Saturday, March 22, 2008

St Patrick's Day

Just four days after St Patrick's day, it was appropriate that Charlton discovered their own patron saint, also Irish and called Patrick.

His heroics were not enough to gain an extra two points (but they did plenty to salvage one), but it was another fine performance from the club's single most outstanding player during the second half of the season. All of which begs two questions: Why was he overlooked for so long? And second, why is he not wearing the Captain's armband?

We probably just about deserved a draw, although our nemesis Zoltan Gera almost denied us even that with a stunning late effort. Indeed it was noticeable that it was his far post header that set up Kevin Phillips for his equaliser; seemingly no lessons have been learned from the reverse fixture when the Hungarian virtually ended Chris Powell's career.

It was a bit of a 'nothing' performance; plenty of endeavour but no creativity. Very much the story of our season. If an unelightened American had leant over in the pub, and asked simply, "I'm not familiar with soccer; what exactly are the team in red attempting to do?", I might have been struggling for an answer. Admittedly for much of the game he could easily have interchanged 'red' with 'navy and white', but WBA showed a little more class, albeit in glimpses.

However if I had been required to find an answer for my imaginary new friend, I'd probably have spluttered something about 'getting the ball wide' as often as possible. All well and good, but with Ambrose and Thomas on the wings, you're more likely to get 'good service' in the concourse bars at half-time (and that's not saying much). A poor cross is far worse than no cross at all, because it surrenders possession.

So with Plan A unlikely to be very productive, there isn't really a Plan B, at least not with our current central midfield options. I like Jose Semedo and think he should play more often, but alongside Matt Holland, there's no prospect of a killer pass, nor a player breaking the back line from midfield. I don't like to blame the Irishman because he always gives his all, but he's neither good enough as the 'holding' player, nor the 'playmaker'. Our form since he reclaimed a regular berth don't do him many favours either; at least Semedo can fulfil the former role.

Zheng offers goals and a bit more pace, but we would then be too lightweight given the reluctance of the wideman to 'mix it' and get involved. Just one goal from a striker in our last nine matches says it all really (just look how average Leroy Lita looks in this line-up).

To get out of this division in an upwards fashion (very likely now a goal for next season, not this one), we will probably have to accept that 'luxury' players are not the answer. The impressive thing about Bristol City a couple of weeks ago was their sheer organisation, allied with hard work and a hefty premium placed on ball retention. There offered nothing spectacular whatsoever (they have scored just 46 goals after all), but it looks to be enough to win promotion.

If one thinks back to the team that lifted the Championship title in 2000, our midfield then was not exactly brimming with creativity. However the outstanding work-rate of the central pairing (two of Kinsella, Jones or Stuart), was matched and even bettered by that of Robinson and Newton on the flanks. So much so infact, that either could (and occasionally did) slot in at full-back when required; can you imagine the debacle that would result if Ambrose, Thomas or Sam did the same?

Although Andy Hunt's goals and consistency that season were helpful obviously, he did not enjoy the benefits of a regular partner, partnering Mendonca, Svensson and Pringle in almost equal proportions. However the system was consistent (always 4-4-2) and every player understood his responsibilities. If it sounds like I'm showering Alan Curbishley with praise, whilst comparing unfavourably with namesake Pardew, then indeed I am. I would merely suggest however that this need not be a permanent state of affairs.

The key difference that season was that Curbs essentially kept his entire relegation squad intact, adding only Dean Kiely, plus one or two squad players (Shields, Todd etc..). Pards meanwhile was given a blank canvas on which to paint, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly the result has been more Jackson Pollock than Claude Monet. We will be better next season.


At 8:19 PM, Blogger bristol addick said...

Great post as always. Loved the "imaginary new friend" concept. Been there! A couple of points though.

1. Paddy initially looked like a donkey, particularly in the away match against Stoke - gifted both goals. Now he has to be candidate for player of the season.
2. Semedo started off looking great - now he's in the "curate's egg" mould. As Wyn Grant said, he had a mare yesterday.
3. Zheng Zhi looks knackered - but I understand he's quite a bit younger than Matt Holland. Both are playing a lot of matches, so why can't he stand the pace?
4. Curbs' system was initially 4-4-2, but arguably our best spell in recent history was playing 4-5-1 with the Smertin, Murphy, SuperKish triumvirate. Perhaps we have to go to 4-5-1 because we always opt for superslow creative midfielders - Jensen, Murphy, Reid.

Who'd be a manager, eh?

On a different note, as we aim to re-build for next year, being based in Bristol, the thing that really puzzles me is why we didn't pick up Marvin Elliott and Darren Byfield from our near neighbours Millwall? Both have done great jobs and shown the commitment that the Kinsella's etc showed - and have been instrumental in helping Bristol City surprise everyone - except possible Frankie Valley, who predicted their success!

At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bristol is right about Paddy - he did start so badly, but I'm delighted my initial optimism about him was right.

In Semedo's defence, he did did dribble down the middle a couple of times - its the first time in a while I've seen that I got excited!

Since Reidy's departure, the only Plan B I've seen is a fast paced game based on short passes, that we saw against Palace at the Valley. I loved that. I haven't seen it since. Be great if we did that next season - with Moo2 back in the side. And I thought Gray linked up so well with Reg on the night too.

Pembury Addick


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