Saturday, October 25, 2008

Charlton Take Half Measures

Whilst sat on the JFK Airport tarmac at approximately 9pm last night, the Captain on my flight back announced that a computer glitch would require at least a 3-hour delay.

As a result, I experienced the sort of horror that only someone who had chosen to return to the UK 36-hours earlier than otherwise necessary (purely to attend a football match) could appreciate. Indeed despite being a nervous flyer at the best of times, I might have been willing to attempt a take off even if the computer was flashing, "ENGINE NOT WORKING."

We eventually landed at 12.15pm, and I raced through an uncharacteristically quiet Heathrow to my hire car and made it to The Valley in time for kick-off, breathing a huge sigh of relief as I did so. By about 3.45pm however, I had begun to question my sanity entirely.

Pards made some genuine changes to the side, bringing in debutant Josh Wright, Izale McLeod, Mark Hudson and Grant Basey, decisions which demoted Matt Holland and Hameur Bouazza to the bench, and Andy Gray and Kelly Youga to an afternoon presumably at Bluewater.

Unfortunately within minutes you sensed the balance wasn't right. Martin Cranie was played as a makeshift left-back, and clearly had no inclination (nor ability) to support Basey.

Upfront meanwhile, Varney and McLeod were clearly too similar, both attempting to play with their backs to goal when they both only remotely justify their combined £3m+ fees if they can see the whites of defenders' eyes.

Josh Wright was neat and tidy in the midfield on his first start, but on the rare occasions when we worked the ball into a somewhat promising position, our crossing was dire. As a result, we did not muster a single effort of any consequence during the first period.

Burnley meanwhile, already reeling from a strangely disallowed offside goal (despite the referee seemingly rightly ignoring the linesman's flag), took a well-deserved lead when Charlton failed to clear a corner in two attempts.

Like most teams that come to The Valley and control the game, they did not do so with any great flair, but simply maintained a shape, played simple passes and supported their single front man with clever channel running.

I had speculated whether Pards would have the guts to remove McLeod or Varney before the referee had even whistled for half-time, but it was no surprise when Todorov emerged from the tunnel.

Although he remains as raw as ever, McLeod had arguably looked the more dangerous of the stuttering front pair, but as has become acutely apparent, Luke Varney enjoys special status under Pards, a situation that would haunt us all in the 87th minute.

Lloyd Sam's introduction was equally welcomed, and he proved worthy of a guaranteed start at Ipswich on Tuesday night, with some promising wing play and energetic endeavour on the right flank.

More importantly, and just as he did against Reading, Yassin Moutaouakil was given far more licence to roam forward, at times operating like an old-fashioned outside right, drawing the opposition out of position and opening gaps for Sam.

Todorov however would prove to be the star man, comfortably the best player on the pitch during the second period, and someone who despite lacking any pace, always seems to have extra time on the ball.

Much like another former West Ham man (Di Canio), Charlton again have a player for whom one senses 'things can happen' whenever he receives the ball. If he stays fit, he could make or break our season.

When the Bulgarian scored our equaliser from Basey's free-kick (and how welcome those potent set-piece deliveries are incidentally), one sensed that we might conceivably snatch all three points, with the crowd lifted by a far more imaginative second-half display.

As it transpired, Burnley hit the underside of the bar just minutes later, as worrying gaps began to appear in the midfield, Charlton's players seemingly paying a price for their enhanced effort.

It was no surprise therefore that Holland immediately replaced a tiring Wright (who earned a warm Valley ovation), and ultimately it was Charlton that conjured up the game's final outstanding chance.

The late Varney chance summed up everything good and bad about the honest but ultimately limited Addicks front man. Still alert and fastest to react to a short back pass despite the game rapidly approaching stoppage time, he calmly rounded the keeper and then it was as if time somehow stood still.

With the goal gaping and the angle tight (but hardly obstructively so), he quite visibly lacked the confidence to finish things there, preferring to cut back inside and then having done so, instead of selling a final dummy and tapping home, he snatched at his weak shot and the chance was gone.

All but the world's finest strikers suffer from bouts of low confidence. And confidence is only returned by scoring goals, particularly late winning goals at home. It's nice to get a confidence-boosting goal that ricochets off your backside, but here was a gift-wrapped chance to take matters into his own hands.

And guess what, he fluffed it..... for goodness sake, this is what he gets paid to do, and what we paid £2million for! In all walks of life people seemingly have lots of talent, but cannot execute upon it for reasons that are entirely psychological, and unfortunately permanently so. This is where I've got to with Varney as a striker.

As the only outfield player to have begun every game, I don't think Pards can any longer defend him as a seemingly undroppable striking proposition. For me, 4.48pm today was the turning point. Indeed, his very credibility is further threatened in my view if he continues to do so.

Can you imagine how much worse his finishing could get if the fans started getting on his back Kim Grant-style (which they patently are not)? Whether he can contribute more effectively from the right flank is an entirely different and worthwhile debate.

Anyhow, now that I've got that off my chest, here are my player ratings:

Weaver 6 - continues to suggest he's one of the most consistent players in the team; did he get a hand onto that late Burnley crossbar effort? If so, make it an '8'.

Moutaouakil 6 - struggled to get involved in the first-half, but the right-sided combination with Sam is very promising indeed

Cranie 6 - obviously not a left-back, but on the evidence of the second-half, a more than capable centre-back with decent distribution

Hudson 7 - another Captain's performance, several vital interceptions, a threat at set-pieces and he drove the team on at the end

Primus 5 - seemed a yard too slow and was outjumped on a number of occasions; Cranie was more impressive in the same role

Basey 7 - lacks pace, but his set-piece deliveries are dangerous, and he represents a more sensible defensive proposition than Youga it seems

Bailey 5 - a poor game unfortunately, seemingly largely off the pace and guilty of conceding possession on several occasions; wholehearted approach wins plaudits however

Wright 7 - played the holding midfield role admirably - showed a good range of passing and was not afraid to put a foot in when required; an acrobatic early 2nd half pass was worth the entrance fee alone

Ambrose 5 - played out wide, either right or left, I (again) don't see what he offers since he lacks the pace of Sam or Bouazza, and the energetic box-to-box style of Basey; I sense a free central role behind the striker(s) is the only one in which he truly adds value

Varney 4 - when your first-choice striker fluffs two more gilt-edged chances, is it purely a coincidence that his team is 20th?; his worthy all-round game is rapidly becoming an irrelevance for me

McLeod 5 - still a very long way to justifying his lofty price tag, but when fit he has the ability to stretch defences (but any more than Chris Dickson might?)


Todorov 9 - outstanding - virtually never played a stray pass and gave the team the calmness that they patently lacked in the first-half; well-taken header too

Sam 8 - when he performs like that, one wonders how he can be just a fringe player for us - if he can add consistency to his obvious attributes, he may surprise and become a real 'star' for us

Holland 7 - a late substitute probably represents his best role, adding experience to shore up midfield gaps; Josh Wright gave him plenty to ponder before the trip to his former club on Tuesday

At least we have finally taken at least a point from a game in which we have fallen behind. We hadn't managed this since Southampton at home on 12 April.

And you know what, in the second half we demonstrated against a top-six side what most of us already knew.....when the team are set up properly, and suitably 'up for it', Charlton can compete with (and get the better of) any team in this division. As it is, we are 20th and not by accident, which tells you an awful lot unfortunately.


At 10:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear NYA,
I agree with nearly all your comments. I think its perverse that Mou2 has appeared so infrequently- even allowing for injury and suspensions. He would be a regular in my team -even with the occasional bad pass or clearance.He did pull off a good clearnce header when it would have been easier to score an og. He offers a real threat when used going forward.Pardew had the nouse to spot him and buy him- why hasn't he played him more when available. Consquence is that he is less of a player now than 12 months ago. Hopefully a consistent place will restore his confidence.
Bailey was well below what we have seen earlier in the season.
Wright was given generous applause-but had not really put in the performance to deserve it-one to be nutured.
Basey is our best crosser of the ball- but that was at least the 3rd attempt when Tod scored- 2 previous corners that half were too low and short. He is a basic solid type footballer- lacks pace but usually reliable.
At least the better 2nd half meant we left the ground with a more positive feel than Tuesday, although the pummelling Bristol got for 30mins was a better performance by CAFC as they were a much better team than Burnley.
If Pardew knew his best team and stuck to it we would be higher in the table.

At 12:25 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I fear that Varney's price tag and wages force Pardew into playing him to save face. I agree with you that he is not up to the job of leading the line at a Championship club with any aspirations of promotion, but sadly I'm not sure we have much else available.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again I was watching a team where: individuals knew their role for the team and stuck to it; the players looked well coached and moves well drilled; and they played as a team. Once again it wasn't Charlton.

We don't play as a team. In fact the manager doesn't know his best team and we've returned to last season's approach which seems to involve making changes in the hope that just by luck he may stumble onto some combination that works.

It was obvious after 20 minutes that our chosen tactics were wrong. This was no place for a debutant in Central Midfield, particularly alongside Bailey who is still young and off-form. Varney and McLeod are too similar to gell. Cranie was never comfortable at left back. We were being outnumbered in Midfield and had no winger to take the pressure off.

We were very lucky to go in at half time only 1 goal adrift and at 2 nil we would have been finished. Pardrew was wrong to wait to half time before making changes and was very lucky to get away with this mistake.

We are in a tight spot having no money to spend on reinforcements. What we need is a good man manager that can get the most out of the playing resources that he has, that can build a strong team spirit and can turn out a well-drilled well coached team, even if as individuals they have there limitations. It's quite obvious that this is not Pardew and the sooner the club address this fact the more chance we can give ourselves of staying up.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well put Anon 2. I think I'd be a little more generous re the timing of the substitutions and a little more positive re Josh Wright but I agree entirely with your conclusion. What is most puzzling is that even when a random or forced change produces a good outcome the manager doesn't always seem to recognise it. For example, I thought that Martin Cranie was outstanding at centre back on Tuesday. All he did in the first half yesterday was prove that he is even less well suited to left back than to playing on the right. The selection for Ipswich will be interesting. If the team is picked on merit, Cranie will partner Hudson in central defence with Mou2 at right back.


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