Thursday, 28 April 2011

Kid-free weekend!

We are meeting up with five other couples this weekend in my native Scotland. They are long-term friends and all from the Granite City, although one couple now hail from Cambridge. It's an annual event although we missed it last year due a diary clash. It's always a weekend full of care-free laughter and activity, enjoyable not least of all because we all leave our kids at home. Scottish Granny and English Nanna are sharing the load, so hopefully a few more people will also enjoy our trip!

This year we are meeting at Piperdam a leisure resort ten miles from Dundee Airport. We are flying from London City tomorrow morning and I will enjoy a 30 minute journey to the airport and a late-ish check-in. No driving and no parking charges (although the tax on the flight was more than the cost of the flight itself).

Lunch will be in Dundee city centre tomorrow before we check in and can settle into the facilities of the Las Vegas Lodge which will accommodate all of us. I have been too busy to get involved in any of the planning but I know we have a black tie casino night on Saturday which should be a great way to end a day of activity and refreshment. 

I wanted to do a good walk (maybe a Munro) but that wasn't hugely popular with the ex-footballers, some of whom have dodgy knees. Maybe I will get out for a stroll (short of a walk) before Lindsay's Big Scottish Breakfast on Sunday which will mean I have no need to eat until bank Holiday Monday, by which time I will at home in the garden.

 I hope the Royal Wedding passes off without a hitch and that you enjoy it if you watch it.Whatever you are doing, enjoy the weekend!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Charlton Athletic 3 v Rochdale 1

I questioned Rochdale's belief going into today's match and, on reflection, they looked well short. You would have been hard pressed to believe you were watching play-off pretenders today as Rochdale looked grateful just to be on the same pitch as us and, apart from a 15 minute second-half spell, they looked content to accept an away defeat.

A reshuffled Charlton side saw Parrett paired with Stewart in the centre with Racon on the left and Eccleston on the right. Wright-Phillips and Benson lead the charge. At the back it was the same as Bristol Rovers with Francis, Fortune, Doherty and Bessone protecting Sullivan in goal. At this point I need to confess to being surprised at how much smaller Sullivan looked than the first time I saw him play. He was positively in the mould of Little Ross, even though he had another decent game and made a superb save which Dale scored from on the rebound.

As so often this season at home, the first half wasn't much to shout about and we only had a couple of efforts from Racon and Eccleston to talk about before Thierry Racon latched onto a lay-off from Wright-Phillips to fire home passed a helpless Fon-Williams.

After the break Rochdale started quickly and for once committed men to attack and after that stop from Sullivan, Holness powered home a close range header between several red shirts on the line. Just before we finished muttering "here we go again," Dean Parrett got on the end of a retaliatory Charlton move to sweep home from 15 yards and restore the lead. From then on, it was really only a matter of whether or not we could extend our lead and that's just what we did through an excellent right wing cross from Paul Benson which Nathan Eccleston got on the end of to head beyond Fon-Williams. Rochdale were on the rough end of a number of refereeing decisions this afternoon but they certainly didn't deserve anything from the game.

I thought Chris Powell got the substitutions just about right for once. Solly came on for Benson after 79 minutes which enabled Eccleston to move upfront. Nouble got on for Bessone  after that as Solly went to left back and Powell used the game to blood young Calum Harriott who gave an admirable impression of Kyel Reid in terms of stature and pace on the left wing.

Other than that, I got up to the White Swan pre-match and can report that it looks a major improvement if a little short of "Chelsea" expectations. The re-decoration has been total and there is a good quality dark wood flooring throughout. The toilets have been revamped as well as the garden and there are a couple of large flat-screen TV's. The beer was good and the staff looked promising although it wasn't at all busy. I will give it another go soon.

Easter Monday - Rochdale

I'm feeling relatively fine after my first three and a half hours of the year in the saddle. No doubt I will feel stiffer tomorrow but I should be walking normally around the Valley later today. It was great to get out at 7am yesterday in the cool Spring air and stretch my legs on a run down to Gravesend. We stopped short of going on to Higham (which is a great flat run through open farmland with views to the Thames estuary) because Pete needed to collect his car from Crayford Dogs. With hindsight, that was the right move because I felt tired by the time I got home and my bum had had enough for one day.

Today looks like it will be last of the recent hot spell (how unusual for it to end on a bank holiday rather than start on a Tuesday) and it should be a decent day in SE7 for a match. Rochdale are pressing for 6th place but they lost at home 3-2 to Carlisle on Saturday are now need a minor miracle to overhaul Bournemouth where they also have to go before the end of the season. I can see today's game being decided by just how much belief the Rochdale players have that they can still make it. If it's still make or break, they might have enough to scrape three points although they could throw the towel in if we can open the scoring. 

I am heading up to the newly refurbished White Swan pre-match to inspect the decor and see if the new owner has any chance of breaking the cycle. Good reports were emanating about the refurb which apparently cost £170,000 and has included "chandeliers."  One of the workmen involved was heard in the Oak to say that the Swan now resembled "a boozer in Chelsea." I am taking that with a handful of salt. A neighbour who climbed the hill on Good Friday texted me to say that the prices were reassuringly expensive but that in terms of Chelsea it was "no way Jose." Not altogether a bad a thing.

One of my regular refrains on this blog is about the dire shortage of a "decent" pub in Charlton. By decent, I think I really mean upmarket. I am not asking for too much; decent decor, new carpets, curtains, a proper bar, a landlord with a stake, regular professional barstaff, real ale, food, no machines or pool tables and a bit of music. It would also be nice not to have a hypocritical notice on the toilet doors about the management not tolerating drugs and instead have a vigilant landlord who knows his customers and simply bars those he/she catches. Let's face it, if you think you can casually snort a line in the toilet in view of any of Customers who want a pee by saying "alright mate" to anyone who sees you do it, you might as well do it at the bar. Ray Woodard was brilliant at sussing out drug users and would follow them into the toilets and bar them then and there so they could finish their drink and slink off without a scene. Kath and Dermot don't tolerate any nonsense in the Rose of Denmark although the Rose tends not to attract that much of a problem.

I may sound like a Turkey voting for Christmas here but I hope the new owners have upped the prices in the White Swan. That might be enough to deter some of the regular clientele who ruined it for Vito (last para). If they can encourage the wino's to drink elsewhere and stop the bad language and more anti-social behaviour, they might have half-a-chance. I know I am sounding like a 70 year-old member of the Conservative Party, but it's what we need before all hope of a really good drinking venue is lost in London SE7. I think the Customer base is there in spite of the fact that pubs are a dying trade. The Rose and the Anchor are both decent pubs but the Rose is limited (Estate pub on a main road) and the Anchor always seems much further away than it really is - that from me who will have to scale the Charlton Heights to reach the White Swan.

If you are going to the game today, remember that there's only one left to endure after this before we can sit back and marvel as the big signings roll in and the wasters are left to rue their missed opportunities.

Enjoy your day.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Bristol Rovers 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

Our eighth point in the last 48. On the face of it, we blew this having been two-up shortly after the break but we had two players sent off by midway through the second period, and their late second was hand-balled but allowed to stand. Chris Powell was also giving his marching orders for arguing the toss.

Bristol Rovers are fighting for their lives at the bottom with Walsall and the Daggers, and I wasn't expecting us to get anything from this. It was a surprise, therefore, to hear us take the lead and increase it against the run of play. The fact that Reid and Semedo were sent off for second yellow cards shows a level of "commitment" we have been short of but both sounded needless. Reid hit Tunnicliffe with a late and high challenge that may have broken his leg - he was stretchered off with it strapped. Hard to understand unless it was retaliation and even then it would have been brainless. Semedo lead with his elbow and that too seems excessive when already on a yellow. 

Powell rested Solly, Racon and Wright-Phillips today and I suspect they will figure on Monday as we reshuffle for high-flying Rochdale. Paul Benson opened the scoring with a diving header from "Elkerston's" cross and Kyel Reid rammed home the second after skating in on goal. Whatever the cause, our pathetic run under Chris Powell continues. At least we only have three games left to endure.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Live, love, laugh and be happy

I got a lie-in this morning and am feeling gggrre-e-at in a Tony-the-Tiger way. I have been too busy to give the forthcoming holidays any real attention so they have crept up on me and I am really looking forward to them. 

I'm not planning on doing too much work next week as half the country will be off and I am off to Piperdam in Scotland for a kid-less weekend with Mrs Peeps and a crowd of friends next Friday. We are flying door-to-door from City to Dundee, so will be in Royal Scotland for the Wedding. I am no great Royal Family watcher (I love the Royle family) but they are good business for Great Britain and I will raise a toast. 

It's my eldest's 6th birthday on Tuesday so we are off to some kids event on Sunday afternoon. I am committed to getting my large frame onto my Cannondale early on Sunday morning and finally kick-starting my cycling this year.

Monday will be spent watching the Rochdale game and it promises to be a long hot day in shorts for all of us. I will be the one dragging his legs, Douglas-Bader-style around the ground.

I am sure you will have plans over the next couple of weekends and I hope you live, love, laugh and be happy!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Palace to survive again?

Whenever things are at rock bottom, it's always encouraging to know you might not be alone. There has been a lot of wishful thinking on the Internet in recent days that Palace might go one better than last year and make relegation.

I have looked into my Crystal ball and am saddened to report that I saw smug celebrations in SE25. The fact is they are three clear of Scunthorpe and four ahead of Preston, but both of those look like they will struggle to get more than another three points, in which case, one more result from Palace should make them safe.

Don't let that stop your bedtime prayers. If there is a God, then you have to hope for some divine justice every now and again.

Monday, 18 April 2011


I arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday evening and after a late dinner was up early for a meeting with Big Blue. Their offices weren't far from the Westin hotel and we were done by 1pm. I left my Mumbai colleague on site and dropped the other one back at the airport so he could fly home to Delhi. That left me the rest of the day to myself as I wasn't leaving until 2.30am.

My driver, Muri, took me back into the City and we headed for the more affluent south (isn't it always that way?). Eventually, having driven for twenty minutes south from the highway, we came to a river and a view of a city sky-scrapers on the far shore (picture here doesn't do it justice). 

There was a two year old 9km sea bridge to reach the City and I was quietly impressed. Across the estuary and after another twenty minutes or so we climbed a hill that ran into the sea and Muri stopped at the park on the top. He encouraged me to get out and from here I could see the city to the north and the distant sea-bridge. The view south was more impressive still. A large bay stretched out with an even denser cluster of larger buildings. We headed south again and stopped so I could visit the one-time home of Mohandus Gandhi. It looks largely untouched in 80 years and is, in effect, a museum to the Mahatma and his devotion to love, peace, personal self discipline and non-violence. Very interesting, if over-poweringly musty and probably deserving of a more professional set-up.

Another twenty minutes down Marine Drive and heading around the bay and through down-town south Mumbai. The streets here are an alluring mix of local shack-shops and luxury brand outlets. No shortage of high-end car dealerships or Bond Street brands and the colonial architecture looks untouched since the British left in 1947-8. The Gateway of India was a landmark I have been very familiar with, having seen many photos over the years and having read about. It was built to commemorate the arrival by sea of King George V at the old port in 1911 and it continued to welcome ships from the west until air travel became more practical for visitors. Crowds of largely Indians milled about around the monument and hawkers were selling the usual array of drop-down postcards and souvenirs. I was very surprised to see the instantly recognisable Taj Hotel and Oberoi Hotels right bang next to the Gateway of India. I had assumed they were several streets away. I watched the terrorist attacks on these hotels unfold on television at the time and the footage somehow avoided back-grounding the monument.

I had to have a beer in the Taj (the Oberoi is still undergoing renovation) which is owned by Ratan Tata, the head of the massive Tata conglomerate
Tata has taken "diversification" of businesses to extremes and does everything from making it's own steel to producing cars, energy, chemicals, watches and everything in between (including the Taj Hotel chain). The business was founded by Ratan Tata's ancestors in the 1800's and behaves in an unusually responsible and caring way towards the communities in which it operates, and these are literally, all over India. Part of Tata's guiding principles are that they become either number one or number two in each of the businesses they invest in or they pull out. Tata Consulting Services are another of my suppliers and are very different to do business with. 

Mumbai is home to 12m people and the scale of the city supports that view, although it probably looks so large because it's spread out down the coastline and you get these huge vistas. I have been trying to think of a comparable coastal city but everyone I can think of has a focal river estuary which makes the city at least semi-circular layout e.g. San Francisco and Sydney. Next time I return, I want to have dinner at the top of the Taj at night and spend sometime looking around the imposing Victoria Station which I only got to see from the front. 

We're on track

For our worst finish ever. Having dropped down to 13th, Hartlepool, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham and Yeovil are all within 3 points of passing us. So much for the strong finish and a host of players playing for new contracts. We may be playing better but there is still insufficient desire or belief across the side and I am concerned that Chris Powell faces an impossible task in changing things sufficiently to avoid even worse next year. The way we are going, four or five new faces may not be enough.

Having beaten the O's the other week in a match which they might have won, had their second goal stood, we seem to have forgotten our current run of results which now amount to 7 points out of the last 45. I am afraid this isn't a blip for me and there is only one common denominator. Like most everyone else, I want to see Chris Powell succeed in this post and my view was that we weren't playing particularly well under Parky despite nicking results. 

Having given up on this season, we are in danger of failing to see what's going on in games and settling for continuing defeats because we have had the crumbs of a reasonable performances against poor opposition or misfiring opponents. If I was running the club, I would be extremely unhappy with this.

Season ticket sales may be giving the Board room for belief that our fans are more satisfied with the position than I believe they are. Saturday's gate, like most this season, would appear to tell a more worrying story. The home areas were pathetically thin and there looked barely 10,000 present. With Huddersfield bring c 1200, we were a good 4,000 home season ticket holders short and that assumes no walk up gate. In other words, huge numbers of season ticket holders would rather be doing something else on a Saturday despite having paid for their seats.

Our remaining fixtures are against opponents we should be expecting to beat. Bristol Rovers and Walsall are aways against sides who look like they are going down. Rochdale may be seventh but surely we should be beating them at the Valley? Same with Hartlepool. I would be setting a target of seven points before we finish and would be asking questions of varying degrees of difficulty depending on how we fare against this. I suspect we will do well to get four points and will cement our lowest league position in 105 years. If Powell stays, he needs to be given the biggest transfer budget since Dowie blew £12m.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Pune and the road to Mumbai

A colleague and I flew down to Pune (formerly Poona) on Wednesday morning with Kingfisher Airlines. Kingfisher is owned by Vijay Mallya, an Indian version of Richard Branson. Mallya's father built the business on the ubiquitous Kingfisher beer and Vijay has expanded it to acquire "UB" (United Breweries).  Vijay plays hard and owns the Force India F1 team as well as IPL side Bangalore Royal Challengers.

Pune is a relatively small airport but an international one nonetheless, and from there it was straight to the offices of our largest supplier who are based in the Hinjawadi business district to the west of the city. Pune has a long established manufacturing base and a large graduate population which is what fuels the software development industry in the Hinjawadi. All of the Indian tech firms are here and most of the world's multi-national corporations have work done here, as in a number of similar sites across India, most notably Electronic City in Bangalore. In Hinjawadi, like other tech parks, the buildings are often architecturally challenging as companies vie for one-upmanship, like the "snake's egg" building below that belongs to Infosys.

Visiting suppliers in India can be culturally awkward for us. On arrival you are typically greeted at the door by your hosts and a small ceremony is performed in the reception. Your forehead anointed with a Bindi (red spot) and a large garland of flowers is placed over your head. You are often asked, as I was, to light a candle at that point. The symbolism here is that the burning wick represents the gaining of knowledge and the shrinking candle the loss of ego that goes with the learning. That always impresses me - we could use a lot more of that. It usually ends there but I have heard some horrendous stories from colleagues; my boss was once asked when running through the meeting agenda if he would say a few words to a larger staff audience at the end of his visit. "No problem" was his response and he promptly forgot about it. At the end of the session, the party escorted him out of the office and up a flight of stairs onto the roof of the building. There he was ushered to the balcony where  there was a podium with a microphone. Down below were 5000 employees assembled to hear him "um" and "er" his way through an impromptu speech. Nightmare!

We left for Mumbai at 4.30 pm and hit the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. This is a six lane motorway (three each way) that snakes the 60 miles down from the Deccan plateau to the coast. This was first experience of highway driving over any distance in India and it was fine. Lane discipline is the only challenge as there is none, but I think I would have been happy enough to have done the driving. It's much tougher in the cities where it's a cut-you-up and push-in free-for-all, all the time honking your horn to let everyone else know you are there.

The countryside was relatively green (for India) and dotted with decent looking homes. We went through a number of long tunnels cut through the hillsides and within 90 minutes were on the outskirts of Mumbai. Just another two and half hours battling through traffic and we reached the Westin hotel. I have stayed in Westin's before in the US and Singpaore, but this one knocked those into a cocked hat. The reception was on the ground floor but the hotel didn't actually start until the 18th floor and I was on the 30th. the picture below is from my floor looking down on the bar on the 18th floor!

The room was very modern and had absolutely everything you could possibly need. We were running late and did a quick change before heading out to meet our man in Mumbai. Dinner was in a trendy restaurant over-looking the sea. The whole place was painted scarlet and we had a prime sea-view seat under several enormous palm trees. The other diners were mostly in their 20's and 30's and well-heeled. The food was a tapas-style Indian and everything I had was delicious. Bed by 1am and asleep in 20 seconds!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Charlton Athletic 0 v Huddersfield Town 1

A predictable defeat even if the manor of it wasn't so obvious. A nervous and unambitious looking Terriers side entered the Valley this afternoon in front of a disappointing crowd that was supposedly in excess of 15,000. The home areas hit a new -time low for bum-on-seats and Town were poorly supported in the circumstances. They may have been vocal in the Denmark before the match but they rarely bettered that in the ground. I reckon they had 1200 tops. Not a lot of confidence in south Yorkshire of pipping Southampton to second place.

The match itself was medium fare with very few goal-scoring opportunities for either side. Huddersfield looked terrified first-half and were only marginally more ambitious in the second. The match was won with a free-kick from 20 yards, ten minutes from time after one had been hand-balled from 30 yards. Sullivan, who had an otherwise perfect game, looked unsighted as it sailed past him on his left-hand side. That really was all there was to say.

Wagstaff came close to an opener earlier in the second-half with a rasper from 20 yards after a decent passing move but Ian Bennett was equal to it and pushed it wide. BWP had a quiet game bar a moment of Derek Hales-like brilliance when he collected a pass, touched and spun to create the opening for a shot which was saved.

Other than that, very little to report. The season is over.

Incredible India!

Well that's the marketing slogan but I wouldn't disagree. I am back home in familiar surroundings and will be at the game today.

It's been a long week one way or another but probably easier than the previous two trips in the last year, largely because I planned it myself. I didn't have to keep to anyone else's ridiculously macho schedule. I visited three new cities on this trip, although I only really got to see Delhi and Mumbai because I headed away from Pune after landing on Wednesday morning.

I am pleased to say that my overall impression of India has improved another couple of notches. I work with many Indians in the UK and speak with plenty more in India on regular conference calls. By-and-large I have a lot of respect for them which has only been enhanced this week by ever improving opinion of India.

In Delhi my business was in Gurgaon, a suburb to the south-west of the city where we have our offices. The new colleagues I met were all 25 to 35 and mostly second or third jobbers looking to cement their careers. You can't help but be impressed by their knowledge of our business from relatively short experiences elsewhere or by their absolute commitment and professionalism about doing a good job. After a long day in the office and a fantastically rich "north-west frontier" meal in the evening, I was ready to take advantage of the holiday on Tuesday, at least until the afternoon, when my phone and blackberry came alive with work starting in the UK.

My taxi driver, Suresh Kumar, took me into central Delhi and drove me around for several hours. The government of India is run from here from a series of large and impressive dual-coloured sandstone buildings set in appropriately sized gardens. The picture below is of South Building - there is a symmetrical copy (North Building) a 100 or so metres from this one but capturing both were beyond the limitations of my i-phone camera. All are connected via well-planned wide avenues with well maintained borders that provide a colourful backdrop at this time of year (what did the British ever do for us, eh?).

Delhi has a population of 12m although the city didn't give the impression of being quite that large (unlike Mumbai, more of that another time). I was also surprised to learn that Delhi is one of the three oldest cities on Earth having been permanently inhabited for 5000 (five thousand years). It has actually been destroyed and rebuilt no fewer than 11 times.

I stopped at the Red Fort with the intention of going in but was taken aback at the size of it and, frankly, didn't have the time to even make it to the entrance let alone do it justice. Suresh told me it would take 3-4 hours to tour it properly as it is filled with a myriad of white stone buildings and pavillions that once comfortably housed 3000 people in recent times and could house a tented army. The photo below is of the main entrance, the Lahori Gate, from the road. The wall you are looking at is one of what looks like maybe a dozen sides than form the outer perimeter which must be several kilometres in length. The fort is also protected by a moat which is fed from the Yamuna river. Just in case you when wondering, this epic construction was built by a Mughal Emperor in the first-half of the 1600's. 

From there, I went to India Gate to pay my respects to India's fallen dead (90,000) from World War One. I think we often forget the sacrifices of other countries who gave so much in the war effort for "their King."

India Gate looks like L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris and also burns an eternal flame at the base, although I understand it first housed a statue of King George V which has since been moved to a local park.

Other than that, like, everywhere else in India in my experience so far, you can't fail to be impressed by the quality of the big chain hotels. All are represented and for around £100-£130 a night, you get marvelously well designed and equipped rooms with all of the facilities you would imagine and a service from the staff that is second to none. I say this having a much longer knowledge of hotels elsewhere in Asia where the service and standards have always impressed me and, frankly, made me embarrassed by the rubbish that is typically available in London.

I stayed at the Leela Kempinski in Gurgaon. You can take a look from the link but what you can't see is the service and commitment of the staff. Everyone they employ understands the true meaning of exceptional Customer Service and it really is quite humbling. How long before "attitude" catches up with them I wonder?

More on India at another time but thoughts turn to this afternoon's match against Huddersfield Town. I expect them to bring a noisy 2000 following who will make their presence felt in SE7 this afternoon and will likely be celebrating  later today as they collect three points and maintain their battle with Southampton for the second automatic promotion spot. It's good to be home.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

India away

I'm off later today to India on a whistle-stop visit. I land in Delhi tomorrow morning at 6.30am and will be in the office for nine when the first people begin to arrive. My plans were to spend the best part of Tuesday there as well before catching a late afternoon flight to Pune (nee Poona), but was saddened to learn last week that it's a regional holiday in Delhi on Tuesday, so there's no point me going into the office. This is an unexpected bonus, and I will take the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing.

I am visiting our largest supplier in Pune on Wednesday and will make the four hour trip by road to Mumbai (nee Bombay) later that day. It's our newest supplier on Thursday morning and then I am free until 2.30am when my flight leaves for London. Another few hours to myself then and maybe a visit to the Gateway of India. 

I have been learning much more about India since I started looking after our suppliers there a year ago. I had a fair view of our common history but my eyes have been opened to the sheer scale and speed of which India is developing. Having always had/been fed overwhelmingly negative images of life in India, I am rapidly re-appraising my opinion. 

The consequences of the British Empire have often been seen very dimly (especially outside the UK) in the light of the political problems we invariably left behind and more recently in terms of a largely negative (British) view of immigration as a consequence (casually ignoring the reasons for the immigration and the undoubted benefits brought with it). 

I really believe that as the market for 'western' multi-nationals shifts increasingly eastwards and India (and China) reap the benefits of booming populations of highly educated and increasingly wealthy nationals, the United Kingdom may well come to be grateful for our history of Empire and Commonwealth with India. The people and family ties are particularly strong and investment (in all it's forms) is only moving in one direction. 

It's going to be a slog, so spare a thought. April is typically one of the two hottest months of the year across India. Temperatures in Delhi touch 40 degrees. Pune is on the Deccan plateau, 1500 feet above sea level, so should be slightly cooler and Mumbai is coastal, although it was stinking hot at midnight when I stopped over on my only previous visit.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Oldham Athletic 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

Pity the 183 poor sods who made the trip today. Our first 0-0 in 70-odd leagues games - the last one was also against Holdam Athletic. The only goal-less game in the top five divisions!

I didn't listen to much of the game but the commentators were obviously bored stiff and were chatting instead of commentating. I have been wondering recently whether we could get Premium TV or whatever they are called under the Trades Description Act. They don't appear to have any control over the service they provide. We are often listening to some other game to start with, we have had to endure some absolutely hopeless commentators and far too often it's inane drivel and no commentary.

Anyhow, the main talking point from today's match was the sending-off of Christian Dailly just after the half-hour mark. It's his third sending off of the season and probably symptomatic of time catching up with a proud player. It will mean he is banned for the next five games and can begin his Summer holidays early - wahoo! If his contract is up for renewal in the Summer, it could well be his last appearance, especially if the Board are going to be as ambitious as some expect.

I wish we could just concede defeat and the remaining points and forget this season. At least there are only three home games left; Huddersfield, Rochdale and Hartlepool. It's been a shocking second-half to the season and significant changes must be made or next season could be the worst ever.

The Forwards - keep or get shot?

The signing of Bradley Wright-Phillips looks better with every week that passes. Desperate Plymouth Argyle practically had to beg us to take him for the £250,000 they needed to keep the Grim Reaper from the door. I think he has managed 8 in 15 or 16 appearances so far which is pretty much as good as it gets in modern day football (one in two). He has the ability to be a 20-goal a season striker if he gets a season long run in the side and that must be what we hope for next season. 

The real challenge is to find a foil for him and someone who themselves will weigh in with 15-20 goals. Imagine a strike-partnership like we last saw with Flanagan and Hales (with apologies to Super Clive, Andy Hunt and Garry Nelson). That could be the key to promotion if we can get a quality centre-half and attacking midfielder.

The big question is, what else have we got?

Paul Benson - Poacher 32 - Squad Player
I am immediately inclined to say he should go. He doesn't look to have any particular strength but his goal-scoring ration isn't bad. I suspect he wouldn't cut the mustard in the Championship but he may be worth hanging on to as a squad player. At 32, he is not going to find a yard of pace or develop much further as a finisher.

Joe Anyinsah - Officially a midfielder 26 - Release
23 goals in 6 seasons tells you all you need to know. To be fair on Joe, he has held the ball up well, has a bit of pace and generally looked more of a threat than Benson. However, he appears to be injury prone and I think his record bears that out. Another Akpo Sodje unfortunately.

Bradley Wright-Phillips - Centre-forward 26  - Keep
BWP has the ability to become a firm Valley favourite and to really make his name at the Valley. he is an instinctive finisher and they don't come along too often. 

Frank Nouble - Bustling runner 19 - Back to West Ham
Surprisingly young and has a touch of the Carlton Cole's about him. Not ready for the goal-scoring we need and our future must lie elsewhere. He hasn't looked anywhere as good as I was lead to believe.

Nathan Eccleston - Willo the Wisp striker 20 - Only visiting
Young Nate is surely only suffering a loan down south with us unfriendly Londoners out of duty to Liverpool. He appears to be living the Premier League dream and I wish him all the best. He is disappointed he hasn't played more, and so am I. He has pace, a bit of trickery and has shown an eye for goal. It's difficult in ten minute bursts but he gives it his all. Needs to make sure he's not the next Neil Mellor.

Tamer Tuna and Lewis  Perkins - Both club 19 year-olds and deemed not ready yet. Tamer did see a bit of action at the end of last year when he scored his first professional goal but has been loaned out at Staines, Woking and Welling this season. He must be hoping for his chance next year. I haven't seen Perkins. make or break with us for both next season. If w bring in the calibre of players promised, then you have to think one or both will be released.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The midfield - keep or get shot?

It's our midfield that carries most of the blame for this season as far as I am concerned. They haven't provided enough cover for the defence and have, by and large, sat too deep, probably because they haven't often been good enough to impose themselves on the opposition. There's be a paucity of through balls and the wide men have been hugely disappointing.

If you exclude Stavrinou, Harriott and Davisson on account of them not having featured yet and consider that Parrett and Stewart are new (and on loan), there aren't that many to blame and it's a wonder we have not been more settled in midfield.

Jose Semedo - Central midfielder 26 - Keep
Jose is one of those players who flourishes in a winning team but looks much less effective otherwise. He is our "defensive" midfielder and is particularly good at breaking up opposition attacks through the middle. He is one of a few that would be prized by bigger clubs although he would be very hard to replace on our likely budget.

Therry Racon - Central midfielder, soon to be 27 - Sorry Tel
When Racon first arrived  I had high hopes for him. He was an exciting player and with a bit of improvement that could have been expected given his youth, I thought he could play at the highest level. I even sponsored his home shirt for a season. He has regressed during the last couple of seasons and has deteriorated to the point where I believe we have to have a much more consistent player. We need a performance similar to his against Orient on Saturday every week, not just once a season. He's stopped threading killer passes and his goal at Brentford looks like a once-in-a-lifetime effort whereas it should be once a month. People closer to Mr Racon than me say he has a deal lined up at the end of the season elsewhere. It's goodbye from me.

Alan McCormack - Central midfielder 27 - Out
After an initial couple of appearances when he looked a breath of fresh air, he has settled very quickly into a routine where he hides on the pitch. He tries to look busy but rarely actually delivers anything on the ball. Has has typically come on from the bench when we have been in desperate need of a driving midfielder, some urgency and a lift of tempo. He has invariably give us more caution, sideways play and short passes. He doesn't do much defending and he doesn't appear to have a shot. Might be much happier in League Two.

Johnnie Jackson - Central midfielder 28 - Keep
The obvious hit of the season and only injury looks like robbing him of Player of the Year. ironically, he made his biggest contribution from left-back this season where he excelled across the half-way line (as you might expect) and suddenly started scoring goals. Our fall down the table coincided largely with his injury. His return will be like a very good new signing.

Scott Wagstaff - Right winger 21 - Keep
Scott burst into the side at the start of the season by scoring goals and playing with a joie de vivre. Somewhere along the way he began to contribute far less, disappear (like the rest of the side) for one half or the other in games and, ultimately, not contribute anything like what's needed to command his place. He is only 21 but he needs proper competition and a rocket up his jacksy.

Kyel Reid - Left whinger 24 - Shooting Star
I'm surprised he's only 24 as I view him as one of the more experienced pros in the camp. Probably because he has come from the Championship. I think he's been found out this season and I can now understand why Sheffield United let him go. He really a sprinter who has turned to football. Electrifying pace when he wants to know but running back and forwards on the left wing doesn't win you games. He hasn't helped his cause by making it known he considers himself too good for League One. We can't afford another season of fighting with no left arm. He won't play if Jackson is fit and I've seen enough - out him.

Dean Parrett - Central midfield 19 - Passing trade
He's done ok for a young loanee but hasn't set the heath on fire yet. Can't be easy in a dressing room like ours since he's arrived. You hope for a few performances like his Spurs team-mate Andros Townsend's against us in the cup, but maybe that's unrealistic. I suspect he will return to Spurs quickly and I would rather we focused on acquiring a team of players of our own and not to be reliant on mercenaries.

Michael Stewart - Central midfield 30 - Acquire
Possibly too early to be sure, but Stewart looks like a journeyman player from a league standard above ours. He has a winners' streak about him and much of the urgency, determination to hurt defences and guile that's missing from Racon and McCormack. Strikes me as possible Captain material and should be first choice until the end of the season he continues to play well enough.

In summary then, we should move half of our midfield on and we need much better replacements. This will be the yardstick by how I judge our summer spending and our chances of challenging once again to leave this wretched division. 

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The defence - keep or get shot?

The season effectively over. Fourteen players soon to be out of contract. A board that is threatening to spend big. Time for verdicts on those I largely hold responsible for this disastrous season. I am looking forward to it and today start with the defence. Should be quite cathartic...

Rob Elliot - Goalkeeper 25 this month - Keep. 

Elliot is a very decent keeper at this level and can play in the Championship. Because he is injury prone, we need a proper second keeper. He needs to be forced to shift the stone he seems to carry most of the time. I'd make it a commercial condition of his contract.

Ross Worner - Goalkeeper 22 - Undecided
I am tempted to say get shot but Ross hasn't actually let us down when covering Robbie. His problem is he is on the small side and struggles to impose himself. His profile says he's 6ft 1in but that must be wishful thinking on his part. At best for me he is the third choice keeper.

John Sullivan - Goalkeeper 23 - On loan from Millwall
Brought in as cover and hasn't played - back to Millwall I suspect next month.

Conor Gough - Goalkeeper 17 - Keep - one for the future.

Frederico Bessone - Left-back 27 - Keep
One of the bright points of this season. The experienced Argentinian has the ability to get us out of this division but question-marks remain over his ability at higher levels. Struggled against Southampton in the week.

Kelly Youga - Left back 25 - Keep assuming fit when the season starts
Class act in this division but his career could be over he can't return from his current injury which has kept him out for the best part of two seasons.

Simon Francis - Right back 26 - On yer bike
I liked the cut of his job when he first appeared this season. He is tall and relatively strong and reminded me of Luke Young in the tackle and when he got across the half-way line. Unfortunately, he simply isn't a good enough full-back and a string of mistakes and matches where he has been the weak link have cost us. We probably persevered with him too long when Chris Jenkinson was available. His time here is up.

Chris Solly - Right back 20 - Keep
Has played his way into the side this season and makes up for his lack of height with his tackling and passing. Good enough to play in the Championship.

Carl Jenkinson - Right back 19 - Is leaving for Arsenal
Wen he made his debut at Brentford, I wondered why he hadn't played before especially with only Francis keeping him out of the side at that time. He's only been dropped now because of his refusal to sign a new deal and to ensure he doesn't get crocked so we can claim our £1m compensation from Arsenal. There's an obvious desire to say he's swapping first team football here for cleaning premiership players boots, but Carl might just be quick and strong enough to get some games next season and possibly establish himself at the Emirates. Good luck to him.

Christian Dailly - Centre-half 37 - Keep
Squeaks my player of the season from BWP and Johnnie Jackson by virtue of having played twice as many games as them (this season). I think the Championship will be beyond him by the time we get there.

Gary Doherty - Centre-half 31- Cover for Dailly
Surprisingly only 31. Can still do a job at this level but needs to be playing alongside a faster centre-half. Worth keeping as cover for Dailly.

Jonathon Fortune - Centre-half 30 - Sorry Jon
Charlton stalwart who has always put himself first. Surprised again he's only 30 but that's probably because of his length of service and seen-it-all attitude. For me, his biggest weakness is that he hasn't cared enough when he has made mistakes. If only he had the winning attitude of a Tony Adams or a Gary Roberts. 

MiguelAngel Llera - Centre-half 31 - Cover for a better player
Tempted to say get shot but he has done ok since coming back into the side. He is slow off the mark which is fatal for a centre-half when holding the line. I don't believe he can play Championship football and isn't a first choice player. 

Yado Mambo - Centre-half 19 - Keep
There is a view from those who follow the other Charlton sides that Mambo is not good enough for the first team. Personally I am not qualified to make an assessment as I only remember seeing him play once and he looked decent enough (the opposition was only Welling). Still young enough to develop into a better player a la Danny Shittu.

That doesn't look too bad as I would only really out two players. Having said that, we need an experienced first-choice centre-half to partner Dailly and lead the defence as well as a cover for Solly as a minimum. If Youga can't play again, we need someone there too, although I was happy with Johnnie Jackson playing left-back. If the Board are really serious, we could be ruthless and replace both first-choice central defenders with better quality, the types who marshall the defence and take conceding goals personally, not just like they are to be expected. The current options won't take us through the Championship.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Southampton 2 v Charlton Athletic 0

Another defeat and another defeat at St Mary's. Sounded like a stroll for the home side last night listening to the commentary. Southampton now move within two points of Huddersfield with a game in hand. A south coast one-two for promotion is looking very likely.

From a Charlton perspective, Chris Powell will be disappointed he wasn't able to get a second successive performance from his side and he now faces an uphill task of trying to motivate them for the trip to Oldham on Saturday. Th season may effectively be over but Powell needs some more performances before we wrap up.  If he doesn't get them it will look like we gave up in March after dropping off the pace and then threw the towel in after securing our League one status following the Orient match. Fourteen of this squad are supposedly out of contract in the Summer. It certainly doesn't show.

I was disappointing that Michael Stewart didn't start last night and he was introduced only after the game was lost at 2-0. The formation was also bold with a 4-4-2 but we could obviously have done with another man in the middle as we were up against it. Powell has a few games to experiment and he should take them. He also needs to show a ruthlessness in terms of sacking players come the Summer that I still question a former PFA Chairman has.

Meanwhile, I am staggered that the club has sold 6,253 season tickets and is effectively ahead of last year's total for the same period and therefore on target to out-sell last year's season starting total of 8,769. Huge credit must go to Rick Everitt and the committee who set the policy here. They have a proven track record of calling this right and the discount on last year's price clearly did it for most. The club appears to have decided that prices will now increase by £15 or £25 which will satisfy the early purchasers and still represent a discount on last year's price. Personally I will wait until I am, hopefully, moved to buy mine during the Summer.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Two aways

After the relief of Saturday, we turn to face two testing away games this week. Southampton tomorrow night looks like mission impossible and Oldham on Saturday like mission improbable. I said the other week that I couldn't see us winning away again this season but after Saturday, there is a tad more hope. 

If we can produce a repeat midfield performance in each of the next two games, we should create enough to score in both which will put us in with a shout of a result. Michael Stewart must get more playing time under his belt and for once I would be inclined to argue for playing 4-5-1 to accommodate him. It should make us harder to break down and I think in BWP we have the striker who can score playing on his own or with breaking support.

The hopelessly optimistic post on Charlton life entitled "Play-offs?" had me roaring. You really have to wonder where these people come from. I will assume it was his first game for a couple of months.

This morning Chris Powell has the distinction of being the only black manager in league football as Paul Ince has been sacked at Meadow Lane after five successive defeats as County plunge headlong towards the trap-door. Ince's track record is looking decidedly dodgy and we await the first black manager to really shine. Let's hope that Chris Powell can do that. Many questions have been asked in recent weeks and there is still a huge question-mark over his ability to manage given his record so far, so I think the players have a pivotal role to play in either his demise or his redemption. We should be able to play with a lot less pressure in these last seven games and if we can finish the season with the sort of performances and results we were expecting to back in January, then perhaps we can put this disastrous run into some perspective. It should also encourage season ticket sales which I am guessing have been seriously hampered so far.

I am off on a mini-tour of India on Sunday (next Sunday, not yesterday as previously posted) but will be back for the Huddersfield Town match and it would be great to put a spoke in the wheels of one of the automatic candidates, if we can't do that tomorrow night against the Saints.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Charlton Athletic 3 v Leyton Orient 1

A much improved passing game from Charlton today gave the foundation for our first win since the 3-2 victory over Peterborough at the Valley on 12th February, year of our Lord, 2011. Thoughts of relegation can now be put away and the players have the opportunity to create some momentum and positivity for next season. Not before time. Chris Powell will be mightily relieved.

The performance owed much to an outstanding display from Thierry Racon. He had his best game of this season by a country mile and better than anything I can readily remember from last season (certainly since the beginning of last season).

It was a largely predictable starting line-up with the only change from the defeat at Rochdale in the week being Paul Benson for the injured Anyinsah. We started well and dominated possession for the opening half-hour without creating any clear-cut opening. The football was impressive nonetheless as we pinged the ball around midfield and had the O's on the backfoot. That changed after 35 minutes when Orient scored against the run of play with a ridiculous looking goal. They broke down the right and the cross looked over-hit as it sailed to the back of the box. The player arriving had, what I thought, was a pop at goal on the volley and the ball was going wide but fell right for Scott McGleish who was able to divert it past Elliot from five yards. That took the wind out of our sails and we were booed quietly off at the break.

The half-time talk clearly put us back on the page and we went after Orient again from the restart. It took only five minutes to get level when Benson netted from close range after a fine run from Racon saw his cross fired goal-ward by Bradley Wright-Phillips and only parried by Jamie Jones. That lifted the mood in the ground and for the first time in months I felt that we would win the game. Solly and Wagstaff were combining well down the right and Parrett was winning his own share of play on the left. BWP and Benson were moving well and pulling the centre-pairing around. I was expecting a second when the O's scored again against the run of play. This time it was a well delivered ball through to three runners, one of whom headed firmly beyond Elliot. It looked a good goal to me and to the celebrating Orient fans behind Elliot in the Jimmy Seed. Fortunately for us, an infringement had been spotted and the goal was disallowed. 

That provided the spur for another Charlton break that sent BWP hurtling forward but he didn't have enough time or poise to beat the on-rushing Jones. Just as we were settling back into our seats, Jones inexplicably rolled the ball out to Wright-Phillips who couldn't believe his luck and who wasn't going to miss from there. Two-one and the home fans came alive.

Michael Stewart came on after 77 minutes for Dean Parrett and he made an immediate impact stealing a couple of balls from Orient players and then combining with Racon on the edge of the Orient box to deliver a superbly flighted cross which cleared Jones and the Orient defence but fell beautifully at the back post for the on-rushing Jose Semedo who leapt with glee to head home his first ever Valley goal. That won the game but we had to endure a late finish from Orient and see two efforts of theirs cannon off the crossbar before we could celebrate.

It feels like the last game of the season this evening. I really do hope we can string a run of results together to show this division that we are better than our position suggests and serve notice of some intent for next year.

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