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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