Sunday, August 09, 2009

Debutant's Ball

The season's opener neatly summed up perfectly both our hopes and our fears, for the campaign ahead.

The nature of two of the scorers meanwhile, gave me an excuse to post a gratuitous photo of an attractive woman in eveningwear.

Although we did not enter a sparsely populated Upper West Stand until 3.15 thanks to the queues at the Blackwall Tunnel, it did not take us long to acknowledge that Charlton were playing some pleasing stuff.

Just as fans had hoped, our talented midfield five were dominating proceedings, forming neat triangles around the quarter-shirted opponents, and rarely playing a long ball in anger. And refreshing it all was too.

Whilst Christian Dailly's opener arose from a (poorly defended) set-piece, the second goal oozed class and was a deserved reward for continued enterprising passing football.

Excellent work by Lloyd Sam and the impressive Fraser Richardson, aided perhaps by a slightly fortuitous bounce, saw the former Leeds man keep his cool to pick out the fast arriving Nicky Bailey, who finished with typical aplomb.

Just minutes later, if only Sam himself had demonstrated similar coolness with his weaker left-foot when presented with a gilt-edged chance, and the game could have been all over by half-time. It was hard to imagine at that heady moment that such profligacy could so nearly have cost us two points.

A head injury to Miguel Angel Llera forced a temporary ten-man readjustment upon the Addicks, with Jose Semedo asked to step back into defence in place of the Spaniard.

One wonders whether a manager with deeper central defensive cover on the bench, would have taken this type of risk. This will surely be addressed before the end of August.

As is invariably the case, a deep and rather innocuous looking cross from the left was headed confidently home by Chris Zebroski. The half-hearted challenge offered by Kelly Youga was a poor advertisement for the African's own central defensive capabilities, if required.

When a bandage-headed Llera volleyed home a deflected Jonjo Shelvey free-kick shortly after half-time, Addicks fans confidently assumed normal service had been resumed.

Listeners to the old 'Charlton Live' radio show will recall a commercial for accountants 'Gary Sargeant' which asked, "What's all this 4-4-2-3-4-1 stuff they go on about then?", before assuring us it was just tactical formations, and it wasn't as if we needed an accountant.

However for reasons that might best be described as spurious (Richardson apparently wasn't getting adequate defensive support from Sam), Phil Parkinson opted to move from a 4-5-1 that was utterly controlling the game, to a 4-4-2 that gifted the momentum to Wycombe for the first time in the game.

And from thereon, with only half-chances for substitutes Andy Gray and Izale McLeod notwithstanding, we were firmly under the cosh and hanging on desperately, especially after a painfully square Addicks defence gifted Zebroski his second.

It was thus not until deep into an extended injury time with the clock approaching 5pm, that a combination of goalline clearances and Rob Elliott saves confirmed the three points would remain at The Valley.

As I said, it confirmed our hopes (that our first-choice eleven, and particularly the midfield, could excel in League One), and also our fears (that we might lack defensive nous, and managerial decision-making may be questionable).

Parkinson's suggestion that we could easily have won 6-2 was disrespectful to an honest Wycombe side; as it transpired we could just as easily have lost 4-3.

As a result, and certainly in light of scorelines like the one at Carrow Road, it must go down as a very valuable three points, but with plenty to improve upon. Here are my player ratings:

Elliott 7 - made some outstanding late saves after an otherwise quiet game; his body language needs to improve as his lack of inches already restricts his presence
Richardson 6 - an excellent hard-working first half, and a quieter second period (apparently due to injury it seems)
Youga 5 - like the modern reincarnation of the biblical Samson perhaps, his play is too error-prone and seemingly casual; as virtually the club's longest-serving player he needs to step up
Llera 6 - other than the goal, I barely noticed him which is often a good sign for a defender, but he was caught short of pace on at least one occasion
Dailly 7 - a threat at set-pieces and a vocal organiser; not hard to tell why he was snapped up so quickly after a short trial
Bailey 6 - generally a quiet game; he always carries a goal threat but is simply not a wide midfielder
Shelvey 5 - far too casual and occasionally over-confident; let's hope for his sake it's merely understandable immaturity rather than arrogance; miles away from Premiership quality on that performance
Racon 7 - bossed the first-half, rarely conceding possession; Parky's tactical change destabilised the entire team, the Guadaloupean included
Sam 6 - with the right coaching and motivation, he can be a real threat at this level, but only proved it in fits and starts
Semedo 6 - as the team's water-carrier, he generally took to his task without fuss; his sheer physical presence makes him ideal for the role, a vital one too
Burton 7 - hard to fault as a lone striker's performance; some of his first-half hold-up play was exemplary
Gray 5 - looked rusty, perhaps as should be expected - should have finished off a fine-flowing move, but shot weakly
McLeod 5 - lively, in the headless chicken type sense; a neat run and on-target shot was the highlight


At 1:20 AM, Anonymous Scoham said...

Bailey certainly is no winger, but it's clear to see why he's playing out there. Semedo is in there to give the midfield defensive balance and Racon has to play - he's a quality player.

Bailey only scored many of the goals he did last season because he had plenty of freedom on the left. He also gives Youga (who as we all know makes too many silly mistakes) good protection. His reckless tackles aren't as much of a problem either.

The last few seasons we've tried to play 2 out and out wingers, and it just hasn't worked. With the midfielders we've got (very lucky we've managed to keep them all - so far), I can't see how else we could fit them all in.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Ketts said...

Only bit I would disagree with NYA is I think Gray rounding the keeper and facing an open goal was a bit more than a half-chance.

He was, not surprisingly, a little rusty & seemed to lose his balance a bit but it was a golden opportunity to wrap the game up.

Hopefully tomorrow's game at Edgar Street will sharpen him up. Gray is a class apart at this level.


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