Thursday 25 February 2010

League One Weekend preview, Game 34

Amazingly, we get the chance tomorrow evening to go third in the table again. It may be fleeting and it may be the last chance we get this season. Should we fail to win, then we face the prospect of ending Saturday in sixth, two points clear of Millwall who will have a game in hand. Following the disastrous sequence of results on Tuesday evening, this would be the final realisation that we have blown our automatic promotion hopes after six months of effort and that we face an almighty battle with weary looking troops to claim a play-off spot. Failure would almost certainly be a coup-de-grace as far as the short-to-medium term future of our club is concerned.

Southend United v Charlton Athletic
The Shrimpers haven't won any of their last 8 league games and none of the last four at home. It's a sequence that has dropped them to the fringe of the relegation zone. They might not be the feisty opposition they proved at the Valley in December, but we aren't exactly the same side either. I will be in Rome when the match kicks-off tomorrow night, so will switch Twitter on for blow-by-blow updates. I am expecting nothing.
Prediction; 2-0

Brentford v Tranmere Rovers
The Bees are firmly mid-table with only their pride to play for. Even that might be enough to see off Tranmere who might be breathing easy having scrambled out of the bottom four.
Prediction; 2-1

Brighton & Hove Albion v Exeter City
Brighton played some lovely pass and move football on Tuesday and their work-rate was typical of a top side, not a struggler. Their deserved win has lifted them out of the doldrums and with wind in their sails, they might even be confident of winning only their third home match of the season. 
Prediction; 2-0

Bristol Rovers v Colchester United
Hard-fought game in prospect here and Colchester have found some form at the right time. The Pirates, however, are all-or-nothing at home and I can see them claiming three points here.
Prediction; 2-1

Carlisle United v Gillingham
Comfortable home win for me. The Gills are shocking away from home and not even Chris Dickson should be enough to make the dramatic change of belief required away from the Priestfield. Just think, 30 points at home and only 4 away? I am guessing there will be less than a 100 visiting fans tomorrow?
Prediction; 3-0

Huddersfield Town v Leeds United
Fierce physical contest here with plenty of heat in the stands. The Terriers defend the only unbeaten home record in the division and I can't see Leeds breaching it, although they may put up more of a fight here than they have in some of their more recent matches. Leeds might need to score first to get a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Leyton Orient v Swindon Town
Could be a decent game this. The O's should be able to play with some confidence at home and if they have a go, then they are capable of halting Swindon's impressive recent form. Danny Wilson, however, looks to have got his side fully focused on the task and with a game of two in hand, will be looking very closely at the outside chances of automatic promotion themselves. 
Prediction; 1-2

Millwall v Hartlepool
Routine home win for the Lions who got a very impressive win at MK Dons in the week. Automatic promotion is beyond them but they won't fear the play-offs like most of the other candidates, having made the final last year. They are not always impressive at home but are usually pretty effective.
Prediction; 2-0

Oldham Athletic v Norwich City
I can pretty much guarantee what will happen in this match. Oldham will take the lead before half-time and Norwich will score mid-way through the second-half and then get a winner in the closing stages. Easy eh? 
Prediction; 1-2

Southampton v Walsall
Southampton are up to eleventh and face ninth-placed Walsall here in match of little consequence. Saints will be warm favourites but Walsall are something of spoilers and I'll stick my neck out and take them to get something here.
Prediction; 1-1

Stockport County v Wycombe Wanderers
Given the state of their finances, Stockport would settle for being a League Two side next season. Wycombe might well be joining them next season and this is the easiest away fixture they have left in which to pick up points. I'll take them to have the greater motivation;
Prediction; 0-1

Yeovil Town v MK Dons
Only Leeds and Norwich have won more away games than MK Dons this season - them we put five past in December! They will have been stung by the home defeat to Millwall and might bounce back here against a Yeovil side with less incentive.
Predictive; 0-2


Tuesday 23 February 2010

Charlton Athletic 1 v Brighton & Hove Albion 2

After the encouraging win against Yeovil on Saturday we returned to the Valley this evening looking for a second successive home victory to restore morale and build spirits for the weeks ahead. Confidence was high that we might have put our recent bad run behind us and might finally return to the passing football that kept us in second place for most of the first-half of the season.

Unfortunately we started flat-footed against a lively Brighton team showing no lack of belief that you might expect from a side third from bottom. The warning signs were there from the second minute when new boy Kazenga Lualua (Tresor's younger brother) embarrassed Fraser Richardson before firing narrowly wide. Brighton out-ran and out-played us in the first half and fully deserved their half-time lead. 

Dailly and Llera were the busiest two players on the pitch and did a sterling job in holding the back line. Johnnie Jackson was again solid without seeing nearly as much of the ball as his centre-half pairing or, indeed Fraser Richardson who struggled throughout to keep up with Lualua. Once again, the problem for me was in central midfield. Nicky Bailey is still playing at half-pace and looks like he could be protecting a niggling injury. He was also so deep again that Therry Racon was left flapping about like a fish out-of-water. Racon's work-rate and contribution was way short of the standard required and it disconnected us again from the front two and, to a lesser extent, the wingers.

Sam and Reid tried hard and will no doubt attract criticism from Charlton fans who expect to see Stanley Matthews-type players on both sides of the field. The problem was, they had very little close support from central midfield and neither Richardson or Jackson looked too interested in pushing up. No surprise then that Burton and Mooney didn't get too many balls they could attack. As it was, Burton might have scored before Brighton did when he snapped a shot from twenty yards after a neat one-two but Brezovan in the Albion goal got enough on it to deflect it over the bar. Burton limped off not long afterwards, making way for an earlier appearance of Akpo Sodje than we would otherwise have expected. 

With ten minutes before half-time, Charlton had their best chance of the half to score as the ball ping-ponged around the Brighton box before falling to Racon 15 yards out in space but he fluffed his shot and the opportunity was gone. The ball was cleared downfield as Brighton countered and right-back Inigo Calderon was played in on the edge of the box. He got his shot off as Llera closed and it took enough of a deflection from Llera's boot to arc beyond Elliot's reach but not enough to evade the post and the vociferous Brighton fans erupted in the Jimmy Seed.

We started the second-half much better but it's hard to know whether we upped the tempo or whether Brighton were sitting back or taking a breather after their first -half efforts. Either way, we laboured away creating several half-chances and probably trying a little too hard once again. Akpo and Mooney both fired wide when they should have tested Brezovan and we were missing the industry of Bailey who was still largely anchored to Dailly and Llera. 

Phil Parkinson's response on cue of 70 minutes was to throw on Leon McKenzie for Fraser Richardson, who was in desperate need of a rest anyway, as we tried to apply more forward pressure. Sam Sodje was next on for Jackson as we went to three at the back but the plan back-fired. Rob Elliot became integral to the match as he was now running out to clear a flood of long balls or having to pump the ball up-field in the absence of his full-Backs. Brighton scored their second as direct consequence of this when an under-hit Elliot boot fell to Brighton in our half. The waiting player cleverly headed the ball straight forward and it fell for Elliott Bennett who took a touch 30 yards out before driving a low shot beyond Robbie Elliot. 

We were floored by the second and any fluency we had to our game disappeared just like so many of the 17,508 crowd who made their way to the exits in increasing numbers. I was on my way out behind the East Stand as I heard the muffled cheer of our injury time consolation goal from Akpo Sodje. I should comment on Brighton's impressive travelling support of close to 3,000 bearing in mind their season so far. It also begs the question "where were all the Charlton fans?" Night games are being poorly supported this season by the Valley faithful - not only is the pay-on-the-day turn-out poor but many season ticket holders are clearly not bothering to show up.

The inquest in the Oak is still underway as I write this, but it was a particularly hard night for Addicks fans as every other result went against us. We are now looking at dropping down to sixth and the writing's on the wall unless Phil Parkinson can get a response from this team. Like you, I am desperate to see it but there has been precious little sign of it since November when we put five past MK Dons after losing at Carlisle and reacted to Bristol Rovers coming from two down to beat them 4-2.

Southend is looking like another probable defeat and we could be under all sorts of pressure before Stockport visit on 6th March. Like I said the other week, this season is rapidly mirroring our first back in the Championship when Pardew could do nothing to affect performances or results as we slipped out of contention. 

The "Parky-out" brigade are warming up and we need a win at Southend to quieten things down a bit. We all know what the most-likely consequences are for our club and the manager if we fail this season. I only hope our fans won't deepen the mood or hasten our decline prematurely. 

Sunday 21 February 2010

Fixtures provide encouragement

Bouyed by our win yesterday and a return of sorts to something approaching our pre-New Year form, I thought I'd take a peek at our fixtures and those of our promotion hopefuls in the coming weeks. I'm pleased to report that there are some positive signs....

First thing to say is that the games in hand that some of our rivals have should all be played by the time we face Millwall on 13th March and the interesting thing is that they are all away from home! Leeds go to Tranmere, Huddersfield to Southampton, Millwall to Carlisle and Swindon's two are at MK Dons and Southampton. I'd bet on more points being lost here than gained. With our current points cushion, that should mean we can hold fourth spot.

Then, if we look at the next three games for the top seven, the top five have two at home and one away whilst Huddersfield and Millwall have to play two away and one at home. That might suggest less change amongst the top five? When  you then consider the respective opposition, then in only one of those 21 matches, do top seven sides face each other - Huddersfield v Leeds in a fortnight. So, it's pretty much a case of knocking over lower league opposition fo everyone. On that basis, we have every chance of making more ground up as face Brighton (22nd) at home, Southend (18th) away and Stockport (24th) at home. We don't always make respective league placings tell but you wouldn't swap these fixtures for say, Colchester's - Brentford (11th) at home, Bristol Rovers (10th) away and Brighton (22nd) at home.

So, in summary, we have another great chance here to recover and at least re-establish ourselves as the primary contender for the second automatic place. It would also be good to keep pace with the top two if only to avoid the stress of perhaps having to win games in order to avoid the catastrophe of missing the play-offs which has been looking a distinct possibility based on recent current form.

Bring on the Seagulls!

Saturday 20 February 2010

Charlton Athletic 2 v Yeovil Town 0

As expected, Phil Parkinson made changes to the side that disappointed at Bristol Rovers in front of the television cameras on Monday evening. Sam Sodje was dropped in favour of Miguel Llera and Johnnie Jackson made his home debut at left back for the injured Grant Basey. Predictably enough, Nicky Bailey returned to his central midfield berth alongside Therry Racon and Kyel Reid started out left. With Lloyd Sam providing balance on the left, normal service was resumed with Burton and Mooney up front.

Charlton were on top throughout this match and the result was reflective of our superiority although Yeovil were ambitious going forward and only three good saves from Rob Elliot prevented them from registering a score. Indeed, Sam Willimas had the first goal-scoring opportunity when he got on the end of a good Yeovil break but his shot was saved by the feet of Rob Elliot. Charlton responded with the move of the half as Racon's through-ball was dummied by Deon Burton into the path of Nicky Bailey who ran clear one-on-one with Alex McCarthy. Bailey opted to shoot early rather than taking the advancing keeper on and his shot cannoned off the keeper and over the bar. 

Yeovil had another good chance saved from Williams before Charlton broke the deadlock on the half-hour. Nicky Bailey broke from a Yeovil attack and with plenty of support played a ball through the middle to Kyel Reid who sped into the Yeovil half. With red shirts joining the attack on the left and right, things looked very promising as the three Yeovil defenders back-pedalled. Just as the options to his left looked compelling, Reid took aim and thumped a shot from fully 25 yards which hurtled beyond McCarthy and into the Yeovil net. From the East Stand it looked an unstoppable shot although I was assured afterwards that it was very close to McCarthy and that he should have managed to get something on it. Irrespective, we had the lead and we didn't look like surrendering it after that although Alcock did send a shot narrowly wide before the break.

Charlton were two-up within ten minutes of the start of the second-half as Mooney got on the end of a near-post pull back from Racon to blast a shot high into the net to end the contest. That enabled Charlton to play some decent football, the sort we have been missing badly in recent weeks. The back four played well against a spirited Yeovil side who came for more than the draw. Johnnie Jackson had a quietly efficient debut at left-back and Miguel Llera was impressive at centre-half alongside Dailly. Richardson put in another decent shift although he need to be at his best to compete with a lively Yeovil front-line.

Bailey was quiet in the first-half although he should have opened the scoring but he was much more active in the second period. Racon had a much better match alongside Bailey but he looked like he was struggling with the pace of the game at times. Lloyd Sam could have done more for me today but Kyel Reid showed the way with his goal and a better attacking second-half. 

Upfront Burton and Mooney worked hard. Mooney had the goal and a much busier second-half to show for his efforts. Unusually for us, we only really made the one substitution during the game with Wagstaff getting on for Sam with fifteen minutes left. Semedo did come on for Racon on 90 minutes but that was more about running the clock down than anything else.

So, a much needed home victory on a day when Norwich and Millwall both lost. Leeds managed yet another last-gasp goal to salvage a point from their home match against Brighton and all-of-a-sudden things look much rosier. A second Valley win in four days against Brighton in front of 16,000+ fans will go a long way to settling nerves and putting us in a confident frame of mind for Friday's encounter at Roots Hall. With Stockport to come at the Valley after that, we look like we might just be picking up enough points to reassert our promotion credentials. If we can do that, I suspect other results might just go our way and things could open up for us before we go to Millwall. 

A final word for our supporters today who showed admirable restraint before getting behind the side and cheering them on to victory. More of that on Tuesday might be enough to see us record back-to-back wins once again.

Friday 19 February 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 32

Just as this season was threatening to mirror the last couple, we have moved in for yet another loan player in the wake of the Grant Basey injury. Left winger Johnnie Jackson from Notts County is the latest loanee to fill the gap at left back. This move says more about Kelly Youga's long term prospects and how young Chris Solly is viewed as much as anything else. I hope I am wrong and that either Kelly or Chris are back at left-back quickly which might free Jackson up to play down the left wing where we appear so short, switching between Reid, Shelvey, Racon, Bailey and either Wagstaff or Sam. At least the move is injury-inspired and not a management gamble aimed at trying to get something out of a dispirited squad of players who are playing short on confidence.

The next five days should shake things up a bit in the League One race as all sides play on Saturday and Tuesday. We have the prospect of regaining some lost ground amongst our play-off rivals as we entertain two lower table sides at the Valley.

Charlton Athletic v Yeovil Town
I felt we were robbed by the weather in the away game where we might reasonably have expected to take all three points had the match not been largely dictated by the gale and the torrential winds. Yeovil are not great travellers despite winning their last away fixture 4-1 at Wycombe, only their eleventh point of the season on the road. They come to the Valley looking to recover from a goal-less draw with Gillingham and a 1-0 defeat against Colchester in two successive home games. I don't think it will be pretty but surely we have enough about us to record our first win in six games?
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Oldham Athletic
Having finally got the bit between their teeth and moved above us into third place, Colchester have the added incentive here of possibly drawing level with Leeds on points if the Elland Road wobble continues. I think they will have to settle for fourth but can't see Oldham keeping their sheet clean for too long here.
Prediction; 3-0

Exeter City v Stockport County
The Grecians are hovering above the drop zone and need to get their act together if they are to stay out of trouble. Stockport at home is a god-send in the circumstances.
Prediction; 2-0

Gillingham v Bristol Rovers
Not one for the purists, but Chris Dickson should get the chance he missed on Tuesday to show Paul Trollope what he missed. Rovers looked a lumpy, physical side to me on Tuesday, not unlike Gillingham. The Gills are in real trouble and are desperate for points.
Prediction; 2-1

Hartlepool United v Huddersfield Town
Huddersfield know that improving their away form is key to them making the play-offs. They did just that in winning their fourth away match of the campaign at Carlisle in the week. This is another winnable away but Hartlepool know their work is not done yet and should provide reasonable opposition.
Prediction; 1-1

Leeds United v Brighton & Hove Albion
This should be a routine 2-0 home win but lowly Brighton are better away from the Withdean and Leeds are playing with even less confidence than Charlton Athletic right now. A second successive home defeat is probably too much to hope for and Beckford is likely to respond with a double.
Prediction; 2-1

MK Dons v Southend United
Paul Ince will have been smarting at seeing his side thrashed 5-0 at Carlisle last week and will be demanding a response. Barring a rousing home win over Charlton next Friday, Southend's season looks over.
Prediction; 3-0

Norwich City v Southampton
Match-of-the-Day for me. People have been talking Southampton up for months now, but the fact is that even with their ten point deduction, they would still only be in ninth place. Having been put in their box by mighty Portsmouth in the cup last week they return to mundane league action here and might struggle to raise their game to where they need it to beat a pumping Norwich.
Prediction; 2-0

Swindon Town v Carlisle United
Carlisle are best avoided on the betting coupon but I can't see any surprises here. After losing at home to Huddersfield in the week, this might be a game too soon. Town have two games in hand to catch us but they won't want to rely on those.
Prediction; 2-0

Tranmere Rovers v Leyton Orient
Rovers have given themselves a fighting chance of avoiding the drop and are now level on points with Gillingham and Brighton. Home form is their saving grace and they should find Orient an open door if they can push hard enough.
Prediction; 2-1

Walsall v Brentford
Tenth play eleventh here and there's probably not a lot between them. Home form might be enough but I can see a draw.
Prediction; 1-1

Wycombe Wanderers v Millwall
Millwall are flying at the moment courtesy of a mean defence and a never-say-die front-line. Their big problem has been sustained concentration and this could be an awkward fixture for them. Losing at the New Den won't be the end-of-the-world for us although it might feel more like it if the win lifts the Lions above us in the table. Heaven forbid, so I am going for an overdue loss of concentration here.
Prediction; 2-1

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Charlton Life evolution

I am a keen follower of most of the threads on Charlton Life and have been for a couple of years. It's a good way to keep up with all things Charlton and is a great communication medium. It's the best Charlton Messageboard by a mile and  I like the fact that it's well managed and most users play the game. 

When I compare it to some of those of other clubs, it is an accurate reflection of our fan base compared to theirs; (largely) articulate, intelligent and reasonable. If you want a more extreme example, look at the embarrassing crap that passes between the brain-doners on this Millwall forum.

It's also the best because it's where the vast majority of all the other lifetime Charlton fans I know choose to comment. I try to remain largely anonymous personally (for obvious reasons), but I have been able to work out who most of the regular posters are from what they have said over the last couple of years.
From time-to-time I have noticed changes as the Board and it's audience have matured and that is particularly true of what I am seeing at the moment. 

Perhaps it's all understandable in terms of a cycle of development and evolution? The user-base has matured as the Board's popularity has grown and whilst I am sure there is a healthy churn and turnover of visitors, it's now largely a case of the regular posters and commentators. 

What I am currently seeing might just be a reflection on the bitterly frustrating life of diehard Charlton fans at the moment, but it may also be more than that.  In recent weeks there has been an escalating tendency to provoke other users or simply engage in direct slating of one another. Sarcastic comments and point scoring are very common where once they were rare and collectively frowned upon. There appear to be factions all over the place and I can almost guess the next poster and what they will say.

I am left wondering whether what we are seeing is just what might be expected a couple of years in when most of the regular contributors now know each other personally now and enough about each others backgrounds, viewpoints and Charlton histories to be more direct and critical of each other? If this has more to do with it than our recent loss of form, I am left wondering what the logical conclusion of this will be? Will it wither on the vine as users turn away or will the active user base churn as those snapping at each other lose interest and maybe sort their differences out face-to-face?

Maybe it's a bit of both and we need an upturn in form for a return of a little more respect for the opinions of fellow fans, whether we agree with them or not. Either way it's not the time to be fighting amongst ourselves.

Applying salt

Liberally to the wounds. That's what Colchester and Huddersfield did last night as they won their respective away games. Colchester climbed above the Addicks for the first time this season and are now two points clear on the same number of games. Huddersfield closed the gap to seventh and increased the real prospect of us missing out on even the play-offs.

The added twist to the evening was faltering Leeds losing their first home match of the season to Walsall and finding themselves only three points clear of Colchester with only one game in hand.

The magnitude of our recent mini-collapse is painfully clear and there can be no greater motivation for 14 professional footballers on Saturday at the Valley. 

Leeds, Colchester and Charlton all have two consecutive home games coming up against moderate opposition, so we have the prospect of maintaining our current position even if we do win both games against Yeovil and Brighton. Southend away next Friday evening might just allow us to split the pair of them, even if only for 20 hours or whatever, but that is a massive ask given our current away form.

I was critical of Parky's tinkering yesterday as it looks like a mix and match squad with so little difference available irrespective of the selection. Perhaps a switch back to a 4-5-1 might do the trick in terms of making us harder to score against and giving our midfield more time and encouraging them all to get forward and support the front man? Not my ideal, especially for home games, but I don't have any other answers given the way the squad don't appear to play for the shirt and the lack of players taking responsibility and ownership in matches.

I hope the Valley crowd will exercise some patience on Saturday and get behind the side if we play well enough and take the lead. If we don't, then frankly, it's going to be a very unpleasant afternoon for all concerned.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Parky's thinking for Yeovil

"It's all going wrong since New Year. No wins in five and only 9 points from 21 in 2010. I've got to get a result from somewhere or we are going to miss the play-offs and the footballing world will start laughing at us again. I'll be out of work and the best players in the side will be sold off. Richard Murray is blanking me again. The Valley could be hostile on Saturday, so 'll need to ensure the fans don't have anything to boo about at the start, so I've got to make changes. The fans will expect to see a large number of changes anyway to reflect my managerial strength and shared disappointment with the crap we served up at Bristol.

Having lost and conceded two poor goals, someone has to be dropped from the defence. We'll get some sympathy for having to start with Chris Solly, so I'll drop Sam Sodje as he was all over the shop and gave them their second goal which put the game out-of-reach. That'll stop Llera sulking for a few weeks too. I didn't think putting Bailey out on the wing was a good move and should have followed my instincts instead of listening to Therry Racon's moaning about not being given a chance. Unless Bails is back in the middle on Saturday, we will start to loud booing and I can't afford that. Anyway, it will justify putting Kyel Reid or Jonjo back on the left. Who to play with Bailey? Matt Spring never complains and maybe another try in the middle might change things? Let's face it, nothing else appears to be working.  I could go with Semedo again but if I drop him and Racon, then they won't feel like I am singling either of them out. 

Lloyd Sam deserves to go back to the bench but I better show some perseverance. Maybe he'll have one of his good games?

What to do upfront? We simply haven't had the personnel all season and Deon's lucky streak has dried-up. He was hopeless the other night but Akpo was just as bad. Mooney doesn't look like shaking that egg off his head, so Leon McKenzie will have to start. I'll decide between Deon and Akpo before the match, although Akpo has at least scored from the bench in living memory."

Dear-oh-dear, it's all so predictable.

This evening the knife could well and truly be turned. Leeds should increase the gap in second to an unassailable 8 points. We will also need strong home performances from Carlisle and Yeovil to halt the advances of Huddersfield and Colchester respectively. We can't keep relying on other sides to pick points off our rivals to keep us in the hunt.

Monday 15 February 2010

Bristol Rovers 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

I predicted a defeat this evening, so am not surprised by the result. I was, however, disappointed with the tactics and the performances of too many of our players which put the game beyond us.
The assault on Grant Basey was criminal and we will miss him badly in the run-in, especially as Kelly Youga looks like he has a Doctors note until March at the earliest.
Young Solly did well in Basey's place but it's asking a lot of an inexperienced teenager to play you to promotion. Other than that, I have a number of observations I'm keen to get off my chest....
1) Rob Elliot made three fine saves which could have had us further behind earlier on in the match.
2) Sam Sodje had an absolute stinker and was lucky to have got away with conceding a penalty for a blatant foul. On this performance alone he deserves to be dropped.
3) Dailly and Richardson did what was expected again but they saw too much of the ball.
4) The midfield was a mess. We have already established to our cost that Bailey is wasted on the wing and that Semedo and Racon can't run the midfield in high tempo matches, typical of away games.
5) Racon had the worst performance in a red shirt that I can remember. His goal at the death was almost an embarrassment in the circumstances.
6) Lloyd Sam responds to being brought back into the side like he's looking for another start on the bench. Two crosses in 96 minutes simply isn't good enough. I also wish he would stop smiling at inappropriate moments too, like when the final whistle goes when we have been beaten. Look like you care Lloyd (even if you don't).
7) Burton was marked out of the match and Akpo Sodje looked well short of what he has shown to date.
8) David Mooney reminds me of myself as a rampaging centre-forward. Not quite fast enough or good enough to be in the right place at the right time but so desperately frustrated at my own inadequacies that I couldn't help handling the ball whenever necessary to try and gain some advantage to make up for the shortfall in ability.
9) Why-oh-why was the half-time substitution not to bring Bailey back into the middle for Racon? Instead we tinkered with the forward line which had seen precious little service. When Bailey was brought back into the middle at the next substitution we left the misfiring Racon on.
10) Parky's post match rumble about "responding to the setback" and "grinding out some results" was understandable in the circumstances but cuts no ice with me. We should have done that after the Orient match but then scraped a draw with Tranmere.

Automatic Promotion has long gone and all of the sides down to Huddersfield in seventh will now have us in their sights. Games in hand could see us slip to fifth, two points above Millwall with us yet to go to the New Den. Huddersfield, too, have two matches to spare on us and could get to within three points. As I said several weeks ago, the pressure is well and truly on for the Yeovil game.

Shock horror - Dickson to Gillingham

The most inevitable of loan moves in the history of Charlton Athletic finally came about today as Chris Dickson joined Gillingham for his second spell, this time for three months. The hullabaloo and name-calling from earlier in the season over his failed move and Phil Parkinson's insistence that Chris had "can play a big part for us until the end of the season" has been forgotten as Charlton trim their wage bill.

Gillingham are in dire straights and a relegation dogfight looms now that the goals from Simeon Jackson have dried up. Ordinarily, you would think we have seen the last of Dicko, but I am not so sure. If he doesn't get the goals for Gillingham and their season peters out (or they go down) they might not find his wages affordable and if his scoring ratio gets anywhere near where it was last he was there, we might want a fee for him that the Gills couldn't match.

I feel sorry for Chris Dickson that he hasn't made more of his opportunity at the Valley, especially at a time when we have a crop of very average strikers at the club. Maybe that's the problem because Chris can't seem to hack it amongst what we've got and has certainly done too little to earn himself a regular spot. Lest we forget, this is the former Dulwich Hamlet striker who told Darren Bent on his first day at training that he was after his shirt!

It's ironic of course, that Dickson should move today when he could be on the bench all fired-up to come on and exact some retribution from Britsol Rovers for failing to offer him an extension to his spell there before New Year. Rovers thought they had better options but have failed to score in six of their last eight games.

Season Tickets - take it or leave it

My season ticket application form landed on the mat on Saturday although I have only just seen it as it was helpfully buried beneath my beloved's shopping mail.

Each year at this time of the season I hope to be pleasantly surprised by some innovative pricing or a scheme that would capture my imagination - like a return to terracing on the Lower North (I know this will never happen but you know what I mean). The old "free season ticket offer" in the event of promotion back to the Premier League was inspired and it meant we averaged over 20,000 for our two seasons back in the Championship. 

After relegation last year and the financial imperative, the club were unable to repeat the offer and last year's deal was a basic renewal with some minor early payment incentives. I didn't think the offer went nearly far enough to encourage the "will-I-won't-I's? to renew, although I conceded the point that they probably got the balance between maintaining numbers and maximising revenue about right on reflection. We have an impressive c 10,500 Season Ticket holders this year and the challenge for the club now is to repeat the trick from last season.

The offer though, is pretty much the same again although the club are using a disincentive this time in order to encourage take-up. We are now under pressure to buy early, by 31st March, in order to avoid possible price rises (in the event we end up playing in the Championship) and there is a threat that your current seat will be reallocated after 31st March if you do not buy early. This is all disappointing and more than a little disingenuous.

The fact is, we won't know which division we will be playing in next season come 31st March. So unless you renew early, you risk a price increase and the dreaded threat of someone coveting your seat. How much more can they charge for Championship football? Not much in my view if they want to sell any significant volumes post 31st March. The market probably won't bear an increase on walk-up prices, so any increase will need to be under these and by enough to encourage us to part with our money for every game in advance. I am guessing there might be a £25 premium for Championship football season tickets.

The alternative is you pays your money early in the knowledge that you will be watching an inferior side (it's public knowledge there will be a fire-damage sale) in League One next season if we fail to get through the lottery of the Play-Offs this year. If you are going to renew anyway, you might save yourself the modest post-31st March rise. However, if you don't think this much of an incentive, you can always wait, safe in the knowledge that the chances of losing your seat  (especially in the East and West) are practically non-existent and hardly of any consequence in any event as you will find yourself another six feet away at worst. For those who might not fancy another season of League One football, they, of course, will have the luxury of not bothering to renew at all in those circumstances. It will be too late to rethink this should take-up during March not be great and we fail to get promoted.

The other bone of contention for me is the 5 Year VIP deal. I bought this last time around and was keen to do so again. The savings are likely to be modest with relatively low inflation likely to continue for several years at least. My motivation was being hassle-free for five years and giving the club some much-needed investment. Unfortunately, the detail of the offer casts a cloud over the deal and introduces a risk that I wouldn't previously have been too concerned about. The club's Credit Card partner won't take payment for 5 Year tickets, presumably because they will be liable to meet the cost of a refund in the event that the tickets can't be honoured over the term. Instead, it's cheques (and presumably cash) only.

I can understand this to an extent, given the situation football clubs find themselves in at the moment, but the club has done nothing to reassure fans about this and it begs the question about just how risky this is. If the club goes into Administration it would be down to the Administrator or new owners to honour previous commitments but there must be a slight concern that VIP ticket holders would be seen strictly as creditors and lose all or part of their investment. This wouldn't make good financial sense for the Administrator or new owners because there would immediately be enormous distrust from all fans, but the risk is there nonetheless. The contract for these VIP tickets is currently only being provided after you pay your money. Call me Doubting Thomas but that don't seem right to me. What's to hide?

So, unless the club makes some effort to alleviate these concerns, I won't be buying in as a VIP. The prospect of access to my own Fans Forum representative will have to wait awhile longer. In the circumstances then, I will renew after 31st March and probably closer to the start of the season. Who knows, perhaps there will be another deadline, say 31st May for post 31st March renewals that will actually offer an incentive for whatever quality of football we are likely to e served up in 10-11.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Please Charlton

Put the smile back on my face. Yesterday was another painful sporting day for me. Scotland put us through the full range of emotions in the 6 Nations clash with Wales in Cardiff as we threw it away conceding 17 points and the lead in five desperate last minutes. This was the footballing equivalent of being two up after 85 minutes and conceding three late goals. It was, at least, a much improved performance and we saw a much more ambitious and attacking Scotland showing. Chris Paterson was injured early on and Thom Evans was stretchered off late on. Paterson might recover before the tournament finishes but Evans will be out for some time. Unfortunately, it writes off Scotland's championship for another year and makes my trip to Rome in a fortnight a strictly Wooden Spoon affair.

In League One, things looked promising with 20 minutes of the afternoon card remaining. Leeds and Norwich were both losing to lowly Orient and Brighton respectively but both recovered. Leeds forced a draw whilst the Canaries went one better to get back on the winning track after their reverse at Millwall last week.

Millwall themselves won again yesterday in a poor match against Exeter City. The game was devoid of goalscoring opportunities until Neil Harris stepped up to finish an 81st free kick and win the contest. 

Elsewhere Colchester drew at Stockport and Huddersfield and Swindon played out a draw which leaves us a point clear in third. Tomorrow's night Sky encounter against Bristol Rovers is a great chance for us to increase our lead in third and steady the ship with two home games to come against Yeovil and Brighton. Unfortunately, unless we are much bolder in our game plan away from the Valley, the draw looks like the result we are really playing for. Soaking up pressure and hitting sides on the break isn't good enough when you are five and potentially eight points adrift of the big prize. The draw at Swindon will encourage Phil Parkinson to stick with his tactics and with two games to come at home, I can see us falling short of the commitment needed to win the game tomorrow. 

Please Charlton, prove me wrong and put the smile back on my face.

Friday 12 February 2010

Promotion for Varney?

In a surprise move yesterday, Peter Varney resigned from the Charlton board for a second time and less than six months after re-joining the club.

Ordinarily, I would see this as a portent of doom - we certainly didn't prosper after his last departure, although the writing was on the wall and he would probably have been unable to change the course of events that befell the club. However, he rejoined the club with his eyes wide open so even the prospects of another painful close season shouldn't be the reason for his latest exit. Rather, that his impressive CV has landed on the desk of a club in desperate need of solid management and that he's about to be appointed. Let's face it, there is no shortage at the moment. Wyn seems to have a sniff that it's West Ham, although I thought that was Karen Brady's job and a club that has the CEO turning lights off at night might struggle to pay for a second chief.

Either way, I am hoping for an announcement quickly to clarify the situation and rid me of my natural cynicism that Peter's motives are driven by something altogether more unpalatable.

Thursday 11 February 2010

League One Weekend Preview, Game 30

Slow week this on the Charlton front.....

With a Portsmouth, Cardiff and Southend all facing winding up petitions yesterday and getting stays of execution, the rest of us are keeping our heads down and hoping it won't be us any time soon. The Bluebirds and the Shrimpers have been given 28 days in which to get their story straight but poor old Pompey just 7 days in which to come up with a more convincing explanation of how they are going to provide the finances to meet their debts. With £60m owing and relatively large sums at the heart of the immediate winding up petition (£7m), it's hard to see how they will avoid voluntarily going into Administration in the next seven days, which would surely be the death-knell for them as it would practically resign them to Championship football next year and wipe out any remaining incentive for a prospective buyer.

Another Charlton-less Saturday ahead and the agony of watching our play-off rivals make further ground on us. Colchester may well scramble above us which would put Monday's match at Bristol Rovers into sharp perspective. We could be watching our team playing with a familiar fear in the next couple of home games.

Brentford v Wycombe Wanderers
Brentford scored four in their last Griffin Park showing and Wycombe conceded four at home. This looks like an uncomfortable afternoon for Gary Waddock and his boys and could well be another nail in the Chairboys coffin as they fall behind in the battle to avoid the drop.
Prediction; 3-1

Brighton & Hove Albion v Norwich City
Brighton held Huddersfield at the Withdean in the week and the same again would be a good result as they look to stay clear of the drop zone. Norwich though will be itching to get another three points under their belts after their poor showing at the New Den last week where they didn't create a chance after Millwall went 2-1 up with forty minutes to go. Can't see Norwich failing where nine other sides have succeeded already this season.
Prediction; 0-2

Carlisle United v MK Dons
Carlisle provided some much needed cheer in the week by denying cocky Leeds another Wembley final by knocking them out of the JPT. Back on Planet Earth they look firmly mid-table after their mid-season resurgence but face an MK Dons side who may have a fraction more fire in their bellies as they chase seventh spot. The cup game might take it's toll.
Prediction; 1-2

Huddersfield Town v Swindon Town
A corker in prospect here as two form sides meet. We could do with Swindon dropping points in view of their two matches in hand and I think we will get that here. Huddersfield remain unbeaten at home and know that this is a play-off six pointer.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Leeds United
I can't see the motivation here for the O's. They drew at home with Brighton last week after hitting four in their previous home performance. They look solidly mid-table and even a wobbling Leeds  should have more than enough to inflict a sixth home reverse of the season. We live in hope of the door being opened again...
Prediction; 0-1

Millwall v Exeter City
Millwall have hit form at just the right time and they look very solid defensively.  With Morison and Harris firing upfront they look like making further ground in the play-off places before the season finishes. They could well cut our lead over them with their game in hand and us yet to visit the New Den. We could do with one of their inexplicable home defeats but I can't see Exeter doing it.
Prediction; 2-0

Oldham Athletic v Walsall
Oldham's relegation battle looks like it will run until the visit of the Addicks on the last day of the season. They managed a vital 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Tranmere last weekend and will be hoping to carry that on here. Walsall's play-off hopes look like they have been extinguished but they might have enough about them for a share of the spoils.
Prediction; 1-1

Southend United v Tranmere Rovers
After losing 2-0 on the box at Colchester on Monday evening, Southend return to Roots Hall with a very winnable game against the Wirral's finest. Can't see anything going wrong for them here.
Prediction; 2-0

Stockport County v Colchester United
Colchester get the chance they have been waiting for all season on Saturday when a win could catapult them into third place at our expense. With their match in hand at Yeovil on Tuesday to come, they might even cement that lead if we fail at Bristol Rovers on Monday. Perhaps two wins away from home on the spin is too much too expect?
Prediction; 0-1

Yeovil Town v Gillingham
Pity travelling Gills fans. Three points out of 45 on the road this season. Not a single win and this looks like another fruitless slog. 
Prediction; 2-0

Bristol Rovers v Charlton Athletic
With only one draw at home all season, it's usually win or bust for the Pirates in front of their own fans (they have only drawn two away). The fact that they have only won 8 and lost 5 at least gives ambitious visitors the hope of a win. Trouble is, we have been far from ambitious in recent weeks as Parky has set the stall out for hit and runs. Add to that the last minute equaliser at Swindon and I think he will feel justified in trying it again here. If we do, then I predict a convincing home victory. The presence of the Sky cameras will do nothing to help shine a positive light on the travelling hundreds or on our chances of a victory. A performance and result at the Valley are long overdue and we may be looking desperate come 20th February.
Prediction; 2-0

Monday 8 February 2010

No power for Scotland

Ah the start of the 6 Nations! The coming together of the fans before the match. The characters, the sights, the bonhomie  and the sharing of a drink. The collective hopes and fears of neighbours and allies. Scottish hopes lasted barely half-an-hour as Mathieu Bastareaud punctured the Scottish line twice in the opening half to set 20,000 Frenchmen crowing. If you don't tackle him within three paces of him receiving the ball it takes ten yards at least in which to bring him down.

I was expecting more from Andy Robinson's re-galvanised side. With "Mossie" Paterson restored to the starting 15 and some promise from the backs, we thought we were in with a shout. Robinson was keen to point out some tactical weaknesses that have restricted Scotland's ambitions in recent years. Our angle of attack was invariably too flat and combined with inferior handling, we were failing create the try-scoring points damage that wins rugby matches. He was spot on with this assessment and I had hopes that with Morrison, Lamont and the Evans brothers, we might also have the personnel equipped to take advantage of a tactical re-training. Trouble was, it looked the same. Time and again the ball hurtled from one side of the pitch to the other in an ever-flattening Scotland line with the speed of the pass having to increase with each player to order to avoid throwing it forward or being intercepted. Only twice did we break the French line and create any chaos but on both occasions we were 60 yards from the try-line and it was expecting too much for a breakaway score.

Up front we struggled to hold the more dominant French pack but we did at least manage to keep it together. Nathan Hines avoided being sin-binned which is always a bonus although that makes him favourite to spend time on the touch-line in Cardiff on Saturday. Kellock and Beattie had good games but it looked tough in the front row. With substitutions from both sides entering the fray towards the end of the match, home fans were treated to the sight of Richie Gray making his 6 nations debut (I think). At 6 foot 10 inches and 18 stones, with a mop of blond hair, he makes an instant impression. Unfortunately, he can't jump and is historically slow. I hope I am wrong here but he doesn't look like the future of Scottish rugby to me.

So, another disappointment for an Addicks fan with too many of those recently. My Uncle's new jag broke down en route to Edinburgh, which meant he missed the match and I had the added expense of purchasing another match ticket from a tout as the inept Scottish Rugby Union have a policy of not selling tickets on matchdays. You couldn't make it up anywhere else, but this lot are absolutely clueless and make the English FA look like a model of dynamism embued with common sense.

Looking on the bright side, I should get a footballing trip in the next 18 months to the reigning European Champions and perhaps another visit to Prague or Vilnius to watch my country struggling to qualify for Poland 2012. 

Sunday 7 February 2010

Swindon Town 1v Charlton Athletic 1

I didn't get to follow much of the game what with two rugby 6 Nations matches and a run to cram in before getting ready for an evening out with friends who are staying. What I did hear sounded like one-way traffic in our direction and it was no surprise to see us go behind in the second-half. The shock was that Nicky Bailey scored a last-gasp equaliser to secure the result I predicted more in hope than belief.

Parkinson tinkered with the squad and the playing formation again yesterday, purportedly playing a 4-2-3-1, although it's hard to fathom why when it sounded like a rearguard action for most of the game and a smash and grab at the end. I also don't see the point in dropping players for only one match when the replacement plays well enough only to be shuffled out again a la Chris Solly. Perhaps Parky's looking to keep everyone happy or trying to get an extra 10% out of some players in a bid to make the difference. Either way it doesn't appear to be working. Draws are relegation form and the pack are closing in.

It was a valuable point nonetheless, I hadn't realised that Swindon have three games in hand and are only eight points behind. A nice enough gap but if they had reduced it to five yesterday we would be looking vulnerable. Colchester can catch us now if they win their two games in hand (Southend at home on Monday) and Millwall can get within five with us yet to go to the New Den. Looking back to Huddersfield in seventh, they are 11 points short of us but have three in hand. Games in hand won't all be converted to points, so we should still maintain our lead over the chasers but we have to start winning again and soon. 

I am off to Edinburgh this morning to see my beloved Scotland take on the French in what promises to be a mighty battle. Our annual hopes of turning the corner hang on this opening game. Win it and we can travel to Wales and then Italy with high hopes. Lose and thoughts of avoiding the Wooden Spoon will once again be uppermost in the mind. As much as team selection and tactics are important, it's the weather that might hold the key to the game. The colder and wetter the better for us and sleet is forecast, which will do just fine for me. 

For once the talk is not of a potentially dominating Scottish pack but of some pace and promise in the backs. I expect the forwards to hold the French and give them a hard time but it would be nice to see Scotland scoring other than from the boot of the metronomic Chris Paterson. Time to deliver and I can't wait.

Friday 5 February 2010

Oh joyous day!

Today has been the most uplifting for me this year. First of all, I was surprised and delighted to learn that that the CPS are going ahead with criminal proceedings against four MP's (one a Lord)  following long-running investigations of their expenses. 

Frankly, I thought they would sweep it all under carpet under the guise of Parliamentary Privilege (part of the Old Boys Network). That, or they would determine that the chances of a successful prosecution were too slim to justify it. So, great news that they have the nerve to prosecute and that justice may yet be done. The accused could yet get off under the excuse of Parliamentary Privilege but if that happens the law must surely be changed to prevent it happening again. I won't labour the point, but who could miss the fact that they have paid off their mortgage for 18 months? Step forward Elliot Morley.

Then, joy of joys, Capello returned to join the debate over John Terry and has had the balls to relieve him of the Captaincy. Maybe the evidence yet to come has made Terry's position untenable or simply what we have already heard is enough, but I am as surprised with the prosecution of thieving MP's that Terry the Snake is facing his comeuppance.

Only one snag of course re Terry - Fabio has confirmed Rio Ferdinand as the new captain. The disappointment for me here is not that the honour has gone to an equally unworthy candidate but that it almost cements the fact that the passed-it Rio will be playing in South Africa. Classic England pre-tournament (just like Scotland failing to qualify before someone reminds me).

League One Weekend Preview, Game 30

Confidence amongst the Addickted of getting something from Saturday's encounter at Swindon is as low as it's been for any match this season. Our inability to turn drawn matches into wins has become our Achilles Heel. With a four point gap above us and only two below us, attention turns almost inevitably to the chasing pack as we steel ourselves for the scramble to extend our season and fight for the chance of a Wembley consolation prize. 

Swindon are on a Norwich-style run at the moment and have danger aplenty upfront in Austin and Paynter. However, the fightback at the Valley against Swindon a mere seven games ago with only nine men was our last memorable performance and I think we are capable of getting a result there tomorrow, even if that might be another damning draw. This is how I see the rest of the weekend games panning out...

Brentford v Gillingham
The Bees sit eight points outside the play-off places and know that they need a home win here if they are to maintain their fading hopes of keeping their season alive. The Gills have mustered only two goals in their last four games and this might be another struggle although they have a tendency to do well against London sides. Brentford should have enough here to claim the points.
Prediction; 2-1

Exeter City v Southampton
Southampton were held at Griffin Park in the week and remain 13 points adrift of sixth-placed Millwall. A mountain to climb in spite of their good form following their ten point deduction and dodgy start. They might find this as hard as Leeds did a few weeks ago. The Grecians will certainly fancy it.
Prediction; 2-1

Hartlepool United v Leeds United
Leeds fans might be privately relieved to be out of the F A Cup although they still have the JPT to deal with although Carlisle away may look less daunting than before and a Wembley appearance before the end of the season might give them a buzz on the run-in. As it is, our own slip-up will have taken the pressure off the Whites. They should be confident enough of winning here.
Prediction; 0-2

Huddersfield Town v Carlisle United
Looks like another routine home win for Huddersfield Town although Carlisle have been feisty on the road this season having lost only five of fourteen. I'll take Town to edge it.
Prediction; 2-1

Leyton Orient v Brighton & Hove Albion
After their impressive 5-0 demolition of Bristol Rovers in the week, this game can't come soon enough for the O's. Amazingly, Orient find themselves on level-pegging with Brentford and might just fancy a surge towards the play-offs. This won't be easy against a Brighton side who have hauled themselves out of the bottom four in recent weeks but they have all to play for.
Prediction; 2-1

Millwall v Norwich City
My match-of-the-day in League One. Hard to see Norwich being beaten but they are not as invincible as their long run of results suggests and they have ridden their luck at times. Millwall aren't conceding at the moment and in Morison they have a striker on form. There should be a good atmosphere at the New Den and I will stick my neck out and see Norwich being beaten here.
Prediction; 1-0

Stockport County v MK Dons
MK Dons are struggling to get back into a play-off position and were held at home by Exeter last time out. They are in desperate need of a win and opportunities away from home don't come much better than this. Stockport look dead and buried, although there is always the danger that they will start playing with care-free abandon once there is complete acceptance of their predicament. Not this week though.
Prediction; 1-3

Swindon Town v Charlton Athletic
I won't be making the trip down the M4 this weekend. Partially because I am a bit disenchanted at the moment but more accurately because I am going up to Edinburgh on Sunday for Scotland's 6 Nations opener and disappearing for the whole weekend would be pushing my luck. I think we might go close to winning this but might have the ongoing frustration of yet another draw.
Prediction;  2-2

Tranmere Rovers v Oldham Athletic
Rovers could leapfrog Oldham at the bottom if they win here. They have long been amongst my favourites for the drop although home-form was always likely to be their saviour if they could find any. Oldham will come with a point in mind and that might be their undoing.
Prediction; 2-1

Walsall v Bristol Rovers
Walsall weren't as impressive as some of their home results have indicated when we came close to beating them in the week. They will want to put on a better performance here against a side hammered 5-0 by the O's on Tuesday. Troy Deeney will miss the opportunity to add to his burgeoning scoring reputation following his dismissal against us.
Prediction; 1-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Yeovil Town
The Chairboys are running out of games in which to make up the gap to safety. they are five points behind Brighton now and face a Yeovil side who look safe in mid-table and who have managed only one win away from Somerset all season. This could be a precious fourth home win of the season.
Prediction; 2-1

Colchester United v Southend United
Thames Estuary derby here, live on Sky on Monday night. Colchester have been dropping points of late but edged past Carlisle at home on Tuesday. We could do with the Shrimpers getting something from this one but I can't see it.
Prediction; 3-0