Monday 28 February 2022

Depressing losing streak continues

I left London in the early hours of Wednesday for a change of scenery in Scotland which necessitated a very early night and me missing the home defeat to the mighty MK Dons. No surprise whatsoever to learn we limped to another routine defeat given the current injury list and the lack of any leadership in the side. The loss came after Jackson had stated publicly that players were playing for their futures.

Sadly, he was saying the same again on Saturday after we made in five-in-a-row at Hillsborough with the latest going-through-the-motions defeat. Another 2-0 loss making it an aggregate 8-0 over the last three matches. It really is beginning to look like Jackson has followed in Adkins' footsteps and now can't get a tune out of these players. There may be a lot wrong at the club right now and blame is being apportioned in a number of places but these players are the ones who are letting us down right now. A good number of them have burnt their boats I am afraid and Jackson needs to isolate them from his selections if he is not to risk the chop. It's got to the stage where I don't care who gets the boot the Summer because apart from a two or three of them, the rest could go as far as I'm concerned. 

The team selection for Sheffield was even less inspiring than usual but largely enforced through continuing injuries or a need to rest players. It was depressing to see Gunter and Matthews in the same side and although Lavelle returned, Inniss was missing once more. Up front it was Burstow and Lee, although Stockley did finally reappear in the second-half. Meanwhile, I was in Edinburgh watching Scotland fluff their lines against the French as if to keep me in step with the disappointment in Sheffield.

Fortunately, we remain 8 points clear of the drop but there are now only four sides separating us from Morecombe. Sunderland visit on Saturday for what could be a record extending six consecutive defeats in League One. The Makems themselves had failed to win in six but they sprung a surprise 3-0 victory at second-placed Wigan on Saturday which cost me a large accumulator with Bet365.

Johnnie Jackson will be praying for more players to be back for Saturday as he desperately seeks to find a win to stop the rot. We really should be ok but we have break this run and our best chance may be the six-pointers against Gillingham, Burton and Morecombe at the Valley. Failure against those and the bell may start to toll.

Saturday 19 February 2022

Something rotten in the State of Denmark?

It's a question that all Charlton supporters should now be asking of owner Thomas Sandgaard. In spite of his bold move to rescue the club two years ago and his earnest attempts to get supporters on side and to spark a promotion campaign in League One, we now face the end to the worst season in living memory.

We all know that the disastrous recruitment campaign last Summer left us struggling as the season kicked-off and a refusal to face the facts that Nigel Adkins had lost the dressing room cost us precious points which scuppered any serious notions of a promotion campaign. Johnnie Jackson steadied the ship and we all believed he was the man to lead the club forward after a string of results that bucked Adkins' trend. 

Sadly, however, it looks increasingly like Jackson was enjoying a honeymoon period with this squad of players because they have now reverted infuriatingly to the sort of performances we had to endure under Adkins early on. We have been suffering woeful performance after woeful performance in recent weeks and Jackson appears completely unable to prevent it. Today's humiliating 4-0 thumping at home by Oxford United has underlined that and left us five places and only nine points above the drop zone.

Nine points sounds like loads but when you are unable to get a performance from a side that looks like it doesn't care, you can quickly pass the strugglers as they begin to pick up points as relegation gets real. Momentum really can be a killer as found out two years ago when we fell into League One on the final day of the season.

So you have to look around and wonder what's going on? The increasingly desperate "Fill the Valley" campaign has now become completely counter-productive. The mass blocking of popular home seats to be nominally given away as 'comps' today saw Charlton supporters unable to even buy tickets in areas which had thousands of empty seats. The continued give-aways (many of which don't look like they are even being given away) will also come back to bite the Club when they try to sell season tickets which they will be doing within a couple of months. 

When you try to understand why the club are continuing with this naive policy, you have to wonder if the bigger position is actually much worse than we understand. Thomas Sandgaard's US business, Zynex inc, is under severe share price pressure. Shares that were trading at around 25 dollars two years ago were down at less than seven dollars this week and there was news that Zynex had lost it's largest customer after a mis-selling scandal that could yet lead to legal action and further pressure on the share price.

With that in mind, you have to consider if Thomas Sandgaard is looking for more finance, if not, actively looking to exit stage left. I have no doubt that he bought the club for all the right reasons and with the honest belief he could invest sufficiently and securely to get us out of League One and begin to turn the ship around. That is the only thing that would begin to justify this continued 'Fill The Valley' policy that is patently not working and which isn't going to fool anyone. The published gates may be eye-catching for a struggling League One side but a quick look at the numbers, or even attendance at a home match, would quickly put anyone straight.

Tough times call for strong action and I think Thomas has some explaining to do quickly if he is to keep the fans onside and shore up next season. He shouldn't be fooled by the bonhomie in the Royal Oak after a home win. Our supporters, particularly those who travel home and away, deserve far more than we are getting and action is needed now if a worse fate isn't about to befall us.

Charlton Athletic 0 v Oxford United 4

The suffering of Charlton supporters continued today with another totally inept and embarrassing performance. After two losses on the road, we came home and collapsed 0-4 in front of our supporters to Oxford United. The players collectively let the side down and there are now glaring questions about Johnnie Jackson's authority as manager. 

We were without our three first-choice strikers but that's little excuse for losing the game in midfield and defence. Jackson went with a 4-5-1 but we looked all at sea whenever Oxford came forward. They had so much time on the ball and space to move into that they simply swept us aside. Taylor provided a superb finish to open the scoring after 21 minutes and Oxford should have gone two-up minutes later after MacGillivray was beaten with a shot which came back off the bar for a diving header which he managed to turn away. Oxford could smell blood though and Taylor pounced again on 28 minutes with a low shot after evading Purrington in the box. MacGillivray should have saved it.

After that it was really only a matter of how many and just how bad. Baldock netted a third early in the second-half with a fine curling shot after Matthews allowed him to come inside and onto his right foot. I gave up at that point and watched a flood of fans streaming out of the ground with thirty minutes still to play. 

There was still plenty of time for more bad news and they didn't let us down - Clare got his marching orders and Branaghan applied salt to the wounds with a fourth goal on 83 minutes.

Something is very wrong at Charlton Athletic Football Club at the moment.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Wigan Athletic 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Another hugely predictable defeat in the north-west. This squad of players continue to do just enough to lose games as they count down the clock to several weeks on the beach and for a number of them the chance to represent someone else next season. Nothing much to report on the game - we took a surprise early lead, missed an opportunity to go two-up before conceding a lazy penalty and then the inevitable  winner late on. 

The real talking points were the line-up and the rationale for it. In the hour or so before kick-off the team was announced and then we got a dribbled feed of the reasons why so many expected starters wouldn't be playing.

Our hopes of an unlikely result had been pinned on new-boy Scott Fraser making his first start but that was torpedoed with news that he has gone down with Covid. Don't expect to see him next Saturday either. Stockley was still missing and you know have to read that his mysterious hip injury is actually much worse than we have been told and probably explains why we paid to bring Chuks Aneke back. 

Speaking of Chuks and would-be starter Conor Washington, neither of them were available yesterday either as they are still carrying knocks from the Bolton game. Not sure we couldn't have been told this earlier. It would have been an added slap in the face for the 500 who made another long, disrupted, disappointing journey. Given their injury history, don't expect them to be starting next Saturday either. It was also a timely reminder why the loan-back deal for Burstow was a sensible move, even if he isn't going to pull any trees up this season. The fact that Leko started again alongside Mason B told it's own story and the back-up was 17 year-old Academy prospect Daniel Kanu. None of them were involved in Elliott Lee's goal.

Famewo was also missing, I believe because we already had five loan players named in the squad (Lee, Leko, Castillo, John and Burstow), although I would have thought him preferable to Castillo or John in the circumstances). He hasn't been playing well and looks unfocused. Perhaps this move underlines our intention to ditch him come June?

What that all meant in practice was hotch-potch side with five players playing out of position, an inexperienced front two and an enforced 4-3-3 formation with Purrington and Matthews back in full-back berths flanking Inniss and Clare. Jackson had better hope he can field a better looking side on Saturday back at the Valley because the supporters are in the mood to let these players know just what they think of them, and it's not good.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Bolton Wanderers 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Another miserable evening for Charlton fans as our side slumped to a highly predictable 2-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers. It was our 13th defeat from 30 games this season which tells you all you need to know about the suffering of 2021-22. 

Saturday's flattering 3-2 home win over a poor Wimbledon side meant our players would be strolling or half-hearted tonight in a match most didn't look like they fancied. The first-half was truly turgid with Bolton making a bit of the running and us content to let them. After his winning goal on Saturday, Akin Famewo was back to the alarmingly poor form he has shown now for seven or eight matches now. All the urgency has gone from his game. He is being caught in possession more often and giving the ball away almost casually.  Both happened tonight as he muffed a long punt from Bolton and under-played a header back to MacGillivray after only ten minutes. Charles pounced, rounded MacGillivray and slotted home. It's as if he has been told he will be going back to Norwich Reserves at the end of the season come what may.

Inniss was presumably rested (his vulnerability is a weakness), so we also had Pearce back and he did not have a great game either. Clare has done very well in the back three but games like tonight's make me wonder if he's really up to a promotion campaign. He gets caught in possession in deep positions too often. When he was playing further up field he could get away with that but he has to learn quickly that it's not on in the backline. He has to make a pass and not continue to try and beat the waiting winger.

After Saturday's stupid booking, Alex Gilbey was very lucky to be on the bus tonight, let alone starting the game. He hadn't done nearly enough and for me, Scott Fraser was a shoe-in to start. Not only did Gilbey start, but he got himself booked needlessly once again. These are frustration bookings because he's lost possession or been beaten. They are the sign of an average player and we need better. We didn't see much from Morgan either until it was too late and with precious little service from the wing-backs, Burstow and Washington didn't get a look in during the opening 45 minutes. 

It took the arrival of Chuks Anneke and Scott Fraser before we finally looked like scoring and unsurprisingly they combined for the 76th equaliser. Fraser's flighted free-kick and Aneke's powerful downward header. At that point you would fancy the last scorer's but this is Charlton, away from home, midweek, in February, when safe in mid-table. Desire to really push on and threaten the play-offs? No chance, this lot are happy to lose some before upping the ante again. Within seven minutes we concede the game to another poorly defended set-piece. Free-kick, header, goal, game over.

Quite who can be bothered making the sort of effort 250 hardy souls did tonight for the remaining 16 games, I don't know. Accrington and Doncaster away? No chance. A thumping at Rotherham or the last-day surrender at Ipswich? Nope.

Next season just has to be better and Jackson has to be hard this Summer and face up to rooting out the dead wood. That will determine his success as a manager at Charlton. We need leadership throughout the side and that is seriously lacking at the moment. Time for some from the manager before this season fizzles out. We all know that Sandgaard set him finishing targets for the season to trigger a new deal and it looks very much like his players either aren't aware of those or don't care. I don't want to see Jackson leave but, let's face it, if he can't motivate this squad to a top ten finish from here, then we probably need someone with more influence over a side at the helm for next season. We have to rise above being the second or third poorest side in London and we have to do it quickly. 

Saturday 5 February 2022

Charlton Athletic 3 v AFC Wimbledon 2

A home win is a home win. Three points are three points. Three wins on the spin and we are up to 11th. Ten points clear of Morecombe in the drop zone and 13 behind sixth placed Wycombe Wanderers. Seventeen games to go but the season now is really about finding our best eleven to play Jackson's preferred formation, playing to our strengths and removing as many mistakes from our game as we can. If we can do that, we should finish the season close to top ten and give Johnnie Jackson, Steve Gallen and Thomas Sandgaard a clear view on what's needed this Summer to begin next season with renewed confidence, a fresh purpose and a winning mentality.

I am not sure today's performance helped that much. We started with the same eleven that began at Frattan Park on Tuesday but we were all over the place in another generally poor quality showing. MacGillivray fumbled a couple of balls he should have had, the first one gifted Wimbledon a three minute lead. Albie Morgan couldn't maintain the recent recovery and we had to watch him take successive corners which he drifted over the bar and overplay when in really good positions a couple of times, although he was busy enough. Jaiyesimi, who replaced Blackett-Taylor after 12 minutes, was also guilty of failing to control a breakout ball on the touchline and a ridiculous air-shot when well placed. Gilbey, once again, managed to appear in the match for only about fifteen minutes in the second-half after a pathetic booking when he tried to prevent the opposition from taking a throw-in. Matthews is no wing-back and he was exposed a few times on our right. Those were just the main ones I can remember but Johnnie Jackson and his coaching team must be pulling their hair out.

I really think a controlled and more disciplined performance this afternoon would have seen us win this game 4-0 and at a canter.. Instead our marking at set-pieces was woeful - Wimbledon's equaliser at 2-2 before the break was a simple deep cross to the back of the box. A host of red shirts watched it sail over and fall for Heneghan's diving header which gave MacGillivray no chance.

We were still good enough in spells to score three - Inniss powered a header down from a corner and it was turned past Tzanev doe an own goal; a fantastic ball from Jaiyesimi with the outside of his right foot beat the retreating Dons backline and rolled into the path of the steaming Conor Washington who had the relatively straight-forward task of touching it on before sliding in past the advancing Tzanev; Akin Famewo netted the winner on the hour with a thumping back-post header which he steered into the top corner. 

Chuks Aneke had another frustrating game where he struggled to create any real space or get on the end of anything. He had one decent opportunity blocked but it was no surprise when Burstow came on for him after 69 minutes. We also got to see twenty minutes of Scott Fraser but he didn't really get into the game either.

So I was left a bit disappointed if I am honest. Wimbledon are not a good side and we allowed them far more of the ball than they should have had and too many chances. We simply have to play much better than this in the next four at Bolton and Wigan before entertaining Oxford and MK Dons if we are to learn anything from the rest of this season. 

What is clear is that the side we had out today only includes a few of players whose contracts are up this Summer. Blackett-Taylor will be disappointed to go off injured so early after a much better showing than of late at Portsmouth. He will hope he's not badly injured or that could be his lot. Matthews too needs to knuckle down to some performances and Albie Morgan needs to secure a new deal. If these players can settle down and cut out the basic mistakes, it will make Jackson's job easier in the Summer when he decides who's leaving. If they can't then Jackson needs to drop them and give others their chance.

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Bye-bye Burstow

The news that we had captured the midfield dynamo Scott Fraser from Ipswich at the close of the transfer window was offset by the disappointing news that 18 year-old Mason Burstow was off to Chelsea. It's often the way but unlike some of our more obvious 'decoy' signings of recent years, Fraser is at least someone we can really expect to get value from and who is capable of leading a midfield charge for promotion out of this dreaded league. Time may prove he was a far better signing than Charlie Kirk who has gone to Blackpool and even Mason Burstow who will now need to prove himself at a number of other clubs before there is any chance of him playing for the current European Champions.

Understandably, Mason Burstow's departure has caused a stir amongst Addicks fans. It rattles the hornet nest of being a selling club and one that has long seen a host of home-grown talent sold on prematurely. Burstow wasn't properly home-grown, of course, having started out at Welling and Maidstone before we acquired him two season's ago but he's young and has genuine promise.

There was great hope for him when he burst into the first team with a goal with his first touch in the EFL Trophy game against Crawley Town. He made seven league appearances and a handful of cup outings scoring two league goals and several in the cup. If we are being brutally honest, he still looked like an inexperienced 18 year old who was struggling to make his mark, but crucially he kept putting the ball in the net. I have absolutely no doubt more goals would come and I am sure they will, whoever he plays for. 

I am told he wasn't angling for a move or even desperate to join Chelsea and I believe that. However, the big step up as well as money and ambition would obviously have been attractive, and he knows he will have to make his name as a Chelsea loanee. I am also told he pushed to continue with us on loan this season and I believe that too - why wouldn't he if he had a say? 

Some fans are suggesting they would rather we hadn't taken him on back on loan but imagine the stick Sandgaard would have taken if we hadn't secured his services and Washington or Aneke got crocked?It would have been as cavalier as starting the season without a partial squad and gaps in the first eleven. Stockley already looks like a more serious injury than the club have let on and Conor and Chuks have season tickets to the treatment room. 

Kanu may be following quickly in Burstow's footsteps and may also get a chance before the end of the season as we will soon have little to play for mathematically but having Burstow on call is a good thing in my mind. Who knows, he could even be with us next season if it works for him and us.

The stickier issues for the Club are the fee and the timing. News around Chelsea's interest emerged fully a week ago and Burstow actually gave his shirt to a fan straight after the last home game, which set the gossips racing. There are suggestions too, that we asked for Burstow back on loan or that Chelsea agreed to delaying confirmation of the deal until late yesterday, so we could say there was no time to source a replacement to help minimise rancour at the deal. Brentford and Leicester were also mentioned in a 'bidding war' but this looks superficial at best.

The fee has yet to be revealed and speculation fills the undisclosed void. I have heard £4m mentioned as well as £2m to £2.5m. Both could be true of course with add-ons and either could be wide of the mark, although £2.5m sounds about right to me. Sandgaard did say that we had rejected a Chelsea offer early yesterday and then suggested, somewhat unconvincingly, that we would wait to get what we wanted even if it took a season or two. It appears to have only take a few hours which suggests to me that the deal was already done and he was helping build the 'last minute' case if it were needed. 

The social media furore and hullabaloo about individuals leaving Valley Gold because of Burstow's departure is disappointing to see. You can understand the linkage but we also have to be realistic about the opportunity to make money from promising youngsters versus their likely value-add from playing for us. Nobody wants to see them all sold so early but the fact is they aren't, as Albie Morgan demonstrated so effectively last night. Some will play for the badge and others will pay for it - hopefully the balance is maintained so we get the best of both worlds. A time may come when holding onto talented players is easier for us in a higher division when our finances are much stronger, in the meantime we are an ordinary League One side who need the money and can't expect youngsters to reject the chance of a lifetime. 

Portsmouth 1 v Charlton Athletic 2

Once again another of those games when another defeat looked odds-on before kick-off but the team rallied to defy their critics. Fratton Park has been a great ground for visiting Charlton fans over the years and last night's victory was six-in-a-row!

Johnnie Jackson set-out his 3-5-2 formation once more but the message to the players was very clearly different from the over-cautious approach of recent weeks that has seen us coming up short. Our players appear to have been told to attack from the outset and to create as many shooting and heading opportunities as they could. he threw all caution to the wind last night and I wonder if we will see this spirit continue as we grab the points we need to safely finish mid-table. It made it a very open game with 15 goal attempts a piece. Pompey looked best in the first-half but still found themselves a goal down to a 31st minute tap in from Conor Washington who reacted first to a Bazuno save on his line from Aneke's header.

After that and until the last 15 minutes it was largely all Charlton. We were playing a very fast tempo and had players committing themselves to deep and supporting runs from all over the park. The midfield trio of Dobson, Gilbey and Morgan did very well to break things up and scuttle forward at every opportunity. Blackett-Taylor enjoyed his best game since signing a permanent deal and was Sky's man-of-the-match. He provided the highlight of the game with a surging run from the edge of his own area, weaving in and out of the blue traffic before taking aim and sending a screamer inches wide of the woodwork - it really would have made a stunning goal that we would talked about for years. Aside from that he was buzzing and a thorn in Pompey's right flank. Washington and Aneke give their backline a torrid time and it was Aneke diving in to a low right wing cross that lead to Robertson heading passed his own keeper for the second.

Pompey managed a consolation on 80 minutes and we then had to endure fifteen minutes on defensive panic as they threw everything at an equaliser. Whilst we had to suffer the roller-coaster, for once we continued to attack at will and might easily have made it 3-1 before the finish. 

Inniss deserves special mention for a last-ditch tackle that might have been given as a penalty but which replays showed was not only very brave but also very good. The fans man-of-the-match was Sean Clare who was very well suited to the 'defend-and-charge' nature of the game. I have been a wee bit critical of his fondness for carrying the ball out of defence as the last man and trying to beat the first man rather than finding another red shirt, but last night he deserved all the plaudits.

Our travelling fans did us proud once again on a cold, dark Winter's night and after a long run of relatively poor away performances. 1200 of them gave the side full vocal backing throughout and helped make the atmosphere for Sky. The signing of Scott Fraser from Ipswich has also lifted spirits, even if it's been offset by the sale of the latest youngster to a bigger club - see Bye-Bye Burstow.