Friday, 20 January 2012

Next... Sheffield United at home

It is quite a coincidence that we play both teams from Sheffield in the space of eight days, but what is more unusual is that we play two of the teams that will almost certainly finish top five back to back.

I'm going to try to avoid making any other comments about the fact that they both come from the same city except to say that I lived in Sheffield for a year when I was doing my MBA.

It's a decent city, although I've only lived in that one and Canterbury, so I can't really compare that well. While I was at University I joined a football supporters club. For those that have been to university you will know that there is a club for, just about, everything - especially at the larger Universities.

Before I made some proper friends, two of which I still speak to on a regular basis now, nearly twenty years later, I did some socialising with this football supporters club. Something else that many of you will know is that most of these clubs are formed in September and disbanded by the New Year when all the students have made friends, started relationships, or discovered alcohol or other chemicals to keep them entertained.

Anyway as well as a quiz and a few nights out drinking the football supporters club arranged a tour of Bramall Lane, which was not that far from where I was living at the time. The tour was great - just like any other I suppose. However, part way through the tour we bumped into Dave Bassett, the then Manager of Sheffield United, who were in the Premier League at the time. It was the first season of the Premier League, and Brian Dean of United had scored the first, ever, Premier League goal.

I mention all this as Harry Bassett couldn't have given us more time. He talked to the group of us (about half a dozen, from memory) and talked about United and all our clubs. There was only one Sheffield United fan in the group, but this didn't stop Harry from making us feel very welcome. This reminded me of what Charlton was all about. This was the time that we were at Upton Park, a few months before we came back to The Valley.

Anyway I decided that day that Sheffield United would be my second team - my team away from home, if you like. I'd always had a thing for Liverpool when I'd been a kid, like a lot of children born in the early 70s, but I didn't go to Anfield until 1996, and that was as an away fan when Charlton went there. I went to Bramall Lane a few times during that season, as well as coming home for every Charlton game. As a fan of Sheffield United, I clearly didn't have a lot of time for Sheffield Wednesday - and still don't today.

Anyway enough of my history. Second team or not I want us to win tomorrow, maybe not as much as I wanted us to win last week, but a lot never the less.

Following New York Addick's analysis I am not treating this like any other game - even if Chris Powell is. Clearly the professionalism and the training should be the same (or close) but the significance of the game, and the increased crowd, should ensure that the players know this is not like any other game.

Last week was fantastic. It was great to win away to one of our promotion rivals; it was great to beat a team that was unbeaten at home all season; and it was great to beat a team that has some fans that are, shall we say, very confident of their club and it's stature.

However, this is the first time it has been 1st vs 2nd. We nearly had that when we beat Huddersfield back in November, and, save for United playing a game more we could have had it last weekend. This, however, is the real deal, a top of the table clash.

The fact that we will still be top at 5pm, and we will still have a game in hand on the team in second takes nothing away from the significance of the fixture for me. This is an opportunity for us to make another statement about our credentials, and for us to increase the lead, over second, to at least seven points.

As well as beating Sheffield Wednesday at home for the first time this season we also signed a new striker last week, and I have a funny feeling we will see something of him tomorrow. We now seem to have a surplus of strikers, and I am more than happy with the two that have been starting. I know little about Haynes (or Clarke for that matter, save for his scoring record this season) but I trust Powell's judgement and I can't wait to have a look at them - from the bench, of course. It does make it look like Hayes is going to struggle for match time, but he has failed to make an impression from the bench, and he just isn't going to force himself in front of Wright-Phillips or Kermorgant.

I am confident of a win tomorrow. I know that Sheffield United have been in great form, and we have drawn two and lost one of our last six, but we have performed better in the big games this season, and after last week I am as convinced as I think one can be in January that we are on a march to the second division.

Tomorrow will not decide our season, but it may define it. If we end up seven points above at least two teams tomorrow evening it is entirely possible that we will end up being more than a win from second place from the start of November to the end of the season. Not at all bad, if you ask me.

Up the Addicks!

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