Sunday, 27 February 2022

At Least John Pearson Had A Good Day

I don’t know that there’s much useful that can be said the day after another depressing defeat, our fifth in succession. To recap, we had begun this run with some still hoping we could make a late run to the play-offs, if we were able to beat the teams around the top six coming up. Instead we’ve lost to each of them, in dispiriting fashion even allowing for the injuries which have rendered the team impotent. In some of these losses we’ve had periods of being on top, even one of being ahead, but not yesterday. In some of the games we’ve conceded goals from set pieces, in others through just being picked open by balls into space and decent movement. Yesterday in the first half we had one of each and, despite the introduction of Stockley at half-time, the game was effectively over with the second.

There was no change to the formation but a nod to a more defensive approach in the selection of the wing-backs, Matthews and Purrington, with Castillo dropping out. And the issue of who might partner Inniss didn’t arise as he has seemingly succumbed to injury again, with Jackson opting for the same back three as against MK Dons and Pearce on the bench. Dobson, Gilbey and Morgan were also retained in midfield, rather surprisingly Burstow was declared fit and started, with Lee replacing Leko as a second forward. The good news came in the form of Stockley and Fraser being named among the subs.

Now I’ll come clean and admit I missed the first 10 minutes of the game. We’d gone for a long walk up to the mill outside Givry and then on to the hamlet of Jambles. A domaine we’d been meaning to make a visit to (https://www.domainechristophedrain.fr/) was open and that meant a slight delay to the return to Poncey. By the time we made it back and had the laptop up and running and streaming sorted we were one down. Apparently we’d been stunned by a strong start by Sheff Wed, pinning in our own half nervously hacking clearances, and from a free kick a guy flicked it on and over everyone into the net (I could tell that from the half-time replays).

Most of the rest of the first half that I saw was scrappy and unremarkable, except for the perhaps unintentional but still nasty clothes-line on Matthews which saw him have to leave the pitch after 30 minutes, replaced by Jaiyesimi. Now we’d conceded in midweek when a ball was played in behind Matthews and not covered by the centre-backs. This time around, as half-time approached, DJ was caught in a poor position and flat-footed, unable to intercept the pass or catch the guy running on to it. He squared it and they scored.

The only attacking moment from us in the first half I can remember was a decent ball into the box from Morgan, which only just evaded a couple of couple of ours. Otherwise Burstow got no change from their defence, Lee, Gilbey and others had moments but nothing more as we were unable to retain the ball and apply any sort of pressure.

The introduction of Stockley at the break, for Morgan, with Lee dropping back, gave us some reason to hope for better. But after so long out he looked rusty and tentative. We did get a chance to get back in the game, but one courtesy of Wednesday. Their defender decided to cut back inside across his own goal, was closed down and lost possession. It ran to Burstow. He cleverly used Stockley as the decoy but his shot went into the keeper’s midriff instead of either side of him, low or high.

Leko came on for Burstow on the hour, later Fraser replaced Gilbey. But their defence was really untroubled aside from that one chance. We should have had a penalty in injury time but that really would have flattered us. Wednesday had an entirely comfortable afternoon in which they won the physical battles all over the pitch and were able to operate for the second half in second gear, well aware of our problems.

On Tuesday night the only good news was that Morecambe lost. Yesterday the only good news was that they didn’t win, having gone ahead at home to Ipswich. The gap to the fourth relegation spot is only trimmed to eight points (or 8.5 given goal difference). When asked if we are in a relegation battle Curbs said ‘no’ and he’s probably right. But we might be before long. Five teams have to overtake us to put us into the bottom four with only 12 games left. Suffice to say we have to win points to ensure that won’t happen. JJ has all week to figure out how we should set up against Sunderland and who should feature; happily Morecambe’s next two games are away to Plymouth and Bolton.

Let’s wrap up on a more positive note. At least someone we like had a good day yesterday. John Pearson it seems gave an interview to the Sheffield Star before the game, talking of his sorrow at leaving Wednesday but also his time at Charlton, the central role he played in us winning promotion to the top flight for the first time in my life. It’s well worth a quick read: https://www.thestar.co.uk/sport/football/sheffield-wednesday/john-pearson-reflects-on-his-career-and-owls-playoff-chances-3585054?fbclid=IwAR2fQaHhKbFkc_LmxQip1gazwTqBiC4VOoFVCs0dEGC_P_iDzSsmNtgHyg8

When John Pearson left us I wrote to him via the club just to say thanks for all he’d done and what it meant to at least one young Addick. I still have the very kind letter he wrote back. He featured for Leeds of course in the play-off final at St Andrews and afterwards Peter Shirtliff was talking – in a thick Yorkshire accent of course – about how he felt for Leeds and some of their players, like Pearson, “because I like the boy”. So do I.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

Park The Bus - And Everything Else

When JJ sits down to fill in the starting X1 for Saturday’s game at Sheff Wed he will no doubt have in mind the cliché about focusing on what you can control. There’s nothing he can do about the unavailability of the forwards (Stockley, Aneke, Washington, also presumably Burstow), the fact that we don’t have to hand free-scoring midfielders (even if they are pressed into service up front), or the fact that we are missing other players (Clare, Blackett-Taylor, Fraser). If some of them become available for the game, so much the better.

What is in our control is the other half of the footballing equation: stopping the opposition scoring, or at least making it difficult for them to do so. In this area, assuming Inniss is available again, there are choices, of both personnel and formation. Wednesday are not a high-scoring team (the fewest goals for in the top 10) and if the analysis team can provide anything useful for the match it will surely be a breakdown of how they tend to score their goals (and by implication how we go about stopping them).

So subject to players becoming available, the proviso that we cannot have the benefit of looking at those that are on the training pitch, and absent any deep insight regarding Sheff Wed’s tactics (I did see the season’s opener against them at The Valley and they were slow, dull and predictable – but don’t know if that’s still the case), here is what I would do.

First, the formation surely has to go, at least for now. Undoubtedly it worked very well early in JJ’s tenure, and may work very well again when we have a fuller squad. For now, it isn’t and, despite playing three centre-backs and a defensive midfielder in front of them, we get pulled apart far too easily. It simply isn’t good enough to suggest that against MK Dons there was little in it through the first half, we gave as good as we got etc. We were undone, as we had been, by simple passes and moves which exploited spaces we have been unable to shut down effectively. It happened not just for their goal but also for an early opportunity which their guy failed to control, and has happened repeatedly in recent games. So change the structure.

I’d advocate not so much a 4-4-2 as an outright 4-5-1 and park the bus (well, park everything we've got really). Notions of a winning streak are for the birds at the moment, keeping a clean sheet on Saturday is the prime objective and a 0-0 would be perfectly acceptable in our position. As at Sunderland in Jackson’s first game in charge, nicking one and taking the three points would be a (very welcome) bonus. My 4-5-1 includes plonking two defensive midfielders in front of the back four, which probably means Dobson and Watson.

Who forms the back four? Forget wing-backs, so Castillo returns to the bench or misses out. Purrington for me starts on the left, with either Matthews or Gunter on the right. For the central two spots we have Inniss, Lavelle, Famewo, Pearce and Gunter to consider. If Inniss is available he plays (not least as we need him for set pieces in both boxes), so it’s really a case of which one works best alongside him. My instinct is to choose Pearce. Famewo has played well alongside Inniss in the past, my concern is that he seems to be inclined to play his own game in his own fashion whatever the outcome. A disciplined Famewo would work well. I can’t see Inniss and Lavelle working as a pair.

If Dobson and Watson form the central pairing in front of the defence, who are the other three? With this formation there is the scope for two genuine wide men, which probably means Jaiyesimi and Leko on either side or giving Campbell a start. Then with just one up front – which at the moment looks like Kanu but if Campbell plays it could free up Leko for the position – you have the guy with the free role, which has to be Lee (who did give us a spark when he came on against MK Dons). That means, for me, no starting place for Gilbey or Morgan; of course either of them could be the choice instead of Watson, but if you’re prioritising defence why not choose someone that way inclined?

No doubt there are other options in JJ’s head, up to and including playing Inniss up front from the off. Whatever it is to be, I trust the main decisions were taken shortly after Tuesday’s game so that the work on the training ground is done with them in mind. Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised by players coming back, perhaps we keep the same shape and win the game convincingly. Especially in these strange times, we live in hope.


Wednesday, 23 February 2022

More Of The Same

With the fear that none of those out injured would be returning tonight confirmed before the start, I’m sure every Addick was fearing the worse after Saturday’s drubbing. As far as objectives were concerned, of course we wanted the run of defeats to be brought to an end; equally we wanted to see evidence that the players were prepared to put everything on the line to that end, and not in the ill-disciplined fashion which saw Clare get sent off (and Inniss nearly follow him). We got neither points nor a battling backs to the wall display, although there was no shortage of effort.

What we did receive was a dispiriting reminder that not being able to keep a clean sheet and not being able to score goals is not exactly a good combination in football. We may have been ‘in the game’ for the first half an hour, but you don’t get points for that; and even during that time there was the realisation that we were just one slip away from defeat. We knew it, MK Dons knew it, and there seemed to be nobody on the pitch or from the bench capable of avoiding the inevitable. The final 20 minutes or so were hard to watch and at the end we were looking very sorry for ourselves, another forward seemingly lost to injury, Jaiyesimi pressed into centre-forward duties, and the admirable Dobson looking absolutely spent, mentally and physically, when withdrawn with a few minutes left. At home, 31% possession, no shots on target.

The team showed five changes from Saturday. With Clare unavailable and Inniss as predicted not able to play a second game in a few days, and Purrington dropped to the bench, it was all-change at centre-back, with Gunter, Lavelle and Famewo coming in. The wing-backs would be Matthews on the right and loanee Castillo coming in on the left for his first start. Lee was given a rest in midfield, the triumvirate being Dobson, Gilbey and Morgan, while it looked like a reversion to two up front in Leko and Burstow. On the bench would be Pearce and Purrington as defensive cover, Lee, Jaiyesimi and Campbell the midfield replacements, and Kanu returning to the squad to provide an option up front.

For the first 30 minutes MK Dons were sluggish and predictable, seemingly causing us no problems. Except that just once they almost scored out of nothing. An innocuous long ball forward and suddenly their guy had slipped in behind our back line, beaten the offside trap, and was in on goal. Fortunately he couldn’t bring the ball down easily and MacGillivray was out to smother. Just far too easy. We didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but did create some decent situations, including an excellent Leko turn to play in Matthews, whose low cross flashed across the face of goal, having taken a slight deflection, while Gilbey almost got on the end of another cross. Another cross ended with a Castillo shot deflected over, and probably our best chance came from a mistake as their defender allowed a pass out from their keeper to run under his foot. Burstow looked to slot the ball into an empty net, but the defender got back in time to block the effort.

Then MK Dons scored. Possibly as in other games against the run of play, but we’ve seen it all before too often. Ball played out to their right, then back across to a guy able to prod it into space behind Matthews for their wing-back to collect, cut inside and slot it past MacGillivray. The defending was passive in allowing the time and space for the move to develop, then a static back line was exposed by a well-timed run and good pass. Another goal which was all too easy for the opposition to score.

Nothing was changed at the break and early in the second half we very nearly went further behind. A ball was driven across our box and from the resulting corner a free header was goal-bound before Gilbey managed to deflect it over the bar. Then we had what was to prove our only real opportunity of the second half. A corner was cleared but Gunter drove the ball back out to Morgan on the right and his hard cross found Burstow in space at the far post. It wasn’t an easy take but he rather scuffed the shot and the opportunity was lost.

Instead on the hour the game was effectively over. Lavelle brought the ball out of defence but overran it and lost possession. MK Dons moved it forward quickly and it was knocked back to a guy inside the area. His low shot was very well saved by MacGillivray, but he could only block it and the rebound was converted by their other wing-back.

All that was left was for MK Dons to play out the game, which they did with ease. DJ came on for Leko to play up front and not long after Burstow was down and had to be replaced, by Lee. Now Lee did cause them a problem or two with good runs and clever touches. But it was all far too late.

MK Dons will feel it was a routine victory against much depleted opposition. We were left to rue the goals conceded, the inability of our midfield to really create good opportunities, and the unequal struggle against their defence. And to accept that unless some get back from injury soon there is very little that can be done to change things. The best news of the night was that Morcombe had lost, keeping the gap to the last relegation place at nine points. It really has come to that.


Monday, 21 February 2022

Have The Goalposts Shifted?

After Saturday’s humiliation JJ commented that “we’re all hurting”. For sure. Let’s not forget that ‘everyone’ includes Thomas Sandgaard, for good reason. We supporters may have had our weekends spoilt, may have been grumpy than usual on a Saturday night. Let’s set that against some simple and possibly relevant (for us) facts.

TS bought Charlton (the club that is) let’s say in September 2020, when the statements were released. He was quoted in an interview that his objectives for Charlton were “three to five years, Premier League, then less than 10 years that we are solid, at least mid-table; and in 15 years I want to make sure this club is one of the best clubs and always playing European football”. Around that time the share price of Zynex was approaching $27. With a stake put at around 42%, TS’ net worth was then being estimated at $258m. Fast forward to now and the share price is below $7, TS estimated net worth less than $100m (ie less than two Valleys at Roland's daft valuations).

Now these things may be relative, TS has sold shares it seems, he bags a decent compensation package etc, he’s not short of a bob or two. But it’s a pretty substantial turnaround and it would be unrealistic to think that the change has no impact on his thinking regarding how much he can spend on Charlton. After all, if Bristol City, currently 16th in the Championship, can lose £38.4m in one financial year – albeit one severely impacted by the pandemic – any sane owner of a third-flight football club might approach promotion to the second division as akin to getting into the Premiership (on a different scale for sure): take the extra revenue and accept you might not be able to compete first time around, or at least accept that risk.

Now let’s reiterate some other facts. TS has a massive store of goodwill, I can’t imagine there is a single Addick out there who isn’t delighted he is the owner of our club. None of this should be taken to mean discontent on that front (results on the pitch are of course another matter). Let’s also acknowledge that if Duchatelet had sold Burstow under the same conditions, as well as giving family members positions in the club, we would have been back throwing pink pigs onto the pitch.

When Duchatelet bought Charlton and it was said his twin objectives were to break even and get promoted it didn’t take a football expert to point out that the two were contradictory. And the fact is that he managed to achieve neither. We have TS’ stated goals when he bought us. Do they still hold good? And a phrase that seems to be cropping up, cited in one recent report, that the “long-term strategy involves building a core of players to that eventually only a few improvements are needed every window rather than a wholesale reshuffle”. I may be missing something, but I fail to see just how you can build a core of players, unless they are ones whose best days are behind them (eg Watson, Gunter, Arter), especially in the third flight, where loan signings are a major factor, and especially if youngsters coming through are sold (that they are is fair enough but again it just isn’t compatible with ‘building a core of players’).

It is not unreasonable for the issue of objectives and investment plans for next season to be on the table for the Trust’s scheduled Q&A set for 3 March. And if you don’t mind staying up for it, Zynex is releasing quarterly and full-year results on Thursday, with a conference call starting 16.15 US Eastern Time. TS will be grilled by investors over prospects for the company. He is entitled to and will no doubt get a much more respectful audience from Charlton fans, but we are stakeholders in a similar fashion and two questions will need to be answered: first, what is the balance of priorities for next season between getting promoted and reducing the operating loss; and second, is the situation such that TS would be open to outside investment in the club. If the goalposts have shifted, fair enough; it would be better all round if that were acknowledged and communicated rather than fans getting increasingly frustrated.


Sunday, 20 February 2022

Painful

That one had us all scrabbling around to take positives from the day. Aside from the obvious (Campbell’s debut) we came up with: ‘at least it wasn’t 0-5 (or worse)’; we didn’t concede any goals from set pieces’ (although the jury’s still out on whether that’s a positive or a negative as we still managed to concede without set-piece contributions); at least we’re still out of the bottom four’; at least Palace lost’; ‘the heavy cabinet I fitted on the kitchen wall is still up’; ‘I cooked a nice meal’; and ‘I decided to hoover the car instead of watching today’.

There were plenty of similarities between the defeats away at Bolton and Wigan, and a few more factors in common yesterday. As at Wigan we started the game brightly (albeit this time not actually scoring), passing and moving well and creating decent situations, the upside of a line-up with no outright centre-forward. And as at Wigan that only lasted for a short time as the opposition worked us out and began to assert themselves. And scored. Yesterday it was two before half-time and effectively game over, given the tameness of our response. The second half was an endless tale of woe as they scored a third, Clare lost his rag and was sent off (with a case to be made for Inniss joining him instead of just a yellow), and they scored a fourth, only denied numbers five and six by MacGillivray saves late on.

For sure we were again seriously depleted. No return yet for Stockley, Aneke or Washington, or Blackett-Taylor, or Fraser, and no sign of Kanu. It was curious at Bolton to be starting with three centre-backs two of whom were not recognised centre-backs and yet to have two which were on the bench. We went one better this time with three in reserve (Famewo, Pearce and Lavelle) while Inniss was accompanied by Clare and Purrington, Matthews and Jaiyesimi the wing-backs. And instead of two up front in Leko and Burstow we started with only the former, Morgan returning and giving Lee pretty much a free role.

Again, it seemed to work early on, for the opening 10 minutes. Then Gobby had a conflab with his team during an injury break, they made an adjustment or two, and it was never the same again. Their first goal, after 20 minutes, was fortunate and against the run of play. The rebound from Dobson’s challenge might have gone anywhere instead of shooting back into the danger zone, enabling their guy to play in another, who converted unerringly with a strong shot into the roof of the net. Shortly after they rattled the bar and MacGillivray saved well from the header from the rebound, only to delay a second. That came with another limp challenge in midfield, a ball played across our back line, and a guy shooting through MacGillivray’s legs. When shortly after Inniss had lengthy treatment there was already a case for taking him off to avoid further damage, while to date we had yellow cards for Leko, DJ and Purrington.

Something had to change at half-time, Burstow coming on for Jaiyesimi, who looked likely to commit another foul and collect a second yellow. We seemed to change formation too, switching to the diamond. And not long into the half we did have a near miss, as an incredible Dobson pass forward was well controlled by Lee and he played in Burstow, whose prodded shot took a deflection and went just wide of the post. If Gilbey’s shot had put us 2-0 up at Wigan, if that had gone in ....

Instead Oxford scored a third, an excellent curled effort after the guy was given the space to choose his best side and set himself. Then we had Clare’s stupidity and the afternoon was just about damage limitation. Famewo came on for Leko, Burstow now the lone forward. Their fourth came in the final 10 minutes, another excellent shot – and to be fair three of their four goals were very well taken. Time for Famewo to get a yellow too, for Campbell to come on for his debut in place of Lee (and to give some glimpses of his abilities, which had frightened the life out of the Brighton youth team), and then MacGillivray to make his two late saves.

We look a very soft touch at the moment and MK Dons will come to The Valley on Tuesday thinking the points are theirs for the taking. That simply can’t happen. We know changes to the team will be made, with Clare not available and every indication that Inniss will not be able to play, so quite possibly if the formation is unchanged the three on the bench yesterday will start. Why not? Then it’s a case of whether anyone becomes available. If not, there simply aren’t options up front other than Leko and Burstow or one of the two.

Hard times, but we can’t simply let it become four defeats in a row, there has to be greater determination and character. Another defeat and a relegation fight will start to look very real. At least I can concentrate on my kitchen cabinet, JJ has a lot more thinking to do before we take to the pitch again.

 

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Give JJ The Clarity He Needs

Like losing at Bolton in midweek, there’s no point in kidding ourselves about yesterday’s defeat at Wigan. In both cases just the odd goal in it, in both cases we had short periods of the game where we were on top (and both times scored), in both cases we gave away poor goals. The differences were at Bolton we had our best period in the later stages, having changed formation and brought on Aneke and Fraser, only having equalised to be undone by another set-piece goal, whereas at Wigan we started brightly and were the better team in the first 20 minutes or so, but progressively faded as Wigan’s greater strength took its toll; they nullified our threat whereas we never managed to contain theirs and a second goal for them was always highly likely to be enough.

For sure there was an obvious reason, another common to both games. Against Bolton both Inniss and Aneke were rested; against Wigan Inniss returned but Aneke was not available, as was Washington; and to add insult to injury Fraser wasn’t available either, having tested positive for Covid. There was a sharp intake of breath when the team news was released. JJ had decided to make changes in defence, with Pearce and Famewo dropped (Pearce to the bench, Famewo not featuring at all, perhaps due to loan player numbers as both Castillo and John were included), with Clare and Purrington playing either side of Inniss while Matthews and Jaiyesimi were the wing-backs. With Pearce and Lavelle among the subs, it meant a curious situation of having one recognised centre-back out of three on the pitch while two recognised centre-backs were on the bench. In midfield Morgan was taken out, with a reformation of the Dobson-Gilbey-Lee combination which had worked so well in JJ’s early games. Up front we had what was available, with Burstow alongside Leko, the back-up from the bench being Kanu, who had played in the Youth Cup game in midweek.

Given that backdrop, I’m sure we were all delighted with the start we made. The plus point of the midfield and forward combination was that we were fluid and with decent passing we took the game to Wigan. And inside the first 10 minutes we scored an excellent goal. Matthews and Gilbey worked it well down the right and the former delivered an inviting cross, one which found Lee arriving late in space and able to head down and into the net. Questions about the marking for sure but a good ball delivered and a midfielder taking the initiative to get on the end of it, especially pleasing that it was Lee, who for a while has clearly needed a goal.

It almost got better five minutes later. Leko played in Lee, who moved it onto DJ in space. The ball in was half-cleared and dropped to Gilbey, whose shot rattled the bar with Amos beaten. If that had gone in, just maybe, maybe.

The only problem during this period was that although Wigan might have been surprised by our start to the game, they were looking threatening whenever they came forward. And ominously from any corner or long throw they had the height advantage. Clare had picked up an early yellow after a poor Matthews pass had been intercepted and Wigan broke, DJ managed to slice a clearance for a corner, which was to flash across our box, only needing a touch from someone.

Indeed, instead of getting two ahead before the half-hour we were back on level terms. Let’s face it, on 20 minutes quite how the ref didn’t give Wigan a penalty still bemuses me. An aimless long ball was allowed to bounce and Magennis read where it was going to end up. Purrington was coming from behind and when Magennis turned into him he was effectively taken out. Purrington did very well to go down looking hurt too, as if it might be seen as a genuine coming together, but the only person inside the stadium fooled by that was the ref.

Perhaps not surprisingly Wigan rather lost their rag for a few minutes, but instead of taking advantage of the break we politely asked if they would like another opportunity to ask the ref for a penalty. There seemed little danger as their guy was tight to the byline on their left, but Matthews allowed him to get clear of him without a real challenge and as he cut through Clare gave a touch and over he went. Soft for sure, but probably just about enough contact. And there was no way the ref was going to say no twice in so short a time. The penalty was converted.

To be fair we didn’t go to pieces and the rest of the first half was pretty even and featured another poor decision by the officials. Inniss was making his move for our corner and was blatantly held back by his shirt and hauled to the ground. Any sort of VAR would surely have given us the decision. Added to that were one or two moves which looked promising.

At the break some satisfaction that despite the absentees we had acquitted ourselves well enough was tempered by the feeling that Wigan might have another gear – and it was unlikely we had. And the second half was a hard one for us. There was a certain inevitability about a second Wigan goal, which eventually came curtesy of yet another set piece. Corner swung to the far post, MacGillivray starts to come for it but holds off, Purrington is outmuscled by their guy who nods it back into the danger zone, and their sub evades Dobson’s challenge to tuck it into the net.

We didn’t have an effort on target in the second half and progressively wilted, mentally as well as physically. Burstow and Matthews were replaced by Kanu and Castillo, with a change of formation seeing DJ play centrally. Surprisingly (for me), with Lavelle and Pearce both available, we left the option of Inniss staying forward until very late on. But by then there were a lot of very tired legs out there and we never looked like levelling the score.

The post-match discussion on Charlton TV between Minto, Brown and Curbs, mixed in with JJ’s interview, was telling and thought-provoking. What is best to do now, start picking teams with next season in mind or just keep trying to win every game – which is clearly the message that Jackson gave when asked. Add into the mix the possibility that JJ may have an incentive to achieve a certain position in the league and, with Jackson himself having commented recently that he needs some clarity on whether he will be here for next season, we are suddenly in a situation of considerable uncertainty.

It is time for TS to remove those doubts. The manager has asked for some reassurance and if that’s not forthcoming it can be telling – and undermining. Of course there’s a lingering doubt that Sandgaard had others in mind for the job and ended up getting pushed into appointing JJ because of the outstanding results. But if so he was only pushed into a curious form of permanence, involving get-outs for the club if certain league positions are not secured.

It’s not time to be overly-critical, with the January signings of Fraser and Aneke we can’t say we aren’t building with an eye on next season. Just that football isn’t an industry where performance targets sit easily. It was hardly Jackson’s fault that when we were flying we lost key players to injury and suspension and that we’ve not been able to consistently field our strongest team. I suspect JJ could use a lift so come on Thomas, give the guy the reassurance he is asking for and let’s get on with the planning.


Wednesday, 9 February 2022

Bad Night

By most measures, including most obviously the result, that was disappointing. Another strange game in that Bolton were on top for most of it, especially the first half, and their front line bullied our defence throughout, but they had only our early gift to show for it, being unable to turn dominance into clear-cut chances. Had they gone 2-0 up it might have been a very difficult night. Instead, by dint of substitutions, a change in formation, and sheer (commendable) determination we did get more into the game in the second half and brought the scores level with a well-worked goal. At that point you even had hopes we might go on and win it; instead another set-piece goal coughed up and we lost.

In the Adkins era we were letting in two (or more) a game and the universal – and unarguable – chorus was we can’t expect to win many games on that basis. JJ began his era by tightening up at the back and stopping giving away soft goals. It seems the change is not permanent. We got away with letting in two on Saturday but not last night. And while we might welcome an emphasis on attack, games where we outgun the opposition and accept taking chances. But that’s not the same as conceding sloppy goals, which is now happening too often.

Famewo made a mistake last night and it cost us a goal. Fair enough, these things happen – and I think not enough credit is given to the Bolton forward, who read the situation, gambled, and got his reward. It was a high ball forward allowed to bounce. By the time it came down again Famewo was heading back towards his own goal and watching the ball. He was too far out to be able to head it back to MacGillivray so really tried nodding it on and getting to it first. The forward realised that Famewo was almost at a standstill waiting for it to drop and so ran into the space where the ball might go. By contrast with Famewo he was at full tilt and there was no chance for Famewo to get back to him – at least not without bringing him down and getting a red card.

Again, it was a one-off error. But as the ever astute Steve Brown noted, we don’t seem to react well to conceding goals. Bolton’s forwards realised that, with Inniss rested, they could bully our back line. After his mistake Famewo seemed decidedly unsure of himself, while the returning Pearce quite frankly put in the sort of display which led to him being dropped under Adkins; his form when he came back – at Sunderland when Lavelle was injured – has been excellent but last night was disappointing. He took a yellow for hauling down a guy who had given him the slip and after that Bolton targeted him to try to prompt a second card; and they nearly succeeded, resulting in JJ pulling him off around the hour mark. And to round things off, Bolton’s winner came curtesy of a totally unnecessary free-kick given away near the touchline by Clare. He too has been outstanding since being asked to play in a back three, but his challenge looked tired and gave them the opportunity to put us under pressure from another set piece. Yes, the ball in was excellent, requiring only a slight diversion from one of theirs to find its way into the net. They should not have been given that opportunity.

If all had worked well in front of the back line we might still have been OK. But last night it didn’t. We struggled to keep possession and in a very scrappy, error-strewn game to make much happen in their final third. Through the first half Bolton passed the ball and moved better than us. Our wing-backs were pressed back by their wing-backs, while without both Aneke and Stockley we were unable to get much joy out of long balls forward, despite Washington’s willing runs.

That’s not to say there were not moments when the game might have turned in our favour. The late and very poor challenge on Dobson after around 30 minutes could well have resulted in Bolton playing for an hour with 10 men (just as DJ’s one on Saturday could have been interpreted as a red, shortly before he played the sublime pass for our second goal). It is one of the absurdities of the game that at present such a dangerous tackle gets the same punishment as Washington and Gilbey received in quick succession for minor fouls on their keeper (the former having been sparked by their keeper going too far and getting a little reminder that he shouldn’t take the mickey). For the record, on that front I’m in favour of sin bins for 10 minutes.

The first half ended with us clearly frustrated, as reflected in the Washington and Gilbey bookings and a late, highly speculative attempt at a shot from distance by Morgan. But we did improve in the second half (we simply had to), with Bolton not forcing the pace in an attempt to put the game to bed. For that the team deserves some credit, although it was really only when we made changes – Aneke for Burstow, Lavelle for Pearce, shortly after Fraser for Gilbey – and switched formation – seemed to be a back four – that we gained the upper hand.

We had nearly drawn level before the changes, around the hour, when a corner was played beyond the far post, Clare played it back to around the penalty spot, and Gilbey met it with a fierce shot, one which was deflected over. But the leveller did come on 76 minutes. A Matthews long throw was headed out but back to him. He passed to Fraser and instead of a first-time cross he took it on closer to the by-line then delivered a decent ball in, which Aneke did very well to convert with a controlled but decisive header.

That goal did spark a response from Bolton, both in terms of personnel and desire. And with around 10 minutes left on the clock they drew the challenge from Clare and scored from the free-kick. Still effectively 15 minutes left for us to respond, and there was a near miss in stoppage time as Morgan hit a long ball into the box and Washington almost managed to bring it down and score, only for it to fall back to Fraser whose low shot was smartly saved. But that was it.

You only have to look on the BBC report’s comments to see the importance of the result. Bolton fans are talking of their excellent recent run being continued and pushing them towards a play-off spot, we are left to ponder what might have been. With hindsight, after three wins on the spin and with the decision to rest both Inniss and Aneke for a crucial game, the flat performance for the most part might have been predictable. We just don’t seem able to reproduce, consistently, the verve and energy which we saw in JJ’s early games – and while the stops are getting pulled out at The Valley the performance levels aren’t being maintained in away games.

So what does JJ do now? Might as well throw the kitchen sink at Wigan on Saturday, that has become improbably a game we have to win to keep any flicker alive. That golden spell of form was characterised by the team virtually picking itself, with the back line, central midfield three, and front two regularly unchanged. That hasn’t happened of late and for me if you have to give one reason for our decline in performance levels it is that. Players need to play together regularly to develop understanding. Most of the changes we have made have been imposed, by injury/need for rest or suspension, but in my view in too many games we have had changes to all areas of the pitch. And these changes have not resulted in better performances than we saw early in JJ’s tenure.

So it probably is the time for him to be thinking about just what is going to be the core of next season’s team, who will form the spine?


Sunday, 6 February 2022

Very Mixed Display, But At Least The Points

After the good display and terrific result at Portsmouth during the week, we were looking for more of the same against Wimbledon. Different game, different challenge for sure, but the assumption was that if we maintained the standards seen that would probably be sufficient to take the points and make it three wins in a row. In the event we were treated to an outright mix of good and bad, with a fair measure of relief at the end given that we did indeed take the points, not so much that we were hanging on but as we’d shown we were capable of giving away poor goals and being only one in front we were vulnerable.

Understandably JJ kept faith in the X1 who started against Portsmouth, the doubts being over whether Wimbledon would afford us the space to exploit that Portsmouth had and whether one or two would be able to last a second game in succession. Instead the changes were confined to the subs bench, where Burstow returned following his Chelsea transfer and loan back, taking the place of Leko, while Fraser replaced Watson. Still no place yet for the two young loanees John and Castillo.

In the first minute we carved out a decent opportunity as Dobson found Matthews, who played it in to Washington. His deft touch back put Morgan in a good position but a poor first touch and the chance was lost. Instead we fell behind almost immediately after. An Inniss foul gave them a free-kick from a not very threatening position and an ordinary ball in found two unmarked Wimbledon players inside our box. The ball was headed back and MacGillivray came out through a cluster of players to claim. Seemed danger over as he gathered it, but he never had it fully under control and stretching, possibly with a foul thrown in, coughed it up. One of theirs touched it around MacGillivray and another poked it into the roof of the net. Poor defensive organisation all round, sloppy goal to give away.

Before 10 minutes were up we had nearly fashioned an equaliser as Gilbey’s shot on the right side was deflected up and over their keeper but also just over the bar, and from the resulting corner Inniss powered a header from the back stick, just not towards the goal. And we had also been forced into a change as Blackett-Taylor went down holding without an obvious challenge and eventually hobbled off. Perhaps surprising that his replacement was Jaiyesimi, to operate on the left flank, rather than Purrington. I suspect the decision was influenced by the fact it was very early in the game, with JJ wishing to keep the attacking intent; if the replacement was in the final 30 mins and we were ahead it would probably have been a different story.

Before 20 minutes had passed we were level. Inniss, who had a pretty shaky start to the game defensively, showed again what a force he is in the opposition box from set pieces. Our corner from the right side found him moving beyond the near post, so he had to get power on the ball and turn it back towards goal. He managed both, although whether or not it would have gone in without their defender trying to clear and only succeeding in helping it into the net is an open question. I guess nobody will question awarding Inniss the goal.

Just after 30 minutes and we could have been down to 10 men but instead found ourselves in front, the common factor being DJ. He made a poor challenge with studs high, one that a ref might have interpreted as meriting a red rather than yellow card. Still on the pitch, he was able to take Aneke’s flick on from a throw and immediately jabbed the ball forward with the outside of his boot, giving it enough curl and pace to go beyond their defender and enable Washington to run onto it. Nobody was going to catch him and he always looked comfortable in tucking it away. It was an assured finish, but a goal which owed all to the excellence of the pass.

I’m sure all Addicks at that point felt, OK, early panic over, we’ve settled, are ahead now, should go on and win well. Instead we allowed Wimbledon to draw level with a goal as shoddy (from our perspective) as their first. A free-kick from a not dissimilar position to their opener, played into a similar spot. This time Aneke stayed with his guy beyond the far post, which left him unable to influence matters, Clare went with his only to find his way blocked, taking him out of the equation, while Inniss seemed to see danger in front of him and moved forward, only for the ball to clear his desperate leap. And moving in behind, now in acres of space, was their guy. He did well to stoop and direct his header beyond MacGillivray, but allowing him the opportunity was another collective defensive failure from a set piece.

Going in level at the break, the feeling was still ‘stop gifting goals and we are still favourites to win’. And that pretty much proved to be the case. We regained the lead on the hour with, predictably, another set piece. This time Morgan’s powerful corner was met at the far post by Famewo, who completely outmuscled his marker to head in from close range. To say that one from him was overdue is an understatement, but it was a good finish while Inniss was being manhandled on the goal-line.

The game was still open enough for Wimbledon to have their chances to take something from it. A move down their left pulled us apart, with the low cross picking out a guy in acres of space. His fierce shot beat MacGillivray but clipped the outside of the post. There was another free header from a corner, and into stoppage time their guy put in a powerful shot from a difficult angle, parried by MacGillivray, when the replays showed all he had to do was play it square and Wimbledon had two or three to tap it in. We had more chances too, with Morgan deciding to take another touch rather than shoot (just after he was replaced by Fraser; earlier Aneke had gone off for Burstow, who apparently was booed by a few, who really need to take a good look at themselves). But not surprisingly we were the happier to hear the final whistle.

It was a strange game for me in that just about everyone put in a very mixed performance. MacGillivray has to take some of the blame for their first goal and subsequently found it difficult to judge the flight of the ball, albeit in gusty conditions. Jaiyesimi played perhaps the pass of the season for our second, shortly after having made a very poor challenge. And Inniss had a poor start to the game, has to take some of the blame for both Wimbledon goals, but also scored; same might be said for Famewo. Morgan played well outside the box but inside it failed to take a couple of good opportunities, while Aneke seemed below-par and struggled to have an impact. It was by no means a ‘five-goal thriller’, rather four goals out of five from set-pieces highlighting the deficiencies on the day of both teams.

I think we realise that if we want to take points from the next two games, away at Bolton and at Wigan, we will have to be tighter defensively. Perhaps two tough away games might be what we need, rather than playing sides towards the bottom of the table at home and possibly not having the required discipline.

But perhaps the final word on the day should be one of praise for our club, for the behaviour towards Ben Jay and his family. The people concerned should feel proud of themselves and hopefully their actions will have helped a little Ben’s family and friends.


St Vincent Compensates For Postponement

News of the loan signing of Matt Penney provided a bit of a lift this morning, even though it would seem to follow the unfortunate immediate...