Charlton Athletic 3 : Derby County 2 – 19 August 2014

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A third season in a row at the Valley for me & The Witch. A now traditional pre-match couple of pints with the Brand branch of the family in the Pickwick before rocking up at the ground with minute to spare. And a couple of seats at the front near the goal amongst the 1,434 Rams fans. Splendid stuff.

Not sure what to think about this game to be honest. I’m pretty sure we could have ended up drawing or even winning it. But, we conceded three goals, some players were clearly off their game and we stuttered to our first defeat of the season. Cue a brief meltdown by some Derby fans on Twitter. I can’t say I was that downhearted at the final whistle but the we clearly have a few “issues” at the moment.

Charlton a were a completely different prospect to band of desperados we faced in the two games last season. Thanks to an influx of loans from the Low Countries (is this an Aldi version of Watford’s Pozzo model?) they were pretty impressive – well organised, skilful & sharp in possession & quick on the counter attack when we lost the ball (which happened often). And they have a clearly very passionate & potentially inspirational manager in Bob Peeters. All 6 foot 5 inches of him.

I have to say the team news was pretty surprising. We’d been poor against Sheffield Wednesday & by all accounts Omar Mascarell had put in a decent performance in the second half in place of the struggling Will Hughes. He would start surely? No. Same team as Saturday. Oh dear. A rare mistake by Mr McClaren, methinks. You can’t just keep persisting with players when they are struggling.

We had a pretty poor start & Charlton knocked the ball around confidently. After 11 minutes, they were ahead with Cousins perhaps being given too much space by Cyrus Christie as he cut inside on the left wing & passed to Tucadean, who scored with a very tidy finish.

To our credit, we got back in the game after this & put in some sustained pressure. This paid off with little Wardy thrashing the ball into the top corner from just inside the box. He celebrated like someone who hadn’t scored since 21 December 2013. We continued to play pretty well but Hughes was not having the best of times in midfield. Again. Martin was also struggling but mainly because he was getting absolutely no service.

It looked like we were going to go in all square at half time but Tucadean twisted & turned Keogh in the box & went down. Penalty. A tad harsh I thought as from my seat it looked like a slight collision rather than a foul. Buyens scored with aplomb. 2-1 down & another boost for Charlton’s confidence. What a shame, if only we could have gone in with a 1-1 scoreline, I thought we would have gone on to win.

Thankfully, McClaren stuck Mascarell on at half time in place of Hughes. I thought he was great & immediately improved our fluidity in midfield. That lad’s long range passing is a joy to behold sometimes, he’s very mobile & always looking to receive the ball. Got a good tackle on him too when he puts his mind to it.

However, it all fell apart 12 minutes from the end. Poor marking by Forsyth & then Bucko allowed Charlton to get a cross in on the right, an unchallenged near post header, which all resulted in an open goal for Vetokele to nod in. That was it, despite Pope letting a soft shot from Wardy in through his legs a few minutes before the end.

What conclusions can be reached from this game then? McClaren’s still clearly prevaricating about who to play in the “pivotal” holding midfielder role. He needs to decide quickly who is going to do that job for the rest of the season. The lack of a proper “shield” in front of Keogh & Buxton isn’t helping them.

It can’t be Hughes, so, in my opinion, it has to be Mascarell, covered by the forgotten man, Eustace. I think we need the guile of Hughes in one of the attacking roles, so that means either Bryson or Jeff in the other two roles. Bryson, thankfully, appeared to be a bit more like himself in the second half. Can’t see him being dropped anyway. Sorry, Jeff.

It was a good performance by Ward, a great first goal, a luckier second, but  he still lost possession too many times & his balls into the box continue to be poor. Christie was excellent, his confidence is clearly improving all the time so I think he’ll be a fixture at right back for rest of the season. Leon Best added something different when he came on & we appeared to convert to a 4-4-2. How retro. It was pretty effective, I thought.

Forsyth’s distribution was poor again & this has dulled our attacking impetus somewhat. Dawkins? He worked damn hard but again there was no end product. I wish he’d just get to the byline & get a cross in or have a pop when he gets a sight of goal.

Anyway. Some decisions for McClaren to make before Saturday’s game against a struggling Fulham. As  he has pointed out, we need to find our rhythm quickly & some players need to significantly raise their game.

Onwards & upwards.

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