Powell, Fortune, Hughes (did he really get on for Hull at the weekend?), Rommadahl, Kitson, Todorov, Hales. Heroes all, even had they done only one thing in their Charlton careers. Let’s hope we add to the list tomorrow night. Because yet one more victory at Selhurst Park would go some way to easing the disappointment of Saturday. A bloody long way in fact. For me Fortune’s equaliser buried the ghost of the wilderness years, so there’s no bad feeling (and it’s a bloody game of football for crying out loud). Doesn’t mean we have to like them though.
It’s all Curbishley’s fault really. For most of my time following Charlton the top flight was a distant dream, with little realistic prospect of ever getting there. The magnificent sojourn under Lennine Lawrence was really the exception that proved the rule. It was great fun but never quite felt right; and it didn’t really count anyway because of where we were playing. But Curbishley raised our hopes and delivered, gave us a little time to get used to drinking at the top table. I miss it, for all the indecent squalor of the Premiership.
So something has to change, because, as has been pointed out, my liver can’t take the fall-out from perpetual disappointment. Either we have to get better playing as we are (that is a call for the manager, although sooner or later the Holland/Bailey central partnership and the choice of wide players will have to change), or we make changes soon, or I get used to watching a middling second-flight team all over again. I can’t rule out the last option but I just don’t feel ready for it (and in any event if we are to be mid-table it makes a case for bringing in the youngsters in order to develop for next season).
Pardew has hinted at changes, talking of some players chomping at the bit and suggesting that as we have options in midfield that might be where we adjust. However, at the risk of someone whose footballing career peaked at the age of 15 and six goals in three games for the school advising people who make a living out of the game, I think looking at midfield is the wrong starting point. It is indeed where we have options, but these options should be framed around what could be the best set-up for the team.
We are lacking in options up front, even with the return of Todorov. Basically, unless we play 4-5-1 (which at least at home we’re not going to) or employ Ambrose as a striker (which I can’t see working, although him playing in the hole is another matter), or wait for a return of McLeod, it’s Gray and Varney with Todorov and Dickson (respectively) as back-ups. I find it inconceivable that Gray and Todorov could play together, given their similar strengths and weaknesses, and hard to see how Varney and Dickson could form a partnership.
Consequently, in my view we have to accept that Gray/Todorov and Varney/Dickson will be in the starting line-up – and choose the style of play and midfield accordingly to get the best out of them. What was depressing on Saturday (albeit a reflection of Wednesday defending in depth) was seeing Todorov having to leap hopelessly for aimless balls forward. To my mind Gray is best employed – as indeed is Todorov - linking up play, while Varney’s strength is running into the channels and using pace to get on the end of intelligent passes.
By implication we need a midfield that has the pace and mobility to get forward and back as a unit and to be able to pass and move. It’s not Pardew’s fault that so far this season he has been unable to call on a player well suited to that set-up, ie Zheng Zhi. And I’m not convinced that we are best served by having Sam and Bouazza in the starting XI. Having two out-and-out wingers can narrow the space for Varney to run into (in turn creating space for mobile midfielders to run into). I wish the pair of them would study the contribution made in the last promotion season by Robinson and Newton. Both did more than their share of defensive work and get forward – and both scored goals. But then had out-and-out goalscorers in Mendonca and Hunt, which put an emphasis on getting good service to them in the box. This time around it is different. Given the forward combination we should be emphasising playing through midfield, not necessarily looking to shore up the middle (ie Holland and Bailey) and relying on wingers who together have not yet delivered the goods this season (not forgetting some excellent crosses from Sam and Bouazza’s goal against Reading).
To follow the argument through, if we have Sam or Bouazza in the side, with Zhi or Ambrose – or both, if Zhi plays in the centre alongside Holland or Bailey – we need to look to full backs to get forward. This suggests Youga and Moutaouakil being first choice. Before the start of the season I thought they would be, allowing for the latter’s initial suspension, but I’m more sympathetic than some with Pardew for bringing in Cranie on loan, especially after the obvious shocker that Yassin had at Preston. However, to quote Fagin, I’m reviewing the situation (ie I’m changing my mind). If we have to play to a system that best utilises our strengths we have to accept some deficiencies. It’s not as if we’re running away with the league as it is.
I thought we had stumbled on this system last season, with the home games against Stoke and especially Palace. With the exception of the two centre-backs (who don’t really count in this context) and Halford we have all the players who embarrassed Palace that night with fast, attractive and intelligent football. I’d like to see more of that.
So, my possible altered line-up – not necessarily for the next game but through the season - would be: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Primus, Holland/Bailey/Semedo, Zhi, Sam, Varney, Gray/Todorov, Ambrose. Subs: Elliot, Semedo/Holland/Bailey, Todorov, Shelvey, Dickson. But quite frankly I don’t care if we pick 11 Harry Cripps tomorrow night if they do the business.
At least I got one laugh on Saturday. I’m beginning to believe that your quality of life can be discerned by what you do on a Saturday morning. In my early years clearly Saturday morning was little different from any other morning. Then my parents bought a couple of shops and Saturdays turned into forced child labour (the only escape being The Valley). This drudgery continued with secondary school, which included Saturday mornings. Then there was university, where at least Saturday morning returned to being like any other (at least it did for philosophy students). This ushered in a golden age when Saturday mornings were spent sleeping it off, drinking more, sleeping, watching TV and other nefarious activities. More recently Saturday mornings have become a mad dash to try to do the urgent things, which if completed opened up the possibility of making a start on the endless list of ‘things which need to be done but are not urgent’. Something’s gone wrong somewhere.
So, this Saturday morning hell was a trip to the supermarket (I do manage to have all the tins of food run out at pretty much the same time; it’s an art perfected over the years). There really ought to be some sort of test for trolley usage at the entrance, with those failing having to take a learner course in the car park; along with a social skills test, ie planting in people’s heads the idea that dawdling in the middle of the aisle, leaving your trolley bang slap in the middle of said aile etc is not acceptable. (Actually my latest pet hate is those people on a train or bus who think it’s OK to take the seat on the outside so that – they hope – no-one can/will sit next to them; well, they didn’t pay for two seats so I try to take up the one next to them even if double seats are available elsewhere.)
Waiting at the check-out and a rather outsized and necessarily lycra-clad woman with a couple of brats behind started loading up her shopping. I kid you not she had the largest bag of really poor crisps that you could ever see, vast containers of Pepsi, other bottled/carbonated drinks, vast plastic loaves of break, and more sugar than Cuba produces in a year. She then turned to one of her offspring: ‘Kylie, go and get some low-fat butter’. I burst out laughing, but I don’t think the woman in question ever made the connection between this and her culinary preferences. One small moment of pleasure in an otherwise disappointing Saturday.