Thursday 23 January 2020

Charlton Athletic 0 v Fulham 0

On a dank, if not called cold night in SE7, we applauded the news that Lee Bowyer has finally signed a three year contract extension, safe in the knowledge that he was holding on until his backroom leaders, Johnnie Jackson, Steve Gallen and Andy Marshall were also in a similar position with their deals. Under the floodlights it was also encouraging to see more names returning to the matchday squad from months of injury - the promise of Spring remains.

In a 16,424 gate, the Cottagers brought a decent following for a change with over 2,000 fans, although anyone with impaired visibility would have wondered if there were 500 given how quiet they were. They had come to see the Slaughter of the Lambs, in match even Charlton fans were predicting might be the numerical thumping some feel we are overdue. Indeed, in the opening fifteen minutes I made a conscious note of Cavaleiro, Onomah, Cairney, Arter and Reid as Fulham got on the front foot and overlapped us on both flanks. 

Purrington, Pearce, Lockyer and Matthews were working flat out to keep up and Cullen and Partly were also deeply involved in the massed defence. Cavaleiro drove a low cross-shot just wide of Phillips' dive and the far post and Phillips stopped another direct shot from Reid. 

It looked a matter of when, not if, but we came back into the half and a couple of galloping surges from Alfie Doughty served to warn the visitors that we had a threat, even if it wasn't Tomer Hemed.

We made it in level at half-time and regular supporters will know the fear of the opening fifteen minutes this season. Well, Michael Hector should have scored soon after the re-start in front of his supporters when he met a back-post corner highest but couldn't direct it between the posts. The effort flashed wide and the Valley took a collective breath. After that, things improved for the Addicks in that Fulham seemed to have run out of attacking ideas. Oztumer and Pratley were beginning to break up the Fulham fluidity in midfield and eventually both Arter and Cairney were subbed. Williams, Taylor and Green also made their way on as Oztumer, Morgan and Hemed trudged off as Lee Bowyer tried to win the game. Taylor's craft was enough to unsettle Fulham and Williams' surging runs meant Fulham had even less time to trouble our defence. 

We might have even nicked a winner late on when Taylor drove deep down the right and whipped a great low cross to the back stick where Jonnie-Boyo was sliding in. Luckily for Fulham their covering man managed to get a toe on it first and nearly scored himself.

So, 0-0, a clean sheet after three months and a much more bouyant feel around the Valley as we headed home. With ten days rest before our next game at home to Barnsley, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves properly to win again and secure what would be three vital points against a side that would then be nine points below us with a worse goal-difference. That task would be immeasurably easier if Lyle Taylor gets re-signed in the meantime and increased the spreading feel-good factor of a slightly concerning takeover which has created some unfortunate questions about the financial commitments of our new owners. It's early days but ESI have taken their first few unsteady steps.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Charlton Athletic 2 v West Bromwich Albion 2

If the 3-2 victory over Bristol City on Boxing day was the win of the season so far, yesterday's thrilling match against table-toppers Albion, will be the draw of the season. It was a cracking contest which epitomises the Championship. A full-blooded end-to-end scrap with plenty of quality football and drama in amongst the blood and thunder. 

Gone were Brunt, Barry and Austin from last week's warm-up Cup encounter and in came West Brom's A-team which featured ex Charlton youngster Semi Ajayi who replaced Brunt in central defence and Welsh striker Robson-Kanu who played just off Zohore.

With a gate just shy of 20,000, the match kicked off to good noise from both sets of fans and Charlton started brightly enough with an early low effort from Gallagher which skidded past the far post. West Brom eventually came into the game and when they did, a slip from Lockyer let Zohore in and a run at goal that concluded with a covering block from Oshilaja. Unfortunately, the ball sat still for the advancing Zohore who only had to fire it beyond the stranded Phillips. 

Charlton responded well and within four minutes forced a corner in front of the visiting supporters. The West Brom fans behind the goal thought it clever to keep the ball and after 30 seconds of it being thrown around to big cheers, another was put into play. The incoming corner was delivered high to the back post and there, rising highest was Naby Sarr. His cross goal header might have been saved but Josh Davison was in the way and he reacted quickly to change the direction of Sarr's effort with a headed flick which beat Johnstone in the West Brom goal. Justice had been done and how the home fans roared at the equaliser.

West Brom might have taken the lead before half-time after a slick move saw them work it into the box at pace but they wanted a touch too much and a posse of red shirts managed to block the effort and get it clear.

Within a minute of the restart, West Brom were back in front. A quick passing move forward saw the ball played in Robson-Kanu and his near post touch diverted off the covering Sarr's outstretched boot and high above Phillips' head into the top of the goal. For twenty minutes after that it looked a matter of time before West Brom's passing and moving game would create another opportunity that would kill the contest but our back-line held firm and restricted their final ball. With confidence returning we again took the game to the visitors and with Doughty tearing into to them down the left and Davison giving Ajayi and Bartley a battering we were able to get more men forward and chances were coming. Doughty flashed a shot into the side netting and Green was also getting in the mood. 

On 75 minutes the ball again went into the visiting supporters who, not having learned from their earlier mistake, thought they would play silly buggers again. Keen to get on with it, Phillips took another ball from behind the goal and delivered it downfield where it was collected and played to Doughty who carried it forward at pace. With men arriving in the box, Alfie cut back and swung a high ball to the back post. As it dropped, the player making the most determined move towards it was Thomas Alun Lockyer. The 25 year old centre-half leapt at the falling ball and caught it perfectly. His powerful neck thrust sent the ball goalward and the direction was perfect. It beat the diving Johnstone, struck the post and went in off the keeper's body. Nothing less than the Addicks deserved and after that there was a visible buzz about our play and a determination to hold on to what we had.

It was a stirring game which will live long in the memory. Dempsey, Williams and Forster-Caskey got on before the end and helped run the clock down. 

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Matt Southall addresses the supporters

New Charlton Athletic Chairman, Matt Southall, addressed the clubs' supporters today in an inaugural video that was released at 7pm. The timing was perfection that in came on the day that news had been broken about the Club's withdrawal of their contract extension offer to want-away Lyle Taylor and the apparent bombshell that Roland Duchatelet still owns Sparrows Lane.

Charlton fans have something akin to shell-shock after six years of Roland Duchatelet and one false dawn after another in terms of sale of the club. We have trust issues and this morning's property news brought understandable fears that ESI's failure to acquire the training ground may have been an indicator that the takeover might not be all it was purported to be.

Rich Cawley, who broke the Taylor and Training Ground news this morning, had been quick to follow-up on his Tweet to say that ESI had qualified that they had an option to buy Sparrows Lane within six months and that the reason it hadn't been bought along with the football club and The valley was simply because they hadn't had enough time to prioritise surveys and due diligence. Their urgency to get the deal over the line in order to be ready to maximise the January transfer window was the driver. That explanation will go well with fans but also raises expectations that we will invest satisfactorily in January. Matt Southall was quick to reassure supporters that the clear intention would be to complete the training ground purchase as soon as they were comfortable to do so. 

He went on to say that ESI have long term plans for the club and that they want to invest on a sensible and sustainable basis. Southall had already ticked a number of boxes concerning rationale for acquiring Charlton (London, Academy, Heritage, Fanbase, Competitiveness etc) and explained that he has already discussed Bowyer's contract with his agent and that they have agreed to pick up on this after the January window. That would seem eminently sensible as it allows the club to concentrate on bringing the players needed this month and that should go some way to convincing Lee Bowyer that they are serious and that he wants to part of it.

Southall repeatedly mentioned the need to reconnect with fans and I felt he was completely genuine when he said this and that he fully understood the value of doing it. This might seem obvious but it never was to Roland Duchatelet. He spoke about getting fans and sponsors to return and has made it clear to Ravi and his commercial team that he will "get in front" of anyone they need him to in order to bring new revenue into the club. 

For anyone still unaware, he reiterated that he is making a big personal effort on social media and in person to meet supporters. He told us that his family had been to games and that he comes to as many as he can because he is a fan and enjoys it, not just because he's the Chairman. He name-checked Jason Morgan at the Community Trust, Ravi Patel the Commercial Manager, Steve Avory at the Academy, his Fifa duel with George Lapslie and even Nathan the Groundsman.

He spoke deferentially about "his Excellency" and joked that he was an enthusiastic person as already picked-up on by fans following his Twitter account. The owner will be making an appearance at a game later this month and will continue to come but obviously he won't be here regularly. Again, perfectly understandable given he lives in Abu Dhabi and given his travel commitments shared on Twitter.

All-in-all, I was comfortable that Matt Southall is genuine and he quickly comes across as a football person. Darragh MacAnthony, the Peterborough owner, tweeted earlier today to say he was pleased to hear from his old friend Matt and that they would be having lunch soon to catch-up. Southall speaks easily and is able to reinforce points he makes about Charlton with confidence by recalling players and events from our recent past which suggest more than that he has just boned up for an interview. 

There is a long way to go but this was a great start from Matt. Let's see some sensible transfer moves this month. The extension of Bowyer and Co's contracts next month would be another good move and securing Sparrows Lane before the end of the season would cement an impressive ESI start. If the boycotting fans return and we can start to win again more regularly, we might just get the club moving again with a head of steam. That would be fantastic going into a fresh season with a settled management team and hopefully a strengthened squad of players ready to put in a sustained Championship challenge next season.

Up the Addicks!

Monday 6 January 2020

Charlton Athletic 0 v West Bromwich Albion 1

Charlton limped out of the F A Cup once again yesterday with a result that would have surprised no-one. Lee Bowyer was never going to field a strong side and our current full-blown injury crisis meant that he even rested some reserve players. The recall this week of youngsters out on loan at lower league and non-league clubs saw us put out a starting eleven with an average age of 21 point something. To be fair, the visitors also sent a weakened side but it still figured the experience of Gareth Barry, Chris Brunt and Charlie Austin.

Andre Green, signed on loan from Villa, made his debut as did 18 year-old Abraham Odoh and 16 year-old Aaron Henry. They joined a side that also included Brendan Wiredu, Toby Stvenson, Josh Davison and James Vennings. If you include Chris Solly and Dillon Phillips, there were only three players in the line-up without an Academy background. 

Unsurprisingly, the Baggies bossed the game and took a thirteenth minute lead through Zohore. They continued to look capable of scoring throughout the match but our youngsters made a game of it, fighting particularly hard to support the defence and hold the ball up in midfield. Our first-half chances were limited to a run and near post shot from Green and a number of promising moves that lacked the final pass.

In a game that mirrored the Swansea performance, we were much better second-half again and actually pushed for an equaliser for sustained periods. Josh Davison had a decent low effort saved at the far post but could have earned us an unwanted replay if his side volley from a Naby Sarr knock-down in the last few minutes had not smacked the crossbar. The good news was that Jonny Williams and Tomer Hemed got on for the last ten to fifteen minutes 

We face the Baggies again on Saturday in what should be a completely different set of circumstances. Instead of 6,500 fans, the gate should be closer to 20,000. The visitors will sellout their allocation and we should see a return of several thousand previous boycotters, keen to show the club's new owners our support for finally ending the Duchatelet nightmare. 

We will be able to field a stronger side, albeit one still very short of experience and goals upfront. Lee Bowyer is hoping to sign two players this week and I would love to see a gnarled old striker join to improve our attacking options until Bonne and Taylor are fit again. The Baggies too will bring their A Team as they continue their push for promotion. In many ways the new era starts on Saturday and I hope there is a big turnout to support it.  

Thursday 2 January 2020

Swansea City 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

In atrocious playing conditions, Lee Bowyer's make-shift eleven did the club and it's new owners proud this evening. Outplayed in the opening twenty minutes by a Swansea side still able to display Premier quality they found themselves a goal down but steadied the ship and came out in the second-half to carry the game to the hosts and tried everything they could to find the elusive equaliser. The game was not dissimilar to the battling display at QPR. Naby Sarr even came on to be pushed up front in the last ten minutes when we caused them problems. 

We started with Taylor and the inexperienced Davison but Taylor was withdrawn at the break for Doughty. He didn't look injured at the whistle although Bowyer is saying he has a thigh injury. I don't suppose he would feature against West Brom in the Cup on Saturday and we have another week of recovery time after that, so pulling him off at half-time seemed premature unless he was really crocked. Irrespective, Doughty helped carry the game to Swansea and create sustained attacking momentum. The problem, of course, was we lacked a finisher in the box. 

Davison, Gallagher and Doughty all had half-chances from distance before the finish but we didn't do enough over the ninety minutes to deserve more than the 1-0 but that was much better than most Addicks feared pre-match and certainly after twenty minutes. 

It's not been a good week us in terms of two defeats but Bowyer has managed to give more game time to Doughty, Davison, Dempsey and Vennings. Matthews played well in trying circumstances at right-back and I thought Purrington had a decent game on the left. Pearce and Lockyer were solid, if unspectacular. Gallagher shaw less of the ball than against Derby but also saw less of the kicking he received up there. Albie Morgan and Dempsey both struggled with the pace and movement of Swansea in the first-half but were better in the second when we spent more time in possession and going forward.

Bowyer will saw again that he couldn't ask any more of his players and that they gave their all. Hopefully he can continue to say that in the coming months but that his playing choices are improved and he has p-layers with more to give at this point in time. 

I have said before that I believe Lyle Taylor will be off and if that's the case, sooner rather later as we need to move on. Andre Green signed on loan from Villa today but hopefully Bowyer will get a couple of quality permanent signings this month. I'd like to see a couple of more ambitious names join us to signal some intent going forward. 

Under New Ownership - at last!

Finally! Finally the news that Charlton Athletic supporters have been waiting on for five weeks since the announcement that Roland Duchatelet had at last found a buyer for the club. The EFL have completed their review of the proposed takeover and sanctioned completion. We are now free from the nightmare of the last five years and are shot of the weird man, made arrogant by wealth, who made a huge mistake in 2014 by second guessing how Financial Fair Play would pan out.
It has been a very difficult last five years (the first year was hopeful) after FFP failed to deliver the opportunity Duchatelet thought would arise and he was left with a string of club investments in which he no longer had any interest. He did manage to offload Standard Liege fairly quickly but they had Champions League pedigree and the anger of the Standard fans towards his dire stewardship was too close to home, so he cut and ran. Sadly, Charlton Athletic were a distant problem and one he was determined not to take a haircut on, especially as his initial investments went south and his appointed Chief Exec dug furiously at the growing financial hole.
It was us, the ordinary fans who have suffered, of course, Duchatelet didn’t bother to see us actually play live after his visit in October 2014. Many, like me, were driven from the club by the ‘war’ Katrien Meire fuelled with the supporters. The deluded Duchatelet just couldn’t see it, in spite of howler after howler he refused to see the logic of what was patently clear – his appointment was driving the club into the ground. The revenues fell off a cliff which forced a policy of player sales and cost-cutting. The grasping Meire eventually left her boss in the lurch when it was clear she was beyond redemption in SE7 and a better offer arrived from the na├»ve Sheffield Wednesday owner. If Duchatelet wanted a second opinion on Meire, he’s certainly had one since – gone within 12 months and now under a Misconduct Charge by the EFL.
Anyway, today is not a time for yet more reflection. We have had years of that and we all know the score. Rather, it’s a time for celebration and for hope. Hope that the incoming Abu Dhabi owners will avoid the mistakes of Duchatelet and that they will work with the Club supporters to help us move forward and, once again, become the model of a well-run progressive football club which we once were. They have certainly started that by getting the communication with the supporters right.  It will take time but I think we can afford to be patient given the last five years.

So, farewell to the strange old man with mustard-coloured teeth and paragraph Tourettes. If he did anything for Charlton Athletic longer term, it was to give us the blueprint for how not to run a football club and a very long list of clear red lines for the future.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

Dartford 4 v Welling United 0

I had every intention of heading down the A2 to take in Welling's return double-header against local rivals Dartford this afternoon. However, having read Chairman/Manager Mark Goldberg's New Year Message this morning I decided not to waste my time.

I was disappointed that the Wings were walloped 3-0 at home by the Darts on Boxing Day but was prepared to take that as something that can happen in derby matches (eh Charlton fans). However, what I wasn't prepared for was Goldberg's update this morning in which he semi-apologises for being on holiday at this time! He went on to say he wouldn't accept the absence of someone else managing the team but that "the financial pressures of supporting our club has taken it's toll on me and I make no excuses for needing to take time out with my family." 

A touch ironic that the financial pressures have forced him to take a family holiday. For most of the rest of us, holidays are the first things crossed off the list when we have financial pressures. He then continues to dig by telling Wings fans that we need to get right behind the side today because that's what they really need when confidence is low. That's right Mark, although they won't be getting your support or, er, management input.

The intent of this message may also be to try to assure Wings fans of his long-term intentions for the ground/stadium. He has been keen to rotate the pitch and gain development permission for the site in the process which he alludes to looking forward. Wings fans remain suspicious and it's not hard to see why. 

Goldberg's decision to part with Steve King in the close season and install himself as manager was highly questionable. He had tried this at Welling once before and it didn't go well. King had taken them within an ace of an unlikely promotion and some continuity was probably all it needed. The squad was churned during the Summer and players have continued to come and go on a near weekly basis. As a casual supporter it's frustrating turning up every few weeks to see several new and unfamiliar faces and to keep asking "where's he gone?" I wouldn't mind if this constituting rebuilding but just as many of the incomings soon become outgoings. Goldberg is responsible for the club's finances, so if he overspent last season, that was his decision, although it's hard to understand why that might have been more expensive than this season, unless he was paying the manager and his deputies a King's Ransom? I also assume any redevelopment of the ground would largely be financed with someone else's money....

Needless to say, the match didn't go well for Welling who were embarrassed once again this afternoon by the Darts. They are down to 19th, two places off the relegation spots. What is sure, is that there will be no upturn in gate money or commercial revenues while the current strategy is pursued.

Meanwhile, away from Welling, disappointing and hard-to-believe that we have Charlton fans who can't see the glaring correlation between the desperate lack of fit squad players and poor results, and instead are blaming Bowyer, Purrington, Sarr, Solly, etc. 

Equally sad to see Charlton fans taking cheap shots at Rick Everitt by circulating a critical local Thanet politician's personal criticism of Rick's election as Leader of Thanet Council from May 2019. Some people have very short memories and why you would consider personal local political jealousy over the track record of a diehard Charlton fan of 50 years who served the club in various senior positions during the rise of Club under Perter Varney? I understand that Rick was elected Leader of the Council in which his Labour Party area a minority. That goes to show that he must have been a fairly popular cross-party choice. Certainly more-so than the author of the vitriolic rant.