Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stinging The Blues

Charlton Athletic 0 Birmingham City 0

No goals but plenty of action at The Valley, in a thoroughly entertaining match which either side could have won. In the end, the goalkeepers kept the score-line empty, with saves being made right up to the final whistle.

Unchanged Charlton really had nothing to lose in this game, and as the first half began to be played out, they slowly came more and more into the match. City started the brighter, and more confident, and gave the Charlton midfield absolutely no time on the ball. Cameron Jerome made a complete nuisance of himself, and balls into the box from ex-loan Addick Hameur Bouazza were dangerous. However, Bouazza’s boo’s led to him having a fairly awful match overall and he was subbed in the second half.

Charlton were trying hard, but with Zheng Zhi playing a little deeper to counter any threat, and with possession at a premium, it was by no means easy for the home team. Jonjo Shelvey had a good game, and it was he who swung a foot to register Charlton’s first shot in anger. Lloyd Sam was working hard too, but he found the going difficult and not until the second half did he make decent use of any ball he received.

The first half showed just how good a side Birmingham could be; they were comfortable in possession, and organised to the extreme. The only thing they lacked was a creative midfielder who could open up a stubborn defence. The referee, Lee Probert, helped by some easily influenced linesman, seemed to give most decisions the way of the visitors, even when they were the most innocuous of fouls. Bouazza would swing the resulting ball into the Charlton area and Mark Hudson and Darren Ward all made good interceptions; Rob Elliott also made a couple of flying saves to punch out crosses. In some ways, it was a relief to get to half-time level, and if Charlton could up their game, they would still have a chance of all three points.

The blue-noses came out very early from the break, and were made to wait the full fifteen minutes by the Addicks. For the next fifteen minutes, Charlton continued to give as good as they received, with Sam finding a little more width, and Nicky Bailey coming more into the game from the wide left. Bailey had been booked in the first half for a soft challenge (left), but he rallied and played his role excellently as the game progressed, covering any danger that came the way of Kelly Youga. This was more important as Birmingham rung the changes – first Kevin Phillips, scourge of past Charlton teams came on for Larrson; then another ex-Addick Marcus Bent came on for the impressive Jerome (to the jeers of the Brummie fans…); and finally Scottish international and previous Addicks heartbreaker James McFadden replaced the inconsistent Bouazza to jeers this time from home fans. Bailey covered Youga excellently to snuff out most of the wide mans danger, although at times it was a close run thing.

As the half progressed, it became much more open, as Birmingham chased the one goal they thought they would need. Tresor Kandol was able to improve his poor start by holding the ball longer and bringing others into play, and Therry Racon started to find gaps for his passes and play in the wide men. Shelvey was also having a good match, and his runs off Kandol, plus his coverage when others went forward in his place was excellent.

Elliott was called on a couple of times, particularly on one occasion when he saved well from Murphy, and then Charlton had a goal disallowed when Ward got onto Kandol’s flick but was offside.

Phil Parkinson countered the more open game by bringing on Chris Dickson for Racon; this enabled Charlton to hold the ball up for longer and ease the pressure on the Addicks defence. Dickson made some runs down channels and did well in his first prolonged appearance for a few weeks.

The last fifteen minutes seemed to be a bit like a cup tie; Birmingham threw players forward at every opportunity, but the Charlton defence grew in confidence and held firm. Similarly, the Addicks two-man attack became more comfortable on the ball, and with the midfield storming forward now, chances started to come for the home team. Shelvey was at the heart of most, but the best fell to Zheng Zhi, who got on the end of a blocked Kandol shot, but with just a defender in the way, saw his effort blocked. Shelvey then nearly won the match at the death when his shot was deflected, but Taylor made a great save for the away team.

In the end, a draw was probably a fair result, even if Charlton had fashioned the best chances. Provided the team have no injuries, it will probably be the same squad, plus Matt Spring that goes to Coventry on Monday.

There is a chance that the team could be relegated on that day, but seeing as we know that this is just a matter of time it should be of little concern. Charlton showed in this game that they can compete with the best teams in the division, and the management and directors would do well to acknowledge this and try their utmost to keep as many of the current first team squad at The Valley for next season. Pedro45 knows that it will not be possible to keep everyone, what with contracts ending, and financial implications to consider, but when you do have players that other teams will covert as they are equal to the best on offer, then keeping what we have would be a rather good idea!

It’s just a shame that when the team play this well, compete with the top of the table teams, and show passion, skill, and effort, that we are in this dreadful position. Lessons should be learnt, and heeded in future.

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