Sunday 28 November 2021

Shrewsbury Town 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

For the thousand Charlton supporters who made the journey, this game will live longer in the memory than those of us who didn't. Storm Arwen swept down from the north overnight and brought widespread travel disruption. That included a direct tree hit on the Birmingham-Shrewsbury line which left many fans scambling for expensive 30+ mile taxi rides to make kick-off. Sadly, they weren't rewarded with victory. 

On paper we looked slightly stronger than on Wednesday night with the return from suspension of Akin Famewo to defence. Blackett-Taylor was given a start ahead of Jayesimi who I assume was being rested, although he was brought on towards the end.

Shrews boss Steve Cotterill had clearly done his homework and his side started the match strongly and put us under pressure for the opening 25 minutes without making the breakthrough. Unable to sustain it, we gradually found more time and space in midfield and the game shifted towards the other end where, we too, couldn't find a scoring opportunity. Once again we were labouring upfront. Davison and Washington were hard to find and neither had any aerial presence. We weren't finding much width and it didn't improve in the second half.

Shortly after the restart, impressive 18 year old Tom Bloxham should have opened the scoring for Salop with a fierce snap-shot to the top corner from inside the box, but somehow MacGillivray managed to get a hand to it and keep it out. We heeded the warning and our defence redoubled efforts to keep the home side at bay. Unfortunately, we were looking leggy in midfield and our forays into opposition territory often ran out-of-steam. Clare and Blackett-Taylor were pushing down the right but struggling to find the front men. Blackett-Taylor again failed to show us the pace that was taking him beyond full-backs with ease earlier in the season. Our threat down the left was poorer. The Soare-Purrington combo wasn't firing, largely because Soare had an absolute stinker. He has yet to show us any consistent form indicative of his CV.

We did fashion two decent scoring opportunities, through Gilbey and Lee. Gilbey arrived in the box to meet a cross but he still had a bit to do and his onward header didn't have enough pace or direction to beat Marosi in the home goal. Elliott Lee's drive effort was better but Marosi got behind that too. Jonathan Leko came on towards the end but couldn't change the rhythm of the game. Likewise Jayesimi for Blackett-Taylor. I think we really needed to see Burstow or Leko for Davison and much earlier once again than we did.

As the game wore on we were doing as much as they were to get the goal but neither side looked likely until 93rd minute when a heavily defended ball in was headed out but quickly played back in low to Udoh in space and his low shot squirmed beyond MacGillivray who got down very quickly and managed a touch but not enough to prevent the goal. Jason Euell was booked soon after the whistle for remonstrating with the ref for what looked like an obvious foul in the build-up to the goal but the match had been lost.

We didn't do enough to win the game and despite 62% possession and 11 corners to their 4, the match felt more even to watch. It was short of goal-scoring opportunities at both ends and for that we can have few complaints. Stockley will be back next week but for how long? We simply have to sign another goal-scorer in January if we are to have any chance of making the play-offs. Relying on one dedicated centre-forward from the start of the season was negligent.

I felt for the supporters suffering in the cold when the Met Police tweeted a message telling the train travellers that they needed to leg-it after the match to make the only two scheduled trains back to the Smoke. I hope they all made it.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Morecambe Town 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

Injuries and suspensions caught up with Charlton Athletic last night in the far north-west as they were forced to settle for a point on their first ever visit to Morecambe Town. A point on the road is rarely a poor result but on the evidence of last night Johnnie Jackson will see that it was really two points lost.

A fortuitous opener after only two minutes when Jayesimi surprised the home keeper with a cross-cum-shot at his near post was cemented on 26 minutes when Conor Washington picked up a long ball and lifted it over the keeper for two. Unfortunately, we quickly conceded a soft looking penalty when Gunther was judged to have brought his man down and Stockton gave the home side a lifeline.

We still should have been out-of-sight well before Morecambe headed on a corner and beat MacGillivray on his line with twenty minutes left. The trouble was, we were fielding a side shorn of a natural goal-scorer and fielding a makeshift back line. Our failure during the Summer to bring in another out-and-out striker to support Stockley meant that without his services last night, we were forced once again to watch Washington and Davison labouring upfront. Neither are a real aerial threat and whilst Washington weighs in with a contribution of goals, he doesn't carry a 90 minute goal threat. Davison is still learning the game but has had a few very quiet matches of late and last night was another. I know I keep banging on about this but it was a glaring omission and we are paying the price. Stockley's aggressive game means he is going to miss matches through suspension every year and probably a few through injury too. Expecting to cope with support strikers and youngsters was very naive.

At the back too, we did at least bring in reinforcements in the Summer but the loss of Inniss, Lavelle and Pearce to injury meant a re-jig and putting Gunter back in central defence was taking a risk I think we may have avoided by using Elerewe. To be fair, we weren't exactly put under massive pressure by Morecambe and the back three of Clare, Gunter and Famewo were largely untorubled over 90 minutes but Elerewe might have made a more convincing tackle than Gunter for the penalty and his height in 72nd minute may have helped us defend the second goal better. Wise after the event, of course, and there was an argument for Gunter's experience. 

The real problem was our failure to get a third goal and kill the game. We had plenty of possession in Morecambe's half and moved the ball on the flanks and across the middle with relative ease. Trouble was, we weren't inventive enough to create the clear-cut openings we needed and there little chance of Washington or Davison meeting a cross with a towering header. Too often our eventual shots were taken without enough space and were blocked or we over-played in the build-up and lost possession. 

Mason Burstow deserved more than the five minutes he got at the end. Davison hadn't touched the ball for twenty minutes before he was subbed. Corey Blackett-Taylor had already come on but was again surprisingly ineffective. I was left wondering where all his pace has gone. I really hope it hasn't left with his contract award. 

Anyhow, a point is a point and Jackson remains undefeated in the league - 14 points from 18 and we go to Shrewsbury on Saturday for what looks likely to be a stiffer test yet. 

Final word for the 690 fans who made the long journey and supported the boys. It was great to follow them all on Twitter during the day and I found myself wishing I had been there to rack up another ground and have added my voice. 

Saturday 20 November 2021

Charlton Athletic 2 v Plymouth Argyle 0

A game and a day that will live long in the memory. It was one of those very rare Charlton occasions where everything goes to plan. A near full house were treated to a spirited display against the league leaders and saw us beat them with something to spare. So often in the past we have managed to fall flat on our faces on days like these but something felt different today and it may just be the Johnnie Jackson factor.

Thomas Sandgaard updated fans this week on the position of a full-time replacement for Nigel Adkins and whilst he was complimentary enough about the job that Jackson has been doing, he also went on to talk about other managers and even suggested a situation where someone else could be appointed and Jackson return to his Assistant Manager position. Bit of an own goal for me - it didn't need to be said once he had made the point that he was taking more time to look at who was available. Maybe just trying to be open and honest but it was naive in the extreme. 

Today's performance should seal the deal for Jackson. His players battled from the outset and made the league leaders look ordinary. Even their manager, Paul Lowe, acknowledged as much at the end of the game. Sandgaard spoke of making a decision within 30 days. Hopefully he has read the runes because he needs to realise that he has thrown a double-six with Jackson who has turned the fortunes of the season in just five league matches and has the commercial weight of the fanbase with him. Any further delay will begin to look like Jackson may not be wanted irrespective of performance and that would cause major problems for Sandgaard and the club. The idea that we might take a punt on someone like Gerrard's sidekick when we have a club-hero getting impressive results and slowly but surely undoing the horrendous Adkins start to the season is unthinkable. Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink was apparently telling people he was being lined up last week and I was angered to see Neil Harris in the Directors box again today. Don't even go there!

We got good news ahead of the match when it was confirmed that Famewo's ridiculous yellow card for time-wasting at the end of the first half at Burton had been rescinded and awarded instead to Purrington who had initially picked up the ball for the throw-in before leaving it for Akin. Not such good news for Jayden Stockley, however, as his red card was upheld, although I am not surprised by that decision.

With limited striking options we started with Davison and Washington upfront and they struggled to fashion a chance in the opening half despite a slew of crosses, particularly from Jayesimi on the right who gave the Plymouth defence a torrid time. Gilbey and Lee were busy keeping the pressure on Argyle and when they did manage to break out, it was usually with two or three players only who were fairly well marshalled by Clare, Pearce and Famewo in particular. In spite of everything, MacGillivray still had to make the smartest save to half-time to keep the score level when he pushed out a Hardie effort.

After the re-start and attacking the Covered End we managed to up the tempo and were able to find more space and really test the visitors. The breakthrough came when a cross into the box drew both central defenders and but evaded them and fell to Ben Purrington who had anticipated it and moved away to created a yard more space. He took the ball down and drilled it past Cooper to finally ease the tension in the home stands. After that it we looked imperious and the second goal killed the game. The impressive Elliott Lee played a long through-ball which split the defence and ran beautifully for Conor Washington who took a touch and steadied himself as he closed in on goal before stroking it home.

We lost Jason Peace to injury before the end but Chris Gunter stepped in and you didn't notice.

It was a thoroughly professional performance across the side and you were left wondering who might be able to beat us. Morecambe, Shrewsbury, Ipswich and Cambridge all look like yielding more points and having edged into 12th this evening, all eyes are on the points gap to sixth. There is obviously a long way to go but we are full of confidence and have momentum. We just need to ensure injuries don't hamper our progress and Thomas Sandgaard needs to capitalise on our current position and end speculation over the next permanent manager. 

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Fill the Valley

Rejuvenated Charlton face the league leaders, Plymouth Argyle, at the Valley on Saturday in what should be the toughest game of the season so far. Thomas Sandgaard and Raelynn Moloney will be flying in and the club have launched a ticketing effort to #fillthevalley. 

This would have failed a month ago under Adkins when you couldn't have given free tickets away, but such has been the impact of Caretaker boss Johnnie Jackson, that the three free tickets per season holder are flying off the shelf and a near full-house is expected. 

Argyle are bringing a decent following and with 2500 sold already, there should be a tasty atmosphere. Using season ticket holders was a good way to try and ensure those given freebies tickets actually show up on the day - so often when the club dishes out large numbers of comps, disappointingly large numbers of recipients don't bother to make the journey on the day. Hopefully too, those attending will have more affinity with the game and Charlton (through links with season ticket holders) than the usual comp brigade who have a tendency to annoy regulars. From a personal experience, they often arrive late (sometimes well into the game), have no idea how rows and numbers work and are oblivious to other fans watching the match as they show no sense of urgency to get seats. As for turning up sporting other clubs colours.....

Anyhow, hopefully the empty seats won't be so obvious and the atmosphere not too dulled by the uninitiated. On current form we look like we may be in for a hard afternoon. If you consider our injury depleted squad will also be without our main striker and our best available defender, the task looks ominous.

At the tail end of last season we walloped Argyle 6-0 away. Assuming a change of manager or wholesale change of players, I was surprised to see that Ryan Lowe is still the manager and the team that won 4-1 at Accrington on Saturday contained eight of the side we beat in April.

So, will they be fired-up for revenge, or will our boys be confident of picking up where they left off at Home Park? Plymouth are playing a high pressing game under Lowe and that was our downfall under Atkins because we sat back and invited pressure. Jackson will aim to counter that and his formation may be critical. Without Famewo, we are going to have to rely on Pearce and Elerewe and I don't think we can risk three  at the back. I'd go 4-1-3-2 with Dobson in front of the  back four. Hopefully Leko is fit to return and play in a striking role alongside Washington. We will also need a much bigger game from Gilbey (who excelled in the 6-0) than we got at Burton. 

I'd go MacGillivray, Gunter, Pearce, Elerewe, Purrington, Dobson, Lee, Gilbey, Jaiyesimi, Washington and Leko.

Sunday 14 November 2021

Burton Albion 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Johnnie Jackson did it again yesterday as his rejuvenated side made it ten points from twelve since he took over from Adkins. The thousand travelling fans didn't care but it wasn't pretty to watch and the game will have left Jackson cogitating on the way home about the side he will field against form team Plymouth next week.

Referee Trevor Kettle was at it again yesterday with two red cards and five yellows in the opening half which spoilt the game. The reds, for Stockley and former Addick Deji Oshilaja, came early and it was clear Kettle hadn't seen the off-the-ball tussle and was lead by the lino who I don't think got a proper view of it either given the decision. From the replays, Stockley had his arm around Deji's neck and wrestled him to the ground as the ball was cleared from the other side of their box. On the ground and as they broke, our Jayden appeared to catch Deji with a flailing left arm and the two locked again as other players came to separate them. For me, a red for Oshilaja was wrong but Stockley was asking for trouble and found it. His aggressiveness and use of his arms in particular is all part of his game, especially when trying to compete in the air but this was on the ground and he can have few complaints. 

Who would be missed the most was the obvious question and two minutes later Ben Purrington answered it with a fine headed finish from a corner which Famewo did well to keep alive. His strong headed flick on to the centre of the six yard area found Purrington unmarked he was able to nod it past Garratt in the home goal.

After that, Kettle's famed card-tourettes saw him flash yellow approximately every three minutes until half-time. A couple were deserved but a couple weren't and there was also some inconsistency elsewhere, but this is Trevor Kettle. Famewo in particular can count himself unfortunate for a card for time-wasting four minutes into added time in the first-half. Kettle also managed to show a yellow in the tunnel to Harry Arter "for something he said." I think we have a better idea of what that might have been than the rationale for some of his other decisions. Kettle may well have 'had a moment' at half-time because he managed not to get a card out for the entire second-half. 

The game itself was very scrappy with few clear-cut chances at either end. Charlton edged it but Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink was clearly unhappy throughout and was seen arguing toe-to-toe with Jackson before half-time. Burton didn't do nearly enough to deserve much more than they got and barring a strong Joel Powell effort at the near post which MacGillivray did brilliantly well to beat out with one arm after the break, they didn't seriously threaten. 

Injuries and international duty saw Clare drafted into a back three with Famewo and Pearce. Not my choice with Elerewe on the bench but he did ok and the defence was solid enough, if not exactly stretched. Dobson broke things up in front and I though Jaiyesimi had his best game in ages and was a constant threat in the first-half particularly. MacGillivray did everything expected of him and Lee was busy keeping the pressure on Burton which stopped them moving up. Gilbey had a quiet game but he prefers it when there is more space to play in and that was in short supply yesterday.

Jackson's dilemma this week will be his defence against Plymouth - Famewo will be missing through suspension and with Inniss and Lavelle crocked, I think he will need to consider a return to a four man backline against free-scoring Argyle. At the other end Stockley's absence will expose our failure to sign another striker this Summer. Conor Washington will be back from Northern Ireland duty but partnering options are limited with rookies Davison or Burstow. If Leko is fit again, he may offer a better option or he may decide to go with one upfront. Argyle is looking like a very tough ask as things stand.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Charlton Athletic 1 v Rotherham United 1

A good point last night against an impressive and hard-working Rotherham side maintains Johnnie Jackson's unbeaten start as Caretaker Manager. This was a game we would have lost by several goals under Nigel Adkins.

Rotherham showed their ambition and determination from the first whistle. Piling forward in numbers, supporting the man on the ball and getting shots and crosses in whenever they could. Our back four and George Dobson were worked hard keeping them at bay although MacGillivray didn't have too much to do. They headed wide, missed the post and were generally just a yard short until the 45th minute. 

In the meantime, we got forward when we could and had a couple of half-chances to match Rotherham's. On the stroke of half-time though, they forced a throw-in deep down our left. The throw hardly passed the guy's head and he was a couple of yards from the line when he took it which somehow made it long more wrong. However, it was picked up and hoisted high to the back post where Smith knocked it down into the six yard area for Miller to lash high into our net with his left. 

After the break the game moved towards us and we had the balance of attacking play although not with the cohesive and fluency that the Millers Millers managed in the first-half. We were getting more men forward and some fine inter-passing on the run threatened a goal. With ten minutes left it looked like we might come up short but that battler Conor Washington wasn't having it. He chased a ball over the top which he looked second-favourite to get but muscled his way onto the ball and shaped a shot from twenty yards which look an early deflection off the blocking centre-half and flew in low to the keepers' right. 

Jackson was rightly proud of his side after the game and so were the fans in the 12,500 crowd which was notably light on attendees. Keep battling, keep picking up points and they will come...