Thursday, February 03, 2011

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Plenty of interest to comment on from the last three weeks; twenty one days which have seen Chris Powell take over as manager at Charlton and stamp his authority and personality back on to the club.

He may be new, but as this is the fourth stint Powell has had at The Valley, it is difficult to think of him as someone who hasn’t been around for a few years. But that is the case, and since he did last leave, following the spectacular goal-scoring end to his Charlton playing career, plenty has gone wrong in SE7. Powell has the task of putting things right once more and he has done well in his opening managerial salvo's so far.

His first match in charge was a home game versus Plymouth. The anticipation leading up to the game was immense, and many additional fans made their way along to that match in support of the new man. The team came out, and then all eyes were on the tunnel exit and the crescendo of noise as the suit with red silk-lining came into view was tremendous. I have to admit to a welling up in the eyes as Chris strode along the touchline waving to the crowd. There was such a feel-good factor about the day, and you just hoped that it would carry over to the players once the game eventually kicked off.

Without a win for six weeks, though, it was still imperative for Powell to start his reign with victory, and sure enough, the three points were won to end a fantastic day. The first half was tight, and with an unchanged team from the one which drew at Hillsborough the previous week, nothing too exciting happened. Powell seems, to me, to have told the players to play without fear, and to pass the ball seeking openings. This may not suit the crowd for much of the time, but then when we have previously played the longer ball and seen nothing coming out of it then the fans have complained about that too, so you can’t always win. At least the new manager seems to have brought some patience and respite while he stamps his style onto the team, and he also seems to have brought some luck.

Scott Wagstaff certainly benefited from a stroke of luck five minutes after half-time when he latched onto a short back pass from former Addick loanee Marcel Siep, toe-poking the ball home from the edge of the area past the keeper and into the corner of the net. The first goal during Powell’s reign had come from a mistake, but we didn’t care! Charlton restricted Plymouth to long-range shooting in the main, although during the week this had brought our opponents three fantastic goals. In this match, the nearest they came was when one terrific shot flew just over the bar, rippling the top of the net in the process, with Robbie Elliot unable to do anything about it if he had wanted to.

Powell used his substitutes when he had to, rather than in making any tactical changes, first when Johnnie Jackson limped off with an ankle injury (Kyel Reid coming on to play on the left), and then sacrificing a tiring Joe Anyinsah for Pawel Abbott. The final substitution was to replace Therry Racon with new loanee Nathan Eccleston for the last few minutes, with Wagstaff moving back to right wing and Alan McCormack inside. This worked simply because Eccleston broke free in the last minute and after speeding down the wing, he cut inside, retained control after a lucky bounce, then fired home to make the game safe. His first Addicks goal, and victory for Mr Powell. The obligatory tunnel jump followed the final whistle, even though he said he wouldn’t do it again, but we can forgive (and thank) him one last time.

A winning start, but Powell’s next game was postponed, with the away game at Rochdale a victim to the hard frost in that area on the night before the game. I must say that I was surprised to see notice of a pitch inspection just as I boarded my local train to head up toward Euston station, but I was also very grateful that we didn’t have anyone of the calibre of Andy D’Urso faffing around and a prompt decision (albeit to call the game off) was made a few minutes later. I simply stayed on my train and let it take me back to my home station once more, even though it means I have lost out on the train fare north.

The postponement allowed most Addickted eyes to focus on the finalities of the January transfer window; in past years, this time has been one where we have been the sellers, but this time, with new owners, we had the pleasure of seeing rumours come true and for the leading scorer in our league to join the club. Bradley Wright-Philips may not be quite as famous as his adopted brother, but he had scored 13 goals this season for Plymouth in a poor team, including one against Charlton a few months back. Now this Lewisham-born lad was an Addick. Most people know his dad used to play for Greenwich Borough, so this was something of a return to his roots. What we needed was this Bradley to hit the ground running in much the same way that the last Bradley to play for Charlton did (and Bradley Allen had a famous footballing father and brother too!).

BWP’s first chance would be in the next home game against Colchester, played this Tuesday night. At first, much discussion ensued about whether he would actually start, as Powell had many forward options with which to choose. Akpo Sodje had left to join Hibernian on a free transfer, but with Anyinsah, Wagstaff, Abbott, Eccleston, and back-from-suspension Marco van Benson also available, perming strikers may have given Chrissy a few sleepless nights.

Powell eventually picked BWP and chose Anyinsah as his partner, with Wagstaff moving back into midfield (in place of knee niggle victim Racon). Fede Bessone was also chosen at left back, the choice of one new loanee replacing another (Matt Fry), and Powell sent out a 4-4-2 formation.

Both teams had early chances that saw the goalkeepers make good saves, and the truth about the first half was that not only was it tight, but it was also similar to the Plymouth match in content. The players tried to pass the ball around, working openings, and had purpose when they got a chance to surge forwards. Simon Francis got down the wing and put in three good crosses, belying his normal poor delivery, though that element was still evident in his defensive play.

The second half was more of the same, with both teams playing it very tight and looking for that all important break-through. When it came, the “goal” caused chaos, as the referee made one hell of a mistake, and one which may well see him not officiate at this level again.

A ball was played forward and after a dummy (by ex-Addick Dave Mooney) fell to Gillespie, just clear of the defence near the edge of the penalty area. I do not know if he was, or wasn’t, onside and the lineman kept his flag down, but the referee, I think anticipating an offside, half-blew his whistle. Gillespie put the ball in the back of the net and started to celebrate. I don’t think any of this is in dispute, but actual events after that get cloudy now with differing versions depending where you sat and which way you were looking. From what I saw, the referee knew something wasn’t quite right, so he went, under protestation from Charlton players who had heard a whistle, to speak to the linesman. Why he did this I do not know, as there was no doubt that he blew his whistle well before the ball ended up in the net.

If he was asking the linesman to confirm the player was onside, he certainly took a long time about it (at least a minute), so what else could he have been saying? Did I blow the whistle? (I think you should know the answer to that one as everyone else in the stadium knew you had!) Did I blow the whistle before the goal was scored? (Err, Yes! Or maybe the lino never heard it?) Did the fact that I blew the whistle change anything? (Possibly not, but that’s not the point is it!) So how and why the two of them came up with the conclusion that it was a goal I will ever know.

I sit right behind the away dug-out, and while all this scenario was being played out, the two benches were jousting with players, officials, and each other about the potential outcome. When a goal was given, one very large Colchester staff member let his feelings be known a little too loudly, but he promptly had to eat his words as the fourth official seemed to me to call over the referee to explain his decision. Powell had by now been talking to the fourth official for some time, and I’m sure they both knew what the correct outcome should have been. I have seen on some reports that the game was about to kick off again, and the ball may well have made it back to the middle (after Elliot placed it on the edge of the area for a free-kick during initial discussions), but a re-start was not going to be immediate, simply as Jose Semedo (amongst others) was still having strong words with the referee.

The ref came over to speak with the fourth official, and with it obvious (I thought) that this was only to contradict the goal, I urged Jose to step away and not get more involved. Whatever was said, after some more chat, and a further talk with the linesman involved, the referee disallowed the goal he had given, and ordered a drop-ball. The large Colchester guy had to be restrained, and new Charlton assistant manager (and ex-player) Alex Dyer had some profound words for him as both returned to their respective dug-outs.

It was a crazy, chaotic few minutes, but I do feel that, ultimately, the correct decision was made. The referee made a bad mistake in blowing his whistle when there was no need. Presuming the player was onside, which we have to, that cost Colchester a goal, potentially at least a point, possibly three points, and maybe even a place in the play-offs or automatic promotion. Who knows? They have every right to feel cheated. I think that Colchester as a club have acted in a very controlled manner, and all credit to them for this (but don’t be surprised to see calls for a replayed game made at some stage). But Charlton were not at fault here; it was very clearly the referee who made the mistake.

The drop-ball was cleared, to more cheers, and then new signing and top scorer in this division, Bradley Wright-Philips scored the winner, just as his namesake did on his debut during the nineties. Wagstaff jinked and sent over a low cross, and BWP swivelled and volleyed the ball into the corner of the net. The referee didn’t endear himself further when he turned down severel shouts for penalties (two from Colchester and one for Charlton) and, quite frankly, he had lost all control by the conclusion.

Despite being under enormous pressure near the end, Charlton clung on, this despite seven additional minutes.

Powell used his subs well once more, swapping Bessone and Fry when the Leeds-man ran out of gas, and also bringing on van Benson for Anyinsah. BWP left the field toward the end of normal time to a standing ovation to give Eccleston a brief run out. Sadly for Eccleston, he had a clear run in on goal (albeit from sixty yards away) when the final whistle was sounded, denying him the chance of another late clincher.

Two games in for Powell then, and both victories with clean sheets too. Excellent. His style of play is starting to be shown by the players, and we do seem to be getting a higher amount of effort than we were from those same players not too long ago. The full backs are pushing on more, and the midfield is snapping at heels and making tackles again, both of which went missing over Xmas. Some of the squad will be unhappy with the new arrivals as it moves them down the pecking order, but we have such a long way to go still that many of them will see game time over the next couple of months or so.

When Chris Powell smiles, the world seems a happier place; it’s nice to be an Addick once more.

Excellent article. I haven't read so many Charlton related blogs etc. in years. I even rejoined BBC 606 just as they announced it's demise.
It certainly is nice to be an Addick once more.
I was sat in line with the original conversation with the linesman, Semedo just stood behind the ref and shouted
"You blew the whistle" over and over again. A strangely entertaining night.
Great report. No way the game will be replayed. The morons at FIFA did order a replay a few years back [Uzebekistan v Bahrain], but this was because the referee had not understood the rule in a particular situation.

In this case the referee simply made a mistake in blowing his whistle prematurely. And mistakes happen all of the time.

Ironically, even though Colchester scored a "good" goal, there would have been more of a case for a replay had he given it having blown the whistle during the build up!!

Quite bizarre. I've been watching football for the best part of 50 years and have never seen anything like it!!
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