Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh Nicky Bailey…

Charlton Athletic 2 Swindon Town 1 (After Extra Time)
(Swindon won 5-4 on penalties)


I hate the play-offs…

For every Clive Mendonca and Sasa Ilic there is a Nicky Bailey and Miguel Llera; they just aren’t fair in my mind – too much is at stake on one kick of a ball.

For Bailey, that one (penalty) kick went high and wide and that, ultimately, was the difference between these teams over 210 minutes (plus injury time) of play-off football. Nothing could separate them in two league games, and only one point over a whole season – they are very well balanced!

It had all started so brightly for Charlton though, as a passionate crowd roared on their favourites and The Valley echoed with chants and cheers. Swindon lost their goalkeeper after a minute; having fallen on his shoulder in taking a cross, he left the field in excruciating pain. My worry was that it set up his substitute – Smith - to be either the hero or villain, or both.

After a fairly even opening, Charlton took the lead when Gary Borrowdale swung over a high corner, and with Dave Mooney blocking the ‘keeper (possibly legally), the ball bounced in and over the line off Ferry. The Valley erupted as only it can and Charlton took control. Kyel Reid and Lloyd Sam were causing lots of problems for the Swindon rearguard with their width, and many times only poor crosses or desperate blocks prevented chances for the home side. When, in the five minutes of first half injury time (of which all but a minute was due to the goalkeeper going off) Reid was set free down the left, his pull back was beautifully stroked home by Mooney to give Charlton the lead and the cushion on the night that they wanted.

Bartram’s was buzzing at half-time, but I discouraged talk of Wembley knowing that the third goal would be the crucial one (Curbishley’s Law).

Both teams seemed to attack even more in the second half, if that was possible. Play swung from end to end, with chances arriving and being missed. In honesty, there were too many to catalogue here, but Smith made some fine saves that kept Swindon in the game, and others went close.

With about half an hour left, with the game getting a little more tetchy as the pressure mounted on both sides, Greer was sent off, maybe harshly. His raised foot did probably leave deep stud marks on Deon Burton’s hip, but to me there seemed no intent or movement to kick Burton, and it didn’t look any worse than that done by Sam Sodje in at least three games late this season. Could Charlton dictate the game from then on in? They started to, but in some ways, as time dragged on, the crowd became more edgy wanting the Addicks to compound their lead and finish the job.

As on Friday in the first leg, Swindon scored after a breakaway, this time after 72 minutes. They broke quickly, but Charlton had numbers back this time; Borrowdale was wrestling with his winger off the ball, and got the worst of it as play continued. Crazily, the ball in the middle spun past the central defenders, and left the flying winger, now unmarked and cutting round the back after Borrowdale couldn’t hold him, free to poke past Darren Randolph. It brought the tie level once more, though Charlton still had the numerical advantage.

Even that did not last long, as Austin soon spun away from Llera, and his clumsy challenge brought him down on the edge of the penalty box. Was Dailly covering? Probably (I haven’t seen it on TV), but the linesman and referee both thought Llera was the last man, and he was shown red too. Ten against ten then.

Swindon were by far the more tired side, having played for much of the second half against superior numbers, but Charlton will have thought as the 90 minutes ended that they had missed their chance. Winning the game and one man up, they hadn’t been able to hold or increase that lead sadly. Even the players likely to create something had been sacrificed by Phil Parkinson (left) as Charlton tried to hold what they had – Lloyd Sam being replaced by Scott Wagstaff and Dave Mooney coming off for Nicky Forster – though every player tried their best.

Into extra time, and Charlton pushed forward as much as they could. With less players on the pitch, possession was key, and both teams saw quite long (in comparison) periods of holding the ball, trying to work out how to breakdown the others defence. Frazer Richardson probably came closest, as his crisp shot clipped the outside of the post. Therry Racon was now on, and he at last was running the show, probing, pushing, and cajoling his team-mates into those last efforts. But it wasn’t to be, and Swindon nearly stole it at the death with a shot that went just wide.

Despite the passionate and noisy crowd, and despite the considerable efforts of all the players, it came down to penalties. A spot kick from 12 yards with just the ‘keeper to beat. Was Smith the substitute to be a hero, or could Randolph (left) emulate Ilic’s antics and save? Well neither actually, as nine of the ten kicks went in without any coming close to being saved or missed. The second Charlton kick was the one that split the teams and gave Swindon that Wembley feeling.

Nicky Bailey, the love of our lives, took his captain’s responsibility, stepped up to take his penalty kick turn but side-footed high and wide of the right hand post. With the tie over and Swindon celebrating a few minutes later, he was distraught (top pic). It would be totally unfair to criticise Bailey for missing the spot kick: Nobody does that on purpose; nobody means to do that. We may all wish we had ginger hair too, but not last night, not with the hopes and Wembley dreams of 20,000 fans riding on our backs. Bailey had the guts to take a kick – could we have done so? So, he missed, someone was going to be a hero and someone a villain – it was Nicky Bailey’s turn to be a villain.

For ever Clive Mendonca, there is a Nicky Bailey…

I hate the play-offs.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Last Chance Saloon

Just one goal behind, Charlton meet Swindon in the second leg of their League One play-off semi-final tonight, with the knowledge that the winners of this tie will be extending their season for another couple of weeks. That final game at Wembley is a tantalising carrot at the end of this season’s stick, and it will probably transpire that the team that wants it most will be the one to get the prize.

Friday nights game was, as they say, a game of two halves – the first a tactical and negative fair, with Swindon carving out but not taking chances against a lacklustre Charlton side, and the second much more open, with goals, both sides hitting the woodwork, and more chances going begging. 2-1 is not much of a lead, but a lead it is, and Swindon will be doing their utmost to first protect, then extend that lead tonight.

I’m sure that Danny Wilson will set Swindon up to play in much the same manner, particularly if his top scorer, Paynter, is still out injured. That tactic, of playing neat passes out wide and then getting good early ball into the box certainly caused Charlton’s rearguard some worries, and it is something that Phil Parkinson will be keen to combat. With Austin pulling away onto the full back as he awaited the cross, he was always going to win most aerial stuff, and Gary Borrowdale and Frazer Richardson need to be aware that this is what he is trying to do.

Parky, now at home, will have to change things up, and common consensus is that two areas need addressing. The first is that nobody can go into this game with any injury doubts hanging over them; Sam Sodje’s knee-knack has been getting worse and worse, and though he put in a fine effort on Friday, his lack of pace caused major concern, and I would therefore expect him to be replaced tonight by Miguel Llera. The second area of concern is another one that is well known, and that is the lack of goal threat. Of the team that turned out for the Addicks on Friday night, only Nicky Bailey and Deon Burton came anywhere near the Swindon goal, and in order to offer at least some hope of getting to Wembley I think that Kyel Reid and Nicky Forster have to start the match. This would mean sacrificing Therry Racon, though he has hardly been very influential over recent months, and also Dave Mooney, who has looked a better option as a late sub than when starting recently. Other than that, there is not a lot that Parky can do even with the plethora of available bodies he has currently at his disposal.

This is the team I expect Parky to pick to win the match -

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

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

Pedro45 is a realist, and I do think that anything could happen tonight. If any one side takes charge, then the final score could be three or four nil, but then again it could turn out to be a negative and cagey goalless draw. If Parky picks an attacking side from the start, I think we have a chance, as Swindon wobbled under pressure on Friday, and they do have problems at full back that we didn’t exploit that night. However, my score forecast is a 1-1 draw, and misery for Addicks fans. I hope I am wrong, and in many ways it would not surprise me to see me beaming with smiles come 9.45 tonight, but I just don’t know. I do expect Swindon to score, but isn’t it about time Charlton hit the back of the net more than in other recent games? Yes, I think so too!
My one-to-watch in this match is no one player, but the whole Charlton team, as tonight is going to be a team effort, from the management to the players and then right through to the fans too! While one or two players can have mediocre games, the rest cannot, and they must all pull in the right positive direction. We need Darren Randolph to be at his best; the defence to use their experience to protect our goalie and provide impetus to the midfield and attack; we need the central players to dictate and dominate, for the wide men to attack and create; and for the strikers to stick that bloody little round thing in the back of the net! But that’s not all, we need the crowd, all of the Addicks supporting fans, to get behind the team AND STAY THERE! We need at least two goals – If Swindon score one it makes little difference - so let’s hang in there and keep on shouting for OUR boys, not against them.

In Charlton’s final home game of the previous two seasons, four goals have been scored by the Addicks, and it would be great to finish the season in SE7 with another four-goal haul. For that to happen, someone has to stand up and be counted, just like Deon Burton did last May; it may have been unexpected, but how we loved his hat-trick. Tonight, whatever the score, may well be the last game that some of these players have in a Charlton shirt at The Valley. Fourteen are out of contract next month, and the finances dictate that many will move on; for Lloyd Sam, Deon Burton, Christian Dailly, Therry Racon, and Darren Randolph amongst others, it could be their last chance to be Valley heroes. Our on-loan players – Dave Mooney, Nicky Forster, Akpo Sodje, Gary Borrowdale, and Kyel Reid - have the chance to be remembered or forgotten, depending what happens in the match tonight. Good performances could earn them the offer of a Charlton contract, and even the chance to play in the Championship, while a bad one will see them subbed and trudging back whence they came. Also, unless we win our next two games, the likelihood is that maybe Nicky Bailey and Frazer Richardson will need to be sold? It could be their farewell too, sadly. So a lot depends on tonight’s outcome; we cannot afford to leave anything in the dressing room!

I hate the play-offs, but I am willing to put up with one more game if the club insists!

In finishing, I include a small ditty that I remember singing way back in the seventies at several games, and on the train journeys to and from them; I don’t know who came up with the words, or why it never caught on, but I’ve never forgotten it, and tonight maybe it should be our mantra –

It’s Charlton for me,
It’s Charlton for me.
They play good football
Occasionally!
They play it so cool,
They play it spot on,
And this year you’ll see
They’ll win promotion!

It’s pro-motion, promotion!
That we’re aiming for,
So come along Charlton
And give them a roar.
Supporters are here
To give you a cheer
So come on you Charlton
This year is your year!

Come on you Reds!

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wobbling in Wiltshire

Swindon Town 2 Charlton Athletic 1

It wasn’t an easy experience watching this game on TV, though I suspect that it may have been a little easier on the eye from behind the goal at the Country Ground last night, simply because you wouldn’t have had to see so many action replays of Swindon efforts on goal...

One must acknowledge that Swindon were the better team, deserved to win, and unless Charlton are to finish the season with a whimper, they really do need to find something or someone inspirational for Monday night’s game.

With (a not-really-fit) Sam Sodje restored to the defence, the first half was all cagey and tactical; Swindon did carve out some headed chances for Charlie Austin as he strode past a static Charlton rearguard but thankfully Darren Randolph continued his good form and kept these efforts out. The Addicks really had little to show other than couple of weak left footed Nicky Bailey shots that went well wide. Charlton had plenty of possession, but just could not get anywhere close to goal, and when they did get a cross into the box, it was either mis-directed or adequately dealt with by the Swindon ‘keeper or defence. The home team were being allowed to play at their tempo, and with Dave Mooney, Lloyd Sam and Deon Burton all unable to hold onto the ball for any period of time, the impetus was with the Robins of Swindon.

Still, this is a long tie, and at half time, only a quarter done. Charlton actually looked brighter early in the second period, and when Bailey cut in from his left wing slot and unleashed a right foot shot of some power, you hoped it would curl past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net. Sadly, it was an inch or two out, and the ball thudded against the post and was put behind for a corner (one of many for Charlton) by a defender. A couple of minutes later, and Austin rose above Gary Borrowdale to meet a cross and the ball was in the back of the net – 1-0 Swindon. Charlton tried to get back into the game quickly, but Borrowdale (still looking for his first ever goal in senior football…) put a free kick from a good position high over the bar. Maybe now was the time to let Bailey, Sam, or even Therry Racon try a dead ball delivery, as Borrowdale seems to hyper-ventilate when given the chance.

After another Charlton corner, Swindon broke quickly, but Racon made a wrong decision and allowed Austin to run free rather than bring him down early and take a booking. The Swindon forward fed Ward and he scored with a crisp left foot shot past the helpless Randolph – 2-0 Swindon. Thankfully, Charlton did not capitulate completely, and after a Swindon foray was hoofed clear by Randoph, Burton put his head in where it hurts and just got to the ball ahead of the Swindon ‘keeper to head home the loose bouncing ball. It was a lucky goal in some respects, but dragged Charlton right back into the tie.

For a few minutes, Swindon were there for the taking, but efforts just would not sit right and crosses slipped past attackers by the merest margins. Having missed the chance to equalise, Parky made substitutions (Nicky Forster for Mooney, Scott Wagstaff for Sam, and Akpo Sodje late on for Burton) and tied the game down hoping to bring it back to The Valley well balanced.

That was the plan, but Swindon rose in confidence again, and should have extended their lead, most notably when sub Pericard headed against the post when it should have been easier to score in the dying seconds of added on time (Sodje again at fault).

2-1 then, and still all to play for on Monday. The worry is that Swindon, even without their top scorer Paynter, looked very capable of scoring while Charlton had lots of possession but little cutting edge. On a positive note, Charlton did show that they can put pressure on the Wiltshire team, and that they wobbled at times. If The Valley can be turned into a cauldron of noise, and if Charlton can get level early on, then this could yet turn out to be a good result, though I do suspect that Charlton will need at least two goals to take the tie into extra time and three to win outright, something they haven’t achieved since before Xmas.

Roll on Monday!

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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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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

All to Play-Off For!

Charlton have been in the play-offs, whatever the guise, on three occasions; twice they were successful, and once they were not. It is a sobering thought, as we approach our next post-season play-off venture, that the only club we have beaten over 90 minutes in any play-off game is Ipswich.

Back in 1986/87, the play-offs were a new phenomenon, having only been introduced that year as one of the ways that the top division could reduce it’s numbers from 22 down to 20 (as required by Europe’s governing body UEFA). The club finishing fourth from bottom in Division One, the top tier of that time, had to play the fifth placed team in Division Two, while the teams finishing third and fourth played each other. The winners of both two legged ties would then meet in a two-legged final. That way, either four clubs went down and three up to Division One, or three went down and just two came up.

Charlton met Ipswich at Portman Road in the first leg, and it was a pretty dour match with no goals scored. Charlton had the best chance, when Colin Walsh’s penalty was saved early in the first half. The atmosphere was tense, and the crowd (a many 80’s crowd’s were) fairly volatile. The return leg a few days later saw Jim Melrose score twice to give Charlton a comfortable lead. However, a late consolation goal did see Charlton playing out the match in a very negative manner, holding on to their winning aggregate, with Bob Bolder (left) marshalling his defence superbly.

The play-off final was against Leeds, who had beaten Oldham for the right to play Charlton. On the police’s insistence, Charlton had to forego the right to have the advantage of being at home in the second leg, and another Melrose goal late in the first game was enough to give Charlton a lead going up to Yorkshire. On a very intimidating night, the Addicks players were magnificent in holding out, especially after Robert Taylor had scored after half an hour to give Leeds hope of winning the tie. With the scores level on aggregate, a replay on a neutral ground was arranged, and late in May both sets of fans descended on St Andrew’s in Birmingham for the deciding tie. Once more, it was a pretty intimidating place to play, and get to, as Leeds fans outnumbered Charlton’s by eight to one. Hunched together in one corner of the ground, the Charlton fans looked on as Leeds once more outplayed there higher division opponents for much of the game, but no goals came for either side, and in truth, neither team looked likely to score. Into extra time, and a John Sheridan free kick snuck under the bar to give the Yorkshiremen the lead, and I even said to my father that I doubted Charlton would come back from that. I hadn’t reckoned on another Yorkshireman though, and two late, amazing, Peter Shirtliff (top pic) goals brought the Addicks back from the brink and broke many northern hearts. After a few minutes celebration, it was a mad dash back to the train station, not only to catch the penultimate train back to London, but to avoid the hordes of Leeds fans who had been kept in the ground while we made our escape down the road.

In 1995/96, Charlton struggled toward the end of the season, having been well placed up until Xmas. Having crept into the play-offs in sixth place in League One (Tier two), it was no surprise to be beaten in both legs of the semi-finals by a team from Croydon. The atmosphere at the home leg, which was played first, was hot, though not as hot as in those games against Leeds, but Charlton went down 2-1 despite a Shaun Newton (below pic) goal after just 55 seconds. In the return leg, Charlton never recovered after going a further goal behind early on, despite showing considerable fight and being unlucky to lose on the night.

Two years later, and Alan Curbishley saw Charlton challenge for an automatic promotion place right up until the last weekend of the season, only to fall short in fourth place as we have done this year. Ipswich were fifth, and the away tie was settled by a Jamie Clapham own goal in the fifteenth minute. Danny Mills was stupidly sent off in the first half, but Charlton hung on and were well worth the overall lead in the tie. A few days later back at The Valley, and a beautiful early summer’s evening was lightened up by Shaun Newton’s crisp left footer that soared into the net after half an hour. Charlton hadn’t conceded a goal in weeks leading up to that game, and the confidence was such that nobody thought Ipswich could score once, let alone twice to bring them hope in the match; and that proved to be the case.

A 2-0 aggregate victory saw Charlton through to a Wembley play-off final against Sunderland. Most Addicks fans know what happened that day, but suffice to say that our clean sheet record was smashed, Clive Mendonca (left) became a Charlton legend, as did Sasa Ilic, and most of the rest of the players too.

With Charlton now meeting Swindon over two legs for a chance to play again at the rebuilt Wembley, the stakes are high, and the tension will be enormous. Omens are being sought, and similarities discussed, but I do think that form and history count for nothing in this post-season phase. Four teams go into battle, and only one will come out victorious. I think it’s horrible!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If You Know Your History...

Charlton have played games against Swindon on and off ever since I first started to support the club, way back in the late 60’s. In the lead up to our weekend play-off matches against them, I recollect some of Charlton’s previous games against them.

My first recollection of Swindon came when they won the League Cup in 1969. That was the team of Don Rogers, Peter Noble, and Roger Smart. Rogers was the broad shouldered winger, who tore the slow Arsenal defence to ribbons on a bumpy Wembley pitch that day, while Smart danced through the static defence to score the last goal. All three of those west country heroes would move on soon after Swindon won promotion to Division Two, with Rogers moving to one part of south east London, while Smart (above) made it to SE7 a year or two later. Before they moved on, Swindon did hand out a thorough thrashing to Charlton (5-0) at the County Ground in 1970. The bald Noble was a fantastic header of the ball, and he went on to play for many years at Burnley, completely dominating their midfield and on several occasions games at The Valley. Smart’s time in SE7 was not very happy, and he simply could not repeat the glory he had previously and did little to enamour himself to the Addickted with some very poor displays.

My next memory of Swindon was the team that Glenn Hoddle built there in the early nineties. Prevented from gaining promotion to the top tier due to financial irregularities, Hoddle eventually took them up via the play-offs, where they had one glory season amongst the big boys. That season ended in relegation, but they did put up a fight toward the end with Jan-Age Fjortoft (left) scoring many goals. The next season saw Charlton and Swindon drawn together in the League Cup early in the season, and following a 3-1 away win, hopes were high at The Valley for the return leg. Sadly, Fjortoft scored a hat-trick and the tie was lost 5-4 on aggregate after extra time. Fjortoft’s goal celebration was to run out toward the corner flag with his arms out, simulating an aeroplane, and he made the most of it that night.

My next memory of Swindon was in the 97-98 season, when it rained hard on us away fans in Wiltshire in a tier two campaign. It mattered little though, as Charlton’s fantastic end of season run continued and Steve Jones slotted home ten minutes from time to send Charlton fans home delirious; that season would end in play-off glory for the Addicks.

Two years later, and Charlton met bottom of the table Swindon at The Valley after thirteen consecutive victories had taken them well clear at the pinnacle of the league, during a season that would end in the League Championship Trophy coming to SE7. Five minutes in, the usually reliable Dean Kiely spilt a regulation low cross and somehow the ball squirmed from his grasp and into the net without a Swindon player anywhere near. After that, Charlton piled on the pressure but simply could not find a way through the packed Swindon rearguard, and the record winning streak came to an end in the most unexpected circumstances.

This season’s two games have both been drawn, but both had plenty of excitement. I missed the Boxing Day home game due to my wife’s broken elbow, and listened to the commentary as first Sam Sodje and then Deon Burton were sent off in the first half. Annoyingly, Charlton had led through a Jonjo Shelvey strike between the red cards, before second half strikes from Paynter and Austin showed up Charlton’s lack of numbers. The game was not up though, and Miguel Llera became the first Charlton player to score for the Addicks while the team played with just nine men when he chipped in late in the game. A couple of months later, and it was Nicky Bailey’s turn to repeat the late equaliser, this time in Wiltshire, as Charlton trailed 1-0 going into injury time.

Swindon started the season with a 5-0 thrashing at Gillingham that showed how poor their defence can be. Since then, the Gills have been relegated and Swindon have found a goal-scorer (Austin) to play alongside Paynter and shored up their defence a little. They do concede plenty though, so there is still a lot of hope for Charlton. Friday’s fist leg will go some way to deciding who plays at Wembley, but history (1994/5) shows us that ties between these two clubs can turn massively between the first match and the second, and this season's games have also indicated that nobody should leave before the final whistle is blown.

Come on you Reds!

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Monday, May 10, 2010

End of Season Report

Charlton’s players have numbered many once more during a season, and below I assess how well they have done, from stars like Christian Dailly, to youngsters like Chris Solly, to forgotten-men like Andy Gray and Carl Ikeme. We also have to think about who may be at the club next season, bearing in mind the finances of the club, the contract situation of various players, and the needs of maintaining a winning team, notwithstanding the play-off games. It’s all opinion of course, but I’m happy for Phil Parkinson and Richard Murray to act on my views; you may, of course, hold contrary opinion.

Whether you liker them or not, they were the class of 2009/10 – in alphabetical order:

Nicky Bailey

Oh Nicky Bailey. Our ginger captain was in the goals and looking very good up until Xmas, but has been somewhat muted since. Playing wide left, he still found himself able to get into very good goal scoring positions early in the season, and often put in very good stints from out on the left wing too. Even when restored to the central midfield berth the goals continued to flow but then, for some reason, they just stopped between January and this weekend. Why? Well, I do think that luck has played a big part as we have often seen Bailey hitting the target but ‘keepers (Southampton for instance) making good saves or the woodwork getting in the way. But injury has also caught up with him, and he has been playing with a bad shoulder for some time, plus knee and ankle problems. Bailey also comes in for some heavy tackles during games, and the opposition have been keen to rough him up when they can. Sadly, some of this underhand work has led to Bailey going down far too easily, often clutching his face, and a number of opposition players have seen red because of this. I do think it is good that a lot of Charlton fans are amongst his biggest critics over this, and hopefully Nicky will rely on his positive attributes in future as he has plenty. The problem with Bailey is that - as one of Charlton’s few saleable assets - if we don’t win promotion then he is likely to be sold. I’m not sure that we will get the £3 million that was mooted last summer, but any reasonable offer from a poor Premiership team or good Championship club would suffice I suspect. The problem is that most of those that might make a bid (West Brom, Forest, Leicester, Pompey, Hull, Burnley, Cardiff, Ipswich, etc) have little or no money, and that might be a quandary for the Board to consider. If we do go up though, I would like him to stay, as he is one of only a few players on the squad who could compete at that level in my opinion.

Grant Basey

Grant Basey started the season as the reserve left back, and ended the season on crutches, courtesy of a horrendous foul by Dominic Blizzard of Bristol Rovers. That nasty injury, sustained back in January, looked worse than it was, but still broke his ankle. How the referee failed to see the foul as anything less than a straight red card is amazing! Prior to that assault, Basey had stepped in after Kelly Youga’s own injury and was doing a decent job on the left of the defence. Sometimes lacking in pace, and also sometimes in confidence, Grant did have many positive features, not least his dead ball delivery. His sweet left foot was regularly seen swinging in corners and free kicks, and he nearly scored at Yeovil when one corner caught on the wind before striking the bar. Provided he gets hit fitness back as it was, and the signs are that he will, then Welsman Basey should be around next season to once more provide cover where needed. If we are in League one, he may even end up as first choice full back.

Gary Borrowdale

On loan from QPR, and another ex-Croydon player to play at regularly at The Valley, Borrowdale took time to settle, improved his fitness, and then went on to have an excellent end to the season. He showed in his initial month that he could do a good job in the problem left back slot, and after further negotiations was retained until season’s end. He will return to QPR but may be surplus to requirements there, as he doesn’t get on with the new manager apparently. I doubt Charlton could pay much of a fee for him, but if Youga is not fit for next season, a new left back will be required, and Charlton could do worse then try to bring in Borrowdale if Championship football is won.

Deon Burton

A tale of two halves for Deon with all of his goals coming prior to Xmas bar one penalty (versus Walsall). He was still the top league scorer though, with 13 goals, and did work tirelessly for the side whenever on the pitch. The main reason, I feel for the drying up of his outfield goals was that he played for too long while injured – a hernia problem identified back in September (after the Norwich game) was not acted on due to the lack of other fit strikers at the club, and Deon suffered and played in order to fill the gap. That pain eventually took its toll, and his performances and ability to get into scoring positions slowly tailed off up until Xmas. The rest he had after Xmas was courtesy of a stupid sending off on Boxing Day – which took Charlton down to nine men! – when he handled intentionally having already been booked for arguing, coupled with some bad weather postponements. That break probably saw him fit enough to get through the season, but still the goals have failed to arrive. In the latter part of the season, he has been used as a battering ram for the first hour, allowing substitutes to hopefully benefit from his earlier effort against tiring defenders. Burton’s contract is up this summer, but I suspect that he may be offered an extension, whatever league we play in next year.

Jack Clark

Sadly, although Clark was given a one-year contract last summer, it seems he has not made the grade, and after a season out on loan in the lower non-leagues, he has struggled even there. I expect him to be released by Charlton this summer, and for him to join a local non-league club.

Christian Dailly

Player of the season, and what a great season Christian has had! I must come clean here and admit that I have never rated Christian Dailly; not when he was at Derby, Blackburn , West Ham, or anywhere else. I used to love it when we played a side and his name was on the opposition team-sheet as I knew that our strikers could get the better of him, either in the air or on the ground. But that was in the Premiership, and tier three forwards just cannot compare. Dailly has seemingly strolled through the season, dictating games from the back, and controlling whoever he has been marking, whether big or small, quick or lumbering. It is shocking that Gary Doherty was picked on the League One team of the season ahead of him, as I’m sure most forwards found it easier to score against Norwich than Charlton. Dailly has also been the supreme professional, often giving advice to younger players, and regularly talking his colleagues through games in order to ensure the Addicks win. Signed on a one-year deal, I fully expect Dailly to remain if we do get promoted, but maybe not if we fail to go up, much as I’d like him to stay, simply on financial grounds. He does live fairly locally, so doesn’t have many options of who to play for, so I hope that a suitable wage can be agreed to see him back at The Valley next August.

Ben Davisson

A first professional contract for Davisson next season, well earned after being injured for much of the last 12 months. The player does have potential, and was doing well before he broke his leg. I haven’t seen him play but suspect that he will spend much of next year out on loan as others have done this year earning experience before forcing himself closer to the first team the following year.

Chris Dickson

Dicko failed to make the grade this season at The Valley, which was a big disappointment, as we, and he, know that he is good enough for this league when he puts his mind to it. Farmed out on loan to Bristol Rovers last August, he flattered on his debut, scoring twice, but then did little to promote a transfer to the Pirates after Xmas. After getting back into the Charlton line up due to Deon Burton’s suspension, he won a penalty at Brentford, but then did nothing more to cement his place. Next he went off to Gillingham, a club where he had scored bundles of goals previously and where the Board had made little secret of the fact that they thought he would sign for them when his contract ended at The Valley. But once more, after a bright start, he failed to do himself justice, and now he will be back in SE7 to see out the last month of his contract. There is a small chance that he will be given one last chance, provided Charlton fail to be promoted, but I doubt many of the clubs management would want to bother, bearing in mind the return from him recently. Gillingham have said that they won’t offer him a contract, so if he does move on, I expect it to be down a league or two.

Rob Elliot

A fine first full season as Charlton’s number one goalkeeper, even though he has failed to regain his place at the back end of the season following injury. Robbie made a large number of points wining saves during Charlton’s record breaking start to the season, and held his form either side of his first injury at Gillingham. That thigh problem came back to haunt him a few months later, and there were some games where he obviously played when not 100% fit. During those games, one or two goals could have been put down to him, none less than some of the eight conceded to Millwall over two matches. With Randolph now on top form, and in possession of the starting spot, Robbie has a battle to regain his place between the posts, but that may spur him on to better things. He is still the number one of choice, but we will have to see what happens in the summer before knowing if Randolph will start next August or if Elliot is in place once more. A Charlton fan through and through, it is always a delight to see his smiling face when chatting to fans before a game, and also when celebrating (a la Chris Powell) after victories.

Stuart Fleetwood

A season long loan at Exeter has seen Fleetwood prove that he is only just good enough for tier three. He has scored some (5) useful goals for the Grecians, but has not been able to hold down a regular starting place. I suspect that if a reasonable (£50k) offer came in for him then the Addicks board would be keen for him to leave, as he doesn’t look to have much future at The Valley, whatever league we end up in next season. At least he was able to pull on a Charlton shirt in earnest for the first time prior to his loan spell starting, but that match ended in defeat, and will probably be his one and only Charlton appearance.

Nicky Forster

A journeyman goal scorer, but still very fit at 36 years of age, Forster joined Charlton on loan for the remainder of the season in March, and has scored twice so far, both match-winners. Out of contract at Brighton this summer, his displays have obviously been with a view to securing a contract at The Valley, and he may well have done enough, provided his wage demands can be met. Although he hasn’t yet forged a partnership of any sorts with other strikers, despite playing with Mooney, Sodje, and Burton, he can work as a focal point or as the runner, or even as a lone striker (as he did for Brighton at The Valley in March). He has a poacher’s eye for goal, and it was a major surprise to see him miss two good chances at Exeter, but I think that was a blip, as he hasn’t missed much else in his career. If he is signed, then Charlton will probably have the oldest front pair in this league yet again next season, but we’ll have to wait and see how this one pans out I suspect.

Matt Fry

There’s not much that you can say about Matt Fry, who joined Charlton on loan from West Ham in March until the end of the season, mainly because he hasn’t played for the club. Fry is the victim of the maximum number of loanees rule, and Charlton have six players but can only include five in any match-day squad. Brought in when doubts abounded Gary Borrowdale’s own loan arrangement, Fry is an able back-up should Borrowdale, or any centre back get injured. But that hasn’t happened, and unless something strange happens, Fry’s only Charlton game this season will be the one he played against them for Gillingham when on loan there. Fry is well thought of at Upton Park, and I doubt there is any chance that he will be sold, or that he would actively wish to join the Addicks.

Andy Gray

Just two subs appearances on the season from Gray before a transfer to Barnsley got him off the club’s wage bill. A disappointment after his arrival from Burnley, Gray never quite reproduced his form apart from in brief flashes. The health problems suffered by his wife certainly didn’t help his mental attitude, and it was in both parties interests that Gray left for more northern climes.

Luke Holden

Although Holden appeared in a few match-day squads, he rarely made even an appearance on the substitute’s bench during his three-month loan spell from Rhyl. His one moment of glory in a Charlton shirt came when he entered the fray at St Mary’s and set up McKenzie’s goal with a lovely cross from the right wing in a JPT game. It wasn’t enough to earn him a long-term contract at Charlton, but it was worthwhile I feel, as it gave both parties time to assess each other.

Carl Ikeme

It was a strange decision, bearing in mind his recent form, to bring in Ikeme on loan from Wolves when we had such a good ‘keeper as Darren Randolph waiting in the wings. Whereas Randolph played in the following cup game, Ikeme went straight into the league matches ahead of him, and kept his place for the remainder of his month with the club. Four league games on and Ikeme had made some good saves, but was prone to letting in shots from distance. Once Robbie Elliot declared himself fit, Ikeme went back to Wolves.

Johnnie Jackson

Another loanee who came in to fill in at left back after the injuries to Youga and Basey. Jackson did well, even though he looked more accomplished going forwards than in defence. Provided good dead ball delivery, but sadly got injured just before his month term was up (and the likelihood was it would have been extended). If Notts County need to trim their wage bill next season, as sounds likely, then Jackson could yet make a switch to The Valley permanently, but only I suspect if we remain in League One.

Carl Jenkinson

Striker Jenkinson is a youngster who has a bright future having won his first professional contract for next season. Likely to be sent out on loan to gain experience, as Tuna and others were this season, the forward will be looking to knock in goals consistently, so that when he returns to the Charlton ranks he can press for inclusion in first team squads quickly. In the interim, he does have Burton, Forster, and McKenzie to gain experience from, and he would do well to talk long and hard to all three.

Migual Llera

Big Mig, the first Spaniard to play for the Addicks, was Charlton’s first choice centre back at the start of the season, and opened with a couple of important goals in the first two home games. Once Sam Sodje signed, to cover the obvious gap that was left by having just two centre backs, Miguel’s position was under strain, and he finally broke in the away game at Colchester. In a very similar display to that at Millwall, Miguel had a ‘mare, conceding an own goal when he headed past Robbie Elliot from ten yards. His mind full of apology, he then went to sleep allowing a second goal, and stumbled through the match looking anything but a third tier player. At Millwall, his wayward, awful, pass let in the Lions for a third goal and humiliation – both games led to Miguel being dropped. That’s not to say that his first season in Addicks colours has been all poor – not at all. Miguel does have a sweet left foot, and if given the chance, will swing away fifty yard passes at every opportunity. A feature of Charlton’s early season winning form was Miguel’s ability to find Lloyd Sam from defence, but slowly this tactic became a bit worn, and countered. As cover for Sodje’s knee-knack, Llera has had quite a bit of game time late in the season too, and he has not let Charlton down. A bit unlucky with free-kicks earlier in the season (where he has hit the woodwork at least twice), his pay-back came at Oldham where the ‘keeper let his unusually weak shot through his legs. Almost certain to still be at The Valley next year, the only question mark is who he will be playing alongside.

Leon McKenzie

Leon has had one of those seasons to forget, having not started a league game for the Addicks. Injury after injury has prevented him getting back to full fitness, and the lack of reserve team has not helped him when he has been fit enough to play. One goal, versus Southampton in the JPT, is scant reward for this proven goal scorer, and I doubt his one-year contract will be renewed with or without promotion, simply because of doubts over his long term fitness.

Izale McLeod

Love him or hate him, Izale is still a Charlton player, though not for much longer I suspect. Rumoured to be wanted by Hearts pre-season, Izzy did good work and was fit enough to play in many early season games. He got his first Valley league goal (and what proved to be the winner) against Exeter in September and then scored against Barnet in the league cup. A couple of weeks later he scored again in front of the covered end to beat Huddersfield, but that was it, and with Mooney coming in on loan, Izzy went to Peterborough to play Championship football. Despite a good start, things soon started to go wrong there and with the club struggling at the bottom of the league, another bad injury saw his season ended in January. With the wage he is on, there is no way that Charlton can afford to keep Izale, so I expect him to get a free transfer when his contract ends this summer, thus ending a very unhappy time for him in south east London.

Yado Mambo

A season of growth for our massive centre back, not in terms of height, but in strength and experience. After a competent display in the league Cup versus Barnet, plus inclusion in several match day league squads as cover, Mambo has since been loaned out to play against older opposition than he has been used to, and reports are that he has done well. I expect him to remain at Charlton next year, and with the current central defenders all getting on a bit, Mambo could be close to the first team next season, and playing regularly within a couple of years if he continues to improve.

Dave Mooney

Dave Mooney played almost the whole season on loan at Charlton from Reading, in two spells either side of Xmas. His first spell had a slow start, as he was used almost exclusively as a late substitute, and when he did finally get into the side, he scored the opener against MK Dons, but then a week later he was tactically withdrawn at Yeovil after Sam Sodje was sent off. Finally Moons got a few games under his belt, and he was doing a good job as channel runner in support of Deon Burton. He scored again against Bristol Rovers, then won a penalty against Millwall through is determination. Sadly, he hurt his knee later in that match, and that saw him return to Reading over the Xmas period to regain fitness. When he came back to SE7, he once more opened the scoring (versus Hartlepool) and then scored again against Yeovil, but by now the crowd were starting to get on his back, especially after a couple of glaring misses. The whole issue came to a head after Mooney’s fabulous equaliser against Gillingham, after his name was booked prior to kick off, when he cupped his ear and ran toward the covered end in petulance. Some fans could understand his frustration, and I did think myself that the crowd’s performance that day - and Mooney’s reaction - were both totally over the top. Since then (and Forster’s arrival), he has been used mainly as a substitute, but his time may still come in the play-offs. I doubt Mooney will come to the Valley next season, but stranger things have happened, and Parky could do a lot worse.

Yassin Moutaouakil

Moots - the enigma. Good going forwards, and poor in defence, he cost Charlton a lot in salary terms even when out on loan in Scotland prior to Xmas. A complete breakdown with Phil Parkinson has meant absolutely no game time for the Addicks this season, bar a few arranged reserve games where Charlton hoped to showcase his talent in order to get him off the books. It didn’t work, and he lounged around the training ground knowing he would not get a look in. With his contract up at the end of this season, we can at last bide him farewell; a player that threatened, but never reached his potential in SE7. In a couple of years, expect him to be referred to with some strange spelling of his surname as everyone slowly forgets him.

Elliot Omozusi

When Chris Solly got injured in pre-season, Charlton’s fragile defensive numbers needed bolstering, and in came Elliot to do a job. Soon he was in the side, courtesy of Richardson’s thigh strain, and over the next couple of months, I thought Omozusi did OK. Sure, he wasn’t always the best passer, or the most supportive down the right wing, but defensively he was competent, if not outstanding. After having his contract extended a few times, he was eventually released when Solly and Richardson both became fit again (a victim of the club’s financial position) and I’ve not seen him linked with any other club since. It is possible, depending what division we are in, that he could be brought back to the club next season as a cheap alternative should Richardson move on.

Lewis Perkins

Striker Perkins has earned himself a one year contract for next season, after playing much of this season out on loan in the lower leagues. He can probably expect more loan time away from the club, but is one for the future, should he improve with age.

Therry Racon

Whereas Moots threw his toys out of the pram when he wasn’t playing, Racon did the opposite – he got down to hard work and convinced the manager to play him. In some ways, that was a good effort, as Charlton’s strength is in midfield, and for Rac’s to keep Nicky Bailey out of centre midfield (as he has most of the season) is a fine effort. Racon started the season in imperious form, playing neat short passes, and searching out Jonjo Shelvey while pushing the side forwards. As pitches became heavier, so Racon’s performance dropped a little, with teams not giving him time on the ball and taking advantage of his lack of tackling. He still did a job though, and chased and harried whenever he could. The only shame was that Racon didn’t score any goals, and it was February before he finally hit the back of the net (with a last minute consolation strike at Bristol Rovers). This lack of goals led to him being substituted a few times, and on at least one occasion Rac’s took out his frustration on the dug out walls, with both feet and hands! He is good enough to play centrally, but if only he could get his finishing right then he could be a hell of a player for Charlton. I’m unsure if Therry will remain at The Valley though I suspect if we go up he will; if not, we can wave au revoir to him and see if his career improves elsewhere.

Darren Randolph

When Darren Randolph signed his new one-year contract at the start of the season, everyone, including himself, expected it to be a season as back-up to Rob Elliot. Without any other senior ‘keeper on the books, Randolph knew that his chance may come, either through injury or suspension to Elliot, and when it duly did (after the Gillingham away game), he must have been dismayed when Parkinson signed Carl Ikeme on loan as cover. Some fans thought that Randolph should be given the chance in the next game anyway, especially as Ikeme was not to be cup-tied, but Ikeme played at Carlisle, conceding three times. Randolph did well in the following cup game, making one great save, but the defeat asked questions and Ikeme was back for the JPT game and the next league game. Randolph was told at Xmas that he would be allowed to leave if a club came in for him but nobody did, and he was back as back-up for Elliot until the home game with Gillingham when another injury gave Randolph the second half. Since then, he has been superb conceding under a goal a game, and making many crucial match winning saves. Now split from his celebrity girlfriend, one wonders if that had something to do with his form, as he was once considered well ahead of Elliot. The crucial thing now is that the right decision is made on whether to offer him a new contract; I doubt he will want another season as reserve ‘keeper in tier three (or two), and as a free agent, that may see him leave the club, sadly.

Kyel Reid

Kyel joined Charlton on loan from Sheffield United for the last few months of the season, having failed to break into the Blades side after a transfer from West Ham. A fast and direct left winger, he finally brought some balance to the side when it needed to attack down both flanks. Still inconsistent though, he seems to do better when introduced as a substitute, where his pace seems to scare the daylights out of league one full backs. His first Charlton goal was a 30-yard screamer against Yeovil, while his next won all three points in injury time against Southend. Another important equaliser came at Huddersfield, and he also claimed the goal that never was at Exeter to bring Charlton level there. Kyel’s career is at a cross-roads and he has to decide now if he wants to press on and become a good and consistent player in the Championship, or if he wants to follow the lower league what-could-have-been route. I know he would love to move south again, so it is quite possible that he could be back at The Valley next year permanently.

Frazer Richardson

Our new right back from Leeds United had an excellent start to 2009/10, but then a thigh injury really hurt his season either side of Xmas. Likened to Luke Young, he gets forward at every opportunity and supported Lloyd Sam well all season. He did struggle when he came back from his injury, and it seemed to me that he played when not fully fit on a couple of occasions - one game in particular he was jumping so as not to get hurt. However, the last couple of months has seen Frazer back at his best, and it was great to see his performances warranting inclusion in the League One team of the season. Frazer’s first goal for Charlton arrived from 25 yards against Gillingham at The Valley in March, and he has been unlucky not to score on other occasions. Although under contract, if Charlton do not go up Frazer may be sold to balance the bills and that would be sad as he has been a very good acqusition. I hope to see him stay at Charlton, and if he does he could be a future captain of the club, which would be fitting reward for an excellent professional.

Lloyd Sam

A bit of a funny season this for Lloyd; he simply is far too good for this league and the full backs he comes up against each week, yet sometimes, that just doesn’t show. Last August saw Lloyd score his first goal for over a year, and then knock in three more by mid-November (including the goal of the season versus Brentford). Since then, we have seen him hit the woodwork and bring out excellent saves, but also blaze wildly over or wide, or worse still scuff a poor shot along the ground far too many times. When he was playing well, teams often doubled up their marking on him, and in a perverse way, his poor form helped him a little when the double marking stopped, as he soon found he could beat his man again and get a good cross in. Late in the season he has started to make quite a few of Charlton’s goals as he still has the skill and ability to get to the bye-line and put over a decent cross. A key man for Charlton’s play off hopes, his contract is up this summer, so his last few performances will go a long way to deciding where Charlton play and where Lloyd plays next season. If promotion is attained, then I think Lloyd may well sign any new contract offer, but if not, I suspect that he will have to be released, even though he may not wish to leave the club.

Jose Semedo

Although Christian Dailly won the player of the season award, it was Jose who had my vote. An immense player at this level, it is no surprise that he has had such a good season. Our Portu-geezer has sat in central midfield all season, breaking down attack after attack by the opposition. He doesn’t have a great passing range, preferring to give the ball to more talented and creative players, but that’s fine. He even scored this season – a good finish at Tranmere - which is crazy when compared to his goals to shots ratio (possibly 100%?). His only problem is that in doing his job he gets lots of yellow cards, and his season was on a knife-edge in March as he struggled to not get ten before the cut off date for further suspensions. Jose will be another key player on the forthcoming play offs, as he offers so much help to his defence. Always willing to cover a player who goes forward, it will be sad to see him leave (as he undoubtedly will) should Charlton not get promoted, as he is such a character. He came from Portugal, he really hates Millwall!

Jonjo Shelvey

This was a funny year for Jonjo, and it really didn’t go as we all hoped or maybe expected. An early problem was the strength in midfield that Phil Parkinson had, and how best to accommodate Shelvey into his side. Most of us I suspect would have loved to see Shelvey playing in central midfield, controlling games in the way that similar home-grown products like Bowyer and Parker did, but that wasn’t to be. Instead, Shelvey played all the first couple of months of the season in the hole behind the lone striker. It wasn’t that Jonjo did badly - in fact he did quite well – but the issue was that there was no plan B at that stage if the team struggled to break down defences (as happened once or twice). Another issue was that the third tier teams he came up against gave him little respect, and often got in his face hoping for a reaction., To his credit, Jonjo didn’t get himself sent off at all (although he came close before scoring the winner at Orient), but often after a roughing up he went into his shell and lost any impact on the game. Either side of Xmas he became a peripheral player (as Charlton went 4-4-2) - sometimes in the team, often not - and despite an opening goal at Wycombe, he was soon back on the bench. Once Liverpool came knocking in April there was only one decision to make – blue or black pen? – and Shelvey was out of the door with a £1.7million cheque coming the other way. He has such potential, and I really hope he fulfils it at Anfield; the records he holds as the youngest Charlton first-team player ever and also youngest goal scorer ever (in both league and cup) will remind us in years to come that he was once one of ours. I wish him well.

Dean Sinclair

I didn’t think Sinclair would be at The Valley this season, having failed to make an impact previously, and although still on the books, he has played most of the season elsewhere. Recently playing for Grimsby, in the lower reaches of the fourth tier, he has battled along scoring a few goals and making a bit of a name for himself. The problem is that he doesn’t have the ability to play at any higher level, so once more I suspect that Dean will be released come season end, and he will join another lower league club on a free transfer. Not one of Pardew’s best signings…

Wade Small

Small joined the club after a trial period on a short term contract, but didn’t set the place on fire, and was released soon after his one appearance at Hereford in the League Cup. Now playing for Chesterfield, I doubt we will ever see Small back at Charlton again.

Akpo Sodje

Akpo joined his brother at Charlton last November on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, and after spending Xmas back in Yorkshire, returned to the Valley in January with a promise of a contract for next season provided he play enough games. The power and physical attributes of the player are there for all to see, and we know that he can also score useful goals ranging from the unstoppable power shots (Yeovil) to unstoppable power headers (Stockport) to tap ins from two feet (Bristol Rovers). My issue with the younger Sodje is if he is too languid, and lacking in movement to be a potent enough force next season. Coming on as a substitute, as he has recently, his power has been enough, but when he has started games, sometimes he waits for things to happen and though not lazy does not work (to my mind) hard enough. He has been troubled with the odd injury (to toe and thigh recently), but his next contract is based on playing time, so it has made him keen to be involved which is good. I think it fair to say that he will be at The Valley next season, whatever league we are in, but his game time next season may be much less in the Championship than League One.

Sam Sodje

Charlton fans knew all about Sam before he was signed last August, as he had played for the club on loan previously in the Championship, and there have always been two question marks over his game. One, he gets sent off too many times, and two, he has dodgy knees. Charlton saw both of these elements this season, as Sam saw red twice (both deserved, but somewhat unlucky), and also saw the physio practically every game. Betting on how long it would be before Sodje called on the physio became a feature of matches, but usually Sam would haul himself up and complete the game. Sam is not just a two trick pony though, and he has put in some great performances this season defensively, and scored some vital goals. He competed with his brother over who would score more (it was 5-4 to Akpo) and was a genuine threat at dead ball situations. Opposition players know that they cannot take liberties with Sam, and he is very, very, fit. His one-year deal ends this summer, and it will depend on how well Charlton do in the play-offs to decide if Sam comes back to The Valley, or if cheaper options are investigated.

Chris Solly

A bit of a stop, start, stop season for Chris which started badly with a broken leg in pre-season. He did very well to get himself fit again quite quickly, and actually made his first team comeback before Xmas. Since then, he has usually been used as a sub, coming on as cover for Richardson, or at left back, or as a midfield tackler in the dying minutes when protecting a lead. Solly has never let the club down, but has also yet to convince fans how good he might actually be. A long run in the side at his preferred right back slot may do this, but that may depend on Charlton staying in League One. What can be confirmed is that Parky doesn’t think he can do a long term job at left back; hence the various loanees that have come in and played ahead of him. Almost certain to stay at The Valley, I suggest.

Matt Spring

I’m sure Matt Spring will look back on this season with regret. Signed on an 18-month contract last year, the last two thirds have seen him mainly sat on the bench as an unused substitute. The sole home goal he scored is a long distant memory (though never forgotten) and Spring has not really had a chance to repeat those heroics due to others being preferred in midfield. The only run in the team he had was when Semedo was suspended, but that coincided with a poor run so Spring stepped aside once the Portu-geezer was able to play again. It is possible that, if Charlton fail to gain promotion, Spring may be offered a new contract (assuming others leave), but I’m not sure, and I do think he may prefer to move on and find another club he can help out on a more regular basis.

Alex Stavrinou

Stav was another youngster who made his debut in the league cup, but failed to make the squad in the league. As a holding midfielder, his chances of first team glory were remote, especially with the strength in depth that Charlton had in midfield this season past. Stav has subsequently been sent out on loan to Ebbsfleet, and has done well, but I’m not sure that it has been enough to see him offered another year on his contract. I suspect he will be released, and find a good non-league club to play for, unless finances are such that he is required as midfield back up for a third tier season.

Tamer Tuna

Young Tuna brought a fresh face to the forward line with some fine early season displays. Often used as a late sub for Shelvey, Tuna used his young legs to good effect and ran his heart out thus ensuring the winning streak of August and September was maintained. He started the league cup game against Barnet, and gleefully scored with a nice side-footed shot, but with other forwards needed, Tuna was sent out on loan to gain experience at a number of lower league clubs. With his first professional contract guaranteed for next season, we can expect another bright start I suspect, but also the likelihood that unless we are short of forwards, he will be out on loan for some of next season too. One for the future and a very bright prospect in a year or two’s time.

Scott Wagstaff
It's very easy to overlook Scott Wagstaff, as I nearly did here, but he has made a huge contribution to the Charlton team this season. Waggy has been in every match day squad, and has started quite a few games too. Most of his right or left wing appearances have been as a substitute though, but he has made crucial contributions whenever called upon. Often a late replacement for Lloyd Sam, he offers pace, commitment, and enthusiasm whenever he gets on the pitch. Goals have come, slowly but surely, and his match winner at Stockport was gleefully celebrated with the travelling crowd. Waggy has only a short contract but I fully expect him to be offered, and to sign, an extension for the next couple of seasons, as he could go on to be a very good player if he improves as much as he did this season when compared to last.

Tony Warner

Warner was brought in as cover late in the season for the injured Rob Elliot, but failed to oust Darren Randolph from between the sticks and was an unused sub on three occasions. He does have plenty of experience, so could come back to SE7 if one of Charlton’s two current goalies move on, though I suspect a cheaper option may be sought if we don’t go up.

Kelly Youga

I thought that KellyYouga’s early season form was exceptional and that he would walk into the League One team of the season. Sadly, in kicking a Bristol Rovers player up in the air, Youga injured his knee, and he hasn’t played a match since November. The worry is that he may even fail to recover in time for the start of next season such is the complication in his ligaments. Youga was a rock at the back and supremely gifted when advancing - at times, he reminded me of Paul Mortimer - with the ball seemingly tied onto his left boot as he ran through the defence. Youga has always played his best when he had a smile on his face, and for four months, you could see him enjoying his football; then came the injury. Kelly will be back at The Valley next season, but we will have to wait and see how fit he is; if we are in League One and he is OK, then finances may dictate that he need to be sold, but I hope not.

In writing up a post season review, one has to throw the manager into the mix, as he picks the team, and so here’s my view on Parky:

Phil Parkinson

You need the right man for the right time, and Parky may well prove, in the long run, to have been that right choice. Bearing in mind the resources he had when pre-season started last July, Parky has done an exceptional job. The six-game winning streak start to the season is now in the record books as Charlton’s best ever, and he has slowly built the strength of the squad as the season has gone on. Always dictated to by the Board in relation to funds available, Parky has brought in a number of very good choices to fill gaps – Jackson, Borrowdale, Forster, etc – and slowly he switched the team from the 4-5-1 formation that was required to start the season into a more attacking 4-4-2; yes, Parky did get to Plan B eventually. He made good substitutions regularly, and I thought that his insistence on slightly injured players coming off immediately worked to Charlton’s advantage as the season progressed, as that allowed recovery by the next week and saw more overall game time per player I’m sure. Helped by Mark Kinsella and Tim Breacker (who arrived mid-season), he has good support, and with good youngsters for next year, he is slowly building the club up again. His choice of players will be completely different for a Charlton Championship squad as opposed to a League One group, so we can expect plenty of contract negotiations and comings and goings this summer whatever happens this month in the Play-offs. Yet to convince the majority of fans, only a win at Wembley would see his standing rise considerably, but my own opinion is that we have been lucky to have a manager this year who has understood the requirements of the Board, and made us successful at the same time. I expect him to still be at The Valley when pre-season training starts in July.

Up the Addicks!

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fourth Bridge Finish

Oldham Athletic 0 Charlton Athletic 2

For thirteen minutes, between 4.09 and 4.22pm, it was all looking rosy; Leeds were losing at home, and the game at The New Den was being drawn. Then the goals started to flow, and although the Addicks were winning comfortably, the dream of automatic promotion this season died.

When Nicky Bailey gave Charlton the lead (left), I was stood on a street corner waiting for my wife to pick me up having given in to the constant drizzle and called off the cricket match I was umpiring; unfortunately she had got lost (within a mile of home!) and I had to wait while she rang to tell me how lost she was and what the scores were around the country. By the time I had got in the car, Millwall had equalised an early Swindon goal, and soon after I got home, Leeds had Gradel sent off. At half-time, all the matches were finely balanced, and Charlton still had a chance.

When Bristol Rovers took advantage of their superior numbers shortly after half-time, it was time for some excitement, but I always knew that just a goal could dash that dream, and sure enough, Leeds got one, then another, just as Millwall took the lead. The fact that Miguel Llera had squeezed a free kick through the ‘keeper legs at Boundary Park to take Charlton 2-0 up was irrelevant now. There was another goal apiece at The New Den but that wasn’t enough for either side as Leeds hung on, and they get the promotion they have chased for three years now.

Into the play-offs go Millwall, Charlton, Swindon, and Huddersfield (who lost at Exeter), and there has to be a real possibility of the south-east London pair meeting at Wembley late in the month.

Listening in to both the commentary from Lancashire and Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, it did seem that Charlton were able to coast the match fairly easily. Although Darren Randolph made one good second half save, Charlton had plenty of other chances to extend their lead, with the most obvious being a terrible miss by Bailey after he had rounded the ‘keeper and the goal was gaping. At least Bailey had, by then, broken his scoring duck which went back as far as January, tapping in Lloyd Sam’s low cross in the 23rd minute.

Llera only got into the team after a late injury to Sam Sodje, and I hope his knee-knack, which has been on a knife edge for several months now, doesn’t prevent him being available next weekend for the game in Wiltshire. It was good that Dave Mooney got plenty of match time today, having started in place of Nicky Forster, as he has been short of play while Forster could probably have done with a rest after a long season. Mooney did limp off near the end, but it didn’t seem his injury was problematic.

So a fourth place finish after a very long season, and I am sure that many will wonder about lost points at various stages of the season that could have seen the Addicks finish above Leeds and going straight up; those three points could have come from the two games against Gillingham (who were relegated today) which were drawn, or even the home games versus Tranmere and Oldham which were drawn. Maybe Deon Burton and Sam Sodje should take some blame after games in which they were sent off (Yeovil and Swindon) were also only drawn. It doesn’t matter that much now, but I’m sure many will wonder what might have been, as will fans of Millwall and Swindon themselves.

The play-offs now beckon, and a two-legged affair with Swindon needs to be won; Charlton certainly shouldn’t be overduly worried about the opposition following the two drawn games between the pair this season. The home game at Xmas saw Charlton play most of the match with just nine men, and still scrape a late draw, while the away game – during one of Charlton’s worst runs of the season – saw another last gasp equaliser to claim a point. If the Addicks can keep eleven players on the park, there is no reason why they cannot capitalize on Swindon’s average form during the latter part of the season.

But that’s next week. For now, we should all celebrate the team finishing in fourth place, and congratulate them for putting in a strong final month when at times this year we have wondered if they could still do it at all. Many of us thought that the play-offs would be beyond us, not just prior to the season starting, so to get there quite comfortably is a good result. Well done Parky!

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Two, Four or Six?

I guess it’s fitting that Charlton’s last league game of the season comes at a venue with cricket connotations in its name – Boundary Park. In May, we are well and truly into the leather and willow season, and I’ve been up to this ground for the final season rites once before, some years back. That game, if not the result (a 1-0 defeat), brings back happy memories, as stepping off our luxurious coach, two Oldham fans wandered across the car park and handed me and another fan spare season tickets to use, knowing that we would cause no trouble sat in the main stand with home fans for company. A lovely gesture and much appreciated.

Oldham have made another nice gesture this season, though for financial reasons, in offering Charlton pretty much as many seats in the ground as they thought they could sell. As it is, just over a thousand Addicks supporters will make the journey north hoping that other results go our way. Just for the record, if Leeds lose to Bristol Rovers, and Millwall and Swindon draw their game together, and if Charlton win, then it is the Addicks who will be promoted; all three results must happen like that otherwise someone else will go up.

The important thing then from Charlton’s perspective is that they try to win this game, as for us to not win, and then to see the other results fall our way would be heartbreaking. Manager Phil Parkinson will be trying to keep the players minds focussed on the task at hand, leaving the crowd to worry about scores from elsewhere. And the fans can help in this scenario as even if Leeds do take the lead, it is important that a negative vibe from the terraces doesn’t permeate the mood and transfer to the players; it is still important that Charlton win, in order to secure home advantage in the second game of any play-off tie.

Parky will be putting out pretty much the same side, I suspect, in order to secure that advantage unless there are any injuries to worry about. He would like to be able to rest one or two key players, I am sure, but with the greatest prize still available, he cannot do that.

Darren Randolph (top) will start in goal, with Rob Elliot as back-up on the bench. Randolph is on top form, and has made a couple of very good saves in both of the last two games. When we consider that he has conceded just five goals in seven and a half games since coming into the side (when Elliot was injured versus Gillingham), it shows what an astonishing record he has when compared to what went on in the few games prior to that.

The settled defence obviously helps the goals against record too, and I do think that with both full backs now fit and delivering in both attack and defence, we look a very good team once more. Centrally, Christian Dailly, Sam Sodje, and, when required, Miguel Llera have all used their vast experience to very good effect, and the incumbent two have a very solid partnership at present. The only doubt is in Sam Sodje’s combative nature, plus the fact that his knee-knack could give way at any time. We can deal with injuries but what the club does not need is to suffer any suspensions at this stage, and anyone who does get sent off only has themselves to blame. Sodje the centre back must be a bit careful where he places his feet when jumping, as for the last two weeks he has seen his leading foot trail down the back of the forward in front of him. While he got away with it at Exeter (with a foul that saw the end of Corr’s participation in the match), he was lucky against Leeds that his first foul wasn’t seen properly and that his second merely got a yellow card – it could have been red.

Up front, Nicky Forster and Deon Burton also have a stack of experience, and goals, from their combined 38 years in the professional game. Neither is that quick, and the partnership hasn’t really clicked yet, but the threat they both pose is there, and with able and willing reserves, they do work hard leaving the dregs to the younger legs later on.

The midfield is also pretty experienced, and with Jose Semedo at his imposing best and Lloyd Sam once more starting to terrorise defenders into mistakes, the team is strong in all the right places. Nicky Bailey hasn’t scored for some time, and I for one would prefer to see him start in central midfield (with Kyel Reid on the left wing) where he has more chance to get forward, but I suspect that our captain will find himself out of position (at least at the start of this game) with Therry Racon given another game in which to make a mark. Racon has, for several weeks now, seen most games pass over his head, as the frenetic nature of matches at this time of the season sees defenders hoof the ball as high and as far as they can, bypassing the midfield. Given time and space, Racon has been able to show what a good player he can be, but one goal all season is just not enough, and that is why I would prefer the greater goal threat of Reid.

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

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, Fry, Spring, Reid, Wagstaff, Mooney, Akpo Sodje, McKenzie, Tuna.

The Oldham players have nothing much to play for other than pride, and the possibility of a contract for next year. Safe from relegation after a solid run of results either side of Easter, the Club’s board have now sacked Dave Penney as manager, with Martin Gray taking over on a temporary basis. Gray’s first game was a 3-0 reverse at Yeovil last week, amid talk of it being difficult to motivate players this close to the season’s end. I’m sure that he will be hoping for a reaction after that loss, but it could be that if Charlton get ahead, an easy victory could be gained. Let’s hope so. Players to watch are Oldham’s player of the season Sean Gregan, who did so much to stop Charlton scoring at The Valley in the reverse fixture, and striker Pawel Abbott, who has 13 goals this season.

Pedro45 thinks that the sequence of results required for automatic promotion (and second place) is just not going to happen, sadly; and that leaves the club knowing that a win will get fourth place, while a draw or defeat could well mean sixth place in the final league table. I am concerned that the team will know, from the crowd, that other teams are winning, and that may have an effect on our performance, leaving the club with a 1-1 draw. This may mean sixth place, but that’s better than seventh!

My one-to-watch in this last away league game is going to be Charlton’s player of the season, Christian Dailly. The Scotsman has been simply outstanding over recent matches, and his will to win is undeniable. What he lacks in pace he more than makes up with experience, and he should have enough to shackle the Oldham forwards in this match. Dailly scored Charlton’s first goal of the league season, and it would not surprise me to see him score the last either.

The last league game of the previous two seasons has seen big wins for the Addicks (4-1, and 4-2); although I want Charlton with this game easily, I would prefer our four goal salvo to come at Wembley, should we get there. We all know what happened last time we played in that borough!

Come on you reds!

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