Thursday 30 August 2007

Double-swoop boosts Addicks for Palace derby

Alan Pardew looks to be about to deliver on his plans to strengthen the Charlton defence ahead of the crunch Palace game - The loan signings of ex-Valley favourite Danny Mills and Readings' no-nonsense Sam Sodje will add quality and bite to the Addicks defence.

Pardew has pulled off something of a coup here as both could reasonably have expected to stay in the Premiership. Both are experienced, this side of 30, and both will bring some quality, organisation and leadership. Mills must be favourite to start at Selhurst Park in the absence of Yassin Moutaouakil and I suspect Sam Sodje might warm the bench to help maintain concentration of the centre-back pairing. It's a risk introducing two new players in the same game at this stage of the season, so if Sodje starts I think it might reflect considerably more disappointment from Alan Pardew with his defence than he has previously let on. What Pardew has done here is act on his earlier warnings to his squad, something that Curbs was pretty poor at....

This match is traditionally Madras-hot and will be spicier still since we last met; Palace having been relegated in the last few minutes of that game; Richard Murray's dismissal of Simon Jordan following the match; the bag of chips that Simon Jordan carries on his shoulders about our club ever since.

Charlton will be roared on by their 2400 allocation on Saturday which is well down on what we've had there as visitors in the past. Maybe it's a reflection of a smaller capacity at Selhurst or perhaps all they can spare if they are confident of selling out? I guess they only get 3,000 at the Valley, so perhaps I shouldn't complain too loudly.

Palace have a settled squad of players and looked very well organised at Ipswich on Sunday, where they were unfortunate not have come away with something. They had a quiet pre-season in the transfer market and looked weaker to me for it. I was surprised therefore, with their opening day win at Southampton although their late-equilising draw at home to Leicester was more what I had half-expected and hoped for.

I would love to see Pards take a few gambles on Saturday and play with plenty of adventure. We have shown that we can buzz a bit going forward and attack may well be the best form of defence on Saturday, irrespective of who's in the back four. Either way, I can't wait. Who's for a song?

Show me the way to Sel-hurst park!

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Charlton Athletic 4 v Stockport County 3

As if Saturday's dramatic 3-2 win the Valley wasn't enough, Charlton went one better this evening by losing a two-nil lead and then going on to win the match in the last couple of minutes.

Increasingly, early round League Cup games take on the form of handicap matches with the "bigger" club usually deciding to rest players and field a team that they hope should be good enough to get the result, usually with some big gun reinforcements on the bench. That was precisely what happened tonight.

Randolph started in goal, with a back-four of Semedo, Fortune, McCarthy and Powell. You could add Faye to that but I think he was supposed to playing in midfield with French debutant, Thierry Racon, Zheng Zhi and Lloyd Sam with Todorow and McLeod up top.

The side acquitted themselves well in the first half and were unfortunate not have scored earlier than Todorov's opener from 20 yards which was a quality strike and a reminder of some of the class difference on show. McLeod was very busy and the front pairing were supported well from Zheng Zhi, Racon and Sam who was thriving on strong and quick raiding support from Semedo, who looked even more comfortable at right-back than he did at left-back on Saturday. Indeed it was Mcleod who was brought down after turning and wriggling free in the box that lead to a twice taken penalty for the second goal just before half-time; Zheng converting after the initial effort was missed by McLeod.

The second half started much as the first had, a reasonable League Cup crowd (8,000-ish) were looking for the third to kill the game. Unfortunately, this was the signal for Stockport to dominate for a 15 minute spell during which they scored three times and forced a superb reflex save from Randolph in the process. The back four, and probably the centre-back pairing, in particular, went to sleep during this period. They were not helped by a careless back-pass from Faye which lead to the equaliser or by McCarthy failing to cut out a secondary ball from a corner for the lead. I don't think this did much for fledgling Randolph's confidence either. Stockport's noisy 400 following could barely contain themselves on taking the lead and the Valley faithful took a deep breath and braced themselves for the finale.

Charlton stepped up a gear at this point and created a string of chances, the best of which was a 50-yard, three man inter-passing and running move involving Sam, Zheng and Todorov. Todorov's deft flick over Adamson just missing the post. Todorov also clipped the bar with a delightfully curled shot from out left. Lloyd Sam was having the best ten minutes of his career in his best Charlton performance to date. He was up-ended after another powerful run and from the resulting free-kick exacted his revenge. He struck a perfect low and hard shot which looked to have moved slightly around the wall before streaking in at the keeper's left hand post. The Valley was buzzing and Charlton pressing for the winner to avoid 30 minutes of extra time.

Iwelumo was on for McLeod and Ambrose came on for Racon. Iwelumo was threatening and had one header ruled offisde for pushing before Ambrose fired narrowly wide after a burst through the box. With two minutes remaining Paddy McCarthy finally jumped to head a ball and his delight was obvious as his header crashed home our last corner of the game.

Alan Pardew's post-match comment will be interesting. Plenty more positives but the centre-back pairing is not right yet. I sincerely hope someone comes in for Amdy Faye. He's had plenty of opportunity to prove his worth and tonight was the straw that broke the camel's back for me; I can forgive a player without the ability but not one who repeatedly doesn't try his best. Unless Pards has a good explanation, he was playing nowhere this evening in between defence and midfield. He was by-passed with ease and failed to make any telling contribution other than handing Stockport the equaliser. Ten men wouldn't have fared any worse.

For my money, Lloyd Sam was man of the Match. Another couple of performances like this and he will begin to emerge as the talent we hope he is.

Next stop Norwood Junction!

Monday 27 August 2007

Stockport Interlude

Jim "the Ghost" Gannon brings his second division side to the Valley this evening for what promises to be an interesting encounter after the heroics of Saturday. Stockport are undergoing something of a revival under Gannon but should find us too strong, especially away from home. I know we have only played them a handful of times and our record is very poor - I'm sure they did the double last time around.... I remember leaving the County Ground shortly after they went 3-0 up, the Alan Curbishley stare followed me all the way out of the ground. I'm only pleased he didn't feel compelled to gesticulate.

The crowd will be interesting for this one following the disappointing turnout for the Braga game earlier this month. Based upon the 20,000 Charlton fans there on Saturday and probably 21,500 for the Scunthorpe match, you would think we might hold up for close to 10,000. My suspicion is it might be nearer 5,000 and I can't see Stockport adding more than 500. At least we have the pricing right at £10 for adults and £5 for concessions.

I'm taking Pardew to rest three or four. Partly because we have a reasonable sized squad to select from and also because Palace are already out and can expect to be a tad fresher come Saturday. I don't think he'll do anything more dramatic than that baring in mind the need for more games for the emerging team. Despite being lower opposition, I don't think we'll be fretting about the consequences of defeat here either and we should expect to create enough decent chances.

Finally, I see Thomas Graveson is being offloaded by the Bhoys. Fingers-crossed-every-so -tightly that it might come to pass. Always struck me as a "Charlton-type" and I'm sure he has something left to give as well as to prove after his relative disappointments since leaving Everton.

Come on you Reds!

Up and running!

Why, oh-why do Charlton Athletic always do this to us? At 4pm on Saturday afternoon, I was feeling queasy; a bottom-of-the-table placing looked on the cards and all the early season optimism looked about to be quashed. Doubting Thomas had been whispering to me for weeks that we have bought a team of unknowns for the Championship and that we face another season of disappointment because of it. To make matters even worse, Wednesday have conceded 7 so far this season and looked very ordinary despite the two-goal lead.

I reminded myself that Pardew is to be trusted completely. He speaks with total confidence doesn't he? He doesn't panic. He can judge a player. He's been here before and gone on to build promotion winning sides. Surely he will now be doing what he does best and we will see a second half renaissance. Even if we don't win, we can grab a point. It will likely take a couple of months before our new team is firing on all cylinders. We've been at rock bottom before - remember the dozens of regular faces drinking in the bar under the Covered End. Driven there in sheer frustration whilst the game was still being played. Determined to get some meagre enjoyment out of another day of Charlton disappointment.

Cue the second half revival. Zheng Zhi's introduction gives immediate balance and composure to the midfield. Thomas gets slightly wider and starts thinking about crossing and not winning free-kicks. Todorov is holding the ball up and linking play. Semedo looks strangely more comfortable at full back. Reid performs his trademark shift of weight and bang! 1-0 with still 40 minutes to go! They are beginning to play now. Wednesday are shrinking and the gaps are beginning to appear. Zheng is swarming in midfield and pings a through-ball into the path of Big Chris who shows us for the first time that there might be more to his game than his height and shoulders suggest. And doesn't he looked pleased with himself? Not sure I could look happier if I had scored the equaliser. Something tells me we can get a winner here. Can't remember us doing this since...Coventry in the F A Cup? More flowing football and chances before Big Chris does it again. Another run and shot fired in followed by unbridalled celebrations. Pleased too for Bougherra who avoided the temptation to rise to the bait of the taunting Owls fans and even now remains restrained, although he has been pushing forward like never before in the last 15 minutes, determined to see a winner.

The obvious cliche is heard twice before I get to my exit. The spirits are lifted, we are off and running. If only we can play like this at Palace on Saturday.

Come on you Reds!