Monday, November 05, 2007

Giving Bristol the Blues

It was a truly great result for Charlton on Saturday, and Addicks fans will hoping for more of the same when the team travel to Bristol City on Tuesday night for another tough game. I didn’t make it Saturday, mainly due to the engineering works which compromised the trains, and I cannot get time off work in order to make it to Ashton Gate either.

The three points won by Chris Iwelumo (left) in the late, late show at St Mary’s have taken Charlton up to fifth in the league table, but a couple more wins would mean Charlton are right back in promotion contention. Winning will be tough at Ashton Gate, as Bristol City have had a very solid start to the season, and their passion and commitment has seen them rise to the heady heights of second place, leading the pack chasing runaway leaders Watford.

The red half of Bristol are playing well, and ex-Yeovil bass Gary Johnson has made an exceptional job of limited funds as he has tried to build a side capable of making the Championship play-offs. The City team have no stars, but the blend of journeyman footballers and youngsters hoping to make a name for themselves has worked so far, and given Johnson hope that he can bring Premiership football to this major city for the first time. They don’t seem to be scared of anyone!

Charlton are in a much more fast-tracked environment when it comes to building a team fit for the Premiership; but Alan Pardew’s buying skills have been good, and the make up of up-and-coming overseas stars and experienced English based players is settling in well, albeit with the odd blip (the three games in the last week in October for instance!).

The game is therefore set up to be a good one - can the City upstarts maintain their form and show that early season promise is something that they can maintain as the nights get longer, or will the undoubted class of Charlton’s midfield shine through and prove too strong?

Alan Pardew will obviously be hoping that that 93rd minute goal on Saturday has turned around Charlton’s fortunes (we haven’t had much luck for a couple of years really when you think about it…), and the solidity shown by the clean sheet (the first by a team against Southampton this season) and work ethic can be maintained with eleven players on the pitch.

Nicky Weaver finally had a chance to work hard during a game, and made several good stops at St Mary’s on Saturday. He has obviously found it hard to shine when most games have seen him only required to make the odd save here and there during the majority of matches. Saturday could have been a turning pint for him, as he won over the fans with his command of the penalty area, something he has failed to do while wearing a Charlton shirt over recent months.

The defence worked hard and also gathered plaudits; Danny Mills didn’t get booked for a change, and his experience alongside the central defence is definitely required. That is especially so when young Grant Basey is playing at left back. Basey has settled in during both of his first two starts, making good tackles, passing reasonably well, and getting forward when he has had the chance. He is quick enough without ever looking fast; tall, so reasonable in the air; and unfazed, it seems, by playing in front of twenty thousand plus crowds. Some of his tackling, or lack of, does worry me, as opposition players are obviously encouraged to take on the youngster, and although he doesn’t make mistakes, he does seem to get beaten too often. Maybe this is being harsh, but it is an early observation. Although Chris Powell travelled on Saturday, I expect Basey to continue to play until Powell is definitely ready to return. Centrally, Sam Sodje has at last started to bring to some attacking play to the centre of defence; no longer are we seeing players watching the ball and then reacting; Sodje goes for it and then picks up the mess afterwards. This has helped Jon Fortune, who now no longer struggles to communicate with his defensive partner, although he too still needs to improve and make his mark in each game.

The midfield played very well on Saturday, and after Jose Semedo was sent off and a re-grouping at half-time, really took control. The skill level from a midfield combination of Andy Reid, Zheng Zhi, Jerome Thomas, and Lloyd Sam is probably higher than at any other Championship club. What is needed though is a work ethic to match, and with the team down to ten men, this was very evident too. The options to replace the suspended Semedo are to either bring in a straight midfield replacement like Therry Racon, or to go with a more attacking option like Darren Ambrose. Alternatively, if Pardew wants to switch to 4-4-2, Luke Varney could return to the starting line up in Semedo’s place after his late goal-assisting cameo at St Mary’s. I fancy Racon will be asked to play, with options to attack later on the bench.

That will therefore leave big Chris Iwelumo to start again up front on his own. Although he scored the only goal at the weekend, his general play wasn’t great, but this may have been down to the volume of possession (41%), and the lack of anyone else being in his vicinity (especially after the team were down to ten men). Iwelumo does lead the line, and runs his heart out in every game; hopefully, he will have something left in the tank after Saturday. What has he done to his strapped up hands though? I don’t think Varney could do the one-up-front on his own, though maybe Izale McLeod could?

This is the side I expect Alan Pardew to send out in the Seahawk Blue and Denim shirts (provided they are back from the cleaners in time?)–

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

Subs from Randolph, Moutaouakil, Bougherra, Ambrose, Varney, McLeod.

The whole mentality around the club could and maybe should have changed after that late winner, and it would be great if the team could turn around a bad run of results from one week, and fly back with three wins to counter those three defeats. I’m not sure that we can though, even with the renewed confidence; Pedro45’s score forecast for this match will therefore be a 1-1 draw. I toyed with a 2-1 defeat, but hope that maybe we can hang on for a point. It definitely won’t be easy, and it really is becoming a bit of a pain playing against teams who see Charlton as a big scalp and then raise their game accordingly. Bristol will be one of those, and cheered on under floodlights by a partisan crowd, it will be another tough match, even if we can keep eleven men on the pitch for 90 minutes!

My one-to-watch at Ashton Gate is going to be Danny Mills. Danny boy has bags and bags of experience, and has now got the fitness levels he lacked in September up where they should be. We loves interacting with the crowd, and does get an awful lot of abuse. He also pushes his luck with referees, and is finding that he cannot get away with as much in the Championship as he did in the Premiership. We now need Danny to stabilise the defence – Sodje and Basey are new guys, and Fortune has gone through a bad patch. Without Semedo to bottle up the midfield, there may be a few gaps that Bristol will try to exploit; it will be up to Mills to prevent this happening if Charlton are to get anything from the game at all. The clean sheet on Saturday was a fillip to us all (and the first since September!); if we can get another in quick succession, then we will all be happy!

Up the Addicks!

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