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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