Saturday 28 November 2020

Ipswich Town 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

Normal service was resumed this afternoon at Portman Road. Lee Bowyer's boys dusted themselves down and put the Tractor Boys to the sword. It was a competent and no-fuss display in which we got gradually stronger and rarely looked in trouble after taking the lead.

The questions all week were about what changes would be made in defence and which ones up front following the debacle at Burton. Bowyer told us on Thursday that he would go again with Pratley and Gunter at the back because no-one else was fit enough to start in central defence and the pairing proved him right. Pratley had one of his better games and the pair were not seriously troubled. Maatsen and Matthews anchored the backline and Ben Watson played in front of them to help subdue Ipswich. 

Upfront, we did the change many have been craving with Anneke starting and Bogle on the bench. That worked even better with Anneke putting in a man-of-the-0match performance. He won nearly everything thrown up to him and for once was able to flick-on, lay off or go himself, far more convincingly than we have seen up until now. It's been said he has struggled to gain full fitness but perhaps we are seeing that now for the first time. Ironically, of course, it was substitute Bogle who was on hand to open his scoring account with a back post tap-in but he won't mind. It was heartening to see all of the players making their way over to congratulate him. I promise to lay off him for now, as long as he isn't preventing Anneke starting. 

I should also say that the midfield looked far more settled and competitive today. Watson played at the base of the diamond with Shinnie, Morgan and Williams and it worked. the opening goal came from an Anneke knock-down into the path of Shinnie who forced a reverse ball through two covering blue shirts into the path of Morgan who couldn't miss from ten yards out. Morgan clearly relished that goal and although Town continued to try to play football after it, we were a yard and a touch ahead of them.

The only negative was seeing Smyth taken off on a golf cart having twisted a knee. That looks like he will join the injury list for a few weeks at least and maybe longer. He had also played his part harrying the Ipswich back-line who never settled. 

The win takes us into third place with a game a hand. With lowly MK Dons, Shrewsbury and Wimbledon up next we really do have a chance to consolidate our position at the top end of the table.

Burton Albion 4 v Charlton Athletic 2

Fate intervened to save me from a totally frustrating evening. It was my Wife's birthday and her twin sister and other half joined us for dinner. Caught up in the cooking, eating and bonhomie, it was 7.40pm before I checked my phone and was reminded that CHARLTON WERE PLAYING! Before I could fire up my computer, WhatsApp messages revealed a disastrous first-half and I decided, for once, that I would not be completely anti-social as to put the game on and would instead follow furtively via updates.

It was a good call. Despite pulling two goals back, both only adjusted the arrears to one from two and the howling on social media was loud.

In the aftermath I see that the lack of recognised centre-backs did for us although few escaped with any credit. Marcus Maddison, the player many foamed over and the rest of us hoped for, had a stinker and stormed off down the tunnel when subbed. We may now just be seeing why this apparently mercurial talent hasn't yet made the big time. Lee Bowyer will need to work some more magic to get the best from him.

Bowyer is also getting stick for starting Bogle again who did nothing for the 34 minutes he was on. Maybe tough when the midfield weren't performing and the back four were inviting pressure by trying to play it around, but his problem is he has had loads of these games and there have been no redeeming features. I am not sure why Anneke doesn't start and hope it's because Bowyer has wanted to persevere and give Omar his chance. If it's because Chuks can't do more than a half, we really are in trouble up front. 

It will be hard to arrest the decline at Ipswich on Saturday. Having lost at home to Hull 3-0 last night, they will be equally determined to get a result. Bowyer's big calls will be who plays at the centre of defence as well as who starts upfront. 

Pratley has looked like Bambi-on-ice at times in the back line but Gunter has hitherto looked comfortable. Do we drop Pearce and Barker back in straight away? The clamour will be to do it but I am more cautious and would suggest just Pearce with Gunter and see how it goes.

Anneke has to start up front though with Washington or Smyth and I would like to see us getting the ball out of defence much quicker. Racking up a dozen passes across the back line involving the keeper can look good and build a bit of confidence when you are leading but continuing to do it when you are behind or being pressed is asking for trouble. Getting to ball forward at more often will result in more balls coming back into midfield from our opponents but it still gives opportunities and creates chances to attack again.

Until Inniss and Famewo are back in harness, we are going to having to work our way through this. Pearce could be key and could provide the steadying hand and leadership needed. 

Sunday 22 November 2020

Gillingham 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

Lee Bowyer's boys returned from Priestfield with a precious point after going down in the second-half and looking like they would get nothing. From that perspective, Chuks Anneke's close-range blaster was a point gained but there is a stronger case that it was two points dropped.

The pre-match news was that Ryan Iniss would be missing due a quad injury that Bowyer says doesn't look good. That meant it was Gunter and Pratley in central defence and we never looked Inniss-Famewo confident. They did ok but their lack of togetherness and pace meant the Gills were encouraged to get the ball forward to Oliver and Graham in particular who had chances throughout the game. Having said that, Charlton still had more possession and when we did get forward, the Gills looked like they were struggling at the back. Perhaps that's what lead to the two penalties in the game.

Charlton really should have taken the lead in the first-half when Omar Bogle was shoved to the floor as he awaited a floated ball that was heading towards him at the back post. It was a clearcut penalty although I heard that the horrendously biased Gills commentary on I-Follow suggested "not sure of there was much contact there." I once won a Judo competition with an Ippon Seoni Nage throw that had less contact. What followed for Addicks fans was hard to watch. Omar Bogle grabbed the ball and told Washington he was taking the penalty in the manner schoolboys do when they are fouled for the penalty-kick - "it's mine." Washington, the nominated penalty taker looked like he remonstrated but it took a loud shout from Jackson on the touchline before Bogle handed the ball over. As Washington placed it and took his run up, I knew it wasn't going in. It looked very much like he would drive it low to the left and he that, but Jack Bonham also saw it and was down quickly to get a hand to it. 

It was a real shame because we had been building a bit of pressure with a sequence of attacks. Maddison had seen a superb long distance free-kick touched over by Bonham at full stretch and the Gills stopper did it again after a cheeky effort from Chris Gunter which he hit from the half-way line. Gillingham's best effort during the period was brilliantly saved by Amos. A clever ball to the back post found Dane Oliver unmarked but his powerful prod hit Amos on the line as he made a reflex star shape and he somehow got enough on it to keep it out.

After the break the game ebbed and flowed but we weren't creating enough chances in the Gills box and on 66 minutes the crook came out for Bogle, Maddison and Washington. Bogle can have no complaints after another poor showing and surely it's time we started with Anneke. I felt Maddison had done ok but he looked very short of pace at times and I am left wondering whether that is fitness or just all he's got. Washington also didn't do enough and I thought the subs, bringing on Aneke, Gilbey and Smyth were the correct ones.

Six minutes later though, Gillingham won a penalty and took the lead. Oliver chased a ball into the box and Gunter found himself desperately trying to catch-up. As Gunter entered the box behind Oliver, there was slightest tap of toe to heel and Oliver was upended. It looked accidental to me and given that the ball may well have gone out of play before Oliver caught it, I thought the ref might wave play on. However, there was a brief delay before the fourth official apparently gave it. It looked harsh but in his position, Gunter would have known that the slightest touch would go against him. Graham stepped up and beat Amos for the lead.

For ten minutes, Charlton upped the ante and after a string of corners, a ball in from the left found Smyth who ran across the box looking for space to shoot. As he got level with the right-hand post he played the ball around the corner to Anneke on the edge of the six yard box with a man behind. Credit to Chuks, as he moved the ball back with his right and ripped a left boot through it to fire high into the top of the goal giving Bonham no chance. 1-1, game on, and both sides went for it. Anneke might have got the winner after winning a header in the centre of goal with Bonham beaten but he couldn't get enough downward pressure on the ball and hit the top of the netting. 

Other results at the top were mixed which meant the draw didn't do us any real damage in the table. We are fifth with a game in hand on Ipswich and Hull and two on Portsmouth and Peterborough. We face bottom of the league Burton on Tuesday night and it's an opportunity to continue this run and improve our goal difference. We then go to Ipswich on Saturday to play one of our games in hand. If we can pick up the three points there we will be top of the table come 5pm on Saturday evening. No pressure lads.

Friday 20 November 2020

Can a good ten days get any better?

The international break means our unbeaten run has been halted temporarily but, as the players say, 'we go again' tomorrow at Gillingham. In the intervening period, the gloom of 2020 has been lifted and spirits are high. Not only did Dominic Cummings finally leave Downing Street (I am convinced it was his decision) but the first of a rash of announcements on successful COVID vaccines brought the prospect of a return to a full-house at The Valley a huge step closer. 

More incredibly, Scotland qualified for a major football finals after 22 years of trying.  I was at all of their games in Euro 96 and France 98 but the pain of the failure since then has been immense as anyone who has read these wittering over the years might appreciate. To top it all, Thomas Sandgaard remains the master of all he surveys. He is facing down the loser Paul Elliott over his desperate, last-ditch, naked attempt at a dirty bung which really confirms what his interest was all along, if anyone remained in any doubt. Sandgaard is also behind a brilliant marketing plan to auction off one of the notorious Range Rovers that marked the ESI era in much the way the Sofa did Duchatelet's. All you need to do is pay to follow the Addicks on Valley Pass between now and Christmas and you could be the slightly embarrassed owner of a good-as-new Chelsea Tractor.

I reckon this will attract a lot of additional interest in Valley Pass. Some will-I-won't-I's will be moved to buy. It will attract some first time watchers and many of the, ahem, IPTV brigade may also be moved to recognise the spirit of this gesture and chip in too. For the record, I have a full collection of Valley Pass stamps and will be continuing.

So tomorrow then and a game that for once I am pleased we are forced to watch on Valley Pass. Gillingham is a direct train ride for me down the North Kent Line but a day out I have never really enjoyed previously. No offence to fans of ours who live there, but it's a dire and unwelcoming destination for the visitor. Rochester is far prettier and makes a better pre and post venue but you still have to watch the game in Gillingham.  

They are a proper small club and nothing wrong with that, but they are small club with a chip on it's shoulder, certainly when it comes to us and I am assured by mates, Millwall too. I enjoyed a bit of hospitality down there once when the club were faultless but their supporters classless. During the pre-match meal, their MC told us that they were sold out in hospitality for the first time that season and acknowledged the large number of Charlton fans who had contributed. As you would expect, the Addicks present were well behaved and suitably respectful. That wasn't enough though for a few Arses to get a bit lairy after we equalised. In the bar after the game they thought about it for a half-pint but decided it wasn't really for them when asked to dance and slithered off. I should add that the attraction of the hospitality was really more of a reaction to the thought of drinking again in any of the God-forsaken pubs in the 'town' which all seem to be inhabited by cast members from the Walking Dead.

Anyway, I am praying we can focus again once more and get the three points. I think we are a better side but they will battle tomorrow as they often do against us. They have had some sound defeats so far this season but when they get a break or are really interested, they can be a difficult side to beat. An early Charlton goal would do wonders and it would be great not to be hanging onto a one goal lead at 80 minutes. 

Did I mention that Thomas wants to bring Metallica to The Valley. Not my cup-of-tea particularly but I will be there with a crowd. Kerrraaaannnngggg!

Sunday 8 November 2020

F A Cup Exit Charlton Athletic 0 v Plymouth Argyle 1

As anticipated, we slumped out of the F A Cup again at the first attempt yesterday in the First Round. Before we could start the debate about the value of cup competitions, Lee Bowyer was quick to rubbish them all once again in his post-match presser. Many would agree that the EFL Trophy and the League Cup are both a complete side-show and a waste of time. The fact that both change their name every five minutes probably doesn't help but someone's got to pay for the admin. We are playing in one of them on Tuesday and I think it's called the Papa Johns Cup this year which it kind of deserves.

Anyway, on Remembrance Sunday weekend, we were involved in the real deal, the F A Cup. That esteemed competition that gave us the biggest boast we still cling to, even after 73 years. 

It is a shame then that our manager also thinks this is a waste of time "because we'll never win it." What about the romance of the cup? What about 'you never know?' Look at Leicester - if they could pull off a footballing sensation by winning over a whole season, why can't we at least have a cup run of three or four games? The reason Millwall play big top flight Cup games practically every season, is because they respect the F A cup in particular and their supporters as well as their club tradition. I can't remember them struggling in the league as a result and would mount a counter argument that cup success breeds confidence and competition for league games. None of that matters though when your manager picks a weakened side and you seem to lose narrowly irrespective of where the game is played or who the opposition are - you are out of the competition and have fulfilled your manager's prophecy. It's for that reason, I stopped attending our annual fixture and why I decided I wouldn't be paying for the stream either. 

I did get to watch the game but I also had an eye on a couple of other matches as well as the lack of progress on my coupon. We did indeed field a changed side although credit to Sandgaard, Bowyer and Gallen, even that looked decent enough on paper. I reckon we were six light of the first choice team, maybe seven. Maynard-Brewer was in goal and did well enough. Chris Barker made an unexpected start at centre-half alongside Ryan Inniss and was surprisingly sure-footed. Elsewhere in defence, Purrington and Matthews are also probably second picks to Gunter and Maatsen.

In midfield, Levitt and Morgan got another run-out although Morgan was oddly left pushed further forward, almost partnering Chuks Aneke, in move that smacked of picking a side that would fall just short. I have little time for those who start shouting at new players just because they have a poor game or two early on, however, I felt Levitt was well off the pace early on and maybe fortunate to stay on after his booking, although, to his credit, he improved second-half.

That would be the six I mentioned, but you could debate whether Williams and Maddison would be first choices at the moment given Bowyer's public criticisms that neither are showing enough in training. For me, Williams has to play but he fades in games he starts and is only a sixty minuter at best. We haven't seen anywhere near enough of Maddison to honestly judge. He has an urgency about him I really like and he appears to play balls other wouldn't dream of trying but that's not always a benefit. Yesterday he was guilty of trying a little to hard to please. He seemed to shoot or be looking to shoot whenever he received the ball regardless of who was around him or of other options. having said that, we weren't over-flowing with other opportunities. 

The Argyle goal, when it came, was fairly predictable. They had been knocking on the door gently throughout the match. Camara was a thorn in our left flank until he was injured and Hardie and Jephcott (scorer) kept Innis and Barker on their toes.

So, out of the F A Cup when the fireworks are still going. Fully expect the O's to edge us out on Tuesday for the giant pizza and we can then concentrate fully on the league. There's no excuses now Lee.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Charlton Athletic 3 v Fleetwood Town 2

Six wins in succession and 18 points in 18 days. Charlton up to third with a game in hand on Ipswich and Peterborough. It's a pity we have to play in the F A Cup on Saturday but perhaps the break will do us good and help get one or two nearer a return from injury.

At last we were fully competitive in an opening forty-five minutes and we deservedly raced into a two goal lead. Ben Purrington met a third minute corner from the left and took his chance for redemption heading home from six yards. After that we were rampant for half-an-hour. Maatsen had been moved up on the left and he was a revelation. Running at Fleetwood with pace and poise he supplied a line of ammunition from the wing and prompting from inside with Shinnie and Watson.

Fleetwood were carved open as Charlton ran at them from left and right. We forced a series of corners which were all delivered into the box for a change, as we knocked on the door. Purrington fired over from close range after Gunter had headed a Shinnie cross onto him at the back post. Maatsen rifled high after a direct run and Bogle also knocked one over the bar after Albie Morgan had found him in a bit of space.

However, Charlton weren't to be denied and a ball from Gunter freed Bogle in space on the right, he ran on and shot at Leutwiler whose block ricocheted out to Washington who stabbed it back beyond him for 2-0.

Bet365 paid me out at that point and I also decided to cash-in on my double with Huddersfield who had gone one-up against Bristol City. A whole minute later and Ched Evans reduced the deficit with a typical poacher's goal having got one-on-one with Inniss and finding space to dispatch a shot from close range. Two minutes later and Evans repeated the feat although there was a hint of a foul on Inniss this time but the goal was given. 2-2 at the break then but this had been our best forty-five minutes of the season so far with far more ambition and enterprise than we have shown so far.  

It only took us a few minutes of the second-half to restore our lead. Albie Morgan did well to work his way into the box and when the ball was played to him from several yards behind he knew all he had to do was keep his line and he would go down under a challenge. He did that for an easy penalty and Conor Washington strode up to drive in his fifth goal of the season. 

After that it was just a case of could we get a fourth really. Bogle got into a couple of great positions but fluffed his lines once again. Washington found a yard of space and whistled a low drive inches wide of the post. Amos tipped a Duffy header over the bar and saved low from substitute Camps. 

Morgan made way for Matthews and Anneke finally got on for Bogle. As if to underline the difference between the two, he struck a post after a run across the goal. After that we saw the game out without too much drama as we have become quite accustomed to. It was also great to see Inniss and then Anneke fronting up to Evans and Finally after both had clattered young Maatsen and hung about a second longer than they should have. Bowyer has them battling for each other as well as for the team.

I also thought Fleetwood were a decent side. Lots of experience and they put a succession of really good balls into our box throughout the game which we dealt with admirably. It was very evident just how well drilled they were. Every player taking a touch before playing the ball, time and time and time again. Perhaps they would have beniffied from a little more directness and speed at times?

Anyway, it was another good day on Valley Pass and it's refreshing to be anticipating a glimpse at the table and the fixtures. Our games to Christmas don't look too taxing I have to say. Gillingham and Wimbledon are probably the trickiest given how they can play-up against us but equally, we should be confident of beating both of them as well as the majority of the others who lie in wait.

Thomas Sangaard said last week that if we are well placed at Christmas it would be wise to invest a little in the squad. That sounds eminently sensible and very likely. We really need a goal-scorer who can offer real competition upfront and help us put games to bed during the second-half of the season.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Portsmouth 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

Well, well, well! Five wins in-a-row and six consecutive clean sheets since Thomas Sandgaard took full control and was able to remove the transfer embargo. He must be sitting pretty this evening enjoying a cold glass of something like the rest of us and wondering just how far we can go this season.

Three changes were made to the starting line-up today with a reshuffle to accommodate the suspended Ryan Inniss and Ben Watson. Darren Pratley went into the centre of defence with Adam Matthews playing in a back five alongside Gunter, Famewo and Maatsen. That left us with Forster-Caskey, Williams and Shinnie in midfield (supported by the wing backs) with Bogle and Washington leading the attack.

Portsmouth started brightly and made the running for ten to fifteen minutes. They might have done better after four minutes when Harness did well to get to the touch-line and pull a ball back but it was blazed over from six yards. Famewo uncharacteristically gave the ball away in defence minutes later but we averted the danger. After that we began to come more into the game with Maatsen beginning to get down the left and Shinnie holding and passing with Forster-Caskey and Williams in the middle. They looked a mobile and balanced trio today and reminded me in patches of much better times when we had players like Parker, Murphy and Smertin.

Our main problem today was a lack of any attacking outlet upfront. Washington and Bogle don't find enough space and once again I am left rubbling my head to see what Bogle brings to the play. There was a moment early in the first half where we countered quickly from defence. Shinnie did very well to bring the ball out and his balance enabled him to release Bogle forty yards from goal with players moving forward in support. However, he floated a ball forward, perhaps hoping for Washington to be coming across (he wasn't) but the ball was so over-hit, it went out for a goal-kick. 

Darren Pratley flew into a tackle with his feet up around the twenty minute mark and he couldn't have argued if he had seen red but somehow he managed to escape without even a yellow. Within five minutes of that let-off we took the lead. Jake Forster Caskey played a raking ball across the pitch from right to left which Maatsen caught on the run and struck first time back across the goal and into the path of Jonny Williams who netted his first ever Charlton goal and that seemed to sap the confidence from the hosts and allowed us to settle.

Unfortunately, I has to dash off at half-time so missed the rest of the action but I have seen Chuks Aneke rising at the back post to kill the match.

Time for a cold beer....