Thursday, 31 January 2008

Reid out, Halford and Cook in...

The lure of the Premiership and being part of the Irish revolution at Sunderland has proved too much for Andy Reid. Hopefully he will get the chance now to finally show what he's capable of if he can steer clear of injuries and keep himself fully fit. The big shorts favoured by those north-east clubs will also suit him.

Coming in on loan are right-back Greg Halford (23) and left winger Lee Cook (25). Both have had fixed fortunes since relatively big money moves to Sunderland and Fulham respectively and both have something to prove. Cook will give us options on the left wing and is reckoned to be a very good crosser of the ball, something that Jerome Thomas and Darren Ambrose could both improve on. Halford will presumably provide cover for Yassin Moutaouakil and effectively replaces Danny Mills.

Assuming there are no late surprises, interest in Jerome Thomas again appears to have dissapated and maybe he will knuckle down and concentrate on doing what he's best at and finally earning a regular place on merit by running at defences and creating goals. The freak accident to Chris Dickson that will put him out for 3 months (apparently he twisted a knee in Reception but "freak accident in a hotel" is often a euphemism for something Fishy!) means Izale McLeod will be retained. Maybe a last opportunity for Izale to show us that he can score goals outside the lower leagues.

On reflection, we appear to have come out of the transfer window better than anticipated. We've probably strengthened the squad in terms of playing options and have actually made a bit of money with which to fund Halford and Cook's wages. I don't believe many, if any of our rivals have actually fared better than us, so we should be able to get our heads down and focus on the run-in.

Au Revoir Frankie

I have been expecting the return of Frankie Valley for over a week now. Despite the word from better informed Bloggers that Frankie had packed it in, I have been biting my lip in anticipation, but a week is a long time on the internet and not a peep.

So, I guess it's time to say farewell to the quirkiest of Charlton blogs. Frankie was never my favourite but I was a daily reader. He had the knack for grasping real truths and presenting them in amusing ways. His regular contributors were were also worth the effort to trawl through and could be relied upon to make you smile.

As a frequent user of the Rose of Denmark (and the Royal Oak!), I have, on occasions, found myself playing "is that Frankie" or, more often, could that be Sam Lloyd. I knew Paxton Sprout wouldn't be there but still wondered. I could always have asked big Brian but I guess I never really wanted to know.

Assuming you haven't given up on the internet altogther Frankie, I thank thee for your efforts and kind of wish you could have made it Four Seasons.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Reid on his way for £4m

Looks like Sunderland are getting real about their interest in Andy Reid and the price being bandied around has increased to £4m. You have to think that Sunderland is an attractive option for Reid, what with the current Irish connection and if he goes for it, then it looks like a done deal. Money talks and players are not held to their contracts if the price is close and they want to leave.

As long as we get the terms we want (upfront payment with sell-ons etc), this would represent £100,000 profit on the fee we paid Spurs for every appearance he's made for us. Whilst I don't want to see him go, even at this price, there are still two question-marks about him - his fitness and his susceptibility to injury. In the short while he's been with us, both problems have affected him and it could be argued that he hasn't been properly fit for a good number of the games he has played for us.

If he goes however, there's a fair chance we could pay a heavy price in four months time if we narrowly fail to get promotion.

Sunderland linked with Reid again as the transfer window starts to close.

In the wake of Charlton's encouraging home win against Stoke City, Sunderland are again being linked with a move for Andy Reid. The fee still being spoken of as around £2.5m although a player exchange for Greg Halford is also being mooted. Don't do it Richard, it's not enough, it's not a good player exchange and Reid has the potential to win us promotion.

It was a good night for the Addicks all around. West Brom again showed their fragile side in going down 2-1 at Preston who finished with 9 men. Watford could only manage a point at Sheffield United and Ipswich drew at home to Plymouth. With Palace also losing on Monday night, this represents real progress and momentum for the Addicks.

Saturday offers us the chance of moving closer still if we can win at Scunthorpe. There will be a better than normal turn-out by the travelling Addicks on Saturday as Glanford Park represents a new ground for most (I saw Maidstone United play there whilst still a league club). Half-a-dozen of my mates are making a rare effort to travel and I am miffed I will be missing it, although duty calls and I will be in Edinburgh warming up for the Scotland v France 6 Nations opener. Scunthorpe are short of confidence and haven't won at home in their last 11 matches! In fact, they have only one one of their last 17 attempts which shows how much of a slump they are in. We should beat them and it would be a real fillip to knock some goals in and boost the goal difference.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v Stoke City 0

Charlton came face-to-face with a determined Stoke City side this evening on Shrove Tuesday, a traditional "mob football" day in England. When I say, determined, I mean determined not to be beaten and the mob football reference is relevant too, as they packed their box and got men behind the ball for almost the entire match. It was an epic struggle but we eventually got the goal we needed and the three crucial points. This victory could be the start of an important few weeks for the Addicks as we enter the make or break stage of the season in relation to any hopes of automatic promotion.

Charlton opened with Weaver in goal and Moutaouakil, McCarthy, Bougherra and Youga in the back four. Holland and Zheng Zhi again held the central midfield with Sam and Ambrose on the wings. Pards went for Iwelumo and Gray upfront from the off.

Charlton started brightly enough and quickly tried to raise the tempo. We were passing and moving across the midfield and I, for one, was certainly surprised by how well Andy Gray does indeed hold the ball and bring other players in. I wasn't convinced by Pardew's comparison of Gray to Todorov, but it was plain to see this evening. Stoke were defending in depth and it was difficult for Charlton players to get any time in or around the box and they were very quick to charge down anything that looked like a shot.

Lloyd Sam had the best early chance when he advanced on the box from inside right and then, with Moutaouakil providing a diversion on the overlap, Sam cut inside his man again and got a good shot off but it took a deflection and whistled wide of the far post. From the resulting corner, Darren Ambrose picked the ball up on the edge of the box and fired in a similar shot to Sam's which was also blocked. Stoke looked comfortable coming out of defence but were loathe to commit too many forward and inevitably most of their forward play was directed to, and almost limited to, the rampaging Ricardo Fuller who does a good impression of Nicolas Anelka. He had their best chance of the half when he cut inside Moutaouakil and fired a snap-shot just over Weaver's bar and into the 500 travelling Stoke fans.

Back at the other end Charlton won a number of corners, the best of which Paddy McCarthy met 10 yards out but his downward header bounced up and wide of the far post. McCarthy had a good game, especially in the first half when he looked very assured and made some very nice touches in amongst the heading and stretching.

Stoke started the second half in a more adventurous mood and Fuller had their best chance of the match to score when he ran into the Charlton box with three players around him but slammed his shot straight at the advancing Weaver. Darren Ambrose made several strong runs down the left flank winning a couple of corners and getting another decent effort in on Simonson. It was good of Simonson to even be at the Valley this evening as he obviously missed a funeral to play; at least he moved at funerial pace out of respect to take most of his goal-kicks and was particularly annoying for the first hour.

Fuller managed another one man burst and shot, but this time the Valley breathed a sigh of relief as his shot flashed wide of the back post. Chris Iwelumo had been clattered several times in succession and was no surprise at being first man subbed after 65 minutes when Luke Varney came on to lead the charge. Varney brought more immediacy to Charlton's pace but no more clarity and we proceeded to find space around the Stoke defence but it was all too flustered and ultimately frustrating. Zheng Zhi over-ran one or two good chances and Lloyd Sam mis-passed and mis-controlled three good balls in succession. We then got a lucky break when a Stoke clearance struck rebounded through their back line to Andy Gray who reacted quickest and forced his was into the box and one-on-one with Simonson. Unfortunately he got a fraction too close and the keeper was able to make a save. It was looking like 0-0 and Thomas was brought on for the tiring Ambrose.

With 8 minutes left, Varney latched on to a cross but had to steer it wide of the keeper and battled to keep it in as he turned back toward goal. His cross was deflected back over the keeper and there was Lloyd Sam two yards out to head home for the lead. Stoke hit back quickly and it took a host of red shirts and a sprawling Nicky Weaver to keep the equaliser out. The Valley atmosphere had been good all evening and the roar following the save went on for another 20 seconds as Thomas broke quickly from the save and ran the length of the pitch to threaten a second which was eventually lost by Zheng Zi.

Things got heated in the last few minutes of normal time and four of added as Stoke took their frustration out in series of rash tackles. Nicky Weaver showed admirable respect for his counterpart Simonson by taking equally long to play several of his last goal-kicks in the dying minutes, much to the appreciation of the home crowd. At the final whistle, Paddy McCarthy and several others ran 30 yards to embrace Weaver which showed precisley what they thought of his late save.

All-in-all, a good result against a promotion contender. Scunthorpe is looking very promising for Saturday and then we face match number two of the five biggies at home when we go in search of another double against Palace. The Valley announcer won't need all that "make more noise for the boys" nonsense for that one. I can't wait.

Monday, 28 January 2008

It's a funny old game!

First thing's first. Three cheers for Ian Holloway's Foxes. They duly played their part this evening in ending Palace's unbeaten run. It took a last ditch Barry Hayles goal to do it but Leicester had chances to take the lead in both halves. I expect Palace to bounce back against Southampton at Selhurst on Saturday but their ball has been punctured and we can beat them on 9th February.

The reward then for victory tomorrow will be to climb above Palace once again and a two-goal clear win would also see us move above Stoke by the slenderest margin. I'm really looking forward to it (almost an omen).

On the wider football front, I am amazed and more than a little bemused to see that horrible little shit, Dennis Wise, leaving Leeds for Newcastle. This doesn't make sense. Kevin Keegan knows his way around the football world. He comes from a different era than Wise and surely he would have had a queue of better qualified and certainly better respected men to choose as Director of Football than the obnoxious Wise? True, Wise played under Keegan during his England reign, but it's not as if he's going to get the lads going in the dressing room now?

What's equally strange, is why Wise would walk out on "big" Leeds United having done two-thirds of the job? What's his motivation, I wonder? Surely not simply filthy lucre? It can't be the glory! Ken Bates is is a big pal of Wise and the reason he got the job at Elland Road in the first place. I'm sure he'll have something to say about this. It all smells a bit fishy to me but I guess I should look on the bright side; there's every chance that Leeds' promotion push will continue to falter now and they might spend another season in the wilderness.

Bring on Stoke!

Sunderland moving for Reid....

Overnight reports on the internet that Sunderland are to step up their interest in Andy Reid after getting nowhere pursuing Stephen Hunt at Reading. No great surprise in this although the figure being mentioned consistently is a disappointing £2.5m. If we are going to lose Reid I hope Richard Murray is going to ensure we make a proper return on him. We paid £2.5m with it possibly rising to £3m. In a sellers market, we should make sure they are paying £4m at least. Personally, I think he's worth £5m or more to us if he can turn four or five more games this season which could make all the difference.

Stick your neck out Richard, we've got nothing to lose.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Midweek Championship Preview

Bristol City and Burnley both took full advantage of their home games today by beating Blackpool and Scunthorpe respectively. That means City are now second on goal difference to West Brom on 51 points. Burnley move up to seventh, just a draw behind the Addicks on 43 points.

Before we take to the field on Tuesday evening we will know the outcome of the Leicester v Palace match which is on Monday night so will know what 3 more points will do for us. I think we can beat Stoke by a two goal margin to get above them and I believe that will be enough to see us climb above Palace back into 4th spot.

Elsewhere today West Brom had a good win at Peterborough so will have at least another game to contend with in the FA Cup and the Millwall dream of a few bob more has also ended care of Iain Dowie's Coventry.

Here's my assessment of the mid-week games in the Championship....

Leicester City v Crystal Palace

The Palace run will end soon and I reckon Ian Holloway's new team could be the boys to do it. They beat Coventry in their last home game and got a battling point at Norwich last time out. They will have benefitted from the mini-break and I'll go for them to bump Palace

Prediction; 2-1

Barnsley v Colchester United

Colchester looked doomed and it can be grim up north when it's going against you. The Tykes to pile on the misery.

Prediction; 3-0

Cardiff City v Queens Park Rangers

Interesting match in prospect here. Both sides have picked up and Rangers are finally spending some money wisely. They have moved clear of the relegation zone and will need to be properly motivated for this or else Cardiff will win again and edge closer to the play-offs (nightmare scenario).

Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Stoke City

It's now or never. We owe Stoke for nicking three points off us earlier in the season in front of the Sky cameras. I hope the memory of that is in our players minds. There can be no more excuses. We need get at Stoke from the start and put them under real pressure. If we can maintain a good tempo we will create enough chances to win. The benefit of an early goal and/or scoring first was evident for all to see at home to Blackpool, so let's hope the players go for it. Hopefully we will also avoid another sending-off or another poor referring performance.

Prediction; 3-1

Hull City v Coventry City

Coventry have appeared perilously close to the drop zone all of a sudden. They will be bouyed by their FA Cup progress but really need to get some points on the board. Hull isn't the best place to go for an evening game and I can see them coming a cropper. I am still surprised that no-one's gone for Michael Mifsud so far in the transfer window.

Prediction; 2-0

Ipswich Town v Plymouth Argyle

Spirits will be low in the Plymouth camp having tumbled out of the cup at Portsmouth today. Tuesday might come too soon for a fighting display and that's whats's needed to get anything at Portman Road.

Prediction; 2-0

Preston North End v West Bromwich Albion

Great win for Preston at Derby today although it's hardly giant-killing in the circumstances. However, we have to hope they will be in good spirits and can have a go, although West Brom are looking ominously good of late.

Prediction; 1-2

Sheffield United v Watford

Watford crashed out of the cup at home to Wolves today and looked well beaten. This game might come too quickly for them and Sheffield United need something soon or Bryan Robson will be getting the boot. The pain of defeat in the Sheffield derby also needs soothing.

Prediction; 2-1

Southampton v Norwich City

Southampton laboured to beat Bury today and might still be feeling the effects come Tuesday. Norwich aren't out of danger yet either so I predict a real scrap and both might settle for a point.

Prediction; 1-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday

Powerful win at Watford for the Old Gold today and they will have their tails up on Tuesday. Wednesday are more than capable of getting a result but I'm going for Wolves to make it three wins in a row.

Prediction; 2-0

So, an exciting week in prospect and we can capitalise at Scunthorpe on Saturday if we beat Stoke. We can't keep playing catch-up. Sooner or later you have to challenge the teams above you if you are going to get automatic promotion and now is our chance.

C'mon you Reds!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Its quiet, too quiet.....

Don't know about you, but there's very little happening on the football front at the moment. We're supposed to be in the midst of hectic transfer activity, and all is relatively quiet. Not just on the Charlton front either. There's been precious little change in the Championship and not a great deal more in the premiership.

I suppose we should be grateful bearing in mind we have only brought in a striker and not lost anyone so far. You have to think there is more of a story to tell behind the scenes and that there will be some development before next Friday.

Nothing further on the Karl Duguid or Michael Tonge leads although we are linked today with Tiago Valente a 22 year Portugese defender currently earning his crust with FC Pacos De Ferreira. Maybe Pards and Murray are playing the long game and waiting for the sellers to get twitchy? Maybe Sunderland and Middlesbrough are doing the same?

With no Charlton game this weekend, Tuesday's cruncher with Stoke City seems like ages to wait. I hope we can pick up where we left off against the Seasiders because a good performance and win would set the benchmark for the critical home games that follow as well as putting us in a perfect frame of mind to win at Scunny.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Weekend Championship Review

Four correct results again this week and one correct score. That seems to be about typical for this league.

Our draw at Watford sees us drop below Palace into 6th although we are level with them on 44 points. Stoke City are a win away in 4th on 47 points whilst Watford and Bristol City are both level on 48 points and vying for the second automatic place. West Brom are a win ahead of them on 51 points.

The important thing for us right now is that they all come to the Valley between now and 21st March. During that time we would also hope to prosper away from home at Scunthorpe (23rd), Sheffield Wednesday (21st), Blackpool (15th), Sheffield United (14th) and Burnley (9th).

The rivalry with Palace looks set to intensify between now and the end of the season. First they have to come to the Valley for a potentially explosive encounter on Friday 9th February. Both clubs have history here and both will be up for it. For Charlton the incentive is massive; smiting Simon Jordan once again, climbing above Palace, ending their run, doing the double and sending them homeward with their tails well and truly between their legs. Then, in the run in, there are several weekends where British Transpot Police could have their work cut-out as both sets of fans will be travel in similar directions for vital away games; 1st March - Charlton at Sheffield United and Palace at Preston, 19th April - Charlton at QPR and Palace at Watford and then 26th April, Charlton at Barnsley and Palace at Hull City. Let's hope that we are ten points clear of them in second place by then would help defuse any tension!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Watford 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

A point at Watford would have looked like a good result two months ago. This evening it was acceptable but ultimately frustrating when three points were clearly on offer had we been able to take any of the chances created prior to Watford going ahead on the hour. The Hornets had only taken one point at home from the previous five games, so the signs were favourable.

In the first half, Chris Iwelumo might have scored when he got on the end of a good move which saw a penetrating cross played in to him, but he lashed his volley and it flew high over the bar. Lloyd Sam could have scored when put through but he missed the target once again. Darren Amrose should have gone one better but he fired wide on one occasion and also straight at the Keeper on another. Watford had a few chances too and Henderson headed the best wide early on.

At half time I was screaming for a change. Ambrose had been booked and I would have been tempted to withdraw him for failing to do better with his chnaces in the first half. However, Zheng Zhi had hardly touched the ball and no-one would have noticed if he had gone off. Lloyd Sam too had not done enough and he could easily have been replaced. In fact no-one was changed and we persevered.

We continued to look the more likely to score but the Sky commentator had already mentioned that Ellington hadn't scored in 20 appearances for Watford so we knew what to expect. Watford had been finding plenty of space out wide and when running around the box; on 59 minutes Henderson picked a ball on the edge of the box and calmly played it across to Ellington who had been left in two yards of space and he simply had to roll the ball in to open his account and the scoring. Watford then looked capable of getting a second.

Andy Gray was introduced on 68 minutes and, in the circumstances, Iwelumo deserves credit for being professional about his sustitution. Ten minutes later Charlton equalised. Darren Ambrose worked the ball across the front of the Watford defence on the edge of the box, as he had done twice in the first half, but this time his shot was on target and Goalkeeper Lee made a howler as he went down for it.

We then had 12 minutes to go and every prospect of a winner but we didn't do enough. Chris Dickson came on for Lloyd Sam and very quickly had the best chance to wrap things up when he was put clear one-on-one against Lee but he failed to take his shot early enough or to get passed the advancing Keeper. Watford finished the game in the Charlton half and might have a snatched a winner themselves, although that would have been very harsh. All in all the game wasn't a great spectacle but it was raining heavily throughout. Both sides created chances but Charlton had more and the better ones at that. The finishing by both sides was poor, so Andy Gray will fancy his chances of getting off the mark during February.

The really bad news is that we are now behind Palace on goal difference after their win at home to Bristol City. Stoke City won too but West Brom could only scrape a draw at home to Cardiff. What that means is we now have to get the better of Stoke, Palace, Watford and Bristol City in the next five home games if we are to stay in contention for promotion.

The play-off final is 26th May, almost 10 years to the day from our last glorious appearance. A repeat showing looks our best hope for promotion.....

Friday, 18 January 2008

Weekend Championship Preview

Big game for the Addicks tomorrow and the result could be something of a watershed for the season. Things are shaping up nicely; Watford look to be disrupted by the sale of their star frontman Marlon King. Aidy Boothroyd won't be happy if we are to take him at his word earlier in the week. Hopefully the disappointment will be felt elsewhere in their dressing room and the bubbly Reds can take advantage. Like so many of our games this season, first goal looks vital to me. Watford's home form is mid-table and we should be looking to capitalise.

Elsewhere there are again rumours that a "bidding war" for the sulky Jerome Thomas could break out between Derby and Boro! This looks like an double oxymoron - "bidding war" and "Jerome Thomas" is surely an apparent contradiction and the thought of Derby out-bidding Boro (or any other Premier club) at anything is also highly unlikely. Thomas has flattered to deceive for the most part during his time at Charlton and, for me at least, it would be a case of good riddance if we could get £2m for him, although I suspect he'll be freed from his mental anguish for less. Sure he'll also score on his first game against us, but it might allow us to progress and get a left winger who can present a consistent threat as well as being able to cross the ball more than once every other game. Oh, and who can also shoot straight.

Blackpool v Ipswich Town

Ipswich will break their away win duck this season and, whilst Blackpool have only had their colours lowered three times at home, they look out-of-sorts and I think Town might catch them.

Prediction; 0-2

Colchester United v Hull City

Hull should fancy their chances based on current form. They need the points to keep pace with the play-off pack but Colchester need the points equally desperately to get out off the trapdoor. It'll be very close.

Prediction; 1-1

Coventry City v Burnley

It's been a case of one step forward, one step back for Coventry this season. They are due a step forward. If Andy Gray hasn't signed for someone by closing time this evening, Burnley might even decide to rest him!

Prediction; 2-0

Crystal Palace v Bristol City

A draw here would suit us nicely. Both teams are on a roll and City's away record matches Palace's home form for points. I think we can get the draw we need here.

Prediction; 1-1

Norwich City v Leicester City

Norwich home win. Leicester got three points last week and will consign themselves to a defeat if Norwich can get in front.

Prediction; 2-0

Plymouth Argyle v Southampton

South Coast pride at stake, if not exactly a local derby. It's rare for Plymouth to be looking down on the Saints so they will enjoy their moment tomorrow. The feel-good factor might be contagious.

Prediction; 2-1

QPR v Barnsley

Barnsley blooped at home last week and confidence won't be high for their visit to the Smoke. I can see QPR having the advantage and using it.

Prediction; 1-0

Scunthorpe United v Wolverhampton Wanderers

After an encouraging start, Scunthorpe have dropped like a stone and could hit bottom on Saturday. Wolves are poor away from home and were undone easily by Palace last week at Molineux, so they might have a point to prove. Mick McCarthy will be looking over his shoulder at the moment because anything less than a play-off spot is deemed failure at Wolves and is usually rewarded with a longer than wanted Summer holiday.

Prediction; 0-1

Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United

The unpleasant Steel City derby where it's Pigs v Scum or something equally romantic. Everything points to another close game, so you have to fancy the derby draw.

Prediction; 1-1

Stoke City v Preston North End

Home win all over it but we live in hope.

Prediction 2-0

Watford v Charlton Athletic

First goal vital for me - I think we can get it and maybe score again before the inevitable comeback. I'll go for a Varney/Iwelumo scoring combo before 50 minutes are up....

Prediction: 1-2

West Bromwich Albion v Cardiff City

Maybe not the foregone conclusion it might look at first sight. Cardiff are finding form and they have only lost three times away all season. I'm going for a surprise draw.

Prediction; 2-2

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Tonge link more like it

News on the wires today suggests that Alan Pardew is targetting Sheffield United's midfielder Michael Tonge. If this comes to anything, I think it would offer us something we are short of in our midfield - genuine technical ability and significant potential. I'd love to see him play with Reidy.

Tonge was on fire a couple of years ago as a 22-year old and was being touted for allsorts of clubs as well as further international recogition (U-21). His careered has cooled since, in line with Sheffield United's demise and friend of mine from the Steel City says he can be lazy. However, there's no denying his ability and he's the sort of player who could prove to be great value for money if he can get close to his potential.

Pards has also acknowledged the Andy Gray bid but is playing it cool. Talk of interest in Robert Earnshaw may be to spread a bit of fear and uncertainty to force Burnley's hand. Earnshaw would knock six goals in before Easter and then disappear, so I really hope there's nothing to this speculation (and he's so ugly).

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Addicks move for Gray

Charlton have put in a "seven figure" bid for Burnley striker Andy Gray. I am assuming this means closer to £1,000,000 than £9,000,000. Burnley have rejected it, saying Charlton are the only club to have made a bid. Doesn't sound to me like "Gray's going nowhere" which was the Burnley comment last week, more like a beg for other offers. Assuming we don't gazumped by a Premier League club (unlikely), I think we will get our man. You have to assume our strategy for the negotiation included provision for a knock-back and you have to believe we can match Gray's personal terms.

Maybe an offer for Karl Duguid will follow once this is wrapped up. That would certainly match Pards' comments after the Board Meeting last Thursday.

Good to see Kevin Keegan back at Newcastle. They'll still win nothing but there will be fireworks and the Premier League will be more interesting for it. I look forward to seeing him gesticulating in frustration at the Valley next season (or the year after).

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

West Bromwich Albion 2 v Charlton Athletic 2 (WBA win on penalties)

An anticipated defeat at The Hawthorns ended Charlton's interest in the F A Cup for another year, although the manner of the defeat was anything other than anticipated.

In a bold move, Alan Pardew sent out an unchanged side which was something of a surprise bearing in mind the challenge awaiting at Watford on Saturday. Tony Mowbray rested or rotated four players, depending on your view of the quality of the respective individuals; for me, Gera, Teixeira, Albrechtson and Bednar are equal replacements for Brunt, Koren, Robinson and Phillips.

The Addicks competed for most of the first half. Roman Bednar put the Baggies ahead after 14 minutes and Luke Varney missed our best chance of the half on the stroke of half-time when he put the ball over the bar from 8 yards having been set-up by Izale McLeod who had broken from 40 yards to create the opportunity.

The second half started positively as Charlton put West Brom under pressure, but it was from a Charlton corner that West Brom scored their second after 51 minutes. A Holland shot was charged down and Teixeira broke clear of Zheng Zhi to play Morrsion in for a drive which beat Nicky Weaver. Charlton continued to plug away and a persistent Chris Iwelumo (on for McLeod) forced an error from Dean Kiely which fell for Darren Ambrose to convert just after the hour. Charlton then threw everything at Dean Kiely and were unlucky not to score again five minutes later when Kiely saved from Holland and several Charlton follow-up attempts were blocked desperately as West Brom fought to preserve their lead.

With 15 minutes left Lloyd Sam burst clear of Albrechtson but his shot skimmed passed the post. Jerome Thomas and Chris Dickson came on as Alan Pardew pressed all the buttons in an attempt to find an answer. BBC Radio London commentator Clive Walker kept saying this game was not beyond Charlton the way we were playing and he was proved right. West Brom created a couple of chances in the last ten minutes to seal the game but it was Chris Dickson who laughed last as he opened his account at the back post after a cross was played on by Lloyd Sam. Having not wanted the extra 90 minutes, we now found ourselves with an additional 30.

West Brom started the first period of added time brightly and Nicky Weaver pulled off a terrific save from a Bednar break. Madjid Bougherra was struggling (with cramp?) and Charlton survived a mini-onslaught as West Brom tried to land a knock-out punch. McCarthy made a good block on a Brunt shot and then did well to beat Pele to the incoming corner.

As in the first 90, Charlton started the second period of added time the stronger. Iwelumo was inches away from heading in a Varney cross and Chris Dickson lifted the ball over Kiely and claimed to have been impeded in trying to finish it off but the referree was having none of it. Thomas had a good run into the box but sliced his shot in typical fashion. Chris Dickson then had a chance to sew it up; he beat Pele for pace but his shot was tipped onto the post and safety by Dean Kiely. West Brom were tiring fast but hung on for penalties.


Luke Varney missed the first penalty hitting the bar. West Brom scored to go 1 up.

Chris Dickson equalised and Nicky Weaver saved from Greening, 1-1.

Jerome Thomas stepped up to make it 2-1 to Charlton. Koren equalises, 2-2.

Zheng Zhi's penalty saved by Kiely and Morrison puts West Brom 3-2 up.

Madjid Bougherra kept Charlton hopes alive with a cheeky roller but Bednar won it 4-3.

A brave effort and one which will give us a lot of confidence (and determination) that we can beat West Brom at the Valley later in the season. Alan Pardew must take some credit for going for it here tonight and I only hope we don't look tired at Watford on Saturday. We battled well and created enough chances to have won this in 90 minutes. Chris Dickson made the sort of impact we have been hoping for and all of a sudden everyone looks like they want to know. A great time to bring in a couple of new faces and to get Andy Reid back amongst it. We really need a result at Watford to keep us in contention and maintain momentum.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 14 January 2008

Second thoughts on the Community Minutes Applause

Seems like I am in a minority of one over Saturdays' minutes applause for all those with Charlton connections who have died during the last year. Although I wasn't there to witness it, everyone I have spoken to and everything I have read has been very complimentary. I didn't realise that the Club were going to list individuals or that some pictures would be shown on the screen in addition to the names. I understand we also went the extra mile by including some Blackpool fans who have passed away which was a nice gesture bearing in mind their fans were expected to (and did) join in.

In the circumstances, maybe it was a good idea after all. I'll reserve judgement until next season!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Weekend Championship Review

Another topsy-turvey set of results in the Championship this weekend and our division remains the tightest of the four, with only 24 points separating top from bottom.

Norwich's revival under Glenn Roeder continues and a 3-1 win at Barnsley was only their third away from home this season. Colchester did us a favour by picking up a point at Bristol City but by all accounts it should have been all three; Kevin Lisbie missed two sitters at 0-1 which might have killed the game. Burnley beat Plymouth which also helped us and we got the draw from the Ipswich v Stoke game that we wanted. Preston went one better by beating Watford, who are in the midst of a poor run. Only West Brom and Palace victories went against us but you can tolerate that when you also pick up three points.

So, only five correct results this week (one correct score) for me - probably just as well I'm not betting!

Next week's live Sky match at Watford takes on added significance before the F A Cup 4th Round weekend. We really need a win to be sure of keeping Palace at arms length as well as maintaining any hopes of catching Watford. I fancy Palace to beat Bristol City at Selhurst next week and that could put them above us; that would be a psychological blow and put us under bigger pressure against Stoke at the Valley and Scunthorpe away. Three points at Watford, however, would put us just one point behind them and two behind Bristol City assuming they get beaten at Palace. That really would give us something to aim for in the coming weeks because an automatic placing might again look realistic.

I am expecting some transfer activity this week although it's any guess from the names being bandied about who might arrive. As I have said previously, none of the names mentioned so far get me too excited but if we are to sign a striker and a midfielder as per Pards' comments following Thursday's Board Meeting, then I guess Andy Gray and Karl Duguid would be the pick of the crop being mentioned. Interestingly, Duguid didn't play for Colchester at the weekend and their fans think he's on his way out this week. He is Mister Colchester having been there for 12 years. He's a midfield general and can play pretty much anywhere in the side (an Alan Curbishley dream whilst at Charlton). I only hope he's not coming in if it's to soften the blow for Andy Reid's departure. Andy Gray looked a class act at the Valley earlier this year, although we did a lot to help him that day. He's 29 and hardly going to improve significantly over the next few years. He's been pretty central to Burnley's season, so I can't see us getting him but you never know. I think he'd get 10 important goals in the run in and give us another option up front as he's decent in the air and pretty mobile.

West Brom first in the Cup although I can't muster any enthusiasm for this as it looks such a forgone conclusion.

Charlton Athletic 4 v Blackpool 1

A fine win by all accounts with a supportive Valley crowd to boot which has evidently cheered-up Alan Pardew. The win keeps us in touch with West Brom who won at the KC Stadium. We make three points up on Watford who lost at Preston and two points on Bristol City and Stoke who both drew. The bad news is that Palace won again, this time impressively at Wolves and can leap-frog us next weekend if they beat Bristol City at Selhurst and we fail to win at Watford. If we are good enough, we shouldn't be worried!

Yesterday was a footballing disaster for me - I turned up at Elgin City at 1pm hoping to meet up with a former work colleague who is now the Albion Rovers Chairman, only to find that the game had fallen victim to a frozen pitch and that the Albion team had turned around and headed back to Coatbridge. Hard to believe as it was such a nice day. Underterred, a friend and I then decide to go to Lossiemouth to see them play Wick Academy in the Highland League. The frost beat us again here, so I was reduced to following sporadic updates from the Valley via Sky. At least I will be able to watch the Watford game here on the box.

A couple of signings this week would help lift the club a tad and Pardew revealed on Friday that he told the Board he was looking for a replacement for Todorov and a "link-up" midfielder. No mention of full backs or centre-halves....

The trip to West Brom for the cup replay will come as an unwanted diversion ahead of the Watford game, but a result up there would boost confidence, although it looks extremely unlikely and I can see Pards resting four or five. Ordinarily, Watford are ripe for a beating and if Fulham can further upset them on the Marlon King front, or even sign him, we might find the task a little easier. This is definately one of the games we need to win and certainly avoid defeat in if we are to maintain our challenge. Stoke and Palace follow in the coming weeks at the Valley and these games will be piviotal.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Weekend Championship Preview

Back to business this weekend and a chance for the Addicks to cut the gap on some of the teams above us. I will be with you in spirit but will be at Borough Briggs to see Elgin City take on Albion Rovers in the Scottish 3rd Division. The sides sit 6th and 7th respectively so I am expecting a good game. I know the Albion Chairman, so there will be an added interest for me - full report to follow!

Meanwhile, here's how I see things panning out in the Championship.....

Barnsley v Norwich City

Norwich are picking up but Barnsley still have realistic play-off ambitions. They should be too strong at home for Norwich.

Prediction; 2-0

Bristol City v Colchester

Oh what we'd give to see Colchester win two away games in succession. Alas, they won't find Bristol City falling over themselves to concede a goal and I expect all of the play to be in the visitors half.

Prediction; 2-0

Burnley v Plymouth Argyle

Burnley have a terrible home record, having only won two games at Turf Moor. This has prevented them from competing for automatic promotion. Plymouth are on something of a roll under Paul Sturrock and I can see them getting something tomorrow.

Prediction; 1-1

Cardiff City v Sheffield Wednesday

Ooh-er, where do we go here? I'll plump for the home form based purely on Cardiff's decent Christmas. Dave Jones looks to have settled the home fans and now needs some good news from the Board in terms of the bigger financial picture and impending court case which could put them in serious trouble.

Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Blackpool

Another potential banana skin but I think we should have enough momentum from the West Brom game to get a long awaited victory. Surely Pards will have learnt his lesson from starting 4-5-1 against Colchester and will go 4-4-2 from the off. If Chris Dickson gets more than 20 minutes I'll go for him opening his account. Luke Varney or Chris Iwelumo can chip in with the other.

Prediction; 2-0

Hull City v West Bromwich Albion

West Brom can be beaten away from home but I can't see Hull having enough about them here.

Prediction; 0-1

Ipswich Town v Stoke City

Ideally we would want a draw here and there's every chance of it. Ipswich look invincible at home but Stoke are going great guns and will fight all the way.

Prediction; 1-1

Leicester City v Coventry City

Midlands derby and Leicester are traditional strong in these. However, they have been struggling of late and Ian Holloway's impact hasn't been what Milan would have hoped for. He will also be in the midst of bringing in a queue of new players and Coventry can capitalise on the uncertainty.

Prediction; 0-2

Preston North End v Watford

Watford to coast it here. Marlon King will be cock-a-hoop with Premiership transfer speculation and a £4m+ offer for him; I can see him opening and closing the scoring.

Prediction; 0-2

Sheffield United v QPR

Exciting times at Loftus Road with better quality players beginning to arrive in numbers. They will be a threat next season. Sheffield United's inconsistency has cost them automatic promotion hopes and they look like contriving to miss the play-offs this year.

Prediction; 1-1

Southampton v Scunthorpe United

Southampton either win comfortably at home or get lose 1-0. The first goal might be key and I can see Saints getting it and winning well.

Prediction; 3-0

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Crystal Palace

Come on Wolves! I want to be at least 3 points clear of Palace when we play them next month. I expect us to do the double over them but I don't want the ignomy of the them potentially leap-frogging us in the event of another Valley disaster. Palace are on form, but a reversal here would be two in succession and might serve to properly burst the Warnock bubble.

Prediction; 2-0

Thursday, 10 January 2008

If at first you don't succeed.....

Sack the Manager! That's what's happened at Newcastle United yesterday as Sam Allardyce was dumped unceremoniously. For many years I have had an enormous empathy with the Geordie Nation (for a number of personal reasons as well as their love of football and traditional loyalty etc) but it is beginning to wear thin. For me , they look like someone entering old age who has a bitterness for lost opportunity and who may be on the verge of manic depression or worse.

They are the latest "top" Premier Club for whom anything apart from instant success is now no longer good enough. Ironic this considering their history. Allardyce had just 24 games in charge. He leaves them 11th in the Premier League and still in the F A Cup. He spent £24m during the Summer strengthening the squad and brought in a large team of professionals and experts to Newcastle with him which will cost additional millions in compensation. I really hope they know what they are doing but I suspect they don't and they will pay the price sooner or later. Fire-sale signs will be put up during the January transfer window - we can expect Alan Curbishley to pounce.

You have to feel sorry for Big Sam. He suffered from a long list of injuries, particularly to his new signings and never escaped the stigma of having built an over-performing Bolton side that profitted from a physical emphasis and direct style of football. The Newcastle public weren't happy from the off but the Board were undeterred. Shame on them then that they have pressed the panic button and sacked him.

As Charlton fans, I think we can talk from experience of the benefits of perseverance with your manager as well as the perils of quick managerial changes. Let's hope our Board are paying attention and that some of our more temperamental supporters bare this in mind during the months ahead.

Speaking of the Board and our Manager, apparently they meet as scheduled today to discuss January transfer options. We are lead to believe a spate of transfer activity will follow. I find this strange if true. Surely the time for planning your transfer moves should be at the December Board Meeting and it should warrant a discussion in the first days of January and not be left to the formal date of the next session? Nonetheless, I'm sure we'll find out if the first few faces arrive in the next few days.......

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Transfer Speculation

I'm slightly disappointed that we haven't brought anybody in just yet (ok so it is only 9th), but I guess we should balance this with the fact that nobody has gone either. Plenty of speculation out there and the only credence would appear to be that they are getting the positions right - strikers, centre-half and right-back so far.

Nothing has caught the imagination - Greg Halford a possible Danny Mills replacement from Sunderland to get cover or competition for Yassin Moutaouakil? Stuart Fleetwood, a prolific Forest Green striker - hardly likely to be serious for this season based upon the Chris Dickson experience to date. Centre-half Darren Purse from Cardiff? Maybe a case of wishful thinking based upon the two or three previous occasions Curbs was linked with him in his younger days.

Andy Gray from Burnley might set the pulse racing a bit based upon his performance at the Valley earlier this season, but he's 30 and it's hard to see Burnley's incentive for selling.

Against that there is a piece today that Sundeland have enquired about the injured Andy Reid. This was also likely and may just be journalistic licence although the Irish angle with Roy Keane at least supports the story. Surely not unless the money was silly - £7m plus - and enabled us to buy a suitable replacement? Without him we will can kiss the play-offs goodbye. Personally, I think we need another midfielder of Reid's quality to provide cover for what looks like his frequent absences and also to bolster our tackling and holding options when he is playing.

Come on Pards, put us out of our misery.....

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

A minutes community applause?

As I have already said, I won't be there on Saturday for the Blackpool game as I will be in Scotland. I will draw a mild comfort from the fact that I will miss the planned minutes applause for all those in our "community" who have died in the last year. I don't want to sound like a hard-heart or grumpy old man, but I find this excruciatingly embarrassing, and frankly, a bit offensive.

The minutes silence and now the minutes applause has become a regular event at football matches and it seems the clubs are all keen to do it at every possible opportunity. The Marketeers must love it as do the television companies who expose what is meant to look like a minutes private grieving to the noses of their audience. Every former player now gets his minute, irrespective of how many times he represented the club or his actual contribution. Anyone associated with the club also gets their minute and in recent years we have extended it for most national tragedies and the departure of senior figures.

The net effect for me is that we have devalued the minute for those who deserve it most. Players of their generation who would be readily recognised deserve their moment as does anyone who has made a known contribution to the club. I think there is a case for a minute for some national figures and incidents because it gives us an opportunity to stand together (literally) and show solidarity and respect, but these should be limited to the Queen, a serving PM or events like the London bombings.

On Saturday, most people will stand there wondering what's going on. Those who have lost someone during the year, even a Charlton fan (I have), will presumably have already paid their last respects and done their grieving. Sorry, but this is just more PC nonsense. In future I will ensure I stay in the pub for an extra pint to ensure I avoid these spectacles.

Monday, 7 January 2008

What a fuss about nothing

The ether is abuzz with news that "Pardew attacks Charlton fans." Tom Cary has written a scurrilous piece in the Telegraph today which has set the web alight. However, if you read the actually quotes attributed to Pardew, it looks like a distinct case of 2 + 2 = 7. I expect a correction at any moment.

From what I can see, all Alan Pardew has been doing is bemoaning the lack of atmosphere at the Valley in recent weeks and urging the fans, drum and all, to get behind the side. He acknowledges being a bit "irritated" by the fact that we have been welcoming returning heroes lately and they have responded by putting in good performances which have cost us - Messrs Lisbie and Kiely most recently. Let's face it, it is more than irritating isn't it? Doesn't sound too much of an attack to me. Pardew has then provided Mr Cary with some additional ammunition by saying "nicely, nicely" is typical of Charlton, what with our Red, Red, Robin anthem etc. Hardly a crime and I think your average Charlton fan likes his or her club the way it is thank you very much.

What we would rather have, a manager who joined in the praise for opponents every week and accepted us not getting results easily? No Alan, stand your ground my son, even if you do feel moved to explain yourself!

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v West Bromwich Albion 1

Having been beaten after 90 seconds for the Charlton opener, Dean Kiely produced a superb display to earn the Baggies a replay. This was a much better performance from an enthusiastic Charlton side who played 4-4-2 from the start and probably deserved to win the game - just a pity there weren't more Charlton fans there to see it.

Weaver started in goal and Sam Sodje-lookalike, Kelly Youga, made a fine debut at left back. In the absence of an injured Jonathan Fortune, Paddy McCarthy partnered Madjid Bougherra at centre-back. Yassin Moutaouakil was at right-back and provided foraging support for Lloyd Sam in the first half before taking a much more attacking second-half role as Sam moved inside. Holland and Zheng Zhi were in central midfield and Darren Ambrose was on the right. That left Luke Varney and Izale McLeod upfront.

Charlton could hardly have had a better start. Having played their way forward and into the West Brom box, Zheng Zhi turned and fired in a snap shot which beat Kiely's dive and squeezed in off the upright. We continued to attack West Brom for the opening 20 minutes when it looked like a second was on the cards. However, we were lacking height upfront and West Brom were in no danger from high balls into the box and they defended everything played in on the ground. Gera and Greening were finding plenty of space in midfield and prompting increasing Albion attacks - it was one of these that gave West Brom parity. A superb ball over the top of Moutaouakil was met in full flight by Chris Brunt who burst clear in the left and his cross was steered home by Ishmail Miller on 30 minutes. The first half petered out after that.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second half were poor and full of mistakes, especially from Charlton, who looked to be trying too hard. Things improved after that and we began to create a succession of chances that should have given us the lead. McLeod was first to see his shot saved by Kiely as he was played in one-on-one. Luke Varney then finished off a fine Charlton move as he picked up a cut-back from Moutaouakil to shoot for the top right-hand corner, but Deano clawed that one to safety too. Ambrose had been creating from the left as well but most of his balls were crosses which the West brom defence were much more comfortable with. The Covered End faithful had been chanting "we want Chris Dick-son" for fully ten minutes before Pardew made a triple substitution as he gambled for the game. Grant Basey, Chris Iwelumo and Chris Dickson came on for Ambrose, McLeod and Varney. Charlton's high tempo continued, particularly down Moutaouakil's right and he was creating space for Sam as well as getting behind the West Brom right-back. Dickson was unfortunate to have an effort blocked by Kiely at the back post and was a foot short from connecting with a throughball that might have given him the chance he looked desperate for.

Charlton attacked for the final 4 minutes of added time but had to settle for a draw. The replay will favour West Brom but we should be confident we can go one better when they visit the Valley in the league. All in all this was a much better performance than of late. My man of the match vote was clear and easy. Kelly Youga was absolutely outstanding. He did not put a foot wrong, especially in the first half when he saw a lot of the ball. He has amazing energy and seems to be running at full pelt all the time. He is quick to move forward and support his midfield and was also across quickly to cover his centre-halves. Pardew should not be looking at anyone else for left-back next time out, even though Grant Basey looked strong when he came in on the left for Ambrose.

Weaver had little to do. McCarthy and Bougherra coped well with Ishmail Miller and were well supported by their full-backs. Holland and Zheng Zhi both had busy afternoons because they played second fiddle to their Albion counterparts, particularly Greening. Lloyd Sam had a decent match but still needs to find the confidence to beat the last man and shoot.

In summary, I think Pardew will be well pleased with his team and may have cause for more optimism, especially if we can get another one or two fit and in contention before the Blackpool game. It would be a big bonus at this point if we can actually make a couple of decent signings as well.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Against my better judgement...

I have decided to go to tomorrow's F A Cup tie against West Brom at the Valley against my better judgement (my Wife is none too pleased as she has cancelled the baby-sitter and now has no option). I have done so because I believe Alan Pardew will give a couple of debuts and because we should see an attacking formation. No-one wants a replay.

The strong hints are that Moutaouakil and Youga will play and I am also keen not to miss the much vaunted debut of Chris Dickson, although I suspect he may only get on as a sub. If he doesn't, the only conclusion we can draw is that he was brought back from the Gills as injury cover for Iwelumo, Varney or McLeod. This would be very disappointing, especially as he looks to be off to the African Cup of Nations after tomorrow.

On paper this looks like a relatively straightforward West Brom victory but our home form tends to indicate that we manage the opposite from what's expected and we are more than capable of throwing a surprise. Whilst West Brom have looked best-placed to win the title, their away form is a little shaky and if we get at them we can cause them problems. Additionally, there's every chance Tony Mowbray might field a weakened side.

The other reason I have decided to go is because I am off to Scotland for a couple of weeks and won't see another live match (I'll get Watford on Sky) until 26th, if we're in the 4th round, or 29th when we entertain Stoke in the second of the "six-pointers" we face in the second-half of the season.

Team I'd like to see tomorrow; Weaver (or Randolph), Youga, Fortune, Bougherra, Moutaouakil, Thomas, Holland (or Racon), Semedo, Sam, Varney and Dickson. Subs; Iwelumo, Mcleod, Zheng Zhi, McCarthy, Randolph (or Weaver).

My guess is that the attendance will be well south of 20,000 in spite of a decent Baggies support. I don't think they will sellout the away end (they will for the league game). I'll shoot for 16, 500. I can also see us going down to a late goal after a much improved performance, although I live in hope.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

The day after the day before......

I am still angry about yesterdays' shambles but I have calmed down a good bit and have been thinking about our prospects for next season.

If we fail to go up, then we will probably strengthen the squad before August and the majority of the current crop of players will be 20% better for the experience of a full season together. We will have a clearer view of the Championship and I believe we will get more points next season - let's face it, it's not hard to imagine playing better at home. The only risk of competing another season in the Championship is that we will need to finish above at least two of the sides who come down as well as everyone else. Whoever comes down will probably be stronger than Watford, Sheffield United and ourselves when we fell through the trapdoor.

If we are fortunate enough to get up, we do not look anywhere near good enough to compete and you only have to look at Derby County to realise how miserable next year could be in comparison to a possible promotion season. We really need to go back with a squad of players who look like they might give it a go, a la Reading or Wigan, and not just be Premier League fodder.

Having said that, I'd take it now if offered and face the consequences. We might come down a better side and financially stronger and that would be preferable to the gamble of another season competing in the Championship with the attendant risks of becoming mediocre or worse.

I haven't been able to bring myslef to walk around and get tickets for Saturday yet. My wife's not bothered and the Old man has said he's only going if I do. I can't believe I'm thinking like this - I haven't missed an F A Cup game at the Valley since I started going back in 1977!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v Colchester United 2

Today's game promised to summarise the sesason so far and show us the way ahead in terms of final season ambitions. I think it managed to do both.

Kevin Lisbie was not a good enough player to play for Charlton in the Premiership but he demonstrated today that he is more than good enough to play against us in the Championship. His two first half goals (one a penalty he earned and scored) gave us too much to do and we slipped to an embarrassing home defeat in spite of creating eight decent chances in the first half and nearly as many in the second.

Let me start with the formation. We got this wrong again from the start. The back four was as anticipated, Bougherra, McCarthy, Fortune and Powell. In midfield Alan Pardew again opted for five with Thomas, Holland, Semedo, Zheng Zhi and Sam, leaving Chris Iwelumo alone upfront. We needed to go with two up front and Varney should have started with Iwelumo.

As a result, we opened cautiously and whilst we enjoyed much of the early possession, there was precious little in the final third and Colchester were encouraged to come forward. Kevin Lisbie was looking to run at our back four every chance he got and he was thwarted on two occasions (Fortune and Weaver) before he was brought down for a penalty on 15 minutes. This will benefit from a detailed explanation of what happened; Jonathan Fortune picked up a long ball over the top from Colchester and he played it across the centre to McCarthy. McCarthy then rolled it out to Bougherra in the right-back position and Bougherra decided he was going to play the ball out of defence. He played the ball forward with his first touch, but too far in front of himself and his second touch was a block tackle which he lost comprehensively. As Mark Yeates broke down the flank in acres of space, Bougherra was left lying face-down, more from embarrassment from the mistake than any pain from the tackle. The ball through to Lisbie was perfect and McCarthy couldn't stay with him. He brought him down in a mock stumble that probably saved him from a straight red card and he escaped with just the yellow. Lisbie finished easily and the warning had been served.

Annoyingly, nothing changed as a result of the penalty and the thought of the unthinkable was on my mind when the ball pinged around the Charlton box again with several of our defenders taking it in turns to fail to clear the ball properly. It eventually dropped to Lisbie with his back to goal and McCarthy "up his arse." Don't ask me how, but Lisbie somehow managed to smash the ball into the roof of the net with an overhead kick of sorts. I'll have to see it again because it beggared belief and whilst it may have been the best bit of skill he's ever produced at the Valley, I suspect it was aided and abetted by McCarthy's and Co's inept defending.

It only took another ten minutes for Alan Pardew to make a change. Luke Varney was brought on and the formation shuffled to 4-4-2. Two goals and 36 minutes too late. What was really telling was the substitution. Zheng Zhi had been wondering around in a trance, and the Chinese New Year is weeks away. He was continually out of position and had lost possession with almost every touch. The switch looked obvious but Pardew was clearly more concerned with the performance of the defence. Not only was McCarthy subbed but Bougherra was brought into his more comfortable centre-half position and Semedo moved to right back. Paddy McCarthy was clearly unhappy and he marched straight passed Pardew without a look from either and down the tunnel. The good work of the last few games seemingly undone.

We looked much better in the final ten minutes of the first half. For the first time we were playing with urgency, support and intelligence. Thomas wasted a fine run with a trade-mark skewed shot which missed the gaping target. Iwleumo flicked a header from a corner down across the face of goal and just wide. Then we struck. Lloyd Sam finally got a cross in having beaten his man and Iwelumo dummied at the near post which left Varney to apply the finish on the six yard line. We were flying at this point and Varney had the ball in the net two minutes later but had fouled the keeper in winning the ball. Half-time came five minutes too early and Colchester got their breather.

The second half started disappointingly slowly and although we created enough good chances to have more than deserved an equiliser, we didn't match the tempo of the last ten minutes of the first half. Chris Iwelumo missed the best chance after Lloyd Sam skated in behind the full-back and fired the ball across the face of goal. Big Chris slid in a second too late to convert. Colchester were all over the place at times in the second half but they had a lead to protect and they did enough to hold on. Kevin Lisbie was surprisingly substituted after 70 minutes but Colchester were on count-down.

So, another disappointing home performance has resulted in another defeat against a side we should be beating in style. Poor defending has combined with equally bad finishing to cost us dearly. Giving away the lead at home has almost become de rigeur. There isn't a lot of quality in the Championship and we haven't got enough to mark us out for an automatic return. A play-off spot will be the best we can expect and I now believe this might be beyond us unless we get some better players back or in during the next three weeks. You have to ask why Chris Dickson isn't being given a run? I suspect he'll figure against West Brom in an experimental side, although Hull, Norwich and Colchester would have been easier teams against which to blood him.