Friday 30 March 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 40

Seven left and we turn the corner for home tomorrow. The sun has been shining in SE7 all week and there should still be enough of it around to boost the gate tomorrow for our derby against East London neighbours. It's the start of the Easter holidays, so I am expecting the gate to notch up towards the 17,000 figure. 

We have a six point cushion and we need another confidence lifting home win to put things firmly into perspective. We also owe the O's for inflicting one of our rare defeats on us this season when they beat a ten man Charlton side on New Year's Eve. Their win at Oldham in the week has given them a six point cushion above the drop zone.

If we play with a high tempo and get men forward, we should win this relatively easily.Team selection and tactics could be key with changes being needed in midfield following Russell's sending off. Yann Kermorgant may also come into the reckoning following a rest.

More than ever, it's not just about what we do but also what the chasers do and here's who is playing whom;

Sheffield Wednesday v Preston North End
Great excuse for an early drink tomorrow as this one is live at 12.45. Preston have little to play for and have only mustered one win in their last ten. Phil Brown must be having a wry smile that he was prematurely sacked. Lambs to the slaughter.
Prediction; 2-0

AFC Bournemouth v Yeovil Town
Routine looking home win. Yeovil have a six point safety gap but they will need another win to secure League One football next year. I am sure they will manage that at home.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Tranmere Rovers
Bury are still scrapping too close for comfort and that should be the incentive they need to roll mid-table Tranmere.
Prediction; 2-1

Carlisle United v Huddersfield Town
Mouth-watering play-off battle clash here. Looks like a draw but I suspect Carlisle may be more desperate for the points. The Borderers to nick it at the death.
Prediction; 2-1

Charlton Athletic v Leyton Orient
I'm backing Bradley Wright-Phillips to unsettle the O's back-line and get on the scoresheet once again tomorrow. Our own defence will need to avoid any of the recent slips lest we have to endure yet more celebrating Charlton rejects at the Valley. I suspect we may be inclined to hang on to a lead tomorrow, which would be a pity and may give us a nervy finish.
Prediction; 2-1

Chesterfield v Scunthorpe United
Chesterfield return home with the JPT trophy but the reality is that they are going down. Scunthorpe should see this as a golden opportunity.
Prediction; 0-2

Exeter City v Colchester United
The Grecians look like they have left it too late this year to escape the drop although the U's have nothing much to play for so it favours a home victory.
Prediction; 1-0

Hartlepool United v Sheffield United
Hartlepool's home form has been pretty rank. Five wins all season in front of their own fans and they will surely find this a struggle against Ched Evans and Company. However, games will take their toll and I reckon they could be stubborn enough for a point.
Prediction; 1-1

MK Dons v Brentford
Milton Keynes have settled for a play-off place and I wouldn't like us to have to face them in a show-down. They should be able to relax a little here and see off the Bees.
Prediction; 2-0

Notts County v Oldham Athletic
County need to win nearly all of their remaining seven games if they are to have any chance of the play-offs. This is a good place to start against an Oldham side beaten at home in the week by Orient.
Prediction; 2-0

Rochdale v Walsall
Crunch six-pointer here and momentum favours Walsall. I'll take the draw.
Prediction; 1-1

Stevenage v Wycombe Wanderers
Herts derby? Stevenage dropped points at home in the week and have drawn too many games in the last couple of months to concede their play-off place to Carlisle. It's not over yet and if they can see off Hayes-less Wycombe, they might just have a last burst.
Prediction; 2-0

We all want the precious three points tomorrow and it would be great to get them and allow a stroke-recovering Richard Murray to rest a little easier tomorrow night. Richard has had more than his share of trials and tribulations, so I wish him a full and speedy recovery so he can continue to enjoy his senior years and, hopefully, watch his side on the up after six tolling years.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Games take their toll

As we all scrutinise the league tables and remaining fixtures, the maths we do are invariably based upon sides winning or losing all of their remaining matches. It's the logic process of "worst and best case" which means almost by definition that it lacks logic. Probably more a case of the neurosis process or irrational fear process.

Anyhow, if you are still in a state of panic, last night's results should have provided comforting news. MK Dons lost at home to challengers Carlisle and Stevenage drew at home to AFC Bournemouth. What that means it that we are effectively guaranteed a play-off finish. On the basis that Stevenage win their last 8 games and we lose all of ours, they could still catch us if their goal difference improves on ours by 22. I'm not calculating the odds but it's not going to happen.

Sheffield United are the lone match this evening when they will expect to make short work of bottom-of-the-table, Johnson Paint Trophy winners, Chesterfield.  They should win, of course, but this could be a tricky fixture for them.

I will also point out that despite putting one over us at the weekend, I expect Huddersfield's automatic challenge to end in the next three games. They are away at Carlisle (victors at MK Dons last night) on Saturday and then face a trip to E10 in the week before a potentially decisive encounter with Sheffield Wednesday at the Galpharm.

Once it's officially a three horse race, we should be able to determine that elusive promotion fixture...onward and upward.

Monday 26 March 2012

Saddle Sore

I was out in the fantastic Spring sunshine yesterday for five and a quarter hours but have to say that I was under a lot of physical pressure for much of it. I had signed up to take part in the Stevenage Start of Summer cycle ride a couple of months ago and only fair to say that my well-thought out preparation was sadly lacking.

It was actually the first time I have been on my bike this year and 72 miles was probably a smidgeon too far. Only fair to add at this point that I am carrying a stone more timber than usual at this time of year and that my idea of foregoing breakfast was, with hindsight, not a good one. As we hit a modest hill in Essex at around 30 miles, I suddenly found it very hard going and ended up in first gear - unheard of for me. Even that was hard going and I actually suspected I had a puncture! I limped on to the half-way mark but was very worried I would not be able to finish. As it's a circular route, with no support vehicle, the prospect of being left behind wasn't an appealing one. 

After a cup of tea and a toasted teacake in a lovely tea shop, it was back on the bike and I felt better for another ten miles or so before again dreading every incline. My normal routes down into Kent provide far bigger hills than these and I normally have no trouble but this was torture (enjoy Pete). I finally made it back to my car and enjoyed the drive home but I was as shattered as I can remember feeling.

I was worried about how I would feel this morning but pleased to report surprisingly good, although it's usually the second and third days when the stiffness sets in. I will keep you posted. In the meantime the prospect of a routine Sunday 40 miler seems appealing although I will worry about the hills until I have conquered them again....

Saturday 24 March 2012

Huddersfield Town 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

A desperately narrow defeat today at the Galpharm to a Huddersfield side who were aided by a referee who appeared to favour them with the majority of decisions. The fact that we conceded an early penalty and had Daryl Russell sent from the field thirty minutes didn't help but we did everything but score. With Sheffield Wednesday squeezing past the O's in East London, it's a case of one step backwards, so we need to do the same next Saturday when they come through the tunnel next week.

The match commentator on Radio Kent may be a tad biased but he was very vocal on several occasions about poor decisions that went against us. Scott Wagstaff was clattered during the first half and the Charlton bench were all on their feet in protest only to see Antony Kay escape without a card and the referree then angered the visitors by restarting the match with a drop-ball.

Paul Hayes started the match in place of Yann the Man who had apparently gone down with a bug. N'Guessan started again and Leon Cort held his place in defence. Town started strongly and Hamer pulled off a classy one-handed reflex save to deny a powerful close range header. Huddersfield weren't to be denied though, and Chris Solly conceded a penalty minutes later as Town piled on the pressure. Mr Rhodes netted from the spot to break the League One scoring record but after that we more than held our own. 

We were having a right go in the second-half and threatening to score when Daryl Russell's temper got the better of him and he kicked out at the combative Kay after another heavy tackle. Russell walked and Kay was booked - if he had been booked as deserved for clattering Wagstaff in the first half, then it would have been ten against ten. No matter, we still took the game to the home side who clung on for the last 30 minutes as we missed several great chances to equalise.

Fact are, we are 8 points clear of the Owls with 7 to play and 9 clear of the Blades and they have 8 to play. Huddersfield have a distant shout of catching us but they would need to make up 11 points in 8 games. The rest are out of it. We have no big sides left to play and even allowing for nerves and a few losses, I am confident we will collect at least half the points left on offer, enough to ensure automatic promotion and collect the title.

Bring on L'Orient!

Friday 23 March 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 39

Eight to go and the last match against one of our main rivals for promotion this season. It will be a tough game but I believe we can remain unbeaten against the top sides this season. Larry Grayson is bubbling on about catching us but I think he is trying to inspire his troops to hang on to the coat-tails of the Sheffield boys. Indeed, any points surrendered to the Addicks tomorrow will be bad medicine for the Terriers and I think fear may stalk their play on Saturday, especially when we get forward.

Brentford v Rochdale
Dale in big trouble and a return to League Two looks on the cards. They tripped up at home to Tranny in the week and this looks like a wasted journey. Bye-bye.
Prediction; 2-0

Colchester United v Carlisle United
This will test Carlisle's mettle. They have drawn the last two and really need a win here to keep hanging on to sixth. Trouble is the U's are unbeaten in eight and might roll this.
Prediction; 3-0

Huddersfield Town v Charlton Athletic
I would dearly love to be there tomorrow but am committed to a day's "Start of Summer" cycling in Stevenage on Sunday (ouch!), so won't get away with disappearing for the weekend. Instead I will listen in to the commentary and urge the Addicks on from my kitchen.
Prediction; 1-1

Leyton Orient v Sheffield Wednesday
Again, sorely tempted  by this one but need the Brownie points. I don't believe Wednesday are better than United and that Dave Jones is due a reversal.  The O's aren't safe yet but they are not desperate for points either, so there's the rub.
Prediction; 1-1

Oldham Athletic v AFC Bournemouth
The Cherries have left it too late for a play-off push this year and I suspect the game will be up at Oldham.
Prediction; 2-1

Preston North End v Bury
Grim Lancs-fest. Preston should be good enough to edge this.
Prediction; 1-0

Scunthorpe United v Notts County
Two successive home defeats having won at the Valley for Notts and they need a result here or their play-off push will crash. Scunny have drawn the last four and are unbeaten in six. Curle to steady the ship.
Prediction; 1-2

Tranmere Rovers v Exeter City
Difficult trip for the Grecians and they are slipping away. Tranmere have only had their colours lowered three times at home and I can't see Exeter having enough.
Prediction; 2-0

Walsall v Stevenage
Could be an eventful game here. Stevenage on the fringes of the play-offs and Walsall are battling the drop (as usual). The Saddlers are to be commended for beating some of the top sides at home this year but they haven't won in three and Stevenage are grinding out the points. Momentum may suggest Stevenage can nick this.
prediction; 1-2

Wycombe Wanderers v MK Dons
These two shared seven goals in the reverse fixture and that's very possible again here. I hope Hayes is left to carry on his rehabilitation at Wycombe. He and Beavon have hit it off and they will set about Milton Keynes here. Wycombe just need to ensure they don't concede too many.
Prediction; 3-2

Yeovil Town v Hartlepool United
Nightmare journey for the Monkey Hangers. Most will be saving up for the Oompah-Lumpah match at the Valley on the last day when they bid us farewell. Town should win this with something to spare.
Prediction; 2-0

The more observant amongst you will notice that Sheffield United don't play this weekend. That means a win at Huddersfield with Wednesday dropping points at Orient, which isn't unimaginable, could see us increasing our lead at the top again over all of them and we could move two within two matches of automatic promotion. That's being optimistic of course, and we might have to wait a tad longer but I am very confident that, like Christmas, it is coming....

Charlton til I die.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Charlton Athletic 3 v Yeovil Town 0

It was all rather routine in the end but we made hard work of it for over an hour after Dany N'Guessan's early cross sailed in over the head of the bemused Sam Walker. With Wednesday dropping two points at home to Walsall, and another game ticked off, we can now go to Huddersfield on Saturday with a spring in our step and play with a little less fear. Anything we get there will be a bonus and any result that matches or betters either of the Steel City pair should give us our first real glimpse of what's needed and when we might expect to win promotion. The title can wait.

To the game then and I wasn't surprised to see a couple of changes as Taylor and Jackson were rested for Cort and N'Guessan. Harsh on Taylor, I thought, but that's what squads are for and Cort had a fine match, especially after the break when he got forward as much as he could and tried to provide extra feet in the attack. N'Guessan was out wide left and was early to show with some confident touches and swift passes. Just as I was commenting on how quickly he had settled into the side, he broke down the flank and drilled a cross in which I thought was shaping to curl onto an onrushing Charlton head but it flew on and straightened slightly as it passed the flapping Walker and nestled in the far side netting. N'Guessan turned in salute to the East Stand without the slightest hint of irony or a smile. No-one was going to argue. He had done what we brought him in for and we were able to relax ever so slightly for the next hour.

Yeovil certainly had a go and were keen to shoot from every opportunity. Sadly for them that meant many wayward pot-shots often when they had managed to get men forward in numbers to support the attack. For once, Solly and Wiggins were not dominant and it was left to Cort and Morrison to do most of the mopping up.

One-nil at half-time and news that the Blades were four up at Notts County. Sheffield Wednesday were drawing but a home win still looked on the cards. We ploughed on but were still letting Yeovil see too much of the ball and we were fortunate not to concede after the ball deflected back to N'Gala in space eight yards out. His first time effort would have gone in anywhere other than at Hamer which was all he could manage. 

We needed the killer second goal and it was a peach when it came. it looked like something off the training ground. A free-kick out on the left was curled high and wide to the right hand side of the box where Yann Kermorgant was lurking and his leap took him clear of the challenger. He planted a firm header back across the box and onto the head of his strike partner who buried it. Goal number 21 for Bradley Wright-Phillips.

After that, barring one Yeovil effort which looped onto the bar, we had control of the game and began to find a yard of space across the pitch. Cort was playing more in midfield and Danny Green provided fresh legs for N'Guessan who was blowing by this stage. The icing on the cake came near the 90th minute when a three man break was finished off by Darel Russell who beat Walker from close range. 

If I am going to be hyper-critical, I didn't think our midfield pairing did nearly enough tonight, especially in the first half although both Hollands and Russell partly made up for it towards the end. Central midfield is looking like our largest Summer priority. We lack pace and aggression in the middle although Stephens, Hollands, Russell and Pritchard are honest and capable players.

It is going to take something quite remarkable from two of the three sides below us now to stop us. They haven't looked like doing anything quite that remarkable all season, so no reason to suspect two of them will do that now. The big game is beginning to look like Carlisle away or Wycombe at home.

League One Midweek Preview, Game 38

Crunch at the Valley this evening when we need our players to take responsibility and get a grip on this match early on. I suspect it won't be pretty but I am going for our boys to win and ease the pressure ahead of the six pointer at Huddersfield which could reduce it to a three horse race.

AFC Bournemouth v Brentford
Despite looking very strong against us when we nicked it the other week, the Cherries have continued to stumble at home. I expect them to win this evening and end Brentford's play-off hopes in the process.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Scunthorpe United
Both of these sides have a five point gap above fourth bottom and a draw would probably suit.
Prediction; 0-0

Carlisle United v Preston North End
Carlisle are still looking a decent bet for the play-offs. This is a derby match they relish in the far north-west.
Prediction; 3-0

Charlton Athletic v Yeovil Town
We simply must win to avert a previously unthinkable case of the heebie-jeebies. After the end-of-season collapse last year, Chris Powell needs to ensure the same thing doesn't happen again and he has moved to bring in a couple of new faces to freshen things up. Let us all pray.
Prediction; 2-1

Chesterfield v Huddersfield Town
Town may well play with a huge weight on their shoulders this evening. If they fall victim to a recovering Chesterfield, they could find themselves eight points adrift of the Sheffield clubs with us to come. That could spell the end of Lee Clark.  You reap what you sow.
Prediction; 1-0

Exeter City v Wycombe Wanderers
Paul Hayes goes again this evening looking to improve on four from five in Wycombe colours. Surely we won't recall him? The Chairboys are locked in a titanic battle to avoid returning to League One and I would love to see them do it. They have been scoring and shipping goals in equal measure and Stuart Beavon is catching the eye. The 28 year old is finally flourishing and several seasons of injury. 
Prediction; 1-2

Hartlepool United v Oldham Athletic
Oldham aren't safe from a late relegation battle yet. They have points to spare but I suspect they will slip to a defeat this evening which might drag them into it.
Prediction; 1-0

MK Dons v Leyton Orient
The O's occasionally throw a double-six in night matches when it's unexpected. Ordinarily this is a home banker as MK Dons push to secure their deserved play-off place but I think nerves may get them if the O's play up.
Prediction; 1-2

Notts County v Sheffield United
Now is not the time to blow-up County. Your showing at home on Saturday was nowhere near good enough. Sort yourselves out. Ched Evans is good enough to earn United a share.
Prediction; 1-1

Rochdale v Tranmere Rovers
Relegation dogfight here and Tranmere may be able to play with a tad more composure.
Prediction; 1-1

Sheffield Wednesday v Walsall
Just can't see it unfortunately. Wednesday have been very strong at home and after a very good win at Notts County on Saturday, they should close this out. I think United can still get the second place they deserve as Wednesday drop points away from home in the run in.
Prediction; 2-0

Stevenage v Colchester United
Good game on the horizon here and I reckon Stevenage will despatch their visitors from around the M25. They have had an excellent season and have a strong case for the sixth place play-off spot from Notts County or Carlisle.
Prediction; 2-0

It's a beautiful sunny morning in SE7 and the forecast is for an unseasonably warm day and evening. No excuses tonight chaps.

Monday 19 March 2012

Two loanees in to shake it up

Chris Powell has moved to strengthen the squad and give us a few more options over the nine remaining league games in League One. Not surprisingly, we have brought in a left-sided midfielder and a versatile attacking option.

Lee Cook returns to the scene of the crime and won't be universally welcomed back. Personally, I think he can contribute in some of the remaining games and provide cover or an option for Jackson. If Cookie's ready to return, then I am ready to support him.

I am less impressed with the signing of Dany N'Guessan from Millwall Reserves (yes, his parents misspelt his name to make him different). He certainly isn't one for the future and looks like another Leon Clarke. Chris Powell does at least know him and he may have something to prove. I suspect he will only get cameos from the bench unless something happens to BWP or Yann Kermorgant. I will be accompanied at the match tomorrow night by a Millwall diehard on a week's visit from Cyprus, so I will get the low-down live.

We need eleven players buzzing against Yeovil and these two should keep a number of others on their toes.

Glovers to test our metal

Mid-table Yeovil roll into SE7 tomorrow for a match that has assumed far more importance than perhaps anyone would have thought a month back. It's a game we really need to win ahead of what looks like a very tricky trip to Huddersfield who will be all out to avenge their defeat at the Valley which ended their record -breaking unbeaten sequence and started their slip from the automatic places.

Mid-table sides should be easy meat at this time of the season at home in midweek. They have least to play for and are beginning to think of the Summer and possible player experimentation as they look ahead to next season. Trouble is, Yeovil are on a hugely upward trend and current form would put them at the top end of the table. They have taken 13 points from their last 15. They have won 8 of their last 12 which has seen them move out of the relegation places and up to twelfth.

So tomorrow evening has to be about us. Bradley Wright-Phillips need to see plenty of the ball and the midfield needs to get forward in numbers when we attack. We have to leave the back four to do their job and snuff out what I suspect will be a lone striker (Williams or Obika). Attack really should be the best form of defence tomorrow.

It would be good to see a bigger than usual gate and some noise from the stands but I fear another disappointing gate and a gloomy atmosphere. There won't be many Yeovil in attendance. It will really be up to our players to get the crowd going with an early goal or some free-flowing football. 

Chris Powell needs to be prepared to make changes much earlier if we aren't playing well enough. It might be an ideal time to put one of the attacking youngsters into the squad. We have struggled to get any change from the bench in recent weeks, especially going forward and Sho-Silva or Azeez have the sort of pace to encourage the crowd if they are given a go.

There's every chance we can extend our lead again tomorrow evening if we win and the trip to the Galpharm on Saturday could effectively see us make it a three horse race with the Steel Town if we avoided defeat after picking up the points tomorrow. 

Saturday 17 March 2012

Scunthorpe 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

I didn't listen to much of the game this afternoon as I have been watching all of the rugby. However, from what I did hear and from following the match read on Charlton Life, it sounded like another stuttering performance but we picked up a point which enables us to keep pace with Sheffield United and Huddersfield who both drew. It was only the mighty Sheffield Wednesday who managed to make ground with a 2–1 win at Notts County. The cycle of delusion will beginning again in the northern half of Sheffield. It's cruel really but let's enjoy it nonetheless.

We are still three wins clear of the Sheffield pair and they would both happily swap places with us. We face mid-table Yeovil at the Valley on Tuesday and must be ambitious in search of three points which will ease the nerves and prepare us for the visit to Huddersfield next Saturday.

Good to see Bradley Wright-Phillips notching his 20th of the season. I am sure he will have 25 in his sights.

On the 6 Nations front, Scotland were truly disinterested in Rome today and it was a disgracefully half-hearted showing for those who travelled. They left off where they did at after half-time in Dublin. In spite of the result it was great to see 70,000 in the Olympic Stadium to watch Italy foist the Wooden Spoon onto Scotland in bright sunshine. Andy Robinson sounded surprisingly philosophical and looked relaxed after the match. Perhaps he has resolved his future having set his stall out before the Championship that he expected Scotland to deliver this time around.

The Contrast from Rome to Cardiff was stark. Excellent technique, smash tackling and superb handling as Wales closed out the Grand Slam. As I write, England are 3-3 with the Irish who will be celebrating St Patrick's Day this evening come what may. England have over-performed under Stuart Lancaster but I suspect Ireland might just shade it this evening.

Farewell Leon

Journeyman Leon Clarke's brief spell in SE7 came to what looks like an end yesterday as he was loaned out to Crawley Town for the rest of the season. I am encouraged by this news. It's more evidence that Chris Powell can see when something is not working and is willing to act. Too many managers in similar positions persevere in a bid to be proven right in their initial decision to take a player and to prove their point to their Board. It would have been easy for Powell to say "I'll give him to the end of the season" but an opportunity has obviously presented itself and he has been big enough to take it. It's also a sign that he is actively preparing for next season.

It will also send a signal to the rest of the squad that players need to perform and deliver when they represent the first team. Clarke, I am sorry to say, simply didn't do anything in his seven appearances. Maybe harsh on the basis that six of those were from the bench but he didn't manage to add to the 9 goals he scored for Chesterfield earlier in the season and I can't even remember one telling contribution. 

Perhaps with more games he might eventually have begun to score for us but he looks like another lower league striker in the shape of Benson, Hayes & Co, none of whom could be relied upon to plunder the goals we will need in the Championship.

Friday 16 March 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 37

Last ten hove into view and there may be a bit of relief in our camp that we are away from home. We have picked up more points away in what has been our best ever season on the road. With five left to play away from the Valley we can smash the previous best and probably chalk up a record in the process that will out-live most of us (happy thought). Scunthorpe have been no great shakes at home, having only managed four wins. It all points to some welcome relief and with Yeovil at the Valley on Tuesday, it's time to start counting chickens.

AFCBournemouth v Carlisle United
Carlisle remain in touch with sixth and with two games in hand will be targeting Notts County or MK Dons. This looks a touch too much though.
Prediction; 2-0

Bury v Wycombe Wanderers
Wycombe's away form looks like it will cost them their place in League One unless Paul Hayes and Co can inspire some point-winning performances. They are away again after this one. Can't see them doing it.
Prediction; 3-1

Chesterfield v MK Dons
The Spireites continue to scrap and another morale-boosting home win would be most welcome. Trouble is, MK Dons have Notts County and Carlisle breathing down their neck and will be looking to close out their play-off place. 
Prediction; 0-2

Colchester United v Huddersfield Town
Match-of-the-Day on the cards here. Town are five points off the automatic pace and the U's are seven adrift of Notts County. A draw is not much good to either and both should go for this. It could be a day when the Huddersfield board rue the ridiculous decision to sack Lee Clark.
Prediction; 2-1

Exeter City v Preston North End
Precious opportunity for the Grecians and with Wycombe coming next, this is their big chance.
Prediction; 1-0

Hartlepool United v Stevenage
Stevenage continue their battle for an unlikely looking play-off finish that their season probably deserves. This is a game they can win.
Prediction; 1-2

Leyton Orient v Brentford
London's lowest profile derby. Brentford should be too good for their East London rivals but the O's have greater need. A classic 1-1 derby?
Prediction; 1-1

Notts County v Sheffield Wednesday
Another rival for Match-of-the-Day. Notts County can put a large and timely spanner in the Wednesday wheels. I expect them to do just that. Enjoy!
Prediction; 2-0

Rochdale v Oldham Athletic
Damp derby and Oldham can inflict serious damage on "League Two" Rochdale. 
Prediction; 1-2

Scunthorpe United v Charlton Athletic
Come on you Reds! Let's get off the battle bus here and beat this lot. They deservedly won a point at the Valley earlier this season but I fancied us to win at their place after that and timing couldn't be better. Individual lack of confidence is probably the biggest risk if Powell doesn't make any changes. I am encouraged that we fought back in the second-half last week and I am taking us all the way here.
Prediction; 1-3

Sheffield United v Tranmere Rovers
United need to focus just like us here and this looks like a banker home victory. 
Prediction; 3-0

Yeovil Town v Walsall
Yeovil look safe for a change and Walsall should have more to play for. Having scalped Sheffield United and have been hard to beat of late. I fancy them here for a point at least.
Prediction; 1-1

Monday 12 March 2012

Don't Panic Captain Mainwareing!

OK, so I missed it. Mrs Peeps was none too complimentary and Pete was thinking of going shopping before half-time. Now is the moment the truly fickle have been relishing. Players they have been getting overly excited about all season have now become inept and they are even questioning the manager.

Get some perspective, for heavens sake. We may have dropped another three points and suffered our second successive home defeat but we remain ten points clear and this is a record-breaking season. We even recovered after the break to "win" the second-half.

I have been more critical than some about our home performances this season but only in terms of the quality of the football being well short of a top side and one that has won so many points home and away. We have still deserved to win the majority of the games we have played at the Valley, if not in the style I would have liked.

Look at the sides around us. They have all spluttered and none have been as ruthless as us, that's why we have such a big lead.

Time for a cup of tea and a considered look at the matches left:

Scunthorpe (a) - tough game but one we can get a result from.
Yeovil Town (h) - can't see us losing this.
Huddersfield Town (a) - would be the first defeat to a Top 4 challenger 
Leyton Orient (h) - season over and not a great side
Oldham Athletic (a) - could be a tough game but nothing to play for
Walsall (h) - should know what we need to do points wise
Carlisle(a) - tough game but expect us to rise to the challenge but should be there or very close by then
Wycombe (h) - leak goals and not great away from home
Preston (a) - disastrous season finishing for them
Hartlepool (h) - Party Time.

Having done that, we should also look at the games our challengers face. Sheffield United have to go to Notts County as well as Mk Dons and face Stevenage on the last day. Sheffield Wednesday have to go to Notts County and Huddersfield. Huddersfield face us and Wednesday at home.

Now is not the time to panic Jones.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Ireland 32 v Scotland 14

Fourth successive 6 Nations defeat for me but at least I missed the aberration at the Valley. I am not travelling for the Wooden Spoon decider in Rome next week, so my rugby is over for this year. What a disappointment. Scotland promised so much and I believe they are ten per cent better than they have been for a few years. Trouble is, everyone else has moved up a notch too. We are too short of genuine class and real character to turn games. I was highly impressed with Ritchie Gray's performance yesterday. He was two classes above everyone else in a blue shirt and capped his performance with a fine three-quarters try. He is the shining light for next year. Perhaps he can set a new standard that others will aspire to join. That might just be enough to turn good performances into winning displays.

Dublin was great again and we enjoyed a good four hours in Doheny and Nesbitt's before the game. I was recommended this pub by Dermott from the Rose of Denmark and it was a ten out of ten. Fantastic genuine old Irish bar which puts most of our pubs to shame in terms of beer, food and customer service. Also a huge reminder of why so many "Irish" theme bars are so crap and yet your Brit abroad gravitates to them?

I am enjoying a glass of Zinfandel as I write and watching an encouraging England performance against the French. I really hope Stuart Lancaster gets the job - his influence of the squad has been blindingly obvious.

Looking ahead to next Saturday, Scunthorpe looks a potential banana skin, but I am backing our boys to get their act together. Continuing our sequence this season was always expecting too much, especially given the way we have played, so we have to face the music and knuckle down and get a result. I am sure we will do it.

Charlton Athletic 2 v Notts County 4

Dave has asked me to compile the report of todays game. An honour sir, an honour (sort of).
Dave himself was off in Dublin to watch the egg chasers in the forlorn hope of witnessing a Scotland victory. As I'm writing this at 1045 in the evening, I know he has faced the double disappointment of defeat for both of his favourite teams.
Can't say I took enough notice of todays game to be honest, so as usual, my report is based on my opinion of the quality of the entertainment on show and not on the tactical nous shown by the respective managers or the subtleties of the cut and thrust of division 3 football.
Haynes in for Green in an otherwise unchanged side (I think), I missed Tuesdays defeat by the way as I was otherwise engaged in  La Belle France, so I wasn't sure whether Green played in that game.

After 12 minutes or so, Haynes was replaced by Waggy, I'm assuming through injury. Now waggy's not my favourite player, and I'm sure it could only be coincidence that within five minutes of his arrival we were two down? I'm being unfair of course in suggesting any blame could be laid at his door, especially as I missed those County goals, having been distracted by questions from Dave's stepdad and nephew respectively. Not looking good so far, but things were to get worse when a mix up between Hamer and Morrison on 35 minutes, led to County's third. I was just contemplating whether to leave to meet my wife in the Retail Park so that we could travel up to Stansted to pick up her father, over from Tenerife for the week, when zap! in goes the fourth on 40, with Forte getting his hat-trick to add to the opener by Judge. A chance at the away end for Wagstaff with an overhead kick that fell tamely into the keepers arms, and not much else to report in the first 45, except to say that the best defence in the league was looking anything but. Midfield not effective and BWP again being unable to read Kermorgant's intentions. It was only the fact that I had bought a couple of draw tickets that I stayed for half time. Well, not the only reason, I also thought that given our season so far we may just be capable of staging the greatest comeback since comeback's were invented.  Just an aside, but I saw Glen Tilbrook at half time , what the bloody hell is that beard all about? Is he auditioning for a remake of Catweasle? Apologies to those youngsters who don't have a clue what I'm talking about.

On to the second half and the first ten minutes we huffed and puffed and all the football was played in County's half but we gave no indication that we that we were capable of doing the impossible until some neat work down the rightt ended with Waggy crossing for Bradders to score with a neat overhead kick. Five minutes later and roles reversed as BWP crossed for a goal from Waggy's head. I was beginning to feel glad that I'd stayed and did actually believe for a little while that we may just get to parity and may be capable even of snatching something more. Suffice to say that the huff and puff continued , but the end product was sadly lacking in quality. We had a couple of reasonable penalty shouts turned down, , but to be honest our performance, especially in the first half deserved nothing more than a defeat by two goals. We seem to make a habit of going one or two down before we start playing, but FOUR!!, ridiculous. Chrissy spoke in his programme notes about how we bounce back from defeat, in the past we have shown character, today we just looked tired and really not up for it.

Notts County played some neat passing football, albeit without any pace, and we should have been capable of getting something from this game. Once again we were susceptible to being pressed when in possesssion and gave the ball away too easily, without being able to apply similar pressure ourselves. No need for panic stations of course, but we must be careful that we do not let this type of performance end up defining our season, we've seen to many similar showings at home, luckily without the disasterous consequences we experienced today.

Dave, hope you had a good trip, despite the result at Landsdowne Road. Thanks for asking me to compile this report, but when you next text me to do so, please leave off the little kiss at the end of your message, I know I'm a good looking boy, but methinks you may have been knocking back a little to much of the black stuff. Night night!

Friday 9 March 2012

League One Weekend Preview, Game 36

Atonement weekend approaches. After the slip-ups in the week, I can't predict too many more looking at this lot. The Blades face a tricky trip to Griffin Park as Wednesday and Hudders snap at their heels. They will need to focus here because they play their game in hand on Tuesday and it's at Colchester. They need to slam the door on their pursuers.

Brentford v Sheffield United
Two successive 3-2 defeats for United and a third in-a-row would look like a major wobble. I'm backing them to grind out a point at least here to steady the ship.
Prediction; 1-1

Carlisle United v Bury
Carlisle can clamber above Notts County if they win here as I expect and we do the honours at the Valley. Bury were hit for four at Hillsborough on Tuesday but have a seven point cushion.
Prediction; 2-0

Charlton Athletic v Notts County
Notts County will come looking after Colchester's cheeky victory in the week and I expect them to be punished for it. This is one match where the result will outshine the performance. We haven't lost two on the spin all season and now is not the time.
Prediction; 2-0

Huddersfield Town v Rochdale
The Board at Huddersfield deserve to miss out on promotion again this season. Dale are fighting for their survival in this league and a defeat here will leave them even closer to League Two.
Prediction; 2-0

MK Dons v Exeter City
Having demonstrated considerable empathy with us in the week, Milton Keynes should bounce back here just like us. Exeter have picked up points in 12 of their 17 away games this season, so there is hope.
Prediction; 2-1

Oldham Athletic v Yeovil Town
Can't see lightning striking twice. Home win.
Prediction; 2-0

Preston North End v Scunthorpe United
Northern drab-fest.
Prediction; 1-1

Sheffield Wednesday v AFC Bournemouth
Come on the Cherries! You looked capable enough last week and you have a decent away record. Cheer me up on Saturday evening.
Prediction; 0-1

Stevenage v Chesterfield 
Stevenage need the points here after slipping back in the battle for a play-off place. They should be far too good for Chesterfield.
Prediction; 3-0

Tranmere Rovers v Leyton Orient
The O's were woeful apparently at Wycombe in the week but I am backing them to recover against against a Parry-less Tranmere who I hope are heading down.
Prediction; 1-2 

Walsall v Hartlepool United
The Saddlers' spirited victory over Sheffield United in the week deserves recognition. Perhaps they deserve another season in League One?
Prediction; 2-1

Wycombe Wanderers v Colchester United
Goals, goals goals! That what you get with a Wycombe season ticket. Sixyu at home so far - trouble is that's 30 apiece home and visitors. No reason to suspect this will be any different.
Prediction; 3-2


Thursday 8 March 2012

If it aint broke, don't fix it

Arrrggghhhh! I've had enough. Why, oh why did the BBC have to go and tinker with their sports/football website? it was great. Now it is harder to find information, requires more keystrokes, is slower and is yellow. Someone got paid for taking this backward decision and I am willing to guarantee it wasn't a cost saving move, so why?

Answers on an email please!

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Charlton Athletic 0 v Colchester United 2

I supposed it's bound to happen. I mean, going unbeaten all season at home is pretty remarkable, although this has been a pretty remarkable season so far. A thirty yard strike and deflected charge-down from a casual Hamer clearance were all it took. 

This most disappointing thing for me (other than our lowest gate of the season at 13,600 odd) was that there was 70 minutes between the goals and we couldn't score. Colchester are a big side and they were well organised. The early strike from Antony Wordsworth who was allowed to turn and shoot from distance gave the U's something to defend and their midfield fell back to congest the box and make it difficult for us. Having said that, we carved lumps out of them at times in the first half and deserved to have gone in on even terms. Jackson twice drove wide of goal having drifted in from the left to collect through balls and Green and Wright-Phillips also had decent chances after fine Charlton moves.

What we needed after the break was a sustained spell of pressure and more movement from the whole side when we attacked. Unfortunately, it was largely the ball carrier and one or two around him who were moving at any one time. We got plenty of balls into the box and won lots of flicks and knockdowns but they invariably fell to yellow shirts or a yellow shirt was close enough to tackle or block the follow-up. 

It wasn't falling for us and I thought we should have made a double substitution before 70 minutes. We didn't and Steven Gillespie managed to charge-down a clearance that Hamer delayed unnecessarily and he saw the deflection loop back over our keeper and into the net. Gillespie had come very close to this feat minutes earlier so Hamer can't say he wasn't warned. I should say that he makes a huge number of downfield clearances every game and is very much a part of the back four's arsenal but he got it badly wrong tonight and, hopefully,he will learn his lesson. 

Unfortunately, that was the cue to introduce Haynes but at two down it was always going to be a big ask to get back on level terms. By this time the crowd were getting anxious and appealing for everything and it seemed to encourage a few of our players to go down when perhaps they would have been better staying on their feet and chasing hard. 

I think that was the first home league match we have failed to score in, so you have to hope the players come out determined to atone for it on Saturday. Beating Notts County would be a better victory and I expect us to do it. I will miss it as I am will be in Dublin, desperate to see Scotland win a game in the 6 Nations before the Wooden Spoon encounter with Italy.

By way of some compensation this evening, Sheffield United were beaten again, 3-2 at Walsall and MK Dons somehow lost at home to Yeovil Town. Only Huddersfield and Sheffield United managed to convert their home wins and that won't make much difference in the grand scheme of things. We are still 14 points clear of third and we are counting those games down.

League One Midweek Preview, Game 35

Just a dozen left and the opportunity to add a maximum of 36 points to the 78 acquired already. That would be greedy and unrealistic but we must have high hopes of breaking the 100 points barrier. This evening we can break through 80 points and maintain a 17 point gap on third. We are 28 points clear of sixth placed Stevenage and could well be guaranteed a play-off place as early as 5pm on Saturday.

No doubt Chris Powell is repeating the "one match at a time" mantra and this evening it's our Essex neighbours Colchester. They beat Preston 3-0 at the Weston Homes Community Stadium on Saturday so may arrive slightly more confident than usual or marginally less bothered. They have a good record when playing in London and beat the O's earlier in the season. 

If we play anything like as well as we can, then we should get a result, although my heart is telling me we might experience another frustrating Valley show. It's a near full programme this evening and here's what the others are doing...

Brentford v Exeter City
Uwe Rosler's boys look like they will finish mid-table this season and he will be disappointed with that. The Grecians were held at home by Stevenage on Saturday and Paul Tisdale was not happy. His side hover above the relegation four and they have only managed ten points away from home. Looks like a routine home win to me.
Prediction; 2-0

Carlisle United v Rochdale
Carlisle have two games in hand on sixth placed Notts County and are only three points adrift. they will fancy their chances of making up that gap and this evening's opponents are low-hanging fruit.
Prediction; 3-1

Charlton Athletic v Colchester United
I can see the U's frustrating us at the Valley. I'm going to call out a draw with anticipation of a home victory to follow on Saturday.
Prediction; 2-2

Huddersfield Town v Hartlepool United
Town dropped two points at Bury on Saturday that I don't believe they would have done under Lee Clarke. Their comeuppance looks like an iceberg in the path of the Titantic. They had better be cautious this evening because Hartlepool are far better away from home and could inflict serious damage. Rhodes to save the night.
Prediction; 2-1

MK Dons v Yeovil Town
Milton Keynes deserve a play-off place and they should make short work of Yeovil.
Prediction; 2-0

Oldham Athletic v Scunthorpe United
That old stager, Shefti Kuqi left it very late on Saturday to put an even bigger smile on Charlton fan faces. His winner at Bramall in that fateful 90th minute send us further clear of the rest. Tonight all the Latics have to do is overcome a struggling Scunthorpe.
Prediction; 3-0

Preston North End v Chesterfield
North End continue to suffer from the decision to sack their manager prematurely this season. Whipped 3-0 in Essex in front of 3,333 fans on Saturday was a new low. Chesterfield picked up three more precious points on Saturday and they might just have more desire here.
Prediction; 1-2

Sheffield Wednesday v Bury
Good point for Wednesday at Rochdale on Saturday. They will be confident of getting another tonight in their play-off bid.
Prediction; 2-1

Tranmere Rovers v Notts County
Les Parry paid the price for a couple of years of struggling in league One on Saturday by losing his job after defeat at Chesterfield. Can't help thinking it's the wrong time to be sacking your manager when you are a point above relegation. Notts County could capitalise here.
Prediction; 0-2

Walsall v Sheffield United
Walsall are fighting to avoid the drop and after a fightback in East London at the weekend, they may have a good go here at home. United should be good enough for a point.
Prediction; 1-1

Wycombe Wanderers v Leyton Orient
Could be a good match here. Wycombe are better at home and Paul Hayes will be out to net again in front of the Chairboys. Wycombe should have the greater determination tonight.
Prediction; 3-1