Friday, March 30, 2007

Jewell in Denial

It’s seems like ages since Charlton last played (winning against Newcastle - left), and the busy next few weeks will seem completely different from the just two-games-in-March period the players and fans have just been through.

So how have Charlton come out of the quiet period?

Certainly full of confidence; all around the club the atmosphere is terrific and there seems to be a real belief that the team can pull itself out of the shocking situation it has found itself in.

Injuries have been a worry, and I think that we have been extremely lucky that we haven’t had to play much recently, as that would have stretched resources to almost breaking point. On the plus side, Luke Young is now fit, and so is Madjid Bougherra, plus Jerome Thomas seems to have got over his niggles. On the down side, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is hamstrung, and Andy Reid is definitely out for the season after hamstring surgery. In the middle we have both Bents – Darren is treading very carefully at present and hoping that his bad knee will last the majority of every game; he is too important to the team to rest, so it all has to happen in the first hour please lads! Marcus is another with hamstring problems, and I doubt he’ll be risked after one days training as he was against Newcastle, as for him to stay fit for less than half an hour is pointless. Hermann Hreidarsson is another with knee trouble, and he seems OK for a while, but Hermann may find two games in four days too much. Ben Thatcher should also be back to full fitness after knee niggles. The extent of Alexandre Song’s injury, which forced him off the field against the Geordies, is a mystery – hopefully he is now fit again too. Darren Ambrose should also be fit to return.

The club have so many players out on loan (nine) that any major influx of injuries or suspensions would be catastrophic; I doubt that, now the transfer window has closed for Football League clubs, players can be recalled from their loan periods, so we are left with what we have got.

And so to Wigan; I couldn’t resist the heading, as manager Paul Jewell has pleaded not guilty to another case of abusing a referee. Anyone who saw the Arsenal versus Wigan game last month will know that he had a point about the referee, but you cannot it seems say so even when the whole world (barring the FA…) agrees with you these days. Wigan have been on a decent run, which followed a very poor run (eight defeats on the trot); they are solid and can hit you on the break, and Charlton will do well to play it quite tight in the opening stages.

Charlton, however, will be looking for maximum points once more in a home game, and this is the team that I think manager Alan Pardew will send out to gain the win –

Scott Carson
Luke Young
Talal El Karkouri
Hermann Hreidarsson
Ben Thatcher
Alexandre Song
Matt Holland
Jerome Thomas
Darren Ambrose
Zheng Zhi
Darren Bent

Subs from – Randolph, Diawara, Sankofa, Bougharra, Faye, Hughes, Rommedahl, Lisbie, Bent (M).

The proposed line up is obviously dependent on Song being fit, and the plan to use Zhi in the forward role supporting Dazza that he did so well in the second half against the Magpies. If Song is not fit, then central midfield options are limited, and Amdy Faye is the only viable replacement.

With a sell-out crowd (in the home sections at least), the atmosphere should be electric once more at The Valley. The Killer flag will be doing the rounds again (I understand in the reverse direction to the Newcastle game, so starting at the south end of the West stand, so that it is still up and visible in the East Stand when the players come out) and that seemed to get everyone involved (even if just to push it off your head!). The crowd have really become the 12th player in 2007, and long may it continue; the days of being out-sung in home games have fast disappeared, and nobody goes to sleep at The Valley anymore – even the West Stand fans sing and clap these days! It has got so good that the bloke behind me has stopped slagging any of the players off (before kick off at least!).

My one-to-watch this week is going to be Darren Bent; hopefully after a little rest away from the England squad he will be fit and well, and raring to go. If we can get 75 minutes of Dazza magic in each game, then that may be enough to save us come May.

Pedro45’s score prediction should be a home win; a tight game but with so much confidence, a victory all the same. However, every time I say I think we will win, we don’t, and when I think we’ll lose, we win! Then again, sometimes I do get it right, so I’ll predict a 2-1 win, that will have us all on the edge of our seats and with no nails left to eat Easter eggs with.

Come on you reds!

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Twenty Five Men and a Blog

Well, it was better than watching the England match I guess! The Bloggers night at The Valley, organised by Dave Roberts (Forever Charlton) and Ben Hayes (Supporters Director), went down quite well I thought.

It was good to meet some other Charlton bloggers in the flesh (Frankie Valley looked very dapper, and was wearing one of only four ties in the room!), and the attendance was boosted by the Charlton Plus radio show guys, plus a (or the) Charlton poet, and of course the main man – Peter Varney.

What Mr Varney said has to remain off-record, but it is fair to say that most things of interest to Charlton fans and bloggers were covered at some stage – the managers (current and past); players; transfers; turnover; what happens after this season; East Stand extension; Valley Express, do the players and management read our blogs (!); etc, but the team for Saturday was sadly lacking in detail!

The club (represented by Varney and Hayes) for their part wanted to know what Charlton could do for us bloggers; it was most definitely not the other way round, as it was made clear that most of us wanted to remain independent of the club in most areas.

The planned timetable was blown out of the water as discussions continued, and it did seem a much better option to be chatting in the boardroom, than slumping in Bartrams watching England try to score against part-timers.

In my opinion, the night was a resounding success, and hopefully if others agree then it will become a “regular” occurrence at The Valley, maybe twice a season.

Hopefully this piece hasn’t given away any confidences from last night, and we bloggers can look forward to a future repeat that may involve overseas bloggers too.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

ZZ Double Trouble for Geordies

Charlton Athletic 2
Newcastle United 0

Wow; what a result! With the wind pushing them back, it looked in the early stages as if Charlton would get nothing but heartache from this match, but Alan Pardew's team of battlers kept going, and in the second half put on their own pressure that resulted in three crucial points.

Surprisingly, Darren and Marcus Bent were both fit enough to start for Charlton, as did Zheng Zhi for the first time. Hermann Hreidarsson and Souleymane Diawara both returned to the defence too, as Ambrose, Sankofa, and the out-on-loan Fortune missed out.

Big Benty didn't last too long before pulling up lame though, but after a few frantic "discussions" with Pardew, he lasted until half-time. The first half hour was all Newcastle - wave after wave of attacks were repelled by the outstanding Luke Young, along with good play from El Karkouri, Daiwara, and Hreidarsson. In midfield, Charlton just could not cope with Parker and Emre, while Dyer, Milner and Martins made good runs pulling the defence all over the place. Several last ditch tackles prevented shots on target, but having seen Charlton so many times over the years, it was good to get to half time on level terms.

Sadly Alexandre Song didn't make it to half time, becoing yet another apparent pulled hamstring victim, and being replaced by ex-Geordie favourite Amdy Faye (now with just one A in his forename due to a mis-print on his passport!).

With the wind in the second half, Charlton came roaring back, but not before Martins missed the chance of the match screwing wide after controlling an Emre shot on his chest. How he missed the target from just six yards is anyones guess, but that proved the turning point.

A free kick was won on the edge of the box and, as El Karkouri had blasted a similar chance wide in the first half, captain Darren Bent took charge and curled a great shot against the bar. ZZ was first to react and headed (oh so slowly it seemed) the rebound back into the net for his first Premiership goal. Zhi hadn't actually been having a very good game up till then, and he was often out muscled and forced off the ball playing wide right in the first half. He did look much more comfortable in the advanced position he took up after half time, with Rommedahl coming on and playing wide after Marcus Bent went off at the half.

Dazza then had a glancing header well saved, and Charlton really took control. Newcastle had great individual players, but once they went behind, they really didn't seem to have much heart. Damien Duff playing left back (why?) seemed like he had enjoyed his St Patricks night and didn't seem to want to break sweat (in case any alcohol came out maybe?); Keiron Dyer left early for more treatment; Parker lost his cool, as did Solano as Thomas kept tricking him and earning fouls. It was the complete opposite of the first half.

With just a few minutes to go, Darren Bent went off to a great reception, and Super Kevin Lisbie came on as substitute. Very soon, Lisbie was played in and slipped the ball through to ZZ, who was bundled over by Solano. Why Dermot Gallagher didn't send the already booked Peruvian off is anybody's guess, but he did give the penalty. Who would take it now Dazza was back in the changing room?

El Karkouri stepped forward but was beaten to the ball by Jerome Thomas, who coolly sent Given the wrong way (left).

Scott Carson had to make his only save of the game in injury time, and then the points where Charlton's.

Overall, the defence had been solid if unspectacular, though some over-playing did send palpitations through some spectators; the midfield had worked extremely hard, and had settled after half time, enough to win the game overall; up front, the forwards had to wait until after half time for any decent service, but then caused major problems for the Geordie defence.

The win takes Charlton to just four points behind Sheffield United, and two-points closer to safety than they were on Friday.

The belief is there, but it is now another two week gap before the next game (home to Wigan) when, hopefully, Dazza's knee will be OK, and we can carry on the resurgence that has almost everyone believing Charlton can survive and win their relegation battle this season.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fitness battles the key...

It will be nice to finally see Charlton play once more when Newcastle arrive at The Valley tomorrow for another crucial Premiership match; The last time I watched our heroes live was back in January aganist Chelsea - a long time ago! Since then, Charlton have beaten West Ham at home, and picked up an away point at Watford, their two main relegation rivals, while I was away on honeymoon. Defeats to Manchester United are expected, and the lack of other matches (due to not being in the cup competitions) has been a relief bearing in mind the injury situation that the Addicks have had over recent weeks.

This weekend, it was hoped that many of the injured stars would have been ready for battle once more, but sadly the news is not so good.

Darren Bent is hurt once more, and it looks like we will be praying each week between now and the end of the season that his knee will hold out.

Hermann Hreidarsson is back from his knee problem, as is Madjid Bougherra, and with Diawara returning from suspension, at least the central defence looks well covered for once. Ben Thatcher is still out though, so our Icelander may need to play left back this weekend.

Rumours abound that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is also injured, and with Marcus Bent just recovered from his hamstring injury, Kevin Lisbie may end up playing in attack (at least at some point in the game).

This is the side I think Alan Pardew will cobble together to take on the Magpies -

Scott Carson
Luke Young
Talal El Karkouri
Madjid Bougherra
Hermann Hreidarsson
Alexandre Song
Matt Holland
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Zheng Zhi
Marcus Bent

Subs from: Randolph, Sankofa, Diawara, Rommedahl, Faye, Lisbie, Hughes.

Newcastle arrive having been dumped out of the UEFA cup on away goals last Thursday, a very disappointing result for them. They will either be down and bounce back, or be down and stay there. Scott Parker arrives as their Captain, and will get a reception of a kind. We all loved Scotty when he played for us but his career has moved on now. He is now ensconced in the England squad, along with Scott Carson and Darren Bent, and how he plays and how Charlton cope with him will determine the outcome of the game.

My one-to-watch tomorrow is going to be Zheng Zhi. After a few cameo appearances, we are starting to see how good he really is, and hopefully he will start knocking in the goals rather than hitting the woodwork.

Pedro45's score prediction is going to be a 2-0 defeat; it is tough to see where Charlton will score from regularly without Dazza in the team; I hope I am wrong of course, but I do see a Parker inspired Geordie team bouncing back at our expense sadly.

Last years similar fixture was a great 3-2 win for Charlton, with all the goals coming from players with Charlton links - Parker (with a fantastic 30-yard strike) and Lee Bowyer (with an own goal) were on the scoresheet that day. If we get the same result, nearly everyone in SE7 will be happy!

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Monday, March 12, 2007

New Forwards and Bloggers Flock to The Valley

What was supposed to be a slow news week - my first since getting back from honeymoon - has turned into quite a busy little period for the club.

Not only have the Addicks signed two forwards, but a Charlton bloggers convention has been called and season ticket prices have been released that promise a big bonus if one simple scenario pans out.

The first player to sign was Danish winger Martin Christensen. Obvious comparisons with fellow Danish winger Dennis Rommedahl have followed, but wide men come in all shapes and sizes. We will have to wait until next season to see if Christensen is small and tricky, or blazingly fast, or soemwhere in-between. At £250,000, this Dane is one for the futures market.

Also signing was one-game triallist Chris Dickson. Having scored twice for the reserves last week, and out-shining Kevin Lisbie to boot, Dickson is a chance buy but at a maximum of £50,000, and fair bet to make money for the club if he fulfils his promise in any way shape or form. With the lack of decent young strikers hurting the club, Dickson is a short-term stop gap at the minimum, and potentially the next Ian Wright at best.

Frankie Valley spilled the beans that many Charlton bloggers have been invited to a club "do" later this month. Pedro45 also got the call. The chance for sarnies in the boardroom, plus half an hours chat (that will never be enough!) on the official line on Target 40,000, ticket pricing, Valley Express, etc, and being able to hopefully put a face to FV, proved too much of a temptation and Pedro45 will try to make it and not look too sheepish standing in the corner. It's shame that many (if not all) of the overseas bloggers cannot be involved, although Skype is being considered, as they are some of the most vociferous in their work and support. One thing that did strike me about the event was to remember the start of the movie Sea of Love; in this cop Al Pacino invites a large number of bail-jumpers and all-round bad guys to a Meet the New York Yankees day, only to arrest all the attendees as they congregate for the autographs. I can just see the lawyers for Empics waiting in the Valley back-rooms armed with large sticks warning everyone what will happen should their copyright be infringed once more by bloggers "stealing" their photographs!

This is a bold move by the club, and possibly an area-leader that deserves plaudits; you just couldn't see any other Premiership club getting close to the fans in this way could you?

Finally, the club has been bold in announcing season ticket prices that not only give substantial savings against current prices, but give a potential free ticket in a couple of years if Charlton get relegated, then promoted, and you buy before the end of April. New York Addict has laid out the figures involved - somewhere between £750,000 and £3.4m depending on the outcome - and it should confirm a decent enough atmosphere for next season whatever league we play in.

Finally, Sunday's Newcastle home match is yet another big, big game in this season of big games, and the build up has already started with Scott Parker in South London last week watching relative Harry Arter play for the youth team. Roll on the weekend...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Late, Late Show

Watford 2 Charlton Athletic 2

It is horrible when you are overseas and cannot watch your team play on a Saturday afternoon; no TV stations in Thailand (or anywhere it seems) carried this match live, so I had to make do with watching the Arsenal vs Reading game (kick off 10pm l;ocal time) and looking out for the score updates (courtesy of Tiger Beer!) that flashed up at the base of the screen every time a goal went in somewhere, and the overall updates of every game twice in each half.

As the Ashburton Grove game got underway, I was otherwise involved in setting up chargers to power up all those gadgets that one deems necessary these days, and also with trying to catch a rather massive red/brown cockroach which had found its way into the downstairs of our pavillion. This took a little bit of time, and coupled with me reading the local newspaper, the first Tiger update after 25 minutes took me a little by surprise. As always with the non-big clubs, the Charlton score took a while to filter through - Liverpool and Man Utd (the early kick off) came first, then the Fulham, Man City, and Newcastle scores. Then up came Watford 2 Charlton 0. Oh dear. A goal conceded after 15 minutes, then another after 21 minutes. Still, plenty oif time to fight back hopefully. At half time, ESPN are quite good, and show the goals from all the Premiership games that kick off at 3pm in England. Again, last up were Watford's two goals.

Two short crosses, not dealt with, and though Carson made a fabulous save before the first goal, he was helpless to stop either resulting shot. There was El Karkouri, Sankofa, Young, Song, and a couple of other players, but no news on the starting eleven.

Spirits wer not lifted by Wigan winning at Man City, and then early in the second half when the Tiger beer goal flash said Sheffield United took the lead against Everton.

Finally, as the Arsenal machine started to hit the right gears, a decent scoreline - Everton equalising. Soon after Luke Young brought Charlton back into contention in the 67th minute. Come on lads; you can do it.

The Tiger beer score flashes kept coming but brought no further joy. As the Arsenal game finished with 4 extra minutes added, the programme ended just before midnight and the adverts came. No news yet of any final scores...

The next ESPN programme is luckily called Final Score, but unlike the BBC version, it does not start with a results round up, but the studio panel look at highlights and digest each game in turn. Of course, big clubs always come first, so I had to sit through the Liverpool game highlights, then Fulham, then Arsenal (again!), then Man City, before finally, at a very late Thai hour, the host announced that the best had been kept till last - did this mean hope for Addicks fans?

The two first half Watford goals were screened again (hopeless defending...); then apparent Charlton captain Luke Young (who doesn't get many goals we were told) poked in after a delicious through ball from Song. What next - would fial score flash up? No, another Charlton attack. Yippee! The ball goes to Rommedahl (no doubt on as a sub) and his cross is nodded home by Ambrose. Yes! This time, final score 2-2 does come up. I turn off and go to bed - how many did you lose by the wife asked? We didn't I said. Night night!

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Friday, March 02, 2007

No TV at the Vicarage

Another Saturday kick off; another crucial game - this week it's Watford who the Addicks need to beat. As the official website put it, this game is the latest most important game of the season. A win is crucial, yet again, if Charlton are to put pressure on the teams above them and have any realistic chance of surviving in the Premiership this season.

Last weeks romp over West Ham is but a distant memory (albeit a very nice one!), and with Wigan also winning, the gap between safety and despair is still six points. A win away at Vicarage Road on Saturday would really make people sit up and take note though, especially those that are hovering around the thirty point mark and not playing very well (Man City; Fulham; Sheffield United).

This is the side I expect Alan Pardew to put out -

Scott Carson
Osei Sankofa
Talal El Karkouri
Jonathan Fortune
Luke Young
Alexandre Song
Matt H0lland
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
Darren Bent

Subs from Randolph, any other fit defender we have (if any), Faye, Kishishev, Zhi, Reid, Lisbie, Rommedahl.

Strange, but after all the January trasfer window signings, plus the return of injured players, and the recall of loanees, we are still terribly short on guys who can come into the team and play.

Last weeks injuries (Thatcher) and suspensions (Diawara), coupled with longer term knocks to Hreidersson and Bougherra, have given the defence a very thin look. Unless Young plays left back, the only other option is Ashton - not what you want for a must win game like this. At least Jon Furtune (recalled from loan at Stoke) is fit and ready to step into the middle.

With Marcus Bent injured last week, and likely to be out for three weeks with a hamstring strain, Jimmy Floyd needs to keep up the good play we saw during his hour on the pitch versus the Hammers. The only other option would be to play Reid for big Benty, and switch to 4-5-1, but I doubt Pards will do this early in the game. I also doubt Pardew will want to change his formation, and play narrower (with maybe Zhi starting for one of the wide men), as this would reduce the attacking influence and maybe lose out on the confidence gained for last weeks positive play.

My one-to-watch (if I could see the match...) is going to be Darren Bent. Dazza came back with a bang last week, and needs to carry on with his goalscoring heroics for the next ten matches too. I wouldn't be surprised to see JFH on the score sheet too.

Pedro45 has to be confident about this game - although I hope the team are not too confident as Charlton sides have had several come-uppances over recent years when expected to win easily. I predict a 2-0 scoreline, as long as the team are sensible, control the match throughout, and don't get worried if things are not going well after half an hour. A point will be better than none, but every opportunity for the win must be sought.

I'm going to have to bite nails for this game, as it isn't being shown on TV in Thailand (or anywhere in the world it seems...). Thanks to Bangkok Addict for letting me know my worst fears on this were correct. I'll be watching some other meaningless Premiership game on ESPN, or, more accurately, the scrolling bar across the bottom that carries score updates, hoping to see Darren Bent named as the person who hits the back of the net first in this game.

Come on you reds!

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