Monday, 29 September 2014

O-le, O-le, O-le, O-le!

That's the annoying Ryder Cup chant you just can't get out of your head, although it seems churlish to be complaining. Europe retained the honours with something to spare and once again it made for compulsive viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed our day there on Saturday and it was great to experience it, although the size of the galleries meant long waits to hold a good position so I will probably settle for the telly next time around in France.

We were fortunate with the weather and the organisation for getting to Gleneagles via Park and Ride at Stirling which was superb. Even on the course there were dozens of food and drink outlets and we managed to get served quickly at lunchtime in the enormous Spectator Village. Big screens all around the course kept the action live and the day reverberated to huge cheers as the putts went in.
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I was surprised by the size of the entourage following the players around, especially as they seemed to include a random assortment of professionals, family and hangers-on. The actor James Nesbitt was there with McDowell, although I know he is a big golfer (member at Dulwich & Sydenham and others) and we also spotted Peter Jones, who I guess is another big golfer in a more literal sense. Clare Balding and Kirsty Gallagher both came by us, although it was only Kirsty who was stopped for selfies. 

We spent Friday and Saturday evening in a lively Stirling town centre, swollen with visiting golf fans. We decided to go for the obligatory curry on Saturday night and found a swish looking place in the middle of the town, although the experience turned out to be surreal. They were clearly having staffing problems and in two and a half hours they only managed to get the drinks and the starters out. There were only four staff working, including the kitchen and we had an Irish girl who had clearly been pressed into service that evening because she didn't know what a poppadom was. After a few pints we order a bottle of wine. Even that took 15 minutes to arrive but sadly with only two glasses. The third took another 15 minutes and an embarrassing number of reminders to staff. When it did turn-up, it was a champagne flute. Quite funny really. 

I finally said that we needed our meal within the next ten minutes or else we would be leaving. After fifteen I walked into the kitchen to find someone to talk to. It was then I realised just how bad things had been. I had to climb over a ten foot pile of table-cloths and napkins and when I opened the swing doors of the kitchen, there was a lone female cook ranting to herself and a three-foot pyramid of food on the floor in the centre of the kitchen. It was time to leave.

I did spend a couple of hours refreshing my phone screen looking for a winning goal at the Valley but none was forthcoming and my wife told me it was a "crap first-half" followed by a better second and we might have won it at the death as they held on with ten men. Single points are becoming frustrating but we remain unbeaten and there are surely some easier sides ahead, although we will need to be at our best to avoid a defeat at Carrow Road tomorrow evening. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Gleneagles

I watched Boro take Liverpool through extra-time on Tuesday evening and all the way through 27 penalties before finally being subdued. They should present a formidable challenge to our unbeaten start but I am hopeful BP can get us organised and up for the fight and that we can take our unbeaten run to Norwich on Tuesday. I can already hear a little voice in my head saying "I don't want another draw" so I am really saying we need to go for it like we did against Wigan and Derby at home.


Unfortunately, I won't be there having made a big commitment a year ago on being at a slice of the Ryder Cup. As a spectator sport, golf is not everyone's cup-of-tea and I understand that, especially never-players. However, I struggle to understand how any sports fans can't be gripped by the drama of the Ryder Cup and uniqueness of supporting this side of the Atlantic against the Yanks, who are proving to be increasingly gracious losers.

I am flying up tomorrow with two fellow Addicks and may meet up with a carload of others who have joined the party late. No doubt we may bump into a few more who will make a corner of Gleneagles red and white on Saturday afternoon for a hour and a half as we become less interested in golfing points and more interested in Championship ones.

We are staying in Stirling, a town I have driven past countless times but never found time to stop in. I am hoping for a visit on Sunday morning to Bannockburn or the Wallace Memorial although interest may be low within my party.

In the meantime, get behind the boys and roar us on against buoyant Boro.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Rotherham United 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

Charlton took another valuable point away from the New York stadium but our fifth draw of the season saw us drop out of the top six. The viewpoints being expressed tend to focus on the "we should be beating Rotherham" right through to Peeters isn't a good enough manager. Sorry to disagree but I am happy with four successive draws away from home, two of which we might have won and two which we might have lost. We also have no right in this division to be beating anyone and Rotherham proved that yesterday.

Don't get me wrong, I think there is work to do in terms of tactics and our ability to respond to what's happening on the pitch but we are nicely placed after eight games. We also have to focus on the fact that this is a new side and expectations were much lower at the start of the season than now. Apart from the Derby game, no side in any of our matches has scored two goals in succession and it is going to be interesting to see what happens when someone finally does.

It was another game of two halves with us winning the first and losing the second. The fact that we couldn't score a second before half-time was disappointing and the fact that we lost all momentum after the break. However, we stuck to the task and might have even nicked it at the end when Loach couldn't hold a Bulot shot and it almost got over the line. On the other hand we survived another penalty appeal when Jackson handled and Stephen Henderson made a decent last-minute save from a header. There was a decent Addicks following of 1100 although a majority of those would have been first-timers to Rotherham or to the new ground. They will have been cheered to see Johan Berg Gudmundsson cutting in to drill a low shot beyond the keeper although the nemesis that is Luciano Becchio would have dismayed visiting supporters when he was introduced as a sub. No surprise, of course, to see him heading home the Millers equaliser.

BBC London were covering the game but I had to endure another terrible commentator - sorry but it was another woman who was competing with Emma in terms of an ability to say as much as possible without actually describing what was going on. It has to be easier to say what's happening rather than avoid saying what you are watching? The noise from the crowd in the background was better a better indicator of what was going on.

Looking ahead we have a potentially tricky encounter against a Boro side on Saturday who walloped Brentford 4-0 yesterday as they scrambled above us in the table. If we are to maintain our unbeaten run we are going to need to play further up the park and maintain an attacking threat to keep Boro at bay. After that it's Norwich away on Tuesday where we will do well to avoid a defeat. We finish that week at home to Birmingham where we may well be looking to steady the ship. 

Have faith, it's early days and we need to keep our feet on the ground. We have to be realistic about our prospects this season and a top-half finish will represent significant progress. Given the resources potentially at our disposal, we have to hope that Roland Duchatelet may be encouraged to strengthen for next season when perhaps we will be entitled to expect more. I would like to see us get more possession in games and that needs to come from better ball retention in midfield and a less defensive set-up.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Canny Scotland

It's been a long night for me, staying up to witness the people of Scotland vote to stay a part of the United Kingdom. I believe it is the first time in history that a country has rejected independence having been given the chance through a national vote. I am tired but I will go to work with a spring in my step today.

The question has been handled hugely impressively in Scotland in a mature debate that almost every inhabitant has participated in wholeheartedly, by-and-large with complete respect for the viewpoint of others. The size of the gap (around 10 points) should ensure that Nationalists will respect the majority decision and Scotland will move on part of the Union. Alex Salmond has just acknowledged that with good grace although his dream clearly lives on. They will, of course, get extra powers and will declare a victory of sorts nonetheless as they continue to effectively govern Scotland from a stronger position than before.

This should spell the end of independence in my homeland for a generation at least and I am delighted about that. I was born in a United Kingdom and I want to die in one. I am proud of my Scottish heritage and the place of my birth but I am British and England has been good to me and has always recognised Scotland's role in Union.

We should now see a backlash of sorts in England which should lead to further changes in government of the UK. The West Lothian Question must be dealt with once and for all. Westminster will also need to appease English Nationalists in some way in addition to that. I believe the Labour party comes out of this particularly poorly, especially the hapless Ed Milliband, although an independent Scotland would have dealt them an even bigger blow.

The SNP will be returned at the next General Election with an increased majority in Scotland although I won't be at all surprised if Salmond makes way for someone. I would be very confident of that if he had a really credible number two but that's not Nicola Sturgeon.


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Charlton Athletic 1 v Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Posting unusually late courtesy of a post match drink and a long day in the office. Others have beaten me to the match report in sufficient detail and volume so little point regurgitating that so will limit myself to key observations and further early season assessment of the Bob Peeters era.

Once again I find myself immediately wanting to say how fluid and impressive Wolves were and that they are the latest in a series of the better sides in the division that we have faced in our very tough start etc. However, that line is becoming a little less convincing by the match and I am beginning to wonder if the explanation for our impressive assessment of nearly everyone we have faced lies elsewhere.

Wolves were indeed impressive. James Henry stood out in the first-half and Bakary Sako in the second. They took the game to us and they moved and passed as a team. They were man-marking us when we lost possession and they squeezed us out in midfield. Only misfortune and plenty of poor finishing (much of it from Leon Clarke) prevented them winning the match.

By comparison, we looked far less confident in possession and other reds shirts weren't always easy to find. Wiggins struggled with Henry in the first half although he recovered but was given little support from Lawrie Wilson who was struggling to make any headway in front of him. Jordan Cousins has plenty to offer but I think we have had all the evidence we need to see that he is not a natural winger and he is a wasted shirt in that position. That was typified late on in the second-half when we were desperate to pressurise Wolves again and were playing with some urgency. A swift break involving four for five players was ended when Cousins failed to control a straightforward pass to his feet and he let it go out. He simply hasn't grown up playing the line.

Then there was George Tucudean who missed a hat-trick of chances including a howling air shot when anything on target would probably have beaten the keeper. I am not sure a rumoured return of Darren Bent is the answer for us but even he would have netted in Tucudean's boots last night. I don't like singling Jackson out but him and Yoni Buyens failed again to hold midfield.

The plus points were further excellent showings from Bikey and Ben Haim, including a classy finish from the Beast. Joe Gomez put in another solid shift and across the back we made a number of superb last ditch tackles. Igor Vetokele was, once again, the Charlton man-of-the-match, much for his contribution away from his striking position although he looked likely to score all night had we teed him up.

Discounting the away games I saw at Brentford and Brighton, this was my first home league visit and if I hadn't known about the three other home wins, I would have said there was very little change from last season save we managed to hang on for a point. However, it was fairly obvious to me that our players are playing to a set pattern and style. We are falling behind the ball in numbers and we are defending zonally in our half. This may be effective so far but it is hard on the eye. We have to watch opposing players given plenty of room around the box and are having to endure a larger than average number of long range pots at our goal as a consequence. Opposing players entering our box are crowded out and when we win possession back we are trying to play it out rather than launching it. That's not necessarily a bad thing but this strategy risks penalties and being caught in possession. 

I am hoping Johan Berg Gudmundsson makes a big improvement when I next get to see him in the side but we are crying out for a better midfield pairing, a better left-wing option and another striker.

I am also wondering if BP should experiment at home with a more deliberate attacking policy. Some will say we aren't doing too badly the way we are, unbeaten in four with three wins, but I will counter that, that won't last playing this way and once our balloon has been punctured we may find it harder to keep flinging bodies in the way of the opposition and relying upon our goalkeeper to save everything else.

Other than that, I thought the ground looked fuller with Charlton fans (irrespective of the official gate) and I noticed more fair-weather fans I know than much of last season. Some of our old gang are also heading to Rotherham on Saturday for a rare away game (beer and cards) which has been fuelled by the Summer activity and our bright start. Let's hope we continue to grind out the results and hold our momentum. A couple of new signings might make all the difference with that in mind.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Wandering back to the Valley

I am really looking forward to seeing Charlton play again at the Valley tomorrow having missed the opening three home league wins. I am confident we should be able to see Wolves off but they have conceded only two league goals this season (to be fair they have only scored six) so it could be another cagey and close affair given Saturday's defensive prowess.

Chicago Addick makes a good point about our lack of possession in most of our unbeaten matches so far this season. This was something that I got to thinking about whilst trying to follow the game online in Cyprus on Saturday. I am prepared to accept that we have a stronger defence this season and that BP has us defending more fully as a team. Igor Vetokele has typified the 'all-hands-to-the-pumps' approach with his defensive covering. We have also played some of the better sides in the division, especially with the three homes matches but we shouldn't forget this is a very competitive division.

We need to deliver more from midfield if we are to put more pressure on other sides and I expect us to do that against some of the weaker teams. I don't have Wolves in that box but we should take the game to them tomorrow. With Gudmundsson out and Solly likely to be rested, Lawrie Wilson will play and I am assuming he will fill the right-back berth which will not help our wide options. Bulot doesn't appear to be ready yet, so it looks like we will be forced to shuffle our existing hand. Consensus says Buyens and Cousins are the best centre-mid pairing but with Jackson, Moussa and Harriott all failing to command a flank position so far, we are missing a trick in priming Vetokele and Tucudean.

Given our options, I wonder whether playing Wiggins and Fox in tandem on the left might be a better option tomorrow with Moussa or Jackson on the right? Whatever the side we put out, we must create more chances for the strikers. In front of what should be another decent gate and under floodlights the conditions could just be right for a less stressful home win. I fancy a routine 2-0 home win which would have our bus rocking on the way to Rotherham on Saturday and would go some way to cementing a very promising start.




Wednesday, 10 September 2014

David Whyte-Whyte-Whyte

Saddened to learn this morning that former Addicks striker and Greenwich-boy, David Whyte, has passed away aged just 43. He played for us in a three year spell between 1994 and 1997 when his goals and his individual ability shone brightly and promised so much. I remember carrying a firm conviction that David Whyte would go on to achieve everything in the game - he had a natural ability and created moments of brilliance from next to nothing. 

Wikipedia says he scored 30 goals in 93 games matches for us although the official club figures are slightly higher than that. The key statistic though is that he managed 21 of those in his first season with us averaging a tad more than one in two. That he only managed eight other goals for other clubs and only another fifty-odd appearances tells you all you need to know about the rest of David's career which I believe was affected by mental health issues. Such a huge unfulfilled potential.

The best memory I have of David Whyte was him taking a ball out of defence chest height as ran left to right across the arc of the centre-circle in what I believe was Watford's half. The crowd in the East Stand sensed the break was on and we looked feverishly for breaking players in support. David Whyte was twenty yards in front of any other red shirt but he knew the keeper was out of goal and already knew what was going to happen. He chested the ball high as he turned underneath it and struck a blistering volley which soared over the goalie and dipped in. What a goal - David Whyte-Whyte-Whyte. 

Rest in peace David.