Saturday, 26 April 2008

Barnsley 3 - 0 Charlton

Well, like Pardew said it was always going to be difficult with us having no focus.

A bit like QPR last week really when we had the chance of promotion to the best league in the world, while they had nothing to play for.

I can see the logic behind all his excuses, but to be honest I'm just getting a bit fed up of having to hear them.

I'm sure Pardew is doing all he can; I'm sure he bought the best players he thought he could afford; I'm sure he borrowed the best loan players he could get his hands on; I'm sure he is picking the players that he believes are most likely to get a result; I'm sure he genuinely has the best intentions for our Club. I'm just fed up with having to hear him explain why we've lost another game that we all believe we should be winning, and that we did win in he last two seasons we spent in this division.*

Irrespective of the quality of the players we have or the mistakes we have made in signings or formations, if there is any truth in the suggestion that Pardew is one of the highest paid managers in this division, and if we have one of the highest wage bills in this division then there is, frankly, no excuse for what has gone from being simply failure to being an outright disaster.

I have always believed that Pardew is the best man available for the job, and as he has signed so many players has more of his own reputation invested in the club, but right now I am not so sure that he will be able to turn this around. We have to sell loads of season tickets to preserve the status we earned during an extended spell in the Premiership. We could well end up like Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday, Leicester and Southampton if we do not win promotion next season. The Valley redevelopment cannot be taken away, but we now have no real Premier League quality players save for perhaps Jerome Thomas who is likely to leave this summer. We have shed most of the costs (and probably the facilities) that we had in the top flight. If we lose a big chunk of our season ticket holders there will be nothing about us that is 'Premier League'. Despite the club's new ticket pricing we will just not sell tickets if the football on offer is so dire.

Suddenly Coventry next week is a massive game. We need to all be sent home happy. I can't remember being so fed up with a season before, but I sill want to see a win in the last home game. Right now I don't care where it comes from, I don't care who plays, I don't care if the whole eleven that start next Sunday are sold (or released) in the summer, just give me a win to remember. That win against Palace was fantastic, but that was the 8th of February, nearly three months ago.

Just give me a win, just give me a flippin' win!

* I know that we didn't necessarily beat the same teams in 1998 or 2000, but you get my point.

Next... Barnsley away

And. Rest.

Well the season is over, but we have a couple of games to play before the holiday, proper, starts. The first of which is Barnsley at Oakwell. I have been promising to go to this fixture since I was at Sheffield University in the early nineties. For reasons I cannot remember now I didn't make the short trip when I was in South Yorkshire, and now I feel that I am obliged to go at some point as I lived so close for a while. However, despite thinking it might be, this is not the year to fulfill that obligation.

As for today's game, there have been mixed messages coming out of The Valley this week. Pardew has sent home Lee Cook, and Leroy Lita has been called back by Reading. Thus you could be forgiven for thinking that Pardew has given up on the season and is going to blood some youngsters and use the game as a run out rather than an opportunity for three points. This is in contrast, however, with his comments that we have an obligation to the teams at the bottom of the league to give our all and try to win this game.

I really couldn't be bothered.

I would like to see some of the younger players get a game, but as Pardew is going to bring in, he says, three or four players in the summer, and still has the same number that he has already signed that haven't really been given a chance, I fear that any games chalked up today or next week could well be the only ones the kids get, as they will quite possibly be ignored again next season as Pardew brings in loan player after loan player like he did this year.

Anyway, I was determined not to be critical in this post as the time for that has long gone, and I actually have no problem with him bringing in more players, especially as those we have have failed miserably to live up to what we all want - promotion.

As for Barnsley, I don't really like them. I don't hate them, and to be honest I don't like many teams other than Charlton, but their one season in the Premier League when they sang "It's just like watching Brazil" every week (presumably they were referring to how their players made the opposition look like Brazil) just annoyed me, especially as we couldn't win promotion at the time. However, what annoys me the most about Barnsley is the way the team have clearly short changed the fans this season with rubbish performances in the league while being probably the only team this season (or for many seasons for that matter) to have a 100% record in their games against the top four. They are probably the only team out of that top four that have beaten both Chelsea and Liverpool this season.

The arrogance of some of their players, and especially their manager, when they managed the second of their two famous victories bearing in mind how pants they were in the league sickened me to be honest. For this reason alone I would have liked to see them relegated, but even though I think the manager deserves it the fans don't. I also expect that the players that have let them down the most would just move on. It was also rather disappointing to see the press coverage of the Barnsley players in a FA Cup Semi-Final demanding to know in advance what the bonuses would be if they made it to the money spinning FA Cup Final. What a sorry state of affairs, an FA Cup Final beckons and all they seem to care about is "What's in it for me?" With the exception of a few clubs (Palace, Millwall, and a few others) I would play for any team for nothing in an FA Cup Final, and those players almost certainly earn a lot more money than I do. Who says the Premier League is the only place where money rules?

Anyway back to today's game. Despite my bravado I do care about it. I wish I didn't, but like many others I am 100% dedicated to Charlton 100% of the time. I am, as I write this, sitting with my son (who is just shy of his forth birthday) and watching Power Rangers. Our favourite (in all the different series) is the Red Power Ranger. We are a Charlton family and for that reason days like today are still match days despite the relevance of the game on the season, or not, as the case may be. What I would like to see moving forward is more players that seem to have the affiliation with the club that we seem to have lost this season. That means a settled side and players that we have all known (and watched play) for a long time. I'm not suggesting playing rubbish players game after game for years, and I don't really have an answer, but I want to feel more like they are our players, and this season's team hasn't had anywhere enough of those.

Thankfully it's not my job to do that, it's Pardew's which, clearly, gives me licence to ask for what I want without having to provide any instructions or guidance as to how it can be achieved. So starting today let's give the players that are not going to be here next season the day off and let's have a look at some of the reserves, you never know there could be Mark Kinsella or a Steve Brown to be found. Maybe we could even stumble upon a Clive Mendonca or a Richard Rufus. Now that would make these next two games worth while wouldn't it?

Come on you Reds!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Am I going mad?

Just had a little look at the League Table. I must be going mad, but I still think we can do it.

I'm not saying I think we will do, of course, but we are not out of it. The following is the four (as I see it) teams that are potential play off candidates aiming for that sixth place. I have ignored the teams below us as if they can make it then so can we, and if we don't make it I don't about the teams below us.

Pos Team Pld GD Pts
6 Palace 43 10 65
7 Ipswich 43 8 64
8 Wolves 42 1 62
9 Charlton 43 6 61

Please excuse the formatting

Now I know that makes it look a bit difficult, and with Wolves' game in hand it could mean that there are two teams with four points more than us with three games to go, however the remaining fixures are as follows:

Saturday, 19 April 2008
QPR v Charlton
Watford v Crystal Palace
Wolverhampton v Ipswich

Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Wolverhampton v Cardiff

Saturday, 26 April 2008
Barnsley v Charlton
Coventry v Wolverhampton
Hull v Crystal Palace
Preston v Ipswich

Sunday, 04 May 2008
Charlton v Coventry
Crystal Palace v Burnley
Ipswich v Hull
Wolverhampton v Plymouth

Let's assume the following:
Palace lose at Watford and Hull;
Ipswich lose at Preston;
Wolves lose at Coventry and only draw at home to Cardiff (I know not very likely); and
We win at QPR and at Barnsley (none of this works unless we win those two games).

I'm going to assume that all games are settled by one goal or it gets silly to extrapolate.

That leaves a table that looks like:

Pos Team Pld GD Pts
6 Charlton 45 8 67
7 Palace 45 8 65
8 Ipswich 44 7 64
9 Wolves 44 0 63

With the result of Wolves and Ipswich to be added that still leaves us in with a shout when we play Coventry. Assuming we beat QPR and Barnsley - two teams who's season is over (Barnsley may well still need a point or two in ten days time, but I doubt it).

Assuming that Ipswich don't beat Hull (sadly at home) on the last day of the season it could well be in our own hands.

Sadly I think Palace will get something at either Hull or Watford, and will beat Burnley at home on the last day of the season. I also think that Wolves will pick up more than one point at Coventry and at home to Cardiff, but it does suddenly make me feel like it is not all over.

Maybe I'm going mad, maybe it's got something to do with the sun shinning on Kings Hill this afternoon, but maybe, just maybe, the spring is bringing new life into our promotion campaign.

So that makes QPR a must win, but why not? QPR are the highest placed team that cannot make the playoffs now, and due to the teams at the bottom having to play each other they cannot be relegated either. Well if that's not a 'mid table team' I don't know what is. Then Barnsley away, who can make themselves safe with a win over Leicester this Saturday. I can't think of a better time to play them than when they have just secured safety. It could well happen you know, it really could.

Anyway all that aside, I still think we will be in this division next season, but for the first time in weeks I am considering the possibility that we might two or three extra games to come in May.

I am going mad aren't I?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Charlton 1 - 1 Southampton

I must have been at a different game yesterday as I don't have any of the anger or frustration that I've read elsewhere, or maybe I really have given up hope of anything better.

I thought that the line-up was to be expected. We won with ten men last week with the same players (Cook - withdrawn, Sodje - injured, Randolph?) and it would have been harsh for Pardew to make any changes.

I thought that ZZ had look very impressive on the right in the opening period of the second half against Wolves and in a midfield three last Saturday was immense; Big Chris and Lita had looked like a decent partnership against both Wolves and Plymouth; Halford has been growing into the side; Thatcher did not put a foot wrong at Plymouth; McCarthy and Bougherra were shoe-ins to start; Cook hasn't been given a decent run, but clearly Pardew thought it was time to blood him against Plymouth, so he was always going to give him a run out yesterday.

Thus I was not at all surprised about the line-up. I actually expected Randolph to start too. From the anecdotal evidence of appearances on the bench it was my opinion that Elliott is third choice so was always going to give way when Randalph was called back from Bury.

So, already I seem to have a different view of just about every other blog I have read. Now, I'm more than happy to be wrong, and probably was, but for me with Cardiff (two goals in first half injury time), Blackpool, and Ipswich (first half only) aside we haven't looked like giving a team a lesson in scoring goals all season. In fact, most of our more memorable results have been close and in games where we have been defending for our lives for large parts of the match. Man Utd we are not, so playing for a dour game and a 1-0 win was probably going to be the only way we were going to secure four wins.

In the end we failed to win so clearly Pardew must have got it wrong. In his defence it is always easy for us to say that when we don't win, but if we had gone all out for attack from the start we may well have done better, and as so many others have suggested we should have done so (and I believe were saying so before the game too) I have to bow to their better judgement.

Sadly, I believe that if we are going to make The Valley a fortress next season the home fans are going to have adopt a similar approach to those that follow the team on the road. I have been to just four games away this season, so I'm not suggesting that I am anything special, but that I have witnessed those that are. It is perhaps that it is a bigger event going to an away game that makes those there force themselves to 'enjoy' the game as much as possible, and it seems to produce more confidence that we will get something. The late goals at Southampton and Bristol City would have been very unlikely in an environment where the fans had given up hope of getting anything from the game when we were not two goals in front after fifteen minutes.

I have been very critical of Pardew suggesting that the fans reaction has been responsible for the teams lack of results this season, and I would, reluctantly, show him the door if he continued to do so. For me you need to be very careful pointing the blame at someone else, especially when they are your stakeholders, customers and lifeblood. And it upset and annoyed me too!

Anyway, back to Southampton at home. I thought that the team line-up was strong enough to win the game, and was strong enough defensively to hold a team that put two goals past the league leaders the week before (they were certainly leaders at one point in the last week I'm sure of it).

The opening ten minutes I thought we were the better team, we had most of the play and with Southampton coming out to win there was much optimism that we would not spend all day trying to break down a team keeping ten men behind the ball all afternoon. Then disaster struck. I am not going to criticise Randolph (or McCarthy for that matter), nor am I going to excuse the mistake as he was nervous and making his debut. The truth is that it was a terrible misjudgement but will almost certainly never happen again, so let's leave it there.

Thankfully Southampton didn't decide to suddenly put ten men behind the ball. They did start time wasting, but to be fair we would be naive if we thought they wouldn't. We, clearly, started pushing forward, but again in contrast to other views I thought the patient build up was the more sensible approach.

At half time Pardew clearly thought we needed a little more urgency, and Semedo looked like he was never going to last the whole of the second half. He is, for me, a real find. He has showed many real qualities this season, but he is young and makes mistakes and doesn't (quite rightly) seem to change his game when he is on a yellow card, so he had to come off at some point, and with a change needed it was half time.

I was surprised that Big Chris went off at half time. I genuinely thought he must have picked up a knock as the front two really looked like they were playing well together. We clearly needed a winger on the right as Halford was not crossing the ball at all well, although it has to be said that it is hard to do so from the half way line, and with no cover behind him he was clearly not looking to leave himself exposed. Something that is likely to be more of a concern for him as he has suffered a lot of criticism in recent weeks - much of it from me.

So with Ambrose (and Holland) in the middle we looked much better going forward and could have scored more than the one goal we did get. I'm not even going to mention the penalty shouts we had in the game. I'm not making excuses, but despite the fact that Southampton are struggling at the wrong end of the table we could have, and should have (with a bit less bad luck) won this game.

Ambrose missing a good chance late on was tough to take, and Jerome Thomas (a player that I have continually supported) showed why Wenger let him go, Curbishley was willing to let him go, and Pardew has failed to play him anywhere near as often as he could have done this season. Missing the target at the end when he hasn't scored a goal all season, the week after he made it public that he would want to consider his options if we don't go up, just about summed up Jerome Thomas. I don't know him personally, but he failed to make it at Arsenal (no shame in that at all) then failed to perform to the same standards after he had one good season (well half a season) with us. I just can't help but believe that he has an inflated opinion of himself, and it is time for him to move on.

Still, all that said, and the disappointment of us not winning the game - and remember I gave up on hoping we would make the play-offs a few weeks ago - there were a number of positives. We didn't lose, we scored, we showed that, goalkeeping error aside, we can expect to keep clean sheets against the battling sides - something we have really had problems with this season.

Moving forward we have some decisions to make. It is questionable if we should give the loan players any more games unless they are genuine transfer targets, especially if Wolves get anything during the week when they play West Brom. I would also apply this logic to any players that Pardew has already decided will be released in the summer.

Either way I would suggest that the team that starts against Coventry has no-one anywhere a red shirt that is not going to be here next season. I would have no problem with Holland being given a farewell game, but all the rest pop off on their holiday as far as I'm concerned. I believe that this club's future is now balanced on the hope that the fans can find a way to relate to, and believe in, the eleven players that are wearing the shirt. For me, that means players that have showed they want to play for Charlton, not just to earn the money or get a few first team outings to boost their options in a few months time.

The club is in a dire situation compared with three years ago. However, we are in a much better position than we were fifteen years ago, so we have a lot to look forward to (honestly we do). Next season can't possibly be worst than this one. Even if we get relegated it will not be as significant a disappointment as this season has been based on the massive expectations provided by the press and the bookies, increased by the money Pardew was given to spend and the, at times outrageous, comments he has used to describe how good we will be in the last half/quarter/ten games of the season. A disaster it would be, but not as big a surprise as us not even finishing in the top six this season?

On reflection I have decided not to travel to QPR or Barnsley, so I have just one game left this season.

I'm hoping for a win.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Plymouth 1 - 2 Charlton - Report

Better late than never I suppose?

There is probably not much I can add to what has already been written in relation to what impact this has on our season, except to mention that Palace have won at Stoke since the rest of the thoughts have been shared.

However, I was firmly of the belief that our season was over after the defeat at Ipswich, and nothing has changed my opinion since then. Had we hung on for a draw against Wolves and I would be thinking a little differently, but it didn't happen and I just cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel getting bright enough quickly enough for us not to run out of games before we can catch all the teams above us. This is assuming that even if we played 100 games a season we would eventually find a settled side that would win back to back games.

Anyway I have no interest in going over the same old issues, Plymouth away?

After a ridiculous wake up time of 5am I made my way over to my Dad's and then we drove down to Plymouth where we were going to stay on Saturday night. I can't say that there was a lot of excitement or even expectation for the game ahead, but I managed to continue to convince myself that the Devon coast on April would at least be sunny and warm.

The ground, despite what I've read elsewhere, impressed me. I noted from their program that they had a crowd of 17,511 for the visit of Watford, so it is clearly bigger than The Valley was in 1998, and even though they have one old stand the other three sides wrap 'round and for a club that has spent much of it's history nowhere near the top flight it is impressive.

The away end is situated (well I was) at the very end of the wrap 'round. Thus I was close to the main stand and had a plentiful supply of sun on my face for most of the game. For a fair bit of it I had a bit of a smile on my face too.

The game was too young to draw any conclusions when Weaver went off. He has been a decent 'keeper all season, his only criticisms have come from those that thought he is a bit too routed to his line. Well, he wasn't routed to his line on Saturday! From behind the goal it was clear that he was going to have to come for the ball, which, of course, he did, but as he approached the edge of the box it was clear that the ball was not going to reach him, so he left his area. What happened next was, in my opinion, more an act of randomness. He jumped and presumably thought he'd head the ball away, but it went over his head and left him with two decisions; let the ball go past me with a forward about to join it; or have a little touch to take it out of his (the forward's) route. The rest is history.

At that point the fatigue of having been up a good four hours earlier than I normally am started to feel like I'd made a mistake. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting a great game, I have to confess to having so little faith in the team right now that I didn't even expect to get a draw, but the thought of having to hold on for the last twenty minutes to avoid letting in a fifth goal was starting to gnaw at me.

I needn't have worried. As is often the case the eleven men couldn't cope with the change in the game plan and attitude of the ten. It was just great to see us so blatantly waste time. I mean I hate it as a rule, but we have seen so much of it this season that I was more than happy to dish some out for a change. What it really confirmed to me was that we actually have a strong bunch of players. I didn't think we were particularly lucky during the game. We didn't have a dozen or so saves to make and to be honest (well probably a little biased) I thought we looked the more likely to win the game for most of the afternoon. We have demonstrated this 'steel' before, of course, at Southampton - another away game I attended.

As I'm sure that by now you will have read several reports written by better writers than me I will not give a description of the match, but rather my observations of the players in relation to my previous comments.

Man of the match would clearly have to be Lita, who scored two good goals and really looked like he wanted to celebrate with the fans, without any of that kissing the badge rubbish. I doubt that he will be here next season (although I'd like him to be) but he has, for me, justified his visit. It's a shame that we didn't sign him at the start of January, but with Reading wanting big money for him and the issues with him being eligible for the playoffs if he's signed then I guess I can't complain. For the record I have no idea what the rules are about loan signings and the playoffs, I'm just speculating. Halford, again, looked very competent. It was also a real boost to have his long throws when we clearly needed every chance going forward, and the opportunity to get the ball right up the park when we were defending. Thatcher was, also, a real contributor on Saturday. Maybe it's because I don't normally sit behind the goal, but I did notice that he seems cool and pretty much every time played the right ball and always found out of our players or touch with every kick or header. It is perhaps more to do with the need to defend in games like this that the defenders come away with most credit, but based on what I saw I'd be happy with both the full-backs at Charlton next season.

To be fair there were no players that I was disappointed with (including Weaver) but another mention had to go to Iwelumo who had a massive impact. Again, it could have been due to the defensive nature of the game, but I was impressed. Also Rob Elliot. He just slotted in like he was born there. He has a rather weird way of kicking the ball, not unsuccessful to be fair, but just looks strange, but he demonstrated that we have a real strength in depth there. His save in the dying minutes was a highlight for me. It's almost (ok, maybe not really) as exciting to make a great save at the death as scoring, and from behind the other goal the way he got down to the ball was very impressive, and I won't be told otherwise.

I suspect that Randolph will play on Saturday just to ensure that we have played more players this season than any other club in the history of football, but I wouldn't be too worried with Elliot in between the sticks, although clearly I'd want a reserve 'keeper on the bench.

Over all a very nice day out. It was capped off with dinner in the evening at a restaurant (sorry can't remember the name) in (or near) Plymouth Hoe. I met a couple of Plymouth fans that were very friendly and gracious in defeat even though they thought we were poor and they were poorer. Possibly, but who cares, it was warm, I sat in the sun, we won and we only had ten men!

Up the Addicks!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Plymouth 1 - 2 Chaton

After an early start we made our way down to Plymouth, where we stayed with friends of my Dad's for the evening and got back home late yesterday afternoon. Today I have a number on meetings in London, so I haven't time to do a full report, which I will do this evening or tomorrow.

However, as per my desire, the weather was lovely on the coast, and I sat with the sun on my face for most of the game.

We won, and we only had ten men!

Full report to follow.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 4 April 2008

Next... Plymouth away

I have never been to Plymouth (the city or the ground) and I do like to add another ground (or five) each season. Thus I'm going tomorrow.

In my defense I did suggest it several months ago when I thought that we might just be able to secure promotion there or even win the Championship. How mad was I?

I think I just got carried away with the success that we had in this division in 1999/2000. At the start of the season I really thought we were going to be the best team in this division by some margin. Watford were poor last season before they sold Ashley Young, and Sheffield United were always going to have a hangover from the West Ham/Tevez affair.

Still it was not to be, and I have been enjoying my football a lot more in the last couple of weeks as I have been trying to focus on the games themselves. I deliberately forced myself to give up hope of promotion when we lost as Ipswich. Maybe I was unnecessarily negative, but it worked for me, and I am now looking forward to a weekend away where I can take in a (hopefully decent) game of football without the pressure of the significance of the result.

I have made my feelings clear in recent weeks as to the limitations of Pardew this season, but on the whole I think he probably did what he thought was best (I'm sure of it), and as good as any other manager could have done under the circumstances. I also think he is the best placed man to take us forward. Not that I like everything that he does, I have particularly tired in recent weeks of his irrepressible optimism, but I just can't see where a better replacement is going to come from that wants to take on the job at hand. I guess this mess can be traced back to the Dowie appointment, or even the last few Curbishley years, but there is probably no need to drag it all up again (although I'm sure I will do so in the coming weeks, especially in the close season).

Moving forward, for me, involves playing as many of the younger, inexperienced, players in the last few games as possible. I have no idea what effect it will have on a players development or confidence for next season. From my own experiences, however, every time I do something I become better at it in some way or more confident in my ability and that can't be a bad thing.

I suspect that Lita will play, and I would love to sign him in the summer, but Pardew's recent description of Marcus Bent being a 'financial burden' suggest to me that we are looking to move players on Premier league money out, rather than in. Having said that if Lita hasn't signed a new contract since Reading were promoted he might just be within our reach. I guess it somewhat depends on what Bent and Amady faye do in the summer. Their combined wage bill might scupper our hopes of signing any of the loan players.

I would like to see Bougherra and McCarthy start, and I think I am happy to see Youga and Moo2 back in at full back. I think Pardew still has to justify Halford's loan signing (although he was much better last week), and Thatcher is also likely to get the nod. To be fair Pardew has, somewhat, backed himself into a corner with respect to team changes so he is probably going to pretty much stick to what we saw last week.

At this time I have little hope that the young players will play, but if we lose (likely) I think we will see them back in for the visit of Southampton next week, as baring a miracle we will 'officially' be out of it by then.

Anyway I have go be off to bed soon. I have been instructed to arrive at my Dad's house (half an hour away) no later than ten to six in the am. I thought there was only one six o'clock every day?

Up the Addicks!