Tuesday 27 October 2020

Charlton Athletic 2 v Oxford United 0

A pretty uninspiring opening 30 minutes at the Valley this evening as Oxford bossed possession and we struggled to get forward in any meaningful way. A midfield of Washington, Pratley, Watson and Shinnie looked short of gas and we were left admiring the probing by Clare and Henry down our left side. 

However, after 31 minutes Andrew Shinnie stepped up and took the game by the scruff of the neck. He took down a ball from Gunter in the middle, drew the Oxford backline and played a lovely reverse ball into the path of Conor Washington, who took a touch towards goal before sliding it under the advancing Eastwood for 1-0.

After that we looked far more interested and a free-kick to the left-edge of the box saw Shinnie shaping to cross for Inniss and Famewo. I could see a line of sight to the far top corner but Eatwood was well positioned and I was sure he would get to anything fired that way. Shinnie went direct and his shot tore a line straight into the top corner and there was nothing Eastwood could do - it was far too well struck and motoring. The online bookies payout now at two-nil but we still had to win the match.

Unsurprisingly, we started brighter in the second-half with Shinnie and Smyth continuing to work hard as we looked for a killer third goal. Nothing was falling for us and on 61 minutes Inniss was booked for preventing Eastwood from taking a quick kick. It was a silly booking and five minutes later he was off after a stiff defensive tackle. That changed the game and we spent the last half an hour getting men behind the ball every time Oxford got possession.

Amos was forced to save at close range from Henry once again and Akin Famewo didn't well to block a follow-up shot. Bogle was sacrificed for Purrington after 80 minutes and his first notable touch was to get onto a cut back from Maatsen inside the box. He fared no better than the man he replaced. Shinnie and Smyth spent a couple of minutes playing keep-ball in Oxford's corner at the end and Forster-Caskey also got a few minutes as Washington came off. 

First league win over Oxford this century. Five clean sheets in-a-row. Four successive wins. Up to sixth (few others still playing). The game in hand takes us into the top three. Early days and we will need to reorganise without Inniss and Watson at Pompey on Saturday. They are warming up for us by being three-up at home to Northampton this evening after an hour.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Northampton Town 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

The facts are that Charlton Athletic have picked up nine points in eight days and won all three games without conceding a goal. The team continues to evolve and the side have slid comfortably into the top ten with a game in hand that would move them firmly into the play-off positions.

Anecdotally, however, it wasn't quite as pretty. Another stale first-half in which we only managed a soft downward header straight at their keeper and where we failed to compete in midfield. The pre-match news was that Chuks Anneke was out with a groin strain which meant another start for Bogle. On top of that, Bowyer decide to change the midfield with Forster-Caskey starting in place of Roberts with Williams and Levitt also on from the start.

The first-half was dire. The wind and rain probably didn't help but we were poor and Northampton were little better. The Cobblers made all the early running and had their best chance from a free-kick after quarter of an hour. A curling ball into the box was knocked goalward from eight yards out, possibly by a Charlton player, and Amos did very well to parry the effort. It hit Inniss and was heading back in before Amos extended a leg and hooked it clear. 

The rest of the first-half was largely uneventful but Charlton failed to get a grip in the middle and Bogle fumbled everything that was thrown up to him. He managed to lose a ball that landed on his chest in acres of space and to allow a ball to go out for a Northampton throw that he really should have controlled with ease under no pressure. I don't like to dig him out I am struggling to see what he brings to the piece. He is a big lump but nothing sticks to him and if he was quick enough, his second touch would always be a tackle. Smyth wasn't helping either I have to add. He has quick feet and tries to be direct but he has no pace and is lightweight, often looking for fouls once he's lost possession. 

The highlight was the back four. Gunter and Maatsen were largely untroubled and Inniss and Famewo stood up to everything. Famewo was very assured along the back line and Inniss made his presence felt when we did get a set-piece upfront Bowyer made the change we needed at half-time with Pratley coming on for Levitt and it paid dividends within ten minutes. From a left-wing corner, Inniss headed down, Bogle held the defender off and Pratley smashed high into the net from six yards. We should have made it two four minutes later when Inniss dinked a header over the back line where it dropped for Smyth unmarked five yards out but he put it over the bar - it was a dreadful miss.

Not to be deterred, Ben Amos collected a cross minutes later and freed the galloping Doughty down the left. Doughty tore past the Northampton full-back and careered into the box. His cross was firm and Harriman could do little but make contact and divert it into his own net. For the next five minutes, Doughty was all over them down the right but he fell after a tackle and had to limp off with what looked like a groin strain.

Shinnie came on for Doughty as the conditions worsened and Washington also joined the action after 76 minutes to give the tiring Williams a breather. The whole side will need a good rest before Tuesday's home match against lowly Oxford United. It is still very early days but I would hope to see us creating much more on Tuesday and not relying upon a superior second-half effort alone to get the result. It would also be good to send Karl Robinson home with a walloping for a change. 

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Blackpool 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Once again, it was awkward watching a side play against us in 'our' kit. Unsure why, but Blackpool appear to have given up their famous Tangerine and were instead kitted out in red shirts, white shorts and red socks. I couldn't find any reason for this other than it was a strip they played in back in 1913!

Another scruffy performance from Lee Bowyer's emerging side this evening at Bloomfield Road. League One debutant referee, James Bell, took less than a minute to make a mark on this match when he was left with no option but to dismiss James Husband for a last-man foul on Omar Bogle as he chased a long Purrington ball towards the penalty area. Two minutes later and Purrington himself went into the book after being worryingly exposed by Hamilton's pace down the right flank.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Charlton looked comfortable at the back for most of the first-half as Madine and Hamilton were left to fight it out with our back four. Inniss and Famewo had plenty of time on the ball and they needed it as they were left to do all the prompting of forward play by Roberts who was content to play triangles with them.

Going forward was our real challenge. With most balls being pumped upfield from the centre-backs, Shinnie, Bogle and Doughty were left battling for possession and even when they did manage to hang onto anything, we invariably mis-played the second ball. Doughty had some success down the right where his pace was as troubling for them as Hamilton's was for us but his end product was limited to deep far post balls which several players in turn failed to stop from going out. Pratley was also getting forward but with 11 against 10, we needed creativity and guile, not someone looking for or conceding free-kicks. 

On 35 minutes, Doughty and Gunter exchanged passes and Gunther crossed a high ball into the box which Bogle chested and took down but his was already swinging his boot and he scuffed it over the bar. 

Three minutes later and we were level - ten men apiece. Purrington was put on the rack by Hamilton once again and having bust a lung to get back, he couldn't contain himself as Hamilton prepared to glide inside and hauled him down unceremoniously. It was a blatant second yellow and Lee Bowyer will not have been pleased. Don't expect to see Purrington playing again any time soon.

Before half-time Blackpool fashioned a half-chance. A long ball down the middle dropped for Woodburn charging between Inniss and Famewo. He managed to get a first-time effort off but thankfully it cleared the bar. The sad fact at half-time was that neither side had managed an effort on target and we had, had 65% possession.

Lee Bowyer made the change at half-time that I thought was obvious. Ian Maatsen made his debut at left back as Darren Pratley was sacrificed. I thought Pratley had been clogging our attacking moves up when we had the extra man and without him we moved a bit more freely. 

Indeed, on 55 minutes we should have taken the lead after Ryan Inniss climbed at the back post to head down a set-piece that cleared the goal-line. As the grey shirts came away celebrating, the referee gave the goal but five seconds later after angry Blackpool players crowded the linesman, he put his flag up. The goal was disallowed, presumably as a result of a suspicion that Bogle may have touched the ball on the line as it went in. The fact was the referee hadn't seen it and it looks very much like the lino bottled it. 

Either way, Bogle's evening was over and Chuks Anneke entered the fray as Blackpool upped the ante and began to impose themselves a bit on the game without seriously threatening us. Maatsen kept them on their toes with a sliced left-foot effort from distance which cleared the bar and after Smyth came on for Washington we settled down once again and looked more coherent going forward.

With less than ten minutes left, Maatsen ran onto a ball knocked out from the Blackpool defence and pinged a swirling corner to the back of the six yard area. Alfie Doughty, still wearing his white headband, knocked it in towards the near post and Chuks Anneke reacted first by moving back towards the ball but he made a good enough contact to steer it in. It was a lead we barely deserved on the balance of play but which was justice for the goal that had been chalked off.

We had to play out six minutes of added time but that passed relatively uneventfully and the boys will be having a sing-song on the journey home this evening.

Still early days, of course, but the lessons are becoming clearer. Maatsen may have the pace and better of Purrington. Pratley needs to be used as a game holder in the second-half. Smyth and Anneke look better than Bogle and Washington on early viewing. We need to make better use of Shinnie and find a way to introduce Williams to press games. 

We are up to eleventh with a game in hand that could move us to around sixth. We should be looking to beat Northampton more convincingly on Saturday.

Sunday 18 October 2020

Charlton Athletic 1 v Wigan AFC 0

It should come as no great surprise that this was another scrappy affair, low on quality and chances. It's quite something for both sides that the fixture even took place given the serious survival threats each were faced with during the Summer.

Thankfully, both sides have seen the cavalry ride over the horizon in the last few weeks. Ours was actually US-lead and theirs a Spanish variety, but both appear honest, well intentioned and capable. Whilst Wigan await full completion of their saviour from the Administrators, we have finally seen the splashing of cash and an embarrassment of new playing personnel arriving over the last fortnight.

It's almost impossible to remember the names of every new signing since Thomas Sandgaard waved his wand but there have been a dozen and Lee Bowyer now has a job to work out how best make use of what he has. Four players made their debuts at kick-off yesterday; Inniss, Gunter, Shinnie and Smyth. The exuberance off it all gave Charlton an early edge as we played with a little more urgency than the visitors for the first twenty minutes and tried to prize an opening in their back line. Smyth had the only real chance after being played in to the near post but Jones smothered his shot from a narrow angle.

After that, Wigan had a decent fifteen minute spell when they should have scored. From a couple of corners, Amos punched the first before being called on to make an instinctive block from a strong Joe Garner header six yards out. Garner also missed a decent opportunity after Soloman-Ostobor had teed him up. 

Forster-Caskey floated a free-kick high over the bar before the break and had me complaining at his selection. Why was he getting a run-out now when we had all this new blood? He has had his moments in a red shirt but he has been injury prone and hasn't done nearly enough for me to warrant a regular selection. The first-half was brought to a merciful close and we hoped for better in the second half.

Wigan started the brighter after the break and did get the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a push on Famewo. That was the trigger for a spell of Charlton pressure which lead to the winner. Jones pushed a Pratley effort around the post after decent work from Anneke to flick on Amos' long ball. Anneke was tiring and was replaced by debutant 5, Omar Bogle, on 62 minutes, just before Charlton won a free-kick 35 yards out from the Covered End goal. After a long wait, Jake Forster-Caskey, that under-achiever I was moaning about, stepped up and wrapped a shot around the wall which bounced on it's way towards the keeper's left-hand post. Jones scrambled across the goal and threw himself at the ball but it beat his finger-tips by inches and, somehow, clipped the post and crossed the line. 

After that it was pretty much a case of seeing it out. Wigan did force a couple of goalmouth scrambles before the end and struck the bar during one but fortune was with us for once. 

The victory lifts us up the table and with a game in hand we could slide into the top ten. We have played three at home and two away and now face Blackpool away and Northampton at home this week. Away games don't carry the threat of the booming home support, and hopefully, we can settle quickly and be competitive. Realistically we have to give this side half-a-dozen games, but we should expect to be collecting points more regularly in the run-up to Christmas when I would hope that we are much better to watch, can create some sustained pressure against our opponents and carry much more goal threat than we have seen. 

If I am going to be critical, and I am, I am not sure I can see anything like a twenty goal scorer this season and that's what we will need if we are to seriously challenge for promotion. 

Monday 12 October 2020

Project Big Picture and the end of hope.

Sad but hardly shocking news this weekend that the 'Big Six' football clubs in England are engineering cunning plans to further accelerate their growth and control of football in this country. Under the patronising name of "Big Picture" (only they are capable of seeing it) they are seeking to capitalise on the current financial weakness of other clubs and especially those in the EFL.

The plan is to reduce the Premier League down to 18 clubs and leave 24 in each of the three EFL leagues. For now, promotion and relegation from the PL would remain but would be reduced to two automatics and a third PL side involved in the Play-Offs. This would mean the PL clubs would only play 34 league games a season, twelve less than the grafters in the EFL. That would free them up to play more lucrative matches elsewhere. It would also, of course, be a step on the journey to a closed Premier League, where the elite remain there with no fear of relegation and all the clubs left stranded in the EFL would lose any hope of their day in the sunny uplands of the top flight. 

A closed league is the model deployed in many US sports, where city-status rules and where the big money players can build their fortunes immune from the threat of  losing their lucrative TV and commercial revenues. No surprise then that these latest proposals have emanated from Liverpool and Manchester United, both owned by Americans. 

You might think that the EFL would be circling the wagons at this time but you would be wrong. The third big sponsor of these changes is none other than the EFL's CEO, Rick Parry. Why, I wonder, would the former Liverpool FC Director, CEO of the PL and one time board member of NewYork Cosmos be in favour of this move? Parry  took over at the EFL little more than a year ago and many fans of EFL clubs have been screaming for him to reform the EFL and safeguard clubs from unsuitable or unscrupulous owners. He appears to have been sitting on his hands but clearly he has had his eyes on the bigger picture. 

The sop here is that the PL are offering up £250m to bail out Covid-hit EFL clubs and a promise of 25% of future PL revenues. They would scrap the parachute payments to help pay for this but that in itself would only be another step towards a closed PL. I am no fan of the League Cup or the Charity Shield (other than it's for charity) but Big Six also want these scrapped so they don't have to tire out their U23's and don't have their lucrative Summer friendlies inconvenienced by having to appear in a gala game where the revenues are given to charity. 

My suspicion is that beleaguered EFL club owners may be supportive of the proposals as for many it may prove a short-term lifeline. The Big Six are offering improved status to those clubs with longest top flight pedigrees in order to get them on board and the others would probably like the idea of a closed league as long as they are it. 

For the country's rank and file supporters who follow their local team through thick and thin, these proposals could be a final kick in the teeth. The PL needs a thriving EFL because it's the breeding ground for talent and builds the pyramid upon which the PL sits. However, their primary aim is to make more money for themselves at all costs. This proposal comes at a time when Macclesfield Town were allowed to go out of business because of debts of £500,000 when that sort of figure is typically paid out by the Big Six as wages to each of their first-teamers every month or less. 

The success of football in this country has been built over the generations by the ambitions of every club and every team. The chances of winning your league and gaining promotion or by battling to beat the drop is what gives meaning to every match your team plays and an interest in all the others. 

The Championship has for years now been the most competitive league in the world and hosts the most valuable match in world football. All driven, of course, by the tantalising glimpse of joining the PL elite, if only for one season for most. If that is to come to an end, and make no mistake, this is where the Big Six want to get to, it would have a profound effect on football in this country. Imagine not having the excitement of a Bielsa-led Leeds United challenging once again in the top flight? Or a rejuvenated Wolverhampton Wanderers challenging the Big Boys and thrilling competitors in Europe? You can be pretty sure, too, that the slim chances of any of the smaller clubs 'doing a Leicester' would disappear for ever. 

When it is safe once again to return to our local football grounds, I expect a boom-time as supporters are eager once again to experience the thrill of live football in front of large and passionate crowds. They will want to see their team fighting for promotion with one eye on the league above in hope and anticipation of joining it. All we need in the meantime is a fairer share of the money that continues to pour into the game at the top. that is where Rick Parry should be thinking, not how he can help the rich get even richer because almost inevitably that will be at the expense of the rank-and-file that he is paid to represent. 

Saturday 3 October 2020

Charlton Athletic 0 v Sunderland AFC 0

The first point of the Sangaard era from another game in which we struggled to compete for long periods. 

I said before the game that Sunderland don't tend to score too many but don't concede much either. When you add to that our struggle to score goals which was obviously not helped by selling Macauley Bonne yesterday then there can be few surprises at the scoreline.

It was pretty obvious after about twenty minutes that Charlton were far from a compact unit at the back. Bowyer shuffled things with Purrington and Famewo swapping positions but it didn't really help and Sunderland should have taken the lead. Amos had already blocked an effort from Graham at close range before making the save of the game after half-an-hour when he clawed out a header from Flanagan or Wright that he had no right to. 

After Pratley dived in again inside the box, Sunderland escaped with the ball and the  cross saw a scramble in the box in which Watson blocked the first effort from O'Brien before Graham also had two efforts blocked as Charlton players threw themselves at the ball.

Charlton were on the ropes and six minutes later Graham should have opened the scoring. Scowen found a bit of space on the right and his back post cross reached the unmarked Graham who only had to direct it on target but somehow he missed the back post. 

The shot count at half-time was 11-1 to Sunderland. That's a bit flattering in terms of genuine chances for the Makems but it's hard to dress Charlton's goal threat as anything more than powder-puff. 

Williams came on for the wasteful Oztumer at half-time. Oztumer must surely now be at the end of his Charlton career. He has never been able to command a place. He rarely manages to beat the first man from a set-piece and he is even more light-weight than his diminutive stature would suggest. When you add to that his preference for a dive rather than to create a chance, there's not much of a case left for him. It's a shame because he has always looked better playing against us than in a red shirt.

Alfie Doughty fired two long range efforts over the bar as if responding directly to Bowyer's half-time team talk and Lynden Gooch managed a similar effort for the visitors. Ben Watson earned his weekly booking and Dylan Levitt followed. 

On 64 minutes, Phil Parkinson changed his front two. Wyke and Grigg came on for O'Brien and Graham. I don't think it helped Sunderland. Neither made a meaningful contribution after coming on but that wasn't helped by Flanagan being sent off on 72 minutes for tripping Washington as he chased a flick-on from Aneke. 

Suddenly, the pressure eased on Charlton but any idea of a winner still looked fanciful. Levitt wasted two free-kicks and Aneke's clumsy touch ended a couple of other attacks.

Wyke wasted a near post chance after Hume had played his way to the line and cut the ball back before Marcus Maddison made his debut on 83 minutes. Rusty he may be but the urgency and precision of his few balls into the box gave a glimpse of what we can expect from him. 

In the fifth minute of added time, Marcus Maddison appeared deep in his own box to back-head out a dangerous ball in that was Sunderland's last chance. Maybe there is more to his game than I had realised.

Phil Parkinson's side remain unbeaten and may be pleased with an away point, but I I feel they dropped two by not really going for it in the opening half. They were content to look to pass their way to goal. With more direct running and urgency, I think they could have killed the game off - like Doncaster did a fortnight ago.

Lee Bowyer will be pleased to have taken a point in the circumstances. The cavalry are coming over the horizon and I fully expect a goal-scorer to arrive this week as well as a right-back and another central defender. It will take us a couple of months to settle down but the important thing is to keep nicking what points we can in the meantime - we did that today.