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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Ambrose didn't choose Dazza rather than Romm, he just booted it hopelessly straight towards the keeper
It's a good analysis, but would a different combination of players done any differently? Or does the team as a whole not have sufficient quality to stay up (particularly with Reid out)?
Player for player, certainly compared to the teams around us, we have sufficient quality.

But do we have sufficient composure and the ability to keep our nerve?

Poor Ambrose, in making a 'wrong' choice that ultimately led to Sheff Utd's equaliser is a case in point.

Darren Bent snatching at a shot instead of creating a moment to pick his spot could be another.

Players are only human....but it's mental strength that will give us our best chance of still staying up.

And we still can.
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