Monday, May 07, 2012

Just Champion!

After such a fantastic year, culminating in the League One Title being won, and the trophy being collected on Saturday, this blog just had to make a short comeback in order to add my congratulations to a group of Charlton players who have excelled this season. Pedro45 has been mightily impressed with most (if not all) of them, and at the way that Chris Powell has managed the team over the last nine months. Will they all cut it in the Championship? Have they done enough to earn that new contract? Have they reached the peak of their careers? This is what Pedro45 thinks - 

The Manager

Chris Powell

Not perfect, but a very good start to his career.  His rebuilding of the team was (at times) inspired, with some key signings at crucial times (Kermorgant, Cort, Haynes, etc etc etc), and the way he fitted them into the squad without breaking the team spirit in any way was a tribute to him and his backroom staff in their judgment. He did slightly annoy me that, when he had the opportunity to rest players, he chose the same team week-in and week-out, and you did see late in the season that one or two players (Kermorgant, Jackson, and Hollands, for instance) were starting to look leg weary; I just felt that if he had taken the opportunity to rest players when he could, for a game here and a game there, that we would have actually been even stronger come the run in.  The same was true with substitutions - Chris did not make them early enough on many occasions, either when winning, or when chasing three points.  That said, it is very difficult to criticise when you look at the season's record and I am just being pernickity really. He has a fabulous back-room team with Alex Dyer, Damian Matthew, Paul Avory, Paul Hart, and his medical team (who need special mention for keeping so many of the side fit all year!), plus the Board (of course!) all doing an excellent job in supporting the manager.


Ben Hamer 
The fact that Hamer is in the League One team of the season, as chosen by his peers, speaks volumes about the man. He has had a pretty good season! In replacing a (minor) Valley legend (in Rob Elliot), Ben was not going to be given an easy introduction to life in SE7, but he settled in fairly quickly, and soon after the pink wonder headed northwards, he came into his own. Tall and athletic, Ben struggled as those had before him with taking crosses cleanly, but his shot stopping and distribution were very good.  Long raking kicks from hand out to lurking forwards ready to burst ahead were the norm, especially when Charlton held a lead, instantly turning defence into counter-attack. There were a few minor glitches; one after he was unluckily sent off on New Year’s Eve at Orient for handball and another after an ankle injury saw him replaced mid-game. He then returned probably a week early and his kicking suffered as a result. Then there was the mis-communications he suffered with his centre backs in early March which he (rather than the more culpable pair) seemed to be blamed for. Almost 20 clean sheets though is hard to beat and he can look back on a very fine first season in Charlton’s goal, and hopefully a few more to come.

John Sullivan
Chances were few and far between for Sully, and in truth, he never let the club down. He played one of the League Cup games, and a couple of the JPT matches, but started just two league games – one when deputising after Hamer was suspended and the other after the title was secured. Not the biggest, classiest, or most adept goalkeeper to have represented the club, but what you can see in Sully is that comaraderie which every side needs. You know he would play whenever required, even on the left wing if called upon!  I expect he will be kept for next year, but he will probably not be playing too much in the first team and will be the designated bench warmer once more.

Robbie Elliot 
With a year left on his contract, and an agent wiling to eek out as much as he could for him, it looked as if it was always going to end in tears for someone.  Luckily, it didn’t, as Andy Woodman decided he fancied his young gloved mate as company in the cold north-east and Robbie glee-fully signed a Premier League contract. The few games he played for Charlton back in August were all won, so we should thank Robbie for his efforts for CAFC, and we do know that he is a fan and will wish us the best in years to come.


Michael Morrison 
Another to make the League One team of the Season, Morro is not someone you would want to meet down a dark alleyway. Huge hearted, no messing, and hard as nails, he played in every league game bar one, scoring some important goals too. His partnership with Taylor was the rock on which the season was built, and the only cracks have come when the end has been in sight, probably through tiredness. A few mis-communications with Hamer in goal have highlighted matters recently, and he will have earned his Vegas holiday when that time comes. One thing that does concern me is that he has become a little Hoddle-esque – looking for the killer 50-yard pass – far too often recently - but that can be coached out of him. A possible legend in the making, Morrison should be OK in the Championship, and if he continues to improve, he could be an Addick centre back for quite a few years.

Matt Taylor 
The other half of that rock is another uncompromising centre back but the half that has attracted far less plaudits. For why, I do not know, because Taylor was every bit as good as Morrison over the first 7 months of the season. His only goal came in the FA Cup, and that may be why (as Morrison’s goals came in league games), although he did have one or two efforts cleared off the line. Not quick, and not a great tackler, he makes up for this with great positional sense, and a vast amount of experience that more than compensates. Obviously well respected by his team-mates, Taylor was the vice-captain, and did a great job standing in as skipper during Jackson’s enforced absences. I have no doubt that Taylor will be at The Valley in 2012-2013, but it may be that he is the first reserve centre back if Cort and Morrison are still around too.

Rhoys Wiggins 
During my years watching Charlton, I’ve witnessed quite a few decent left backs play for the club (Kinsey, Reid, Minto, Barness, Powell, Konchesky, Hreiderssson…) and I have to say that Wiggins is right up there with the best of them. He may not be the best defender of the lot, but he is definitely one the best going forwards. It is quite astonishing to think that he has only scored one goal this year (away at Bury I think, or was it Rochdale?) even though he has had many terrific shots on target. He can beat most full backs at will, either with pace or skill, and his crossing is excellent both on the run and when he has more time. In addition, his partnership down the left hand side with Jackson has been superb, with both complimenting each other. An early contender for Player of the Season, his contributions have been consistent in the latter part of the season rather than meeting his previous very high standards. Despite defending not being his best attribute, Wiggins should be looking to pick up a few Welsh caps in the next few years, and I see no reason why he cannot hold his own in the Championship, or even go on to bigger and better things.

Chris Solly 
Can you believe that someone on Charlton Life actually asked if he really was only five foot three?!? Undoubtedly the fans Player of the Season (though not my choice), Solly has had a fine season. As a Charlton youth player come through the ranks, I do feel that a lot of his errors are overlooked, in the same way that if a misplaced pass gets intercepted his error gets a mild groan whereas if it was Stephens it would be derided. Maybe though, his errors, being so few and far between, are noticeable.  He was definitely at fault for one of the Notts County goals, where he delayed his throw in so long then got caught out of position as a result. The main worry with him is his height, but despite these worries, the only time I can ever remember a goal coming from a ball played over the top to his side was against Wycombe when Beavon scored. Nearly every club tries to pick up on this potential weakness, but few succeed, which is testament to not only Solly, but the rest of the defence too. Always willing to overlap, he provides ample assistance down the right flank, and does have a seemingly telepathic understanding with Wagstaff. He did work well with Green too down that side, though Green offered less protection and back-up than Waggy. For some reason though, I wonder if Solly can cut it in higher leagues? More sides will try to exploit his lack of height and I’m concerned about his pace too being good enough for very quick forwards. (By the way, I’d love to be proved wrong here!)

Leon Cort 
The only word I can think of to describe Cort’s end of season performances is Immense! Sure, he may not be the quickest, but he wins nearly everything in the air, and is quick to throw his body in the way of shots if necessary. His first league start of the season saw Charlton’s first defeat, and in some ways that was his fault, as he missed an easy chance to equalise with a free header, but since then, whenever brought on or started, he has been great.  Replacing a tired looking Matt Taylor after the Notts County reverse, it took another five games for the team to concede a goal from open play. A lot of this was down to Cort’s huge presence I felt. On loan initially, and recalled by Burnley so they could release him from his contract, he promptly singed for Charlton in January, and he will be a stalwart next year I think, playing in a division where he has shown himself to be more than comfortable. 

Cedric Evina 
Poor old Ceddy just hasn’t had much of a chance this season. The form and fitness of Wiggins has kept him out of the left-back spot in the team, and with others required on the bench, he hasn’t even been able to be a used substitute very much. Still very young, he has good potential, and will I’m sure be retained (provided he is OK with being Wiggins back-up once more?); he may even get a loan spell elsewhere if a similar scenario to this season is on the cards. The butt of many training ground jokes, “Doing a Ceddy” has become a favoured saying when you get something wrong; hopefully Ceddy will be able to turn some tables next year!


Andy Hughes 
Hughes will consider himself a bit unlucky this season; when signed, he may have thought he would be playing every week, but the full back form and consistency of Chris Solly saw to that and with such other strength in midfield (where he can also play), his time has been very limited.  He did play in the early season cup games, and did a reasonable job. Then, when called upon following Dale Stephens injury in October, Hughes was simply magnificent, playing the next six games which were all won. I first noticed him at Stevenage, where, not in the playing squad, he proceeded to have a pre-game training session on his own, lapping up and down the pitch against a stop watch for the best part of half an hour - it was impressive stuff! He did similar workouts whenever he was not playing, and you knew as such that when his chance came, he would be fit enough. Sadly for him, the signing of Daryl Russell saw him preferred in that midfield anchor role, and with a few thigh problems in the New Year, Hughes was never quite ready to retake his place, despite many calling for it when others obviously needed a rest. The memory of Hughes will not be of something he did, but in what he allowed others to do; while he played, Hollands scored goals for fun.  It was Hughes professionalism that allowed this.  Sadly, I think the Championship may be a bit too quick for him, though we know he will play if required.

Johnnie Jackson 
He goes down the wing for me; he scores goals for me; he does all that is required for me and the rest of the Addicks family.  JJ is our captain and leader on the pitch and off it, and what a season he has had. Good enough to be voted the second best player in the league (behind Jordan Rhodes), and part of the Players Team of the Season, recognition has come from all avenues. Amazingly, he is not Charlton’s player of the season (he came third), due to the strength of other candidates. Jacko has scored 13 goals, including a few penalties and some stunning free-kicks.  Everyone mentions the two he got in consecutive weeks that did for both Sheffield clubs in January and, as many also mention, it was winning those two games that gave many the belief that this really was our season. A couple of injuries took him from the side, and though loanees Hogan Ephraim, Lee Cook, and Dany N’Guessan all did very well in his stead, Jackson reclaimed his left-midfield place as soon as he was able, such was the standard he brought to the team. He forged a great partnership with Wiggins down the left, and it did help that Wiggins pace could compensate for Jacko’s lack of it. Jackson’s calm play was only ruffled once that I saw all season – away at Stevenage – when he was desperate to maintain Charlton’s unbeaten start to the season; on that occasion, he started to rush things, and became frustrated, but this was just a blip. He seems to love life at The Valley, so I have no doubt he will be leading the team out next August, and at that time we will see if he can improve and show that he is even better than we (and possibly, he) even thought.

Danny Green 
The return of the prodigal son, mark VII, saw GreenDog arrive back at The Valley a few years after being let go; this following fabulous displays in a poor Dagenham side that was relegated the previous year (including goals in both games against Charlton). The return started slowly, with illness preventing an opening day debut, and with Scott Wagstaff scoring in the first two games, it then took some time for Green to establish himself as first choice on the right. Once in the team, his value was evident immediately. A totally different player to Waggy, Green was cultured on the ball, looked for (and made) a million-dollar pass regularly, and created much that was good. His first time cross at Brentford begged for BWP to tap it in, such was the accuracy of the ball in from out wide. Not as slow as some people make out, and not without good skill too (evidence is his taking a fun part in Soccer AM tekkers slot), Green soon owned the right wing role. The only negative things for Green were his accumulation of yellow cards, many after he had initially lost the ball and tried a little too hard to win it back, that saw him suspended after Xmas, and further bouts of illness that saw him missing from the final few games as promotion was won. Still learning how not to be a big fish in a small pond, next season will be key for Green; he has the ability to be Charlton’s most creative player since Andy Reid, but needs to show more application in order to fulfil this ambition. If he keeps his head screwed on, he could save the club a whole heap of money!

Dale Stephens 
Classy Dale started the season on fire, but then sadly for him a nasty ankle injury knocked him off his stride and put him out of the team for three months. Scorer of the season’s first goal (and what a lovely strike that was against Bournemouth), and also possibly the best goal (the last minute equaliser versus Bury), 2011/12 will go down for him as one of nearly but not quite. His form was not the best after the injury, and maybe he came back a bit too soon?  He does do some great things, and looks fabulous when playing in the hole behind a lone striker (as he did when Charlton were protecting a lead late in the season), but too many misplaced passes upset some fans, and he is not considered a favourite by many. If Stephens can stay fit and recover his best form, then he is more than good enough for the Championship, but until we see that consistently, he will be one name not guaranteed a place in the forthcoming Charlton side as written by many current supporters.

Scott Wagstaff 
Scott was one of few who survived the savage personnel cuts to the playing squad last summer, and with Green out of the side in August, Waggy made a great start to 2011-2012. A stunning volley (still wrongly attributed to Dale Stephens in some statistical circles) on opening day against Bournemouth set him on his way, and another goal came the following week. Sadly for Waggy, I think the pressure he felt with Green now on the bench told against him, and his performance levels did drop, resulting in the two switching starting roles. Then it was hard graft time as he slipped off the bench altogether, as others were brought in.  Given an unexpected chance on New Year’s Eve due to Green’s suspension, the sending off of goalkeeper Hamer saw him sacrificed in a re-shuffle with little more than five minutes on the clock, and Waggy then had to bide his time yet again. He broke back into the team in late season, and we saw the good old Scott return, linking well with Solly down the right, putting in crosses, and scoring goals himself.  His introduction at half time against Notts County (when 4-0 down) gave everyone belief for a short while even though the effort then petered out after two quick goals. He was the victim of a ridiculous sending off at Oldham, which he and we should just ignore. Will Waggy be good enough next year? It’s hard to say... His effort and fitness and link play with Solly are massive positives, but his inconsistent crossing and inability to beat a man regularly may go against him. It may therefore be another season where he is around but doesn’t make that many appearances, and that, sadly, may indicate it’s time for him to move on.

Bradley Pritchard 
The rumour is that Pritch pitched up on work experience at Sparrows Lane in pre-season, and made some of the incumbents looked very ordinary, so he was offered a contract. And now you just cannot wipe the smile from his face! He had to bide his time, playing in the “Reserve” side in cup games initially, and he scored in the televised rout of FC Halifax. But with injuries and suspensions biting after the transfer deadline had passed, he strode into the first team picture and has been difficult to shift ever since. All effort, he chases and tackles for all he is worth. Possible lack of class may prevent him making such an impression in the Championship, but he has proven (not only to himself) that he can be a pro-footballer, and league one is not too high a level for him.

Roben Bover Izquierdo 
Not a great year for Spanish Addicks, but at least Ruben can look forwards; a couple of interesting League Cup games where he was desperately unlucky not to score showed us his potential.  With some minor injuries, and superb form elsewhere, Ruben found it hard to break into the first team picture on a regular basis, and he was shipped back to Spain to get game time on loan.  I hope he returns as he did look like he might be a gem in the making, and one that could step up if his potential is fulfilled.

Danny Hollands 
How Hollands had time to play such an important role for Charlton at the same time he became father of triplets is nobody’s business! Maybe he was just grateful to be out of the house and away from the noise, smells, and busy-ness at home, and by staying on the team, he could avoid it all for longer. The Autumn, when the kids were born, was a great time for him – celebrating the births with goals galore during a fabulous period where he scored for fun. All hustle and bustle in midfield, Danny is not shy to tackle, is combative in the air, and puts in a good stint when covering ground.  Funnily, his running style is awfully laboured, but he just never stops, despite looking exhausted. After Xmas, and Danny ran out of steam a bit, not helped by constantly changing partners in the centre of the field.  He did look like he could do with a rest, but that only came following his sending off at Oldham, where his tackle was only slightly late and never nasty enough to warrant a straight red. Those three games he then missed allowed him to revive himself (and change a few nappies I expect!) and he came back once promotion and the title were won (scoring the important equaliser on Saturday). He looked like being player of the year at Xmas (he had my mid-season vote), but did not come close to winning the overall title. He can though think back on a very successful first season in SE7 and look forward to being a regular starter in the Championship, where he should be more than capable.

Mikel Alonso 
I missed the JPT game against Brentford when Alonso played his one and only game for the club, so cannot comment specifically.  Suffice to say that reports suggested he had a ‘mare, and he hasn’t figured anywhere close to the first team since. His contract now up, it’s time to wave Adios I think to Xavi’s brother.

Lee Cook 
Cook’s second loan spell in SE7 has gone better than the first, mainly because he has been fit.  Unfortunately, his time in the team has been limited, but two efforts stand out: the first was his sublime cross for Dany N’Guessan to score against Walsall, and the other was the shift he put in playing for the nine-man team at Oldham, when he had to move inside after first Hollands, and then Wagstaff were sent off. I’m not sure if Cook will be back in Charlton colours in future, but we should wish him well if not, and say a big thanks.

Daryl Russell 
With Russell out of favour at Preston, it was strange that he strode pretty much straight into Charlton’s first team on arrival in December and has been a regular choice when available since. The season has been fairly turbulent for him though, with two sending off’s and not enough game time really. He has scored a couple of (covered end) goals, but the memory will be of him being late in the tackle against Sheffield United, and the victim of a nasty foul at Huddersfield to which he retaliated. Both deserved red cards in my opinion, and Charlton were lucky that the former did not lead to the loss of any points due to James Beattie’s stupidity in the melee that followed. Still not wanted in Lancashire it seems, it would come as no surprise if Russell were to sign for the Addicks permanently, though he will have to improve his disciplinary outlook in order to be liked by fans in London. 


Paul Hayes 
I was really pleased when Chris Powell signed Paul Hayes – historically, he is classy, makes a bundle of goals, and scores his fair share too. And in his first few months at The Valley he did not disappoint. It was strange then that the new forward we knew we needed as back-up (Kermorgant) displaced him quite quickly, and most fans felt he had been hard done by. Come May, and we can now see the wisdom of that decision, albeit a harsh one from Hayes perspective.  Hayes has some lovely touches, and he did link very well with BWP in those early months; he got some stick when he missed a couple of easy chances in home games, but generally, he was liked, as fans could see how hard he worked, and the benefit of his link up play was obvious to everyone. Even when Kermorgant took his place, many harked back to the style where the ball was not lumped forward so often and played along the ground in the way Hayes excelled. Even though the Frenchman was playing well, it would have been good to have Hayes on the bench, but first Clarke, then Haynes usurped him in the striker pecking order, and Hayes slipped out of the picture further. He did fabulously well on loan at Wycombe, and only returned when injuries and illness hit the Addicks, making an appearance at Huddersfield. Then he was out of the picture once more, much to Wycombe’s chagrin. Hayes is under contract next season, but I do feel that Powell may wish to move him on, as I can’t see him getting much game time next year if Charlton are to improve.  

Bradley Wright-Phillips 
For a large part of the season, he really was better than Shaun! The start of the season saw him knocking in goals for fun, as partnerships with Hayes, and later Kermorgant, flourished. Blessed with good speed, nice control, and accurate shooting ability, this is balanced against apparent frustration, sometimes poor work ethic, and lack of clinical finishing that smacks of laziness. This might make him sound a poor player, but the thing is we know that BWP does work hard in most games, and can be deadly when he wants to, which makes him a very good player to have. The two goals he scored at Hartlepool were such clinical strikes that he looks at times as though he should be in the Premier League (and at other times, the bloke who sits behind me wouldn't have him in his pub team!). An in-joke was doing the rounds early in the season after Powell substituted him a couple of times on the trot when he had scored twice in a game, thus preventing any chance of a hat-trick, which he had never scored amazingly. Eventually, after a quite barren spell early in 2012, the flood-gates opened once more and he got that match-ball to keep after three goals were credited to him at Chesterfield (a couple of them took deflections, so there was a bit of a debate before it was confirmed…). His contract extended, after he played the requisite number of games this year, he will be a key player in Charlton’s Championship challenge; if fit, he could equal the number of goals he scored this season, and that amount would be crucial wherever in the league the Addicks find themselves.

Danny Haynes 
Another player to return to The Valley after being released as youngster, Haynes looked good when used as a sub but again suffered from the frequent injuries that have blighted his career. He finally scored his first Charlton goal at Preston, headed another on Saturday, and with a good record in the Championship, he will keep pressure in the other forwards to perform next year. Obviously delighted to see Charlton promoted, he will mainly be used as he has been late this season, as an impact sub, or third attacker when chasing the game.

Yann Kermorgant 
As well as Solly, Wiggins, Morrison, and Taylor played this season, my player of the year just had to be Yann.  I felt he made such an impact, that without him, we may not have had the record breaking year we have just witnessed. Well known to Chris Powell through Leicester connections, Yann’s audacious spot kick that went wrong in a play-off semi-final was a mill-stone too heavy, and he scuttled back to France for a year to lay low. In London, we saw that weight removed, and boy, did he leap high without that extra baggage! When a player is, well, different, you notice him even more, and in these times where footballers are very much of a likeness, one who can leap and head the ball as well as Yann can stands out. His first Charlton goals were inauspicious and from close range (albeit both important), but he got a fantastic header that effectively ended Huddersfield’s long unbeaten run, and then a fabulous free kick on Boxing Day at Yeovil. A couple more free kicks from range came later in the season, and whenever Charlton had a dead-ball chance from 25 yards it was fascinating to speculate who out of Yann or Jacko might take the kick. Yann actually scored more free kick goals than Jacko this year (I think – 3 versus 2) though Jacko’s were the more important it is agreed. A real battering ram to play against, teams started to block him out when attempting to move for headers, and some sort of better tactic to combat this will be needed next year. Yann is another in a long line of Frenchman who annoy the English, and in consecutive home games we saw him being “attacked” by opposition players which saw them red carded, and Yann allowed to remain (once luckily). A real hero, I hope he can have a great a season next year for Charlton as he has this and that another club with lots of money doesn’t come in and make a silly offer for him. 

Dany N'Guessan 
Not generally well known in SE7 before he arrived on loan in March, I heard about Dany earlier from a Millwall supporting pal, who said he was dynamite. Sadly for Dany, he obviously blew up his spanner friends hopes, and eventually made the short switch on loan at Powell’s request. Renowned as a goalscorer on his debut, he did not disappoint, though whether he meant the larupped cross against Orient to go in, we will never know! Capable of playing wide or through the middle, he could be a valuable asset in the Championship, if his skill and attitude can be honed. I expect a deal to be done in a month or two’s time, and “I’m Guessing” for N’Guessan to be an Addick come August.

Paul Benson
Marco van Benson only played briefly this year, with a finger injury – sustained after he scored in the league cup first round - keeping him out of early season games. A switch to Notts County fell through at the last moment then Benno was out of everyone’s mind until a swap involving Leon Clarke went through in early January. Never my favourite, he has done well at Swindon since, with division four his absolute level I feel.

Leon Clarke
While Clarke had done well at Chesterfield earlier in the season, it was his on pitch bust-up with Paulo di Canio that everyone will remember this year. Swapped with Benson, he looked a bit lumbering and off the pace whenever he did come on as a sub, so it wasn’t a great surprise when he was sent on loan to Crawley with a view to a permanent deal come season end.

Hogan Ephraim
With Jackson injured in November, Powell moved swiftly to bring in Hogan from QPR for a couple of months, and it was a wise move. He had good skill, worked hard, and seemed to be enjoying his time in south-east London.  He also scored the crucial second goal against Huddersfield to break their unbeaten record. Unluckily for him, once Jacko was fit he went straight back into the team, and Ephraim returned to Rangers, before another loan spell in Bristol ended his season. We might one day see him again in an Addicks shirt, and he would be a good squad player to have.

The Youngsters

Conor Gough 
Six foot seven inch Gough has recently joined Bristol Rovers, and hopefully he can build a career there by making saves and not having to pick too many balls out of the back of his net. 

Nick Pope 
Pope did well in the reserves games he played this year, making him the third choice keeper; whether he can oust one of those currently above him is unknown but will take time and plenty of effort, though he is highly regarded. Cheap, and one for the future.

Jordan Cousins 
The cream of the new crop apparently, but yet to break into the first team picture. Another close season may see him get nearer to the chance he will want, but likely to be at right-back rather than midfield I think.

Callum Harriott 
Since he made his debut late last year, he hasn’t progressed as well as wanted but, even if he had, chances near the first team would have been severely limited due to Powell’s selection policy of tried and trusted over youth and exuberance. Next season will be his make or break.

Joe Pigott 
I once umpired young Joe when he was a 14-year old fast bowler playing for his local village in the Kent Cricket League. He was a mouthy little so-and-so even then. One for the future.

The Season

Record breaking; that says it all! Numerous club records - Most wins,  least defeats, most points, most away wins, and least goals conceded. You cannot have hoped for a better season if you were a Charlton fan. With a great manager (who is still learning it should be noted…), great back-up team, fantastic board level support, and great youngsters coming through, all is rosy. 

Next year will be tough, but provided the defence stays solid, the midfield combative, and the forwards score regularly, we should be OK. My season ticket is bought, and I'm looking forward to renewing acquantances with some of the teams we used to play regularly.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Beautiful Friend

The League One table makes for very nice reading at the moment, with Charlton sitting pretty at the top; unbeaten in eight league games (with six wins and two draws), the Addicks even have a game in hand on several of their closest rivals. And this, after Charlton were dealt a fairly tough opening set of fixtures to the new season.

It does make one proud!

The away form has been excellent, with four wins on the trot. Since my last post, victory over Bury (2-1) and Rochdale (3-2) has been accomplished, with both games close. Both required Charlton to show some fight, the first after going behind for the first time this season, and the last game (on Saturday) when a two-goal lead disappeared soon after half-time. It does seem that the days of Charlton rolling over when the going gets tough are behind us, for a while at last!

Home form has been rather more patchy, with another two-goal lead being relinquished in the draw with Scunthorpe; if this game had been seen out (it was a very late equaliser), Charlton would be clear at the top and not simply ahead of Sheffield United on alphabetical order. Another draw came in the televised game with Sheffield Wednesday, who played in the spirit of their manager Gary Megson - all huff and puff and bowling over anyone who stood in their way. It was slightly disappointing to be pegged back again after Bradley Wright-Phillipps early strike, but it did look like both managers would settle for a point apiece quite a way before the end. After that, a win came against Exeter but not with some controversy. Even after watching it on TV, I do not know it Danny Nardiello’s toe-poke crossed the goal-line, but he was just plain stupid to issue a series of expletives to the linesman some minutes later. It was the same way that Garry Nelson got his red card at The Valley about twenty years ago and the walk back to the changing rooms must be pretty long when you realise how silly you have been. The win still had to be earned, and goals from BWP and Dale Stephens got us home against the ten-men.

In the Carling Cup, the terrific performance against Reading by eleven reserves was confounded when the same team performed badly against Preston. Only a few of that side (Evina, Euell, anyone else?) came out of it with any plus-marks, and some had very poor games (Francis comes to mind). It is unlikely that the team would have progressed much further, and maybe their collective heads had dropped since even after a great performance none were able to force their way into the (league) first team?

While all the talk last year was of the squad taking time to gel, we now have 19 new signings and nobody mentioning any similarity. They are told how the manager wants them to play, have bonded well, and go about their business in the right manner. We will lose this season, it is just a matter of time, but from the evidence so far, the heart is there and heads should not drop after one loss.

I have been mightily impressed by Danny Hollands, and his midfield play – tackling, harrying, taking the easy pass – has been excellent so far; the two headed goals he scored at Rochdale were bonuses I think, and he won’t get too many more all season. I suppose we just have to hope he doesn’t fall asleep in the middle of a game now he has newly-borne triplets (all girls) to look after and care for.

The centre of defence has been solid too, and you wouldn’t really want to meet Michael Morrison or Matt Taylor in a dark alley late at night, even though I’m sure both are lovely chaps!

Up front, Paul Hayes is settling in, and I think all he needs is a home goal or two to settle the crowd in his favour. It does annoy me sometimes that we have players who play terrifically well, making goals for others, and scoring at away grounds, but unless they hit a Valley net, there is always a question mark about them. BWP will get more goals having Hayes alongside him, and provided he stays fit and manages his knees well, he looks a sure fire bet to pas the twenty-goal mark.

The difference in the team is astounding from what we saw earlier this year and the Board and management must take a huge amount of pride and pleasure from seeing them do so well. Long may it continue!

Which brings me to the point in time where I can break some news about something that will not be continuing – this blog.

I have had six happy years bashing away at the keyboard, adding opinion to previews and reviews of games, but these posts have become fewer and fewer over the last 15 months or so. My love for Charlton has not diminished, but my love for typing has a little! With other commitments to the fore, something has to give and so I feel it is time to formally close Charlton Athletic Online to new posts. I will leave it up online for posterity, as many Addicks fans (and others) do seem to search out bits and pieces that I have included over the years.

There are many other fabulous blogs about Charlton – many listed on the right hand side of this page – and they have more time than I do to continue with their writing. I read most of them daily, which is possibly one reason why I have less time to write my own posts! I will from now on merely add comments to their posts as and when I feel the urge!

It’s been fun doing this – from the Premiership, to the Championship, to League One. Today’s team have some ability to start our journey in the opposite direction.

Lots of love


Come on you Addicks!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Between the Lines

Charlton Athletic 2 Reading 1

I finally got to see my beloved boys in a game this season, and was rewarded with a battling victory on my birthday. It’s funny that while everyone was remarking on how many new players we had in the squad this season, by my reckoning some seven made their full debuts last night. Ben Hamer came into the goalkeepers slot, while Yado Mambo finally started a match at centre half, with Cedric Evina at left back. Danny Green played wide right, and Ruben Bover wide left, with Bradley Pritchard and Andy Hughes in centre midfield. Add to these the first full game for Jason Euell since he rejoined Charlton and it was an astonishing eleven to kick off with.

Suffice to say, the start was incredible, and with 200 seconds, I thought both teams could have scored three times each! Paul Benson was put through by Green’s long throw (which said something about Reading’s pre-match knowledge about him…) but blasted over, then Reading saw two very dangerous crosses turned away for corners, before Euell and Green both broke free but saw their shots blocked. Reading then saw a header cleared off the line, so it was pretty amazing that the scores remained deadlocked.

Charlton bossed midfield, with Pritchard and Bover full of running and Hughes all bustle and involvement but with two opposition wingers to manage, Simon Francis and Evina had their hands full and Francis did get beaten all too easily on occasions.

The first goal finally came when Benson nipped in on a loose ball, and poked toward goal, only for the ‘keeper to half save it and then see the ball trickle slowly over the line.

Well worth the lead, Charlton played some delightful stuff, with everyone seemingly keen on pushing for a first eleven starting place this Saturday.

Benson went off very early in the second half, with what looked like a dislocated finger, and Scott Wagstaff came on to play a striker support role. Green was hugely influential and came close to scoring, as did Wagstaff himself, and the two linked well down the right.

It was from that side that the second goal came, as Waggy and Green linked with Francis who put in a great cross for Euell to nod home amid much delight. It was Jason’s first goal since his return to the Addicks a couple of weeks ago.

More goals threatened, but would not come, and being Charlton, it was Reading who took advantage and reduced the arrears. Gary Doherty, whose lack of pace had been overcome as the game progressed, went off with a slight ankle problem, but his replacement - Michael Morrison – did not have time to settle before a corner was swung over and the ball was stabbed home high into the net off (I think) Hughes. This Charlton team do seem to have set-play issues, and further pressure came as the corner count increased. Church missed with one close range header when he should have scored, and Hamer had to be alert several times to keep his goal intact.

Bover ran himself into the ground and went off with five minutes left, and Chris Solly, his replacement allowed some easing of the pressure through cool play. The referee took some stick as he made some strange decisions and Chris Powell had to return to the dug out in order to save himself from punishment as he swore at the fourth official (for which he immediately apologised it has to be said) as the game climaxed. Charlton hung on, and now meet Preston next Tuesday.

I was very impressed with the overall fitness of the team, especially Pritchard and Bover who I did not think would have that strength yet. Mambo won many good headers against a very strong forward line, and Green played many delightful balls until he faded in the last ten minutes or so (when he seemed to be trying for the killer ball rather than just retaining possession). As for Euell, well, it just didn’t seem as if he’d ever been away!


Friday, August 19, 2011

The T in Charlton

Three out of three and another, on paper, winnable game for Charlton tomorrow, in what is turning out to be an excellent start to the new season. The midweek victory over Colchester was comfortable, after a superb first half display from the Addicks. Bradley Wright-Phillips weighed in with both goals, the first (left) after a quick break and an exchange of passes with Scott Wagstaff,. And the second turning in Johnnie Jackson’s cross after Paul Hayes flicked it on. Despite his best efforts, and he had a few, BWP couldn’t quite get that third goal he craved, but at least he is off the mark for the season now.

The defence was called into work for the second half, much as they were at Notts County, and we should, I suppose, expect some teams to come looking to kick us if we continue with a smart passing game. While previous Charlton teams may have shyed at such a physical confrontation, this team has much more resolve it seems, and stood successfully up once more to a minor battering.

Maybe that is the difference this year - we have a team, and not just a bunch of individuals?

Scunthorpe arrive at The Valley after a poor start to the season, with just two points from their three games so far, and do not look like they have the same bounce-backability that they had when last in this league. They will be hard to defeat, and may relish the chance to play someone whom they are not expected to beat – this will be no roll-over I suggest.

Two Charlton players will be coming up against former team-mates – Andy Hughes, who came on as sub on Tuesday making his debut, and Paul Hayes – and they will both want to play well I’m sure. Hughes time with The Iron was short, but Hayes made his name at the club, and provided a constant stream of goal-scoring opportunities for players like Martin Paterson without getting many plaudits. Hopefully Hayes can continue in that vein and provide BWP with more goals while stepping up and knocking a few in himself.

Charlton are likely to be unchanged once more, provided there are no injuries from the midweek game or from training, with Danny Green again on the bench, alongside Jason Euell, Gary Doherty, Hughes, and a sub ‘keeper.

The goalkeeper situation is the only one that may vary, as Newcastle have finally made known their offer to the Addicks for Robbie Elliot. Elliot may well therefore be playing his final game at The Valley for a while, and it will be great for him to play, and jump out of the tunnel after a victory, one last time. If he does go prior to the game, or if Chris Powell thinks that it may not be right to play him, then Ben Hamer could come in after injury, or John Sullivan may step up. Personally, I think if Elliot is around, then he should play – he is after all a Charlton fan, and he will want to do his best if it is to be his last game for the Addicks.

With just over a week to go during this transfer window, Powell has hinted that there could be quite a lot more movement, with Paul Benson and Simon Francis possibly surplus to requirements, and another striker to come in if Benson does go.

Pedro45 will once more be working and not able to attend the game, unless it rains like it did yesterday that is. It would be great to go into Tuesday’s Carling Cup game, and the first I will be able to see, unbeaten and on an extended winning run. Let’s hope so!

Come on you Reds!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

County Show

Two hurdles succesfully negotiated for Chris Powell (left) and his new squad, but another tough away fixture tonight at Colchester will test the team to the limits.

The win at Notts County on Saturday, which keeps the Addicks top of the table, was hard-fought, but once more Charlton played with style, and hit the home team on the break whenever they could. Scott Wagstaff opened the scoring after being put through down the right hand channel by Paul Hayes, and Hayes himself extended the lead just before half-time after Bradley Wright-Phillips crossed low for him to tap in. It was Hayes first goal for Charlton.

The team could have, and really should have, scored more but, despite County pulling one back from a set play, this Charlton held firm, and made it through to the end. In fact, so well did they defend the lead that the home side had to resort to rough house tactics, but still Charlton held. Powell has certainly changed things a bit from last season!

I was forced, once more, into looking at Twitter updates on the match, and as I was busier this Saturday than last, I had to keep checks to a minimum during my own match. Luckily tea coincides with half-time, so I was glued to Tweets during that period.

Tonight the team is away at Colchester, another game I am unable to attend, but hopefuly they will bring home all thee points once more. This will not be easy though, and it was only two years ago that Colchester burst the Addicks winning start to the season in emphatic fashion at the same venue. That night, Odejayi and Wordsworth were the brawn and brains behind the 3-0 win, and those same players will be trying for something similar tonight. Last season, the game was pretty much end-to-end with both sides coming close to winning the 3-3 draw. In fact, Paul Benson did score what looked like a fantastic winner only to have it strangely ruled out before getting himself sent off in injury time. He may not even feature tonight as Jason Euell looks like being the preferred substitute striker (how do you best balance having only five sub options?)

Without any news of injuries, we must presume that Charlton will remian unchanged again, even with Danny Green fit and raring to go after suspension. Keeping him out of the team so far has been goalscoring winger Scott Wagstaff, and Waggy has even said he might need to score in every game this season in order to retain his place. That would be fine with us fans, and even, I'm sure, with Ralph Allen and Derek Hales who currently hold the best goals in a season records for the Addicks.

A tough game then, but this is what the start ot the season was always going to be about. The season will have pitfalls, but let's hope they are not too deep and the Addicks spririt, guile and passion is enough to bring another win in Essex.

Come on you reds!


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bourne Supremacy

Writing an update following Saturday's Charlton victory over Bournemouth has taken me some time, but that's no surprise when we see what else has been going on, all around the club. The riots, looting, wanton vandalism and sheer stupidness of the last few days is a sorry picture, and has somewhat taken the gloss off a fine display by the Addicks at the weekend. The obvious result of the madness was the postponement of the Carling Cup tie versus Reading, which would have been my first opportunity to see the team play this season. Sadly, that vision will have to wait a while longer, though at least I wasn't one of those that had planned flights so I could be at that game. Maybe if these numpties causing the trouble realised the waste that their actions caused, they might think again, but then what can you do with only two brain cells anyway? As somebody has said - It's easy to destroy something, but what have any of them created? What indeed!

Suffice to say that things were much quieter last night, in London at least, and various reasons are being put forward, one of which - that it's dificult to walk when you have two new right-footed trainers on - has some creedence. That, or the newly nicked TV or Playstation was taking time to set up...

Anyway, hopefully things will die down now and we can all get back to being normal Londoners and not have an embarassed look on our faces.

Back to the footie - Charlton won on Saturday courtesy of three goals: a first half finish from Dale Stephens after great work by Chris Solly; a classic 25-yard volley from Scott Wagstaff after Stephens set him up early in the second half; and a stroked penalty from Johnnie Jackson after Bradley Wright-Phillips was tripped.

Seven players made their debuts - Matt Taylor, Michael Morrison, Rhoy Wiggins, Stephens, Danny Hollands, Paul Hayes, and late substitute Bradley Pritchard - which equals the record I beleive. Possibly of more surprise was the inclusion of Robbie Elliot, but this may have been the result of a late injury to Ben Hamer rather than a change of heart by manager Chris Powell. I had to follow the match via Twitter due to being otherwise involved, but my heart was in the right place I can confirm, and I cheered every goal!

Tuesday's game would have seen Danny Green make his debut after suspension, and maybe given a chance to Andy Hughes, and some others too? With Jason Euell signing a new contract at the club today, the squad certainly has strength in depth. One of the five goalkeepers on the clubs books moved out on loan today - Nick Pope joining Harrow - and we can expect a few more departures, with Simon Francis, Conor Gough, and maybe Yado Mambo and Elliot possibly filing out of the car park before the end of August?

Saturday's game against Notts County has become a top-of-the-table clash, as they also won 3-0 on Saturday (at Carlisle), but it remains to be seen if they are any good or if it shows Carlisle to be particularly poor. I guess we'd be happy with a point though Paul Benson will no doubt want to prove something and bring home all three?

The early fixtures do look tough on paper, so we should not be surprised if any points are dropped, but the signs from the Bournemouth game are that we can be a force this year.

Up the Addicks!

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Up and At ‘Em

The squad rebuilt; fans optimism at a high; the players raring to go – don’t you just love the week before a new season starts!

But how will our Addicks fare this year? Is it back to the glory days, or more mid-table mediocrity waiting for the team to gel, or is it all doom and gloom and sack the manager time once more? Pedro45 gives his view on those teams Charlton will be coming up against…

It has to be an improvement this season, as the fans and owners will expect nothing less; Chris Powell just has to make it work, otherwise he can expect the same harsh boot that Phil Parkinson received last January.

Looking at the competition, and you can only do this on paper pre-season, Pedro45 thinks that there are six teams in with a viable shout for automatic promotion, and one of those is Charlton. With 15 new players signed, it might be that in some games the team look more comfortable than in others, but you would expect that. What we cannot have though, is all the excuses about the team taking time to gel, as that is what we had last year. Nobody expects a six-game winning streak at the start of a season, a fond memory from 2009/10, but neither do we want a repeat of a 13-game winless run as we had last year. A balanced start, with a strong finish is what would be nice, and I am confident that with the new players at his disposal, Powell is the man to lead the team to glory, even if they don’t quite make it up as Champions.

The other teams in with a promotion shout in my opinion are both Sheffield clubs – Wednesday and United, local rivals Huddersfield, plus Preston, and maybe surprisingly, MK Dons.

Sheffield Wednesday will be relying on Jose Semedo to do as great job in midfield for them as he did at The Valley for three seasons, and with David Prutton alongside, they will be strong in this area. They have an experienced manager – Gary Megson – but could suffer early anxiety if results don’t match that of near neighbours United in the early Autumn matches. Sheffield United will be hoping that their youngsters, who are pretty good if truth be told, can come to grips with the division; if they do, and can, then they might just about run away with the league, but if they can’t, and if the older hands brought in to help them struggle to adapt and gel (that word again..), then they may fade as Spring is sprung.

Huddersfield blew their best attempt at promotion when losing to Peterborough at Old Trafford in the play offs last May. They have retained the services of some of their better players (Jordan Rhodes for example) but have lost others, so a small amount of tinkering with their squad has been necessary. Lee Clark’s twitch may be more pronounced therefore as his side slip further away from the top of the table, but I still back them to make the play-offs, and they may be lucky in winning at Wembley this year.

MK Dons are a team that look pretty average, but if they had a genuine goal-threat, coupled with the usual solidity they have in midfield and defence, could make them strong. Sam Baldock has stayed with the club, but his problem is not talent, just fitness. If he plays 40-plus league games, then I think Dons will return to the play-offs, but otherwise, they may struggle to finish top half.

Preston have hard-man manager Phil Brown at their head, and keeping your team on the pitch at half-time at Deepdale on a cold Tuesday night is not much fun, so we can expect his team to be hard-working and strong. The have attacking talent (Hume, Mellor) and if they can stop shipping goals in the way they did while getting relegated last season and find some consistency they too may be right up with the top teams.

Of the rest, I don’t think relegated Scunthorpe have the attacking prowess that enabled them to bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking two years ago, and last seasons other play off side Bournemouth have lost too many players to be much more than just above half-way this year.

Of the teams that had enjoyable seasons last year, Orient will be tough to crack if their team ethic is maintained, while Rochdale are like Bournemouth in that they have lost most of their management and better players in the summer. Both may flatter early on, but ultimately will fall short due to small squad strength.

Colchester look like a team in free-fall, now that the owner has not realised his required quick return from funding the new stadium, while Carlisle are too inconsistent, and Brentford’s bees have to fight over-expectation from having a former German international as manager, without sufficient resource.

Exeter and Yeovil may benefit in the short term from Plymouth and Bristol Rovers demise and pick up their better players, but they will have good days but average seasons I think.

Hartlepool and Notts County have both spoken about aiming for the top of the league, but only County have an outside chance, though with mad-dog Martin Allen in charge, anything is possible (including a poor season).

Oldham will hope Paul Dickov can unearth some team spirit and keep them up, while Tranmere and trainer/manager Les Parry will want to play a whole season like they did the second half of 2010/11 and not a whole season like they did in the first half of 2010/11! Walsall have changed much of their squad, and will be content to survive another year, if they can.

That just leaves the four promoted teams, and each have a chance to survive, but will struggle to get above half-way. Bury may find goalscoring a problem, Chesterfield will probably be the best footballing team of the four, while Stevenage and Wycombe will hope that their defences can keep enough clean sheets for them to win a few matches, though I think they are both in trouble.

This is how I think and hope to see the league table looking next May:

Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield United
MK Dons
Notts County

Promotion party on hold then, but let’s keep our fingers crossed for a winning start to the year on Saturday!

Come on you Reds!


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