Sunday 20 December 2020

Swindon Town 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

Another late goal and another two points dropped against very modest opposition. 

Our failure to kill games off that are there for the taking is becoming a problem and it could cost us dearly come May. Having fallen behind to a well-taken goal from Jayesimi, we fought our way back into the match and after taking the lead on the hour, we really should have put the game to bed but Lee Bowyer went all defensive early and we invited the pressure that typically leads to last minute goals.

Out two scorers were front men Bogle and Anneke but the nature of the goals summed us up. Bogle's goal was a dog's dinner and he didn't know much about it. He was presented with a golden opportunity to score a straightforward goal but he got too close to the keeper and then fell on the ball, somehow knocking it in with a back heel he knew little about. Anneke got what looked like a deflection but they all count. 

For the thousands watching on Valley Pass the real drama started after 67-72 minutes when Bowyer withdrew Forster-Caskey and then Maddison for Purrington and Matthews. With seven defenders on, we defended. Swindon couldn't believe their luck that they were now free to get forward at will and so we all began finger-nail biting as they got closer and the clock ran down. 

Brett Pitman, an historic thorn in our side to my mind (Louis Mendez reckons he has never previously scored against us?), had come on after 62 minutes and I was peering over the top of the sofa when he headed the 90th minute equaliser and rescued a point for the 22nd placed club.

It felt like a defeat and we dropped down to 7th in the table. It's rare that we have a good Christmas, so news that Peterborough have cancelled the match on 29th might be good news although we are beginning to build up a backlog of games which rarely translate into the points you hoped for. 

A new striker can't come soon enough and the jungle drums are saying Ronnie Schwartz is in the building. Hopefully we can announce him on the opening day of the window and get him up-to-speed quickly. He must surely step in for the hapless Omar Bogle whose poor return is entirely in line with what you would expect looking at his less-than-impressive track record at lesser clubs than oursleves.

I think we also need to give consideration to our central defensive situation. Ideally Inniss and Famewo would stay on loan but we can't be sure of that. having been taken apart by Liverpool yesterday, Roy Hodgson might well be looking at his defensive options in terms of recalling Inniss, although with him still some way off returning from injury who knows? Norwich are riding high at the top of the Championship, so Famewo has more chance of extending his loan but he too will still be missing for a number of games yet. Lee Bowyer may decide he can't rely on Pratley Pearce possibly for the remainder of the season and might be asking for a new centre-half.

The question on any incomings, of course, is juggling the wage bill under the salary cap. Levitt is likely to return o man United with his tail between his legs but we may need to move others on. I'd give Bogle a piggy-back to Carlise if it moved him on but he's hardly hot property. Expect a few more to go out on loan.

Saturday 12 December 2020

Charlton Athletic 5 v AFC Wimbledon 2

A classic game of two halves at the Valley this afternoon and, I believe, what should be a final lesson for Lee Bowyer.

In the first-half we did ok against what I felt was a very ordinary Wimbledon team. Our defence was largely untroubled until the end of the half when Pearce and Pratley in central defence went missing allowing not only Joe Piggott to fire in from 25 yards but to also take the lead from a close range header where there were no less than three yellow shirts competing for the ball and not a red one in sight. Conor Washington had put us one-up with a delightful shot, having turned inside his man on the edge of the box and lining up a curler which whistled in. He was quick to congratulate Jason Pearce for the slide-rule pass from deep which created the opportunity.

In between times we had battled in midfield to try and get balls up to Omar Bogle but once more the only ones that seemed to stick with him momentarily were when he was out wide and of no immediate threat to the opposition. The fact that he and Gilbey were yanked off on 53 minutes confirmed that Bowyer had seen enough and that we needed some drive and urgency to avoid another home defeat. That urgency was fired by Jonny Williams and Chuks Anneke who both tore into the Wimbledon back line. Maatsen had been having a solo go for most of the first half and was emboldened, as was Chris Gunter who suddenly surged forward from his full-back berth. 

Within ten minutes, we were level. Anneke had been played in on the right by a determined run from Gunter and his acutely angled shot was blocked by Trueman in the Wimbledon goal but the deflection only succeeded in arriving at the feet of Jake Forster-Caskey who gleefully rammed it home.

A minute later and an even more committed move at pace down our right side saw Gunter play a one-two with Maddison as he advanced into the box a la Anneke a minute before but instead of shooting he picked out Jonny Williams in the same spot that Forster-Caskey had scored from and Jonny fired home to his obvious delight in front of the Covered End.

We had the lead now and Wimbledon made four substitutions over the next fourteen minutes as they tried in vain to get back on terms. Maatsen, who had been a thorn in the opposition's side all afternoon, got down the left again on 84 minutes but his ball in appeared to have been claimed by the Wimbledon defence, but under pressure from Chuks Anneke, they lost it and Chuks was able to drag it on and squeeze it in off Trueman for 4-2. 

There was then just enough time for the third Charlton substitute to get on the scoresheet. Jonny Williams must have thought he had scored his scored when he flicked the ball beyond Trueman but it struck a post and fell for Ben Purrington who gleefully made it five from close range. 

It was great to see us score 5 goals in one game having managed only 20 in 15 games previously. I really hope we can start with close to the side we finished with on Tuesday. Let's beat Bristol Rovers on Tuesday before we consider bringing on Omar Bogle or changing to a more defensive formation. 

Sunday 6 December 2020

Shrewsbury Town 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

Charlton were denied an undeserved win at Shrewsbury yesterday courtesy of a 94th minute penalty. It would obviously have been great to come away with the three points but I think that would have masked a glaring and urgent problem. This side has somehow lost what attacking momentum we have had this season and no-one looks capable in recent weeks of changing it.

The good news pre-kick-off was that the side chosen finally matched the one the Cognoscenti have been calling for. Back in central defence was fit again Akin Famewo and Jason Pearce. Up top we started with Anneke and not Bogle. Surely that would be enough to get the points against bottm-of-the-league opposition?

The defensive change worked almost immediately. Pearce and Famewo played like they have been together for 25 games and rounded off with Maatsen and Gunter, the Shrews struggled to get forward and we began to edge possession. Pearce, in fact, had our best first-half chance when he was inches short of a ball that Anneke knocked down across the goal. 

The big stumbling block for us, once again, was a mess in the middle. Watson, Pratley, Gilbey and Forster-Caskey was the combo given the nod this time and it failed. Plenty of experience but oh-so ineffective. Fortser-Caskey and Gilbey hardly had a touch and bizarrely it was Pratley playing in behind the forward pairing for much of the half. Watson was working over-time to halt the Shrews trying to pass through the middle with the experienced Pugh. 

Nil-nil at the break and you hoped we would step it up, get the goal and kill it off. We didn't step it up but after 60 minutes Williams and Morgan were thrown on for the ineffective Gilbey and Forster-Caskey. Within ten minutes we had the lead. An attack down the right flank gave the advancing Watson a chance and his shot took a nice deflection which beat the impressive Sarkic. 

After that we failed to seize the initiative and instead fell increasingly back on a rearguard action which encouraged the Shrews to get at us. Amos had already fumbled a good effort onto his own bar but was now coming under increasing pressure. The back four were holding the line but there was little respite from our midfield which looked tired and had players going to ground looking for fouls to slow the play rather than getting on the ball and looking up. Bogle had come on for Anneke but offered zero out ball and Washington couldn't hold play up either. 

On 85 minutes we had the bizarre sight of substitute Williams being subbed himself for Matthews. He looked fine to me but was well off the pace and I suspect Bowyer was making a point. He has already been critical of Jonny's work-rate in training and he certainly hasn't provided the usual spark from the bench that we have become used to. 

Shrews maintained the pressure into the fourth minute of added time when a final burst of play saw Gunter stick out a leg in the box and Amos had to face a penalty. Norburn hammered home the deserved equaliser and it was match over. Gunter raced straight the tunnel and the rest looked forlorn.

I wouldn't want to be Lee Bowyer right now. He has a lot of pieces but many of them look very similar and ill-fitting. We are missing Doughty's pace and it was odd to rest Morgan I thought yesterday. Maddison apparently had a knock but it looks hard to fit him into a midfield that relies on teamwork. He is a selfish player whose game is based upon looking up and lauching long balls at strikers. If he plays, it has to be in behind the front two in order to improve his contribution. We are also short of an attacking game-plan. It really does look like amble forward and hope to see a pass.

Watson or Pratley are a given at present in the holding role but they are slow to get the ball forward and we pass it around the back way to often. I am fed-up seeing attacks turned into defence because no-one can see a forward pass. Without Doughty and maybe Morgan, we have no natural pace or width and that means little for the forwards to chase. Not enough players make space for a pass or support the man on the ball. Milton Keynes showed us how to do it on Wednesday.

Perhaps we need a decent left-sided winger as well as a striker in January. This last month has seen us burn our games in hand advantage and fall off the pace of Hull and Lincoln. It's been tough to watch too and I am reminded we weren't great in our first seven or eight games either despite picking up points.

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Charlton Athletic 0 v Milton Keynes 1

The bad news is that due to some unplanned domestic duties I needed to do this evening I missed much of the game. The good news though was I missed much of the game. What I did see has made me severely pissed-off and am reminding myself just how much worse I would feel if I had won a golden ticket in the lottery only to be frozen to death as well as angry. I can't be bothered to write this up but feel I need to make some points;

1. Why did Bogle start this evening? I thought everyone had learnt this lesson, including Lee Bowyer? He is simply not a good enough footballer to be playing for us or in League One. Sorry, but he hardly gets a touch and when he does he loses possession. Finally, a goal on Saturday (a back post tap-in) and he starts again? It's almost as if Lee Bowyer doesn't want to be proven wrong about him.

2. Where was the midfield tonight? I missed the first-half but saw that Maddison was on for Shinnie at the start of the second-half. Perhaps Shinnie was injured but the mess the midfield was making early in the second-half suggested it had been no better during the first. Milton Keynes were first to everything. When we did touch the ball it was a last-ditch lunge or a desperate block and the ball went back to them. Unsure what went wrong but nothing was happening until Williams came on and we were chasing the game by then.

3. Where are our centre-backs? It was Gunter and Pratley again. I didn't see enough to apportion too much blame because the midfield gave them little respite but when are we going to see centre-backs playing centre-back again? Pearce has been a sub for weeks and Famewo was brought on when we were one down. Barker looked composed for the few games he played there and not even on the bench in recent weeks.

4. What's our attacking strategy? I appreciate Bowyer doesn't have an embarrassment of striking talent but so far this season it's been a case of compete for as long as possible, hope to dominate possession and throw the ball forward hoping something sticks or by weight of numbers it falls for us. There is no consistency to our play. Without Doughty there is little pace or threatening wing play. Our midfield options are very safe and very similar. It's all tidy and percentage football which doesn't help when the options ahead of you are limited. Anneke offered a glint of hope at Ipswich last week when he was winning the ball, pulling defenders out of position and creating space for his team-mates. Tonight was two steps back. Milton Keynes showed us how to do it. They attacked in threes and there was nearly always a player free to receive a pass as they came at us. If Amos hadn't been in goal it would likely have been a more convincing scoreline.

5. Marcus Maddison? Flattering to deceive. Seems to play his own game in midfield. Every time he gets the ball he tries to put someone in on goal. Nothing necessarily wrong with the ambition but it's usually 30-40 yard balls because he's so deep when  he picks the ball up and doesn't appear to be interested working with his team-mates in the midfield to work at building pressure and create much more realistic chances. Also, will someone tell him he's playing for a professional club now and wearing different coloured football boots has zero impact on your ability or contribution and makes you look like a, a prima-dona.

6. Can we sort out our home form? We are sitting in the play-off places and have won five on the road. Our home form, though, has been poor. Three wins, a draw and two defeats from six. We didn't deserve the draw against Sunderland and only just edged past Wigan and Fleetwood. Empty stadiums haven't helped but we need to find a style and rhythm playing at home and we haven't managed it so far this season. Needless to say, our home form isn't promotion-winning. 

It has to be much better on Saturday.