Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Charlton 1 - 2 Brighton

Where do I start?

I normally get home at about 11pm after an evening game, but yesterday I was a bit later as I was delayed having a lengthy conversation with my Dad about my son's education - one of the few things in life that matter more to me than Charlton. I may blog about this at some point, but I'm not sure it's interesting enough so maybe I'll not bother.

Anyway, despite getting home at about half past eleven I could still have written something as I don't have to get up all that early, but I thought it'd be better if I waited until today when I felt a lot less angry.

Having had the benefit of a decent night's sleep and some time to reflect I think my anger was mainly based on the fact that I went to the game with such high hopes, I even described my excitement at attending the game on the way up to my Dad, and we didn't only lose, all the teams we are 'watching' won. The end result was that we look, now, very unlikely to win automatic promotion. I know there is a long way to go, but we are six points behind Leeds and nine points behind Norwich - as both have a much better goal difference than us let's make that ten and seven points. Leeds have a game in hand but they have only dropped seven points in their last four games and nine points in six games. It has taken us eight games to win nine points in our recent run. With Norwich the numbers are so bad that it's not really worth considering it, but just for completeness, they have dropped eleven points in their last twenty-one games. We have won twelve points in our last nine games.

I haven't even considered the fact that Colchester are now two points above us with a game in hand and Swindon are one point behind with two games in hand. Swindon have dropped eight points in their last twelve games, and Conchester have won four and drawn two of their last six games.

The truth is that after last night we are probably more interested in Huddersfield and Millwall. Huddersfield are three points behind with a game in hand and a better goal difference and we still have to go there, where they've won ten and drawn six and lost none. Millwall are five points behind with a game in hand and we have to factor in our defeat at the New Den too. Suddenly the playoffs look very challenging - especially as we are fifteenth in the form table (last six games) and the four teams around us (Millwall, Colchester, Swindon and Huddersfield) are the top four.

My first Charlton game was Barnsley at home on 7th March 1981. We were top of the third division at the time, but we fell as low as third by the end of the season and we won promotion - no playoffs in those days. Thus the lowest league position Charlton have occupied since I started watching them is where we are now. With the table like it is I cannot see us staying that high. By the time we play Gillingham on 20th March we will have played three games, and Swindon will have caught up their games in hand so will have played five. What are the chances of us getting more points in those three games than Swindon get in their five. They need two points or one point and a 5 goal swing in goal difference for us to fall to fifth (I'm assuming that we don't catch Colchester in that time, obviously). One of our three games is away to Millwall, so nothing there then!

Thus it is likely that Charlton will record another personal worst league position for me. I suspect that there are a few that are nowhere near their personal worst yet, after all five months before my Valley bow we were as low as 13th in the old third division. However, I suspect that there are a lot of current fans that have seen several successive personal worsts in the last five years. There is talk of fans not being willing to continue to pay literally hundreds of pounds a year to watch what is being served up. My worry is not that we will be in this division for a few seasons. My worry is that if we fail to finish in the top six, not only will we be forced to play in this division for another season, but there will be literally nothing to demonstrate that we can get promoted any time soon. This will almost certainly cause serious carnage in the squad and either way the chances of the board finding someone that will take the club on will fall dramatically.

Thus, my worry is that by Christmas we could well find ourselves in a similar position as Portsmouth are now. Sure, we wouldn't have anywhere near the level of debt that they have, but we have nothing like the income they have either. I was rather outspoken about our chances of selling season tickets for this season, but I'd be amazed if we get anywhere near the 10,000 mark. Let's also remember that by selling tickets now they can't reduce the price in the summer, and £425 (what my ticket cost this season) is way too much for what we have been served up. I don't care what other clubs are charging, this season has gone from being the most enjoyable for years to being the least enjoyable ever. For £425 I could take my wife and son to Tenerife for a week. Add in the costs of travel, programs and food eaten at the ground and we could probably have a fortnight in Orlando.

Clearly I've demonstrated over the years that I will keep coming back, but it may well not be via a season ticket next season (especially if the club don't offer me my current seat in August - which is the earliest I will consider paying this season as I want to see who the manager and players are before I trust the PR rubbish this year). However, when I bought my first season ticket there were just over 2,500 current season ticket holders, so just it follows that I am probably more tolerant than many others.

All of that, however, has been covered before and will, no doubt, be covered again in the weeks and months to come. What hasn't been discussed here is what went wrong last night. I have little interest in writing a full summary, but I'll offer these points:
  • Once Burton went off we looked clueless up front
  • Sodje (A) showed (and probably has) little to offer. Sure he scored two goals before Christmas, but doesn't look like the answer right now.
  • Mooney has the tough of an elephant. He didn't seem to be able to trap the ball less than six foot away from him last night.
  • Lloyd Sam just seemed reluctant to make any runs into the channels, he seemed to be stuck to the half way line.
  • Kyel Reid seems to have absolutely no vision at all. I don't remember him passing the ball much on Saturday (including when he scored and had two good options to lay off the ball off to) and last night he kept the ball for too long and ran into trouble all too often. I would include here the fact that with almost no cover behind him he dribbled the ball past two players and went on to try his luck a third time and lost the ball from which we conceded.
  • Our confidence is so fragile that if we concede first we are finished.
  • A senior club employee has publicly predicted that as Parkinson has 'insisted' that we sign Mooney and Sodje when Murray didn't want to, and probably couldn't afford to, commit the money he doesn't dare drop them both when we are screaming out for a 4-5-1 with Burton up front on his own.
  • McKenzie, again, looked the best of the strikers yet can't seem to get anywhere near the first team starting eleven.
  • The substitutions with fifteen minutes to go were too aggressive and smacked of panic. Brighton's second goal came because we had no idea what we were doing. That's fine for the last five minutes of a game, but fifteen?
  • Parkinson looks like he has, literally, no idea what to do next.
  • The worst players, last night, were the two on loan strikers and the on loan left winger. Have we learned nothing?
  • From the start Brighton looked much more up for the game than us.
  • At times Brighton seemed to pass the ball around us and we couldn't get near it. They made us look like fools at times.
  • Just about every lose ball fell to a Brighton player - I know this can be luck on occasion, but not every time.
  • Our best player by a margin was Daily. He is 36 years old, and was the only player that seemed to be able to bring the ball forward.

I've been calling for a 4-5-1 for two games now, Parkinson even commented on Brighton's strength with their 5 across the midfield. Is there anyone that believes 4-4-2 is going to get us promoted? We have amassed 60 points in 33 games. We managed 26 points in 13 games (2 per game) playing 4-5-1 and that means that 4-4-2 has yielded 34 points in 20 games (1.7 per game). Over a season that difference is 13.8 points. How hard can it be? Really?

No doubt Parkinson will line them up 4-4-2 on Friday and the result will be determined by who scores first. Southend scored first away to Norwich last night. I suspect that we are going to lose at Southend for me to record a new personal worst league position on Saturday if Swindon beat Orient away.

I wonder how much that new contract Parkinson signed just before the side started losing is going to cost when we sack him in the summer when we finish 7th?

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Next... Brighton at home

Unbeaten in one. On a winning run, and we haven't even conceded a goal on our recent run of one game. That's it, you might as well just give us the third division title now!

I have seen criticisms of those that swing from doom and gloom to jubilation and back again, but when it comes to Charlton I just can't help myself. It's a bit like when a good friend does something that you really can't approve of. As soon as you are given half a chance to forgive him, you do and carry on as though it never happened.

Well, a dismal run (which, to be fair did only mean two defeats in ten) and it only takes one win and I'm back full of ridiculous confidence.

There is a little more in it than that. The addition of Johnnie Jackson on Saturday made a huge difference. No disrespect to Grant Basey, but with Reid in front of him we looked a different proposition down the left flank. I suspect that will soon be countered by opposition defences, but it will mean that they will not be able to double mark Lloyd Sam at the same time, so I'm confident that we will see more positive outcomes going forward.

We still look like a team that concentrates on scoring more than defending. I don't have a problem with this specifically, but as unlucky as we might have been in our recent run to have conceded first and left ourselves playing with ten men behind the ball, we were lucky not to have conceded first on Saturday.

In many of the places I have worked I have heard managers counter the influence of luck by claiming that "You make your own luck". This is obviously completely rubbish as by definition luck is just that, luck. However I do love the response Steve Davis gave when he was accused of being lucky during the match when he won one of his World Championships. "The more I practice the luckier I get". Maybe there's something in that for us. Maybe the belief that we are unbeatable has more of an impact on their strikers in front of goal that we realise. Anyway, I'll take another 2-0 and Brighton can have fifteen shots on target for all I care.

Brighton have been in good form recently, they've drawn away to Leeds, and Orient (who had been on a great run themselves) and at home to Huddersfield. Their only defeat in their last four games has come at home to Norwich where they were 1-0 in front until the latter stages. They mightn't have won since the middle of January, but they are no pushovers.

I don't want to sound too cautions, but we didn't line up with the intention of keeping a clean sheet at all costs on Saturday, and I fear that if we concede the first goal tonight we will suddenly be very nervous.

I guess we'd better score first then.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Football Finances

It's been all over the press recently. Palace are in Administration, Southend and Cardiff are in trouble with HMRC and Portsmouth are in deep s**t.

My best guess is that the reason so many are in trouble is that the supply of credit has dried up which has tempted the Inland Revenue to chase for their money with a little more urgency.

Palace have been covered elsewhere, but today there has been mention of Portsmouth on the Charlton email list. There was a Portsmouth forum broadcast on BBC Radio 5 last week. I only caught the Podcast version, so I had edited highlights, but what struck me was just how many people seem to think this is everyone else's fault.

the 'audience' were more than happy to blame the succession of Chairmen (owners), the players, agents and even the football authorities. One chap in the audience (a Pompey fan) had carried out some work to the changing rooms that were required as part of Premier League rules and he thought that the Premier League should pay him out. From what he said he had agreed a deal for the club to be pay him over twelve months, and had only received one installment. He went on to say that he had received a mere £8,000. I know there is some assumption here, but if that was one twelfth of the total (one month's installment) that would suggest that last summer Portsmouth paid (or rather promised to pay) £96,000 for building works to extend the changing rooms at Fratton Park.

It is no wonder that the footballing world has run up the debts that it has. The chap suggested that he did the work at 'almost' cost as he loves the club so much, but he did remark that despite the debts the Club had, he thought he'd be ok as the new owner was a 'Billionaire'. I do have to wonder just why he (and others) thought that someone who had a billion pounds would be willing (never mind interested) in dropping a load of his money in Portsmouth Football Club. No disrespect, but they don't have the most amazing recent history, they don't have a large modern stadium that they fill twice a month and their books must have been available. It is obvious now, so should have been then, that their income just doesn't cover their running costs.

In fact, I would argue that with so many clubs willing to spend money they don't have it must be getting to the point where Premier League survival with football generated income is only affordable by a handful of clubs.

The Premier League has evolved. There was a time (late nineties and a bit beyond) when the established Premier League teams were just way too good for the promoted sides. This followed if you were relegated. The three that went down were favourites to come back up again. This has all changed now.

The three promoted sides have a decent chance of surviving as there is now a queue of clubs in the Premier League that have too many over paid under achieving players that they cannot get rid of. If you have a squad that costs £50m a year to service - I'm talking mainly of wages here, then unless you are a massive club you cannot afford to bring in any new players unless you sell some. Chances are the ones you want to get rid of won't leave as they are earning more than they are worth, and will not take a pay cut.

The newly promoted clubs have minuscule wage bills by comparison and suddenly have £30m more income than they have been used to. A couple of cute signings and the pure enthusiasm that you get from Championship players in the Premier League will actually take you a long way. Certainly it will do more for you than having half a dozen players that are already millionaires, with long contracts that they know are as good as they are ever going to get. I don't want to open up the foreign players debate, but is it often telling which of the players grew up in the back streets of an English inner city estate dreaming of playing for their local team.

The recent strangle hold on finances in the UK has probably meant that many players in the English Leagues (especially the Premier League) are now earning what, it is apparent, is way too much. Suggestions that there are several players at Portsmouth earning £80,000 a week may be wide of the mark, but it does make the point. A four year deal on £80,000 a week is a total outlay of £16,640,000. It doesn't sound so much when you call it £16.64m, but it does put things into perspective when you consider that Portsmouth have a capacity of 20,700.

Thus, if a club that has been allowed to build up running costs of the magnitude of those we see in the Premier League, it is no wonder that relegation beings the kind of disaster that we, Norwich, Leeds and Southampton have suffered. The rumours are that Hull are in substantial debt and Bolton and Wigan have established Premier League running costs. This is before you consider that West Ham have in excess of £100m of debt. I know Gold and Sullivan are fans, but if they go down they are probably going to be in some trouble themselves.

In fact, if you look at Reading and Hull you can see that it only takes a season or two in the top flight to find yourself unable to survive if you are relegated. Thus is ok if you stay up, but each year you are having to spend more than you earn to avoid the drop. After a couple of years, or if we have a recession, the only solution is to sell players, then the relegation comes, followed by at least one season running the club at a huge trading loss. If promotion is not secured at the first time of asking you are looking at carnage.

I don't know what the long term solution is, but I do suspect that until we find one we are going to see more and more clubs in trouble. I just cannot see why anyone would want to take on Portsmouth in it's current state. Sure, if they find a buyer that is willing to drop £200m on a club that is clearly destined for the Championship, with an aging and (let's face it) 20th Century stadium then good luck to them. If not I cannot see a way for the club to survive. The debts are horrendous, but the main problem is going to be that they have a playing staff wage bill that is just not sustainable on their current levels of income. Thus you would have to be willing to take on a club with above average Premier League running costs with Championship income and an aging squad of players that probably couldn't get you out of the Championship. It doesn't seem to matter which angle you look at, they look doomed.

I've talked about my distaste for administration and starting again in the past, but Portsmouth are almost certainly going down, a nine point penalty and even Curbs wouldn't be able to save them. So it's £200m for a club that are probably going down or c. £20m for a club that definitely will. I'm assuming something like 10p in the pound for some of the creditors, all football debts have to be paid, and HMRC will want a big slice to send out a message. You will probably also need several millions more to run the club until the expensive players contracts run out or you win promotion with an inadequate squad.

Suddenly being 4th in the third division with just three points to the team in second doesn't look all that bad. There was talk of us falling out of the Premier League at just the wrong time, the season the money went up from £20 to £30m. I know we have some financial problems, but on reflection, maybe we got out just in time.

Up the Addicks!

Charlton 2 - 0 Yeovil

It's strange how a result can change everything. I often remark that football is, technically, in the entertainment business but you can go and see a cracking game, with several goals and come away disappointed. You can also see a totally pants game where you score a late winner both against the run of play, and from an unfair advantage (penalty that wasn't for example) and come home very happy.

Saturday was clearly much more like the latter. It was both a good result and a good performance. The ball was passed much more than we have seen in recent weeks. Parkinson made some of the changes I was hoping for, but not all of them, and we looked a more balanced side, and played the kind of football that is necessary if you want to provide entertainment aside from the result.

We didn't start with a 4-5-1, but in the second half Mooney dropped deeper so that it did at times look like we were. Llera came in for Sam Sodje and he gave a great performance. I was tempted to give Sodje an extended rest after his red card against Swindon (like it was ever my decision - but you know what I mean). However we did look a lot more confident at the back, and, of course we kept our first clean sheet since 5th December - a massive eleven games.

It could have been very different, however. Rob Elliot made at least two significant saves that you would normally have expected to end up in a goal. Had he failed to keep them out the result could well have been very different. Having said that, however, the Brentford game back in September finished with the same scoreline, and we had a couple of scares in that game too. Maybe what we needed was that bit of luck to get the first goal. We certainly looked a different side at 1-0 in front that we have looked at 1-0 down in recent weeks.

So, onwards and upwards. Norwich lost and Leeds drew. Colchester, who I have been worried about for more than a couple of weeks, won again. There is a similarity between them and the Watford side that Boothroyd got into the Premier League - not so much in their playing style (which is similar) but their results and the fact that they have had a mid season run that will give them every chance of being in the playoffs and possibly even automatic promotion.

On the whole if you'd offered me a 2-0 win with Norwich and Leeds stumbling at home on Saturday morning, I'd have ripped your arm off. Ignoring games in hand we are three points off second and eight above seventh. That'll do for me, for now.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Bristol Rovers 2 -1 Charlton

I have something of a reputation for making excuses. In fact the more I wrote this blog and the more I confess to character faults the more I think I don't like me. Anyway I'm getting off subject.

I have been reluctant to make excuses for our performances this last month or so. Cries of "We've been found out", "We don't have enough quality" and "We are not hard enough" fail miserably to explain just why a team that seemed to beat all before it in the autumn can suddenly not string together three passes, can't keep a clean sheet, and can't score more than one goal a game.

Last night (well this morning, actually) it suddenly dawned on me that we have not been afforded the kind of protection against the teams that set out to 'bully' us as we need. I'm not only pointing the finger at referees here. Sure they have been less than helpful on occasion (last night being a good example) but it's not all down to them. What I'm really taking about is the lack of protection from our own players.

It would be too much of a jump to suggest that the loss of Danny Mills' hard man reputation caused us to fall down the table in 2008. There is something though, I'm sure, in having a strong man in the team to stop the 'weaker' players from being put off their game, by what my Dad always referrers to "Hairy Arse Defenders". For the record I have no idea just what my Dad knows about the bottoms of defenders, but I suspect you get the point.

If we had a Roy Keane (I know he was the ultimate enforcer) then I don't believe that Blizzard would have gone through Grant Basey like he did. Let's get one thing straight, I don't believe that there was any intention to do serious damage to Grant Basey, but there was the intention to intimidate. This doesn't absolve the player of the results of his actions, and as for Trollope claiming that he is not this kind of player that goes out to hurt people, I just don't care. The tackle was deliberately dangerous with the intention to 'make a statement' and that is just as wrong. It seems that Grant hasn't actually broken his leg, but I suspect that it will be several weeks before we see him play again, and it could, of course, have been much worse.

The authorities need to do something about this. If they do not then they are giving licence to teams of limited thugs to destroy 'the beautiful game'. I know this is the third division, but I can't help feeling that if this incident had happened to Wayne Rooney the guy wouldn't now be able to leave his house. I'm not saying that would be right, but there is no disincentive for another player to do that to us on Saturday - especially when it is clear that 'We don't like it up us'.

I'm not sure we have a player that can be an enforcer in our squad. Sam Sodje has the worst disciplinary record in our side, but he is just a bit of a headless chicken at times. Thus we have to accept that when we play a team that set out to be "Aggressive" as Trollope 'admitted' in his press conference, we are going to struggle. It is now public knowledge as well.

I hate to play a negative game but one thing that Curbishley knew was that if you can stop shipping goals, then you will stop losing, and give yourself a platform from which to go on and win a game. Thus I think we now need to forget trying to play pretty football. I think we need to forget going out to score three or four goals. We need to 'Shut up Shop!' I would go for a 4-5-1 on Saturday. I would start with the same side that won those six games at the start of the season - save for Youga, of course. Mooney and Sodje (A) have failed to gel with Burton in recent weeks and Shelvey was covering so much ground at the start of the season in a way than no one else in our squad can.

I would also give Sam Sodje a rest. I know we have not kept a clean sheet for eleven games, and Llera has been involved in that time, but I just feel we need a change and Sodje has looked more like a headless chicken in recent weeks. I have no idea who we are going to play at left back on Saturday, but that is a problem for another day - maybe an emergency loan.

I know Parkinson has rather committed himself to playing two upfront with the addition of two new forwards on loan in January (all be it that we had them in the run up to Christmas) but we have failed to look convincing with two upfront, save for the freak game at home to MK Dons and the 4-2 win over Bristol Rovers. I would argue, however, that any game where you concede two at home should not be held up as a good example.

Basically we have been able to bring in Mooney and Sodje (A) in on loan because their teams felt they were surplus to requirements, Reading are in the relegation zone and Sheff Wed two points above it, having played a game more. Basically they are limited. I know that is all we can afford right now, but Shelvey is a class act. I know he has had some indifferent games recently, but he has been played out of position. His best position is just behind the front man. the last player we had that was 'made' for that position was allowed to leave and was ridiculed by our fans only to go on to score 16 goals this season (already) for Palace.

Either we play Shelvey or he will leave. If we continue to shove him into whatever position we seem to have a problem with this week, he will probably leave for next to nothing, then move on for millions a couple of seasons later when he has been given a decent run in 'his' position. It's telling that in the 18 games that Shelvey has started we have averaged 2 points per game. In the 13 games that he hasn't started we've averaged 1.62 points per game. The vast majority of the games where Shelvey played in the hole (I make that 12) the average points per game was 2.08. I know this is a little specific and there are many other factors to be considered, but I'm convinced that we need to play more like the start of the season and a lot less like the last two months if we are going to make any inroads on the top two.

Having said that, I am inclined to believe that we cannot win automatic promotion now. Leeds have had a bad run recently, but over the season to date they have been much more consistent, and I can't see us winning five more points than them between now and May. I think we are more likely to be over taken by Huddersfield than we are to catch Leeds, although I don't think either will happen - but I could well be wrong.

With so many of our fans comparing this season with 2007/08 some of the players and possibly the management must have thought it. The similarities are there. We were in the hunt for a top two that season right up to Christmas. In the new year we fell away and then we kept changing the side, and brought in loan players to give us that je ne sais quoi to get into the top two. As we fell further behind we (Pardew) became more adamant that we could still avoid the playoffs. With eight games to go we were fifth and with four defeats in those eight games we did, indeed, avoid the playoffs.

I'm not saying that that is going to happen again this season, but something has to change because we have not looked convincing since we won 2-0 at Brighton on 1st December, and three of our four wins since then have been somewhat against the run of play. In some respects I'm glad it's not my job to sort it out, but Parkinson has, in my view, been given a lot of support both financially and from the fans this season. I accept that he inherited a mess in November 2008, all be it I think the season was still salvageable at that point, but he has had more than his fair share of resources this season, and anything short of promotion must be seen as a failure.

It is imperative that we get back to winning ways soon, but most importantly we need to go out and keep a clean sheet. Only Norwich have scored more goals than us this season, all be it they've scored thirteen more. Leeds have actually scored three less, and Huddersfield, who were scoring for fun earlier in the season have scored two less. The big difference, however, is that Leeds have conceded nine less. We need to get back to basics and that means starting at the back. We need clean sheets. I'm more than happy with a run of half a dozen boring 1-0 wins. starting this Saturday please Mr Parkinson?

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Next... Bristol Rovers away

With the Swindon game being a week where we made a point on Norwich, and with Leeds drawing again on Saturday we could well find ourselves making ground on both the top two in the space of two games with a win tonight.

Sure, had we beaten Swindon it would have looked much better, and by all accounts our performance was poor again, so we shouldn't get too excited, but on the basis that Colchester only drew at Stockport on Saturday we could well make ground on all those that are in 'real' contention for a top two place.

I know that Swindon could get themselves in the mix, but even if they win their game in hand they would still be behind us.

Thus, from my calculations if we win all our remaining games we will end up two points behind Leeds and level with Norwich before their game at Carrow Road is taken into account (assuming they also win all their remaining games). Norwich's recent run is just amazing, They took ten points in their first nine games, and since then they have managed 18 wins, 2 draws and only 2 defeats in 22 games. One of those defeats was at Elland Road where a Leeds fan friend of mine said he felt embarrassed that Norwich didn't win by three goals.

For us to be a mere nine points (six with a win tonight) behind them is actually very impressive. Leeds, on the other hand have, like us, picked up the bulk of their points last year. In fact they have only won of their last six games. We've won two and drawn three of our last six, Leeds have won one and drawn three - and lost two. I know it sounds like I'm clutching at straws (and I am) but for us to have had what is being described as a terrible run and to have gained three points on the team I suspect we are most likely to catch of the top two is not all that bad.

Which brings me on to tonight's game. I haven't been to either of the two away games that we came from behind to draw, so I shouldn't really comment, but from reports we have been poor, but we have come from behind to earn a point, thus we have showed character. We don't seem to have that elusive quality that we had at the start of the season to 'just win' irrespective. Norwich have it, and Leeds have showed it this season on and off. Leeds have scored so many late goals to snatch wins, Norwich came from behind to win at Walsall in the last fifteen minutes, and did the same again on Saturday at Brighton. We have to assume that these two are not going to keep doing that, and we have to start doing it ourselves.

Bristol Rovers had a great start to the season, winning six of their opening eight games. They have won six of the next twenty-one. However five of those six wins have come at home, and they have won four of their last six home games. I know one shouldn't read results off the table, but the fact that we have won three and drawn three of our last six away games suggests that neither side will start playing for a draw, hoping for a break away goal to win it. The home game with Rovers was a really enjoyable event. Obviously it helps if you win, but both sides showed good attaching football and Rovers scored two despite losing.

After enjoying the football this season more than I have for a long time I now feel anxious before every game. I keep trying not to, and after all this is supposed to be enjoyment, not a chore, but even with sixteen games (more than a third of the season) to go I am starting to tend towards 'win at all costs'. I think that feeling is being heightened by the fact that the prize this season is less than the celebration of a promotion it's the avoidance of devastation that will almost certainly follow if we are forced to spend another season in the third division.

In fact, the future doesn't look all the bright however you look at it, but on the basis that it has now been two and a half months and eleven games since we won a game by two goals it is no wonder that I (and I'm sure many others) are getting a little desperate.

I have been rather negative in my predictions recently, but I have a good feeling about tonight. I'm going to go for a 3-1 win. The first time we've scored three goals since we last played Rovers, and the first time we've won by two goals since the 1st December. I truly believe that we are just a couple of decent wins away from looking like the world beaters that we did in August. Let's get one of those tonight.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Next... Swindon away

Strangely Swindon have been on a great run recently, and are second, only to Norwich, in the form (6 games) table. That is, however, only half the story as they have nine wins and two draws in their last twelve games - 29 points out of a possible 36. We have managed just six wins and five draws - 23 out of 36.

Clearly their form is better than ours, but what is weird is that we are almost suicidal with our form where as Swindin are absolutely ecstatic. In fact, we looked like we were going to play them off the park at The Valley on Boxing Day, even with ten men when we scored. The end result, as we all know, is that even with nine men we managed to snatch a last gasp equaliser after they had failed to capitalise and only scored two goals in the second half.

Overall I think this season has been a success. The minimum we need is promotion. Anything else would be a complete disaster. We do need to be realistic though. Just because we need it doesn't make it easy, nor does it make it a foregone conclusion that we should achieve it.

I have been rather critical of both Parkinson and his appointment in the past. I have turned a leaf - in fact I did this some time ago - and now I think the team needs our support. I refused to go to Walsall because I felt cheated about the first game being cancelled when I was less than half an hour away. Swindon would have been a manageable journey, but it is my sister's birthday and despite the fact that all family occasions have had to take second fiddle to Charlton home games for years it is only fair that away games are sacrificed as a compromise.

Thus I will be listening on the radio, or most likely looking at my iPhone reading what can only be described as frustrating 'text commentary'.

I have been a little negative about Charlton recently. We have played poorly and for the first time in a long time we have still managed to get more than we deserved. Normally this would be celebration time, but when you fall to 11th in the form tables and you have been picking up points you shouldn't have it is time to worry. Tomorrow looks like a bonus to me. On the whole we are not expected to get much from the game. In fact the bookies have us as favourites to lose - not by much, but to lose. Thus any kind of revival will have double the effect.

Should we lose and it will be 'business as usual' for a team that is clearly in a sticky patch. Norwich look like they are going to run away with the title now. It's not only that they are winning and winning, but they have managed maximum points in a game that they were reduced to ten men in (with the score at 0-0 at the time) and they have now played two of their three games with their Captain and top scorer missing and have won them both too. Add to that the fact that they were not, after all, forced to sell any of their players in January, and I cannot see anyone getting close to them.

Leeds are, potentially, still catch able (as are Norwich, technically) but with their FA Cup exploits finished, and with Beckford still there I can see them picking up the required points to take second place. This is not a disaster, of course, we still have a strong squad, and if we are (as the table shows) the third best team in the division, we have as good (if not better) chance of winning the playoffs than the rest.

This all makes me sound uncharacteristically upbeat. Maybe I am, maybe I'm heading for a fall, but I would have taken sixth at the start of the season, even after we'd kept all our star midfielders. Sodje and Mooney bring something to the party. Sure they are limited players, and I'm not convinced either of them have much of a career ahead of them in the Championship or above, but that is not where we are, and it's not what we have to face for the next three months.

We clearly need Youga back, and that looks more worrying every week. It is clear that the initial estimate of ten days was way too optimistic, but I think Based is more than adequate, and once we have a winger that can provide some protection we will see him grow in stature and confidence.

Despite all of the confidence and optimum I am going to go for a defeat tomorrow. My repeated suggestions that we are going to win have hardly helped in recent weeks, so what do I have to lose. If we win I'll be more than pleased and if we lose I'll be right.

This game is actually quite important in some ways, but if we are not going to make the top two it doesn't actually matter if Swindon finish above us or not - as long as we are in the top six.

I'll probably take a draw tomorrow, but a win would be a real bonus.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Next... Walsall away

Despite being less than twenty miles away when this game was called off in January, I'm not going tonight. I'd like to be saying that I'm not going as a protest, and I do have it in me to be that petty, but the truth is that my Dad is away and I'm not going all that way on my own.

In fact, due to changes to matches being played (snow and TV) my Dad has missed the three home games that have been the worst performances for probably several years. I make this bold statement on the basis that we are in a lower division than we have been since the early 80s and the quality of the football from all four sides was just rubbish. I was an avid Match of the Day watcher while we were in the Premier League (and before 1998 as it happens) but I've literally lost interest in that bloated concept in the last few years. It is probably a discussion for another time but it does leave some worrying questions when you ponder aspirations, if you don't actually think you want to be part of that gravy train again. Anyway, by some coincindence, I watched about half an hour of the Burnely, Chelsea game on Saturday evening, and the quality of the play was just different class. I know you would expect that from Chelsea, but the Burnley players made ours look amatures. It does pose the question as to which of these players would be good enough for the Premier Legaue. Anything less than that and there is realistically no transfer fee worth talking about.

I would go as far as to say that, despite it being a bad day at the office for us, if I was a scout for a Prmier League side I would never consider any of the Charlton players that took to the field on Saturday. Christial Daily is a class act, but clearly past his best, none of the rest looked anywhere near as good as the Burnley players, and they are the bookies favourites to be relegated. Our most inspirational player this season, Bailey, has looked well below par in the last three games, and, frankly, it is the number and significance of below par performances that top players are judged on. I'm not making Bailey a scape goat, but if he played like he has in the last three games in the three gamnes against relegation competition in the Premier League his side would be in trouble. For that reason I think his aspirations may well be limited to mid table Championship football. Again a discussion for another day.

After some ourstanding games this season - and I'm talking about performances rather than results - we suddenly look very, very poor. There must be a reason for this, but I can't think of one thing it could be. To help me 'brainstorm' before I started this post I wrote something down. I never do this - you might have been able to tell - I just log in and write what I think. The list of thoughts I came up with were:

Bailey out of form
Sam being over marked and making the wrong choices
Burton a bit off form
Mooney suddenly looking like an unintelligent footballer
Basey looking exposed from lack of cover
Passing -> too long

There is nothing there that I haven't read somewhere else. I'm not saying that I've stolen all these ideas, merely pointing out I'm not the only one to have brought them up.

I didn't mention Semedo being limited and/or out of form as I don't personally believe it. He has a limited skill set (or job description) and he is not expected to play defence splitting passes (at least not by me). He is expected to take the ball and pass it on without losing it. I don't care if the pass is forwards, sideways or backwards, just as long as it goes to a Charlton player. That's his job.

The other think I wrote down, and the thing that I believe was massively responsible for the long ball on Saturday was "Wingers - 4-2-4". What I meant by that was that when ever we were in possession of the ball Sam and Reid pushed up and we lined up with four across the park with Burton and Mooney. On many occasions we had possession of the ball with the midfield (Bailey or Semedo) or the full backs and the gap to a forward player was so great that a short pass was just not possible. Both Bailey and Semedo found themselves facing their own goal with a Tranmere player at their heels. Thus the only pass was a full back or the 'Keeper.

If the ball was passed to the full back all that was left as an option was a long punt to the wingers (neither are very tall) or the strikers or a pass back to the Randolph - who's only option was a long punt. I know we have been calling for a proper winger on the left, but we have ended up with a formation that leaves the midfield totally exposed, particularly against a team that come to The Valley and pack the midfield to stifle us.

I agree with the calls for a 4-5-1. Shelvey looked outstanding in the early games, and despite looking a bit off form in recent weeks he still shows the skills and enthusiasm that would be a real asset in 'the hole'.

Of the list above form seems to be the biggest issue. Maybe it's time for Bailey and Mooney to be given a rest and Racon and Shelvey to come in to complete the 4-5-1 for tonight. I have always liked 4-4-2, and I like to see us play with wingers that push right up the pitch, but I like to win more. I also think that we can control the midfield better this way, and if we can grind out some clean sheets and a few wins back to back then our chase for a top two place might just be on again.

As things are I cannot see us making the top two. In fact, unless we can produce some much better performances I find myself worrying that we will fall into mid table and miss out on the playoffs altogether. The similarities with 2008 are just too frightening to contemplate. I know that Parkinson is a different man than Pardew but psychologically, the side must be looking at it and worrying what has gone wrong.

Sure, the results have been ok. We have still only lost one in thirteen, but if you look a little more recently we have only won two of the last seven. The Millwall derby and the Swindon game with nine men were ok in isolation. The draw away to Brentford with the players we had missing, and having played an hour with nine two days before was also credible. However, add the win at Wycombe, which was not the most convincing I've ever seen, following by three home games that we didn't really deserve to win makes that run of seven look poor.

In that run of seven games, the teams in 5th, 6th and 7th (the ones we need to be worried about to finish in the playoffs) have managed 17, 14 and 14 points respectively while we have only managed 10. They are currently 7, 9 and 10 points behind us and the teams in 5th and 7th have two games in hand on us. If Huddersfield (7th) win their two games in hand the team in 6th will be just four points behind us and still have us to play at home. It suddenly focuses one's mind when you look at it like that doesn't it?

The next two games are massive. We need to win promotion this season or we are likely to turn into a disaster club over the summer. We have already seen how difficult it is to literally 'give' away players that are on good wages. From what I've read we payed most of Moutaouakil's wages while he was on loan in Scotland, but we can't find anyone to take him again. With that, and the fact that I seriously doubt we have any players we can sell to the Premier League (save for Shelvey) we could find ourselves in a real mess next season. I fail to see why someone would want to buy our club in it's current predicament.

I know we keep being told about the Olympics in 2012, but even if the club was given away for nothing, and the directors waived their loan bonds you would have to commit to a business with over £20m in mortgages for a stadium that is about twice what we need (I'm assuming we stay in this division next season) and with running costs anything from £5m upwards more than the income. Add to that the club's 'disclosure' that your seat is not guaranteed unless you renew by 31 March (something I think is unreasonable, by the way) and you could be looking at a business with almost no income due for the next twelve months by the end of the season. Who'd buy a business like that?

Anyway, I'm still hoping that we will be able to sneak through the playoffs so let's hope that that discussion is not necessary.

After being confident of convincing wins for most of this season (I avoided a preview of the Tranmere game but still thought we'd win) I am predicting a defeat tonight. Walsall, ironically, had a run of four wins and a draw in their five games up to December, but they are now on a run of two draws and four defeats in six. Not a bad time to play them maybe, and I'm hoping that I'm wrong, but I fear the worst. A defeat tonight will leave us with a real must win on Saturday against Swindon, who with their recent form and games in hand could be above us by the time we play Bristol Rovers on Monday the 15th.

Strangely it seems to be when I suspect the worst that Charlton manage to lift my spirits the most. Let's hope that happens tonight.

Up the Addicks!