Thursday, August 28, 2008

Press on To Preston

I suppose that two wins and a close loss can be considered a good start to the new season, but if that three game run becomes two wins and two losses after Saturday’s game at Preston, then Charlton would seem to be looking for another mid-table season in the Championship.

I know that it is probably far too early in a campaign to state the above with any certainty - it’s Charlton so anything (ANYTHING!) is possible, but we all have our beliefs of how good we really are this year.

Of course, if the Addicks do come away with a win or draw, neither will that mean that a good season is upon us; a win would definitely see us back near the top of the division, and hopefully push the management and directors into taking a (small) chance prior to the end of the transfer window on Monday night. Whether that is something major (like not selling Zheng Zhi) or minor one (like taking another player on loan for a few months) remains to be seen.

Last season, it was ZiZi who scored the all-important first goal up at Deepdale, while I sat in my soaking wet coat and dripping wet trainers, courtesy of a rogue Blackpool wave some hours earlier. I really did think at that point that our Chinese international would be the man to take Charlton back to the promised land of the Premiership, but it was not to be. Sadly, ZiZi slowly ran out of steam (something my wet coat took weeks to do!), and with that, Charlton faded down the league. Now China’s captain is likely to join another struggling Premiership team - West Brom - though when he will be fit to play is anyone’s guess, as he hasn’t had anything like a summer break for three seasons!

Back to Saturday...
Alan Pardew is unlikely to want to make any changes to the team that played so well against Reading last weekend, but his hand may be forced a little. Kelly Youga will be urging for a return following his one game suspension, and I do expect him to usurp Grant Basey at left back. Pards also said on Thursday that Lloyd Sam is doubtful, and I guess the only viable alternative is to bring in Darren Ambrose on the right side of midfield. This may be a bit too soon for Ambie, who had surgery in the summer and is well behind everyone else in his pre-season training schedule. He did get fifteen minutes on Saturday in the first team, and another hour in a midweek friendly, so maybe we can get two-thirds of a match out of him, but I’m not expecting miracles (and nor should travelling fans!). If we can sneak in front then Jose Semedo and JonJo Shelvey are well equipped to step in and plug any holes for the residue of the game.

Preston have had a good start to the season, and are unbeaten in the league; after starting the season with two wins, they had to come from behind last week to draw at Hillsborough. They clawed their way slowly out of relegation trouble last season, but haven’t made any big signings, and simply look like a well-organised and tough Championship team. If you give them a chance to play as they want, they will have a chance, but the "new" all-passing, and all-moving Charlton could have too much skill for them if they play as they can and are allowed to.

This is the team I expect Pardew to send out at Deepdale -

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Kelly Youga
Mark Hudson
Jonathan Fortune
Matt Holland
Nicky Bailey
Darren Ambrose
Hameur Bouazza
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, Semedo, Basey, Shelvey, Wright, Fleetwood, Dickson.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be the seemingly revitalised Luke Varney. You could all see how much the goal he scored last week meant to Varney, as he leapt in to the managers arms (left), and provided he didn’t catch the managers flu symptoms, he should be up for another good game. When Luke is good, he is very good, but when he isn’t, he can drift and take the wrong choices and channels. Some of that apparent "poor" play may have been a result of him not being seen when he does make good runs, and Nicky Bailey has immediately shown that he has the vision to see payers who do get down the channels in the short time he has been an Addick. I am therefore hoping, and predicting, that Varney will get better over coming weeks as those passes come through to him quicker and he gets the chance to use the undoubted pace that he has.

Pedro45 is quietly confident in this game, but doesn’t want to get too cocky so early in the season. A lot will depend on whether Sam and Ambrose are fit enough to pull their weight on the right side of the pitch, and hopefully not expose Mad Moots too much. I’m going to plump for a 1-1 draw, but have a sneaking feeling that it might be a better result.

A win and we will be getting over-excited; a draw and we will have smiles on our face; and a defeat, well, it’s what we kind of expect really, so no harm done. I’m all for getting over-excited!

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Charlton Athletic 4 Reading 2

Yea, it really was a very happy birthday for me! A couple of beers beforehand, then into the stand for the match.

My first look at the class of 2008/9 - Bouazza, Hudson, Bailey - for the first time - and most of the others for a consecutive Championship season.

The Valley looked OK - nothing really new about it, and fuller than I thought it might be, apart from at the away end. There, Reading had only brought about 1,400 fans, and in my book that was going to throw Charlton's record of 20,000 plus crowds into doubt (in the end, a compromise figure of 20,020 was announced - hmmmm...).

Reading are amongst everyone's favourite's for promotion this season, so it was a relief to see Nicky Bailey bossing the midfield in the early stages of the match. Charlton were taking the game to the Royals, and after Bouazza had gone close, the first goal came when the same player returned a cross into the area and Holland forced home the keeper's parry after Varney's weak shot was deflected (above). Not the best goal to see as your first of the season, but very happy was this blogger anyway!

I was disappointed by Reading to tell the truth; they really did seem to have the 2007/8 Charlton disease, thinking that they could win games at a canter. Sure, James Harper is a good player, but Matt Holland was countering whatever he did. Sure, Stephen Hunt may be subject to a £4m offer from Sunderland, but playing him at left back, where Lloyd Sam kept him busy and on the back foot all day won't help his sales value. Leroy Lita was not in the picture, and other Premiership "names" just didn't perform.

It was a surprise then when Reading won a penalty - Moutaouakil having been adjudged to have tripped Doyle. Luckily, the fouled player hit the bar, and the ball was scambled clear. The weak penalty decision wound up the crowd, and possibly contributed to Charlton winning their own penalty a few minutes later. Lloyd Sam gathered the ball on the right wing in midfield, and his forward ball down the line left Varney one-on-one with a defender. Varney's pace took him most of the way past the defender and into the area where he tumbled under a soft challenge. After a brief consultation with a linesman who hadn't flagged or indicated anything really, the penalty was awarded. Andy Gray thumped it home - 2-0.

As half-time approached, it was yet again one of those times when you just hoped for the whistle, save Charlton mess up and concede, but sadly the whistle was too late coming and Sonko pulled a goal back with a header after a corner was half-cleared.

At half time I must admit I had visions of Charlton losing 3-2 (always the worst thing when you have been 2-0 up...), and when the referee gave the Royals another penalty, I really did fear the worst! For the third time, it was a quite soft penalty decision; Fortune having been adjudged to have pushed a forward as Weaver punched clear. There is no way that either outfield player would have got a header on the ball without any contact so it was not the best received decision of the afternoon it should be said.

Could Charlton survive another penalty? Well, nearly. If the officials had rankled Charlton's fans by awarding two kicks to the visitors, then they did their best to really really upset the Addicks by disallowing Weaver's smothering save - the lino saying that Weaver was off his line when the kick was taken. It didn't look like it to me at the time, and many players and fans alike were a little incensed by this additional chance given to the away team. Finally the ref and lino seemed happy when the scores were level (Hunt finally hitting the net with the retaken kick), but the crowd howled.

Many times in the past, I've seen Addicks teams capitulate from similar positions, but this time, after Varney was sort-of pushed to the ground (but play was waved on...), he got up to head the resultant cross into the corner of the net to give the home team the lead again. A couple of minutes later, another right wing cross was volleyed in by Bouazza - it was Hameur Time!

Charlton survived to the finish - Reading hit the bar, and put a few shots wide or at Weaver, and Gray thumped the bar from a Bouazza cross, although that was given offside...then it was over. A fine win for Charlton, and a good game to watch for TV fans on Sky. Sixth place for the Addicks at the end of August is a decent start to the season me thinks!

The team played pretty well all around - Moutaouakil and Basey got well forward, but also put in plenty of tackles. Central defence had little trouble, and Holland and Bailey in midfield controlled that area for most of the game. Bouazza and Sam both did well out wide, and tracked back when necessary, and Varney and Gray up front put in lots of effort and both made it onto the scoresheet.

Linvoy Primus has been signed (well, it's been agreed that he will sign on Wednesday..), so that shores up the lack of central defence personnel, and all of a sudden, it's not looking too bad to be an Addick.

I know it's very early in the (long) season, but with the finances hoepfully set to be controlled by the sale of Zheng Zhi this week, the only way is now forward. We won't have to sell anyone come January (not that many of the team are actually worth much that would make a big difference sales wise!), and the team, with Pardew unable to change it much due to numbers, looking to be fairly consistent barring injuries for the next couple of months.

If that brings team spirit to add tot he honesty and workload that the team showed yesterday, then there is hope that the side can maintain a reasonable position in the league up until Xmas. And if that happens, the we will se if the board are prepared to take a chance and finance a push on towards the top of the table. Now that would make for a good birthday present!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Birthday Blues - Hopefully not!

I’m not really sure how to go into a preview of the first Charlton game I will see this season; it’s a long time since I have missed at least one pre-season friendly prior to the league series.

As I couldn’t make those noteworthy warm-ups at Brighton, Welling, Aldershot, and the like, and I was away on holiday for the first home league match, the League cup debacle, and the away game at Watford last weekend, I am both excited and apathetic about this weekend’s league game against Reading.

All of the, any, hope that Charlton fans may have had leading into this season seems to have dissipated after a lacklustre home win versus Swansea, followed by consecutive 1-0 losses against Yeovil and at Vicarage Road. How can fans be confident going into this weekends game against one of the favourite’s for promotion back to the Premiership, as are all of the relegated teams from last season. It will be tough!

Reading have had to sell – Kitson and Shorey have both left the Madjeski brethren, and the chairmen is left to curse the high wages he agreed to pay his players. Manager Coppell may regret not selling more players now, as he has to get to the top of the league soon, or he will see more and more of his best and fringe players loaned out (or sold) to cut down on that salary level. Having started with a win and loss in the league, he will be relatively happy, but only if another win is won at The Valley.

For Alan Pardew, he needs to get his players to turn the corner; yet to play a decent game this season, his team needs to show that they have not left all their flair and fitness in July (when Pards said they were ready to play league games...). I have always been in favour of Charlton having relatively poor pre-seasons; many times we have started a season in seemingly poor form only to get into the league groove quickly and to start to win points when it matters – beating Welling really isn’t an issue as far as I am concerned!

Pardew is not being helped by a few injuries hurting the consistency of the team (for once, Pards cannot be blamed for tinkering!) – Therry Racon the latest long term injury, with a broken foot sustained last weekend, just as he was cementing his central midfield berth. Grant Basey was the obvious replacement for suspended Kelly Youga at left back, but he too has an injury (to his hamstring) that will probably rule him out this weekend. Hopefully, the knocks being carried by Nicky Weaver, Mark Hudson, Jon Fortune, and Matt Holland will have healed, and all three will be available for the weekend match.

This is the team I think Pards will be forced to put out –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Mark Hudson
Jonathan Fortune
Jose Semedo
Matt Holland
Nicky Bailey
Hameur Bouazza
Lloyd Sam
Luke Varney

Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, Solly, Shelvey, Dickson, Fleetwood, Wright.

If you look at the proposed subs bench, you can see how thin on the ground Charlton are for players at this time! With Sinclair, Thomas, and Wagstaff all having left the ground this week, on loan (and eventually sold in Thomas’s case), even the reserves are calling up the (very) youngsters…

TV games have always proved a stumbling block for the Addicks, for some unknown reason. This game is likely to also be tough, and Pedro45 predicts another defeat, this time by 2-0; not exactly what he wants on his birthday! If Charlton play to their maximum, and Reading do not, there is a chance of an upset, but for the Addicks to win, it would definitely be an upset.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Nicky Bailey; a decent start against Watford last week, was ruined a little by having to play the whole second half one player short. Bailey appears to have the style of Mark Kinsella about him – honest, not shy to tackle, and gets forward and shoots when he has the opportunity. If he is half the legend that Kins is/was, then we will be happy fans. A home goal from the Essex signing would go some way to cheering me up and giving me some sort of birthday present, even if three points are not to be won.

I thought about looking up how Charlton have done on my birthday over recent seasons, since we have been back at The Valley, but decided that it wasn’t a good idea. The last time I remember seeing Charlton play on 23rd August was in 2000 I think – a memorable weekend! I was at Headingley on Thursday and Friday and watched England thrash West Indies in under two days; then caught the train to London on my birthday and saw the Addicks demolish Manchester City 4-0 (Robinson, Hunt, Kinsella and a Stuart penalty I think…); then went to a really good party in North London; then got home on Sunday to find the external drain blocked and a potential bill for £15,000! Luckily, my insurance company bailed me out but, good as parts of it were, I don’t want birthday weekends like that anymore please – just the three points would do for this old man!

Come on you reds!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Ooops! He did it again...

Watford 1 Charlton Athletic 0

Sadly, the text that came through as I waited to board my plane at Miami Airport told me we had lost this game, and that Kelly Youga had been sent off in the first half.

That’s three pretty poor performances from the Addicks while I’ve been away, even if the first game did produce a win, and I’m glad I haven’t seen those games.

It does seem from the reports - oh it is nice to be able to get online once more, even if work restrictions make accessing blog sites impossible - that 10-man Charlton at least tried to pick up the game after half-time. It just annoys me that they get themselves into these positions, and need a jolt (like the sending off) to seem to want to play to their ability.

Nicky Bailey and Hameur Bouazza both made their full league debuts for Charlton, though the winger was removed at half time as Pardew re-jigged his one-short side. Bailey appears to have had a reasonable debut, and put in a couple of shots it seems, but the man-of-the-match seems to have been Nicky Weaver who kept the score reasonable when it could have been much worse.

At least the team have a week to get their knocks and niggles rested, though Therry Racon may be out for longer if he has broken a bone in his foot as is thought. Thankfully we have Shelvey, Wright and Holland to cover this position, and even Semedo can move forward now that Moutaouakil is no longer suspended.

Pardew has admitted that we must get a centre back to cover Hudson and Fortune, and that the money to pay for this may come from the sale of Zheng Zhi. I just hope that we get a reasonable price for ZiZi as he is worth more than the £2m that West Brom are thought to have offered. The market will decide I guess…

The other obvious fact to emerge from this early part of the season is that Charlton really do have quite severe financial problems, and that the off-loading of players has been really necessary in order to balance the financial deficit of running the club (£5m from last year…) and the weekly player salary.

While we are all grateful that Marcus Bent and Amdy Faye have now left SE7, and few will be that sorry to see Jerome Thomas go out on loan, other sales (Bougherra to Rangers, Iwelumo to Wolves, and Zheng Zhi to whoever) are tough to take. Steve Waggott has to manage the salary bill, but with some 15,000 season ticket sales (which is more than Reading!), plus good walk-ups it seems from the initial league match, fans may have hoped that some “decent” players could have been salvaged. The overall player salary would appear to be enormously lower than at the same stage last year, especially when you consider that Chris Powell, Ben Thatcher, Osei Sankofa, and others have also moved on.

The financial problems do seem to have affected some of the players - Luke Varney and Andy Gray, to name but two, would have had high hopes of starting this season in the Premiership, but now it seems that the best that can be hoped for this year is mid-table Championship security, and that is by no means assured.

Maybe if ZiZi is sold then the club can at least splash a bit of the incoming cash and give the players, and the fans, plus manager Pardew, a lift from a new signing that is obviously required at this stage. And if the club cannot afford the transfer fee needed, then maybe another loan signing (or two) will appease the fans?

Anyway, I’m back now and at least I’ll get to see the boys play on Saturday…another home league win and the despondency will quickly dissipate!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

All Change Please...

Blimey...a few days offline sunning myself on the Keys and all hell breaks loose on the Pardew transfer front.

Out go Thomas's Jerome and Aswad, joining Pompey and Barnet respectively on loan; out for good - thank god - finally, has gone Amdy Faye to Stoke (where Tony Pulis really should be knowing better...); Stuart Fleetwood and Dean Sinclair have been allowed to gain loan experience at Cheltenham; and one coming in the right direction is midfielder Nicky Bailey from Sarfend, where he apparently didn't want to play any more. All this should considerably improve the weekly salary situation, even if the overall shortfall in cash may still need homeward bound from the Olympics Zheng Zhi to be sold in the next couple of weeks.

All this after an abject midweek cup exit to Yeovil which I failed miserably to keep secret from my Somerset born wife for very long - even out here.

Next up, tomorrow, is a league game at Watford. It is a long, long time since Charlton beat the Hornets, which is strange when you think about it. Watford have been a bit of a yo-yo team over recent years, but Charlotn have failed to win any of the recent match-ups.

Presuming he is still fit, Nicky Weaver should be in goal, with Rob Elliott as bench back up. The defence is likely to be the same as played against Swansea last weekend, provided that Hudson and Fortune have recovered enough from recent knocks; Semedo and Youga - the eventual midweek centre back pairing - should play at full back, unless Moutaouakil is free from suspension this week (I'm not sure if he is?). If Moots is able to play, then that would allow one of the full backs to cover the central positions if necessary.

Bailey should start in midfield, though where is unclear. Will Therry Racon and JonJo Shelvey be given another run or will one be rested for Bailey? Bouazza - playing against his former club - seems a straight replacement for Jerome Thomas, with Lloyd Sam the likely winger on the opposite flank. Luke Varney and Andy Gray will play upfront it seems.

This is the line up I expect Pards to start with -

Nicky Weaver
Jose Semedo
Mark Hudson
Jon Fortune
Kelly Youga
Lloyd Sam
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Hameur Bouazza
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, Moutaouakil, Basey, Holland, Shelvey, Wright, Wagstaff, Dickson.

My one to watch has to be new signing Bailey; already being linked by his surname to another former Addick midfielder, which is grossly unfair in my opinion, it will be good to see him settle down early and play the kind of football that has earned him high praise in Essex circles.

Pedro45 is still out of the country, and will only fly back once the game at Vicarage Road is over; hopefully happy texts that I am able to comprehend prpoerly will keep me up to date with the score. I'm thinking though that my vacation will return a win, a loss and draw, and I'm therefore plumping for a 1-1 draw tomorrow to keep the Addicks in the top half ofthe table.

Up the Addicks!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Key to Success

Charlton Athletic 2 Swansea City 0

Five texts; two goals; and three points – a good start to Charlton's 2008/9 season thank you.

Breakfast time (OK, a late breakfast, but purportedly the “best breakfast in the world”!) on Sanibel Island at kick off was enriched by text messages flashing across the Atlantic from the Valley. Yes, Weaver was fit and in goal. As my friend continued he only keyed Youga and then Hudson, before adding 1-0. It was only 10.03, so a pretty quick goal for a change! At first it looked like an unlikely goal - Weaver to Youga, to Hudson, and 1-0. My imagination played out the goal many times as Youga beat eight players before crossing for Hudson,who had surged forward from the kick off and headed in. Only once the next text came (which started Fortune, Semedo, Shelvey, Racon, etc), did I realise my mistake and the first text was merely the start of the team news!

There does seem to have been debate about who scored the first goal - Hudson or Gray – but Fortune added a second half second, and the Swans had someone sent off. There is a limit to what you can say in texts...

Apart from that, I don't have much news of the game as web access here is still problematic; sadly the blokes who sit behind me are still there this season I'm told (Spurs tickets still being expensive, I guess they had no choice?), so I hope they didn't moan too much after a win. Hopefully the crowd exceeded 20,000 as expected and continued the clubs proud claim of not dipping below that figure for over 150 consecutive league games.

Yeovil on Tuesday will be a lot more low key, and I expect Pards will give some of the squad a run out in an effort to save the legs of the first team. As my wife went to school in the Somerset town, a defeat is not an option for the Addicks please!

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Gulf In Class

The travel; the beer; the build up; the Red Red Robin; the gleaming red shirts numbered 1 – 11 (well, maybe not), the first league game of the season...oh how expectation rises. And I won't even be there...

My annual holiday prevents me making the first game of the season, and first home game, for the second season running; I am unable to go away in July due to pressure of work, so have to make do with early August vacations sadly. Once more I miss a home Championship fixture, and as with Scunthorpe last season, this is another match that could define Charlton's season from the outset.

Having had to be net sellers (as Richrd Murray put it) this summer, new signings have been few and far between. Couple that with injuries to key players during pre-season, and Zheng Zhi being involved elsewhere this weekend, Charlton have a distinctly beatable look about them. That may be no bad thing though, as the Addicks always perform best when underdogs. Last season, we would win every game fans thought, only to be brought down to earth with a thump when the going got tough after Xmas. This year, Pards needs to do better, the players need to do better, and quite frankly, the fans do too.

My own expectation league, blogged a month or so back, which is not the same as a predictive finishing place league, put Charlton 14th. Many other clubs, Saturdays opponents Swansea amongst them, harbour big ambitions about winning promotion or slipping into the play off places and chasing the Premiership pounds. So us Addicks will go into many games this year as underdogs; it's up to us to make sure we win some of them!

Being overseas, and out of WiFi range most of the time makes team selection predictions tough. I haven't had a chance to check the official site today, or any other, for fear of losing the connection... Barring any late signings, this is how I see it - Weaver would be favourite to be in goal but I don't know if he is fit again yet? I think Semedo may play right back as Moutaouakil is suspended. Youga for left back, with new signing Hudson in the middle with Fortune I guess?

In midfield, it looks like Sam, Shelvey, Holland (if fit), Racon, Wright, Basey, Wagstaff and Thomas will fight for four places.

Up front, Varney and Gray should play, with Dickson, Todorov, and Fleetwood as back up. Without cash available, these are Pards only options.

Swansea will have full support, and in their minds, nothing to lose. The Welsh like nothing more than to come to London and win, so I hope they are disappointed.

Pedro45 will go for a holiday prediction of a one score each tie in local speak, with my one-to-watch being the next big thing JonJo Shelvey. Is it just hype, or is he as good as it says on the packet? And if he is, what is his hair like?

Up the Addicks!

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