Saturday 30 November 2013

Charlton Athletic 0 v Ipswich Town 1

Same old, same old I'm afraid. We simply aren't good enough at home and can't string two wins together. 

Ipswich look like a team of Mick McCarthy's and they caught us cold today. Ben Alnwick made several fine stops in the opening couple of minutes as Town went for the jugular. We didn't get a grip and from a corner they headed the winner. 

The rest of the match was pretty huff and puff and they stood up to us across the pitch and limited our chances to a couple in each half. We were again left to play everything from the back four. Dorian Dervite did his best impression of Miguel Llera as he launched diagonal after diagonal looking to free Cameron Stewart down the right. It got us nowhere and with Lawrie Wilson having another bad day at the office behind Stewart, there was nothing coming from that side. Jackson wasn't cutting it on the left and Stephens was left shouldering the midfield as Cousins posed around him playing safe passes. Church an Kermorgant chased lost causes but neither had the beating of the back four. 

I'm not sure what the answer is. Perhaps it's simply a case of better players who have the ability to dominate opponents at home. Our current squad is decent on the break and if our defence are having a good day we are always in with a shout away from home. At the Valley we need another game plan but pressing isn't our forte and far too often we end up chasing games and looking rather desperate in the process. Today was another example against a side who, frankly, will be beaten but the better sides this season when they play them at home. We don't appear to have anything much from the bench either and you unable to change a game. Danny Green came on today and tried his best but he isn't Championship quality and Joe Pigott was also thrown in against Christophe Berra who put him in his pocket. Marvin Sordell also got a late chance and did nothing once agin. We have to get a striker in the January window and I would want two if I were Chris Powell.

I'm glad I'm not going to Reading or Yeovil. I suspect we will be under pressure for points by the time we run out at the Valley again. I only hope we have new wealthy owners by then and everyone will be playing for their futures.

Friday 29 November 2013

Money and football

Money has increasingly been ruining football for forty years now. My Old Man was a died-in-the-wool Chelsea fan with a hatred of Tottenham Hotspur. It was because of what he saw as "cheque-book football." He despised them for always throwing money around buying players Chelsea couldn't or wouldn't pay for.

You didn't hear much of that in the 70's and even in the 80's a club like Charlton Athletic could afford to attract a former European Footballer of the Year. So what if we didn't actually give Barcelona any money for him, the fact is we could afford to buy him at the time (£300k) and pay his wages (even if we sometimes had to pay him in cash to get him on the coach to a game).

Things began to change in the 90's and the amount of money in football has multiplied astronomically. Local-boys-done-good can no longer cut it in the ownership stakes. At the top-end of the English game, not even leading UK businesses can compete. It's all Oligarchs, Multi-Nationals, Arabs and overseas Family dynasties. The telly money swilling around the game has also sky-rocketed as global demand to watch our best football has exploded.

And what's more, all this money has changed our game. No longer the traditional stadiums our ancestors were happy to stand in to watch games. Queues for inadequate urination facilities and snacks that included peanuts no-one else would buy (Percy Daltons) and horse chestnuts which smelt pleasant but tasted like a form of poison and were something readily available in the park free-of-charge and which you wouldn't consider eating under normal circumstances.

No, it's gone all seater and we can pee against a ceramic wall instead of a brick one and not be rained on as we do it. We can wash our hands in warm water and we join a small queue for hot food and cold lager. The players of yester-year are now the spectators of today. They are no longer good enough and have to watch the technical cream of the rest of the world don our ad-laden wicking fabrics which now sport our club colours. Indeed, some clubs are even abandoning their traditional colours in favour of those more closely identified with the nationality of their new owners. 

And they call this progress? I am glad that in some small corner of Britain's capital city, some things haven't changed that much. No sir. The Addicks remain  as unfashionable as ever. We may have flirted with the English elite and had a takeover brush with billionaire Arabs but if you ask me, we are better off with dodgy businessmen robbing Peter to pay Paul and playing Russian Roulette with the Tax Man. 

The Old Man would be turning in his grave, but Joshua Harris, please be real!

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Charlton Athletic 2 v Doncaster Rovers 0

As predicted we ran out winners in this replayed league match, although few would have foreseen just how easy it was. The scoreline flattered Doncaster who could have conceded seven.

The only real surprise to the starting line-up was  a debut for Ben Alnwick, presumably because of late sickness or injury to Ben Hamer. Alnwick could hardly have hoped for a quieter match and he must feel great to return a clean sheet.

Simon Church should have opened the scoring as early as the third minute when he collected a ball dropped onto his foot by Jordan Cousins eight yards out. Church controlled it first time but snatched at the shot and whilst it beat Turnbull in the Rovers goal, it also skidded wide of the far post. It was a sign of what was to come.

There were so many attempts it's hard to remember precisely what order they came it but Yann Kermogant steered an effort onto the inside of the post and Johnnie Jackson forced a superb reaction save from Ross Turnbull. Simon Church then got on the end of a neat move to run in and again beat Turnbull but drag his shot agonisingly wide of the far post. Just as we were all beginning to think it was one of those days, Dale Stephen entered the fray and despatched a pearler of a volley from 25 yards. The venom and arc of the shot had goal written all over it from the moment it left his peg and there was no stopping this one. 

After the break we pushed on and more chances came and went. Simon Church missed another before Dale Stephens split the Rovers back line with a raking pass that freed Church from his marker. Simon ran in on goal, feigned a shot to drop Turnbull before angling his shot for the near post. It wiped it's feet on the inside as it went in but he had his reward for his persistence and we were home and hosed.

Cameron Stewart had the next two best chances on the run. The first stung Turnbull's fingers as he was forced to tip over and the second rattled the bar. We also managed a comedy of errors as several players miss-hit efforts in the Rovers box before it fell to Church in space and with the goal at his mercy. Unfortunately, his feet got stuck in the turf and he fell flat on his face. He was subbed minutes later, more to save his embarrassment than anything else, but he got a deserved round of applause for his non-stop running and the crucial second goal. 

Hard to pinpoint why we were so strong this evening. We were at them from the off. First to the ball, quicker with our passing and we closed them down across the pitch. Tempting to say Doncaster aren't very good but they looked world-beaters in August in the wet.

If we play anything approaching this on Saturday we should get back-to-back home wins. Easier to call out the under-performers today. Lawrie Wilson looked sluggish and made a few mistakes early on which marked his card and he struggled to get forward until late in the game. Jordan Cousins played well although there were a couple of signs in the second-half that he might be believing his own hype when he stood arms out complaining that he hadn't had a return ball or been played when running into position. That might have been the case, but I think you need a good deal more than ten or so appearances before you start criticising your team mates.

Marvin Sordell got on for the last ten minutes but didn't show again although we were largely playing for time. Hughesy and Danny Green also got added time but the match was over by then.

I didn't see or hear the gate being announced but the turnout was predictably poor and don't think there were more than 10,000 there. Should be much better on Saturday. Bring on the Carrot Crunchers!

Two homes, two aways

That's what we face now and it's a crucial set of fixtures that could determine our season. Doncaster and Ipswich at the Valley followed by Reading and Yeovil away. 

It's a long time since we took six points from two successive home wins and given our difficulty in scoring, our relatively poor home form and the fact that we face a Doncaster side thirsting to put the record straight and an Ipswich Town team unbeaten in four aways (but spluttering at home), 3 or 4 points is probably a more realistic wish.

We need to see Yann Kermorgant back to full strength and more urgency from midfield to support him and whoever gets the other berth up front. I am assuming Chris Powell will still be putting a pairing out in spite of of failure to find one that's truly working this season. Simon Church gives his all although his limitations are clear. I still can't see what Marvin Sordell brings and I scratch my head to see how he ever got an U21 England cap. I really don't think he has much time left to show us what he can do before he joins a long line of flops we have tried up front in recent seasons. 

What is pretty clear is that anyone we might bring in on loan to get goals should walk into the starting eleven. The likes of Smith, Pigott and Azeez don't look like they will get another chance this season all the time we are desperate for points. The risk is too big for us and for them and I expect their loans or reserve status to continue until later in the season.

Funding is obviously the other issue and that brings me back to the ongoing takeover speculation. Desperation for information now has some of our more vocal internet supporters pretending to be in the know or speculating wildly about who the prospective buyer(s) are. We are even now at the stage where we are envisaging a battle between huge corporations to own us as part of a fantasy stadium development on the Greenwich Peninsula which will catapult us back into the PL and beyond.

I am not going to encourage the speculation here. However, what I am clear about is that ownership of any club likely to be able to fulfil any of that needs to be from someone willing to pour large sums of money into the venture for a prolonged period of time and that almost decrees that you need a wealthy investor with money to burn and probably an individual who can make decisions themselves. 

I am struggling to think of any large corporations who do this or who could do this (no doubt someone will tell me). Typically they are in public or at least wider ownership and their management Boards and Operating Committees are answerable to others ultimately for the decisions they take. The people at the top tend to be refreshed every few years and the strategic outlook is subject to change as a result. Most of this precludes any excessive or prolonged "gambling" with their funds, so investment in a risky venture like a Championship football club would need to be very well defined within their business case and that would almost certainly be limited in terms of funding and timelines. Unless they had the Midas touch, we would risk another bout of short-term ownership and the cycle that brings. That's not to say that they couldn't set aside a large enough sum to secure our immediate future and see us on our way.

Sunday 24 November 2013

QPR 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

Busy non-footballing weekend for me. I decided long ago that I wasn't going to bother with that crappy set-up in West London. Ridiculously undermanned turnstiles, poor inadequate view and a home banker to boot. I made other plans and didn't even try Rubbish Player. 

I plumped for 1-0 before kick-off on the basis that the R's had managed five of them so far this season and we were unlikely to trouble their net. Once Charlie Austin opened the scoring towards half-time, I took the dog out for a walk confident that was it. On reflection we appear to have made a decent fist of it if we were again short on goal threat. 

The focus this weekend has again been the ongoing takeover talk. I walked into the Rose of Denmark on Saturday for a pint before picking up a card for Mrs Peeps birthday. Almost immediately I was informed that we had been taken over and that there had been a delegation at the ground at 7am. I laughed this off but several at the bar were also aware and I then asked who had taken us on. "HSBC" was the answer which caused me to break into laughter. I did do a sneaky check on the OS though just in case.

No more real news on that since the latest placed piece including an £18m price in Friday's SLP. The fever on Charlton Life (and Into the Valley) would suggest that just about everyone is linking a takeover with a move away from the Valley. The Greenwich Peninsula story and the plans including a space for sports arena (albeit a nominal 10k open air effort) are causing many to join the dots, but I will believe it when I see it. What's bleeding obvious is that we need the shot in the arm we should get from new ownership. The manger and key players should get their futures sorted fairly quickly and we might even get a couple of quality strikers we need in January. 

Having failed to re-enter the rearranged Doncaster match in my calendar, I had forgotten I will be there on Tuesday evening. Donny should come with a purpose having been leading by two goals when the first game was abandoned. However,  I said at the time that Sod's Law almost decrees that we will beat them in the replay. We need the points or we will be well and truly back in a relegation battle. What we really do not need is new ownership and League One football.

Friday 22 November 2013

Powell speaks out about *uncertainty*

If there are any doubters remaining about the ludicrous contractual situation at the Valley, then Chris Powell has said it in a piece to the BBC. The current situation is causing uncertainty within the squad.

Chris goes on to say that it won't affect performances. He is the manager and works with a professional squad of players so I wouldn't expect him to say otherwise. Bottom-line is, imagine how you would feel if your contract of employment had a stop date and you were outside the normal renegotiation period? Players know that if they are not going to be retained, then clubs don't negotiate new deals early. They also know, and more importantly, so do their Agents, that their value as a transfer asset depreciates rapidly towards the end of their contract and whilst this represents a risk for their clubs, it is an opportunity for them to negotiate better terms with a new club.

Due Diligence with a new prospective owners may have forced Jiminez's hand since the Summer and that may continue to be an obstacle right now given this weeks' rumour. However, he needs to act in the best interests of the Club at some point and that includes prospective new owners.New deals invariably come with improved terms and most of those awaiting new deals will be on League One contracts and will expect to be paid fully as Championship players.

To quote the bloke behind me, "sort it out Jiminez!"

Wednesday 20 November 2013

"British Property"/"Investment Company" takeover rumour

Those Millwall-loving hacks at the South London Press are today reporting online that Charlton Athletic are about to be taken over by a "British property" business who they are also calling an "investment company." 

I am hoping the "investment" piece of this is just attempting to cover the fact that the "property" business will obviously be investing in the club in order to take control as opposed to see us as development opportunity. There will be obvious concerns in terms of Mr Fox taking control of the chickens, but we must remind ourselves at this point that the club is desperate for new ownership, even with the risks involved. 

It could prove to be the latest in a line of false dawns but you have to believe someone will come in for us and that a deal can be done as long as the current owners get realistic on the price. Little point in any further speculation at this point but I am hoping there's something in this and we can soon move on from the current situation where we are effectively on a slow starvation diet.

Monday 18 November 2013

"I like managing here…"

The words of Chris Powell as picked up by Richard Cawley of the South London Press.  Powell goes on to speak of his interest in getting his contractual situation sorted out soon and speaks of the importance of that so that key members of the squad and management team whose contracts also expire in June know where they stand with their manager and, presumably, would be more ready to commit themselves.

After the speculation amongst fans during the Summer that we risked losing key members of our squad given so many of them are out-of-contract next June, this looks very much like a prompt from the gaffer to the Board. He says "of course I'd like to stay," which immediately opens the prospect that he is even considering the possibility of not being here. It's natural that he would do that but this is the first time he has raised the subject and our manager is usually very careful with what he says and knows that he needs to choose his words carefully.

Powell speaks of loyalty too, and having acknowledged the management opportunity he has been given at the Valley, he says he would be keen to repay that loyalty. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say something Mr Protheroe. Go on, get it done. With key players to follow, we might just find a little bounce before we enter the second-half of the campaign.

Friday 15 November 2013

Mistakes of the past

There are a couple of old adages about history that I find myself using from time to time. One is that history repeats itself and the other is that we should learn from mistakes of the past. Both have been in my mind in the last few days with news about two increasingly hapless looking characters in Iain Dowie and Tony Jiminez.

First, let's consider the Rocket Scientist with the wooden head. The hitherto astute looking Steve Parish at Crystal Palace has apparently interviewed him in consideration for the 'black spot' job at Selhurst Park. I rather thought he was enemy number one down there given the way he left them for a job ten miles closer to his family home in Bolton. Even if I allow for Parish's relative desperation given the fact that his vacancy has already been turned down by out-of-work soothsayers like Tony Pulis and used by the likes of Chris Coleman to get his feet well and truly under the table in his existing position, even the idea of interviewing Dowie looks like an admission of defeat. It may well prove to be that Dowie is being used as bait to attract a better fish or perhaps to set the bottom bar, but his track record is hardly inspiring, although Richard Murray does say he interviews well. Fingers-crossed on that one.

Secondly then, the expectant news that our majority shareholder is booked in again at court to hear the latest case of unfair dismissal and to defend a claim this time of £300,000. I should point out here that the claim will be against the football club and not Mr Jiminez personally. My money was on another disgruntled investor in his Les Bordes golf course coming forward to reclaim their vague investment but Steve Kavanagh has obviously been planning his revenge since before the Wise verdict. The odds are that Kav will have to wait until minutes before his March hearing before he gets the satisfaction he seeks albeit from an out-of-court settlement but the irony here, if that happens, is that damage to the reputation of Charlton Athletic Football Club is not really being avoided now that legal action is becoming the norm following departures of key members of the 'team.' Maybe the club will contest this one and fight their corner. Whilst out-of-court settlements don't come with an admission of guilt, the accused clearly wants to avoid the risk of losing the case and the attendant bad press and Joe Public can take the view that there is no smoke without fire.

I am also reminded by the advice usually given to juries before trials begin and that is to forget everything they may have heard or thought about high profile defendants and not to go trawling on the internet for information about the accused in their spare time. You understand the sentiment but the fact is people will have views about people and businesses that they may already have heard about and we don't yet have the ability to forcibly wipe the memories of jurors, although my personal experience is that would be unnecessary in practice for at least half of them. My guess is that the first thing they do when they get home is a spot of surfing having been jogged by my learned friend. Kav won't be in front of a jury and probably won't get the hearing he might fancy but Judges are only human and they are obviously more likely to take a closer interest in what happens across the wider court so the appearance of Charlton Athletic Football Club on the Court Circular once again may well resonate. That's not to suggest, of course, that Charlton Athletic Football Club are in the wrong here, that would be to pre-judge the outcome. 

Sunday 10 November 2013

Charlton Athletic 2 v Leeds United 4

An eventful but ultimately disappointing game at the Valley yesterday. It had nearly everything except a just outcome but it has cemented something more fundamental for me.

At 2pm the White Swan was a-buzz with news that kick-off had been delayed until 3.30pm. In fact, the message I got was that there was to be an inspection at 3,30pm which didn't make a lot of sense because that implied the pitch was currently unplayable. It had been raining on and off for 24 hours but nothing like the abandoned Doncaster match. With the real ale in the White Swan running out (there had been no staff a few weeks ago) we moved into "the newly refurbished Bugle." I had been told that the Bugle had been transformed and was unrecognisable from it's old self. It looked exactly the same although they now have a large pull-down screen which was showing the England v Argentina Autumn friendly. At least the regulars in there confirmed a 3.30pm kick-off and the place emptied at quarter-past.

My step-brother and his wife made a rare appearance and it was good to see their daughter being lead on to the turf as one of the mascots by her favourite player, Michael Morrison. They don't really get football but thoroughly enjoyed the game and he was hugely impressed at the finish with what he had seen and thought we should have won. That we didn't was down to a squirt of a referee (Keith Stroud), our inability to remain on level terms, some poor decision-making by Ben Hamer and inspired solo performances by Scottish forward Ross McCormack and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny .

Yann Kermogant was only fit enough for the bench so Chris Powell went again with a similar line-up to that of the past few weeks with Jackson in behind Church upfront and only one change with Callum Harriott being preferred to Bradley Pritchard. In theory that meant two wingers providing ammunition for a  lone striker whose forte is not his aerial ability.

On a pudding of a pitch, Charlton started brightly enough and looked up for it but Leeds were worryingly combative in midfield and Michael Brown and Rodolph Austin stood out early on. We fashioned an early chance which Harriott blazed over (our shooting really is poor) but it was cynical Leeds who opened the scoring when Ross McCormack got between Wilson and Morrison and ran on to a fine ball from Dexter Blackstock to beat Hamer in front of the Leeds fans. 

It took us until the stroke of half-time to equalise but you felt it was coming and  the wonder of the venomous volley from Cameron Stewart was too good for Paddy Kenny. It needed to be good to beat Kenny because the thorn-in-our-side had already pulled off a superb reflex save to deny Simon Church who had steered a driven Stewart cross goal-ward from close range header. As if to present himself as a microcosm of the Leeds United Football Club, Kenny had already been booked after only half an hour for time-wasting, something the rest of his team-mates were also keen to do after taking the lead as they fell down and held limbs one after another to break any Charlton momentum up. Ref Stroud had also played his part by turning down a half-decent penalty appeal after Stephens went tumbling in the box and then what looked like a stone-bonker to me when Church was prevented from running on to his own touch ten yards from goal. 

One-one at half-time and there was a confident feeling around the ground that we would up the ante in the second-half and see them off. That lasted barely two minutes after the oranges, when Stroud awarded Leeds a penalty for what looked like a 50-50 shoulder challenge in the box. For a moment I thought Stroud had decided to award the penalty in light of the two he had failed to give earlier and only then realised it was for the wrong team. McCormack stepped up and fired high into the middle of the goal to re-awake the former Champions of Europe (1960's Fairs Cup but don't let that prevent you from shouting it from the rooftops for forty years).

Leeds began time-wasting again, a very obvious and deliberate tactic that infuriated the home support. We stuck to the task but there was again no pattern to our play and it was all effort and haste not control and patience. On 67 minutes, Kermogant was introduced for Harriott in what looked like a good move. However, we slowed after that and you were left with the distinct impression that Kermy is still carrying a knock. Irrespective, we equalised again three minutes later. Simon Church's persistence carried him into the box and past two challenges before he picked out Johnnie Jackson in the six yard area and we were level again. A sense of justice once again swirled around the ground and again you felt we would go on and win the match. Unfortunately, we hadn't featured on Hamer or Ross McCormack. Within three minutes again Leeds were in front. A deep cross dropped at the back post. Hamer had watched it across his six yard area and followed the trajectory to Dervite and McCormack beyond the back post. To be fair to Wilson he was very close but the ball fell a yard beyond McCormack and stuck out his boot and directed the ball back and up into the stranded Hamer's net. Sorry Ben but you are costing us as many points as you win us at the moment.

There was still the best part of 20 minutes left but we looked beaten and Kermogant saw little of the ball after that. Kenny was tested when a long shot was deflected after his dive and the extra height the shot gained looked for a moment like it might beat him but he found an extra stretch and pushed it over the bar. That was pretty much it until we conceded an iffy free-kick on the edge of the box on 90 minutes. From my seat our wall looked two men short and Hamer looked very small in the goal. When I saw McCormack step up to strike it, I said "four" in my head and watched it follow the line I had mapped out. 

Ultimately, no shame in losing to the Champions of Europe but this was a game against moderate opposition we should have beaten at home and it leads me back to the point at the start of this post. Our home form simply isn't good enough and Chris Powell has to find a way of changing it. We were rarely as impressive as we should have been when winning League One and last year was very poor at the Valley, especially before Christmas. We are repeating that form with only one win, three draws and now three defeats although it feels like four having been three-down to Doncaster so early on in the abandoned match.

We seem unable to take home games by the scruff of the neck and exert sustained pressure. I think our midfield is too weak and to compensate we retain possession in the back four and launch our attacks from there instead of the centre of the park. That invariably means longer balls or much more build-up play down the wings which gives the opposition more chances to defend. If we were holding possession in midfield more often, we would be looking to provide angles for over-lapping wingers or to thread through-balls for strikers to run onto. If you can do that then your opponents have to drop deep and defend and it means you can exert pressure and dominate games. It gets your own fans going too and that can inspire the home team as we have seen on a couple of notably exceptions in the last two seasons. It also means that the opposition have to play on the break which should be meat and drink to a back four like ours. 

Not an easy problem to resolve when you don't have the personnel but it would be worthwhile trying a different centre-mid at home or we have to use our loans better.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Peacocks next

The Addicks return to the Valley on Saturday hoping to build on two wins and two draws in the last four. Our visitors will be from Yorkshire's largest city (Leeds. pop 761,000) and will fill the Jimmy Seed with 3,200 of their finest.

No-one outside Leeds likes them, of course, for reason-a-plenty but you have to hand it to their fans for travelling in numbers and getting behind their team whom have, over the years, tended to let them down. Similar in many ways to Yorkshire's other massive club, Sheffield Wednesday. Wednesdayites would remind us at this point that Sheffield has a population of only 551,000 which splits behind two sides whereas Leeds have their city all to themselves.

Anyway, enough about York-shire. Mighty Leeds haven't beaten us in 10 (ten) years and we should maintain that record on Saturday. The Whites have been doing alright this season but have lost their last four away matches and there's no reason to expect them to do any better in SE7.

No doubt their gobby fans will pack the Anti and the overspill will head for the Rose where they have been making themselves at home in recent seasons and getting increasingly lairy in the process. Personally, I will be elsewhere as my step-brother's daughter will be mascot and her parents will be attending in addition to her brother who sits next to me on match days.

I won't dwell on the opposition suffice to say that they have some injury concerns. What really matters is how we play because we can win this game if we show the same determination and backbone as we did at Birmingham. It looks like Johnnie Jackson will again start and I am guessing we could play him in the hole again behind Siii-mon Church, in an unchanged eleven. Kermorgant should feature if fit but we must avoid rushing him back again and I suspect we may have to wait until Loftus Road to see him in action once more.

The odds on us keeping another clean sheet will be shortening but I can't see us conceding more than one. That means we will need two to win it, so I will take 2-1 and go for Church and Jackson to do the damage. Come on you Reeeddddsss!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Birmingham City 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Christmas may be a couple of months off but oh what fun to see Charlton win away. Yesterday's performance was a joy to watch. A still weakened side playing to it's maximum and grinding out a thoroughly deserved win in front of what must have been 900 buoyant Addicks. I am really pleased I accepted Chicago Addick's encouragement to go.

It was a drab day in the Midlands yesterday (isn't it always) but we made the most of a disappointing pre-match. Having got a taxi out to Ladypool Road and walked it's length, it was fairly obvious that Midday was too early for a number of the balti houses so we had to make do with a large cafe-style north Indian restaurant named after Pakistan's capital. It wasn't licenced and they didn't welcome bring-your-own, but the kebabs, lamb chops, tandoori chicken, fried cod and naan breads were good enough. Sated, we walked up to the ground through the scruffy suburbs of south Birmingham and managed to find the Cricketers. A small back-street pub with little to recommend it. The sad Pubmaster chain offering an uninspiring list of beer - Carling Black Label, Ansell's Mild, Tetley sodasteram or whatever it is. Wife Beater encouraged us to stay for a couple but then it was time to get into the ground and a pint with live football! Just enough time to put on a 1-0 Charlton win with greed getting the better of me and I doubled it with Simon Church to score the goal.

Chris Powell's all reds lined up largely as expected. Hamer, Wiggins, Dervite, Morrison, Wilson, Stewart, Stephens, Cousins and Pritchard, with Johnnie Jackson in the hole behind workaholic Simon Church. My bet was on.

It was evident from the off that we were going to compete and also that Birmingham is not a happy camp at the moment. After several unsuccessful attempts by Chris Burke to get a cross in past Rhiys Wiggins, he did manage a couple looking for the giant Zigic but Morrison and Dervite had him sussed.Birmingham's game-plan dried up after that and we took increasing control. 

Dale Stephens and Jordan Cousins began to dictate play and pick holes in the Blues back-line. Lawrie Wilson swarmed over them down the right flank and Simon Church was everywhere looking for an opening. We had a couple of decent chances to open the scoring before half-time as we passed our way into their box but Brum survived and had Darren Randolph to thank for scrambling a good stop from Jackson inside the area. All Birmingham managed in response was a break and shot from Lee Novak which Hamer saved smartly low down his right-hand post.

Nil-nil and the Addicks were in good voice, in total contrast to the silent and disappointing home support. I have to say that St. Andrews in barely recognisable from my last visit (which was years ago to be fair). The large terracing and Archibald Leitch stands have given way, predictably, to new concrete, blue and white bucket seating and sheet-clad roofing. All reminiscent of the New Den but without the fervent support.

After the break and playing towards the red horde packed to the left of the goal, we upped the ante, retained and passed the ball even better than in the opening period and ran for absolutely everything. Simon Church epitomised that and his refusal to give anything up won a couple of balls we had no right to and kept Birmingham firmly on the back-foot. Kyle Bartley and Dan Burn were all over the shop trying to contain us but they couldn't stop the inevitable after 56 minutes when Cameron Stewart attacked the near post and his shot was scrambled again by Randolph. I think it was Jackson who tried again from close range but that was blocked and with Charlton fans all on their feet by now, the ball squirted across the goal where the finishing touch was applied. I looked desperately for the scorer and for a fleeting moment picked out Simon Church but my eyes confirmed Dale Stephens. No matter, we were in front and very confident. 

Lee Clark threw on two substitutes in response but Birmingham's poor control, miscued passes and visible lack of conviction meant we kept going at them and a second on the break was always more likely than an equaliser. Wilson was also brought down in the box after bursting clear but ref Scott Mathieson obviously felt pity for the home side because he waved it away. Once again we should have made substitutions earlier than we did. Johnnie Jackson was out on his feet and Cameron Stewart limping but Powell stuck with his eleven until much later on and then only to break any final rhythm Birmingham were trying to create. Peter Lovenkrands had a chance before the whistle for an undeserved equaliser but there was to be no repeat of last year's injustice and his shot blazed over.

A long walk back to New Street in the sleeting rain for several hundred Charlton fans but nothing was going to dampen the spirit or the bonhomie on the train home with the glum and silent Palace fans making their return from a record-breaking seventh successive Premier defat by two goals or more. May seems such a long time ago. Finally some good banter with a few Millwall fans who joined me on the train at London Bridge and were delighted to  be in the company of a fellow racist (sic).