Thursday, December 31, 2009

Team of the Half-Season

As we are just about at the half-way point in this League One season, and for a bit of seasonal fun, I wondered how the first half performances of Charlton’s players would compare with the rest of the division, and as such see how many of them may get into a League One team of the half-season? This is just my opinion and is obviously open to debate, so if you think I’ve made any errors or glaring omissions, please feel free to comment with your own point of view.

Obviously any such side would predominantly be made up from the Leeds team that has taken an eight point advantage at the top of the table by the half-way mark, but there are places up for grabs where Leeds have been struggling through injuries, and the first of these positions is in goal.

Casper Ankergren has played just 13 league games for Leeds, but is he any better than the rest of the divisions ‘keepers? I don’t think he is. Certainly Rob Elliot has made saves which have won points and broken opposition hearts too and there haven’t been too many other candidates for the best divisional side that I have seen. Lewis Price of Brentford is a decent goalie, as is Simon Royce at Gillingham, but I wouldn’t pick either of them above Elliot (left). The Huddersfield ‘keeper, Andy Smithies, is highly rated, but on the road the West Yorkshire team are very vulnerable and often concede, which is not the usually case for Elliot and Charlton. So the first position I have filled is Charlton’s very own Rob Elliot.

Jason Crowe has also suffered injury at Elland Road, so he cannot be confirmed as the team’s right back, and with Frazer Richardson also struggling fitness wise, the right back slot is open and it is therefore one of the hardest positions to fill in this side. I could suggest that Robbie Williams of Huddersfield could be the man to fill the gap, but he has played less than ten league games this season so far, and some of those appearances were in midfield. I am ultimately left with no other choice than to choose Alan Dunne of Millwall, who has been solid all season in a defence which rarely concedes many (except at The Valley), and he has chipped in with a couple of goals too.

On the left side, the choice to me seems a straight fight between Leeds’ Ben Parker and Charlton’s Kelly Youga, while Adam Drury (Norwich) is a solid reserve. Carlisle’s Ian Harte has scored more goals than the others put together, but he does take all the free kicks and penalties for that club, and their defensive record (which is part of his remit) isn’t that good. Parker is young and looks good for the future, but my pick (because I am slightly biased) goes to Youga, who has skill in abundance and has backed his forward forays with some excellent defending this season.

The centre back pairing would include Patrick Kisnorbo who has also been central to Leeds own defensive solidity, and also Christian Dailly, who has been a rock at the heart of Charlton’s make-shift defence, so it would be remiss not to see him included. I pick Kisnorbo over his usual defensive partner Leigh Bromby, just, and also pushing for a place on the bench is the impressive Magnus Okuonghae of Colchester.

In the centre of midfield, Charlton fans know the importance of Jose Semedo, but he isn’t a crowd pleaser and may not be the choice of his fellow professionals. Nicky Bailey on the other hand would walk into any team in this league, and you do feel that the players at other clubs respect him (by trying to kick lumps out of him at times!). Bradley Johnson at Leeds is also very highly rated and also scores goals, while Anthony Wordsworth of Colchester is one for the future who plays a bit like Martin Peters did all those years ago! Carl Baker, who scores most of bottom side Stockport’s goals, and Adam Lallana (Southampton) are both to be respected, but not quite in the league of Bailey and Johnson. For solidity, a worthy mention should also go to old hand Graham Kavanagh of Carlisle, but in this team, he would stand out like a sore thumb for being the slowest!

The left side of midfield has only one contender as far as I’m concerned. Others may disagree, but I was disappointed that Charlton did not sign Wes Hoolahan when they had a chance (to replace Andy Reid) a couple of years ago, and he is by far the brightest player in Norfolk these days. He walks into any divisional side picked this season.

That leaves one midfield position to fill on the right wing, and it is a straight choice for me between Lloyd Sam and Robert Snodgrass, with the Leeds player shading it by scoring more important goals and being more consistent. Andy Pilkington (Huddersfield) has a great shot on him, while Kevin Lisbie is a player that we know and love (or not) from the past; as with Lisbie, Jason Puncheon (MK Dons) is on a season long loan from a Championship club so I don’t think they really count in this task.

Most teams like this include three forwards, but I’m sticking with a 4-4-2 formation which means just two strikers. Although Deon Burton has played manfully so far this season, the choice is sure to be two players from the four top scorers that are Jermaine Beckford (Leeds), Richie Lambert (Southampton), Lee Barnard (Southend) and Grant Holt (Norwich, left). Jordan Rhodes of Huddersfield is worth a mention too, as are Easter (MK Dons) Forster (Brighton) and Jackson (Gillingham), who have all scored plenty of goals this year, but they would only make a subs bench at best in my opinion. My choice of attacking players from the season so far goes to Holt and Beckford, who would form an explosive partnership at this or a slightly higher level. If I did have to pick a third forward to start it would be Lambert, at the expense of Snodgrass, though I think the team is stronger as 4-4-2 rather than 4-3-3.

This is my team of the first half of the season, managed by Simon Grayson (of course) –

Rob Elliot (Charlton)
Alan Dunne (Millwall)
Kelly Youga (Charlton)
Patrick Kisnorbo (Leeds)
Christian Dailly (Charlton)
Nicky Bailey (Charlton)
Bradley Johnson (Leeds)
Robert Snodgrass (Leeds)
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)
Jermaine Beckford (Leeds)
Grant Holt (Norwich)

Subs – Smithies (Huddersfield), Bromby (Leeds), Semedo (Charlton), Sam (Charlton), Rhodes (Huddersfield), Barnard (Southend), Lambert (Southampton).

The players themselves get to vote around February and March time I believe, so by then one or two of the players who haven’t made many appearances due to injury may make a bigger impression, but it will be fun to see how this side compares when the seasonal team is announced at the PFA awards in May 2010.

Happy New Year, and up the Addicks!


Happy New Year!

The end of 2009 has been a bit deflating for Charlton fans; three consecutive draws have kept the club in second place in the league table, but the leaders have now drawn well clear, and the chasing pack are getting mighty too close for comfort in some quarters. Add to that the clubs injury situation, which shows few signs of relenting, and the financial constraints which mean that any new signings are unlikely (bar someone being sold first), and it could all be doom and gloom going into the new year.

To take some of the few positives though, the fact that the club are still second, on an unbeaten run that stretches back nine matches, have only lost two league games all season (in 24 matches!), and that the (four) players on four yellow cards and in danger of imminent suspension have now had that threat lifted (for a few weeks at least), shows that all is not lost and Charlton can still mount a promotion challenge.

The club is of course stretched, in more ways than one would like, and none more so than in playing personnel.

The full back positions have been troubling all season, with able reserve Chris Solly the first to get hurt, and now followed by Frazer Richardson and Kelly Youga. Solly has been somewhat rushed back, but at least he is available though lacking match practice; Richardson was rushed back too soon earlier in the season and now the club has paid the price, with him missing a significant chunk of the last two months. He is getting close to full fitness once more, and it will be good to have him back later in the month. Youga hurt his knee while clearing a ball and following through to kick a challenging player a few weeks back; although his problem looked innocuous at the time, knee injuries like his can take time to heal, and his loss has also been great. Hopefully Kelly will be able to return later this month too, as he has been widely missed. With the on-loan Elliot Omozusi and youngster Grant Basey covering these positions, we have been lucky to have able bodies, but they are not of the same calibre as Richardson and Youga. Omozusi’s loan may well need to be extended once more, when that comes to a close next week, or it is possible that he may actually be signed on a full time contract (probably just till the end of the season?), but if that doesn’t happen, then Solly should be able to plug the gap in the short term.

The forwards pose a somewhat different problem; we have numbers but they don’t seem to fit together properly and this is, in my opinion, because we do not had a channel runner at the club. Phil Parkinson (left) covered this by signing Dave Mooney on loan, and he did a great job which allowed Deon Burton to find space, recover from his hernia problem (to some extent), and score goals. Mooney also chipped in with a couple of valuable strikes, but his own knee injury suffered against Millwall has resulted in a tactical gap up front, and one that cannot be covered easily by any of Akpo Sodje, Izale McLeod or Chris Dickson. Sure, Sodje and Dickson did their best at Brentford, and Burton has run the front line on his own to good effect earlier on the season, but we need a partnership, and that has so far only come when Mooney has played with Burton. Now that Deon has served his one-game ban, Parky will need to decide who is going to partner the Jamaican international and top scorer. Dickson had a go last season, and McLeod did so in October, but I think we may now get to see Sodje start alongside Burton, in a powerful partnership which lacks pace but makes up for it in brute strength.

Thankfully, we have surplus players in midfield, and providing Christian Dailly returns to the centre of defence after illness (which is by no means certain), we will get to see our best central pairing of Nicky Bailey and Jose Semedo once more in tandem. If Semedo is required at the back, then Matt Spring compensates, but the team loses overall. Other options are limited and once more partnerships are important, as Therry Racon or Jonjo Shelvey, or anyone else, alongside Bailey just would not work in my opinion. Out wide, Lloyd Sam, to be fair, is a shoe-in, and the balance to Sam is being provided by Scott Wagstaff, although he too would prefer the right side of the pitch. I do think that maybe Parky is missing a trick by not alternating the wingers at times throughout the game. Waggy is better at defensive duties and is more direct, while Sam is trickier and can get to the line to put over crosses. Depending who the full back opposition are, and how they are faring, I would switch the players to provide better options and threat in attack and defence.

This is the side I think Parky will send out for the first game of a new decade on Saturday –

Rob Elliot
Elliot Omozusi
Miguel Llera
Christian Dailly
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Scott Wagstaff
Lloyd Sam
Akpo Sodje
Deon Burton

Subs from – Randolph, Solly, Mambo, Spring, Racon, Shelvey, Holden, McLeod, McKenzie, Dickson.

Opponents Walsall are an honest bunch of professionals, managed by old hand Chris Hutchins (of Chelsea, Brighton, Bradford and Wigan fame). Beaten 2-0 by the Addicks at The Valley back in August, they were without their best forward Darren Byfield that day, and have since bolstered their defence with the signing of 6 foot six inch centre back Clayton McDonald. Without a win since the 1st December, when they beat Yeovil 1-0, they have played just three times since, losing to Millwall and Southampton, and drawing with Orient in their last outing on the 19th. Subsequent games have been postponed due to frozen pitches, and there is some doubt as to whether this game will beat the freezing Black Country weather too, but if it goes ahead they should be fresh.

Charlton must get back to winning ways, as a continuation of draws is really hurting the teams chances of automatic promotion, and also bringing despondency to supporters. Pedro45 is confident that the team he thinks will play are good enough to get the three points, and is predicting a 2-1 victory. Even with all the injuries and suspensions of recent weeks, which has meant changes to the starting team for each match, the side are not playing badly, and a decent performance here will be enough to win. We know that the players have the will to win, and will keep going right to the end of every match, but it would be nice to have a comfortable last few minutes every once in a while - please?

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Deon Burton (left). Charlton’s top scorer has been the model professional over the first half of the season, but tarnished that accolade by getting sent off on Boxing Day. Even though Sam Sodje also received a red card, it was this second dismissal that really wrecked Charlton’s chances in that match, especially as they were leading at the time he picked up his second yellow. Burton therefore owes not only Charlton fans, but his team-mates for his over-zealous use of the hand, and what better way to repay them than by ensuring a winners bonus for the side by scoring a couple of goals.

Charlton are still a force in this league, and we fans should remember that. Other League One clubs look up at us and wish that they had a club like ours to support. That doesn’t mean that they will roll over and let us win, but it does give us a starting position of dominance from which we should, on most occasions, be able to take advantage of. I’m sure that 2010 will start with a victory and, with luck, this could be the start of the quickening roll toward promotion that we all want and the club needs, giving us all a Happy New Year!

Up the Addicks!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drawn Out

Brentford 1 Charlton Athletic 1

A third consecutive draw for Charlton, after a frustrating day at Griffin Park saw Nicky Bailey equalise from the penalty spot midway through the second half (left). The push for a winning goal failed to bring any reward, and the Addicks had to settle for a share of the spoils on a cold afternoon.

The Charlton fans packed into the away stand were hoping to see a return to winning ways, but though Phil Parkinson shuffled his pack once more - three changes for this match – the continuity seemed to suffer a little, and Charlton rarely looked like a top two side. With Deon Burton and Sam Sodje suspended, plus with Christian Dailly still ill, both first choice full backs (Frazer Richardson and Kelly Youga) out injured, as was striker Dave Mooney, it was a make-shift looking team on paper. From Saturdays game, Jonjo Shelvey was dropped to the bench, while Lloyd Sam, Scott Wagstaff, and Chris Dickson came into the team.

Dickson did look lively early in the game, but failed to capitalise on one good chance before the game had settled. With Jose Semedo playing in central defence, the virtually reserve Addicks rearguard played much better than it looked like it might on paper, but moving the Portu-geezer back did take something from the midfield. Matt Spring got somewhat stuck in the mud that made up most of the soft west London pitch. In attack, Akpo Sodje won plenty of aerial stuff, but seemed to play too far apart from Dickson to create much.

Brentford saw plenty of possession, especially through on-loan Spurs man John Bostock, but failed to get a decent shot on target until the 40th minute, when Rob Elliot was forced into a low save. By then, Lloyd Sam, to be fair, had come closest to opening the scoring when his rasping drive took a deflection and drew a good save from Price. As half time approached, Dickson broke free but his lob drifted wide of the goal with Price well out of position; it was an important miss.

One time ten-million pound man Carl Cort came on for the home team at the break, and he opened the scoring after a corner was turned goalwards by the dread-locked Bean. The Addicks rearguard looked very static as the ball was played in, and it was disappointing that Cort had so much time to pick his spot from six yards out.

The goal did serve to galvanise the Charlton side, and all of a sudden, Nicky Bailey became much more involved. Shelvey came on for the subdued Wagstaff, and he played a roving role just behind the forwards and looked to be available for a pass at every opportunity, linking play when he could. Lloyd Sam, to be fair, had a good shout for a penalty turned down after he was pushed to the ground as he burst inside the penalty area, but seconds later, a through ball found Dickson and his touch took him past Price. The goalkeepers momentum carried him into the Addicks forward (left) and this time a penalty was awarded. Bailey smashed it home, despite Price getting a solid hand to the ball, and you hoped the Addicks might go on to win.

The pitch became increasingly sticky, and some players struggled to keep their footing, notably Sodje and Spring. Whichever side had the ball seemed to keep it for quite long periods, and the game shifted with one side having prolonged attacks and then the other.

Brentford won a free kick in the edge of the Charlton box, and the shot smashed against the cross-bar and came out, but neither side made the goalies work too hard. Leon McKenzie tried hard when he came on for a tiring Dickson, but with Sodje also looking drained after his exertions at the weekend, Charlton offered little goal threat as the match came to the end.

The effort of the team cannot be faulted, but with so many reserves in the side, and with the tactics neccessarily being amended each match to suit those available, the team has become disjointed and lost some focus.

Hopefully some of the ill or injured players may be available this weekend, but at least we can welcome back top scorer Deon Burton, as his leadership of the front line is required as a fulcrum.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Higher than Cloud Nine

In some ways, I’m really upset that I missed such a dramatic Charlton game at The Valley on Saturday, and I wish it had been postponed so I could have attended. I bet Phil Parkinson wishes the game hadn’t happened either, though for different reasons…

Parky will certainly earn his corn over the next few matches, as he has done over the first half of the season, but possibly more so as he tries to pull together enough available players starting with the game at Griffin Park against Brentford. Without his first choice defence and attack, somehow he has to cobble together enough skill and experience to ensure the points are won. He also has to decide on a midfield, as this is the only area that he has sufficient bodies, but also because he may need to use some of those additional bodies to fill gaps elsewhere.

When you look at the squad, and who is available, about the only player guaranteed to be playing in a easily determined position is goalkeeper Rob Elliot; I’ve probably put the mockers on him by saying as much, but he should be OK to line up between the posts.

The defence will consist of any and all of the senior players who are fit; providing there were no unseen injuries from the Swindon game, Elliot Omozusi will line up at right back, Grant Basey at left back, and Saturday’s hero Miguel Llera in central defence. With Christian Dailly still ill, Sam Sodje suspended, Kelly Youga still out injured, and Basey required elsewhere, the only option is to play Jose Semedo alongside Llera. Communication may be an issue, but Charlton have no alternative other than bringing in youngster Yado Mambo, and I doubt that will happen.

The shifting of Semedo leaves a gap in midfield, and it was a shame that Parky’s tactic of playing a narrow diamond shape on Saturday did not get the chance to work, given that the team played 90 minutes (81 minutes of normal time taking into account the ten minutes Sodje was off being stitched up, plus the nine minutes of additional time allowed for by the referee) with less than eleven men. With Lloyd Sam back after suspension, and with Semedo moved back, I doubt that Parky will want to try that formation with the personnel he has available in this match, but he could decide to switch back to 4-5-1 bearing in mind that Jonjo Shelvey made a goal scoring return to the team. The alternative of maintaining a 4-4-2 is to play an unbalanced side, and I’m not sure Parky will want that.

Up front, Akpo Sodje put in a sterling effort for over an hour on his own, but hopefully his tired legs have recovered enough to do something similar in this match, with squad strikers Leon McKenzie, Chris Dickson, and Izale McLeod (if he is still around) able to bring relief or add additional firepower later in the game as is required.

This is the team I suspect Parky may have to suit up at Griffin Park -

Rob Elliot

Elliot Omozusi

Miguel Llera

Jose Semedo

Grant Basey

Matt Spring

Nicky Bailey

Scott Wagstaff

Lloyd Sam

Jonjo Shelvey

Akpo Sodje

Subs from Randolph, Solly, Mambo, Pell, Jenkinson, Perkins, McKenzie, Tuna, Dickson, McLeod.

It’s horrible to contemplate that four of the potential subs above have yet to start a league game for the Addicks, and three other have just a handful of league games under their collective belts, but such is the availability situation for this match.

Brentford are on little roll themselves, but sadly, for them, ex-Addick Charlie McDonald will be missing after being a referee victim on Saturday when he was unlucky to pick up a red card. The bees gave Charlton a tough game at The Valley (where Charlton won 2-1) earlier in the season, and played some good football, but since then they have settled into a middle of the league team, who are unlikely to get in either the play-off or relegation zones this season. The main danger on paper is on-loan Spurs man and future “star” John Bostock, though he was left out of the side at Gillingham this weekend.

Pedro45 is travelling up form Somerset for the game, and is confident that the Addicks will get back to winning ways with a1-0 victory. The defence may be our reserves, but for this match I am hoping they can perfom heroically once more and see the Addicks home with a clean sheet.

My one-to-watch is going to be Jose Semedo. With a stop-gap defence for this match, our Portu-geezer will need to show us that he can play in the position that he was originally bought for, and he hasn’t forgotten all he knows about playing centre half while he’s been stuck in midfield. He will have to be careful and understand that he cannot foul his man if they get past him, as that could lead to a red card (as it did at Cardiff a couple of years back), but if he remains confident that his covering defenders will help him he should be OK.

I think it is eleven games since defeat in the league for the Addicks currently, and it would be great to carry the round dozen into 2010. Charlton started this year with a draw, but they can go one better here; the first game of the second half of the season needs to be won, and I think we can do it!

Up the Addicks!

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bobbin’ Robins

Charlton Athletic 2 Swindon Town 2

Maybe it was the red, red, robin that I saw bobbin’ about my in-laws back garden this morning, but omens can work either way, especially when you are playing another team nicknamed the Robins!

In another crazy game, Charlton snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat, in much the same way that they had thrown away a victory in injury time last week. It is all the more remarkable that they did so playing with one-less man than the Lions did!

Manager Phil Parkinson made four changes to the team that drew with Millwall in that game last weekend; two were expected - Lloyd Sam sitting out his one-game suspension, and Dave Mooney injured - but two were not. Miguel Llera came in for the ill Christian Dailly and Matt Spring for Scott Wagstaff, as Charlton lined up winger-less, with Jonjo Shelvey and Akpo Sodje coming into the team.

Things didn’t start well for the Addicks, as Sam Sodje received a cut head after the second of two early corners, but slowly they found their rhythm and Deon Burton and Nicky Bailey both went close in the first quarter of an hour.

Then things got worse, as Sam Sodje, who missed about ten minutes of the match while his head was stitched and wrapped in bandages, was sent off with a straight red card after only 19 minutes following a late two-footed tackle. This left the Addicks not only one-man short, but with a completely reserve defence. It was Sam Sodje’s second red card of the season after he also received his marching orders at Yeovil.

Paynter then saw a header well turned over by Rob Elliot, before both teams came to terms with the uneven numbers in opposition. Charlton continued to dominate possession, but the pernickety referee upset fans and players alike with some strange decisions.

After 37 minutes, Shelvey picked up a loose ball and thumped home a great strike from distance to give ten-man Charlton the lead. Crazily, five minutes later, after Swindon goalkeeper Lucas was not penalised after handling the ball outside the area, Burton received a second yellow card for dissent, having received his first just a couple of minutes earlier. With Charlton down to nine players, the need was to hang on to the lead until half-time and re-organise. There was some desperate defending, and five minutes of first half stoppage time, but the Addicks hung on after some solid keeping from Elliot.

It was crazy for Charlton to have a two-man disadvantage at half-time, as Swindon had committed twice as many fouls as the home side, but that was the situation.

It was backs against the wall at the start of the second half, with relentless balls into the penalty area from Swindon, and just a couple of breakouts by Shelvey and Bailey offering any form of relief. A header was cleared from the line after a corner, and shots started to rain in from everywhere. Shelvey broke and drew a save from the Swindon ‘keeper, but then the equaliser came from Austin just eleven minutes into the half from Amankwaah’s cross.

The onslaught continued, though in a brief moment of respite Akpo Sodje won a corner from which Llera and then Shelvey went close. Basey was then booked for more dissent when he failed to be given a corner to add further pressure, before Leon McKenzie came on for Akpo Sodje – who had run himself into the ground - with 25 minutes left.

Elliot saved from Sheehan, but then Paynter turned home Austin’s cross to give the visitors the lead with fifteen minutes left. Bailey lost a ball in midfield but Elliot saved well, and then Scott Wagstaff came on for Elliot Omozusi with ten minutes to go in an attacking move. Then the back from loan Chris Dickson came on as the final substitute in a last throw of the dice (for Shelvey), with the Addicks lining up in a 3-3-2 formation.

Wagstaff created a late chance with a good cross that McKenzie couldn’t quite get onto, before the first Swindon player was booked for more dissent in the last minute. With Charlton struggling to get possession from the team with much greater numbers, time was running out for the Addicks, but at the death, Llera squeezed the ball home for an amazing leveller to send the home crowd delirious. It was dramatic stuff that had the commentators salivating…

This was the first home game I have missed this season, and at exactly the halfway point of 2009/10, the team sit proudly in second place. Playing well over half the match with nine men put a huge amount of pressure on the side but it is to their credit that the team did not lose that unbeaten home record that stretches back to March (even though it was very close!). The necessity is now to turn this team spirit into wins, beginning on Monday at Brentford, though with injuries and suspensions really hurting it will be tough to come up with a full bench unless some of the three players out on work-experience are recalled.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

After the Lord Mayors Show

You certainly couldn’t have asked for a more exciting game than the one at the Valley last Saturday, and the fact that it was a local derby to boot, made it even more special. Whether you are in the glass half full brigade (a point gained from being two goals down) or the half empty clan (not winning against ten men despite leading twice), I’m sure that the entertainment was full and appreciated. Is it too much to expect more of the same in Charlton’s next match against Swindon on Boxing Day? Well, maybe not…

Supporters with memories that go back over quite a few years (like mine) will recall a 5-0 victory on Boxing Day’s past (over Manchester City in the late eighties) and also a 5-0 defeat (to West Ham about six years ago). Those who have supported the club even longer than me may remember the famous 6-4 win on Xmas Day that was followed by a 6-4 loss on Boxing Day back in the fifties (I think), with both games against Plymouth. So it is possible that we could see another plethora of goals on Saturday.

I’m sure manager Phil Parkinson would prefer not to see his defence conceding quite so many, especially as the Addicks have seen a few clean sheets recently, and his want will be to get back to a zero in the goals against column quite soon. That may be tough against a Swindon side sitting just inside the play-off positions, and who are in a decent vein of form themselves.

The first thing Parky will do this week will be see who is fit, and then decide who going to take the place of the suspended Lloyd Sam. It seems unlikely that Kelly Youga will be back after his knee injury, but there is a chance that Frazer Richardson could be fit after several weeks out. Dave Mooney looked to have picked up quite a serious knee injury in the Millwall game, and even though he was keen to carry on in that match, the wise words of the manager – who suggested it was OK to be substituted - have probably saved him from more serious and/or longer term injury; Mooney will not be fit and will need replacing in this game though.

The options at the back are in situe, and Elliot Omozusi will continue at right back unless Richardson is preferred (though I would be tempted to save him for Monday’s away game at Brentford if he is close to fitness…), while Grant Basey is certain to remain as left back while Youga is out. The replacement for Mooney is a little more complicated to call, and options include a revert to a 4-5-1 formation (which is unlikely, though not impossible), or a start for either Akpo Sodje or Leon McKenzie, or both. Playing either forward should free up a place on the substitutes bench, so it is possible that, with Izale McLeod’s future clouded by rumours of a trial at Hearts next week (postponed from this week by the snow), we could see the prodigal son that is Chris Dickson back in the squad after his loan spell at Bristol Rovers.

Who plays instead of Sam on the right is another tough call, as his ready made squad replacement, Scott Wagstaff, is already playing (on the left wing), so maybe this could be the breakthrough that Luke Holden needs? I certainly think he will make the bench after spending quite a bit of time on the verge of the eighteen-man squad. Therry Racon is another possibility to play on the left, though he has already displayed his preference not to be considered for that role in recent weeks, and may now have no choice or to be left out of the squad completely (as he was last week).

The rest of the team, goalkeeper Rob Elliot, centre backs Sam Sodje and Christian Dailly, plus central midfielders Nicky Bailey and Jose Semedo should be certain to play, along with top scorer Deon Burton.

This is the team I think Parky will send out to bring us Christmas cheer –

Rob Elliot

Elliot Omozusi

Sam Sodje

Christian Dailly

Grant Basey

Jose Semedo

Nicky Bailey

Scott Wagstaff

Leon McKenzie

Deon Burton

Akpo Sodje

Subs from Randolph, Richardson, Llera, Spring, Shelvey, Racon, Holden, Dickson, Tuna, McLeod, Perkins.

Swindon come into the game with little to lose; in a decent run at home, they have unearthed a goal-scoring gem it seems in the form of Charlie Austin, who has struck five times in seven appearances since being plucked from non-league football a few months back. He will need to be closely watched, but the problem at the Wiltshire club is their defence, which leaks goals more often than Eurostar trains break down (which is a lot!), with just one clean sheet since early September. Even though I would not be in the least bit surprised to see Swindon score in this game, I do think that their problems at the back may see them concede more than they can get past Rob Elliot and the flaky Addicks defence.

Sadly, my wife’s broken elbow is going to prevent Pedro45’s attendance at this particular match (though compensation comes from our re-arranged and delayed holiday next month during which I will miss only one home game instead of the original foreseen two), but I am confident that the Addicks have enough to just about come away with the win, and I am forecasting a 2-1 victory, and no repeat of the goal-fest from the last match.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Scott Wagstaff, on whose young shoulders the ability to supply the forwards rests. Waggy has had his moments so far this season, some good (scoring his goals) and some bad (missing sitters and messing up for Millwall’s opener last week). He may be young, but he has to appreciate his role in the side, and how doing his duties compliment the team; if he continues to track back, is available for passes, and attacks his marker when he gets the chance, plus supplies the ball accurately and at the right time, then the loss of Sam may be one we can cope with without too much concern (for one game at least).

The unbeaten record at The Valley that stretches back to before the last lot of snow and the record is one that is precious but it will go some day; gladly it was maintained in our derby match, and it would be great to take it into the new year too. Come on lads, you know you can do it!

I am just left with task of wishing everyone a very happy Xmas – to the club and its staff; the players; the supporters who turn out in hot and cold weather; to other bloggers and also to the readers of this blog. Looking at it as a whole, 2009 hasn’t been a bad year results-wise, but let us wish for Santa to improve our form in 2010, and get us back up at least one division.

Come on you reds!

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Drawing Conclusions

Charlton Athletic 4 Millwall 4

A fascinating game that will long live in some people’s memory, though I’m sure both managers and their defences will want to forget this showing quickly enough. It was passionate throughout, and after the visitors took a two goal lead midway through the first half, Charlton battled back to equalise after the award of two penalties. The second award saw the sending off of Jimmy Abdou, but it hardly diminished Millwall’s style of play, and in the second half, they gave as good as they got to equalise twice, the last goal coming well into injury time.

It was Scott Wagstaff who was at fault for the first goal of the day, though both sides had seen chances go begging prior to the 12th minute opener. Wagstaff, tracking back, poked the ball past Sam Sodje 30 yards out and was then baulked by the big defender which allowed Morison to sneak in and slot past Rob Elliot. 12 minutes later it was 2-0, after a shot from a corner (that was harshly awarded) had come back off the woodwork, with Morison again poking home.

The stunned Valley awoke after 35 minutes when Dave Mooney chased a lost cause only to be brought down by Frampton (left). This foul tackle certainly prevented a goalscoring chance, but the blue shirted player was not even booked by the fussy referee. Deon Burton despatched the spot kick high into the corner of the net, and a few minutes later he had another chance from 12 yards after a clumsy challenge on Lloyd Sam. This came about after Mooney had once more closed down the ‘keeper and won the ball off him, only to see his swivel shot curl against the post and bounce out. As Sam was about to pounce, he was caught form behind, and Abdou saw red, though it was certainly no worse than the Frampton foul for the first penalty.

With the Addicks in the ascendancy on a bitterly cold afternoon, the half time whistle came, and most retreated to warmer areas of the stadium.

Hopefully everyone was back in their seats for the resumption, as good work down the right between Elliot Omozusi and Sam saw a good first time cross from the winger nodded back by Mooney for Nicky Bailey to smash an unstoppable volley high into the top corner of the net (left). When they come to do the goal of the season in a few months time, there will be only one winner - that is unless we see something better in the next 25 games.

Charlton annoyingly sat back after taking the lead, and even though they had a one man advantage it certainly didn’t look like it for long periods of that half. With both wingers closely marked and not able to settle on the ball, and with a couple of players having very poor games (Elliot and Grant Basey won’t want to look back on their performances with any pride, and Wagstaff and Christian Dailly also had indifferent afternoon’s), the away team took the game to Charlton. Most pressure was soaked up, and after Akpo Sodje came on for Mooney with 25 minutes left, breakwaways nearly took Charlton clear. The younger Sodje missed his kick when well placed, then saw a shot saved after bursting through the middle. It was a surprise then when Martin equalised with ten minutes left. Back came the Addicks though, and after a corner was won and flicked on at the near post, the unfortunate Morison completed his hat-trick of goals in front of the Jimmy Seed stand by letting the ball bounce off his forehead and in off the post to give Charlton the lead again.

Once more Charlton sat back, and once more Millwall scored in injury time as bad play saw Basey robbed on the edge of the area, and though Elliot saved the initial shot, Schofield buried the rebound. There was still time for Charlton to lose the game, but luckily they held on, and honours were even as the final whistle went.

I do think that the match as an event got to some of the local players – Elliot, Wagstaff and Basey - and they will all need to learn to let heads rule hearts in derby games. The problem elsewhere was the amount of time on the ball the team had, which was virtually nil, and they will need to learn to pass the ball better and quicker to counter the closing down that some teams exert. While the midfield had its moments, too often the balls forward from Jose Semedo and Bailey were just punts, and that left Burton and Mooney fighting for scraps.

The referee it should be noted will be vilified on Millwall message boards, but he hardly did Charlton any favours either, and was overly fussy and inconsistent throughout.

The draw maintains the Addicks unbeaten home record stretching back to March, and the club find themselves sitting nicely in second place in the table over Xmas. At the end of the season, this could be seen as a point won, rather than two dropped.

The other bad point to the day was finding out (ten minutes from the end of the match) that my wife had slipped on ice and that she has broken her elbow! That puts my Xmas plans into a state of flux, and with Lloyd Sam booked in this game, manager Phil Parkinson will now need to make an enforced change for the Boxing Day game against Swindon. This may well give one of the squad players a chance to stake their own claim for a place in the side, and competition can only be a good thing.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Old Friends

For some, a game against Millwall is a war to be won; for others, it is a chance to gloat at close friends expense if we win, and hide if we don’t. They are Charlton’s local-est rivals, and therefore the most important derby match, despite other teams being more hated by Addicks. I have several friends and acquaintances who support the Lions, including one of my best mates who has been a season ticket holder for years and years. I even changed another friend from a Lion to an Addick when he needed to take his son to a football match without the worry and risk of injury (or more likely that his son would get into trouble when he was older and wanted to go on his own). That was 13 years ago, and now my converted mate comes with me to nearly every match while his son dislikes watching football and is happier with a girl on his arm and a camera in his hand.

This game should, therefore, be a friendly derby, but the image that Millwall have is not a nice one, and their fans have (deservedly) had a reputation for years of causing trouble just when you least expect it, and often when you do. For this reason, Charlton have had to take a lot of precautionary measures to prevent trouble and maintain segregation at a possibly snow-bound Valley on Saturday. Gone are the days when the Millwall fans could walk around the ground and inhabit the Covered End looking for a fight, and gone are the days when Addicks like myself could stand on the halfway line at The Den and know that provided we didn’t act stupidly we would be left alone to cheer inwardly if, shock horror, we scored (though that didn’t happen all too often at that ground). One Millwall acquaintance asked me a couple of weeks ago if I could provide him (and his son and daughter) with tickets for the Valley game this weekend; of course I said no, and I reminded him of the reason why and the repercussions if I did. Despite this, he will be in the ground courtesy of, according to him, the provision of six match tickets for him and his family and friends by a local police inspector! If he was telling the truth, and he is in the posh seats and the away team score, I wonder who will ban the copper who got him the tickets from the Valley?!?

Enough about the fans – it may be important to those from both sides, but it is also a vitally important game for both teams and their managers.

While Millwall sit just outside the play-off places after a very stop-start season, they will be hoping to get back into some sort of form that might move them up the league table over the next few months. They have had many injuries this year so far, and after a promising start, dropped back down the table when their squad was at its most stretched. They do have match winners, and an undeniable will to get results, with evidence of such from the many late goals they have scored that secured vital wins or draws – five goals in the 89th minute or later which have yielded an extra five points. Charlton must therefore be on guard if the game is level or close going into the last few minutes, as Millwall do tend to shoot from anywhere when they are behind. A lot will depend on who plays in the visiting team, as injuries are still rife, but if they play, Neil Harris is a threat, and James Henry needs to be watched. The guy with the mop hair is Jason Price, who used to go out with a work colleague of mine while with Hull, but it is just coincidence that when she moved to London he followed. Strangely, the Lions have no ex-Addicks in their ranks, and it is some time since a former Charlton player plied their trade at The New Den – Jamie Stuart and Kim Grant are the last couple I can think of…

For Charlton, the match is another important one from which to keep the pressure on Leeds who sit just two points above them, and Norwich and Colchester who sit directly below them in the league table albeit six points behind. Manager Phil Parkinson will have had a week to ponder his best side for this match, and also time to get some of our injured player’s fitter. The first choice full backs – Frazer Richardson and Kelly Youga – have both been out for the last few weeks (bar Richardson’s 45 minute abortive return at The Valley a couple of weeks ago), but there is a chance that one or both may be available for this game. Youga was apparently close last week, while Richardson cannot be too far away either unless he has had another problem; if either is fit then I expect them to play, with Elliot Omozusi likely to make way ahead of Grant Basey.

The rest of Charlton’s squad are fit, although Izale McLeod is unlikely to be risked against his former employers after a recent thigh problem, and the fact that they don’t like him. Centre backs Christian Dailly and Sam Sodje have looked very solid over recent matches, while the midfield is picking itself at present, with Jose Semedo, Nicky Bailey, Lloyd Sam, and Scott Wagstaff all putting in decent displays.

In attack, Parky actually has a choice this week, with Leon McKenzie and Akpo Sodje now fully fit and pushing Deon Burton and Dave Mooney for starting positions. Last week at Stockport, top scorer Burton got bogged down on the heavy pitch, while Mooney was fantastic bar his finishing, which could have netted him a bagful of goals had it been better. He doesn’t deserve to be dropped after that performance, but a quiet word about the need to take his chances would go down well.

Mentally, Parky will need to make the players aware of the local rivalry, and what sort of atmosphere to expect, but concerns about bookings should be ignored in favour of not getting anyone sent off. It's one thing to miss a game due to a fifth yellow card of the season, but another to get Xmas off due to some silly hands-raised incident which gets a three game ban (Carl Baker being a prime example!).

This is the side I think Park will put the gloves on this Saturday for the game against Millwall –

Rob Elliot
Kelly Youga
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Scott Wagstaff
Dave Mooney
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Omozusi, Richardson, Llera, Spring, Racon, Holden, Shelvey, Tuna, McKenzie, McLeod, Sodje A.

Charlton need the win just as much as Millwall do, but that requirement must be transferred to the players minds, as we know that the visitors will be roared on by their fans, and they will play as if there is nothing to lose. It will be a close game I suspect, but Charlton have a little more quality if it is allowed to come out. Pedro45 worries though, and remembers other games when local teams put one over the Addicks at just the wrong time, and is therefore predicting a frustrating 2-1 defeat. It is 13 years since the clubs met, and they may just want it a little more than we do, though I sincerely hope not. Millwall haven’t lost a game this season when they have been winning at half-time and I suspect that hearts may rule heads allowing them to get in front early in the game, with Charlton chasing a losing cause late on. I do hope I'm wrong though!

My one-to-watch in this match is a Charlton fan, who will be desperate to win this derby game – Charlton's goalie Rob Elliot. The Charlton custodian will do well to concentrate all match, especially when protecting the Jimmy Seed end goal, and he must not let the supporters behind him get to him mentally (or physically!). He will be up for the game like no other player on the pitch I think, but the fixture must not be allowed to influence his performance (except positively). Credited with an own goal last week just as the Addicks were looking good for a third consecutive clean sheet, though it was no error of any kind, he will be very keen to keep the ball out of the net in this match, though I fancy he may have his work cut out to achieve that.

With both clubs taking a very positive stance on street crime for this match, it will be interesting to see if the game goes off without trouble (as it should); reputations are one thing, but there is no need for wanton violence on the streets around SE7 this (or any)weekend. Millwall themselves firmly believe that their club is victimised whenever there is violence around a football match involving them, so this game would be a good time for their fans to show that local derbies involving Millwall are not simply excuses to gang up and be bullies.

It will be a great atmosphere inside the Valley on Saturday, and hopefully the result will go the reds way – I certainly hope so!

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just Edging It…

Stockport County 1 Charlton Athletic 2

A win is a win, but it was a frustrating day all round for some at Edgeley Park, as Charlton really should have cake-walked this game, but were made to hang on ingloriously at the end. Goals from Sam Sodje (left) and Scott Wagstaff gave the Addicks a comfortable lead, before a fluky injury time cross went in (somehow) and the Addicks had to hang on while time was played out.

The spectacle wasn’t the best, especially as I’d forgotten my glasses for the second week running, but the trip up north went OK, bar dropping a glove at Leeds (thank you to the lovely lady who ran after me to give it back!), and 20p as I bought a programme. I should also mention the great Full English that I had for lunch in Mackenzie’s in Stockport (opposite the Town Hall) which set me up for the rest of the day.

Charlton started the game as their position near the top of the league would suggest when playing the bottom ranked team; within minutes, Dave Mooney was put through but shot too close to the ‘keeper, and then almost immediately afterwards he failed to beat the ‘keeper again first time when a poor clearance came to him. The home team hadn’t had a kick up till then, and soon they were indeed one goal behind. Grant Basey’s corner was headed in by Sam Sodje who had made a darting run to the near post. Basey was lucky to still be on the pitch, and even walking, as a very poor and late challenge from Poole caught him heavily in the groin area, and Basey was in acute pain for quite some time. Poole was rightly booked for having his boot so high, and it looked like it took Basey over twenty minutes to fully recover (though evidence of that may have had to wait till later).

Sadly, Mooney then fluffed a couple more chances, and as Charlton sat back, the home team saw more possession and started to pass the ball about well. This despite the dodgy pitch, which did not look as bad as predicted, but was very strange when compared to others played on recently. It wasn’t at all waterlogged, or very muddy, but the pitch was very soft, and the ball did hold up on it and not run true. This proved a problem for dribblers like Lloyd Sam (though not Scott Wagstaff..) and to a certain degree Jose Semedo, but actually helped Mooney whose runs behind the defence regularly saw him reach the ball before the ‘keeper had a chance to come and claim.

The home side grew in confidence as Charlton failed to extend the lead, and first Bignall missed an open goal after a break down the right exposed the Charlton centre backs, then a scramble saw a shot hit the bar and the resulting efforts blocked by Semedo and Elliot when it may have been easier to score. It could easily have been 5-2 at half time, with Mooney missing four gilt-edged chances, but the Addicks would have settled for a one-goal lead on that pitch prior to kick off I’m sure.

With Charlton kicking towards their own fans in the second half, you hoped that the team would not sit back and would put some pressure on, but the match fell into that familiar pattern. Charlton looked to hit Stockport on the break, and relied on the excellent defensive work of Christian Dailly, Sam Sodje, and Semedo to keep their lead. Annoyingly, the ball was given away far too often, usually unnecessarily too, as passes from midfield went straight to the blue shirted team and not to where they should have. Nicky Bailey, Semedo, and Basey were all culpable, and Mooney’s frustrating afternoon continued when he saw a shot saved once more after bursting through. Deon Burton had got stuck in the mud, and he was substituted for Akpo Sodje with half an hour to go.

Charlton then had their best chance of the half, as a fast break saw Mooney play in Sam, but he also failed to get the ball past the ‘keeper in a one-on-one; the rebound fell invitingly to Wagstaff, but his first time effort flew very high and wide of a gaping goal, possibly due to the pitch? Minutes later though, the lead was extended, as a first time reverse pass from Mooney found Wagstaff inside the area, and he simply passed the ball into the far corner of the net, and celebrated in the arms of travelling supporters (left). Akpo Sodje then burst through but failed to get his shot away, and the home crowd went quiet as the game trundled toward an anti-climatic end.

Four minutes injury time was signalled, and around three of those had passed when a speculative cross from the left floated over Elliot in goal and hit the post; the ball then bounced back onto the Charlton custodian and over the line before Elliot could scoop it away. Such was County’s luck this year that many thought they would be denied the goal, but eventually play stopped as the referee signalled it had gone over the line.

The referee had been good throughout, but quite lenient when compared to some we have had this year. He was soon in action again as Sam was booked for a foul after he had once more given away possession. This signalled an immediate change from the bench as Phil Parkinson looked to waste some time (just as the free kick was being taken), but Sam was tardy in answering the call as his number went up and received an ignominious push to help him on his way. This sparked a general melee and during this 18-player confrontation, County’s best player - Baker – was sent off after using what looked like an elbow on Bailey. Bailey was rolling around once more at the end of a game and once more you had to question how badly he was hurt. Semedo meanwhile was just trying to keep everyone from treading on the prone Charlton captain.

You hoped that the ref would blow for time when the free kick was finally delivered into the box (Elliot catching confidently) but he actually allowed play to go on and another Stockport attack had to be repelled before the final whistle went.

In the context of the season, this was a good victory, especially as Leeds and Norwich failed to win, but from a fans perspective it was frustrating that Charlton hadn’t gone into such a lead early on that conceding last minute goal is superfluous.

The players and management came over to offer thanks to the 500 plus travelling fans and then it was back onto the trains for my journey home. A slight error in Manchester saw my route home altered - through Sheffield to Doncaster rather than via Leeds - but it was fun watching the xmas revellers and shoppers going about their way.

Four wins on the trot is good stuff in the lead up to the seasonal games, and one more good result next Saturday will give everyone connected with Charlton a very happy Xmas!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Idle Gossip

It makes you laugh all this supposed transfer news; whether it be during the summer, or a month or so before the January transfer window opens, or during the windows in August and January themselves, it’s the same trash just regurgitated all over again. It’s not just Charlton that are on the receiving end either, but today we have a few of our players creating a splash or two!

Sky Sports is now trailing interest in three Charlton players – Izale McLeod, Therry Racon, and Yassin Moutaouakil – all supposedly attracting Premier League interest.

At least with McLeod (left), it’s just the Scottish Premier League, with the advances of Hearts being to the fore once more. If they do want to sign McLeod, I’m sure Phil Parkinson and Richard Murray would be willing to do a deal early in January, as he is fairly well down the pecking order at The Valley, and the loss of him will be compensated by the arrival back very soon of Chris Dickson.

Dickson would also be allowed to leave I’m sure, if a suitable offer comes in. If not, then we can expect him to go out on loan till the end of the season again, though whether Gillingham are allowed to be his temporary home is debatable after their behaviour earlier this year.

Yassin Moutaouakil has had some rave reviews playing for Motherwell on loan this season, but he has also missed a few games for non-injury related issues. Out of favour at The Valley and with Parky, any reasonable offer would be accepted for Moots, and if that comes from the English Premier League (with two clubs willing to bid?) then great. I would also expect him to be quickly shown the door on loan if no firm offer for him is forthcoming, despite the lack of right back cover for Frazer Richardson.

The most surprising blurb to come from Sky revolves around Racon (left), who apparently is attracting Fulham and West Ham, plus Blackburn with his great form. Portsmouth are also clutching at any straw, and they too apparently want our Guadaloupe international. With Racon out of contract come season end, it is no surprise that a few teams may be sniffing, but I doubt any of them will be playing in the top division come next August.

Newcastle are also apparently in for Lloyd Sam, though the lovely Lloyd said he hadn’t heard anything about that when interviewed last weekend and that he was very happy at Charlton after spending ten years at the club. This one has come out from time to time since the summer, but without anything to back it up, and I doubt it holds true with the Magpies aiming for bigger and better things if they win promotion.

I expect the same site will be warning us to expect Jonjo Shelvey, Nicky Bailey, and any other player having a decent season at The Valley to be wanted by clubs in higher leagues or better off financially, prompted no doubt by the odd Agent wanting a new year's bonus, but with Richard Murray confirming that nobody would be going anywhere without the managers permission and a very good offer to boot then all this talk is idle speculation by lazy journalists.


Taking Stock

Charlton need to maintain their winning run with a victory in the off-on league game at Stockport County on Saturday if they are to keep hanging on the tails on leaders Leeds, and ahead of chasers Norwich. It does seem like the other contenders win nearly every week, and it is very much to Charlton’s credit that we still sit in second place in the league table and that, despite the other teams consistent winning streaks, we are very much in contention for promotion. It is probably quite some time since the Addicks won four games on the bounce (discounting the excellent start to the season where six games were won), with the run probably going back to November 2007 I think. During that particular run, Charlton won at Preston, and a similar performance to that will do nicely at Edgeley Road.

The wins have come at a price though, and the injury situation is still a cause for concern especially with some players now close to suspension. Frazer Richardson and Kelly Youga are definitely out, which is a loss, and so it seems is Izale McLeod, though that is not so damaging. Luckily, Charlton have two full backs who are doing a decent job as cover for the first choice pairing, with Grant Basey back near his best – defending solidly and putting in great crosses – and Elliot Omozusi getting more match fitness on every outing and contributing accordingly. Both are better going forwards, but on tricky away games like this one, they will need to defend well too.

Luckily, the pair have solid and experienced central defenders between them, and it is terrific to see old hands like Sam Sodje – heart on sleeve for all to see – and Christian Dailly – oozing experience and calm – wearing an Addicks shirt on a regular basis.

In goal, we can expect Rob Elliot to continue after his thigh problem, with Darren Randolph once more the substitute. Elliot continued his knack of making one tremendous save per game along with one moment of ball juggling last week against Southend; luckily, his errors have contributed to far less goals than his saves have prevented, and long may that continue.

In attack, the news that Akpo Sodje has seen his loan spell extended by another month is very good news, and also that Leon McKenzie is once again back near to full fitness after a very stop start to his Charlton career. McKenzie could, if he gets himself and stays fit, be the ace in Charlton’s pack this season as he is likely to score goals with a run in the side. Luckily, those goals haven’t been needed recently due to the fantastic form that Deon Burton is in; goals in the last three matches have seen Burton into double figures for the season, and he does seem likely to score every week now, especially with a good front runner like Dave Mooney along side him. Mooney’s unselfishness should not go un-noticed, and you could see he was visibly upset at being substituted last week; he hadn’t done anything wrong, it is just that Phil Parkinson needs to manage the forwards and with Burton scoring, he is always likely to stay on the pitch when others are tried out. These four being available and in form compensate for McLeod now being injured.

The biggest area of debate around the team is who should play on the left side of midfield. When you remember that this position was a massive problem last season and that Nicky Bailey was pushed out there to fill the gap (and also to give others a chance in the middle) then we have to ask how far we have come since then. Therry Racon switched with Bailey in a couple of games, and did OK, but no more, and Jonjo Shelvey was also tried in the Bristol Rovers game but looked off the pace a little; now we have Scott Wagstaff and Lloyd Sam on the wings, with the youngster playing all game there last week after doing a half each on the left in the Brighton away game. It is difficult to think about leaving Wagstaff out as he works his socks off every match, and he did score at Brighton too. A longer run in the side in this problem position may suit him with the run of games we have up till the new year, but if it doesn’t work, then others may get either a chance (Luke Holden) or another go (Shelvey/Racon).

What is certain in midfield is that Jose Semedo will return after suspension in place of Racon, and rebuild that impressive central partnership with Bailey. Captain Bailey has looked a lot happier playing centrally since he was switched back, though it does bring him closer to the referee and he will have to watch his petulance as the season progresses and referees become more familiar with him.

This is how I expect Charlton to face up at Stockport –

Rob Elliot
Elliot Omozusi
Christian Dailly
Sam Sodje
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Scott Wagstaff
Lloyd Sam
Dave Mooney
Deon Burton

Subs from Randolph, Llera, Youga, Spring, Racon, Holden, Shelvey, Sodje A, McKenzie, Tuna, McLeod.

Stockport find themselves in deep trouble – up to their knees in debt off the pitch and in mud on it! The problems are associated, as their pitch is a mess after being shared with Sale rugby union side for a couple of years and finally the bad weather has caught up with it. The last three football games and the last rugby match have all had to be cancelled, and the club therefore have no incoming revenue to rely on, but brighter weather is forecast so your correspondent is hoping not to waste his journey north tomorrow. From a playing perspective things are no brighter, as the team have slipped to the bottom of the league after a defeat at Wycombe last weekend. Their only bright spark has been the form of midfielder Carl Baker, who scored his eighth goal of the season in that game. The squad has few names of note to Charlton fans, reflecting the fact that the team is very short of cash and is made up of a motley bunch of north-west has-beens and never will be’s mostly. (This will probably inspire them to roll Charlton over now!)

Pedro45 is confident that, should the game get the go-ahead, the tie will be won 2-0, and the pressure placed firmly on others at the top of the league to match the result. When a team in second place plays the bottom side away, then we really should be looking for a victory and I believe that only the weather and pitch conditions could affect the outcome (discounting dodgy referees and Northwich like performances...).

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Sam Sodje. The older of our two Sodje's got himself sent off at Yeovil when his commitment took him a yard too far on a very wet pitch. I doubt he will have trouble stopping in this game; starting to run may be the problem if it is as sticky as they say it might be! The epitome of solid-ness, Sodje is great in the air, and cool on the deck. When it needs to be cleared, he does so, without much finesse, but then again, how many defenders at this level have that? He also has the added inducement of trying to out-score his younger brother, who has matched his two goals for the Addicks this season in less than 90 minutes on the pitch.

I need everything to run smoothly on Saturday as I’m travelling in a circular route to Stockport, via Leeds and Manchester. Nothing less than victory will do in this game even if it also means trying something different in order to get it.

Up the Addicks!

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

South End, Deon – See!

Charlton Athletic 1 Southend United 0

Another professional performance from Charlton that gathered three more points, but in all honesty, it wasn’t a very good showing. One goal, from Deon Burton at the South Stand end of the ground, was enough for victory, but one or two questions are still being asked over the Addicks promotion credentials.

The goal (above), after 25 minutes, was well worked: A corner was cleared out to Lloyd Sam on the right wing; Therry Racon made a great run around him to draw the two covering defenders which allowed Sam the time and space for a left foot cross. The cross itself was beautifully judged and just cleared the front defender before allowing Burton a glancing header into the corner of the net. It was my one-to-watch Burton’s third goal in consecutive games.

Charlton certainly didn’t have it all their own way as the drizzle came down, and but for a great save from Rob Elliot when the scores were still level, it could all have been so different. With Grant Basey beaten on the wing, the defence was outnumbered and dragged to the near post, allowing the ball to float all the way across to Southend top scorer Lambert all alone. One indifferent touch allowed Elliot to get close but Lambert still looked very likely to score before an outstretched leg from the ‘keeper turned the shot away (left). It was a lucky break...

Southend actually looked confident throughout the game, and passed the ball well when in possession, without actually creating all that much. Most threat came from dead balls delivered into the six-yard box with pace, but Christian Dailly and Sam Sodje dealt with these fairly well all afternoon. Many of the kicks were for fouls given away by Therry Racon, who was eventually booked in the first half after being penalised about six times in ten minutes after the goal. Nicky Bailey, playing against his former club, was also getting stuck in and he too was eventually booked for a foul and lucky to stay on the pitch after one verbal assault too many against the decent referee. I thought all the officials had decent games, especially when compared to some we have had this season, and the fourth official was comatose when compared to the hyper idiot we had in the last game.

With Jose Semedo serving out his one-game suspension, the midfield looked much weaker, and this affected the delivery to the front men and wide players. Both Sam and Scott Wagstaff out wide, and Burton and Dave Mooney up front made what they could of passes, but too often balls were over-hit and just had to be chased.

Frazer Richardson was a surprise inclusion to the starting eleven, but he failed to appear after half-time hopefully due to the bleeding cut he was constantly receiving treatment for rather than a reoccurrence of his hamstring problem.

The points were won as the drizzle turned to rain, and thankfully none of the other players on four yellow cards for the season transgressed further; it will be key for the team that Charlton lose no more than one player at a time over coming weeks due to suspension, as to lose more with the injuries we have would severely test certain areas of the squad.

The gap to the leaders closed due to their failure to win and the gap back to the final play off place increased as successful teams start to play each other on a regular basis, so even though it was a very average performance, the result has to be seen in the light of the whole season.

17 years ago, Charlton returned to the Valley and won the game 1-0 with a strike from the veteran Colin Walsh; a generation later, it was another veteran - Deon Burton - who sealed the points for the Addicks, though I doubt we will remember this goal in much the same iconic way over coming years, despite the Usain Bolt impression in celebration (left).

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