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!


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