Wednesday, 22 February 2017

So, will they, won't they? (The importance of the Bury result)

It was a question I posed 12 days ago. Then I was referring to the optimistic notion that Charlton might be making a genuine play-off push, but having proved fairly comprehensively since then that there was no realistic chance of that, I am now talking about the possibility of a relegation charge.

We sit in 13th place having played 32 matches and having reached 42 points. Perceived wisdom tells us we should be safe. We probably need another dozen point or so to be sure, so where will they come from and should we be any more than mildly worried? The one thing you need to avoid at this stage of the season is a loss of confidence or the manager losing the dressing room. A seemingly comfortable points gap can quickly be eroded. I don't believe either of those things have happened but there must be cause for concern given February's results with a full squad to choose from and some mediocre opposition. 'Seasonoveritus' has afflicted us many times in then past, usually when we have been at the higher end of the table but it could be argued we have seen some that already in the last few weeks.

I have looked at the remaining fixtures and, unsurprisingly for a side in mid-table, we still have a fair balance of sides to play, six currently above and eight below us in the table. Given our points advantage on the bottom five (8 points), it's the games against those below us which will probably determine where we finish. Interestingly, three of those are next up and four of them are the last four games of the season with only Robinson's nemesis, MK Dons, in between. My thoughts are as follows...

Bury (H) - Lost away, we should win but will we bounce back - we didn't yesterday?
Shrewsbury Town (A) - Tuesday night game with a small away following
Northampton Town (A) - Likely to be the biggest remaining turn-out on a big CAFC day
Scunthorpe United (H) - Automatic promotion spot - won't compete on current form
Walsall (H) - Just above us and a side who don't travel and should have little to play for
Bradford City (H) - Still likely to be competing for the play-offs
Sheffield United (A) - Going up and Chris Wilder's chance to show us what we missed
MK Dons (H) - Likely to be scrapping with us and three tight games so far against them
Peterborough United (A) - Won at the Valley and good value for it
Southend United (H) - Surprisingly in play-off contention
Coventry City (A) - Russell Slade could be getting a tune out of them - six pointer?
Gillingham (H) - I always expect to beat this lot but we don't always do it - six pointer?
Chesterfield (A) - Will be another six-pointer if we are in trouble
Swindon Town (H) - Beat us earlier and cost Slade his job - six pointer if in trouble

I am not seriously concerned but the next three could be pivotal. We need to beat Bury on Saturday to open an 11 point gap over them. Lose and it could be cut to 5 - the first six pointer there. Lose (or draw) and we have two away games with a side clearly spluttering against sides desperate to overhaul us.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Charlton Athletic 0 v Oxford United 1

Big Karl had a feeling February was going to be our month and so it's proved. The latest poor performance and result almost guaranteeing that our attentions will inevitably now focus on securing the points we need to remain a League One club. 

I couldn't be arsed this evening although I did pick up a 'Unity Protest 2017" leaflet which was being handed out around the ground. By the looks of things the Coalition may have printed several thousand more than necessary. It was another truly dire gate, well less than the laughable official attendance of 9,109. Visiting Oxford fans hearing the crowd could be forgiven for assuming the Valley still holds 66,000 when full. With so many season tickets not bothering nowadays, there has to be a real concern that renewals will plummet once more.

We started with what looked close to a strongest available eleven. Rudd in goal supported by Page, Bauer, Texeira and Solly. Crofts, Forster-Caskey, Byrne, Holmes, Mavididi and Magennis once again ploughing a lone furrow. The appearance of last season Everton loanee Conor McAleny was a worrying portent for season Addicts and it came to pass in the 12th minute when he opened the scoring with an unstoppable 25 yard strike which beat Rudd via a post. 

From the CL updates it sounds like Mavididi bust a gut to score and Holmes was doing whatever he could but we had little fluency and aside from hitting the woodwork twice, Oxford had more possession and looked more threatening. Watt was brought on early in the second-half for Forster-Caskey who might still not be 100%. 

Poor again at the back and it got worse on 70 minutes with yet another red card as Chris Solly bared his studs after losing the ball in a tackle. It might be an lazy stereotype but what's that? Four sending-offs in half-a-dozen games or less since Lee Bowyer re-entered the building? He was on the touchline tonight, so will have been pleased, no doubt, with full blooded tackling in his own image. Five other home players also earned yellows as if to show solidarity. 

Three (3) wins in seventeen (17) for Robinson now and he will be under pressure this evening. His press conference will be interesting. No doubt he'll blame tiredness and injuries, going down to ten men but will he mention our dearth of strikers and schoolboy error in the January window by failing to replace either of the two who were sold off? Better still, when's he going to say he hasn't been backed as he was lead to believe?

The game petered-out with ten man Charlton holding the line, a few home fans scuffling in the north-west corner and a Tweet from Ben Church which just about sums it all up - "lowest league position ever?"



Bury on Saturday for a fiver? The 6 Nations on the box is looking a warm favourite.....


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Rochdale 3 v Charlton Athletic 3

Yet another draw today in a topsy-turvey match where the lead changed hands three times. Karl Robinson will be pleased the players heard his grumbles about needing to score more than a goal but conceding three wasn't part of the plan (I can just imagine Roland picking up the phone to explain to Karl how it works, if indeed, he hasn't already which may have prompted Karl's big pre-match insight that we needed to score two to have a chance of winning).

Dale raced out of the blocks to open the scoring through Canavan in the fourth minute but Jordan Botaka scored on the rebound after hitting the post just before half-time. Jose Texeira had replaced an injured Esra Konsa after 15 minutes and it was the Portuguese who put Charlton ahead on 67 minutes although the lead lasted only three minutes as Calvin Andrew levelled for the home side. Predictably for suffering Addicks we then heard Mendez-Laing score an 84th minute third and it looked all over but Tex popped up again in the 88th to snatch a point for Charlton and give some comfort to the hardy 300.

Robinson's results so far are there or thereabouts bang-on with Russell Slade's record which was deemed not good enough after 21 games in charge. I'm not calling for Robinson to be sacked because the idiots in charge have managed to do that seven times already without any sustainable change to the gradual decline of the club's fortunes. However, the season is effectively over and the calls for Robinson to go will grow louder from here on and poor season ticket sales numbers may provide added pressure.

Talking of season ticket sales, there is a view that a repeat of the cheap offer in the North Lower will stiffen numbers and ensure no significant decline. Personally, I am not so confident. Value-for-money is certainly an issue but the hopelessness of watching a Charlton side deliberately under-resourced to (hopefully) maintain the status quo has become fairly transparent to all but the most blinkered or blindly optimistic of supporters. It's been another season of disappointment and, frankly, poor entertainment. The dwindling crowds have ensured most matches are played in near silence now in the home areas and it's all very depressing. It's affected the willingness and ability of those disaffected to even get decent numbers to protest effectively, although Meire will count her blessings she's not been the subject of such vocal abuse for a few months.

What Meire should do, if she had any sense, is match the offer Leeds United made to their fans for this season which said back us with a season ticket and if we fail to make the play-offs we will refund 50% of the cost. That would capture the imagination and demonstrate an ambition that has been glaringly lacking since Duchatelet leveraged the club debt to acquire us. The trouble, of course, is Meire knows Duchatelet won't invest sufficiently to support any manager to sustain a play-off challenge, so she would be cutting her own throat and the Big Turkey won't vote for Christmas either. Instead, I fully expect them to go with another low-priced offer to entice those who will simply see it as a more economic and less-hassle way to pay for whatever games they do bother watching next season. Either way, I predict numbers will drop again, maybe by another 500-750 and associated add-on revenues with them. The match-to-match ticket sales will also take a tumble between now and the end of the season - I can't be bothered with Oxford on Tuesday - and they too will suffer next season. 

The only constant in the last three years has been Duchatelet's absence, disinterest and under-investment allied to Meire's chronic mismanagement of the club and supporter relations. Nothing is going to change until the head of the snake is removed.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Unity Protest in St. Truiden 4th March

Protesting Charlton fans will once again be heading to Roland Duchatelet's home town to protest at his continued lack of ambition and the state the club finds itself in after three miserable years of ownership under the billionaire.
The South London Press covers the emerging story here.

I am really sorry I can't make it. It promises to be another chapter in the history of Charlton Athletic Football Club and the supporters, in particular, who have played a larger part in the fortunes of our club than surely any other. Over 200 fans are expected to assemble in the sleepy market town of St. Truiden on the other side of Brussels on Saturday 4th March. They will be joined by disillusioned locals who have long-since had the fight knocked out of them by Roland Duchatelet in the years he has owned their club and turned it into a housing and shopping development where football is a side show to a day's family activity eating out and dancing after the game. It seems our determination to rid ourselves of Duchatelet is sparking the resistance in his home town.

The turnout is all the more impressive when you consider that Charlton are playing away at Northampton, an easy-to-get-to new ground for many but that just further demonstrates the strength of feeling and determination of individuals to play their part and show Duchatelet the folly of his doomed ownership of the club they love - the one he can only afford to donate 1.5% of his interest to.

Women Against the Regime have joined CARD and the Belgium 20 protest groups in order to pool resources and make the biggest impact they can on the day. The Belgium 20 have secured a supportive bar owner who is providing a pre-match buffet and protest ska band, The 2%, are also making their way across the channel to entertain the troops. There's still time for you to be a part of it and the return fare is only £25 and some fans unable to attend have even paid £25 so others who might bot be able to afford the whole cost can attend. There is a there-and-back trip as well as an overnight version, although hotels are at a premium as Charlton fans seek out every room away from Duchatelet's own hotel at the ground which won't be seeing any of the protestors money.

From experience, St. Truiden locals will warmly welcome the friendly mini-invasion and I am sure there will be a lot of great stories to be told when the book is eventually written.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Oldham Athletic 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

A goal after 4 minutes this evening was enough to inflict Charlton's seventh defeat of the season and consolidate our 13th place position in League One.

It seems we had a go, with 56% possession and 16 corners and 16 efforts at goal but we couldn't score. No doubt we will nick a goal at Rochdale on Saturday but what I said in my last post holds true. We don't have enough attacking threat to challenge in League One and we failed to address this in the January transfer window. This is the sixth window in succession where we have shuffled the pieces but not come out with a convincing enough squad and have had to watch the consequential struggle. As I said, it's Groundhog Day and it will only change when something is done about it.

The false hope of those desperate to believe things have changed is being laid bare. It puts Karl Robinson in a difficult position. He will have to eat some humble pie and stand by his players and fight on but ultimately this season is another write-off. I am ambivalent about Robinson. He spouts too much and frankly, isn't convincing, but I do believe you need to persevere with a manager if you are ever to have a chance of throwing a double-six. By that I mean over-achieving with what you have, which is what anyone working for Duchateket at Charlton has to do. The trouble is, Duchatelet has an itchy trigger finger and when the furore from the fans and criticism from the media gets too much, he fires. My guess is that will happen again before much longer and it will be a case of does he persevere or try someone else? As we know, the answer thus far has been try someone else.

Elsewhere today I was interested to hear that the nutcase owner at Leyton Orient is holding out for £4m before selling. Four million? Puts Roland's £75m asking price for us into ultra high definition. We are not quite as small as the O's but, hey, we are a darn sight closer to £4m than £75m! Having acquired us for £14m and having taken us down a division, I would have thought he would have done well to get his buying price back. That would mean he needs to acknowledge that his mismanagement of Charlton Athletic over three and a half years has cost him around £30m in operating losses if you take the latest player sales into consideration. I think Roland needs to get real and cut his losses. At the moment he looks very much like a loser in a casino chasing his money and that's not a good place to be.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Will they, won't they?

Ahead of the newest south London derby match against Wimbledon tomorrow, Charlton fans look divided between those who believe there is a realistic chance of the play-offs and those who don't. What amuses me most is that those in the hopeful camp all seem to agree that the reason we are still in with a shout is the paucity of quality opposition in the division. The fact that we are unbeaten in six league matches (three draws and three wins) is also giving hope but we do need to take the season as a whole into consideration and look at the strengths and weaknesses of our squad.

The bottom line is we simply haven't been good enough to seriously compete at the top end and we sit bang in the middle of the table because we have a League One squad of players. For most of the season our central midfield has lacked any pace or a dual threat from the flanks which has meant we have struggled to score goals from the front. Our top scorer doesn't trouble the division's top 15 and Magennis only moved onto 8 recently after the departure of the then top scorer Lookman who had netted seven and the loaning out of then second-top scorer Ajose who somehow managed to score six.

Our wage-bill adjustments in January meant we have some new faces who have added some much needed pace to the centre but we still look unbalanced left to right and clearly lack forward goal prowess or too many options when we are left with Magennis, Novak, Watt and the youngsters. I think Ahearne-Grant may be injured but he's not yet shown enough quality to hold a place or prove he has goals in him. Hanlan is even further behind KAG in terms of games under his belt and has been loaned out to Bromley which leaves us with the three experienced pros. Magennis and Novak are similar hold-up, line leaders and both really need a faster partner alongside them to be able to play 4-4-2. That isn't Watt either who is at his best running at the last defender and typically better coming in from the left or right. This was a problem we clearly failed to address in the January window and I believe will cost us any realistic chance of sniffing the play-offs.

In midfield Crofts has looked a better player with Forster-Caskey and Joe Aribo around. Ricky Holmes is also coming back to form but he often has a free role switching from left to right and is often guilty of over-playing which doesn't help the side build attacking momentum. The jury is still out on Botaka and I think we need to see more of Byrne. What we have seen of Dasilva suggests he's not ready yet. When you consider we have also seen defenders Konsa and Chicksen in midfield, you can see the shortage of any sort of consistency or satisfaction with team shape and performances.

Far too often this season we simply haven't been good enough and I can count the decent performances on one hand and a couple of those have been in one half of the match. We have largely been competitive, which has manifested all those draws but I don't believe that's enough to make the play-offs, let alone promotion.

Wimbledon came from behind to beat us at the Valley in September. That result sent us down to 14th in the table and I can see a repeat tomorrow despite their recent indifferent form. Charlton have a long history of relieving the suffering of opponents - look at Millwall, whose 3-1 victory over us before Christmas has spurred them on the the 5th round of the F A Cup and moved them to the play-off fringes proper. In my head I have heard opposition through the years saying "it's alright, we have Charlton in a fortnight's time" and more-often-than-not we have duly obliged.

I wonder what the mood will be like come the end of March when this season will be over and the club prepares, once again, to clear-out half the squad and start again? It really has become Groundhog Day under Roland Duchatelet. We are also getting to the point where numbers attending matches threatens dropping below the tipping point when nobody can be bothered to do anything about it.

So I am delighted to see the troops rallying to put it on Duchatelet once again in St. Truiden. The stubborn Septagenarian may well continue to grin and bear it but sitting at home saying it's hopeless protesting is akin to putting your fingers in your ears and shouting 'la-la-la' hoping it will all get better on it's own.

Go on Charlton, prove me wrong.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Scotland 27 v France 22

A fantastic Scottish performance eventually saw off a better Irish side in a dramatic opening 6 Nations game in Edinburgh. I have been suffering for 17 years watching heroic failure far too often amidst some more routine wins and a few huge disappointments. When we have won the odd much unexpectedly, it's often been a dead rubber like at the end of the tournament. Yesterday's opening day win was only our third since the 6 Nations began in 2000.

It was a great match too as Scotland raced into a three try lead in the first -half and then saw Ireland fight-back in the second to go 22-21 ahead before Scotland reasserted themselves and skipper Greg Laidlaw nailed two penalties to seal the match at the death. It makes our game in Paris that much more interesting and I am having a sneaky peak at a late appearance (I know it will all go horribly wrong if I am there).

I love Edinburgh as it's a buzzing city at night with a huge array of decent old town pubs and bars as well some great food. Rugby internationals also bring so many foreigners to the match. Again yesterday, there were plenty of French and Italian fans there for the weekend, even if their national sides were in action elsewhere this weekend. 

I saw we were one-up at half-time but threw it away at the finish. Doesn't look like I missed much. We can't compete in this league without an out-and-out striker and our over-reliance on Magennis is glaring. Thirty minutes for our first attempt at goal? Looking to shut-up shop after an hour and a slew of tactically inept substitutions? 

That brings me to Karl Robinson. I was disappointed to see him used as part of the Club's new PR offensive last week. A plum Times interview with resident Henry Winter was obviously arranged in the background by Rubbersoles/Pitch PR and a few days before publication, a hastily arranged meeting with four fans at a secret pub venue was organised for Thursday evening. The Times piece wasn't mentioned of course but the meeting 'with fans' enabled Robinson to reference it. He had previously turned down an offer to attend the Bromley Branch's supporters meeting on the same night because he was 'already engaged' although he probably forgot about that. 

My fellow-Blogger, Phil, captures the sentiment perfectly here. Sorry Karl, but you have made your position crystal clear now and handing a list of supporters complaints over to those upstairs isn't going to make an iota's difference - they are patently aware of what they have done and why they have done it. Katrien may have told you she is very sorry and regrets some of her bigger gaffes but she hasn't had the decency to acknowledge any of them publicly and, yes, she has said "we have learnt from our mistakes" but she hasn't said sorry once for anything specific and even as recently as the Jim White interview she was spinning every single accusation. She is arrogant, pure and simple, and it shows she can't learn fully from her mistakes because she can't acknowledge she has been wrong or has denied obvious truths in front of supporters.

Personally, I think Robinson speaks in cliches for much of the time and says things that simply aren't true because he thinks they sound good. Telling Winter he'd "cleared out four or five..deadwoods in the window, who were wallowing in self-pity" is a good example. He did no such thing unless you count Fox, Ajose and Lookman in addition to Ba. 

What I think Robinson has done with all of his media talk and by allowing himself to be used in a very obvious way, is to put himself under potentially far more pressure than he needed to. If he doesn't turn the results substantially, he is going to get burned quickly by the majority of the clubs remaining fans who will see through what he's been promising.

Not a great time of year to be messing up what with season ticket renewals due out......