Sunday, December 27, 2009

Angel Delight

"Nine men, we only had nine men," I joyously sang to my new Swindon-made Honda Civic on the way home.

"Six gears, I've only got six gears," was her witty reposte, as I crunched my way through each of them.

Three acts of gross stupidity had threatened to derail Charlton's promotion push at a most inopportune stage of the season, but Miguel Angel Llera's brilliant equaliser reduced the damage done.

Nonetheless despite the understandable ecstasy at the final whistle, and the deserved ovation for the heroics of the nine men, this was a disappointing day for the Addicks given the way other results went.

The bookies now make Norwich odds-on to win promotion, whilst Charlton are odds-against.

The league table suggests they've got it wrong, but there is now considerable momentum behind the Canaries, whilst the Addicks face considerable injury and suspension headaches.

Phil Parkinson sacrificed width and omitted the season's surprise package Scott Wagstaff. He opted instead for a 4-3-1-2 formation with Jonjo Shelvey in the hole, and Matt Spring, Nicky Bailey and Jose Semedo forming a central midfield three.

However within minutes Sam Sodje's head injury forced Semedo into central defence, and surely only concussion could serve as a valid excuse for the Nigerian's ridiculous tackle shortly after his bandaged return.

Diving in to a tackle two-footed is such an inherently unnatural act (try it at home), that it must by definition constitute a mental aberration.

To lose one's faculties on the edge of the opponent's penalty box (and with no recognised central defender on the bench) makes it doubly unforgiveable, and he deserves whatever the club's disciplinary code throws his way.

It was the third straight red card of his short Charlton career, an unpleasant statistic.

Nonetheless Charlton regrouped into a 4-4-1 formation with brother Apko forced out wide, and Nicky Bailey returning to a familiar left-sided position.

Indeed it was from the flank that ten-man Charlton took a surprise but not undeserved lead.

Sodje found space on the right, and threaded a neat ball to Burton on the edge of the penalty box with his back to goal.

Whether he sought to merely control the ball or infact had the intelligent vision to pick out Shelvey is unclear, but importantly the midfielder was facing the goal and had the technique to curl a delightfully controlled finish.

The difficult circumstances of this game seemed to galvanise the teenager, whose natural style often appears more casual than energised.

Overall I continue to be frustrated by Shelvey because based on this goal and his subsequent all-round performance, he has the ability to be the best player in this division.

However it was exasperation rather than frustration which best described the feelings of most Charlton fans, when Burton stupidly saw red after two unnecessary quickfire yellow cards.

Presumably angered by a series of niggly Swindon fouls which the referee did not consider worth of a yellow card, Burton earned one himself instead for arguing a little too vociferously.

The red card arrived after a deliberate handball, whilst competing for a bouncing ball in the area with Swindon keeper, David Lucas.

Perhaps the referee could have recognised the handball was so blatant it could hardly constitute a genuine attempt to con, but why rely on the good faith of a referee with a new whistle and set of cards for Xmas?

Even with the two-man disadvantage, I still sensed Charlton could hold on. After all with Charlton leaving a single striker upfront (marked by two defenders), it implied '8 versus 8' when Swindon were attacking.

Indeed Swindon never threatened to carve us open on a regular basis, and their two goals were easily avoidable.

Although Llera was the hero in the end he was a lumbering presence for both Swindon goals, neither shielding the ball nor making a tackle when two dangerous balls were played into the feet of Charlie Austin.

The first lead directly to a goal for the striker, the second indirectly via the finish of Billy Paynter.

Inbetween the goals, Charlton had come close to taking a surprise 2-1 lead, set-piece headers from Sodje and Llera denied by keeper and goalline clearances respectively.

However once Swindon seemed to break Charlton hearts, many home fans headed for the exits. However those that stayed were given hope when Parkinson's late attacking substitutions threatened to pay dividends.

Swindon should have been looking to break at this juncture of the game to put it beyond doubt, but neutrals would have been hard-pressed to spot which team had nine men.

All three substitutes combined well to force a half-chance for Leon McKenzie, but with the seconds ticking away a hopeful long ball from Spring was controlled in a Bergkamp-esque fashion by Llera, and the Spaniard delivered a calm high-footed finish.

Here are my match ratings:

Elliot 7 - a smart first-half save, and safe handling throughout
Omozusi 7 - offers little going forward, but threw his heart into defensive matters
Basey 7 - stupid yellow card, but made a number of timely interventions
Sodje S 0 - idiot
Semedo 8 - we take for granted the effortless way he slotted into defence; likely to start there at Brentford
Llera 6 - stunning goal; defensively capable aerially but his high centre of gravity leaves him vulnerable on the floor
Bailey 8 - launched into tackles with the control that Sodje patently lacked; a true captain's performance
Spring 7 - maintains possession better than Racon; rarely played a misplaced pass
Shelvey 8 - brilliant calm finish; recognised the gravity of the situation and finally lifted his game
Burton 3 - nice touch for the first goal, but a horrid headed miss followed by a mindless red card
Sodje A 7 - performed a thankless task after Burton's red card with admirable resolve; unlucky to be withdrawn
McKenzie 5 - struggled to get involved; not a target man it seems
Wagstaff 7 - looked lively; his pace and attacking intent have been a revelation this season
Dickson 6 - some nice touches and an eager attitude


At 2:30 PM, Blogger Marco. said...

Perhaps another 'Memorable Draw'?
It was, just, inside the decade.


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