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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