Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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Anti-Vardy Helps Down Dover

A little over three years ago, Danny Haynes provided one of the best moments I’ve experienced as a Charlton supporter. His audacious volley, dipping over a stranded Kasper Schmeichel, giving the Addicks a stunning victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.

An incredible win at the time, but one that has arguably become more special given the two different directions the clubs have headed in since. Charlton in complete crisis; Leicester closing in on being champions of England. It feels like an entire era has passed since Yann Kermorgant’s’ second silencing act, Haynes’ stunner, and Chris Powell’s side inflicting defeat upon the hosts at the King Power.

Much has also changed for some of the protagonists involved in February 2013. Johnnie Jackson and Chris Solly the only Addicks in the squad that night that remain at the club, Ben Hamer now a Fox, and Jamie Vardy’s non-league to international fairytale story greatly developed from the time it was stalling on Leicester’s bench.

And if it is Vardy, from unused substitute to England goalscorer, who has grown more than anyone that was involved at the KP three years ago, then maybe we can call Haynes the anti-Vardy.

Not quite international to part-time footballer, but from filling me with joy by scoring a sensational winner at the soon-to-be Premier League winners to inflicting misery upon me with a goal in victory for Boreham Wood against Dover Athletic, my non-league team of choice.

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Haynes, on loan at the National League strugglers from Peter Varney’s Ebbsfleet, appeared unmarked at the back post in first-half stoppage-time to head home and add to Jamie Lucas’ third minute well-taken goal at Meadow Park.

Lucas, capitalising on a defensive mix-up between goalkeeper Mitch Walker and defender Richard Orlu, was able to add a third with nine minutes to play, sealing a win for Boreham Wood as unlikely as Charlton’s at Leicester in 2013.

Dover unbeaten in five, occupying a play-off position, and coming into the game after a 5-0 thrashing of Torquay on Saturday, while Boreham Wood were without a win in five, found themselves in the bottom four prior to kick-off, and had been hammered 4-1 by leaders Cheltenham Town on Friday.

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But it was certainly not an undeserved win for the hosts, nor a margin of victory that didn’t reflect the difference in quality between the two sides over the course of the 90 minutes. An attendee without knowledge of the National League would have assumed it was Boreham Wood attempting to cling onto a play-off spot, and Dover attempting to avoid falling into the sixth tier of English football.

The contrast between the two sides apparent from the start, or at least after Haynes, playing on the left wing, had slipped while attempting to control a punt up field from kick-off. Wood’s third minute strike not a fortunate goal against the run of play, but setting the tempo of the game.

Full-back Ben Nunn picking up possession in his own half and allowed to bomb forward unchallenged, the ball worked to Clovis Kamdjo, and a static Dover defence effectively watching on as Lucas turned the flamboyantly-haired midfielder’s low delivery beyond Walker.

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The hosts exploiting a sort of unorganised defending that Charlton would be proud of, and continuing to do so once the game restarted. Boreham Wood, pressing in a structured fashion when out of possession and breaking with pace and strength having regained the ball, easily able to pick off the loose touches and wayward passes of the usually influential Nicky Deverdicks in midfield, while constantly leaving Dover’s backline in a state of panic. Kamdjo picked out in space on the edge of the box, but unable to keep his strike down.

So it was against the run of play that the visitors created a decent opening of their own. Ricky Miller breaking into the box, with Ricky Modeste screaming for a pass to his right, only to drag a shot tamely wide.

A sign, though, that Dover still had the quality to get back into this game. A threat of sorts certainly existing down either flank, with Modeste and Craig Braham-Barrett lively, but a final ball was lacking.

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Boreham Wood’s deliveries, however, were providing much greater concern to their opposition’s backline. A chip to the back post from Haynes, growing into the game but yet to make a real impression, vitally intercepted by Jack Parkinson with a forward lurking.

And further worry was provided to visiting supporters as Modeste, battling with goalkeeper James Russell to meet a Braham-Barrett cross, immediately held his hamstring having hauled himself up off the floor. His afternoon over, and Tom Murphy on to replace him.

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The enforced change certainly not helping Dover to settle. A Boreham Wood player clumsily brought to ground in the middle as Sean Raggett desperately hacking a Haynes ball across the face of goal away, but the referee showed no interest.

Nor did the official as Kamdjo broke into the box from out wide, and appeared to be quite obviously tripped by Chris Kinnear Junior’s outstretched leg as he entered the box. The visitors incredibly fortunate to still only be trailing by one, and thankful once again moments later as Haynes could only produce a tame shot straight at Walker after an excellent run.

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But it would not be long, although long enough for the referee to be injured and need to be replaced by his female assistant, before the former Addick would show a great deal more potency.

Again, it was a goal that could have been avoided were it not for slack Dover defending. Those in blue seemingly content to watch an overhit cross go out of play, but Conor Clifford was able to keep the delivery in play with relative ease, and calmly pick out an unmarked Haynes at the back post. He need only cushion the ball towards goal to double his side’s lead and score his second since joining Boreham Wood on loan.

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Not quite that goal at Leicester, but an important one in the context of this game.

Particularly with Dover, though still not anywhere near the sort of quality you would expect, starting the second period with some intent. Stefan Payne’s curling effort from the edge of the box denied by a stunning save from Russell, before beating the goalkeeper only for the referee to adjudge there had been a foul in the build-up. Dubious, but the sexist comments towards an official that was controlling the game very well completely unnecessary.

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In fact, the more questionable decision making belonged to those in Dover shirts. Braham-Barrett’s low drive from a tight angle blocked off by Russell when a pullback might have been the better option, and excellent hold up play from Payne tainted by his resulting strike skimming harmlessly across the face of goal.

And though these chances were promising, certainly in comparison to their efforts in the first half, time was not on Dover’s side. Twenty minutes to play as Nunn turned a corner goalwards, only for Walker to save with confidence and keep the visitors in the game.

But that they remained in the game seemed to matter little when they were so timid when in the final third, and struggled to find ways past a defiant and still well-organised Boreham Wood backline. Deverdicks seemingly always looking for a pass that wasn’t there, and Murphy’s deliveries were not pleasant.

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Even when Dover thought they might have found a way through, the hosts recovered. Scott Doe hacking a goalbound ball clear after Russell spilled under pressure from Payne, before the goalkeeper again denied the forward in superb fashion, tipping his header over the bar.

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A solace of sorts could be found in the genuine discomfort voiced around me whenever Haynes carried the ball forward, as he continued to cause a threat with a little over ten minutes to play. An attempt to replicate a slightly less spectacular version of his goal against Derby, cutting in and lifting the ball towards the top corner, not too far away. The former Addick then subbed with his hamstrings still intact.

Dover’s pride, however, was certainly not left intact. For Walker, as composed and confident as anyone wearing a Dover shirt, somehow managed to spill the ball having come to collect as Orlu attempted to hold off Lucas. The forward, unable to believe his luck, tapping into an empty net and leaving Walker crestfallen.

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A complete mess that reflected Dover’s efforts throughout the game. It would have been four had a through-on-goal Kamdjo not seen his strike well blocked by Orlu, but further embarrassment was to come as Murphy, having been brought on earlier in the contest, was withdrawn with five minutes to play. Many others in Dover colours lucky to be seeing out 90 minutes.

But while they had unquestionably been dire, with regular watchers suggesting this was Dover’s worst performance of the season, it would be wrong to suggest that is the only reason Boreham Wood recorded such an emphatic victory.

Their game plan, keep it tight at the back, battle hard in midfield and exploit an uncomfortable defence on the break, was incredibly effective. Even in those second-half moments when Dover applied pressure, Boreham Wood’s backline had a commendable resolve about it, and the visitors were allowed no time on the ball on the edge of the box.

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In contrast, of course, to Dover’s defensive efforts. Second to every loose ball, giving the opposition far too much space and time on the ball, and far too nervy to suggest their backline was anything like resolute. The conceding of three completely avoidable goals through defensive sloppiness about right.

You hope, particularly if they are to maintain their play-off place, that this was merely a one-off horror show that I have been unfortunately subjected to.

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Maintaining, however, is something I hope one player that featured at Meadow Park doesn’t do. Not only because he scored against Dover, but there was a bittersweet feeling about seeing Haynes, who provided some other enjoyable moments in a very likeable Charlton side, play once again.

A player capable of doing things like he did for the Addicks in the Championship should not be playing at this level at just 28.

The reason why he’s representing Boreham Wood is relatively obvious. His horrendous injury record, which not only harms his chances of playing but so too his ability. Each hamstring strain will have made him weaker.

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And he was not mesmerising or a class above, like he probably should have been, but he played very well. There is still a decent amount of quality there, and I do hope he can return to the Football League.

While Vardy has been given an opportunity to fulfil his potential, you can’t help but feel that maybe Haynes’ situation means potential has been left unfulfilled. Not to the same extent, obviously, but I find it incredibly frustrating that a player who gave me lots of thrills hasn’t had the career he should have.

At the very least, as Vardy, a man who watched his match-winning volley from Leicester’s bench, continues to rise, I hope Haynes can at least halt his fall. Like almost every player that featured in *the* Chris Powell sides, I appreciate him.

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Excellent Dover Increase Hopes of Downing Eagles

Few things would please Charlton fans more than Alan Pardew’s first game in charge of Crystal Palace ending in an embarrassing FA Cup defeat to lower league opposition.

And on the basis of today’s showing from their opposition, it’s not an impossibility that the Eagles will crash out of the cup.

For Dover Athletic, the non-league club I have something of a soft spot for, were excellent in their 2-0 win over Welling United at Park View Road.

Of course, even with the home advantage the Whites will have when they welcome Palace on Sunday, beating a very poor Welling and overcoming Premier League opposition are two completely different things.

And the performance itself, however good, isn’t enough to give a real indication that Dover may well have it in them to cause an upset.

It’s more the fact that Chris Kinnear’s side are playing with confidence and self-belief; the sort needed to put in a once in a lifetime performance and beat a club operating four divisions higher.

The two goal victory means it’s now a staggering 16 games unbeaten for the Whites; a run made all the more impressive considering they were tipped for an immediate return to the Conference South having achieved a somewhat unlikely promotion through the play-offs last season.

Unlike some clubs who are promoted to the Conference, their rise has not been supported by a wealthy backer. In fact, some of their better players left the club before last season to join former assistant boss Steve Brown at Ebbsfleet; Dover unable to compete with the finances they have available.

And that relative lack of funds is part of the reason they were expected to struggle in England’s fifth tier. While Eastleigh, promoted alongside Dover, can attract James Counstable, the Whites’ summer additions were less glamorous. Players let go by other non-league clubs made up the majority of their signings, and make up the majority of their squad in general.

But the win at Park View Road has moved Dover 17 points clear of the bottom three, and only four behind fifth place Eastleigh. With relegation now unlikely, an extension of this unbeaten run will start to make supporters believe a challenge for a play-off place isn’t completely out of the question. Nonetheless, all but securing their Conference status in January is a huge success in itself.

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I wouldn’t have expected to be able to say that after the last time I had the opportunity to watch the side who are effectively my second club in action. Their FA Cup run began at Eastbourne Borough, and it was gruesome.

Defensively, Dover were sound. Eastbourne unable to break down a solid back four. But going forward, there was absolutely nothing. It made Charlton look like a potent attacking force.

With no composure in midfield, the passing erratic and a final delivery non-existent, not that a good delivery would have made a difference with dubiously labelled forward Jake Reid outrageously bad, a goalless draw followed.

And although Dover progressed through the replay, I still feared for them. They looked like not only a side without the calmness in possession, pace and penetration to score goals, but also one that lacked confidence. You could predict from the opening 20 minutes or so at Eastbourne no goals would be scored.

So even with the knowledge of their recent results in mind, which actually include a few victories thrown away late on, and the tameness of Welling, I was still shocked by just how well Dover played, and by how confident they appeared.

A part of it came from a change in personnel. The ineffective lump Reid replaced by Stefan Payne, a pacey and hardworking forward who is perfect for Dover’s sometimes direct football, while Barry Cogan, who only made a sub appearance at Eastbourne, provided a calmness in midfield.

But there was a clear change in attitude, and a change in style.

Against Eastbourne it was less long ball football, more random punts forward in order to bypass a woeful midfield. In the first half against Welling, you could almost accuse Dover of overplaying at times.

For the Whites, completely dominating the central battle, often found themselves comfortably in control of possession in the final third, but opted to look for another pass when a delivery into the box might have been more appropriate.

In fact, Dover’s best chances came when the ball was sent forward early. Payne running onto a long ball and just shooting over the bar, before the forward turned provider, crossing for Cogan to head wide.

Nonetheless, it was fantastic to see the visitors playing so well. Nicky Deverdics and Tom Murphy, who ran forward with intent whenever the ball was played to him, among the constant bright sparks for Dover.

So when the two sides went in at the break level, it was somewhat difficult to know how Dover hadn’t managed to turn their possession into a goal or two. Wondering how they hadn’t scored a complete contrast from wondering how they were going to score at half-time in the Eastbourne match.

In the first 15 minutes of the second-half, it was a similar story. Dover playing superbly, the midfield dominating and the occasional opening being created, but still the crucial goal proved elusive.

A side without confidence may have grown frustrated, but the Whites continued to play. In search of that goal, the ball was put into the box more quickly, resulting in a half-chance or two, but they still knocked the ball around with authority.

And finally, just past the hour mark, Dover got the goal their performance deserved. A corner turned in emphatically from Sean Raggett giving the Whites, given Welling’s lack of threat, a lead that would result in victory.

But Dover still had work to do. Part of Welling’s lack of threat was owing to how strong the backline they were up against was. Four strong, old fashioned defenders that, led by centre-back Richard Orlu, operate right on the border of fair play.

On the one occasion Orlu, who Dover fans dream of a team of, was beaten, Kieron St Aimie’s shot was superbly blocked by Tom Bonner. Such strength, determination and application at the back will be what gives Dover their best chance of beating Palace.

This game, however, was soon wrapped up. A half-cleared corner fell to Cogan, whose well-struck effort crept in off the post.

Dover continued to press forward in the closing stages, and four or five wouldn’t have flattered them, but the Whites had to settle for just the two goals. For this outsider, the performance, style of play and confidence shown as important as the result.

That especially true with Palace just around the corner. The Dover fans sung ‘bring on the Palace’ towards the end of the game, and you can see why they are heading into Sunday’s game without trepidation.

You would imagine the players feel similar. They looked to be playing with enjoyment, and won’t fear the Premier League quality Palace, apparently, have.

I’m certainly not predicting a Dover victory, and the most likely outcome remains a comfortable Palace victory. But, in such form, you wouldn’t put it beyond the Whites to make Pardew suffer.

At the very least, playing with such strength at the back and the self-belief to be potent in attack will mean the former Charlton boss will have to work for a win.

A Letter From The Flat-Capped One

It’s probably an act that’s scorned at by some, but I felt compelled to do it.

Shortly after Chris Powell was appointed as manager of Huddersfield Town, I sent the former Charlton boss a handwritten letter that went into a second A4 side.

Given the manner of his sacking, the only opportunities I had had to thank him for his considerable efforts at The Valley were indirect ones. Tweets, blog posts and the third minute applause, but there’s limitations to all three.

So with there now being a way to contact him, I saw it fit to not only congratulate Powell on what I felt was a very good appointment for him, but directly give him my thanks.

My main motivation behind going through the effort to send him a letter was to inform him just how much I appreciated him and his side, and how I probably always will do.

For it’s not the case that I simply share the sort of appreciation that almost every other Addicks has for Powell. The vast, vast majority are thankful for his successes in digging the club out of a mire. At best, he created and developed a side that brought smiles back to the faces of Charlton supporters; at worst, he was a dignified leader in difficult circumstances.

But, for me, Powell and his side provided something a bit extra. They provided something to believe in, and find solace in, during difficult personal periods. Frequently I could escape from the frustrations of real life and emerge myself in this side that was determined, spirited and, for the most part, successful.

My personal attachment to Powell would be strong without it, but that he created an antidote to my personal difficulties means my appreciation of the man is unrelenting.

Informing of the impact he and his side had on me was incredibly rewarding, but I didn’t really expect the 21st century’s most stylish wearer of a flat cap to take time out to reply to, or even read, my waffle. He’s undoubtedly got more important things to be doing, especially right at the start of his tenure as boss of the Terriers.

Nonetheless, writing and sending the letter provided a rather irrational good feeling, even without taking into consideration that Powell may lay his eyes on it.

While I couldn’t give you an exact date, that letter was sent in September’s final third. I had reached the back end of November without response, which wasn’t surprising at all. I did, however, hope that he had read it. I told myself he did, because I so desperately wished for him to be aware of just how much I appreciated him as a person and what he had done at Charlton.

So it isn’t to say I had forgotten about sending the letter, it’s just that it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind on the back of a few hours’ sleep as I walked down Floyd Road before the early kick-off yesterday.

My old man regularly brings post for me from the week to games, and 104% of it is junk. He handed me an envelope as we walked to the ground, and I opened it with the sort of disdain that junk post deserves.

However, the way in which I opened the envelope meant the first thing I saw on the inside was a rather easy-on-the-eye signature above ‘Chris Powell’.

I should probably apologise here just in case any of you were walking down Floyd Road at the same time as me. I don’t make a habit of screaming like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.

But, to use a masculine phrase, I was absolutely buzzing. Uncontrollably so.

It was just a short letter but, even so, it meant an incredible amount to me that Powell had first of all read my original letter, and then, whether he wrote it himself or not, got a response sent back to me. At the very least, he’s hand signed it, and that’s more than enough for me.

It’s confirmation, if it was needed, that the whole of English football are not misguided. Their belief that Chris Powell is one of the nicest men, and easiest to respect, in the game is correct. His cult hero status at several clubs, not least Charlton, deserved.

Few warrant success more than him, and I really hope he can turn the promising start at Huddersfield into something more serious. I can’t pretend a win for Powell doesn’t make me smile.

Cheers, Chris. You’re a top, top man.

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Messi on a Wet Wednesday Night in West Ham

A diverse crowd stood and roared as one for the little magician they had come to see. He was going to perform his simplest trick, the taking of a short corner, but his proximity to the spectators meant his appearance by the touchline was celebrated like he had waltzed past five defenders and scored.

But some weren’t impressed.

“There’s only one Kevin Nolan,” bellowed a Hammers fan, evidently not used to such fan fair for the hardened journeymen that usually run out at Upton Park.

In fact, there’s rarely talent worthy of such incredible, A-list celebrity-like appreciation on either team in this part of East London. The Premier League’s biggest names, some of who were involved here, are relative minnows when compared to Lionel Messi.

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And it’s by no accident that I mention Messi’s name before the teams involved. Argentina Vs a second-string Croatia in an international friendly it may have been, but the fixture was merely a platform from which the Greatest Player On Earth could entertain a fairly well populated Boleyn Ground.

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There were, of course, those dressed in the red and white of Croatia, and they may be excused from attending the game purely to get a glimpse of football royalty, while West Ham fans had turned out at their spiritual home to see the return of Carlos Tevez, but the majority of those Hammers were among those drawn in by the attraction of Messi.

Even myself, a Charlton badge displayed proudly on my chest in rival territory, had only dragged myself up to Upton Park in order to watch a player live that I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to see.

I wanted to see Messi the footballer and, his alter-ego, Messi the entertainer. I’d seem them both countless times on TV, the little Argentine mesmerising and unplayable on the very highest level, but I anticipated watching such a performer in the flesh, regardless of the nature of the game, would be exhilarating.

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And, although not at his scintillating best, Messi showed more than enough to mean I left the ground feeling privileged to have witnessed such an incredible footballer perform.

In truth, especially for a friendly, the game itself was of a quality and tempo that made it enjoyable. Argentina possessing the three-pronged threat of Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Messi; Croatia exciting on the break and able to exploit a somewhat shaky Argentina back four.

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And it was the Croatians, evidently having ignored the Lionel Messi-orientated script they were supposed to read, who went ahead. One of their many breaks resulting in Anas Sharbini being played in and responding with a clinical finish.

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Nonetheless, It took little away from the roar of anticipation each time Argentina’s number 10 touched the ball. Although he and his teammates were frustrated, the spectators finding them frustrating, in the game’s early exchanged, there was still an aurar around Messi, occupying a wide right role.

Without the ball, he almost looks a little lost on the football pitch. A diminutive figure among much physically larger players.

But when the ball comes his way, and Argentina made sure it so often did, Messi stands tall. With a burst of pace and extraordinary footwork, he finds space that seemingly isn’t there and drives forward with an intent to make any opposition fearful.

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Most of the cheers when he received the ball were from the touristy-type, but even those hardened and stubborn footballers, probably feeling a little uncomfortable with amount of cameras on show, felt a sense of anticipation each time he clicked into gear. It was simply absorbing; absorbed in by an individual like I’d rarely been before.

And although his exploits, despite hitting the side netting, having a penalty appeal waved away after an outstanding run and teeing up several teammates for them to miss, failed to produce an Argentina equaliser in the first period, you still felt like you’d witnessed a genius at work as Messi trudged back to the dressing room at the break.

So in that sense, it was almost disappointing that Argentina’s equaliser early on in the second period was incredibly fortuitous. Christian Ansaldi’s effort from the edge of the box deflected off Aguero’s upper body and wrong footed the Croatian goalkeeper.

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But Messi’s time was to come.

Although not from a blistering run, a piece of breathtaking skill or a thunderous strike from range, Messi put Argentina ahead with 57 minutes played with, erm, a coolly converted penalty.

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Okay, it wasn’t quite what I was after, but being able to say I’ve seen Messi score live is something I can wax lyrical about once I’ve turned old and senile. Sending the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot can almost certainly be exaggerated.

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No sooner had Messi pleased those who had come to see him, attentions from most inside Upton Park turned to their returning hero. Tevez replaced Aguero to a deafening roar.

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And while all eyes were on the former Hammer, who saw a header saved and a shot trickle agonisingly wide of the far post, mine remained fixed on Messi.

The most incredible thing about the Barcelona man remained his off-the-ball demeanour when compared to his impressive on-the-ball style.

It would possibly be the case that, were Messi English, he would be referred to as lazy. He offers next to defensive contribution, instead sauntering around at a very slow walking pace when the opposition are in possession.

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But the moment he receives the ball, he’s alive with all the energy and threat of the such a great talent. It’s rather a simple life; do as you please while your teammates defend and make defenders look rather silly when you have the ball at your feet. Think Ricardo Fuller, except a bit better.

And while a chance wasted late on, having hit the post following some clever footwork, prevented Messi from capping his night in style, it took little away from what was an impressive, if routine, performance from the forward.

Routine too was Argentina’s win, overcoming a Croatia side lacking their big names with relative ease after an early scare.

But there is nothing routine about the entertainment side of Messi. He has you transfixed for 90 minutes, completely in awe and excitably waiting his next cut throat forward move. A pleasure to watch, even more so than I anticipated.

Still, you’d rather have Kevin Nolan, wouldn’t you?

Pursuing Pritchard

Regular readers of Chris Powell’s Flat Cap will know my admiration for former Addick Bradley Pritchard is bordering on obsessive. So obsessive, in fact, that giving up my Saturday to watch the diminutive Zimbabwean represent his new club, Leyton Orient, at Northampton Town in a pre-season friendly seemed genuinely appealing.

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