Another clean sheet for the defence
While we didn’t get all three points down in East London, the fact that we recorded another shut out away from home has to be welcomed. So does the fact that our defence (supported well when needed by the industrious midfield) prevented the opposition from recording a single shot on target. We need to remember, they were the team at home rather than us, and all the stats were in our favour.
We recorded 17 shots compared to their 8, we had as many shots on target as they had altogether (8), had two-thirds of the possession with a way better passing success rate, and we had 9 corners to their one.
If we continue to play that well based on solidness at the back, we will not be far off winning the majority of the games, as long as we can keep scoring at least one.
This leads me nicely to the second talking point…
Admirable endeavour, but finishing was not good enough
The lads worked their socks off for the shirt against Charlton, but didn’t quite manage to get the ball in the onion bag. Sometimes we dont create enough chances to score, often due to the opposition playing well and preventing us from doing so, but that wasn't the case on Saturday. We simply have to improve our conversion rate if we are going to hold on to a slot in the top 6.
From the start of the game, we were on top, and if crosses as early as the first few minutes were on target we may have repeated the start we saw at Wigan. Time and again, however, we lacked the quality with the final strike or head on the ball.
Ross could have had a hat trick in the first half, and if he had taken another match ball nobody could have said he didn't deserve it. He put a header straight at the keeper in the first ten minutes and put glancing headers just wide of the post around twenty minutes and on the half-hour. Pritchard had one tipped over the bar too. Creating all these chances is of no benefit to the club however if we don’t get some of them in, and we lacked clinical levels of chance conversion for sure.
In the second half, we created chances for Cirkin, Winchester, Stewart, (with his feet this time, which was saved well), Wright and Embleton, but we simply couldn’t force it over the chalk. If we are to hang on to the playoff places, we simply have to do better than that at the business end. A bad day at the office for our strike force, yes, and a couple of good saves by their keeper, that is all it takes. This has to improve though or we can kiss the play off berths bye bye for another season.
Is the time taken to appoint Alex starting to bite us?
After the release of Johnson post-Bolton, it took the club almost two weeks to get the new coach in place. I really do think that gap that the ownership and senior management team inserted in the appointment of the new coach is now starting to impact our chances of extending the season beyond the end of April.
It is clear that Alex is starting to get the lads to play how he wants them to play of late - the performances at Wigan and Charlton are like night and day compared to those shortly after Lee left the dugout.
The issue is, if the club really didn’t knee-jerk react to Bolton away and were releasing Johnson due to a cumulation of factors, why did they not have someone ready to go a couple of days later? If Neil had been appointed in 3 days rather than about 11 or 12, the time needed to put his own stamp on the squad and the way we play would have completed sooner.
We would be where we are now with at least a couple more games to try and secure a playoff berth. If we do miss the playoff slots, the recruitment team including Speakman will have more questions to deal with. Hopefully this is a moot point, but should we miss out on playing for promotion in May, this should be reflected upon as a factor for me.
How will we manage if Pritchard is out for a spell?
The finishing wasn't great against Charlton and we did throw away two points by not scoring at least one goal against our favourite foes in Red, but the biggest concern for me was the withdrawal of Pritchard on around 74 minutes after an ankle injury.
I've seen people berate Dobson for the tackle, but for me it was more of an accident than anything, but us being without probably the best creative midfielder in this league for even a couple of games is going to add further risk and challenge to our promotion hopes.
In my notes from the match, I wrote down something that summarises his performances in recent times in an SAFC shirt - “Pritchard, 29 minutes, surrounded but untouchable”.
When surrounded by several Charlton players, he stepped, dribbled and skipped out of a dead end he had no right to exit. The ball made its way to Gooch, who put a cross in which Ross Stewart put narrowly wide of the post. Pritch is a cheat code at this level, and not having him in the team is going to be a major miss whether that is for one or two games or many more.
With every injury comes an opportunity for another player, hence this may be the time that Elliot Embleton gets his shot at shining again. He secured promotion last season while on loan so has what it takes to get up and out of this league, and his touch and shooting capabilities are excellent on a good day.
I would rather have Pritchard on the pitch with him than instead of him though, as he has emerged as a real leader too, when others (even those given the armband) have often left the team wanting in terms of leadership by example.
Nathan’s return was a positive surprise
One of the other major plus points was the surprise return of Nathan Broadhead against Charlton. Given his last injury was hamstring related, most fans would have expected him to spend some minutes with the under 23s before being launched back into first-team action, but he was dropped straight in, and did very well.
If it wasn't for the fact that Charlton clearly came to their home patch for a draw, showing no intent to attack and putting 7 or 8 men in the box to block pretty much every sniff of a shot Nathan had, he would have scored on his return. He was swift, evasive, and a great foil for Ross, but like the big man he couldn’t quite get his chances converted.
It is fantastic to have the Everton loanee back though, and with him and an ever fitter Defoe available for this run in, we surely have the firepower to out score most teams in this league? Let's hope so.
We can still make the playoffs but this week is crucial to that...
The other main negative about this weekend was the way the scores played out around us. All the teams from 2nd down to 5th won, with only Wednesday (directly above us in 6th) and runaway leaders Rotherham losing.
We simply have to build on this “positive but not quite there” performance and take maximum points in these next two games at home, against Fleetwood and Crewe. Nothing less than 6 points will do.
Yes, we are still in touch with the playoff spots but Plymouth are only one point behind us with 2 games in hand. Sheffield Wednesday may have lost, but they are a point ahead of us with one game in hand.
In my view, we need a minimum of 10 points from the 12 available in our next 4 games, and one of those is Rotherham at home. The matches against The Millers, Oxford and Plymouth between now and the 18th of April are very likely to determine whether we get the chance to play footy in May or not. We simply have to do well against those around us to succeed.
It’s crunch time… let’s hope we continue to build and improve, and that a couple of sides around us start to wobble. We may well need that.