run and continue to climb the table.

Now for sure that’s not going to stop us noting that, although the gap to sixth is still nine points (and yes, Sunderland and MK Dons have played fewer), there are now ‘only’ six teams standing between us and a play-off spot. Successive away games against teams battling for their lives at the bottom up next, then a well-deserved break (not before, please). 

Sunday 14 November 2021

Defence Takes The Plaudits

Today we were looking for at least a point and to continue the positive momentum in terms of performance and league position. We got both, albeit after a bruising encounter that didn’t have a lot in common with the beautiful game. That wasn’t surprising, given the opposition and especially after both teams were reduced to 10 men before 20 minutes were up. What was most pleasing was the way the defence, plus midfield, stood up to the physical challenge; Pearce and Famewo were both simply immense.

The team saw two enforced changes, with Gunter and Washington unavailable, which with Inniss, Lavelle, Matthews, Forster-Caskey and Leko on the injured list did leave us looking rather threadbare in key positions. Seems the Orient cup game was used as a trial run as Clare was asked to do an impression of Pratley and fill in as the third centre-back, to keep the formation unchanged. On the bench we had no recognised forward as a replacement, two wide men (Kirk and Blackett-Taylor), three midfielders (Watson, Arter and Morgan), one defender (Elerewe) and a keeper (Henderson). Basically anyone fit enough was in the squad.

It had been a fairly even and scrappy first 15 minutes, with us enjoying more possession and carving out a couple of decent positions, only for the end-result to be poor shots from Davison and Gilbey. Burton’s front line looked powerful and mobile, everything looked up for grabs. Then from our corner Stockley and Oshilaja, recently of this parish, renewed acquaintances and wrestled each other to the floor. Just who did what was still unclear after the available replays, certainly an arm of Stockley was swung behind him, before players from both sides joined in. When the dust settled, and by the look of it on the advice of the linesman, both players saw red. Needs further examination and comment before there can be any condemnation or redemption of either player.

On the face of it nothing changed. We kept our formation, just playing with one striker instead of two, while Burton opted to make no change either. In the first half it did seem to make little difference as we were enjoying the bulk of possession – and most important shortly after the fracas we had a precious lead. A corner on our right played short produced an ordinary cross but it was flicked on by Famewo, then seemed to get a touch off one of their defenders, and Purrington then did very well to dominate their guy and head into the far corner.

The rest of the first half we were generally in control, albeit picking up yellow cards consistently, once again highlighting the inconsistency of referees. First Lee was booked for a foul, fair enough. Shortly after their guy follows through late on Pearce, no card. Then Jaiyesimi picked up a very silly yellow for a kicking away the ball in frustration, Davison in the second half kicked it away after conceding a free kick and nothing was done, while at the death Famewo also saw yellow – which rules him out of next Saturday’s game – for time-wasting, only for many more blatant such actions by us in the second half to go unmentioned. That said, the ref did redeem himself as there was a key moment on 40 minutes, as for once we were caught out, a ball squared into our box saw their forward nick it past MacGillivray and go down. At first sight you feared penalty, but the ref wasn’t buying it and correctly booked their guy for a dive.

The second half was a different affair. Burton came out with more intent, with probably Hasselbaink having continued his verbals directed at JJ (which were understandably returned) against his players. And in the first few minutes they had what proved their best chance of the game. Their guy on the left found space in the box and drilled in a fierce, head-high shot which MacGillivray managed to block with an outstretched hand. Another crucial save by him to protect a lead.

Increasingly, and not surprisingly, we found it difficult to find a decent out ball and retain possession, being short of a forward, with more players in our half of the pitch than theirs. Davison was working his socks off as usual but we were increasingly playing on the break and relying on the defence to hold firm. We did have moments when we might have scored again, but they were fleeting and never amounted to a clear-cut chance.

With around twenty minutes left Blackett-Taylor came on for Davison. You could see the rationale: Davison was knackered and CBT might just be able to find and use the space, if we could get the ball to his feet. It didn’t really happen but was worth a try. Dobson made a rare error with a stray pass intercepted, putting us in danger, but Famewo bailed him out. And late on Elerewe came on for DJ, who looked either injured or just out of gas, with Clare moving into midfield.

It was never easy, but with the exception of the Dobson pass we didn’t cough up any gifts for them, kept our shape and discipline, and basically as an away team defending a one-goal advantage for 50 minutes you couldn’t have asked for more. I made Famewo my MoM, with Pearce close behind (he really has stepped up to the plate as first Inniss and then Lavelle dropped out), plus special mention in dispatches for Clare, doing a job which obviously isn’t his natural game but proving up to the task, even though not surprisingly early in the game Burton were testing his area.

So now it’s nine points and 11 teams between us and sixth place. No point in dwelling on that too much as yet, as we know coming up next will be an on-fire Plymouth and, although we will have Gunter and Washington back (possibly Matthews and Leko too?), Famewo and Stockley will be unavailable. At least we know that with all week to prepare. Let’s just bask a little longer in three wins and a draw and the focus being now entirely what is above us rather than around and below. And I must admit on a Sunday morning sparing a thought for Adkins. He tried his best but must now be wondering what on earth he did that was so wrong, for his departure to be followed by such a turnaround. Hope he learns from the experience and gets another chance before too long.

Monday 8 November 2021

Recent History On The Side Of JJ

Banana skin avoided. Personally I’m in the camp which couldn’t give a monkey’s about the FA Cup, just not relevant to us at present (different matter when we’re in the Championship but let’s get back there first), but nobody wants an upset and interruption to the positive momentum. After all, JJ is ensuring that TS has no decision to make at the moment, except whether and when he judges that the time is right to either make the position his until the end of the season or on a longer term basis. After all, while the more desperate Premiership clubs may be using the international break to make managerial changes, our decision-making time really comes in advance of the January transfer window.

We are all mightily relieved that two wins and a draw have not just pulled us out of the relegation zone but set us thinking about whether we dare to hope of the play-offs. OK, let’s not kid ourselves, of course we do. Every season we play in this division has to be deemed a failure if we do not get promoted. That’s not to say we have any right to be higher than anyone else, just the yardstick by which we measure our success and failure. There are another 30 games to play, 90 points up for grabs. Right now 11 points and 12 teams stand between us and sixth spot, with nine league games to go before the window opens.

This isn’t about whether we will need reinforcements and in what positions (that poacher in the box to give us another option keeps cropping up in my head). Presumably we will be getting Inniss and Lavelle back before long, while Forster-Caskey will hopefully reappear too. It is about whether as we get towards 2022 we are closer to the top six and have a realistic prospect of going up, despite the disaster of the first 13 games. If the answer is yes, TS surely then (if the decision has not already been taken) has to think whether our chances are maximised by retaining/confirming JJ (and if we are closer to the top the answer would surely be yes, if we are not we could be planning for next season).

With that in mind, a note from a fellow Addick about Charlton always doing better with a former player at the helm set me thinking. I was astonished to realise that it’s now 35 years (leaving aside the maths for the months) since we last won promotion with a manager who was not a former player (Lennie Lawrence). Since then we have had, according to my simple research, 20 managers. Just three of them – Curbs, Sir Chris, Lee Bowyer – have won promotion, so in that sense 17 of them failed (OK, that does include caretakers, while Jose Riga could claim success of a sort, when he took over Powell’s team).

Of course it’s not that simple, many other factors involved, not least the fact that nine of them (give or take a couple) had the crippling limitation of Duchatelet being in charge for their tenures. But looking at it another way, in the past 35 years every former player we have appointed manager has won us promotion (if you really want to split hairs the exceptions here are Keith Peacock and Ben Roberts).

Those looking to spoil the beauty of the argument will no doubt point out that two of the former players (Curbs and Bowyer) also were in charge when we were relegated. But surely if we are arguing that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, history would seem to be on JJ’s side.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

A Game Of 'Ifs' But Improvement And Progression Maintained

Encouraging again, not perfect (more quality and precision in the final third please) but honour was satisfied, might have been better, could have been worse, what is now an unbeaten run continues. It proved to be more than usually a game of ‘ifs’, starting with the major imponderable: if the ref, Scott Oldham, had not been poor, highly inconsistent in his interpretation of what was and what was not a foul, and erratic and ultimately inadequate in his use of the cards, the game would have turned out very different. Both goals could have been ruled out and Rotherham would have played the final 30 minutes with 10 men.

As for the Doncaster game the team was unchanged barring enforced switches (then Gunter and Pearce for Matthews and Lavelle), with Leko unavailable and Jaiyesimi keeping his place, with Kirk added to the bench. And from the start it was clear – if there had been any doubt before – that we were facing a somewhat stiffer test than at the weekend. Rotherham through the game proved to be strong, mobile, well-drilled (especially dangerous from set pieces), and not averse to use of the dark arts, with a tumble to the ground usually accompanied by theatricals. In that they may have taken encouragement from the ref’s performance.

Stockley picked up a yellow very early on for allegedly leading with his elbow, the Rotherham players clearly aware of a reputation and calling for a more severe punishment. A booking, irrespective of the duration of the game, fair enough. Stockley surely has to work on not challenging in this fashion, or subsequently winding up the ref with some chat. But thereafter through the game whenever he was hauled to the ground or pulled and pushed little was done, the ref seemingly intent on avoiding a tough call on who fouled first. Famewo saw yellow for a professional foul as Rotherham broke around the half-way line. Again, fair enough, but this was shortly after their guy had pulled back Gilbey, who had wriggled free around the corner flag and was advancing into the box. No card. Then in the second half their defender was correctly booked for a late tackle only to repeat the sin, again on Gilbey, further forward. A lecture but no second yellow. A big call but a pretty clear-cut one and the ref bottled it (to the extent that their guy was almost immediately substituted).

As for the football, the first half proved fairly even but you have to say Rotherham had the edge. There were periods when it looked likely we would fall behind as and when one of their dangerous positions turned into a chance. We too had our moments, most obviously when Washington from close range was unable to get either the pace or direction with his header to beat their keeper. And just when you thought it was on to the tea and oranges to regroup, Rotherham took the lead. A throw-in led to the ball being curled to the far post, their guy managed to shift it back inside, and another one was first to it to hit the ball high into the net. We protested, but even the TV team couldn’t work out why: foul throw, ball over the line, offside? Seems with replays their guy may well have used his hand to divert the ball back from around the byline. To be fair it was a hard one to see at the time, would have needed VAR.

That laid down a challenge for the second half. Had we done all we could and were behind to a strong team, or was there more in the locker? Proved to be the latter as we created far more and much better chances than them, generally bossing the game. Washington was played in but a heavy first touch saw him only able to nudge the ball close to their keeper, who saved, then Gilbey missed a gilt-edged one. A ball into a crowded area was headed down to him around the penalty spot. Not a cert as there were bodies between the ball and the net, but he chose power, leant back, and blasted it over the bar.

Then we had another ‘if’. If MacGillivray had not stuck out a strong paw and blocked a strong, goalbound header from close range we would have gone 0-2 down and there would probably have been no way back from that. He did, we stayed in the game.

Our equaliser came with about 10 minutes left. The ball was somewhere up in the air and on its way down, covered by their defender. Washington shoved him in the back and out of the way, collected the ball, advanced, saw Stockley draw defenders away, then his low shot took a deflection and went in. I confess I wasn’t that excited as surely the foul would be given, if the ref had been watching. Contact when challenging for the ball, fair enough, a shove in the back when the ball is not being contested is perhaps a different matter. It looked to me like a good foul from a wily professional: no chance of getting the ball without fouling so a percentage one, worst that can happen is the foul is given. But do we care?

We were the more likely to nick a winner in the time that remained, but it wasn’t to be. An honourable draw. JJ generally kept his power dry, with Blackett-Taylor coming on for DJ just before our goal but otherwise no changes, despite an energy-sapping encounter. That was probably a reflection of just how well we were playing and the feeling that a goal was on the cards. There again, the only real options were Clare (no problem here but not the player likely to change the game), Davison (would have been for either Stockley or Washington and that would have been a gamble), or Kirk (a risk too far surely). Not that many options when we were behind and looking to get level or having done so trying to weigh up whether to play safe or go for another.

Man of the match for me just about went to Lee, who was instrumental in our good second-half work, with special mention in dispatches for Gilbey (who again made things happen), Pearce (for another warrior performance), and MacGillivray (for the save that enabled us to go on and get a point).

I suspect a cup game at the weekend and a sort of break will be good for us – as long as there is no upset of course. Some tired legs can be rested, a few can get valuable game-time, and more important perhaps the work on the training ground can focus on cohesion and precision in the final third. We heard JJ talk before about most of the time being devoted to how we act when not in possession, the benefits of which have been clear. More of that for sure, but we are reasonably sure now what – barring injuries – the team, squad and formation will be for the next few games. So an opportunity to work on the partnerships – while us fans try to calculate how many games it will take before we have closed the gap on sixth place. And that is a much nicer place to be in than a few weeks ago.

Monday 1 November 2021

Considering The Options

As we gird the loins for the next test of our revival - one that will in some senses complete the mini-challenge: tough away game against team around the top, win against the odds; need to blow away a struggling team and avoid what would have been a banana skin; now a real test of our improvement against a team in a play-off spot which has won four and drawn one of its last five – it was interesting to hear Curbs talk of how those being pulled into team/squad through injuries have both an opportunity and a challenge.

So far, leaving aside for now Forster-Caskey (whose welcome return will hopefully give JJ a real selection headache before long), we’ve lost Inniss and his replacement Lavelle to injury, had Matthews not available against Doncaster, now face the prospect of Leko being sidelined (also hopefully not for long). The immediate replacements were pretty straightforward: Pearce in for Lavelle/Inniss, Gunter in for Matthews, and DJ on the right side. It would be surprising to see changes for Rotherham (possibly Matthews back in of course, possibly not). The greater issue is, with us playing better and seemingly finding our feet, who is going to fill places on the bench – and who is left in the cold for a while longer.

The players currently not in the starting X1 and not automatic choices for the bench are (leaving aside the goalkeeping position) Soare, Watson, Arter, Morgan, and Kirk. You can’t include Clare, Blackett-Taylor and Davison as they are all involved, in and around (by the way, to ensure I wasn’t forgetting someone I did check the first-team squad on the club site and was a tad surprised to see Alfie Doughty included), nor Elerewe. The real question I think is whether we can maintain the style of play under JJ in the event that we lose another player to injury or suspension.

We might have a large squad now but we are not entirely blessed with options in defence and up front. If Pearce or Famewo become unavailable (before either Lavelle or Inniss returns) either Elerewe is given his chance or we press Gunter into a more central spot (or ask Orient for Pratley back). At the moment up front Stockley and Washington are starting and Davison is (for now) a replacement. Nobody else if Leko is injured.

The options we have are really in the wide positions and central midfield. For the former, DJ played well against Doncaster after Leko was forced off and CBT is next in line. Kirk really only gets a look-in at present if either of those two are not available. That’s as it should be, he had some games and I think played poorly. I hope there’s a good deal more to come from him, up to him to prove it to JJ and to perform when he gets his chance again. Much the same can be said of Morgan. He started the season as a No.10 but that position requires goals and he has since been pushed out by a combination of Lee becoming indispensable and Gilbey playing better. The Adkins experiment of playing Morgan in front of the back four, like that of Kirk in Lee’s position, simply didn’t work.

Watson we know can do a reasonable job, but Dobson has set a high standard; if Watson gets called on to replace him it will require greater energy and drive than before for us to maintain the pressing game higher up the pitch. Arter was unfortunate to drop out through injury when playing well. Losing Dobson would be a serious blow, but one of Watson, Arter or Clare would have the opportunity to step up and be asked to do what he has done in the last two games. Replacing Lee would be more problematic, probably you’d move Gilbey into his slot and perhaps bring in Clare; the alternative would be to give Morgan the chance, if he is impressing in training.

If you assume the same starting X1 for Rotherham except DJ in if Leko is unavailable, with six places on the bench up for grabs (excluding Henderson) you’d assume Elerewe plus one from Matthews (or Gunter if the starting positions are reversed) and Soare. Davison and CBT take up another two. Watson and Clare presumably the final two spots, unless Arter is available and preferred to either of them. The two that you’d say are still likely to have to remain patient are Morgan and Kirk. Hopefully they will take a look at Dobson and think ‘my turn will come and I will be ready for it’.