Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Puppy Love for Donny

Charlton Athletic 1 Doncaster Rovers 2

On a wet and windy night, Charlton’s fate this season was probably sealed with a home defeat against the division’s in-form team – Doncaster. This was a must win game for bottom of the table Charlton, and the Addicks lost it.

Pretty much everything that could go wrong yesterday did: My journey to the ground was laboriously slow due to traffic and road works and took twice as long as normal; I found my number 17 voucher missing from my season ticket book which meant a quick foray to the main ticket office to rectify matters; my seat was getting soaked before, during, and no doubt after the game and I got suitably drenched; my plea for a “homer” ref came up with exhibitionist Rob Styles; and of course, the result didn’t help my manner.

Charlton went into the game with just the one expected change – the on-loan Danny Butterfield replacing Graeme Murty who was injured and had returned early from his own loan period to Reading. Although you could see that Donny were adept at passing the ball around well on the sodden pitch, it was Charlton who had the best of the opening. Chris Dickson and Jonjo Shelvey both twice got into shooting positions in the first ten minutes, but each time the ball was either driven well wide or scuffed.

Sadly Dickson had one of those games that show why he shouldn’t be such an automatic choice to start in this league – failing to hold the ball up, failing to do his work in covering defenders when they had the ball, and most culpably, failing to get any sort of shot on target throughout the game despite numerous "attempts".

Shelvey’s shooting was of similar calibre throughout, but at least he busied himself in the first half, before fading during the second period.

There were possibly only two attacks of note ion the first 45 minutes – after Dickson held the ball out wide and won a corner, Shelvey’s dead ball fell to the head of Hudson, and at the far post, Tom Soares rose to turn it goalwards but against the bar, from where it was cleared. Later, Charlton nearly conceded after a magnificent passing spell from the visitors. There must have been over twenty fast passes – short and long – that took the ball from one end of the pitch to the other, via both wings, and finally a cross was fashioned which fell right onto a forwards head. Luckily for the Addicks, he must had been admiring the build up play and completely mistimed the header when he should have scored.

A level half-time score may have suited Charlton better, as they had been playing into the strong wind, but it was Doncaster who scored soon after the resumption. The ball was worked through the Charlton defence near the left wing corner flag and Coppinger – a thorn in Charlton’s side all night - burst through, came out to give himself an angle and fired across and round Rob Elliott into the far corner.

Charlton needed a quick response, but with Dickson still struggling, Shelvey fading, and the midfield closed down it was not forthcoming.

After an hour, Phil Parkinson proved he does know how to use substitutes, when he brought on Lloyd Sam in place of the quiet Soares, and Deon Burton in place of the anonymous Matt Spring. Sadly during the rest of the match Sam saw little of the ball, and Burton was as ineffective as he normally is.

A corner was won on 73 minutes, and once more it was top goal scorer Nicky Bailey who provided the equaliser. In similar fashion to Saturday, Bailey received the clearance just outside the penalty area and this time his controlled volley (left), rather than full bloodied shot, arrowed into the corner of the net past the unsighted keeper.

This could have signalled the revival that home fans wanted, but within three minutes, and not for the first time this season, Charlton failed to hang on to what they had. Bailey was adjudged by the linesman to have fouled the Donny forward, whose fall was acrobatic to say the least, and although Styles took time to think about it, his decision went against the home team. Elliott dived the right way, but could not get close to the penalty kick.

From there, it was much more of the same, even though Darren Ambrose came on for Kelly Youga, with Charlton playing three at the back for the last ten minutes. The last act by showman Styles was to even up the "not sending someone off" count. Ealrier, Donny's already booked Chambers had come in late on Youga but Styles played an advantage. When play did stop, he chose not to take any action. Late in the game, Therry Racon, who had been booked for a late tackle in the first half, tripped a player to stop a Doncaster break; Styles theatrically called Racon then skipper Mark Hudson to him before making it clear that a red would follow any further fouls by the Frenchman.

It was a pretty poor game from a Charlton perspective, even though the effort could not be questioned. Doncaster looked better organised, they were much more confident, and played almost all of the football on the night. Charlton simply had no answer to their short one-two’s and pass and move tactics, even though I’m sure this is how Donny have set up all season. If Donny can replicate the form they currently have over the last ten games of the season, it would not be a surprise to see them creep into the play offs (they are nine points shy at present), and as the form team, anything could happen from there (Premiership beware!).

Charlton can probably consider themselves as good as down now; other results place the Addicks twelve points from the fourth bottom club, and the number of points required to remain in this league now looks like it may be at least fifty. That would require Charlton to almost double their season tally in order to survive, and I doubt that can be achieved in the remaining eleven matches.

So from here it looks like Parky will need to have one eye on next year, and division three; I would still hope to see him bring back Zheng Zhi (for Matt Spring, who seems pretty ineffective lately), and retain Shelvey in the starting team. Some of the others who are not going (or unlikely) to be at the club next year though should be jettisoned (from the sixteen) as soon as possible, including Ambrose, Matt Holland, and Svetislav Todorov. Youngsters like Toks Yussuff, Josh Wright, and Stuart Fleetwood (and possibly even new pro’s Jack Clark and Alex Stavrinou) should also see bench (and where possible, game) time over the remaining part of the season, so that they are ready when required next year.

In the afternoon before the game, I got out an old video and watched The Deer Hunter for the first time in about twenty five years. Like Charlton’s plight, it is quite sad at the end, and the final scene sees the cast drink a toast, a toast that today seems opportune to our only bright light it seems…To Nick.

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