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 We won with ten men last week with the same players (Cook - withdrawn, Sodje - injured, Randolph?)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.