Wednesday, October 03, 2012


As I’ve tried to emphasise on numerous previous posts, it is lazy to pay too much attention to results and not enough to performances. 
Given football is inherently a low-scoring game, the former are riddled with ‘randomness’. 
The latter however ultimately will drive overall season performance, and is in turn driven by much less volatile factors like payroll, transfer budget, managerial prowess and coaching.
Readers of this blog will know that I was very critical of our performance against Leicester (despite winning the game), and was very impressed by the quality of the visitors that night. 
Not surprisingly to me at least, since that balmy late-summer evening Charlton have picked up 5 points from 7, whilst Leicester have picked up 15 points from 7.
So within this context, how does one assess last night’s performance against Watford?
Given that it was clearly a true ‘game of two halves’ (with the highly impressive Forestieri sent off on the stroke of half-time), then one must assess it in two parts.
The first half was fairly even with Watford playing the neater football but without much penetration. 
Chelsea loanee and England U-19 starlet Nathaniel Chalobah was particularly impressive, varying the pace of the game in a way that I can only wish a Charlton central midfielder could.
Their goal was the result of some rare sloppy defending, a low driven corner wasn’t intercepted before Tommie Hoban’s header ended up in the back of the net via at least one deflection.
Charlton bounced back however with the type of goal which almost frustrates as much as it excites, because it proves that we can create some high-quality chances through the central midfield (we just do it so rarely).
Some neat work from Kerkar saw the ball fed to Stephens in space, and his early pass picked out Fuller’s run to perfection – the Jamaican’s finish was controlled and impressive, as indeed was his play for most of the evening. 
Whilst Kermogant brings a greater aerial threat, Fuller’s ability to take the ball and face the opposition goal makes him a considerably more potent player than the Frenchman.
The goal had been Charlton’s only chance of the first-half so whilst the game was 11 against 11, one could hardly claim that we had dominated the game up until that point.
However with Powell given the luxury of a half-time teamtalk knowing his side would emerge against 10 men, my expectations for the second half performance were ratcheted up to a large extent. 

Ignoring the actual result, did we fulfil these expectations?  No, not really.
When teams go to a 4-4-1 in this situation, from an attacking point of view not much has changed.  You are still facing two banks of four infront of the keeper.
However importantly the depleted side have no realistic chance of holding the ball up in attack, and thus those aforementioned banks of four never get any respite. 
Thus a patient approach which emphasises maintaining possession, probing and waiting for space to emerge around a tiring side would seem the best approach, particularly with 45 minutes to play.
For the first 15 minutes or so this seemed to be the plan and there were some promising signs.  Wright-Phillips twice went close, the first effort self-made and impressive; the second brilliantly created by Fuller and rather wasted, albeit under pressure.
Fuller meanwhile carved out a good chance of his own, a superb first touch opening up a yard of space in the box, his angled drive well blocked by Watford’s Ben Hamer-lookalike, Manuel Almunia.
But then it just seemed to go awry – there’s no doubting we continued to dominate possession (but then so we should), but we seemed to be trying too hard, bombing forward with heads down and pumping balls into the box long before the clock might have demanded it. 
Watford’s back four defended manfully, winning most first headers and putting bodies in the way of speculative shots, most notably from Stephens.
In the 70th minute with Watford having shown precious little sign of threatening to take all three points, a silly free-kick conceded by Cort was immaculately fired home by Swiss international Almen Abdi.
There was no need for panic with 20 minutes plus injury time left, but clearly some change was required with Charlton’s momentum having already stalled by the hour mark. 
However not only did it take an inexplicable seven minutes for some much-needed substitutions (if only for the benefit of fresh legs against tired ones), but the ‘Plan B’ was even less imaginative than the ‘Plan A’ had become. 
We ended the game with a unique 2-4-4 formation with Cort joining Hulse, Fuller and Wright-Phillips in a forward quartet.  For a Watford side that had dealt comfortably with everything thrown high into the box, it must have been a welcome sight. 
Whilst a draw would have been a fairer result, Charlton’s lack of imagination in possession certainly did not warrant what would have been a vital three points. 

The extent of second half possession should have been a given when playing 11 against 10 at home – it’s what you do with that possession that dictates whether we did indeed ‘batter’ the Hornets as some oddly rose-tinted supporters suggested on the web.
It’s a familiar refrain and with trips to Leeds, Blackpool and Wolves to come before October is over, it quickly needs to change.
Here are my ratings:
Hamer 5: had little to do, but spilled an early shot and inexplicably handled a late back pass that could have put the game beyond reach
Solly 6 – he is compromised going forward because he can’t whip a cross in with his left foot; solid defensively as always
Wilson 6 – seemed to enjoy the extra freedom that playing 10 men gave him, and ended the game in midfield; improving
Cort 5 – did not seem to enjoy facing the muscular presence of Troy Deeney; late foul was costly
Morrison 6 – he will have tougher evenings than this; the deficiencies lay further forward
Green 4 – oddly anonymous after Saturday’s man-of-the-match performance; correctly withdrawn
Kerkar 6 – never seems to have the ball fully under control, but his workrate is impressive
Hollands 3 – patently not good enough for this level; runs like a middle-aged marathon runner looking to go sub-5 hours
Stephens 7 – sublime pass for Fuller’s goal and comfortably the best midfielder, but didn’t really ‘step up to the plate’ in the 2nd half when needed; late chance could have salvaged a point
Fuller 8 – different class at this level even if his legs are beginning to go; first touch shows what it takes to be a Premiership player
Wright-Phillips 6 – 1 goal in 11 now; no faulting his attitude but a non-scoring striker is a passenger in an already struggling side
Pritchard 5 – not on for long, but like Hollands he patently doesn’t have the class for this level
Hulse 4 – a succession of lost headers was the story of the team’s whole night

Monday, October 01, 2012

Stumbling on Happiness

I took my 3-year old son to his first Charlton game on Saturday, and it went remarkably well.
I bought seats towards the front of the West Lower which whilst not affording the type of perspective offered higher up, it is infact an ideal spot for a youngster as they definitely feel more engaged in the action.

Indeed with our seats towards the South end of the ground, even a 3-year old could detect that Danny Green was having a bit of a blinder, and there was no doubt who his favourite player was when I quizzed him afterwards.

It transpires that the 4-4-1-1 formation utilised on Saturday came about largely by accident with Ricardo Fuller’s late withdrawal leaving Powell without a target man (or at least one he was confident enough to throw into this fixture).

However even though the ‘1’ at the head of the formation (Wright-Phillips) was left rather marginalised, it was soon apparent that the extra man in midfield was giving Hollands and Stephens the ability to dominate affairs, perhaps for the first time this season.

Johnnie Jackson did a reasonable enough job ‘in the hole’ but I wonder whether the more mobile likes of Scott Wagstaff or Bradley Pritchard might add more there longer-term, assuming Powell persists with the formation. 

Indeed we looked more potent when Jackson was replaced by Pritchard shortly after half-time whilst perhaps not coincidentally, Blackburn barely left their own half for the remainder of the game.

Speaking of Blackburn, the suggestion that the players were fully behind Steve Kean all along was given further impetus by this performance, which appeared remarkably casual in the absence of their troubled former manager. 

Whilst a point against a side packed with the likes of Robinson, Murphy, Olsson, Etuhu, Murphy, Gomes and Rhodes would have been considered satisfactory pre-match, it was a cause for frustration that the extra two points were not forthcoming.

Perhaps having clung on against Leicester earlier in the season, there was a degree of fortune evening itself out as it inevitably does.

Blackburn’s goal was class however and if one was brutally truthful, Charlton’s central midfield rarely looked like carving open the Blackburn defence with similarly slick passing even if they maintained possession better than in previous weeks.

The multitude of chances that we did create were more often generated either by some outstanding wingplay (particularly by Green), or by a succession of corners and long throw-ins aimed at the significant frame of Leon Cort.

Incidentally William Hill have been offering 16/1 on Cort to ‘score at anytime’ throughout our games this season, odds which appear generous given his importance at set pieces.

Defensively we were rarely troubled aside from the goal, but there is undoubtedly a sense of real solidity at the back which bodes well for the months ahead. 

Lawrie Wilson looked comfortable at right-back, whilst Michael Morrison was every inch the rock hard central defender.  Indeed our vantage point afforded us the luxury of seeing just how good he is at close quarters – Rhodes never stood a chance.

Eight games may not be considered statistically significant, but there does seem to be a pattern emerging and it is one that is not altogether surprising given what we know about Charlton’s strengths and weaknesses.

Nine goals scored places us joint in the goalscoring table with Birmingham, and above only lowly Ipswich and Peterborough. 

Meanwhile ten goals conceded is as good or better than all but six teams, all of which occupy a top seven spot.

I think we can be confident of not getting thumped too often this season, but there remains question marks regarding our midfield guile and goalscoring potency (eg. BWP has managed just 1 goal in his last 10 League appearances incidentally).

Here are my player ratings:

Hamer 7 – blameless for the goal and otherwise had little to do

Wilson 7 – supported Green when required and looked comfortable in possession

Solly 6 – possibly at fault for the goal but otherwise did his usual cleaning up jobs admirably

Morrison 8 – one first-half tackle could have been heard on the other side of the river

Cort 8 – a real handful at set-pieces – Watford’s more mobile forwards may offer more threat

Hollands 7 – far more impressive than previous weeks, benefitting from needing to do one third less work

Stephens 7 – if he is genuinely Premiership class, then I still expect more – tries to be the metronome with varying success

Green 8 – occasionally chose the wrong option but a constant menace – looks more comfortable in the Championship oddly

Kerkar 7 – strange to see such a tall wide midfielder but linked up well when required though rarely able to get around his full-back

Jackson 6 – may fulfil the ‘free role’ more competently if the lone striker is a true hold-up man (BWP patently isn’t)
Wright-Phillips 5 – not really his fault, but worked hard for little reward – needs a goal badly
Pritchard 7 – not technically gifted but provides plenty of energy – needs classier midfielders around him