Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hawthorns Crown at Stake

This weekend, Charlton face what is, on paper, their toughest game of the season - away at West Bromwich Albion.

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 -

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Sam Sodje
Madjid Bougherra

Jose Semedo
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Andy Reid
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Chris Iwelumo

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!).

My one-to watch this weekend is Madjid Bougherra (left). Magic has been out of the side mainly due to his problem of making errors at the wrong times. We don't mind him making errors, only when they hurt us! He now has a chance to step back into the team for at least three games and to try to cement a place made vacant by Fortune's right hook. If Magic does well, Jonathan may be fortunate to get back into the team early in the new year. We will have an idea of this during Saturdays fixture, when we see if Magic can cope with the Baggies forwards. Bearing in mind my last three one's-to-watch have all featured heavily (twice scoring - Holland and Reid - and once being led away in a daze - Powell), our Algerian has a lot to live up to!

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.

The result is obviously very important, as the winner will, for a short while at least, go to the top of the Championship. If being bottom of the Premiership at Xmas means certain relegation (except if you cheat your way out of it), then being top of the Championship a week before Xmas means diddly-squat! Except it does mean loads to Charlton fans, who will all go into the celebratory period with big grins on their face.
Come on Charlton, make us all smile!
Up the Addicks!

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