Friday, February 22, 2008

Tangerine Dream

Unfortunately, a knee operation, planned for this afternoon, will keep me from travelling up to Blackpool tomorrow for the next game in Charlton’s quest to get nearer the top sides in this division. Luckily, and importantly for the club, around 1500 supporters will be making the trip, and within a small-ish ground, the atmosphere should be electric. I hope they come home happy!

I stayed in Blackpool (Big Blue Hotel, right by the Pleasure Beach, recommended) when we played Preston back in November, and it was a nice place to visit, though very alien to southern comparisons like Brighton or Southend. Those travelling should note that the trams are not running (contrary to the programme information), with bus replacements (which can be infrequent) along the length of the front. The Tower can also be closed in windy weather (as it was in November), and the Pleasure Beach opens at midday on Sundays if you are staying up there. A cab from Blackpool North station to the ground will cost around a fiver, though it is not that far to walk; from Blackpool South, or the Pleasure Beach, the ground is only a few minutes walk.

Blackpool in November was hairy, to say the least, weather-wise, and a similar windy day is forecast; Pedro45 politely suggests that if the tide is in, you don’t get too close to the sea wall or you may be likely to get very wet! I have photographic proof!

It really is do or die time if Charlton want to win automatic promotion – anything more than one defeat and a couple of draws in the last thirteen games, and we can only dream of the Premiership, bar the uncertainty of the play-offs. And this game is one which needs to be won…

Alan Pardew will hopefully have improved the team spirit during a short break in Spain earlier in the week, and hope that this proves the catalyst in the thirteen “cup finals” the team now has to play between now and May.

Pards team selection is not as straightforward as it has been at other times this season, and choices and decisions will have to be made, primarily as Kelly Youga is suspended for the match.

In goal, Nicky Weaver should get the chance of another clean sheet, and a good performance; this is another game that he can win for the Addicks, and he will want to put in a good performance back up North. Just nine goals conceded in ten games is testament to how well Weaver is playing. Rob Elliott will deputise from the bench.

Greg Halford should continue at right back, and hopefully he can make use of his enormous long throw in the blustery conditions. His defending has been solid if unspectacular in his first few games, but the key is him not making mistakes (a la Moutaouakil) and providing similar attacking options.

The central defence will be marshalled by Paddy McCarthy, plus either Madjid Bougherra if he has recovered from his foot injury, or Jonathan Fortune if he hasn’t. Both should be solid, and resolute, and we have Sam Sodje fit again in reserve.

At left back, with Youga suspended, Pardew has to make the choice between Grant Basey, who played about five games in December when the team were on a good run, or Chris Powell, who seemed to be rolled out for every match early in the season even though he was desperate for a rest. Chris has now had that rest, so he may well be preferred to the young Basey in an important game such as this? Other choices like Ben Thatcher and Cory Gibbs are unlikely as, even though they are both back in training, neither has played enough reserve team football to be seriously considered, unless in emergency. I also doubt that part-time but able fill in Jose Semedo will be risked for a whole game in this position.

The central midfield will once more, barring injury, see Matt Holland and Zheng Zhi paired; we need a big game from both.

Out wide, Pards really has to start to make choices; it would appear that all four potential starters are fit enough, with Darren Ambrose recovered from illness, Jerome Thomas recovered from illness and injury, and Lee Cook getting more training and match time every week. Lloyd Sam is the only one who is seemingly 100% fit, but that might not be enough to keep him in the side this week. Sam has been a bit of a stalwart out on the right wing, and has bundles of skill. Sadly, his confidence seems a little low at the moment, and he is not getting his crosses in when he can, which is usually after he has beaten his man the first time. Lloyd needs to become a little more direct; with Andy Gray in the side now, an earlier cross is required than when Chris Iwelumo led the line, but they are just not coming, and Sam may face the chop as a result. Cook has been getting lots of web space on the official site, and he and Thomas will compete to start opposite Ambrose I feel. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cook start, with Thomas brought on when he tires after an hour, though it may be vice-versa.

Up front, the lone front-man has been laid to rest since the turn of the year, and we can expect to see Like Varney and Andy Gray start, with Iwelumo on the bench.

This is the side I expect Alan Pardew to pick –

Nicky Weaver
Greg Halford
Jonathan Fortune
Paddy McCarthy
Grant Basey
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Lee Cook
Andy Gray
Luke Varney
Subs from – Elliott, Moutaouakil, Sodje, Bougherra, Powell, Racon, Semedo, Sam, Thomas, Iwelumo, McLeod.

Blackpool played a good open game in the match at The Valley earlier this year, but were ripped apart by our midfield; they may not be so expansive at home, though I hope they are. They have added that loveable rogue Paul Dickov to their team since then, and he has responded with four goals in five games. I don’t remember Dickov being much of a problem to Charlton in the past (though I may be mistaken), so hopefully, our defence will know what to expect and will be able to cope. The best player we will face is Wes Hoolihan, and he reminded everyone of Andy Reid in that Valley match; he will need to be watched closely by Holland and ZiZi.

A defeat in this game would have the play off chasing hovering pack lapping over our toes, so that cannot be contemplated. A draw will provide further distance between Charlton and the top of the table teams who will soon be disappearing over the horizon leaving the Addicks beached like a Blackpool ferry. Pedro45 therefore just has to forecast a win, 2-0, which is about due away from home. Although I’m not going, I am confident of this result.

My one-to-watch is going to be Darren Ambrose, who can be a key man in the thirteen-game run in. Darren has nearly all that you require to be a good footballer – stamina, skill, touch, vision – but he lacks in some areas (possibly attitude and confidence). We need Dazza to be on top form over the next three months, and if he can respond with corners and free-kicks that do beat the first defender; crosses that meet Charlton heads; and shots that go in the corner of the goal rather than over the bar, he could be a bit of a hero. Only he knows if he has the balls to be one.

Up the Addicks!

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