Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Varney is still playing?! - Burton Albion vs the Mighty


First of many...

2 players down after Wimbledon and then Ben Woodburn goes down with a positive Covid test. It's all Hallow's Eve and the Pool are cursed. Perhaps the returning James Husband will come out dressed as the grim reaper to add some comic value to when he inevitably scythes someone down. See what I did there? If we didn't laugh we'd cry.

Talking of scary things, the Mighty trailed their new addition to the managerial team with the kind of photo that suggests big Colin Calderwood has been brought in to add some serious darkness to the dugout and dressing room. If Critch and Mikey G resemble jolly youth workers imploring their charges to give it their all and handing out milky bars and orange juice for everyone afterwards, Colin looks like a glowering storm cloud ready to dish out a few meaty bollockings. 

I don't really know a lot about yer man Calderwood that isn't obvious from reading his wiki page but I do know he's from Stranraer and that's a place which makes Fleetwood look like an opulent world of high end boutiques and fine dining experiences. Last time I went to Stranraer the sea was literally frozen and this shop window display caught my eye. There's something quite reassuring about the idea of having a nae nonsense Scot on the managerial team that appeals to my inner football puritan. 

Stranraer's finest shop window display. Back to basics.  

There's something exciting and exotic about having Daniel Gretarsson in the back line. He's an international and everything, even if it's one cap for a country with a smaller population than the Fylde coast. (Iceland: 341,000, Fylde Coast, 352,000) - Think about that. It's possible that with those maths this lad is essentially 'as good as Matty Blinkhorn' who'd probably have got a few caps had the Gold coast ceded from the rest of the UK. That said, by the same logic, he could also be the new Jimmy Armfield. We'll see. 

We also play Kenny Dougall for the first time, who should, on the evidence of his name alone, be another no nonsense Scot but is the first Aussie to play for us since David Carney (I think) and the goal brothers Jerry and Gary both start in a side which also has Sullay and CJ in it. I can't really work out who going to play where, but I guess it's Sullay in midfield adding theoretical silk to the steel of Williams and Dougall.  

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The game starts with the usual promising bit of Blackpool possession before Burton make a series of half chances, the most notable coming from a what was either Husband dallying in possession or getting pushed off the ball. Other early highlights include a surprisingly good sliding tackle from Sullay, Gretarsson looking quite comfortable, Husband with a slightly dodgy professional foul as if just to tease us all with the prospect of a 3rd red card in 4 games and CJ belting one miles over after nice work from Yates. 

The first sign that the Viking and Marvin are a new pair comes when Burton cut through with alarming ease - a simple forward pass draws out Gretarsson who can't make the challenge and the next pass exposes the hole he's left. Fortunately Burton's finish is wild - this won't be the only time this half we have course to be grateful for the Brewers' profligacy. 

It's shaping up to be a bit frustrating. Madine does a great job to head the ball from the edge of the penalty area to under the crossbar where the keeper tips it over. Jerry Yates looks at the keeper from 3 yards away so the referee blows up because he's that sort of ref. Maybe Jerry made a nasty face? Burton then pass the ball out of play for no reason other than it's a League 1 match between two out of form teams. 

Then we're in front! Us, in front! How about that? It's nice goal too, Sullay slips a pass to die for to shirtless Jerry who  finishes beautifully, running diagonally and clipping the ball the other direction into the bottom corner. That's what he did on YouTube and there he is, doing it for us, for real. 

The game steps up a gear. The newly confident Yates takes it in and threads a lovely pass to Hamilton who pulls back but to no one. At the other end Pool escape as a heavy touch denies Burton a chance after great work from Ennis on the right. 

Dougall shows nice feet to create a shooting chance on the edge of the box which he drives low but too close to the keeper. 

The referee is making a few dicey decisions, Gretarsson being barged in the back with the force of a bulldozer goes ignored somehow but Burton don't make the resultant corner count. 

Turton picks it up and goes, for once not checking back, he drives it forward, finding Yates who again finds Hamilton and makes himself available for the return, adjusts himself, shimmies, makes space and then hits the post. So close. This is the real Jerry Yates. He's now finally looking better than Chris Long. 

Burton respond as Niall Ennis makes a ridiculously good run, making Pool's defence look absurd, going past three before slipping at just the key moment. Again we're thankful for a poor final touch. 

Sullay gets just about chopped in half by the Burton left back and the ref books Chris Maxwell because he's that kind of ref. 

The forward play is much, much better - gone is the 20 sideways passes replaced by three direct passes -  Sullay again, that little bit of magic threading the needle to find Madine, who in turn finds Yates who has a decent strike at goal. Yates alone has caused more threat than the team combined in the last few games. 

Hamilton lifts it long, the Goal Machine takes it down and is off but can't quite run on to his own touch on. 

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Lets be clear. This hasn't been the second coming of Cruyff's Ajax, but it has looked much more like a coherent football team. The main points seem to be Sullay is getting on the ball, whereas he might as well not of existed on Tuesday. That's creating opportunities for Yates who looks a different player today and took his goal really well and has been involved in nice link up play. Dougall and Gretarsson have both done fine and both appear to have some quality on the ball and the latter isn't pining for astroturf as far as I can see. 

Defensively, we're probably happy that Burton haven't finished their chances well, but we've had, in my opinion, the better of the half. It was definitely an improvement on previous weeks. Now lets go and win the game. 

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Pool start well, Turton pulling back for Yates, who can only flick it up in the air, it falls for Kaikai who belts it hard but into the body of a Burton defender and out for for a corner. There's appeals for a penalty but nothing doing. From the corner, Madine flicks and Dougall hits it on the volley - it's blocked again but Pool getting close once more. 

Kaikai picks up on a lovely Dougall interception then runs at the heart of the Burton defence, sells his man with turn and only lets himself down with the finish. There's the real Sullay. He's been so much more influential today. 

Burton have a good spell where again the impressive Ennis causes problems but Grettarson's diving near post header prevents the critical moment of danger. It notable that Pool are playing as team defensively with unlikely players like Madine and Hamilton doing some good work. 

It's getting a bit end to end. Yates and Kaikai interchange well and but for a strong 50/50 challenge Madine would have returned the ball to Sullay who'd have been clean through on goal. Pool have another move where it won't quite fall for Madine after another direct and quick interchange between the forwards. 

You get the feeling Pool need to score and it feels like one of those where if we could get one more, we'd get four. 

Score we do. But in this season of absurdity, of course it's in the wrong net. Burton go down the left with substitute Vernon crossing low into the box. Gretarsson sticks out a leg and diverts it home. Because of course he does. This is now the test. Do we fall apart or get on with it? 

Yates takes in a ball from Dougall, shakes off his man runs a few yards and plays a beauty of a ball to Madine. The Goal Machine holds off his man, takes aim and fires, high and wide. If he could finish he'd be unreal. 

A horrible bit of pinball sees Burton fire two efforts into desperate Blackpool defenders. A few minutes later, Vernon again gets away and drives the same dangerous ball across but this time it's through everyone. The game has swung back to Burton. 

Just as I'm starting to think dark thoughts, Yates has a drive from a Madine flick on, it's charged down for a corner. Sullay delivers, Madine wins yet another flick on and Big Marvin is the unlikely man trying to turn and shoot but going down and drawing a refs whistle. We've got a fucking penalty! Shirtless Jerry steps up and slips it, no fuss, into the corner. 

Sullay comes off, Ward comes on. 

It's end to end with Burton having lots of possession in Pool's half and looking dangerous but Pool hitting on the break. Yates has a lovely run right up the middle where he lays off at the last moment for Ward who can't find the right cross. Madine spins and plays one of those beautiful passes he is capable off but again, CJ can't find the cross. Gretarsson then almost gets beaten at the far post only for the ball to scuff off the head of the Burton forward. Madine the total footballer releases Sarkic (now on for Jerry)  who in turn strokes a lovely ball for CJ, who comes inside but can only fire into a sliding Burton defender.

Somehow the ref pulls out 5 mins, it's a tense time but we keep our footing and stand firm. It seems like a real match as they slide into tackles and we head away and block and when the final whistle blows it feels fucking fantastic. 

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That's the best we've played since Swindon without question. Kenny Dougall deserves a knighthood for his calm, battling and surprisingly incisive performance in midfield, Yates has got a massive monkey off his back and looked really decent. Sullay playing deeper and getting up and about the forward line has worked, the enigma had an effect today. They've all done alright. The defence did pretty well, the midfield had more grit as well as purpose and the forwards more potency. 

I've been critical of Critchley and his seeming obsession with a rigid way of playing. Today gave me hope in that he changed that way of playing, he got players up and around Madine who might not be the greatest finisher but is a decent fulcrum. Yates sitting just a bit deeper brought out a totally different player and the forward line looked coherent and . Arguably the weakest link came from CJ's end product and that's a sign of progress in that we've won a match without him shining. 

Most of all, we've deserved that win, provided threat from the left, the right and down the middle. Ok, we've not looked like a side that will walk through the division, but we've looked like a team with some togetherness, awareness and ability to move the ball quickly. As welcome as the three points were against MK, we didn't look like that in that game. This was a much better display, we actually WON this match as opposed to happening to win it.  

It's over a year since Armand won a defensive header and laid off to Feeney who then galloped all down the right, with Armand going up the middle, matching him for pace, one stride to each one of two of Feeneys. On that September night, the cross was inch perfect and the big man powered it home. All was good and I leapt for joy. Today, I did the same. 

There's enough going on outside the game to not over complicate this. There's a lot of water passed under the bridge since that last away win. 

We won. We played much better. We're tangerine wizards once more. 

utmp



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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Deep breathing required: AFC Wimbledon vs The Mighty.


What a shite ref

One of the saddest things about the Covid era (aside from the death, decimation of the employment market, mental health crisis and so on) is that Wimbledon's first game at their new ground is set to be just another iFollow match.

If any club deserves to experience the sort of soul renewing, out of body wonder that we had with our homecoming game, then it's them. There's few clubs who I'd defer to in terms of 'having a shit time of it' but maybe the Don's are one. Imagine seeing your club hollowed out, it's body lurching onwards but to all intents and purposes, dead, a zombie club, a host for parasites to control and then seeing it lurch off, over the horizon to somewhere far away, its limbs and body twitching but the light behind its eyes extinguished. What a fucking awful thing to happen. 

What a celebration it should therefore be, what a triumph over adversity, to have revived the soul of the club, rebuilt a new body for it and then finally, to make it, after 29 long, long years away, back home. How sad it is, that such a return will be marked only by the echoing sound of the ball hitting the advertising hoardings and the barking of the players. It's been oft observed, that football without fans is nothing. That's very true of every game, but it seems particularly true of AFC Wimbledon's homecoming. 


Tonight's game is therefore historic. Perhaps the final game of a nomadic existence that has taken in a number of grounds and most latterly, Loftus Road. I've always like the Lego stadium feel of QPR's home. It looks a bit like the kind of ground you'd end up with if you built a subbuteo stadium in the 1980s. It's kind of grand with it's miniture two tiered stands. It's no doubt lacking in all the things expected of a 21st century football ground but it's one of the few grounds left you can recognise from days of yore and for that, I like it. Without fans, I suppose, it's just another football pitch. 

As far as the game goes, I'm learning slowly to have no expectations of this side. I implored the team (pointlessly of course, I'm not labouring under the illusion that Mike Garrity comes running into Critch's office, shouting 'Gaffer, Gaffer, he's blogged again!) to attack, attack, attack, attack, attack and they responded by turning a laboured and unambitious but ultimately successful performance against the evil parasitic worms MK Dons. 

It's easy to bemoan the quality of that game as it was truly (warning: some high quality analysis after the brackets close) a shit game of football but possibly, we were that devoid of confidence, it's naive to have expected them to go out and express themselves with joy and flair. It's a more prosaic satisfaction to see they could battle, defend well and stick with it and come out of a turgid game with the points, but it's a satisfaction none the less. 

I'm hoping to see Robson and Madine back in the side and possibly Dan Kemp as well but everytime I try to second guess Critch's line up he does something different. We'll see. It's fashionable to see each game as some sort of statement of narrative, to imbue it with an importance that probably outweighs the actual significance but it does seem quite important that Pool build on that display, either by showing the same tenacious ability to battle or an improved attacking display (or of course, ideally both) 

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He's picked the three I hoped he would but he's dropped Woodburn in favour of Sarkic. Arguable the last time Pool packed a convincing attacking threat was the first half against Accy when Sarkic was on the pitch. It's not been immediately obvious to me what Sarkic does but it's to be hoped he can provide the same sort of effect tonight. 

'I am the Resurrection' provides probably the most uplifting pre match music so far. (I see what they did there.) and I realise I'd forgotten that it goes into that funky bit after the main tune has played out. It's definitely got more vibe than 'This is the One' played quite quietly for reasons I cannot fathom. Why the fuck we don't play 'Tatty Seaside Town' before matches I don't know.  

We start by fashioning a decent effort! Sullay curls a free kick, Madine comes out of the crowd and heads but the keeper makes a decent stop. He should have scored but in the blunt instrument competition that has been our strike force this year, that's as sharp as anyone has looked since Madine himself put the ball in then by falling over and tackling it home against Ipswich. 

Sullay then swings in a corner, Madine is at the back stick and sends it back into the mix where we force it home but it's ruled out. 

It's looking promising. Then Wimbledon score. Reilly scores a decent goal. I'm that fed up that I can't bring myself to work out who to blame. 

Great work from Dan Kemp wins a free kick in the corner, Robson lifts it to the far post, Ekpiteta heads, but he's always leaning back to get under it and can only loop it the centre of goal where the keeper has no problems at all. 

Sarkic is moving the ball quickly in midfield, Pool are passing better than Saturday but no one else is really showing the same urgency. Mitchell has a good run and curls a cross that kisses the bar before landing on the wrong side of the netting. 

Kemp launches a direct ball diagonally to the back off the box, Madine nods down and Robson catches it first time but whilst he gets it on target, it's a scuffed effort and easy for the keeper. 

Big long ball up and under and Piggot does brilliantly to sell Marvin a dummy. Marvin brings him down and gets a card, whilst Wimbledon gain a free kick. Piggot himself takes it and fires it inches wide from about 25 yards out. They're well versed up front, they feed on the moments of uncertainty their physicality and directness causes and when those moments come, they look dangerous. 

The ball goes out of play and I wonder why the substitutes are in a little tent, sat together like they're on sale at a fete. Maybe this is a new idea to flog off the unwanted squad members. 

The ball breaks in midfield, Robson contols it, pokes it ahead of him, into traffic, he slides in to a 50/50 and looks if anything to have been fouled himself. The Wimbledon man comes out the challenge writhing as if Robson has gone in studs up, but for the life of me, it looks like a robust challenge and nothing more. The referee has made his mind up straight away. If it was high, it doesn't look it on the replay...

Grant Ward comes on for Sarkic who's Pool career is dogged by bad luck and false starts. 

We win a free kick on the corner of the box from an unlikely bit of trickery from big Marvin. Sullay takes, another lovely delivery but nothing comes of it. Marvin himself, the nearest to getting a contact. 

There's a mess between Turton and Ekpiteta, Wimbledon ping pong it back and forth between them as Blackpool pair try to make amends, as if stuck in a nightmare game of piggy in the middle. Fortunately for Pool, the shot, when it comes is straight at Maxwell who catches it, drops it (as if just to add to the general feel of comic capers) and then clutches it to his chest. 

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A moment in first half that sums up Pool at this point in time. We get a free kick. Ward stands over it and Turton advances, creeping into space on the right. Ward decides to give it to the unmarked right back, in acres of space. Having received it, Turton runs forward, gets to the full back, checks back, returns it to Ward who himself, checks back and returns it to Turton who finally crosses it from somewhere near the halfway line. Unsurprisingly Wimbledon clear it. We tried to do something but without the conviction we could do it. We tried something, but we did it too slowly. If ever a moment summed up the season to date, that was it. 

This has been a better game of football than Saturday but we're a goal down and a player down and we've taken off the player who was moving the ball quickest and again, we look too ponderous going forward. 

Sullay has delivered the best quality free kicks we've seen for ages and one decent ball from open play. It's that latter stat that's damning though. We've simply not got the ball to him. Madine is battling manfully up front but again, the forward line doesn't look in tune with each other at all. 

I don't know what I'd do if I was Critchley to be honest. Probably kick a bin and swear. 

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Pool seem to have got players closer to Madine at the opening of the second half. Ward makes a couple of driving runs, the second of which ends with the unlikely Dan Kemp winning a knockdown to Sullay who almost slides in the turning Kemp. Wimbledon come away and loft a ball out to the left back position. Demi isn't there, where he actually is, I don't know, but they've got the best part of 29 years to get a cross in. When it comes it prompts one of those horror pinball moments -the ball going all over the place before thankfully striking the shin of a Wimbledon forward and going wll wide

A similar route nearly leads to a goal again 4 or 5 minutes later, an equally horrible pinball experience where the ball squeezes under Maxwell but again, Pool breathe again as they can't quite force it home.  

Williams and Ward try spraying it within 60 seconds of each other. One is 15 years behind the intended target, the other 15 yards in front. Between them, I suppose you've got the perfect pass. 

Woodburn on for Kaikai who hasn't really had any impact beyond the moments I've picked out. 

Madine and kemp chase down Wimbledon in possession and force a throw from a wild clearance. Here's moment two that sums us up. We've got a throw, about 30 yards from there goal line. 10 seconds later, we've worked the ball all the way back to our own defence. Why did we bother with the pressing to win a throw in I wonder? 

Woodburn has a pop from 30 yards. It's a shot. That's nice intent and he does manage to hit the stand, but now we just need to aim at the goal in front of it. 

Grant Ward takes a corner, Madine rises and wins it, it's arrowing home but a Wimbledon man leaps like a salmon and flicks it away. Pool going long is working better than Pool playing intricate passes about in their own half. 

Wimbledon break quickly, as if to remind us we've only got 10 men, again, hitting the corner of the pitch on their right. Three quick, purposeful passes from the corner and Piggot is driving low but being denied by a great save from Maxwell, sprawling to his right, falling as quick as if a carpet has been whipped from under his feet. 

Wimbledon dally on the ball and Ward steals it, his ball isn't perfect but it looks to have found Woodburn but all he can do is run into the big Dons centre half and fall over. 

Pool manage to break down a Wimbledon attack, Mitchell getting a foot in at a crucial moment and then unfolds one of those moves where every pass only just about comes off. It seems as if we'll lose it any second but as unlikely as it feels, we work it forward through 4 players before CJ picks it up and he's off, charging, electric, and direct. He shoots, it's wide but it's been the best moment so far. It looks like he could have gone further into the box but it's a reminder of just how dangerous he can be and a clear sign of hope. 

Out of the blue the fourth official draws the referee's attention and Ballard is sent off. For what, I have no idea. Ballard disappears down the tunnel, but not before taking out his anger on a water bottle and and expensive looking digital advertising hoarding. Apparently it was for an elbow in a challenge on the halfway line. I don't know. I've got to the point where I'm hoping Mike Garrity comes on and lamps the ref just to add to the absurdity of it all, but he just gallumphes about in the technical area looking put out instead. 

Thus begins a spell of pressure where it's essentially Wimbledon vs big Marvin, something that highlights one of the few positives of the last few games, just how good Marvin can be. He's sliding from behind and timing it perfectly, he's leaping at the far post and taking it off the head of a forward, he's intercepting, he's simply fucking brilliant for about 8 minutes. The period ends with a lovely passing move, defying the numbers to put together 10 or 12 passes around their box. It's classic Critchball as we pass, move, pass, move all across the box and back and then back again for good luck and the move ends with CJ falling over. 

Then... a loose bit of football by Wimbledon's defence - Mitchell sees the moment, drives in behind his man and takes the ball on the bounce, he's straight through on goal and surely this is the moment! Demi sadly has other idea as he launches a bizarre kung fu kicked attempt that just bobbles to the keeper. Fuck's sake Pool! 

Maxwell squares up to the wimbledon no9. He's joining Steven Fletcher in my 'players that look like normal people' club - He's burly, bearded, his shirt looks a little tight in the way that was normal in 80s football. He looks like a fella who is pretty good at darts and like country and western music. 

Madine wins a free kick. Everyone is forward (it has to be remembered, that still leaves Wimbledon two men up... Woodburn curls it, straight into the first defender. It's scooped back in, Big marv is under it, but can't connect meaningfully and it bounces to the keeper

Then it's Woodburn again, but this time it's a lovely ball, to CJ who finds that pocket of space he needs and lets fly with his best Ronaldo impression, it's going in but for deflection and I'm howling on the couch. Fucking hell Pool. 

And there's time for more... CJ again, flying, on his own, against 4 men, but he gets away, pulls it back and the Goal Machine throws himself at it, diving at the near post, in an attempt to glance it home, I'm seeing a moment of utter redemption, an against all odds goal that will change the course of the season and possibly Critchley's entire management career....... but it hits the corner flag and we're done. 

Fuck me. This isn't getting any easier. 

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It's becoming one of those comical seasons. Where all you can do is laugh, bitterly and bemoan everything. The big mystery to me is, how come we can produce so many chances with 9 men and just about nothing with 11. We finally saw the Pool I want to see, direct, fast, aggressive, working incredibly hard for each other but it's absurd we only saw that when the game was up and we'd lost two players. They actually deserved to get back into it for the effort they put in after Ballard went. It was notable that you saw the players talking, pointing, shouting. Maxwell orchestrating booming goal kicks to Madine and players trying to pick up the pieces. 

Where's that been for the last x number of games? Why do we only see that at that point in the game? Why not start the game like that? Why faff about playing square balls and looking terrified of taking anyone on when you've got an even number of players and every chance of winning the game. I wonder if it's simply the players saying 'fuck it' and playing football in the way they see it working in that moment. If it was, it was a damn sight more effective than anything else we've done recently and the fact that twat it at Big Gaz and get on the knockdowns is our best bet doesn't reflect well on the dream of being Liverpool lite. Perhaps what was meant was we'd be like Liverpool when they had Benteke or Andy Carroll up front? 

I can't face doing a proper post mortem. Marv played well, Madine is the only convincing striker at the club and CJ looked more like CJ coming on. I've said everything else plenty of times before. Pass, check back, pass, run. Stop, check back, pass, boot it, lose it. Wait for the ball to come back and repeat. They're not having individual nightmares, there's no one who you'd point and and go 'he's been awful for x games in a row' - they're just not playing with any conviction or belief and it's got to come down to the instructions. When they threw caution to the wind, they actually gave a side with two more players than them a decent game by using their natural attributes, by stretching the game with pace and winning the ball with power and height. 

Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe we were unlucky tonight, but it feels like something isn't right and whatever it is, we've got to sort it out. 

Deep breaths everyone. Deep breaths. Very deep breaths.

We're the Mighty Tangerine Wizards. The spells are misfiring, but one day, one day, we'll be fucking ace and all this will just make it better. 



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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Best of a bad lot - the Mighty vs MK Dons


I bloody love Sullay I do. 

MK Dons. It still doesn't sound right. Especially when you add 'FC' on the end. They're surely an ice hockey team or something. I can't think of a side I'm less excited about playing. I'd rather be facing Guisely, Heybridge Swifts, Billingham flippin' Synthonia than this lot. As Jose would say say it's a question of ''eritage' 'Football ''eritage.'

This isn't snobbery, I like the ever changing nature of the pyramid. I like that Crawley or Harrogate are playing against Bolton Wanderers but with MK Dons it's not like they fought there way up to be where they are. There's no footballing backstory at all, just a tale of one club hollowed out to form another. 

Still, what would Star Wars be without Darth Vader? We can't all be paragons of virtue and flag bearers for purity - narrative depends on conflict after all.

I do wonder who supports them. I wonder what it's like to do so. You can feel the years of football in the air at Bloomfield, even though the old ground is long gone, there's something intangible and timeless about it, ghosts of yesteryear swirl about the pitch dribbling mazily and heading leather balls whilst woodbine smoking spirits swing rattles in the stands and throw their caps in the air...

I don't really know how it would feel to support a club that just appeared one day, as if by magic, half way up the football league. Do they actually have anyone who believes in the 'Dons' bit of their name and still talks about when 'we' won the cup?

Who knows? (well, I suppose MK Dons fans do!) but they did us good and proper last year and I got in a proper internal strop at the end of the game watching the away fans celebrate wildly and us muttering, shaking heads and bemoaning our tangerine burden. I rewatch the highlights and we did at least manage to have some efforts that nearly brought us goals. I can't remember us nearly scoring since Yates smacked a post, two or three games back. 

What I want today is a fearless showing. We've looked too robotic, disinclined to gamble on taking on a man or trying to thread a pass. That can't be compatible with the way we say we want to play. You can play that way if you're putting a couple of big muscular lads up front and then hitting teams on the break but we're not. Therefore we need to be brave. It's not an option to play safe. 


I want us to go toe to toe with them and back ourselves to beat them. Critch has gone for both Woodburn, who I thought was a little occasional patch of sunshine against the grey shirts of Charlton and glory be, Sullay starts. That should make us a bit more inventive and instinctive up front. Sadly the Goal Machine is on the bench so the question is, can Jerry Yates take the step up from running around a lot like Chris Long, to being the idol he looked a bit like he could be in preseason. He needs a goal like there's no apt simile to describe. A goal could change his season completely. Mobility in the front line could change our fortunes totally and at least in theory, this is a mobile attacking line up. 

Ethan Robson is dropped to the bench where he'll sit alongside the Iceman/Viking/player I'm most likely to need to spellcheck. Maybe he's knackered after he and Williams slogged their hearts out in a thankless task of running a two man midfield against Charlton. Anyway, for all the conjecture about tactics and positions, the non negotiable is we need to show more intent going forward. That's all I want to see.

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My first though is that why are CJ and Kaikai on the wrong sides? 

Our first foray comes from lovely work from Ballard who is excellent again all game, he wins the ball, does a slow motion Cruyff turn and pings an outside of the foot pass to Hamilton. CJ shows a tenacious attitude to out muscle his full back and puts a decent low ball in that falls between Woodburn and Yates and is deflected back to their keeper. 

MK Dons look like us. Maybe their coach has a certificate too? There's lots of passing in their own half but not much threat until some classic Demi Mitchell defending leads to a corner which in turn leads to an unconvincing punch from Maxwell but we scramble it away. 

Yates flicks, and Woodburn is bundled down. Sullay stands over it. He seems to be wearing longer shorts than everyone else. He belts it over the bar. He'll get one of those sooner or later if we let him keep taking them. 

MK Dons continue to do a very passable impression of us as Woodburn robs possession after a pass out from the back and is bundled to the ground again. Ward is over the free kick and everyone lines up on the edge. Williams gets out first and it looks a chance. The offside flag and the fact Williams heads it somewhere into the south stand both dampen the excitement that sparks for a second.  

20 minutes gone and it's scrappy as hell. I'm just about to write about this being the moment to rotate the front three when Mark Atkins makes the same point. Woodburn then Williams at least try some first time passing but neither of them are accurate. 

Mitchell is such a contrasting player. He's looked clumsy in possession and weak at the back but it's his beautiful ball that sets Hamilton free to race away, he crosses, it's blocked, he crosses again and the keeper plucks it out the air unchallenged. I'm not sure if it's the quality of the crossing or the instinct of the forwards that's to blame for the fact we never seem to threaten from wide positions. 

First moment of class from Sullay is a delicious ball that puts Woodburn in acres of space, it's literally perfection, timed to the nanosecond for Woodburn's stride pattern. The Liverpool man slides it across the box - it's not the perfect ball but at the same time it looks like the forwards just watch it. I watch Sullay for a few minutes. He's wins a couple of challenges, he can't quite wriggle though after one and we can't quite release anyone after he he offloads the second one. He's doing ok. He's got a touch to die for sometimes. I bloody love Sullay. 

CJ on the other hand isn't right at all. He doesn't look fit. He's pointless if he isn't fit. I wonder why we're not making a change. 

MK Dons entire threat is coming from free kicks and corners. They're racking up though and and whilst most are dealt with fairly comfortably, Maxwell has to back pedal and scoop an inswinging ball away, before Marvin has to stoop at the near post and head something that looks goal bound out for another set piece. 

Pool have a little move in the corner that basically sums up what's wrong. No one really moves for each other. Yates back heels to no one. The move is over. We string together a load of passes and Williams floats a crossfield pass. Hamilton is offside. The move is over. 

We've had no shots. Woodburn sends Kaikai, the keeper sweeps. I'm not sure if Sullay had a choice whether to pull out at the last minute or not. Hamilton finds a bit of pace and races forward and pulls it pack, again into the gap between the two forwards. I must have seen that exact ball 10 or 15  times this season. Sullay gets away again and this time puts the first genuinely decent ball across in the game. Again, Yates doesn't attack it and they are able to slide in and get it out for a corner. We've still had no shots. 

---- 

This has looked in all honesty like two poor sides. I don't understand, given the fact we've got options on the bench, a clearly unhappy Hamilton is trudging up and down the left wing. Is he fit? He doesn't look it. It's bottom half football without a question. It's been scrappy without being passionate. Sullay's had a couple of moments, Woodburn has looked awake to possibilities if unable to exploit them but it's another 45 minutes without a shot. That's the bare truth. Changes needed.

I wonder about writing more but what's the point? He either will or won't shake it up. I'm having a beer instead. 

----

Critchley's radical shake up is to swap CJ and Sullay. Ir's something. 

The first half starts in the same way. Aimless and frustrating. CJ brings it down beautifully, slams the ball against the legs of his man, picks it up again, comes inside and drops it 5 yards short of Woodburn who just looks at it with a 'what am I supposed to do with that?' expression and MK walk away with the ball

Never has football seemed so pointless. This is like a practice match. Joyless is the word that springs to mind. Two shit teams not attacking in an empty ground. Is this actually happening? Is anyone going to bother to enter this game into Rothmans? Why don't they just shake hands and call it 0-0?  

MK Dons make the first change. No surprise there. 

We win a corner. It comes to nothing. Yates is suddenly in space, he takes a a heavy touch, but the shot still seems on but shirtless Jerry checks back and scoops it towards the far post for the keeper to take instead. I take a deep breath. A calming breath. 

The bit between the description above and the fact below is a sack of shit. The best bit is a great Marvin challenge where he clears someone out and takes the ball cleanly. 

A second change for MK Dons. 

Then as all sorts of thoughts are swirling round my head about Critchley's inability to read a game, the passiveness of our play, the difference between what was sold as a footballing revolution and the difference between the reality on the pitch, man, I'm musing on the fundamental pointlessness of life itself to be honest.... CJ goes down the right, cuts inside, then outside and pulls it back, it's that diagonal ball again but this time Sullay is there, pouncing on it and slamming it home.

I bloody love Sullay. 

Sarkic comes on for for Woodburn who hasn't quite done anything significant whilst looking vaguely like he might, at some point, do something significant. 

MK have a bit more possession higher up the pitch, they muster a deflected shot and a few moments where they look they might shoot but pass sideways instead. Remind you of anyone?   

Yates hustles and fights and wins the ball, spins and spreads it beautifully. Hamilton runs at the box, goes inside and crashes it into the defender. It is at least intent and awareness of where each other actually are on the pitch. 

Kemp comes on for Sullay and CJ goes left again. Demi Mitchell does a fabulous cartwheel after being shoulder barged to the ground. CJ picks it up in the corner again, pulls it back and somehow no one gets a touch. 

Kemp spins, finds Hamilton and then sprints forward awaiting the return which comes and stretching, he guides the ball into the hands of the diving keeper. Decent work, again, a bit of awareness and direct running. 

Finally the Goal Machine for poor old Jerry Yates. He's straightaway into it with an authorative flick on and Kemp and Hamilton are swarming onto it and MK are hurried into putting it out for a corner. We piss about with a short corner then piss about in the corner for about 45 second more after an audacious flick from Madine. More pissing about ensues as Hamilton gets shoved in the back. We mostly continue to piss about in the corner except for when we mess it up right at the end and they break... 

...we get away with a horrible moment as they slice right through the middle but the ref hauls the play back for an earlier foul. The free kick takes an age, players jostling and hustling, Ballard goes down and then gets up, the ref checks up, the jostling recommences and finally he blows the whistle.... 

It's wellied over the top and the three points are safe. 

-----

It's one of the least enjoyable games of football I can recall. There's been very little to really appreciate. Neither side looked massively committed or confident and it was niggly and fractious without really ever having any needle. No one really showed any quality or composure on the ball for very long and both teams regularly made mistakes when there was no pressure. 

Ballard was really good though. Really good. Exactly what a centre half should be. He looked like he enjoys defending. I used to play centre back and nothing in football (to me) is as satisfying as when you read the long ball and are in the right place or time the tackle to perfection by being two steps ahead of the striker in your head. The defence did ok as a whole to be honest. Even Demi managed to defend most things. 

I hope this game gives us the confidence to play better. We've really been gifted a perfect fixture in a side that look in worse shape than us and who have obliged by not really creating any chances or attacking with any great vigour. I'm not convinced we've actually set up as well as we could to take advantage of their lacklustre qualities, but then again maybe we made them look crap because of what we did. Who knows? We won though. 

It was a long way from what I wanted to see and a lot of the questions remain unanswered, but it's a win and we played the last 10 minutes with a bit of a spring in our step in comparison to the rest of the game. These are the sort of games you lose when you're going down and we didn't lose it. We looked turgid but we kept going and sometimes League One produces this sort of shocker of a match where the less turgid team wins. Happily that was us. 

Joy abound, we're Tangerine Wizards once more! (sort of) 

Onwards.

utmp 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Everything is shit: bring on tomorrow



Football eh? What a crock of shit. Games behind closed doors are crap. The whole wonder of going to the match reduced to just some lads kicking a ball, shorn of occasion, spectacle, the sense of ritual, the humour and the (so very scarce in modern life, even without a pandemic) sense you're sharing something with strangers.

Gone is the feeling of communality. The rare sense of people gathering, people sharing a common cause. No point hammering on romantically about it but despite everything bad about football, it's still a million times more social than going to the shops or pretty much owt else I can think of. For fucks sake, where else do we gather together and sing, unbidden by music, where else do people connect with the rhythm and flow of something that can unfold in a myriad of different ways? For all it's been bought and sold, for all it's been sprayed clean with disinfectant, sanitised and reformed, it's still a magical anomaly in a world of ordered and choreographed experiences. 

Shouting at the telly makes you feel sheepish. It's not the same as when your voice melds with thousands of others. Those moments are gone. Lost for so long now, thinking of normality is like nostalgia. Pushed so far into the future that it's difficult to imagine feeling that way again. The full throated outrage of an incorrect decision. The desperate plea to attack, a building crescendo you can feel in your whole body. The sudden applause and collective appreciation of a sharp tackle, a bit of skill or an incisive pass. Even a substitution is a thing of drama, greeted with a rumble of discontent, an approving cheer or even sometimes a stunned and confused silence. 

Even silence is theatre. The quiet after they score, a vortex, the centre of a whirlwind, calm before the storm of exhortations to 'sort it out' 'c'mon!' and the cathartic cries of 'fuck's sake Pool' 

Oh, for a goal. Oh, for the sheer unadulterated release of a ball hitting the net and being there to witness it. Not the TV 'oh, we've scored' reaction, but the wave of noise that lifts you, the visceral sense of being connected to the players and the ball alike beforehand, the way you stand, you tense every sinew, it feels as if you lean into the shot yourself, or rise for the header and then, when the ball lands in the goal, you lose it. Raw throated cries, everything you feel, released 5, 10 seconds of simple, primal delight. Something pure. It's stupid, it's absurd, it's meaningless but it's undeniable. It means something. It's a feeling you don't get anywhere else. It's an out of body moment and it's the whole reason you're there. 

I miss it. I miss it a lot. I miss it every week and I wonder why people are out and about shooting grouse, why I'm answering my door to salespeople, going to work to sit in an office, using petrol pumps, trudging round supermarkets and my kid is in a full class at school but yet stadiums remain locked and bolted. In my heart of hearts I guess it's probably just a case of me sulking cos I can't do what I want, but in the same heart of hearts I also feel there's a huge hypocrisy going on. Football fans can't be trusted. Posh cunts with guns can. Football fans are drunken louts but Bullingdon club opera goers are jolly champagne swigging japesters who obviously know the line. 

Football itself isn't helping. That can fuck off too. Imagine what sort of twat thinks up the 'big picture' and then drop it in to the mix at this particular moment. A time when there's no fans to speak out against it. It's as if they're simply demonstrating that it's their game, not ours. We're all locked out and they can not only go in, but also rip up the game itself if they want. It's like they waited till we went out and then chucked dogshit round our house, choosing this moment when we're stuck elsewhere to try and redecorate football with their mental ideas about what the game needs. They've not gone away either and no one needs this right now. And yet, there they are, posturing and laying down diktats like they own the place. 

We're shite too. Gone is the promise of swift passing and rapier like attacking. Replaced by a static formation that is labelled as attacking but looks anything but. We look like a bunch of teenagers being exhorted to try harder by their well meaning youth club leaders on some kind of character building outing. There's no self expression, no joy, no relish in the challenge in front of us. 

We can't even yell "Sort it out Critchley!" Turning off the telly doesn't have the same drama as standing and leaving, muttering "fucking rubbish, fucking rubbish" to anyone in the vicinity. We can't offer such sage advice to the team as "fuck off Turton" or "just fucking shoot!" or the all time classic "for fucks sake, score!" 

We can't even go for a pint to drown our sorrows. Having a pint will kill you. Eating a ten course meal of caviar, quails eggs and souffle drowned in as many bottles of vintage wine as you can fit on your table, then followed by a cheeseboard and port won't. Why? Because posh people can be trusted and we're all just scum, who as soon as we drink a drop of the disgusting warm ale we imbibe in our pox riden taverns, become animals with no inhibitions. Which is why we need rules. It's why servitude is good for us. It lifts us above what we are. Educates us in civilisation. We should be grateful to our betters and wish them well in their leisure, thankful for all they've done. 

Fuck it all. It's shite. 

Bring on Saturday. We're going to win. We are. Then it won't be quite as shit. 

utmp

Thursday, October 22, 2020

NOT an interview with Neil Critchley.

Me: The way I see it is this: The team is a tram and you're the driver. What stop do you think we're at at the moment if the plan is to go from Starr Gate to Fleetwood Ferry? 

Critch: Get me Chissy, this lad's a mentalist. 

I was going to post another rant about life, the universe and everything being shit but instead, I stumbled on a brilliant idea: 

I'll do an interview, but one where the interviewee isn't actually present and doesn't answer any questions at all.

What a concept. 

Pass me the press pass. I'm going to the top. Nothing is going to stop this blog being a success. People don't want memes, tactics, informed comment or pithy, succinct well edited content. No, they want interviews, with no replies and digressive rambling.

'It's too long!'

'It's pointless!' 


Yes. Yes it is. Go and watch Emmerdale and take up quilting. Smuggle some high grade peyote in and bang on some Throbbing Gristle and commune with the higher spirits of the universe. Make a frozen pizza. There. You've got options. Read on if you want. Fuck off if you don't.

You can't say I don't take care of you. 

I think it's safe to say we've had a ropy start. There's an argument to say that you can't hurry love, you'll just have to wait and all that. We started terribly in some of our best seasons. In wider football Kendall, Ferguson etc started badly in their jobs. There's a counter argument that Critch is a youth coach, out of his depth and that mentioning him alongside those people is insane. There's a middle ground that just doesn't know. I think that's where I am. I don't know. I'm concerned, quite concerned about some stuff, but I'm ever hopeful. Supporting a football club is a delusion so it makes no difference to me if I'm fooling myself by looking forward to the next game or not. If I stop hoping we'll win then... what's the point? We've been there too recently for me to give up on hoping they'll discover their Tangerine Wizardry on Saturday. Always next week eh? 

Football is weird. You can be complete shite one game and mad brilliant the next. We over analyse it looking for answers, but each side that we play, each variation in selection by ourselves or the opposition plays its part in triggering the sequence of random but interlinked events that make a football match. Of course, there's patterns, but the thrill of the game is when those patterns don't repeat. The one constant joy in football, especially outside the elite level (though tbf, the Premier League is doing it's best to disprove claims of predictability and sterility this year) is that each week, it might be different. It's so rare to feel you will definitely win and equally rare (at least until kick off) that you can't see a flicker of hope that this might be the week it clicks. 

What I'd love to see is a proper interview with Critchley. I'd love to spend an hour with him (or someone else to do it on my behalf more likely) and pick his brains. I'm seeing some stuff I don't understand. I don't know whether some of that is stuff that concerns him too. I'd feel better if I knew more about what is going on in his head. I don't get his thinking sometimes. Is that because he's trying something new to me? I don't watch Liverpool, I watch barely any top level football and therefore, my frame of reference is mostly League 1 and Scottish games. Am I just failing to recognise tactics and plans because I haven't seen them before? 

Critchley is used to working behind the scenes and he's used to working in clubs that have defined philosophies and where the fans understand the 'way' of the club. (a horrible term imo but one I'll use as it seems accepted parlance now.) Working for Klopp, he had probably football's best communicator above him, defining exactly the direction of the club, giving fans insight into the way the team are playing and also, despite his tendancy to go from crazy fun uncle Jurgen to stroppy sulky teenage Jurgen when they lose, also giving really honest explanations when things go wrong. 

That's in no small part down to the media. At Premier League level, managers can't simply say a statement to Chissy and then go home for a glass of wine and Midsommer Murders on catch up with the wife. Klopp has to talk to ten or eleven different outlets on TV alone, all looking for an angle or a take. As controlled as the press is (and it is) at elite level, there's still a level of scrutiny quite unlike our league.

The local paper and radio naturally try to keep a good relationship. Of course they do. We can scream at them to be more incisive but they're reliant on the club in a way national media aren't. If one manager has a hissy fit at them, there's a whole world more to talk to. If Matt Scrafton gets banned from the club, then he's really not got anything else to turn to and to be honest, I think Scrafton does fine and is decent on twitter and all that. 

So I'm not dissing our journos. It is what it is. I'm just observing that I feel like I know very little about Critchley. He's inscrutable, he straight bats things, doing a good impression of giving a really thoughtful answer but he's generally answering questions that are fairly stock deliveries. I'd really like to see how he handles a few googlies, the odd bouncer, deals with a change of pace. Not because I want to knock his head off or bowl him round his legs, but because I want to know who he is. He's in charge of my football club and all I know is he's a twinkly eyed fella who turned up to the first game in a body warmer and he likes 'being on the grass' 

I felt like I knew Steve McMahon inside out. Thinking of Billy Ayre for too long make me nearly as nostalgic as thinking of my grandad. I know it went sour with Ollie but for a while there, we really, really had some magic. Terry McPhillips, I quite admired him, he wasn't everyone's cup of tea but he spoke well, fronted up and said some nice things about football and fans. Larry. Well, Larry. He was like a mate who you go to the pub with, just cos you do. You don't really like each other any more, but you still have a pint. Even dear old Muggers, seemed like an amiable fella who thought he was cruising along in a mid range Ford Mondeo and looked totally shocked when it turned out it was actually a clown car. There was some sort of pitiful charm in watching him pretend it was all ok even though the steering wheel had come away in his hands and he was heading at a lamppost and his big clown shoes were too big to press the breaks.

If only we'd elasticated. 

Critchley? I don't know the fella at all. I want to. 

So, here's my questions: 

(It might help to imagine I've met Neil in a coffee shop in Cheshire Oaks shopping centre. I've never met Critchley or been to Cheshire Oaks for that matter, but I imagine he quite likes a coffee there sometimes and a browse of the sports shops whilst being dragged reluctantly to look at Laura Ashley for some new curtains for the bungalow.

I also have no idea where he lives, but I imagine he lives in a dormer bungalow somewhere near Warrington on a street full of caravans, prefers white wine to red and has a dog, cream carpets and a CD player in his car with some middle of the road compilation CDs on rotation as he's not a fan of bluetooth.  Anyway, that aside, Neil's got a large flat white and is ready to chew the fat.

(Actually, he's clearly not, as I've just remembered, I'm not actually interviewing him and you'll have to imagine his responses. Phew! for a minute there, I lost myself...) 

What's so good about 433? Why is it such a popular formation in the present day? 

Do you think 433 is the best formation to get the best out of our current squad? Would (for example) Gary Madine not be better suited to playing as either a pivot for deeper lying players or next to another player in a two? 

Why do you think we've not turned possession into a meaningful threat in most competitive games? What part does confidence play in this and what part is it a tactical question? 

If you could sign one player in the world to plug a perceived weakness in this side, who would it be? 

Who do you see as leaders in the squad? Which players have the potential to become captains, if not for us, but in their later careers? 

What's the biggest difference you've discovered between coaching at u23 level and managing at senior level? 

Has it been a surprise how tactically active opposition managers are? I've rarely watched u23 football but is that similar or is the purpose more to train the lads in the dominant way of playing at a particular club? 

Do you have self doubt? If so, what about? Has that emerged since taking the job or was it a question before you took the job? 

As someone new in your role, what question would you ask of an experienced manager to find an answer to something that has challenged you? 

What's the difference between players at the level you were working at and players at this level? How have you adapted your coaching to adjust to those differences? Are they technical or mental differences in the main? 

Do you see the players taking enough responsibility? Where's the line between creativity and risk taking and how do you encourage these players to take the risks we need to take to score more goals without endangering confidence? 

Do you think you'd have made any different decisions had you had the games at the end of the season to work with players you inherited? 

As a coach with a strong track record of working with young players (and presumably, working within the limits of players other people identified as worthy of a contract) - why have Antwi, Shaw, Howe and Thorniley barely featured, despite them playing well in either preseason or Carabao cup games? What do those players lack or need to do? 

Are players less adaptable at this level to new positions/jobs on the pitch? 

Who are your footballing heroes? Who are your footballing villains? 

Neil didn't answer any of these questions. Nor did I thank him for his time and share a couple of bits of personal information in a way that humanised him and made me feel touched he should see me as an equal human before showing his down to earth qualities by collecting my cup and carrying the tray back himself to the clearing station.

That's because he wasn't there, and I don't expect him to be either. This is a shitty fan blog typed up in my spare time in lieu of being able to go anywhere and do anything at the moment and cos I'm an oddball on the internet. It would be really interesting to hear him speak though. He's essentially Jurgen now, not just backroom Neil and whilst I think he speaks in a measured way, I don't think we get much insight into what's going on in his head as he's rarely asked much about it. This creates a sense of a vacuum where all we can do is comment on what we see on the pitch and frankly, that's not been the ideal conversational fodder if you want to cheer yourself up right at this point. 

I've got a mate in the football media who speaks very highly of him. Says he's a genuine man who gives his time and treats people decently. I really want to be right behind him. I want to feel a sense of loyalty. We've been pissed about, from pillar to post with shitty managers, shitty owners and false, fake dawns and I'm more than happy just to get behind someone who is trying their best, working hard and has a plan. It seems forever and a day since I felt like a manager was 'ours' - At the moment, Critch is still just a fella in generic sportswear who looks a bit like (credit to @tangerineknights for spotting the resemblance) Daniel Craig but if Daniel Craig had been shrunk in a washing machine. 

I don't need success today, I just want to know a bit more about where we're going, who is taking us there and how he plans to get through the road works, round the diversions and cope with the breakdowns that will inevitably come. He's made some incredibly bold decisions so far and I just want a bit more than 'we'll just keep doing what we're doing' and references to 'the group' - I want to hear what he's actually thinking sometimes. 

I think the journey has started with us stuck on a bus, which might have some top of the range features, but we seem to have a few flat tires and the view out of the window isn't very salubrious. I'm a pragmatist, I'm a reasonable man, most of us are. Shit happens. People are human. Nothing's perfect. We'll listen, we'll wait for the open road and the glorious views if we can see the route map, we'll show some patience if we're talked to properly. We want to succeed. We're in this together. 

Roll on Saturday. 

utmp



 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Pegs, holes and 2 man midfields: the Mighty vs the Addicks


Charlton feel odd to me in so much that no matter where they are in the league, I feel like they should be somewhere else. They seem far too big for League One, but when they're in higher divisions it always seems a bit incongruous, like they're a bit too homely to be up there. They also don't feel like a London club to me, despite being very Londony. I file them in my mind as 'a bit like Ipswich' even though I know full well they aren't anything like them. I don't know why. They're also filed in my head under 'clubs I don't mind in general' 

They've had a hard time of it during my life, two periods of turmoil with a big lump of success in between. When I was a kid, Charlton meant 3 things, all gleaned from my beloved football league centenary history book. The pictures within that tome have shaped my view of football as fundamentally as anything else and I remember, Sam Bartram diving in mud, that mad 7-6 game against Huddersfield and of course, a sad, sad shot of an abandoned Valley, the huge weed choked East terrace stretching to the sky, the pitch all overgrown.
Sam Bartram. In the fog. 

Happily, they got home eventually and everything was ok. Then it wasn't and everything was shit again thanks to a succession of ownership nightmares. Conventional wisdom amongst Charlton fans suggests things might now be ok again thanks to their new Danish owner - though when I watched a series of videos welcoming him to the club I was troubled by his weird habit of posing as a rockstar, even though he's made his money in a more prosaic way and he's in his 60s. It all seemed a bit 'I'm a crazy guy, absolutely bonkers me' and I was really quite thankful we've avoided Simon Sadler inflicting his hobbies on us in attempt to project his personality. To be fair to Sandegaard, he's fairly open in saying 'I'm a rich guy having a late mid life crisis' and he seems a likable fella who knows he's setting himself up for a bit of pisstaking, but none the less, it's all a fair cry from some fella in a blazer with a side parting and a bit of a paunch which is what club owners should look like in any civilised world. I very much hope it works out for them with their crazy Dane. Just not tonight. 

On the topic of hair (see what I did there) we've signed some more new players I didn't mention in the last blog and maybe some of them might play tonight. The one I want to see most is Kenny Dougall. Largely because when we signed him, he turned out to look nothing like I imagined he would. Hearing the name, I assumed he'd come from St Mirren or Hibs and would be a muscular lad from Govan. The name 'Kenny Dougall' makes me think of a 1970s leader of a Scottish Pipe Band and who were massive in Scotland but practically unheard of in England. Alternatively, his name evokes a fella who Rebus or Taggert go to for information about what's going on in the Glasgow underworld - the kind of dodgy character who they see their relationship with as a necessary evil, a demon who will lead them to the devil so to speak. You can practically see Rebus, sipping a whiskey and smoking a fag in a wood panelled bar, before saying, "Siobhan, we'll have tae gae an see big Kenny Dougall' 

Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a tanned, urbane looking fella with surfer hair and an Aussie passport. 

Anyway... 

All I want tonight is us to attack, to turn prettiness into threat, to take a few risks, cause a few scares. Ben 'he's from Liverpool y'know' Woodburn makes a first start ahead of Jerry 'just needs a goal' Yates and Demi Mitchell (great going forward, let's not talk about his defending) comes in for Luke Garbutt.

Let's have it. C'm the fuck on Pool! 

---

I'm in shock. A long ball over the top, Charlton gallop through with Omar Bogle and Husband... brings him down. It's a red. Fuck my life. I can't even dissect it. It was clip or a shove. I dunno. Watch the highlights, I don't even have adverts on this. I'm not putting myself through that again just for this shitty blog. Fucking hell. Fucking hell. 

An actual centre back (Ballard) comes on and poor ol' Grant Ward goes off. 58 seconds. Nice one Pool. So much for attacking and all that. 

CJ bursts through and is clattered. The full back gets a yellow card.. The free kick is awful - a theme that will recur.  

Mitchell gets done all ends up by their right winger, a lad who is wearing some sort of bandage/skull cap/bobble hat affair on his head. He crosses to near post, where the big lad Bogle puts it just wide. Within 60 seconds, Mitchell is beaten again by the same player and a first sight of Daniel Ballard, is an encouraging one, a sliding centre backs tackle and a neat controlled clearance a good response to a dangerous moment.  

Charlton are coming forward at will, a floated ball is met on the half volley from about 12 yards but crashes into the side netting. 

The 10 man formation is weird. it looks to all intents to be 4-2-3 - A tough night in store for Robson and Williams if so. It's Robson who is involved a couple of times in Pool's best move so far, eventually setting Hamilton free, he comes inside but plays a nothing ball, a pull back aimed for Williams that's never going to be anything but cleared. 

Williams clears a fabulous corner from underneath his own bar after a few seconds in which Turton mis-controls to concede a needless throw, then make a brilliant saving tackle to concede the corner. 

Super Ollie is the first Pool player to go past anyone with a trick (on about 33 minutes) when he takes on the full back and hang a deep cross. It comes to naught, but at least it's something. 

Bogle wrestles his way on to a cross, brushing defenders off like a horse flicking away flies with it's tail, he brings the ball down but the finish is lacking. 

Then great work from Williams, a sharp interception and a clever ball forward sets Hamilton free, he pokes the ball past the full back and goes, he's flying and the full back is grabbing, grappling, wrestling, then tumbling and dragging him down. The ref goes to his pocket and it's game on. 10 v 10... That's more like it. 

Charlton whip a lovely ball across and Bogle leaps, twists and flicks a backward header that's a matter of inches over. 

Ben Woodburn (he plays for Liverpool in case you didn't know) gets on to a Madine flick and goes between the defenders like mercury and glory be! it's a shot! (it's over by miles, but we take what we're given...) 

Chissy ends a half where he's been disapproving of just about every human on the planet by disapproving of Brett using Peter Kay's 'fine rain' line. 

----

Flippin' heck - I'm a bit done in by that.... Charlton have come close several times and Pool have barely threatened, but it has to be said, the 10 men have done well and now it's anyone's game. Charlton's right winger has made Demi Mitchell look like he's barely played football before several times but now he's playing left back since the sending off and Pool will very be glad of that. 

The midfield two have done well to keep from being completely over run and Williams again catches the eye as both he and Robson are tenacious and tidy with the ball. Williams looks to have that knack of playing a pass just at the right time under pressure and decent awareness. 

Up front, CJ has essentially been fouled twice and delivered a couple of ropey crosses, but it's clear his pace is terrifying to play against. Madine has got little change out of the ref or his centre half and I'm wondering if the fresher and more mobile Yates would be an idea. Charlton look like they could happily head the ball away all week and Yates offers a bit more on the turn or running at the defence. 

Marv and Ballard have done fine with the new lad seeming to have that art of just being in the right place. He looks like he reads the game well. It's a good job, as he'll surely now be starting on Saturday. 

----

It's notable and worrying that skull cap/bobble hat/bandage lad is back on the right, but Charlton fashion the first chance of the half on their left, a neat, quick passing move which sees them hit the side netting from a tight angle. 

It's Charlton again, playing lovely football, crisp, quick passing, physical strength and movement eventually fashioning a shooting chance which bends round Maxwell's far post. 

Pool manage a couple of shots! First Madine crashes a shot into a defender, then Woodburn picks up the rebound, shoots low and wide but it's deflected for a corner. Which, not unusually for a Pool corner is easily dealt with. Still, two shots in less than 30 seconds is not to be sniffed at. 

Charlton switch play, a gorgeous pass from skullcap/bobble/bandage lad, which results in their left winger drifting inside, and firing it across the box, causing all sorts of chaos, air kicking and panic before it's smuggled away for a corner. 

The corner is swung deep, right onto one of the big Charlton lads who heads it home. Pool are outraged and run to the linesman. There ensues a debate between referee and linesman, who weirdly stands for ages with his flag out. What happened is anyone's guess, it's not a foul, but it's either the ball swinging out of play from the corner or possibly a player offside from the header at goal impeding Maxwell's view. Whatever happens, the linesman has his way, but why the ref needed to talk about it for 90 seconds isn't clear. Perhaps he was just adding drama. Maybe he hummed a tense tune to the amusement of everyone before indicating his decision. 

CJ has a snap shot into the keeper's arms from a Woodburn lay off - The lad from Liverpool (it might not have been mentioned before, but that's where he's from) has looked quite good second half, I like his decisiveness. He looks quite lightweight but at the same time pretty clear he's going to trust himself to go at goal or try something.  

The might Goal Machine goes off and Yates is on. Pool seem a bit more lively for a few minutes as Yates is kind of like a human adrenaline shot, legging it round like mad for a bit and getting it a couple off times and not quite getting a shot off. 

Woodburn goes down with horrible cramp, curiously, CJ Hamilton, who's just cracked a half decent shot into the defence acts as an auxiliary physio for a whole minute before the actual physios come on. (Why have got two now? Phil Horner was fine on his own for years and now two fellas run on every time. I bet neither of them scored a brace in my favourite game of football ever either...) Woodburn is literally so tired he can't play any more and Bez is ready to come on.  

It's anyone's game. 

The sides trade half chances, the best of which for Pool comes when Hamilton does brilliantly to get between two, bears down on goal and only a stunning thumping, sliding challenge can deny him. 

Charlton have a spell of three dangerous moves which only ends when the referee stops play for Ballard's injury. 

Then... a deep cross is nodded back from the line by the skullcap lad (who has been brilliant) and the massive no 10 nods home. It feels like they deserve it, though Brett bemoans Pool's luck, the balance of play has been Charlton's and they've had much better efforts on goal. 

Can Pool chuck the kitchen sink? 

It seems they can't. Pool pick the ball up but it's the same story. Pass, pass, pass but too slow. They go all across the halfway line but then give it away. They win it back and pass it out of play. They hit it first time, but only to the Charlton full back. Understandably the midfield pair look knackered and if I was a betting man and I had to guess the next scorer, it would be a grey shirt. 

Brett is putting a brave face on things and looking at the positives, but I'm getting pretty frustrated. Lubala jumps and misses the ball a few times. Why aren't one of the massive centre halves going forward? Sit Williams in at the back cos he's run miles and send them both! Send Mitchell forward and put Lubala in middle. Do SOMETHING! We don't look like scoring for all the hedge fund money in the world,

We're into the final seconds, Robson picks it up. He drives at the heart of their defence in a way we've rarely seen tonight then spreads it nicely to Turton who pragmatically touches off to Hamilton who, not for the first time tonight lifts a nothing cross into the defender and that is basically that. 

Fucks sake Pool. 

----- 

I was impressed with Charlton. They showed a canny mix of muscle, football and crucially purpose. They created chances and though Maxwell didn't have a lot to do, they flashed the ball just wide or just over 5 or 6 times. They knew what they were doing going forward and when they went down to ten men, it didn't have a huge impact on their play. They showed tactical nous and made a change to match Hamilton up with a lad who could deal with him.

Lets start with the positive. Ballard looked excellent and also has the classic Daniel Shittu style massive shorts. That's a bonus. Marvin is looking calmer and better with the ball every game. Williams did well again, especially as he and Robson had a crap deal in midfield and Woodburn was involved with our best attacking work - he didn't blow my mind but I liked his movement and he had some really nice touches and showed a desire to go towards goal and the sense to get closer to Madine in the second half. We worked hard and did well with ten against a side it looked like might overwhelm us. 

How about the less positive? Again, we didn't cause any problems. We didn't make their keeper work at all and aside from a few moments, we didn't make their defence work. I wanted Yates on, but to be honest, when Madine went off, the ball just didn't stick up front at all. Bez might as well have not come on for the influence he had off the bench, Yates looked ok for few minutes but then just gave away a load of fouls. Demi Mitchell looked exactly as expected defensively. We again rarely beat a man and again, the passing was slow and lacking purpose. I feel like I've just watched us play 90 minutes with ten men against 11. 

It's perhaps harsh to point at Critchley in a game where he's been forced into two of the three substitutes (though he chose to start the left back who got sent off in a 100% identical way a week or so previously and the lad who couldn't get beyond an hour without literally collapsing) but again, he's not altered the shape at all regardless of the situation. The two midfield lads were broken, Robson in particular, by the end of the game and I don't understand why we can't divert from a template ever, especially in the last 10 minutes of a game where we've essentially not had a shot on target and are losing at home. I'd have been happy with anything, whether chucking Turton to centre mid to at least help or lumping it all the tall players in the hope of overloading their defence. Anything to try and influence the game. 

It's not feeling right to me. We were definitely unlucky against Plymouth and Stoke, we looked a good side ready to click into action, but for a number of games, we simply haven't caused any trouble for the opposition. We're selling a brand of all out attack and it's come in a very glossy packaging but opening it up, it just looks a bit aimless at the moment.

We've got players out, we've got even more new players to come in and we've got plenty of games to get things right but we've got to learn to attack teams with intent otherwise the pattern that is emerging is going to become ingrained. Confidence is hard earned and we're not earning it. We're not playing with verve or risk and that can become habitual. 

C'mon Pool. Remember you are Tangerine Wizards ffs! Drive at a defence, run at a man, have a fucking go! This what not what I expected to be urging at the outset of the season. I thought I'd be defending 3-4 defeats and revelling in goals, goals, goals, bemoaning the luck of hitting the post 3 times and so on. It's a funny old game.... 

Roll on Saturday. Get fit soon Sullay. 

utmp






Saturday, October 17, 2020

Better but not yet the best: Crewe vs the Mighty


Don't panic - Everything is normal. Grant Ward's playing.... 

The line up looks a bit odd to me, compared to what we expected on the back of all the signings and all the hype about being a League 1 Liverpool. Maybe the division has turned Neil 'philosophy' Critchley into a pragmatist already? There's the chance of Robson going forward a bit more with Williams coming in to play defensive midfield and Ollie Turton back in at full back giving the defence more of solid feel. We've got two strong lads in Madine and Yates at the top of the pitch and a bit of height in all areas. This isn't exactly the look I thought we'd have, but it's got a solidity about it. You might say it's got a bit more ugliness to it and ugliness matters in this division. 

-----

We make a very bright start. Pinging it round, putting a couple of good crosses, then Garbutt goes down after taking a throw. He's done and Demi Mitchell comes on, blinking in shock at being catapulted into the action so quickly. 

We're dominant without making chances. Williams is indeed letting Robson and Ward roam a little more and looking quite composed on the ball as well. 

We have lots and lots of possession but it takes till 23 minutes for someone to turn that into a shot. Unfortunately it's an effort which misses the penalty box all together from Grant Ward. 

I'm worried we're going to put in a lot of effort controlling the game but then get tired and lose it. We're playing well, but we still don't make quick enough decisions in midfield for me. There's still that sense we take a touch, then another touch, then run a bit, touch it again and then pass. Sideways. 

We make a couple of half chances from crosses. First, a deep one from Mitchell that sees big Marvin charging on to it, but Omar Beckles is able to get under it. Then, a clipped near post ball  the defender gets a touch to and the ball hits the perennially unfortunate Yates and bounces away, when it seemed he might have turned it home. 

Madine is at his best when he plays a beautiful blind pass, the perfect direction and weight for Hamilton who charges on to it, but for all his pace, he hasn't got the trickery to make the most of the moment. 

Robson crosses, Madine flicks, it's headed away, but falls for Yates who strikes it on the volley into the head of a defender when it seemed for a second to be flying goalward. 

From nowhere, Crewe force their own keeper into a sliding save from an unremarkable back pass. It's the closest we've come and we had nowt to do with it. 

I can't think of anything to say about the last ten minutes of the half other than it's very much like the preceding thirty-five minutes in that Pool dominate but not a lot happens that gets my heart racing.
Chissy drops a classic Chissyism as a runner is describe as being 'on his bike already' and half time arrives. 

----

Pool look very assured at the back. Maxwell has had absolutely nothing to do at all apart from to consider coming for a few sweeping cross field passes that Pool mostly nullify with an offside trap that appears to be working. Literally the only moment of danger is a moment where Turton gets lost but does well to get back and shadow his man until he smacks it against his legs. 

It's up front where the questions are. The midfield are having a more comfortable afternoon. Williams has sat and done quite well. Robson has been the most likely to to provide something and most decisive. Madine has won a fair amount but it's just not really clicked between the front three. 

The question in my mind is - Will Critch look at this and tweak it? Swap Yates and CJ or try Bez at some point? Will he give Kemp a go who seemed to be very much on Madine's wavelength when they've had a few minutes on the pitch together?

It's been like an arm wrestling match where Pool have pushed Crewe to 45 degrees but no further. Further pressure needed. 

____

Pool start on the attack but twice players running into each other foil the forward momentum better than the Crewe defence. 

Pool move the ball around about half way inside the Crewe half a lot without really causing any danger 

Then.... Crewe sweep up the pitch in three passes, Marvin comes to meet the second pass but is beaten to it, and the ball ends up wide left, then clipped to the far post where the defence never look like stopping it, in fact, Mitchell seems to help it home, but the goal goes to a Crewe man. It's pretty much their first attack. 

Pool get back to moving the ball around about half way inside the Crewe half a lot without really causing any danger. 

The ref has it in for Madine, blowing for seemingly harmless leaps and ignoring him getting shoved over. He's not been the worst ref ever, but he doesn't seem to like attacking aggression - in the first half he blew up when CJ seemed to simply out muscle his full back and he's not keen on the Goal Machine at all. 

A Crewe winger has Mitchell on toast, then plays a horribly tempting ball all across the edge of the 6 yard box but Pool escape as neither team can put a touch to it and it rolls away for a throw. 

I'm getting edgy about changes. Eventually CJ and Yates switch wings - Pool look defeated. Where is the barrage?  We've mustered nothing other than a Williams shot that goes well wide. Madine is winning a lot in the air and seems on his game but we're not turning this into danger. It seems obvious to me, Get Jerry or CJ alongside him and switch formation a bit. We're losing the game and have been doing so for 15 minutes without doing anything in particular about it. 

The game is becoming fractured and frustrated. 

Madine and Yates link really well about halfway inside the Crewe half, but there's not enough pace in the pair to really make it dangerous, but it leads to a corner, from which Madine heads down, but it's scrambled out of six yard box. A bit better. 

Then much better. Madine in box, the ball bouncing and he goes for an impetuous back hell finish which rebounds off a defender but only as far as Ward who swivels and smashes it home. It's deserved. 

We press again and two decent corners cause a few flutters in Crewe hearts, if not abject terror. 

Madine lays off to Yates who charges forward and is sliced down. From the free kick Robson curls one that scuffs the turf and bounces up nicely into the keeper's hands. 

iFollow freezes on Yates getting aggressive on the touchline and resumes for the aftermath of what looks like a nasty foul on Hamilton. It doesn't appear we've made a sub in the blackout. 

We press a bit more, Ward gets a cross to the far post which is headed goalward (I think Madine again), but is scrambled away. 

Maxwell pings it forward and again the goal machine wins a dangerous flick but Yates and Hamilton are equally distant from it. It seems to sum up the forward line today. 

4 minutes of added time 

---

I can't help thinking about the squad make up - We've got two strikers at the club and both are on the pitch, with Yates in particular looking knackered towards the end. It's possibly churlish to moan about a point away from home, given the form we've shown, but we've dominated the game and yet failed to look like winning it. 

Again (and I'm not trying to score any points, I don't write with an agenda, I just write what I see), it seemed to be crying out for a change, fresh legs, a little tweak of positioning or formation and again, we played through from start to end with (aside from Yates/CJ briefly swapping) the identical formation. We had the best of the game by far, but we didn't make enough of it - that's understandable in the first half, but as the game went on frustrated me more and more.  

On the plus side, the midfield 3 made a bit more sense and looked a lot less lightweight than they have done. Williams had a decent game, in fact everyone did kind of ok. At the back, Mitchell worries me defensively every time he plays but generally we looked solid. Up front, Madine had another more than decent game, Yates worked hard without really looking like the answer wide and CJ flickered in moments but he does look quite 'markable' and we don't seem to be taking advantage of having a player drawing the opposition defence in the way he does. It's similar to how we didn't really take advantage of Madine's performance. Are we seeing chances to exploit other teams or are we playing a game from a game plan come what may? 

It was unspectacular, solid, some quite promising elements in terms of how easily we kept them at bay and moved the ball nicely, especially from the back, but some of the same questions remain unanswered. Perhaps after Ipswich 'solid' is a big step forward, but I thought Crewe looked a least a division weaker than Ipswich. Maybe that's credit to us for making them look so toothless, maybe they just were, I don't know! 

I also think we really miss Sullay and a bit of unpredictability. The positive is, we played well enough to imagine that with that bit of extra spark, we might well be dangerous - That's got to be a decent step forward - we were ripped apart like a flimsy paper bag last week and this week we were much improved. That said, it feels a bit melodramatic to go overboard and make statements about this being the point that starts the season and everything being rosy thereafter. But fuck it, onwards and upwards. We're gonna hit on the right blend sometime and when we do, it'll be fucking incredible. 

Hopefully. 

utmp
 

An unlikely hero? In praise of the mighty GOAL MACHINE!


'not that arsed'

It seems a childish luxury to have a favourite player these days. There's a breed of football journalism which reduces everything to statistics. This has bred a type of football fan who sees things like 'character' and 'personality' as secondary to the heat map data and the truth of the spreadsheet. 

Last week's game led me to a really strange epiphany. I really like Gary Madine. I've never especially disliked the Goal Machine, but seeing his name on the sheet last week, something clicked. 

I haven't made this choice deliberately. It just happened. Like falling in love. 

Madine is unlike most of the rest of the squad. He's not an athlete, he's not someone who we've signed on the basis of his future potential. He's definitely not anything like any of the current Liverpool line up.

To all intents and purposes, it seems like he ended up playing on Saturday, largely by accident. 

This is a squad that's been designed by transfer committee, by head coach, by a footballing ethos, by data, scouting and influenced by knowledge of elite level youth football. Nowhere did anyone think 'lump it to Big Gaz' was the master plan. 

The Goal Machine fits none of the criteria by which we seem to work now. The only way to explain him is as a punt last year in the hope he could replace Super Armand when the misunderstood football genius inevitably went on to greater things. He's a signing straight out of the Larry book of football - a classic big lad up front, a throwback to days of yore, when the game plan of every team was more or less the same - get it to a big lad as often as you can and see what happens. 

He's good at winning flick-ons. That's got its own reassuring quality to it. Seeing a league one striker leaping and winning it against his centre half is like hearing music from your youth. Something familiar in a sea of strange formations, goalkeepers passing the ball to full backs at goal kicks, subs benches as big as the team itself and false 9's (whatever they are) 

He's got the aura of a proper striker, surly and insouciant, He's a tank of a man, someone a defender has to grapple and wrestle with to control. He plays the game at a trot, not a sprint, giving off a vibe that he'll work when it's worth working. There's something of a 'fuck off' arrogance about him which suggests he'll close down when he wants and nothing any coach tells him will make any difference. 

Like all my favourite players, he's imperfect. Sometimes he has the touch of a brick, sometimes he looks like he's playing with his hands in his pockets and sometimes he misses from 6 yards. But there's the other side of him. He's got a radar like few I've ever seen and he can pass like Pirlo when he gets it right. When he's good, he's fucking great. Coming deep and winning the ball, holding off a defender and then threading or lifting it over the top with a precision that the rest of the team can only envy despite their pedigree. He plays with instinct. 

Leaping in the box and actually heading it somewhere, a skill that barely anyone in the squad seems to have practised, let alone mastered. For all that his control can, on occasions, look like a ping pong ball hitting a concrete wall, there's other moments when he's got the ability to coax the ball with the delicacy of a snake charmer, killing it on his chest, or pulling it down with his feet like he's wearing carpet slippers. 

He can shoot from distance, take a free kick like he means it and move around the pitch without being told where to go. In a squad of inexperienced players whose main thought is 'follow the plan', )regardless of the outcome), his free thought might appear to be insubordination but it's an essential element of any side, players who contribute to the decision making process. It's the difference between senior football and seniors pros and their youth counterparts - the ability to process the events of the game and adapt accordingly. 

I'm no purist. I just like football. I like quick, swift passing, but I also like blood and thunder, I like goals scrambled home after three rebounds and I like thirty yard pile drivers. I'm not clever enough to appreciate the arguments about why Madine makes us a worse team by being obviously the best player in his position in the squad. I just like the moments in games where it feels like something might happen. The Machine might not have the stats or the attributes to be who we need him to be in order to play the way the manager wants. I don't really care - when it comes to him, there's a sense that something other than another well coached pass might just happen. It might be shit, it might be great, but it's something unexpected. He might even shoot!    

I don't really care if we play like Liverpool or not to be honest. In fact, if anything, I love the way football chucks up the improbable and the unlikely. Who knew that Madine, who looks like both a truck and a truck driver, who is a weird blend of brutal strength, brilliant awareness and frustrating fallibility would be the fulcrum of the attack? I can't actually think of a less 'Critchley' type player if I tried. 

I can never shake an image of him leaning on the goalpost in training, chewing a toothpick, looking like he couldn't give a fuck and whilst some might hate him for that, I can't. If anything, it makes me feel just the opposite. 

We've got a lot of (very competent) session musicians in the squad. The goal machine is a Rock n Roll star.

Without a front man, it's never gonna work. 

UTMP


Yet another bad owner. Where do they breed them?

This is Brooks Mileson. He owned Gretna FC. If you don't know who he is or what the score is with Gretna, it might be worth giving it ...