Sunday, January 16, 2011

Knight in Red Satin

Apart from in newsreels, I never saw Nat Lofthouse play; I did see him on the pitch at Burnden Park though, in 1982, when his beloved Bolton were going through a very bad patch and needed a lift from fans, both financial and spiritual. His appearance and appeal, at half-time, lifted a mediocre game in which Charlton had been doing well. Allan Simonsen was playing, and I think the Addicks were leading at the break, but all that was to change after the microphone went to Nat. He wasn’t a man of many words I believe, but his rousing message to the home crowd sent a buzz through the fans, and when the second half started moments later, the supporters energy and excitement at seeing and hearing from their hero transferred to the players, and soon Charlton were behind and on the way to losing the game. Lofthouse died this weekend aged 85, still a hero in Bolton.

Charlton welcome back their own hero now in the shape of Chris Powell; Sir Chris Powell to many Addicks fans. Powell’s appointment as manager did come as something of a surprise, especially when he was not even amongst the front runners (or also-rans) when the first round of betting was announced a couple of weeks ago. Once Eddie Howe had finished faffing around and made his decision to stay in sunnier climes (or wait for a better offer) the new Board moved quite quickly I think in making Powell (the next) first choice, and on Friday, once Leicester had agreed to release him from his coaching contract, Powell met the Directors again, and was quickly pictured in his snazzy suit holding a Charlton scarf aloft (for possibly the fourth time!).

Of course, Chris has no managerial experience and, having only given up playing at the end of last season, also only has limited coaching time in the professional game. He does have all his coaching badges I understand, and has a wealth of experience in the game, to go with the huge respect in which he is almost universally held. His appointment therefore, will be seen as a risk by some, but welcomed by others who are fed up with the same old same old we have seen from other recent Addicks managers.

Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt also had no managerial experience when they took over at The Valley - neither did Les Reed – but everyone has to start somewhere, and provided Chris is not just a nice guy and is able to take tough decisions wherever necessary, we should be more than OK.

I will certainly be backing Powell, and I suspect that he will get a fantastic reception when he takes his place on the touchline this Saturday for the game against Plymouth. Hopefully, that energy and excitement we he walks along the line prior to kick off will transfer to the players, in much the same way it did in Bolton all those years ago, and we can see Charlton win for the first time in 2011.

Powell has a tough job in hand, as the league table when Parkinson was sacked was a little false I felt. All season, it has been very tight in mid-table, and nearer the top, with any team adding a string of results together leaping up into contention. Southampton are the latest to see themselves jump from apparent mid-table also-rans to very serious promotion contenders in just a few weeks. Charlton meanwhile have slipped from a side with a chance to be just a point off the head of the table (when taking on Brighton just after Xmas), to one now down in seventh position, and ten points off the leaders. That’s what happens when you fail to win a league game in over seven weeks. A few more weeks without a win, and we could be down in 16th or 17th position...

No longer are Charlton one of the favourites for promotion; now it’s going to be a battle just to get back into the play-off positions. Have Charlton been playing badly all season? I wouldn’t say yes, but it is true that we haven’t been playing well. The crux for Parkinson was possibly not the Swindon home defeat, but the two games that preceded that, away at leaders Brighton and contenders Colchester. Both of those games were drawn, but when you consider that Brighton played 83 minutes with ten men, and Colchester over fifty also with a player sent off, then just two points from those two games was a poor return. Swindon showed with eleven that they could easily beat down-trodden Charlton, and that was the straw that broke the proverbial camels back for new owners Slater and Jiminez.

Without an obvious in-house replacement (especially with Tim Breacker and Mark Kinsella also being sacked), the new Board turned to old head Keith Peacock to breach the gap until a permanent man was found. Peacock’s red and white army found some spirit, but not enough skill to get a result at Spurs in the FA Cup, despite holding out for 45 minutes, and on Saturday a good away point was gained at Hillsborough. For a long time, it looked as though it could have been better, but Charlton’s two early first half goals (by Scott Wagstaff and yet another Johnnie Jackson penalty) were cancelled out by two early second half scores by the home team. Both sides could have won it late on, but a draw seemed fair from the radio commentary I listened to.

Bright spots are obviously the scoring streak in which Jackson (left) finds himself in with 11 goals in his last 13 matches, and also the fine form that Joe Anyinsah is showing when he is fit enough to play. The results are vastly better this season when Anyinsah is in the side than when he has been out injured, and without Jacko’s goals and penalties we would be much, much, lower in this division. Robbie Elliot should also get a mention, as he has once more stood out at times this season as the only reason why Charlton have won points in some games. He saved another penalty at Hillsborough, and that may have been the difference between a draw and a loss.

Other than those three players though, and it is difficult to say that anyone can be completely happy with their season so far. Simon Francis has good moments, but his distribution is consistently poor; Christian Dailly and Gary Doherty have a wealth of experience, but something just doesn’t quite work between them for some unknown reason (maybe a lack of pace?); Matt Fry is young and tries hard but seems low on confidence for one with recognized talent, and Jonathan Fortune isn’t the same player he was seven years ago. In midfield, Jose Semedo has not dominated like we know he can, and Therry Racon blows hot and cold. Alan McCormack struggled to get a run in the side, and when he did force his way onto the pitch looked out of his depth at times. Wagstaff has scored goals and will run all day, but his overall play has disappointed, while Kyel Reid has flattered but failed to register more than assists in league games when he has been given the chance. Up front, Pawel Abbott came with a reputation which is now in tatters, and Akpo Sodje is all bustle but he too gets injured too regularly. Marco Van Benson meanwhile evens the numbers up when the opposition have a man sent off, so poor is his work-rate outside of the penalty box. If Gary Nelson could teach Benno to run the channels, he would be a much better player than the one we currently see each week (Happy 50th Birthday today by the way Nelse!).

The addition of Nathan Eccleston, a poor man’s Ryan Babel, may offer something different, depending on the formation chosen by Powell, but new additions to freshen the squad up are desperately needed. With Powell not up to speed in what is required or available, I suspect, more captures on the back of what Jiminez can find through his contacts may be in the offing. I just hope that they are the right choices.

So next Saturday we welcome home our knight in shining satin, a legend in SE7. A nicer man you could never meet, and now he has our club in his hands. Sink or swim, I’ll always love Chrissie Powell, and if the crowd can be lifted by his return and see us home with three points next weekend, the second half of the season (yes, we are exactly at half-way!) could be memorable.

Come on you Reds!

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Sunday, January 09, 2011


I did one of the most stupid things I have ever done today; well, not actually today, but this morning was when I found out what I'd actually done...

On Monday, before the utter humilation we suffered at the hands of Swindon, I returned some tickets for postponed games to the Charlton box office. The Rochdale and Hartlepool away games had been called off due to the December snows, and I had no chance to go to the midweek re-arrangments. Also, the five additional tickets I bought for the Boxing Day home game against Southampton would also now not be used by friends and relations, so they formed part of the £65-100,000 that the club thought it would lose by Andy D'Urso's over-reaction to the cold. I picked them all up out of my Charlton stuff-bundle at home, which includes programmes, ticket stubs, Valley Gold news etc, put them in my pocket, and handed them all over in one go at the Commercial Centre. The nice lady refunded all of my expenditure without much hassle once I'd filled in the form she wanted.

This morning, excited as always on FA Cup third round day, I woke early, had a bath, got dressed and went to pick up all the stuff I'd need for a cold day n North London watching the Addicks. I worked my way through the above mentioned bundle, and I was surprised how low I was having to go searching for my Tottenham Hotspur ticket. I thought I'd found it, deep down the pile, but then saw that the blue ticket was not for Spurs, but for Rochdale.

Then it dawned on me...

Yep, on Monday, I'd taken my Spurs ticket back for a refund instead of the Rochdale one! OMG!!!

With the game a sell-out, I have no chance of getting another, nor would I want to sit anywhere other than with Keith Peacock's red and white army of fans. I am stuck with listening on Player, or trying to get a live stream.

I feel like such a plonker. It will get worse if we get a result too...

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Park Life...

It’s been a pretty incredible start to 2011 for Charlton, with plenty of goals, red cards, penalties, a take-over completed, and now the sacking of the manager. Honestly, it isn’t usually this exciting!

Phil Parkinson met with the new Chairman either last night or earlier today (or both), and the upshot is that Michael Slater has fired him. Parky had been the Addicks manager for just over two years, while Slater has been on the Charlton board for about four days!

I have never been a big fan of Parky, but I must admit that I always supported him. His arrival into the hot seat after Pardew was shoved out filled a gap, and while he was not the answer to the Redvolution this blog wanted, he did his best. The problem was that his best wasn’t always good enough sadly. Failure to keep the club in the Championship was a poor start, even if the odds were against him. Despite having five months to turn the fortunes of the club around, he failed, and many fans at that time thought that he should never have been given the job of manager by then Chairman Richard Murray.
The relegation he oversaw meant that many of the team’s stars needed to be sold, simply to balance the budget (or get closer to doing so). The feeling, throughout the club, was that if we could bounce back after just one season in the third tier, then all would be well again.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case, despite an excellent start to that first season at this level. Parky went into the record books by overseeing a winning streak that stretched for six games from August into September, and Charlton sat proudly at the head of the table. The reason for the success, many agreed, was that Parky simply did not change, or need to change, that side and the same starting eleven was good enough at this level to be beating the opposition, even when not playing particularly well. In actuality, Parky had no option other to play that eleven, as he hadn't bought enough and had an unbalanced squad. It was in the ninth game that Charlton fell to their first defeat, and the autumn saw the Addicks slip back from Leeds, who maintained a tremendous challenge as the league leaders. Defeats at Carlisle, and then Northwich in the FACup (the first time that Charlton had ever been beaten by a non-league club in that competition) were low points, and results plodded along without much happening up and past Xmas. A 5-1 victory over MK Dons looked good, but proved to be an exception, and when the side had two players sent off on Boxing Day, a week after conceding four at home to arch-rivals Millwall in an explosive draw, the squad became stretched. Parky tried to manage things, but with Deon Burton playing injured from October onwards, and loan players providing much of the change options, it was difficult to see much progress.

New players simply failed to improve under his stewardship; Jonjo Shelvey was one who seemed to lose his edge as the season progressed, with Parky being no closer to knowing where he was at his best. Basically, Parky could not have trusted Shelvey, otherwise he would have handed him a starting position in central midfield from August onwards, rather than giving him a loose role just behind a lone forward when he thought he could get away with it.

There was also the lack of continuity between the different groups of players on the pitch; the midfield was so often alienated from both defence and attack, that Charlton invited pressure upon themselves for long periods. Parky seemed unable, or unwilling, to manage this problem (right until the end...), and as such the teams he sent out consistently played defensively (if not negatively).

Games that should have been won slipped by and ultimately the play-off position of fourth was the best that could be expected. To lose on penalties was tough, but by then, one of the teams was going to be hard done by, and Charlton had the advantage of one player more for a long time and didn’t make good use of it.

In the summer, Parky had a clear out of older players, and the squad that returned to competitive action this last August could only be described as his. Many of the players brought in on loan the previous year signed for the club, and Murray backed his man and allowed him to actually spend some money (the first time in his tenure that he had been allowed to do so). I’ll leave others to comment if they disagree, but I have to say that the three players who commanded fees – Pawel Abbott, Simon Francis and Marco Van Benson - have been extremely poor so far this season. At least with Kyel Reid, Johnnie Jackson, Matt Fry and Akpo Sodje – all previous loanees that Parky brought in – we get effort and some skill.

There have been good captures, though how much of that is down to Parky is hard to tell; Free transfer Christian Dailly was an inspiration last year as was Fraser Richardson too. Deon Burton had his good moments, and Miguel Llera scored some vital goals (though he did give away a few too). Pretty much everyone else was either here before Parky was put in charge or fell into the team by default.

The problem with Parky this season is that the team has rarely played well. At the start of the season it was a question of taking time to gel, even though many of the other teams in the league were in exactly the same position regarding new personnel. The 5-1 win at Peterborough was acclaimed by many as the turning point and proof of better things to come. Sadly, the scoreline seemed to deflect everyone’s attention away from the fact that the home side gifted Charlton many of the goals with one player being directly responsible for at least two of the goals, and maybe three. We didn't play wel that day; it was 'Boro who played awfully!

The team still has no formation to speak of, and some weeks (when Joe Anyinsah is fit) we play with two up front, and in other games (when Anyinsah is injured…) we play just a lone striker (usually Van Benson). Sometimes we play with two wingers, and sometimes with three in midfield. There is no continuity. When we are losing (as against Brighton and Swindon, the two heaviest home defeats this season), Parky risked all and played just three (and occasionally just two) defenders in efforts to bring points. The opposition knew what to expect, and countered with extra defenders and quick attackers, putting the games beyond reach in both cases.

Having to play away against Brighton for 83 minutes and Colchester for 48 minutes recently when they were both down to ten men was an ideal opportunity for Parky to prove he could still do a job and push Charlton to the top of the league; all we got was a lucky point from each game. With eleven men, Walsall, Brentford, and Swindon all proved too strong.

Parky has worked under difficult circumstances, and it could be said that he has had one of the hardest jobs in football over the last two years. But at least we gave him two years, something many other chairmen would not have countenanced.

Parky leaves with his right hand man – Tim Breacker – and also Mark Kinsella, a Charlton legend who many thought may one day take over the managerial reins.

What happens now is that another Charlton legend - Keith Peacock – has become caretaker manager, with Damian Matthews stepping up from the youth team to help. I very much doubt that 65-year-old Peacock would have taken on the job if it was anything but very short-term, so we can probably expect an announcement next week after a sound thrashing by Spurs and an FA Cup exit.

Some have questioned Slater’s decision, but I did say in my blog that the recent run of games after Xmas could have been the sound of the bell tolling in his direction. Things haven't improved, so maybe a change is better than the rest? Slater has acted swiftly, and for that he can be commended, but the decision will only be a good one if he gets the managerial appointment correct, and as a result the team is promoted. Anything less from the new man (whoever it is), and Slater’s tenure will be seen to be off to a bad start.

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