Tuesday 31 January 2012

Charlton Athletic 1 v Bury 1

If you weren't there tonight, and there were 3000 or so who went missing, you could probably guess how the game panned out had the scoreline finished 0-1. That it didn't was courtesy of a stunning added-time finish from Dale Stephens which got us out of gaol and maintains our unbeaten home record.

The match started brightly enough even if the appearance of Leon Clarke upfront for the "rested" Wright-Phillips got us all half-speculating that perhaps he was on his way to a deadline day exit. We began with the urgency and drive I had hoped would sweep Bury away. There was good movement across midfield and Kermorgant was dragging the defence around, although we seemed hurried and blazed several efforts over from distance with other options evident. Perhaps our players were encouraged by the Bury goalkeeper? He was unfeasibly short and fat  and it looked hard to see how we wouldn't score with him in goal.

After twenty fruitless minutes we slowed down and Bury found their feet. They were composed going forward and came back into the match at a time when Leon Clarke could do little right and our midfield couldn't find a way through. After their first corner, we got a warning of what was to come when a ball was flighted up to Hughes who was in space but he directed his header over the bar when he perhaps should have beaten Hamer. Hamer had flapped and missed a cross moments before and we looked vulnerable. A minute or two later Bury attacked with purpose and John-Lewis was found in space with a bouncing ball and he latched onto to it and it looked like it went through our goalkeeper's hands.

One-nil at half-time and no need to panic. Clarke still couldn't hold a ball and had to play with his back to goal because he couldn't turn his defender. That seemed to make Kermorgant try too hard, if that's possible and he was over-playing balls as a result. Danny Hollands and Johnnie Jackson had quiet second-halves and it was left to Wiggins and Solly to once again take the lead and do all the running. Green wasn't on Solly's wavelength and offered little in the way of out-balls and Wiggins was left on three of four occasions to take the ball into the box himself, evading tackles as he went and firing in crosses and shots. Nothing was going for us and perhaps we should have subbed Clarke sooner. Haynes, when he did come on with twenty to go again looked like a breath of fresh air as he immediately caused panic in the Bury defence. He is a very confident and composed ball-player and has pace.

Pritchard got on for Hollands before the end as we pressed for the winner but nothing was falling for us and Bury were playing for time. I was surprised to see five minutes of added time but grateful nonetheless. Michael Morrison threw himself forward in a bid to get the winner and a ball out from our right-flank was played up to Morrison who headed on for Kermorgant who in turn managed to push on and thread it back out to Morrison who was now tanking in towards the near post from the right-hand side. Everyone in the Bury half was now at full pelt and all were drawn towards the Bury goal as Morrison fired in his low shot. It was blocked and cannoned back out mid-goal where there was no-one, except Stephens steaming in from 40 yards out. He met the ball about 30 yards from a goal packed with the players from the Morrison attack. He strode onto the ball and drove it into the top right hand corner through the gaping and cowering crowd. 

A great way to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat and it was the least we deserved in spite of a below-par showing. I won't be here for the Rochdale match but I hope it's better fare than we got this evening or we may indeed be about to face a wobble. We remain ten points clear from Huddersfield and Wednesday who managed a draw at MK Dons.

Shaking it up

The Valley this evening should see a relative drop in in the gate as unattractive Bury come to town. They will bring only a handful of fans and the match may be short on atmosphere. I am guessing the gate may be sub-16,000. That might just be the spur our players need to put on a show and score some goals as they seal Chris Powell's second successive League One Manager-of-the-Month award.

Anyone who remembers any of our previous encounters with the Shakers might be deterred from bothering, either consciously or sub-consciously. Prior to this season I can recall four league games and a League Cup encounter and I can't remember more than a goal in any game. Truly dire, including a trip to Gigg Lane which was equally forgettable. Beer at less than a pound a pint was what sticks in my mind and that at a time when it was £2 plus 'dahn sarf.'

Their away record suggests an all or nothing approach with only one draw, six wins and seven defeats. They were beaten 3-0 at Rochdale on Saturday in a derby game and should hardly arrive full of beans, although the change in scenery might provide an early encouragement. I am taking us to win well this evening and for our forward pairing to get on the sheet for a change. 

Sheffield Wednesday face an awkward fixture at MK Dons tonight and defeat there could leave them effectively needing to make up five wins on us, which looks like Mission Impossible given our record to date with what would be 18 matches left. Come on Charl-ton, let's stretch that gap!

Monday 30 January 2012

Aberdeen 1 v Dunfermline Athletic 0

Hardly a classic at Pittodrie on Saturday. A single goal separated 6th placed Aberdeen and bottom-of-the-table Dunfermline. Scott Vernon, ex of Colchester got behind the last defender to head on a first-half opener which promised more but the Pars stuck to their task and avoided conceding another. From a Dons perspective it was worryingly close and after tiring 17 year-old Fraser Fyvie was replaced early in the second-half, a second goal looked increasingly unlikely.

We were in a box in the Dick Donald stand (picture) which was a good laugh, although I would rather have been sitting with my mates in the seats below us. Still, free beer and food always has that extra appeal, so I mustn't grumble. I was able to follow the odd Paul Merson update from St James Park on Sky and showed my true allegiance 55 minutes in when Danny Green's cross flew in for the lead winner. 

With the two homes to come this week, we have to be aiming to extend the gap at the top into double figures. Unbeaten in the league in 2012 without a goal conceded. We just need to score a few more this week and for BWP to net again to kick-start his season. The countdown to promotion starts here....

Friday 27 January 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 27

F A Cup fourth round weekend, so not a full League One fixture list. Notably for us, that means both of the Sheffield clubs get the opportunity for injuries and suspensions as well as another game at least. Hopefully, they can both earn draws, thereby earning midweek replays. For us mere mortals, we plough ahead with our league campaign.

Chesterfield v AFC Bournemouth
This game takes place tomorrow evening to give the Spireites another 24 hours to recover ahead of Monday's second leg of the Northern Monkey Paint Drying Trophy Final-that's-not-a-Final (easy to be dismissive when you have the big prize in your sights). I expect the Cherries to take full advantage as Cheserfield rest a few and others avoid injury or suspension.
Prediction; 0-2

Brentford v Wycombe Wanderers
This could be a defining point in Wycombe's season. After last week's rare victory, ey ave a sniff of scrambling out of the drop zone. Problem s, they have a glass chin and the Bees still have ambitions of the play-offs.
Prediction; 3-1

Exeter City v Charlton Athletic
Great opportunity for us to go ten points clear of the Steel City, if not everyone. Imagine that with two home games to come? We have a decent reord when I am in Scotland but can I also smell a rat? Complacency loometh large after the slog of the last two results and this fixture appears like a Stevenage or an Orient. We will lose again this season but I am going to take us for another clinical performance but I wouldn't be surprised if we are setback.
Prediction; 0-1

Hartlepool United v Carlisle United
Neale Cooper is steadying the ship in the north-east. A rare home win and a couple of away points set them up nicely here.
Prediction; 2-0

Leyton Orient v Colchester United
An East End-Essex derby and it might be hard to separate these two based on current form.
Prediction; 1-1

Rochdale v Bury
Interestingly, our next two opponents, both Valley visitors, face each other here in a local derby. I will take a nil-nil before gets battering by a relaxed and rampant Charlton Athletic.
Prediction; 1-1

Tranmere Rovers v Huddersfield Town
Town have a big chance here to leap-frog the Sheffield's. After their defiant fight-back against the Bees, I wouldn't bet agin them.
Prediction; 0-2

Yeovil Town v Preston North End
Preston would expect to get something here but I suspect they might find this a real battle. Town can scrap and they might be good enough for a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Thursday 26 January 2012

The Granite City

I am squeezing 50 hours work into four days this week in order to take Friday off for a rare weekend break with Mrs Peeps. Courtesy of a generous Mother-in-Law we are escaping the kids and spending some quality time with my mates in Aberdeen.

We are flying up tomorrow for the 50th birthday of the Dons number one fan. Party night at The Northern Golf Club that fringes Pittodrie on Friday and then Saturday afternoon watching the Dandies entertain Dunfermline. I am disappointed to report that I have been told to ensure I bring a shirt and tie which means hospitality. Impolite to grumble, so I will comply and try to enjoy it as much as if I were in jeans in the Dick Donald Stand with the cognoscenti.

A mate who lives in Norway is also over for the match and Saturday night doubles as head-wetting for his newborn girl. The always exciting Union Street beckons later on. I need an early night this evening in preparation.

I will be reliant upon my mobile phone for updates from Exeter as we seek out another three notches on our belt.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Season Ticket Bargain

I learn this evening from my mate, Kings Hill Addick, that the new advanced purchase deal on next year's season tickets are out. Not sure why I haven't had an email from the club or why the news is tucked away under the "tickets" tab on the OS but it's out anyway...


I wasn't incentivised sufficiently last year to renew early and on the basis that I was going to have to pay more, I hung it out. This year the deal is markedly more attractive. If you can cough up before Easter, the deal is renewals at last year's early-bird prices. The club is not counting it's promotion chickens but if you invest early the chance are we will be watching Championship football for less than anyone else. "Nothing can go wrong now!"

Saturday 21 January 2012

Charlton Athletic 1 v Sheffield United 0

A titanic struggle at the Valley this afternoon was decided after twenty minutes when Danny Hollands won us a free-kick 25 yards out. With perfect symmetry, Johnnie Jackson stepped up to lash it into the top left-hand corner in front of the disbelieving Blades fans. The three points gives us the 7 point lead we imagined in our dreams this week and with a game in hand to come and four relatively lowly sides in the queue, there is every prospect we can build a lead which will bring promotion ever nearer.

Credit to Danny Wilson's side for taking the game to us in the first-half and for forcing much of the play, even if they didn't get to test Hamer properly. He was called to stretch and punch, and on occasions flap, but the defenders in front of them did superbly well to prevent a clear goal-scoring chance. For once, it was Matt Taylor who made the lion-share of the headed clearances and sliding tackles at the back and was my man-of-the-match, although Solly, Morrison and Wiggins hardly put a foot wrong.

Whilst the Blades were forcing the pace, we countered threateningly enough to ensure they kept looking over their shoulder when they went forward and it was enough to see us move more into the game before the break, especially after we had demonstrated just how lucky Johnnie Jackson can be with his left-foot!

After the break, Danny Green had two quick-fire chances but drove both shots at Simonsen in the United goal. Yann Kermorgant was excellent again challenging for everything and looking to flick on for Wright-Phillips. It was another frustrating afternoon for Bradley and he didn't get anything on target or even break the tight Sheffield back-line. It happens.

Bradley Pritchard and Danny Hollands had their hands full in the middle and it was only after the hour and with United beginning to feel the pace that they began to take a grip and we looked like we might over-run them and get the second goal. It was from here on that the Sheffield side began to get more physical and the game become increasingly fractious. 

This referee is no stranger to his cards and we were on three bookings already by the time Darel Russell came on to relieve BWP. Hamer had been booked for time-wasting (becoming habitual), Pritchard for a clumsy tackle and Rhoys Wiggins for bringing his man down when he looked suspiciously close to the last man. Russell, however, was to get a straight red within minutes of entering the fray. He was cut down twice by different players with his first two touches and both offenders were booked. I'm not sure if there was a touch of revenge in his mind minutes later but he flew in two footed and the red card was flashed almost before Russell hit the ground. It sparked a huge melee in the centre of the field and there were infringements here and there as it threatened to boil over. The linesman on the East Stand side raced onto the pitch to speak to the referee and it was clear something was being reported. After Russell had made the touchline, James Beattie was called forward and his five minute cameo was ended with the flourish of another straight red and Yann Kermorgant was also shown a yellow.

It was all rather unpleasant but it served it's purpose in drawing the game towards it's conclusion and bar a couple of late corners, United were beaten. With Wednesday being held at home and MK Dons only managing a draw at Notts County, it's looking like another cracking day for Addicks fans. Huddersfield kick-off shortly against Brentford - could it get any better today?

Friday 20 January 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 26

One more sleep and it will be here! The biggest game of the season so far and possibly a defining one. The gate should approach the largest of the season, so far, with c 22,000 expected and it could creep into new territory at 23,000 (reminder that I have another three to get today). Surely that will be surpassed once or twice more as we close in on the prize. What price a 27,000 gate if win promotion at the Valley?

I have already said that I see no reason why this shouldn't be a relatively straightforward home win and I am sticking with that. The Blades may be on a good run but it is short of our mark this season and they will come here knowing we took the points at Bramall lane a couple of months ago. Game on.

AFC Bournemouth v Tranmere Rovers
Can't see anything other than a home win here. The Cherries have recovered whilst Tranmere have collapsed.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Yeovil Town
It's fixtures like this that have got Bury up to 11th. 
Prediction; 2-0

Carlisle v Walsall
Carlisle are one place outside the Play-Offs and Walsall one above the drop zone. I expect an easy home win here.
Prediction; 3-0

Charlton Athletic v Sheffield United
Come on your Reds! A repeat of the Huddersfield home match. A controlled and confident performance from which we will squeeze a couple of goals and kill off the Blades.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Chesterfield
The Spireites may be bottom of the table and losing ground on any sniff of safety but they are still in with a chance of an unlikely JPT Wembley appearance having beaten Carlisle 2-1 in the first leg. Unfortunately for them, it's back to reality and that should be a resounding defeat at Colchester.
Prediction; 3-0

Notts County v MK Dons
Could be a cracker here. County are no pushovers and home advantage could see MK Dons (soon to be MK United?) drop precious promotion points.
Prediction; 2-1

Oldham Athletic v Exeter City
Looks like another home win to me. Exeter have rallied in recent weeks but they still aren't great away from home and Oldham should edge this.
Prediction; 1-0

Preston North End v Leyton Orient
Has the Westley factor kicked in yet at Preston? They battled back to beat Wycombe 3-2 last time out but the O's should provide a sterner test. My money's on a share of the spoils.
Prediction; 1-1

Scunthorpe United v Stevenage
With three successive away wins against lower table opposition, Stevenage will have bags of confidence here. they managed to hit five on two of those occasions, so this could be over and done with early on. No sign of a Westley-hangover either so far...
Prediction; 0-3

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool United
Come on tinpot Hartlepool. Enjoy your day out in the Metropolis and heap misery on the deluded northern-half of Sheffield. I know you can do it - your away form is good enough 6-4-3.
Prediction; 1-2

Wycombe Wanderers v Rochdale
Wycombe have two homes in which to salvage something from their season and possibly avoid relegation. It looks unlikely, especially now that Liam Trotta has returned to Fulham to be loaned out at a Championship side for the rest of the season. I'll take them here for the points but still think they are doomed.
Prediction; 2-1

Huddersfield Town v Brentford
Late kick-off and one we can hopefully enjoy as we de-brief on our own game. Town haven't been firing on all cylinders since we halted their unbeaten run and they might find they are playing with a bit of added pressure. This could be another tricky fixture for them.
Prediction; 1-1

Thursday 19 January 2012

Building nicely for Saturday

This week is flying past in a blur due to me working every waking hour (note to self re NY's Resolutions). The good news is that Saturday will be here in a flash and I believe it could be the next defining moment in our season since the Huddersfield victory.

Another home win to complete a Sheffiled double-header and trio of victories over Yorkie challengers would effectively put us ten points clear at the top with our game in hand converted. I might be counting chickens but our record this year would support that outcome above all others. The Blades are the form side in this division right now with eight wins from nine and an ongoing F A Cup campaign. 

However, our record is almost unreal when you look at it. Only two league defeats all season and both 1-0's to deflected goals, one game of which we had to play with ten men. We shouldn't forget that we brushed United aside at their place only a few months back and they won't be massively confident of getting a win at the Valley. My guess is that they will play for a point. Bradley Wright-Phillips is overdue a goal and so too is Yann Kermorgant. I am going for yet another win to extend our lead with easier matches and a couple more homes to come to balance the number of aways played. By the end of January we can start playing "predict which game will see us promoted." 

Airman the Oracle tells us we have the season's highest home gate (discounted Chesterfield match) in our sights so let's hope it's 23,000+. I am confident we will beat that several times this season and a sellout for promotion must be on the cards. What a fantastic signal for next season.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Sheffield Wednesday 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Our boys stormed the Hillsborough Citadel this afternoon and return home with three vital promotion points becoming the first visiting side to win oop there this season (Massive result). It really was "over the top" stuff as we fought fire with fire and matched everything Wednesday could throw at us. That included the roaring home support (26,700 gate) appealing for every decision and the Wednesday players who crowded the referee in the second-half.

It was nerve-jangling stuff listening to the commentary but at least we had that. Many of the later Charlton train travellers didn't even get that as  their journeys were halted by a signal failure at Leicester.

It was a bright opening for Charlton with Green and Kermorgant looking lively. Wright-Phillips was foiled by Weaver and Hamer saved from Jones before Charlton were awarded a free-kick on 28 minutes. Up stepped Johnnie Jackson and he got the ball up and over the wall and beat Weaver all ends up. Madine was lucky to remain on the pitch moments later when he was shown a yellow card for an elbow and Mike Jones was also booked shortly after as Wednesday became frustrated. Kermorgant was also booked to balance things up for kicking a ball away before the break. Gary Madine beat Hamer before the whistle but then linesman had already flagged as our back four stepped up.

After the break the volume was raised and you could sense the pressure but there was no panic in our ranks. Wiggins fed Hollands who put Wright-Phillips through but Weaver made a superb save to keep his side in the match. Before the 70th minute mark Wednesday began to make changes in a sign of desperation and Miguel Llera was thrown in against his old side. 

Hamer and the back four were holding the line and we continued to look to attack when we could. Pritchard sounded tireless and he was pulled back as last man but the referee only awarded another yellow. Leon Clarke came on and was followed ten minutes later by Russell for Green as we freshened the legs and packed the centre. Wednesday went 4-3-3 but seemed to drop possession in the process. Clinton Morrison also came on for the four minutes of added time at the end when a huge roar signalled a Wednesday equaliser but Rhoys Wiggins was on the line and saved us to the obvious fury of the home fans around the gantry. Charlton almost iced the cake at the death but our overlap was wasted by Daryl Russell.

Powell and Megson were exchanging pleasantries on the touchline throughout the second-half but it was Chris Powell who laughed last and loudest as we claimed the victory and our fans boomed out "we're top of the league!"

Huddersfield and Sheffield United both won with second-half goals but that won't matter as long as we continue to beat them all when they come up against us. We are now the only side in the division unbeaten at home and we defend that proud record against Wednesday's neighbours next Saturday. An opportunity to go seven points clear of United with a game in hand. If we beat Bury on Tuesday 31st January (our game in hand) we could be ten points clear of Huddersfield!

I should add that Millwall remain four places above us after going down to nine men and conceding six at home to Birmingham. All rather uglier than usual at the Toolbox I gather as the Spanners lost it (again).

Friday 13 January 2012

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

I am saddened this week to see the devolved Government of my home country setting a date for a vote on National Independence. The Scottish Nationalists may have bottled it and pushed the date out for the planned referendum until 2014, but the game is afoot.

What was slightly more disappointing was to see English Dave scoring an own goal by attempting to put constitutional and bureaucratic barriers in the way and generally alienating some of the Scots he needs to keep onside if the vote is to be defeated when it eventually comes. Alex Salmond has won the first round decisively here and it will be all over well before 2014 unless the UK government gets it's act together. 

The policy should be to quietly ignore Mr Salmond and support the view that the Scottish people are entitled to their vote, whilst continuing to lay the emphasis on the benefits of the Union and not stooping to the levels of who would be better off and who subsidises whom. They should also move quickly to end the embarrassing "West Lothian Question" by preventing Scottish, Irish and Welsh MP's from voting on matters that solely affect England. 

The Scottish Nationalists have been doing a good job north of the border and have proven that Nationalists can rule. The majority of the voting population, however, are not yet in favour of an independent Scotland but they need to be encouraged and kept ready to defeat the insular and short-sighted Nationalists when the time comes. 

We are an island race and for all our regional differences, we have lived and died together under one government for 300 years. That's more than long enough in my book to be as relevant and righteous as any claims to historical differences. If the behaviour of my countrymen forces me to one day relinquish my UK passport, I will take an English one as a matter of principle. Long live the Union!

Thursday 12 January 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 25

Crunch game at Hillsborough looming. A mark of the potential importance of this game (and the one that follows at the Valley against Sheffield United) is that my fellow Blogger Kings Hill Addick is making a rare coach trip to be there and New York Addick has dissected the odds and consequences of winning or losing both of these fixtures.

Personally, there is a long way to go and I can't see us winning or losing both of these games. There is still a long way to go, and whilst it's great to have a lead, it's not something we can expect to have and the only thing that matters come the end of the season is that we finish a point clear of the rest.

We have the team capable of winning at Hillsborough and, in spite of their impressive home form, we have taken more points away from home. Form would suggest Wednesday will unbeaten at home and that the scoreline will finish 2-1. However, they took a slightly fortuitous point at the Valley earlier in the season when we didn't play particularly well and they should find us an altogether different proposition on Saturday.

Their blunt and myopic fans who frequent the internet boards have given us some great laughs so far with their arrogant and naive assertions and they come across very differently from their city cousins. There are two words they tend to over-use and I would love to see these rammed down their throats; "fooking" and "massive," invariably one after the other. They deserve to be elevated to the Pantheon of the Self-Deceivers along with Newcastle and Manchester City.

In simple terms, I believe we will get at least a point.

AFC Bournemouth v Notts County
The Cherries resurgence has actually lifted them about County in the last weeks and they now sit, almost unbelievably in ninth. They should be confident of another three points against a side beaten eight times on their travels.
Prediction: 2-0

Brentford v Walsall
Surely a home banker if there ever is such a thing with Brentford.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Sheffield United
I'd like to think Lancashire pride might take something from the Yorkies here but it's pretty much been a whitewash for the White Roses in Lancs v Yorks confrontations in our division this season.
Prediction; 0-2

Colchester United v Scunthorpe United
From the relegated sides last year, Scunthorpe have fared worst and are flirting with the drop zone. It could be a tough second-half to the season for the Iron and this looks like another blank.
Prediction; 2-1

Exeter City v Hartlepool United
The Grecians fight down the wrong end continues but they have rallied at home recently just have Pools have continued a decent away set. Hartlepool also managed to break their losing home sequence last time out so I can see them scrapping for a point here.
Prediction; 1-1

Huddersfield Town v Oldham Athletic
Huddersfield are not having it all their own way in terms of challenging the swaggering Addicks but the six goals they rattled in at Wycombe signalled a re-focused intent. Jordan Rhodes to sign-off before he's dropped ahead of a move up the leagues.
Prediction; 3-0

Leyton Orient v Chesterfield
Chesterfield are losing touch at the bottom and this doesn't look like their fourth win of the season.
Prediction; 3-0

MK Dons v Carlisle United
Fifth play sixth here but MK Dons look by far the bigger threat, so we would all like to see a draw or an away. I suspect home form will determine this though.
Prediction; 2-0

Preston North End v Wycombe Wanderers
I am told by a man in the know, that all is not well behind the scenes in deepest Wycombe. There was an incident on the team coach on their last outing and Gary Waddock has lost the dressing room. Expect another loss.
Prediction; 3-0

Rochdale v Stevenage
After another bright start, Dale are second-bottom and struggling. Not the right time to play a confident Stevenage side who beat Reading at the Madjeski in the Cup.
Prediction; 0-2

Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton Athletic
Cheered on by 1300 Addicks, I can see us taking a point here to stifle Wednesday. I can't see them making the automatic promotion places (even if we fail to do so) and their away form has demonstrated how vulnerable they can be. If we get the breaks we could mirror our victory over rivals United on our last visit to the Steel City.
Prediction; 1-1

Yeovil Town v Tranmere Rovers
Have to plump for the draw here. Yeovil are poor at the Huish this year and Tranmere are no great shakes away.
Prediction; 1-1

Monday 9 January 2012

Quick, Panic, React

I have been awaiting the news we received yesterday on Neil Warnock for a couple of months. It's come slightly earlier than I anticipated but his outburst about officials last week gave the first sign of desperation as his side has slid towards the mire. The QPR board are acting swiftly and are obviously keen that a new manager gets to spend what they have in the transfer window and that they throw a double-six in the process and can avoid the fated drop. 

Mark Hughes is a hot favourite for the position having found a niche in West London. Presumably he will finish his managerial career at Brentford. At 1-2 with the bookies I assume there is knowledge of behind the scenes negotiations and that Sparky is close to a deal. However, if they find themselves short of an agreement, I am sure Mr Alan Curbishley will have a polished CV waiting for this one and that his 16-1 odds would shorten. Assuming he doesn't get the job here, you have to wonder if he will ever get back into management. The longer his spell out, then the greater the likelihood that he might one day consider the job back in SE7, although we all hope and pray that Chris Powell has a long time ahead of him as things stand.

Back to the not-so-super Hoops and a change of manager might just to the trick but if they don't get a bounce in results then I suspect they will find themselves well and truly in the whirlpool and heading for the plug-hole. I'm no great fan of Neil Warnock but after gaining them promotion, he has, once again, been treated shabbily in my opinion. Neil looks like a decent Championship manager who struggles to make the transition, although the clubs who take him are those desperate for promotion but never likely to trouble the elite. I look forward to playing the mighty R's next season as their side collapses and they fight another rearguard action.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Fulham 4 v Charlton Athletic 0

It was a "no lose" game for us which we didn't deserve to lose by four goals. Fulham's Premier League class was evident but we gave them a game and our players did us proud, which was what we all wanted first and foremost.

It was obvious from arriving at Charlton station that this was going to be a big day out. There were a couple of dozen Charlton fans on the platform and plenty more on the train when it arrived. I stood at the foot of the escalators in the main hall at Waterloo for half-an-hour waiting on mates and watched a procession of Charlton fans heading for the Putney train. Most were in large family groups and were sporting colours and carrying flags. It looked more like we were heading for the final than the third round. 

Putney High Street was awash with Addicks, most choosing to congregate down by the river-front pubs. My intention of a sensible drink in the Bricklayers Arms which is tucked away from the main road was slightly spoilt by a hundred or so others with the same idea. After a couple of pints we decided to vacate our space and head for the bigger pubs by the river. Mistake. The Dukes Head was even busier and the staff inept. There seemed to be plenty of them but they had run out of glasses. We left thirsty and tried a wine-bar effort down the road but whilst that was less busy, there were only two staff on. Unfortunately, we ended up in the one pub I was intent on avoiding. The Aussie Wahoo bar at the foot of the bridge. At least we got a couple of cold pints before joining the throng over the bridge and through the park to Craven Cottage. You got the sense then of the size of our following and Valley Floyd Road was booming out from the stand as we neared the ground. 

The stand itself is an unusual temporary affair that looks permanent. Not sure what Fulham were thinking when they put this up. Perhaps they were planning ahead for when they finally leave the Premier League and the interest from visiting supporters falls away once again. Nonetheless, it gave us a pretty good view and the facilities were adequate - the consensus amongst my party was that "Villis" pies were the best we had ever had at football (and that's some pies), although at £3.90 they were also the most expensive.

To the game then, and Chris Powell fielded the strong side I expected. Sullivan was, of course, in goal and Matt Taylor was back alongside Morrison. Martin Jol did the honourable thing and also picked a first-team, so there was never going to be any question of "what if?" It was a decent first half with us going behind in the sixth minute after Danny Murphy poked a ball between our central defenders which Dempsey latched onto and beat Sullivan from close range. Sullivan was angry at being beaten after already having pulled off a one-handed save from a swerving and dipping shot.

I was right behind the goal, nine rows from the front so judging events at the other end of the pitch was difficult but we certainly had plenty of the ball and Stockdale was worked by Kermorgant and Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips was unlucky to see his effort stopped by a superb reaction save and Stockdale was at full stretch to keep Kermorgant out. Fulham's passing and movement was excellent and their game was anchored by the impressive Hangeland and Sonderous. One nil at half-time and you could sense the hope for the second-half in our end with our boys kicking towards the red horde.

The first twenty minutes of the second-half provided the best football we were to play and we really took the game to Fulham without getting the reward we deserved. Wright-Phillips managed our best chanced but again he was foiled at close range. The locals can't fail to have been impressed with us during that spell and a couple of them told me as much in the pub after the match.

Unfortunately for us, Fulham countered on the hour and Dempsey arrived in the box to meet a left-wing centre and fire beyond Sullivan for the killer second goal. After that it was a case of concentrating on our game and playing it out without conceding again. Fortune wasn't with us because Fulham were awarded what look to me like a dodgy pen when Sullivan was judged to have brought down an onrushing white shirt. A Fulham fan who was behind the goal said he thought their man had lost control of the ball well before diving over the sliding Sullivan. It mattered not because that was third they didn't deserve and we decided to beat the rush. I heard the deflected fourth as were sped through the park (perhaps the table we publish in the programme should denote "deflected" goals against). My only regret was that we couldn't manage the goal that we deserved. It would have been some reward for all the kids that were there.

For what it's worth, Chris Solly was my man-of-the-match. As Blackheath Addick has already written, he was "outstanding." I thought our defence played admirably although it was interesting to see Rhoys Wiggins have his wings clipped across the half-way line. Danny Hollands was also finding the pace a bit tough in the middle and far too often his first reaction was to look for the safety of Sullivan. Pritchard was much bolder although Danny Green's contribution was limited to a rasper i the second half which Stockdale had to fist over the bar. Johnnie Jackson could probably have given a little more but I shouldn't be too harsh given the quality of the opposition. 

Thursday 5 January 2012

Cup Special!

With 7000 travelling Addicks preparing for their big day out, south-west London should be awash with red and white on Saturday. There will be several hundred very relaxed fans arriving by boat to join the several thousand others who have already packed themselves into the pubs around the ground and who are kicking back. There are several pubs between Putney Bridge tube and the ground (The Eight Bells?) but these are often packed, unwelcoming to visiting fans and more likely have Doormen to send us packing.

The better bet is to cross the river to Putney High Street where there is a much bigger selection. The big chain pubs (Slug & Lettuce, Wetherspoons, Walkabout etc) dominate the High Street itself but the side streets have some hidden gems. Remember, this is Fullers and Youngs country and it's only polite to indulge and support local industry.  Give yourself 20 minutes to get into the ground itself and you should be fine.

Our team should cherish the occasion and I am sure we will make plenty of noise and remind the Cottagers why we always have and always be a bigger club than them, irrespective of league status (no need beyond that to mock the locals). I hope Chris Powell picks a first choice team to do our club and our support justice. My own view is that we have a squad that has done brilliantly well so far in less than six months to become a cohesive unit and this is the sort of game they need as a test of progress. It's a great opportunity then for them to play together and give us a glimpse of maybe how good they could yet become if their progress as a team continues in 2012 as it did last year.

Arguments aside about league priorities, personally I want to see a strong performance and a   result which would, in some small way, begin to atone for the two vital points they cheated us out of at the Valley in 2006 which was a defining moment in our season that lead to relegation. A win would be spectacular but perhaps a rousing draw and a replay at the Valley would be the ideal outcome. We could expect to make £500,000 from that (after costs and paying the FA and Fulham their share) and going out at that stage might avoid a potentially damaging Cup run. Having said that, who am I kidding? We don't do Cup runs, so let's enjoy it and see how far we get. Come on you Reeeddddddds!

Monday 2 January 2012

Charlton Athletic 2 v Brentford 0

The Reds returned to winning ways today in front of what I thought was a disappointingly small crowd of c 17,500. Granted times are tough and we were beaten at Orient on Saturday, but I expected more. The 15 minute delay to kick-off due to an "electrical" problem in the North Stand may have sent a few hundred packing at the last knockings but it was never going to be the gate we deserved.

I am pleased to say that I was able to watch the match with fellow blogger, Chicago Addick, for the first time. Pity we didn't have better viewing fare but we both settled for the three points as, I am sure, everyone else did. It was a poor game in which neither side showed much ambition, although Brentford looked more energetic for the most part without any forward threat to reward their ambition. I thought Marcus Bean had a very good game and was surprised to see him subbed second half. Jonathan Douglas looked every inch the passer I have previously admired although he looked frustrated with the options available to him now he's not in his old Swindon side.

That we took a first half lead after half-an-hour was something of a surprise and the nature of the goal was fitting. It was a bit of a comedy goal with a bouncing ball evading one mis-timed jump after another only for Michael Morrison to seize his chance and nod a bobbling ball over the flapping Lee.

We looked much sharper after the break although there was still no pattern to our play. We looked dangerous when we got forward but it was all too random and unconvincing. Brentford continued to try to get forward but there was no penetration and it was no surprise when  Uwe Rosler made his first substitutions. They made little difference although I thought we should have responded with ours quicker than we did. Leon Clarke and Scott Wagstaff came on (BWP and Jackson) but neither made any impression. Leon 's first few touches resulted in a free-kick on the edge of our box, a goal-kick and a couple of throw-ins.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but in keeping with the rest of the match it was a poor showing.

That we scored a second was itself a surprise but it was late on and I think the Bees had thrown in the towel. A long Hamer punt arrived at Green's feet in far too much room and he had plenty of time to adjust his feet, step inside a half-hearted challenge and roll the ball home. Two-nil and goodbye Brentford. It's these games and these results that will get us promoted.

Our lead has increased to five points as the Blades were blunted at Carlisle and following our Cup challenge at Fulham, we have two league fixtures against both Sheffield sides which should answer any remaining questions about our promotion credentials. Personally, I don't need any reassurance.

Fulham, here we come!

Sunday 1 January 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 24

Brentford arrive in the Valley tomorrow for the first game of 2012. It's barely six weeks since we beat them by the only goal at their place. The scorer that day was Bradley Wright-Phillips and, almost unforgivably in some fans eyes, it was his last goal for us. This is absolutely laughable and I will take a punt on BWP to open the scoring tomorrow so the fickle hypocrites  can reveal themselves.

With something to prove following the defeat yesterday and with options on the bench (Leon Clarke is likely to get a debut late on), I think we will get at the Bees and I am expecting a comfortable if battling home win as we look to maintain our four point advantage. Here's who the others are up against....

Rochdale v Preston North End
Disappointing home showing for PNE against Wednesday and clearly they need a permanent managerial appointment. That for that reason, I think they will be out here.
Prediction; 2-0

AFC Bournemouth v Wycombe Wanderers
Bournemouth are beginning to find last season's form and they should be strong favourites here against a Wycombe side who are their for the taking.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Walsall
What a cracking Christmas fixture list for Walsall, Rochdale at home and then Bury away. Another 0-0 draw would be apt.
Prediction; 0-0

Carlisle United v Sheffield United
The Blades are enjoying a good run but I expect t them to get tested more strongly here than in recent weeks. Carlisle to help us re-establish a seven point gap.
Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Brentford
Brentford have enjoyed recent visits to the Valley more than they should have. We need to get at them and Danny Green should make a welcome return. Charlton to score first and build.
Prediction; 3-1

Chesterfield v Oldham Athletic
The Latics made a fine recovery to beat Notts County yesterday and they will see this as a golden opportunity for an away win. Chesterfield look down to me.
Prediction; 0-1

Exeter City v Yeovil Town
This should be a slog and a draw is probably the right result although I will tip Exeter to nick it for Devon. I saw an amusing Exeter City sticker in the toilets at Brisbane Road yesterday advocating a boycott of Ginsters products on account of their sponsorship of Argyle!
Prediction; 1-0

Hartlepool United v Scunthorpe United
East Coast clash and anything is possible with Pools' horrendous home record. New Year cheer by the North Sea?
Prediction; 2-1

MK Dons v Colchester United
You live in hope but after dropping conceding a three goal lead and dropping two points at Griffin Park yesterday, I expect MK Dons to kill this off pretty quickly.
Prediction; 3-0

Notts County v Huddersfield Town
Whilst our rivals salivate over a possible Charlton blip, Huddersfield have gone five games without a win since we crushed them at the Valley. This looks like another test of their resolve.
Prediction; 2-2

Sheffield Wednesday v Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere have imploded in recent weeks but they steadied the ship on Friday with a routine 2-0 home win over Bury. They will look to build here and try to become the first away side to win at Hillsborough this season. I hope they do it, so we can become the second team to do it when we visit in a few weeks time. Can't see it.
Prediction; 2-0

Stevenage v Leyton Orient
Thought we made Orient look better than they are yesterday, something we also did at Stevenage. Stevenage to continue their pursuit of the top five.
Prediction; 2-0