Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Sky's the Limit!

Monday night sees Charlton live on TV for an away game at Bristol Rovers; it is a chance for the Addicks to shine, which is something that may be a bit foreign to them. 2010 certainly cannot be called a vintage year so far, and even if it does end up promotion to the Championship, the last few weeks will be recalled only as a low point that the team bounced back from. The issue is just that the team need to bounce back, as they are in pretty poor form at present.

The point gained at Swindon in the last game may look good on paper, but those that saw it (of which I was not one) claim that Charlton were very much second best, inferior, and lucky to get anything from the match. That followed another 1-1 draw at Walsall, who are hardly setting the division alight, and a similar score at home versus relegation candidates Tranmere. Prior to that was the home defeat to Orient, so it is four games since Charlton last won – the club’s longest winless run of the season in the league. This sequence of results has seen the club drop back from the front runners at the top of the table to become also rans, vying with other clubs to maintain one of the play-off places come the end of the season. It is not beyond the club to push on and get back to challenging for automatic promotion, but it really would take a very good run-in over the last sixteen games to get in front of either Leeds or Norwich.

So what has gone wrong since the turn of the year? Certainly the enforced lay-off due to the snowy weather did not help, and since the thaw the pitches at everywhere except the Valley have been pretty awful – muddy and uneven. This has not helped Charlton’s play, or the teams confidence, as it is pretty hard for a skilful player to run along the pitch and try to kick the ball not knowing if it will be where he thinks it is when he started swinging the peg. The other thing that has hurt the team, is the constant switching of the formation and tactics; while I see no problem have a flexible squad that can be picked and played to suit certain conditions and opponents, the fact that manager Phil Parkinson is still searching for a best team in any game is worrying. We have good players, but they are either not performing, or not in the team. Hopefully the bad weather is now starting to recede (even if it is still very cold) and we should be OK in home games where we know the Valley will provide a decent enough surface. At away games, we may struggle, especially as Rovers are another of those teams (like Wycombe) who share their pitch with a rugby club.

Parky will need to counter this problem, but first, he will have to pick the right personnel to get Charlton back into a winning mode, and that to me means playing our best players. It does seem that through circumstance, we have yet to play our best eleven (even allowing for Kelly Youga’s injury), and now we seem to have sorted out the problematic left side of midfield through the loan of Kyel Reid, the onus must surely to get the right personnel playing in the other key areas of the pitch. Nicky Bailey is best at supplementing the forwards and bursting forward from midfield, not at playing the holding role. This should mean a return for the club’s best defensive midfielder Jose Semedo, who has been left out of the last couple of matches. Similarly, Lloyd Sam is a better winger than Scott Wagstaff, and he too should come back into the team, especially as Waggy has had a couple of poor away games now and was hauled off at half-time in Wiltshire last time out. With these two changes, the whole team is stronger, and you can vary your tactics around them, with Therry Racon, Jonjo Shelvey, Akpo Sodje, Dave Mooney, and Deon Burton all vying for the two remaining starting places.

Burton’s inclusion is an interesting point; since he was sent off on Boxing Day, his play has been fairly lacklustre, and this resulted in him being rightly dropped for the Swindon game. In that match, Parky ran a variation of a 4-5-1 formation, hoping to over-run the midfield and counter attack quickly; this tactic failed, even though in glimpses it showed that it could have worked. With Rovers being a lot weaker than Swindon are, it would surely be folly to retain a system that did not work if the club really want to win? I’m hoping that the positive spin put on that game and in reports since means that Parky is going to revert to two up front, thereby restoring Burton and appeasing those that said he shouldn’t have been dropped in the first place. With this tactic, and with Semedo coming back into the side, it does mean that either Shelvey or Racon or both are dropped, and this comes down again to hard choices - we cannot play all of our squad in every game. We could switch back to Burton leading the line on his own, but one of the reasons that the team was set up this way early in the season was because of a lack of alternative options; now we have options, and I do think that we must start with two from Burton, Akpo Sodje, and Mooney. If we get the forward line-up right, then the lack of a clean-sheet can by ignored for another week or two.

This is the side I would like to see play at the Memorial Ground in front of the Sky cameras –

Rob Elliot
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Grant Basey
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Akpo Sodje
Deon Burton

Subs from – Randolph, Solly, Llera, Spring, Shelvey, Racon, Wagstaff, Dickson, Mooney.
If Charlton don’t attack the home team, then that will only give Bristol confidence, especially after two recent home defeats gave left them almost no chance of making the play-offs themselves. Rovers main problem at present is the number of injures that they have, and their best player –Chris Lines – is likely to be missing from the game. Goalscoring is also a problem, and they have drawn five blanks in the seven games they have played since Xmas, so maybe Chris Dickson may have a chance to go back and join them on loan at some point? Lines has scored three of the four goals they have managed since festivities, which shows his importance to the side.

Pedro45 must be positive about this match, and I am going to forecast a welcome return to form and a comfortable 3-0 victory. This may sound silly after sounding the warnings highlighted above, but Charlton cannot afford to be anything other than positive now, and that may actually help matters over coming weeks. Playing it neat and tidy, and not taking chances is all well and good, but sometimes you just have to go for it and I think Charlton are at that stage now; it’s not all or nothing, as the play-offs beckon, but if we want to have a real go at catching those above us, bearing in mind that they are both having a wobble at present, then now is that time.

My one-to-watch in this match has to be captain Nicky Bailey. The scorer of a point-saving last gasp equaliser last time out has been in excellent goal scoring form this season, even if some of his overall play can be erratic. With wingers on each side of the pitch to give the ball too, his runs into the area to get on the end of their product should allow him more efforts on goal, and I fancy him to carry on scoring in this match. The inclusion of Semedo would also free him from some (but not all) defensive duties, and he could play more freely than alongside Racon or Shelvey for instance.

This will be Charlton’s fifth and last match in front of a live TV audience this season (bar any possible play-off matches), and the record one win and three defeats so far is not good, especially when you bear in mind that the club has only lost six games all season (three in the league, and one each in the three cup competitions). A win here will give us a positive record in live TV league matches this season, and that is what is required. Rovers are there for the taking, and we must put them in their place.

Up the Addicks!

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Sorry, but we can't use the pitch at Swindon as an excuse. To me it looked to be the best I have seen for some while. Better than the Valley currently is. Walsall was dire, worse than Wycombe or Brentford.
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