Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Charlton Athletic 2 v Bolton Wanderers 1

This evening's match threatened to be another nail-biter given our injury problems and it didn't disappoint. We were second best once again in the stats department to our lowly visitors but we somehow ground out a win and bounced back from the disappointment of Bournemouth.

Our starting eleven was predictably weakened with only Tucudean upfront and the hapless Moussa tucked in behind. Midfield was again a huge struggle although Yoni Buyens was much better first-half and Johnnie Jackson got forward in support second-half to notch another priceless winner. Jordan Cousins   needs to bring some composure to his game because he isn't adding enough value at present running around like a headless chicken. Unfortunately, Bulot and Moussa both carried on from Saturday and were wasted shirts although Moussa did put in more running this evening. Neither can complain at being substituted.

Once again the back four held us together although Rhoys Wiggins remains well short of his best. Bikey and Ben Haim were outstanding and Lawrie Wilson competed for man-of-the-match with a fine left back display, especially first-half when he got forward to much better effect.

It was difficult to see where a goal was coming from in the opening 25 minutes. George Tucudean either fell over or dived with every contact and was in danger of being booked. Bolton were playing everything down our left through Feeney but we looked well briefed as Cousin was clearly under orders to double-up with Wiggins and stop the supply. It worked.

Lawrie Wilson brought the home support to life on 25 minutes with a typical supporting run that involved four other players making one-touch passes under pressure and resulted in Buyens freeing him on the overlap. He raced clear but his cross evaded Tucudean, was brought down by Cousins and set-up for Jackson but he spun and played an air shot. Bolton countered but we recovered and broke back and Buyens managed to play a ball up to Tucuden who, for the 
first time in the match, managed to play the ball and stayed on his feet. He turned with the ball and beat his marker in one move and managed to stab home past Lonergan. 

After that we failed to build and instead fell back into the pattern of  the season so far, largely defending a lead.

After the break I asked a mate behind me if we could finally net a second and kill the game. Within ten minutes we had done it - Tucudean holding the ball up well and feeding Jackson on the charge to slot home beyond a scrambling Bolton rearguard. A two-nil lead and we thought we were home and dry. Instead, we only managed to hold that for a few minutes before Dean Moxey drilled home a fine low shot from the back of the box through a crowd of players. After that it was hard viewing but once again we managed to grind it out.

The win puts us back in touch with the leaders after another pile of draws this evening. We go to shaky Fulham on Friday for a match I am dreading given our current squad shortcomings, our style of play and the appearance of the Sky cameras. I am praying the victory lifts the players between now and then and hope we may have one or two fit enough to do a return justice.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Network testing...

The ongoing upheaval at Standard Liege is raising allsorts of questions about Roland Duchatelet's network model. Manager Guy Luzon has had to step down following Saturday's abandonment of their home match against bottom of the table Zulte Waregem as a result of rioting SL fans in the stadium. Roland Duchatelet was barricaded into club offices as police kept angry fans at bay.

By contrast, Charlton fans have largely been won over since the end of last season as Roland has splashed some cash and we have had a good start to the season. To date we have remained unaffected by 'the network' in the sense that we haven't lost a single player to another club or suffered in any other way for the common good. The question right now is, how long will that last?

Standard have appointed a temporary manager/coach but there remains a threat that we could yet lose Bob Peeters or key playing assets as Roland looks to settle the ship. Hopefully sense will prevail but unless Roland has had a big change of plan that he hasn't told us about, that threat remains. He is expected to be in SE7 tomorrow night for the visit of Neil Lennon's rejuvenated-looking Bolton Wanderers.

The team we could put out tomorrow is looking threadbare and it could be a quite an uncomfortable and challenging evening. Solly, Gomez, Gudmundson and Vetokele could all be missing. That would likely see Wilson back in the corner, an unlikely looking forward pairing of Tucudean and 17 year-old Karlan Ahearne-Grant. More importantly, we are desperate for a solid midfield showing that protects the defence and supports the front two so we can put some sustained pressure on the visitors.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

AFC Bournemouth 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

This goes down as yet another one of those occasions when our team managed to ruin an otherwise great day out. An enjoyable run down on the train from Waterloo and a few pints in joyous expectation before we all made our way in the sunshine up to Dean Court the Goldsands Stadium.

I had failed to count to seven when buying the match tickets and so one of us had to watch the game from the home end behind the goal to our left - sorry again Pete. He would have had a good view of Bournemouth's winner after three minutes when Pugh strolled in from the left flank and teed Callum Wilson up to poke home. A simple goal and our players reaction was worrying. It didn't look like anyone was bothered and frankly, they weren't. We failed to test Artur Boruc in the Cherries goal and only actually managed a couple of lame efforts in the whole match.

Bournemouth looked miles better than us and that was due very simply to a better work ethic, more movement and better passing. One-nil flattered us and only Stephen Henderson prevented it from being embarrassing. Karlan Ahaerne-Grant got the full ninety minutes and he, at least, tried his best but he is very raw and has a lot to learn. 

Our midfield was over-run once again. Buyens and Jackson were left chasing shadows and we had no effective width. The fact that Jackson didn't return for the second-half said it all. Unfortunately, the alternative is Moussa who I am afraid to say is not good enough for this division. He has had plenty of opportunities but he loses possession practically every time he gets the ball. He  doesn't look like he has any pace or can shoot either. Having to play Moussa questions the depth in our squad and the fact that Igor Vetokele also didn't return for the second-half underlined that because his replacement was Calum Harriott. I don't know what has happened to Harriott but he seems to have forgotten how to beat a defender and when paired alongside Moussa they look very similar and equally poor.

Igor has an Achilles injury and I understand that Johan Berg Gudmundsson is not fully fit again either. He played like he was still only 70%.

Rhoys Wiggins obviously dreads returning to his old ground because he lowers his game for every visit. Yesterday he managed to fail to control the ball on several occasions, presumably for the amusement of his former fans.

I felt a bit for Ben Haim and Bikey who did their best. Bikey was also pressed into an attacking role towards the end but that was never going to cut it. Bournemouth stepped off the gas with ten minutes to go because they knew they were home and dry. Fifteen hundred Charlton fans did their best to motivate their side but got nothing in return. It was one of those days when I saw plenty of familiar East Stand faces and all raised their eyebrows to me in summary of what we were witnessing. 

How we respond in the next two matches will tell us a lot about the rest of the season. Suddenly the second and third-bottom sides look like banana-skins.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Putting the cherry on the cake

Fifteen hundred Charlton fans will head south west tomorrow to see if their unbeaten heroes can beat Bournemouth and climb into the top six in the table and I will be one of them.

Six of the top seven are away from home and all of them face tricky opposition in my view. Leaders Norwich have arguably the easiest task at so-far hopeless Fulham, although I am expecting a turnaround in their fortunes sooner or later. Forest go to Cardiff and will face a tough test to maintain their unbeaten run. Watford will do well to avoid defeat at Wednesday at Derby go to Reading. Fifth placed Boro have a long trip to Brighton and my money is on a home win there. Only Ipswich are at home and they face a Blackburn side who have a cutting edge and are capable of beating anyone in this league.

Bournemouth away is probably a similar sized task to what the others face but they have been indifferent this season and will be without Yann Kermorgant. It looks like JB Gudmundsson will be fit to start and that might be just the filip we need to take the game to the hosts. There has been plenty of talk in the media this week from BP and Captain Jacko about the need to score a second after opening the scoring and not retreating into our shells. Six of us will be there tomorrow including Chicago Addick who managed to catch the last flight out if hurricane threatened Bermuda. We all be hoping for an opening Charlton goal so we can see if there is a new game plan.

Before that though, I have a good bottle of Chianti and Hamilton Academicals versus the mighty Aberdeen. Come on the Dons!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Scotland 1 v Georgia 0

Three points on the Euro qualifying board for Scotland. A relatively straightforward win courtesy of a deflected first-half shot from Sean Maloney. Scotland should have won more convincingly but they spluttered upfront with Naismith being wasteful in possession and Fletcher always looking for another touch or another pass.

It was a much better display than I have become accustomed to and the back four looked very assured. Hanley and Martin were solid in central midfield and Robertson and Hutton were  relatively untroubled.

Scott Brown bossed central midfield and Morrison was very tidy alongside him. Ikechi Anya played above himself in a blue shirt once again and Maloney was busy early on although he faded second half. It was only the front two who failed to really perform but I left hopeful that we can compete with Poland, Georgia and the Republic of Ireland for a runners-up place with Germany.

Poland will be in the mood for Scotland on Tuesday after beating Germany but I saw enough discipline and self-belief yesterday to think we could get another result in Warsaw.

I have just watched England edge passed Estonia in a not-to-dissimilar match to our own. They could have scored more and were rarely threatened. My money is on England to qualify first for France 16. If Scotland can join them I will be there for a fortnight in the sunshine - if I have to wait another 18 years, I will be approaching 70! Life is short, so make the most of it.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Ibrox tomorrow

I am off at first light tomorrow. I will be heading north in my soon to be 13 year old Panzer. A brief stop on the outskirts of Cambridge to pick up a fellow Sweaty en route to Glasgae.

It will be a long day because we have decided to forego a stopover and instead head back down south after the match. Normally, it's a good excuse for a night on the town with our fellow Aberdonians who trek south for the game. Trouble is they are all heading straight back after the match too. Four of them have early starts on Sunday as they jet off to Poland pursuing the dream of qualification for a football finals. 

For me, I hope to see the resurgence under Gordon Strachan continue and any win will do. I am going back next month for the Republic of Ireland game (a Friday night at Celtic Park) but I have made no commitment beyond that. The UEFA Committee that decided the fixtures for the European qualifiers must have had a long and enjoyable lunch when deciding the matches would be played on a Thursday, a Friday, a Saturday, a Sunday, a Monday and a Tuesday. What's the point of an international weekend break when you do that? It's asking too much from fans to take time off work for most of the games. 

Beyond that I am looking forward to a trip to Bournemouth next Saturday to cheer the Addicks on. I will be at the home match, of course, against Bolton the following Tuesday and am planning on being at Craven Cottage to help swell the visiting contingent of Charlton fans for the live Sky TV showing. I hope many more of us are prepared to make the trip. It will be embarrassing to see a half-empty away end at a London derby just because it's live on the box.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Charlton Athletic 1 v Birmingham City 1

For the opening 11 minutes we were treated to champagne football and the promise of being top of the table at 5pm with a healthier goal difference. We pressed the Blues back into their own third and swarmed all over them. First time passes were fizzing from red to red and Igor Vetokele was pulling their back line all over the place.

Vetokele might have scored after only several minutes when he won a ball on the right of the box and advanced on Randolph before flashing a curling shot just wide off the far post. He was not to be denied on eleven minutes when another break down the left by Bulot saw him round the full-back and float a peach of a cross into the centre of the goal. Vetokele had timed his break perfectly and met the cross with a beautiful header which left Randolph completely helpless. He made a shape in the goal but it was all in vain.

One-up and we should have had them on toast. Instead of that we let them off the hook and back into the match. Birmingham huffed and puffed but I thought they looked very ordinary. No-one stood out for them but they were grafting. Donaldson looked lively but there was no end product and he was quickly closed down when he did get possession. 

We took our lead into the second-half and you hoped a half-time lecture might have got us resuming a sustained attack towards the Covered End. None of it. Birmingham continued to press and sure enough it wasn't long  before they were level. After penning us back in our box, a cross from the right was seen out but only to Davis on the left of our box. He could see no option in front of him barring half-a-dozen red shirts and with his backward alternatives being cut-off, decided to have a go and his hard and low cross-shot managed to squirt past everyone and took Henderson by surprise.

Still we failed to get a grip and we were holding nothing in centre-midfield again. Yoni Buyens had been particularly wasteful in possession in the first-half and appeared to want to look to play backwards at every opportunity in the second, almost to avoid surrendering possession. 

I thought Jordan Cousins had his best match on the wing yet, although we were let down by Wilson on the other side who wasn't getting much played up to him and was too often beaten for pace when dropping back to look for the ball. 

BP made an early change on fifty-eight which I thought we needed and it was a far-from-happy Johnnie Jackson who got the crook. Moussa was brought on in his place but once again he failed too make an impression. Wilson went off after another ten minutes as George Tucudean was brought on to partner Igor with Bulot going wide right. It did give us a some impetus but we lacked composure and Birmingham were still strolling forward at will. 

In the end we were probably fortunate to hold on for the point as Henderson was forced to make a couple of better saves than Randolph in the other goal.

The point edges us into sixth place, still only two points off top spot, courtesy of six other draws in the Championship. I am left wondering if another midfielder or a striker might help turn more of these draws too wins. I suspect Roland Ducatelet was there today. I saw a black Porsche Panamera with Belgian plates in the West Stand car park this morning and am guessing this was his and not Big Bob or Katrien's. Perhaps he will have seen enough to be convinced of the same.

For once the international break comes at the right time and we have a chance to get several players back in action. Jordan Cousins landed badly towards the end and was stretchered off. It looked bad so we will have to hope the news tomorrow is better and he can get sorted in the next fortnight.