Thursday, May 13, 2010

You Put Your First Leg In…

Charlton meet Swindon in the first leg of the League One play-offs on Friday night, hoping that they win the tie and get to Wembley. More and more, we are seeing the necessity of this from purely financial reasons, with potentially a million pounds at stake. Many years ago, I knew the accountant for the then Millwall chairman, and he confirmed that the best scenario financially for any club was to finish third in its league, but then to lose the play-off final at Wembley. This maximised gate revenues, but then allowed the club not to have to pay promotion bonuses. I’m not suggesting that Charlton’s board will feel exactly the same way, but bearing in mind the support they have given, they could do with a few extra bob going into their pockets.

The team that manager Phil Parkinson (left) picks to face Swindon will be strong, with everyone expected to be fit and available. The squad has actually been bolstered over the last few days as the players out on loan with other clubs returned, and Parky could also choose to include Chris Dickson, Stuart Fleetwood, Alex Stavrinou or Dean Sinclair in his squad if he wanted to. My own feeling is that he will leave those players well alone, and they would only come into contention if a large number of injuries and suspensions came to the fore over the coming weekend.

Parky has three goalkeepers from which to choose – incumbent Darren Randolph (who will surely hang on to the gloves), plus Robbie Elliot and Tony Warner. None of the three would let Charlton down but Randolph is the one in form, and I expect Elliot to continue to provide back-up from the bench.

The defence has done so well recently, and has such a stable look about it despite Sam Sodje missing last weekend’s match at Oldham after a late problem with is knee. Charlton and Sam have managed this issue quite well, as it is well known that Sodje the elder has knee-knack. In nearly every game, Sam goes down as if that is the end of his game, season, and career, but then a minute or so later, whatever is happening inside his knee has calmed down and he is able to carry on. My only worry is that one day his problem will be more serious, prevent him from carrying on, but by then Charlton will have used all of their substitutes. That hasn’t happened yet though, and with Christian Dailly, Frazer Richardson and Gary Borrowdale having vast experience, it hasn’t made much difference whether Sodje or Miguel Llera has played at centre half recently. Chris Solly provides cover for both full back slots, so he will make the bench, while Matt Fry will once more miss out as all the other loanees are fit and available.

Charlton’s midfield strength has been apparent all season, with ample and able bodies willing to come to the fore in every game. The main problem now lies with how to play this game tactically; I cannot really see Parky going all guns blazing and playing Kyel Reid from the start, so the very likelihood is that Nicky Bailey will be started out on the left again, with Jose Semedo and Therry Racon playing centrally, and Lloyd Sam hugging the right touchline. I don’t have any issue with this selection though it would be nice to see Racon take a game by the scruff of its neck and dominate the midfield some time soon; too many times frantic and hectic games seem to pass over his head and he runs around in circles trying to chase the ball. If we are losing, or need a goal, then Reid is a capable sub and withdrawing Racon allows Bailey to move inside. Scott Wagstaff can shadow Lloyd Sam’s position, while Matt Spring is another who will do a job in the centre of midfield if required.

With Dickson and Fleetwood returning, Parky has a plethora of strikers from which to choose. Deon Burton is likely to start, and I fancy Nicky Forster (a play-off hero in the past) will get the nod alongside him, ahead of either Dave Mooney or Akpo Sodje. I recent games, the introduction of this pair as subs for the older starters has worked quite well, and the running ability and power of Mooney and Sodje works well against tiring defenders.

This is the side that I think Parky will pick to keep alive Charlton’s Championship ambitions –

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

Subs from – Elliot, Warner, Solly, Llera, Mambo, Fry, Spring, Stavrinou, Wagstaff, Reid, Mooney, Akpo Sodje, Fleetwood, Dickson, Tuna.

Swindon have labelled themselves as underdogs for this tie, which is interesting as they were above Charlton in the league until the last week of the season. Their danger lies in attack, with Paynter and Austin both capable of punishing any mistakes; they have a workman-like midfield, but I still have doubts about their defence which has wobbled on numerous occasions throughout the season (conceding 57 times). They only won one game out of their last six in the regular season, so Charlton are the form team of the two. The two games played against Swindon earlier this season (both since Xmas) were both drawn, so we should probably expect it to be tight whatever the outcome.

Pedro45 thinks this will be a cagey and tactical game, with Parky looking to get at least a draw. The home crowd will be passionate, and the worry for me is that if Charlton do concede then they could quite likely do so again quickly. The night calls for experienced heads, and nobody to get sent off, as that can have such a massive outcome on the whole tie. My gut feeling is that Charlton will hold on for a nil-all draw, though I hope we can get ahead on the night as it might be difficult for Swindon to come back at us if we do.

My one-to-watch in this match is the ultra important Jose Semedo. Our Portu-geezer has a job to do in this match, as he does in most others, and that is to protect the back four, hassle the opposition midfield into giving away possession through misplaced passes, and tackle anything that moves, especially if it is past him and bearing down on goal. I would be amazed to see Jose get through the night without being booked, and I hope that Parky is able to get him off the pitch for the last few minutes if Charlton are winning so that he can play in the second leg. When Jose is playing well, Charlton play well, and his form of late has been excellent; just a few more massive performances like his recent ones should see us all right.

I hate the play-offs; they do me no good. I bite my fingernails, pull my hair out, and pick at my elbows. I cannot hold a civil conversation with my wife, my mind always strays, and I am tetchy all the time. I’m sure there are hundreds of others just like me. It’s the play-offs that do it, and I hate them.

Charlton must not lose this game in Wiltshire by giving up if they do fall behind. Recent games have been very close and we know we do not score many, nor concede many – that's OK and that must be the way at The County Ground. Swindon have the ability to score plenty, so Charlton must keep tackling, covering, chasing down, and giving it their all over the whole ninety minutes plus injury time. A lead would be great, but wouldn’t mean much I feel, as Swindon will attack whatever in the second leg, and a draw would show that Charlton can contain their opponents. A defeat would make things very difficult at a fractious Valley on Monday, and I don’t want to think about that.

It’s time for the heroes to stand up – so come on Christian, Jose, Deon and Moons, Forst and Bails, Rac, the Sodje Bros, Lloydy and Randy, Frazer, Scotty and Gary. Stand up! Stand up for Charlton! Let’s take that first step back toward the Championship.

Up the Addicks!

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For what its worth Pedro, your behavioural habits during the play offs are like mine every week from about Friday lunchtime onwards...

But once I'm at the game, singing and shouting releases the tensions. Watching it on telly just does my 'ead in - so I'm relived i got some tickets for tomorrow night!

Pembury Addick
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