At last it makes sense. I really struggled to understand why the club last season seemed so intent on getting relegated. It’s now obvious that Richard Murray and the board took serious offense at one of the attempted slights by a certain Simon Jordan and decided they needed to ‘have a word’. So they took the decision to nip back down to The Championship, put him and his rabble well and truly back in their place, and then return to where we belong. I appreciate that they cannot publicly confirm the strategy, but we all know the truth – which will be confirmed with our impending promotion.
Many thanks to the controllers of the Championship highlights on ITV. By putting our game on towards the end of the round-up it’s just a little too late to go to the gym. Any excuse will do. One day I will get around to reading the instructions for the video but don’t count on it. And I wouldn’t have missed Warnock’s latest bleat for the world. How desperate is it to try to highlight some supposed handball by Magic, an incident that not one Charlton fan spotted on the night? It’s all very well having a manager who publicly at least defends everything to do with the club and the team and offers biased interpretations of events (including suggesting that Varney was the one guilty of a lunge despite his ending up needing lengthy teatment). Just don’t expect anyone else to take you seriously – and after a while, as Sheff Utd fans found out, it just gets boring.
To more serious matters, namely our chances of promotion – or more accurately what is required of us to ensure that we claim our rightful top-two finish. I suggested before that from now on we might need to win two in three to the end of the season, in order to accumulate the sort of points total that has in the past been needed to secure automatic promotion. New York Addick highlighted the strong possibility that this year could see an unusually low points total getting a top-two finish. May well be right, I just don’t want to rely on it. I’m still trying (not very hard, I’m not that sad) to get hold of a Championship table for say the end of December 2006 to see how many points the top two managed during the run-in as I suspect that they upped their points-per-game average as at the business end of the season the better teams come through.
For now at least I’m going with what I said before: getting second place with 80 points would be exceptional but not impossible, missing out with 85 would be unlucky. So our loose target might be considered 30 points from the remaining 15 games. What I should have added last time around is that the same sort of calculations apply for all the teams we are competing with, so there’s no cause to get depressed just because of what looks like a difficult points target to achieve.
At least with Stoke, Scunthorpe and Palarce we have met what might be the target to all but ensure promotion: winning two out of three. But yesterday’s results were not good for us. West Brom losing was an unexpected bonus, but we could reasonably have expected Stoke, Watford or Bristol City to drop points. I think it’s fair to say that if a team below us overtakes us we have no real chance of a top-two finish. So for our purposes we can forget about Ipswich, Palarce (certainly) and anyone else. That is not to say that these teams cannot get promoted, only that if they overtake us we will not be going up automatically as two teams are not going to overtake the current top four.
This means for our purposes it is down to two out of five for automatic promotion. We have to put aside, for the time being at least, the fact that we are better than the others, or the incongruity of seeing Watford, who were dire against us recently, topping the league (will we come to rue not having buried them?). Given their style of football, Watford and Stoke would not exactly grace the Premiership. But having spent years arguing that football is a meritocracy – usually after some imbibing and in the company of supporters of ‘big’ clubs – and that we were where we deserved to be (ie top 10 in The Premiership), it would be a touch hypocritical to argue that we should end above them. I’ve never been averse to the occasional bout of hypocracy, but (I hope) not usually in the sober, cold light of day.
I don’t think we’d complain if it ends up with us and West Brom getting the top two slots. That leaves Bristol City. Nobody saw them coming, other than those who have followed the career of their manager. I was tempted to write them off after we beat them away, with that result expected to burst their bubble. But it hasn’t happened and, despite a goal difference of 0, with 15 games to go they have as good a chance as anybody. I have mixed emotions about this. A number of friends live in Bristol and I used to go there regularly. Fortunately none of them know anything about football, so there are no bragging rights involved, but any thoughts of a soft spot go out of the window when I recall the delights of getting away from Ashton Gate wearing a Charlton scarf.
There’s one final factor which I forgot to mention. We need to secure automatic promotion before our final game, at home to Coventry. I hope Pardew is aware of this. This is not because there is any fear of the ‘Dowie factor’. Rather it is because I’m a plonker. My partner, Suzanne, has an as yet unredeemed birthday present from me, dating back to last July. I had the ingenious idea of giving her a voucher for an ice cream. It was tastefully done, translated into Italian, with flags and pictures, and printed on photo paper. The point is that she can decide when she wants to have her ice cream and in whichever European city she chooses.
Now there are two ways of looking at this present. Some may say it suggests I’m an incurable romantic to have dreamt up a unique (I think) and personal gift which would bring her such pleasure (yes, I know the idea that someone might enjoy a weekend away with yours truly is a little strange, but that’s the French for you). The more cynical might instead applaud my initiative for delivering a birthday present that amounts to a piece of paper – and still win copious brownie points. After all, chances are we would have gone away somewhere for a long weekend, so what’s been lost?
Anyway, with the next birthday not that far off Suzanne decided it would be Rome and it would be either the first or the second weekend in May. Now she’s usually very good with these things. She likes to book ahead for breaks/holidays – and says she derives pleasure from knowing that they are in the bag and can be anticipated (as is so often the case anticipation being better than reality). Leave it up to me and it’ll be decided the week before and I won’t think about it until I’m on the way to the station. So having had my instructions I dutifully went off and booked flights for Rome – for the first weekend in May. I just didn’t check.
Now in my years of following Charlton I think I’ve been there for all the big ones, including home to Preston (promotion), home to Bolton (avoid relegation), Carlisle away (promotion), St Andrews (play-off final), Chelsea away (avoiding the play-offs), Portsmouth at The Valley, Wembley for the play-off final (I did miss the Ipswich game that sent us to Wembley). The idea that we could get promoted on the last day of the season, at home, and I’m not there is, for me, unthinkable. But then reneging on a weekend in Rome and a birthday present that has been some 10 months pending might just cost me.