Monday 31 October 2011

Halifax Cup Draw?

Forgive me, but I was underwhelmed by our First Round F A Cup draw. I can hear some of you now thinking "what did he expect in the First Round, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?" John Cleese would not be impressed. No, I had hoped for a home draw and for someone who might make a game of it but who didn't necessarily see it as the be-all-and-end-all.

Those fellow Addicks chasing their original 92 will be delighted that we have pulled out an old plum but I am afraid I ticked the Shay off on a freezing cold November day 19 years ago when I suffered a league encounter with Chesterfield. I swore I'd never go back but I guessed at the time that we would never play them again in the league (so far so good) and that our chances of meeting in the Cup were almost non-existent as they made the Third Round less frequently than we made the Fourth.

Anyhow fate has thrown us together and some of you will, no doubt, be making the horrendous train or road journey to experience the decrepid Shay ground. If that wasn't enough to put you off, you will be watching the weakest side Chris Powell can put out so it's unlikely to be a romp. I am already thinking Northwich-bloody-Victoria. Possibly our most humiliating result of all time if you forget the league spankings over the years and the inevitable humblings whenever we play the Spanners.

It also looks nailed on that the three TV companies with rights will also be squabbling over the chance of airing the highest league side in the draw humbled by non-league opposition. I yearn for the days when our first F A Cup match of the season occured in January.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Bradley Wright-Phillips - he's better than them all?

Bradley Wright-Phillips has netted 12 times in 15 games this season. A remarkable return, even in League One. That gives him a Red tally of 20 in 35 games or a goal every 1.75. He's 26 years old and I would argue that his best is yet to come. We'd all love to see him deliver those goals in an Addicks shirt but much will depend on the money men and just how long a game they are playing.

That scoring ratio makes BWP arguably Charlton's most prolific striker of all time (from those who played more than single figure games and netted like my old pal, Barry Little). Those of us a tad longer in the tooth may scoff at this and want only to consider comparisons over a longer stretch and I have sympathy. So, let's look at two of our recent scoring "legends"....

(Super) Clive Mendonca's Charlton record read 40 goals from 84 matches or a ratio of 2.1 and Andy Hunt (He Plays Upfront) managed 35 in 86 or one every 2.4 appearances. BWP's fledgling record shows up pretty well against these two and if he plays the season out, as I expect him to, and we manage to hang onto him for next season, his record in terms of appearances will be directly comparable to Hunt and Mendonca in less than 12 months time and he's on course to smash their records.

I can hear the cries of what about Halesy and Flash? Well, Mike Flanagan notched 120 goals in 378 showings or a goal every 3.1 matches. Hales was better at 168 from 360 and 2.1. If we look further back, Eddie Firmani scored 89 in 177 outings at 1.9 and Stuart Leary 163 in 403 at 2.4. 

I am not for a moment attempting to suggest that Bradley Wright-Phillips is our best ever striker and I believe he could only stand comparison with these other names as, when and if he hangs around for another few seasons at least and manages to continue scoring in the Championship (and beyond!). This is improbable in today's game as the value of goal-scorers is so much higher than ever before and the cost of maintaining average clubs so equally high, that money talks and every player and every club has it's price.

The other consideration in all this is that those players with longer Charlton careers will naturally have slowed their scoring rates towards the end of their careers as they have aged, although I have to tell you that Wright-Phillips early burst betters all but Leary's. Hales hit 29 in his first 76 games and Flanagan 25 in 67. The great Stuart Leary notched 40 from his first 67 Charlton appearances, a target that Bradley Wright-Phillips could beat.

There, blue touch paper lit.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Hartlepool United 0 v Charlton Athletic 4

A clinical Charlton performance dismantled a lack-lustre Hartlepool side up on the East Coast this afternoon. In scoring four we now have the best goal difference in the division as well as the top scorer. Bradley Wright-Phillips notched a first -half brace for the second time in two games and is threatening to tear up the clubs scoring records. I make that 20 goals in 35 league starts, and it's 12 in 15 this season. The defeat at Stevenage is a fading memory and looks increasingly like an aberration. 

it was a hard match to follow via the commentary because there seemed too little to comment on in between the Charlton goals which all seemed to be scored nonchalantly. Both of Wright-Phillips finishes were knocked in from left sided crosses, the first from Jackson and the second from the blossoming Wiggins.

Our defence weren't really tested and when Johnnie Jackson fired in a free-kick ten minutes into the second-half that was it. I see the BBC are crediting Danny Hollands with getting a touch to it but the commentators saw it as a Jackson goal and I expect him to claim it. Wagstaff came on with twenty to go and struck the fourth with twelve minutes left which was the signal for the Hartlepool faithful to call it a day and head for the exits. 

Next up are Preston North End at the Valley and we owe them for knocking us out of the League Cup. They were beaten at home by Bournemouth of all sides this afternoon and may well be undergoing a crisis of confidence right now - perfect timing.

Friday 28 October 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 16

The battle to remain at the top of League One continues tomorrow afternoon. Huddersfield Town are at bottom of the league Yeovil Town and will expect to maintain their unbeaten record and inflict a sixth home defeat on the Grecians. With a two-goal superior goal difference, an Addicks defeat at tenth-placed Hartlepool would see us drop to second place. 

The other chasers all face relatively easier games than ours, so we will need to be at our best not to lose ground.

However, we have won two on the spin following the shambles at Stevenage and Hartlepool have been choking at home and have lost the last three at the Victoria Ground. Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe and Tranmere have all grabbed the points there and we must be confident we can do the same.

Brentford v Chesterfield
The Bees home record is threatening to scupper their season. Four wins away from Griffin Park but four defeats at home tells the story. Chesterfield have only managed four points on the road and this should really be too much for them. 
Prediction; 2-1

Bury v Stevenage
The Shakers were denied a home win over Notts County in the week by a late leveller and that was on the back of three points at Bournemouth. They look to be settling into this division and will expect to see off fellow promotees Stevenage.
Prediction; 2-0

Carlisle United v Oldham Athletic
Finely balanced game here but if one side is going to nick it, I would have to go with home advantage. 
Prediction; 2-1

Colchester United v Notts County
Potential stumble for County here. Colchester are more than capable and I'll go with them to upset the odds.
Prediction; 3-1

Hartlepool United v Charlton Athletic
This was Chris Powell's first defeat as Addicks boss last season, so he will have painful memories from that night game last and will take added satisfaction if we can continue our fine away form and win here. Like Wycombe in the week, the start may be all important and Wright-Phillips and Kermorgant are likely to be the key figures. 

BWP will surely score his first hat-trick of his career this season although my guess is it will come in a home game. Given his work rate and speed, it's maybe not surprising that he tends to tire in games and is a candidate in most for an early bath if we look home and dry which probably isn't helping his hat-trick chnaces. I'll settle for another brace and an early bath here. Please, no complacency Charlton!
Prediction; 0-2

Preston North End v AFC Bournemouth
North End couldn't quite manage to see off fellow Lamcastrians Oldham in the week but they should go one better here against a struggling Bournemouth, who at least look a bit livelier away from Dean Court.
Prediction; 3-0

Rochdale v Leyton Orient
David Mooney netted twice in the week to collect a decent point at Yeovil for the O's and with Super Kevin Lisbie in tandem, they will be hoping for more here. Dale stuttered at home to Chesterfield and dropped two points, so I reckon the Orient recovery can be sustained here.
Prediction; 1-2

Scunthorpe United v Tranmere Rovers
Scunthorpe came within four minutes of halting Huddersfeild Town's 40-odd unbeaten match run on Tuesday. Tranmere meanwhile, were conquerors of Hartlepool and will fancy a repeat on the East Coast. Could be a tight draw.
Prediction; 1-1

Sheffield United v Exeter City
The Grecians have bounded off the bottom of the table in recent weeks and journeyman hitman Daniel Nardiello scored two at Walsall in the week for City's first away win. They should find the Blades too strong but we can live in hope.
Prediction; 2-0

Walsall v MK Dons
Not too far for MK Dons this one and they will need to survive the response from the Saddlers to their home defeat by Tranmere. Another possible bonus result for Addicks fans but I fear MK will win here.
Prediction; 0-2

Wycombe Wanderers v Sheffield Wednesday
Wednesday should follow the form and collect the points but they aren't the same force away from Hillsborough. When their home form dips, as surely it will, they look likely to lose ground in the chase unless they can start getting better results away. Wycombe's only home win of the season came over Sheffield United and this could be a memorable double for them. Everyone say "aye!"
Prediction; 2-1

Yeovil v Huddersfield Town
Who is going to derail the Town Express? Not Yeovil. With Walsall and Notts County to come after this at The Galpharm, their next big challenge comes live on the Sky Television network at the Valley. That damned TV curse.
Prediction; 0-3

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Wycombe Wanderers 1 v Charlton Athletic 2

Charlton did the damage in the first-half with two Bradley Wright-Phillips goals which gave them enough of a lead to secure an impressive sixth away win of the season. Wright-Phillips' haul also moves him onto ten league goals, just one short of the division's top scorers, Jordan Rhodes and Gary Madine (who was sent off this evening at Carlisle).

The second-half was a quieter affair and Wycombe saw more of the ball. Beavon pulled one back for the Chairboys after 63 minutes and they had plenty of possession in the last half-hour as they tried in vain to force an equaliser. Scott Wagstaff came on for BWP with ten minutes left as Charlton looked to stretch the game and relieve some of Wycombe's pressure. The last few minutes were the usual nail-biting Addicks stuff but we held on.

There were questions being asked of Chris Powell after the limp defeat at Stevenage but he has answered them clearly and decisively with six goals and six points in two games. We can't expect to win every game we play but it looks like we are capable of competing in them all if we can keep free of any serious injuries and field our best eleven.

With Scunthorpe forcing a late draw with Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday going down at Carlisle, it was a good evening's work and gives us a three point gap to defend at Hartlepool on Saturday. 

Monday 24 October 2011

League One Midweek Preview, Game 15

Everyone in action tomorrow night as the top four all go away and fifth play sixth and seventh play eighth. It's another opportunity for us to put pressure on our promotion challengers and maybe create that cushion we need going to Hartlepool on Saturday.

Brentford v Stevenage
Brentford will have been happier with their point at Notts County on Saturday than Stevenage who were held at home by lowly Yeovil. Stevenage don't travel too well and Brentford should expect to improve their home record here.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Notts County
After a South Coast victory at Bournemouth, Bury could upset battling County here and do us a favour in the process.
Prediction: 1-0

Carlisle United v Sheffield Wednesday
The same could be said for Carlisle but I wasn't impressed with them on Saturday. They looked alright on the ball but their defending was poor and they had no third gear when they needed it. Wednesday should be good enough for at least a point.
Prediction; 2-2

Colchester United v AFC Bournemouth
Surely a third home win for Colchester? Bournemouth stumbled at home to Bury on Saturday and look easy meat at the moment.
Prediction; 3-0

Hartlepool United v Tranmere Rovers
Hartlepool are up to seventh with only two home wins. Like a good number of clubs in League One, they would love to match their away form at home. I'll take them to squeak it.
Prediction; 2-1

Preston North End v Oldham Athletic
Preston have slid to ninth after four successive defeats. The Latics picked up three points at home on Saturday against Wycombe and they might feel they have done enough this week.
Prediction; 2-0

Rochdale v Chesterfield
Young Nate duly scored on his league debut for Dale on Saturday, but Exeter battled back to score three of their own. This is the sort of fixture that could keep Rochdale out of the fourth division for another season. Eccleston at the double.
Prediction; 2-1

Scunthorpe United v Huddersfield Town
Scunthorpe have only managed two wins so far and this looks like an uphill battle against a very confident Huddersfield side who have, predictably, turned early season draws into victories and remain our most likely challenger at this stage for the title.
Prediction; 0-2

Sheffield United v MK Dons
Both of these sides drew on Saturday and another draw would be the perfect Charlton result although my money's on the Blades to win here.
Prediction; 2-0

Walsall v Exeter City
Exeter will be praying they can follow up on Saturday's home win with another here but Walsall will see this as a six pointer and should be good enough.
Prediction; 2-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Charlton Athletic
The thousand Addicks making the trip will do so in great expectation again after Saturday's controlled performance against Carlisle. Wycombe shouldn't prevent too much of an obstacle if we can field the same side and go for it. I will be tuned in on the edge of my seat.
Prediction; 0-1

Yeovil Town v Leyton Orient
Unexpected point for Yeovil at Stevenage and they might be good odds to see off a Leyton Orient side who couldn't win any of their first ten.
Prediction; 2-0

Come on you Reds!

Sunday 23 October 2011

Charlton Athletic 4 v Carlisle United 0

Well, we all went looking for a response and few can argue that we didn't get one.

Carlisle United had threatened to come and attack us on the back of their fourth away league victory at Yeovil last week. It was hard to see what the Carlisle game-plan was because they were so poor and were beaten with barely a quarter of the game played. It was a huge let-down for the 400 Cumbrian die-hards who made the journey, especially those from the border-town who were on the 6am coach. Four of them made the climb up to the Village pre-match as they had a White Swan connection. They were from a coach that goes to every game - £400 for the season. It was great to hear them talking of their long journeys and I was more than happy to point out that I am hoping to be at Brunton Park in April for our hat-trick of promotions on their ground.

The subject of goalkeeper Jimmy Glass' last gasp league preserving goal inevitably came up and "Ginge" shared his own personal dedication to the moment. He also had the back-page headlines from the News of the World tattooed around his neck. I suppose it was an historic and almost unbelievable event for Carlisle fans.

Back to the match and Chris Powell drafted Chris Solly back in at right-back but stuck with Green and Kermorgant. We also looked to have made an enforced change in the middle with utilty man Andy Hughes partnering Danny Hollands in the engine room. I was a little apprehensive about this but they looked like they had played together for years. Danny Green played like he had been told it was his last start and with Jackson firing on the left, we had width and were at Carlile from the off. Green and BWP had chances before our opening goal which had some fine wing play and an excellent cross from Jackson which hit the unmarked Kermorgant plum centre and he has the simple task of deciding which side of the keeper to direct his header. One-nil and there was no response from the visitors. Within ten minutes it was two-nil. A woeful short back pass let Bradley Wright-Phillips nip in and steer the ball into the far corner from a tight angle.

Still no response from Carlisle and the third was inevitable. Rhoys Wiggins looked like a "man on a mission" yesterday and you could be forgiven from his attacking performance for assuming he bore some grudge against Carlisle or that he was a former player. He raced down the flank cut into the box, skipped a challenge and pinger the ball back to a host of players. The first effort was blccked, as was the second but the third was rifled home by Yann Kermorgant.

After the break it was really only a case of how many and the answer was four. Danny Hollands, showing considerably more urgency than last week, strode through the middle and then accelerated at goal before hitting a hopeful shot which squirmed out of Collin's hands and rolled over the line. After that we pretty much played the game out although Ben Hamer did have a penalty to save before the scoreline was set.

All-in-all, a home performance that you might expect to see fairly frequently from a table-topping team and one that I have crying out for in recent weeks. If we can carry the urgency and focus to Wycombe in the week then we might well have a points cushion again to take to the tough looking fixture at Hartlepool on Saturday.

Friday 21 October 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 14

First, apologies for my lack of posts of late. I have been incredibly busy at work but the real reason has been a lack of anything much to comment on re Charlton Athletic.  

I will not be working at all this weekend as we have friends down from Aberdeen and a fairly well planned couple of days. The girls are all booked in to see the matinee performance of the Wizard of Oz tomorrow whilst myself and Aberdeen's number one fan will be in the East Stand to watch the Table Toppers. Expectations from the north-east of Scotland are high and whilst I began tempering them in Alicante last week, my guest will still be expecting to see a footballing massacre.

Any regular readers will be aware of my scepticism of our ability to stay at the top of our league based upon the football we have been playing. Following last week's horror showing at Stevenage, tomorrow's game will be an indicator of the side's capability to "respond" and of Chris Powell's powers of motivation.  I have a concern that we are missing that player on the pitch with standout leadership qualities and Chris Powell failed to be able to get a response last season when things went wrong. 

Johnnie Jackson doesn't look like top Captain material and he might be happier unburdened to concentrate on his attacking play. I might be inclined to give Danny Hollands or Michael Morrison a go. Chris Powell needs to have ensured his charges are pumped for tomorrow and team selection could be crucial. The evident mistake of dropping Chris Solly should have been acknowledged behind close doors and I expect to see him start. If Danny Green did well enough to play his way into a starting berth, he hasn't done anywhere near enough to hold onto it and Wagstaff should again be given the nod. I would give Yann Kermorgant another start but would be prepared to bring Paul Hayes on after 60 minutes if it isn't working. 

Our bench has also looked thin for the first time and I would be inclined to add a youngster or two to shake things up. Interesting to see Nathan Eccleston join Rochdale on loan. I wouldn't have wanted him for a month but if we could have landed him for longer, he might have given us six or seven extra goals.

This coming week could be very rewarding for us. Whilst we play Carlisle at home and Wycombe away on Tuesday, our challengers all appear to face tougher match-ups.

AFC Bournemouth v Bury
Bournemouth continue to struggle but won a point at MK Dons last week in a battling 2-2 draw. That might have given them enough momentum going into this fixture to nick it.
Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Carlisle United
Not only is Aberdeen's numbero uno casting his eagle eye over the latest Charlton side but Alan Whicker (aka Chicago Addick living part-time in Bermuda) is also burning some air miles to join us. For their sakes, as much as anything else, I am praying for a win but I can see our opponents scoring first and frustrating us.
Prediction; 2-2

Chesterfield v Hartlepool United
Both of these sides lost 3-1 at home last time out and will want a response like ourselves.
Prediction; 1-1

Exeter City v Rochdale
City sit on the bottom and last week's demoralising 4-0 home defeat to Huddersfield will weigh heavily. Looks a perfect opportunity for Nathan Eccleston to mark his arrival at Dale.
Prediction: 0-2

Huddersfield Town v Preston North End
Amazingly, Preston's September bubble appears to have been well and truly burst as they have lost three matches in succession. This looks like a fourth.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Sheffield United
After their impressive 4-2 win at Preston in the week, the Blades could find this a struggle as the O's go for their fourth win in-a-row.
Prediction; 2-2

MK Dons v Scunthorpe United
MK Dons may have slipped up at home to Bournemouth last weekend but they remain unbeaten in their new town. They should see off the Iron in this one.
Prediction; 2-0

Notts County v Brentford
The Bees go looking for away win number five but Notts have won all five since the Addicks claimed the points early in the season.
Prediction; 2-1

Oldham Athletic v Wycombe Wanderers
Both of these sides a tad unpredictable. Wycombe could turn another upset before slumping to a home defeat in the week?
Prediction; 0-1

Sheffield Wednesday v Colchester United
Sheffield Wednesday's 100% home record won't go on for too much longer and Colchester could just be the party-poopers. Good enough for another draw?
Prediction; 2-2

Stevenage v Yeovil Town
Has to be a home win after last week's results. Yeovil looked doomed.
Prediction; 2-0

Tranmere Rovers v Walsall
Tranmere should win comfortably here although Walsall will probably spite me again.
Prediction; 2-0

Saturday 15 October 2011

Stevenage 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Hard to find any positives from today's archetypal fall from grace. Some will no doubt remind me that we are still top of the league and I am fully aware of that, but it is a false position based on the football we have been playing in recent weeks and it caught us out today. Reflect, if you will, on Huddersfield's 4-0 win at Exeter this afternoon.

Our starting line-up was adjusted today to accommodate Morrison at right-back as Solly moved to the bench. I assumed that Solly was injured or ill but learnt after the match that he was a sub. That will take some explaining, although Morrison didn't do much wrong. That meant Leon Cort came into the middle with Taylor. Green got the nod on the right wing and Kermorgant held onto the twin striking role with Wright-Phillips. I suppose Chris Powell will tell us we needed more height today in defence but that will sound a trifle hollow after the performances Solly has been putting in this season irrespective of his lack of inches.

Stevenage came at us for most of the first half. A familiar enough scenario in recent weeks and it surely reflects a managerial game plan to keep things tight and establish ourselves in matches before pushing on in the second-half. It didn't work again this week because Stevenage scored after ten minutes. A ridiculous deflection (from a Stacy Long shot - had to be him) left Hamer sprawling to his left as the ball flew in to his right. The massed ranks of optimists behind the goal had a perfect view. Stevenage didn't really come close again but they had all the meaningful possession and took the game to us up to the break.

In the second period we looked more interested although the pace hadn't risen noticeably. BWP was stretching his legs but we looked like we were playing one up front. I can't remember Yann Kermorgant touching the ball. The other player to have broken into the side in the last couple of weeks also went missing today. Danny Green had an absolute stinker and what threat we had came from Johnnie Jackson or long balls. 

Dale Stephens and Danny Hollands were out-fought and out-thought in the middle. Both are decent footballers but neither can step in and we have developed a habit of trying just to compete in the centre of the pitch when we need to be dictating play. It was tough to see Charlton reject, Stacy Long, calling the shots against us in a League One fixture. 

Bradley Wright-Phillips did come close to the leveller after half-time when he broke onto a long ball and bore down on goal but his clipped shot, which beat the keeper, also went agonisingly wide. Other than that, it took a superb save from Day to keep out a Leon Cort header from a corner that was expertly knocked down and was going in until the diving Day extended a hand at full stretch and turned it around the post. That, I am afraid, was the sum total of 90 minutes football against a side we all expected to beat. Not good enough for 1500+ travelling supporters.

I will also be critical of the use of substitutions today. Green failed to beat his man or get one decent cross in that I can remember and should have gone off immediately after a booking borne of frustration in his own performance around the hour mark but Powell kept him out there for another ten to fifteen minutes before bringing on Wagstaff. The second change on 80 was Evina for Stephens which necessitated a reshuffle with Jackson going into the middle, Evina to left-back and Rhoys Wiggins moving up. By the time they all settled in, we were playing added time. 

Perhaps we have the right sort of opponents next week in Carlisle at the Valley  but we need to shake things up and re-focus our players or we are going to slide out of the top spots and the vicious circle will again be on us.

Friday 14 October 2011

League One Weekend Preview, Game 13

Back to league action this weekend after the flurry of Euro qualifiers and I will be up at Stevenage for what I believe will be my 100th League ground. With a capacity of 7100 and a history that doesn't out-date my own record of watching live games, I am not expecting too much. The re-named Lamex Stadium (Lamex a food group) was once too small and inadequate to enable the then, Stevenage Borough, from taking their place in League Two.  

The 1500 plus travelling Addicks will be expecting us to lord it in Hertfordshire and put these whippersnappers in their place. That's what we must do if we are to maintain pole position in the division this week. One of my work colleagues lives in the town and will be making a rare trip to his local side (he's a Spurs fan) in honour of the occasion. I really do hope we prove worthy.

Brentford v Scunthorpe United
The Bees get another chance to improve their disappointing home record against a Scunny side who have proven hard to beat on their travels. If Brentford go for it like they did at the Valley last week, they should be home and dry.
Prediction; 2-0

Chesterfield v Notts County
County will make the relatively short trip to the Spireites expecting the three points to maintain their bright start to the season. They should be good enough for at least a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Exeter City v Huddersfield Town
Away banker I'm afraid. Bottom-placed Exeter will need everything to go for them to derail unbeaten Huddersfield. Can't see it.
Prediction; 0-3

Hartlepool United v Wycombe Wanderers
Grant Basey is currently guesting for Wycombe but he will be toiling hard to avoid defeat in the north-east this weekend. Slowly but surely, Hartlepool are getting to grips with League One and this should be a straightforward home win for them.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Bury
The O's finally appear to have woken from their stupor with a couple of smart victories and this fixture looks tailor-made to aid the recovery. O's out of the drop zone.
Prediction; 2-1

MK Dons v AFC Bournemouth
MK are unbeaten at home and I can't see Bournemouth lowering their colours. We can live in hope but I can see the league's most unpopular club hanging around the play-offs until the end of the season.
Prediction; 2-0

Rochdale v Colchester United
Colchester are slowly finding their feet after an indifferent start and they might throw a minor surprise here. I'll take them to score some goals in beating Dale.
Prediction; 1-3

Stevenage v Charlton Athletic
It's got to be a rollicking away victory hasn't it? Our travelling support, fuelled by a couple of hours in the pub should be in loud voice and this should feel like a home game. Well perhaps not a Valley home game but you know what I mean. I'm going to be bold and suggest we will win well here in front of our drooling fans.
Prediction; 1-3

Tranmere Rovers v Oldham Athletic
Home advantage should settle this one but Oldham are capable of throwing a double-six. Tranmere looked solid enough last week until they decided to try and defend their lead. If they go for it, Enoch Showumi has the threat to score the winning goal.
Prediction; 1-0

Walsall v Preston North End
Big week for North End. If they can collect the points here they play their game in hand at Sheffield United on Wednesday and will hopeful of kick-starting their charge after stuttering in the last couple of weeks. 
Prediction; 1-2

Yeovil Town v Carlisle United
Long trip for Carlisle but they will face a struggling Yeovil whose squad is so thin that they may need to play their goal-keeping coach tomorrow. They really look like they are biding their time in League One before the inevitable.
Prediction; 0-2

Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday
Tough week for Sheffield United and they will want to start well in their bitter city derby which has been moved to Sunday. If they don't, Preston could wreck their week when they visit on Wednesday. This should be a typically feisty encounter and anything is really possible. United need the points to close the gap on Wednesday but  draw is probably the most likely outcome.
Prediction; 2-2

Thursday 13 October 2011

Spain 3 v Scotland 1

It was the denouement to Scotland's Euro 2012 campaign. They came from far and wide to be in Alicante on Tuesday evening to see their country play the World Champions in their back yard. An official allocation of 1200 tickets couldn't prevent more than 15,000 from turning up for a party and around 5,000 made it into the home ground of Hercules FC to see the spectacle.

The difference in class between the opponents was evident from kick-off as Spain strung 20-odd passes together before Scotland got a touch. The first goal was scored within five minutes and we were quickly left to admire how the game can be played when players with the ultimate ability are able to ping the ball across the grass with such speed and accuracy whilst out-manouevering their opponents. That it finished 3-1 was a relief as there was the potential for an embarrassing scoreline which would have been hard on an honest Scotland side who did their best.

We trudged back to the city to join the others and carried on the party but it had peaked and the journeys homeward began that night with buses leaving the city for other holiday towns and airports. I came home yesterday via Murcia with the fantastic memories of hundreds of hopeful Scots playing on the beach and around the marina on Tuesday. Alicante was a very pleasant surprise. Much more like Barcelona than Benidorm. No all-day English breakfasts and a clean and upmarket town with public artworks and historic buildings. 

It will likely be a year at least before another competitive (sic) Scotland match but it will come around and it will be a World Cup qualifier, maybe against Belgium or Wales. By then we will be ready again and will gather once more to celebrate with those who are most like us.  As one of the Saltires hung from palm trees down by the harbour read, "there is a light that never goes out."

Saturday 8 October 2011

Charlton Athletic 1 v Tranmere Rovers 1

Well we may be top of the league, three points clear etc but I am increasingly unconvinced about our promotion credentials. We scraped the draw we deserved but only because Tranmere lost their ambition in the second-half and increasingly played for the point. It was another indifferent home performance.

In the first forty-five we didn't muster an effort on target and whilst they didn't create a whole lot either, they were in front and looked far more likely to score a second than we did a first. Perhaps it's just what we have to deal with as table-toppers, especially when clubs come to London and our relatively impressive stadium (and crowds - 15,038 today). If that's the case then we have to learn to deal with it and make it a positive and not a negative. All the big clubs can intimidate you at their grounds and put you under immense pressure even if you are playing well. The atmosphere at the Valley doesn't help and we really need a couple of goals or some controversial decision making before the ground really wakes up. Telling us "to make some noise for the boys" over the tannoy sounds increasingly like a desperate and vain plea.

I felt the back four played well enough today and had to contend with the handful that is Enoch Showumi. Rhoys Wiggins was my man-of-the-match not only for his defensive play but for the urgency he showed in trying to prompt the game in the second-half and one or two of his over-lapping runs when he stormed past Johnnie Jackson.

It's the midfield where we need a shot in the arm. Stephens and Hollands are tidy enough and impose themselves much more when we are in front but neither finds it easy to press the game and get forward when we are level or trailing. Danny Green played his way into selection this week and then fell flat on his face with an insipid showing. Pretty much the same can be said of Yann Kermorgant although he improved second-half and laid a couple of fine balls on for Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Our goal, when it came, was a long delayed penalty as the referee dealt with a furious Tranmere protest and plenty of petulant pushing and shoving. My first instinct at the penalty was that one of our players was pulled down by another. I could understand Rovers' frustration in the circumstances. Johnnie Jackson wouldn't be put off and smashed home the equaliser. After that we had a couple of good chances to nick it but Lady Luck wasn't looking and we had to settle for the point.

I would love to see Enoch Showumi in a red shirt feeding BWP and Ian Goodison was excellent at the back for the visitors.

Off to Alicante on Monday for the last throw of the Scottish dice and I will be back in plenty of time for my first ever visit to Stevenage. The good news is we have played like promotion contenders away from SE7 so far.

League One Weekend Preview, Game 12

Another hectic week at work but I am up early for the rugby. Game number 12 at the Valley this afternoon and we face a stingy Tranmere side who have made an encouraging start but whom I can't help feel will still be drawn to the bottom of the table magnet-like as the season progresses. Time to beat them then. There is a League One game on Sunday and another on Monday this weekend...

AFC Bournemouth v Rochdale

Four home defeats already for the Cherries and they will be desperate to steady the ship. Rochdale themselves have lost four away and this should be a big chance for Bournemouth.
Prediction; 1-0

Bury v Exeter City
Basement battle in Lancashire and my money would be on Bury to edge it.

Carlisle v Brentford
Hard to judge how good Brentford were in the week. Certainly better than our half-side and they looked well motivated and packed a punch. If they can carry 70% of that onto Brunton Park this afternoon, they can expect to get something.
Prediction; 1-2

Charlton Athletic v Tranmere Rovers
Chance for us to stretch our lead at home in front of a handful of visiting fans. Most will accept a victory at any price and whilst I would obviously take that, I am desperate to see us play like a promotion winning side. I'd like hefty possession, controlled defensive performance and confidence up front. Sounds like a lot to ask for but not if you have serious hopes of promotion or even winning the title.
Prediction; 2-1

Colchester United v Yeovil Town
Looks like a home banker. Yeovil struggle away from home and Colchester go for it when they get their tails up.
Prediction; 3-0

Huddersfield Town v Stevenage
Still unbeaten and moving through the gears, the Terriers should do a job on Stevenage at the Galpharm. They will challenge us yet and this looks routine.
Prediction; 2-0

Scunthorpe United v Leyton Orient
They may be bottom but the O's found their feet against Preston last week and Scunthorpe are hardly firing on all cylinders. If the away side can get a lead here, I'll take them to sew it up.
Prediction; 2-0

Sheffield Wednesday v Chesterfield
A relatively short trip for Spireites today. They will look to put a blemish on the Owls 100% home record and it's the sort of fixture that turns one in. Trouble is, they have lost four away so far and I suspect they will crack under Wednesday pressure.
Prediction; 2-0

Wycombe Wanderers v Walsall
The Chairboys have been having a go this season but they appear to have a soft centre. Walsall are no great shakes themselves, so this is an opportunity for a second home win to follow their defeat of Sheffield United.
Prediction; 3-2

Sunday, 9 October 2011
Notts County v Hartlepool United
Decent match in prospect here. Hartlepool have been hard to better so far and are unbeaten away. Notts, however, would have a 100% home record if we hadn't lowered their colours. Lee Hughes and Co should be confident of inflicting a first away reverse on Pools.
Prediction; 2-1

Monday, 10 October 2011
Oldham Athletic v MK Dons
A test for MK Dons and they will be playing catch-up here. Oldham will give them a tough game and it might be hard to split them.
Prediction; 1-1

Wales have smothered the Irish as I have been writing this and I can hear the strains of Delilah. My mate Mitch was at the game today as he continues his 20-odd day holiday. He's half-Welsh and I am guessing he's lost his phone or mine would have been beeping for the last couple of hours. Mulligan, where are you? You lost your phone too?

Cup of tea before I settle down to the England v France game. Should be a cracker. C'mon England!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Charlton Atheltic 0 v Brentford 3

Moving on. Another inept TV showing this evening. The good news was that the game was the insignificant Johnson's Paint Trophy and I was able to pop home at half-time to watch the second-half on the box. It didn't look any better.

You could say it wasn't our first team side and that we are concentrating on the league and a host of other things, but the fact is we were second-best across the park. The competition rules dictate that you must field six players from your previous league game and presumably Brentford did similarly, so we can hardly claim any inferiority complex.

The Bees were quicker, more direct and more determined and scored with their first attack. They came close to a second before a woefully late and pathetic Alonso tackle gifted them the second inside 25 minutes from the spot. We had nothing in reply during the first-half and instead had to suffer horror showings from Andy Hughes at right-back and Alonso in midfield.

Brentford made it three on the hour and justified my decision to dash home at the break. They are proving to be a thorn in our side (fourth time they ave beaten us in little over a year) and will look forward to our league meetings this season.

Having missed the first home game of the season against Bournemouth, we really have under-performed since and the reserve team victory over Reading in the Leage Cup was the best showing I have seen at the Valley. Maybe it will come good on Saturday when we can get a performance as well as a result to justify our table-topping billing?

Tuesday 4 October 2011

"Ticket Office" Closing - a cautionary tale

I thought I would share my bitter experience of trying to buy Stevenage tickets this afternoon with you all, lest you fall into the same trap as me. I planned my day to leave work early today in order to secure my Stevenage tickets before the masses snap them up on general sale on Thursday (I won't get there tomorrow).

I made the train from Cannon Street and arrived on time at Charlton at 4.50pm. Nice stroll around to the Club Shop which now doubles as our non-matchday Ticket Office only to find the door "locked." There were four people visible inside, one of whom beckoned to me to "push." I did push and was slightly embarrassed that my huge frame still couldn't open the door. At that point, the person nearest the door turned and unlocked it - "what do you want?" "Tickets!" I replied with the excitement and expectation of Charlie Bucket. "Sorry, we're closed" came the terse response and the door was shut in my face.

Stunned, I took a few automatic steps away and then checked my trusty Swiss timepiece which said 4.57pm. I turned back checking the time on my phone and Blackberry - 4.57pm and 4.58pm. I knocked on the door again and explained that it wasn't yet five o'clock. "It is on our computer" said the slightly embarrassed-now looking club rep and the door was again shut in my face.

Then the penny dropped. I've seen this before. You know, Government offices and Jobsworth operations. When you shut at 5pm, that means you clock off at 5pm. So you lock the door before closing to avoid a rush of people getting in who might delay your 5pm departure. I am assuming the bloke who encouraged me to push was a latecomer who was the last "customer" to be let in before the Jobsworth shut the door.

It's soooo frustrating. Bouyed by the feel-good factor, I have been feeling much more positive about the club I love and thinking about booking a box or hospitality for a crowd of friends in the run-up to Christmas. Then you are reminded just how much your money means to the club. Why, oh why, do we allow the people who represent the club to get away with nonsense like this? Hospitality? Forget it.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Sheffield United 0 v Charlton Athletic 2

Oh Me of little faith! A stonking away victory for the unbeaten Addicks at promotion rivals. The 1000+ travelling fans will be joined by many more at future away games as the march gathers pace. All this on a day when Leyton Orient battled back to de-rail Preston's recent charge.

Chris Powell fielded an unchanged side yet again and retained Hayes and Wagstaff when plenty were calling for Kermorgant and Green. It was a so-so first half by the sounds of it with United having most of the possession and yet both sides missed sitters. Morrison failed to test the keeper from three yards out when teed-up by knock-down from Hayes and the Blades should have been one-up but one of theirs mis-kicked with the goal gaping.

The game continued to stutter after the break and the CAFC Player Commentators were calling for Wagstaff to come off after a second successive poor showing and having got himself booked through frustration. Instead, Yann Kermorgant entered the fray again for Paul Hayes and within a minute he changed the game with another scoring header. The goal sparked a mini Charlton surge and Bradders might have scored a minute later. The fact that he didn't was of little consequence because a further minute on he did just that to put the Addicks in the box seat. 

There was time for Ben Hamer to pull off a super save to avoid the Charlton Wobbles and we even had a couple of half-chances towards the finish where we might have rubbed salt into the wounds. United hit the post at the death but we weren't going to be denied.

With the four matches involving eight of the top nine sides all ending in decisive victories, the League One table will make comfortable reading in tomorrow's papers as the Addicks now have a 5 (five) point cushion and the best goal difference in the division. As our fans were bellowing at the end, "WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE, SAID WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!"