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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