A goalless draw with bottom club Nottingham Forest provided a limp end to my first Premiership season at The Valley. At least four different accounts could be given of this game (and probably will be). One (the typical hack's report) would argue that this was a poor game between two sides both of which deserve (and probably will be) relegated. A second would argue that Charlton dominated the game and were unlucky not to take away all three points for the fourth game in a row. A third would argue that the hero of the hour was recalled Forest keeper Mark Crossley, not least for saving a penalty delivered by controversial Addicks midfielder, Neil Redfearn. A fourth would name Redfearn as the villain of the piece for failing to score. Which is my view? Read to the end of the report.
It wasn't the best of weeks for me. In the earlier part of it, I was battling a fever, probably contracted from noxious emissions from the wasteland surrounding Pride Park! Friday morning at 6 a.m. saw me emerge bleary eyed from the Charing Cross Hotel to get the early mornning Eurostar to Brussels where an Italian official made clear her displeasure at my failure to control a Greek naval officer I am nominally responsible for who has been stirring it with the Albanians. So I wasn't in a cheerful mood when I set out for The Valley, quite apart from the fact that it would be my last home match of the season before departing to be sleepless in Seattle. Football results are not determined by the form book, as we saw at Derby the preceding week. So the fact that Team A is higher in the table than Team B and is at home doesn't make the outcome a foregone conclusion. Football wouldn't be a very interesting game if this was the case. I felt that it was going to be a tricky match with Charlton in the unusual position of not being the underdogs.
We headed off to the Rose of Denmark where I was able to bid farewell to a number of listers. Little did I know that while I was enjoying my Guinness, a crucial decision was being taken in the Forest dressing room. The hapless Dave Beasant was being replaced as keeper by long serving Mark Crossley whose career at Forest strecches back to the Clough era.
There was a curiously subdued atmosphere in the ground in the first half, so quiet that one could hear conversations. It was as if the Addickted knew that this was a banana skin of a match. This was confirmed in the first few minutes when the hopeless Forest defence got snarled up with Louis-Jean getting in a muddle with team mate Edwards on the edge of the area. Pringle seized the opportunity and got in a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but sent his shot high over the goal. Crossley did not have to do anything on that occasion, but he did when Tiler sent in a sharp and powerful header which the keeper turned over the bar. He was even more impressive when he managed to push away a powerful long range strike from Mark Kinsella. Late in the half Forest put in one of only two shots on target when Darcheville struck a fierce shot from a tight angle but saw the shot stopped by the legs of Simon Royce.
Early in the second half Neil Redfearn put in a powerful shot which looked as if it was going to go just inside the post. Indeed, according to Match of the Day the modest Yorkshireman was already wheeling away to celebrate. But somehow Crossley managed to use his outstretched fingers to deflect the shot. Crossley's finest moment was, however, yet to come. On 68 minutes John Robinson was making a run on goal when he was obstructed by Steve Chettle just inside the area. Barnsley referee S Lodge had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Former Barnsley player Neil Redfearn grabbed the ball and put it on the spot. Sir Clive Mendonca was not on the pitch at this point, but one does wonder if someone like Steve Brown might not have been a better choice (if Redfearn had allowed Kinsella to make a choice). It should be emphasised that Crossley has a good record of saving penalties. He saved one in the 1991 cup final and claims to have been the only person to have saved one from Saint Matt of Guernsey. I did not think it would go in. Crossley explained afterwards, 'I always guess with penalties ... I thought it would be easier for the striker to kick across his body rather than curl it the other way. Luckily I got a good strong hand on it.' Indeed he did and by moving swiftly to the right, the ball was kept out.
Charlton came storming back, but it was all too much for Robinson who got the inevitable booking for dissent on 72 minutes, thus earning himself another avoidable suspension. Tiler had already been booked in the first half for an unnecessary but understandable foul (three Forest players also got a yellow card in the first half). Referee Lodge claimed, however, that Kinsella was play acting when he was elbowed by Forest's popular Pierre van Hooijdonkey. A late rally by the Addicks saw seven corners with Sir Clive, who had replaced Hunt on 72 minutes, putting in a shot that was saved and Keith Jones delivering a delightful curling ball from the edge of the area which nearly flummoxed Crossley until he tipped it over.
At least Charlton salvaged a point, which they might not have done in those circumstances a year or two ago, and retained 16th place on goal difference. My assessment of the match was that a woeful Forest defence was saved by a superb display of goalkeeping by Crossley. For once, Big Ron got it right. Charlton's domination of the game is shown by the fact that they had six shots on targets to two from Forest and fourteen corners to two from Forest, a 7:1 ratio which I am sure is the highest in any game this season. So Crossley was the hero, Redfearn was not really the villain, and Charlton put in a performance which convinced most neutral commentators that they had a fighting chance of staying up. What baffled most Addicks was Curbishely's decision not to bring on John Barnes who could have added some real quality when it was desperately needed. Even if it hadn't worked, it would have been worth trying. The disappearance of youngsters Paul Konchesky and Scott Parker from the bench is also worrying, particularly after Barness put in a poor performance at Derby.
As the train passed through Blackheath, spinmeister Steve Dixon could be heard (on Millennium Radio, even his voice doesn't carry that far) emphasising the positive features of the result. As Canary Wharf receded into the background, it was difficult to believe that it would be late summer before I returned to my beloved Valley (there will be coverage of the away fixtures at my local club Coventry and at Leicester on this page).
Bob the Dog (who has now selected a picture to appear on this page) is again assisted this week by Hootch the Pootch, but gossiping cats have caused some friction by suggesting that Hootch is a covert Sky Blue. Hootch suggested that the Silver Bone should go to Mark Crossley , but Bob insists that the award must always go to a Charlton player. After a great deal of barking, it was agreed that Danny Mills had recaptured his form of the earlier part of the season and deserved the award for some great runs forward. Simon Royce has now equalled the great Sam Bartram's record of four clean sheets in a row and he did have to make a couple of saves from an admittedly inept Forest attack. Carl Tiler was given the Star Rating by Matchfacts and put in another calm, capable performance, as well as coming close to scoring. For Chris Powell it was another quality performance. Kinsella nearly scored with a powerful shot and put in another couple of balls which just missed the target, as well as being constantly involved all over the field. Keith Jones showed some superb touches, and continues to be an underrated player. Steve Brown was at his committed best, making one great run on goal which unfortunately came to nothing. Hunt made a full contribution and I'm not sure that he needed replacing. I would have kept him on and brought off Robinson . Apart from creating the penalty, he had a poor game. As one lister commented, it would be appreciated if he worked on getting a better cross in rather than mouthing off at officials. Pringle missed more than one chance, but some of his ball control in midfield was beautiful to behold. Which leaves Redfearn who had made himself unpopular during the week with some remarks in the press which were critical of aspects of the team's footballing quality. Before he missed the penalty, I thought he had one of his better games. If it hadn't been for Crossley, he would have scored from free play. Now he is becoming a hate figure for some fans. And I must say I would question the judgement of anyone who freely chooses to live near Chelmsford, the town where the master had the misfortune to go to school (BTW, the master tells me that like Rick Everitt he published a subversive school magazine under the title of 'Wreck'). Mendonca displayed his skills at ball control when he came on; unfortunately, he was not there to take the penalty. I give this match three woofs.
Coventry were on top in the opening quarter of an hour. After fourteen minutes, Brown underhit a back pass to Royce and the fearless keeper had to come 25 yards out to clear the ball. Royce showed his merit again on 29 minutes when he punched out a McAllister corner. The impressive Sky Blues back David Burrows put in a header and Royce put the shot over the bar. Charlton then had their best chance of the half with Pringle hesitating when he was one-on-one with Hedman, giving his fellow national a chance to kick the ball away. After a nail biting first half for the large crowd of Addicks in attendance, manager Alan Curbishley later revealed that he 'had a bit of a go at them at half time.'
This must have had some effect because the Addicks came out determined to take control of the match. A ball forward from Kinsella allowed Robinson to put in a precise cross, but Pringle headed just over the bar. The efforts of the Valiants (as the programme termed them) earned their reward in the 56th minute when Charlton went 1-0 ahead. Pringle had a shot blocked, but he put the ball into Robinson: the goal was officially credited to him, but freeze frame analysis of the video would seem to suggest that it was Hunt who got the final touch which would make him Charlton's leading Premiership goal scorer. Hedman was so incensed at the ball being scrambled into the net that he complained to the referee but Mr Winter froze him out with a yellow card. Two minutes later there was an incident which, according to Curbs, changed the atmosphere and course of the game. There was a dispute over which team was entitled to a throw in, Curbs being unable to see what was happening because his view was blocked by 'touchline' Day, the Addicks boss commenting that he tended to stay in the dugout. From where I sat, Charlton reject Aloisi appeared to throw a punch at Danny Mills who crouched down in pain. This happened in full view of the referee, and even the bleak Mr Winter had to reach for his red card. Reduced to ten men, Coventry became revitalised and Charlton lost some of their shape. Drawing an analogy with Charlton's holdout against Newcastle with ten men at the beginning of the season, Curbs commented that the Addicks didn't know what to do and didn't know how to win the game. The Sky Blues often to seemed to get to the ball just ahead of Charlton in the middle of the ploughed field. Indeed, one of the stands appropriately had a large picture of a tractor in it, while the rather rickety looking hospitality tower seemed to be largely sponsored by the insurance branch of the National Farmers' Union, no doubt because any mishap on the pitch might qualify as an agricultural injury. The condition of the pitch made it difficult for the Addicks to play their passing game, although Telfer was effective in marshalling the Coventry midfield.
It was therefore no great surprise when The Sky Blues equalised in the 66th minute with a goal from Whelan that had more than a suspicion of offside (the even tempered and genial Whelan later got himself booked for dissent). They then got the winner in a goalmouth scramble five minutes from the end after Steve Brown had conceded a corner. Contrary to instructions, almost all the Charlton players came back into the area. Curbs was later to comment that he was less than pleased about the way panic set in and noted that two of the players who had come back were not doing anything in terms of marking anyone. The ball was half cleared and found its way to substitute Trond Soltvedt. Even some skill from Barnes (brought on in place of Redfearn in the 63rd minute) and some moments of brilliance by Mortimer (brought on for Hunt after 79 minutes) and Pringle could not retrieve the situation. Morts put in a curling shot that Hedman had to turn round the post. The pitch was a quagmire (hence little point in bringing on Mendonca); the appropriately named referee, Mr Winter, wasn't going to give the Addicks anything if he could avoid it; and the individual performances of the Charlton players were good. But the whole was less than the sum of the parts, and this relegation six pointer ended with a disheartening defeat for Charlton on a day when relegation rivals Southampton and Leicester both won. As Curbs commented later, it was a big blow and it was no consolation to me to be back inside my front door on this cold, bleak and wet day before 6 p.m., a luxury normally confined to residents of the home boroughs.
Match analyst Bob the Dog is in a disheartened mood and has withheld permission for his picture to go on this page. The silver bone has gone to Martin Pringle who, despite missing one chance, was involved all over the pitch to great effect. Simon Royce lost his clean sheet and was seen in despair when the second goal went in. But the first goal was a one-on-one that he may have reasonably thought was offside, while the second took a deflection in a crowded area where his vision was probably obscured. Danny Mills had a good game, stopping one dangerous break away by Froggatt in the first half. He frustrated the Coventry attack to the extent that Aloisi felt it necessary to throw a punch at him. Chris Powell was also on form, making some good runs down the wing (and on one occasion down the centre), as well as doing his job in defence. Carl Tiler was his usual calm and authoritative self, dealing effectively with a number of potentially threatening balls. Steve Brown was a little below his recent best, and might have dealt more effectively with the ball that produced the corner that gave Coventry their winning ball (although there is room for argument about whether it was really a throw in). In fact, assistant match analyst Hootch the Pootch (who has not been fully exonerated of Sky Blue sympathies) thinks that Brown had a 'mare of a game, nearly setting up Coventry for a goal in the first half. Neil Redfearn put in some effective tackles, but was beginning to tire when he was substituted. He picked up a yellow card, the only booking for Charlton. Keith Jones was not prominent, but put in some neat, accurate and very useful passes. Mark Kinsella was as usual in evidence everywhere, but particularly in defence, heading balls neatly and accurately back to Royce. Andy Hunt had an effective game, but was overshadowed by the brilliance of Pringle Goal scorer Robinson had one of his better games this year, but eventually had to be substituted because he had picked up a knock. John Barnes was greeted with chanting of his name by the Addickted and shouts of 'Who ate all the pies?' from the Sky Blues. However, he showed that he still had plenty of skill to offer. As at Derby, Barness contributed nothing when he came on: surely his place on the bench would be better occupied by Konchesky or Parker? It was good to see Mortimer coming on, even if late in the game, and he showed that he had lost none of his skill and could work effectively alongside Pringle. I give this match two woofs.
An injury time goal by super Sir Clive Mendonca secured a vital point for Charlton at Filbert Street. Leicester had gone ahead in the 59th minute through Lennon after a powerful surge down the left. Things looked bleak for Charlton after Keith Jones was sent off in the 76th minute for fouling Heskey, having been booked early in the game for dissent. But after a generally poor performance for much of the game, the Addicks showed fighting spirit in the last fifteen minutes. A long throw from Danny Mills was picked up by Sir Clive after a back header off Taggart and the striker, who had come on as a part of a triple substitution in the 71st minute, slotted the ball into the back of the net. Curbs described the game afterwards as 'very lacklustre', admitting 'we played particularly badly. We know that.' The Addicks boss said that it was the first time this season that Charlton had come away with something perhaps they didn't deserve. A second sending off went to 'touchline' Day in the first half after he had questioned a decision by the referee (Alan Wilkie), although Curbs emphatically denied that the hyperactive coach had sworn at the official.
We joined the West Sussex gang at Watford Gap for my last game of the season. An impressive convoy of Addicks coaches was shepherded into Leicester by the friendly local police. After finding our way into the well appointed away stand, we were serenaded by original chants and abuse from the nearby foxes, although netting prevented them from showering us with small change. It was a case of 'up periscopes' in the front row which was below the level of the pitch, while an officious Leicester jobsworth made it clear that no banners should be displayed along the barrier.
Leicester started strongly and came close to scoring after three minutes with a header over the bar a few minutes later. With Simon Royce out because of an injury suffered at the training ground, much depended on the instinctive goalkeeping skills of Sasa Ilic. In the first half, he kept the Addicks in the game by denying first Heskey on 24 minutes, then Lennon with a brilliant parry on the half hour, followed by Savage a couple of minutes later. As the woeful nature of the Addicks game sunk in, sometimes only Pam could be heard urging them on (in one of the best postmodernist jokes I have heard for some time, Pam claims to come from Sidcup). With a weakened midfield, Charlton were often forced back, although poor finishing by the Foxes deprived them of some goal scoring opportunities. Marshall got past Kinsella on 37 minutes, but sent his shot wide. When Charlton did get a corner (five against Leicester's four in the match as a whole) they seemed to be unable to make anything of it, hitting the ball too far out and giving Leicester the chance to surge forward. The half time whistle was greeted with relief by the faithful, the general verdict being that Charlton were losing 0-0.
That perception was shared by sombre supremo Alan Curbishley. As Curbs stressed afterwards, he is not one for jumping up and down, unlike coach Mervin Day who finally got the sending off that has been coming all season. 'But at half time there were a few home truths told' by the exasperated boss. Indeed, he told the players that Day was the only person who had shown any real passion in the first half. Charlton came out first and looked well up for it. However, they were still playing too deep for much of the time and it was a strong move by Leicester that left them exposed on the left flank in the 59th minute with Lennon getting past Kinsella with ease. Lennon put in a superb curling strike which I thought was going to go outside the post, but instead it went in past a bemused Ilic. But three minutes later Ilic proved his worth as Lennon surged into the area, but found himself yet another Leicester player that day to be denied by Ilic's outstretched arm.
In the 71st minute Curbs decided to go for a triple substitution. The lumbering Redfearn was replaced by Barnes; and strikers Hunt and Pringle came off to be replaced by Mendonca and Steve Jones. The substitution of Pringle was something of a surprise as he had shown real skill and dedication throughout the game. The effect of the substitutions was, however, threatened by the harsh sending off of Keith Jones. The budding air quality expert stood looking bemused before making his way to the dressing room. However, Charlton started to play their hearts out and sometimes it looked as if they had eleven men and Leicester ten. Nevertheless, as the minutes ticked away, it looked as if the points had been lost until that vital goal by Sir Clive. Even then, Ilic had to make another superb save from a volley.
Match analyst Bob the Dog has thought long and hard about the award of the Silver Bone, particularly as the two American cats he lives with have told him that the master is about to go to their country. He finally decided that it should go once again to Danny Mills . The combative Mills, who picked up a yellow card, often seemed to be functioning as a forward and made some great runs on goal. Perhaps he should have tried a shot. The main contender for the award was Sasa Ilic who made three vital saves during the game. Apart from his habit of kicking the ball too far down field, he looked like a man in contention for his place. Pam from Sidcup was yelling after the match that we needed a Carl Tiler song and it has to be said that this was another impressive performance by the cool and capable defender. He was ably assisted by Steve Brown who seemed to have recovered his form. But Rufus seemed to lack some of his customary sharpness. Powell also seemed to be below his best. Keith Jones was as ever a neat passer of the ball, as well as snapping at the heels of the Leicester forwards, eventually earning himself a red card. Redfearn lumbered around, either not getting to the ball or mishitting it, so that Charlton were effectively playing with ten men even before Jonah was sent off. Kinsella played far too deep much of the time, as he has so often this season. His corners were poor and his one attempt at a strike was underpowered and inaccurate. When Kinsella is below his best, it undermines the performance of the whole team. Hunt was not that involved, but Pringle was involved all over the pitch, harrying Leicester players, showing some sublime ball control and bearing down on goal. But all too often he was the only Charlton player challenging up front (except sometimes for Mills) and he can't do it all. Barnes showed more skill and commitment than Redfearn, bearing down threateningly on goal at one point. Mendonca made all the difference, but I had forgotten that Steve Jones had come on until I saw him acknowledging the applause at the end. I give this match three woofs.
Have you seen my master?
The master has gone! The two American cats from Maine who live in the house say that he has gone to their country, which is further away than Homer the Cherry Hound's home in the New Forest, and where the master has gone is even further away still. But you can't believe what cats say! Hootch the Pootch says that the master will be back next season when we will resume our reports.
For news of the Addicks as seen from Seattle, including a perspective on the Spurs disaster, see Notes from the Roof Deck
East Stand, Block E, Row Q
In Front of the Bloke Behind Me
Soon to be Sleepless in Seattle
United Kingdom/United States