Sunday, January 14, 2007

All Over Bar the Shouting

Charlton Athletic 1
Middlesbrough 3

I think that we can call it quits now; our Premiership dream is all but over, or will be at the end of this season. Results didn't go against us involving the other teams in the relegation battle - West Ham, Reading and Sheffield United drew, and Watford, Villa and Wigan lost - but Charlton are six points from safety now, with no real sign of any points being picked up in the near future.

Sure, we could win home games against Wigan, West Ham, Sheffield United, Reading and away games at Watford, and Manchester City, but that really doesn't look like it may be enough any more.

Sadly, winning those matches may be Charlton's only hope after the next run of four matches that, on paper, look decidedly losable - Portsmouth, Bolton and Manchester United away, and Chelsea at home.

The Boro game yesterday that was so important started quite well. Alan Pardew made another bunch of changes, bringing back Carson, Diawara, Hreidersson, Reid, and new signing Thatcher, and continuing with the 4-4-2 formation, which meant further run outs for Hasselbaink and Marcus Bent up front, and Ambrose and Holland in a re-shaped midfield.

Rommedahl put over a couple of decent crosses; Bent was lively and involved, and Reid passed the ball around confidently, even if some of those passes went astray. The new look defence, with El Karkouri at right back, looked solid enough, even with the strong wind causing a few problems when judging the flight of balls.

After 27 minutes, a long punt forward was chased by Bent, and the ball broke to Hasselbaink who mis-hit the ball into the ground (top) but over Schwartzer and into the net. The crowd seemed quite surprised at this result, and round-shaped Jimmy did a tumble roll to celebrate (left) which could have seen him roll on forever if he had got it wrong! Two league goals for the Dutch striker this season, and both against former teams; can we play Leeds next?

Bouyed, the fans got ever noisy and the team more confident. Ambrose was too fancy sometimes, and Holland got booked for a foul - only his second ever booking.

Then it all went pear-shaped. As the crowd looked for the half time injury time board to go up, Reid was caught in possession centrally in midfield, and as has happened so often this season, the result was clinical and precise. Pass, pass, pass, free man, side foot goal (left). Carson had no chance, and was obviously gutted at conceding late in the half.

There was still time for shell-shocked Charlton to watch as Viduka hit a stunning volley which rippled the top of the net having gone just over the bar, and Marcus Bent to miss a gilt-edged chance at the far post that would have restored the lead for the home side.

The second half opened with Viduka missing a sitter from four yards when he volleyed into the ground and amazingly over the bar. But then Charlton settled, and played quite well, but without looking too threatening. Reid took control, Diawara looked commanding at the back, and Thatcher ventured forward.

It was a shock to all therefore when a harmless looking cross into the box was completely messed up by Hreidersson (who attempted to chest it back to the keeper it seems) and the loose ball fell beautifully for Arca to slot home. Again, Carson had absolutely no chance.

The crowd were stunned. Hermann was apologetic.

Four minutes later Yakubu smashed in a shot from the edge of the area after being allowed time to turn and run by El Karkouri. Carson groped at the swerving ball but realistically didn't have any chance again.

The heart was ripped from the home team, the home fans at that point, and bar a volley by Holland that was well saved, Charlton had nothing else to show in the game.

It was funny walking away from the ground; none of the team played that badly this week. Sure, Hasselbaink did little, but he did score. Marcus Bent tried for an hour or so, but was then mysteriously taken off with twenty minutes to go in favour of Lloyd Sam. Rommedahl did OK and put over some good crosses, and Ambrose and Reid tried to get forward and make telling passes. Sadly though, this wasn't enough - the midfield was too lightweight (even if Ambrose and Holland did get booked, as did Hasselbaink for a terrible early foul on Boateng); the forwards did not gel together once more, and Rommedahl couldn't get to the by-line often enough or beat his man on the outside. The game was lost by the time Sam, Thomas, and Hughes came on as subs.

The three departments - defence, midfield, and attack - looked fragmented and do little to help each other most of the time. Pardew knows this, and maybe we will see new players in time for the next games which will help. Maybe China captain Zheng Zhi, introduced at half time to the crowd to whom he gave a much photographed wave, will help? He could provide some solidity but we will have to wait and see.

This game and result has, for me, decided the season - I now don't think we can survive. Pards may well buy in some players, have Young and Bent (D) able to return soon, but I just cannot see that being enough now.

At what point will the board and manager also come to this conclusion - probably not for a month or so, and by then we will have played the next four games and will come to a crucial six-pointer against West Ham that may well go a long way to deciding their and Curbs fate too.

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