Saturday, 1 March 2014

Leicester 3-0 Charlton: You Can't Win Them All...

Today was never going to be easy. Following the greatest weekend of Powell's tenure at Charlton, we were tasked with forgetting about the delirium of the FA Cup and focussing on an away trip to the league's runaway leaders. With the fatigue evident both physically and mentally, the result was no surprise. That said, a couple of the deficiencies that Powell has done so well to disguise of late made themselves known again. Yann Kermorgant scoring a hat-trick for Bournemouth was an apt if heartbreaking demonstration of that.

Powell's success at Charlton has come from his ability to get every ounce of quality and effort out of every single player at his disposal. It's resulted in some of the most unlikely victories we've ever seen, often at times when we've hit our lowest ebb. Unfortunately, overcoming Leicester after the exhaustion of last weekend was too tough an ask.

Wiggins started in place of Fox as the only change from the victory at Sheffield Wednesday, but by the end of the game his fitness level showed that the exertions of last week had taken their toll. He wasn't fully fit. But by the end of the game, he wasn't the only player showing they were knackered.

Leicester were clearly a very good side, with quality running all the way from defence to attack. On nine minutes, they demonstrated this in the most devastating way possible, by opening the scoring. The ball broke forward for Leicester, with Richard Wood putting in a clumsy but robust challenge. The ball bounced kindly for Nugent, who did well to beat Wiggins and find Vardy in the box. He shaped to shoot before cutting back and firing his shot past the helpless Hamer.

The goal didn't kill the game, but it flattened it. Leicester were very comfortable on the ball, occasionally taking it forward and creating chances in dangerous areas. Charlton looked tired already, with hopeful passes to the wide outlets almost always unsuccessful. Given we are forced to make things happen going forward, and can't rely on  an incosive passing game to open teams up, hopeful balls forward tended to be the order of the day. It meant Charlton struggled to get in the game for most of the half, as when they finally stole possession it was quickly lost again.

Ajdarević dropped deep just to get himself in the game, but with only Church to aim at it was a forlorn task. He had a pot shot from 35-yards in frustration, which was close but Schmeichel could comfortably watch it sail over the bar.

Leicester opened up Charlton with ease during the second half. Morrison had been forced off injured early in the game, meaning Wood and Dervite played alongside each other for the first time. They were pulled open a number of times by the strike duo of Nugent and Vardy. Hamer made a great save from close range before the rebound fell to Drinkwater to smash home. Two minutes into the half and the result was all but sealed.

Hughes replaced Cousins, who looked like he'd picked up a knock, whilst Marcus Tudgay came on for Ajdarević. Although he'd struggled to get into the game, he was the one creative outlet we had, so taking him off seemed odd.

Despite the substitutions, the game didn't change course. Wiggins must've been unfit because the left wing was more exposed than usual, allowing De Laet a free reign. Nugent took the ball from 40 yards out and ran pretty much a straight line before firing home into the far corner from the edge of the area.

The midfield pair of Jackson and Poyet looked tired, pulled out of position by the variety of attacking threats they had to cope with. Leicester could easily have scored a couple more, but the excellent reflexes of Ben Hamer prevented them from doing so. He was our best player on the pitch, probably by quite some distance. /Wood had a poor game, as did Wiggins although he didn't look fit at all. Harriott was often giving the ball away, frustratingly doing so after a couple of promising openings had been carved.

The game died, with both sets of fans seeming to accept that it had been inevitable since before kick-off. Leicester saw the ninety minutes out with ease, and walked off deserving winners.

Jackson walked over to thank the travelling support, who hadn't shown any anger towards their side all game. Poyet raised both hands in an apologetic gesture. He's got nothing to be ashamed of when he has to play against a team of Leicester's quality.

Powell applauded too, receiving a generous ovation from the home fans as well as the away end. He's a great man, but was unfortunately not able to muster another logic-defying victory with his side today.

The first problem was that even early in the game we were visibly tired. We don't have a big squad as it is, but crucially there isn't much strength in the little depth we do have. You could perhaps sense a touch of an FA Cup hangover about us. It's hard to pick yourself up for a game you've no expectation of winning, especially with Wembley on the line next weekend.

Secondly, conceding early stuffed our usual game plan, which is to hold firm, play on their frustration and nick a goal. Heads didn't go down, but Leicester gained a strong foothold so early in the game, which proved to be decisive.  Equally, our limited quality going forward meant we struggled badly trying to get ourselves back into the game.

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm a huge Yann Kermorgant fan. He meant a great deal to a huge number of fans at this football club, not to mention the things he achieved on the pitch. Whilst the result probably wouldn't have been much different, it was clear today just how much Yann was missed. We had no aerial outlet. We'd lost that advanced playmaker role which he did so well. We had nobody capable of holding the ball up. Yann didn't do all of these things in every game he played in, but he was often capable of them. We've lost a dynamic forward - our best player - without adequately replacing him. It may come to hurt us in future when struggling to break a team down. We no longer have that quality player behind the main striker to make things happen. Roland took a huge risk in selling him - one that I think a club in our position should never be taking. Seeing him score a hat-trick in another match when you are desperately crying out for someone like him to change the game felt really tough to take. I hope his absence doesn't hurt our finishing position as much as it's hurts our hearts.

Ajdarević has a similar set of skills to Kermorgant on the floor, but doesn't have that physical presence which Yann used so well. Ajdarević will undoubtedly play an important role throughout the rest of the season as one of our few creative players, but today he got very isolated. That was in part down to the excellent pressing game of Leicester which didn't allow him any time on the ball, but also because we played to many hopeful balls in his vague direction. We didn't manage to emulate Monday night when he was able to exploit space going forward and create opportunities. Leicester didn't have a Miguel Llera playing...

Morrison is a key player for us at the back, the rock at the heart of defence. Losing him would disrupt the defensive partnerships he's built. Wood and Dervite looked shaky together, though admittedly this was against the league's strongest side.

Wilson has done a fantastic job at right back, but we are really missing Chris Solly. His absence prevents Wilson from playing that midfield role he's had a lot of success in. Cousins tried his best but didn't get going. Harriott was too sporadic, unreliable on the ball and rarely of use in defence. Jackson looked very leggy, which he's sometimes prone to do.

Hopefully Hamer is fit enough to stay in the side for the rest of the season. Not only is he our best shot-stopper but also very confident on crosses and distribution. He made an excellent strong clearing punch from a dangerous corner in the second half.

Powell must make use of the extra day of rest this week before another run of games following the Sheffield United match. He'll undoubtedly lift his side once again. Despite the deficiencies which were evident today, he's done a fantastic job against the weaker sides in the division of setting us up in positions where we can win games. Individual errors have at times cost us points, but we've rarely been stuffed. That competitive spirit and team unity will become so important in the coming weeks. Powell is the master of extracting the maximum from his side. We don't have a strong squad by any means, but we've got a strong will, a togetherness. Leicester away was never a game we expected to win. We'll learn from mistakes and continue to plug away at our Championship campaign.

Open criticism at this point of the players would be unhelpful. They were tired today. Would you give up the last two results just so we could've lost to the leaders by a narrower margin? No. That's not to say we weren't without faults, but tiredness and fatigue exacerbates errors. We weren't quite at the races today. It happens sometimes. Powell isn't a man who'll let it happen again. We won't have to travel to the league champions again, either, so that'll help.

Only Yeovil of the bottom six picked up a point today, which is positive. Although it hurt, Kermorgant's hat-trick has done us a big favour by demoralising Doncaster. Yann will be happy to have helped us out - he never wanted to leave. We need to make our extra games count, especially at home. There are bigger games to come.

We've a chance to make something special happen next Sunday. After two of the best wins we've achieved in recent years in one weekend, sometimes you have to just accept that you can't win them all.

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