Monday 28 August 2023

Harsh Doesn't Come Close

When you think you’ve hit rock-bottom usually you haven’t – but aren’t far off. Fourth consecutive season in the third flight for the first time in my lifetime, a pantomime cast of owners over more than the past decade (including leaving the club no longer as owners of The Valley), nobody below us in the Football League we would consider a peer or ‘bigger than us’, making us the major underachievers, and a regular succession of managers failing to turn the proverbial sow’s ear into silk purse, the latest being thanked for helping us to avoid relegation and made the first manager of the season to lose his job. We’re not a laughing stock, but here too we’re not far off.

Just how can things have turned to such an extent in less than a month? The new owners may not have set our pulses racing, given their baggage and doubts about real plans and the depth of their pockets, but at least there was an end to the protracted takeover saga. Some time for a manager - who everyone liked and who’s honesty and openness were appreciated by the fans, and who’d done a decent job with limited resources having taken over Garner’s squad – to get in players he liked and shape the team to his liking. It may have been an unconvincing win in the first game so long ago in early August, but it was a win. If you’d said to anyone then Holden would be sacked before the month was out you really would have been considered to have lost your senses.

I’ve no idea what the mood in the dressing room and across the club has been like of late, we can only guess. But surely you have to factor in the injury list, which has had a massive impact, and the club’s failure to date to move on all those who seem not to fit into plans and get in some replacements, even though there have been plenty of ins and outs, with no time allowed for players to get used to each other. On that basis allowing more time – especially with the transfer window yet to close and more movement expected – would have been entirely justified.

So on balance, given our limited information and understanding, I’d say the sacking of Holden is a poor decision. Of course we hope it proves to be the right one. Whether it was a case of the new owners never really liking him/wanting their own guy in, or just like other weak people trying to pretend to be strong, even that the mood had turned so sour a change had to be made, only time (and informed leaks) may tell. That he leaves with all our best wishes is a given.

Just as Garner’s selection, appointment, and subsequent failure was something that Sandgaard really couldn’t distance himself from, the choice of Holden’s replacement will be tied firmly to the owners. It is a big gamble by them. Just a quick glance at the initial odds shows how wide a potential field there is, although so far there’s no mention of the option that I know other Addicks have had, that of Curbs and Brownie being asked to take over. I doubt that the new club management is strong enough to deal with that.

Fact is a new guy will be coming in to take on a squad which was being shaped by somebody else. He will have his own preferences, for players and style of football, and little or no chance to influence his options before we go again in January. It is too soon to be writing off a season before the first month is out, but just thinking this way is indicative of how far our pre-season hopes have been deflated – and how more deflated they are by the news of Holden’s sacking.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Reasons To Be Fuming

Going into today’s game my abiding thought was whether the shift in expectations - from taking on at home two teams which rightly or wrongly we were confident of beating to a tough away fixture against a side joint top with three wins out of four having just turned over Barnsley and Derby on the road – might work to our advantage. Less pressure on entertaining and scoring, greater focus on discipline and keeping a clean sheet. Hard to tell really as we had a real curate’s egg of a game but the same outcome as we contrived to throw away another point with a late goal, one which left me and I’m sure many others absolutely fuming.

The team, like that for Port Vale, showed three changes. Isted made his first start for us in goal, Maynard-Brewer dropping to the bench, where he would be joined by Hector and Taylor. In came Elerewe and Ness, the indications being a 3-5-2 with Asiimwe and Blackett-Taylor the wing-backs. The suggestion was Edun and Anderson joining Dobson in midfield, with May and Kanu retained up front. With Campbell(1) able to take a subs spot, as well as Campbell(2), Kirk, McGrandles and Jaiyesimi were all squeezed out (raising the question whether one or more of them may have played their last game for us).

The talk was that we bossed the first five minutes and might have scored twice: first a May shot blocked with a hint of handball then a heavy touch from May when he was put through. I confess I had duties to perform (French family birthday lunches are far from over at 16.00) and missed that period. If we were on top it was completely at odds with the following forty minutes or so, as during this time we were not just outplayed but close to embarrassed. We looked leaden and short of any ideas with the ball, frequently pressed into losing possession, and passive without it, in stark contrast to Oxford, who moved it well and passed with cohesion and threat, pulling us apart. Fair play to them, still no excuse for a lame performance from us.

That we reached the break only one down was the only positive from what I saw. Their goal, after 10 minutes, was a combination of individual and collective error. An optimistic hoof forward from Isted was nodded back and their two midfielders, with the aid of an unintentional but fortuitous (for them) handball, took it beyond Dobson. Still no real threat until Elerewe committed himself and their guy skipped past him. Still some way out, but then as he advanced nobody got near him, allowing him the space and time to look up and pick his spot from the edge of the area. It was a good shot, just criminal that a back five could not have at least forced him to offload the ball, or closed down the eventual strike.

I doubt whether the goal was responsible for what followed until the break, suffice to say that Oxford could easily have added two or three and been out of sight. I’d suggested before the game that odds of 3-1 on us to win looked attractive; at the break I wouldn’t have taken 20/1. To add injury to insult we picked up four yellows (Asiimwe, Dobson, Kanu and, it seems, the analyst on the bench) and Holden felt obliged to make a change before the break. Not clear if Elerewe was injured or not, but Campbell(C) appeared for his Charlton debut as we seemed to ditch the back five – and at the break two more changes were made, with Ness, who had looked as wobbly as Elerewe, replaced by Hector and Kanu giving way for Campbell(T).

It looked as though we had moved to a kind of 4-5-1, looking to match them numerically in midfield and stench the flow. And by and large the change worked. Perhaps Oxford were as confused as the rest of us and had trouble regrouping, but they lost their edge and, with the commitment raised we found ourselves putting them on the back foot. Let’s get one thing straight, I’ve seen comments from Oxford fans suggesting we got dirty, but that’s nonsense. Yellow cards were handed out mostly for professional fouls by both sides. In fact in the second half it was three apiece, with Oxford quite content to illegally break up a promising move when it suited. There wasn’t a bad foul by either side all afternoon.

Just past the hour we were level. Good work from a free-kick down the right by Campbell(T) was followed by a decisive contribution from Campbell(C), as he managed to keep possession and set it up for May to shoot home via a deflection. For the rest of the game is was pretty even, both sides looking capable of notching another but not fashioning gilt-edged chances. We started using the long throw of May to cause them problems, which given the players’ height meant a central defender or two going forward for these set pieces. And that, plus what can either be described as a rush of blood to the head or just an excessively gung-ho approach, proved to be our downfall.

With around five minutes left of normal time we were starting to think that going home with a point, after the awful first half and three consecutive defeats, might be a positive outcome, something to build on. Instead we get a throw and pile everyone forward. Steve Brown commented after the game that we had eight players in their box for the ball in. Of course if we score and go on to win the game it’s a masterstroke. But surely this was a case of playing the odds. Instead the ball was cleared and we were immediately in trouble. Ball back inside and two guys were clear on goal. The first effort was blocked but the second wasn’t. I’ve no idea who made the decision to send everyone forward, or if any actual decision was taken. One should have been and it should have been to err on the side of caution.

With five additional minutes there was still time for Campbell(T) to cause havoc down the right again. He was fouled but the ref played advantage, only for his squared ball not to find anyone free in the box. And with that the game was over and lost.

Holden said after the game that “We’ve got to see that game out and get at least a point to build on, but unfortunately we’ve been hit with a sucker punch again.” If the onus was on seeing the game out, why did nobody tell some of the defenders to get back and defend what we had? Did none of the defenders ask for guidance? It wasn’t a sucker punch, we shot ourselves in the foot. When people in football talk of a need to learn lessons you don’t expect it to be related to something you should have learnt in school. It was only a point but one which would have stopped the rot, allowed us to talk about the response in the second half and the contributions of the two Campbells, instead of leaving us to focus on a continuing series of defeats by the odd goal featuring very avoidable goals.


Friday 25 August 2023

A Little Patience Required?

Feels a little odd (presumptious?) commenting on the season to date, having seen all of one game, but I’ve been surprised by the extent of the negative reaction coming across from fellow Addicks. Doesn’t mean I’m delighted with the start, of course not, or that I think there grounds for believing we are poised to go on a strong run. Rather that there are reasons for the start we’ve made, some of our (or rather the club’s) own making, some beyond our control (and Holden’s) and grounds for expecting they will be addressed. Everyone wants to hit the ground running; we haven’t and may need a little patience.

Among the main reasons I’d cite injuries and the debilitating impact of the transfer window. I can imagine Holden starting off pre-season with the thought that at least ahead of fresh signings we can manage with Leaburn, Kanu and (at that stage) Aneke. Then Leaburn and Aneke drop out of the reckoning. OK, Holden thinks, we get in May and rely on fluidity and creativity from midfield to create chances for him and to contribute themselves. Next thing he knows two players central to that approach, Fraser and Campbell, are added to the injury list, then a third only just added, Camara, is forced out too.

Taking out five nailed on squad members and suddenly against Port Vale at least we were going with untried partnerships in key areas, with two up front and nothing on the bench in terms of replacements for them. The result is we still don’t know what the preferred formation is, if all are available, and have seen no real sign yet of the new style of play that Holden has talked about.

The answer? In most cases only time, getting players back available and then up to match fitness. Doesn’t bode well for a quick improvement but there it is. However, the addition of Campbell(2) does I think alter things, materially increasing our options. I think it brings back the possibility of playing a front three, like last season, with Campbell taking the role of Rak-Sakyi, Blackett-Taylor on the other side, and May or Kanu looking to get on the end of things. Not saying we will play that way, but it becomes an option again. We do have a formation dilemma (as regards Plan A, not when it comes to chasing the game), as Asiimwe may be more a wing-back (and a potentially very good one) but putting Blackett-Taylor as the one on the other side surely reduces his threat in the opposition half, one of our major weapons (even if we want to see improvement in the end-result).

Then the bloody window. I want it over just to end the uncertainty for a number of players. The injury list for last weekend meant that our bench contained Kirk, McGrandles, Jaiyesimi and Payne. I’ve no idea what may or may not have been said to them about their position at the club, but it’s reasonable to suppose that if offers came in for them they would be seriously considered, especially if moving some on cleared up space in the budget for additions. They are only human and it must be weighing on their minds. If they stay with us, great, then we expect them to be fully committed to the cause and Holden can see to what extent he might use them, but can we just end the uncertainty? These issues should have been resolved by now, but moving someone on requires a buyer and that’s out of the club’s hands.

Of the other imponderables there is no legislating for the individual errors which have cost us, or the ref’s decision not to show the Bristol Rovers defender a red card at 1-1, or May hitting the post rather than putting us ahead. Learn what lessons there are to be had and move on, sooner or later we’ll get a couple of howlers from the opposition.

We’re some way from being the finished article and for sure there’s a risk of too much of the season having elapsed before we can get into top gear. The goal of course remains getting promoted but I think we can expect at least more exciting football than last season (I’m looking forward to watching Asiimwe, Anderson et al progress, Fraser, Campbell(x2), Blackett-Taylor and others shine, and May and Kanu knock in a bucketload). And by the same token we expect players to deal with mistakes without it affecting their form, to give everything they have for the cause. It’s at least a bit too soon for us to be dropping our heads and drawing pessimistic conclusions about the new owners. They have yet to inspire us, but they can’t carry the blame for the years we have suffered – and their interests are aligned with ours. Let’s see if we can upset the odds at Oxford – seems you can get around 3/1 backing us, which looks a decent bet to me – and what the world looks like by next weekend and the closure of the window.

Sunday 20 August 2023

Another Hard One To Take

Holidays over and, aside from a few minutes of action from the Bristol Rovers game on a mobile while in Italy, my first chance to take in a game this season. The backdrop wasn’t especially encouraging – three games (leaving aside Newport) decided by the odd goal, each having seemingly been capable of going either way, but three points out of the first nine on offer, plus clear indications that a good deal still needs to change before we can be confident of being in the promotion mix. Nothing that a thumping home win couldn’t address. Instead we had it seemed more of the same: further evidence that we are very much a work in progress, that more needs to be done before the transfer window closes, and that it is probably going to take time for new players to bed in and partnerships develop as well as for what is a material injury list to be reduced.

The result was undeniably awful, especially on the back of the Bristol Rovers defeat; the performance I’d say had positives but overall disappointed. There was certainly no shortage of effort and commitment, rather – even leaving aside the individual errors for their goals - a lack of composure, perhaps compounded by the fact that in all areas of the pitch we had players pairing up for the first time in a real game. In addition there was no evidence of any kind of winning mentality. In the end, despite having been very poor in the first quarter of the game, Port Vale had, in Chislett, the game’s outstanding player, and they made the most of our errors. Another game we might easily have won but can have no real complaints that we ended up losing.

The team showed three changes from Bristol Rovers, with Ness and Payne dropping to the bench and Camara injured, joining Fraser and Campbell (as well as Leaburn and Aneke of course) on what was a material unavailable list. In front of Maynard-Brewer was either a 3-5-2, a 4-3-3, a 4-1-4-1 (according to the BBC at the start), a 4-1-3-2 (as the BBC now says), or even a 4-4-2. It proved at least to be a back four, with Hector recalled to partner Jones, with Asiimwe and Edun as full-backs. Along with Dobson in midfield would be debutant Taylor and Anderson, while Blackett-Taylor operated pretty much as an outright left-winger, leaving May and Kanu up front. It meant no outright forward option from the bench; indeed, with the bench containing McGrandles, Kirk and Jaiyesimi it seemed there might have been a ‘for sale’ sign above it.

We all know by now how the game panned out. We dominated the first quarter against what seemed very flat and limited opposition (their only weapon being it seemed the long throw), taking the lead curtesy of a questionable penalty. Having been pulled back outside the box Kanu was then released to get to a ball first and to nick it past their advancing keeper. There seemed to be minimal contact, with the keeper doing his utmost to avoid any. But down went Kanu and the linesman gave the decision. May went for simplicity and drilled the penalty down the middle to open his account for us.

We might have made more of our early dominance, with Blackett-Taylor showing he could skin his marker for pace (and having a shot cleared off the line) while Asiimwe, often in tandem with Anderson, was getting joy on the opposite flank. Indeed, CBT was the focus of the half’s second real talking point after May found him with a ball out of defence to send him on his way to their goal. You assumed that nobody would catch him. But with their closest defender on his left side for some reason he played the ball forward in a fashion which opened the door for a challenge. Looking at it in real time I thought there was no foul as the ball was there to be claimed; on further watching I’m still uncertain whether or not their guy went through CBT to get to the ball. Either way, with the linesman on the blind side and the ref some way behind play I don’t see how it could have been given as a foul. If it had been a red card would surely have been the result.

That aside, as the half progressed, Port Vale came more into it and started to create chances, none clear-cut but enough to suggest that the game might not be the walkover we hoped for. Some wayward shots and a late header from a decent position actually meant that at the break Port Vale had had seven attempts on goal to our six, albeit with only one on target.

The second half started in a similar fashion, but any complacency went out of the window in a minute. First Asiimwe perhaps rashly put in a challenge on the edge of the box and conceded the foul. Chislett put in a deft ball over the wall, one which just evaded Edun and was flicked by their guy over Maynard-Brewer. And before we had the chance to regroup Hector made a complete hash of a ball out of defence, failing to make contact with it. Chislett (and another) had been moving forward and suddenly found himself with the ball in on goal. He shot unerringly beyond Maynard-Brewer and we were behind.

With this before the hour mark there was no reason to panic. And we did play our way back into the game. When Blackett-Taylor cut across the box and then delivered a reverse chip met by Kanu to head home we looked the most likely winners, especially as Port Vale’s substitutions, including the replacement of Chiswell, seemed to have weakened them. We had made no changes until the 72nd minute, when Jaiyesimi replaced Taylor, followed by Thomas coming on for the impressive Edun. In the final 15 minutes or so of normal time we had a series of half-chances, none of which provided what we would have assumed to have been a winner. Nothing seemed to quite drop for us. And we paid the price. As we camped in their half a long hoof out of defence saw Asiimwe exposed, having to deal with a ball dropping under pressure from one of their guys. He failed to connect properly and their guy took it on past him to bear down on goal. Maynard-Brewer seemed to have saved the day but the rebound was collected and squared for a tap-in.

With nine minutes of stoppage time we might still have claimed a point, culminating in the last-gasp arrival of Dobson at the far post only for his not fully controlled header to go wide of the post. Just wasn’t to be, again.

For me there were positives. Asiimwe is a really exciting prospect. As was stressed by the Charlton TV time after the game, he really should have been taken off before his error as he was running on empty. Edun looked good, both in defence and bringing the ball forward. And both May and Kanu scored. Taylor played some perceptive passes forward, although it’s too soon to be drawing any conclusions, while Anderson had a decent game too. I’d give a mention too to Jaiyesimi, who had a good cameo. And there is Blackett-Taylor, capable of being a match-winner on most days and a constant threat. Against this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Charlton team with so little aerial ability outside the back four, which will surely be punished by better teams than Port Vale, and we coughed up goals with mistakes.

When it comes to away at Oxford, although no doubt we go there with a plan to win the game, that plan has to be based around defending better. Aside from the mistakes we often didn’t look comfortable when dealing with routine attacks. I can’t say what the best combination of defensive options might be, or which formation we might adopt (my personal beef at the moment is not to go with 3-5-2 if that means Blackett-Taylor having to operate as a wing-back; he terrorises defences so let him focus on that). Perhaps after now three of four games all decided by the odd goal going against us we could use some luck. We will after all be going to Oxford as the underdogs, perhaps that will help.

Plenty To Be Pleased About

Time for us to be the underdog yesterday, despite the record of recent years. Portsmouth, having done what every club says it intends/wants ...