Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pleasant Reading

From time to time, one can wonder exactly what attracted you to spend such a large proportion of your life watching football. In my case, and certainly in recent years, Charlton has been central to that wonderment.....and then something like this happens.

Where exactly did that performance come from? One would have to go back to the West Ham thrashing in Feb 2007 to find an equally complete performance, yet on that day the Hammers were woefully out of sorts.

Today Reading were really quite good, but Charlton were simply outstanding, and for just a couple of hours at least, we are top of the Championship. If we'd scored ten goals, Reading couldn't have complained.

It really demonstrated everything that one dared to dream that this raw team could become, yet there was precious little evidence of it prior to today. With all the deadwood now effectively cleared from the squad, it was a supremely positive sign of just how good some of these players could be, particularly now that Pards has no choice but to play them week in, week out.

It's easier to demonstrate it on a warm Valley day in August, but can we reproduce it under more trying circumstances, beginning at Preston next weekend? We won't reproduce every week of course, but if we can do so regularly enough we can compete this season, because Reading will do so for sure, and we completely ripped them apart.

Within just a few minutes, one could sense it was going to be an entertaining open game, and so it remained for the full 90 minutes to the credit of both teams. For the purposes of my blog I had begun to note down the key chances, but was forced to give up long before half-time for fear of missing some key action whilst I was writing.

Pards opted for the pace of Moutaouakil, but otherwise chose a predictable eleven reinforcing the sense that Jose Semedo's versatility makes him an easy player to drop when a tactical change is required. Hopefully he won't take it personally because he's a key player for us.

There were awesome performances all over the park, but Bailey and Bouazza were sublime. The ex-Southend man looked every part the midfield fulcrum that we've lacked for so long, displaying a superb range of passing, allied with an admirable attitude. It is worth reviewing the incident that led to his worrying second half injury to witness the workmanlike shift he put in all afternoon.

Bouazza meanwhile looked a man transformed. Pards cryptically discussed one 'small problem' he had to iron out, and whilst I've no clue what it could have been, it must have been quite a 'large' problem infact, because he was awful at Watford. He almost scored a goal-of-the-season contender early in the first half when he shaved the post, so it was fitting that his finish for our fourth goal was so stunning.

Perhaps inspired by the heroics on the opposite flank, Lloyd Sam was also uncharacteristically productive. He was involved in the build-up to all four goals, tracked back diligently when required, and showed a highly promising understanding with Moutaouakil behind him. When he can play this well, we certainly don't need Jerome Thomas strutting around.

The equally frustrating Luke Varney was also highly impressive, finally offering a threat from his inevitable channel runs, whilst his superb headed winner showed that good things can come from him on the rare occasions he occupies a central berth. Obviously a 'confidence player', it was instructive that he launched himself straight into Pardew's arms upon scoring, momentarily forgetting that our gaffer reportedly has the 'flu.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the day was the way we bounced back from Reading's controversial equaliser, refusing to drop our heads, but instead simply reverting to the same flowing football that had brought us the lead we'd just lost.

It's not a day to dwell on refereeing decisions, but in fairness the decision to penalise Weaver was a correct one, albeit a rarely-given one. From a goalkeeper's perspective, it's simply a risk/reward proposition; the risk that you make a 'wasted save', versus the potential reward that you get away with it, given that obviously that your chances of making the initial save are enhanced by the encroachment.

Interestingly had Hunt missed the retaken spotkick, the assistant referee would presumably have been forced to signal Weaver's forward movement again because he repeated the manoeuvre. However lest we be accused the same partiality that we blamed the referee for, our own penalty was rather dubious, whilst Sonko's sending off killed off Reading's chances.

Here are my matchday ratings:

Weaver 8 - made several important saves, none spectacular but safely made nonetheless
Moutaouakil 7 - excellent link-up play, and generally solid defending, the needless penalty aside
Basey 5 - the only slight disappointment; given the first-half runaround by Kebe, and corners were generally poor
Fortune 6 - silly penalty to give away; but generally solid alongside Hudson
Hudson 7 - another solid performance; increasingly looks an excellent free acquisition
Sam 8 - as noted above, showed how good he could be
Holland 7 - his oft-unnoticed work allowed Bailey to control the midfield
Bailey 9 - superb; spread the play outstandingly well, and hardly ever gave the ball away
Bouazza 9 - Premiership quality on this performance; pace, flair and a brilliant finish
Varney 8 - can this be the catalyst to fulfil his potential?; a rare but superb headed goal
Gray 8 - a quality target man at this level; slightly at fault for Sonko's goal though


At 7:50 PM, Blogger CharltonChris said...

I saw it on Sky today, and for the first time in a long time, I actually had a jump-out-of-the-chair-with-excitement moment whilst watching Charlton.

At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Chris said...

I guess we shouldn't get too carried away because (a) we had some terrific performances last season, eg Norwich, Stoke and Palace at home, but didn't follow through and (b) it could have gone wrong today if Reading had taken their chances at key moments, but there is no question that today's was a very encouraging performance. What a difference Bouazza's first touch, movement and ability to go outside made compared to Thomas's more individualistic and ultimately limited style. With due respect to Semedo, Moutaouakil offers so much more and helped to make the generally under appreciated Sam more effective. Bailey was a revelation, as you say, and just what we've been lacking. At the back, it remains a mystery to me how we were able to sign Hudson on a free. He is head and shoulders above anything we had last season, defensively at least, and alongside him Fortune, who has Premier League experience after all, may just do a job. I was concerned after Swansea because, despite the result, I felt we lacked balance and conviction, but that all changed today. We looked like a team that knew what it was trying to do. What a difference the small number of changes seem to have made. The key now will be to build momentum.

It's funny, despite all of the talk of a fire sale it is not obvious, of the players sold during the summer who would have played today and improved the side. Only Bougherra (for Fortune) readily springs to mind. On the other hand we have clearly traded up with Hudson and Bouazza and on today's showing I'm not even sure I'd prefer Zheng to Bailey. Zheng clearly has more technical quality, but would he do more for the team over 46 games. Not sure? Wouldn't it be extraordinary if we found ourselves with a Phoenix from the ashes?!!


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