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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