Thursday 29 September 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 11

It's a big weekend at the top of League One (which I guess means it should be an equally big weekend at the other end?). Eight of the top nine sides are pitted against each other with only fast appearing Preston playing a side from further down and they have the easy paper task of visiting rock bottom Orient.

I have been swithering about the trip to Sheffield on Saturday. My work has been manic this week and I have hardly seen my family, so am under far more pressure than normal not to disappear on Saturday. I may have to rely on CAFC Player. 

Brentford v Huddersfield Town
Two decent League One games in the capital city this weekend. Unbeaten Huddersfield go to Griffin Park where the Bees need a big win to get buzzing again. Brentford have only managed one home point in their last three and need to re-establish themselves. They might find Town resilient enough for a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Chesterfield Colchester United

Colchester are struggling to get going this year and Chesterfield might give them a tough test here. Can't see the Train Addicks bumping into too many Colchester fans this weekend.
Prediction; 2-0

Exeter City v Oldham Athletic
Like Colchester, both of these teams are under-performing against last year and the Grecians may be missing Matt Taylor at the back. Oldhan have managed three wins away from the grim North and they might feel on holiday in deepest Devon.
Prediction; 1-2

Hartlepool United Sheffield Wednesday
Possibly Hartlepool's largest crowd of the season will come to see Pools defend their unbeaten home record. Megson will settle for a draw if he can get one.
Prediction; 1-1

Leyton Orient Preston North End
The second decent looking League One match in town this weekend, which I would be tempted to go to if we weren't playing at the same time. We'd all like to see the O's take something here but they are in a mess. Phil Brown has probably nicked the League One Manager-of-the-Month from Chris Powell and their win over our reserves in the League Cup could be the result that sways the panel. Perhaps the curse that accompanies it may help us?
Prediction; 0-2

MK Dons v Notts County
Fifth v sixth here and very hard to call although MK are probably the better all-round team. 
Prediction; 2-1

Rochdale Wycombe Wanderers
Trap-door derby and Dale will see this as a game they need to be winning if they are to progress in this division. Wanderers are unpredictable but may suffer a hangover from blowing a 3-2 lead at home to Preston in the week.
Prediction; 2-0

Sheffield United Charlton Athletic
Our unbeaten run could well run for another six games if we can avoid defeat here. Hartlepool at the end of October is the next big test. Like us, United's early-season dominance is being tested and the loss at Wycombe Wanderers last week may provoke a reaction. Our run won't last for ever and I fear we will suffer a reversal here.
Prediction; 2-0

Stevenage Scunthorpe United
Scunthorpe are not adapting very well to dropping down a division and need to steady the ship or risk a second successive relegation battle. Stevenage, in contrast, are having a go following promotion and this could be a wake-up call for Alan Knill.
Prediction; 3-0

Tranmere Rovers v AFC Bournemouth
Looks like a home banker. Bournemouth have at least managed two wins away but they are struggling after all the changes during the back-end of last season. 
Prediction; 3-1

Walsall Carlisle United
Carlisle have been picking up and with three away wins under their belt, they will travel with confidence, something Walsall are short of. They could nick this.
Prediction; 1-2

YeovilTown v Bury
A proper lower league fixture and a reason why we need to be out of this division. Bury haven't managed to score away from home yet!
Prediction; 1-0

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Report from Milton Keynes

I was out with work last night but the guy (my mate!)who sits next to me in the East was there. Here you go! (Thanks Pete).
A soulless, desolate place is Milton Keynes! Or so I’m led to believe, last night was only my third visit to this “new” town. I’d last been there on a training course and prior to that to see Bowie back in the early eighties. I’ve never actually seen the town centre or its environ so can’t comment on concrete cows and concrete jungles. If it is so bad, then luckily the Stadium MK is not in MK at all but on the outskirts of Bletchley, so not a cow or jungle to be seen. So my first visit to Stadium MK. Set amid business and industrial estates, parking was easy, there were fast food outlets nearby if that was your wont, and access to the ground and gates uncomplicated. The oval shape of this stadium lends far more character than those rectangular outcroppings of say The Reebok, Weston Homes Community stadium (or whatever Colchesters ground is called) and The New Den, and on entering you can see that a great view can be had from anywhere in the ground. Must mention what a pleasure to be served an ice cold bottle of lager in a queue free bar!

It’s a shame that MK Dons crowds are that low, that it’s felt there is no need to finish the interior of this stadium by putting the rest of the seats in, it’s unlikely that there will be a need to rectify that in the near future, but if it were ever finished and the place was ever packed, I can imagine quite an atmosphere.

So to the game. Listen! If you were no good at football as a kid, and never played much as an adult, you became a referee, or played rugby, or became interested in stats, formation, strategies and tactics. Dave did at least two of those things (he’s never been a ref as far as I know) so his ability to comment on games is far greater than my own, I can’t watch a game and remember every detail like he does. We sit together at home games and his opinion often differs from my own, in part because I’ve played since I was a kid and still do, that combined with my short sightedness even with glasses on, makes our viewpoints not necessarily opposite, just different. I think that if I had to concentrate so much on the game in order to be able to write this blog, my enjoyment would diminish. I’m lazy, I go along to be entertained and to watch my team win, hopefully.

The first five minutes of this encounter saw five shots at goal, three for MK all on target, two to the Addicks, all off. It looked like this was going to be an entertaining encounter, and the boys in red were showing a fair bit of class early doors.  Hamer had to make a couple of good saves and BWP and Hayes both got into good positions without creating too much. On twenty minutes, a tangle of legs just inside the box, had me thinking penalty, and there weren’t too many dissenting voices around me as the ref blew the whistle and duly pointed to the spot. Shaun Williams stepped up and dispatched the pen with aplomb and the franchisees were 1-0 up. The reds got a bit scrappy after this, with players in red shirts challenging for the same ball, communication going missing and the general passing games employed so successfully in the season thus far, going to pieces. Hamer had to make a tremendous save in the latter part of the half, and we went into the break the one goal down.

Second half kicking towards the away fans, we looked lively again and some good combination play saw a few chances for the reds, but Hamer once again had to save smartly to keep us in the game. Jackson and Morrison both had decent heading chances but failed to place the ball on target. Chrissy made a change on around seventy minutes, bringing on Green for the once more ineffective Wagstaff. Green looked lost when he first came on and I wondered whether a mistake had been made. A second substitution five minutes later saw Kermorgant come on for Hayes. Kermits first touch was a free header that went just wide of the post. A few minutes later and Green got into the game with a superb cross, that was headed goalward by his fellow sub, hit the left hand post and went in off of the keepers backside., 1-1. The remaining 15 minutes of the game saw efforts at both ends, with Jackson spurning a glorious chance with a free header going over the bar. Hamer, once more had to make a couple of very decent stops, he’s looking a pretty good keeper to me.

Chrissy made his final substitution with 8 or so minutes to go, when he brought on Hughes for BWP, and was obviously settling for the draw. No-one appeared to tell his team that as we continued to attack and left ourselves open at the back. It was quite a relief when the ref blew up after 4 minutes of added time. All in all not the greatest performance by the boys in red this season, and against better oppo than this we might have been punished, but on the balance of play a fair result I suppose. A crowd of over eight thousand was announced, but for that to be true there must have been for thousand travelling Addicks, somehow I doubt that. Why can’t clubs change “attendance” to “tickets sold” or something? So that I can stop getting annoyed when the number is announced, it’s the same both home and away.

So a reasonable evenings entertainment, slow journey home due to the M1 and M25 roadworks, in by eleven thirty for a cup of tea and a chat with the Mrs, then off to the land of nod.
Thanks Dave, for letting me guest on the blog, hope to do the same again some time. Bye all.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Curbs' next job

This afternoon I have seen the future. I watched the QPR v Villa game on Sky. I was struck by two things; QPR don't look equipped to survive in the Premier League and they are a side full of players Alan Curbishley would love to work with.

When you consider the position Curbs has found himself in, Rangers are pretty much a top bet for him as and when Neil Warnock gets the chop. Big Al has waited forlornly for long enough for a "big club" and even he must realise now that it's not going to happen for him. He seems limited geographically to the south-east and ideally to the London. Assuming Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs are out-of-reach, and having already managed Charlton and West Ham, QPR are currently the only realistic option. When you see Luke Young and Jay Bothroyd on their team sheet, we have an immediate connection. Heider Helguson and Tommy Smith were both previous Curbs targets and Anton Ferdinand played under him at Upton Park. In Joey Barton, they have a classic Curbs signing of a bad boy who may have matured enough not to embarrass you and who still has enough talent to prove a point.

Villa were limited today in their ambition without Darren Bent and even then they should have hung on for all three points. Poorer sides will win at Loftus Road this season and the better ones will sap local morale. If Rangers find themselves in the Doo-Doo come January, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the new owner looks for someone with the experience of keeping underdogs in the top flight.

As you may be able to tell, I am looking for a diversion from Scotland's fatally narrow defeat to the Argies this morning. Not good enough Scotland and failure to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time will mean another down-rating in world sport. Pull your socks up Andy Murray, a nation yearns for some sporting success on the world stage.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Charlton Athletic 3 v Chesterfield 1

It's turning out to be a very good day. I have a bottle of Wolf Blass' President's red in front of me and I am reflecting on a home win that has put us three points clear at the top of League One with a game a hand. Our victory was also one leg of the Holy Trinity, with Millwall and Palace both being beaten (it doesn't happen often so make the most of it).

I missed the first 30 minutes of the game as I sped back from Brighton having settled my Niece in at Sussex University. I got my first glimpse of Brighton's new Falmer Stadium as I left the Uni and very good it looks too as it hugs the A27. It's nothing, of course, compared to the Valley with 22,151 fans in it watching an increasingly confident side play winning football.

I was informed we were one-up as I ran through the turnstiles with my Step-father and within a couple of minutes of having taken our seats it was 2-0. Having forced a handball close to the edge of their box, we scored from what looked like a training ground routine. The free-kick was driven back across the box and was cleverly dummied on the near post (by Hayes I think) and left for Johnnie Jackson who was running in behind unmarked and was able to beat Fleming from ten yards. 

We were clearly on top at that stage and might have score a third before the break. My attention was only diverted by some strange goings on in the Jimmy Seed. For some reason, our fans seated there were forced to leave the section they had clearly bought tickets for and it didn't look like they were too happy about it. No doubt there will be a story on this....

After the break we failed to seize the initiative and Chesterfield saw a lot more of the ball without really threatening us. They had a very loud penalty appeal turned down after Rhoys Wiggins blocked a cross on the edge of the box with what looked like his falling body but I guess it could well have hit his arms. One of the Chesterfield management team was sent to the stands for protesting - I am inclined to say it was manager John Sheridan but he looked too fat and too grey? Leon Clarke was proving a bit of a handful and he eventually won the Spireites a penalty when he was too quick for Morrison in the box. He was furious not to be allowed to take the kick and we didn't see anything of him after the penalty. Chesterfield brought on a very impressive sub in Dean Morgan who didn't put a foot wrong and was unlucky not to have equalised with an effort that Ben Hamer got a paw to.

After the deficit had been reduced, we all had that horrible feeling in our stomachs but it didn't last long because Chesterfield were quickly pegged back as we realised attack was the best form of defence. The clock was running down and we were again taking the game to the opposition just like we had in the first half. Matt Taylor was booked for diving in the box when the home fans in this ground thought he had won a penalty. It's the second time we have suffered this in recent weeks but Taylor's appeal looked heartfelt and he carried it on after the final whistle. The game was capped with a cracking third Charlton goal. Yann Kermorgant, who had come on for an exhausted Paul Hayes, won a through ball and held off his man to play it on for the over-lapping Scott Wagstaff. Scott broke through the line and his only target was Bradley Wright-Phillips who was steaming in at the other side of the box. His cross was an absolute peach and had the pace and accuracy to make Fleming's job on Chesterfield line almost impossible. BWP gobbled it up and thumped home the header.

Rhoys Wiggins was my man-of-the-match, closely followed by Johnnie Jackson who for once managed a home performance akin to those he seems to save for aways. I forced myself to watch Matt Taylor for spells today because I have rarely noticed him this season. I am pleased to report it's not because he is anonymous but because he is so quietly effective. Chris Solly was very solid again today and I laugh in the faces of those who continue to knock him.

Stephens and Hollands were better today and Waggy made the third even if it wasn't one of his better games. BWP's pace over the first few yards is impressive and his movement was again excellent today. Paul Hayes would be twice the player with Bradley's pace but he is a clever player and works hard.

For a change, the mood leaving the Valley after a "big" game was overwhelmingly positive and were cheered by news that Sheffield United had been beaten at Wycombe Wanderers. With our early season challengers already stuttering, we have a rare opportunity to build our lead at the top of the table. MK Dons on Tuesday promises to be a belter. 

The club deserve some genuine praise for today. The marketing team did a fantastic job in filling the ground and the half-time video of the season to-date was a great way to show non-season ticket holders what they have been missing and what this season currently promises. I only hope the decision to force our fans from the Jimmy Seed doesn't back-fire on us.

I scarcely dare mention it, but if Scotland can crash through the Argie barrier in the Rugby World Cup early tomorrow morning, my weekend will be complete. FREEE-DOM!

Friday 23 September 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 9

Tomorrow's bumper Valley gate will once again come expecting to see the opposition put to the sword and us maintain our pole position at the top of League One. History would suggest a one-nil wager on Chesterfield is where the value-bet lies. Whilst I am acutely aware of our propensity to fluff our lines on occasions like this, I have to believe we will get the result tomorrow to set us up for two testing away games at the homes of early promotion contenders.

I am planning on being at the game tomorrow but there is a chance I might miss it. My Niece, whom I consider my first-born, is beginning university at Sussex tomorrow and I am taking her and her stuff down to Brighton first thing. My job is to ensure she gets settled into her Halls of Residence, or Cholera City as I believe it is affectionately known. There are then several repeat presentations from the Chancellor (whoever he is) which begin at 2pm. If she wants me there, I will be glad to accompany her but I am hoping she might dispense with my services and send me back to the Smoke in time to see the game. There is a chance I might have to listen to radio snippets as I hurtle homewards. In which case, I should be able to follow progress around the other League One venues. If you see a large, breathless man storming into Block D of the East mid-way through a half tomorrow, spare a thought.

AFC Bournemouth v Hartlepool United
You have to feel sorry for Bournemouth. It's all gone so wrong in such a short space of time. Hartlepool are unbeaten in four away and I suspect they will maintain that record tomorrow.
Prediction; 0-2

Bury v MK Dons
I'd love to think Bury could take something here but they have already been beaten three times at home and MK will be bouyant.
Prediction; 0-2

Carlisle United v Stevenage
Surely Carlisle can't lose another home game? They lost three so far but managed three wins on the road. The Borderers to steady the ship at Brunton Park.
Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Chesterfield
If BWP plays, I have him down for a double and that should be good enough. Chesterfield are undefeated in four but we should present a tougher test than Orient, Bournemouth, Carlisle and Bury. I really hope we play some football whilst we are at it.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Walsall
The U's to sneak a second home win of the season in front of a tiny crowd..
Prediction; 2-1

Huddersfield Town v Leyton Orient
The O's are in danger of being relegated before Christmas. Russell Slade must be drinking as much red wine as me at the moment and not because he is enjoying life.This should be the O's tenth league game without a win and it's very difficult to defend a two point return from 30. There's a boil behind the scenes and it has to be lanced.
Prediction; 5-0

Notts County v Rochdale
Our early season win at Notts County is looking like one of the results of the season. Can't see Rochdale coming close.
Prediction; 3-0

Oldham Athletic v Brentford
The Bees have been at it on the road but they meet a recovering Oldham and it may be hard to split them tomorrow.
Prediction; 1-1

Preston North End v Tranmere Rovers
Preston have recovered from their opening day shock home defeat by Colchester and are stringing the results together. Tranmere also started brightly but I suspect these two will finish at least ten places apart. Home win for me.
Prediction; 2-0

Scunthorpe United v Yeovil Town
Like Orient, Scunthorpe have yet to win a league game this term. If you can't beat Yeovil on your home patch, you have to wonder where the points will come from.
Prediction; 1-0

Sheffield Wednesday v Exeter City
Can't see it I'm afraid. Five straight home victories for Megson's boys.
Prediction; 3-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Sheffield United
Should be an away banker but I believe Wycombe are a better side than their league position (and results) have so far shown. They might be good enough to deserve a point here.
Prediction; 2-2

Thursday 22 September 2011

SE London attendances down

With a bumper Football-for-a-Fiver gate expected in SE7 on Saturday, it's interesting to note that gates south of the river are down at all three professional clubs. It is only four games played but with Charlton top, Palace doing much better than they finished last season and Millwall holding their own, we might have expected an improvement. 

Charlton - Average 10-11 - 15582, Average 11-12 - 14980 (Down 602 or 4%)
Palace    - Average 10-11 - 15351, Average 11-12 - 13867 (Down 1484 or 10%)
Millwall   - Average 10-11 - 12438  Average 11-12 - 12090 (Down 348 or 3%)

Sure, these gates don't yet include some of the promotional gates that all three clubs experimented with last season and Charlton have had a Sky game which reduces the gate.

So, we can expect to increase our average on last season after Saturday's bumper gate and we should be confident of, once again, remaining the biggest draw in South London.

Monday 19 September 2011

The current run

Saturday's "fightback" at Rochdale may prove to be significant this season. As Addicks fans, we are used to our side conceding two and three (and occasionally four) goal leads. All sides do it, of course (eh Arsenal?), but it seems that we specialise in it and "it's just Charlton." I don't know if we can prove this statistically but I am confident that our record in fighting back from two or three down to take something from games is far inferior to our record for blowing it.

Without reaching for the record books, I think back over 30 plus years of watching us and can immediately recall Grimsby (Nigel Batch), Norwich (4-4) and Coventry (in the Cup) where we fought back to take points. We may also have done it against Man U from 3-1 down when Johnnie Robinson levelled? There must be a few more but they are overwhelmed by the times we have lost comfortable leads. Perhaps it's some kind of long-term karma for having recovered from 5-1 down to win 7-6 in that famous game from the 50's?

Whatever the history, our response in grabbing a winner means we are now undefeated in seven league games and should extend that to eight against Chesterfield in front of 20,000-plus fans (surely we won't blow a second successive home game on a Football for a Fiver promotion?). Whilst we aren't yet playing commanding League One football, we do have some resilience in the side and that could take us a long way. It will be tough to keep it going through nine and ten with aways at MK Dons and Sheffield United but that's the task if we want to match or better our 2009-10 start when we avoided defeat until the tenth match when Colchester drubbed us in that unforgettable night game in Essex.

I won't be able to make the MK Dons game due to a longstanding work conflict which will put me in Cambridge that night, but I am sowing the seeds for a day out in the Steel City.

Ought to mention the signing of Yann Kermorgant whilst I was away last week.  I know very little about Yann but his record is far from impressive and at 29, it's hard to see why we have signed him. He has scored most of his goals in his native France but has never been prolific. One goal in twenty appearances for Leicester in two years speaks for itself and has me wondering why we have opted for older strikers with less-than-convincing scoring records. Paul Benson, Paul Hayes and Jason Euell already fit this bill and don't look capable of getting more than ten this year and would struggle badly in the Championship. At least in Michael Smith, we did acquire a young gun but his chances of breaking into the side don't look to have improved with the signing of Kermorgant. Prove me wrong Yann.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Rochdale 2 v Charlton Athletic 3

A fourth successive away win in the league today moves us onto 20 points at the top of the table with Sheffield United who beat Colchester 3-0. 

We were under the cosh early on and it took a fine save from Ben Hamer to prevent Rochdale from taking the lead. Johnnie Jackson then took strode into the game and it put a cross onto the head of the unmarked Danny Hollands two yards out and he opened the scoring after twenty minutes. We had the better of the first-half from then on and capped it with a Rhoys Wiggins drive that flew in off the post. Surely we could settle in the second-half and close the game out? Who knows, maybe add to our goal difference? 

Instead we let Rochdale back into it and two goals inside the opening twenty minutes levelled the scores and all Charlton fans feared the worst. The two commentators on CAFC Player (Radio Kent) had seemed overly positive and were still saying they expected the Addicks to go on and win the match. Ten minutes from the finish, man-of-the-match Johnnie Jackson played down the wing and another cross was headed home by father-to-be Danny Hollands. We survived a last minute scare when sub Jason Euell headed a Dale effort off the line from under the bar. 

We have a good chance in the next two matches to establish a lead at the top and put some distance between us and the play-off places. Chesterfield should be easy meat for a confident Addicks side if we can play better at home and we then face MK Dons away in midweek which is effectively our game in hand. If we can remain unbeaten in those two, the match at Bramall Lane that follows on 1st October should be a belter, although Chris Powell may well have just been cursed with the Manager-of-the-Month award. Time to start looking for trains to Sheffield methinks.

No sleep 'til Rochdale

Back overnight from Mumbai after an exhausting week of meetings, cars, planes, hotels and more meetings. We didn't get to sit down and eat any evening before 10pm and were up and starting meetings or on the road at 7 each morning. Our itinerary took us into the Boardrooms of eight of our key suppliers and we went from Bangalore to Chennai, Pune and Mumbai.

So, home from Terminal 5 this morning just in time to see a thrilling Rugby World Cup encounter between Ireland and the the fabled Aussies. The Irish pack took the Gold on upfront and battered them for 80 minutes. The front five were unstoppable and played as a true pack which gave the Irish the platform for five kicked penalties which was enough to secure the win 15-6.

The Millwall v West Ham game is on shortly and I will try and listen to that to help stay awake for the big one at 3pm. I couldn't catch the game in the week but it sounded like the best team won. I can't say I am particularly bothered at being out of the League Cup even if it was an opportunity for the B team to get some first team time under their belts. Simon Francis came in for some particularly strong abuse by the sounds of it after putting in a stinker. Real shame when it was his man-of-the-match performance that had seen off Reading in the previous round.

I fear Rochdale may get at us today and would probably take a point now.Chris Powell needs to go for the win but I suspect we will try and keep it tight until half-time and then look to take our chances in the second-half. That might play to Dale's strengths and we could find ourselves chasing the game. It's good to be home.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Charlton Athletic 2 v Exeter City 0

Three points and big disappointment this evening. A third duff home league showing in a row. We are back to joint top but we should be playing much better than this at the Valley if we want to get some genuine momentum. I am inclined to suggest that we are waiting for the wheels to fall off. It's nowhere near the sort of football you need to get the crowds back even if you are top-of-the-table.

It was the same side sent out again but barring the commitment and alertness of Bradley Wright-Phillips, we looked well below par against a poor Exeter side who played much of the match with only ten men. BWP could have opened the scoring in the third minute again after getting onto a high ball but he lifted it fractionally high and it cleared the bar. After that we let Exeter come at us for a large part of the first half and I think they scored a perfectly good goal. It looked to have crossed the line but the officials thought otherwise. In contrast, our goal, when it came, was largely undeserved. BWP latched onto a through pass to knock the ball past the advancing keeper. Having suffered personal abuse from the scant visiting support, he let them know he had scored and a couple of visitors had to be ejected.

We didn't improve after the break and whilst City never looked like scoring, they had far more ball than they should have. Johnnie Jackson had a second successive quiet game and Waggy looked subdued after his efforts in the week. Paul Hayes' touch today was woeful and he messed up three promising attacks with clumsy footwork.

Stephens and Hollands had better games in the middle but neither imposed themselves the way they should have that was really about it. The back four hard, with Solly my man of the match (if not BWP). Wiggins was guilty of some poor balls he never looked in any real trouble.

Tactically, Powell was better than in the week and he brought on Pritchard, Euell and Hughes, although by then Dale Stephens had stroked home after a good move down the right.

I suppose I shouldn't complain and perhaps I am expecting too much but if we can't settle down and boss a game against a poor side at home, I am concerned that perhaps we are flattering to deceive and that our bubble will, once again, be well and truly burst.

A bright point for me today was Bradley Wright-Phillips. He really is too good for League One and probably for us at the moment. His fifth goal in seven games and he always wants to know. I was particularly impressed with his attitude when he was subbed towards the end. His first thoughts were to wave goodbye to the Devonians who had been mocking him and his family all through the game. A real fighter. I wish we had a few more of those in this side.

Friday 9 September 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 7

Three o'clock in the morning and I can't sleep. I am off to India on Sunday for a ridiculous working week that will only involve work, travel and sleep. I have a hundred and one things to prepare before I go and they are keeping me awake. Perhaps the diversion of blogging will take my mind off it and enable me to get back to sleep?

So, Exeter at the Valley on Saturday? I am immediately encouraged that New York Addick won't be there and also by news that our visitors are low on morale, carrying injuries and 20th in the table. When you add to that an unbeaten Charlton start, an overdue convincing home win and something to prove from the last two Valley outings, this looks a home banker or a banana skin. I am going home banker. Here's who else is doing what...

Preston North End v Yeovil Town
This match is played this evening although I can't see any listing on Sky Sports. Maybe there is a gurning competition in Preston tomorrow? Anyhow, Phil Brown looks to be settling his North End steers after a rude re-awakening to League One football and I expect them to gobble Yeovil up here.
Prediction; 3-0

AFC Bournemouth v Chesterfield
Both of these teams find themselves in the relegation places and they have only a solitary Bournemouth home win between them. That tends to suggest a home win but I'll take them to share a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Bury v Rochdale
Not exactly the Milan derby but no doubt it's a big day out if you sport a flat cap and own a whippet (enough of the stereo-typing already). These two are both struggling too and avoiding a return to League Two looks to be their priority. Both would probably settle for a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Carlisle United v Hartlepool United
An East v West Coast affair here and Pools are currently travelling well. Add that to Carlisle nervy home form and I'll take another draw.
Prediction; 1-1

Charlton Athletic v Exeter City
Resounding home win. Two first-half goals to set us up for a big win to see us clamber above United or the Dons. We owe this lot for ruining our largest gate of last season...
Prediction; 3-0

Colchester United v Leyton Orient

Something is horribly wrong with the O's at the moment and Barry Hearn will be concerned after last year's strong finish. Colchester aren't exactly firing on all cylinders themselves but this looks like an easy three points.
Prediction; 3-0

Huddersfield Town v Tranmere United
Having only won two from their opening six, Town have crept up to 7th courtesy of being unbeaten. Lee Clark will have taken heart from that and he will be content to play the long game. Tranmere have started better than I would have expected but surely it won't last?
Prediction; 2-0

Notts County v Walsall
Notts County managed to fit in a game at Juventus in the week as they were invited to open Juve's new 41,000 seater (Juve adopted County's black and white stripes when they formed in honour of the world's oldest football club). It could be a morale booster - apparently no County player was on the pitch for longer than 60 minutes (11 subs?) - but it could backfire here in a game they would ordinarily expect to win.
Prediction; 2-2

Oldham Athletic v Stevenage

Stevenage are finding their feet in league Two whilst Oldham continue to splutter. I'll be bold and go for the away win.
Prediction; 1-2

Scunthorpe United v Sheffield United
Come on the Iron - time to dent some Blades and get your first win of the season! 
Prediction; 2-1

Sheffield Wednesday v MK Dons
I wasn't impressed with Wednesday the other night but they are big and strong and will fancy this at Hillsborough. I don't believe MK Dons will go the distance this year.
Prediction; 2-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Brentford
A local encounter of sorts here and my pre-season surprise package Brentford have made a good start. The Chairboys have yet to win at home and I can see them waiting a bit longer.
Prediction; 0-2

I will miss the Preston game in the week as I will be sleeping in Bangalore and I don't get home until Saturday, so have the perfect excuse for not schlepping up to Rochdale. Hopefully Saturday will be a pleasant footballing experience to send me off in good spirit. Back to bed now...

Thursday 8 September 2011

Greenwich Comedy Festival

Mrs Peeps surprised me recently with tickets for the Greenwich Comedy Festival (5-11th September) to see my favourite current comic, Micky Flannagan. I wasn't entirely convinced - the tickets were inexpensive, the event was in a tent and I hadn't heard of the two support acts. This was Greenwich, not Hammersmith and I was expecting two poor warm up acts and possibly a Micky Flannagan cashing in on his new found fame by re-telling the "chicken children" and doing his "cockney walk."

I couldn't have been more wrong on all accounts. We managed a quick main in the Old Brewery Restaurant on the site beforehand - somewhere I have been meaning to visit since it opened - decent enough. The tent was absolutely enormous, holding 1800 people and it was filled to the rafters. The set-up at the Old Naval College is pretty impressive too with plenty of toilets, beer tents, Pimms bus etc (although it couldn't cope with Beer and Jazz Festival a couple of Summer's back).

The MC for the evening was Dan Atkinson and he was a solid enough warm-up man who told the single funniest joke of the evening (not repeatable on tinternet). We then got Brighton comic Seann Walsh who started slowly and improved strongly, relying on personal observational humour and acted improvisations for most of his laughs. He was a decent enough turn.

Tom Stade was someone I recognised even if his name was unfamiliar. He is a Canadian who relies on precise observations of living in the UK as well as sending himself, Canadians and Americans up. He was brilliant and had the tent rocking. I would have paid my £18 to hear him on his own and feared he had upstaged the main act.

Micky-boy wasn't to be outdone though and fully justified his top line billing with a string of hilarious tales that come from his working-class Bethnall Green upbringing that strike a perfect cord with those of us of a certain age. He lives in East Dulwich now and began his routine with some riot gags and then went on to tell us about the reaction he had when he first told his East End mates that he was moving. At first he said it was to Libya and he received platitudes about the weather and the benefits of life under a Dictator. When he then said it was only joking and was moving south of the river, it was all "oh sorry to hear that Micky, I didn't know things had got so bad." It was funny at the time.

There's still time (and seats I believe) to get down to the festival - plenty of main stream acts yet to come...

Monday 5 September 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Sheffield Wednesday 1

We maintained our unbeaten start to the season this evening but laboured to a draw with an uninspiring looking Sheffield Wednesday. The game exploded with a superbly taken shot from Bradley Wright-Phillips which roared past O'Donnell in the Wednesday goal and Charlton bossed the opening 25 minutes. We needed a second to take the game by the scruff of the neck but it didn't come and in truth we were probably just short on quality to have got it. After that Wednesday came into the game and in the end deserved the point which substitute Clinton Morrison grabbed for them after the break when a defensive mix-up at the near post allowed a corner to skite across the face of goal and enable Morrison to apply a touch.

As in the Scunthorpe game, I felt we needed a lift well before we eventually made our first substitution and predictably enough it was Jason Euell, when I felt we need some more width or even a change in the middle. Euell is a player to bring on when you have a lead and are pressing, not necessarily when you are trying to get a goal but I guess Hayes was tiring and BWP had to be kept on.

The back four played well enough this evening and I think it was Hamer to blame for the mix-up at the near post but I will need to see it again. Morrison does more work than Taylor and both Solly and Wiggins were solid enough again.The problem today was more our style of play. We didn't hold the centre of midfield and Dale Stephens didn't see anywhere near enough of the ball, and the glorious chance he missed after 16 minutes should have set a fire burning in him to ensure it didn't cost us the win. As it was, we relied far too heavily on long balls down to the front runners and high balls in from the touchline which was tactically naive against a big Wednesday side (aren't they always). Danny Hollands launched plenty of long throws but against the lunk Jones, it was like feeding buns to a bear.

There were no boos at the final whistle (there were against Scunny) but once again we missed a national television opportunity and those missing Addicks (14,014) who may have been tuning in to see what all the fuss is about may well have decided that Saturday's Exeter match is still too soon to return. 

Plenty of work to be done this week and we need to find a way to keep the energy levels high - that may require earlier substitutions and tactical changes to counteract our opponents. Our failure to do that cost us two points today.

Wednesday on Monday

Monday Night Football at the Valley this evening and we get the chance to re-join MK Dons and Sheffield United at the top-of-the-table on 16 points. We will need to overcome Jose Semedo in midfield and Nicky Weaver in goal as well as our Sky curse.

Ordinarily, I would expect a banana-skin here but I am encouraged by the Owls poor away form. In all competitions this season so far they have won their four home matches but failed to win any of the four away. On the road, it's been a solitary draw at Bradford in the JPT which they went on to lose on pens. Furthermore, they have only managed two goals away from Hillsborough. I am encouraged, therefore, to go for a rare televised win. I suspect we won't make it easy on ourselves and will shoot for 2-1.

The crowd should be interesting with a drop-off expected as fans stay at home to watch on the box. We also have Exeter at the Valley on Saturday and funds might deter others from making both games. Wednesday will presumably have six or seven hundred fans with them, so I am expecting a gate of c 13,800? 

Sunday 4 September 2011

Scotland 2 v Czech Republic 2

Just when I thought I might be coming out of the footballing trough of depression that I seem to have been in since turning 40, the dice fall badly again.

Craig Levein gave far too much respect to the Czech's in Glasgow yesterday and Scotland paid the price. In the away game, Levein opted for the tactically inept 4-6-0 formation against a side we had beaten 3-0 in a friendly only months previously. The days of Nedved, Poborsky and Co are long gone and today's generation are well short of the mark. Nonetheless, in a game Scotland had to win, we fielded a defensively minded 4-5-1 and set out to nick a victory.

If you didn't watch the game, we took a late lead on the stroke of half-time which should have set us up for the win. We let the Czech's reply after the break and it took a Herculean effort to grab a 2-1 lead with only ten minutes to hang on. I thought we were there. The Dutch official knew otherwise and awarded a penalty against Scotland with only two minutes left on the clock. It was a cynical dive and one that warranted a five match ban. We tried one of own in the dying minute but our player was rightly booked.

Please Charlton, do it for me tomorrow.

Friday 2 September 2011

Hampden bound

I am leaving SE7 in the middle of the night to drive to Glasgow. Pick up Big Rab on the Woolwich border shortly after 4pm and then up the M11 for Cambridge Mike. We should meet the Aberdeen boys in central Glasgow for opening time. Ray from Norway (nee Aberdeen) is also flying in for the game. It's going to be a blast and IF we can nick a win....

It's Alicante next month for the finale. The SFA have been allocated 1800 tickets for the the Spain game and to qualify for a match ticket you need to have travelled to six or more of Scotland's last ten first team fixtures. If that sounds tough, consider that six of them have been friendlies or equivalent! The text message from the SFA that I received this week confirming the bad news, also went on to say "we know you will be there anyway." And we will. Bit of late Summer sunshine...

Thursday 1 September 2011

Michael Smith beats the deadline

I said a striker was probably our next gap if we brought anyone else in before the transfer deadline closed last night and that's what we got. I had hoped for a marquee signing but instead we got another one for the future with 19 year-old Darlington novice Michael Smith making the move south. 

As if to counter-balance the relative disappointment here, we have held on to Paul Benson who was a rumoured target of a number of other League One and League Two clubs. We look to have numbers if not quality and as long as Bradley Wright-Phillips can play the majority of games this season and Paul Hayes holds his end-up, we shouldn't have too many complaints. Jason Euell is an able substitute although the drop in class doesn't appear to make him look any more of a threat than he's ever done before (barring his heyday over six years ago).

Robbie Elliot also made his very predictable switch to Newcastle for an annoyingly "undisclosed" fee. The relative loser in that spat obviously wants to save face although I suspect there may be a bit of this for both clubs. Perhaps this will come out in a future "evening with a Board member" but bearing in mind our complaint to the League about the way the Toon went about this, you have to hope we got £250,000 as a minimum figure. Elliot might not be getting on too many team flights this season but I would like to think that a quarter of a million is the minimum price we would allow a contracted first-teamer to leave for in heading to the Premier League, especially when it's to the silly money likes of Newcastle. Robbie's biggest challenge will be to ensure he stays fit (avoids getting fatter) without first team football and surrounded by Brown Ale and nights out at the Big Market.