Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Season to be Merry?

Charlton’s unbeaten pre-season was extended last night with a 1-0 win against Malaga in Spain. Chris Dickson came off the substitute’s bench to finish a great pass by Todorov fifteen minutes from time.

Slowly but surely, the team and shape is starting to come about, and Alan Pardew (left) will be using the next couple of weeks to hone his preferred playing style in time for the first game of the season for real against Scunthorpe.

Sadly, I’ll be missing from that match at the Valley, as I’ll be away on holiday. This blog could turn into the earliest match preview ever, but it would be silly to do so when there are plenty of pre-season matches (4) still to go, and more signings and injuries are bound to come about over the next 17 days.

However, here’s a little preview of our team, and the opposition we will encounter between August and May, plus a comparison with the Charlton side from 1999/2000 that last gained promotion to the Premiership gravy-train.

The goalkeeping situation seems to have sorted itself out, and not really in the way many fans thought possible. Darren Randolph, this blogs favourite to take over the number one shirt has an (ankle) injury and has missed most of pre-season. This has allowed Nicky Weaver to claim that shirt and a definite starting place (if that was ever in doubt?). Robert Elliott will provide back-up duties initially to Weaver, until Randolph is fit again.

At full back, Yassin "Moo-to-a-kill" Moutaouakil has been getting rave reviews as he attacks away down the right sideline, and he is well ahead of Osei Sankofa in the pecking order. At left back, the options are between the experience of Ben Thatcher and Chris Powell (left - my monies on Powell for that first match). In may well be that Powell is used sparingly anyway, as he was a couple of seasons ago, and with two-games a week in the early part of the season, this may suit Pardew, Powell, and Thatcher. Cory Gibbs will probably be brought along slowly after his long injury, and he provides adequate back-up for the left side and central defence.

In the middle of defence, the options are plentiful it seems. Souleymane Diawara remains at the club, as does Jon Fortune. Madjid Bougherra and Paddy McCarthy are also available, as is Jose Semedo. Basically any combination could run out during that first game of the season, but we may see Semedo used in midfield at some stage of the season, where he was tried last night.

Central midfield is the only area of the team that has not been strengthened (so far) this summer, and Matt Holland and Andy Reid do seem to be shoe-in’s to start against Scunny. Whether Semedo plays the holding role or if Amady Faye rises phoenix like back into the red shirt remains to be seen. I still would not be surprised to see a signing made in this position, and it could be any one of previous Addicks Alexandre Song, Zheng Zhi, Lee Bowyer, and someone completely new (Cyril Rool?). It does seem as if Simon Walton will not figure too highly in Pards plans.

Out wide, the options are between Jerome Thomas, Lloyd Sam, and Martin Christensen, plus maybe Darren Ambrose. Thomas seems to have ridden the bad-boy with attitude tag he gained when he was hanging onto Marcus Bent’s clubbing shirt-tails, and Pards is “bigging” him up for a good season (as “way too good a player for the Championship…”) or a transfer! Sam has had a quiet pre-season so far but may yet push for a starting place, and Christensen is the obvious replacement for departed fellow countryman Dennis “Spit” Rommedahl. Our new MC is getting good reports and scored in the first game of the Spanish tour – let’s hope he can tackle! Interestingly, Ambrose played in a forward role last night, which does seem to indicate that Pards want options of 4-5-1 at some point in the season, and he may not use him simply as a wide man.

Up front, new signings abound – Chris Iwelumo, Luke Varney (left), Svetoslav Todorov, and Dickson have joined big Marcus (and James Walker, who always seems to have good pre-seasons!), and all have had a run out or three so far. Who gets to wear what shirt is anybody’s idea; I doubt even Pards knows yet! A possible clue may come when the shirt numbers are announced…? With two obvious big guys (CW and MB) plus three little ‘uns (LV, ST, and CD), it could be a case of throw the shirts on the table and whoever is first on the pitch gets to play! I guess us fans won’t mind as long as the goals are being banged in…

It is fairly easy to place each of the other twenty-three teams into categories –
those that will be pushing for promotion:
Wolves, Southampton, Sheffield United, Watford;
those that hope for a good season:
Leicester, Stoke, West Brom, Norwich, Cardiff, Preston;
those happy to be mid-table:
Croydon, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol City, Burnley, Coventry, Plymouth;
those who will be down the bottom trying to survive:
Hull, Barnsley, QPR, Scunthorpe, Colchester, Blackpool.

I expect fans of many of these teams will wish to be in the higher categories, but we all have our opinions, and I doubt I will have got them all right!

Suffice to say that teams like Charlton will be expecting to win the majority of points against those teams in the last categories and not to drop many points against those in the higher groups. If that happens, then a good season can be expected.

It is a long, 46-game, season, and although one blog a saw recently suggested a 46-0 count, it is pretty safe to assume that this will not in fact be the fate of the team we all love.

What will matter is how we fare having lost a game or two; how quickly we can get back on the winning trail. Similarly, the team will need to have enough steel to carry itself through those matches when a hard, ground-out, one-nil win is all we can expect. We will also need to get back into games, and the players Pardew has assembled do seem to have enough flair and flexibility to attack when they need to, and defend when they have to.

This flexibility was the back-bone of the Charlton side that Mark Kinsella captained in 1999/2000, going up as Champions. The solid defence that contained Kiely, Rufus, Brown, and Powell; the battling midfield that Kinsella marshalled containing Graeme Stuart, John Robinson, and Shaun Newton; and the flying forwards who fed off Andy Hunt – Martin Pringle being key.

The squad Charlton have assembled will do well to read up on that 1999/2000 team, as they had an almost perfect season. A solid start followed by a very strong middle few months, and a party at the end. (OK, the Championship was – almost - won before the bad set of results over the last couple of months…).

Games that were tough (the first defeat of the season 4-2 away at Ipswich for instance) were quickly forgotten, and Andy Hunt started to bang in hat-tricks all over the place. When we were in front in games, the tactics changed to protect what had been won, and the lightning pace of Pringle scared defenders to death and created many more chances for the team to build on. This is what Alan Pardew will need to try to maintain this season.

Looking at the league table, it does seem that more clubs this year are looking to be up near the top of the division than back at the turn of the century, but some will have bad years when they are expecting better, and some who have no great expectations will come good (Colchester last year for instance).

The crucial thing for Charlton is a decent start, and for the crowd to start to believe that we can go straight back up by playing decent football. What we do not want is an expectation of rolling teams over by just showing up – and I mean the fans and the team! That will definitely not happen in this league. Our players are not "useless" as the bloke behind mean seems to think and shout most games (god I hope he doesn't come back with his Spurs loving mate this year...), but with encouragement, they will make fewer mistakes.

I’m going to miss the season opener, and I’ll be travelling too, so may be able to get all the way home without knowing the score. Sadly, there will be no highlights on Football First or Match of the day this season; we’ll be stuck away on the Sunday morning ITV highlights show or something similar probably.

With many new Charlton bloggers around, the web will be alive with comment and opinion and excitement and anticipation over the next couple of weeks; for this game, I’ll be reading what they have written and will not be able to pass judgement first hand. I’ll catch up later in the season (week two in fact!).

Let’s hope it’s going to be a good one!

Come on you reds!


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Clean and Fresh

With a little help from Ajax, the new, fresher, looking Charlton Athletic are starting to emerge.

Out of the door last night went Luke Young (left) and Dennis Rommedahl, two of the players who we all knew would not remain with the Addicks after falling out of the Premiership last season.

Young is to join Middlesboro it seems, after a £2,500,000 offer was accepted by the club. Terms are still to be agreed with the player, and he does still have to pass a medical, but hopefully neither will present a problem and Luke will wear red in the top division next year once more.

Apart from the one season when he was outstanding (2004/5), I never did really take to our right back. He always seemed to go missing when big games came around, regularly falling to some mystery illness or injury whenever Charlton came to play the likes of Arsenal (where he would face Thierry Henry) or Manchester United (Ryan Giggs). The next week, he would make a miraculous recovery and resume as a solid performer.

That was his asset really; Luke was consistent from one week to the next - never spectacular, never awfully bad, just pretty good. Goals were not usually his fault, but then again he didn't make or score many either.

Then in late 2004/5 he took responsibility, and improved a huge amount. His forward runs became decisive, aiming to cut into the area directly at goal rather than just hugging the touchline. He even scored a few times - Villa away, Liverpool at home, Boro away in the cup, but never more than a couple a season.

His consistency won him the captaincy (on the pitch at least) when Matt Holland was out of the team, and a place in the England team, but this was where the player seemed to falter. Never very vocal, he earned the tag "Luke-warm" because he didn't have the authority or presence to urge his team-mates onwards. For England, he played behind David Beckham, but embarrassingly Becks chose to always pass the ball to someone else rather than Lukey, which is maybe telling us his opinion of the player. Seven caps came along, but he was quickly despatched when youngsters like Micah Richards and Glen Johnson were available to act as Gary Neville's reserve.

Luke reminds me of John Humphreys; a good full back who deserved honours, but was never quite the complete article.

I hope Luke has a good last few years of his career, but he will never be revered at the Valley, and it would be good to have a winger take the mickey out of him next time he comes down to play against us.

Also out the door yesterday, wiping his feet as he left, was the enigmatic Dane, Dennis Rommedahl, who has joined Dutch giants Ajax of Amsterdam. Now I have to say that I love players like Rommedahl; I thought he was a magical signing for us three years ago, and when he linked with Murphy, Bent, and Thomas/Ambrose in the early part of 2005/6 season, we looked pretty damn good! Sadly, as we all know, it went pear-shaped.

Dennis scored six goals for Charlton, but all away from home, and this simply frustrated the Valley fans. I don't know how many times he hit the woodwork in home games (certainly a couple of times early on in his tenure) but a home goal would have made a world of difference.

The undoubted memories are his 93rd minute winner in a local derby in Croydon, a couple at Sheffield Wednesday in the cup, and goals at Boro and Pompey when Charlton were riding high. My last, fading, memory though is of the Dane picking the ball up well inside his own half versus Villa last Christmas, and surging past several vain tackles. Just as we thought he might actually score in a home match, a desperate lunge from Gareth Barry felled Dennis as he honed in on goal. A definite penalty, plus red card for Barry, but no, to sum him up once more, Dennis came up just short, and a free kick outside the area resulted. (OK, yes, Barry did get the right colour card...) It was never quite enough.

The guy who sits on the opposite aisle seat to me will be happy this morning, but I have a genuine sadness that a player of his undoubted class couldn't have done more in a Charlton shirt.

Other news, in a very quiet period for the club, is that the team are in Spain for more pre-season preparation training. The main gossip is about who didn't travel, but with a very large squad at present (even without Young and Rommedahl), I guess that some players were bound to miss out. Whether Simon Walton is injured, ill, doesn't like flying, or is simply not good enough I really don't know, but his exclusion from the trip has raised a few bloggers concerns about his potential.

The main crux is that no midfielders have been signed, so anyone who can purport to being one (as Walton does), should travel.

I'm not sure about that; we do have a midfield, and when the first team runs out against Scunthorpe, I fully expect to see Matt Holland and Andy Reid standing in the middle of it. The issue is where players like Amdy Faye (and Walton) fit in? With Kishishev and Hughes now departed, it is looking a little thin, but with the salary level reducing (through transfers) and transfer money coming in (Bent, Young, Rommedahl), I fully expect to see one or two new players, including a central midfielder (Lee Bowyer?) join in the next couple of weeks.

Finally, it seems that a certain Kevin Lisbie may be facing his former club quite early in the season if rumours are true. Super Kev has been training with Colchester recently, and may well sign for them. With Iwelumo joining Charlton, and Cureton going to Norwich, they obviously need someone to play up front...but can they be that desperate?

Up the Addicks!

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

Another fun week of media watching, wondering if any of the rumours linking Charton with all and sundry players from any and every club who is looking to get their greedy hands on some of the cash that came our way in the Daren Bent deal are true.

We did make three signings, but all three didn't cost us a single penny in transfer funds.


Welcome home Chrissy Powell. Young Chris signed with Charlton for the third time and it does seem strange that he ever went away. We all love Chrissy boy, and he loves us. OK, Big Hermann's form (when his knees were fine) made it difficult for Curbs to play him a few years back, and we all understood why he went over the river to play for Pards at Upton Park. Strangely, that didn't last, as Pardew didn't offer Chris a decent contract after he helped them win promotion, and back from his loan spell he came. Now, it could be argued that Chris Powell is the reason why Charlton got relegated last season. Shocking, but possibly true! Let me explain. When Chris came back from West Ham, he was playing so well that Curbs moved our Icelander inside to centre back, with Chrissy doing a sterling job on the left. When Curbs left, Chris also moved on (to Watford), but Hermann retained his centre back position. Without the cover the Chris used to provide for him, Hermy wasn't so good, and his knees started to fail; Charlton used to lose; and ultimately we went down. I've heard lots of excuses for Charlton's relegation, but nobody thought this one up. So welcome back Chrissy. You will certainly help our centre backs (whoever they may be) and push Ben Thatcher for a starting berth in my opinion.


Two new signings this week, and both have brought plenty of comment, both positive and negative.

In as goalkeeper, comes the covered ends former best friend Nick Weaver. Now, everyone knows the history of Weaver and Charlton (if you don't, he gave it large when City won 1-0 at The Valley in our Championship year (when Joe Royle said City were the true Champions, ha ha), and then was on the end of a 4-0 drubbing the first game back in the Premiership, and a subsequent 4-1 thrashing at Maine Road where Jensen blocked a clearance over his head from 45 yards!), and you have to admire his front in joining a team whose fans used to bait him so delightfully. Whether he will be accepted is anothe rmatter, but only time will tell. It is obvious that Charlton needed an experienced goalie, and Weaver certainly fits this bill, but will he be number one choice (as I'm sure he expects) or will Darren Randolph be given a chance to fulfil his potential? I would have preferred Randolph being given the chance (as blogged previously) but I suspect now he will be bench warming, unless Weaver cocks up (which we don't want...). Some players join a club and have plenty to live up to; Nickey Weaver is one of those.

Also joining is another striker - Svetoslav Todorov - from Portsmouth. Previously one of 'Arry's favourites (palying for him at West Ham and Pompey), Sweaty has a reputation as a goalscorer, adn could come in useful. At his best, he could be a new Mendonca; at his worst, the new Djimi Traore! I suspect that Toddy (desperately trying to find the right nickname here...) will be used as a sub, coming on when we need goals and that extra cutting edge. His signing does make you wonder what Iwelumo and Varney are thinking right now...


Well did we or didn't we, or is it are we or aren't we? All the media seem to think we have signed 17-year old Israeli striker Ben Sahar from Chelsea until Christmas, but nothing has appeared on the official website confirming this. It coud be a done deal of course, but Pards wants his player to spend his pre-season in theStates with Chelsea, hoping some of the excellence will rub off on his young shoulders, rather tan slumming it at Sparrows Lane. Maybe, maybe not. I do think Charlton will take advantage of loans deals from the Premiership, but maybe that is the gap waiting to be filled in midfield?


Well I quite like it! It is the first Llanera shirt I've bought, as I have less opportunity to wear them these days, and it is nothing like the Internazionale strip it was purported to look like. Have we ever launched an away strip that everyone agreed looked good? Even the bright yellow ones needed sunglasses to be provided with them, and as for the brown training gear last year, that was dire. My favourite ever Charlton away strip was the green and black stripes that we wore in 1970 (when breaking our 34 away game win-less streak!), and there have been plenty of good and bad since; I just like the look of this one in the photos...

Up the Addicks!


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