Friday, March 31, 2006

Hammers vs Addicks - Rehearsal or reality?

Charlton travel through the Blackwall Tunnel this Sunday to take on a resurgent West Ham team, in a possible FA Cup semi-final rehearsal. What is for sure is the fact that three very important Premiership points are up for grabs.

The game is also the re-union meeting of the left-backs, with both Charlton's Chris Powell, and the Hammers Paul Konchesky, having played for both clubs.

Konchesky left Charlton last summer, having made his debut as a 16 year old. He had always wanted to play at left back, but Alan Curbishley seemed to consider him a bit lightweight in defence at the top level. Curbs therefore played him mainly in left midfield, where his attacking prowess and great crossing ability were put to good use. Konch thought he had a chance with England though, in his favoured position, and therefore wanted to make the most of his career at left-back. After a loan spell at Spurs (who also played him in midfield!), he finally left in the summer for his East London roots, with £2 million changing hands.

Powell, though, made the transfer in the other direction. Chrissy was one of the reasons why Konchesky couldn't be accomodated at left back in Curbs's team, having signed for Charlton in 1998, and settling in very well. Well enough to actually win five England caps early in Sven's inglorious reign. When Hermann Hreidersson arrived at Charlton, Chris found himself out of the first team last season, and at his age (he's now 36), he needed to be playing each week. Chris therefore went out on loan, initially, to West Ham and after three months made the transfer permanent. He was a key element in the Hammers play-off triumph last year but, although his contract ran out, West Ham decided not to give him an extension. Chrissy jumped at the opportunity to re-join his mates at The Valley, and he has had an amazing season, and played in many more games than he or the fans imagined. He is currently playing at a very high level; so high, that he has been mooted as an outsider for the World Cup squad if Ashley Cole remains injured!

Also going back to Upton Park, though not for the first time, is Alan Curbishley. The media still think that Curbs is a Hammer through and through, though he has actually been at Charlton for four times as long as he played at West Ham. Both he, and Mervyn Day, should get decent receptions though.

With Charlton bouyant after last weekends victory of Newcastle, and with a weeks rest since, I think it likely that Curbs will put out a very similar team to that who scored three times last Sunday. Marcus Bent needed the game, and should retain his place; the defence was pretty solid once more (and could do little about Parker's blockbuster); and the midfield is getting stuck in at every opportunity and harrying the opposition all day. Hopefuly, Darren Bent's ankle is a little better too.

This is the team I expect to see take the field -

Myrhe, Young, Perry, Hriedersson, Powell, Kishishev, Holland, Hughes, Thomas, Bent (M), Bent (D).
Subs from - Andersen, Spector, Sorondo, Ambrose, Bothroyd, Bartlett, Rommedahl, Euell.

Depending on the West Ham line-up, big Marcus may play wide right, or up front, depending which formation Curbs wants at any time. It is possible that Spector will play instead of Powell, but I doubt it, and I think that Chrissy may get a rest next weekend instead. Also, Rommedahl may play instead of Thomas, but this is much more likely to be a second half substitution.

West Ham played OK during midweek, but Manchester United were fairly easy 1-0 winners, hitting the woodwork a couple of times, and missing a few easy chances. Most of their forwards are fit, but the defence is creaking a little under pressure of injuries. It could also be Shaka Hislop's first game against Charlton since his faux-pas for Portsmouth early last season.

My one-to-watch this Sunday is going to be Matt Holland. Matty has been running miles and miles every game recently and putting in better and better performances. He returns to the club which gave him his start in the game, and I seem to remember that he has a pretty good record against them. Hopefully, he'll come up with his first goal of the season...

Pedro45 hasn't been too accurate recently in his score predictions, and doesn't really know what will happen in this match. It's one of those games that Charlton could win comfortably, and also one that Charlton could have a nightmare in. My own instincts go back to something that I agreed with a West ham fan (Hi Lee!) many years ago - we could win the league games, if they could have the cup wins. It's pretty much been that way since the seventies, apart from some di Canio inspired blips. Well, we have a possible semi-final coming up, and I'd much rather have the win at Villa Park, so I'm going to go for a 2-0 Hammers win this weekend, to definitely set up a Cup Final appearance! If I'm wrong, and we get a result in front of the Sky cameras on Sunday, it means we haven't got a prayer of either getting to the semi or, if we do, of winning it...unfortunately.

Come on you reds!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

You're booked!

There is a nice piece on the official site today about Darren Bent being the reading Champion at The Valley. Our Dazza says his favourite book is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

The article also links to the Premier League website, and lists the reading champions of each of the twenty Premiership clubs.

This got my attention - who, from Arsenal's legion of foreign stars would be their champion?

Step forward Swiss defender Philippe Senderos! Yup, guessed that Sol and Ashley might not be able to see much further than the zero's on their contracts!

In fact, six non-English speaking (as a first language) overseas players are put forward as reading champions by the clubs; Senderos at Arsenal, Eidur Gudjohnsen at Chelsea, Moritz Volz at Fulham, Ruud van Nistelrooy at Manchester United, Thomas Gaardsoe at the Baggies, and Lomana LuaLua at Pompey.

Ex-Addick Paul Konchesky has obviously raised the IQ quotient in East London as he is the Hammers champion it seems! However, the book he says is a favourite has been designed to mentally bring him in line with other Eastenders - it's about The Kray Twins!

The books that the players name as their favourites are fairly well split between "adult" and childrens books, though why the Premier League asked them to be split out is interesting (Can't have all these teenagers reading The Da Vinci Code (Kevin Davies) can we!!!).

You can tell who of the players has kids (Kelly, Carsley, Freidal, Caldwell...), as the books they chose seem to be of the bed-time variety that they have to read out to their offspring.

There is a smattering of sports books too (Clemence, Delaney, Taylor), but the saddest entry just has to be Gudjohnsen's...he names team-mate John Terry's "My Season" as his most cherished reading matter, probably because Eidur himself gets the odd mention from his best mate!

This initiative by the Premier League and also the clubs welcome support of local libraries will hopefully help large numbers of kids and adults who find reading a chore. It should be applauded!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bow-n Goal helps Charlton

Charlton Athletic 3
Newcastle United 1

Charlton cruised to three more Premiership points, after completely outplaying Newcastle on Sunday afternoon. The win takes them up above the Geordies to eleventh place in the table.

Surprisingly, Alan Curbishley made only one change to the team that drew with Middlesboro on Thursday night - bringing in the fit-again Marcus Bent in place of head-injury victim Shaun Bartlett. The side actually showed little sign of fatigue, whereas Newcastle, who had been beaten by Chelsea the night previous to Charlton's game, looked jaded throughout.

This was Scott Parker's first game back at The Valley since January 2004, prior to his acrimonious transfer to Chelasea. His every touch was boo-ed by the home crowd, and the chant of "There's only one greedy Bastard" rang out at regular intervals. By the end of the game, he was being asked to remember the score, as Charlton led comfortably.

A tight opening 25 minutes began the match, when Jerome Thomas picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Newcastle penalty area, jinked inside a tackle, and was then brought down. Referee Mike Halsey (and not Rob Styles as the blokes beind me presumed through their drunken haze...) had no hesitation in giving Charlton only their second Premiership penalty in two seasons. Darren Bent took his tally of goals to twenty for the season by stroking home the spot kick (top and left). Bent had earlier had a great chance to score after being fed by a great Kishishev through-ball, but Given had saved the left foot shot. Newcastle's only early chance fell to Solano, who shot wide when well placed.

Newcastle levelled ten minutes later when Parker picked up the loose ball thirty yards out and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top left hand corner of Thomas Myrhe's net. Parker then ran the length of the pitch to the celebrating Geordie fans, holding his club badge proudly, followed by half his team-mates. This was a mistake...

Within a minute, Charlton had a free kick on the half way line. Perry knocked it forward and Hreidersson got in a free header clear of the puffed out Newcastle players. Ramage then tried to clear but proceeded in merely crashing the ball into a still retreating Lee Bowyer, and the ball cannoned into the corner of the net. Hughes, the nearest Charlton player, celebrated but had absolutely no involvement in the goal!

Jerome Thomas then miss-kicked when well placed, and Charlton finished the half the better team with a deserved lead.

Keiron Dyer came on for Solano at half time, and Newcastle looked to be playing a more adventurous formation, but soon Ameobi had been dragged back into left midfield and any potential 4-3-3 formation threat disappeared.

Carr was booked, as was Perry, for fouls, but Halsey had a reasonable game altogether compared to some he has reffed at The Valley recently.

Marcus Bent missed a great chance when played in, but he took too long to settle - possibly looking across to see if he was offside? - before he dragged his shot wide.

Rommedahl came on for the tiring Thomas, and Bothroyd replaced an exhausted Marcus Bent during the last ten minutes. The pair of subs combined in the last minute to score another goal, when Rommedahl ran almost unchallenged from the half-way line before crossing left footed for Bothroyd to head home at the near post. It was Bothroyd's fifth goal of the season, and the first that wasn't the result of a free kick played to him. He has still only scored at one end of the Valley though!

Overall, Charlton looked the fitter team, and wanted the result more. Newcastle had no pace at all, and even Keiron Dyer found it hard to break free of Charlton's organised defence.

My man of the match award was a tough choice - Myrhe was solid all day; the defence played very well, as did the whole midfield. Up front, both Bent's worked hard and tried their best. My MOTM though has to go to Hermann Hreidersson, who had a terrific game, challenging for every tackle and header, and even getting into a confrontation with Given when up for a corner which Halsey had to have words about.

This result takes Charlton up two places in the table, and if we can have a reasonable run in over the next six weeks, especially away from home, a top half finish is well within the Addicks grasp.

Shearer's last smoke...

Alan Shearer makes his final venture south to London for a Premiership fixture today, when Charlton take on Newcastle; not a favourite at The Valley, it will be interesting to see if he gets a better reception than is usual.

The blogs are coming thick and fast at the moment; having just recovered from the Boro quarter final, and the semi-final draw, we have this important home fixture.

The official site preview is here. It makes good reading, but also raises some important issues that effect who may play for Charlton this afternoon.

Darren Bent is carrying an injury, and as he was doubtful for Thursday, I really cannot see him playing today sadly. Hopefully, he will be back for next weekend's game...

Who replaces him is open, as a lot will depend on the formation that Curbs decides to use; when Charlton played at St James a little over a month ago, he openly admitted that the trained-for 4-4-2 formation was switched in the dressing room prior to the game when he saw the side Newcastle planned to put out. I think Curbs will stick with the 4-5-1 for this match, as it actually makes the team easier to pick! I therefore think Shaun Bartlett (left) will play upfront on his own instead of Bent.

Chris Powell, who had another graet game midweek, will proabbly be rested, and the suggestion is that Luke Young may be too, though without too many right backs at the club (El Karkouri?), it will be interesting to see how we get on if this is the case.

This is the team that I think Curbs will play today -

Myrhe, Young, Hreidersson, Perry, Spector, Kishishev, Hughes, Euell, Rommedahl, Thomas, Bartlett.
Subs - Andersen, El Karkouri, Holland, Ambrose, Bent (M).

My one to watch this afternoon is going to be Jason Euell - I think he just has to play, and it's about time we got a performance (and a goal?) from our reecord signing.

Pedro45's score prediction is not happy, a win would take us up two places to eleventh in the table, but I cannot see past another 0-0 draw. I hope I'm wrong, but after seeing Newcastle wimper at Stamford Bridge, and Charlton's ability to only fire blanks when Dazza is missing, I cannot be too optimistic sadly...We also don't win very often when Mike Halsey is referee!!!

Come on you reds!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Route to the final....

Should Charlton be able to beat Middlesboro in the replay on April 12th, their path to the FA Cup Final is blocked only by West Ham, a team that they have already beaten this season.

The venue will be announced later today, but with the tie versus Boro still to be determined, it's likely the semi final will be staged at Villa Park.

Draw no surprise

Charlton Athletic 0 Middlesbrough 0

Passion, endeavour, skill, commitment - and that was just the crowd! No goals, but plenty of excitement, and a much much better all round performance from the Addicks than those served up in recent Premiership matches.

I have read many of the match reports, and the defensive palyers dominated as those who played well. I thought Southgate was very good in the first half especially, adn Ehiogu very dominant in the second. For Charlton, Powell was terrific, Perry and Hreidersson solid, and I also thought Matt Holland had a tremendous first hour or so.

Charlton therefore make it into the next draw - blimey, it's the semi-final! And very soon we'll know who we will play if we can force a result at the Riverside on April 12th.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not quite an ill octopus

The sixth monthly financials for Charlton have just been released, and they don't appear to make very good reading. An interim loss of £5.1m is not what we, the fans, would have hoped for, but I guess with the problems over all:sports, the increased wages of carrying a larger-than-ever Premiership squad, and the loss of a large number of season-ticket holders has all combined to hurt the bank balance. Luckily, the share issue earlier in the season will have helped, and Richard Murray's statement is far from doom and gloom laden.

It's fair to say that Charlton cannot afford to run at a loss like this for very long, and the chance of a sustained FA Cup run will help, especially if we win tonight and in a semi-final too. However, the doom merchants should not suppose that these figures will automatically mean that players will have to be sold (and we all know that the only player of "real" value at The Valley at the moment is Darren Bent!).

After all, what's sick squids (or six million) between friends?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Big day arrives

FA Cup Quarter finals don't come around too often when you are a Charlton fan. They don't come around too often for Boro fans either, but they are not as much of a rarity on Teeside as they are on Thameside.

The Valley will hopefully be a noisy and passionate place to be this Thursday night; the crowd will be close to capacity after all of the sales and marketing ploys launched by the club over the past week or so.

Alan Curbishley once more goes head-to-head against a rival for the England managers job - Steve McLaren. Last season, it was Mclaren who seemed to have the edge, with Boro winning a very tactical game at the Valley 2-1 thanks in part to a Zenden goal. This season, Curbs has taken the honours so far, with a comfortable 3-0 victory at the Riverside stadium, and a closer 2-1 home win just a couple of weekends ago. The away win was a continuation of Charlton's great early season away form, with wingers Thomas and Rommedahl causing havoc when fed by Murphy. Rommedahl (left) scored a great first goal, then Chris Perry and Darren Bent scored second half goals to make the game safe. Boro didn't really feature apart from forcing Andersen into making one great reflex save late in the first half.

At The Valley 11 days ago, a dire first half was forgotten once Curbs switched to 4-5-1 formation at half time. This time, Thomas and Ambrose played wide and Darren Bent scored a couple of late tap-in goals after crosses from the full backs. Thomas Myrhe was the goalkeeper who kept Charlton in the match though this time, and he will once more be a central figure in the outcome of this tie.

The Valley game was played following Boro's recent home tie with Roma in the UEFA cup, and they put out a weakened, but not weak, side. Who McLaren picks for the Addicks cup tie is open to debate at present, but it is expected to be a stronger team than that which we saw in the recent Premiership fixture.

Mark Viduka scored a great goal that day, and he will almost certainly play alongside either Yakubu or Hasselbaink. Chris Riggott is doubtful, and the Boro defence is stretched with injuries at present, giving Charlton a little hope. In midfield, I doubt that the inexperienced youngsters who played in the league game will feature again; Mendietta and Boateng should be back and Downing is expected to play out wide.

I hope that the occasion is considered as important by the players as it is for most of the fans who turn up; Charlton have been starved of success for too many years in this competition - we can definitely say that we have not been knocked out by lower league opposition this year, and hopefully this trend will continue until the preconception is forgotten (it doesn't happen all that often - check the records...)!

Charlton have no new known injuries to worry about, and with Rommedahl and Sorondo featuring at the weekend, are almost back to full strength. Marcus Bent is cup-tied so will not be missed, and with Bothroyd and Bartlett not the threats that we wish they were, I expect Curbs to play 4-5-1 in this game.

This is the team I expect to see feature -

Thomas Myrhe, Luke Young, Hermann Hreidersson, Chris Perry, Chris Powell, Radistan Kishishev, Matt Holland, Jason Euell, Jerome Thomas, Dennis Rommedahl, Darren Bent.
Subs - Andersen, Sorondo, Hughes, Bartlett, Bothroyd.

My one-to-watch in this match just has to be Darren Bent (left). Two goals against Boro recently, three against them for the season, and nineteen in total make him a dangerous player to play against. With the World Cup looming, he needs to keep scoring, and what better way to do so than in the FA Cup and with millions plus Sven watching on TV.

Pedro45's score forecast just has to be positive and optimistic. All three previous initial cup meetings with Boro have ended in a 1-1 draw, with Boro winning all the ties after replays eventually, but I'm going to stick my neck out and hope for another scrambled 2-1 victory.

Is it prudent to talk about what might be; what might happen if we win the Boro game? It's too tempting not to really, and we might not get a chance afterwards to say the following...

West Ham - played once, won 2-0.
Liverpool - played twice, won 2-0, drew 0-0.
Chelsea - played three times, won 1-1 (5-4 on penalties), drew 1-1, lost 0-2.
Newcastle - played once, drew 0-0.
If you add Boro to that lot (played twice, won 3-0 and 2-1) then we have a pretty good chance of not only getting to a Cup semi final but going all the way and winning it! There, that's probably blown it big time!

It remains to be seen if it's Charlton or Middlesboro who have been hung, drawn, and quartered after the match.

The official site preview is here.

Come on you reds!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sixth Round memories

Only three times during my lifetime have Charlton made it into the sixth round of the FA Cup, and that, for me, makes this Thursdays FA Cup quarter final with Middlesboro a little bit special.

It took a long time for me to see a cup quarter final: 1994 in fact, when Charlton were drawn away to Manchester United. This was the Addicks first sixth round game since 1947, the year the Cup was won!

The next venture into never-never land took a mere six years - in 2000, Charlton won through to play Bolton Wanderers away at the Reebok, and now, another six years on, we finally have a home draw quarter final against the Teesiders.

My memories of the Old Trafford game are quite distinct. I had been to Old Trafford a few times beforehand, even being present when Mark Stuart scored an amazing winner just after half time in 1986, our first win when back in the old first division. This time, I travelled up by train with my father. I remember being goaded by four drinking fans who kept mentioning fair weather supporters, johnny-come-lately's, etc etc, and looking at me and my dad. I ignored them until one accused my dad of being Ron Noades. That was too much and I had to shut them up with a response (which luckily worked). At the ground, we were among the 10,000-odd Charlton fans who gained tickets; amazing to think that, during a week when we are struggling to sell out The Valley, an away tie in Manchester twelve years ago had the board scrambling around asking for a bigger ticket allocation from the Red Devils! The atmosphere was electric; no problems with Addicks fan noise in this game! But it was half time where my fondest memory occurrred, the thought of which still gets the hairs on my arms standing up. Charlton had clung on to a goalless half, which ended with Kim Grant running free wide right before meeting an on-rushing Peter Schmeichel (left). It didn't matter if he was sent off for handball or bringing Grant down, the red card came out, and Les Sealey was eventually brought on as a sub for Paul Parker. Halftime in the dressing room must have been amazing, but maybe over-confidence came to the fore? Inside the stadium, the PA system crackled into life with "Things Can Only Get Better" by D:Ream. Was this more appropriate for Charlton or Man Utd? Who cared! The whole Charlton fan base seemed to sing along and jump up and down - a fantastic sight that lives long in my mind! Second half kicks off and Mark Hughes scores following a corner and a fantastic Vaughan save. Kanchelskis scores twice more in quick succession and it's game over, but the fans keep singing. Eventually Carl Leaburn heads in a late consolation, and the fans go mad and demand more. It wasn't to be. Proud, we all left the ground with smiles on our faces and thoughts of what might have been...

In our Championship winning season, we met Bolton, who were also in our division. Here, the ticket problems didn't get resolved so quickly, with Bolton offering under 2000 tickets to Charlton. They claimed police advice and redevelopment work prevented more being available, but this was surely not really true as the ground was not full that day. Two well known players who have made their names at other clubs stole the headlines that day, along with one who is still at the Reebok. Claus Jensen was majestic for the Trotters, and it was this display that eventually persuaded Curbs to buy him for £4,000,000 at the end of the season. King Claus set up the goal for Eidur Gudjohnsen (left), midway through the second half, to shoot past Deano. John Robinson had a late chance to equalise but his effort was brilliantly saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen. Charlton lost 1-0 that day, and Bolton went on to lose in the semi-final. A couple of weeks later, goals by Andy Hunt and Martin Pringle secured the three points during Charlton's record breaking winning streak, as Charlton moved closer to securing the Championship trophy. Which would we have preferred - a quarter final win or three more points? I have to say that in hindsight, a semi-final would have made that season even more fantastic!

So here we are in another FA Cup quarter final week for Charlton. The ticket problems are not about getting more, but of selling what we have. The previous two matches were away from home and lost - hopefully this Valley fixture will see a change of fortune.

Come on you Reds!

Monday, March 20, 2006

The away game conundrum...

It's funny, sometimes, supporting a football team like Charlton. On the one hand, we love it most of the time, especially when we are winning and playing well, but when that isn't the case, all hell breaks loose and complaints on nearly everything soar in.

One of the latest issues that we, the fans, have with our club is the level of support. At home games the crowd can be very quiet, and we are struggling to fill the ground for an FA Cup quarter final. But it's the latest away game at Arsenal that seems to have caused a flurry of activity on the Charlton blogsites and message boards this weekend. The lack of any discernable vocal support, whatever the on-field performance, has rankled many, especially those who could not get tickets for the match.

I rarely travel to away games any more - the only game I've seen away from the Valley this season is the 3-0 defeat at Wigan back in December - but I could go to many more if I so chose.

Why don't I back up the lads at every opportunity then? Let me explain with a bit of history...

I have seen Charlton play away against over 80 league clubs, at their old grounds and/or new stadia; I cannot therefore be described as a home only fan. I have travelled to some clubs grounds on many occasions when they have met Charlton - I'm not sure which club I've visited the most, maybe I'll do a count up one day...

My busiest season was in 1984/85; that, for any new supporters, was the season that Charlton almost went out of business. I saw all 46 matches that the first team played that season - 42 in the Second Division, and two each in the League and FA Cups. This included the Tuesday night game at Blackburn (the infamous Train 12 journey).

I also saw 46 out of 56 games played in another season - 1980/81. We had a good cup run that year too...

I averaged attendance at about 90% of Charlton matches, home and away, between 1980/81 and 1990/91, when my circumstances changed.

I continued to travel to as many away games as I could in the nineties, until the Taylor report, and Charlton's success contrived to make this almost impossible.

Back in the old days (pre-all-seater stadia), if you wanted to see your team play away, all you had to do was catch a train (as I did) or coach to the ground, pay your entry fee, and take your place. If you wanted to stand, you did so; if you wanted a seat, you paid a little more and sat under cover.

The problem came with Premiership football (as so many of the ills of the current game have); clubs had to maximise revenue, and did not want to obligate themselves to leaving large parts of the ground available for away support that might or might not materialise. In comes ticketing; no advance ticket, no admittance.

The advance ticket problem is not an easy option for me; although I had a ten-year season ticket (my second), and the subsequent five-year version, thereby gaining priority, the physical presence of turning up at The Valley during office hours, or trusting the postal service with my cheque and SAE in order to get my ticket wasn't a great option for me.

Additionally, I've been to nearly all the big games at the big grounds - I've seen Charlton win at Old Trafford, Goodison, Elland Road, St James Park (the Grecian and Geordie versions!), Villa Park, Stamford Bridge, etc etc. I actually felt that it was my duty to let others who had not had those sort of opportunities in the past gain priority over me when tickets were in short supply. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to go to all the games possible too these days(it would be better than listening to the radio...).

I could have gone to Highbury on Saturday; I would have shouted at and for the team; I would have gone home disappointed, as did everyone else, but with only 1800 tickets available for our last ever trip to Highbury, I didn't want to deprive someone else, someone who has been to Blackburn, Everton, Manchester City, Wigan, Newcastle (maybe twice), Sunderland, Middlesboro, etc, already this season. maybe others should have felt similarly?

I went to Wigan as I had never seen Charlton play them away before - luckily, I didn't deprive anyone of a seat that day, not even one the 750 free tickets given away as I paid for mine up front.

Of course more supporters want to see Charlton play when they can in the London derby games - it's cheaper, more accessible, takes less time, etc. And yes, if tickets could be prioritised in a more beneficial way to those supporters who travel all over the country in all weathers supporting the Addicks, we would all be happy, but that isn't an easy thing to accomplish unfortunately. Swipe cards could help, but we shouldn't deminish the contributions of those supporters who have put their collective hands in their pockets and helped the club financially over recent years.

The five-year season tickets run out after this season; I understand that they are unlikely to be offered again. The only obvious benefits ticketwise from next season will seem to go to Valley Gold members and season tickets holders...

Hopefully, we will take up our full allocations at every opportunity in 2006/07, but I doubt it.

When there was plenty wrong with Charlton - no ground, poor leadership, no ambition, bad players - we, the supporters, had plenty to moan about. When things are going a lot better - Premiership football, ground expansion plans, great leadership, ambition, international players in Charlton shirts - then the inherrent moaning tends to be about lesser matters. I don't care if the grannies who read the paper rather than watch Charlton get trashed on Saturday come along to games, as long as someone goes.

This Thursday is an oppportunity for ALL Charlton supporters to get behind the team, the club, and other like-minded Addicks fans. Let us all support our team, our fans, the players and hopefully, hopefully, sing and support them all the way to the Cup Final.

That is one away game that I will not want to miss!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Goodbye and good riddance

Arsenal 3 Charlton Athletic 0

Charlton's final appearance at Highbury was not a happy one - another three goal defeat, and not much of a positive vein to write about.

Alan Curbishley made several changes from the eleven that started the previous match, recalling Jerome Thomas (left), Jon Spector, Jason Euell and fit again Dennis Rommedahl to the starting line up. Out went Jay Bothroyd and Darren Ambrose, while Chris Powell and Matt Holland were demoted to the substitutes bench. Gonzalo Sorondo was also fit enough to be a sub, along with Shaun Bartlett and goalie Stephan Andersson. It didn't seem to bother Arsenal though...

Charlton started on the back foot, and rarely left it over the next ninety minutes - Pires scored in under a quarter hour, and Adebayor made it two after 32 minutes (left), both after defensive mistakes. The Togo striker had already missed a couple of good chances following poor defending and the only surprise was that Charlton kept the scoreline down to two at halftime.

The second half started just as badly, even though Bartlett had replaced the almost weekly occurence of an ineffective Bryan Hughes. Luke Young was booked almost immediately after the restart, and Aleksander Hleb scored Arsenals third within five minutes of the resumption.

Limitation was the only option from now for Charlton, and Powell came on for Young, and Holland for Thomas as Curbs tried to keep the scoreline vaguely respectable. It succeeded as Arsenal took their collective foot off the gas, and the game slowly died out.

Charlton hardly had a shot, with only one late deflected effort from Rommedahl being worthy of a mention.

This will not go down as one of the worst displays of the season, but it was rather inept and poor. Charlton don't really expect anything from games at Highbury, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, etc, but with the upturn in form recently, it was hoped that performances like this were behind the Addicks - unfortunately not.

Now it's a time to recoup and gather once more for the Cup quarter final on Thursday. Charlton will be at home in the last of the four quarter final matches, and if other results go well (how about West Ham, Birmingham, and Newcastle joining Charlton in the semi final draw?), then a victory could leave the fans in hope of a first FA Cup final appearance after more than fifty years. Another performance like todays though will leave the so near yet so far brigade making all the noises once more...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Highbury showdown

Charlton travel to Highbury for the last time this Saturday, to meet a resurgent Arsenal team. The Gunners are anxious to avoid Liverpool's mistake of last season, and are desperate to finish inside the top four of the Premiership this season, while maintaining an outside chance of Champions League success. Can Charlton damage Arsene Wenger's pride once more? Hopefully, yes!

The official match report is here.

Charlton are on a good run themselves, with only one goal conceded in the last four matches. Away draws at Liverpool, Newcastle, and Chelsea recently are evidence of solid defensive capability. If it can be maintained, then a good result is possible. A lot will depend obviously on the profligacy of the Arsenal forward line; if they are on target, Thomas Myrhe will need to be on top form to prevent a defeat. Occasionally though, Henry, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Pires, Reyes, Adebayor, and van Persie have off days, when nothing will hit the back of the net. Freddie the Swede, plus van Persie and Reyes are all apparently injured and will miss the game which is a good sign. This is Arsenal's most inconsistent season for many a year, and they may just be ripe for a home defeat.

Alan Curbishley will probably make a few changes, after having a settled team over the last month or so. The introductions of Thomas and Euell at halftime last weekend brought the team to life after almost 350 minutes of goalless play. I would not be surprised to see both start at Highbury, and Curbs maintain a 4-5-1 formation. The only other possible change is whether Jon Spector or Chris Powell plays at full back - I've a hunch that Spector will play this weekend, keeping Powell fresh for the cup quarter final. I think it unlikely that Sorondo, Rommedahl, or Sam will be brought back from injury for this match.

This is the side I expect to see run out of the tunnel -

Myrhe, Young, Hreidersson, Perry, Spector, Holland, Kishishev, Ambrose, Euell, Thomas, Bent (D).
Subs - Anderson, Powell, Hughes, Bothroyd, Bartlett.

My one to watch for the last time that Charlton play at Highbury before Arsenal move to Ashburton Grove is Jerome Thomas. Our left winger failed to get much of a chance when he played for Arsenal as a youngster, so he will probably be all out to impress Arsene Wenger.

Pedro45's score forecast is a 2-0 defeat, though hopefully I will be proved wrong. Charlton have won five times at Highbury over the years, and it would be great to make this a round half a dozen victories and move the Addicks up the league table again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Forty for England

With all the talk about whether Darren Bent will make the 23-man England squad for the World Cup in Germany, I thought I'd see what the problem is, and why the question of taking four or five strikers seems to be playing on the minds of journalists and pundits so much currently.

I wrote down the names of the players who I think are the best in the country (we'll come to them in a minute), and I had 22 players I'd be happy to take to Germany. Then I looked at the peripheral players, and this is where the problem arises - there are quite a few candidates for the initial squad of 40 (from which the 23 are chosen), and the balance between goalkeepers, defence, midfield, and attack is quite tricky.

Of course, if Alan Curbishley was England manager this wouldn't be a problem, because he likes players who can play in more than one position of course...

But what will Sven do?

All of this is of course based on the Sven system of playing 4-1-3-1-1, although with the players available, a switch to 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 3-5-2, or for the Brazil game 6-3-1, is always an option.

Let's start with the make up of the forty and twenty-three man squads -

Presumably, we need five goalkeepers in the initial 40; this should be enough from which to pick three for the 23-man squad (which is what you need for a Championship). Running total 5 of 40/3 of 23.

In defence, we can split the full-backs into left and right, and centre backs; two full backs for each side, plus four centre backs are needed in the 23, so we need to have coverage here of an extra two full and centre backs. Running total 17/11.

In midfield, you cannot really break things down too much between attacking and defensive players, or even wide and central, so let's just suppose we need seven midfielders in our final squad, and an extra nine for the forty. Running total 33/18.

This allows us five forwards for the final 23-man squad, and an extra couple in the forty as back up for injuries. Running total 40/23.

OK, that's the easy for the names. I don't think I've missed anyone, and I'll also list the players who didn't make my final forty. Those in bold are the ones I'd put in the 23 man squad:

Goalkeepers - Robinson, James, Kirkland, Green, Wright.

Defenders - Ferdinand, Neville, Young, Carragher, Terry, Campbell, Cole (A), Bridge, Johnson (G), Brown, Dawson, Konchesky.

Midfielders - Lampard, Beckham, Gerrard, Wright-Phillips, Cole (J), King, Nolan, Hargreaves, Richardson, Downing, Pennant, Carrick, Jenas, Parker, Dyer, Barry.

Attackers - Owen, Rooney, Crouch, Defoe, Bent, Beattie, Heskey.

Left on stand-by - Walker, Neville (P), Southgate, Knight, Upson, Butt, Etherington, Milner, Johnson (A).

So there you have it - 49 players who may make the England squad of 40, and also the final 23. I doubt it will meet everyone's approval, especially Danny Murphy's wife!

The only problem I had was picking a last midfielder - I went for Nolan (who I think is a tremendous player) as he is far better than Hargreaves, Richardson, Downing, Carrick, or Jenas, though others, you and Sven for instance, may disagree. It would be great if Parker could travel, but I doubt it somehow...

The benefits of my squad are that you have coverage in most areas - we all know that Carragher can play at full back if necessary; King can play centre back (he isn't proven in midfield anyway...); Wright-Phillips can play central midfield if required and Joe Cole up front; Darren Bent can even play wide if wanted.

Of course, all of this is academic because injuries will undoubtedly come into play. We already have doubts over Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, and Michael Owen, and none could be fit for World Cup duty, and there will be others who are yet to be injured and miss out - there always is at least one heartbreak story.

If Cole doesn't get games soon then Konchesky could make the final 23, or maybe Sven will recall Phil Neville as back-up to Bridge. If Campbell cannot shake off his problems, then a host of centre backs will be hoping for a chance - Wes Brown, Michael Dawson, and Matt Upson among them. As for Owen, the whole country will weep if he isn't fit for Germany - even Sven said today that he would take a less than 100% fit Owen in his squad. In Darren Bent though, he has a confident and able deputy who makes similar quick runs and can be just as deadly in the six-yard box.

I cannot really see any other players breaking in to the initial 40-man squad, or the final 23 that actually travel.

The whole Bent and Luke Young thing seems to me to be media clap-trap brought about just because they both play for "little" Charlton. When you look at the numbers, both should make the final 23 man squad on merit. It would be great if ex-Addicks Parker and Konchesky (plus Defoe) made the final squad too, although that is less likely. Wouldn't we be proud to see five current or former Charlton players representing our country at the World Cup finals? You bet!

Let me know if I've missed anyone out or if you think the balance should be different?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Little Jimmy passes on

A great little Scottish player died this morning - Jimmy Johnstone. He seemed to only be about five foot six, but was a mazy and tricky winger who played in the great Celtic team of the late sixties and early seventies. He terrorised Scottish left backs for years, and also gave a few English full backs nightmares too when he turned out for Scotland. He died from Motor Neurone Disease, after a long illness, and his website is here. Donations to the MND charity can be made via Jimmy's site.

With George Best dying too, the British game has lost two of it's best wingers in recent months.

Dazza Double brings three more points

Charlton Athletic 2 Middlesbrough 1

Another goal brace by Darren Bent gave Charlton a welcome home victory at The Valley yesterday. The pair were Bent's 18th and 19th goals of the season.

The official match report is here.

It seemed that the Charlton team were as laid back as me during the first half - at least I had the excuse of a transatlantic flight before my arrival at the ground. No real Charlton attacks came in the first twenty minutes, and only good saves by Thomas Myrhe kept the scoreline level at the break. One save from Maccarone was exceptional!

At half time, England's new manager (copyright Sunday Mirror) made two changes, taking off the horizontal Bryan Hughes (whose only first half action had been to get booked) and the static Jay Bothroyd (whose only first half action was, erm, running out onto the pitch). On came the current fans favourite Jerome Thomas and also Jason Euell. At last there seemed to be purpose, with Thomas seeing plenty of ball wide on the left, and Euell slotting into the attacking midfield role as the team switched to 4-5-1. It took a while to gel, then good play down the left gave Chrissy Powell space to cross and Darren Bent flicked the ball home with a deft header (see top).

With only 18 minutes left, could Charlton hang on? Three clean sheets in a row and an excellent recent home record gave us hope, but...

A pass out to the right wing was chased by Holland, and as it was shepherded out, an arm was swung to stop the Charlton player getting the ball. The crowd were furious that this went unpunished and the players lost concentration. The throw went forward to Viduka (a handful all afternoon) who turned Perry and crashed a dipping volley over Myrhe and into the net. Now it was Boro's turn to search for all three points. Yakubu was on for Maccarone and posed a real threat, but it was a late Charlton goal that won maximum points. Young linked with Kishishev, whose deft flick set the England full back free on a run into the area. Normally, Luke blasts the ball high and wide, and it looked like he was attempting to shoot as he neared goal. The ball though was mishit and rolled across the six yard box to a waiting Darren Bent who knocked it into the back of the net and celebrated (left).

Time was played out, and Chris Powell did his usual after-win tunnel celebrations. It was a hard fought victory, and great that Charlton had started to score goals again after three blank matches. It also gave the home team the morale advantage leading up to the FA Cup quarter final next week, though Boro will put out a very different looking team in that fixture I expect.

Powell was outstanding all match, and Bent ran all day and took his chances. Holland and Kishishev also had good games, but my man of the match had to be Thomas Myrhe (left), without who's saves, Charlton would not have been in with a chance of victory.

Since I've been gone...

Two weeks away and plenty to write about - though no goals missed.

The Villa game was one that it seems I did well to miss; a nil all draw with little in the way of entertainment for either set of supporters. I was able to get the result on arrival at my destination via text, so didn't have to waste too many fingernails... The websites I read said Charlton had the better of the first half, and Villa took the second half honours. The only highlight I saw on TV was Darren Bent's curler that unluckily went just wide.

The Caribbean is well served by Premiership (or EPL as they call it) football coverage with two stations showing matches. FSC (Fox Soccer Channel) show games regularly from Sky Sports coverage, and so do Sports Max ("No Games...Just Sports!"). You can watch three matches on a Saturday, and two more on Sundays. The Monday night game is also featured, and during the times when live matches are not being played, you get the chance to watch endless full match re-runs. This is cool if you are having a beer on a Thursday lunchtime and missed the goals from the Fulham or Everton weekend game...

I was therefore able to watch the whole Liverpool away game in the comfort of my hotel room. I tuned in to FSC, and saw the snow falling at Anfield, as the match was introduced. Unfortunately, the coverage then switched to some surfing competition in Australia, and I frantically turned over to Sports Max who then picked up the coverage with their own intro.

The game was fairly one sided, with Liverpool dominant, and Charlton trying to maintain posession when they had the ball (not very often...). No Addicks shots at all in the first half summed things up. Thomas Myrhe (left) played very well to keep the scores level. A better second half performance, as frustration set in amongst the home crowd and players, and a couple of late chances to nick all three points went begging.

That made it three goalless games in a row, a first for Charlton for many years.

Luckily, Middlesbrough's advancement in the UEFA cup meant our game with them had to be re-arranged for the Sunday of my return, so I missed no live goals during my two week trip.

I also got to see some of the England versus Uruguay game, and Darren Bent's debut for England. He did OK; played in a similar way to that that he does each week for the Addicks, but didn't get a great amount of service. It was much the same when Luke Young started for England - the senior players don't think they should be passing to an "inferior" player from a "smaller" club. He had a couple of half chances but couldn't get them on target - on another day, he may have... Should Dazza go to Germany? Yes, of course! If Michael Owen isn't fit (either beforehand, or during the tournament), then Dazza is the obvious replacement. Crouch is a certainty too, as he is "different". I think it's just a case of whether Defoe is also picked.

The other international match that seemed to be on TV all the time was the Loftus Road game between Trinidad & Tobago and Iceland. Big Hermann missed a sitter unfortunately, but wasn't involved in either of T&T's two goals...

Plenty of other goings on at The Valley though:

Kevin Lisbie finally got the message and switched to play for Derby on loan. He and Jonatan Johansson are scoring a few goals in the Championship and this really shows the level they should be playing at.

Alexei Smertin decided that SE7 wasn't cold enough, and signed for Dynamo Moscow. A shame this really - the Smertin/Kishishev/Murphy triumvirate of early in the season was a midfield that looked and played brilliantly well. The bubble burst with Smerts injuries though, and the magic didn't really return after October. With Murphy off chasing splinters on the Spurs bench, and Smerts heading home, our Bulgarian is the the sole midfield survivor of our early season heroics.

Glyn Snodin has been promoted to first team coach; the bad news is it's not at Charlton. He goes off to Southampton next week with plaudits ringing in his ears, and a proud reserve team record at Charlton. Don't be surprised to see him back some day...

And finally, I guess, the news that Alan Curbishley is indeed in the frame for the England managers job. We all knew it; so did the media, but it took a grainy front page photo of him meeting Brian Barwick in the Sunday Mirror to make it headline news. Charlton issued a curt statement, and so did Curbs - no hysteria, plain fact. He's had a chat; probably said yes that he is interested, and would like to be considered. No commitment yet, and still 100% concetnrated on taking Charlton up the table.

Curbs interviews after the Boro game were quite funny - he hasn't smiled like that in a long time - as he told the truth, and gave full, complete answers to headline grabbing questions. He was the first captured on film, but not the first (or the last) interviewed; he suggested that the "short" list of candidates was quite long... There may be others pictured under the headline "Got Him" next week...great stuff!

He may go, he may stay - he will always be a legend at The Valley.

It is great to be back home, though it was great to be away, and that takes me on to the Boro game...

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