Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wandering Stars

Wycombe Wanderers 1 Charlton Athletic 2

Charlton will be happy to have finally played a game in 2010, and to have gained a victory, but for me, the feeling I felt as the final whistle went was utter frustration. This was a match that Charlton should have won at a canter, but poor play almost cost points, and manager Phil Parkinson will be fully aware of these issues.

The chances were not all confined to the visitors though, and but for a poor miss in the first five minutes by Beavon, the game could have taken shape in an altogether different mode. Beavon picked up the ball near the halfway line, and strode forwards with Jose Semedo chasing most of the way; as he got to the Charlton defence, spread out along the edge of the penalty box, he weighed up his passing options, only to see the man coming to tackle him – Christain Dailly – slip and fall just ahead, giving him a clear run at goal. Rob Elliot came out to meet Beavon but really had no chance, so why the Wycombe forward shot wide is anybody's guess.

This may have come as a wake up call for the high flying Addicks, but it still took time to sort out who was supposed to be playing where, due to Parky’s chosen formation and personnel. You would have hoped that, after three weeks of training with no matches, the team would have an idea of who was meant to pick up the right full back when he ran forwards, as they set up without a left sided midfield player due to the tactic of playing Jonjo Shelvey in behind the two forwards. Semedo had been dragged out to cover that side a couple of times already, and it took a lot of discussion between players before Nicky Bailey was charged with doing his job on the left hand edge of the diamond and covering the attacking full back. During these initial stages, Grant Basey at left back had been sorely exposed, and you did feel sorry for him when you saw the protection that Elliot Omozusi had from Lloyd Sam, to be fair, on the other flank.

Thankfully, the early uncertainness at the back was confounded by a goal against the run of play; Bailey broke free down the left where he was happy to attack (though not defend at that stage), and crossed ahead of the onrushing Dave Mooney. The ball cleared everyone until it got to Lloyd Sam, who, to be fair, controlled it well and pulled back to Shelvey who screwed his shot across goal and into the far corner. It was a great start score-wise, with just 11 minutes on the clock.

The lead did allow Charlton more time to settle, and for some reason Wycombe seemed to concentrate on trying to isolate the lumbering Harrold against Omozusi, but this simply took him too far away from the action and goal when a more central attack may have brought more dividends. Charlton’s own attacks were swift, and it was great to see Mooney back in the team and making runs down the channels, something lacking in the last couple of matches.. Deon Burton also won plenty of ball in the air, and this helped Mooney chase onto kicks forward.

Lloyd Sam, to be fair, also saw plenty of ball, and the formation did seem to allow him to have ample room to run into and exploit. Annoyingly though, when Sam did get the ball, Omozusi completely failed to help his right sided partner by over-lapping, and often Sam, to be fair, had to retreat backwards when faced with double marking.

The other worrying aspect was that many Charlton players simply slipped over when asked to turn quickly on the muddy pitch. You do wonder what sort of pre-match warm up the players do that they are not equipped with long enough studs to handle the conditions. It’s all very well taking shots at the goal, or running along prone ladders, but not enough turn and run time seems to be done to help during a game.

Basey, unlike Omozusi, moved forwards at any opportunity, but many of his passes or crosses went to blue shirts not red, though Burton did head one of his few decent balls over the bar after half an hour or so. With Mooney pulling the defence all over the place, and chasing any sort of through ball, Charlton did have chances, but just could not get that all important second goal that would have calmed them even more.

At half-time, it really was a case that Charlton should have been further in front than they were, provided you ignored the opening miss from Beavon.

With the Addicks kicking toward their 1600 travelling supporters in the seond half, we all wanted to see lots of possession turned into pressure in the knowledge that goals would surely follow. Parky, though, reflected the concerns from the first half by switching the formation back to a more orthodox 4-4-2, with Shelvey out on the left wing more permanently, and this did give Charlton a more solid look. The problem though was mental, as the team seemed happy to sit back and soak up pressure, while trying to hit Wycombe on the break utilising Mooney’s pace. One burst forward from Mooney saw his shot squirm past the ‘keeper and drift agonisingly wide of the far post.

Charlton are never at their best when playing like this though, and eventually, one chance too many left Pitman with a turn (past Omozusi who wasn’t close enough) and a shot past the exposed Elliot to level the scores. Chris Dickson then came on for Mooney, reflecting his time out injured more than any poor play by the Irishman, and for a while he looked dangerous and played some neat flicks and passes to team-mates. Leon McKenzie then made his 2010 bow, for a tiring Burton, and all of a sudden, the counter-attacks seemed to have much more purpose. Sam, to be fair, was still seeing plenty of ball out on the right, while Shelvey was always involved on the other wing, and linking well with Basey. Sadly, Basey’s crossing was appalling all day, so many good positions were wasted.

Charlton scored the eventual winner with just 13 minutes left on the clock. The ball seemed to be bouncing around the penalty area for minutes after an initial move into the box by Sam, with a goal bound Shelvey shot hitting McKenzie and coming out before being played in again. The ball then came out to Bailey, who crashing drive was stopped near the line, only to bounce back out to him. A quick shift to the left gave him space, and then a thumping left footer (left) saw the ball hit the back of the net (though I must admit I initially thought it was the side netting from my seat in the corner of the stand…). It was Bailey’s tenth league goal of the campaign to date, and yet another important, points winning, one.

Once more you hoped that the Addicks would go on to a comfortable win, but more chances were spurned, and then the dreaded last few minutes and (five minutes) injury time had to be endured before victory was claimed.

A word about the referee, and his assistants – I thought they all had terrific games, and really let the game flow, and also made allowance to the heavy pitch conditions. There was only one booking in the game, a deserved yellow card for Basey as he stopped a Wycombe break with a late tackle.

This was an important win, but one which still shows that Charlton need to do better of they are to keep the pressure on the teams above them.

With another game coming up on Tuesday night, my final recollection is of Rob Elliot limping toward the end of the game, and I hope that this knock does not put his position in doubt for that game, or any others?

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Perhaps we are being fussy Pedro, but it would be nice to see us winning more games comfortably, as Norwich seem to have been doing for some time. Then again Leeds seem tyo have many of theirs with last minute goals.

Having watched the Football league show this morning it's obvious that a lot of players struggled with heavy pitches (so did me and my son the back garden too..). Interesting to see what a lovely surface Bolton had for Arsenal to play on this afternoon. Looks like some of that premiership money goes on the pitch and not the players..

Pembury Addick
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