Monday, 22 August 2011

Charlton 2 - 2 Scunthorpe

So, after my bragging that we had won two games convincingly, we went on to draw a game that we probably deserved to lose.

I know that conceding a late goal (injury time) to lose a lead gives the impression that a draw has been snatched from the jaws of victory, but in truth we didn't dominate this game and at 2-0 we effectively sat back waiting for the game to finish for us to pack up and go home with the three points we had already won.

It's interesting that Powell seems to be happy to defend the approach of sitting back and allowing the team to attack us for great periods of the game when we are in front. In his defence we had only conceded one league goal in three games, so he could be forgiven for thinking that we could close the game out for the last twenty minutes with a 2-0 lead.

Changing Hayes for Euell was not, necessarily, a mistake, but taking off BWP for a centre half late on in the game is the sort of thing you do against Man Utd, not Scunthorpe. I know we need to be realistic, and accept that we are not going to win the division at a canter and, indeed, may well be chasing 6th place by May, but I would have thought that we could have pushed on for a third goal to kill the game off.

Anyway, it is what it is. We were not the best side by far on the day, and had we been two goals down with twenty minutes to go I wouldn't have thought it at all possible for us to get back into the game.

I will just add my backing to the general displeasure with the short corner with three minutes to go. Bearing in mind how long it took us to lose the ball it would probably have been back in our half just as quickly if we'd crossed for a shot and lost the ball immediately.

Other thoughts on the game, Danny Green is fantastic at crossing the ball - I've not seen anything like it since we last entertained Beckham at The Valley. I'm not saying Green in the next Beckham, but his crossing is the best since we last saw the format England Captain.

Paul Hayes had a bit of a stinker. To be fair to him he has admitted as much on his Twitter. In the first couple of games he has looked a real asset. His running and his ball hold up play have been impressive. He can also pick out a pass and will, no doubt, prove to be worth his place in the side, but he missed a chance on Saturday, despite keeping the ball down and hitting the target, he should really have done better. His biggest fumble, however, was when he was clear away and dribbled the ball rather than kicking it and chasing it and the defender took the ball off his toes before he could get a shot off. He is clearly not an out and out striker, but to be fair we knew that when we signed him.

I also felt the midfield looked tired on Saturday. It's ok keeping a winning side, but when the games come a bit thick and fast it might be better to rest the odd players rather than have them tire out. Towards the end on Saturday we seemed to have conceded the midfield completely.

On the whole ten points from the first four games is a fantastic return, but we are, clearly, not going to dominate this division at a canter which was what we being suggested before Saturday.

Up the Addicks!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Next... Scunthorpe at home

Following on from a terrific display at Colchester (my Dad and I were there) we entertain one of last season's relegated teams that have made a stuttering start to the season. I have no idea how they will fare as the season unfolds, but I think we are meeting them at a good time - for us.

There are some similarities between us and Scunthorpe in that Atkins achieved so much with them and since he's left they seem to have been in free fall. Maybe they will be strong contenders this season, but 29-1 to win the division, the bookies clearly don't fancy them all that much.

Anyway, as it's already Saturday morning I'm not going to write a full match preview just add some observations following last Tuesday's win in Essex.

I was not terribly keen for Parkinson to be given the job when we were in the Championship; I was not all that sure that he was the man to get us out of this division in the summer of 2009, however I think he managed to get a lot out of a limited squad in 2009/10 and last season he kept us in the playoff places with a side that was put together on a shoestring budget (I'm refusing to include the wages that someone else agreed to pay his players before he took over).

Despite my lack of enthusiasm in giving Parkinson the job he did manage to secure wins and pick up points by grinding out results. This was unattractive and never seemed convincing, but it did seem to work. This season it is different. To be fair Powell has been given the chance to build the squad he wanted, something that Parkinson never had.

The change is staggering. We were well worth our win on Tuesday, and we were well worth our win against Bournemouth. I can't remember the last time I saw us win two games back to back and deserve to win them both. Seriously, I really can't remember!

Two seasons ago we won six straight at the start of the season, but that included four that I went to (the home games and Orient away) and of those four we were only convincing in the first half agaist Wycombe and we managed to concede two goals after being three in front to make for a tense ending to the game. Thus we are looking better, relative to the opposition, than we did two years ago. That is the most pleasing aspect of the start we are watching - we actually look like we are better than the opposition.

Clearly it's early days, but you can only beat what's in front of you, and at the moment I'm feeling very optimistic about the season.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Next... Notts County away

When we were first relegated to this god forsaken league (no disrespect intended to any clubs that are happy to be in it) I really thought we wouldn't be here long enough to bother reading up on the players we would be facing each week. Having said that I didn't bother going to too much trouble when we returned to the second division in 2007 either.

Anyway, last season I, again, thought I would wing it with my previews and not bother going to all that much trouble to familiarise myself with the teams we would be meeting each week. This year, however, I intend to make more of an effort. I've decided to take a leaf out of Chicago Addick's book and look into the opposition a little more. Clearly this is going to much easier once the table takes shape and the teams new squads settle in and the stars of the season become more identifiable. Anyway Notts County?

Their forum thread for tomorrow's game is rather short, but the feeling is that they should keep the same eleven, with maybe Hughes being given a rest if he is tired following their 3-3 draw AET at Forest on Tuesday. Hughes, who is 35, scored his 51st goal for County on Tuesday before missing a penalty that would have sent them through - they lost the shootout 4-3.

With six goals in their first two games (all be it one of those came in extra time) it is clear that they have some firepower this season. The three they conceded to Forest are hardly cause for concern for them, Forest made the playoffs last season, and with Andy Reid looking slim (no, really he does) they are probably going to be in the mix this season.

Thankfully teams normally struggle four days after extra time and penalties, and with Lee Hughes having scored two of their goals this season they might need to play a slightly different game if he is not going to play. At 35 it would be a lot to ask for him to play three games in eight days, and after his performance against us last season at The Valley I'm more than happy for them to rest him. Strangely the BBC season preview (which is admittedly short) suggests that County have a shortage of goals, hence their interest in Paul Benson. They have now had three bids turned down for Showunmi by Tranmere. Even the player is suggesting that he is happy to stay now. This does suggest that Allen thinks/knows his squad needs more fire power.

With that in mind, I'm tempted to suggest that a Hughes free line up should be there for the taking. We have shown that we can score goals with a three goal margin for the first time since Powell took charge. In fact a 4-0 win at Tranmere (August 2009) a 5-1 win against MK Dons (14/11/09) and the 5-1 win at Peterborough (13/11/10) we haven't managed a three goal margin since Chris Powell scored himself in a 4-1 win over Coventry in May 2008.

Clearly we will not win every game by three goals, nor will we score three goals most weeks, but we do seem to have much more fire power this season. I would like to think that Wright-Phillips, Hayes, Benson, Jackson, Stephens, Green and Wagstaff are all in with a shout of getting ten goals this season. That does mean that marking our threats out of the game is going to be a little more difficult this season. Lloyd Sam and Kyle Reid both suffered with double marking at times, but who would you double mark with Green on one flank, Jackson on the other and Stephens in the middle? I also think we will increase those options with a loan player or two in due course.

Interestingly, Norwich managed nine wins by three goals or more during 2009-10. I'd take that right now!

So even though under different circumstances I'd be inclined to take a draw away to a team that have won their last league game 3-0 away and matched a second division team in midweek, I'm confident enough of our abilities to suggest that we will win this game. If there is anywhere near as much fatigue in the County players as I think there might be I would look to push on in the latter stages of the game to see if we can get another goal or two.

As for the team I, personally, would prefer to see Green get a game. I know Wagstaff has done nothing wrong, but it is a long season, the games are coming think and fast right now and it makes sense to play your best side when ever you can. I expect both Wagstaff and Green to be playing 30 games plus this season (particularly if you include substitutions) and for that reason I'd like to blood him this weekend and bring Wagstaff on for the last twenty minutes or so when their legs are tiring and when his pace can really punish them.

Having said that I expect Powell will stick to the winning side, something he did last season with McCormack and Francis - if you can justify keeping them in the side on the back of a win Wagstaff should be a shoe in.

Other than that I'd not change anything else. Maybe we will see Alonso on the bench, as I'm not sure he is not going to be a star for us this season. Danny Hollands looked the real deal on Saturday, but on the basis that we are going to need cover, one of them will be first choice, and for me the jury is still out on that. It's no secret that we, at Charlton, love a crunching tackler, maybe even more than a flair winger.

So, I'm going to go for a 4-0 win. I know that sounds silly, but I had a feeling we would win 3-0 last Saturday but went for a 2-1 to be a little less arrogant, and to save me having egg on my face. To be fair even at 4-1 we will have the second of our nine three goal margin wins.

Clearly I'd take a 1-0 win all day long.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Holiday's over

It has been almost a month since I last added anything to this blog, and I have only written three blogs since March.

The end of last season was very demoralising in terms of Charlton, and I had always intended to have the summer off to recuperate. However, on Sunday 22 June one of my best friends was killed in a road traffic accident. That in itself put things into perspective - it was a week over two years after my wife's brother was killed in a car accident, and this does make one see things differently.

Following the death of my friend I spent a lot of time helping his wife with his business. I should explain. We were both in the same industry, and were each other's locum - an agreement that we made never expecting to have to call upon it. This has taken a lot of my time, and combined with my son being home from school since the start of July I have had my hands full, and blogging hasn't been much of a priority.

I have watched us sign players, and have read other blogger's thoughts and really wanted to add something of my own, but really couldn't justify the time it takes me to write something. I don't seem to be able to just pen a few lines, it always ends up with what I expect is more than many read to the end.

I was determined to write a season preview, or at least a Bournemouth preview, but having pretty much sorted most of the outstanding business for my late friend I have, effectively, inherited his clients and I am much busier with work as a result. I have to say that this development is great news for me, financially, but I can honestly say I wish he was still here and had kept his business.

Anyway, today I thought I should make a decision about the blog, and either get my back side into gear and write something - maybe less than I normally end up writing - so that I can justify calling myself a blogger, or officially give up. The latter was never a realistic option. I love being able to describe myself as the writer of a blog. Even if the blog is rubbish, and most people that I tell about it never bother to read it, it doesn't matter. It has also helped me to make new friends, and enables me to believe that I am part of a small community of bloggers, and I really like that.

For years I have gone to football with my Dad, and I wouldn't want it any other way, but when he is away I can now 'invite myself' to join my new friends in the pub for a pint before the game. This has opened a whole new world to me, and one that I would have never had if I'd not started writing my silly thoughts on the internet.

Anyway, enough about me, I should really write something about Charlton, after all that's why you're here isn't it?

The squad that Powell has assembled is so, so exciting. I have often played football manager games and I have always looked to sign young players that will develop. Clearly computer (and latterly PS3) games are a little predictable. All young players will develop and have their skill level and 'score' go up each season. Clearly in the real world this is not guaranteed, and there is a massive gulf between how a computer program assess a player's abilities and what happens in real life. With this in mind I used my normal logic and went and got excited because we are signing players that are young with massive potential.

I have no idea if the players we are signing now are ever going to be good enough for the Premier League, but I'm damn sure I can convince myself they are if we win a few games.

I went to Woking to see our second team play in July, and I went to the home friendly where we won the 'People's Cup'. I was very impressed with what I saw. There are few in the reserves that are going to make a significant impact on the first team in my view, but I am bursting with excitement at Dale Stephens (who did play at Woking) Danny Green, Paul Hayes, Michael Morrison, Matthew Taylor and Danny Hollands. I am excited, even though I've not seen them play, with Mikel Alonso, Ruben Bover, Cedric Evina and Andy Hughes. This on the basis that I was already excited about getting to see Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Wright-Phillips next season. I am impressed with the signings of Sullivan and Hamer, even though I know little about the latter. I should also point out that I am more than happy with Paul Benson (assuming he can manage less red cards this season), Chris Solly and Scott Wagstaff.

I am disappointed that we have been unable to secure a long term contract with Rob Elliot as it is a rare thing for a real fan to play for your club, and not only do I think he is a good 'Keeper, but I like having him in the side. My only worry with Rob is that he seems to miss more games with injury than would be ideal, but it would still have been my preference to keep him. Having said that if he can secure himself a better future elsewhere then good luck to him, and I really mean that.

I was pleased that Scott Wagstaff signed a contract extension, he is not finished developing yet, but I would much rather have him stay at Charlton while he achieves his potential than have him do so elsewhere. Johnnie Jackson, however, was a real worry to me. We looked like a different side last season when he moved forward from left back to play on the left of the midfield, and we clearly missed him in the run in. With just a year left on his contract I feared he would move on, but his contract extension (especially as it was a further two years) was, for me, the best signing of the summer (well, maybe level with Dale Stephens). I am more than happy for him to be named Captain, and his extravagant celebration with the People's Cup was exactly what I would have liked to have seen.

So, on the whole I am very happy with the changes. Without going into any details, I'm also not disappointed about any of the departures. Last summer it was clear that losing Lloyd Sam, Dion Burton, Jonjo Shelvey, Sam Sodje and Nicky Bailey was going to make us much weaker. This summer I think only Semedo would have been a close call for me. With his wages he was probably going to be difficult to keep, and I understand those that think he and Racon were more the problem than the solution, but I think we need to wait to see how we perform against those teams that are chasing promotion this season before we can say, categorically, that we don't need a midfield enforcer in the side. Either way, he is the only one that I would have kept, and it doesn't matter now anyway.

With Racon going to Millwall I now feel obliged to hate him. It is so easy, now, to think of him as a player that cost us £440k (although that might have been Euros) to sign and £1.248m in wages during four years when we finished 11th in the second division (when he was out on loan a lot), bottom of the second division, 4th in the third division and 13th in the third division. If this wasn't enough, He gave more effort in the last ten games than he gave in the other three and three quarter seasons when his contract was coming to an end.

In truth he is probably being harshly treated with those stats, but I seriously doubt that we have managed anything like value for money for the near £1.7m that Racon has cost us (ignoring the employers NI, and other expenses).

Anyway at this stage it looks like Dale Stephens is going to ensure that we don't miss Racon at all, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Millwall swap places with us at the end of the season.

I should briefly discuss the Bournemouth result. I predicted a 2-1 win, but I did have a feeling that it could be 3-0. We need to secure some decent results in the first ten games or so, and then we can really judge the squad, and it should be in it's stride. With the signings coming so early in the summer we are likely to be in front of where we were last season when we were still waiting for the team to gel after a dozen games.

The win was, for this reason, more important than the performance. However, we played well, played the type of football that we all want to see, and the new boys looked good. Not to mention Scott Wagstaff scoring a cracking goal. Something tells me that we will not have three midfielders having scored more goals than Wright-Phillips for too much longer, but right now I'm more than happy with the situation. I know that Bournemouth have had their squad raided, and I expect they will probably end up struggling this season, so a win was really necessary bearing in mind our aspirations, but a 3-0 home win is a great way to start the season.

I'm not going to discuss the riots in London, as this is not the place, and I suspect that my Dad is the only one still reading now, but it was a real disappointment to have our game with Reading cancelled last night. It would have given us a chance to test ourselves against a team that would, despite the changes to both sides, have given us a better indication as to how good the squad looks. As a consequence, however, we are now planning to travel to Colchester next week, the venue of a terrible defeat two years ago. I am confident that we will do better this time, all be it that we would struggle to fare worse.

My last note concerns the signing of Jason Euell today. I'm more than happy with this. He came on at Woking and looked like he had something to offer. I think it is easy to forget just how much better than us the Premier League teams are these days, and Jason played in that division last season, and he also had some games in the Championship. Many players play at the top level at 34, and bearing in mind we don't expect him to play 40 games this season I think his addition will be a real positive, and I can't wait to see him play for us at The Valley again.

Up the Addicks!