Friday, December 11, 2009

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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