Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Charlton Athletic 2 v Nottingham Forest 1

Another good win at the Valley against another decent side. Three-in-a-row. I need to get the record books out...

Guy Luzon surprised most of us by starting with midfielder Alou Diarra in central defence partnering Joe Gomez. Wilson was back at right-back for Chris Solly and Morgan Fox retained his left-side slot. 

Cousins and Buyens anchored midfield with Bulot and Harriott on the flanks. Once again it was Vetokele and Watt in attack. It was Watt who created the opening goal inside ten minutes. Attacking the visitors in the Jimmy Seed, Watt picked up the ball outside the box and managed to keep it away from three defenders as he worked his way across the goal, only to be brought down in frustration inside the 'D.' What to do - no Gudmundssen? Answer, let Frederick Bulot have a go. Up stepped Freddie and he dinked a beauty over the wall and past the dive of Carl Darlow. We really are being spoilt with the quality of some of our goals of late.

Forest did settle into the match after that and were playing some good passing football. They were probing our right side early on and it became clear that Antonio was the danger on the Forest left. He is properly quick and can cross, although his equaliser on fourteen minutes didn't require any help. He waltzed in from the wing, ran direct at goal and drilled a low shot which beat Henderson at the far post before he could get down to it. After that it was game on and both sides tried to attack whenever they got the ball.

Forest were playing very wide with Antonio and Burke being used and both managing a decent stream of crosses although Diarra and Gomez coped reasonably well with help from Wilson and Fox. Buyers was busy and I thought he and Cousins had a better game together. Bulot was our main attacking option and with Watt and Vetokele harrying the Forest back-line it was clear we still had goals in us. 

Seven minutes before half-time and slightly against the run of play, we scored again. Wilson got on the overlap down our right and sprinted into the box. He took the ball close to the byline and instead of aiming across goal for the two forwards who were held up, he pulled the ball back for Bulot in space ten yards out. Freddie took a touch before ramming the ball beyond Darlow.

Guy Luzon made a surprise double-substitution at half-time which had the air of a friendly game move. Wilson and Harriott were withdrawn and Bikey and Eagles entered the fray with Gomez going to right-back. I felt a little sorry for Wilson but perhaps he knew he only had the first-half. Calum Harriott was once again a disappointment as he struggled to control the ball or make any telling contribution. Just before the half finished he made a good run with Wilson in support on his outside but he dithered and then appeared to stumble over his own feet and give the ball away. He may have been injured as a result but it might just have been more from embarrassment than anything else.

Irrespective, we were more competitive after the break and Gomex and Bulot were doubled-up to stem the supply from Antonio. That worked pretty well and with Forest continuing to hit long diagonal balls for Antonio and Burke, it was only a matter of time before they both began to tire and we looked more assured. Stephen Henderson was called upon to make a few routine saves but he also collected a number of crosses and was busy on his near-post all evening as that's where Forest went from every corner. 

As the clock ran down, Christophe Lepoint came on and he had a fine five minute cameo in which he halted Forest's momentum and helped us finish the game largely in the Forest half. His first touch to collect a long ball and cross deeply for Watt to head at goal appeared to give him some confidence and he made a number of good runs into the box. The final flourish was to be Watt's as he held the ball up for several minutes out wide and was repeatedly chopped down in frustration by Forest players, two of whom were booked. Every time Watt bounced up and looked for more which had all three home stands crying Ole-Ole, Ole-Ole, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt! He really has made a big impression in the last month and he is clearly loving it. 

The three points keep us in 12th, just a point ahead of Cardiff but closer to Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday who play each other at Hillsborough tomorrow. Millwall, meanwhile, were thrashed 3-0 at Boro and find themselves 14 points behind us, although they will be more concerned about the six point gap to Rotherham and the eight points behind Fulham.

Monday, 2 March 2015

All in all, Barcelona couldn't stop Tony Watt!

Having established himself in the side over the last four games, Tony Watt is being compared very favourably by Charlton fans with previous striking successes, most notably, Clive Mendonca. Whilst I am desperate to see a fellow Scot do well for us, it's very early days to be getting that excited about a 21 year-old with three Charlton goals under his belt. We have had another Scottish striker from Coatbridge, Chris Iwelumo, not a bad example for Tony to aim to surpass for starters (10 in 46).

His record since joining us is 3 goals from 10 appearances, although we should not forget that for five of the first six games he was a sub and got less than a half. Indeed, Watt's record in league football reflects his relative youth at all five clubs he has turned out for. He has made a total of 79 first team appearances for Airdrie (15), Celtic (25), Lierse (16), Standard Liege (13) and Charlton (10). At all of the clubs he has had to establish himself and he was in and out of the side initially and used as a sub. This was the case at Celtic in particular and at Standard to a lesser extent where competition for places would have been higher.

It's not unreasonable to say that Tony Watt might just get more settled in four months at the Valley than any of his previous clubs and may just have found the magic ingredient alongside Igor Vetokele. If he stays a first pick until the end of the season he will have played for us more than anyone other than Celtic where he spent three years.

Watt also has a good habit of scoring braces. His double on Saturday was the fifth time he has managed it. Pretty impressive as those goals account for 10 of his 25 goals to date. Our excitement over Watt may be a little premature and it may be influenced by our chronic shortage of a proper two man strike-force at this level since our promotion seasons just prior to the turn of the century. However, we are not alone in this regard. Watt was highly rated when he arrived at Celtic and this excellent video captured the mood and the global impression Watt made after scoring against Barcelona. Maybe a new song for Watt!
I should also say that Watt's performances in Charlton colours have been much more than just about him scoring. He has been a consummate team player and has helped Igor re-start his goal-scoring too. In spite of his reputation for being lazy or difficult, we appear to have seen none of that. He's been up for the fans, home and away and has said all the right things when being interviewed. Maybe Tony's grown-up a big or we might be taking a bit more care of him?

All eyes on Big Tony tomorrow night then to see if he can keep his run of form going.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Charlton Athletic 3 v Huddersfield Town 0

Well, well, well.  A banana skin served up and for once avoided in style. Twenty-three thousand home fans sent home happy and perhaps thinking about a quick return to the Valley.

The win moves us into the top half of the table, just, and sets us up for Forest at home on Tuesday. I was delighted by today. My part-time Tottenham supporting brother-in-law was back with his daughter and my mother-in-law and my girls joined us too. It was great to see all of them trace Johan Berg Gudmussen's sublimely struck free-kick arc into the top-corner and all leap involuntarily from their seats to celebrate. Great too to watch a similar response when Tony Watt seized on an opportunity on the hour to steer a low pass back across goal and into the far corner. If that wasn't enough, we also saw Watt burst through the Huddersfield central defensive pairing and sweep the ball high and right into the top corner to finish the contest. Watt a day.

It all started with a thunderous ovation for Chris Powell as he made his way to the visitors dugout. Typical Powell had to stop repeatedly to acknowledge supporters he knew personally and he did it properly as you would expect from a gentleman. He took his seat to a chorus of Chris Powell's Blue and White army from the 2,000 visiting Terriers. He got a round of Chrissie Powell's red and white army after three minutes but it was more muted and an after-thought for most following the opening ovation.

Powell then had to watch as we matched his side and then out-fought and and out-thought them to win the game. I was slightly worried to see us start without either Ben Haim or Bikey in defence but Johnson and Gomez saw far less of the ball than we have been used to with TBH and Bikey. What they had to do, they did comfortably enough but, for once, we took the play to our hosts. I am tempted to say we dominated possession. It certainly seemed like that but the stats say it was 50/50. That may feel like domination based upon our play so far this season. We certainly carried more goal-scoring threat and might have had a couple more with a tad more luck. Bar a superb one-handed reflex save mid-way through the second-half, Stephan Henderson wasn't really under any pressure. 

It really was a great day at the Valley for a change and if we owe that to Guy Luzon, then I am grateful. I bumped into my old mate John Hind before the match and he told me he hadn't been for ten years years as he introduced me to his son. We were home and away regulars for twenty years prior to that. Also bumped into stalwart Dave Walker during a pit-stop in the first-half and he complimented me on this blog - which was good to hear.

All-in-all a cracking day. The Royal Oak was buzzing this evening and the feel-good factor remains alive. Let's hope it continues this month and we secure our position in the top-half of the table. That may just give Roland Duchatelet food-for-thought about what might be possible given some consistency and commitment.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Luzon on the March

No, I don't mean he's been given his orders just yet. 

I've been looking at the fixtures between now and the end of the season and I reckon we need to do our business in March because things are likely to be much harder in April.

Four of the next six are at the Valley and the opposition looks largely beatable;

Huddersfield (H) Sat 28th Feb - emotion and a full-house aside, we should be up for this if the two recent 3-0's weren't flash-in-the-pans.

Forest (H) Tues 3rd March - rallying now that Physcho has moved on but eminently beatable under the floodlights at the Valley - safely mid-table after their fourth win under Freedman.

Cardiff City (A) Sat 7th March - Cardiff may want this more than us by then but we have a decent record there and they are also safely in mid-table.

Blackburn (H) Sat 14th March - we owe them for the F A Cup hour exit and they are another mid-table side whose season is over.

Blackpool (A) Tues 17th March - going down and we could effectively relegate them by mid-March.

Reading (H) Sat 21st March - scrapping above us but likely to be mid-table by then and we beat them at their place.

April sees us having to go to Millwall, Wednesday, Bolton and Birmingham with only home games against Fulham and Leeds.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Derby County 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

Highly predictable defeat to the league leaders at their place last night. I was working late and was following the match on the train home from Cannon Street. It was two-nil and all over by the time I reached Charlton. 

I gave up when I got home and was pleasantly surprised to see that we didn't ship any more goals. It looked to me like Cousins may have been rested ahead of Huddersfield, although perhaps he has a knock because Luzon may have taken the opportunity to rest a few more had that been the reason.

The unusual selection was Lawrie Wilson in central-midfield when there were other more obvious options. Perhaps Guy thinks he's seen something no-one else has in Wilson although having been subbed at half-time I suspect it's an experiment he won't be repeating. Laura can't be high on confidence right now and neither can Christophe Lepoint who had to watch Alou Diarra make his debut in Wilson's place.

The good news was that those below us didn't fare a lot better and Blackpool and Millwall were both well-beaten. Millwall went down 3-1 at home by Sheffield Wednesday and Ian Holloway will need all of his powers of motivation to get them up for a very difficult looking trip to Rotherham on Saturday. If they lose there they will fall six points adrift of their opponents and at least five away from Fulham if they also fail to win. Pressure indeed and I can see a large lady in her dressing room preparing for the stage.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Test for Luzon

After two successive 3-0 victories, Guy Luzon takes the side up the M1 tomorrow for a testing league encounter with table-toppers Derby County. The result and how we play will be a good pointer to just how far Luzon may have been able to influence the team since taking charge.

Interestingly, both of Luzon's wins have followed a similar pattern as under Peeters, in that we have won in spite of conceding a lion-share of play. Against both Brentford and Wigan we managed only 36% possession. We need to find a way to get more control in central midfield if we are to make winning matches more sustainable. That may be the primary factor behind recent loan signings of Chris Eagles and Alou Diarra. Eagles may be a winger primarily and Diarra signed as cover for Johnnie Jackson but both may play a role in helping us get more of a grip in the remaining games of the season. Diarra's arrival may also incentivise Yoni Buyens who suddenly looks largely disinterested.

Derby will be hot favourites tomorrow night to repeat their early-season home win against us which ended our interest in the League Cup. I'd probably take another 1-0 defeat now but Guy Luzon may have other ideas. It would be great to be going unbeaten-in-three into the home match against the Terriers in front of 23 or 24,000 fans.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Wigan Athletic 0 v Charlton Athletic 3

A second successive victory for Guy Luzon's side and an important one as it pushed Wigan nearer to the trap-door and effectively leaves just one League One placing up for grabs. More importantly for us it propels us into the top-half of the table and we are once again looking up, not down.

The win looks like a return to our early season form. Wigan battered us from the outside with Marc Antione-Fortune looking likely to score but he was denied by Henderson and before they knew it, Frederick Bulot skated in from the left flank and emboldened by his strike last Saturday, he beat Al-Habsi with a shot across goal. It looked like a terrible goal-keeping error but if you don't shoot, you don't score. Having lit the blue touch paper, it was a case of who would score next.

Wigan lost Leon Clarke after a lengthy delay but after the re-start and with the clock into Leon time, Bulot floated a cross in from the left and Igor Vetokele out-jumped and out-muscled three Wigan defenders to make it his and to get enough on it to head in. He really is back to his best and it's heartening to see.

I fell asleep during the second-half - long week and two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon = but stirred in time to hear Chris Eagles introduced for his debut and within minutes he had iced the cake. 

All-of-a-sudden, the games can't come quick enough for Guy Luzon and he will be delighted that we play again on Tuesday although Derby will be a different proposition on their patch. It's a free-hit so we should give it a go. Resting players like we did at Boro is probably not a good idea. having said that, next Saturday's home game against Huddersfield in front of a bumper £5 gate should be a compelling affair with Chris Powell retuning to the Valley since his sacking for standing his ground against Roland Duchatelet. I am confident Powell will receive a thunderous ovation from the home supporters when he walks proudly to his dugout but three points will be all that we focus on after that as we aim to tidy this season up and restore some self-respect.

Finally, credit to the 500 who made the long and awkward trip to Wigan last night - wins on the road have been few and far between so you deserved this one.