Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Charlton 3 - 0 Yeovil

I am away on holiday this weekend, and I have a mountain of work to get through before I go, so I'm going to be brief - I really am this time.

I've been all too quick to criticise the club, the board, the manager and the players in recent seasons during our woeful decline. I, like many others, find it easier to analyse failure than success. I genuinely don't want the club to fail, but I believe it makes this blog a more interesting read when I'm looking to point our mistakes than revel in successes.

Despite not going to the trouble to check, I suspect that I have many more posts following a defeat (especially when common belief is that we shouldn't have lost) than following a victory.

We played well last night, the early goal pretty much assured that the nervousness was kept at bay. The goals flying in at Notts County were a constant reminder that we need to keep on winning, for the meantime at least, but we played like a team at the top of the table.

The second goal was a great movement, and I predicted the ball across to Yann and his head back across the box. I think the addition of Dany N'Guessan added the height upfront that we have needed in the last few games where we have been playing against big sides that have put their biggest defender on Yann and neutralised out attack from a long ball.

Anyway the goal was well taken by BWP (as we've come to expect) and the third was just icing on the cake.

I would point out that the early goal completely changed the game. had we conceded first it might have been a long night. Having said that, has we scored first against Colchester or Notts County then those games could well have yielded points. Thus it is perhaps less of a negative and a positive that we can put those two defeats behind us and move on to another run that will cermet our position at the top of the table.

A draw away and a win at home suggest that our recent wobble is over. Even if we lose at Huddersfield I think we can be assured that we are back on track to win the title. Interestingly I checked the bookies odds yesterday and we were 1-8 on for the title and 1-100 on for promotion. This morning we are 1-12 on for the title - there seems to be no odds available for promotion (which I assume to mean they are not taking any bets on us going up now).

I actually think we'll get something at Huddersfield, and if we follow that up with a win at home to Orient (a game that I am going to miss) I believe we will be looking at the last six games and speculating on the day we will be promoted, and the day we will be crowned champions.

For now we are on a run of wins (1) and we are on an unbeaten run (2).

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Scunthorpe 1 - 1 Charlton

Having got back from Scunthorpe late I'm only going to write something brief, but hopefully worth reading.

I have read a few things elsewhere that came across as a little more negative that I'm feeling after this draw.

Sure, we have been incredible on the road this season, but we can't win them all. Sure Scunthorpe have been short of wins at home this season, but we are entering that time of the season when league position, and to some extent recent form, go out of the window.

We have seen our lead at the top of the table rise and fall over the last three months. Each time it seems to get as big as it's been it is cut again. I might produce a spreadsheet that will show that lead rising and falling and, more importantly, the trend that shows it rising since we took over at the top of the division back in, I think, October.

It rose to 13 points above 2nd place (all be it the team in second had a game in hand) and a massive 17 points to third. The truth is that this massive lead was after we'd have a fantastic run and those around us had had a terrible run (by the standards set this season). That meant that the lead was going to be cut if the two Sheffield teams and Huddersfield had another good run and we had a little wobble.

In fact Huddersfield are still having a wobble, and Sheffield United are also failing to capitalise of our recent run of two defeats and a draw (including today).

Clearly we need to return to winning ways soon if we are to make this season finish as comfortably as it has looked for most of the last three months.

However, we are still nine points above second, and we are also nine points above third. It looks about as good as any of us would have dared to wish for back in August when most of us would have taken 6th and a play-off win, and would have ripped of the arm of anyone offering a second place finish.

What we needed today was to avoid defeat. A draw away from home is normally good enough, if backed up with wins at home, to win the division, and a draw is what we came away with.

What makes it all the more significant is that three of the other four teams in the top five also drew. Sheffield Wednesday's win at Notts County looks impressive, and I can now see them taking second place, all be it that there could well be several more twists and turns before May.

Scunthorpe are a very strong, physical, side and getting anything from them now, when they are fighting for their lives, was going to be an achievement. There is a school of thought that says that getting the firs goal should have been enough for us to go on and take all three points.

Wagstaff created the chance and provided a great cross, and BWP put it away - just what we've come to expect of him but a great contribution, all the same.

At the back we looked nervous. In fact I would go as far as to say that I could feel the anxiousness when we were defending in that first half. A shocking clearance from Morrison straight to an Iron player in a dangerous position lead to a tangle of legs that led to a, correctly, awarded penalty.

The rest of the game was, to be honest, very scrappy. As I've already said Scunthorpe are a big side, and they clearly sensed blood.

After the Interval both sides seemed to be struggling to carve out any real chances, and soon the game drifted into a stalemate with the visitors the more keen to push forward, but struggling against a big defence.

What we needed to do was avoid a defeat. We have just dropped eight points in three games and we still find ourselves nine points above second place. if this is the end of our bad run then we have a lot to be pleased about. If we are going to struggle for another couple of games then it might get exciting, but with the other teams dropping points it might not make the much difference.

The only criticism I have is that we have seemed to play less and less passing football in recent weeks, and against teams like today's opposition the long ball up to Yann is going to be a lot less effective and we are going to need an alternative approach.

Yeovil on Tuesday is now a much more significant game that we all thought it was going to be a month ago. However, we have been at our best this season when the games have had a lot riding on them so, I wouldn't put it past us to beat Yeovil and follow it up with a win next Saturday at Huddersfield, who have fallen away a bit from the top three.

With a nine point lead with nine games to play we are still very much favourites to win the league, and we are now on another unbeaten run. We have had unbeaten runs of more than ten games twice this season. We may well have seen the last third division defeat in the club's history, there must be a good chance that we've seen the last one of this season.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Next... Notts County at home

Following on from our defeat on Tuesday there has been a few calls for changes to the starting eleven. I personally think this is a little premature. I think BWP had an off day by his standards, but I also think that with half the job of a striker being in the right place at the right time he clearly got some things right.

I think that the modern game is so fast and takes so much out of players that playing two games in a week will make a difference, and this could be why the midweek home games that we have failed to win in recent weeks have felt like a slower paced spectacle than some of the Saturday games.

I know we all have squads, and that all of the players want to play but I am a strong believer that you play the best eleven that you have in every game. I can understand how a team would rest certain players to protect them in advance of a big game, or if they are tired or injured, but that aside I think that playing the best eleven is the best way forward.

The best eleven, however, is not always apparent - ask Alan Pardew who still didn't know what his best eleven was when he was sacked. For us the debate seems to be the midfield pairing. I think that Hollands and Stephens are our two best midfielders, but I'm not as convinced that they are the best pairing.

The most dominating run we have had this season had Hollands and Hughes in the middle. Andy Hughes seems to have fallen a little out of favour (as players have come in, to be fair) and I don't know if this is a permanent thing or not. Both Hollands and Stephens are great at pushing forward, yet if they both play one of them needs to, at least some of the time, play the holding role.

In all honesty we shouldn't need a holding player too much in this division as we shouldn't be looking to 'contain' teams, we should be looking to take the game to the opposition. This means that it is possibly in our best interests to have a more attack minded player doing some defences duties, rather than having a holding player trying to break down the opposition. Semedo is a talented player, and was one of the best holding midfielders we have seen in a Charlton shirt out of the top flight, but I have now come to recognise that he was possibly more of a problem than a solution in recent seasons - particularly in this division.

So there is a question mark over who should play in the middle, and there might be a little doubt as to who should partner Yann upfront if BWP is suffering with issues related to his knee and playing two games a week for much of this year. That aside, though, I wouldn't want, nor expect, to see any changes.

On Tuesday Colchester scored a cracking goal and a crazy goal. We could have scored at least three with the chances we had, so I'm happy to give the same eleven the chance to get us back on track.

What is crucial, and I seem to have been writing this ever since I started this blog, is that we score first. If you are the favourites to win, conceding the first goal gives the opposition something to defend and makes it harder to break them down. On the other hand, ironically, if you are defending and hoping for a draw, conceding the first goal forces a complete change of game plan.

We are most threatening when we can attack with pace, and that, realistically, means that the opposition need to be pushing up. This is always more likely when they are trying to score. The advantage about tomorrow is that Notts County need the points more than we do. County are sixth and one and three points above Carlisle and Stevenage having played two and three games more respectively. This means that they need a much better finish to the season than those chasing them.

Interestingly Notts County are the form team in our division with four wins, one draw and one defeat in the last six games. We are forth with three wins, two draws and a defeat (the same as Colchester who beat us 2-0 on Tuesday).

Taking into account Notts County's need for points (and wins, realistically) I think they will not come to The Valley and put ten men behind the ball for the whole 90 minutes. They might start off cautiously, but I don't believe that they will come with no more ambition than holding out for a 0-0. It might be the best they will get, but they need points and are on a run, the kind of run that just might propel them into the play-offs and the lottery that can win promotion from 6th place in the division.

When we played Notts County in August we were first and second by virtue of having both won our first game 3-0. What none of us knew at that point was that we were going to win many more games against teams that had genuine aspirations of greatness this season - and we've beaten them all!

I am confident of a win tomorrow. I even think it might not be close. If we get the early goal we could find ourselves getting a few more as the form team of the division push forward in an attempt to keep their run going - unbeaten in five and six wins and a draw in eight.

Frankly I'd take a 1-0 right now. The teams just below us are not going to keep fumbling and at some point we will need to win to match them and keep the gap as big as it is. With County having conceded just one goal in five, and with our defence as tight as it is, it would well finish 1-0. Another reason to get the first goal.

Hopefully there will be a good atmosphere tomorrow - midweek games always feel a little flat as the crowd is smaller. What is most important is that the crowd keep patience and allow us to pass the ball around and wait for the, inevitable, chances to come. To be fair to our fans we have shown that for most of this season - I didn't hear any boos on Tuesday. We just need to give them our support for a few more weeks and then this will be a season that we will all talk about for years to come.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Charlton 0 - 2 Colchester

Well it is always difficult to have any kind of 100% record on the basis that pure randomness will cause something to prevent it from staying 100% for very long. Managing to stay unbeaten at home all season was always going to be virtually impossible. Sure it has been done before, but the sheer number of times this has ever happened are evidence enough that it is very unlikely, indeed.

Ironically we have played much worse at home this season and managed to avoid defeat. We have also lost at home to Preston and Brentford in the cups at home, and they are, technically, in the same division, so we are probably only splitting hairs anyway.

What is more of a worry is that we have looked positively under par in three of the last four home midweek games, which suggests that there may be more to it than a bad day at the office.

The crowds are down on midweek games, which I guess is understandable, and this might be a factor, as might be the game plan of these teams which is always going to make if difficult. I missed the MK Dons victory, but I doubt they came hoping to snatch a draw, and we were to benefit from two penalties and were never behind in the game.

Tonight we were behind from early on from a wonder strike, and then we found ourselves chasing a team that were organised and, more importantly, seemed to snuff out Yann, which left us little outlet when they defended very high up the pitch. Basically they showed the blueprint for containing the league leaders, and having got the first goal it was always going to be a tough night for us.

Having said that we did have more than enough chances to put this game beyond Colchester before Hamer made the game safe for them. BWP, who you would normally bet on scoring from close in seemed to be misfiring tonight, and the Skipper also had a couple of chances that missed the target. This is before you add in the numerous blocks and deflections that could have changed the game at 1-0.

Under normal circumstances I would be fed up and angry with the game and result but, despite having a few choice words for the 'Keeper when he clearly gave away a goal, I left The Valley feeling relaxed and mostly pleased that we had created many more chances than either the Bury or Rochdale fixture, and we have another game in a few days to put this defeat behind us and get back to winning ways.

A lot of that was, of course, based on the fact that Sheffield United lost at Walsall. I know that Sheff Wed and Huddersfield won, but I am not worried, at this stage, about either of those two teams catching us, so on the whole our goal difference is the only thing that was damaged tonight (relative to the only team I think we are in competition with now) and I can live with that.

This weekend we entertain Notts County, who are going to come to The Valley with a little (or a lot) more adventurous game plan, so I expect that we will have a better game. I also think it unlikely that many teams will be able to contain Yann quite so effectively.

Unlike us, Sheffield United have another midweek game next Tuesday (and the Tuesday after, as it happens), and I think that will start to tell on their players legs. I fully expect us to have a very good idea of how things will play out by the time the full time whistles go on the 18th March, when we play Scunthorpe. By that time Sheff Utd will have played their game in hand and if we can match them in two of those games and if they draw the other one they will be a massive twelve points behind with nine games remaining.

If Sheff Utd's poor run continues they will be in real danger of ending up in the play-off places. Huddersfield are now just two points behind them with a better goal difference having played the same number of games. If we weren't so far out front it would be getting very exciting now - but we are, so we can look down on the upcoming battle with little real interest and even less stress.

It would have been better to have beaten a team that spent most of the game time wasting and frustrating us, but it is enough for me to know that it will probably be years before we face Colchester again, and may well not happen again for decades. That'll do for me.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 2 March 2012


This is something that businesses are allowed to apply for to protect them from being liquidated and having all their assets sold to pay their debts.

I am sure there are very good examples of this working in the best interests of all parties (well at least some of them) so that the business is given time to get itself sorted and refinance.

When it comes to football clubs it is becoming difficult to justify the administration for anything other than allowing the football club to blackmail those that lent it money in good faith to accept a fraction of what they are due.

I have written about this before (when Portsmouth were last in administration). Nothing in the world of football seems to have changed since then.

This time Portsmouth are, apparently, unable to fund the rest of their season. No doubt a solution to that will be found and in due course they will agree new terms for them to continue trading, all be it in a division lower than they are in now. I wonder how much difference the Premier League parachute payments will make in the third division, and what the other teams in that division will think of the club with millions of pounds of TV money to play with.

I can't help but wonder if there was ever any real expectation on behalf of the previous administrators at Portsmouth to, actually, pay back the £30m that they agreed not to knock of the £150m they overspent. It does look now like they offered the minimum they needed to get out of trouble to, literally, buy themselves time to find another solution. That club have been looking for a new owner for years and all they want is a super rich man to come in and pay for all the success that his predecessor enjoyed - oh and maybe fund another decade of decadence.

Glasgow Rangers are another example completely. They seem to be safe from any real chance of liquidation on the basis that without them Scottish football dies, apparently.

Don't get me wrong I am self employed and I have an accountant that advises me on how to reduce my tax bill, but I don't hold HMRC to ransom and tell them that they will have to knock a huge chunk of what I owe them or I'll pay none of it.

Maybe these trusts that Rangers had were thought to be ok, but from what I read about them I would have guessed that they would have been liable to tax, and it would seem, shock horror, that they are!

I don't know where we go from here. Sky Sports News had a thirty minute special investigation program about this last week. Interestingly they had Peter Storrie and David Gold on it. Guess what, they both believed that there was no foul play by the clubs. David Gold even blamed the HMRC for not protecting Rangers from running up such a debt. You couldn't make it up!

The High Court is going to make a decision on the football creditors rule in a week or so. This will be interesting as it will make some changes. Neither Gold nor Storrie mentioned the one thing that I think needs to be addressed and quickly - players wages. From what I read (and it could well be wrong) Portsmouth still have players on salaries in excess of £1m a year that they signed when they were in the Premier League - they can't move them on. Administration should allow the clubs to take these players contracts, roll them up and pay them off with the same percentage that the other creditors get.

I know this would seem unfair as there are probably players that signed their contracts in good faith, and might have been able to get the same deal elsewhere, but it just does't seem right for the British tax payer to accept 20p in the £ and a footballer to continue to collect all of his £1m a year for a further three years.

The alternative is that this will keep happening. As time goes on the world will stop lending money to football clubs. Banks have, already, amended their position on football debt and local businesses will start to ask for more money on account or they will not carry out the work that the club wants.

The only institution that will continue to suffer is HMRC. All Income Tax and National Insurance is paid in arrears. In my business I pay staff and withhold their tax and NI and then once a quarter I pay it on their behalf. My staff earnings are inconsequential compared to footballers that can earn close to £100,000 a month. If you have a squad of ten players earning that (or 20 earning £50k a month) then the total earnings are £3m a quarter. If you assume, for ease of calculation, that the tax and NI bill is half then the football club can owe £1.5m before an invoice is even raised. Allow this to drag on for two quarters and then another to get it to court and the bill is £4.5m Suddenly it's understandable why HMRC are taking so many clubs to court for winding up orders.

I believe that an example needs to be made of a football club that will ensure that the others manage their finances in a better fashion. If anyone can think of a better club to make an example of than Rangers or Portsmouth then please comment below.

I know it would be heart breaking for the fans of the club in question, and I would hate for it to be us (even though to avoid administration we took decisions that got us relegated at least once), but a club has to go. It has to be liquidated. It has to be held up as an example of what happens if debt is run up that cannot be repaid, or at least serviced.

It won't happen of course and no doubt in two years time I'll be writing something similar to this post about another club that has effectively been bailed out by the tax payer.

Next... Bournemouth away

What a difference a week can make (and it's not even been a week).

Firstly Sheffield Wednesday beat Sheffield United to reduce the games in hand for the team in second place, then we comfortably beat Chesterfield, who were having a bit of a run, with ease, then United (in second) struggled to beat a relegation battler at home when the visitors played more than half of the game with ten men.

It is a relative chase now, and we seem to be holding up very well, thank you very much. Tomorrow the fixtures of the top five are:

Bournemouth v Charlton
Sheffield United v Oldham
Rochdale v Sheffield Wednesday
Bury v Huddersfield
Hartlepool v MK Dons.

I can see a win for all of the challengers this week, which I guess means that most will win, but one won't, and as long as we do the gap will get bigger to one of the teams. I built a spreadsheet last week to look at the remaining fixtures of the top five. I know it is too early to do that, but with the lead we have to third I thought it might be interesting as far as considering how many points the chasers can't all get.

Sadly the only clash between the top five teams from here on in are:

Huddersfield v Charlton on 24th March
Huddersfield v Sheffield Wednesday on 7th April
MK Dons v Sheffield Wednesday on 21 April.

As discussed by Nelson the Huddersfield game could be the one that we are promoted at, but with them playing Sheffield Wednesday two weeks later it is clear that both those clubs cannot achieve maximum points.To be honest, I was a little disappointed that there were not more games between the chasing pack, but it is what it is.

The MK Dons v Sheff Utd game could well be interesting, but I can't help feeling that we will have it all settled by then, and even if we are only six or seven points above United by then it will be unlikely that we'd lose the remaining three games so it is most likely only going to be important to settle who will be second.

In a weird way I find myself a little less excited by games now that I was a few weeks ago. I don't think it's the dire football we saw in February - and it wasn't all that dire, and we were picking up points anyway. No, I think it is because it looks a bit predictable.

For my MBA my dissertation was about football attendances, with specific reference to Charlton. One of the factors that I studied was the probability of outcomes. This is relevant both for individual games and also for the impact the individual game will have on the ultimate goal. In our case that goal is (or was) promotion. I would have taken second at any point until very recently when I came 'round to the idea that anything less than the title would be a disappointment. That is not me being greedy but from the position we are in we should be able to close it out, and if we don't it will feel more like a 'loss'.

Once we'd dispatched Stevenage I was decided that I wanted Wednesday to win the Steel Derby as I wanted United to be kept as far behind us as possible.

Maybe the lack of excitement in the games is because their was a heightened level of anticipation with the two Sheffield clubs and MK Dons but it could also be because I can't see us losing, and even if we do we are almost certainly going to lift the title in May.

There, I've said it. I am confident of winning the title, which is much more than I dared wish for back in the summer. I did wish for promotion, and I would (obviously) have taken 6th and a win at Wembley, but this season has gone, pretty much, 100% our way.

Anyway with this weeks fixtures I would suggest that we have one of  the hardest games of the top five so a comparable result would be a fantastic achievement. I'm not sure any of the teams are looking up as far as us now. Realistically Sheffield United are the only team that could aim to catch us and I think they are a little more interested in looking behind them to be honest. Even if they win their game in hand they will be seven points behind us and with a goal difference eleven better than them it's not guaranteed that in the process of making up those ten points they would match ours, so it's possibly eleven points with a game in hand.

We haven't been specifically lucky this season and I believe we have been worth our results, which makes it even more likely that they will continue. I can't be bothered to run calculations on all league tables from back in the days when teams got two points for a win, but since the change there has only been two teams that achieved 100 points in this division - Wigan (100) in 2003 and Fulham (101) in 1999. Fulham had Keegan at the helm and were signing £2m centre halves and Wigan also had a team that was hardly put together on a shoe string. Wigan finished 7th then 2nd in the second division after their 100 points haul and Fulham finished 9th and then 1st. Both of these clubs have been in the Premier League ever since.

Clearly they had further investment after promotion, but I'd like to get into the 100 points club, especially if it means two years before joining the Premier League 'club'.

Anyway, I've gone way off topic. Bournemouth had a terrible start to the season, but they picked up and had a very good run to get themselves into play-off contention. Their recent run of three defeats (after a draw) leaves them 10th and five points behind 6th having played two games more. Thankfully for them Stevenage have had two defeats and a draw in three, but that did include us and Huddersfield. Bournemouth's next two games are us at home and Sheff Wed away. They also have to face Sheff Utd away and Huddersfield at home. Even if they win at Stevenage on the 27th March I think all but the most optimistic will be getting prepared for another season in this division.

Tomorrow's game might be a threshold for them, but I suspect that one goal and their heads will drop.

It's very difficult to make predictions when teams are on a bad run, as it won't carry on forever, but I suspect that Bournemouth are heading for a forth straight defeat, rather than a return to winning ways this weekend.

I'd take a 1-0 or a 2-1 as at this stage we just need to keep winning (we are only 27 points away from a divisional record) but I have a feeling that with BWP back among the goals it could be a bit more one sided.

It will be interesting to see how Simon Francis is getting on. I thought there was a footballer in there, and he did have some good qualities, but his lack of concentration worried me for a full back. I wish him no ill, but he, like McCormack, did seem to manage the situation to maximise his income, which I can understand, but it does make life difficult for clubs like ours. Anyway he's gone and not out problem now. It would be typical for him to score the only goal of the game tomorrow - let's hope not.

I believe we have sold a lot of tickets for tomorrow and there should be a fantastic atmosphere. Sadly the weather forecast for Bournemouth (according to Siri) is rain, which is a shame for those going for a weekend on the sea front, but I suspect a win will make up for it.

Up the Addicks!