Monday, December 31, 2007
Start as you mean to go on…
If that is to happen, games against the bottom teams, and Colchester are currently 24th and last, must be won. So must games against teams in the top half of the table, which is where Charlton have struggled a little so far this campaign.
Alan Pardew will see in his second new year as Charlton boss, and he must be hoping for an easier start than he had last year – a 4-0 thumping at Arsenal was following by a cup exit at Forest and a painful home defeat to Middlesboro. This year, we have three home games to look forward to – Colchester, then WBA in the cup on Saturday, and then Blackpool in another league game the following week. What Pards wouldn’t give for three wins!
So who can he pick for the first of the tri-series?
In goal, Nicky Weaver is starting to show the form we need from him, and he is making important saves at last. He tried desperately to keep out Clemence’s header on Saturday, but couldn’t quite get enough of a hand on it to prevent it creeping in. He did make other good saves, and while the front players are not scoring many, he needs to be at his best.
The defence is changing every game at the moment: With Danny Mills now gone back up north to swear at another games referee, we have just got Yassin Moutaouakil back from injury in time to replace him. In central defence, Sam Sodje is still suspended, and Jon Fortune (just back from suspension) went off injured in Saturday so may be doubtful. The only options therefore seems to be Paddy McCarthy and Madjid Bougherra rekindling the early season centre back pairing with hopefully better results. Chris Powell will plod on at left back, simply because he is fit, and there is nobody else to replace him, even though, at his age, he could do with a rest!
The midfield is just about coping with a lack of bodies, but then again, Pards has plenty of options to choose from normally. Matt Holland will continue to lead from the front and will be captain; Zheng Zhi seems to have played through the calf injury he picked up just before Xmas; and Jose Semedo has had his little rest and looks raring to go again. Therry Racon continues to wait for his chance. On the wings, Jerome Thomas is in good form at last, and Lloyd Sam is just about fit after a few batterings. Darren Ambrose is also close to fitness after his problems and could feature.
The forwards all seem fit – Chris Iwelumo will no doubt lead the line against his former club, and if Pards does go with a 4-4-2 formation, he could have any one of Luke Varney, Izale McLeod, or Chris Dickson starting alongside him.
This is the team I would like Alan Pardew to start 2008 with tomorrow –
Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, Semedo, Ambrose, Racon, Varney, McLeod.
This is pretty much a must win game, if ever there is one, for the Addicks, and as such, I really do believe that Pards will start with two forwards. Ambrose did the job during our last win against Ipswich, but now would be just about the right time to play Chris Dickson. Both Luke Varney and Izale McLeod have had chances this season - although both could claim not to have had much of a run – but both have yet to show the right sort of oomph and ruthlessness that the Addicks need right now. Dickson, desperate for his chance and buoyed by his 11-goal spell on loan at Gillingham, would be a bright and positive pick if chosen to start, and that would leave both Varney and McLeod as substitute options for later in the game when their pace can be lethal. Keeping Semedo back in reserve also provides cover across the defence.
Colchester have had a wretched run of late, but they are still capable of scoring and usually do. The key for Charlton (and the fans!) is not to get too worried if (or when) they do, because their defence is awful! Key to their scoring seem to be three players – two of whom are well known in this part of London. Teddy Sheringham has decided to see out his career in Essex, but he will view this match as one where he can make a name for himself one last time. He has scored a hat-trick against Charlton in the past! Kevin Lisbie, who seemed forever to be the bright young thing just waiting to break into the Charlton first team, until he scored that hat-trick, will also relish the chance to play at The Valley once more, and perhaps silence some of those who gave him plenty of stick during his eleven years at the club. The key, for me though, is trying to keep Mark Yeates quiet; the ex-Spurs youngster looked a fine player in the reverse fixture at Layer Road, playing wide right, and has scored and made plenty of goals this season so far.
This is a game that Charlton must attack, and should be looking to win comfortably. Starting the new year in emphatic style would be great for the players and fans alike. Pedro45’s score prediction is therefore a mirror of that from 33 years ago, a 4-1 win. If we attack, we will score; if we sit back, we could be punished. If we are positive but disciplined, we will win, if not, expect plenty of boo-ing! I do think that most Charlton fans would prefer to go into this game on a 4-4-2 footing and look to score more through the front players than we have recently (where the breaking midfielder - Reid, Ambrose, Zhi - is the focus). It is important though that the wide players do their defensive work too.
My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Chris Iwelumo. Big Chris has a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Addicks supporters. Most see him as committed, and passionate, but some add that he is one-dimensional and lacks finesse. He has skill and is better on the ground than most fans originally thought, but he needs to link better with the rest of his team. Provided Pards plays someone alongside him (even if it is Varney, Ambrose, McLeod, instead of Dickson), then he needs to communicate to and play with that person, rather than just on his own. With a bit of pressure off him, he may actually start to score even more goals!
2007 has been a strange year for us Charlton fans; now the players have a chance to put the smile back on our Addicks faces, starting tomorrow.
Happy New Year, and come on you reds!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
A point won through a last minute Paddy McCarthy equaliser, but another sub-standard performance from the Addicks.
I couldn't make the trip up to the Walker Stadium, and the reception from Radio Kent was abysmal. What I did hear wasn't helped by the awful woman commentator who we occasionally get, when all the others get to go to bigger and better games. I felt sorry for Steve Brown having to constantly fill in for her...
In fact, I couldn't be sure from the radio commentary and reception who scored either goal until confirmed by the Sky Sports Foxes fan reporting on the game - Clemence for the home team 12 minutes from the end, and the call that Luke Varney was apparently celebrating the Addicks late goal.
Points to note were Jon Fortune going off injured, and being replaced by fit-again Yassin Moutaouakil; Varney being preferred to Lloyd Sam on the right wing; and the goal for McCarthy against his former club, where he hooked the ball over his head from eight yards after a poor clearance fell to him.
It's nice to have gone through the Xmas period unbeaten, but three one-all draws following the defeat at West Brom do mean we haven't won since trouncing Ipswich way back on 8th December. Worryingly, the chances made in those last three games have been few and far between, which suggests that the side are missing Andy Reid much more than some thought.
It is now crucial that the team beat bottom of the table Colchester on Tuesday in order to stay with the chasing pack at the top of the league.
Friday, December 28, 2007
The End of the Year Show
I doubt that the match at the Walkers Stadium will have as many highs and lows as the whole year has, but it would be good to see some excitement, some hope for the future, some vision of where this club of ours is heading.
The problem, as we are all aware, is that we have a squad decimated by injuries and suspensions. Definitely out are Cory Gibbs, Ben Thatcher, Grant Basey, Andy Reid, Svetislav Todorov, Sam Sodje, and Danny Mills. Add up the weekly salary of that lot and tell me it isn’t hurting the team? Also doubtful are Yassin Moutaouakil, Darren Ambrose, and Chris Iwelumo, while Zheng Zhi, Lloyd Sam, Jerome Thomas, Matt Holland and Luke Varney have all been carrying knocks or have been ill very recently.
Luckily, we have a big squad, plus players who are willing to play when in discomfort, so we have been able to field teams good enough to draw our last two games.
Leicester have been languishing in mid-table for a couple of years, but now have finances supplied by ex-Pompey Chairman Milan Mandaric. He hasn’t exactly splashed the cash, but has overseen a gradual improvement of the playing squad. That effort is now likely to be stepped up during January with Ian Holloway in charge – The Foxes third manager this season! – as they attempt to get somewhere close to a play off position by seasons end. They are a side without stars; solid but never explosive, combative and not creative. Matt Fryatt caused Charlton problems at The Valley, and Ian Hume is a good player, but if Charlton play to their strengths, they should be able to cope.
Then again, what are Charlton’s strengths? We have a defence that leaks goals; a midfield who can be out-muscled, and a bunch of crocked or mis-firing strikers. What Charlton do possess though is skill. In abundance. And if that can be focussed in the right areas, then the Addicks are capable of scoring and winning any game in this league.
Alan Pardew will try to get that focus from this side on Saturday I believe –
Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, Aswad Thomas, Arter, Dickson, Varney, McLeod.
Of course, I am presuming that all the above are fit (or fit enough to play) and none of those not named have miraculously recovered from their various ailments. If either of the wide players is out, then Luke Varney will probably be asked to provide that role, as he did for much of the game at Carrow Road in midweek. If Big Chris is unable to start, then Izale McLeod is the only viable option for the lone front man role, unless Pards changes the set up completely and goes 4-4-2. This would be favourable at any home game, but with the 4-5-1 having served Charlton so well in away games, it is unlikely unless forced by injured personnel.
Pedro45’s score prediction is a toughed out 2-1 win. Leicester have not won back-to-back home games for many months, and I cannot see them being able to here. Beating Ipswich at home (as they did on Boxing Day) is one thing that all Championship clubs get used to, but beating Charlton is another. At The Valley earlier in the season, Iwelumo and Varney scored early and Charlton coasted the rest of the match in total control. If the Addicks can get ahead early on once more, I think we could see a similar result. Mind you, with our defence, we might struggle to keep a clean sheet…
A year that started with three consecutive thumpings, including crashing out of the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest, has a chance to end with a win in the East Midlands. And you know what, I think we can…
Up the Addicks!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Hard Times Ahead…
Overall, the club seemed to see revenues decrease in almost all areas during 2007 – merchandise sales went down even though the Bexleyheath shop seems successful; conference takings also decreased, although this was expected; season ticket sales for last year dropped 8%; and most importantly, TV revenue also went down by some 14%. All told revenue dipped by £6million. Costs however, rose by £700,000. Even if Charlton had successfully fought off relegation then, it is likely the club would have had to sell players (including Darren Bent).
We should be grateful that the directors have consolidated the club on a lower footing; sure, the redundancies were hard on club staff, and some of the players sold are very much missed (though some aren’t…), but without such drastic action, we would not have a club to support for very much longer.
It will be no surprise, therefore, that even if the team is struggling to stay near the top of the table into the new year, funds for new players is unlikely to be made available during the January transfer window unless recoverable against player sales.
Alan Pardew has tried his best in the transfer market, backed by those directors’ loans.
Not all his new buys have come off yet, but none can be claimed to be as poor as Djimi Traore, as over-priced as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, or as inept as Amdy Faye.
With Jose Semedo, we have a fine young player from overseas who cost the club very little, and maybe another in Yassin Moutaouakil. Our French full back will surely get his chance in the new year now that Danny Mills is declared wild, woolly, and unwanted! Therry Racon and Martin Christenson have yet to feature much, but they too could be good investments.
Luke Varney and Izale McLeod have great potential, which has yet to be fully exploited, and it is a sad man that rights both of these players off on the back of the first half of this season. How many times have we seen players take time to settle; not only at a new club, but in a higher league, with bigger crowds, and with much higher expectation too. Derek Hales was far from a revelation in his first season at The Valley, and neither was Mike Flanagan, yet both scored many, many goals for the club in the following years. I doubt that we have any forwards who could challenge Killer and Flash in the goalscoring stakes, or even Hunt and Mendonca, but the current crop could prove themselves yet.
We have the China captain playing in our midfield, and he is as versatile a player as you will ever see. Zheng Zhi has scored six times this season so far, some with his head, and some from long range. He has a good engine and fine skill, and if we can keep him, he could be the man to build the team around in future seasons. Mind you, Pards will have to decide if ZiZi is to play at left back, holding midfield, left wing, right wing, attacking midfield, or up front alongside a centre forward before he plans the rest of the side…
We have a good crop of youngsters and home grown players on the verge of breaking into the team and squad; Darren Randolph is a fine young goalkeeper and he is chomping at the bit to get a run in the first team. Should Nicky Weaver get injured, he will be a fine replacement. Grant Basey has already shown what a fine prospect he is at left back, and Harry Arter and Josh Wright cannot be too far off getting a chance in midfield either. Chris Dickson may not have been homegrown, but he is new and fresh, and exuberant, and he will push and push until his chance of a start comes along.
Other players to have come through the ranks are regular starters – Jonathan Fortune is the old hand nowadays; Lloyd Sam is finally getting a run in the team; and Osei Sankofa provides solid back up in defence.
We also have experienced players who have been at the club for a number of years in Chris Powell (albeit in several spells) and Matt Holland. They both help provide stability. Other older hands like Ben Thatcher, Chris Iwelumo, Paddy McCarthy, and Andy Reid haven’t been at the club as long, but seem to have learnt the ethos of what it takes to be a Charlton player fairly quickly.
So we have the basis of a good team and squad, and it is a side that should keep us in the upper echelons of the Championship. The issue, I guess, is are they good enough to get us promoted. Sadly, the realisation is that with injuries and suspensions costing us dearly, the answer is almost certainly no.
The club has seen a huge turnover in playing staff during the last two years – the Annual Report records that 18 players left at the end of last season, either through sales, being released, or by exercising contract options. When Alan Mullery bought nine new players in 1982, they took time to settle, eventually finishing seventh in tier two. When Lennie Lawrence bought a bunch of new players in 1985, we were runners up. Dowie (spit!) bought wildly last year and got us relegated. Pardew has brought in around 12 new players this year and has a good side, with spirit, skill, and endeavour.
Buying too many new players (and selling on others) in January may de-stabilise the team and undo some of the good work already done on the pitch. It may also cause problems off the pitch, which, to return to the Annual Report figures, cannot be allowed to happen, however much Richard Murray and the other directors love the club.
I hope Pards guards against this, and therefore only buys replacements when and where he thinks is an absolute must. Let's go with what we have, and see where we finish; it may not be as low in the league as you think…
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Norwich City 1 Charlton Athletic 1
Having been away for Chirstmas, I missed posting anything about the Hull home game on Saturday. I'm not sure I could have written anything sensible about the game immediatley afterwards; suffice to say it was a very poor game.
The "highlights" were, firstly, Madjid Bougherra's equaliser, which was a long way from my seat and scored from a crowded penalty area where I have no idea what happened except that Magic was announced as the person who stabbed the ball high into the net; and secondly, Danny Mills sending off.
Today, Charlton picked up their second draw of the week, away at Norwich, and again saw a defender sent off - this time Sam Sodje. Charlton's goal was scored by Zheng Zhi (above), but the ten men couldn't hang on and honours ended even. I was travelling home in the car at the time of the match, and luckily Radio five kept me abreast with developments, and the point was welcome if not fully deserved.
Bearing in mind the current injury crisis, plus the suspensions, a couple of points from these two games is no bad thing, and it does keep Charlton in fifth place in the league, and hopefully safe from relegation by the end of January.
The other good points to come out are ZiZi playing through his calf injury, which threatened to keep him out of both matches; The Magic Mans (left) first goal for the club on Saturday, and his reasonable (it seems) performance at right back today; Nicky Weaver making important saves at last, which have won points in both games; McCarthy coming back into the team and looking a better player than he did in August; and skipper Matt Holland leading in exemplary fashion.
The bad points are obviously having to play around 90 minutes in the two games with only ten men on the pitch; not a good thing when half the team are carrying injuries, and the rest look quite simply tired! Pardew needs to ensure that discipline starts in the changing room, and not just when the ref bandies cards about! Chris Iwelumo has valiantly limped through most of both games though he came off at half time today. Hopefully, he can make another appearance at Leicester on Saturday. The bad continues with the other injuries; Ambrose was missing today physically, and he might as well have been on Saturday too for all the work he put in; Varney was ill on Saturday but played 90 minutes today, mainly out wide right; Sam missed the second half on Saturday but came back as a sub today; Racon was a sub too, having recovered enough to be named. We still need others to come back - Basey, Moutaouakil, Reid, Thatcher, and Gibbs - if we are to mount any sort of challenge at the top of the league.
Also without much good in them must be the refereeing performances; nobody is questioning the two sending off, but overall, the level of the men in black is fairly poor, and bordering on farcical at times. One wonders what the refs in the two lower leagues are like?
And then we get to the plain ugly...
I haven't yet seen Sodje's two footed lunge from today which led to his red card (left), but it did seem like a pretty dumb thing to do. Thankfully, Jon Fortune is available again after his suspension at the weekend, so it shouldn't hurt the team too much. I remember reading something by a prominent player who said that they used to get sent off on purpose around this time of year so that they didn't have to worry about being away from family at Christmas; with Fortune and Mills not having to travel today, I hope Pards made sure they were required to do double doses of training!
By far the ugliest thing though, was Danny Mills "performance" against Hull on Saturday. Dis-Misses Mills should be ashamed of himself, but although he says sorry on his website, that really doesn't come close to appeasment.
Mills played for Hull last year on loan, and there is obviously "history" with some of the players. Maybe they didn't like him, or maybe he doesn't like them. Whatever. On Saturday, he became involved with Caleb Folan early on, shouting out in agony well before any elbow came near him. Bryan Hughes outrageous kick just before half time wasn't deserved, but Mills milked it by staying down as if shot, then lashing out when a Hull player tried to "help" him to his feet. Eventually, another second half altercation led to his booking, and then he finally got himself sent off. I didn't see anyting wrong with the Hull players challenge on Mills which left him in a crumpled heap, and when it was obvious the ref didn't either, Mills was soon on his feet and walking in the referee's direction. I don't know what he said, but the referee had been lenient with him all afternoon, until Mills over-stepped the mark. Red card; carry on walking Mrs Mills!
Mills had "announced" before the game on his own website, that he throught that this would be his last home game in a Charlton shirt. Apparently the money men couldn't agree anything, so he would not be staying after his loan ended on 31st December. I doubt Manchester City wanted much in the way of a transfer fee (maybe £500,000?), so it seems it was down to signing on fee and wages. With the club in no way guaranteed to go back up to the Premiership, his current salary of, I guess, around £20 - 25,000 a week was not feasible, even though I'm sure he was offered decent terms (maybe £15k?).
Sadly, the everlasting memory of Mills in a Charlton shirt will be that of a man who was a decent player, but one who got sent off when he stopped winding up the opposition players and crowd, and started on the officials. In a few choice words, he undid all the good that he had brought in over the last twenty games or so. How can Alan Pardew go back with a better offer now? See ya Danny Boy! I guess the next time he plays at The Valley, we will be the ones boo-ing him...
Half way through the four game Christmas league programme, and we are unbeaten. A result on Saturday plus a win against bottom club Colchester next week will look good, and when we think of the apparent problems we have (which, reading the message boards are - a poor defence, lots of injuries, and no decent strikers...), maybe it's not so bad after all.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Siberian Weather Greets the Tigers
First up, on Saturday, we have a return fixture against Hull City at The Valley. The away game a couple of months back was one of the crunch games of the season and had a big effect on that October period; Charlton won 2-1, (Chris Iwelumo and Luke Varney scoring), but Lloyd Sam was sent off and the ban he received crossed the first three games of a subsequent four-game winless streak. Interestingly, Sam is available on Saturday following another suspension (this time for accruing five bookings…) and I’m sure he will be looking forward to acquainting himself with red-card buddy Barry Ashby.
Hull are an up-and-down sort of team; capable of winning enough games to stay comfortably within the division, but never really looking like threatening either the top or bottom. Hopefully, after a home win last weekend, they will fall victim on their travels and give up six points to Charlton in the season.
Who Alan Pardew picks to face the Tigers is going to be interesting, as last weekend, he was without three suspended players, two of whom can return this weekend (Danny Mills and Sam), but Pards also looks to have lost at least three other players through injury since the game against the Baggies.
Definitely out are Andy Reid (left, with a knee injury, till February), Zheng Zhi (calf, for two weeks) and Darren Ambrose (groin, two weeks), while Iwelumo would surprise everyone if he was fit after turning his ankle last weekend, and Varney is ill and may not recover in time. Pardew is therefore limited in some areas in whom he picks, but not in others. Hopefully, the changes necessary will bring a welcome hot streak!
In goal, Nicky Weaver will carry on, untroubled by Darren Randolph being on the bench. Weaver is doing OK this season, without setting the world alight. He hasn’t really won Charlton many points (in the way Carson did last year, and Kiely and others have previously), but he cannot really be blamed for losing points either. It would be good to see him in control of his penalty area, but after five years of Deano failing to come for crosses, I don’t know why we are too bothered.
The defence will no doubt welcome peace-maker Mills back on the right side, with Sam Sodje and Madjid Bougherra likely to continue in the middle. Chris Powell, who had a poor game last week after being cruelly exposed, may have been in danger of losing his place, but injuries elsewhere may save him.
The midfield is where the biggest changes are likely. Sam will come back on the right; Matt Holland will stay in the middle and will be captain; and Jerome Thomas is likely to feature on the left. Three options to play alongside Holland are among the injured (Reid, Ambrose, and Zhi), and rumour has it Therry Racon, another obvious choice for the vacant central midfield option, is also injured (though that hasn’t been confirmed) which is probably the reason Harry Arter was left out of the reserves game as a precaution on Tuesday. Unless Pards takes a big punt, I cannot see anyone other than Jose Semedo playing alongside Matty.
Without too many other options to go with the 4-5-1 formation used during away games, that leaves two places to fill up front. If Big Chris is fit, he will undoubtedly play, but it must be a concern as to whether he will last 90 minutes of this game on a strapped up ankle, and then be fit for the other forthcoming matches too? Izale McLeod came on as a straight replacement last weekend, so I would expect him to feature, and it all depends if Varney recovers whether he can play with Iwelumo or McLeod? If Chris and Luke are out, McLeod will lead the line and Pards only option is to promote from the youth set up – Danny Uchechi? A week later and Chris Dickson will be back; just in time it seems!
It seems a bit silly to try to pre-empt the team that Pards will pick, bearing in mind all the problems he has but let’s give it a go –
Subs from Randolph, Moutaouakil (if fit), Sankofa, McCarthy, Racon (if fit), Arter, Iwelumo (if fit), Uchechi, and anyone else who volunteers!
In fact, if you look down the list of first team players on the official website, only youngsters Josh Wright, Aswad Thomas, and Martin Christensen are not listed above when you take out the injured (11), suspended (1), and those out on loan (6). Let’s be thankful for a big squad!
My one-to-watch this week should really be Steve Allen, the physio (!), as he could be the most influential person during the next two weeks, but I’ll go for Izale Mcleod (left). Izzy is almost certain to start, and if he doesn’t, he will definitely play at least half an hour. His first goal for Charlton last weekend will have helped settle him down a bit, after a fairly lukewarm start to his Addicks career. He has played lots of last ten minutes, so the statistic of taking 13 games to get his name of the board is a little misleading. He has pace, is very direct, and as long as fellow players can get the ball to him in the right areas, he should be a handful. Yes, he is raw, but I don’t understand why some blogs are quite negative about a new recruit who hasn’t had much of a chance yet. He did, after all, win Charlton their first four penalties of the season! Izale also has the knowledge that fans are clamouring for Chris Dickson to be given a chance after his on-loan goalscoring exploits down the road at Gillingham when he returns to the club after this weekend, and that might just gee him up a bit more.
Pedro 45’s score prediction versus Hull is a 2-1 home win; we seem to have fallen out of the win-away and lose-at-home sequence, so a home win is due once more. Hull will tough it out as they did in October, and the defence had better not give too many chances to the young Caleb Folan and the (much) older Dean Windass or the Addicks will suffer. We should have just a little too much for them, and if the new look team fire - with Thomas and Sam key to creating opportunities and supporting the forwards – then we should be OK. As everyone knows, Tigers are dangerous when injured, and so just might be the Addicks!
Pedro45’s own Xmas plans will prevent a report being written, or indeed a preview of the Norwich game, although the likelihood is that fans may be asked to bring their boots if the injuries increase much more! My score prediction for the Carrow Road match is a 1-1 draw.
I would therefore like to wish all my readers a happy Xmas and prosperous New Year, with the hope that my next blog will report six points and a full (or fuller) squad going up to Leicester with confidence.
Come on you reds!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Charlton Athletic 2
I was pretty upset about this result yesterday, but today I can put it into a little more context, and be more rational. West Brom deservedly won the game, and looked like scoring all through the match; Charlton contributed well to a good, high class game, but did not have enough to hold on near the end.
Charlton took the lead when Chris Iwelumo rose off his one good leg and firmly headed Jerome Thomas's cross past the keeper after 35 minutes. Just over five minutes later, Bednar equalised easily after slack marking allowed him in behind the defence; Bednar had already hit the post earlier in the game. After half time, a long cross by Brunt was met by a thumping Zoltan Gera header, where he comprehensively outjumped Chris Powell, and this was followed ten minutes before the end of the match by a carbon-copy goal, involving the same players. In between Gera's headers, Izale McLeod (on as a sub for Iwelumo) had seen his left foot shot creep past the keeper to equalise - it was Izzy's first goal for the Addicks. Five minutes from time, serial goal-poacher Kevin Phillips killed off the game with a trade mark tap in after some kamikaze Charlton defending from a corner.
Charlton were certainly patched up for the match; without the suspended Fortune and Mills, Semedo came into the side at right back with Madjid Bougherra in the middle of defence. Jerome Thomas was a straight replacement for the also suspended Lloyd Sam, but Pards switched the personnel (but not the formation) by playing JT on the left, Reid in the middle, and Ambrose on the right. I'm not sure why he did this (apart from to put JT up against the less experienced full back?), as the line up did well last week with Reid wide and Ambrose in the middle!
Iwelumo turned his ankle after half an hour, and while Mcleod was getting warmed up, actually scored. Sadly, Big Chris is likley to be out for a couple of weeks. In the second half, Reid was substituted with a worrying knee injury, and he is also doubtful over Xmas. Osei Sankofa came on for Reid with Semedo switching to midfield. Luke Varney was also needed as an injury replacement with Ambrose lmping off.
The Baggies obviously have a wealth of talent up front, with Brunt and Gera having good games, but in defence, they looked suspect, and the reserve keeper Steele (Dean Kiely's understudy) looked poor. It was shame then that Charlton didn't test him more. Even in injury time, a Thomas free kick was sent high and wide when anything on target may have caused problems.
Tactically, Albion controlled the game after the initial passage, and were always looking to take advantage of Chris Powell's obvious concussion-induced headache from last week. Sadly, Chrissy could not compete in the air with Gera, and that resulted in two goals - the difference between the teams.
If Iwelumo is out for any period of time, it seems Pards favours McLeod as the lone front runner (he is pacy but very raw), though with other options becoming more limited by the game, he may end up playing Izzy with Varney at home next week. At least Lloyd Sam and Danny Mills will be available again, though a meeting with Hull may not be the best time to bring either back!?! This should release Semedo into midfield for Reid or even over to left back for Powell, and in Sam's case, give options if Pards wants to go with 4-5-1 at any stage. What is sure, is that it will be a tough Xmas for the squad, with everyone needing to be ready should any more injuries come to light.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Hawthorns Crown at Stake
Not only are we playing a team higher in the league for the first time since August or early September, but Charlton will have to do so without a number of key players.
Suspensions will rule out Lloyd Sam, Danny Mills, and Jonathan Fortune, while injuries mean that it is unlikely that a recognised left back will be in the squad, let alone playing.
The squad that Charlton have assembled is without doubt good and deep, but when you get to a stage when four left backs are all injured at the same time, you have to make some hard decisions.
Alan Pardew will need to know what is happening in this position before deciding how the rest of the team pans out. He does at least have options, although none are preferable to playing a fit Chris Powell, Grant Basey, Cory Gibbs, or Ben Thatcher. His options do include the possibility of Powell being fit, but after suffering what was obviously concussion last weekend, I simply cannot see Powell being allowed to play, however much he might want to.
The next option is to pick the next available youngster who plays in that position: Basey stepped up to the plate a couple of months ago, but who is below him in the pecking order? On Tuesday, the left back in the FA Youth Cup game at Molyneux was Jack Clark, but Chris Solly played left back after half time; will Pards be tempted to pick either of them? Solly has great potential, but I don’t think Pards would risk it.
So really, it means playing someone out of position. If Pardew does that, he could pick anyone from a right back (Sankofa, who has played left back in recent reserve games) to a midfield player (Semedo, or Zheng, who, Pards said last season, was versatile enough to play left back). My own inkling is he will put Semedo in, as he has appeared there a couple of times during matches so far this season, and not been disgraced.
With Jose settled in at left back, the right back vacancy freed up by Mills suspension is sure to go to Yassin Moutaouakil. Centrally, Madjid Bougherra will play alongside Sam Sodje for the first time from the start of a game.
With the defence sorted, at least on paper, the midfield becomes pretty much a shoe in. ZiZi, Holland, and Reid will all start, and it is unlikely after his two goals last week that Darren Ambrose will be left out. That just leaves one place up for grabs if we presume that Chris Iwelumo is a certainty up front, and this is another conundrum that Pards will need to solve.
Should he ditch the 4-5-1 formation that has seen Charlton win their last four away games without conceding a goal, or maintain it? With Sam out, the obvious wide replacement is Jerome Thomas, who should have recovered from his dead leg, however bad it was, by now. If Pards goes 4-4-2, then Luke Varney is the probable jersey winner.
This is the team I think Alan Pardew will send out fighting -
Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, McCarthy, Racon, Arter, Varney, McLeod.
The Baggies are themselves hampered by injuries, and it remains to be seen if Kevin Phillips or Ishmael Miller are fit. Dean Kiely - surely an ex-Charlton player who is unlikely to score against us this season? - was also missing last weekend, so may miss out on gifting his favourite team a couple of easy goals (if only!).
Pedro45's score prediction is going to be a loss, by 2-0, but bearing in mind my record on this, that is being positive. If Charlton maintain the belief that they should have from four consecutive road-wins, then why not number five? Against that, the dreadful home record was turned about-face last week so maybe our away form will dip as a result? It should be a good game whatever.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Fireworks at The Valley
A great scoreline for Charlton fans but, sadly, a number of problems came out of this game that may compromise future matches and hurt the Addicks.
Without really getting into top gear, unchanged Charlton found themselves 3-0 up at half-time. Darren Ambrose finished a great move in the fifth minute to put the team one up; then Chris Iwelumo continued his scoring streak; and finally, Ambrose thumped home his second just before the interval (left). Ipswich had offered little. The second half was a complete contrast, possibly due to the wind and rain, and also due to Ipswich’s gung-ho approach and substitutions.
The first goal was a gem. Lloyd Sam won a header on the half-way line, and this was returned in his direction by Iwelumo. Sam was first on to the ball, held off his marker (Harding, whom Sam gave a torrid time all afternoon), and slipped the ball to the overlapping Matt Holland. His excellent fist time cross fell beautifully onto Ambrose’s head, and the ball was in the net. Ambrose was playing centrally more alongside big Chris in this match, with Andy Reid pushed out wide left, and the switch did work in Charlton’s favour. It gave Charlton more pace through the middle, and Reid saw plenty of the ball, and used it well.
Charlton went further ahead after half an hour, when a Reid corner was swung in under the cross-bar, missed by the keeper and it hit Iwelumo on the shoulder and bounced in. This was obviously a ploy to test the keeper in very damp conditions, and was the second such corner kick; many more of similar vein followed. It may also have been some up-front practice for another well-known ex-Addicks keeper who doesn’t come off his line much, and who Charlton may face next weekend (if he is fit).
Just before half-time, an offside looking Reid controlled a long pass forward, and moved centrally before laying the ball off for ex-Tractor boy Ambrose to thump in his second – the first time he has scored twice in a match.
At the start of the second half, Ipswich completed their substitutions and the heavens opened. The whistle also signalled the start of a firework celebration (from Charlton Park?), and as the rockets exploded and bangs and flashes rung out, the concentration seemed to ebb from the Addicks players.
Ex-Charlton youngster Danny Haynes had come on and he was giving Chris Powell a torrid time down the flank as Ipswich played 4-2-4. Just a couple of minutes into the half, a grounded Powell and Jonathan Fortune contested a ball with an Ipswich forward who fell over, and the linesmen signalled a penalty, though exactly what for was very unclear through the downpour. Luckily, Steve Gritt’s penalty kick work paid dividends once more, and Weaver dived left to block an average kick, with the ball scrambled away.
Soon after, when the off-field fireworks had stopped, Haynes headed against the bar when it should have been easier to score, after some sloppy defending. Holland then burst through to shoot against the post, before a Lee cross then hit the top of the bar. It was all action, with Ipswich prepared to throw everything forward and Charlton content to try to hit them on the break.
Charlton were awarded a penalty, then had it chalked off after the referee consulted with the linesmen as Ambrose’s cross was deemed to have hit Wilnis’s chest and not his arm as the ref thought. Eventually, after 70 minutes, a cross came to substitute Counago, and he delightfully back-heeled the ball into the corner of the net from 12 yards.
Charlton slowly re-grouped, and Semedo came on for Sam. Slowly it dawned that Charlton would be able to hang on, and the tense atmosphere lifted off the pitch, but then the problems started to rise on the field of play. First, Mills was booked for a trip, and he is now suspended for next weekend’s game at West Brom (as is Sam, who reached five bookings in midweek); then, Chris Powell was felled in the box by a clash of heads. Chrissy was slowly helped to his feet but as he was led away down the touchline (with Bougherra coming on as sub) he looked in far worse condition than Ricky Hatton did after his knockout earlier this morning. He must be a doubt for next weekends game too if he is concussed, as it looked.
As the game drifted into five minutes of additional time, tempers started to fray, and finally they snapped as the final whistle went. Fortune (left) was obviously upset by something that Lee had said or done, and he too took in the weekends boxing spirit and swung at Lee, and decked him. Chaos ensued as players and officials from both teams entered the pitch and tried to calm matters. Semedo and Sodje had one-on-one pushing matches with opposition players, while Weaver, Mills and others tried to act as peacemakers. As things died down and the crowd finally slipped away, Fortune received a deserved red card which means he misses the next three games.
This run of suspensions and injuries could not come at a worse time and will mean a complete overhaul of the Charlton defence against a free-scoring team, which is not what Charlton will be looking for. No doubt Moutaouakil will come in at right back for Mills, and Bougherra in the centre for Fortune, but Charlton may have to rely on Semedo playing at left back if Powell is not fit as there are very few other fit options (Aswad Thomas or ZiZi?).
The win means Charlton now have 37 points, and need just 13 more to be fairly safe from relegation, with 25 games still to play.
The big squad that Alan Pardew assembled at the start of the season is starting to look like a good ploy, as injuries and suspensions start to take a grip. Hopefully the reserves can step up to the plate and keep Charlton on track near the top of this league.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Reversing The Tractors
That's the simple fact that confronts Charlton and Ipswich tomorrow at The Valley. We Addicks fans can all moan about our home form, but at least it isn't as bad as the Tractor Boys away efforts.
While Charlton have lost four out the last five at home, Ipswich have not won away this season and have drawn four. The anomalies are compounded by Charlton having won six on the road this season, while Ipswich have only dropped two points at home since April! Something has therefore got to give.
Alan Pardew (left) will have plenty to mull over since last Saturday's home defeat against Burnley, which was followed by a comfortable away win at Cardiff. Does he go 4-4-2 at home, as per last weekend, or 4-5-1 as he did in midweek?
A lot will depend on who is fit. Jerome Thomas had a badly bruised leg so missed the last two games, but if he is fit, then the likelihood is he will come straight back into the team. No other injuries seem to troubling recent team selection, with Powell now fit again, Iwelumo doing a sterling job at covering up his various bruises and breaks, and Sam now having shaken off a sore foot.
This is the side I think Pards will send out -
Subs from Randolph, Moutaouakil, Bougherra, Semedo, Racon, Thomas, Varney, McLeod.
The links with Ipswich are not as profound as they were a couple of years ago, as Darren and Marcus Bent are not at the club this season, and neither is Hermann Hreidersson. But we do still have Matt Holland and Darren Ambrose as ex-Suffolk team players, and I'm sure they both will be looking forward to a warm welcome. Also guranteed a nod of non-approval will be Big Chris Iwelumo (ex-Colchester), and Danny Mills (ex-Norwich), so we can probabaly expect plenty of East Anglian boo-ing from the Jimmy Seed stand tomorrow!
My one-to-watch tomorrow is going to be Chris Powell. Now fit again after a few weeks out with an ankle injury, Chris is the only fit left back at the club. He came back into the team last weekend and looked rusty, which is no surprise as he hadn't played for a couple of months (not even a reserve outing). He made it through midweek OK, and I hope his legs have a third game in a week within them, as he will need his speed to counter Ipswich's attacking threat. Although he doesn't get as far forward as he used to, his back up play on theleft side is still very important, especially at home, and
we do need him to get up and down that wing when he gets the chance.
Pedro45 is hoping that home form is temporary, but class permanent, and Charlton are a class team in this league. We may not do very well when up against the big bruiser type sides (Sheffield United, Burnley, Stoke, etc), but we can mix it with teams that are ball players (Barnsley, Colchester, Southampton, etc). Ipswich definitely fall into the latter category, so we may be OK? I'm going to plump for a draw in an effort to drag out a home victory - 1-1 being my prediction.
I hate to say that we will see an end to Charlton's inconsistency, because if we lose at home, then that is confirming that we are being consistent. This is an important match, and with West Brom to play away next week, I wouldn't be surprised to see us win tomorrow, and lose next week away.
Come on you Reds!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Cool for CATS!
While I was enjoying myself watching Squeeze in Hammersmith last night, Charlton were helping themselves to a fourth consecutive away win in the Championship, easily beating Cardiff at Ninian Park.
I was kept up to date with the score by my wife and a friend and I was tempted to shout out and let Mr Tillbrook know how his local team were doing, but I’m sure he had his own text alerts coming through loud and clear as he sang away on stage.
“0-1 Holland 34 mins” was the first piece of good news I had – Matty volleying in after a corner was cleared to him on the edge of the box. Later “0-2 Reid (Pen) 79” - after Ambrose was upended in the box and Cap’n Reidy stroked home the spot kick - suggested that all three points were homeward bound to SE7 and the Charlton Athletic Travelling Supporters (CATS) would be happy.
A fine win it seems and the switch back to 4-5-1 seems to have worked well with Ambrose and Sam out wide supporting Iwelumo.
The win gives Charlton 34 points, meaning that we only need another 16 points (from 26 games) to be theoretically safe from relegation.
Now if Pards can get the formation and personnel right on Saturday, the Valley fans will be as happy as most of those who sang along with Squeeze at the Apollo last night.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover…
It wasn’t just the fact that Charlton lost; it was more how we lost that peeved me last week. The heart seemed to be ripped out of the team by more committed, intelligent opposition, and that should just not be the case when playing Charlton.
Tonight, we have the chance of redemption once more. Saturday should and maybe could have seen the Addicks back on track, but it didn’t. Cardiff away looked a lot harder on paper at the start of the season than it does now, but it may still prove to be too much for us.
So what should Alan Pardew do? The first thing he should do is ignore all those who are starting to question his management; a few weeks ago, he was iconic. Now he is lambasted. It’s the expectation you see…
Next, he really needs to make up his mind quickly about his best eleven. We can probably see who the best players are, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they make up the best team. I think a switch back to 4-5-1 is imperative tonight (as is 4-4-2 at home!), with two wide players supporting Iwelumo, and a midfield solidity.
Nicky Weaver may have been unwell on Saturday morning, but I bet he felt sicker later that day. He really hasn’t been tested much shot-wise recently, yet has conceded six times. As another blogger so rightly said, the goals were from two penalties, three free kicks, and a break-away. Sadly, Andy Reid’s volley was our only reply. There really isn’t a case for dropping Weaver, as he hasn’t made any mistakes recently, bar having an AWOL defence in front of him!
That missing defence is where we could see change, but how should Pards look at events? Sodje played poorly on Saturday, but he hasn’t made the errors that Bougherra did previously. Maybe it’s time for Sodje and Bougherra to be given a go together, as the other options of keeping Fortune plus one have been exhausted. Mills or Moutaouakil? Danny every time for me, but then I didn’t see much of our French full back early in the season, and if Mills continues to be stupid (giving away needless penalties and arguing with officials which will inevitably lead to a red card) then maybe he should be rested? What is it about left backs and injuries? Gibbs, Thatcher, Powell, Basey – who hates you? Chrissy is now back in possession of the shirt, but we know he doesn’t handle many games in a week well at his age (38), and hopefully he will be OK for tonight and Saturday. If not, maybe Mills will be switched across.
The midfield also needs shaking up - there is simply too much standing still waiting for the ball. They need to be confident in possession, and pass and move for team-mates. Semedo was unlucky to be left out on Saturday, but maybe could have done with the rest, and I would bring him back tonight. Matt Holland played well, so I would keep him in, but both Zheng Zhi and Andy Reid look exhausted. I would rest one, but which one? Pards loves ZiZi, but Reidy is the captain. Tough call…
That leaves three places left, or two if you concede that Chris Iwelumo is a must have option up front. If they are fit, I would play both Lloyd Sam and Jerome Thomas. However, I am not sure Pards will do that and I think Darren Ambrose will start, alongside Luke Varney, with Varney being asked to play wide right, with Ambie on the left. This at least leaves options for a switch to 4-4-2 at any time without making substitutions.
This is the side I expect Pards to start with –
Subs from Randolph, Moutaouakil, Bougherra, Racon, Zheng, Sam, Thomas, McLeod.
Being so inconsistent – three defeats, followed by four wins, followed by two defeats – is unbearable. Pardew must feel the same way! Knowing that two home victories would have seen Charlton sit proudly on top of the league must be galling to him. As it is, we are still only five points behind the joint leaders and well placed with a squad that should be able to compete until May.
My one-to-watch tonight is going to be Matt Holland. Matty is the team skipper really, even though Reidy has the armband. He needs to show that big level of commitment that we are used to and push this young team onwards; he is quite capable of doing that and we know he will run and run.
Pedro45’s body may be in Hammersmith, but his mind will be in Cardiff up until 9.30 or so. I really hope that a result can be gained, and I’m plumping for a 1-1 draw. At least a single point will end our run of defeats at two, and allow the team to feel something has been won. It will be tough, as Cardiff have been on a good run since Charlton beat them a few weeks back (gosh that seems like a long time ago). They may also be without their “superstars” Robbie Fowler and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, which may help.
I’m tempted to run into a paragraph of Squeeze song titles, telling how difficult tonight may be, but will not apart from to say that I hope we are not “Up the Junction” at the end of the game.
Up the Addicks.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Baggies in the Third
I did something I don't normally do before writing my blog this morning; I read what other bloggers were saying. I didn't make for an easy read - where bloggers were trying to be nice about Charlton's home form and performance yesterday, those making comments were spiteful. And vice versa.
What do I think?
This defeat, the fourth at home this season, was another example of poor defending, and having to chase a game from the outset. For the record, Andy Gray (who I warned was a danger in my preview) scored after six minutes, heading home at the near post from a free kick on the corner of the penalty area. Six minutes later, another free kick from a similar position (but slightly further out) was headed into the other corner of the net by McCann. After the shock of going two down at home had subsided,
Andy Reid pulled one back, volleying in powerfully after a Mills cross had not been cleared (left).
Any hopes of a resurgence in the second half fell apart when Mills inexpicably handled a deep cross, and the second home penalty conceded in front of the North Stand in a week was crashed home by Gray.
Charlton huffed and puffed, but as Harriet Harman said in midweek, this house was not for blowing down, and Burnley held on for all three points.
So what went wrong? If Bryan Robson won the midweek game tactically, where did we lose this one?
Alan Pardew made four changes to the starting team - Powell replaced the injured Basey as forecast, and Varney came in up front with the predicted reversion to a 4-4-2 line up. This meant Sam dropped to the bench. Darren Ambrose replaced the injured Jerome Thomas, and Matt Holland was given his first start of the season in place of a rested Jose Semedo.
Obviously the loss of two goals inside the first fifteen minutes meant any prelaid plans went out of the window, though Charlton did not panic and pressed solidly rather than stupidly for the next hour.
Chances did come along - Zheng Zhi messed up at the North End again, when his poor control lost a great chance to score. Reid also shot powerfully on target, but saw his thunderbolt saved.
Defensively, the team had lost all confidence, although Burnely actually posed little threat. Sodje had a poor game, and his passing was poor. He also won little in the air all day. Mills (left) spent too much time arguing with the officials rather than growling at the opposition, something he is better at and should be doing. Powell looked rusty in the first half, and was no improvement on Basey (who is half his age!), which is quite something to say. Fortune was back at his non-commital worst, refusing to take responsiblity where needed.
The midfield was skillful but slow and cumbersome; Reid looks in desperate need of a rest, and his overall play has been poor for some weeks now. ZiZi also looks a little tired, and he is not being helped by the continual changes made to his playing position, both game-to-game, and within each game. Holland ran around as he does, but provided little creativity to a crowded central area, often retreating deep to play a wasteful and time-consuming one-two with a central defender. Ambrose was ineffectual in providing crosses from wide out, but did beat his marker and look dangerous on occasion.
Up front, Varney tried hard, was quick, but ran down too many cul-de-sacs for my liking. He needs to be getting on the end of Iwelumo's flicks and breaking free through the middle, not starting too wide and deep and then letting defenders have first dibs. Big Chris? Well, he had a tough game. It did look like he was being fouled continually, but the referee failed to help him. When this happens, we need to have a plan B. Chris did "score" but the linesmens flag went up immediaetly and it did look offside. He was also supposed to be McCann's marker at free kicks...
The referee (Shoebridge) was amazingly inconsistent; he gave fouls if anyone challenged from behind (with even the slightest hint of a touch), but not when Iwelumo was being wrestled to the ground; he booked Varney for deliberate handball (early on), but not McLeod (late on). He booked Mills for handball when it may not have been deliberate! We all used to complain about Premiership referees, but the Championship lot leave plenty to be desired too...and it cannot help when he leaves the field at half-time being called names by most of the crowd - is that really going to get him to give us fifty-fifty decisions later? He wasn't helped at all by his linesmen either; they both simply flagged for offsides all game, and not for fouls...
Ultimately, the whole performance was just not good enough for a team trying to get out of this league via the top end. It doesn't help much when calls are made to sign new players in January; we have a big squad now, and if we do bring in new players it will put some players noses out of joint and some will want to leave. That is presuming that we have cash to spend, and somehow I don't think that will be the case unless players are sold. And who is going to command much in the way of a fee anyway now? Will Reid want to go to Derby in the hope of a pay-rise and a chance to keep them up? Will Iwelumo be asked to lead the line at Middlesboro? Does Birmingham's new manager like Jerome Thomas's attitude or will Steve Bruce be looking for a bigger name at Wigan? All unlikely to happen, so my opinion is that we should stick with what we have, try and keep everyone, and hope that they are good enough to win a few more games this season.
My weekly look at the league table may show we are down to fourth, but I am panged by doubts and think it mentally may be best to go back to the Curbishley theory of getting to fifty points first, then worrying about how the rest of the season may pan out. In that way, I should be concerned with getting 19 more points (four wins and seven draws would do it), and if we get them by the end of the season we will be safe from relegation; if we get them by February, then we have a chance of promotion; and if we get them by March we might make the (awful) play offs.
I guess that once a Charlton supporter, always a Charlton supporter, the pessimist in me has finally come out about this season, and after yesterdays performance, that's not surprising.