22 March 2015

Charlton 3 Reading 2

Surprising admission: the evidence is building that Guy Luzon is the kind of manager/coach I like. Not just because of the results, but because he seems able to release the inner child inside his players: to get them to play with the sheer fun and enthusiasm you will see on any school playground when the kids get a chance to kick a ball about. No-one takes up football because they want to excel in zonal defensive patterns: it's the pure thrill of doing something clever with the ball that gets people hooked. Get that feeling back, allied to technical skill and physical fitness, and you'll get good performances.

Not always good results, though. The result against Blackburn and the halftime score today showed that the balance can be missing. Charlton had played with some verve but no finish. The energy faded and the game dwindled into snooze, allowing Reading to score a goal that felt ridiculously unimportant.

Luzon's halftime talk must have been something like "Carry on doing what you're doing, just do it a bit better." And so in the second half the performance of the team was more adventurous, and the score could have been higher than it was. Of course, there's a downside. Once again, the defence had occasional lapses, one of which gave Reading late, delusive hope but generally speaking any team that regularly scores three goals in a game is regularly going to win.

Unsurprising confession: I never really warmed to Bob Peeters. It's partly my (perfectly rational) prejudice against really tall people, but he finally lost me after the game against Ipswich in November. Charlton had played brilliantly, particularly in the first half, but lost. Peeters said afterwards he hadn't spoken to the team after that game, because he didn't know what to say. It's obvious (isn't it?) that he should have said "Carry on doing what you're doing, just do it a bit better." Instead, in the following weeks we saw his pattern of play get even more rigid and, ultimately, negative.

Peeters, I suspect, would have destroyed Tony Watt, who is closer than most to the child in the playground. You need to accept that he will do some ludicrous, wasteful things every game, but occasionally he'll do something unbelievable, like setting up Simon Church's goal from an apparently impossible position. Luzon seems happy to give him the freedom to do this.

If you've ever been on a management course you'll recognise that Luzon's management is a vindication of theory Y. But of course you'll also have realised that management theories are pseudoscientific nonsense, so I'm not sure where that leaves us.

Other views:
Hungry (despite the pies) Ted
Chris Powell's Flat Cap
Chicago Addick
Drinking During the Game

20 March 2015

Farewell, Lawrie Wilson

So Lawrie Wilson is on loan to Rotherham for the rest of the season. Hopefully, he'll do his bit in ensuring Millwall's relegation, and I hope he'll get a few more chances to play and get back into the form he had last year.

He's had a difficult season at Charlton. Clearly, Bob Peeters didn't like the look of him, and he didn't get many starts. Some of the times he did play were when Peeters was imaginatively playing everyone out of position and no-one looked as if they knew what they were doing. He looked at home in those games.

What we hardly saw this season was the right-side partnership of him and Chris Solly, a partnership that at times had looked majestic. Instead, he was always seemingly the last resort - last on the teamsheet, last off the bench - and it patently affected his confidence. Half the time he was trying too hard and made a dog's dinner of simple situations, and half the time he backed out of anything complicated or risky.

He probably won't be back, and it's sad that his Charlton career has ended with such a whimper. He deserves better than to be remembered for this season. He used to be all right, you know.

16 March 2015

Charlton 1 Blackburn 3: catching up

I seem to have taken a month's break from this blog, and I've largely missed out a remarkable transformation in Charlton's fortunes.

I think, despite his promising start, Bob Peeters won't be remembered kindly. I've seen it argued that Charlton have been better organised under Guy Luzon. I'd argue they are less organised. Instead, they are set free to improvise and make opportunities for themselves whereas under Peeters they were over-organised into immobility and caution. As results had got worse under Peeters, he'd only increased the rigidity of the team's play, and the players had become frustrated and impatient. Some played for their own self-respect; some effectively gave up.

Luzon's had an even better start. The last time we were gathered together, brothers and sisters, was after the out-of-the-blue win against Brentford. That game saw two decisive changes: Watt and Vetokele playing together, and some brilliant imposter in Bulot's shirt. Those changes have been maintained, and you can see that the players have a new liveliness about them. They're happy to be part of a team.

Four wins out of five effectively brought the season to a happy end: relegation fears swept aside and nothing but a healthy serving of schadenfreude pie to look forward to when Millwall and Blackpool go down. I feel quite sorry for Blackpool fans, totally ripped off and betrayed by the club's owners, but not for anyone else (you know who I mean).

And so it was no surprise that Charlton started Saturday's game with the kind of lackadaisical folderol more commonly seen in late April, when the holidays are booked and players are mainly thinking about how to avoid hidden cameras in the late-night hotel bar.

After 15 minutes Chris Solly needlessly gave away a throw-in. Quickly taken, it set up Rhodes to score the first of his two goals. You might have hoped it would jolt the Charlton team into life, but the second goal, just two minutes later, was even worse. A desperately slack back-pass from Buyens, which Johnson treated with patrician contempt, preferring to concede another goal than touch the ball, and the game was over.

The man next to me was enraged by this. Fair enough, I suppose, but Charlton's defence was so hapless on the day, it felt mean to have a go at them: like swearing at a new born kitten because it can't do differential calculus. The rest of the team did what they had to do, even though it was pretty much pointless from then on.

The result dented Luzon's record, but it's still too early to say if he's a good or bad manager. Someone needs to sort out the defence, and I'm pretty sure it can be done.

The real concern, though, is this. In a normal club, Luzon could use the remaining games to prepare the team for next season: bringing on promising youngsters and planning the replacement of some loanees and senior players. He's obviously got the core of a decent squad which, when given the right conditions, can beat almost anyone. In Duchatelet world, though, nothing can be taken for granted. Luzon, I would suggest, has very little idea what his squad will look like in August, or even if he, regardless of results, will still be here. The club has an opportunity to grow, but will it be taken?