Sunday 21 March 2021

AFC Wimbledon 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

On the face of it, Nigel Adkins would probably have taken a draw if it had been offered to him before the game. The Wombles may be battling relegation but our trajectory until very recently has also been relegation form. Unbeaten in five before yesterday, Adkins primary goal would have been to avoid defeat and keep the points accumulating. 

After twenty minutes and having retaken the lead, he would probably have been smiling to himself and looking forward to all three points. Millar and Jaiyesimi were carving lines through the Wimbledon defence. Millar had scored via Stockley's deft near post glance and set his fellow wide-man up for a routine stab home after picking him out in the box. At that point a third Addicks goal was very much on the cards. Jaiyesimi had come on as an early sub for Conor Washington who limped off with an injury (possible hamstring).

Sadly, it didn't come before the break and after it, Wimbledon took control of the game. Once again we retreated into our shell. It wasn't helped by the decision to sub both Millar and Jayesimi for Aneke and Schwartz which left us hopelessly narrow.

Wimbledon played some good stuff and once again Joe Piggott caught the eye with some superb touches and movement. Just as we looked to be settling after the hour, Nigel Adkins got to see up close and personal the sort of howling screamer that has bedevilled this season. Out coached obsession with playing the ball out from the back saw Amos roll it out less than ten yards to Famewo who was facing him. Famewo took a touch and then with Longman racing in towards him, he decided his best option was to stub it back to Amos. The ball rolled a yard towards Amos and Longman ran on and stroked it home. He had earlier brought the home team level after he swivelled in the box and hit a low cross shot that beat Amos and the covering centre-halves. 

All the best sides in the world play it out from the back. They do so with space and confidence, knowing that they are brilliantly drilled and that those ahead of them will be striving to find space in which to progress upfield. Our back five all season have been trying to do this religiously. They have become pretty adept and kicking it around between themselves but there is hardly ever anyone in space upfield to receive the ball. When we do play it forward, it's usually under much more pressure than Amos was in the first place and the next contact is a tackle or a header back towards us. This needs to be stopped because not only don't we have the midfielders to support it, but my god how depressing is it to watch? 

The only other talking point of the day was a bizarre apology by Thomas Sandgaard pre-match on Valley Pass to a supporter for something that apparently happened well in the past but which wasn't shared. Social Media took over and it quickly became clear that the apology may have been given without any detailed investigation and perhaps primarily to draw under a line under his incessant complaining. It appears to have offended far more people who feel at least as strongly as the individual concerned that an apology was inappropriate given the person's initial behaviour. We really do have some strange fans.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Nigel Adkins appointed

Confirmation this afternoon of a badly kept secret, that Nigel Adkins has been appointed as the new Charlton Athletic manager. Rumours about Adkins have been circulating since very soon after Lee Bowyer resigned on Monday. The Bookies odds dropped to 1/6 which told you the word was out and confident money had been wagered on the 56 year old.

I think I am in at least a large minority who would not have chosen Nigel Adkins. Perhaps we were hankering after a sexier appointment. Adkins has been around but he's never really set the world on fire, particularly during his last three appointments at Reading, Sheffield United and Hull City. Someone I know said he had a 'Man at C & A' look and I think that captures my own initial reluctance. 

However, he is here now and on closer examination, you can see why Thomas Sandgaard was likely already sounding him out before Bowyer's decision to take on the poisoned challice of Birmingham City. Adkins has won promotion from League One three times previously and took Southampton from League One into the Premier League. That is clearly what Sandgaard wants so he is getting a man with experience of having done it, even if it was eight or nine years ago. I don't think he has been used to demanding huge transfer budgets either, so he looks like he can relied upon to do it conservatively.

Adkins is also a more realistic fit for us than Eddie Howe or Chris Wilder. Both of them have managed clubs like us but their most recent glory gives them a legitimate shot at bigger prospects in the short-term. Truth is, we are more Man at C & A than most clubs and perhaps Adkins will be a good match. 

Despite the social media grumbling, the bottom-line is he will be judged by the performances and results of his team. If he can get a new manager bounce, there will be few complaints and he must be looking at an outside shot at the play-offs. He was keen to remind us today at the Charlton press conference that he got Scunthorpe up via the play-offs after scraping in and seeing off Millwall in the final. That won't have been a coincidental reference to beating the Lions and in similar fashion Sandgaard answered a question acknowledging that it's still possible for Adkins and Bowyer to swap divisions this season, however unlikely that might be.

News that Adkins will be keeping Bowyer's backroom staff will also be well-received. Continuity is important and it also sends out a message that the offer of a job at Birmingham City isn't necessarily overwhelmingly attractive to everyone or even a step-up from Charlton Athletic. In terms of Johnnie Jackson specifically, it also suggests that Jacko is being measured and realistic about his own managerial development and that he perhaps recognises the value of learning first-hand from another experienced manager who has had some success in the game. That shows maturity and he will also have heard Sandgaard say that it would be a good opportunity for him in his progress towards one-day managing the club, maybe as Adkins' successor.

So for me, I think I am now happy with the appointment and will get behind the new manager. I don't expect us to make the play-offs. That was lost weeks ago under Bowyer in my mind, but it would be good to win the majority of our remaining games and put on improved performances in doing so. His first real test will be the calibre of squad he shapes during the Summer. For once it would be good to make some early transfer statements, secure the extensions of our better players and cut the chaff. How refreshing would it be to go into our pre-season friendlies with a largely completed new squad who can get game time and give us a chance to start the new season strongly.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Charlton Athletic 3 v Bristol Rovers 2

Johnnie Jackson's first game as caretaker manager was never going to be revolutionary. He has been Bowyer's Number 2 throughout, so would have been in tune with his thinking. Bowyer, too, had tried just about everything he could in terms of team selection, so whatever Jackson did, Bowyer would have been there.

However, we did see a change. Ironically, the first-half opened as have so many of our home games this season, with us conceding two disastrous goals. Maatsen stepped in clumsily on one of theirs inside the box as he had a second bite of the cherry and the ref had a simple job to award the penalty. Luke Leahy slid the ball to the other side of Amos and we were staring once more at that horrible stat of not having won a game in which we had conceded the first goal since beating Sunderland in the Play-Off final.

After half-an-hour Bristol Rovers scored again. A bizarre goal from Ed Upson which was a hopeful punt at goal from 30 yards. The shot was hard and straight at the centre of the goal. Amos was there on his line and at first glance your eyes told you it must have been a deflection, because Amos appeared wrong-footed and then fell in a heap as the ball passed him by two feet. The replay showed no deflection and it was simply a goal-keeping howler. Two-nil down and Rovers might easily have had another as they created a number of really decent chances. It wasn't looking good but Famewo and Pearce were holding the centre-ground and we were running at them when not defending.

For our part, we had been trying to get forward and Jackson's midfield selection of four ball-players, in Forster-Caskey, Shinnie, Millar and Morgan meant that we had more attacking impetus and it was clear that we were doing a lot of pressing when out of possession. Stockley and Washington were harrying the Rovers backline and the midfield was further up the pitch than when Watson or Pratley are playing. 

A minute after Upson's goal, Andrew Shinnie pulled one back. After a bit of pressure around the visitor's box, Shinnie turned a defender and hit a cross-shot that dipped in at the far post. It was a classy goal and fuelled some belief. Nine minutes later and with Charlton pressing again, Jayden Stockley fell to the pitch outside the box and drew a foul. Forster-Caskey stepped up and put the ball over the wall and inside May's left-hand post for the equaliser. 

After the break we saw far less of Bristol Rovers in our half and as the game wore on they tired visibly. We were enjoying possession and getting forward but could we get that third goal? Jaiyesimi was on for Millar and Aneke replaced Stockley as Jackson sought to maintain the pressure. With six minutes of normal time left Aneke and Washington found themselves chasing the same ball into the box and it fell to Washington who had to stretch to get a touch before the advancing May. He beat May but his poke was wild and it looked like it would roll wide. For once Lucky Luck smiled on us with the woodwork and the post presented the ball back to the staggering Washington who tucked it in. 

We mangled to play out five minutes of added time and hand Johnnie Jackson a well deserved victory. He was obviously delighted at the final whistle but made it clear in his post-match comments that he had taken it upon himself to take control for the match before he had spoken with Thomas Sandgaard. It sounded like Sandgaard was grateful as much as anything, so you are left with a firm feeling that he has someone else in mind for the job. 

Whatever happens, it was a sweet moment for Jackson. The players clearly raised their game for Skip and put in a winning performance at home which was very welcome. Jackson will, at least, have given Sandgaard something to think about and a back-pocket option. 

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Farewell Lee Bowyer

Yesterday was the day Charlton Athletic and Lee Bowyer parted company. In spite of calls from many for Bowyer to be sacked, ultimately, he resigned under no pressure from the owner, in favour of a move to Birmingham City where Aitor Karanka is being shown the door.

First, we have to acknowledge that Bowyer gave us one of our most memorable days ever, when he lead us out of League One at his first season attempt in unlikely style. He did it against the odds and without extensive backing from uninterested Roland Duchatelet. With hindsight, he had a better side than even most Charlton fans realised but he had them punching above their collective weight and we arrived in the play-offs with the all-important momentum which had brought a huge backing from excited Addick fans. It was a special achievement and it promised to lead us on to greater things.

Unfortunately, if not unsurprisingly, the backing he received from Duchatelet during that close season was minimal and we lost a number of key players like Patrick Bauer and Joe Aribo who weren't fully replaced. In spite of that we started the Championship season brightly and hopes were high. It looked like we had made the transition smoothly enough but injuries took their toll and we began to sink before Christmas. The season suspension due to the first wave lockdown may have been untimely but most fans thought we would see it out as a Championship side. Disastrously, that wasn't to be and with the furore surrounding Lyle Taylor and Chris Solly's refusal to play on in a temporary post-contract extension, the team spluttered badly and managed to drop into the bottom three for the first time that season on the final day. A succession of missed opportunities and calamitous errors cost us and we went down when I don't believe we should have. Yes, the table doesn't lie but we should have closed it out.

The other factor that has to be taken into account is the fact that Bowyer held things together and stayed in post during the ownership turmoil at the back-end of that season under ESI 1 with the penniless conmen fronted by Matt Southall and the opportunist conmen of Farnell and Elliott as ESI 2. Their transfer-embargo legacy delayed squad rebuilding until the end of the Summer transfer window under Sandgaard but it was swift and fulsome in number, if not ultimately in quality. 

Once again the side started this season brightly and were at the top of the table in the first three months of the season buoyed by six successive victories and five clean sheets in those. Ryan Innis and Akin Famewo had cemented the back four and whilst I believe we were fatally short of firepower upfront, we still had enough midfield capability and forward threat to be scoring and winning. 

That fell apart pretty quickly in November with Innis and Famewo sustaining injuries and things went from bad to worse. We were still picking up the odd win, especially on the road but our home form turned to mush and the Valley almost became a bogey ground. Following the defeat of Wimbledon in early December we drew three and lost five of the next eight home games. That was enough to continue our slide and whilst we still sit in eighth, nominally two points off sixth placed Ipswich, the reality of games in hand of those around us, means we are more likely siting in 11th and closer to six points adrift. Most importantly, we have yet to find our feet properly and regain the forward momentum of the early season.

The slide this season lead to the immediate cry from the lip-wobblers that Bowyer had to go. Bowyer's apparent inability to change things or get a reaction from his players didn't help and that cry only got louder. I am not one to panic and I haven't done. I was very sure we needed to hold our nerve and show faith in Lee Bowyer. He has lead us to promotion already, so we know he has the ability. Injuries hadn't helped but they would be overcome and two players don't necessarily make a team from a large squad. It has to be said that this isn't a standout League One either, so a return to form was expected.

However, we didn't see it and defeats mounted up. Going behind in games at home became something of a standing joke and we still carry the curse of not have won a game since Wembley where we have conceded first. For me the turning point came at home to Gillingham where we contrived to lose 3-2 and the following week at Fleetwood where we tried to defend a 1-0 lead with some awful anti-football. 

Bowyer has tried everything. The largest number of player changes in the division and he had permed every combination possible in defence and midfield. However, he didn't help himself by continuing to make changes even after improved performances. The January window gave him more quality, certainly upfront with Jayden Stockley and to a lesser extent with Matt Smith in midfield. Diallang Jaiyesimi has yet to prove his value, as with Ronnie Schwartz. Results have not materially improved and the slow slide has continued. 

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Bowyer still doesn't know his best eleven and that his players aren't listening to him. The midfield has, arguably, been the biggest problem. Two experienced but ageing journeymen in the shape of Watson and Pratley. Both a yard slower now and both conceding frequent yellows and the consequential red cards. Other than that, the other options are too 'samey.' Shinnie, Morgan, Gilbey, Smith, Jaiyesimi (so far) and Forster-Caskey can all float through large spells in matches without appearing to get a touch or do anything positive when they do. Liam Millar has been the one bright point in midfield but opposition teams have been effectively doubling up on him and we haven't been able to use the man advantage.

As Charlton fans we have to be able to endure runs of poor form and even entire seasons when we are second-best. That's often been our lot without the money to compete and also being a yo-yo club, being it between the Premiership and Championship or now the Championship and League One. If your manager and players are doing all they can, you have to suck it up and wait for fortunes to change, even if that means relegation and once again competing at a lower level.

However, one thing I don't believe any supporter should tolerate is the humiliation of the club and frankly, that's where I think we had got to under Bowyer. Repeat performances for weeks and months where we create very little. Even at home we are going through some 90 minutes with two half-chances. In the same games the opposition have been running amok and scoring with ease. Tactically, our back five have been passing the ball around trying to steady the nerves and get a breather before the inevitable upfield punt that comes straight back at us. 

Bowyer's normal plain speaking has put him in a difficult position because his defence of the indefensible has been obvious to see. Whilst he has been critical of the players on occasion, too often we have had to listen to the most obvious excuses - the penalty, the sending-off, the wind, the pitch, the referee etc. He has also called out individuals publicly and, is rumoured to have gone over-the-top in private. You don't like to see it but perhaps it's necessary on occasion when nothing else is working. Jonny Williams was one who suffered from both if the rumours are believed and he is now playing in the Championship at Cardiff City. 

I was called out as being too harsh on Bowyer on Twitter and perhaps I was with limited characters available, but I am not disappointed to see him go. He has walked away from us remember, he hasn't been sacked. We should get some compensation and the chance of an experienced manager who can win us promotion with reasonable backing. The performances of his team put him in sacking territory and it is to Sandgaard's credit that he held on, although it might not have favoured him to have done so if there was no meaningful corner being turned this season. Having said that, Bowyer was a fine Charlton prospect who wore the red 46 times before earning us a decent fee from Leeds. He earned huge respect in the game for 16 more years being hanging his boots up at Ipswich Town and he has made his mark in the game as a manager at Charlton and Wembley. None of us will forget that but he leaves us where he found us, struggling in League One which is a bit less, at least, than any of us expected in Thomas Sangaard's first season. Let's face it, it's not been pleasant viewing this season and things have to change.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Season over with 12 games to go.

As far as I am concerned, the season ended today with Charlton's dismal 1-1 home draw with 17th placed Shrewsbury Town. After the routine 2-0 win on Tuesday over a very poor looking Northampton side that lacked any ambition whatsoever, some were once again talking about making the play-offs. Understandable when we were only a point away but entirely unrealistic given the number of games in hand other teams above and below us have and, more importantly, how we have actually been playing in 2021. 

Today's match was another bitter disappointment. The replacement of Jake Forster-Caskey by Darren Pratley in midfield sounded the alarm bell. Once again it meant the double-clogging duo of Watson and Pratley. Millar was doubled-up on once more and any attacking contribution was left to Albie Morgan on the right. 

As a consequence we managed three efforts on target that I can recall. Stockley got on the end of a cut-back from Morgan in the first-half but his first time shot was too close to Burgoyne who managed to smother it. In the second period, after Stockley had been subbed, Chuks Aneke should have scored but he slammed a delightful low ball in from Washington high onto the bar. The only other effort was a 78th minute solo equaliser from the tireless Washington who wriggled around in the box and found a yard before cutting a shot back across the keeper. 

With the game poised at 1-1, Shrewsbury opened up and had two very good chances to win it as they penned us back but fortune evaded them and we held on for the point. Some of our players looked forlorn at the end as the penny finally dropped that we aren't good enough this year. Indeed, it would have been ridiculous to think we could have been promoted through the play-offs after the season we have had but it shows just what a poor league this is.

Bowyer did well at the start of the season to get a tune from a hastily assembled squad who, let's face it, were largely the leftovers of other club's transfer business. The run in October with Famewo and Innis at the heart of a solid back four gave promise of a serious assault on the title but that fall apart with the injury to Innis and Famewo. The signings in January brought hope of adequate replacements but it proved a false dawn. 

Ronnie Schwartz has yet to find his feet. He actually looks a class below League One but I honestly think it's because he needs to be played balls to finish. He doesn't have the stature to win aerial challenges or batter his way onto the ball in the box. Whether or not we ever find a way to play for him remains a big question and I suspect he will have moved home before we do. Jayden Stockley has proved his aerial value upfront but we need a forward pairing who play together and we don't have them. Stockley is too similar in style to Aneke and there is, really, only Conor Washington to consider. Interestingly, Washington bagged two in the week and was very bullish in the press this week saying he was aiming "to finish top dog" amongst our stickers. I thought that was laughable given some of his quiet performances this season, but he was our man-of-the-match today and his goal moved him into double-figures. 

Our real problem, however, has been in defence. We spent too long complaining and blaming the defence (whoever was tried) when in reality, I think the problem was midfield. Bowyer's preference to play out from defence has been something of an Achilles heal because far too often it comes back within seconds and we are under pressure. Time and again it gets played around the back four and the keeper only for Amos to leather it downfield hopefully. I say hopefully because, again, our midfielders struggle to hold possession and if it's too far, it turns into Stockley heading on to no-one.

It's been suggested that we lack any variety in midfield or any real pace. I think there may be something in that. Watson and Pratley have been a liability for most of the season. Both have been very useful at times to slow play and break up opposition play when we have been winning. However, too often this season we have been losing and they simply don't add anything going forward. Both usually appear as a two extra centre-halves at the base of the midfield who join the back-passing.

Millar has had his moments but he's been double-marked in most games for the last while and he's struggled to get crosses in as a result. Andrew Shinnie is infuriating as there is a good player in there but we only see it flashes. Morgan and Forster-Caskey have blown hot and cold and Alex Gibley hasn't even managed that. Matt Smith has looked promising but we haven't seen enough of him and he will return to Arsenal before we have.

Sorry to say it but this squad isn't good enough and we have flattered to deceive this season. the nature of running a full complement of loanees means most will move on next season and we will need to rebuild. If Bowyer is to remain in charge, and it looks that way, he needs to be supported and then judged finally next season. I have been a fan overall and his record shows he can win promotion but he has really struggled to turn the corner this season and I would not have complained if he has been sacked. We have become a laughing stock at home and being humiliated match after match is intolerable. I don't think he has known our best eleven because we haven't shown it - certainly not since Inniss and Famewo were inured. 

For me, we seriously lack movement as a team. Our players don't seem to find space like the opposition. Instead we seem to rely upon passing to feet but that usually means players are immediately under pressure and it's difficult to hold possession like this. It shows up when we take throw-ins and invariably there is no-one to aim at and no-one making space. 

Our crossing is generally poor. far too often we get into good positions and then can't get the ball off the ground or beat the first man from set pays. Whilst I am on a roll, we don't shoot much from distance either. Often that's because we don't have players making space for a ball but when we do, it's been poor. 

Finally, we you look at the stats from games, this side seems to be incapable of creating nearly enough chances to win games. Far too often we look to keep it tight or fail to create much on those occasions when bossing the game. We were like that on Tuesday but got the break-through with a penalty. Today we were similar but Chuks missed his big chance and we didn't get a sniff after Washington scored. 

We are in serious danger of becoming a run-of-the-mill League One club. We need to go up next year with something to spare and have the nucleus of a squad that can be competitive in the Championship. Easier said than done and it will take some decent investment from Thomas Sandgaard. Lee Bowyer will need to get a fighting spirit well as some genuine quality back into the side. 

Sunday 7 March 2021

Oxford United 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

Another step in the right direction but also another kick in the teeth.

Lee Bowyer kept faith with the side that won at Wigan and they managed to hold a battling Oxford United United team who kept at it for 90 minutes. That's not to say they looked any better than us during the game but that we managed to restrict their attacking ambition to a couple of half-chances and a shot that cannoned off the inside of a post. Pearce looks so much better alongside Famewo, although I worry about Famewo's fitness - he was feeling his hamstrings throughout yesterday's match. 

For our part, we also looked to get forward in support of Chuks Aneke whenever we could but we struggled to get behind Oxford or find sufficient space to trouble them from distance. Instead, our best chance came with the last kick of the match. Substitute, Jayden  Stockley had turned cleverly in the box and the covering challenge was enough to up-end him. The ref pointed to the spot and for a fleeting moment there was a chance to record two consecutive victories for the first time since 3rd November. That might have been enough to rekindle a play-off challenge  but Ronnie Schwartz stepped up and chose power over placement. Stevens got behind the shot with enough force to divert it off target and save a point.

Poor old Ronnie. The move to SE7 really isn't working for him. Aside from a lovely early goal, he has shown very little. He doesn't have the strength to hold off defenders to balls played up to him nor the pace the out-run them for balls over the top. I think his game is based upon finishing balls in the box - like the goal he did score - and we simply aren't a side that presents too many of those opportunities. His previous penalty record was 14 from 16, so he too will have been seriously miffed and wondering what he has done wrong for such bad luck. It probably doesn't help that he is living out of a suitcase whilst his pregnant wife remains at home in Denmark. Perhaps the end of season can't come soon enough for him.

Next up it's three home games in succession. Ordinarily an opportunity for 9 points inside a week which could catapult us up the table but we can't ignore our home form which currently suggests that three points from nine might be expected. Can't say I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Wigan Athletic 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Lee Bowyer took a step last night towards saving his job. His side managed to halt the recent decline with a performance of far more solidity than we have seen in recent weeks. It may only have been against bottom-side Wigan, but it was a desperately needed result.

The shambolic home performances of the last two months have raised questions about the motivation of the players and Bowyer's ability to influence games through tactical and player changes. The last few, in particular, against Gillingham, Burton and Blackpool pointed to the players having given-up on the manager, something that almost inevitably leads to a change of Gaffer.

Last night, with Akin Famewo back in central defence, Jason Pearce was able to focus on his position alone and he looked far more solid as a result. Matthews anchored the right-back berth even if Maatsen was still a bit adrift on the left. Nonetheless, the defence stood up to Solomon-Otobor, The Aasgaard and Gavin Massey and, for a change, there was some welcome relief from midfield.

Matt Smith was picking the ball up in space in the centre of midfield and holding it long enough to find another red shirt in space. Helpfully, Forster-Caskey was far more active than in recent weeks and together they were able to keep Wigan occupied defensively which made life easier for our back four. Watson passed more than he fouled and it was only Millar who looked a little out-of-sorts.

Wigan were tidy going forward and might have scored at least one on another day from the chances they created. However, it was a mistake by their central defensive pairing which was their undoing early in the first-half. A through ball from Matt Smith bisected the pair and with Chuks Aneke on the charge, they looked like sandwiching him off the ball but in a move reminiscent of the Charlton backline this season, they got in a muddle, crossed over each other and left Chuks to gallop though and draw Jones before firing left-footed inside the right-hand upright. 

We should have had a penalty before half-time after Aneke was blatantly pushed off the ball and onto the ground but somehow, neither the referee or his assistant appeared to see what everyone else watching did, including the two Wigan commentators I was listening to. That meant the game remained cagey and with Charlton doing much less in the second-half, it increasingly became a rearguard action but one which was successful for a change.

Oxford United will present a stronger threat on Saturday but Bowyer has something to build on if he doesn't tinker too much. Another result would really help his cause because then we have to face three dreaded consecutive home games inside seven days. Bowyer's future should be clearer by then but he will need to have found a way to stop the rot at the Valley. 

Monday 1 March 2021

Last Chance Saloon

I have avoided commenting on Saturday's disastrous performance against Blackpool before now because my temper was such that I would have said things I may have regretted. What is clear on Monday afternoon is that Thomas Sandgaard hasn't yet pulled the trigger. The Owner and the Manager are reputed to have spoken (as you would expect after one match and ahead of another) and Bowyer remains in charge.

I thought Saturday's display was our worst performance of the season and a new low. You can debate the penalties and the sending-offs but for me they were secondary to the football and, I believe, typical of the malaise in the squad. Our football outside those match losing facts was diabolical. Outside the back four, there was absolutely no shape, no plan, little energy or any real concern. The back four weren't great either but at least they had to shoulder 70% of the play as they played it back and forth amongst themselves with uncertainty and fear. 

It looked like a rush-midfield, where all four were given licence to go where they wanted. As a result they moved about haphazardly, rarely any space or aware of where their team-mates were. Balls played to them in midfield were lost almost immediately either by dint of a poor first touch or a pass to a marked team-mate who lost out in the challenge. Without the ball, the limit of their ambition appeared to slow Blackpool down by fouling. And what a lot of fouling there was. Not the over-committed heavy or unfortunately late tackling but the cynical, niggly type so typical of sides who realise they aren't competing. This has become a feature of Bowyer's team, especially this season. 

Pratley's sending off was the result of a second yellow for a niggly, unsportsman-like  foul. It wasn't really late or heavy but he committed to bringing the player down in a way he does so often by falling on them, often with his arms out to ensure they don't escape. He was chasing a player by the goal-line, not in a particularly dangerous position but attempting to prevent him entering the box or crossing. Halting his man wasn't enough. He had to fall on top of him and them place his hand on his opponent's neck as he moved to get up and then draw his leg and boot across the man's face in the hope of causing further discomfort. We would hate to see this sort of behaviour against us and I am fed-up seeing it perpetrated on opposition players, especially when the goon gets himself red-carded again. Pratley's got form for it and we love it when he has been brought on to break play in the closing ten minutes with the side winning. Sadly this season he has been playing much larger parts of games and it has hampered our game and infected some of the others, notably Ben Watson when it's his turn for a game.

Unfortunately, we saw little of Millar or Shinnie. Millar was double-marked and Shinnie lacked sufficient control on the ball to make much progress. He was all headless chicken too when we saw him and in hiding when we didn't. It really was a mess. Jaiyesimi didn't bring any serenity to the midfield either. His first touch was poor and he lost possession too often.

The other sad fact was that once again a visiting keeper at the Valley had to concentrate on keeping warm. I switched off well before the end but Maxwell (former Charlton player) didn't have an effort to save. Our attacking plan seemed to be 'lump it to Stockley' whenever we crossed the halfway line and there wasn't another pass on.

So, it was a bad day for us in a string of bad days. The players seem to have stopped Tweeting "we go again" and the manager's claim that the mistakes "have to stop now" after the midweek fiasco was plainly just words.

Sadly, Bowyer has also said that he's saying all the right things but the players aren't doing them. That's a woeful excuse, especially given this has been happening for three months now. 

I can tolerate poor results and being second-best. Sometimes we have been in that position in the past under different regimes and managers. It happened regularly in the Premierships and less often in the Championship. However, it's hard to take in League One where we have typically had competitive squads in spite of any lack of investment. 

At some point though it becomes intolerable. That is usually when you expect to lose your next match with yet another poor showing that lacks the basis of effort, teamwork or an ability to change it - we brought four subs on at half-time although you would have been hard-pressed to tell. 

The next stage from that, if you haven't sacked the manager, is when the football club is being humiliated with every game and that's what I have seen in the last week. Two dire home defeats with no redeeming feature. Both sadly predictable and, I am sorry to say, another looming tomorrow at Wigan. The Owner cannot allow this to go on until the end of the season. It will seriously damage the club's reputation and the commercial foundations for next season. We are slowly becoming a solidly League One Club and it has to be stopped. I wouldn't trust Bowyer with any more money or the rebuilding task if he can't get the players to play as he wants and is unable to affect any change, which appears to be the case now. Tomorrow might well be goodnight for Lee Bowyer. I really can't see his players raising their game if they haven't been bothered to do it so far.