Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine Moon

It does seem like an age since we saw Charlton beat our near neighbours, and hopefully tomorrow will bring about the same sort of result for the love of my life. Plymouth will come to The Valley without a win in 2009, and hopefully they will leave still wanting.

This is all presuming of course that the Charlton pitch is up to scratch, following last weekend’s postponement due to snow and forecast frost. I hope that groundsman Paddy Powell is confident of a decent playing surface, and certainly an outfield better than the one in Antigua where England’s cricketers have found themselves beached inland. The weather forecast appears to be better than it has been so we should be confident of the match taking place.

Phil Parkinson has another job on his hands picking the team he wants to start the game; he now has pretty much everyone who has been injured fit once more, and no suspensions to worry about either.

Captain Mark Hudson has now recovered from his ankle problems we are told and Therry Racon (top pic) is now fit again after knee issues and has had match practice to get him up to speed. Racon may not be able to play two games in a week, but as he has had over ten days rest since the Bristol City away game where he revelled, he should be OK. Goalkeeper Nicky Weaver has also recovered from his bump on the hip that he got early in December at Blackpool, so he is in contention too. Kelly Youga is also available after his one-match ban. That just leaves Zheng Zhi of the injured players to get himself fully fit as Andy Gray and Jon Fortune are both out for the rest of the season.

I would expect Parky to retain Rob Elliott in goal, even though Weaver is available, and Darren Randolph has done nothing wrong since the turn of the year. While Weaver may arguably be the better ‘keeper than Elliott (and is certainly paid more...), he was going through a terrible patch just before he got injured, and could directly be blamed for some of the goals conceded. Elliott has also had his moments, but has also made a few very good saves, and he should therefore keep his jersey.

At the back, Graeme Murty has had his loan spell extended for a second month, and he will be hoping to get through 90 minutes without picking up some sort of painful injury; kicks on the shin, a dislocated thumb, and an ankle knock have left him bruised and battered in his first month with Charlton, but his heart is still fine and I expect him to start ahead of Yassin Moutaouakil, the only other viable right back at the club.

If Hudson returns to central defence, as expected, then that will mean he will play with loanee Darren Ward (making his home debut), with Matt Holland making way. Ward has been a rock in his two away games so far, and will probably be happier knowing he has a “proper” defender alongside him, Holland has done his best, and filled a gap in his own imitable way, but this was always a semi-desperate measure.

The left back issue is whether Youga comes straight back in or if Grant Basey retains his place? I think that Parky has made known his choice in this slot and that the Frenchman is his preferred option.

In midfield, both Basey and Holland will be hoping for a start, or at least a place on the bench, but with plenty of other midfield options, both could be out of luck. Tom Soares scored in his last game, so he will be retained on one wing, while Nicky Bailey, Matt Spring (who scored in the last home game) and Racon (left) will all be hoping to play from the beginning. Lloyd Sam may relegate (sorry to use that word…) one of these central players if Parky wants a slightly more attacking option. I looks doubtful that Darren Ambrose, Jonjo Shelvey – who has had a slight hip injury – or Josh Wright will make the starting eleven.

Up front, it is a perm any two from three, presuming the 4-4-2 formation is utilised, as Tresor Kandol (looking for his home debut), Deon Burton, and Chris Dickson all vie to bang in the goals (hopefully). My inclination would be to start Dickson and Kandol (as they did at Ashton Gate) with Burton in reserve.

This is the team I think Parky will send out looking for back-to-back home wins –

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

Subs from Randolph, Weaver, Moutaouakil, Basey, Holland, Shelvey, Wright, Spring, Ambrose, Burton, Todorov.

Plymouth are in freefall at present, and also have plenty of injury problems (mainly in defence). They were sitting just behind the play-off places earlier in the season, when Charlton scraped and scrapped to a 2-2 draw at Home Park, but are now down to 17th place after their recent poor run. They do still have a decent looking away record, and have drawn their last two away games, but last weeks home defeat (a 3-0 thumping from an average Derby team ) has left them short of confidence. I’m pretty sure they will set up 4-5-1 and hope to counter attack, and then sit back and soak up pressure if they get the lead at any stage.

Charlton have been in front at half-time in their last three matches, yet have only come away with three points; what we all need to see is this initial period form being continued for the whole match. It may be a fitness issue (which we know Parky has worked on since taking charge), and it is obviously a confidence issue (which the clubs psychiatrist will hopefully have countered?), but whatever it is it needs to be cracked and soon.

Pedro45 is worried about over-confidence creeping in, mainly to supporters who see this as a game that we can win after playing in away games where we didn’t really expect to get results. As long as the players do what is expected, and the crowd do not get too tense if goals don’t come early, then I too hope to see the next win we all crave – Pedro45 is forecasting a 3-1 victory. I do feel that if we can get in front, and then get that oh-so-important second goal too, then we should run out comfortable winners.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Therry Racon (surpise surprise, left). This Frenchman hasn’t had much playing time at The Valley so far in his Addicks career (possibly only a hundred minutes or so?), with all his recent games being away from home - I missed the Swansea game in August so didn’t see him start that match – and I’m guessing that many other fans have not seen much of him either. He has skill, stamina, and is not afraid to tackle, and if he puts all these attributes to good use, he can be a very good player for Charlton. I’m picking him to be the stand-out player tomorrow, and lead us to taking the spoils.

Being where we are, which is ten-points shy of everyone else at the bottom of the league, we are in a position where we have to take every opportunity that comes our way; sometimes, you get a run of playing tams when they are in form, and we’ve seen plenty of those runs over recent times. Tomorrow is a chance to play a club when they are struggling too, so we must push home our advantage.

Charlton as a club will (mentally) receive many, many Valentine’s Cards tomorrow, and I hope that the players reciprocate that love and send us fans home happy. We know that the players aren’t going to send us an unsigned card, but that doesn’t have to mean the feelings are unrequited. A few goals, three points, and the smiles of love leaving The Valley will return to faces, courtesy of ther players. Let’s hope so, eh?

Come on you reds!

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