Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One of My Friends is A Passionate Friend

Passion, within sports fans, is a strange thing. Sometimes it can be good, very good even, but sometimes it just pushes all of the wrong buttons.

Recently I was in Sri Lanka on holiday, and the burning desire of the people there to support their home nation during the Cricket World Cup was immense. At no stage did anyone I meet tell me that they were going to win the World Cup, but that was what they hoped and desired. They love their cricket, as I do, and we got on famously during my holiday. It was no surprise to me when Sri Lanka humiliated England in the quarter-final, and I hope they go on to beat New Zealand today (they are well placed as I type) and win the final too.

The day after I returned home from Colombo airport, I went to watch Charlton play at Dagenham and Redbridge. While I had been away, games against MK Dons (2-0), and Brentford (1-0) had followed a home draw with Tranmere (1-1 with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring from Miguel Llera’s header). None of these results surprised me after the dirge we saw when playing Carlisle, just before I went away.

I was one of those fans who didn’t go to the FA Cup tie in East London those few years ago, so this was a new ground for me. The trip into London was painful after a signal failure stopped many trains, and once I’d negotiated London Underground’s crazy replacement bus options I finally got to the ground about 2.30. On my way around to the visiting fans stand, I was stopped by a young lady who asked me for an interview which she filmed on her phone for a website. How long had I been a fan? Who was our best player? What did I think the score would be? (I said we’d lose…), and did I have a message for Chris Powell.

A couple of hours later the message that Powell got was pretty clear. I can’t comment on the games played while I was on holiday, but the display in East London that afternoon was dreadful. With the dressing rooms under the newly constructed visitors end, and the players forced to walk through a tunnel right beside the fans, the abuse after the 2-1 loss was huge. The passion the fans showed that afternoon was immense, but it did push boundaries and was vitriolic.

Quite frankly, everyone had a point. Other than Ross Worner in goal, few of the team seemed to make any effort at all. When Scott Wagstaff, one of the better players on the day, was substituted, the congregated fans made it clear to Powell just what they thought. If he did know what he was doing, then it wasn’t clear to us!

That match ended a run of games where Charlton could have, on paper, expected to be on top and winning points, but then came a group of games where it was going to be tough to get anything, especially after the one point from 24 run the team were on.

Southampton at The Valley the following Tuesday saw a number of changes. Back came Rob Elliott for the now injured Worner, and out went want away Carl Jenkinson, Matt Fry (who had returned to West Ham after his loan spell), and Alan McCormack. With Federico Bessone and Chris Solly now at full back, and with Therry Racon joining Jose Semedo and on-loan Dean Parrett in midfield, the team suddenly looked much better. Southampton may have expected an easy game, but Charlton stuck to it and held on. And they kept holding on, right the way to half-time. It took an hour for the visitors to score (to the surprise of many), but Charlton stuck at it and equalised when Parrett played in BWP and he slotted home. A grandstand finish saw both sides close to winning the match, but the point gained was at least welcome in both ranks.

Charlton then maintained the positive vibes at Bournemouth on Saturday, gaining another point in a 2-2 draw, with BWP once more scoring a late equaliser. This game though, even after Wagstaff had chested the Addicks into the lead, was one where the team were once more outplayed, and only a few magical saves by Elliot (and the woodwork) kept the scoreline respectable.

Tonight our heroes travel up to Rochdale for the twice postponed game with them. When it was first due to be played, Charlton were looking good under Phil Parkinson, while ‘Dale were in a poor run of form. Now the roles have changed, and anything gained from tonight’s game will be seen as a bonus in SE7 and by Chris Powell. There won’t be much passion in the travelling Addicks ranks I suggest, but the fans of Rochdale are on cloud nine and looking toward their highest ever league finish. Good luck to them.

Passion is great; passion is harsh; and passion can be cruel. One fan who won’t be there tonight is fellow blogger Charlton North Downs, who sadly died recently. I only met Paul a couple of times at bloggers do’s, and he was a genuine nice man. Perhaps the players might want to realise sometimes that we fans are just that – genuine nice people, albeit with a passion for our football club. They can come and go; chop and change; kiss one badge and then another, but we fans have to put up with everything, good and bad, until we die.

It would be nice for the players to win this game for Paul.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Marching On Together

It is very easy to write a blog when in abject despair. And that is certainly how most of us Charlton fans feel after four consecutive defeats. We don’t mind losing (we are not like the Mancs or Chelski or Gooners in that respect), but the manner of the defeats has been pretty hard to take over the last month. And, sadly, things just seem to be getting worse…

Since my last post, Charlton beat Peterborough, but then slumped to a tight away loss at Hartlepool on a wet and cold night. The expectation amongst a 25,000 crowd was high when Exeter came to the Valley, but luck deserted us, and Chris Powell had his first home defeat. Then came a poor showing at Notts County (where BWP fluffed a penalty), beamed live by Sky Sports into the homes of, well, thousands, I expect, and last night a truly dreadful showing against a Carlisle team who looked everything that just an average Division Three team are.

Has the luck deserted the Addicks, or is something more sinister to blame? Did our fortunes change when Simon Francis went head-first into the away dug-out at Hartlepool, or when Pawel Abbott hit the bar versus Exeter? Is it Nathan Eccleston’s cerebral tweeting that has upset Bradley Wright-Phillips or Robbie Elliot's insistence on screening Glee on the team coach to away games? We need to know, because something has given him the right hump!

And the injuries are not helping matters either; I’m not a fan of Marco Van Benson, but without his presence these past few weeks, the bench has been desperately short of alternative fire-power, given that Akpo Sodje left for Scotland in January, and now Pawel Abbott has returned to Poland on the final day of their seasonal transfer deadline. Without Joe Anyinsah, who seems incapable of playing more than twice on the trot, Wright-Phillips has seen his strike partner chopped and changed more times than Gary Doherty heads the ball into touch.

All this is food for thought, and provides absolutely no answers for Chris Powell and his backroom staff to chew on, but they are not immune from stick and I feel that this is as good a time as any to try to hand them some advice.

We seem to have a good set up; Powell is the legend we desperately wanted at our helm, but he lacks experience. We fans know that, and will make allowances. Powell has Alex Dyer as his number two. Dyer is an ex-Addick, has a great reputation, and is a fun guy to have around. Behind them we have Damian Matthew, a man who has been slowly building up our youngsters into first team pro’s with some success. Providing the experience we have another Valley legend in Keith Peacock. All honest, lovely, Addickted, and focussed. But without passion. And none of them seem prepared to upset Powell with a few home truths!

Tactically, Charlton were made to look very, very ordinary against Carlisle. After a bright start, and a goals lead, a small positional change by Carlisle manager Greg Abbott changed the whole course of the game. Withdrawing Loy into the “hole” found him without a marker. All of a sudden, Carlisle had time, and space, to get hold of the ball, and bring other players into the equation. It didn’t matter that Simon Francis had the freedom of the borough down the right wing in the first half, because he either wasted the ball, or was given such a rank pass that he was closed down, or his team-mates simply did not have the vision or skill to get the ball to him. And without the ball, or anyone to get it to Francis on the wing, Charlton’s hopes died. Should Jose Semedo have dropped back to pick up Loy, or should one of the centre backs followed Loy deeper and pressured him? I don’t know which, but something had to change, but it didn’t! On and on, easier and easier for the visitors.

So is this Powell’s folly? Is he tactically aware enough to be able to change things when other managers make changes on the field during games?

It was said that when Steve Gritt and Alan Curbishley were in charge, games were like chess matches; whatever the oppo set out to do, either at the start of games or during, was countered by our joint managers. You get the basics right and other good things will follow.

Currently we have a number of major issues. Sure, most of these were there when Phil Parkinson was manager, and one or two have been worked on, but to what affect? If BWP drops his head and doesn’t chase the ball then how will his team-mates feel? When Scott Wagstaff keeps running into brick walls the pressure comes back on to the defence! When Nathan Eccleston or Therry Racon fall over, as they do time after time, we lose the ball. When we go behind, any confidence the players had cascades out of them.

It would be easy to pick on every single one of the team who played some part last night and tell them where they went wrong, and what they need to do to put it right, but that is Powell’s job. I just hope he has enough in him to do it. We keep being told that Chrissy isn’t all nice guy; he has that streak that good managers need; he will make tough decisions when he has to; well, the time in nigh.

I hear we will be dipping in to the loan market this week – Chris, forget about Benni McCarthy; what we need so desperately is someone in midfield who can take hold of a match and push Charlton on. We have goalscorers (BWP is the leading scorer in this league, and Benson has been known to knock the odd-one in from within the six yard box), but nobody is giving them chances to show what they can do. We need someone like, dare I say, Danny Murphy, someone who wants the ball, who will cajole and push, be there for a pass and take responsibility, and then create. At this level, maybe I could compare him to Dick Tydeman, or Keith Jones, or even Curbs himself. Once we have this player, we can think about improving the rest of the side; we have good players, but when you see the confidence levels in Kyel Reid, Wagstaff, Eccleston, BWP, and Francis, and how that effects the defence where Carl Jenkinson, Christian Dailly, Francis and Doherty have been under immense pressure, you know it is time for a change.

A new player in the dressing room can work wonders, and we need that help right now.

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