Wednesday 29 April 2015

Ice the cake

Fine morning (congratulations to Steve Evans and Rotherham for staying up in their first season back in the Championship) and thoughts turn to Saturday's final game of this mixed season. My attention and that of Mexico Vic is on a decent sized wager we placed on the Addicks for a top 12 finish. Rationale was a way to pay for football next season for Me, the Missus and my step-brother's son who accompanies us. I also thought the bookies had their numbers wrong with us 7-2 for a top-half finish. 

In true Charlton style we have made a meal of it after a fine start and things couldn't be more finely balanced. The simple task is for us to finish above two of 
Birmingham, Forest, Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday. With only a point in it, goal difference has loomed large and even that could be contentious.

Clearly, if we see promoted Bournemouth off on Saturday we are home and dry and in the money. However, if we lose there is an as likely scenario which could see us drop to 13th. Forest play Cardiff and form suggests that could finish in a draw putting both sides level on points with us. Forest would go above us and Cardiff could as well on goal difference if we lost by two or more, which isn't unrealistic given Bournemouth could strut their stuff on Saturday and our players continue not to be too bothered.

That would mean that a point for Birmingham at Bolton (Brum are on a decent run) or an unlikely Sheffield Wednesday win at Champions-elect Watford, would also scupper the bet.

So, what to do? The temptation is to lay off £200 at 11-8 on Bournemouth to win by two goals or more. That would take the cream off our cake but would ensure we got stake covered and didn't lose out. Otherwise, we hold our nerve and hope for a final Charlton Hurrah against a Bournemouth side playing for a chance of the Championship title. A draw would probably be enough but there is also the less likely scenario that Birmingham and Wednesday win and the Forest v Cardiff match doesn't finish in a draw, which would also see us finish bottom-half. 

We could also lay the bet off and win that and still finish top-half. What would you do?

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Season Ticket price challenge for 2016-17

West Ham have put an early marker down in a bid to fill their 54,000 Olympic Stadium when they trot out in August 2016. They have announced season ticket prices well over a year in advance and the worrying news for Katrien Meire and the Master of Chateau Duchatelet is that at starting prices of £289 for adults and £99 Premier League football will be on offer at similar prices to what we will pay next year for Championship football.

That won't tempt those of us with Charlton tattoos but for the floating voter it's a no-brainer. When we were filling the Valley in the top flight, affordability and Premiership football was what sold us out every home game, not the prospect of watching Charlton in the top flight.

Charlton will need a very respectable season next year and a compelling season ticket offer if we are not to see gates drop purely because of what's available cheaply three stops from North Greenwich. With hindsight, they could have done something innovative for this coming season by linking it to the following season or thereafter. There is still an opportunity to target the walk-up and neutral but the tone for the pricing policy gets sets by the cost of season tickets. 

One to watch...

Tuesday 21 April 2015

"Breaking even."

I may be para-phrasing but that was the gist of one of the key elements of Roland Duchatelet's strategy when he explained his ambitions for our club a little over a year ago when he became Lord and Master. To be fair, I think the comment was more like "moving towards break even" which implied it might take some time to get there. The other key tenets were that he would invest in youth and look to take advantage of anticipated FFP regulations as value was realised from moves within the network and sales outside it.

Having sold Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens very shortly after arriving (we were in desperate need of a new pitch), there has been limited opportunity to sell players since. Bob Peeters spent the Summer assembling a squad and going into the January transfer window  we were short of quality in several positions. Our dip in form hardly had prospective buyers dodging potholes in the car park. Igor Vetokele was injured and his early season scoring form had dried-up.

Following the arrival of Watt, Bulot and Diarra, our late Winter rally has since seen us shoot clear of danger and has brought out the best in some other performers such as Johan Berg Gudmundsson, Morgan Fox and Joe Gomez.

In the ongoing absence of any further word from the Organ Grinder, we are left facing an uncertain end-of-season in terms of who will still be here in August. Contracts of a number of players run out and there is no guarantee they will be renewed, either because we might not want to retain them, because they may want to return to their host clubs or they may want away. On top of that and of more immediate concern is the rumour mill which suggests a few of the Big Boys are circling for the likes of Fox and Gomez.

The hottest gossip is that not-yet-18 Joe Gomez could be subject of a large bid which would effectively balance the books and allow us to break even. A fee of around £8m is the sort of money even Charlton fans can't argue with and if it comes to pass then we can only hope that strengthens our resolve around any other possible sales.

Money will speak, of course, but young Joe needs to think about his route to playing top flight football and considering whether another year in SE7 or even a move to a lesser side (Man City and Arsenal are linked) might see him more quickly established than the likes of Diego Poyet has managed thus far at 'lesser' club West Ham.

When I started this post Millwall were 0-0 at Ewood Park and had created twice as many opportunities as the hosts. Pleased to report that Rovers netted two late goals to kill the Lions off and nudge them a step nearer the trap-door. They will do well to get more than another point from promotion chasing Derby and Wolves, although the game might be up for the Old Gold before Millwall's last day visit. Let us hope not.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Charlton Athletic 2 v Leeds United 1

All that will be remembered about this match in years to come is the result and maybe the fact that we beat a Leeds club in chaos. How much different it might have been.

United arrived on the back of four straight defeats and expectations of a walloping were high. The fact that six of their foreign players went 'injured' yesterday to avoid playing only served to heighten those expectations.

I jokingly said before the match that we always struggle to beat five men but as I said it I thought about the replacements getting a chance and perhaps how they might come out fighting. True to form, Leeds came out like Barcelona and we looked like we were prepared to wait for them to run out of steam before we would make a real effort.

Murphy should have opened the scoring for Leeds when he drifted in at the far post and controlled a well flighted cross but he failed to beat Henderson and blasted over with the goal at his mercy. Leeds continued to dominate possession and they should have finally scored from the spot following a late lunge by Tal Ben Haim. I think it was Billy Sharp who took the penalty and he drove it to Henderson's left. There was nothing wrong with his strike but the determined Irishmen flung himself violently towards the ball and his out-stretched palm made contact with the shot. It didn't look like he could keep it out but somehow there was a enough on it to deflect it onto the post and Morgan Fox was steaming in to hook clear. For five minutes after that it looked like the penalty would galvanise us and we managed to hit their post from a deflected shot. However, Leeds weren't finished and they finally took a deserved lead five minutes from half-time when Steve Morison raced across the box to meet a driven corner and laced a sweeping volley high across Henderson's goal and into the top corner.

The goal seemed to help us because Leeds were nowhere near as good after it and they seemed far more content to defend and increasingly play for time.

After the break we started with Johan Berg Gudmundson restored to right-wing in place of Chris Eagles. Eagles had probably been our most attacking player in the first half but it was all largely solo efforts. JBG immediately brought some balance to our attack and proved to be a real thorn in Leeds' side. If Henderson swayed many potential Player-of-the-Year voters in the opening forty-five, Gudmundson swung the votes back his way after that. 

We were opening Leeds up from the flanks and saw a number of balls in from left and right that only needed a firm touch to have got us back in it. I was thinking about how relatively poor our home form has been once again this season when JBG tore in from the right flank and with Leeds back-pedalling, he picked out Tony Watt's far post advance and floated a delicious ball into his path. It was a carbon copy of Murphy's opportunity but the talismanic Scotsman made no mistake and thundered the volley home. 

With our tails up we went for it and five minutes later after a fine move involving Gudmundson, Igor Vetokele was pulled down at full-stretch by the Leeds keeper and we had penalty. For a moment I thought Watt was going to take it but sense prevailed and Yoni 'I don't miss pens' Buyens fired home in emphatic fashion.

We saw the game out without too much further to worry about but those Leeds fans making their way back to Yorkshire (and those headed for Essex and Surrey) will rue the 15 attempts on target to our 10. As I said at the outset, those figures will be forgotten.

We are up to tenth and a win at Birmingham next week will net me close to £1100 for my Top 12 bet, so this is a game and a result in particular is one that I will remember for a long time.

The visitors gave their side great support (as always) and we had some very dry songs of the moment like "who needs Italians" and "Fuck off to Italy." They were also very vocal about "he played for Leeds and won fuck all" although neither Pete or I could fathom who that might be - Ben Haim maybe?

Finally, I'd like to stick two fingers up to the internet warriors for their illiterate rantings and drivel for some perceived slight I might have against Leeds. Boys, it's simple, I hate the scum that attaches itself to your club. Like the Eegits who put glasses and bottles under the tyres of local cars around the Rose of Denmark last season and who man-handled the pregnant landlady. That's why it was home-fans only this season. 

Leeds in turmoil

A massive open goal today according to the BBC.

The trouble is, we always struggle to beat five men.

Friday 17 April 2015

Three points please

Leeds United visit the Valley tomorrow for the penultimate home match of the season. It could be our last big opportunity to see the Addicks win and we need the points if we are to finish in the top-half (sorry but it is the only incentive left for me).

Following Leeds over the last ten or so years must have been fairly painful and not unlike our own experiences, although theirs perhaps a tad more extreme. They have fallen from even higher Premier League ambitions and suffered the indignity of double relegation. Back in the Championship for a few years, they have been holding their own without threatening the Bookmakers. The state of their club and it's ownership has been the underlying problem. After the Risdale Years which nearly put them under (they went into Administration), the unlikely Ken Bates rode in to offer some prudent financial management and his usual blunt style, which presumably was better accepted by plain-speaking Yorkshire-folk although their initial lack of enthusiasm for the former Chelsea owner caused him to call the complainers 'morons.' However, Ken wasn't going to sell the farm for Leeds and he eventually sold out two years ago. Since then things have become a tad more unstable with two owners since and the current own, disgraced Italian tax-evader Massimo Cellino, has been declared unfit by the Football League and has effectively stepped down.

The significance for tomorrow's visit is that they aren't a happy club. The assistant manager has been sacked and Neil Redfearn has threatened to resign. Their top scorer is rumoured to be prevented from playing to avoid triggering a contract extension. They have also lost four-in-a-row after an initial flourish under Redfearn which pulled them out of serious trouble. If our players have one eye on the beach, Leeds' look already tanned and at the bar.

They will bring their usual full allocation of a little over 3000 boorish Yorkshire folk and they will, no doubt, annoy everyone on the Lower Road prior to kick-off which their drunken antics and boring songs from thirty or forty years ago (that "Champions of Europe" really grates). This will be another test of Guy Luzon's management capabilities and perhaps the last real opportunity for some of our players to shine. It's also Player of the Year voting time when we reflect on who's done what for the cause.

For me, it's a toss-up between Stephen Henderson and Johan Berg Gudmundson. In terms of the back four, the full-backs have been hampered by injury and the central defensive pairing has changed which means no-one has played enough to warrant the honour. Talk Ben Haim was my leading contender but he's fallen out-of-favour with the new boss and we have prospered without him. 

In midfield we have had plenty of frequent change too. Jordan Cousins will be a strong contender for many but he lacks a footballing brain as far as I am concerned and still makes too many avoidable errors. Yoni Buyens has acquitted himself well but hasn't done enough. That leaves regular JBG and whilst he had a slower start, he has blossomed and his goal contribution has been impressive in terms of quantity and quality. That's what seals it for me.

Igor was my first-half shoe-in but injury interrupted his campaign and he is yet to get back to his threatening best. Tony Watt has been inspirational too but I can't vote for a player who didn't arrive until after New Year.

So, c'mon Charlton, put on a winning show and send the Yorkies home empty-handed.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Bolton Wanderers 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

A 1-1 draw at Bolron is normally a reasonable result. Coming three days after a 1-1 at Sheffield Wednesday, it probably looks even more respectable but the fact is it's now 3 points from the last 12 as we splutter to a finish.

We fielded an attacking line-up with Watt and Vetokele leading the line and support from Bulot, Buyens, Cousins and Gudmundson. Wiggins was a surprise returnee to left-back so Morgan Fox got a night off and Solly was joined in the back four by Johnson and Diarra. I am left wondering what Ben Haim and Bikey have done wrong? I can see either of them hanging around to play second-fiddle  next season.

Frederik Bulot opened the scoring for us after 9 minutes and it sounded like we were content after that to try and keep possession and make Bolton work for it. That appeared to be a successful approach until the 79th minute when Le Fondre levelled for the home side. A tad predictable and seven minutes after Watt and Vetokele were replaced by Church and Eagles.

The point keeps us just in the top-half, two clear of Cardiff and three in front of Birmingham and Leeds with a better goal difference. Leeds lost at home to Norwich and the wheels look like they have come off since Steve Thompson was dismissed and Neil Refearn visibly angered by the backroom shenanigans. If we can beat Leeds on Saturday we will take a big step towards ensuring a top-half finish. If we fail to beat Leeds, we leave ourselves open to being leap-frogged by Birmingham at St. Andrews the following week.

Elsewhere, lucky Millwall survived a woeful first-half to see Wigan reduced to ten men before Jimmy Abdou netted a 74th minute winner. A further player from each side was dismissed before Millwall wrapped up the points in the 90th minute. They now go four short of Rotherham who look likely to have three points deducted for fielding an ineligible player in their recent 1-0 win over Brighton. If that happens, the Lions might find the energy to escape, especially if they can get something in South Wales on Saturday.

Football can be unrelentingly cruel at times. All we need is to see QPR get out of jail and Palace finish in 6th or 7th to really ice the cake.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Sheffield Wednesday 1 v Charlton Athletic 1

A good point in the end against mid-table rivals Wednesday. According to reports we had several good chances to score in the first-half but Wednesday took an undeserved lead shortly before the break. In the second-half Wednesday came back more strongly and Johan Berg Gudmundson's strike also came against the run of play.

Honours even as Gudmundsson hammers out another 'come-and-get-me' message. I think that puts him on 11 in all competitions and now matches Igor Vetokele. Given his form, he looks likely to finish top scorer and that could tip Player of the Year in his direction. 

At the top, Bournemouth pulled four points clear on Friday night winning at south-coast rivals Brighton. However, Norwich and Boro both won yesterday and Derby scored a late equaliser to maintain a four-way fight for automatic promotion.

In the cellar, normal service was resumed at the New Den as Watford won 2-0. Wigan's battling draw at Fulham on Friday means they are now level with the Lions on 36 and they both have seven points to make up on Rotherham with road running out. The Millwall v Wigan clash on Tuesday is not one for the feint-hearted. A draw is no good to either side and even three points could be choked the following night when Rotherham have a chance at Fulham to drive a stake into the heart of their rivals.

For me personally, it's the top-half battle I am most interested in and Birmingham spiced things up by beating locals Wolves and getting to within three points of Cardiff, Wednesday and ourselves. We badly need a win to try and scramble above Forest and Blackburn. Bolton, Leeds and Birmingham are six pointers for us and I think we need a minimum of four points and ideally six from those if we are to go into the last match with a chance of finishing 12th or higher. I think Bournemouth will be nigh-on irresistible on the last day and I can't see us matching their desire on the day.

Finally, sorry to hear of the death of Ray "Treacle" Tracey. Tracey was a late-sixties, early seventies Covered-End hero. I never saw him play but he was revered by the generation who did. God bless you Ray.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Charlton Athletic 1 v Fulham 1

My concern for Fulham's Championship status proved short-lived. There is clearly fight left in the Cottage dog and they should have taken all the points this evening. 

The reflection for me, then, is why we couldn't find fourth gear. We competed well enough in an even first-half and could argue that a 2-1 lead would not have been unfair had Johan Berg Gudmundson not missed a far post sitter before the break. 

Ross McCormack did what he does best at the Valley and headed Fulham into an early lead after getting in between our defence and looping a forward header over Stephen Henderson after good build-up play and a flick on. With Scott Parker anchoring the Fulham midfield and pinging balls back, forth and around his team, Cousins and Diarra (signed a one year contract extension today) struggled to hold midfield. 

Bulot and Gudmundson huffed and puffed but Igor wasn't finding any space and when played up to Tony Watt, he was left with too much to do. The equaliser came after sixteen minutes and was strange. Morgan Fox got past his man on the left wing and it appeared that the referee had blown his whistle for an infringement as he rattled a cross into the box. The Fulham players all appeared to stop and I wondered if they thought an offside had been given. As it was the ball dropped six yards out and evaded the stretching Bulot but Gudmunsoon was hurtling in at the far stick and managed to get enough on it to beat Bettinelli. We enjoyed a good 15 minute spell after that and it looked like Fulham's flash-in-the-pan was over.

After the break, however, there was only one side interested in winning. Fulham went for the jugular and we went to sleep. If I am honest, I didn't concentrate as much on the second-half. An old mate was sitting with me and we were catching up on twenty years of news (great to see you Paul). There wasn't much to report bar several fine saves from Henderson and a spate of last ditch tackles and blocks which somehow kept Fulham at bay.

Eyes on next season and my only remaining interest is in a top-half finish which will see me collect a Grand from the bookie. Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and Cardiff also have nothing much to play for but I am guessing they would have put in a better performance against Fulham than we did today. I can see 13th place staring back at me. Charlton eh?

Monday 6 April 2015

Caw canny Fulham...

Unless our players have given up for the season, we should see Fulham off tomorrow. We are at home and their recent away record is dismal, shipping an average of three goals in each of their last six away days. Coming off the back of conceding four at home to little old Brentford won't help their cause much either.

They aren't yet desperate for points and I suspect they will have their eyes on Friday's match at home to Wigan which is effectively a six pointer and would secure their Championship status. They may also be looking ahead to their home game after that against Rotherham and their away trip to Blackpool and feeling slightly relaxed about things. Trouble, is, they don't appear to have any momentum and if things go against them in those fixtures they will left looking to beat automatic promotion chaser Middlesbrough at the Cottage before play-off placed Norwich City at Carrow Road on the last day. 

It all starts at the Valley tomorrow night and they will be without our nemesis Scott Parker. If our players do have anything about them, they will be out to prove a point following the surrender at Millwall. A 3-0 home win would give the fixtures with Fulham some symmetry and probably hand Rotherham an advantage on goal difference.

Whilst I can envisage a three-or-four goal hammering for the Cottagers, I equally wouldn't be surprised if we settle for a scrappy 1-1 London derby scoreline, especially as we are well overdue another draw. God forbid a second successive derby defeat and if that were to happen, our next two at Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers become distinctly end-of-season and could threaten to de-rail the Luzon express.

Friday 3 April 2015

Millwall 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Good Friday. The day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The roots of 'good' are lost but whatever your religious persuasion, we can forget about positivity today or the triumph of justice.

Alcohol still courses through the veins. The blood is still hot and adrenaline is high. Top of the form table Charlton Athletic slumped to defeat to bottom of the form table Millwall in, yet another, cruel surrender. We can blame the harsh-looking sending off of Chris Solly but to take the lead with ten men and 23 minutes remaining and blow it against an inept Millwall side is unforgivable or par-for-the-course depending on your point-of-view.

The hard facts are Millwall needed the points and we are safe but the analysis suggests another Charlton derby performance where we lacked ambition and bottle. Guy Luzon joins the long list of derby failures and so do most of this side. Henderson was man-of-the-match - that tells you all you need to know - and the rest were also rans.

Hopefully they will go down and we will be excused this two-match aberration for a few years to come.