Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Fortune Not Enough

Stoke City 2 Charlton Athletic 1

A win, a draw, and a defeat - not a great way to start the 2007/8 season, but that's the way that Charlton have begun this campaign. After an opening day home draw last Saturday, a midweek cup win over lower league Swindon, we now have an away day defeat to a team who are looking to replace Charlton in the Premiership. Are Stoke potential promotion rivals? Well, yes, they are, so a close (looking) defeat away to them shouldn't be seen as too bad a result, but it does still rankle.

This was actually the first Charlton game I've seen this season (and even then I missed the last ten minutes thanks to Virgin Media cutting my Sky connection!), so I cannot make complete judgements on players who I've only ever seen play once, but I can offer some initial opinion about the team, the formation, and what Pards needs to do if we are to get out of this league via the top end.

First though, the game - plenty of Stoke pressure early on, including six corners and four long throws into the Addicks penalty area in the first seven minutes! After riding the early storm, Charlton started to play a nice passing game; Ambrose had a good chance but shot just wide. Weaver chose to punch most ball that came near him rather than catch in the wet conditions. Half time came with honours even and I was relatively happy that we should be better in the second half.

Alan Pardew seemed to think that changes were necessary at the break; off came Lloyd Sam and Izale McLeod, and on came Jerome Thomas and Chris Iwelumo.

The game settled but then Yassin Moutaouakil got injured; as play continued, Andy Reid was fouled on the edge of the area. Reid then shot and his free kick took a nice deflection off Jon Fortune's ample back-side, and Charlton were in front. As our French full back was being carried away to the dressing room, Paddy McCarthy came on, and our goalscorer (Fortune) moved to right back. Immediately, ex-Addick Ricardo Fuller picked up the ball on the edge of the area and, holding off McCarthy, fired into the corner across a diving Weaver. The lead had lasted just two minutes.

With just over ten minutes left, sub Parkin got the ball in a similar position to Fuller (though closer to goal) and he also turned McCarthy and shot home.

From the radio commentary (after my TV picture died), Thomas had a couple of efforts saved but no real threat of an equaliser came. The game reminded me of the so many times that something similar had happened during our premiership spell.

So, opinions on my first viewing? I thought Weaver did OK, but I wish he was as vocal as Deano used to be; Moutaouakil was good going forward but a little unsure at times in defence, though this was a bit to do with team-mates so he may be better in time. Bougherra was fairly solid, and Fortune did well until he was asked to play at full back. Thatcher did OK at left back and did venture forward on occasion. Up front, Marcus Bent tried hard without looking really dangerous, as did second half sub Iwelumo. McLeod looked lively but isolated at times. Both Sam and Thomas had good halves on either wing, and it may be good to attack home games with them both on the pitch? The main issue for me came in midfield, where Jose Semedo provided a good link between the defence and attack, often using Andy Reid (who had an indifferent game) as the creator. Darren Ambrose, apart from his first half shot, did little offering no cover to the defence and no real creative element. Sub McCarthy looked well short of class against a couple of reasonable Championship forwards...

To me, Pards needn't have changed the formation at half-time. If he wanted extra height, he should have started with it! Both McLeod and Sam had good first 45's, and Izzy's pace troubled the tall Stoke centre halves. I didn't think we needed to match up Bent and Iwelumo with them.

It does seem to me that this division needs to be dealt with tactically, and we don't have too much time to wonder if certain formations are going to be good enough before changing at half time to something better. Isn't that what the purpose of scouting is for? I know it is a generalisation, but when playing good teams away from home (like Stoke), perhaps we should consider playing a 4-5-1 formation with, maybe, a front three of Sam, Thomas and Bent. This would allow Reid to bolster the midfield as happened during parts of the first half yesterday. For home games aginst some of the lesser teams (like maybe Blackpool or Barnsley), we should be going out with a 4-3-3 side with (maybe) McLeod, Iwelumo and Bent up front. Aginst other sides, deepnding on home and away, we could start 4-4-2 and play attacking or holding midfielders as required. The options are there in the squad, and things can always be changed from the bench if the need arises. It would also keep opposition sides guessing as to who would be up against them, and the squad knowing that they would be getting games at certain points of the season when required.

Pards needs to utilise his depth of talent and ensure that the winning mentality starts to creep back into the side. Everyone can quote that Sunderland lost their first four game slast year and it didn't do them any harm, but we are a new team, and just because a certain side does well one week (against Swindon) doesn't mean that (basically) the same eleven will do well against one of the better sides in this league.

He now has a week to prepare for the Sheffield Wednesday game, when the home crowd will definitely be looking for a maximum number of points and also a feel that the season is about to start for real.

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