Play It Again Sam
A nice short drive to Watford, and another rare chance for me to gauge the pulse of the team as we approach the new season. The occasion was Alec Chamberlain's testimonial and at the grand old age of 41 too - the attendance seemed pretty healthy (perhaps 6000) though again the Addicks turnout was limited to 300 or so.
Vicarage Road is a fairly impressive stadium on three sides, and a peculiar mix of stands, steps and pylons on the other. Visits to both QPR and Watford are useful since they remind us not only how far we have come (both clubs would have been considered bigger than us ten years ago), but how far we could fall if things begun to unravel on either the playing side or at the board level. Like many clubs who were relegated from the Premiership in recent seasons and failed to bounce back, their squads are now a slightly sorry mix of youngsters, ageing pros, cheap foreign imports and few, if any, are recognisable. A combination of the growing size of Premiership squads, and the dire financial positions of most Championship sides, means the gap in class between the two is large and growing.
The starting eleven of Kiely, Young, Hreidarsson, Spector, Fortune, Murphy, Holland, Smertin, Ambrose, Thomas, Bent arguably could well be the very eleven which takes the field at Sunderland, though one hopes they have gelled and learned to pass and move by then given the soporific first-half performance. In truth we created very little other than a late Murphy chance, and Kiely was the busier of the keepers thanks in part to the menace posed by Watford's smart young wingers, McNamee and Young. Ambrose was a disappointment and again doesn't look like a wide player to me, whilst Smertin again looked assured though was harried into some errors by a Watford side which on this performance at least, looked superior in most departments to QPR.
Holland was taken off as a precaution midway through the first period, and at half-time Curbs made three further changes and switched to a 4-4-2 formation which certainly proved the turning point. With JJ and Jeffers up front, Thomas and Lloyd Sam providing genuine width, and Murphy directing affairs from slightly deeper in midfield, the balance of the side seemed more secure. It was strange to see Bent and Smertin not reappear for the second half though tiredness may have been a factor given the regularity of the games.
We duly took the lead when Jeffers rammed home a penalty after Young's nosebleed-inducing run was apprehended by a slight tug of the shirt. Jeffers had earlier missed an open goal but his general approach play was impressive and he clearly has something to offer, though whether he will get a chance to prove it will remain to be seen. A Bent/Jeffers partnership may be interesting - the pace and strength of the former, combined with the clever feet of the latter. JJ for his part had some neat touches also to be fair (other than a shocking left-footed effort from twelve yards), but the mere sight of him pretending to compete for a header whilst ensuring he has no chance of winning the ball (or god forbid, an injury) is enough to confirm that my negative view of him is justified.
The appearance of Lloyd Sam was the obvious plus point from the afternoon - he showed lots of natural ability, a willingness to take on (and beat) the full-back and also the awareness to drift inside as required. It appears likely thus that he will become the first player since Jonathan Fortune to make his way up through the ranks to become a first team regular, a slightly worrying statistic given the resources spent on our academy, but clearly losing Jay Lloyd Samuel and Jermaine Defoe didn't help in this regard.
Watford equalised when a downward header from Marlon King evaded the despairing (and late?) dive from Kiely, but Charlton swiftly scored what proved to be the winner, Murphy creating the chance after being fouled en route to goal, then delivering an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner. The game then faded away as both teams seemed to tire in the muggy conditions, and the Addicks registered another win, albeit an unconvincing one.
With visits from Feyenoord and AEK Athens to come, things are becoming a little clearer though the improvement today when playing 4-4-2 may have raised more questions than answers for Curbs. Given that Curbs had never strayed from 4-4-2 until the middle of last season, it will be interesting to see if it will again become our 'default' formation or whether he hopes the versatility of the squad can fluidly switch between the two.