Monday, 18 March 2013

Charlton 0 - 2 Millwall

Predictable and disappointing. That just about covers it I think.

We were the better side from the off until they scored. Their goal came against the run of play, and was scored by a player that had only just come onto the pitch. These facts don't change the result or the feeling of disappointment but they do, in my view, go some way towards removing any blame or discontentment at the performance.

On another day one of our chances would have gone in and we would have been 1-0 up before Easter slipped the ball between Button's legs and the whole day (and potentially the season) would have had a completely different slant on it. We lost home and away to Palace, but they clearly have a better side than us this season. With luck they will stay down, lose Zaha to Man Utd and Bolasie and maybe even Murray and they will be a lot weaker next season. I hate Palace but I can live with losing to a better team.

Millwall, on the other hand are not as good as us based on the first hour or so on Saturday. I know they played midweek, but they looked tired and well short of confidence from kick off. In fairness that might have been their game plan, and they might have always intended to come out a bit more in the second half, but either way they looked the less likely to score until they did and then we fell apart.

Losing to the weaker side (and one that always seem to lose to) is a disappointment in itself. The fact that they are having a great season in the FA Cup makes it a little harder to stomach, but the real disappointment for me is that with the run of form they are on they could have been real contenders for relegation had we beaten them. With two of the bottom three winning Millwall would have been just two points above second from bottom today had we managed to get that first goal.

Not beating either of them, and losing to them both removes any silver lining on a poor season. I know avoiding relegation was the target, and that does look likely, but the icing on top would have been a win in a derby. With the price of football these days (including the cost of petrol and/or public transport to get there) every team needs to give their fans a little icing. Otherwise the total price of attending begins to look too high!

I should point out that I think we had a better season than both of our local rivals in 2011/12. I know we were in a lower division but I still think we did. This season if Palace make the play-offs (even if they don't get to Wembley) and with Millwall making the FA Cup Semi we needed to win on Saturday and really needed them to be relegated for us to have a better season than either of them.

I know this is not the only criteria of our season, but it does matter to me.

As for the game it was similar to so many of our season. We didn't look outclassed but we did come away with no points. I can't bring myself to be critical of Millwall, they played to a plan. It was probably, in some part, dictated by having a midweek game (that was more important to them that this one) and probably relied on us being a little less than clinical in front of goal. We were and they stole the points. They didn't kick us up in the air nor did they lie on the ground after every tackle.

In truth, as much as I hate Millwall, and I think I do, I can't begrudge them winning a game that they didn't dominate for most of it. We have done that for many years - especially when we were in the Premier League and I think that as Powell becomes more experienced he will find ways to increase our chances of success in these type of games. In the meantime, however, we just don't have the playing staff required to be much more successful than we have been.

There is an issue with our home form compared to our away form, but this has been the case for us in the past, and many other teams suffer from it also. The very charitable, and predictable, praise for the fans by Powell (and others) fails to mention the fact that the crowd at home games do put pressure on the players to win, more than they do away. I have been to many games this season where the moans and groans have clearly affected some of the players to play a more urgent ball that is less successful. Huddersfield at home was probably the worst example of this. We were playing ten men and we were a goal up with less than fifteen minutes left and the fans were screaming at the players to go and attack. Successive long balls from the defenders with fans groaning in their ears led to increased pressure and we let in an equaliser.

I'm not getting at the fans, and I completely understand why the club officials keep avoiding saying it but I understand why our away form is better than our home form. The big difference, these days, is that attending football matches is very expensive. Ignoring the fact that we don't all live close to The Valley, even the cheapest seats are probably more expensive than going to the cinema. Certainly the one that I sit in is.

The decision to attend cannot be completely disconnected with the price of going any more  This makes it harder for those selling the tickets. It is also a different landscape now as the majority of fans have a season ticket these days where as in the past you just paid on the day. With terracing you and a group of friends, or family members, could turn up, without tickets, just before kick off and be guaranteed to all stand together.

This change in behaviour makes the season ticket marketing window much more important. Going into the last couple of weeks before the discount deadline finishes with just four home wins all season and losing 2-0 to our biggest rivals the week they secured an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley is hardly ideal.

I wonder if a message from Chris Powell saying that unless the fans are more patient, and accept that we are not a big club in this division just now, things are not going to get better, would help? It could just be the tipping point for a few hundred season ticket holders to decide to have a season or two paying on a match by match basis.

We all know that giving up the season ticket is the first step to giving up coming at all. Like many other industries it is so much easier to keep customers than it is to get new ones - especially when the cost of a season ticket is so high.

We also have a problem with the pricing of the season tickets. Charlton have charged less than most of it's peer group for a long time now. At some point we needed to change that. We can't be expected to complete with teams that generate more income by charging more for the tickets for ever. All the time we had more season ticket holders we were able to charge a little less than, say Millwall, and generate as much income, or more. We have seem our season ticket numbers drop off, probably, every season since relegation from the Premier League so we do need to 'fleece' those that will never stop coming more and more as those that are sensitive to attendance decide to do something else with their Saturday afternoons.

This is all depressing stuff and is not helped by the fact that we have been poor at home this season and we are rumoured to have less money for transfers this summer than last. There is not a lot to encourage fans to renew, save for 'because they always do'.

As long as we avoid relegation I can't see how the club, or more specifically the performances and results, can have any bearing on next season. No one will be fooled by us winning a couple of games against mid-table teams once their (and our) season is as good as over. This was the last opportunity to give the fans something to feel good about and, frankly, that's not what happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Anyway I shall be there again next season, as I will be for the remainder of this one. I would probably take avoiding relegation again next season if you offered it to me now, but I would do so with the caveat that we win at least one of the derbies, preferably at home, please!

Up the Addicks!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Huddersfield 0 - 1 Charlton

It seems a long time ago now that we played Huddersfield at The Valley on a cold November Monday evening when they were unbeaten for 43 games and we thought that we, and they, would be contenders for the League One Title. That was the last time we beat them. We've lost up there since then. And drawn at home twice.

That game was one of the most exciting I remember going to. The anticipation, the (all be it third division) giants meeting to decide which team would keep it's run going and we came out victorious and, despite an onslaught in the last ten minutes from a team that were not used to losing, we never looked like not winning as soon as we went 2-0 up a few minutes before half time.

Huddersfield today are a shadow (again, in a higher division) of the team they were in November 2011, and truth be told, so are we. We are probably better than we were then and they are probably not - due to Jordon Rhodes leaving. However, today's game was important. Even though we are, neither, as close to the bottom of the division as we were to the top back then we both need a few more points to ensure that our promotions last season are not wasted by us falling back down.

Huddersfield started this season much better than we did but our consistency has been better than theirs and they have changed their manager again - like they did last season. Their recent form has been better, but they are still in the pack that could be caught of one (or two) of the bottom three go on a great run.

From what I read from today's game we were not terribly convincing and we took our chance and held on. That sounds familiar doesn't it? That's what Burnley did to us last week. It does signify, to me at least, that we have very small margins in most of the games we've played this season. We have not lost by more than one goal much, and we haven't inflicted any crushing defeats either. That suggests that we will, almost certainly, avoid relegation this season but more positively it suggests that with a couple of additions to our squad and the benefit of a whole season's experience for some of our younger, or less experienced, players we could make a genuine challenge for promotion next season.

I don't, actually, think that Huddersfield will be relegated this season but I also think that they would not have been promoted without the goals from Rhodes last season. This leaves them as a team we should be looking to get points from, and this season we have taken four from them. A much better return than the other promoted side who managed to take all six from us.

I have been very supportive of Chris Powell and I don't see the need to change that approach now. I am in the camp that believes that we have a limited (compared to many other Championship sides) squad and that we need to be more tactically astute and/or need to give more effort. I think we are getting there on the former and there have been very few games where I've been worried about the latter.

We have nine games left and even though the playoffs are, technically, still a possibility I think we all know that our goal is to avoid relegation and, to a lesser degree, finish as high up the table as possible.

Today's win, and specifically taking four points from the last two, takes much of the pressure off and leaves me feeling much more focused on Millwall next weekend than the potential three points at stake. They are in a terrible run of form and are genuine candidates for the drop. Eight defeats in nine, including losing to three of the bottom four, suggest that they could fall out of this division and still make an FA Cup semi-final. He latter would disappoint me but the former would please me no end.

We need to beat them to keep them on track for third division football next season. Ironically a win for them next Saturday would, probably, be enough to leave them with just a couple of lucky results to stay up.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter when the points come as long as we have enough by May but those four points in a week make me feel much more comfortable and I am not really looking forward to playing Millwall next weekend. Surely it's our time to win one of these derby matches.

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

We're all Doomed!

I have no idea if Mr Scott actually ever said those words in Star Trek, and if he did I doubt it was more than once or twice but it is a common comment amongst one of my group of friends. It is used in a humours way and is never meant to signify that there is any real chance of trouble ahead.

Charlton are still, probably, not in any real danger of relegation this season, but if one wanted to, one could make a case to suggest that the danger is real and is very close.

Until yesterday Burnley had managed just two points in their last six games. They should have been the easiest home game we have left. I know we have to play all of the bottom four and Millwall, who are one of only three teams with worse form than us (based on 6 games - Wolves and Derby being the other two) but on a bad run and mid-table Burnley should have been a win target - and probably was!

We are currently 7 points above, third bottom, Peterborough who have a game in hand and we play them on Tuesday. If they win that game, and their game in hand, they will be one point behind us. In the last six games they managed 10 points to our 4 so they beat us and they would overhaul our lead in the following 6 games with something to spare - assuming form continues. Despite their form Peterborough are a side that we need to avoid losing to. After that we have Huddersfield away - another team with less than fantastic form (5 points in 6 games) then we face Millwall at The Valley in a game that might well be more important for our league position than local bragging rights. Millwall have amassed just thee points in the last six games, in the last seven games, in fact, and they have managed just seven points in the last eleven games - they haven't been the same since they lost a couple of loan players in January.

Yesterday was another drab game. Losing to Forest was bad enough, but with them having spent some serious money and us being down to ten men I could live with it. Yesterday's result was worrying on an entirely different level.

Irrespective as to who we all blame (and there seem to be many candidates) we are just not competitive enough in this division. I don't really see any logical scientific reason for our away form being, relatively, much better than our home form, but the same was true last season so it can't just be a random coincidence.

The away form does make me more confident of us avoiding relegation as the teams at the bottom don't seem to have that 'bonus' but if it is more random there is a chance that it could suddenly stop  and then we look a lot more precarious. Our last six games home and away have yielded 5 and 9 points respectively. For interest we are 8th in the form table for away results and 23rd for home games - based on the last six games of each.

Powell tried something new yesterday. There was a large attendance announced and irrespective as to how we got to that figure, there were a lot of fans in the Lower North stand yesterday so it is possible that fans were given comps and or discounts to get them in for a chance to see a 'great game of football' during the season ticket sale period. I have no idea if the owners of the club are putting the kind of pressure on the manager that motivate him to make rash decisions. The kind of win or bust decisions that we all make when we see that carrying on as we are is going to end up in disaster and we decide we might as well try something else.

I can't really understand why we would play all three strikers when we have no other options in that department. I never really know what the conditions of loan players are and maybe we needed to play the Spurs youngster or they would take him back. Irrespective I wasn't very impressed with him. I am confident that Bradley Wright-Phillips would have been a better option yesterday, but that fails to address that fact that we have no creativity in the middle of the park.

One of the things that I use to measure a game is how much I remember of it the next morning. Some games seem to pass quicker than others. Clearly defeats (by a small margin) seem to pass quicker as I want the clock to slow down to give us longer to score, and the reverse is also true. There are, however, some games that have so little excitement, class, flair or significant events that I come away completely underwhelmed with what was on offer.

A very good goal apart there was nothing to see yesterday that I will mention to my Dad when he returns from his holiday. I am the first to say that a 1-0 win in such circumstances is, perfectly, acceptable and I imagine the Burnley fans all went home very happy, but our home form (both results and performances) are becoming a real concern now.

Season tickets are going up by about ten times inflation, and the football on offer this season has been absolutely terrible. I suspect that the club made a big mistake keeping the prices as low as they did for this season. I have no data to reflect this but I would imagine that it would have been much easier to sell tickets at the new prices twelve months ago and then they could have issued a price freeze this year and that would have put less pressure on the players to deliver.

I know all the arguments about live sport and I fail, completely, to fall for the rubbish about comparing The Valley to a top theatre in London, or the O2, where live entertainment is just down the road (from SE7). However we are not comparing like for like. If one wants to compare football to the Palladium then you must look at Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea. You  must compare a top of the table clash or a Champions League game. You just can't compare Charlton 0 - 1 Burnley with Michael McIntyre at the O2 - except on price, where you may be surprised to discover that a seat in block E of the East Stand is just a few quid cheaper than I paid for a night out at the O2 - and I went on the Saturday, so it wasn't a discounted price.

With this being the case one has to look at value for money for the enjoyment as well as the 'I always go so I'll always go' attitude. I can't rank all football fans and for that reason I don't know if my decision to keep going puts me in a select group of 11,000 or 5,000. It means that I have no idea how many others will choose to keep going (and maybe even pay for a year in advance) but if we keep losing dire games like this one and keep dropping towards the potential unthinkable spell in the third division it is going to be a bit of a hard sell, I would imagine.

As already mentioned I can't remember much about the game except that I wouldn't bother to watch it again. Without new signings, which I think are unlikely now, we have got to find a way to claw out three more wins by the end of the season. I was confident that Burnley would be won of those. It wasn't! We have, by my reckoning  five genuine targets for those wins plus Millwall at home (they are in poor form but it is a derby - and we never beat them). The next two games (and they are both away) are two of those five so by the time we play Millwall we should have a very good idea as to what our run is is going to be like.

As exciting as it might be to survive relegation at the death I'd be more than happy to make Millwall a third win on the bounce, please!

Up the Addicks!