Thursday, 26 May 2022

Cut The Guy Some Slack

Just as the frustration was rising over the clock ticking down to a new season and no manager in place to follow JJ, seems we have the news. Nothing official yet, but no reason to think that the reports saying Swindon’s Ben Garner is about to be appointed will prove wide of the mark (barring some last-minute failure to agree terms). That the guy didn’t even feature in the odds might be considered strange, but that reflected the fact that nobody had a clue what TS was thinking; having his son quoted at one point at 12-1 was truly surreal and only serves to underline the point.

No, we haven’t managed to attract Mourinho, Guardiola or the like. No, no manager or assistant from a higher division will be coming to impress us. Yes, the jury will be out for some time to come over whether disposing of Jackson was the right move, especially as we have replaced him with someone equally unproven as a manager, one still learning the craft. And yes, for most of us Garner is an unknown quantity, so the immediate reaction is no doubt for many that this is an underwhelming choice. It is after all a selection which points more towards a desire for gradual progress than an all-out drive for promotion next season (although that still has to be the objective).

Fair enough, but that’s surely where it ends. I want Garner to succeed, just as I wanted Adkins to succeed. We’ll no doubt discuss shortcomings, disagreements over new signings, tactics and team selection, but criticism has to be positive and Garner deserves our backing in principle.

There are obvious reasons why Sandgaard has gone for him: his background in youth development, a different approach, and it would seem a preference for a style of play which TS favours (on that front I’m in the camp which would prioritise results and promotion over style but would welcome results in style).

I don’t mind admitting I harbour reservations about Sandgaard’s style of management and it’s not surprising that he’s come in for criticism of late, even if a chunk of it appears well over the top. My personal view is that he is a million miles away from Duchatelet (and the wasters he was ready to pass us on to) and we are fortunate to have him in charge. And as I’ve commented before, if we’ve had a bad year we haven’t seen (I imagine) our net wealth drop from a estimated £400m to less than £100m. But nobody’s perfect and IMHO the management structure he seems to prefer is deficient, being suited to a small company – or one in an industry which the owner knows inside-out – rather than disparate nature of a football club.  

I could of course be wrong, but from a distance it seems that everyone in a meaningful position at the club reports directly to him, no chain of command. That means two things. First, it undermines trust. Nobody (except TS) knows exactly what anyone else is telling TS, what TS is thinking etc. Where each person stands in the pecking order can end up depending not on areas of responsibility but on who is in favour/out of favour at any particular point. It’s a reassuring set-up for the man at the top but a poor one for everyone else. IMO it does not help to create an efficient and well-motivated operation. Second, and related, when you are not an expert in a particular field it is very easy to be impressed by, convinced by, good presentations. Until the next good and equally convincing presentation which contradicts the previous one comes along. So there is vacillation, apparently random decision-making. In our context we have to hope he gets most of the decisions right, but the process is I’d suggest far less than a science. I remember Richard Murray once commenting that Iain Dowie delivered a good presentation.

If this all comes across as idle thoughts from afar (and for sure there’s an element of that) it’s because I’d acknowledge that I ran a (small) company in a similar fashion. That worked (I think) as there were effectively no other stakeholders and no need for a management structure or team. I’d encourage staff and others to tell me what they thought, take it all on board, then decide and implement. It was OK not least because it was my area of expertise and I was, in that sense and in that limited area, an expert. I don’t think it works well for a more involved structure.

That said, if it’s the case that Garner will be bringing with him his assistants from Swindon it would indicate he will be less isolated/more influential than if it was just him. Tough on Jason Euell if he as a result moves out, but it was tough on JJ too. It goes without saying that we all hope JJ proves a blinding success at Wimbledon – and if Euell goes we would hope he reappears somewhere else quickly.

The basic upside is that the choice is made, hopefully now everyone can get on with agreement over what players we need. The decisions over players released included the obvious surprise of Washington not being retained, good luck to him. Who knows? Perhaps Garner will be in favour of offering him a new deal. The focus has shifted and we can at least move on to the preparations for next season. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

JJ Reign Over Before It Could Begin

So, the JJ regime comes to an end, before many will say – perhaps he himself will say - he had the chance to really put his own mark on the team and be judged accordingly. The parallels with Sir Chris are pretty plain (ie he got the nod and backing after a mixed performance when he first took over and won us promotion). Everyone, without exception, will be saddened by the news of Jackson’s sacking and we all wish him every success and happiness for the future. He has earned a special place at the club. But there’s going to be no consensus on whether it was the right move by Sandgaard; and whatever our opinions right now only time will tell on that front.

With the news being so recent, with many factors involved being unclear (including whether or not others will be following JJ out of the door), is there much useful to be said from a position outside the club? TS has enough goodwill in the bag to ensure that the decision will be accepted (what else can we do?), albeit with a heavy heart. But the decision exposes him in the sense that if we underperform next season it will now be laid directly at his door, especially now his son occupies an important position at the club. That might also have been said about the choice of Adkins, but we are all further down the line now and one choice that didn’t work out is acceptable. Get it wrong this time around and deeper questions will be asked.

For what it’s worth personally it is not a decision I would have made. I think Jackson has qualities we will need next season to mount a promotion challenge, to group together a new squad and have them energised and determined. Will anyone else coming in have the level of backing from the fans that JJ enjoys? That said, the guy was still learning the trade and we have too often of late looked tactically na├»ve and appeared to have the wrong mindset going into games. A manager has to take some of the responsibility for that, although at the end of a season with nothing but pride to play for and a number of those on the pitch unsure of whether they would be staying for the next campaign the latter at least was perhaps unavoidable.

No question TS will have to move fast on a replacement, given the emphasis he has been putting on getting transfer dealings done as quickly as possible before pre-season – which given a 30 July start to the season is not far off. We can have no idea if there is someone in mind, but recent comments from Sandgaard about Jackson suggest that this was a decision taken late in the day, not planned for some time. We were embarrassed by Ipswich on Saturday and it’s hard to imagine that performance not having been a factor in tilting the balance.

There are of course unanswered questions. How important does Sandgaard see the role of manager, or just how much input does the ‘manager’ have when it comes to new signings and how we play? Was the addiction to a back three/five and wing-backs down to Jackson or was he following instructions (in interviews Sandgaard said he expected we would continue to play with wing-backs but left open whose decision that was)? I’m not in the know but someone who is, Richard Crawley, has tweeted about indications of differences of opinion between TS and JJ over how we need to go about winning promotion. Some greater clarity from the two involved would be good (ie which of the two leans towards players and tactics which can grind out results and which backs pretty football), but I doubt we’ll get that.

Almost everyone at the club, including it would seem the new appointments, report to TS, there seems to be no chain of command. That seems to be the way he likes it, whatever the drawbacks. But if JJ departed because of a disagreement with TS over how to play the game, successfully, the new manager is going to have to toe the line and do what TS says on that front. I imagine a lot of good candidates would not accept such a state of affairs, which if true would be far too close to the Duchatelet debacle for comfort.

If we go up next season, TS made a brave and good call – and vice versa. Sandgaard is quoted on the club site as saying “I have big ambitions for Charlton and it will be important for us to find the right individual that can build on the foundations in place and help us progress on our journey”. There was such a person in place, we wait to see just who might prove to be a better option.

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Horrible End To A Lousy Season

At least we can say our Charlton team has in the final couple of games of the season been sending the majority of fans in the stadium home happy. For the final outing at The Valley we managed a rather laboured but ultimately OK 2-0 victory against Shrewsbury, curtesy of two powerful headers from set pieces, Charlton fans were able to at least see a win to round off home games, even eye a 12th-place finish. Yesterday we sent most Ipswich fans home with a smile on their face by delivering an abject display against a decent team, which put four past us and should have had more. The only good news for us on the day was Cheltenham’s late equaliser at Cambridge, which deprived the latter of two points and meant we finished the season in 13th spot rather than 14th (which would have equalled our post-war low).

There’s not much point going over the bare bones of yesterday, other than to underline that Ipswich provided clear evidence that if we want to be in the running for promotion next season we have to improve a great deal. Sure, we had little to really play for and they wanted to put on a show for their fans, who like us will have been hoping for much better at the start of the campaign. Perhaps some players were already mentally on their holidays, some are still in the dark over whether they are going to be offered new contracts (I’ve no idea what goes on behind the scenes but if players such as Pearce and Washington still don’t know it is a poor reward for their efforts and reflects badly on the club; if a new contract is to be offered for crying out loud tell them and play them, if not accept that there’s no point in them being selected – a state of limbo suits nobody). Still no excuse.

If as JJ said after the game that “a lot of lessons will be learnt”, hopefully he has learnt his. What mindset did the players start the game with? Who decided that from the start our midfield and defence would say goodbye to each other? And if we wish to play relentlessly with the 3/5 at the back with wing-backs, which we have done since Jackson took over why are we still so bad at it? With the midfield pressing high up the pitch all Ipswich had to do was pass the ball forward and run in support. Suddenly they were up against a flat line of five and simply exploited the gaps between them, especially on our left side as Famewo and Blackett-Taylor played pass the buck.

Ipswich’s first goal was outstanding for sure. Perhaps they could have been closed down better as they moved the ball square, but their guy stroked an absolute belter past Harness, brought in to replace an ill MacGillivray. Their second was embarrassing as a couple of passes were all that were needed to send their guy through for a one-on-one with Harness, and he scored. With just over 10 minutes gone they could afford to take their foot off the gas for the rest of the first half. The stats at the break showed they had 70% possession, 12 attempts on goal (albeit only two on target), against two from us (one apparently on target).

Obviously when you’re 2-0 down at the break you know you need to score the next goal to get back into it. Instead within a few minutes of the restart we were 3-0 down. After CBT lost possession they simply cut us apart. That was pretty much game over, although after that at least the chances created were more even. Ipswich should (in my view) have had a penalty for a poor Inniss tackle and they missed a string of sitters. For us both Washington and Stockley should have got on the scoresheet, especially the latter, who managed to hit the bar from about a yard out. But it was all rather academic. In the event Ipswich’s fourth just served to round things off.

A fellow Addick asked me after the game how I thought Harness had played. Not easy to say. Ipswich after all only had four attempts on target and none of them he could do anything about. He did make a couple of good blocks, coming off his line, but basically he didn’t make a save as all the other times they missed. The defeat was nothing to do with him.

Anyway, it’s all done. Now we wait for the serious news regarding first who is and who is not being offered new deals. Get Dobson his PoTY award and let us as quickly as possible forget what has been a disappointing failure of a season. No question that nine points in the first 13 games meant that a top-six finish was probably already out of reach before JJ took over. His tremendous run of results at the start suggested otherwise but then injuries and suspensions sent us into reverse and killed off any thoughts of a late challenge. Take away the first 13 games and we took 50 points from 33 games, which extended over a full season would have given us 69/70, alongside Ipswich, who yesterday demonstrated that were not in their class.

Enough, it is all done. The season is over. Hope everyone has a good break from it all and comes back for the next campaign refreshed, relaxed, but determined and optimistic. Of course we the supporters will be. Please TS, JJ, ensure that everyone else it too.

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Deserved It In The End

So, which Charlton would turn up tonight? The disciplined and determined outfit which took on Rotherham and kept a clean sheet, won the game (and could have scored more than one), or the one which decided defending was a little beneath it at home to Morecambe, coughed up three goals, and lost? We were away, against a team above us in the league, a game which we surely had to win to keep alive hopes of a 12th-place finish, all of which pointed to the former; but it was ‘only’ Cambridge, who apparently made seven changes to look at options at the end of the season, comfortable in their position.

In the event we had something between the two I’d say. It was no classic but the conditions apparently played a part, with a difficult pitch and swirling wind. We did give away chances in the first half but Cambridge didn’t get anything on target – and ended up with their stats saying only one out of ten attempts (although it’s not clear if that total included one in the first half headed for goal but deflected wide and one in the second saved by MacGillivray but inexplicably resulting in a goal-kick, not a corner). We finished the game with nine efforts on target out of 14 attempts – but with it not clear if the nine included our two goals as both of them came courtesy of wicked deflections. It was that sort of night. Perhaps most important we did in the end deserve the points.

Still without Inniss, Lee and Fraser the team saw one straight swap, Washington off the bench and Burstow back on it, while among the subs Purrington missed out, seemingly with a slight knock, and Elerewe was able to return from injury, leaving him as the only defensive replacement (unless you count Jaiyesimi and Leko as possible wing-backs).

The first half was patchy, low on quality, neither side able to really take a grip on the game. Every now and then a chance would come along at either end and not be taken. I’d count it as 3-3 on good openings. First Cambridge broke down our right side, the ball was played on to a guy in space inside our box, suspicions of offside. In any event he curled the effort just wide, should at least have hit the target. Then on 20 minutes a Cambridge shot seemed to have the beating of MacGillivray but a deflection off Clare took it wide of the far post. Just after Gilbey played a ball down the left inside their full-back and Blackett-Taylor seemed to be in on goal. But he didn’t seem able to keep the ball under good control and the shot when it came was weak and saved comfortably.

From the resulting corner Pearce had a free header but put it wide. A Cambridge short corner caught us out, the ball was pulled back but the shot curled over the bar, then just before the break a high ball forward was taken down superbly by Washington and taken on, but his next touch took him rather wide and the eventual shot from a narrow angle was saved. So of our three decent openings two had at least made their keeper work whereas none of theirs had.

At the break it was quite frankly anybody’s game and it’s fair to say that in the second period we did get on top and Cambridge visibly wilted, despite making a number of changes. CBT was at the heart of most good moments, threatening every time he received the ball, although our first real chance came from the other side as Dobson found Washington in the channel on the right. He delivered a good cross and Stockley got to it OK, only to head just wide. Morgan found Washington just inside the box only for their keeper to gather an effort to chip him into the far corner, followed by a cross from the left headed back by Stockley for Gilbey, whose header was well-directed but lacked the pace to beat their keeper.

The goal did finally come with about 20 minutes left. And it was lucky. Morgan played it forward for Blackett-Taylor, who cut inside onto his right foot. On the replays you really can’t tell if it was a shot or a pass across goal. Either way it cannoned off their defender and into the net. We all hope he gets given the goal, but it would be stretching a point.

Almost immediately after Cambridge had probably their most dangerous moment of the second half, as a shot from outside the box was not only fumbled by MacGillivray but palmed back across him into the danger zone. Fortunately for him Pearce got to the loose ball first and managed to hack it clear. Aneke came on for Stockley and within a few minutes had played his part in us extending our lead. Clare did well to win the ball back in their final third and Aneke had a go from distance. This one deflected off Washington and past their stranded keeper. There were appeals for offside, afterwards Washington said he was trying to duck out of the way only for the ball to hit his head, all gossip as the scoreboard said 0-2 and that was the game.

A final 10 minutes and three of stoppage time were played out without serious alarm, although there was one moment of near farce as a ball in from their left side saw their forward shove Jaiyesimi (who had by then come on for CBT) out of the way, then handle it, then get his shot away. This was turned around by MacGillivray. Either our foul or a corner. The ref gave a goal-kick. C’est la vie.

The result leaves us leading the second half of the division. With two games left we can still make it up to 12th; worst case would be 17th. It really is incumbent on the team to give The Valley a decent performance and a victory over Shrewsbury to round things off there, before a final match at Ipswich. Then we can finally draw a line under this one and concentrate on the next.

Friday, 15 April 2022

Discipline Goes Again And We Lose

Four from four to end the season is what JJ called for to end the season in style. But on a sunny afternoon at the start of the holiday weekend (not in France) there did seem to be an end-of-season feel to it all, at least for us, with the thought being that in terms of motivation Morecambe had rather more to play for. And we played into their hands. Even though we knew they score plenty, gone was the determined defending we saw against Rotherham, replaced it seemed by an attitude of ‘we’re better than them and should win’, perhaps by outscoring them. The stats show we had 23 attempts on goal, against their 11, should have had a penalty, might have come away with a point. Far more important was the fact that after another good, positive start failed to produce the opening goal we were behind in the game from the 26th minute until the last. Some may enjoy an open approach. We conceded three goals and lost, not much enjoyment there.

The team would of course again be without Inniss, as well as Lee and Fraser. But there was an unenforced changed with Burstow getting a start up front, Washington taking a breather on the bench, where he was joined by the returning Aneke (with John this time not making the squad). As against Rotherham the only outright defensive option as a replacement would be Purrington, which looked like a risk and did give the bench a decidedly attack-minded look.

We did start brightly and could easily have taken the lead in the first 15 minutes or so, when we were well on top. Good, fluid play going forward, just missing the final decisive ball or clinical finish. But to be fair Morecambe were coming more into it in the sense that when they managed to get the ball they looked dangerous. They managed to work their main guy Stockton into space to be one-on-one with Pearce and he managed to get the extra yard and put in a decent shot saved by MacGillivray, then Matthews was outmuscled in the box which led to a chance, while with echoes of earlier this season the opposition were exploiting space between Clare and Matthews on the right side and Blackett-Taylor, while tearing them apart going forward, was getting exposed defensively.

So when Morecambe took the lead on 25 minutes it was harsh on us but not entirely against the run of play. One-two down the right side and the ball played in, Stockton gets to it first and plays it in off the far post. We weren’t tight enough outside the box, didn’t track their runners, and were beaten to the ball when the cross came in. Just not good enough if you want to win games.

After that we continued to get into decent positions, helped from time to time by Morecambe’s defensive frailties, without fashioning a real clear-cut chance. And before the break we went further behind, to another poor goal. A ball into the box saw Stockton goal-side of Pearce, who ended up getting in a header blind, nodding it behind him and straight to their guy. He took a touch or two to his right, then slotting it home back across MacGillivray. Could he have come for the initial cross? Possibly. But the positioning for the cross was poor all round.

We did have our best chance just before the break as from a corner Stockley put in a strong header and when the keeper saved almost put the rebound in. But at half-time we were back chasing another game, hoping to get back into it, having conceded goals that were too easy for Morecambe to score.

In the second half we created plenty of chances, scored twice, ended the game with CBT opening them up at will, Stockley, Washington and Aneke all on the pitch, should have had a penalty when Dobson was bundled over in the box when seemingly about to double his goal tally for us (and in stoppage time he turned beautifully in the area only to blaze his effort over the bar) – and lost.

We were back the game on 52 minutes as we kept possession, CBT held off his guy and sent in a cross from the left towards the far post. Burstow got on the end of it and cleverly, instead of an outright attempt on goal, saw the space and headed the ball back for Stockley to prod into the roof of the net. Not surprisingly that got our tails back up as with plenty of time to go we looked for an equaliser, only to be undone by just one of those things six minutes later. MacGillivray has rightly received plaudits this season for his assists, not least the ball out to Washington against Burton. But he has to take the criticism this time as with the ball he looked up and flagged where he was looking to put it. Their guy anticipated the throw and moved forward to intercept, took it on and made space for a fierce shot inside the near post.

That sparked changes, with Washington replacing Gilbey, then with still over 20 minutes to go Forster-Caskey came on for Morgan (who had disappointed with his passes and crosses in the final third). Pearce picked up a yellow for the team, preventing Stockton from getting clear, then it was Aneke for Burstow. With around 12 minutes of normal time left we should have had the Dobson penalty. Then CBT beat his guy (again) on the left only for Aneke to miscontrol the cross. No matter, there was a repeat straight afterwards and this time Chucks trusted his head, powerfully heading home. Still 10 minutes to go, then five minutes of added time. And finally Dobson’s turn and shot over the bar.

Yes, on chances you can say we were unfortunate to lose. Fact is, if we’d shown the same determination we had against Rotherham we would have won. Instead we seemed to have it in our heads that Morecambe were vulnerable and all we had to do was attack them. We did, but left ourselves open in the process – and as a consequence can have no complaints about the result.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

A Take On Next Season's Options

Quite naturally when you come to the end of a season and are looking to the next, once you know which division you will be in, you look at the squad and consider where it needs strengthening in light of the objectives for the next campaign. I think this time around it is exceptionally difficult for us. No question about the objective as, rightly or wrongly, any season in this division which ends without promotion is a failure (which of course does not mean we have any actual right to be around the top).

Consequently assessments over who stays and who goes have to be based around whether the end-result – of course allowing for the incoming players – is a squad good enough to get promoted from this league, with all that involves (Mickey Mouse competitions etc). But there are so many imponderables this time around, so many key decisions for Sandgaard and Jackson to be making (and while others contribute theirs should be the opinions which matter).

You normally start with identifying the core of the team you wish to build on and around, its spine: goalkeeper, then one or two in the main areas. It would also be normal to discuss what are the main strengths of the squad and, based on this, what formation and gameplan would be considered Plan A. We are doing things the other way around it seems, being wedded to a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, so the question becomes who do we need to optimise that structure. That approach of course has both strengths and weaknesses – unless somebody believes that the chosen formation is the best of all worlds.

This season we have asked a number of players to operate in a role they would not have considered to be their normal position: Matthews, Purrington, Clare, Jaiyesimi, Blackett-Taylor. So in a factor for them in deciding whether they wish to stay or go has to be whether they are content for this to continue. Take Clare. Will he want to now be considered a right-sided centre-back rather than a midfielder? I have no idea, but it adds to the uncertainty and problems in drawing firm conclusions.

Now for the units. Goalkeeper. MacGillivray I think it’s fair to say has had a decent but not outstanding season. On the plus side he’s been just about ever-present, undoubtedly was responsible for a number of points we gained through the season with some very good performances. Perhaps in response to some criticism of late he seems to have been coming more off his line to take balls into the box and ideally he would be more commanding of his area. But at 29 he's not in his formative years and you can’t expect that to change fundamentally. With Henderson as back-up, plus youth options coming through, I think it would be surprising to see a change in this area. We would then hope that MacGillivray can have a more settled and effective unit in front of him.

Wing-backs. Assuming that Soare and Familio-Castillo disappear and that Leko will not be staying with us, we play with wing-backs but have nobody who before this season would have called themselves such: Matthews, Purrington, Gunter possibly, DJ and CBT. So does JJ consider them to be wing-backs or look to bring in alternatives which clearly are? The (unsuccessful) addition of Familio-Castillo might suggest the latter, the way Blackett-Taylor has performed since returning from injury the former. Personally I quite like the balance between a converted full-back on one side and converted winger on the other, especially if from the bench you have the chance to change to a more offensive/defensive line-up depending on the match situation. On that basis, you can argue that the four we have in situ could suffice, if they all agree to continue as wing-backs, even though Jaiyesimi has been rather ineffective of late as an attacking force; at 23 he still has room for improvement.

Centre-back is probably the area of greatest uncertainty. At present we can, on paper, if all are fit, choose any three from Gunter, Purrington, Clare, Pearce, Lavelle, Inniss, Famewo and Elerewe. And not one of them is a shoo-in for next season. Two key decisions to make.

First, retain or release Inniss. I think we have recovered from the shock of ‘that tackle’ (but will continue to shake our heads for years to come) and congratulations to him on his Player in the Community award. There has to be a medical input into the decision, just an informed opinion (with no guarantees) on whether he is likely to be as unavailable through injury as he has been to date. If that verdict is not favourable, release; if it is favourable, I’d say retain. The bottom line is that at this level Inniss, when fit, would walk into most teams. For us, the extra goals he brings from set pieces would be a massive bonus if we line up without a 20+ goals a season forward. 

Second, and probably dependent on the first, Lavelle. If Inniss is not retained, is Lavelle good enough to base a promotion-winning defence around? That is a decision for people better qualified than me to make as the jury is still out. At 24 in this position his best years should be ahead of him, but without Inniss we are taking a gamble on him to be the focus of central defence. I would suggest that if Inniss goes we need to bring in someone similar.

The other decisions include what role we can expect of Pearce, whether Famewo will be available and should we pursue him, and do we continue with Clare, Purrington, even Gunter as regular centre-back options? Gunter hasn’t featured of late and at 32 he will surely want to be playing regularly if he is to retain his place in the Wales squad. Quite possibly some of these decisions have already been taken, especially over Pearce, Gunter and Famewo.

In summary, I’d suggest the defence needs clarification and strengthening. Frustratingly we have seen this season that when there is the determination from the start to keep a clean sheet, usually when confronted with the ‘better/bigger teams’, we can churn out the desired results. Much the same could have been said about last season (with Pratley). Far too often and too easily we have been easily picked apart by teams finding space between and behind us. If we want a top six spot next season that, quite simply, has to stop, probably from a combination of personnel changes, preparation and attitude (not in the sense that players don’t care, rather that sometimes they appear to me to underestimate the opposition and what is needed to beat them).

In central midfield we currently choose any two from Gilbey, Morgan, Watson, Lee, Forster-Caskey and Fraser to play in front of Dobson, who is a shoo-in. Six is too many but we also need a readily available replacement for Dobson as he will eventually get injured/suspended. Of the current alternatives that would presumably be Watson, but I’m assuming he does not stay with us. Clare or JFK could slot in there (please not Morgan again for that spot) but not as effectively. Now it’s reasonable to suppose that, as the club went out of its way to secure him, Fraser will play an important role next season. I’d also say that a fit Forster-Caskey is well worth his place, which does raise the question of whether he and Fraser can develop a partnership. That really leaves decisions on Gilbey, Morgan and Lee (assuming he is available). I’d say all three offer different options but none of them demands a starting role, so much depends on the target(s) in this area.

Up front, assuming Aneke is fit and available, he and Stockley take two of four spots. Washington is not sure to be with us next season. I hope he is, but if so we need to be realistic. Neither he nor Stockley is a 20+ goals a season striker, so if those two are paired up front we do need more goals from midfield than we have had this campaign – and a good contribution from centre-backs at set pieces (ie Inniss). Either way, with Burstow not likely to be back with us and Leko probably not either, we need a fourth striker. It seems obvious to say the missing piece is a poacher, someone who just enjoys putting the ball in the net. It’s what we looked for in Schwartz and still need. Trouble is, if a target signing is that good he will expect a starting position, which leaves Washington on the bench (whereas ideally it’s the other way around). Problems, problems, problems.

So for me we look likely to start next season with MacGillivray, Inniss, Dobson, Forster-Caskey, Fraser, Blackett-Taylor, and Stockley as the base on which to build, with Lavelle and Aneke. It wouldn’t be the clear-out that some advocate, but bring in four strong new ones (I have no idea who they may be) and retain others from this season and, if the key partnerships in key areas can be formed, it looks to me like a team which we would expect to be in the top six.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

No Gifts And Points Won

I think the last time we went into a game in this division actually fearing the worst was the trip to Sunderland for JJ’s first game in charge. We put in a resolute performance then to come away with a 1-0 victory and the points, so yesterday’s repeat of that came as a very welcome surprise. Everybody on the pitch put in a real shift, with understandably the defence getting most of the plaudits. For Rotherham to have 60% possession and only one effort on target speaks volumes – although let’s not forget that defending was not confined to the back 5, Stockley headed away all number of crosses.

The only complaints for me centred on two issues. First, we should have scored more as especially in the second half we failed to make the best of very good situations through poor choices and poor execution. Second, although Jackson when asked about it after the game understandably preferred to focus on the positives, there is a feeling of frustration that this team gave us another look at what might have been, something which still muddies the waters when it comes to the pros and cons of a real clear-out for next season.

Without Lavelle and Inniss we knew there would be team changes. In the event Pearce and Famewo came into the back three alongside Clare, Matthews kept his place as right-side wing-back while Blackett-Taylor came back in for Jaiyesimi on the left. Changes in midfield too as in front of Dobson Gilbey returned from his one-match suspension and Morgan was brought in, with Forster-Caskey given a rest, dropping to the bench, while neither Lee nor Fraser made the squad (both apparently injured). Up front it was Stockley and Washington. The bench understandably looked a little light, with Purrington the only recognised defender.

The first half was competitive but very scrappy. Rotherham set out their stall by getting balls into our box at every available opportunity, we were content early on to rely on the long ball out towards the front two, without much joy, but as the game wore on we had more joy getting in behind them. I did think we had a good shout for a penalty on 14 minutes as CBT got the better of their guy at the by-line and seemed to be pulled down by him. Perhaps not enough contact, but I’d have given it. After that there were occasional chances but no real pattern to the play. Rotherham had what proved to be their best opening all afternoon as from a throw the cross came in and their guy glanced his header wide.

Then on the half-hour Washington did superbly to steer the ball around their defender to give himself a clear run on goal. He seemed to hold off the defender chasing him, but as he steadied to pull the trigger that guy managed to get in a block. And right at the end of the first half CBT showed their defence a clean pair of heels but ended up with either a shot that was very wide or a driven cross which was too far ahead of the chasing pack.

At half-time I felt we had a fair chance of a goalless draw, that if we could nick one from somewhere we ought to at least get a point, but that if Rotherham scored first it would be very tough to get back into it. But if anything through the second half we got progressively on top and Rotherham seemed to run out of ideas and steam, despite making a number of changes. Perhaps the goal changed things; it certainly gave us a lift and increased determination.

Just ahead of it we put together our best attack of the game to date, with Clare moving it on to CBT, then on to Morgan. His cross to the near post found Washington but his chip was gathered by the keeper. No matter, on 55 minutes we were ahead, from what has come to be seen as a most unlikely source. It was another initiated by a MacGillivray ball out, which we collected and worked it around on the left side with again CBT and Morgan. This time the ball was squared and to an advancing Dobson, who sent in an absolute cracker, hitting across the ball and sending it flying into the net.

Now during last week the club arranged a zoom call for us International Addicks, with Connor Washington and Megan Wynee. Towards the end one of the German Addicks cheekily asked if Dobson was under instructions not to shoot in games. Washington replied to the effect that if you’ve seen him shoot in training you would know why. Now perhaps that made it’s way back to the dressing room; either way, nobody’s going to make jokes about his shooting abilities again for some time. The strike even led to Dobson shortly after doubling his number of shots for the season.

After that, while nobody would say it was comfortable, we really restricted Rotherham to a scramble or two, helped by MacGillivray claiming a number of balls into the box and the tireless efforts of those in front of him. And we could have made the game safe. Clare made a great run down the right and his cross was only just smothered, CBT had a fierce shot wide and later blotted his copybook by getting free on the left side only to badly overhit the cross. Stockley played it on to Washington but his attempt to chip the keeper didn’t have enough on it.

None of that mattered in the end as we played out the game. As was stressed on Charlton TV afterwards, Rotherham just didn’t seem to have a Plan B and came across as very limited, on the day, something for which we take the credit by making them look that way. There were mistakes of course but we didn’t gift the opposition anything. And we’ve not been able to say that too often this season.

Cut The Guy Some Slack

Just as the frustration was rising over the clock ticking down to a new season and no manager in place to follow JJ, seems we have the news....