Tuesday 29 November 2022

Cup draw litle incentive

Charlton's mini Cup fever this season looks likes fizzling out before Christmas.

Having been dumped out of the EFL Cup by Plymouth two weeks ago, Charlton's F A Cup journey hangs in the balance after that late equaliser from Stockport. Last night's 3rd Round draw offered us another unattractive home tie with Walsall. Hardly a big incentive to win at Stockport next Wednesday evening. I hope I am wrong but I can see Stockport stepping up at home and finishing us off. Ryan Rydel had chances to have won it at the Valley and I expect him to go one better next week.

That would leave us with only Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion's League Cup visit before Christmas and I suspect their B team would have little trouble in securing a victory at the Valley. Brighton does, at least, offer a sign of finally making some money from all the cup matches we will have played this season. 

I believe Tommy Boy is about to make another u-turn, this time deciding to open all the home stands for home fans instead of the potentially damaging move of offering Brighton the Alan Curbishley Stand as well as the Jimmy Seed. Curbs made over 100 appearances for the Seagulls so it might have seemed fitting that their fans might get to sit in a stand named after someone who played for them, but I think Sandgaard may finally be feeling the anger and growing disillusionment amount Addicks supporters to his continuing mismanagement of the club.

The decision to limit home stand openings in the F A Cup, in particular, has lead to very small home crowds for the Coalville and Stockport fixtures. It's true that we have under-performed and disrespected this competition for long enough now to have done permanent damage, but forcing Covered-Enders and East-Siders (sorry Curbs) to relocate to the sterile West Stand has resulted in very poor attendances and a notable lack of atmosphere. 

In addition to being a money-spinner, I suspect Sandgaard sees the Brighton game as the best shop-window he is going to get in which to encourage someone to take the club off his hands and end his cash-flow problems. Indeed, the sight of Charlie Methven at the Stockport game was both a worry and a sign, perhaps, of much needed change. Methven was renowned at Sunderland for three things;

1) Brokering the deal that sold the club from the American Ellis Short to Stewart Donald.

2) Managing to raise Sunderland's average home gate in League One to over 30,000 in 2018-19 with his Big Seat Change initiatives. 

3) Coming across on Netflix's brilliant 'Sunderland 'Til I Die' series, as a wildly out-of-touch Hooray Henry.

He could, of course, have just been taking in a big game in the capital, but more likely, he was here as part of ongoing discussions with Thomas Sandgaard about numbers one or two. On the basis that his Big Change success at Sunderland, was a form of marketing unknown or disavowed by Sandgaard, and that his chances of repeating it at a club with a fraction of Sunderland's committed fanbase, is next-to-impossible, it looks to me very much like he may be brokering some kind of change of ownership. Worth noting, too, that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus is now the majority shareholder at the Stadium of Light, although Donald remains a stakeholder and, I believe, Methven himself holds 6%. Fingers-crossed then, that we can find new owners and break-out of the current strategic direction which is once again reducing the club to new lows.

Saturday 26 November 2022

A new low

As our season continues to implode and our stock sinks to record lows under Thomas Sandgaard, we have reached that point where there is barely anyone left who cares. Hard to imagine that we could reach this state only two years after Sandgaard was hailed as a saviour and had a fanbase full of pent-up desperation to get back behind their team after four years of complete disinterest from Roland Duchatelet. 

However, he has managed to blow it. Big time. Two seasons of modest ambition have been followed by a change of heart and a decision to cut his losses. Having skimped on the squad in pre-season and having appointed a rookie manager from League 2, the chickens are coming home to roost. The threadbare squad has been exposed and we are now paying the price. Poor on-field performances are now matching the abysmal ones off it and supporters are now voting with their feet and wallets. 

Today's 2-2 F A Cup 2nd Round draw with mid-table League 2 Stockport attracted an embarrassingly low home support of only 2,964 fans. Luckily, there were 925 visiting fans to bring the attendance up to 3,889. 

I haven't felt great this week but waited on some interest from a mate (any) and I would have gone. None came (not a complete surprise) and by Thursday the Meire Tax kicked in, so I decided to stay in the warmth and watch the World Cup. One-down after 3  minutes and the stay-aways were patting themselves on the back. A strong team (credit to Garner) fought back to lead 2-1 but managed to piss on their chips once again by failing to put the game to bed and conceding yet another late equaliser. Our weary team will now face another long midweek fixture where we are likely to get knocked out.

The decision to limit opening of all home areas for the pre-Christmas League Cup tie against Brighton was as baffling as it was disappointing but judging by the home interest for the Coalville and Stockport F A Cup ties, Sandgaard may have called this right. It will mean that a lot of East Standers won't bother but Brighton fans may take their seats and there will, no doubt, still be loads of empty seats in the West and Covered Ends. Our lack of interest or ability in cup games over the last twenty years has certainly not helped maintain any expectations in SE7 and Lee Bowyer did his best to snuff the candle out by not bothering with cups and wanting out at the earliest convenience. However, it's the stultifying gloom of Sandgaard's now vanishing interest that has everyone shrugging their shoulders and staying at home. I really fear for us against Premier League Brighton. 

We need a change, a major change, but it's hard to see where that comes from. This team is short on quality and lacks leaders. Injuries aren't helping but our manager struggles to impose himself and we are wasteful upfront and our game management is poor. I don't see any of that changing in January or this Summer if Sandgaard has not found someone to take his financial problems away before then.

Next time he appears at the Valley I think he is going to hear from what supporters are there and he won't like it. I'd also advise that he avoids the Royal Oak too because he might get his guitar whacked over his head. No-one to blame but himself for the mess he has stubbornly presided over. 

Saturday 19 November 2022

Port Vale 1 v Charlton Athletic 0

If you didn't suffer this match yourself, just think of the worst performances of this season and virtually everything applies - chaotic defence, clueless midfield and nothing upfront. The sideways passing across the defence, even when they had pushed up to half-way, was too much for me. I gave up at half-time and tuned into the egg-chasing. I felt marginally better when Port Vale scored that I didn't witness it for myself.

There really wasn't much to report either. We only managed one chance off-target in the opening forty-five minutes and Alan Curbishley's post-match analysis that the "first half was poor and the second extremely poor" reassured me that I had missed nothing.

Once again I say that this side lacks leadership and a spine. By spine I mean through the side as well as metaphorically. Lavelle and Inniss is a partnership made in League 2 and with Dobson effectively playing as an extra defender, Scott Fraser has far too much to do to even think about creativity. Sadly, Vale doubled up on Blackett-Taylor and Rak-Sakyi, unusually, played like he was suffering the after effects of a night out on the ale.

Jayden Stockley is coming in for a lot of abuse after his latest effort and I get it, but he is effectively alone against two or three central defenders and the balls being thrown up to him have been hit-an-hope, so I cut him a bit of slack.

Ben Garner's post-match comments were very illuminating. Last week our players had run out of gas but this week he decided to tell us what we have long known, that he "expected different when he joined the club....I only had a limited amount of the budget available to me." Whilst some are applauding him for this, I struggle that he has effectively denied any of the suspicions previously and has chosen to wheel this out now when he has run out of other excuses. Sandgaard won't like it but if it's the truth, there is no reason why he couldn't have been much more open about it earlier in the season instead of trying to spin his way out of indifferent performances.

Whilst he said he wasn't making excuses, he mentioned the eight players who are injured as well as the bad pitch. Personally, I thought the side was strong enough to get a result today and couldn't see anything wrong with the pitch. The problem was simply his players, how they had been told to play and their attitude. He also said we haven't been able to rest players because of "the numbers we've got," alluding to "squad depth." This is the manager who said he doesn't like a big squad when we failed to recruit properly in August.

This performance and result feels like those games in the past that cost Adkins and Jackson their jobs. However, I don't get the feeling Sandgaard will do anything yet or for awhile to come. Not because he won't have an itchy trigger finger, having been called out on his recruitment bullshit, but because he won't want to pay Garner off and more for an experienced manager. 

We are where this side belongs (fourteenth) and have to hope they can continue to win a couple when they really need to in order to avoid a relegation fight because I don't think we have the balls if it comes to a fight at the death.

Foe once though, I think we can say not to worry too much about this league defeat because we can now concentrate on the Cups.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Charlton Marketing!

I know I keep saying it, but they keep on doing it! I wish I was a fly on the wall in Charlton's 'marketing' department. Netflix have missed a trick not getting in here to bring us the recurring genius of what we continue to put out. 

Today's stunner is bang on trend. A World Cup themed deal to watch Charlton's next seven games on Charlton TV. Normally £10 a match, if you commit upfront to all seven, they will do it for £70. You heard it here! Still £10 a match but you get to pay upfront! Don't worry if you miss a game, that will only cost you a tenner as well.

Can't help wondering if anyone actually suggested making it a round £50 for all seven, you know, a bullseye? I am holding out hope that someone did but it was shot down in flames as it might reduce revenue!

Saturday 12 November 2022

Burton Albion 3 v Charlton Athletic 3

Today's match at the Pirelli Stadium neatly summarised our contradictions and frustrations so far this season and points to why it may all end in disappointment once again come May.

On the back of some rare Cup success, a thousand buoyant Charlton fans rolled into Burton expecting to see us make quick work of the league's whipping boys who had conceded 37 goals prior to the game. After surviving the initial 15 minute aerial assault, we began to find our feet and play out of defence. Sessegnon was having a good day down our left and Tyreece Campbell was an early willing runner in front of him. Scott Fraser was mopping up Dobsonesque and Rak-Sakyi was loitering with intent on the right. 

Amidst all that, it was Ryan Innis who poked a ball through the Burton defence to let 'striker' Charlie Kirk in on goal. Kirk took a touch and squeezed a left foot shot across Sinisalo in the Burton goal and inside the far post for the lead. Ten minutes later and he had the visiting fans in raptures as he ran onto a Stockley glance and lifted the bouncing ball over the advancing keeper. Two-nil and we were home and dry. Weren't we?

No, this is Charlton and we don't do that. Burton had been closing us down fairly well and getting in crosses with relative ease whenever they got a chance. It was no great surprise then when Deji Oshilaja got on the end of a fine whipped delivery minutes later to thump a header beyond Craig McGillivray, who was starting instead of Wollacott who injured a finger in the warm-up. Oshilaja really relishes playing against us as if he has something to prove.

Burton jumped at their chance and put us under pressure for the remaining seven minutes of the half. We really don't help ourselves either in these situations. We should have gone long ball at 2-0 and forced Burton to defend. Instead, we continued to try to play out from the keeper with Burton loading our bases. The pressure simply invited them on and their equaliser was a defensive disaster. Innis and Lavelle were miles apart with no support in front of them. Burton simply played in from the right and a fluffed clearance fell to full-back Hamer who had time and space to take a touch and volley past McGillivray.

Two-two at half-time and you knew what was coming. We started the second-half with Garner's words ringing in our ears and we pinged the ball around in search of an opening for ten minutes. However, we were not moving it nearly quickly enough and it smacked of an over self-confidence that the goal would simply come. It didn't and when Burton got back on the front foot, our centre collapsed in front of the advancing Victor Adeboyejo who hammered a shot into our top corner.

I was on the verge of a heart-attack for fifteen minutes after this as Burton surged forward seeking to kill the game off - like we should have done at 0-2. McGillivray made a couple of decent stops and turned three or four efforts over the bar. We were hanging on and still ambling forward casually when we got the opportunity. Our substitutions finally got into the game and towards the end we came back into it with Blackett-Taylor now skinning Hamer every time he got a run on him and Chuks threatening in the centre. The equaliser, when it came was another surprise as Rak-Sakyi got in to repeat Kirk's second with a cheeky lob after a fine through-ball from Aneke who had picked-up in midfield.

Inevitably we were hanging on in added time but we did just enough to take a point.

Kirk was probably man-of-the-match for his brace but Sessegnon did the most positive work for me over 90 minutes. It was good to see Forster-Caskey finally make a league game this season although his contribution was minimal. 

I have said it repeatedly but it was glaringly obvious again today - we really lack on field leadership when it comes to the crunch. We often go missing for ten minutes when we need to be making a real impact - like after we have scored or when we have conceded. We also need to develop a better planned tactical response in certain situations. Continuing to try and play the ball out from the back is admirable but when your opposition is in your face and fighting for possession, you really need to go long and force them back in numbers to restrict their ability to press. If your keeper pumps a couple of successive balls downfield, the opposition will quickly abandon the press if they suspect they will be by-passed.

Friday 11 November 2022

Brighton at the Valley!

After all the gloomy predictions about who we would draw in the 4th Round of the League Cup, we pulled out a plum tie at home to Premier League opposition in Brighton & Hove Albion. Hopefully that will give the whole club a lift and we can look forward to an extra bounce in other games ahead of this.

The match will be played week commencing Monday 19th December at the Valley, most likely Tuesday 20th, given we are the only London side left in the competition, there shouldn't be any policing concerns to threaten that. I anticipate a real gate of at least 15,000 that should make for a decent atmosphere.

We have a lot of close ties with Brighton but none closer than our respective fan's mutual support for each other at times of crisis in our respective histories as well as our dual loathing of Crystal Palace. 

Brighton have found their feet again after appointing Roberto Di Zerbi as manager. They have beaten Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal in their last three and are riding high at sixth in the Premier table. In terms of realistic silverware, they must be targeting the League Cup (Carabao) especially as only three of the 'big six' remain in it and Liverpool have drawn Manchester City. 

What we need in the meantime is to improve our league position further before then (win more than lose) and see off Stockport at the Valley to secure a 3rd Round F A Cup tie. That would surely give us incredibly rare Cup Fever and bring the punters back through the gates. 

We can make a start by beating bottom-of-the-table Burton tomorrow at their place. Come on you Reds!

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Cup Temperature

Two cup wins in four days is beginning to raise temperatures. Another couple and it could become a fever.

Yes, we may only be through to the 2nd Round of the F A Cup and the 4th Round of the League Cup. Yes, the latest opposition was only Coalville Town and Stevenage. However, we have gone out of the F A Cup to non-league clubs before and Stevenage are challenging the O's at the top of League Two.

We have been drawn at home to Stockport County in Round 2 of the F A Cup on Saturday 26th November. The draw for Round 4 of the League Cup takes place at 10pm tomorrow night (Thursday).

We have battled hard in the League Cup games and are perhaps a little fortunate to have seen off both QPR and Stevenage on penalties after riding our luck. However, luck is not something we have had in this particular competition. Our record is particular poor, so it really would be something to make the quarter-finals and maybe have a go at a bigger club.

Early days in the F A Cup obviously but we should be looking at seeing off Stockport who are languishing in League Two assuming we field a strong side.

The players obviously deserve credit for battling in these games and winning but Ben Garner has been brave in taking both competitions seriously and fielding strong sides. A marked improvement over previous years when supporters and the club were let down by weakened teams which were invariably shaded out of matches we were capable of winning. Lee Bowyer sticks out for this and his quote that "we weren't going to win it anyway" was just so wrong in many ways. 

Injuries are always a risk but if you don't buy a ticket you won't win. Young Zach Mitchell proved that on Saturday. We have a first-team squad capable of fielding two elevens and a host of U23's who have been stepping up well when called on. 

Thomas Sandgaard might also give Ben a better January window hearing if we are still alive in two Cup competitions come Christmas. He will have taken a financial loss on Saturday and Stockport might not scrape even either, but the chances of a money-spinning tie in tomorrow's League Cup draw and the F A Cup 3rd Round if we see off Stockport become real. 

I have never taken the view that Cup football invariably affects League performance negatively. Winning breeds confidence and can become a habit (just like losing can) and that's why we should always take these games seriously. Let's see if we can roll bottom-of-the-table Burton over on Saturday on the back of this week and can then look forward to challenging the top six again after Port Vale visit the Valley Saturday-week. 

Saturday 5 November 2022

Charlton Athletic 4 v Coalville Town 1

Ben Garner fielded a strong side today and was rewarded for it. The gulf in class was apparent throughout the game and if Charlton had been a little sharper and a tad luckier in front of goal, we might have had seven or eight goals. 

The curse of the centre-halves continued today, when Tyrrell Thomas limped off after 18 minutes and was replaced by Zach Mitchell. Any worries we may have had fielding a 17 year old in only his second first-team match were quickly dismissed. Mitchell put in a man-of-the-match display alongside Lavelle. He was sure-footed, very calm and composed on the ball and he played out like Joe Gomez. 

Dobson kept a check on the visitors and Jack Payne and Tyreece Campbell ran them ragged on the flanks with good support from Sessegnon and Clare. We should have been two or three up before Payne ran in to head home Campbell's cross on 24 minutes. Campbell himself had already forced two good saves from White and not long afterwards, Jayden Stockley should have scored when he got on the end of a fine passing move, only to hit the bar from 20 yards. He wasn't to be denied though and ghosted into the centre of the goal to direct a downward header from Payne's peachy cross to give us some breathing space.

After the restart, Dobson was subbed for Aaron Henry. He may have had a knock but it looked more like he was being given a rest and Henry another opportunity. Henry took time to settle and neither Morgan or McGrandles were having a great game either and the tempo dropped for ten minutes. That encouraged Coalville and on 52 minutes, Ashley Chambers chased a high ball and got between our centre-halves. Lavelle's header was too weak to reach Wollacott and Chambers pounced to lob him and flatter the scoreline. 

The visitors huffed and puffed for five minutes after that but we gradually resumed full control. Aneke came on for Stockley on 70 minutes as we pressed for the third. It took us until the 81st to find it. Jack Payne capping a fine show with a smart turn and low drive across White into the far corner. Chuks repeated the feat in the last minute of normal time when he let the ball run across his body before curling a low shot into the same corner to make the scoreline more respectful.

The Coalville fans had been warmly welcomed this week but the graceless nerds spent the entire game telling us that our support was shit and that the ground a library. That in between going on and on about how massive they were. Rather ironic in the circumstances. Still, job done and we are in the hat for Round Two.

Thursday 3 November 2022

The curious case of Jake Forster-Caskey


Why is Jake Forster-Caskey not getting more of a chance in the first team? It's a question that has being asked increasingly since the season began. 

In a side that has struggled in midfield at times, it seems odd that a player who was a shining light when fit previously and who should be at his prime at 28 years old, is now playing largely in the stiffs. 

Rumours have abounded that he has a contractual clause that triggers a wage increase after so many appearances and that this is being managed to keep costs down. 

You hear these things around the game and I am usually quite sceptical primarily because it makes little sense for a club not to use an important asset purely to save what is typically small beer in the scheme of total playing budgets (figures being touted suggest a difference of maybe £1500 a week). It usually sounds more to me like fans trying to explain or justify a playing situation they don't understand or can't reconcile. If it's at the top of the game and the player has not been performing, then I could maybe get it, but at our level it doesn't add up. Unless of course, the financial situation is so dire it is dominating the playing side of the business.

Interesting then that a Tweet today from someone who claims to be a disgruntled employee putting a bit of detail on the story. They could be muck-raking, of course, but their previous Tweets have had substance, so you have to ask yourself a question. The Club could have moved to quash this but are more likely to say that they "do not comment on commercially sensitive personal matters." Jake himself obviously has a position on it and could also settle it but perhaps he risks breaking his contract and facing dismissal?

He has made five first-team appearances so far, in two League Cup games and three EFL Trophy matches, and appears to be clear of the cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out last season.

Being a cynical old git, I do wonder if his contract extension was part of a Summer rebuild designed to look more substantial than it really was? If it's true that his new deal agreed a clause allowing them to keep his money down by not using him, that really would be disingenuous and shabby.