Monday 30 August 2021

Charlton Athletic 2 v Crewe Alexandra 0

Late to the table here due to a hectic last four days. I was at Pittodrie last Thursday to see Aberdeen bow out of the new Europa Conference competition and it's been all go since then. It may be UEFA's third-tier European competition but the Dons opponents, Qarabag, from Azerbaijan looked like Champions League material the other night. Aberdeen lost 3-1 but were outclassed from the off. 

Anyhow, in the midst of everything else, I also managed to catch the Charlton performance against Crewe and joined in the collective sigh of relief that we finally picked up a win. Adkins changed to a 4-4-2 and we looked a different side. In a match where we created more chances than in the other games put together, it was gratifying to see Jaiyesimi score with a fine header (who knew?) and Stockley show some touches with his feet to round the keeper and slot home. 

It was also a redemption game for Chris Gunter whose left-foot cross for Jaiyesimi's goal was a beauty and who had his best game for some time. Craig Macgillivray also had a very good game and showed once more why we bought him. Our fans need a bit more patience with individuals - both of these players have come in for a bit too much stick recently. I thought Albie Morgan had a better game in a four man midfield alongside Ben Watson and Sean Clare made a better contribution from the bench when he came on for Jaiyesimi. New signing Elliott Lee also made his debut from the bench and settled quickly.

Not much to say defensively. Crewe had a couple of very good chances but Macgillivray was equal to them and Elerewe slotted in seamlessly after the hour when Inniss was taken off. Adkins looks to be managing Inniss' game time and we are fortunate that Elerewe has emerged from nowhere this season and looks so comfortable in the first team.

Certainly a performance to build on although with the Gillingham game postponed due to our international call-ups), we will have to play with  game in hand. 

Today is also the last of the transfer window and the only likely target could be former youngster Harry Arter who has made a very good career for himself after leaving the Valley 12 years ago as a 19 year old. He would certainly add more competition in midfield but we still need left back cover and another striker. It's looking like we may have to make the best of it until January. If that's the case, I reckon Thomas Sandgaard has left us short of expectations and it may cost us another season in the wilderness. That might test Thomas' resolve because revenues next season will almost inevitably drop. He benefitted from the saviour-factor this season when fans renewed early in decent numbers. If we bump along again this year after failing to match "blow the league apart" expectations, I suspect fans will be slower to renew next season until they see his ambition. Cynical marketing won't save the day either.

Sunday 22 August 2021

Charlton Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2

I am pleased to say that I managed to miss yesterday's very predictable home defeat. I am on holiday in Scotland and met up with friends so even avoided watching a stream. The odd glance at my phone and updates from the group told me that Craig Macgillivray had kept us in it during the first half and that we were again struggling to create anything. I switched my phone off after seeing that they had scored in the 89th minute, so it wasn't until this morning I saw we had also managed to further worsen our goal difference. 

Thomas Sandgaard is beginning to feel the heat as his recruitment plan goes up in smoke. The split between fans who were calling for patience and those who were calling out under-recruitment appears to be disappearing with every performance. The post-match threads were almost universally critical of the performance and it is looking glaringly obvious that we have wasted the whole pre-season. 

I really won't write-off any player after only four games together (Omar Bogle was an exception) and, hopefully, Macgillivray's performance yesterday supports that argument. However, the stats speak for themselves and we are creating next to nothing going forward. Two goals from a penalty and a free-kick are all we have to show from seven-and-a-half hours of football. Four successive defeats (inc Wimbledon in the League Cup) since the opening day draw mean that confidence is low across the team and we are in real danger now of seeing costly mistakes being made as the team plays under self-induced pressure.

Thomas Sandgaard and Nigel Adkins aren't helping themselves either. Trying to put a positive spin on everything is wearing thin, especially when supporters are seeing it with their own eyes. Sandgaard said that it had been a "very even game" and fans were quick to disagree and remind him that Macgillivray had made three great first-half saves and that Wigan had hit the bar before scoring two late goals. Adkins meanwhile told us "we tried to be positive in our thought process" by throwing Blackett-Taylor on and that "I thought we were knocking on the door." Not sure those present would agree. 'You're not fit to wear the shirt' rung out as did loud booing at the end. 

Sandgaard needs to finalise our recruitment this week and, dare I say it, we look like we are running out of time once again. I think we need at least four decent signings and if we don't get them, this could be our worst season in living memory. Adkins' final comments also sound critical of our recruitment policy. He said "we all know we need to bring players in - that's been the case all the way through the summer." He goes on to say "we've got to utilise this time as best as possible to bring some more players in." That doesn't sound convincing or particularly hopeful. 

"Blowing the league out of the water" could look hugely ironic if we continue on our present trajectory. A failure to give Adkins a competitive squad will also amplify the voices questioning Sandgaard's willingness to invest in the squad and consequently, his ambition. It would also be hugely damaging for next season when I think season ticket sales risk being far lower than this year, as fans wait to see what players they are likely to be watching before committing to every game. 

Personally-speaking, I wasn't moved to renew early. Those early-bird benefits didn't sell it to me (the cynical implementation has also back-fired) and there was no commitment to any significant saving by buying early. Our Summer business has been conservative and minimal, although we took a few obvious steps eg Famewo and Stockley, and the focus on two year terms for permanent deals was good to see. I have been awaiting better than we have so far brought in and I am so underwhelmed thus far that I am doubting we will be vastly more competitive next month. I am currently away and will miss the Crewe game too but enthusiasm has plummeted. 

Friday 20 August 2021

Turmoil continuing...

After the furore following the dismal defeat at MK Dons in the week, the club had to steady the ship. I think we needed a statement from Thomas Sandgaard about our recruitment strategy to try to restore some confidence that we will be more competitive after month-end. I half-expected them to announce one of the remaining loan deals we are all expecting of an experienced professional from a higher division who would be an automatic first-team choice. 

Instead, we got an unconvincing piece from Nigel Adkins via Rich Cawley. He reiterated what he has previously said and tried to say that recruitment was a committee decision (Roddy/Sandgaard/Gallen and Adkins). His words acknowledged that Roddy "oversees recruitment" and that Gallen negotiates with Agents. On the basis that Sandgaard is de facto CEO and money-man, his role must be limited to agreeing spend. That doesn't really help Roddy who is taking a hammering from fans for our failure to recruit the numbers we need and, as looks more likely now, the quality of players required. The fact that his son was awarded a contract but hasn't yet impressed doesn't help either.

The spiel from all of them has been that we need to be patient and that they were focusing on bringing in the right players, rather than focusing on quality and speed. The elephant in the room is that quality hasn't been evident in the first four games and we look woefully short.

Cue today's late announcement that we have taken Corey Blackett-Taylor on loan for four months. I will say now that I have never heard of CBT before this week. He was being described as "the former Aston Vila winger" which is initially comforting until you realise he only made a single appearance for them. Since then, ten for Walsall and 44 for Tranmere over the last three years. 

Tranmere fans have been less than complimentary describing him as a flash-in-the-pan player (expect an early goal - he's only managed three in his career), someone who goes missing and who has a bad attitude. Like every new player we need to wait and see before we judge but he isn't the sort of signing I thought we would be waiting until 20th August to make. We have had far too many players with similar CV's over the last few years and they have pretty much all proven to be disappointments. Josh Parker and Omar Bogle immediately spring to mind. You have to wonder if he's been handed a four month contract to try to quell the disquiet whilst they struggle to finalise a few more deals? Two or three more Blackett-Taylor's aren't going to pass muster and this season is going to be a mini-disaster for Thomas Sandgaard if Adkins doesn't start getting some results.

The bigger question now raising it's head is 'does Sandgaard have the money and ambition?' It seems churlish to even be thinking this after what he did to end the ownership nightmare a year ago but it's hard to avoid when we know he didn't acquire the major assets and when this Summer's recruitment looks undercooked to support a serious promotion challenge. 

The immediate issue is getting an attacking team performance and winning our first game of the season. We then need to see the promised players arriving and find some form in short order. Supporter confidence is surprisingly low. I put that down to over-ambitious expectation setting - "Premier League in five years" and "blowing the league out of the water" from the wealthy owner has so far manifested itself in three defeats and a draw. Macgillivray, Dobson and Clare have under-performed thus far and today we sign someone who looks like a panic decision. The atmosphere tomorrow could get toxic if we fail to take the game properly to Wigan. Ironically, Adkins told us this week that they had beaten us to two signings he wanted to make - another defeat and he might need his positive morning walk more than ever.

Wednesday 18 August 2021

MK Dons 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Our worst start to a third division season since God was a boy and we are only three games in. The fears of all of us unhappy with the quantity and quality of incoming players look like being slowly validated.

I am on holiday in Scotland and didn't see the match as a fellow-Addick who is also up here with his family suggested dinner and we only had to suffer the occasional glance at our phones to see what was unfolding. 

It could still all come together but that is looking increasingly like a long-shot. We simply don't look good enough across the pitch and have the prospect of having to accommodate poor players in our side for the rest of our season, even if we bring in a few better loans before the end of the window. 

Tactically, a switch to 4-4-2 has to come and I hope Adkins sees that and doesn't stick his head in the sand over it. He may be encouraged to stick with it again after Stockley's goal last night but he needs to realise we can't expect him to do that every week and typically not more than once in any match. Adkins started the same eleven that lost at Oxford. Yes, subs can change the mix but you normally pull those who aren't having better games and yet they all started again. no great surprise then that we got the same result. It's great if you are winning games or players respond strongly after faith has been shown after a poor performance, but huge danger of complacency in the team if you persist when they are failing.

As it stands, we are four points down on the results from last season at Oxford and MK. Our home form was so inconsistent, those can be made up but so far it doesn't look likely. Instead we have piled the pressure on for Saturday's home game against Wigan who, by contrast, were quick out the traps with their Summer recruitment and who are now in the process of settling their side, whilst we are still looking for players. The players we have need to stand up now if they are going to and show us that they have some belief in their own ability and those of their team-mates. That needs a couple of leaders in defence and midfield and I am not sure we have them. Inniss was a big show last year in defence but there looks little in between him and Stockley who is ploughing the lone furrow upfront. 

One bright spot from last night appears to be the growing performances of Deji Elerewe, who came on for Inniss at half-time. I hope that was as much to protect yellow-carded Inniss from a red as any possible injury...

Saturday 14 August 2021

Oxford United 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Another disappointing Charlton performance which asks yet more questions of the Manager, our players and our strategy for this season. It's still very early in the season to be fretting but I am trying unconvincingly to tell myself not to be worried.

Backed by a very vocal following in the opening twenty minutes, we settled quickly and looked solid at the back. So solid, in fact, that we could afford to push up a bit and put the hosts under some pressure. Conor Washington was very unlucky not to see his hard and low effort hit the net but Stevens flung himself to his left and managed to get just enough on it to divert it inches past the post. 

On 23 minutes Oxford countered for the first time in the game and Williams blasted home a rebound from Macgillivray's initial block. The Kassam woke up and all of a sudden we were in a game. Oxford struck again nine minutes later through Branaghan and we were in trouble. 

Conor Washington reduced the arrears quite quickly from the penalty spot after Jayden Stockley claimed a handball a couple of feet from his header. I would have been furious if it had been given against us and so was Karl Robinson who talked himself into a booking. 

At half-time, we all hoped for that second-half recovery that would rescue the day and keep us unbeaten. Two draws wouldn't have been great alongside a scruffy cup exit in the week but it would have been something to build on. Sadly, the fightback didn't come and I found the second-half depressing. Oxford opened us up and should have made it three before the end.

I don't think 4-3-3 suits us. We don't yet have the squad to play it. Stockley becomes the focal point and he is invariably having to outjump two players who are close to him in order to create anything. It doesn't help when Jaiyesimi is unable to beat his man and gives up - he touched the ball seven times in little over an hour today. He was rightly the first subbed after 63 minutes but all we had to bring on was Davison - so we had Davison and Washington player wingers. It would have made more sense to switch to 4-4-2 and push Davison upfront alongside Stockley. As it was, we managed three more chances on target today to add to one last week. It is absolutely nowhere near what is required to entertain fans and win matches. 

It still might have worked if we had three midfielders able to press the game and win a supply of possession for the front three but that was an even bigger problem. Morgan was caught in possession, couldn't find the front three and held on to the ball for too long. However, he was involved. The same can't be said for Dobson or Clare. Dobson was my man of the match last Saturday but he disappeared today. Apart from a couple of early touches, I can't remember him being mentioned until he was subbed after 70 minutes. You might have hoped Clare would be saving a special showing against his old club but you would be forgiven for thinking he didn't want to upset anyone on his return. He was more present than Dobson but I can't remember a positive contribution. 

We didn't defend the goals particularly well and another question is being raised about Macgillivray, but I can't look at the defence when the midfield and attack is so pedestrian.

Kirk may bring a better balance to the flanks if Jaiyesimi shakes a leg and finds the sort of form he showed in the Rochdale game against us last season, but we are crying out for another striker and I think Adkins has to change formation to give us more teeth upfront. 

Performances like today's really frustrate me because our club seems to be an easy number too often. Players have really poor performances but are selected again, week after week, without making any discernable improvement. This was true of Alex Gilbey last year. He was dire for several games in-a-row and was only finally dropped through injury. To be fair to him, he improved significantly before the season finished but why was he selected when he wasn't adding anything to the game? This doesn't happen at most other clubs. If a player fails to perform, he is dropped and has to wait his chance. When it comes, he has to take it or he's out for even longer. I know the squad game and rotation of players doesn't help this at clubs like ours where we have smaller squads but all the more reason to pick players with clear drive and ambition. Like James Henry, who always puts in a shift.

I also don't really see what Adkins' game-plan is. Apart from a 4-3-3 formation, I don't see any tactical pattern. It might be too early and our midfield might not be strong enough to enforce it but we simply look slow and unsure. Again today the back four fell ever-deeper after initially standing up and moving out in the early phases. As a result we again found ourselves passing the ball increasingly backwards and around the back four as Oxford pressed us and it is clear that Macgillivray had been told to play it out from the back. This is lovely to watch if it's working but if your opponents counter it, you need to adapt and we didn't. 

I honestly don't believe our squad is better than that which finished the season and we are probably another three decent players off that. The notion that we are automatic promotion candidates is laughable at the moment. I had hoped to see Adkins' imprint on the players and our style by now but I can't see anything. Positivity is all very well and so is walking but I don't want to see our players doing it during games. I want urgency and creativity. I want to see opponents under pressure and struggling, not our players. 

We could have afforded to have done our business this year well before now, perhaps with a couple of bonus players yet to come in on loan. Instead, we have been slower than most and are starting with a sub-standard line-up. Results have proven that so far and you wonder whether two or three more will make that much of a difference given we are hardly likely to be bringing in established Premier League players. 

Thomas Sandgaard and the management team are taking something of a calculated gamble on this season with our recruitment strategy. There are no quarantees of course - Ipswich lost 2-1 at Burton today - but they have plenty of options and will be using them. 

Saturday 7 August 2021

Charlton Athletic 0 v Sheffield Wednesday 0

The eagerly anticipated opening match of the season turned out to be the damp squib many would have feared. In a tight game with hardly any chances, Charlton looked like the home side but didn't do nearly enough to have claimed even a moral victory. A lone first-half attack that saw Jayden Stockley head wide from 15 yards was the highlight and Wednesday's only real chance came towards the end when Barry Bannon danced past a couple of challenges before firing wide. 

The rain probably didn't help but the pitch held up and it shouldn't be used as an excuse. Strangely, Adkins seem content with the players he had on and the only substitution he made was in the 88th minute when Clayden came on for Washington. That made it clear to me that he was satisfied with the point which was disappointing to see because I don't think Sheffield Wednesday offered very much other than a desire not to lose. 

MacGillivray had next to nothing to do. The back four were busy enough but there was precious little threat. Matthews squandered possession on several occasions when playing out but Gunter was better which will disappoint the boo-boys.

For me, George Dobson was the star act mopping up everything at the back. We didn't see enough from Clare and Morgan was guilty of ballooning several chances that came out to him in the second-half. 

Stockley was given the man-of-the-match award and I wouldn't argue, although he earnt it in his own box, heading clear six or seven Wednesday set-pieces. Washington and Jaiyesimi huffed and puffed on the flanks but there was no decisive ball for Stockley and neither managed a real effort on target either.

I will be interested to hear what Adkins has to say about not making better use of the bench. Our squad may be thin but when you are being held at home, you have to consider making changes to try to win the game and he didn't do that. Hard not to feel that we lost two points today or that our team looked short on quality, which frankly it does. I was also struggling to see this new brand of football we are supposed to be playing. We didn't pass it around the back quite so monotonously but there was little else to note.

Perhaps my disappointment needs to be held in check and I need to take a deep breath but Thomas Sandgaard has acknowledged we have more players to come in and I don't understand why we are prepared to wait - it will cost us precious points. 

Oh, and you can forget dropping 'the Red, Red Robin' for that Addicks to Victory number. I am really surprised he had the front to do that. It's a bit of fun but don't get ahead of yourself.

Friday 6 August 2021

MOD Mag 3 available tomorrow


The excellent third edition of 'My Only Desire' mag is out tomorrow and will be sold around the ground. Gav Billenness has done a great job in launching this fanzine and good to see it establishing itself with supporters. 

Hopefully sales tomorrow will help grow it's loyal following and encourage more subscribers. 

There is definitely space for another fanzine to complement Voice of the Valley in providing an alternative supporter view to the matchday programme.

Up the Addicks!

Thursday 5 August 2021

Roll on Saturday

This time of year, a day or two before the opening game of the new football season, is always an exciting time but this year the apprehension and expectation is even greater.

It's been 18 months since we were able to gather in numbers and support our team. During that period, Thomas Sandgaard has ended the miserable Duchatelet years and secured the immediate future of the club, if not for longer than that. The most serious threat from Covid looks to be fading and we can now look forward to simply watching football and drinking our beer. It's been a long time coming.

Sky's decision to feature our game live at 5.30pm has meant we will get a prolonged pre-match reunion which should magnify what will already be an emotional and raucous occasion.

I think our team will be more than a match for Sheffield Wednesday and hopefully we can score first and ignite the stadium. If we do that, I think we can open with a morale-boosting victory. The 

Despite some misgivings about Gunter at left-back, I think our defence should be relatively solid and I am hoping our midfield can see more of the ball than them and that Wednesday are forced to defend for long spells. Too often in the last few years we have spent the majority of games passing the ball around the back and failing to find the midfield. Inniss and Famewo should give us a central pairing to anchor the defence and I am hopeful George Noble can direct traffic ahead of him. Unless we are surprised with a late signing this week, it looks like we will be relying on Clare, Jayesimi, Washington and Stockley to score the goals. 

Having finally paid the price for financial irregularities, Sheffield Wednesday have dropped into League One and are still under a transfer embargo. That has limited their close season activities to free transfers and loans but they have, at least, managed to do more business than us. However, they haven't pulled up any trees that I can see and we should still have a bit too much for them. They look even lighter upfront than us...I am going for 2-0.