Charlton Athletic 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Throstles and Robins can't be separated
The Baggies gave a much improved performance against promotion rivals Charlton Athletic at The Valley and were unlucky not to return home with all three points.
Albion made five changes. In defence fit again Carl Hoefkens replaced Shelton Martis whilst Bostjan Cesar took over from an injured Leon Barnett. Pele took on a midfield holding role in place of De-Heon Kim and it was all change again up front, with Kevin Phillips and Ishmael Miller, rather than Roman Bednar and the suspended Luke Moore.
There was early action at both ends. For the home side Halford curled a free kick around the wall but the wrong side of the upright. Then Robert Koren played Ishmael Miller through the centre and he passed the ball left to Phillips. A shot from the striker was blocked and rebounded to Koren, his drive was charged down, but only as far as Greening, who also had his shot kept out by a defender. The opening goal arrived in the 30th minute from a set piece. The ball was crossed by Ambrose and although Halford rose highest to direct a downward header back towards the near post, it didn?t appear to have the power to beat the keeper, before trickling over the line. The Albion equaliser, in the 42nd minute, also came from a free kick out wide on the left. Jonathan Greening earned and took the kick, crossing to the far post where Zoltan Gera rose to direct a header to the feet of Kevin Phillips. The master goalscorer, side-footing from twelve yards out, coolly placed his shot into the top corner, grazing the crossbar in the process.
In the early stages of the second half both sides pressed for a second goal, but the longer the game went on the more likely it looked that the Baggies, rather than the Addicks, would come out on top. The midfield trio of Gera, Koren and Greening were creating havoc every time they pressed forward. Albion were cruelly denied by an offside flag after Kevin Phillips flicked a through ball on and Ishmael Miller clipped the ball over the advancing keeper into the net. The introduction of substitute Roman Bednar only increased the pressure on the home defence and when his centre was only cleared as far as Phillips, the striker?s fierce drive was only just over the crossbar. In the final minute the Baggies came so close to a winner. Jonathan Greening floated a free kick from his own half up to Roman Bednar who headed across the edge of the box to where Zoltan Gera unleashed a stupendous first time volley, which dipped and crashed against the crossbar. A shot worthy of winning any game, but it wasn?t to be.
Tony Mowbray brought back Bostjan Cesar, with Hoefkens, in a move which strengthened the defence and his selection of Pele gave the midfield trio the freedom to attack. However his initial striking formation, with Miller playing wide right and Gera wide left, didn?t work, with both players wasted in those positions. Significantly, he rectified that error shortly before our equaliser, by switching the two and that was the catalyst for the improved display after the break, which was only enhanced when Bednar was introduced, for Miller, in the final quarter-of-an-hour.
The midfield pair, Jonathan Greening who controlled the game and Robert Koren who gave an all-action display, were our star performers, along with Zoltan Gera who, after a quiet opening half hour, gave an impressive display. Kiely might have done better for the goal, but Cesar and Albrechtsen were strong and Robinson did well going forward. The evergreen Phillips demonstrated class with his finish and movement.
The referee was a homer through and through, demonstrated by three yellow cards to Albion and one to Charlton, despite the home side committing 18 fouls to our 15. Greening was up-ended several times before he was booked for possibly his only foul and Semedo was booked for a crash tackle on Koren and then repeated the offence, only to get away with a ticking off.
Overall, it was a good Albion performance, which earned and got a standing ovation from the departing travelling support.
It?s not surprising that Albion and Charlton finished on level terms. In just under 80 years of league action the clubs have met 48 times, winning 17 each, with 14 drawn. This equality even stretches to cup competitions. We?ve been drawn together on six occasions in the FA Cup, each side going through 3 times and we?ve met twice in the League Cup, recording 1 victory apiece. Spookily, in league action both sides have scored 69 goals and adding in the cups, it?s still level, with 85 goals to each club.
ALBION FORMRATE: GOOD
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: JONATHAN GREENING
Albion have dropped a place to fifth. However leaders Stoke City could only draw at home to Blackpool, second place Bristol City lost away to Cardiff and Watford drop to fourth after sharing the points at sixth place Plymouth. The only winners in the top six were Hull City at Leicester and they go up to third. We?ve got two games in hand, but may have to win them both to gain an automatic promotion place. It will be a fantastic achievement if, from this position, we can win both promotion and the cup.
Positive signs. A mixed start again, but I was particularly impressed by the second-half performance. Given that the midfield setup was a little strange I thought we bossed that particular battle. Koren's second half performance was top quality, perhaps we were a little late in bringing on Bednar. All in all, a whole lot better than some of the crap I've watched away this season (like Barnsley).
I reckon that will be our most difficult away game on the run-in. Glass half full again (of Chateau Belingard actually). Happy Easter folks.
A much improved performance but then again a much more sensible line-up from Mogga even if it didn't start out that way. A bonkers first five minutes with greening, then koren and finally gera all on the left (?) and we looked all over the place. Some tactical twaddle to fool charlton markers? it didn't work. Johnno finally came in the middle and stayed there, thankfully, and Pele drifted back to help the defence more than push forward. But Gera stayed on the left the whole half much to my chagrin and even worse Miller was wasted on the right hand side and couldn't get into the game.
That apart, after those first frantic few minutes of playing head tennis again, we settled well, johnno got on the ball and got it down and we looked very slick and menacing though curiously shot shy and with no real chances to speak of despite the domination. Then the old achilles heel again for the umpteenth time. Pele, who otherwise did well, failed to challenge Halford well enough (mind you he is 6 foot 6) and his weak downward header from a punt into our box drifted aimlessly past Alby and fast asleep grandad Keily and into the bottom right hand corner. Another shocker to add to out set piece catalogue. More head tennis and charlton were clearly encouraged by their lead. But just before half time Superkev planted a beauty of a cool finish into the net off the crossbar from a great knockdown from Zolly (significantly on the right at last) and we went in not only level but looking the more controlled.
Second half were were just plain unlucky. Miller and Gera switched from the start and we were ominous at times. The slick passing at last led to so many chances and in the last 15 minutes I don't know how we didn't win the game. It speaks volumes that Charlton's McCarthy was the TV man of the match. He was immense by the way. Phillips hit two pearlers that just didn't work, Gera hit a belter of a volley against the bar and was overall fantastic, Koren was everywhere, Miller and Robbo combined over and over agin on the left. We ran them ragged frankly and let the ball do the work but it just never happened.
Bednar came on for Miller for the last 20 minutes and piled the pressure on even more. A fantastic performance of strength and power mostly on the left that begged the question why didn't he start? A good point away but a win was so so close time and time again.
A spirited and positive performance that would have yielded a good early season result but I can't help feeling that at this stage of the season this was two points dropped.
I thought we started really well, working hard and passing the ball well. We engineered some good opportunities in the first half, the only criticism I'd make is that Gera appeared to be playing left wing and Miller right. This gave us a lack of balance and although Gera did well, largely due to his excellent technical skills, Miller- reliant more on pace and power- failed t get into the game. Phillips also struggled to get into the game.
We looked solid though apart from a first minute slip from Alby that almost let Charlton in.
Then after around 30 minutes we conceded a really soft goal having battled to get on top. Set piece, back stick, no real challenge in the header and the ball bounced twice before rolling across the line. The culprits in my eyes were Pele who didn't get a strong enough challenge in (although he's ended up two on one), Alby who chose to let the ball run across him rather than deal with it although he expected the keeper to smother comfortably and Kiely who got his judgement all wrong. Mowbray must have been gutted but credit to us we took the game to them again.
We got our rewards just before half time when a long set piece from Greening was won by Gera. Phillips, anonymous for most of the game, had expertly pulled off his markers and in two touches produced a finish of international quality. Deserved and I felt we could push on in the second half.
Lining up after the break and Gera and Miller had switched wings. For pretty much the whole of the second 45 we dominated the game. It seemed like wave after wave of attack although Charlton threatened occasionally after the break. Miller and Gera were causing problems and we pushed to win the game. If you were to be critical of Mowbray, his decision to take off Miller for Bednar instead of Phillip was possibly the wrong one as Phillips' legs looked to have gone.
Try as we might the goal didn't come. Gera was very unlucky with a great volley - showing why he should never be taken off in a game we are trying to win. At the end we gathered in a huddle with Mowbray appearing to reassure the players that they'd win games playing in that way.
A final couple of thoughts:
I thought the refereeing today was nothing short of a disgrace. Ambrose managed a late foul not too different to the Moore sending off (again like Barnett with Howard last week - Robbo got up straight away rather than roll around) and two other fouls in quick succession. No booking. Gera & Greening make 1 foul a game and get booked - the latter's was followed a minute later by an identical foul by a Charlton player but no booking was given.
Late in the game a Charlton forward booted the ball away after the whistle with no booking. Phillips, aggrieved at another poor decision let his feelings known and was booked. There were other terrible decisions- like a ludicrous handball from a foot away when Hoef broke into their box that would never have been given in a million years the other way as a penalty had their defender been the victim of such a ricochet.
Pretty sick of these referees.
Secondly, I don't recall Cesar having many touches BUT we passed the ball better today than we have for a while. Is it because we had a player in the back four who could put his foot on the ball and find a simple pass to a midfielder, or head a clearance to a blue and white shirt so that we kept possession? Worth noting that I think we have a player who is proven with two promotions at this level and two decent seasons in the premier league at centre half (we went down 2 years ago because of goals scored, not against) in Clement. He's currently on loan at Hull deemed not fit enough enough to play for us, and they are grinding out results with him in the side the way we did in our last couple of successful promotion campaigns.
If we don't beat Colchester at home it's the play-off lottery but the effort today couldn't be faulted.
Really entertaining game today. Vocal support well behind the team and an excellent response from the wounded heroes of last weekend who gave everything for 90 minutes. This for me was the most heartening aspect of the whole day. We saw fight, great fitness and plenty of quality. The only thing missing was the win we thoroughly deserved.
I thought our away formation worked nicely and would expect TM to persist with this in the remaining away games, if not those at home. It's a 4-5-1 that slides effortlessly into a 4-3-3 on the break. Pele fills the fifth, defensive midfield position well. My main concern is Ishy Miller - looks outstanding at times, but he's got a two second delay every time the ball comes near him. At this level this is a considerable deficiency that won't pass muster in the premiership. His lack of pace off the ball was further underlined by Bednar's appearance. His first touch, positional sense and ability to beat the defenders was a revelation to me. He looks hot and should start the next game. I thought TM was quite right to persist with SuperKev for the full 90 minutes; he came very close to scoring more than once and had a couple of tight offsides that would have put him one-on-one with the goalie.
I'm beginning to think we can do it now though I expect it'll go down to the last game at Loftus Road just before we take the FAC.
As far as me and the boy were concerned this game didn't get off to a great start. By the time members were entitled to buy tickets we were stuck in the phone queues for Wembley - and tickets for Charlton were not available through the new improved online booking service. The irony was while we had two tickets for the Semi booked we couldn't get a ticket for Charlton!!! Eventually we thought we'd sorted it and were a little miffed to discover the promised - and paid for - tickets not being available when we got to the Valley. So we bought another pair - and then discovered we'd only managed to fill half our allocation anyway and it was free for all in terms of where to sit.
As for the game - after the other results this weekend it looks more like a point won than two lost - apart from slipping behind Hull in the short term it's still in our own hands. It sort of depends how you view the "games in hand" situation. If you think of these as the Dingles and Watford you might not fancy the 6 points - on the other hand Colchester and... well, er...it's starting to look a little tight, isn't it.
The first half was about evens - in terms of the score and the chances - in fact they had a good shout for a penalty ignored - one of a host of strange decisions from the ref. - and we could have gone in a goal down.
The second half was a matter of increased domination from the Baggies - Miller worked harder and caused their right side some problems without really suggesting a genuine threat - he really seems to lack confidence and, for someone of his size, is alarmingly easy to shove off the ball. His one cross ended up yards past the far post and beyond the reach of everyone. Once Bednar was on it was one way traffic and we should have scored two or three witrh a little luck. He holds the ball well, can beat players, can cross the ball and, as we know, can score. If you could have any criticism of TM today it was in the timing of Bednar's arrival - 10 minutes earlier and who knows.
As we left the ground the general feeling was that this was a setback - for both sides if the funereal atmosphere was anything to go by - but we're still there and - as TM says - just have to keep winning football matches.
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