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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