Friday, February 20, 2009

Points for the Tyking

Although a game up at Oakwell does not seem on paper to usually be one of high magnitude, Saturday’s fixture which sees Charlton take on Barnsley is of utmost importance. Not only are Barnsley still desperate for points to ensure that they do not get dragged into a relegation battle, but Charlton have even more need if they wish to save themselves from the dreaded drop this season. Bottom of the table for several months, a win in this match could see the Addicks rise off the base, to the heady heights of 23rd in this league, if other results go as expected.

Last weekend’s home victory must, we hope, have boosted the Charlton players and management, but it is a very long time since Charlton won back to back matches (Late 2007...). At least they do have a chance of doing so (as do Barnsley…after four previous consecutive defeats in 2009), and the team does now have a much more settled look about it, barring injuries and suspensions. In fact, Phil Parkinson has quite a few players from which to choose if he wished to switch things around, or shake things up, as unlikely as this may be.

In goal, the likelihood is that home-grown Rob Elliott will continue, with Darren Randolph on the bench. Nicky Weaver did make his reserve team comeback in midweek, but it is not thought that he will figure in first team plans unless injuries strike.

The defence will see no changes, with Graeme Murty likely to recover from a midweek slight calf strain to figure at right back, Kelly Youga on the left, and tall central defenders Mark Hudson and Darren Ward in the middle. Grant Basey will probably fill any defensive duties from the bench.

In attack, Deon Burton’s suspension means that Tresor Kandol and Chris Dickson should get the chance to develop their blossoming partnership that simply lacks goals. Burton’s bench place will be a straight choice between Svetislav Todorov (whom Parky hinted may be preferred…) and Stuart Fleetwood.

That leaves the midfield, where the probability is that the four incumbents – Nicky Bailey, Tom Soares (who has had his loan from Stoke extended by another month), Matt Spring, and Therry Racon - will retain their places, but where a large number of options remain. Parkinson can also chose to play or simply fill the bench with any of Jonjo Shelvey (in his last possible Charlton outing as a sixteen year old, and where he made his debut last season), Darren Ambrose, Lloyd Sam, Josh Wright, and Matt Holland.

I do think that Shelvey has been overly protected in recent matches, possibly to keep prying eyes away from him as he approaches his seventeenth birthday, and the offer(s) of professional contracts. Fans know that the club has offered Shelvey a lucrative initial pro-deal, but the rumours persist that he is being pursued by several Premiership clubs, and their financial might could be too much for Charlton to match. If it is, then Shelvey and his agent will need to consider where they should be playing football to best develop his undoubted talent; is it in the reserves in the north of England where Shelvey’s bald pate will be at its shiniest, or in a lower league with Charlton. My own wish, as with many other fans, is that he stays at The Valley, and moves on in a couple of years for a hefty fee if he improves as is thought (much as Lee Bowyer did…), but there are simply no guarantees.

There is also a remote possibility that Zheng Zhi, China’s captain, who has made just a couple of appearances for the Addicks so far this season, may feature at some point at Oakwell, although personally I think he will be kept back another week. The danger here is that he takes a bench place, but then gets thrown in early in the game due to injury for instance when he is not ready for much more than 45 minutes or so… With Racon, Bailey, and Spring all doing well recently, there is no real rush to bring ZiZi back this early anyway.

This is the team I expect Parky to send out in search of back-to-back wins –

Rob Elliott
Graeme Murty
Mark Hudson
Darren Ward
Kelly Youga
Tom Soares
Matt Spring
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Tresor Kandol
Chris Dickson

Subs from Randolph, Weaver, Moutaouakil, Basey, Holland, Shelvey, Wright, Ambrose, Sam, Zhi, Todorov, Fleetwood.

Barnsley were very grateful for the midweek win, which took a bit of pressure off as it was their first since the turn of the year. They have pace up front in Michael Mifsud (on loan from Coventry) and ex-Addick Jamal Campbell-Ryce which will need containing, in much the same way that Plymouth had a couple of pacy players last week. They will know that a victory will pretty much allay any fears of going down, so should be up for the fight. They are also aware of how they demolished the Addicks in the first half at The Valley in October scoring three goals in a heady initial period without reply. That day saw Barnsley win away for the first time in a long time, and they will be hoping to complete a comfortable double. In my opinion, that was the lowest point of this Charlton season; a day that saw us wimper to defeat.

For Charlton, this is simply a must not lose game; I’m not of the opinion that a draw or a defeat will signal the end of this spell in the Championship, but as others have mentioned, games are running out. The necessity is for three points, and I hope that Parky has his squad very aware of what is required in this game and going forwards. Performances have improved vastly over recent weeks, especially at The Valley, but that hoodoo of eight consecutive away defeats now needs snapping.

Pedro45 hopes to see Charlton win again, but this game could go any which way really; the Addicks could win comfortably, they could battle it out for a goalless draw, or take part in a high-scoring thriller in search of glory, or they could fail miserably with away-day blues to the fore once more. Who knows? As I am want to give a forecast in each game, I’m going to hope and wish for a 2-0 victory, and a continued resurgence that will have the likes of Plymouth, Southampton, Norwich, and even Barnsley glancing over their shoulders…

My one-to-watch in this match is gong to be the flamboyant Chris Dickson. He hasn’t scored a league goal yet, but his recent performances have wowed the crowd (if not always Mark Kinsella…); all he is short of is a goal to kick-start things and then who knows what might happen with that sort of confidence blast! He has good skill, is quick, and can be more of a team player than one or two think; his partnership with Kandol is coming along nicely with every game, so I’m hoping this could be the breakthrough match he needs.

It’s not yet desperate for Charlton, but neither is the future bright and rosy; we think we have a squad of players that are too good to go down, but do we have a team that is capable of staying in this league? Tomorrow at Oakwell, we might get an answer of some sort…

Up the Addicks!

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