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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