Thursday, 31 January 2008

Late Night Shopping

That expression normally makes me think of Christmas Eve in a jewellers buying way over the top gifts for the wife that seem like a good idea because you've been in a pub all day and daren't go home without that little bit extra. These days most shopping centres are open until late, and many supermarkets are still scanning at midnight.

The mad rush to get that last Christmas Pressie is nothing compared to the panic to signthat one player that is going to make all the difference to your team. That one bright light that is going to transform your season and secure you promotion, save you from relegation or win you that place in Europe.

The excitement with bringing in that new player is potentially off set by the team that is having to let him go. Over all Charlton have suffered more of the latter than the former in Januarys. Last season we brought in ZZ, Thatcher and Song. All of whom made an immediate impact, even though we were still relegated. The season before we signed Marcus Bent. A bit of business that I would be happy to remove from the history books. The player was ok, but he was injured (as Curbishley later admitted) and was way over price at £2.5m. Even thought we signed Jerome Thomas for £100k in January it was the following season before we saw much of him.

Thus I would suggest that we haven't actually improved our fortunes from our signings in the winter transfer window up to now. Last season was probably our best, but ZZ and Song were loans - and ZZ only came to us in the summer because his agent couldn't get him a deal with a Premier League team. Thatcher (through no fault of his own) has not been fit enough to play more than 14 games in a year. So I have to say that from a recruitment point of view the January transfer window has been bad news for Charlton.

The other aspect of this window of opportunity is that you can offload players you no longer want, or have 'bigger teams' raid your squad for your much needed players. Last January we refused to sell Darren Bent to West Ham which I for one had mixed feelings about. We nearly avoided relegation and sold him for almost as much in the summer so no great loss there, but if the player had made the appropriate noises about refusing to play in The Championship the fee could well have been lower. The two other significant sales in January had a huge impact on the rest of our seasons.

The Murphy sale left a real bitter taste in my mouth. He left for less than we'd paid for him eighteen months earlier. The fact that he was older aside, he had produced some of the best football of his career during that time. He made it clear that he would not stay and forced the issue by going public. The interview with him at just after midnight said it all. He was sulking because he couldn't get his own way and he let that be known. I'm not sure the club had much say in that transfer, and to be fair he had fallen out of first team contention and hardly played for Spurs before they moved him on to Fulham for less than they paid us. The worst thing about that deal was that it happened so late on that there was no time for us to replace him. More about that later.

The most 'in'famous January sale was that of Scott Parker to Chelsea. Now I have to confess that despite how they behave I always have a soft spot for any player that comes through our youth system and breaks into the first team - Darren Pitcher aside. It's like having a child that turns out bad, you always find yourself making excuses for their behaviour. Even in Darren Pitcher's case there was never any secret about his agent's involvement in 'advising' him to demand a transfer. To be fair he did play at a higher level than Charlton for a few years so you could argue that his agent was right, but I shed no tears when I saw him interviewed on tv and he was working on a building site following a career finishing injury.

Anyway I digress. Scott Parker! I love my job, and I have never, ever disagreed with anything that my current employer has said, however, if I was offered a pay rise, particularly three times my current salary, I'd be off in a shot. To be fair I can probably say that with ease as I'm convinced that I am already paid far more than I'm worth, but you understand my sentiments. Add to that the fact that if he'd made it he would have expected to win trophies. I really struggle to have a problem with a player that wants to do that. His methods were not very professional as I understand it, but as I've already said if my employer tried to stop me from tripling my earnings and winning the medals that millions of people desire I'd probably do more than take a few sickies. Besides he was one of us. He was with the club for years. However, the sale (which I'm convinced was agreed to because Parker demanded it - not for money) destroyed our season. It literally destroyed our season.

On reflection Chelsea were the only team that were ever going to pay £10m for Scott Parker, and, indeed, they sold him for £6m - the fee I think we would have got for him if he'd left for any other club.

So overall I believe that Charlton's on the field activities would have been better served if FIFA has not had a transfer window in January. Financially I believe that we have done ok out of it. We paid too much for Marcus Bent, and potentially sole Murphy for a little bit less than we might have done, but the huge Parker fee more than balances it out.

That brings us to this season, well nearly. I am a massive admirer of Alan Curbishley, but I think some of his transfer dealings have been questionable. Clive Mendonca was proven, and we paid a high price for him. Darren Bent was a gamble for an unproven player at the top level, and we paid Ipswich best part of £3m for him. Both were, with hindsight, inspired but many of the other signings were safe rather than inspiring, or down right poor. Many of the players that were successes during Curbs time came through the youth side. Lee Bowyer, Scott Parker, Richard Rufus, Scott Minto, Paul Konchesky, Robert Lee, Jon Fortune, Sean Newton and others. There were some major successes, Danny Mills (the first time) was a massive signing bearing in mind the profit we made on him, Mark Kinsella was a great player and also left for more than we paid for him. There are a number of players that we signed that performed well that didn't make us a profit, Dean Kiely being one of the most popular. However, Pardew has a reputation as being able to sign players for a lot less than he signs them on for.

Reo Coker and Hareward moved to Villa for a combined fee of £12.5m, Dean Aston seems like a snip now at £7m, despite his freak accident that caused him to miss a whole season. Thus I am more confident of Pardew's transfer dealings that I was of Curbishley's. I'm not even going to mention either of those names in the same sentence as Dowie!

Thus I was confident that, despite some of last summers signings not making too many starts this season, we would end this month with a stronger squad than we started it. Despite the fact that I believe Danny Mills has a lot to offer, his absence has allowed Moutaouakil to show us why Mills is no longer the answer for us. From what I've seen of Andy Gray he offers us just what we have been missing in recent weeks. There is still talk of a loan player or two. Presumably from a top team after the African Nations Cup has finished. So on the whole good news. Then there is the issue of Andy Reid.

Reid's move to Sunderland (assuming he doesn't fail a medical) will split the Charlton fans. I personally fall into the same camp as New York Addick. I also agree with his logic and his reasoning. Doesn't mean to say that I wouldn't have preferred to keep him, but then I'd have liked to sign Rooney and Ronaldo too, but we have to cut our cloth blah, blah, blah.

The signing of Halford looks like a decent addition to the squad even if he doesn't play. However, there is a weird rule that ensures that your best players will not get injured if you have cover for them, but will if you don't!

It is a shame that this has happened so late in the window, but I guess we could have done a deal a week ago for £2.5m which is what we had apparently been offered. The very nature of the transfer window is that you have to wait until the death to screw every last pound of the buyer, because that's when they are most desperate. A bit like that drunk husband buying diamonds he can't afford at ten to five on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Charlton 1 - 0 Stoke


I just hate teams that come to The Valley and time waste.

I just hate teams that play a tough, hard, aggressive style that aims to intimidate their opposition to either shy away or change the way they play to their disadvantage.

I just hate Stoke!

Not for any reason that is a secret and not because I know any Stoke fans as I don't. I just think that there is a right way to play football and a wrong way. If teams like Stoke, and they are clearly the most successful team in England at the moment that play like they do, are successful it gives out all the wrong signals. Wimbledon in the 1980s managed to achieve the unachievable by 'kick and rush', 'long ball' tactics. Now to be fair they had much better players than they were given credit for, and indeed many of these players went on to have decent careers elsewhere, but they were horrible to watch. I think Gary Lineker summed it up when he suggested that he'd rather watch them on teletext.

Without opening a debate that has been covered to excess I think that if we want our children to become more like Thierry Henry than John Fashanu, more like Zinedine Zidane than Vinnie Jones then teams like Stoke mustn't be successful.

As a split family where my Mother's family come from Liverpool and my Father's come from Sidcup I was devastated when Wimbledon won the FA Cup Final in 1987. Back in those days there was no Sky tv (shock, horror) and you could have a proper team (Charlton) and a top division (or tv) team. My tv team was Liverpool (Mum's team). There was - please indulge me - a strange conversation I had with my Dad in the 1986/87 season when he suggested that he wasn't sure who I'd be supporting when the Double Winners from the previous season came to Selhurst Park. I'd not thought about it before, but that was a landmark in the life of the Kings Hill Addick. From that day forward I didn't have a tv club anymore.

Anyway I digress. Stoke City. The more of the game I saw, the more I wanted to beat them. The fact that my Dad had been away when we played Blackpool so hadn't see us win at home since December the 8th would have been enough, but the more of the bruisers I saw the more I needed to beat them. Now I have nothing against teams playing to their strengths, and to be fair to them that's exactly what they do. If they were to gain promotion they would get their bottoms kicked every week, but clearly this division is not good enough to do that. It would also send out a message to other teams with limited players that the 'Holy Grail' is achievable if you adopt his style. We thought the quality of football under Curbs towards the end was poor? This was painful. I can take if from the relegation teams like Colchester, who played much better football by the way, but to be 4th in the league and to play like that?

The longer the game went on the more I needed to beat them, and we did. The tackle on Kelly Youga just before the end was disgraceful. I must confess to admitting that I wish we had more of a 'spoiled child' attitude when we are losing. They clearly don't like to lose, and I can relate to that. However, I read something in the program before kickoff that Pards was suggesting that he wanted his team to play without fear, and I could see that tonight. there were many shots from distance, and most of them were more than credible. We looked the better team for the whole game, save for a few minutes of panic at the end, or was that just me? We did manage, and this was the most pleasing thing apart from the result, to play proper football for the whole game. We looked confident and assured. We looked, for the first time all season, that we could take on these tough teams, play decent passing football, and create many chances. And we won!

Sam scored the goal, a less than difficult chance, but he was there to put it in. I thought he had one of his poorest games, and he hasn't look that great for a few weeks now. I think it might be time to put Ambrose on the right wing and bring back Thomas for a run. With Reid close to fitness it might be that Sam is in line for a little rest. That aside I thought the team were impressive to a man. McCarthy is a different player from the one that earned the nickname 'McCarthorse'. Bougherra was solid and strong, and this against one of the biggest, toughest striking partnerships in the division. Andy Gray showed what he offers that we have been missing, and suggested that he could well be the answer to our problems. but for me Matt Holland epitomised the 'Charlton Spirit'. He is always there looking for the ball, offering an option to the player in possession. He really is a leader and I don't think we can underestimate how important that is.

So, the beautiful game won out. Without looking at stats, not a favourite pass time of mine, I would say that we had many more shots than them, more changes than them, more play/passing than them.

And we scored more goals than them.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Next... Stoke at home

A bit like holidays that you wait months for, the last ten days have just flown by. The similarity is outstanding. The annual holiday normally comes with an immediate reduction in pressure and stress, followed by a period of calm where you can really enjoy being away from the office. As much as you like your job it's always nice to get away and leave the responsibility behind. However, as the holiday comes to an end, there is a sense of guilt and stress as to what you will find when you get back. It is at this point that you realise you think you might have been better off staying behind and keeping on top of everything. Which brings me nicely on to tomorrow's game.

The knowledge that I could enjoy a Saturday knowing that we couldn't be beaten, and that no more than one of those above us could increase their lead, was very welcome. Ignoring the close season, when I am desperate to see that we have signed another player, or not sold one, this is the closest to a holiday from football. The international breaks don't seem to count as they feel a bit like bank holidays as the whole football world (top divisions anyway) have the weekend off. The break was made even more significant by the two games a week we seem to have had for a lot of this season.

Perhaps the fact that we have slipped behind, or that we have fewer games left, and even less margin for error increases the stress levels, but I suddenly have that sick feeling I get when I reach the last day of a holiday knowing that there is nowhere left to hide, I have to go back to work. Even though I have been feeling more and more upbeat, and for me Watford was a massive disappointment, I find myself dreading tomorrow night. Not just because it is a must win game; not just because we lost to this bunch of talentless hooligans on tv last year; not just because they robbed us of our right back for months; not just because we really need to catch them and cannot expect anyone to beat them if we can't do so at home; not just because a defeat tomorrow night could well leave us realistically out of the reckoning for the top two. No, it's all of that and then some.

No, I'm dreading tomorrow night because it's been a massive two and a half weeks since I went to The Valley to see us thrash Blackpool, and I've managed to put Charlton so far out of my mind ('Football Holiday' you see) that I am struggling to get back into the groove. As discussed previously, I refused to listen to any news of the Watford game as it was on tv and I couldn't see it. I spent the whole time in the garage tiding up and erecting racking. By half time tomorrow I will only just have reached the point you get to at about 11am on your first day back, when you have cleared all the emails you were sent why you were in a bar drinking Spanish beer to "Avoid the hottest part of the day love". I know my wife doesn't fall that by the way, but she normally accepts it and smiles at me when I assure her I'm only having a 'small pint'.

It doesn't help that my Dad has actually spent the two and a half weeks in Tenerife necking numerous small pints of Dorada. He will probably have more emails to read than I do!

So Stoke at home. Not one of the games that I was remotely interested in when Spurs ensured that we would be making some new friends this season last May. They also beat us at their place, and we are likely to still be without Reid. Having said that, if the press (well rubbish web sites) are to believed we may well never see him in a Charlton shirt again. I am not with the majority on this one. I know he offers a lot to the team, but this is the second season in succession where he has had a long absence due to injury, and that following a torrid record at Spurs. I am beginning to think that we cannot afford such a valuable asset unavailable for long periods. Maybe we are better to take the money and invest it in a potential ever-present. However, this is all for another day, along with a discussion about how the fee needs to be nearer £5m than the £2.5m quoted.

Stoke City. I can't pretend to know much about them, I hate the way they play so much that I can't even bring myself to read their reports in the Sunday papers. For me it would be a travesty if they were to get promoted. Clearly I'd prefer them to Palace, but no-one else.

I would imagine that the side that we will see tomorrow would be very similar to the one that started at Watford and at home to Blackpool. The reports that I've seen would suggest that perhaps we would see Basey replace Youga at left back and Either Big Chris or Andy Gray will play for McLeod. Bearing in mind the type of game, they may both play.

Either way it is a must win. I really want us to beat the teams that play that style of football as I don't like it to be successful. But mainly I want us to beat them so that we can keep alive our hopes of making the top two.

And, of course, there is the little matter of building up our confidence for the next home game!

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Watford 1 - 1 Charlton

As already said I was not at the game, and I didn't see any of it on tv. Thus I will not describe it as chances are you saw more than me.

The highlights program and Pardew's comments suggest that we could, and probably should, have won it. The chances shown look good for the future. Other results were reasonably kind to us also. We are reaching the point where we have to decide what we're going for. If we are not going to make the top two then we want wins for Bristol City and West Brom against teams like Palace and Cardiff. It is unthinkable that we fail to make the Play-Offs, but right now we are nearer to seventh place than we are to second.

With West Brom to yet have a blip, and they were top with ten games to go last season and finished third, there are still many teams to aim for, but even though it is probably a decent result to come away from Vicerage road with a point, I thought we needed to win there, and a quick look at the table this morning has not changed my mind. A good performance was important, but we are fast approaching that time when performances matter little and the result is the only thing that matters.

Pardew made the point that we have to play the rest of the top six at home in the remaining fixtures. I'm not sure that this is great news with our recent home form, but I would rather that than having to go away. Also they are likely, as it's so close in the top six, to come to The Valley and play for a win. This could well be what will turn our season. We have struggled, and still do despite Pardew trying to convince the world that we don't, with physical sides that come to The Valley and defend in numbers. Maybe the visits of Stoke, Palace, Watford and Bristol City will provide a run of wins at home that will make us favourites for an automatic promotion place. Away to the four teams we have managed two wins and a draw, and I'd probably take that now, but unfortunately that might not be enough.

So we now have a ten day break. More importantly we do not have another three games coming up in a week. This should give the players some much needed rest as there hasn't been a let up since the Christmas rush. Pardew now has ten games to prepare for what is clearly a must win game. I agree that he needs to play each game down. After all if he'd marked yesterday's game as a must win he would have to back track a little in training and the press this week. However, there can be no doubt, irrespective of other results, we need to beat Stoke to bring them closer to us and we must keep in touch with West Brom and Watford.

Maybe we will even bring in another player between now and then?

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Emergency Loan

Emergency Loan. What is that then? I know what an emergency stop is. "in a few moments I am going to tap the dashboard...." But an emergency loan? It suggests that we have an emergency in the striking department. If that was truly the case then why didn't we rush out and but Andy Gray on Jan 1st? Unless there is something we don't know - and I read that he will start on the bench - it looks like we have used a loophole to get him into the squad earlier. I can see how an emergency loan would be acceptable for a goalkeeper, but it does look like a good bit of business by Pardew, and if he scores today then it will look inspiring. And let's remember he scored for Burnley when they won at the same venue last month.

On the whole the signing has split the Charlton faithful as Andy Gray has clearly failed to make it in the Premier League. However, we are not in that division, and clearly need a lift to get us there, so I see no reason why he shouldn't turn out to be a good signing. The fee is interesting. £1.5m for a Tier 2 player that is probably not going to have much resale value as he is already 30 seems quite high. However, I would argue that we are going to get some real value out of him in this division, and if we are promoted £1.5m is nothing, so we could afford to sell him cheap, or leave him in the reserves for the following season, should we fail to avoid relegation in our first year back in the Premier League. It is also less, let's remember, than we paid for either McLeod or Varney neither of which had any real experience in this division.

However, the thing that excites me the most about his signing is that Chicago Addick compared him to Clive Mendonca. He actually compared him by refusing to compare him, but nevertheless he planted the thought in my mind, and that alone filled me with those warm feelings that only a football fan can understand.

Welcome to The Valley Andy.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Next... Watford away

With two games a week, which seems to be the case in this division, the games come so thick and fast that it leaves little time to reflect on the last one before preparing for the next one. This is the case for tomorrow's visit to Vicarage Road. After two draws against West Brom (after 90 minutes) and a comfortable win at home to Blackpool in the last three we can go into the game against Watford with a lot of confidence.

I was feeling confident of a result on Wednesday, what has followed since then makes me feel even more so. The effect that Marlon King's departure will have on the Watford Squad remains to be seen, but he is clearly (based on what I've read from Watford fans) a big, big part of their team. The only comparisons I can draw on from my own personal experience are Scott Parker and Danny Murphy. I accept that Murphy was having a bad run of form when he left for Spurs, but irrespective his departure, just like that of Parker before him, saw us fall apart. I know that King is not as good a player as either of those two - my opinion only - but I would not be surprised now to see Watford struggle to make the Play-Offs. The psychological effects alone could reduce this game from a six pointer to just another must win three pointer. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but I believe that this is really, really bad news for Watford. Oh well.

The news that we have agreed a fee for Andy Gray is an indication that we are moving in an upwards direction whilst our opponents tomorrow are not. Clearly I am ignoring the fact that Watford have now got £5m to spend on top of what was already available, but who cares? I truly believe that our spell in the Premiership marks us out as a much better prospect than Watford and they might just find it very difficult to find anyone (of any quality) who wants to go there. Thus they could well find themselves spending all of that money paying over the top ("they've got £5m burning a hole in their pocket") on average players. With Pardew at the helm, by the way, I think we have avoided this, save for a couple of players that haven't quite justified their transfer fee yet.

So with the transfer news covered what about the game itself. I have to confess to not being very knowledgeable on Watford. I clearly know a bit about Danny Shittu and Poom, but apart from Francis who we were apparently looking at when he left Norwich and Etherington there is not much there. They have managed to a "Charlton" in that they went up through the Play-Offs and used the Premiership money to build a decent Championship squad. Clearly they missed Ashley Young in the second half of last season, but the nucleus of their team is the same players that only managed to finish in third place in 2005/06, minus Young and King, their two best players.

Thus with confidence low, and with a relatively inexperienced manager that has seen his team lose what seemed an unassailable lead at the top of the division to slip out of the top two, this could be a great time to play them. I would be inclined, irrespective of the extra-time and penalties on Tuesday, to start with the same team and take the game to them with a high tempo and real pace for the first 20 minutes. I am confident that with their recent home form they will really drop their heads if we go in front. I think that the 4-5-1 that I keep hearing myself say has a place away from home would invite them to come at us and I believe that their confidence is going to be too fragile not to take advantage of it. Both teams need a win to both keep pace with those in the top two positions and keep some distance from the seventh placed team, who this week are Ipswich. Thus it should be an open and exciting game, just what we have been most successful in this season.

I'm not going to the game. I rarely go to away games these days. I don't have Sky, owing to a stubbornness following our relegation last season, and my normal providers of access to Sky are on holiday (Dad) and out to dinner (Spurs fan). The pub is also off limits as I'm officially off the Beer until February. It's a strange feeling knowing that the game is on tv and not being able to watch it. My Dad, who survives on text messages when he is away and I'm at The Valley, is in Teneriffe where he will be watching the game in a bar. So I will be getting my updates via text from an old (hope he's not reading this) man in a Bar in the canary Islands. I really must swallow my pride and re-order Sky!

I expect a big following tomorrow, and I believe that they will all have a great day out.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

West Brom 2 - 2 Charlton AET (4 - 3 on Pens)

Well it's only the Cup. We can now concentrate on the League. It was not as important as three points. Watford on Saturday is much more important.

All of the above are true, but frankly I am struggling to really believe it. Not because the Cup is important to me, and not just because I wanted an opportunity to play my father-in-law's team. The disappointment for me is that I really didn't care if we won or lost in the first game. I wanted a good result tonight as it would have helped to build confidence ahead of a massive game on Saturday. This was also an opportunity for us to show that our draw in the first game was not a good result for a West Brom reserve team. To show that we had found a formation that would enable us to pick up the necessary points to challenge for an automatic promotion place. In the end we got the worst of both worlds. An extra midweek game away from home, extra time, and the emotional effects of losing a game on penalties. Varney missing the target was a little disappointing, but I'd rather that he miss one on this game than on Saturday.

To be fair, the performance was good. We showed great character coming back from two goals down. We created several chances and should have won the game based on the number of chances we created. Much like Saturday where we could have scored six or seven it all bodes well for the forth coming games, but I would have gone into Saturday's six pointer at Vicarage Road with a lot more confidence had we managed a win. I suspect that the team would have done so too. Still, we are where we are, and the league is the only thing that really matters. So, it's Watford on Saturday, and we are still unbeaten in two. And if you ask Jose Mourinho we didn't actually lose this one either.

Next... West Brom away

Well this is the big one for the family on Kings Hill. Not literally, of course, that would come if we win tonight. As already mentioned, my father-in-law is a Posh fan, and I would "Love it if we beat them!" Not that there is any question as to which is the biggest club, and when my son (who is four in May) asks about Grandad's club, I can always mention the 5-1 win at the Valley in April 1994. However, it would be nice to have a more recent event to look back upon. It would also make those Sunday dinners more fun for me. Or a lot less fun, of course.

Anyway I'm getting ahead of myself, we need to win tonight first. I would expect to see the same starting eleven as Saturday. Perhaps Thomas for Ambrose, but I thought Ambrose looked good on Saturday and offers something different to Thomas, who I would expect to be given a run out either way. For me, the question is whether Pardew believes that 4-4-2 is strong enough defensively away from home. I would like to think this would be a good test against quality opposition before the game at Watford on Saturday.

So, what will Pardew do? As mentioned previously I think there is going to be a place for the 4-5-1 away from home, but his comments about us having played the top six away after Saturday could give a clue as to his intentions to go out to win every game. Thus we may well have seen the last of the 4-5-1, but I also think that in this league it helps to have different options, and to keep the opposition guessing, so we might have to use it a couple of times between now and the end of the season. It might, also, be really useful in the play-offs if we end up in that lottery come May.

With the home Cup game a better reflection than the league game away, due to the two club's aspirations, I am more confident of a win than the bookies who are offering 10/3 for us to win in 90 minutes. Extra time and penalties doesn't bear thinking about. After Blackpool I am more confident of a win tonight, and due to the prize available for those concerned in my family I am desperate for one. So Come on Pardew, put the same side out, let's take the game to them and see if we can't find something for me to wind my father-in-law up about.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Charlton 4 - 1 Blackpool

A great result, and a great performance. Not perfect, of course, we did concede a goal, but we could have had six or seven. The defence held up well, and despite the goal Blackpool had few clear cut chances, and none of their players wasted any.

Going forward we played with a confidence that you wouldn't have expected from a team without a win in six. Having said that, the pressure was off with two early goals. Most pleasing was the way we lifted ourselves and took the game to Blackpool after we conceded the goal. That was a turning point for me, we could easily have decided to drop back to protect the lead, or even worse had players heads drop.

On the whole it is difficult to pick out players that played well, or poorly, as the whole team performed, but Zheng Zhi was everywhere. The two goals fell to him, but he can only be praised for being in the right position at the right time. He also made a run - which earned him a round of applause - in the second half which was at least three quarters of the pitch to make a challenge. He was the Man of the Match for me, but there were several contenders. Varney looked like the player that Pardew said he was when he signed him, Holland rolled back the years to put in the kind of performance we saw from him a few seasons ago, and the full-backs made the kind of runs that we all hoped they would and game the team something that neither Powell nor Mills did. Ambrose, and especially Sam seemed to have unfruitful games, but I would suggest that this had more to do with the way Blackpool set out their stall. The result was that we had much more space in the middle of the park as they both tended to tuck inside.

The only disappointment for me was that there was, yet again, very little to suggest that McLeod is going to make an impact this season. He has lots of pace, and from what I've seen on You Tube knows where the net is, but he seems to lack the awareness to make the right play. He seems to be unable to do anything more than run with the ball and shoot. There were a couple of occasions yesterday when it seemed obvious what he should do, yet he just didn't. Maybe that's a goal scorers 'greed' but I fear that he just doesn't have that ability to pick out team member with a pass when under pressure. Pardew did make a comment in the program about bringing on players at the expense of the team/results. Maybe McLeod will learn that with a run in the team, but I have my doubts.

I have no complaints about yesterday. I might have given Iwelumo and Dickson 30 minutes, but I guess if Varney and McLeod need more playing time this was an ideal time to give it to them. It also leaves Pardew a few options for Tuesday night. If he believes that McLeod is going to be involved in the run in then he should start with the same team. I believe that with a different formation and different players another game under their belt is more important that a rest.

Including the West Brom game the weekend before we have now seen two games with this team and two good performances. I know that Blackpool are not a top six side, but their recent results have been impressive, and you can, after all, only beat what is put in front of you. I still think that away from home there will be a place for the 4-5-1, but I would like to see us take the game to West Brom on Tuesday and use that as a test before any decision is made about how to approach the Watford game next week. So with our run of five 'easy' games behind us, we approach the six-pointers with more pressure on results, but playing well and looking good.

You can't ask for more than than. Bring on the Baggies.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Next... Blackpool at home

It's been a long time since we played Blackpool in the League, 1980/81. I have to confess to not being at either of those games, but bearing in mine the time that has passed since I'm not sure it is relevant for tomorrow. What is relevant, however, as Nelson points out is that the Tangerines are in a good run of form and we most certainly are not (at home).

The West Brom game aside, our performances at home have been poor since, and including, the draw with Barnsley. With us literally hanging on to a 3-0 half time lead against Ipswich, our only other win was a 3-0 against Cardiff. We have even managed to lose at home to two teams that occupied the bottom spot in the league during that run. The FA Cup was a pleasant distraction from the league, and result aside, was a much better performance, but one swallow doesn't make a summer. The change in formation added a lot of pace upfront, but neither McLeod nor Varney look like they have settled to this division, and bearing in mind we are half way through the season I think we have to assume that they are not going to do so anytime soon.

This leaves Pardew with a dilemma. Does he give them, and the new formation, more time at the risk of losing ground at the top, or does he go back to the 4-5-1 that has been successful both away and with Reid in the side. I would have liked to see a 4-4-2 against Colchester, but I would have taken a win either way, and for another defensive mistake (Bougherra being the culprit on this occasion) we might have got one. The issue for me with the 4-5-1 is that we must score first to prevent a dire game of time wasting and rough tactics. I agree with Pardew that the referee needs to protect us more, and keep the game flowing, but if we get that first goal the problem doesn't seem to arise in the same way.

All be it that a 4-4-2 has made us look exposed at the back on several occasions this season, we always have the fall back that we can score ourselves out of trouble. Or at least we are much more likely to than with long balls up to Iwelumo on his own. I still think that away from home the 4-5-1 has a place, especially against the teams that are going to really come at us. But I think it is now time to make a decision about how we are going to play at home and about whether we want 'win' promotion or just strive not to lose our place in the play-off positions. I still think that a top two spot is within our reach, but we do need a run of wins and soon.

That said, I have literally no idea what the formation will be tomorrow, nor do I have much idea as to the personnel that will play. Despite his cavalier approach in press conferences Pardew's teams have failed to inspire or excite me. The consolidation of relegation was that we would see more exciting football, more goals (scored by us) and more attacking fluid football. Since September we have seen little of those things, especially at home. In fact if you compare the nine league games from the end of September last season we managed 12 points scoring 8 goals and conceding 11 in the Premiership. This season we have managed just 8 points scoring 11 and conceding 14.

With our current home form I am less than confident of a win tomorrow. I am going to go for a 1-1 draw.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Romance of FA Cup

The 4th round draw seems to have sprung up some interesting ties. Man Utd and Spurs (according to Sky Sports News) have 19 FA Cup wins between them, but the fixture failes miserably to whet my appitite. No doubt the dream tie of Liverpool vs Havant and Waterloo will fail to materalise due to the Swansea players being every bit as keen to play at Anfield as the non-leaguers, and Liverpool vs Swansea is just not the same.

The biggest game of the round for me, however, is (assuming we beat West Brom) Peterborough vs Charlton.

I know you were all expecting me to say that, but there is an added element to this game. You see my wife comes from Peterborough, and since we met in 1997 we have not played them. The last game was a 5-1 trashing at the Valley in April 1994 when Gary Nelson scored a hat-trick and goals from Carl Leaburn and Pardew himself confirmed Peterborough’s relegation from what ever they called Tier 2 in those days. As my father-in-law is a regular at London Road, and his father used to play for them back in the 1940s I have been waiting for a draw that matches us up for over ten years now. Clearly the cup game at The Hawthorns is suddenly more important to me than three points. I didn’t think I’d find myself saying that.

While we are talking about Peterborough, with them signing a Norwich reserve keeper for £400k today there must be a possibility that they are already spending the rumoured £2m Pardew is willing to pay to sign Aaron McLean. Either that or they are speculating on a 20 year old with no Tier 2 experience in the hope that they will be promoted this season. Even though they are nearer the automatic promotion places than we are it seems like a big gamble to me.

Less than 9,000 were packed into The Valley on that day in April 1994, and the atmosphere was very upbeat for a team that had fallen from second place in the division following a collapse that became much more common place during our Premiership seasons. If you are to believe what is being posted on some blogs there is a latent demand for those days to come back. New York Addick covers this subject much better than I could, and why re-invent the wheel. Needless to say I wouldn’t swap places with Peterborough or the club that was playing them that day.

Against West Brom the atmosphere at The Valley on Saturday was very flat. Partly due, I’m sure, to the fact that the ground was more than half empty but with something like 50% more fans than we had in 1992 when The Valley reopened it’s astonishing just how much the increase in support has diluted the over all atmosphere. Not that this should come as a surprise, Along with Man Utd there are many clubs that have noticed that with a substantial increase in capacity something is lost along the way. Clearly not money I might add.

Like NYA I am much more of spectator than a fanatic at games, despite the fact that the fortunes of the club determine my moods from week to week. I have been that loud fan on the terraces, but age has caught up with me and, along with the Taylor Report, I now prefer to sit on the halfway line and limit my noise to cheering goals, clapping the players after a game and the odd ‘ooo’ and ‘ahh’ when something exciting happens.

Anyway I somehow doubt that we will beat West Brom so I will be denied the joy of having my father-in-law remind me that his boys dumped us out of the FA Cup in 2008 for the next ten years.