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.

Tuesday 5 April 2022

One Moment To Remember, One To Forget

Going into tonight’s game the simple objective was take three points and if other results went our way – two of the three above us had tough games against promotion candidates and the third was not in action - move up to 12th in the table (with the two below us not in action we couldn’t fall any further). We didn’t win, stayed 15th, and after a bright start played out a poor game which will only be remembered for two moments: one of rare quality which saw us take the lead after the other, one of utter madness.

With Gilbey not available, the main interest in the team selection focused on who would replace him. Could Forster-Caskey be chosen to start? Would one from Lee, Morgan, Watson, even John, slot in? Or might Clare be pushed back into midfield and Gunter or Famewo take his place in the back three? In the event JJ decided to put JFC in from the start, and made two other changes, with Lee and Jaiyesimi coming in for Fraser and Blackett-Taylor, both given a break on the bench, alongside the returning Inniss.

We did start brightly and totally dominated the first 15 minutes and should have taken the lead. Stockley saw an overhead attempt blocked by a defender running back to his own goal, then the big chance came when a ball into the box dropped for DJ only for his shot to be well saved by their keeper. All Charlton at this point, but no goal. And as we slackened off Wimbledon, almost surprised to still be in it, started to compete, not really threatening but seeing more of the ball and at least probing.

We really did tail off through the rest of the first half, relying on long balls forward to Stockley which became progressively ineffective. And with Wimbledon looking like a side low on confidence it made for a pretty dire spectacle. Lee did work himself a good position on the right side of the box but his cross was too near the keeper, with a similar story from Matthews. Just before the break a long ball out did find Washington in a bit of space, but unlike against Burton the ball sat up too much and his chip-come-shot went well over the bar.

At the break the feeling was we needed to pass the ball better and work harder at breaking them down, pulling them out of position. But you also felt that if we could do that, and score first, the points were there to be won. That feeling persisted even though early in the second period Lavelle stayed down after conceding a free-kick and was taken off holding his arm/shoulder. Inniss replaced him and we started to think of set pieces at their end; his first touch was to deftly direct a dangerous ball in behind for a corner.

Unfortunately Inniss’ second meaningful touch was to badly overhit the ball bringing it into their half. Just what then went through his head only he can know as he accelerated towards the ball in a desperate attempt to retain it, with absolutely no chance of doing so, and scythed through their guy late and recklessly. The ref had the red card out immediately and absolutely nobody thought otherwise. Steve Brown on Charlton TV was to later comment that he’d never seen a player lunge so far for a ball. If Gilbey’s sending off on Saturday had been inane this was just off the scale.

It meant we would play the final 35+ minutes with 10 men. Not surprisingly Wimbledon smelt blood and redoubled their efforts and, with Forster-Caskey sacrificed for Famewo, we were hanging on. MacGillivray was forced into a fine save with Famewo scrambling the rebound clear.

Just after the hour CBT came on for DJ, who had done his defensive work well enough but not threatened their goal. The difference was underlined as Blackett-Taylor picked up the ball just outside our box, pushed it past the first guy and beat him for pace, kept going and did the same to the next one. It ended with the ball bouncing off him for a goal-kick, but the message was sent. And it seemed as if Matthews heard it loud and clear as down the right he took on their guy in a foot race. He didn’t get away from him but kept just ahead and delivered a peach of a cross which Stockley moved onto and planted his header into the net.

At that point Wimbledon must have felt that the fates were truly against them. But there were still over 20 minutes left and that man advantage was still there. To their credit they eventually picked themselves up and put us back under pressure. And eventually it told. It took until there were only around five minutes left, but a corner was headed out but not cleared, the ball played back out to their right, and a delightful cross in was met by their guy a couple of yards out.

We had been indulging in a little time-wasting, there had been the sending off. But when the sign went up for eight minutes of stoppage time we feared the worst. But we did manage to hang on, helped by some excellent Famewo blocks, to at least leave with a point.

How much that point has cost us will only become clear over the next day or so, since added to the Lavelle injury and the Inniss three-game ban it appeared that one or two more were walking wounded at the end. Not an ideal preparation for Rotherham on Saturday, but at least we have numbers in defence to cover. What we don’t have is the return we expected from two games against teams below us in the league, hastening the feeling that, while for sure we want to finish the season strongly, we cannot complain about being in a false position.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Missed Opportunities

An Addick friend posted a comment on my Burton match report to the effect that after watching a couple of Championship sides recently it was clear we have a long way to go to be back at that level. And if there was a message from the Lincoln defeat yesterday for me that was it. I thought it was a quite entertaining game, one which aside from the period when we were playing with 10 against 11 was pretty even, and we did create enough chances to have taken something from the game (the way it panned out you can’t make a good case for us deserving to win it, unless we had taken the lead in the first half when Stockley’s effort came back off the bar). Then you pull yourself up short and remind yourself that this was a contest against a team trying to keep itself clear of the third division drop zone (which fair play to them they seem to be managing).

For us the game was one of missed opportunities. We should have taken the lead in the first half with the Stockley opening. Gilbey’s cross to the near post was driven, hard to control and direct the effort on goal, but he still should have scored (as he should have done against Doncaster with the follow-up to Washington’s one-on-one saved by their keeper). Go ahead at the game no doubt would have been different.

Having not converted that chance, we suffered two major setbacks before the break. First Lincoln, who had always looked dangerous going forward, especially finding space and getting in behind down our right, took the lead. Too many defenders were drawn towards that side and a square pass found their forward in space on the right side of the box. He had the ability, and touch of good fortune, to get past three challenges as he cut back across goal onto his left side, then planted a good low shot across MacGillivray. Second, after 36 minutes we were down to 10 men. Gilbey, having seen yellow for a pull back on one of their guys, inanely repeated the exercise. The first yellow was perhaps a touch harsh, but the ref could hardly behave differently the second time. Gilbey just seemed unable to control his instincts when someone gets past him or beats him to the ball.

For about 20 minutes after that, either side of the break, it looked as though Lincoln would run out quite comfortable winners. Jackson made no tactical change and took the risk of us being overrun in midfield. To be fair we might have drawn level during this period, when Stockley’s header at the far post may or may not have resulted in all the ball being over the line as their keeper parried it. Fact is I’ve not seen an angle from which we might tell and the linesman didn’t give it. Then Lincoln gave us an unexpected lifeline as the scorer of their first goal was late and rash with the challenge on Purrington. It was as daft as Gilbey’s had been and it could easily have cost his team.

We then had the opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck. We had the chances to do so, but failed to take them. First Matthews combined with Washington down the right and his cross found Stockley unmarked around the penalty spot. Either side of the keeper, low or high, and surely he would have scored. Instead the header was too close to the guy and at an acceptable height. Here too, really should have scored. And not long after a Dobson ball into the box found Washington in a great position only for the ball to take a while to come down, enabling their defender to get in a crucial interception.

Just before that second chance we had the very welcome return of Forster-Caskey, who replaced Fraser. The game situation probably suited him in that there was space to exploit and run into, but he went on to remind us what we had been missing with probing and threatening passes. JJ then made a second change, to really go for it, with Leko brought on to replace Matthews.

Unfortunately Leko’s first meaningful involvement was to attempt an interception and fail to get there. That left the space for a pass to their guy on the left side. Clare took time to get to him and when he did was not able to cover/cut out the cut back inside. That proved costly as their guy hit the shot into the far corner, in off the bar.

That seemed to be game over, although we still had opportunities. Forster-Caskey found Clare running out of defence and he went past two and crossed for Washington in space. This time his control let him down and the chance was lost. Leko did prove a handful for them and got in telling crosses, but it was only with a few minutes of normal time left, after Lee had come on for Dobson, that we finally got on the scoresheet with Stockley heading in straight from a corner. There was still time for Forster-Caskey to find Lee, who played in Washington, only for his shot to go agonisingly just wide of the far post. And that, despite four added minutes, was it.

Perhaps it was asking too much to get four wins on the spin. But we had three in the bag and were playing a team below us in the league, so why not? The positives were the fact that we did create chances – and the return of Forster-Caskey. Hopefully he can get good gametime in the remaining matches – and of course there is an open slot in midfield for Tuesday night. The negatives? No point in dwelling on them as they are not new. We have no divine right to be higher than we are but getting to where we want to be is going to require a raising of the standards.

Very Welcome Point And Performance

It may be a reflection on us, our inflated view of our club, but there are few fixtures in this league where going into it we feel very much...