Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dragon Slayers

I was in sunny San Francisco instead of a chilly Valley on Tuesday night, and having sat through so much midweek dross in recent seasons, typically I missed a veritable goal-fest. 

However my friend and fellow supporter Chris was there and was kind enough to pen an honest and thorough account of the night's action which I thought it would a shame not to share:

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, or inferred from what you've read, Powell actually set up with a 4-5-1.

That was as I'd have expected after the Middlesborough disaster, but the personnel he chose was a surprise, to me anyway.

One change I did anticipate was Solly moving back to left back with Morrison then replacing him at right back.

I think fans have misunderstood Powell's logic since Wiggins has been injured.

My take is that his decision making has been driven more by his thoughts about Lawrie Wilson than about where to play Solly or by doubts about Evina.

He eventually played Evina not because he suddenly decided he was good enough, but because Wilson, whilst playing at right-back, suggested he could also play right midfield.

Powell was then impressed by how well Wilson and Solly worked together and so chose to compromise defensive integrity to retain that combination when Evina himself got injured.

Hence, he played Kerkar at left-back vs. 'Boro. With Wilson out for Cardiff, the reaction was obvious.

I was a bit surprised, however, to see Dervite drop back to replace Morrison alongside Cort, not because I have doubts about Dervite, per se, but because it made the midfield less solid.

The middle three was then, from right to left, Pritchard, Stephens and Jackson. Of those three, the only one with sufficient quality to play at this level is Stephens, but Pritchard does have a great engine.

The idea, I assumed, was to contain and, when possible, get the ball out to Haynes on the right and Kerkar on the left.

I watched Haynes' movement very carefully early in the game and there is no doubt he was playing in the wide position in a 4-5-1 ie. Hulse was on his own up front.

After 35 minutes I was wondering whether I'd bother to renew my season ticket for next season in League One.

Cardiff were 2-0 ahead and, whilst both goals may have been disappointing from a defensive point of view, there was a huge chasm between the two sides in terms of composure and quality on the ball.

Cardiff passed and moved elegantly and effectively whilst Charlton were unable to string two passes together. It was simply embarrassing and the result seemingly an inevitability.

By this time Charlton had gone 4-4-2 with Haynes pushed forward alongside Hulse, Pritchard on the right of midfield, where he is unquestionably less effective than when deployed more centrally, leaving central midfield patrolled by Stephens and the struggling, sluggish Jackson.

We looked a poor side, painfully lacking in quality and without an obvious game plan.

Football is a funny old game though and that phrase could have been invented for what happened on Tuesday evening.

On 38 minutes, Michael Morrison, looking uncomfortable at right back and without any real control over the football, booted it high and aimlessly into the Cardiff penalty area.

It was the kind of random, pressured football, played with neither purpose nor control that had characterised Charlton's performance to that point in the game.

However, underpressure from Hulse, Marshall, the hapless Cardiff keeper, failed to catch the ball cleanly.

The loose ball found its way to Jackson who finished calmly and cleanly. It was a surreal moment.

Jackson reacted as if he'd scored a late consolation goal in a heavy defeat whilst I half-expected the referee to give a foul against Hulse. However the goal stood and it was 1-2.

On the stroke of half-time a Kerkar corner found Jackson completely unmarked in a central position. A terrific header. 2-2. What? How did that happen?

Cardiff must have spent their half-time break shocked, confused and disorientated.

Charlton, on the other hand, must have been buzzing. Beaten and depressed, they were now alive and kicking.

Cardiff came out early after half-time and were kept waiting by a Charlton side that must still have been listening to Chris Powell repeating the scoreline. "I know it feels like 0-4, but it's 2-2. They're better than us, but we can win this".

The second half started slowly, but Cardiff's confident rhythm and swagger had deserted them and it was clear that Charlton were, indeed, back in the game.

On 53 minutes the Addicks won a free kick midway into the Cardiff half but right out on the left touch line; my seat at the front of the Upper West gave me a perfect view of the trajectory towards goal.

I wondered if Stephens could repeat the outstanding deliveries into the box he'd managed on more than one occasion in the first half. He couldn't.

It was immediately obvious that he'd over hit his cross. It was going to sail aimlessly beyond the Charlton players waiting to compete for it. In fact, it was way too high; very disappointing. But wait, hang're kidding, it's actually going in!

What did Napoleon say about lucky generals?

Twelve minutes later it was 5-2! Charlton were now playing with confidence, freedom, pace and conviction. Cardiff had simply lost it.

Panicky at the back, their confidence in midfield had deserted them completely. Charlton were first to the second ball.

Most of the crowd must have been wondering what they had drunk along with their half-time tea. It was hard to believe.

A superb piece of skill by Pritchard had set up Haynes and Kerkar had set up Hulse for a simple headed goal.

Stephens was now dominant as Charlton surged forward. Haynes's pace threatened to destroy Cardiff's shell-shocked defence, whilst anybody questioning the Board's determination to support Chris Powell only had to watch the excellent loanee Hulse lead the line.

It was an extraordinary turnaround. A dramatic example of the impact confidence and momentum can have on a game of football.

Then Danny Haynes pulled up and lay, agonisingly on the left touch line. Not the hamstring again? He made a funereal march to the bench. Completely distraught he was comforted by Chris Powell.

Wright-Phillips entered the fray, but Charlton lost the high tempo they'd been enjoying. Perhaps that was inevitable and Cardiff began to get back into the game, but surely the result was safe?

On 90 minutes Powell gave the classy Stephens the chance to milk the crowd's applause. How can anyone fail to recognise his quality and courage?

Danny Hollands was given the bonus of a late appearance; it's important to make everybody feel involved. The gaffer will think twice before making that change again.

Charlton were now unable to retain possession and Cardiff began to see more of the ball. Six minutes injury time? You must be joking! Where did that come from?

Still, it's 5-2 so we're home and dry.

But wait, a long hopeful ball down the middle. Cort fails to deal with it. 5-3.

The young man next to me made a flippant remark about the Cardiff celebration. You'll be panicking if they score another I told him.

Another long ball forward. Again the Charlton defence fails to deal with it. 5-4 and still a minute plus to go. You can't be serious? His head was in his hands.

Yet another long ball forward. Hamer comes and flaps. Another cross. Too long. Game over. Phew! Unbelievable.

In simple terms, a night where Charlton beat a much better side because they worked hard and got the breaks when they mattered.

In truth, a lucky win. Who cares though? A fantastic boost to confidence, collectively and individually.

It is possible to beat better sides. Work hard, be positive and press. Even good sides can look shaky when not given the time to play.

Of individual players, Michael Morrison is a star, but he's not a right back.

Chris Solly is a star and he's probably as good at left back as he is at right back.

Leon Cort? Hmmm. Not sure. Dervite looks decent, but something wasn't right at the back.

Powell needs Evina and then Wiggins back. In the meantime, he has a problem to solve as the Dan Seabourne loan proves.

Haynes's pace makes him a threat, but it is not obvious he's got the quality needed. An option from the bench perhaps?

Hulse, the best striker bar Fuller.

Stephens can play. The midfield is weak though.

There's much work to do yet, but with Fuller, Wilson and Wiggins back we should be ok.

We've now played the top five teams at home.

Ironically, had we won the games against Watford and Barnsley we'd be looking great, just one point off sixth place! The margins are very fine indeed.


At 9:04 AM, Blogger Dave said...

More delegation. Should enable you to spend more time travelling CA!

Chris - agree re Powell's logic on Wilson. He is an able touchline player and our squad is pretty big, so we should focus on being strong in positions just as much as covering weaknesses, hence I agreed with Evina not coming in immediately to left-back. Kick-on today or after the Lord Mayor's Show?

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous steveb said...

Sorry but can't agree your takes on the Wilson situation. Wilson never looked comfortable at right back. Stevenage played him in midfield more often than not & that is clearly his preferred position.

The decision to play him a right back & move Solly to left must have been influenced by CP's view on Evina and/or reluctance leave out one of our existing midfield.

I think Haynes part in Tuesday's win shouldn't be underestimated. I agree that our midfield has not looked the strongest so far this season but Haynes pace unsettled the Cardiff defence & allowed the likes of Stephens & Pritchard to get further forward & press more. As a result both players had very good games.

Finally, I have to say that while Cort can look a bit uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, his positional play & ability in the air compensates for that & I think he has made our central defence stronger this season, although he missed Morrison alongside him on Tuesday.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

@steveb, You're right about where Wilson played for Stevenage. However, Chris Powell has said, perhaps surprisingly, that he had seen Wilson as a right back. Either way, Powell obviously rates Wilson and wanted to play him. Moving Solly to LB gave him the opportunity to do that, but that couldn't have happened if Wiggins had been fit.

The best bet, obviously, is to play both Solly and Wilson on the right. So desperate was Powell to do that, having seen it work so well at Leeds and Wolves, that he was prepared to play Kerkar at left back against Boro. That was my point and it does explain why Solly reverted to LB on Tuesday.

I agree with you re Haynes's influence on Tuesday, at least in the second half. Powell's problem though is to find a coherent, sustainable shape and I'm not sure Haynes will be part of that. That's all I meant.

I really like Cort, but he's not very mobile. Is that OK? Don't know to be honest. We might get away with it, but I suspect he'll get exposed from time to time, leaving a heavy burden on the excellent Morrison.

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous steveb said...

Hi Chris, I wonder if CP's comments on Wilson were linked to the possibility of Solly going at the start of the season.

Personally I would have accommodated Wilson by dropping Green earlier & brought Evina in as soon as Wiggins got injured.

Take your point about Cort but just think he's stronger than Taylor (vital in this league) & less likely to make errors.

Great win today & with more players becoming available over the comings weeks lets hope we can kick on & continues to move up the league.

At 12:23 PM, Anonymous noel said...

...had we won against Watford and Barsnley.....
come on, they played us off the park. If we'd beat ManU and Chelsea every week we'd still be in the Prem....


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