Monday, 21 April 2014

Sheffield Wednesday 2 v Charlton Athletic 3

Jose Riga's team selection ahead of this awkward looking fixture caused understandable consternation amongst Addicks fans. The dreaded trio of Harriott, Church and Sordell returned whilst Wilson was again a substitute. 

As if to prove the point, we raced into a two-nill losing position after only eight minutes and we all began to fear the effective loss of four points as our goal difference looked like taking a battering. I was following the match on Charlton Life but with no Premier League distractions, Sky Sports News was the place to be as Neil Mellor provided frequent updates from Hillsborough and the goals faster than they could be relayed on Charlton Life.

News of a third goal after ten minutes had me momentarily heading for the top shelf for the hard stuff but Neil told us we had levelled and that a striker had scored. Marvin Sordell no less and from a Harriott cross! That eased the tension but I think we all expected Wednesday to score the next goal and soon. Half an hour passed with no more goals but Mellor was more reassuring with every update. None of our rivals were winning either and Birmingham were making a pigs ear of things at home to Blackburn having gone two-down. As I was praying to get in at half-time only one-down, we got the update from Mellor again of a goal and we were only level! Not only that but Sordell had seized on some defensive indecision to score the goal and Mellor said we deserved it.

Doncaster were down to ten men and facing an uphill second forty-five at Millwall. Yeovil were 0-0 at home to Huddersfield and Blackpool were drawing at Brighton. With Barnsley still to concede at Derby it was looking promising and after an hour it got better. Barnsley fell behind, Brighton took the lead we scored an unbelievable third at Hillsborough. Sky showed Marvin Sordell split the centre-backs and run on and beat the keeper. More compliments from Mellor and Addicks the world over were eating their words, rubbing their eyes, poking their ears and generally wondering what was happening.

We appear to have won with minimal fuss after that as Yeovil and Barnsley both lost. Blackpool took a point at Brighton and Millwall were held to a disappointing point for them against ten men.

Amazingly, we now find ourselves elevated to 18th in the table with only two games left for most of those below us. Yeovil and Barnsley need minor miracles now and it really is just a battle for the last place.

As we look for a final hurrah at home on Saturday, Birmingham face Leeds at St. Andrews, where they should be capable of securing three points. Blackpool travel to neighbours Wigan for a derby where the home side will be playing to secure their play-off spot. Millwall will be at QPR for what could be an explosive fixture as the R's look to build confidence ahead of the play-offs which they secured today. That leaves Donny who are at home to play-off chasing Reading. Blackpool, Millwall and Donny could well be as-you-were going into their last match.

On Tuesday, us and Birmingham play our home games in hand against Watford and Wigan respectively and anything from those should be about enough.

Last day then and there is a tantalising possibility that us and Birmingham could be safe and Blackpool, Millwall and Doncaster are left scrapping for the best result with only a point between them. With us able to lose at Blackpool, Millwall will need to get something at home to Bournemouth to overtake Doncaster who will be playing the Champions, Leicester. Squeaky bum-time but we can ensure we are out-of-it before Blackpool and could still play our part in Millwall's relegation, unlikely as it may sound after their recent revival.

I am left wondering how we scored three today and how Marvin Sordell got a hat-trick. I won't change my opinion of him - that he is nowhere near good enough for the Championship - and I hope he returns to Bolton in the close season. It may be that Wednesday were slack today at the back. They have conceded eight in the previous three games and they have nothing to play for. That may be harsh on Sordell but the alternative would be to suggest he is a better player than he has shown for us. He may also have been playing for his future but you think he might have tried a tad harder in the last few months if that was the case? I'd accept that supply hasn't been plentiful given our wing weaknesses and general inability to thread though-balls, but he's still fluffed most of the opportunities he has had. 

For today at least I am raising a glass to Marvin Sordell for a performance that will be remembered for keeping us up as long as we don't contrive to blow it from here.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Charlton Athletic 0 v Bolton Wanderers 0

A point that lifts us above Blackpool who were beaten in the 5pm kick-off at home to Burnley. We will all need to hold our breath tomorrow and hope that Middlesborough and Leeds can beat Millwall and Barnsley.

It was a much better performance than on Tuesday, but it would have been hard to imagine anything as bad. Marvin Sordell was an enforced absentee and Callum Harriott was finally given a day off. Morgan Fox came in for Rhoys Wiggins and was outstanding, a clear man-of-the-match. Michael Morrison ran him a close second as he returned to partner Dorian Dervite and Lawrie Wilson gave Chris Solly a rest at right-back. Asdarevic came into midfield and Reza joined Simon Church in a changed attack.

I thought we played pretty well against a solid and disciplined Wanderers side who threatened little but looked capable on the break of scoring. I haven't seen the stats but we must have edged possession and chances, although what was clear once again was our lack of cutting edge. We created more than on Tuesday night but were left with half-chances and what-might-have-beens. 

Simon Church caught Bogdan out dawdling on a kick-out in the second-half and he went down appealing for a penalty but it was never going to be given in the circumstances. We somehow kept Bolton's best effort out in the second-half with a goal-line clearance after Hamer was beaten but a Bolton victory would have been robbery.

We still need two victories as far as I am concerned and we may be under pressure at Sheffield Wednesday on Monday. It's crucial we stay out of the bottom four this weekend because we will have the best chance of escape with Blackburn and Watford at home to come become for final day at Bloomfield Road.

I am left, once again, reflecting on the folly of selling Yann Kermorgant in January when we needed to strengthen our striking options. If we go down this season there will be no hiding place for Roland Duchatelet.

What goes around....

I am not looking forward to this afternoon's Good Friday encounter with Bolton Wanderers. I am fearing a footballing repeat of Tuesday evening which hurt my eyes. I also have a long memory and have been thinking all week about the end of season match against the Trotters in 1983. 

There has been talk amongst Charlton fans of gaining revenge over Blackpool for the relegation thumping we suffered at their hands in the last match of 1972 which sent us into the Third Division for the first time since the War. As our fortunes have waned, there is a threat that the revenge could turn into a repeat performance. With that in mind, revenge may well be on the mind of the travelling Wanderers this afternoon. 

The older amongst them will remember their last match of the season in 1983 when they came to the Valley looking for the three points that would have kept them in the Second Division. Charlton also needed the points to avoid the drop and after 60 minute of nail-biting affair, Bolton took the lead. There was a terrible feeling of dread that day for seven minutes before the man, for whom it was always personal, levelled it up. Derek "Killer" Hales did what he always did and three minutes later Doyle brought him down in the box and he stepped up to send Bolton down. I remember the pitch invasion after the match and the taunting of the Wanderers fans behind the fence in the Jimmy Seed. They had been singing that we were going down after taking the lead and now we bellowed it at them. I remember seeing several of the younger ones in tears and  wonder whether they will be visiting today. If they are here they may well enjoy this match more than fans from a mid-table side ought to.

For our part, Jose Riga needs to ensure he sends out his best eleven today and we will need full commitment to get a result. Harriott has to be rested for the good of his sanity. I am pleased Marvin Sordell is match-tied. That may also work in our favour. I'd also proffer that a draw is almost worthless today and that we must go for the three points. There are a finite number of opportunities left and we have to win a number of games to ensure safety. Draws won't do it.

I am also wondering whether the folly of leaving so many players on expiring contracts may be about to bite. Professionals like Morrison and Wilson have battled on but they can't be blamed if in the final matches their heads are elsewhere. Their agents must be busy talking to other clubs to secure their employment beyond June. If you know you are on your way and you go a goal down, it's not going to affect you nearly as much as those Bolton fans with tears in their eyes for whom, like Killer, it was personal.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Charlton Athletic 1 v Barnsley 2

Well, we managed to do it again. No, not win to continue the W, L, W, L, W, L, W, L sequence, but to trip up monumentally in front of a relatively bumper home Valley crowd. I don't wish to sound alarmist or to get this defeat out of context but it was worrying in many ways and I have very little confidence for Friday.

Our failure to score goals appears to be morphing into an inability even to create chances. Sorry to say but it's hard to see who is going to change this. Jose Riga made a huge error tonight, in my opinion, with his team selection. Given the criticality of the match and the need to beat the bottom-placed side, we had to go with our strongest eleven. Either Jose doesn't know who they are or he thought of resting players with Friday in mind. Either way he picked the wrong team.

Callum Harriott burst on the scene and showed us plenty of promise a year ago or whenever it was. The problem is he has been struggling for a long time to make any impact and his performances of late have become extremely poor and confidence damaging. Tonight's was woeful and he was lucky to appear for even nine minutes of the second-half. 

Why-oh-why wasn't Wilson started on the right flank? The first opportunity for months to play him in front of Solly and he is on the bench? Not only that but when he is introduced with us chasing the game, it is as a left-back sub to give Solly more rest ahead of Friday. Riga threw the towel in there and then, although the match looked beyond us.

We have four very capable centre-halves, but Michael Morrison is the natural leader and yet Riga chose tonight to rest him too. Bizarre. I am almost certain I could see Morrison leaving his marker and heading out to clear the in-swinging corner that was left to allow M'Voto to charge in and bundle the opening goal.

Having said all this, Barnsley were absolutely dreadful in the first-half. They looked like the worst side in the division (bar us on today's form). Mis-placed passes, failure to control the ball near the touchlines and negative tactics across the side. But of course they took the lead courtesy of the softest of goals.

They didn't really improve much after the break but their confidence soared after a freak mishit cross wrong-footed Hamer (who was too far off his near post) and drifted in. Not the first time Ben has committed this error this season but it was fluke.

After that Barnsley looked more likely to get a third for most of what I stayed for. Sordell and Obika continued headless chicken mode and we really struggled to create anything. Johnnie Jackson looked focused during the first-half but he disappeared after they took the lead. Cousins was his usual frustrating self. Winning balls and making quick ground but telegraphing every pass to the extent that most were blocked or deflected. This will be his bete noir as a professional footballer.

My final grumph will be another display of too much cynical professionalism from some of our players, borne pretty obviously from sheer desperation. Harriott was so ineffective he hit the deck more often than not looking for sympathy or for a consolation foul. Sordell did the same, even managing to sacrifice the best scoring position of the game for a hopeful penalty which he waited for contact to take. Absolutely pathetic.

I wasn't there to see the scrambled consolation goal from Asdarevic but that too was almost inevitable. It's the hope that kills you.

We are still a point clear of the Lions with a game in hand but tonight has demonstrated perfectly what games in hand are worth compared to points in the bag and we have put ourselves in the corner. If this season goes to the last match, I decided this evening I won't be going to Blackpool. Not only could I not bear it but performances like this evening's make it unjustifiable.

Roland Duchatelet's negotiation skills in agreeing a £4m price reduction in the event of a relegation begin to reflect rather well on him. Sad to say but if we go down I will be pleased that Jiminez, Slater & Co feel the pain too. They have fashioned this situation even if Roland failed to tackle it adequately having had the opportunity to when taking over fully three months ago. 

Final thought this evening for my mate Chicago Addick who flew back from Bermuda just for this game....

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Brighton & Hove Albion 3 v Charlton Athletic 0

No great surprise at the Amex this afternoon as Brighton moved into the play-off places with a routine home win. The stats of 16 shots for the home side versus two for the visitors (both off target) says it all really. It took the home side just eleven minutes to climb into the driving seat and a second before half-time killed the contest.

It was good to see Chris Solly return as a second-half substitute.That at least quashes the rumours that "he'll never play again." Wilson too was back, albeit in a mask, and we should be able to line-up with our best back four if you perm one from Wood, Dervite and Cort. Personally I think that's a tough call between them. Poyet and Cousins both played again and I assume in a central pairing. Poyet was at fault for the first goal but he's well overdue a learning mistake and this was not the worst game in which to make one. Jackson and Asdarevic completed the midfield with Sordell and Reza completing the side. 

Almost as important for us today was the fact that Millwall could only scrape another late equaliser at home against Watford and remain a point below us in the table. With Barnsley losing at Bolton and Yeovil only managing a home draw with Bournemouth, they both looked doomed, especially if Barnsley get nothing from their game in hand at the Valley on Tuesday. Indeed, another Tuesday night win for the Addicks and it becomes a straight fight between us, Millwall, Blackpool, Doncaster and Birmingham for the final relegation spot. 

A win on Tuesday puts us top of that lot, a point clear of Birmingham and Doncaster, two clear of Blackpool and, crucially, four clear of Millwall. Blackpool managed to lose to a rudderless Leeds United outfit today and their next two are home to Burnley and away at Brighton. Millwall go to Boro on Good Friday but then play a six pointer on Easter Monday against Doncaster at the New Den. There's a lot left in this but four points for us this week should give us line of sight to the safety mark and exert massive pressure on a couple of the others around us.

Barnsley will have very few fans down on Tuesday evening and we have a golden opportunity to hobble them but we will need to be wary because they will know their chances are running out and a loss to us will put them on the edge with only four games left. Doncaster aren't looking too clever either. Apart from their game at the New Den they have to play Top, Third and Eighth.

I can sense survival….

Tall order on the South Coast

Back from five tiring days at Centerparcs with the kids (well it is half-term). I missed the Yeovil match and the lack of stable wifi or mobile signal meant all I could do was find the result after the match finished. Obviously three vital points and a repeat on Tuesday against Barnsley would keep us on course to stay up.

By all accounts it wasn't a particularly good game with mistakes all over the shop and Yeovil looking worryingly potent in parts. Whatever, we scored more than a single goal for the sixth time this season and actually managed to get three, which tells you Yeovil will be heading out of the Championship. The reports I have read all focus on the fact that Lawrie Wilson was absent with a knock and that we look unbalanced with Morro at right-back. Not surprising really but he has been reasonably effective when he has played out of position  even if he has looked like a duck out-of-water. It does also question why Loic Nego or Morgan Fox weren't given a game. It would also suggest that Riga is under no pressure to play the loanees as this would have been a perfectly reasonable opportunity for Nego.

It was good to learn that Astrit Asdarevic scored his first goal for the club and that Reza set-up Sordell for a tap-in. That should give us a fraction more confidence if we feature those players at Brighton as I expect. Simon Church may have been "rested" for Brighton today but my guess is he will get a further  break as Riga looks for more goals. Even with Millwall managing an unlikely second away win in-a-row at Wigan (who fielded 8 changes with an eye on their Cup semi this weekend), today's match is a "free hit" in my view. We still have games in hand and can't be expected to get anything at a side pushing for the play-offs. We rode our luck last season to grind out a 0-0 and expect our recent W-L-W-L-W-L-W to continue. 

Unfortunately, I won't be enjoying myself if the sunshine down in East Sussex as it's my Mum's birthday and family and close friends will be having lunch at a pub down in Weald. I hope the mobile signal there is better than Centerparcs.

There will be as much focus on the result of Blackpool this afternoon as they are in free-fall and look increasingly like being caught by one or two of the desperadoes below them. They are at Leeds today who look completely lame, so failure there would set the alarm bells ringing for the Seasiders. We do look favourites for Tuesday's match at home to Barnsley but will need another committed performance. Not only would it effectively relegate the Tykes but it could put distance between as and Millwall again if the Lions see off Watford at the New Den today and climb a point clear of us. 

As I said, today is a "free hit" and it would be great to get something from it although I think that would be expecting too much...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Charlton Athletic 0 v Reading 1

After the euphoria of our 1-0 win at Elland Road in the week it was back to earth with a predictable bump yesterday. Play-off favourites, Reading, just about deserved their single goal win from what was the best and possibly only attacking move of the match.

Having said that, it wasn't a poor spectacle but it was all huff and no puff. Charlton shaded the first half and it was hard to tell these sides were at opposite ends of the table. After the break, however, Reading stepped up field and control shifted to them as they went in search of a winner. It was a Charlton substitution that precipitated the goal. Johnnie Jackson was replaced around the hour mark and David Petrucci made his debut. He looked to be carrying a bit of weight for a 22 year professional footballer and he lost possession on the edge of the Reading box that lead to their breakaway which Danny Williams finished in style. I don't wish to rush to judge Petrucci but he was clearly not fit enough to be playing in a Championship match yesterday and I suspect we won't see him for a couple of weeks at least.

Our big problem, once again, was our inability to create any real openings, let alone score a goal. Our goals for record is beginning to look like binary code for "we can't score" - 1,1,0,0,1,0,1,0,0,0,1,1,1,0. If you need more convincing, we have only managed to score more than a single goal in 5 of the 38 league matches played so far this season. That is relegation form.

What made it more uncomfortable yesterday was news that Millwall, Yeovil and Birmingham all won. The gap we had has been cut and Yeovil on Tuesday now assumes more importance than ever. Tuesday is not one of our games in hand and there is a full programme. Millwall go to Wigan and Barnsley entertain Burnley. It would be another great evening if we can score a goal and keep a clean sheet. I thought Dorian Dervite was outstanding yesterday amongst another solid defensive display.

Jose Riga has to be bolder in our remaining games and be prepared to throw Wilson forward in an effort to create more. Perhaps he plays full back for an hour and is then switched as we go for it? Simon Church got a full 90 minutes yesterday against his former club but he hardly touched the ball. I don't understand why Obika isn't getting more game time. 

Poyet and Cousins both had good games yesterday and I thought Cousins handled Danny Williams very well for an hour although he tired after that. I couldn't see why Jackson was taken off - maybe a knock - but we won a free-kick in good range shortly after he left the field which seemed to highlight the folly of removing him if it was just tactical. This was especially surprising given Calum Harriott did nothing once again. He must have been surprised still to be on the field at the final whistle when three others had been subbed.

I won't be able to make the Yeovil game this week nor Brighton on Saturday, so Barnsley at home a week on Tuesday is looking like it could be the most important game of the season.