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!