I was slightly apprehensive about this one. I’m very much of the view that were going through a transitional period at the moment, with the trauma of last season to get over, lots of new signings & a new, inexperienced head coach. Add to that a long term injury to our best, most creative player & a uncertainty about what is our best formation (or the right players to fit in that formation) – that means, in my view, that our start to the season is going to be a bit of a slow burner. At best.
I have to say though, by the end of the game I was on a bit of a high. It was a performance of rich promise. We deserved a win but I wasn’t actually bothered about the result at the end. Plenty of time to build a head of steam up & climb the table.
I’d not wasted my time trying to predict a team or formation beforehand. We’re all a bit unsure about who or how we’re going to be playing & I’m not sure Clement has made his mind up about that yet either. Anyways, there were a few curveballs. McClaren’s formation of choice, 4-3-3, made a comeback, meaning a start for Jamie Hanson in one of the more advanced midfield roles, a place back on the wide right for Ince & a place back in the centre of the universe for Martin. Presumably that means 4-3-3 will be the way forward from now on in home games, seeing as the diamond doesn’t work & the 4-2-3-1 thingy is seen as too cautious. So much for Clement’s tactical flexibility, it’s back to the “tried & tested” for now..
I think I’d better stop moaning. Because it worked. In fact I don’t recall feeling this positive about a Rams performance for a long, long time..
There were 2 new innovations at the start of the game as well. Firstly, the mass flag waving in the South Stand when the teams came out. Credit to all those associated with the 1884 group for working so hard on this. Not as good as Watford yet but it’s getting there.. Secondly, we kicked off towards the North Stand in the first half for the first time in at least 2 season’s. I think that’s a great idea. It must help the players in the second half, IF they’re pressing for a goal, to be playing towards the loudest & most active section of our fans.
Anyway, we all know how the game went. We had a significant amount of possession & dominated the game, particularly in the 2nd half. 26+ chances, although most of them were off target &, obviously, only one of them went in. On another day, we would have won by 4 or 5. Let’s hope we become a bit more clinical soon.
Charlton were pretty decent to be honest. Their goal was lucky but they defended resiliently & knocked the ball around well. Tony Watt was absolutely brilliant & gave us a fair bit of difficulty with his control & movement. Guy Luzon was a sight to see on the touchline, all manic hyperactivity with an occasional bout of squatting. Interesting.
So how did our players rate?
Carson – I was mightily impressed with him to be honest. Good distribution, authoritative, brave in going in where it hurts (particularly when saving Baird’s blushes in the 1st half) & reliable on crosses. The polar opposite of Mr Flappy then. As long as he stays consistent & fit, he’ll be between the sticks this season.
Fozzy – back to his near his best & a constant threat on the left wing. Delivered some excellent crosses, which someone should have really got on the end of.
Baird – aside from the aforementioned error when he nearly chested the ball into the path of a Charlton player, he was solid & reliable in defence & pretty reasonable going forward. I think he’ll be a good option to slip into midfield next to Thorne when we’re under the cosh.
Shackell – a quiet home debut (re-debut?) but he clearly is going to be a dominant force & calming presence for us. That’s bound to help his defensive colleagues & perhaps already has..
Keogh – his performance was a bit of a revelation to me, to be honest. Not being Captain has clearly lifted a burden from his shoulders. He couldn’t be blamed for the goal, he was solid in his defending & there were plenty of his trademark charges forward. Looks like he could be the perfect foil for Shackell. And there was me thinking he’d shot it & was, like you say, on his way out.
Thorne – he was brilliant, my man of the match. A few crunching tackles showed that his injury problems last season haven’t affected his willingness to assert the physical side to his game. He controlled the game, as we all know he can, & was our most likely source of a goal from the edge of the box. If he remains injury free, he’s going to have an outstanding season.
Hanson – another revelation. Clement’s obviously seen something in him that McClaren didn’t. The boy can pass & was confident enough to he spraying 40 yard passes all over the shop. Seeing as he can also tackle like a resurrected John Eustace & dash forward with the aplomb of Bryson (2013-14 version), we may just have a complete midfielder on our hands.
Hendrick – if he’d scored from one of his many chances I might have felt more positive about his performance. I’m not saying he had a bad game but his limitations in the first two thirds of the pitch stand in stark relief when compared to the all round game of Thorne & Hanson.
Russell – not one of his best games & looked tired & out of sorts. A bit of a shame given his pre-season form.
Ince – an increasingly effective performance as the game progressed. I would have thought that he would have done well in that tip of the diamond/playmaker role. £4.75 million quid should buy you more than a winger in this day & age. However, he is obviously more comfortable on the wide right & was a constant threat. He wasn’t far off with his set pieces & even attacked using his right foot on a couple of occasions. I’ll have to stop moaning about that.
Martin – he’s looked pretty quiet, if uninterested so far this season & until his typical clinical & arrogant finish for the goal, he wasn’t much different here. But after that he was back to his brilliant best. All our creative play went through him & he nearly scored the winner from a header at the death.
Christie – added a bit going forward when he came on & even stuck in at least one excellent cross.
Weimann – brought a bit more urgency to the left once he replaced Russell. I would expect him to start against Boro.
So there you go, a positive start to the season so far. I don’t give a fig about the Cup, so we’re unbeaten & look like we’re developing well. Let’s see if how we cope with the Boro game.
Onwards & upwards.