Thursday, 22 January 2009

Next... Sheffield United away

If a week is a long time in politics, then we have to assume that there has been a substantial change in the atmosphere at Sparrows Lane, since Phil Parkinson gave the team a day off on Sunday as a punishment for being so poor at 'the office' on Saturday.

I remember as a child being told by my parents "Get out of my sight". I can't remember what I'd done now (although I'd hazard a guess that it wasn't actually my fault) but I do understand the need to distance yourself from something (or someone) you are truly angry with.

Sadly I would have thought that with so many new players in the squad the team need more time together, rather than more time apart, but hopefully the day's 'breather' will have helped a little.

The local Sheffield press are talking about United scoring their ninth and tenth goals against us for the season. I can't see any reason as to why they shouldn't score two goals, after all Norwich are the only side to have failed to score two goals against us in one game since November. In fact Norwich have played us three times during that period and have scored two goals in those three games.

I know it is obvious that when you are bottom of the league you must be letting in too many goals, and not scoring enough, but we really do have significant problems at both ends of the pitch. The tendency is to sort out the defence first, then when you can keep clean sheets you can worry about scoring a goal or two. However, with the transfer window being so short you need to have plans in place to sign both defenders and strikers. This is, of course, assuming that signing new players is your solution to the problem, and it looks like that is our plan.

We will, again, have to make changes due to the loan players being unavailable. I'm not sure what will happen to Waghorn. The second month of his loan has expired and we have to make a decision about the potential third month by tomorrow (Friday). I'm not sure he has offered enough to make it worth paying his wages for another month. I have no idea what the true financial situation of the club is right now, but it must be evident to everyone that the way forward now is to sign players that can be part of a promotion campaign next season.

I don't want to give up, but evidence shows that facing up to the inevitable can be a better way to prepare for it. We had the opportunity to start the building process for the Championship in January 2007, but decided to gamble on short term options to try to save our Premier League status. This was a gamble that was worth taking, all be it it didn't pay off. In January 2008, despite selling Andy Reid, we went on to sign loan players in an attempt to get promoted and then worry about the squad in the summer. That didn't work either.

This January we seem to be doing a bit of both. I cannot see Murty or Soares being involved in our squad next season irrespective as to the division we find ourselves in. Spring and Burton (sadly) look to have been signed for a more long term future. I mentioned Burton, but I haven't seen anywhere how long he is contracted to us for. It might only be to the end of the season, so he might not be here come August. I think Martyn Waghorn is another player that has come to Charlton to help his career (understandably and fair enough) that will not be here next season. For this reason alone I'd be tempted to let him go back and give Dickson or Fleetwood a run in the side, as they could well be here, and useful in the Third Division.

I see that McLeod has been loaned out to, of all sides, Millwall. I can only assume that this has been done to give him some exposure to the division we will be playing in next season. I do worry, however, if his current wages are affordable in the third division. I fear that all of Pardew's signings are only affordable with Premier League tv revenue (even if it only needs parachute payments).

Irrespective as to who our manager will be next season, we need to bring in some players that are both capable and affordable in the Third Division. The sooner we offload the players that we cannot afford the sooner we will start to make savings on their wages. I know this looks like I've given up, and I can assure you I haven't, but under the circumstances, the sooner we cut our cloth the better as far as I'm concerned.

As to Saturday, I would normally have been looking forward to an FA Cup 4th round tie. We haven't even been in the 4th round for three years, and it would seem unlikely that we will achieve it next season. However, I cannot get too excited. Sheffield United are not inspiring opposition, if for no other reason that we have already played them twice since 22nd November.

A win is always possible, but if we are realistic, even if United decide to rest most of their first team players, we are going to struggle to get anything out of this game. I would take a draw. Even though we don't really need the extra game, we could do with the extra revenue that a replay would provide. We might even get a bumper crowd if the draw in between the two ties provides an exciting fixture in the next round.

Of much more importance is the Palace game next week, and the further development of the squad that can only be done for another ten days.

I am not going to comment extensively on the rumours about us going into administration this week as I don't really believe they are true, and don't think they will materially affect our season, or our future, if they are. If we go into administration we will reduce our debts and suffer a penalty points deduction. Assuming that penalty is not applied next season (as was what happened to Leeds) it will only bring forward the inevitable this season and may enable us to start off on a stronger financial footing next season.

The other worthy piece of news this week was that Steve Waggott gave an interview where, when asked about our aspirations for this season, he suggested:

"I think we were expecting to finish at least 10th, if not higher".

Compare that to his comment last June when we were in the process of selling season tickets with the promise of a free season ticket in the event of promotion:

"But we have learned a lot from last year and, with the capture of Mark Hudson and the development of a crop of exciting young players, as well as more potential new signings over the next few weeks, we're determined to have a squad fit for promotion."

The fact that following this statement the club went on to sell in excess of £5m worth or players, something that Pardew confirmed would adversely effect our promotion chances, does question what the genuine aspirations for this season were.

At at time when many of those with season tickets are choosing not to attend, the side is on the worst run in it's 103 year history and the club is in the most dire financial situation since the 1980s you have to wonder if Steve Waggot should be allowed to talk to the press again.

I find his involvement with so many community projects, when the side is struggling, a little worrying, but it would be hard to argue that this is not the worst bit of PR the club has managed. This makes Peter Varney's assertion that Les Reed will not be sacked under any circumstances three days before he was sacked look positively intelligent.

Just for the record, I don't really have any problems with the club painting a positive outlook when they are selling tickets, even if they know the truth is something different. I would rather we sold 13,000 season tickets then sold £5m worth of players than sell 9,000 season tickets and be forced to sell £6m worth of players. What I don't really want is to hear a senior employee effectively admit that the club set out to mislead the fans. Even if this is only his own personal view, as the CEO, he shouldn't be saying it.

Before I get bombarded with comments suggesting that I am making assumptions about the club's motives I suggest you read the two quotes above. Thay can't both be true. Steve Waggott is too senior to be making such terrible mistakes. Following a lot of soul searching I have come to the conclusion that I may well renew my season ticket after all - subject to what I consider a realistic price for the division we will be in. I do believe, however, that many others will not do so as it will be so difficult for the less committed fan to trust anything the board says, when the prices for next season are announced.

"We are determined to build a squad that will get us back in the Championship at the first attempt" for example, will fall on deaf ears in May.

I know that you cannot trade football results, but I'm more than willing to lose on Saturday if we can win on Tuesday. I don't want to add too much pressure, but with the other sides around us starting to win games we need to get a league win soon or it will be too late. Anyway, I'm sure I'll have something to say about Palace another time.

Over the years the team has had a knack of winning when I least expect it, maybe a win at Bramall Lane is going to the one win that starts a run of five or six. Let's hope so.

Up the Addicks!

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