22 October 2014

Charlton 2 Bolton 1

Imagine Les Dawson with a toothache. That's me, at most games, but last night I was completely upstaged. The seat next to mine doesn't have a season ticket holder, so I get a random variety of neighbours. Last night it was a stoutish man, probably about the same age as me. We should have got on really well. But by the end of the game I wanted to hit him.

Charlton kicked off the first half, and after the second touch of the ball - literally, the second touch! - he was shouting "That's a terrible pass!" If a player wasn't a "waste of space" (Wilson), he "didn't have the pace" (Bulot), he was "useless" (Buyens), or he fell down like a ... , like a ... (he had to think for a while about this one before coming up with the worst insult he could think of) "like a woman" (Tucudean). All this within the first half hour. You can imagine the miserable fun he had during the panicky last half hour, culminating in the substitution of George Tucudean. Normally, scoring one goal and setting up another entitles a player to at least a bit of recognition, you'd think. Invited to applaud, my neighbour shouted "No way!" and folded his arms tighter around himself, a sullen lump of resentment refusing to acknowledge the Romanian's best performance (by far) in a Charlton shirt.

Once again it wasn't pretty, and some players weren't at their best, but a sparse crowd (13,433) had the rare experience of seeing Charlton scoring two goals in one game and the slightly less rare experience of seeing them hanging on through the second half. And as for Tucudean, it was good to see him finally influencing a game decisively. 

So did I leave the ground a changed man? A dizzy optimist seeing fairy dust a-sparkle around the "train cancelled" sign at the station? Not quite, but I was happy. Imagine Sam Allardyce in a pie shop. Actually, don't imagine that. I just have and it made me feel ill.

05 October 2014

Charlton 1 Birmingham 1

After 10 minutes this normally feet-on-the-ground - even pessimistic - spectator thought that at last we might see Charlton dominate another team. Birmingham hadn't looked very good and surely the Charlton players, even if a little tired after the midweek heroics, had enough confidence to build on the early lead.

Despite once again fielding a defensively-minded team, Charlton had dominated possession, with Vetokele looking back in goal-scoring touch. He'd narrowly shot wide after 3 minutes and was again showing the speed of turn that can bamboozle defences. On 10 minutes a perfect cross from the intrepid young Bulot found him in a huge amount of space in front of goal and he headed home. Let's do something about that goal difference, we all thought.

I haven't seen a good explanation for what happened next. Bob Peeters looked baffled in the post-match interview: relieved, more than anything, that Birmingham hadn't capitalised on his team's rapid decline. Tiredness? That shouldn't be the case, not 20 minutes into a game on a cool October afternoon. Regular readers will know I'm the last person to offer a theory on what went wrong. All I know is that the close passing game gradually failed. Birmingham closed down the space where earlier Charlton had patiently played the ball around at the back, and Charlton didn't have an alternative gameplan. Oh look, I have offered an explanation. Probably best you ignore it, frankly, but here it is in easy-to-understand flow-chart form.

Anyway, once again the damage was limited and the unbeaten run continues and Charlton go into the international break in 6th position. According to some people that's all that matters, and any criticism is misplaced. But I feel perfectly entitled to say that the last few games have been pretty horrible to watch. While for the rest of the week I can look at the league table and feel happy, the 90 minuteses at the Valley are beginning to feel like a duty fulfilled rather than a pleasure enjoyed; like visiting a tiresome distant relative in the hope you'll be rewarded (in this world or the next) eventually.

Would I rather see Charlton playing with a cavalier abandon and losing occasionally? Not sure, but my fear is that sooner or later the rest of the league will work out how to stifle Charlton - if Lee Clark can do it, it's hardly rocket science - and we'll have dull performances that end in defeat. That really won't be fun.