Having decided against going to Watford because of work commitments, I’ve just blown the morning catching up on Andy Gray and other blog postings/comments. Maybe I’m just feeling cranky as my financial planning for 2008 suffered a serious blow last night as the wrong numbers were pulled out for the Euro Millions. But I can’t remember a more subdued and/or negative reaction from Charlton fans to a signing. Well, not since Nicky Weaver anyway.
There is a danger of taking this ’talk up the positive’ approach, which doesn’t come naturally to me in any event, too far. And I don’t know enough about Gray to suggest with any confidence whether or not he might work out for us. Pardew clearly thinks he is and that has to be good enough, at least before he’s played for us. And what does ‘working out for us’ really mean? It means scoring maybe 10 goals in the 18 games left (if he starts each time of course and not including today, although it seems he is available and so could be on the bench). If he does that our chances of promotion go up significantly and at up to GBP2m he becomes a bargain.
What are the objections to Gray? He’s too old and not good enough for the money; he’s not good enough for the Premiership; we don’t need another forward. My answers would be, in order: don’t know but back the manager, don’t care, and yes we do. My only real concern is whether we fall between two stools in not taking a bigger chance on a better/more expensive forward or using what money we have to strengthen other areas. But just look at the accounts. We should be applauding the board for (probably) putting their hands in their pockets again and backing the manager.
Do we need another forward, especially with Chris Dickson getting ever closer? I think we do; and clearly Pardew did too after the loss of Svetoslav Todorov. Chris Iwelumo has to my mind done a fine job for us to date. He isn’t perfect but does a job. Luke Varney has shown he is a very useful player and a willing worker, capable of playing through the middle or on the flank. What is in doubt is his ability to score the sort of scrappy goals in the box that come naturally to a Kevin Phillips. Chris Dickson clearly can be something special – and nobody wants us to accept any offer for him (unless, conceivably, we secured a 75%-plus sell-on clause and even then it’s a ‘no’ for me) – but isn’t a sure thing yet. Izale McLeod is the real disappointment to date. If he plays with Varney or Iwelumo he has to be the goalscorer and to date it hasn’t happened. With Gray coming in he seems to me to be the one to drop down the order or go if we get a decent offer.
Comparisons are being made of previous signings of forwards at key times. That with Sir Clive are unfair. Mendonca was identified by Curbs as the man he wanted and came in before the start of the season, having time to bed in. He was a bold signing at the time and obviously paid off in spades. Promotion next time around came on the back of Andy Hunt’s goals. Both players were either untried or failures at the top level when we signed them. Neither would go on to score hatfuls of goals in the top division, with injury affecting both. But they contributed massively to us getting promoted.
A better comparison for me is Jim Melrose. Under Lennie we were in the frame for promotion but lacked some goals, with John Pearson (a Charlton hero for me) a good target man at that level but Robert Lee, Mark Stuart etc not the goal poachers we needed. Melrose had a mixed record but brought experience, attitude (I can’t remember which game it was but he gave a master class in one game of winding up his opponent, who eventually lost patience and thumped him, getting sent off), and goals. It was the right move at the right time. Can we please at least hope that Gray does the same?
After all, this afternoon is shaping up to be a very important one, given the fixtures. The league changes too often for results at this stage to be decisive, but Watford v Charlton, Palarce v Bristol City mean that at the end of the day it could either be very tight for second place or much more stretched, with Watford and Bristol City, possibly Stoke too, in much better shape than us. A draw would be perfectly acceptable, given that just about all the top clubs have to come to The Valley. Our season will stand or fall on how we perform at home against these clubs. And Gray could make the difference.