Thursday, November 27, 2008

Home for the Saints

Phil Parkinson (left) returns to The Valley for the first time this weekend as manager of Charlton, and he really does need a bit of a boost in terms of results. Tuesday’s first game in charge saw a great improvement in terms of tactics, and confidence, but ultimately no points were won. That needs to change, and fast!

Southampton are the next opponents, and they are not too far ahead of the Addicks in the league table, so it is possible that Charlton can expect some sort of return from this match, though expectation does not guarantee anything as we all well know.

Parky showed that he is his own man by making a few changes to the starting line up at Rangers, and playing them in his own preferred formation (4-4-2), and I guess we should expect more of the same in this match.

Nicky Weaver will benefit from having a manager who believes in him, and says as much, rather than one who did not, and will start in goal. Weaver has had a tough month or so, but did look solid and comfortable on Tuesday, and he had no chance with either goal conceded. The crowd do like him (being the cuddly old bear that he is…), so provided he gives his all, he’ll be fine.

The defence will also have a similar but not the same look to Tuesday I suspect; Hudson and Primus looked better, if not impregnable, in the middle, but Youga and Crainie are not the best distributors of the ball, and perhaps Parkinson will consider his options at full back? Certainly Yassin Moutaouakil gives plenty of attacking option if played at right back, though he is not as good defensively as Crainie. I must admit I would be tempted to play the Frenchman in home games due to his speed and ability to support, while keeping Crainie for the more defensive minded option at away venues. Kelly Youga had a reasonable game at Loftus Road, but it is likely he will be overlooked in favour of Jay McEveley who arrived today on loan from Derby. If this does happen, then Parky will have to make some sort of change, as he is only allowed five on-loan players in his 16-man squad; perhaps he could deal with this by playing Moots and leaving Crainie out? On paper, it does look like a straight choice between Moots and McEveley or Crainie and Kelly.

The 4-4-2 formation that Parkinson was rumoured to prefer was evident in his fist game in charge, and Charlton’s lack of recent substance in the middle of the park was filled by bringing in Therry Racon for his first game since August. Alongside Jose Semedo, the pair were very combative and made tackles and won plenty of possession against QPR. The problem was that they are a very similar pair, both in terms of playing style, ability, and looks, and sometimes they did get in each other’s way. That will improve as they play more together, and I do expect them to start again on Saturday. That leaves no place for Nicky Bailey, or Matt Holland, or either of the young guns (Wright and Shelvey), unless one fills a wider role. That option is unlikely as Hameur Bouazza is starting to show what he can do on a much more regular basis, and he is a threat in every game now. On the opposite, right, flank we now have Keith “Dizzy” Gillespie showing Lloyd Sam how a right-winger should play.

I first saw Gillespie (left) play when he was part of the Manchester United FA Youth Cup team in 1991; I saw the away leg they played against Millwall at the Den, which finished in a 2-2 draw (I think it was the semi final?). He was playing in the same team as Gary and Phil Neville, plus probably Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, plus many other of United’s young team of kids who would go on to “win nothing” over the coming years. The thing about Gillespie was that he seemed to be much bigger than the other lads, and he simply ran the whole show. I think he scored both United goals that night, even though Millwall went through to the final. Since then, he has gone on to have an excellent career in the Premiership, and at 33 years old now, is only starting to slow down a little. He showed on Tuesday that he can still contribute enormously, especially to a team lacking in confidence like the Addicks.

That leaves a forward line for Parky to chose that is likely to be Martyn Waghorn alongside Andy Gray. Both Gray and Waghorn worked effortlessly on Tuesday but had few chances between them. Waghorn’s best effort was well blocked when he looked likely to score, but his time will come. He did work hard and chase when not in possession, and tried to use the ball simply when he had it under control. I do think he is a little lightweight and naive at times, but he does have the skill and stamina that could allow him to become a very good player in the future. As for Gray, he simply ran and ran and chased until he had nothing left toward the end. He held the ball well, and linked with Bouazza and Gillespie at every opportunity. No chances came his way, but he is still confident enough to finish them when they do.

That cannot be said for Luke Varney, who has now made his way to Derby today for a prolonged loan period, and possible transfer in January (and likely to recoup a fair bit of his transfer fee from Crewe by all accounts...). Luke simply cannot score at the moment, and moreover, he knows it. A change is as good as a rest, and with him off the books, his salary can be put to better use.

I must admit I was a little astounded that we have signed Deon Burton on loan with a view to a permanent transfer from Sheffield Wednesday; we do have many other forward options, but Parky is insistent that Burton is cover for Gray, though I would have put them as completely different types of player (solid holding versus fast channel runner). With no other players having left on loan prior to todays loan-embargo date, I find this a strange move, although the cost is small apparently.

This is the team I think Parly will put out for his first home game in charge, bearing in mind only five loanees are allowed in the 16-man squad –

Nicky Weaver
Yassin Moutaouakil
Mark Hudson
Linvoy Primus
Jay McEveley
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Keith Gillespie
Hameur Bouazza
Martyn Waghorn
Andy Gray

Subs from Elliott, (Crainie), Fortune, Youga, Basey, Holland, Bailey, Shelvey, Wright, Todorov, Dickson, McLeod, (Burton).

The doubt to all the above was the nature of the game on Tuesday, as Rangers were tapping at ankles all game long; it is entirely possible that one or two Charlton players will not have recovered from the knocks they received in that match, but at least we do still have plenty of reserves to call upon if the need arises. I also feel that if we can only field five loanees in the squad, then they should be starting in the team, and not on the bench.

Southampton come to The Valley unbeaten in their last two games - a good win at Reading, and then a home draw versus Plymouth. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored both goals at the Madjeski, so will need to be watched, and the returning Jason Euell provides a threat that Charlton fans used to applaud every week. As with every team the Addicks play at present, they will see this as an opportunity to gain points, and get further away from the bottom of the table at Charlton’s expense.

I do think that provided the team show the improved effort and confidence that was on show on Tuesday, then something can be gained from this match. The crowd should be in better voice than of late, and will have to compete with a fair away following, so the atmosphere will be better. Provided the team does perform, Pedro45 is going to forecast a 2-1 home win; I think this is the first game where I have forecast a win for over two months, so hopefully I will be right! If the defence can be solid, cut out the schoolboy errors (play to the whistle!!!), and attack the ball like they did in West London in midweek, then that should be enough. If the midfielders battle and are determined, win ball and then give it to the more creative wide men, then that area should be won too. If the effort and ability to run all day is shown again by the front-men, then chances will come their way, and they are both good finishers, we know that they have the ability to get on the score sheet, and more than once in a match.

My one-to-watch in this match is not old hand Keith Gillespie, but the man on the opposite flank who is starting to perform well in every match – Hameur Bouazza. Fresh from goals at Birmingham and against Sheffield United, plus an assist at Rangers on Tuesday, we need a continuation of Hammer’s good form and excellent contribution on a regular basis from the Algerian. He has the skill, and pace, and experience to be way too good for most Championship teams, and hopefully this sort of form will be on show once more this week. As long as Hameur (left) makes the right choices – like not shooting from 45 yards when we have five others in attack ahead of him – then he is a danger to every opponent. I’m expecting him to be the key man in an Addicks victory this weekend.

It’s too early yet to worry too much about whether we are in the bottom three or just above them, but we do know that we are in a relegation battle, and that it will probably continue until the end games of the season. But we cannot make ourselves safe from League One this weekend, or next, nor will we be relegated if we don't win this match; it will be a much longer process. The team and fans need to recognise this, and take every point on offer, be it one or three. If a draw is all we can expect, then let us shut up shop to ensure we go home with something; every point will count come the first week of May, and every point dropped (including those courtesy of Luke Varney’s misses this season) will count against us. It is a long haul to get near fifty points, but I’m hoping for three points to get us under way this Saturday.

The struggle is hard and the struggle long, in any Redvolution, but at least we are moving forwards.

Come on you Reds!

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