Friday, December 28, 2007

The End of the Year Show

2007 has been a long year for Charlton supporters – the excitement of Alan Pardew becoming manager 53 weeks ago; the Premiership revival in early Spring; eventual relegation; new summer signings, and the sale of Darren Bent; an amazing start to the new Championship season; our dodgy defence; our rise up the table; and finally our slide down again coupled with lots of injuries and suspensions. Saturday now brings the final game of this long year, away at Leicester City.

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 –

Nicky Weaver
Madjid Bougherra
Paddy McCarthy
Jonathan Fortune
Chris Powell
Jose Semedo
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Lloyd Sam
Jerome Thomas
Chris Iwelumo

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.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Jerome Thomas. JT (left) had a good game at Norwich, often holding the ball well, and using the skill that we all know he possesses. This season may have been a bit of a wake-up call for Jerome; I’m sure in August he was of the opinion that he was way too good for this division (I bet his Premiership mates thought that too…), but that has hardly been the case during the opening half of the season. If he cannot improve his strike rate, assist rate, and work-rate over the next four months, then he will just be another ex-Arsenal youngster who failed to make the grade. If he does improve, stays fit, and stays out of the nightclubs, then JT could be just the revelation we Addicks need to take us back up the table once more.

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!

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