Saturday 29 February 2020

Battle Stations!

The alarm bells on the good ship Charlton Athletic are ringing loudly this evening. In the space of four days we have been hit by two torpedoes and the engine room is filling with water. There is still some way to go before the Captain considers abandoning ship and we are still able to return fire. However, many of our supporters are panicking wildly with many having jumped overboard already.

Yes, it's been a tough few days. I watched both games on TV and they were painful. Wednesday's horror-show was infuriating given the manner of the 95th minute loss and today's tonking had the added embarrassment of significantly reducing our ability to boast about goal difference. I have to say, both performances were abject and worrying given how hopeless we looked and the fact that having messed the bed on Wednesday we simply did it again today. 

Personally, I am not panicking. The fact remains that we have more players to choose from - Lockyer's unfortunate suspension apart - the overall position has been improving and we mustn't lose site of the fact that we have managed three wins in the last seven after just one in seventeen. I don't believe Bowyer has lost the plot or that he has somehow been found out having steered us through the whole of last season to an unlikely promotion and having shown very conclusively that he is able to compete in this league against the best sides. Our destiny is still very much in our hands and with Boro, Hull and Wigan still to come, things could quickly look just as different as they have proven in recent weeks. 

What no-one would have legislated for was that the hitherto hopeless threesome of Luton, Barnsley and Wigan would all find form at the same time or that it would be as impressive as it has. Wigan have won three in-a-row (five in eight) including beating top-of-the-table West Brom at the Hawthorns today. Luton have won four in their last eight and have taken ten points from the last fifteen  Barnsley lost at Reading today to end their three game winning run, although that did include victories over Hull and Boro, both of whom are in free-fall. I don't believe these runs will continue in this vein but they have done enough to keep us in the fight and drag Hull and Boro in too.

So, once again we have a must-win game on Saturday. Just like the Luton and Barnsley home games in recent weeks, we have to get the points against Boro. They play Forest at the Riverside on Monday but haven't won in eleven. They have lost the last three, including to Barnsley and Luton. Now is the time to play them and we could find ourselves five points clear of them next Saturday evening with a better goal difference. We may be firing on half our cylinders but Boro have, arguably, been even worse. Hull's form is worse still and the loss of talisman Jared Bowen has clearly hit them hard. No wins in eleven for the Tigers and they have lost nine of those!

Time then to hold our nerve and focus in backing Bowyer and the players again next week. If we mess this up, then they will only get what they deserve. By 'they' I mean Bowyer, the squad and ESI. There are large unanswered questions about ESI, in spite of the impressive PR, and these will only get louder if the club fails to maintain it's Championship status. Matt Southall needs some good news and if I were him, I would be chasing down that due diligence on the Valley and Sparrows Lane to lay to rest any remaining doubts that ESI don't have the funds to run the club any better that Scrooge Duchatelet and that they may have left him with a controlling interest in the future of our club. That might at least help offset the ongoing negativity about the team's performances or the players ESI brought in during January, at least until Lee Bowyer relieves the pressure by guiding us to safety.

Friday 14 February 2020

Relegation Dogfight - Next 6 Games

Tuesday's imperious victory at Nottingham Forest has given Charlton fans hope that we will soon pull clear of the relegation scrap and confirmed what many have been saying that we would start to climb the table as more players returned from injury. Saturday's home game against Blackburn Rovers gives the hitherto unlikely prospect of three wins from four and would likely see us distance ourselves from the fight.

With that in mind, there is still some hope that we might finish the season in similar fashion to how we started it and that we could even make the top ten. Some are even speaking about play-offs but I think that's realistically out-of-reach given where we are. So, I have had a look at the next six games for those involved in the fight and we look to have a real chance of moving into mid-table.

The first point is that whilst we now have two home games against Blackburn and lowly Luton, our main rivals all have two away fixtures to come, so we should expect to improve our immediate position. After that, we then face Sheff Wednesday (a) 12th, Huddersfield (a) 20th and then Boro (h) 18th and Hull City (a) 15th. Whilst we are famed for playing better against better sides, you have to think we will pick up relatively more points from these fixtures than we have during our injury-hit slump.

I am writing Barnsley off at this point and believe Luton will soon join them. They are away at Boro on Saturday before coming to the Valley. After that they have awkward home matches against Brentford and Stoke before going to Wigan and then another tough home game against Preston. 

Huddersfield's outlook isn't dissimilar to Luton's. Away at Wayne Rooney on Saturday then at Swansea before Bristol City and Charlton at home. If they come out of that with their heads still above water, they then go to Leeds before a very winnable home game against Wigan.

I expect Wigan to fall behind as well in the next month. They have to go to Cardiff, Millwall, West Brom and Huddersfield and only have home games against Reading and Luton.

Boro and QPR probably have too much to get sucked in given the prospects for Luton, Wigan and Huddersfield. Both of them have four home games from six and QPR face Stoke, Derby, Birmingham and Barnsley in theirs. Boro have trickier home games against Leeds and Forest but they also have Luton and Swansea,

So, in summary, I expect us to move into mid-table over the next month and put safe distance between ourselves and the bottom three. Come on you Reds!

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Nottingham Forest 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

After the lack-lustre defeat at Stoke on Saturday, maybe only Lee Bowyer and his Boys saw this one coming. Forest went into this game after beating promotion rivals Leeds at the weekend and would have been as confident of winning as Charlton fans were of losing. 

However, manager Sabri Lamouchi upset the home fans before kick-off by resting five of the heroes from Saturday, some of whom didn't even make the bench. The fans called it out and warned of disrespecting opponents and the game went on to prove their point.

Charlton battled as a unit and matched Forest throughout the game. Forest played some very decent quick passing and overlapping when attacking but they had very little cutting edge in the box and were unable to really expose our flanks. Doughty and Matthews tucked in and with Sarr, Pearce and Lockyer bossing the centre-ground in defence, we looked solid enough. 

Our lack of height in central midfield, through Oztumer, Cullen and Davis, was more than accounted for by the running of the trio. Oztumer had his best half in a Charlton shirt and was ably supported by Cullen and the abrasive Davis.

Up front Lyle Taylor ran his socks of - time and again he chased the back four down in possession. It's a pity he only had Tomer Hemed in support. Hemed ran about as he usually does but saw little of the ball and was wasteful when he did get possession.

The match swung for us after 25 minutes when a breakout of defence down the right side by ex-Addick Carl Jenkinson was halted by the advancing Naby Sarr who drove on with the ball and pumped a delightful left foot cross into the box. It fell at the back stick where Lyle Taylor was waiting to volley it home from close range. A great goal worthy of winning the game. Naby nearly blotted his copy-book a minute later when he sliced an attempted block over Phillips' head but the superb Charlton keeper got a late hand to push the effort onto the bar and safety. It was the closest Forest would come to a goal.

We saw early second-half substitutions with Oztumer being replaced by McGeady and Purrington on for Doughty. Fresh legs was probably the call but it didn't change the game and we stuck to it. If anything we created more chances in the second-half but nothing fell for us. 

The 800 Addicks present gave the rest of us watching at home a real boost with their non-stop singing and support for the side. Coming on the back of Saturday's disappointment, this performance was just what they deserved.

Attention now turns to Saturday when a win over Blackburn Rovers would see us effectively move cleared of the relegation dogfight. Can't come soon enough.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

Ireland 19 v Scotland 12

After missing the 6 Nations last year due to illness, I was determined to get there this year. Finn Russell's antics ahead of the game may have ensured a defeat that was always likely in any event but we did at least get a Scottish performance to be satisfied with.

Adam Hastings took his chance at stand-off and Stuart Hogg marshalled a side which defended well and which managed to press the hosts for large periods of the game. Ultimately Scotland were, once again, able to capitalise on repeated try-line phases which ended more often than not with a turnover or Scotland conceding a needless penalty. When we did finally breach the Irish line, the TMO showed Captain Hogg inexplicably dropping the ball a foot from the line as he touched-down.

None-the-less, it was still a decent weekend in good company in some of the best pubs in the world. I was pleased to be able to get match tickets for an old work boss long term resident now in Denver. The ten of us enjoyed a pint of Ireland in Searson's on Friday night and Doheny & Nesbitts on Saturday. 

The real cheer of the day came from SE7 where Lyle Taylor was quick to remind us, post-January window, just why he remains our talisman. Andre Green's emotional second for the club in the week his grand-father died gave us the breathing space for the second-half assault from the Tykes which we managed to survive.

My good lady and I will head north this weekend in the motor and plan to be at our hotel outside Edinburgh by Midday. Time enough to get into town for lunch ahead of the Charlton game at Stoke and the main event at Murrayfield.