Saturday, 15 May 2010

A View From The Stratton Bank End

I had two and a bit hours drive home from Swindon yesterday to muse over what I had just seen. In some respects, rather than find myself growing more and more anxious, I think I’m becoming more relaxed as the last remaining minutes of football are played out this season. As the required and desired outcome of this Play-Off Semi-Final becomes ever-more clear and obvious, so I become more focused on it without the nervous tension surrounding a multitude of probabilities and what if’s. That last sentence may not appear to make any sense, but it does to me! I don’t believe this is an indication, however, that I’m subconsciously preparing myself for impending failure. My conclusion following last nights game should be the same as Addicks all over; this tie is a long way from dead.

In fact, it was a far easier ride home than the outward journey to Wiltshire. For me, we have overcome a hugely difficult hurdle in getting this tricky away leg out of the way without the unthinkable scenario that the game Monday night could well have been academic. Those who saw the game would have realised that Swindon posed far more threat in front of goal, and other than a bit of good fortune mixed in with some quality goalkeeping from Randolph, this tie could very well be over. Thankfully, it is not, and although a 2-1 reverse is not ideal, it is far from a mountain to climb. That last statement will not be lost on the Swindon management, either. Swindon will go in to Monday’s game as favorites with the all the added pressure that brings and it will be interesting to see how they cope with that.

In reality, I doubt there were many Addicks who would have been brave enough to have predicted a victory yesterday. I would have settled for a score draw. Swindon is a decent footballing side who has shown steady form all season. They have some bright young stars - of which Charlie Austin stands out - who are managed by one of the more underrated, knowledgeable and experienced managers around. I think it fair to say that they have had an excellent season and will arguably be very disappointed not to make the Play-Off Final and compete for the remaining promotion place. Our season may have been less consistent or convincing in places, but over the 46 games we have earned the right to compete in this end of season, winner-takes-all mini-tournament and we remain capable of out-scoring Swindon over these two legs. Of that I remain convinced.

I won’t offer general player analysis from last night. Others will do a far better job of summerising the performance than me, not least of all as I have always found it difficult to really get a feel of the general pattern of games from behind the goal (I sit overlooking the half way line at the Valley). All I would say is I felt the gamble to play Sam Sodje clearly never worked. He looked like a man conscious of the limitations of whatever injury he has, and his performance suffered because of it. I don’t think it was coincidence that we looked a little vulnerable at the back at times. For me, Sam Sodje is an ‘all or nothing’ player, and Parky has a very tough choice to make for the second leg.

So on to the Valley. If the reports are correct, we are likely to get close to a sell-out. There are few things better than big games played out under floodlight in SE7. I fully expect the Charlton players to raise their game and play with the sort of confidence you’d expect from a home side (as Swindon showed last night) and an early goal for the Addicks would set things up nicely. There will always be debates about whether it is better to be at home or away first in these two-legged affairs. I think last night’s scoreline highlights to me the importance of home advantage in the second leg. If I was waking up as a Swindon fan this morning, I would be rightly pleased with the victory (and performance), but nervous that those missed opportunities may well prove critical with a daunting trip to the Valley to come. A first leg victory is most welcome, of course, but they are difficult to celebrate to any great degree with so much left to play for. The ‘Wembley’ chants from the Swindon fans seemed a tad premature to me (although, understandable to some degree by the nature of football fans)

So, in short, our entire season has come down to 90 mins of football in which we start the game with a goal disadvantage.

I remain hopeful…

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