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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