Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Once more into the Lion's Den

Depending on you point-of-view, the most anticipated or most dreaded fixture of the season is upon us. On 'Good' Friday we travel slightly further as the crow flies than Upton Park to play our south-east London rivals Millwall.

We all know the history of this appallingly one-sided fixture. Every time we play them our hopes rise. If we are in the ascendency, as now, there is usually a swagger that 'this will be the year.' Ironically, if we aren't playing well and carrying injuries, there is also hope that we have nothing to lose and invariably we do whatever the form of the respective sides.

I missed the fixture last season because of the 6 Nations but this year I have no excuse. I was going to go, rather reluctantly but did not prioritise getting tickets and was surprised when we sold out so quickly and when we didn't get any more. If I am honest, I am not too bothered as it isn't a fixture I look forward to because of the number of times we have had to suffer there and because it's never a great day out - drinking locally is a no-no and wherever else you find a watering hole there's always the threat of trouble you don't want. 

In the last few seasons, some of our more deluded supporters think it's time to start mixing it with Millwall and are trying to turn it into an opportunity to wind the mindless majority up and then have fight-night across south-east London. That's not making it an easier match to attend and whilst I welcome the spirit, I think it's pretty short-sighted and likely to end fairly predictably at some point. 

Anyway, I was pleased to hear of a beam back and would much rather watch the game locally for £8, enjoy a relaxed pre-match drink and be free to leave for home at any point during the 90 minutes if I feel like it. I will be at the Valley then for the game. 

Form, of course, suggests we should record our eleventh win from sixty-odd and the prospect of pushing Millwall a huge step nearer league One would added a certain sparkle to the result but this should be one of a number of D-Days for them and I expect them to come out fighting. This is one of those where the first goal could be decisive. If we get it their heads could go down and the crowd could get on their backs. If they get it the volume will lift and ours may think about the Valley on Tuesday evening or their plans for the Summer.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

D-Month

At the end of February I suggested that Guy Luzon needed to get his points during March as April's fixture list looked far tougher. We proceeded to win five from six and have secured our Championship status as a result.

With a buzz about the club following a quite remarkable turnaround, thoughts are on what could be next season if the nucleus of the squad is kept together. That may be harder to do than many appear to assume. Money talks and I don't suspect sentimentality of wavering are qualities (weaknesses?) Roland Duchatelet possesses much of. He may genuinely have had or may have, a change of heart about his desire to break even as part of his network model, but, in the absence of any confirmation of that, I have to assume we will be cashing in some of bigger chips if the prices are right. It looks like Newcastle United might be first to bite with rumours circulating that they are watching Cousins and Gomez closely. 

Back to April, and I have looked at those fixtures again. Four aways from six is obviously tougher than the reverse in March but we do have momentum. This is traditionally an opportunity for us to put our feet up and coast in. Guy Luzon has an opportunity to cement his position with the fans by ensuring we fight on until the end. 

Millwall (A) 3rd April - Can we? There is an uncannily high level of optimism that we can beat Millwall for the first time this century but I am too old and too cynical to see anything more than a hard-fought point.

Fulham (H) 7th April - We really owe these monkeys. I said after our pasting at Craven Cottage live on Sky earlier in the season that I felt Kit Symons might not find his first season in charge a happy one and so it has proven. Time to take that smug grin off his face.

Sheffield Wednesday (A) 11th April - Wednesday are battling again and getting results. They look like they are pushing on for a top ten finish and will see this as a six pointer. I hope our players face it the same way but I will be surprised if we get anything here.

Bolton (A) 14th April - Another toughie and on a Tuesday night. A match for Chris Eagles?

Leeds (H) 18th April - We owe these charmless nerds one too. Other than the obvious, I'd like us to win this one more than the rest. It would be good to silence them early in the first half for a change.

Birmingham (A) 25th April - Tough. Michael Morrison will be wearing his Superman pants over his shorts and this promises to be another battle.

I'd take ten points now as that would probably be enough to keep us on track for a top-half finish.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Charlton Athletic 3 v Reading 2

Another game of two halves at the Valley today. We were abysmal first-half and at 0-1 it looked like a case of waiting for the killer second goal from the visitors. Instead, we fought-back and fully deserved our win.

We lined-up with Henderson in goal, Fox, Johnson, Diarra and Gomez across the back. Cousins and Buyens were in midfield with Gudmundsson and Bulot out wide. Tony Watt was fit again to start and he was partnered by a deeper lying Chris Eagles. 

We had a couple of half-chances early on with Gudmundsson firing wide from a corner the best of them. Reading looked more determined though and spent more time in our half. Henderson stopped a Pogrebnyak header but he could do nothing about the shot he fired home after 40 minutes after collecting a rebound in space six yards out before turning and firing home.

After the break we got at Reading and began getting men forward in support of the hard-working Watt and the ever-running Bulot and Gudmundson. Our lifeline   arrived on 58 minutes when a cross was judged to have been handled by Hector under close supervision from Tony Watt. Reading's players complained of a push but it made little difference and Yoni Buyens drove his shot high into the net. Somewhere along the line Eagles had a snapshot well-saved low to Federici's left post and also saw a back-post header skim the roof of the goal when anything downwards would probably have been enough. 

The decisive second goal was fortunate. A flowing Charlton move down the right with neat inter-passing was finished off by Buyens as he raced to collect a pass in the box. His first touch was awful but it was enough to lift the ball high and wide of Federici. Buyens celebrated unashamedly with the rest of us. 

Simon Church was introduced after 68 minutes and he might have scored before he did when he arrived on a Watt pull-back in acres of space but couldn't find a shot through the mass of sliding bodies who were back in the attempt to halt Watt. However, with ten minutes left Church was in the perfect position to tap home from a foot out after Watt had barrelled into the box, swivelled past his man and threaded the ball along to goal-line for Church to score. Simon didn't celebrate against his former club nor, I suspect, with some of the Covered End Boo Boys who have given him a hard time when he has got on this season.

Two-up then with ten to go and you expect us to concede. We duly did that and with 5 added minutes a draw was on the cards for a few minutes but Henderson asserted himself in goal and we crossed the line. All-in-all a deserved win and plenty of positives for Guy Luzon.

Personally, we look to have options across the squad, despite our injuries and we have attacking options capable of hurting Championship opposition. Watt is obviously enjoying himself at Charlton and hopefully we will see him start in August. Chris Eagles might be too rich for a full contract but he is good enough in this division. Gudmundson was excellent today and earned his crust without relying on a wonder-strike. I felt the middle pairing were far too deep in the first-half and that Buyens looked like he was digesting a two pound steak and kidney pudding. Bulot made another useful contribution and based on what he has shown in the last two months, I'd be pleased to see him start in August. 

Henderson was sound and Gomez was outstanding in front of him. I though Fox was tidy too on the other side and with Wiggins and Solly on the sidelines, we are well served. Roger Johnson was caught for pace on two notable occasions in the first-half, one of which caused him to be booked. He was also culpable for their second but I need to see that again before being too harsh. He has been decent enough but we are seeing some poor mistakes of late and I wonder if that's why he was allowed to go on loan. Diarra doesn't look like a defender to me but what he loses in his defensive awareness, he makes up for with his distribution. 

Results went well enough for us elsewhere, so we shouldn't complain.

The rugby was pretty special too, with over 200 points being scored. Scotland's capitulation was embarrassing. I will look very hard at their fixtures for next year. Can't seeing me doing more than two again...

Battle Royal

Reading come to the Valley this afternoon for a league match which looks decidedly end-of-season. Both sides realistically safe from relegation although Reading would like another six points to match where we stand today. 

The Royals arrive in the Royal Borough of Greenwich today after having dumped League Two Giant-Killers Bradford out of the F A Cup to secure a semi-final fixture against Arsenal. Charlton fans will be hoping it's a case of after-the-Lord's-Mayor-Show. 

Guy Luzon will have a bit of head-scratching to do this morning after losing Tony Watt to injury in the mid-week match at Blackpool and with Igor Vetokele still carrying an Achilles niggle, we are likely to start with two reserves upfront. That could be Church and Lepoint or Church and Ahearne-Grant. If that's the case, then I will pray Chuchy's goal at Blackpool wasn't his last in a red shirt as I suggested. 


Looking forward, I was pleased to see we are putting on a beam back of the Millwall match having sold our 2000 allocation and been denied any more. It's a bit worrying when the Police tell us it's for safety reasons. Presumably they are expecting some tense final matches and short tempers in the coming weeks as the final nails go into Millwall's coffin. With Berylson looking to sell (hand the debt on) and League One looming, now is not a great time to be a Lions fans and Stig of the Dump is likely to lose control at some point. Personally, I will walk around the corner for the Beamback but wasn't fussed about risking another intensely frustrating trip to Millwall. I will be able to walk out and forget it if we look like losing there once again. 

I noticed a large billboard on the Lower Road (by the Pickwick) advertising season tickets with that naff strapline "building a better tomorrow together." The headline pricing is certainly attractive but that's limited and I suspect the £175 'freedom passes' will soon sellout. My guess is we will lose between one and two thousand season ticket holders given what's gone on this year. 

Hopefully, most will go match-to-match and not be lost long-term. We could do with the recent recovery in form and more attacking football continuing for another month. The rest, then, will be up to Roland Duchatelet.

Finally, a 'well done my son' to Charlton Life's Admin "AFKA." He put the call out yesterday morning to see if 'Lifers' could help boost the Upbeats Charity collection by £1000 on  the day. Lifers responded to the call and several thousand have been added since and the total standards at over £7000 against the £10,000 target. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Blackpool 0 v Charlton Athletic 3

Another 3-0 Guy Luzon victory. It looked predictable based on league position and form but sides cut adrift, like Blackpool, invariably rally towards the end and I wouldn't have been at all surprised if they had seen us off on a Tuesday evening in front of a small gate.

Credit then to Luzon and his players who were clearly up for it. He made four changes to Saturday's line-up and we looked weaker as a result but after Chris Eagles tucked in from a Lewis save from Gudmundsson we didn't really look in any trouble and Simon Church netted on the hour to make the match safe. Simon Church deserves some praise for sticking at it after having to drop down the rankings and whilst his goal may well be his last in an Addicks shirt, he can hold his head up when he comes to talk about his time at Charlton.

Gudmundson then iced the cake at the end with a trademark free-kick. Oh how we must try to ensure he starts in August. I wasn't particularly enamoured with Eagles signing but given affordability he clearly still has goals from midfield left in him and would be another I would be pleased to see return after the Summer holidays.

The win sees us climb above Sheffield Wednesday into 11th and put a few points between us and Leeds, who play this evening at Fulham. It's time to step up again at the Valley on Saturday and show Arsenal how to beat Reading.

Monday, 16 March 2015

England 25 v Scotland 13

Another trip to Twickenham and another Scottish defeat. It was no surprise and the game was actually closer than I expected but that was largely due to poor England finishing.

Jonthan Joseph took about 90 seconds to prove my pre-match prediction right and he may have had more points had England not fumbled en route to a couple more disallowed tries. Scotland for their part at least continued to fight for most of the match and managed a try of their own but there was only going to one winner here. Vern Cotter is staring at the Wooden Spoon and it will take a huge Scottish effort to avoid defeat against Ireland at Murrayfield in the last match. I live in hope.

The match started with our party in relative dismay following Charlton's surprising 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn Rovers. We were sat in The Falcon in Clapham by then watching the Wales v Ireland match as news trickled through of early Rovers goals, the name Jordan Rhodes and that we had hit the bar. Finally a goal and some hope for a few minutes before we conceded the third. I then  received a text from a mate at the match that read "Players have packed for their holidays." I certainly hope not because I need a top 12 finish to win my big bet. Guy Luzon needs to sort this out for the next two winnable matches at Blackpool and at home to Reading, where we will go looking for a rare season double.

The mood wasn't helped by the arrival of half-a-dozen Palace fans with smiles on their faces. I really knew it wasn't going to be my day. 

We were seated in the Lower North at a corner. A good enough view but I had hoped we would be afforded a better view for £85, I will have to see how much the good seats were going for. Twickenham is a much under-rated stadium and I always enjoy my visits. It's relatively easy to get food and drink, even after the match when we huddled for warmth in the Scrum Bar singing along with a cover band belting out Oasis numbers.

Getting home from Twickenham remains you why the venue isn't more popular. Pretty much one train line and the queues go on for three or four hours after the final whistle. We managed to head for Whitton station, one further down the line which meant we got on straight away and were seated when we arrived at the scrummage at Twickenham station.

We had hoped for spicy and pungent meat in Clapham on the way back but seems like everyone else had that idea so we had to make do with a pizza. It was a late night and after a longish day yesterday, I feel like I need to go back to bed this morning but need to get a days work out of the way.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Football and Rugby

Pete and I will miss the Rovers return tomorrow as we will be heading over to Twickenham to see Scotland England respond to defeat in their last 6 Nations outing.Twickenham is my choice over the Valley tomorrow although our recent form under Guy Luzon means I will miss what's going on in SE7 that bit more.

If ever there was a good time to be playing opponents at home, it's the week before they face a big F A Cup replay at home to Liverpool. These things can work both ways but given Rovers' league standing (one above us) you have to think they may rest a few and that some of the others won't be quite as much up for it as they may otherwise have been. Wishful thinking maybe, but I am taking us to get a result. A Watt-Vetokele double to see Rovers off.

As for Twickenham, I am hoping for a good Scottish performance and a close scoreline but expecting a 15-20 point defeat. Jonathan Joseph is nailed-on to score for England. Scotland are always more susceptible to quick line breakers than other sides for some reasons. I used to dread watching Jeremy Guscott and Jason Robinson do the inevitable.

Vern Cotter will not have had the porridge spoon on his agenda when he started his first 6 Nations campaign and I can imagine his squad will be desperate to avoid his gimlet-eyed gaze tomorrow. I am still taking Scotland to avoid the Spoon but it may take a huge effort and a slice of fortune in the last match at Murrayfield against the over-confident Irish to do it. That also assumes Italy ship some points in their last two games.

Finally, sorry to see fellow-Blogger Blackheath Addick considering packing it in next season over the lack of communication and commitment to a progressive and ambitious strategic direction for the club. A dedicated fan since the 1960's, I think it's sad that the arrogance and intransigence of the current owner is alienating longstanding and ardent fans to this extent. It would cost Roland Duchatelet nothing to comment further since his initial brief interview over a year ago. So much has happened since then that had been difficult to comprehend but with no comment from the Organ Grinder. Katrien Meire has not helped the communication in that she has been left exposed on occasions by the owner's decisions and some ham-fisted attempts to allay supporters concerns in the meantime. Not to mention naive PR and ongoing cock-ups in the way everything is being done because we lack expertise within the Club's management structure. Her performances at the VIP event and the East Kent SC meeting were hardly inspiring. Refusing to answer certain questions and relying on a 'that's the way it is' mantra hasn't helped.

The recent run of much improved performances and winning displays has eased the pressure, but the concerns of the likes of BA are more fundamental. Unless there has been a change of direction we face losing some of our better players at the end of the season and beginning the cycle again in August. That is tantamount to be run to exist and serve a purpose in the wider Network and that is what a sizeable minority of our supporters, myself included, don't want. Ultimately, all we can do is continue to make the point, perhaps protest a bit and maybe decide not to support the current regime. I will miss the most perceptive reports available on Charlton home games.