Saturday, 14 January 2017

Charlton Athletic 0 v Millwall 0

First thing, this was a much better performance than the pre-Christmas effort. No visible signs of bottling it or wilting. However, we lacked any cutting edge whatsoever once Magennis was stretchered-off early in the first half and were fortunate, as a consequence, not to lose one-nil as Millwall missed three glorious chances before the finish.

Robinson started with a better looking balance to his squad. Rudd was back in goal, with Texeira and Bauer in front of him. Lewis Page debuted at left-back and Chris Solly got the opportunity at right-back for a man-of-the-match performance. Unfortunately, Page pulled-up in  the first-half not long after Magennis had left the field. At first it looked like a severe case of embarrassment having been beaten on the run but clearly he is injured.

The midfield was anchored by Crofts who I thought had his best game for us. He played slightly deeper and appeared to have a lot more space than normal which allowed him to spread play from one side to another which we did for much of the game. Konsa and Aribo both put in tidy shifts playing triangles and feeding the wingers (Byrne, Chicksen and sub Dasilva), and all of them looked for Magennis and Tony Watt when he made a surprise entrance. It had to be said that Watt wasn't fit. You could hear and see him gasping for air after his first run and there was no realistic prospect of him fashioning a clear chance.

Magennis jumped into a tackle early on and didn't get up. It looked bad but he appeared later and made his way to the bench, so hopefully nowhere near as serious as it at first looked.

Millwall had the best chance in a limited first-half when Lee Gregory collected a ball over the top and had time to angle his lob but he drew it too far right and it cleared the back post. The best we could manage was a few low scudders from distance straight at Archer.

The appearance of Dasilva for Page meant a reshuffle but why wasn't Holmes brought on? The Chelsea youngster had a very difficult debut. He was stripped of possession regularly and when he did get a chance to cross he was high, wide and handsome. Only to be expected but why introduce him in a derby match we were desperate to win? As it was he suffered the ignominy of an early bath before the end so Holmes could have a go. We did manage to get the ball in the net following a spill from Archer but it was disallowed for something, although it looked fine to me. Bauer managed a solid header from distance before the end which was our best effort but that was it.

Keith Stroud was his busy-self with the yellow cards and managed to get in the way and stop a couple of Charlton breaks. He also red-carded Texiera after the whistle and Steve Morrison in the tunnel. He does at least know his reputation as he called the other officials over to escort him from the pitch at the end because he probably feared a right-hander from someone.The visiting fans were strangely subdued and saved their only 'you'll never beat Millwall' chant for the last minute of added time, as if they were seriously worried we might have managed the win if they had sung it any earlier.

I was in the North Upper which looked pretty full but the West and East were still sparse. The official attendance of 15,300 looks optimistic once again but it was clearly a gate of over 10,000, so one of the best of the season.

I will look forward to what Karl Robinson has to say. After his comments this week that the new training ground will stand the test of time for 50 years, it's pretty clear passionate Karl is clearly prone to a bit of exaggeration. He was beating the badge on his shirt at the end as he milked the Covered End applause. I hope he's realistic enough to acknowledge we never looked likely winners despite it being a much improved performance. He also needs to address the striking options. If Big Josh is out for any length of time we look in trouble. Ajose is not fancied and didn't make the squad today, nor did Lee Novak. Tony Watt looks like he won't be fit until April. When is our Academy going to produce an out-and-out striker we can sell? Paul Walsh and Jermaine Defoe were the last ones - nearly as long as our last victory over Millwall.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The south-east London Derby

On Saturday we host our closest neighbours in what will be the 74th first -team encounter against Millwall (includes two Anglo-Italian Cup matches). I dislike Palace more than Millwall but make no mistake, this is the only real south-east London derby. Millwall fans know that as well as us, which is why they snap the tickets up faster than for any other match. That and the fact that history tells them they can expect to beat us and put us back in our boxes.

I think we all know that our record against them is woeful, especially since the war, but you have to read through the list before it sinks in just how poor it is. This is across the decades, with completely different Managers, squads of players, club owners and irrespective of form. I mention the war because we had a period of 31 years when we didn't play them courtesy of our traditionally superior league status (and the war) between 1935 and 1966.

As it stands, we have only managed six League wins against them since Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister and they have taken 23 of the last 27 points on offer just to rub home their current derby-superiority. So can we expect to get anything on Saturday? Millwall are on a run of form, started ironically, when they rolled us over at the New Den before Christmas. They come off the back of a deserved 3-0 F A Cup win over Premier League Bournemouth and will be backed, as always, by 3100 bellowing and gloating fans. Optimistic Charlton fans are already reading miracles into the second-half beating of Bristol Rovers and believing that we have signed several match-winners since the exit of £12m worth of talent in Lookman and Fox.

A stopped watch is right twice a day and probability decrees that we will beat them sooner rather than later on the basis we continue to meet them in League matches. Personally, I can't see it this week. We were exceptionally poor in the first four or five matches under Robinson and have nicked a few points including that win at MK Dons which was fortunate. Yes, we did walk all over Bristol Rovers in the end but for the opening 30 minutes we were second-best again.

On Saturday we will also see a couple of debuts and I am not sure that will help our cause. We need to score early and get our fans involved if we are going to get anything. I am reminded by that rip-roaring 4-4 Valley draw in 2009 when we played them at home for the first time since we never thought we'd play them again. That was a rare game where we didn't look over-whelmed and when we got at it, although we still contrived not to win. I reckon it will be back to earth with a bump and Karl Robinson will be struggling with Scunthorpe and Bolton next.

I have just seen the weather forecast for Saturday and they are talking about strong, cold north-westerly winds which could mean the game is played in the snow. Now that could be a sign.....

Monday, 9 January 2017

Nathan Byrne in, Samir Carruthers chooses Chris Wilder and table-topping Sheffield United

We have signed the 24 year-old winger-cum-full-back from Wigan Athletic. Like Lewis Page before him, I know nothing about him so will have to wait to pronounce judgement. However, his Wiki page tells me he has made appearances for eight other clubs so far. If you take Swindon out of the equation (83 appearances), he has averaged a dozen for the others, so the chances are he won't make next season. Sorry Nathan but those is the odds.

Elsewhere, Karl Robinson is bemoaning missing out on former MK Dons employee, Samir Carruthers who has moved to table-topping Sheffield United. Big Karl even professes he would have paid more for Samir but also confuses this by saying he was quoted more than the Blades, presumably because Charlton are seen to be able to afford it, now that we are flush with the Lookman loot. Whatever's happened, Samir has made his move and it's not to Captain Pugwash and the Titantic.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Fox out, Page in

Following hard on-the-heels of the sale of Ademola Lookman to Premier League Everton, Morgan Fox has today joined Championship Sheffield Wednesday. His move was expected and I believe the undisclosed fee to be in the region of £700k. Personally sorry to see this Charlton youth product sold for such a relatively small fee when he has so much promise but the boo-boys have been scapegoating him for awhile so no great surprise the club have decided to take the money this time around and Morgan to take a fresh opportunity. A shrewd move by Sheffield Wednesday in my opinion.

Anyhow, just as Morgan walks out, de cloob have been busy in the background and today announce and photographed an effective replacement signing of 20 year-old full-back Lewis Page from West Ham. Page has failed to break into the Hammers first team squad although did make three appearances in qualifying UEFA cup matches. It would appear he's been ruled out of making the Premier League grade but he should do well enough in League One given the chance and hopefully has more improvement to come.

In summary, of course, this is another move which recoups cash for Duchatelet and, presumably, helps with lowering the wage bill further. My totting would suggest he has now raked in £16m in transfer fees since the end of last season, a couple of million more than he paid for the club. Including the Gomez, Poyet, Kermorgant and Stephens fees, that's getting on for £25m in three years - significantly more than any there years in the history of the club and some people still won't accept it's a Player Farm model.

There may yet be another body or even two joining the ranks with wages funded from the loose change in the Lookman deal, but whatever happens, the pressure is now firmly on Karl Robinson to deliver a play-off place. 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Lookman out, Caskey-Forster in

Confirmation today that Everton have parted with £7.5m upfront with another £3.5m to follow based upon possible add-ons to sign Ademola Lookman. Ordinarily that is good business and I blogged recently, aligns Lookman's Charlton contribution closely to that of former midfielder, Lee Bowyer in terms of performances and goals prior to departure. The trouble is, with Duchatelet at the helm, this is not necessarily just good business but the club strategy and modus operandi all the time he is running the shop.

Like many others, I am pleased that Lookman is at Everton, a club where he will get a chance in the first team sooner rather than later and a club which has a strong tradition of trying to play the game the right way, irrespective of how successful or otherwise they might be in doing it.

The Standard Liege fans had a good cartoon for what Duchatelet did as he left their club so perhaps we can look on this as a good omen.

On the other hand, will he now be greedily viewing Esra Konsa as £3m in the Summer and Joe Aribo as another few mill come next January? If so, it might encourage him to stay on longer as he attempts to recover his loses and make a profit on the sale.

Katrien Meire explained to the Hastings & Bexhill Supporters Club at the pre-match fans meeting on Saturday that FFP rules prevented Charlton from spending too much of the Lookman proceeds on replacements, although I don't understand that and it looks like another convenient line from Meire which will quickly lose the 'n.'

Whatever, we have moved today to sign Brighton's fifth choice midfielder, Jake Caskey-Forster. The 22 year-old will be reunited with Adam Chicksen and should be comfortable at this level. The other window talk is of a signing or two of Karl Robinson's ex-players from MK Dons. If that's it, we may, arguably have been seen to strengthen the squad, although the jury will largely be out. 

The background talk, and Meire mentioned it in her commentary on the news of today's transfers, is that we are looking for a play-off berth. Personally I believe we failed in the Summer to recruit fully or big enough to get out of League One and that we are some way short of realistic promotion ambitions.

What we need is managerial stability through until next season and we need to hold our squad together with a couple of ambitious adjustments for next season if we are to mount a serious promotion challenge. Most Charlton fans would acknowledge that, although the odds are probably against Duchatelet supporting it. Either Robinson will go or we will do another clearout in the Summer as Meire attempts to cut costs once again.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Charlton Athletic 4 v Bristol Rovers 1

I said recently that it would be classic Charlton to return to the Valley against a side we beat 5-1 away from home just a few weeks ago and lose. For fully thirty minutes today it seems just like that was going to happen. Jermaine Easter had capitalised on an uncharacteristic Bauer slip in position on the half-way line to race in and round Phillips for the opener. We looked half-hearted and it was hard to see where a response might come from. Then, just before the break we won a free-kick in an advanced position which Joe Aribo flighted forward perfectly into the box. The dropping ball was meat and drink to an unmarked Josh Magennis whose leap looked almost necessary but whose onward header was planted to the right of the helpless Puddy in the visitors goal.

Fox, Texeira, Bauer and the returning Solly hadn't really been troubled aside from the goal but they were kept much more occupied than their counterparts. Ezra Konsa was an unlikely centre midfield starter alongside Andrew Crofts and the pair had struggled to hold the ball. Chicksen was doing better on the left but Botaka was all over the place on the other side. Aribo was looking useful but he and Josh were feeding on scraps. Magennis has clipped the bar with our only effort from a free-kick prior to the goal.

At the half-time whistle, Karl Robinson raced down the touchline shouting and gesticulating at his players to hurry to the tunnel. It looked like he had just been given an advanced bomb warning but I assume it was just more Robinson, desperate to impress and look the part of a driven and animated manager.

I assume a good talking to was duly administered because after the break we were, once a again a different side. The back four stepped up and our midfield was suddenly more mobile and fluid. Konsa was getting forward, Botaka covering him inside and Chicksen and Fox moving up in tandem. Best of all, Joe Aribo was dropping back and continuing to see plenty of the ball. He looked strong in possession and far more comfortable than a player with so little first team experience. Very shortly we drew another free-kick inside the Rovers half and once again Aribo stepped up to float a deep all towards the far post where the advancing Josh Magennis again arose unmarked to firmly head a replica goal to his first. 

Rovers collapsed in the reverse fixture after making three rash substitutions at half-time. Here they made two with similar consequences. A third goal followed shortly when a driven low ball from the left by Aribo was knocked in from close range by Jorge Texeira who has clearly decided he wanted to get more involved in the match. After that it was pretty much a case of how many. Magennis was unfortunate to see a shot whistle wide and Konsa had an effort deflected over the bar. It was then that Magennis struck his hat-trick and what a beauty. After a trademark gallop, Magennis beat the last man to the ball over the top, brought it down and swivelled onto his right foot before hammering a pile-driver high into the top right hand corner of the Rovers goal. Hundreds more Gasheads, from their impressive following, left immediately for the exits.

The win means 7 points from 9 and Robinson manages to equal Nugent's three match record for the season. The three points banish any realistic thoughts in my mind of relegation and perhaps start some unrealistic talk about making the play-offs. What would be a major fillip, would be managing our first win against Millwall in 20 years when we next trot out at the Valley. If there were 12,252 there today, I expect nothing less than a 20,000 crowd when the Lions come calling.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year! (Southend United 1 v Charlton Athletic 1)

First, a happy and prosperous New Year to anyone who frequents these pages! Some are old mates, some of you I have come to know through your posts and the majority are unknown to me but are mostly like-minded Addicks for whom Charlton Athletic Football Club have played a significant role in our lives.

As the old year ends it's natural to reflect on what has happened and I do so here through a Charlton lens. It's been the toughest year for me in supporting the club since I began in earnest as a 13 year-old. To put that into perspective, I am approaching 54. Barring the Powell promotion year from League One, it's been a largely downward spiral since dropping out of the Premiership ten years ago. However, the last three years under Duchatelet's ownership have accelerated the decline and been very hard to take.

We all know the back-story so I am not going to repeat it, save to say that I am hugely and increasingly disillusioned and am struggling to bring myself to attend games. I moved to Charlton in 1987 to be closer to the club and what has been much of my social life until recently. This season I haven't bothered with any of the cup matches and have decided not to bother with some of the home games - probably a consequence of not buying a season ticket for the first time since the 70's. On rare occasions in the past I have favoured something else over a home match e.g. a 6 Nations game I have already bought tickets and flights for well in advance of the fixture list. This season, however, I have missed games because I couldn't face it and have watched TV at home instead. I haven't missed it and, frankly, I have been pleased to have missed most of them given the performances and results.

If Duchatelet's here in August I am contemplating giving up altogether. I can't bring myself to get excited about the eighth manager in three years. The Player Farm model doesn't work for me. It's about profit, pure and simple, and it's at the expense of any footballing ambition or serious first-team strategy. You know it's become really bad when you are disappointed we nicked a point at Southend.

Talking of Southend, I only picked-up on the late equaliser which we just about deserved but like MK Dons before them, the Shrimpers could and maybe should have been out-of-sight before half-time. Youngster Joe Aribo gets a call out as having played his best game for us so far but even that positive is tinged with the obvious conclusion that he moves onto the sales ladder behind Esra Konsa and Ademola Lookman who will move to Everton this week. To fill the gap we have a loanee from Chelsea who we have zero chance of seeing play for us for any length of time - everything is temporary or unambitious for the first team. A couple of Robinson's old MK Dons players anyone? It's League One ambition at best, pure and simple.

As I look forward to 2017 I am desperate to see Duchatelet pass the baton to someone, anyone, with some ambition and honesty. I don't care if we continue to struggle because of lack of funds because we have done that under a billionaire owner who has tried to dupe us. The sheer arrogance of the man who has imposed the harridan Meire on us and who has refused point-blank to remove her despite ongoing failing, persistent incompetence and enough collateral club damage to sink a battleship, is enough to make the blood boil.

I believe Duchatelet will sell and that he is active on that front. They will deny it all day long for obvious reasons but my fear is that he won't find a buyer because no-one is likely to pay over-the-odds because of his failure to understand the true worth of the club given the shrinkage and damage he has presided over as Meire has failed spectacularly.

Beyond that, I am saddened that we have an apparent split in the remaining fan-base. The ongoing protests have been vociferous and too persistent for some. Those who perhaps will come what may and who aren't so interested in club politics. Those who recognise we have always been a selling club and that, since the War at least, we have lost more games than we have won. Those for whom, frankly, Charlton is not one of the biggest things in their lives. I am confident they are the minority and that they aren't necessarily happy with Duchatelet either but are bloody-minded enough not to get drawn in. 

The real danger for 2017 is that Duchatelet remains, the decline in the fan-base continues and the Club continues to shrink to a new perma-low with irreparable damage. I for one, am contemplating packing it in next season if there is no real change. Happy New Year Addicks, we can but hope and dream - I will continue to protest for now.