Sunday, March 30, 2008

This is the End....My Beautiful Friend

Charlton Athletic 2
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

Well that’s it; the end of another season.

Alan Pardew’s men can now relax as they have little left to play for over the last month of the term – too far off a play off berth, and with too many points in the bag to seriously have to worry about relegation. Even if that relaxation brings five wins (or five defeats!) from the remaining five games, it just will not be enough to matter either way.

A poor first half, where at least Charlton were on level terms meant all was to play for in the second half, and boy, did Charlton go for it! Wolves hardly got out of their own half for 30 minutes as the pressure was built, the crowd lifted, and the Addicks piled forward. Henessey made excellent saves from a Halford free-kick heading for the top corner, and a Lita burst and shot; other chances went begging, or just wide.

Then it all started to go pear-shaped. I wrote last week about Paddy McCarthy giving his attacker half a yard start in chases down the channels and this was again true when EBanks-Blake was left to run after a ball down the right hand side. The former Plymouth forward was first to the ball but had Paddy at his back. Not for long though, as the puffing Irishmen soon had the ball behind him and E-B was nowhere to be seen, having bedazzled him with a sublime piece of skill. The Wolves player wasn’t finished though, as he strode along the bye line and into the penalty area unchallenged before bringing the ball out a few yards and thumping it past a static Nicky Weaver on the goal line and into the middle of the net. It probably was Wolves first attack of the second half.

Although plenty of the 23,000 crowd left at that point (actually, it may have been 23,000 tickets, but no-way were most of the seats full at this match, and I suggest that only 17,000 were in the ground to watch), Charlton did keep going for the last ten minutes. It was slightly surreal because it went very quiet and the players knew that the season was now over unless they could score twice. Wolves had further chances as Charlton pushed on, but then with two of the four minutes of added time elapsed, a long ball forward was headed into the net by Leroy Lita. Our Reading loanee had received some terrible stick from a supporter a few rows behind me all game, and celebrated by ripping off his shirt and sprinting all the way bare-chested to the Charlton bench! He was booked for this of course…

It may have been a mistake, but the remaining crowd urged the team on. A Wolves foray came to nothing, then after Weaver had been pressed to clear the ball so we could have one last attack, another punt over the top by a Wolves defender left the Charlton defence retreating. This time, Weaver had plenty of time to run out and clear from the right back position, but for some reason (hair not being quite right to be on camera; thinking about cream cakes waiting for him in the dressing room; haven’t taken responsibility all season so why start now; who knows?) he chose to just scan the players moving toward him and retreat daintily backwards to his goal line. A Wolves player got there first, crossed to the far post, and Henry slid in and clipped the ball past the once-again static Weevill and into the middle of the net. It was heartbreaking for Addicks fans, and at least five players on the half way line (presumably the forwards?) looked distraught. The final whistle went very soon after the re-start, and the fans, many of whom will not be back this season, left the ground.

In the first half, Ebanks-Blake had given Wolves the lead when Halford was left to deal with two attackers on his own. He couldn’t, and E-B shot powerfully home from the edge of the area (left). Halford himself nicely equalised after half an hour or so, when he side-foot volleyed home after a cleared corner kick was played in again. E-B then hit the inside of the post, and Charlton had done well to go into the changing room on equal terms,

Ambrose did not appear for the second half (Zheng Zhi having sufficient energy to come on as sub and complete 45 minutes after his monthly Air Miles requisition this week), and Jerome Thomas limped off with twenty or so minutes to go to be replaced by Lee Cook. Luke Varney came on when Charlton fell behind near the end with Semedo sacrificed.

So where should Alan Pardew go from here? Well, we have a big squad, with good youngsters. He really should be looking to give players like Danny Uchechi, Harry Arter, Scott Wagstaff, plus the likes of Grant Basey, Kelly Youga and Paulo Monteiro a chance to show what they can do in the first team during this seasons remianing games. These players are the clubs future, along with other youngsters out on loan and doing well – Josh Wright, Aswad Thomas, Therry Racon, etc. There really isn’t much point in persisting with Ben Thatcher, Lee Cook, Jerome Thomas, Zheng Zhi, or many of the other players who will not be plying their trade at The Valley next season. He doesn't have to play them all at once, just bring them through for a start or a sub appearance. I'm sure the senior players left out won't mind swanning off to the beach or golf course a few weeks early.

We had a go this season, but a whole load of things made it a poor season – referee’s who didn’t like us; Pardew’s tinkering with the squad; the weather (!); too many French-speaking defenders; Pardew’s tinkering with the squad; injuries; the sale of Andy Reid; Pardew’s tinkering with the squad; inconsistency; Pardew’s tinkering with the squad; having more interpreters in the dressing room than players; and lastly Pardew’s tinkering with the squad.

Next year, we need to be better prepared, have distinct tactically plans, a set style of play, and a firm base on which to work from (that Pardew isn't allowed to tinker with!). I cannot see much transfer money being made available, other than that generated by player sales. It might be nice to hope that Leroy Lita and Greg Halford are part of our squad next season, but unless we can raise £5 million somewhere, I doubt that it may become a reality.
One last thing - the player of the year voting started yesterday. With internet votes counting, it may be that Zheng Zhi's millions of followers in China influence the outcome in his favour. If there was a non-internet vote though, who would we see holding up the cup?
Paddy? Nah - too many errors, even if he gave his all.
Reidy? Doing a good job for the Mackems now so don't waste your vote!
Ambie? His name is not apparently on the voting form!
That leaves just one player then - Captain Clean-Pants: Matt Holland. Go on, you know he deserves it.

I’m off for a good cry now…

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Upturn Starts Here

Things just cannot go any lower, so Pedro45 is going to start by being optimistic rather than pessimistic about the season from here on in – why not, it won’t do any harm!

This weekend’s game against Wolves is quite obviously now the biggest game of the season for Charlton and their fans. Failure will leave the Addicks stranded well behind the Wanderers, and others no doubt, and with just sixth place now to aim for, a loss is too painful to contemplate. One player (Sinclair) has already jumped ship and hopefully he will now ruin his new clubs play-off hopes, as he certainly did nothing to help Charlton’s cause in his brief tenure in SE7, the whingeing little git.

Alan Pardew knows that this game is crucial, and he has stated that he wants (for “wants” read “needs”) four or five wins to get to that elusive sixth place. What he hasn’t said is that unless one of those wins is on Saturday, the other wins will not matter, as we will struggle to catch Wolves if we don’t beat them this weekend.

You can just imagine the confidence that a win will bring, as would a goal or two for our strikers.

When you look at the season as a whole, the defence has been pretty sound (even with the collective chaos at the beginning of the season, and the blip at Blackpool); the midfield is solid too, with whoever plays giving everything they have; our wingers are skilful and pacey, though lacking in crossing ability; and our strikers do have proven pedigree, even if that isn’t obvious at the moment. We also have a goalkeeper who can be very good. So all is not lost...

What we need now is to get back to the type of game that allows other clubs to be worried about us, rather than us having to worry about them.

I remember back in the early 1990’s, when Gritt and Curbishley had been in charge for a short while, other managers started to complain because our duo would counter whatever they tried to do on the pitch tactically, thereby nullifying the game. The obvious fact that this is part of the game aside, it did show that they (Curbs and Gritt) were often more bothered with how the oppo would play, rather than allowing Charlton to project their flair and skill onto the team they were faced with. I am not criticizing this, as with a very limited squad to chose from, this was a key element in allowing Charlton to progress in those hairy scary not-much-money years. But now, now, we have the players, the ground, the coaching staff, and the set-up, to be the big boys in this league (in much the same way that Arsenal or Chelsea don’t really bother with how Birmingham or Wigan line up against them).

Are we worried about Wolves, or should they be thinking about how to stop us scoring and somehow scraping a point? We know what it should be like, but it isn’t there at the moment, and that is the problem.

So how does Pardew crack the nut? Well, the whole club – players, management, directors, fans, and tea-lady – all need to start to believe that we can get the club back on track (and this season) and win the race for sixth place in this league. It is not possible to get any lower (mentally) than we are now – we are not going to get relegated, so we might as well try for that last available place, starting on Saturday. If we are going to fail, let it be in an absolute effort in gaining sixth pace, and not just feeling sorry when we come ninth or tenth. Pardew needs to lift the players, and to do that we need to get back to a few basics.

What do we want from a Charlton team? One that wins!
And how can we win? Play a pass and move game that other Championship teams cannot live with!

To do this, Pardew needs to resort to many of those players that showed it could be done early in the season, though with a few changes brought about through the loan/transfer system that Pards has dabbled with all season.

With Nicky Weaver in goal, the defence is not bad, and unless Madjid Bougherra is fit again, we can assume that this part of the team will comprise of Greg Halford, Paddy McCarthy, and Sam Sodje. At left back, I would like to see either Kelly Youga restored to the starting line up or, preferably, Chris Powell brought back for one last hurrah! It’s not that Ben Thatcher has done anything wrong; it’s just that one of these other two players offers more going forwards. Powell has the experience to know when to attack, and when to defend; he has only really been shown up once this season (by Gera in the Albion away game), and if he is fit, he could be great in the dressing room and on the pitch (he would certainly lift the crowd!). Alternatively, we could play Youga, with the hope that he keeps his high thumps to just clearances, and appreciates that it is no good running down blind alleyways when bombing forwards. Positive focus please Kelly!

With the midfield, Pards has no option but to play Mr Consistency Matt Holland, but Zheng Zhi has been to China and back this week, so he should not play from the start. That leaves just Jose Semedo to come in and do the cleaning up job he did prior to Xmas; he doesn’t have a yellow card suspension threat hanging over his head anymore, so let him play, and do the job that allows others to press forward. He links play so well between the defence and midfield and midfield and attack, that he should be playing the lynchpin each game.

The wingers available include Lloyd Sam (who should have recovered from his latest injury), Jerome Thomas, Lee Cook, and Darren Ambrose. Now shorn of Sinclair messing with people’s minds, Pardew needs to confirm that Darren Ambrose has free reign to score goals and cross the ball into danger areas (free-kicks, corners, or even from open play Dazza, get them in where it hurts!), and that Jerome Thomas should beat his man and attack the goal. Cook or Sam can be left on the bench to provide back up in case of injury, tiredness or poor form.

Our striking situation has undergone a massive change since last August; without Todorov or McLeod due to injury, we have seen Andy Gray and Leroy Lita brought in. The favourites to start last summer were Chris Iwelumo, and Luke Varney. Both have had varying success, and scored a few goals, but both have been undermined by Pardew trying other options, and playing when chasing games from behind. Gray and Lita have yet to score this year (for any of their clubs), so unless Pardew has a realistic expectation that they will this weekend, I suggest that we go back to the original plan, and keep the new guys for plan B.

This is the team I would like Pardew to pick for this massive game –

Nicky Weaver
Greg Halford
Paddy McCarthy
Sam Sodje
Chris Powell
Matt Holland
Jose Semedo
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Chris Iwelumo
Luke Varney

Subs from Elliott, Moutaouakil, Fortune, Youga, Thatcher, Basey, Zheng, Cook, Sam, Gray, Lita, Uchechi.

Wolves have been on a good run, and will be no push-over; ex-Addick and pre-season target Freddie Eastwood scored twice for Wales in midweek, and so did Michael Kightly for his club last weekend. Charlton should also be concerned about Sylvan Eubanks-Blake, who scored for Plymouth at The Valley early in the season. The gold shirts have other injury worries (especially in defence it seems), but will probably be at an overall strength comparable to Charlton’s. For them, a point maintains the one-point lead over Charlton (still with a game in hand), but a win will be good enough to dismiss at least one of the six or so clubs vying for that last play-off place.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be one of the forwards, as it is them that will possibly fire Charlton up the table (draws no longer being good enough, and certainly not in this match…) – I fancy Luke Varney to fire up the crowd with a goal or two against the midlands club (he’s from the East Midlands, so playing against a West Midlands team should gee him up enough?). Varney has had a bit of a raw deal this whole season; it seems that when he is in form, he has tended to be shifted out wide so other players can be brought in to a particular shape, and when he has not been in form, he has been either left out or substituted at half-time. Varney is a good player; one who will run all day, and create opportunities for himself and others. His channel running has not been utilised enough by Pardew this season, and provided he is fully recovered from his ankle strain, he should be given the nod to go out and run, run, run, at the goal and get his shots away.

Pedro45 has turned the corner emotionally after a very depressing first three months of the year. I had a great weekend away last week in Luxembourg – a lovely small city in a small country pushing boundaries in a big continent. The people were nice, and the vibe excellent. It reminded me so much of supporting Charlton – a small club in a big city, punching above their weight. It is possible – we know that. And it would not take much for Charlton to get back in with the heavyweights of the Premiership.

Personally, I don’t care if we get promoted, finishing tailed off bottom of the league next season, provided we use the money we will get in a positive way to build the club bigger and better. In the nineties, it was very apparent that each year, each season, whatever the finishing position in the league, the club improved overall. It may have been the capacity of the ground (8,773 onwards..); it may have been standing in the division (play –offs every third season?); it may just have been the amount of capital that the directors and management had to spend (from free transfers to million pound players in ten years…) – we got better every year. Sadly, despite the efforts of the great set of directors that we still have, we have failed in the last couple of seasons to get any better as a club or as a team.

We have good set of players, but they need to be nurtured, and brought through in a manner that affords confidence – I predict a 3-1 win on Saturday that will be the result of this new found confidence. We have to turn the corner, and where better than to do so at this stage of the season.

We, as fans, must support the team – our team. All of them! We cannot have supporters screaming abuse at substitutes when they are simply warming up; we cannot have fans whingeing after ten minutes because we’ve conceded a corner kick; we cannot have the crowd booing at the end of a game when the players have given everything for the club we love. We need all and sundry who have the Addicks at heart to be pulling in the same, sane, direction.

This is the big one – give it all you’ve got!

Come on you reds!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Point of No Return

Charlton Athletic 1
West Bromwich Albion 1

This game, for me, summed up Charlton's whole season...reasonable in patches, but ultimately not good enough.

Sure, we were up against a good side in West Brom, but having played them three times previously, we should have known what to expect.

Alan Pardew started the day by playing the expected defence, but with Jose Semedo in a midfield protecting role rather than the flamboyance of Zheng Zhi. Up front, Andy Gray partnered Leroy Lita, while Darren Ambrose and Jerome Thomas provided the width.

The game started in tight fashion, with both sides probing, rather than throwing players forward. Albion started with five in midfield, but Miller and Gera were quick to support Phillips whenever they could. Charlton struggled to create much initially, and the picky ref didn't do the home team many favours early on.

Slowly, both teams came to settle, but not until the rain (or was it hail?) had lashed down midway through the half.

Greg Halford, who had his second best game for the club since joining on loan, broke the deadlock after half an hour (top). Ambrose floated over a free kick from the left and Halford headed back toward the far corner; everyone seemed to wait and see which player – defender or attacker – would be first to the ball, and too late, Kiely realised the ball was going to go in. It was a strange goal, and one which took most of the crowd by complete surprise. No matter, the Addicks were in front; as with the cup game, it was now a case of if they could hold onto the lead?

A Charlton corner then broke on the edge of the area to Sam Sodje who expertly took the ball past the advancing defence and into a one-on-one situation with Kiely. Sadly, the chance to extend the lead was not so expertly taken, and Sodje blasted the ball over the bar from ten yards out. This was a key moment in the game, and reflected the missed opportunities of the whole season.

Semedo was being called on to make more and more tackles in midfield, and the wide players were getting less and less time on the ball. Gera was booked for callously stopping a Charlton break on the half way line, but little else was going for Charlton, with the ref giving little to the home team, although he did try to play the advantage rule whenever he could.

Just before half time, a West Brom free kick was nodded back at the far post and Phillips, who had been well shackled up to that point, struck home. It was the hammer blow that Charlton just did not need – another home lead lost.

The half time mood wasn't good. The crowd – with only about 1300 Albion fans and with many gaps in the season ticket home area ranks – seemed resigned, and toilet talk was if we could hang on for a draw?

Early in the second half, Semedo was booked, which led to him being withdrawn after an hour - Pards could not afford his side to be reduced to ten men which may have happened. With the more forward minded ZiZi on the field, Albion immediately switched to a 4-4-2 formation, but I think this may have been an error. Miller and Gera had been causing plenty of problems for the Charlton fullbacks when coming from deep, but now Miller and Phillips were being picked up by the two centre backs, and Charlton seemed settled.

Leroy Lita had a half chance, similar to one he missed in the first half, but that was about it as far as the Addicks were concerned in an attacking mode. ZiZi was well off the pace; Iwelumo came on for Lita; and West Brom took off Miller for Bednar.

It was now, with only fifteen minutes or so to go, that the game swung back in favour of the away team; Bednar started to hold the ball well, and provide crossing opportunities, and there looked just one winner. Cook came on for Ambrose but with little effect, then Gera hit the bar with a vicious dipping volley in the last minute.

Four minutes injury time failed to find a winner, as the game really opened up as both sides were desperate for a win.

It was not to be though, and a few Charlton fan boo's greeted the final whistle. Again, the expectation has been high, and these fans vented their disappointment.

Overall, most of the team played OK; there were no real stand-outs though, and again, that sums up the season – plenty of effort, but no real direction or top draw performances.

Pardew's team continue to stumble toward the end of the season, and only then will we know if it has been good enough. It certainly doesn't look like it on present form.

Maybe, like me, they should get away for Easter and try somewhere or something new? We need a change of luck and fortune...

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Repeat Performance

“We’ve got no divine right to win football matches because we’ve just got relegated from the Premiership and get 20,000 fans here.”
Too true Al…

“We’ve got no divine right for teams not to get over the half-way line and have shots but that’s the expectations we’ve got to live with.”

Alan, I couldn’t agree more…

“People forget the reason we’re in this position… People do look at us as a Premiership outfit and it’s great to be in the top 20 in terms of gates.”
Yes, Al, I’m proud of our standing when compared to the 70’s and 80’s, and I know it all went pear-shaped last season…

“There’s an anxiety from the people in the dugout, the players and the fans if
we’re not 3-0 up after 20 minutes but that’s how far this club has come. We’re
aware of it and it’s something that we’ve got to deal with.”
Wise words indeed Alan…

I bet you thought Alan Pardew (above) said those words didn’t you? But he didn’t! During a trip back to my parents house this week, my father gave me a copy of a South London Press he had found from November 1999. The words quoted were from Charlton’s manager at that time – Alan Curbishley.

The point I am trying to make by reproducing the quotes is that we are in pretty much the same boat now as we were then, except it is later in the season, and we don’t have that many games left in order to put things right.

There was such expectation this season that we would bounce straight back up to the Premiership, but due to a variety of things, this really doesn’t look like it’s going to happen now. Such expectation was built not only on Charlton’s fantastic display in season 1999/2000, when following a single season in the top flight, Charlton blew away all and sundry after Xmas to build an un-surmountable lead at the top of the division culminating in the Championship being won, but also by the manager now at the helm having the experience required to lead a club out of this league via the right end.

Sadly, the team of this season has failed to live up to the peers of the Millennium season. Weaver, Ambrose and Iwelumo are not comparable to Kiely, Kinsella, and Hunt. Greg Halford is no Danny Mills, and Sam Sodje not as good as Eddie Youds. Lloyd Sam will never fulfil his potential as Shaun Newton (nearly) did, and Luke Varney will never be as quick as Martin Pringle. You can compare every member of our squad from 1999/2000 with a couple of players filling in the same positions now at The Valley, but few can hold a candle to the Champions of 2000.

Alan Pardew had much experience when he arrived at The Valley last Xmas, having led Reading and West Ham to promotion. But for some reason, his recent tinkering has hurt the club in a way that few thought possible when we were well placed going in to the reverse fixture with West Brom back in December.

Back then, we knew that the winners of teh game at The Hawthorns would be top of the league at the end of the match, be it the Brummie club, or our Addicks heroes. We knew we had a dodgy defence, and that they scored bundles, but we had hope when Chris Iwelumo jumped off his one good leg and headed into the corner of the net past Barnsley’s future FA Cup hero Luke Steele. And when Steele gifted Izale McLeod his first goal for the club to level matters in the second half, we still thought that we would be OK, even with a draw. Sadly, Gera leapt above Chris Powell twice, and a 4-2 defeat ensued.

What has gone on and how much has changed since?

Well, the Baggies still score plenty (recent 5-1 winners in the cup quarter finals), but they are in another dodgy run of results (thumped 4-1 at home last Saturday); Charlton on the other hand, have a much more solid looking defence (the Blackpool result aside), but are in a bit of a barren patch in front of goal themselves. We have also lost three games on the bounce...It could be a close game then!

Alan Pardew has a pretty good number of players from which to chose, though Luke Varney (who is injured) and Therry Racon (now out on loan at Brighton) will not feature.

In goal, Nicky Weaver will continue, with Rob Elliott on the bench as back up. The defence is likely to remain unchanged, with Halford and Thatcher as full backs, and McCarthy and Sodje central. Hoepfully, no wonder goals or crosses will fly into the net this week...

The midfield will feature Matt Holland, and Darren Ambrose. After that it becomes a little more difficult to call, but I presume that Zheng Zhi has had his well earned rest (an hour on the bench at Burnley) and he will also start. On the assumption that Pardew will start two forwards (though that is by no means certain…), that leaves just one wide berth, and any one of Jerome Thomas, Lee Cook, Lloyd Sam, or Scott Sinclair could fill that position.

Up front, Leroy Lita will continue to search for a goal, and with Varney, Dickson, Todorov, and McLeod all injured, it is a straight choice between Iwelumo and Andy Gray to start alongside the on-loan Reading forward. If Pards wants five in midfield, Semedo will play, and Lita will start on his own up front.

This is the side I expect Pardew to send out to start the match –

Nicky Weaver
Greg Halford
Paddy McCarthy
Sam Sodje
Ben Thatcher
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Andy Gray
Leroy Lita

Subs from Elliott, Moutaouakil, Fortune, Youga, Basey, Powell, Semedo, Cook, Sam, Sinclair, Iwelumo, Uchechi.

Pedro45 has had a terrible start to 2008; I don’t want to go into too many personal details, but I do need cheering up. If Charlton can do that, it would help my state of mind no end! So far in 2008, the Addicks haven’t helped, and I must admit that I cannot see this televised game improving matters. The FA Cup game at The Valley in January showed that Charlton can compete with a below-par Baggies team, and that really is our only hope. We need to treat this match like a cup game, as no other result other than a win is any good, and hope Albion are rubbish this week again. If we are going to lose though, it may as well be 4-1 as opposed to 1-0. My score forecast, which has been off target all season (a bit like our forwards shots or wingers crosses really...), is a 4-0 thumping, though I desperately hope I am wrong and we finally get it together.

My one-to-watch in this match is the manager, Alan Pardew. Pards has had plenty of stick this season, and more and more is becoming justified. We really should have a settled team by now, and more so when you can only get new players in during the transfer windows (what is this emergency loan loophole rubbish?). With five players in on loan, and plenty out on loan, surely the balance is wrong? We need those players who want to play for the club to stand up, be counted, and given a shirt. If you cannot commit to your team, then you are playing the wrong game. Big time Charlie’s don’t fit in at Charlton; they never have. But my worry is that Pards is starting to look like one of those over-paid media players who always come out with an answer that doesn’t quite fit the question. So Pards – what is our best team? What are you doing to get them on the pitch together? And what motivation other than a contract that includes bonuses for getting us to the promised land that is the Premiership do our team need? It is long past the time when Pardew needs to earn his money; he really needs to start earning the respect of the crowd because our patience is wearing a little thin.

I started this blog with quotes from Alan Curbishley, made many years ago; football clubs do tend to go up and down, but Charlton seem to be going in circles, repeating themselves. I know Pards learnt much from Curbs, but please don't quote his excuses every week.The groundhog day I’d like to see is the one where we thrash Albion 5-0 (from 1998); where our forwards score consistently (1976); where our keeper makes saves (1982); where our defence keeps clean sheets (1998 again); where wingers can cross the ball (1977), and the midfielders know how to pass and tackle (2000). Is that too much to ask?

Come on you reds!

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Ipswich Town 2 Charlton Athletic 0

Charlton predictably lost this game, to a goal in each half, even though they didn't play at all poorly it seems. For the second time recently, a harmless cross apparently floated over Nicky Weaver and into the net off the far post, and early in the second half, a terrific drive from the edge of the area flew in - shades of Burnley here?

For the Addicks, McCarthy hit the bar with a header from a first half corner, and Lita, Ambrose, and Thomas all went close later in the match; a penalty was also not forthcoming when Lita was pulled down inside the area.

But the most frustrating thing for me is that this league was there for the taking.

Charlton have slipped to ninth place, a drop of four places, and have scored just one goal in three matches. But above them at the start of the day, Bristol City lost at home to Plymouth (who go sixth), Watford missed their second potential winning penalty in a week, and drew with Stoke (who go top), while West Brom - Charlton's opponents next Friday evening - were stuffed 4-1 at home by Leicester. Watford and West Brom also had a player sent off.

If only Charlton had put together some sort of mediocre form over the last two months, we would undoubtedly have been sitting pretty and us with smiles on our faces, even if we had lost today. Holding on to the leads against Bristol City and Watford, and reversing defeats to Scunthorpe, Preston, Colchester and Blackpool would have been enough, and even if we hadn't won maximum points from all of those games mentioned where we should have, we would still be right there in the mix.

With a tough game against the Baggies on Friday, followed by another home match against a Wolves team just two points behind the Addicks but with two games in hand, the omens are not good. More worryingly is that other teams are hitting form at just the right time - Hull won 5-0 to go fifth, Ipswich's win today will have lifted them, and even Burnley are not out of the mix, just a point shy of Charlton in tenth (even though they were beaten comprehensively by Wolves today).

Sure, we as fans can be upbeat and confident, but that is obviously not permeating itself onto the pitch.

The time has now come for Alan Pardew to earn his corn - we don't need excuses anymore. Bad luck cannot be blamed, even though we are having none at present; these things even out over the season.

Pards has a big enough squad to pick the right side to win any game in this division; with so many players to pick from, he - and the team - ought to be doing better. Why we are not doing better can realistically only be answered by the management at the club.
Pardew will be judged on where we end up in this league table come May 4th. It is no good saying we can still do this or do that - we need evidence now please...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reds Strike the Blues?

Sadly, personal issues will prevent me from attending tomorrow’s game at Portman Road, as Charlton take on Ipswich. The game is a real six-pointer, one of several similar key matches that are coming along at the moment.

I expect Alan Pardew to stick pretty much with the side which valiantly lost at Burnley on Tuesday. Hopefully we can get a better result.

My one-to-watch in this match is Matt Holland – returning to his old stamping ground, Matt is one player who still seems to want to get back up to the Premiership. If Ipswich do so and Charlton don’t, then Matt may end up back in Suffolk for a last hurrah! He will not be boo-ed by the Tractor Boys fans (unlike Darren Ambrose?), and it would be great for him to get the goal his all round play deserves this season.

Pedro45’s score prediction is a 3-0 loss. Go on, prove me wrong!

Up the Addicks.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clarets Make Me Very Blue

Burnley 1 Charlton Athletic 0

I did listen to tonight’s game on Radio London – thankfully reception here is so much better than on Radio Kent, which is barely audible.

Pardew (left, in happier times) rung the changes following Saturday’s debacle, bringing back Ben Thatcher, Jerome Thomas, Jose Semedo, and starting Andy Gray, with Zheng Zhi, Kelly Youga, Luke Varney and the injured Lloyd Sam making way.

After riding out a tough first ten minutes, Charlton took control but first half efforts from Lita and Ambrose didn’t trouble the scorers.

Early in the second half, Elliott scored a “wonder-goal” after being fed following a quick throw in. Thomas caused some problems, but couldn’t get decent strikes on target.

Mat Holland seemed to revel in the wet and windy conditions, taking plenty of pot shots which went close, and he does seem to be one player still trying desperately to drag Charlton back to the Premiership.

Gray and Ambrose were sacrificed for Varney and Chris Iwelumo, and big Chris almost scored with his first touch, but headed over. Later, ZiZi came on for Semedo.
Halford saw an effort deflected over, and Varney then headed over from close in; Charlton just could not break through despite a lot of pressure. At least the team played better than on Saturday albeit with the same result...

Other results saw Charlton amazingly stay 5th in the table (with Plymouth, Ipswich, and Wolves all losing too), though Hull are level on points with two games in hand – the position, going in to an away game at Ipswich and home games to West Brom and Wolves looks bleak.

I am very depressed.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Burnley Away

I am afraid I have no heart to write a preview for this game, due to a family bereavement.

Now is a time for memories of better times.

My hope is that Charlton win, so that something will cheer me up after an awful weekend, but I suspect this may be beyond them.

Good luck lads.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

End of the Line

Charlton Athletic 1 Preston North End 2

I don’t know how many adjectives can be used to describe the average football match, but any used in respect of Charlton’s performance in this match will all be negative.

Let’s look at the players individually (because that’s how they played, as single entity and not as a team…) –

Nicky Weaver – He did OK, and didn’t have much chance with either goal conceded. He made one excellent second half save after the defence went AWOL once more. Kicking was not good, but no worse than some others.

Greg Halford – A shadow of the player he is supposed to be and who made his debut at The Valley just a month ago; his distribution was once more appalling, and he often passed straight to the opposition. Not good enough for a place in the side on current form.

Kelly Youga – The breath of fresh air he brought to the team in January has gone bad. Youga whacks the ball skywards far too often, and failed to take responsibility on numerous occasions today. He has possibly played his last game of the season in the first team, as fit-again Ben Thatcher will be preferred from now I think.

Paddy McCarthy – Scored a scrambled equaliser fifteen minutes from time (top pic), but was too often caught the wrong side of his attacker, and was left to chase down the ball from a poor position. Failed to take responsibility when in possession and often left others to play the ball forwards. Didn’t get close enough to Brown when he scored the winner after 78 minutes, even though it was a carbon-copy of a chance that McCarthy had blocked a minute earlier.

Sam Sodje – Sodje was lying prone on the ground when Preston scored their first goal after 14 minutes, so cannot take any blame for that. He won plenty of ball in the air but some of his positioning was very questionable, and his distribution was not good enough.

Matt Holland – Once again a player who ran himself ragged and tried his best, but with so many others around him playing badly, he had far too much to clear up and didn’t have the best of games in a congested midfield. Came close to scoring near the end with a volley that was saved.

Zheng Zhi – This man needs a rest! He tries his best and has plenty of skill, but he just looks knackered. Often caught in possession, his passing was off-form, and a late chance to equalise was wasted by poor control when well placed.

Lloyd Sam – The only player to get any credit from the game, and that was because he went off injured after just twelve minutes. I suppose we could blame him as Preston scored immediately he went off!?! It was a strange decision to start him in place of both Jerome Thomas (who was dropped) and Scott Sinclair, but I’m sure Pards had his reasons…

Darren Ambrose – Pretty anonymous during open play, Darren seems only interested in taking free-kicks and corners these days. His set play product has improved, but sadly it seems that he has not told his team-mates where he is going to direct the ball, as they were never anywhere near on the end of anything he played in…

Leroy Lita – If Leroy (left) had a problem with his Manager at Reading, he may now have one with his team-mates at The Valley. Lita got zero service that he could use, and the players around him simply didn’t seem to now how or where he wanted the ball. Finally worked an opening for himself late in the second half and his shot was deflected for a corner.

Luke Varney – Another strange game for the former Crewe man; he ran lots of channels, and actually got free to put a shot in early on (though it would probably have gone for a throw in if it hadn’t been blocked…), but Varney was then substituted at half-time by Pardew. Why? Who knows? Pards obviously thought he had made a mistake in picking him in the first place.

Scott Sinclair – Came on as sub for Sam after 13 minutes, but was completely useless all game. I really thought he might be a good player, and I couldn’t understand why Pards wasn’t starting him after he came in on loan from Chelsea, but the simple fact is that at 18 he has a lot of learning and improving to do if he is to be a Premiership player in future seasons, rather than just another might-have-been. Crossing was poor, he was all right foot, didn’t pick up his man when defending, took up poor positions when free; send him back Pards!

Andy Gray – Half time sub Gray did what Gray does best; he held the ball when it was played up to him, and flicked it on when he couldn’t hold it. Sadly, there was nobody to play around him, and much of his product went to waste. Still hasn’t scored since 1st December when he hit two goals at The Valley (against Charlton!). How he can be voted the second best player in the Championship is beyond me…

Chris Iwelumo – Played the last eight minutes when Pards last desperate throw of the dice saw him take off Halford. Actually won a free kick – his first of 2008 – which was a surprise, but this was quickly passed all the way back to Weaver to punt forward.

Alan Pardew – Serious questions are now being asked of our manager: why are we still searching for a team shape in March? Why does his starting eleven regularly get compromised at half-time? Time to earn your salary Al…

The crowd – Bolstered by the ranks of two visiting US-based Charlton bloggers (who must have been as disgusted with the fare on show as the rest of the 24,000 plus Charlton fans), a bright start was followed by deserved moans and early boos at half-time. Bearing in mind the play didn’t improve, it was hard to ask the crowd to get more upbeat, though they did try on a few occasions. I cracked up when the two blokes behind me queried why anyone starts to whinge when watching Charlton, as “it wasn’t necessary”, especially when they are two of the biggest moaners I have ever sat near at football matches! It also doesn’t help when the subs are boo-ed when they get up after ten minutes to warm up! By full time, only around ten thousand Addicks fans were still in the ground, and they were the silly ones!

So here we are, slipping back into sixth place in the league, and tenuously hanging on to a play-off place. I know it is a gut reaction, but I really hope we don’t make the play-offs as we would have absolutely no chance of progressing and the disappointment may be better handled in March and April than in May.

Expect major personnel shake-ups in the next game at Burnley on Tuesday.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Press on after Preston

Life as a Charlton fan is never easy – we win, we lose, we draw; OK, not in that order but that’s pretty much the way of things at the moment, and it isn’t much fun when you want your team to be pushing on for promotion.

The dream, very realistic at the start of the season, of automatic promotion has all but gone. Only a completely out of character significant run of wins from the remaining ten games would get Charlton anywhere near the top two places by the end of the season, so it is fair to assume that we can forget about that remote possibility. Therefore, the hope is that we can consolidate our play off position, and finish the season with a little style and panache, and take that form and confidence forward into the nervy realms of heartbreak central.

The Charlton board, rocked by the news that Peter Varney is to step down as Chief Executive in the summer, have certainly backed the manager, and are making every effort to give Alan Pardew the opportunity to make sure we are in the play offs. This week, Leroy Lita has joined the squad from Reading on loan, and Charlton now have a full compliment of five Premiership loan players bolstering the squad.

With only long term absentees (Gibbs, Todorov), plus Majid Bougherra injured, Alan Pardew (left) has plenty of options when it comes to picking the team, at least on paper, and he has also hinted that he wants to shake the team up (again) as they looked a little tired in Tuesday nights draw at home to league leaders Bristol City. Pardew, through his buying and loaning policy really has dealt himself a strange hand, and he may well have plenty of sleepless nights worrying about who his best starting eleven, and substitutes, should be as we enter the last stretch in a long season. This completely contradicts where Charlton have been on other successful seasons, when previous managers tended to know who they wanted to play, how the tactics would be set to cover any eventuality, and who could come into the team to cover any injuries and suspensions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a set starting eleven who could be relied upon, plus squad players who would come into the team and do any job that they were asked? Why we haven’t at this crucial time, the back-end of the season, is a question that only Mr Pardew can answer…

One area where we don’t have much choice is in goal – Nicky Weaver will play, and Rob Elliott will be on the bench. Weaver did OK on Tuesday night I thought, though my father said he thought from watching the goal on TV that he should have saved the header he conceded. Weaver is our best choice, and hopefully he can make more good saves than blunders over the last ten games, with plenty of clean sheets.

Charlton’s defence now has options in every position, and is apparently fairly solid at the moment, though it was only two games ago that they conceded five goals to Preston’s near neighbours Blackpool.

At right back, the choice is Greg Halford or Yassin Mourtaouakil; both have made recent errors in defence and attack, but it really comes down to whether you want the Frenchman’s attacking forward play or the Englishman’s long throws which relieve pressure when we are defending and add pressure to the opposition when we are attacking.

The left back slot was fairly nailed down by Kelly Youga until recently, but his display on Tuesday was lacklustre, and he could be in for a shock that will give reason for his hair to stand on end if Pardew decides to bring in the fit again Ben Thatcher and drop Youga. It is unlikely that either Chris Powell or Grant Basey will start the game.

The central defence does look fairly easy to pick; with Bougherra injured, Sam Sodje will play alongside Paddy McCarthy, with Jon Fortune a decent reserve if needed.

In midfield, we have seen two players run their collective hearts out for the Addicks over (someone said) the last eighteen games in tandem. Matt Holland is playing very well, and though he is definitely slower across the pitch than he used to be, he does still cover enormous lengths in each match, often covering and clearing up other player’s errors. Zheng Zhi has looked tired – he has probably never played anywhere near this many games in a season before, and Pards does seem reluctant to give him a rest when we have had the luxury of a winning lead (though opportunities have been rare it is fair to say…). The only realistically viable alternative in central midfield is Jose Semedo, a player who has always tried his best and given decent displays this season. Therry Racon may be able to play a similar role, but he hasn’t had much of a look in so far in 2008. Jose, therefore, could be key during the run in period, and should be used to help the team solidify the midfield area, connect the defence and midfield, especially whenever we have a second half lead. It may be a negative move, but we cannot keep throwing away winning positions through trying to play too attractive football! Fans only moan about boring football if they are winning consistently in that way – most supporters want to see their team win, by whatever means, and then hope the fancy stuff comes on the back of that.

Who plays out wide really depends on the formation Pardew decides on, and who he wants to play up front, so let’s deal with the strikers first.

Leroy Lita will play, of that there can be no doubt. Pards has signed him to play, score goals, and be the front man that we have (possibly) lacked all season. Lita is upset and has a point to prove having not been given much playing time at Reading, after scoring fifteen goals last season for the club. Hopefully he can take out that frustration on Championship defences this month. There is a slight worry that if he is initially successful, Charlton may not be able to keep him for the reminder of the season, but we have to ignore that threat and hope he does the business from day one.

If Pardew adopts a second striker for this game – which it would seem he has to – then the choice is between Chris Iwelumo, Andy Gray, Luke Varney, and loanee Scott Sinclair. On form, the only choice is Varney, and hopefully he will get back to how he was playing a month ago rather than the shadow that has been pushed out to the wing over the last two games.

That just leaves two further places to decide on, and these usually fall to wide players. Pardew has plenty of choices here too, though I do think he has little option but to go with in-form Darren Ambrose – who has scored four goals in his last four games – and Sinclair. The Chelsea youngster has a glowing reputation, and has come to Charlton to play games, not sit on the bench. He may be raw, but if we can start him, he may be able to get the pace of games quicker, and start to cause damage at the right end of the pitch. Otherwise, what was the point of having him at The Valley?

The other options are Lee Cook (Why did we sign him on loan - was it to check him out before a possible transfer next season?), who has done little in his month with the squad to justify his inclusion above others; Jerome Thomas – the big-time Charlie playing with the kids, and being shown up as a flash loser; or Lloyd Sam, who gave his all for thirty games, but has been found tired and a little wanting. None of these players really should be starting in place of Ambrose and Sinclair at the sharp end of the season. I don't think Pardew will be trying Varney out wide again, except as a tactical move when we are winning.

This is the team I hope Alan Pardew picks to play against Preston –

Nicky Weaver
Greg Halford
Sam Sodje
Paddy McCarthy
Kelly Youga
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Scott Sinclair
Luke Varney
Leroy Lita

Subs from – Elliott, Moutaouakil, Thatcher, Fortune, Basey, Powell, Racon, Semedo, Sam, Cook, Thomas, Iwelumo, Gray.

Preston have been in-form, and are fighting for their lives at the bottom end of the table. They now have a little breathing space over the bottom three clubs, but will be keen not to take their foot off the gas, and Charlton can expect a tough game. Manager Alan Irvine has done a good job since his first game in charge (when Charlton won at Deepdale in November), and the team have few stars (much like Bristol in fact!). Moweni used to play for Derby, and Beattie is on loan from West Brom, but no other players have much of a reputation in this division, yet, so we should beware!

This really is yet another one of those crucial matches for the Addicks – an expected win and we’ll all be happy and thinking about what may be; a defeat and we will all be cursing and thinking what might have been; a draw is no good to either club really, though Preston would probably take it right now if offered.

Pedro45’s score prediction is a nasty 1-1 draw; sure, we can all think back to the end of season game in 1974/5, when Bobby Goldthorpe and Killer won the day after Richie Bowman missed a penalty, but my mind (and memory) stretches further to 1968/9 when Bob Curtis and Harry Gregory both missed penalties in a 1-0 home defeat that condemned the Addicks to another season in the second division after finishing third.

My one–to-watch in this game has to be new signing Leroy Lita. The man with a bad scar on his right cheek will have to show the Addicks faithful that he is the right person for this promotion fight. We need him to show his aggression in the right areas of the pitch, and get shots off whenever he can. If he plays alongside Varney and Sinclair, the frontline pace is frightening, and hopefully it will be too much for the North Enders to cope with.

We need goals Leroy, and we think you are the man to provide them. Show us we are right! Be a hero! We need one right now...We need that win.

Come on you Reds!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

To the Point…

Charlton Athletic 1 Bristol City 1

It’s fair to say that I saw and got exactly what I asked for - belief, heart, skill, passion, endeavour, and effort - sadly, all of this came from an excellent Bristol City side.

I left the ground wondering if Charlton had played badly, or if City had played so well that they made Charlton look poor; I am still unsure of the right answer to this poser, though others will have firmer opinion either way.

When you look at Charlton’s team as individuals, both centre backs (Paddy McCarthy and Sam Sodje) performed manfully; the midfield (Matt Holland – who was Charlton’s man-of-the-match - and Zheng Zhi) ran themselves into the ground; and Chris Iwelumo and substitute Andy Gray (who replaced big Chris halfway through the second half) both did their best as centre forwards, with little protection (again) from the referee. Jerome Thomas had some good runs, and Darren Ambrose was always looking to find a way to get a shot on goal. Luke Varney did miss a couple of good chances, one in each half – a volley just before half time that he screwed wide, and a header from an Ambrose shot that flew over (Was it going in before Luke headed it? East Stand-ers will let me know…) but played most of the game wide right as instructed. Nicky Weaver had a busy game but wasn’t called to make that many flying saves. Only the full backs – Greg Halford and Kelly Youga – had poor games in my opinion, both not supporting effectively when they ventured forward, and both suffering from appalling distribution. The other substitutes – Scott Sinclair and Lee Cook – did little in the combined 25 minutes or so they were on the pitch.

So if none of the team played that badly, why did we look so ordinary, and second best?

As a team, Charlton had less work-ethic and connectivity than City – the back four were often unprotected by the midfield, and many times gaps between the two were exploited and punished by Gary Johnson’s team. After switching to 4-5-1 (once we took the lead), Iwelumo was a very lonely figure up front, and with him unable to hold the ball up (as well as Gray for instance) the ball just kept coming back toward the Charlton goal. The full backs tried to get forward, but both lacked pace or penetration, and as mentioned, their passing was abysmal. Charlton were just not “joined-up”, and therefore performed as a team of parts rather than one cognitive whole.

And Bristol City really tore into us as a result. It was not pretty viewing watching little triangles of play being worked along the wing, taking out various red shirted players before being presented into dangerous positions. How many times was Dele Adebola (a journeyman footballer if ever there was one…) allowed to win his own second ball? And how many times, surely a record, did one of their centre half’s “dummy” his way past an onrushing Charlton forward to allow himself time to clear (pass) the ball forward?

In fact, I (and I suspect Alan Pardew) was grateful to hear the final whistle in the end, knowing we had held on for a point. It was that much of a one-sided game toward the end.

Bristol City, in my opinion, were the best side that I have seen at The Valley this season, and fully justify there place at the top of this division. If their finishing had been anywhere near as good as their overall play (many times scuffed shots trickled through to Weaver…), Charlton would have suffered another severe thumping.

As it was, the game was drawn. Charlton actually started brightly, and took the lead inside the first ten minutes. A delightful move (possibly one of the best of the season ironically) saw the ball shifted inside to the advancing Darren Ambrose, who drove the ball into the far corner. Maybe Charlton then thought this would be a cakewalk, because slowly, Bristol came back into the game, and realised that they could cause major problems for the Addicks. They were not helped by Adebola being off the pitch for over five minutes getting stitched up after a clash of heads which resulted in him being turban-like for the rest of the game. After Varney’s miss just before half time, they probably had the belief they needed to come back into the game, while Charlton may have had doubts and knew that a two-goal half-time lead wasn’t good enough last time at The Valley against Watford.

Apart from a few breakouts, and corners, the second half was all played out in front of the covered end; gaps became more frequent, and shots (mainly poor ones) started to rain in on Weavers goal. The game cried out for Pardew to change the formation and relieve some of the pressure but, as mentioned in my preview where I said that the bench options would be key, we had no Jose Semedo to come on and do a job when we really needed him. And this to me was the biggest area of downfall – why did we need two additional wingers on the bench? We had Varney playing wide; Ambrose and Thomas also on the pitch, and yet Sinclair was paired with Cook on the sidelines. Thatcher provider the defensive cover, but he is not as flexible as Semedo, and unless he had switched to right back with Halford moving forward, Pardew was constrained by his self-inflicted options. Another lesson learned Al?

City scored from a corner – several of which had been very dangerously delivered – when McCombe flicked home. Toward the end, a desperate McCarthy intervention directed the ball past Weaver but just wide of the post. In the last couple of minutes, Referee Dowd gave Adebola some protection where he had given Iwelumo none, and ordered a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. It was floated over the wall, but luckily for Charlton it hit the bar and bounced down, before being scrambled clear. The visiting supporters thought it was in, but they were disappointed. The five minutes of added time just seemed to prolong the Addicks pain, and it was a relief when the game ending whistle was finally sounded.

The game that City played last night was one that Charlton should really aspire to if they want to get out of this league going in the right direction; it was neat, simple football, played mainly to feet. City had good footballers, many of whom are pretty unknown in Championship terms, let alone the Premiership, yet they made Charlton look like park players at times. The point won may turn out to be crucial, as this was a game where we didn’t really deserve anything.

It proved that there can be no resting on laurels if we are to make even the play offs themselves, let alone try to win promotion. Dare we say roll on Saturday, when we take on in-form Preston North End? It doesn’t bare thinking about for a couple of days at least…

At least we can look forward to some more forward presence now Leroy Lita has arrived on loan from Reading until the end of the season.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bristol Tops Valley Hit List

Charlton play Bristol City tonight, in another crucial Championship match in this weird and wonderful season. City are top of the league, and with just eleven games to go, must feel that they have a very real chance of either automatic promotion, or at worst, a play off place. Charlton, on the other hand, know that a defeat puts them right back where they were before the weekend – looking over their shoulders at the chasing teams - whereas a win gives them a real chance of pressuring those teams still above them in the division.

I have already stated that I don’t think that Charlton have enough games left to catch three of the four teams currently above them and win automatic promotion but, as is consistently proven, what do I know? The last ten days results have seen previous leaders Stoke well beaten twice, and Watford also drop points; West Brom seem to be quite inconsistent too, and there has been no discernable change in the gap between Charlton and the top of the league for quite a while now. What us Addicks fans need is for there to be a positive change, with Charlton closing in on those top teams, and the only way that is going to happen is if Charlton can string a few wins together between now and the first week in May.

That is no easy outcome; after taking on the league leaders tonight, Charlton meet relegation haunted Preston on Saturday, and then meet five teams also vying for play off (and possibly promotion) places – Burnley, Ipswich, West Brom, Wolves, and Plymouth. After that, the season ends with four games against relatively secure currently mid-table sides, so it is these next seven games that will go a long way to decide where the Addicks ply their trade next season – Premiership or Championship.

So to tonight’s match: Alan Pardew has a pretty good record when putting out teams to play the leagues top clubs in 2008 – Stoke were beaten at The Valley, and West Brom and Watford both had to come from behind to secure fortuitous draws. Charlton have also performed very well under floodlights in 2008, with two wins and no goals conceded. Pards will be hoping that these omens continue.

Our manager will almost certainly pick the same starting eleven that won well at Sheffield United on Saturday, with the only likely change being the formation employed during the initial stages of the match.

Nicky Weaver will start in goal, and Rob Elliott will be on the bench as goalkeeping back-up. In defence, the on-loan Greg Halford and Sam Sodje (left) can expect to be retained after contributing to the scoreline at Bramall Lane (one with an assist, one with a goal), and the resurgent Paddy McCarthy and Kelly Youga will defend with their lives too.

The midfield has been consistently settled, although there is a case for Zheng Zhi to get a rest at some point (preferably when we are 4-0 up…?); Matty Holland and Darren Ambrose will provide additional legs to help out the Chinaman. On the left wing, Jerome Thomas seems to have done enough to maintain his place, therefore keeping on-loan Scott Sinclair warming the bench for an hour again.

Up front, Chris Iwelumo will probably retain his place after scoring on Saturday – his first goal for ten weeks – especially as Andy Gray has been ill. That leaves in-form Luke Varney to play, but switch up alongside big Chris rather than stay out on the wing where he was deployed tactically in a 4-5-1 formation on Saturday.

With most of the rest of the team now fit again, the subs bench will be an interesting choice for Pards, especially as he will need to meet the needs of the team (in any situation) rather than that of players who may feel that they should be there.

This is the likely team that Alan Pardew will send in to battle tonight –

Nicky Weaver
Greg Halford
Sam Sodje
Paddy McCarthy
Kelly Youga
Matt Holland
Zheng Zhi
Darren Ambrose
Jerome Thomas
Luke Varney
Chris Iwelumo

Subs from – Elliott, Moutaouakil, Fortune, Basey, Powell, Racon, Semedo, Sam, Cook, Sinclair, Gray.

Bristol will come to The Valley full of confidence after being unbeaten for a month, but they have lost their last two trips to the capital earlier this year. City are in their first season in the Championship after finishing as runners-up in League One last year and therefore on a bit of a roller-coaster.

Manager Johnson told BBC Radio Bristol: "It's a big one, for the fact that Charlton are still really a Premiership side. They're still getting the parachute payments, they're still paying the players Premiership money, Premiership stadium and support and it's a good test for us. Every time we come up against a test the lads seem to do well. But Charlton we've got to keep away from us as far as points are concerned, so any result for us down at the Valley would be a good result because it means that Charlton haven't gained any ground on us."

That sort of rallying cry should work in Charlton’s favour too – if they think we are big, let’s show them we are! We have seen plenty of other club managers try to use the parachute money argument to justify why they get beaten by the Addicks (Pulis of Stoke the prime example…), so it’s not new, not key, and won’t make any difference. He's also got lot's of it wrong, mind you, with few of the team still on top money when compared to the overall salary levels of last season.
My one-to-watch tonight is going to be Zheng Zhi. Settled in a midfield role where he is encouraged to get forward, ZiZi is due a goal (or two) as he hasn’t scored for nine Charlton games. He hasn’t been playing badly, but he has looked a little tired on recent occasions. Amazingly, this can be when he is at his most dangerous, often scoring in the second half when he has looked to be out on his feet by half-time. The midweek trip to Dubai to play (and score) for China a month ago wouldn’t have helped him much, but hopefully that is now out of his bones and he can go on a bit of a run in the goalscoring charts and haul himself up to the top goalscorer position for the Addicks before the end of the season.

Pedro45 would love Charlton to win tonight, and really put pressure on the top clubs; in simple terms, if we win every game between now and May, we will be Champions. Sadly, this is Charlton we are talking about, and the likelihood of that is remote; too many times a good win away is followed by a poor loss at home, and Pedro45’s score prediction is a 2-1 reverse tonight. All is not lost however, as my score predictions are, it is fair to say, somewhat erratic, and probably worse than Killer’s were last year (though even he finished with an end-of-season flurry to leave him in the black…). I hope I am wrong and we can expect another good night under the Valley lights.

This really is the crunch end of the season, and whatever the result tonight will still leave plenty to play for. A win for either team may make things a lot clearer though, and hopefully it will be the red shirts that take all three points on offer. That outcome will be helped if the crowd maintain their recent home support, and get right behind the team from the start, or even beforehand! The Valley crowd can influence games in a positive and negative way, and it is up to us all to keep the whingeing down to a minimum, support the players on show, urge them on in a positive manner, and do “our bit” to bring about the right result. We have to show belief, heart, skill, passion, endeavour, and effort – if we do all of that, and the players do too (!), then we can bring about the win that we all want and need.

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Call the Doc!

Since 23rd January, Charlton fans have mourned the loss of Frankie Valley, the foremost of Addicks blog sites. Now, just five weeks later, a new birth can be celebrated in the form of Doctor Kish, a new Charlton fans website that seems to be written by a few of Frankie's old "gang".

The FV site had a whole community of commenters each day, and at least two (Marco and Ketts) who were regular posters with FV have committed to this new site managed by Doctor Kish himself, adding five articles leading up to the Sheffield United game and with reports and reaction after the good win at Bramall Lane.

As a regular reader of Frankie's site myself, it will be good to hear how the old gang are coping after five weeks without the godfather that was FV.

The site looks good, has many of the key features that Frankie's site used to (splitting out the blog and press stories about Charlton for instance), and gives access to a number of same-day articles in one place.

What isn't known is if FV's North London correspondent Paxton Sprout (who wasn't a Charlton fan...) will be contributing to the site or if he is still suffering from a mega-hangover after last weekends Wembley win?

Also unknown is if these guys will be able to tempt Frankie Valley himself out of retirement, as getting the man himself to pen a few words every now and then would be a real coup...

Good luck Doctor!

Sheffield Reactors

Sheffield United 0 Charlton Athletic 2

We needed a reaction, and we got one – a fine victory, and thoroughly deserved too, with hopes rekindled in the race for promotion.

I still think that to catch and overtake three of Stoke, Watford, West Brom, and leaders Bristol City is a task too much in the last ten weeks of the season, but the three points won at Bramall Lane are certainly welcome and could rejuvenate a drive to the end-of-the-season line.

Alan Pardew was certainly a much happier man than after last weeks heavy defeat; he started the game making four changes – out went Jon Fortune, Grant Basey, Lee Cook and Andy Gray, and in came Sam Sodje, Kelly Youga, Chris Iwelumo, and surprisingly Jerome Thomas. New signing Scott Sinclair was left on the bench. The team also lined up in a 4-5-1 variation, with Luke Varney playing wide right rather than upfront alongside big Chris.

Various bloggers including myself have asked if this formation should have been used while we strove to win away games recently, and it was nice to see Pards fall back on something tried and trusted. In the past though, this formation has struggled in home games, but with two Valley fixtures to come this week, and with Varney in one wide position, Pards can easily maintain the same line up should he wish, but with a more conventional 4-4-2 formation.

Charlton played well throughout at Bramall Lane, and had chances before they took the lead – Darren Ambrose and Iwelumo both going close. The first goal came in first half injury time – no surprise there then! Greg Halford, much maligned after a poor display last week launched one of his long throw bombs into the area. As at Blackpool following his similar throw-in there, the ball bounced around and fell to a Charlton player – Chris Iwelumo this time – who poked it home.

Ten minutes from time, an Ambrose corner – won after good work by Thomas – was gleefully headed home unchallenged by Sam Sodje for his second of the season.

The second half did see Charlton’s goal come under some pressure, but the expected bombardment was withstood well, and Nicky Weaver didn’t have to make any major saves. As the clock ticked down, Quinn launched a very late tackle on substitute Jose Semedo, and was rightly sent off. Hopefully, the Portuguese-r and the rest of the side will be fully fit for the next few games.

After the 3-0 home reverse against the Blades, this win balanced results over the season for the two teams.

Now, with just eleven games to go in the regular season, Charlton will be hoping to take this game as the springboard for future results and performances, starting at home to Bristol City on Tuesday. As has been said in the past, it is no good winning well away from The Valley if you follow that with a poor home result. It is key that Charlton go into Tuesday nights game confident and fully backed by the home crowd. In a similar vein to the Stoke home game at the end of January, the team can win if they play well, and have the full backing of everyone there (well, the Charlton fans at least…). A win and three points in this coming game will have us looking back at the top of the division, rather than over our shoulders at the chasing pack once more.

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