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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Winning in the snow Pedro ... you know it's gonna happen :-)
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