Wednesday 24 February 2021

The Fat Lady clears her throat for Lee Bowyer

I was unavoidably detained this weekend but managed to follow the latest disappointing performance at Fleetwood on my mobile, where we were reduced to trying to hold onto an early lead and then hang on for a point. Like most of our performances so far in 2021, it was not pretty. Bowyer blamed the strong wind but it didn't prevent Fleetwood from playing all the football whilst we were reduced to a string of desperate fouls in order to prevent them building momentum or profiting from strong attacking moves. It was clear from the start that the wind would be a factor so we had to make the most of it when it was with us in the first-half - we didn't.

Less than a month ago, I implored Thomas Sandgaard and our fans to back Bows and Gallen after our final flourish of player acquisitions in the January window. I felt that we now had enough pieces to improve the competitiveness in the squad and address the injury shortage. With Famewo and Inniss due back, I hoped we would yet go on another winning run and surge back into contention. The upcoming fixtures also looked kinder to us with a host of lower table sides short of confidence!

The win at Rochdale was a good start and what I was anticipating. However, the home defeat by Gillingham tested that theory. It was our sixth successive failure to win at home and the nature of the defeat was galling in that as much as we tried to win the game buy changing personnel and going after them, the more coherent a team they appeared. The sending off of Aneke (thanks for pointing out my continued mispelling) suggested only one thing and their winner duly arrived at the end.

The draw at Fleetwood meant that for the first time in 15 seasons in the third tier of English football, we had failed to win a game in six successive matches. Stats like this aren't just interesting, they also become indicative. Last night, despite a good start where January window signing Jayden Stockley headed his fourth goal in five games, once again we let the opposition come into the game, equalise, and then compete until the almost inevitable laughable winner. Laughable only in the sense that it was another ridiculous goal. A bizarre 25 yard deflected effort as opposed to the other variety of sublime wonder-strikes that we have suffered. So, that six game record sequence without a win becomes seven and again all of the focus is on the manager, Lee Bowyer.

However you look at it, something is not right. Sides with less talent and ability are competing with us regularly and beating us with relative ease. The players look like they are trying but very little is working for us. The difference appears to be teamwork. Sides with a well-drilled game-plan and discipline are beating us because we lack both.

It's very hard to develop a consistent rhythm to your play when the players and the formations change every week. Using the whole squad, almost out of frustration, is understandable but when you are bringing players back in who demonstrably failed two games running to put in the required shift a few weeks ago results in a lack of desire to hold the shirt. Similarly, coming back as a sub the week after a howling error also sends a message that result-affecting errors are tolerable. All of this lands in Lee Bowyer's lap.

Lee's also not helped himself either in recent weeks with some very Karl Robinson-esque post-match comments. We can all understand that he is running out of excuses but blaming the wind at Fleetwood was lame just because Fleetwood played better in it. He has also taken to saying that we are where he thought we would be in the table at the moment because of the early season transfer embargo and salary cap etc. That's not what he was saying two months ago when he said finishing outside the play-off places would be failure. 

The facts are that we are 9th placed and 5 points off 6th. However games in hand caused by Covid postponements means we are really tenth and more like 8 points off the play-offs. If we were in this position on the back of a run of results there may be cause for optimism, but we are not. 

A question needs to be asked about what Ged Roddy is adding to the price of fish? Since his announcement as Technical Director we have heard and seen nothing from him and there has only been a continuation of our shaky form at best and a worsening if you look too carefully. 

Thomas Sandgaard will be rocking backwards and forwards on his heels wondering what to do next. How much is he relying on what he hears from his Technical Director versus the Manager? Do the two of them see eye-to-eye at the training ground? Performances and results would suggest not. Geddy's ongoing silence suggests he's not rushing to back Bowyer either in his hour of need.

Sandgaard faces that new manager dilemma for the first time. Does he hold firm and back a man who has done it here before or act to remove one who suddenly looks capable of a double relegation? Who does he trust for the Summer rebuild?

I reckon he will be feeling increasingly foolish for his Charlton goal Tweets which increasingly seem a signal for the opposition to score. Like the rest of us, he must be wondering what's going on at the training ground and why Bowyer changes things for every game. 'Rotation' doesn't begin to justify what we have witnessed. Already the most changes of a side in the division, he still doesn't appear to have a view of his best eleven or even the nucleus of his best side.

On Saturday we face Blackpool at the Valley and I reckon Thomas may have laid out a plan of action dependent on the result. If we win, he will let it roll and see if the fabled second-run of the season materialises, but fail to win and Lee Bowyer might find himself fishing again. You would like to think his players would want to bail him out, but last night's showing suggests they aren't that fussed.

PS, apologies for my sloth in adding your posts. Google don't seem to provide the alert service they once did and with comments becoming fewer and farther apart, I am a bit tardy in checking. Always welcome a different viewpoint - thanks Daggs.

Monday 15 February 2021

Charlton Athletic 2 v Gillingham 3

In spite of what we have been witnessing over the last three months and the 'one-step-forward-one-step-back' nature of the results, I was completely unprepared for it to happen again on Saturday. What we witnessed has caused me to seriously consider whether or not we can make the play-offs. That's obviously still a distinct possibility given we are only a point off sixth placed Sunderland, but somehow, things seem much worse than that.

I wrote automatic promotion off after Accrington Stanley beat us at the Valley on 8th January. Writing yourself out of managing to finish in the top six, is much harder to do given the range involved but we have slowly slid down the table and are now in eighth place, but have played three more games more than Accrington Stanley (1 point behind) and Ipswich (4 behind). A number of clubs above us have points advantages as well as games in hand. 

None of this should come as a big surprise when you look at our results at home. We have not won any of the last six matches at the Valley and have been losing at half-time in all of them. We have also failed to win a match we have conceded in first since beating Sunderland at Wembley! I haven't seen any stats but playing in empty stadiums would appear to have removed the fear factor to an extent that traditional home advantage has been significantly reduced. We have only won four from twelve games at home and have lost five of them. 

Seven away wins have kept hopes up but coming back to Saturday and you have to wonder if we can put another run together? Gillingham are an average League One side at best. They operate on a fraction of our budget but on Saturday they put up a fight that we couldn't put down. They weren't better than us and nothing in the stats would have suggested a 3-2 win other than the scoreline. We didn't play particularly badly but we can't keep making excuses for not playing our game and beating teams.

We keep going one-behind and it's not good for the confidence, particularly when we seem unable to come from behind to win. We also have a habit of conceding early and Saturday's 33 second opener was a lot of salt in open wounds. Having deservedly levelled after only 15 minutes, recent experience told me to fear falling behind once more but we did so to another once-in-a-career strike, this time from Ogilvie. We have seen a succession of thunderous long range strikes against us at the Valley. You can't really defend against these and it's difficult to counter when defensively you are still in a strong position when an opponent hammers an arcing 25 yard volley over your keeper into the top corner of the net. 

Two-one down but still creating chances. Hitting the woodwork twice but the equaliser eventually comes early in the second-half. What can stop us now from ending that hoodoo since Wembley and turning this one around? Well going down to ten men would handicap us, so we do that. Anneke booked twice in two minutes for a couple of strong challenges, neither of which was a stonewall booking. 

With ten men we still went for it and had a couple of chances to win it. Jayesimi saw a neatly placed shot pushed around the post before Gillingham broke with four minutes of time left and applied vinegar to the salty wounds.

During this spell we have seen a defensively frailty caused by losing both Inniss and Famewo but our other options should have done much better than than they have. This is League One after all. It hasn't just been mistakes from Pearce, Oshilaja or Pratley. Gunter, Matthews, Maatsen and Purrington have all taken turns. 

In my view, the midfield has been equally culpable because they have failed to hold the opposition far too often and consequently doubled the work for the back four. we haven't been able to hold the ball for nearly long enough in midfield in too many games and haven't relieved the pressure successfully in nearly enough games. I thought the January window additions in midfield and upfront where the right areas to address (with Famewo and Inniss now due back) but they are conspiring to prove me wrong. 

We are running out of road to start that run which would secure us a play-off place and maybe see us finish the season with momentum. I was encouraged enough by the upcoming fixtures to believe we would take a haul from the six games from Rochdale onwards but did not figure on losing at home to Gillingham. Suddenly, Saturday's long trip to Fleetwood looks much harder. Ched Evans may have moved on but I am expecting Fleetwood to have a real go and I fear we could fold again. Anneke will be missed and we could be short on confidence. We could do with a bit of luck and one our two players having pearlers.

Monday 8 February 2021

Rochdale 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

It was a case this weekend of 'one step forward' again as we cruised to a comfortable win at the Crown Oil Arena. Earlier goals from Chuks Anneke and Deji Oshilaja put the game to bed but we could have been out-of-sight by half-time.

Jason Pearce was back at centre-half alongside Oshilaja and their performance went some way to backing Bowyer's position that central defensive cover wasn't his January window priority. It may have helped that we had two specialist full-backs playing in the shape of Purrington and Gunter.

As if to further back Bowyer's midfield and attacking priorities, we managed to find a way in the first-half at least, to play most of the game in possession in midfield or attack. Liam Millar was having a field-day out left and Shinnie was a threat on the right. Rochdale were clearly struggling to contain Anneke and Stockley who both lead the line and kept the Dale defence at home. 

The opening goal came after seven minutes and was straightforward enough. Millar jigged into the box and slipped a through pass to Anneke who let it run, took a touch to improve his angle and then squeezed off a low shot that took a slight deflection as it careered in off the far post. He could have score again similarly but struck a post. 

The killer second goal was a testament to getting players forward. From a left wing corner, Bazunu made a fine high diving save to keep out a towering header (from Stockley I think) which struck the woodwork and was quickly laid back and chipped into the box again. Jason Pearce met it falling backwards but managed to head it back across goal and his compadre, Oshilaja, was there to apply the diverting touch to wrap things up.

After that we managed to hit the woodwork twice more and despite Rochdale coming back into the game in the second-half, the result was never in doubt. I said I fancied us to haul in some points over the next six games as our new additions settle - Jaiyesimi had a positive ten minutes at the end which bodes well for a two-winged attack with Anneke and Stockley in the air. 

My main plea this week is, can Bowyer resist the temptation to tinker with a winning side? There is a strong case for Jaiyesimi to start against Gillingham at home on Saturday but I'd go with the eleven who kicked-off at Rochdale and use Jaiyesimi to keep the midfield selection on their toes. 

We desperately need to break the cycle of conceding in the first-half at the valley and going in behind. I think if we stick with the same side, we should be able to put the Gills under pressure and avoid falling behind. That would give us a platform to from which to  get in front and be able to use our substitutes to control the match rather than chasing it, which we have had to do in the last six home games. 

Thursday 4 February 2021

Charlton Athletic 1 v Portsmouth 3

Right on the back of closure of what I believe will prove to have been a very fruitful January transfer window, our stop-start mid-season continued on Tuesday evening with another stuttering performance. The 'wa-hay' of adding Arsenal's Matt Smith and Swindon's Diallang Jaiyesimi to our ranks as well as shedding squad pain-in-the-neck Marcus Maddison, clearly wasn't enough to kick-start another three point performance.

Lee Bowyer's search for some consistency in performances is not being matched by a consistency in team selection. Liam Millar became the latest man-of-the-match winner to find himself sitting on the bench for the following game as Bowyer again tinkered with his side. 

Not so surprisingly, neither of the new signings featured but Jason Stockley did start up front with Ronnie Schwartz. Maatsen was back at left-back but didn't put in a shift of someone that relieved to be back and determined not to miss the next team selection. Matthews, Gunter and Oshilaja joined him in a backline but it was the midfield that once again let us down in the sense that they couldn't get hold of midfield and enabled Pompey to continue to get forward. 

Jacobs pounced on a Naylor ball after Amos had punched clear to open the scoring and for the sixth successive home game we went in losing at half-time. I am certain that we wouldn't have suffered like this had crowds been allowed in at these games. The howl of disapproval would by now have players full attention and focus. Who knows, we might even have prioritised our attacking game...

As it was we drew level shortly after the re-start with a peach of a header from Jason Stockley which he thumped home courtesy of the post and the only route to goal that would have beaten McGillvaray. You thought we might then go on to tie things up but Pompey were allowed to continue to play through us and it was no surprise when Naylor header home largely unopposed in the middle of our six yard box. The introduction of Anneke couldn't stem the tide and a third Pompey goal ended the contest.

It's hard to take when you can see questionable team selections that don't subsequently work out and tactical formations or changes that don't do it either. However, as I said on Monday night, I think we have improved the quality of our options in midfield and upfront and that should pay dividends. 

We also need to work on finding our best eleven and trying to stick as closely with them as possible. A side that plays well and wins, needs to be sown some faith. Similarly, players who have bona fide stinkers, should be dropped until they are busting a gut to get back in the side. Walking back in and doing nothing a la Gilbey the other week is simply not good enough and can't be tolerated - he better not appear on Saturday or they will hear me from London.

The back four has also been a glaring issue without Inniss and Famewo. Some fans were calling out our failure to sign a centre-half in the window but I do agree with Bowyer that with Famewo possibly back on Saturday, that problem should ease measurably until Inniss can restart. The facts are that our fit midfield options haven't been good enough to consistently hold the opposition or create enough upfront. Allowing 20-minuter Jonny Williams to leave was probably the right move and sending Maddison packing certainly was. Diallang Jaiyesimi is an exciting young prospect like Liam Millar and the pair should begin to provide a consistent threat which we now have a stable of forwards to aim for. All I know about Matt Smith is that he is an Arsenal youngster and that should be good enough, even if Dylan Levitt from Manchester United wasn't.

I will put my head above the parapet here and say I am expecting an improved  points haul from the next six games of between 11 and 15. If we can do that and see Inniss ready to return, we might just catch the play-off bus with a bit of momentum. How are Sunderland doing by the way? 

Monday 1 February 2021

Calm down! Sandgaard, Bowyer and Gallen know what they are doing.

Football fans have always been notoriously fickle. Just how fickle has always been tempered by expectation and reality. Typically, the clubs whose supporters have the most ludicrous expectations tend to suffer worse - you know, the likes of Newcastle, Sheffield Wednesday and latterly Arsenal. Those of us who have learnt over the years not to expect too much and as a consequence have harboured more realistic ambitions have been less fickle and more grounded.

I am saddened then to see a growing impatience amongst our fanbase. We have a sizeable, vocal minority of supporters whose expectations are increasingly way out-of-line. No justifiable or reasonable excuses appear to be sufficient for these people who demand success and don't see why they might have to wait for it.

Two years ago, managerial novice, Lee Bowyer, had his side battling away in League One fighting for a play-off place. Not only did his side take that fighting spirit to Wembley but Bowyer won that promotion against the odds. He had not been backed by Roland Duchatelet, an owner, who very publicly wouldn't gamble on promotion and who had deliberately weakened Bowyer's side during the January transfer window by selling goal-scoring Karlan Grant to Huddersfield. The same Roland Duchatelet who after collecting the Wembley bonuses refused to give Bowyer a pay rise and very publicly tried to call him out on it, only to have to fold embarrassingly the same day and given Bowyer and his managerial team the pay rise they had just earned.

Fans will remember this period because no-one could stop singing "on Saturday, we follow, the boys in red and white..." and dancing manically as we celebrated what Bowyer was achieving. Images after the Doncaster play-off semi encapsulate that and will live long in the memory.

Several months later we kicked-off back in the Championship. Bowyer had been given no money and we had lost a core of the promotion side. Some like Bielek and Cullen had been loaned elsewhere but we lost the likes of Patrick Bowyer, primarily because Bowyer had not been supported in securing his contract extension and he felt he had to move on. Our replacements, in true Duchatelet fashion, were all cheapies, and loanees, largely tied-up at the end if the window when we had more purchase with the leftovers. 

In spite of this, Bowyer's boys began well and during the early months of the season we were up at the top of the table and winning on merit. It didn't last though. Injuries on our small squad inevitably took their toll but we were still hanging on come Christmas. I had zero expectation of Duchatelet supporting Bowyer but worse was actually to happen. Duchatelet was conned into selling the club to ESI for £1 and Bowyer's problems really began. A laughable January window, even by Charlton's standards but particularly given the supposed oil wealth of ESI. 

We all know what followed and Bowyer was unable to prevent a protracted relegation. Our failure to keep Chris Solly and Lyle Taylor on board didn't help. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of refusing to play outside of their contracted end dates, the facts are that both players did not feel enough loyalty to the club to risk injury by playing on. Make no mistake, this would have been bourne by months of frustration at not being able to get improved deals that both players felt they were worth. That would not have been Bowyer's fault. It was Duchatelet holding the purse strings and he had made it patently clear he wasn't putting his hand in his pocket. When Solly and Taylor saw the bottled water being removed from the training ground, they should have know what to expect. Matt Southall certainly wasn't going to let any spare cash be spent on players when he could rifle it for himself and his cronies. Bowyer might have been prepared to let Solly move on but he had just finished his testimonial season and was still a good enough player to have made the squad. What he certainly didn't want was to lose his top goal-scorer. 

This year's pre-season was only saved by the eventual acquisition of the club by Thomas Sandgaard which took months and at times looked like it might never go through. Remember that it took a sharp legal team to get the deal done by seeing that Nimer was free to sell the club whilst the crooks of ESI went to war with conman at Panorama Magic.

Once again Bowyer, Gallen and Jackson were forced to do their transfer business in the last two weeks of the window, albeit with the support of Thomas Sandgaard, who got our transfer embargo lifted and supplied funds. The issue though was not only a shortage of time in which to do our business, but the fact that League One now operates under a tight salary cap. That meant we simply couldn't hire who we could afford. Every deal had to work within a season's salary cap which was already distorted by players on Championship wages.

We had lost a host of players and could barely put a side together in July but a dozen late recruits enabled us to start this season well enough. It should be said that few had anticipated us to compete quite so well. We looked light up front but a new found defensive solidity provided the foundation.  The positivity towards 'Bows' reached a new high by October when a tight-fisted Charlton defence propelled us to seven wins a in-a-row and top-of-the-table billing on games in hand. Manager-of-the-Month and it was 'in Bowyer we trust' and 'we're gonna win the league' etc. 

Unfortunately, pre-Christmas injuries took their toll again and we have all had to suffer a change in fortunes. A failure to shore-up the loss of Inniss and Famewo having seen us conceding goals and some poor ones at that. The midfield lost confidence and that exacerbated the pressure on the defence. A mixed set of results has seen us lose our games in hand and slide out of the play-off places. 

Bowyer came in for some fair criticism of his tactical changes and substitutions but suddenly there were hysterical calls for him to be sacked. Some fans were even running to Sangaard on Twitter after every disappointing result and demanding he be removed. There were even a few suggestion g we were better off under Duchatelet without any sense of irony. I haven't done the correlation and frankly I can't be bothered, but my anecdotal impression is that a lot of the screamers were the same people who couldn't stop singing 'and now we've got lee Bowyer, we're fucking dynamite,' only months ago. 

The January window opened and we brought in Ronnie Schwartz who would not have been cheap. Want away injured Alfie Doughty was allowed to go in order to free up wages and maintain the salary cap headroom. Not only that but we brought in Liverpool youngster Liam Millar and experienced striker Jayden Stockley. That was good business because it meant we could ditch Omar Bogle who had been particularly disappointing.

Paul Smith has been allowed to return to QPR and today we have seen Bowyer willing to move Marcus Maddison (Bolton) and Jonny Williams (Cardiff) on. The intention being to create salary space for Matt Smith from Arsenal and possibly purchase of Charlie Kirk from Crewe. Rumours are we also made a bid for Wigan's impressive Solomon-Otabor. The hours are running down now but the feint-hearts are back on Twitter shrieking about how this window is worse that Southall's (!) and that Bowyer must go.

Get a bloody grip. Marcus Maddison was always going to be a risky signing because his attitude stinks. It's held him back everywhere he's been but Bowyer thought it was worth a go. We got a few glimpses of his vision and ability but precious little else. He always came on (mostly a sub) and tried defence-splitting passes from forty yards when we were moving well in midfield and he had options to help us create sustainable momentum. That wasn't what I suspect he had been asked to do but it's what he tried every time he came on. That might be better than nothing in a really poor side but we are a team and he needed to contribute in every game, not just one in four. As it was he only wore the shirt eight times. That's still not enough though for some who think we have just let a young Glenn Hoddle go. If you want any confirmation of my point here, he's gone to 87th placed Bolton.

Similarly, Jonny Williams. It must be apparent to everyone by now that Williams is unable to play 90 minutes any more. He has always been injury prone and lacked pace but he has been a successful signing for us but the time was rapidly approaching where he needed a move. He hasn't been the same player this season and Bowyer has rightly questioned his commitment at times. Cardiff is a dream job for a player who is actually much nearer the end of his career than his age (27 or 28) suggests and where he has played nearly as many games for Wales (at all levels) than any of his club sides. 

The other very obvious point about Maddison and Williams is that they would have been top earners and the headroom they give us funds players who can do a better job for us this season. 

With Famewo returning to the squad this weekend and Inniss hopefully only a few weeks away, I am confident results will improve and we can compete again for a play-off place. Bowyer knows what this is all about and the importance of finishing with momentum. He has done it before and will be eyeing it up again. Please, give the man a break and get behind the side. It's been painful to watch in some games of late but that's life but and we should have been capable of seeing why it was happening. 

Some of the less thoughtful moaners have actually been blaming Sangaard and saying we were better off under Roland Duchatelet! Have a word with yourself eh lads? Oh and whilst I have been writing this at the end of the window, we have bought Diallang Jaiyesimi from Swindon. An exciting 22 year old from South London, who scored a very good goal against us this season and had a good game.