Sunday 28 August 2022

Wycombe Wanderers 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

An away draw is never a bad result. Nine points from a possible eighteen isn't a bad return. Two wins, one defeat and three draws is ok. However, none of those stats hint at a promotion campaign.

Six games is also too early to be making calls on the season but yesterday's game typified what I have been expecting since the appointment of Ben Garner and our failure to back him strongly. There is no doubt about it that we were in the game yesterday for long periods. We edged possession 60-40 and our players looked to get the ball forward whenever we had it. We defended well enough for the most part but Wycombe had 16 attempts at goal to our 9 and four of theirs were on target whereas we could only manage two. It's worth saying that Gareth Ainsworthy always puts out a team of battlers, although this crop look short on previous seasons.

Playing one-up isn't going to get us the goals, especially when the one doesn't carry a threat in possession, only when given clear headers. Rak-Sakyi scored another fine goal early on to equalise after a sublime shuffle and right-foot hammer from close range. He is an absolute junior though, having played less than ten first team matches in his fledgling career and has much learning to do this season. On the left Garner favours Charlie Kirk but he too has much to learn. It was Kirk's cross that found it's way to Rak-Skyi on the back post to score but the pair didn't do nearly enough for us to win the game. Rak-Sakyi has the confidence to attack at pace but Kirk doesn't. Far too often you can see him thinking about what to do as he slows down and is, too often, dispossessed.

The engine room of Fraser, Dobson and Morgan is busy but still isn't hurting defences nearly often enough. They appear to be more concerned about protecting our back four than attacking the oppositions'. 

Ben Garner talks a good game and he is honest. I like that he is confident about his first-team preferences and in those he is currently using as replacements. That will help the team develop more quickly. Good too that we are actively trying to get the ball forward more, even if we aren't thus far able to really exploit that.

We sit in eighth place this morning looking on at a top six of Portsmouth, Ipswich, Sheff Wed, Peterborough, Plymouth and Derby, having played three of them. Not bad and no need to panic but it remains increasingly obvious that this squad is well short of Thomas Sandgaard's stated ambition of Premier League football in five years (he actually mentioned Europe but we all laughed that off). His current emphasis on cost cutting is increasingly clear and it is also becoming equally apparent that Ben Garner knows that he is playing with his hands tied behind his back. Again this week he made comments to the press that he was pleased we haven't yet seen any of the rumoured approaches for Clare or Kirk. The implication to me was that if we did, he'd expect to lose them. I'd have no problem with Kirk going but only if we brought in better and as things stand there is no surety that we would eg Conor Washington.

We have four days left in this window and once again we look on, doubting we will bring in what's needed, either in terms of numbers, key positions or quality. Putting it very bluntly, if we don't bring in at least one proven, pacey goal-scorer, it will be a blaring alarm that Sandgaard's priority is now break-even not promotion. Some people will be happy with that - 'it's his money' - but it will mean an inevitable predictability to this season that will curtail any attempts to significantly increase revenue, which will prevent any attempt to close the gap in the finances. We are already paying through the nose to follow the team and this would also raise the spectre of us selling again as soon as we get a sniff of someone else's money. As I have said, I think Garner is very well aware of that threat and if it happens, the downward cycle will continue. 

Sunday 21 August 2022

Charlton Athletic 1 v Cambridge United 1

I didn't get to see the game today as I was watching Elgin City draw with Stranraer. At half-time I was comforted to know we had the lead and the 74% possession allowed me to relax safe in the knowledge that 'Garnerball' was, presumably, alive and well.

However, a few comments on WhatsApp suggested all might not be as well as might appear in the headlines. The disappointment of a Cambridge equaliser burst our bubble to some extent but I have to say that the hype this week following the excellent performance against Plymouth was startling.

I know we are desperate for some success and that large parts of our fanbase are prepared to ignore the obvious in the fervent hope or plain naive belief that things are much better than they actually are. It may yet prove that this Summer's business was inspired. That Ben Garner is actually a lower league Pep Guardiola and that we didn't need to spend a bean in order to transform our playing squad. The facts are, that we have brought in four League Two players, one League One player and a Championship loanee.  That still leaves our squad well short on numbers from last season (aside from any qualitative assessment) and, thus far, we have supplemented it successfully enough with youth. 

Yesterday was something of a little reality call. Cambridge are a well organised and well run club but they have nothing like our resources or potential. They will have a successful season if they finish tenth but they matched us yesterday and will be looking forward to playing us again at their place. I really hope this helps reset our expectations  because they looked hopelessly high ahead of yesterday.

We still need two strikers and another left-winger and I will keep saying it all the time I hear things like 'a Centre-Back is our priority.' We really have to get these players in if we are to give ourselves any realistic chance of remaining in contention until New Year. If we don't get them we will need to rely on youth. That can prove to be inspired but young players really need careful management or they can wilt. Typically that involves limiting their appearances and trying to play them into winning teams where confidence is high. Without several more experienced pros, we will risk over-using them.

Wycombe Wanderers next week will be another test. They have started slower than normal but love giving it to bigger clubs and it will be a battle at their place. It really would be a great time to introduce a new goalscorer....


Tuesday 16 August 2022

Charlton Athletic 5 v Plymouth Argyle 1

Thomas Sandgaard will be a hugely relieved man this evening. After the appallingly poor and unjustified decision to get rid of loyal servant and all-round good guy, Olly Groome, with a cowardly denouement delegated to Tom Rubashow after last night's U23 match, he was in for some stick this evening. He may well have got some but a sparkling Charlton display from the off probably saved him much further embarrassment.

Ben Garner has me eating a slice of Humble Pie as I type this. After his comments to the SLP following Saturday's game when he dodged the question of needing better striker options, he said that he felt we had a lot of goals in the side and that if we continued to play the way we have for spells in games so far this season, they would come.

Well tonight we started brightly, dominated the first half and went in 3-0 up. Jesurun Rak-Sakyi got a start which surprised me a little but he took it with both feet and opened the scoring at the back post after only 11 minutes after Cooper could only parry Stockley's onward header from a sublimely floated pass from Albie Morgan. Morgan was outstanding tonight and with Dobson behind him breaking things up as usual, we were able to attack down the flanks. Clayden (in for Sessegnon) linked up well with Kirk on the left and Clare backed Rak-Sakyi on the other side. Argyle had a ten minute spell from 25 minutes when they called on Wollacott to make a decent diving save low to his right hand post and push out a low shot and then forced him to cut out crosses from both sides. 

However, the match really turned on 41 minutes after Stockley found Kirk at the back post with only Wilson covering. Kirk's shot was going in but it struck Wilson's left arm above his shoulder in an unnatural position and he was off. Jayden Stockley gleefully seized the ball and drove it low to the left side of the goal for two-nil.

With the ground buzzing - there were officially 12,393 (1160 Plymouth) - we capped a terrific first half with a last minute screamer from Sean Clare. Having pulled the Plymouth defence around, Jayden Stockley played a long ball square across the outside of the box to Clare who met it on run and piled an unstoppable  cross-shot high into Cooper's top right-hand side.

The result was now beyond any realistic doubt and playing against ten men, there looked plenty more to come. Schumacher made three changes for Plymouth at the start of the second-half but they made little difference so he brought on a fourth after 54 minutes. Charlton then followed those from 58-64 minutes when McGrandles (Clare), Leaburn (Rak-Sakyi) and Payne (Fraser) came on to rest the others and match Plymouth's fresher legs. The game had slowed, Plymouth looked content to contain any more damage and we were happy passing around the back to run the clock down.

Substitute Jephcott did get onto a decent cross but couldn't get a far post angle to beat Wollacott. That seemed to spur Plymouth and a few minutes later Whittaker went on a run, cut inside one or two red shirts and opened an angle for himself to slide the ball beyond Wollacott for 3-1. Charlton upped the ante again and five minutes later, Charlie Kirk finally scored. He had hit the side netting three times but this time his far post effort was on target and went in off a desperate defender on the line. 

Inniss came on for the tiring O'Connell who did his reputation more good this evening after a solid performance alongside Lavelle. Charlton continued to press and Payne was harrying them with Leaburn down the right. The pair combined after 84 minutes with Leaburn doing well to hold off his man before coming inside and collecting a fortunate deflection from Payne's attempt to cross. it was a snap opportunity from just inside the box but he took a pot-shot across goal and beat Cooper who couldn't get across quickly enough to reach it.

5-1 then with five different scorers. A fine full debut for Charles Clayden and an impressive outing from Rak-Sakyi in addition to his debut goal. Jayden Stockley did a lot of work in front of the back four and deserved his penalty as well as having laid on the opener for Rak-Sakyi.  I thought Charlie Kirk had his best game for us so far and the goal may also lift his confidence. Myles Leaburn doesn't need anymore confidence as things stand, he looks like he believes he can score in every game where we are on the front foot.

So, to Saturday and a repeat against Cambridge United at the Valley? The performance this evening will put another thousand on the gate I should think and we may have another thousand back from holiday. Cambridge were hit for four at Portsmouth this evening, so there's every chance. 

We really need to make the most of this spell and hope we can bring in a pacey goal-scorer to give us an option we really need to add to our game. 

Olly Groom sacked - what is going on?

Normally at a football club, you get a Testimonial match after ten years loyal service. Usually reserved for players, of course, but loyal servant Olly Groome was rewarded yesterday with the sack. When I say the sack, of course, I mean 'redundancy,' that modern form of the sack where they tell you your job is being made redundant but someone else is quickly doing it in your absence. 

Social media is understandably on fire today with outraged colleagues and supporters thanking Groome for all of his hard work, dedication and loyalty. The club have said nothing officially as far as I can see but I believe he was called back after the U21 match night and told he was being made redundant after Thomas Sandgaard and Raelynn Moroney had left the premises. How low can you go? Dirty work in Corporate America is for the little people. 

This will be passed off as another cost saving measure but with one or more people picking up the workload you know that is bullshit. The pay differentials will be negligible and amount to 'nickle and diming it' as the Americans say. No, this is now part of a wider plan to remove all of those with experience, opinions and voices and replace them with nodding dogs who will simply do as their told either out of inexperience, ignorance or fear for their positions. More Corporate America.

I suspect Olly will be paid off in full and probably with a bit extra for a Non Disclosure Agreement which will prevent him from commenting in future. I have little doubt that he will be earning much better money very shortly for doing many less hours, but that wasn't his decision. He could have jumped ship at any point in the last ten years to chase that but he loved the job he had and was happy to stick at it. I will bet anything you like that new staff being brought in to replace people like Olly won't last two years, let alone ten.

Who's next I wonder? Tom Rubashaw, the guy who was left to fire the gun last night? Or maybe the HR manager whom I believe is down to one day a week and is currently loading part of her role on the Finance Director! 

Looking at the bigger picture under Sandgaard, it is very hard to argue that he still has anything like the ambition he boasted when he acquired the club three years ago. Premier League and European football in a few years have proved to have been hollow boasts with us continuing to struggle in League One. He told us we would 'blow the league out of the water' last year but the squad was inadequate at the start of last year which ended up unsurprisingly with us finishing mid-table. It's still well short today, especially upfront as every single Charlton supporter can see with there own eyes. Ben Garner is now dodging every question about strengthening upfront and instead has taken to talking about the budgets of bigger clubs in this division. He really needs to get his lines straight with Sandgaard on this because Sandgaard is adamant our budget is still at the top-end of this division. Whatever happens, we have repeated the mistake of starting off with holes in the side when the season kicked-off and it's looking like we will be lucky to get one striker in to replace Conor Washington, let alone improve what we had when we finished last year and that was a season when we could only manage 54 goals. 

Sandgaard's aim to breakeven at the end of next season relies on ongoing cost-cutting but also hard-to-believe increases in revenue. The numbers he is talking about can only come from further player sales. So whilst we continue to cut costs from the backroom staff to the playing squad, we are also going to continue to sell whoever we can, whenever we can in order to try to get to breakeven. That isn't compatible with serious promotion ambitions but perhaps he no longer has these? Starting this season so obviously short upfront certainly questions that. We have also spent zilch on transfers and the incoming players have all come in under last year's budget (with some headroom).

It smacks of small-time. League-One average. Why would he want that, unless he's toshing the house up for a sale? Irrespective, Olly Groome won't be reporting on it which will be detrimental for us all.

Sunday 14 August 2022

Sheffield Wednesday 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Glowing reports from Hillsborough about how well Charlton played and not just from the visiting supporters. Corey Blackett-Taylor should have scored but his first-half effort was cleared off the line. He had a couple more good attempts but in the end we lacked the finisher we all know is missing. In typical Addicks fashion, we wilted at the death and Wednesday stole in to snatch the points. 

Our desperate need for a couple of goal-scorers is beyond any doubt and practically every post from fans after the match made the same point. It really isn't good enough that we have started the season so short once again. We were hardly flush to start with but the decision to let Conor Washington go without an adequate replacement was negligent. Thomas Sandgaard's ambitions really have cooled and it's something of an indictment on his ownership that he has not addressed this glaring Achilles Heel. We may yet bring in the player or two we need but it cost us three points yesterday and we may yet drop more points before we get anyone on the last day of the sales.

The next two are Plymouth (Tuesday) and Cambridge (next Saturday), both at the Valley. We should be looking for points in both games but these sides have made decent two-win starts and sit above us in the fledgling table. We really need that pacy goal-scorer quickly or this season may once again be a case of 'if-only...'

Welling United 2 v Worthing 4

El scorchio at PVR yesterday. The sun blazed down on new-look Welling but it was the visitors who took all the attention.

After years of stagnation and an endless player merry-go-round, owner Mark Goldberg has decided to make some big changes. First, he has stepped back from micro-management of the club (and team?) and appointed Paul Whitehead, local businessman as CEO. Goldberg has been obsessed with redeveloping the ground in recent years and I believe he is going to concentrate on that going forward. In the meantime, Whitehead has been busy shaking things up. 

Manager Warren Feeney had his contract extended and has been supported with 19 new players arriving and whilst it's early days, the quality of the squad has certainly been improved. 

A scaffold cover has been built behind the home-end goal and the hospitality area behind the main stand has been extended into the car park which now boasts a large marquee extension to the Wings Bar. The only disappointment yesterday was the club don't yet have a drinks licence for it so it only provided shelter yesterday from the laser beams. 

The Danson Park End has been closed and will be ripped up and replaced with a new terrace later this season. There is also talk of a big screen but I will believe that when I see it.

I was surprised by the Bookies odds pre-match. Welling were nearly 3-1 at home with the visitors warm favourites. Worthing were promoted last season so I thought the Wings might catch them on the hop with their much improved squad. However, it was clear from the opening five minutes just why the big money was on the visitors. They really took the game to Welling and played some impressive, fast and incisive football. Standout Lewis White opened the scoring early after skating in from the wing to intercept a through ball from the right, beating the last defender as he did so and drilling it beyond Myles Roberts. 

Worthing continued to dominate but it was Welling who scored next with their first attack when ex-Addick Ade Azeez was played in to score in front of the 100+ Worthing following. We were standing with them and were treated to a non-stop drum-beating sing-a-long with some very novel songs. They sing about winning non-league's beer-of-the-year in 2006 and every other song is about their big rivals - Bognor FC! 

It wasn't long before Worthing scored again and they added a third before the break. Welling were a little flattered when Azeez pulled another one back after only the Wings second meaningful attack just before half-time. 

It was little surprise when Worthing added the killer fourth after the break though and they easily saw the game out after that. They were ably marshalled by Aaron Racine at the back and are playing like a well-drilled team who have just won promotion. I am sure there is much more to come from Welling and look forward to getting over there again soon.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Wednesday, the acid test

Tuesday's Carabao Cup win over Championship QPR was another surprise following the second-half turnaround last Saturday against Derby. I was travelling back from my Summer holiday so didn't get to see the game but the reports suggest we more than matched the visitors who were backed by an impressive travelling support. 

Aaron Henry's dramatic last minute equaliser and Charles Clayden's authoritative showing will put both of those players on Garner's radar although news that Chuks Aneke won't be ready for at least another week will harden the case for another goal-scorer. In the meantime we have today confirmed the loan signing of 19 year old Palace winger Jesurun Rak-Sakyi. Presumably he will get a chance amongst Kirk, Jayesimi and Blackett-Taylor. 

We have made a decent start in the opening three games but Saturday's visit to Hillsborough will be a real test for Ben Garner. Wednesday have recruited relatively heavily (inc Akin Famewo) and, like us, have a draw and a win from their opening two league matches and also beat Championship opposition in the Carabao Cup this weekend - 2-0 at home to Sunderland. They are amongst the Bookies front-runners for promotion although our chances on Saturday would appear to be better than the 9-2 they are offering against an Addicks victory. Jayden Stockley will get the opportunity to show Wednesday what they missed in pre-season when their transfer interest in him faded, although he is likely to be playing the lone striker once again. 

The midfield selection will be interesting. Dobson should be first pick and the wide men look like Kirk and Blackett-Taylor but who partners Dobson is probably the only choice up for grabs. With five across midfield or four and one in behind, Fraser should start but I wonder if there is room for Forster-Caskey after his impressive showing against QPR? Could Garner be bold and start Leaburn alongside Stockley?

Prior to Tuesday I would have suggested Clare, Lavelle, Inniss and Sessegnon in defence but O'Connell put in a good showing on Tuesday and could hang onto his place. The big positive for me so far this season is that Garner looks to have created some genuine competition for places. He seems to be live to a poor performance and those being given their chance appear to be making visible efforts to take them - not something we have seen too much of under recent managers. 

Sunday 7 August 2022

Charlton Athletic 1 v Derby County 0

Well, well, well. Unbeaten with four points and fifth in the table after two tricky matches. The relief, if not fully fledged optimism, is palpable. I couldn’t see it coming, personally, and had Derby on my coupon yesterday - I know, I know, but business is business. I was more than happy to tear my bet up. Like you, I hope we can really build on this and put a good start together. 

However, my basic concerns remain and were glaringly obvious for 40 minutes yesterday. Derby swamped us from the off, ironically with a high pressing game which pretty much pinned us in our half until Kirk managed to find Stockley’s head just before the break. We were all over the shop. McGrandles for Dobson wasn’t working, although I will credit Garner for having the courage to drop Dobson after he went missing at Accrington. O’Connell is looking like the step up to League One may be bigger than he or we anticipated. He looks shaky and lacking confidence to play forward when coming out of defence with the ball - time for Lavelle to renew with Inniss. Sessegnon was given a hard time by Mendez-Laing and much was left to Clare, Inniss in the air and Joe Wollacott. Wollacott won over any remainder doubters yesterday with three good saves to keep Derby out before half-time. He has a great long boot but I would love to see him stop leaving it to the last millisecond - calamity awaits.

Nil-nil at the break then and fearful of the second-half but hope springs eternal and we came out with more fight and orders to get it forward. Dobson had replaced McGrandles after a head-knock and his presence brought more cover for the defence. Kirk and Blackett-Taylor saw more of the ball as a result and suddenly Derby’s momentum was halted. It became a more even affair and after 62 minutes we rubbed salt in Derby’s wounds with a good move down the left. Kirk slipped Morgan in and and after a charge, his shot was parried across the face of the Covered End goal to the gleeful Blackett-Taylor who just had to put it in the unguarded net.

One-nil and Derby still didn’t manage to raise their game. The heat had gone out of their engine and despite forcing a number of corners, they couldn’t get a decisive first touch. Our defence was now fighting with more confidence and after surviving a howling miss by a Derby player left at the back post with the goal at his mercy, we managed to see it out. 

I was impressed with Garner’s post-match commentary. He explains it as it is and tends to focus on the positives but acknowledges what needs looking at. He’s going to have to deal with disappointment sooner or later but deserves to celebrate this success. He has made the right calls so far in terms of team changes when players haven’t performed. Many were questioning Dobson being dropped and perhaps it was harsh after one poor game but we have plenty of competition in midfield and George played well again when he came on. We need to find out how to get the best from Fraser. He has been neat and tidy but we have yet to see the attacking threat he so often showed playing against us. 

Hillsbrough will be a tough ask next Saturday but at least the side have something to build on and if we can avoid defeat there, we have two winnable home games to follow against Plymouth and Cambridge. Points from those would cement a good start from the opening five games and might help us with securing better loan deals before the window closes. 

As things stand though, we are still well short of what’s needed to sustain a promotion challenge, especially upfront. Young Leaburn showed some ambition on the counter again in his substitute appearance but we have to be realistic and accept that an 18-year old is unlikely to score 20 goals this season. We also need more bodies to cope with current shortages upfront and on the left-side in particular. A couple of injuries to key players would leave us struggling at the moment. 

I wasn’t at the game (on holiday) but the gate looked well short of the 17,046 given. The Covered End was reasonably well populated, highlighting the even more expensive seating elsewhere but the West and East were predictably empty in large areas. Are we back to counting complimentary tickets again I wonder, even if they aren’t actually given out or used?