Sunday, 7 October 2012

Blackpool 0 - 2 Charlton

Well, I never expected that. If I'm honest I didn't really think we'd line un 4-5-1. I didn't think we would keep a clean sheet and I didn't think we would score two goals.

It does make an argument for us to play 4-5-1 in most games this season. Against Blackburn we dominated large sections of the game and it was the best performance I'd seen from us all season. Against Watford (with 4-4-2) we looked the weaker side until they went down to ten men.

I remember a similar debate with Alan Pardew's team in the first season our of the Premier League. We kept trying with 4-4-2 and falling short - mainly due to trying to accommodate Andy Reid. Then we stumbled upon the 4-5-1 with Big Chris at the top. It worked and we went on a five game win, including a 1-0 at St Mary's when Semedo was sent off in the first half. My Dad has a photo, that I bought him, of Big Chris standing in front of the home fans after he'd scored. We went to that game, it was a cracking day out.

So, I am becoming more and more convinced that 4-5-1 might well be the best way forward, for the short term at least.

The other dilemma we have coming up is what to do about the full backs. Clearly Chris Solly is not going to be 'rested' or benched, but Lawrie Wilson is looking better and better. He is certainly growing into the Championship better than some of our regulars from last season.

I wasn't at the game yesterday, so I'm not going to do a review of the match itself, but needless to say, I have read several others'. It sounds like the kind of game that we have been known for in the past. Curbishley's sides used to go away from home and keep clean sheets - sometimes I had no idea how we managed to keep the opposition out, but we did.

I'm not sure we can win this league keeping sides at bay whilst trying to snatch the odd goal, but I do thing we can establish ourselves in mid table, and that will be more than enough for now. I have no idea what the financial position at the club is, nor do I know what it will be like in the summer, but for now I am more than happy to set our sights on mid table security.

Clearly our results have been a little random this season so I'm not going to get carried away, but before yesterday I would have taken three points from our next three away games so we now have two games with which to exceed my hopes.

One further stat. We are just below half way, we have played ten games this season and eight of the the teams we've played are above us and only two are below us. That makes it look a little better to me.

Oh, and we beat one of the favourites for promotion in their own back yard.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Next... Blackpool away

The last time we played Blackpool in the league we drew and the failure to win relegated us to the third division of English football. That game was at The Valley, but we had lost away to them 2-0 earlier in the season.

The previous season we lost 5-3 at Bloomfield Road at a time that we were still in the hunt for promotion back to the Premier League. The month before we had beaten them 4-1 at The Valley.

Interestingly Blackpool finished two points above the relegation zone that season, so that win against us late in February 2008 could be viewed as significant in their survival just two seasons before a very unlikely promotion to the Premier League themselves.

Now, despite the relative sizes of our stadia and fan base Blackpool are a much 'bigger' team than us in terms of financial strength - and let's face it that's all that seems to matter these days.

A season of Premier League football, followed by the parachute payments, that are more than twice most teams playing budget in the Championship, for a couple of seasons makes them significantly more likely to go up this campaign than us.

The strongest a team that is relegated can be tends to be if they have just one season in the top flight, followed by selling a player or two for big money. That is exactly what Blackpool have done. They, like Burnley the season before, we so much weaker when they went up that they didn't go straight back, but they are certainly in the running this season.

What that means to us is that this is what Curbishley used to call a 'bonus ball'. It's a game that we don't expect to win; it's a game against a team that we are, probably, not really competing with this season; and it's a game that we don't, actually, need to win.

That should take some of the pressure off, and the longer the game goes without us conceding the more we will grow into the it, and the more anxious Blackpool, and their fans, will get. I am, of course, assuming that we will not concede a goal in the first ten minutes like we did at Derby, but our defence has been very strong this season (as they were last).

I am not completely sure what the answer is for the middle of the park. Last season Hollands was the third choice for Captain. This season that seems to be Morrison. The initial indications, from that, are that Hollands place in the side is not as assured as it was last season. Tuesday night's game probably did nothing to dispel that idea. I like Danny Hollands, he is the sort of player that it is easy to support (as my friend in Bermuda has done) but he does, sadly, look like he is going to struggle to impose himself on this division in quite the same way.

I feel for Powell, and many of the players, as decisions are going to need to me made soon that are going to be difficult and seem disloyal. I've always thought that there are players in a team that wins promotion that find that their success means that they are, potentially, playing themselves out of a first team place - and in some cases out of a club.

Clearly one can never know which players are going to make the step up, but I think it is fair to say that if a 26 year old player cannot cope with the division he is in it is likely that he is not going to make it at that level.

For the record I'm not saying that I don't think Danny is going to be good enough for the Championship, but it does look like we are not going to want to play him and Stephens together in the middle in a 4-4-2, and Stephens is the more likely to make something special happen - like he did for our goal on Tuesday evening.

I think I would prefer to see us play 4-5-1, particularly away from home to teams that we expect to finish way above us in the league come May. In a midfield five I thought that both Hollands and Stephens looked ok, but either way we have been desperately short of quality in the middle of the park all season, and Powell must have recognised this as he has tried all sorts of different systems and formations to make us tick.

I'm not looking to single out Hollands, and I would be delighted if he did raise his game and become as influential this season as last, but if we accept that something has to change, he may well be the fall guy.

Powell needs to be strong and he needs to pick the players, and the system, that is most likely to get a result - obviously. It's ok going with the players you know and can trust, but sometimes you have to gamble. You have to risk losing to win, and all that.

It might be time to give Razak a game, and maybe play 4-5-1 with Fuller up front on his own. Bradley Wright-Phillips is a great option to bring on if we are chasing the game late on, or if we want to rest Fuller - he is not completely match fit and has looked jaded towards the end of games.

Blackpool are the leading goal scorers in the Championship averaging more than two goals per game, but they have also conceded an average of 1.33 goals per game, so a 0-0 looks unlikely.

As I've said we can view this as a game we would expect to lose, so there is little pressure on us, but the same could be said of Leeds and Wolves away, but I don't really want to lose all three. I hope I'm wrong but I think we will lose this game, I just hope we give a good performance, and don't get thumped before the International Break.

Up the Addicks!

Charlton 1 - 2 Watford

Well this did't turn out how I expected at all. I was expecting us to be much better than this, relative to Watford, and I thought we would take the game to them and end up winning. Maybe I didn't think we would win convincingly, but I thought it would be comfortable - at least towards the final whistle.

It was nothing of the sort. We started off ok, but we did seem to be slower to the ball, slower to close down, and we failed to get any kind of passing game going. We decided (well Chris Powell decided) to do with a 4-4-2 with Fuller coming in for Jackson. This should have given us the opportunity to create more up front, as long as we could get the ball through the midfield.

In the end we were unable to get the ball out of defence without turning to hoofing it up the park. We did try passing the ball across the back line a few times, but inevitable we ended up passing it back to Hamer for a long kick.

Watford, rather like Palace a few weeks ago, just seemed to be quicker to every ball and seemed to have much superior passing skills than we possess. Watford seemed to be able to pass the ball through our midfield where as our midfield didn't seem to be able to even get the ball under control before they were being pressured by a yellow shirt.

Watford deservedly, in my view, took the lead, all be it from a corner, and one with the ball not resting in the 'D' of the corner when it was played in.

It was to our credit that we raised our game at that point and played the only real quality defence splitting pass of the evening (from either side) to put Fuller in for a chance that I suspect he has buried his whole career.

At 1-1 I was happy to see the clock run down to half time before we came out for another go. I did feel that the momentum might swing towards us. Watford had out played us for half an hour before they went a goal in front and then we raised out game and within two minutes we were level. I thought that maybe we would take the game by the scruff of the neck and win it, like I'd predicted before kick off.

If anything I thought the game changed and was put right in our lap when Watford's best player on the night was shown a second yellow card, this one for diving to win a penalty.

At half time I was confident that we would be able to go on and take all three points. It would not have been pretty, and the one player advantage would have been significant, but it would have given us three points, and that was all that really mattered.

How wrong was I?

We started the second half much brighter. We looked the more likely to score. It helped that Watford switched to a 4-4-1 and were always going to be playing long balls out of defence that would come straight back at them.

We had several decent chances to get the second goal. There were blocks, deflections and slightly mishit passes, but we carried on pushing forward and it looked like it was only a matter of time before we made the numerical advantage count.

Then Danny Green came in on a tackle a little late. It was a foul, but not a booking, even though he got one. Then a couple of passes and Cort was penalised on the edge of the box for holding. As this point I have no criticism of either player. Danny Green has been a revelation in the last few games, and no one ever said that tackling was his strong pint. Cort should have known better, but under pressure he clearly thought that he would either get away with it, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other, or that the free kick was better than letting the ball into the box.

The free kick, or rather our defending of it, however, I am going to criticise. Three Watford players lined up next to our wall and started leaning into our players - you could even call it pushing. It was obvious to everyone in the East stand that they were all going to run out of the way and leave a three man sized hold for the ball to be hit through.

For some, unknown, reason none of our players seemed to realise this. Needless to say that is exactly what happened. To be fair it was a decent strike, but totally predictable and, worse still, totally avoidable.

That changed the game completely. Watford had a period of attacking again and again. Our dominant pressure just disappeared. Ten minutes later and Watford did drop back and started time wasting. I hate it, but I know it goes on, and had we been a goal in front away from home with ten men and fifteen minutes left I would expect us to do exactly the same.

We couldn't break them down and the final whistle saw the South stand celebrating and the Charlton fans leaving wondering if this season is going to end in disaster or if we are going to be able to get up to speed with this division before it is too late.

I'm not going to single out players, but I have to say that I am getting more and more impressed with Laurie Wilson, and I'm getting more and more concerned with having Hollands and Stephens as a central partnership in a 4-4-2. To be fair Hollands had a stinker tonight, and by the end he looked like his confidence was going. This is not what I remember him playing like last season, so I'm going to give him the benefit of doubt. Stephens looked like he might have been ready for Villa based on his performance on Saturday, but tonight it left me wondering if we should have ripped Villa's hand (and whole arm) off for the reported £2m we were offered for him in August. Again I suspect that he will improve, but we don't have many more games left for these players (and others) to really learn how to win in this division. We need some points on the board, and soon, otherwise we are going to be in a confidence zapping relegation battle, and another season (or more) in the third division just doesn't bare thinking about.

I'm not panicking yet, but I'm more worried than I was this morning, and with away trips to Blackpool, Leeds and Wolves in our next four we could well rue picking up just one point in the two home games that we could easily have won.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Next... Watford at home

Following on from the draw against a very strong Blackburn side on Saturday we face a Watford side that should be easier to beat. I'm always reluctant to say things like that, but in all honesty Watford are likely to struggle this season - especially until January when their, reported wealthy, new owners can do much to strengthen their squad.

With Watford being in 19th place (all be it we are in 20th place) we must be targeting this as a game we can win. If we are going to climb away from the relegation zone we are going to need to beat teams like Watford at home, and probably away for that matter.

I'm still not sure what our realistic aspirations are this season yet. Before the summer (after we'd run away with League One) I was confident that we would be challenging at the top of the table - not necessarily top two, but top six for sure.

With the lack of investment in the squad over the summer, I found myself back tracking in the excessively optimistic hopes I had. I still, however, thought that we would be mid table to top six, or at least be in that area of the table for most of the season.

After we lost at home to Palace, a team fancied to struggle, I was starting to get concerned. I know Forest had spent some money but losing to them and then at home to Palace I, suddenly, found myself looking down rather than up. The defeat at Derby provided something for both the half full and the half empty fans. Going three goals behind is never a good thing, but a spirited fightback, and coming so close to getting a third (and a draw) is always positive.

The win at Ipswich was fantastic, especially on the basis that we only won two games away all season the last time we were in this division, but Ipswich are a bit if a basket case at the moment, and we were third and second from bottom at kick off.

I went into the Blackburn game thinking that a draw would be a good result, and in the end I wasn't disappointed, but for me the performance was very encouraging.

I know it is easier to control the middle of the park with a 4-5-1, and Blackburn did, literally, rip us apart for their goal, but we dominated the game for most of the 90 minutes and we had several good chances to win the game, and on another day one of those would have gone in.

To come away from Saturday's game thinking that we should have won, yet being happy with a draw has (at least until 9:30 this evening) changed my outlook again into a more positive one. If we can play as we did on Saturday for the next half a dozen games I think we will look in a much better position. We do have some tough games coming up, but they are all tough in this division.

With Fuller reported to be over his virus, and with Rob Hulse having been signed I think we will have the option to go back to a 4-4-2, but I'm not sure that is what Powell will do. We might see the Rasak start in place of Jackson, who has looked 'jaded' for most of the season, but went off injured on Saturday, but other than that I'd be happy to see a similar lineup.

We need to keep it tight at the start, and then look to take more control of the game as we 'grow' into it. It is, after all, only our ninth game in this division, and for a number of players it is only their ninth game in this division, ever.

Under normal circumstances I would be confident of a win, but I am a little nervous as this is one of the easiest games we have coming up (on paper, at least) and we do need to pick up some points to keep us away from the bottom three. A draw wouldn't be a complete disaster, but I think I will be disappointed with anything less than a win.

Up the Addicks!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Next... Blackburn at home

Following on from a win against one of the only two teams below us in the table we now entertain one of the favourites to win the division. I don't think that Ipswich will be relegated, personally, but I am confident that we will not see them finish above Blackburn this season, nor do I think they will be above them at all between now and May.

Blackburn, with their squad and signings this summer, should be far too good for an extended stay in this division. They are my (and many bookies) favourite for promotion this season. They are a good example, in fact, of how the Premier League money makes the competition in the second division unhealthy. The rumoured wages that they have agreed to pay Danny Murphy (who was signed after they were relegated), make most players in the division look like paupers.

With their first league defeat of the season last Friday Blackburn fell from top to third. Their results have been what I would have expected from them based on the strength of their squad. I have no idea how good a manager Steve Kean is, but there is no doubt that he has been under constant pressure ever since he took over, so I find it a little difficult to judge him. I am not just talking about the pressure of having a poor squad (for the Premier League) but he has been suffering at the hands of the fans for as long as I can remember.

I have no real interest in what actually happened at Blackburn, Sam Allardyce has more than his fair share of controversy, and if he didn't want to use the agents that the new owners wanted him to then I don't see any reason as to why they shouldn't have selected a new manager. However, these are all just allegations, and as I've said I'm not interested in them. What is without doubt, however, is that until the fans back Kean or the new owners replace him they are going to have more to contend with than is ideal.

With that in mind there are suggestions that Kean might be removed if they fail to beat us this Saturday. Ironically, at this point, I don't think it helps the manager or the team having this kind of situation on an ongoing basis, and inevitably in the end they will have to deal with it. the usual vote of confidence was given this week, but as Kean has already had several of these and survived they might just mean it.

Hopefully the pressure that the latest rumours put on the team will work in our favour. On the balance of the squad strength I wouldn't normally fancy us to take anything from Blackburn, home or away. I'm not sure the home crowd is of much benefit to them right now, but they have won one and drawn two of their three away games this season, so it is not a foregone conclusion.

With Kermorgant out injured I agree with Dave and think that this might not be the total disaster that some are saying. I think he has been less influential this season, and I think the step up has been responsible for that. I'm not saying that I'm glad he is out for three months (which I fear could well be longer) but that I'm not shaking in my boots at the thought of having to play a dozen or so games without him.

Fuller will, no doubt, start with BWP, and I'm looking forward to getting a good look at him. I also think that Jackson might be unable to really hold down a place on the wing in this division, so I'm happy to have him move into the middle. I do feel for Hollands as he has never let us down, but I suspect his time will come - it is a long season.

With the issues Blackburn have, along with us coming into this game on the back of our first away win of the season (we only won two away all season last time we were in this division) I am confident that the game will be close enough if us to be disappointed if we lose. I'm not sure we will be strong enough to tale all three points, but I'm going to go for a 1-1 draw. I'd be more than happy with that.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Ipswich 1 - 2 Charlton

We have had some very important games against Ipswich over the years. The two play off games in 1998 were huge for us - especially with what followed that mightn't had we not won the playoffs that season. We played Ipswich in our first season back in the second division. Mid March 2008, we went there in fifth and lost 2-0 and found ourselves outside of the top sex for the first time that season (well first time since early October - five games in). We never got back into the top six and lost out on what is traditionally the best chance of getting back into the Premier League.

I talked about that game in 2008 as being a six pointer, and it was as the defeat meant that we dropped form fifth to ninth and Ipswich rose from tenth to eighth. Neither of us actually made it into the top six again that season, but Ipswich came close, and finished just one point short of the sixth placed side with a better goal difference.

That is all history, but it does indicate that we have some previous with games against them being more than just three points.

Saturday was a big game for us (and Ipswich). It was not a massive game, it was not a must win game, and I don't think that it will look like a six-pointer as the season goes on. I don't think we will both be challenging for the playoffs (or top two) and I don't think we will both be in a relegation fight come the end of the season - or by Christmas.

It was a big game for both sides as they were both in the bottom three and wanted to climb out of it as soon as possible as the longer a team is in that position the more they play like they deserve to be there.

The result, as always, was the most important thing, but we also needed a decent performance. That meant we needed to play a more open game and we needed to attack more, opposed to trying to keep it tight and snatch the odd goal. That worked well enough last season as the opposition were less likely to break us down, and we were more likely to 'steal' a goal playing defensively against weaker opposition in the third division.

We don't need to be promoted this season, so we don't need to win most of our games. We can take the approach where we go out to win games and win some and lose some. Ironically, with three points for a win a team is better to win half of the games and lose half of the games than to be undefeated all season, and not win once. With that in mind if our target this season is to avoid relegation while giving the players the experience of this division to give us a chance of challenging for promotion next season then gambling in most games (assuming that enough of the gambles come off) is a perfectly acceptable approach.

Clearly the further away from the bottom three we get (both in terms of places and more importantly points) the more we can relax and play the kind of football that I believe can make us successful in this division - in the longer term.

I wasn't at Ipswich as I'm just not ready to pay £34 for second division football, but I have read a few accounts from those that were, and I've seen the goals on the TV. Our goals looked good, and their's looked rather fortunate. That limited TV clip, plus the suggestion that Ipswich were poor makes me believe that we were worthy winners in the end. This was not something that could have been said at the home game to Palace - the last time I saw us play.

My expectations have changed radically this season. I thought we were going to be real challengers at the top of the division. The draw at Birmingham and the win over Leicester at home confirmed my beliefs. The draw against Hull was not a disaster, especially with the terrible conditions in the second half. However, the three successive defeats changed all that. I know we all keep hearing that any team can bean any other team in this division on their day, but I think the evidence thus far suggests that mid table is more likely than top six, and a bad run and a knock to confidence could see us dragged into a relegation battle.

We will know more as we face more teams - we still don't know which of the teams we have played are going to struggle or be successful this season. For now I think we have made a good, if not unspectacular, start and I think we have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Next... Derby away

For no other reason than I have been struggling to find this last few weeks I've been a little quiet. I did plan to write something after the Palace game, but due to the huge disappointment I felt after the game I've not got around to doing it yet.

The Hull game was a but disappointing, but I would say that the weather conditions destroyed the game, especially in the second half, so I wasn't all too worried. Forest way was a bit more of a worry as I read that we were outplayed in the first half. I did watch some of the second half via an internet feed, but it was not exactly terribly inspiring. We looked like we could have played all day (and all night) and still not threatened the Forest goal. The introduction of Ricardo Fuller did bring about a slight change of fortunes, but in all honesty this was late in the game when Forest were cruising as they had a two goal cushion.

The Palace game was disappointing on so many levels. I'm not going to write a full report but the issues that worried me were:

  1. Palace are many people's favourites for a relegation battle this season yet they dominated the game almost from the start and out played us for the whole game.
  2. We never looked like we were in control of the game and never looked like getting back into it once we went behind. Frankly we looked clueless - all long ball to Kermorgant who seemed to win very little in the air.
  3. The Palace fans out sung us from the start to the end. Despite looking better towards the end (after Ricardo Fuller and Danny Green came on) I think that was as much as a consequence of Palace defending their 1-0 lead.
  4. By the final whistle I had forgotten that this was a derby match, and I just couldn't get the thought out of my head that we'd just lost at home to a team that are probably going to be in a relegation battle this season, and we did well to only lose by one goal.
I know we had a goal disallowed, but before then we's had several scares, and could well have been two behind. From the start of the second half until the last fifteen minutes we were so totally outplayed it was embarrassing. It was almost as embarrassing as the massive difference in the noise from the two ends. A neutral that knew nothing of the history of the two clubs could be forgiven for thinking that Palace are as big as Man Utd and we are as small as many of the teams we played last season.

Yes, this is how disappointed I felt after the game. I have waited to see if, in the cold light of day, I felt more upbeat about it all, but I don't.

I always read all the blogs, and sometimes I don't see things the same as others but for a fuller description of how I felt please read Marco's post on the game. It sums up how I felt about the two sides, and there really was no point in me writing the same thing.

The only thing I felt at all differently to Marco about was the 'Palace Ultras'. I have a little knowledge of the foreign trend (by a little I mean almost none) and I don't like the sound of them, but I did some research about those running (or, at least, involved with) the Palace group and from what I can gather they make a big difference.

I'm not interested in fighting at football matches, never have been, and don't really want any of those characteristics from the 70s and 80s to return, but having a great atmosphere at games I do like. I am sure there will be an element of these Ultras that think they have joined for the kind of respect that comes from the activities that the hooligans of the past engaged in. I have seen The Firm (both the 80s version and the recent one) and I can see how that could be attractive to some. However, the interview I read suggested that the Ultras aim is to generate atmosphere and inclusion for many fans.

I haven't been to Selhurst for a few years, but if they do generate the kind of atmosphere there that they did at The Valley then I would have to confess to being jealous. We had a fantastic day when we lifted the League One title, and the other football for a fiver games have been much better than the normal half empty stadium in the third division, but we haven't seen the kind of buzz at a game that we saw on Friday since we played Swindon in the Playoff Semi Final in 2010. You'd have to go back to the Millwall game in December 2009 for the last time a team came and made the kind of noise Palace did, but I have to admit that I don't think I heard our North Stand make much noise all night.

I know you are all thinking "How much noise did you make in the East stand then?" but that's not the point. The point is that the team I hate the most made us look like the away team on the pitch and the away fans off it.

I'm not sure about the all black outfits - assuming that was them, but call them cheerleaders, belittle them all you like, I think their contribution was significant on the night, and as I've already said I'l jealous that we don't have something like it ourselves. At 41 I'm way too old for that sort of thing, but twenty years ago I'd have been up for it.

Anyway, moving on to tonight. We really need to avoid defeat, and I'd be happy to see us try to keep it tight. A win would be a great and would probably lift us up a few places in the table and take some of the pressure off, but a defeat would mean three defeats on the trot and as a promoted team that can affect confidence in a big way.

I'd take a draw, but I fear we will come away from Pride Park with nothing. Jackson still looks unfit to me. I know he doesn't have a lot of pace but he looks like he, literally, can't run, even from the kick off. Pritchard has looked out of his depth a bit in this division, and we have had no width at all. Danny Green or Wagstaff need to start to give us at least one alternative to Kermorgant as he seems to be a lot less effective in this division.

After Friday evening I started to worry that this could be a long, hard season for us. Tonight might confirm my fears or relieve them.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A New Era

Today is the first time (and I hope not the last) that three generations of my family will be going to The Valley with season tickets.

My son has been a few times before, and he came with my Dad and I, and our wives, for the Hartlepool game, but this is his first game with a season ticket.

In all honesty he is not a great football fan, he doesn't really have much talent when it comes to playing (neither did I) and he doesn't really want to watch it on the tele. We do play FIFA on the PS3 occasionally, but he is even a little indifferent about this.

Back in the 80s football wasn't as welcoming as it is today - terracing and football violence and all that, so I wasn't taken to a live football game until I was ten. My son was first taken when he was four. He didn't really like it much, but I did take him again a couple of weeks later, but his enthusiasm didn't grow so he didn't come again until last season. I brought him to a couple of mid-week games, but I suspect that his interest in that was influenced by the idea of a late night.

By the time the last game of the season came 'round he was very excited about having his birthday party (well the family one anyway) at The Valley. This was a lovely day, and the corporate hospitality was faultless, but the fact that we were there from before 1pm and the celebrations didn't finish until close to 6pm meant that he was bored by the end. He was a little too young, or indifferent, for the trophy celebrations, which was not helped by the players having their back to us and then before the cup came anywhere near the East stand each player welcomed what felt like twenty members of his family on to the pitch.

It was a great day so I'm reluctant to complain, but I have to say that if I'd been asked to plan the trophy presentation event so as to spoil it for the fans I couldn't have done a better job. I know the families have to accept some less than ideal circumstances for having a professional footballer (certainly Christmas is not the same for them as it is for us fans) but I would like to think they are well compensated. There was no need for every member of their family (including what much have been 'extended' family) to walk around the pitch as though they were part of the first team squad. I also felt no satisfaction, not do I think it enhanced my day out to see our goalkeepers bickering with stewards trying to bring someone onto the pitch from the North West Corner.

By the time the League One Trophy got anywhere near the East stand (after all the extended families had had their photo with it on the pitch) There was just Kermorgant and a couple of other players left on the pitch - I think one of those was Solly. I do understand that these players wanted photos with the trophy in front of a packed stadium, but on the whole I think the fans could have witnessed a much better spectacle.

Anyway rant over. for a club like us it is difficult to ever get much experience of arranging these events, and I'd genuinely rather have a fumbled trophy presentation event than not have one at all, and I only remembered this as I was discussing my son getting bored.

So tonight there will be three generations of my family there. It only seems like a few months ago that my Dad lifted me to sit on a freezing crash barrier on the East terrace at my first game. The view was magnificent, but the conditions in which I experienced it were, frankly, terrible. In fact, just thinking about it is making me feel the cold in my backside that comes from sitting of a freezing  metal bar for an hour. The Valley is a much, much more family friendly place now, and football is, in my opinion, all the better for it.

For £49 there is little risk of me not getting my money's worth, even if my son decides that he will only come to a handful of games. It secures the seat, and if he is not pressured to come too often I am confident that in due course he will learn to think of The Valley as his second home, just like the rest of us. Interestingly I have lived in eleven different houses since I first visited The Valley. Maybe, on reflection, it is my first home.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Next... Leicester at home

Leicester are one of the favourites for promotion this season, but then so are Birmingham. I have said for a while now that we can't assess the players that haven't played at this level until they have a few games under their belt. Of those that have played at this level (BWP, Kermorgant, Morrison, Jackson, Cort) none of them have underperformed and looked out of their depth.

In fact Kermorgant and Morrison were involved in the Leicester side that made the playoffs the season after they won the third division. Leon Cort was involved in the Stoke side that finished second in 2008 - and he went on to feature for them in the Premier League.

The players that we might find wanting are those that are younger and have never played above the third division - where they were part of a side that managed to secure 101 points.

Thus tonight will be a real test of how far this side can go. Birmingham was another test, and despite the result being fantastic based on where the two teams finished last season, to have the win snatched away from us so, so late was a little disappointing. I'm sure we will have further disappointments during the season, but I'm also sure that earning a point at St. Andrews will look like a good result by the time May comes 'round.

Leicester have some big name players in their squad, and they also have some experience, but the player that most Charlton fans will be looking forward to seeing is Paul Konchesky. Paul was, I believe, the youngest player  to play for Charlton, and he had a great career with us, including an England Cap, before going on to play for three other Premier League Clubs and was there long after we were relegated. He played in an FA cup Final for West Ham and a UEFA Cup Final for Fulham before moving to Liverpool, where he was one of the players that was, later, thought to be a little short of what they wanted on Merseyside. On the whole he has had a fantastic career and has played over 300 games in the Premier League. This is a player we should be proud to list as a former Charlton youth graduate, and I do feel a sense of pride in what he achieved.

Having said all that he is still only 31 (not 32 until next May) so he probably has a lot more to offer football, and if Leicester live up to their early season billing he could well be adding to those Premier League appearances next season.

I am not convinced by the bookies (and the pundits) when they make predictions for the season. We have failed to finish where those that think they know have predicted in recent seasons, and there is no sure thing in football - especially in a division as competitive as the Championship. However I do think that anyone that finishes above Leicester will be unlucky to miss out on the playoffs at least.

Thus tonight is a good chance for us to make some ground on one of the teams that we will be challenging for promotion, if we should be so lucky.

There is also a little bit of needle for Morrison and Kermorgant. I doubt the former had much animosity with the Foxes' fans, but I'm sure that Yann will feel he has a point to prove. I don't know how popular he was while he was there. I did see his penalty and didn't know much about him at the time. I felt that his arrogance was misplaced and that he was responsible for their playoff failure. It wasn't until I read what New York Addick discussed it that I changed my mind. needless to say there are no Charlton fans that think his signature a was a mistake now.

It is possible that Kermorgant was less impressive in the Championship for Leicester than he was for us in our title winning season, but either way I suspect that his treatment from a small number of their fans will make him keen to perform well tomorrow night - and I suspect he will. There is still a song on YouTube of the night Kermorgant failed to convert that penalty, and as funny as it seems to someone that has no interest in the player or Leicester I suspect that it will help motivate him. I hope that the chap that wrote/sung the song is there tomorrow night!

I wouldn't change our side after Saturday. Clearly there will be some tired legs by the end, as I imagine there was on Saturday after some of the players had played 120 minutes on the Tuesday before. I would think that there would be justification in picking substitutes to come on to see the game out, but I guess that will depend on how we look with ten minutes to go.

I predicted a 1-1 for Saturday so I'm tempted to stop my predictions here and finish with a 100% success record, but if I was going to go for a prediction I would go for a 2-1 home win. I know that is optimistic but we had a good game and result on Saturday and I think our promotion confidence is still high. If I'm honest I wouldn't be too disappointed with a draw, even if we concede late again. The goal this season needs to be to avoid relegation as soon as possible and then if we have enough games left to push on for a mid-table finish, and if/once that is achieved we can see if we can finish in the top six.

Even though I went to Orient, I'm looking forward to a much more full Valley tomorrow and the excitement that comes with that atmosphere.

Up the Addicks

Friday, 17 August 2012

Next... Birmingham away

Well this is the big one, This is our first outing in a league game against a team that has genuine aspirations of the Premier League for a couple of years at the least. I know some will point to Southampton, but I think they were hardly realistically expecting to get where they are now. Birmingham have had seven of the last ten seasons in the Premier League, and this is the first successive season out of the top flight since 2001.

Clearly that could suggest that the nucleolus of the side that was of Premier League quality could have all gone now and they are in for another spell (the last one was sixteen years) outside of the top division, which I suspect many of their fans believe is their rightful home. However, they did make the playoffs last season, and were still in with an outside shout of the top two until the final six games.

These days the benefit of the parachute payments can easily be offset by the excessive wages that players, that a team can't move on, are earning. If the parachute money is £10m a season, and it is different from what we had now due to it lasting for four seasons, a club only needs six and a half players on £30k a week and it is all gone. Many relegated teams end up with players past their best on that kind of money that they can't give away.

Even average players earn much more in the Premier League than in the Championship, but I suspect that the parachute money does help, just not as much as many would think.

As far as Birmingham are concerned I think their success this season will depend as much on the three relegated sides as anything else. If two of the three clubs that came down fail to finish in the top three then I can see Birmingham being in with a shout of top two and certainly playoff contenders, but if two of Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn get their act together the top two could be beyond the Blues and the playoffs are much harder to win, psychologically, if you failed in them the season before - especially as the chances are that the side will be weaker.

This season is much more unknown for us I believe. The success we had last season would suggest that that we might be able to make the step up and challenge at the top. Equally we could be just not good enough to do that and we might have to settle for avoiding a relegation battle. Time will tell, starting with tomorrow.

Today the club announced the signing of Dorian Dervite-Vaussoue on a 1 year contract. This looks a little like the signing of Kermorgant last year. I'm not comparing the two players, or their expected contribution, but it is a player that is little of a gamble, on account of the fact that he is only on a one year deal and a free signing, but he could well turn out to be a decent acquisition.

I know that we would all have preferred to have been signing million pound players with a proven track record at this level (or higher), but we clearly don't have the money for such signings right now, and probably don't want to commit to the kind of wages that these players would demand - see the explanation of Birmingham's finances above.

I thought we'd play a first eleven on Tuesday night and expected a 2-1 win on that basis. My error was in team selection rather than predicting the score - we would have probably won if we'd played the first team. However the loss was little of an issue for me, and I was more than happy to see the reserve players get an outing, and I thought some of them have a good account of themselves.

As for tomorrow, I have little idea as to which way it is going to go. I think Birmingham should have too much for us. Two years ago they were about to start a season two divisions above us, yet we were relegated to the third division in the second season out of the top flight.

As much as I would like to sit on the fence I am going to go for a 1-1 draw. Certainly I would take that now if it were offered to me, but I just have a sneaking feeling that we will still be tough to score against at this level. Apart from fatigue of those that played the whole two hours on Tuesday I have full confidence in our defence, and we should be able to snatch a goal away from home with the way we play with our backs to goal and hit on the break.

Chris Powell has suggested that four straight defeats at the start does not necessarily mean disaster. I'm not sure if this was a throw away comment or a chance to manage expectations at the start of the season. I don't completely agree to be honest. After the year we have just had we should be looking to carry that momentum into this season and start well to give us further confidence. Maybe he really does think that avoiding relegation is the ultimate goal.

What ever happens, we are back to playing games against clubs that we believe have the same ultimate aspirations as us and that is very welcome. I don't mean to be disrespectful to any of the teams in the third division, but promotion out of that league was not a target all of it's own. It was a stepping stone to what we really want to achieve, and what we all believe we can achieve.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Next... Orient at home

Well the new season starts tomorrow, but it doesn't quite feel like it. I don't want to open the debate about the importance of the Cups - especially this one, the Capital One Cup. However, there is almost no chance if us winning it, and the fact that the Semi-Final is over two legs means that we are about as likely to make the Wembley Final as we are to win it. Thus there is an argument that any points that this competition costs us is not worth it.

That might sound negative, and probably it is as I don't have a lot of interest in this competition, but it is just how I feel. For this reason I don't feel like the season is starting tomorrow, the league season is when it starts, proper, for me.

That doesn't mean that I don't want to go tomorrow, and I am going. It feels a little more like a pre-season friendly than an official first team game, but then these cup competitions have been a little bit like that for a few seasons now. It's ironic, the teams that can (and probably will) win it rest their best players as they are not bothered about it until they get close to the final, and the teams that can't really expect to win it rest their players as they don't care which round they get knocked out of, and most clubs fail to make much money unless they draw one of the top sides. The odds are against that as there are probably plenty of teams that will be too good to beat, that will not make any money, that you have to get past to face Man Utd at Old Trafford.

However, this season this match will probably be closer to our first team than the two games we played in the competition last year. I think it will probably be a good chance for Chris Powell to try out what he hopes to be his first team this season. Certainly there seems little point in playing a reserve side this close to the start of the season when we have been booking friendlies to get the players up to speed.

I'm finding it mush easier to predict our first eleven for this season that I did twelve months ago. There is little doubt that we will have the nucleolus of the side that won the third division title last season. The fact that we haven't really made any signings confirms that. Wilson is unlikely to dislodge Solly at right back, but could play wide midfield, and Cook is going to struggle to displace either BWP of Kermorgant. Kerkar has had some rave reviews, and we might want to protect Hollands due to his operation and subsequent late start to pre-season training, but other than that I expect the same team that started against Fulham.

It does look, from the pre-season games, that Cort is going to be favoured to Matt Taylor. I have said a few times that I'm not sure of the latter's pace in the Championship. When I say that I mean I'm not sure. I don't have any feeling either way and he could well be ok, but he is not the fasted centre half in the world, and I suspect that the Championship teams are all likely to have faster strikers. That is a factor of the divisional differences, the higher up you go the stronger and the faster the players have to be to survive. Either way the line ups this summer suggest that Cort might have taken Taylor's place in the side - something that looked like it was happening towards the end of last season anyway.

I think Chris Powell has been a loyal manager, and if anything he has kept sides unchanged for longer than I would have expected. I'm not saying that is wrong, just that I can see how a player can have to really wait his turn for a run in the side. I think this, actually, removes pressure from players in the team. One will feel less nervous about making a mistake if the end result isn't going to be an instant dropping to the bench.

Anyway I see the line up as being very similar.

There is an argument, of course, that we did do rather well with these players last season. There is also the question that we might have won promotion to the Premier League with this squad last season had we been a division higher twelve months ago. This is based on the fact that with 101 points we can't really have expected much more. I have mentioned before the last (and only) two times a team managed 100 plus points in the third division they were in the Premier League two seasons later. I'd take mid table this season and promotion next.

The noises coming out of the club - especially those reported on Charlton Life are worrying. There seems to be little doubt that a major benefactor to the club has walked away. This has left the club with a massive shortfall between what they wanted to do this summer, and what they can afford to do. This explains why we haven't signed any big names. However, there is always the possibility that those running the club believe that we have enough already to achieve this season's aims.

The worry for me is that we have spent a sum of money (rumoured to be between £400k and £500k) on a right back with rumours that Chris Solly is going to be leaving. If he is going to go I'm fine with that. It's not my first choice, but I am more than aware of the financial implications of running a business and sometimes assets need to be sold to balance the books.

If, however, we are not planning to sell Solly then one does have to wonder if that £400k plus could have been better spent elsewhere. This does, of course, ignore the fact that buying players is not the same as doing a food shop in Waitrose. You don't have to decide if you want to buy steak immediately and can browse the whole shop before making your selections. If you had to buy the steak there and then or it would be gone then you might end up with steak but not enough money for a nice bottle of wine.

Orient shouldn't really pose us many problems tomorrow if our players really want to win. The defeat against them on New Year's Eve was revenged at the end of March, and the players probably want to win the first home game of the season (even if it will feel like a friendly). Thus I'm going to go for a 2-1 win. I think the Orient players will want the scalp, but I don't think they will be good enough to beat the team that walked the division last season, even with no real additions to our squad since then.

I hope we have a decent crowd tomorrow night, but I'm not all that hopeful. The Olympics have only just finished, and we are still in tough economic times, and this is an unimportant cup competition against a team from a lower division that we have played six times in the last three years. Anything over ten thousand would be great.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 23 July 2012

¡Viva España!

The title of this blog is probably a little inaccurate. I know we have just come home from Spain, but I wasn't there, and I haven't read much in the way of reports of the game we played.

I have been to Spain before, of course, and my wife and I made the trip to Valencia a few years ago to see our friendly in the Mestalla Stadium. This was, of course, back in the day when we often played in stadia as impressive as that one - not for a few years since though.

Anyway the title of this post was merely the most topical. I don't have a specific subject in mind, but thought I should share my thoughts with what's happened so far.

The only real signings so far have been a little underwhelming. I say real as I'm not including the two new one year contracts to Bover Izquierdo and Mambo, nor am I including the extension of Jackson's contract. The two now signings might yet turn out to be very special. I saw enough of Cook at Welling to be suitably impressed - I know the opposition were not Championship quality, but he looked as good as many of the other players in a black shirt. He has pace and I read that he has two good feet and an eye for goal.

Wilson, on the other hand, I haven't seen play and, unlike many others, I don't tend to notice players on the other side during the normal course of a season, so I can't say I remember him from playing Stevenage at The Valley in February. This doesn't, however, mean that I am worried about him, nor am I not pleased that we've signed him. I have absolute trust in the club's ability to select the best players (based on our objectives and our budget). I do wonder what his involvement will be, however, as Solly is clearly our first choice right back; Powell thinks of Wilson as cover for right back; and both the club and the player are stating that Solly will not be leaving this summer. In the event of a long injury or several suspensions Wilson might play a few games this season, but as it stands it does look like we have been signing players as cover, rather than to slot right into the first team to improve the side.

There were many suggestions that Powell wanted his signings in place when the squad went off to Spain, and I have to conclude that we have failed in that department. I don't believe that the club's total aspirations this summer were to sign a back up right back and a promising striker for the future. Unless the club's aspirations are well short of the fans, and their initial suggestions, we have signed less that we had hoped to.

There have been some names bounded about in the last few weeks, but none of them have come off and, in fact, there are suggestions that we had been interested in players that have subsequently signed for teams that we might well consider our competition for the season to come. This suggests that we have been trying to get some players in but with little success.

I do realise that it is going to be harder to sign players that can make an impression in this division than it was last summer. The players that we signed in 2011 may well go on to make a real impact next season, but they, their agents and their clubs had less expectations at the time and that made it easier to sign them.

I also suspect that I might be being a little unfair on the club with my suggestion of being underwhelmed. I was not, exactly, overjoyed with last summer's signings. I was pleased and I did trust those running the club, but I never imagined that we would have gone on to have such a fantastic season. It may well be that what we have, coupled with the two we have already signed, plus another couple of players, will be enough for us to win promotion next season. It might, however, be insufficient to avoid a relegation battle. The truth is that we don't know if last summer's squad building was truly inspired or a little bit lucky!

The next couple of weeks are going to be very important. We have three weeks (tomorrow) until we play Orient in the League Cup and the first league game of the season is less than four weeks away.

Birmingham away is, potentially, a promotion six pointer. Birmingham are probably going to be weaker next season that they were last, but they must have aspirations of a top six finish, and I think we should have also. A draw may well be the best we are going to get there, but until we have finished team building we won't know, and that match is definitely a discussion for another day.

So we haven't replicated last summer in terms of early signings, but we did have more to do then than we have now, so two in with more to follow leaves me with sufficient optimism. The next two or three signings are going to tell us a lot more, probably.

One hint that we have had however, is that Paul Hayes and Leon Clarke are not considered the future. This is, of course, assuming that the rumours about them being left home when the squad went off to Spain are true. My best guess would be that they are not going to be in Powell's plans. If they were neither of them would have been loaned out for the run in last season. It is a step up in the Championship, and they were considered surplus to requirements in an outstanding team in the third division - that doesn't bode well for their chances.

In Paul Hayes case I feel a little sorry for the player. He was signed as a proven third division forward that might not score a lot of goals but who would make a contribution and had played in promotion winning teams in the past. I think the opportunist signing of Kermorgant finished off his Charlton career. The Frenchman has been outstanding for us, and he has performed well in the Championship before, so I can't see him losing his pace in the side. Hayes has also had trouble keeping his place in the side at this level before, so it stands to reason that he would be moved on for the benefit of both club and player (I'm assuming that he'd rather be playing at a lower level than sitting on the bench for us). I wish him all the best where ever he goes. His contribution at the start of last season mustn't be forgotten, and I think there is no shame for him to have lost his place in the side to Kermorgant.

Leon Clarke is a different matter. I have nothing against the player, but he arrived at The Valley with a reputation (and a scoring record for Carlisle) that suggested that he would be a significant contributor to our promotion campaign, and would score a few goals along the way. In the end he failed to impress me at all - in fairness he wasn't given much time on the field. It might just be one of those things. He might have been not quite fully fit. What ever the reason(s), however, I don't think that the deal to swap him for Benson has worked out in our favour, and I worry that it might have been a consequence of our owners being determined to get something for Benson, following reported transfer fees being agreed and the deals falling through. Despite this I wish him well, but I can't say that I'd be too worried about the outcome of us losing his services.

So, two strikers that we seem keen to let go. I am going to assume that we have already replaced at least one of them with Haynes (signed in January) and Cook. This is, of course, on top of the autumn signing of Kermorgant. With the Frenchman, BWP and Haynes it is arguable that we only need one more striker. If either Smith (who looked competent at Welling) or Cook are going to considered first team squad players then we might already have the four that we intend to run with for the season. There is, always, the January transfer window, and loans, should we discover that the four needs too be added to.

I do still think that another striker will be brought in if we can find a good enough one available and within our budget. The other area(s) that I would think we would be looking are centre half and defensive midfielder. I think we were rather fortunate last season to get by with just three central defenders, and four is the normal squad requirement. Of course, this depends if Mambo is considered good enough to be forth choice in the Championship, but I'd like to think that we would be looking for a new first eleven player, rather than cover. We have some very creative midfielders, but other than Hughes (who seems to be nowhere near the first team) we don't have an ideal player to sit in front of the back four to give the added protection that I'm confident we will need this season - that we didn't really need during our Championship winning campaign. So that would suggest three more signings, and hopefully good enough to go straight into the first team.

Time will tell.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 2 July 2012

What next?

After three seasons in the third division of English football we can, probably, claim to be back where we belong.

There are those that would call the Premier League 'where we belong' but for me it is the second division. Charlton have spent more time in this division in the 31 years I've been watching them them than they have spent in either of those just above or below it. For those of you that love the stats it includes 12 seasons in the top flight, 15 plus 1 in the second division and 4 in the third division. the plus 1 is next season (my 32nd), which is going to be in the second division.

It is close between the top flight and the second division, but fifteen is more than twelve. In fact, of those twelve seasons in the top flight I would suggest that as three of them resulted in relegation and at least another three we 'survived' a relegation battle we can hardly claim to have been an established top flight side - not during my lifetime. None of the ten years between me being born and starting going to Charlton were we in the top flight (7 in the 2nd div and 3 in the 3rd div).

Anyway, as I was saying we are now back were I believe we belong. I have hopes that we will be able to win promotion to the Premier League again one day, but after we came so dangerously close to going out of business (administration at the very least) in the last five years I am happy with second division football where the club can survive financially.

On that note it would seem that there have been a couple of developments (sorry for the use of that word) in the last month or so.

Firstly (and this is why I apologised) it would seem that planning permission for houses and flats has been approved on the plot that is 2 Landsdown Mews. I won't go into this in great detail, for that you can visit Charlton Life, but what it seems to have done is turn that plot of land from being worth a few hundred thousand pounds (which is approximately what the club sold it for a couple of years ago) to being worth nearer to £2m.

On the face of it this seems like a bad decision at the time. I have no interest in that discussion, nor apportioning blame for it - who ever sold it has, literally, lost a couple of million pounds, so they don't need me to tell them it was a mistake. However, from the limited information I have it would seem that this plot of land would have been required to develop the East Stand, and the South-East corner, and without that development it is now impossible for the club to make The Valley a big enough stadium for Charlton to compete at the top of the English game. Personally, I'm not sure that was ever possible. I seriously doubt that we would have been able to attract enough fans to fill a 40,000 stadium and, in fact, just trying to stay in the Premier League (without finding the development) we ran up so much debt that we faced administration and were forced to endure three seasons in the third division.

Despite me not being worried that we are now unlikely to ever see a 40,000 capacity Valley, it is still a development in the clubs history, and future, that needed to be mentioned. The other development, which is, at the present time, just rumours (all be it from people that have proven, in the past, to have good sources), is that the board and/or the investors have a disagreement that is causing us to have funding issues.

I was delighted with the player acquisitions last summer, and even more delighted with the results on the field from the start of the season, right up to the end. I was most pleased that we seemed to be doing our business early in the summer which meant that by the start of the season we would have given all the players time to gel. This was opposed to previous seasons when we were still bringing in players in the week before the season started, and one or two were not even signed before the first game.

This season we have seen no transfer activity. There has been a few comings and goings in the youth set-up. We have heard a lot about the club's intentions to develop it's own talent in house, so to speak. I have no problems with that, and we currently have two players in the first team that came from our youth side, and there are a couple more getting close. This on top of Carl Jenkinson who we sold last summer to Arsenal for enough to pay for most of the rebuilding that went on.

As I have no real information of this rumoured boardroom disagreement I do not intend to discuss it in any great detail save to say that I, like many others, wish Peter Varney all the best with what ever he chooses to do. He has been associated with Charlton for many years, but it would seem that it is time for him to move on (again). I have no idea what led to his departure, nor will I speculate, but I think, despite his time with us in the Premier League, he will look back on this last season as a great success and a real high point for him and Charlton.

The only significance of the boards actions is that they might be responsible for the lack of player acquisitions so far this summer. I know it is only just July, and the team haven't reported back for training yet, but by this time last season we had made a real statement about signing players. Having said that I recognise that we had more to do last summer, and that few of the other teams plying their trade in our division have made much of an impact on the transfer front yet.

There is also the question of just how many new faces we need, and in which areas. These discussions have been covered elsewhere, and there is also some doubt as to how good some of our players will be in a higher division. It is, of course, possible that our squad is good enough to win the Championship as it is. I know it is not likely, but when you finish on 101 points there is not much more you could have done. The players might be able to raise themselves; the younger players (and I'm including any of those 25 and under) might have developed into better players; the performances that enabled us to keep clean sheets and grab a goal might be enough to do the same against the perceived better opposition we will face this season.

The big thing that I think changes the further up the league you go is the pace of the players. Some of our players might just not be fast enough for the Championship. I have no evidence on this as often players that seem slow always look slow irrespective as to the speed of the opposition, and can adjust their game to combat there lack of pace.

I would like to see a couple (or three or four) new faces in the squad to increase the overall strength as well as certain areas. The promising thing, however, is that we haven't sold any players yet. There are a few that are still under contract that I believe are not going to get many games in this division. As they haven't moved on I can only assume that discussions are on going, both for players we want to move on and players we want to bring in.

If we change three or four of our weaker players for better (possibly younger) alternatives I can see this being a very good season. However, if we keep most of our better players I can see us avoiding relegation, and that has to be the first target. We have offloaded all the seriously high earners from the Premier League seasons and from Pardew's spending, so we should be able to make a decent stab at not loosing too much money each season in this division.

Clearly a decent run on the pitch will help this, but as long as we are not written off as relegation no hopers by Christmas we should be able to keep our average attendances above last seasons, and I suspect that the ticket revenue will increase in some way in line with out higher divisional status. I know that players' contracts will have gone up, but even so, the TV money is much more so that should help.

At this point I have no idea what sort of season we will have. Much of it depends on just how good our players are - this is especially true of those that have never played in this division before. It will depend on who we manage to bring in. It will, also, depend on the start that we get. A few early wins and the confidence can take a team on - a few early defeats and it can be very different.

Despite the unknown I am confident that this season will not be a complete disaster, and anything better than that will be something of a bonus. Either way I'm really looking forward to it.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Next... Hartlepool at home

I've been a little quiet in recent weeks and have, to some extent, allowed others to share their memories of the end of this season while I've kept mine to myself. This wasn't a conscious decision, it was a combination of work and family pressures and just not getting 'round to it.

After winning promotion at Carlisle I was confident that we might win the title at The Valley as MK Dons are a tough side. In the end I suspect that the prison sentence handed out to Chad Evans made all the difference. I'm not going to get into the court case, or the outcome of it for the player specifically, but there is no doubt that this would have had a psychosocial effect on the other players. If, for no other reason, (and despite what happened he was a work colleague and probably a friend of many of the players) they would have worried about the impact losing a 35 goal striker would have on their final three games. Even if none of the other players were affected, losing their best striker made them weaker - much weaker. Ched Evans had scored 14 goals in Sheff Utd's last 11 games.

In the end they did lose at MK Dons and we did beat Wycombe and there was an impromptu celebration at The Valley. The Wycombe game reminded me of some of the games we played in the season we won the First Division under Curbishley. We looked like we could go on and score at will, but were, kind of, holding back. We were cruising at 1-0 and when we let one in we immediately looked like we were going to go on and get a winner.

The draw at Preston was a real disappointment to me. I didn't really agree with making the changes to the starting line up. I have no problem with giving a couple of players a run out, but Wiggins and Morrison were ever presents up until that game, and we failed to start either of our first choice strikers, and when we made a change, neither of them came on. We played two loan players that have only been here a few weeks, neither of which I have heard are going to sign for us permanently - yet.

I am not going to criticise Powell for the side he sent out, and we very nearly won the game - and there is no guarantee that we would have won if we'd started the first 11. Let me just say that I really wanted to beat Fulham's 101 point record, and before the Preston game I was confident that we would do, and now we can't.

On the plus side Danny Haynes got a goal, and looks a real threat for next season, we are still unbeaten for six games, and I believe the fans had a great day out. I also can't begrudge Alexander getting a goal on his last home appearance. I just wish it had counted for nothing as we'd gone on to win.

Anyway, that's all water under the bridge, and we have one last game to play, and a celebration to enjoy. I was a little underwhelmed when we lifted the First Division Championship trophy in 2000. Before the Premier League came along this was the trophy that all clubs aspired to. This was the Football League Champions trophy. It had been a dream of mine for years that Charlton would eventually get to lift it at The Valley. Even though the Premier League had been formed, it was still the same trophy, and it was a dream come true for me.

In the end the fireworks that the club let off before the trophy was given out made it so smoky that I couldn't actually see the players through the smog, so it was not how I'd imagined it. I guess there was also an element of a twenty year dream never being able to live up to expectations.

This time I'm more prepared for the day. Not only do I not expect it to be 'everything I'd always dreamed it would be' but I'm older, wiser, and less demanding. To top all that, however, I already have a party of my own planned.

I do the school run every day, and normally, on match days, I'll pick my son up, bring him home and leave him with his Mum while I rush off to The Valley. Since January my wife has been working in the City (opposed to on Kings Hill - where we live) so it is difficult for her to get home. So, I took my son to a couple of evening games. He's not been a real fan to date, but I convinced him that it would be a fun night out. He came to two games, and decided that he now likes it. He has a club on a Saturday afternoon (this has now been changed to mornings - for obvious reasons) and I have bought him a season ticket for next season.

Anyway with it being his birthday on 9th May I suggested that he might like to have his birthday party at Charlton, and take some friends from school for a meal and to watch a game. I thought I might even be able to get a few interested in Charlton as his school is in Rochester it's too far away.

Anyway, I contacted the club and discovered that (pre the March discount) it was going to cost me £24 per child and £50 per adult to hold his party there (meal and match ticket) and as he would want to take at least ten children (who would all want to bring at least one parent) it was going to cost me in excess of £800. No thank you, very much. However, having planted the idea in his head he still wanted to do it. What I did, as an alternative, was to hold our own (family) party at The Valley. So this Saturday my Dad and I will be bringing our wives, and my son will have his 8th birthday party in Legends. I've even ordered him a cake.

I am confident that the atmosphere will be fantastic and the handing over of the League One trophy will be something that my son will remember for years to come. Ironically there will be close to 35% more fans there than there was for the First Division title, and I'm more hopeful of a win that I was against Ipswich, who needed a win to keep them in touch of Man City who eventually finished second.

On the subject of second, there is now a real issue to be decided on the last game of the season. As mentioned above Sheff United have lost their top scorer, and have managed just one point in two games to let Sheff Wed into pole position for second place. I have always had a real soft spot for United, as they were my 'local' team when I was at University in Sheffield, but the whole Ched Evans thing has left me routing for Wednesday. I have no real issue with the club itself, and the player might even be granted an appeal and be found not guilty yet, but I can't help thinking that without his goals this season they would have been no where near second place, and for that reason I will not shed a tear if Wednesday pip them to it.

Interestingly of the two Sheffield clubs I can't see United winning the playoffs, where as I could see Wednesday doing it. However, I have a sneaky feeling about Stevenage. They have beaten Carlisle and Brentford in recent weeks, and were unlucky not to beat Sheff Utd last weekend.

Anyway, the playoffs are nothing to do with us, The Champions, and in all honesty I don't think it matters too much who comes up with us.

Apparently the club have asked for volunteers to help 'Dress' The Valley before the game on Saturday. I have no idea what this means, but it all adds to the excitement.

These days don't come along very often for clubs like ours so I intend to enjoy it to the full. I hope it turns out to be a great day out for all of the 26,500 plus fans at The Valley.

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Carlisle 0 - 1 Charlton

Firstly let me say that I never thought we were going to win promotion yesterday. I'm not terribly superstitious and the fact that we'd been promoted at Carlisle twice before had no influence on my belief that it would it be there.

I felt for a few weeks that this wold be the toughest of our remaining games (I would have taken a draw to keep Sheff United four points behind with fee to go) and I just couldn't see Colchester holding Sheff Wednesday after their recent run.

The chances of both a Charlton win and a Wednesday draw (or defeat) was, in my view a little remote. I had not even considered going to the game. Had it been in our hands (if Wednesday had failed to win one of their Easter games) then I would have been tempted, but I was quite convinced that it would be Wycombe at home - or even later when we earned the P next to our name in the league table.

I was, obviously, going to be keeping an eye on the games. Even if all three of us won, it made our lead more significant as we are, fast, running out of games.

I went out just before kick off and by the time I got home both the Sheffield teams were losing. Nine points above Wednesday with a 15 goal advantage in oak difference and I was going to call it - promotion. I mentioned to Mrs Kings Hill and KH Junior that we were in for promotion if the scores stayed the same, and we decided that we would celebrate with an Indian.

I was pleased with the progress, but with over an hour to go in all three games I was aware that it could all change, and as ready mentioned, I was more than happy to continue our progress towards the end aim, which was promotion (well Champions, actually) after 46 games.

When the goals started going in elsewhere and it looked as though it wouldn't be today (at 1-1 I thought Wednesday would go on to win) and I settle in for the reassurance that a draw keeps us well on target, irrespective as to how the other teams get on.

My Dad and I were happy to take the draw, and to give me something to do (rather than stare at the iPhone, the iPad and the TV all at the same time) I decided to give my son the Pool lesson that he'd been nagging me to do all day.

Shortly after I'd swapped the stress of watching the scores for the stress of watching my son look like he was going to tear the baize on our Pool table we scored and from that moment I was confident that we would win, and that at the worsted we would win promotion next week, and probably as good as the title at the same time.

I came back to the TV by the time the results were coming in and Saw a few clips of and on the pitch with the Charlton players, and then they cut to Colchester with the score showing 1-1 and the reported said that the ball had just hit the back of the Colchester net. It seemed like an age before he continued the sentence to say that the gall had been disallowed. I knew then, I think!

Shortly after that update by Sky Sports News the result at Colchester was confined, along with the fact that Charlton had been promoted.

For all those that travelled yesterday I have utmost respect. It is a long way for a football game, and for some of them it would have taken faith that I have already explained I didn't have. Not that any of them will care about what I say, they had one of the best experiences in football, something that happens very few times for any football fan, and I'm sure that had a fantastic time.

On the whole I'm surprised how I felt when it sank in that we had won promotion. I don't want to sound ungrateful, or too big headed, but I think I felt more relief than excitement. I want to avoid accusations of arrogance, but we are clearly playing below our average league position, and we are in a division that the club can't sustain itself in.

I didn't find myself crying (something that I do actually do a lot - most films make me cry) and I had no temptation to do a few laps of the garden. I think that a lot of this is because for well over a month I've had complete faith in the team's ability to achieve promotion. It's a bit like going into the last five minutes of a game 3-0 up. It is no guarantee of a win, but when the whistle goes it's not as exciting as hanging on to a 1-0 lead for twenty minutes. Maybe I'll feel differently in a day or two, and maybe it will all hit me at The Valley on Saturday, but for now I just have this feeling of complete well being. That something has been restored to what it should have been.

The board, the manager and the payers have delivered everything that we demanded of them, and performed and behaved in the way we have always been proud of our club.

His morning, more than for a very long time, I feel like we have our Charlton back.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Six Points

I wouldn't have said it was impossible for us to win both the Easter games and, in fact, I would have guessed that we would have won either of them in isolation, but I would have been very happy with four points, so you can imagine how ecstatic I am with all six.

The Oldham game was a classic. Not a great game of flowing football, but it reminded me of the 1-0 win at Southampton when Semedo got himself sent off in the first half, or the 2-2 draw with Swindon on Boxing Day in 2009 when Llera scored an equaliser in injury time when we were down to nine men - Swindon had all eleven on that day.

I wasn't at Oldham so as excited as I was with the win I suspect it was nothing like how the fans that travelled felt. I think it's great for those that travel to be rewarded with something special every now and then, and this was special. Chris Powell confirmed that he thought that was the best result of the season. I can't disagree with him. The best away game I've been to this season was Sheffield Wednesday. The two best games, for completely different reasons, were Stevenage and Huddersfield at home. We have had some real memorable occasions this season, but those three, for me, were the most memorable, to date.

I say to date as I have a feeling that we will have some special memories to make in the next three and a half weeks.

I would have been happy with four points as I am not worried about the size of our lead. Clearly the bigger it is the more relaxed I feel, but I only feel the need for it to be one point after 46 games, and I think a win and a draw would have left us on target for at least that. In fact we have won our last three games, and we have won our last three home games scoring six goals with no reply. Since we lost to Colchester and Notts County in a week we have won thirteen out of a possible eighteen points. Our lead since then (well the last six games for all three sides) has been cut by Sheffield United by one point and by Sheffield Wednesday by three points. With that in mind it is inconceivable that we could be caught by either of them with four games to go. United face Rochdale tonight, who would almost certainly be relegated if they fail to win the game. There is no guarantee that United will win that game, and if they don't we could be crowned Champions on Saturday if we win and the other two fail to do so.

Either way I am very confident of winning the title now. To be fair I did make that bold statement several weeks ago (all be it we had a bigger lead then) but if we keep focused I can't see us dropping enough points for either of the other two teams to catch us even if they will all their remaining games - which I don't think they will.

Yesterday's game was a little dour to be honest. The weather was horrible (a great day for me to leave my coat behind) and I think that affected the attendance. I would have thought many would have decided to take a trip to football if the sun had been out. Four days cooped up inside would have been enough for most, but the rain probably put quite a few off.

As said, the game wasn't much better than the weather. We looked good in the opening stages, and when we scored I thought me might have gone on to score a couple more (especially with Walsall attacking in such a cavalier style) but it wasn't to be. At this stage of the season defending a 1-0 lead at home to the final whistle is what it's all about. We could have scored a goal on the break and at 2-0 it might have made us confident enough to push on for more goals.  However, we don't particularly need a better goal difference, and if we can snatch a couple more 1-0 wins we will be guaranteed promotion, and the title will not be far behind.

Seasons are rather like individual games. As much as we enjoy them, from the minute we have the lead we want it to finish. A 1-0 lead in a must win game is enough, and if that goal comes in the first minute I'm more than happy for the game to end immediately. A three (or more) goal lead and I'm happy to let the game run it's course, safe in the knowledge that we will (almost certainly) end up winning. This season is now looking like one of those games. We haven't won yet, but I'd rather watch another two (three if we go to Preston) games than have it finish now.

I believe that in due course we will all look back on this season with real fondness. Some of the players in our squad are going to be legends based on this season alone. There might even be a couple that will not feature again after this summer, but they will still be remembered as legends. I'm determined to make sure that I enjoy the tail end of the season. I have too many regrets about feeling that I didn't appreciate things until after they were long gone - not this time.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Next... the Easter double header

Having been away from Sunday (after the Huddersfield defeat) and missing the Orient game I've not had much to say in recent weeks.

I'm not planning of getting my post count up by writing two previews and two reviews in a week, so I'm going to look at the weekend as one event.

There is a lot happening between now and Monday evening:

Orient v Huddersfield - tonight
Oldham v Charlton - Saturday
Bournemouth v Sheff Utd - Saturday
Huddersfield v Sheff Wed - Saturday
Charlton v Walsall - Monday
Sheff Wed v Oldham - Monday
Bournemouth v Huddersfield - Monday

By the time Sheff Utd travel to Rochdale on Tuesday I fully expect us to be nearer the line, whilst probably not over it.

Huddersfield have had a great run in recent weeks (including beating us - which I'll discuss later) which left them in with a real chance of the top two. Sadly for them the two Sheffield clubs had an even better run in the last six games which, coupled with their defeat at Carlisle, has left them with a mountain to climb.

The truth is that, despite unbeaten runs, Huddersfield just don't win enough games. They have lost less than half of either Sheffield team, but they've drawn more than twice both of them also. Unbeaten runs sound good on TV clips, but they don't give the full picture. Interestingly, since they lost to Sheffield United their run of nine games has managed the same number of points as the last nine of Clarke's tenure. Neither were enough and they find themselves needing to win tonight and on Saturday (Sheff Wed at home) to make third, and they are currently twelve points behind second (nine if they win their game in hand). Realistically it's the playoffs for them, and in any event they are fourteen points behind us, despite beating us a week ago.

On that game I can't help wondering if Daryl Russell's sending off (his second of the season, and his eighth in five seasons - 143 games) finished any chance we had of a win or, realistically, a draw at Huddersfield. Clearly I wasn't there, but from what I've read we conceded a penalty and then proceeded to attach their goal for the remainder of the game. Certainly the second half sounds like they were hanging on and time wasting - even against ten men. I am more than happy to fail to win games in these circumstances, especially when we have a reasonable lead already. It never helps when the referee seems to give a little more to the opposition, but that is football I suppose, and Russell's red card was right in any event, and we were already losing at the time.

It's just typical that we were well beaten by Notts County at The Valley before they went on to lose to both Sheffield clubs at home in the next two games. I have a feeling that Huddersfield will fail to replicate their result against us this Saturday which will keep it tight at the top as we go into Bank Holiday Monday's game against Walsall, who beat us at The Valley last season to end an unbeaten run of six games and, ultimately, start the end for Parkinson.

Daryl Russell has a bit of a chequered past when it comes to red cards. Eight in five seasons (with two in three of those seasons) suggest that this is part of his game. I'm reluctant to criticise players when they give 100%, and he did score a goal against Yeovil in-between his two reds for us (they came in a run of five games). However, with a ban that is likely to be four games I think it is unlikely that we will see much more of him now. I can't see us wanting to sign him permanently if we are in the Championship next season, and if we are promoted, and as good as Champions, when his suspension finishes I can't see the justification in bringing him back into the side. Frankly I think I would have sent him back to Preston after the Huddersfield game if we could have saved his wages. There was no doubt about the red card, even if Kaye should have gone also (if not before).

Moving on, and I did so quite happy as we were still nine points above Sheff Utd (all be it they had an easy game in hand) and eight above Sheff Wed and we entertained Orient at The Valley in a 'must win' game. It wasn't really a real must win, but it was crucial that we kept out lead above second greater than the lead they had over third just to keep us physiologically away from that fight. I went to a bar in Tenerife that my Dad normally goes on a Saturday when he's out there in the winter, to watch Sheff Wed beat Preston 2-0. I was at the bar ordering a beer and a drink for my son when they scored their second, and then it was all over. Preston looked like a broken side. They seemed to offer nothing, and it could well have been much more than 2-0 by the end. Not that it matters I don't think Wednesday have enough games left to bridge the goal different we have over them, 12 goals, but they did look confident, and were far from hanging on for the final whistle.

I stayed in the bar where they have about twelve TVs, one showing each of the Premier League games. It is a great place to spend a Saturday if you are not watching Charlton. I watched, on the whole, the Man City v Sunderland game. I don't watch a lot of Premier League football these days, and I appreciate that City are a top side, and there are few 3-3 scored in the Premier League, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon. As all the games are on you can switch your gaze from one game to another when goals are scored. However, I think what made the day so enjoyable was that we won, and were winning for most of the afternoon.

With the bar's free Wi-Fi (something that seems to be common in Tenerife these days) I was able to keep refreshing the 'live' league tables and until very late in the game we were eight points above both Sheffield teams. It would have made a big difference had it stayed that way. I think Sheff Utd were tired with having played a few more midweek games in recent weeks, but they found that little extra to get a 1-0 win. It is poised to be very interesting in the next month, especially if you live in Sheffield, as it now looks certain to be one of them up and one of them in the playoffs.

Our game was probably won in the seventh minute, but as the game drew on I was becoming more and more nervous. The impact of conceding a goal becomes greater as the final whistle draws closer, and we have managed a lot of 1-1s at home this season. In the end the second goal (which I've seen on the TV) was quality and did finish off the game as a contest. It came in time for me to relax and watch Man City score two late goals to make for an exciting finish there.

So we come to the final run-in. I don't know who decided the number of games, but it is traditional for the last ten games to be referred as the run-in and the last six the final run-in. In previous years we have not been all that great at this stage of the season. However, I would argue that, despite making all the right noises about progression and Europe, we have achieved our season's goal with ten games to go. I was never unhappy about our goal being to stay in the Premiership. I would have taken forth from bottom for the rest of my life had it been offered to me. I used to say it then, and I would certainly say it now. Those that would suggest that you have to progress or you move backwards were missing the point. With a smaller budget than most of the teams around us to stay where we were was moving forward in terms of maximising return on investment.

Anyway with that in mind I expect that our last ten games (certainly our last twelve) will yield a lower points to games ratio than the rest of the season, but it can, because the season's goal was virtually achieved with twelve games to go. I don't want to start a discussion about complacency, nor do I want the players to take anything for granted, but the goal was to be promoted at the end of the season, and that means above third place (ignoring the playoffs) and that can be one goal scored more than third. Any more than one point is totally unnecessary. Sure we want to win the division, and I think we will, but no team (outside of the Premier League) would ever turn down second in August for the chance to finish first or third.

With that in mind we have reduced the 17 point lead we had on 3 March (12 games to go) to 8 points with 6 games to go. If our lead is reduced by another 9 points in the next six games we might have a bit of a problem, but I can't see it. At no point (save for the two weeks running up to 3 March) would I have turned down an 8 point advantage over 3rd place with six games to go. I would have taken eight points above 3rd even if it meant being 10 points behind 1st.

Our form over the whole season has been magnificent. We are still averaging 2.13 points per game which would see us end on 97.98 points. Even is we finish on 97 points that would be the highest total for six years and only twice has the total even been higher than 98 points, and both of those sides (Fulham in 1999 and Wigan in 2003) went on to reach the Premier League within two seasons of that achievement. Not bad company to be in, especially when you consider that those two sides were bankrolled by a very rich benefactor (by third division standards).

It would be lovely to manage 102 points to make a new record. It would be lovely to secure 100 points, for no reason other than it's 100 points. It would be lovely to win the division. However the main goal was, and still is, to get out of this division, and I think we are more than on target for that.

I would take four points this weekend. I think that of the run-in Carlisle away is the toughest game, but I think Walsall at home will be tough, and Oldham are hardly going to role over and give us the win. Four points and we are well on target, six points and we are merely bringing the inevitable forward.

Certainly it will all be a lot clearer what we need to do in the last four games by the time we go to bed on Tuesday, but I think we will have a sneaking suspicion by the time the final whistle goes at The Valley on Monday. If results go our way we could even be promoted on Monday.

Up the Addicks!