Friday, 28 October 2011

Next... Hartlepool away

What a week we've had?

I thought we'd stumble over the line with a 1-0 win at home to Carlisle last Saturday, and despite the fact they they made some defence howlers we still ran out 4-0 winners, and were 3-0 in front when they went down to ten men at the end of the first half. The icing on the cake was the saved penalty. In fact just about everything went our way.

The 2-1 win at Wycombe, which was fully to be expected is still a win, and still three points that we can put in the bag for the final tally up come May. Sheffield united, for example lost there, and I don't think they will be the only top six team to do so over the course of the season.

It's easy to be confident of a win against the struggling teams, but it's not always that easy, and you do have to go out there and win the game, and despite a nervy ending to the game we won, and that's all that mattered. With the bonus of no injuries or suspensions, and with Andy Hughes getting another start, and demonstrating that we need not be too fearful of the odd injury or suspension in the middle it was a good weeks work.

This was important, of course, as we had failed to win any of the three previous matches, and even lost to the team on a run of four straight defeats the week before. I accept that there will be blips, and as I said above just because we would expect to beat Stevenage, doesn't automatically mean we will do so. However, the real test is what happens after a defeat, and I think we have answered all the questions that were surfacing, including some of my own.

Powell's start at Charlton was followed by such a fall that it was easy to worry about his ability to lift a demoralised squad, but I am not too worried about that now.

So on the Hartlepool? Well they started the league campaign with four straight draws (MK Dons, Walsall, Huddersfield and Stevenage), before going on a run of five wins all be it against the less glamorous sides (Rochdale, Exeter, Carlisle, Bury and Bournemouth) then followed that up with three defeats (Sheff Wed, Notts County and Wycombe) they then beat Chesterfield, away, last Saturday before losing at home to Tranmere in the week. So they face us with one win in five (with four defeats), having lost their last three home games.

If you analyse their results with respect to the teams they do look like a solid mid table side that will not pull up too many trees against the top six but should be able to keep above the relegation zone. They finished 16th last season after having finished 20th and 19th in the two seasons before.

So, their side shouldn't be good enough to pose too many questions of a top side on a good run, they have struggled a bit with recent form so this will be a good test for us. This is the sort of game we have struggled in in the past, and Stevenage might not look like a one off by 5pm on Saturday.

However, I believe that we are no longer that sort of side. I think the players that we have wearing the shirt this season are better than that. I was never sure if it was complacency or the inability to break down teams that defended in numbers, but I do believe that Stevenage was a blip and I think we will collect three points tomorrow.

I'm going for a 1-0 win tomorrow. I still think there will be games when we need to grind out a win by breaking down a tough side and keeping a clean sheet. I think tomorrow will be one of those.

Elsewhere I was buoyed this week, despite the unpopularity of my pleasure, by Sky TVs decision to move our game with Huddersfield from Saturday 26th November to Monday 28th November. I have always been committed to attend every game, and I have missed all sorts of family occasions in the process. I have sent my wife to weddings on her own, and have passed on all sorts of social occasions in order to keep my 100% attendance on a season by season basis. However on the 26th of November I am, for the first time and I hope the last, attending a posthumous graduation ceremony for my late brother-in-law. Some of you will remember that he died in a car accident in 2008. It would seem that all universities have a scheme to extrapolate results up to date (there was a small celebration in the summer of 2008 when his first year results were released) but we were unaware of this tradition until until a few months ago when Nottingham University contacted my in-laws to invite them (and my wife and I) to attend the ceremony.

Having only attended two graduation ceremony in my life - both of them my own, I would not normally recommend them as a fun day out, and they would always be a second choice to a football game, never mind a top of the table clash (I know it might not be by then), but I felt that it was where I should be. The fixtures weren't out when we committed to go (not that my decision would have been any different), but I feel vindicated in going as circumstances have conspired to ensure that I won't miss a game after all.

To all those that are now going to miss the game as it has been moved from the Saturday, and to those that will have increased travel costs due to early booking of train tickets (something that I was not aware of until this week) I do sympathise, but I have to confess that I couldn't be happier about it.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Next... Carlisle at home

Following on from our win at Sheffield United we had 27 points from eleven games. We were five points in front of MK Dons who we'd drawn away to and eight points ahead of Hartlepool who were in seventh. With eleven and a half games a quarter of the season this was looking good.

Interestingly, after eleven games in 2009 we has 24 points and Leeds who were top had 27. After 13 games in 2009 we had 28 points, exactly what we have now with the same number of games played. Last season we had 16 points after eleven games and 19 after thirteen games.

So, on the whole it was a good start to the season. It was significantly better than I had dared hope for back in June. The board have given Powell plenty of resources and on the whole the team have repaid him with good results. We haven't always been totally convincing, Huddersfield are the only team that seem to have done that, but I'd take second place right now, and would have done at any point if it'd been offered to me.

However, after the Sheff Utd win, and the celebrations on the pitch and the pats on the back all round that Powell gave out we seem to have lost our way a little. The odd result going against you is perfectly understandable, and to some degree acceptable. The defeat in the JPT was ok. I would have liked to have gone to Wembley, but in the grand scheme of things it didn't really mater that much. Losing 3-0 at home to a team from the same division was a little bit harder to swallow, but again, it was only the JPT, and despite Brentford doing the same we did only play half of our first team.

Tranmere at home was a little less impressive. Tranmere came to us with three defeats, one win and a draw in five, so we should really have been able to pick up a win at home. There were changes, bringing in Green and Kermorgant which seemed like a reasonable move based on their contributions from the bench at both MK Dons and Sheff Utd, but it just didn't work. Tranmere defended to highly and we failed to get a passing game going and immediately seemed to lump it up the park to the tall Frenchman. This failed miserably. Sure, we managed to steal a draw, and could have even snatched it at the end, but to be truthful, without the Penalty we could well have lost that game.

Then we went to Stevenage, who were on a run of four defeats. What we needed was to to keep it tight and score first and then they would have been forced to come out and attack, leaving us chances to increase our lead. We managed to concede an early goal and then they did exactly what you'd expect from a team playing in a game they expected to lose. No disrespect to them, but I'd be amazed if we finish less than ten points above them, and they would probably have been happy with a draw.

So one draw and two defeats in three. having said that we are still forth in the form tables (last six games) and we are still top of the form table for the last six away games. Six games that include trips to the teams that are 4th and 8th. I'm still happy with our current progress, and the initial bedding in period for the team to 'gel' doesn't seem to have cost us many points.

I think it might be time to reinstate Wagstaff and Hayes. I think it was a little unfair on them to be dropped, despite the replacements having great impacts from the bench. Maybe that is where they need to utilised. Green has demonstrated great crossing ability, and I have been willing him to succeed as I do love a 'proper' winger that gets to the line and crosses the ball, but he has, frankly, failed to deliver. I'm not saying that he won't have a big part to play this season, but for now I think Wagstaff should be given the nod. I also think BWP looks a better player with Hayes, and we seem to play a more passing game with him in the side.

Of course, it could just be that other teams have worked out how to play us now. I always find it worrying when we can't seem to break down the rough, tough huff and puff sides. If you fail to beat them then it encourages more sided to employ those tactics, and they spoil the game in my opinion.

Tomorrow we entertain Carlisle who inflicted our forth straight defeat back in March that was, for me, the signal that we were playing for the playoffs not automatic promotion. In the end the seven games that followed with just two points took that away too.

This is a real test of Powell and his new side. We need to send out a message tomorrow both to our fans and to the rest of the teams in this division. We need to demonstrate that when we are knocked down we get straight back up. Basically we need win and never look like doing anything else. We need to pass the ball around the pitch. We need to be first to the loose balls and we need to be firm in the tackle. We need to make it clear that we cannot and we will not be bullied into submission.

The fans need to play their part too. We need to make The Valley less of a fun day out for the opposition. our away form has been fantastic this season, but we have only won half of the games we've played at home. We need to make The Valley a fortress, starting tomorrow.

I am confident of a win. I don't, actually, think I'll see all those things I listed above, and at the end of the day I'll take a win - any win. I'm going for a 1-0 win. Keep it tight at the back and nick a goal. IT won't exactly send out the shock waves I'd like but it will confirm that we have got back up again. And it will, of course, keep us at the top of the table.

Up the Addicks!