Friday, 31 August 2012

Bush 2

My wife took me to Koko last night so she could fantasise over Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of Bush, her number one band of all time. It wouldn't have been my first choice but they are a class act and Mr Rossdale is a consummate rocker and frontman and he knows how to put on a show.

We saw them last year at their annual London gig at La Scala (they are much bigger in the States) and I was very impressed with La Scala as a music venue. I have to say that Koko topped it last night. Formerly the Camden Palace Theatre, it's a fantastic Victorian pile with four tiers of viewing and an opened bar area behind the stalls that allows you to queue for drinks without leaving the action.

Gavin likes to get amongst the audience with his remote mike and invites fans to belt out the chorus lines with him. My good lady got her hands on his sweaty body last year and she got another "touch" last night. I was immediately reminded of my favourite Tom Jones story. When touring in the Deep South, he found himself the "unwanted" attention of a buxom blonde who forced an intimate kiss on him as her husband towered over the pair as he left a show. Tom's eyes made contact with the man mountain as his lady continued to grapple with him. Tom was worried and the bloke could see his dilemma. He said "no problem Tom, you pump the tyres and I'll ride the bike." 

More importantly, the ground has been prepared for Nottingham Forest away on Saturday and did I mention that I am going up to Hampden Park the week after to see Scotland 's opening World Cup qualifier with Serbia? Job done.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Poker face

The latest news suggests that Tony Jiminez has turned down a £1.5m (yes, million) bid from Aston Villa for Dale Stephens. If this is true, I am amazed. Huddersfield have only managed to attract a £2m bid for Jordan Rhodes. We paid circa £350,000 for Stephens (another undisclosed fee) and would appear desperate keen to ensure we balance the books on our Summer dealings. A fourfold increase in Stephen's value in less than a less would seem good business, especially if it means we can hang on to Chris Solly. 

If we have turned down this sort of fee and are, presumably, holding out for more, then Tony Jiminez is playing a high stakes game. Other clubs are rumoured to be interested in Stephens, so you have to wonder whether we have a conditional offer elsewhere. 

I am immediately reminded of some of the appalling decisions of the past where necessity saw us robbed of top quality players on the cheap. Paul Walsh and Paul Elliott to Luton was probably the worst offence (I think we got £300,000 or something ridiculous for the pair), although Mark Hulyer at the time lived hand-to-mouth, so perhaps that shouldn't have been such a surprise, even if it was a crime of mis-management. At least when Robert Lee was lured north for £700,000 Kevin Keegan was honest enough to say no-one else was offering anything close to that and he knew we had been touting him around to pay debts.

Having said all this, if Scott Sinclair is worth £6m+ to Man City, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised if we are holding out for more for Dale Stephens who could potentially be a bigger piece in a top class side. Personally, I don't believe he has the pace or aggression for the Premier League.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Goalkeeping addition

The rumours about us being interested in Tottenham fourth choice goalie, David Button, were proved correct yesterday as we signed him. There was an undisclosed fee and the Grape Vine was mentioning £500,000 which would be hard to believe under normal circumstances and nigh on impossible if we have cash flow problems. 

Once again, it must be said that we appear to be strengthening our squad for a crack at the Championship irrespective of Boardroom challenges. Jordan Cook, Salim Kerkar, Lawrie Wilson, Dorian Dervite-Vassoue, Ricardo Fuller and now David Button all need paying and the names being linked continue. Nigel Reo-Coker could be the holding midfield player we need (don't ask West Ham fans for a reference) and there are other names being bandied about too.

As I said yesterday, the obvious fear is that we will sell to fund all this and I would be very sorry to see Chris Solly sacrificed, although delighted if we could do it by losing Dale Stephens to Villa. There will come a point where the sale of Solly would be justified given the overall strengthening of the squad and Lawrie Wilson is an able full-back in his stead. The only other conclusion I can draw is that we also appear to be moving to a position where the sale of an asset would only help us balance the books and not 'save' us money. 

Mssrs Slater and Jiminez, therefore, may be approaching some form of redemption, although that remains to be seen and whatever the situation, it would have been so much better for the club if they had communicated more openly than they have so far, if only to rubbish the rumours. 

As a footnote, I should add that the long-suffering Royal Oak is finally under new management although the lease remains with the same person (Ken Ryan) and the funds needed to shake things up are very unlikely to be forthcoming. We can live in hope.

Finally, I thought we had the knack last season of playing sides at just about the right time. Forest will be a big test again for us on Saturday but it was good to see them given a hard workout by Wigan last night and conceding four to the Premier League visitors. Next up after that is Palarse and I rest my case with them - they lost Paddy McCarthy for six weeks yesterday and conceded four again at League One Preston in the Capital One Cup. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Musical Chairs

Transfer rumour frenzy time it would appear as we go into the last week of the window. Undeniably, we have done rather well so far given all the speculation about about cash-flow problems and the Boardroom reshuffles.  Ricardo Fuller, even at 33 in October, was better than I had expected. 

The surprising news this morning is that Villa (Aston) are reportedly showing interest in, er, Dale Stephens. Frankly, if they are willing to pay a Premier to Championship type fee, they are welcome to him, particularly if it means we could bring in target Nigel Reo-Coker. Neither of those moves would have seemed plausible to me two days ago, Stephens because he doesn't look anywhere near good enough and Reo-Coker because he would, presumably, be a big wage earner. Having said that, Fuller won't be coming here for a fraction of his Stoke wages.

All this begs the question, how? Form would suggest we are about to sell an asset to fund it all. Step forward Chris Solly.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Charlton Athletic 0 v Hull City 0

On reflection more of a point gained than two lost. I thought we stood up very well to Hull City, as I expected us to, but we didn't show enough quality to have edged the match as I hoped we might. Unbeaten after three against fancied sides and having taking five points will do us well enough. Hull City's 900 travelling fans will be rueing the best scoring opportunities, especially the couple in the last five minutes of normal time and the five added.

Sir Chris Powell gave me a wave as he swept into the ground in his silver Merc at 12.30. It filled me with hope and our first-half display was promising enough even if the best chance fell to Aluko who slotted wide when in on Hamer. The back four of Wiggins, Cort, Morrision and Solly played as well as you would expect but had to concentrate fully to restrict City. Nick Proschwitz was very quiet but Aluko was alive to everything and looked a cut above. Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips lead the line well and managed five or six half-chances but we were short of width and any pressing support from midfield.

After the break Hull came more into the game and Koren and Chester caught the eye, although it was Aluko who looked the only one capable of breaking the deadlock. Hamer earned his corn in the second period with some routine saves and a late double-stop that saved our bacon. Most of the second-half was played in a torrential downpour and a howling error from either side looked on the cards. It was a credit to both sides, therefore, that there were none.

If I were to look for improvements on today's performance, I would have to tinker with midfield. Hollands had a good game and Jackson and Pritchard put in decent shifts without any magic. Stephens made less of a contribution and we were predictably narrow. Solly and Wiggins need gallopers on the flanks. Kerkar, Green, Wagstaff and Fuller may be the key to more goals.

So far there doesn't seem to be too much to be frightened of in this division. Another couple of victories may be all we need but we will also need to avoid a couple of morale-sapping defeats as well, which may be just as likely based on the evidence so far.

The gate of 16,202 was very disappointing today. Less even than in midweek and both less than last season's average. Hull's turnout was well down on Leicester's but where we're our missing fans?

Friday, 24 August 2012

Tigers Test

I have just watched Forest take a good point at Bolton. Andy Reid was prominent and actually looks smaller than when he left us! The point lifts Forest above us but we get the chance tomorrow to move two points clear of them when Hull City come to town. It's my first match of the season and I can't wait.

Steve Bruce is a manager I have very little time for. The media seem to love him but I think he has had a very indifferent record given the clubs he's been at and the funds available to him. Hull will still see themselves as a Premier League club but, let's face it, that was a flash-in-the-plan and there is very little about their side that looks out of place in the Championship. Sone Aluko will be keen to show us what we missed and they have Nick Proschwitz and Jay Simpson to call on. If we can keep them quiet, I am confident we can score against them, even if they have kept things tight in their two openers.

Blackpool are at home to Ipswich tomorrow and Sheffield Wednesday entertain the Lions. Both visitors are capable but I won't be betting against two home wins. So early in the season, we shouldn't be focusing too hard on the league table but having done it all last year and having found ourselves quickly at the right end of the Championship, it's hard not too.

I am going to be bold and predict another Addicks victory. Ricardo Fuller to score the winner from the bench on his home debut. Two-one to the Addicks and back in third place.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Millwall fan - sense of humour?

As I left Guys Hospital this evening, resplendent in a red Charlton Nike polo, I spotted a man in his thirties swinging his way towards me on crutches. He was wearing a new replica Millwall shirt which was hiding most of his tattoos. The Little Devil inside my head spoke to me and as I passed him I made an exaggerated mock kick to remove the nearest crutch.

The question is, did he have a sense of humour?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Charlton Athletic 2 v Leicester City 1

Cracking win last night. What a start to the season too eh? I had to return early from holiday yesterday and it felt a bit unreal arriving at Gatwick in time to make it to the Valley but having to miss the match.

Nonetheless, I received the key text updates from My Mate Pete and it was encouraging to see both Wright-Phillips and Kermorgant hit the back of the net as the Addicks took control and then saw the game out. I am encouraged too by the signing of Ricardo Fuller. He might not be the force he was when we nearly acquired his services several years ago but he has experience and should make a contribution. It also questions the currently strong rumour that there is a cash-flow crisis at the club. Admittedly we released Paul Hayes earlier in the week to Brentford, so perhaps it's like-for-like (I would have thought Fuller would be on more than Hayes?), but if we were likely to run out of cash by Christmas, you would think Jiminez would be pulling his horns in.

Anyhow, the fledging table doesn't lie and we are up to third! Bring on Hull City on Saturday.

Interesting to see how the other results are going in the Championship. Only one 100% record after just two games gives an immediate idea about how competitive this league may be this year. Millwall won at Posh last night and Palace fans have been spoilt already with ten goals in only two games.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Birmingham City 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

However you look at it, yesterday's performance and result at St. Andrews was a real confidence-booster for the side and will look increasingly good as we go through the season. It could have been better, of course, had we not conceded in 94th minute, but these things happen and I am a firm believer that you need to win games in the Championship and not just shade your opponents. It sets us up very nicely for the two home games this week and remaining unbeaten after three games against three of the sides expected to finish above us will be a fine start.

I watched Liverpool's humbling at the Hawthorns in the presence of Scouse friends of my host here in Cyprus. It was painful watching for the assembled Reds and I had to try my hardest to remain polite and not howl with laughter. They were lucky it wasn't five in the end. I did get to laugh out loud at QPR's second successive five nil hammering home start to a season. Fingers crossed they can go one better this season and return to where they belong. 

Good too to see Millwall and Palace start with home defeats; Millwall will be too good for the drop but I wouldn't say the same of Palace. First time we have sat above the pair of them for four years and that will represent a modicum of success this season if we finish clear of them and at least another handful of sides. 

Leicester should come looking for points on Tuesday and that could well play into our hands as we get chances to counter. It should also be a big night for a number of our players and our manager who have recent connections with the Foxes. 

In the meantime, I am enjoying my annual break in Cyprus and am already mahogany brown with a week to go. I am back at work tomorrow morning at 6.30am cleaning pools in big, mostly empty villas - I love it!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dorian Red

We needed another centre-half ahead of kick-off and one duly arrived in the shape of 24 year old Frenchman Dorain Dervite-Vaussoue (I suspect he will be shortened to Dervite or even DDV). 

I know nothing of this guy but he clearly impressed as a youth representing France at all levels to U21 and captured Spurs attention. A knee injury appears to have wrecked his big time hopes and he has spent time at Southend and more recently at Villareal after departing White Hart Lane. His knee remains troublesome, so we will have to hope he isn't planning on emulating Ledley King's playing (sic) career.

Good luck to those travelling today and hopefully we can avoid the bully boys of St Andrew's (I understand from Wyn's blog that they managed to brick the Barnet fams coach in midweek) and return with something on the board. I have a theory about Birmingham City "fans" and it's that they get away with so much physical intimidation and abuse of most visiting supporters, that they either expect that's the norm at away matches or else they are shit-scared of being recognised as the Bullies they are if they travel that they don't bother. I don't have the stats but their attendance whenever I have seen them over the years in London (not just the Valley) has been abysmal - much worse than even than us as a percentage of their home fan-base.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Battle Stations

I am currently working my way through Antony Beevor's brilliant "Second World War." It's a great read and whilst I have read my fair share on this (and most other wars), it never ceases to amaze me that the world returned to normality so relatively quickly. It also serves to remind you once again of the frailty of both life and of the stability in the world order that we have all taken for granted all our lives. A bit of history is great for giving you a touch of perspective, in much the same way as when someone you have known well passes away. Reading it whilst sitting in the baking heat of Cyprus with a cold beer and fresh food to hand probably only exacerbates the effect.

Ironically then, in between chapters I am preoccupied with our first league game of the season and the test that awaits us at St. Andrews. I find myself compromised over the result. Birmingham have a great home record and they generate a terrific atmosphere at home which can unnerve players unused to it. Some of ours might find it hard going. The Blues have had a few problems of their own this year in terms of their Boardroom but the financial embargo on transfers was lifted and I am guessing they shelled out more for Darren Ambrose than we could afford to spend on several players. 

Birmingham have been scoring well in pre-season and hit five against Plymouth and Bury before repeating the feat in the League Cup against Barnet on Tuesday. They have some big names in midfield and attack (Ambrose, Lovenkrands and Marlon King) so we will need to keep our concentration early on and avoid any silly mistakes. If we are to get anything from the match, I believe we will need to see the best from Yann Kermorgant and Bradley Wright-Phillips.

I am expecting a familiar starting eleven as CP acknowledges the contribution of last years Champions; Hamer, Wiggins, Taylor (if Cort unfit), Morrison, Solly, Jackson, Hollands, Stephens, Wagstaff, Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips. I believe we are back to seven subs this season, so that should include pretty much everyone else.

My head is telling me we could be well beaten by a Lee Clarke side who will be one of the front-runners but the heart is saying we might just send an early reminder to this division that we ran away with League One last year and that our intact side is good enough to battle it out in the Championship. So 3-0 Blues or 0-1 Addicks.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Charlton Athletic 1 v Leyton Orient 1 (aet 3-4 pens)

I said yesterday that a defeat on penalties wouldn't be a bad result in the scheme of things. Like you, I would have preferred Birmingham's 5-1 morale-boosting win but we don't want another match in this wearing competition. The pressure will be on our boys to bounce back on Saturday and avoid two straight opening losses. 

Sounds like the new trio of Wilson, Jordan and Kerkar played well enough but an upfront pairing of Wagstaff and Smith was clearly an experiment. I am expecting more steel for St. Andrews where Darren Ambrose will need to be clattered carefully shackled. 

We were in good company last night in going out early. My Millwall-loving host was equally philosophical but Saturday's result will reflect on last night's. It could have been worse, of course, imagine being four up and losing on penalties as Derby County managed at home to Scunthorpe.

I assume from the Sky updates that we only had the West and Jimmy Seed open - there was no-one in the background from the East Stand gantry. Five thousand, nine hundred paying customers was not too sad. Just a pity we serve up such drivel on these occasions. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Limbering up for the O's

Our first real match of the new season gets underway at the Valley tomorrow evening when we play Leyton Orient in the Capital One Cup. As a Capital One credit card customer, I feel strangely connected to the competition this year and am wondering when Capital One will be in touch with my complimentary tickets?

I won't be there this evening as I am kicking back here in baking Cyprus. We have been here for four days but it already feels like a full week. My last post was as I went to the Olympic Stadium for the Men's 200m final. It was a great experience, although our seats three rows from the front gave us a much better view of the Men's Triple Jump than the big race. Nonetheless, we got to see Usain Bolt up close as he and Yohan Blake did their lap of honour. We didn't see much if the park itself but got a sense of scale as we walked from West Ham station to the venue. I also missed a great photo opportunity as we left when a dozen Police officers posed Bolt-stylee as we left! It captured the mood and caused great amusement. 

Back to tonight and I really don't know what to expect. My guess is that Powell will field a weakened side and we will maintain a strong bench. It will be good to get another competitive win under our belts after an encouraging friendly win at Fulham but a defeat on penalties might not be a bad result. The real test will be at St. Andrews on Saturday where we should come under some real Championship pressure.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Usain Bolt live

The end of the able-bodied Olympics is in sight and I am going to the athletics with my wife this evening. We get to see ten events as the curtain begins to descend, which will include the Men's 200m final when Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake fly before my very eyes. I always wonder whether today's sprinters would have beaten Alan Wells, my all-time Scottish athletics hero! On his day, he beat them all.

I am then off at the crack of dawn to Cyprus with the family for a well deserved break from work. I am not planning on doing much but I will be helping my mate clean a few pools most mornings before the sun has managed to get too high in the sky - bliss.

I am back for the Hull City home game but the football ante will have well and truly lifted ahead of that. My host in Cyprus is a true-blue Millwall fan and his circle of close friends include Swindon, Arsenal and several vocal Liverpool fans. We will be out for the live matches as the seasons opens and I will be sporting the new Andrews Air Conditioning shirt, the first I have bought for a number of years. let's see what the Scousers make of that!

There may have been more activity in the Boardroom than the Dressing Room during the Summer but things are shaping up at the ground as preparations for the new season ramp up. The long awaited replacement of the Club Badge on the back of the Covered End is finally in place and I caught it going up on Tuesday. Much as I loved the old stone one, this looks much better in my opinion.

Still time for one or two bigger name signings but it's looking like we are trying to stabilise the squad and manage costs as we enter the Championship rather than launch any realistic promotion push. In the circumstances, Four-Four-Two magazine's prediction of a 13th place finish is not unreasonable although I reckon we can do a bit better. 

Look out for the Charlton shirt  alongside the track this evening!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Squad trimming

Rumours that we may be about to say farewell to Paul Hayes, Leon Clarke and John Sullivan. If it's just those, then I will have little complaint.

I don't think we saw the best from Paul Hayes but I don't think he can do the business at Championship level. He was an undoubted trier and an unselfish player but his return was simply not good enough. Personally, I think we were wrong to bring him back from Wycombe in the midst of a purple patch, only to play 45 more minutes with us. I wish him we'll and hope that he can settle down and score some goals in League One.

Leon Clarke was probably worth a gamble. He looked the part upfront. Big, strong and rangy, he often reminded me of Stan Collymore but he had no end product. Couldn't appear to shoot and was disappointing in the air for a tall man.

No doubt there will be plenty glad to see the back of John Sullivan but I am not one of those. I thought Sullivan showed great promise when he joined from Millwall. Opportunities last season were few and far between and he didn't make the most of them but I would have held on. Reserve keepers are always something of a risk and we will only do the same as far as I can see in signing a similar player with little or no first team experience who will be another risk. I never quite understand why we sign a young keeper like Pope but don't expect to play him for several seasons until he suddenly matures post-23. Other players who are good enough can start when they like but not goalkeepers it would appear. He's 20 now and is fully grown. If he's good enough, why can't we take a risk as a reserve keeper?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Golden Wedding weekend

Home at 4pm from a fantastic weekend wedding down in Dorset. We took the kids and my mother-in-law who took on the lion-share of supervision which allowed us a whole day and night out at Ben and Helen's marvellous wedding.

One hundred and twenty of us, predominantly from the Royal Borough, made our way down to Sherborne for the big day. A creamy stone coloured town which simply glows in the Summer sun. The ceremony itself was right up my street - a simple non-religious affair in the garden of a local hotel with a couple of appropriate readings from friends about "the two dinosaurs" and "the little yellow leaf." After some relatively low-key photos, it was a Le Mans start to cars and a fifteen minute race through the country lanes to The Rose & Crown at Trent. Charlton Life readers may know this pub as it's run by a good friend of Curb It's and it was the stopping off point for a coach load a few years back when the game was played during a biblical rain storm. 

Anyhow, landlady Heather had pushed the boat out and the weather held all afternoon. Martini and Elderflower cocktails for the ladies and local scrumpy and Henry's IPA for the men. Plate after plate of imaginative hors d'oeuvres for what seem like a couple of hours before the main event. A pig had been roasting since early morning and had been reduced to a mountain of delicious hot pork and a square metre of crispy crackling. 

A local guitar player arrived late afternoon and enlivened proceedings by playing a set which I am confident the Bride and Groom had chosen for him (Bob Dylan, Paul Weller, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene etc). As the light began to fade we all moved into the four bars and the revelry continued. We decided to head back to our hotel around 9pm which proved to be a good move. I bumped into another guest this evening in Charlton Lane and she told me it was still going strong on the dance floor at 1pm. 

Interspersed through the weekend was snatched glimpses of of British Heroes as they piled on the gold medals during Super Six Saturday and again today. Stunning performances from Farah, Ennis and a bloke called Greg Rurtherford last night to add to the three gold earlier in the day from Eton Dorney and the velodrome. Andy Murray also managed to blow Federer away for Gold at Wimbledon this afternoon.

It's no use showing us third in the medals table behind the USA and China. What they must do is show the medals table as a percentage of the population. That's how it should be done and it would show Great Britain top of the pile, where we belong. I will be glued to the men's 100m final this evening where I will confidently predict we will not be adding to our tally but where the action will be riveting nonetheless.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Kerkar makes three

Salim Kerkar signed a 12 month deal at the Valley yesterday to join new-boys Lawrie Wilson and Jordan Cook. Kerkar should provide options on the left.

Without being harsh on Cook, we are still short of an experienced striker we need to really bolster our scoring chances and the critical holding midfielder is still missing. Sam Baldock may yet join upfront but no linkage yet to cement for the midfield. 

Lawrie Wilson is the most experienced and classiest act of those signed so far and I still fear that he wasn't signed for the stiffs, which makes a sale of asset Chris Solly look more likely. Obviously, I hope I am proven wrong. As things stand, I am confident we can hold our own. There is a lot to be said for continuity and with so little obvious change, we will largely need to pin our hopes on our League One charges being good enough.

Another manic week but I am off to Costa Rica Dorset tomorrow for a weekend wedding. Next week's schedule is another blur but will end on a high as my athletic tickets for the Olympics on Thursday have arrived and we will be up at Dawn's Crack on Friday to head off to Cyprus for a much needed holiday.