Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Beattie'd and Bruised

Charlton Athletic 0 Sheffield United 3

That wasn’t exactly in the script, was it? A poor performance from Charlton, who were completely nullified by an organised Blades unit that competed and won nearly every second phase ball.

Nicky Weaver didn’t really make a save, but three times he saw the ball disappear into his net. Sam Sodje had a battle all night long with James Beattie, and it was Sodje who needed several doses of treatment as Beattie battered and bruised him in a very physical encounter. Chris Iwelumo seemed to have shrunk in the last few days, as that can be the only explanation for him winning almost no aerial duels tonight, or maybe it was the huge central defenders that marked him. Andy Reid was almost anonymous in the first half, and only really saw some of the ball in the last fifteen minutes when the game had been won (and not by Charlton...). This was possibly Reid’s worst game in a Charlton shirt; when he did get the ball, he wasted it or gave it away nine times out of ten.

I could go on, but actually, that might not be very fair. The simple fact to me was that Sheffield United came with a plan, and executed it impeccably. They gave the ball playing Charlton midfield and defence no space to pass. They marked very tightly all across the pitch. They competed for every ball and made sure they were first to every knock down, both defensive and attacking, and in midfield too.

We can all knock Bryan Robson for not being much of a manager, but he won the tactical game hands down tonight.

Alan Pardew tried his best to counter the plan; he withdrew Lloyd Sam and Jose Semedo at half time when both were doing OK. Sam had a couple of early shots on target, and Semedo broke up much of the midfield possession that came through that area (as opposed to over or round it). Replacements Luke Varney and Matt Holland also did OK; Holland ran as he always does and challenged when he could, and Varney used his pace and put over a couple of good crosses, one of which should have seen an equaliser from Zheng Zhi (who shot wastefully over from ten yards). Pardew’s last throw of the dice was to send on Bougherra for Basey with around twenty minutes left. Young Grant was given a bit of an education by Keith Gillespie, who constantly pressured him into mistakes, and was looking like he might provide another goal at any time.

In the end, the first goal came from a James Beattie penalty on 32 minutes after Jerome Thomas pushed a forward who was odds on to head home at the far post; luckily, otherwise fine referee Mark Halsey did not even book Thomas. The second, with fifteen minutes left, was from a knock down after Sodje’s defensive header did not get cleared, with Armstrong completely unmarked to turn the ball home from five yards. Mills got booked in the goalmouth melee that followed as he tried to retrieve the ball. Strangely, Charlton then tried to take a free kick from the six yard box and it was surreal to see players unsure or unaware if it was in fact a goal 30 seconds after the ball was rolled in. Mills spoke to the linesman and Halsey produced the yellow card without hesitation as a deterrent. The final goal, two minutes from the end was a breakaway, with Cahill sent free from the halfway line to finish with aplomb.

Charlton’s only other chance of note came following a good period of pressure, not long before the second goal came. Mills broke infield from the right, and shot left footed across goalkeeper Kenny, who could only push the ball out toward the onrushing Iwelumo. Sadly big Chris failed to win the race to the ball by enough and his shot was blocked up and over by the recovering goalie.

It was real disappointment tonight not to get something from the match. However, this may jolt the team into being more cut-throat and competitive when facing similar big, hard, sides.

Saturday now becomes a little more important, and it will be interesting to see if Pards decides that 4-5-1 is not the way to start at home. In away games, Sam and Thomas seem to have more time to hold the ball and move it forward, whereas at home, they are pressured quickly and do not provide much variation if closed down giving the midfield a lack of passing options.

Or maybe this was just a ploy so that Pards doesn’t win the dreaded Manager of the Month award, for which he has been short-listed?

Roll on Saturday…

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Sam was injured
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