Sunday 31 July 2022

Accrington Stanley 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

Well I would have taken a point before kick-off, so shouldn’t really feel deflated. Yes, we should have held on after taking an undeserved 2-1 lead in the 94th minute, but just like our last visit, we conceded an even later equaliser.

It was another game of two halves, like many last season. We started brightly and had the better of the first-half. Wollacott’s habit of leaving his clearances to the last possible moment had me panicking at times and Inness and O’Connell looked far from comfortable up against a big home side. Thankfully, Clare and Sessegnon were on their games and did a lot of tidying up.

Albie Morgan had a good first-half and it was a surging run through the middle after 37 minutes that lead to our opening goal. With the home team back-pedalling, Morgan pushed the ball into the path of Jayesimi on the right and he took the ball towards the goal line before cutting it back into the path of Ryan Fraser who swept it in from ten yards. Stanley had created a few decent chances, one of which Wollacott had to palm away at full stretch and a couple of far post opportunities that they missed.

After the break, the home team came out transformed and immediately put us under pressure. They were breaking quickly and getting the ball out wide before crossing to the back post from both sides. Just when I thought we might have weathered the storm, they struck. A break down the right beat Sessegnon and the other three at the back all shifted over to counter the attack which left the back post exposed. When the ball fell for McConville he had time to control it before driving it high into our net. The home side continued to press and missed two glorious chances for the lead before Stockley missed a header from close range. 

With loads of added time due to several prolonged treatment breaks we knew there would be a lot of stoppage time and when Miles Leaburn rose in the centre of the goal to meet substitute Payne’s lofted chip, Charlton fans the world over took a collective breath as the son of a former favourite thumped the header in just as his father did so many times. The joy and relief were palpable but they also found the net a minute later to burst our bubble.

Still far to early to be drawing conclusions, but perhaps we saw some of Garner’s ambition in the first goal but also a complete inability to maintain any form of press.  More worryingly, we were creaking at the back when they put us under pressure and we struggled to relieve it.

Sessegnon had a good game and was often found in midfield or backing Blackett-Taylor in the opposing half. Morgan too played his part but it was disappointing how little we saw of George Dobson. Stockley had more touches in midfield than the final third but our supply was limited.

Derby County will provide a stronger test on Saturday, when another draw wouldn’t be a terrible result.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Trepidation on the opening day

Ben Garner heads north today for his first league game as Charlton Athletic manager. Understandably he has spoken in the last couple of days about his confidence in his squad of players and, more surprisingly, about his admiration for the football of Klopp and Guardiola and a desire to repeat it in order to get more from your team than the sum of it’s parts.

I don’t think any of us would complain about being able to replicate the football of Liverpool and Man City at the moment but they have the best technically gifted players in the world and can play to their managers’ instructions, whatever they may be.  They have the ability to change shape and formation quickly and influence games, especially later on when the result may still be at stake.

Johnnie Jackson’s biggest failure was an inability or unwillingness to change anything much in games and as a consequence, we rarely responded in matches under him when we needed to.

It will take awhile to judge Garner’s ambitions but I have to say I really cannot see it with the players at his disposal. He has brought in four defenders and two midfielders. He looks to favour a back four, which I think suits our personnel better but the ‘high press’ is won in midfield and delivered upfront. 

We have good competition for places in midfield but most of them were here last season and struggled to win midfield, let alone press or score goals. If you add to that the fact that we have lost 11 goals from Washington, that Chuks is already injured and that Davison has been sold, it is hard to see where the goals are coming from. Placing your hopes on Miles Leaburn is really expecting far too much. This is a glaring red light with an accompanying loud noise. It is so obvious that I am sure they will be seeking loan strikers when they play their remaining hand towards the end of August. 

In the meantime though, we risk repeating the slow start of last season which effectively hobbled us. Accrington Stanley away shouldn’t be the hardest fixture in League One but they beat us there last season. A big-spending Derby will then come to the Valley looking for three points. Sheffield Wednesday away, Plymouth home, Cambridge home and then Wycombe away will all need to be faced without what I would call an adequate attack. 

Maybe Garner’s coaching nouse will save the day but I haven’t seen any sign of it during pre-season. By the end of August he and Thomas Sandgaard may already be fighting a rear-guard action. 

Monday 18 July 2022

Garner - "two or three more"

Ben Garner has told the South London Press that he wants to add another "two or three" signings before the transfer window closes on 1st September. He wouldn't be drawn on positions that need strengthening because "as soon as you say a position then prices or wages can go up." He then says he is "hoping to get two in, if not three."

More than a little disingenuous here, because it's glaringly obvious that we are woefully short upfront, wide midfield and left-sided defence. The idea that prospective players and agents will only negotiate hard if they think they are not needed is laughable. Based on our recruitment policy so far this Summer, Garner is dreaming if he thinks Sandgaard is buying anyone. We are likely to bring in a couple of loanees from 'bigger' clubs but they will likely be young squad players at best and a gamble.

Sorry to say but this squad looks at least four or five experienced first-team signings from one that can expect to challenge for promotion this season and it looks very much like that is not going to change. Four-Four-Two mag has predicted an 11th place finish for us this season and I think that looks about right as long as Garner shows an ability to make effective tactical changes and substitutions which Jackson couldn't. I think we have as much, if not more chance, of finishing lower than 11th than higher.

I feel pretty despondent at the moment and the match-by-match pricing hasn't helped. I will be on holiday for the opener and my first live game will be Welling's home match against Worthing on 13th August. I may take the Cambridge home game in to 'see for myself' although I will hope to see the first two via the internet. 

Very hard not to draw the conclusion that Sandgaard's ambition (if he really had any initially) has gone and that his primary focus now is on cost-cutting, maintaining the status quo and, presumably, preparing the club for a sale. There has been no mention of late on Academy One status in spite of the works completed at Sparrows Lane and I find myself reflecting on Jed Roddy's decision to abandon ship at a time when we had been lead to believe we were close to being awarded it. Is this now up there with the hollow boast of Premiership in five years?

It really does look like any success this season may be based on Garner's managerial skills and/or Miles Leaburn proving that he can quickly make the first-team transition and score the sort of goals we won't see from Aneke, Stockley or Davison. I don't buy the rumours of the club refusing offers for Davison, unless they are so paltry we couldn't afford even a cheap replacement with the money.

I really hope I am wrong but 45 years of following this club tells me we are in for another 'nothing season' in the third tier of English football. We have lived happily enough with that in the past in the old First Division/Championship (where we belong) and were blessed to have spent the best part of ten years punching above our weight in the Premier League. Settling for it in League One though would be a new low. We have bounced back three times before after very short stays but it now feels like that's good enough under Sandgaard. If we are still in League One come May, we will be facing our sixth year here in seven.

Who remembers when we were 'sleeping giants?'

Friday 15 July 2022

Fans priced out

Really disappointing news from the club yesterday concerning match-by-match ticket pricing for the season which starts in just over two weeks time. Having finished 13th in League One last season and having only brought in five players (three of whom are injured) so far to replace the dozen or so who left, the club think they can get away with charging supporters without season tickets twice as much to see games. 

Simplification of the zoning pricing model means that the vast majority of available seating for 'walk-up' Adult fans will cost £29 or £34 (the 'early buy discount' prices!). To add insult to injury, the hated £3 'Meire Tax' for those who don't buy more than two days in advance, will still be added and there is also the £1.50 admin charge if you are unable or unwilling to buy online. This compares to the pro-rata season ticket rate of c£18 per game.

In the current economic climate, which will only get worse this season, these prices will be vying for most expensive in the division and I find myself once again asking who was involved in agreeing them? The club keeps making very basic commercial errors and, with hindsight on numerous occasions, have been keen to tell us they will be seeking greater fan input to future decisions only to appear to carry on regardless.

I think the market might have worn £24/£29 for these tickets but they should have scrapped the Meire Tax and the booking fees as well. The pricing for the various concessions is similarly high and similarly unattractive. As things stand these prices will reduce gates even further, cut revenue correspondingly and minimise other sell-ons.

There will now be even greater pressure on Ben Garner to deliver attractive, winning football because without it, the club's financials will continue to be under pressure with all that, that entails.

Monday 11 July 2022

That's all for now folks!

Thomas Sandgaard has previously acknowledged the mistakes of last season began in the Summer with late and inadequate transfer dealings. We started the season short in certain positions and, as it proved, in firepower. He also told us they (he) had learned the lesson and that this season we would be ready to mount a more serious promotion challenge.

Hugely disappointing then to see him taking the opportunity after the 6-1 win at Dartford on Saturday to inform us that there will likely be no further transfer activity until the last knockings of the transfer window, a month after the season begins. Very hard to argue that we simply aren't just repeating the sins of last year. 

The facts are we let circa a dozen players leave and have recruited only five, including a goalkeeper who looks surplus to requirements as things stand. I won't judge the new players until I see them for myself in league action, but I am not unhappy per se with what we appear to have brought in - young, experienced, typically former Captains and Players-of-the-season at their last clubs. The trouble is, we are still short of a promotion-threatening squad, let alone a first eleven. 

As it stands, it looks like Garner will favour a 4-3-3 but will be largely relying in midfield and attack on last year's players who could only muster 54 goals, 11 of which came from the now departed Conor Washington. Sandgaard's rationale that it's tricky to get players between now and the window closing simply doesn't hold up - other clubs will - just watch them. What he is really saying is he won't be buying anyone and he wants to get bargains for the players he does bring in, so prefers the end-of-window panic when there might be better value. I know I have been banging on about the shortage of serious attacking threat for a couple of seasons now but it really is glaringly obvious, as displayed against a more competitive side like Kilmarnock.

I am hoping and praying that Garner can lift the side and get more than the sum of it's parts, at least until we bring in another striker who has to have goals in him. We still need another left-sided defensive player and cover for both wings. My guess is we won't get all four. 

I have never wanted an owner to simply throw money around - it's as risky long-term as insufficient spending is short term. However, Sandgaard promised more than just maintaining the status quo and had the money to get us out of League One, if not perhaps the Championship. ("Premiership/Europe in five years" and "blowing the league apart" last season). It really does look like we are trying to do it on the cheap and bully for us if we can. However, money talks and rivals are demonstrably shortening their odds around us by buying better players. There is also mounting evidence around the club that corners are being cut - budgets, positions, job-sharing etc. Raelynn appears to be running stuff she seems lightly qualified for and I am hearing the staff now have to ring a bell when they get a sale and, presumably, whoop-it-up! I worked in a UK-US environment for years and hardly any of these US management tactics translate well here. Although I suppose you could say that selling season tickets at this stage is as hard as flogging Time-Share vacations.

Resting our hopes on Kirk, Blackett-Taylor, Jaiyesimi, Davison and Stockley/Chuks is, I think, asking for trouble. I also note that we have signed Sessegnon and McGrandles and neither were fit enough to play on Saturday, still carrying knocks from last season - ten weeks ago! Let's hope this isn't another lesson we haven't learned either. If they aren't ready for 30th August we really are asking for trouble.

Wednesday 6 July 2022

Four more please...

News late yesterday that versatile Fulham defender, Steve Sessegnon has joined on a season long loan helps address the shortage of a left-back since Ben Purrington departed. The perceived wisdom is that Sessegnon is a decent addition based upon the fact that he joins from newly relegated Fulham who have extended his contract and, less impressively, because he is the twin of the highly rated Ryan Sessegnon. 

I am happy that he isn't another League 2 player, although he remains relatively inexperienced with only 49 league appearances spread across Fulham, Bristol City and Plymouth. As a right footed full-back I do wonder if we won't see another left-back joining us before the season starts? 

Sessegnon is the fifth Summer addition, but I think we need another four if we are to have any serious ambitions of challenging for promotion this season. We simply have to bring in two strikers to boost our goals for tally and I think we are taking a big risk if the supply from the wings is left to Kirk, Blackett-Taylor and Jaiyesimi, all of whom had big question-marks over them for long spells last season. A left-sided wing-back would provide defensive and attacking cover and we need competition for Jaiyesimi.

The big question is whether or not Sandguard will invest in more firepower. He was adamant that we would be strengthening the squad for a promotion effort this coming season and as things stand I don't think we have yet accounted fully for what we have lost. We didn't score nearly enough goals last year and we are actually worse off since then having let Washington go. There might be better supply through the middle with the return of Forster-Caskey and a rejuvenated Fraser but we need a pacey finisher to capitalise fully on that. 

There is a view that he is looking to do it on the cheap. The first team budget has been cut and we haven't spent any money so far on fees despite recouping a couple of million in sell-on fees. We also freed-up some bigger earners and are still probably well under last season's run-rate. Garner and his sidekick won't have broken the bank either, given the savings from Jackson and Euell. 

If you add to that the ongoing cost-cutting of back-room staff, you can see where the negativity is coming from. Sacking Brian Jokat and his newly recruited sales-team was one thing but letting go several other back-room roles to cut posts or reduce salaries in what are already poorly paid jobs begins to look a little desperate and begs yet more questions. 

I can see us bringing in one more striker - Stockley and Aneke are too similar to play together and Davison isn't up to it - but suspect Sandgaard may draw the line at that and might also hope to do it with a loanee. If we fail to start the season with a stronger squad than last season, we can't complain that we weren't warned - the alarm bells were ringing for much of last year.