Monday, November 26, 2007

Addicks go for Double Nap Hand

It’s a long time since Charlton had a chance to make it five wins in a row, or even five consecutive clean sheets, but Tuesday nights game against Sheffield United offers exactly that.

The doubts raised by a hat-trick of defeats last month has been lifted by the euphoria from the four subsequent victories – three away from home – and the added bonus of nil-goals going into the back of the Charlton net; the question is – can it continue?

Alan Pardew will certainly think so - he has issued only positive notes from the dressing room ever since he took over as Manager of the club. I’m sure in his mind the club record of 13 consecutive wins is something we should be hoping to put in danger, even though their is a long way to go before we even get close (end of January?).

The team is settled, and this has allowed some players to get back to fitness (Ambrose, Holland for instance) and others to find form (Weaver, Thomas). The backbone of the side is unchanged, and during this long season, players like Andy Reid, Zheng Zhi (top, scoring), and Jose Semedo will all have good games and bad, but with the solidity of the team, their poorer games should go un-noticed.

Apart from Chris Iwelumo getting a bang in the face on Saturday (and he’s had a few of them in his career!), there were no apparent new injuries received at Preston; all of the substitutions (Semedo, Reid, Sam) were merely to give players a rest and/or break up the game and/or freshen things up. I don’t therefore see Pards making any changes to the starting line up for this match unless forced.

The bench is the only place where we could see changes, and competition to sit in the dug out does seem to be intense at the moment.

This is the team I expect to see start –

Nicky Weaver
Danny Mills
Sam Sodje
Jonathan Fortune
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Zheng Zhi
Andy Reid
Lloyd Sam
Jerome Thomas
Chris Iwelumo

Subs from Randolph, Moutaouakil, Powell, Bougherra, Holland, Ambrose, Racon, Varney, McLeod.

Sheffield United will be a tough game; their poor league position may give false hope and any underestimation by Charlton could be severely punished. They were beaten at home by Plymouth on Saturday (something Charlton know about all too well), and will be looking to bounce back at The Valley and win three points. In James Beattie, they have the leagues highest goalscorer, and Charlton need to stop crosses coming in toward the back post, as he will definitely try to pull away and match up against a full-back rather than a centre back. On Saturday, Basey found himself similarly isolated a couple of times, and he was beaten in the air once in this way. Mills too, is vulnerable when jumping backwards, so needs to be on his guard. The Blades will probably be physical (old habits die hard), but don’t appear to have huge pace anywhere on the pitch.

Charlton will just try to carry on the good work; it would be nice not to have to wait until injury time to score, but we shouldn’t complain if that is the case (even if you are one who prefers to queue for beer/coffee prior to half-time rather than see the ref blow the whistle). A nice scenario would be improving Charlton’s ability to shut a game down when leading, by scoring a second goal - something that happened against Cardiff, but not at Deepdale until the very end.

At home, the plan will be to push Sam and Thomas as far forward as possible, without affecting the balance, and Zheng Zhi will be filling the gap behind or alongside Iwelumo. How far forward ZiZi plays depends on the state of the game really, but he is starting to shine in the deep lying forward role. If he can start to communicate a little better with team-mates (he isn’t always on the same wave-length as Thomas or Reid for instance) then he will definitely benefit, but slowly that part of his game is coming along.

Defensively, Sodje and Fortune will need to compete with Beattie, and out wide, it is important that Basey and Mills (plus Thomas and Sam) prevent many crosses being put into danger areas. I can see the midfield being one big battle area…

Last season, in the equivalent Premiership fixture, it was Jonathan Stead who broke Addicts hearts with a second half equaliser. Not only did that mean two dropped points for Charlton, it also meant the Blades maintained their points lead over Charlton and that was never recouped enough to influence the final table and prevent the predicted relegation.

This year, I think we may find it tough again and have to settle for a share of the points once more – Pedro45’s score prediction is another 1-1 draw. I’d like us to carry on the winning run and the empty goals conceded column, but I have to accept that something will give and one of those less-often but still-apparent defensive errors will be made to pay sometime.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Sam Sodje (left, flying). Our loanee from Reading will have one of his toughest matches facing Beattie, and his defensive skills will be sorely tested. When not defending, he is a constant threat from set pieces, and as NYA and other bloggers have mentioned before, his bookmakers odds for first goalscorer are ridiculously high (and almost guaranteed to provide a winning payout if backed consistently over a season). Hopefully Sam can win backers some money for the second home game running and get Charlton off to a good start.

A win, and the push toward Watford at the head of the table is well and truly on; a defeat and the chasing pack will have a chance to gain the ground they lost at the weekend (the fixtures look easier for most of them than they did at the weekend).

Come on you reds!

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