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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