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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