Sunday, 15 January 2023

One To Savour

This one turned into a football statistician’s dream (or nightmare), perhaps a verification of Bill Shankley’s “the best team always wins, the rest is just gossip” assertion, perhaps a reminder of a key reason why football is the beautiful game. If this had been a rugby game Barnsley would have been 25-10 ahead at the break and would have gone on to win the game 30-25. The stats show they had 61% possession, 23 attempts on goal (to our 8), 11 corners (to our none). It was only the most important comparisons where we came out on top: 4 attempts on target to their 2, two goals notched to their none. We won the game because we scored at very good times in the game; and with Barnsley after our second clearly feeling this wasn’t going to be their day – they had two off the bar in the first half, our one off the post ran to Rak-Sakyi to tap in – might even have added one or two more. That we won it despite tired legs and fresh injuries is a credit to Holden and the players. 

Team selection was always going to be down to whether some of the starting XI from last Saturday and Old Trafford needed a rest and whether the two new signings were ready to be involved. In the event Holden opted for three changes, with Kane, Campbell and Payne in and Clare, Blackett-Taylor and Morgan dropping to the bench; that became four as Sessegnon was injured in the warm-up, so Clare started after all. On the bench we had Stockley, Bonne and CBT, giving us better options than for some time. However, we did look light in other areas, with O’Connell left as the only available replacement defender, with only Morgan and Henry in midfield.

Perhaps not surprisingly after the last-minute adjustment, with Kane slotting in as left-back and Clare on the right, Barnsley started much the brighter, working the ball around the pitch. In the first 10 minutes, after a couple of shots wide their third corner in the opening period saw they guy put a free header wide, shortly after the ball dropped to their guy in the box and his fierce shot brought a fine save from Maynard-Brewer, turning it over the bar (for another corner). But they failed to score.

In the following 10 minutes we had the chances – and did score. A ball from Kane found Rak-Sakyi at the far post, but he was unable either to beat their keeper or square it to Payne for an open goal. Then we broke in numbers and a cross from Rak-Sakyi missed Leaburn then Campbell was unable to bring it under control and get a shot away. The goal came as we pressed in midfield and won possession, with Payne managing to swivel and put in an excellent ball for Campbell to run onto. Their defender didn’t get close and, having paused, Campbell then turned on the burner and made the space, shooting hard into the net at the near post for his first Charlton senior goal. Perhaps their keeper should have done better, but it was well struck.

After that, Fraser put one over the bar but the chances went back to Barnsley. There seemed to be a foul on Leaburn but their defender headed forward and another sent in a dipping shot which cleared Maynard-Brewer but didn’t quite dip enough, going off the top of the bar. After the half-hour Barnsley might already have been forgiven for thinking this was not their day as this time a goalbound shot from inside our box was blocked by their own player. And in stoppage time Kane went down injured and, despite getting to his feet, was unable to put in a challenge, leading to a cross to our far post which their guy ran on to, only to head against the bar. Although the break was imminent, Kane departed, O’Connell coming on, with it looking like we were switching to a back three/five. Just before the whistle Leaburn went down holding his head and was clearly unhappy with the challenge. While waiting on the sidelines to return after treatment he was having to be calmed down, prompting some of us to recall his father during the war at Stamford Bridge having to be restrained from getting back on to exact retribution.

At half-time it seemed highly probable that there would be more goals in the game, most likely for both teams. Barnsley will have been shaking their heads to be behind, having hit the woodwork twice, forced a good save, and had one stopped by their own player.

The early period of the second half saw things carrying on much as before, especially as it seemed we were sticking with a back four, Ness moving to left-back. With some tired legs out there, and Barnsley having a measure of control, Holden opted for a couple of early further changes, with Bonne and Henry coming on for Leaburn and Payne. And on the hour they were both instrumental in us doubling our lead. A ball in from Henry found Bonne and, with Barnsley looking for an offside (Fraser I think was indeed offside but had his hands in the air and made no attempt to touch the ball), he tucked it past their keeper, only for it to hit the inside of the post. The footballing gods were smiling on us today as it rolled across for Rak-Sakyi to plant into an empty net.

After that Barnsley huffed and puffed, but it didn’t seem their heart was in it. Their substitutions failed to galvanise them and if anything we might have scored another, two good chances falling to Inniss. First he couldn’t quite stretch to tuck home a low cross at the far post, later from a free-kick Henry sent in a beauty but he was stretching for the header this time and his downward effort bounced before reaching their keeper. We picked up a couple of yellows – including one for Inniss which sounded the alarm bells - but really saw the game out well, with a Barnsley shot over the bar during only four minutes of stoppage time summing up their day.

Three wins in a row and how things have changed. Holden has to take a good deal of the credit – although let’s not forget that first-half showing against Oxford was the result not least of him picking the wrong team on the day. What has since come across is him having taken a good look at the players available and their strengths and weaknesses and asking them to play in a fashion which emphasises the former. Ness coming into the team since his recall from Torquay on loan has been a major boost, at a time when O’Connell and Thomas were both unavailable, while for some reason suddenly Inniss, CBT, Rak-Sakyi and others are able not only to play 90 minutes but to reel off three full games in a week. How has that proven possible now and not before? And ultimately perhaps it was just ending the long winless run, then building on it.

Of course it’s at least premature to think in terms of the chances of us nabbing a play-off place. Don’t even need to think about that yet. For now, ahead of a batch of tough games – the next three are against teams above us in the league, which is both a challenge and an opportunity – the focus is each game as it comes, keep improving. And of course watching and waiting to see if there are further changes before the transfer window closes, and a clarification on the ownership front. 


2 comments:

  1. Winning is such a lovely feeling, there was some sort of curse put on the away team in the final third, hope it lasts the rest of the season at a minimum. Several players looked pooped, lets hope this week they can recharge and go again.
    Sisyphus
    PS no OT report? Did you go?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Sisyphus. No, I didn't go to OT. Seen us play there three times (starting with Mark Stuart's magnificant winner) and couldn't justify a midweek trip from France given work and other stuff. I'll admit too I've been rather unconcerned by the cups, even this game - as I don't want it to be 'plucky Charlton against the big boys', I want us to be back competing against them regularly, and view promotion as the only priority. That said, the travelling support and the performance will have contributed to our upturn in fortunes, just glad we weren't too knackered not to get over the line against Barnsley!

    ReplyDelete

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