I suggested on Saturday morning that City fans should adopt The Proclaimers “I’m on my way, I’m on my way, from misery to happiness today”. It’s a good tune that works well the other way around too.
The decision to travel early and enjoy a stroll around central London seemed a good one on Friday. It became a tad regretful when the big town started to resemble Mumbai in a heatwave. It made whizzing around underground uncomfortable but wasn’t the only issue with the over-ground journey. Due to the previous train being cancelled, about half a million people were waiting for a single train to get from London Bridge to Charlton.
When it finally turned up it was like a scene out of a Palin documentary. There were people on the roof, hanging on the back and everything. It took three attempts to shut the doors and guards were whistling like they were in St. Trinians. I found it mind boggling but I believe the locals call this “Everyday”.
The last time I went to the Valley the highlight of the game was an epic thunderstorm at half time. By the time we reached the break in this one – that was the highlight of two visits.
Moses Odubajo – Michael Dawson – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – Tom Huddlestone – David Meyler – Sone Aluko
Nikica Jelavic – Chuba Akpom
The first half is a non-event. City strolled through it like some of those early games at World Cup USA ’94 putting in a minimum of effort. Charlton were busier and showed more commitment and in that case should be quite worried because they’re not very good. Even against a side playing within itself. They’ve put together a squad of good athletes but are short on quality apart from Johann Berg Gudmondsson who is a lovely footballer. City were credited with an interest in him early in the window and he would add something to our midfield with his movement and desire to play forward every time.
Like Fulham on Wednesday, they had a big target man in the Dane Simon Makienok but they unashamedly made much better use of him and he won a lot of balls. They weren’t that impressive though and their manager Luzon wasn’t happy. He was storming around his technical area in a luminous yellow shirt and lycra trousers looking like a Marathon runner who hung around. Steve Bruce on the other hand looks like a Marathon eater.
A guy near me is moaning early that Bruce has come for a nil-nil. I’m not particularly fond of Bruce these days but I can’t agree with that. We came away from home with two wingers, two strikers and two attacking full backs. That’s not at all negative. The play was. There was no offer in midfield for defenders on the ball and no movement wide or up front. Bruce is culpable for plenty but he doesn’t force that level of ambivalence once the whistle goes.
They created a couple of opportunities attacking down our right. Once when Odubajo slipped but managed to get something on the ball to hold up Bergdich and Dawson retrieved the situation and then again when Dawson, otherwise marvellous, mis-timed a sliding challenge and Odubajo and then Davies got him out of trouble. The game wasn’t helped by their constant rolling around “injured”. It would be a bit obvious and old-fashioned to suggest a team of random foreigners like to feign injury a lot but I’m saying it anyway. Charlton missed the best chance of the half when Cousins volleyed wide with his left foot after the ref tackled Tom Huddlestone. You know you’re a carthorse when you can’t even play around the ref. A group of neutrals behind us (who seemed to know half the Charlton youngsters from school but supported City) commented at one point “Didn’t Huddlestone used to shoot?” Dunno when they last watched him.
Half time: Charlton Athletic 0 Hull City 0
At half time Alex Bruce runs over towards the City fans to retrieve a ball. No-one applauds him but he instinctively applauds back. He gets one pity clap. I like Alex but that was painful. And funny.
There are no subs at half time so nothing changes. Patrick Bauer forces a long delay when he dislocates his finger. The ref stops the game and cops fury from the away end. They also treat the player on the pitch despite it being a finger injury. That goes down well. Between that, six subs and some cramp (seriously) it leads to eight minutes of stoppage time. But don’t worry, I’m sure this won’t be like Blackpool away on Caleb Folan’s debut. Honest.
A long ball from Dawson is flicked on by Akpom and Jelavic is alive to it but the defender blocks his volley. It’s the first link between them all afternoon. Is it the start of an improvement? No, because Charlton immediately scored. Gudmonsson crossed from their right and Makienok got in front at the near post to power a header beyond McGregor [1-0]. I made that the first time we’d been behind this season.
The cross comes in too easily again. Robertson got nowhere near him. I’ve fallen out of love with our young Scot and his “potential”. He can’t defend. His positioning is appalling and he cannot stop crosses. He doesn’t even try. I’ve accepted it for a while because of the “attacking threat” but that’s non-existent. Four times he was played into great crossing positions in this game. The first after Meyler fed him following a reasonable City move was massively over-hit, the second was under-hit and the other two hit Cousins. He was useless.
They should have gone two in front very quickly. A long ball forward puts Gudmondsson in on goal after Robertson slips but McGregor is out quickly, stays on his feet and saves brilliantly. Bruce responds (finally) by hooking Huddlestone for Hayden. Almost immediately we look livelier and Akpom forces the first save from the goalkeeper Nick Pope. His namesake Francis has had a more strenuous afternoon – pottering around the Vatican or whatever it is he does.
The sub of Hernandez for Akpom is long overdue and improved us further. Hernandez not only holds the ball up better but he makes runs which threaten defenders, into the wide areas and in behind. The subs took too long to come but they changed our mentality for the third game in a row. The subs themselves are players who haven’t necessarily impressed when starting so I can’t explain why they make such a difference in short stints. Hernandez curled a shot just wide from the right hand side and Aluko, who woke up after an hour, shot wide twice and produced a cross with some excellent skill on the left.
With about seven to play, Jelavic misses a sitter when he only connects with his shoulder from Hayden’s arrowed delivery form the left. That looks like the big chance and then when Hayden drives from midfield and thumps a low shot against the post the sinking feeling gets deeper. Fortunately Clucas, on for Robertson, retrieves the ball and feeds Hayden whose shot is spilled to Hernandez and he pokes it home and gets booked for his jump into the City fans [1-1].
The eight minutes are added and we think Hernandez has won it. City move the ball quickly and find Aluko in the area on the left. He turns down an opportunity to shoot, cuts in side and lifts a ball into the box were Hernandez plants a header over Pope. The offside flag halts the wild celebrations and a couple of minutes later the City fans are miserable again. We clear a corner and then when it comes back in, Jelavic panics and boots into touch. The throw in leads to a diagonal cross to Makienok whose pulled Dawson and Odubajo wide and when he heads down we have the horror of realising that Gudmondsson has raced into the box unchallenged and he heads past McGregor [2-1]. It’s a sickener. The replay on the big screen shows Davies reacting too late to the run.
Full time: Charlton Athletic 0 Hull City 0
It’s what we deserved in truth but it wasn't easier to take knowing that. Only City can get themselves into a position to nick a point they don’t warrant, almost win the thing, and then ensure justice is done. Perhaps our sportsmanship should be rewarded?
Overall we’ve made a solid start to the season but we’ve not played well for ninety minutes yet. They picked up almost all of the second balls for the first hour and that’s never a coincidence. It’s either attitude or aptitude and in this case – both. The core of a good squad is obvious for all to see but Huddlestone and Jelavic have to go. They’re not Championship players. They’re big-time Charlies who either can’t or won’t put in the sheer bloody effort this division demands. I’m glad I’m not making the effort to go to Brighton and Cardiff next month because if teams have a bit of quality to add to their willingness to outwork us – it could get messy.
Misery 1 Happiness 0.