Friday, 4 September 2015

Make or break weekend for Scotland

My countrymen, including a few mates from the Granite City, are in Tbilisi for this evening's European qualifier against Georgia, a side we struggled to overcome by the only goal at Hampden last year. On Monday night we face the Germans in Glasgow by which time our chances of finally qualifying for a group stage in a major championship for the first time since France in '98 will be far clearer.

The mood is positive and there is a resilience about Gordon Strachan's side but I am I am nervous. That comes from twenty years of ultimate disappointment following Scotland. Scotland have yet to win away in this tournament and they really need to do it tonight. That might set them up for the World Champions, but anything less and our hopes could be in tatters come Tuesday morning.

I have been a member of the Scottish Travel Club for two decades but getting official tickets has rendered that a waste of money. The numbers travelling to every game, including friendlies, means the first couple of thousand available from any away allocation are already gone. I have watched my points reckoning drop steadily and have been forced to buy from touts or spares on the day over the last few years which hasn't helped.

The chance of returning to France next Summer comes with a bitter pill that I am likely to struggle to get tickets. Perhaps it's not something I should worry about....

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

So, a defeat in game number five away at Molineux. Not completely unexpected but a tad disappointing given the respective starts of both sides. We have to be pleased with our start and most would have taken eight points at this stage. Gudmundson's opener gave us all false hope of more points but from following the match online, we didn't sound like we could keep a clean sheet or that we deserved anything from the game. Predictably, James Henry sounded a thorn-in-our-side.

We have learnt already that most of the new signings look to have passed the quality test and and one or two in particular look very promising given their relative youth. However, in terms of squad size, we only replaced what left and we still look short in several key positions to be confident of fulfilling our potential this season. If anything better than 12th is to hoped for we have to have another striking option. Simon Makienok's hamstring pull on Saturday exacerbated an already exposed situation with Tony Watt injured and Igor Vetokele only taking his first steps back on the ball. Without another goalscorer, too much is expected of Ahearne-Grant and I worry that his confidence may suffer. It's also too much to expect the likes of Mikhail Kennedy to spear-head a promotion push if we find we have to use him too.

Guy Luzon is clearly not satisfied with his wide options. Ceballos and Bergdich have done ok but they haven't shone like Bauer and Kashi. The James Henry saga looks off (unless Wolves are cash-strapped) and we are being linked with a last minute move for Norwich's Elliott Bennett. That might suggest that Jermaine Pennant has been used as a possible lever only in the Henry move. That should be clear tomorrow night.

I also believe we need cover at centre-half but suspect Luzon will be happy to go with Bauer, Sarr, Diarra and young Lennon. We are hardly prolific last-minute users of the window and I don't expect this one to be much different. It looks like the die is cast and much will depend on our fortune with injuries....

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Winger the last signing?

Charlton declared an interest in James Henry nearly six weeks ago. The attacking wide man was apparently out-of-favour at Molineux and a deal look very likely. However, Kenny jacket played Henry in a couple of friendlies and was soon keen to tell fans that the door was still open for his former Millwall player. Indeed, Henry has featured for Wolves this season picking up a couple of yellow cards and a goal in recent weeks. In spite of that, speculation remains that Henry could be on his way to the Valley.

With the transfer window closing, Charlton have been dallying with Jermaine Pennant as a possible replacement and he has been about to sign for most of this week. Henry fits the Charlton bill whereas Pennant doesn't. Henry has youth on his side whereas Pennant doesn't. Henry comes with a clean nose, whereas Pennant doesn't. Henry should be affordable whereas I would be very surprised if Pennant was.

Yesterday, Callum Harriott was allowed to join Colchester United on a season-long loan signalling the expectant arrival of a player deemed to offer more, presumably Henry or Pennant. With the Addicks at Wolves today, it could be telling if Henry plays against us, or not. 

A product of our youth system, Harriott has had 76 chances and, to my mind, only taken a handful of them. Bar a purple patch towards the end of the 2013-14 season when I think he netted five of his nine goals for us in two or three games, he has ultimately been a disappointment. Blessed with plenty of pace, he was also encumbered with a footballing brain that wasn't as fast. He never seemed to be aware of red shirts around him and lost possession far too often. He will make a living in the lower leagues and I hope he can settle in at Colchester and earn himself a permanent move. 

The question remains, will it be Henry or Pennant, or could we get a curve-ball with someone else?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Banana skin in the Black Country?

Looking ahead to tomorrow's league clash with Wolves, I find myself unable to join the common Addick viewpoint that we are favourites to return with the points. I think we may be writing off the Wolves start to the season too easily.

The Old Gold lost a two-nil lead at home to QPR in their last home match and will be smarting over that. Rangers have the personnel to do that in matches but Wolves were two-up. They also won at Blackburn on the opening day and have seen off two lower league sides in the Cup. Losing in Cardiff was hardly unexpected and their only other showing was a point at home to Hull who we know were very poor at the Valley, but they very nearly took a point from us.

We haven't been behind in any of our eight matches so far this season. It's going to happen and we will need to be able to retaliate. With Watt and Vetokele both fully fit, I think we have the firepower to do that by changing things with Makienok and Ahern-Grant, but Watt will still be missing tomorrow and Igor is unlikely to get more than a substitute showing. We will need to keep it very tight at the back or hope to open the scoring to give us something to hang on to. Wolves will put us under pressure and if they can score first they have the quality to maintain momentum.

Trying to be more positive for a moment, our next four matches are against sides in the bottom eight of the fledgling table so there should be more points to come and there is every prospect of us sitting pretty after the first ten games which is, for me, the first time we should consider counting any chickens in terms of ambitions for the season.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Peterborough United 1 v Charlton Athletic 4

In a Cup competition which has been about as disappointing for Charlton Athletic during it's history as it's possible to be, last night's victory at the Abax Stadium stands out. The draw for the third round, which pitches us against local rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park also gives us a rare draw we can actually get excited about. Manchester United away in the 70's was the last one I can think of and I was too young to be there on a school-night.

What was remarkable about last night's victory was that it was achieved by a side with an average age of 21 and over half the side was home-grown. Mikhail Kennedy opened the scoring three minutes into his debut and he was brought down after 53 minutes to win the penalty that effectively won the match. Ahearne-Grant stepped up to score his second goal in the competition and from then on we could relax and hit Posh on the break. 

Luzon brought on more experienced fresh legs in Kashi and Vetokele who bought added to the goal tally. Kasha's was a 40 yarder and he also hit a post. There was time for Oliver Muldoon to also make his debut (I think) and even a late Peterborough consolation goal wasn't enough to take any shine of the showing.

Cynical Addicks were comfortably predicting Carlisle away in the next round, but the draw paired us with the Nigels. It's an evening they won't look forward to. Thousands of baying visitors, a poor home turnout, possibly a weakened Palace side and we have nothing to lose. A chance to put one of Pardew too. Rubs hands in eager anticipation.

Guy Luzon has eclipsed the start made by Bob Peeters last season. Confidence must be flowing through entire squad and players will need to be raising their game or risk losing their place. Exciting times for a long overdue change....

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Charlton Athletic 2 v Hull City 1

Guy Luzon's men won at the Valley for the second successive time to assert their fine, if unexpected start to the season. The victory was fully deserved but not without some added time drama.

Hull were clearly here for the point. Their lack of first-half ambition was embarrassing. I can't remember us having such a complete run of it for many a season. The fact that we didn't capitalise was reflective of our lack of cutting edge, but we held the ball well and outplayed the visitors. 

Solly, Watt and Reza were all missing as expected and Luzon chose to bring Cousins in at right-back and play a five man midfield with Kashi, Ba, Bergdych, Ceballos and Gudmundson. Kashi was again the standout player making space for the ball and finding other red shirts whenever in possession. Ba tied up all around him and it was left to the other three to probe the Tigers defence. 

Simon Makienok was struggling with pace and touch but after the break and attacking the Covered End, he took his chance five minutes after the re-start. He attacked the near post and met Gudmundson's cross perfectly to head across McGregor for the opener. His relief was palpable and he paid long homage to Thor before the match restarted.

After that it looked like a straightforward 1-0 home win. Hull struggled to raise their game and we really should have gone for the jugular. As it was, it took Hull substitutions to inject some urgency and with seconds of ordinary time on the clock Hull finally got forward and stretched us. Hayden picked the ball up in space 20 yards out and drove a fierce shot which cannoned off the post. It was picked up in play and with players sliding and back-pedalling, it went back to him a couple of yards closer and in even more space but this time his shot beat everyone but Pope. Nicky blocked the shot but couldn't manage to hold it and as it squirmed free, Hernandez swept it in. That was gutting but moments later we were informed of 8 (eight) minutes of added time.

The momentum was with Hull and they were winning the 50-50's. As they piled forward, a back post ball was headed home and I thought that was it. One of the Hull visitors behind me tapped me on the shoulder to tell me it was offside and we breathed again. Before the dust could settle we were back in their half and with men breaking right and left, Makienok beat their keeper to a challenge and the ball broke inside for a rampaging Johan Berg Gudmundsson who was able to run on and head the bouncing ball into an unguarded net. 

A deserved win and great to see a Valley crowd leaving in high spirits once again. The three points pushed us into third and cements a fine start in spite of injuries. If we can avoid defeat at Wolves next week we have a great opportunity to record our third home win in-a-row against struggling Rotherham. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Toothless for Tigers

Nottingham Forest's robust approach to Tuesday evening's clash appears to have taken it's toll and my pre-season concerns about our possible lack of firepower seem well-grounded. Wyn is reporting that in addition to Chris Solly, both Tony Watt and Reza Goochannejhad will also miss Saturday's home match against Hull City.

Solly took a very bad tackle late on in the game (one that commentator Stephen Froggatt winced at and said it was a carbon copy of the one that ended his own career) so is not a real surprise. Both Watt and Reza also took knocks but played on, albeit Watt was subbed and replaced by Reza well before the end.

With Igor still out, it will mean Simon Makienok will lead the attack and I am guessing Karlan Ahearne-Grant will get another start. Big Mak's confidence might be suffering having failed to score for us since joining and after missing two sitters against Forest. Ahearne-Grant is at least off the mark but with only one goal between them, Hull City will hardly be biting their nails.

I am hoping we get an overdue goal from midfield and that Big Mak can break his duck. That might be enough to see off our highly fancied visitors. Better still, could we make a move for another proven striker tomorrow?