Sunday, 30 March 2008

Charlton 2 - 3 Wolves

Well I asked for some goals and I saw five. I asked for wingers getting to the byline and Thomas crossed for our opening goal. I asked for balls over the top for strikers to chase and Lita scored a goal from a long ball forward. I also asked for us to score more goals than Wolves, well three out of four ain't bad.

Seriously though I thought we played well yesterday. I thought that after a poor start we found our feet and if ever there was a goal scored against the run of play it was Wolves second. Pardew said in his program notes that games could be won from the bench. ZZ's introduction at half time seemed to be just what we needed. He did tire after about twenty minutes (justifying him not starting, but not Ambrose doing so) but for that spell we looked by far the best team.

Wolves second goal effectively finished our season if not the game. We haven't scored anywhere near enough goals, despite paying out over £5.5m on strikers, signing Todorov and Iwelumo on frees and loaning Lita. With two goals needed in nine minutes plus injury time it was all over.

So, where to from here?

Having given up hope of reaching sixth place two weeks ago this is not as much of a disappointment to me personally, but right now I am very fearful for the future. Many have suggested that we have lots of young talent, and we possibly do, but let's be honest we have seen little of it this season to suggest that without major surgery we do not have enough in the squad to pick an eleven or sixteen that would expect to win enough games next season to have us anywhere near the top of the division.

I feel cheated. The Andy Reid sale aside, which I agreed with at the time and cannot, therefore, complain about now, the board have given Pardew absolutely everything he has asked for in the fifteen months he's been here. £2.5m for Bougherra; Ben Thatcher after all the adverse press he'd had in the six months previously; £3.65m on two strikers that had clearly never played at this level before; almost £1m for two young French players that have managed just eight starts between them; Phil Parkinson, despite the fact that we already had two coaches at the club; new changing facilities at Sparrows Lane; mid season breaks to train in Spain.

I'm not saying I disagree (or agree for that matter) with all or any of these decisions, but I just can't see how the board could have possibly given Pardew more. The only thing that he has been refused was a complete rebuilding job at The Valley to put home fans in the Jimmy Seed stand, and he has mentioned it several times and blamed it for poor results since his request was denied.

I've also been hugely offended by the suggestions that poor performances were down to the support from the home crowd at The Valley. I think I am not alone in voicing my displeasure at this as Pardew has started making all the right noises about how the support has been fantastic this season. I somehow doubt that Jose Mourinho would have the nerve to criticise the fans if his team managed to win eight, draw six and lose seven games at home. And if you look back over the period that the fans have 'suddenly' become less supportive we have now won 4 in 20 and 1 in 10. If we'd won just ten in the last twenty (won six that we lost) we would be five points clear at the top of the division now.

This has probably been the easiest season to get out of this division for years, and we have failed to even get close. That is why I feel cheated. It's like asking a financial adviser to look after you family's future then discovering a year later that even though you continued to give him more and more money he has managed to lose most of what you worked for your whole life, but comes back and says that it might be ok if you put everything that you have left on a horse race, only for your horse to fall at the first fence.

This time last year we still had a month left to buy our season tickets for 2007/08 not knowing if we would be watching Premier League football or Championship football, but even if it was the latter we would almost certainly be getting two seasons for the price of one. Ha!

I paid £475 for my season ticket. I paid in April 2007. We haven't sold out this season and all tickets have been £20 with at least Preston being discounted to £10. Thus if I'd kept my money I could have seen all the same games for £450 and paid on a weekly basis. By the time we play Coventry the club will have had my money for over a year, and I will have paid £25 more than the 'occasional' fan that chose to attend every game this season.

I would suggest that the pricing of season tickets for 2008/09 takes into account how the club has 'cheated' it's most loyal customers. Otherwise thousands might just not bother and then that £450 will likely be more like £350 when they decide to watch the games played at 5:20pm on a Saturday evening in HD in their front rooms, or just give games a miss if the performances and results shadow this season.

Even though I am probably one of those that will renew my season ticket irrespective, something tells me that there could well be less than 10,000 that feel the same way, and it could well be as low as 5,000. It is shameful that paying up to twelve months in advance for something that never sells out should cost more than paying as you go, especially as what has been served up this season has been so poor. I think that those setting the pricing and incentives for next season should recognise that they are (shock, horror) in the entertainment business. That means that the spectators pay to be entertained. There are lots and lots of other things that the 17,000 current season ticket holders could do with their money and their time.

Anyway I am getting off the point. Wolves looked like a good outfit. McCarthy is a decent manager and has spent some money. Ebanks-Blake is clearly who we should have signed in January, rather than Andy Gray, and he was the difference for them yesterday. Clearly that was what we were hoping for from Gray, then Cook, then Lita and then Sinclair - Halford? No idea. Maybe McCarthy is just luckier than Pardew, maybe he is better at spotting talent. Maybe Wolves will not go up and Ebanks-Blake will score two goals next season before disappearing into the lower leagues. Irrespective, we have failed miserably to sign anyone that has provided that kind of impact since we were relegated.

Over all I thought we played well, I thought we passed the ball more (not much better to be fair) and tried to play football and use the wings (particularly in the second half when Ambrose went off), but the squad, despite it's size, is not good enough. I have no idea what the situation would be if Andy Reid had stayed, but we have been falling down the league since he was injured (then left) and have only won four games this season without him from a total of twenty. If the rumours that I've heard are true, and they may well not be, then the money for Andy Reid has all gone on Andy Gray and four loan signings that will not be here next season without further investment (transfer fees and signing on bonuses). Thus the gamble hasn't worked. Still you have to speculate to accumulate I suppose.

I think this summer will have to be much more cautious than last. We already have ZZ with just one year left, and you cannot really offer long term contracts to players when you have just one year of parachute money left. No decent player will want a one year contract, and we can't justify paying a transfer fee for a player that can leave for free the following summer. Clearly some players will have to leave. I would think that Bent and Faye would be released to get them off the wage bill as it's likely no one will pay us anything for them. Thatcher, Todorov and Holland must be coming to the end of their careers, and the former showed his true colours when making the bench for the first time this season and then publicly stating that he wanted another contract. I have reservations as to his ability to justify another one based on what little we've seen of him since his arrival. Andy Gray was signed to replace Todorov (who has been injured on and off for years) and Holland has looked less and less able to influence a game. However, even if those five leave, we still need to reduce the squad by something like five more players before we bring more in, especially bearing in mind another failed season could well see us with no parachute money and less than half the season ticket holders we've had this season.

So do the club (the board) gamble one last time and give Pardew another £10m in the hope that with another twenty or so players he can find the right formation and starting eleven to get us promoted next season or do we take this summer to consolidate and further reduce the overall running costs to prepare for a prolonged stay in this division?

I have no idea, or say really as clearly the club is being bank rolled by the directors now. After the season we've had, coupled with England failing to qualify for Euro 2008 all we need now is three months of rain and cold weather and we will have all the ingredients required for a really depressing summer.

On that happy note I'm off to play on my PS3. At least I can make Charlton win game after game on there!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Next... Wolves at home

Can't say I have too many memories of Wolves personally. I had my car written off there when we played them in 1992 by a local who ran a red light, but that's about it.

The next most memorable Wolves encounter was when we won there 4-0. Memorably for the continuous re-runs of Scott Parker throwing himself to the ground when he received his red card. Soccer AM just loved that.

I would love another 4-0 tomorrow. Frankly I would love a 1-0 tomorrow, but I am just going along to enjoy the game and hope that we see some decent football and a few goals. Under the circumstances I'm going to ditch my obsession with clean sheets and defensive organisation and wish for lots of goals, with us scoring at least one more than they do.

I actually have a feeling that we will win tomorrow. I know that we are under pressure, but for some reason I just have this feeling that we will play with freedom, confidence, and style. Don't ask me why, but I really believe it. No doubt I'll be wearing egg all over my face by tomorrow evening, but I just have this funny feeling that all is going to change in the house of Charlton Athletic.

As for the line up, I have no idea. Pardew does seem to want to keep the changes to a minimum, but I can honestly say that I would not be shocked if my Dad called me in the morning to ask me to make my own way there as Pardew wanted him to start. Ok I would be surprised, and I would suddenly, sorry Dad, have to curb my optimism for a stylish win. No disrespect, but he's sixty-five and if he ever had pace it is well and truly gone.

As you can see I've gone through so many emotions this season that madness is now creeping in. Maybe that's why I suddenly believe that we are going to win our next five games. It's just insane, but I truly believe that it is going to happen.

Anyway me personally, I'm still just going along to enjoy the football match. What ever the consequences will be, will be. I'm just looking forward to watching the boys in red play those in that dirty rusty colour that is clearly not gold. If ever there were a club that thought it was bigger than it was, step forward Wolverhampton Wanderers in their gold shirts.

As already mentioned I am more likely to pick the six winning lottery numbers than accurately predict the starting eleven and it's formation tomorrow so I'll not bother. My preference would be for some pace upfront. Not just because I think it would be more likely to bring us success (even though I do) but because I like to see football played with wingers (and overlapping full backs) and pace upfront. I like to see the players get to the byline and cross the ball over. I also like to see balls over the top for strikers to chase. That is how I think football should be played, so if we are not going to win every game (and let's face it we haven't exactly won that many this season) let's play some nice attractive football.

We might even win a few games and have some fun along the way.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Charlton 1 - 1 West Brom

Well I was very wrong about that. I thought we'd be behind early and that the crowd would get on the players backs and it would all go down hill from there.

To be fair I thought we started the game well, and the fans were much more supportive than in recent weeks. Still didn't look like the better team, but as West Brom are one of the best teams in the division that's no shame. Also I felt that the crowd (me included) could have made more effort to get behind the players. I had every intention of making a lot of noise but I failed both myself and the team. The best way I can describe it is that if you are feeling a little miserable you don't tend to smile a lot, which in turn makes you feel more miserable. Conversely if you are feeling very upbeat then the way you behave tends to make you feel more and more upbeat. Maybe I'm just making excuses, but yesterday I couldn't find it within me.

We played better without looking good. However, towards the end we looked considerably weaker than West Brom. That could have been confidence, it could have been fatigue or it could have been as a result of the substitutions, but I was confident at half time that if either team was going to win this game, it wasn't going to be us.

Halford, who I have been critical of in recent weeks, played much better and unsurprisingly I accept that Pardew knows a lot more about team selections than I do based on this showing. Lita showed what he is capable of, but also looked like a player that hadn't scored for what I read was sixteen games. He missed chances that I'm sure a confident striker would have scored. His touch also looked like he hadn't been in and around a first team for a while.

This is the dilemma with loan players. If they have talent and form they will never be available, so you have to accept that they will not make an immediate impact. From memory I cannot think of many players that we have signed on loan that have made that immediate impact, particularly forward players whom I believe are much more reliant on confidence. Andy Gray on the other hand, who was signed as he was supposedly in form is clearly not now. His inclusion, for me, added little to a team that looked like it could stay out all day without the strikers scoring from open play.

The other player worth a mention is Ambrose. I have a lot of time for Ambrose, but he is clearly not a winger, and as such when he plays out wide he has good games and bad games, yesterday was the latter. Maybe he looks better on the left as he can come in on his right foot (where he is better suited to play) and have a better impact on the game. Either way he contributed little on the right wing yesterday, but his tackling made him look a little slow. We are all allowed a bad day, and to be fair we looked weaker with Thomas (who had a good game yesterday, all be it with little impact in front of goal) on the right and Cook on the left. Cook, for me doesn't look fit, or confident enough following his injury, and as a consequence he seems too light weight. Again, I'm confident that after a run of six games he would be much more effective. Another question mark over the loan deal.

Other than that none of the players looked poor, or inspiring for that matter. Thomas, as already mentioned, showed why he is the only player in our squad that I believe could hold his own in a decent Premier League team, but his passing was often poor and he mishit a couple of chances that I wouldn't have said were easy, but he really mishit them.

The thing that really, really stuck out for me was that when ever West Brom were in possession they were able to find a team mate. Few of their passes were world class, and most of them were short, but they clearly knew where their team mates were. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this has a lot to do with having a settled side, and not just for this season either. Maybe we will benefit from this next season, but at times yesterday (understandably) our players didn't seem to know what where their teammates were.

Over all it was an enjoyable game of football, we pretty well matched the "Best Footballing Team" in the division, a title that we can no longer claim. We have now managed three draws and a defeat against West Brom this season, and should they fail to get promoted in May I suspect that with no more parachute money they will actually be weaker next season. Phillips for one will be a year further over the hill, and I suspect not as effective, and I cannot see them gambling on further investment with a reduction in income of something like £11m.

As I have already given up hope of promotion this season I was able to enjoy the ninety minutes in isolation. For thus reason I applaud the players, who gave a decent account of themselves under the circumstances. I would concede that on this showing there are a couple of changes required in the summer if we are to mount a serious challenge on the top two next season, but I'm as fed up with complaining about our performances as I am hearing Pardew make excuses for them, so I'll leave it at that.

Wolves up next. Another ninety minutes of football against a team that will be trying to win and that we have a score to settle with following our away defeat in October. This is a game that could go either way, so all to play for.

By the way, Preston have beaten Burnley, so we could still be just one point off the playoffs with six games, a massive eighteen points to play for. Pass me those straws, quick!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Next... West Brom at home

These posts are getting harder and harder to write. I never get the team predictions right, I never get the scorelines right, and I rarely even get the result right.

Having played West Brom three times already this season, once on television in what was described (and probably rightly too) as the best game in the Championship this season tomorrow should hold few surprises.

However, I suspect that neither team will play with the same adventurous football as they both did back in November when a win for either team would have put them top of the division. If anything, rightly or wrongly, the footballing approach has been proved to be unsuccessful in this division this season. Just as Bolton managed to finish top half of the Premiership for several seasons playing unattractive football, we have learned (as have West Brom) that you can't just play your way out of this division.

Thus I think tomorrow's game could well be one of the worst games in this division this season. I think both teams will start off nervously, and I think the fans will be very apprehensive. West Brom have had a bad run of results, have an FA Cup semi-final playing on their mind, and can afford to lose fewer games than we can if they are to make the top two - I'm referring to our aspirations for a top six place, clearly. Tomorrow is a game that West Brom need to get something from, and they must realise that we are playing for our lives.

I'd like to say that at this stage I'd take a point, but clearly the fans will demand more from a team that has failed to deliver what has been promised just too many times this season. This perceived lack of performance coupled with what looks to many like a lack of effort or commitment suggests that should West Brom get an early goal, which I think is likely, the players will soon feel the displeasure of the crowd. I don't necessarily approve of dissenting spectators (I chose that word carefully) and I never boo players or the team, but I think that the minority (hopefully) that expect (and even demand) entertainment for the money they pay have a right to be disappointed with what they've seen recently.

I think I'll end there as I have very little that's positive to say except that I will be there and I will be giving the players as much support as I can for as long as I can manage to do so. I just hope that we have something to cheer.

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

The thoughts of a ten year old

Ok I've had 48 hours to reflect on the situation at hand, and again, I have managed to raise my spirits. Not because I think that we have any more chance of promotion this season, but because from here on in it can't get any worse. With four home games left and tickets for Plymouth already purchased I now have five football matches to watch with little or no (especially if we lose at home to West Brom on Friday) pressure on us due to league position.

Thus I can go to three or four games at The Valley with the team playing without fear and an away day where the home team are really scrapping for a place in the play offs that, should they win it, would change their club for the foreseeable future.

When I started going to see Charlton play I was ten years old. My Dad didn't think that a 1970s football stadium was the place a nine year old. At ten I was a little too young to care about the workings of the League Table. I think I picked up the Cup format quicker, although that might have had more to do with watching FA Cup (and European Cup) finals on the television. My point, however, is that I was more than able to enjoy the games in isolation without having any idea of the impact on the season.

So, for the next three games I am going to take that approach. I am not interested in what happened before, or what will happen afterwards. I don't care how many points are at stake, or what the impact of those potential points will be. I'm literally going to take each game as it comes!

If we beat West Brom on Friday then great. If we draw then never mind. If we lose then it's ok as I only have to wait another eight days for a chance to see if we can win the next one. When I was ten I used to get excited about going to a derelict Valley to watch a (third division) team try to win a game of football. Suddenly I'm right up for West Brom. We have a few scores to settle as they beat us at their place before Christmas, drew at The Valley, and beat us on penalties, which is not fair. I have no interest what was at stake in those games, this Friday is a chance for us to ensure that we beat them at least once before the summer holiday.

The fact that due to that penalty shoot-out they currently have 'our' date at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final is irrelevant.

So on Friday (a little later than usual as it's a late kick-off) I will get in my car and I will drive off to my Dad's house brimming with excitement about getting to see a proper football game played in a proper football stadium (a whole shed load better than the one with a terrace bigger than my primary school playing field). Then My Dad will drive us to our usual parking place where we will stop and walk through Charlton Park, down Charlton Lane then left into Landsdown Mews where you can see the East stand and the North stand behind it. What a sight!

During the car journey and the walk we will be talking about the game coming up. Who will we play? Who will score for us? Will it be 0-0? Will any of the players fall over? Will there be any red cards? Will we win?

There will be no talk about promotion. There will be no talk about play offs. We will be looking forward to a footballing contest between two teams who are just trying to win this game. If we lose it will be one game; if we win it will be one game. It will not affect our season; it will not destroy the last realistic chance of winning promotion. No, it's just one game.

The same rules will apply for the Wolves game, and the mammoth expedition that is Plymouth away. In the unlikely that we are in the top six when we face Southampton on April 12th I may allow a little interest in the league table to slip into our conversation. However, if this 'one game at a time' malarkey works then being superstitious I will have to keep it going, clearly.

Anyway it seems to be working as I'm already getting excited about Friday, and the good thing about Easter is that you get to go to the game a whole day sooner, which for a ten year old is a long time.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Ipswich 2 - 0 Charlton

I give up.

For the first time this season I no longer believe that we will finish in the top six of a division that we spent seven years playing above.

Blame is irrelavent, but right now I just can't believe how far we have fallen. I also, suddenly, have genuine concerns for next season, and more worryingly the one after that.

Pardew has (all be it after raising £20m from sales) spent something like £12m and has five players on loan from Premier League teams. Of those five one has been here all season, and I haven't included Danny Mills, who started nineteen league games for us. In fact, for whatever reason, of that circa £12m of 'talent', of which I'm only including the twelve that we have paid fees to sign, they have made an average of just over nine starts each up to and including the defeat at Burnley.

With all of Dowie's signings now gone there are (Reid and Mills excluded) eleven players that have started fifteen or more games this season. Of those eleven a massive five were signed by Curbishley. Pardew has brought in twenty-one players in a little over a year, yet only six of the eleven (thirteen if you include Reid and Mills) that have started fifteen games or more, were signed by him.

A cynic would make the following two claims:

1> Most, if not all, managers of Championship clubs would promise their board that they would win promotion if they were given £12m to spend. I suspect that many of them would deliver too.

2> Pardew's claims all season that he would expect his team to be better in the second half of the season, then for the run in, when January and February yielded poor results, could have been nothing more than a way to keep the pressure at bay, while he gambled on successive loan deals hoping to 'stumble' upon the right eleven/formation/squad, that would save his blushes. Whilst all the time actually having no idea what his best team or formation was.

I'm not a cynic, so I'm not necessarily suggesting the above, but the facts cannot be denied. Pardew was lucky to take West Ham into the playoffs in their second season out of the top flight. Had they failed he would, it was rumoured, have been sacked, but either way they would have had to sell players as their parachute money had run out. He also managed Reading and despite his successes there he never managed a season like the one where they literally ran away with the league title.

I'm not convinced that Pardew will be unable to take us up this season, or next, but I am now beginning to think that he is never going to manage a team to have the sort of season that Curbishley did in this division the last time we were here. That run of twelve wins has never looked like happening this season.

I am concerned that we have wasted a large chunk of that circa £12m, especially as some of the players have made literally no impact. Just how many times did a club representative, let alone Pardew himself, see the likes of Racon, Sinclair (Dean), McLeod, Christensen or Mou2 play in the flesh? I only mention them as they cost circa £2.4m and none of them have started more than seven games for us this season, with Mou2 being the only one to have started more than 2. I have nothing against buying in for the future, but at a time when we couldn't afford to keep the women's team as they were costing circa £100k a season £2.4m seems reckless to me.

I understand that we played better today than at Burnley, where we were better than the home game with Preston, but to be honest we shouldn't be in a position where losing at Ipswich leaves us in ninth place with Wolves needing one win out of two games in hand to drop us to tenth with seven games to go.

If we don't go up next season, and on current form I'm not inspired to believe that we will, the club will be in a real mess. The directors can (will) only bank roll the club for so long. I have found myself questioning Pardew's ability to lift the players and, indeed, the quality of his signings for more than a few weeks now. I believe that this last hurrah with Sinclair and Lita (not to mention Gray, Cook and Halford) has backfired at a time when his tenure as Charlton Manager could ill afford for it to do so.

The pressure on Pardew and the team must now be massive. If we fail to finish in the top six (likely) and Pardew is 'let go' I doubt that he will pick up another job within a fortnight like he did when he left West Ham. Many of the players that he signed must now be resentful towards him as he has clearly not played them as much as they would have expected him to - possibly as much as he promised to. Thus I suddenly doubt if they care too much about his career prospects and with the crowd at The Valley becoming more and more hostile I'm not sure they will have the attitude required to lift us back into the play off places.

This all sounds gloomy I know but that is how I feel right now. A draw today would have left us above Palace on goal difference, and one point behind the team in sixth. We could reasonably have expected Plymouth to fail to win at Bristol City too, which would have left us in sixth place. Today, for the first time in weeks, the other results went against us. I guess it had to happen in the end.

As it is we are only two points away from Plymouth and have to play them in a few weeks. It's not all over by any stretch of the imagination. Seven wins (77 points) could potentially still secure second place, even though I wouldn't put £100 minimum bet on at a million to one. Ok I might, but not £1,000 at 1,000 to 1.

Sixth place is, however, still in our hands. We now need to beat Wolves and Plymouth (back to back games) and probably need to win three of the other five games left. So all our home games and Plymouth away. As that might not be enough we may have to win or draw one of the other two away games. It's possible, just very unlikely.

Despite my refusal to give up, and to accept that we are a mid table Tier Two team it is beginning to look like that is what we are now. Those wins at Anfield, Highbury and Stamford Bridge look a long way behind us now. A very, very long way behind us.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Next... Ipswich away

I didn't write a blog following the defeat at Burnley, partly because I was away on business and as I do that very infrequently I'm not set up to do so, but mainly as I wasn't there and as such had very little to say about it.

The fact that we lost our last two games and that the performance on Saturday was so poor I have also lost a little bit of enthusiasm as I seem to be writing the same thing every other post. Half the posts are about us winning and we're back on track then within a week I'm looking for hope after another defeat. I now believe that to secure enough points we are going to need back to back wins, which is something that we have failed to do for over three months.

Ipswich are fantastic at home, they are also one of the teams that we realistically need to finish above, they are also one of the teams that can catch us if they win their game in hand and they got spanked 4-1 at Barnsley midweek.

Before Bristol City I predicted all three eventualities so that I could claim to be right after the event. I have no interest in being right this week, we just mustn't lose. It would be wrong to suggest that we are out of it if we lose tomorrow, but it is likely that it would make the job very difficult for a team so out of form. We have been talking about needing increasingly better runs to make the top two over the last six weeks, but the play offs have always seemed 'safe', suddenly we are in a scrap for them too.

I suggested that we had four six-pointers before the end of the season, we have, so far, played one and lost one, but as the other teams all around us (perhaps as there are so many) don't seem to want to go past us we have held on to fifth, and it is still very much in our own hands. Right now we don't need a great run to make it. In fact, with well placed wins we probably don't even need a good run, but I think that without creating too much pressure for tomorrow we really can't afford to lose, and a win (for either side) would be massive in the context of relative positions.

Clearly we could lose our next three games (which is actually very possible) and win the remaining five and still snatch sixth place, but it's not very likely.

So, 4-5-1 and a lucky late winner of someone's backside then?


Monday, 10 March 2008

Next... Burnley away

Having already put Saturday's debacle behind me I'm feeling upbeat about this game.

It's a six pointer, it's against a team that is going to come out and try to beat us, and we have their top scorer in our team.

How can we possibly lose this one?

I would like to think that we will start with the following team:

Moo2 (sorry I'm fed up and finished with checking the spelling of his name every time I need to refer to him)
Thatcher (ok I won't be angry with Youga)
Varney (on the right)
Holland (possibly give him a rest and play Ambrose)
ZZ (possibly give him a rest and play Ambrose)
Big Chris

I know that line up has been unpopular, but it gets results and that's exactly what we need right now.

The loan players (the new ones) and Gray should be restricted to a few cameo appearances and no more than two at a time maximum between now and the end of the season. I would like to see Gray get a run out at his former club, but right now I think we need the 4-5-1 with Big Chris up front on his own. I really couldn't care less what it looks like to watch it. Despite the fact that Chicago Addick may well be there before he goes back 'home' (Sorry CA) I just want three points. End of.

They can lamp the ball up the field all evening if they like as long as they win. Clearly the likelihood is that they will not win if they don't play nice passing football, but if it takes ten men behind the ball for 90 minutes with one break away goal securing a 1-0 win then I'm all for it.

After Saturday the team need a lift, and it's strange how a rubbish game with no real quality but a win can boost confidence. I won't be there, and from what I read nor will many other Charlton fans. Maybe this will reduce some of the pressure on the poor shy players that feel adversely affected when the 25,000 paying fans expect them to earn the thousands of pounds they get paid each week. If not, it will, at least, mean that Pardew will have to find someone (or something) else to blame if we lose. Or he could re-use the "Wind" "Pitch" "Sound from the stand behind the goal" "Referee not being strong enough". Or, of course, he could just single out players that he signed that are not good enough or had an off day.

I've just read that last paragraph back and it might have been a little harsh on Pardew and the players. I may have vented my disappointment in the wrong way. If I have offended anyone then I promise that I will make it up by showing excessively lavish praise next time we play "triffik" at The Valley, as I'm sure to be there singing and shouting support for the whole game irrespective as to the performance or result.

I think in general I am excessively supportive of the players. Often I defend them like I would a friend or family member, even when I know they were in the wrong. They are my team, my players and my team's manager. However, I do find it a little bit upsetting when suggestions are made that it's my fault when we lose. I am way too old to play professional football, and I was always rubbish anyway, but as I am not playing, picking the team or arranging the transfers I refuse to be held accountable for results.

Anyway I'm sure that we have seen the last performance of that ilk this season, and I will be writing blog after blog raving about how well we've played, starting with Burnley on Tuesday night. Burnley gave us a real hammering back in December, and at a time when we were really playing well. Sheffield United aside, it came on the back of four straight wins. It was also followed by back to back wins, so they were no pushovers. However, we have signed their best player (well highest goal scorer) and he can't even get into our side.

I think the real difference Tuesday evening will be that Burnley will come out to win the game and that is when the 4-5-1 is most effective. I would probably not be devastated, under normal circumstances, with a 0-0 away to a team chasing the pack, but right now we have three teams that only need to win their games in hand (all be it Wolves have to win two) to go above us, so we need three points.

As said previously I believe that a late run to 'steal' a play off place is the best way to enter the season extension, but right now, for my nerves I would like to see us carve out a bit of a lead over some of the pack chasing that lottery ticket.

I'll be here ready and waiting with a whole thesaurus of words of praise.

Charlton 1-2 Preston

Where do I start?

I am neither surprised nor disappointed by this result. I genuinely feel for the American bloggers that were present for a rare game, but other than that my biggest emotion is that of sadness. Sad that we have sunk so low that the result wasn't a surprise.

I suggested before the game that Preston might well take all three points, and unlike New York Addick it wasn't tongue in cheek. I really think we have a problem against the 'battlers'. Partly because they present a different challenge, but mainly because I no longer believe that the players take these teams seriously, despite what Pardew says before and afterwards.

I suggested a few weeks ago that Pardew has the ability to say exactly what I want to hear from him in each situation. Again, he said all the right things, but I'm just a bit fed up with having to listen to 'all the right things' when we fail to perform.

The team has been changed too much. Irrespective as to the various players performances on Saturday they looked like they didn't know each other and had never played together.

The facts

This was only the forth time Sodge and McCarthy had played together, and the first time Sodge was sent off so they didn't complete 90 minutes.

That was only Halford's seventh game for us, and I'm sorry to say that it was probably four too many. I can see why Sunderland only played him eight times and Reading three. I hate to critise players, but he (perhaps due to circumstances beyond his control) adds nothing to the team other than long throws, and I don't wish to see him in a Charlton shirt again.

Youga had only played nine games (before Saturday) and even though he is young of those nine games at least two were poor. In Pardew's defence we have had a problem at left back all season due to injuries.

Lloyd Sam has been poor in recent weeks, but he might well have been ready to put that behind him. His injury, however, left us with Sinclair, who clearly has no understanding of any of the other players.

Ambrose. Where do you start. I like him. I think he has loads of ability and he scores goals in a team that doesn't score enough. He just doesn't have that rare ability to be effective in several positions. The wing is not where he is best utilised. If there is not a place for him in the centre, or behind the front player(s) then maybe he shouldn't play?

The midfield pair looked tired, but I have no complaints about them, particularly as what I think we really need is stability in the starting eleven.

Varney has been a revalation in the last few weeks, and maybe his withdrawl at half time was for tactical reasons, but I thought he was one of the better players on the day.

Leroy Lita is probably a good player, but he clearly had no idea how we were going to play. Let's remember that the last time he played in this division it was for a Reading side that was literally walking all over every team they played. That is not going to happen here.

So the stats are as follows. Before Preston the number of starts the players had made this season were:

Weaver 36 - Ever present
Halford 6
Youga 9
Sodje 14
McCarthy 17
Sam 23- Sinclair 0 (2 as sub)
Holland 18
ZZ 33
Ambrose 22 - Gray 6
Varney 20
Lita 0

If you ignore Sam (13 minutes) and include Sinclair that brings the average down to 16 games (or 14.5 if you swap Gray for Varney). With only three of the first eleven (two of the outfield ten) having started more than half our games this season.

I know I've gone a long way 'round the houses' but suddenly there is no surprise that they didn't play as a team. Something that Bristol City are doing with players that are clearly not as good as ours on paper.

At the start of the season my Dad (who is clearly much more experianced in the watching of football than I am) said that he would be happy to be mid table after ten games as with so many new players it would take a long time for the team to gel. After eleven games (sorry I don't have the table after ten games) we were third, one point behind second place. That was when we should have kicked on and cemented our place in the top two.

Now we have a team that doesn't know each other, and will probably not have gelled by the time the play offs start. Adding a player or two is one thing, but bringing in four players and expecting the team to play as a unit is unrealistic.

So as I see it we have two problems.

1> Pardew is clearly never going to have a settled side or formation.
2> For what ever reason the players cannot apply themselves enough to beat the teams fighting for their lives.

Thus we have been unable to win back to back games since the 8th of December, and I cannot see that changing any time soon. We were poor in the second half against Watford, and the second half against Bristol City. We were poor in the whole game against Preston.

That is the worst I have seen us play for so long I cannot remember a specific game where we were so bad.

However, as I am always upbeat I am going to write this one off and make the assumption that we can still win five of our last nine. This doesn't even require back to back wins. Throw in a couple of draws and we will see ourselves safely to 73 points. This should be enough for a play off spot, at which point the new boys, and the three loan signings Pardew hasn't completed yet, will have a few games under their belts, and we might just luck our way to the play off final. The final is just one game and Pardew does have a bit of a reputation of coming good in the 'Big' games, so who knows, it could still be ok.

And next season we could become the first team in Premier League history to play 100 players in the same season.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Next... Preston at home

I'm just about getting over the disappointment of Tuesday night. On reflection I think I was a little bit too negative about the game and the result. A draw (all be it at home) against the team that are top of the league and a massive nine points above us is hardly cause for concern, and we have now won one and drawn two of the games against the top three teams, and we could have won them all. If we make the play offs we are likely to have to face at least one of those teams so it does not look too bad.

I am actually getting rather excited about the thought of a one off 'winner takes all' game at Wembley in May. I am not looking forward to the stress of it all, but it is about as exciting as it gets for a football fan. Ten games left, five at home, and I'm planning to go to Plymouth. I might (but don't hold me to it) go to QPR and/or Barnsley too.

This is the time of the season that I normally enjoy the most. Don't get me wrong, I am Charlton through and through, but I am interested in the Champions (Premier League), FA Cup and the European Cups (where English teams are involved). I also, as discussed previously, have several teams that I dislike so the relegation battles have relevance also.

I think this season will seem different. More intense. Excluding last year, we haven't really had much to play for in the last ten games of a season for a long time. This season it looks like we will be in the thick of it until the last kick. Even if we are four points above the team in seventh place when we play Coventry at The Valley we will have more to come. Either way I can't see us being more than three points behind sixth place, so our season shouldn't be able to finish at QPR or Barnsley.

The first of that 'dreaded' last ten is Preston this Saturday. We managed a very credible 2-0 win at Deepdale, but even ignoring the randomness of this division, Preston have managed some very respectable results in the last few weeks. I guess they will come for a draw, but I wouldn't right off the chances of them securing all three points.

Leroy Lita is the latest addition to our squad, and I expect him to be involved. Pardew doesn't have a reputation of throwing players straight into the first team, but I think Lita has proven himself at this level, and after Tuesday's spectacle we are clearly crying out for a decent striker to play alongside Varney who, for me, is beginning to look like the player we were told he was when Pardew paid £2.5m for him. I've always favoured signing young players that are a little unknown as you can stumble across real class, Darren Bent being a great example. The downside with that approach is that you can also end up paying too much for (and to) players that just don't turn out to be as good as you'd hoped. I fear that Izale McLeod may fall into that category, but time will tell.

Loan signings, on the other hand, can be much more brash. You can loan a thirty something without a care in the world about how good he is going to be in six or twelve months time, Danny Mills. Cook was clearly a panic signing as we'd lost Reid and Sinclair was not available at the time, but the Chelsea starlet could well be significant in the run in. Sodje has, for me, been an inspired signing. He may be on good money, we paid nothing up front for him, and we don't have to worry about his wages if we don't go up, nor do we have to pay him in the reserves if he should turn out to be surplus to requirements if we do. Halford was, I believe, an inducement to help us agree to sell Reid, but from what I've seen he is not worth £3m. Based on the fact that he is on top flight money no Championship club can afford him, and no Premier League club can afford to play him. Still he does have a long throw and it has given Moutaouakil a bit of a rest.

Lita, however, has been signed to play, I'm sure of it. Suggestions that Pardew has already realised that Gray is not the answer are a little worrying from the outlay point of view. However, in every business I've been involved the most successful are those that are both brave enough to make decisions but more importantly to admit that they have got it wrong and then set about trying to fix it. I have a concern that Gray was having a decent season with Burnley and realised that this was his last chance to sign that big contract and having done so, he might have lost a little bit of his drive. Having said that he was clearly out of form by the time he joined us and hadn't scored a goal since his brace against us on 1st December. Some players make an immediate impact, some take weeks or even months to settle. If we are in this division next season I expect Gray to be a very valuable member of the squad. If we go up, however, I suspect that he will not be good enough, but he won't be alone.

So Lita. A bit of a gamble. Clearly the Board and Pardew are refusing to give up on this season, and quite right too. I think Lita will add that cutting edge that we have been lacking in recent weeks and I am much happier with his inclusion in the squad. I think we should be looking to take the game to Preston with pace upfront. Varney and McLeod ripped Blackpool apart, and showed that we can play nice football against West Brom. Due to McLeod's lack of goals and vision he was never going to keep his place, but I think Lita and Varney could well be a different prospect. Lita hasn't come to us to secure a long term contract, he wants to play, and as Curbishley suggested in his book, on more than one occasion, hungry players with a point to prove can be very successful.

I would like to see an attacking line up on Saturday. The central defenders are safe, but I would like to see the Moutaouakil back in for Halford. The long throws are a real boost, but Tuesday we were crying out for a run down the right wing, and I think this is a game that we are going to need all of the attacking firepower we have. Youga is probably the only realistic option at left back and I would be inclined to give him another run out.

With Varney and Lita upfront it is only the midfield that leaves some difficult decisions. I like Jerome Thomas. I think he has real class. I accept that he can often fail to 'turn it on' but he would normally be guaranteed a starting place if he was fit. However, we now have two Premier League players contesting his place so I think Pardew might give Sinclair a start to see what he can offer. If Thomas can be accommodated on the other flank it is going to mean dropping one of the three that Pardew clearly rates. Ambrose is in such great goalscoring form right now that I can't see him being left out, and ZZ and Holland are very unlikely to be 'rested'.

What I don't want to see is Varney on the right of a 4-5-1 so that we can accommodate (keep happy) as many of the squad as possible. It is time to pick the best formation, then select the best players for each position. We also have ten fixtures to discover what our best eleven is before the win or bust games that will (hopefully) follow.

My heart says we will win, but my head keeps telling me that we have struggled against the teams fighting for their lives at the bottom and Preston have beaten Stoke and West Brom and drawn at Watford since the end of January.

To some degree the pressure is off now as we only need to drop less points than the bunch just behind us between now and the end of the season. For that reason I think a draw will not be a disaster, but we should be aiming to win all our remaining home games as a matter of course. I think the games at Burnley, Ipswich and Plymouth (and Wolves at home) are much more important now. They are, for me, the six pointers. I think that by the time we face West Brom at The Valley only insane fans will believe that a top two place is achievable. I'm fed up with being excited only to have my hopes dashed, so I'm now committed to the play offs. Anything better will be a bonus, and a massive surprise.

Bring on The Invincibles!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Charlton 1 - 1 Bristol City

What a disappointment? at half time I was confident that we were going to take all three points. We literally took the game to them in the first twenty minutes, scored and could well have had a second. For the rest of the first half we looked comfortable, all be it that we were playing deeper and deeper, but we looked like we could score on the break and I was convinced that we would not fail to convert a two goal lead into a win. To be fair, even before half time I could see City snatching a goal and causing panic in our defense.

The second half was very disappointing. At one point I mentioned to my 'guest' that I would take a 1-0 and that we could well hang on for the whole of the second half and tomorrow the table would show us as potential automatic promotion candidates.

Under Curbishley we often defended for whole games, let alone a half, without conceding a goal, and the more we dropped back the more I was relying on that clean sheet to see us home. City are not top of the table for no reason. They came forward wave after wave and we seemed to have no outlet other than punting the ball up for Big Chris to miss it or just to give a foul away. I did ask my 'guest' if he agreed that Chris was harshly treated as he has suffered a lot this season with decisions going against him. He reassured me that most of the decisions (if not all) were probably right, and that Big Chris is no angel and has probably got what he deserved. This did not improve my mood at all.

I feared that we did not have the character to come back from letting in a goal, rather like the Watford game. Apart from Sheff Wed in fact I don't remember us coming back from behind to win this season. This is probably something that I should be exploring in more detail, but right now I just can't be bothered.

The goal came from a corner. It's strange really, I have no problem scoring from set pieces, but to concede a free header from a corner is very disappointing. I was right about us not coming back from letting one in, but to be fair we did raise our game a little. I am, only ever so slightly, pleased that we didn't concede a second goal, but we didn't look the most likely to win in the last half hour, and we continued to punt the ball forward from just about everywhere. Even with 4-4-2 and Big Chris off we seemed to look clueless going forward. It is at times like this that I wonder what Pardew does with the team all week. From what I saw in the first half we should have been able to pass the ball pass City all night long, but as soon as the going gets tough the tough whack the ball forward from all over the pitch.

It was so predictable. Weaver/Halford/McCarthy/et al pump the ball forward and we give ourselves about forty seconds before the it comes right back at us. It's no wonder that we were under pressure for most (if not all) of the second half. We had our chance, we should have got that second goal in the first half. To come out in the second half with the attitude that we were going to literally smack every ball up the field in the hope that it would, therefore, not end up in our net worries me greatly.

Having said all that, and I am feeling very sorry for myself right now, it was a decent point towards our goal of finishing in the play off positions. Hopefully we will only need to perform for two or three of the potential six halves of football that we can expect in the play offs as I just can't see us stringing together three good performances back to back. Due to this division being, frankly, so rubbish I am not too worried about us finishing as low as seventh as the teams below us are not able to string much of a run together either. Aside from Plymouth there are no form teams that are below us and are trying to finish top six.

I know I am sounding rather defeatist, but at the start of the season I really wanted (and to some degree expected) to have another campaign like our Championship winning season. This has been nothing like that season, and I do not believe that there are enough straws in the world for me to clutch at to make me believe that we can secure second place now. It's not just the fact that we have a gap of five (plus nineteen goals), six, six and seven points to the four teams above us with ten games to go, but after tonight I'm not sure that we can maintain consistency for ninety minutes let alone ten games. No, for me, we are now officially out of the race for an automatic promotion place. I know that others will disagree with me, but to catch three of those teams we are likely to need to win most, if not all, of our last ten fixtures and as we haven't won back to back games since early December, and have only won fifteen out of thirty-six, it's ridiculous to suggest that we can win eight or more of the last ten.

So it's the play offs, hopefully? Right now I really can't get excited about that. Maybe that's a good thing as we need to get over the disappointment about missing out on the top two in plenty of time to be prepared for the play offs. The team that just miss out on second place rarely pick themselves up for the 'lottery' that is the play offs, so maybe tonight was a blessing in disguise.

It just didn't feel like it.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Next... Bristol City at home

Rhyming slang suggests that Bristol Cities are a part of the fairer sex's body that all (well most) men have a fascination with. I, myself, must admit to being guilty of such an interest. Clearly I'm only really interested in those of my wife, but have been know to appreciate others from a distance. The 'real' Bristol City have also had the ability to attract attention this season. How they have come from nowhere (Tier 3 since 1999) to lead the division with eleven games to go is beyond me. They may well fall away, but they do not have a particularly difficult run in, and have clearly tasted the pressure at the top as they were promoted last season.

We, on the other hand, have built a reputation of falling away in the 'dreaded' last ten games of the season in recent years. I personally believe that this was all due to Curbishley's belief that to avoid relegation was an achievement. Something that I think many Charlton fans have now come to appreciate. Thus I think it is a little like achieving your goal early and taking your foot off the gas. I have always been in a job where I have a monthly target (referred to as a benchmark so as to ensure that no-one is mistaken into believing that you can fail to hit it) and on those months where the target is hit by the end of the second week the rest of the month becomes rather 'care-free'. For this reason I was never too hard on the team when we entered the end of season slump. Especially as I was just happy to still be there (Premier League/Premiership) next season. As my Dad is away again I am bringing my old boss to the game. He never (officially) agreed with my sentiments regarding hitting the target/benchmark regularly and surpassing it infrequently. He always believed that you need to keep going and going and never stop until the very end. That's what we need this season.

Our end of the season was much better last year (particularly considering the quality of the players compared with the years that proceeded it). Pardew does have a reputation of having teams that come strong towards the end of the season, so I have no doubt that we will secure more points in these last ten games than we did under the last few years of Curbishley's reign, but will it be enough? The automatic promotion places look like they might be a little too far away now. Even Pardew is talking about "...a sniff of automatic promotion; just that really, no more than that". If we can provide the same kind of performances away from home as we did last Saturday then a play off place should be secure - especially if we can keep up our recent home form. But I can't help thinking that it is just a little bit like wishful thinking that we can now stumble across a run of wins when we have clearly struggled to do so all season.

However, if we are going to finish in the top two then tomorrow is a must win. A play off place would be more secure with three points of course, but if we lose to The Boobies tomorrow night then there is almost no chance of us catching either them or Stoke (not to mention Watford and West Brom in-between). A draw would be no good for either of us. The Boobies will want to put us out of the race while ensuring that they can build a bit of a lead over Stoke and possibly the other two who are also playing tomorrow. An away win would also increase the chances of Watford or West Brom being out of the play offs which is probably good news for us.

The thought occurred to me that should the current top two stay there the play offs will, this season, be massive. On the basis that neither Stoke nor The Boobies would be expected to survive in the Premier League, the winners of the play offs will only have to find one team from those there this season to finish above, to ensure a second season in the top flight. Thus if we are going to win the play offs then a defeat tomorrow night might just be the best result for us.

One good omen that we can all take heart from is that New York Addick has now seen us win in the flesh this season and his attendance tomorrow night no-longer dreaded.

As far as the side is concerned I would expect to see us return to a 4-4-2 with Varney upfront with Big Chris. I have no idea what has happened to Andy Gray, but he seems to be out of the picture right now. I expect to see Sinclair involved, but not at the expense of Thomas who by all accounts was worth his place on Saturday. I also doubt that Ambrose would be dropped, so he may well start on the right with the Chelsea starlet on the bench. I wouldn't expect Pardew to mess with the defense, so it might be the same 11 with a slightly different formation.

At this point I refuse to make a public statement about the score as I think I have failed to get it right yet and I can only suffer so much humiliation. Besides, this way I can always pronounce on Wednesday that I knew we were going to win/draw/lose*.

As a last comment, tomorrow is my wife's birthday and despite the offer of a dinner in The Millennium suite, she is going to be spending the evening on her own (with our three year old). So at the very least we better not lose of I'll have to come up with a justification as to why I would want to leave her on her own to see those overpaid millionaires lose, again.

Cone on you Reds!

* delete where applicable.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Sheffield United 0 - 2 Charlton

Well, I never saw that coming. I am both pleased and surprised by this result. With Bristol City and West Brom winning at home and Watford taking a point at Burnley it makes the top two look only slightly closer, but with Ipswich drawing at Southampton it makes our play off rivals look a little further behind.

From what I heard on the radio (clearly I can get BBC Kent) we did all the attacking in the first half. Unfortunately I had didn't listen to much of the second half as my wife went out and left me looking after our son who was in the middle of a Power Rangers marathon. We kept a clean sheet and scored another goal though, so I will assume that we gave a decent showing in the second half too.

The switch back to 4-5-1 that I expected showed again that we can be very hard to break down, and if we are patient the chances will come sooner or later. I am at the point now that I will take just about any win and if we need to snatch a goal from a set piece or two (I'm including long throw ins) then so be it.

We now see Stoke as the target who are seven points away, but as already mentioned the current top three all have to play each other and West Brom have to come to The Valley, as do Bristol City in three days time. That game now becomes massive. Following on from my suggestion that we would know today what we are fighting for, I think we are still chasing a top two finish. I still think it is a mammoth task, but if Stoke fail to beat QPR tomorrow a win on Tuesday could well leave us six points off the top and four points off second place.

Pass me some more straws would you?