Charlton Athletic at Home 15/16 – Game of Two Halves

         

Spoiler alert. I’m going to talk a little bit about the end at the start today. You all KNOW the score right? You’re just reading to relive one of the most incredible matches yet seen at The Amex right? Good. Because I don’t quite know where I’m going with this. At the end of the game I was adding another thousand words to my predicted total every time I talked to someone. That won’t actually happen, because I’d end up publishing a bad novel on Thursday having been sacked from my actual job but there is an AWFUL lot to cram in.

Then there’s the format. One Facebook friend suggested one blog for the first five minutes and another for the rest. A Twitter friend suggested a blog of two halves. Both are good ideas to represent what happened yesterday but, ultimately, this has to be one piece. The only way to describe how we felt at the end is to weave a narrative around the day as a whole. There are people who don’t get to feel that much emotion in their entire lives. Sport haters. The teamless. Poor buggers. A whole story is needed so they may understand a fraction of what we know.

I’m never sure whether people are happy to be mentioned by actual name (unless they’re well known anyway like Jem and the Roar lads). I guess I should ask them really. But anyway, our normal four or five were added to by good family friends who I called Boy’s oldest friend (because they met when he was a baby) when they came to the Forest game at the start of the season. A couple of weeks ago we had watched the Burnley game on television in the pub over a roast and The Boy and his two travelling companions yesterday had colonised the pool table after that game. Yesterday they were sat, three together on the train from Brighton to Falmer urgently discussing the team that had just been announced (Zamora up front with Wilson) and other matters Brighton. In a blink of an eye I can see them meeting in the pub without us, playing pool and going by themselves, the next generation of noisy Albion youth. Sniff. One thing they were all convinced about was that we would win easily. 3-0 and 4-0 were mentioned. I remember thinking “careful lads”.

A slightly delayed train journey and the usual catering ineptness meant we could only squeeze a couple of drinks in (and then quickly). Last week’s chat with Jem was replaced by a hundred mile an hour review of Thursday’s Albion Roar Live with Al himself. There was enough time over these couple of beers to mention the phrase “potential banana skin” but no one did. Inwardly I think we were all as confident as the boys. The players, it turned out, were over confident.

Here I need to go off on another tangent again to explain something. When I write this it normally goes one of two ways. If we’ve had the boys then I will be relatively sober and attentive and try and bring attention to detail. If we haven’t got them you will get about eight hundred words describing me drinking. One rule is I never watch the highlights back before I write in case it clouds my judgement or opinion. I write this on Sunday morning because I find it a more productive time to write but I try to write what I felt and saw myself on the Saturday.

What follows is not going to be attention to detail. No “so and so passed to so and so and opened them up via so and so”. The range of emotions I went through simply did not allow my brain to record much of who was actually touching the ball when. And I have so far watched the highlights back at least five times. Go on – you have as well right? So the remainder of this is a mixture of emotion and analysis.

The first analysis part is down to the fact that we found ourselves 2-0 down after four minutes. The last time I can remember anything similar was away at Derby last season, a game we went on to lose 3-0 and which magnified the mutterings against Sami. This time though – for me – we were both overconfident and under prepared. Twice Charlton broke on us quickly. We were attacking but we took poor care of the ball – mistake number one. Way too many players were pushed up, leaving just Calde and Bruno back and a massive gap of some forty yards between them and our attackers – mistake number two. We expected their pacy players to attack the limited Calde – mistake number three.

Twice they broke at speed in to that massive gap. Twice they attacked Bruno. Twice they scored. Stockdale also has to take responsibility for the first. There is no way on earth you should be beaten at your near post like that. But having been over confident, to our detriment, at the start, now we looked like total strangers. My theory for that is that, simply, we have not been two goals down all season. We did not know how to play when two down. Going forwards we were over eager, trying to get the Hollywood goal back. At the back we didn’t know whether to twist or stick, leaving more gaps. Charlton could and should have gone four nil up, but for that man Stockdale making amends.

Meanwhile Charlton’s fans, who in the week had asked for our support in regards to a protest against their board, endeared themselves to nobody by throwing the ball among themselves behind their goal to waste time. Their team went down, contemptuously, like they were shot at each challenge (one nasty clash of heads that did for their player and had March sporting a Fozzie head band aside). The keeper wasted so much time he was booked. Eight added minutes went on at the end of the first half but, luckily, no more damage was done. We went in two down and I tweeted that we would be lucky to be thrashed. Ahem.

WE might not know how to play when two down but two men did; Chris Hughton and Colin Calderwood. What exactly they said I don’t know but it wasn’t the tearful, soul searching pessimism The Boy and I were indulging in on our way to the WSU bogs. We came back out a different side. True, we were still searching for that highlight reel goal but BOY did we get it.

Someone posted a set of James Wilson goals on NSC when he joined. Many have him twisting and turning through goals of sheer individual brilliance. Now Charlton broke out of defence again but they mis-controlled the ball and we had a midfield presence to break it up this time. A short ball was slipped to Wilson about halfway in to their half. He twisted and turned in a moment of sheer individual brilliance, running into space, keeping it away from defenders and putting a low finish past the keeper like he was a boy tapping in through two jumpers in the park. The Amex erupted. It was the turning point. Or one of two.

Next we broke and found the canny Zamora who played Bauer like a cheap violin, backing in, holding and turning away to be clear on goal. Bauer hauled him back and the red card was inevitable. Charlton’s on field antics continued as they disputed one of the most stone-wall reds I’ve seen. Next to me The Boy was going mental. “DADDY! I’VE NEVER SEEN THE OTHER TEAM HAVE SOMEONE SENT OFF BEFORE!” he yelled. From the free kick Kayal nearly levelled. Now we were going to camp out in their half. An equaliser was a distinct possibility.

Hughton now threw the kitchen sink at it. On came Hemed to make three up front. On came Van La Parra for Calde, allowing March who’d been brilliant (and nearly equalized with a barnstormer) to play left back. And in went the goal, March raiding on the left and the ball playing ping-pong before Zamora AGAIN tucked in from very close range. What a sniffer the man is. What a genuine addition to our squad. The Amex looked like the roof was about to come off. I do believe there was some cavorting.

Even as Charlton were licking their wounds and we were reminding their fans that they’d messed it up (though we used another word) we broke down their right and a perfect centre came in. At that point, for me, the game turned in to slow motion. At the Albion Roar live there had been talk of Hemed’s confidence and his need to get one in off his backside. On twitter that morning I’d said the same. Now he had a clear header from four yards out and he headed it straight at the keeper. Only it span up in the air, bounced backwards and was carried in to the North Stand goal on a swirling wind. What a way to break your fast. What a way to go 3-2 up. Bedlam.

And that was that. We toyed with them as a cat does a wounded mouse and then it was over and we had three points. I had another two pints. Often we’ll just talk among ourselves after a game but not yesterday. I met a guy who has been really helpful with my running and marathon training. I met the NSC mods and the group I used to drink in the Welly with. We shared an accidental train home with Ade from the Roar. That train was buzzing too. Under the radar my friend unleashed his new Bong song that includes a word that he changed to say “effing”. At that moment one of those pauses descended. “Couldn’t you say something even cleaner than effing” said The Boy to the whole train.

Advertisements

Charlton At Home Season 2014/15

One thing that’s different for me this season is taking my son to each home Saturday game. A friend of mine also takes his son from the same station and so we travel over to The Amex together. The night before the game this friend and I had gone out and got rather the worse for wear as I believe they still say in polite circles. Thus we met feeling a little delicate as I also believe they say in polite circles. My friend is ex Royal Navy and explained on the way over that, were we to attempt to ease the delicate feeling with another beer it would have been known on his submarine as “equalizing”. Equalizing turned out to be the theme of the day. Well, that and rollercoasters.

Rollercoasters? As in rollercoaster ride. Ups and downs. Following The Albion has always been one and the current transfer window has been no different. We’d gone from selling our best assets and being jilted at the alter by Sammy Lee, Adam Clayton and Stephen Ward to an influx of seemingly quality signings I was itching to see in the flesh, a turnaround that had taken about three weeks.  My Albion mojo was up and down like a persistent toddler on an over inflated space hopper. Having quickly equalized in the WSU concourse, as we took our seats it was most definitely up. Sadly it only took around five minutes to deflate, another thing in common with a heavy night on the drink.

The West Upper is excellent for seeing shape and tactics. The Boy is learning (very slowly since he takes after me) to play football. Thus I was trying to explain the differences in our shape to him, particularly our high defensive line with Bruno and Bennett pushed right up, when Charlton broke at pace in to exactly the huge gap I was describing. We scrambled back but to no affect as a deft layoff from the excellent Buyens found the equally excellent Vetokele and his shot went through a crowd of players for the opening goal. Stockdale appeared to be wrong footed at full speed and I’ve not yet had the appetite to watch it back to check if he was at fault. No matter. We would be playing catch up again.

That the rest of the first half quickly restored my early damaged hopes, even though we didn’t score, says much about the quality we have brought in and the way Sami wants to use it. We may not yet have agreed on an acceptable pronunciation of Teixeira but we were all agreed he was excellent in the first half. He takes up awkward positions just behind the front players and, in the first half at least, seemed to have the ability to create his own space at will. What I really like is that, if he loses it, he fights back for it immediately. So many skilful players who operate in a free role end up as ‘luxury players’. Portuguese Tex puts in a shift. We look lucky to have landed him. With his help we dominated the rest of the first half in terms of possession, territory and chances. A combination of one piece of great keeping and our inability to fashion a killer final ball meant we did not turn this domination in to a goal.

At half time friend and I agreed that it was only a matter of time before we scored, probably through some Teixeira genius. We just wouldn’t score from a set piece we agreed, due to the lack of height up front. And so it was that on 67 minutes, the minutes’ applause for Tony Langridge, chairman of the REMF who sadly passed away, was started with a cheer as Lewis Dunk headed in from a Danny Holla corner, a route we needed to use because Teixeira was now being closed down and double teamed. Yeah, what do I know?

And that should have been it. The North Stand woke up. The West Stand woke up. All over the park the players looked lifted. Surely now we would take our dominance of the ball and turn Charlton over. Er, no. Instead, in a move I suspect we’ll see quite a bit of this season, the gaps down our flanks were exposed by one more break and we backed off Vetokele who disappointingly scored at the near post. It felt like two shots, two goals for our visitors. Enter Baldock for JFC to complement Colunga and Lua Lua. We were going for it still.

I return to The Boy. He had asked quite early on, when he’d seen Stockdate standing half way between our box and the centre circle, if he ever went up for corners, to which I replied ‘only if we’re really desperate for a goal in a Cup match or something’. The Boy, at seven, is already disgusted with early leavers. ‘The game’s not finished Daddy’ he says. The Boy’s favourite player is Lua Lua. And so, as the Amex evacuated around us with less than a minute of injury time left, we got a corner. Stockdale came up for it and caused mayhem. The loose ball fell to Lua Lua. The Charlton defence seemed mesmerized by the luminous vision scrambling back to his goal and Lua Lua picked out the unmarked Dunk who headed deftly home for his third of the season. Lewis Dunk, top scorer.

The final whistle was greeted by a Charlton player throwing himself to the ground in mock exhaustion and disappointment. Up in the West Upper The Boy and I were still going barmy.

EDIT – I have now forced myself to watch the goals back on iplayer. The deft touch that set up their first was, in fact, off the back of the heels of one of our backtracking defenders, leaving Stockdale unsighted as well as wrong footed. All in all a very unlucky goal. 

Charlton at Home – Simple

It’s been quite a week. Having paraphrased Wilde on North Stand Chat at the start of it I’m going to finish by paraphrasing Shaw. Or maybe Alan Jay Lerner. By George, I think we’ve finally got it.

“It” being turning possession football in to attacking football. “It” being turning attacking football in to goals. “It” being not Middlesborough.

However, as a piece of writing this is already failing because I’m giving away the ending before I’ve set the scene, even though you all know how it turned out. A bit like writing a film about a famous shipping disaster or something. So come with me as I wind the clock back to 2pm Saturday.

Just before two o’clock I was purchasing probably* the last ever Seagull Love Review and telling Stef how sad I would be to miss it. I took it up to the concourse and got a beer and noticed QPR were drawing 2-2 with Nottingham Forest with about seven minutes left. Forest then conceded three quick (and sloppy) goals to put them effectively out of the playoff race, to much cheering. Stick that in your FFP busting pipe and smoke it.

I checked for team news. And double checked. None was forthcoming. It was late, even allowing for the seven minute delay that was planned and, when it did finally come out, there was no Pole in Goal, replaced by Ankergren and Bruno had come in for Calderon. I sighed. Actually physically sighed. Firstly because I have no idea what Calde has to do to retain his place and secondly because I could now see Scoffers striding across the concourse towards me and I would have to break this news to a man who loves Casper the way Nick Clegg adores Nigel Farage.

PIG missing and Bruno coming in have been linked together by some on social media but it’s not something this blogger has any evidence for one way or the other. The official club line is that Kuszczak was ill and, having initially said he could play, then got worse. That’s the one I’ll take for now.

Anyway, all of this meant that I only had a chance to read a couple of the articles in TSLR before kick off, one in which Not Worth That accurately noted how tubby we’d got (sort of), something to which I am definitely a contributing factor, and another that ensured that Jon Obika will never again allow himself to be photographed with a copy. Would this tempt fate? Would he return to the scene of the worlds longest trap and worst overhead kick, both performed by J Obika, and destroy us with a hat trick? No. No he wouldn’t. Not even on the bench. But in the team at number eight was Ghoochanneijhad. God help Warren Aspinall.

Also in the team was Gus Poyet’s son, Diego. Would he be pumped up and ready to take revenge for the slight on his father’s ego, a large family problem I would imagine given that the ego in question makes up 98% of his father? No, no he wouldn’t. Instead, having watched us start brightly, he would give the ball away dangerously close to his own area on 11 minutes to allow Lingard – remember the guy who I said was brilliant when he first arrived – to sprint clear, beat a player and effortlessly flick a quick shot in to the opposite corner of the goal. 1-0. Woop woop.

There had been a consensus among the fans, one that I had bought in to, earlier in the season that if Rohan Ince plays we get a result. There might need to be an about face on that one unfortunately. There has also been a hotly disputed theory that Lua Lua is simply an impact player, best from off the banch. There might need to be an about face on that one too.

Lua Lua started and it was his good work in robbing Poyet that had set Lingard free. In fact he was a menace. So was Lingard. So was March. I honestly believe this is the football Oscar has wanted to play all season, so why on earth we haven’t is a mystery. Andrews wasn’t so much a holding player as a third centre back, screening, covering, breaking up the play and making simple passes. With someone back in something approaching the Bridcutt role, Greer’s confidence went through the roof and Bruno and Ward were allowed to genuinely push forward. None of our three wingers actually played on the wing but they buzzed around menacingly like a hornet threesome only with more pace. Ulloa held the ball up impressively. Stephens alternately mopped up or created.

The end result was dominance but also GOOD chances, with plenty around to pick up the pieces if it was missed. This is the football I’ve been expecting all season. This  is what Oscar has meant in his programme notes. This  is why we’ve signed the players we have. Christ knows why we’ve left it till the last five games to show it.

And yet football matches can turn on the smallest thing. Charlton’s one serious attack of the first half should have given them an equaliser. A deflected shot had beaten Ankergren and I had already mentally made the score 1-1 when a collective exhale from the North Stand somehow blew the ball on to the crossbar. Within minutes we were two up. A quick break found the ball with that man Lingard again and a perfectly timed short pass to Ulloa for once beat the offside trap. Ulloa couldn’t and didn’t miss. 2-0 to the Albion. Cruising.

The second half was less exciting though we should have gone three up when Lingard went clean through. Not sure how as, at the time, the whole ground was saluting Mackail Smith who had just started to warm up, but as for the chance itself I swear it must have bobbled. Great lad that Lingard. After that, Charlton seemed happy to settle for a 2-0 loss and us for a 2-0 win.  When Lua Lua came off for JFC I opined to anyone who would listen that that was us for the day. We would become narrower, with less pace and more back passes. While that was the case it was also the case that we were never in danger. People started to drift away from The Amex, fans of both colours, so certain was the result, and yet those who did missed a cracker of a third from……………JFC. Always liked that lad. *cough*

With a minute left we broke on them and had a four v three. With JFC on the ball and the defenders unsure who to mark, he held on to it and cracked a smart low shot in to the bottom corner. 3-0. Goodnight Vienna. Can we play you (and Leicester) every week?

Afterwards I had a quick pint before being stood up in favour of Spanish Dave (that’s a claim to fame of sorts!). Didn’t matter in the slightest. The only sadness of the day came when remembering the ninety six who needlessly died at a football match twenty five years ago, remembered in a nearly impeccable silence. Nearly because silence and applause are different. Nearly because that is not the time to sing “Justice for the 96”. Nearly because, whoever you were in the WSU behind us, the minutes silence is not the time to carry on your phone call. But if the fans were nearly impeccable the players were totally. What IS this strange old season going to do next?

*because they ‘might’ do a special if we get to the playoffs. Not that that’s going to happen is it? <exists stage left quizzically>