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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