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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 22/12/01
Wolverhampton Wanderers
By Martin Blanc

Watching this game was a reward for ministering to my two sick children while they emitted green and yellow fluids and solids from both ends, for the past two days. Frankly, if we'd been playing Norwich, I don't think I could have stomached it. But allowed out by my wife, at the possible expense of an Arsenal ticket in a couple of weeks, I hoped against hope that the Charlton spirit would see us right against a team everyone knows are unlikely to finish as low as seventh yet again.

We started purposefully: within the first two minutes a double or treble attack had yielded goal attempts from seemingly all but Alec Chamberlain. And the forward play remained neat for another five minutes, until we were a goal down to a move that few other defences with pretensions to the play-off spots would have succumbed to. It wasn't an error-strewn, comedic event, just a scything ball played to the far post that none of the back however-many-were-around could reach before Newton nodded it into the net.

Heads don't drop when this happens any more: but that's only because there's a weariness about the team's entire body language as they troop back to restart. I'd love to unearth some statistics on how often we concede first, and compare it to other teams and their results. (You can prove anything with statistics, and I don't know what I'd be trying to argue - I barely passed O-level maths, never mind something as esoteric as stats.) I just think it maybe takes its toll when it happens as often as it feels like it's happening to the Horns. (And why is it happening? But that's another issue.) Nonetheless, we went about our business, all signs of penetration being snuffed out by a gradual slowing of midfield anticipation over the 50-50 balls, so that by the half-hour mark, they were all basically 75-25 balls against, and the only way we were going to get back into it was with a Christmas gift. Even Tommy Smith couldn't just slam in a shot once he was put into the six-yard box with a defender challenging. He felt the need for a second touch and the ball and the chance were gone.

But lo and behold, there was a gift in the offing. An optimistic rather than a scything cross, but Naylor presumably took his eye off the ball, he headed air, and the ball landed at Tommy's feet once again, eight or ten yards out. Time stands still at moments like that. We're all in the zone with Tommy. He trapped it, cued it up, and unleashed it, and Oakes still got a touch. But thankfully it was travelling at a rate of knots to reach the back of the net before too long.

We were on the comeback trail. The rest of the half felt even, although there was always the question of threat. We weren't threatening and Wolves were. What do you do about that, when the front two you know are the best you have, and they're learning from one of the best there ever was? It's got to be the midfield, giving more support, and endeavour...but in the second half it wasn't until Allan Neilsen came off the bench that we seemed to up our workrate, and by this point we'd enjoyed/endured a miss of the season - Blake one yard out, two if you're being charitable, facing the goal as the ball came to his feet and he steered it wide of the post in the direction it had been crossed from. An achievement, unquestionably, but not one on which we could build.

To say we didn't look like scoring sums it up. Sure, we could have nicked one, but we weren't bossing the game in any department. Except perhaps in Lucky Escapes. I'm sure it was Muscat who hit the post from twenty yards, though some reports said it was Lescott. And there were others. We had nothing as memorable, nothing as close, once we could get into the Wolves area. Plenty of build-up but not much delivery, and the times someone rang the doorbell, there was no-one home to sign for it. Of course, one ought to mention the defence's ability to keep out what was thrown at them: a welcome continuance of recent form, and for once you dared to hope (and not in vain) that Vega could remain upright and impassable, as Cox also was.

So not really two points dropped then, more a point banked and let's move on. Let's give a start to Noble, see what he can conjure at Selhurst Park. Let's give Gayle a rest on the left. Let's conjure something that keeps the upward momentum going, and maybe that in itself will create as strong a team as we absolutely need to be to do anything like damage to the teams currently above us.