Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bearing the Brunton

Matches at Carlisle bring back very fond memories for older supporters like myself; Charlton won promotion at Brunton Park in both 1981 and 1986, and I was lucky enough to be present on both occasions. In 1981, Mike Bailey’s young team needed a couple of goals (from Robinson and Smith) to win, and the champagne flowed on the train journey back with the players sitting in first-class happy to share their liquid refreshment. That victory took Charlton back into Tier Two at the first time of asking, and six years later, the 3-2 win advanced the Addicks to the top league for the first time in 29 years. That match saw the Away Train Travel Supporters present their player of the year award to left-back Mark Reid outside the ground prior to the game, and once back in London (after a six hour journey along the Carlisle – Settle line due to engineering works on the West Coast mainline) news came through from my cabbie that it had all gone off down at Wapping outside the News International plant. May 3rd 1986...

We can all wish to see similar celebrations come next May, especially if Charlton do bounce out of this league like their 1981 counterparts at the first time of asking. It may also be a left back that we honour as player of the season, with Kelly Youga throwing in outstanding performances week after week at the moment. Time will tell.

But the game this season at Carlisle is just another to be fought over, with victory offering another three points during a long, hard season.

Manager Phil Parkinson has a few choices to make after last weeks poor performance at Gillingham; although a point was gained, the pitch and weather conditions made Charlton’s style of play onerous, and it was only a lucky own goal that gathered the point won. Injury news is starting to mount up as well; Frazer Richardson went off in that match with a tight hamstring (not for the first time this season), while Deon Burton continues to struggle to match early season performances and his hernia operation must happen soon.

The biggest injury news though concerns first choice goal-keeper Rob Elliot who has a muscle injury and will be out for at least six weeks and probably until Xmas. Parky has moved quickly to secure the services of Wolves fourth-choice Carl Ikeme. Being the fourth goalie at Wolves doesn’t make Ikeme as bad as it sounds; he simply has other preferred players in front of him in the form of Hennessey, Murray, and Hahnemann. Additionally, until he sustained an injury himself, Ikeme held down the first choice spot for some time last season when Wolves won promotion to the Premiership. While Darren Randolph is a good back-up ‘keeper to have at this level, Parky will need to make a choice between him and his new loanee, and I suspect that Ikeme will get the nod, much to Randolph’s chagrin. I just cannot see any point in Ikeme joining to sit on the bench for a month, even though he cannot play in the FA Cup tie at Northwich next weekend. One for Parky to ponder then…

Richardson does seem to go from week to week with some sort of injury concern, whether it be thigh, or hamstring, or groin. If taking him off after an hour last week did protect him from further damage, and if he has recovered sufficiently to train and play, then he will undoubtedly get the nod; if not, options do not now include bringing in Chris Solly as he is now out injured (for 3-months), so the only likely scenario is for Youga being switched and Grant Basey to play at left back. Whoever plays, it should not weaken the back-line untowardly, with Christian Dailly and Sam Sodje certain to play centrally.

Last weeks restored central midfield, with Jose Semedo starting the game after injury alongside Therry Racon, looks likely to be unchanged, and barring injury we can expect to see Lloyd Sam continue on the right wing, with Nicky Bailey holding fort on the left side. I like the way that Bailey and Racon are switching positions tactically when Parky feels he needs a bit more bite in midfield, and I see no reason to suggest that this type of tactical manoeuvring should not continue and flourish.

The biggest concern over tactics currently under discussion by fans and bloggers is what to do with our forward line? My own opinion is that Burton should have had his operation last weekend, after another poor showing (even though it was full of effort and commitment) at Gillingham; this would allow Dave Mooney to get valuable starting time during his own loan spell, and for Burton to be fit when this spell comes to an end on 1st December. If Burton is yet to go under the surgeon’s knife, then he will undoubtedly start, but the question is then who should play alongside him? Jonjo Shelvey has had a rest for the last couple of weeks, and it really did look like he needed it too; while he has sat on the bench, Izale McLeod has come into the side and run sides ragged. Sadly, that pace has not always developed into goals, aside the winner against Huddersfield, with potential game-winning chances missed versus Gillingham and Oldham. A goal in every other game would normally be sufficient to placate fans at this level, but it is the chances that McLeod misses that rankle supporters and bring his position into stark view. While Shelvey can help out in link play and support the midfield during times when required, my own view is that McLeod scares the hell out of League One defences, who simply cannot cope with his pace. I would like to see Mooney, no slouch himself, being given a starting berth alongside McLeod in this game, with the continued option of bringing on Shelvey or Tuna if the need arises. However, I doubt that Parky will see it that way, and I suspect that he may continue to delay Burton’s enforced absence until Clinton McKenzie is close to regaining fitness (which cannot be too far away now?).

This is the side I expect Parky to pick on Saturday –

Carl Ikeme
Frazer Richardson
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Kelly Youga
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Jonjo Shelvey
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Clark, Basey, Llera, Spring, Stavrinou, Wagstaff, Tuna, Mooney, McLeod, McKenzie.

Carlisle will obviously see this as a big opportunity to gain some ground in the middle of the table, and stop themselves from falling into the clutches of the relegation places. They won their first game in eight last weekend (versus Southend) and have 14 points from their 14 games (under half what Charlton have). Unusually for a smaller club, they have a few well-known names amongst their ranks, with ex-Chelsea reserve Lenny Pidgeley in goal (Pidgeley made his debut against Charlton in the final game at Stamford Bridge about five years ago when he came on as a sub for the last minute of the season), Scottish international and top scorer Scott Dobie, journeyman Graham Kavanagh, one-time Charlton triallist Ian Harte, and on-loan Vince Pericard (and once of Juventus!). They may therefore be a team that is quite good when it clicks, so Charlton will just have to make sure that they do not allow the home side to dominate from the off, as they did last week against the Shrimpers.

Pedro45 was quite upset with how badly Charlton played last weekend, but is old and ugly enough to realise that sometimes that is going to happen (as it did at Colchester too); what Charlton need most at present is goals, and I do feel that only a positive move from the manager will enable the Addicks to hit the goal trail once more. Even when games are a bit more open with just four in midfield, as the Gillingham and Huddersfield games were, Charlton should still have enough to win the midfield battle with Semedo, Racon and Bailey all excellent at this level. For that reason, I would prefer to see a 4-4-2 formation preserved; whether this is the case or not, I still expect Charlton to get back on an away game winning burst, and forecast a 2-0 victory, whatever formation we play.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be centre half Sam Sodje. The Nigerian international (seen scoring versus Huddersfield, left) has been in excellent form since his return to the club and side, and he has looked a lot more solid than his predecessor Miguel Llera. Sodje does have to manage his knees during matches, having required treatment in three out of the four games he has played since coming back, but provided that they hold up, he is the defensive lynchpin for the team, and also a focus of attacking intent from set plays. With Bailey taking corners and free-kicks, the delivery has improved recently (bar a couple over-hit in the Medway wind...), and Sodje is very able to get on the end of these crosses; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the score-sheet once more this weekend.

Running in second place at the end of October is just about the best that Charlton fans could have hoped for, and the club simply needs to manage resources, injuries, and tactics over coming weeks in an effort to extend the gap between us and those teams currently sitting directly below in the league table. The squad may be thin, but it is more than capable of victory when playing near their best; after last week, they owe us a performance.

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

Gillingham 1 Charlton Athletic 1

Let’s face it, this was a pretty poor performance from Charlton, as listless as the Russian submarine currently tilting on the River Medway at Rochester, and the result must been seen as a point won rather than two points dropped. It was the complete opposite to the previous weeks game, where every player could be said to have had a good game; this week, only Kelly Youga, Rob Elliot and Jose Semedo could honestly say that they had decent outings. It wasn’t all the players fault though, as atrocious weather conditions – with first half wind and rain, followed by bright second half sun, with more wind – and an awful bumpy pitch made any sort of cohesive play difficult for both sides. Couple this with an awful referee, who simply failed to get to grips with the professional level at which this game was played; Jon Moss should go back to drumming with Culture Club and put his whistle down forthwith!

Phil Parkinson certainly picked his best team to start this game, with Semedo returning to the starting line up, and with Izale McLeod retained up front in a positive move. McLeod looked to have won an early penalty when his check inside saw his legs taken from him, but Moss waved play on astonishingly. The bizarre decisions continued soon after when first Deon Burton was scythed down from behind, with no free kick given, and then Nicky Bailey was the victim of another crude challenge. Again, the referee, way behind play, failed to whistle until he was reminded of the rules of not kicking people by a flag waving linesman. Of course, such leg-threatening challenges go unchallenged, yet when Burton complained about the non-protection he had, he gets booked for his viewpoint…

Although Lloyd Sam saw little of the ball durng the early stages, with any prolonged possession there was going to the home side, he did send a sublime forward pass into the path of McLeod, who once more checked inside, before this time curlng a left foot shot high and wide. Gillingham threatened when first a shot that skimmed off the surface brought a sharp save from Elliot and then Elliot had to be alert once more when a dangerous free kick bounced in front of him without anyone getting a touch and he had to knock it away late (top pic).

At least the foul weather hadn't dampened the spirit of the visiting fans, and the mood was enlivened when a number of spectators in home areas were ejected; whether they were home or away fans is unknown, but whoever they were, they put up a big struggle and a woman was injured as they tumbled over two or three rows in an effort to prevent stewards taking them out.

Bailey wasted two free-kicks for decent positions, hitting the balls way, way, way too long on both occasions, and Frazer Richardson did similarly when he broke forward.

At half-time, with no other major goal attempts, the weather changed, and the rain stopped and the sun came out. Gillingham had the better of early second half exchanges, with the now capped Elliot making more important saves, while Bailey curled a free-kick straight at ex-Addick Simon Royce in the home goal.

Richardson left the action after an hour, and it may be that the minor knocks that he has been carrying for most of the season have finally caught up with him. Youga switched to right back, with Grant Basey coming on to fill in on the left. Basey surged forward at every opportunity, but his crossing wasn’t the best, and good attacking positions were wasted. Elliot then made a very good save to deny Gillingham, diving to his left to push a good snap shopt around the post.

Both Sam Sodje and Christian Dailly were booked for there first innocuous fouls as the bizarre refereeing display continued.

Dave Mooney replaced the unlucky McLoed, who had run his heart out without getting any help or protection, and within minutes he was scynically brought down by Gladiator Wolf-lookalike Gowling’s none-shall-pass attitude. From the remnants of the free kick, Racon swung a leg while prostrate on the ground, and amazingly Charlton took the lead when left back Nutter capped an eventful afternoon by slicing into his own net. Already booked, he must have wished for a stronger referee at that moment, as with one, he would have been red carded for his persistent fouling much earlier and not been on the pitch to score for Charlton.

Sadly, even though there was under ten minutes left to play, Charlton’s lead didn’t last very long, and Jackson got on the end of a ball worked across the penalty area and suddenly found himself in a yard of space before burying the ball past the advancing Elliot.

There was still time for the referee to give the home team a free kick on the edge of the Charlton box, thankfully blocked by the wall, and the clock ticked down with honours even.

Crazily, home team midfielder Bentley was given the man of the match award, and I suppose the fact that he kicked anything that came near him had some bearing on this, whether it was ball or opposition player; it’s fair to say that as the ref never went near him he didn’t get kicked, though I’m sure he would if he had!

It was a shame that Charlton couldn’t have played any better, as that may have been enough to secure a win that would have seen them return to the top of the league (as Leeds lost their unbeaten record). As it is, Charlton remain second, but have company in the form of MK Dons, and Colchester, with the four clubs now clear of the chasing pack at the top.

Charlton must now recapture their away form and look to win at Carlisle next weekend; failure to take three points from such games will soon see other teams overtake them, while a winning run of any kind over coming weeks could see the Addicks break away at the top.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Medway Between Heaven and Earth

It seems a long time since Charlton’s last match, even though it was only last Saturday; I’m not sure why it feels like that, but I guess quite a lot has happened since that victory over Huddersfield.

For a start, we have had the breaking of takeover news once again, but this time the media tell us that there are two interested parties – David Sullivan and his ex-Birmingham cohorts, and another group led by Dennis Wise and Tony Jiminez, late of Newcastle. Whether either party actually comes up with an offer that the Board of Charlton consider worthy of recommending to shareholders is going to need a few weeks, I suggest, while due diligence is carried out in both directions. By that, I mean that not only will any prospective buyers want to see Charlton’s books, and make themselves happy that any debt is manageable, but also from the alternative view that Charlton fans will only want to see their club in the hands of owners who are going to continue to take the club forwards, both in the community, and on the pitch. All that is for the future though, and should not affect the lads on the pitch and certainly not in a way that had every player worried when the Zabeel offer came to the table in October last year (was it really that long ago?).

This weekend, Phil Parkinson and his team will be more concerned with winning away at Gillingham, with the potential to go back to the top of the league, a position that the club occupied after last weekends win. Leeds last minute goal on Monday night saw them reclaim top spot, but they have a tough away game on Saturday (with another tough game to follow the week after), and a win for the Addicks might be enough for the yoyo-ing to continue.

This blogster has always had a soft spot for the Medway team, having been good friends with a work colleague who followed the team in the early eighties, and also having other friends who lived close by. The Gills always seemed to be in a division below Charlton, so league matches were rare; I remember being on holiday in Scotland when the famous Powell-Peacock goal was televised to Big Match viewers in the mid-Seventies, and for some other reason, did not get to the Priestfield Stadium for the 1980 game either. That match was won by a Killer Hales goal, and the return visit in the last game of the season saw another Charlton victory and a promotion party too, meaning that the clubs didn’t meet again at first team level until five years ago. On that occasion, I did see Charlton play at Gillingham, though after the first minute goal had little to cheer about as Charlton lost 3-2 on a bitterly cold day. Nobody from that day except the fans remain to travel down the A2 once more so it will have little bearing on the fixture.

What we can be sure of though, is that the rivalry between the clubs will be at its highest, more because of the actions of Gillingham Chairman Paul Scally than any recent results. Scally has put his oar in whenever he can to put Charlton down, as you would expect from any vociferous Millwall fan (for that is what he is). Upset by Charlton’s action in offering a bus service to home matches, as well as away games, from Medway towns (and others), and latterly by Charlton’s reluctance to give them Chris Dickson for free, Scally has been on at the media for weeks bigging up this match. He’s also bigged up the ticket prices as well, so at least that aspect, and the fact that Charlton have sold out their entire allocation, will bring some sort of smile to his face. Yes, it will be a big game for Gillingham’s fans, and players, and directors, but then again Charlton have come to expect that during this League One season whoever we play.

It’s not that bad a time to be playing Gillingham either, as they have injury worries for their small squad, and even had to send back a striker (Vernon) just brought in on loan from Colchester after just 40 minutes action due to serious injury. Another loanee has also joined the club recently, Matt Fry, a young centre half from West Ham, and manager Mark Stimson is desperate to find another loan forward before the weekend if he can. Gillingham also have four ex-Charlton players on their books – Rashid Yussuf, Simon Royce, Barry Fuller and Mark McCammon, though McCammon is unlikely to be fit to play. The Gills have conceded 15 goals in their last six games, including four in a game twice, so it’s not just up front that they have issues. The team haven’t kept a clean sheet since Millwall were the visitors, well over a month ago.

For Charlton, I guess no news is good news, and hopefully after last weeks bruising encounter with Huddersfield all the team have come through unscathed. Defenders Christian Dailly and Frazer Richardson both had stitches in head wounds after the game so maybe they will borrow one of Miguel Llera’s headguards to wear this week? Presuming Nicky Bailey is also fit after the heavy tackles he took in that match, I expect Charlton to play pretty much their strongest team this weekend.

Of course, the strongest team may not be that which has played most matches this season, as it will be interesting to see if Parky reverts to the 4-5-1 formation preferred in the first dozen games or retains the 4-4-2 pattern used last weekend. In my mind, with Jose Semedo back in the team and fit for 90 minutes, it would be best to keep Izale McLeod up front, with Jonjo Shelvey, Dave Mooney, and Tamer Tuna in reserve. I am also presuming that the timing of Deon Burton’s hernia operation hasn’t been brought forward and that he is available to lead the line. It will be an interesting decision for Parky to take, bearing in mind that we have Mooney until the beginning of December, and that Burton will be out of action for three weeks when he does finally go under the knife. With seven games between now and 1st December, there is no obvious gap to be without Burton, so Parky will have to make that call when all others are fit (and not threatened with suspension as McLeod is); the recovery from the thigh strain that Clinton McKenzie had in training last week seems to be key to when Burton has his op, so it could be early next week?

This is the team I think Parky will send out to start the game being labelled as the Kent Derby –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Kelly Youga
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Izale McLeod
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Solly, Basey, Llera, Spring, Stavrinou, Wagstaff, Shelvey, Holden, Tuna, Mooney.

There is a real need for Charlton to push on and confirm that they are going to go all the way this season; the players were all geared up to get back to the top of the league last Saturday apparently, and they can play with that same knowledge again this weekend. Sure, local derbies are tough, and the home crowd will be noisy, just as they were at Orient (when we won) and at Colchester (where we lost) when Charlton filled an away section. Provided that our defence, and Semedo, can shackle the danger-man that is Canadian strike Simeon Jackson, then I can see Charlton winning this game quite easily – Pedro45 is predicting a 3-0 victory.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Therry Racon. I think our French play-maker was twice my one-to-watch last season and he scored on both occasions, so I’m hoping he can do so again. Playing back alongside Jose Semedo, Racon has the freedom to express himself and really drive the rest of the team forwards. While the other flair players, like Lloyd Sam, Jonjo Shelvey, and even Nicky Bailey have taken deserved plaudits, the consistency of Racon in the middle of the park has also been key to Charlton’s success this season. He played huge roles in keeping the team going while Semedo was out injured and now, back in tandem, I cannot see too many clubs in this league being able to get the better of them, as happened in the first few weeks of the campaign. Therry is still looking for his first goal of the season, and has been getting closer and closer as the weeks have progressed; hopefully, this week will see that net bulge once more for him.

I cannot finish this blog piece without a mention of some other news this week, namely that one of the other Charlton blogs is to call it a day (on a regular basis at least). New York Addict has written intelligently and well for most of the time my own blog has been trundling along, and interspersed his excellent Charlton news, views, and long-distance match reports with some biting wit (the email trails he hacked from The Valley mainframe are classics!). Coupled with an insight into the world of hedge-funds and what really happened with the banking crisis, his blog has always been a must-read for Pedro45. I wish NYA and his family a safe journey back to England and hope that his new home in The Chilterns does not prevent his attendance at The Valley too often. With Chicago Addick now based in Bermuda, and NYA coming home, will any other US-based Addicks please turn out the lights when they leave.

Up the Addicks!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Money Talks

Hot on the heels of the Sunday Papers predicting a takeover at Charlton by David Sullivan comes the news that this offer may be usurped by another fronted by Dennis Wise.

In some ways, the offers may be a case of the best of two evils, with Sullivan’s Northern & Shell publishing outfit containing many top shelf publications, while Wise is a hated man in many parts after his time at Chelsea, Millwall and Newcastle. How either person sits with Charlton's family and cummunity based values is open to debate.

With the current Board, chaired by Richard Murray, clearly stating that they are seeking to attract new investment, and hence the recent re-instatement of Peter Varney as non-executive director with special remit to seek out this funding, if either of the two above parties do make a substantial and realistic offer, it may be a difficult choice for the directors to take.

Sullivan, who is 60 years old, has been the owner of the Sport newspapers (Sunday Sport and Daily Sport) since 1986; prior to that he made his fortune by controlling over 50% of the UK adult magazine market, and also invested in films, often featuring then girlfriend Mary Millington. In 1993 he bought Birmingham City, and held the reins there until this summer, when the long-protracted sale of the club to Carson Yeung finally went through. Sullivan, and his managing director Karren Brady, were arrested in connection with corruption in football in 2007, but in August this year, all charges against the pair were dropped. He has assets valued at over £500m, and has significant chunks of money tied up in horse racing and breeding too.

Wise, who is apparently part of a consortium along with one time Newcastle Chief Executive Tony Jiminez, has apparently been seen as someone who can negotiate on behalf of a Middle Eastern businessman. There is no love lost between this blog and the diminutive West Londoner, ever since he simulated gay sex with John Humphrey in a league game back in 1986 while playing for Wimbledon. Since then, he scored on his England debut - turning the ball over the line in Turkey from all of 3 inches; became manager at Millwall; presided over Leeds as they went down to League One; and jumped ship to join the burning boat that was Mike Ashley’s Newcastle United. Politely called a “little shit” by one friend of mine, he is also the attention of great affection from Chelsea supporters who he captained to FA Cup success.

Wise has, apparently, been present at some Charlton games this season, so there could be some element of truth in this rumour, while Sullivan has stated his desire to purchase a share in a club nearer his Chipping Ongar home. The fact that his first choice – West Ham- are so deep in debt may have turned his attention toward The Valley.

While a bid by a group funded by money from the Middle East may be more beneficial in the long term, this Blog does not wish to see any involvement in our club by Wise, and would therefore be prepared to support a move by Sullivan if that was to come to fruition.

It really would be a case of the best of two evils, but in an ideal world, the fact that Charlton may once more have two offers coming to the table could actually flush out even more bids for the club, and one which may suitably pass the fit and proper person criteria that the league sets out, and that Charlton fans will want.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Terriers Plot Foiled

Charlton Athletic 2
Huddersfield Town 1

A terrific win for Charlton at The Valley yesterday as the team dug deep and went top of the League for the first time in a month. Headed goals early in each half from Sam Sodje and Izale McLeod - who both started the game - were just enough to beat the Yorkshiremen. Huddersfield attacked for most of the match and gave a very good account of themselves; it would be no surprise to see them in the play-off mix up come next May.

I do think that manager Phil Parkinson should warrant a lot of credit for this victory; not only did he bring back Sodje for Miguel Llera at centre half, he also dropped Jonjo Shelvey in place of McLeod, even though Izale took a lot of stick for missing chances last weekend. In addition to that, he also made the obvious required change at half-time where he removed the yellow-carded Matt Spring for the more solid and defensively minded Jose Semedo. Our Portu-geezer had a storming half, reminding us all of what has been lacking over the past five games which he has missed, and ensured that Charlton remained solid under intense pressure as the game wore on. This is no way reflects badly on Spring, who actually had a very decent first 45 minutes – possibly his best half since he came into the side when Semedo was injured.

In fact, nearly all the team came off as heroes in a very physical encounter. Deon Burton led the line and won a fair share of aerial ball too, and with McLeod being up alongside or in front of him, eased some of the pressure that he has carried over the first dozen games of the season. The pair linked well, if not perfectly, and McLeod’s running ability enabled him to get deep into the channels and cause a constant worry for the Terriers defence. On several occasions McLeod went to ground, and if the referee had been as interested in giving Charlton free-kicks as he had our opponents then the Addicks may have had many more shots on goal than they did. McLeod’s goal came from a free-kick that was headed back across the area by Sodje just four minutes into the second half, and though very well received, he did stupidly remove his shirt during the celebrations and pick up his fourth yellow card of the season as a result (top pic).

The midfield four competed in each half, but with Huddersfield playing the ball over the top of them for much of the first half, Spring and Racon regularly found themselves facing the wrong direction and having to retreat to catch play up. When they did get the ball down and play both made good passes, and Racon in particular made some very intelligent runs into space and was always trying to find cracks in a somewhat creaky opposition defence. Nicky Bailey was the subject of a couple of very hefty tackles which went unpunished by anything more than a free-kick to the home side, and hopefully he will shrug off the bruises as he has done for much of this season and be OK for next week. Lloyd Sam made good headway down the right wing but did fail to get crosses in when well placed on more than one occasion. He is still constantly double-marked though, and that seemed to allow McLeod to exploit the space behind him sometimes to good effect.

The defence had plenty to cope with, as the ball came straight to them bypassing the midfield protection. Facing an attack that was much bigger than any of them, they all did very admirably to cope with the succession of high crosses or long throw-ins that came their way with Sodje providing some spectacular headed clearances. Christian Dailly acted calm as always, and cleared his lines accurately, while Frazer Richardson had another competent game and got forward whenever he could. The star of the back line once more though was Kelly Youga, who, after a couple of stray first half passes, put on a master-class in tackling, clearing his lines, and attacking wing play. Youga was simply awesome in his efforts, and at no stage was he that untowardly troubled. Sodje had opened the scoring with a thunderous header (above) direct from a Spring corner in the seventh minute; for a team full of large players and aerial ability, Huddersfield will be upset at conceding two headed goals to Charlton.

The defence did have some help, especially in the second half from the immense presence of substitute Semedo, who once more broke up play and gave the simple pass.

In goal, Rob Elliot was once more assured, and he again did well with the many crosses that came his way, punching or catching as the situation demanded. Elliot made one great stop with his legs to keep the score at 2-1, and though beaten by a headed corner midway through the second half, there had been a foul committed well before the ball went into the net. The one legitimate goal he conceded, five minutes before half-time, was a thunderous free-kick from 25 yards by Pilkington that went in off the post, after Spring was adjudged to have fouled and subsequently booked for dissent.

Substitutes Scott Wagstaff (for Sam) and Dave Mooney (for McLeod) came on during the last fifteen minutes for cameo appearances, and both did what they needed to during those last few tense minutes.

So overall, the whole team contributed to the win, and just about deserved the three valuable points that take them to the top of the table once more.

The one concern to come out of this game is the battering that some of the Charlton team took – both Richardson and Dailly suffered cuts to their heads, with the right back playing on with a large daub of vaseline stemming the blood seeping from the side of his head, while Dailly needed to change his shorts late on after suffering a cut near his eye. With Bailey also receiving on field treatment twice, I hope all the players are fit for next weekends Kent derby game.

Charlton may not top the table for long, with Leeds playing on Monday night, but the effort and skill that won this victory does go to show that the team is capable of beating pretty much anyone in this league on their day. A gap is now becoming visible in the league table, with six real contenders for the two automatic promotion places, and any teams outside of this mini-league have to be seen as cannon-fodder and ripe for three points. With Gillingham, Yeovil, and Carlisle all outside this elite group, consecutive victories in these forthcoming games must be sought, and if won, will cement Charlton’s rightful pace as one of the favourites to return to the Championship in May.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


Charlton have another important home game this weekend at The Valley, with eighth placed Huddersfield Town the visitors. With the Addicks in second place in the league table after a quarter of the season things should be rosy red, but after three games without a goal and only one win in six league games, is this just a rocky little patch in league form, or have the wheels totally come off Charlton’s league title ambitions?

Manager Phil Parkinson will be concerned about the lack of goals in recent games, even though the club is still fourth in the goal-scoring charts for the season, but we haven’t conceded many this year either, which is a bonus. Two consecutive goalless draws have kept Charlton within touching distance of leaders Leeds (who could once more be overtaken with an Addicks victory on Saturday), but the chasing pack have closed the gap that looked like it was being built, and that sits uncomfortably with the majority of supporters I feel.

So if it is all going pear shaped, where is the problem, and what can Parky do about it?

Running through the team, we do not seem to have a major problem in goal, where Rob Elliot has, bar his calamitous game at Colchester, been the modicum of consistency. Elliot has made some very good saves in games during the first quarter of the season, and probably won Charlton points by maintaining leads, or not allowing Charlton to fall behind at crucial times. He does still have the occasional flap at crosses, and the rush of blood to the head evident during Charlton sole loss this year, but overall he is the first choice ‘keeper and that is unlikely to change unless he starts letting in a lot more goals he should be saving.

The defence, with Frazer Richardson, Christian Dailly, Miguel Llera and Kelly Youga featuring, has been solid bar that one Colchester game. Richardson, Llera and Dailly have all played games when injured this season, which shows that they have the club at heart and want to succeed; it is possible however that playing too many players carrying knocks can have a detrimental affect on the team as a whole, and I do think that this might need to be managed a little better as the season progresses. This is more than true when we do seem to have capable deputies in Grant Basey and Chris Solly, plus the now fit and able Sam Sodje, back from time with the Nigeria squad. I expect Sodje to now become first choice centre back in partnership with Dailly, with Llera being an able reserve, simply as he is more dominant in the air. Llera has filled an important gap in the team over the opening weeks of the season, but his communication issues (with either the language or his head-guard causing him not to understand requirements at vital times) need addressing.

Charlton’s undoubted strength over the opening weeks was in midfield, with a surfeit of players all trying to squeeze into the team. In order to accommodate Jose Semedo (top pic), Terry Racon, and Nicky Bailey, our skipper has been played out wide on the left, which is definitely not his best position; Bailey has though made a really good fist of it, and for him to be able to beat full backs at will, as he consistently does, shows how good a player he can be. He is also great at arriving in the box at the right time, and of getting in good crosses for others to feed on. Racon has also had a good season to date, with his skill and enterprise carving out openings and tempting others to run into space. The biggest loss, and almost certainly the reason for Charlton's dip in form has been the absence of Semedo though injury and it is great news that he seems to be fit once more to return against Huddersfield. His presence is immense, and his ability to track, tackle, and give an easy ball should not be underestimated. With him in the side, it allows Racon and winger Lloyd Sam the freedom to go forward and not worry about counter-attacks. While Matt Spring has got better as he has played over the last few weeks, he is not a great tackler, and as a consequence, the possession that Charlton have had has been less and the team have looked more vulnerable as a result. If he is fit, I expect Parky to bring back our Portu-geezer at Spring’s expense.

It is key to this Charlton side that we have a good winger in the team, and Lloyd Sam has fitted that bill perfectly this year; his League One August Player of the Month award was well deserved, even though we know that Lloyd can on occasion be a bit hot and cold. It’s easy for fans to shout out at wingers, simply because they tend to be closest to the by-lines during games, and I’m sure that most readers of this blog have someone who sits near them at games who shout out for Sam to go wider, or get down the line, or work harder. It cracks me up when you see Sam or someone else cut inside with someone shouting out to go wide and it results in a goal or penalty of such like. Teams set themselves up to force players into positions they don’t want to be in – like Oldham forcing Sam inside every time last week where they had ample defensive cover; it is up to Sam to deliver even when he is shown the inside, and with two good feet, he really should be making teams pay and letting fly with shots from 25 yards if that’s where they want him to run,or at least making killer passes from those positions when he has dragged defenders away from other areas. In Scott Wagstaff, we have a good reserve if and when Sam is not playing well, we need to rest him, or he is injured. Last week was a classic example of a time when Wagstaff, fresh off the back of a goal scoring performance against Barnet, should have been on the pitch earlier and possibly from the start bearing in mind Sam’s injury concern.

In attack, Charlton have come to the point where Parky really needs to decide when it best to use Plan B. The first quarter of the season has seen the use of Deon Burton playing a lone striking role with Jonjo Shelvey tucked in behind trying to feed off scraps and drive the team forward. This obviously worked with Burton scoring five times, Charlton winning their first six league games, and Shelvey growing in confidence week on week. Now though, some of the better teams (with better managers) have got wise to this rigid formation, and have set themselves up to choke Charlton’s possession, and cut off the service to Burton while bullying the young Shelvey. Neither player can be faulted for effort, but when the service is not there, for whatever reason, there effectiveness becomes nullified. Plan B is to have Izale McLeod and Tamer Tuna running at defences, with or without the ball, in a way that Burton and Shelvey cannot. Barnet could not cope with it, though they are from a league below, but even League One teams have struggled to cope with McLeod’s pace when he has been brought on as a substitute over recent weeks. It is a shame then that goals in consecutive games preceded some poor misses last Saturday by McLeod, and this not only lost Charlton two precious points but has seen many calls by fans for McLeod to be dispensed with in favour of Tuna or new recruit Clinton McKenzie. McKenzie’s own cameo last weekend looked decent, and he should have plenty to offer based on his career stats, but calls for him to start this weekend are premature fitness-wise, and certainly unfair on the other strikers who have worked hard to get the club where we are today. My own view is that it is time to look at alternatives, especially as Burton is carrying a hernia injury that needs an operation, but that it might be best to give Shelvey a break from starting in favour of live-wire McLeod. If McLeod’s introduction works, then Shelvey would be a great substitute to introduce for the last half hour to close games out, and if it doesn’t, then at least it shows that Charlton are flexible when choosing a first eleven and changes can be made as necessary depending on the game situation. With Tuna, Shelvey and McKenzie all on the bench, any eventuality in a game situation is covered.

This is the side I would pick to start against Huddersfield, even though I think Parky will be brave if he matches it –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Kelly Youga
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Izale McLeod
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Solly, Basey, Llera, Spring, Stavrinou, Wagstaff, Shelvey, Tuna, McKenzie.

Huddersfield are a big team and that aerial threat will need to be countered by the Addicks (hence why I think Burton will keep his place even though injured); in Jordan Rhodes, the Terriers seem to have one of the most potent strikers in this league with eleven goals so far, and Dailly and Sodje (or Llera) will need to be aware of his ability to break into dangerous areas late and get on the end of crosses. Our full backs will need to mark the wide players closely and cut off the supply into the box, while Elliot will need to be at his commanding best when those crosses do come near him. Centre Half Peter Clarke (interestingly one of three players named Clarke on the clubs books) was strongly linked with a move to The Valley in the summer, so he will want to make a point that he chose the right club, while solid partner Chris Lucketti has been doing the rounds in the lower leagues for quiet a few years. 19-year-old goalkeeper Alex Smithies is one to keep an eye on, as big things are thought to be on the horizon for the local born shot-stopper. Moreover, Huddersfield work as a team, and Charlton will need to be near their best if they are to contain the attacking threat posed by the Northerners.

Charlton had such a good first six games of the season that whatever followed was likely to be slightly inferior. These recent games have seen a wobble but not a fall from grace, and it is now time to stand up straight and start winning games once more. This will not be easy this weekend, but with Semedo back in the side, Pedro45 is hoping that a return to winning ways is imminent – I am forecasting a 2-1 victory.

My one-to-watch this weekend is going to be Izale McLeod (left), even if he does not feature from the start. Izzy needs to forget about missing those chances last week, and get back to doing what he does best – causing havoc in opposing defences through his sheer pace and presence. It is much better to be getting into goal-scoring positions and miss the chances than to not get into those positions at all; strikers put themselves on the line when they shoot, and if they miss, they have to take all the flack that come their way. When the ball goes in, they get all the adulation as recompense, and I am banking on McLeod to bounce back with a goal at The Valley this weekend.

Should Charlton fail to win once more, then the pressure will mount even more on the players and management at the club. I cannot help thinking back to two seasons ago, when Charlton sat near the top of the Championship at around this time, yet fell spectacularly down the league as winter drew in, finishing mid-table. That scenario cannot be allowed to happen again, and all the known problems that brought about that fall need to be countered before they start to perpetuate once more. Parkinson needs to be flexible in his team-choice, tactically countering our opponents before the game commences. With Plan B, McLeod, Wagstaff, Tuna, McKenzie, Sodje, and Semedo all at his disposal this weekend, we should have enough tactical options to throw Lee Clark’s team and planning off the scent, and that should bring about a return to winning ways.

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Old Problems Re-Surface

Charlton Athletic 0 Oldham Athletic 0

Not a great afternoon to be an Addicks fan, but at least the record Oldham have of never winning in SE7 was maintained. The day had started with the news that Charlton were last out of the hat, or to have their board chosen to be more precise, and have a trip to Southampton in the Quarter final next round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

News from the Valley was better, when both Lloyd Sam and Frazer Richardson were declared fit, and took their places in the starting line up. Neither contributed much apart from playing the ball around in nice passing triangles during the first half, though this is a little harsh on those two as nothing much happened elsewhere during that opening period. Oldham set up with a 4-5-1 formation, and with Jonjo Shelvey playing so deep, often just in front of the back four, neither team showed much attacking intent, and they therefore cancelled each other out.

Oldham were reduced to pot-shots from anywhere while Charlton, with Therry Racon buzzing about and trying to create, failing to show much except for couple of crosses which flew over Deon Burton’s head. Matt Spring had a fair start to the match, often breaking up play in midfield and putting in a good shot, but Kelly Youga’s foraging down the left often hit a proverbial brick wall.

Half time was a relief, and at least one team did up the tempo and try to win the game after the break. Even the referee, who had seemed to want to give a free-kick to Oldham every time one of their players went to ground in the first hour, got fed up, and started to call the game correctly. Shelvey was hauled off just after the hour mark, and he did have a very disappointing game. If you compared his performance with that of the equally follically-challenged Oldham number seven, Whittaker, one player buzzed around wanting the ball, taking free kicks and corners and trying to be involved, and Shelvey didn’t.

His substitute Izale McLeod was pushed right up alongside Burton as Oldham were so obviously now trying to scrape the draw. McLeod's pace immediately earned him a chance, but his right foot attempt met thin air, and the chance was lost. It was all Charlton now, and wave after wave of attack was met by desperate defending, although all during this time, the ‘keeper was hardly troubled to make a save.

Youga was now getting into some dangerous positions, and when Clinton McKenzie came on for the worn out Burton with fifteen minutes left, gaps started to emerge in the visitors so-far water-tight defence. Miguel Llera, back in the team while Sam Sodje is on international duty and now sporting a red head-guard, nodded a free-kick onto the top of the bar, then McLeod repeated his fresh air shot with his left foot (left) after great play where Racon unselfishly set him up ten yards out from goal.

Youga had the final close shave, when his acrobatic overhead kick thudded against the bar (top pic) and came out. Even with five minutes of injury time being allowed by the frustrated referee, a break-through just would not come, and the end finally came to the stale-mate.

Oldham will be very pleased with their point and Charlton equally frustrated by the lack of league goals. It wasn’t as if any of the Charlton team had played badly, even Shelvey, it was just that one team got all the breaks and hung on to the draw. Charlton will see plenty of teams set up to counter them in the same way, especially at The Valley, and it is now down to Phil Parkinson and his team to work out the best way to break these teams down and get back to winning ways, starting next Saturday against a good Huddersfield side.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Backing One 'Tic

Charlton return to league action at The Valley on Saturday, with the first of two consecutive home games – Oldham Athletic being the initial opposition. Hopefully, the midweek win in the JPT will have set Charlton back on the right path, though with injuries very much to the fore this week, this game may be quite tough.

When you win your first six league games of the season, what comes next is bound to be a little disappointing, unless of course you win the next six games too! This author is far too realistic to expect Charlton to go through a season or, in most cases, a month winning every game, so the draws and single defeat recently experienced were not wholly unexpected or surprising. Taking a point from games against recent Premiership foe can only be good, and if looked at closely, the loss at Colchester did have an element of farce about it, with two ridiculous goals conceded. When mixed in with home wins in the last two matches (one of which was this midweek, and very comprehensive), there really isn’t too much wrong with Phil Parkinson’s team this season.

Parky’s problem seems to be simply down to having enough bodies to play, and fitting those players into a system that works. In that respect, the preferred starting eleven have done a great job working in the 4-5-1 formation, and on Tuesday we were able to see a lesser eleven use Plan B and win a game playing 4-4-2. That’s not to say that the players are only comfortable playing one way or the other, as Parky rightly said that he tried to get Tamer Tuna to replicate the Jonjo Shelvey role, and for Izale McLeod to try to hold the ball longer when it was played up to him, as per Deon Burton; but everyone could see it was still 4-4-2 and not 4-5-1.

The wholesale changes made way back in August for the Hereford League Cup tie worried a lot of people into thinking that our reserves were not up to the task; I agree that if we had to play nine of them, as we did that night, then they may not be winning too many league points, but the fact is that you would never (unless injuries and suspensions really hit home) have to play that many at any one time. When individually fed into the system, as we have had to do with Matt Spring, Chris Solly, Grant Basey, Scott Wagstaff, and others, they are all good players, and quite capable of maintaining Charlton’s push near the top of the league.

And this week, we may need a few more of the reserves than we have had to use previously, due to some worrying injuries.

Frazer Richardson is doubtful we are told and, with rib and hamstring injuries, less than a 50/50 chance to play; I seem to remember something similar being said about Jose Semedo just before he missed his first game, so I do not think our right back will be in show this weekend. With Sam Sodje away with Nigeria, Miguel Llera is certain to return, but will Parky go for a like-for-like replacement for Richardson in Solly, or will he veer toward experience and switch Kelly Youga to the right, and bring in Basey?

With Semedo only now returning to training after his pelvic problem, I doubt he will be risked, so the midfield is likely to be the usual triumvirate of a resurgent Nicky Bailey, Spring, and Therry Racon. Lloyd Sam went off at half-time last Saturday, and I do wonder if he will be fit after his groin tweak? These injuries can usually take around three weeks to heal, so I would not be at all surprised to see Tuesday goal-scorer Wagstaff come in for his first league start of the season in Sam’s place.

In attack, Parky has a simple choice really, albeit with three options: he could and probably will bring back Burton with Shelvey playing just behind him; or he could stick with Tuesday’s fresh legged combo of McLeod and Tuna; or he could play a combination of Burton and McLeod?

This is the team I think Parky will start on Saturday, though I would not be surprised to see the subs used a lot earlier than normal if the game is tight –

Rob Elliot
Chris Solly
Christian Dailly
Miguel Llera
Kelly Youga
Matt Spring
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Scott Wagstaff
Jonjo Shelvey
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Basey, Mambo, Clark, Semedo, Stavrinou, Holden, Sam, McKenzie, McLeod, Tuna.

Oldham come to The Valley on the back of a small unbeaten run of four games. They sit in eighth place, just outside the play-off zone, so should not be taken lightly. They have a successful fresh young manager, and a few players who are more than comfortable at this level, so Charlton need to be watchful. The little-and-large combination of Parker and Abbott up front has goals in it, and the tall winger Chris Taylor may give Solly (if he plays) problems in the air. Few of Oldham’s players will be well-known to Charlton fans, even those on loan from Blackburn (Alex Marrow, Nick Blackman) and Leeds (Alan Sheehan) are not well known outside this league. What we should expect though, is that they are organised, and play open attractive football, in much the same way that Exeter did.

Pedro45 is hoping that Charlton can get back to normal league service and is confident that this will happen; I am predicting a 2-0 victory. If we are at all struggling up front, then I can see the Tuna and McLeod partnership being given a run out again, as they do compliment each other so well. Shelvey knows now that he has competition for his place, in the form of both of the other players, and with Clinton McKenzie also now back in training and looking to get involved, competition is hotting up amongst the strikers. After his rest, Llera should be able to compete with Abbott in the air, and the midfield should have too much nous, skill, and ball retention for Oldham to pose too much of a threat.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Jonjo Shelvey; certain to return to the starting line up in my opinion, Shelvey showed during his cameo appearance on Tuesday how good a player he is when given time and space. The goal he almost scored was impudent, and full of youthful exuberance - if that flailing arm hadn’t kept it out we would have been gushing about that goal rather than Wagstaff and Bailey’s efforts! Jonjo has yet to score at The Valley this season, so now would be a pretty good time to open his home account.

I really hope that I am not being too over-confident about this game, especially when a few players have injury worries. I do not see Oldham as any more of a threat than Brentford or others were, and we played well enough and had enough possession in those games to win all but one (which we would have won but for a blind linesman…). This game should see opportunities for Wagstaff, maybe Solly, McLeod, possibly Tuna, and maybe Basey, to really put their mark on their position in the Charlton squad, and a good performance here by any or all of them will comfort us all that, when we do have further injuries, we can cope admirably.

Come on you Reds!

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Charlton Sting Barnet

Charlton Athletic 4 Barnet 1

An excellent performance from Charlton saw them safely through to the Southern section quarter finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last night. Goals from Izale McLeod, Tamer Tuna, Nicky Bailey, and Scott Wagstaff replied to Barnet’s early opener, and the result could have been even more convincing but for some better finishing.

With competition rules quite strict about who from the first team had to play, Phil Parkinson did well and was able to give a whole group of youngsters a run out in the first team, and also impart some confidence into other squad players. The most important aspect though, was his option to show fans just what Plan B is, should the current league 4-5-1 formation need to be abandoned.

Chris Solly started at right back, with Christian Dailly and Grant Basey in the middle of
defence; Kelly Youga was in his usual left back position. The midfield had Wagstaff on
the right, complimenting Saturday’s midfield triumvirate Matt Spring, Therry Racon and
Bailey. In attack, Deon Burton got his rest, and Tuna and McLeod led the line. With Rob
Elliot in goal, this did seem to me to only start five of the required six players with the most appearances this year, but maybe with Jose Semedo and Lloyd Sam out injured, some leeway is given? The five-man bench consisted of youngsters Jonjo Shelvey, Yado Mambo, Alex Stavrinou, Luke Holden, and goalie Darren Randolph.

Barnet settled better and after plenty of early possession, they took the lead after 12 minutes, when O’Flynn stabbed home after a corner wasn’t cleared. Charlton were struggling to hold the ball for any period at all, and it did take Tuna 20 minutes or so to get into the pace of the game. Once Bailey had set up McLeod for a deflected equalizer three minutes later though, it was pretty much all Charlton.

Wagstaff then set off on a fabulous run, taking the ball past four defenders as he strode through the middle, before stumbling as he got close to firing in a shot. Spring shot over when well set up, and McLeod almost got on a couple of through balls.

Racon then did well and set up space for a shot, though this seemed to be flying well wide when it came to Tuna, and he finished with aplomb, sidefooting past the Barnet ‘keeper (top pic). With a half-time lead, it was Charlton’s game to lose, but they really didn’t seem to be in that mood thankfully.

The atmosphere amongst the 4522 crowd was strange, simply because about 90% of that figure were grouped together in the lower West stand; Barnet did bring a few hundred fans with them, and they sang well all night, and the only other smattering of fans was in the East stand which was opened just before the game started. I was hoping for a new-ish view, but as luck would have it, the tickets bought had me sitting literally within touching distance of my old seat where I sat for 12 years!

Barnet pushed hard in the early parts of the second half, and Elliot made one excellent save to deny Bolasie (who was by far the most dangerous Bees player all night), but with Bailey and Spring controlling midfield, the Addicks were always happy. Stavrinou was a substitute for Racon early in the second half, and soon afterwards Mambo came on for Solly, and his Charlton first team debut, which meant a re-shuffle of the defence, with Basey moving to left back, and Youga over to the right.

With fifteen minute left, Bailey ended the tie as a contest when he rifled in a bullet free kick from 25 yards, the ball thumping into the top corner netting. Just prior to this, the final substitute Shelvey (on for a tiring Tuna) had tried something similar, but his shot had ended up in the empty North stand seats.

The gloss was finally put on the tie by Wagstaff, who finished a very good game for him by scoring a typical breakaway goal. Bailey won the ball in his own half and fed McLeod on the half way line, who turned and had the winger as the only person on the right side of the pitch. The pass was perfect and Wagstaff had time to control and decide what he wanted to do, much as he had when he scored against Walsall a month or so back. This time though, instead of sidefooting into the corner, he blasted the ball high and into the net off the crossbar; even he looked a bit surprised when it bounced down and into the goal. By then, Shelvey had jinked and turned one way, then the other, only to have his shot blocked near the line by a Barnet body.

McLeod then took a knock, or it may have been cramp, and he came off to generous applause, and ten-man Charlton saw out the clock. An excellent all round performance, with good displays from Solly, Mambo, Tuna, Wagstaff, Spring, Youga, Basey, Dailly, McLeod, and man-of-the-match Bailey. The only player not to look comfortable was Alex Stavrinou sadly, who failed to get into the game much, and did seem to be the least welcomed option when team-mates chose who to pass to. He also did not put in many tackles, as the covering midfield player, but did chase well. This may be harsh after such a good all round performance, but he did stand out as the one not getting much positive from it.

Parky’s Plan B, with McLeod and Tuna leading the line, took time to settle, but once Tuna was up to speed, they played well together, and on another day could both have had more goals. McLeod is always going to be selfish when given a shooting opportunity, and that’s OK if he scores, while Tuna does look like he could fill that gap when Shelvey is tired or injured and play just behind the front man (be it Burton or McLeod). Mambo looked solid, provided he had Dailly alongside him, and Solly showed what a competitor he is, and was heavily involved. If Bailey hadn’t had such a good game though, the star for me was Wagstaff, who showed pace, skill, and great crossing and shooting ability; if Lloyd Sam’s groin strain is not better this weekend, Waggy should be an able deputy.

The draw for the area Quarter Final, which could see Charlton drawn against recent opponents Southampton, Hereford, or Norwich, is on Saturday morning.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

One Coat or Two?

I have never been to a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie before, so the match versus Barnet on Tuesday night is going to be a first for me. Mind you, Charlton have never had to play in the competition before, so it’s no surprise I’ve never seen one of the games in this trophy competition.

I am proud to say though, that I did attend all of Charlton’s Full Member’s Cup ties in 1986/87, including the two 800+ gates in Croydon, and the Everton away game that went to extra time and penalties. After that came a fraught semi-final which had me on my way out of the ground seconds before the final whistle, only to see a last second equalizer followed by an extra time winner, and then my first visit to Wembley to see our beloved Addicks in action.

When you have seen your team, and in this case Charlton, run out at Wembley, it makes attending all of the early rounds of, let's face it, a Mickey Mouse competition worthwhile, even if we are likely to see some paltry crowds at some of the games we have to play. The crowd at Charlton for this tie is likely to be small, with only the lower West Stand initially being opened, and with a smattering of Barnet supporters stretched out in the Jimmy Seed end behind the goal.

Some fans are of the opinion that it would be good to be out of this competition as quickly as possible, so that the small squad we have can concentrate on getting promotion, our primary aim of course. Others though, think that as the highest placed league club in the southern section of the draw, we should aim to return to Wembley once more, and brush the sides we meet aside. I’m stuck somewhere between the two camps; sure, I’d love a trip to Wembley again, especially new Wembley, but if we get knocked out by Barnet, or in any other forthcoming round, I won’t mind too much as long it has little effect in the league games between now and March.

Whatever point of view Phil Parkinson has, it’s not as if he can just pick a reserve strength team anyway; the competition rules state that – “Each Club shall play its full available strength in all matches. The Board will from time to time issue a policy as to what constitutes ‘full available strength’. Any Club failing to meet this requirement will be required to pay a fine of up to £5,000.” Not being in a position to pay a fine, I guess we have to comply!

The agreed policy it seems is currently that “clubs will be required to include in their starting line-up at least six of the eleven players that have started most often in first team games this season. “ OK, that’s pretty easy to figure out – six of Elliot, Richardson, Youga, Dailly, Llera, Racon, Semedo, Shelvey, Bailey, Burton, and Sam. Picking six from eleven is no easy job, but it gets easier for Parky, because Lloyd Sam is unlikely to be fit after his first half groin injury at Leeds on Saturday, and Jose Semedo is also out of contention with a pelvic strain. So six from nine makes things a little clearer for Parky, and possibly harder for Barnet!

A number of those nine have had injury niggles this season, but have trended to play on through the pain (Richardson, Dailly, Bailey for instance), while others have looked a little tired of late (Shelvey, Burton, Racon for instance). So Parky’s pick will have to be careful, and we do not want to run the risk of further aggravating any loss of first team players before Saturday’s possibly must-win game against Oldham.

Parkinson will therefore have to weigh up each player in turn and see where they can fit in with the need to give some of the bench, and reserves, a run out in a competitive game. Izale McLeod is one who is very likely to start, and with Miguel Llera certain to come back into the side (replacing Sam Sodje who is on international duty) it is a chance for him to regain some confidence. Rob Elliot also seems like a shoe-in to me; it would be an ideal opportunity to give able deputy Darren Randolph a first team match, but the rules requirement looks to preclude this. Kelly Youga seems to enjoy his football, and he hasn’t had either too many games or too many apparent niggles, so I think he will play. I’m sure club captain Nicky Bailey will want to feature against one of his old clubs, and he will probably be given the chance to cement a place back in central midfield once more. That leaves any two from Richardson, Dailly, Burton, Racon and Shelvey. Although they have both looked in need of a break recently, I would play Jonjo in this game, and alongside Bailey in the centre of midfield, giving Therry Racon a rest. This may be just the sort of game where Jonjo can find some space, and put his undoubted talents to the fore, with Bailey playing the holding role alongside him. The other place I would give to Christian Dailly, simply as he needs to work on his partnership with Llera still, and he is also very fit and should be able to cope, even at his age. That would give Fraser Richardson a chance to rest his knee, and Deon Burton a chance for his nose to set better. Most of the players left out will need to be available anyway to make up numbers on the substitutes bench, which I am presuming is still seven players?

This is therefore the team I would like Parky to send out on the first stage of the road to Wembley –

Rob Elliot
Chris Solly
Miguel Llera
Christian Dailly
Kelly Youga
Grant Basey
Nicky Bailey
Jonjo Shelvey
Scott Wagstaff
Izale McLeod
Tamer Tuna

Subs from – Randolph, Richardson, Clark, Jenkinson, Stavrinou, Spring, Racon, Pell, Perkins, Holden, McKenzie, Burton.

Barnet will need to pick six of their team from Ismail Yakubu, Jake Cole, Albert Adomah, Mark Hughes, Paul Furlong, Micah Hyde, Ryan O'Neill, Albert Jarrett, Yannick Bolasie, Kenny Gillet, and John O'Flynn. With a much smaller squad than (even) Charlton, they may play their current starting eleven, or make minimal changes. Hyde (ex-Watford) and Furlong (ex-QPR) are old-hands who should be familiar to most Charlton supporters, while winger Adomah, midfielder Bolasie, plus centre half and captain Yakubu are all skilful youngsters. Barnet have had a decent start to this season, and currently sit fourth in League Two; they beat Millwall 2-0 to reach this stage of the competition, and are the lowest ranked team still in the southern section.

There will also be no extra-time if the game is drawn, with a deadlocked game being decided by a penalty shoot-out at the end of 90 minutes. In previous Full Member’s Cup games I have seen Charlton win a shoot-out at Everton, and lose one at Cambridge United, and it is a few years since we have had a penalty shoot-out at The Valley (was the last the win versus Luton or the defeat to Oxford?).

Hopefully, the referee Mr D Phillips will keep the game open, his cards in his pocket, and there will be no need for 12-yard pot-shots. Pedro45 is predicting a 2-0 victory for the Addicks, which will get the confidence back up and results back on track.

My one-to-watch in this match has to be Izale McLeod, as he is possibly the only player guaranteed to start in my opinion. Izzy has been a regular substitute over the last few games, coming on with 20-odd minutes left to try and make something happen. With a full game ahead of him, let’s hope his pace is too much for Barnet to cope with, and that he has brought his shooting boots with him. We all saw how delighted he was with the goal he scored against Exeter in the last home game, and I hope he can add to his goal record at The Valley. What he will not want to do is take his shirt off and get booked again, as that would leave him just one yellow card shy of a suspension!

Whether you place much importance on this game or not it has to be played and winning breeds confidence. It is a chance for some of the players (McLeod, Tuna, Wagstaff, Basey and Solly) who have been a little shy of first team football to get competitive game time, and push themselves into the picture when the first team are injured, suspended, or not performing as they should. It’s also a chance for some of the established first team to get some confidence back in their ability (Shelvey, and Llera). Let us not dismiss a win as unimportant, but similarly let us not worry about defeat if it should come; whatever happens, we should go home happy - just wrap up warm, it looks like being a wet and cold night!

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

A White Result

Leeds United 0 Charlton Athletic 0

Charlton came away from the top of the table clash with a valuable point, thanks to some dogged defending and good teamwork. The howling gale made the game very difficult for both sides, with both sets of players finding it hard to control the ball in the windy conditions; at one stage, Jonjo Shelvey retreated to take a free-kick and found the placed ball rolling toward him, such were the conditions.

Playing with the wind was the easier, and Leeds had the first half benefit. They controlled the game pretty much all of the first half, and did put the Charlton defence, well marshalled by Sam Sodje, who was in the team in place of Miguel Llera, under plenty of pressure. Beckford had a goal disallowed for offside, and other half chances were missed; Johnson came closest to scoring for the home side when his long shot was pushed away for a corner by Rob Elliot. Bechio was carried off after treading on the ball as he turned, and that alleviated some of the problems Charlton had early on. Charlton’s major contribution to the opening period came when Fraser Richardson, playing against his old team-mates, burst forward running 70 yards with the ball down the right wing. His excellent cross found the head of the unmarked Shelvey, but the 17-year-old glanced his header just wide of the far post.

Leeds had dominated possession during the first half, having 59% of the ball, though it was obvious that the wind had contributed largely to that fact. Therry Racon had played for much of the first 45 minutes on the left side of midfield, with Nicky Bailey playing much more centrally, and after half-time, this continued. Scott Wagstaff also came on at the break, in place of Lloyd Sam who had little chance to shine in the city of his birth.

With both teams settled into the game, and the conditions, the tempo picked up around the hour mark, as both sides strove to find that all important first goal. Bailey had a snap shot saved and, in another positive move, Phil Parkinson sent on Izale McLeod for Shelvey with 15 minutes left. Matt Spring, another Leeds old boy, then had a good shot saved, before McLeod almost broke through only to win a corner for his troubles. A good period for the Addicks ended when Racon shot over the bar when well placed. Grant Basey repaced Racon in the last minute of normal time, and the game came to an end after a prolonged period of Leeds pressure brought about by Charlton conceding too many free-kicks (Sodje being booked for his second foot in the back on Owunmi as they both challenged for high balls).

The point won is an excellent one for Charlton as they maintain their solid start to the season, and confirms that the second place in the table is a true indication of the clubs ability this season. While a negative view could be the lack of goals in the last two games, or just one win from the last five matches, that would miss the point that the games played have been tough, and Charlton’s best player has been missing for the last three games.

As the club now embark on three consecutive home games, starting with the Johnstone Paint Trophy game against Barnet, confidence needs to return and the option to use Plan B is obvious. How Parky plays this, with McLeod bound to start on Tuesday, we will have to see, but this could be just the time to see what a few others at the club can offer, while we know that the first eleven are more than capable enough.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Top Dog Decider!

I do think that every one of us fans would have taken a start to the season that read -

P 10, W 7, D 2, L 1

- leaving Charlton sitting in second position in the table behind Leeds, but as usual, with the last game being that single defeat, its panic stations on the Ethernet. Should we drop Miguel Llera after his poor performance on Tuesday night in Essex? Is Jonjo Shelvey looking too tired? Do we need to be more adventurous and play 4-4-2, and if so, do we have the personnel to do so?

We will all have our own opinion, and that is half the fun of being a football fan after all, but the reality is that it is down to manager Phil Parkinson to call the shots, and he has done pretty well so far this season. Sure, we can all say that this substitution should have come earlier, or that player should have started, but we don’t have that choice; only Parky does.

So how will Parky play things in th etop of the table clash with Leeds after the 3-0 thumping in midweek? His hands may actually be tied somewhat more than most fans would like...

Rob Elliot, the only other starting Charlton first team player to be a Facebook friend to Lloyd Sam incidentally, had a very average (and that’s being kind) game at Colchester. Elliot’s problem is that he is first and foremost a Charlton fan, and I do think he gets a little bit carried away sometimes because he wants the team to do well. Hence his rushes of blood to the head that see him charge out and want to take control of situations when others around him are sometimes better placed. I don’t think the first goal on Tuesday was his fault any more than it was Llera’s, but only one player was to blame for the third, and killing, goal after an hour of that match. What we need Rob to do is try to squash his enthusiasm a little (but not too much!), and take in what is happening around him better. This will come with experience, and he is in a good division to gain that knowledge and progress. He is not under any pressure, it seems, from Darren Randolph, but we have all seen in the past that when a favoured goalkeeper starts making blunders that lead to goals, the crowd can turn as quickly as you can say Nicky Weaver.

In the defence, I think that Fraser Richardson, Kelly Youga, and Christian Dailly have all had pretty good seasons so far. Sure, they could all do better (a goal from a full back would be nice, and deserved…), and Dailly’s experience has prevented more goals being conceded, but it is alongside him that we still have an issue. It’s bad enough having to worry about where the defensive cover will come from in the event of injury (as we have had to in the past two seasons), but now we have a solid centre half, he seems to have lost the plot a little, and the back-up may not be available this week either! Llera (left) did have a shocker, and the average of his Charlton Life fans player rating will be the lowest ever, but was this a blip, or is it something that we will just need to get used to and persevere with? I do think Llera has some very good attributes; he is decent in the air, and has a sweet left foot, but the problems come when he is out-muscled (as he has been on a couple of occasions now this season) and when he has to turn quickly (which is not his forte to be honest!). He has also seemingly lost some confidence, and we have watched as various stand roofs have been tested by a Llera clearance recently, when he just hoofs the ball as hard as he can in the direction he is facing. Maybe the pressure of having Sam Sodje waiting for his chance is hurting his play, and most fans would favour a return to the starting eleven for Sodje now he has had some match practice. The danger for the game on Saturday at Leeds though, is that Sodje’s knee (or hamstring) complaint which flared up a few minutes after he entered the field at Colchester is something more problematic and will keep him out of this weekends fixture. Sodje then flies off to a Nigeria training camp, so he will miss the next two home games anyway. If he is fit, I would play him, and hope that Llera can cope in the two matches that Sodje will definitely miss, by which time Llera may well have to serve a suspension thereby letting Sodje back into the side easily.

The forward line is the next area where fans are getting restless; while 4-5-1 with Shelvey in the hole works when you are confident and playing well, it doesn’t look so good when you are two-nil down at half-time. Shelvey has so much talent, but he is still learning the game and, on occasions, not being given much help by more experienced opponents (and why should they?). As a seventeen year old, he has the game at his feet, but I am getting to the point where I think that he may need a rest, but if we do that, can we still play 4-5-1, or do we have to switch back to 4-4-2. Well, I do think that Parky missed a trick with Shelvey early in the season, as I think that for the last 10-20 minutes of a game, Tamer Tuna would run his heart out and do a very good covering job if he had been brought on to replace Shelvey. This only happened the once, and now the forward who gets on first is Izale McLeod. Izzy has worked his socks off when on the pitch, but he doesn’t cover back as well as Tuna might, and Shelvey does. We therefore seem to have the only option going forwards of playing as we are, or with McLeod and Burton.

In midfield, we have seen for the past two season how disrupting the loss of Jose Semedo has been to the team and, sadly, Matt Spring cannot offer the same sort of protection to our defence that the Portugeeser can. It was disappointing that Semedo missed the midweek game, especially as he was mooted as expected to be fit enough to play by Tim Breacker. The worrying aspect is that Semedo’s groin/pelvic injury has turned into a pelvic one, and that it could be more longer term than at first thought. Should this be the case, it may be that Parky is mindful that Chris Solly can do a similar holding role in midfield and put in the tackles that Spring finds difficult. Spring is a decent enough player, but when he has played, the possession levels have been much lower than when Semedo has been in to win the ball back.

The other possibly less contentious area in midfield is with the wingers, and particularly Lloyd Sam. What this blog wants to know is why isn’t Lloyd Facebook mates with any of the rest of the first team other than Elliot? Is this why the League One Player of the Month for August is sometime starved of the ball during games? How come that he is friends with some of the substitutes – McLeod and Scott Wagstaff – and also with squad players Yads “Prestige” Mambo, Alex Stav, and Jack Clark, but none of the other normal starting nine? Lloyd also has plenty of other footballing mates to chat about his lifestyle with – ex-Addicks Hameur Bouazza, Yassin Moutaouakil, Josh Wright, Carlton Cole, Leroy Lita, Martin Crainie, Myles Weston, Mark McCammon, Matt Svennson, Nathan Ashton, Scott Sinclair and Toks Yossuff – and I’m sure that if they still played at The Valley then they would pass to him, and be his friend!

And while we are talking about Facebook – what’s with the “Grime Town” Izzy?

Plenty of thought for Parky this week then, and he has stated that now is not the time to press any panic buttons, but would making the odd change for this top of the table clash be a negative move? We will have to wait and see.

This is the team I think Parky will send out at Elland Road:

Rob Elliot
Fraser Richardson
Kelly Youga
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Jose Semedo
Terry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Jonjo Shelvey
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Solly, Clark, Basey, Llera, Spring, Stavrinou, Holden, Wagstaff, Tuna, McLeod.

Leeds currently sit top of the table, and the crowd will relish the chance to put a bigger gap between them and the chasers, whom Charlton lead. The fact is though, that they also have problems, and have struggled to win games recently. On Saturday, only a very late header by winger Robert Snodgrass won the game against 10-man MK Dons, and in midweek, they could only draw at home against Carlisle. Snodgrass, who is undoubtedly one of the better players in this division, also took a heavy knock, and he may not be fit to start the game against the Addicks. Leeds also have other injury worries too, but it is likely that top-scorer Jermaine Beckford will play, as will other old hands like Leigh Bromby, David Prutton, and Richard Naylor.

Pedro45 thinks that this may just be the point in the season when realities come home to roost; this league is not going to be a cake-walk, and anything gained from it will have to be earnt. I forecast another defeat, this time by 2-0, although I very much hope that we get the win that would take us back to top spot ourselves. With consecutive losses, Parky may feel he needs to make changes which could strengthen the side over the coming months, and give some of the other squad players a chance to shine.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Rob Elliot (left). This Charlton fan has a chance to do something to help the club much more than any other fans can, and that is stop Charlton conceding goals. Elliot will be keen to put the memory of Tuesday night behind him, but should not be over-keen as that is what caused the problems in the first place. If he simply concentrates on making saves, dealing with crosses confidently, clearing his lines cleanly, and getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, he will be back to his best.

I know that forecasting a loss is hard to fathom, but one does sometimes bring two (as Colchester found in their goals for column on Tuesday), and I do think that maybe there has been some overconfidence in recent matches that we will score more than them and not have to worry about things too much. It’s fine being confident, but we need to have the work ethic and skill to back up that confidence. It will not be panic stations should we lose either, just a slight re-organisation so that the team put out is the best for each fixture, and the most able to win all the points.

Up the Addicks!

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