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!