Sunday, January 13, 2008

ZiZi Tops!

Charlton Athletic 4 Blackpool 1

This was more like it! Two early goals, controlling the game, looking like adding to the score line at nearly every attack; a much better all round performance from the Addicks.

With the one-minute applause for departed friends, colleagues, and heroes out of the way, the noisy atmosphere continued straight into the match. The North stand were singing, the drums very apparent, and the good crowd (21, 412) hoping for a good performance. They were not to be disappointed.

Alan Pardew opted to give the team that had performed well in the cup last week another outing, so there was no place in the starting line up for Jerome Thomas, or Chris Iwelumo, and Jon Fortune did not even make the substitutes bench. The only change in the sixteen was Thomas being included on the bench instead of Grant Basey. And it didn’t take long for Charlton to click into gear.

An early Lloyd Sam cross found Izale McLeod, but his first time shot was mis-hit, and the rebound was blocked. Two corners followed, and from the second, Darren Ambrose curled the ball deep to the back post where Madjid Bougherra rose highest to head home from a yard out (top). Magic had not long finished celebrating when Luke Varney was released in the inside left channel by Ambrose, and he cut in and shot home from the edge of the area. Just ten minutes on the clock, and Charlton two up! Heady stuff…

Soon after, the goal of the game brought the home team and fans back near terra-firma, as Burgess lashed home an unstoppable volley from outsider the area, giving Nicky Weaver no chance. After a few minutes where the home team re-settled, normal service was resumed. Varney (left) was again set free on the left, and he easily beat his man to the bye-line. Varney’s low pull back was just too far in front of Ambrose, but the ball rolled on to Zheng Zhi who picked his spot in the corner for 3-1. With twenty minutes still to go till to half-time, the Blackpool bench started to look nervous!

No further goals came in that first half, although chances came and went for Matt Holland and McLeod.

If Charlton could start the second half in similar vein, a good win was in the offing. Sure enough, an early corner saw another thumping header from Bougherra, but this time it hit the post. However, Zheng Zhi coolly picked his spot and slotted home the rebound. This was the end of the scoring, but only due to a good display by ex-Addick Paul Rachubka in goal for Blackpool - he made excellent saves from McLeod, Ambrose, and others, and kept the score to four – and some poor finishing.

It is tough to criticize the team when they have won so well, but it should be noted that more goals were available for the taking during the second half. It is a fine line that divides a striker being selfish and being hungry, but contrasting fortunes dictate how that is seen. On a few occasions, McLeod, who is desperate to score at The Valley and build on his improving out-field form, chose to strike at goal when others were better placed. This led to him being the subject of a few jeers (not too many, though), whereas when Chris Dickson came on (for McLeod) for the last twenty minutes, his two goal-scoring efforts, both from acute angles and unlikely to creep in, received warm applause.

There was also some “lazy” defending during this period. Kelly Youga, who had a fine game all round, was guilty on a couple of occasions of playing “pretty” passes, when the simple option would have been better for the team and the definite option in a tighter match.

Both examples are me being picky though, and it was, for the second week running, quite difficult to think of any player who didn’t pull their weight, or who had a poor-ish game.

Weaver had little more to do than marshall his defence, and kick out back-passes; the defence itself looked fairly solid again except when they over-elaborated – Magic won lots of ball in the air, and Yassin Moutaouakil rampaged down the wing on numerous occasions. In midfield, Holland and ZiZi patrolled and controlled the park, and Blackpool’s tactics were quite obviously to bypass this area as they couldn’t compete (bar Wes Hoolahan, who looks a good player in the Andy Reid midfield general type role). Lloyd Sam, Ambrose and Thomas all had success down the wings, and Thomas really should have scored the fifth Charlton goal when he blasted over from not far out near the end. And up front, McLeod, and Varney ran with pace and skill, and caused all sorts of problems.

It is worth noting referee J Singh’s contribution too; for the second Charlton game this season (he did the Norwich home game too), he was in excellent form and he is the best official we have had in charge at The Valley this season by far. He does tend to blow hard on his whistle when a word may be a better option, but his foul calling and advantage play (often waiting a few seconds before making his mind up) were excellent. He only had to book one player (Hoolahan who threw his toys out of his pram when caught offside and then kicked them and the ball away…) and earned the respect of all the players on the pitch.

This result should give the team the much needed confidence that they have been seeking. Charlton remain in fifth spot in the league, but are well placed to increase the pressure on those teams above them over the next few weeks. The injury list is looking a lot healthier, with several left and centre backs now available again, the midfield and wide men fit, and the forwards creating healthy competition and scoring regularly. Who knows, we may even get someone in on loan to improve the team?

The next three games are big ones, all against teams above Charlton in the league; what better way to go into them than confident, healthy, and with a little bit of swaggering arrogance that the French influence is bringing to the club.

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The ref was great wasn't he! Wish they were all of his quality.
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