Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Queens Park Rangers 2
Charlton Athletic 1

Well, Phil Parkinson’s brave new world started with a defeat, but I have to admit, I was extremely pleased to see the difference the new manager made after just a few days in charge.

The first thing I noticed at Loftus Road, apart from the smell, and the ridiculous situation where you had to walk half-way round the ground to get in, was that the players were on the field well over 45 minutes before kick off. There we saw the first impact of the new regime, with Mark Kinsella on the pitch leading the players through various warm-up routines. You could tell from the players attire that some were in, and some were out, but all looked in quite a happy mood which was a change and nice to see.

When the team was announced, Parky had dropped Moutaouakil, Holland, and Sam, while Nicky Bailey was also missing (presumed injured?). Back in came Crainie at right back, Therry Racon in a new look central midfield pairing with Jose Semedo, and Keith Gillespie; Dizzy had signed on loan late on Monday. The new look 4-4-2 formation also saw Martyn Waghorn make his full debut up front alongside Andy Gray.

Charlton started brightly, and seemed content to try to keep possession, often passing the ball around at the back, and drawing Rangers on in an effort to make space for the forwards. Semedo and Racon hustled and bustled, and won plenty of ball, but the creative element was a little lacking at times. Rangers did have one shot early on from the half-way line (it went wide…), so you can imagine the pre-game team-talk telling them the level of Nicky Weaver’s confidence at present!

Then Rangers scored from pretty much their first attack. A ball was played down the left wing, and all and sundry seemed to think that it was on its way out for a Charlton throw-in. All except the blue shirted winger who controlled it, got a wave on from the referee, and proceeded to get to the bye-line and cross for the unmarked Dexter Blackstock to knock home past Weaver. Just sixteen minutes gone, and Charlton behind to an awful goal once more. I don’t know if the ball did go out, but as the linesman had at least two players between him and the ball, he couldn’t or wouldn’t, and most definitely didn’t, flag for a throw; yet Addicks players just stopped. Schoolboy stuff really?

Thankfully, heads did not drop, and with Youga, Primus, Hudson, and Crainie all battling to win the ball before it got into danger areas, and with Racon and Semedo finally finding outlets for won ball in Bouazza and Gillespie, things were looking up. Gillespie (left) had the ball out wide right, and cut in past two defenders and into the penalty area; he could have shot with his left foot but crossed the ball to Bouazza on the opposite side of the area, who took it to the bye-line and thumped over a cross which Racon somehow knocked in and celebrated (top pic). It was a long way away, and the crowd were unsure for a while who had scored (Racon or Semedo), but it was just the lift the team and fans needed.

Now with some confidence, there was simply one team in it, and they were playing in red for a change! Corners were won; Gillespie and Bouazza took there men on, and the midfield was completely dominated, though sometimes the Frenchman and Portugeuser got in each others way. Sadly, the tough ankle tappers in hooped shirts couldn’t cough up any further chances to the Addicks, and the sides went in at half-time level.

Rangers changed things a little at half-time, and brought on Agyemang as an extra forward. That resulted in the opening minutes being more like a cup tie, as both sides attacked and counter-attacked in a very open game. It certainly warmed the fans a bit on a bitter night. Bouazza cut in and crossed for Waghorn, but his shot was blocked, then Primus scooped a shot onto the top of the net after a corner; even an improved Rangers were playing awfully.

Waghorn retired after an hour of honest endeavour, and was replaced by Luke Varney. A new manager, and a new chance for Luke to redeem himself, but sadly, very sadly, the same end product. A free kick wasn’t cleared properly and the ball came in to an unmarked Varney just eight yards out. As the ball dropped over his shoulder, the crowd, just feet away, could see the chance that this was. Just the keeper on the line to beat; no other player would be involved anywhere near; the linesman’s flag stayed down. Varney swivelled and volleyed as he had to but the ball ballooned high over the bar and into the electric scoreboard behind the goal. If Varney ever needed a confidence boost form a goal, he will not get a better chance…Luke stood, checked over with the linesman to see if (or more likely hope that) the flag was up, then stared at the dark sky, listening to the disappointment behind the goal.

Sadly, you knew that this may be the games turning point, though it wasn’t that Rangers went up the other end and scored straight away. Hudson had two chances from corners but failed to get enough purchase on the ball, and Primus had another shot, as did Racon. Charlton pressed forwards.

Then the inevitable; an innocuous cross from the right wing, and up leapt Dexter again to power a header into the top corner from about twelve yards out. Weaver had no chance again; it was good goal. A third goal almost came soon after (a header went wide) but Charlton did not buckle, and with sub Lloyd Sam (on for Crainie) working space to cross the ball, all was not lost. Sadly Andy Gray, who worked his socks off all night long and chased down everything that was anywhere near him, couldn’t get on the end of anything. Varney went AWOL after his miss, and now needs some time in the reserves before seeing another first team match in the near future.

Despite the urgings of the fans, Charlton just couldn’t get another clear chance, and the whistle finally went.

At least the team showed heart and endeavour, and also a different style and formation. One of the recent problems has been lack of possession, but last night I suspect that Charlton had the vast majority (maybe 60%?), and this is all down to how Parky set them up to play. Saturday will be a serious game though, and despite the better performance, the Addicks need a creative spark to go along with the more solid display. Kinsella will get the team warmed up again I’m sure, and his heart (amply displayed on his sleeve) was nice to see again after a few years, and will get a good response from Addicks fans at The Valley I’m sure.

Parkinson certainly stamped his mark on his first game in charge of the Addicks, but still couldn't get the right result. Even if he is not the longer term choice of the board to manage the club, I am confident he will do decent job and we certainly loook a bit better now than we did at this time last week.

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