Sunday 27 September 2015

Cardiff City 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Too busy doing decking yesterday and listening to the egg-chasing, but it was another poor performance from Guy Luzon's team and we find ourselves in 17th position in the table having played nine.

Next Sunday we have the Sky TY Hoodoo and Fulham at home at Midday (crap). There is an international break after that before we go to rapidly improving Reading. I am afraid it looks grim for Luzon. With talk of Bolton taking Igor Vetokele on loan and Morgan Fox being linked, however unlikely, with Manchester United, you have to wonder if the dressing room is ok? 

Vetokele would appear to have lost whatever pace and hunger he showed upon arrival after several injuries and I am sorry to say I wouldn't be disappointed if he left, if it meant we got a replacement. Morgan Fox may be a scapegoat for some but for me he is a quality full-back in the making. I am reminded immediately of Simon Francis who was never given a chance by many after one or two poor showings but was patently a better player as he has proven with Bournemouth. I suspect the Red Devils will end up acquiring a safer bet than Fox but their interest won't go unnoticed by other sides.

Once again we are struggling to perform week in, week out and once again there are very obvious shortcomings in terms of squad size and quality. We started the season a decent striker short and with no proven width on the left which has meant we continue to use Cousins out-of-position. Injuries haven't helped and in spite of some of the new boys earning their stripes (Bauer and Kashi), some don't appear to offer anything more than we had (Berdych and Ba). The jury is out on Sarr and Makienok, although I have my doubts about Mak longer term. Ceballos has been injured but he didn't make an immediate impression when he did start. 

Given the above and our stated need to trim the operating budget, it's hard to see how it gets any better this season beyond hoping we can get a fuller squad fit and avoid continuing injuries. That points to another season of up and down and basic struggle. All a bit deja vu continuing the Championship form since relegation and Guy Luzon must be looking over his shoulder because Roland Duchatelet might be content with average but he has a track record for looking for a bounce when things aren't going right for any prolonged period of time. 

Thursday 24 September 2015

Crystal Palace 4 v Charlton Athletic 1

Very predictable match in SE25 this evening as we were second-best to our Premiership rivals.

I said pre-match I didn't care what the line-up was, but I wasn't expecting to start with none of our three first choice strikers. That made things kind of hard from the off and try as they did, it was like throwing buns to bears.

Kashi was absent from midfield and we had the first centre-back pairing of Diarra and Sarr. What could go wrong?

Palace should have been in front by half-time. Only several poor misses kept things level and we really needed a change at the break. None was forthcoming and it was no surprise when Palace took the lead early in the second half. They continued to press and Saha was upended for a penalty shortly after which sent me for the exit. I had lost two of my mates in the 500 people queue to get in but met both on the early exit. 

We heard the roar for our consolation goal but it was loud enough to suggest it was Palace's third. Waiting on the platform for a London Bridge train, we learnt of our fate and were glad we were on our way.

Final judgement on this evening should probably wait until after Saturday's league game at Cardiff but it looks like Guy Luzon has got things wrong and that his options are limited. Vetokele didn't make the squad again today and Simon Makienok was sitting just over from me. Ahearne-Grant and McAleny cannot be relied upon to score goals in the Championship, let along against Premier League opposition.

I can't see where our next win is coming from....

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Selhurst Park

My day is all mapped out. I am working from home and will be comfortably seated to watch Scotland beat Japan in their opening RWC match at 2.30pm with all phones and computers off.  Surely, Vern Cotter will have learnt from the South African disaster and will get Scotland to fire the ball out to their backs as often as possible and to stretch Japan with the boot. That will represent Part 1 of the mission today.

Part 2 follows at Crystal Palace this evening where I hope to see Charlton Athletic upset the apple-cart. The players on the pitch for both sides will be oblivious to history. No doubt someone has given them a five minute lecture but it will mean nothing to them. Most of them weren't born 30 years ago and they will approach the match little differently from any other League Cup encounter against higher league opposition.

I don't think I missed a home match at Selhurst Park during exile. Not because I enjoyed it so much but because I was such a fervent fan at the time and was attending most of the away games as well. They really were shit days and even the fact that we reached the old First Division for the first time in my life was a cheat because it wasn't what I had dreamt of so many times - top flight football at the Valley. Four years I have almost managed to blank out.

I am limiting my time in SE25 to the match and, hopefully, just ten minutes either side to get to and from Norwood Junction. I have no fondness for anything there. I am determined that a defeat won't rile me. We are away from home against a Premier League side and it's only the League Cup. We will probably slip to defeat but the prospect of getting one over on Palace is too good to resist.

I don't really care who plays. I am expecting changes and an unbalanced side. I don't care who Palace put out either. Big Nose can play his full team or his reserves. All that will matter to me is how competitive we are and do we have a go. The rest will be a bonus.


Sunday 20 September 2015

South Africa 32 v Japan 34

I decided to dispense with trying to follow the Charlton game yesterday in favour of the Rugby World Cup. Nicky Pope had just pulled off his second brilliant save to deny Jordan Rhodes after fifteen minutes so it was evident what would follow. Instead, I watched an assured and confident Ireland rack up a cricket score against Canada and then whisked my dog around the park so I could see South Africa do the same against "the small and short-sighted Japanese." 

The match at the Amex turned out to be the most inspiring rugby match I have ever seen. It was incredible and both my wife and I were punching the air at the end after the most courageous and determined passage of play you could hope to see. Japan kept in touch with the Boks throughout the match and were even a penalty ahead at times but as the second-half wore on, you instinctively new that South Africa would nail their Pacific island opponents. Sure enough, the barrel bodied Strauss staggered through the failing Japanese backline to bounce down for a try and the conversion that followed looked like the fight was over. 

But no, the Japanese came back and scored a try for themselves to get level at 29-29 but with ten minutes left you knew the South Africans would score again and when they took a penalty to edge ahead at 32-29, the game looked up. Japan made one last effort and for three or four minutes they threw themselves one after another into the massed green shirts and burrowed with support of exhausted team-mates to recycle the ball and go again. With the clock at 79 minutes and 45 seconds they were awarded a penalty five metres out from the Boks try line but close to the touchline and declined the attempt to earn themselves a shock draw. Instead they scrummed down against the mighty South African pack and they went again winning the ball and pounding the Green line. Pass after pass, tackle after tackle they held their nerve and concentration. They were awarded another penalty but again refused to kick and again took on the Bok pack which could have killed the match but they won the ball again and once more threw body after body at the South African line, eventually managing to fling the ball at speed out to their left and suddenly there was a marginal overlap. The ball was passed twice at speed to the last man who saw his chance and burst for the corner. He was caught in mid-air but he had already taken the leap knowing his momentum would carry him into the corner. He touched down before the weight of bodies rolled him out of play but Japan had won. 

There were amazing scenes in the stands as Japanese supporters burst into tears with the emotion of it and neutrals piled into the melee to celebrate the stunning victory. We watched the final try replay from behind the players and the emotion of the finish was captured at the point the ball was grounded. All of the Stewards, Ambulance staff and other officials in the corner where the try was scored went wild, punching the air and hugging one another. 

Meanwhile, I looked down at my tablet to get confirmation we had been humped three-nil, with Jordan Rhodes scoring a brace. I see, too, that Kyle Andrews described the performance as gutless. So glad I missed it.

Japan's next game on Wednesday will be against Scotland. Bloody hell.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Charlton Athletic 1 v Huddersfield Town 2

Out with good mates I haven't seen for ages last Friday, one of them told me my Blogging was becoming depressing and that I needed to up the positivity. I laughed but did reflect on that over the weekend. Sadly Mick, all I could hear this evening was a definite hissing sound as our early season bubble continued to deflate and it's hard to be positive after that performance. I was reminded once again why I wrestled with the notion of renewing this season and why I am decided that I won't be going every week just because I feel I have to. If there's a real prospect of coming home feeling depressed like I do this evening, then I will do something else. It's not that I expect to see us win every week, I don't - I have been going too long for that. But I do expect to see us trying our best and to know that we have a competitive squad of players and that the game-plan is more than bringing on a few players to sell for profit.  

Perhaps we are expecting too much? Early season flash-in-the-pan and perhaps Huddersfield were overdue their first victory. They certainly went for it from the off and didn't we look sluggish and flat-footed. Jordan Cousins did flash a shot a foot wide in the opening minutes but it was Ishmail Miller who caught the eye and gave Patrick Bauer an uncomfortable 45 minutes. Sean Scannell was his customary thorn-in-our-side and we were second to everything. Out-jumped in the air and even the referee seemed to be aiding them. 

After 11 minutes, Morgan Fox lost a fifty-fifty to Scannell who made the most of it and delivered a penalty-spot cross which Bunn smashed with a powerful volley straight at the centre of the goal. Nicky Pope was right there but the pace caught him out and he could only direct the ball high into the net. The Terriers tails were up and remained so for much of the first-half when they managed to score a second from a free-kick which beat Pope. I'd need to see it again but it didn't look like an unstoppable shot.

So two-nil down and suddenly there were players looking hurt and bothered. We did respond after that and Naby Sarr (doesn't he look like Paul Mortimer on the ball) managed to get a head on a corner and direct it into the far corner to give us hope. Sarr looked awkward at times in the first-half but improved notably in the second. It didn't help that Bauer was struggling with Miller and that Fox was under pressure on the left. The centre pairing of Kashi and Ba were again second-best as on Saturday and Jordan Cousins was once more wasted on the left side. Several times Fox emerged from an encounter desperately looking down the line for Cousins who was nowhere to be seen. The first-half petered out with a couple of desperate long range efforts from Ba as we struggled to break down Huddersfield's two banks of four.

After the restart we huffed and puffed in typical second-half Charlton fashion but they were proving hard to beat and continued to look lively on the break although our back four looked more assured than in the first period. Even Kashi and Ba began to see more of the ball but Makienok wasn't finding any space and Tony Watt was playing much more withdrawn than he should have been. The consequence of that was Tony Watt losing possession with almost every touch and often when he was bringing the ball up with four or five men ahead of him. He has to be used as an out-and-out striker if we are to get the best from him. He has the skill and unpredictability to turn a defender and shoot but left with four to beat from midfield he is a liability.

Ba was taken off after 55 minutes to enable us to revert to a 4-4-2 allowing Cousins to drop into central midfield and for ten minutes it looked like Bergdych might change the game but for all his pace and urgency, he was well marshalled on his side. That seemed to be the cue to drop Berdych back to Morgan Fox's position to enable Conor McAleny to make his loan debut. McAleny looked good on the ball. Balanced, composed and pacey, he managed a couple of ambitious shots but also tried a couple of threaded passes which it looked like we would need to score again because we weren't getting behind them with any space and were winning nothing in the air. That was probably why Makienok made way for Igor Vetokele after 80 minutes but Igor made no impression and was outpaced whenever the ball went near him.

Five minutes of added time weren't enough and there was a familiar disgruntled air as the ground emptied. Interestingly, after seven games we are now 12th, where we finished last season. Based on what we have seen, I think that's a more realistic expectation for our season this year. Blackburn away looks a home banker from here and next week's visit to high-flying Palace suddenly feels uncomfortable. 

Monday 14 September 2015

Welcome Conor McAleny

Guy Luzon promised us an attacking midfielder this week on loan and he hinted at a Premiership player. Today it looks like Conor McAleny is that player although he would appear to be a striker who can also play wide. Perhaps that still qualifies as 'an attacking midfielder' although I always think of it as a central midfielder who plays more forward than his partner. What's probably more relevant is that I think our need is for a winger who can also play upfront, so McAleny sounds like he could fit the bill.

Conor is a 23 year-old from Everton's youth set-up who hasn't yet managed to emulate Wayne Rooney and who has an unfortunate injury record when out on loan having damaged a knee at Scunthorpe and broken a leg at Brentford. He joins on a short two month loan and given his relative lack of first team experience will have to be content with a place on the bench and will hope to make an impact as a substitute initially. I expect to see him from 75 minutes tomorrow.

We will find ourselves under a bit of pressure tomorrow night against Huddersfield. Anything other than  victory will suddenly look like a stumble following our bright start to the season. The good news is Huddersfield are under even more pressure and will be low on confidence having only managed three draws this season so far. The first goal could prove decisive if we can get it as it would force Huddersfield to come looking for a second and we could take control of the game. A good time to introduce a 23 year old Premier League prospects who's desperate to get game time.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Charlton Athletic 1 v Rotherham United 1

After the heightened expectation following our decent start to the season, it was fairly predictable that we were due a disappointing result at home and we duly got one yesterday. Rotherham came to subdue us and they managed it with a dose of good fortune and a referring howler which lead to their goal.

We were back to a full strength looking side although I don't think any of the front three choices are still anywhere near full fitness. Nicky Pope was in goal with Solly, Diarra, Bauer and Fox in front of him. The defence played well although they were guilty of going to sleep for the Rotherham goal when a near post flick was bundled in unmarked at the back stick. Rotherham also managed to test Nic Pope twice during the match with a thumping close range header which he did brilliantly well to keep from crossing the line and a rasping shot which he saved at full stretch. Other than that, all the action was at the end.

Lee Camp made debut for the Millers in goal and he denied us twice in the opening fifteen minutes. Both times Jordan Cousins' pace lead to shooting chances, both of which the diminutive Camp did well to get to. The second one in particular after a flowing Charlton attack saw Cousin weave past two defender and shape a fine shot for the top corner but Camp dived strongly to his left and got a hand on the shot. 

We would have been good value for a one-goal advantage at the break but we couldn't score and after the referee awarded Rotherham a corner following a free-kick which cannoned off one of their defenders in our wall, you knew what would follow.

After the break and kicking towards the Covered End we upped the ante and put Rotherham on the back foot. It took the introduction of Simon Makienok to force the equaliser. Igor Vetokele was the man who made way. I was convince it would be Watt who looked flat footed and struggling during the first-half. Having said that, he came more strongly into the game after Makienok came on. After another Charlton break down the right with Solly and Gudmundson operating in tandem, the ball was hit to the back post where Makienok took it on and squared past Camp for the onrushing Bauer to poke home. It was Bauer's first goal in a Charlton shirt and I reckon he is good got half-a-dozen a season.
Zag Bergdich came on with ten minutes to go and that gave us a bit more balance but we couldn't quite get the break needed to force a winner. Rotherham were playing for time but also kept the odd reminder that they were capable of a second.

Alou Diarra was my man-of-the-match which a dominant centre-half display and also for striding into midfield when he had the space and starting most of our attacking moves. Bauer was again rock solid and he clearly has a game at this level which gives him an extra second and bags of confidence as a result. Fox was fine too but didn't get down his flank nearly as well as Solly who backed Gudmundson superbly in the second-half as we chased the game. 

Kasha saw less of the ball than in the last two home matches but played his part, as did El-Hadji Ba and Cousins, both of whom spent some time on the left side until Bergdich came on. 

Igor did plenty of running but didn't see so much of the ball. Tony Watt was sluggish first-half but he too raised his game in the second-half was a handful once again with his direct running and frequent change of direction. 

We had pre-and-post match pints in the White Swan. It's good to see it open again on match days. It's had a lick of paint but not much else. There were plenty of new staff on although they were far from run-off-their-feet. They have a strange till system whereby one person is ringing all the drinks up and handling the cash which I am not sure works too well with everyone repeating orders and making mistakes. The decent selection of real ales and cider also ran out one after the other, so it's probably just as well it wasn't busier. I will go back.

We need to get back to winning ways on Tuesday and heap the pressure on Chris Powell's Huddersfield who lost at Cardiff and sit second-bottom above Rotherham.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Mistakes of the past

Katrien Meire has told us that she is running the shop over-budget. That was what prevented us from signing anyone else before the window closed. Disappointing to hear that Roland is not prepared to gamble but I suspect most would be satisfied knowing we are being sensible in terms of how the club is being administered and that they would rather this than find ourselves in tricky financial waters in years to come because we have lived beyond our means. A gamble could also reasonably involve having to sell a Johann Berg Gudmundson in the January window to balance the books if it didn't look like paying off.

To apply salt to the graze, Steuea Bucharest have seen enough of George Tucudean and have cancelled his contract meaning he will be queueing at immigration en route to Sparrows Lane. 

News too, that Franck Moussa (remember him?) is finally fit again and played an U21 game yesterday. Hopefully we will be able to trim the wage bill by loaning the likes of Tucudean and Moussa as neither passed the Championship quality test first time around. 

I hope Tony Watt, Igor Vetokele and Chris Solly are all resting up well and will be fighting fit for the next two home games as we need to put some points on the board to maintain our positive start to the season.

Good to see us sell out so quickly for Selhurst Park. It's a 'free hit' match and as long as we are competitive it should be a good occasion for the 3000 visiting fans. I am looking forward to it...

Monday 7 September 2015

God bless you Ralphie Milne

Sad news today that former Addick Ralph Milne has died of drink-related illness at 54.

I remember just how excited I was at the signing of Ralph Milne. He had been a phenomenal player at Dundee United in a side that had won the title under Jim Mclean and gone on to some memorable European Cup nights. Milne starred in a side boasting Narey, Malpas, Gough, Sturrock, Dodds and Bannon. Surprising to see that he only feature 22 times in a Charlton shirt. I knew he wasn't with us for long but would have guessed at least twice that number of appearances. 

Playing for Charlton won't have been foremost in Ralphie's mind when he looked back on his career given his success with the Arabs and his subsequent cameos for Manchester United. His time at Selhurst Park was a struggle as he was rarely fit and he couldn't hide his love of a drink from the fans. For all that, Ralph Milne showed tantalising glimpses of what he was capable of and Charlton fans took him to their hearts. It was no surprise when he left for Bristol City, another move that didn't work out but it certainly was a shock when Alex Ferguson then took him to Old Trafford. He actually managed a game more for United than he did for us and he did what we all knew he would when he faced us for United. 

RIP Ralphie Milne.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Let's all back Geoff at the White Swan

The White Swan in The Village re-opened it's doors last night in what looks like a last throw of the dice. Having closed several times already and looking like it was going to be turned into flats, Geoff has ridden to the rescue and is going to make a go of itThe good news for Addicks fans is that he is already a successful Publican having re-established The Pelton Arms in Greenwich and one or two others further afield.

Charlton locals made a big effort to welcome Geoff last night and they were joined by a number of Geoff's regulars from The Pelton. I will be switching my pre and post match drinking to the White Swan and will endeavour to show my face once or twice a week in between times. 

It would be great if Geoff can see what might be possible on match days if Addicks fans can make a big effort to support him on Saturday before and after the Rotherham game. Let's face it, we have precious few watering-holes left and even the Liberal is being down-sized. If you are an East-Stander the walk down to the match is only ten minutes entering via Lansdowne Mews.

Come on you Reds, it's not hard to make an effort for a pint or two in a new or revisited venue!

Friday 4 September 2015

Make or break weekend for Scotland

My countrymen, including a few mates from the Granite City, are in Tbilisi for this evening's European qualifier against Georgia, a side we struggled to overcome by the only goal at Hampden last year. On Monday night we face the Germans in Glasgow by which time our chances of finally qualifying for a group stage in a major championship for the first time since France in '98 will be far clearer.

The mood is positive and there is a resilience about Gordon Strachan's side but I am I am nervous. That comes from twenty years of ultimate disappointment following Scotland. Scotland have yet to win away in this tournament and they really need to do it tonight. That might set them up for the World Champions, but anything less and our hopes could be in tatters come Tuesday morning.

I have been a member of the Scottish Travel Club for two decades but getting official tickets has rendered that a waste of money. The numbers travelling to every game, including friendlies, means the first couple of thousand available from any away allocation are already gone. I have watched my points reckoning drop steadily and have been forced to buy from touts or spares on the day over the last few years which hasn't helped.

The chance of returning to France next Summer comes with a bitter pill that I am likely to struggle to get tickets. Perhaps it's not something I should worry about....

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

So, a defeat in game number five away at Molineux. Not completely unexpected but a tad disappointing given the respective starts of both sides. We have to be pleased with our start and most would have taken eight points at this stage. Gudmundson's opener gave us all false hope of more points but from following the match online, we didn't sound like we could keep a clean sheet or that we deserved anything from the game. Predictably, James Henry sounded a thorn-in-our-side.

We have learnt already that most of the new signings look to have passed the quality test and and one or two in particular look very promising given their relative youth. However, in terms of squad size, we only replaced what left and we still look short in several key positions to be confident of fulfilling our potential this season. If anything better than 12th is to hoped for we have to have another striking option. Simon Makienok's hamstring pull on Saturday exacerbated an already exposed situation with Tony Watt injured and Igor Vetokele only taking his first steps back on the ball. Without another goalscorer, too much is expected of Ahearne-Grant and I worry that his confidence may suffer. It's also too much to expect the likes of Mikhail Kennedy to spear-head a promotion push if we find we have to use him too.

Guy Luzon is clearly not satisfied with his wide options. Ceballos and Bergdich have done ok but they haven't shone like Bauer and Kashi. The James Henry saga looks off (unless Wolves are cash-strapped) and we are being linked with a last minute move for Norwich's Elliott Bennett. That might suggest that Jermaine Pennant has been used as a possible lever only in the Henry move. That should be clear tomorrow night.

I also believe we need cover at centre-half but suspect Luzon will be happy to go with Bauer, Sarr, Diarra and young Lennon. We are hardly prolific last-minute users of the window and I don't expect this one to be much different. It looks like the die is cast and much will depend on our fortune with injuries....