Thursday, December 28, 2006

Darren's Double Dealt Despair

Charlton Athletic 2 Fulham 2

Cruel. So cruel.

This really is a season that Charlton fans will remember for all the wrong reasons. Leading 2-1 into second half injury time, a poor decision by the linesman gave Fulham another chance to lob the ball into the Charlton box, and it kindly fell to Quedrue to lash home the equaliser. Heartbreak for Charlton; heartbreak for Alan Pardew in his first game in charge.

Pards first team sheet had a number of changes, and he ran with the 4-4-2 formation. Marcus Bent joined namesake Darren up front; Kishishev and Holland provided an engine room full of running; Thomas and Ambrose provided the width; and the defence had Sankofa, El Karkouri, Hreidersson, and Traore. Carson remained in goal. The subs bench was all about experience - no Lloyd Sam - with Hughes, Hasselbaink, Fortune, and Rommedahl given the nod.

This looked like a revitalised Charlton team. Early exchanges showed the passion as bodies flew into tackles. The effort, missing recently, was back in abundance. OK, the flair was still not apparent, but you couldn't fail to see the new commitment being shown.

This was embodied by Marcus Bent's contribution. It was, in my opinion, his best ever game for the club. He ran, harried, competed, and was obviously trying to inpress the new manager - all of which he has failed to do regularly in the year or so he has been at the club.

Alongside him, Darren Bent seemed to find new life too; he chased and chased, made tackles, and wore his captain's armband with the pride we fans demand.

It was Fulham who scored first though - another free kick given away by Ambrose was met by a thumping header from Bocanegra that hit the bar (tipped onto by Carson?); McBride was first to the rebound and he swept it home first time.

The lead was short lived, as a high ball into the six yard box was weakly punched by Niemi under pressure (other refs would have given a foul...) and Darren Ambrose half-volleyed in to the net off the post from twelve yards. It was all Charlton deserved. The crowd were bouyed, and became increasingly noisy. It was just like the old days!

Just before half time, Darren Bent chased a back flick by a Fulham defender and as two others left it for each other, he nipped in to stroke the ball into the net past the static Niemi. Charlton led, and it was the first time in ages that they had scored twice in a game.

The crowd were just as good in the second half, a tight close affair. Both teams had chances, but Charlton's seemed to be better. It was the final ball that let them down on most occasions. Rommedahl, on at half time for Thomas, broke free several times down the right. Lacking confidence, he didn't always make the right choice or play the right pass. He had chances to shoot, but crossed - Hasselbaink missing a sitter - and the score stayed the same. Ambrose also missed a great chance after Marcus Bent stepped over a pull back by Darren Bent (another sign of low confidence when a first time shot may have been more productive), when he cut inside then curled the shot just wide.

Hughes came on for Ambrose to tighten things up defensively, but he failed to get involved, and when he did he just seemed to give the ball away continuously.

Hasselbaink arrived for the last ten minutes in place of the workhorse Marcus Bent. After that, posession became harder to hold onto, and more pressure resulted. In the end, it told, with that late equaliser.

It was a tough ending for a passionate crowd, but they must see the effect that Pardew has had in just a few days. It's easy to blame the ref, or linesman, for the loss of the two points, especially if it does make a difference at the end of the season. But fans should now realise that the team gave their all, and we cannot win every week, and were without luck.

The first signing of the Pardew era seems to be on the cards with Stephen Pressley watching last night and keen to join the club as a free agent. Pressley famously fell out with his previous club (Hearts) after criticising the Lithuanian owner, and was released from his contract a couple of months back. A Scottish International centre back, he will bring leadership to the club, but may lack pace? It will be interesting to see who he is earmarked to replace, as Hreidersson and El Karkouri are incumbent, and Sorondo, Gibbs, Diawara, and Fortune all (when fit) currently compete for the two available positions.

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