Thursday, December 31, 2009

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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Happy new year Pedro - thanks for an excellent blog.

Pembury Addick
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