Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Training Ground Reopens

After a rather longer than expected break from the keyboard, I'm finally back from skiing and a whole host of other events in what's been a bit of a frenetic month.

If it's not stating the completely obvious, there's one thing that's hit me since I've been back – our transition from a side with a mathematical hope of automatic promotion to one now praying for nothing short of a miracle for a play-off place.

When I left home for the peaceful retreat of the Alps we were looking to cement an extended season by picking up at least one win against Ipswich or West Brom. However, the reality is that we've gifted 3 of our promotion rivals with an unforgivable tally of 7 points in the last few games.

The win against Plymouth the other week could have started a revival of our play-off hopes, but if we're to be honest with ourselves our season was practically dead and buried when Wolves put in that decisive third goal at The Valley in injury time.

Our only hope in the run-in was 12 points from 4 games and to hope that Palace and Wolves slipped up, but the poor show against lowly Southampton on Saturday merely underlined what a disappointment this season has now become.

The south coast side should have been there for the taking, and in fairness never really looked like posing a big threat on the Charlton goal. However, a midfield clearly lacking creativity simply couldn't find a way of finding the opportunities they so desperately needed.

Only Pardew can explain the reasoning for playing both Holland and Semedo, who are far too similar and lack a killer pass or shot. The decision to bring on Gray rather than Varney was also a puzzling one – despite Gray scoring, the pace of Varney would have put far more pressure on a Saints defence bereft of pace and more than happy to cope with the ball in the air.

At the time of writing West Brom have just taken the lead at Moleneux, but it's all too late now. The maximum tally for us is now 70 points, and unless Palace only win once and Ipswich and Wolves also slip up, it's simply not enough.

I'll still be at Loftus Road on Saturday – the games may not have finished yet, but sadly it'll take more than a binding performance in front of the Sellotape End to repair our tattered season.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Training Ground Off-Piste

I'll be heading to the French Alps by the time the players have come off the field at Portman Road on Saturday, so in my absence it's time for some reflection and insight for the coming week.

Firstly, the result against Burnley was obviously a disappointment, but promising by virtue of the fact that there did at least seem to be some fight left in the team. This will be invaluable for the Ipswich game, and perhaps this was a good time for 2 games away from The Valley.

Without the boo-boys on their backs, the players have often come up with some of the more gritty performances, and ones which will be much needed if we are to confirm a playoff place. If we can get a point tomorrow, I think the fans will be on-side come the visit of West Brom. We've always had a good atmosphere on the big matches at home, it mainly seems the frustration ebbs when we play the teams people feel we 'should beat'.

If we've learnt anything about this division so far, it's the clear fact that it was never going to be a cake-walk. I think it's fair to say we have one of the most technically gifted squad in the league, but that counts for nothing when you have teams that get stuck in and fight for points.

Part of our problem recently seems that we seem to be lacking a focal point for creativity. Reid was criticised for dictating the play, but that input right now appears to be sorely missed. That's no discredit to Matt Holland who's been fantastic as captain, but right now we seem like we're turning into a team of individuals rather than a team around a play-maker in Reid.

The team seems under pressure to deliver creativity from every man, whereas in reality this isn't necessary. The key components are a defender who is comfortable on the ball, a midfielder who can play a telling pass, and at least one winger who can take a man on and cross. Oh, and someone to poke the ball in the net.

Recently we've seen rampaging runs all over the place with no real end product - poor crosses, balls given away easily, players out of position – it's unnecessary. Keep it simple, keep the play flowing through a few key players, and take the pressure off the rest of the squad.

Sometimes it's all about keeping things simple, and based on his performances since the new year, Paddy McCarthy is the ideal example. He's not flash, he's not quick, but he is solid, tidy, and has been one of our most dependable players. If only we could get Bougherra back alongside him to provide the distribution, that would steady the productivity of the defence.

It doesn't need me to tell you how important this coming 7 days will be in defining our season, and I hope that when I get back we're still in a strong position. If results go against us we could be tenth after the West Brom game, which would leave us with a mountain to climb.

Personally, I find more fun in skiing down the things – let's hope the team can avoid the uphill battle.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Proceed With Caution

Another day, another match – for all those in tier one complaining about too many matches, it hits home just how many more games there are in the Championship.

I've got to the stage where I'm losing track of matches – in the Prem I hardly missed one. Once a week, regular as clockwork. It's getting so thick and fast in this division that I'm starting to forget we're even playing – last week I forgot my season ticket the day of the Bristol City game. It's nothing to do with the opposition either, as I've genuinely enjoyed this season more than our paint-dry Premier days.

Ironically, the two home games I've missed since the turn of the year were quite apt, as it appears the players didn't either. Colchester and Preston are my no-shows, and my skiing trip next week means I'll be missing out on the West Brom match as well.

It's all a bit frustrating really – the next 3 games are likely to tell us if we'll cruise the run in to the playoff places, or be scrapping for dear life in the last few games to stumble over the line.

Any match is important now, but it's a case of three 6-pointers in the coming fortnight. Burnley, Ipswich and West Brom are all teams aiming for the playoffs or more, and wins in these matches have the obvious effect of stopping the other teams scoring whilst you leapfrog closer to safety in the process.

So, in reflection, perhaps losing to the lower clubs hasn't been as disastrous as it could have been. In fact, we've only lost twice to top-half opposition since December, compared to beating four.

We do have an annoying tendency to play to the level of the opposition, but in the face of our forthcoming opponents, this may not be such a bad thing. Burnley are on a similar run to us and only 4 points behind, Ipswich are fantastic at home this season, and we all know about West Brom.

If we can sneak 5 points from these 3 matches, we'll have done well. The old adage of one win being better than 3 draws doesn't hold true here – if we can stand our ground against the teams around us, we've a good chance of cementing our place.

I'm in no-way advocating playing for 0-0 draws in these games, but I do advocate a more cautious, patient approach. Losing all 3 games is simply unthinkable, and would effectively kill our playoff hopes.

As ever, only time will tell – come 10 o'clock tomorrow night, the playoff picture could be a lot clearer.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Writing Blind

I'm taking a slightly unorthodox to today's match report – I'm currently sitting on a train to Manchester for my mate's 30th birthday and have absolutely no idea what's happening on the pitch against struggling Preston.

So, taking the spirit of all good card games, I'm taking a ballsy approach today – I'm writing this one 'blind'. I'll be at my mate's flat to post this later, and only at that point will I check the score to see how wildly inaccurate or smugly correct I've managed to judge it.

Onto the starting lineup then. Weaver as ever is a shoe-in between the sticks, and Pards will opt for the same back-four of Youga, McCarthy, Sodje and Halford. Its a return to 4-4-2 after Tuesday's draw, with an eye for pace up front.

Holland and Zhi continued their central pairing, with Ambrose and Scot Sinclair on the flanks. The forward threat came from Varney and new loan signing Leroy Lita, who wnet straight into the starting lineup on his Valley debut.

Charlton showed their attacking intent from the off – searching passes from Ambrose and Zhi found the forward pair in good attacking areas, but the lack of killer instinct shown in previous games was apparent as good chances went begging.

Preston played the classic away game, sitting back in their half in the hope of picking up a point. This frustrated the efforts of Charlton for much of the first-half, but things changed in the 35th minute.

A clever pass from Zhi found Sinclair in space on the wing, who needed no encouragement to run at the Preston defence. A burst of pace found the space to put in a curling cross, which was met emphatically by Varney at the far post to hit home for the opener.

The obvious relief for the home fans was blighted by memories of the last few home performances, but Charlton continued to press. The away side showed little in the way of attacking endeavour, but for all the Addicks' dominance, the closest they came to a second was a dipping effort from Ambrose that went just wide.

The second half threatened to go in an all too familiar fashion, as Preston came out looking a different side. The formation stayed the same, but there was more intent to win possession, and the long-balls were making the home defence look decidedly shaky.

One period of sustained pressure presented Preston with 3 corners in succession, forcing one excellent reaction save from Weaver in the resulting scramble.

Defence soon turned into attack, and a long throw from Weaver found Ambrose on the half-way line. A clever turn from the midfielder and a neat pass to Varney found the striker through on goal with only a defender and keeper to beat. Varney's shot was only parried by the keeper, and the ball kindly rolled into the path of Lita who made no mistake in opening his account at The Valley.

This effectively killed off the game, and with less than 25 minutes remaining Pardew reshuffled his pack. Lita came off for Semedo to shore up the midfield, which help stifle the resurgence of the away team. Preston had a good shout for a penalty when the ball appeared to hit Sodje's arm, but no decision was given.

Pardew introduced Thomas for Sinclair who had a reasonable game on his full debut, but was guilty of giving the ball away on occasion.

With the game petering away into a midfield battle, Iwelumo was brought on for Varney to help hold up the game and kill some time. The big striker played an important defensive role in the final minutes, twice heading the ball away from corners as Preston desperately tried to find a late entry back into the match.

The final whistle gave some much needed comfort to the home crowd, and helps to cement the case for a playoff place.

Back to the real world – it's five to four, I've just gone through Wolverhampton, and many of you reading this would have been preparing for the second half at this moment.

If the reality was anything like this report, perhaps I should stay on the trains during Saturday afternoons...

EDIT - Oh dear, not the best of days in the real world was it? 1-2, and we're in trouble...

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

A Point Gained – Charlton 1, Bristol City 1

Charlton shared the spoils with Bristol City last night, but as the end of the season approaches, the home side may come to regret their nagging inability to hold a lead.

Although not as disappointing as the Watford result, the game followed a similar pattern. The Addicks, sporting a 4-5-1 formation, hassled the table-toppers relentlessly for the first 45 minutes in what was initially a successful bid to curtail their passing game.

Things started well, Ambrose coolly slotting home on 8 minutes after some great linkup play between Zheng Zhi and Kelly Youga. City looked shocked to be behind so soon, and Charlton kept up what was a frenetic pace at times.

The forward players were showing clear commitment and intent, and continually pressured the City back-line into making mistakes. Zhi was a constant threat with Ambrose in midfield, and the defence were rarely troubled.

One disappointment in the first half was the failure to capitalise on an injury to Adebola. The City striker was off the field for 10 minutes for treatment to a head wound, but there was no apparent direction or desire from Alan Pardew to press home the one-man advantage. At 1-0 up this would have been an ideal point to cement a victory, but it will join the other “what-ifs” of this season.

City came out far stronger in the second half, and played some great football – it was clear at this point why they are now top of this division. I can barely remember a single long-ball being played, which was in stark contrast to the tactically-tired approach from the home side.

The Addicks' best chance of the half came in bizarre fashion from Bristol defender McCombe. He sliced a clearance that bounced over his own keeper, and fortunately for him, his own net as well.

McCombe made no mistake at the other end minutes later though, as City picked up a deserved equaliser. Youga, who had an uncharacteristically average game, found himself caught out of position in a City attack, the resulting cross headed out for a corner by Ambrose. McCombe then made the home side pay for their inability to extend the lead by powering home a header for the leveller.

From this point there was only one team in it. The desire of the Charlton front-line to close down the defence was lacking, allowing City to forge space, keep the ball, and create chances for Adebola and the substitute Byfield.

In the final stages of the game City hit the bar, Youga and McCarthy both made match-saving tackles, and a ricochet off McCarthy almost found it's way into the net.

It’s probably fair to say that only Holland and McCarthy can come out with any particular praise for the home side. Ambrose was absent in the second half, Thomas still flatters to deceive, and I’m still not sure exactly what Andy Gray’s contribution is so far. I also feel we need Bougherra back in defence alongside McCarthy, as Sodje was guilty of poor distribution too many times.

Despite the disappointment of losing yet another lead, this has to be seen as a valuable point. Losing, as we easily could have, may have seen us slip out of the top 6 on Saturday. As it stands, we have a one-match buffer on the chasing pack, a lead which needs to be extended against Preston on Saturday.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

City Preview

Tonight’s clash sees the Addicks entertain Gary Johnson’s table-toppers, Bristol City.

I could use phrases in context with their league position such as ‘unlikely’, ‘over achieving’, ‘punching above their weight’, but that would be unfair to a hard-working side has quite simply attained their position on merit.

One thing I don’t expect to see a lot of tonight is goals. If you compare both teams results, neither of us are getting in a habit of picking up clear wins. Charlton have only had 8 league wins by 2 clear goals or more, and Bristol City just 4.

This points to a tough battle tonight, and one where not only scoring first but keeping hold of the lead will be particularly vital.

The Watford game really was a definition of the ‘game of two halves’ clichĂ© – what Pardew’s side will need to rediscover tonight is the grit and determination displayed in that first half performance, and make it count for the whole ninety minutes.

Team-wise it looks likely than Scott Sinclair will make a full debut, and it will be interesting to see how he fits in with the rest of the squad.

Greg Halford’s position at right-back has demonstrated an exception to the rule that late additions find it difficult to gel, although Andy Gray’s relatively anonymous displays so far serve as a warning to upsetting the applecart.

From a personal viewpoint, I hope I can at least catch some of the first-half tonight. My magical memory powers (and clear reliance on a mobile phone calendar I failed to update) have let me down, and I’m sans-season ticket and warm clothing for tonight. A trip back to N4 to grab the ticket, yeti-coat and car, a mad dash through the Blackwall Tunnel, and a teeth-gnashing effort to find an SE7 parking space it is then…

Monday, 3 March 2008

Avoiding The Baggies

Saturday's result against Sheff Yoo was a welcome surprise after recent games, but I won't be getting carried away with hopes of automatic promotion. That proposition is long-gone in my opinion, and it could only take one slip-up and results go against us for the likes of Wolves and Hull to overtake us.

That said, a look down the BBC predictor gives me confidence of us finishing well in the top six, and with any luck that position will be wrapped up with a couple of games to go.

My main worry about the playoffs is simple – avoiding West Brom. The Baggies have gone through an indifferent patch recently, and despite playing the best football in the division they are starting to pay the price for not winning matches.

Stoke and Watford may not be the prettiest sides in this division by any means, but they've got a knack of picking up the results when it counts. Although they have 2 games in hand on Stoke, West Brom are still 4 points away from the automatic spots, and on recent form pegging back that gap shouldn't be taken for granted.

Crazy or not, my money is on Bristol City winning this division. Not what you'll want to be thinking with a visit to The Valley approaching in a couple of days, but they've been up there all season and haven't fallen away as many of us expected. Stoke got up here with a run, but City are there on merit of consistency, and I expect them to stay there.

Second is one from Stoke, West Brom and Watford. For West Brom to make it, they simply have to start winning the games they should be. Too many points have been dropped by them this season, and they run a real risk of missing out.

I've no fear at all of playing any of Watford, Stoke or Ipswich in the playoffs. On our day we're good enough to beat any of those teams. What I don't think we're capable of is pulling off a win against Tony Mowbray's side. If we get them over 2 legs, I fear the worst – I can't see us scoring enough at home to take a lead to The Hawthorns.

A one-off at Wembley would be our best bet, but avoiding them would be even better.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Chartered Athletic

It seems like an age since the Watford game, and as I can’t get to Bramall Lane on Saturday due to other arrangements I’m thankful for an alternative football fix this evening.

I’ll be doing my best Nicky Weaver impression between the sticks tonight – I’m the ‘official’ ringer goalkeeper for my flatmate’s accountancy firm footy team, Chartered Athletic.

I’d originally suggested Accounting Stanley as a name, but luckily sense on their part prevailed – this is as close as I’ll ever get to represent our boys in red. Unfortunately, the kit looks more like a Newcastle home shirt minus a sponsor, but maybe that’s a precursor for next year seeing as we’re all stakeholders in that little venture now…    ;)

As far as the trip up the M1 goes this weekend, last night can’t have done our chances any harm. Heavy-legged and down after a cruel defeat at the hands of Boro, I’m hoping that Blackwell’s United side will have had some of the wind knocked out of their recently rejuvinated sails.

Let’s hope for a display of pace and trickery – Cook and Sam could make a real impact on this fixture.

And, if all else fails, get some shots rebounding off the post to Paddy Kenny. With any luck I won’t be suffering the same cruel fate tonight – as a goalkeeper, there’s nowhere to hide…

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Alternative Away Trip

Well, I'm back now, and by all accounts it sounds like I didn't miss a lot by avoiding Blackpool at the weekend. In fact, perhaps rather worringly, I didn't miss it at all.

I was in Manchester of all places, not too far away from the depravity and tackiness of the Blackpool coast. What a difference – the city is fantastic, full of culture, vibrancy and an identity so sorely lacking from so many other places in this country.

I've long had a bit of an affinity with the place due to the music scene – The Smiths, The Roses, The Mondays, Joy Division, New Order... loads of pioneering stuff came out of this area of the North West, and the locals aren't shy to embrace it.

The Urbis had a rather neat Hacienda exhibition charting the birth, life, and eventual death of one of the most original clubs in the country. It's hard not to admire the sheer balls and confidence shown by Tony Wilson and the Factory crowd to have created something so different, and in the face of ridiculous financial losses – if you believe the legends, New Order were propping up the club to the tune of ten grand a month at one point.

Speaking of financial losses, those were never far away from me last weekend – the bloody shops there are ace. King Street took a fair chunk of my wallet, and Selfridges wasn't too far away in the retail therapy stakes.

I wasn't completely immune to the on-pitch events – 3 brief breaks to check the scores on the mobile saw relief at drawing level before half-time, but the result was confirmed when I got back to my hotel.

The weekend was fantastic though, as was the company, and it reminded me what we can look forward to after May. As football fans, we tend to lead a double-life. From late August to May all we can think about is football. Our weekends are consumed, family, friends and loved ones miss out for at least a day a week, and our state of mind throughout this period can be completely determined by the performance of eleven men on a pitch.

Yet, for the best part of 3 months a year, we're different. We find things outside of football to occupy us, and it's a time to enjoy. The pressures, joys and despair are of our own making. Despite the escape that football gives us, it's a fantastic feeling to be back in control again. There's no excuses – the time is there to be taken, and more importantly, used wisely.

I'll still be kicking every ball for the rest of the season, still be keeping up with all things CAFC, still be writing here, and it's because I love it.

Yet, whatever happens come the end of the season, I'll be enjoying my time away from the game and the alternative away trips it brings.

Football may be more important than life or death, but there's still plenty of time for the other two.

Friday, 22 February 2008

On Me Hols

I'm off in a bit for a weekend away, so no updates until Monday I'm afraid!

Ironically I'll be barely 30 minutes away from tomorrow's opponents, Blackpool. If you read the preview before the corresponding home fixture you'll know I'd rather swap my bog-roll for sandpaper than visit the place anytime soon, so I won't be sneaking to Bloomfield Road on the sly.

What do I expect from tomorrow? Well, Blackpool's form should be worrying us for a start. Not because they're on a particularly good run by any means - quite the opposite in fact. The seasiders have had only 2 wins in 2008, and based on our record of polishing off out-of-form teams, I can see a struggle on the cards tomorrow.

The simple fact is that we're failing miserably to win what should be the 'easier' games in this league. The players seriously need to address this, and soon - the ability to rise to the occassion will be invaluable in the Playoffs, but we're not there yet. If we fail again to pick up 3 points, it won't be long before we start paying for this as the likes of Plymouth, Burnley and (dare I say it) Palace creep up on us.

Concentration and commitment tomorrow please chaps - let's hope I'm the only one on holiday tomorrow...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Off-Topic Time..

Apologies to the CAFC crowd today – going off-topic for the first time in a while!

I'm sat on a train right now and I'm seething. Not for the usual reasons – it's not half an hour late, doesn't reek of pee, and as yet I've not managed to present myself to the world after pressing the wrong button in the automatic toilet.

No, its about an article I just read in this morning's Metro (p19) about the world of Internet Dating. I'm not about to bash it – a friend of mine met his fiancĂ© this way, and a few other friends have had varying degrees of success as well.

In theory, it's great – you get to plug in everything about you (all true of course), and depending on the site in question, get presented with a virtual 'wish list' of the qualities you look for in your potential partner. It's almost kind of like a 'Weird Science Lite' as you go through your shopping list.

Tall, short, race, religion, age... one site even gives you a percentage match of how much you fit a potential partner's criteria, and how much they fit to yours. Or, as a friend of mine puts it - “I meet her criteria by 100% - she only meets mine by 85%. So she has to try a bit harder...”

This is all well and good, and in many ways is simply a bit of harmless fun. However, the interview I read in the paper today concerns people specifically looking for partners who are financially secure. Some quotes from a particular site's director aiming themselves at this demographic:

“We do often get questions about the men because some of these women are wealthy and successful and want someone of similar quality”

“People say it's the basis of shallow... ...We do strongly believe it's not just one thing: money and financial stability suggest quality and drive”

“Is it any less shallow than someone being attracted to someone because of their looks?”

Now, I'll hold my hands up here – I've got a bit of a chip on my shoulder about people with pots of cash, so this kind of thing can rile me for starters. That said, it's due to the fact that I don't rate myself as having much - others would possibly disagree.

But the interesting thing about the article, and something I've discovered whilst I've been in the process of writing this, is that my initial disgust and anger from reading what initially appeared to be distastefully materialistic, gold-digging comments, gradually eased off.

The thing that hit me was simple – the last quote really is true. People just want to find what makes them happy.

The classic, commonly acknowledged quote out there is that 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. In the same way, it can be argued that success can be measured in the context a person can relate to. Therefore, it stands to reason that a wealthy person's view of 'success' will be somewhat different to yours or mine.

We may see success as completing a project, winning a football match, getting a bonus at work. As the money levels step up, so does the bar of success. That project becomes a company take-over, the football match nailing a multi-million-pound deal, and the bonus could be an equally extravagant proposition.

Are things really that different between the rich and the poor in this respect? As human beings, we all look for things we can relate too, something we have in common. It's not so surreal for beautiful people to be in tow, and to complement the status quo the vice-versa tends to stand the same.

For centuries people have looked for 'their equal', and the modern human being will adapt to it's circumstances – if there are millionaires or people of a certain raised level of wealth out there, it's only natural that they will seek out the same type of person.

So, tonight I will sit in my corner of comparative averageness. I will bathe in the salary that the high-class city worker won't bother to get out of bed to earn.

There is, however, compensation in all of this – despite 'average' being seen as a dirty word in modern times, it stands simply to represent the median. If qualities hold true for the levels above and below average, it the same must be true for the median. If the median holds true, it is real for all of us.

Taken to a logical conclusion, this can only be a comfort for us all – so for the singletons out there, don't go rushing to save for the luxury yacht just yet... there's something here for us.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Minutes Of Madness – Charlton 2, Watford 2

Watford put what looks to be the final nail in Charlton's automatic promotion coffin yesterday as the Addicks managed to squander a two goal lead in as many minutes.

Charlton started the match well and were a cut above Watford for most of the first half. Varney came close in the third minute with a dipping volley, and had another chance with a close range header minutes later.

It was Ambrose who broke the deadlock though, who turned in Zheng Zhi's cross from close range for a deserved opener.

Both sides traded efforts for the next 20 minutes, Watford guilty of screwing some good opportunities wide. It was Charlton who added to their tally though, this time as a result of the advancing Greg Halford.

Halford and Sam had been trading passes down the right flank all game, and a speculative cross from the defender was clumsly turned into his own net by Shittu.

The home side were 2 up, and Watford were on the ropes. Despite the pedigree of both sides coming into the game, Charlton seemed to have the better of the physical battle. Varney in particular was winning plenty of headers and putting in tackles, and there always seemed to be an Addick in the right place.

Watford were far from beaten though, and as McAnuff''s shot came back off the post moments before half-time, Boothroyd was readying the changes for the second half.

And how things changed. Watford were a different team after the break – gone was the poor long-ball football that has typified their season so far, and the physical side of their game returned.

As we've seen all too often at The Valley, a two-goal margin is never enough, and a fired-up Watford side clearly wanted it more as the home side backed off too much, and it took only 10 minutes for parity to be restored.

The first came as substitute O'Toole stole in behind the Addicks defence, and slotted past Weaver. There were cries of offside from the North Stand, but I'll have to reserve judgment seeing as nobody could see where O'Toole came from in the first place.

As so often happens after a goal, Watford got another within a minute when Shittu headed in from a corner. The home defence had gone completely to sleep at 2 key occasions, and who knows what the outcome may be on our season as a result.

The match petered out as a contest after this, as Watford failed to keep the initiative and a shell-shocked Charlton couldn't find a way back in. It was a scrappy affair for the last half-hour, and was constantly stopped by some extremely fussy refereeing which only achieved to wind up the home crowd.

The only bright spark for the last 20 was the introduction of Lee Cook, much to the derision of the Watford support. I've never seen much of him, but on this evidence he's an extremely skilful, quick-footed player who looks capable of putting in a telling cross. In comparison with another lethargic cameo from Thomas, I could see Cook being a player to get us a few goals during the run-in.

The full-time whistle was greeted with much abuse for the match officials, but after calming down from the occasion you simply can't blame results like this on referees – we had a 2 goal cushion and blew it.

We can definitely forget about automatic promotion now – the reality is that the teams below us are closer than Watford, so our concern has to be cementing a play-off place.

We could never be certain of an automatic spot this season, but anything less than a play-off place now would be a disaster.

“No” To Game 39 – Part 2: Exploring The 'Cons'

Following on from my previous piece looking at the apparent 'Pros' of an additional overseas match in the Premier League, this post looks at the Cons. For me, these are:

- Imbalance of the league through unfair fixtures
- Seeding system flaws
- Impeding on other national leagues
- Damage to the national team
- Complete disregard for regular match-attending supporters

Firstly, the English football league has historically been conducted on the basis that each team plays each other twice, home and away. This promotes a level playing field in the fixtures list as no team can claim to have an easier ride than another – each team will have to play Man United twice for example.

Adding an extra game completely throws this concept of a balanced league out of the window. An extra game means potentially playing Man United, Arsenal or Chelsea 3 times in a season. It means a team could win the league on the basis of getting an easier match than a rival, or on the flipside a team could be relegated due to an additional hard fixture.

This, coupled with the proposed concept of seeding, only exacerbates the potential injustice that could be served up by an additional fixture. Any kind of seeding to 'protect' the top teams would be inherently biased against the needs of the teams facing relegation, and turns the process into a lottery.

Also, at what point would seedings take place? The fairest possible time to take seedings would be the last minute before the games would be played. However, this would be logistically impossible as the teams would need to prepare for where they would travel to, and the venues would need to promote the games in advance. Seedings made in December or at the start of the season could be vastly inaccurate when it comes to the time the matches are played.

Playing games abroad will also tread on the toes of national leagues that are already struggling to promote themselves in the face of popularity of the European leagues. Stamping on the leagues emerging in Asia and the USA will have a negative impact on the development of World football, as it is likely that many foreign fans will only be interested in attending Premier League matches rather than those of their local clubs.

There could be disappointment in the fixtures for the bidding countries – everyone will want Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, but will nations bid the anticipated sums for Wigan and Fulham?

This could also damage the national team for two reasons. Firstly, I've lost count of the times I hear the FA and managers complain that players have too many matches a season. There has continually been talk of reducing the Premier League to 18 teams. Yet, they are considering bringing an additional match into the calendar that would not only tire players with an additional fixture, but risk further injury, illness or tiredness due to the effects of a different climate and unnecessary travel.

The other impact on the national team could come from the increased revenue. If the teams receive more money, this will simply be used for wages to buy the best players, or to keep them if they already have them. We are already seeing the policy of buying abroad in action in the top league, and with the additional money I can't see this improving.

Alongside the imbalance of the league, the most important issue for me is the disregard for the loyal football fan. The suggestion has been made that this has no effect on supporters, as it i an additional gam and therefore they don't 'lose' one as such.

However, fans will want to attend any game they can. As a season ticket holder I attend every home match, and around half the away fixtures. I would obviously want to attend the additional game if I could, which is likely to be at considerable expense. There are also fans out there who have never missed a game in years, and the thought of missing a their team in these cases must be unbearable.

The arrogance of the League is shocking – to think it doesn't affect us as the game is an additional one frankly shows what regard they have for the loyal football fan. The clubs are the heart and soul of many parts of this nation, and any attempt to devalue the input of fans that have built and supported the clubs for so long is one that is hard to stomach.

One thing that isn't beyond the bounds of possibility is that of teams uprooting. If foreign fixtures are successful, why would a team need to be constrained to their current homes? What would be the need for a club having a stadium when playing around the world is more profitable? One Premier League manager has already been quoted that this could turn clubs into the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

An extreme thought maybe, but in a world where money is running our game as a commodity and the average football fan is becoming a smaller part of the equation, are we that far away?

Thursday, 14 February 2008

"No" To Game 39 – Part 1: Rubbishing The 'Pros'

I was pleasantly surprised this morning as I read through the BBC website this morning regarding the plans to take Premier League games overseas. Assuming the report is correct, none other than our own Peter Varney is apparently strongly opposed to the idea.

The factor of an additional game wasn't mentioned in the report, but this was part of the League's proposal. Now, it’s hard for me to write objectively about this as I’m totally opposed to the idea myself, but let’s look at the ‘Pros’ as they stand:

- It will generate more money for the clubs through television and fanbase
- Fanbase will increase globally as a result
- Global fans who couldn’t normally see a match will have the opportunity

The money is the obvious plus point for the Premier League and its clubs. Let’s face it, football at the top level has become about milking the money, unless you happen to have a Russian billionaire treating the club as a loss-making plaything.

However, all that happens when more money comes into the game is that it goes into the pockets of players and agents – reduced ticket prices for fans are almost unheard of, apart from some notable exceptions.

Clubs say they will be able to attract the best players, but I thought we already were apparently? And if this is the case, all that will happen is that the same players will be paid more and nothing will improve. What’s the point?

There is a counter argument that the better players may go elsewhere to more money if we don’t take this step. I’ve 2 answers for that – firstly, I don’t want a player at my club who’s only interest is money. Secondly, this scenario would affect all clubs in that league, so the standard would at least level-out when the greedy players go. Personally, I couldn’t care less if we see any superstars, I just care about my club, the football, and desire to win.

So, onto the fanbase. Who really cares if fanbases increase globally? Firstly, I want to excuse ex-pats from the equation – they’ve had an affinity with their team in the past, and this is the only group of people I would actually feel sorry for if they miss the action.

That exception aside, I really couldn’t care less if we don’t have supporters in Asia, Africa or the USA. Can you really class yourself as a ‘supporter’ if you’ve never attended a game or stepped foot in that country? Why not support a local team instead and take joy in the development of that team and their league?

I don’t see why the needs of fans in other countries should affect the bread-and-butter home supporters who turn up every week, even taking midweek trips and days off to follow their club away as well. Buying the odd replica shirt and watching games on telly thousands of miles away is hardly in the same bracket.

Leagues exist in all countries, and the Premier League will brazenly trample on their development by dangling a ‘glamour’ match in front of people in this arrogant fashion.

I’ve still got the ‘Cons’ to discuss in detail, but I’ll leave that for tomorrow – the imbalance of not playing all teams twice, travel, the potential ‘MK Dons effect’ etc will all be covered…

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Playoffs It Is Then – Sheff Weds 0, Charlton 0

Charlton’s away record of late is getting as good as mine of actually attending – we haven’t won away since December, and a glance at the table will tell you all you need to know as a result.

No match report as I was shamefully enjoying a rather good curry in Brick Lane last night rather than taking up room in the Leppings Lane end, but from the reports I’ve read it doesn’t sound like I missed much.

It’s becoming almost inevitable these days that a morale-boosting win is followed by a depressing draw or loss. The games we simply should have won are now racking up, and I find it amazing that we’re still only 6 points off an automatic promotion spot. The problem we have is that the only consistency we can find right now is in our own inconsistency.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we absolutely wallop Watford on Saturday. 2, 3, 4 nil – would it be that much of a shock? Then you look at the two away fixtures that follow (Brighton and Sheff Yoo) and it’s hard to see further than snatching a point if we’re lucky.

(Not Brighton - Blackpool you fool!   Ed)

It’s so frustrating at times – the start of the season was all about our form on the road, and the poor displays at home. The only positive to take from this performance turnaround is that we’ve got the opportunity to take points off the teams that matter in our home games.

3 points at home against Watford, Bristol City and West Brom would go far to cement our place in the play-offs – but as long as we continue to struggle on the road against the poorer sides, this will be all we can hope for this season.

Still, the leg-room at Wembley is fantastic…

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Eagles Wings Clipped – Charlton 2, Palace 0

Charlton put paid to Palace's recent surge up the table with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at The Valley on Friday. The match was hotly anticipated by both sets of fans after the recent resurgence of both teams, although the game turned out to be a one-sided affair.

2 second-half goals from Luke Varney sent the home crowd into delirium, and the overall performance of the team was magnificent – possibly the best display I've seen since the 4-0 demolition of West Ham.

Pardew kept the same shape as in previous games, and opted for a front pairing of Gray and Varney. The midfield stayed the same, and Greg Halford made his debut at right-back in the place of Viewtoakill.

Charlton dominated the early passages of play, and although Palace seemed to win a lot in the air, the passing and movement of the Addicks created numerous opportunities to break the deadlock.

A neat turn from Halford almost presented the opener, but he dragged his shot wide. Zheng Zhi had a shot saved spectacularly by Speroni after a flowing move, and Varney rattled the post from a tight angle. Throughout this passage of play, Palace had created nothing – the Charlton back-four were on great form, and the intelligent distribution was a joy to watch.

Warnock clearly had words with his players at half-time, as Palace looked a different side for the first ten minutes of a telling second half. Our midfield suddenly looked shaky, and a few needless corners were conceded. Youga also made an excellent last-ditch challenge to prevent a one-on-one with Weaver.

Charlton gradually got themselves back into the game, and once again appeared to be the side most likely to break the deadlock.

The opener finally came from a free kick. Gray's deft flick fell into the path of the advancing Varney, who managed to touch the ball past Speroni under pressure from the last defender. 1-0, and The Valley exploded.

Thankfully the home side didn't try to sit on the goal, and continued to press forward to finish off the tie. Varney had a good penalty shout turned down as he was tugged back in the area, but in fairness this cancelled out what looked like an earlier handball from Bougherra in the Charlton box.

Varney was also clattered by Hudson with a horrible looking two-footed challenge, which amazingly went unpunished by the referee. Varney was to have the last laugh though as he settled the match 4 minutes from time.

A pass from Holland release the striker down the wing, who then opted to run at the Palace defence rather than square to substitute Iwelumo. His decision paid off as he rifled his shot into the goal, ironically via Hudson, and wrote his name into Charlton history.

It really was a great performance all round – Youga was rock-solid, Bougherra and McCarthy bossed the back-line, and Halford made an impressive debut. He's not as fast as Viewtoakill, but his long throw is fantastic and he looks to have both a good footballing brain and an eye for a pass.

On this evidence, a great signing Pards – we've now got a back-four brimming with confidence, and perhaps with the possibly harsh exception of McCarthy, a defence that are confident in passing and moving the ball rather than taking the obvious hoof.

Holland and Zhi put in another great display in the middle of the pitch as well, Zhi's performance being particularly impressive considering his midweek game in Dubai. If there are any criticisms to be made, Sam wasn't on his best form, and Ambrose was guilty of giving the ball away far too much.

Up front, Gray didn't have the biggest of impacts – aside from the first goal, the partnership with Varney will need more time as they understand each other's games. Varney of course was excellent, and I was happy to see him be both greedy and ruthless for his second – at this level, we simply need to get the ball in the net.

Sadly, I need to knock some marks off myself for being so late with this match report – I'm currently sitting in a pub in Soho at Sunday lunchtime trying to find somewhere with a wi-fi connection after a ridiculously busy week!

Anyway – hats off to Pards and the team. I made the walk back to the Dome and home to North London a very happy man on Friday night. The results may not have gone our way yesterday, but we're still only 5 points off the action.

A win against Sheffield Wednesday could really put the shakes on the teams above us – let's hope the players can carry the momentum into what should be a tricky, but winnable, away tie.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Appointment With The Palace

Not a huge amount to report before tonight’s game really – the main news for us is that Greg Halford may make his debut, although I’m uncertain if Pardew will risk the recent defensive harmony for a match of this volatility. However, Halford may offer a ‘tougher’ edge to the defensive unit.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Semedo start in midfield after Zheng Zhi’s recent appearance for China, and I reckon Pards might take a punt on Varney’s pace alongside Gray up front.

I won’t even try to make a prediction on this one, when it comes down to local derbies form generally tends to go out of the window.

Let’s hope that the players realise how much this fixture means to us, and show the same determination as at Selhurst.

Bugger it – I’ll have a go then, 2-1 Charlton!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Off To Wembley

As the end of the season nears, it’s looking increasingly like the playoffs will be our best bet for promotion. With this in mind, I’ll be paying particular attention to my surroundings this evening – I’ve managed to blag a ticket for tonight’s England game against Switzerland.

My first trip to the new Wembley was the opening Under 21’s game against Italy, and it gave a glimpse of what to expect if we can make it there later this year. The stadium is fantastic, and despite the rip-off prices and awful transport situation, it’s hard to fault the overall experience.

The first thing that hits you about the stadium when you leave Wembley Park is the chuffing scale of the damn thing – it’s bloody HUGE. There’s plenty of room when you get inside as well, and despite being a bit ‘bland’ when walking around, it’s a pleasant experience.

I’m looking forward to casting an eye over Capello’s first game in charge, and if the reports are anything to go by, the disciplinarian approach our national team is desperately in need of has already begun. Let’s hope the overpaid lumps take heed.

I don’t think we’ll see many goals tonight, but I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing David Bentley and Ashley Young bringing some pace to the wings. If they can unlock the space to bring Gerrard into shooting range, I wager we’ll see a goal from tonight’s captain.

Let’s hope for a good display – and judging by the sunshine outside, there won’t be a brolly in sight…

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

We Shall Not Be Moved

According to this report, Pards is calling for away fans to be moved from their current location in the Jimmy Seed stand.

Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the report or if he’s been quoted out of context, but I’m against this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if away fans are to be put to one side, it would be tricky to move them anywhere other than the south section of the West Stand. The East Stand would have accessibility issues with segregation, so I can’t see it being much of an option.

Secondly, if we want more fans behind the goal there’s already plenty of room in the North Stand! I sit in Block B, and for each match this season there have been plenty of empty seats. Some of these may be non-attending season ticket holders, but I’d rather see a packed Covered End than a threadbare Jimmy Seed.

Thirdly, it would inevitably mean moving some supporters. Now, after 5 seasons in my seat, I’ve come to think of it as my own. I’m happy there, and wouldn’t want to be forced to move. I know the people around me, and I wouldn’t expect any other season ticket holders to have that taken away from them for the sake of a stadium re-shuffle.

Fourthly (not even sure if these are words now…), if anyone were to be forcibly moved to the Jimmy Seed stand, I doubt they would enjoy the facilities much! In my stand we can head downstairs to keep warm, have plenty of outlets to buy food and drink, and can watch Sky Sports for the scores.

Without significant redevelopment of the area, or lower prices, it would be unfair to expect people to move to a lesser environment. And if their prices were lowered, would mine go up? Unless they want a threadbare end, it would have to involve movement of season ticket holders to avoid embarrassment. This may be less of an issue in the Premiership, but let’s get there first.

Finally, I am proud of the fact that away fans have their own end at The Valley. It’s long been a tradition to have opposing fans at each end, and frankly moving the away supporters is a cowardly way of attempting to resolve issues of stadium atmosphere.

I find the banter with away fans to be part of the game, and there are many times that the reaction of the away fans can make us louder and more passionate as a result. Can you imagine a stadium with no away fans? I reckon it would be practically silent. By that token, moving away fans to a ‘less intimidating’ area would have a similar effect on the noise levels from the home support.

Don’t get me wrong here – I want us to get behind the team and have a great supporting atmosphere at The Valley. But I think it’s against the spirit of the game to do a Villa or a Newcastle and simply try and hide away supporters like they don’t exist - they have paid for the right to be there as well as us.

The atmosphere at home has been fantastic on occasions, and I reckon it will be electric on Friday. Pards – concentrate on what’s happening on the pitch, this really is something I don’t think needs changing.

Monday, 4 February 2008

In Search Of Entertainment

After missing the weekend's exploits at sunny Scunthorpe and a particularly shitty start to the week at work, I'm in need of some entertainment this evening.

Luckily, the gods are smiling on me tonight – no crappy ITV sitcoms or docu-dramas for me tonight though, I've been catching some Freeview sport at it's best.

I'm not a big fan of egg chasing, but at least the Superbowl allowed me some sporting interest of the non-round variety without getting my shoes thrown-up on by a rugby-supporting 'gentleman'.

BBCi got it right on this one – watch the rolling highlights special and you're in for a treat. No adverts, no stop/start dross – this was pure entertainment, and a genuinely thrilling finish. It was also great to see the underdog come out on top, as the New York Giants won at the death to destroy the 100% record of the New England Patriots.

So far so good – the licence fee was beginning to pay off.

My next televisual treat comes in the form of the African Cup of Nations, and boy can it be entertaining at times. You might have read Frankie Valley's assessment of the quality on display, but now we're getting towards the final stages the skin is beginning to form on the custard.

I've just seen some fantastic shots, goals, and action – and this was just in the highlights segments at half-time. Some of the goals have been frankly amazing, and the Ivory Coast's 5-0 destruction of Guinea simply has to be seen as a footballing master class.

The thing I like about the teams in this competition is that they're not afraid to have a go, and have no fear of looking a bit of a twat after thumping the ball nearer to the corner flag than the goal. But when they eventually catch the ball right, they bloody well fly in.

Right now the game is perched on a knife-edge – Cameroon are 2-1 up against Tunisia in the quarter-final, and we get to see Alex Song back in action alongside the likes of Samuel Eto'o.

Hope you're watching Pards – we could do with a midfielder with an eye for a pass...     ;)

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Missed The Lot – Scunthorpe 1, Charlton 0

Things started badly for my attempt at covering this game, and the result didn't really do me any favours either. A tricky month financially and a low fuel-tank kept me away from the charms of Glanford Park, compounded further by the fact I couldn't get a DAB or AM reception for BBC Kent's coverage of the game.

So, sadly this is the first game in a while where I can't really add any critique on the performance. This doesn't change the fact that we've slipped up again, and it took a Southampton equaliser at Selhurst to save us from slipping further down the table.

Scunthorpe, without a win in 6 and at busy propping up 22 other teams, looked ripe for the taking today on recent form. Even though we went a goal down, a second yellow card and sending-off for Butler should have given us the opportunity to unlock the Iron's defence.

Those who were at the game will be better placed to tell you if our 11 shots posed a real threat, or if our 10 corners were a sign of dominance, but at the end of the ninety minutes there's only one statistic that counts – Paterson's 11th league goal has cost us the chance of catching up with the league leaders.

In fact, I spent the entire match updating the BBC league predictor with the scores as they came in. It was an interesting way of looking at the games as they progressed – Palace for example managed to be fifth at one point, before slipping to seventh at full-time. Ipswich jumped 4 places to sixth after finally getting an away win. Norwich were the biggest benefactors, leaping to 13th and closer to safety with a 90th minute winner against relegation rivals Preston.

It's a fascinating way to look at the shape of the league as the matches progress – if you're ever unlucky enough to be restricted to the joys of BBC text commentary, swap to the predictor instead – it's much more fun.

So, were back in the thick of it after yet another poor result against a relegation candidate. Anything less than a win against Palace could be a disaster, as Wolves, Hull and Ipswich are sniffing around the playoff spots.

3 points today should have separated us from the rest of the pack, but the reality of today's result is that we're in a real scrap now, and one I expect to last until the final day of the season.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Cap? Hell, No...

In amongst yesterday's transfer deadline scramble came the news of Fabio Capello's first England Squad. The major absentee is of course David Beckham, currently one cap short of the magic 100.

It would be all too easy to be sentimental about the occasion, but Capello has taken the tough decision to leave Beckham out. And I agree with him. In my opinion, this isn't the gutless 'token dropping' that McClaren made when he started the job – it's a case of Capello wanting to find out as much as he can about young and exciting English players.

Beckham, despite all his criticisms, has been a magnificent servant to the England team. In a squad of players who all too often flatter to deceive, Beckham is one of the few to be able to say they put their all in on a regular basis.

There have of course been low points – missed penalties, sendings off, and purposely getting booked against Wales despite the risk of injuring another player (Ben Thatcher of all people).

That said, there's been so many highs as well – the penalty against Argentina and that free kick against Greece being the two that always spring to mind.

The thing is though, England isn't about one player – it's about the team and the nation behind it. We have to think to the future, and giving Beckham what would amount to a token cap isn't the right way to bring life to a new regime in English football.

The facts are important to consider. Beckham hasn't played a competitive game for months, and the few appearances in an LA Galaxy shirt are hardly a test at the highest level. Training with Arsenal is a positive step, but training and matches are completely different scenarios.

I have to completely agree with Capello's reasons for not picking Beckham on the basis of match fitness. Friendly or not, it's Capello's duty as manager to pick the best squad available to him, and it's especially important in the early days to see as many new players as he can.

The new squad shows signs of promise – the inclusion of the pacey Agbonlahor was widely anticipated, but perhaps not so much Ashley Young, Curtis Davies, Nicky Shorey, and David Bentley.

These are the kind of players that will form the basis of the England team over the next 5 years, and giving them a chance sooner rather than later is far more important in a Friendly match than playing an unfit player who we already know everything about.

This does not shut the door on Beckham by any means, and I fully expect Beckham to be back in the England fold sooner rather than later. Capello will need no introduction to his talent, and once he starts playing competitive matches again he can prove he is ready to return to the England set up.

After all, I'm sure that fighting for and earning that hundredth cap will be a far sweeter feeling for Beckham than any token gesture.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Good-bye Reidy...

Image © Charlton Athletic
It's now official – Sunderland have had a bid accepted for Andy Reid, and it's now down to agreeing personal terms.

I'm still disappointed by this – the £4 million fee will of course be welcome, but I worry about the effect this could have on our run-in. He's often criticised for pace and the way he dictates the play, but the fact remains that he offers a flash of class that can win a match that so few players at this level possess.

There will also be times when we have to play 4-5-1, and in these instances we are distinctly below par without Reid's creativity. Much of our resurgence in style and pace has been seeded from the presence of Youga and Moutaouakil – if we were to lose them to injury, I don't think 4-4-2 would be as effective as in recent games.

However, everyone has his price, and the money is too tempting when the reality is that we need the cash.

Thankfully it hasn't been as protracted an affair as the Parker situation – back then, Parker was the heartbeat of the side and wanted to get away when Chelsea came sniffing. Reid, although clearly not as key to the team as Parker was, has kept quiet throughout the speculation and can walk away from Floyd Road with the respect he deserves.

One thing I can't see happening (although there's 11 hours left for me to get it wrong) is the sale of any more midfielders. There was talk of Thomas going to Portsmouth, but despite my criticisms of him we simply can't afford to let any more go without people coming in.

Our recognised midfield now consists of Holland, Zhi, Ambrose, Sam, Thomas, Semedo and Racon. Thomas can cover Sam, Semedo can cover Holland, but we're yet to see much of Racon. With that situation in mind, it would be madness to thin the squad further.

As a result of the deal, defender Greg Halford may come in on loan. Keane's first signing of the 2007 summer window, he's yet to make an impact with the Black Cats so far. Phil Parkinson obviously rates him from his time at Colchester, so time will tell how he will fit into a back-four that's beginning to show signs of solidity.

Anyway – a big thanks to you Reidy, you'll be missed in SE7 and will no doubt get a fantastic reception on your next trip to The Valley.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Transfer Speculation Continues

There's a day to go until the transfer deadline, and if the reports are to be believed it looks like the movement is outwards rather than incoming.

The future of Jerome Thomas and Andy Reid has been speculated recently, and this morning there is news that Portsmouth are interested in a deal for Thomas for £1.5 mil, and Sunderland are chasing Reid for £2.5 mil.

I stated in an earlier post that I didn't expect Thomas to leave, and that I hoped the vultures wouldn't be swooping around Reid. However, in our present financial situation and the way we are playing recently, the club may decide to accept these offers.

I'm really not too fussed if Thomas goes. Yes, he's a handful. Yes, he can be exciting to watch. However, the reality is that once you get past the step-overs and close control, there's not a lot of end-product to his game. He rarely scores (although he has got some crackers) and his crossing is often wayward. If rumours of £1.5 million are right, I'd personally take it. It would pay for the Gray transfer, and I would imagine he's still on Premier League wages.

Reid is one I really don't want us to let go of. It's arguable by some that we don't need him as much now – our switch to 4-4-2 doesn't necessarily give us the luxury of protecting Reid to create, and he doesn't have the tackling of Zhi or the pace of Ambrose.

However, we need to think what might happen towards the end of the season. If Youga and Viewtoakill pick up injuries, we might not be able to play with the same attacking shape we have. There may be games where we have to play 4-5-1. In these instances without a clear attacking formation, Reid has proved to be our only source of creativity, which poor results over the Christmas period only served to prove.

Then there's also the question of the proposed fee. £2.5 million is only half what I value Reid at, especially when you consider the frankly ridiculous sums Sunderland have been dishing out recently. If Kenwyne Jones is worth £6 million, the sums mentioned so far are frankly an insult and smacks of Keane and Quinn playing on their Irish connections.

The fact that we don't appear to be linked with bringing in any fresh blood as a replacement is further indication that any more transfer activity may simply be a book-balancing exercise. I really hope this isn't the case.

Murray/Pards – Let Thomas go to pay for Gray if we have to. But with the push for promotion heading in the right direction, the loss of a match-winner like Reid could really hinder our prospects.

The riches that could meet us in the Premier League will dwarf £2.5 million in the short term.

Coals Stoked For A Run – Charlton 1, Stoke 0

Charlton's promotion hopes were given a major boost last night with a battling 1-0 win over promotion rivals Stoke. With other results going in favour of The Addicks, we're right back in the hunt for cementing a play-off spot and are only 4 points off the top.

Last night's game was a fast and furious affair, at least until the ball found the hands of Stoke 'keeper Steve Simonsen – although his shocking display of time-wasting somehow vanished the moment Lloyd Sam opened the scoring with 7 minutes remaining.

Charlton had many opportunities throughout the game, yet struggled to translate them into shots on target. There was some delightful passing on display at times, but all too often the final ball was missing – there's a real need to find a killer instinct in the side.

That can be my only real criticism of the team though, as they out-muscled one of the hardest teams to play in the league. Stoke put up a worthy defence for much of the game, resorting to hopeful punts up to the lively Fuller, and a host of long-throws into the Charlton box.

Luckily, the defence were equal to the test. After almost every recent game I've had to treat myself to another slice of humble pie regarding Paddy McCarthy – he exercised the ghost of his poor performance at The Brittania earlier this season with yet another sterling display last night.

Bougherra was solid as well, and also played a hand in the attack. He came close to opening the scoring with a header going just wide in the first half, and a surging run and shot in the second was unlucky not to end in a goal.

Moving forward, Matt Holland was leading by example in midfield. This was probably one of the best performances I've seen from the veteran, who never backed out of a challenge and kept the ball moving. Zheng Zhi was also full of running, although will probably feel his end-product could have been better at times. Sam was lively and Ambrose often involved, although I feel they need to have a bit more confidence to put in a shot rather than look for the extra pass.

The strikers did their job last night against a physical side. Pardew opted for Iwelumo's strength and Gray's guile, and although they may not have had much of an impact in front of goal, they offered the ability to hold the ball up and bring the midfielders into the attack.

The anticipated late introduction of Varney gave the pace that was needed to unlock the game in the final stages. With 7 minutes remaining, the ball found Varney in the box via Holland with the goal begging. Varney could only strike air, but luckily his fluff left the ball at his feet in front of an advancing Simonsen. A smart cross found Sam on the line to nod in between 2 Stoke defenders.

The final stages of the game were tense, and Parkin was denied a dramatic late equaliser by a superb point-blank save from Weaver. Charlton then had a chance to make it 2, but Zhi made a mess of the opportunity after a quick break from Thomas. Stoke then appeared to lose it and resorted to kicking our players around, but luckily no injuries, no yellow cards, and an important 3 points were the result.

Pardew will be well pleased with what was achieved at The Valley last night – we proved that that playing football against even the most physical of teams can win you games at this level, providing everyone on the pitch gives it their all.

Let's hope this can continue in a winnable away tie at Scunthorpe on Saturday – an away win could really make things interesting at the top, and stoke the coals for an end-of-season run.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Potters Preview

Image © Russ London

It's getting pointless really calling each home game a 'must-win' at this time in the season – the simple fact is that going forwards, anything less than 3 points at home will markedly hinder our chances of getting promotion, playoffs or otherwise.

Stoke are our visitors tonight, and the league position between the two teams only stands to highlight this – a win by 2 goals for us will be enough to leapfrog Stoke, an away win will see them 6 clear of us and automatic promotion dead and buried.

If I took one thing away from my trip back from The Potteries earlier in the season, it's that Stoke are a physical side who don't mess about when it comes to getting stuck in. After the comedown of the home draw to Scunthorpe, the reality of the brutality of this league really set in at the Britannia.

We went a goal up, but an injury to Viewtoakill in the build-up unsettled the back-four. Ricardo Fuller levelled only 2 minutes later, and his replacement Jon Parkin finished the game off minutes after coming on.

Tony Pulis's side have only beaten Preston in the last 5 league matches, sandwiching ties against Newcastle United in the cup. That said, the last side they beat prior to this run was West Brom 3-1, and are the highest scorers in the division behind the leaders.

There's no real reason for Pardew to change the shape much in this outing. Andy Gray will most likely start against Varney, and it will be interesting to see how he will shape up in this role. After losing Todorov, we needed a forward man who can so something a bit different. If he can hold the ball up and release Varney's pace, he could cause the Stoke defence some problems.

I can't go any further without acknowledging the result at Leicester last night – the 1-0 result for Holloway's men gave us a big hand at the foot of the playoff positions, and will leave Palace asking themselves a few questions. Hopefully Southampton can have a new manager in place before the weekend to answer them.

The match at Portman Road between Ipswich and Plymouth is the other tie to keep an eye on tonight. The Tractor Boys are practically unbeatable at home, and Plymouth will also be without David Norris due to transfer speculation.

Call me in for stating the pigging obvious, but a lot more will be clearer come 9:45 tonight. And hopefully I'll be feeling happy about it.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

A Financial Weak-End?

After a week without football or any reasonable transfer speculation at The Valley, I've had to do something that fills me with dread this weekend – return to the real world.

And what a week it's been – since the 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road, share prices have plummeted world-wide, our Home Secretary is to scared to walk the streets, and our Darling still hasn't managed to offload Northern Rock.

In a nutshell, the financial situation for the country isn't looking too rosy. That is, of course, unless your exposure to the rose industry has been limited to the deaths-door reject blooms on a petrol station forecourt.

The problem is a simple one really – as a nation, we've been spending money we don't have. Over the last 10 years, interest rates have been historically low, banks have been all to happy to lend, and consumers have been more than ecstatic to spend. How many of us have been guilty of jumping at 0% interest credit cards, only for the overall debt to rise? (Hand help up...)

The housing situation has worsened things further. We're constantly having it drummed into our skulls about how we all need to be home owners, and how important it is to have a mortgage. This, combined with low interest rates and dubious practices from some mortgage providers, has led to many desperate people being in a situation where nearly half their income is paying the mortgage.

People have also been taking money out of the 'imaginary' future value their property may have – if the values don't continue to rise, then they have to pay the money back. Yet, if the prices do continue to rise, the cycle is almost certainly doomed as salaries aren't matching the increase. How are first-time buyers going to prop up the pyramid?

And, to top it all off, people aren't saving so as a result can't afford the huge deposits necessary. When a bank like Northern Rock can't afford to borrow money to issue a mortgage, it shows something is seriously wrong.

Doesn't make for pretty reading does it? People have been calling for the Bank of England to issue rate cuts like the 1.5% cut in the US, but this won't help – making lending cheap again will only amplify an already bad situation, as people will simply spiral into further debt.

Yep, I'm afraid that times don't look good in the financial world at the moment.

Although I mention 'people', it's unfair blame the situation on consumers - we can only react to the conditions put in front of us. Unfortunately, a combination of Gordonomics and greedy, short-termist elements of the financial industry seem hell-bent on doing their best to serve up a dish that can only collectively screw us up.

There is one thing that can soften the blow from all of this though.

If we sing our bloody arses off for the rest of the season, there's always that free Premiership season ticket to look forward to in August...     ;)

Friday, 25 January 2008

A “Thank You” For Frankie

Well, I wondered if he was being serious, but it looks like it’s the end of an era for Charlton blogger Frankie Valley.

If things are indeed no more, I’d just like to voice my thanks – I read your blog every day since I stumbled across it a year or so ago.

Always humorous, even in the rants, it made a refreshing change to the p*ss-dull, bog-standard, inaccurate reporting of our club that we get subjected to in the national press. That’s if we’re lucky enough to get more than an amoeba-sized postage stamp in the first place.

It gave me links to the many other Charlton blogs I now read on a daily basis, and to be perfectly honest I wouldn’t even have thought about writing this blog if I hadn’t discovered the wider blogging community. The comments section even kept me checking throughout the day for further gossip.

Anyways – Frankie, if this is the end I salute you. You’ll be missed.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Age Before Beauty

Yesterday’s musical question gave me a little food for thought this morning. As much as I see myself as a bit of a spring-chicken solely because I was a nipper when Wham, A-ha and Culture Club were making singles, the reality today is quite the opposite – I’ll be hitting the big 3-0 soon.

The fact I’m writing this might make it seem an issue to me, but it doesn’t really bother me that much to be perfectly honest – I don’t act or do that much differently to ten years ago, although perhaps I might go about things in a shade more sensible fashion. And the hangovers last 2 days now.

In fact, I’m almost happier being a bit older these days. I’ve always looked up to and respected people with a couple of years on me, and it’s interesting to think about that effect in football terms.

When I bumped into Deano in the West Brom car park the other day, he was exactly the kind of person to look up to. 37 years old and rewarded with a new contract, for his sake I wish him the best playing Premiership football next season.

It got me thinking about the rest of the Charlton squad, and I was amazed to realise that only Amdy Faye, Ben Thatcher, Chris Powell, Andy Gray and Matt Holland are older than me. Realistically, only Gray and Holland will play again this season.

Yep, Cap’n Reidy is in nappies compared to me. I could have nicked Paddy McCarthy’s dinner money. I even went to the same school as Darren Ambrose, but swapped College for cross-country runs before our paths met.

We’ve got a surprisingly youthful squad here, even if it is at the upper end of the 20's. And for that reason, I think the introduction of Andy Gray could be a good compliment to the mix.

When you look at the team, who’s the guy galvanising the side and pushing people on? Who’s the one who puts in 100% every match? Who’s the player who always, always comes over to the fans at the end of the game, regardless of the result?

Matt Holland.

The oldest squad member after Chris Powell, and at a ripe 33, I’d imagine Holland's wise head is a massive help in the dressing room through what is a difficult season. If he speaks, I’d listen – and I hope the youngsters feel the same way.

If another old head in the form of Andy Gray can step up to the challenge and take some of the burden away from Matty this season, that’s another feather in his cap in my book.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Making Plans For The Nigels

It’s not too long to go until the clash against Palace, and although I expect a tasty tie with the Nigels, it will be far from an easy prospect at The Valley come February the 8th.

After fleeting with the relegation spots at the end of Peter Taylor’s reign, Neil Warnock has moulded Palace into a side that are a genuine promotion contender. Unbeaten in 15 league games, they’ve not only leapfrogged us on goal difference, they can get within a point of the automatic promotion spots with a win away to Leicester on Monday.

You wouldn’t bet against them on current form – of the last 6 away games, their worst result has been a draw. So then - time to start on the homework.

If you look deeper into the statistics, there’s one element that sticks out. The form of Clinton Morrison has been fantastic – 11 goals in the last 14 games, and the next-closest scorer is Scowcroft on 3.

Before Warnock took over at Palace, Morrison was on just 2 goals and had been limited to a number of substitute appearances. Now he’s banging in almost a goal a game, and if Pardew’s got any sense he’ll be studying the videos of the gobby git already.

It may sound daft, but you only have to look at the last 15 results to see where they’re picking up their points – get him out of the game and I think we’ve got a real chance to keep up the pride on South London.

Oh, and a bonus point for whoever spotted the song title in the headline. ;)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Points To Prove - Watford 1, Charlton 1

Charlton slipped to sixth in the table after a battling draw at Vicarage Road yesterday. Despite the relief of rescuing a point after coming back from a goal behind, Pardew's side will be disappointed they failed to take all three.

The Addicks opted for the same side that started at West Brom on Tuesday, but with the exception of Iwelumo replacing McLeod. Chris Dickson and new signing Andy Gray made up the striking options on the bench, and McLeod's absence may back up reports of a £1m bid from Crystal Palace.

The game was no classic by any means – the conditions were atrocious, and both sides struggled to cope with the swirling wind and rain. Watford created little in the match, and failed to give any indication of the form they'd shown earlier in the season.

Iwelumo had a few half-chances, but the first clear opportunity came after half an hour when a Varney flick-on released Lloyd Sam, who fired just wide from ten yards. Ambrose missed another two great chances before the half was up, and the away fans were beginning to wonder if it would be one of those days.

Sadly, Calum Davenport left the game in a neck-brace after a collision with Darius Henderson – full news is yet to come through on his condition, and I'm sure I'd echo the feelings of other Addicks by wishing him a speedy recovery.

The second half saw Watford impose themselves more on the game, and McAnuff should have done better with an early chance. The Addicks fought back though, Ambrose forcing an excellent save from Lee, and Sam shaved the post with a fizzing shot.

Despite this pressure, Watford opened the scoring on the hour mark. Moutaouakil failed to pick up Ellington, and after a sweeping move from the home side the ex-Baggies striker found himself in acres of space to slot the ball past Weaver. It was all too easy, and a real disappointment to go a goal down after having so many clear-cut chances.

The remainder of the game stayed on a knife-edge, but despite the tension there were fewer opportunities on goal to be had. Pardew introduced Andy Gray for the last 20 minutes as the Addicks searched for an equaliser, which finally came with 10 minutes remaining.

Ambrose made a surging run at the Watford defence, and his speculative shot from outside the box somehow caught out Richard Lee who could only palm it into his own net. A fortunate goal, but no more than Charlton deserved for their earlier endeavour.

Chris Dickson was introduced for the final stages, although he sadly failed to make the most of what should have been a straight-forward one-on-one with Lee. Clearly he has more to learn at this level, so hopefully this will lower some of the huge expectation mounting on him.

No more goals followed, and the spoils were shared. A mention has to go to Paddy McCarthy, who had an excellent game and looked solid. I've been one of his critics after a shaky start to the season, but in the last few games he has been a real asset to the side.

It remains to be seen if this will be a point gained or lost – I'd possibly have settled for a point before the game, but after an abject display by Watford it really should have been a full haul.

Results around us didn't offer much comfort – we've now been leap-frogged by a resurgent Palace side, although the consolation is that the automatic promotion spot is now only 4 points away. A win against Stoke in 10 days time is vital – the next 4 home games see us play top-six teams, the results of which will go a long way to determining the result of our season.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Money Down The Back Of The Sofa?

So, the Andy Gray deal is almost done and dusted - £1.5 mill to Burnley, which could rise to £2 mill, although for now he's officially on an 'emergency loan'. A lot of money for a 30-year old, but I'll reserve judgement on a player that has scored 11 league goals this season.

The thing I'm unsure about is where the money's coming from.

It's no secret that the coffers at The Valley have shrunk dramatically after Dowie's spending spree last year, and our eventual relegation. I'm no accounting expert, but the breakdown of our finances in Wyn Grant's excellent post suggests we have a debt in the region of £23 million. £23 million – that's a rather large pile of cash to find, and highlights the importance of this season's campaign to the club.

I'm guessing Richard Murray's not just found the cash down the back of the sofa, so how will the move be financed?

Well, for a start we're already £200k down - James Walker's move to Southend is reportedly off after a failed medical, and he'll be returning to The Valley.

Despite his lack of end product and rumours of bids, I think Jerome Thomas may stay – I've a feeling Pards thinks he can get something different out of him, although hopefully more than a few bloody show-pony stepovers.

My feeling is that Marcus Bent will be the one to leave. According to the Charlton website, Andy Gray has already been given Bent's number 9 shirt, which is hardly an indication of desire to get him back from Wigan. It makes sense – Bent could command a similar fee to Gray, and with any luck we'll get some offers on the table soon.

The one thing I desperately hope is that clubs don't start sniffing around Andy Reid. Things have gone oddly quiet about his recovery from injury, and a £5mill+ bid from a Premiership side for possibly the most gifted midfielder in the league may be too attractive for the board to ignore...

Friday, 18 January 2008

Watford Without A King

Charlton’s away trip to Watford tomorrow was given a boost by the sale of the Hornet’s top scorer, Marlon King.

King’s departure to Fulham may not have been a huge surprise due to the nature of the £5 million fee and the madness of the January window, but Watford are a team in a run of faltering form and will miss a player with a record of a goal every other game.

10 points ahead earlier in the season, they now stand 3 points off the top in 3rd position, and would be leapfrogged by the Addicks if we win by a 2-goal margin.

In contrast, Charlton seem like a team in the ascendancy after the recent tactical shift. The defeat at West Brom on Tuesday may have produced tired legs, but it also gave an indication of grit and determination we haven’t seen a lot of so far this season. With our record on the road, Watford could be a team for the taking tomorrow.

I expect Pardew to stick with the same shape, but I’ll wager on the re-introduction of Iwelumo at the expense of McLeod to add a bit of aggression to the attack. It’s possible that Semedo could replace Holland if his substitution on Tuesday was for anything other than tactical reasons.

Last year’s fixture saw us come from 2 down and almost snatch it with the last kick of the game – let’s hope the front pair tomorrow haven’t borrowed Lisbie’s shooting boots…

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Hawthorns Heartbreak – WBA 2, Charlton 2 (4-3 pens)

West Brom booked their place in the next round of the FA Cup, but it took extra time and penalties to knock out a resilient Charlton side. It was an enthralling tie – the hosts led 2-0 at one stage, only for the Addicks to fight their way back and find an injury time winner.

The Hawthorns may have only been half-full, the weather was atrocious, but none of this dampened the spirits of the 12,000 that turned up for the match.

Pardew opted to stay with the formation that has looked promising in previous games, but it was West Brom who opened the deadlock only 14 minutes in as Bednar finished from close range.

This didn’t appear to hinder Charlton’s resolve as they continually pressed for an equaliser. McLeod almost managed to get the ball past Kiely, and in the final minute of the half, Varney somehow managed to sky a shot over from 6 yards with the goal at his mercy.

Both sides came out with clear intent in the second half, and West Brom extended their lead 5 minutes in. Holland and Zhi made a mess of a clearance, allowing Morrison space to slot past Weaver from 15 yards. 2-0 to the home team, and a real test of character.

Iwelumo was introduced for the ineffective McLeod, and took only a minute to make an impact. Kiely failed to hold his shot on the break, and Ambrose was in the right place to mop up and halve the deficit.

Charlton continued to press for an equaliser, as West Brom started to look shaky and on the back foot. Dickson was introduced with 8 minutes remaining, and brought a fairytale ending to the 90 minutes. A cross from Zhi found Sam just outside the box, who then fed Dickson who made no mistake with a predator’s finish. What a fantastic end to normal time, and set up a nailbiting half an hour.

The first half of extra time passed largely without incident, as both teams sized each other up. Weaver made a fantastic save from MacDonald, which Bougherra duly tidied up.

The second half saw Charlton on the attack, and Dickson come close to a hat-trick. After taking the ball past the last man and Kiely, his attempt to roll the ball in from a ridiculous angle almost paid off, but sadly rolled into the side-netting. With only 3 minutes left he again broke past the last man, only to see his fierce angled shot come back off the post and rebound to safety off Kiely.

With neither side able to break the deadlock, it came down to penalties. Varney hit the crossbar, Weaver saved, Zhi missed, and it was all over – another FA Cup run over, but a lot of positives to take on the late drive home.

We played the best team in the league and came back – people had questioned our mental toughness, and we answered those critics. Dickson looks a real livewire and looks ready to play at this level. Varney covered every blade of grass despite his disappointments. Holland was phenomenal.

In summary, we can take a lot away from this game, even if it’s not a trip to Peterborough in a few weeks. Hopefully we can carry the determination and desire through to a tricky tie at Vicarage Road on Saturday, where a win could lift us as high as 3rd.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

An Audience With Kiely

Just wandered past the West Brom car park and bumped into none other than Deano! Sadly my wit deserted me at the crucial moment, so nothing more than a hello and a handshake.

Guess we'll find out in a few hours if it should've been more of a knuckle-cruncher!

M1/M6 Playlist

I’m a big fan of away trips – it’s not so much the match, but the build-up itself. It’s always fun to check out a new ground and the surrounding area, and work out the chances of finding your windows intact when you return to your car after the match.

One of the best bits is the drive. Being a Londoner, getting above 30mph is a bit of a novelty for me – the thrill of driving at the NSL for a few hours with the music blasting out is ace.

My views on today’s match are pretty simple – same side as Saturday. No need for a change, plenty of time to rest before Watford, we need to get a good run-out. Far more important is sorting out my playlist for the M1/M6! Here’s what I’ll be checking out on the road:

  • Nouvelle Vague – downtempo bossa-nova covers of Love Will Tear Us Apart, Teenage Kicks, Just Can’t Get Enough – it’s ace, and a necessary bit of relaxation whilst I chew through my steering wheel getting out of London and the Luton roadworks


  • Art Brut – Emily Kane is still one of the funniest tracks I’ve heard in the last few years. Top stuff & clever lyrics to boot


  • Air Traffic – Fractured Life was my second favourite album of last year, excellent vocals and guitar hooks make it a kind of Muse-meets-Coldplay. But good. And I get to see them for free next week! ;)


  • Hot Chip – I missed out on The Warning in 2006, but easily the best album I bought last year. Simply brilliant, every track is different, if you don’t end up humming along to ‘Colours’ you’re not human


  • Foals – Not actually released an album yet, but you have to hear ‘Balloons’. It’s like a New-Wave Dexy’s Midnight Runners after a one-night stand with the Klaxons, brushing past New Order hurriedly on the way out. My tip for 2008, they’re quality


Let’s hope it’s done and dusted in normal time, I could do with being tucked in by 1am…

Monday, 14 January 2008

Who's Paying The Wages?

Footballers have always been know for their off-the-field antics – George Best and Rodney Marsh were renowned playboys, Tony Adams, Paul Gasciogne and Paul McGrath have had documented problems, and we've even had a few issues of our own down the years.

Thing is, in this modern age of football where top players earn the GDP of Afghanistan in a week, can we carry on accepting it?

Yesterday I was told that members of a Premiership team (which I won't name for fear of my ass being sued off) were out in a bar the night before a match. Now, they could have been sitting down for a relaxing meal. They may have only been letting isotonic sports drinks down their overpaid gobs. But is this really what the fans are expecting from their players these days?

As the gulf between them and the average man in the street widens further, the level of respect the players have for their fans should increase comparatively. Supporters up and down the country struggle, scrimp and save to pay inflated ticket prices that line the pockets of those on the field. Surely the players should be putting in their all to earn this pay rise?

I'm one of the few lucky enough to say that my club has actually made football more affordable over the last 5 years, but I know this is far from the norm. I sit in the North Stand (cheapest part of the ground), and have enjoyed stable season ticket prices for this period. I've no kids either, so this massively increases my opportunity to support the team on the road.

Yet, I know there are stalwarts out there across the land that are used to paying far less comparatively in the past, even considering the effect of inflation. Today they can pay some enormous sums to watch their team. I wonder what their feelings are on value for money for watching what is still the same game, the same club, the same concept of 22 guys in shirts kicking around a bag of air for 90 minutes.

Has the standard improved in line with the cost? That's debatable, and also difficult to prove. The influx of money into the game has brought many foreign stars into the top-flight, but has also arguably been at the cost of development of home-grown talent as local academies close. The lower-league clubs who have been forced to raise prices to stay alive have long been the proving ground for young talent, but the fallout from TV deals over the years is leading many teams to the brink of extinction.

So, in the face of all this, the players need to make some serious consideration about their conduct. Sure, they found themselves in a position where wage inflation has spiralled out of control, rather than necessarily seeking it. It's not their fault that clubs are so desperate to sign players they'll put an average player on 40k a week. But they can at least act in a fashion that befits their artificially inflated status. Youngsters across the country see them as role models, and grown men shout their names in awe from the stands – this should be a two-way thing, right?

To be out in a bar the night before a match is disgraceful in my opinion, regardless of whether players are drinking alcohol or not. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be sacrificing an afternoon off work, £15 on a ticket, and around £35 on petrol to travel to West Brom for the FA Cup. If I were to bump into any of the team in a pub tonight, I'd be on the phone to Richard Murray straight a-bloody-way.

Footballers – please remember the efforts we put in to come and watch you play, and pay your wages. We sacrifice finances, relationships, and precious time to come and support you.

All we ask is for you to recognise this effort, and give it your all. After all, aren't the most satisfying things in life the ones you've worked the hardest for?