Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Onwards and upwards...

It's almost here, after three weeks of anticipation. The FA Cup quarter final replay - Middlesbrough versus Charlton; destiny, or disappointment?

Charlton haven't had too many big days since the dawn of new Millennium: Sure, we've beaten European Champions Liverpool; knocked Chelsea out of the Carling Cup; splashed out on England internationals; sold one of our players for £10 million; built a new stand; rolled over Arsenal at Highbury; and seen Alan Curbishley become one of the most sought after managers in English football. But tomorrow is a really, really, big day in the life of every Charlton fan and possibly in the history of Charlton Athletic.

The initial quarter final draw with Boro at The Valley wasn't a surprise. Both Middlesbrough and Charlton find it hard to score too many goals when they meet it seems, and the previous victory for the Addicks ten days before the cup game was against a much-changed Boro team. Chances did come along, but couldn't be taken. Darren Bent missed a sitter; Hermann Hreidersson had his effort fantastically saved by Schwarzer. Thomas Myrhe dealt competently with anything that came in his direction. The crowd were passionate and vocal; more so than at any other recent game. But the sides couldn't be split that evening. Boro were the happier of the two teams that night, and they will be confident in the replay on home ground.

History is with the northerners - this is the fourth time Charlton and Boro have met in the FA Cup. On each occasion, the initial game has been a draw, and Charlton are yet to win any of the subsequent replays.

After weeks of waiting, Operation Riverside can now start it's 100-plus engines, and at least 5250 Charlton supporters will travel north in an effort to cheer their team on to memories of 1947.

It will be tough though...

Both sides rested players at the weekend, with Boro having 24 hours less to recover after a local derby home defeat to Newcastle. The UEFA cup may also be a bigger prize than the FA Cup to aim at, but Steve McLaren won't be talking about that at the Riverside prior to 8pm.

Charlton made five changes prior to their draw with Everton, and the recalled Euell, Sorondo and Bothroyd will be hoping to maintain their places. Marcus Bent is cup-tied so at least one change has to happen.

How will the team line up? Who will Curbs pick for his biggest recent challenge?

The easiest area to confirm is in goal where Thomas Myrhe has been in outstanding form since coming into the side at Christmas. He is vocal, a good shot stopper, and commands his area. He has not been beaten too many times recently, with just six goals being conceded in the last ten games, and three of those were away at Arsenal.

In defence, the obvious choices are to leave Spector at right back in place of the injured Luke Young; revert back to the central defensive pair of Perry and Hreidersson that have done very well together recently; and bring back the ever-youthful Chris Powell. Sorondo had a good game on Saturday though, and there is a little pressure to play him to counter the strength of Viduka, Yakubu, and Hasslebaink.

The midfield and forward line is also under a little pressure. Will Bryan Hughes be fit? If so, does he play? Do we "gamble" with one winger, or two, or three?!? Was Darren Bent rested or is his ankle knock more than just irritable? Should Bartlett or Bothroyd also play up front? I guess that those decisions are ones Curbs is contemplating himself now, and until we know how Hughes and Bent actually are, we won't know what the likely team or formation will be.

It would be great for Charlton to be positive; to play with two wide players even if they cannot stick two strikers up front from the start. Let's not forget that Charlton's best results against Boro this season have been when they played 4-5-1 - in the away game back at the start of the season, and after half time in the return league game at The Valley.

Therefore, this is the side I think Curbs may send out to respond to the cheers from the Valley faithful -

Thomas Myrhe
Jonathan Spector
Chris Perry
Hermann Hreidersson
Chris Powell
Radistan Kishishev
Matt Holland
Jason Euell
Dennis Rommedahl
Jerome Thomas
Darren Bent

The subs will be from
Andersen, Sorondo, Fortune, Sankofa, Hughes, Ambrose, Bothroyd, and Bartlett.

Boro have doubts about Quedrue (head injury) and may have other knocks after two tough games at home in the last week.

My one-to-watch in this most important fixture is going to be Alan Curbishley. He has had a few tactical battles with Steve McLaren over recent years, and actually has a very good record against his teams. McLaren won one game, at The Valley last year 2-1, and lauded it over Curbs that day and in the press the next. This season hasn't seen our manager react in quite the same way, but quietly go about his business of getting results on the pitch. The 3-0 thumping at The Riverside set the tone, and the return also proved that whatever Curbs could dish up was good enough for victory. The cup draw was a great battle, and Curbs really went for it in the home leg. He'll probably play it a little more cautiously tomorrow, but has the players who can get the win we all so badly want. He needs the players to believe. He needs the fans to believe. He'd also like Alan Hansen to believe, but Curbs cannot do the impossible!

Score predictions for games against Boro tend to be 0-0; why should tomorrow be different? It will be tight; it will be close; it will be tough. But with 5250 Charlton fans in the stadium, it will be noisy, that's for sure. If we fans can get behind the lads, we may well prove to be the twelfth man that Richard Murray wants us to be, and we all know what can happen with a man advantage! Boro had that advantage last week for their home UEFA cup tie with Basel and pulled off a great win; tomorrow they will not be so lucky.

Pedro45 thinks it the most obvious bet in the world to go to the unders market, and doesn't think there will be too many goals or even goalscoring opportunities. You have to be thinking about a one-nil win as a Charlton fan - Dennis in the last minute comes to mind and brings a smile. The mood on the trip up to Teeside will be bouyant; oh how we will float home if we can gain victory and set up a London derby semi-final against West Ham.

Me, I'll be going along to this away game, barring accidents, train failure, or exceptional weather conditions, all of which could happen!

Come on you reds!

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