Sunday, April 29, 2007

And so, the end is near…

Blackburn Rovers 4 Charlton Athletic 1

Reflections and thoughts on yesterday…

I was proud to see the directors checking in at Gatwick alongside the fans who were on the same flight. How many other clubs would that have occurred at?

The Monarch Airlines cabin staff were very efficient.

The take off at Gatwick was a little bit hairy!

Did the pilot really try to give the left hand side of the plane a view of the Valley (albeit twenty miles away)?

Flying slowly over Luton, Coventry, Stoke, and The Wirral. Coming into land over the Mersey…

The amount of police waiting for us at the airport! Luckily, they didn’t seem too bothered once they’d seen the passengers.

Why did people complain at having to walk 300 yards to the coaches at John Lennon Airport?

Why did people moan when we were held for five minutes on the edge of town while other coaches caught up? We were lucky that the police didn’t insist we couldn’t get to the ground before two pm as they usually instruct!

The Fernhurst did a sterling job in catering (booze-wise) for several thousand thirsty fans.

It was too packed for me (and knowing how many more fans were to arrive), so I headed for the Bear Hotel up the hill; for some reason, they were not expecting anyone, so the hundred plus fans who drank there watching the lunchtime football match on TV really made their day!

Leaving the bar with Manyoo 2-0 down; why can’t we score four goals in the last half hour to win?

Being remembered as one of “The Blackburn 12” by Paul Winton…

The meat and potato (or potato and meat as they call them up there…) pies were lovely!

The crowd were fantastic; even better than last year against Middlesboro, and better than the glory-hunters who went to Forest a few years back on freebies.

Who was the blonde woman on the pitch introduced to the crowd beforehand? Growllll…

When the teams walked out, the response from the Darwen End was tremendous and breath-taking.

The tickertape welcome...

Thinking Blackburn missed far too many chances that they should have scored from, and that the game had no chance of finishing scoreless...

Thatcher was booked for a late tackle, though he didn’t actually seem to touch the guy…intent anyone?

How long does it take Marcus Bent to go in a game before he starts to hold his hamstring? Answer - slightly more than a fitness test session obviously!
The ball was changed after half an hour; prior to that, it seemed to be made of lead, as both teams (and mainly our defence) seemed to have trouble kicking it more than twenty yards!

Why did Luke Young go off for thirty seconds and sit on the bench?

At half-time, we could still do it; although they had the better of the half, Charlton finished the stronger, and looked to have settled. A win was not impossible at that stage…

Matt Holland should have shot across Freidel when he had the chance early in the second half; he probably wouldn’t have scored, but at least he wouldn’t have been slagged off on MOTD for aiming at the near post (and hitting the side netting). Holland provided a good balance in the game, and was possibly our MOM.

What, apart from the customary shirt holding, was Hermann appealing for (left) when he let Roberts turn and run away from him prior to his shot?

Carson’s fumbling Roberts subsequent shot into the corner of the net; I don’t know who was more surprised – 6000 Charlton fans wondering what had happened, or 18000 Blackburn fans who didn’t expect him to score!

Thatcher getting mugged into a late tackle and getting sent off. The ref seemed to be happy with just the foul, but the rigorous flag waving from the lino suggested a foul worse than it was, so no surprise the cards followed. On TV, the forward actually falls over Thatcher’s leg, and he doesn’t even kick him…who’s the mug now Ben?

What did Warnock think he was doing heading the ball back toward his own goal? Dazza did great to finish the chance, which wasn’t as easy as it may have looked.

The euphoria that surrounded that goal – false hope, false optimism.

The shock of conceding just a couple of minutes later – having seen the goal on TV, El Karkouri deflected the cross onto Hermann’s thigh, and he had no chance.

Carson diving over the ball for Robert’s second goal, just minutes later. The real killer…

Carson thumping the ball straight upfield to a Blackburn defender, who’s header went to unmarked Derbyshire, and he finished clinically. He looks like he may be a very good player in a couple of years time…

El Kak wandering (limping) off injured to leave us with just nine players for the last ten minutes.
Dazza heading against the bar in injury time from an excellent Rommedahl cross…
The final whistle...

One fan chucking his Operation Ewood t-shirt off the top tier into oblivion (I doubt anyone picked it up and took it home as a souvenir…).

The chaos trying to find the right coach to get on afterwards! (Well done stewards!)

The chant that went up in the bar at Liverpool airport when a barman dropped a glass – “Are you Carson in disguise?”

Being ushered out of the airside bar on the promise that the last plane was going to leave early - it didn’t!

The man berating his wife for not noticing that they should have been on the first flight out, as she thought it was gate 5 which wasn’t boarding yet, when he was equally responsible! Luckily, they were fitted onto the last flight, as it had about twenty empty seats.

A quicker flight home in the twilight.

The directors asking my wife where the car parks were on exiting Gatwick…

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Thursday, April 26, 2007


The tickets are bought, the coaches and planes almost full, and almost 6000 Charlton fans will head up to Blackburn for the next must-win Premiership game on Saturday.

I plan to fly, and I was a little worried when my flight ticket (or any details of the trip) did not arrive along with the match ticket on Wednesday. Thankfully it was in the post at home today. I had heard rumours of early starts, and it was good to have this finally confirmed, just so I can get to Gatwick at the right time.

We will be flying up to John Lennon Airport, at Speke near Liverpool, and then a generous supporter has financed the coaches that will take the plane-loads of fans on across Lancashire to the northern mill town that is Blackburn. Arriving early, during the late morning, I hope there is enough to entertain the fans as several hours. If we are just left to sit in the pub by the ground (even though it is a very nice pub from memory, last visited in 1994!) that amount of time may lead to a few sore heads and some raucous behaviour.

I have happy memories of flying to Charlton matches; Newcastle in the early nineties, when we triumphed 3-1, and Ancona in the Anglo-Italian cup for a 1-1- draw were good times.

The fans all seem ready for the trip, and once again the club has been very generous in subsidising the travel. It really is fantastic that we, Charlton, do this for our supporters, as not many other clubs would contemplate such an option, eith er because they don;t have the finances, or maybe they just don't care.

Hopefully, the players will also be ready for this match, as they really don’t have many options if this one goes pear-shaped.

Alan Pardew will need to pick the best eleven that he can, and then ensure that they play with passion, heart, commitment, and skill; anything less, and Charlton can wave goodbye to the Premiership.

The defence is unlikely to see a major changes, although the fit again Hermann Hreidarsson may replace Ben Thatcher, if Thatcher’s hip injury picked up last weekend has not cleared.

Up front, Pards needs to decide if he wants to play with someone alongside Darren Bent. His options are Marcus Bent, pictured fagging it with his latest girlfriend earlier in the week (which suggests that he may know he will not be facing yet another of his former clubs this weekend…), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, or Kevin Lisbie. None of these players will strike fear into the Rovers defence!

In midfield, the options seem unlimited; all the wide players are fit, even if not playing consistently; and the central midfield also has few problems, with Song, Holland, Faye, Hughes, and Zhi all in contention.

This is the side I think Pardew will want to take the field at Ewood Park –

Scott Carson
Luke Young
Talal El Karkouri
Souleymane Diawara
Hermann Hreidarsson
Alexandre Song
Matt Holland
Darren Ambrose
Dennis Rommedahl
Zheng Zhi
Darren Bent

Subs from Randolph, Thatcher, Sankofa, Faye, Hughes, Thomas, Lisbie, Hasselbaink.

I expect Pards to stick with his recent formation of playing one up front and one just behind Dazza; for this game I'd like to see Zheng Zhi pushed up again, and Ambrose restored out wide. Jerome Thomas should make way in my opinion, as his last couple of games have been pretty awful. I'd also like to see Matt Holland back in midfield, as he gives the side balance, and comes with plenty of experience.

Blackburn are pushing for a UEFA cup spot, although they are currently way behind Reading and need to make up six points on Spurs. Goal-scoring goalie Brad Friedel is talking up their chances, but they look sure to miss out unless they can win all four of their remaining games. They have been in reasonably good form of late, but have won just one of their last three games, and couldn’t beat Fulham last weekend, so we do have some hope.

Ok, I know. I shouldn’t have mentioned the “H” word, but it was always likely to slip out sometime in this preview.

For Charlton the equation is pretty simple; unless we win at least one of the remaining three games, then we will undoubtedly be relegated. Saturday is possibly the best chance to get the win, as Blackburn may not be too “up-for-it”, and/or over-confident. Even these three points may not be enough for keep the Addicks in the top flight, but what may happen is that these three points could lead to more, and that may be enough…?

My one-to-watch in this game is Darren Bent. Dazza is the one player above all others that can win the game for us. We need to score goals, and Dazza is the man most likely. He hasn't been 100% fit since before Christmas, but hopefully he will be fitter than he seemed last weekend.

Pedro45’s score predictions haven’t been too close recently, although I did predict the goalless Easter. When I’ve hoped for wins, we have lost or drawn; when I’ve given us no chance we have scraped out a result. I do know that 6000 fans making the trip will be a whole lot happier if Charlton do win, and so I just have to carry on that belief in my score forecast - I’ll go for a 1-0 victory.

This will be a very tough game, more so if we fall behind early on…We, all 6000 who are going to be there, and the other twenty-odd thousand who cannot make the game, desperately want Charlton to get a result in this game.

Please boys, do it for us.

Come on you reds!

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cut Down to Size...

Charlton Athletic 1 Sheffield United 1

What went wrong? This was a must win game for Charlton, but they failed, despite another thumping goal from Talal El Karouri (left). The draw leaves the club still rooted in the bottom three, and with just three matches to go, the signs are that Charlton may well find it impossible to drag themselves out of the relegation zone.

Should we be blaming anyone – fans, players, management, and/or the referee? Well that would be easy, and at times you could point fingers in any and every direction and say that what was going on wasn’t helping matters.

Some of the supporters think that games against promoted clubs are easy games, and that Charlton have an automatic right to win such fixtures. It is a patronising idea borne out of the rule/expectation that Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal must be allowed to win all their games (except when they play each other); no team can or should expect to walk out onto the pitch with the fans knowing the result is a foregone conclusion. When goals don’t come easy, as they haven’t for Charlton over recent weeks, then fans moan and complain. This has added to the nervousness around the club that the players seem to have sensed. I totally accept that this season has been a hell of a lot more interesting than any of Curbs last few in charge, but we need to play (and support) with belief that we can prevail. The noise levels from supporters are fantastic (the clackers helped again…), but we must keep it going even when the play isn’t going quite so well.

The players did look a little nervous yesterday; obviously the disappointment of last weekends loss at Goodison hurt, but they did play well, and should have been confident as that was the first defeat in seven games. The team needed to take individual responsibility, but I do think we lacked some leaders on the pitch, and maybe one reason for that was a problem with communication? It is well publicised that Zheng Zhi cannot speak English, and with the French speaking contingent at the back (El Karkouri, Diawara, and Bougherra), sometimes you really could see that some players didn’t seem to know what the other was going to do. When “Magic” came on toward the end, he really did look nervous, and would not take the ball anywhere or do anything with it (other than pass sideways) in case he looked bad. And as for his foul throw in…I know the lino took ages to flag for it (maybe he was told about it by the fourth official via his earpiece?), it was so blatant it was embarrassing.

Alan Pardew picks the team, and he does so with the intention of getting the best result possible. I really don’t like to criticise him as he has worked wonders since arriving, but yesterday I thought he probably didn’t help matters much with his selections. In defence of his actions, he hasn’t been helped by injuries in preparation, or during the matches (for instance, Big Bent and Hreidarsson went off injured in the first half against Reading thereby leaving any tactical changes almost redundant). Yesterday, he chose to play threee “wingers”, which was bold, and could have worked, but when all three are quite, shall we say, lightweight, and not known for their tackling abilities, I wonder if this was the right move? Especially so when the side you are up against are a bunch of bruisers who will battle for every ball, and deny any space and time you may want. We had to be first to the second balls, and the team just didn’t have enough energy/skill/muscle to do that. I do think that Matt Holland (or even Amdy Faye) would have been a better option in midfield than Darren Ambrose (or ZZ) if the formation Pards wanted was to be maintained. In fact, Pardew wanted to switch things around when Charlton went in front – Holland and Hreidarsson where both stripped and waiting to come on – but he chose not to. The obvious reason for this was that both times he was ready to make the changes, Charlton were defending free kicks in and around their own penalty area. Do you switch then or not – damned if you do, and damned if you don’t! In the end, Holland never did make it onto the pitch, as Pards decided (probably quite rightly) that one of his centre backs was likely to be sent off with the pressure they were being put under, and he sacrificed Diawara for Bougherra in order to save him for next week.

Alan Wiley, the referee, has had a lot of plaudits this season, but I doubt many Charlton fans think much of him now… There were eight bookings – five for Charlton – and he did struggle at times to keep a lid on the match (Do clubs still get fined if they get five bookings in a Premiership match?). It has to be said that there were no punch-ups/handbags, no bad fouls, no elbowing (even though Warnock indicated to Wiley that there had been!), but this was a game where all the actions that can be termed “Professional” came out; lots of shirt-pulling, tripping, time-wasting, and all round negative play. Hey, be honest, both sides were guilty! Wiley didn’t help matters by making a rod for his own back; once he brandished a yellow card (second minute – for deliberate handball), he had to be consistent with his actions, and I actually thought he was. Sadly, that hurt Charlton more than it hurt the Blades. When you consider that of the three cautions handed out to the away team, one was handball, one time-wasting (Kenny; right at the very end), and the other for persistent fouling, then I think Charlton were a bit mugged in that area of the game. Oh, and for all those fans sat near me who lambasted the linesman for not giving Stead off-side (above), he didn’t because he wasn’t!

OK, whinge over! It’s just the disappointment…

Rommedahl had one of his better games, and sadly nobody could get a header on target from one of the series of delightful crosses he put over in the first half (Ambrose the most guilty). Dazza was clearly not fit (maybe only 80%?), but that was nearly enough as he also came close on a couple of occasions. We still don’t know where ZZ is best, but as a midfield general it probably isn’t, as he does go to ground too easily (something noticed by Wiley…); it was a shame that we couldn’t switch him positionally with Ambrose at some stage, as he really could have caused damage playing just behind Dazza. Again, ZZ came close to scoring; he could have had a goal a game since Newcastle (and maybe should have…)!

El Karkouri (left) did shoot when we told him too, and it went in! Even though there was a slight deflection it might still have won our Goal of the Season had it not been too late to include! He also came close with a good free-kick that was obviously a benefit from work the training ground.

Carson continues to make good saves, and is now probably now a lot better keeper than he was when he arrived. It would be great to keep him if we could, but he will not be affordable to a Championship team.

Ultimately, and cruelly, one poor decision (by Ambrose in choosing to pass in the direction of Dazza rather than Rommers) may have cost the Addicks the game, as the ball went up the other end and Stead thumped in the equaliser.

Next week, we will arrive at Blackburn, and the team will be backed by well over 4,000 travelling fans. I hope that many more chose to give it a go, as it could be glorious, or it could be a swansong; I haven’t booked my ticket yet but plan to do so tomorrow. I want to be there, and I want the players to know that I and others want to see them win.

What other teams do really doesn’t matter; with teams at the bottom playing each other, we have to win a game and concentrate on getting above someone else, or maybe two, anyone will do – Fulham, Wigan, Sheffield United – I don’t care!

Charlton now have to approach the last three games as cup finals, as if they haven’t done so over the last few weeks! A win is vital, as not even three draws is likely to be enough to keep them up. With two tough away games, and another hard game at home, it is easy to say that we cannot do the impossible. But this is Charlton, and we never do things the easy way…

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Cutting it Fine!

It’s make or break time at The Valley tomorrow, as Charlton’s latest do or die game brings them face-to-face with Sheffield United.

We all know the permutations from whatever result comes from the game; suffice to say that anything less than a Charlton win will not go down too well in parts of south east London.

The Blades will come to the match with some confidence, having thumped West ham 3-0 last weekend. That confidence may not have been dented by the midweek loss to Manchester United, so Charlton will need to be on top of their collective game.

Injuries will play a part, as United have top scorer Rob Hulse missing with a broken leg. Charlton are not at full strength, but do have many key players available. Hermann Hreidarsson may make a quick return from injury, although it is more likely that Ben Thatcher will retain his place at left back. Marcus Bent may be fit but may not be ready to face another of his former clubs (he does seem to have the option to face one nearly every week these days!).

The scary news is that Darren Bent has a slight knock; without him, Charlton really would have problems up front…

This is the side I expect Alan Pardew to send into battle at 3pm tomorrow –

Scott Carson
Luke Young
Talal El Karkouri
Souleymane Diawara
Ben Thatcher
Alexandre Song
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Dennis Rommedahl
Darren Bent

Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, Hreidarsson, Faye, Hughes, Lisbie, Hasselbaink, Thomas.

If Jerome Thomas has recovered from his knee problem, then he may well play instead of Rommedahl.

I really don’t’ know if it is worth issuing a rallying cry, as all Addicks fans know how this game ranks with those we have seen this season and before: A win and we have a chance; a defeat and we are pretty much doomed.

My one-to-watch tomorrow is going to be Alan Pardew. Our manager has done a great job since he had that phone call on Christmas Eve, and we all love him to bits. He will be kicking every ball as he watches from the sideline, arms crossed, and if things do start to go pear-shaped, the players will need his experience, calmness, and thoughtful thinking to be evident. He has the tactical nous to know how to win this fixture; he just needs the players to put these ideas into practice.

Pedro45’s score prediction is a 2-0 home win. We need it more than them; it has to be a homer.

Alan Wiley is a strict but fair referee (famous last words!!!), and we need to be aware that they will come at us and try to bully a result from the fixture. No silly tackles or sticking heads where you shouldn't boys!

The players and fans will hopefully do their bit, and I really do think we can win this match.

Come on you reds!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Italian Policing of Football Matches – a Charlton Perspective

It was quite horrendous to watch the scenes involving Italian police a few weeks back during the Champions League game between Roma and Manchester United, and my thoughts turned to my own trip to watch Charlton play in Italy in 1993.

Now this was the Anglo-Italian Cup, and not the Champions League, so there has to be some perspective drawn, but the comparisons are valid.

Charlton were to play Ancona, a sleepy east coast town half-way down the right hand side of Italy. This was the second adventure to Italy that year for Charlton and their fans (I hadn’t been able to make the first trip to Brescia), but the first where we would score a goal!

I remember the day very well; Early in the morning, I walked from my parents house to the New Eltham training ground, where the coach to Gatwick was meeting us. It was November, and quite cold, but a spooky mist sat on the football pitches there, and you could look down and see the top of the fog from inside the coach. We set off in jovial mood, and the check in and flight went quite well.

We flew over the Alps, and on past Rome to Ancona – the team we were playing that night. The local airport is an Air Force base converted to take commercial flights (as well as still remaining an Air Force post). We had a great view of the town as we circled overhead (see top pic), and eventually landed. The airport was quite small, and they really didn’t seem to be ready for a hundred or so football fans (or even tourists) to arrive from abroad; I think they usually only had Piper Cherokees landing with the odd-business person aboard.

Having completed formalities, we boarded a couple of coaches and headed into town. Arriving into town at midday, on a lovely late summers day, most fans headed for a bar.

I chose though to venture off and walk around the town. I remember taking photos of nice buildings, and trekking up the large hill in the centre of town; I guess most people were at work as it was very quiet everywhere. Even the docks down below seemed almost shut…

Having wandered to the highest point of the area, I sauntered down to the main square again (where the buses were parked) and tried to get some lunch. I wasn’t too adventurous and mainly through pointing and smiling bought a cheese sandwich or similar (How many Lire???).

I then fancied a beer, so found a nice looking bar to sit in, and found that a few Charlton fans had made it their home since arriving. All three were a little worse for wear already, and getting noisier, so after one beer, I left and found somewhere else a little quieter.

The coaches were picking us up around 4pm as a trip along the coast had been arranged, but departure was delayed as news seeped out that the three noisy fans in the bar had been arrested. Rumours had it that they had got rather loud in their singing, and a glass had been broken (possibly accidentally...). In turn, the bar owner called the police and they had been carted off to the local nick with no messing.

I think there were some sort of negotiations going on between the police and the Supporters Club representatives which held our departure up, but eventually off we went down the coast.

Late afternoon on the Aegean coast was quite fun. We drove down for about an hour, and stopped at a small bay, underneath some cliffs. We all just hung around for the best part of an hour watching a shaggy black dog getting wet in the sea, then got back on the coach to drive back into Ancona. There was nothing else to see or do (it was too cold by now to go swimming...).

Back in town, we headed back into the central square again, had another quick beer, then back on the coaches, drove off under police escort to the stadium.

Bearing in mind it was an 8pm kick-off, we arrived at the ground about right, just after 7pm. The bad news was that the police insisted we stay on the coaches until just before kick-off. I was actually the second fan off the coach and the first through the turnstile – my bladder almost bursting! I ran into the stadium and shouted at a steward to tell me where the loo was! Soon after practically the whole coach load was relieving themselves in the small toilet area; after a few hours drinking, then an hour sitting going nowhere, this wasn’t the best policy for the police to adopt. You can imagine what might happen if a coach load off Man Utd fans were treated similarly!

After the balmy afternoon (where I’d actually been sunburnt), the evening turned quite cold.

The ground was a bit surreal, and not very full! I think only 1500 fans bothered to come along, so we were not exactly hemmed in by local fans, even if we were by the towering fences (see below). There was some banter though, all pretty good-natured - one hilarious sight was an apparent arrangement whereby a Charlton fan and an Italian counterpart would exchange shirts. Much hand waving and international gesturing seemed to confirm the deal, but when the Charlton shirt went over the fence, nothing came back apart from wry smiles!

Charlton fell behind after a goalkeeping error (not picking up back-passes was still pretty new), but then equalised when Carl Leaburn strode onto a pass and stroked home. The game finished all square, our Anglo-Italian Cup adventure over for another year, and we headed back to the coaches.

Here, security seemed to break down a little, as Italian fans clambered aboard to shake hands and to make friends with their new best mates, and maybe pick up the odd additional shirt as a souvenir! No police seemed to be around or involved in controlling this, which was strange…again, imagine that happening to Man U fans! Thankfully, it was all good natured and there was no trouble.

We eventually got back to the airport, where we were herded into line, and the atmosphere suddenly changed for the worse. Now very much under police control, but off the coaches, you could sense that it wouldn’t take much to break the ice and get a whack as a leaving present from the Carabinieri. As we stood waiting, a side-door was opened and out came the three middle-aged guys who had been arrested at the bar earlier that afternoon. Not only had they missed the match, but they had obviously had a complete and thorough beating for their trouble. All had cuts and bad bruises to the face, and bloody lips and noses. They huddled back into the group but nobody really spoke in case the police decided to make an example of someone else.

We eventually got back on board the plane, and flew home. The players also flew home with the fans, but didn’t endear themselves too much as they spent much of the flight buying up all the duty free goods, and thereby stopping everyone else from stocking up on booze/fags.

The coaches had been delayed getting to Gatwick, so we had another wait, and I think we got back to New Eltham about 3.30am.

I believe that the three who were arrested were later banned for life from the club, but this ban was lifted when the full story of why they were nicked, and their beating came out.

You can therefore understand why, some years later, it’s not unusual for the police in Italy to still enjoy bruising a few heads, getting boozed up fans defenceless in locked rooms and beating them up. I’m just surprised people are still amazed that it happens.

As a fan, I’d love Charlton to be playing in European competition, but having experienced the grief, and seen even worse on TV recently, I’m not sure if we would actually take too many fans abroad these days. It’s just not worth the bother…

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Monday, April 16, 2007


Everton 2 Charlton Athletic 1

Although my preview blog said that I didn’t think Charlton had much chance of getting a result at Goodison Park yesterday, two things gave me hope prior to the game.

The first was when I read, on Saturday, that the referee was to be Mark Halsey. Mr Halsey is a well-known Bolton Wanderers fan, and does seem to favour teams that are nowhere near Bolton in the league, and therefore a threat to their league placing. In past years, Charlton have struggled when Halsey has been in charge in the past, as we were usually competing with them for places (and therefore money) in the middle of the league. Now that Bolton are flying high and have dreams of a Champions League place, and being pursued by Everton (and not Charlton), I hoped that we would at last benefit positively from the refereeing decision in this game. Alas no…

The other positive hope for me was during my marathon journey home yesterday. During the first bus-leg of my car, train, bus, train, train, train, and bus trip back to South London, on a gorgeous day, I saw a sign that pointed to Charlton Way. As this was about ten minutes before kick off, I immediately had hope that our methods would prove valiant! Alas no…

As I was in transit, with little hope of listening to the game on the radio on Cup Semi-final day, I made the decision to stay out of the media network all day, and hope to see the highlights of the game on Match of the Day 2 without knowing the score or anything about the game. Successfully I made it to 10.30 without hearing anything, even refusing to look at text messages in case they spilled any beans (they did…), and settled down to watch as Andy Chiles gave the programme intro. I saw a picture of Alan Pardew bemoaning a missed chance (by the look of it) as Chiles spoke of life near the bottom and the necessity of getting results. Then the semi highlights were shown followed by the Wigan vs. Spurs 3-3 draw. At least that meant a win for the Addicks could put them up to the heady heights of 15th or 16th!

And so to the main match (in my opinion): news that Thatcher, Hughes, and Faye all returned to the team in place of expected injured duo Hreidarsson and Marcus Bent, plus Jerome Thomas, who had also been struggling with a knock.

The highlights were quite brief, but not as bad as the 30-second cameo’s we seemed to get last season!

Not much seemed to happen in the first half – El Karkouri deflected a shot on to the post with Carson beaten, and then it was into the second half. A couple of Everton chances came and went, subdued by stout Charlton defending. Holland replaced Faye; Beattie came off for McFadden. Bent fluffed an effort wide. Zheng missed a great chance to score from a corner when unmarked at the far post, completely mis-timing his shot from six yards. Everton had a couple of chances but couldn’t score.

With ten minutes left, an Everton attack wasn’t cleared properly and when the ball came back into the box, Carson had to make a great save. Sadly for Carson and Charlton, the ball rebounded to Lescott, who prodded home unmarked. Could Charlton bounce back? More highlights…so hope. Hasselbaink and Bougherra came on for Hughes and Thatcher.

Darren Bent wriggled through the penalty and shot across Howard and into the back of the net. Yes! 89th minute we are told. Was that it?

Now when I watched the Watford away game on TV a couple of months back while on honeymoon, I really wanted another clip on the goal highlights so that we had a chance of equalising (having been 2-1 down). After Luke Young scored in that game, I knew – because it didn’t say final score on the scoreline caption – that there must be another goal. You can usually tell by who has the ball or is attacking which team is likely to score next. A couple of months back, the next clip showed that Charlton had a free-kick, so I was quietly confident that we would get a goal and a point from that game, and so it transpired.

Last night though, it was Everton who were on the attack after Dazza’s equaliser; no final score mention on the scoreline caption must mean something was going to happen…

Sure enough, another aerial attack into the Charlton box, and it’s only cleared to the edge of the penalty area. McFadden shapes to shoot, but Bougherra has raced out to block him. McFadden dinks the ball over the Algerian and larrups a left foot volley into the bottom corner of the net; Carson had no chance. Alas…

The players sank to their collective knees; the effort showed in getting an equaliser, but then losing it well into injury time was cruel on them.

New York Addict has blogged this season about how a win and a defeat are better (points wise) than two draws: Therefore, shouldn’t managers be more adventurous in seeking those extra two points when the game is level late into the second half. The argument is sound until you see the despair on the players when they lose what they have worked so hard to gain from a game, albeit only one point.

We can all point to games won in injury time (Blackburn at home being the best positive example this season), and late winners are great when you are victorious. But they do hurt like hell when you lose. We’ve had a few games where late goals have influenced where the points went in this mad-season and we have had the better of these late goals – Wigan, Watford, Villa, and Blackburn all went for us, and then Sheffield United and Fulham (plus Everton yesterday) went against us.

It’s still a bit early to do what ifs, but if you took away Graham Poll’s late, late error in the Fulham home game, and Charlton had won that game 2-1, we would have 34 points, and would sit level with Sheffield United, Wigan, and Fulham. We would still be third from bottom, but I think maybe a lot happier and confident than we are now about avoiding relegation.

Saturday now becomes yet another in the long series of make or break games we have played in the back end of this season. Sheffield United, two points ahead of us, will come looking for a point, buoyed by their own thrashing of West Ham (who are surely doomed now…); we must win. What Pards needs to do is lift the heads of the team and make them believe all over again – no easy feat.

We don’t have big Hermann anymore this season; we haven’t got big Benty either. What we need to replace them is big hearts being worn on big sleeves; shirts with big chests; big support; and lots of big, big luck.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Going Good at Goodison?

It may be Grand National weekend, but Charlton face a stiffer hurdle than the Aintree course if they are to get anything from the match against Everton on Sunday.

A 6-game unbeaten run may be in the bank, but Everton are one of the form teams in the Premiership at this time, and anything point-wise from this game will be a betting bonus.

Alan Pardew’s team shouldn’t roll over or fall at the first fence though; even against the better teams in this league, he has them organised and able to compete, even if we do not have the utmost skill to create enough to hurt well-organised defences.

Everton have a solid defence (is Gary Neigh-Smith playing?), a combative midfield, and a forward line that has options of height and pace and youth, plus good finishing ability - they are no donkeys and will be short odds to beat the Addicks.

This is the side I expect Alan Pardew to ride out on Sunday afternoon –

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

Subs from Randolph, Bougherra, Faye, Hughes, Rommedahl, Lisbie, and anyone else who is fit.

From the way that they both left the field last Monday, it looks doubtful if old nags Hreidarsson or Marcus Bent will be fit this weekend. Luckily, Thatcher is back to fitness at just the right time to replace Hermann, and big Benty seems to have lost some of his on-field zip since he hooked his stirrups onto Teddy’s filly, and will not be missed as much as he might.

Hopefully I’ll be able to listen to some of the commentary on the radio, as I’ll be in transit (stuck on trains/buses) during the whole game.

My one-to-watch this match is going to be Scottt Carson (left). Scotty returns to Merseyside as a Charlton player for the first and probably last time, and no doubt he will be aiming to put the stick he will receive as a ‘Pool player right back whence it came. If Charlton are to get anything from this match, Carson will need to play a blinder.

Pedro45’s score forecast is a 2-0 defeat. I hope the blinkers mean I’m wrong but the clean sheets have to end sometime, and the lack of goals is starting to become a worry (even though Dazza is back playing quite well and looking sharper than for some time).

I guess that if we can hold them in midfield, be solid at the back, cope with the pace that will inevitably mean the referee is under pressure to give fouls, and somehow have enough possession to get the collective breath back, then we could be smiling during our Sunday tea and get a lump of sugar as reward.

This Pardew-inspired Charlton team keep amazing us; when we bloggers all wrote about the certainty of relegation back in January, little did we know that come mid-April we would be out of the bottom three. Of course, if results go against us we could be back in there again by the time we kick off on Sunday, but at least we have some hope now.

The last five games of the season require more effort, from everyone, than the last six games have - the run in is long and hard. If we see that effort, we might, just might, finish up in the right league next season and not the knackers yard. At least we still have hope (and not just about getting a free season ticket!) and that is something after this season of change.

Come on you reds!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Point of Order

Charlton Athletic 0
Reading 0

No goals, but at least two points have now been gained over the Easter period, and that is enough to keep Charlton out of the bottom three, at least until Saturday (when West Ham meet Sheffield United).

Last nights tough match saw Charlton come closest to scoring when, as early as the fifth minute, Talal El Karkouri headed Darren Ambrose’s right wing free-kick against the underside of the bar (above). Sadly for us Addicks fans, then ball bounced down on the line and was cleared with no Russian linesmen in sight.

It was all so competitive, and quite open too, which is quite strange when from memory relegation fights tend to lead to dour, negative play. Not this season!

The bright opening soon gave way though, and Charlton were not helped when Hermann Hreidarsson went off injured (why does he always run off when he is hurt?!?), to be replaced by Thatcher, soon to be followed by Marcus Bent, who does seem to be lasting less than a half at home matches recently! Matt Holland came on in midfield with Zheng Zhi moving up front as a replacement for big Benty. Alexandre Song also got himself booked for a wild kick at Sidwell that led to a small flare up, and with that Reading became fired up, and Charlton slightly embarrassed.

Graham Poll, who gifted Fulham a very late equaliser on his last refereeing stint at the Valley, seemed to be trying to balance things up at first, but soon he had both sets of noisy supporters howling for his head with a series of poor decisions. The linesmen, who both seemed to be over-awed by the man with the whistle, certainly did not help the teams, or maybe Poll just tells them to only give throw-ins and offsides? Or perhaps they were in fact Russian, and this was the real reason why they could not communicate with the man from Tring?

Carson made a good save late in the half to deny tricky Korean Ki-Hyeon, and half-time came with Charlton hanging on a little.

Charlton’s oriental obviously had a good talking too at the break from Alan Pardew (left) via his translator, as Chinaman Zheng Zhi seemed transformed in the second half. He at last started to latch on to passes and headers from Darren Bent and shooting chances came along every now and then. Song was tricky but suffers from the Arsenal disease of trying to walk the ball into the net when shooting is a better option. Jerome Thomas was at his frustrating best; easily having the beating of the full back, but seemingly incapable of getting in a decent cross. He did run out of steam a little toward the end too. Darren Bent looked better this week too, but even he didn’t connect well when he did get a shot at goal.

All this while, the defence was hanging in there, and almost everything that was thrown at them was rebuffed. Diawara was cool and blocked many efforts with some part or another of his anatomy; Thatcher was a little off the pace, but did not lack effort; Young is back near his best, and could have scored in the first half (with a near replica of the goal he got at Watford) had the ball been on his stronger side; and El Karkouri battled away even when Lita was smashing him in the face. When they were beaten, Carson looked assured, even though three times he did have to dive full length as shots whistled wide of his left hand post.

With Song still having a major tussle with Sidwell in the middle of the park, Pardew withdrew him in case Poll decided to get a red card out. This gave us fans a chance to see the enigma that is Kevin Lisbie for twenty minutes; I would have said play for twenty minutes, but that might be lying! SKL (Super Kevin Lisbie) could have been a great foil for Dazza, but KL (the mere Kevin Lisbie) chose to hang out wide on the left and not become involved at all, merely chasing the odd ball down to the corner flag when he could be bothered. Maybe Rommedahl, even with his own issues and insecurities, would have been a better option at that stage? That number 12 shirt on all the season ticket literature could really be up for grabs next season after all...

A late header by Zheng brought hope, but a good save, and the whistle went without a goal. It was clearly a frustrating evening, evident by the contretemps in the West stand as fans started to leave and a steward decided to be big, brave…and confrontational.

Other results went quite well, but the bottom of the Premiership would have looked rosier for the reds if they could have scored tonight. As things stand, the team still need at least one win, and possibly two, to stay up, plus another point from somewhere. With games away in the north-west at Everton, Blackburn, and Liverpool, plus a home fixture versus Spurs, this may be tough. The Sheffield United home game is looming ever-larger as a absolutely must-win game.

But then, this is Charlton, and we are used to doing things the hard way.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Haring after Easter Bunnies

The next Charlton fixture on this roller-coaster season is the Monday night Sky fixture versus Reading. At least Charlton currently, after the Saturday matches, reside outside the bottom three, but that will still be the case come kick-off time.

Saturdays results were not all bad, but certainly not all good!

We all wanted and needed Wigan to lose at home to Bolton, and Sheffield United to lose at home to Newcastle, and thankfully they both did! The Bramall Lane result keeps us above the Blades in 16th spot. Sadly, West Ham upset the apple-cart and turned over Arsenal 1-0 at Ashburton Grove, thus bringing the Hammers back into the mix and raising their expectations of survival. Four teams now within four points of each other, and Fulham looking over their worried shoulder too, just two points ahead of the group.

Another blog site (Frankie, was it you?) mentioned the hunter and the hunted, and was it better to be the hunter, chasing down the 16th spot club, rather than being hunted, always looking over the shoulder. Well, strangely it may have been more comfortable for us Addicks fans to be trying to get points to catch Sheffield United than it is staying ahead of them and West Ham. And actually, that may well be the case (i.e. chasing) after next weekend (when Curbs and Warnock go head-to-head) unless we can pick up points from the Reading match.

It needs to be said that Charlton’s last two matches haven’t been very good; after the high and jubilation of thrashing West Ham, plus the second half turnarounds against Watford and Newcastle, the Wigan and Manchester City games were pretty dour, and little was created.

Alan Pardew still seems unsure of his best team; this is almost certainly down to the fact that some of the players are so inconsistent themselves! One week, world-beaters; the next, useless so-and-so’s hauled off at half-time! Luckily, it seems that he is able to call on a near fully fit squad, and keep the options open from the bench.

One of the recent problems has actually been Zheng Zhi. Now I’m not being harsh on the China Captain here, as I do think he has been one of our better players over the last couple of months. But where should he be played? He is obviously capable of playing in a whole number of different positions – wide-right, centre midfield, up-front supporting Dazza, even left-back apparently! But where is best?

Of course, if Dennis is having one of his “moments” then Zhi can slot in there, and if big Benty is hamstrung, he can be switched forwards, but where to start him?

Personally, I think he is a little lightweight (nothing wrong with that though!) and goes to ground too easily to be played up front where he will probably be out-muscled too much. He is more likely to win free kicks (for falling over) in midfield I believe. So that’s where I would play him. But Pards may (and probably does) have different ideas!

This is the team I think may take the field against Reading, where we need at least one point, and preferably three –

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

Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, Thatcher, Bougherra, Faye, Rommedahl, Ambrose, Lisbie.

If Holland isn’t fit (there didn’t seem to be a reason given why he was left out against City…), I would play Ambrose wide right and Zhi centrally.

Reading come to The Valley on the back of a defeat at home by Liverpool; a close game, but one where they were eventually out-classed. Hopefully, it will have taken its toll on their legs, and Charlton will be fitter from the extra days rest. We know Reading will be combative, but Pards will not want to lose to one of his former teams!

My one-to-watch tomorrow is going to be Zheng Zhi, wherever he plays! He has been on good form, seems to have developed a liking for SE7, and if we fans could come up with a song that he could understand, he may become a Valley Hero! After missing that chance at Eastlands, let’s hope he can score his second goal for the Addicks tomorrow night.

Pedro45 is not too optimistic about our chances once more; I have a bad feeling similar to when we played Middlesboro back in January. With the games becoming ever more important, we will suffer setbacks, although I hope it’s not in this match. My forecast is going to be another 0-0 draw, and I know I always leave myself open to a goal from either side in doing that…

This season has been oh-so-much more interesting than the previous mid-table mediocrity we had under Curbs, but I just have a strange feeling in my stomach that I cannot shift, and it’s all down to the team I love. And no, it’s not too much Easter chocolate! I know it will go away in the summer, but I don’t know if it will be replaced by mental elation or despondency; a win tomorrow would tip the balance in the smiley direction!

Come on you reds!

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Above the Line at Last

Manchester City 0
Charlton Athletic 0

The point gained from this game has finally hauled Charlton out of the Premiership relegation zone after seven long months. Sheffield United now join West Ham and Watford in the bottom three, at least until this afternoon when they play Newcastle.

It wasn't a pretty game by all accounts at Eastlands - I would have hoped to have watched the match on pay-per-view TV, but for some pathetic reason Virgin Media (formerly NTL) had technical trouble in the south east London area and I couldn't connect. I suppose it was £8 saved, but the service they are providing (minus Sky Sports News, Sky 1, etc) is pretty abysmal at present. Maybe it's because Branson has past links with some team from Croydon?

I therefore ended up listening to the eloquent commentators of Radio Five Live. Sadly, it seems that they hate us as much as the Match of the Day crew and took every opportunity to have a go at Charlton for being in the Premiership. Is it because Dowie worked at the Beeb during the World Cup? Ever since we dumped him, we've had a very rough ride from the Shepherds Bush mob...

The match itself saw City with most of the pressure, but bad delivery and not good defending prevented them scoring (according to the radio...). Charlton offered little according to Alan Green, who said that the best thing about taking over commentary halfway through the second half was that it meant it was getting nearer the end of the game! Dunn nearly put through his own goal to give Charlton the lead; Jerome Thomas had some good runs down the left wing, but his crosses always seemed to fall short of attackers in the middle; the defence blocked almost all the shots at the Charlton goal and when a body wasn't in the way, Scotty Carson saved.

Charlton's best chance came when Marcus Bent and Darren Bent combined before Dazza crossed to Zheng Zhi. The radio said he missed a sitter, but actually reports say the defender did well and the ball went just wide. Not having seen it, I don't know...

The last ten minutes or so saw Charlton look for all three points, but nothing much could be created. I myself was pleased to have predicted a goalless encounter, and that will have pleased everyone involved (Pearce, Pardew, etc) even if they wouldn't admit as much.

Luckily it seems we came away without any injuries (the only substitution being Rommedahl for Thomas in the last 30 seconds, something else that was poo-pooed by Green!) or bookings, so it should be a full-ish squad that Pards has to choose from on Monday night.

We now have to sit back and wait to see what transpires this afternoon, and then go into a couple of tough games (Reading and Everton) hoping to gather more points and keep the pressure on the Blades and Wigan.

The fat lady hasn't even begun to sing yet, but at least we have seen the song list, and can all guess at what the sound is going to be like.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Resurrection to continue at Easter?

Will it be a Good Friday? Let’s hope so. Charlton travel north to take on Manchester City tomorrow buoyant after back-to-back wins. Now just a single point behind Sheffield United, anything but a defeat will take Charlton out of the relegation zone.

Can we do it – yes we can!

The injuries, which potentially would have hit the Addicks hard in March, are now slowly clearing up: Ben Thatcher is almost fit and could play; Hermann Hreidarsson’s knee (left) is hanging in there; Madjid Bougherra is fit again; Alexandre Song played last week, and will now be fitter still; Darren Ambrose made a cameo appearance against Wigan, and he should be fitter now; Marcus Bent played 45 minutes against Wigan with no obvious effects; and crucially, Darren Bent is being nursed through his knee problems and (touch wood) it doesn’t seem to be getting any worse.

With two games over the Easter weekend, Alan Pardew may have to be careful with some of the above players, rest players through substitutions, or give them just one game each, but he does seem to have enough cover in most positions now to cope.

City have been through a rough patch themselves in 2007, but seem to have emerged from the bad times with a couple of recent wins. Stuart Pearce was favourite to be sacked just last month, leaving him plenty of time to manage the England Under-21’s, but now seems to have settled the matter by steering City up the table a little. A defeat tomorrow though would plunge them back into the dog-fight that is developing down the bottom.

The recent winning runs by Charlton and West Ham have concertina-d the bottom of the table, and now several other clubs are anxiously looking at fixtures lists and worrying if there points total is going to be enough. Villa, Middlesboro, Fulham and Newcastle could all suffer if they have particularly bad runs (a la Charlton over the last five years or so!), but Wigan and Sheffield United are the clubs most in danger of losing out in the relegation race to one or more of the current bottom three.

All of us can ponder the fixtures, write down who we think will win each game, work out the points totals, decide if 40-points, 38-points, or even less will be enough to see Charlton (and other teams) survive. My own (overly pessimistic) view is that at least three teams will fail to get more than 35 points; that reasoning does tend to rely on a number of draws where teams involved in the battle (like Charlton and Manchester City tomorrow) meet each other, so it is flawed if teams start to win…

Hopefully, Charlton will be one of the teams that can get past that 35-point barrier; that would make me very happy!

Pards team for Eastlands?

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

Subs from – Randolph, Bougherra, Sankofa, Thatcher, Faye, Rommedahl, Bent (M), Lisbie.

My one-to-watch tomorrow is going to be Alexandre Song (left). The youngster will need to force himself onto games like this, and be combative when facing Barton etc. If we can win the midfield battle, then the victories come too (see Newcastle, Wigan, Portsmouth, etc). Song played well at Watford, but was a little off the pace last Saturday, and gave the ball away a couple of times when he shouldn’t have; now hopefully completely fit, we need the young Cameroonian to show his potential and be at his best, and hit the runs of colleagues with his accurate passes.

Pedro45’s score prediction is a banged on 0-0 draw. Both teams defences have been a lot more solid over the last month, and I just cannot see many, or any, goals coming. Much as it would be nice to see Nicky Weaver bending over to pick the ball out of the back of the net (another) four times, I’m not sure that either team will want too open a game. City would probably settle for a point, and I think Pards will too.

Mind you, the last time Charlton won any games on the bounce, the sequence was actually four games long, and wouldn’t it be fantastic to do the same once more at the back end of this season!
Come on you reds!

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Chasing the Tails

Charlton Athletic 1 Wigan Athletic 0
85 Minutes's still nil nil. The score board flashes up the scores from other Premiership games. Sheffield United have fallen behind at Bolton. A roar goes around The Valley, the crescendo building as fans and players realise that one big effort could put them right onto the coat tails of the team they are chasing. A free kick is played in to the area; red shirts fall to the ground. The referee points to the penalty spot. Dazza strokes the ball into the corner of the net and the game and three vital points are won.
This was a tough game. The strong blustery wind didn't help either team, and Wigan came to make a game of it - no lieing down here. Neither side really carved out a decent chance, and both keepers had just to keep concentrating and get their shorts dirty by other means than diving around. But it was Charlton who emerged victorious, and this could have been due to the fantastic support they received during most of the game.
The clappers, that Peter Varney told the bloggers meeting would be given out, seemed to work well - it was hilarious seeing young kids whacking their clappers onto their dads head as hard as they could - and so did the opera singer again. Sometimes we are so very civilised down at The Valley! Several times during the second half the crowd raised the noise levels in an attempt to lift Charlton from a pretty mediocre display. In my book, these two extra points could definitely be due to the fans!
Pardew had started with Rommedahl and Thomas as the wide players, with Zhi playing in support of Darren Bent. Sadly, the one down side of the crowd was two fans sat near me abusing our Danish wide man consistently during the first half. We all know by now that this is not the way to help the players, and certainly not our Dennis!
With the wind playing havoc with timing of headers, neither side carved out anything worthwhile in the first forty five minutes. Wigan had more of the ball, and plenty of corners, but didn't have much of a cutting edge. Charlton came into the game slowly, and El Karkouri put one free kick well wide and high of the goal. Outmuscled in midfield, Pardew changed things at half time by bringing on Marcus Bent and moving Zhi into the right midfield slot. This helped, but Wigan had the best chance when the ball was poked against the foot of the post after the whole Charlton back line went to sleep and left responsibility to each other. Luckily, the ball bounced the right side and out for a goal kick. Words were exchanged (which is a good sign!), and mentally the players did seem to be of one mind.
With fifteen minutes to go it seemed obvious that just one goal would win the match, and Pardew brought on Ambrose for Holland in an ambitious gamble. Zhi moved positions once more, now playing centrally in midfield. Wigan huffed and puffed, but didn't seem to want to claim anything more than a single point (which would have kept Charlton "comfortably" six points behind them).
The penalty was won, and immediately Pardew switched tactics again, taking off the still fresh Ambrose (great ten minutes Darren!) and bringing on the more defensive Amdy Faye in the centre. Again, Zhi moved wide...
The last four minute, plus three more of injury time were nail-biting and tense. Wigan threw players forward, and humped balls into the box. Second balls were hoofed away by the desperate red shirts. The final whistle blew, and then the scoreboard gave the Bolton match score. Cheers all round!
The results give Charlton a fantastic chance of saving themselves for relegation - a win on Good Friday will move them out of the bottom three for the first time in about six months (or is it all season?). Other late goals prevented it from being a fabulous weekend of results; West Ham are battling to survive, and Manchester City, whom Charlton meet on Friday, have also put back-to-back wins together to pull themselves a little clear of the drop zone. Fulham are also thankful of a late goal that makes them less likely to be drawn into the mixer.
Having looked at the fixtures that everyone has left to play, I do think Charlton can do it. I'm not sure that we will be able to get another ten points, but it is entirely feasible that 36 points may be enough to save the club (though 38 would be a little more safe come last game...).
This was a match that could have gone badly wrong - the team didn't play well (it was tough trying to think of a man-of-the-match...) but still came away with a win. Other weeks, this season, we will not be so lucky, but we must still try, still have belief, still put in the hard miles.
I think we can do it; the players think we can do it; you all think we can do it - so let's just do it!
Onwards and upwards!

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