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!