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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