Tuesday 31 December 2019

Happy New Year Addicks!

Wishing Charlton supporters everywhere a happy and prosperous New Year. 

The latest takeover looks credible and it should just be a matter of days but even this one has been dragging on since the public announcement which has caused understandable concerns and driven more scrutiny of those involved than it might otherwise have done.

Whatever happens, the incoming owner will not be a lifelong Charlton supporter. He or she won't have a fading sword tattoo and they won't have war stories they can tell from the past. What they will be is 'investors' looking for a return on their money. That means that whilst they may pay to take on a large existing debt, they will see their role as managing that debt with a determination to ultimately turn a profit. That does not mean that the slate will be wiped clean, or that we will somehow be flush or in good financial health. It will simply mean that they want to sell the club one day for more money than they paid for it and to ensure they have covered their operating costs along the way. That could very well mean increasing our debt in the meantime. 

Whatever happens, we should be rid of the disinterested and unambitious Duchatelet and there's every chance that the new owners will have a plan to grow the club through a successful and ambitious football team. That's all any of us have ever wanted.

Again, Happy New Year and fingers-crossed for 2020.

Monday 30 December 2019

Derby County 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Derby looked every inch the side that hasn't won in seven and who were below us in the table prior to kick-off. Unfortunately, even with them down to ten men for 80 minutes we couldn't scrape a draw. We simply weren't good enough from back to front and offered far too little attacking ambition to really have expected to get anything from the game. Two-one flattered us a little.

Behind the headlines, of course, there are simple facts that we have a threadbare squad and continue to be hit by injuries which are forcing the player selections for Lee Bowyer. Lyle Taylor was on the bench from the off which meant Bonne was once again playing a lone furrow up front. Doughty was his nominal strike partner but in reality he played on the left wing. 

Derby's tactics from the outset were very obvious - hurt Conor Gallagher. Kristin Bielik managed to get himself red-carded for a terrible challenge and others took their turn to try to stop Gallagher playing after that. The unfortunate part about Derby going down to ten men was that they were already one-up courtesy of a goal-line scramble after Phillips had parried a Waghorn stab up and across the face of goal. Indeed, Derby might have scored in the opening minute if Phillips hadn't pulled off a replica of his stop against Nakhi Wells the other week.

After that we saw plenty of the ball but for the most part we passed it around the back-line and up and down to the midfield. Eventually ambling forward with little conviction and quickly losing possession and retreating to start all over again. As if that wasn't bad enough, Macauley Bonne then started limping and was withdrawn at half-time with a hamstring pull that will likely see him join the missing list for a few weeks. Lyle Taylor was brought on which disproved my theory pre-match that he wasn't being started to avoid any injury that would scupper his transfer. 

We simply didn't do enough quickly enough in the second-half to threaten an equaliser and when Derby finally had another five minutes of pressure they put the game to bed with their second goal. Gallagher went down for a cheap penalty which Taylor converted but it was all too little too late. Josh Davison and Ben Matthews came on for Sarr and Oshilaja as if to emphasise the youth and fragility of the options left available to Bowyer. 

It was a bad night at Black Rock and we have more of the same to face again on Thursday. Not sure I can even bring myself to suffer it on TV. Luckily we only have the pointless F A Cup this weekend, so another ten days rest for the wounded after Swansea before West Brom will return with their A team in the league and we will need to be able to put up a better side and play more like a team once more if we are to avoid a third or fourth successive defeat after the mini-revival pre-Christmas. 

Regardless of injuries and takeover/no takeover, Bowyer needs funds and quickly in January.

Friday 27 December 2019

Charlton Athletic 3 v Bristol City 2

This match will live long in the memory. A second successive battling performance with the bare bones refusing to be beaten. A rare holiday home victory and won in style.

Jason Pearce was rested with Oshilaja starting in a four man defence alongside Sarr, Lockyer and Matthews. Darren Pratley busied himself in front of the back four with Gallagher, Morgan and Doughty providing the legs. Bonne and Taylor were hunting up front.

It was a decent opening half from Charlton, in which chances were limited but in which we saw far less of the visitors than in recent home games. Bentley made a couple of expected stops and a last ditch tackle prevented Lyle Taylor from opening the scoring but it was that man Macauley Bonne who scored first, ten minutes from the break. A ball from Morgan looped over the top and Bonne was onto it twenty yards out. He had defenders in close attendance so had to react quickly and he did with a lob which looked more speculative than serious but it cleared the advancing Bentley and bounced in the six yard box and up perfectly to go under the crossbar. On second thoughts, it was an excellent striker's finish. How many times have we said this about Bonne goals. He wasn't done there either.

During our snatched half-time pint in Bartrams we agreed that we would score a second early goal kicking towards the Covered End and that would kill it off. Cue a City equaliser within a minute of the restart. Bristol started ten miles an hour faster than they had finished  and a whipped cross to the back stick was headed home by Weimann. The visitors tails were up and they went for the jugular. We didn't raise our game quickly enough and within ten minutes they took the lead. Pouring men forward they worked the ball into our box on the right and with challenges queuing up the ball was played outside to the over-lapping Eliasson, a fresh-legged half-time sub, who took a touch and fired home low across goal. 

For ten minutes a mini-gloom descended on the Valley and we all took that deep breath of reluctant acceptance. But there was still plenty of time and Bowyer's Addicks fought back and took the game to the Covered End. Pratley was snapping at everything in the heart of the defence and even the loss of Gallagher (hoping he was withdrawn as a precaution) didn't halt the surge. 

Morgan and Doughty were pressing the game and Taylor and Bonne had City pegged back. With about fifteen minutes to go, Macauley Bonne swapped quick passes as he advanced into the box and at a slight angle and under pressure he somehow managed to hammer a shot that flew inside the near post and crashed into the roof of the goal. Bentley was guarding the post but the pace of the shot made it unstoppable. 

The noise levels inside the Valley suddenly ratcheted up - Sky called it raucous - and the visiting supporters feared the worse. Charlton now threw everything at Bristol City and five minutes later Bonne picked a ball up on the right of the box and raced towards the goal. Nothing much to aim for in the middle but Alfie Doughty was steaming in on the left and he edged ahead of his marker. The cross was low, hard and skimming and Bentley decided to follow it across the goal and defend his far post. Big mistake. Alfie Doughty got their first and although Bentley blocked his first effort, Alfie seized on the rebound and squeezed it inside the post. 

The ground erupted and the players knew they had their long awaited victory. Even five minutes of added time which turned into seven and a bit weren't enough to deny us this time and the game finished with jubilation and wild celebrations. The Addicks are suddenly afloat again and sail to Derby on Monday. The side may once again be make-shift and limited but with this spirit anything is possible.

Sunday 22 December 2019

Queens Park Rangers 2 v Charlton Athletic 2

A heartening draw in a pulsating London derby courtesy of another last gasp goal. I have to report that Pau.

l and I convinced ourselves on 88 minutes that the result was beyond us and that we would be better off beating the rush back to White City than suffering the ignominy of gloating home fans at the whistle. 

Our pre-match plans were changed last minute due a mate's Mum taking a fall and needing a hospital visit. So instead of meeting a few of his QPR mates in the Stewart Arms behind Shepherds Bush station, we instead headed for Hammersmith and a few pre-match pints in the The Swan. There we're a couple of groups of other Addicks already in there as well as some Leeds fans en route to Fulham

Two stops up the line to Shepherds Bush Market and we were soon out on the Uxbridge Road and heading for Loftus Road. Actually it was Ellerslie Road where I managed to punt out my last match ticket, thanks to the wonders of Charlton Life.

There was fully time for a pint in the corridor that runs behind the upper tier of the shambolic visitors stand before kick-off. There was a time when me and my long-time partner-in-crime used to say how we wished we had a compact stadium like Loftus Road which looked full every time we played and where we could create an atmosphere and be very hard to defeat at home. How times have changed. QPR fans visiting the Valley must look up at our stands and see a whole level of ambition that has eluded them since the mis-70's. 

Anyway, we started poorly and Rangers scored with their first serious attack of the afternoon. A delicious ball in from their left was only hooked out ten feet by Naby Sarr and Cameron drove the loose ball into the goal in front of the Charlton fans. It looked ominous and to make matters worse, Leko limped off after ten minutes but we didn't miss him as Albie Morgan quickly played his way into the game. 

We couldn't get anything going up front and QPR could have sewn the game up on twenty minutes when Purrington, under pressure, underhit a back pass from way out to Phillips and Nakhi Wells stole in. He had too much time though and having steamed in on goal he hesitated and I think expected Phillips to commit. Dillion stood tall and when Wells finally fired he managed to block the powerful shot which bounce up and out for a corner. 

Bowyer had seen enough of our floundering back four and Purrington was hauled off in a tactical switch that saw us move to a back three as Jason Pearce joined the fray. Purrington was visibly furious but probably more through embarrassment than anything else. The switched worked because we looked better to half-time. 

Ten minutes after the restart and with the Addicks visibly fired-up, a defensive clearance fell to Albie Morgan just outside the area and he rammed a shot goalward. It probably wouldn't have beaten the QPR defence in their six yard box but Lyle Taylor managed to divert the ball from just in front of them and they were stranded. Now things looked a lot better. Encouraged by the noise from the visiting fans, Charlton took the game to the hosts and we played some lovely stuff. Alfie Doughty was a rampaging joy on the left and he pinned QPR back which encouraged Gallagher to get further forward and with Albie Morgan weighing in we pressed QPR for half-an-hour only for Rangers to score again against the run-of-play. Osayi-Samuel had been brought on and he ran rings around Jason Pearce before setting Pugh up for an easy finish. 

With ten minutes to go we looked beaten and QPR saw more of the ball. That was the cue for Paul and I to head off to Charing Cross for a Christmas drink and miss the 95th minute drama of Naby Sarr surging on to a flick over the top and controlling the ball before slamming home in front of 2700 delirious Addicks. 

Thursday 19 December 2019

The Nightmare before Christmas

It took me a few days to get over the kick in the gut that we took last Friday evening when Hull equalised in the 96th minute. Coming on the back of the last gasp loss to Huddersfield it was doubly difficult to take and made you wonder when we would win again. It also unleashed the wailing and gnashing of the most thickle who seem to want someone to blame rather than accepting the fact that there is glaring correlation between availability of players and performances/results.

The good news was that Lyle Taylor featured again and he looked that bit closer to match fitness. He and Bonne are due goals and with Field and Williams expected to be ready to feature, I got all optimistic about QPR. Maybe the feel-good factor with Christmas around the corner also encouraged me to jump at the chance of a spare ticket for The Kiyan Prince Stadium on Saturday. I also took those juicy away odds of 4-1, after all, I was cheated by Hull of winning at 3-1. Perhaps confirmation of the Abu Dhabi takeover would also cause a snowball effect and QPR would be swept away in a blizzard of positive Charlton emotion?

In the last few days we have had more takeover speculation. Nothing specifically negative but there remains a nagging doubt with excuses for a delayed EFL decision continuing to be made. Some of the big papers have jumped in to tell us that the EFL have wanted clarity that there is no business connection with Man City's owner Sheikh Mansour. This follows questions raised about fit and proper persons as well as veracity of funding. The latest suggestions are that we may have to wait until January for a decision - this would appear longer than usual for other clubs, given they were engaged as far back as early November by a takeover team who appear to have worked thoroughly in preparing the ground by avoiding any leaks and reaching agreement with former Directors over their loans.

That has perhaps sparked today's downer. Lee Bowyer has said that Lyle Taylor has turned down a contract offer and Lee seems to be saying that the decision now rests with Taylor, implying there won't be any further negotiation. Given the Limbo nature of the current ownership, it's unclear if the offer is a grudging (and maybe constrained) Duchatelet authorised one or simply the best the prospective new owners are prepared to support in agreement with RD. Either way, it's not good news ahead of Saturday and Taylor will get more abuse on social media from the no-nonsense wing the fanbase who are telling him to leave if he doesn't want to accept the offer. Lyle is a big Twitter user and he didn't react very well to his last spat with the same fans which lead to him closing his account for a couple of weeks.

Personally, I have some sympathies for Taylor. He was denied a potentially lucrative move to Brentford during the Summer because we were unable to get a replacement deal agreed on the last day of the transfer window. Bad planning and parsimony by Roland Duchatelet was hardly Taylor's fault. Given his late maturity in the game, the Brentford deal offered him some real financial security and it may have convinced him that he would leave in January, come what may. Patrick Bauer left in similar circumstances having been messed about over his contract renewal until it was too late, even despite a goal-scoring finish and promotion at Wembley. 

So to Saturday then and worse news that Field and Williams have had set-backs, just like Taylor, in their recovery from injury and now won't feature as anticipated. That tantalising prospect of a win after ten games without one looks less likely and my bet at 4-1 riskier than it had looked earlier in the week. Regardless, "we go again' as the players are fond of saying after disappointing results, only this time, I will be attending an away game for the first time since Coventry several years ago and my decision to boycott. I can endure another disappointing result but I pray that this takeover goes through because 2020 will begin to look quite dark and threatening if it doesn't. 

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Charlton Athletic 0 v Huddersfield Town 1

On a dark and cold night in South-East London, amidst a swirling downpour, Lee Bowyer's walking-wounded struggled to create any clearcut opportunity from which to win the game against limited looking visitors. In terrible conditions, there was little between the sides but once again we were undone by a late winner which was barely deserved.

Bowyer went with a back five of Purrington, Sarr, Pearce, Lockyer and Solly. They were sound enough but had to scramble clear too often because our midfield again struggled to keep possession. Gallagher continues to try his heart out but he desperately needs the calming influence of Williams and/or Cullen. Without them he is trying to do too much and was caught in possession repeatedly last night. Pratley fought hard too but he lacks composure which doesn't help and his second touch is often a foul. If you add the inexperienced Doughty and the hot 'n cold Leko, you can see why collectively we are coming up short in the engine room.

At least there was a visible concentration and determination across the side last night - a big improvement on Saturday's horror showing at Middlesbrough. Macauley Bonne ploughed a lone furrow last night. Whenever he did get the ball he was invariably back to goal with several defenders awaiting him. Little surprise that we didn't manage an effort on goal in the opening half. 

In touches and moves, Leko reminds me of Paul Mortimer and I hope that he can find that balance and broader pitch view that Morts had because he could become quite a player. Unfortunately last night he had too much to do whenever he got the ball and ran into trouble too often instead of being able to find space. Doughty continues to impress me with his control and pace but he has a lot to learn and would look so much better with Williams and Cullen ticking alongside him. 

We did manage a sustained attacking spell after Lyle Taylor came on but were still short of chances. Ben Purtrington had managed to find the net but the fussy  linesman's on the east Stand touchline had flagged early for offside. I didn't see it but Lee Bowyer was complaining after the game that the goal should have stood. However, Lee might be guilty of looking for an excuse or two given the overall lack of creativity.

No wins in the last nine and we are in trouble as things stand. The injury list has to shorten and we could really do with the boost of confirmation of the takeover and, hopefully, some cash being splashed by the new owners to show their initial ambition and restore some confidence across the playing and management staff. The EFL show no signs of an early decision and there must be a concern that Christmas and New Year will intervene which may limit our options in January's transfer window.

We could also do with a bit of luck and hopefully that will come our way on Friday when Hull City come to town. However, we will also need to beat the live-on-Sky curse which continues to haunt us. 

Saturday 7 December 2019

Welling United 2 v Hemel Hempstead 0

First off, Tony and I fancied the visitors at 6-4. They had been second in the table prior to the international break where they lost a couple of players to overseas duty (I know) and results have seen them drop to seventh.

They started quickly and forced a succession of corners which tested the Wings back line. It looked only a matter of time before they took the lead but the Wings held on and after 20 minutes, Sam Ashford lost the plot and hacked Connor Dymond down having been frustrated at being passed around several times. At 11 v 10 the Wings looked marginally more comfortable and on 40 minutes Emmanuel Moses rose to head home past Dave Beasant's son, Sam, in the visitors goal.

The game was very tight throughout and there was very little between the sides right up until ten minutes from the end when substitute Nathan Green slammed home a back post cross which alluded the near-post posse. The win relieves Welling's relegation concerns and perhaps gives some hope for turning of the proverbial corner.

Meanwhile, in the chemical wastelands of Middlesbrough, Charlton Athletic succumbed to a first minute goal and failed to really threaten Boro for an equaliser. It was a huge disappointment but hardly a surprise for the injury-ravaged Addicks. Joe Ledley made a rusty debut and Lyle Taylor got on in the second half but we were well short of the quality needed to get anything.

Bowyer has promised better for Tuesday against Huddersfield at The Valley but you have to look at what he's got to call on and wonder what more anyone can realistically expect. Personally, we need to stay clear of the relegation zone and await reinforcements in January.

Finally, a small footnote but congratulations to George and Emily on the birth of a beautiful looking daughter. Another Addick in the making.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Charlton Athletic 1 v Sheffield Wednesday 3

No great surprise in the result given Charlton's pile of injuries, current form and the size of the occasion which historically defeats us. The result was largely unimportant yesterday, it was far more about the significance of new ownership and enormous hope for the future.

I was on the streets shortly after 10am as I made my way to meet a couple of CARD's finest and start the day with brekkie in Marks & Spencers - the Valley Cafe was queueing out of the door. It was great to get nods, handshakes and shouts as I made my way along Floyd Road. Everyone was grinning and several looked skywards in thanks after talking about our new owners. 

The game itself began quickly with Wednesday on the front foot and netting an early headed goal which was disallowed (offside). Our hospital eleven showed a determination to stick at it despite Wednesday's domination of possession. Wednesday were quick out wide and pressed the game. Their opening goal was neat and simple in execution. A right wing break, the ball played back for a pinpoint cross into the box and a well-directed header by the forgotten Steven Fletcher. I'd have to see both of their early headers again but there was a suspicion that someone should have been closer to both players. 

The Addicks continued to battle hard to get forward and fought well at the back. I had been told that there was a virus going around the squad before the match and that it had ruled Ben Purrington out which had given Alfie Doughty his first start at left-back. He did well, as did Oshilaja, who was my man-of-the-match after a particularly stong second-half showing where he might even have nicked an equaliser before Wednesday's flattering third on the whistle.

Erhum Ostumer ran his heart out in the middle and Leko and Bonne did whatever they could when the ball arrived to try and stretch the Owls backline. Bonne's equaliser looked fortunate on first viewing as it appeared to loop up and take an age to beat the flat-footed Dawson. It looked much better and more deliberate at half-time. 

As if to add some sparkle to the occasion, we had already seen new Chairman, Matt Southall glide smilingly through the West Stand lounge in an immaculate blue suit and being lead by Commercial Manager, Ravi Patel who seemed to be smiling as widely as the fans. But there at half-time was Lee Ryan of Blue with his Charlton-mad boy. I had to Google him of course but I had recognised the face!

Into the second-half then and Gary Monk's orders were very clear from the restart. Wednesday stepped it up again and took control of the game, directing traffic for the next thirty minutes until they won a penalty in front of their own fans. It looked stonewall to me and Fletcher stepped up to slam home and cue a huge roar from the visitors.

Wednesday sat back a little after that and contained us as we tried everything we could to make it 2-2. Leko was out on his feet and Bonne wasn't going to out-jump their back-line so our pressing inevitably resulted in shots from around the box. Oshilaja fired the two best efforts but both cleared the bar at speed by a couple of feet. There was also time for Charlton to introduce another Academy debutant. Having seen the Alfie's drafted in in the last two weeks, today was the turn for James Vennings. No-one I spoke to yesterday had ever heard of him. Maybe Steve Avory has been keeping him under wraps?

Finally it was time to continue the takeover celebrations - I started in the White Swan and finished in the Oak. The Swan was busy, happy and noisy. I had spent the day encouraging friends and acquaintances to show restraint about our new owners and to hope that anticipated investments are appropriate and sensible. By the time I reached the Oak it was loud and drunken. I left for home with a non-stop chorus of "we're fucking rich, we're fucking rich, we're fucking rich" ringing in my ears. I suppose it's hard not to feel like we have won the Lottery.