Saturday, 24 September 2016

Oxford United 1 v Charlton Athletic1

Another away point but not one those who made the trip appear pleased with. Russell Slade again being accused of negative tactics and of leaving two points at the Kassim Stadium. Not much of a match either by the sounds of it and Oxford looked a distinctly average side.

Harry Lennon came in for Jason Pearce and didn't look confident. Having picked up one yellow, he allowed himself to get sent off in the last couple of minutes for second yellow following a foul on Oxford's man-of-the-match, Liam Sercombe. Maybe an opening for Texeira to step back in alongside the BFG?

Nicky Ajose also sat this one out as we again went with Magennis as the lone striker and Lookman out wide in a now familiar five man midfield. This is what's frustrating fans and when Holmes was ready to come off the bench, it was Lookman who made way. There's been a lot of criticism over our slow and defensive centre-midfield but we aren't exactly spoilt for choice upfront, especially if Lookman is played out wide. Ajose has struggled to touch the ball in the games he's played. Novak is a journeyman and he looks like he's carrying weight and Magennis, whilst a decent target man and an aerial threat, has never been a prolific goal-scorer. We really do need our midfield to join the attack as a formation and not simply sit deep and look for Holmes or Lookman. 

Slade looked quite happy in his post-match questioning and spoke of turning draws into wins. He said he's looking forward to the next three games - all at the Valley, including a cup game I've forgotten about and won't be attending. The trouble is, we really need six points against Oldham and Rochdale and I can't see us beating them both. What we can't do here Russell, is turn wins into draws.

Two wins from the opening nine isn't good enough if we have any realistic hopes of promotion and we have managed only three points in September. Sitting in 16th place in the table this evening, we really have to avoid dropping down any further or we risk inviting doom and gloom into the dressing room once again. What won't help matters is if we do continue to stumble is our fans. Already sick-to-the-back-teeth with the owners and a painful relegation still fresh in the memory, there will be no quarter given to Russell Slade if his side struggles.

Injuries could be a deciding factor this season. We can't afford Holmes or Lookman to get badly crocked. Holmes has been suffering with a bad back and may need some protection. We have defensive cover but could do without having to introduce a fresh goalkeeper. We have options in centre-midfield but they all look very similar and not good enough to support a challenge for the play-offs.

We were relegated last year because we failed to invest in the side and I don't believe the changes made during the close season were enough to realistically expect to mount an automatic promotion campaign. Knowing Duchatelet and Meire, I suspect that was never an ambition. I think they would rather underspend and hope to catch a play-off spot and squeak up that way. The trouble with that, of course, is you end up with what we have seen already and it can quickly turn into a struggle and another downward spiral for all involved.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Roland sneaks in and ticks boxes

It's a sign of just how much antagonism there is towards Roland Duchatelet, when a rare visit to England to check on his investment has to be managed in top secrecy. None of the club's staff were aware of his planned visit but a select group of the Target 20,000 committee were given an audience as Roland the Magnificent met the people. I'll bet they didn't know he would be attending.

The Club were quick to put the story out on the website although those familiar with the history here will be angry that we are again being pedalled the same tripe;

-  Roland splits his time proportionately amongst his business interests which explains why he pops over only several times a year and has only managed to see one match in getting on for three years. Charlton represent 1.5% of his financial empire, hence so little interest.

- He took the opportunity to come clean on Thomas Driesen, the curious boy scout who advises Roland in the background on which players to buy based upon his computer algorithms. He's still there in the background but Roland says he has never had a direct say on who plays. Chris Powell will be pleased to finally know where his unwanted advice was coming from.

- Roland said that communication with the Club's supporters had been poor and needs improvement. This must be the third or fourth time we have heard this, although his visit will now be quoted repeatedly for the next six months by The Regime as evidence of the improved communication before the line is trotted out again.

- Duchatelet said Phase 1 of the Sparrows Lane redevelopment was nearly complete and Phase 2 was due to start. This will inevitably draw some reaction because no-one involved seems to understand that and the project is well behind schedule with lots of unanswered questions.

- Roland confirmed that the faded Jimmy Seed Stand sign that adorns the away end will be replaced, even if Jimmy's family have sadly distanced themselves from the PR coup The Regime were hoping to stage around unveiling it.

- Roland trotted out Meire's line about making the experience of going to a game more entertaining by turning it into more of a circus a la some rugby matches. Roland quite likes rugby. 

- Charlton will continue to develop the Women's team.

That was it. No mention of the strategic aims for this season or any longer term ambition. Not even a 'competitive in League One with hopes of promotion one day."

I would have thought a comment on the progress being made by the Target 20,000 committee might have been appropriate given their attendance and a further view of plans in that direction?

I am sure those still involved in Target 20,000 are real fans and are doing it with the right intentions but they must realise by now that they are being manipulated by The Regime for PR ends because practically every step Katrien Meire has taken in the last two years has resulted in shrinkage of our fan-base. The irony is delicious.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Scunthorpe United 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

A creditable performance tonight from a Charlton side missing Ricky Holmes through injury and Lee Novak who was ill. Esra Konsa was also rested as widely predicted, which meant a first start for The Big Friendly German. Jackson and Foley came into midfield with Crofts and Ulvestad. Lookman and Magennis were the nominal attackers but Lookman was played wide in a five man midfield.

I listened to the game on  BBC Radio London and we held our own in a match short on goal-scoring opportunities. I think we shaded possession and created a few more chances than our hosts who head the early season League One table. Johnnie Jackson might even have nicked it at the death with a free-kick that grazed the post. A good point in the end against a side who had scored 12 goals in their preceding three home league outings. Russell Slade will be satisfied with the clean sheet and the point after seeing his side throw the points away on Saturday.

Two wins, four draws and two defeats from eight league starts is less than many expected. Our record away from home matches that at the Valley (a win, a loss and two draws), which is all the more disappointing for those not motivated to travel and that's quite a lot of us - looked like less than 100 Charlton fans behind the goal this evening.

Jimmy Seed's grandson snubs The Regime

News today from James Dutton, grandson of the legendary Jimmy Seed, that he will not participate in The Regime's plans to big-up the replacement of the "Jimmy Seed Stand" that adorns the away end at the Valley. James gives his reasons very clearly in his blog on the topic and, frankly, I couldn't have put it better myself. Well done James, your Grand-father would be proud of you.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Charlton Athletic 1 v AFC Wimbledon 2

Another disappointing home performance and our first Valley defeat of the season. In the end we can have no complaints but this was a game there for the taking. For me, Russell Slade's tactics were woefully short-sighted and far too conservative.

We started again with a very familiar line-up. Rudd, Fox, Pearce, Konsa and Solly at the back. Lookman started on the left, Crofts and Ulvestad in the centre-mid and Ricky Holmes on the right. Nicky Ajose and Josh Magennis lead the line. I like stability and had no issue with team selection. Jackson is too slow to warrant a starting berth and Lee Novak is probably our third-choice striker. The very large German must be itching to get on but Pearce and Konsa have been looking decent together.

Anyway, we started well enough, albeit with the first chance to the visitors , but we took the lead inside ten minutes. Lookman cut inside, shuffled, re-adjusted at pace to gain a yard and startled the Wombles by cracking another low shot into the near corner from 20 yards. Reminiscent of his late equaliser in the last home match. One-nil and for twenty minutes after that it looked like either a case of killing it off with a second or just how many? Lookman was denied a second by a fine save and we were creating chances relatively easily. However, there was a notable slow-down before half-time which was disappointing but no cause for alarm.

I fully expected us to come out firing on all cyclinders kicking towards the Covered End  and to get the second goal which would finish it as a contest. We didn't. We looked content to defend and eventually invited Wimbledon forward. Ricky Holmes apart, there looked very little urgency to get forward and we raely committed more than a couple of men. Wimbledon began to create a few chances of their own and attacking our goal in front of a very healthy 2,000 following in the Jimmy Seed, they forced the equaliser in the 78th minute when Poleon cut in on our right, evaded two tackles and beat Rudd from close range. 

Now was the time for a fight-back but it was half-hearted. Lacking conviction and leadership, we handed the initiative back to the Wombles and it was no surprise when lanky substitute Tyrone Barnet rose highest at the back of the Charlton box to head home the winner. Cue some anger in the home stands and a round of booing at the whistle.

The defeat sees us drop down a place to 14th and we sit four points below 6th and two above the drop zone. Our game in hand may come and go at Scunthorpe on Tuesday and then Russell Slade may have to earn his corn.

I joined the pre-match Protest Shirt photograph before the game and watched the match from the lower West. I was with friends but not a view I enjoyed, too low to the pitch and too much distraction from players warming up in front of us.  Although I was far enough down to avoid seeing Katrien Meire chuckling her way through the performance or to spot her fat security guard. I am always tempted to forget myself when I see him.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Fleetwood Town 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

An away point is always a good point, although this looks very much like one we perhaps didn't deserve on the evidence of the play. Those who went were largely unhappy with the performance and it has again brought into sharp focus just how much we have yet to do as a club before we can realistically challenge for promotion.

Very simply put, Fleetwood looked far more fluent and threatening when in possession and they dominated the midfield. Fredrik Ulvestad had a very quiet debut and and we were disconnected as a result, often relying on the long ball when  trying to exert any pressure on our hosts. He obviously needs games to get his match fitness and to get to know those around him. Once again, something we should have had plans to do in pre-season, not September.

We fell behind to a 25 yarder after only five minutes. Josh Magennis levelled with a fine header but Fleetwood restored their lead soon after with another rangey effort which was curled beyond Declan Rudd. With the clock running down, it took the combination of all three subs, Botaka, Foley and Lee Novak to scrape a late point and save Russell Slade's blushes.

The big question-mark about our midfield looks like it will make or break our season. We have a decent back-line with options, although we are going to concede goals if the midfield isn't holding the opposition or is struggling to join play when we clear from defence. Similarly, we have goals in us but we need to support from midfield when we move forward and that's looking disjointed. 

Confidence is the other big factor but that looks balanced with us sitting in 13th place and wondering whether we are looking up or staring down. The game in hand is an awkward looking midweek trip to Scunthorpe who have been finding scoring at home relatively easy, but before that we have a chance to put some more points on the board at home to AFC Wimbledon next Saturday. I will be there with at least a thousand other Two-Percenters.

Friday, 9 September 2016

4000 lost souls

News yesterday revealed in a Guardian article that the actual drop in season tickets holders between April and August was 4,000. Pretty much bang on the 40% that has been the best guess of supporters following earlier figures from the club before the season kicked-off (down from 10,278 to 6,297).

Communication on the Official Site in recent weeks has been repeated and orchestrated with differing articles all concluding with a reminder of the value season tickets provide (which is obvious, even to the 4,000 refuseniks). I understand the Club are also calling match-day ticket purchasers and offering to deduct the sum of games attended so far to further induce sales. Finally, it looks like the desperateness of the situation may have hit home. 

News from some within the Club suggests they were confident the drop in season ticket sales would be c 1500 matching what happened when we were last relegated to League One, but again, they failed to read the tea-leaves or listen to what practically everyone who knew better was telling them.

To put a 4,000 drop into perspective, that's 700 more than tomorrow opponents managed to average at home last season. It really is a stain on the record and one that is going to be very difficult to shift. It will take several seasons of relative success on it's own, something we haven't managed since we were relegated from the Premiership 10 years ago. 

The other key ingredient when we last successfully managed to build attendances and grow our stadium was the wholehearted engagement of the club's most loyal and knowledgeable supporters. In addition to hitting all the right notes as part of the original Target 10,000 and subsequent Target 20,000 campaigns we all acted as advocates and missionaries for what was happening at the Club. We had a Chairman who was open, realistic and relatively ambitious. He was supported by the best Chief Executive we have ever had in Peter Varney, a man whose dynamism and enthusiasm was infectious. A man who was shabbily spurned when he reached out to Katrien Meire last year.

Therein lies the current problem. Roland Duchatelet isn't going to listen to anyone (he turned down another opportunity to engage yesterday as the headline speaker at CAST's AGM - probably not high on his list of priorities but a missed opportunity nonetheless). Katrien Meire appears to be either making more of an effort to engage with supporters groups on her own terms or is at least following advice from professionals for once. The trouble is, she has become toxic to the 4000 and no amount of emails or cold-calling is going to change that. I am waiting for one of these pre-match supporter sessions to provoke some more of the inner thoughts of Meire which have shown her up for what she really is - someone who just doesn't get it and who is unfit to run the club.

The only thing she can do to halve that gap in one fell swoop, is to stand-down, but she can't see beyond the end of her nose and the turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

Finally, the OS was trumpeting news that having listened to Target 20,000 (occupied seats) the club will now be replacing the tired 'Jimmy Seed Stand' sign that adorns the away end. That's good news but I also know that they have been very keen to take down some of the advertising boards alongside it from sponsors who have since pulled out. The cost of taking them down has been a bugbear to the club, so updating the Jimmy Seed gives them a win-win.