Saturday, 24 August 2013

Charlton A-A Doncaster: Floodgates Open In More Ways Than One

Where on earth do you start?

One of the most eventful afternoons at the Valley in years, yet it all ends without a result. 

Weather: A rain soaked pitch was set to make the game interesting following a significant amount of rain that had fallen. Heavy showers circled overhead, ready to drench the pitch and create scenes very similar to those seen against Hull last August.
Team Selection: Jordan Cousins earned a starting position after his impressive second half performance at Barnsley, whilst Leon Cort came in for Dervite who had been off colour in the same game. This meant a chance for the home crowd to see how Kermorgant and Church coped up front, as well as how Cousins and Gower got on centrally.
The first half of the first half

Almost immediately Charlton found themselves a goal down. Doncaster won a throw on the right, but Charlton weren't happy with the roll of the ball on a clearly wet surface. Wiggins and Morrison protested, but the throw was quickly taken, crossed into the box unchallenged and Keegan rose to head home. Not your ideal start.
Charlton looked very encouraging going forward. Harriott used his trickery to set up a shooting chance. Kermorgant was excellent with the ball at his feet, holding it up, passing back into the midfield to allow the ball to be spread wide. Pritchard could easily have levelled things up. A ball to the back post was volleyed to the near post but was denied by a fine Turnbull save. 

After some more panicked defending from Charlton, the ball ended up rolling across the goalmouth. It stopped rolling very quickly. Morrison panicked despite Hamer calling for it, poised to throw himself to the ground. The hacked clearance fell to Doncaster, and after a pass over the top to what looked like an offside player, a squared cross from the byline was tapped in by Brown. 

Back to the other end, where Kermorgant played a sumptuous, skillful left footed ball on the turn that bisected the defence and allowed Harriott a shot. Again, the near post effort was well saved.
Soon after, the third. More set piece problems defensively and a goal line clearance was required. The volley landed square in the face of Brown six yards from goal, and ricocheted straight into the net. You'd be harsh to blame anyone for that as it was a freak goal. 

By this stage much was being made of the increasingly waterlogged surface, with cries of rage from the crowd whenever a ball was stopping in a puddle. The East Stand side of the pitch was particularly unpredictable, with firm passes stopping dead and bounces proving impossible to predict. A heavy shower after about 15 minutes had soaked the surface, and the Charlton players continued their protestations. Naturally, the home fans were delighted following the decision of the referee to suspend the match with 27 minutes gone. It was more like water polo than football, such was the amount of water on the pitch. Players had been kicking up huge volumes of water as they ran, tried to turn and all sorts. It was probably the right decision, as the game had become so unpredictable. Despite that, Doncaster were obviously aggrieved, with the scoreline as it was. 

The first half interval:

For about half an hour, the groundstaff heroically attempted to shift water from the pitch with one super-sopper, a few brooms and some pitchforks. It was never going to be enough, but they tried nonetheless. Soon after the players had been ordered off, Paul Dickov sent his side back out on to the field, presumably to pressure the officials into restarting the game. They stood around for a while before running over to the corner and picking up some tools of their own. 

The main areas of concern was the penalty area. When Charlton's substitutes emerged to muck around, Nick Pope made a point of hurling the ball up in the air and letting it land on the floor. Twice it did not bounce off the ground at all. The goalmouth itself was incredibly boggy, even with the soaking device run over it a number of times. The amount of water on the East Stand side was hardly reduced, and there was no sun to dry the pitch out. It was still raining.

But the referee announced the match would restart. A quite bizarre decision, given the lack of a change in conditions. This was particularly clear when play did resume...

The second half of the first half:

Play resumed in identical conditions. The ball continued to be slowed and halted by huge amounts of standing water on the East Stand side. But the referee was seemingly uninterested in making consistent decisions, and allowed the final 18 minutes of the first half to take place. 

Charlton continued to look good going forward. Kermrogant was skillful in the middle, beating a couple of players as well as the puddle that tried to steal the ball from him. A superb cross-field move saw the ball transferred through the midfield and out left to Harriott, who won a corner. Encouraging signs. As half time approached, Charlton pulled a goal back. Some good interplay looked to release the lively Simon Church, who broke the line and slotted past Turnbull into the right corner of the net. The crowd sensed the result was not a formality, and urged their side on.

Things got even better. Kermorgant used his skill once again to beat Keegan, who hauled him down having realised a far superior player had just made him look silly. He had already been booked for kicking the ball away in the first half of the first half, and was thus sent from the field. With 10 against 11, and at 1-3 down, suddenly it looked as if Charlton had a real chance to win the game. 

Doncaster worked another clever set piece, and the ball was fired into the net, but the player responsible had been offside, and this time it was spotted by the linesman.

So at quarter past four, it was half time.

Half Time / Full Time:

The players left the field with all sorts of noises coming from the crowd. Some cheered. Some booed the players. Others directed fury at the ref. Many, including myself, stood silent, wondering what on earth we'd just witnessed. 

Charlton's substitutes again emerged to muck about. This time it seemed to be a game of 'how far can you get the ball towards the goalmouth before it stops in a puddle'. It was clearly very wet. 

What made the decision to restart an odd one was that it was still just as waterlogged as it had been before the stoppage. The protestations of the crowd died down as the game settled, and Charlton were resurgent, but the point still stood - if the referee had taken them off in these conditions, surely he should be consistent and do the same.

No announcement was made, and Doncaster's players returned just after 4:30. Oddly, they approached the opposite end of the field and started to applaud their supporters. At this point it was clear that a decision had been made to abandon the game. An announcement soon followed, along with Charlton themselves emerging. Doncaster's players graciously threw their shirts in to the away end, as a sort of apology for the lack of a completed match. Charlton were applauded but I sense many will still use today's showing to direct much vitriol at the players. 

The game was abandoned, and as far as I can tell, none of the goals stand for anything. The radio has just said that all of the cards from today's game stand. Seems a little odd... 

The abandonment was a shame, in a way, because I felt that the situation as it was suited Charlton. 10 v 11, with a point to prove, attacking the home end. It felt like we'd be able to press for a draw, or even a victory. To look at it from the other angle, we've been handed a 'get out of jail free' card, given the really poor start to the game we had defensively. So I suppose we can't complain.

One of the most eventful afternoons the Valley has seen for many years, with no result at the end of it!

Analysis: Defensive errors take focus away from impressive attacking play.

Whilst the game counted for nothing, obviously much will be said about Charlton's performances. There were definitely some negatives, but sadly I fear a lot of the positives will be lost, or ignored, as frustratingly we have a vocal minority of dissatisfied supporters.

Firstly, the negatives, which do need pointing out. We still appear to be making basic defensive errors. Doncaster attacked very well down the flanks, passing to eliminate the full backs, but this does not account for the goals. Both Wiggins and Morrison switched off from what they should've been doing defensively, and instead started complaining about the throw in, or the state of the pitch. Whatever the issue, they allowed the quick throw to be taken, a cross sent in unchallenged, leaving Solly at the back post out-jumped by Keegan, who scored a good header, but should not have been allowed the space to do so. Hamer is at fault for this as well - the fact that we seem to have too many individuals that moan at the officials instead of focus on what they should be doing themselves. It was certainly at fault for the first goal, and it is fairly embarrassing when it keeps on happening. 

The second and third goals were less down to glaring errors, and more down to a combination of chaotic organisation and bad luck. The second was offside, from where I was sat. Before Doncaster got into that position, however, Charlton had to deal with the ball stopping dead in the goalmouth. Hamer called but Morrison cleared in panicked fashion, which allowed Doncaster to attack once again. The resulting attack produced a goal, but it was partly down to the pitch conditions that it came about. That said, Morrison struggled to organise a defence that still looks far less solid than it has been in the past. 

The third goal was unlucky. Another set piece caused problems, but when you clear the ball off the line you can't legislate for it flying into the face of an opponent. 

The positives. Yes, there were plenty! I thought Jordan Cousins worked exceptionally well in midfield with Mark Gower. Cousins looked controlled on the ball, and despite a couple of difficulties with the pitch, tackled and distributed very well indeed. The same goes for Gower, who looked confident with such a composed partner. Harriott was very lively, and could well have scored. He is definitely worth his starting position as he has that spark that often makes something happen. The ball played to him by Yann (who was also very good in my view) was exquisite, and he was unlucky not to score. Simon Church again made bursting runs into space looking for the ball, and took his goal very well, although sadly it won't be recorded as his second league goal. Solly was good down the right, and Pritchard was solid if unspectacular. 

The attacking play itself was very encouraging. I was impressed by the use of the ball to Yann's feet. It allowed him to draw in the defence, re-distribute the ball back to midfield and then spread the play. As always, he was searching for that canny, clever, killer pass to set up a goalscoring chance, and in Church we may just have found a player on his wavelength. Harriott benefited from this improved distribution from the midfield, as he was released in space down the left a couple of times.

Going forward, we looked very lively, and I am sure we'd have scored more had the game continued. Defensively, we left a lot to be desired. I don't like calling for players to be dropped, as I'm not that sort of reactionary fan, but Morrison did look to be more of a liability than ever today. Whether the midfield is at fault for allowing the opposition to attack our back for too much I'm not sure, but organisationally we were a little chaotic. 

As a team, we could certainly benefit from a bit more individual focus, and less remonstrating with officials. It was not solely the cause of being 3-0 down, but it does make an impact when the opposition is looking to make quick attacks. 

The season ahead: Plenty still to be done, but I'm not too worried. We need a lot of work to be done defensively, but we definitely have the coaches and the players to improve. What really was encouraging was how we attacked, as well as how Cousins looked completely at home playing Championship football. Perhaps some changes are needed at the back, but the front 6 definitely look like a settled, exciting, productive group. 

Leicester next weekend may be a tricky fixture, but we have the ability and the motivation to bounce back and win plenty of games this season. We might have to wait a while, but the results should come. With Chris Powell at the helm, we have a man who can and will motivate this group to produce. It just needs a bit more time.

A crazy day, all for nothing, but we will learn from the mistakes, and take heart from the positives.

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