Friday 28 May 2021

Adkins frustrated and managing expectations?

Nigel Adkins made a statement to the SLP today concerning squad rebuilding for next season which appears to show some personal frustration and perhaps an attempt at managing supporter expectations.

The first thing to remind ourselves at this point, and perhaps Adkins ought to be aware as well, if he isn't already, is that it has been quite a number of years since we have had a settled and balanced squad at the start of the season, anywhere near ready to challenge. Roland Duchatelet wasn't seriously interested in promotion and invariably left us short at the start and certainly shorter come the end of January. 

The shenanigans of ESI and ESI2 during the first half of 2020 meant that Thomas Sandgaard was left with the last few weeks of the transfer window in which to build the squad for last season. The reality is that too much of our business has been done after the season has started, when the cream of the crop have gone and when it's more a quantity than quality game. Expectations for this close season are understandably greater.

So, Nigel's update today comes as a bit of surprise. Twitter was already teasing us with speculation that top-scorer Chuks Aneke is considering an offer from Shrewsbury Town having had his offer from us. Adkins acknowledges the position of Chuks and the other out-of-contract players by saying they "they are free agents and can go and speak to any football out there." This is obvious but he then goes on to remind us that the window doesn't close until several weeks after the season starts and that Agents play their part in this too. The inference appears to be that he is not expecting to get many deals over the line quickly, starting with Aneke, Pearce and Matthews who are out of contract at the end of June. 

Ordinarily that might just suggest that the Agents and Players will bide their time and look for the best deal, not necessarily the one they have been offered to stay put. You could also see this as a lack of confidence from Adkins in the offers that have been made or the initial responses to them. He goes on to say "we can become very, very frustrated by it or recognise this is what it is and bring the right people into the football club with the right attitudes." Sounds like he's not too happy with the initial responses. We all want to see the right people with the right attitudes but the three players in question have largely proven that already so it looks like Adkins feels he may be snubbed.

He talks about the management team handling the squad rebuilding (himself, Gallen, Roddy and Sandgaard) and says there are "a lot of conversations going on." In his experience, however, "it can be very challenging bringing 12 or 13 players in, that doesn't happen overnight." Again, as supporters we don't need to be told that but we are expecting things to be better this time around without a transfer embargo and relatively more money to spend.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this and he's just giving us his experience without necessarily reflecting on the immediate situation at Charlton under Sangaard? He does also say about ideally being in a position to "freshen it up and improving what you've got with two or three signings" but I believe we are going to need a lot more than that. 

Finally he talks about needing "a couple of good senior players" as role models, who "might not be first choice." I wonder if that's a way of saying the likes of Pearce and Matthews have been made offers to reflect that? It might explain why he was so defensive initially?

I certainly hope we aren't still in a situation where the budget position is pushing for a delayed recruitment based on deferring wages and getting bargains at the expense of the players we really need and a squad that is ready to go from the 7th August.

I haven't yet renewed my season ticket, not because it's really a question of 'if' but because I would really like to feel excited and motivated to do so. The surety of fans returning to the stadium would do that and the signs are promising but we have some way to go yet. A few quality signings would show our intent and get me off my arse. I am sure I am not alone here....

Tuesday 18 May 2021

An evening with Greg Shields

I was delighted to be invited to a Q & A with former Addick, Greg Shields, last night. The call had been set up by supporter group 'Charlton Fans in Scotland' together with support from the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust (CAST). It was their first player session and it was encouraging to hear post-Greg discussions about getting season tickets, organising socials and travelling together down to games.  

Greg was a player of whom I have fond memories. Not only a fellow Scot but one very much in the national mould of the honest pro, capable, direct and a no-nonsense defender who was hugely reliable. He reminded me very much of the brilliant Mark Reid.

Prior to the call I looked-up his record up and was quite surprised to see he only played 25 times for us between 1999 and 2002. He certainly made a far bigger impression than that. 

Greg told us about how he came to the Valley with his Agent for a midweek meeting with Alan Curbishley. He had no intention of signing immediately but he was so impressed with the Valley, Sparrows Lane and what Curbs had to say, that he committed that day. By his own admission he had "no idea what a big club Charlton were." Having been at Rangers as a youngster (7 appearances) he was surprised that we had a far more impressive training set-up. 

He was 23 and newly married. The Shields' settled in Petts Wood and their first child (of three) was born at Farnborough Hospital. Greg spoke enthusiastically about his football at Charlton, the thrill of winning promotion and playing in the Premiership. It was the highlight of an 18-year playing career that took him back to Scotland before finishing at Carolina Railhawks (now North Carolina).

Listening to Greg talk about his team-mates from those days was a reminder of just what a strong squad of players we had at that time. Those full-back berths alone were contested by Greg Shields, Steve Brown, Anthony Barness, Chris Powell, Paul Konchesky and Luke Young. 

When asked to name three players from his playing days he would pick for his Dumfermline side today (he is the Assistant Head Coach), he was quick to discount his Rangers days because he was so young and he was never established, so Paul Gascoigne was out. Instead he jumped at Mark Kinsella and Clive Mendonca. Kinsella for his ability to change a game, his drive and leadership - Super Clive for his finishing of course. He struggled for the third but eventually gave us Graig Brewster, the Scottish striker who made a long career playing for a host of clubs on the east side of Scotland, including Dundee United, before five years at Ionikos in Athens. Dean Kiely also got a mention - Dean signed for us act the same time as Greg and was a one-time room-mate.

I remember attending a Q & A many years ago at the Valley after Greg had moved on and he sounded critical of Alan Curbishley at the time concerning the end to his Charlton career. It was revealing then to hear Greg talk about the end of his Charlton days with the benefit of another 15 years or so. He was very clear that he regretted leaving and that he realised that he made a mistake at the time by jumping ship. He had been out for awhile with an "ACL-type" injury and didn't immediately get back into the side when he was ready to resume. Luke Young had been signed and Greg feared the writing was on the wall ("Luke was  great player who went on to play for England"). Not wanting to play reserve football he opted instead for a permanent move to Kilmarnock (he had been there on a short loan spell). 

He also recalled his two goals for us, the first against Birmingham at the Valley (his first ever), when he played a one-two and got into the box before firing under a challenge from Darren Purse and realising "I am scoring a goal here!" His second was a cracking strike I remember well against Forest, also at the Valley. Greg told us he had boot sponsorship from Fila at the time and was mortified when the TV highlights showed him sliding towards the camera in celebration with his Nike boots in full view.

After Kilmarknock and another five years at his beloved Dumfermline, Greg ended his career in the US where he played and coached for ten years. As much as he regretted not making a bigger fight at the time to extend his Premiership career, it was clear that he loved every minute of life in the US and that it was a great way to finish his playing career for him and his family. He told us that he wishes he had reached out to Gavin Peacock whilst there. When first at the Valley he was put under the wing of old-pro Gavin and had roomed with him early on. He was so in awe of the experienced Peacock, that at night he would sleep in bed with all his clothes on because his room-mate liked to sleep with the window open.

Greg is back in his old house in Dunfermline. It was very good of him to give up an hour and a half of his evening (he happily over-ran the slot) to a relatively small group of fans of a football club he played for twenty years ago. He is not looking too far ahead but enjoying his coaching and taking one day at time. He looks a happy man.


Sunday 9 May 2021

Charlton Athletic 1 v Hull City 0

A creditable final home win against the Champions left Charlton short on goal difference of the play-offs. We had left ourselves with too much to do and with Oxford racing into a 2-0 lead over Burton Albion, we had to resign ourselves to winning our game, which we managed through a second-half own goal when a Millar ball into the six yard box crossed the line after a mix-up between the diving keeper and covering defender.

Hull City looked like Champions in the opening half as they stroked the ball in and around our half. Ben Amos made a decent early save, after which he didn't have too much to do, although our defence was kept busy. After the break and with us attacking the Covered End, it was a different game as we tried to find a winner. Stockley had skimmed the crossbar with a low diving header from what looked like a hopeless position and Liam Millar had four notable shots on the run, although none needed saving. Chuks made his entrance on the hour and he kept the Tigers defence occupied but it was just the OG which divided us at the end.

I might be reading too much into our performance this afternoon but for the first time this season, we appeared to be playing the ball quickly out of defence. Midfielders were quick to show for the ball and we were able to pass our way down both sides and get into attacking positions in the final third. It was so refreshing after a season of defensive hesitancy as we were forced to play it around the back so much because of a lack of option in midfield, or, more-often-than-not only Watson or Pratley who would swiftly return the ball to the back four.

Once again we were forced to watch the end-of-season visitors receiving the champagne under the Sky Bet League One Champions banner. Nigel Adkins did at least say that it would be us next season. 

All eyes will be on the squad changes this Summer. Ordinarily, finishing in our position might encourage you to look for a smaller number of changes to enhance what you have to go again. However, I have to say I will be quite happy if the axe is wielded. Too many of the payers we have were simply either not good enough or too inconsistent. 

I would want to see Amos and Inniss retained. Ideally Famewo signed full-time - maybe Norwich's promotion will make him surplus to requirements. I wouldn't be disappointed if any of our midfielders left. Millar is unlikely to be here next season but would be worth another year of development if offered him - he's hardly likely to make the first-team at Anfield. Jaiyesimi may yet bloom but I think it's time-up for Watson, Pratley and Gilbey, despite his much improved end-of-season showing. Morgan and Shinnie can do a job but neither has cemented a place this season.

Upfront, Stockley had earned a place and Aneke is good enough for League One but I really think we need a better goalscorer to lead the attack. Conor Washington is all effort but I don't see him carrying us through the Championship and that should be the test of most of those we bring in. 

It will be great to see crowds back at the Valley, so let's all pray that we don't have any set-backs in the success of the Covid vaccination programme. 

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Charlton Athletic 3 v Lincoln City 1

A penultimate home win of the season at least gives Nigel Adkins the satisfaction of taking it to the last day of the season on Sunday however unlikely it is that we will squeeze into the play-offs.

Once again this season it was a game of two halves and last night's example typified the season in many ways. The starting eleven looked overly conservative and unambitious once again. One up front at home and relying upon a left-back to create from the right side. It may have worked in Adkins' first game when Maatsen enjoyed the rarified atmosphere and managed to score but he has proven since then that he isn't comfortable on that side in an attacking role. There have been times this season when we have been forced to adopt this formation because of injuries and suspensions but Aneke and Washington were on the bench last night.

Cue no surprise at all when we failed to create an attempt on target in the opening 45 when Lincoln had the best chance and should have taken the lead. The game was crying out for Aneke and a reshuffle at the break and to Adkins' credit it came at the restart but Ben Purrington will have been miffed that he was hooked out so Maatsen could be accommodated in his place as we moved to a 4-4-2. It was the formations the fans had been calling for throughout the first-half and it took two minutes to pay handsome dividends.

A particularly well-worked goal at pace and with movement finished with Chuks knocking the ball down into the path of Jayden Stockley who was being shepherded out of the box. Stockley only had one sniff at the dropping ball but he seized on it to smash the ball first time high into the top corner and prove that his feet aren't just spring-loaded to get him airborne.

After that we played like a different team for thirty minutes and scored two more as Ryan Inniss and Chuks Aneke both added trademark goals of their own to end the contest. 3-0 after 66 minutes sent me scrambling for the league table and suddenly there was a view that three more and a another 6-0 scoreline could overcome our goal difference handicap for Sunday. That, of course, was getting ahead of ourselves and we managed to concede in the 88th minute to ensure that goal difference isn't going to be the deciding factor of the season.

It's very simple now. We have to win at home to Champions Hull City and hope that Portsmouth and Oxford United both lose at home to Accrington and Burton respectively. The bookies have that scenario at a highly unlikely 50-1. 

So, this season is nearly done. Adkins deserves credit for a bounce that kept our interest until the final game of the season and his appointment has been justified both in terms of results and timing, even if that was forced on us by Lee 'Me' Bowyer. He has had invaluable game time with his new squad and should me clear on who he thinks can get the job done next season and who is going to hold us back if they are still here.

Frankly, we have flattered to deceive and I believe we should be grateful we aren't going up. Promotion with this squad may have resulted in an over-reliance on too many players who are not good enough for the Championship. When you get promoted, you really need to win it with a swagger and with a squad of players who, by-and-large, you are excited about seeing take the challenge of the next step. That's how you build a springboard for a double-promotion, even if that takes a couple of seasons. 

Sunday 2 May 2021

Addicks fall at the final fence

After the surge in confidence amongst Addicks fans in the last few weeks, yesterday's performance at Accrington Stanley was a reminder of how far we still have to go to be good enough to leave this desperate division. 

Needing three points to remain in control of our destiny, we put in one of the most insipid showings in a season littered with them. Lacking any creativity we clung on desperately until late in the game when Stanley finally got they goal they deserved. I turned off after 87 minutes and headed to the Royal Oak for a couple to lighten the mood. Yet another last minute goal was only salt in our wounds which keeps us in the hunt mathematically but not realistically.

We lost our chances of automatic promotion back in January when Accrington Stanley beat us comfortably at the Valley. Of course there were still enough points to be gained to have won the title then but you have to look at how you have been playing and the results you have been getting. You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear and the idea that we might be one of the two best footballing sides in the division was laughable. 

I also believe we lost our play-off chances with 12 games to go when we could only draw with Shrewsbury at home. The run that was inspired by the return of Famewo and then Inniss, and the change of manager looked like we might be thrown a lifeline. However, as I said you have to look at how you have been playing and the results you have been getting and it still looked a hard ask, particularly when you consider our weakness in midfield and difficulty dominating games. The freak result at Plymouth, which clearly told you more about them than us, had everyone purring and thinking that maybe we could do it but we promptly fell flat on our faces with a defeat and two draws which was more typical of the season.

Yesterday's match was an underlining of our frailties and, I have to say, our conservative approach to far too many games this season under Bowyer and now Adkins. Perhaps they were reacting to what they have in terms of available players and deciding that tactically that was our best way to win games. It certainly paid off away from home where we won so many games by holding on, drawing the sting and then taking a lead we could defend. At home, though, it simply encouraged the opposition to have a go and look at how often and successfully they did just that.

This season was undoubtedly affected by no crowds. The huge increase in points won away from home through all the divisions shows the loss of home advantage. I cannot imagine a Charlton side playing so consistently poorly at home in front of a large and vociferous crowd. It would have quickly become very uncomfortable and would have forced an improvement of sorts that we simply didn't see this year. 

Nigel Adkins will now need to rebuild and Thomas Sandgaard will need to support him as I am sure he will in the transfer market. I really hope Adkins build his own side and is bold enough to move out a healthy number of these players who are not good enough for the Championship and not good enough to get promoted from League One. 

If we are not to risk becoming the Leyton Orient of 2020's London, we have to get promoted next season. Our stadium, potential support, revenues and owner all deserve that. It should be possible but already you can look ahead and see that we may need to finish above the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and even possibly Derby County.

Nigel Adkins needs to show some intent in the remaining two games. A perfect opportunity to play more fringe players and have a look at them in the first team before the season concludes.