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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