Sunday, February 12, 2006

Broken Record

I am writing this too soon after the final whistle to know what Curbs has said in his post-match interviews, but I am daring to guess he is beginning to sound a bit like a broken record...."...I don't think we gave ourselves a chance....we have got to set our stall out....blah blah blah...."

He is clearly aware of the problem, but what exactly is he trying to do about it away from home? Here are the times of the first goal conceded in our last nine away games, the most recent first (for the sake of completeness, I've included the Cup games at Chelsea and Sheff Weds): 21, 13, 18, 15, 8, 8, 68, 2, 41, 15. In other words on average we are conceding a goal in the first 23 mins of every away game. Is it any wonder we haven't won a League game on the road since October?

In my view, it is not a case any longer of terrible defensive errors (we seemed to have solved that problem for the timebeing) but we go into games inviting the type of pressure that inevitably leads to goals. Despite not winning away from home for four months, we are still the League's 6th highest scorers on the road, so I don't understand why we approach games with such a negative attitude.

A midfield containing Kishishev, Hughes and Smertin is never going to give you much attacking thrust, and strangely (for me) Hughes again began in the centre as he did versus Liverpool. As Wyn Grant pointed out in his excellent analysis of Kish, he has plenty of weaknesses of course, but he's probably the best option we have right now for a central holding midfielder (personally, I think El Karkouri could play this role perfectly, but more about him another time). Playing Kish out of position has an opportunity cost of course, because it deprives a more suitable player (Ambrose?) of playing in right midfield also, thus weakening the side in not one, but two places.

Hughes didn't have his worst game for the club by any means, but I'm really at a loss to understand what he brings to the team. When we first signed him, I pictured him as a lightweight but skillful winger, a bit like Mark Robson all those years ago. However he's never really been played in this role so we are forced to evaulate his value as either a central midfielder, or a narrow wide midfielder, and sadly the jury isn't so much 'out', as ready to deliver a unanimous verdict....he isn't good enough. He's an honest player, don't get me wrong, and I'm not querying his workrate, but he just doesn't seem to do anything especially well (or badly). And frankly, that's a description that applies to most players in the Championship where I am afraid, like JJ, he belongs.

When we line up like this, we have little chance of keeping the ball and putting the opposition on the back foot. Smertin does an admirable job of harrying but he needs an outlet, either on the wings or via a central playmaker. With our main playmaker now at Spurs, and with Kish on one wing and Thomas probably told to worry more about defending than attacking in the first period, was it any wonder we went into the break behind? Young Micah Richards must have been pleased that we gave him a 45-minute induction to the Premier League before putting him under any pressure.

Talking of Richards, we are presented with another example of the benefits of combining an efficient youth policy, with a manager prepared to throw them in at the deep end to see if they can swim. Sadly at Charlton these days we have neither. One wonders whether the academy players are told on their first day at Charlton, "Lads, well done for getting this far, but don't neglect your education, because let's face it none of you will be breaking into the first team."

The second half was more promising of course, but the 25/1 odds available on Betfair for us winning at half-time indicate the size of the mountain we had built for ourselves. As it happens, those odds quickly fell to 5/1 when Darren Bent's brilliant finish brought us level, though it was ironic that it was created by El Karkouri, and not a midfielder. The momentum should now have been with us of course, but a wanton lack of concentration at the back allowed Samaras a free header and then Barton unleashed his rocket putting the game beyond us. Marcus Bent gave another indication that he will be a good player for us, with a bullet header from Kish's cross, but it would prove to be another day on which fans would be left asking more questions than receiving answers.

The final 15 minutes could have been interesting, with Curbs daring to try a triple substitution. Perhaps he has learnt that when a team is 3-2 down they have nothing, so they have nothing to lose. More interestingly perhaps, City's response was to use attack as the best form of defence, limiting us to El Karkouri's last gasp effort. Another lesson here for Charlton perhaps? You just know that if we were 3-2 up at home with a quarter-hour left, we'd be defending deeper than the Woolwich Road.

After the Liverpool result, I questioned whether we could go on from there and string some results together. Instead we resemble a drunk trying to find his way home - we are just about moving in the right direction, but for every two step forwards, there is one back and one sideways. Saturday's game at home to Brentford however is no time for toppling over, because I don't think it's an exagerration to suggest it is our biggest game for several years. Fans have been crying out for a Cup run for years now, and it has been galling to watch the likes of Southampton and even Millwall (!) reach the Cup final whilst we've been in the Premier League. With Man Utd or Liverpool going out in this round, with Arsenal already out, and the draw having been ridiculously kind to us thus far, there will simply be no excuses for us to limp out of the competition in typical fashion at this stage.


Post a Comment

<< Home