Normally I try to look for positives, but today there were none that I can think of. Our luck ran out on Tuesday and today we didn't have any, but probably got what we deserved based on the balance of play.
It was great to see a packed Valley again - I had wondered, on and off, if I would ever see the sight again. the atmosphere was good, but not twice what we normally have, but then there were a lot of 'day trippers' there today. Some of them will be football fans (opposed to Charlton fans) that wanted to come to a game of football for £5. I mean, you can't buy a PS3 magazine for £5 these days, and the game lasts longer than it takes to read.
The sad thing is that some of the 'extra' paying customers were probably true (if not regular attending) Charlton fans that just might have come back had the game been different. To be fair it wasn't rubbish - the quality of the football on offer wasn't anything like you see from the Premier League Top Four love in, but it had all the necessary ingredients. There were goals, we were in the game for most of it, and we scored the last goal - all be it that many had left by then.
Interestingly one of the Mum's that I talk to in my son's playground was going today. She was going with her family (all Charlton but don't go regularly). She was taking her two boys (aged 5 and 7). I believe it was their first visit to The Valley. Something tells me that she will not be in such a rush to take them back when the tickets for the family go up from £20 to £60 - especially based on the game experience as a whole. I will ask her after half term and I'll report back.
Which reminds me, I had a Dad siting next to me today. He was there with his son and daughter. I'm guessing, but they looked four and five to me. Now I do the school run and I like to think of myself as a good and confident Dad, but I wouldn't have taken my son on my own when he was four (his Mum came on the odd occasion he did come - he doesn't really like it yet) but this chap had brought two children on his own. He had a couple of rucksacks with him, one a little pink one that I'm guessing was his daughters. He had them packed with drinks and treats and he managed to keep both the children interested for the whole game. He did, however, keep promising his children that we had time to score enough goals to win, right to the end. By the end I'd started to believe him and felt really cheated when we failed to get the goals.
Some of you will know that I sit in the last row before the executive boxes in the East Stand, so this Dad was just in front of the box where a fan in his 20s (a guess) insisted on standing for the whole game and doing that 80s chant/song of ooooooooooo, you're shit. Ahhhhhhhh every time Exeter took a goal kick. Now it's possible that he paid a lot of money for his seat (it was an executive box after all) but if football for a fiver is going to attract that kind of ingrate then I'm happy for us to give it a miss. I tolerated it a few times before I turned to look at him for a couple of times, before I had to say something. I know I might be being a little dramatic but what is the point of going to all the trouble and cost of getting in families (with young children) only to behave so appallingly. Please comment if you think I am wrong, but I can't stand that sort of thing around children.
To be fair to them I think they did have a decent day out, and maybe they just can't budget for another day like that at full price, I don't know, but imagine how much it is worth if those two children become regulars. Then imagine how likely that is if one of them decide to shout ooooooooooo, you're shit. Ahhhhhhhh the next time Mummy walks into the living room.
Anyway, rant over, I'll get back to the game. We started very slowly again. I can't believe that the players wouldn't have been buzzing with the crowd there, but they didn't all seem to be.
Individual mentions for Jenkinson, who I thought had a good debut. Ironically he might have been better off playing his first game in a less atmospheric scenario, but I thought he did ok, rather like the Brentford cup game. I think he'll make it. Having said that, and this might be in part due to the line up and system, I think we really missed Francis's crosses today. I know he gets some stick for not being the best full back in the world (which could be why he is in the third division) but when he is missing it is noticeable - which is, I guess, a compliment.
Ecclestone looks class. He did a number of things today (and I know he didn't score) that none of the other members of the squad have looked like doing - ever. I'm not going to include Bradly Wright-Phillips in that as I've not seen enough of him, but I doubt he could do it either. I spent a few minutes in the second half thinking about previous loan signings and could only think of Costa that came in and offered something much better than we already had. The recent loan signings have been comparable at best. Lita scored a few goals, but took ages to settle and McEverlyngs today (and I know he didn't score) that none of the other members of the squad have looked like doing - ever. I'm not going to include Bradly Wright-Phillips in that as I've not seen enough of him, but I doubt he could do it either. I spent a few minutes in the second half thinking about previous loan signings and could only think of Costa that came in and offered something much better than we already had. The recent loan signings have been comparable at best. Lita scored a few goals, but took ages to settle and McEverly looked a decent player before getting himself injured. All the others have been short term replacements for injured players or unfit players coming for a bit of match fitness and not been better than what we have. I've actually just thought of Danny Mills who did add something, but I didn't think of him this afternoon.
Anyway, you get my point, he has been a great signing. I can see why Powell played the three strikers today. BWP is on fire, Abbott offers something different than two pacey wingers that are not great in the air, but Ecclestone has more class than anything else we have. He was a real pleasure to watch at times.
Matt Fry looked weaker today than he did earlier in the season. This might have been due to no real width in the midfield, of course. With Bessone looking out injured for a few weeks we are likely going to need Fry, and I'm very pleased to have him back.
Then we get on to the players that I think let us down today. McCormack puzzles me. I really don't know what his role is, what his strengths are, or what it is that Powell sees in him that I can't see. I can only assume that Racon has been injured (as I've read elsewhere) and needed a few weeks rest. For me, and I don't like to slag off our own players, the worst thing about this division is that we have to accept that players of McCormack's ability are as good as we can expect. I don't want this to be a slur on the man, but I believe that he wouldn't have got anywhere near the first team of any side I've seen us put out for at least ten years, probably twenty. I wish him well, and all that, I'm sure he's a nice chap and he loves his Mum, but I really want to be watching so much better on a Saturday afternoon.
That just leaves Gary Doherty for individual mention. I was surprised to see Norwich release him in the Sumner. I know he was frozen out by Lambert last season, but their results faltered and he was brought back in. I had perceptions of him being the sort of leader that could drag a team up to the plate. I just thought he was going to be a huge character in the defense and that his personality would rub off on other players. Half a season in and he has, quite frankly, disappointed me. I can now see why Lambert didn't fancy him. It's very difficult to know if a player protects his teammates or vice-versa. I thought Doherty had been a 'rock' in the Norwich defense. I now wonder if he was more than a cog in a wheel that had stronger cogs along side it.
To be fair to him he has been ok this season. Perhaps time is catching up catching up on Dailly and this is making Doherty's job harder. We have seemed a lot less tight at the back this season. In fact after 29 games last season we'd conceded 32 goals, this season it's 42 goals - that's a third more (near as damn it). Interestingly last season we'd scored 52, this season it's 48, so the big difference is at the back.
Doherty has been referred to as a disaster waiting to happen several times this season, and today he was a bit of a disaster. In his defence he has been ok this season, and let's not forget we hardly had a bundle of cask to spend in the summer, but we have too many players that wouldn't get into the first team of the sides that I expect to finish in the top two, and would struggle with the other play off candidates too.
My best guess is that we will need to bring in some real quality from the loan market if we are going to make a decent stab for promotion this season - something I am less convinced of right now. I know I have been talking about lucky wins causing us to be 'Fooled by Randomness' but I have probably been fooled a little too.
Right now it looks like Slater was hoping Powell could coach us to success where as the latter know we needed better players. To be honest though we can hardly expect much more when you consider how much money has actually been spent on this squad.
After an uninspiring first half where we probably shaded it, we were a little sloppy in the second half at the back. The first goal was hardly against the run of play but it did make it a little more difficult for us. The second killed off the game, and you can't legislate for that. The third was a disappointment, but the consolation was nice, especially for the children in the audience. Who knows that goal could be coming up in discussions for years to come. "The first goal I saw scored at the Valley was......"
This brings me on to the manager. I think all managers have to learn things for themselves. I have often questioned why something is done a certain way, even if it's something I know a lot about. The answer might be very logical and reasonable, but I still don't forget why I asked the question. Then later (in life) I am in a position to make a decision about the exact same thing. Clearly (with no disrespect to the advice I was given) I go with what I thought back when I asked the question. I'm wrong, and I realise (even though I already knew it) that the way it was being done was the right one all along.
I guess this is the same logic that makes children touch the hot kettle when their patents, that have never lied to them about stuff like this before, tell them it will hurt them. "He'll never do it again."
Chris Powell needs to go through that process, and it might take him years before he has enough experience to prevent the kind of mistakes that cost games. I'm not saying he got something specific wrong today, but at some point the starting eleven needs to be based on an ideal. That can be to build a team around a specific player or 'spine', or it could be to select the best team even if it means leaving out the best player, or it could be to select the best eleven players and then find a system that includes all of them.
I'm thinking about BWP, Ecclestone and a forward/link player/target man that can play with them. I don't think I would have started with a 4-3-3 today, but I can see why we did. We wanted to go out there and score goals for our big crowd. We wanted to play Ecclestone and BWP while keeping Abbott as the other two don't have everything to play together. There must also be an element of needing to keep Ecclestone playing to keep him. I read his tweets and it would seem he is staying in a hotel/motel and hardly loving his time in London. I don't have a problem with him saying those things, by the way, and don't want him censored, but if he is putting himself through that and not getting any game time he is soon going to want to go home, or elsewhere.
It's a shame as I was really hoping that with four straight wins we might have settled on a team and formation without the learning process costing us any points. However, Powell has been open enough to confirm that he wouldn't change a winning team. I'm not so sure about the logic when some of the wins have been very lucky, but he is the boss, and he, for sure, knows a lot more about football than I do. I just feel, now, as though personnel changes and experimentation are required, and we are now battling to stay in the playoffs.
Having said all that those twelve points will be defining this season. It wouldn't have been a hanging offense if we'd lost those opening four games while we brought in new players in January and in the emergency loan markets. We do, however, need to get a result on Friday as three defeats in a row would seriously threaten to undo the work done in winning the first four.
My last comment regards the ticket pricing, both match and season. On the face of it a reduction on match day tickets looks like a good idea. Get some fans in and hope that they'll come back. There does need to be a balance to ensure that season ticket holders aren't tempted to pay on a match by match basis next season. As attendances have been lower than tickets sold I can only assume that some season ticket holders don't go to all the games. Just how many Saturday's need to be reduced to reach a tipping point I don't know, but it is potentially very important.
As for the season tickets, I was very impressed to hear that next season's tickets would be £50 less for all (well most - including me) adults. I was less impressed when the club used the same language as last year to suggest that this offer is only available until 4th April. 4th April seems a lot later that 31st March, but in reality it's only four days, and two of them are the weekend. Maybe it is for tax reasons, the 4th April is this tax year. However, I suspect that it's more likely that it's just a cash flow exercise. This worries me. This worries me a lot. This suggests to me that those that have bought our club for £1 may well not have the kind of serious money that we will need to keep this club afloat and challenging for promotion in this division - especially if success is expected to be from coaching a load of free transfers, journeymen and young players rather than signing better players for serious money. I just can't help worrying that the new owners think that winning promotion is a lot easier than, in reality, it is.
Also, one last point on the season ticket price reductions. How will this make those that paid for 5 year season tickets last March feel?
Anyway I think I've waffled on enough, and it's well past my bedtime.
Up the Addicks!