Wednesday, 31 December 2008

It's Parkinson until the end of the season

Breaking news that the Board have handed Phil Parkinson the manager's position until the end of the season. No great surprise but there will be widespread disappointment.

The decision is surely more a reflection on our financial position rather than Parkinson's ability to keep us in the Championship. Performances have certainly improved under Parky but, let's face it, some of Pardew's last few were a complete embarrassment. Conversely, results under Parky have actually worsened and it is nigh on impossible to see how we will get the dramatic change in fortunes needed to avoid the drop.

Not a great position for Parkinson either because he's not going to look too good in four months time when he has taken us down and his contract expires. I guess he has to at least get the improvement needed to make a fight of it, save some face and give the fans confidence that he can make us competitive next year. Sorry, but I can't see it. Without the winning streak that might be possible under a new broom, I can't see any major improvement and we will be the first side relegated. 

The Board have obviously weighed everything up in taking this decision. It looks like there was no financial alternative because the cost to the club of going down will be significant and far more than what might have been needed for a change of manager. No doubt they will argue that they could have forked out on a new manager, seen no improvement and still have been relegated. 

Any thoughts that it couldn't get worse must now be banished and we will need to harden ourselves for the third division, further changes in personnel and crowds of 10,000 next season. Going down in this condition is likely to take more than 12 months to rectify, so don't expect an instant return. Ironic to think that 17,000 renewed their season tickets this year in the anticipation of a half-chance of free Premier League football next season. How the mighty have fallen.

Canaries crowd boost

The attendance for Saturday's third round F A Cup tie against Norwich City has been the subject of some debate amongst Addicks fans. Many believe it will be a record low of late that will send a worrying message to the Board.  There has  been much criticism of Charlton's published attendances which reflect those who committed to a season ticket this year instead of the much smaller numbers actually bothering to come to games. Whilst we are averaging 20,000 and something at home in the League, our actual bums-on-seats average is at least several thousand down on that and likely to worsen as relegation threats deepen. 

F A Cup crowds at the Valley have typically dropped off alarmingly over the last ten years as fans have chosen not to pay to watch inferior opposition, many of whom have gone on to embarrass us. Saturday's clash held the prospect of a sub-10,000 crowd but it looks like that number might be breached courtesy of 3,000 travelling Canaries, presumably incentivised by thoughts of a rare away win against "the poorest team" they have seen so far this year at Carrow Road.

We might have been poor at Norwich, but let me tell you, they weren't much better. Best wishes for 2009 - let's hope we start it by breaking the current sequence on Saturday and the following it up against Forest the week after.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

What we need now...

What we need now, apart from a new manager, three consecutive wins and a Boardroom takeover, is three new players. Much will depend on what happens with the loanees. 

Primus doesn't look likely to feature again, which makes central defensive cover a priority.  If we can extend Cranie until the end of the season I'd take him as he can double in the middle if necessary. McEveley has been a success and appears to be finished at Derby. A new manager there might change that, but if not, then I'd happily see him made more permanent. 

Midfield is an absolute priority. We need some legs and mouth. Hard to identify someone we can afford who might make the switch; maybe another player (a la Bailey) from League One could do the job but I don't know enough about it (yet) to suggest anyone. We have to compete in midfield to protect our defence and support our attack much more than we have been capable of so far this season. 

The other must is  a striker. Our current options are so basic it's untrue. Andy Gray plays the whole 90 minutes in the shadow of whomever is marking him. Todorov doesn't look like he can do more than 20 minutes (or else he has upset someone at the club) . Dickson and Fleetwood have been judged unworthy and Waghorn is an apprentice. We will go down if we can't score more goals. 

Ideally we should not take anymore loans but we might have to in order to get the quality of player we need and also to give us the flexibility we need in the event that we are relegated.

 2009 can only match 2008 if we go down and bomb to the bottom of League One - a distinct possibility if nothing changes. Happy New Year!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Paul Jewell resigns

The pressure of relegation from the Championship has got the better at Derby County of Paul Jewell and he has fallen on his sword after 50 games in charge. He has resigned after their 1-0 home defeat by Ipswich Town. Derby are down to 18th in the table and a mere ten points in front of Charlton Athletic. 

Jewell was expected to lead Derby in a promotion challenge this year following relegation from the Premier League last season, so we know exactly how Rams fans must be feeling. Jewell is a determined character and a man of principle, so I take my hat off to his decision here to step down in "the best interests of the club." Timing being everything here, he clearly feels a new manager now might give Derby the impetus to halt the decline and benefit now from the January transfer window. 


Sunday, 28 December 2008

Sheffield United 3 v Charlton Athletic 1

I was invited to lunch today at friends so couldn't follow the game, not that I was particularly bothered. The only surpise from today's performance was that we held the lead until 65th minute. I had offered a mate 3-1 on anything other than a Blades victory and only for a brief moment did I think my bet might be in jeopardy. This evening we are where we deserve to be - bottom of the table, four points behind Southampton and five behind Doncaster Rovers and Nottingham Forest, both of whom won hard matches today.

During Phil Parkinson's tenure we have gone from flirting with relegation to rock bottom, red-hot favourites for the drop. Our club has become a laughing stock in the Championship and have equalled our record of 16 league games without a win. Our team are playing with virtually no confidence and we seem to have a defensive glass chin. Failure to win in 16 consecutive matches cannot be put down to bad luck and the fact that it's only happened once before in our history tells you all you need to know.

The Board are desperate to sell and look extremely reluctant, if not unable, to invest anymore money. This appears to be the main driver for handing Parkinson the care-taker role (least-cost option) and for allowing him an extension until New Year in the desperate hope we would get a win to justify giving him the job.

Maybe this squad of players and loanees are the worst in the division and relegation is a certainty irrespective of whom the manager is. However, that is no excuse for not taking the right action at the right time for the good of the club and it's supporters. Next season will arguably be more important in the history of our club than this one, especially if we manage to destroy the fan base we have carefully nurtured for over twenty years. Failure to act here and now will move the responsibility for our end-of-season predicament firmly and squarely from the manager and playing staff towards the Boards of the football club and the plc. I can't believe they will fudge this again and stick with what we've got; the next five days will tell. 

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Weekend Championship Preview, Game 26

We always seem to get one grim trip as part of the Christmas/New Year fixtures and this year it's to Sheffield United who humped us five at home in Pardew's last game. The Charlton turnout will be very similar to that when I first went to Bramall Lane in April 1978. Naively misguided by the fear that I might never get the chance to see United at home again (we were falling like a stone and heading for the third division!), I coached it north with 250 others. We went one down just before half-time but, frankly, we weren't in it. Sound familiar? I only hope those making the journey tomorrow have a better end to the day than we did. We were chased out of the ground before the end and a PC tried to hold them back on the steps out of the ground to give us extra yardage back to the coaches/station. Ah, happy memories.

Barnsley v Preston North End
Intriguing clash this. Barnsley pulled off a great result winning at Burnley on Boxing Day whilst PNE were disposing of Derby. I think Preston might have the better side but will go with the Tykes to edge it here.
Prediction; 2-1

Birmingham City v Swansea City
Brum surprised me by digging in and winning at Ipswich on Boxing Day. The Swans drew again at home to Coventry and won't find St. Andrews an easy proposition.
Prediction; 2-0

Bristol City v Crystal Palace
City were surprise winners at Watford on Boxing Day and will be up for this one as they beat Palace in the play-offs in April. Palace are on a run but I believe they are over-achieving and will come back down to earth soon. Ashton Gate's a good a place as any to start.
Prediction; 2-1

Cardiff City v Plymouth Argyle
Good Boxing Day wins for both of these sides. Cardiff have been much more consistent and home advantage should tell.
Prediction; 2-0

Coventry City v Sheffield Wednesday
I've absolutely no idea with this two - both are so inconsistent. I'll have to go for Coventry at home but wouldn't touch it with a barge pole on the coupon.
Prediction; 1-0

Derby County v Ipswich Town
Both of these sides lost on Boxing Day. Derby need to be careful. They recovered after an appalling start but have fallen away again and could easily get sucked into the dogfight. They should be favourites here but Ipswich might put up more fight after their home defeat by Birmingham.
Prediction; 0-1

Doncaster Rovers v Burnley
Rovers won't play a home game with more confidence this season after winning 4-2 at Forest. I hope Burnley will prove too strong for them because we don't look like catching four sides this season.
Prediction; 0-1

Norwich City v Nottingham Forest
A chance for Norwich to put 8 points between them and managerless Forest. I don't think Calderwood was the fundamental problem so it's very hard to see Forest springing anything here. This looks tailor-made for Leroy Lita.
Prediction; 2-0

QPR v Watford
I wasn't impressed with QPR at their place or at the Valley on Boxing Day. That said, Watford are hardly setting the world alight and their 4-2 home defeat by Bristol City will have taken it's toll. Can they bounce back here? I doubt it.
Prediction; 2-0

Sheffield United v Charlton Athletic
Phil Parkinson has been talking about his plans for the January transfer window which include Waggott and Murray's viewpoints, so the strong implication is that he thinks he's got an extension on the job. I just can't see this, particularly if we get beaten tomorrow. He might be least cost and we might be in a hopeless situation irrespective of the manager, but going down with a manager we knew couldn't arrest the Pardew decline will cost us £3m in season ticket losses during the close season and see us complete the 29 year turning-back of the clock. The Blades creamed us nine games ago at the Valley and our only hope is if they have been on the sauce since drawing at Wolves on Boxing Day. I don't think so.
Prediction; 3-0

Southampton v Reading
Nothing's going the way of the Saints right now. They went down at Plymouth on Boxing Day and have the poorest home record in the divison. Meat and drink for Reading who can get revenge for losing their home record to Southampton recently.
Prediction; 0-2

Blackpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves should be too strong here in the Monday game. A possible banana-skin but Wolves dropped two points at home to the Blades on Boxing Day and will want to get maximum return here. It looks like a perfect fixture for a Chris Iwelumo winner.
Prediction; 1-2

Friday, 26 December 2008

Calderwood pays the price

A couple of weeks ago I was phoned by a friend in a pub and asked to see if I could get a price on Colin Calderwood as the next Swindon Town manager. I guessed wrongly that this meant he had just been given the sack at Forest. The tip was from a West Country journalist, the same one who had told me he had spoken with Glenn Hoddle after his interview for the Ireland job and that he was "very confident" he had got the job! 

I couldn't get a price and that was not surprising as Calderwood was still in full employment at Forest. He's a highly rated "young" manager and he took them out of league One last season, so I thought they might even stick with him this year come what may. However, looking at the fixtures this morning, I thought Calderwood might be struggling this evening if Doncaster beat them. Having duly been beaten 4-2 this afternoon, Forest have indeed parted company with Mr Calderwood. Sensing a pound note in the air, I looked up prices for the Swindon post, only to find that they appointed Danny Wilson at 11am today! A perfect case of 2+2 = 5.

Nonetheless, the timing of Calderwood's departure is interesting. Forest obviously believe they still have a chance of Championship survival under a new man, so it will be interesting to see if Chapple, Murray & Co come to the same conclusion in the next few days. If we have any chances of staying in this division, we need to finish above Doncaster, Southampton and Forest, so we need to pray that Forest have as much luck as we've had we've our last three or four appointments.

Oh, and a final word for QPR boss Paulo Sousa who had some complimentary things to say about us after the game today. He was obviously impressed with the support shown by the Valley faithful today and by our fighting spirit.

Charlton Athletic 2 v QPR 2

An absorbing London derby played on a bright and crisp Boxing Day saw Charlton settle for a point after a pulsating second half which should have seen them notch their first win in 15 games. Having said that, QPR had a third ruled out near the finish, so most of the 21, 203 left the ground satisfied. If the first half looked like a continuation of the uninspiring 90 minutes at Norwich, the second half saw us play the most attacking half of the season. 

McEveley came back in for Basey but the rest of the side remained unchanged; Elliot, McEveley, Hudson, Fortune, Cranie, Bouazza, Semedo, Bailey, Sam, Gray and Waghorn. Semedo and Bailey were playing just in front of our back four in the first half and, whilst that provided more protection, it left us short of any attacking penetration. Bouazza had a poor first half showing for a change and his communication with McEveley was non-existent. Lloyd Sam was better supported on the right, notably by Semedo but Gray and Waghorn were again toiling for scraps.

QPR started confidently in front of a decent West London following. With 18 minutes gone, Lee Cook opened the scoring after stepping up to flight a left foot curler beyond Elliot after Charlton conceded a soft free-kick. The goal came from nowhere and there was little for either side to shout until then. QPR were at least getting forward and forced a number of corners. Rob Elliot saved a header from Blackstock but there wasn't a lot else to worry about.

After the break and kicking towards the Covered End, Charlton played with much more urgency and an unlikely looking equaliser arrived within three minutes of the re-start. A fast break on the right resulted in Sam firing a near post cross. With two QPR defenders waiting to head clear, Nicky Bailey surged into the box and threw himself at the cross, reaching it ahead of the opposition as well as Andy Gray and he directed it past Cerny into the top corner. That set the scene for twenty minutes of Charlton domination which should have resulted in us taking the lead but we lacked a cutting edge. McEveley was tearing down the left and hitting great far post balls and Lloyd Sam was causing Rangers just as much trouble with his running and crossing from the left.  The visiting fans were silent for most of this spell but they came to life after 69 minutes when slack marking let them play the ball into Dexter Blackstock who was occupying a five-yard exclusion zone in the Charlton box. He took a touch, steadied himself and picked his moment to beat the advancing Elliot to restore an undeserved lead. It looked like another kick in the stomach but we continued to attack and Nicky Bailey got us level with another unlikely header which owed as much to quick thinking as any aerial prowess. Cerny had come to punch clear in front of a melee of players but could only knock the ball out five yards. Nicky Bailey was lurking and sensing he couldn't get a shot past the players in front of him dived instead and looped a header over all of them which beat a surpised Cerny. 

We then got our chance to win the game when another far post ball, this time from Basey who was on for McEveley, reached Lloyd Sam but he somehow managed to head back across the goal and wide. That seemed a signal for Rangers to wake up and they responded strongly in the final five minutes of full time. Heider Helguson was on by now and he crashed a shot off the post. With Elliot beaten, the ball rebounded across the face of the goal and Ledesma thought he'd won it when he smashed the ball in off the bar. Fortunately, the referree had flagged for a foul and the goal was disallowed. QPR continued to press in the four minutes of added time but couldn't get a breakthrough.

Rob Elliot deserves to retain his place after another impressive performance and several decent saves. The back four played well again despite conceding another two goals. In the second-half, Bailey's performance won him my man-of-the-match award from Lloyd Sam. Semedo had a busier game but was again booked for a lazy chllange, as was Martin Crainey. Hameur Bouazza had the poorest game and probably deserves to be dropped. Neither Waghorn or Gray managed to create any space against a lanky Rangers back-line. Deon Burton had no joy either after coming on for Waghorn, so it was just as well that the midfield went into attack mode in the second period.

A point at home is still not enough and on Sunday we should equal our worst ever sequence without a win of 16 games. It should also mark the end of Phil Parkinson's care-taker role as he can't be handed the job after no wins in what will be eight games and only three points from a possible twenty-four. Doncaster are winning at Nottingham Forest as I write and that will see us rock-bottom once again.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Be careful what you wish for...

...lest it comes true. I am reminded of this old cliche today with the "news" in the Sun that Paul Ince wants the soon-to-be-vacancy at the Valley and they think we'll go for him. This comes on the back of Lennie Lawrence being tipped for a return from Bristol Rovers and even of Millwall's Kenny Jackett being poached.

The Valley faithful seem to be coming to a unanimous view that Phil Parkinson is not the man to lead us into 2009, and with the Board's December deadline running out, the forum and message boards are doing overtime as an announcement appears imminent.

I don't believe we'd go for Paul Ince in a million years. He's simply not a Charlton-man. He's arrogant, selfish, inexperienced and would be relatively expensive even if he did accept the big pay cut the Sun believes he's prepared to take. He would also only see a club like Charlton as a stepping stone and he'd be off the minute he'd done anything to warrant a move to a bigger club a la Mark McGhee of yesteryear.

Lennie Lawrence did a fine job of keeping our side alive when the club was in danger of going out of business, so you can see the dots being joined between our current predicament and Mr Lawrence, currently hiding his light under the job of Director of Football at Bristol Rovers. Relative success at Rovers has come from Lawrence working with Paul Trollope as coach and the pair are being touted as a possible double. Again, I can't quite see this. Getting Lawrence with Trollope wouldn't directly solve the managerial issue and I'm not convinced Lennie has the sort of CV we need on his own.

Kenny Jackett is doing a first class job at Millwall. He is an up-and-coming manager and has the experience we will need next season. The question you have to ask is "why would he go for it?" He is on his way to promotion at the Den after a year of rebuilding and he would have to be prepared to exchange places with his old club next season.

Change looks a certainty and we need someone with experience of getting sides promoted in the lower divisions. He needs to be an excellent motivater and to have a touch of humility. Our budget won't be big either, so it's likely to be someone in the Kenny Jackett mould or a bigger named, more experienced manager who has been out of the game for a bit and might take the job on as a challenge to re-establish himself. Aidy Boothroyd might fit the first criteria but I am strugling to find anyone who might take the job. When I think about a candidate for the second criteria, I am reminded again of John Gregory and, er, Alan Curbishley. Whilst I have always said he wouldn't take it, the longer he's out of the game the stronger the chances, especially as his realistic Premier League targets are few and diminishing by the week (Spurs, Newcastle, Sunderland etc).

Curbishley would be low risk and probably the fans favourite which would go some way to shoring up what looks like a severe drop in season ticket revenues next year. He is undoubtedly the best manager we've had since Jimmy Seed and arguably of all time. With the club heading back to the third division, the arguments about his inability to take us to the next level are academic as we are years away from having those worries again. For the record, I was one of those who believe he stayed too long and that Richard Murray did the right thing in making the change when he did. The fact that we got the wrong man in Dowie and spent money we couldn't afford supporting him was simply a decision that proved to be a bad one. Alan Pardew was a good appointment at the time and there was no justifiable reason not to suspect he couldn't repeat his previous successes. With hindsight clearly we would all have encouraged Murray to do everything he could to keep Curbishley but given the same choices all over again, I'm not sure I wouldn't do the same and go for someone else.

So, I'd be prepared to accept Curbs in the hope and knowledge that he could get the most out of whatever we've got, something we've obviously lacked since he left. The big question is, would his ego and ambition allow him to accept a move that he himself would not have countenanced a year ago or even as recently as six months ago. He wouldn't come cheap but maybe like many Charlton fans, he's also having second thoughts.

Boxing Day, Game 25

First of all, seasons greetings to you and I hope you and your families enjoy the break. The Addicks' chances of a profitable Christmas already look lost and the annual let-down is here again. Let's hope 2009 brings us more cheer - let's face it,  it would be hard to imagine a year worse than 2008.

Boxing Day looks like being unseasonally mild and I will be there for the 1pm encounter with QPR although I'm hardly excited about it. They weren't particularly impressive six games ago at their place but they had enough to saunter past us and I suspect they will take a least a point from this one. The fixtures aren't kind to us over the coming weekend, and whilst Doncaster might keep us off the bottom, the gap to safety only looks like increasing.

Burnley v Barnsley
Boxing Day has a habit of throwing surprises as sides under and over perform, often with strange team selections. However, I can't see beyond a home win here in this Yorks/Lancs encounter. Barnsley have done their hard work in the last couple of months and I suspect will have a day-off here.
Prediction; 3-0

Charlton Athletic v QPR
A game we should be looking to win but one, I suspect, we will be trying not to lose. A point will probably do Rangers as well although they might go for the win if we don't show some threat or come into this believing we are a pushover. Time is running out for Parkinson and he needs two wins in succession if the Board are to have the confidence and justification to extend his tenure until the end of the season. It's not going to happen.
Prediction; 1-1

Crystal Palace v Norwich City
The fixtures weren't falling for Palace earlier in the season but they certainly are now. Norwich will be easy-meat after Saturday.
Prediction; 3-0

Ipswich Town v Birmingham City
Alex McLeish will be looking for a reaction after being overhauled by Reading. My money's on Town to cheer their faithful and give Reading the edge in the automatic race in the process.
Prediction; 2-0

Nottingham Forest v Doncaster Rovers
Forest look like they are playing with more confidence and this is the best opportunity they will get to win their third home game. Rovers are doomed.
Prediction; 2-0

Plymouth Argyle v Southampton
Plymouth could do us a big favour here and I believe they will. Not even their erratic home form should be enough to prevent them securing a south-coast win over the Saints.
Prediction; 1-0

Preston NE v Derby County
Home win. Derby have survival on their mind and won last week. Preston have higher ambitions and a win here will keep them in touch with the play-off chasers.
Predictions; 2-0

Reading v Cardiff City
Cardiff have been travelling well down the M4 this season. They will have a good go here but Reading have the incentive of automatic promotion and should be able to smell blood.
Prediction; 3-2

Sheffield Wednesday v Blackpool
Good home form meets away battlers. Christmas hands the advantage to the Owls.
Prediction; 2-1

Swansea City v Coventry City
The Swans have drawn seven home games this year and Robert Martinez will see that as their play-off hopes wasted at the Liberty Stadium. Coventry meanwhile have been better away from the Ricoh although this looks a hard ask.
Prediction; 2-1

Watford v Bristol City
Watford slipped up at Derby on Saturday but will probably get this one right. Gary Johnson must be wondering what he's done wrong this year as Bristol City struggle to reproduce last season's form. 
Prediction; 2-0

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Sheffield United
Mick McCarthy will be confident of steering the best footballing side in the Championship into the Premier League now that they have turned for home. This will be another chnace of three points and in front of a bumper Molineux crowd. SEB, Big Chris and Kightly to turn the screw.
Prediction; 3-0

Looking back through that lot, I realise I have gone for every side to win at home bar one. 

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Norwich City 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

As omens go, it was not a good one. A game bird of some description run down by the Norwich express before we left Liverpool Street.

I joined the 600 other hardy souls yesterday for yet another depressing Charlton performance in the drizzle at Norwich. The area around the ground has changed dramatically since my last visit. The narrow terraced housing alongside the canal/river that lead to the ground has gone, to be replaced by pokey new-build housing and another bland shopping "experience." There's a Weatherspoons too (Queen of the Iceni) which has become very popular with the home fans but over the bridge The Kings and The Ferry Boat have been closed down. Note for next time - stay in town.

The game itself offered some promise in the first half. Both sides looked equally matched and chances at either end were limited. Rob Elliot looked sound in goal and the same team that started against Derby looked like they might the where-with-all to nick a second half winner. Hudson came closest to opening the scorng with a dipping shot that Marshall did very well to get a hand to and push out for a corner. Waghorn was looking to break at every opportunity and I really fancied our chances having got in at the break on level terms. 

However, we sunk deeper and deeper second-half as Norwich took increasing control of the match and our forward play seem to break down after Sam or Bouazza touched the ball. The inevitable came on the hour after Lita reacted quickest to a through ball. He took a touch back, turned and hit a low drive which beat Elliot into the corner. Parkinson responded by taking Waghorn off for Burton but the problem wasn't upfront, it was in a midfield that was struggling to contain Norwich and created next to nothing. The match petered out for an easy Norwich win. The text I got from a local work colleague summed it up - "poor." 

So where do we go from here? A win against QPR on Boxing Day looks unlikely and Sheffield United looks hopeless.  Unfortunately for Phil Parkinson that makes his position untenable in my book but the Board look desperate to avoid spending any money on a new man. You have to say, as well, that this squad of players increasingly look out-of-their-depth in this division irrespective of who's managing us. Perhaps that will be line we're given for sticking with Parkinson to the end of the season and maybe spending what little they will sanction on a new face or two.

Relegation is looking inevitable and maybe this year, for a change, we will be able to concentrate on winning the F A Cup. Despite being easily beaten yesterday, I could see us beating them at the Valley with a little bit of good fortune. 

Friday, 19 December 2008

Blackheath Ramblers - Norwich (A) 1996

I'm off to Norwich tomorrow to urge the Reds on in a game that really signals the start of Christmas. I will be going with a fellow Addick who has returned from his home in Mexico City for Christmas and several longed-for Charlton performances - I only hope he's not too disappointed.

Norwich is a lovely city and I've enjoyed a few weekends there over the years, mostly on the back of a Charlton visit. Best of the lot was a Blackheath Ramblers weekend -  which I have mentioned before but will elaborate; a dozen or so regulars in the Rose of Denmark have been booking a spring weekend away in pursuit of the Addicks for over 15 years now (I'll be told it's 20-something after this). Booking accommodation was invariably a problem because you would be asking for up to a dozen rooms, "singles or twins," which would usually raise suspicions and you would be told "we don't do football matches" or something similar. So we found out very quickly that if we booked in as the Blackheath Ramblers it was so much easier. Although the owner of a Sheffield Guest House once asked wryly after we had arrived "where's all your walking gear then?" 

For something different in 1996, the Ramblers booked a large canal boat which we picked up at Oulton Broad near Lowestoft on the Friday. We pootered towards Norwich at 4mph on the Friday and moored up overnight by a local hostelry and continued on our way up the Yare on the Saturday. The route took us right past Carrow Road and we stopped at the nearest pub to the ground for opening time. The local landlord was incredibly welcoming and he even came aboard with his wife after hours to serve us another round.  What a gentleman! We spent Sunday afternoon with him and the locals watching the football before heading out of Norwich. 

It was also a rare winning weekend for the Ramblers. Bradley Allen notched the only goal against Robert Fleck, Jeremy Goss and Co. A little bit of that tomorrow would do very nicely thank you very much.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Weekend Championship Preview, Game 24

This weekend we start the second half of the season looking for the first of 32 points which we will need to stay up. In other words we know need to match the first half performances of QPR if we are to have any chance of avoiding a calamitous relegation to the third tier of English football.Put another way, we need to acquire 14 points more than the 18 we mustered first half. We go to Norwich, a side only five points and three places above us.  They have won four at home, drawn three and lost four but have out-scored the opposition in front of their home fans. Keeping a clean sheet or restricting them to one goal looks likely to be key to getting anything here.

A chance here for Barnsley to extend the gap between them and the bottom six. Plymouth are very inconsistent and likely to win away when unexpected, although with Christmas approaching and bleak playing conditions you have to fancy Barnsley at home here.
Prediction; 1-0

Championship match-of-the-day in prospect here.  Second play third and Reading's big chance to move into the automatic placings. I can see Hunt and Doyle scoring and an uncomfortable afternoon for Brum.
Prediction; 1-2

Blackpool are up to 16th and will be counting down the points to another survival season in the Championship. This will be a game in which they will see another three points for the taking and Swansea might not have enough fight to stop them.
Prediction; 2-1

City's home form has cost them their season. They have won only two and drawn seven. 
Burnley are having another fine season under Owen Coyle and will be confident of at least a point. They have been beating lesser sides away from home and I can't see City winning this.
Prediction; 2-2

Amazingly, Sheffield Wednesday are within touching distance of the play-off places thanks to impressive home form. This is a match they need to win if they are to make a concerted push this year. However, they have been vulnerable away from Hillsborough and Cardiff have been decent at home. Too much then for the Owls.
Prediction; 2-0

Ipswich are in a similar position to Wednesday but they have been slightly better away and Coventry less impressive than Cardiff at home. Neither side look good enough to me for a play-off spot and a stalemate here looks a strong possibility.
Prediction; 0-0

Derby County v Watford
Watford have put a couple of results together under new manager, Brendan Rogers. they will be up for this, but so might Derby after staying in contention at the Valley and snatching a late point. I'll go with the home side to edge this.
Prediction; 2-1

Away win. Top versus bottom, Wolves too much firepower. We need it to avoid an ignominious return to last place.
Prediction; 1-3

A draw looks as much as we can hope for here. If we concede the first goal I can't see any way back as the heads will drop. We should field an unchanged side if we can.
Prediction; 2-0

QPR have been making the most of it this year and this looks like another side they can beat at home. Preston flatter to deceive for me and show why this isn't a great division.
Prediction; 2-0

Neil Warnock returns to Bramall Lane for more cheers and jeers. The winner looks like breaking into the play-off spots and form favours Palace. However, I'll go for the home win and hope a bit of reality sets in for Palace who are punching above their weight right now.
Prediction; 2-1

Failure for Charlton to win at Norwich and the task of climbing out of the drop zone will get harder as these teams will collect two points between them at least. Saints won't get a bigger opportunity to win a game and move clear of the bottom three and I can see them taking it here. Forest play the bottom four (excluding themselves) in their next four matches and if they don't get a decent return from those games, Colin Calderwood could face the axe if they gamble on staying up.
Prediction; 1-0

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Big Sam's not the man

Just in case anyone was still labouring under delusions that Sam Allardyce might be in the running for Valley Saviour, he has signed on as new Blackburn Rovers manager in a move that seemed favourite from the moment Paul Ince was shown the door. 

Allardyce is not the favourite of the Premiership elite who like to castigate him as a long ball merchant who builds physical teams with an emphasis on a "boring" direct style and this seems to be the prime talking point when he has been linked with any new club.  Whilst there is some obvious evidence to support this view, the fact that Big Sam's sides have a track record of getting results against the big four has more to do with it in my view. Blackburn fans will be delighted with whatever football they get between now and May just as long as they avoid the drop.

Now Allardyce has been homed elsewhere, I look forward to the announcement that a lower league club has snapped Paul Ince up, just to avoid the smallest risk of him appearing at the Valley. I can't think of a worse choice in the event Parky doesn't get the job.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Forward shuffle

Two pieces of news from the Valley today concerning promising strikers, one predictable and the other less so. 

Predictability first - Chris Dickson's patience has finally snapped and he's asked for, and been granted, a transfer request. With our finances being so dire, he looks as good as gone to me and a couple of hundred grand should do it. You have to feel sorry for him and conclude that he wasn't given much of a chance during his time with us. Nine substitute appearances was ultimately insufficient for Chris to show us what he can do and the fact that he failed to score was probably his undoing. Oh how he might rue falling through that glass table at a hotel this time last year which probably cost him a chance of a start and maybe a run under Pards. I am sure the Plumstead boy will make a career for himself elsewhere but it's unlikely to be in the upper echelons of professional football.

Unpredictability then, and Martyn Waghorn has signed a month's extension. He was rumoured to have thrown his toys out of the pram and confronted Parkinson after being dropped after the QPR game and he sat out the games up until last night. It was his final match before he was due to return north to Sunderland and when subbed after scoring, he gave what looked to me like a farewell wave to all four stands. Surprise therefore that he's signed for another month this morning and looks like he's favourite to start against Norwich. He had a much better game last night (than against QPR or his substitute show against Sheffield United) but he looked very raw. A number of first time flicks showed awareness and speed missed by most of his colleagues and he worked hard but looked unlikely to trouble the Derby defence until Lloyd Sam put it on a plate for him. Even then, his shot was nearly blocked and only a fortuitous deflection carried it passed Bywater (Bywater).  What he did do was encourage the service from Sam and Bouazza and he actually got Andy Gray moving beyond the shadow of his marker on one or two occasions. He just needs to show Gray how to jump and we'll be laughing.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Charlton Athletic 2 v Derby County 2

It's hard to know what to say after watching that. Phil Parkinson has now overseen two points from a possible fifteen and they have come at home against lowly Southampton and Derby, both of whom we should simply have beaten. We all know that nothing goes for you when you're struggling but you have to take control in situations like these and we have failed again. I think this was Parky's best chance of seeing a win during his tenure (until New Year).

Seeming to have heeded the recent fan criticism of playing too many loan players without any longer term commitment to the club, Parkinson started with only two this evening- Cranie and Waghorn. The big surprise was that Rob Elliot started in goal with Weaver relegated to the bench. Fortune and Hudson were paired in the middle again and Grant Basey came in at left-back. Central midfield is again becoming an urgent problem for us and Bailey started with Semedo today. Lloyd Sam got the left right berth and Hameur Bouazza the right with Gray and Waghorn up front.

Both sides started brightly and you couldn't help thinking that the overall quality of play might have looked better on Sky than the TV audience were expecting. Derby didn't look like a side in turmoil or who might lose their manager at 90 minutes notice. They played with confidence in midfield and upfront without creating too much but their defence did look a bit hesitant on occasions when put under pressure. 

Lloyd Sam should have opened the scoring when he seized on a moment of hesitancy in the Derby box and created the opening but his shot smacked off Bywater's left-hand post with the goal at his mercy. Andy Gray atoned for that miss minutes later when he finished a good move after taking a Semedo cross down and beating Darren Powell to slide his shot past the on-rushing Bywater. Charlton went in 1-0 up at half-time with only a skewed header from Zadkovich to come anywhere close for County. I expected a second Charlton goal after the break, kicking towards the Covered End, which would have finished Derby off. 

Powell was lucky to survive a last-man foul on Bouazza after 56 minutes and Bouazza drilled the resultant free-kick over the bar. As anticipated, we got the big chance to make it two when Martin Waghorn flicked the ball over the out-coming Derby defence and for once the linesman kept his flag down as Bouazza scampered in one-on-one with Bywater from a central position. The Valley held it's collective breath but Bouazza blasted over the bar. Minutes later, Derby finally opened the Charlton defence and Teale beat Elliot from close range but the goal was ruled out for another offside. The warning was there and Derby duly equalised from a penalty after Semedo inexplicably handled in the box under no pressure and right in front of Andy D'Urso - I seem to remember him doing this once before....

It took the Addicks just two minutes to restore their lead, Lloyd Sam did brilliantly down the left and beat his man to cut in and square the ball for the eager Waghorn whose shot was deflected but had enough to beat Bywater. The relief in the stadium was evident and it really did look like we were set to win. Both sides began to introduce substitutes and Charlton were content to play the ball around in the Derby half to waste time. Gillespie had come on for Sam and Burton for Waghorn as we won a succession of throw-ins but you sensed we should have been going for the jugular. In the third minute of added time, Derby launched a throw into the box which Basey could only head on and there was Ellington to slam home for an undeserved equaliser. The players were left in a slumped mess on the pitch at the whistle and it will take some motivation to avoid defeat at Carrow Road.

The defence played very well today and didn't deserve to concede two goals. Fortune was outstanding in the first half as was Cranie in the second as he dominated his contest with Luke Varney (who offered very little threat). Hudson was strong and Basey had a solid game up until he presented Ellington with his second equaliser. Our problem was in central midfield where Semedo didn't do nearly enough with Bailey to offer sufficient protection to the back four. Lloyd Sam had the beating of the Derby defence on his side but he should have scored and made more of a couple of other runs. Bouazza was also well involved but wasted the opportunity to win the game. Gray struggled upfront despite his goal and Waghorn tried hard and was ultimately rewarded with his goal. I suspect we've seen the last of him and it's a real shame we won't remember his goal as winner. 

The crowd were the best they have been all season in terms of vocal support and there were evidently more in attendeance than the Coventry game even if the actual numbers present fell a good bit short of the paying attendance of 20,989. I am going to Norwich on Saturday but I will travel more in feint hope than any expectation.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Rod Liddle and The Stereotypes

I invariably enjoy Rod Liddle's articles. He is topical and has an unusual perspective for a journo writing for the Sunday Times. He is a middle-aged man with something of a chip on his shoulder so sub-consciously I fear I might see something of myself in him? 

He is, of course, a Millwall fan who sees the world in stereotypes (don't they all!) which are the recurring theme of nearly everything he writes. Class is one of these and football is another. I can never make out whether he is a working class boy with middle class guilt or a middle class boy striving for more left-wing  street-cred. He was born in Abbey Wood and he has been a Millwall supporter since the age of seven, which was handy as the family left for Teeside when he was eight. That might also explain his penchant for having a go at us Charlton fans whenever he can. More guilt here I suspect, coming from Abbey Wood.

In todays edition, he pens a piece about how we are fiddling our gates to look like we doing better than we are (certainly better than Millwall's 6,000). No issue with that, I think we all feel similarly, however, he can't help himself from having a pop at the stay-aways who "went down the pub instead, or hung out on London Bridge station with their little notebooks and thermos flasks." Ho-ho, how funny and another great stereotype.

Well Rod, you reminded me of one of my favourites. The old analogy that your average Charlton fan knits his own scarf whereas the average Millwall fan sews his own mailbags. I know what I'd prefer everytime.

D-Day for Paul Jewell

Well we finally get to play a club who are arguably under-going a more prolonged and dramatic collapse than ourselves. Welcome Derby County then to the Valley. Under pressure Paul Jewell could find defeat at the Valley his last match in charge as reported in the Daily Mail.

Relegated last season after amassing the lowest points total in Premier League history, Paul Jewell had to preside over the embarrassment of seeing his side propping up the Championship table in the early weeks and they have fallen back again recently after a mini-revival which saw them win their first match in over 12 months! Jewell has managed only 6 league wins in 46 games and despite Derby's semi-final League Cup appearance where they have a possibly humiliating exit against Manchester United reserves, he faces the sack if we beat them tomorrow.

It is probably as much a reflection on the state of our own club that a defeat against us is deemed so bad that your manager gets the sack. Still, we shouldn't be overly concerned as long as we get the win. Derby's recent form of a point from the last 15 matches our own but they have won more recently than us. However, if there is dissention in their ranks and a split dressing room this might be the opportunity some have been waiting for. How desperate are we?

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Parkinson gets four more games for now...

In an effort to steady the ship, Richard Murray has come out and said that Phil Parkinson will be given until the end of December to make his mark. The statement on the club website explained that the Board don't see the point of bringing in anyone else until the transfer window opens because they can't do anything to change the squad. 

Not very convincing from where I sit. It's not as if we're going to be splashing the cash in January whoever the manager is and it doesn't say much for the Board's view of the current squad. This comes on the back of Parkinson making a similar comment about not being able to make changes until January. If there's any realistic chance of a new man coming in then presumably he could get to know the current players before the January window opens? I suspect this means they can't see beyond Parky but need a few results before they can commit to a longer reign.  Derby looks like Parkinson's best chance of his first win and if we don't get it I fear he might not get one this year as we have some tough matches coming up. If we don't improve then it's hard to see how Parkinson could be given the job and you would then have to wonder whether or not Robson or Kinsella might get a go.

At least the results went for us today with only Forest picking up a point at home. If, and it's a big if, we can get actually beat Derby, we will get off the bottom and get a bit closer to Norwich and Southampton who have to be our targets for safety.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Luke Varney returns

If there was any remaining doubt that Luke Varney has been sold to Derby rather than loaned for now, it disappeared this morning with the news that Charlton have agreed that Luke can play for Derby at the Valley on Monday. I can rarely remember a more obvious looking "I told you so" moment waiting to happen. This comedy of errors season continues.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Young Gun for the Valley?

Arsene Wenger is preparing to put three of his young stars out to Championship clubs for the second half of the season and we are being linked with hotshot Jay Simpson. Simpson is coming up for 20 and spent most of last year in South London with the Lions where is scored 8 goals and was awarded the PFA's League One Player of the Year.

If he does come to the Valley, we will need 16 goals in half a season and without it he might not find Charlton fans as pleased to see him as Millwall's were.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v Coventry City 2

Rock bottom and still sinking. A very average Coventry side walked off with three points this evening and it's becoming almost impossible to see any way out. Phil Parkinson didn't get the performance we needed and it was some way below the Southampton showing. His team selection didn't help but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that his chances of a "bounce" have gone and he's sitting on an unimpressive 1 point from 12. Hard to predict what he can say after this showing.

If the Board are still considering appointing a new manager, they need to act this week. If they are not for whatever reason (e.g. no money), then they should appoint Parkinson until the end of the season so we can all get on with it.

I won't bother to attempt a match report as there wasn't much to remember. Things looked doomed from the start with the inexplicable front pairing of Burton and McLeod. McLeod? Why? Perhaps in his desperation, Parky was trying to throw a double-six. I wouldn't have minded so much if our options were restricted but Todorov and Gray were subs. McLeod went on to have an absolute stinker and it was a surprise that he was still on the field to fall over for a dodgy penalty on 50 minutes. The man is out of his depth in the Championship; he is not a natural footballer; he can't tackle; he can't shoot; he can't jump; he doesn't read the game well (always offside); all he can do is hare about and it's high time he hared off somewhere else. After two whole-hearted performances, Deon Burton hardly got a touch tonight. Having seen McLeod in training, he might have been as shocked as the rest of us to see him starting as his "strike partner." That or maybe this is more like his normal performance that has made him surplus to requirements at Sheffield Wednesday.

Behind them, Bouazza had a good first half and looked like the player who most wanted a win. Perhaps he was trying extra hard to appease the home fans having given the travelling Addicks the finger at Blackpool. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough to sustain him second half and once again he disappeared after the break - barring a three minute spell when Todorov and Gray came on in a double substitution. You could see him thinking "I must look like I'm going to step it up now that we've brought on two better forwards."

Gillespie had his quietest game since he arrived and looked more like the player I thought he had become at Sheffield United i.e. no hunger and seeing his days out.

Matt Holland ran around but didn't see a lot of the ball which again put a bit more pressure on Nick Bailey and it showed. Bailey couldn't cope with Tabb and Gunnarson; he was repeatedly caught in possession or passed straight to one of them having won the ball in the tackle. All of a sudden he is looking like a player recruited from the third division for a "big fee" of £500,000.

At the back, Hudson was probably my man of the match although to be fair there wasn't much to choose from. He worked tirelessly and got in a good first half header from a corner that was probably our best chance from open play. Jonathan Fortune was ok but boy is he annoying to watch when he trots through games we are losing like he couldn't really care less. 

Semedo played most of the game at right back having come on early for Jay McEveley who injured himself -  it looked by getting his studs caught in the turf - I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him again. Jose did ok in the circumstances. On the other side, Cranie was marginally worse. He struggled with Michael Mifsud all night and was fortunate that Eastwood and Morrison both had quiet nights.

That leaves Nicky Weaver. He couldn't do anything about the first goal which was poorly defended and fired home from close range but he was beaten from a 30 yard free-kick for the second which wasn't hit with pace. I really do think we should try Rob Elliot. He might give the back four a bit more confidence or inspire 5% more concentration if they feel they need to protect him a bit better than they do Weaver.

On top of that the officials were equally poor. The linesmen flagged for anything remotely close to offside and the referree got a host of important decisions wrong including the penalty we were awarded. He was finicky with his bookings and both sides suffered, especially to towards the end. Bouaazza picked up a card for dissent following his wrongly awarded a goal-kick when it was plainly a corner. Fortune was booked not long afterwards for a good block tackle in which he won the ball and Simpson was booked in extra time for throwing a ball up in the air that wasted all of three seconds.

The crowd were patient and supportive first half, although there was muted booing at the break. The team gave less to cheer about in the second half and they went off to a chorus of "what a load of rubbish" which just about summed it up for me.

We might find oursleves five points or more adrift from safety as we take the field next Monday and it's looking like we might be cut-off with Doncaster and Forest. If I didn't live around the corner and had nothing better to do, I'd give Monday a miss and watch it on the box.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Has it been worse than this? Yes and no.

As our 2008 nightmare continues, there is an increasing amount of debate about just how bad things are and if it's the worst we've ever seen. The angst on the forums is palpable and tempers are fraying.  It's worth ten minutes, therefore, to consider the last two occasions in living memory when we have been relegated to the third division. Ok, so we've not been relegated yet but let's consider worst case as that's what everyone seems to be doing.

The "first" occasion (since 1935) was when we finished second bottom on 33 points from 42 matches. These were the days of 22 clubs in the second division, two teams up, two down and only two points for a win. Nonetheless, we actually managed a creditable 12 wins and 9 draws. Our home form was won 9, drew 7 and lost 5 and an average of 10,430 attended the Valley. Theo Foley was the manager and he was kept on, eventually steering our return three years later.

Prior to this season, we had been in the second division for 14 seasons since relegation from the top flight in 1956-57. It was obviously a huge disappointment for a club that had the largest ground capacity in the football league (66,000), many of whose fans could still remember winning the F A Cup (only 25 years ago) and who still saw their club as true sleeping giants.

However, communication between supporters was limited to the archaic Supporters Club which was part-controlled by the Club and which tended to attract a particular type of supporter who tended to be more optimistic and accepting than the norm (some might say that little's changed here). Membership was relatively small and meetings were few and far between. There were no independent publications and communication outside of the Supporters Club was limited to the people you stood near to on match days. I am reliably informed that criticism of the club and players was widespread but largely based on gallows humour or homourous piss-taking of poor or average players who were usually trying their best. The local papers helped air the mood but the reporters on these tended to be mindful of upsetting the Board and losing their platform for speaking with players and officials.

The Board themselves were dominated by the Gliksten family who, whilst relatively wealthy, were typical of Chairmen of their day who didn't see the need to spend heavily and, frankly, who could usually rely upon the ability of their manager to make the difference.

After four seasons back in the second division (8th, 7th, 17th, 19th) we went down bottom of the table with 6 wins, 10 draws and 26 defeats from the 42 matches. Our home form of won 6, drew 6 and lost 9 was the worst in living memory and even that meant we only managed 4 draws away from the Valley.

I saw the majority of these games including the humiliating 6-0 F A Cup hammering at Wrexham. Reality had been sinking in during the 70's and, whilst Theo Foley's charges from 74-75 had managed two decent seasons back in the second division (albeit under Nelson), we had struggled badly in 77-78 and 78-79 whilst our stock in the national game was as low as it's ever been. During 77-78, our Chairman, Michael Gliksten had decided to cash in on the success of the North American Soccer League and actually allowed three of our most influential players to go on loan to New England whilst we still had five games to play to avoid relegation! During 78-79 we had the spectacle of both of our strikers sent-off for fighting each other, such was the mood in the camp. We were about as "unfashionable" as it was possible to be. We were relegated in front of an average Valley crowd that year of a miserly 7,208. 

Supporter organisation hadn't improved much since 71-72. The Supporters Club was still ineffectual but the Covered End were more vocal and there were frequent post-match demonstrations outside the West Stand where Michael Gliksten and his family were invariably the targets having been blamed over the generations for failing to reinvest profits to grow the club when we were generating them; an accusation that was hard to argue against. It was after one of these following a 1-0 defeat by Birmingham City that Andy Nelson was finally relieved of his role as "General Manager" and Mike Bailey was effectively given the Managers job. The Kentish Independant and The Mercury were much more inclined to report supporter unrest and were giving more honest appraisals of playing short-comings.

Well we're certainly on track for relegation. Bottom of the table with 4 wins and 5 draws from 21 matches in line with previous relegation seasons. However, other things are markedly different; we've nearly been bought out by fantastically wealthy foreigners; we've sold most of our saleable players; we've already sacked one manager and are trying a second.

Relegation would come on the back of another relegation from the top flight in 06-07 after 7 previous years of playing the best in England. This was undoubtedly a golden era in our lifetimes so far but we shouldn't forget that most of these seasons were a struggle; we never qualified for Europe and often struggled at home which wasn't great for the majority of seson ticket holders who don't go to many away games. We still didn't make a Cup semi-final.

The biggest difference though, has to be supporter interaction and organisation. We have had a supporter on the Board for years now (even if that's being brought to an end) and communication with the Clubs owners has prospered in the last 15 years. Our supporters communicate like never before; the Club's own website supports debate, not all of it favourable; we have several on-line message boards which run 24-hours a day and we have a dozen regular Bloggers and as many occasional others. A sign of the times is the fact that we have an active and vocal international fan base and we've even chosen this crap season to launch our internet based CAFCTV service. On-line communication is so prolific that the local press largely takes a back seat and rarely has any actual "news" to convey. As things stand we are averaging 20,000 paying Customers albeit based upon expectations of a decent season and the distance promise of a free season ticket.

So, for me , the answer is very clear. It was worse in the past, particularly 79-80. However, it feels like this is much worse because of the expectation of supporters, the fact that so many more are watching us now and because our fall seems to have been so much further so much more quickly. We should remind ourselves of this tomorrow night when we play Coventry and again in a week's time when Derby visit us. Both of these clubs believe they belong in the top flight; Derby won the Championship in the 70's and Coventry the FA Cup in the 80's. Coventry struggled all last season and Derby were bottom of the table for the first ten games of the season.

I firmly believe that we all play our part in how our club performs, how our players are affected by results and how we are perceived by the rest of the footballing world. At the moment we are in danger of looking like spoiled brats who can't stand losing; if that's what we've become through the behaviour of the majority, then I am afraid this season is lost and we will need to lose those who cannot stand it before we once again get back to the fan base we once were who enjoyed our football, were proud of our club (irrespective) and supported our team come what may. We had a touch of humility which made the big days so much more enjoyable. That's not to say we shouldn't let players know they are not pulling their weight or feel we can't express our disappointment but the witch-hunt has gone on for long enough. Pardew's gone and we're left with the sort of squad you expect when you've recouped £15m and brought in 7 loan players. There doesn't look to be a magic wand, so we've just got to roll our sleeves up and get on with it. A couple of wins and it could all look a lot better.