Have we turned the clock back 13 months or 13 years?
I expect most of us can recall recent times where our fortunes have changed direction quite dramatically mid-season. Last season following the return of the once-King Billy is probably the most spectacular example, with the Charlie and Frank-inspired revival in 2006 following the departure of The Ginger One not far behind. Others which spring to mind include the unbeaten run-in towards unlikely automatic promotion in 2008, sparked off by that surprise win at Carlisle; and even the arrival of Joe Kinnear four years prior to that halted (albeit temporarily) a headlong dive towards oblivion to end the season on a relative high.
Oh, but wait. All the above examples were changes for the better, and what we’re trying to get used to right now is a change as equally spectacular but in completely the opposite direction. It’s the sort of thing we’ve seen happen to others: Cardiff, Leicester and Preston are the most obvious examples that spring to mind, though I’m sure there are many others whose season which looked highly promising at a relatively late stage in proceedings then suddenly goes into the kind of tailspin which ours appears to be doing now. I cannot liken it to any other season, the closest parallel I can come up with being Platt’s second season in charge where we hovered just below the top six for much of the season before shooting ourselves in the foot once too often and falling away from the final reckoning.
Here’s how things unfolded in Lancashire. Saturday was a surreal experience as I reluctantly refrained from phoning the TV repair man whilst watching goal after goal being put past us. There was no need to adjust the TV, it really was happening. McClaren (the irony of it all) must have been laughing his socks off. I had predicted we were in for a right tonking and so it proved (even if my Derby-supporting old school buddy couldn’t quite believe it). It didn’t stop me from crying into my beer in the sports bar however, and I felt strangely detached from proceedings at the DW as I sulked my way through Wigan’s 2-1 win over Watford (something they managed without really getting out of second gear), much to my girlfriend’s delight as she proudly showed off her new Latics scarf.
So he’s gone. It’s all ended in tears. It is with heavy heart I finally have to admit that by Saturday I felt the Billy situation was no longer tenable. The heavy defeat alone was not the reason of course, but as a critic of sustained unprofessional behaviour (and I’ve witnessed plenty at first hand in recent years) the very public chucking the teddy out of the pram not once but several times in several different ways (fine when results go your way but a Ferguson-style Monument he isn’t, wasn’t and is unlikely ever to be) I just could not tolerate, and it was no surprise when the first texts reached me on Monday morning, and even less so when confirmation finally came through four hours later, and this time there were distinctly fewer tears shed than at (arguably) the more controversial sacking three years ago. What was the man playing at? Did unfinished business mean he was on some kind of payback mission? As overjoyed as I was at his return barely a year ago, I somehow could not see a happy ending once the rot set in last month as we descended from a run of 21 league goals from nine games to a paltry five from eight, and Billy’s departure seemed necessary before this club returns to familiar status of laughing stock of the Football League, singing every wrong note there is to be sung which I’m sure the media (especially the Daily Mail’s highly irritating Charles Sale) would gratuitously lap up. So much we don’t know about, but what is beginning to creep out of the woodwork seems to tally with bits and pieces we’ve heard about and read about along the way. No smoke without fire and it stinks.
Fawaz simply has to make the right decision about the next incumbent for the hot seat. Acknowledging the divisive figure Warnock is (and I’ve been one of his many critics in the past) I feel we could have done a lot worse than have him in at least as an interim measure (though I’m not sure I could abide Keith Curle as assistant) but another round of place your bets ladies and gents beckons and no two person’s shortlist will be the same.
Granted, it’s impossible to please everyone. But the club simply has to consider who lies at the heart of this once great club, who will still come year in year out and part with great sums of their hard-earned emotional stuff known as money as players and staff come and go as the years go by, and whose expectations and craving for top flight football grows ever greater with each failed season: the fans.
And judging by tonight’s performance, it was another severe test of their patience, which once again shows great danger of running out.
The Championship, Tuesday 25th March 2014, Kickoff 2000hrs|
Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Charlton Athletic
|Venue||The City Ground|
The chill in the air was not just the cold weather: it felt almost apocalyptic as a new chapter is about to begin.
The most sparsely populated away end this season as 250 fans spread themselves about the corner stand.
For once a genuine reason for a late start – by all of fifteen minutes due to traffic problems. At least the adjusted kick-off time was prompt.
The second half continued in a similar vein, albeit becoming scrappier as the number of errors began to rise. Deep crosses just went straight to Hamer’s grateful hands, and even Paterson (on for the ineffective Cox) could not dance his way through the Addicks’ defence. Halford and Mackie became wasteful, Abdoun quickly faded and eventually we paid for it in the 81st minute when a disastrous stray pass involving Jara and Mackie was picked up by Obika who fired across goal, his shot hitting the far post. In happier times we’d have either been ready for it, or be sitting on a two or three goal cushion for it not to matter too much at this stage. As it was, the ball fell kindly to Cousins who had an easy job of sliding the ball into an empty net. As the sparse gathering of travelling fans celebrated the recriminations on the pitch boiled over, whilst elsewhere around the ground chants of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’ could be heard for probably the first time since our catastrophic relegation season of nine years ago. Did we fashion any chances? Nothing remotely close to when we were scoring for fun only a couple of months ago, and with no recognised taker of free kicks of Reidy’s calibre it fell to Fox whose efforts came to nothing. I’d had enough by the 89th minute, and unwilling to extend an already long journey home by being stuck in traffic I legged it back to the car, listening to the inevitable boos on the radio as the FT whistle blew.|
Easy to draw parallels with the Doncaster game as another frustrating game of two halves, only this time we really did pay for it. Another typical first half in which we dominated for long periods but as time wore on you just knew how many we were going to score by the end of the evening, just like most games we’ve played lately. Charlton defended in numbers, Mackie and Fox showed plenty of intent while Cox simply disappeared, except for hitting the post shortly before HT after going one-on-one with Addicks’ keeper Ben Hamer when the Cox we bought 18 months ago would have buried it.
|Highlights||None whatsoever. The only crumb of consolation was that results elsewhere being relatively kind meant we’re still close enough to claw our way back, but on this barren run of form we’re in I just can’t see that happening.|
The usual lack of cutting edge so yet another blank score sheet; far too much giving the ball away which eventually cost us. Another sequence broken as Charlton notch up their first win here for 16 years. Lascelles picking up a late booking means we’ll be without him for the Ipswich and Millwall games (though with mistakes beginning to creep in a break may enable him to take stock). Not surprisingly the atmosphere was more than subdued: it was that thick you could almost cut it. The shameful set-to between Mackie and Jara told its own story. And why is it that every time I have a nightmare journey over for midweek games we always lose?
Greening was probably our most disciplined player, though that’s probably not saying much, and there was still too much sideways/backward passing when we were screaming for him to be more direct.
Instead of singling out individuals it’s once again that time when everyone who played tonight takes a long hard look in the mirror. With few exceptions, most deserve to be shipped out at the end of the season.
|Referee||A Haines – Seemed quick to penalise us whilst waving the Addicks through on several occasions.|
2/10 – Lack of creativity and goal-punch, this seems worlds away from the Blackburn and Watford games.
5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
|3: If I was writing this two months ago this might have rated a 4 or even a 5, such are the depths our form has plumbed. A win tonight might just have halted the rot giving renewed hope we might just scrape home in time, but with a performance like tonight’s we can forget it. Nine games without a win, six of them defeats stirs up all-too-vivid memories of where we were two years ago with seemingly no end to the slump in form. Ipswich beating Derby doesn’t bode too well for Saturday either.|
|Misc||Plenty of evidence of Fawaz lifting the press ban as the players emerged from the tunnel to a barrage of press photographers, and Radio Nottingham’s pitch-side reporter was back in his usual seat after an absence of several months.|