Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bristol Cream

After the high of seeing my first Charlton away win since 2003, it was inevitable that tonight would feel flat. However I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the floodlit Valley atmosphere, not withstanding the difficulty in getting there by 7.45.

Having bemoaned our slow starts at The Valley, we began where we had left off at Bramall Lane, scored a terrific opener, and thereafter we were mediocre, and arguably lucky to secure a point. It was as if we scored too early.

As expected, Pards named an unchanged side although Darren Ambrose appeared to be playing at the apex of the central midfield 'triangle', with Zheng reverting to a deeper role. Andy Gray returned to a bench meanwhile that was full of attacking intent, but ultimately to no avail.

The opening goal was somewhat unexpectedly contrived. Greg Halford had trotted 30 yards or so from the right flank to take a throw-in, yet the enigmatic Kelly Youga opted to throw it quickly and short, before being involved again on the edge of the box, teeing up Ambrose who finished cooly. In a way, the build-up to the goal emphasised our subsequent problems; too little football, and too many speculative long balls and in Halford's case, long throws.

Whether under the direction of Pards or otherwise, the goal served to stall our momentum, and although Nicky Weaver was rarely troubled, we seemed only too pleased to watch Bristol City maintain the bulk of possession. Jerome Thomas was lively on the left flank, but the 4-5-1 formation that worked so well in Sheffield lacked guile and inspiration tonight. It was no surprise when one of Saturday's heroes Chris Iwelumo, was withdrawn in the second half.

If anything we only got worse in the second period, Bristol City earning a deserved equaliser perhaps not in terms of chances created, but their willingness to play passing football to a higher quality than we managed for 82 minutes. They probably sensed three points were there for the taking as opposed to just one, which offered Charlton a sniff or two of a winner on the break, but Matt Holland's strike was the closest we came (ironically deflected over by Luke Varney).

Given that City hit the crossbar and forced a last-gasp tackle from Youga at the death, it was very much a point gained at the final whistle, but any dreams we may have had of winning an unlikely second consecutive Championship title, are now surely dashed.

City were hardly world-beaters tonight, but one could see why they are currently the cream of the division. Their passing was generally crisper, their movement subtler (especially from the impressive Nick Carle), whilst Dele Adebola led the line admirably, and seemingly bravely too. Andy Gray gave one or two hints that he might have done a similar job for Charlton had he started, but it would have been harsh on big Chris.

Perhaps Pards could have moved to a 4-4-2 sooner, or perhaps Sinclair and Cook could have been given a genuine chance, but in truth for the first time I'm inclined to conclude (for numerous reasons) that we've run out of excuses....we're simply not good enough for automatic promotion this season.

If only we could effectively secure at least a play-off place, one senses we can relax and push on either for an unlikely 2nd, or at least 3rd or 4th place that would give second leg home advantage. However with away trips to Plymouth, Ipswich and Barnsley still to come, if you offered me 6th right now, I'd probably grab your hand off. Say what you like about the Championship, but it's a fascinating division.

Here are my player ratings:

Weaver 6 - was not forced into any meaningful saves, but handling was secure enough
Halford 5 - laboured going forward, and did not convince in defence; throw-ins were nullified
Youga 5 - far too casual on occasion; plays with Ronaldo-esque confidence, but the Portuguese winger warrants it
Sodje 6 - given a harder time by Adebola than James Beattie
McCarthy 7 - a natural leader; kept the defence together under pressure
Thomas 7 - showed touches of real class; he should have been the best player in this division
Ambrose 6 - hard to argue with his scoring record, but does he do enough elsewhere?
Holland 7 - you always know exactly what you'll get, and guess what? You got it.
Zheng 7 - arguably the most important player in the side; just a little too similar to Holland
Varney 5 - didn't get the breaks tonight; if Pards insists on 4-5-1, would Sinclair or Sam not be a better option?
Iwelumo 5 - well-shackled and under-supported
Gray 6 - no obvious telepathy with Varney, but a cannier footballer than Iwelumo perhaps
Sinclair 5 - lovely yellow boots, but not clear he was wearing studs underneath
Cook - a pointlessly late introduction for the obviously tiring Ambrose


At 1:38 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

Welcome home NYA. Having managed to keep up our record of failing to win back to back game this year maybe you will actually see a win on Saturday?

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with most of what you say but "Thomas 7" The boy was hopeless all night. Every time he gets the ball he does that spin round in a circle thing until he loses it!

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don't predict Charlton to win NYA!

Pardew hasn't got a clue - how did he not make a change in the first 15 minutes of the 2nd half? - it was obvious what was coming.

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Players fitness levels look abysmal. We can't play 2 games in a week. Zheng is looking less influential every game and the passing was disgraceful at times (due to lack of movement as well). Pardew waiting too long to change things and thats 4 points dropped from Watford and Bristol City (although I admit we could have lost both in the end)

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Noel said...

I've got to agree with Daggs. JT just flatters to deceive and delivers less and less of any consequence. I'd say it's time to move on, he's had ample opportunities to turn into this great player without delivering. Shame we din't take Derby's rumoured £3m in the summer I'd say.


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