Tuesday 28 September 2021

Charlton Athletic 1 v Bolton Wanderers 4

I am just home, tired, wet and thoroughly demoralised. I want my bed but I know that I won't sleep until I get this off my chest. Tonight must surely be the last game in charge for Nigel Adkins. If it is not, I will begin to suspect that Thomas Sandgaard isn't quite what he appears to be and that he is trying to bluff his way through this season and possibly his ownership.

Let me be clear, I do not hold Adkins wholly responsible for the dire trouble we find ourselves in and getting shot of him won't necessarily solve all of our problems. Those look deeper and more fundamental. We are ten games in and there should be no doubt that we are in a relegation battle and look like relegation candidates. You can say whatever you like about the squad but all the evidence is that we are nowhere good enough for League One.

Tonight's game started brightly enough. For the first time this season we looked in control and held it together for most of the first half. Corey Blackett-Taylor justified his start and within 12 minutes we were one -up. Another surging run and cross found Davison inside the six yard area and his volley beat Dixon with ease. After that we looked good attacking with ease and managing the midfield and defence, although once again, we were still short on clear-cut chances. I said to my mate that we had to get the second goal because we were slowing down and inviting an equaliser once again. Within a couple of minutes Bolton were level and half-time looming. 

In the second-half we simply wilted once again. The urgency was gone. Blackett-Taylor looked shot. Jonathan Leko took a knock and Washington was brought on, not that you have noticed over the next 30 minutes. Sean Clare and Ben Watson went missing and Bolton stepped into the gap. On 73 minutes we were opened up like a can of beans and Kieran Lee fired Bolton in front.

There was no response. Nothing. We just kicked off again, half-heartedly and the match was over. No leadership, no fire, no ownership. Gilbey came on for Clare and he went into hiding. Before the end we had the ridiculous substitution of Stockley for Watson. The midfield may have lost us the game but with Washington and Davison hardly seeing the ball, I am not sure what Adkins was thinking by taking a man out of the midfield. Bolton had walked a third in by then but it was very clear that we weren't coming back from this and no surprise when they scored a fourth which flattered them over the course of the evening but they deserved their win.

We cannot continue with Adkins in charge. He is getting no meaningful response from these players. Nothing he is trying is working. The club is being humiliated almost every week and we are in big, big trouble.

The longer this has gone on and the more we have seen of these players, it looks very much like our Summer rebuilding has been disastrous. We used to talk about bringing players to this club with the right mentality above all else. Players who often had something to prove. Players who were going to knuckle down and fight. Players with grit and attitude. Occasionally we got a bit of flair or real quality as well. Looking at the latest crop we seem desperately short of those qualities and it's hard to see who changes it. 

Ged Roddy has to answer for this. The scientific player analysis seems to have failed quite spectacularly. Stats may be useful but not sure how you measure heart and soul. We seem desperately short of it. I think everyone will now acknowledge it was all too late but the next booming question is just what quality have we brought in? It seems increasing clear too, that half of them are still not fully fit - it's October on Friday. That is disgraceful and an indictment on the club.

Ten games gone. Six meagre points from thirty (6 from 30). Three defeats away and three at home. It is not good enough by a country mile and someone has to do something. Thomas Sandgaard needs to step up to the plate and act. He also needs to address the recruitment piece and satisfy himself we aren't simply going to play musical chairs with the manager because the players aren't good enough.

Saturday 25 September 2021

Charlton Athletic 2 v Portsmouth 2

Charlton snatched an unlikely looking point in the 88th minute today, in another game of two differing halves. Portsmouth had the chances to have wrapped this game up by half-time after another woeful Valley opening. After half-time we showed in spells what most have us have expected to see all season - energy, pace, passing and movement. The draw will have saved Nigel Adkins from the bullet for now but he simply has to get a win on Tuesday at home to Bolton.

Thomas Sandgaard gave us a long piece in the week about how he thinks the club is progressing since his takeover and whilst there is plenty to note and admire on a number of fronts, sadly, the quality of our football in the opening nine games of the season hasn't been one of them. In a piece designed to back his manager and frustrate growing calls for him to be replaced, Sandgaard said "I'm still very confident that we're going to be looking really good at the end of the season." I am sure he means where we will finish as opposed to finally finding the formation, tactics and style required to win games in League One as we are relegated. Obviously we all hope he is right but there have been precious few signs of this so far.

After single-handedly sparking a first-half fire at Gillingham on Tuesday and having been described as "unplayable" by Adkins, Corey Blackett-Taylor must have been fuming to find he wasn't starting today. Instead, Gilbey and Leko were named with Arter back in central midfield. The first-half was another messy Charlton showing with Portsmouth taking the lead from a 20 minute wonder-strike from Curtis and Marquess fluffing a sitter from six yards. For once, we weren't penned in but our play from midfield was stuttering and too often our forwards were left to try and go it alone. Leko, in particularly, showed an urgency and determination to take Portsmouth on but it was all a bit staccato and real chances were very few once again. We squandered a series of crossing opportunities - our players appear to either be unable to get a ball off the ground or they blast it ten feet over the bar or towards the opposite corner flag. We were also guilty once again of being asleep at a set-piece. We have been doing this for weeks now. Gillingham's equaliser came from one such instant on Tuesday and we were nearly caught out again today. This is Janet-and-John stuff and another piece of evidence that does not support Nigel Adkins as League One's Best Manager. Gilbey had a decent chance before half-time after a good one-two with Leko but he chose to shoot from an angle at their advancing keeper when Stockley was waiting in space in the six yard box.

At half-time I predicted Harry Arter would come off and Corey Blackett-Taylor be unleashed.  I was none-to-pleased when Clare appeared after the break instead of Arter. As if to prove me personally wrong, Clare then scored a goal from a corner in which Pompey weren't fully awake. Elliott Lee played a hard and low pass to the edge of area and Clare picked it up and rifled a shot straight inside the keeper's near post.

After that and for fifteen glorious minutes, we managed to shut the Portsmouth fans up and we really got at them. Suddenly our midfielders were facing the opposition with the ball and showing for each other in space. We were actually passing and moving and Portsmouth were being pulled around. However, it didn't last and we lost a bit of cohesion I thought from Clare and Gilbey. Lee was still driving forward but now without so much support and we began looking forlornly for Stockley once again.

Portsmouth did not stop counter-attacking and when they did get forward it was usually with relative ease that they found big gaps in our back line. A second goal always looked likely and when it came, they opened us up in the middle and Harness had all the time he needed to pick his spot against old team mate MacGillivray. With the sound back on in the Jimmy Seed it looked like our heads would once again drop as defeat loomed but Adkins finally threw Corey Blackett-Taylor and Josh Davidson on. Within a couple of minutes they combined superbly for Davison to score a fine equaliser. 

The booming first-half choruses of "we're fucking shit, we're fucking shit, we're fucking shit" and "we want Ad-kins out, say we want Ad-kins out" looked a tad harsh but the facts are we have picked up just 6 points from 27 and have deserved no more. God was a little boy the last time we started a season so poorly and even then it was never in the depths of the third division. 

No-one truly wants their side to lose any games but we are at that stage when another loss should hasten the removal of the manager and perhaps give us a chance to start afresh. Another point is welcome but it is only that and we remain in the relegation places. We really must get a 90 minute performance against Bolton and three points on which Adkins can maybe turn a corner, but I am not hopeful. 

Effectively bottom after ten games would signal a massive failure. Our recruitment policy must bear a big chunk of that responsibility and whilst Sandgaard, Roddy and Gallen are putting a brave face on it, you know their position will eventually move to one of 'with hindsight.' In spite of that, Adkins has failed to put out a team that has played decent football for more than twenty minutes. We have created very few chances in most games and been awful to watch. He has changed his line-up and formations dramatically from one week to another and often failed to retain what did work from the game before. I don't want to hear him waffling on about changing to suit the opposition because patently it hasn't worked. Instead I want him to focus on getting the best side out that plays like a team, which is positive and confident and goes after the oppostion.

He accentuates the positive to the point of absurdity and often looks lost on the touchline. After Portsmouth opened the scoring today, the camera caught him standing there like a rabbit in the headlights. He didn't know where to look or what to do. Eventually he looked at his players and waved gently towards the centre-circle. I have stopped watching his post-match press conferences because it's just excuse making. I suspect this evening he will be full of how we nearly won a match and came away with a very good point at home. It doesn't really help Sandgaard's latest promise that we will be looking really good at the end of the season.

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Gillingham 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

If there wasn't enough heat on before this game, the line-up was actually leaked a day early. Ordinarily you might assume that was a lucky guess but no-one could have guessed this line-up. Seven changes from Saturday - Pearce and Lavelle at the centre of defence. Purrington and Matthews back at full-back. Ben Watson and Albie Morgan back in midfield with Elliott Lee and Corey Blackett-Taylor. As Adkins hinted on Saturday bight, Stockley dropped and Washington and Davison nominally up front.

What could go wrong? Well everything of course, but we started like we meant business for the first time this season. Blackett-Taylor picked up where he left off at Wycombe, tearing down the wing at every opportunity and with supporting runs from Lee, Davison and Washington, we looked too strong for the Gills. Lee shot straight at Cumming and Blackett-Taylor whipped a couple of crosses just above the heads of Lavelle and Davison before we got the break-through after 18 minutes. Another Blackett-Taylor charge after a swift break and Lee arrived to squeeze the ball inside Cumming who should really have done more than squat in front of it and watch it pass his head. 

Local lad Conor Washington really should have extended our lead before half-time when Lee sent him free in acres of space. He cut into the box and should have beaten the keeper but the recovering Jack Tucker made up massive distance and made a superb sliding block. We tired understandably before half-time but it had been a promising first-half.

We started the second-half with Leko on for Washington. Unsure why, unless it was a punishment for his howling miss before the break. Whatever, Steve Evans had clearly given his side a rollicking and they suddenly pushed up on us and saw a lot more of the ball. We were under pressure for the first time and on 56 they equalised when a ball off the post was deflected in by Purrington. We continued to try and get forward when we could but without the pace and adventure of the first half. Davison should have finished off a decent move at the far post but Cumming somehow got across to stop his shot and Lavelle couldn't beat him from six yards either from the resulting corner. 

Lee was subbed for Gilbey on 75 minutes and after that we had to suffer Pearce to Matthews to Watson to Pearce to Matthews as Gillingham pushed up and tried for the winner. They very nearly got it when Dempsey was played in and smacked his shot past MacGillivray but the post came to our rescue.

The clamour for Adkins to go will continue and he will probably limp on to Saturday but the guillotine is ready to fall.

Adkins last stand?

Tonight won't be one for the faint-hearted at the Priestfield Stadium. Two and half thousand Addicks fans will pack themselves onto the seated gallows at the Bobby Moore Stand and pray for some mercy.

It promises to be a dramatic evening. Ordinarily, we should really be fancying our chances and that's why I believe we sold our ticket allocation early. However, two depressing performances since and many will be regretting their eagerness to be there in person. We should also go there with some confidence looking at the injury list the Gills are struggling with and the fact that MK Dons won there 4-1 on Saturday.

However, this is Charlton and this is Charlton under Nigel Adkins after an unconvincing Summer recruitment programme and a dire start to the season that sees us go there in joint bottom place in the table - a new lifetime low for this football club. Nigel Adkins felt the heat on Saturday and this evening the fire will be even closer. If ever he needed to dig a performance and a result out, it is now. He hasn't had much time to recover from Saturday's embarrassment and I am sure his biggest focus has been deciding who will play and hopefully throw him a lifeline. 

Something clearly isn't right within the set-up and I am unsure what that is but Adkins clearly has a big piece in it. I have been openly critical about our transfer policy this Summer - not just because it was delivered late and has been largely underwhelming  - but because I haven't felt Adkins has been nearly as involved as he should have been. He was often the last person of the gang of four (Roddy, Sandgaard, Gallen and Adkins) to comment on signings and when he did the words were more often a polite welcome that any forthright emotion associated with what he expected to see from the player. Gallen's 'recruitment interview' didn't dispel the notion that Adkins was the least involved of the recruitment team or that players were being identified and recruited primarly by others. In the end we got there on numbers and we did finally bring in another striker in Leko but who can say any of them, with the exception of MacGillivray, has staked their place in the side? The simple fact is we have been terrible to watch. Barely creating more than two chances per game and often spending most of the time passing the ball between the defence, the midfield and back to the defence.

In spite of the reassuring noises from above, Nigel Adkins is in big trouble and unless he gets a sudden dramatic improvement, he is going to be replaced. Sandgaard has invested too much to let this continue unchanged. I would suggest he's as much emotionally committed as he has financially. Defending his corner on the Summer recruitment as robustly as he has was one thing but saying we would "blow the league apart" on the back of his five year ambition, he won't want to be left to wither on the vine for another season because he stuck with the wrong manager for too long at the start of this one.

So, to tonight then and what to expect? Either the players take a personal responsibility to show their worth or a collective responsibility to save their manager, but anything less than that will be very hard for Sandgaard to let ride. I don't think it is about picking formations or even individuals this evening - just finding those who are hurting most and up for doing something about it. Apart from MacGillivray, the only starters I expect to see are Blackett-Taylor, for showing the urgency and desire required in his Saturday cameo and Jayden Stockley because he's the best finisher we have. I suspect Adkins will be forced to go 4-4-2 and encourage his side to be much more direct than of late. 

Changing managers is always a risk and there is, of course, no guarantee you don't end up with a bigger turkey - the Duchatelet years rammed that one home. It's also potentially a very expensive business and not one I think Sandgaard will want to risk. Much more likely he would take the least-risk option and appoint from within, most likely putting up a caretaker manager to relieve the pressure on them and give the players a chance to respond. Jackson or Euell would be least-cost but I wouldn't rule out a Curbishley return (as he's been in the building for ages) although that would be a big step up in money and I suspect would come with a lot of demands that Sandgaard might be wary of. 

The bigger picture is still a concern but that can wait until we find a bit of playing consistency and get some points to move us out of a prolonged relegation struggle.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Wycombe Wanderers 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Today we lost against Wycombe Wanderers for the first time ever in a league match.  Last week we played against Cheltenham Town for the first time ever in a league game, and lost.  This, despite a much-vaunted squad restructure and rebuild with investment from Thomas Sandgaard that should have seen us fighting for top spot after seven games, not joint bottom where we find ourselves.

The quality of football we have had to endure has been as poor as most of us can remember. Half-hearted, systemless, leaderless and clueless. Nigel Adkins has made some obvious mistakes as manager and managed to repeat them and we have only played seven games. He even made six changes from last week’s humiliation and after the initial twenty minutes of new-boy enthusiasm wore off, we quickly reverted to type and awaited the first goal which duly arrived. A second was always on the cards and it too came in the second-half, by which time Wycombe were on top and strolling. A late ten minute surge including added time saw us score and nearly snatch an equaliser which would have been licensed robbery and only prolonged our suffering under Nigel Adkins.

Thomas Sandgaard needs to act now to end this and give ourselves a chance with a new manager to make the most of the squad that has been assembled. I also think he needs to acknowledge his mistake in a late recruitment strategy that hamstrung our start and has yet to see us find a settled side or even formation. We also need some honesty around who has been responsible for that. The finger of suspicion points at Ged Roddy at the moment.

Seven games is far too few to be kicking your manager out under normal circumstances but these are far from normal. We have been reduced to a League One club under Duchatelet and simply have to get out of this division if we are to have a long term future. Thomas Sandgaard knows that and his five year plan for the Premier League cannot start Year 3 in League One. We simply have to take a chance – it has to be a better risk than continuing to suffer what we have seen so far this season.

We started more brightly today with Arter and Dobson showing early in midfield and Lavelle standing up alongside Pearce in the backline. Gunter was back on the correct side of the pitch for a change but he wasn’t getting forward. Soare tried unconvincingly but too often we had to retreat because we couldn’t hold the ball. Leko tried his best but had to come looking for the ball, as did Stockley. No surprise that they spent most of their game back to goal, thirty yards out with a full line of defence behind them.

Conversely, when Wycombe came forward, they were allowed time on the ball until support arrived and we suffered cross after cross. Standing off enabled the impressive McLeary to find a yard and slam a shot across our box and beat MacGillivray at the far post. His second was embarrassingly easy as Obita left unmarked at the far post managed to head back to him unmarked at the near from where he had a choice of how to score.

Five yellow cards that we picked up were all the result of lazy or frustrated tackles because our players weren’t where they should have been or had failed to do their jobs properly. Adkins might have been desperately unlucky but he appears disinterested and his football has been nowhere near good enough and he has to go. 

If he is still in charge on Tuesday night, I fully expect Gillingham to beat us and add to the ongoing humiliation. 

Saturday 11 September 2021

Charlton Athletic 1 v Cheltenham Town (Cotswolds) 2

Before kick-off I watched the Gallen PR interview about the conclusion of our Summer recruitment. Clearly they were out to tackle the widespread supporter dissatisfaction over our strategy of late additions and to a large extent he achieved that. However, I was really struck by a couple of things he said which shone a light on the dynamic between Sandgaard, Roddy, Himself and Adkins - that was that Adkins is very much on the end of who comes in. He said he was desperate to ensure that Adkins had the personnel he needed, two for every position and that they were here "before the start of the season" which he hastily adjusted. It also explains why Adkins has often been the last to comment on new signings.

The point that hit me was that the link between Adkins and these players under this model is nowhere near as close or personal as one where the manager determines wo he wants and negotiates their arrival. I am not judging here, simply acknowledging that this is the case now and that it comes with pros and cons over the traditional model. The most glaringly obvious pro is that sacking your manager needn't necessarily come with a need to deal with players loyal to the manager etc. There should be far less upheaval involved. It was a thought in my head throughout today's diabolical performance.

The acquisition this week of Soare and Henderson has given us all a false sense of security ahead of today's game against 'minnows' Cheltenham Town. Completing your Summer recruitment in September is only half the battle. You then need to find your best eleven, best formations and the players need games together. I will be very generous and say today came a month too early.

The first half was simply an embarrassment at the end of years of embarrassment. Cheltenham scored after six minutes and proceeded to pass and move around and through us with ease. They should have been two up before they got their second and deserved a third or fourth in the second half. As good as they were, we were awful. The back four were miles apart. Lavelle looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights and Famewo ran about trying to defend everything. Matthews was tidy enough on the right but why-oh-why were we still playing Chris Gunter at left-back? Why do we insist on playing it out to him when you know he panics and turns back at the sight of an advancing player and puts Famewo back under pressure? If it keeps happening, do something else - launch it upfield but don't let us sit suffering watching it.

A sudden abundance of midfielders, some with pedigree, and we start with Morgan and Watson in the middle. Honestly - why? Kirk and Jaiyesimi are probably our first choice wide players but Kirk did very little once again and Jaiyesimi was woeful. 

Elliott Lee was nominally tucked in behind Stockley who as lone front player was marked out of the game again in the first half. I thought Adkins had learnt this lesson too but apparently not. A switch to 4-4-2 was good enough to get us our only win of the season at home to Crewe but today he reverted and so did we.

After the restart we were, once again, predictably much better for fifteen minutes. Suddenly you saw why the fans believe we should be murdering most sides in this division. Jonathan Leko, one of the very few positives of the day, scored soon after coming on and he looked lively but you knew our attacking momentum would fade and then become desperate before the game petered out, and that is just what happened. The ref should have booked their keeper and one or two others for time-wasting but I have always said that if you give opponents an incentive to do it, perhaps you shouldn't complain too much.

The one other big positive for me was MacGillivray who stopped Cheltenham from getting the four or five goals their attacking play and our defensive frailty deserved. Fair to say that MacGillivray has proven his value to the club and who should go on to become an important player for the club.

Finally, I am calming down a little, safe in the knowledge that we aren't stuck with Adkins if he can't pick the right side, sends them out with no game-plan, has no leaders on the pitch or otherwise can't motivate them to play to their potential. Too early to be sacking him but results and performances have to improve quickly. Four points from 18 is relegation, not promotion, form.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Cautious optimism ahead of Cheltenham match

As often seems to be the case, the international break came at the wrong time for the Addicks as we anticipated following up on the Crewe win with another. However, the surprise addition of left-back Pape Souare and back-up keeper Stephen Henderson means we finally have a near full playing complement and decent strength from the bench. The expectations are that we will be too strong for newly promoted Cheltenham.

Thomas Sandgaard & Co will allow themselves a wry smile of satisfaction having turned the recruitment  corner, and they were probably never in much doubt understanding their budget and likely target options. For me, I still think we are light upfront but those additional options in midfield with Lee and Arter should add goals and real competition. I have to hope that Jayden Stockley remains available. The debate over waiting until the end of the transfer window before completing your team will also have to wait but pray we don't miss out closely again this season.

Three points on Saturday will move us up the table and with a night game at Gillingham in hand, we might be able to begin to forget the miserable start to the season. It would also help build home confidence following the opening draw and subsequent defeat to Wigan. It should be said though, that just because you have never faced your opponents in a league fixture before doesn't hand you the victory. Given our record in these games, we should know that more than most. First and foremost we have to show them respect as Champions of League Two and our players must work to match them and then beat them. I think we have enough to do it but it's not a 'gimme' by any stretch of the imagination. 

I would also like to see Nigel Adkins play his part by getting his players really playing for him and making good tactical changes as and when needed. Neither of which I believe we have seen clearly so far this season. 

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Super Addicks go ballistic on the last day of the transfer window

Yesterday was unlike any last day of the transfer window I can remember. We signed 3 (three) players. None were met with immediate derision on social media and none were signed in desperation with two minutes to go.

Having recently added midfielder Elliott Lee, we also signed Harry Arter, Jonathan Leko and Morecombe centre-half, Sam Lavelle. Numbers-wise I think we have matched-up and Lee, Arter and Leko will all offer decent competition, although all are on loan. Lavelle is only 24 but we are reported to have paid three days of Ronaldo's wages to acquire him. He was Morecombe's captain and player of the season last year.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media has changed and we are back to 'pissing the league' and innocent youths wetting themselves over killer line-ups and formations. Personally, I am pleasantly surprised with who we have added but still have two major grumbles which I fear may yet challenge us this season.

First, we haven't replaced Chuks Anneke from last year, when I thought we were ten goals short from our strike-force to have threatened the automatic places. I think we are obviously light upfront and in the absence of Stockley, we have no natural lead striker. Washington can play in a two but is less convincing on his own. Josh Davison is a prospect and rattled a brace last night against Crawley Town in the EFL Trophy but he is not going to come on from the bench and score 15 goals this season. Converting a winger (like Leko) is also an option but it's sub-optimal. We aren't a club that should be sub-optimal - not with our owner.

Secondly, we missed out on the play-offs on goal difference last season. I do wonder if our late recruitment plan this season which has seen us start the first four league games poorly, might costs us again come May. If we had been prepared to spend a bit more money, we might have been able to conclude our business before the season started and may have reasonably expected to be four or five points better off than where we find ourselves. Of course we could still skate to promotion or finish comfortably in the play-offs but if we come up a few points short of either...

Finally, it was gratifying and timely to see our B-team hit six at the Valley last night. Pleasing too to see three full debutants finding the net. Blackett-Taylor, Lee and young Mason Burstow all managed that and Josh Davison's brace put us out of sight. Encouraging too, to see Nathan Harness pull off a couple of top quality saves and more first team game time for Barker, Elerewe and Clayden. It's a pity we aren't going ahead with our match at Gillingham this weekend due to the international weekend but perhaps we should be patient and wait until we can field our best eleven.