Thursday, January 31, 2008

Celebrity Chef on the Wing

Transfer deadline day - would you have it any other way? Lee Cook, a really good player at QPR prior to his transfer to Fulham, has joined Charlton on loan for the rest of the season.

This could mean Jerome Thomas is going somewhere tonight, or maybe not...who knows.

If Thomas stays, we have four wide players competing for two starting berths - Ambrose and Sam are in situe at present, but Cook and Thomas will both be vying for a bench seat and pushing hard for a start in the last few months of the season.

Even if Thomas goes, this should keep all of them honest and Sam, Ambrose and Cook will compliment each other whatever combination starts each game.

Hopefully, Pards will confirm that Cook can cross a ball?

God I hate the end of the Month

With memories of Tuesday nights great win still fresh in the mind, sad realities have come home on transfer deadline day, and Andy Reid has been sold to Sunderland.

The club has been on a tricky footing financially since relegation last May, and although the directors have dug deep, the offer of £4 million from Sunderland was just too good to turn down. Reiddy was a terrific player for us, and always gave 100%. He goes with my warmest wishes, and he will be welcome back at the Valley and pubs in the Greenwich area anytime.

Will his sale affect the promotion surge that Addicks fans have been hoping for, and which seemed to be starting on Tuesday? I'm not sure. I certainly hope not, but we have to remember that Reiddy hasn't played for the first team since mid-December, and last season he was absent all the way from January to the relegation at end of the season. We can all summise on the 4-5-1 formation, and how it could revolve around Reid, and the problem of fitting him into a 4-4-2 line up where his mobility was an issue, but hopefully, Pards sees others (Zheng, Ambrose, Thomas, Sam) as key and we will cope without him.
If he was fit and firing, I very much doubt Alan Pardew would have wanted to sell him (he didn't anyway, but couldn't stand in his way...). Although the Little Oirish fella started the season in outstanding form, slowly Championship teams can to understand that Charlton played nearly everything through him. We probably lost games because of Reid; remember the QPR game? After an awful first half, Pards took off Semedo and played Reid centrally in an effort to get him more space. It didn't work, and we lost. It wasn't Andy's fault; simply a tactical change that was wrong, as Pards admitted afterwards.

We are a different side now, having leaned to cope withthe physicality of this league, and I really think we can continue to win week in week out without him.
Another argument that we will need to replace him in the squad with a similar type of player of we do win promotion is irrelevant at this time in my opinion. Let's get up, then worry about how much wonga we have to spend (which won't be anywhere near the £50m we might get in TV payments) and who is around to buy.

The other thing we must appreciate is that this transfer is not like that of either Scott Parker or Danny Murphy. Both of those players wanted out; Reiddy didn't. However, similarly to those two transfer, they happeend on the last day of the window, and little option is available to buy player if one was out there and wanted.

Some of the money has already gone on Andy Gray anyway, so with losses etc, I doubt we have more than about half a million to spare if there was a player who interested Pards. Also, I'm not sure who or what sort of player we would want at present; sure we can go for a terrific, expensive, Premiership player, but the finances, we must remember, will not run to that, or possibly even one just on loan.

What Pards has immediately done is bring a variation to the club in Greg Halford. Halford played under Phil Parkinson at Colchester, and was the key during their rise up the leagues. Premiership Reading came knocking, and Greg joined them but he failed; a switch to Sunderland at the start of the season hasn't set Wearside alight either, so Halford is a player with something to prove after dropping down a level again. One thing he does bring to the table, and which Charlton fans will have witnessed in spades on Tuesday from Rory Delap, is a long throw. I believe he can lob the ball farther than Delap, so expect lots of bombs into the box aiming at Iwelumo, Gray, Bougherra and McCarthy at the end of games if we are not winning! Halford obviously knows Parky, and also Chris Iwelumo, so he won't be lonely.

The other crucial news this week is that of the injury to Chris Dickson that is likely to keep him out for most of the rest of the season. I don't know if the rumour that he injured himself dancing is true, or if it did in fact involve Lloyd Sam's shorts, but the club admit he did hurt his knee in a hotel reception area. I wish Dicko well and hope he can return before seasons end.

Lower down the pecking order, Aswad Thomas has joined Accrington Stanley (who are they?), and if he gets as good reports as the previous two club players who went there on loan (Randolph and Elliott) then Pards will be well-pleased.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wham Bang Thank You Sam!

Charlton Athletic 1 Stoke City 0

This was a fabulous result for Charlton, and one that they thoroughly deserved. The late winner came courtesy of Lloyd Sam’s header (left) from close range, which also won a friend a nice little return on his 18-1 bet!

Both teams played very well, and though Stoke may be sore at losing, they really only created a couple of chances whereas the Addicks could have scored on a number of occasions. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a game where so many efforts seemed to be cleared off the line! The tempo was incessant, and quality of play very good for the Championship. This game did have a feel of the Premiership about it, as Charlton tried to control the play and pass there way skilfully through the massed defensive ranks of the visitors; Stoke meanwhile, lumped it forward but had the best forward on display in Ricardo Fuller, who more than twice almost broke the deadlock single-handedly.

Andy Gray made his debut as widely predicted, but he started with Chris Iwelumo in an effort to fight fire with fire (or brawn with brawn?) – have Charlton had an all-Scottish forward line previously? Not for many years I suspect? Gray tried hard and held the ball well, but his first half flicks seemed to bamboozle his own team mates. He did show he is a good addition to the squad though, and his inclusion seems to have added confidence to the team.

The defence looked pretty solid, with Madjid Bougherra winning almost everything, and Paddy McCarthy also looking very solid. The full backs bombed forward, but also did ample defensive duties.

In midfield, Zheng Zhi was a little overwhelmed by the aerial bombardment, but showed his skill in patches, and Matt Holland drove the team on and on and on; what a leader he is! The wide players did OK, with Darren Ambrose using his shooting boots whenever he got the chance, and Lloyd Sam showing his full step-over repertoire. Sadly, many crosses by these two and the full backs fell short – something to work on there, Pards!

Iwelumo, sadly, had one of his poorest games in a Charlton shirt. He wasn’t helped by hurting his leg very early in the second half, and spent another twenty minutes limping around, missing (literally) one absolutely gilt-edged chance from about a yard after a cross by Gray, before being hauled off in favour of the much more mobile Luke Varney.

But I guess, the biggest, most welcome, mention must go to man of the match Nicky Weaver. Our goalie hasn’t seemed to “win” many points for the club since he joined, which in many cases cannot be blamed on him. It is merely circumstance that if he is called to make match winning saves then he either does or doesn’t. This game saw him make one fantastic save, very early in the second half when Fuller burst free and shot early. The shot was so early it would have beaten many keepers but Weaver got down quickly to push it aside. Late on, with Charlton in front, and during a goalmouth scramble, I think Weaver also made a crucial contribution too, but I was unsighted as every Stoke player was forward to attack and every Charlton player back to defend. Sam may get the headlines, but without Weaver, the Addicks wouldn’t have won this match.

The goal itself (left), seven minutes from time was a strange affair. Yet another Charlton attack was built, and this time the ball was laid back and a shot was deflected to Luke Varney eight yards in front of goal. As the ball was semi-controlled, Varney spun to shoot but mis-hit it badly. It looked to all and sundry that it would drift well wide for a goal kick, but Varney was quickest to react and got the ball before it went behind. A few minutes previously, he had deliberately pulled a ball back from the bye-line for ZiZi who was crowded out, so this time Varney decided to chance his arm and go for goal. His shot was blocked but bounced up kindly for Lloyd Sam who gleefully headed in from two yards.

We all saw pictures of Chris Dickson’s celebration after scoring late in the West Brom away cup tie, and Lloyd’s exuberance was not quite a match for that effort, but he didn’t hold back and from looking tired, he found bundles of energy to go off on a celebratory run waving his arms about! Lloyd’s first home league goal of the season, and it was an important winner.

A couple more chances came, but the main excitement toward the end came with Stoke getting physical - Griffin lucky to stay on the pitch after a horrible foul on Youga, and the usual pushing and shoving that ensued – and Charlton resorting to the time-wasting tactics so beautifully performed previously by Simonson in the Stoke goal.

This was a crucial win, and with other results going in our favour, leaves the Addicks very well placed going into the winnable away game at Scunthorpe on Saturday.

Other things to note - the referee had a reasonable game, trying to let the play flow; and when Lloyd Sam scores, we don’t lose!

I’d like to dedicate this win to my mother, who is recuperating in hospital with a broken leg. Get well soon!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Do You Believe?

Charlton and their fans return to action on Tuesday night with a home game against fellow promotion aspirants Stoke City. The Potters lie in fourth place, three points ahead of Charlton, but a win by two clear goals would take the Addicks above them.

Statistics are wonderful things when you are a Charlton fan, and reading them can leave you excited or despondent.

Seven wins in 21 games is very average; one win in nine games not very good at all; and the fact that Stoke have won more points on their Championship travels than Charlton have at The Valley leaves one wondering why we should have any faith.

Alternatively, you can look at the stats this way – only one defeat in the last eight games; have scored in every game since the end of November and only one blank since way back in October.

The real picture, and/or that which Alan Pardew would have us believe, is that Charlton have turned the corner very recently. After spending weeks watching the team “gel”; then several more weeks trying to find the right balance; then more games sorting out certain positions left vacant by a tough injury situation, Pards seems to have come across a certain way of playing that not only excites the fans, but the players too.

Out has gone the 4-5-1 formation that served the team well during its formative Autumn stages, and now the base has been moulded, the only option is to attack from now until the end of the season with a 4-4-2 starting line up.

The confidence has returned, the chances are being made, and all that the team has lacked is a certain “killer” instinct in front of goal that would end with more wins than draws in the results column.
The result at the last home game was a resurgent crowd who sang and banged their way through a four goal romp. Happy days! Oh for a repeat!

Pardew has had the luxury of being able to pick from a nearly fully fit squad, apart from the long term injuries for Reid, Gibbs, Todorov, and Thatcher, and at last, where certain players have not been firing, he can bring in ready made replacements without having to worry about the formation.

So whatever the team at The Valley, we know that we will have two full backs (who attack), two centre backs (who can score), two central midfielders (who can score and run all day), two wingers (who both create and shoot on sight), and two strikers who are mobile and willing, and may also score the odd goal. Heck, even our goalie might go up for a last minute corner if we needed him to!

Most of the team will be the same as that which started against Watford ten days ago – barring unknown injuries. The only real area of contention –as far as I can see – is who starts up front alongside Luke Varney. A couple of months back it would have been unthinkable to be relying on Varney as the main man, as he struggled to settle in his new south London surroundings. Now, he is blossoming, and looks full of confidence. A channel runner in the Garry Nelson mould, Varney has pace, decent skills, and a great work rate. His goal scoring stats are not the best, but you know he will chip away and get into double figures during the season. Now we want to know if Izale McLeod has blown his chances for the season; if Chris Iwelumo is a better option to lead the line than new signing Andy Gray; or if Chris Dickson will get a starting position at some forthcoming stage.

This is the side I expect Pards to put out to face Stoke –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Paddy McCarthy
Madjid Bougherra
Kelly Youga
Lloyd Sam
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from Randolph, Fortune, Basey, Powell, Semedo, Thomas, Dickson, Iwelumo, McLeod.

Stoke come into this game on a very good run – it is 12 league games since they last lost. They don’t have too many stars, but work hard for each other and can be classed as a real team. In attack, they have ex-Addick Ricardo Fuller, a player Alan Curbishley was prepared to pay a million pounds for prior to finding out he had a dodgy back. Mind you, that didn't normally stop Curbs splashing the cash... That must seem like a long time ago for the Jamaican, but I’m sure he will relish the chance to play at The Valley once more, and where he did score a few reserve goals for Charlton. The other main goal threat for Stole comes from previously on-loan central defender Ryan Shawcross. Now permanently signed from Manchester United, young Shawcross is a potent danger at set pieces and will need close marking.

Stoke have a reputation for being big, tough, and uncompromising; not the sort of team that Charlton historically do well against. Mind you, Watford were a long ball team, and we should have beaten them, and Hull and Leicester don’t mess around too much and results were gained recently versus them.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Paddy McCarthy. Charlton can score goals, but desperately need a clean sheet – something not achieved in 2008 (and not many times in 2007 either!). The four-game streak in November when nothing got past Nicky Weaver now seems like a long time ago, and it is about the time to play well at both ends. McCarthy seems to have stopped making those silly mistakes that littered his play (and that of Bougherra) early in the season. He is proving to be mobile, good in the air, a born leader, and also a nuisance in attack from set pieces. Don’t be surprised if he causes the Potters problems when given the chance, rather than it just being the other way around.

It is interesting to note that only five players who started for Charlton in the reverse fisture, the second league game of the campaign, at the Britannia Stadium are likely to start at The Valley. It is key that Zheng Zhi, Matt Holland, Kelly Youga, and Luke Varney were not available/fit enough to start that game, but will be playing from 7.45 on Tuesday in red shirts.

That said, Pedro45 is totally unsure what the score might be if he is honest (which he is!). With the home form hoodoo, it could easily be 3-0 to Stoke; or maybe the draw series will continue and we will watch another 1-1 stalemate; or maybe, just maybe, the ten-day break will have revitalised those in the side, and Alan Pardew will have installed enough belief that the team can start winning consecutive (home) games, can claw their way back up the table, and can win a place at the top table come next August. I hope so. Pedro45’s score prediction is a 2-0 win.

Come on you reds!

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Frankie to Quit Valley?

Of course, it could just be that he is taking a break during the long gap between games - a well earned rest - but the rumours are that Frankie Valley has quit the blogging community and will no longer be the focus and erstwhile leader of Charlton's online writers.

On Wednesday 23rd January, Frankie submitted what he purports to be his last post and suggested that "I've actually got nothing to say".

Well Frankie, you are wrong.

What you say means a hell of a lot to a huge number of online worshippers. You're website (it's more than just another blogsite really...) is excellent, well thought out, and contains witticisms that none of the other blogging community can compete with. You are the best and most respected Charlton writer out there!

You claim that in almost three years "I've said absolutely nothing of any consequence" - well I disagree. 890,000 visitors cannot be wrong! Who could ever forget you winding up the oppostion prior to important games, goading those supporters stupid enough to comment on your missive; How many hits did your "non-gentile" comment get from Spurs fans? Nigels hate you too! Last week you had Burnley supporters responding, and this week, Watford fans having been commenting!

Sure, some of your daily doses of fun miss the mark; none more so than the one recently about changing your job, whose sarcastic content sailed over the head of most readers - that's because everyone loves and trusts you so much! We don't know when you are pulling our legs!

And how about the mini-community who use your site to chat every day - readers will be used to the comments by JB (who is nearly always the first to comment each day), Ketts, Daggs, Man to Varney, Colin in Thailand, Sl8r, Sledge, Marco, Floyd, etc, plus Spurs own regular contributor Paxton Sprout, and of course, the sexiest Charlton fan ever - Sam Lloyd. How will they communicate with each other and the world from now on? How will we cope without reading the pearls of wisdom that come from their keyboards each day?

You averaged well over a thousand readers each day - surely that is reason enough to want to keep on going? That's a lot of people who read your writings, and who will now have to find something else to do, or somewhere else to find sollace with...

If it is true that you are finished with the blogosphere, then I thank you for making each Charlton day fun. Your site was linked from every other Charlton blog, simply because it was the best.

I was lucky enough to meet you at the bloggers forum about this time last year, and others have been able to put a face to the pseudonym subsequently at Legends lunches prior to matches.

I'm really hoping that this is a short break, enough to re-charge your batteries - you have taken holidays before, but at least then you told us you were going away. Or maybe it's just another one of your wind-ups? Maybe you will resurrect yourself under another pseudonym? Frankie Valley is dead, long live Frankie Valley (under another name)! I hope so.

Come back Frankie - in whatever guise - we miss you already!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ambrose Wins a Point

Watford 1 Charlton Athletic 1

A point won, but as Alan Pardew conceded afterwards, it was a game that Charlton could easily have taken all three points from.

Apart from the first fifteen minutes or so, when a first minute header flashed just wide and Francis shot over from close range, Watford were outplayed, controlled, and made to look distinctly second best by a resurgent Charlton team.

The Addicks, on the other hand, had several good chances to score, but sadly almost all were off target - Lloyd Sam twice went very close; Darren Ambrose shot wide once in the first half and had a good shot saved in the second; and Zheng Zhi could have won it at the death when a short free kick was played across to him but he stroked wide from eight yards.

Charlton's equalising goal, a good shot on target in appalling conditions but one which should have been saved, was messed up by the Watford goalie and Darren Ambrose celebrated (above). In the fifteen minutes that remained, either team could have won it, but it was not to be.

Pards started the game by dropping Izale McLeod and Jerome Thomas, both of whom may be on the move in this transfer window, and bringing back into the starting line up Chris Iwelumo, and welcoming new signing Andy Gray with a place on the bench.

The game was a complete contrast in styles, with Watford hoofing the ball forward to man-mountain Henderson, and looking to feed off any scraps. Charlton played the ball to feet and tried to pass the ball across the saturated outfield. After the home teams initial success, the Addicks settled, and started to play some good stuff. The full backs got forward at every opportunity, with Yassin Moutaouakil making at least three surging runs down the right flank. Sadly his crossing was not good in this game, and nothing came of the opportunities. Matt Holland and Zheng Zhi played holding roles in midfield, but linked well when given the chance. Ambrose was key, and Sam seemed to be playing a bit more inside than he usually does, and his first half opportunity came from a flick on in the inside left position, somewhere he isn't normally found. That flashed just wide.

Just before half-time, Davenport collapsed after being landed on my his teammate Henderson, and was stetchered off. It was obviously a quite serious neck injury so chants of "let him die" were not very sensible when attributed to visiting supporters. Nobody wants to see bad injuries in sport, and Davenport did get good appause from most Charlton fans as he left the field.

Early in the second half, Watford took the lead when the ball broke to Ellington and "the Duke" slotted home past Weaver.

Charlton thundered back, and kept trying to score as the rain swept in, but nothing seemed to be falling their way (apart from that rain). Gray (left) came on for his debut in place of Iwelumo, and all of a sudden, we had a centre forward who was mobile, could hold the ball, and play his fellow forwards in. Gray doesn't have the same physical presence as Big Chris, but he could be a very good signing all the same.

In my preview of the Charlton vs Burnley game, I said this of our new signing - "Andy Gray has been around for a few years now, and continues to be a 12 to 15-goal a season Championship player. He’ll never make it in the Premiership, but he needs to be respected in this league." If he can continue to score as he did for Burneley, then we have a genuine threat up front to go with our undoubted midfield talent and we could get close to the top of the division.

Another key player could be Chris Dickson, and he came on toward the end too, and looked lively. He had another great chance to score, when through with just Lee to beat, but delayed and fluffed the effort of rounding him.

Altogether though, an excellent game, a good effort, and some fine support from travelling fans. According to a friend who watched on TV, we make more noise on our travels than we do at home games.

We now have ten days before the next fixture - a massive home game versus massive Stoke! - and this is a time for Pards to do some serious training and team-work, plus play the transfer window game and see if we can improve the squad in order to get higher up the league.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Ring Dong!

Transfer activity seems to have picked up this week, the first since the monthly board meeting where it seems Alan Pardew had a budget for new players approved. According to reports, seven-figure bids have been turned down for Andy Gray of Burnley, and Michael Tonge of Sheffield United, and it remains to be seen if further improved bids will be lodged.

With finances tight (at least until we sell someone), one area that Charlton have yet to fully exploit this season has been the loan option. Last year, we saw Zheng Zhi and Alexander Song come to The Valley, and play important parts in the teams improved display in the post-Les Reed era.

This season, we have added Sam Sodje on a season-long loan from Reading, and Danny Mills joined the club from Manchester City up until Xmas. Under the rules, that still leaves Charlton with the option of taking up to three more Premiership players this season, and fans hope one of those will be a proven goalscorer.

The problem is that many of the Premier league clubs will not want to give up a player who could help them, so if we pursue this area, we either need to look at youngsters who have yet to make it, or maybe someone who is older, but hasn’t yet had the chance. And even then, it will only be the bigger clubs who carry the larger squads that we will be able to try to succeed.

One such player could be Zheng Zhi's Chinese team-mate Dong Fangzhuo, currently languishing in the Manchester United reserves, and unlikely to get any first team playing time in the foreseeable future.

Dong Fangzhuo joined United in January 2004, he finally made his senior Reds debut in May 2007 against Chelsea. He had spent two years on loan at Royal Antwerp until he was eligible to play in England and in his first season in Belgium, he was the league's top scorer with 17 goals, and in fact scored 35 goals in 61 games during his time at Antwerp.

Dong has been something of a revelation in the reserve games he has played for the Old Trafford team this season, but their fixtures over the Xmas period have been almost non-existent, so current form is tough to comment on. What is certain, is that he has little chance of breaking into the first team when players like Rooney, Ronaldo, Saha, Tevez, etc are all ahead of him in the pecking order.

With Dong joining ZiZi at 10 Downing Street this week (pic), perhaps Pards asked Gordon Brown to broker a deal that would see Dong play the final months of the season alongside his China team-mate? If United could be pursuaded to compensate some of his salary (which is probably too high for Charlton to pay by themselves), then this could be a good little earner for Charlton.

I do believe that the club has yet to fully exploit the Chinese market for watching their heroes in action (exploit isn’t really a “Charlton” word is it?), but if both Zheng and Dong could be pushed into action for the same team, not only would additional ticket sales almost certainly recompense the outlay on Dong, but shirt sales could increase, online hits would definitely jump massively, and further Asian TV rights might be available to negotiate?

Is it worth a try?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Returning the Sting

With cup action over for another year, Charlton return to the mundane Championship fare this weekend with an away game at Vicarage Road against Watford.

The Hornets have slumped over recent weeks, and when you consider that not so long ago they were eight points clear at the top of the league, their fall down to third place a few weeks later is considerable. Home fans hopes will not have been helped by today’s news that they are to sell their leading scorer – Marlon King – to Fulham, but at least they get Collins John in return till the end of the season.

Charlton, for their part, or on a virtual high: If we take the Jose Mourinho attitude that a defeat on penalties is not really a defeat at all, then Charlton have actually only lost one game since before Xmas. Sure, there is a whole bunch of draws in that run, and just one victory, but positives must come to the fore! The whole attitude about the club is quite buoyant at the moment – the youth team smashed six on Wednesday night to progress in the FA Youth Cup; million pound plus bids are being offered (and rejected) for a proven Championship goal scorer; and most of the team are fit and healthy (barring the long term injured, and even they are all progressing well it seems).

Best of all though, is that Alan Pardew seems to have stumbled on a decent formation after the five-month bedding in period we had from the start of the season. Out now for three matches has gone the one up front option, and in has come the pace and rawness of two attacking full backs to compliment the pacy young strikers.

After the 120 minutes plus penalties of midweek, it remains to be seen if the 14 players who made it onto the pitch in the cup defeat (sorry, I mean draw…) are all fit enough to play on Saturday, but hopefully that will be the case. If so, will Pards stick with his new found team, or will he “tinker”.

In goal, Nicky Weaver’s heroics couldn’t save enough penalties, but he has saved his place for probably the whole rest of the season, if it was ever in doubt. Weaver made one fantastic save on Tuesday night, and is really starting to look like the very good keeper he promised to be all those years ago. We need him to win points for the club, and just now he is good enough to do that.

The two new full back incumbents – Yassin Moutaouakil and Kelly Youga – should retain their places, even though other options are available. Youga has been like a new signing since his return from a loan spell at Scunthorpe, and I think everyone from the management to the fans has been surprised with how well he has played and fitted in. If the Iron had offered a couple of hundred thousand for him just before Xmas we might have bitten their hands off, but not now!

The central defence pairing of Paddy McCarthy and Madjid Bougherra has improved, and while they do not always look like controlling the opposition forwards, they seem to have cut out those silly mistakes which gifted goals to the other team (he says, touching lots of wood!). With Jon Fortune fit and ready to step in, and Sam Sodje now available after suspension (though a hand injury may keep him out at the weekend – what is it with Charlton centre backs and glass? Caton, Fish, Sodje…), we now have cover and solidity available.

The midfield is pretty consistent, and Matt Holland and Zheng Zhi are starting to control games, and look and play like the experienced couple of internationals that they are. While Holland may be slower these days (hence the stupid number of bookings he has received this season), he still covers a huge distance in each match. ZiZi just gets better, and he’ll be looking to score more goals in the final third of the season, and cement his place at the top of the goal scoring charts.

Out wide, you could really pick any two from Lloyd Sam, Darren Ambrose, and Jerome Thomas. Sam is the under-rated player in the team, as he works extremely hard and holds the ball well when in possession. Sometimes I think he tries too hard, and a goal would help his confidence enormously, but he performs a key role on the wide right hand side. Ambrose has the talent, but sometimes his persona doesn’t show him to be working very hard. You rarely see him sprint, yet he covers plenty of ground, and he does get into the box on numerous occasions and snaffle chances when he can. He also had a hand in all four of Charlton’s goals last weekend, so I think he’ll be in the team on Saturday. Thomas is that enigma; some much skill, so little aptitude for hard work. Sure, he gets back to help out his full back, but the lazy gait doesn’t help, and he does waste too much ball, either by cutting back onto his right foot, or by trying the impossible. He also missed a sitter last weekend!

Presuming Pards goes with 4-4-2 again, the question is whether he will stick with Luke Varney and Izale McLeod, who provide oodles of pace, or if Chris’s Iwelumo and Dickson have done enough recently to force their way into the team. Varney has played well in the last couple of games, and his channel running has created openings for himself and for others. McLeod has also run his heart out, but a lack of composure when shooting, coupled with not much luck and some good saves, have prevented him scoring recently. Iwelumo created one goal on Tuesday and is a handful when playing to his potential. Maybe the semi-rest he’s had since the New Year will do him good and he’ll start to score himself once more. Dickson celebrated his first FA Cup and first Charlton first team goal on Tuesday (top pic), and could have won the game all by himself in extra time, but he didn’t. He is still very raw, but with enormous potential; I just hope that expectation and/or being rushed doesn’t hurt him, as it will hurt the team too.

This is the side I think Pards will send out to take on Watford –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Paddy McCarthy
Madjid Bougherra
Kelly Youga
Lloyd Sam
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Luke Varney
Izale McLeod

Subs from: Randolph, Basey, Fortune, Semedo, Thomas, Dickson, Iwelumo.

The game pits third place Watford at home against fifth place Charlton, and as such, it should be close. Pedro45’s score prediction will ratify that precept, and I’m going for a 1-1 draw. However, bearing in mind the recent form both clubs have shown, it is certainly not beyond the Addicks to come away with a clear win. Watford may be lifted by the successful Bangura deportation appeal, but it is unclear if he will be playing, as he has not been in the side over recent matches.

My one-to-watch in this match is the only “new” signing we have so far this transfer window – welcome back Kelly Youga. Kelly has been in good form in his three matches for the club so far, and we will need another decent display from him on Saturday if we are to get anything from this important match. It is strange to think that he was sent off twice for Scunthorpe prior to Xmas, as he hasn’t even given away many fouls since slotting into the troubled left back slot on the first Saturday of the new year.

Games on TV don’t tend to sit well with The Valley faithful, and I couldn’t risk my cable not working so will be at the game early on Saturday evening. Similar to the Preston away game, a good turn out could be going home happy; Vicarage Road has certainly been a happy hunting ground in years gone by, and hopefully this weekend will see another pleasant journey back from Hertfordshire.

Up the Addicks!

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kiely breaks Charlton Hearts

West Bromwich Albion 2
Charlton Athletic 2 (after extra time)
Albion win 4-3 on Penalties

Bounced Out

West Bromwich Albion 2

Charlton Athletic 1

Out of the cup pretty much as expected, but at least the unchanged team from Saturday played with heart, and in all honesty, it sounded like they should have got at least a draw to take the game into extra time.

Albion took the lead through Bednar after a quarter of an hour, and then extended their lead after a breakaway goal five minutes into the second half by Morrison. Before then, good chances had been created but missed by Izale McLeod and also by Luke Varney. Both forwards caused problems but were let down by poor finishing it seems.

Hope was raised after Chris Iwelumo came on with half an hour left, and within 100 seconds, his shot was blocked by Kiely and Ambrose lashed home the rebound.

Lloyd Sam and Matt Holland both had good shots fly just wide, and Pards went for a result by throwing on Dickson and Thomas in a manic closing ten minutes.

The team should draw heart from this game; it showed that once more the pace of the front men is better than the one-up negative play we had prior to Xmas. Saturdays away game is another tough one, but hopefully no injuries came out of tonight’s game and we can field another unchanged side if Pards so wishes at Vicarage Road.

As time expired, the whole match report you’ve read above as blown out of the water by Chris Dickson (top) crashing the ball home after a fine pass by Sam.

If the draw was the last result both teams wanted from the first tie, extra time was the least favourable result the managers wanted from tonight.

Weaver made a great save to keep Charlton in the game, and Madjid Bougherra struggled with cramp as the Addicks hung on till extra time half-time. Dickson also picked up an injury, and struggled for a while to shake it off.

Dickson soon returned to full fitness, and was a real live-wire up front during the second additional period. He did get the ball past Kiely once, but the ball drifted wide, and had another shot blocked after being set up by Thomas.

Charlton finished the fitter, and put real pressure on the Baggies goal, and Dickson almost scored again with three minutes left but Kiely saved.

And then it was over, and penalties. Could Nicky Weaver be the hero or would Dean Kiely break Charlton's hearts? Penalty kicks - don'cha just luv 'em?

Charlton went first; Varney hits the bar.

Albion's first was by Brunt, and he scored. 1-0.

Dickson came next, and scored. Greening then had his saved by Weaver! 1-1.

Next up was Thomas, who stroked home powerfully. Koren scores too. 2-2.

Zheng Zhi had his kick saved by Kiely, and Morrison drilled the ball home. 3-2.

Bougherra had to score, and did, just. It was left to Bednar to win the game, and he did. 4-3.

Good game, shame about the result. Let's concentrate on the league.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Crown of Thorns

It is probably a shame that the next game Charlton play, after their thumping of Blackpool on Saturday, is an away FA Cup third round replay at The Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion. Any recent lift to the fragile confidence of the players may sadly evaporate if the result goes bad on Tuesday night, as it might when playing the league leaders.

However, it seems fair to expect that Alan Pardew will not be playing his “first” first team, and neither will Baggies manager Tony Mowbray, based on the teams put out for the original tie. Strangely, then, the game could turn out to be a bonus as, should Charlton gain a victory, the confidence will flow throughout not just the starting eleven, but the whole squad.

The same can of course be said of Albion, and their “reserves” are far from a push-over, as the two matches Charlton have played against them so far this season will testify. The leagues top scorer, Kevin Phillips, didn’t even make the bench for The Valley game, and he may get another rest for this match, though the worry is he’ll be a substitute, and available if Charlton do look like springing a surprise. Other regular reserves, Beattie, Bednar, etc, may therefore start the game, with the hope that their power will be enough to give others more recovery time for the weekend. Charlton fans will hope that ex-Addick Dean Kiely is just as busy during this match as he was ten days ago, but a little less successful at keeping out Addicks shots than he was in the first tie.

Alan Pardew, for his part, will want to try to maintain the progress that he has seen in both recent matches, but he will probably tinker in an effort to find the balance between a winning team, and one which gives game time to some of those who have not seen much match action recently.

Jon Fortune may well start this game, after missing out due to injury and suspension during the last month, and Jerome Thomas can also expect to start in my opinion. At left back, the options are now plentiful, and Pards will have to chose between maintaining the “new signing” Kelly Youga, recalling the rested Chris Powell, or giving a start to fit again Grant Basey. Jose Semedo is another who may play from the start, and being callous, getting his fifth caution of the season which will bring a one game suspension may be better off sooner – while the midfield is fit and well – than waiting a week or two when it could impact at a time others (ZiZi for instance) may not be available.

This is the side I think Alan Pardew may send out to maintain Charlton’s cup hopes this season –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Jonathan Fortune
Madjid Bougherra
Grant Basey
Lloyd Sam
Jose Semedo
Zheng Zhi
Jerome Thomas
Chris Iwelumo
Luke Varney

Subs from Randolph, McCarthy, Powell, Youga, Racon, Holland, Ambrose, McLeod, Dickson.

This is a tough game for Charlton, and one which it would not be a surprise at all to lose. On the other hand, if the form shown in the last couple of matches can be carried forward, and if the Baggies have an off-day, then Charlton could quite easily pull off a surprise. If this were to happen, we would need big games from not only the defence, but also from the forwards, and players like Jerome Thomas, who needs a good game if he is to reclaim his league first team starting slot.

Pedro45 is not sure that we can win this one, and I’m going for a 2-0 loss. Of course, I’d love to be wrong, even if it meant a night biting nails listening on the radio during extra time and penalties; Peterborough await the victors, and that fixture will make the winners at The Hawthorns strong favourites to get to the fifth round.

My one-to-watch in this game should probably be everyone’s man of the moment Zheng Zhi, but as everyone will be watching him, I’ll plump for Nicky Weaver. Our Manc will need to be at his best if the Addicks are to get anything but their expenses for the trip home in this game. He hasn’t been busy in the last two games, but can expect plenty of shots firing in at him throughout the 90 minutes (or more). If the defence can remain solid and resolute, and Nicky has a good game, Charlton may just be capable of scoring at the other end, and causing that surprise. I hope so!

The winning team will dream of further cup glory, and potential bigger matches on the march to Wembley, an aside from league form; the losing team will just contemplate defeat and tell themselves that they will simply concentrate on the league for the last few months of the season. I like the cup, and I’d like to have that distraction!

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

ZiZi Tops!

Charlton Athletic 4 Blackpool 1

This was more like it! Two early goals, controlling the game, looking like adding to the score line at nearly every attack; a much better all round performance from the Addicks.

With the one-minute applause for departed friends, colleagues, and heroes out of the way, the noisy atmosphere continued straight into the match. The North stand were singing, the drums very apparent, and the good crowd (21, 412) hoping for a good performance. They were not to be disappointed.

Alan Pardew opted to give the team that had performed well in the cup last week another outing, so there was no place in the starting line up for Jerome Thomas, or Chris Iwelumo, and Jon Fortune did not even make the substitutes bench. The only change in the sixteen was Thomas being included on the bench instead of Grant Basey. And it didn’t take long for Charlton to click into gear.

An early Lloyd Sam cross found Izale McLeod, but his first time shot was mis-hit, and the rebound was blocked. Two corners followed, and from the second, Darren Ambrose curled the ball deep to the back post where Madjid Bougherra rose highest to head home from a yard out (top). Magic had not long finished celebrating when Luke Varney was released in the inside left channel by Ambrose, and he cut in and shot home from the edge of the area. Just ten minutes on the clock, and Charlton two up! Heady stuff…

Soon after, the goal of the game brought the home team and fans back near terra-firma, as Burgess lashed home an unstoppable volley from outsider the area, giving Nicky Weaver no chance. After a few minutes where the home team re-settled, normal service was resumed. Varney (left) was again set free on the left, and he easily beat his man to the bye-line. Varney’s low pull back was just too far in front of Ambrose, but the ball rolled on to Zheng Zhi who picked his spot in the corner for 3-1. With twenty minutes still to go till to half-time, the Blackpool bench started to look nervous!

No further goals came in that first half, although chances came and went for Matt Holland and McLeod.

If Charlton could start the second half in similar vein, a good win was in the offing. Sure enough, an early corner saw another thumping header from Bougherra, but this time it hit the post. However, Zheng Zhi coolly picked his spot and slotted home the rebound. This was the end of the scoring, but only due to a good display by ex-Addick Paul Rachubka in goal for Blackpool - he made excellent saves from McLeod, Ambrose, and others, and kept the score to four – and some poor finishing.

It is tough to criticize the team when they have won so well, but it should be noted that more goals were available for the taking during the second half. It is a fine line that divides a striker being selfish and being hungry, but contrasting fortunes dictate how that is seen. On a few occasions, McLeod, who is desperate to score at The Valley and build on his improving out-field form, chose to strike at goal when others were better placed. This led to him being the subject of a few jeers (not too many, though), whereas when Chris Dickson came on (for McLeod) for the last twenty minutes, his two goal-scoring efforts, both from acute angles and unlikely to creep in, received warm applause.

There was also some “lazy” defending during this period. Kelly Youga, who had a fine game all round, was guilty on a couple of occasions of playing “pretty” passes, when the simple option would have been better for the team and the definite option in a tighter match.

Both examples are me being picky though, and it was, for the second week running, quite difficult to think of any player who didn’t pull their weight, or who had a poor-ish game.

Weaver had little more to do than marshall his defence, and kick out back-passes; the defence itself looked fairly solid again except when they over-elaborated – Magic won lots of ball in the air, and Yassin Moutaouakil rampaged down the wing on numerous occasions. In midfield, Holland and ZiZi patrolled and controlled the park, and Blackpool’s tactics were quite obviously to bypass this area as they couldn’t compete (bar Wes Hoolahan, who looks a good player in the Andy Reid midfield general type role). Lloyd Sam, Ambrose and Thomas all had success down the wings, and Thomas really should have scored the fifth Charlton goal when he blasted over from not far out near the end. And up front, McLeod, and Varney ran with pace and skill, and caused all sorts of problems.

It is worth noting referee J Singh’s contribution too; for the second Charlton game this season (he did the Norwich home game too), he was in excellent form and he is the best official we have had in charge at The Valley this season by far. He does tend to blow hard on his whistle when a word may be a better option, but his foul calling and advantage play (often waiting a few seconds before making his mind up) were excellent. He only had to book one player (Hoolahan who threw his toys out of his pram when caught offside and then kicked them and the ball away…) and earned the respect of all the players on the pitch.

This result should give the team the much needed confidence that they have been seeking. Charlton remain in fifth spot in the league, but are well placed to increase the pressure on those teams above them over the next few weeks. The injury list is looking a lot healthier, with several left and centre backs now available again, the midfield and wide men fit, and the forwards creating healthy competition and scoring regularly. Who knows, we may even get someone in on loan to improve the team?

The next three games are big ones, all against teams above Charlton in the league; what better way to go into them than confident, healthy, and with a little bit of swaggering arrogance that the French influence is bringing to the club.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sticks and Stones and Oranges and Lemons

It should be a fascinating game at The Valley on Saturday, as in-form Blackpool (unbeaten in the league over the Xmas period) face out-of-form Charlton (without a win in over a month).

Of course, most neutrals will expect a “big club” like Charlton, to beat a “little club” like Blackpool, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the Fifties, before I started to support Charlton I'll have you know, the Tangerines were one of, if not the, biggest draw in the land. They had Stanley Matthews you see, and everybody loved going to watch our Stan. As we reminisce over Pathe news reels of 8-4 defeats, and the ’53 cup final, huge crowds adorn the backdrop. But apart from that cup final, Blackpool didn’t win anything (and even then it was by a flukey last minute goal).

I guess the modern era analogy is Newcastle – massive support, great players, but never winning anything. From Stan to hasn't changed that much!

Back then, Charlton too had massive support, and higher crowds than many in the post-war years. It’s a little different today.
I’m confidently told by Itchy and Scratchy that the North Stand will be a lot fuller this week, as many North Stand season ticket holders sat in other stands for the WBA game (as cup games are an opportunity to get a different perspective of a match for no extra cost). And also that the silent cup-game drums will return for the league action; I look forward to hearing them and I apologise if my hearing hasn’t been up to much recently and I haven’t noticed them in attendance (I guess that new bobble hat I bought stops me hearing deep booming sounds). We need atmosphere at The Valley, and where better than that be generated than by the younger supporters who sit (or stand) and sing from the northern end of the ground. With luck, that might just influence the rest of the ground to make some noise too…

It could even influence the players if Alan Pardew is to be believed – he has called for more noise from the supporters, and it is only right that we try to give Pards what he wants; after all, he is trying to reciprocate!

Who will our manager pick though for this crucial game? And it is a crucial game, if Charlton really are to be amongst the league’s top (i.e. promoted) clubs then they have to start winning consistently most weeks from here to the end of the season.

In goal, we can confidently predict that Nicky Weaver will be between the posts. There was some hope that Darren Randolph might get a call for the cup game, but this wasn’t to be, and as Weaver actually had a very quiet game against the Baggies and certainly didn’t do anything wrong, he will start once more.

The rest of the team though, is pretty open for Pards to pick in whatever formation he wants, and this formation decision will influence who he picks.

At right back, I would expect Yassin Moutaouakil to continue; without another outright full back for this side of the pitch, the outlook is for Yassin to progress and make the position his for the last twenty odd games of the season.

On the opposite side, whence there was none, we now have three left backs available – Kelly Youga, Grant Basey, and Chris Powell. Youga had a very good debut game last weekend, and it will be a surprise if he is left out; Basey has just returned from injury, and did a good job wide left midfield when he came on as substitute last week, so I don’t think he will be first choice for the defensive role; and Chris Powell got his well earned rest last week after playing match after match over the festive season. I think Pards will want to keep Youga in, leave Basey on the bench, and allow Chrissy more time to recover. Alternatively, he could play Powell, but promise Youga the cup replay start?

The middle of the defence is once again a choice between Paddy McCarthy, Jon Fortune, and Madjid Bougherra; I favour the incumbents, with Forch on the bench at best.

Centrally in midfield, provided they are both fit, I cannot see any change to the Holland-Zhi pairing, with Semedo providing cover if we need any extra body late on.

The forwards who start really depend on the big formation decision – will Pards go for two forwards rather than just the one for a home game? If you ask any fans, the answer from nearly all will be 4-4-2, but Pards is a hard man, and may not concede the issue lightly; hence a possible compromise? Varney and McLeod did well together last weekend, and in my opinion both deserve another chance to start, but I wouldn’t in the least be surprised if Pards opts to start Iwelumo, and pair him with one of the quicker, more mobile, men (probably Varney). This would hopefully give us ability in the air, and speed over the ground, and would be a return to what most fans saw as the front pairing at the start of the season (even though it wasn’t all that successful back then…). I cannot see Chris Dickson starting this match, and bearing in mind who else is probably fit, he will be lucky to get on the bench this week.
If Pards opts for two strikers, that would leave two wide men to pick, and with Lloyd Sam and Darren Ambrose both featuring well last weekend, they will both be hoping for another start too even if Jerome Thomas recovers from illness.

This, therefore, is the side I think Pards may opt to start with –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Madjid Bougherra
Paddy McCarthy
Kelly Youga
Zheng Zhi
Matt Holland
Darren Ambrose
Lloyd Sam
Luke Varney
Izale McLeod

Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, Fortune, Powell, Semedo, Basey, Racon, Arter, Thomas, Dickson, Iwelumo.

This is a tough call personnel wise for Pardew; I’m sure that most of those who “miss-out” for this game will get some sort of action on Tuesday at The Hawthorns (Dickson, Powell, Thomas, Semedo, Fortune, etc, etc), but Pards needs to get the league formation right, as that is the bread and butter and the games where he is most accountable.

It’s been a funny week to be a Charlton fan; after a busy Xmas period, we’ve had a whole week to think about the team, the club, the support, the fans, the noise, the transfer window, and in all honesty, a lot of bickering and back-biting has come out (and yours truly holds his hand up as guilty here too).

Is it a case of good (noisy) atmosphere creates nice playing situations, and the team respond, raise their game, and win, or is it team plays well, the crowd respond and everybody goes home happy? I suppose it is a bit of both. What Pardew may have meant with his comments is that we all need to pull together. How often have we heard that when the team are down, the fans can give them a lift? It must be true. So if we go a goal behind on Saturday, let’s give them a roar and convince the players that an equaliser is what is needed, and not that they should be in fear of making a mistake or they will get jeered, hounded and boo-ed.

And I doubt that Paul Rachubka will get too much of a fancy welcome back to The Valley, as I don't think he ever played in the first team for Charlton (did he?). That will at least please Pardew!

Pedro45 has been absolutely useless in his score predictions this season: It seems that every time that I predict a win, we get stuffed, and when I think we’ll get beaten, we pull off a fine victory. This run just has to break at some time, and where better than Saturday. We’ve had a draw and defeat so far in 2008; it must be time for a win. I predict a 2-0 win, and then everybody will go home a lot happier and more confident.

My one-to-watch for this game is a tough call, as many of the team are not guaranteed to play. One player who is a shoe-in though, provided he is fit, is Matt Holland. Some call him “Captain Clean Pants”, others "the model professional". He has been booked more times this season than in any other of his long career, as sure a sign that he is either frustrated or getting a little bit slower. Probably both, but I doubt he will ever get suspended during a season, so we can live with the odd mis-timed foul. What we can confidently predict from Matty is that he will always try his best; always give 100%; always run his heart out; always gee up the rest of the team; always pass on his experience to the younger professionals; and always acknowledge the crowd at the end of the game. I doubt Matt will be around at The Valley next season, so why not make the most of this and watch a true footballer playing the game. Who knows, he may even score - he is due…

The time has come to stop the name calling and jeering, get behind the team, and stop acting like lemons!

Come on you reds!

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Charlton still in FA Cup Shock!

Charlton Athletic 1
West Bromwich Albion 1

Altogether, this was a much improved display by the Addicks, taking the lead early on and, after conceding an equaliser, surging forward through most of the second half in search of the win.

As expected, Kelly Youga made his debut for the club at left back, and Yassin Moutaouakil came in to start on the opposite flank. Although neither looks like the best defender in the world, they both added an attacking dimension to Charlton’s play over and above what had been on show during recent matches. That new found variance was complimented by Izale McLeod and Luke Varney being allowed to show what they can do up front together for the first prolonged period of time this season.

Alan Pardew seems to have at last found a Plan B!
Instead of the defenders having to lump the ball up to sole forward Chris Iwelumo, balls could be played down the channels for Varney and, especially, McLeod to chase. This actually worked, and many times the red shirts would be able to chase down the ball and get control in attacking positions on the pitch. Lots of times, corners and attacking throw-ins came from balls passed down the channels, and from this basis, Charlton launched attack after attack. McLeod had a good game and was unlucky not to score: Several times he won the ball, took on his man in the area and got away the on-target shot. Sadly, he came up against an in-form ex-Addick Dean Kiely, who made several key saves to deny the Addicks the win their play deserved.

Charlton had scored in under a minute at the start of the game; Lloyd Sam’s deep cross was headed on by Ambrose and Varney, and Zheng Zhi was on hand to turn home at the near post (left). Other early chances came but could not be taken, and the smallish crowd (12,862) felt that the also under-strength Albion could always come back into the game. Soon, the Baggies gained some control, and for the last twenty minutes of the first half, they put Charlton under serious pressure. The equaliser came after a long cross-field pass found Brunt wide left, and he beat Moutaouakil and crossed for Miller to glance home at the near post. Would Charlton be able to hang on till half-time and maybe come back? Yes, they could.

In fact, Charlton dominated the second period and this was possibly one of Nicky Weaver’s quietest games in a Charlton shirt.

Matt Holland, who ran his heart out once more, and Zheng Zhi grabbed hold and utterly controlled the midfield; the two full backs came forward at will and Yassin practically ran riot down the right; the central defence of Bougherra and McCarthy looked solid, and when Albion played with just one forward for the last half hour, totally untroubled.

After seventy minutes, Pardew changed the system, taking off McLeod and Varney to good applause, and introducing Iwelumo and debutant Chris Dickson. Dickson’s name had been chanted for quite some time and it was good to see him finally get a chance on the pitch. Grant Basey also came on, and played wide left in place of Ambrose, and it was from one of several good Basey crosses that Dickson should have opened his Charlton scoring account. Sadly, his close-range header lacked power and direction, and Kiely saved that effort too.

The reversion to Plan A (with Iwelumo as the target man) was not as successful as Plan B, but it did at least show that Pardew can change the system if he wants to during a game.

Thinking about the players, it is hard to say that anyone had a poor game; even Ambrose was impressive, curling in corners and free-kicks, and looking to play in the running forwards at every opportunity. Lloyd Sam had a good first half hour, but was then marked very tightly, but this actually allowed Yassin more space to run into, even if he wasn’t always used.

The undoubted man-of-the-match was Dean Kiely, without whom Albion could have been on the end of a severe thumping. For Charlton, it was a close call, but I’d say Holland (who even got booked!) just shaded the honours from Zhi and McLeod.

The draw may not have been what either manager wanted, but the game will have given Charlton a lot of heart for forthcoming fixtures. If they can show the same effort, resolve, and skill next weekend against Blackpool, then three more Championship points should be won. The Cup replay, on Tuesday week, will be a chance to revert to 4-5-1 if Pards really wants to try to win, or another opportunity to see McLeod and Varney using their pace to unsettle a defence.

Hopefully, this match will have seen Charlton turn the corner in 2008, and become the catalyst to better results. Funnily enough, if Charlton can win the replay then the cup draw could be kind and see them on a long run through to the fifth or sixth rounds, as several lower league clubs have won through so far. We’ll have a better idea when the fourth round draw is made tomorrow lunchtime. Ball 8, do your business!

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Up for the Cup?

No, not really…after recent results, it is tough for anyone to lift Charlton and also for Charlton to lift anyone. I may have been sick with some of the performances over recent months, but now I just feel sick with the flu, or man-flu, or something that is making my head want to explode.

However, this is the FA Cup, and unless you are Manchester United, you have to play in it, and the media expect you to do your best. What is your best though? Nobody really knows these days as it does seem more important to most clubs to perform well in the league, and if you get a Cup run it’s a bonus. Sure, our jaunt to the quarter finals a couple of years back proved much better financially than a run to the same stage of the league cup did last season, but how often have Charlton ever got to the last eight of this competition? Not many times…

Also putting a dampener on the game are the opposition. West Brom are top of the Championship, stuffed us 4-2 last month in a league game, and threaten to blast what remains of our defensive confidence to smithereens tomorrow. Let’s not forget that it was their reserve forwards who caused us major problems in that game at The Hawthorns too, so if they play an “under strength” team, it could be a similar side to the one we faced in December! No easy game this then!

However, would we prefer to raise expectation and go out with major disappointment (as at Boro two years ago), or roll over and play dead (as we did at Forest last season)? As always, I can take defeat (and as a Charlton fan, I’ve tasted plenty of that…), but the manner has to be right.

I think we can therefore assume that whoever Alan Pardew puts out in the red shirts will be trying, and bearing in mind some of the on-field problems the club has had recently one or two players could be playing for a regular starting place if they have good games.

In goal, this is one match where Pards may think about starting Darren Randolph rather than keeping first-choice Nicky Weaver. Weaver has done little wrong – although fans can be pernickety with his punching/catching and kicking – but should Randolph, who has been sitting quietly on the bench since his debut at Anfield late last season - bar one league cup outing - finally get the go ahead to start? Tough call this as it’s a no-win situation: Randolph plays, we lose, he’s out; Randolph plays, we win, he’s out. I kind of hope Darren gets the call but it wouldn’t surprise me if Pardew stuck with Weaver.

The Addicks hapless defence is due a shake up, for this game at least. Yassin Moutaouakil just has to start at right back; otherwise, what is the point of having him at the club? Kelly Youga, recalled from a season-long loan at Scunthorpe, is also very likely to start at left back and this would give Chris Powell a long overdue rest (which is needed at his age). Centrally, Pards will pick two starters between Fortune, Bougherra and McCarthy with the other on the bench.

Our midfield, so strong on paper but less so on the pitch, is looking a little tired, and I would think that Zheng Zhi must be given an afternoon off. He just looks knackered, and with the game not on TV, no pressure is on from Far East TV companies to start him in this match. Jose Semedo has four bookings to his name, so Pards may decide not to risk him from the outset. Therry Racon is therefore likely to get a game, alongside the evergreen but not ever-young Matt Holland, and we could possibly see either Harry Arter or Josh Wright on the bench, which would be a fillip to the younger players. On the wings, I expect Jerome Thomas to play, provided he is not ill, injured, or hung-over from his weeks clubbing, and Darren Ambrose will also start I believe in place of Lloyd Sam, who tried hard but was out of luck in front of goal on Tuesday.

As it’s the cup and as we are at home, we should be looking to play two strikers from the start (please note Mr Pardew!). League options always include Chris Iwelumo, but he has looked jaded recently, so a better option would be to give those stalwart substitutes a chance to play 90 minutes (or until Pards is fed up with them and subs them!). I think Luke Varney and Izale McLeod (top pic) will play, with Chris Dickson on the bench. Why Dickson didn’t get a chance to come on over Xmas is anyone’s guess, but it could have been due to him jetting off to a Ghanaian training camp next week. Again, you put him in, he does well, then he’s missing for three weeks, or you leave him out, as he will be missing for three weeks – another no win situation! Izzy did score aginst the Baggies last month, so maybe they are his anti-bogey team?

This is the side I think will carry Charlton’s cup dreams this year –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Madjid Bougherra
Jonathan Fortune
Kelly Youga
Therry Racon
Matt Holland
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Luke Varney
Izale McLeod

Subs from Randolph, Sankofa, McCarthy, Powell, Semedo, Zhi, Arter, Wright, Sam, Dickson, Iwelumo.

I don’t really have much confidence in a Charlton victory tomorrow, but of course I hope my prediction is wrong – Pedro45’s score forecast is a 4-0 defeat! If the Baggies get ahead, it will be very tough for Charlton to claw their way back into the game. A smaller crowd than normal (maybe only 12-14,ooo?) coud turn nasty if things don't go right, or maybe it will be the moaners who stay away? Our only hope, in my opinion, is if Albion play an even weaker team than expected, and some of our “reserves” play blinders. Step forward our French speakers Youga, Moutaouakil, and Racon! Maybe they will also be able to communicate with Bougherra, but I’m not sure what O’Level grade French Jon Fortune, Matt Holland, or Darren Ambrose got at school?!? (NB Jerome Thomas doesn’t communicate with anyone; he’s all “heads down, no-nonsense, mindless boogie”, so this doesn’t apply to him.)

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be our right full back Yassin Moutaouakil (left). He is almost guaranteed a start, and will hopefully snap the hand off that gives him his shirt. I haven’t seen much of the classy Frenchmen playing yet, as I missed those early season games when he was first choice. The return of Danny Mills to northern climes has now given him the chance to shine once more, and I hope that the predictions that Pards has unearthed a little gem are true.

We can all be very pessimistic about Charlton‘s chances tomorrow, and predict big thrashings, but I do truthfully hope that we see a revitalised Addicks team tomorrow; one that tries to win, and win well. It will be tough, of course, but if they play as a team; if they shoot when given the opportunity; if they play with heart and passion; if they take their chances, then actually, we could cause an upset. And believe me, if we win tomorrow it will be an upset!

Come on you reds!

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Silly Season Starts...

The January trasfer window. What an opportunity for every ailing football club in the country to go out and buy new players and turn a poor season into a great one.

Except, it just doesn't happen like that...

First, you need to have money to buy players, or even get them on loan these days. Do Charlton have any money? No. Not even that fantasy "Parachute payment" that we have somehow kept in our back pocket since relegation. So unless someone is sold, or the wage total reduced by sending more players out on loan, it is unlikely we will see many new faces down at The Valley this month.
Of course, Alan Pardew has said he is desperate to bring in new fresh faces to brighten up his gloomy squad, but that does intimate to me that at least one player may be sold/sacrificed in order for this to happen.

We should also remember that the wage bill was briefly lightened by Danny Mills returning to Manchester City, before the much cheaper to pay Kelly Youga came back from his loan spell at Scunthorpe yesterday. If Mills was on around £25k a week, and Youga is on, say, £5k a week, Charlton clear about £80 grand every month over what might have been - good business Peter!

This made me laugh yesterday too, from the BBC football gossip webpage -

Manchester City defender Danny Mills, who is currently on loan at Charlton, is wanted on a permanent deal by Hull and Leeds. (Telegraph)

Can you imagine Millsy going to Hull again? First day at training - "Oi Mills, why did you try to get several of us players sent off at The Valley last month?" "Who me, I had been tapped up by Brownie already and was looking for a red card myself from the first ten minutes for simulation as instructed, honest!" Good luck Danny. Better of return to Leeds whose fans will remember you from your last spell there which nearly made them extinct.

Also via BBC today -

Charlton and Hull are fighting it out for the signature of versatile Colchester skipper Karl Duguid. (Star)

Come on Pards, if this is true, why pick a one-club player to sign who will add little more than be another body in an already congested midfield...unless that is, the players we are hoping to get rid of to fund our transfer spree are midfielders? Step forward the only two players who might realistically command a decent fee - Zheng Zhi, and Jerome Thomas.

We might get a little more than the £2m we paid for ZiZi, as he has scored six goals this season and been one of our better players, even if recently he looks desperately tired. JT is always being linked with the lower reaches of the Premiership - Birmingham, Wigan and Derby have been mentioned in the past - so we might get a couple of mill for him too, on a good day.

If Duguid and Joe Ledley from Cardiff, who has also been linked, are the ready made replacements, then they will also be cheaper options as ZiZi and JT are both on pretty good contracts I believe. More savings to the weekly salary budget for Mr Varney.

If these transfers go through, then the funds available may just about be there to get one more player in - but in what position? Do we try for a Premiership reserve striker to score the goals that get us promoted, or for a solid centre half whose defending will also get us promoted? I haven't a clue, but my preference, should it be an option, would be for that central defender who will make a difference. And I don't mean a difference in the McCarthy, Bougherra, or Fortune way.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

So Bad I can't think of a Heading!

Charlton Athletic 1 Colchester United 2

A New Year, but the same tired old team;
a New Year, but the same tired old tactics;
a New Year, but the same poor home results. Welcome to 2008!

This really wasn’t very good, and just about summed up all Charlton’s problems in one match -plenty of possession; plenty of effort; no little skill; but ultimately a lack of co-ordination, communication, and balance that all combined to commit Addicks fans to another sub-standard Valley match. There just is no plan-B…

Alan Pardew started out with the same eleven that played at Leicester, except Lloyd Sam replaced Luke Varney wide right in a 4-5-1 formation. Madjid Bougherra was at right back, and Jon Fortune at centre half alongside Paddy McCarthy, while Zheng Zhi played well advanced in midfield in an effort to give Chris Iwelumo some support.

It didn’t take long for Colchester to capitalise on Charlton’s cumbersome defending, the returning Kevin Lisbie turning McCarthy before being hauled down after Bougherra had been dispossessed in midfield. The penalty was obvious and McCarthy was lucky not to be trudging down the tunnel had the referee not been so lenient. The red card avoided, the goal was scored, Lisbie slotting bottom left as Weaver dived the wrong way (although I must admit he went the same way I predicted Lisbie would shoot).

Charlton did press forward; Lloyd Sam on the right, and Jerome Thomas (left) on the left both showed great skill to beat their marker and get in shots, but could not hit the target (one Sam shot actually went backwards for a throw in the other side!). Bougherra was rampaging down the right but was either not found, given little chance of getting the ball, or tried to be too clever in beating his man. Iwelumo was winning nearly everything in the air, though without a decent cross for him to threaten the goal with (bar one, where he headed wide).

After half an hour, another Colchester break saw the ball knocked high, and then Lisbie completed a horrible half hour for home fans by getting clear of McCarthy and performing a terrific overhead kick that saw the ball fly past Weaver (top). How Super Kevin celebrated!

The blokes behind me were in their element now; not only did they fawn over ex-Spur Teddy Sheringham as he sat on the bench, but they now had the red shirted targets to vent their inane comments upon. Sam was “a waste of space” apparently, while “the china-man” “did nothing all game”. When McCarthy was withdrawn for Varney soon after (getting to go down the tunnel before he planned without the referee’s intervention…), Pardew had apparently “lost it” and it was “wasted that Magic had to play in the centre now” (Semedo moved to right back).

What the substitution did provide was help for Iwelumo, for a while at least; however, it put more onus on the wingers to track back, which they both did, but also loosened any grip in midfield Charlton did have with three playing centrally. Sadly, Matt Holland had an average game, and Zheng Zhi was as anonymous for the last hour as he had been in the first thirty minutes when playing farther forward. The midfield battle was therefore lost…

Sam continued to cause problems, but he had left his shooting boots at home; he did get free on the bye-line in first half injury time to cross for Varney to knock home right footed and reduce the deficit, giving home fans some hope. Seconds later, the ball was crashed home again by Varney, but the linesmen correctly ruled he had used his hand to control the ball. At half time, Charlton were still in the game, and second half performances have tended to be better so far this season.

Colchester for their part, had caused lots of trouble in the first half, with Lisbie coming up against his dream defenders; time and again he was able to find space to collect and run, or turn the marker if they stuck close to him.

In the second half, Lisbie started to play more like Charlton fans remember, shooting wildly wide when well placed after beating a slow to come out Chris Powell. A hat-trick would elude him today... Sadly, Charlton failed to take much advantage of this and became more desperate as the half wore on. Iwelumo tired, and won fewer balls in the air. Moutaouakil came on for Semedo in an effort to provide a greater threat from full back, and he linked well with Sam down the right. Varney had by now drifted out to the left for some reason, well away from Iwelumo if ever big Chris did win a header. Lisbie finally gave way to a strain, giving Fortune and Bougherra some respite (though not much…), as Charlton pressure increased and Colchester just hoofed the ball clear at any and every opportunity.

With ten minutes left, and still no equaliser, Ambrose was sent on for Powell - Pardew’s last throw of the dice. A great run by Sam failed to win anything but yet another corner, until finally, after another long ball forward was flicked on by Iwelumo, the onrushing Ambrose volleyed spectacularly wide. The final whistle was greeted by yet more home fan booing.

If this is what 2008 has in store, then it will be another Annus Horribilis for Addicks fans…

I suppose any criticism of the team could be unfair; they did try hard all game, and had a lot more shots than other recent games, but certain players looked very tired or jaded (Zhi, Holland, Powell).

Why then is Pardew persisting with the same bunch of people who are unable to fit into a successful home game system? This, to me, is the problem, and Pards is not dealing with it very well. We have all seen how 4-5-1 works away from home, and little objection has come from fans or bloggers on seeing this team and formation utilised. But at The Valley, it has been obvious since October that we just do not have enough firepower to make it work consistently, bar the lucky Ipswich game where Ambrose was played in or out of position (depending on your perspective) and scored two goals.

Teams live and die by standing next to the manager’s ideals and ideas; Pardew has come clean on previous occasions and admitted picking the wrong team or taking the wrong players off at the wrong time. I did feel that he got it pretty wrong today – he should have started with two forwards. What would Geraint Williams have said to his team when he found out he would only have to face up to one striker? And then, after admitting that he was at error for taking off half time sub McLeod at the end of the game last weekend, he left himself with no option when Varney was not doing the business late in the second period.

Pardew has been honest in after match comments which I interpret as - we have a dodgy defence, so the midfield needs bolstering; the midfield is weak, and needs help for the wide players; that leaves room for just one up front. The answer is to sort out the defence and then the midfield will have less doubt over the team's capablility to survive any single attack, and can set about trying to score goals and support the front players. It was easier typing that than it will be for Pards to put it into practice!

Charlton do have a chance to redeem themselves and get some confidence back in this season, but Saturday’s cup game against West Brom could turn into a nightmare if the defence plays as loosely and the midfield is as weak as they were today.

The final words in todays blog has to be written about Kevin Lisbie. At times today, he looked like the good Premiership forward that he threatened to become four or five years ago. At other times (mainly in the second half), he resembled the player that Charlton fans jeered on a consistent basis. SKL is a nice guy, and Addicks should wish him well, but please do stop scoring goals against us Kev…or we might get really nasty and boo you again!

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