Monday, 27 May 2013

Spared the trip to Selhurst

Bank Holiday weekend ruined with those nonentities from the southern borders of London winning the richest game in football and getting a season in the Premier League. With two years parachute money Steve Parish has netted £120m for his club, enough to build themselves a decent stadium if he can juggle the needs for better players and heftier contracts. 

If I am honest, they deserved it. They saw a better Brighton side off in style by getting their tactics spot on in the reply and today they matched and eventually bettered a Watford side that struggled to create anything. Aaron Wilbraham won't be terrorising Premier League defences next season and neither will Troy Deeney. Kevin Phillips has surely played his last game for Palace and should go out on a high having scored from the spot to pay Palace back for his latest contract and having avenged three previous play-off losses. Great player that he's been, please let's hope he doesn't join us.

Without the mercurial Zaha, Palace are going to have to spend reasonably big just to improve what they will be left with and it's hard to see them outside the bottom six all season. I'm trying not to sound bitter here and trying to be pragmatic. You need to go up with a strong and developing side and be able to retain your best players. Without Zaha Palace would probably not have made the play-offs let alone win through.

A new stadium must be top of Parish's list as it's the only way forward for Palace long term. As I try to wring some comfort from today's events, at least we won't have to endure another afternoon in that dump. Trouble is we have Loftus Road to visit instead and that's probably worse.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The best side since the war?

I recently acquired this signed Charlton shirt from the 2003-04 season from one of Henry Irving's selfless fundraisers on Charlton Life.  I am very impressed with the job the framer (Gallery on the Heath) has done. It was the season we finished 7th in the Premiership and boasted the likes of Dean Kiely, Herman Hreidarsson, Mark Fish, Richard Rufus, Luke Young, Scott Parker, Paolo Di Canio, Claus Jenson, Matt Holland, Sean Bartlett, Jonaton Johansson and Mathias Svensson. In terms of our finish, it was the best in my lifetime and looking through that list you have to wonder if it was our best side ever given the increasingly competitiveness and professionalism of the game?

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The View from the Shard

Last night was another birthday celebration. Six of us went to "The View" from Europe's tallest building, the Shard. I wasn't expecting too much from the Shard and the weather was terrible. How wrong can you be?

If you have walked outside London Bridge and looked at the closed off entrance to the Shard, you may, like me, have wondered when it will ever open and how people go up to the viewing platform. It's  actually downstairs at street level opposite McDonalds and is appropriately glitzy. Very well done and the ride up in the lift goes at 6 feet per second. I was told prior to yesterday that we had wasted our £25 entrance fee because a window table at the Oblix restaurant would give you the same view. I realised that wasn't quite the case as we passed the restaurant on the 33rd floor on our way to 68. 

You change lifts half-way as you move into the centre of the building. The viewing platform at 68 is panoramic and enclosed but there are steps up to 72 which is open above you to the elements. The steps continue up for what looks like another six or seven floors in the jagged piece at the top but these were closed off last night. Not to worry, the view was fantastic and the changing weather around London actually made it more interesting than had it been a clear blue sky. I will be back.

We rounded it off with a curry in one of London's finest - the Shad in Tooley Street. Curried Shepherd's Pie, very hard to beat.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Change of attack

Having looked at our defence and midfield performance during the season, I am left thinking about how our forwards performed and what we might hope for next season.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is that there will be new striking options come August. We featured six out-and-out forwards during 2012-13, in Wright-Phillips, Kermorgant, Fuller, Haynes, Hulse and Obika. I think I am right in saying that only Yann Kermorgant remains a Charlton player today. Wright-Phillips was let go to Brentford as his contract expired, Hulse'e loan was not renewed and he featured for Millwall where he struggled. Fuller and Haynes have been released at the end of the season and Obika has returned to Spurs.

Looking through the programme, we featured 15 different striking combinations during the season. Some of that was enforced tactical changes when we chose to play an extra midfielder, especially away from home, but it was surely too many and a result of not having clear first choice strikers and reflective of the fact that Fuller and Haynes both suffered from repeat injuries and absences. 

In short we can do much better next season and Kermorgant deserves two partners whom we might expect to cement a more consistent and productive strike-force. I would love to see Jonathan Obika as one of those but he remains a hot prospect for Spurs (he played in the U21 final at Old Trafford last night) and he still has personal ambitions for the Premier League.

I am not forgetting 21 year old Michael Smith but I don't think the eight games he played for Colchester United will have equipped him to start next season. I would like to see a Premier League experienced striker as well as a proven Championship goal-scoring joining.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Jamie's Greenwich

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at Jamie Oliver's new restaurant in Greenwich today. I am 50 on Tuesday and this was my preferred way of celebrating it with my closest family. 

I am fairly familiar with Jamie's Italian having frequented the Cambridge and Edinburgh ones on a number of occasions over the last few years. It's formulaic and it's a chain, but I can't help going back to them and the newly opened Greenwich one was rife for a visit. They have taken over the Bar Du Musee, which was something of an institution, so from that aspect it's a disappointment but it's good to have a bigger themed restaurant in south-east London, especially one that's away from the O2 collective. 

Given that the menu is fairly basic (it's Italian themed), what makes it special is the staff and the extra thought and effort that goes into it. When  we arrived at 2.15pm it looked fairly chaotic and I was a little apprehensive when our lone waitress appeared and was struggling to sort the drinks. However, she quickly got to grips with everything and when the serving started she was joined by a colleague who made all the difference. 

They give the kids a plastic viewer with a photo-disc (remember those things? - I had one of the 1969 moon landings) showing what they might expect to eat. I thought it was a great touch when they arrived offering the kids a complimentary salad in a sealed glass dish with the promise of a gift if they ate it. My kids are pretty good but the youngest held out for three gifts before caving in - three badges declaring "I ate my greens at Jamie's."

I arrived home feeling warm and happy to see Arsenal once again freeze Tottenham out of a Champions League place. Life can be cruel, although somehow I don't feel too much sympathy for Spurs, a club with an over-inflated size of it's own importance with insular supporters who can't see beyond the end of their noses. Taking of noses, where's the Carta Roja?

Friday, 17 May 2013

Fixing the engine room

A year ago I thought we were short of a holding midfield general. Lawrie Wilson was recruited but he was clearly a right-sider. Salim Kerkar also came in but he was a left-footer. So, we started the season with Danny Hollands and Dale Stephens in the middle.

Stephens had been the subject of a much publicised bid from Aston Villa that I thought we should have gobbled-up. After ten games Hollands was dropped and loaned back to League One and Dale Stephens was also rested. We had dropped to 16th and it wasn't working, especially at home where we had failed to win in five consecutive home matches. We were being over-run in the centre of midfield and visiting teams were being encouraged to come forward and attack us.

We struggled for much of the season at home to find a settled pairing and we began to rely on five in the middle which left us short up front with the obvious consequences, especially when played at home when you expect to take games to your opponents. Bradley Pritchard and Johnnie Jackson were the other obvious options but Dervite was tried early on and Manny Frimpong loaned in as we looked for the winning formula. It wasn't until the last eight games that we found a workable solution in the over-looked Hughes with Jackson and by then we had also brought Mark Gower in from Swansea.

If we are to challenge seriously next season I believe we need to sort centre-mid and we probably need two better options. Danny Hollands returned from loan but I suspect the die is cast in terms of his long-term future. Dale Stephens is again subject of transfer speculation and I think he needs to move for the sort of money we were offered a year ago. He may well look a better player in Villa's side. With Kerkar and Wagstaff being shown the door, there aren't many left to consider.

Johnnie Jackson came in for some stick half-way through the season which looked hard and he came back to resume scoring and help fire our winning finish. He is good enough at this level in my mind and his goal contribution is invaluable. He is our Frankie Lampard.

Bradley Pritchard has worked his socks off but I do wonder where his place is in the side as he's not a wide player, nor a holding midfielder so you would rely on him to create and I am not sure he is good enough for that role just yet.

Andrew Hughes (he refers to himself as Andrew) added much needed bite but I wonder if he could sustain that for another full season. His contract is up in July and I suspect he might jump at the opportunity of a northern club where can be closer to his family and which might give him a chance to play his way into a management position when he finishes. I would like to see him stay for one more season.

That leaves the wingers and we have been short here and we need much better to fire a promotion bid.With Kerkar and Wagstaff gone, we look certain to bring new faces in. Callum Harriott has made the transition from boy to man and he should command his place next season on the left. Lawrie Wilson is capable on the right but hasn't nailed the position. He works for me but may find he has competition. Danny Green is still there but he has blown hot and cold like Scott Wagstaff and, like Waggy, always looks better from the bench. 

In summary, we need a classy, experienced midfielder general and probably need to find a Premier League player who may be struggling to get into his side or who might be looking to go down a league. We could do with another centre-mid option, ideally a left-sider who could cover Harriott, although Johnnie Jackson could fill that role if we were better covered centrally.

With Ricard Fuller and Danny Haynes being released, my assessment of our striking options won't take long when I get around to it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Case for the defence

Pre-season attention turns inevitably to the changes likely to be made to our squad as we prepare for season two in the Championship and what we will optimistically expect to be progress on our 9th place finish. I will start today with the defence as that is easiest in my mind.

As first choice keeper, I am satisfied with Ben Hamer. He had a cavalier approach to kicking out and a tendency to leave it to the last second which has resulted in him being in caught in possession on several occasions, one of which lead to an embarrassing goal but he appears to have learnt from that. His shot-stopping is very good but he needs to work on his judgement to balls deep into the penalty area because he has been at fault too often this season coming for crosses and missing them altogether leading to goals. Whilst keepers must focus on the ball, they should also be aware of where the intended targets are when balls come in. At 25 he still has plenty of time to mature into a top class keeper and to represent us in the Premier League. I am happy with Button and Pope given their ages and what little I have seen of them.

In Rhoys Wiggins and Chris Solly, I believe we have two full-backs capable of playing Premier League football. The challenge will be to hang onto Solly during the close season. If he moves on, we must be prepared to spend sll or most of the money on a quality replacement. Wiggins missed most of the season but his return to the side and particularly his return to full fitness coincided with our 8 game unbeaten finish. Andy Hughes has been acknowledged for making the difference in midfield during this spell but we shouldn't overlook Wiggins' contribution. We have cover for both with Cedric Evina and Lawrie Wilson and a few emergency options such as the centre-halves. Again, satisfied at full-back.

At the heart of the defence Michael Morrison has been a monster again this season. No player takes more responsibility and he reminds me so much of Simon Webster which is about as big a compliment as I can pay him. I am surprised no-one has come in for Morro but let's be content with that and watching him lead our rearguard again next season. Leon Cort played alongside Morro for much of the season and I was happy with him. He gets criticised for the odd faux pas but no defender is perfect and against really quick and experienced strikers, the best centre-halves will be exposed from time-to-time. Cort is good in the air and is worth the odd goal, although our big defenders managed only five this season which could be improved upon next year. 

Dorien Dervite has broken into the team for the last eight games and given our form during those deserves to be considered first-choice alongside Morro. He scored twice as well and clearly has more to show us. In a small squad, three centre-halves is probably enough although I was sorry to see Matt Taylor's contract not extended as he was ideal cover.

So, in summary, I don't see any need to spend in defence. We have options from the promising youth teams although there is always more concern about pressing young players into first team duty in defence but that's always an option in an emergency if we couldn't get a loan.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Zaha shows his class

In a painful evening's viewing for Addicks, Wilfried Zaha showed why Sir Alex considered him worth £20m. After an ineffectual showing in his first leg, he threatened briefly in the first-half but came to life second and scored two devastating finishes that killed Brighton off. We will now need to rely on Italian mercenaries to do the job in the final if parity is to remain south of the river.

Albion looked capable of completing their mission in the opening period but once again Julian Speroni looked like he had made a pact with the Devil to ensure he kept a clean sheet. Brighton should have scored when Ashley Barnes got in one-on-one with Speroni with his first touch having come on from the bench but Speroni managed to get a finger on the spot and it was just enough to divert it up and onto the bar. After that Palace seized control of the match with a series of quick counter-attacks that had Brighton all-at-sea. 

Having reversed their recent league form, Palace will be more confident about the final in a fortnight's time. Let's hope Gianfranco Zola can gain revenge for his pal Gus Poyet. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

The play-offs - bloody hell!

Doncaster's last-gasp win at Griffin Park a little over two weeks ago was astonishing footballing drama and we were all sure we wouldn't see a finish like it for some time. Well, it was topped at Vicarage Road in a superb Championship play-off game.

With the match at 2-1 and the tie at 2-2 on aggregate, Watford were pushing for a winner in the final minute when Leicester got forward in front of their own fans and Antony Knockaert went down very easily to win a penalty that should have taken Leicester to Wembley. Leicester and last-minute play-off penalties don't mix - ask Yann Kermorgant. I suspect the rest of the Leicester players were too embarrassed to take the penalty so Knockaert did it himself. I half-expected to see Alumina coming charging out with a leg up in a threatening manner like he had done throughout the match, but instead he dived left as the ball went down the middle. His foot blocked it and he saved the follow-up from close range which saw the ball spin out and be pumped long. With the Watford faithful still bouncing from the justice of it, a cross was swung back-post and knocked down for Troy Deeney to ram home and create pandemonium in the stadium. Deeney himself vaulted the advertising hoarding and was enveloped by fans.

Let's hope Brighton do the business this evening because a final between them and Watford promises to be a great game.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

All set for Monday

Brighton were held 0-0 at Selhurst last night but did enough to have won it. 
Julian Speroni made two trade-mark point blank saves from headers that I'll wager he won't manage on Monday at the Amex.

Palace improved after half-time but they still look a shadow of their early season form and short of confidence. Moxey had a mare at left-back and Gabbidon appears simply to launch every ball into touch irrespective of pressure and other options. Palace also lost Glenn Murray and Jonathon Williams to injury. Zaha sounded like he'd given up on Palace's chances when interviewed at the final whistle and Brighton must be confident of repeating their 3-0 league victory of March.

On the basis of who might afford us more points next season alone, we should be glad to see Brighton win through and get promoted at Wembley. Palace will need to spend some of their Zaha money if their slide is not to continue and league regulations should prevent Watford from fielding Udinese's team next season. 

Breathe easy everyone.

Friday, 10 May 2013

C'mon Brighton!

Leicester City took a slender lead in last night's opening Championship Play-off match. They enjoyed a good first-half but Watford came into the game after the break and should really have taken the lead from one of three decent scoring positions before David Nugent got the touch to a brilliantly flighted cross to head home. I'm not sure one goal will be enough for Leicester in the second leg.

This evening we have the first chance to see Palace blow it. They have home advantage against the Seagulls but I am sure they would rather be playing away first. Brighton will need to be on their toes but current form suggest Palace might crumple if Brighton can take the lead. I can see goals in this one and wouldn't be surprised if it finishes 2-2 or 3-3. Obviously a 0-4 result would make my weekend but in life we should learn to delay satisfaction and I will settle for the coup de grace at Falmer. 

It's interesting to consider the future of the respective managers here. Gus Poyet's star has risen rapidly over the last few seasons as he has been an integral part of the building of Brighton from the ground up to the deserved fringes of being a Premier League club. They have a very capable and established squad of players and possess a state-of-the-art stadium befitting of Premier League football. The town's population is solidly behind them and there is an inevitability about where they are currently headed. 

Ian Holloway, meanwhile, looked a bit of a chancer when he jumped ship earlier in the season from Blackpool to the reins of table-topping Palace boasting a player destined for Manchester United for a hugely inflated fee. For a couple of months he really looked like he couldn't believe his luck. Palace are a completely different proposition, however, to Brighton. They have been in Administration relatively recently and whilst they have been bailed out by the admirable Steve Parish and others, they preside over a ramshackle stadium that they don't own and their support continues to be relatively poor. In a dismal home season where we were beaten nine times at home before a late rally in form, we still managed to average more at the Valley than they did a "promotion" season at Selhurst. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013


No time wasted at the Valley in clearing the decks once the season has ended. Those whose contracts have not been renewed are quickly shown the door. Scott Wagstaff, Salim Kerkar, Matt Taylor and Ricardo Fuller have gone (I think I saw Fuller speeding off up Floyd Road yesterday morning in a BMW 6 Series but didn't realise the significance at the time).

It's hard not to feel a little sympathy for those departing even if they do earn pretty good money for "playing football." Ricardo Fuller has had his share of the big time and justified whatever we were giving him but he's a luxury in what should be a small squad given his fitness and apparent inability to play for 90 minutes. 

Matt Taylor probably deserves his place as much as the others but he has found three able performers in the queue in front of him as I discussed with Leon Cort last week. Morrison is first choice but it would be hard on this seasons form to select Taylor in front of a fully fit Cort or Dervite. Wages must be used wisely.

Salim Kerkar hasn't done nearly enough for me to earn an extension and I am not sorry to see him leave. He promised plenty in his first couple of appearances but fell away after that and never seemed to take his chance when reintroduced to the side.

Last but not least, there will be more debate, I suspect, on the release of youth product Scott Wagstaff. Waggy will be remembered for the games in which he scored goals and changed games, although there were clearly too few to save his bacon. The problem for me, however, was his approach to the game and his seemingly continual focus on winning free kicks and whining at referees who for the most part saw through him. You come to expect this from a player who genuinely hasn't got the ability and who resorts to this as his value-add for the team. Unfortunately, Scott did have the talent to do far more damage but couldn't see it. He has plenty of time and perhaps will get stronger direction under a different manager, although I am conscious it didn't really work for him whilst on loan at Orient.

Leicester v Watford this evening. Should be a very close call.....

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

After the dust has settled...

Following a breathless end to the Championship season, it's no surprise that we have seen the first clubs and managers parting company. Dean Saunders sacking for taking mighty Wolves into League One with their Premier League parachute money still current is no great surprise. Saunders sounded desperate in recent weeks to hang onto his position and was coming out with some very odd quotes which hardly gave the impression of a man confident of what he was doing or with any real belief in his side's ability to escape relegation.

If Saunders exit was entirely predictable, Kenny Jackett's decision to leave Millwall was not. It was also a complete reverse of Saunders sacking as Kenny bided his time, saw Millwall to safety and then politely resigned wishing them all the best for the future and saying he did so on the best of terms with the owner, the club and their fans. It would have been easy for him to have quoted the trouble amongst his own fans at Wembley but he chose not to leave with any negativity. The timing of two managerial departures inevitably creates a linkage between one of the managers and one of the clubs and it's no surprise Jackett has been linked with the Wolves job. However, I'd like to think that Jackett has simply realised that he has come as far as he can with the Lions after six years and that he is looking for a better ride in  terms of his longer term chances of making the top flight. On that basis I am not sure Wolves fit the bill. He certainly knows the Championship and there will be one or two clubs eyeing his availability enviously.

We have the first leg of the Championship play-offs started tomorrow evening with Leicester v Watford and then the Palace v Brighton appetiser on Friday. I really can't see Palace making it past Brighton although they might look better at Wembley that the winner of the other tie. Away advantage should suit the Seagulls but they will need to stay much closer than the 3-0 defeat they took in the league at Selhurst. Palace looked a much better side then and form looks to have deserted them. I was enthused by Andrew Hughes telling me that the players considered Brighton the best side they had played all season. Sea-gulls! Sea-gulls!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sponsors' Dinner

Last night was the Sponsors' Dinner and Mrs Peeps and I had our photo taken with Leon Cort - us proudly holding his home shirt aloft. Proof too that he is taller than me and by the build of him, I am guessing he can out-jump me by several inches. We were joined on our table by Andrew Hughes and Dorien Dervite. I was sat next to Andrew and he was very good company. My wife was next to Leon but was equally pleased to be opposite Dorien Dervite! It's a very enjoyable evening and great value through the season if you have £500 to spare.

Having been several times now, the formula is the same although even more thought and effort went into last nights event than in previous years. The player selection for the tables is also interesting and there is obviously an considered effort to pair quieter players with less-quiet ones. 

Inevitably, there are plenty of other people there you know from the Charlton family and it was good to see that Chicago Addick and "west-coast" (of Scotland) Chris were there. Graham Hodgson, resident Charlton artist and tattoo genius was also there with his family as well as old face Al Chapman.

The players remain very professional and always appear happy enough to sign mountains of souvenirs.