Friday, March 20, 2009

Saving Face

Pretty much everybody has now accepted the inevitable, and agreed that Charlton will in fact be relegated at the end of this season to League One. Even eight wins from the remaining eight matches may not be enough, and to think that we will get more victories from those games than we have all season put together is just, well, stupid.

So we can relax a little, and try to entertain, play good football, and feel free of pressure? Possibly, but maybe not. It doesn’t always work like that. The result of the game at The Valley against Preston may not matter that much for the Addicks, in the context of a whole season, but it could matter in terms of keeping the fans onside for the dying few weeks until the mathematical possibility of relegation is confirmed. It's no good going out to attack and then conceding a bucketful of goals - losing 4-2 won't make the fans happy!

Phil Parkinson does have his part to play too, as he will need to pick a team that brings hope to the party; not the hope that we might stay up (even if we do win), but hope that we have something to look forward to for next year, and hope that our sojourn into the third tier may be brief and end in promotion.

And Parky does have some picking to do, as he has a couple of injuries to contend with too…

The first injury concern is to goalkeeper Rob Elliott, who has a back problem. Some might say that is due to the number of balls he has had to pick up out of the back of the net, but that might be a trifle unkind. If Elliott does fail a fitness test, Parky has the choice between the experienced Nicky Weaver, who is now fit again after a hip injury and a couple of reserve matches, or Darren Randolph, so long the fancied deputy; I think Randolph might get a game should Elliott be out.

Also of concern is the back injury to right back Danny Butterfield. Butterfield has hardly set The Valley alight since arriving on loan, but he is always preferred to Yassin Moutaouakil by Parky. The supporters will be pleased if Moots gets a game, as he does bring a positive aspect to the tactics, even if his defending isn’t always solid looking. Parky’s only other option would be to play Matt Holland at right back, and I must admit I wouldn’t be surprised at this outcome, even if it is ultimately not the right call.

At left back, Kelly Youga also has an injury, this time a tight hamstring. It is more clear-cut that if Youga cannot play, then able deputy Grant Basey will step into the breach.

The centre of defence looks fit for once, and Parky will choose between recalling Darren Ward to play alongside Mark Hudson, or leaving Holland in situe. I suspect that the on-loan Wolves defender will play.

In midfield and attack, much depends on what sort of formation Parky wants to send out at the start of the game. Last week, his implication was that the five-man midfield was his best attacking option, which doesn’t do or say much for his confidence in any of the second strikers at the club (Chris Dickson, Svetislav Todorov, Deon Burton…), but to play that formation from the start at home does seem a little conservative. Of course, the midfield has scored goals almost all season, with Nicky Bailey leading the way with ten. Zheng Zhi, now back in the team and at full fitness scored last weekend, and Matt Spring, Tom Soares, and Therry Racon have also all scored fairly recently. So has Jonjo Shelvey, and the seventeen year old has been held back from an England Under 17 squad so he can feature in this match. With that in mind, we may see Shelvey start rather than feature from the bench, as giving him just a few minutes (as he has had coming on recently) would serve little purpose. This is also Soares last game in his second loan month, and you have to question whether there is any point in paying his salary for another month bearing in mind the clubs league position and finances. Soares has said he wants to stay, but that’s because he is getting a game each week which he may not back at Stoke…

It is pretty certain that Tresor Kandol will start up front, whether as that lone striker, or with a partner.

This is the side I think Parkinson may start with, presuming all three injury doubts miss out –

Darren Randolph
Matt Holland
Darren Ward
Mark Hudson
Grant Basey
Lloyd Sam
Therry Racon
Matt Spring
Nicky Bailey
Zheng Zhi
Tresor Kandol

Subs from Weaver, Moutaouakil, Clark, Soares, Shelvey, Wright, Ambrose, Todorov, Dickson, Burton.

Preston come to London still harbouring thoughts of making the play-offs; they have been there or thereabouts almost all season, without actually looking like they will be involved. Other clubs – Cardiff, Sheffield United, Ipswich, Burnley, Bristol City and Swansea – have all been in the mix too, and are more thought about when it comes to the end of season lottery of who will lose to Reading at Wembley, but Preston have points in the bag (60) and could yet make it ahead of others more fancied. There position is testament to their home record (14 wins – the most in the division), but away from home they have generally struggled, winning just three times. If Preston had Ipswich or Bristol City’s away record to go with their home form, they would be looking at automatic promotion! They are a team without star names, but are quite capable of grinding out results; they will be hoping that away win number four comes this weekend.

Pedro45’s score forecast has a familiar ring about it – a 2-1 defeat; it probably boils down to who wants the points more and I deeply suspect that the northerners will be that party. I hope not – it would be nice to finish the season in some sort of form and to see a continuation of the battling play that was prevalent in the last two tough away games.

My one-to-watch is going to be Zheng Zhi again. I have had a bit of a knack of seeing my choice score this year, so I’m hoping ZiZi can make it so two weeks running. His return to fitness has be very quick considering how long he was out, and I for one thought he may make a few substitute appearances (rather than just the one) before he broke back into the starting eleven. I’m glad he’s back, as I do believe he is a very good player, and way too good for this league. A few more games of his skill, effort, and knack for goals will leave a wry smile on my face come May, and he can then go and ply his trade for someone else with our best wishes.

I also hope the fans are on board again for this match - there has been plenty of blame floating around over recent times, and while all parties are guilty, an acceptance of where we are and an outlook looking forwards, rather than backwards might help. The support has been pretty good considering, so hopefully it will continue once more.

Come on you Reds!

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