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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