Tuesday 30 September 2008

Crystal Palace 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Just home from the third-class seating at Selhurst Park and need to unburden myself before I go to bed lest it disturbs my sleep. The week that promised to propel us into the promotion race now looks very likely to do the opposite and leave us facing an awkward few months before Christmas. The euphoria of the start to the season is well and truly over and a familiar apathy is stalking us once again.

This evening's performance was simply not good enough. Alan Pardew got the tactics all wrong but our team were out-run, out-fought and out-thought.

Plan A for this vitally important derby match was "go for the 0-0 draw." Plan B was "go for the 1-1 draw." Alan Pardew promised changes after the disappointments of Saturday but we didn't really get any. Yes Andy Gray was dropped to the bench to accommodate Ambrose as a fifth man in the midfield but playing negatively 4-5-1 away from home appears to be the norm. It was uninspiring to watch and our players looked equally uninspired as we struggled against a string of well-taken Palace corners in the first half which threatened to unhinge us. That we stood firm until half-time was largely due to a resolute back four and dozens of anywhere-will-do clearances.  When we did get the ball out of our half we appeared to be under orders not to get more than three players in their half, so it was no wonder that our only chance on goal was a Bouazza burst and shot which Speroni pushed away. Palace should have been one-up at the break but Weaver made a superb save from ten yards after the best move of the half.

The second period started just as the first and it was really only a case of could Palace score. Kelly Youga began to misplace passes down the line again and we were looking ragged in the middle. Carle and Watson saw far more of the ball than any of our players and Victor Moses looked like the wing threat we didn't possess.  The inevitable goal came just after the hour as on-loan Craig Beattie rose at the back post to knock a header back past the stranded Nicky Weaver. 

Time for Plan B and a triple substition of Gray, Zheng Zhi and Todorov came on at the expense of Holland, Ambrose and Sam. No loss those three; Ambrose ran around looking busy, I can't recall Holland touching the ball and Lloyd Sam played with his back to goal throughout. We immediately switched to 4-4-2 and began to look remotely capable of scoring a goal. It didn't come and frankly we didn't deserve it.

The 2700 travelling Addicks made plenty of noise and played their part but we were let down by the manager and the team. Alan Pardew's post-match comments are just as poor this evening. He says their goal looked offside (not to me it didn't, although you can see the excellent view I had of it for £30) and he's again talking of making "one or two" changes. Presumably that's to start with Gray upfront and revert to four in midfield. He then goes on to say we need to put a run together or we "might find ourselves in trouble." Alan, we are already in trouble. What's more, you really need to be more positive away from home. We are not playing at the Emirates, Stamford Bridge or Anfield anymore. It's the Keepmoat, Deepdale and Selhurst Park. Your lack of confidence in our ability to match-up to our opponents over 90 minutes away from home is extremely worrying and it looks like it's affected the players as well. 

Two months ago you were telling us we had the personel to mount a serious promotion challenge this season but your behaviour simply doesn't support that view. The pressure is on for Saturday and you have no-one to blame but yourself. You need your boys to dig you out of a hole now or it's going to get a lot deeper. I will be there on Saturday as usual but I suspect it will be a long time before I will feel like making the effort to go to my next away game. My bet is on Ipswich to take the lead on Saturday and start the boo-boys off.

Monday 29 September 2008

Midweek Championship Preview, Game 9

Off to Palace tomorrow then to try and make up for the points lost on Saturday. Last week I was very optimistic of another Charlton victory at Selhurst to maintain our recent run against them but Saturday's disappointment has tempered that. However, I am going to go for the win because that would be typical of us and that's just how we appear to be playing right now. If we can get three points tomorrow the players will feel complacent enough to squander a few more against Ipswich on Saturday. Unusually, the whole Championship programme takes place tomorrow night instead of being split Tuesday/Wednesday.

Bristol City v Plymouth Argyle

Argyle sneaked a home win over Forest on Saturday and will have a go here following two successive away wins. However, City are going well too and will want to get back on track after going down at Wolves.
Prediction; 2-1

Burnley v Watford

I thought Burnley could turn PNE over on Saturday and they did just that. This is their opportunity to cement their recovery from a stuttering start and it would push Watford closer to the bottom three.
Prediction; 1-0

Cardiff City v Coventry City

Cardiff beaten finally, although it took high-flying Birmingham to do it. At home again, they get a second bite at the cherry but Coventry might fight hard here having salvaged a point at Blackpool at the weekend. Freddie Eastwood saved the day at Bloomfield Road and I'll take him to do the same here.
Prediction; 1-1

Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
Palace might not be pulling up any trees this year but they can be hard to beat. They have the derby incentive here as well as some player issues with Hudson and McCarthy swopping places during the Summer. I'm taking Hudson to atone for a mistake or two on Saturday and show the 14,000 Palace faithful just what they are missing. We'll toil here and it's a game Nicky Bailey needs to remember to stay calm in or he'll risk a sending off. I think we'll get a goal and that should be enough. Three points here would go towards the first real achievement in a season likely to short on plus points.
Prediction; 0-1

Derby County v Birmingham City
You wait a year for a league win and then two come along in quick succession. Saturday's 2-0 win at Loftus Road was the result of the day and Derby will be itching to repeat the feat in front of their loyal home fans. A draw is probably the right result but I'll go for Derby to build on recent results and turn Brum over.
Prediction; 2-1

Doncaster Rovers v Sheffield United
The Keepmoat should be packed for this one. Shame they lost again to a poor Southampton team on Saturday. Despite playing good attacking football, Rovers are struggling to score and Darren Byfield looks the main threat. can't see past United here.
Prediction; 1-2

Ipswich Town v Barnsley
Disappointing draw for Town yesterday against lowly Palace but I expect them to recover quickly here. Barnsley are having a hard time of it and might ship some goals here.
Prediction; 3-0

Preston NE v Swansea City

Two defeats in-a-row for Preston and a chance to recover. Swansea will need a slice of luck here to get anything but they are good on the ball and will get chances.
Prediction; 1-1

QPR v Blackpool

No slip-up for Rangers here. It's a long trip for Blackpool on what promises to be a long wet night in London. Dexter Blackstock to get back on the score-sheet.
Prediction; 3-0

Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest
Wednesday didn't look anything but ordinary on Saturday but they battled to hold on to their lead and they will present tougher opposition at Hillsbrough. Forest have lost all four away so far and this will make five.
Prediction; 2-0

Southampton v Norwich City
Norwich picked at a useful point at Oakwell on Saturday but might find Southampton have more to fight for after their win at Doncaster. I can see this being very tight but will go with home advantage.
Prediction; 2-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Reading
Two form teams clash here but Reading's Achilles Heel appears to be away from home. Wolves have been too strong for almost everyone they have faced so far but Reading might rise to the challenge. They have the players to score against anyone in this division and I'll go with them to take a share here.
Prediction; 1-1

Sunday 28 September 2008

Pressure's on

So we find ourselves 14th in the table instead of 6th. We go to Palace on Tuesday looking to make up ground on the teams above us rather than consolidate our position in the play-off places. That difference might well have an effect on the game and how Palace approach it. If we had done what we should have yesterday and beaten Sheffield Wednesday, we would be looking to open a 10 point gap on third-bottom Palace. As it is, they can get to within a point of us if they can win at home for the second time this season.

Alan Pardew has pretty much said all that could have been expected in the circumstances. He's disappointed and angry. He's threatening to make changes in midfield although I find his comments that he has "three or four champing at the bit" and that "we have a lot of strength in midfield" to make changes baffling. Nicky Bailey had a poor game yesterday and looked like he'd stayed up too late on friday night drinking with his prospective in-laws in their Forest Hill pub. Matty Holland, in contrast, ran his lungs out to compensate, and was eventually switched to centre-half to accommodate substitions. Lloyd Sam was again ineffective in the first half but he earned his corn in the last forty-five. Bouazza was slightly better first half but not as effective as Sam in the second period. So, I am struggling to see where Pards is going to make the changes. Darren Ambrose is obviously in contention because he came on, but his contribution was hardly telling. Basey was used but as  left-back and his midfiled cameos of late have hardly offered promise of anything better.  That leaves Jonjo Shelvey and I am guesisng he may come into the plans for Palace and Ipswich. 

For me, the most obvious change at the moment is Youga. Don't get me wrong here, he's a decent player and technically very good but he is taking too many risks at full-back in a defence that needs to be playing no-nonsense football.  I would rather play him on the left wing in front of Basey. Maybe Todorov will get another go at Palace from the bench this week but he was disappointing yesterday. I know he's been out for a long time but he's had two months in the reserves and he should have looked a good bit sharper than he did.  Maybe our reserves aren't all that good since Mark Robson was shown the door? After all, it would appear that the step-up from the stiffs is to the second division if Alan Pardew's justification for loaning Stuart Fleetwoood out to Cheltenham is to be believed.

Palace on Tuesday it is then and maybe this will be another "typical Charlton" display that nets us three points when least expected and has you saying "what if?" Whatever happens, any hopes of fortress-Valley have well and truly disappeared. You now find yourself looking at the Swansea game and saying we should maybe have lost three at home already. Ipswich is another potential banana-skin now and it will take something special now to record two results this week which looked likely a week ago. If we don't come out of the next two games with three or four points, the presure on Pards will build and we'll be back to large-scale booing at the Valley.

Saturday 27 September 2008

Charlton Athletic 1 v Sheffield Wednesday 2

Classic Charlton performance this. Not classic in the sense of memorable you understand, more just classic Charlton. You don't really need a report, if you've watched Charlton for long enough you can pretty much imagine what happened and that will be close enough.

Sheffield Wednesday started positively for a side that got tanned 6-0 on their last game away from Hillsbrough. It looked like bluster and so it proved midway through the first half when Luke Varney stroked home the opener after a Bailey free-kick was knocked down and fell at Luke's big toe. Within the space of ten minutes it should have been 2-0 and we could have sat back and enjoyed the rest of the game. Linvoy Primus had already struck the inside of the post from a 15 yard header and Luke Varney managed to hit the same post with only Grant to beat in the Wednesday goal. The ball cannoned off the post and across the box to Andy Gray in acres of space. Somehow, Gray could only balloon his shot over the bar and Wednesday had survived. 

We then had five minutes or so before Wade Small ran thirty yards towards goal, escorted by three Charlton players who looked content to let him run as he had no other support. Small was obviously aware of that too because he kept going and got in a cross-shot as Mark Hudson finally made the challenge. The ball left Weaver looking all square and went in off the far post. Worse followed a couple of minutes later when Wednesday again found our glass chin and this time Marcus Tudgay seized his chance and thumped the ball past a helpless Nicky Weaver. Nicky Bailey and Hameur Bouazza were left screaming abuse at one another but the damage was done.

Two-one down at half-time and Wednesday had something to defend and only 45 minutes to waste. We tried to get something going in the second half but it was all a bit frantic. Bouazza hit the side netting and Varney came close. Lloyd Sam and Hameur Bouazza tried to make up for poor first halves but nothing was going for us. Nicky Bailey had a quiet game and poor Matt Holland had doing all the work in the middle. Eventually Pardew made his substitutions and threw on Ambrose and Todorov for Gray and Primus. This meant Holland dropping to centre-half, but I guess we had nothing else to lose at that stage. Todorov didn't look fit to me and Ambrose only touched the ball twice in sending in long-range shots which did at least come close to the goal-frame. Our pressure deserved an equaliser but there just wasn't enough quality or composure to get one. The final shuffle was to get Grant Basey on at left-back and Kelly Youga went to right-back to allow Cranie to leave the field. 

More tomorrow when I have calmed down.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Weekend Championship Preview, Game 8

With the drip-drip of bad news from the world economy, we at least get the chance to return to the relative normality of a winnable home game at the Valley. All of a sudden our financial re-engineering to reduce our debt position during the Summer is beginning to look like a stroke of genius. Cue the first person to modestly claim they saw it coming. 

In all seriousness, some of our peers who we have looked at jealously in the last few months might now look like they have their backsides hanging out of the window. There might be some light at the end of the tunnel after all. 

In the meantime, let's hope we can enjoy the feel-good factor by beating Sheffield Wednesday and advancing up the table in readiness for another win at Selhurst Park.

Barnsley v Norwich City

It's looking increasingly likely that the Tykes have lost something during the Summer and that their early season poor form might be enduring. Norwich, meanwhile, look to be continuing their recovery under Glenn Roeder and last week's final-minute winner over Sheffield United will have them travelling in good spirits. They are still lacking finishing power but I think they will take something at Oakwell.
Prediction; 1-1

Both of these sides have managed a few results of late and sit a point apart just outside the top ten. It's about time Blackpool rediscovered some of last season's fine home form and I'm going for then to do it on Saturday.
Prediction; 2-0

A Lancashire derby hot-pot here. Burnley have finally managed a couple of wins and Preston were beaten for the first time last week by Wolves. It will be a good test of Alan Irvine's charges and I think they have been over-performing so far. Burnley to nick it in a thriller.
Prediction; 3-2

Two of my least favourite clubs and it's a pity they both can't lose this week. Cardiff continue to surprise me and their unbeaten record looks increasingly impressive despite only winning two games. Birmingham were beaten at home by Blackpool last week and Alex McGleish will expect a response but might have to settle for another Cardiff draw.
Prediction; 1-1

This is our chance to capitalise on the four points picked up at Doncaster and Forest. Wednesday cracked at Ipswich last time out and conceded six. They will be determined to try and keep a clean sheet here and the onus will be on us to open the scoring and put the skids under them. High expectations are normally a sign of impending disappointment for Addick fans, but I believe we should have more than enough to pick up three points and climb into the top 6 in the process.
Prediction; 2-0

Poor old Donny have been sticking to their disciplined control, pass and move game despite not getting the results they deserve. Sean O'Driscoll's faith will be rewarded over the course of the season and I have revised my opinion of them from relegation certainties to Championship survival. Southampton, however, are another case altogether and their Dutch manager might find the ice thinning under his feet.
Prediction; 3-0

Seems like nothing's going right for Palace this season and their fixture list doesn't appear to be doing them too many favours. Ipswich will expect to be rampant again here at Portman Road and whilst I can't see them getting anywhere close to scoring six, I think the points are safe. Who you got next Palace?
Prediction; 2-0

Argyle have wagged their tails with two away wins in succession and this is their opportunity to pull clear of the bottom of the table and leave Forest well and truly in the mire.
Prediction; 3-1

Great win for Rangers at Aston Villa last night.The mood in the QPR dressing room will be very good and Iain Dowie looks to have survived any early season doubts. Derby will come down in bouyant mood after a couple of encouraging results but this might be a step too far for them right now.
Prediction; 2-1

Swansea's home form looks like it might be good enough to keep them in the Championship. They will need to improve their away form if they want to prosper. Games like Reading away will make that difficult and this looks like a home banker.
Prediction; 3-0

The Blades are disappointing me this season. They bought well during the Summer having finished strongly last season and I fully expected them to be right up there challenging from the off. Instead they are below mid-table in a start that looks very similar to last year. Unbeaten at home but poor away and they go into this one on the back of a 6-0 tanking by Arsenal's youth side. Only saving grace is that Watford have only managed a draw so far on the road.
Prediction; 1-0

Another exciting Wolves game in prospect here. Bristol City are unbeaten away from home with two wins and a draw but go up against a sparkling Wolves team who have recorded three straight wins at home scoring 11 goals in the process. Everyone drops points somewhere and I'll stick my neck out here for City to take a share.
Prediction; 2-2

Big week for the Addicks. Get behind the team and hopefully we can relax on Saturday evening in anticipation of the Sunday papers drooling over the table and the what-ifs if we can win at Selhurst and beat Ipswich at the Valley Saturday-week. Come on you Reds!

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Double dose of justice

First, Sheffield United look to have won their long-running case against West Ham for them playing Tevez and Mascherano whilst neither were properly cleared to play. The case is important because United's claim is that they went down at West Ham's expense two years ago as a direct result of the goals Tevez scored that saved the Hammers' bacon. Sheffield finished third bottom and logically had the strongest appeal but Charlton and Watford were humming and hawing about joining them at the time but thought better of it.

The terms of the tribunal were accepted as binding by both clubs prior to undertaking it's assessment and the right of appeal was waived similarly. West Ham don't look to have anywhere to go and the potential damages, which will be weighed up in the coming months are said might reach £30m. This could have a profound affect on West Ham, whose current Icelandic owners have been suffering financially with a collapsing home economy.

The verdict is one that I believe is right and proper but not one that I thought we would ever see. After the Premier League initially fined West Ham £5.5m but decided against any points deduction, I thought that Sheffiled United would be lucky to get any sort of verdict and certainly not one that looks to support such a massive penalty.

Secondly, three cheers for Derby County who today won their case with the Football League to prevent QPR from charging £40 for adults and£30 for concessions for their weekend fixture at Loftus Road. QPR might be vaunted as the richest club in the Championship but you wouldn't know it from the money they haven't splashed around or the way they seem to be treating their long-suffering supporters. How mean for the billionaire owners to attempt to profit this way with their own, long-suffering, fans. Ripping off supporters is one thing but profiteering on "concessions" is disgusting.

It means they can't charge us more than £30 on Boxing Day for the displeasure of queueing at their inadequate turnstiles for a poor view from the Shoe-Box Stand in the tired "stadium." Next season might be a different matter but let's hope the greedy triumvirate have learnt their lesson.

Me and Franz

Thirteeen days and counting until the inaugural London Half-Marathon takes to the streets of Greenwich. Part sponsored by Sony Ericsson, the event has the tagline "Run-to-the-Beat" and the organisers have arranged for "scientifically selected" music to be played live around the course in order to enhance performance. A scientist with 20 years of study into the effects of music on sporting performance has been enlisted to oversee the music side of things, so this will be interesting.

Personally, I don't need any convincing of the benefits of good tempo, mood music to aid running. The back catalogue of Franz Ferdinand does it for me everytime and will accompany me on the headphones when I step out on 5th October.  Originally, it was the organisers intention not to allow competitors to wear MP3 players and the like but instead to force them to listen to the course bands, so presumably they have some real faith in the inspirational music tastes of Dr Costas Karageorghis. I can't see how they would have enforced this, so sense has obviously prevalied.

I have stuck to my training regime in terms of the running but the weight beyond a stone has been stubborn. I am redoubling my efforts over the coming fortnight as I really could do with losing the extra pounds. I actually ran the course over the weekend and it was much harder than I feared. It was warm and close to Midday when I started, so we should get more favourable conditions. It should also be a little easier running when the roads are closed and the track is smoothed out a bit. That's what I am telling myself anyway. 

I was confident of beating 2 hours and hopeful of getting close to 1.45 before I started. My run at the weekend was almost bang on 2 hours and the legs were feeling it during the last mile. I live in hope but 1.50 is probably unrealistic from here. I am beginning to wish they had a size handicap because I would feel far more confident running in my weight/height category!

There are around a dozen Charlton Lifers running, so we shouldn't be short of moral support.

Monday 22 September 2008

Bald Eagles win the Ryder Cup

En route to the park with the family yesterday (Swanley park - what a great place?), I tried to find a bookmaker offering the advertsied 11-4 for Europe to win the Ruder Cup. Luckily for me I failed. Tightwads Coombes were only giving 9-4 so my money stayed firmly in my pocket and praise be for that.

Nick Faldo's bold plan to back-load the singles line-up back-fired as the Americans won the middle four matches to secure the Cup. Anthony Kim set the example early on my marching into an unassailable lead against Sergio Garcia in the first head-to-head. He was up for the fight and his shots to the green were remarkable, ball after ball dropping within four feet of the flag. He was quickly three-up and Garcia was struggling with the course and the boisterous crowd. 

Paul Casey was behind in much of the second pairing in his game with Hunter Mahan. His putting again let him down but he did at least manage to stya in touch and fight back for a half-point at the last hole. Robert Karlsson and Justin Rose did the business, beating war horses Justin Leonard and Phil Mickleson respectively. Both controlled their matches and Karlsson's putting was superb as he sank 12-foot putts one after another to halve holes and retain his lead.

The American middle order then delivered the Cup.  Ken "Tucky" Perry beat Henrik Stenson 3&2 but it looked worse than that. Perry's putting was as good as anything we saw during the competition. I don't remember him missing one and he sank them from all over the place. All that and he had treatment on the back nine for shooting pains in his back and arm.

Fans favourite, Boo Weekley (sounds like a Geordie), gave the home crowd a legitmate excuse to "Boo" and the lively Red-neck

 continued his fine Ryder Cup form by beating new-boy Oliver Wilson 4&2.  Wilson actually played pretty well but Weekley was on a high and his putting wasn't far behind Perry's.

Big-hitter JB Holmes beat Soren Hansen 2&1 to put the Americans within a point of victory. Holmes had the edge over Sorenson throughout. He refuses to go by his first name of John out of embarrassment at any possible association with the legendary porn star of the same name. Shame conisdering he's so long off the tee.

That left it to Jim Furyk to win the match at the 17th as Angel Jimenez sportingly conceded the last two foot formality. I was pleased for Furyk because he is real gentleman and the one American you would choose to concede defeat to.

Interesting to see the spirit with which the Europeans took defeat. Surprisingly, Faldo looked as pleased as any of the bald American heroes and there was plenty of back-slapping between competitors. I saw a couple of hung-over Europeans being interviewed this morning and it looked like they all had a good night irrespective of the result.  I suppose that's what it should be like but the Amercians do at least simmer a bit in defeat. 

Surprisingly, given our antecedents, Golf is the only sport that we really compete in with the Amercans and the only one I can think of that unites Europe in a meaningful team.  Maybe that's what helps make the Ryder Cup a special event.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Europe battle back in Kentucky

The Ryder Cup was compelling viewing last night as the European team clawed it's way back into the competition. After the poor first day and a three point deficit, there was a chance yesterday that the Yanks could have been out of sight by the close and at one point they looked like they might stretch their lead to five points. 

However, in a nailbiting last couple of hours, the European team fought back to square the fourballs having won a point back in the morning's foursomes.  Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell held off a late challenge from Perry and Fury, with Poulter sinking a testing last putt to win by a hole. Poulter was one of the pair controversially chosen ahead of Clarke and Montgomery,  but he showed yesterday what a competitor he is and the beady stare, hand pumps and "come-on" roars throughout his round showed just how much this means to him. 

Garcia and Casey had a titantic battle with Curtis and Stricker to halve their match on the final green and Stenson and Karlsson came back in the last couple of holes to do just the same against Mikelson and Mahan.  So Europe finished two points adrift at 9-7 with the twelve singles matches to be played out later today. Captian Nick Faldo has taken another risk with his singles line-up as he is banking on a strong finish to halve or win the match to retain the cup. Sergio Garcia plays first against Antony Kim and Faldo will be looking to the Spaniard to put the first blue on the board, He will then need Casey, Karlsson, Rose, Stenson, Wilson and Hansen to keep us in it before the experienced big guns of Jimenez, McDowell, Poulter, Westwood and Harrington close the competition out. 

It promises to be thrilling viewing and I am going for Europe to do it. The Americans will be under enormous individual pressure and I can see too many of them choking. There's nothing that hurts them more than losing Ryder Cups and it's great to see a confederation of Europeans uniting to tweak their noses. 

Saturday 20 September 2008

Nottingham Forest 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

First draw of the season for the Addicks who will be pleased with another clean sheet away from home. I couldn't pick up the Radio Kent commentary - it was feint in south-east London last season but apparently inaudible this year. Instead I tried to follow the game on Sky but our match was way down the priorty list, even with only three Premier league fixtures kicking off at 3pm. Reports from the City ground were limited and there was more to be gleaned from the club's own text updates. 

The main news was that Andy Gray was sacrificed by Alan Pardew in favour of a defensive formation which saw Grant Basey brought into a five-man midfield and Luke Varney was left to operate up front alone. Like in midweek, we rode our first half luck and Forest came close to scoring after six minutes when Nicky Weaver made a fine save from Robert Earnshaw. Martin, Earnshaw and Moussi all went close in the opening 20 minutes before the game settled down.
Bouazza had a couple of shots saved by Paul Smith just before the break.

Fortune went off injured on the hour, which will be a concern for Pards as Linvoy Primus picked up a knock yesterday and was left at home which leaves us precariously short of cover. Let's hope neither are seriously inujred. Darren Ambrose came on for Fortune, so I assume Basey dropped to left-back and Martin Cranie moved into his more favoured position in the centre of defence.  Weaver saved from Martin and Lloyd Sam headed over before being substitued for Andy Gray. Again, I will asume this was part of Alan Pardew's game plan as we tried to step up the pace and get a winner. Gray and Ambrose both had shots saved before the end and Forest were already down to 1o-men as Andy Thornhill was dismissed for a second yellow.

It would be easy to see this on the face of it as two points lost for a lack of ambition but we should acknowledge that we had to fight to stay in the game and the five in midfield may have helped us keep parity into the second half. A point away from home is never a bad result and with QPR and Sheffield United both losing away at Coventry and Norwich respectively, we shouldn't grumble too much.

Elsewhere, Big Chris Iwelumo continues to prosper in a more attacking side and he returned for Wolves today with an impressive hat-trick at high-flying Preston, as Wanderers increased their lead at the top of the table to three points. Wolves will lose Iwelumo and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey for at least one game as both were dismissed late on; Iwelumo for a Coatbridge Kiss on Sean St. Leger and Hennessey for a professional foul which lead to Preston's consolation goal. 

Coventry and Bristol City both move above the Addicks as we slip to tenth. Chris Coleman's Sky Blues edged QPR out 1-0 at the Ricoh Arena whilst Bristol City thumped Doncaster Rovers 4-1 at Ashton Gate. The good news for us though, was that only two (Wolves and Bristol City) of the top ten won today, so our point keeps us within a win of fourth place.

Our next opponents, Sheffield Wednesday could only manage a 0-0 home draw with Ipswich and next up after that are Palace who were beaten at home 2-1 by Plymouth Argyle. We have a great opportunity for another 4 or 6 points in the next two games which would move us into the play-off zone and set-us up for Ipswich at home and Cardiff City away.

Friday 19 September 2008

Addicks on a roll?

Alan Pardew believes we have a sequence of winnable games "on paper" following what anyone would acknowledge was a hard start to the season and I agree completely. The average placing of the six sides we have faced is 8th - just where we find ourselves. Our three defeats have come against top and third as well as an unfortunate reverse at 15th place Watford. In all three games we competed and we tood the lead against Preston and Wolves where second goals may well have changed the outcomes. Our wins against Swnasea, eading and Doncaster have all been very professional performances for 90 minutes against sides who had a real go at us. 

We have yet to play a game, in my mind, where the opposition are genuinely disappointing and we are due a few of those. This is probably the most competitive division from top to bottom but you do get those "easy" games every so often and I think we potentially have three of them in-a-row. Forest look like the toughest of the three coming up to me, but they are second-bottom and have shipped 14 goals giving them the worst goal difference in the table. If we play a more attacking game we should be able to get a result.

That would set us up for Sheffield Wednesday who have shipped more goals away from home than Forest. They cracked at Reading last weekend and this should be a real opportunity for Varney and Gray to increase their goal tally as they look increasingly settled as first-choice pairing. We then have the midweek derby at Selhurst and we won't get a better set of circumstances to beat them again; they are not in good form, they lost three of their better players during the Summer and haven't replaced them and, publicly at least, Simon Jordan looks to have lost interest. The sight of Mark Hudson in a commanding red shirt won't be lost on the home fans. After last year's double, our players also know just how much beating Palace means to our fans. 

So, we could go unbeaten and we might just wrack up maximum points. After that we have an awkward trip to Cardiff and then take on Bristol City at the Valley. Both of those games would look easier if we can pick up 6, 7 or 9 points in the meantime. It would also propel us firmly into a play-off place and get some genuinely positive vibes around the club.

I am still of the view that this squad is only capable of an 8th-14th finish, but confidence is a powerful thing - look what it did for Hull and Stoke last year.

Come on you Reds!

Thursday 18 September 2008

Weekend Championship Preview, Game 7

Come the end of September we will all have played 10 games and table will be worth looking at in some detail. Already Birmingham and Wolves have set their stalls out for automatic promotion and Preston look the surprise early-season package for a challenge. Charlton fans won't surprised with our 8th placing so far, but Derby and Palace fans will be in a state of mild shock. 

The division has a similar feel to last year in that a large number of teams look capable of beating anyone else on their day. Birmingahm apart, and they have had it easy so far, Derby and Reading have both found it harder to cope than they would have anticipated. 

Saturday's fixtures see us at Forest where we traditionally struggle. However, Forest have lost four in-a-row and have dropped into the trap-door places. I believe this is as good a time any to play them and we can get another which would set us up for Sheffield Wednesday and Palace which promises to secure us a higher placing than 8th when we consider the table after everyone's played 10 games.

The fixtures have been kind to Brum so far and again they have a home match against weaker opposition who are not firing on all cylinders. Blackpool were disappointing at Burnley in midweek and I suspect they will find the going hard here.
Prediction; 3-0

I was very impressed with Doncaster's organisation and discipline on Tuesday. They play a very quick and neat game, although they do look short upfront in terms of real class. darren Byfield might get to play on his old turf but I can see Bristol City getting a home win irrespective.
Prediction; 2-1

Coventry City v QPR

Coventry have been a bit of a puzzle so far. They have managed to win, draw and lose at home and away so far. Rangers are beginning to look hard to beat having started slowly and their 3-0 slump at Sheffield still sticks in the mind. They had a good win at Norwich last night and I think they will again avoid defeat on their travels.
Prediction; 1-1

Palace were unfortunate to lose at Wolves in midweek whilst Argyle had a surprise 2-1 win at Watford. I'll go for a draw here as I can't see either side winning.

Derby County v Cardiff City
Intriguing clash here. Derby have steadied the ship with a win and a draw and will be desperate to win again at Pride Park in front of their loyal 28,000 home gate. Cardiff meanwhile have continued to get results and are still unbeaten. they had a solid result at Barnsley in midweek and will be hard to beat here. A late goal might settle this one and I'll go for the Rams to edge it.
Prediction; 2-1

Nothing's going for City at the moment. They are playing well at home and not getting their just deserts. The Blades, meanwhile, have been struggling with confidence and were blasted by their manager in midweek for a stuttering home draw with Coventry. A draw is probably the safe bet but I'm going with City for two Saturday wins on the trot; Lupoli to score again.
Prediction; 2-1

We will need to be far more adventurous at the City ground than we were at the Keepmoat if we are to get anything. As I have said, it's a good time to play Forest. My only nagging doubt is that we are winning and losing in equal measure and I think that's probably about right in terms of our quality and expectations this season. the heart's saying win and the head is telling me to expect a slap in the face. I'm going to go with the heart here in view of where Forest are. Luke varney to score in the east Midlands and Nicky Bailey to get his second.
Predcition; 1-2

Well both of these sides can't win here. I think Preston have been over-performing of late whilst Wolves do look to have a combination of youth, talent, strength and confidence. If they are genuine contenders this year, I think they'll close this one out.
Prediction; 1-2

Ouch! 6-0 away from home hurts and I expect wednesday to start like a train. Ipswich are blowing hot and cold but aren't the best away from home. I can Wednesday taking the points here.
Prediction; 2-0
Barnsley are propping up the table and have three straight defeats away from home. The Saints have yet to win at home and are only two places above the Tykes. they won't get a better opportunity than this.
Prediction; 1-0

Swansea City v Burnley

Neither of these teams are showing any consistency but Swansea look the better playing side and I'll go with home advantage here.
Prediction; 2-0

A derby of sorts and Reading will fancy their chnaces after scoring six. watford need to bounce back after a disappointing result at home to Plymouth. A draw looks inevitable.
Prediction; 1-1

I won't be travelling to Nottingham so hope we can find some commentary. It's a poor show in 2008 when we can't manage to sort out regular radio coverage.