Friday, 22 February 2019

Pivotal game tomorrow

Tomorrow's trip to AFC Wimbledon could prove a defining moment in Charlton's promotion push. After a poor run of recent results post-Karlan Grant's sale and with question-marks about the state of player's expiring contracts, Lee Bowyer is desperate for three points that may allow us to turn a corner.

Failure to win tomorrow and the next two away at Doncaster Rovers and at home to Portsmouth begin to look very tricky indeed. Doncaster are in form and know that they can push us into sixth by beating us and Portsmouth, who have been struggling of late too, will also come to the Valley looking for 'six points' and given our record in live Sky games and against sides with a noisy following  they are probably favourites to get them. Peterborough are our other main rivals for a play-off place and after a stuttering couple of months, they now have Darren Ferguson back in charge and I suspect will now find some form, some goals and points.

So tomorrow then and what should be a comfortable away win on paper given league placings. However, the Wombles won away in the week with Joe Piggott notching a hat-trick. He and Scott Wagstaffe won't need any more motivation and we need to see the best from Lyle Taylor as he returns to his old stomping ground. It's very difficult to see where are goals are going to come from aside from Taylor. Midfielders do chip in every now and again but we have no-one in the Ricky Holmes sort of form that promises more than the odd goal. Igor Vetokele and Josh Parker will inevitably get the odd goal but the pair of them won't fill the Grant gap and neither look like play-off contender strikers.

So, I think it's hard to see us scoring more than one or two goals and I'd probably take one goal now if offered which means we need to keep a clean sheet. The other elephant-in-the-room tomorrow is Taylor's need to avoid another booking which would draw another suspension. Not easy to play down your natural aggressiveness, especially when up against former team-mates who will be out to goad him.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Three cheers for Blackpool FC

The Seasiders roll into the Valley on Saturday for a proper play-off six-pointer. It's a fiver game so the gate will be larger than usual and, no doubt, swelled again by news from yesterday that the 'Orrible Oystens have finally lost control of the club they have been destroying for years.

The courts finally got around to hearing Valeri Belokon's claim for money he was already awarded in a previous ruling against the Oystens. The outcome was righteous and the Oysters will be forced to pay Belokon £25m and Blackpool FC is now in the hands of the Receiver for re-sale. It's unclear what that will mean for Blackpool and there may well be a significant points deduction to come which would effectively remove them as a play-off challenger for us, but nothing will take the shine off the fans victory. 

The behaviour of Owen Oyston and his odious son Karl has been sickening to follow for years as they have used the courts and their wealth to pursue individual supporters for anything they can prove that has been said on social media that could be deemed damaging in anyway to their reputation - arrogant and bullying against their own supporters. Some of the outbursts from Karl in particular showed him up for the sort of person he is and in the end he has alienated the people of Blackpool in the process not to mention muddying the Oyster even further in the country at large.

No doubt the Oystens still have millions squirrelled away and can continue to live the millionaire lifestyle but they can't escape the final defeat over their disastrous ownership of Blackpool. Three cheers for the supporters of BFC who have fought such a long and dignified battle to out the Oystens. The club will have a bumpy road ahead but the rebuilding can begin now and the feel-good factor will flood back.

Good always wins out in the end and the same will happen for us one day. 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Time for action

After another disappointing 'post-Karlan' result yesterday - a 1-1 draw against ten man Southend - it really is time that rank and file Charlton fans united to send Duchatelet another simple message.

Poor Lee Bowyer has made it very clear that he has been shafted by Duchatelet in the January window and left with very few attacking options. Shorne of Lyle Taylor through suspension, he was left to try and fashion something from the leftovers yesterday. Igor Vetekole started another quiet game and he really does look like he is past his previous best following successive injuries. Fosu and Mark Marshall also failed to ignite the blue touchpaper, with Fosu again lambasted by fans for his disinterested showing. Indeed, Bowyer himself was publicly critical of the pair in a rare move which shows his growing frustration and perhaps a last chance warning for the duo. 

Josh Parker did at least get a run out and looked ok by comparison with his colleagues but it's looking very difficult to see how we have any realistic chance of promotion from here. The automatics are effectively beyond us now and we look locked in for a fight to gain the last play-off place. Thankfully, we are not being pressed yet by any of those immediately around us - Peterborough lost again yesterday. Blackpool are the other side closest to us and whilst we have a nine point advantage, they do have a couple of games in hand and a six-pointer at the Valley looming large.

Bowyer is also talking publicly of his desperation to bring in a free-agent striker but options for anyone capable of making a difference look limited and he is also making it clear that he would need "the owner's agreement" which sounds like he has no mandate.

To make matters worse, we are all well aware that the majority of our squad effectively have no deal come June and that should be a very loud alarm bell ringing for Bowyer and Jackson. Dillon Phillips was renewed this week but the main problem remains and it includes Bowyer and Jackson. 

Irrespective of where De Turck might be with any fabled takeover - another entertaining update from the next Fans forum eagerly awaited - Roland Duchatelet needs to get his head out of his arse and sort this situation out before Bowyer and Jackson are made offers from elsewhere. 

My plea to season ticket holders is to refuse to renew until Bowyer and Jackson's future is secured. We may end up with half a team come June but with the right management set-up you have half-a-chance. Without it, we are in deep, deep trouble next season.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Duchatelet doesn't disappoint the doubters

We entered this January transfer window in the Meire-fabled position of a side competing well in the division with ambitions for promotion. This was always her mantra that she used to explain Roland Duchatelet's approach to ambition, investment and promotion in particular. It was also intended to be a trigger moment to invest or even speculate in the window in an attempt to get promoted.

Five successive January windows have failed to see any net improvement in the squad and most have been articulated by cashing in of the most saleable assets and replacement with free transfers or loanees who typically haven't filled the void left.

So, as we entered into January there appeared to be a split in the fanbase over what would happen between the cynical anti-Duchatelet supporters of the club who knew what to expect and those who thought that Duchatelet had now seen some light with a possible sale and perhaps a possible window of investment in the hope of being able to sell a Championship side at an improved price etc.

Indeed, the early moves to replace the keeper we needed (Maxwell to replace Steer), the injury-hit left-back situation (Purrington) and the surprise signing of Williams to bolster the also injury-hit midfield looked promising. We all knew that an additional goal-scorer was needed to provide cover for Taylor and Grant and the decision to offload Ajose set the pulses racing that we were going to strengthen here too. 

Sadly, Taylor's dismissal during the Accrington match meant we were in additional short-term need, not only for his three match ban but also because another booking before the end of March would see him face an additional two game suspension for having accumulated ten yellow cards. As if to compound matters interest in Karlan Grant intensified. Bowyer told us he was confident the kid would stay but with only six months left on his contract before he became a free agent, there was a clear risk that Duchatelet would once again cash-in. Brentford has reputedly offered a £1m which was clearly a tempter and then the desperate Huddersfield Town emerged with more money.

In the last week of the window Bowyer was forced to tell us that Grant might indeed leave but that he and Steve Gallen had four possible replacements in the wings and that hoped to bring two in. Grant went for £2m in a deal confirmed on Wednesday but acknowledged done at the weekend, which lead to the eventual last-day nonsense for us, yet again. At this point the cynics knew the game was up. For all that I sat up watching the updates of Luton and Sunderland signing everyone they could and waited for the token Duchatelet contribution.

With 90 minutes to go we got it - Josh Parker from Gillingham - another desperately late looking Joe Dudoo signing. Apparently their current third choice striker (plays as a winger?) and they had earlier signed Ricky Holmes, our last year £1m asset sale in January on a loan deal. The irony was rich. I can't recall Josh Parker but one look at the 28 year old Wiki entry told me why. I also said to myself, "I bet he scored against us last season." That's usually how it works - and so he did.

According to the official site, Bowyer was pleased with the deadline day signing of Parker but he was 'disappointed we couldn't manage to bring another body into the building." Apparently we had it lined up but "the other club stopped it last minute because they couldn't get what they wanted." Reading between the lines it looks very much like we may have been relying on getting a last minute deal within our budget which didn't wash but if it was Mo Eisa from bristol City then they chose to hold on as they couldn't get their man in. That would fit with Duchatelet's approach to January and why they have all seen us come out weaker, not stronger. The £2m for Grant was good money ordinarily and hard not take in the circumstances but why not cut Bowyer some slack? Simple really because it's all about the money with Roland which some of our supporters still don't get because they think it's all small beer to him.

So, fingers-crossed our match at Fleetwood is off tomorrow to give us a bit longer towards getting Igor ready again for a handful of matches and perhaps settling Josh Parker in so he can give us his best. Worth remembering Lyle Taylor's call out earlier this month that now was the time for Roland to back his manager. Hard to see how he can't be left personally disappointed that he will start his next game without Grant or even Ajose for the last twenty minutes if needed. 

Perhaps the failure to land someone else may leave a bit more money in the kitty to improve a few deals to get some key contract extensions agreed? If not, the club could see events out-of-their hands come June where we may lose some players we will struggle to replace in terms of quality. Bauer has been clear he will be off and I would now add Lyle Taylor although Duchatelet is always likely to cash in on him anyway given he will attract a decent fee. You wonder who else will have made their minds up yesterday and just what affect this will have on team morale. I would say "in Bowyer we trust" but maybe Lee is also now eyeing his own options up come his contract expiry in June and deciding that he's never going to get the support his abilities have deserved so far under Duchatelet and that he may have already done enough here given the impossible circumstances to merit a better offer elsewhere.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Farewell Karlan

The South London Press is reporting that the latest player to be sold to help balance the books will be Karlan Grant (Ahearne-Grant). Absolutely no surprise here and in addition to him missing training on Friday, manager Lee Bowyer had no further comment when asked after the 0-0 draw at Peterborough yesterday. 

The rumour-mill has several clubs linked but desperate Huddersfield Town look likely to hand Roland Duchaletet something in the region of £1.5m in order to secure his services now and not have to wait until he is out-of-contract in June. Ordinarily it's the logical thing to do if you have failed to extend the players' contract and he is adamant he won't renew but that itself is a major failing, especially with a young player like Grant who I believe could have been encouraged to stay for another year or two and ensure his development towards the finished article rather than risk oblivion in someone else's backroom had it been managed properly and in good time.

It's a bit of a no-brainer for the 21-year old Charlton boy who has to try and secure his financial future. The Academy youth product has been a slow-burn since coming into the side but he has hit 14 goals this season (should have been 15 yesterday) and, more importantly, forged a real striking partnership with Lyle Taylor. To be fair to Grant, he has often played in weaker sides, coming on from the bench, often on his own upfront and never quite getting a settled run until this season. I think the Premier League will come too soon for Karlan but Championship football next year may give him a chance to establish himself in league above where we operate which I guess would represent a successful move.

In terms of the bigger picture, of course, it's just the latest annual Duchatelet mid-season weakening of the side. I have no doubt that Bowyer will be allowed to bring in yet another stop-gap on Grant's wages but that simply isn't good enough for a club the size of Charlton Athletic with its attendant ambitions. Lee Bowyer, too, must be wondering what chance he really has of achieving anything with us given the repeat behaviour. His own contract is up in six months time along with over a dozen of the existing squad. I can fully appreciate they have a backs-to-the-wall mentality which Bowyer is managing brilliantly but at some point it will be in spite of Charlton, not because of them. 

There were 2600 excited Addicks at Peterborough yesterday fuelled by a promotion optimism which looks hopelessly misplaced on the back of Grant being allowed to leave with Ajose having been moved on and Taylor still to serve another two-match suspension. You wouldn't run a pub team like this. Games-in-hand for those around us suggest that top-two will be out of reach and we are left with scrapping for the lottery of the play-offs. Can you imagine us going into the play-offs with most of the team due to see their contracts end the following week? Most will already have lined-up new clubs or at least determined to move on from Charlton. Doesn't fill you with any confidence does it?

A total collapse in season ticket sales is the only thing that might finally force Duchatelet to compromise sufficiently to sell the club but that seems a pipe-dream given the numbers who have renewed year-on-year irrespective. Will it never end?

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Crunch time

An opening goal and an assist from Nicky Ajose this afternoon on his debut for Mansfield Town who continue to press for promotion from League Two. I am not complaining about letting him go out on loan given I don't think he's been good enough for us since we signed him. However, timing is important and his shift this week without cover has now left us exposed.

A late, late Karlan Grant penalty saved the day at the Valley against Accrington Stanley and keeps us in the hunt but it came after Lyle Taylor was red carded and means we now face a couple of testing away trips to Peterborough and Fleetwood without the talismanic hitman. Grant has been holding his end up all season but the folly of again running an unbalanced squad threatens to hurt us. Morgan Fairchild-Hackett is too inexperienced to expect to step-in and provide adequate cover so we really need to hope that Bowyer is given more financial support to get someone in next week. Arguably we need them until May in any event but failure to shore us up in the next two matches could prove very costly.

With Karlan Grant himself the subject of transfer speculation, you have to wonder if there are any more bumps in the road. I don't see any real threat of losing him to Rangers this season given who they already have and the recent addition of Jermaine Defoe, although he's an obvious pre-contract target. That is also the case for an alarming number of our other squad players and one or two have already made it clear they will be off - Patrick Bauer being the most notable. If an all-consuming takeover suddenly happens, this might not be a bad thing as it would give new owners a clean sheet if they had serious spending ambitions. However, you would like to think it would be a case of evolution and that we would really like to see the nucleus of the side kept together and strengthened rather than any wholesale changes.

The situation could quickly change with a number of players being signed up on new terms but you have to wonder what motivation, if any, Duchatelet has to do this, particularly if it's going to increase his running costs (which would seem inevitable) and if he still hasn't got line-of-sight to a sale that gets him off the hook. 

Meanwhile, illness prevented me from getting up to see Andy Holt at the White Swan pre-match as I was very much looking forward to hearing from the man voted the Best Football Club owner in England. He is someone who really understands the responsibility of owning a football club and the fact that the value of the club in its community is far more than the cost of its assets and debts. I am looking forward to the CAST report on what he had to share as I am sure it would have been illuminating and entertaining.

Meanwhile, the Wings also managed a 1-0 home win over Eastbourne Borough this afternoon at PVR and stay in play-off contention in National League South. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Boycotter's Dilemma

As Lee Bowyer continues his determined push to win promotion, I find myself in an increasingly difficult and uncomfortable position as an affirmed 'boycotter.' 

The last five years have totally convinced me that the club cannot be successful under an owner who has zero positive emotional attachment or interest to the club and whose track record has been to ultimately prioritise operational finance decisions above football ambitions. There is a growing argument that, so far, this season may look different come April, but there should be no doubt about the previous four and half years.

My decision to stop attending matches after 39 years of loyal home and away support (practically every home game, albeit less away matches in more recent years as I have aged and completed over 100 league grounds) was borne out of total frustration with Duchatelet (and Meire who carries a large chunk of the can) and a realisation that money was his only driver and that the sooner he knew he had lost the majority of the fans, the quicker he would finally get real and sell up. I don't buy the lazy view that he couldn't care less because he's a billionaire. The facts don't support this. He has been clear since day one that he was never going to throw money at ownership (I didn't have a problem with that and was actually quite impressed he was upfront and didn't pretend otherwise). 

However, he has repeatedly sold the better players to reduce his operating losses, regardless of the impact to each season and the success of the football team. Remember, he sold our top scorer in Kermogant within weeks of taking over and at a time when we were in relegation trouble and struggling to get goals. He has continued in this approach and the only real difference was his decision to hang on to Ademola Lookman for another window which won him a much larger fee. I won't list all the others because we all know them. If we add to this the early days 'network players' who, for the most part, were very poor and the long list of subsequent loanees and free transfers, it's also clear that the overall squad has been impoverished. Remember too that this has been in League one for the most part.

In addition to the deliberate lack of first team funding - I am sure we might have done better with the budget had we had competent management (Katrien Meire's complete lack of experience combined with reliance upon that ridiculous Belgian schoolboy who convinced Duchatelet he could pick players from playing Football Manager in his bedroom) - Duchatelet has exposed himself in the last couple of years with his pointless penny pinching and open focus on minimising his operational losses. I could go on about all the other cost-cutting, like his decision not to replace departing members of the senior management team and run the club on a skeleton crew but again, I would hope we all know and understand this.

So in summary, I have been convinced that we cannot progress whilst he owns the club and that only a continued drop in revenues was the only thing left open to us, as supporters, to get the futility of his situation through to him and speed his exit.

During the last two seasons as more supporters have joined the 'boycott' we have also seen a corresponding rise in the numbers of those who 'just want to support the team' and who have been keen to urge the stay-aways to come back to support the side. This has caused a lively internet debate and some friction between supporters although I am pleased to say that hasn't really surfaced at games, where clearly, anyone present is supporting team, home and away.

Back to the Boycotters Dilemma, we now reach half-way in a season where Lee Bowyer has continued to defy the odds of his budget and unfortunate injuries to be sitting handily placed in fourth with hopes of a hitherto unlikely promotion. The team are playing good football and we actually have a scoring front pair which is also encouraging the 'just support the team' crowd to continue to advocate for a Boycotters return.

I should also add, at this stage, that many Boycotters (including me) have also found themselves in the hard-to-believe situation of, for the first time ever, not caring too much if the side loses or slides on the basis that the quicker we fail under Duchatelet the sooner he was likely to pull stumps and the recovery process could begin. News earlier this year that he was now ready to sell the club and his acknowledgement that he had made a big mistake buying us because he had little interest, underlined the Boycotter's beliefs and allowed many to move on from the lack of concern about results thing although it still remains a case of 'only when he's gone.'

We still need to negotiate the January window intact but the decision to bring three bodies in to strengthen the squad, including the surprising addition of Jonny Williams, has all fans looking up and the lure of possibly watching a promotion redemption story increasingly attractive. No doubt many will return simply because they want to witness it if continues to be a possibility or looks even more likely, however, there will remain the risk that they are again contributing to Duchatelet's losses with the possibility that there will still be no sale.

The most recent takeover speculation has also fuelled this debate and, to some extent, both increased the call 'to return' as well as almost inevitable disappointment that there is still no end in sight and that to some extent expectations are once again being managed.

Personally, I will continue my boycott until the club is under new ownership but I am firmly rooting for Bowyer and the boys because, ultimately, I want the club to be successful and if there is a chance we could be taken over as a Championship side or a Championship side-in-waiting, then that would be too good a slice of fortune to turn-down. 

I also find myself reflecting that Duchatelet's ownership has permanently damaged my life-long love affair with Charlton Athletic so things may never be the same again after he has finally shuffled off. Pretty sure I am not alone and that, ultimately, will be Duchatelet's legacy.