Monday, 18 March 2013

Charlton 0 - 2 Millwall

Predictable and disappointing. That just about covers it I think.

We were the better side from the off until they scored. Their goal came against the run of play, and was scored by a player that had only just come onto the pitch. These facts don't change the result or the feeling of disappointment but they do, in my view, go some way towards removing any blame or discontentment at the performance.

On another day one of our chances would have gone in and we would have been 1-0 up before Easter slipped the ball between Button's legs and the whole day (and potentially the season) would have had a completely different slant on it. We lost home and away to Palace, but they clearly have a better side than us this season. With luck they will stay down, lose Zaha to Man Utd and Bolasie and maybe even Murray and they will be a lot weaker next season. I hate Palace but I can live with losing to a better team.

Millwall, on the other hand are not as good as us based on the first hour or so on Saturday. I know they played midweek, but they looked tired and well short of confidence from kick off. In fairness that might have been their game plan, and they might have always intended to come out a bit more in the second half, but either way they looked the less likely to score until they did and then we fell apart.

Losing to the weaker side (and one that always seem to lose to) is a disappointment in itself. The fact that they are having a great season in the FA Cup makes it a little harder to stomach, but the real disappointment for me is that with the run of form they are on they could have been real contenders for relegation had we beaten them. With two of the bottom three winning Millwall would have been just two points above second from bottom today had we managed to get that first goal.

Not beating either of them, and losing to them both removes any silver lining on a poor season. I know avoiding relegation was the target, and that does look likely, but the icing on top would have been a win in a derby. With the price of football these days (including the cost of petrol and/or public transport to get there) every team needs to give their fans a little icing. Otherwise the total price of attending begins to look too high!

I should point out that I think we had a better season than both of our local rivals in 2011/12. I know we were in a lower division but I still think we did. This season if Palace make the play-offs (even if they don't get to Wembley) and with Millwall making the FA Cup Semi we needed to win on Saturday and really needed them to be relegated for us to have a better season than either of them.

I know this is not the only criteria of our season, but it does matter to me.

As for the game it was similar to so many of our season. We didn't look outclassed but we did come away with no points. I can't bring myself to be critical of Millwall, they played to a plan. It was probably, in some part, dictated by having a midweek game (that was more important to them that this one) and probably relied on us being a little less than clinical in front of goal. We were and they stole the points. They didn't kick us up in the air nor did they lie on the ground after every tackle.

In truth, as much as I hate Millwall, and I think I do, I can't begrudge them winning a game that they didn't dominate for most of it. We have done that for many years - especially when we were in the Premier League and I think that as Powell becomes more experienced he will find ways to increase our chances of success in these type of games. In the meantime, however, we just don't have the playing staff required to be much more successful than we have been.

There is an issue with our home form compared to our away form, but this has been the case for us in the past, and many other teams suffer from it also. The very charitable, and predictable, praise for the fans by Powell (and others) fails to mention the fact that the crowd at home games do put pressure on the players to win, more than they do away. I have been to many games this season where the moans and groans have clearly affected some of the players to play a more urgent ball that is less successful. Huddersfield at home was probably the worst example of this. We were playing ten men and we were a goal up with less than fifteen minutes left and the fans were screaming at the players to go and attack. Successive long balls from the defenders with fans groaning in their ears led to increased pressure and we let in an equaliser.

I'm not getting at the fans, and I completely understand why the club officials keep avoiding saying it but I understand why our away form is better than our home form. The big difference, these days, is that attending football matches is very expensive. Ignoring the fact that we don't all live close to The Valley, even the cheapest seats are probably more expensive than going to the cinema. Certainly the one that I sit in is.

The decision to attend cannot be completely disconnected with the price of going any more  This makes it harder for those selling the tickets. It is also a different landscape now as the majority of fans have a season ticket these days where as in the past you just paid on the day. With terracing you and a group of friends, or family members, could turn up, without tickets, just before kick off and be guaranteed to all stand together.

This change in behaviour makes the season ticket marketing window much more important. Going into the last couple of weeks before the discount deadline finishes with just four home wins all season and losing 2-0 to our biggest rivals the week they secured an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley is hardly ideal.

I wonder if a message from Chris Powell saying that unless the fans are more patient, and accept that we are not a big club in this division just now, things are not going to get better, would help? It could just be the tipping point for a few hundred season ticket holders to decide to have a season or two paying on a match by match basis.

We all know that giving up the season ticket is the first step to giving up coming at all. Like many other industries it is so much easier to keep customers than it is to get new ones - especially when the cost of a season ticket is so high.

We also have a problem with the pricing of the season tickets. Charlton have charged less than most of it's peer group for a long time now. At some point we needed to change that. We can't be expected to complete with teams that generate more income by charging more for the tickets for ever. All the time we had more season ticket holders we were able to charge a little less than, say Millwall, and generate as much income, or more. We have seem our season ticket numbers drop off, probably, every season since relegation from the Premier League so we do need to 'fleece' those that will never stop coming more and more as those that are sensitive to attendance decide to do something else with their Saturday afternoons.

This is all depressing stuff and is not helped by the fact that we have been poor at home this season and we are rumoured to have less money for transfers this summer than last. There is not a lot to encourage fans to renew, save for 'because they always do'.

As long as we avoid relegation I can't see how the club, or more specifically the performances and results, can have any bearing on next season. No one will be fooled by us winning a couple of games against mid-table teams once their (and our) season is as good as over. This was the last opportunity to give the fans something to feel good about and, frankly, that's not what happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Anyway I shall be there again next season, as I will be for the remainder of this one. I would probably take avoiding relegation again next season if you offered it to me now, but I would do so with the caveat that we win at least one of the derbies, preferably at home, please!

Up the Addicks!

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