Well here it is. The game that is due to be meaningless as we all prepare to accept the Football League Championship Title. The 'Old Lady' that Liverpool used to parade around Anfield so frequently during my childhood in the seventies and eighties. That famous trophy that we won with such style in 2000 will again be resident at The Valley.
It seems like such a long time ago when we were starting a new year and hoping to have a mid table (ish) position earned as soon as possible, so that the remaining games would be meaningless and that out Premiership survival would be secure for another season. I was always one of those that believed that just staying on the Gravy Train was an achievement for Charlton. I was as excited as the next man when we were in 4th place up to the sale of Parker, and indeed I was ecstatic when we finished 7th that season. The highest the club had managed in my lifetime, and by the looks of things now the highest that we will achieve in my son's lifetime.
However, mid table obscurity this season feels nothing like an achievement, and I am not relishing seeing the players that have, by all accounts, shown no passion or desire at all in the last two games. As I didn't go to either QPR or Barnsley I cannot really comment, but a gutless stroll around the famous pitch that I have always dreamt about gracing will not be acceptable to me on Sunday.
Pardew says "The players need to show some spirit, and we are looking to finish the season on a high note." So that's alright then. I've been critical in recent weeks of the 'spin' that we have been hearing as it has all seemed like an effort to placate the fans when we are (and have a right to be) fed up. After making such a big fuss when we lost at QPR about how we were going to steal a march on new signings over the teams that are still chasing a play off place we now hear that nothing has (or will) be done until a budget is prepared. With the new CEO who is going to be responsible for setting the budgets starting on Tuesday 6th May it is likely that we have now lost whatever that perceived benefit was. So I ask was there any truth in that soundbite or was it just the best thing Pardew could come out with after a performance that was (reportedly) dire?
After all the spin I've heard this season, some of which was born of good intentions, and some of which was clearly just damage limitation, I have little trust in what Pardew says transferring into reality. The latest brainwave is that we are going to cut short the player's summer to ensure that they are really ready for next season. I have two issues with this; firstly we didn't start this season badly, it all went wrong about the time Pardew decided to bring in five players at one go; secondly we are about to enter to transfer arena. Now I don't know a low about professional footballers, but from what I've seen they are not likely to have 'half a summer holiday' high up on the wishlist they have for choosing a new team.
I've read that maybe it's time for the press conferences to be shared around. Maybe that would be a benefit. Of course it could well mean that someone else would be in the firing line and could well have their credibility questioned like Pardew's. Either way we need to start performing or we need the club officials to stop telling us we are genuine promotion candidates. Already - and I am aware of the fact that the club are now trying to sell season tickets - we are hearing comments about how the squad is going to be rebuilt for a promotion challenge. I know that is what they have to say, and indeed believe, but if this continues all summer there is going to be a very hostile atmosphere at The Valley if we lose two or three homes games early in the season.
I guess that I, like may others, are so disappointed with the second half of the season that I am perhaps subconsciously looking for things to moan or complain about. I think a significant signing soon would give the fans (me included) a real boost and perhaps start the process of restoring the faith that I think has ebbed away over the last three months. It may even help to boost season ticket sales.
Let me be clear, I do not want Pardew to be sacked. I do not want a massive overhall of the paying staff. I believe that we have underperformed, and that with a bit more luck and a slightly more settled team we would be in the top six right now. The lost revenue from what will now be two seasons out of Tier 1 has already ensured that should we gain promotion next season we will be a Championship team in the Premier League. My view is that we are many years (or a massive injection of capital) away from being a Premier League team that starts the season with no significant worries about relegation. These are the facts (as I see them), so I am inclined to believe that a change of manager will not make any real difference. As such I think Pardew should be allowed the time to develop the young players he has brought in, and some money to supplement them with a couple or three signings that might just bring back the style of football that we all crave, along with some better results.
Sadly I think we are currently far from being the best team in this division, and as such we should be expecting a season that doesn't mirror the Championship winning season of 1999-2000, or the play off winning season of 1997-98. I think a season rather like the one that Palace or Hull have had this term that finished with a late run would be a massive achievement. Sadly, due to Pardew's promises this season that we were going to do just that, I think the team will need to be in the top six all season to keep the pressure off.
After spending three or four months telling anyone that would listen that we needed to finish top two to have a couple of weeks head start on signing new players over the play off teams, I fear that I would take 6th next season if you offered it to me right now. I expect some will think that is a bit negative, but I have serous doubts that the club is set up to be able to challenge for the top two, and 6th is about as good as 3rd when all's said and done.
Anyway, Sunday we have a game to play. Coventry are probably safe, but will need a draw to be sure. I thought that at Barnsley we would see fearless football, but I was wrong. I would like to have a look at Shelvey and Wagstaff, and it wouldn't do them any harm to play in front of a (hopefully) full house at The Valley. Other than that I wouldn't want to see any of the players that are not going to be here next season (apart from perhaps Matt Holland and Chris Powell). Thus I would expect to see Halford and Thatcher dropped unless Pardew is thinking of having them around next season. I would like to see what Racon has to offer, and I would like to see Andy Gray Start upfront with Luke Varney. On the basis that we have paid £4.5m for the pair it is not unrealistic that they get some playing time together.
What ever team goes out there I want to see decent football and I want them to to give their all. That way if we don't win (or draw) we will at least have seen some nice passing football and will not believe that the failure is due to a lack of effort.
Then bring on the summer.