Friday, 29 February 2008

Next... Sheffield United away

It is strange that no matter how well (or badly) we play from week to week I am always full of optimism by the time the next game comes around. Sheffield United have a strong squad and with a decent manager (Sorry Robson) they should be a shoe in for a top six place. Still, however, I find myself looking at the table, following on from Stoke's defeat at Preston, and I find myself considering what the gap to the top two will be if Watford and Bristol City both lose tomorrow and we win.

This weekend is massive for us, as it is for all of the top teams. Stoke play QPR on Sunday, and Ipswich go to Southampton, but Bristol City play Hull, Watford play Burnley and West Brom play Plymouth. Thus we must make (or lose) ground on the teams just above us or just below us. As I haven't completely given up hope of making the top two (I know, I know, my desk is covered in, and my hands are full of, straws) I am inclined to hope that Plymouth, Hull and Burnley all win. Assuming we also win, that would leave us six points behind Bristol City with them coming to The Valley next Tuesday. Game on!

If we are going to lose at Sheffield United, however, then I want wins for Bristol City, Watford and West Brom otherwise we will find ourselves with three wins in sixteen and could well be sitting as low as 9th in the table.

I saw an interview with Tony Pulis on Tuesday and he was talking about not letting things go to his players heads, and that he just needed them to keep going. I had a funny feeling that he was worried that they would believe they could take their foot off the gas. I have respect for Stoke, even though I hate the way they play, but I cannot see them winning games if they give anything less than 100%. On the other hand I believe that we and West Brom, and to some smaller extent Watford have the quality that we can pick up points if the players have a bad (or lazy) day at the office. I think Sheffield United have that kind of quality also, but they clearly haven't performed anywhere near often enough this season.

Thus I still believe that there are possibilities that we could catch those above us. I don't think we will as I don't see us winning enough games (not even nearly enough in fact) to claim automatic promotion, but I refuse to give up completely. It is perhaps too early to look at remaining fixtures with a full dozen games left, but I'll share my thinking with you anyway.

Stoke; Pld 65, Pts 62 - 1st. Could well have similar problems as they did at Preston. It is very difficult to put more effort into every game than your peers for a whole season. even though I think they have a playing style that is well suited to beat the also rans they could slip up a couple of times and still have to play Burnley (H), Watford (A) and Bristol City (H).

Bristol City; Pld 34, Pts 61 - 2nd. With a promotion last season (finishing 2nd) they could well have the mentality to hold their nerve as the run in approaches. However, there must be real questions as to the quality that they have, and if their bubble will burst if they suffer a few bad results. Still have to play Hull (H), Charlton (A), Watford (H), Plymouth (H), Wolves (H) and Stoke (A). Ok I know that Wolves are not exactly flying high, but they could be by 12th April.

Watford; Pld 34, Pts 60 - 3rd. I believe that Watford have had their last wobble and I can see them coming strong in the coming weeks. They have already demonstrated this season that they can go on a run of wins and if their last ten games are anything like their first ten then they should finish no lower then they are now, and probably in the automatic promotion places. They do, however, have the toughest run in. They still have to play Burnley (A), Bristol City (A), Stoke (H), Plymouth (A), Hull (A) and West Brom (A).

West Brom; Pld 33, Pts 55, Silly Goal Difference - 4th. Clearly a talented squad with good football and loads and loads of goals. There is no way of knowing how long it will be before they rediscover their form, but I have a feeling that it might just coincide with their FA Cup run. The longer they stay in that competition the better off we will be, unless we have to face them in the play offs, of course. They still have to play Plymouth (H), Charlton (A), Watford (H) and Wolves (A) - local derby. They also have Bristol Rovers (A) in the FA Cup Quarter-Final which would suggest that they will be in a Semi-Final which should be very disruptive to their league form.

Charlton; Pld 34, Pts 52. We are not out of it, but we really need to start a run of wins if we have any hope of catching at least three of those teams.

Back to tomorrow, and by 5pm we could well be looking forward to a massive six pointer at The Valley on Tuesday evening, or we could be starting to wonder if we are actually going to miss out on the playoffs, heaven forbid. The signing of Scott Sinclair should give us a little more quality in the squad, but to be fair I don't think we are short of wingers right now. Having said that, if he is better than what we have then assuming he can gel quickly enough he should be a useful addition. We have been short of creativity and from what I've seen of him he can run at defenders so may well make a few chances and with Varney's recent form I would expect him to be able to put some of them away.

We have failed to score enough goals this season. The defense has (in the main) been good. Before last Saturday we had the meanest defense away from home in the league (division). I would, therefore, expect a low scoring game tomorrow, particularly if Pardew reverts back to a 4-5-1, which I think he should do. Sheffield United will be difficult to break down (as always), but will probably not pose a great threat up front if we have that extra cover for the defense. Thus I would be tempted to start with Semedo in the middle and may well start with Big Chris as the lone striker. I would, however, have in mind to change it in the second half and put Varney and/or Gray on to test the fatigue of the players that played 120 minutes on Wednesday night.

That said, I have no idea how Pardew will line them up. Cook has only just got into the side and he now has another (and probably a better) left winger to choose from. Gray has failed to really set the world alight since he arrived, but may be preferred as the lone striker as he holds the ball up so well. We may well see Moutaouakill back in the side as from what I've read it is suddenly a lot less of a secret as to why Reading and Sunderland let Halford go after almost no games. Youga will be back in, but with Thatcher coming back to fitness he needs to find some form if he expects to keep his place. The big debate for me is the centre pairing. McCarthy has been a revelation in recent weeks and if Bougherra is still out we may well see Sodje back in the starting line up. The truth is, however, I have no idea.

I also have little idea as to what the score will be. The only thing I am sure of is that tomorrow will be a defining day in our season. If we were in the Premier league I'm sure Sky would give tomorrow a name. 'Super Saturday' is just so lazy. I think I'll call it 'Premier Decision Day'. After tomorrow it may well be two from four, or two from nine - eleven games to go and eight points separating 2nd and 9th and six points from 2nd to 6th. After tomorrow I think I will know, in my heart, if we are fighting for automatic promotion or the play offs. Twelve wins on the bounce would probably still win us the league. I don't want to be too greedy. Ten or eleven and runners up would be perfectly acceptable. Come on Pardew, it's not that much to ask is it. You can even lose the other two if you must.

Cone on you Reds!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Blackpool 5 - 3 Charlton

Strangely, I'm not very angry about this result. Strangely, I'm not all that surprised by this result. Sadly I think we have been treading water since we played West Brom on 15th December. We lost that game and at one point I think it could have gone either way. I'm not saying we were unlucky, but we did let in two late goals. Since then we have really failed to look like we have the ability to put a run together. I know we've beaten Stoke and Palace, but Stoke was 1-0 and Weaver made a last minute save and Palace have demonstrated since then that beating them was no great achievement.

I am not angry with Pardew, although I would suggest that he refrain from asking us fans to make long journeys at great expense (relative to the incomes non-football millionaires earn) for the foreseeable future. Especially after the team has been sunning themselves in Spain during the week we were all hard at work earning the money to pay for the trip. I am disappointed that we look like we are going to struggle to get out of this division at the first attempt. We are now just one point (with a worse goal difference) above Ipswich, and we have to go there in a few weeks, and Hull are two points behind us with a game in hand.

From memory Pardew was facing the sack at West Ham if he failed to get them into the playoffs the year they were promoted. They snatched 6th place on the last game of the season. His inability to win these types of games has followed his career. The season West Ham sacked him he had beaten Arsenal at home, and 'his' team beat Man Utd a few days after he left, but they lost 4-0 at Bolton. I don't know what his 'problem' is, but clearly there is something missing. Not that it's time for him to be relieved of his duties. Pardew inherited a rubbish squad and a level of indebtedness that meant that he had to sell anything with a value, and release players with ability that were a little bit too expensive to pay. The re-building process at West ham was a massive task and to be fair they were lucky to win promotion when they did, not to mention the FA Cup run that elevated Pardew to heights that were always a little bit exaggerated, but without that play-off win they could well be where Leeds are right now.

The other team that could have gone top with a win back on 15th December now find themselves on a bad run with six points to second place (all be it with a game in hand and ridiculous goal difference). West Brom were rightly hailed as a great footballing side. Now I know they have had a cup run, but it is telling that the two (I insist on including us) best footballing sides in the division are forth and sixth with twelve or thirteen games to go. The 4-5-1 with Big Chris up front was slated by many, and at home didn't seem to be too successful. However, I have now come to realise that The Championship is no place for nice football. I don't want to be like Stoke, but I had come to the conclusion a few weeks ago that we are not going to play struggling teams off the park away from home.

I really didn't want to have to increase the percentage of 'workhorses' in our team as they will have no value if we go up, but I suddenly have this terrible fear that if we don't sort this out before August (assuming we don't win the play offs) we could be holding a fire sale in the summer of 2009 which would force us to completely re-build the team again. ZZ, for example only signed a two year contract. What will he be sold for next January if we are not in the top two?

I've always thought that to be successful in the play-offs you need to storm into the top six with a last gasp run. You need form on your side, and it's difficult to pick yourselves up after losing out on a top two place, so maybe dropping to seventh or eighth before winning the last three or four games of the season would be ok. I also believe that as we have really only struggled against the lower teams we should be ok for three games against teams that finished third to sixth. All we have to do now is secure as many points in the next twelve games as the seventh best side out of the Premier League. Shouldn't be too hard, should it?

One last point. Watford are third and Sheffield United are fifteenth (twelve points behind us). It is clearly not easy to win promotion after relegation, and I would much sooner be us than Watford, and I can't even begin to imagine what this season would have been like if we'd 'enjoyed' Sheff Utd's results.

It's not all over. We may well still have a great day out at Wembley. Keep the faith.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 22 February 2008

Next... Blackpool away

I'm not going, which is a disappointment as I would have loved to have done but I have a family commitment. The deal with my long suffering wife is that all events with family and friends come second to Charlton home games, including changing flights for a family holiday last year when the Spurs game was moved, but she has priority over away fixtures. Fair enough. How I managed to get her to marry me in the first place is, to this day, a mystery, I really don't want to push my luck too far.

So, I'm not going, but this is the sort of game that I was looking forward to (if that's the right expression) when we were relegated. I know that Blackpool away is not a glamour tie, and the ground is not Old Trafford, but it is a chance for us to breeze into town like the 'Big' club we are, take over the away end and play them off the park. I know, I know, the last statement is neither guaranteed or likely, but the rest is close to the truth.

Pardew's comments in the Watford program made me laugh out loud, and I applaud his efforts. We will never know what the effect of that request was as we might have sold 1,500 tickets either way, but I can't help just loving the things that man says (and writes). He always seems to say exactly what I'm thinking or what I, in retrospect, wish I had been thinking. That alone makes me think that I would follow him to the end of the earth if he asked me to. As discussed before I feel that he has slightly less steel (spitefulness) than he needs, but you can't have everything.

So Blackpool away. I have literally no idea what the score will be. We should win, but we should have won at Scunthorpe and Sheffield Wednesday. I think that we have our work cut out to make the top two now, and as none of the top five are playing each other again until 4th March I think we have to expect that anything less than winning tomorrow and next week will leave us out of the picture when Bristol City come to The Valley. Let's hope that that game, at least, is a six pointer.

I see that we are only three points above Plymouth and five above Hull and Burnley (who both have a game in hand), so even if the top two is beyond us we need to keep winning to secure sixth place as a minimum. Blackpool are not in a relegation scrap (luckily for us) so I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that we will win this one. We were so, so much better than them at The Valley and maybe the players will raise their game. They must now believe that anything less than a win and they could well find themselves facing another season of Blackpool away rather than Man Utd.

Come on you Rip Roaring, Goal Scoring Addicks!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Charlton 2 - 2 Watford

"Two nil, and you f**ked it up."

"Two nil, and you f**ked it up"

Just about says it all really. I know the referee was, well, not great, but we had this game in the bag at half-time. The first goal they scored was predictable, and might have been off side, but it didn't look so to me. The second came because we were so shocked from the first.

Pardew had one last comment to make in the program notes about the South Stand having away fans in it, and for the minute and a half that it took for our 2-1 lead to disappear, I felt that any amount of money and inconvenience would have been worth it. What we needed then was a rousing response from the home fans. I have to confess that after the first goal I had little enthusiasm to sing, but the noise from the Jimmy Seed Stand was literally deafening. You could see it raise the Watford players and we were just not focused/concentrating for the corner that got them their second goal.

Over all I think we, again, showed that there were many positives to take from this game. I would have little fear playing Watford over two legs in the play offs should that eventuality happen. however, I feel that all the positives would mean so much more if we were a couple of points off the top with twenty games to go. Despite the fact that I haven't given up hope of making the top two, I do believe that we are running out of games.

The positives. We looked fluid and showed that we can play decent football against the long ball merchants. That's now two wins and a draw against form teams that play with a system and determination. That makes it look like we have, eventually, learned to stand up to them. Lee Cook looked like a good crosser of the ball even if he is a little lightweight (still returning from injury). Greg Halford looks like a very good player and will add something to our run in. Varney has clearly settled into this division and our team. Even Lloyd Sam had a much better game than in recent weeks.

So, we are seven points from Watford and Stoke, who have to play each other, and both have to play Bristol City, who are five points away with a game in hand, and a trip to The Valley to come. West Brom are just three points away (make that four with their far superior goal difference) but they still have to play Watford and come to The Valley. Clearly a win yesterday would have been much, much better, but we are far from out of it. All this fails to take into account the fact that one of the top teams could go on a bad run and take themselves out of the equation all by themselves.

I would urge Pardew and the team to continue to aim for the top two. I would also add that the atmosphere yesterday suggested that the fans haven't given up hope yet, but it is going to take a massive effort from here on in.

Maybe come the end of the season we'll all be singing "Eleven points, and you f**ked it up" when we sneak past Watford into second place on the 4th of May.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Next... Watford at home

General consensus is that this is a must win game for us. There is, however, an increasing belief among the Addickted that we are already too far behind the top four teams to seriously expect to take one of the top two positions. If that is the case then this is just another three points, and if we can secure a draw it keeps Watford in the shake up, which helps us in any games that they have against the teams we want to keep below sixth place to ensure that we make the play offs. So it's a massive game either way.

However, I'd like to point out the following facts:

Tuesday, 11th March: Bristol City vs Watford;
Saturday, 15th March: Watford vs Stoke;
Saturday, 12th April: West Brom vs Watford; and
Saturday, 19th April: Stoke vs Bristol City;

Let's also not forget:

Tuesday, 4th March: Charlton vs Bristol City; and
Friday, 21st March: Charlton vs West Brom.

So of the top four, Watford (58 pts) have three games, Bristol City (57 pts) have two games, Stoke (56 pts) have two games and West Brom (55 pts) have one. West Brom could also have a further distraction should they beat Coventry tomorrow in the FA Cup which I think is likely.

This is before Watford, Bristol City and West Brom have to come to the Valley (51 pts). Assuming we win those three games we will have 60 points before the other teams have to share the points between each other in those four 'Top Four' games. I know the other teams will be playing when we play those games at The Valley, and of course we haven't won them yet, but I refuse to give up on a top two place yet. And, all this before Stoke or Bristol City have a wobble, and we don't know yet when West Brom's wobble will finish.

So tomorrow is, for me, a massive game. Not just because of where Watford are, remember that before tomorrow they have to play all of the other four of the top five, and there are no easy games in this division. The main reason for needing to win tomorrow is that there are three points available, we have won our last three home games and this is a habit I don't want to break and I still believe that we can catch all of the four teams above us. I'm not saying we will catch all of them, or that we will catch three of them, but we need to catch three to win that coveted prize.

As I said after we failed to lose at Sheffield Wednesday (a team that I predict will take points from either Stoke or West Brom, or both) a win tomorrow with Stoke failing to beat Scunthorpe at home tonight (unlikely I admit) would leave us just three points off second place and four points behind Watford who will still have to play the three teams directly below them as of today.

We have three wins and two draws in the last six. That sounds to me like we are starting to find our feet. As one of those draws was away to the current leaders and we were the better team, I am confident that we can produce the run that's needed to take second place (or even become Champions). I'm not saying we will, but at this moment in time it is possible, and if two of those teams above us have a bit of a wobble in the last ten games (West Brom were top last season with ten games to go) we could well be there to take advantage.

As far as team news is concerned; Either Pardew doesn't read my blog or doesn't agree with me as I have been calling for Lloyd Sam to have a rest for a few weeks now and he keeps playing him. I read on the Official Site that Ambrose is "Struggling with illness" so Lee Cook may come in. I am not sure if that means a place for Thomas (who I would like to see if fit) or not. Having not seen Cook I am not sure if he is strong enough defending for us to play with him and Thomas. Upfront I have been impressed with Gray (I've only seen him play at home) but appreciate that Big Chris may be preferred for his height at set pieces. Bougherra's foot injury is likely to see Fortune play again.

To be honest, from here on in, I'm not sure the playing staff are all that critical. It is the attitude, confidence and determination that we need now. We have a very strong squad, and I have no doubt that we have the players to beat every team we have to play between now and the end of May. I just hope that we don't need those extra three games. I suggest that, despite my continued optimism, tomorrow's result will go a long way towards determining if we do or not.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Sheffield Wednesday 0 - 0 Charlton

Well at least we didn't lose. At least we kept a clean sheet.

However, with six points between us and second placed Bristol City (who won at Scunthorpe tonight by the way) the chances of us making the automatic promotion positions looks further away again.

I remember last season as we had a good result after a run of poor ones New York Addick pointed out that "It's the hope that kills you." After the Stoke game we were merely a goal or two behind them, now it is five points and four goals. After Palace (admittedly before the Saturday games) we looked again like the top two was within reach. Now suddenly it all looks desperate again.

With Watford at home on Saturday, even a win would leave us a massive five points behind them. It would seem that there eleven point lead earlier in the season has allowed them to have a most terrible run and still have a very good chance of making the top two.

Clearly we have (well Pardew has) completely rebuilt the team. I, for that reason, have accepted that the early results, and therefore, the position has been acceptable as we were expecting a late(ish) run once the players settled. This clearly hasn't happened yet, and despite the fact that a point away from home is always welcome, an increasing gap between us and he top group is not. We have been waiting for West Brom to have a bad run, and clearly they have now obliged, but I think it is too much to expect both Bristol City and Stoke to have one too, so basically we are getting to the point where nothing but win after win will be enough.

As I mentioned earlier it's the hope that kills you, and I suspect that if we win on Saturday and if Bristol City lose and both Stoke and West Brom fail to win we could find ourselves a mere three points away from that cherished second place. Suddenly I'd be believing, again, that we could yet secure that automatic promotion and steal a lead on the play off team in buying new players for next season in the Premier League.

What I wanted tonight was a win. not just because it would have meant three points, but it would have sent out a message to other teams, and more especially to me, that we don't have a problem with the teams at the bottom of the league. Now I am back where I was when we lost to Scunthorpe. I now have almost no belief at all in Pardew's ability to win games against struggling teams. I'm still desperate to be proved wrong, but am now looking at the gap to the second place, and the seventh place and believe that we are more likely to miss out on the play offs than we are to make automatic promotion.

What a depressing place to be.

Still, loads (well 14) games to go, and if you win the play offs it is about as exciting as it gets for a club like ours. Or am I just clutching as straws?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Next... Sheffield Wednesday away

I maybe in the minority, but I never tire of making jokes about playing the blue Sheffield team on a Wednesday. It's such a shame that we are not playing twenty four hours later as I would have loved that.

Hillsborough is a ground that I have been to more times than most Charlton fans. Whilst spending a year at Sheffield University I made several visits to both of the Premier League clubs grounds. I have never, however, been to Hillsborough on a Wednesday.

Sheffield Wednesday are having a bad season, and they have lost the three league games they have played since they won the Steel Derby. In fact their defeat at Bristol City dumped them into the bottom three. Exactly where any team would want to be when they have Charlton as their next fixture.

I am more than willing - desperate actually - to believe that our three defeats to teams in the bottom three are just a coincidence. I am, however, quite fearful that there's more to it than that. Aside from the worry that Pardew might have a problem getting his charges to approach the game with the right attitude, these struggling teams probably go into these fixtures with a bit of confidence, knowing that we don't always win them. In fact, of the nine games with the bottom six teams (as of 11 February) we have won just three, drawn four and lost two. That becomes a little worse when you consider that of the current bottom three that reads one win, two draws and two defeats in five. The good news is that the win was against Sheffield Wednesday, so that's all right then.

I suggested that we would beat Scunthorpe easily if not convincingly. I am tempted to say the same about Wednesday, on Tuesday, but I do have this fear that they will approach the game in the same way that Scunthorpe did and unless we score early we could be very disappointed after what was a fantastic performance on Friday night.

On the subject of Friday, I deliberately didn't provide a full match report as I thought there would be enough of them and I am clearly biased against Palace. However, if I was trying to be 'independent' I would have to conclude that we beat Stoke who are a very strong proposition in this division and have only lost to us in fifteen league games and Palace who were only as low in the table as they are because when they started their great run (that hurt by the way) they were way behind.

Thus the anecdotal evidence suggests that we have really sorted our act out. I still think that Lloyd Sam is looking off form, and I really don't believe that Ambrose's best position is out wide (either side), but appreciate that his creativity makes him a little bit rare in our current team. Halford had one of the best debuts I can remember, his throws are as enjoyable to watch as Rory Delap's were horrible to watch. I also loved that ridiculous turn in the Penalty area infront of the Jimmy Seed Stand. A goal was the only fair result but the turn would have led to calls of "That is just so unrealistic" if it had been performed on a Playstation.

My preference, fitness permitting, would be to have Thomas back in with Ambrose on the right and Gray and Varney upfront. However, I have not been to enough away games to be so sure that Sam doesn't add something away from The Valley that seems to be missing at home. At this point I'm not sure that the personnel really matters anyway, I think that it's the attitude that has to be right. I believe that one win against a bottom three club will exercise the demons, return the confidence to us, make the strugglers fear us again and put us right back on track for a top two finish.

I'm just not sure that we will get one. Come on Pards, prove me wrong!

Bouncebackability

Well Ian Dowie has another opportunity to show his great bouncebackability after being sacked by Coventry this morning. I see that his brother has also been shown the door. I don't have a brother, but if I did it would be great if I could find employers that would employ us both on substantial salaries with long term contracts that ensure compensation if they sack us for being rubbish at the job.

Now I have to confess to having a little sympathy for Dowie (not much though). He was offered the Charlton job, took it, spent the money (transfer fees) he was given and almost certainly did his best. I don't actually believe that he knew (or even suspected) that he was not up to the job. He probably still believes that he was turning things around and that had he stayed he would have kept us up. There are some Charlton Blog authors that have expressed that belief themselves. However, I am disapointed that he didn't survive as I really wanted to see Coventry relegated at The Valley in May with Dowie in the 'Away' dug out.

I think it's every fan's right to want the worst for any former player/manager. This isn't something that I normally get involved with. I am in the camp that likes to reccognise our former players when they come back to The Valley. Kiely and Lisbie being great examples. However, I believe that we were unfairly criticised by Dowie's pundit friends when he was sacked from Charlton, and I think that this decision by Coventry, right or wrong, goes someway to justify our own actions. Not that I expect to hear Lineker take back his criticisms any time soon.

This subject has been covered to excess elsewhere, so I won't re-open it, but it is beginning to look like Dowie was a little lucky to get Palace promoted - all be it via the play offs - and it does beg the question "Just where is his level?" or "Can he manage at all?" He clearly didn't shine in the Premiership, Coventry were a top flight club for years until they came down in 2001, so one could make the argument that he has failed miserably there. Maybe it's time for a change at the New Den? We can only hope...

Friday, 8 February 2008

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Next... Palace at home

Today’s the day!

I have been looking forward to this game since the fixtures came out. The win at Selhurst was great, but the comments afterwards and the sheer jubilation shown by the players at the final whistle make me believe that we have a new passion for derbies that was always missing under Curbishley.

This all bodes well for us, not just for tonight, but moving forward. It clearly doesn’t guarantee that we will win, but it does mean that we will give it our all – and then some – and that’s all we can ask for as a fan.

Before I review the game I will provide a quick summary as to why I hate Palace. I will exclude all the obvious reasons as they are, well, obvious. Dave Peeps has provided a good list for those of you that want reminding.

Imagine, if you will, our golden eras. Sam Bartram, Jimmy Seed, back-to-back FA Cup Finals, average crowds in excess of 40,000, finishing as runners up in the First Division behind Man City – thus above all the current top four and Everton and Spurs etc, crowds in excess of 75,000 packed into The Valley, that Play-Off Final in 1988.

We are not Man Utd, we don’t want to be, nor do we claim to be. We have won just one FA Cup in our history, and we have never competed in Europe, but we have a great and varied history. We have even had a great amount of adversary to deal with, and the fans have had a huge impact with the ‘Valley Party’, the various finance raising initiatives, and Target 10,000, which soon became Target 40,000. We are not a huge club, we are not a team that has won much, but we are a team with character, and characters. As well as Jimmy Seed, we have had Lennie Lawrence, and more recently Alan Curbishley. All great managers that were also great characters. I never saw Sam Bartram play, but I have heard stories (many of them) about him. He, for those of you that don’t already know, had a sports shop just outside The Valley.

Now compare that with Crystal Palace. One FA Cup final which they lost, Malcolm Allison, Ian Wright, the 1980s – their decade apparently. Palace spent a total of two of the ten seasons in the 1980s in Tier 1. Let’s not forget they won the Zenith Data Systems Cup in 1991. Now Ian Wright was with Palace for over five years, and he did score some goals, but he couldn’t get out of there quick enough when Arsenal came knocking. When ever Wright is on tele he is described as ex-England and ex-Arsenal. No-one ever mentions his Palace days. History? What history?

Now I don’t expect Palace fans to recognise that they are a rubbish little club that has had a few false dawns but always returned to where they belong, but to behave as though they are a Big Club is just nonsense. There is nothing wrong with being a modest local club with ambitions, just as long as you know your place, and they clearly don’t.

I was at The Valley on that fateful day in September 1985 when Reid (not Andy clearly) scored two and missed one penalty in our 3-1 win. My Dad had explained how they were our rivals as they played just a few miles up the road. It was the last game that we played against them before out clubs were inexplicably linked with hatred and rivalry. I was also at Selhurst the following January when we lost 2-1 (again Reid scored a Penalty). I was fifteen at the time and I had never seen such anger as I saw in the faces of the Palace fans with their white woollen hats with red and blue eagles on them. That is an image I have remembered for over twenty years. It was brought home to me recently when I read about a group of Palace fans terrorising a boy of eleven on a train last September.

We weren’t even considered their rivals in 1985. I mean, what sort of club picks a team a massive 47 miles away on the coast as their rivals. I think that before 1985 they were so insignificant that no-one liked them enough for anyone to hate them. I’m not sure quite why I hate them so much but they are, without doubt, the team I hate the most.

Memories of Palace that stick out in my mind are the 2-1 Boxing Day win at The Valley that saw us go on that twelve game win in 1999/2000, the 2-1 defeat in the first leg of the play-offs in 1996 and the second leg when Houghton scored early to effectively put us out. I have a special place in my heart for the day we sung “We’ll never play you again” at Selhurst that Title winning season. However my favourite memory was the 2-2 draw that saw them relegated. It was a rubbish game and a rubbish performance, but we sent them down.

I’m still trying to think of an event or a reason to hate Palace as much as I do. Yes they are a rubbish club that has ideas well above their station. Yes they have defeated us in games that were really important to the club over the years - but so have many other teams. Yes we used to ground share with them – but to be fair in The Valley was in a mess in 1985 and the board couldn’t afford to get it fixed, and they did give us our own Portakabins and put our crest on the back of the Members’ Stand. Their Chairman likes to make love to his hand, and I could make a good case out of him, but to be fair to him I hated his rubbish little club long before he got there.

No. Sorry. I cannot find a defining moment in my life that makes me hate Crystal Palace. I can also not find anything specific about the club that makes me hate them.

You’ll just have to take my word for it. I just hate them. I just hate them!

So, tonight’s game. Well, after a run that saw them climb from the relegation zone to the top six, Palace have fallen apart a little bit with just one point from the last two games. We, on the other hand, have had a good run up to last Saturday with draws against West Brom twice and Watford, and wins over Blackpool (convincingly) and Stoke. We seem to perform better in the more high profile games which is a good omen, and my doubts about Pardew being able to get the players interested in “easy” games shouldn’t be a factor here.

Honestly I have no idea how we will play from game to game this season. We have been consistently inconsistent, which makes a prediction all the more difficult. All we can ask for is that the players appreciate how important this game is and give 100% for the whole ninety minutes.

Oh, and of course they must win!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Teams I Hate (Part IV)

Fulham


This is a funny one, and is quite probably the least rational of all my pet hates. I, personally, only know two Fulham fans, but they are both very arrogant about their team – and everything else for that matter. To this day they believe that they are bigger than Chelsea. No, seriously they really do. They have so many reasons to justify that statement. “If Fulham had had that money and won those Premierships they would have easily have sold out a 50,000 stadium”. It is just not credible, it really isn’t.


The fact that these chaps really believed it would come a little surprise to football fans as I think we all believe that we would have done as well as Chelsea had we had the finance that Abamrovich provided. However, I don’t come into work sulking on a Monday if we lose to Chelsea on the Saturday. I am realistic enough to know where our real battles are.


This brings me nicely on to Fulham. Millwall have fallen so far behind us that we cannot really think of them as rivals. Sure they are local, and chances are that the majority of Charlton Fans know more Millwall fans than any other, so it is still there, but not rivalry. Palace have, over the last ten years, fallen behind us as well. It is difficult to have a big derby rivalry when we are in different divisions. West Ham were my choice of local rival, I mean we did share their ground, and as already mentioned I have no love for them. However they managed to drop out of the Premier League and then as soon as they got promoted again they came into loads of money. Fulham are, or were, our local rivals in terms of being a team that we were on a par with that we could easily beat twice, or lose to twice in a season.


Our results against Fulham in our First Division Championship season were a 1-0 win at home and a 2-1 defeat away. That away game was our first defeat that season (all be it on only the third game). In the six seasons in the Premier League (they were promoted the season after us) we managed just two wins, five draws and five defeats. Not exactly close, but not terribly one sided. Had they not been given that amazing free kick that won them a draw at The Valley last season, and if they had faced a proper Liverpool team in May they would have been relegated. They were the yardstick that I compared us against, and for that reason I hate Fulham.


In all honesty I have been much more interested with Palace this season, and even though I’d prefer it if they were in the bottom three it does make the rivalry more intense with us both looking like chasing for a play-off place, but I still find myself looking at the bottom of the Premier League and hoping that the Premier League are going to lose a London club this season.

Teams I Hate (Part III)

West Ham

West Ham are thought of as being such a nice team. They are a real family club. They are followed by good ol’ Eastenders. Not the pampered actors who appear on the tv mind, the good ol’ boys that live in London’s East End.

I hate all that. I should explain that I grew up in Essex, and that was the Hammers Manor. Oh yes, that was their patch all right. The fact that in those days - late seventies, early eighties – Essex was full of Liverpool replica shirts just like it is full of Man Utd shirts today, didn’t detract from the fact that the West Ham boys ran that manor like the Krays. More of them later.

The bullying (and I use the word loosely here) I suffered as a Charlton Athletic fan (“who are they?”) was never going to endear them to me. But that is not the reason I hate them so much.

You see, until the Biscuit King bought into West Ham they were not a big club. I know you could argue the same about Chelsea, but West Ham had not had a much more illustrious past than Charlton had. Not that you could ever explain that to the ‘Essex Boys’ who’s knuckles dragged along the floor as they approached me telling me that they were part of the ICF before giving me a lesson in how five boys can easily push one around.

No. West Ham were not a big club in real terms and if fact if you looked at them closely since their relegation in 1978 they have spent seven of the last thirty seasons (over 23%) out of the top division. Never mind being a top club, they’re not even a top flight club. I know you could make the same argument about Charlton, but I’ve never claimed we are as big as Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal, West Ham fans do! Shortly after taking over at Upton Park Curbishley made a comment about West Ham being as big as they want to be. It sounded like just the sort of rubbish that I had heard for years while the Mighty Hammers had been in the Second Division.

I just can’t stand it every time the World Cup comes ‘round and the 1966 and all that acts like a calling for all West Ham fans to tell you that they won England the World Cup, and that hat-trick hero Hurst was a Hammer through and through just like Bobby Moore. Now I respect these players, and would never speak ill of the dead but I’ve heard Bobby Moore interviewed long after he retired from football where he said that the biggest regret of his whole life was that he didn’t leave West Ham and sign for Tottenham! Hammer through and through?


However, what really gets me is that link with the Krays who were apparently really good boys and always looked after their mum. They only ever maimed, tortured and killed their own, and they always looked after their mum. Now I don’t know much about the Krays that I haven’t read in a book or newspaper, or seen on the tele, but I’m going to bet that they had a large number of friends and associates. This doesn’t, however, make it in the slightest bit credible that every West Ham fan I have ever met knew them, drank in their clubs or had a relative that lived next door to their mum. Old Mother Kray must have had close to ten thousand houses literally sharing her back alleyway.

Teams I Hate (Part II)

Millwall


There needs to be little explanation as to why I hate Millwall. They are, after all, our closest neighbours and our local rivals.


It doesn’t help that they have an incredible record against us. Particularly bearing in mind the fact that they have been in a lower division for so many of the years we have both been league clubs.


It also doesn’t help that they have a reputation for being hard, and they always scared me. Actually I would go as far as to say they intimidated me. I remember my parents having a party in the eighties and Barry Horne the then Millwall goalkeeper came with a school friend and neighbour of ours. He was a very likable chap and showed the appropriate respect to a picture we had in our lounge of the Stoke game in 1985 that was, at that time, the last ever game at The Valley. Barry was a life long Millwall fan as well as being in their first team. Despite being very polite, he still made me feel uneasy. He was still Millwall, and I was relatively young (still at school) and at that time I was always wary of what to expect from Millwall fans.


The incredible run of defeats that we suffered at the hands of Millwall were made all the worse when we faced them in the First Division (Tier 1) at Selhurst and they beat us 3-0 and were two up by half time. The atmosphere that day was very close and there could well have been more Millwall fans there than Charlton and that was just terrible.


To be fair there is not much more I can add about a local rivalry, and the purpose of these posts is not to tell you what you already know, but to share with you strange reasons for hating teams you wouldn’t expect. However, I should point that the last two times I went with my Dad to Millwall away – one the real Den and one the New Den – my Dad’s car got broken into. One time to steam his car phone (for those of you that haven’t heard of a car phone, it’s like a mobile phone that was so big it needed to be powered by a car battery), the other time to rip out his car stereo. Needless to say we haven’t been back since, and nor will we, ever.

Teams I Hate (Part I)

In the run-up to our game against Palace this Friday I'm going to highlight a different team that I hate everyday culminating with our friends and former 'Roomies' from South Norwood.

Part I - Tranmere Rovers

For some unknown reason in the early nineties a number of former top players decided to play for Tranmere Roves in the twilight of their careers. One such player was John Aldridge. The former Liverpool great (inferior Rush clone) who was remembered for being the first player to miss a penalty in a FA Cup Final in 1988.

Aldridge had been the main attacking threat in the team that had managed to successfully avoid relegation to the Third Division (Tier 3 – I know, I know Tier 3 called the 3rd Division, you couldn’t make it up could you). This was our second season back in the Second Division (Tier 2) following four seasons in the First Division (Tier 1 – I promise I’ll stop now).

I would be lying if I could remember the exact points situation but with one weekend of the season left we were in a great position of going up. From memory we needed four points and had Tramnere at home during the week before the last weekend, and Bristol Rovers away on the last day of the season. Tranmere had had a good season by their standards and had secured safety from relegation before they came to Upton Park to play their (and our) game in hand.

This was the season that Carl Leaburn had been a revelation with Colin Walsh on the left wing dropping balls on his head with pin point accuracy. I remember little of the game now. Aldridge scored, and we lost 1-0. That in itself was not such a big deal, but they way they played that night made Stoke last week look Holland in the seventies. The time wasting was the worst I’ve ever seen it.

I’m convinced that the decision to introduce the back-pass rule came as a direct result of this match. The ‘keeper, Nixon, rolled the ball out to one full back then received it back. He then carried it over to the other side and did the same with the other full back, then received it back again. Then he went over to the other side and did it again. This happened all night. The highlight was a free kick halfway in the Tranmere half which the full back prepared to pass back to the goal keeper. A charlton player marked the Nixon, so Tranmere delayed and delayed taking it. In the end the referee had a word, so Nixon came out to take the kick up field. Again, a considerable delay occurred and the referee had another work. Eventually Nixon stepped up to take it. At that moment the full back sprinted back to the ball, Nixon turned and ran back to his penalty area and the full back passed the ball back for Nixon to pick it up and perform the time wasting rubbish with the full backs again.

Aldridge aside, they had nothing, and clearly they had no aspirations either. That night secured Tranmere’s place in my Hall of Hate, a place that I suspect they will stay until I die. The fact that we seemed unable to win at Prenton Park didn’t help, but I remember shortly after we returned to The Valley that we played them at home and Aldridge scored and promptly put two fingers up at the Covered End, which was where I was sitting before the East Stand was built. I find that kind of behaviour totally unacceptable, and I would insist on telling him if ever I meet him, which I hopefully will not.

My last memory (hopefully forever) of Tranmere was our game at The Valley during our Championship (First Division Title (Tier 2)) season. Tranmere came with the usual time wasting in mind, carved out an early two goal lead and wasted time for England for the remainder of the game. Aldridge was their manager by then and he was very involved in wasting time himself. Every time the ball went out near him he would pick it up and joke about with it and refuse to give it back, then give it back after all. Those lovable Scousers eh? They’re so funny aren’t they?

Anyway we went on to come back and won 3-2. I just loved the way Aldridge was literally flying out of the dug out and throwing the ball back to us when we had throw ins in the last few minutes. Almost as much as I loved the way our player stepped aside and just watched the ball fly past him while Aldridge tapped his wrist to the Referee. If ever I saw a man that liked to make love to his hand this was the man!

For me, one of the best things about our stay in the Premiership was that we didn’t have to play these sorts of teams again and could continue to remember the last win against them. Thankfully Tranmere have been relegated from Tier 2 so I don’t have to face them this season. Hopefully I won’t have to face them ever again.

Oh, and let me just say one more time that Liverpool lost the 1988 FA Cup Final to Wimbledon, a non league team eleven seasons before (and the League and Cup Double) because John Aldridge missed a penalty.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Scunthorpe 1-0 Charlton

Oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear.

Oh dear, oh dear, or dear!

I have little to add to what I've already read from the blogs of those that were there. I predicted an easy win, and that's what we should have had. I have been wrestling with just how to approach this post. I have deliberately waited until today (Sunday) as I was just so, so angry yesterday. I have no real problem with us having a 'bad day at the office' and I can forgive any of the players making mistakes, but to have failed to win today was unforgivable. From what I've read Darren Ambrose missed a good chance (nothing new there) and Moutaouakil messed up a clearance that led to their goal. but for those two mistakes we might have won 1-0 rather than losing by the same margin.

Having said that though we shouldn't be two mistakes away from winning or losing a game against such lowly opposition. Darren Ambrose has (as I've already suggested) missed many chances this season. If he never missed a single chance he would be too good for us. If we could afford Christano Ronaldo then that would be great, but we can't and Darren Ambrose has added a lot to us in recent weeks. Remember that he has scored half of our goals in the last three games, so we can't blame him. We should be scoring enough goals that we can cope with one defensive blunder. Frankly we should have been a couple of goals infront by half time.

I know we keep hearing that the teams at the bottom are closer in ability to the teams at the top this season than ever before, but they are at the bottom for a reason. Scunthorpe hadn't won a game in weeks, they should have been low on confidence, and we had a chance to stake a claim for a top two place yesterday, but I now believe that it is asking too much. We are only still fifth because the teams around us keep dropping points, but it is irrelevant if we cannot put a run together. Two wins in eleven (West Brom are in our league so I'm counting them) is never going to be good enough for us to claim automatic promotion.

I am beginning to worry about Pardew's ability to lift the team for these types of games. I know that West Ham had the same issues when they were last in this division, and it is really starting to worry me. Don't get me wrong I like Pardew, and I personally like the team bonding and togetherness that he breads, but there is a nagging thought in the back of my mind that under Curbishley the players wouldn't have dared lose this game a month after losing at home to Colchester. I have worked in many different environments, and with that little anecdotal evidence I would suggest that the most popular managers are rarely the most successful. Indeed, a happy work place can often be a relaxed and therefore lazy work place. I wasn't at the game so won't comment, but the radio commentary gave the impression that we stunk the place out, and deserved all that we got even though Pardew (on the official web site) says that we deserved more.

There comes a point when we have got to stop talking the talk and start winning games. This league is there for the taking, but it's not going to hang around waiting for us forever. I have always hated the expression that "You make your own luck" as clearly you can't. Luck is by it's very definition all about luck, but I do believe what Steve Davis said when he walloped Jimmy White to win the Snooker World Championship in the 1980s, and was asked if he'd had the "Rub of the green". "The more I practice, the luckier I get". I don't believe that Man Utd have been super lucky over the years salvaging points, and winning games with very, very late goals. So come on Pardew, stop telling me we were unlucky and deserved to get something when we have lost to yet another relegation candidate. Let's have that run of twelve runs that we've all been waiting for since August.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Next... Scunthorpe away

Having just read Blackheath Addicted's summary of the run in I am raising this game to the status of 'Must Win'. I am also, by the way, going to apply that criteria to every game between now and the end of the season, so I will try to avoid describing any future games as must wins, as I will assume it is known that they all are. I will reserve the right to want to win some games more than others, but until such time (please no) that we cannot realistically make the top two I will accept nothing less than a win.

To be fair I think I started the season with pretty much the same attitude, but now is the 'business end' of the season, and Pardew has spent the last five months promising me (well all of us really) that his teams are always much better in the second half of the season. Just as well really as more of the same will not be enough for automatic promotion and might even be insufficient for the play offs.

So our latest must win game (I'm sure I'll stop mentioning it soon) is away to the team that spoiled our opening game of the season by having the temerity to score an equaliser. We looked really good that day, and I was massively impressed with our new French U21 Captain, and thought we would be a shoe in for the title. It is, I believe, more than a coincidence that since Moutaouakil has returned to the starting line up we have looked much better going forward, and have played much better football.

Scunthorpe have now settled into their proper place in the league table. For me they look like going straight back to where they came from. I'd like to think that Coventry would be joining them as I'm still a bit bitter about the £4.37m of my money Dowie wasted (I'm only valuing Reid's sale at £3m as I am going to give the increase in value to Pardew and his influence). Anyway Coventry are for a later date (another must win). I cannot see tomorrow's game being a close or even an entertaining affair. I believe we will win easily if not convincingly. The games involving the other teams around us will be more interesting. Without even looking at their fixtures I will predict that of the other six teams in the top seven at least one will lose and at least two others will fail to win......

Ok I've just looked at the fixtures and with Cardiff playing Stoke I'm guaranteed at least one of the teams to fail to win, but both Watford and West Brom have tough games at home (Wolves and Burnley respectively), Bristol City have a tough game at QPR and Palace might find manager less Southampton a tougher prospect than the one that they beat 4-1 earlier in the season. So a win tomorrow could well see us close the gap on the teams above us, and even put more pressure on them (if that's possible).

As already mentioned I'm predicting a win tomorrow. I don't expect Pardew to change it around much, I would like to see Thomas on the left and Ambrose on the right - I think Sam was a bit poor against Stoke. I would also go for Varney and Gray upfront, but think Pardew will stick with Big Chris. As for the new boys, I wouldn't expect either of them to start, but I would imagine that with Dickson injured we could well see them both on the bench.

To be honest though tomorrow's game (all be it of massive importance - a must win) is merely the appetiser for next Friday. The Must, Must, Must Win!

Up the Addicks!