Functional Football: Imps 0-0 Charlton Athletic

Credit Graham Burrell

As I left the ground yesterday, multiple people stopped me to ask how I’d possibly write the game up. Luckily, as I was out for the evening, I had time to think about it and plan.

I’ve still no idea.

On the face of it, yesterday’s result is a decent one. Charlton have got a lot of talent and players who should be producing so much more than they are. Scott Fraser was one of the best midfielders at this level whilst at MK Dons; George Dobson was the same when he was with Walsall, and we know about McGrandles and Jack Payne, and they don’t even make the starting XI. Jayden Stockley is an old hand who’d be excellent in a defensive 5-4-1, which we played yesterday, acting as the target man. They’ve got pace out wide as well; they should be a top team. When you consider that, putting aside the fact they were poor, a draw seems decent.

We kept a clean sheet at home. We didn’t lose the game, so it’s another point on the board. We never looked in danger, and the back five had good games, rarely putting a foot wrong, restricting Charlton to one effort on target (which I will cover, Addicks fans). All in all, 50% of the game plan worked perfectly. Unfortunately, it was just really difficult to watch because not a great amount actually happened.

Credit Graham Burrell

On the way to the game, Pathway Chris and I spoke about possible formations, and I suggested playing three central defenders at home is a good way to go if you have attacking full backs, like Cohen Bramall, for instance. Our full backs, both solid players in their own right, are more defensive-minded. That’s why I just couldn’t see us going with three defenders. Shows what I know, but then I also expected a bit of a goal fest.

When the team got announced, I felt we’d gone with the strongest midfield we have when operating a two; Virtue and Sanders would be my picks to play with Davenport when he’s fit, especially when the likes of Tashan can be brought on to positively impact a game in the later stages. There was no surprise Mandroiu started, he looked committed but didn’t get a lot of joy, and Diamond is a shoo-in. It felt like our strongest side bar, perhaps, Tom Hopper, who would be my preference when we play this formation – he gives a focal point for a long ball forward, something Ben House probably doesn’t. It felt like a team we’d picked to ensure we didn’t lose the game.

That’s exactly what it was. After about 15 minutes, I messaged my Dad, poorly at home with Covid, to tell him it had 0-0 written all over it. I even took the decision to tweet at half time (usually the catalyst for me being proven wrong), but in this case, I felt absolutely certain. The game just never took off, it never got me really interested or engaged; dare I say, for 80 minutes or more, I was bored stiff.

Credit Graham Burrell

Fundamentally, we weren’t that bad. We gave almost nothing away, no silly mistakes, and aside from one moment, I never felt Charlton would score. Sadly, I never felt we would either, not until a couple of minutes before half time and then again in stoppage time. We had a few corners, they had a few corners, and it was all just so flat. If anything, it felt like an end-of-season game where both teams were safe and were going through the motions. That’s not to say that there was no commitment; there was, but there was just no spark. Football is an odd sport because fans go wanting to be entertained, but some of the most successful teams do exactly the opposite. Mourinho’s Chelsea was boring and tough to watch, but they won things. It’s not a crime setting up not to get beaten, and when the opposition is laden with talent, it might even be a good way to keep adding to the points total, but it’s just not a great watch.

The most interesting moment of the half came on 30 minutes when we didn’t deal with a throw up the field, and Charlton got their one break on goal. Leaburn’s effort was poor, but Rushworth let in squirm under his body before he scrambled back to retrieve it before it went over the line. Was it in? I’m convinced it was, I’ve watched it back and despite the angle, I think we might have got away with one. What didn’t help Charlton was referee Robert Lewis colliding with one of their players and getting injured. He went down before the ball crossed the line and confusion ensued. It felt for a moment like he might give the goal, but the assistant referee hadn’t flagged and after a short break, play resumed. Not for Lewis though; he was brought off for Abbas Khan, an assistant referee who I don’t think has officiated a Football League game before. I thought he did alright, we’ve had much worse, and it must be a huge ask to be watching one minute and in the thick of the action the next.

Credit Graham Burrell

I say ‘thick of the action’, but that suggests there was action to be in the thick of. The next moment of any note was right before half time when we took a long throw (yes, a long throw) and Mandroiu struck a firm effort at goal from the flick-on. It was the best chance of the half (the only real chance for us) and a smart save. It does make me wonder why we don’t employ a long throw a bit more; if we’re three at the back send O’Connor up to flick it on, keep a couple back and see what happens. I’ve seen teams destroy us with long a throw in the past, so why not try it ourselves? At least it created a moment for fans to enjoy.