Saga of failure on the road continues

THE tale of two Towns was very much in evidence once more as Jim Magilton's side rode into the Valley of Death.The carefree team that does so well at home turned into a nervous, mistaken-ridden and woeful group at Charlton who only came alive once they were three goals down and Pablo Counago went on to inspire them.

By Derek Davis

THE tale of two Towns was very much in evidence once more as Jim Magilton's side rode into the Valley of Death.

The carefree team that does so well at home turned into a nervous, mistaken-ridden and woeful group at Charlton who only came alive once they were three goals down and Pablo Counago went on to inspire them.

Why Counago didn't start only the manager can tell. When asked he simply replied that he always picks the team he feels will go out against a particular opposition and win.

It has not worked in 15 attempts away from home going back to last March when they beat a truly dreadful Luton side that went on to be relegated.

Magilton berated his players after Saturday's match, saying he will be looking to sell a few, if he could find a club to take them, and bring in the right sort of characters.

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These are the players Magilton has already brought to Portman Road or handed new contracts to.

These are the players he spends all week with, training and preparing for a game.

These are the players he motivates, or not, before a game.

While it is true that once they cross the white line it is down to the players, it is down to the manager to make sure they are the right players, prepared in the right way.

The toll is beginning to show and you can see the fear in some players who are petrified of making a mistake: They glance nervously towards the bench whenever an error is made.

Yes, they improved in the second half after a half-time team talk, just as they did at Bristol City last week, Cardiff before that - and so it goes on. But that's not good enough.

They are not performing well and no wonder the Blues supporters chanted 'What a load of rubbish' as they traipsed in at half time.

It was not as if Charlton were particularly fearsome at The Valley either after winning just once there in six attempts.

They have been good away though, winning their past four matches without conceding a goal.

So Alan Pardew used the same players and same formation at home looking to change their fortunes in front of their own supporters.

It worked. The only variance was to put skipper Andy Reid wide left and allow former Town youngster Darren Ambrose to operate freely through the middle.

And how he enjoyed the space and time given to him by a leaden-footed Town midfield and static defence.

The Addicks scored after just six minutes when Lloyd Sam took advantage of the space on Town's left and found Matt Holland, who had plenty of time to pick out an unmarked Ambrose to nod in from close range.

Ambrose had the decency not to over-celebrate in front of the disillusioned 3,000 travelling Town fans but it didn't stop him scoring his second and Charlton's third.

Danny Mills, a hate figure among Town supporters yet a defender of the mould that the Blues could so do with, played a long searching ball from his own half.

As Town stood off him, Reid laid the ball off for Ambrose, whose sharp shot beat Neil Alexander from 22 yards.

In between those was a goal from Chris Iwleumo, the former Colchester United striker who has a home near Ipswich.

He scored the softest of goals after Alexander completely misjudged a Reid corner and the big Scot got away from Jason De Vos to nudge the ball in from close range.

It could have been worse before the break with Sam going close and Reid hitting over the bar.

Magilton had already replaced a flu-stricken Gavin Williams, by no means the worst player on show, with Counago and at half-time threw on Danny Haynes and Sito Castro

Counago showed he had the stomach for the battle and won a penalty after being scythed down by Jonathan Fortune.

Unfortunately Alan Lee took the penalty instead of Tommy Miller, who has never missed one in his life, and the wretched shot summed up Lee's contribution, making it easy for Nicky Weaver to save.

To compound matters Lee made a complete hash of the follow-up too.

Lee has not played well for some time now, especially away from Portman Road, yet the highest-paid player in the side seems immune to retribution.

He did play a part in Counago's cracking goal but only in as much as he played the ball into the area.

The Spaniard still had a lot to do with the poor pass but, with his back to goal, he retrieved the ball, controlled with his left foot before cleverly back-heeling it home with his right.

It was a stunning strike.

Counago had also contributed to a chance for the lively Haynes when his shot was blocked and it bounced up for the former Charlton youngster but he could only head against the bar.

As Town enjoyed their resurgence Charlton still looked a danger on the break.

Holland, making his 150th appearance for the Addicks and the first time he has played against Town since leaving them, saw Alexander push his low drive onto a post.

Alan Pardew's side had two shouts for a penalty, once when Williams cleared and the other when Fabian Wilnis deflected an Ambrose shot behind.

The referee initially awarded against the Dutchman but after consulting an assistant rightly gave a corner.

The official Neal Swarbrick, who was a late replacement for an injured Clive Penton, was in action after blowing the final whistle when he red-carded Fortune for a right hook to Lee's face that Ricky Hatton would have been proud off.

Town need to start showing the same sort of fight from the opening whistle at games or mid-table mediocrity beckons because they can't keep relying on their tremendous home run to keep them away from trouble.

They now play that all-important game in hand against Leicester City in a streak of three home matches and this could prove a defining period for Town this season. It could also decide the future careers of many of Magilton's players.

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