Sunday, 7 October 2012

Blackpool 0 - 2 Charlton

Well, I never expected that. If I'm honest I didn't really think we'd line un 4-5-1. I didn't think we would keep a clean sheet and I didn't think we would score two goals.

It does make an argument for us to play 4-5-1 in most games this season. Against Blackburn we dominated large sections of the game and it was the best performance I'd seen from us all season. Against Watford (with 4-4-2) we looked the weaker side until they went down to ten men.

I remember a similar debate with Alan Pardew's team in the first season our of the Premier League. We kept trying with 4-4-2 and falling short - mainly due to trying to accommodate Andy Reid. Then we stumbled upon the 4-5-1 with Big Chris at the top. It worked and we went on a five game win, including a 1-0 at St Mary's when Semedo was sent off in the first half. My Dad has a photo, that I bought him, of Big Chris standing in front of the home fans after he'd scored. We went to that game, it was a cracking day out.

So, I am becoming more and more convinced that 4-5-1 might well be the best way forward, for the short term at least.

The other dilemma we have coming up is what to do about the full backs. Clearly Chris Solly is not going to be 'rested' or benched, but Lawrie Wilson is looking better and better. He is certainly growing into the Championship better than some of our regulars from last season.

I wasn't at the game yesterday, so I'm not going to do a review of the match itself, but needless to say, I have read several others'. It sounds like the kind of game that we have been known for in the past. Curbishley's sides used to go away from home and keep clean sheets - sometimes I had no idea how we managed to keep the opposition out, but we did.

I'm not sure we can win this league keeping sides at bay whilst trying to snatch the odd goal, but I do thing we can establish ourselves in mid table, and that will be more than enough for now. I have no idea what the financial position at the club is, nor do I know what it will be like in the summer, but for now I am more than happy to set our sights on mid table security.

Clearly our results have been a little random this season so I'm not going to get carried away, but before yesterday I would have taken three points from our next three away games so we now have two games with which to exceed my hopes.

One further stat. We are just below half way, we have played ten games this season and eight of the the teams we've played are above us and only two are below us. That makes it look a little better to me.

Oh, and we beat one of the favourites for promotion in their own back yard.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Next... Blackpool away

The last time we played Blackpool in the league we drew and the failure to win relegated us to the third division of English football. That game was at The Valley, but we had lost away to them 2-0 earlier in the season.

The previous season we lost 5-3 at Bloomfield Road at a time that we were still in the hunt for promotion back to the Premier League. The month before we had beaten them 4-1 at The Valley.

Interestingly Blackpool finished two points above the relegation zone that season, so that win against us late in February 2008 could be viewed as significant in their survival just two seasons before a very unlikely promotion to the Premier League themselves.

Now, despite the relative sizes of our stadia and fan base Blackpool are a much 'bigger' team than us in terms of financial strength - and let's face it that's all that seems to matter these days.

A season of Premier League football, followed by the parachute payments, that are more than twice most teams playing budget in the Championship, for a couple of seasons makes them significantly more likely to go up this campaign than us.

The strongest a team that is relegated can be tends to be if they have just one season in the top flight, followed by selling a player or two for big money. That is exactly what Blackpool have done. They, like Burnley the season before, we so much weaker when they went up that they didn't go straight back, but they are certainly in the running this season.

What that means to us is that this is what Curbishley used to call a 'bonus ball'. It's a game that we don't expect to win; it's a game against a team that we are, probably, not really competing with this season; and it's a game that we don't, actually, need to win.

That should take some of the pressure off, and the longer the game goes without us conceding the more we will grow into the it, and the more anxious Blackpool, and their fans, will get. I am, of course, assuming that we will not concede a goal in the first ten minutes like we did at Derby, but our defence has been very strong this season (as they were last).

I am not completely sure what the answer is for the middle of the park. Last season Hollands was the third choice for Captain. This season that seems to be Morrison. The initial indications, from that, are that Hollands place in the side is not as assured as it was last season. Tuesday night's game probably did nothing to dispel that idea. I like Danny Hollands, he is the sort of player that it is easy to support (as my friend in Bermuda has done) but he does, sadly, look like he is going to struggle to impose himself on this division in quite the same way.

I feel for Powell, and many of the players, as decisions are going to need to me made soon that are going to be difficult and seem disloyal. I've always thought that there are players in a team that wins promotion that find that their success means that they are, potentially, playing themselves out of a first team place - and in some cases out of a club.

Clearly one can never know which players are going to make the step up, but I think it is fair to say that if a 26 year old player cannot cope with the division he is in it is likely that he is not going to make it at that level.

For the record I'm not saying that I don't think Danny is going to be good enough for the Championship, but it does look like we are not going to want to play him and Stephens together in the middle in a 4-4-2, and Stephens is the more likely to make something special happen - like he did for our goal on Tuesday evening.

I think I would prefer to see us play 4-5-1, particularly away from home to teams that we expect to finish way above us in the league come May. In a midfield five I thought that both Hollands and Stephens looked ok, but either way we have been desperately short of quality in the middle of the park all season, and Powell must have recognised this as he has tried all sorts of different systems and formations to make us tick.

I'm not looking to single out Hollands, and I would be delighted if he did raise his game and become as influential this season as last, but if we accept that something has to change, he may well be the fall guy.

Powell needs to be strong and he needs to pick the players, and the system, that is most likely to get a result - obviously. It's ok going with the players you know and can trust, but sometimes you have to gamble. You have to risk losing to win, and all that.

It might be time to give Razak a game, and maybe play 4-5-1 with Fuller up front on his own. Bradley Wright-Phillips is a great option to bring on if we are chasing the game late on, or if we want to rest Fuller - he is not completely match fit and has looked jaded towards the end of games.

Blackpool are the leading goal scorers in the Championship averaging more than two goals per game, but they have also conceded an average of 1.33 goals per game, so a 0-0 looks unlikely.

As I've said we can view this as a game we would expect to lose, so there is little pressure on us, but the same could be said of Leeds and Wolves away, but I don't really want to lose all three. I hope I'm wrong but I think we will lose this game, I just hope we give a good performance, and don't get thumped before the International Break.

Up the Addicks!

Charlton 1 - 2 Watford

Well this did't turn out how I expected at all. I was expecting us to be much better than this, relative to Watford, and I thought we would take the game to them and end up winning. Maybe I didn't think we would win convincingly, but I thought it would be comfortable - at least towards the final whistle.

It was nothing of the sort. We started off ok, but we did seem to be slower to the ball, slower to close down, and we failed to get any kind of passing game going. We decided (well Chris Powell decided) to do with a 4-4-2 with Fuller coming in for Jackson. This should have given us the opportunity to create more up front, as long as we could get the ball through the midfield.

In the end we were unable to get the ball out of defence without turning to hoofing it up the park. We did try passing the ball across the back line a few times, but inevitable we ended up passing it back to Hamer for a long kick.

Watford, rather like Palace a few weeks ago, just seemed to be quicker to every ball and seemed to have much superior passing skills than we possess. Watford seemed to be able to pass the ball through our midfield where as our midfield didn't seem to be able to even get the ball under control before they were being pressured by a yellow shirt.

Watford deservedly, in my view, took the lead, all be it from a corner, and one with the ball not resting in the 'D' of the corner when it was played in.

It was to our credit that we raised our game at that point and played the only real quality defence splitting pass of the evening (from either side) to put Fuller in for a chance that I suspect he has buried his whole career.

At 1-1 I was happy to see the clock run down to half time before we came out for another go. I did feel that the momentum might swing towards us. Watford had out played us for half an hour before they went a goal in front and then we raised out game and within two minutes we were level. I thought that maybe we would take the game by the scruff of the neck and win it, like I'd predicted before kick off.

If anything I thought the game changed and was put right in our lap when Watford's best player on the night was shown a second yellow card, this one for diving to win a penalty.

At half time I was confident that we would be able to go on and take all three points. It would not have been pretty, and the one player advantage would have been significant, but it would have given us three points, and that was all that really mattered.

How wrong was I?

We started the second half much brighter. We looked the more likely to score. It helped that Watford switched to a 4-4-1 and were always going to be playing long balls out of defence that would come straight back at them.

We had several decent chances to get the second goal. There were blocks, deflections and slightly mishit passes, but we carried on pushing forward and it looked like it was only a matter of time before we made the numerical advantage count.

Then Danny Green came in on a tackle a little late. It was a foul, but not a booking, even though he got one. Then a couple of passes and Cort was penalised on the edge of the box for holding. As this point I have no criticism of either player. Danny Green has been a revelation in the last few games, and no one ever said that tackling was his strong pint. Cort should have known better, but under pressure he clearly thought that he would either get away with it, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, or that the free kick was better than letting the ball into the box.

The free kick, or rather our defending of it, however, I am going to criticise. Three Watford players lined up next to our wall and started leaning into our players - you could even call it pushing. It was obvious to everyone in the East stand that they were all going to run out of the way and leave a three man sized hold for the ball to be hit through.

For some, unknown, reason none of our players seemed to realise this. Needless to say that is exactly what happened. To be fair it was a decent strike, but totally predictable and, worse still, totally avoidable.

That changed the game completely. Watford had a period of attacking again and again. Our dominant pressure just disappeared. Ten minutes later and Watford did drop back and started time wasting. I hate it, but I know it goes on, and had we been a goal in front away from home with ten men and fifteen minutes left I would expect us to do exactly the same.

We couldn't break them down and the final whistle saw the South stand celebrating and the Charlton fans leaving wondering if this season is going to end in disaster or if we are going to be able to get up to speed with this division before it is too late.

I'm not going to single out players, but I have to say that I am getting more and more impressed with Laurie Wilson, and I'm getting more and more concerned with having Hollands and Stephens as a central partnership in a 4-4-2. To be fair Hollands had a stinker tonight, and by the end he looked like his confidence was going. This is not what I remember him playing like last season, so I'm going to give him the benefit of doubt. Stephens looked like he might have been ready for Villa based on his performance on Saturday, but tonight it left me wondering if we should have ripped Villa's hand (and whole arm) off for the reported £2m we were offered for him in August. Again I suspect that he will improve, but we don't have many more games left for these players (and others) to really learn how to win in this division. We need some points on the board, and soon, otherwise we are going to be in a confidence zapping relegation battle, and another season (or more) in the third division just doesn't bare thinking about.

I'm not panicking yet, but I'm more worried than I was this morning, and with away trips to Blackpool, Leeds and Wolves in our next four we could well rue picking up just one point in the two home games that we could easily have won.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Next... Watford at home

Following on from the draw against a very strong Blackburn side on Saturday we face a Watford side that should be easier to beat. I'm always reluctant to say things like that, but in all honesty Watford are likely to struggle this season - especially until January when their, reported wealthy, new owners can do much to strengthen their squad.

With Watford being in 19th place (all be it we are in 20th place) we must be targeting this as a game we can win. If we are going to climb away from the relegation zone we are going to need to beat teams like Watford at home, and probably away for that matter.

I'm still not sure what our realistic aspirations are this season yet. Before the summer (after we'd run away with League One) I was confident that we would be challenging at the top of the table - not necessarily top two, but top six for sure.

With the lack of investment in the squad over the summer, I found myself back tracking in the excessively optimistic hopes I had. I still, however, thought that we would be mid table to top six, or at least be in that area of the table for most of the season.

After we lost at home to Palace, a team fancied to struggle, I was starting to get concerned. I know Forest had spent some money but losing to them and then at home to Palace I, suddenly, found myself looking down rather than up. The defeat at Derby provided something for both the half full and the half empty fans. Going three goals behind is never a good thing, but a spirited fightback, and coming so close to getting a third (and a draw) is always positive.

The win at Ipswich was fantastic, especially on the basis that we only won two games away all season the last time we were in this division, but Ipswich are a bit if a basket case at the moment, and we were third and second from bottom at kick off.

I went into the Blackburn game thinking that a draw would be a good result, and in the end I wasn't disappointed, but for me the performance was very encouraging.

I know it is easier to control the middle of the park with a 4-5-1, and Blackburn did, literally, rip us apart for their goal, but we dominated the game for most of the 90 minutes and we had several good chances to win the game, and on another day one of those would have gone in.

To come away from Saturday's game thinking that we should have won, yet being happy with a draw has (at least until 9:30 this evening) changed my outlook again into a more positive one. If we can play as we did on Saturday for the next half a dozen games I think we will look in a much better position. We do have some tough games coming up, but they are all tough in this division.

With Fuller reported to be over his virus, and with Rob Hulse having been signed I think we will have the option to go back to a 4-4-2, but I'm not sure that is what Powell will do. We might see the Rasak start in place of Jackson, who has looked 'jaded' for most of the season, but went off injured on Saturday, but other than that I'd be happy to see a similar lineup.

We need to keep it tight at the start, and then look to take more control of the game as we 'grow' into it. It is, after all, only our ninth game in this division, and for a number of players it is only their ninth game in this division, ever.

Under normal circumstances I would be confident of a win, but I am a little nervous as this is one of the easiest games we have coming up (on paper, at least) and we do need to pick up some points to keep us away from the bottom three. A draw wouldn't be a complete disaster, but I think I will be disappointed with anything less than a win.

Up the Addicks!