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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Interested to read your second para. I'd echo your thoughts, and felt we played better than in the game against Hull.

But we again lost to a side at the bottom. Hard fact is that I see so little to encourage. If we'd lost/drawn our home games whilst playing with promise I could see the long term plan and be patient.

I wanted 4-2-2, with Dickson playing a part at some stage. But I knew AP would have to see a safety margin in place first.

For the first time in my life I would have left at half time had I been able; I didn't, and sung my heart out as usual.

Ten years ago I wouldn't have felt so disappointed. But we have been at a loftier place, and this Division is so open its there for the taking. We had so many advantages in a solid financial footing, gates, and a quality manager. And I feel no hope for this season whatsoever.

As always its the hope that kills ya.

Pembury Addick
I agree; I guess we do still have hope but the hope of getting promoted is fast fading. Unless Pards can get the team playing nearer their potential, our long-term hope must now be financial survival and bringing through the youngsters, neither of which are guaranteed.

Even as a mid-table team, we should be capable of beating bottom sides.

Pards seems to have drifted intot he Curbs mentality of not chnaging things when they are obviously not working. If he did take a chance, and it failed, we would all respect it for the try it was. And you never know, sometimes chances do work out!
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