Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oh ‘Mere

Charlton Athletic 1 Tranmere Rovers 1

I’m not sure where to start after this game – Charlton failed to win again, and could easily have lost. The players are obviously lacking confidence, and the crowd certainly didn’t help by exuding first malaise, then frustration, then unbelievably turning on the manager when he made substitutions. Such is the life of a Charlton fan; we all pay our money and we all have an opinion which it is our right to broadcast from the stands, but answer me this – is your support helping the players?

Sam Sodje (left) returned to the starting eleven in place of Miguel Llera as expected, and the problem left side position was filled by new loan signing Kyel Reid. Reid’s first touch was a pacy run down the left wing, but when he got to the byeline, he miserably failed to get anything like a cross in. Thankfully, that was a rare blip on Reid’s performance, and he went on to have quite a decent debut. Reid’s involvement did provide balance, and it was noticeable that either Tranmere didn’t think Lloyd Sam was any good, or the change of tactics worked, as they could not or did not double mark Sam during this game. This gave both wingers space to work, and both made good headway without any end product in the first half. Charlton had the bulk of possession, but many passages of play simply broke down when the ball got anywhere near the forward line, and even when the Addicks did retain the ball, it often ended up going all the way back to the goalkeeper in order to be moved forwards once more.

It may not have seemed so at the time, but one of the most important aspects of the first 45 minutes was when Rob Elliot injured himself in punching clear a cross into the penalty area. Although he survived for a few more minutes, it soon became obvious that he was unable to continue with his injured leg, and Darren Randolph came on as a substitute. This injury would later reduce the options from the bench available for manager Phil Parkinson, and severely hamper any hopes Charlton may have had of claiming all three points.

The first half was pretty anonymous on the whole; Tranmere huffed and puffed, but didn’t really threaten – with Shuker being the player most likely to conjure anything – and Charlton posed and pansied about with the odd off-target shot to wonder about. The lack of confidence throughout the team was all so evident, with players wanting two or three touches when early passes would have been so much better. Nobody took charge of the game, and the lack of movement was once more very evident.

In the second half, we have seen Charlton concede goals in the opening minutes in the last three games (and in four out of the last five!), and this game was no different. A dead ball was played in from the left, flicked on at the near post and then hit Sodje solidly on the head before bouncing into the net with Randolph wrong-footed. It was unlucky on Sodje, but summed up Charlton’s recent plight. The annoying thing was that the Addicks had started the half much quicker, and had already threatened to open the scoring. Now it was a case of trying to maintain that momentum and get back on terms. Sodje burst forwards, beating several players but getting stuck as he got into the penalty area, then a corner was headed down and turned home by Nicky Bailey form close range to bring Charlton level again. It hadn’t taken long to equalise, and with Reid showing quite a few tricks, and Sam also getting the better of his marker on most occasions, we just needed to have some control over the finishing, and the game would be won. Sadly, the front two were having poor games again; Deon Burton seems a little dis-interested at present, and his partnership with Dave Mooney is floundering. Mooney is trying hard, and running his heart out, but his composure in front of goal now seems to be lacking. Without this cutting edge, the onus is left to others to shoot, but without much confidence, good opportunities are going begging. When that second goal did not come quickly, Parky made his two bench changes, and brought on two new widemen – Leon McKenzie and Scott Wagstaff – for Sam and the tiring Reid. This brought much derision and boo-ing from the crowd for some reason. We all have short memories – it was Wagstaff for Sam that brought the winner against Hartlepool just two games back, and with Reid not having played a full league game all season then it was no surprise to me to see him given a chance to be fit for Tuesday’s game too. Whoever started the “You don’t know what you are doing” chant in the North stand seriously has no knowledge about football, as both substitutions were understandable (and made sense to me), even if you did not agree with them. It may have looked like a better move to replace Burton and Mooney but when that switch was made last Monday, it also failed. Parky has to see the greater picture, and though Reid was still doing well, the last twenty minutes could have seen him pick up an injury, and then we would have a different perspective on his loan signings, calling them a waste of money.

The whole mood change in the crowd simply acted as a lift for the away team and sucked any confidence there may have been from the red shirts. All of a sudden, the visitors were breaking forwards at pace and cutting deep into the Addicks defence. With Parky opting to leave more players forwards, the defence struggled under pressure, and a few last ditch tackles came in. Tranmere really should have sewn the game up in the last few minutes, with two very good chances wasted, then in injury time they hit the bar with Randolph well-beaten following a corner. It was do-or-die for Charlton and though they pushed nearly everyone forwards in the last few minutes, nobody could apply that final touch even though a Bailey shot did clip the outside of the post. The crowd drifted away, many leaving before Bakayoko was sent off for his second cumbersome challenge on Wagstaff deep into injury time and one last Charlton surge came to nothing.

It was a cold day, without much flowing football, and the result didn’t help, and it left me in an absolutely foul mood. Such is the expectation, frustration, and delusion of some of the home crowd that the forthcoming three away games may offer Charlton more return. They certainly need to get some confidence and get back to winning ways, otherwise the chasing pack will get ever closer and the season will develop into a chase for a play-off place rather than one for automatic promotion.

Blip or slump? It’s looking like a slump now….

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Only Tranny You Actively Want to Meet on a Saturday!

What looked like a three-horse race for the promotion places out of League One has developed into something a lot tighter, with the chasing pack now giving as good as they have got and sneaking significantly closer to the top three over the first month of 2010. The bad weather, which meant postponed games for some clubs and not others, plus FA Cup commitments, coupled with the poor league form of Leeds (three defeats from four games) and the loss by Charlton on Monday, has all of a sudden concertinaed the division, especially if you take into account the games in hand some clubs have (presuming that they are all won, which will not happen…). So Addicks fans have, all of a sudden, started to look at not only Norwich and Leeds scores when they play, but also at the closing Colchester, Swindon, Huddersfield and Millwall results. That’s seven clubs aiming for two promotion and four play-off places, and it’s not impossible that Bristol Rovers and MK Dons could make late runs to bring themselves into contention too. No, this season is far from over!

Mind you, with all the doom and gloom following Charlton’s home loss to Orient on Monday, you might think that the Addicks hopes had come down with the Xmas decorations such is the moroseness of some forum posts. Let’s get things into perspective – it was Charlton’s first home loss in over ten months, and only their third defeat all season! Sure, I was as frustrated as the next fan by the display which lacked anything bar the very evident spirit that the players have. But if Charlton can bounce back, then it will appear as a mere blip on the results log, and may not be as important over coming weeks as some fans currently fear.

The need to bounce back is paramount though, and what better time to do so than against a side humbled 4-0 when they last met the Addicks. Tranmere come to The Valley a very different team to that beaten comprehensively back in August, but they are still pretty average, even by league one standards. Les Parry may have brought them a few wins since taking over as manager, but they are still deep in relegation trouble, and will see anything gained against Charlton as an unexpected bonus. A midweek 2-1 win against Yeovil took them well clear of Wycombe and Stockport at the bottom, but they are still several points off a position of safety. The main threat to Charlton will come from attackers Thomas-More (a scorer in midweek), Gornell and Curran, while goalie Daniels and full back Logan are on loan at the club.

Tranmere scored both their midweek goals early in second half, and with Charlton having conceded early goals in three of their last four games it may be opportune for fans not to linger over their half-time beer or cuppa! Hopefully, the Addicks will be well in control by then, as they look to bounce back out of their current form (if not results) slump. Should Phil Parkinson make wholesale changes after that home defeat, or should he give the players another chance?

Well, the options are not that many, due to injuries and finances. In defence, the news from the horses mouth that Kelly Youga is still some weeks off fitness is a bit of a shock, but at least Sam Sodje has now served his four-game suspension and is available. Bouyed by the birth of his first child, I fully expect him to return to the defence in place of Miguel Llera. If there was any doubt about Sodje returning then Monday’s display by the Spaniard really put matters to rest; on too many occasions, volleys ended up going the wrong way (either forwards or backwards, depending) and one attacking volley by Big Mig ended up being one of the best clearances coming out of the Orient penalty box all evening! The continued obligation by Llera to send the ball long when he has it at the back is another thing that will change when Sodje returns, and Charlton simply play better football with the Nigerian in the side.

The other area that Parky still has to clear up is the left side of the midfield. As I foretold in my last preview, the team is unbalanced at present, and if Jonjo Shelvey, Scott Wagstaff, and Leon McKenzie are not (considered) up to the task, then it may well be time to switch Nicky Bailey back out wide, where he played for the first dozen games of the season. This would seamlessly allow a hopefully rejuvenated Therry Racon back onto the midfield after his rest, and even improve the creativity of the team which has been woefully lacking, Sam excepted.

The experiment of playing Shelvey at some times on the left and at others at the front of a diamond really hasn’t worked, and with important points to play for, it should now be discarded. Jonjo can still play a very important part in the last half of the season, but I just don’t think he should be asked to start out wide left any more.

The final part of the jigsaw that Parky will consider (or fans think that Parky should consider) is who plays alongside Deon Burton in attack. To my mind, the only choice should be Dave Mooney; I know he missed a few chances on Monday, and he also got caught offside on too many occasions, but then again so did Chris Dickson, and at least Mooney was working for the team. Mooney did score the opening goal against Hartlepool recently lest we forget, and he is the only player we have (in a very static team) who makes runs consistently. McKenzie may be worth a start at some point, I just don’t think it should be now.

This is the side I think Parky will send out in order to get us back to winning ways –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Deon Burton
Dave Mooney

Subs from – Randolph, Solly, Llera, Omozusi, Spring, Shelvey, Wagstaff, McKenzie, Dickson.

I still think that Lloyd Sam had a game that he will want to forget on Monday; he may have been heavily involved, especially in the second half, but he often failed to get past his man, and when he did (and got a cross over) it was delayed and usually countered by sufficient O’s defenders being back in defence. What Sam needs to improve on, is getting the ball and attacking the defender at pace; when he does this, he looks a terrific player and the Addicks strikers would all prefer the ball played in early which he would be able to do. Sam knows that the creative element of the side is flowing through him at the moment, and that a more balanced team would take a lot of the pressure off him, but despite this, to be fair, he will want and need to improve on his recent performances and get back to scoring goals and creating too. I am therefore going to make him my one-to-watch for the second game running, in the hope that this time he puts all that effort into a positive end product.

Pedro45 just cannot contemplate the Addicks playing as poorly as they have over recent weeks for too much longer, and hopefully the turn around in form will have been jump-started now the weather is (a mite) warmer; I predict a 3-0 victory (mind you, that’s what I said last week too…), and smiling faces in Floyd Road for a change.

The league table makes for uncomfortable reading now, but if we can get Charlton back into the winning habit, those sides below us will slowly fall back, or then we can get back to worrying about any teams that might still be above us. Blip, or slump? You know it was a one-off!

Come on you reds!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Charlton Athletic 0 Leyton Orient 1

It’s difficult to know where to start with this one: Did Charlton simply have an off day or did Orient do a job on the Addicks? Whatever the answer, the supposed curse of the TV cameras struck again and Charlton were beaten at home for the first time since March 2009, over ten months ago.

With an unchanged team coming into the match, I hoped that the Addicks tactics would have been further worked on and that Jonjo Shelvey and the rest of the team would know how they planned to set up. I do find it a little bit amazing that we seem to currently be very easy to nullify, and if Plan A (i.e. Shelvey playing wide left) doesn't see us score then we switch to Plan B after 20 minutes (i.e. Shelvey playing behind the front two) to see if that works any better. I’m not blaming Shelvey for the loss (though he hardly had a great game…), just that he is the obvious example of the (only) change of tactics we have in games.

I suppose we shouldn’t complain too loudly; getting things in perspective, this was only Charlton’s third defeat of the season, and the first since November, but the worrying thing is that it was all so predictable. It is fine and dandy to be winning games based on spirit and commitment (as we did at Wycombe and against Hartlepool), but eventually your luck runs out, and that’s what happened last night.

The opening minutes looked as if Charlton might be OK though; Orient looked nervous and kept giving the ball away, but throughout the match, their defence allowed Charlton forwards to run into offside positions and the slowness of getting the ball forward (especially from midfield) meant the flag was raised way too often for liking. Dave Mooney, making runs down the channels, was the victim in most of these decisions, but in less than half was the problem his and not the passers fault for being too slow getting the ball forward. Slowly, both teams settled, but the home crowd became restless and nervous. It was a pretty dour first half, with few obvious chances to either side. Nicky Bailey had a claim for a penalty turned down, when he appeared to have been held back when trying to get on a loose ball, but that was the only real action of note right up to half-time. Then, just as the additional time board was being shown, Deon Burton burst clear down the left hand channel, beat the covering defender, but dithered in deciding whether to round the ‘keeper or shoot. With other players in better shooting positions, Burton could have passed the ball too, but in the end, his weak effort was cleared and the danger (and Charlton’s best chance of scoring in the half) was passed.

I really hoped that Phil Parkinson might have given the team one almighty rollocking at the break, but that doesn’t seem to be his style; Lloyd Sam was ineffective much of the time, failing to get to the byeline or even get any sort of cross into the box, while Shelvey and Bailey were rarely making any headroads or supporting their forwards in any way shape or form. Too many times the strikers found themselves doing all the work, and receiving no support, with either Burton or Mooney the only player getting into the box when a cross was expected. Orient were marking tightly, but the lack of movement (a perennial Charlton problem…) was playing into their hands big-time.

The second half started much more brightly, with the Addicks almost taking the lead before most spectators had returned to their seats; Sam finally got around the back and pulled the ball back to Shelvey who’s good shot was tipped over by the goalkeeper for a corner. But then, the side retreated and Orient took the lead at much the same time that Hartlepool scored last week (3 minutes into the second half). Some steady play down the right wing allowed a player space to cross to the far post and, with the ball looping over Frazer Richardson, ex-Addick McGleish stooped to head home past Rob Elliot. While the thousand or so Orient fans celebrated as if they had won the cup, the Charlton players were left scratching their collective heads.

Sure, Charlton had a few more chances – Burton headed straight at the goalie; Shelvey shot high and wide; Mooney headed over and then saw his shot squirm past the far post after an excellent move involving Sam once more, but it just wasn't enough. With an hour gone, Parky introduced Scott Wagstaff for Jose Semedo; it was an obvious move (allowing Shelvey to drop back into midfield in an effort to bring more creativity and giving the Addicks more width and pace) but a few in the crowd around me couldn’t understand it and thought Parky had made the wrong move. Sadly, Waggy’s heroics last week couldn’t be repeated (even though he tried very hard)and when he did have a shooting chance the ball ended up nearer the corner flag than the goal.

Orient were looking more and more confident as the game went on, and had a chance to wrap up the match midway through the half after a good passing move, but Mason’s shot hit the inside of the post and was scrambled clear.

In a last ditch effort, Parky brought on Chris Dickson and Leon McKenzie (for Burton and Mooney) but in all honesty, they fared even worse than the incumbent pair, with Dickson in particular looking un-interested and too often being found standing offside at key moments.

It wasn’t even a rousing last few minutes, though Miguel Llera did move up to lead the attack; he even won a few headers but there just didn’t seem to be any purpose and most balls into the danger area were easily cleared by the outstanding Mkandawire and Chorley.

The frustration felt during the whole game finally came to an end after four minutes overtime, and was compounded by bookings for Llera, Elliot, and Grant Basey. Few on the Addicks teamsheet will have felt that they had a decent game, with possibly only Elliot, Basey, Christian Dailly, and maybe Semedo reaching average standards, and with Bailey, Burton, Sam, Llera, Shelvey and Mooney having games they will want to forget. Richardson did well for a while, but did look at fault to me for the only goal.

As for the visitors, they came with a plan, stuck at it, and saw their preparation result in three valuable points.

So where do Charlton go now? As we all know, it is not a case that Parky can change the team around much simply because we do not have the players in order to do so. It may well be that this game is the excuse needed for him to try to raid the loan market, but in order to do that he may need to offload someone first. Sam Sodje will be back in the team on Saturday (especially as Llera’s display showed once more that he is a mistake just waiting to happen at times), but where would we want (or need) any other changes? To me, it is obvious that the problem position is the left side of midfield (as it has been for over 12 months). If we are not prepared to play Wagstaff there (giving us balance), then I can see no other option than to push Bailey back out wide, and bring in Therry Racon, who has had a rest and should relish the chance to go once more. I’m sure Bailey will not want this move to happen, and it will result in a loss of drive from midfield, but barring a left midfielder being brought to the club this week, it is the only way forward as Shelvey isn’t doing enough, and McKenzie and Wagstaff do not seem to have Parky’s support to play there.

It is not all doom and gloom; we are still third in the league table, and we are still close on the tails of the two teams above us (who play tonight). There are still twenty games to go this season, but fans are getting edgy and looking at our tough (on paper) run-in. What we all need to do, including the players, is get back to being confident, playing with the right tactics and personnel, and winning, starting on Saturday.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Give the Nails a Chance!

It makes me wonder what would happen if Charlton actually played well in a game? I mean, we’ve had the odd half (MK Dons), or twenty minutes (many) where we have been awesome this season, but that hasn’t actually carried over a complete match yet. If we did play well for 90 minutes then we might actually see Charlton match some of the comprehensive victories that some of our promotion rivals seem to have on a more regular basis. In fact, I wouldn’t even mind a good first 45 minutes if it meant coasting the second half, as long as the victory was clear and we didn’t have to bite out fingernails during added on time for once!

That wish has a chance to come true on Monday night, as Charlton play the middle of three consecutive home matches against teams in the lower half of this league. Hartlepool were beaten 2-1 last Tuesday, in a match that should have been a lot more comfortable for the Addicks than it actually was, and Orient cross the river to visit The Valley tomorrow; then on Saturday, we play the early season whipping boys of Tranmere.

It’s not as if the team is doing badly – you cannot complain too loudly when you have lost just two league games all season and we are now at the back end of January! – but I worry that the spirit and commitment that the team is showing may not be enough to get them through every match this season (as it is in this current unbeaten run...), and at some stage, if we don’t start to play better, then points will be dropped.

So how can Phil Parkinson get the lads playing in a confident, tactically superior, and winning-a-match in an easier way? That’s not an easy question to answer! The personnel cannot be changed much, simply because we don’t have that many bodies available. With Sam Sodje missing the fourth and last game of his ban, and with Kelly Youga still out with his knee injury, the defence is as strong as we can get it. The central midfield of Nicky Bailey and Jose Semedo is also the strongest possible, though it does lack a little creativity. Out wide, Lloyd Sam, to be fair, is still a danger to every other team in this division even when they double up the marking on him. In attack, Deon Burton has been better than anyone expected this season (including to perhaps Deon himself!) and Dave Mooney has run his socks off in every game he has played on loan from Reading, and chipped in with three valuable goals too. The one position that is open for grabs and where nobody has yet said that they want to be a fixture in the side playing there so far is on the left side of midfield.

Charlton started the season with Bailey on the left, but although he did very well there – altering his playing style to suit the position rather than the other way around – it left us with a below-par captain, who has looked much more like his old goal-scoring, hard-tackling, all-action self in the middle of the park. Therry Racon briefly swapped with Bailey, during games and for one whole match, but Racon was apparently quite vocal that this wasn’t where he wanted to play, and he would bide his time waiting to return to central midfield. Jonjo Shelvey was tried there, then dropped, but now is back in the side and when he isn’t playing at the head of a diamond, this is where we are most likely to find him, though he too has struggled to make an impact from this position and had a pretty indifferent game against Hartlepool. Scott Wagstaff played a few games wide left and did quite well in my opinion even though you know he would prefer the right side; I was quite surprised to see him dropped for the Wycombe game, but then again it had been three weeks since the previous Charlton match so that could have been due to a niggle or training ground form? Then there is Leon McKenzie, who has come on a couple of times as substitute and been asked to play in an attacking wide left role, usually when we need a goal. Leon has suffered from injuries in a very stop-start season so far, but could he be the missing link that finally makes this Addicks team click? We will see…

What I do know is that barring any injuries we don’t know about, the Charlton team will be pretty easy for Parky to pick apart from this wide left position.

This is my guess at who Parky will send out to play the O’s in front of the night-Sky cameras on Monday –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Christian Dailly
Miguel Llera
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Leon McKenzie
Deon Burton
Dave Mooney

Subs from – Randolph, Solly, Omozusi, Mambo, Spring, Wagstaff, Shelvey, Racon, Dickson, Tuna.

Orient will travel through the Blackwall Tunnel hoping to extend their 100% unbeaten record in 2010 which covers the single game they have played this decade, a 2-0 home victory against Yeovil last week. They have been bolstered by the arrival of three new players recently - Nicky Adams (on loan from Leicester), Matthew Briggs (on loan from Fulham) and Frenchman Jonathan Téhoué (Kasımpaşaspor) – and along with veterans Chambers, Thornton, and ex-Addick Scott McGleish, will be confident of getting something from the game. They will be well disciplined, and look to play the game in a tight way tactically, trying to get their strikers in on goal or to win corners from which Mkandawire is dangerous.

Pedro45 thinks that it is just a matter of time before McKenzie gets a starting role, and with options from the bench (Shelvey, Wagstaff), should playing him wide left not work or for when Leon gets tired, then now may be the time to make that switch. Whatever side Parky picks, one of these sides will lose its 100% win record in 2010 and I forecast a comfortable 3-0 victory for Charlton, simply because it is about time we had one!

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Lloyd Sam. To be fair, Lloyd had a reasonable game last time out against Hartlepool, but too many times the players doubling up on him stop his momentum in its tracks, and he has to look elsewhere for outlets rather than try to get to the bye-line. With Richardson back at full back, the over-lapping options that were missing when he was injured should be back, and I expect Sam to make the most of the space that Richardson creates and provide the ammunition from which Mooney, Bailey and Burton can capitalise. The pressure is mounting on Sam these days, as he is seen as the key player in Charlton’s attack and game plan; if Sam plays well then Charlton play well. It won’t have gone unnoticed that his replacement scored within minutes of coming onto the field last week, and young Wagstaff has more goals this season than Sam does in considerably less time spent on the pitch. Expect a reaction against his former club where he will be desperate to do well…

Sometimes, in years gone by, Charlton have really turned on the style in televised games (think the 4-0 versus Bradford City in 1998, or the Arsenal 4-2 away game…), but sometimes it all goes pear-shaped on TV. I don’t think that this will be one of those occasions and I am confident that Charlton will go joint top of the table following victory in this game and send us all home happy for a change, giving the fingernails a week off!

Come on you Reds!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

‘Staff Party!

Charlton Athletic 2 Hartlepool United 1

Well, my wish for a comfortable last five minutes fell on deaf ears once more, as Charlton hung on to a one goal lead going into injury time. The fact that there were no major concerns towards the end of the game was better, as it was at Wycombe on Saturday, but oh for a comfortable victory.

In a tame game, Charlton took the lead after half an hour when Dave Mooney (left, celebrating) rose to head home Grant Basey’s delightful chipped cross. Hartlepool got a deserved equaliser very early in the second half after Miguel Llera brought down a forward and Behan scored from the resulting penalty, before substitute Scott Wagstaff rifled home the winner with fifteen minutes left.

Charlton started the match brightly enough, even though the away team looked a lot more comfortable on the ball than one which had been thumped in their previous match. With Frazer Richardson restored to the right back role, Phil Parkinson lined up the rest of the team in a fluid 4-4-2 to diamond formation, allowing Jonjo Shelvey to float between his roles out on the left, or in behind the front two. Sadly, this was not one of Shelvey’s better games, as everything he tried to bring off seemed to fail. He did over-use the long ball too often (as did Llera and Basey), and must get back to playing a simple pass when it will retain possession and move Charlton forwards rather than trying to hit that perfect 40 yard pass every time.

Mooney was very mobile up front, but struggled to get much service via Deon Burton, while captain Nicky Bailey had a subdued first 45 minutes. The Addicks defence looked reasonably solid, though a couple of shots did require smart saves by Rob Elliot. The goal did eventually come and it was a well worked move; Basey broke free down the left, and his pinpoint cross was gleefully headed home by Mooney - it was just about what Charlton deserved. For some reason, after the goal, the referee spoke with Mark Kinsella and Kins trudged back to the dugout admonished for whatever he had done wrong. The Hartlepool management were in despair to see their team fall behind after doing so well, and the foul-mouthed Colin West took out his anguish on the referee, who overall had a reasonable game.

Charlton just could not capitalise on their lead, and though Lloyd Sam jinked his way into the penalty area and fired in a shot (which was blocked), it was one of the few times that the away team defence looked in any real danger. The game itself was just meandering along, without any real pressure on either team, and with Charlton trying too hard and giving away possession too easily when in good positions.

As the second half began, you hoped that the Addicks would rest control and go on to win the game comfortably, but any hope of this was ripped up after about three minutes of the half when Llera clumsily tripped a Hartlepool forward as he skipped across the penalty area, and the referee rightly gave the spot kick award. Behan hit the ball hard and straight, and though Elliot got a substantial foot to the ball, he could not stop it bouncing up into the roof of the net for the equaliser.

There were a few brief moments when you worried that Charlton might throw all the hard work of the first half away, but slowly they came to grips with the match once more. Sam, to be fair, became much more direct, and at last started to attack his full back. Richardson gave him good support, though this was not always used to best effect. Bailey and Jose Semedo pushed forwards into the vacant midfield space as ‘Pools retreated to the edge of their penalty area to defend, while Shelvey was trying to make the impossible happen with magic balls rather than just play the line with Basey.

It was no surprise when Parky shook things up, bring on substitutes Leon McKenzie for Shelvey and Chris Dickson for Mooney. McKenzie, taking over Shelvey’s left side role did well, and caused plenty of problems where none had been before. Eventually, with twenty minutes left, Parky played his final role of the dice and threw on Scott Wagstaff in place of Sam. Lloyd had, to be fair, one of his most erratic games, often looking a lot more dangerous than his play actually was, and sadly he seems to have lost the ability to get the ball into dangerous areas of the box where his forwards can attack. It will not have passed many people’s eye that the first time Wagstaff got the ball, 30 yards out, he took one touch and stroked home a lovely shot that took the top off many daisies as it rolled its way into the far corner of the net. It seemed a sublime moment, and maybe it showed Sam that he too can have the odd shot from distance rather than always trying to get behind the defence and failing. Wagstaff celebrated with his team-mates (above) as did the crowd on a cold night and Dickson was booked for lumping the ball into the crowd to waste time; it was a goal out of seemingly nothing and it was so surprising (and refreshing!) to see a Charlton player shoot from distance.

Charlton then had a period of control, as they did on Saturday, and rarely did they look like they might relinquish the lead a second time, despite Hartlepool throwing on more attackers for the last few minutes.

Charlton fans thought for a while that they had seen their team score another goal, after Chris Dickson headed home following a good move involving Burton and McKenzie. Sadly, the referee deemed there to have been a push and Dickson’s celebrations were cut short, but not before a fan decided that the time was right to show off his Xmas present of a swimsuit of the Borat mode. Cut down after spending too much time avoiding stewards by the ‘Pools centre half, he was unceremoniously removed from the pitch and surrounds backwards, his modesty in full view on what I'm sure he will tell you was a very cold evening.

The game ended without further drama, and it’s three more points in the bag for the Addicks in their quest for promotion. The display was still not of a standard that gives fans confidence that the team have enough to fulfil the greater wish, but three points is three points, and with two further home games to come, things should get better. Still in third place but level now with Norwich and just three points behind Leeds, the end of season is starting to look a little closer.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pooling Resources

It is interesting to consider how important the next three home games for Charlton actually are? Some say they are vital, and that the nine points on offer will determine whether Charlton get promoted through an automatic position or have to fight it out in the play-offs; others say that calling them vital just adds pressure, and that although important, a place in the top two can still be won even if points are dropped. Then some other fans just see the first of these games – tonight, versus Hartlepool – as another game to be won, and on which just three points are at stake, with other forthcoming matches to also be taken one at a time. Whatever your position, it is vital, important, and key that Charlton make progress in these games, and what better way to start than to beat the Monkey Hangers tonight.

Hartlepool come into this match on the back of a 5-0 home thrashing by MK Dons, and plagued by defensive problems resulting from injury and suspension. If Charlton fail to take advantage of this then they only have themselves to blame. The ‘Pools will welcome back striker Behan, but will be considerably below full strength, especially at the back, where Hartley and Collins are likely to be missing. Prior to their home defeat on Saturday, ‘Pools beat Oldham early in the new year, but you have to go back to a 3-0 home win against Millwall at the start of December for their previous victory. They may well come with a very defensive outlook, hoping to scrape a result, but quite frankly, who can blame them?

Charlton, meanwhile, have benefited from the winter break by getting a couple of key players fit once more, and will go into tonights game with a strong squad. Frazer Richardson is now fit once more, and I expect him to play tonight at right back after his half hour cameo on Saturday at Wycombe where he looked back near his best. Christian Dailly also returned in that game after illness, and their experience will be crucial over coming months as the team look to keep clean sheets. With Deon Burton having served his suspension, and the loan situation (with Dave Mooney in and Izale McLeod out, plus Chris Dickson back) now settled for a while, things are looking good.

The issues that manager Phil Parkinson will have to deal with are the minor injuries picked up on Saturday that could influence his team selection tonight. Goalkeeper Rob Elliot was limping near the end of Saturdays match, and Grant Basey was named as having a groin issue (is this still a result of him being kicked there at Stockport over a month ago?), so they could both be doubtful. Nicky Bailey also received treatment on the field on Saturday, but that happens nearly every match and it does seem that it would take quite a lot for our skipper to miss a match.

If Basey is out, then the left back slot is open bearing in mind that Kelly Youga is still some way from fitness; with Jack Clark out on loan, I would not be surprised to see Elliot Omozusi switched to the left side, and Richardson brought in, with Chris Solly acting as cover from the bench. Darren Randolph will cover the goalkeeping position if need be.

Then it is just a choice of tactics to decide on, and that in itself is something Parky will reflect on I think. On Saturday, he chose to mirror Wycombe’s own diamond midfield formation by playing Jonjo Shelvey centrally, with Lloyd Sam, to be fair, and Bailey tucked in. This worked to some degree (as Shelvey scored the opening goal) but did leave Basey horribly exposed for the first twenty minutes while responsibility was agreed on who should mark the right back when he came forward. Once Bailey took this on, the team looked much better, but Parky still chose to switch back to a more orthodox 4-4-2 at half-time. Tonight, it will be interesting to see how Parky lines them up – will Shelvey retain his place over Scott Wagstaff, who offers more width? Will the diamond be back with Shelvey playing behind the front two, or will we see that 4-4-2 again? I would not be surprised to see the team experiment (a little) with Shelvey pushed right forwards, and with Sam, Bailey and Semedo controlling the middle of the park. I also think that if the match isn’t going to plan, then we may well see Semedo sacrificed at some stage to offer more attacking threat.

This is the side I expect Parky to pick to start tonight’s game –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Miguel Llera
Christian Dailly
Elliot Omozusi
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Jonjo Shelvey
Dave Mooney
Deon Burton

Subs from – Randolph, Solly, Basey, Mambo, Spring, Sinclair, Racon, Wagstaff, Dickson, McKenzie, Tuna.

Pedro45 is confident that the teams 10-game unbeaten run will continue tonight, and is forecasting a 2-0 win, but he does wish that we had the where-with-all and firepower to win games at a canter rather than apparently scrape home by the odd goal in every match. It would be lovely to see the board go up indicating the amount of injury time to be played not worrying that if the other team score then it will be points dropped. Hopefully, we will be in that position tonight.

My one-to-watch tonight is going to be Dave Mooney. The on-loan striker has his critics, but I have to say I am a fan. He runs all day, and Charlton lack any other channel runner that offers us something different. While he is not going to be the consistent goal-scorer that some crave, he does create a load of chances for others simply because of his work ethic and the fact that he offers an outlet when things are tight. When he gets the ball, he brings others into the game, and it is from them that the direct shots on goal or crosses generally come. His pace is good, and will get better as he recovers from his knee injury, and I fancy him to get back onto the score sheet tonight.

Is it key, important or vital that Charlton win tonight? Only time will tell, but if they do, and I expect them to, then that can only take some pressure off the Addicks for the next two games yet switch that pressure over to Norwich (who we could be level with tonight), and Leeds, who we could (dream on) conceivably overtake by Monday.

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wandering Stars

Wycombe Wanderers 1 Charlton Athletic 2

Charlton will be happy to have finally played a game in 2010, and to have gained a victory, but for me, the feeling I felt as the final whistle went was utter frustration. This was a match that Charlton should have won at a canter, but poor play almost cost points, and manager Phil Parkinson will be fully aware of these issues.

The chances were not all confined to the visitors though, and but for a poor miss in the first five minutes by Beavon, the game could have taken shape in an altogether different mode. Beavon picked up the ball near the halfway line, and strode forwards with Jose Semedo chasing most of the way; as he got to the Charlton defence, spread out along the edge of the penalty box, he weighed up his passing options, only to see the man coming to tackle him – Christain Dailly – slip and fall just ahead, giving him a clear run at goal. Rob Elliot came out to meet Beavon but really had no chance, so why the Wycombe forward shot wide is anybody's guess.

This may have come as a wake up call for the high flying Addicks, but it still took time to sort out who was supposed to be playing where, due to Parky’s chosen formation and personnel. You would have hoped that, after three weeks of training with no matches, the team would have an idea of who was meant to pick up the right full back when he ran forwards, as they set up without a left sided midfield player due to the tactic of playing Jonjo Shelvey in behind the two forwards. Semedo had been dragged out to cover that side a couple of times already, and it took a lot of discussion between players before Nicky Bailey was charged with doing his job on the left hand edge of the diamond and covering the attacking full back. During these initial stages, Grant Basey at left back had been sorely exposed, and you did feel sorry for him when you saw the protection that Elliot Omozusi had from Lloyd Sam, to be fair, on the other flank.

Thankfully, the early uncertainness at the back was confounded by a goal against the run of play; Bailey broke free down the left where he was happy to attack (though not defend at that stage), and crossed ahead of the onrushing Dave Mooney. The ball cleared everyone until it got to Lloyd Sam, who, to be fair, controlled it well and pulled back to Shelvey who screwed his shot across goal and into the far corner. It was a great start score-wise, with just 11 minutes on the clock.

The lead did allow Charlton more time to settle, and for some reason Wycombe seemed to concentrate on trying to isolate the lumbering Harrold against Omozusi, but this simply took him too far away from the action and goal when a more central attack may have brought more dividends. Charlton’s own attacks were swift, and it was great to see Mooney back in the team and making runs down the channels, something lacking in the last couple of matches.. Deon Burton also won plenty of ball in the air, and this helped Mooney chase onto kicks forward.

Lloyd Sam, to be fair, also saw plenty of ball, and the formation did seem to allow him to have ample room to run into and exploit. Annoyingly though, when Sam did get the ball, Omozusi completely failed to help his right sided partner by over-lapping, and often Sam, to be fair, had to retreat backwards when faced with double marking.

The other worrying aspect was that many Charlton players simply slipped over when asked to turn quickly on the muddy pitch. You do wonder what sort of pre-match warm up the players do that they are not equipped with long enough studs to handle the conditions. It’s all very well taking shots at the goal, or running along prone ladders, but not enough turn and run time seems to be done to help during a game.

Basey, unlike Omozusi, moved forwards at any opportunity, but many of his passes or crosses went to blue shirts not red, though Burton did head one of his few decent balls over the bar after half an hour or so. With Mooney pulling the defence all over the place, and chasing any sort of through ball, Charlton did have chances, but just could not get that all important second goal that would have calmed them even more.

At half-time, it really was a case that Charlton should have been further in front than they were, provided you ignored the opening miss from Beavon.

With the Addicks kicking toward their 1600 travelling supporters in the seond half, we all wanted to see lots of possession turned into pressure in the knowledge that goals would surely follow. Parky, though, reflected the concerns from the first half by switching the formation back to a more orthodox 4-4-2, with Shelvey out on the left wing more permanently, and this did give Charlton a more solid look. The problem though was mental, as the team seemed happy to sit back and soak up pressure, while trying to hit Wycombe on the break utilising Mooney’s pace. One burst forward from Mooney saw his shot squirm past the ‘keeper and drift agonisingly wide of the far post.

Charlton are never at their best when playing like this though, and eventually, one chance too many left Pitman with a turn (past Omozusi who wasn’t close enough) and a shot past the exposed Elliot to level the scores. Chris Dickson then came on for Mooney, reflecting his time out injured more than any poor play by the Irishman, and for a while he looked dangerous and played some neat flicks and passes to team-mates. Leon McKenzie then made his 2010 bow, for a tiring Burton, and all of a sudden, the counter-attacks seemed to have much more purpose. Sam, to be fair, was still seeing plenty of ball out on the right, while Shelvey was always involved on the other wing, and linking well with Basey. Sadly, Basey’s crossing was appalling all day, so many good positions were wasted.

Charlton scored the eventual winner with just 13 minutes left on the clock. The ball seemed to be bouncing around the penalty area for minutes after an initial move into the box by Sam, with a goal bound Shelvey shot hitting McKenzie and coming out before being played in again. The ball then came out to Bailey, who crashing drive was stopped near the line, only to bounce back out to him. A quick shift to the left gave him space, and then a thumping left footer (left) saw the ball hit the back of the net (though I must admit I initially thought it was the side netting from my seat in the corner of the stand…). It was Bailey’s tenth league goal of the campaign to date, and yet another important, points winning, one.

Once more you hoped that the Addicks would go on to a comfortable win, but more chances were spurned, and then the dreaded last few minutes and (five minutes) injury time had to be endured before victory was claimed.

A word about the referee, and his assistants – I thought they all had terrific games, and really let the game flow, and also made allowance to the heavy pitch conditions. There was only one booking in the game, a deserved yellow card for Basey as he stopped a Wycombe break with a late tackle.

This was an important win, but one which still shows that Charlton need to do better of they are to keep the pressure on the teams above them.

With another game coming up on Tuesday night, my final recollection is of Rob Elliot limping toward the end of the game, and I hope that this knock does not put his position in doubt for that game, or any others?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Third Time Lucky...

It does seem that finally, two weeks into the new decade, Charlton will finally get to play a game in 2010; the snow is finally melting (for now), and all roads in and around Adams Park in High Wycombe seem accessible. The pitch is also in fine fettle it seems, thanks to under-soil heating, and the game is set to go ahead on Saturday! The onus now is to make it a winning start and try to head back up the league table and put pressure on those above us.

The reversal of the opening day of the season fixtures gives the Addicks the opportunity to do the double over Wycombe, as our season got off to a nervy 3-2 victory way back in sunny August. A repeat of the result, if not the score line would be a good thing, as Charlton have failed to win any over their last three games, albeit that they were all drawn. Pessimists could point to the fact that you have to go back to mid-December, a whole month ago, to find the last Charlton win in the record books (over Stockport, away), but that would be missing a whole series of games that swung one way and then the other. It would also miss out the fact that it was November when Charlton last tasted league defeat... Charlton’s last match, at Brentford, was one which looked like it could be won, but then the visitors fell behind and were saved, somewhat, by a penalty award midway through the second half. The team selected was shorn of several first team regulars, through injury, illness, and suspension, and I expect the side sent out in Buckinghamshire on Saturday to be quite different in nature. In fact, that last game was so long ago that any form or tactics used is pretty much null and void now, so long is it since the Addicks played a match!

In goal on Saturday, we can expect Rob Elliot to continue; Rob is undoubtedly one of the better and most consistent goalkeepers in this division, but that’s not to say he is complete or without weakness. Sometimes his decision making lets him down, but he is capable of making a game turning save just when you need it. Sadly, his consistency has placed a question mark over the Charlton career of back-up Darren Randolph, and he may well be heading for pastures new soon, simply for the reason that he cannot dislodge the current Charlton incumbent custodian. With only youngster Jack Binks as a further reserve, Phil Parkinson may well have to dip into the ever-growing pool of non-contract players and find an experienced reserve to sit on the Charlton bench for the remainder of this season (unless he thinks Binks is good enough?).

At Brentford, you could say that Charlton had their complete reserve defence on show; this was due to injuries and illness accounting for Frazer Richardson, Kelly Youga, and Christian Dailly, while Sam Sodje was suspended. Dailly will definitely be back on Saturday, but Youga is still out, and I doubt that Richardson is quite ready yet either. I therefore expect Elliot Omozusi (who’s loan has been extended until the end of January), Miguel Llera, and Grant Basey to continue to deputise.

The midfield area will be bolstered by the return of Jose Semedo, moved upfield after a brief return to the defence, and he will sit behind captain Nicky Bailey providing cover for him to forage forwards. Bailey is a revelation when he is in the mood, and I hope that nobody has started to turn his head in this transfer window, as Charlton can ill-afford to lose a player of his capability. Lloyd Sam is likely to play on the right wing, provided there is no foundation to rumours of him being wanted by Middlesbrough, while Scott Wagstaff may be unlucky if he does not continue on the left of midfield. Alternatives are Jonjo Shelvey, who did well as substitute at Brentford in place of an off-colour Wagstaff, and Therry Racon, who has expressed a disinclination to play out on the wing for Charlton. Matt Spring is also likely to miss out on a starting spot.

That leaves the strikers, and they will definitely be changed from the Brentford game. Top scorer Deon Burton is sure to return, and with Akpo Sodje now back at Sheffield Wednesday, it could well be that Chris Dickson retains his starting place. Although Dave Mooney has been taken on loan for the remainder of the season, I am unsure if he is yet fit enough to reclaim his own starting position, and that leaves (with Izale McLeod now out of the picture at Peterboro) just Leon McKenzie of the senior professionals as cover. With McKenzie’s own injury problems lurking, I suspect that Dickson will start, with McKenzie on the bench.

This is the side I expect Parky to send out to beat Wycombe –

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

Subs from – Randolph, Binks, Richardson, Solly, Moutaouakil, Mambo, Spring, Racon, Shelvey, Sinclair, McKenzie, Mooney, Tuna, Perkins.

Wycombe come into the game having played twice in 2010 already, and they will complete a triumvirate of games this year against the top three sides in the league when the Addicks visit on Saturday. A close defeat to Norwich two weeks ago was followed by a fine draw at Elland Road last weekend in a game many thought they would get thrashed in. To concede just two goals in those two games shows that the defence is possibly the strongest area of the Wycombe team just now, so manager Gary Waddock has signed a striker (Alex Revell from Southend) in the hope of scoring a few at the other end. Jon-Paul Pittman, who scored the equaliser at Leeds last week, is the current top scorer (with 8 goals this season), while the lumbering Matt Harrold has seven. Whatever their form though, they are still in severe relegation trouble, and anything less than an Addicks win will be seen as a shock in most quarters.

Pedro45 has to forecast a win, and I’ll go by the score of 1-0 this week; the rest, if it can be called that, which the players have had should have done them some good, and if they can quickly get into their rhythm once more, then they should be too strong for the home team. It will not be easy, and I would love Charlton to win a game comfortably at some stage, as far too many games seem to be going down to the wire over recent weeks.

My one-to-watch this week is going to be Deon Burton (left). Sent off, stupidly, on his last appearance, he now owes Charlton (both fans and management) a good performance to make up for the two lost points he accounted for in his last match (against Swindon). We know he is fit (despite a hernia and recent dead leg), and the two weeks off should have helped his body quite a bit; hopefully their resurgence will return the winning goal!

Charlton have seen their position in the automatic promotion positions usurped by Norwich this year, and I’m sure everybody connected with the club would prefer us to be looking down on them rather than the other way around. With Norwich likely to have a tough game at fourth placed Colchester, and wanting to avenge their opening day 7-1 thrashing, this is a week when Charlton can take advantage. We just have to make sure that the support, tactics, personnel, and commitment are right and then we should be OK.

Up the Addicks!

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Winner at Last

Saturday’s game with Hartlepool may be a victim of the weather, but at least Pedro45 was a winner this week – after being a member for about 17 years (1989 – 1993, then since 1996…), my number finally came up on Valley Gold! It’s the first time that I have won anything with my Valley Gold number, and I am more than chuffed with the ten pounds voucher I received for winning the Internet Daily Draw.

Of course, I didn’t join Valley Gold to win money (or vouchers), but it is a nice bonus to know that, despite my many remonstrations that my number had been forgotten and/or discarded, I was still in with a chance when all those 20, 15, and ten grand winners were being pulled out at matches over the years.

I didn’t actually realise I’d won until I got the letter from the administrator yesterday, despite the winning names being published on the Charlton website news ticker at around 1pm each day. I’m not even sure which day I won on, although the letter to me is dated 4th January 2010.

I remember back to the early days of Valley Gold when the weekly winning numbers were pulled out of a big drum on the pitch; I may be cynical, but it was amazing to hear that well known figures working at the club (from Supporters Club Chairman to Fanzine editors, and everyone except me in between…) were regularly picking up £500 here, and £100 there from their winning tickets. I remained faithful though, and the Valley Gold wait has finally been rewarded.

In the spirit of people who win things more often than me, I would like to thank my friends and family for supporting me during the good times and the bad, but most of all, I’d like to thank all the players who make coming along to support Charlton such an honour.

Now, do I spend my voucher or shall I just frame it???

PS - Is there anyone else out there who has been a member as long as me who has yet to win anything?


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