Sunday 29 October 2023

Charlton Athletic 0 v Bolton Wanderers 2

Less than a week ago I allowed myself the luxury of considering whether or not Michael Appleton's bounce might see us win two games and move into the top ten. Instead, we lost both and after the defeat to Bolton yesterday, now face two consecutive away games that could, more likely, see us in the bottom six. I guess that just proves how little there is in this division between the also-rans.

Wigan and Portsmouth will not prove any easier than Bolton. In spite of our recent record against Pompey, they sit points clear at the top of the table and will see this as their moment. A quick look at the table and you might think Wigan are there for the taking but factor in the eight point deduction they started with and they would be 7th. 

Appleton could surprise us, but it looks increasingly hard to see how we limit opposition scoring. Bolton might have had four or five on Saturday. I was pleased to see the switch to a back four (simply because we don't have the players to play five at the back) and that Appleton has given Thomas, Jones, Hector and Watson a long enough run to hope for some understanding and improvement. Sadly, we haven't seen that and he has to try something else even if our options may be limited.

Asiimwe isn't ready yet and I don't see him adding much at right-back whenever he plays. Jones and Hector play about 20 yards apart and something has to change. Jones has battled to hold his ground but I haven't seen Hector fight for anything other than a new contract. Time to give Ness another ten games in his place.

Thomas spends too much time in the opposition half and is still usually there when we are being carved open on our right side. We have to put someone in there who will largely stay at home and defend. Tayo Edun is still likely out injured for another month so you wonder if Abankwah could do it? He may be right footed but you think it would be worth a go? Appleton doesn't appear to fancy him but if we aren't going to use him, he should go back to Udinese.

In terms of Saturday, it was all over after half-an-hour. Two goals from our right-side were simple enough as Bolton passed their way into positions to score. They looked like they could do it all day and continued to create scoring situations but a stronger Charlton second-half forced them to spend more time making sure we didn't get any incentive to really up the ante. 

Miles Leaburn has been effective from the bench but that hardly justifies playing Alfie May on his own for 70 minutes when up against three big experienced centre-halves. It also shows a lack of ambition at home. I am trying not to think about the visit of Cray Valley Paper Mills.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Lincoln City 3 v Charlton Athletic 1

I dared to allow myself a little positivity pre-match yesterday and wondered if this side could be in the frame come January. Fair to say that question was answered emphatically last night at Lincoln and the answer was 'no chance.'

I followed a stream with home team commentary and was clear early on that they didn't fancy their chances. Five missing attacking players and the consensus seemed to be that they could only really expect to score from a set-piece - they had already rumbled that we are vulnerable to them - and that they were unlikely to score more than once, so would need to keep it tight if they were to have a chance of winning.

Their confidence hardly grew in the opening ten minutes when we piled forward and when Alfie May bundled Tyreece Campbell's cross in from close range, things looked very promising for us. We continued to play in their half and were committing players but couldn't get a second and eventually Lincoln began to find their out balls. Adelakun got nearly everything on the left and Sorensen everything on the right. The began to create those set pieces and you could see our players wilting under the pressure. 

It didn't help that Terrell Thomas had been given leave-of-absence and was usually in their half when Sorensen was tearing into our defence behind him. Cue their equaliser. Sorensen raced to the edge of the box and played the ball in for Adelakun to challenge Lloyd Jones. Adelakun spun Jones and was left six yards out with just Maynard-Brewer to beat.

The equaliser lit the blue touch paper and we fell apart. Sorensen was unfortunate not to score from one of a series of shots from distance as we struggled to clear our lines. Maynard-Brewer had already done very well to beat one out but the others brought players down and caused general chaos in an already panicky back line.

We survived until half-time but they came straight back at us after the break and continued the torment. Michael Hector keeps telling us that his regular howlers are just one of those things and that they even themselves out over a season. Well I really hope we don't have to maintain a count much longer because he was woeful. It's not as if he doesn't look capable, rather more that he doesn't look that bothered. He gives a fine cameo of an aging pro milking his last contract. Sadly, that goes for his mate Terrell Thomas. Replacing these two is the urgent business we need done in January.

Adelakun made it 2-1 after 57 minutes and I was suddenly overcome by tiredness and fell asleep. I envisaged a third as I drifted off and have woken this morning to see it. 

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Big week for Michael Appleton and the club

Charlton make the tricky looking trip to Lincoln this evening for a match which, when combined with Saturday's visit of fourth-placed Bolton Wanderers, may tell us quite a bit about how this season may pan out.

What is already clear, is that Michael Appleton has enjoyed a good start to his role in the hot-seat at the Valley. Unbeaten in seven, we have started scoring again and several players in particular are in rich form.

A nagging doubt remains our defensive frailty and an ability to hand the opposition goals from nowhere. However, unlike Dean Holden, Appleton has at least settled on a formation (a back 4) and has largely been sticking with the same personnel of Thomas, Jones, Hector and Watson. We could really do with another clean sheet to follow the one on Saturday but Lincoln will possess more threat and put us under more pressure.

It could be another important game for George Dobson and Louie Watson, who have been doing a lot of protective work between them to help the back four. That means our 'front four' will be critical to us potentially winning the match. I really would like to see two upfront and with Chuks out again, it has to be Leaburn and May. I think the two man attack would help us keep a stronger counter-attacking threat which might just prevent the Imps from getting larger periods of pressure. Key to that decision has to be who will do the carrying and supply from midfield. Blackett-Taylor has to start on the left and following his performance from the bench on Saturday, Tyreece Campbell must start ahead of Tedic who is not a midfielder.

If, if we can avoid defeat tonight we should be buoyed for a real challenge on Saturday. A point will keep the kettle boiling and keep us in the picture. A win would inevitably see us rise several places towards the play-off spots and give us a real incentive join the hunt proper on Saturday.

It would be a remarkable turnaround from where Dean Holden left us and a real confidence booster for all at the club.

I would love to think it may also bolster a bigger board-level conversation about what to do come January. Money must be very tight given the run-rate and the fact that our revenues must be relatively flat thus far. Gates have yet to improve notably although they might just be about to rise if the current progress and attacking football is maintained. I have no doubt that without the impact Appleton has had thus far, we would have seen some movement of players (in and out) which would have netted us cash to keep us going without further boardroom investment but obviously left us potentially weaker. Given the likely sums involved, that promise of a very unlikely looking promotion two months ago, might just encourage a workaround to support a push, if that looks remotely possible. As I said, a big week. Two defeats and we may well be back to boom and bust. 

Sunday 8 October 2023

Charlton Athletic 2 v Blackpool 2

A game and a result which typifies the season for us so far and I fear, going forward. 

This week has shown we have cutting teeth with May, Aneke and Leaburn all fit and available. It has also shown how equally vulnerable we are in defence. 

It's not just the differential between back and front but the current tactical defensive play is also making it difficult for us to take the game to our opponents in the opening halves of matches in particular.

Michel Hector has explained his aberration yesterday which gave the Seasiders the lead in terms of "it will even itself out over the season." I really hope he is right but it's not just yesterday and Tuesday's blooper. He has made mistakes regularly this season going back to the Aberdeen friendly and it really doesn't help when he is the senior defensive pro. 

He is not alone either. Ness has been dropped because of his drop in form and Lloyd Jones is only now enjoying a bit of rehabilitation. Terrell Thomas can't play wing-back - if told to, he abandons his full-back berth. I haven't seen enough of Tennai Watson yet but he hasn't impressed out of the blocks.

What's to be done? We are unlikely to be able to bring anyone in until New Year, and unless we sell someone first, I don't believe the budget will be there for much better. Abankwah may offer something but that remains to be seen.

It looks like we have to find a tactical solution. For me, we can start by stop playing the ball back and forth across the defence and instead get it forward from the keeper or the first receiving defender. It might not be aspirational but it can't be any less effective than allowing yourself to be pressed in possession and having to play an emergency pass forward or even to be unable to see a ball and eventually have to revert to a goalkeeping clearance anyway.

Appleton has seen that four at the back is less complicated for us than a five but we still seem to want our full-backs to push up. They aren't particularly effective across the halfway line and with two left in the centre, we seem to play too far apart. This has cost us goals this season - two this week.

I would play a flat back four and get them moving up together more often to compress the midfield and give us more opportunity of winning the ball and using those cutting teeth, rather than waiting until 70th minute changes and going hell for leather.

Anyway, some positives from yesterday. It was good to see Maynard-Brewer back in goal although injury to Isted (6 weeks) may have been the reason, rather than Isted's worrying performances. 

Alfie May continues his fine form and scored again. Seven so far and you can see loads to come as long as he stays fit and gets support. 

Chuks Aneke has been a bit of a revelation on his return. He seems as fit and as fast as he once was, several injuries ago, and he is causing chaos when he comes on from the bench again. 

A special equaliser from CBT but overall he had another iffy game. When teams double-up on him, he understandably struggles, but we need to use the 'extra' man to good effect and help free him up.

Louie Watson looks useful in the middle but possibly a bit short of pace to be completely effective. I need to see more of him. Fraser pressed the play when he came on but he too lacks a yard of pace that would make him far more of a threat.

Courtesy of Derby County internationals, we have no game next week, so will return at home in a fortnight against struggling Reading. A fantastic opportunity for Appleton to extend his unbeaten run and win with a bit to spare for a change.

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Charlton Athletic 4 v Exeter City 1

A barn-storming second-half made up for a poor opening 45 minutes and gave Michael Appleton his third consecutive home win.

After Saturday's drab draw at struggling Shrewsbury, I wasn't sure what to expect last night. We have a decent recent record against them but they were five points above us in the table and our defence frightens me. 

The starting line-up was a surprise too, with Maynard-Brewer back in goal and a start for Chuks Aneke. Tedic may a start in midfield too which looked a bit uncomfortable. Maynard-Brewer was overdue a return but I worry about Aneke starting. The defence was unchanged with Thomas, Jones, Hector and Watson nominally across the back. However, the reality of that was a back three as Thomas largely vacated the left-back position. We seemed to play with a hole at left back for much of the game but it also spread the gap between Jones and Hector which lead to the Grecians goal after 23 minutes when a counter-attack from a Charlton corner saw the ball played straight through the middle to Scott who ran on and drew Maynard-Brewer before steering the ball passed him. Exeter enjoyed a good 15 minute spell after taking the lead and Scott might have doubled it when he arrived in the box to meet a cross and swept it high towards the top-left corner but it just missed the woodwork. 

We huffed and puffed to get level but it wasn't looking great with May playing a withdrawn role and Chuks leading the line alone. However, Alfie turned provider on the stroke of half-time after coming out of midfield in possession, heading right and then floating a ball onto Chuks' head. Aneke crashed it off the bar from close range but Corey Blackett-Taylor was on hand to drive home the rebound. 

After the break and kicking towards the Covered End, I expected us to win the game. After 65 minutes, we were awarded a penalty after Louie Watson was knocked off the ball. Chuks took the penalty but Sinisalo got a hand to it and pushed it onto the post. The ball bounced back into play and there, yards ahead of anyone else was Alfie May who smashed it home. 

A minute later and the referee made a howler by sending off Aimson after a tackle with May. From then on it was only a matter of how many. Miles Leaburn gave Aneke a rest and grabbed a fine trade-mark box finish. near the end of normal time Alfie may added another close range finish on the rebound. 

Appleton is now unbeaten in five with 11 from 15 and another home win on Saturday against Blackpool would cement a very solid start. I just wish we could sort out our defensive tactics and stop conceding goals we really shouldn't be giving away.