Sunday 17 September 2023

Dartford 2 v Welling United 3

Sometimes in life you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a princess. Wings fans have had more than their share of disappointment in recent years when facing old foes, Dartford, but were rewarded yesterday with a swashbuckling second-half performance and a richly deserved victory that puts them in the hat for Monday's F A Cup draw. 

On what was my first visit to Princes Park, I was pleasantly surprised. A tidy little stadium with modern facilities and a pitch that was so good it looked as attractive as the swimming pool when you first arrive at your villa on holiday. The sun was blazing too and there was a healthy following of Wings who made up c 400 of the 1031 gate.

News an hour before kick-off was that the Wings had signed a much-needed striker in Tristan Abrahams from Gillingham. What became clear from the whistle was just what a big side Dartford are. One of the central defenders must by 6' 8" and they have another four or five players who are well over six foot. As if to emphasis the point Welling began by playing their way down the flanks and hitting crosses which were like like throwing buns to an elephant. 

Tanga tested the home keeper early on but he was equal to it and it took a good save from Ben Winterbottom to keep Dartford out from a corner. Abrahams showed what he might bring after 15 minutes when he raced in to meet a lovely ball in from Tanga on the right but was inches away from the touch needed. That stung the home team and from their next attack they scored. A raid down the Wings right flank drew the defence across towards the ball and Manor was left unmarked at the back post.

Huff an puff after that until just before the break when Welling won a free-kick 20 yards out from the goal that their fans were massed behind. By this time I was in the lounge with a half-time pint but from the curtains I had a great view of Antony Papadopoulos as he rifled in a low shot that Dartford's huge keeper couldn't get down to quickly enough. 

Five minutes into the second-half and Welling switched off. A long punt from Beeney was allowed to bounce twice and Manor latched on to it and slammed a cross-shot beyond Winterburn for 2-1. I feared the worst at this point but Welling settled and began to knock the ball around on the deck which reduced the Darts to a chasing game they aren't best suited to. Welling were reward just after the hour. A fine run from deep saw Green slip a ball towards Abrahams but a stretching defender got a touch but only managed to divert it into to the path of Papadopoulos and he leathered home the equaliser. 

The Wings were in their pomp now and had the bit well and truly between their teeth. White and Tanga give Welling options and threats from the flanks and if Abrahams finds his feet (as looks very likely), Welling could quickly move up the table. The ref waved away a decent handball penalty shout but Welling continued to press and were rewarded after 76 minutes with a superb team goal. I will have to see it again but it looked like about five or six players were involved as Welling swept out of their half and moved it quickly first-time across the pitch and forward. Orient loanee Tanga played the killer ball into the centre and The Pap-father was waiting eagerly to drive home the hat-trick and secure a place in the next round.

Ben Whittaker deserves a special mention for a fantastic stretching save at his far post to keep out what looked very like a late and undeserved equaliser.

Meanwhile at the Lamex, I was surprised and pleased to see that, not only had we avoided falling further behind to their first-half goal but we managed a late late penalty which Blackett-Taylor converted to secure an opening draw for Michael Appleton. Disappointing news that Alfie May missed the match with concussion and that we didn't manage a chance in the opening half but Chuks Aneke made a welcome cameo and survived intact after a spell of chaos in the home defence. 

Friday 8 September 2023

It's......Michael Appleton

Michael Appleton has been appointed manager of Charlton Athletic today after an "intensive search." Appleton has been humorously linked with every job vacancy at lower league clubs for years because of that 'no-nonsense' photo of him snarling with his arms-folded and the fact that he seemed to move clubs every twelve months.

He is, of course, the latest with an Oxford United connection to join us, having managed them to promotion from League Two in 2016. So he would have been well known to Scott, Rodwell and Lenaghan. This continuing recruitment of Old Pals can't be right or the best for our club but given the mess of the current squad and the lack of funds to do much about it, I don't suppose it will make a huge difference.

The senior management team are remaining tight-lipped about the disastrous start to the season. I think this is just as well given that they demonstrably don't have the 'billionaire' backing they once boasted from the rooftops and the fact that their gamble to 'wing it' with an unbalanced squad early on has back-fired so badly. 

As things stand, I think we have a reasonable eleven amongst the squad but outside of that I am unconvinced we have much quality at all. That eleven haven't been all been available so far this season and Appleton's job will be to find them and get them playing. Interesting to note in the Club's announcement that Appleton's track record of having developed youth players at previous clubs  features large.

The club have also decided to make it known that they had enquiries about Leaburn, Blackett-Taylor and Dobson late in the window but that these were rebutted. We won't know if any of those were serious - Derby and a German club amongst those asking - but it gives the impression that we might not be as desperate for money as we obviously are and it also sets an expectation about who is most likely to attract a bigger fee in January.

I would like to think that Appleton can make us safe this season and help us get back to basics. However, he is playing with a poor hand and may well struggle to do much better than Dean Holden. Aside from too many very average footballers, we still lack winners in this squad and that will remain a problem irrespective of set-up, motivation or tactics. 

Monday 4 September 2023

Charlton Athletic 2 v Fleetwood Town 1

Missed this game completely as I was travelling back from the Lake District. At one point I thought I might catch the second-half but the last six miles took one and a half hours due to an accident in Canning Town and the Blackwall being down to one lane.

Doesn't sound like I missed much. Many described the opening 45 minutes as "the worst ever seen." We seem inured to the sufferings of the past as this becomes a regular mantra, although it was a very popular comment this weekend. If that was true, it's equally amazing that an improved second-half and a winning penalty had a number saying they could see "green shoots of recovery." 

Miles Leaburn returned from injury in the second-half and survived unscathed, so maybe some grounds for optimism but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that our squad is a mess or that the four unheard-ofs we brought in at the last minute will struggle to add much more than the three who left. 

Chem Campbell did get a good press and his long forward ball for May's opener and was something we haven't seen for months. 

I was pleased for Jason Pearce, even if the victory against one of the division's minnows was underwhelming. When I look at the list of candidates for the job on a permanent basis, none jump out at me as anyone who will be able to do more than keep us in this God-forsaken league - certainly this season. In the circumstances Pearce (& Hayes) look as good as anyone. 

It seems to me like we just need to settle on our best 15 players and find a formation that suits. It looks very much like that isn't five at the back or any dynamic midfield. We just need a base to defend, a midfield to fight out of possession and attack with the ball and a front pairing who can keep opposing defences at home. That shouldn't be too much to ask. 

The actual gate on Saturday looked very poor. Probably between 7-8000. Certainly not buoyed by the pitifully small Fleetwood following, although having lost four on the trot and a national rail strike, perhaps we should not be surprised. Having made a similar journey to the Cod Army on Saturday, I suspect there were a few more stuck in traffic in East London too. Scott Brown certainly won't forget the game as he was sacked as their manager after the game.

On Tuesday we are at Crawley Town in the EFL Trophy, a competition I care nothing about. However, this year it may help sort out what our best side is, if we don't continue to use it as largely an U21's outing. Perhaps we can find our first team squad and let the rest play later games in this pointless cup?

Saturday 2 September 2023

Four in, three out

Scott and Rodwell may have left it to the last few hours of the market, but they were busier yesterday than I suspect most had feared.

Three loaned in and three loaned out helps balance the books but we also signed MK Dons full-back Tennai Watson on a two year deal. Scott tells us that Watson, though right footed (Egbo replacement), can also cover at left-back. The 26 year old has been at Reading and MK Dons but hasn't played a lot of football over the years - 89 appearances in total. We needed cover, so hopefully he can do a job.

Whilst we were negotiating with MK Dons we also agreed a season long loan of Jack Payne. That should be the end of Payne's Charlton career and to cover the small hole he leaves, we brought in 19 year old rookie, Louie Watson, from Luton on a season long loan. I am not expecting him to feature much having made only five appearances for the Hatters.

In defence, I was a bit disappointed to see Zach Mitchell loaned out to Colchester, only to be replaced by James Abankwah. Yet another player I have never heard of. Scott bigged him up as coming in from Udinese but the facts are he played for them twice having barely broken into double figures for his home club, St Pat's in Dublin. On paper, Mitchell appears to offer more.

That leaves the big striking loan of Slobodan Tedic from Man City. Dialling Jaiyesimi has been loaned out to St. Johnstone to help pay for Tedic. The "6" 3' Tedic has a dozen goals to his name at 23 from a number of loans. I suspect he will feature largely as a sub.

All-in-all, it feels like quantity over quality and proof, if any were needed, that we have no real money behind us. It will be interesting to track these moves (in and out) to see just what they bring us. I would expect Tennai and Slobodan to get appearances. Less sure about Abankwah or Louie Watson longer term.