Tuesday, December 27, 2005

And the Boo's ring out, this Christmas...

Charlton Athletic 0 Arsenal 1

Yes, there was more boo-ing at the end of this game, as with most other home games recently, but instead of it being aimed at the losing Charlton team, this time it was most definitely aimed at incompetent referee and Crystal Palace fan Steve Bennett.

Bennett was fairly awful throughout, being chided by both sets of supporters during the match, as he made error after error. Bennett is (apparently) an experienced Premiership referee, yet it seemed that he instructed both linesmen to concentrate on offsides solely (which they didn't do very well, but that's another matter...) rather than help him with decisions when they were much better placed. It was a real shame that the injury that threatened to see Bennett replaced by the fourth official durng the first half did not get worse, as the game would have benefitted enormously.

Rash tacklles flew in, from both sides. Sorondo, starting his first Premiership match for Charlton was booked after a second tackle from behind (his first having missed player and ball...), and he then received a slightly late, but very painful late challenge from Fabregas that put him out of the game completely. This tackle did not even warrant a foul, though the linesman saw it at close hand, and even acknowledged to the crowd and substitutes that he thought it was a foul. Why he didn't flag was astonishing.

It was left to Danny Murphy to feel the referee's wrath - a tackle that almost breaks a players leg (like the one Sorondo received) does not warrant a foul, booking or sending off, but oh, if you throw the ball away then you better watch out! Hreidersson, who had a storming game having reverted to his best position - left back - won a great header in midfield unchallenged. That his forward momentum carried him into a static Gilberto Silva could hardly be described as a deliberate foul, but Bennett blew the whistle in Arsenal's favour. Big Hermann took umbrage and it was quite funny to see his lack of restraint as he visually and repeatedly showed the whole stadium how he had won the header cleanly and fairly and that Bennett must be blind... But Bennett then made sure that the TV cameras could get a good close up of him, that he would have his name written large in the papers the next morning, by sending Murphy off for a second bookable offence. If it had happened to an Arsenal player, all hell would have broken loose! This was the fourth consecutive Premiership game that Bennett had sent off a player...

To the football - Alan Curbishley did what he said he would, and changed things around. Out from the team that lost so poorly to Wigan last week went Chris Perry, Chris Powell, Alexei Smertin (due to a knee niggle), Jerome Thomas (unwell), Darren Ambrose and, most conspicously, Dean Kiely. In came Jonathan Fortune, Gonzalo Sorondo, Thomas Myrhe, Matt Holland, Bryan Hughes, and Shaun Bartlett, as Charlton lined up 4-4-2, with Hermann at left back, and with Kishishev on the right and Hughes the left of midfield. The official match report is here.

Arsenal made the better start, and looked fairly comfortable for a team that had lost their last three Premiership games. Wenger became increasingly frustrated though as the deadlock became hard to break. The best chances fell to Ljundberg, who was played through on a one-to-one with Myrhe in a beautiful fast counter-attacking move, and then had another chance from the inside right position. In both cases, Myrhe proved a very capable Premiership goalkeeper, by saving the efforts.

Charlton slowly came into the game as the team settled into their new formation, and Murphy, Holland and Bent all had shooting chances. Darren Bent's was by far the best chance, having been played through by Murphy, but a great recovering tackle by Sol Campbell cleared the ball for a corner just as Dazza was about to shoot.

The second half started with Arsenal obviously stepping up a gear; Henry, who had clipped the top of the Charlton crossbar just before half time from a free kick, became much more involved and busy. The pressure built, Myrhe made some good saves, but the inevitable goal eventually arrived. Henry had a shot from the six yard box blocked by Sorondo, then his follow up shot well saved by Myrhe. The ball broke to Reyes though, and he buried the chance calmly (see pic). Charlton tried to rally, but the Hreidersson foul and Murphy sending off soon after the goal, then the Sorondo injury-linked substitution, killed them off. Charlton did not look like scoring after that and seemed to settle for a one-nil loss, but a moral victory.

Of the new boys, Myrhe was excellent, and looks sure to keep his place for the Christmas and new year period at least; Sorondo played well until limping off, and Fortune also had a good game; Hughes looked out of position on the wide left and did not contribute much at all; Bartlett ran well, and won a few headers too, but did not look at all dangerous (replacement Lisbie was much more innocuous though, and did very little in the twenty five minutes he was on the pitch); Matt Holland ran well all game, and harried and challenged all over the pitch - it's just a shame he doesn't tackle much.

The best on field performance though came from a revitalised Hermann Hreidersson at left back. He charged around, rampaging up and down the pitch, and tried his heart out. He dumped Freddie Ljundberg on his back-side toward the end of the game with a flick of his hip that the Swede did not like at all. Poor Freddie thought better of taking things further though, when faced with the big Icelander!

All told, this was a much better Charlton performance, even if the score did not warrant any points. A game that will not go down in memory, but it should lift the management, teams, and supporters spirits after a terrible couple of months.

Three more games left before the FA cup match at Sheffield Wednesday, and three more positive performances will mean we go into 2006 in much better shape than we imagined.

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