Friday, April 30, 2010

White Riot

Well, probably not, but that presumes that our friends from down the road don’t come to the party as Leeds arrive at The Valley on Saturday. There are all sorts of scenarios and permutations depending on the result but, basically, if Leeds win and Millwall don’t, then Leeds will be all but promoted.

But there is nothing like backing a certainty in football, and in this League One season we have seen a number of sides, no less than Charlton too, all throwing away the chance to cement the second automatic promotion spot when well placed. Should Charlton now beat Leeds, and should Millwall falter at desperate Tranmere, then the last week of the season could yet be one that many Addicks will remember with fondness. But, to my mind, that really is clutching at straws, as next weeks results (with Leeds losing again, and Millwall and Swindon drawing with each other) would also be required to fall correctly, and the odds on that a quite large.

So how do Charlton approach this game, which, if won, could have a large bearing on who the team will play having made it through to the play-offs? In a fairly laid back manner I would suggest. The opinion coming out of the club this week – which included the shirt-sponsors evening attended by the players – was that victory will be attempted the final two games, as this would have a positive feel going into the knock-out stages. A win would also build confidence, and hopefully the upper hand over Leeds should we have to meet again in May. Similarly, a loss to Leeds would knock confidence, though it would also make it unlikely we would play them again this year.

Manager Phil Parkinson has always talked the talk when it comes to positive attitude and trying to win games, but often this demeanour has fallen short when applied to decisions on the pitch – hence the last six games where only one goal has been scored (last week’s draw included our equaliser which didn’t go in, so I still think there was just one goal in the game!). I believe that he will stick with a 4-4-2 formation – especially after Jonjo Shelvey’s sale, more on that later – but a number of injuries may play a part in who actually takes the field.

At least Parky has shown over recent weeks that he knows the side he would like to be able to pick, but is now the time to rest some of those carrying knocks and have them ready in two weeks? From his perspective, I think not, because he has to still have the belief that Charlton can go straight up with two wins, and he must therefore play his preferred and best team. Players can be rested next week, if we are without that final chance.

That team will continue with Darren Randolph in goal, despite Rob Elliot being fit once more. Elliot intimated before the game last week at Exeter that he thought he was playing, but that turned out not to be the case. Randolph then produced two excellent saves (one in each half) to keep Charlton in the game and it is unthinkable to ponder that he might now be left out. We can forget contract situations and what might happen next season; let’s keep Randy in goal.

Similarly, Parky would love to play with the same back four, though Sam Sodje’s knee-knack may prevent that. Sodje lasted just over an hour in Devon, but had a decent game while he was on the pitch. The danger is that his knee goes at some stage, as it did last week, and that wastes one of the subs that Parky has at his disposal, or worse still, it happens after all the subs have been used. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Miguel Llera start this game, with Sodje told to rest up for a week or two. Possibly unlike Sodje, Frazer Richardson will get a chance to play against his old club, and it was great that he was chosen in the League One team of the Season by his fellow pro’s, and on-loan Gary Borrowdale has another chance to score his first ever goal on the opposite flank. In the middle, Christian Dailly will once more roll back the years and put in another sterling performance I’m sure.

The midfield, so strong an area for Charlton earlier in the season, is now the place where Addicks fans are most unhappy. While Jose Semedo is nailed on to start in the holding role, Therry Racon has been off-colour over recent months and Charlton’s best play has been when he has left the field, with Nicky Bailey moving centrally. In a game that is likely to be fast and frenetic, now may be the time to leave the talented West Indian out of the side, in favour of more direct players? Moving Bailey in field would allow Kyel Reid, scorer of our goal last week, to start; it was only when Reid came on at St James’ Park that Charlton really looked dangerous and if he is on form then he has to play as he does offer major goal threat. Lloyd Sam meanwhile, limped off last weekend, so it will be interesting to see if he pulls on the jersey against the team from the city of his birth. He was in fine form at the sponsors evening apparently, though this may or may not have helped his injury (!). If he doesn’t make it, then the Leeds-supporting Scott Wagstaff will probably take his place on the right wing.

In attack, the one and a half game partnership of old-men Deon Burton and Nicky Forster is yet goalless, though they both have come close (not least last week). Burton has yet to score from open play in 2010, which is concerning and not what you need from your centre forward. Forster is lively, but lacks any real pace, but he does get into good positions, and if the midfield and wingers feed him, then he is more likely to score than not. He will be trying hard as he did miss a couple of gilt edged chances at Exeter, and maybe that means that those goals will come this week? The only other options, presuming that Akpo Sodje is still out injured, is a recall for Dave Mooney, or dare I say it, possible game time for fit-again Leon McKenzie. No, that won’t happen will it…

This is the side I expect Parky to send out in the last home League game of the season –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Miguel Llera
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Deon Burton
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Elliot, Warner, Solly, Sam Sodje, Spring, Racon, Wagstaff, Mooney, Akpo Sodje, McKenzie, Tuna.

Leeds will be approaching the game to win it, knowing that anything else could see them falter at the last hurdles as they have done on their previous two seasons in this division. Also struggling with a few injuries that have weakened their side (Kisnorbo out for the season, Parker doubtful, etc), they will rely on a solid display knowing that they have genuine goal-threat, even without 30-goals this season Beckford in the starting eleven. Striker Becchio has scored in the last four games and with Gradel alongside, they will be looking to put lots of pressure on Charlton’s central defensive pair. Where Leeds can come unstuck is at the back, and Charlton should remind themselves that they did concede three goals before half-time in their last away game.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Christian Dailly. The Scotsman has had a better season than I think any Addicks fan could have hoped for, and it is strange to think that Gary Doherty made the team of the season in his position ahead of him. Dailly may well be crowned Charlton’s player of the season on Sunday night (though my vote went to Semedo), and it would be well deserved. He was a little below par in the games after Xmas when he was carrying an injury, but now he is back near his best and playing very well. I’m sure his body will see him through the last few games, for to lose him would surely end any remote hopes Charlton have of going anywhere this season.

Pedro45 really doesn’t mind what happens in this game, though it would be the Charlton way for us to win and keep the fans guessing until the last minute of the last day of the season. I do suspect that one team will want it that little bit more than the other, and I’m therefore going to forecast a 1-0 defeat, and much celebration in the Jimmy Seed Stand. I obviously hope that that is not the case, but with another tactical, cagey-game in the offing, it may well be until after the break that one or either team attempts to do something positive when they know the scores - no doubt relayed from the crowd - from other grounds.

Finally, the news that Charlton have sold Jonjo Shelvey is no surprise, though the timing is to many fans. Shelvey has had a peripheral part to play in the side since before Xmas, and it is a shame (in some respects) that he wasn’t allowed to boss this division in the way that many Charlton fans hoped he would last August. The management obviously had to play to Charlton’s early season midfield strength, and when it came down to the crux, they didn’t feel that he was good/strong/disciplined/experienced enough to play centrally in a two-man midfield. And that shows the difference between Shelvey and other good young ex-Charlton players like Bowyer and Parker (who was a lot older it should be noted when he broke into the first team). All we can do is be grateful for the cash coming in, hope that any strategic partnership with Liverpool does bear fruit, and wish Jonjo all the best for his future career, knowing he will always be welcomed back at The Valley.
As for accusations that this sale shows a lack of ambition at the Club - maybe the sale was one way of ensuring that there is a Club next season, as ambition is nothing if we don't have a team to support.

Come on you reds!

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Monday, April 26, 2010

League One Team of the Season

Back on New Year’s Eve, I blogged my League One team of the half-season, and it is interesting to compare how my picks back then face up against the actual full season team as voted for by the players and announced yesterday.

As a reminder, this was my team of the first half of the season, to be managed by Simon Grayson

Rob Elliot (Charlton)
Alan Dunne (Millwall)
Kelly Youga (Charlton)
Patrick Kisnorbo (Leeds)
Christian Dailly (Charlton)
Nicky Bailey (Charlton)
Bradley Johnson (Leeds)
Robert Snodgrass (Leeds)
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)
Jermaine Beckford (Leeds)
Grant Holt (Norwich)

Subs – Smithies (Huddersfield), Bromby (Leeds), Semedo (Charlton), Sam (Charlton), Rhodes (Huddersfield), Barnard (Southend), Lambert (Southampton).

The goalkeeping spot, I argued, was up for grabs, and at that stage I hadn’t seen anyone better than Rob Elliot, who was making points winning saves each week. Subsequently, Charlton have been foiled by man-of-the-match performances by both Kelvin Davis and Fraser Forster (Norwich), while Elliot has spent much of the second half of the season injured. It is no surprise then to see Davis as the chosen ‘keeper over the whole season.

At right back, I chose Alan Dunne of Millwall, who has continued to be consistent over the second half of the season. I do think that many (including me) are surprised by the inclusion of Charlton’s own Frazer Richardson, especially as he was not at his best either side of Xmas due to injury. Richardson has done well going forwards, but has shown some defensive frailty but this just shows how difficult picking a choice of right back was, even at Xmas.

The left back slot would have been nailed on for Kelly Youga I think, had he not injured himself back in November. Since then, Carlisle’s Ian Harte has scored a hatful of goals - many penalties and free kicks – so it’s no surprise to see him chosen and that makes it an ex-Leeds duo at full back.

Carrying on the Leeds defensive theme, I picked out Patrick Kisnorbo in my team at half-way, and he stays at centre back in the side chosen by the players, despite a bad recent injury. Leeds ends-of-season frailties have been when Kisnorbo has been out of the side, indicating how much they needed his leadership at the back.

I have to say that I was surprised to see Norwich’s Gary Doherty picked alongside Kisnorbo; although he won most aerial battles at the Valley recently, he is consistently slow, and not the best passer around either. I still think that the Addicks Christian Dailly has had a better season, though he too has suffered from injury and been below par over recent months.

No surprise to see Nicky Bailey in the final eleven, as he can look way too good for this level when on form. One of his problems is trying too hard, and he often wastes possession when trying a forty yard pass when a much simpler one would have sufficed. The goals have dried up recently too (just one in 2010…), but he is such a competitor that it is just a matter of time before he bulges the net once more. I’m not sure I’d let him near my wife though…

In an attacking formation, Jason Puncheon, now of Southampton, gets the players nod in midfield, while I had gone for the more workmanlike Bradley Johnson, who had a good start to the season at Leeds. Since Johnson lost form, so have Leeds to a certain extent, while Puncheon, buoyed by a switch from a loan-arrangement at MK Dons to a permanent place at St Mary’s, has shown what a good player he can be. The interest shown in him by Charlton was real, and it’s a shame that we were outbid by Pardew as he would have pushed Charlton on that extra yard this season.

No surprise also to see both Wes Hoolahan (Norwich) and Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United) as the two wide-men in the end-of-season team - I also had them both in my half-way side. Hoolahan is the main reason, to my mind, why Norwich have won the title, as he just never gives up and always runs. Scorer of the goal that got Norwich back into the game at Carrow Road against Charlton that was possibly the turning point in the Canaries season, and they have seldom looked back since. Snodgrass meanwhile has simply provided most of the ammunition for whoever is playing up front at Elland Road. He has a sweet right foot (to balance Hoolahan’s left…) and has been on the scoresheet plenty of times too with crucial late goals. I think the pair are playing well below their natural level, and both will probably find themselves in the Premier League later in their careers.

Picking two strikers at half-way was difficult, and it got no easier as the season went on. I went for Jermaine Beckford (Leeds) and Grant Holt (Norwich) as they were the top scorers at the end of the year (with Rickie Lambert (Southampton) as a substitute), but subsequently, Beckford has lost some form and Lambert has scored the goal of the season. Both Holt and Lambert have scored over thirty goals and most have been points winners for their respective clubs. Both are likely to remain where they are, so expect plenty more goals from them next season.

This is the full team chosen by the players as the League One team of the Season –

Kelvin Davis (Southampton)
Frazer Richardson (Charlton)
Patrick Kisnorbo (Leeds United)
Gary Doherty (Norwich)
Ian Harte (Carlisle)
Wes Hoolahan (Norwich)
Jason Puncheon (Southampton)
Robert Snodgrass (Leeds United)
Nicky Bailey (Charlton)
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Grant Holt (Norwich)

Five of my team made it through the season and into the final eleven, plus one of my subs, so I’m quite happy that my interim team was on the mark. It's also good that Charlton do have two players thought of as the best in the division by their contemporaries.

As for the manager, at Xmas I chose Simon Grayson, but undoubtedly the man in the hot seat now would have to be Paul Lambert of Norwich, who has done an excellent job since joining from Colchester a couple of weeks into the season (having inflicted Norwich’s opening day 7-1 reverse!).


On The Line

Exeter City 1 Charlton Athletic 1

I didn’t think it was in; my seat was level with the edge of the penalty box with a pretty good view, and when the defender cleared it, nobody near me gave any other reaction other than that of a very near miss. Then the refree blew his whistle, the players stopped, Kyel Reid (shooting, left) turned to celebrate, and the arguments started. Neither of the two guys sat beside me thought it was a goal either.

Some minutes later, some of the last of the match, Nicky Forster had a similar shot, and that was blocked and cleared off the line too. That effort looked more over the line than the first one, but it wasn’t given. I didn’t think then, and I don’t now having seen the replay on TV, that it was stopped with a hand. It’s no surprise that the lino didn’t give the second goal or a penalty for that matter as he and the referee had been under some intense pressure for most of the second half, and certainly since the equaliser.

It wasn’t that the ref was biased, just that he had deemed to give a long series of free-kicks to Charlton, and the Addicks seemed to get every 50/50 decision too. For instance, the ball went out for a throw in; both teams raised arms to claim it. The linesman gave no signal, as he didn’t know which way it should go. The ref gives it to the away team, amid much abuse from the home crowd. It was just like that during the last half hour.

This was not a lucky point for Charlton though, but it was a game that they could easily have lost, and maybe on another day they would have. Deon Burton hit the bar with a header fairly early on after the Exeter ‘keeper had spilled a corner onto his head, but by then Darren Randolph had made an excellent low save to his left pushing the ball around the post for a corner. After half time, Charlton missed chances with Forster blazing over the bar and then drawing a good stop from Jones, while Miguel Llera – on as a sub for knee-knackered Sam Sodje – hit the post with a low free-kick. After the goals, Randolph had to make another very good save, this time pushing the incoming shot against his own post before it was scrambled away.

It was exciting stuff…

But no winner came from either team and the spoils were shared. Home boss Tisdale bemoaned the referee’s decisions all the way across the pitch, and Parky looked a little embarrassed as he walked off, aware that the point was enough to secure a play off place, but that he could have had either none or three, such was the game.

So we look forward once more, now having four, or maybe five, games to go in the season, bar a miracle. I don’t believe in miracles, so cannot see Charlton winning both their remaining games, Millwall failing to win again this season, and Swindon and Leeds both blowing it too, all of which need to happen if the Addicks were to still get to second place in the league table.

The management will have to make some decisions this week about who to rest, and who to play in the next couple of games, as both Sodje’s are now injured, and will need rest in order to have a chance of playing in the play-off matches; Lloyd Sam went off limping badly too during this game, and he looks to have pulled something that may take a couple of weeks at least to heal. Captain Nicky Bailey also has his shoulder problem, and now would be a good time to let that recover, as we could do with the once goal scoring midfielder back at his best during May. In the meantime, now would also be a good time to give Jonjo Shelvey a chance to rediscover some form, for Dave Mooney to provide some movement and a little pace up front, and for incumbents Therry Racon to get his ball control back and Deon Burton some match practice.

I know that the game next week has fans a little split over the possible outcome – if we win it helps Millwall, and if we don’t, then we may get them in the play-offs – and what is the best of the two evils. I’m not sure we can get anything from that game anyway, so let be what may be.

I also hate the play-offs, and have no confidence that we will be able to progress whoever we play, even if the rules changed and we had to face the current Stockport side! I hate the play-offs; I hate the play-offs, and I hate the play-offs! But that’s where we are. And if you had offered that at the start of the season, then I guess most fans would have said yes please without a thought. Just one team wins the play-offs, though four go into them. 25% chance – not good odds. Lots of pressure; lots of disappointment. The whole season on the line. Be prepared.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ex Marks the Spot

Much has been made of forthcoming fixtures, and recent results, but as far as this blog is concerned, Charlton are now in the end-of-season play-offs. Mathematically, the Addicks still require at least one point to ensure participation in the five-game lottery, but that has to pre-suppose that the chasing pack will win all of their games. While Southampton might do that, I don't think Colchester will, and even if they did, I doubt that Charlton, even Charlton, could conspire to lose their last three games. So that means we all have some extra footie to watch this May.

Mind you, should Charlton win their last three games then we may not in fact have those additional two games at least; nine more points from this topsy-turvy season could just be enough to usurp both Millwall and Leeds (not to mention Swindon) into second place, though being a realist, I doubt very much that will happen either. I think it much more likely that Charlton will go unbeaten, but not win all their games, and therefore have to play those dreaded extra games where the whole season’s fate is decided by individual mistakes, nerves, and dodgy referees.

That’s for the future though, as this weekend, Charlton take the scenic route down the A303 all the way to Exeter. I quite like the A303, as my father now lives just off it near Mere, and my in-laws live about 25 miles (and minutes) further on in Somerset. That makes it handy when sorting out Xmas and visits at other times of the year, though this time I’ll be on the train to Devon, and missing out on seeing the various relatives (not least because my dad is in Uzbekistan!).

Exeter are one of those nice clubs that you have a soft spot for, probably because you never saw them as a threat. Sure, we came up against them in the FA Cup a few years back, but that was (supposed) giants against minnows; now we are in the same division, and they have as much chance of beating us as we do them.

I’ve been to St James Park, the Exeter version, a couple of times; in 1986 we played them in a pre-season friendly (won 2-0), but the last league game was in 1980, when a Tony Kellow hat-trick saw Charlton off in a 4-3 defeat. I have vague recollections about the day – meeting some members of my cricket team, one of whom was at college in the city, and then walking around the ground at half-time to get a view from behind the goal at one end – but I do remember the last goal, scored right near the end which ended the Addicks resistance. Charlton ended up that season being promoted, so maybe that’s an omen? The game at Then Valley this season saw Charlton coast to a 2-1 victory, even though another late goal was conceded.

Exeter need the points as they are sitting rather too uncomfortably near the bottom four relegation places, so they should be up for it, but they will be without Dunne (suspended), Stansfield (injured), and Fleetwood (loan arrangement), so will be below strength. Ex-England international Marcus Stewart is possibly the only current player well known outside the lower leagues but he also went off at half-time last week, though that may have been tactical following Dunne’s red card.

Manager Phil Parkinson would love to be able to pick the same side that performed well last weekend against league leaders Norwich, despite the result, but that may not prove possible. Akpo Sodje didn’t last until half-time, but despite suggestions that his hamstring injury is not as bad as expected, I doubt he will make the starting line up. Nicky Bailey also went off injured during the second half, and he is another who is apparently desperate to play, but I wonder if he may be held back (possibly as a substitute?) in order to ensure he is fit for the bigger games against Leeds the following week and the eventual play-offs.

Sam Sodje came through the game last week despite his being doubtful, and on quite a few occasions Parky has talked about players not being fit enough on a Wednesday but they still turn out and perform (or not as may be) on the weekend. Maybe the chat about injuries to the Sodje’s and Bailey is tactical?

So if we presume that the goalkeeper (Darren Randolph) and defence (Frazer Richardson, Sam Sodje, Christian Dailly, and Gary Borrowdale) will be unchanged, and that Jose Semedo and Therry Racon will provide the engine room of the team in midfield, and that Lloyd Sam will continue to play as we know he can, and that Nicky Forster is guaranteed a starting spot, who will come in if Bailey and Akpo are out?

The decision over the striker is possibly quite straight-forward; Deon Burton, just back from injury himself, replaced the younger brother last Saturday, and after a full week’s training, he should be OK to start. His bench spot will go to Dave Mooney, who must have felt pretty sick to have been left out completely against his former team last week.

If Bailey fails to recover from his shoulder problem, then the choice is between left winger Kyel Reid, wide man Scott Wagstaff, or maverick Jonjo Shelvey. Bearing in mind that playing either Wagstaff or Shelvey wide left this season hasn’t always worked, I suspect that Reid will be brought in, with options on the bench should he have one of his quieter games or more defensive duty be required.

This is the side I expect Parky to put out in Devon –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Deon Burton
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Elliot, Warner, Solly, Llera, Spring, Wagstaff, Shelvey, Mooney, Bailey, Akpo Sodje, McKenzie, Tuna.

Pedro45 wants Charlton to win this game, but as with the last match, I would not be surprised to see them struggle, knowing that a less than favourable result will not matter too much before seasons end. A win would keep the pressure on the other teams around us, but the likelihood of other results falling as nicely as they did last week (when Charlton failed to take advantage) is remote. I forecast a 1-1 draw that will satisfy both teams, but do little without other performances before seasons end.

My one-to-watch in this game is going to be Therry Racon (left). Our Guadeloupe international has been a little on the periphery over recent weeks, and he really needs to start showing his class if Charlton are to have any chance of getting out of this league this season. One goal is a very poor return from any midfielder over the course of a season, but the consolation strike in Bristol is all that Racon has to his name. The biggest mark Racon has made this season is visible in the home dug-out at The Valley, courtesy of his boot after being substituted. He has made goals, but it is a while since we saw him twist and dummy his way to the bye-line and put over a telling cross that could be converted. Now is the time for Therry to re-discover his form and make a telling contribution; if he cannot, then he might as well go to the Caribbean and play for his island nation (as requested) rather than waste Addicks time in the play-offs.

Knowing Charlton, as we all do, there are more twists and turns to this season yet to come; they may turn up in the remaining league games, or those twists may wait until the play-offs. What all Charlton fans want is effort, commitment, skill and passion – we can take defeat (like last week). With that from the players, and backed by over a thousand Addickted, I doubt Charlton can lose this game, but then again, what do I know?

Up the Addicks!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ex-Addicks throughout the Leagues

I thought it might be fun to come up with a few ex-Addicks teams, encompassing the four divisions (if I could), who have all played in their own leagues this season. It might take the pressure off us fans a little as we sit down and work out all the various permutations that might see us get automatic promotion!

I’ve always picked a top league team over the years that had Charlton experience in it, and wondered what might be if all those players were still with Charlton, but I suppose it’s only in the last ten years or so that I could get a full team of players. Now though, despite the rubbish we have apparently had in recent years, it is the lowest league that struggles to find much Charlton representation, while the top two divisions are fairly liberally sprinkled. The team shown are my own choices - where I have had the ability to chose – but I have tried to show a team that could play together, so therefore include a suitable number of strikers, midfielders, defenders, plus a goalie. It’s amazing that the Premiership side contains six full England internationals who all once plied their trade for Charlton...and the Championship side has two more! As we get further down the divisions, the links became a little more tenuous, and need to include either players who came to the Valley on loan, or those that made few first team appearances for Charlton.

These are my choices; happy to see any alternatives via the comments button!

Premier League

Jason Brown (Blackburn)
Luke Young (Villa)
Michael Turner (Sunderland)
Hermann Hreidersson (Pompey)
Paul Konchesky (Fulham)
Alex Song (Aresenal)
Lee Bowyer (Birmingham)
Scott Parker (West Ham)
Ricardo Fuller (Stoke)
Darren Bent (Sunderland)
Jermain Defoe (Spurs)


Scott Carson (Baggies)
Chris Powell (Leicester)
Mark Hudson (Cardiff)
Jonathan Fortune (Sheffield United)
Jay McEveley (Derby)
Josh Wright (Scunthorpe)
Jason Euell (Blackpool)
Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Bristol City)
Jerome Thomas (Baggies)
Darren Ambrose (Croydon)
Luke Varney (Sheffield Wednesday)

League One

Simon Royce (Gills)
Barry Fuller (Gills)
Osei Sankofa (Southend)
Chris Perry (Southampton)
Darren Powell (MK Dons)
Kemal Izzet (Colchester)
Rashid Yussoff (Gills)
Myles Weston (Brentford)
Scott McGleish (Orient)
Charlie McDonald (Brentford)
Kevin Lisbie (Clochester)

League Two

Lee Harrison (Barnet)
Johnnie Jackson (Notts County)
Simon Walton (Crewe)
Dean Sinclair (Grimsby)
Wade Small (Chesterfield)

As you can see, my League Two team will only be available for five-a-side fixtures, unless you guys can think of some new team-mates?


Monday, April 19, 2010

Up Against It

Charlton Athletic 0 Norwich City 1

At about 6pm on Saturday, not long after I got home from the game, my father-in-law telephoned me. He is a long-time Norwich supporter, having been born and brought up on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, but very much a Canary. He was away in his caravanette for the weekend, far from radio or TV coverage, and wanted to know what the score was. I told him it was 1-0 to Norwich and that meant that they were promoted. A slight laugh and chuckle, and then an “Oh well, I’m sure Charlton will go up too. Was it a good game?” I said it was rather one-sided, which brought another chuckle and then told him we had murdered ‘em. He didn’t believe me, but that is the truth.

You can look at the statistics, where Charlton had over two-thirds of possession and lots more shots (on and off target), corners, and fouls for, but the only stat that matters when we look in the history books is the goals for column, and we lost that.

Sometimes you just have to accept that a team comes along and mugs you; without their two best players (Holt and Hoolahan), Norwich did set up for a smash-and-grab afternoon, and it all worked out perfectly for them. An offside goal chalked off already, Nelson headed in for the visitors from a long, deep, corner, and despite the best efforts of Nicky Bailey, Charlton just could not score during that first half.

With Akpo Sodje winning balls in the air, it was disappointing to se him withdrawn due to injury, but at least we were able to witness the return of Deon Burton after a month out. Burton came closest in the second half to notching an equalizer, but once more he was thwarted by lanky on-loan ‘keeper Forster.

Too often though, Forster was able to count his blessings as Charlton players snatched at shots and saw the ball bobble along the ground to him, when firmer contact and timing could have seen the net bulge. With the visitors wasting time from early in the second period, you knew that they wouldn't venture forward too often, and that proved the case. Despite five minutes injury time, Charlton just couldn't score, and a fifth 1-0 scoreline on the trot ensued.

I didn't hang around for the Canary celebrations, as this win guarantees them Championship football next season (unless they fall into administration).

Charlton played pretty well throughout, but didn’t have the confidence or cutting edge that Norwich had, despite all the possession. The performance does still suggest an upward curve, and with the results of the other teams chasing that second spot also poor, all is not yet decided though a play-off place is almost guaranteed now.

It should also be noted that the crowd played a full part in the game, willing on the side at every opportunity, and maybe it helped that recent fall-guys Dave Mooney (who wasn’t even a sub) and Miguel Llera didn’t make it onto the pitch.

Now with just three games to go, if that second spot is to be reached, they all need to be won; even then, it may not be enough, so I’d better get those play-off dates in my diary and hope it doesn’t clash with other duties.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

On Song

There was a bounce in most people’s step at they all left The Valley on Tuesday night; for once, Charlton had produced the goods and a battling performance that won all three points and, more importantly, kept up their dream of automatic promotion. The onus now is to continue that good vibe and beat the current league leaders Norwich in the next home game on Saturday.

Of course, this will not be easy, but sometimes in football when you have momentum and are on a roll, wins come a lot easier than on other days. That may just be what Phil Parkinson’s team have generated at the prime time of the season, and he will certainly be hoping so. Another win would not only all but guarantee at least a play-off place, but would put some real pressure on the other teams vying for that second automatic promotion spot running into the last three games.

Not only was it great to see the passion and commitment return to both individual players and team on Tuesday evening, but the positivity to come out of the club since then has been good too. From goalscorer Nicky Forster right back down to goalkeeper Darren Randolph, via Christain Dailly and Nicky Bailey, all have been focussed on the task ahead, and not settling back on the current being good enough. It was good news to hear that the excellent Gary Borrowdale has been retained until the end of the season, after his initial month loan from QPR came to an end. This will hit Richard Murray in the pocket, but Borrowdale has got better and better since he arrived, and had a storming, solid, game against Colchester. Recent absentees Rob Elliot and Deon Burton have both declared themselves fit once more, and while both may have to bide their time in getting back into the first team, there participation in training and from the bench just increases the squad depth and strength. And the fans are up for it too, judging by the Charlton Life forum comments and the blogs – as one we can do this! We just have to keep the faith.

So how will Parky keep the team trundling forwards like a slow steamroller? He certainly has a few choices and decisions to make since Tuesday’s game, not least with those players returning to the squad.

In goal, Darren Randolph has done very well since coming into the team, with just one goal conceded in four and a half games. With back up Tony Warner surprised not to get picked, and now Elliot fit again, Parky needs to make a call, but surely that cannot mean that Randolph will be a fall guy again? He does make the odd error, usually the result of loss of concentration (such as dropping a harmless ball in the 95th minute on Tuesday!), we all know and accept that, but he has also marshalled his defence in possibly a better manner than Elliot before him. His early save that denied Kevin Lisbie (with the rebound being ruled offside) was terrific, and to concede then would have made the game a very different one. If we do see Randolph continue, then Parky has to decide if Elliot should take his place on the bench, or be kept back, and that decision could also influence Randolph’s performance. I would leave Darren in place, and retain Warner as substitute. Randolph knows he is being picked ahead of Warner but to include Elliot on the bench may suggest that any mistake might see him hauled off, and that is pressure that is not needed.

The defence currently has a huge amount of experience; whilst not as old as some others, the full backs have both been around for quite some years, and they both look quite comfortable at this level when fit. Frazer Richardson did have some problems in that respect and up until the last few weeks, was still a long way short of his best. Now we are seeing him back on his top game, which is where he was at the start of the season, and he is key to both attacking and defensive play along the right wing. If he gives Lloyd Sam options, and gets in the opposition eye, it allows Sam to use his skill to work positions for crosses. Borrowdale meanwhile has got better and better with each game, and it really does seem strange to me that this is a player yet to score a league goal! He has got forward well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him strike the net over the coming weeks, provided he keeps a cool head.

Between the full backs, Christian Dailly had another outstanding game against Colchester, using his experience (and a major threat to do damage to Platt) to keep things under some sort of control. Sam Sodje meanwhile may have seen his run in the team come to an end as his recurring knee problem may have taken a turn for the worse; if Sodje is out injured, then Miguel Llera will most likely be called into to play alongside Dailly. More cultured, but slower and less combative, Llera has had some very good and some very poor games this season when called upon. He also has bags of experience, so we could still be fine, even if Sodje is out for more than just the one game.

The midfield conundrum of where to play Nicky Bailey is still far from decided; the skipper did well in central midfield after he replaced Therry Racon there on Tuesday, but with the ball being hoofed over Racon’s head all night (in both directions), this was never going to be a game of skill to suit the Frenchman. Jose Semedo’s place is assured after another mammoth display, so Bailey will have to slot in either on the left once more (meaning no place for Kyel Reid again) or in place of Racon. Lloyd Sam will start on the right wing, and hope to continue the form he showed on Tuesday and not the form he showed last Saturday.

The midfield does pre-suppose that Parky goes with two up-front again, though that is by no means certain. Nicky Forster is guaranteed a start after his second match winner since joining the club last month, but if he has Akpo Sodje next to him, or ex-Norwich player Dave Mooney, or returnee Deon Burton, or if Jonjo Shelvey or Bailey play just behind him, is open for debate. Forster did look better with someone alongside in my opinion, so I hope that continues, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see Parky bring in Shelvey, or bring back Burton.

This is the side I think Parky will pick to try to beat the league leaders –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Miguel Llera
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Akpo Sodje
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Warner, Elliot, Solly, Fry, Mambo, Spring, Shelvey, Wagstaff, Reid, Mooney, Burton, McKenzie, Tuna.

Norwich are going through a bit of a sticky patch themselves; sticky that is when compared to how they have generally performed this season, but still pretty good when compared to most other teams in this league. A home draw - courtesy of a last minute equaliser - and then an away loss (despite hitting the bar in the last minute) have suggested a wobble as they near the finishing line. It would take something on the Jim Peters level (one for the old ones there...) for them to lose this division now, let alone fail to go up automatically. Without suspended top scorer Holt, and possibly without their best player Hoolahan through injury, they are a much lesser team and do not have to be feared quite so much. They are still dangerous though, and with 20-goal striker Martin to step in, cannot be taken lightly. They are a tight team though, without too many other stars, and their style will be almost the opposite of Colchester, with the onus on getting the ball down and passing to feet or into channels the norm. They are though, on this run, as beatable as they have been at any other time this season, so that’s good for the Addicks. However, depending on the result in Yorkshire tonight, they could be playing knowing that a win will take them up on the day.

Pedro45 would love another victory, even if it has to be by a single goal once more, but I’m not sure that will happen at the weekend – I am therefore going to predict a 1-1 draw that will keep both sides reasonably happy I think. The game will be quite open, and if Charlton can get ahead early on, as they will want to, then it will be intriguing to see if they can hold on. Let’s hope…

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Darren Randolph. If he is given the nod to continue then he must take his chance and not make any silly mistakes that cost the team. He has it all to play for, as his contract ends in June, and another good display will keep both Elliot and Warner out of the team for longer. If he can do that until season ends, who knows where he will start next season – possibly still between the sticks for the Addicks!

I do think that this is a tough game, but it is not the be-all and end-all if Charlton lose. It will mean the end of any possibly runners-up spot dreams, but the play-offs would still be alive. Charlton cannot afford to be all gung-ho, but if the scores are level toward the end, going for the win will take Parky’s reputation up a notch or two, even if we then lose. The game is there to be won before then though, so let’s all get behind the whole team once more, and try to cheer them on to another victory.

Come on you Reds!

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beating the Bully-Boys

Charlton Athletic 1 Colchester United 0

Well that was certainly an exciting evening where so much happened that I may forget one or two things…

First things first; a headed goal by Nicky Forster after 28 minutes was enough to win the game (left), and then some resolute (if not always fair) defending allowed Charlton to hang on to the lead.

This was a game that Charlton dare not lose, and it was good to see Phil Parkinson – up against his former side – pick a positive formation for a change. Akpo Sodje came in up front to partner Forster, with Kyel Reid dropping down to the bench. Nicky Bailey was shifted out to the left wing once more after one game in the hole.

On a lovely clear evening, Charlton struggled to get the ball in the first ten minutes of the game. An early warning (where Vincent fluffed his shot when well placed) went unheeded and the ball was in the back of the net as early as the third minute. Randolph making a great save low to his left, before an offside striker stroked home the rebound. It was a wake up call for the crowd if not the team, but it still took time for the Addicks to get the ball down and start to play.

One Colchester sub had a bit of fun when the fourth official went to speak with the Charlton bench, stealing the officials chair rather than sit on a cool box that he was having to share. It brought an initial admonishment then a smile for the official which was nice to see.

Thankfully, a terrific run by Lloyd Sam brought Charlton to life, as Sam chose this evening to show that he does still have the passion and desire to play at full potential for Charlton. Picking the ball up on the half-way line, Sam jinked out wide and then cut inside across the face of the penalty box before unleashing as good left-footed shot that luckily for the visitors went straight at the ‘keeper.

Twice more Sam came close to breaking the deadlock as he gave visiting full back Tierney a torrid time. Ex-Addick Lisbie was also finding space, but he lacked early support, with Gillespie woeful all evening.

The goal, when it came, was the result of another twisting run by Sam, and this one left O’Toole in a crumpled heap (some said through embarrassment, though the fact he was carried off and spent most of the second half sitting with crutches and a heavily bandaged knee suggest otherwise). Sam had time, with O’Toole grounded, to pick his spot with the cross, and with Forster unmarked at the far post Sam chose well. Forster didn’t have to jump much, but buried his header past Williams with enough power to nullify the ‘keepers slight touch on the ball. It was a terrific goal and brought the ground to life.

With O’Toole off, and his team losing, Colchester boss Boothroyd brought on lumbering giant Platt to bolster his strike force, with Lisbie shifting wide. Sitting right behind the away dug-out as I do, you see the pressure that the away team excert on officials during games, and Boothroyd and his team were getting quite apoplectic over some decisions which went against them. Colchester were certainly putting it about themselves, and the referee to my mind only gave fouls where there was one. Akpo Sodje needed treatment after a clash of heads, and Jose Semedo and Nicky Bailey both risked kicks on the face when heading balls.

With half-time approaching, Charlton needlessly conceded a free-kick just outside the penalty box near the bye-line, and some desperate defending saw the team hold on to the lead. Christian Dailly is not the quickest any more, but his commitment is second to none, and he blocked several efforts in those dying moments of the first half. Bailey and Semedo were also very conspicuous in their effort, but it was still a relief when the half time whistle blew.

Charlton’s knack of making Parky’s half time talk irrelevant almost worked once more, but more good defending kept Charlton in front early in the second period. Colchester’s long ball tactics – a Boothroyd trademark – won plenty of fouls, corners, and attacking throw ins, but Sam Sodje (left, with younger brother Akpo behind) and Dailly dealt manfully with most of these, while any second balls were cleared up by others.
When Charlton did get out and attack, after several minutes of incessant pressure, Akpo Sodje rifled an angled shot just wide of the post, while Sam continued to do good work in holding up the ball, putting in telling crosses, or feeding his full back. Bailey had a couple of half chances, almost getting on the end of one Sam cross, and then just being beaten to a ball when well placed. Semedo was unluckily booked when Colchester broke, and then Dailly was rightly carded when Lisbie burst forward. Most free kicks were competently dealt with by Darren Randolph, who looked reasonably comfortable all evening, despite the pressure.

The referee was under increasing pressure too, as fouls rained in, and he struggled to control matters on the pitch, while of it, Boothroyd decided to take matters into his own hands and started an ugly bust up with Parkinson in front of the Charlton dug out. What he was whingeing about I am not sure - possibly just another bullying tactic - but it left Parky red faced with anger, and several others including the non-seated fourth official had to step in sharpish to keep the pair apart.

With subs Dave Mooney and Scott Wagstaff on (for Forster and the ineffective Therry Racon), Charlton shifted the formation slightly, with Bailey proving more combative in the centre and supplementing the immense Semedo. Wagstaff had a couple of runs but was smashed into touch by one rough challenge with the full back well beaten. Colchester just got more and more frustrated as the crowd bayed at them, their free kicks went harmlessly through to Randolph, and the referee continued to favour the home side. The one moment of worry was when a hand appeared to flick on a corner, but penalty appeals were waved away by the ref. Dissent was openly apparent now, and one player was booked and lucky to stay on the pitch, then Lisbie’s own mind broke after yet another fluffed attack and he was sent off. I’m not sure if he swore at the referee, or if he kicked or hit someone (possibly Bailey?), but it was an instant red that took the crowd by surprise.

The five minutes of injury time ticked down with Charlton hanging on to possession, and in relative control, and finally the points were won.

Parky and Boothroyd did not do the customary end-of-game handshake as far as I could see, and I suspect that there is little love lost between the pair.

This win, other results, and more importantly the performance suggest that Charlton do still have a chance of promotion this season, and that is the first time that has been able to be said for quite some time. If the team are coming into form it is at the right time, though it may not yet be enough to make it to second in the table. Currently, Charlton sit fourth, just three points behind Leeds, who have yet to visit The Valley. Now nine points clear of seventh placed Colchester, the Addicks would have to implode massively in order to miss out on at least the play-offs from here.

The spirit, passion, and belief all seemed to return to The Valley last night, and it was long overdue. The crowd sang and cheered, and the players effort and commitment was full and single-minded. Four more performances like that, and we could have a special end to the season.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Piles of Pressure

There are crucial games, and then there are crucial games; tonight we have one of those. It’s not a must-win match (thankfully), but can easily be construed as a six-pointer – one of those matches that can see a swing of six points with one team moving well clear of the other or one team almost catching their opponents.

Colchester come to The Valley six points behind Charlton, with five games remaining in the season. Should Charlton prevail, then Colchester, nine points behind them, would have little chance of overtaking the Addicks in the play-off race with just four games left. But if the visitors take the points, that would see them only three points shy of Charlton, and with some tough games to come (not least against leaders Norwich on Saturday), the Essex team would think to themselves that they can finish above Charlton and secure themselves a chance of a Wembley trip.

Of course, Phil Parkinson and his managerial team will know all of this, as will the opposition; how to combat the circumstance and overcome the pressure that it brings will be foremost in their minds. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle could be The Valley crowd, which will become increasingly nervous I suspect should the game not be going in the right direction. I thought the fans ere very patient during the last home game – a 1-0 win over mid-table Carlisle – but the benefit of Sam Sodje’s first half goal may well have calmed nerves significantly. The last thing the team needs at present is for anyone to be boo-ing at half-time; the Charlton side play better when the fans are behind them, both individually and collectively, and support from the off in this vital game is of paramount importance.

Supporters must realize tonight though that Charlton do not have to win; a draw will maintain that six-point gap, and though it will be pressured over the coming fixtures that should be enough for the Addicks.

Colchester have to win it seems, and I am sure that they will set their side up to win all three points and turn the home crowd as early as they can. They were of course the first side to beat Charlton this season - in a game that Manuel Llera will want to forget - where an own goal and a loss of concentration saw Charlton two nil down before half-time, while one-time Addicks prodigy Kevin Lisbie made a third to rub salt into old wounds late in the second half. It was a poor performance from Charlton, who were out-muscled, out-fought, and outplayed for long periods of the match. It is just the sort of performance that Colchester will want to repeat tonight. At least the tactics employed will be no shock to Parky and his tactical team; Aidy Boothroyd has always been a long-ball merchant, and he will play the biggest and tallest of his squad at front (Platt) and back (Batth and Okuonghae) as usual complimented by some runners in-between. Lisbie is small and quick but very good in the air (don’t forget about covering his runs to the near post on corners!), while Wordsworth poetically writes the verses from dead ball kicks. Prutton runs all day, as does another ex-Addick Kemal Izzet, picking up loose balls and feeding others. Given the chance, the ball will consistently be booted high out of defence where Platt will try to head it on to make use of Lisbie’s pace. Lisbie will win as many throw-ins and corners as he can, whereby the defenders will trundle forward and hope to score. It’s a normal game plan for Boothroyd, so should come as no surprise to Parky or the Charlton team (hopefully).

For Charlton, there are no apparent new injury concerns though Sam Sodje did go down with his knee problem once more at the weekend. Sodje does have this recurring knee issue but after a minute or so’s treatment seems able to get up and complete the game. If he is not fit then Llera will come in at centre back (bar a complete re-shuffle). Now Jose Semedo has passed the last date for suspension for ten bookings, he will not have to worry about getting carded any more this season, so he will play. Once more the main issue that faces Parky is one of tactics, and whether to play with one or two forwards. Nicky Forster has done a sterling job as lone front man in three recent matches, but he has had few opportunities for glory himself, and until later on in games, neither has anyone else. I suggest that Parky may stick with just one up front tonight, though a much more positive outlook would be to get in front then switch back rather than have to chase the game later if it is all going pear-shaped. Should Parky choose two strikers, either Akpo Sodje or more likely Dave Mooney would partner Forster, and the midfielder left out would probably be either Lloyd Sam or Kyel Reid, both of whom had ineffective games at the weekend. This would allow Nicky Bailey to play on the left side of midfield, and return the central midfield of Therry Racon and Semedo which has done quite well recently.

This is the side I think Parky will start with tonight, though it’s not my choice…-

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Warner, Elliott, Solly, Llera, Fry, Spring, Wagstaff, Mooney, Akpo Sodje, Tuna, Burton, McKenzie.

This is one of those nights when it can all be so good or so bloody horrible. Pedro45 would love to be overly confident and predict a fine win, but that just doesn’t seem to be Charlton’s way (for ever and a day…). Too many (nine) of the Addicks (19) games since Xmas have been close affairs, with just one goal separating the sides, and that is discounting the seven draws in that time too! With that in mind, I am forecasting a 1-1 draw, and plenty of bitten fingernails too!

My one-to-watch tonight is going to be Lloyd Sam, who really owes the team a performance tonight. Sam had another abject game at Southampton by all accounts, and simply failed to get suitably involved. Wingers always receive stick from the crowd, simply because they are often close to the fans, but much of it is unwarranted. Sam has his critics (who complain of him cutting inside to often; his not taking on his man (!); his laid back style; and his yellow boots!), but he has oodles of skill, pace to burn when he chooses to use it, great crossing ability and a fine shot. What Lloyd doesn’t always have is self-confidence, and with the crowd on his back, his head simply drops. If Lloyd can get his head up, beat his man regularly and threaten the goal more often than he has since the turn of the year (his last goal was back in November for crying out loud!), then we will be fine and the crowd will warm to him – when Sam plays well, Charlton play well. His contract is up at the end of the season, and some discussions have apparently taken place about what might happen next year; being so laid back, Lloyd appears to not be bothered, but he should be, because he will get hurt on the pocket if his performances do not pick up mighty soon, and that might mean one less jacket or one less pair of shoes can be afforded on future shopping trips!

Charlton always do things the hard way, so it would be no surprise to see the team struggle tonight and make a complete pigs-ear of confirming the play-off place. A win takes them up to fourth place with dreams still intact. A defeat has us all looking over our shoulders and worried about the weekend – come on Charlton, make us smile tonight!

Come on you Reds!

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Monday, April 12, 2010

One Nil to Errrrr….

Southampton 1 Charlton Athletic 0

It seems that all Charlton’s games at this stage of the season may be 1-0 victories or defeats; after two vital wins, Saturday’s defeat at Southampton was no great surprise, but this result did dent the slight rise in confidence that had been recently apparent.

It wasn’t that bad though, as the Addicks did play well in patches, and had Nicky Bailey - playing in an attacking midfield role behind the lone striker – not found home ‘keeper Davis in such good form, the performance would have won points and not just plaudits. Despite the Saints raining in shots at every opportunity, Charlton had more efforts on target, and won the corner count quite convincingly. However, statistics like these do not matter, it’s the goals that count, and the winner came from Antonio midway through the first half.

With most of the other teams in the mix winning (bar Swindon), the side lost ground in the chase for the second automatic promotion spot, and must now look to confirm their play off place with a result against Colchester tomorrow night. This clash now takes on a vital magnitude, as a loss here, and another against leaders Norwich on Saturday could see the Addicks slip out of the play off places.

And that just doesn’t bear thinking about!

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Old Sores and Old Scores

The last six games of the season for Charlton are hardly going to be easy, and with five teams battling it out in the chase to be runners up (yes, Huddersfield could come through on the ropes should everyone else trip over themselves…and I think Colchester have blown it!) behind Norwich, anything could happen and probably will.

The first of these must-win games, is away at Southampton. Last season, a win in the sun in April was a real boost to Charlton’s ultimately tarnished hopes of staying in the Championship. Goals from Jonjo Shelvey, Therry Racon, and Nicky Bailey gave the traveling faithful plenty to sing and shout about, and a repeat (with the same scorers?) would be fine by me! Last years game saw manager Phil Parkinson in a contretemps with the then Saints boss, and this year the match has added oomph due to our ex-manager Alan Pardew now being in charge at St Mary’s. I doubt that Parky and big nose will come to blows off the pitch (if you look at the video he did back off from old man Wenger pretty quick when confronted a few years back…), but there is little love lost between the pair these days I suspect. Pardew was the first manager to take a point from Charlton this season, spoiling the 100% record with a 1-1 Valley draw back in September, and he will have that smug look on his face once more if he can prevent Charlton winning this match, thus hurting any promotion prospects.

Pardew has the most potent forward line in the league to call upon, having signed Ricky Lambert and Lee Barnard since the start of the season, and both have over twenty league goals to their name this season. Barnard scored most (16) of his for Southend before his move (seven goals since), while Lambert got one for Bristol Rovers before he was lured by the Pardew promise/pound. Lambert did score the best league one goal of the season a few weeks back, taking a punt by the ‘keeper on his chest before lashing a volley home from 45 yards. It was a fantastic goal in any league, and shows how much the player (with 25 league goals in total) needs to be respected. Valley scorer Adam Lalana also needs to be watched closely, and the Saints also have a brand new addition in central defence since we played them in Jose Fonte and in midfield where one time Addicks target Jason Puncheon pulls the strings. On paper, they look like a pretty good team…

Charlton have a pretty good team on paper too, but the issue Parky has is getting them to play well together; mind you, that was Pardew’s problem too! After two successive 1-0 wins, it is unlikely that Parky will make too many changes, and certainly Darren Randolph will continue in goal, while the defence will be Frazer Richardson, Christian Dailly, Sam Sodje, and Gary Borrowdale barring any injuries.

Where Parky may think about changing things is in midfield, and up front. The two games in three days over Easter saw him shuffle his forward pack, and the issue really is now whether he goes with 4-4-2 or 4-5-1. With the latter, Shelvey will support the lone striker (probably Nicky Forster), but if he decides to start with two strikers, then Dave Mooney will probably be chosen ahead of Akpo Sodje (or Deon Burton, if he is fit again) to partner Forster. Sodje looked like a bull in a china shop when he came on as sub last Monday, and he really does look like a player desperate for game time; we should remember that his contract for next season is dependant on minutes played in the latter part of this season, so it’s no surprise that he is keen to be playing from the start. Hopefully, this will lead to goals when he is on the pitch, as that is the only guarantee of more game time, with so many forward options now available.

In midfield, Racon returns to the scene of his sublime goal last April, and Jose Semedo to the scene of his first half sending off a couple of years back. Our Portu-geezer will have to be careful, as a tenth booking of the season in this game will see him incur a suspension (3-games?) and we don't want to lose him when he is doing so well. Then we have Parky’s conundrum – who to play on the wings? With captain Nicky Bailey fit again, should he come into the side, or should he start on the subs bench as he did in midweek? With Lloyd Sam and Kyel Reid both looking dangerous but without any end product, this is a tough call. I would like to suggest that if Parky plays 4-5-1, then the two wingers start, but I think if he goes 4-4-2, then Reid may be harshly benched and Bailey will start on the left. But that's my choice, and Parky may think differently...

This is the side I expect Parky to send out at St Mary’s –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Dave Mooney
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Warner, Solly, Llera, Fry, Spring, Bailey, Wagstaff, Akpo Sodje, Burton, Tuna.

Pedro45 is not making the journey to the south coast this year, and will be tuned into the radio hoping for a result. Sadly, I do think that the managers may cancel each other out, but I’m hoping that the upturn in recent form can see Charlton escape with a draw – I forecast a 1-1 result.

My one-to-watch in this game is, after all the recent tribulations and what happened here last season, manager Phil Parkinson. Parky was number two to Pardew for quite some time, and he has struggled to do well when returning to teams he has been associated in the past (think Colchester…). Here, his mentor will be his usual cocky self I’m sure, but not if Parky can get his team to play. From the depths of home defeats to Orient to assured clean sheets last weekend is a great improvement, and if that upward curve can be maintained, then another vital point (or three) can be won. What we mustn’t see is the chin lowered to his chest, and the collar getting higher, hiding his face as much as he can, because if we do, then that means we are losing, and his body language shows we won’t come back.

With six games to go, five teams will battle to be runners up to Norwich. It could be us you know…and Saturday’s game will go some way to telling us if it might be.

Up the Addicks!

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

And Then There Were Five…

Charlton Athletic 1 Carlisle United 0

A couple of weeks ago, when Charlton played up in Yorkshire, a Huddersfield Town supporting friend of mine was so appalled at how both teams had played on that day that he was convinced that neither team would make the play offs, let alone be in with a chance of promotion. He said that both sides were poor; no tactics, no cutting edge, no thrust – no chance! Two weeks later, and the contrary is likely, as Colchester have slipped, while the Terriers and Charlton have won a couple of games.

Charlton’s latest game was another where the result mattered a lot more than the performance, and it may well be like that until the end of the season now. On another day, without much pressure, it is entirely possible that Carlisle would have been blown away and lost by far more than just the solitary goal that eventually separated the sides. As it was, just Sam Sodje’s towering header after visiting ‘keeper Collins missed a corner was the difference between another inept showing and a valuable victory.

Phil Parkinson decided to switch his formation for this game, playing Jonjo Shelvey in the hole behind lone striker Nicky Forster. The defence and midfield were the same as had started in Saturday’s game, and while looking quite solid in the first half, there was no continuity to the game and the referee wasn’t helping by being very fussy. Shelvey struggled to get involved, and big hoofs out of defence were met by equally big hoofs in return as Forster couldn’t hold the ball and had no support to call on. When the ball did go to feet, the bobbly pitch didn’t help (come on Paddy, you would have hated to have played on that surface!), and Lloyd Sam and Kyel Reid often found their final ball over hit.

The goal (left), when it came, was from a series of decent corners delivered by the opposite sides full-back – Frazer Richardson for left wing corners, and Gary Borrowdale for right wing efforts. Prior to Sodje’s goal, fellow centre back Christian Dailly had almost added to his goal tally (currently standing at one) but his header was scrambled away from the line. Darren Randolph, at the other end, had almost nothing to do in the first forty-five, even though Carlisle did have some good possession.

The second half was much more open, and the visitors did come out in search of an equalizer. Randolph had to sprint from his line and with Sodje somehow the pair got one ball away from danger as curlybonce Jason Price bore down on goal. And then all of a sudden, chances started to come for the home team. For some reason, most of these seemed to fall to Shelvey, but through a combination of bad play and bad luck, each effort seemed to be blocked on or near the line. A couple of times, he took balls off better placed forwards feet annoyingly, and it was no real surprise when he was eventually replaced by Dave Mooney.

Both sides did get the ball in the net, but both were chalked off for offside; one of Price’s last kicks was to fall over the ball a couple of yards out and deflect it in, while Akpo Sodje – on for Forster – also had a shot go in but Richardson was interfering and that was disallowed too. The younger Sodje was desperate it seemed to match his older brothers goal, and he looked a real handful while on the pitch. With Nicky Bailey replacing Reid, there were plenty of bodies in the box, but numerous crosses had either too little or too much weight on them, and nobody could get a clean header at goal. There were no real alarms toward the end for a change, and a win is a win.

The real concern could still be that Charlton are not yet playing well. It’s great that Darren Randolph has kept a pair of clean sheets, and the form of Sam Sodje and Jose Semedo does look to be back near their best. The worry for Semedo is that if he is booked on Saturday then he faces a suspension (if he isn’t, then that suspension will not happen at all). With Bailey and Sam both now apparently back to full fitness, and with sufficient reserves on the bench, the squad is pretty strong now and has cover wherever needed.

Will this level of play be enough? The other teams are so close that two points cover the positions from second to fifth – one slip, and you are out of automatic contention, even though a play-off place does now look assured.

I hope that the team are on the up; the defence is now looking better, the midfield is combative and hard-working, and the options up front are many though still not abundant with goals. Parky just needs to pick the right tam for each of the next five games; if he does that, then we can have no complaints wherever we finish (though I’m sure we will!).

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Don and Dusted

MK Dons 0 Charlton Athletic 1

Sometimes performances are not reflected in results, but it seems fair to say that Charlton’s narrow win yesterday was hard fought but well deserved. Nicky Forster’s first goal for the Addicks, from the penalty spot midway through the second half, was enough to split the two teams, though Darren Randolph had to be the man of the match for three tremendous saves that kept Charlton in the hunt.

It was a wholehearted all round performance, with everybody on the team contributing: the defence played well in patches and looked pretty solid; the midfield chased and harried and broke when able; and the forwards all ran and ran and closed down whenever they could. Even the three substitutes – Lloyd Sam for Scott Wagstaff, and Akpo Sodje and Jonjo Shelvey for Dave Mooney and Forster – played their part, with Sam and Shelvey both playing key roles in holding onto the ball in the closing stages and winding down the clock.

Although you could hardly claim that Charlton played exceptionally well during the game, it is fair to say that they did not play badly, so maybe the poor run of results and performances has been broken at last and things are on the up.

For a wonderfully written version of being at the game with MK Dons see this superb review.

Coupled with other results, the team now sit just two points off an automatic promotion place, and with certain other teams (who have yet to visit The Valley) in worse form than Charlton have been of late, the situation is certainly looking rosier than it did a couple of weeks ago. Parky even broke into a smile briefly after the game (see top pic!).

The key now is to build on this victory by backing it up with three more points at home tomorrow versus Carlisle. Easter is a tough time for all clubs, and though the Cumbrians had an extra days rest after their win on Friday, they have had to travel three hundred plus miles to the capital to fulfil their round of fixtures.

Carlisle’s latest win (over Bristol Rovers) has seen them past the magic 50 point mark for the season, and with no chance of making the play-offs either, their season is over bar playing for pride and next season’s contracts. While in some ways this makes them an easier team to play, it could also make them more positive and therefore more dangerous. Free kick and penalty expert Iain Harte will need to be denied a chance to swing his left boot, and on-loan striker and all round big boy Jason Price (Laura says “hi!”) will be hoping to finally make an impact after several substitute appearances in SE7.

Charlton will be hoping not to have incurred any injuries from Saturday’s game, and are unlikely to want to change the side too much. The defence will be retained I suspect, and with the forwards both given a rest toward the end of the MK Dons game they will also probably start together once more. If Nicky Bailey is still out injured (and there seems no point in rushing him back if there are any doubts bearing in mind the last two results when he failed to play) then Therry Racon and Jose Semedo will continue to patrol the centre midfield, and Kyel Reid is likely to play opposite Lloyd Sam I hope. Sam brought fresh life to the side when he arrived as a second half substitute on Saturday and he does offer more threat – when on form – than Scott Wagstaff.

This is the side I suspect Parky will send out to make Easter bunnies out of Carlisle –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Therry Racon
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Dave Mooney
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Warner, Solly, Llera, Fry, Spring, Shelvey, Bailey, Wagstaff, Akpo Sodje, Burton.

Pedro45 was buoyed by the result from yesterday, and has to be confident that the players and management have finally got the idea and will attack the end of season games in an effort to get maximum points. If they can play with the same gusto and passion (back in small quantities…), then I forecast a 2-0 victory to keep up the pressure on the teams above.

My one-to-watch at The Valley is going to be Dave Mooney (left). The on-loan Reading striker has had plenty of adverse publicity and reaction following his ear-cupping celebration to the equaliser last time out at home, whether he or anyone else thought it justified. I am one of the few bloggers to have a good word for him it seems, and I do think that he offers the team something that no other striker on our books currently can – movement, intelligence, and whole-hearted effort. He also makes goals, and it was his pass that played in Forster against MK Dons that led to the penalty award. I don’t like to see him miss chances, but the goals he has scored have all been pretty important (three times he has scored the first goal of a game). Two or three more between now and the end of the season, and a burgeoning partnership with Forster will go a long way to deciding where Charlton finish the season, and I for one hope he is more than successful.

A win on Saturday is worthless if the Addicks throw away all that good work by being sloppy in another home game. It will not be easy I suspect, but then no game is to Charlton these days, but if we can gather some of that confidence recently gained and turn it into a further positive performance then I am sure we will win through once more.

Come on you reds!

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Don Fishing

It really has got to crunch time for Charlton, with just eight games left in this season. Much will now depend on the balls that the manager has as much as the ones that the players will be kicking about over this Easter break. By that, I mean has manager Phil Parkinson (left) got enough front to pick a team that will potentially win these last eight games, or will he see away draws (and avoiding defeat) as the be-all and end-all of matters, hoping to catch other sides above us on the sly.

The onus must surely be to go all out for victory; with five teams vying for the remaining automatic promotion place, and with Huddersfield hoping to gate-crash the play-off party should any team self-implode, now is not the time for pussy-footing around.

Of course, Parky’s picks are compounded by who is available and who is injured; the Addicks have enough bodies, and with one or two now fitter (than they were last week at least), decisions will need to be made on who plays and who misses out. Add to that the conundrum that Charlton have six players in the building on loan, when only five can make the match-day squad, and some tough decisions will need to be made. I only hope that they are the right ones!

The goalkeeper slot should be straight-forward; that is, unless Parky thought that a week in training was enough for Tony Warner to oust perennial reserve who now has a chance Darren Randolph. Randolph did little wrong last week, and certainly had no chance with the goal he conceded, so it would be harsh to see Warner step up, though stranger things have happened (this year).

The defence looks to be a fairly straight forward choice, unless anyone else got a late training injury; Frazer Richardson, while not setting the world alight, will start at right back, and Gary Borrowdale, hopefully now fully recovered from his virus, should be in situe on the left. Between these two will be Sam Sodje and Christian Dailly. Matt Fry will have to wait his chance to make his debut, and if the other loanees play, he may not even make the bench. Miguel Llera will also have to see if he can get game time at the place he made his name.

Up front, Dave Mooney is likely to partner new signing Nicky Forster, as he did last weekend. Mooney does give much more movement to the front line than any other option we have, and allied with Forster's knack for goals, could be a very useful pairing. Deon Burton is closer to fitness apparently, which seems a bit rushed to me, and Akpo Sodje is also available for a place on the bench with game time likely late on. Leon McKenzie is still out injured, and may now never make a starting line-up for Charlton.

The midfield is where most of the decisions need to be made; Nicky Bailey was a late casualty last weekend and missed his first match of the season. Rumours are that he may be fit again, or fit enough, which is different but maybe enough for Parky. Where he plays though is a conundrum, as Kyel Reid played pretty well on the left wing last week – and scored a stunning goal – so it’s unlikely that Bailey will slot in there, while Jose Semedo had a good game in the centre. If Bailey is to start, it has to be in place of Therry Racon and alongside Semedo, though this pairing is the one that Parky has seemed not to want to pick at any stage so far this season – maybe it’s a master plan?

Out wide, Reid will play opposite either Scott Wagstaff but more likely the returning Lloyd Sam, who was only fit enough for the bench last week in Yorkshire. Sam ripped the MK Dons team apart in The Valley fixture last November, so has to play if fit enough ahead of Wagstaff. Even an hour of Sam with Waggy replacing him if he runs out of steam would be good enough in my opinion.

This is the side I would love Parky to send out to run roundabouts around the home team tomorrow –

Darren Randolph
Frazer Richardson
Sam Sodje
Christian Dailly
Gary Borrowdale
Jose Semedo
Nicky Bailey
Lloyd Sam
Kyel Reid
Dave Mooney
Nicky Forster

Subs from – Warner, Solly, Fry, Llera, Racon, Shelvey, Spring, Wagstaff, Akpo Sodje, Burton.

The MK Dons are a team in limbo – too far (8 points) away from the play off picture, and with no chance of getting relegated either, they have little to play for but pride. They do have some decent players, and Wilbrahims scored a great goal at The Valley in the reverse game to start the scoring off on that day. He will no doubt be paired with Jermaine Easter - who I'm sure will be hoping to see his name up in lights this weekend for all the right reasons rather than it just being this time of year - who missed the away game due to a call-up for Wales. Easter was of course the player who scored Wycombe’s winning goal in the League Cup quarter final that saw Les Reed leave SE7 once and for all a few years back. Luke Chadwick was once the next David Beckham while playing for Manchester United, so he is another that will need closely marking – we must stop the crosses coming in!

Pedro45 has to hope that Parky goes for it and picks an attacking team; it is so much easier to get in front and then shut up shop than try to make something happen late on in a game when you need to. If Parky picks the team I show above, then I am confident that Charlton can scrape a 2-1 victory that will bring a crucial three points. Playing a negative team though may result in a draw, which does nobody any good.

My one-to-watch in this match is going to be Darren Randolph (left). Big Darren will need to play well if he is to contain the goal threat that the home team have; if he’s on form, we could go on to win, and if he plays poorly then we will probably lose.

It’s now or never for Charlton; let’s forget the other teams around us for once and make them sit up and take notice of us; a confident performance and win will do this, and if it can be followed up on Monday, then six points could see us retake one of the loftier positions in the league once more.

Up the Addicks!

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