Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Fixture countdown...

Having dropped into the bottom-half of the table last night, or 57th as you might choose to see it, we have to seriously consider our chances of relegation. We sit ten points clear of 21st-place Walsall with 24 points to play for. We probably only need another four or five points but having managed only three from the last 33 and we will need to win again before we finish. 

Looking at our remaining fixtures, I suspect we might need to wait until the last four games of the season to get the points to secure League One football next season. This squad of players who look a yard-a-man slower under Powell and almost resigned to defeat when they play are going to have find something from somewhere. 

Leyton Orient (H)
Southampton (A)
Oldham  Athletic (A)
Huddersfield Town (H)
Bristol Rovers (A)
Rochdale (H)
Walsall (A)
Hartlepool (H)

I honestly can't see this side winning away from home and certainly not at Southampton or Oldham. Huddersfield will expect to take the points as they battle for second and Orient are probably worth a point on Saturday. That would probably leave us roughly five points above the drop but with six pointers away at Bristol Rovers and Walsall. Rochdale or Hartlepool at home could be the games that save us. Questions must be asked and answers or reassurance given.

The club couldn't promise to hold the price of season-tickets beyond the 4th April deadline and there was a very strong hint that they would be increased in the event of Championship promotion. It's getting to that point where they might have to consider a reduction on pre-April prices. For any other club in our predicament, you wouldn't seriously countenance relegation from here but we know we have to because if anyone can, we can.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Rochdale 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

Eleven games now without a win and a first ever league defeat to Rochdale in front of 2,589 fans (that's in total, not visiting numbers). When will it ever end?

From what I could glean from the commentary this evening, it was a better performance but we went one-down before the break to a low volley from 20 yards and we couldn't create an equaliser despite stepping it up in the second-half after Benson came on for the limping Anyinsah. We also couldn't prevent a Rochdale second against the run of play after 75 minutes which finished it as a contest.

It's very hard to understand how we break the current cycle but Powell simply has to do something or we will slide in for an ignominious finish. Our recent points sequence has to be looked at long and hard.

0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0

We have eight matches left and will need more than three or four more points. However you look at it, there is only one common denominator since Chris Powell arrived and it's very hard not to imagine that something has gone very wrong in the dressing room. Slater and Jimenez may be holding their nerve but they are going to begin to feel the heat if Powell can't get a winning 90 minute performance soon. This is a results-orientated business and we simply aren't getting any.

Things could get bumpy at the Valley for all concerned on Saturday if we manage a repeat performance from the Leyton Orient fixture at the Valley last season when they gained revenge for our win at Brisbane Road. After that it's Southampton and Oldham away before second-placed Huddersfield arrive in SE7. It's not looking good and if Chris Powell can't get the win on Saturday, my guess is he could yet be replaced before the season ends. We cannot afford another humiliating relegation. We are fast becoming a laughing stock and it hurts.

Rochdale away - hold me back

Charlton play their latest big match in League One this evening when we travel to "fourth division" Rochdale. As if to rub it in, this is the third scheduling of this fixture and a tough one for those new ground -seekers who were maybe looking forward to it when originally planned for a Saturday.

In a strange way, I think it's a good test as to whether we have seen any genuine improvement from the last two draws. It should be an easier game on paper than Southampton or Bournemouth and if we are going to break the winless run, then why not here?

I am inclined to believe we got a point at home to Southampton because of their tactics. If they had pressed forward at 1-0, I think they would have beaten us. If you add to that a super-show from Rob Elliot on Saturday to keep us in with a chance of the late equaliser, then you might not feel so confident about this evening's game. 

Dale are also playing catch-up at home due to the bad weather and have three homes to play which should move them further up the table - something their fans can scarely comprehend. I will tune-in this evening but I haven't high hopes that we will win here and Leyton Orient at the Valley on Saturday looks a better prospect on the back of their 5-1 home walloping by Yeovil.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Brazil 2 v Scotland 0

A very colourful day out in North London yesterday. An impressive number of Brazilians appeared from somewhere and Spring sunshine encouraged the Samba beat and the dancing girls. Bad planning meant my phone pancaked or I would be able to share some good photos with you.

I have now sat at the Emirates in the Lower tier, the middle ring and the Upper tier. The Lower tier isn't great, the middle is much better but the top tier is superb. We were three rows from the back and the view of the pitch was excellent. The leg-room is still generous and the seats are all padded. What you don't realise from below is that the swoop of the roof cuts our visibility of the stand opposite which strangely focuses your attention on the pitch. 

I'm majoring on the view because Scotland were outclassed. Craig Levein was pleased with the result but our fans were nowhere near as happy with the performance. The lack of ambition was very familiar to me and poor old Kenny Miller looked like he was playing on a different pitch at times. Whenever the ball was booted clear in his general direction, he had the simple task of beating three defenders to it and then making his way past them to fashion a chance. So instead we watched the Brazilians make monkeys out of our toiling defence and pretty much wrap things up by half-time with a well taken goal from Neymar. The second-half penalty looked a joke to me and it ended the match as far as I was concerned. 

I will look forward to our next matches against Lithuania and Lichtenstein when we play sides our own size and can make a game of it. It's always good to see friends from afar although  really feel for my mate from Norway who was on a plane to Delhi from Heathrow last night after a heavy weekend. Rather him than me. I am off to Delhi myself next Sunday but my preparation will be considerably better.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

AFC Bournemouth 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

A good point in our fight to ensure we do not get drawn into a relegation fight. I expected us to slip to a defeat, so you have to be satisfied with a point and a battling display, even if we sounded like Elliot kept us in it and we rode our luck.

Chris Powell will be hugely aware that it's now no wins in ten matches and a pathetic three points from thirty. I think he has to win a couple yet to guarantee we don't have any relegation six pointers and to avoid any serious Boardroom question about changing manager in the Summer.

It was also a day when I learnt about the very sad and premature sudden death of Paul Weaver. Tall Paul was better known on here as Charlton North Downs and  his love of the Addicks was close to his love of tennis. I believe he died playing as a result of an unknown hereditary heart condition. Rest in peace Paul - I will have a Guinness for you today.

Friday, 25 March 2011

This weekend

When the fixtures came out in June, it was this weekend that held the promise of the best Charlton day-out of the season. Bournemouth on a Saturday in Spring. A match which we all hoped would see a maximum away following and three precious promotion points. All of that has been dashed by our calamitous collapse of form post the Powell hype. 

I have an Aberdonian mate arriving from Norway for the weekend and he was up for anything tomorrow. He hasn't seen us play before and, whilst he is now fully accustomed to disappointment as a Dons fan (and season ticket holder - he travels from Norway), I am not ruining his weekend by dragging him down to the South Coast. Instead, I will entertain him in London before other mates arrive ahead of Sunday's match at The Emirates.

A Scottish match against Brazil brings back fond memories for me of the World Cup opener in 1998 when "we near-ly beat Brazil" in Paris. It was a scorching hot day and I arrived with a dozen mates off the train from Bordeaux at 10am. We walked through the waking city to the sound of bagpipes, Scottish accents and Saltires slung from windows and balconies. As we crossed the Seine I saw one of the most astonishing sights I have ever seen. A fishing boat from my home town on the Moray Firth was motoring up the river with it's crew of Scots singing on the deck. It may sound daft but I didn't know you could sail to Paris and a round-trip of 2,000 miles on a small fishing boat just to be there summed it all up for me. 

Brazil have lost two friendlies in a row and the chances of that becoming a third look akin to our hopes at Dean Court. It won't matter. The sun should be shining and I will be in the company of good friends. There will be plenty of laughter as always. I am more than a little bit suspicious that there will be no water in the fountains at Trafalgar Square and suspect some of my countrymen will head to Putney for a dip instead ahead of the Boat Race.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Southampton 1

So it was only a point, but it felt like a win. The merest mention of a betting tip from me and I should have known Charlton Athletic would throw a spanner in the works. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining.

For those who made the effort and there were more than I anticipated, although perhaps nothing near the 16,550 officially quoted, it was an improvement over the recent rubbish. There was plenty of effort and a fair bit of focus although the game was littered with errors, surprisingly from both sides even if most came from the side in red. Confidence is an amazing thing in professional football and I believe it has a lot to answer for with us at the moment. If we had scored first tonight I believe we may well have gone on to win this game.

As it was, a draw was a fair result and the Saints fans who were silenced towards the end can have few complaints. I was expecting more from them and Nigel Adkins may well have been over-cautious. 

Chris Powell made yet more changes and it was good to see Elliot back in goal. Freddie Bessone also made a welcome return at left-back and Chris Solly was in at right. Dailly and Llera continued in the middle. The midfield was Semedo, Racon, Wagstaff and Parrett with Nouble and BWP up front.

Perhaps our expectations are so low, anything better than abysmal looks like progress but it felt much better in the first half despite any clear cut Charlton chances and yet plenty of basic mistakes. It may have helped that Southampton looked content to play out the first half and settle in. Their fans were also noisy and surprisingly respectful in view of recent history and our current predicament.

Into the second-half then and Southampton began to exert more control as they grew in confidence and began to commit men forward. They are a tall side and only got bigger with each substitution. Our back four did very well to cope with the aerial bombardment and it's ironic that the beast Jaidi should drill home the opener after 64 minutes from a corner when we were preparing for another high ball. It was a carbon copy of the goal we conceded against Tranmere.

At that point Southampton should have gone for the jugular but instead tried to hold their lead. Dispirited though we have been for weeks, our side saw the signs and began to get at Southampton. Things started to click, especially down the flanks and the game moved back towards us. It was from a deeply floated free-kick that Miguel Llera got a toe to ball that dropped into the box and lashed a touch onto the underside of the bar. It looked in but somehow came down on the line and out. Llera was obviously disappointed but he pursued Andy D'Urso for 30 yards further than he should have to get his name taken. To make matters worse, Bradley Wright-Phillips did something equally stupid when firing aimlessly wide after a clear whistle for offside. D'Urso was looking directly at Wright-Phillips and I believe he was looking for a sign of apology. A raised hand would probably have been enough but Wright-Phillips merely walked back staring so D'Urso reached for the book. Silly boy.

Charlton continued to make the play and the Saints fans were strangely subdued and I think, expecting a possible equaliser. When it came, it was worthy of drawing the match. Nathan Eccleston, on for the diving Wagstaff, made progress from the right and played a ball into Dean Parrett with his back to goal. With the defence in a line behind him, Parrett stubbed the pass up and over his head and it fell behind the line for the advancing Wright-Phillips to pounce and fire past Kevin Davis. The relief was evident around three sides of the ground as if the significance of the goal was worth more than simply parity in the match. It caused a buzz in the Charlton stands and roars for more in the final minutes. For once we were applauded off the field. 

Bournemouth and Rochdale away will be tough but there were signs tonight that the players may finally be waking to our threat of relegation. Not before time. There might be a couple of home wins to come before we forget this miserable season.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Entirely predictable

Three thousand two hundred gloating Saints fans will arrive at the Valley to mock us tomorrow evening. The only unknown is the timing of their opening goal which will signal the start of the booing from the West, East and North as well as the crowing from the South. 

The form book suggests this could be the most predictable result at the Valley in living memory. If any Bookies are inclined to temper the odds for a Southampton victory because they are away from home, my advice is to bet what you can afford on the away win. The last eight from both sides is as follows...

Charlton         L L L L D L L L = 1 points F5, A16
Southampton  W D W L W W W W = 19 points F15, A3

For the 10,000 Charlton fans who will bother to show up, things could get heated and Chris Powell could be in for a long, hard night, as could some of his players. They will play with fear and uncertainty, knowing that every mistake will be audible. It's easy to say "get behind the team" and "never boo" at home but the fans are getting angrier at what they see as a lack of effort or concern over what they are doing or not doing in front of those who pay their wages.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Scotland 21 v Italy 8

Half-time at Murrayfield yesterday and I had my doubts that Scotland would avoid the Wooden Spoon. We had enjoyed plenty of possession but were going sideways against the Italian line rather than through it. Out forwards turned-up but the Italians', strangely didn't. Richie Gray stole their line-out ball at will and they were content to get the ball out or kick rather than play to their strengths which is when they rampage forward in the loose. I'm not complaining.

After the break Scotland stepped it up and two tries within a matter of minutes from two under-performers (Walker and De Luca) put the game beyond the Italians. I was pleased because the plane home today was full of them and I didn't have to button my coat to hide my Scotland shirt. The celebrity on the plane home this week was cheeky-chappy Danny Dyer. I'm guessing he hadn't been to the game  but looked like he had had a good night on the town.

That brings me then to main purpose of this Blog, Charlton Effing Athletic. It's hard to know what to say at the moment, but not only did Dagenham & Redbridge beat us but they were very good value according those who went. One point in the last 24 and if Chris Powell can't arrest the slide quickly you have to wonder if the Board will be forced to bring in someone else in order to halt the slide and avoid an unthinkable relegation. It doesn't get any easier in the coming nine days when we face Southampton at the Valley (Tuesday) and then Bournemouth away (Saturday) and Rochdale away (a week on Tuesday). I can't see us winning any of those and we are there for the taking and potentially a hammering as well. 

I said all season I had us to finish outside the play-offs and I maintain that our squad of players is at least average for this division if not a little better than that. When you consider our current form, then it's very hard not to see Chris Powell as the common denominator. I am not advocating he goes (yet) but he has to do something to get a performance. That's what management is all about and it's looking increasingly like he's lost the dressing room. If that's the case we are in serious difficulty.  I am almost tempted to say we might need to go down again to rebuild but you wonder where it will ever stop? The fact is, you become a non-league side if you finish at the bottom of League 2, so going down again is something we cannot contemplate as a club and must do everything within our power to avoid. If Powell hasn't got what it takes to get a couple of results soon, I am afraid we simply have to try someone else irrespective of the cost or the pain in ditching a Charlton hero.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Freudian slip

Twice this week I have logged onto the BBC's football site and immediately gone for the League Two page instead of League One. The prospects of League Two football have been playing on my mind and fixtures like Dagenham & Redbridge away hardly help break the cycle. Our points gap is probably too great for that to be a serious concern and another three wins should do it, although we might have to wait until late in April to be mathematically safe. 

I am a few grounds short of the 100 Club but haven't been tempted to date by the demoralising prospect of seeing us play a league fixture at a ground and against opposition that for nearly all of my life would appear to be an early round  F A Cup draw. I will be at Murrayfield on Saturday instead and will hardly pay a thought about affairs across the river at Dagenham & Redbridge. For what it's worth I can't see us losing this one but we aren't playing well enough to beat anyone. Draws may be the new wins.

Instead I may be left feeling even flatter if I have to suffer Scotland picking up the Wooden Spoon after a third successive home defeat. Italy are beginning to compete up front in the 6 Nations but I can't see them winning at Murrayfield. Scotland should be up for the forward battle and I expect it could get quite tasty. If we match them there, then I expect us to out-run them and maybe score a try or two in front of our suffering home fans. The Ireland v England match also promises to be a belter and the Irish will be desperate to avoid handing a Grand Slam England in Dublin.

Maybe I can break the losing cycle this weekend? It might engender a little hope for Tuesday when I fully expect Southampton to capitalise on our current misery.

Monday, 14 March 2011

England 22 Scotland 16

A memorable day out with my wife and seven friends at Twickenham yesterday. The tickets I had were in what's loosely called the "visiting union" section and we were in the Upper Tier, just a couple of rows from the back.

What a view, in what is a tremendous stadium since the South Stand was completed. For me, it's the second best ground in the country to Wembley (and The Valley of course). I was able to enjoy a decent Scottish performance for a change which kept the match competitive until the end. A moment of individual creativity, if not brilliance, meant a Scottish try to savour from Max Evans but we were out-kicked at the finish and England deserved their win which gives them a Grand Slam chance in Dublin next week. Oh to be in your shoes! Instead I will head north for the Battle of the Wooden Spoon which, preversely, I am quite looking forward to having come to terms with another inconsistent 6 Nations campaign. It should be a heavyweight forward clash at Murrayfield, something the game was very short on yesterday. I can't remember a meaningful drive from either side and the line-out plays seemed tame and very direct in terms of ball to the backs.  

We retired to the Scrum Bar under the stand at the whistle and carried on drinking to the strains of Tom Jones. The idea was to let the crowd go down but we still queued for 100 yards at Twickenham station at 7pm. Maybe those who left on time got clean away?

On a different note, I see Aidy Boothroyd has been sacked as Coventry manager this morning after only one win in 16 games which has ended their chances of promotion and pushed them close to a relegation battle. The obvious comparisions will be drawn but I prefer to concentrate on the fact that Boothroyd is the tenth manager in ten years at the Sky Blues and it's got them nowhere. If we are not careful we could easily emulate that before 2016. Powell is number six following Curbs, Dowie, Reed, Pardew and Parkinson just in case you're wondering.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Charlton Athletic 0 v Brentford 1

There was an improvement of sorts in the application this afternoon, if not the result. As per most of this season, we managed to perform markedly better in one half than the other, and like so many matches under Chris Powell, it's been the second period. What on earth do we do to them before they run out?

It was another inexplicable line-up. Having signed as aspiring Premiership midfielder in the week, we started with the double ineptitude of McCormack and Racon. With Semedo in his usual berth, that meant Racon on the left and Wagstaff the right. Wagstaff was again poor in the first half which left us to rely on long balls for the front two.

I won't argue with the pairing of Nouble and Wright-Phillips but it didn't work at the first time of asking. I can't remember one passage of play involving both players. Perhaps the focus was on Nouble as most balls were aimed at him but BWP was strangely subdued for the whole match. Nouble himself didn't look match-fit to me. He looks like he might be one of those taller players who can't jump and he's a not possessed with any great pace, although he did show some decent footwork for a big man. Jury's out on him.

At the back we were solid enough, although I was pleased to see Lewis Grabban go off because he looked very lively in the first half and I could see an old Millwall one-two creating an opener for Brentford with Gary Alexander always lurking at the back post.

Ross Worner again worried me at crosses as he has a tendency to scurry along his line rather than come out, although he did little wrong and he made one notable save in the first-half which kept us in it.

Miguel Llera had another decent match alongside Dailly for the first-half and Fortune for the second, although I think it was him beaten to the corner for their winning goal. That came in the 88th minute and the match was summed up for me by the fact that we didn't muster a decent attack in the six or seven minutes before the final whistle went. Who would have thought Brentford would do the treble over us this season?

Chris Solly came on before the end and looked a class above what we have been seeing at right-back and you have to seriously question why we have not started him before now.

We had enough chances to have won this match and that was very much the verdict of my Scottish guests who weren't just saying that out of politeness. Richard Lee thwarted BWP with a smart one-handed save and the bar came to his rescue when a towering Llera header beat him. 

The crowd was surprising good at 14,985 with a vocal 864 Bees present. Those left in the home areas at the finish managed a healthy booing session as the players sloped off and I was left wondering how much longer Chris Powell can hold on to his job with an expectant new Board looking on with increasing frustration and disappointment. It's very hard not to imagine this side having done better under Phil Parkinson although I will remind those in the anti-Powell camp that we haven't played well at home all season.

Talk of automatic promotion has gone and with new injuries to Dailly and Jenkinson, absolutely nothing is going right for Charlton Athletic as we plummet towards the relegation battle. The one thing I would say is that the top six have accelerated away from the rest during our last seven win-less games. We are now 13 points adrift of 6th and only two points separate 6th placed MK Dons from second-placed Huddersfield.

I can't remember the last winning performance I actually saw and today I am off to Twickenham where my the losing streak will surely continue.  

Friday, 11 March 2011

Etheridge, Vetere, Parrett and Nouble

I was pleased to see the Board act in the last few days to bring fresh faces into the club. We had to do something. Irrespective of the capability of the three new players and their loanee status, I will feel better watching tomorrow knowing that the writing's on the wall for some of the under-performers.

Jeff Vetere may have unfortunate connections with the Cockney Mafia but we know him from Curbs' days and that should be enough. Not sure we need a Director of Football but if they have the money for one, there should be players coming in.

Etheridge has been signed as goalkeeping cover and I am guessing he may get a game. Little Ross hasn't looked at all convincing. Parrett is a promising midfielder and I would start him tomorrow. Frank Nouble looks like very short-term cover for Anyinsah and Benson following Abbott's departure and I expect him to feature in the next four or five games. Hammers fans I know say he should do a job for us. The other observation is that all there of these loanees come from Premiership clubs. If you add Eccleston to the mix then that's a positive pattern. Perhaps all the activity will spark a performance tomorrow.

League One Weekend Preview, Game 34

After the resounding bad news from Black Tuesday - we lost and practically everyone above us won - our season really does look over. From here it goes one of either two ways; with a bit of pressure off and far fewer fans watching, we rally and profit from our games in hand to again challenge the fringe of the play-offs, or, we continue to disintegrate as we head for our lowest ever league finish.

Either way, I can't see us playing attractive football and my personal interest is as low as it could be. 

AFC Bournemouth v Southampton
Match of the Day on offer here. AFC know that they can drive a stake into the hearts of their neighbourhood monsters. Who would have thought pre-season that David might be readying his catapult in this fixture? However noble, I am going to take Southampton to edge this one as they finally make their charge for the second automatic promotion place.
Prediction; 1-2

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tranmere Rovers
Elsewhere on the South Coast, Tranmere will find themselves much shorter of space than at the Valley last week and should be dealt with relatively quickly.
Prediction; 3-0

Bristol Rovers v Huddersfield Town
Hiddersfield are grinding it out at the top. They have held faith with Lee Clark following previous disappointments and are being rewarded with a battling season. They should have too much for hapless Rovers.
Prediction; 0-2

Charlton Athletic v Brentford
Most sides are now coming to the Valley and looking to win rather than eek out draws, although Tranmere's ambitions were patently less than that last week. Brentford have nothing to lose and I suspect they will go for it in front of the travelling fans. I can see them scoring but so should we. Maybe another unsatisfactory draw?
Prediction; 1-1

Colchester United v MK Dons
The U's can slow MK Dons here but will have to do it without David Mooney who was red-carded last week. they are due a win.
Prediction; 2-1

Hartlepool United v Plymouth Argyle
Argyle should be dead and buried after taking a ten point deduction but they have rallied to that news and won successive games since. This will be a stern test but they know a result will bring them back to the brink of escape.
Prediction; 1-2

Leyton Orient v Oldham Athletic
The O's are improving as we fade and a win here will cement their status as most likely of the play-off challengers.
Prediction; 2-0

Peterborough United v Carlisle United
Carlisle may have a good go here but the result looks inevitable.

Rochdale v Exeter City
This should be very close With games in and over those above them, Dale might just have more incentive.
Prediction; 2-1

Sheffield Wednesday v Notts County
Like us, Wednesday's season is well and truly over. Gary Megson will be looking for crumbs of comfort and signs of recovery for next seasn.
Prediction; 2-1

Swindon Town v Dagenham & Redbridge
Could be Last Chance Saloon for Swindon. Forget our slump for a second - they went to Wembley in the play-offs less than 10 months ago and are staring League Two in the face.
Prediction; 1-1

Yeovil Town v Walsall
Can't see many farms being deserted this after for this one. Diabolically low crowd expected for poor fare - sounds familiar. Yeovil can distance themselves from struggling Walsall if the can eek out the win.
Prediction; 1-0

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Season Ticket renewal - bad timing

My season ticket renewal pack arrived through my SE7 letter-box this morning. Reading through it, you are reminded just how bad the timing is. There's a letter from Chris Powell that I am guessing was drafted a couple of weeks ago. It optimistically mentions "Championship football" and Chris tells us he will do his "utmost to give you a successful and exciting team."

Right now, I am afraid the adjectives that best describe watching Charlton start with "unsuccessful" and many other words which are the anthesis of "exciting."

The price of the ticket is almost of no concern to me at the moment. My biggest question is whether I can break the 34 year cycle and not bother renewing. I know I will end up buying another one, but my resolve is weaker than ever before. My season ticket is the main reason I live in Charlton. Not having one would only break my compulsion to attend games I am not really interested in seeing, rather than stopping me going altogether, although I have next to no interest in watching the rubbish currently being served up.

Whilst I am on the subject, can anyone explain why the A4 application form says "£50 off most seats until 4th April?" I get the "most seats" bit (they can't offer this level of discount on cheapest seats) but not the 4th April. There is no post-4th April pricing or any reference to any pre-discount price other than last years. I am left guessing it's another ploy to promote the belief that we must renew early to get the reduced price when that's not the case?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

MK Dons 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

The slide continued tonight at former play-off rivals, MK Dons. A poor match was settled ten minutes into the second half when the ball was slid through the legs of Little Ross. An unambitious 4-5-1 formation looked selected to avoid defeat with Bradley Wright-Phillips picked to watch Benson from the bench. Bizarre. At least it won't happen in the next couple of games as Benson earned himself a well deserved red card at the death just before MK netted a salt-running second.

I listened to most of the match and it sounded just as poor as the last five games. Chris Powell will come under more pressure and he really needs to pick his post-match words carefully and he needs to sound convincing or he will run the risk of looking distinctly out-of-his-depth. Mid-table beckons this month which will represent an amazing fall-from-grace.

Results elsewhere went against us and we have suffered the indignity of dropping two points below Leyton Orient who also have a game in hand. Interestingly, Brentford could get within two point of us on Saturday (despite losing at home to Brighton this evening) which raises the prospect in my mind of us becoming the worst side in London (by virtue of our league position) for the first time in my life and most probably ever! Barnet will save us that embarrassment this season but they look set to drop out of the league which would leave the possibility that an opening day loss in August could see us achieve the feat of bottom London club.

My Uncle and his son are rocking up on Saturday morning from Aberdeen ahead of the Calcutta Cup and I will be taking them to the Valley. I think their last game here was a Manchester United home game in front of a full house. The comparison will be stark. I wouldn't mind so much if I felt there was any realistic proposition of a confident, winning display but I can see another poor performance and another poor result.

Monday, 7 March 2011

This is it boys!

Those may well be the words uttered by a League One manager in the dressing room at MK Dons prior to tomorrow's league match. My guess is that Carl Robinson will say it to his troops as they head out looking for their eleventh home win of the season.

I say Robinson, because the simple fact is a home win would leave his side a massive ten points clear of seventh -placed Charlton which would render our three matches in hand insufficient and with every likelihood that they will still have a healthy clearance once they are out of the way.

The reverse is true of course and a repeat of the JPT win in October would see the gap cut to four, something we could reasonably expect to close with three matches in hand and re-found confidence. I am trying to be positive about tomorrow night's game but I can't see us doing it, however hard I try.

Miguela Angel Llera will most likely get to face his old club fresh from his return to the side on Saturday. It was a decent performance from Big Mig but we should remember that Tranmere were defending for most of the game and he had plenty of time to pull long balls down and make leisurely punts across field. He remains glacially slow off the mark and vulnerable to making costly bloopers. MK Dons will put us under pressure and probably sustained pressure at times as we struggle again to relive the siege from midfield. We are going to need Bradley Wright-Phillips and Eccleston both playing a high-line and ready to strike at any chances that come their way. 

I can see the following players being asked to win the game and failing; Worner, Jenkinson, Dailly, Llera, Francis (Chris Solly must be a consideration), Reid, Semedo, Racon, Wagstaff, Wright-Phillips and Eccleston. It's a long time until Saturday.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Tranmere Rovers 1

I started the day with a few pints in the Rose of Denmark with a couple of mates and we were joined by Kings Hill Addick who had given in to the temptation of being at the match after his doubts earlier in the week. We were able to watch West Brom beat Birmingham on the box which lifted my spirits.

Early in the first half I got the pies in and heard a goal being scored. Not sure who it was but it made no difference to the game and it was hard to tell who had taken the lead. Both goalkeepers could have been given the day off but ours managed to injure himself and was replaced by Little Ross.

Bradley Wright-Phillips diverted a driven Llera free-kick past Tony Warner in the second-half before I retired to the Conservative Club for a gin and tonic and a cigar several reflective pints of cheaper Fosters. The verdict was fairly unanimous;

1) Our squad looks very low on morale - no surprise given recent results.
2) We have no midfield and no options to change it. 
3) Consequently, our back four have limited protection and our front two limited service.
4) Our wide men are not performing anywhere near their previous best. Wagstaff couldn't get past his marker for the entire first half and Reid, when he came on, took six minutes to touch the ball. Thierry Racon is playing poorly in the middle and is not a winger.
5) Bradley Wright-Phillips is a shining light but has no-one to partner him. Benson looked lost yesterday
6) Alongside BWP, Dailly and Semedo, Jenkinson is the only other player putting in a shift and looking worth the shirt. Personally, I am not convinced even about Semedo. He breaks the play up but is a liability in possession and gets caught far too often.
7) We look devoid of any game plan.
8) The manager continues to make late and ineffective substitutions. 
9) We look like we belong firmly in this division and play-off hopes are fading fast. We don't really deserve it.
10) We don't think our new owners are particularly patient men and Chris Powell needs to ensure season tickets don't collapse on the back of mid-table or worse finish.

We had visitors in the evening who had all been to Watford. The football conversation was over in three minutes which is highly unusual.

Friday, 4 March 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 32

Only 15 games left to go - seven at home and eight away - and Saturday's home game against Tranmere will leave us with two to make up on the road. Like most everyone else, I am not particularly looking forward to this one. I have already posted on the way I see it going. 

For completion and reasons of integrity, I am forcing myself to consider the other fixtures, but I'm really not interested.

AFC Bournemouth v Oldham Athletic
The Cherries need a win here to keep Huddersfield off in third place. They have been very hard to beat at Dean Court all season and will likely close this one out too which does us a favour as we hang to the cling to the target of finishing sixth.
Prediction; 2-0

Brighton & Hove Albion v Carlisle United
I fully expect Brighton to show us how it's done here. Chris Powell's day might be better spent at the Withdean than the Valley.
Prediction; 2-0

Bristol Rovers v Dagenham & Redbridge
Relegation dogfight and I expect the Pirates to win it. Bye-bye Daggers.
Prediction; 2-0

Charlton Athletic v Tranmere Rovers
Poor quality, nervy affair with both sides probably content to play out a draw.
Prediction; 0-0

Colchester United v Southampton
Could be a good game here. Saints will fill the visitors end and their team will have a go. Colchester remain in the chase and will have a go.
Prediction; 2-2

Hartlepool United v Brentford
Mid-table non-event and that should be enough for Pools.
Prediction; 1-0

Leyton Orient v Notts County
I have been wondering what Barry Hearn has been on in recent weeks by threatening legal action over West Ham's proposed move to the Olympic Stadium. I would have thought he was delighted that Spurs weren't muscling in on his patch - they have always been dominated by the Hammers, and probably owe as much to west Ham fans who use them as a second club. I thought he was maybe after a few bob but yesterday learnt that there has been no decision yet on the re-use of the 15,000 capacity hockey stadium. Expect a Hearn-pitch for this before much longer.
Prediction; 2-1

Peterborough United v Exeter City
Oh to have been a season ticket holder at London Road this season.
Prediction; 5-0

Rochdale v MK Dons
This should be a hard fought contest and they might have to settle for a share of the points would which be ideal from a Charlton viewpoint.
Prediction; 1-1

Sheffield Wednesday v Plymouth Argyle
Looks like a home banker this one.
Prediction; 3-0

Swindon Town v Walsall
So Swindon have turned to Paul Hart to save their bacon. I'm wondering whether Peter Ridsdale has rocked up in the background to lend a hand. I really can't see Walsall winning this but they could well add to Town's woes.
Prediction; 1-1

Yeovil Town v Huddersfield Town
Huddersfield have hung in there all season and battled back a couple of times having dropped down the table. They are fighting hard to stick with Bournemouth and if the Cherries slow down, I can see Huddersfield overhauling them, if Southampton don't manage it.
Prediction; 0-1

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Grin and bear it

Four defeats in 12 days and the false dawn of automatic promotion and play-off expectations has been rudely awakened, bucket of ice-cold water fashion. In true Charlton fan form, the "Sir" title from Chris Powell's name has been dropped as quickly as it was adopted and our talented squad of players are being castigated far and wide.

Expectations don't help, of course, and the populist appointment of Powell and the four win start has served only to heighten our fall. It has been pointed out that our last LLLL sequence was under the inadequate temporary leadership of Les Reed. A worrying comparison for Mr Powell.

So what's to be done? Well the less emotionally stable and inexperienced amongst us are already jumping to the most basic conclusion and unashamedly calling for Powell's replacement, a decision that would;

1) Make our club look like it was being run by the worst type of impatient owners whose only answer to anything other than immediate success is to pay the manager off. You know, like the embarrassing Newcastle United.

2) Cost us a small fortune that I don't believe the owners, whoever they are, can afford when we need to improve the squad.

3) Mean another gamble on a new face. It hasn't worked in the last five years when we have averaged a manager a season.

4) Give the players another excuse for the club's under-achievement

5) Hasten the continuing decline of our once-proud club as we move ever-closer to a League Two debut that would surely relegate us to the status of Orient and Brentford.

Don't get me wrong, I am far from happy with the depressing rubbish I am having to watch. There are worrying questions about Chris Powell's coaching abilities when nothing seems to have changed from Parkinson other than better dress-sense and an apparent reluctance to make substitutions. 

For me, the one consistency in all this and the more obvious point of focus is the quality of the playing staff and some of them in particular. I don't need to go into that again because I think we are all largely agreed on the most obvious weaknesses. Changing that takes time and money. Powell has to be given a minimum of another year in my opinion and the management need to back him so he can improve the squad as he sees fit. Those of us who won't just stop attending matches are going to have to grin and bear it. 

Looking forward to Saturday (and I am not), the Tranmere game gives me an enormous feeling of deja vu. Once again we are desperate for the win and equally desperate to avoid defeat. It looks like a nailed-on draw and the most boring one of those too. Nil-nil anyone?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Carlisle United 3

Chris Powell's honeymoon period is well and truly over after a fourth successive league defeat. Embarrassingly, it was also our second consecutive 3-1 home beating by mediocre opposition. Our games in hand are being frittered away.

Personally, I was more surprised by Powell's opening four wins than I have been by his four subsequent defeats. We simply haven't played well at the Valley this season and we have flattered to deceive in far too many games. We have played 16 games at home and have yet to put in a 90 minute performance. It's not good enough for the money we are paying this squad of players and our long-suffering fans deserve more. 

Chris Powell has been keen to tell us that he is not a "cup thrower" and that he aims to emulate Sven Goran-Ericsson's calm and considered persona. That is a laudible ambition but to do that you need to be able to get your players pysched-up to perform for you and you need to have the tactical nous and the playing personnel on the bench to be able to influence games when you need to. It's far too early to be too judgemental about Chris Powell but our bench was weak this evening and for the second home game in-a-row we left it 15 minutes too late to make our first tactical change.

Powell went with two changes to the line-up that went down meekly at Notts County, with Wagstaff and Reid coming in for the injured Jackson and Anyinsah. It was a bright opening start by Charlton and Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a fine goal on ten minutes as we threatened to make early work of the visitors. Nathan Eccleston ran a counter-attack and with players getting up in support he found Wright-Phillips in the box and having shaped to shoot quickly, Bradley realised he had a second or two as the Carlisle defence took stock and he used the extra second to change the angle and pace of his shot and squeeze a subtle effort in off the post.

After that we had a chance to take a very rare two-goal lead but with men over in the box we gave Carl Jenkinson the shooting option from ten yards as he ran in but he hoofed his effort over the bar when anything low would probably have gone in. We then took our foot off the gas once again and allowed our opponents to build in confidence. Sure enough, on 27 minutes Ben Marshall found himself running out of options as he charged towards the box and he loosed off a shot that took another deflection, off Dailly I think, and went in past a helpless Elliott. Fortune had come on for the injured Doherty in the first half but you wouldn't have noticed if you were just following the ball.

In the second-half we were flat again and a change was needed before Carlisle got the second just after the hour. Powell looked determined to let his choices fight their way back into the game but nothing much was happening for us and it was 3-1 with ten minutes to go and game over.

Having played so much of this season with no cutting edge, we are now in the ironic position of having a couple of finishers but have stopped creating much for them to feed on. Kyle Reid was dire this evening. He may think he's too good for League One but he could do with a cup being thrown at him as far as I am concerned. All the pace in the world is useless if all you want to do is hog the ball and run and run until you lose it. Precious little end product today. Wagstaff was better and lead most of our more promising attacks in the second-period but  only managed to get a couple of notable crosses in. 

That meant we needed prompting from midfield and, once again, there was nothing. Thierry Racon might also be a player to benefit from a half-time flying saucer. I would have hauled him off but there was only McCormack on the bench he hasn't shown any urgency to re-establish himself when returning to the side so far and has been a big disappointment.

We are desperate for a loanee attacking midfielder and the club should move now. There's little point waiting to get someone whose loan period may cover the play-off final because that looks wishful-thinking the way things are going. 

Those of us who lamented the fact that we saved one of our worst performances of the season for the biggest crowd of the season at home to Exeter may be pleased to learn that this evening's drivel was watched by our lowest Valley gate of the season, nearly half that of the Exeter game at 12,797. A sobering fact for those who run the club and a sign of what is to come if we can't start playing attractive winning football in the next 12 months. The financial credentials of the new owners looks like being tested in the close season as we look likely to need to invest in a new spine of the team that won't be easy or cheap.

I have a number of friends coming to London for the weekend of 26/27th of March and I am looking forward to entertaining them on the Saturday. I had optimistically mentioned a trip to Bournemouth, which they are up for, but I am having second-thoughts as I suspect this side will let us down again and potentially embarrass me. Charlton eh?

Send them packing

Carlisle United make the long trek to the Valley this evening for a League One encounter that Charlton have to win if we are to keep in touch with the play-off places. We have fallen five points behind sixth place MK Dons although we do have four games in hand. If we don't close the gap we look likely to be caught in the chase by Rochdale or Leyton Orient. Yes, Rochdale or Orient, the form sides in the chasing group who, like us, have both played only 30 games. Neither of them are in action this evening.

Carlisle slipped up at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and also failed to beat Exeter City at Brunton Park in the game before that. They are safely mid-table and should be able to play with a bit of freedom this evening so we will need to get at them. They have kept it tight recently with only one goal being scored in each of four of their last five, so we may need patience. With our form this season, it would all seem to point to a 1-0 home win.

I am expecting the home crowd to drop back to the 13-14,000 mark and suspect we will be able to count the visiting fans who will, presumably, be largely London-based. I know one of those but he can't make it this evening (very unconvincing excuse).