Friday 30 May 2008

"Such a big much ambition"

Those the words of new signing Mark Hudson as he revealed to the South London Press (sic) why Charlton offer him the complete package. If Hudson turns out to be at least as tidy as he has been for Palace this season, then he could become a Valley favourite despite the mistakes of the past.

Money obviously played a part and he clearly thought he was worth more than the Palace wage structure. However, as his comments in this article suggest there were genuine other reasons. He had other offers (QPR were keen) but chose Charlton because of the manager, the size of the club and our ambition etc. It's good to remind ourselves that it was not always this way. QPR were once a bigger club than Charlton or Palace and in the past it was Palace who could afford to break the transfer record between London clubs when they signed Mick Flanagan from us, the best player we had at the time. Flanagan, of course, subsequently went on to QPR at a time when we could not have afforded to bring him back. Interesting also to note that the implication of Hudson's move is that any Palace player is probably available if you can offer wages above their salary ceiling. Not sure there's any others I would want but they might yet lose a few more to bigger predators....

The Premiership has certainly been kind to Charlton and seven years in the top flight have elevated the status of our club, probably more than we realise it. That's another key reason why we need to be promoted in the spring of 2009 because our currency is declining and another season outside the top flight in 2009-10 could signal the end of our serious top flight ambitions without a significant change in the funding and management of the club.

I think we Charlton fans gave it everything at the start of last year and I am sure we will do so again. Confidence will be key and we desperately need a fast start to get us going. The fixture list might help us here and we should see it in a fortnight. I can't wait.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Hoolahan hopes fading fast?

Transfer speculation re Blackpool's Wes Hoolahan has intensified and it looks like there is genuine interest from a number of Championship clubs e.g. Southampton and Plymouth. Our Modus Operandi in the transfer market under Peter Varney has been to tie the deal up in the background and close it quickly before drawing too much attention to ourselves. On the occasions that media speculation has come early and other clubs have entered the fray, our inclination has been to back out rather than get into an auction and pay more than we had originally intended or that we belive the player may actually be worth.

It will be interesting to see how Steve Waggoot handles this, if we are actually pursuing him, but my suspicion is we might pass rather than be forced to pay over the odds.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Today's transfer rumours

Latest rumours link us with two Championship midfielders; Norwich's Darel Russell and Blackpool's Wes Hoolahan. The rumours from both are emanating from the places themselves and both are mentioning other Championsip clubs as being interested. Sounds like it could be another case of wishful thinking or the first move at stimulating the market.

Mark Fotheringham would have been a better buy than Darel Russell and the fact he chose to stay put hardly strengthens the case for Russell. Wes Hoolahan, however, is a different story. He was, at least, tormentor-in-chief when they handed us our biggest skelping of the season. He's a talented winger to boot and would fit the bill on that front. My guess is that Hoolahan will attract a lot more interest than Russell and that we might need to get involved in a bidding war if we were serious about him.

I wonder who we will be linked with tomorrow?

Monday 26 May 2008

Charlton Athletic - 1975-80

I was rummaging through the loft this morning looking for some baby bits (not long now), when I came across the box that contains my programmes and memorabilia from my first days following the Addicks. Baby bits quickly forgotten, the memories came flooding back......

I should explain that my Dad was a devout follower of the West London Blues (Charlie Cooke was responsible), so I was hauled off to Stamford Bridge once a fortnight so he could indulge himself. Chelsea then, were my team until the mid-70's when I first began to go to my local club. My parents had divorced by then so I was seeing far less of Chelsea and I was beginning to enjoy football at the Valley better than Stamford Bridge.

Along with 24,000+ others I was at the promotion game from the old Third Division in 1975. Derek Hales scored twice to wrap up a 3-1 win and everyone went home happy. I began to go to games at the Valley more frequently in 75-76 and 76-77, and finally bought my first season ticket in 77-78. Like many others at this time, I used to move around the ground to watch the game dependent on the weather and which way Charlton were kicking. The East Terrace was a great vantage point but the Covered End was warmer, dryer and a much livelier place to watch the game.

You couldn't go a game at that time without hearing the words "sleeping giants." The East Terrace seemed full of old men who were living in the past and the conversation was invariably the same every week wherever you stood. "Bartram," "Leary," "Sailor Brown" and many others were often spoken of with nostalgia and affection. They could all remember the terrace being so full that children would be passed down to the front over the heads of the packed crowd. Not something that was easy to imagine when the crowd was 10,000 and you couldn't touch the person nearest to you without taking a step or two. Looking back on it, 1957 seemed a lifetime away and I was always struck by how strong the memories of First Division football were. That of course was 20 years ago at the time and I am now recalling events 30 years ago today!

We had the proud boast of the largest ground in England - 66,000 - although in truth the place was a mess; completely inadequate toliet facilities for men and nothing to speak of for women. The mens urinals were open-air and basic concrete boxes. On busy match-days desperate men urinated against the concrete slatted walls which ran around the perimeter of the ground. Facilities for food and drink were not much better. Most people brought there own drinks and sandwiches if anything. Peanut sellers roamed the East Terrace providing the most basic of Percy Dalton snacks. The bar at the back of the Covered End was at least under the cover of the stand but it was pretty basic. Crates of bottle beer were wheeled around on match-days and the choices were limited; pale ale, light ale or brown ale. Lager was still strictly for women and I don't recall ever seeing any in the Covered End bar.

The club was still family owned by the Jewish Gliksten family and an anti-semetic under-current was never far from the surface. The hard-core Valley faithful blamed the Glikstens for profiteering over the years and massive lack of investment. It was hard to ignore the facts of this argument and any poor home showing or bad spell of results would result in an impromptu demonstration behind the West Stand of "Gliksten Out!"

Policing was a basic affair. My soon-to-be step-father was based at Westcombe Park nick and attended most matches on duty. The numbers of officers at any game was based on a view of the crowd per thousand and police numbers were paltry compared to those deployed in the last 10-20 years. Very often there would be six of them to manage the Covered End and these in the days of "taking" when visting supporters would try and occupy the home end en masse if they had the numbers and thought they could do so without too much serious opposition. He would tell me that they would get between rival "boot-boys" who were closing in for a showdown and then decide who they would whack when the fighting started. They couldn't afford to arrest anyone because it would have taken a couple of them out and they needed all the hands they could get to try and restore order. The visit of Cardiff City for the opener in 75-76 was the first time I saw this and I watched my step-father fighting with a handful of colleagues to contain the Welsh horde. I still dislike Cardiff to this day!

Football Clubs didn't see themselves as businesses in those days. "Marketing" and "merchandising" were still American words which had not made the mainstream and anyone uttering them was to be instantly distrusted. The Supporters Club hut (it was a wooden shed c 15 x 12 feet) sold boxes of old programmes, one enamel lapel badge (a white shield with a red circle and sword) and a selection of red and white bar or silk scarves. The wearing of more than one scarve marked you out as a fanatic and the sight of boot-boys with scarves around the neck, hanging from the wrists and belt were common-place. Doctor Martens were almost compulsory for the under 25's and the Donkey Jacket was the coat of choice. How hard were we?
Our support was obviously much smaller at the time and we had just come through 20 years of mediocrity. The promotion season from Division 3 apart, the rest of the 70's were uninspiring and my first few seasons prepared me well for any future disappointments (this season included). The numbers travelling to away games was also proportionately much smaller and you quickly got to know all of the regulars by face. I couldn't afford train travel at the time, so it was the coach for me. The club ran Valiant Travel or you could go with Lewis Coaches. Valiant Travel was run by Bill Treadgold and there were lots of rules and regulations to deter young herberts like me. Lewis's had far fewer rules and were often a bit cheaper. For the most part there would only be one coach from each or maybe two from Valiant Travel and one from Lewis's. Lewis's number one coach was driven by "Eddie, " a middle-aged lifetime coach-driver (his son is a regular today) and the passenger list hardly varied. Betty Hutchins and Joyce were always there. They helped collect fares, ensured everyone was back on board and sold club tickets etc. Sandra Chamberlain was also a regular as was John Rock. Betty still attends games as does her Daughter and I was delighted to bump into Sandra earlier this season on her way in. There was also always an elderley lady and her equally elderly son who seemed to be at every game I went to until the mid-eighties - "mun n son" as we used to refer to them.

Once you arrived at an away ground the other familiar faces soon appeared. Kevin and Tony Hopkins went everywhere as did Steve Hopkins (no relation). "Bulldog" was always there as was Donald Moore (carrier bag of programmes always in hand) and "Spanker" who we were always assured was Donald's brother. Spanker was always ready for a fight whereas Donald would be in the home club shop looking for missing Charlton programmes - they looked nothing like brothers either! The Martin's from Welling were stalwarts (still are I believe) but they travelled by car for the most part and would always overtake the coach at speed shortly after we had left town. There were many others I came to know in the early 80's who were probably attending these games too but I don't remember them readily from that time.
On the pitch we were pretty good at home but dreadful away from the Valley. We could expect two wins away from home and one of these would normally be a London derby. We were often beaten 4 or 5-0 away, and the 7-1 drubbing at Luton, 6-1 reverse at Preston and 5-1 at Blackpool (yes I know) live long in my memory. When we got going at home we could be unstoppable and the 4-0 win over Chelsea and the 4-1 thumping of Spurs were brilliant. I remember the 6-2 demolition of Southampton on a Friday night and the roller-coaster 4-3 win over high-flying Brighton, also a night-game. Night-games had a special atmosphere under the glow of the lights in the Covered End and it seems as if we always left the ground happy.
Maybe when the next Bank Holiday is rained-off, I'll get the boxes from the 80's out of the loft!

Warnock The Motivator

Having been unable to hang on to Mark Hudson, Neil Warnock has provided some parting motivation for the centre-half following his move to the Valley. Warnock has told the Croydon Guardian that the move is a mistake and that Hudson was going nowhere when Warnock arrived.

It's really good to see the emotion north of Brighton that this move has caused because you know we have got a decent player on the cheap. Neil Warnock would do well to remind himself that the whole Palace team was going nowhere when he arrived. If Hudson has over-performed, then so has the rest of the side. Palace's revival was built upon a sound defence, not a blistering attack and Mark Hudson was the mainstay of that defence. His departure will be a big loss for Palace and Warnock and Jordan might live to see his departure as a mistake for Palace.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Season ends on a high

No disrespect to Rochdale or Stcokport intended but the season finished today with a confirmed trip to Doncaster Rovers next season. I intend to be at this match and will go primarily to thank the good people of Doncaster for preventing us from having to endure the troglodites from Leeds. Leeds will be promoted next year but let's be grateful for small mercies.

It was a decent game and the best team won. Doncaster will thrive next season if they stick to the footballing basics that served them well this afternoon. I noted too that Mark McCammon is plying his trade there, so presumably we can expect to see him scoring aginst us in the coming year.

I see Mark Fotheringham has opted to stay at Norwich and has signed a one year term; hardly an offer he couldn't refuse, so you have to wonder if we were ever seriously interested. Shame because he's just the right sort of organiser leader we need and would have joined on a Bosman a la Mark Hudson.

C'mon Donny, make my day!

Hull City scraped past Bristol City at Wembley to secure 19th or 20th position in the Premier League next season depending on whether they can take more points off Stoke than City do off them. I know that sounds harsh but unless either of them spend the full £30m then they will surely follow Derby County's example this year. The good news for West Brom is that they only have to outpoint one of the existing Premier teams to stay up.

So to today, and I will be glued to the box urging Doncaster Rovers to repeat their league form at Elland Road and beat Leeds to join us in the Championship. Rovers haven't been in the second flight in my lifetime and under Sean O'Driscoll (ex-Fulham stalwart), they have passed their way into the play-offs and their 5-1 hammering of Southend might be the edge they need to sneak it today.

Friday 23 May 2008

Charlton land Palace Captain

In a surprise move, Palace's out-of-contract captain and centre-half, Mark Hudson, has today signed for the Addicks and becomes the first Summer signing for Alan Pardew. Hudson had expressed an intent to move from Selhurst Park but the smart money was on him opting for Iain Dowie's filthy lucre at QPR.

I think this is an encouraging signing. Hudson has been one of Palace's best players this season and he will compliment our defence. There is no fee and he's only 26. It's also another point scored over hapless Palace and you just know that Simon Jordan will not be pleased. Tweaking Iain Dowie's nose in the process is just the icing on the cake. I guess the implications are that we will shortly be waving goodbye to Madjid Bougherra and a permanent signing of Sam Sodje might look less likely.

News too that Matt Holland has signed for another year. Whilst I don't think he is good enough to play regularly at this level any longer, he can't be faulted for effort and rarely let's you down single-handedly. Sensibly he has accepted a one year deal which is pragmatic; many senior pros in similar positions insist in the extra year and talk themselves into moves they probably regret.

Elsewhere, Milan Mandaric has again found a fall-guy for his impatience and Ian Holloway has been sacked at Leicester (sorry Ian, but you only have yourself to blame). You have to hand it Milan, he puts his hand in his pocket when he does the dirty deed because everyone he sacks is always complimentary about him, the club and the fans they leave behind. Ian Holloway's quotes this evening almost mirror Martin Allen's word-for-word after he was unceremoniuously given the heave-ho by Mandaric after four matches in charge because he dared to disagree with Milan's attempt to sign Jimmy Floyd Cashinbank.

Three-in-a-row for the Bhoys

A calamitous 8 days for Glasgow Rangers last night as they were beaten in their final SPL match at Pittodrie and lost the championship to Celtic. On the back of their beating in the UEFA Cup final in Manchester, the hopes of the treble/quadruple have been smashed and they will need to raise themsleves again on Saturday for the Scottish Cup Final. To pour salt onto their wounds, Natcho Novo couldn't handle the goading in the bear-pit at Pittodrie last night and got himself a straight red for a violent tackle born of frustration seconds after Aberdeen put matters beyond doubt with their second goal.

The Bhoys were busy securing things for themselves by winning 1-0 at Dundee United. Against the odds four weeks ago, the much maligned Gordon Strachan has won his third successive SPL title, the first Celtic manager since the legendary Jock Stein to do so. Rumoured to be ready to quit and deeply affected by the death of his mate, Tommy Burns, it will be interesting to see if wee Gordie has a change of heart.

Thursday 22 May 2008

The end is nigh

As the final week of the domestic season draws to a close there are the last few things to be sorted out before we take a short break before the European Championships, the 08-09 fixtures and the start of the friendlies.

The Champions League was predictably settled on penalties in Moscow last night. I watched the first half but the lure of watching The Apprentice live proved too much for the second half. No, I can't get excited about Champions League football. I have come to accept it's something I will never see, so it''s hard to get aroused by it.

North of the border the SPL climaxes this evening and equally predictably it's a toss-up between Celtic and Rangers. Dundee United and Aberdeen get the chance to influence matters but you have to believe that neither will have enough to do that and Celtic will take the title on goal difference.

That leaves the Play-off Finals weekend. Almost 10 years to the day since our crowning moment, the cities of Bristol and Hull will clash at Wembley in the "£60m game." For either city, Premier League football will be a first although Bristol can still remember top flight football. I have no axe to grind here so will watch the game with an open mind and hope the better team on the day win. Hull have stormed into the play-offs whereas Bristol have slid down into them. Confidence will be with Hull but Bristol might just have enough steely determination to finish the job; the win over Palace was hard fought but they ground it out. So, I'll go for Bristol to edge it by the odd goal.

Leeds United also get the chance to re-join the Championship and whilst they would be a far bigger draw than Doncaster Rovers, I would love to see Donny deny them. Leeds were rightly docked 15 points in my mind and don't deserve promotion after the recent Ken Bates managed shenighans with Administration etc. May the spirit of '85 and Peter Shirtliff be with Doncaster this weekend - I suspect they will need it.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Joey Barton gets his comeuppance

Joey Barton, the Newcastle midfielder was today sentenced to 6 months in prison for assaulting a man and a 16 year old boy during the season of goodwill on Boxing day last year. He admitted to the charges (he was caught on CCTV) which included punching the man up to 20 times and of breaking the 16 year olds teeth minutes later. His excuse was having drunk 10 pints of lager and 5 bottles of beer and he is now citing a drink problem.

Barton is what Scousers refer to as a "no mark." He has plenty of form to support the incidents of Boxing Day and his excuses are paper thin; he was sent home from a pre-season tour after attacking a 15 year old Everton fan when Richard Dunne had to stop the attack. On that occasion he took anger management classes; at a Man City Christmas party he stubbed a cigarette out in team-mate Jason Tandy's eye. Since then he has managed to get into a fight with Ousman Dabo and effectively ended his career by giving him a detached retina.

Previous managers have colleagues have stood by him and done their bit to help when needed; Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce, David Moyes and now Kevin Keegan. It's time Barton learnt his lesson and realised that he is in a privileged position in the public eye. If he doesn't learn it now I suspect he never will and his future is mapped out for him. He will have to go some way to match his half-brother who is doing a 17 year stretch for his part in a racially motivated murder. Like I said, Barton is a no mark.

Monday 19 May 2008

4-1 to the Out Column?

Having seen Gibbs (thanks readers), Powell and Sankofa shown the door since the end of the season, speculation is rife that we could see more activity in the next 48 hours. Interest in Norwich's Mark Fotheringham continues and this one looks to have legs. The fourth player to leave the Valley looks like being Marcus Bent who will hopefully make his move to Wigan permanent with a £1m transfer fee. Not the £2m we've been talking about for over a year, but I guess he's 30 (today) and I'd take the money.

The next moves could involve Madjid Bougerra and Stuart Fleetwood. Surprisingly for me, Bougherra has sparked interest from Real Betis and that looks like having alerted Wigan. I would have expected Bougherra to have seen out his contract, so maybe Pards is willing to let him move on. If Madjid does leave, he will enter the "disappointing signing" for me, not quite having shown emough of the promise of his arrival - all those internet clips of his last ditch tackles and marauding forward runs which for the most part look to have been reserved for Sheffiled Wednesday and Crewe. The Stuart Fleetwood signing from Forest Green Rovers won't go away. Fleetwood, a former Welsh U21 has had a decent season scoring 36 goals but his previous league career of 65 appearances for Cardiff (13) and Hereford (52) was undistinguished with an 11 goal return, all for Hereford.

Finally, I thought the F A Cup final was very disappointing. Once Pompey got the lead it was all over as a contest and Pompey played like they knew it. Amazingly, that was the 23rd time this season they have scored first and they have won every one of those games. We didn't get the reverse stat but they must be close to having drawn or lost every game in which they have conceded first. Overall, I wasn't impressed with Portsmouth and haven't been for sometime. They look like they have opted for the physical approach to the game at the expense of flair and unless their squad improves, could find next season a struggle.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Osei makes two

Osei Sankofa has been released today after ten years with the club and after only a handful of first team appearances. He has been unlucky with injuries since breaking into the first team for his debut as far back as 2003 in a game against Manchester United. You have to feel sorry for Osei and think it might be a case of "what might have been." He's still only 24 and I last remember him being sent off at Arsenal for a challenge on Van Persie which only merited a booking in my opinion (Osei - I left within 20 minutes or so after you) . I wish him well in his search for a new club. Assuming he gets one, he will be confident of maintaining the tradition of a scoring return when we see him again.

Assuming Chris Powell has gone - and I am assuming he has (for now) after Pards was quick to state that we couldn't offer him a new deal, Sankofa's exit makes it 2-0 in the out column. I have a strong view that we will get to c 10-4 before the season re-starts and I suspect Ben Thatcher could be next to be shown the door. This might seem harsh, but it's what good managers do and Pardew knows there can be no room for sentiment, especially after the season we have had. The fact that we will shortly watch Hull and Bristol City play-off for the Premier League will again put this season's failings into sharp focus. In the meantime, I have had to watch dirty Leeds make Wembley; Gary McAllister looked and sounded surprisingly confident after the 1-2 home reverse about Leeds' chances in the away leg at Carlisle and so it has proved. My PMA, Karma, Voodoo, ESP etc will now focus on the Donny v Southend winners, although I thought Carlisle had the best chance of maintaining natural order and justice. I suppose the good people of Doncaster would relish the opportunity of leaving the "Champions of Europe" behind in the third division. C'mon Donny!

The strange case of QPR

I commented last week about the surprise parting of the ways of Luigi Di Canio and QPR after less than 12 months into a reasonable start as QPR manager. Having pulled them out of the drop zone and stabilised their season, more was expected for next year as the buying power of the wealthy QPR board begins to take effect.

So an even bigger surprise this week as the manager they had to have lined-up to replace Di Canio turns out to be none other than recent flop-everywhere-he's-been, Iain Dowie. How strange? Presumably, QPR were terrified of making too quick an announcement on Luigi's departure lest it look like Dowie was waiting in the wings.

I don't believe we gave Dowie long enough as our manager, but the fact is that he didn't set the world on fire at Coventry and his track record in spending big is not good. So this does not look like a good match; a club with plenty to spend and a manager who appears to be ready to buy just about anyone.

I guess we should be pleased because this looks like it could suit us next season. If Dowie under-performs again it might mean Rangers are less of a threat than they might otherwise be.

Talking of Rangers, I was disappointed to see them beaten by the Ruskies last night but, let's face it, they hardly deserved to win the UEFA Cup with the negative football they have been playing throughout the tournament. Justice was done and it was only fair that St Petersburg won it during full-time and Rangers did not get the chance to scrape another win on penalties.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Palace out, Leeds next?

I know it is small-minded and petty of me, but I just can't help it. I drew as much satisfaction from watching Palace go down at Ashton Gate last night as I have from any match since we walloped them at the Valley. One-up and then missing a penalty, Palace's torture was completed in extra-time by a Coty brace. The sight of Palace fans crying nearly brought tears to my own eyes.

The joyful misery of others is not over yet. No, next up we have the mouth-watering spectacle of seeing Leeds, Ken Bates and their ugly followers knocked out at Carlisle on Thursday evening. This would be particularly sweet to see, especially having just had their 15 point penalty upheld on appeal. 1986 all over again for Leeds. Twenty-two years ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday!

Tonight meanwhile, Hull City look favourites to finish Watford off and possibly push Aidy Boothroyd to the brink of the sack.

Monday 12 May 2008

Dave Davies & Darren Keogh

Shocking and sad news of the deaths of two frevent young fans. I heard the news of both this afternoon when I was stopped in the street when out for a run.

Darren's passing comes after battling serious illness for a long time and what must have been a massive strain for his family. He was a regular in the Royal Oak and will be missed by all his friends and known Charlton faces. At least he has some peace now.

The news of Dave Davies' death is a real shock and he will be equally missed. Another Royal Oak regular of the past, he always had some news or a view on something that was going on. He spent a small fortune on the golf machine in competition with landlord Ray a few years back and I will never forget bumping into him on a train back from the City on 9/11, as it was him who told me, excitedly, what had just happened in New York. The last time I saw him was a couple of months ago at Cannon Street and he told me he had moved from Charlton so wouldn't be sharing the train with me. Especially tragic, therefore, to hear he died as a result of an accident getting off the train at Barnehurst.

I'm not at all religous, but if there is anything after life, I hope these troopers have the satisfaction of going together.

Watford - Oh dear!

Our calamitous season looks like being surpassed by Watford's own. Similar for much of the season in terms of good away showings and inconsistent home form, Watford at least had the benefit of a great start and lead the table with a decent points lead until December. West Brom looked the only side capable of catching them but they collapsed Charlton-style during the second-half and only scraped a sixth spot play-off place. At least they had managed that and a chance to salvage promotion.

Yesterday's 0-2 home defeat by Hull City looks ominous and they will surely get knocked out at the KC on Wednesday. Poor old Aidy Boothroyd might be feeling the heat somewhat more intensely than Alan Pardew. You've got to feel for Watford fans at the moment. Maybe we can arrange an empathy session with their Supporters Club before our first meeting next season!

Sunday 11 May 2008

Such a perfect day

Summer is finally here and this year it has fallen over a weekend. Yesterday was a spectacular day. Slightly overcast at 7am when I was in the garden on snail patrol but warm enough to promise the wall-to-wall blue sky that appeared by 10am.

I had decided to finally confront the promise I had made to a neighbour and make her a hatch for her loft conversion. So three hours of dripping sweat later I tuned in to Radio 5 and the dulcet tones of Steve Claridge. Surely an omen, this, the man who knocked Palace out of the play-offs in years gone by "in the last minute."

Never has the last couple of hours of a job flown-by quite so quickly as I listened to Palace being outplayed at home for large spells of the game. Without Moses and Sinclair, you would have struggled to hear another Palace player mentioned. City took the lead and restored it near the end with a 25 yarder which sparked premature celebrations of a Wembley trip. City are obviously confident that they can finish the job but they need to remain focused as Palace may well bite back on Tuesday. Neil Warnock was none too pleased about the City players reaction and I would expect a bruising encounter on Tuesday.

A few pints of ice cold cider in sunshine outside the Royal Oak and dinner in the garden with the family early evening. No nagging depression of a poor Addicks performance and the satisfaction that Palace are half-way out of the play-offs. Bliss.

Elsewhere, Wyn reports Charlton interest in prolific non-league scorer Stuart Fleetwood from Forest Green Rovers and wonders if it indicates the departure of one of our existing strikers. As a Championship club with limited finances, we simply can't buy the finished article as far as strikers are concerned, so have to take chances with the likes of Iwelumo, Mcleod and Dickson. Todorov has scored regularly at this level but that was several years ago and he was also a risk. Varney was a hot shot at Crewe but he was still young and we paid reasonable money for him. Gray, too, was something of a risk based on his age and again we paid a fair price for him.

So, buying second rate goal-scorers is a risky business and I think it's a case of having to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince. Therefore, Fleetwood sounds like a good move to me. For only £250,000 and presumably modest wages, we will get the chance to see if he can cut it at a higher level. I wouldn't argue that with him we have too many front men but rather that than too few. If Pards can get his money back on one or two of the existing strikers (Todorov, Varney and Dickson excpeted), then so much the better.

Today is another belter - let's hope it lasts past Tuesday evening.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Transfer Rumours & Play-Off Previews

First, word reaches me that Alan Pardew is keen to strike early in this Summer transfer window because the Board are keen to show their ambition to spur season-ticket sales and because he is cutting the Summer holiday short in order to teach the players a lesson and/or ensure we are raring to go come 9th August and he wants his new squad ready.

Whatever the reason, Norwich's Mark Fotheringham is being mentioned and he looks like he could fit the bill. A no-nonsense ball-winning midfielder, the Scot (with that name?) has travelled well, although, worryingly, never stayed anywhere for too long. A former Celtic youth player, he had a spell at Dundee and forays in Germany and Switzerland before Norwich picked him up. He's only 23 and whilst out of favour early season has played well since Glenn Roeder brought him into the team. A colleague from Carrow Road thinks this could be a decent signing if it comes to pass. I understand he's out of contract, so there is unlikely to be a fee if we land him.

From the same source, I am told that Norwich are keen on Plymouth right-back Paul Connolly (24) but they understand Charlton are also interested and that we are likely to present too big a challenge for them (you have to remind yourselves what has happened to our club as a result of seven seasons in the Premier League).

Anyway, on to the two big Championship matches of the weekend.....

Crystal Palace v Bristol City

Palace took four points off City this year, beating them 2-0 at Selhurst and gaining a draw at Ashton Gate. So they will not be short of confidence for the first leg on Saturday lunchtime. Ordinarily, I would go for Palace to repeat their home win and take an advanatge to City on Tuesday evening. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that City will feel hard-done by having been in automatic contention for so long in the closing stages. They will also have one eye on the return leg and will probably be over-cautious - a lot here could depend on the timing of the first goal. I will go for 0-0 at half-time and Palace to nick a lead but not be able to get a second.

Prediction; 1-0

Watford v Hull City

That Watford only managed to scrape into the play-offs on goal difference is amazing given their early season impregnibility and the massive lead they held at the top at one point. Their demise in the last few months probably trumps our own and they hardly arrive here full of beans. To make matters worse, they still look under all the pressure to ensure they come through the play-offs. They managed a 1-0 win over Hull at Vicarage Road earlier in the season but got humped 3-0 at the KC stadium. It really doesn't bode well and I can see Hull putting their first foot on a Wembley showdown.

Prediction: 1-2

Oh, and finally, surprised to hear that QPR have parted company (amicably) with Luigi Di Canio less than 12 months into a three year contract. There were rumblings that he hadn't settled well in London but I can't help thinking Rangers have a bigger fish lined-up to back their ambitious plans to attack the Championship next year...

Tuesday 6 May 2008

We've still got the Play-offs

Our season may have finished on Sunday, but Saturday at 12.15 sees Palace take on Bristol City in the first leg of an unlikely play-off game. City have played their part throughout the season in the fight for automatic promotion whereas Palace have crept into contention by two good runs where they avoided defeat. City have the benefit of going to Palace in the first game and will want to keep things tight for the second leg on Tuesday. After that, the winners will face Watford or Hull at Wembley. None of these sides will exactly grace the premier League next season, so it will be a short-lived visit. Sour grapes, I know, but I hope Hull City make it.

Derby will be joined in the Championship by two from Birmingham, Reading and Fulham. The Royals go to Derby on the last day knowing that a win will save them and I expect them to get it. Fulham are at Portsmouth and Birmingham have a tricky home game against Blackburn Rovers. It would be good to get another London derby next season and I can't see Fulham out-pointing the other two next week.

Swansea and Forest will provide decent support next year at the Valley and tough away propositions. Joining them will be one from Doncaster, Carlisle, Leeds or Southend. Southend has always been a miserable away day for me and I can't abide Leeds United. On that basis, I will be rooting for Donny or Carlisle. Carlisle has been the scene of a memorbale Charlton triumph and it would be good to visit them towards the end of the season and instil hopes of a repeat promotion - a day that still lives long in my memory.

Monday 5 May 2008

Charlton Athletic 4 v Coventry City 1

At last, a convincing home win to send the Valley faithful home and probably sway several thousand waverers to renew their season tickets. It was more than that however. The peformance was full of promise and and goes some way towards restoring the early season belief that this squad of players can challenge for the Premier League. Having said that, we should acknowledge that Coventry made the task easy and I would be seriously concerned as a Sky Blue about their prospects next season.

It was a decent Spring day and a Bank Holiday atmosphere. Coventry, to their credit, filled the whole Jimmy Seed, something I was not expecting based upon their poor showing this season. Beach inflatables and fancy dress was the order of the day and they made plenty of noise given the lack of much to cheer about. The rest of the ground was as full as I had expected i.e. c 5,000 empty seats, so I was surprised at a gate of 26,000 (18,000 season tickets plus 3000 visitors, so we still managed to sell 5,000 walk ups).

Alan Pardew started with Weaver in goal, Youga, Bhougerra, McCarthy and Halford across the back, Thomas, Shelvey, Holland and Basey in midfield and Varney and Gray up front. It was a considered line-up and I think it tells us something about Pardew's thinking about next season.

Youga was again very comfortable at left-back and with Basey also gaining a berth in midfield, it looks like the sun might be setting on Ben Thatcher's Charlton career. Bhougerra and McCarthy stood up pretty well in central defence and both made telling tackles in the second half. I was surprised at Halford's inclusion and hope it is a sign of Pardew's intent on getting him on a permanent basis. He has had a couple of really poor games when the rest of the side were also off the tempo but that shouldn't detract from the fact that he is a competant full-back who can attack as well.

Matt Holland gave another whole-hearted performance in the middle and was unlcuky not to cap it with a thunderbolt of a shot from 35 yards that would have brought the house down if it had gone in instead of hitting the bar. His energy across the middle gave opportunity for Jonjo Shelvey to make a compelling home debut. For me, Shelvey would have been man-of-the-match but for Luke Varney. His awareness and vision is amazing for a 16 year-old and I think we could have a rough diamond on our hands. His physical appearance belies his tender years and for much of the match I thought I was watching a 35 year old Gavin Peacock. Grant Basey was a surprise starter on the flank but he made a positive contribution and his deflected goal will undoubtedly encourage him for next season. Jerome Thomas was the only disappointment for me and was anonymous first half. If anyone is prepared to offer £2-3m for him in the close season we should bite their hand off and all move on.

To the front pairing then, and a fine display from Gray and Varney. Varney opened the scoring inside the first five minutes. He collected a through ball from Bougherra in the right channel and was aware of Kasper Schmeicel's charge towards him. He had just enough time to lob Schmeicel and the ball bounced on the line and into the net. Better was to come 15 minutes later when Varney back-heeled a ball into Gray's path and he knocked home for the second. That was pretty much game over and it quietened the bositerous visitors. Michael Mifsud did manage a fine reply but it looked a consolation goal even at that stage.

The second half was equally as good and more chances came Charlton's way as Coventry pushed forward. Varney twice worked good positions only to see his shots flash inches wide. Basey did the same after scoring the third and it was a case of how many. Scott Wagstaff came on for Thomas and, like Shelvey, showed us a maturity beyond his 18 years. Iwelumo came on for Basey as Pardew went in search of the fourth.

Then it was show-time and Chris Powell was introduced with six minutes left. He came on a standing ovation and found himself in the unusual position of midfield with a free role. So free in fact that surprised himself but getting on the end of a Halford throw to net the fourth! Pure theatre and the crowd loved it as much as he did.

So, we finished on a high note and we shouldn't underestimate the importance of that. The youth in the side has been given an opportunity and I hope Pardew will remember that come August. He is talking of needing "three or four players" who can cope with pressure and I would agree with that. Two of them need to be midfielders and I would also be looking for a right back (Halford) and a central defender (Sodje).

After several gloomy months, things might be looking up and that season ticket renewal form has been staring at me for a few day.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Fulham fight on, Forest promoted.

Man United powered past the Irons today and look certs to win at Wigan next weekend and take the Premier League title. Chelsea must win at Newcastle on Monday and Kevin Keegan might have mixed feelings if his side stop the Blues in their tracks. Meanwhile, Fulham beat Brum today by the only goal to move out of the bottom three. They will need a better result at Portsmouth than Reading can get at Derby, and both need to out-point Birmingham who have a home game against Blackburn to finish. I suspect Fulham's revival might be cut-short, although I would prefer to see them stay up at the expense of Birmingham City and Reading.

Forest have been promoted after winning at home and seeing Doncaster lose away. They don't belong in League One and it will be good to play them again next season. I only hope Donny get their just desserts by joining them through the play-offs. At the other end of the League One, Gillingham have been relegated and I will shed no tears for that.

Focus tomorrow moves to the Championship when I expect Stoke to join West Brom in the top spots and Palace to make the play-offs. The fight at the bottom is closer but my money's on Leicester replacing Forest in League One.

Let's hope we can finish tomorrow with a performance full of hope for next year. A decent performance and result would provide small relief against our disastrous finish and might set the scene for a fresh start on 9th August.

Gibbs first casualty

Cory Gibbs is the first player to feel the backlash from the disappointment of this season. His contract will not be renewed in the Summer and, whilst that's hardly a surprise bearing in mind he has been injured more-or-less since he arrived in 2006, it shows some intent on the part of Alan Pardew and the Club.

Gibbs has at least made the reserves in recent weeks but with the options we already have in defence, he has become surplus to requirements. Something of a standing joke amongst Addicks, the risk of renewing his contract and him being crocked again was obviously too great and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Sam Sodje has also been speaking about his future and the uncertainty about what happens next. He has very cleverly left the door open at both Reading and Charlton whilst signalling his availability to everyone else. If we could secure him for a decent price, he would be a good signing and would give us four first-team centre-halves which we need.

Jonjo Shelvey and Scott Wagstaffe look like getting their first-team Valley debuts on Sunday and expect Therry Racon to get a run-out. Rob Elliott deserves another game too and an appearance from him would go some way to atone for the mistake in not allowing him to keep his place for the Wolves game following his heroics as substitute at Plymouth. This is the team I would like to see start on Sunday; Elliott, Youga, Sodje, McCarthy, Moutaouakil, Varney, Shelvey, Racon, Wagstaffe, Gray and Iwelumo. Personally, I'd also put several other youngsters on the bench and look to give them at least 20 minutes each unless we are getting thumped. This is just the sort of match in which you can do this without any significant risk.

I have decided to go to this game after all as I am keen to see the youngsters and because I have the rest of the day to drown my disappointment of this season.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Weekend Championship Preview

Well, it is finally upon us, the last day of the season. Immediately I am reminded of fancy-dress at away games and the nail-biting drama of the day on occasions previously when we have been promoted, relegated, stayed up or missed out. None of that on Sunday. It will simply be an end-of-season game for us and it might be left to Wagstaffe, Shelvey, Racon and maybe one or two others to up the effort levels and get us something from this game. Coventry are not safe from relegation either. It would need all three sides below them to win and for them to lose to go down, but they know a point saves them.

Blackpool v Watford

Watford may have blown it. Aidy Boothroyd will pay a high price if they have. Blackpool should have little to play for but they have not rolled over to anyone at home. Only four sides have lost fewer home games and they will want to finish strongly. If they score first, Watford might collapse.

Prediction; 3-1

Bristol City v Preston NE

All credit to Bristol City. I didn't think they were good enough to go up automatically but they have held on and will have a shot via the play-offs - I can't see them doing it. Preston's home form recovered and has saved them this season.

Prediction; 2-0

Cardiff City v Barnsley

Mid-table end-of-season in prospect here. Cardiff's Cup Final looms so Dave Jones may field more squad players here who will determined to play their way into the reckoning. Barnsley may be de-mob happy.

Prediction; 3-0

Charlton Athletic v Coventry City

Another draw I am afraid. Coventry will be desperate to get the point and will probably set their stall out with two goalkeepers and a 4-4-1 formation. We might need something spectacular to break the deadlock. When was the last time we scored from long range? (Ambrose at Blackpool?).

Prediction; 0-0

Crystal Palace v Burnley

Palace only have to clear this last fence to secure an unlikley play-off place and give Jordan bragging airtime. Fate has again handed them Burnley at home, the fixture that secured their top flight promotion in the 80's in front of 50,000 fans. "Claridge in the last minute, Claridge in the last minute!"

Prediction; 2-0

Ipswich Town v Hull City

Stoke will surely beat Leicester to go up with West Brom. That will mean a play-off berth for Hull. Ipswich need the three points to have a hope of joining them.

Prediction; 2-1

QPR v West Bromwich Albion

West Brom need the win for the Championship title and that should be enough motivation for them to see off a QPR side with high ambitions for next year.

Prediction; 1-2

Scunthorpe v Colchester United

Division One game here and both sides will be keen to score a pyschological victory for next year. Scunthorpe's home form has been ok this year and that may be enough.

Prediction; 1-0

Sheffield Wednesday v Norwich City

Both of these sides did the hard part by winning last weekend. City are safe and Sheffield Wednesday will be confident of joining them.

Prediction; 2-0

Southampton v Sheffield United

This will be a real test for the Saints. The Blades have woken up and cruised close to the play-off placings under Blackwell so will give Southampton a hard game. However, Southampton must get something and will be following Leicester's progress at the Brittania Stadium. The first roar at St Mary's may well be for a goal at Stoke.

Prediction; 2-1

Stoke City v Leicester City

Leicester will need a massive performance here and a shock result if they are to avoid justice. The good will out.

Prediction; 2-0

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Plymouth Argyle

Wolves are another side chasing Palace but an early Palace opener and the mood might slump at Wolves. Argyle's faithful, however, will be looking forward to this day immensely. They will be more interested in the fate of Ian Holloway having jumped ship for the big time in Division One!

Prediction; 2-0

Let's look forward to a bit of sunshine, outdoor pursuits, the European Championships, Summer hols and some encouraging transfer activity before we look forward to a fresh start....