Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pessimistic Perspective?

Charlton Athletic 1 Burnley 3

I did something I don't normally do before writing my blog this morning; I read what other bloggers were saying. I didn't make for an easy read - where bloggers were trying to be nice about Charlton's home form and performance yesterday, those making comments were spiteful. And vice versa.

What do I think?

This defeat, the fourth at home this season, was another example of poor defending, and having to chase a game from the outset. For the record, Andy Gray (who I warned was a danger in my preview) scored after six minutes, heading home at the near post from a free kick on the corner of the penalty area. Six minutes later, another free kick from a similar position (but slightly further out) was headed into the other corner of the net by McCann. After the shock of going two down at home had subsided,

Andy Reid pulled one back, volleying in powerfully after a Mills cross had not been cleared (left).

Any hopes of a resurgence in the second half fell apart when Mills inexpicably handled a deep cross, and the second home penalty conceded in front of the North Stand in a week was crashed home by Gray.

Charlton huffed and puffed, but as Harriet Harman said in midweek, this house was not for blowing down, and Burnley held on for all three points.

So what went wrong? If Bryan Robson won the midweek game tactically, where did we lose this one?

Alan Pardew made four changes to the starting team - Powell replaced the injured Basey as forecast, and Varney came in up front with the predicted reversion to a 4-4-2 line up. This meant Sam dropped to the bench. Darren Ambrose replaced the injured Jerome Thomas, and Matt Holland was given his first start of the season in place of a rested Jose Semedo.

Obviously the loss of two goals inside the first fifteen minutes meant any prelaid plans went out of the window, though Charlton did not panic and pressed solidly rather than stupidly for the next hour.

Chances did come along - Zheng Zhi messed up at the North End again, when his poor control lost a great chance to score. Reid also shot powerfully on target, but saw his thunderbolt saved.

Defensively, the team had lost all confidence, although Burnely actually posed little threat. Sodje had a poor game, and his passing was poor. He also won little in the air all day. Mills (left) spent too much time arguing with the officials rather than growling at the opposition, something he is better at and should be doing. Powell looked rusty in the first half, and was no improvement on Basey (who is half his age!), which is quite something to say. Fortune was back at his non-commital worst, refusing to take responsiblity where needed.

The midfield was skillful but slow and cumbersome; Reid looks in desperate need of a rest, and his overall play has been poor for some weeks now. ZiZi also looks a little tired, and he is not being helped by the continual changes made to his playing position, both game-to-game, and within each game. Holland ran around as he does, but provided little creativity to a crowded central area, often retreating deep to play a wasteful and time-consuming one-two with a central defender. Ambrose was ineffectual in providing crosses from wide out, but did beat his marker and look dangerous on occasion.

Up front, Varney tried hard, was quick, but ran down too many cul-de-sacs for my liking. He needs to be getting on the end of Iwelumo's flicks and breaking free through the middle, not starting too wide and deep and then letting defenders have first dibs. Big Chris? Well, he had a tough game. It did look like he was being fouled continually, but the referee failed to help him. When this happens, we need to have a plan B. Chris did "score" but the linesmens flag went up immediaetly and it did look offside. He was also supposed to be McCann's marker at free kicks...

Pards didn't really try to change anything until after the penalty, and then it was too late: The bench replacements weren't much better than those that started - Sam (for Zhi) was given free rein, but made little impact other than to not be given a penalty near the end when one looked certain; Bougherra (for Sodje) made some good forward runs but it was too late by then; and McLeod (for Varney) had even less time to make an impact and it has been asked if he actually touched the ball in the ten minutes he was on? Pards made little alteration tactically all game, and inside he must be fuming at the concentration levels of his team. I defence of him though, I do wonder why we are not adept at handling set-plays - is there an inadequacy in Parkinson's planning? Does Chapple provide good enough scouting reports? Whatever you said and thought about Curbs and Day, they did know what the oppo was trying to do...

The referee (Shoebridge) was amazingly inconsistent; he gave fouls if anyone challenged from behind (with even the slightest hint of a touch), but not when Iwelumo was being wrestled to the ground; he booked Varney for deliberate handball (early on), but not McLeod (late on). He booked Mills for handball when it may not have been deliberate! We all used to complain about Premiership referees, but the Championship lot leave plenty to be desired too...and it cannot help when he leaves the field at half-time being called names by most of the crowd - is that really going to get him to give us fifty-fifty decisions later? He wasn't helped at all by his linesmen either; they both simply flagged for offsides all game, and not for fouls...

Ultimately, the whole performance was just not good enough for a team trying to get out of this league via the top end. It doesn't help much when calls are made to sign new players in January; we have a big squad now, and if we do bring in new players it will put some players noses out of joint and some will want to leave. That is presuming that we have cash to spend, and somehow I don't think that will be the case unless players are sold. And who is going to command much in the way of a fee anyway now? Will Reid want to go to Derby in the hope of a pay-rise and a chance to keep them up? Will Iwelumo be asked to lead the line at Middlesboro? Does Birmingham's new manager like Jerome Thomas's attitude or will Steve Bruce be looking for a bigger name at Wigan? All unlikely to happen, so my opinion is that we should stick with what we have, try and keep everyone, and hope that they are good enough to win a few more games this season.

My weekly look at the league table may show we are down to fourth, but I am panged by doubts and think it mentally may be best to go back to the Curbishley theory of getting to fifty points first, then worrying about how the rest of the season may pan out. In that way, I should be concerned with getting 19 more points (four wins and seven draws would do it), and if we get them by the end of the season we will be safe from relegation; if we get them by February, then we have a chance of promotion; and if we get them by March we might make the (awful) play offs.

I guess that once a Charlton supporter, always a Charlton supporter, the pessimist in me has finally come out about this season, and after yesterdays performance, that's not surprising.

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