Thursday, 29 April 2010

Go on Fulham!

Fulham picked up the Charlton mantle when we dropped out of the Premier League and Roy Hodgson became the new Alan Curbishley. That's probably harsh on Hodgson whose CV significantly outshines Curbs', but he picked up the role of manager of London's most unfashionable Premier League club and he has over-performed a la Curbishley since taking over.
Having gone one better than Curbishley and steered Fulham into Europe, albeit the Europa League, he's gone and taken them to the final tonight. In yet another stirring performance, Fulham came from behind to beat Hamburg 2-1 with good friend of my step-sister, Simon Davies, providing a top quality finish to get the Cottagers back in it before Gera got the winner.
If we had managed to reach this stage of a European competition, you could bet it wouldn't be televised and Fulham were no exceptions this evening. Good luck to them in the final - I will cheer them all the way and wouldn't bet against Roy embellishing his CV further.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 45

Last home game of the season on Saturday and I am reliably informed that the gate will be our biggest of the season at around 24,000. I am surprised that we should be attracting approximately 4,000 more fans to this game than we managed against Norwich a fortnight ago. On the basis that Norwich took their full allocation and Leeds are doing the same, it would appear that Charlton fans find this a more appealing fixture and yet there is, arguably, less to play for. Some Leeds fans may have managed to get tickets in the home areas but I can't expect there will be many and it will also appeal to Millwall fans who aren't making the trek to Birkenhead, but again, that will in no way account for an additional 400, let alone 4,000 (I remember my Dad towing me down to the Den in the early 70's when Millwall came closest to their first ever promotion to the top flight. We walked home with disconsolate Millwall fans in complete silence).
The match itself should be another feisty affair and our players should be treating this as a play-off warm-up and an opportunity to psych Leeds out in the event we play them again in the coming weeks. The pressure is all on Leeds but they know a win could see them promoted if Tranmere can manage an 11th home win of the season against Millwall. The game may swing upon the first goal and I believe we will get it.
Bristol Rovers v Norwich City
Both sides playing for pride here. Rovers will want to beat the divisional Champions and it will be interesting to see if Paul Lambert's motivational powers extend to keeping his de-mob happy players focused. Having done the hard part, Norwich might find Rovers might have more fight about them.
Prediction; 2-1
Carlisle United v Walsall
Mid-table nothingness and I'll take home advantage.
Prediction; 2-0
Charlton Athletic v Leeds United
I am not expecting any hangover to the Jonjo Shelvey transfer and our players still owe us a big result at the Valley this season. Leeds cracked at Gillingham and I expect us to put them under similar first-half pressure. The half-time result at Tranmere could affect the second-half at the Valley depending on results. If Tranmere are winning, we could see Leeds take a more cautious approach to the second period but if Millwall have the lead, they might throw caution to wind and chase the game. Either way, if we play as well as we did against Norwich I can't see them holding us.
Prediction; 2-1
Gillingham v Southampton
The Gills are still in the mire despite beating Leeds the other week and they know they have to win this as their away form will likely see them relegated at Wycombe if they fail here. Southampton have missed out on the play-offs and might just be off the pace.
Prediction; 1-0
Hartlepool v Exeter City
Exeter remain in trouble at the bottom after our equaliser last week and with Huddersfield yet to come at home, this could be another struggle. Hartlepool should be safe but I'll take them to make sure here.
Prediction; 2-0
Huddersfield Town v Colchester United
This fixture threatened to be the denouement for Colchester but they fluffed their play-off chances a few weeks ago. Expect the Terriers to apply some salt to the wounds as they pump themselves up for the play-offs.
Prediction; 3-0
Leyton Orient v Wycombe Wanderers
The O's need another win to guarantee safety and they should get it here against the Chairboys, who have rallied in recent games but who have surely left it too late? They need two wins and other results to go for them. Can't see it.
Prediction; 2-0
MK Dons v Brighton & Hove Albion
MK Dons are in a tail-spin following Paul Ince's decision to throw in the towel at the end of the season and I expect Brighton to profit.
Prediction; 0-2
Southend United v Stockport County
League One's basement no-hopers get to play an early League Two fixture. The Shrimpers will see this as a chance to send out a warning of their intention to bounce back next year and Stockport's current predicament means they might struggle next year too.
Prediction; 3-0
Swindon Town v Brentford
Like us, Swindon look to have missed the automatic boat but they will want to win this to take it to the wire in the unlikely event that both Millwall and Leeds are beaten.
Prediction; 2-0
Tranmere Rovers v Millwall
Milwall know they must win this game to put their destiny back in their own hands. Trouble is, Tranmere are hard to beat at home in recent months and they need the points. A stalemate might be on the cards but it would be enough if Leeds go down at the Valley because it would put Millwall level on points but with a superior goal difference dependent upon our score. Not many Addicks would complain about that.
Prediction; 1-1
Yeovil Town v Oldham Athletic
Yeovil should be ok but they know a win here seals it and you can't see Oldham putting up that much of a fight.
Prediction; 2-0

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Shelvey to Liverpool

Charlton have been surprisingly quick to let Jonjo Shelvey speak to Liverpool about a £1.7m move which would include add-ons which we are unlikely to see unless and until Jonjo fulfils much more of his potential. The timing of this move seems strange coming with four key matches yet to come and a fifth which could yet be historic for the club. I can only assume that the Board have had to precipitate this move in order to top-up the coffers and keep the club functioning smoothly as we enter a critical phase in the season.

You have to assume that Jonjo has played his last match for Charlton Athletic. The moaners will no doubt start the debate about how much more Shelvey is worth but we have to see £1.7m as a good price for an 18 year old who has only shown promise so far. There is an argument that Jonjo has been played out of position this season and that he hasn't had a proper run, but for my money, he has not shown the sort of desire and effort expected of players of similar age and talent. I have made the comment previously but he doesn't compare favourable to Lee Bowyer or Scott Parker when they burst into the first team.

Having said all that, we should wish Jonjo well and hope he gets to make an impact at Anfield in the medium term. He could easily hang around on the fringes for two or three seasons before being moved on to a lesser club. John Bostock immediately springs to mind.

Elsewhere, Dirty Leeds fans appear to be preparing for the formality of a victory at the Valley on Saturday and promotion celebrations. In an echo of the Millwall game, they are already bragging about having dozens of seats in the Charlton stands and of how they will be bringing champagne with them to be opened at ten to five. Post-match celebrations are also well advanced although I am taking plans for the Old Kent Road with a large pinch of salt.

In the circumstances, we have every incentive to mock them very loudly on Saturday if we beat them, as I expect us to. They might suddenly find that their season has once again gone tits-up and that they face their annual play-off implosion. Don't forget either that they are arrogant Yorkshiremen with an inbred (sic) sense of superiority and chips on both shoulders - so there's absolutely no need to feel sorry for them. 

Palace on the brink of relegation

The Championship season finishes on Sunday when the combatants play their 46th match. West Brom and Newcastle will return to the top flight and will be joined by one of Forest, Cardiff, Leicester, Blackpool or Swansea. Forest must be warm favourites, although it's encouraging to see Leicester in the mix in their first season back following promotion from League One and who could imagine Ian Holloway and Blackpool in the Premier League?
At the other end of the table it's more straightforward. Plymouth and Peterborough have hit rock bottom and return from whence they last came and will be joined by either Sheffield Wednesday or Crystal Palace who slug it out at Hillsborough on Saturday. Palace missed their chance of safety last night when they could only manage a draw at home to promoted West Brom. The game could have gone either way until the death but Palace can have few complaints and will have to face the owls without the influential Neil Dans who got himself sent-off for a head-butt. Defeat in Sheffield would complete a disastrous season for the Eagles which has seen them dive from the verge of the play-offs to a last-match relegation showdown following Administration and the loss of Neil Warnock, all with a matter of months. The calculated decision to take them into liquidation looks like it could back-fire spectacularly on their major creditors who have been unable to find a buyer and they price of the club will drop further if they become a League One outfit.
Sheffield Wednesday have been flirting with the drop themselves for a couple of seasons and have under-performed again as Alan Irvine has tried to steady the ship, but they know that a home win will save them.
Ironic then that a Charlton victory over Leeds on Saturday could open the door for Millwall to snatch promotion. If that's the way it plays out, us fans should have an added incentive for cheering our side through the play-offs to join the Lions and swap with Palace. Defeat on Saturday, of course, and we face the real prospect of all three of us potentially battling it out in League One next season, although the odds on that are probably similar at the moment to the prospect of all three of us being in the Championship?
Did someone say this season would be something of a rollercoaster?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Shelvey speculation starts as play-offs loom

The speculation began yesterday about the future of Jonjo Shelvey, less than a day after Charlton's automatic promotion hopes disappeared. The first club linked with the enigmatic 18 year-old is Liverpool, which is interesting bearing in mind the languid Gerrard-esk style of Shelvey. Encouragingly, Arsenal and Chelsea are also said to be keeping a watchful eye, so we can hope that the £2m price tag rises a little before any deal is confirmed. I wonder whether this level of interest might keep Jonjo out of the team through the play-offs less he were to do himself a mischief?

As we prepare for a full-blooded game with Leeds United on Saturday that could be a fore-runner for another epic play-off encounter, eyes turn to the bottom of the Championship and the side we hope to replace. Palace host promoted West Brom this evening in a match of real importance for their survival as they bid to stay in business. A win would secure Palace's Championship position. Failure to win and they go to Hillsborough on Saturday knowing that the loser would be swapping places with the League One play-off winners. The south-east London irony here is delicious, with Charlton possibly throwing Millwall an automatic promotion lifeline by beating Leeds and improving their play-off chances of potentially replacing Palace in the Championship. Imagine being relegated the season both of your south-east London rivals are promoted above  you?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Exeter City 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

A desperately frantic second-half saw Exeter take the lead and Charlton equalise and then do everything but get the winner. Darren Randolph made a stunning stop at 1-1 and Sam Sodje went off injured after a last gasp lunging tackle that stopped another Grecians attack when they looked favourite to score. Miguel Llera wrapped the post from a 20-yard free-kick and both Burton and Forster were denied by the City keeper as Charlton threw the proverbial kitchen sink at their hosts.

The point wasn't enough with Leeds and Millwall both winning as expected and barring a miracle involving goal difference, it's the play-offs for us. The incentive next week is to put one over Leeds for the play-offs and help Millwall to promotion so that we avoid them in the play-offs..

On a more positive front, if Southampton win their last two games by a twenty goal margin, they will still finish at least  a point outside the play-offs. Justice has been served.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Palace looking to ground-share

That's the hot rumour on the street and it's certainly a logical conclusion when you look at the obstacles preventing a settlement with the Administrator and new ownership of Palace. The elephant in the room here is Selhurst Park and the prohibitively expensive lease.
As the interested consortium tries to mitigate the cost of their takeover, the continued use of Selhurst Park is important for so many reasons (as we know better than most) but if push comes to shove, then CPFC would need to consider ground-sharing. It is obviously a good tactical position to have a Plan B but there is every reason to believe that the current freeholders might be excited about the prospect of getting permission to sell for development in the event that Palace moved away. That in itself might encourage them to play hard ball with any prospective new owners of the football club.
The word is that the consortium have approached Charlton, Millwall and Gillingham about a possible ground-share. As a Charlton fan who endured every home game at Selhurst Park and as a resident of SE7, I seriously hope this comes nowhere near me. Gillingham is too awkward a journey and no-one could seriously choose to send their fans to the New Den more than once a season if they had any other option. Bearing in mind our financial situation and  the fact that Simon Jordan has gone, it's not completely out-of-the-question that we could end up with lodgers. Should this come to pass, there will be no welcome on my hillside.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 44

Just three Saturdays left this season before probable added time of the play-offs. The battle for second place continues and we can expect more place-swapping in the chase.

Brentford v Yeovil Town
After a shaky start, Brentford have proven themselves very hard to beat at Griffin Park. Two defeats in 21 home games tells you the story and they will be confident of beating Yeovil who will be relying on seeing off Oldham at home next week to secure their League One status.
Prediction; 2-0

Brighton & Hove Albion v Bristol Rovers
Tenth play ninth here and Brighton continue their gradual improvement under Gus Poyet. I fancy Brighton to win their sixth home match of the year.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Tranmere Rovers
It's looks a matter of time before Colchester's disappointing tail-off to the season is confirmed and they miss out on the play-offs. A win for Huddersfield at Stockport will effectively shut the door on the U's irrespective of the score in this one. Tranmere have won only twice away all season and they won't do it here.
Prediction; 3-0

Exeter City v Charlton Athletic
Anything other than a win for the Addicks will likely rule automatic promotion out on goal difference as I expect Leeds to win at Elland Road. Exeter have been hard to beat at home and have only been beaten there four times this season. They have the added incentive of having to maintain their slender two point lead over fourth-bottom Tranmere and I can see the Grecians breaking our hearts (for now). One good omen may be that we haven't been beaten away at any of the bottom 11 sides.
Prediction; 2-1

Leeds United v MK Dons
Leeds may be coughing and spluttering but surely a rudderless MK Dons won't upset the apple-cart. Having been beaten 3-2 at home by Wycombe last week I can see a capitulation on the cards here.
Prediction; 3-0

Millwall v Leyton Orient
Should be routine for Millwall but that's just the sort of fixture they screw-up. The O's still need another win but they will probably be concentrating on Wycombe at home.
Prediction; 2-0

Norwich City v Gillingham
This is the fixture that Norwich should really have kept to get promoted in. As it is, they will clinch the title here as their procession nears it's end. Gllingham must be close to 10-1 on the coupon this week to upset the odds. Don't even think about it.
Prediction; 4-0

Oldham Athletic v Southend United
Oldham were the toast of envious penniless League One clubs last night as they fought for an impressive draw at St Mary's and hammered another nail in Pardew's play-off ambitions. They must be confident of scoring here and relegating Southend.
Prediction; 2-0

Southampton v Carlisle United
Saints look like finishing seventh this season which will be a justification of the ten point penalty they received at the end of last season following their Administration. They will be installed as close favourites for promotion next year, a position Alan Pardew has messed-up in the past.
Prediction; 2-0

Stockport County v Huddersfield Town
You can usually rely upon the lost causes to start upsetting the odds at this point of the season. Stockport, however, have so many problems to contend with that another home defeat here won't make much difference one way or the other.
Prediction; 0-2

Walsall v Hartlepool United
Mid-table drudgery. I'll go with home advantage.
Prediction; 1-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Swindon Town
Wycombe rallied last week at MK Dons but they may have left it too late. Five points behind Exeter and six from Gillingham, they simply have to win. Swindon are safely installed in the play-offs but know that a victory here with Brentford to come at home would give them every chance of a dramatic last day promotion at the New Den. That incentive could just be sufficient to fire them to victory at Adams Park.
Prediction; 1-2

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

West Ham and Palace on the brink

West Ham's capitulation at Anfield last night leaves them three points clear of hopeless Hull with three games to play. I want Ian Dowie to add another relegation to his unimpressive CV but wouldn't want to see West Ham relegated in any event. I know many other Charlton fans don't share my liking of West Ham, but surely we don't want Dowie to succeed at their expense? West Ham have a rejuvenated Wigan at the Boleyn ground on Saturday and must win as they face two possible successive defeats at Fulham and at home to Man City in their last game. Hull have four to play, starting with Villa at home tomorrow night. They then have Sunderland at home which looks like their easiest game before going to Wigan and finishing at home to Liverpool. Three or four points looks possible for Hull, so the pressure may well be on the Hammers.
I have a number of good mates who hail from the other side of the water and West Ham were a welcoming and supportive club when we needed respite from Selhurst Park in the late 80's, early 90's. It's not their fault they have been bought by Gold and Sullivan, and relegation could give them serious financial problems in view of their debt mountain. The one thing that's for sure, is that Gold and Sullivan will be unlikely to bank-roll them like generous benefactors in the event they go down.
Sheffield Wednesday's Sunday draw in the Steel City derby means they remain a point behind Palace in the scrap to avoid League One. Both sides look like losing their next games, with Wednesday at Cardiff and Palace hosting promoted West Brom on Monday in a live game we can all peep at. That leaves Palace travelling to Hillsborough for the last game of the season, in a fixture that will remind their supporters of their last relegation at the Valley. Luke Varney is running the show at Wednesday right now and could yet pip Christian Dailly to the Charlton Player of the Year award. It's at moments like this where you wish Wednesday had retained Akpo Sodje in the hope that  a Greenwich boy might apply the killer touch to Palace. 
Relegation for West Ham might induce a financial meltdown that could seriously weaken the Hammers for a few seasons to come but relegation for Palace really could spell the end. Unless their debtors are prepared to wash theirs hands, even a token pence-in-the-pound buyout looks pricey for any prospective buyer bearing in mind they need to buy a football ground to play on as well. Relegation may actually help Palace cut their cloth quicker and accustom them to what the future holds if they survive - lower league football for years to come on a ground fit for the lower leagues (I don't mean Selhurst Park). All the signs are that Brendan Guilfoyle, the Administrator, is underwhelmed with serious offers and that with no money anywhere, there must be serious concern that Palace will be wound up after the sell-off that must ensue after the Sheffield showdown.
Puts the potential failure to gain automatic promotion into perspective doesn't it?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Too much to do

In terms of the chances of automatic promotion, we expected things to look clearer this morning. The fact that Norwich are up doesn't really help too much as with the rest of us failing to get a win between us, it was more a case of counting another game down and limiting the opportunities for any significant change, although with only a three point gap between the contenders, anything is possible. Goal difference could yet be the cruel decider.

What has become clearer in the last few weeks is that some of the fixtures yet to be played look harder than they did, especially for Millwall and Swindon, which offers Charlton fans real hope.

Leeds     - MK Dons (h),  Charlton (a), Bristol Rovers (h)
Millwall   - Leyton Orient (h), Tranmere (a), Swindon (h)
Swindon - Wycombe (a), Brentford (h), Millwall (a)
Charlton - Exeter City (a), Leeds (h), Oldham (a)

Leeds lost badly at Gillingham on Saturday. The 3-2 scoreline made it look respectable but they were 3-0 down and you have to believe their bottle has gone. Unfortunately, MK Dons is looking like the easiest fixture in the division right now and I can't see Leeds failing to beat them at Elland Road next week. That might hand them a Norwich-sized incentive to win at the Valley, possibly for promotion depending on other results. Leeds then finish with another side at home who look very beatable - Bristol Rovers. I can't see them winning at the Valley but I can see them finishing on 86 points.
Millwall's run-in looked the easiest of all but Orient have just mustered two successive wins and know they still need another to be sure of survival, although they will be concentrating on Wycombe at home which follows the Millwall game. Who knows, maybe London pride could spark a surprise like it did when they visited the Valley. My bet is Millwall will close this one out. They then face Tranmere away, which they might find their hardest battle yet. Tranmere are hanging on and it's their home form which could yet save them. I will take Tranmere to win this which would mean the Lions are likely to finish on 85 which won't be enough.
Swindon face a rejuvenated Wycombe side who won 3-2 at MK Dons on Saturday and who can sniff an unlikely survival but know that it depends on winning their home games. I think Swindon will come short here, maybe forcing a draw but with Millwall in the last match, they are likely to finish on 82 points if they can see off the Bees at the County ground.
Assuming we beat Leeds in our final home game, which we are more than capable of if we can repeat the level of Saturday's performance, all will depend on our away form. Oldham look like a weak link, safe in mid-table but with an unimpressive home record. Already encouraging their season ticket holders to move seats to maximise potential gate receipts when we visit, they look like they might be too obliging. That really leaves Saturday's match at Exeter, where we face a side with an impressive home record and who are just two points clear of Tranmere who have a game in hand. Beaten only four times at home, I fear this may be where our automatic hopes will flounder. 
Never give up, but our performances between now and the end of the season will be as important as the results if it's to be the play-offs which looks odds-on.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Charlton Athletic 0 v Norwich City 1

Far too often this season when we've dropped points we have left the ground complaining that we wouldn't have minded if we'd actually played well or put in an appearance. Well today was one of those where we played as well as we could have expected only to be beaten by the only goal. Perhaps Norwich might have been a different proposition if they had to chase the game or if we had managed the equaliser our play deserved. As it was they stood up well and Fraser Forster saved everything we could throw at him. My overwhelming feeling at the end was one of confidence that we have at last shown the sort of team performance that can yet get us promoted, even it it is via the play-offs as is looking more likely, although with Leeds losing and Swindon only scraping a home draw, there's plenty of football yet to be played.
Phil Parkinson kept faith with the most recent side and I was pleased to see Darren Randolph rewarded with another start in goal. Sam Sodje overcame his swollen knee to partner Christian Dailly again and there was no change at full-back with Richardson and Borrowdale taking the field. It was the same midfield (Bailey, Semedo, Racon and Sam) with Forster and Sodje up front.
The game was played in bright sunshine throughout and there was a good atmosphere although it was apparent from the off that the Valley faithful hadn't quite returned in the numbers expected and it was no great surprise when we were told that the crowd was a disappointing 20,023, one less than the Gills game which remains our largest gate of the season.
Charlton imposed themselves on Norwich from the start and City looked content to defend and play on the break. Our midfield settled quickly and Jose Semedo, in particular, looked a yard sharper than everyone else and was pulling the strings. He was being well supported from the flanks and it was only a matter of time before the chances came. Unfortunately, Akpo Sodje couldn't get anywhere near the ball and conceded a succession of fouls as he tried to get involved, which only broke our momentum. Nicky Forster was leading the line and playing his part but needed a partner who was also competing.
It was no great surprise when our first couple of goal scoring chances fell to Nicky Bailey who twice cut in from the flank and into the box before firing rasping shots at goal. He tried to place the first inside the far post but Forster got a hand to deflect it wide and his second was blasted centrally and Forster managed somehow to paw it out.
Norwich then scored with their first penetrating attack but it was ruled out for offside. That might have disappointed the expectant visitors but it was a sign that they intended to take their chances when they came and ten minutes before the break they scored. Darren Randolph had dived to his left and parried a shot from Lappin but he could do nothing about Lappin's back-post ball from the resultant corner which Michael Nelson powered in amongst a host of players who jumped together.
Akpo Sodje made way for Deon Burton before the break and it looked purely tactical to me.
Charlton started the second-half as strongly as they had the first and Deon Burton was quick to contribute with a diving header from a Sam cross which Forster saved superbly from close range. Nicky Bailey saw a 25 yard free kick saved by Forster and Therry Racon was also frustrated as Charlton tried to play their way level. The noisy City following was subdued and Norwich lacked any ambition beyond hanging on to their lead. Nothing was falling for us and we were repeatedly frustrated as we strived to set-up the killer chance. Racon and Burton saw half-chances stopped by Forster before Kyel Reid came on for Semedo as Bailey went into the middle. Racon should have made way because his midfield contribution had been lacking from the off and Semedo had been our man-of-the-match by a country mile. 
Amazingly, with ten minutes to go, Nicky Bailey, our second-best player of the game was also substituted for Shelvey and I was surprised to see him go with good grace, just as Semedo had done. We were looking tired and it was not surprising that the chances began to dry up. We had a late free-kick from close in but it came to nothing and Norwich grew in confidence as the final whistle approached.
We left the Norwich fans to celebrate their promotion but should be satisfied with our performance and hopeful that it's not all over yet as far as the second place goes.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Borrowdale back as packs reshuffle for Saturday

Good news for Charlton fans - QPR have seen sense and have agreed to extend Gary Borrowdale's loan period at the Valley until the end of the season. Reports had indicated that Neil Warnock wanted him back to "have a look at him," but with QPR's season effectively over, it was hardly a critical decision and game time for the Addicks was probably in the best interests of all concerned.
We shouldn't overlook the contribution being made by Borrowdale. Our back four has looked as solid as it did in the first eight games of the season when Kelly Youga was patrolling the left corner. He might not be as attacking a player as Youga but he's sealed up the left side and the fact that you don't see too much from him in games speaks volumes.
Rob Elliot has been announced fit to return and Deon Burton looks ready for another go. I don't believe you should change a winning team if you can avoid it and Randolph should be rewarded for conceding only one goal in four and a half matches. The case for Burton starting with Forster is a strong one but the midfield formation is probably the key decision that will influence that. Burton and Forster are similar players and we would lack height with both upfront, although I can't remember Akpo Sodje winning too many headers in recent weeks.
By contrast, there's every chance Norwich will be without both Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan at the Valley. I believe Holt is sitting out his second game of a two match suspension and Hoolahan is struggling with a thigh injury. All the signs look positive.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 43

League leaders and Champions-elect Norwich City roll into the Valley on Saturday hoping to take a step nearer to confirming their promotion. Should Millwall fail to win on Friday evening at Huddersfield Town, a win for Norwich would see them promoted. 

However, Norwich are seven clear of the Lions in third with four to play and maintaining that gap with three left would probably be enough for Norwich who would then face the prospect of beating the side with the worst away record in the division at Carrow Road - the hapless Gillingham who face Leeds at the Priestfield on Saturday.

It looks like another very close contest and one goal either way may settle it again. "This is it now" must again be the mantra for the Addicks and another win should see us close in on Leeds and/or Millwall who must be odds-against both winning their respective away fixtures this weekend. 

Norwich will be given a large vocal backing and we have to match that, so I am hoping we can encourage 18,000+ Charlton fans to make the effort to be there and to urge their side on to another important victory. We were robbed at Norwich earlier in the season when they snatched a draw in added time, so we owe them one. Here's who else is playing whom...

Huddersfield v Millwall
The weekend kicks-off here when Sky Sports bring us coverage of this key match at the Galpharm Stadium. Huddersfield defend a strong home record and will be aiming to increase the three point margin they have over seventh-placed Colchester. Millwall rode their luck at Yeovil in the week with an equaliser in added time. They have dropped out of the top two and have every incentive here but they might just find Jordan Rhodes and co in too determined a mood.
Prediction; 2-0

Bristol Rovers v Brentford
Charlie McDonald has been scoring some important goals in recent weeks as Brentford look to finish the season on a high. Rovers themselves have bounced back in recent weeks and look like claiming a top ten place. Home advantage should be enough here.
Prediction; 2-1

Carlisle United v Oldham Athletic
This should be a routine home win for the Cumbrians following their loss to Leeds on Tuesday. Oldham are six clear of the drop and will be hoping to secure their survival at home against Southend in a fortnight.
Prediction; 2-0

Charlton Athletic v Norwich City
Norwich will come looking to expunge the painful memories of their 4-0 tonking this time last year. They might just walk onto another right-hander. If we play with the right formation (left and right-footed wingers on the right side and Nicky bailey in the centre) and Deon Burton is fit enough to start, I think we are capable of beating Norwich with something to spare. My guess is Phil Parkinson will persist with one or more of his tactical preferences which will mean we need to squeak another result.
Prediction; 2-1

Gillingham v Leeds United
Gillingham are in trouble, make no mistake. With Tranmere playing Exeter at Prenton Park and a visit to Norwich to follow, the Gills know that this is as good a chance as they will get to keep daylight between themselves and League Two. I'm going to stick my head out here and suggest a draw, especially if Millwall fail to win at Huddersfield on Thursday night.
Prediction; 1-1

Hartlepool v Colchester United
The game looks up for Colchester. Should Huddersfield beat Millwall they will be six adrift of the play-offs with four to play. Hartlepool might just finish them off here.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Stockport County
Gereat win for the O's against Norwich in the week and they should be confident of going one better here against relegated County with a bigger winning margin.
Prediction; 3-0

MK Dons v Wycombe Wanderers
A bit of a derby here and Wycombe could be all but down if they lose as I suspect they will.
Prediction; 2-0

Southend United v Brighton & Hove Albion
Southend look like goners too, but they had another reprieve in the High Court this week and better news in terms of their survival prospects. They need a win here to keeps their hopes of League One football alive. I think they might just do it, knowing that they have Wycombe and Stockport yet to come.
Prediction; 1-0

Swindon Town v Walsall
Jittery Swindon are level with us on games and points but are five behind on goal difference. A must-win for them as they attempt to stay in touch with second. They needed a 94th minute own goal on Tuesday to scrape a point at home to Oldham but should go one better here.
Prediction; 2-1

Tranmere Rovers v Exeter City
Looks a home banker here. Exeter look safe although a win here would virtually guarantee it. Like a number of other sides in trouble, they might be focusing more on winning their home games to get the points they need.
Prediction; 2-0

Yeovil Town v Southampton
Heroic efforts from Yeovil on Tuesday only to robbed by a last gasp Millwall goal. Southampton will be very confident of closing the gap on Huddersfield (if they fail to beat Millwall), but this is another potential upset. I'd love to see it.
Prediction; 2-1

Keep the faith.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Charlton Athletic 1 v Colchester United 0

A late night and an early start have given me plenty of time to reflect on last night's crunch match against Colchester United. Not a classic match by any stretch of the imagaination but one that was thoroughly watchable and engrossing for all that.

No great surprises about the side that was put out although Lloyd Sam can consider himself lucky not to have started on the bench. He had another less-than-satisfactory display in my books in spite of providing the cross of the match for Nicky Forster to show us just how predatory he can be given the opportunities. Nicky Bailey was wasted out wide on the left once again and if Parky feels he needs to start with Racon and Semedo in the middle, I would expect to see Bailey switched quicker than he was yesterday if we want to up the ante in games.

Our third clean sheet in four and credit must go to the back four who all played very well and as a unit. Dailly and Richardson were superb. We shouldn't ignore Darren Randolph in all of this - he has conceded only one goal in four and half games and that was following a defensive error.

Upfront remains our biggest weakness and it becomes more visible with every showing. Akpo Sodje looks far better as an impact substitute than than a starter although we created very little for him and Forster to attack. Akpo did at least come close with our second-best effort of the match when he cut in and unleased a ferocious drive which veered away from the far post rather than towards it.

We knew what to expect from Colchester in terms of big and strong and that's exactly what we got. Hard-working is Aidy Boothroyd's mantra and they did that although it was often atv the expense of any genuine guile or class. They created very little either as a consequence and the nearest they came was from Kevin Lisbie's early shot which was parried into the path of an offside colleague who saw his tap-in rightly ruled out. Other than that, they managed to panic us in the last five minutes of added time but the result is what they deserved and I think they will miss out on the play-offs. Perhaps some footballing justice if that's the outcome.

I missed the Lisbie incident that resulted in him being dismissed so obviously was a bit non-plussed at his departure. I also missed the reported spat between the respective managers but it can't have been all that?

The crowd was dispapointing in terms of being sub-18,000 but it looked closer to 10,000 at kick-off although the latecomers made it like nearer the reported 17,  by the end. I am expecting us to break the 20,000 barrier aagin on Saturday as we host the largest attendance of the season so far. If the O's can see of Norwich then we should be confident of doing the same. The results of others might be of more interest if we can do the business on Saturday. Otherwise, last night's win should at least have made our play-off place secure.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

"This is it now..."

The words of Phil Parkinson as we face two home games that will make or break our season-long hopes of automatic promotion back to the Championship. Phil goes on to say that "we looked at the fixture list at the start of the season and thought these games could be pivotal." All part of his grand plan then and we shouldn't be worried.

A six point return against play-off chasers and champions-elect could ease us into pole position and create promotion fever, however unlikely that has looked in recent months. It's a big fence to clear but we are capable of it and we have at least shown some signs of the levels of concentration and determination needed in the last four games. Elsewhere there will be debate about our nemesis Kevin Lisbie and the fact that Colchester will be without influential midfielder Anthony Shakespeare, two-goal scorer against Swindon following his foolish booking for celebrating his second strike. But we must concentrate on what we have to do to win this game. Millwall and Leeds could still peg us back but both need maximum points from two respective away games.

We need another assured back four display and a real togetherness in the midfield. I expect Nicky Bailey to play again and he is due a goal after seeing three efforts foiled by Kelvin Davies on Saturday. The obvious lack of effort from Lloyd Sam at Southampton is unforgivable at this stage of the season and Phil Parkinson's patience with him may have finally snapped. Expect to see Jonjo or Wagstaff starting in a re-shaped midfield. There's talk about Deon Burton possibly returning but my hunch is this may be at least a game too soon and with Nicky Forster fulfilling the Burton role, Parky may choose to go again with a 4-5-1, especially if he puts Jonjo in behind Forster.

I have a former work colleague coming to the game this evening for his first Valley visit since God was a little boy. He's actually an Arsenal fan but asked if he could get along to a game before we finished this season. He lives in Kent and has just retired, so I will treat this as a chance to convert him or at least a sales opportunity to get him to return. It's so much easier than trying to get tickets at the Emirates you know. I hope our players make it that much easier for me.

Charlton forever!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Southampton 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Not the result we were hoping for (obviously), but probably the one most of us were expecting. It was a tight game and Nicky Bailey had three chances to break the Charlton deadlock but floundered on another Kelvin Davis super-show. We had a real go in the last ten minutes as Darren Randolph joined  a string of corners but it wasn't to be and I found myself in wholehearted agreement with the match commentator on CAFC Player, who said "if only they had shown more ambition earlier on." 

Ambition has been a bit of problem throughout the season at times but I think it's been more a case of playing to our strengths and a reflection of trying to get results with limited striking options for most of the year. In the final analysis, that's what threatens to let us down. Our strikers simply haven't scored anywhere near enough for a side expecting to win promotion. The fact that Deon Burton over-performed early on and that we scored plenty from midfield when playing 4-5-1 in the first half of the season lulled us all into a false sense of optimism, but that has been cruelly exposed in the last few months.

As anticipated, other results have largely gone against us today with Millwall, Leeds and Colchester all winning at home. That means Swindon were beaten and it was good to see Huddersfield come a cropper at Brentford. Leeds and Millwall both face two away games now, so it's not over yet but Millwall are playing with confidence and belief and Leeds may have recovered from their prolonged stumble. 

Colchester now becomes a bigger game than Norwich because it's about securing a play-off spot as opposed to winning automatic promotion. I can't see us being caught by both Huddersfield and Colchester and I expect us to beat the U's on Tuesday night. 

How we finish mentally will be key to the play-offs. A few weeks ago we were contemplating arriving in a dispirited state-of-mind and joining three other sides who were simply glad to have made it. The way it's panning out, we may well find our mood is at least as good as two of the others who will be disappointed they blew it, and a fourth who have struggled to make it at all. Whilst I have little confidence we can make second-place, I am beginning to feel much more confident about our pay-off hopes but we need a boost upfront. Maybe we will get a rejuvenated Deon Burton back before the finish and he can provide a swansong to his career?

Lovely day for it...

For travelling down to the South Coast and taking in the match at St. Mary's. Stuff has caught up with me and I have decided I need to get some jobs done as well as getting some miles on my bike in early preparation for the London to Brighton in June. However far I get today with my list, I intend being sat comfortably in front of my PC by kick-off with CAFC Player running and hopefully someone other than Emma attempting to tell me what's happening.

A number of my old Charlton mates are making the trip today which tells me that interest is beginning to pick up. A win today, or a draw and other results going for us, should kindle some real interest in this week's home games. Night matches don't appear to be the draw they once were but I am working on the basis that we should break 18,000 for Colchester (especially if we haven't lost ground today) and 20,000 for the visit of Norwich. If we can keep our hopes of automatic promotion alive to the end, the gate against Leeds should be the biggest of the season and the first reminder of the good times at the Valley since we were relegated from the PL.

Come on boys, show us what you're made of!

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 41

Six matches to go and we have really reached the business end of the season. 
We seem to have been saying for weeks now that the next game is make or break but I believe we may really reach that point on Saturday. With Millwall and Leeds both having home fixtures against sides who don't look capable of winning away from home, let alone against better sides slugging it out for automatic promotion, we must be looking to win at Southampton if the Charlton gauntlet is well and truly being thrown down.

It's a massive task but we simply have to avoid falling more than two points off second place our we will face an impossible task with four sides in the mix and only six games to play. Southampton will be firm favourites to trump us and you can see a scenario where the wheels come off for us, but I have had a little something niggling away at me about this fixture since we were bundled out of the JPT and, on the back of two spirited defensive showings, I am holding out for a Charlton result that keeps us in the hunt.

Brentford v Huddersfield Town
Huddersfield face a tough match at Griffin Park but know that a play-off place will still be within their grasp as have yet to play main challengers Colchester at the Galpharm in their last home match. 
Prediction; 2-1

Brighton & Hove Albion v Carlisle United
I saw very little from Carlisle to suggest they are doing much more than going through the motions and playing for pride. They were lucky not to get three or four put past them at the Valley and will probably find Brighton wanting it more than they do.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Swindon Town
Match of the Day candidate here. Colchester's nerves may be jangling and with good reason. Failure to win here and I think we will see them off on Tuesday which would be a rich reward and mean that no-one does the double over us this season.
Prediction; 1-1

Exeter City v Leyton Orient
Exeter will be viewing this as their big chance to put daylight between themselves and the drop. I hope the O's can avoid relegation and they have home games to come against the bottom two, but they also face Norwich, Millwall and Colchester in the run-in.
Prediction; 2-0

Leeds United v Southend United
The Shrimpers are in deep trouble at the bottom and with 15 defeats away from home already, Leeds must be confident of rectifying their stuttering home form. If they can't win here, Carlisle, Gillingham and Charlton away look matches where their automatic promotion hopes finally flounder for a third successive season.
Prediction; 2-0

Millwall v Gillingham
Gillingham are to Millwall what the Lions are to us - a bogey-side. They have a very good record against the Lions and knack of winning against the form, although with no away wins all season, this really would be a turn up for the book. Chris Dickson's chance of immortality at the Valley hangs by a thread and this could be as good as it gets. After a tongue-lashing from the Gills boss following his latest fluffed chance, you have to hope he gets a run out here. We might have to rely on Yeovil or Huddersfield to halt the runaway train.
Prediction; 1-0

Norwich City v MK Dons
Home straight for the Canaries and I am praying they are promoted on Tuesday at Orient, otherwise they are likely to be looking to secure promotion and the title at the Valley on Saturday week. We really don't want to be playing them with that sort of incentive.
Prediction; 4-0

Oldham Athletic v Bristol Rovers
Oldham's chance to get away from the trap-door and I can see them nicking this.
Prediction; 2-1

Southampton v Charlton Athletic
Head says we go down 4-0 but the heart is telling me we can do it. Only four defeats away from home all season and we owe them one. Swindon did it a few weeks back when Southampton still had outside play-off ambitions. How sweet would it be to drive the final nail into Southampton's league ambitions and prove the justification of their ten point penalty? It would be typical Charlton to win here and blow it at home in the week....
Prediction; 0-1

Stockport County v Yeovil Town
Lose this and Stockport are relegated. the win would practically guarantee Yeovil league One football next year - goodbye Stockport.
Prediction; 0-2

Walsall v Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere are showing unlikely signs of a fighting spirit and with Wycombe and Stockport yet to come, they will remain hopeful. This should be beyond them after their 3-0 defeat at Swindon.
Prediction; 2-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Hartlepool United
The Chairboys need a minor miracle to avoid League Two. Swindon at home apart, they have a relatively easy run-in but they simply haven't been winning enough and it's a lot to ask at the eleventh hour. Hartlepool still need two or three results to be safe and will be targeting this one.
Prediction; 1-1


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Huddersfield stay in touch

Huddersfield Town saw off Oldham Athletic at the Galpharm Stadium this evening, winning by two goals to nil. The win moves them three points off Colchester in seventh and within six points of the Addicks. The pressure really is on Colchester right now and they face in-form Swindon Town on Saturday at their Weston Homes Community Stadium.

The U's have failed to win any of their last four home games and have managed only three draws from their last eight league games. They then have to travel to the Valley on Tuesday which could, arguably, seal their fate should we manage an unlikely win at Southampton. 

With two home games to follow, Phil Parkinson will be aware that we need a result at St Mary's if we are to seriously challenge for automatic promotion. Our back-four have enjoyed two solid displays and Darren Randolph has managed two-and-a-half clean sheets since replacing Rob Elliot at half-time in the Gills game. Sasa Ilic managed seven successive clean sheets as we closed out the 1997-98 season to win through in the play-offs and a similar performance from Randolph would see us go very close again and possibly resurrect his Charlton career. No pressure Darren!

For those of you who remember the 1980-81 promotion season from Division Three, you may be interested to know we were on the equivalent of 77 points having played 40 games, so we find ourselves three points short. However, we lost the next three games then before finishing draw, win, win to claim 84 points and third place. I can see us matching that 84 point finish but suspect it won't be enough for second place. You never know though.....

Monday, 5 April 2010

Charlton Athletic 1 v Carlisle United 0

Charlton did what they needed to at the Valley today and collected three points from Carlisle. The scoreline flattered the visitors who could have had few complaints if they had been beaten 3-0 but our finishing was once again short of the mark, something that promises to be our eventual downfall. It was, of course, our second win in three days and marks a critical Easter holiday which has seen ourselves, Swindon, Millwall and Leeds pull clear of Huddersfield and Colchester who look increasingly like they are going to fight it our for the sixth place. 

The only disappointment of the day was the fact that the four sides above us all won, some of them against the odds - Millwall and Leeds doing particularly well to both win 2-1 away against Colchester and Yeovil respectively.

Phil Parkinson made two changes from the starting line-up at MK Dons with Lloyd Sam restored on the left for Wagstaff and Jonjo Shelvey back in a 4-5-1 formation. Carlisle looked largely unfamiliar apart from Jason Price, the afro-ed Millwall loanee, who partnered Scott Dobie up front. They have been resilient on their travels but limited in terms of their ambition and this is pretty much what we saw today. Adam Clayton stood out like a sore thumb as the best they had to offer and at 20 he's someone I would be very interesting in signing if I were a manager. Him apart, they lacked any real ambition and I can't remember Randolph having to make a save. It really was a case of "can we score" and we managed that just before the break as Sam Sodje arrived at Usain Bolt pace to meet a corner which he absolutely buried.

Christian Dailly had seen a back post header blocked on the line and Kyel Reid had loosed off a couple of wayward long-rangers before we took the lead, but we hadn't seriously exposed the Borderers up until that point. Jonjo Shelvey had a stinker and with Nicky Forster playing the line and waiting for through-balls which didn't come, we weren't exactly threatening. It's worrying that Shelvey looked so out-of-sorts after his first start in ten games. He was ponderous today and half-interested. Not what you would expect from an 18 year-old with ambitions of greatness in the game. Maybe the hype has got to him or he's awaiting an end-of-season transfer? However you look at it, he doesn't look critical to the side right now and we should bite someone's arm off if anyone is going to offer us anything like the money being talked about during the last close season.

Things improved in the second half as we upped the pace and urgency for a second. Fraser Richardson was particularly busy supporting Lloyd Sam and between them they delivered four or five excellent crosses which deserved better finishes. Bailey (on for Reid) fluffed one header and Jonjo missed two glorious chances before he himself was deservedly subbed for Akpo Sodje to bring a physical edge to the finale. Akpo managed to smash a loose ball home but it was chalked off for offside as Richardson had re-entered play from the goal-line. Carlisle had seen their only real effort of the game similarly disallowed for offside as Jason Price had deflected a cross goal effort in from just in front of Randolph. Before he was taken off, Price also got into a great position to finish but was deprived by a desperate make-or-break tackle from Sam Sodje. 

David Mooney got on for Jonjo before the end and played the pass of the game into the path of Akpo Sodje but he hit the keeper when he should have made it 2-0. All-in-all, it was a case of job done but the news from the other League One grounds means it was a case of "as you were" and we need to get something from St. Mary's on Saturday if we are to seriously threaten Millwall, Leeds and Swindon for second-place.

Carlisle brought about 229 fans today (to go with the 17,000 Addicks) and a curious bed-sheet banner which I think read "Found myself in a strange town." Big Jam fan that I am, it had me puzzling throughout the match but I am none the wiser - suggestions on a postcard please.

Before the match, I visited the White Swan in The Village. Under new management, I have heard encouraging things and am pleased to say that Vito and Alison are doing everything they can to turn it around. There was no problem getting served and the beer was good. The pub has been re-painted in a bright yellow and white and the garden has been cleared. If they can continue to make the improvements they have managed so far in three weeks it bodes well although it's a massive task from where it's fallen to in the last five years, particularly as tenants with limited funds.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

MK Dons 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

I'm in the home city of the real Dons, so didn't get to hear anything of the game today but the win is a massive morale bost and should ensure a healthy turnout for Monday's Bank Holiday home game against Carlisle United. We owe them one for the two long range efforts which beat us earlier in the season and we couldn't have a bigger incentive than sharpening our challenge for an unlikely-looking automatic promotion.

Leeds would appear to be disintegrating once again as the pressure tells; they were beaten 3-0 at home today by challengers Swindon who have suddenly appeared as dark horses and they face a tricky trip to Yeovil next. Swindon are at home to Tranmere on Monday, so will fancy their chances of hanging onto second place for another week. With Millwall at Colchester, we really do have a chance on Monday to get amongst it again which would set us up for the test at St Mary's. I remember thinking that we would go one better against the Saints in the League game after they squeaked past a weakened Charlton side in the JPT. The next week could really be interesting. The club might be wishing season ticket sales were continuing......

Friday, 2 April 2010

Good Friday

The weekend is bubbling up nicely. Colchester were beaten at Exeter this afternoon and Norwich lost 3-1 at Tranmere having had their goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, sent off. Brentford couldn't beat Millwall this evening but they did their best and left the New Den having deprived their hosts of two precious points.

So, we have the opportunity tomorrow to put a massive 9 points between us and Huddersfield and 6 to Colchester, a gap that with 7 games remaining and a home fixture against Carlisle on Monday to come, should be unassailable. It would also put us within a point of mighty Millwall who travel to Colchester on Monday.

We should just see how much our boys really want it.....

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Addicks pay for next season

Impressive figures today that 6,000 season ticket holders have already renewed early and that 400 have opted for the five year VIP deal. I am pleasantly surprised by these numbers as they tend to suggest that we will again get close to or better the 10,000+ number that we sold for this season, even if that's League One football again. Looks like the club have got it right again in spite of widespread criticism and doom-mongering (much of which I concurred with).

As per Kings Hill Addicks' question yesterday, are the club seriously telling us that they won't now be selling anymore season tickets until they know what division we will be playing in, and therefore, what price late payers will be charged? That could stretch to eight weeks if we make the play-off final. I will call up next week and see. If this is really the case, it looks like an own goal to me, although it could be argued that if you haven't been scared into early renewal by the threat of price rises for the Championship, then you probably won't be renewing until July or August in any event (I am in that category).