Monday, 31 March 2008

Free Season Tickets to be Honoured

Following my earlier posting about the club's predicament over how to handle season ticket renewals to avoid losing several thousand season ticket holders in the Summer, I have been reliably informed that this subject will the discussion of a Board Meeting at the Valley tomorrow morning.

If my source is correct, the Club will take the unprecedented step of honouring the free season ticket deal before the season has finished and irrespective of whether or not promotion has been secured. The risk of losing 5,000+ season ticket holders is too great and the Board do not want to see a step back towards the days of gates of 15,000. The move would undoubtedly prove popular and the cost of £6m is likely to be met by Alan Pardew's Summer transfer budget being scrapped. That means he would need to fashion a team from a smaller squad than we have today but all are confident we have the nucleus of a side that will be ready to challenge next season.

The bold move is the Board's latest step in breaking new ground and is their way of showing the same faith in Charlton season-ticket holders that we showed in the club when faced with relegation last Spring. Expect an announcement tomorrow.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Charlton Athletic 2 v Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

Our team did the decent thing today and put us out of our misery. No more talk of X wins from Y games. No more ifs and buts. It's all over. We have failed miserably in our attempts to regain Premier League status and I, for one, am happy enough for the confirmation of that. We are woefully short on many fronts and promotion would have been an embarrassment. Frankly, I feel a little bit sorry for Stoke and Bristol City because one of them could beat the record Derby have set today for earliest relegation from the top flight if they make it. Hull City are crowing too but they also look like Octogenranians in tea-shirts on the summit of Everest.

We didn't play badly today but were always second best. Wolves looked like they were battling for the play-offs away from home and we looked like a relegation threatened home team, which in many ways reflects the situation perfectly. Sylvain Ebanks-Blake crashed home a superb opener after 15 minutes of Wolves domination from the start and remained a threat until being withdrawn after scoring an equally impressive solo second. In between ,times he could have had a third if his shot hadn't come off the post (and been skewed wide by Karl Henry).

We mustered little in the first half. Leroy Lita was desperate to get the ball but looked incompetant when he did. Supply was again a problem although Thomas looked more up for it than usual. Ambrose was anonymous and unsurprisingly withdrawn for Zheng Zhi at half time. Holland and Semedo fought hard in midfield but were out-gunned. We did manage an equaliser from a fine 20 yard strike by Greg Halford but it was hardly deserved.

Charlton upped the ante in second half. Greg Halford struck a beautiful free-kick but Hennessey was equal to it with a superb finger-tip save. Leroy Lita went close and began to look likely to score. We had a 15 minute spell where the winner was on the cards but we just weren't forcing it enough and both sides were introduicng substitions. Lee Cook, on for Jerome Thomas, flashed a long-range shot wide, but this was the cue for Ebanks-Blake to take the initiative and he did so in style turning Paddy McCarthy inside out before hammering home from an acute angle. I gave it another five minutes but left at 1-2. The roar as I entered Harvey Gardens told me we had managed an undeserved equaliser but I arrived at the Royal Oak in time to see the replay of Karl Henry's winner. Lita headed the second and deserved it more than we did based upon his second -half performance.

Wolves are a better side than I have given them credit for and, frankly, I hope they can nick the 6th spot. Their turnout was disappointly poor at c 1,000. Yes, it was a televised game and their record on Sky is not much better than ours, but they are on a good run of form heading for the play-offs and are a "big" club. No, we wouldn't have had any more at their place in reverse circumstances, but I don't judge them by our meagre standards. The official attendance of 23,000 odd needs a word of explanation too, because there were significantly less than 20,000 people in the ground. I sit in a row of 11 and there were 14 of us in the three rows where I am. All are season ticket holders and 5 of those present were guests. Things are bad and I fear we might have more trauma to come.

Alan Pardew has been pretty honest as a Manager and has taken responsibility where necessary. It's time he did so again and stopped the charade of "mathematical" promotion. We need to finish the season with two dignified home performances.

Roll on Summer.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Weekend Championship Preview

Six weekends of Seasonus Horriblis left to go and we kick-off against annual under-achievers Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Valley on Saturday. Scott Sinclair has left to show his lightning speed and goal-threat at Crystal Palace, so there will one one less sulker for Alan Pardew to worry about. I have viewed this Wolves match as a straightforward home win all season and nothing, not even current form convinces me otherwise. Wolves don't have a good track record against peer/better sides and we do. I can see us claiming three points and building ourselves up again for Home Park which might be something of decider in terms of lingering play-off hopes. Anyhow, this is my take on the rest....

Bristol City v Norwich City

Norwich are enjoying some decent form but may be breathing easier after crushing Colchester last week. Bristol City lost at Cardiff last time out and will want to maintain their automatic push but the pressure will be on them and I've said all along I can't see them doing it.

Prediction; 1-1

Burnley v Barnsley

Burnley are a couple of points behind us and know that they must win their remaining games at Turf Moor. Barnsley's players will want to stay booking and injury-free ahead of their F A Cup semi-final. Home win!

Prediction; 2-0

Cardiff City v Southampton

Southampton are in dire straights and could be in the bottom three come 5pm on Saturday. They had a lack-lustre 0-0 at home to fellow strugglers Coventry last week and I can see them going down here away from home to the F A Cup hopefuls .

Prediction; 2-0

Charlton Athletic v Wolverhampton Wanderers

As I have said, I don't rate Wolves and they were fortunate to beat us at Molineux this year. I expect us to gain revenge and leapfrog them in the process.

Prediction; 2-0

Coventry City v Plymouth Argyle

And we think we've had a poor season! Big club Coventry were expected to challenge this year. Iain Dowie (where's he?) lead them towards the wrong end of the season and much of the blame was laid at the uncertainty surrounding the takeover of the club. Ray Ransom finally rode into a town that wanted him and they got a bit of a bounce having unloaded Jonah Dowie. However, the improvement has been short-lived and they are down there with Southampton, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday, one of who looks odds-on to drop. You wouldn't want to be playing Plymouth right now either.

Prediction; 0-1

Crystal Palace v Blackpool

Blackpool have been pissing on people's chips all season and we'd all like to see them do it just one more time. However, their season looks over in mid-table and Neil Warnock should get enough from his team to win this. Expect Scott Sinclair to come on and make a late goal.

Prediction; 2-0

Hull City v Watford

This looks like match of the day. A real ding-dong in prospect. Hull are finishing strongly but lack the quality in depth of Watford. My money's on another Watford away win.

Prediction; 1-2

Ipswich Town v QPR

QPR are ending the season well and should be a threat next year. They will encounter a bouyant home side tomorrow who will probably have too much desire for them.

Prediction; 2-1

Leicester City v Scunthorpe United

Relegation nail-biter at the Walker Stadium. Fresh from a home defeat last week by Hull, Leicester have the chance to hammer a relegation nail into the Scunthorpe coffin. I won't miss them.

Prediction; 2-0

Preston NE v Sheffield United

Mid-table nothing in prospect here. I'll go with home advantage.

Prediction; 2-0

Sheffield Wednesday v Stoke City

Sheffiled Wednesday don't belong in the third tier and Stoke don't belong in the first. Justice at Hillsborough please!

Prediction; 2-1

West Bromwich Albion v Colchester United

If West Brom pick up their games in hand they will move into an automatic place that they deserve. By battering Colchester tomorrow that should become the top-slot.

Prediction; 5-0

If I am right with my predictions, we would move up to 9th with Argyle away next week. It could be over sooner than Alan Pardew thinks. Let's hope I am wrong.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Player of the Year?

It's that time of year. Our season is fizzling out and we are being asked to vote for the Player of the Year beginning on Saturday. The Club website tells us that "the Charlton Athletic Supporters' Club award is the highest accolade an Addick can receive, and this season, the choice is greater than ever before" as we have used more players than at any other time since 1921-22. "So that means some tough decisions." It certainly does because there are no clear-cut candidates for me which is a first.

Goalkeepers invariably do well in this when you are a Charlton supporter and they always start with the sympathy vote. Nicky Weaver has, I guess, done as much as anyone else although I can't compare him to Dean Kiely and there is still a lot more he could do to improve his game.

The defence has struggled for much of the season and it's difficult to nominate anyone here because none of them have had a prolonged run due to loss of form or injury. Paddy McCarthy is late contender but I can't forget how awful he was when he started and the goals he gave away early on which punctured our start.

Andy Reid would probably have been a shoo-in if he had stayed but I am struggling elsewhere in midfield. Matty Holland would win if showing heart was the criteria and Zheng Zhi has also tried valiantly, but I don't see either fitting the bill of Player of the Year.

That leaves our front-men who have also largely struggled, albeit due largely to a lack of supply. Luke Varney is a very good all-round footballer and his effort has been expemplary but his lack of goals count against him. That pretty much leaves Chris Iwelumo, whose effort has been total and who managed a fair goal return in the first half of the season. He has given way (been rested) in the second half of the season to Andy Gray and now Leroy Lita but still gives everything he has when introduced. As I said, there are no clear-cut candidates. Bearing this in mind I expect the lowest turn-out in recent history.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Player Verdicts 2007-08

Last minute goals rescued points for several of our play-off rivals today, notably Palace and Wolves. There are still 6 or 7 games to go but I have resigned myself to another Championship season-ticket next year. With that in mind, I spent several days this week thinking about the players we have and trying to decide what I would do in Alan Pardew's shoes during the Summer as he prepares for what will probably be a defining season for him as Charlton Athletic Manager.


Nicky Weaver has had a decent season, particularly when you consider the defensive instability in front of him at times. He had a hard act to follow, so I won't be overly critical, but his shot stopping, whilst impressive enough, too frequently leads to goals from the follow-ups. I would keep him on and play him as first choice but we need to be very clear about the second and third choice Keepers. To my mind these need to be players who are pushing for a place on merit and occasionally displacing Weaver when he's had a poor game or two and not there purely for emergencies. I am not convinced Randolph or Elliott are viewed by the club as good enough to displace Weaver other than in an emergency. I haven't seen enough of either of them to draw my own conclusions but if I am close in my suspicions, then I would like to see one of them changed out for an experienced Keeper to be used to keep Weaver on his toes.

Left Backs

Chris Powell has had a superb career at Charlton and deserves to be given the opportunity to show what he can do in a coaching role. At 39 (in September), it would be unfair to expect him to perform again at this level and we have several young guns who are ready to be brought on.

Ben Thatcher will be 33 in November. His chances have been limited by injury this season but he offers good experience and bags of steel, although his lack of discipline on occasions is costly. I would be tempted to keep him for another season unless we could get any decent money for him or if he'sa big wage earner (probably).

Kelly Youga has had a great year in terms of development. He is still only 22 and coming to terms with English league football. After being blooded at Scunthorpe for the early part of the season he made an impressive Charlton start in January. He needs to improve his distribution but looks a real prospect. Could hold a first team place in a challenging side next season.

Grant Basey is only 19 and a Charlton youth product. He made an impressive debut in October and followed up with five more strong appearances. He should be challenging Kelly Youga for the number 3 shirt next season.

That leaves the much-rumoured Cory Gibbs. An international we signed two years ago under the noses of Premiership rivals but who has failed to start a single first team game (was there one?) due to successive injuries. I suspect he's only got a year or less left on his contract and is worth one last fling in August, otherwise we should cut our losses and stop the jokes.

Right Backs

Right-back has been something of an Achilles Heel this season.Yassin Moutaouakil looked like a top performer in the first couple of games but injury stalled his career and we have had to take Greg Halford on loan to cover after Danny Mills sulked off back to Man City at Christmas. Moutaouakil is still only 21 and should be looking forward to starting afresh in August as first choice.

Meanwhile, Greg Halford has proved an able loanee. His indisriminate passing in recent weeks has upset some quarters but for me, he has looked capable of playing in a Championship winning side and I would be keen to secure him full-time if Sunderland are keen to cut their wage bill.

Osei Sankofa is another youth prodigy but at 23 has been around a few seasons without actually establishing himself. He has been unfortunate with injuries and was also competing with Luke Young in the Premiership. Needs to make his mark next season or be moved on. Good enough to keep for now.

Central Defence

Early season wobbles here cost us dear and eventually lead to the loan signing of Sam Sodje which seems to have had the effect of giving us a better player and also getting the rest of the Centre-backs to up their games.

Paddy McCarthy had a nightmare start to his Charlton career after a move from Leicester City. He couldn't put a foot right and showed tremendous character to fight his way back into the team and demonstrate why he was Leicester Player of the Year in 06-07. He has shown fight in games during the last couple of months when no-one else has had any (maybe with the exception of Matt Holland). He is capable of playing in a Championship winning side next season.

Sam Sodje is on loan from Reading but has proven himself a capable Centre-Half and one I would happily watch again next year if we can get him permanently, although I suspect he could be back in the Premier League with someone else next year.

Madjid Bougherra was signed from Sheffield Wednesday last season and hailed as something special and one for the future. I haven't been overly impressed with him so far. He looks to have the height and pace required as well as an eagerness to join the play in midfield, but he is prone to major lapses and unforced errors and desperately needs to eradicate these and get a spell of settled performances. He's actually a year older than McCarthy, which is something of a surprise and I think he needs to prove his value next season or be moved on if we could get our money back.

Jonathan Fortune is our most experienced Centre-Half and the longest serving player? On his day he has competed with the best e.g. Alan Shearer. However, this year he has looked like he thinks he's too good for the Championship and can stroll through games. As a result he's been caught out badly on a number of occassions for soft goals and he has the arrogance to make it look like he doesn't actually believe he was responsible. With hindsight it might have been better for us if he had gone to Stoke. If Sodje could be retained next year or we can sign another competent centre-half, I'd try and sell him on.

Central Midfield

We have struggled in central midfield all season. We have no natural ball-winners and, in the absence of Andy Reid, no-one capable of regularly opening defences or delivering killer through-balls. Matt Holland, bless him, has played his heart out. He looks older than his 34 (in April) years and has always been one-paced. He stopped scoring regularly when we signed him from Ipswich Town, but for all that, he actually tries his hardest everytime he steps onto the field. In a stronger midfield he would not have been so obviously exposed but him and Zheng Zhi are too similar to play togther and hold the middle. I can't see Matt Holland driving a Championship winning midfield and needs better players around him or end up being used as a "20-minuter." maybe time for him to drop down a division.

Zheng Zhi has proven himself capable of competing in the Championship but not of dominating his position. Like Holland he needs stronger players around him and would benefit from playing in a better side than ours. The decision about what to do with ZZ depends on who we can bring in to hold the midfield. His best position might be just behind a front pairing or lone striker but he's a luxury we can't afford with our current midfield options.

Jose Semedo promised much in the Friendlies this year. At 23 he is still finding his feet in English league football but has shown enough to suggest he could yet develop into a special player. He's back in the side after a couple of months out and he is a decent utility player. One to be kept on next season.

Dean Sinclair was a strange signing. A 23 year old pro with league experience from Barnet, he's pretty much been on loan ever since which questioned the wisdom of signing him in the first place.

Thierry Racon was another strange signing. Like Yassin Moutaouakil, a promising French youngester, but unlike Yassin, one Alan Pardew has been content playing in the reserves and now loaning out to Brighton. Presumably he will feature in the fuure?

Left Wingers

A problem position for us this season in which we have often played right-footed Ambrose or Andy Reid, not a natural wide player (not in that sense anyway). A lack of decent supply from the left has been a major contributory factor to the shortage of goals from the strikers.

Jerome Thomas should have sewn this spot up all season and earned himself a big-money Summer move to a Premier side. Unfortunately he has had another unfulfilling season where he has been content to come on as a substitute and show-boat without actually creating the mayhem and damage that wingers are supposed to. Undoubtedly talented on the ball, his crossing lets him down and that is actually better than his shooting. It's no wonder he hasn't scored all year (for Charlton). He needs a move and a kick up the arse which we don't appear to have been able to give him. Perhaps Arsenal realised this a lot quicker than we have done.

Scott Sinclair joined us as a late loanee and has been limited to several poor substitute performances. Rumoured to already want back to Chelsea's third team, the sooner the better for me.

I think it's fair to say that a natural left winger with a supply line of crosses is a major Summer requirement.

Right Wingers

Slightly more to choose from but the same problem as the left flank in terms of shortage of crosses.

Lloyd Sam is 23 and has played all his football at the Valley. A prolific youth player, he has had plenty of opportunities this year to dominate the left flank but has failed to do so. He is comfortable on the ball and has pace but has a tendency to go missing for long periods in games. A mood player, too often this year the mood in the side has not been right for him and he looks unable to up the ante on his own. Needs to watch more John Robinson videos. Definately worth another season but we must have good cover if he's not doing it.

Darren Ambrose is more of a utility player I guess, but right winger is where he should be most effective. I am often hyper-critical of him but it's probably got more to do with him failing to deliver to his potential than him being a bad player. On his day he is a match-winner but there are too many other days when he disappears like Lloyd Sam. Technically he's better than most of the players in our midfield but he doesn't naturally command any position there or up front. Valuable as a utility player, we should have good enough position players in all shirts to prevent him getting a game. When that day comes, it might be time to move him on - it probably won't be next season!

Martin Christensen fits the Thierry Racon and Dean Sinclair model i.e. not quite sure why we bought them. Good enough to play for Denmark but not ready for the Valley when we've been desperate. If he isn't likely to feature in the first team before Christmas, he should be moved on.

Lee Cook is another loanee who has joined with a big reputation and apparently come for the promotion push. Unfortunately that won't be happening and neither will he be appearing in a Charlton shirt next season.


Ultimately disappointing for us this year although a lot of the blame for that lies with ineffective midfields often working overtime to prevent being over-run and a dismal supply line from the flanks.

Chris Iwleumo lead the charge up until pre-Christmas with 9 goals including a number of late winners away from home. He will never play in the Premier League and, at 30 this year, this is probably as good as it gets for him. However, he has done everything asked of him and a good bit more. Worth another season but we need better quality options when he's injured or we need to change it upfront. Toss up between him and Varney for my Player of the Year.

Svetoslav Todorov has had a miserable debut year for us. He managed less than ten appearances before a crude and unpunished Plymouth tackle ended his season. He had shown enough though in the games he did play to show he is still capable of playing top-of-the-table stuff in the Championship. Hopefully he'll be like a new signing come August.

Luke Varney will be disappointed with his season. This was his big chance to emerge on the Championship goal-scoring scene and he hasn't taken it. Again, I think there are mitigating circumstances and there is a lot more to Luke's game than scoring goals although he should have had five or so more from the chances he's had. He reminds me of Gary Nelson and if he can match Nelson's return in the seasons to come, that will do very nicely thank-you. A definate starter for 08-09.

Izale Mcleod hasn't managed to make any impact since his arrival this year. Admittedly he has had limited opportunities and has suffered like the other strikers from lack of supply but his substitute appearances have gone almost unnoticed. Bearing in mind the abundance of striking opportunities available, I think we need to cash our chips in on Izale as soon as we can get close to a refund.

Until his freak accident ended his season prematurely, Chris Dickson was the one Summer signing that was an undoubted hit. Unfortunately, much of it was for Gillingham in lower league football, but he has shown enough to provide hope for next year. Again, like Todorov, he could look like a new signing come August.

Andy Gray joined in January to provide the goals we needed for automatic promotion. The fact that he has yet to score isn't the reason we have drifted towards mid-table but he can't have too much confidence right now. He's still our top scorer for the season based on the 16 goals he netted for Burnley, so hopefully it's only a matter of time and opportunity.

Leroy Lita is another loanee who must be wishing he'd stayed put. Four outings so far and no goals and no evidence of getting any soon. He might try harder at Reading next season.

In Conclusion

- Greg Halford and Sam Sodje should be sceured as permanent signings if at all possible. Another right-back is a priority in the event we can't get Halford.

- We need at least one new central midfielder capable of tackling and holding the midfield. Ideally two.

- We need both a right and left winger capable of crossing as well as getting five or six goals each themselves during a season.

- We might consider getting another experienced Goalkeeper unless we are serious about using Randolph or Elliott to keep Weaver motivated.

- If we can get a return, we should consider selling Thatcher, Fortune, Thomas as well as Bent and Faye!

- Powell should move upstairs.

All comments welcomed!

Charlton Forever!

Charlton Athletic 1 v West Bromwich Albion 1

Not even a text awaiting my arrival at Gatwick late last night such is the apathy at the moment. I knew that wasn't good news, so was encouraged to learn we scraped a point. The 57 points we have mustered moves us up to 8th but our rivals all have at least a game in hand.

The fixtures might be kind to us later today. Palace and Ipswich are away at Sheffield Wednesday and Scunthorpe respectively and might find wins hard to come by. Plymouth entertain Watford at Home Park and Wolves play a revitalised QPR at Molineux, neither of which are foregone conclusions. Unfortunately, we are in fingers-crossed territory now and simply have to beat Wolves at the Valley next week. This is now the latest six-pointer and we will need the win as a number of our rivals have easier games than today (Wolves excepted I hope).

Catching up with the Mercury, I am interested to read Peter Varney's latest comments that he doesn't fell like he has "achieved everything I set out to because I wanted to redevelop the East Stand." Whilst he pays "a huge tribute to Richard Murray" I can't helping reading this like it might have been a decision point re his career. Our Board have done a fantastic job in getting the Valley to where it is but we have , in my opinion, been over-cautious on a couple of occasions previously when the East Stand could have been redeveloped. Money was used on the team which arguably didn't give as good a return as it might have, as our seasons have had a habit of tailing off once the threat of relegation had been avoided. It has been a long time since the last phase of development (7 years?) and we have missed out on considerable additional revenue and growth opportunities as a result, both of which are key to the Chief Exec's role. He goes on to mention previous appraoches by Celtic and Aston Villa, so you have to believe he is thinking about moving on to bigger things in the Summer.....

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Angry Valley

Thanks to the switch of tomorrow's fixture from Saturday, I will miss the West Brom game as my flight is not until tomorrow evening. No matter, it's not one I would be looking forward to in the circumstances. West Brom will fill their end and provide noisy support. By contrast, I suspect my empty seats will not be noticeable amongst all of the others as I can see many Addicks taking the opportunity for a long weekend or one of those big DIY jobs we've been putting off for ages.

The Baggies arrive on the back of some indifferent league form and a 1-4 home thumping from Leicester City. Unfortunately for us, I think that means they will be harder to beat. What with confidence being on the floor and a Valley-fear factor amongst the players, I expect West Brom to exploit the situation and get one, if not all three points. I expect Pardew to go with the conservative line-up we put out at Ipswich and hope for a lucky break to get us in front and give us something to play for.

Tomorrow has the potential for the current levels of dis-satisfaction to turn to anger. An early West Brom goal and any poor Charlton play or perceived lack of application could see the crowd turn. Wolves next -up promises much the same.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The table doesn't lie....

Dejection and apathy everywhere you look (and I am no better). Saturday's predictable defeat at Portman Road finally saw us slip out of the play-off berths and slide to 9th. On reflection, we deserve nothing more. How can you expect to be in the top half of the table when you have only won 4 of the last 21 games?

We simply have to accept that we are not good enough as a team to get out of this division this season and we shouldn't forget the consequences of going into the Premier League ill-equipped. So for me, we need to finish with some dignity and some respectable home performances. Pardew needs to sort out who is staying and begin to fashion a team from them in preparation for 2008-09. What is clear, is that we will not maintain this squad of players. The loanees are likely to move on and we need to sort out those who aren't up to it. I will be compiling my list on the beach this week!

Unless the club launches an attractive season ticket promotion soon, I suspect worse to come in terms of our fortunes. Our crowds have been artificially high for the quality of the football being offered and we could be in for a rude awakening. An adjustment to 10,000 season tickets would likely see gates next year plummet and a step-change backwards for the club. I will renew because I am beyond rationality when it comes to my beloved football club but I suspect my wife will call it a day, although she hasn't said it as yet, probably more out of loyalty to muggings than anything else.

The financial structure at the club would weaken significantly with smaller gates, less commercial revenue and club-shop sales. We could become a takeover target again and maybe that would be no bad thing although contemplating that speaks volumes for the current mood. The final parachute payment will need to be used widely and their will undoubtedly be a little more pressure on the team next year. See, dejection and apathy everywhere.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Draw the best prospect?

Before I set off for Tenerife's Jungle Park (for the kids - honest), wanted to chip in with my thoughts about todays test at Portman Road. Confidence elsewhere appears high based on our recent results and the perceived wisdom that Town are struggling at the moment. I trying to be dispassionate and optimistic but Ipswich have a formidable home record and are fighting for a play-off place themselves. They will be aware that our confidence is brittle and that an early goal might break us. So, best I can see is Killer's draw and possibly a heavy defeat at worst. As I have said before Good Friday might be anything but Good.

Really satisfied to learn that those Aresholes who attacked normal Charlton fans back in September got what was coming to them this week :)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


It gets worse. One-nil at Burnley and Portman Road next. Sounds like a desperately hard fought Charlton performance but not good enough to win the game and we lose to a "wonder" strike. We desperately need a bit of good fortune and the right opponents to come along but I don't think Ipswich are that team.

Meanwhile, the frustration and disappointment surrounding our current plight is only being underlined by the fact that no-one around us is actually any better. We cling on to 5th place but the pack is on our shoulder as we approach the last ten games. ItÅ› going to take some bottle to get through this. The West Brom and Wolves home games will be crucial if we are to make the play-offs. The players need us right behind them in those two games but they look to have offended the majority so deeply that they won't get that without a rousing start and full-blooded performance against the Baggies.

I am off to the beach for some sunshine and an evening with my Spurs-loving brother-in-law. At least PSV might ease the mickey-taking tonight.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Turf Moor for the Bravehearts

I will be relying upon text message updates this evening but will be expecting only bad news. Not a good time to be playing Burnley. All of the four sides (Palace, Ipswich, Plymouth and Hull) between them and us are away from home over the next two evenings, all with tricky looking fixtures. In addition to recording a memorable double over us, Burnley know they can also close the gap to a mere point.

Once again, Alan Pardew's team selection will give a strong indication of who he believes have been most culpable, although the reports from Saturday's game might suggest just about everyone. I agree with those who believe he will again revert to the pre-Christmas nucleus who were battling for away wins and maybe limit the loanees to the bench. Perhaps then, an early reprieve for Andy Gray. He should be fired-up to open his account on a ground he knows inside out.

The back four looks like anyones guess, although Youga and Halford came in for for heavy stick for their aerial clearances against Preston; perhaps they were both overdue duff performances? They have both played their way into the team on merit. Pards will be feeling the need for major changes, and whilst we have able deputies at full-back I suspect he will be tempted to use them. It's the defence I am worried about this evening as the lack of confidence will likely show there first and most obviously. I can't see us getting more than a point out of the next two games...

Monday, 10 March 2008

The Ides of March

Oh dear. At least I wasn't there to witness it. I couldn't bring myself to read any reviews last night when I got back from Edinburgh but have taken the medicine this morning and it looks like it was just as bad as the scoreline suggested. Beaten at home again by relegation candidates.

Interesting that a number of the reports are reading pivotal signs from this game. Alan Pardew has conceded automatic promotion for the first time and his obvious anger has come through in his comment that this was "a load of crap." Peter Varney's decision to step down at the end of the season is also being linked as a sign of a terminal decline in Charlton's fortunes following the Curbishley era. Whatever's happening, the facts are clear for everyone to see, we are not playing well at the Valley and despite the biggest squad in the league, we seem unable to change our pattern of play when it's all going wrong.

The players might be feeling relieved that they have two away games now but the pressure will build if we return on Good Friday outside the play-off places. It's time to hunker down and get on with the task in hand and focus on grinding out results at Burnley and Ipswich. It's looking like a big ask and Good Friday is set to be anything but good.

Having enjoyed the rugby at Murrayfield for the first time in ages, I am off to the Canaries tomorrow and for once I'm not going to miss the football. It really could be worse, just ask the West Ham fans I travelled with this weekend. They don't rate Alan Curbishley and say he can't motivate his players beyond retention of Premier League status (deja vue). At least we weren't singing "we're going to lose 4-0" when it was only two-nil. Ironic too that our season continues to resemble West Ham's play-off winning promotion of two years back under Super AP. It looks like that might be the only redeeming feature of the season.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Weekend starts here....

I'm off to Edinburgh today in preparation for the Scotland v England Six Nations Match. I am expecting another half-hearted Scottish defeat but we live in hope. Perhaps the prospect of a second successive Wooden Spoon might raise the performance if not the visit of the Auld Enemy? Danny Cipriani's embarrassing omission? Perhaps the wind and rain will come to Scotland's aid? Nah, I'm seeing Paul Sackey falling to the try line over and over again. In any event, I will be in the good company of patriotic Hammers as well as some Blue Bloods. At least the Hammers won't be giving me any football stick after their recent performances - their season looks like petering out in the last ten games - who'd have thought it?

Kings Hill Addick reflects that he may have been too harsh in condemnation of the performance against top-of-the-table Bristol City and that he's looking forward to the visit of PNE. I have a similar feeling although I stand by the pivotal nature of the performance and the result. Leroy Lita looks like starting on Saturday and he's just the sort of character that will score on his debut. He certainly looks like a man with something to prove. Let's hope he makes his point emphatically and that he can inspire an attacking performance from those around him. They certainly owe us one for the second half showings against Watford and City.

The first real question-marks over Pards' ability to motivate his squad have emerged in recent weeks. The fact that we keep responding after set-backs says something about this but it is worrying that we seem unable to respond in some games. Terry Thomas made the point after Tuesday that the size and quality of AP's squad is not the problem but his increasingly inability to use it when necessary to change things when they aren't going well.

Burnley on Tuesday looks like mission impossible and it will need a 90 minute battling performance and probably a slice of good fortune as well if we are to get the win we need. Ipswich away Saturday week will require exactly the same and the chances of two in a row look slim.

Enjoy the game.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Curious and curiouser....

The announcement that Peter Varney is to step down at the end of the season comes on the back of several other un-Charlton-like decisions. The ubiquitous "personal reasons" are quoted which invariably means they have agreed not to say why. I sincerely hope it's not family reasons and that he's not got a family illness or that he is feeling the pressure of his job. Assuming this is not the case I can only think he has been made an offer he can't refuse by a bigger club. I certainly hope so, because he deserves to leave Charlton on a high and no-one should begrudge him an opportunity for a bigger challenge and career progression.

Peter Varney has overseen the most successful ten years in Charlton's history since the War, if not ever. His close day-to-day management of the business and shrewd commercial advice has enabled the Board to take the decisions necessary to get us promoted twice, establish ourselves as a Premier League club and, almost as importantly, to re-develop the Valley which will be his biggest legacy. He is a real Charlton fan and a frequent traveller with the fans to away games. I know Ian Cartwright fairly well and he had enormous respect for Varney all the while he worked for him.

In the last ten years my only real criticisms about the Club have been about our increasing tendency to appeal against almost every decision that has gone against us. There was a clear change of policy in recent years and I don't know how much of that was down to Peter Varney. You have to be prepared to stand and fight on occasions but we seemed to lose most of the cases we made and I think we got a reputation for being cry-babies. I know mates who follow West Ham and Millwall who were always quick to complain that "that Varney bloke's been on whinging again." It got a bit hard to defend in the end when some of the complaints looked weak from the outset.

Nonetheless, we may well miss Mr Varney more than we will ever know and certainly more than the vast majority of the players who have pulled on the red shirt over the last ten years. His story would make a good read and possibly a very good read depending on what he might have to tell us, although I suspect Peter might be too honourable and professional for any of that! Eiither way, I wish him well for the future.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Lita signing smacks of panic...

Leroy Lita is the latest loanee to join a burgeoning squad which must be the largest in the Championship if not the Coca-Cola League. His signing after last night's disappointing draw with top of the table Bristol City looks to me like a knee-jerk reaction and probably underlines an increasing desperation at Board level.

In one way I am pleased that our inconsistency is obviously hurting the Board as much as it is us. Signing Lita this stage when he was clearly available in January probably reflects as much on the decision to buy Andy Gray as anything else and the natural conclusion that he has not given us the immediate return we had hoped for and the added concern that without it we have missed the automatic promotion chance and are now risking a play-off place. Lita may well add the goals we need to secure the play-offs which is now a minimum requirement for Alan Pardew. What we have to consider is the consequences of missing the play-offs or failing to get promoted if we make them. The squad will need a hefty trim and whilst the loanees will all be obvious targets, that would need to be balanced with who's performing and who isn't or we would simply be left with the nucleus of the squad we started with this year which hasn't been good enough. Alan Pardew might be feeling a little more heat than we suspect right now, although he's felt worse at West Ham and survived it. Far too early to panic and I am still right behind him before I get a deluge!

East Stand Re-Development - Interesting to learn that Greenwich Council have rejected Charlton's latest plans to develop the East stand and that we are apparently threatening to appeal. As a veteran follower and natural anti-Council advocate, I find myself unmoved by the latest mutterings and unsympathetic to what I am hearing from the club. I am a local resident and have always done my bit to speak up in favour of Charlton's plans, sometimes at strong odds with neighbours. However, it reads to me like we have simply tried to push our luck on the existing planning consent by adding "some flats" with the justification that the additional development is necessary to finance it. Frankly, that's not the Council's problem and our stance looks like amateur brinkmanship. We need to be careful here because the Council have been good supporters of Charlton over the last ten years and you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds.

Levels of Support - I owe Bristol City fans an apology for my dismissive claim that they wouldn't bring more than the usual 1,000 maximum last night. I was impressed to see a good 2000 and maybe closer to 2500. They were in fine voice and are obviously convinced that Gary Johnson is going to deliver Premier League football next season. Whilst I remain convinced they are over-performing, won't make it and would get battered every week in the Premier League, you can't take anything away from what they have done so far and their fans have responded magnificently - you have to wish them well.

On a similar topic, how many turned out at Selhurst Park last night to urge Palace on to claim 6th spot that Neil Warnock believes they can make? Well Cardiff City were the visitors and let's be generous and assume that there were only 500 visitors. That would mean Palace attracted 12000+. That's right, a gate of 13,446 for a "big" club supposedly pushing for a play-off place. If anyone needs any reminding, the last time we had a paltry gate for a league game to match this was 10 years ago.

There, that's off my chest.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v Bristol City 1

Gggrrrrrrrrr! How annoying was that? Repeat of the Watford game - totally unacceptable to capitulate in the second half. Fortunate to leave with a point and now resigned to scrapping for a play-off place. This team are so inconsistent that a play-off finish will probably go to the wire, but however you look at it, it is hard to see us coming through as promotion winners if there is insufficient opposition to prevent us qualifying.

Pardew started with an expected eleven of Weaver, Youga, McCarthy, Sodje, Halford, Thomas, Zheng Zhi, Holland, Varney, Ielumo and Ambrose. The only surprise was that Ambrose was playing upfont in place of Varney. However, 8 minutes in and there were no complaints as Ambrose finished a delicious four man move by stroking home for the opener - Charlton's best move of the match. Charlton were in complete control and City restricted to half-chances and long range efforts. Holland and Zheng Zhi were holding their own against a five man midfield although there was obvious concern that they might not be able to continue that for 90 minutes. We went in with the a deserved lead and every confidence we could go on to win the game in the second half.

City started the second half just like Watford had with a rollicking ringing in their ears. They pressed and pressed for 10 minutes but were restricted to long range efforts but there was no respite and we couldn't raise our game. I was crying out for an early substition or even two to try and alter the balance of play but it came too late. A near post corner was met but the leaping Jason McCombe and City were level. Andy Gray joined the fray a minute later for Iwelumo but he made no impact and City continued to dictate play without really looking like scoring a second. Charlton, however, looked completely bereft in midfield and Holland and Zheng Zhi were chasing shadows. Any out balls were hit hopefully long and we couldn't hold possession long enough to create anything. Eventually Scott Sinclair came of for Thomas but he didn't manage to get over the stick he got from the visitors for his Bristol Rovers upbringing. Show-boating without any delivery is a waste of time and Sinclair will do well to learn this from Thomas's performance. We did at least fashion a good chance via Zheng Zhi in the City box but that was only light relief from their possession. They were unlucky not to take the lead when a free kick dropped down from the bar and was scrambled to safety. Cook came on far too late to influence the game and it petered out in our half much the same as the Watford game had.

Time to face up to facts and we simply aren't good enough to claim a top two place in a mediocre division - the promotees this year could go on to embarrass the Coca-Cola league and threaten the previous Sunderland and now Derby County all-time lows. No doubt we will improve with time, assuming the nucleus of the squad stays together, but it's hard to avoid the fact that this year may well prove to be considerably easier than next to get promoted automatically. We should have enough to make the play-offs but you can't help feeling we may arrive there with no confidence of putting three performances together. Perhaps we should see this as a sign and look for a promotion season when we are much nore established in terms of the squad and more likely to make a fist of it in the top flight.

I am off to Edinburgh on Saturday for the Calcutta Cup and will not go out of my way to look for our score. I am off to the Canaries for a fortnight's R&R after that, so will worry about Charlton when I get back.

In the meantime you have my thoughts and sympathies.

City Preview

Yet another make-or-break game this evening. A win will keep us on the tails of the top four and may give us something to go for on Saturday as another three points at the Valley against Preston might lift us above Watford or West Brom and likley narrow the gap on the those above us. Lose this evening and any lingering hopes of automatic promotion will be gone. City are acutely aware of this and we have had quotes to that effect from their manager Gary Johnson and midfielder McCombe who hit their winner on Saturday. Expect a very tight game from City who would settle for a draw now if they could take it.

Dele Adebola has reinforced their attack and relegated Darren Byfield to the bench. Another ex-Millwall man, Marvin Elliot is starring in midfield with Michael McIndoe and Ivan Sproule. Having named them though, it's not exactly a line-up to strike fear into you. Their back-line is also missing any former top-flight names and you can't help concluding that the sum of the parts is better than their individual worth. So, we have a genuinely decent team that is well-motivated by their manager.

Having said that, they come here knowing we beat them at Ashton Gate and possibly carrying a minor inferiority complex. I might be over-playing this but if we come out and get at them as we have done more recently at home we might catch them cold. If we score first, I think we can get another and win the game. The longer the match goes on, the more they will settle and feel confident of holding us or even nicking a second-half lead which they are more than capable of defending.

Hopefully we won't be playing under any pressure having already "blown it" at Blackpool. I am going for 2-0 and will take Luke Varney (again) to score and possibly a contribution from the wing - thereby giving myself four options (Sam, Cook, Sinclair or Thomas). As I have said before, I think it's really important to finish well if you make the play-offs because you need the confidence going into them and you need your fans to really believe you are going to win them. I am not sure our fans are in that frame of mind right now based upon the glass chin we have been sticking out so frequently this year.

C'mon you Reds!

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Last chance saloon

The automatic promotion train is preparing to leave the station and I don't believe we will be on it. However, I just cannot see Stoke and Bristol City both holding onto their seats. It looks increasingly likely that one of them might just do it against the odds and the next six games should decide the issue.

For our part, we have four of the next six at home. If we are to get up via the play-offs, we need to finish with a bit of a flourish to get some real belief in the team and the supporters that we can do it via Wembley. Bristol City and Preston can both be beaten at the Valley this week. We won at Ashton Gate and Deepdale and we have plenty of options at our disposal at home. Six more points this week would probably cut the gap on the four above us. It would certainly increase the gap on the chasers and probably give us a four point safety net. We would then need to get something at Burnley and Ipswich. That's asking a lot but we are capable of it. Several of the sides above us will play each other in the coming weeks and that offers us a chance. If we can get through the next four on track we have West Brom and Wolves at home. Those games will be tough (and are televised which is usually a portent of doom) but we owe both of them a defeat.

If, and I know it's a big if, we can finally put this run together, we might emerge stronger than the those around us and the pressure might just affect them more than us. It would also set us up for the play-offs if we miss the guaranteed placings. A couple of convincing home wins are what we need to get the ball rolling and I think we can complete the first leg of the treble!

The team line-up for Tuesday will be interesting. Andy Gray looks to have fallen out with Pards very quickly and his absence from the 16 on Saturday for "personal reasons" suggests an unprofessional response to being subbed at Blackpool - unless we hear that the "personal" reference is family related. He would probably have been feeling under pressure to get his first goal and he missed the opening goal-scoring opportunity in the Blackpool game. Add to that Iwelumo's scoring return and Big Chris looks set to start on Tuesday. Pards has learnt that we need to play 4-4-2 at home, so I suspect Luke Varney to return to a more central striking role. Unless the Andy Gray issue was really "personal," I would expect him to be incentivised with a bench start. The midfield is full of possibilities; in addition to the new wingers, Jose Semedo looks back in favour, so I won't even hazard a guess at this. The back four though look like they have selected themselves. Greg Halford has hung on at right-back and his long throw helped us get the lead at Bramall Lane. Paddy McCarthy is in on merit and Sam Sodje has again dislodged the laid back Jonathan Fortune. Kelly Youga has made himself first choice at left back and there's little question of anyone other than Weaver starting in goal if he's fit.

Get behind the team this week - six more points will ease any worries of slipping out of the top six and could represent the start of the long awaited winning run.

C'mon you Reds!

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Sheffield United 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

Charlton steadied the ship again this afternoon with a comfortable win at Bramall Lane. Alan Pardew reacted to last week's capitulation at Blackpool by making four starting changes as well as reverting to the 4-5-1 formation that served us well in the first half of the season.

Andy Gray was dropped and Big Chris came back as the lone striker. Jerome Thomas made a rare start on the left and Kelly Youga came back at the expense of Grant Basey. Sam Sodje was the other change replacing Jonathan Fortune. Iwelumo slotted home on the stroke of half-time after a shot from Darren Ambrose had been saved by Paddy Kenny. Ambrose made the second towards the end of the game when his corner was headed home by Sodje.

This win is reassuring and should bring some confidence ahead of Tuesday's six pointer with Bristol City. It's good to see Darren Ambrose contributing again after his goals last week. I am not his biggest fan due to his inconsistency not his lack of talent. It would be good to see him score again on Tuesday and put Iwelumo under pressure as top scorer. His performance and the win should re-energise the squad and hopefully have a good number of players chomping at the bit to get on again.

If we can follow this up with another three points on Tuesday we should get some breathing space. Ipswich and Hull are both at home with winnable matches on Tuesday but Hull play Burnley so we can expect to make some progress if we can do the double over Bristol City. We have another home game next Saturday against Preston so could really cement our play-off place. Hving won at Bristol City and Preston already, it's not too much to expect another six points this week. If we can do that, there might we one last shot at an automatic place, although I don't expect it......