Monday, September 29, 2008

Hawk Hudson - the Better Bird of Prey

With another midweek match, Alan Pardew (left) has to think fast about how he is going to change the perception that this is just another mediocre season at The Valley. Bouyed by two away clean sheets, the team was visibly rocked when conceding a goal that they just shouldn’t have at home on Saturday, even though it only brought Sheffield Wednesday parity. Suffice to say, the equal-ness lasted a matter of minutes and Charlton fell behind and never did they get very close to drawing level for the fifty-odd minutes after that. The confidence is so thin at the moment, that you wouldn’t serve it with ice-cream!

Sure, the solidity of the team was broken by injuries received the week before in Nottingham; it is doubtful that Martin Crainie trained much, nor was Linvoy Primus around all week due to his knee injury, and with Jon Fortune out, who knows who played the part of centre back in training at Sparrows Lane last week.

Where Pardew probably went wrong was in not making a firm decision early enough about who would play where; if Yassin Moutaouakil (a much better bet to play in an attacking home game role) had been told that he was in on Monday – which is realistic – then that would have freed up Crainie to get fit for tomorrow’s away game, where his defensive acumen would have been better suited. If Kelly Youga had been given the chance at centre back alongside Mark Hudson, with Grant Basey at left back, then that would have allowed Primus to provide back up if the experiment with Youga fell foul.

Suffice to say, that piece of tinkering did not happen; Crainie played a solid but very unspectacular game, and Primus lasted an hour before being replaced on-field at the back by Matt Holland (such was Charlton’s dominance!).

Now we have a game where it is unlikely that the defence, the weakest part of the team at present, can be changed as that may present too many opportunities for a team we want to beat.
Pardew’s problem in midfield is that he now has too many options. I guess he is likely to switch back to 4-5-1 which theoretically allows him one extra player, but that could be one of any number of options.

If we presume that Luke Varney will play up front on his own, as he did at Forest, with Andy Gray on the bench if required, then it is likely that the attacking options will be backed up by Darren Ambrose, either through the middle, or in place of either Lloyd Sam or Hameur Bouazza, both of whom had lacklustre games on Saturday. That would leave Holland and Nicky Bailey to try to control the middle of the park. The problem with Pardew is that that is quite an easy option to chose, and I’m not sure he will go down that route. Pards has already said that he has four players chomping at the bit to get a start – they can only be Zheng Zhi, JonJo Shelvey, Ambrose, and Grant Basey, although I’m sure Jose Semedo and Moutaouakil would like to be involved from the start too!

So is there another option, and I know that this is a wild guess but bear with me, to play a completely new midfield in this match; a decision that would completely baffle the opposition?

Would Pardew recognise that Holland, Bailey, Sam and Bouazza could actually do with a rest every now and then and chose to play Ambrose on the right, Basey on the left, Zhi and Shelvey in the centre and Semedo providing a holding option? It doesn’t look bad on paper, would certainly show that we do have that strength in midfield depth that Pards is always going on about, and constructively prove that if you don’t cut it on Saturday, then your right to a place on Tuesday is not guaranteed!?!

In all truth I see Pardew switching back to that managerial favourite of tried and tested with experience, plus how much you cost or if you are on loan, rather than the much flaunted policy of letting the kids have a go – you know, you win nothing with kids! Well not at Charlton as they never get a game! He’ll probably say that we had to stick with most of the team as to change it would have invited ridicule had it gone wrong; note Alan, it is going wrong!

Anyway, rant over. I can’t see Pards doing that so this is the team I think he may send out in search of three more vital points provided they are all fit –

Nicky Weaver
Martin Crainie
Mark Hudson
Linvoy Primus
Kelly Youga
Grant Basey
Matt Holland
Nicky Bailey
Hameur Bouazza
Darren Ambrose
Luke Varney

Subs from Elliott, Moutaouakil, Semedo, Zhi, Shelvey, Sam, Gray, Todorov, Dickson.

I expect Basey to be used in the holding role we saw at Forest; I just hope that the passing and time he takes are better than in that match, and in his cameo on Saturday. Sam is likely to get pulled ahead on loanee Bouazza, though either could make way for Ambrose realistically.

The bench is an interesting area too for this game. Semedo must be on it, as he is the only defender left (apart from Moots, who doesn’t give as many options), and so must a keeper (Elliott). I expect Gray to get a seat, but can ZiZi oust one of the incumbents or will his foot still be deemed to be sore? That leaves Toddy – who scored the winner in this game last year from the bench so he’ll want another chance – plus Sam, Shelvey, and Dickson, who was inextricably left off it on Saturday when he has done absolutely nothing wrong so far this year, to fill one place if our Chinaman makes it. Tough call Al…

Pedro45 hates this fixture and will not be travelling to the game; last season I was umpiring when the text came through telling me that we had won – blimey, I nearly gave someone out! This season, I will be in a bar in London drinking or eating, and not tied to the radio or Sky Sports News. Hopefully Second Division and Proud will text me the final score and it will be good news again this year and I won't spill my drink or get in a grumpy mood. Pedro45’s score predictions are usually wrong so why don’t I go for 8-0 to the Addicks and then I know I’m gonna be wrong…(wouldn’t it be lovely though, he he!).

My one-to-watch has to be Mark Hudson, our skipper returning to play against his old club. I see his old manager has been moaning about his departure in the local rag this week, stoking the flames; at least it has turned his attention away from blaming referee’s for his failures for a change. Mark, if we keep one clean sheet this year then this is the game we want to do it in; prove yourself right and show them you went to a better, classier, team. Oh, and if you score a goal that makes a difference, like Jon Fortune did, like Dennis Rommedahl did, like Paul Kitson did, or like Luke Varney did, then you could attain god-like status in SE7.

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wednesday Week Never Happened At All

Charlton Athletic 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2

OK; let’s get this straight – it wasn’t all bad…but the ending was very lethargic and poor.

For the first half an hour or so, Charlton actually played quite well; Linvoy Primus hit the post in the eighth minute; Luke Varney scored after 25 (left); and then Varney hit the same post that Primus had a few minutes later. All Wednesday had to offer was a low free kick that Weaver scooped un-elegantly to safety. The Yorkshire club supporters were starting to get upset, as pass after pass went straight to the home team, and us local lads had smiles on our faces.

Then it all changed –

Varney went into a hard but fair fifty-fifty challenge, but came out the aggrieved party; he kicked out at the prone Wednesday player and a small fracas ensued. Varney was booked when he could so easily have been sent off by a less lenient referee - possibly evening out some of the luck we haven’t had from referee’s so far this season. Charlton are never good in fights, and it started to show...

A few minutes later, Wade Small set off on one of those runs from the half-way line that you dream about as a footballer – allowed time and space, he waltzed past static Charlton defenders until he was in the box, then hit a good cross-shot back into the far corner of the net. He isn't a Theo Walcott but he was made to look like him! The Owls supporters erupted and you could see the Addick players’ heads drop. It was the first goal Charlton had conceded in over 200 minutes play, but such are the low levels of confidence, it was enough to change the game.

Next to take advantage was Marcus Tudgay; he didn’t have to run quite so far but he too found Charlton players (Bailey, Holland, Primus, and Hudson) willing to let him run across the face of the box without too much of a challenge and then he poked home into the same corner. From being in control to having no control in just three minutes.

Early on, Primus had met the first Addicks corner (taken by Bailey) with his head and the ball looped onto the post and bounced to safety. For the goal, Varney was first to react after a free-kick was headed up in the air and his scuffed shot after it dropped beat the keeper on the line. Varney then battled his way onto a ball and shot past the keeper but saw the ball rebound from the same post already hit and Gray volleyed the high bouncing ball wastefully over.

At half time, and losing, fans knew that it would be a matter of time before tinker-man Pardew switched things around in an attempt to get back into the game. Sure enough, after another fifteen minute of toil and effort, but no great impact, off came Primus (possibly getting a bit tired anyway in his first senior start/game back after over 18 months out injured) and Gray (who tried but made little headway all afternoon) and on came Ambrose and Todorov.

Now here Pardew did create a first – I haven’t seen Matt Holland play centre back before! You would have thought that Holland would switch to right back (where he has ended up on occasions) and Crainie would switch inside, but no…

Varney had fired a snap shot just wide early in the half, and Ambrose did similarly after he came on. Bouazza fired over too. Bailey got involved, which was good as he had a poor first half, but Lloyd Sam was still very ineffective. Ambrose thumped a free kick straight at the wall. The referee blew his whistle time and again and the fittest man in the ground had to be the Wednesday physio who ran on every couple of minutes to help stricken blue shirted players every time they stubbed their toe on the ball or felt a little out of breathe.

The game degenerated into a nothing match, with the ball taken to the corner flag by the blue team to run down the clock, and there were few chances at either end. Todorov (who looked way short of match fitness still) fell deeper and deeper, Sam did get involved in the last ten minutes (but it was all too late by then), and Pards brought on Basey for Crainie allowing Youga (who had a poor game from a passing/distribution perspective) to move to another new position on the right side. Basey’s passing was just as bad as last week at Forest, and he had a loud demonstrative argument with Varney (who was the one player still running his socks off and winning headers…) after one less than perfect pass forward from the back that gave the ball straight back to Wednesday.

As four minutes injury time ticked off, Charlton finally got the ball away from a corner flag and into the opposition half. A corner was won and I thought it great that Nicky Weaver, a Wednesday-ite all his life, trundled forward to hope to score against his boyhood team. Sadly, we then saw a corner kick that simply summed up the whole problem with Charlton at this time. Bouazza’s dead ball swung behind the goal-line before it even reached the space where Weaver was waiting forlornly…quite pathetic.

Another home loss.

The best thing I suppose about the game was the crowd – not only did it beat the magical 20,000 mark (by a couple of hundred) thanks to many more Wednesday fans travelling down than I expected (about 1800 or so), but the atmosphere throughout was good and loud. Well done lads! The worst thing, apart from the result, was that the two blokes behind me were in very talkative mode throughout and felt much of what they witnessed was hilariously funny…If I was picking a man-of-the-match, it would probably have been between Varney and Holland, who both gave everything all match without much return.

The last time we had three games in a week, we came out with a win, draw and defeat; if Charlton are to achieve a similar return from this three-game week, then they will have to raise their confidence and play a hell of a lot better than they did yesterday at The Valley.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

20,000 Plus?

Just a mention about the crowd figure for today – Charlton are rightly proud of the fact that the last 160-odd league games at The Valley have attracted support of over 20,000 fans. This record is now in danger I think…

We saw that when Reading arrived last month that they only brought about 800 – 1,000 supporters with them, and this enabled the announced attendance figure to just creep over the mark – 20,020. Wolves brought much more support, and Swansea did too in the first game of the season. Whether there where sufficient Charlton fans in the ground to keep all those attendances over 20,000 is debateable; tickets sold equated to enough bums on seats to keep the target figure intact.

If you look at the make-up of the figures, you can see why the 20,000 barrier is in danger:

Charlton have around 15,000 season ticket holders; walk up attendees (i.e. non-season ticket holders) are between 1,500 for an average game, and 5,000 for a bigger match; away support can be up to 3,100, but this cannot be guaranteed and will usually be less.

Simple maths means that for an average game, we need to have about 5,000 supporters filling the away end or at the game supporting Charlton without a season ticket.

Next week, I’m sure Ipswich will bring sufficient support to keep that balance over 20,000, but will that be the case with the less glamorous game today against Sheffield Wednesday? Possibly not…

So if anyone is in two minds about going today, please try to make the match as it would be great to keep the run going (for a few weeks longer at least).

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can Any Centre Halfs Please Report to the Manager!

It’s back home on Saturday after two away games, where Charlton will be looking for another clean sheet and not a repeat of the thumping they took from the table-toppers last time at The Valley. If only the penalty in that game hadn’t been given and the team could have hung on, we would be in a pretty good position at this stage of the season, and even better than the table shown on Second Division and Proud’s blogsite.

Venturing south with a not too good record this year come Sheffield Wednesday. We can expect them to face up with a 4-5-1 formation, and simply try to stifle the heart out of Charlton, while hoping to snatch something on the break or when they do get the chance to venture forwards. Of course, the last two away games have seen the Addicks opposition with plenty of chances to attack our heroes, as Pardew has tinkered his way to a position where he is happy for Charlton players to give the ball away as long as the rest of the team defend properly...hmmm.

I’m hoping for two things – one, that Charlton no longer deem it worthy to give the ball away (cheaply) and, two, if they do, that Wednesday are as inept as both Rovers and Forest in trying to get the ball in the back of the net! It must come to Pardew’s attention some time soon that the plan to hold on to a game until later when he can change the formation will fall over at some stage; maybe not in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire recently, and maybe not at home to the Owls this weekend, or hopefully in the next two games, which may be construed as slightly more important to Addicks fans, where it must also hold tight. Anything less would be catastrophic for the team and the supporters, and maybe Pards himself!

The first thing Pardew needs to do, having announced that the team will play 4-4-2 on Saturday, is to pick a defence. He can concentrate on that mainly because the rest of the team will practically pick itself – Weaver, Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza, Varney and Gray are all shoe-ins in this blogs opinion, though there are alternatives (which I will come to later when we look at who could be on the subs bench). The defence though could be practically anything or anyone, as long as two of the four are Hudson and Youga. At Forest, Crainie and Fortune had to go off injured, and it has been announced that Fortune is out for several weeks now; Crainie may be fit, but hamstring strains normally take a bit more time to heal than a few days or a week even, so I’m not convinced that we will see this Pompey loanee at right back. That leaves a gap for either Yassin Moutaouakil or Jose Semedo. Moots did little wrong before Crainie arrived, so will be eager to win his position back; he will certainly provide an attacking option which could be put to good use in this home game. Pardew may, though, decide to play Semedo at right back, as he did very well in the last ten minutes at Forest going forwards, and has always given his best at any and every stage he has played for the club.

If Crainie is fit, then he could play centrally alongside Hudson, but with that in doubt, the only viable option (provided Semedo isn’t used there) is to play Youga inside, with Grant Basey pushed back to one of his more regular and favoured positions at left back. I thought Youga did very well for the half hour he played at centre back last Saturday, and with a league cup game in that position too this season, that does seem to me to be the obvious choice. Playing both Youga and Basey also gives Pards the option of allowing Basey to take all the dead-ball kicks that we get all match... Oh, and the other Pompey loanee - Linvoy Primus - is not available either.

As for the subs, well Pardew does have a wealth of veritable talent at his disposal; last weekends non-playing squad members – Fleetwood and Shelvey – both scored for the club in a friendly in midweek. Todorov and Ambrose also played a full part in that match and are now considered fully fit. One absentee in midweek was Zheng Zhi, and I do think that this match might be one too early for him, bearing in mind everyone else is fit, and we have other games coming up where he can be eased back in.

This is the side I believe Pardew may have to send out at The Valley on Saturday –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Mark Hudson
Kelly Youga
Grant Basey
Lloyd Sam
Matt Holland
Nicky Bailey
Hameur Bouazza
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, Semedo, Thomas, Solly, Zhi, Shelvey, Ambrose, Fleetwood, Todorov, Dickson.

This really is the chance of a home win, and to look good while doing it, for Alan Pardew’s team; the crowd will expect three points after the last couple of results, and the players will know that they have to perform, or they will face being left out next Tuesday, especially with a plethora of fit and experienced players hoping to get back into the team.

Pedro45’s score prediction is a uniform 2-0 victory.

My one-to watch in this game is going to be Kelly Youga. Always the bridesmaid, and never the bride, the man has the persona to be a bit of a cult hero if he really, really wants – we know that he can play at left back, but can he cut it in the middle of defence if asked? He has the pace, the tackle, and the battling aerial qualities necessary, but does he have the temperament? Last weekend, he reacted badly when wronged by a Forest Hood-ie; he survived by being held back at that time, but minutes later a slightly mis-timed tackle (OK, I’m being kind here…) was rightly punished by a yellow card. That left him on a tightrope for the rest of the game, but he did hold it together, just! I think he can do it, and should be given the chance. It might be for just one match, but we will know at 5pm if he can be good enough or be trusted enough to play there over the next few weeks while other, more obvious, choices for centre back get fit.

This is another three-game week, and therefore another important time for the Addicks; if we can start off well, we might just have a chance of bettering the four points we won from the last such week. It won’t be easy, but it is possible…we just have to believe!

Come on you reds!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Evans 'elp Us? No Chance!

Nottingham Forest 0 Charlton Athletic 0

I have to admit I didn’t plan to go to this game, but in an effort to please each other, my wife made the mad gesture of offering to drive, and I nearly bit her arm off!

OK, it did mean we had to stay overnight in a nice hotel in Stamford on the way back, and venture onto a visit to Burghley House today, but with the glorious weekend’s weather, that wasn’t too onerous.

Back to the game:

Pardew chose to make one change to the team that started the previous two games and play a more defensive starting line up with Grant Basey coming in for Andy Gray. On hearing this, I did think it would be Hameur Bouazza who slotted into the role of supporting lone front-man Luke Varney, with Basey on the left, but that wasn’t the case. Basey sat in front of the back four; OK, slightly left sided, but definitely behind the other midfielders.

Quite frankly, the opening twenty minutes or so proved that this was a terrible mistake, as Basey continually got caught out of position, or in possession, and wave after wave of Forest attack put Charlton under pressure. How Forest failed to score is a massive question they will be asking themselves. An instinctive early save from Weaver to a close range header (Earnshaw I think?) prevented the home team going in front, and with the skilful Lee Martin and Bolt-like Nathan Tyson causing all sorts of problems, it was desperate stuff.

Slowly though, after that initial onslaught, the game settled but still without much attacking from Charlton. Bouazza had a couple of weak efforts but Varney cut a lonely figure up front. Sam couldn’t make any headway; Holland was pretty anonymous, and Bailey was closed down quickly. Basey meanwhile struggled to pass to anyone in a white shirt all day. Luckily, the defence, and Weaver, played a pretty solid game. Youga got caught by a Forest arm and nearly lost his rag again, and then got booked for the obvious retaliatory foul, which left him walking a tightrope for the last hour. The last ten minutes of the half showed how poor Forest were though, as every time the Addicks did get forward, there was some pretty average defending and corners became increasingly won (though Basey’s delivery never really threatened a chance coming).

Quite amazingly then, Charlton managed to get to half-time on level terms. I think the consensus was that as Forest looked so vulnerable, we must bring on Gray (or Dickson) to give us a chance of winning all the points.

This didn’t happen though, but at least Charlton started much better, and actually put the home team under quite some pressure. Maybe the players knew if they didn’t start to perform they would be yanked off in favour of someone else, so they did actually play OK. Varney became a threat, and his pace was a constant second half worry to Forest. Bailey also got more involved, and the full backs ventured forward a little, but still not enough.

There was still time for some last-ditch defending though, and Fortune, Youga and Hudson all had to make good interventions, especially from the speedy Tyson who continued to cause worries breaking from the half-way line all afternoon. From one of these breaks, Fortune got injured, and he was replaced by Ambrose – a bold move by Pards. Basey slipped to left back, where he looked much more comfortable, and Youga switched to the middle of defence. I must admit to being worried by this, but Hudson controlled him, and he did play quite well for the last half hour.

The referee (Evans) was becoming more and more involved; I see Pardew is annoyed by the booking that a defender got when he hauled Varney down late in the first half after a slip when he may have been through on goal (as we were all at the other end, it was impossible to tell if he was the last player or how far away the other defenders were…). A handball - when Bouazza'a header hit a high arm in the area - brought nothing but crossed arms, yet when the exact same thing happened a few minutes later outside the area, a foul was given... At other times, any sort of contact brought out a card, and both sets of supporters were getting frustrated by him.

Possibly the worst piece of refereeing though came when two Forest defenders collided going for a ball leaving Lloyd Sam completely free just outside the penalty area and in on goal. How many refs would have blown up to bring play back at that stage rather than wait the maybe five or ten seconds to see what came of the attack? Most I suspect – it wasn’t even as if the player with the supposed injury was knocked out, he was just sat there holding his head…I guess that‘s what happens when a ref is doing only his second Championship game ever!

I suppose, then, that something had to happen, and when Thornhill, who had been booked, slid into Basey in front of the linesman, who waved his flag furiously, you knew the yellow and then red card would be out of the ref's pocket quicker than Nathan Tyson could run ten yards. That set the home crowd in motion, and nearly all 18,000 supporters in the ground joined in a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing!”

With numerical advantage, Pardew could have gone for the throat, but although Gray had replaced Varney as Charlton became increasingly dominant, it wasn’t possible to bring on Dickson as Crainie then came off injured, and Jose Semedo filled in at right back for the last ten minutes or so. Our Portugueser actually had a great last ten minutes, and made more forward runs than Crainie did all match.

Forest were still dangerous on the odd-break, but with Cole on for Earnshaw, the only chance they had was when a cross was fluffed in front of an open goal right near the end. If the home side almost won it, then so did Charlton; Varney worked the right channel, and took the ball right to the bye-line before sending over a lovely cross to the unmarked Gray at the far post. It should have been a goal, but somehow Paul Smith got across and down to make a fantastic save at the foot of the post. I know Gray didn’t get the best power into the header, but you have to say it was a great save rather than a bad miss. If only that had gone in it would have covered up a multitude of things that went wrong in the game...

Five minutes injury time failed to bring a goal, and both sets of fans drew breathe as the final whistle went; it was along way from a boring 0-0 I can confirm.

The concern is obviously the injury to Fortune and with three games coming up next week, and with Primus also out, we are genuinely short at centre back. Of more concern is the tinkering that Pardew continues to do with tactics and playing players in new positions. Basey is a good player, but he was cruelly exposed in the position he was asked to play; any chance of giving him a game in the reserves to test this sort of thing out next time Alan? And if not, why not let Semedo play the role as we all know he is quite good at it!

We still sit in ninth place in the table, which is OK, and we have now had consecutive clean sheets, but I do wonder what might have transpired if we had given the match a bit more of a go from the start.

We will never know though!

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Banking at the City Ground

So it’s three all going into the seventh game; crunch time for baseball lovers, but just another game during a long season for the Addicks. Should Charlton fans be too worried if the team gets beaten in their next match – away at Nottingham Forest on Saturday? Probably not, but what is assured is that if the team can win consecutive away games, the confidence will be greatly increased as the next set of three games in a week comes along from next Saturday.

Consistency is tough to get, and Alan Pardew knows it. When you win at home and lose away, I guess you are consistent; and then when you then lose at home and win away, that is a continuation of that consistency, albeit upside down! What Pards needs to instill in the team is a consistent positive attitude – we may not have played well on Tuesday in Yorkshire, but we didn’t lose. If we can keep on in this mode, and throw in the odd game where we do play well and still win, then the season may yet turn out to be a surprise.

After wins against Swansea and Doncaster, two of the three promoted clubs from League One last season, the Addicks now take of the third team to swim up the league ladder – Nottingham Forest. Regarded, even now, as a “Big Club”, on the back of two European Cups wins over 25 years ago, many will view this as a home banker. But bankers are not having a very good week I understand, and it could be that Charlton have enough nous and experience to squeeze out another victory.

Forest have a few decent players, as their large crowds can afford to pay a footballer a reasonable wage in the east midlands; Robert Earnshaw, so often linked with Charlton, is one who will need to be watched carefully, as will one of the key components when Forest beat Charlton in the cup a few years back Nathan Tyson. Forests most accomplished forward though is Andy Cole, a Nottingham-boy, but of Arsenal, Bristol City, Newcastle, Manchester United, Blackburn, and Burnley fame. He has certainly scored for at least three of those clubs against the Addicks in the past, and he will be keen to get his season off the mark once more. If Hudson and Fortune can keep him and Earnshaw in check, then we have a chance.

Alan Pardew meanwhile will be hoping he can play the same eleven that he has sent out in the last two matches. Well beaten by Wolves, the team showed much greater resilience against Doncaster, and it was good to see a clean sheet for the first time since early August.

The likelihood is that Pardew will have everyone who played on Tuesday available, but will three games in a week be too much for some?

I’m sure Nicky Weaver will be fine, and in goal; the defence is also likely to be unchanged with Crainie, Fortune, Husdson, and Youga filling the roles. Linvoy Primus is waiting for his chance but that is unlikely to come while the goals are not being conceded.

The midfield too could remain unchanged, but this is the area where we could see some players rested or revolved; Lloyd Sam did make the game on Tuesday despite limping through most of the previous match, so he should be OK to start on the right; Hameur Bouazza is likely to play left-side although Grant Basey will be an option if required. In the middle, Nicky Bailey is, at 24, more than able to play three games in a week but next to him, Mat Holland, about ten years older, may not.

If Holland does need a break, the options available to Charlton are plentiful thankfully - JonJo Shelvey scored a wonder goal in a friendly in midweek; Jose Semedo also played (at left back) in that behind-closed-doors game; and Zheng Zhi may well be fit after his bruised foot injury. Even Darren Ambrose is fit but struggling to get a look in at present.

Up front, unless Gray or Varney picked up any fresh injuries on Tuesday, we will see them continue with Chris Dickson on the bench and willing if the need arises.

This is the team I think our manager will send out in search of three points -

Nicky Weaver
Martin Crainie
Mark Hudson
Jonathan Fortune
Kelly Youga
Lloyd Sam
Matt Holland
Nicky Bailey
Hameur Bouazza
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, Moutaouakil, Basey, Semedo, Primus, Zhi, Shelvey, Wright, Ambrose, Fleetwood, Dickson.

Pedro45 is quietly confident that the Addicks can win back to back games for the first time this season, but he is concerned that history and luck may prevent such an occurrence. If a mid-table team plays three games (in a week), then a win, draw and defeat could easily be expected, and my score prediction is therefore a 1-1 draw to balance the books.

My one-to-watch at the City Ground is going to be new recruit Martin Crainie. He may be young, but his shoulders will have to be strong enough this weekend to look after forwards who have scored bundles of goals throughout the divisions over the last ten years or so. He will be key element in covering Fortune and Hudson, who presumably will handle most of the marking duties on Cole and Earnshaw.

This is another pretty important match for the Addicks – not yet season defining, but it could be important in deciding if we are to be in the top half of the Championship for most of the year, or the bottom half. Move on up!

Up the Addicks!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Missing Price is Right!

Doncaster Rovers 0 Charlton Athletic 1

Ian McCulloch may have been more interested in the Liverpool score where I was, but my mind (while listening to the music) was firmly on events at the Keepmoat Stadium as Charlton reversed recent results and secured a one-nil win.

It was Andy Gray (left), with his fourth of the season, who scored the all-important goal, looping in a header in only the third minute.

Of course, if the team had listened to me then the goal is unlikely to have been scored, as I suggested in my preview that Jon Fortune should be thrust forward at every opportunity; however, in this case, Pards knows best, and Forch took the free kick from which Gray headed in...

Match reports suggest that Donny had most of the possession, but Charlton defended resolutely, which makes a change! The team was the same as that which took one Wolves at the weekend, but with a 4-5-1 (or was it 4-4-1-1?) formation change, and hopefully they are now starting to learn that we need a solid defence to go with the work rate and skills that they all have. Crainie seems to have had a good game while Youga, Bailey and Hudson all made crucial interventions at times.

Doncaster were without talisman and ex-boyfriend of one of my staff - Jason Price; the official Charlton site seems to have caught on with the qudos of highlighting the "Afro goal-machine", adding a picture of the boy to the match preiew, and including "the towering presence of Jason Price (was) not among the substitutes" to the match report. When shown this, Laura responded - "Towering? He wasn't that tall!"

The result pushes Charlton up to eighth in the Championship league table, with three wins and three defeats, which is a reasonable start for the team this year. With Zheng Zhi, Todorov, Ambrose, McLeod, and Primus all getting closer to full fitness, the Addicks shouldn’t be short of talent to push the team on to greater things over the coming weeks.

The away game at Forest on Saturday is another important one where victory will get everyone excited, while defeat will be same-old same-old. Fingers crossed eh!

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Dunkin' Donny

One of the Addicks former managers once coined the phrase "bouncebackability" while with a former club, and that is exactly what the Charlton need to do in the away game at Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday evening. After consecutive losses, the only way is (hopefully) up, and that is where Alan Pardew must hope to take his players as the season progresses. Sure, we fans don't really expect to be pushing all that hard for a play-off place this season, but we do need to see a mid-table team playing each week and one who are not going to get dragged into the edges of the relegation battle.

I suppose, at the start of the season, Doncaster themselves would have been hoping for mid-table mediocrity, and the way they have set out this season, they may well accomplish that, provided they maintain early season form. Us southerners probably don't know much about the team we are playing, and being honest, I don’t have much to add. I know they chase and harry at every opportunity and will try to deny space to the ball-players. They also have a couple of old-hands who will be known to fans - Neil Sullivan, ex-Spur, Don, and Leeds reject will be in goal for instance - but the only other player I have heard of is Jason Price.

Now Jason Price is not exactly a household name (even down the divisions) and probably a complete mystery to most Charlton fans, and I have to admit that he was to me until a couple of months before the end of last season. At that point, one of my new staff admitted that she used to go out with a footballer when she was a youngster in Hull; who was that I enquired? Jason Price she replied - it was a "phase" she was going through... The conversation moved on but I Google'd Jason, mainly to see who had captured the heart (albeit briefly) of my co-worker, and there on Google I found him describe himself as the "Afro Goal Machine". Of course, the images of Jason back up part of this claim, though his football statistics show that "goal-machine" is a bit of an ambitious monicker. He's bound to score against us now! If he gets on that is (he was a second half sub on Saturday). Anyway Jason, Laura says Hi!

Alan Pardew meanwhile will be hoping he unearths his own goal-machine in Yorkshire, as just the Andy Gray penalty at Preston has had fans cheering in away games so far this season. Gray was withdrawn late on at The Valley on Saturday so I hope he isn't carrying an injury, and he really could do with some service further up the pitch in order to add to his goal tally this season. Luke Varney would also benefit from better service, and there isn't really any point throwing in Chris Dickson if the rest of the team cannot get the strikers decent ball to feed on.
Hopefully the width and possession that was afforded the team by Reading and nullified by Wolves will be available, and we can look more dangerous in the attacking third once more.

Pardew will pick his team carefully, and hopefully - bearing in mind we have three games in a week - he will not let anyone important get too tired this early in the season.

Nicky Weaver is bound to start in goal, and I cannot really see any change to the defence being made; on-loan Crainie will continue at right back, Hudson and Fortune in the middle with, I suspect, Kelly Youga being given another run at left back. Pardew could offer Linvoy Primus a return game, but that must still be doubtful after so long out injured in what could be an important game not to lose. Similarly, Grant Basey could offer an alternative at left back but Youga would always seem to me to be the better defensive (and therefore away game) option.

Up front, unless Gray or Varney are injured, we will see them continue with Chris Dickson on the bench and willing if the need arises.

It is in midfield that we may see changes - Lloyd Sam was limping for quite some time before being taken off on Saturday, and there could be a doubt over him. Hameur Bouazza will start unless Pards changes tactics completely (which is doubtful at this early stage in the season, but not beyond him!), and Nicky Bailey will also play. Who plays next to Saturday's goalscorer and how that all fits in if Sam is injured is where the choice really needs to be made. Matt Holland is always willing and able, but can his legs take three games in a week? JonJo Shelvey had a restful weekend (and wasn't even a sub), and he could be given a chance away from the limelight, or we might possibly even see Jose Semedo being thrown back in to shore up the middle of the park. The only other possibility was Zheng Zhi, but he got crocked by Dickson on Friday and will not be risked in this game Pardew says. At Preston, we saw Bailey moved out wide and Shelvey playing centrally - it didn't work. I can't see Pards shifting Bailey wide again, so the option it seems is maybe to move Holland out, or play Darren Ambrose who must be just about fully fit after his hip injury and able to complete an hour at least by now.

This is the team I think our manager will send out in search of three points -

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

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

Sadly, Pedro45 has a prior engagement that will prevent him watching Charlton away against an 84th league team. Happily ensconced in the Royal Albert Hall when the game kicks off, I will eagerly await a texted score flash, much as I did when Charlton played Cardiff last year when I went to see Squeeze at Hammersmith. On that occasion, we won 2-0 with goals by Holland and Reid and I am going to predict a similar scoreline at Doncaster. We have a touch of class when allowed to show it, and that may be too much for Rovers on the night, who could run out of steam after a tough game on Saturday.
My one-to-watch is going to be Jonathan Fortune; Forch is under pressure at the back, ever since Crainie and Primus joined from Portsmouth on loan a couple of weeks ago. He has been there, seen it, worn out the t-shirt, so whatever happens next shouldn't phase him. He needs to play well otherwise Pardew will drop him for one of the loanees - Pardew and Primus have history going back quite a number of years so it wouldn't be a surprise if the manager was eager to thrust him in given an opportunity. We know that Primus and Crainie are competent at right back, but prefer the centre of defence, so with Moutaouakil already relegated to the stiffs (again), that just leaves Forch and it will be fait-accompli for the Pompey boys. It is up to our home-grown player to keep them both at bay, and another good defensive performance could just delay that switch a little longer.

One thing I would like to see more of is Forch going forwards; I know we aren't a long ball team (thank god!) but when we get free-kicks on the half way line, why pump them at Gray when neither Hudson or Fortune is pushed forward. Going back a couple of years, every free kick near the middle saw big Hermann stride up to the edge of the penalty box and try to get on the end of the dead-ball. The option for Fortune and Hudson to alternate moving up to use their obvious strength is there and would be what the defence doesn't want to see;, so stop taking them Jon, and start getting on the end!

This is a pretty important match for the Addicks - a win and we will be back in mid-table and confident going into a tougher match on Saturday, but a defeat, and we will be under real pressure and too close to the bottom end of the table for comfort. We have to believe we can bounce back, and so should the team.

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just Too Good for Us...

Charlton Athletic 1
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

Well they were, and they may well be too good for many other clubs in this division too this season. It wasn't so much a loss, but a lesson on how you need to play in this league - well beaten, Alan Pardew still has plenty of work to do this season.

And it all started so well!

Nicky Bailey has not been afraid to shoot in his first few games for the club, and when a defenisive header looped out toward him, some thirty yards from goal, he steadied himself, sized it up, and hit one of the sweetest volleys you could ever (and I do mean ever) wish to see. The ball just looked in from that moment on, even though I was at a 90 degree angle. I just knew from that split second it was going in. Top corner. Goalkeeper (whoever it was) no chance. One nil. Game on.

I've had a think about other recent "good" goals; last season we had Zheng Zhi's opener at Preston and Luke Varney's second at The Valley in early February as contenders for the goal of the season; both they and Andy Gray's sublime finish from a Varney backheel in the last game of the season pale into insignicance when compared to Bailey's goal yesterday. Talal El Karkouri's quick free kick against Blackburn the season before was nice, neat, and cheeky, and his other long range effort (against Sheffield United) that year was a trifle lucky; again, neither goal or any other that season compared to the shot into the Jimmy Seed stand goal defended by Wolves. I even think that Bailey's goal was better (and at least on a par) with those from Darren Ambrose and Claus Jensen versus Manchester United going back over the years, plus anything Darren Bent and Shaun Bartlett scored; in fact, only Bartlett's goal of the season versus Leicester comes anywhere near matching Bailey's shot yesterday. I really do think it was that good, and almost certainly makes it into my top ten Charlton goals (please don't ask me to name the others!) that I have seen live since I started supporting the club over 40 years ago...

Then it all got a bit messy; although the referee had a reasonable game, most calls started to go against the home team. Sam was booked for a late challenge, and limped through the rest of the game. Wolves had most of the possession in the first half and looked threatening without ever coming that close. Keogh (a late replacent for the injured in warm-up Chris Iwelumo) was a real handful and won most everything in the air. At half-time, Charlton were still in front, but it did look only a matter of time until they conceded...

As the second half progressed, the game was still pretty much all one way traffic, and it wasn't in favour of the Addicks - it was a bit like those games against Manchester United where we led, but you knew (deep down) that an equaliser would eventually come along.

So how the equaliser came was a bit of an oh-no moment. Bailey was adjudged to have fouled, and when the free kick was taken quickly and a shot loomed, he threw himself in to try to block. It seemed to me, and I wasn't that far away, that he had blocked the shot back to the forward (Keogh) whose foot carried on into Bailey. The ball flew wide, but on advice from the fourth official (who had taken over running the line due to inury) the referee gave a penalty. Most players were dumbfounded, and the crowd reasonably vexed. Hudson, as captain, was the only player to berate the referee which was good to see, but it did little good, even with the skipper showing the ref in seemingly action replay detail what happened. I haven't seen a replay on TV so I don't know if my perception was right, but I didn't think it was a foul. Sadly, Nicky Weaver couldn't stop the penalty shot this week and it was all square.

Still the game went on with little overall change to the pattern of play; Bailey, Fortune and Youga also got booked as the game progressed. Varney missed a headed chance but it was still pretty much all Wolves. Eventually Pardew made a change; in fact two, with the limping Sam withdrawn for Basey (with Bouazza switching to the right) and Dickson coming on for Gray (although most fans thought that Varney should have made way...).

Sure enough, the substitutions worked, but not Pardew's, as gold shirted sub and teenager Vokes steered home after Crainie had failed to block a cross from the left wing.

Could the Addicks come back with just ten minutes left? Well, there was no sign of it and soon enough Vokes headed another goal after Weaver had blocked an initial goal bound shot. Most Charlton fans left at that point.

In reality, no home players had put in poor performances, it was just that we were second best most of the afternoon. Weaver made some good saves, Crainie was unspectacular, Youga similar, and Hudson and Fortune tried but couldn't seem to contain Keogh. The midfield four of Bouazza, Sam, Bailey and Holland ran their collective hearts out but most of it was in defending, rather than doing much when they had possession. Varney and Gray suffered from a lack of service, and did what they could from the scraps offered. Neither sub really offered anything in the last ten minutes or so that they were on the field.

Well beaten, Charlton now need to re-group, and travel to Doncaster on Tuesday night for a really important fixture. A win and the season is back on track, but a defeat and the alarm bells may start to ring...and who knows where that could lead?

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Extinguishing the Wanderers Star

Two long weeks - two long weeks without a Charlton game. Why has it felt so long? It wasn't that long ago that we had summer, and no Addicks matches for nearly three months! Now just two weeks have left us pining for a view of our heroes. It only three weeks since my birthday (and the Reading game, left), but it seems like an age...

So down to The Valley we will roll on Saturday, and along come the league leaders - Wolverhampton Wanderers. Millwall Mick's team have had an excellent start, and sit atop the division with ten points courtesy of three wins and a draw in their first four games. They have been banging in the goals whenever they have been given a chance, and the wide-open wing play they favour has proved a great feeder to Big Chris Iwelumo, the Charlton top scorer from last season.

Alan Pardew has admitted that he liked Big Chris, and that was always evident from the fact he played in every league game last season, even when he was woefully out of form and lacking in confidence. That isn't the case at the moment, as he has already racked up five goals so far in the gold shirts of Wolves. I do wonder if the referee on Saturday will be one of those who gave many and often fouls against Chris last year; sometimes he only needed to look in the general direction of the centre half and the whistle would seemingly be blown against him. How we will howl when he does connect with Fortune or Hudson with that leading arm?

Is he likely to be yet another ex-Charlton player who comes back to score against the club we love? Quite possibly, so the way to make sure he doesn't look any better than he did when he wore a red shirt is to stop the crosses coming in and cut off the supply he thrives on.

Failure to stop the crosses though was one of the main reasons why Charlton lost their last match; Preston rained the ball into the penalty at every opportunity a couple of weeks ago, and that finally bore fruit when a couple of chances came their way. That also wiped out Charlton's half time lead, courtesy of another Andy Gray penalty that was won by Luke Varney.

The Preston match seemed to be a return to the tinkering ways that blighted Alan Pardew's selections last season - four players filled the full back slots; wingers came and went; players were moved around the pitch into unfamiliar positions. Thankfully, with Lloyd Sam back from injury, and Martin Crainie available after joining on loan from Portsmouth, we should see a more settled side with everyone back in their familiar and favoured positions.

The defence that Pardew picks does pose a few problems for him - with Crainie able to play anywhere across the back four (if you believe the Pompey websites), Pardew could reasonably play him at right back, in place of the defensively-challenged but dashing Yassin Moutaouakil, or at centre back, alongside skipper Mark Hudson and in place of Jon Fortune, or even at left back if he doesn't trust Kelly Youga this week. Personally, I would be tempted to keep him on the bench, and bring him on if we need to hold on to a lead later in the match, but I think that it may be the right-sided Frenchman who drops to the substitute list.

The midfield should revert to that we saw against Reading, now that Sam is fit (I think this might be one game too soon for Zheng Zhi...), and unless there is an injury we are unaware of, there will be no change up front either.

This is the side I expect Pards to send out -

Nicky Weaver
Martin Crainie
Mark Hudson
Jonathan Fortune
Kelly Youga
Lloyd Sam
Nicky Bailey
Matt Holland
Hameur Bouazza
Luke Varney
Andy Gray

Subs from - Elliott, Moutaouakil, Primus, Basey, Shelvey, Wright, Zhi, Ambrose, Fleetwood, Dickson.

Pedro45 normally loves games where we take on the top of the table opposition, and we ought to be confident having given Reading such a tonking last time we featured at home. However, Wolves do have the look of a very good team, from Welsh international Hennessey in goal, right through midfield and the wings to the strikers. There are battles to be won all over the park - Fortune should relish his tussle with Iwelumo, but maybe less so the speed of Ebanks-Blake, who tore Paddy McCarthy apart in the same game last season. Charlton need to contain the wingers, otherwise the pressure on the middle of defence will be intense; the midfield will need to be won, and then won again, with Nicky Bailey a key player here; and the strikers will need to run their hearts out (though this is the norm for Gray and Varney). Pero45's score prediction is a toughed out 1-1 draw.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Mark Hudson (background, left). Our new skipper had a fantastic debut match where he scored inside a couple of minutes. Since then, he has been solid, without being spectacular, and he is beginning to form a decent partnership with Jon Fortune alongside him. The issue is whether he has been asked to meet any big challenges yet? I don't class the Swansea or Preston forwards as being top drawer. Sure, Kevin Doyle is good, and he was handled quite well as was Leroy Lita in the Reading game. But Ebanks-Blake and Iwelumo, being fed by Kightly and one-time Charlton target Matt Jarvis is another matter. Good luck Marky-Mark!

I would love the Addicks to walk away from this game having beaten Wolves, but much as how I went into the Reading game, I'm not sure we can. Mind you, I was wrong then! If Bailey and Holland take charge; if the full backs go on the rampage and let their wingers worry about defending and not attacking; and if Varney and Gray get involved and make good runs, we could see an upset - and a Charlton victory would be a very pleasant upset!

Come on you reds!

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Gray End to August Fails to Brighten September

Preston North End 2 Charlton Athletic 1

I can’t real add much to the debate about this, somewhat, disappointing result, as I didn’t see the game, did not have the opportunity to listen to the radio commentary, and only saw the brief highlights shown on ITV on Sunday morning. I have read the match reports though, and other blogs comments, so I can add a little thoughtfulness to proceedings...

Alan Pardew has expressed his disappointment at the score, although I think that his comments may have been taken out of context regarding the “didn’t deserve to win” element; we did create chances (Varney hit the post, and others went close, notably Hudson), and both of Preston’s goals had a touch of luck about them. I guess that Pards only hope is to take some positives, and get the team sharper in an effort to stay in touch with those near the top of this league.

Had Mark Hudson been quicker to react to the falling ball which had hit him on the head, Preston may have had to wait longer for their equaliser; Had Hameur Bouazza not mis-kicked and had Nicky Weaver been expecting the wayward ball that came in his direction, we could have potentially clung on to a win, courtesy of the Andy Gray penalty that had given Charlton the lead. Such minor things do games hinge on. At least Gray (top) can gain confidence from adding to his season's goal count.

The team selection was an interesting choice by Pardew; with Kelly Youga free from suspension, it was always a straight choice between him and Grant Basey at left back. The Count won that particular battle, but bearing in mind the number of crosses that apparently rained in on the Charlton penalty area, and the subsequent moving round of the full backs to try to close this area down (Moutaouakil was subbed after the first goal, and Basey late in the match), I’m not sure that this can be seen as the right choice?

As Lloyd Sam was unfit, the right wing slot was expected to be handed to Darren Ambrose, though he obviously had fitness concerns himself. Pardew therefore did what we hated him doing last season and played players out of position or moved players from their regular berth to accommodate someone else. At Deepdale we saw two-game midfield maestro Nicky Bailey carted out wide right, and 16-year-old JonJo Shelvey brought into the middle of the park. Again, the wisdom of this choice can be seen from the fact that Pardew changed it at half-time, bringing on Ambrose for Shelvey, though a one-nil half-time lead then went up in smoke while Darren was on the pitch. (Hindsight is great, but if Ambie wasn’t fit to start, why not play Basey wide left with Youga at full back, and Bouazza on the right?)

Pardew also tinkered with his formation (no real problem here I might add) when the Addicks had taken the lead pulling back Varney into a 4-5-1 formation, with Bailey moving inside, but this was obviously dumped at half-time with the above substitution of Shelvey.

Sometimes, just sometimes, you just wish that the manager would keep his in-game tinkering to a minimum, especially when we are in front...It’s fine to adjust tactically (like switching to 4-5-1 as we did), but that formation actually suited the players on show in the first half, while it did not in the second. Does this show that Pardew hasn’t learnt from last season when he tried to win games again even when we were in front (aiming for that second goal when a well-defended one goal lead should suffice)? I hope not - we cannot afford to make such errors in this division on consecutive years!

Now we have a match against table-topping and free-scoring Wolves to contend with next, and that immediately becomes a BIG game...Welcome back Big Chris; you just know he will be up for this one!

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