Saturday, January 03, 2009

Getting the Bird...

Charlton Athletic 1 Norwich City 1

I suppose when one considers all the rubbish served up over recent months, it would be easy to concentrate on the negative points to come out of todays FA Cup 3rd round tie, but I will try to pick out some of the good things too. That’s not to say that there were signs that all is miraculously right with the Addicks, as that is most certainly not the case, but at least those positive indications of an upturn in form seen in the Derby and QPR games were somewhat still evident.

Phil Parkinson started the game with a new line up, mainly because of injuries. Although Rob Elliott was fit enough to start in goal, it was interesting that Darren Randolph – now released from his abortive loan spell at Hereford – was preferred as bench back-up over Nicky Weaver. Drinkers on Bartram’s suspect that this may be a sign that Nicky is on his way out of the club, and I tend to agree that it does look this way, as the club will do well to realise a transfer fee for him and be rid of his “Premiership” wages at the same time.

In defence, with Crainie having returned to Pompey, it was great that Parky chose to play Yassin Moutaouakil. He may not think he can rely on him, but Moots does offer an attacking option through his pace that Crainie never could. Mark Hudson was either not fit or not wanting to pick up that booking that will see him miss the league six-pointer next Saturday, and in a surprise choice when the match started, it was Matt Holland who replaced him and lined up alongside Jonathan Fortune in central defence. Grant Basey played at left back as expected, with on-loan McEveley not allowed to play in the cup.

The midfield also had a fresh ring to it, with Jose Semedo and Nicky Bailey being joined by Jonjo Shelvey, while Lloyd Sam played on the right and pushed up along with Hameur Bouazza at every opportunity. That left Deon Burton to play as a lone-striker ahead of the injured Andy Gray.

The game started quite slowly, but as Charlton settled, Holland looked relatively comfortable in his new role at the back, and Shelvey got involved at every opportunity. The tactic seemed to be to try to play the ball to Burton, and have him either flick on or lay back so that the wingers could be brought into play. Shelvey got forward well in a way that belies his age and shows exactly what the team has been missing.

The first goal came after twenty minutes, with a sweeping Charlton move courtesy of Fortune’s fifty yard pass out to Bouazza on the left wing. After confronting the full back, Hameur crossed for Shelvey to fire in left footed from 16 yards into the bottom left hand corner (top pic). It was such a simple goal, but one so rarely executed these day by Charlton.

Norwich had hardly had a shot by then (mind you, neither had the home team…), and their three thousand-odd fans began chanting for a sub at that early stage and also calling for the manager to sort things out.

Even though the referee gave little Charlton’s way, and the linesman was being very picky with his flag (amazing how some flag for everything and others for almost nothing!), the home side survived relatively easily up till half-time, and the rarity of a lead at the break.

Two Norwich substitutes greeted the start of the second half, but Charlton stayed in shape, and still looked capable of winning, and possibly extending their lead; Sam shot over and Bouazza also had a rare sight of goal, as did Burton. But that second goal just would not come and slowly the edginess and lack of belief started to creep into the play and home support. Some fans, especially with supporters sitting in unusual seats as they are not restricted by league season tickets, vented their anger at Sam, Bailey and Basey in particular, though none were having bad games. Sure, they get tackled sometimes, or misplace a pass, or make the wrong choice, as others in the team do too, but we are what we are nowadays, and these supporters should applaud those who give as best they can…And this was while we were winning!

The Canaries supporters finally got their wish and Arsenal reject Lupoli came on up front, and soon, he was wheeling away in delight. Although they hadn’t troubled Elliott much, Norwich had seen much more of the ball and a passing move from the right wing to inside left position involving several players where Charlton always seemed to be chasing and not quite getting to the player in control ended with Lupoli able to turn and fire home past Elliott. I’m not sure if it was deserved, but all the bad habits immediately showed in Charlton players, and sadly, the management too.

First, Burton was withdrawn and, amazingly, it was left-back Kelly Youga who came on for him. I’m sure the intention was to put Chris Dickson on at the same time, but as that replacement (for the excellent but tiring Shelvey) was delayed for a few minutes, the intent shown seemed to say that a replay was all Charlton hoped for, and this was very disappointing.

Neither team came that close to winning it to be fair, even if both sets of fans in the 12,000 crowd urged their own teams to do so. The replay will be during the week after next I guess. Hopefully the management will have instilled some sense of belief in winning into the team (and maybe themselves?) by then, as that was possibly all that stopped Charlton from definitely being in the fourth round today.

The undoubted plus point from the game was Jonjo Shelvey’s performance, and his first senior goal for Charlton. After this game, it will be tough for Parky to leave him out, and playing in the hole behind the centre forward, he looked a constant threat with his probing passes and lung-busting effort. It is what most fans have wanted to see this year, even if he is still only sixteen years old. Richard Murray intimated last summer that he would play between twenty and thirty games this season in the first team, and to do so he will need to start most every game between now and May; hopefully his enthusiasm and belief will rub off on others.

With McEveley and Hudson to return to bolster the defence, Gray to provide more cutting edge to attack, and up to four new signings promised this month, it is not all doom and gloom at The Valley, provided that one of the signings is a psychiatrist who can convince the players that they can win every now and then!

We certainly need a rejuvenation to bring this season back to life…

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