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!