Sunday, 21 December 2014

Blackburn Rovers 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

Fourteen and half hours away from home and a tad over 600 mile round trip. It was a long way to go for a couple of Leavers pies (thanks for the recommendation Chris).

Three hundred hardy souls gathered in the lower left of the Darwen Stand. The usual faces were there and in addition an expected smattering of our northern contingent. Ewood Park didn't look in the mood for it and the Rovers fan we shared a table with in the pub before the match wasn't particularly confident. Would this be one of those wins against the head that only the diehards get to see?

Disappointlngly, there were no changes to the side from the last fiasco. Solly was again playing in a diamond formation midfield in front of Fox, Bikey, Ben Haim and Joe Gomez. Well, he was for thirty minutes until Big Bob was forced to change things. Nicky Pope was defending the goal in front of us and we were to get a close-up of his loss of confidence.

Lawrie Wilson was again wearing a tracksuit as we kicked off and it was Harriott and Vetokele up front, although I only noticed Harriott when he was subbed.

We made a disastrous start. Blackburn put us on the back-foot and we began to defend as per the game plan. Unfortunately, after only five minutes and seconds after a failed Blackburn attack where they had committed men forward, Pope played a casual ball short out of defence through the middle of the box. I will need to see it again but it was either a shockingly poor ball or our players weren't ready for it and it was quickly seized by Marshall who squared to Rhodes who had the simple job of rolling it wide of the horrified Pope. One-nil and there was worse to come. On eleven minutes Rhodes challenged Ben Haim for a ball in our box and the experienced Israeli used his body to hold the faster moving Rhodes off the ball and create space for his keeper to collect. Pope hesitated but came for it anyway as Rhodes struggled past Ben Haim. Pope was there first and should have collected but he fumbled the ball and it cannoned off Rhodes' legs and fell nicely for him to roll it in from two yards. Pope said something to Ben Haim but he walked away and shook his head. There was nothing to say. 

A few minutes later and Pope decided to fist a bouncing ball onto the ground rather than hold it and nearly lost possession. It was desperate goalkeeping and we had barely threatened. He did pull off an excellent tip over from a Gested drive that was headed for the top corner before half-time but it was a little too late. Igor failed to connect with another couple of crosses, one of which was meat and drink and Andre Bikey headed down too strongly at a corner when anything which less of an angle might have troubled Steele.

Big Bob acknowledged the match was beyond our formation on the half-hour when Morgan Fox was subbed and Lawrie Wilson was eventually brought on to the left flank. Solly went to left-back and we looked better even if he can't cross with his right boot. We also improved marginally after half-time when Joe Pigott came on for Callum Harriott.

So, yet another unconvincing performance and for the first time some worrying body language from our players. Solly had words with Andre Bikey after Ben Haim had been left two-on-one and it was pretty clear to me that the back four are not confident with Nicky Pope in goal. Pope made another couple of decent second-half saves but he needs a penalty save and a clean sheet to help restore confidence. 

Beyond all of that, Bob Peeters tactics are clearly not working. There is very little football being played and we don't look like scoring. It's not a good picture as we prepare to slide into the bottom-half of the table. If you need convincing of our lack of ambition, look at what Bournemouth did to hapless Blackpool just up the road from us yesterday. That was a side we handed a draw to last week. 

I dare not look forward but it's Cardiff on Boxing Day and I have some extended family members join us. I can see us throwing another stink bomb to remind my Tottenham supporting brother-in-law why he never followed his local team. Cardiff are struggling too and were beaten by Brentford yesterday at home. They will be pumped by a visit to the Valley on Boxing Day no doubt. 

Finally, I was told yesterday that Tony Watt is on his way to SE7 next month having been frozen out at Standard Liege. I think we will need to see the best of him to arrest the decline and prevent us finishing the season in a lower position than Jose Riga managed last year having taken us off the bottom of the table. Away trips in 2015 look increasingly unlikely for me.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Michael, Michael Morrison

Sorry to learn that we have let Michael Morrison move on a free, although pleased for him that he has a permanent deal and some security that he deserves.

Michael Morrison was a defensive rock for us for almost every one of the 136 matches he played in a red shirt. He was there or thereabouts for Player of the Season for us in my book in each of the last three years and he played like a Captain most weeks even if he wasn't wearing the arm band. There aren't many better Championship central defenders around who are 26 or younger. Birmingham have done a tidy piece of business here.

Morrison has every right to feel aggrieved at the way the Duchatelet regime has treated him. He was royally messed about over his contract renewal and it was only done late in the late with him on holiday etc. Far from convincing and shabby in my view. Nonetheless, he was a trooper throughout and it never affected his on-the-field performances. I wish him all the best under Gary Rowett (knows a thing or two about the position) and he will always be cheered by me when he returns to the Valley.

The having grace for Peeters and Duchatelet is that Bikey and Ben Haim are arguably a better pairing and Michael Morrison would have been locked out pending injury or suspension, something he doesn't deserve given his age and ability. 

Wyn Grant has sniffed out Tractor Boys interest in Morgan Fox. I hope we can resist any temptation to sell him on. He is holding his own and has massive potential. The danger here could be that Ipswich have spending power if Arsenal take the very impressive Tyrone Mings in the January window and money would talk given our options and Roland's published position on balancing the books. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Charlton Athletic 2 v Blackpool 2

Deservedly booed off at the end for another sub-standard home performance where we again squandered two points. Lack of ambition is turning this season into a slow strangulation and if we are not careful, it could become disastrous.

I do not like singling players out but Nicky Pope was at fault for both goals but Blackpool were so poor we should still have won this game comfortably had we played to our strengths and been more aggressive. Bob Peeters needs to be answering some basic questions this evening.

Blackpool are the divisions' whipping boys and attack had to be the game plan. Instead we went for yet more caution and when we should have gone for the jugular we backed-off and exposed ourselves. We managed only one effort on goal in the first-half and that was an equalising penalty just before half-time. I need to see it again but the challenge on Igor Vetokele didn't look too bad to me at first pass. Irrespective, Yoni Buyens drilled home for parity that was deserved given Blackpool's own indifferent showing, even if Chris Eagles (it had to be him) had managed to fire home after Pope failed to collect a rare Blackpool corner.

After the break Jordan Cousins slotted home a fine strike from twenty odd yards which for once he kept low and on target. From there the game was crying out to be won. Igor Vetokele floated one wide from distance and Callum Harriott missed the far post with a long range effort too, but we didn't manage to build the requisite pressure or commit enough men forward to score a decisive third. Almost inevitably, Blackpool equalised at the end of full-time from a dodgy free-kick which Pope completely fluffed. In the four minutes of added time it was the usual panic stations as we poured forward trying to rescue the situation. Bikey was presented with a free shot from 18 yards in the last minute but he blasted over and the opportunity was gone.

Bob Peeters needs to be explaining why he decided Chris Solly should have been playing in a strange role in front of the back four and to the right, almost as if covering Joe Gomez. Gomez did ok at full-back today but he offered nothing like Solly might have going forward and his delivery into the box was negligible. Solly was sound enough but he wasn't in the match nearly enough and it meant we were short in the middle. Buyers and Cousins were busy but we had nothing on the left and Gudmundson cut in so frequently from the right that we lacked any sustained threat down that flank either. Given Callum Harriott was again largely ineffective upfront it meant Igor Vetokele was once more ploughing a lone furrow.

The chance to change things in the second-half was wasted. Lawrie Wilson should have entered the fray but instead it was Clumsy George who came on to make nothing of what little service was being provided. We had decided to slow things down after going two-one up and invited the equaliser which Blackpool didn't really look capable of. 

Having missed two successive home wins in August when on holiday, this season has been pitiful for me with only two wins. My patience has now been tested and I will be far more critical of Bob Peeters and the team if there aren't obvious changes from here on. Against my better judgement I am headed up to Blackburn next week where I guess Bob will be planning to escape with another point. Frankly, I'd rather we had a proper go and lost. Booooooooooo.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Jackson opportunities

News that Johnnie Jackson's calf injury will keep him out until New Year. Not good to hear given the thinness of the squad but perhaps Bob Peeters will learn a valuable lesson through necessity. It should mean Jordan Cousins gets a few more matches in the centre where he is happiest and can use his pace and directional running to best effect. He really is wasted on the wing where he looks uncomfortable. It may also give more opportunity to Lawrie Wilson who I think we have missed and who is rarely as effective coming on from the bench.

Assuming all fit, I would like to see us take Blackpool on with a Gudmundson, Cousins, Buyens and Wilson midfield supporting Vetokele and Ahearn-Grant or Harriott. For once it would be good to aim to play most of our football from midfield and not defence. Moan, moan, moan...

Monday, 8 December 2014

The luck of the draw

Our post 1940's F A Cup luck continued this evening with an uninspiring home draw against Blackburn Rovers. No doubt their fans are equally delighted. The Marketing Department will have a tough day at tomorrow's planning meeting.

However disappointed you might be feeling, spare a thought for Mexico City Addick, Vic. Vic's annual trip home for Christmas usually gives him two match windows either side of Christmas and New Year when he has family commitments in the south-west. I bought us both tickets for Blackburn on 20th December and we have been laughing at our crap pre-Christmas fixtures over the last umpteen years. He was looking forward to the F A Cup draw more than most any other Addick......

Given our league form, we could go a long way this year if we are any good at penalties.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

Another draw and another wasted opportunity to take a decisive lead in a match. We have slipped to eleventh and mid-table mediocrity beckons. Such a shame given we clearly have the backbone to hold our own against whatever this division has to offer.

Excluding the Derby game at home, where we went 3-1 up briefly, we have failed to take a two goal lead or score more than twice in any other game. Very simply put, that isn't play-off form, so we should temper our expectations for this season and settle on progress from last year. There is talk of a striker in January but one was needed in October.

Having taken the lead through a fine strike from distance from Calum Harriott - I was asking when the next midfielder would weigh in - we should have gone two up when Igor and Wilson were both foiled in a double-saving move by Carl Darlow in the Forest goal before half-time. Bob Peeters needs to learn that if you are going to fall-back and defend a lead, it needs to be a two-goal lead other-wise you are setting yourself up to draw at best, especially when you have a habit of retreating with half the match or more left.

Those who went said it was a good point in the end because of the battering we took in the second period. What we aren't accounting for is the physcological impact of going two-down. I will wager that Forest might not have had the heart for a prolonged second-half fight if we had come out two-up. We might also have caught them on the break if we had been able to gamble more strongly courtesy of a two-goal cushion.

So, we look ahead to playing the bottom-placed side at the Valley next Saturday. Blackpool are a basket-case but they picked up only their second win of the season yesterday by edging Brum one-nil by the seaside. We should manage three goals or more next week but history tells us this won't happen. Just like our oh-so-predictable games on Live TV or against Millwall, you  can pretty much bet the Tangerines will dampen pre-christmas spirits. I am so sure of it, I will take a long look at the visitors odds. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Forest fire

I will be playing the loan parent tomorrow as my better-half slips off for a night away with the girls. Against my stronger intentions, I have decided to rule out taking my now interested-in-Charlton girls to Nottingham for the day. Fifteen-odd years ago I took my seven-year-old Niece to Nottingham for the weekend and safe to say she remembers nothing of it now and the match wasn't her highlight at the time. So, whilst we are trying to avoid our first successive defeat of the season, I will be traipsing around Blackheath Village watching the Kings Troop and eventually seeing Nick Ferrari turn the Christmas lights on.

Nick is scheduled to be flicking the switch at around 4.30pm but as a local resident he will be in no particular rush and I am guessing it may be delayed ten minutes to ensure everyone is out of the shops, bars and restaurants to maximise the cheer. Therefore, I am seeing this as a sign that we will also be acknowledging a likely-looking result from the banks of the Trent.

Forest are level with us on 28 points but they lead the table early on and have fallen away in the last couple of months conceding plenty of goals in the process which will have concerned Stuart Pearce. They have beaten Norwich and Wolves in reason weeks but then again, who hasn't? They went down at Michael Morrison's Birmingham last time out and we should be confident of avoiding defeat.

We haven't had a refereeing calamity for a while. No ridiculous penalties against us or harsh sending offs and are probably due one. If we can avoid that, then the big question everyone will be asking is, can we score? I should add some counter-balance to my previous statement here in that we are probably due to benefit from a penalty decision or a sending-off too. The pressure has been building on lone striker, Igor Vetokele, but I am wondering where the goals are from a five man midfield. Jackson, Gudmundson, Harriott and Wilson have all pulled their weight in the past but have been light of late. We weren't short of shots against Ipswich but our shooting was wayward. 

We really could do with three points to keep our interest for Christmas. After an unexpectedly good start to the season, it would be disappointing to reach the half-way stage in a more expectant lower-half table position. Momentum can be a big factor once you are in the mix and we need to ensure it's at the right end of the table.