Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just Too Good for Us...

Charlton Athletic 1
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

Well they were, and they may well be too good for many other clubs in this division too this season. It wasn't so much a loss, but a lesson on how you need to play in this league - well beaten, Alan Pardew still has plenty of work to do this season.

And it all started so well!

Nicky Bailey has not been afraid to shoot in his first few games for the club, and when a defenisive header looped out toward him, some thirty yards from goal, he steadied himself, sized it up, and hit one of the sweetest volleys you could ever (and I do mean ever) wish to see. The ball just looked in from that moment on, even though I was at a 90 degree angle. I just knew from that split second it was going in. Top corner. Goalkeeper (whoever it was) no chance. One nil. Game on.

I've had a think about other recent "good" goals; last season we had Zheng Zhi's opener at Preston and Luke Varney's second at The Valley in early February as contenders for the goal of the season; both they and Andy Gray's sublime finish from a Varney backheel in the last game of the season pale into insignicance when compared to Bailey's goal yesterday. Talal El Karkouri's quick free kick against Blackburn the season before was nice, neat, and cheeky, and his other long range effort (against Sheffield United) that year was a trifle lucky; again, neither goal or any other that season compared to the shot into the Jimmy Seed stand goal defended by Wolves. I even think that Bailey's goal was better (and at least on a par) with those from Darren Ambrose and Claus Jensen versus Manchester United going back over the years, plus anything Darren Bent and Shaun Bartlett scored; in fact, only Bartlett's goal of the season versus Leicester comes anywhere near matching Bailey's shot yesterday. I really do think it was that good, and almost certainly makes it into my top ten Charlton goals (please don't ask me to name the others!) that I have seen live since I started supporting the club over 40 years ago...

Then it all got a bit messy; although the referee had a reasonable game, most calls started to go against the home team. Sam was booked for a late challenge, and limped through the rest of the game. Wolves had most of the possession in the first half and looked threatening without ever coming that close. Keogh (a late replacent for the injured in warm-up Chris Iwelumo) was a real handful and won most everything in the air. At half-time, Charlton were still in front, but it did look only a matter of time until they conceded...

As the second half progressed, the game was still pretty much all one way traffic, and it wasn't in favour of the Addicks - it was a bit like those games against Manchester United where we led, but you knew (deep down) that an equaliser would eventually come along.

So how the equaliser came was a bit of an oh-no moment. Bailey was adjudged to have fouled, and when the free kick was taken quickly and a shot loomed, he threw himself in to try to block. It seemed to me, and I wasn't that far away, that he had blocked the shot back to the forward (Keogh) whose foot carried on into Bailey. The ball flew wide, but on advice from the fourth official (who had taken over running the line due to inury) the referee gave a penalty. Most players were dumbfounded, and the crowd reasonably vexed. Hudson, as captain, was the only player to berate the referee which was good to see, but it did little good, even with the skipper showing the ref in seemingly action replay detail what happened. I haven't seen a replay on TV so I don't know if my perception was right, but I didn't think it was a foul. Sadly, Nicky Weaver couldn't stop the penalty shot this week and it was all square.

Still the game went on with little overall change to the pattern of play; Bailey, Fortune and Youga also got booked as the game progressed. Varney missed a headed chance but it was still pretty much all Wolves. Eventually Pardew made a change; in fact two, with the limping Sam withdrawn for Basey (with Bouazza switching to the right) and Dickson coming on for Gray (although most fans thought that Varney should have made way...).

Sure enough, the substitutions worked, but not Pardew's, as gold shirted sub and teenager Vokes steered home after Crainie had failed to block a cross from the left wing.

Could the Addicks come back with just ten minutes left? Well, there was no sign of it and soon enough Vokes headed another goal after Weaver had blocked an initial goal bound shot. Most Charlton fans left at that point.

In reality, no home players had put in poor performances, it was just that we were second best most of the afternoon. Weaver made some good saves, Crainie was unspectacular, Youga similar, and Hudson and Fortune tried but couldn't seem to contain Keogh. The midfield four of Bouazza, Sam, Bailey and Holland ran their collective hearts out but most of it was in defending, rather than doing much when they had possession. Varney and Gray suffered from a lack of service, and did what they could from the scraps offered. Neither sub really offered anything in the last ten minutes or so that they were on the field.

Well beaten, Charlton now need to re-group, and travel to Doncaster on Tuesday night for a really important fixture. A win and the season is back on track, but a defeat and the alarm bells may start to ring...and who knows where that could lead?

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A very good summary Pedro. I would love to think that the penalty gave them a way in that they would never have found in open play, but I think you're right. We are just not as good as Wolves. If this season is going to be a success we are going to have to beat all the beatable teams. We are going to need to win just about every game we 'expect' to. Thus, the next two games are a real test.

It's time for Pardew to show that he can motivate players to beat the strugglers, or we may well become one ourselves.
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