Fan’s view 23/24 – No.28: Charlton away

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024  



Unlike last season there was no strike preventing travel by rail so it was a meet up in the George in Southwark. It might be Greene King but it’s a fine old building, the last galleried coaching inn remaining in London even if it is now much reduced in size. The Timothy Taylor Landlord had obviously travelled a fair way but I don’t think I’ve ever had a better pint than this up north.

There were home and away fans in our gathering and neither were optimistic about what lay ahead.

Charlton: “We’ll lose three nil today”.

Oxford: “No you won’t. We’re not playing well. We’ve got so many injuries.”

Charlton: “We’ve got injuries too. Alfie May is out.”

That moved my needle considerably from quite pessimistic to rather more optimistic.

I thought I’d check so asked “are you taking the piss or is he really out?”

Charlton: “50:50”.

The League’s joint leading scorer did not play. Their list of injuries though appears to be nowhere near as bad as ours.  Chuks Aneke has been out since late October with a hamstring problem although one of the Charlton contingent suggested he was their “sick note”. Most clubs have them. “He could injure himself putting his shirt on”.

Miles Leaburn has a major hamstring injury and isn’t going to be able to play again this season. We can trump them when it comes to knackered hamstrings.

They’ve got a striker, Slobodan Tedic, on loan from Manchester City but he couldn’t play due to concussion.

Every team has to go with what they’ve got. No use crying over it, just get on with it even though we truly are down to the bare bones.

The level of optimism that had seeped into my thinking was such that just before kick-off I declared “I think Mark Harris will score today”. I do have witnesses and I did believe it and no I haven’t been saying the same thing before every game.

I’d concluded a couple of things long before the first half was over. The team that was better at running with the ball and beating (or trying to beat) their marker was Charlton mainly in the form of Corey Taylor down the left. In contrast we didn’t have pace. Or wingers. What we were better at was passing the ball but for much of the opening 45 minutes that wasn’t working particularly effectively. When it did though – which wasn’t that often – it provided a different story.

One of the many topical football debates that can now be had after every game we play is: “the possession passing game; for or against?” Probably the same with fans of many teams.

There are two extremes. Fans who want to see their side just whack the ball as far away from their goal whenever they’re defending without any thought for what happens next. At the other end of the scale there are those who seem happy for their team to try and keep the ball forever and a day deep in their own half going sideways and backwards without the slightest thought about going forward and mounting an attack at the other end of the pitch.

For me it is much more complex than that. If your team has the ball, the opposition can’t score. But if your team has the ball and is trying to keep it near their own goal and are getting harried and closed down by opponents, the chances of conceding will be quite high.

A lot depends on what players a team has available. What are their strengths and weaknesses with the same consideration being given to your opponents. Some keepers can now find wide men on the half way line with chipped passes. Can we do that? That’s a potential way out if you’re being penned in and are wobbling.

I think a team needs a core identity, a basic style, but needs to be able to mix it up a bit depending on circumstances. Although a little bit of me still thinks “if in doubt get it out” I’m largely pro the possession game. Keep the ball, if you can and tire the opposition out. But get your head up and always be on the lookout for a pass on further up the pitch or even creating a goal scoring chance. You need talented footballers to be able to do this.

Even though there was still the vast majority of the game to go and plenty of time to turn things around it was difficult not to get that sinking feeling in the fifth minute when we went behind.

Having received the ball from Fin Stevens, Ruben Rodrigues took it, turned and tried to run with it. He was robbed by a good tackle from the side. The ball was soon at Taylor’s feet on the half way line and he set about getting into the box as quickly as possible. When he got there he fired an angled shot with a bit of power that James Beadle could only parry for Chem Campbell to get onto it and bury from close range.

At times we saw the sublime skills of RR, at others the seeming dawdling on the ball and lack of desire to get stuck in and retain possession. Infuriating. The two sides come as a package. Or am I seeing this in completely the wrong way?

Defenders hate attackers with at least a competent level of ball control, running at them at speed. Oisin Smyth isn’t a right back but he had to fill in at the last minute because Jordan Thorniley had suffered back spasms. Smyth had backed off as Taylor came at him, which is a better thing to do than jumping in and getting beaten.

Our man from Derrymacash did really well in the circumstances of this game and I had arrived at that conclusion long before the 85th minute. With him playing there Stevens was further up the park and I thought our Brentford loanee, although not a speedy wide man, was much better there than at times he’s been further back. Needs must.

Having gone behind we looked very vulnerable and a second for the hosts looked on the cards. It didn’t look good for OUFC.

Playing about at the back nearly cost us. Ciaron Brown and Marcus McGuane weren’t quite on the same wavelength and it required a very good save indeed from Beadle to keep it at one. Sharp reactions saw him getting down and sticking an arm out.

It goes without saying that we would persist with playing out from the rear. Beadle to Smyth to Stevens who tried to hurriedly move it on first time but didn’t make the connection intended. At least we were trying to get forward and the ball kindly bounced over a red shirt and MM too. Cameron Brannagan collected and played a positive pass to RR. Charlton were exposed and the save Ashley Maynard-Brewer had to make was quite similar to Beadle’s earlier but not quite as good.

This was encouraging though and after another good move Brannagan had a shot blocked.

The game was now becoming more end to end and more entertaining for the neutral. Taylor continued to cause us big problems and it looked odds on that his cross to the far post was going to be nodded in by Daniel Kanu. Brown who was only about a foot away from Kanu but wasn’t able to win the ball, jumped and deflected out for a corner. This was superb defensive play.

Midway through the first period with our play coming together we levelled with a well created move. Brown gave the ball to Joe Bennett who laid it to Brannagan who in turn moved it back to Elliott Moore. This may have looked like backwards thinking but wasn’t. We were looking to go forward and with gaping space ahead of him our captain moved into it. He found RR who wasn’t tightly marked, our no. 20 controlling, spinning round and angling a top quality pass through the Charlton back line. I say line but it was more of a zig zag formation. This was quick and incisive from us and they’d not had time to get their shape right. Stevens was the recipient of that pass and his first time low centre into the box was met by Harris who had made the run of a finisher to touch home at the near post. I was surprised that no arms in red sleeves went up to at least appeal for offside even though our timing had been spot on.

It was now us picking up most of the loose balls and Brannagan had another shot blocked but seconds later we could easily have ended up being in arrears again. From the clearance Brown tried to shield the ball out for a throw but cocked up and gave Tyreece Campbell an almost open path to goal. Good job he wasn’t very good. He blazed over the bar with Taylor in a much better position to score.

As we entered the second half the game was finely balanced. T Campbell showed that he’s not all bad getting in an inviting centre after we’d lost the ball in midfield. This time it was the turn of a team mate, who’d slipped between our centre halves (happens too often) to be not very good. The free-header was not cashed in.

We lost it again at the back and Beadle had to rush out to block a T Campbell shot with Brown coming sliding across a fraction too late to help out other than to be off putting.

There was cause for concern here but it didn’t take long for us to emerge as the more dominant force. We began playing our passing football in the Charlton half. The final stats showed that we had 59% possession and made 622 passes to their 432 including 90 long ones to 47. Our accuracy levels were slightly higher than theirs too.

An attempted half volley from Rodrigues was completely mistimed and went vertically instead of goalwards but we were knocking on the door.

Harris forced another decent save from Maynard-Brewer and then after great work with sub Billy Bodin in a tight space put another effort wide. From the view I had I thought it had gone very close but on closer inspection of the replay it wasn’t. He didn’t get enough bend on it.

Nevertheless it was all very promising. We were keeping the pressure on.

Every league game bar one that we’ve played in December has had at least one goal scored after the 80 minute mark.

With 84 gone here we were still patient but looking for openings. Charlton couldn’t really clear their lines effectively. We were picking up everything just outside the final third. Brannagan did so again and the ball was swiftly moved around from Brown to Bennet and back to Brannagan. When he passed to Smyth who was way out nothing looked on. Too far out for even the best players in the world to score let alone someone who has never scored in the league and is only playing because of injuries. So Charlton won’t have been unduly concerned with the space in front of him. One touch then a second but he’s still 30 yards out. Bang. A wonder goal.

A deserved win. Given that huge injury list quite commendable too.

However as always the quality of the opposition has to be considered. Charlton were quite poor. They have now lost their last three league games and only drew the three before that. In their previous game they conceded in 90 + 4 minutes to go down 2-1 to Bristol Rovers. Some Charlton fans want Michael Appleton out. He only came in on 8 September. Others blame Andy Scott in his second spell there as Technical Director. Or the owners. The Addicks always have ownership troubles.

Here’s a few comments lifted from the “Intothevalley” website.

“This is on him (Scott).  Although Appleton is a bang average journeyman manager. Never an upgrade on Holden in a million years”.

“Appleton is managing the shite that he had no say on.”

“I don’t blame Appleton per se. He’s a lower level mediocre manager who’s been given what he’s given to work with. It’s deeper than that, way deeper. Again.”

“No plan B when Oxford were on top”.

“As usual the opposition looked well coached and very impressive in the two 15-20min spells in each half that they dominated whilst we seemed to be playing as a team of individuals with no collective personality.”

“It may have been better but it was still very mediocre….keep in mind Oxford also have several injuries but they clearly had a gameplan (play through the press, overload central midfield, push full backs on for width etc.). I’ve no idea what our gameplan is other than get the ball to CBT and hope for something to happen.”

“…when Oxford moved forward they showed a gulf in class from our attack… not that they’re good… we’re just so poor…”

So what’s the state of health and prospect for our football club as we start 2024?

I think at the beginning of the season we would have taken our current league position of fifth with 46 points from 25 games. That’s only one fewer than we got in the entirety of 2022/23. Some improvement that although the bar was set just a few inches off the ground.

Even if the clubs below us were to win their games in hand we would still retain a play-off slot but there are obviously dangers in the chasing pack.

I can’t honestly see us bothering the very best sides and fighting our way into an automatic promotion spot but now have more belief that top six could be achievable than I did a couple of weeks back.

We’re yet to play top placed Pompey but I think the best three teams I’ve seen are Derby, Peterborough and Bolton. We’re done with the Rams and ended up with a win apiece. The Posh are still to come to us and we’re still to travel to Bolton.

The transfer window creates a big unknown and fans at every club will be crossing their fingers hoping for strengthening in key areas alongside not having their best players poached or influential loanees recalled.

There will always be talk of new players coming in. We’re screaming out for a goal scoring striker. Some will say to replace Harris, others to play alongside him. If it were to be the latter a reshape of the team would be required. A regular starter would have to drop out.  But these guys are like gold dust.

A major factor of what is to come is surely getting those injured players back and doing everything possible to ensure that we don’t have such a horrendous list again. A problem with training methods? Issues not identified quickly enough? Treatment not as good as it should be? Players coming back too soon? Or do we sign too many players who are injury prone in the first place?

The flip side is that if the eight or nine who are currently out did all get match fit and we also made more signings there would be a lot of them kicking their heels. Probably cause more injuries that, so we’d be back where we started.

And then there’s that little matter of the Triangle. The target for the planning application to go in was November 2023.

Post match appreciation


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024 at 10:51 pm and appears under Export, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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