Saturday 29 March 2014

Derby County 3 v Charlton Athletic 0

A predictable beating by high-flying Derby County this afternoon. The Rams may have had a blip in recent weeks but a 5-0 trouncing of neighbours Forest last Saturday was just the tonic they wanted ahead of facing us. 

Our goal-scoring problem - just two goals in the last eight matches - hangs like a huge dark cloud over the tail-end of the season. Jose Riga decided to go with three strikers today and we were over-run in midfield as a consequence. It would appear to have been a pretty obvious mistake but I think he has earned the right to experiment following the win at Forest. It's just as well Riga has managed to get such defensive showings against some of the weaker sides. We are going to need that at Elland Road on Tuesday and at home to Reading a week today. Leeds lost at home to Doncaster Rovers today and with their club in crisis, we have a big shot on Tuesday. It's worth picking the most experienced side we can and playing 4-5-1 for at least 75 minutes. 

Barnsley beat Yeovil today and it's looking like our two home matches against the pair of them will decide our fate. Yeovil will be very flat this evening but the tykes have managed successive wins and will be eyeing the Valley as their big opportunity to jump clear of the trap-door.

Millwall looked doomed after only managing a point at home to ten man Blackburn. They were awarded two penalties, the second coming very late in the game but they still contrived to concede a last-gasp equaliser. It's a pity Palace managed an impressive home win over Chelsea today. Ian Holloway was looking good for a statue at the Valley alongside Big Sam's having managed a relegation double in south-east London in the same season. I haven't given up completely on that.

The fans can wait - Katrien's risky comms strategy

Katrien Meire has used the club's web site to tell fans she's too busy with two matches a week to communicate any further with supporters until the season is over. This has been communicated already so I am guessing the club aren't entirely comfortable with this so believe telling us again in (presumably) her own words will somehow reassure us.

Too busy to meet disgruntled supporters? Too busy to make a more informative statement on the plans and commitments of the new owner and his nominated lead executive? Matchdays take a lot of organising but there is a big support team and it's a well-rehearsed routine. I'm sure she attends a planning session for each game and she attends the games herself but too busy to talk to the supporters is a cop-out. It's almost as if she's playing and needs a couple of days to recover.

Personally, I can wait (it doest look like they are going to change tack or even acknowledge previous comments might have been ambiguous at best) but I think it's a risky strategy and it doesn't help relations with those supporters who have yet to be convinced by the new owner's plans. They are obviously banking on survival in the Championship when some of the heat may have gone out of the debate and they can strike whilst the relief-factor is still strong. However, if we were to be relegated, the decision to use a lame excuse to avoid some uncomfortable questioning could back-fire.

In the meantime, with two games a week, I am too busy to consider renewing my season tickets. The 9th April can come and go as far I am concerned. If we get relegated they won't risk increasing prices and if we stay up I really want to be convinced that my club is being run with genuine ambition for promotion, not merely to break-even or possibly to provide better players for Standard Liege free-of-charge.

Friday 28 March 2014

The Customer is always right

It's an old adage but one that successful businesses put front and central of everything they do. Football increasingly fits the mould of more conventional businesses, even if it is a strange model where most owners are expected to act as philanthropists and where most club Customers are largely taken-for-granted.

I was very interested in the results of a reasonably representative survey carried out by the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust just posted. The timing of the survey was post the Duchatelet takeover and after the sacking of Chris Powell. Given the rift between supporters that has emerged in the last few weeks as a result of these key events, the results of the survey are pretty conclusive. I have decided this will be my last post on this topic because I have done it to death and it's becoming repetitive, but for the record it's worth stating some facts.

A decisive majority of the 1286 (good sample) asked thought Chris Powell should not have been sacked. The figure was 78% and a huge 94% of those gave lack of investment (largely with Jiminez & Slater but Roland selling Stephens and Kermorgant hardly helped) as the reason that lead to his dismissal. On the "80-20 rule" - a widely used statistical rationale in business, Chris Powell didn't deserve to be sacked. He has been and I will move on now because the club has to and Powell isn't coming back any time soon. Given his personal commitment to our club, his record as a player and as a manager I am ashamed at the shabby way he was treated. I have never been a "Sir Chrissie Powell" advocate and the word "legend" is much abused but I know where the fans were coming from when they trotted these out. Powell's sacking, ironically, pushes him more closely towards "legend" status in my eyes.

If you look for final endorsement of the view over Powell's sacking, the survey asked who should have the final say over player election and 98.5% said it should be the manager. That is pretty much unanimous and, I believe, reflective of the fact that most believe Powell was being influenced to give game-time to Duchatelet-loaned players, including Thuram-Ulien who had looked worrying out-of-his-depth. This issue also looks directly responsible for the move of Ben Alnwick to Leyton Orient. A young keeper who had broken into the side and who was keeping number one Hamer out. He didn't put a hand wrong and yet he was moved on without adequate explanation.

The other key questions in the survey concerned was whether or not fans thought being part of a network of clubs was a good idea. Again using the 80-20 rule, only 19% thought it was a good idea. I remain to be convinced because I can't see the logic of the greater good as I have explained previously.

Incidentally, 51% of those asked said they were less likely to renew their season tickets as a result. That is a worrying statistic but passions were running high at that point and it's unclear to me whether or not the "lower" early bird pricing had been made public at the time of the survey. The club were yesterday trumpeting "strong" sales figures without any numbers being revealed, so time will tell on that front and our table finish will influence that equally strongly.

Moving on, Jose Riga appears to have been getting some last minute support in terms of playing staff with the arrival of Manchester United squad midfielder, Davide Petrucci. The 22 year-old has yet to make a first-team appearance for the Red Devils (beware Jordan Cousins) but United pick from the cream of Europe so he should give us some options in the run-in, even if only from the bench.

News that we were also trying to persuade Chris Eagles to get some game time in the capital was also encouraging, however, the unfortunately name and overpaid Eagles decided he couldn't be bothered and would prefer to pick up his reputed £35,000 a week for not playing for the water-holed Bolton Wanderers. I hope as many as possible league managers took note of that decision yesterday.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Nottingham Forest 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Jordan Cousins was in the right place at the right time this evening to knock in the rebound from a Jonathan Obika shot which had cannoned off the post and out across goal. It was only Charlton's second goal in the last seven games but crucially it was the second winner. It came eight minutes from time and it killed off a hapless Forest side.

It was an awkward evening for anyone tuning in to the night's results as Yeovil lead for a long time at table-toppers Leicester before conceding an equaliser. Barnsley won at Reading and until we scored things looked bleak. The Lions rolled over at the New Den once again and have gone bottom of the table, although they are on level points now with Barnsley and Yeovil. 

All-of-a-sudden, we are three points clear of the three below and we have three games in hand. The gap to those above us remains but the job now is clearer than it has ever been. We now have a chance to effectively kill off the sides below us. Another win at a Derby or a Leeds and we will effectively be on a count-down. Wins at home over Barnsley or Yeovil could then all but settle it.

Whilst the folly of selling Yann Kermorgant looms larger than ever (he scored two more tonight), our defence deserves massive credit for again keeping a clean sheet. They really are good enough to get us out of this division if they didn't have to defend for so long in every game. Ben Hamer kept us in it this evening with two fine saves which should serve further warning against temptation to dabble with Thuran-Ulien.

Derby will be a bigger Test on Saturday but the win tonight may ease the pressure on our players and like this evening, it looks like we could be playing Leeds at just the right time as they implode behind the scenes.

Come on Charlton, we can do this!

Monday 24 March 2014

South-East London triple relegation?

Consumed with our own relegation battle, we are intimately familiar with the plight of our nearest and not-so-dearest Lions. Their fatalistically honest fans are ready to accept they are down. Our own fans live in hope but it's looking increasingly likely we could join them given our inability to threaten opposing defences.

However, in the midst of all this you might have forgotten about the Eagles, especially after "never-been-relegated Pulis" took them clear with a succession of 1-0 victories. I couldn't help taking a gander at their run-in. Four at home and four away. The homes are against Chelsea, Aston Villa, Man City and Liverpool. Ouch. Away things look better on paper but they have three potential six pointers amidst Cardiff, Everton, West Ham and Fulham. Ouch.

Crowing in South-East London may well be a rare thing this Summer.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Charlton Athletic 0 v Burnley 3

In the end it was  routine defeat. A side second from top but with the least number of defeats in the entire league edged the match that gives them countdown on automatic promotion. The fact that their line-up was barely recognisable speaks volumes for the job Sean Dyche has done. Kieran Trippier was out, as was Danny Ings but we would barely notice as Burnley matched us across the park and played with confidence borne of a side that knows it's heading for promotion. I thought Stanislav was excellent until subbed and Barnes was the pick of the Clarets.

We competed throughout and we looked much better than a relegation-threatened side, however, once again we struggled to create anything meaningful in the final third. The back four were pretty solid and we competed evenly in midfield but we were woefully out-gunned up font. Our own pairing of Obika and Church failed to create anything. Barring a late Church break and tame shot, he was second best all afternoon and Obika appeared to play ten yards short of the line which effectively ruled him out of serious danger.

Asdarevic made a difference once he came on but he was profligate on occasion and he had little to aim at. Poyet was excellent in the middle but he was subbed before the end and I was left wondering if he has a knock.

We now face three consecutive aways at Forest, Derby and Leeds and there will be few who believe we can get more than two points from those trips. Things ease up after than with three home matches in four but if we are chasing our tail by then, darkness may be upon us.

Thursday 20 March 2014

Heal the rift

Change can be hugely unsettling for people. The bigger the change the bigger the potential challenge. It's usually uncomfortable and it can become devisive and damaging if it's not managed properly. Much depends on how people approach change and their willingness to embrace it but management of it is critical. It also has the potential to completely alter the order of things, way out of proportion to the actual change itself.

When I look around the Valley at the moment, what I think we are witnessing is precisely this and it may well lead to a step-change in our fan base (positive or negative) and it's relationship with the club. That may sound dramatic but the signs are there.

Technology has changed the way supporters interact with their club. News, views and opinions are near instant and proliferate. Geographical boundaries no longer exist. Our entire fan-base around the globe have the same access to pretty much all of the information at the same time and a number of different mediums have developed to meet a nascent demand. 

Over the last ten years we have seen the emergence of a long line of Bloggers covering Charlton Athletic and a number different message boards that have developed naturally to largely reflect the views and interests of their audiences - some fan-lead and others commercially modelled on a national basis. The Club have developed their "digital" presence too with an ever-expanding official website and the teaming with CAFC-Player has brought live match commentaries to the masses, albeit with quality issues. All of this has brought far more fans closer to the action and the surrounding debate.

Into that mix, we have to throw the last three years with an invisible financial backer, a non-communicative public majority shareholder and some very short-sighted and inflammatory senior management decisions affecting the running of the club away from the playing side. Then we have the on-off sale of the club this season, the lack of investment, the threat of Administration and a relegation battle. If you think that's not enough to contend with, we are then taken over by a multi-millionaire with an unorthodox business model involving a stable of other European clubs who isn't prepared to throw money at the problem but does decide to sack the loyal first team Manager after the club go bottom of the table and exit the F A Cup. I think we would all agree that this represents big change by anyone's standards.

We now face a split amongst our fan base and our numerous supporter groups as a result, as we splinter largely along two lines. On the one side we have those in what I will call the Old Camp, who are naturally distrusting of the new owner and doubtful about his footballing model. They are also largely pro-Chris Powell in the sense that they believe he was doing a decent job in very trying circumstances and that we will regret dismissing him. The other side of the coin, I'll call the New Camp who were fed-up with Chris Powell's style of football and tactics and have been advocating for change. They have also embraced new ownership, so have, in effect got just what they wanted (although if you wait long enough a bus will come along). There are a number of other generalisations I could make about the Old and the New Camps, but I will avoid the temptation to do so as I will be immediately contradicted by all and sundry. The internet is the battleground for both sides of the debate which is probably just as well given some of the emotions.

What is also obvious is that we all still ultimately want to see the same outcome - a sustainable and financially stable club with an exciting, competitive and successful football team. 

So what? Well I think the new owner and his team need to be alert to the situation. They can't afford winners and losers amongst our fan base. They need to take us all with them and to do that, it's pretty obvious they need to reach out to those who need more reassurance than others. It doesn't mean they need to alter their direction or pander to opinion but it could potentially make all the difference. All of us should recognise the value of them doing that given we all want the same thing. There have been some encouraging recent signs and it would be great if Roland Duchatelet and Katrein Meire can provide the reassurance many seek. Perhaps they will be unable to do this because the truth may be that the ambitions of Charlton Athletic are ultimately to be diluted for the betterment of the stable of clubs, but it must be worth a go if there is genuinely nothing to hide. They owe us that after the comments of Guy Luzon at Standard Liege and Rowland's own concerning how this model will work.

C'mon M Duchatelet, reassure and unite us!

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Charlton Athletic 1 v AFC Bournemouth 0

Another clean sheet and a last gasp header from Dorien Dervite won Charlton the crucial three match points last night. It was far from a classic but there were some encouraging signs of life and the spirit remains intact. The win, of course, lifts us out of immediate danger and we have the schadenfreude of looking down on Millwall who have replaced us in the coffin zone.

We started poorly in the sense of team selection and line-up. Desperate to score a goal it was a 4-5-1 with a lost looking Simon Church floating around on his own trying to trap long balls and beat several players before be able to fashion a chance. It wasn't going to happen, especially when the two wide players in the midfield were the mis-firing Danny Green and Calum Harriott. I suspect Jose's game-plan was to keep it tight in the first half.

Bournemouth largely bossed the first 35 minutes as they passed around us in midfield looking for openings for Lewis Grabban. Morrison and Dervite sat deep watching the pacy striker and the Cherries were limited in terms of chances. The frustration for the viewing Addicks was an error strewn showing and a dysfunctional midfield. Only Diego Pyet emerged with any credit for me. He rarely wastes a ball and he reminds me so much of Luka Modric the way he balances, his ability to turn sharply either way and his awareness of small spaces (I can't really think of a better midfield comparison I could make). His first touch is invariably a short one and he plans it to ensure he moves out of any possible trouble before he finds another red shirt.

I was delighted to see Jose Riga make an early change on 35 minutes and to see Calum Harriott hoicked off. Riga had spoken to Johnnie Jackson minutes earlier and they had been told to prepare for a quick 4-4-2 shift as Jonathan Obika entered the action. The move worked sweetly as Charlton immediately seized the initiative. Obika was everywhere and those around him responded. He managed our first on-target effort but his snapped shot on the turn was straight at Lee Camp.

After the break and attacking the Covered End, we won more possession and looked more likely to score. As the game wore on and with another blank looking increasingly likely, we began to fashion a few more chances. We finally got men forward in numbers and had Bournemouth all-at-sea as the ball ping-ponged around their box but there was no good fortune. 

Danny Green was eventually subbed after another duff showing where he managed to waste several decent opportunities. He is really poor at estimating shots and crosses. Can't beat the first man invariably from corners, swings crosses high, wide and handsome, and has a habit of somehow putting free-kicks ten feet plus over the bar. I have really seen far too much of him now. Marvin Sordell was his replacement and we played with three strikers although I don't understand why Church was the spearhead and Obika and Sordell both out wide.

Diego Poyet eventually found himself close enough to goal to shoot and he tested the keeper with a good shot although it was straight at him and he beat it out. Johnnie Jackson then hit a trade-mark free-lick over the wall and under the bar but Camp was there to push that out too. It wasn't looking like it was going to be our night but in the third minutes of four added, we won a final corner and Jackson again swung a six-yarder in for Dorien Dervite to beat Michael Morrison to the ball as it dropped early and he stooped to nod home. 

The celebrations of the players were almost extraordinary. Jose Riga was urging them back into their own half to see the game out and within 30 seconds the final whistle was blown. It was reassuring to see the management team all embracing enthusiastically, including Dyer and Riga. 

Johnnie Jackson did some tunnel leaps as I headed for the Royal Oak and some celebratory Stella. Football is a fickle business as we know and I felt a sense of disloyalty to Chris Powell but we remain unbeaten under the new manager and have yet to concede a goal. "It's not Jose's fault" was something I heard several times after the match and obviously it isn't. He has added Obika and he made the right changes during the game. Powell would have added Obika given the opportunity but he might not have acted as decisively or swiftly in terms of the changes.

Burnley will represent a fresh challenge but we are finally looking up again and things are looking a little brighter.

Monday 17 March 2014

Duchatelet steps up - Obika joins

I suppose I have to thank Roland Duchatelet for reading my blog since he took over and finally taking the hint about the wisdom of strengthening our goal-scoring options having weakened what was the division's lower scoring strike force in January by selling our top scorer. If that sounds ungrateful, then I'd like to make it clear that I am very pleased with this move, even if it's a few months late. If it took Jose Riga to make the point to M Duchatelet, then he too is owed a thank you. It might just prove to be enough to preserve our Championship status and save Roland some money and some time in the long run.

Regular readers will know I am not enamoured with a club model that could mean better players leaving us for other sides in the stable without our club benefitting in full and that the crumbs from the table of the others clubs in return are unlikely to engender a strong belief that the owner has high ambitions for Charlton Athletic. I've been watching my club by-and-large underachieve for the best part of 40 years. I've watch us sell our best players and I know our place in the world but there has always been hope and some form of ambition. If it transpires those ultimately in charge of our Club are ever content for it to simply exist and that it was used to the benefit of other clubs, then it would be game over for me.

Today, however, in spite of what has been said by both M Duchatelet and by his man at Standard Liege, none of our players have been moved to another of his clubs. Equally, the two Charlton players he sold were on expiring contracts and he has been honest about wanting to balance the books. The four who came in haven't yet established themselves in the side, although only the goalkeeper has looked well out-of-his-depth. Asdarevic looks competent and Reza may well find his range although it's become very clear we can't afford to wait. Today's move shows a commitment to try and avoid relegation and in Obika they have secured a player Chris Powell couldn't afford pre-season and whom I suspect he asked for back in January. Chris will be smiling wryly this evening.

In my minds' eye Jonathan Obika is the real deal but we should remind ourselves he only scored three goals during eleven matches last season. We may need more from him between now and Blackpool but we may need to be patient. Perhaps even to wait until the second-half tomorrow night.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Wales 51 v Scotland 3

Ouch! Greg Laidlaw put Scotland in front at the Millennium Stadium yesterday and then I had to suffer seven Welsh tries as Scotland were routed. The dismissal of Stuart Hogg after twenty minutes finished any lingering hopes of a competitive match. Most of us missed the tackle for which Hogg was initially yellow carded but a replay on the huge screen had the crowd, the Scots included, gasping at the brutality of the follow-through on Dan Biggar. The referree also saw it the same way and flourished a red card at Hogg who was, by now, in the dugout.

Time for a few more beers and I was able to reflect on what a fine stadium they have, especially with the roof closed as it was yesterday. I was also receiving text updates from the New Den where we managed to prevent Millwall from scoring and secured another nil-nil draw. We are afloat again with the point and are above Yeovil and Barnsley on goal difference. Millwall remain three points ahead of us but we must have growing confidence that we can close the gap and finish above the three sides who are as poor as us.

Bournemouth should be beatable on Tuesday night at the Valley but we will have to reckon with the Kermogant factor. It's an early opportunity for the feisty Frenchman to make three points to M Duchatelet. We will need to hope there is a settling for mid-table amongst Kermy, Harry After, Simon Francis and company.

Finally, I was encouraged to learn this week of the organisation of 20-odd prominent supporters who are as concerned as many of us at the sacking of Chris Powell and the direction in which the club appears to be moving as part of M Duchatelet's cabal of clubs. They are seeking dialogue with the owner. Hopefully our fears are unfounded but we deserve some reassurances about the future. By contrast, it was good to see a planning application being revisited for upgrading the facilities at Sparrows Lane. That at least augers well for the future if acted upon. In the meantime it looks like we are going to dice with relegation until the very end of the season.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Charlton Athletic 0 v Huddersfield Town 0

Well, first, the spirit of the side appears to be intact. The eleven starters fought admirably, especially in the first half and did everything they could to score a goal. The fact that we didn't manage one was due to the glaring lack of anyone who is skilled in that department and, if I am being fair, an absence of any good fortune. 

Jose Riga looked smart in his grey suit and a Charlton tie and he was visible on the touchline throughout. The side he sent out included Reza and Asdarevic but both earned their pick and there can be few complaints on team selection. The main problem was the lack of cutting edge or real game-plan. We bombed forward and threw balls into the box but nothing fell for us. We forced a string of early corners and won a number of headers but Alex Smithies was largely untroubled. Asdarevic had a poke from 20 yards which was pushed out and Morrison miscued a knock-down.

Huddersfield were as committed as we have seen in our numerous recent encounters but they looked here for the point from the off. After the break they moved 15 yards up the pitch and it put us onto the back foot. We struggled to create anywhere as much second-half and the quality of the football from both sides dropped visibly as we both tired. A long ball over the top dropped for Sordell in the second-half and he ran straight at Smithies. A feint left or right would have opened the goal but he panicked and shot early which beat the keeper but took a decisive deflection of the covering defender and went wide. 

Simon Church came on before the end but by then both sides looked like they had settled for the point. It cuts the gap to Millwall to one win but we have to face them at the New Den on Saturday and they will be confident of making that six points. 

The Valley crowd carried out a well-supported couple of minutes spontaneous applause on three minutes to show our collective indignity at the sacking of the manager. Many rose to their feet but after that it was back-to-usual and you get the impression most have moved on. Maybe that's for the best but defeat at Millwall will probably cast the die for another few hundred and failure to beat either Bournemouth or Burnley at the Valley next week could effectively seal our fate. Yann Kermorgant will return for an uncomfortable evening for us on Tuesday and I am expecting Burnley to win handsomely. The lowest crowd of the season last night, 12000-odd, will likely be lowered before year-end (Barnsley in a night game?). The price of sacking a loyal manager but also indicative of a side that can't score goals and one heading down. Duchatelet can't say he wasn't warned or that his actions since taking over haven't contributed directly to the predicament.

If they really want to rub salt in the wounds, picking the unfortunate Thuram to flap about in goal would just about do it. Let's see how much of a man Jose Riga is and whether or not he can work a minor miracle with the job he's been given.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Roland Duchatelet's Football Pyramid - Chris Powell Sacking explained

Given the heat and emotion generated amongst Charlton fans today following the sacking of our manager, I thought I would lay the new model out to help collective understanding and promote brotherly harmony. I have made a few minor assumptions with the model in terms of the placings of the clubs below Royal Standard Liege (apologies to fans of the other Club Collective below RSL if you have delusions of grandeur), although it doesn't affect the rationale behind Powell's sacking.

Very simply, in order to manage a club in the pyramid, you need to accept that the relative success of all of the clubs and especially those above you in the pyramid, especially the top dog is paramount. If you can provide free talent worthy of a side above you, then you do the right thing. In return, players edged out of sides above you become available to you as they move down the pyramid. The whole system is largely (but not exclusively) fed by cheap home-grown talent. There are no hideous transfer fees involved and we do away with ghastly Agents.

So, the model creates value at the top where the rewards are greatest and shifts the cost down to the lower clubs who live to compete. Any better players who are surplus to requirements of the sides above them, and particularly the top side, will be sold on wherever possible to help running costs of the feeder clubs.

By-passing the open market and stifling individual club ambition and risk-taking may be the downside but Roland's model gives us protection against Administration and other worldly perils. In effect it's the equivalent of Football Communism and that, my fellow Addicks, is why Sir Chris Powell couldn't sign his new deal and has been removed. It's not just because of his inherited title and selfish ambitions of taking his club back to the top of the English game, but because he didn't want to live under a regime that stifles personal ambition and freedom for the greater good.

As we all know, communism doesn't work in the long run because human beings are not equal and we all have dreams and ambitions that we want to believe we can achieve. This encapsulates how I feel today. I desperately want to support my club but I don't want to support a regime that will be happy for my club to muddle along for the greater good of someone else's. I only support Charlton Athletic, not Standard Liege or any other clubs. To use a Roland Duchatelet analogy, it's like putting five of your children in the workhouse so one can go to university.

Chris Powell - Charlton Player 1998-2005, Charlton Manager 2011-14

Roland Duchatelet moved this morning to authorise the sacking of Chris Powell. It would appear that this was a well rehearsed move with the appointment of a former Standard Liege employee, Jose Riga planned for later today. There will be plenty of time to comment on the consequences of this and what it means for our club but for now I want to reflect on Chris Powell. 

Powell the Charlton Player

So first thing, Powell's playing career with us was broken by two spells away at West Ham and Watford but for me his Charlton time was synonymous with our seven year Premiership spell which has been the highpoint for Charlton Athletic Football Club since the war.

He was an accomplished left back and a typical Charlton player. Modest, under-stated but capable, honest and competent. He joined us from Derby County where he had previously been their Player of the Season and I remember the very fond reception he received when he next played against them at the Valley. I remember him walking down to the visitors end after the match and throwing them his shirt. Absolutely typical of the man.

It was still some surprise, if not a complete shock, when he was capped by Sven Goran Ericsson in 2001. Not because he wasn't good enough but that an England manager wouldn't be prevented from turning to little old Charlton for an England international. Chris made five full England appearances and never let the side down, although we all knew he wouldn't. His fine playing career ended with that fairy-tale last match of the season against Coventry when he scored to seal things on a beautifully sunny day at the Valley.

Powell the Charlton Manager

After learning the ropes under Sven Goran Ericsson at Leicester, Powell was a pleasantly surprising appointment by Slater & Jiminez after they sacked Phil Parkinson within a week of taking control of the club with someone else's money. Four successive wins looked inspired but we were entering end-of-season territory and a winless sequence meant another season in League One. 

During that Summer he pretty much changed the entire squad and he lead the new side to a Charlton-record title winning promotion. The players he brought in established us back as a Championship side last year in finishing 9th, although I believe that flattered us somewhat. 

The "Sir Chrissy Powell" epitaph of 2011-12 wore thin with some fans during 2012-13, largely because of tactical differences of opinion and, I believe, in our relatively poor home form. I have always been prepared to accept that football professionals see things slightly differently from the rest of us and that managers invariably have insight we don't. It was always interesting to listen to Alan Curbishley (and others) at supporters evenings when he would explain particular decisions at given times and I was usually left thinking "I hadn't realised that." For that reason I was always more forgiving than some over Powell's substitutions although I do think it took him a long time to come to terms with the value of making them earlier on occasions. 

My main criticism has been his defensive approach to games but this played a huge part in us getting promoted out of the dreaded League One and you can't argue against his achievement last year even if it made us more vulnerable to lost points at the Valley when I believe we should have been taking more risk and gambling on winning and entertaining our home supporters in the process.

That all said, Powell has been dealt a shoddy hand this season. He has had to remain tight-lipped and professional when he has had very little support, no investment and plenty of off-field drama to contend with. The penny-pinching ruined the pitch and we have also had the ridiculous contract saga to contend with. It's to Powell's credit that he has remained focused and professional and taken the vast majority of his squad with him in terms of continuing the fight and a refusal to capitulate.

The arrival of Roland Duchatelet removed the threat of Administration and promised immediate relief. However, none has been forthcoming and I believe the side has been weakened since he has arrived with the cashing in of Stephens and Kermogant. Not only that but RD prevaricated over Powell's contract and also that of most of the remaining players whose contracts end in June. 

The news the other week that contract talks had opened as we somehow battled on through the F A Cup was welcome news although the failure to agree anything and then the news that "football issues" were the only remaining stumbling block was alarming given RD's footballing model.

I am posting very early today so haven't seen any official line but it would appear clear to me that RD wouldn't give Powell the assurances he needed over   a say in which players would come and go. I am sure the Club will cite our league position and Cup exit as the reason but that is gilding the lilly as far as I am concerned.

What I am going to bet on for Wednesday evening is that we get beaten. Powell's sacking will dwell heavily on the minds of our players this week and the arrival of a new coach today won't be anywhere near enough time for any change to that. The same may be true on Saturday when we look ripe for a rejuvenated Millwall to hump us again.

I hope Chris takes a deserved break this week and is somewhere hot and distracting on Saturday. Thanks Christopher George Robin Powell, it's been an eventful three years and you did your best in very trying circumstances. No-one can expect more. You have helped write another Powell chapter in our history and you will always be welcomed back in SE7.

Monday 10 March 2014

What does Powell do next?

After the disappointment of Bramall Lane, Chris Powell and his management team need to rally their troops and dig in again for two vital league matches this week. Given the shortage of quality striking options and a badly fitting set of midfield jigsaw pieces, what does he do for Wednesday night's visit of Huddersfield Town?

He could decide to stick by the side humbled by Sheffield United and let them attempt to remount the horse. However, I think he has to try something else. Given tiredness and the need to fight Millwall on Saturday, changes look inevitable. He simply might not have enough quality to win either of these games but he needs to get the tactics right. He has been widely criticised for poor and often too-late substitutions. I personally also think he is far too cautious which is perhaps understandable when you view his defensive professionalism as a player and consider the managerial influence of Alan Curbishley. On top of that, I think he tries too hard to accommodate the better players out-of-position when there are better options.

I couldn't really fault the back four on Sunday. Hamer is the best goalkeeper left at the club. Morrison and Wood are as good a combination as we have at centre-back and I don't buy the criticism Wood received following the match. He may have failed to get to the deep bouncing cross which led to their first goal but he is only human and it was a superb ball in with pace and accuracy. The fact        that it was he who deflected the second is all some fans can remember of his performance. He did much more than that.

We are missing Chris Solly but Wilson is an able deputy and Rhoys Wiggins had a solid game barring the ten minutes after the opening goal when they were cock-a-hoop and had us reeling. Personally I would move Wilson into a more attacking right wing role. He is better than anyone else we have in that position and we have other options for right-back (Loic Nego or Dorien Dervite). 

I don't think we can afford to play both Poyet and Cousins in our current predicament. Both are very promising and both have been doing ok, but not together and certainly not both in central midfield. Cousins has flattered to deceive in recent months and he looked out of his depth on the wing on Sunday? Jackson lacks pace but does add vital goals and is the obvious free-kick taker now that Yann Kermorgant is scoring elsewhere. He needs to be accommodated but maybe out wide left or even in behind a lone striker.

Perhaps it is time to give Andy Hughes a start as opposed to a finish and I'd even contemplate Gower again in the middle.

Simon Church attracted a lot of stick yesterday but he always gives it everything he has and he has played his part this season with little direct support. He remains our best striking option but should be withdrawn much earlier if he's not making any headway, like on Sunday. By the way, those who said Maguire and Collins were just two big lumps really don't know what they are talking about - they both played blinders. The big problem is who else can get us goals? Reza has a lot yet to learn about the game here and looks lightweight. Can you imagine him up against Danny Shittu on Saturday? Peter the Pole looks like he will be kept back for another season and Marcus Tudgay isn't really an out and out striker. He certainly isn't going to lead the line or threaten in the air.  That leaves Marvin Sordell and I think we established awhile back that he isn't good enough for this division.

I haven't seen much of Asdarevic but he looked all over the place at Hillsborough and I didn't see anything yesterday although there are plenty who are hanging their hopes on him. That looks to me like extreme optimism given his limited contributions to date.

Whatever Powell does, he has to get our team to focus on the game and not let them get distracted or lose their discipline. It's at times like these when the more emotional characters in the side can react strongly in matches when decisions don't go their way or when the going gets tough. The last thing we want is to throw away any more points due to needless sending-offs or conceding unnecessary penalties etc.

Like you, I am praying we get back on the horse this week and pick up some precious points (three or four are needed to steady the ship). If we fail to do that the gap will likely increase and we will be left needing a sequence of unlikely wins just to stay in touch and not get us out of the drop zone. The consequences of another relegation don't bare dwelling on - there will be plenty of time for reflection if that happens - just ask a Sheffield United fan.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Same old, same old

Home tired and dejected. A sporting weekend which promised so much has ended, predictably, in another double defeat for me. I was at Murrayfield yesterday to see Scotland fail to close out their match against a fumbling French side and today I joined the throng at a sunlit Bramall Lane for a toothless defeat to lower league opposition and yet another wasted Cup opportunity.

Scotland first then, and I knew we would lose by the odd point long before the finish. At 17-16 Scotland opted for long range penalties which were both missed and they settled for a protracted scrummaging game which took minutes off the clock at a time as the fussy ref set and re-set the scrum. I'm sure the home players were feeling pleased with themselves but there was a glaringly obvious inevitability about the finish. Scotland had been penalised mercilessly throughout the game by Pollock for every infringement and if I had been in Scott Johnson's shoes I would have made sure they knew to avoid it in the second-half. Every player tackled seem to have a second or less in which to release the ball before he trilled his whistle. Scotland were penalised for not throwing straight at the line out and for putting in squint to the scrum. Sure, these are infringements but the decisions were hairline and have been tolerated in all of the other matches I have seen. Nonetheless, it meant we would gift the French a penalty at the end of the match from which to beat us. Not even Bruce Munro's stunning "field of light" in St. Andrew's Square could really life the mood.

I awoke fresh and excited this morning ahead of a four hour drive down from Edinburgh. My head told me it would be another juddering disappointment. My my heart, as always, said something else. Why not us? For once, a routine victory against lower league opposition? Some bad luck to befall our opponents, a penalty or a sending-off perhaps? Maybe we would simply be too good for them?

A 30,000 full-house, a bristling atmosphere and brilliant sunshine. For most of
the first-half we looked assured and did plenty of probing although it was very difficult to see how Tudgay and Church were going to make any impression on Collins and Maguire. Not only that but our midfield looked hobbled. Cousins can't play wide and Harriott was kept largely quiet by John Brayford. That left Jackson and Poyet foraging in the centre and with Poyet content to sweep along in front of the back-four, it was hard to see us scoring.

After the break United upped the ante and we snapped. Another swirling cross beat our back line and Flynn stretched to reach the bouncing ball and guide it past Hamer. I went to relieve myself at this point and said to the weary bloke next to me that I was worried they would score a second before we could manage an equaliser. As we climbed the stairs to the seats another deflected goal settled the debate. The Blades were in full cry now and any remaining belief left us. We were very poor after that and we could afford to leave a few minutes early to beat the rush. I am pleased we did because we heard the M1 was closed after we passed through Leicestershire. Peter Varney and his Missus must have had the same idea because we drove alongside them for most of the way down the motorway. At least they were well-tanned and looked far more relaxed than we were (I know they were hurting the same).

Reflecting in the car, we were agreed that things are looking very bleak and that this week could get worse still. Chris Powell must lift his troops for Huddersfield at home on Wednesday before what will likely be less than 10,000 pairs of eyes. If we can't beat them, we will go to the New Den in a sorry state and that only spells one thing. At that point we risk being cut adrift at the foot of the table irrespective of the games in hand. 

Roland, my son, I think you might be starting to regret selling our top goal-scorer and not buying at least an adequate replacement, eh? Still, your club I guess and you don't actually have to watch it.

Friday 7 March 2014

Cars, vans and coaches

Other than for those who are planning to make a weekend of it, the vast majority of the five and a half thousand Charlton fans (200 more tickets received this week) heading to south Yorkshire for the big one, will be doing so on the motorway.

Given the early kick-off, that will mean an early start and an M1 full of Addicks leap-frogging their way north. There will be limited pre-match drinking time and I am guessing the vast majority will head straight back after the game either to forget the whole thing or to be settled with their friends and family with a libation as the draw is made for the semi-finals. Having said that, what price a draw and a bumper Valley gate? We did surprisingly well to sell-out so quickly for Bramall Lane but I am left wondering whether we could attract 27,000 for a replay on a night game?

The Sporting Life's pundit thinks the Addicks are good value for another away win and I think he's on the money.

I reckon the result could also determine whether the manager's contract negotiations swing his way or whether Roland Duchatelet hardens his position over the "footballing issues" that remain the stumbling block between the pair. I'm backing Powell to stick to his guns. It's a huge part of what makes him a potentially great manager and, I assume, why his rag-tag squad battle on with so much spirit. He's fighting their corner and they know it. They are in it together and we will need that at High Noon on Sunday.

Come on you Reds! Give us two days to remember.

Tuesday 4 March 2014


Like the 5,300 golden ticket holders, I am increasingly looking forward to 90 minutes of escapism at Bramall Lane on Sunday. A chance for history in my lifetime and what could prove to be a buzzing month before a Wembley semi.

Strange then that there is is much collective angst this week around the BBC's Late Night Football football show's focus on the Roland Duchatelet takeover and what it may mean for supporters of the famous Charlton Athletic. I was going to indulge myself at length this morning but see that my good friend Chicago Addick has beaten me to and bettered what I was going to say in any event.

The only thing to add from my perspective is that the consequences of us hearing what might be some unpalatable truths and perhaps some expectation setting, may be magnified or diminished by the outcome of Sunday's Cup match. The effect on our league standing could be significant one way or the other. 

I have said before that the contract situation within the camp will tell before the end of the season and I have been increasingly impressed that Chris Powell has kept personal and collective focus. If we were to lose on Sunday that might be sorely tested in the coming weeks.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Cup fever grips the faithful

Our quarter-final F A Cup tie at Bramall Lane has really caught the imagination. The midday kick-off next Sunday hasn't deterred VIP, Valley Gold and Season Ticket holders who have been queueing for the last two days for tickets. I bought five yesterday and we closed the day just short of 4000 sold. I would expect the full 5298 allocation to be taken early next week when the remaining tickets go on general sale.

It's also been heartening to see a thread on Charlton Life helping fans get to the match by sharing spare seats in cars, vans and buses. This works particularly well for those travelling from outside south-east London. Quite impressive to see where people are travelling from and how keen they are to help fellow fans to be at the match. I am sure this is something we can build on and I am sure it may be the start of some longer friendships as well as encouraging supporters to get to more away matches. I am hoping to make use of this service myself next week.

I don't have high hopes for Filbert Street this afternoon but we often raise our game against better sides and we have a few new players in the squad who are due to do something. Diego Poyet looks a revelation in central midfield and if he can develop a partnership with Jordan Cousins, the teenage pairing could yet be the catalyst for saving our season and for putting a cherry on the icing.

Finally, good to see so many old Charlton faces in the Liberal last night celebrating Fordy's Fiftieth to some stomping sounds from Toot 'N Skamen