Saturday, 26 December 2009

One Point (Heroically) Gained

There are draws and draws. Last Saturday was undoubtedly two points dropped, with us failing to hold leads of 3-2 and 4-3 against 10 men. Nobody left the ground today thinking anything other than this being a splendid, merited point secured in the face of extreme adversity. Well, Swindon fans might quibble with ‘merited’, but it was nobody’s fault but theirs that they thought the game was over when they went 2-1 up. Like last Saturday, it should have been. But, as we know, football is .... that sort of game. And today was great entertainment, not just for the spirit we showed in playing a game with nine men for more than a half but also for the tactical options it threw up, for both teams. Just how do you play with nine men – and how do you play against them when you have got in front?

For what it’s worth I think Parkinson got it spot on – except for the decision not to substitute Sodje(S) when he was bloodied. And now the spotlight is on Colin Cameron to come up with any previous case of a Charlton team taking something from a game played with nine men for more than a half. I can’t remember one.

The line-up was unexpected, to say the least. We knew we would be without Sam and Mooney, but I doubt that many would have predicted a 4-4-2 line-up which involved Bailey moving back out left, Wagstaff being dropped, and Llera coming in for Dailly. Shelvey came in to partner Semedo in central midfield, with Spring operating on the right, while Sodje(A) got the nod over McKenzie, McLeod and Dickson (all of whom were on the bench) to partner Burton up front.

Whatever the tactical plan was at the start, it went out of the window through the first half as we switched from 4-4-2 to 4-3-2 and then 4-3-1. A messy opening period was notable for Burton squandering a golden opportunity to head us into the lead and then Sodje(S) collapsing after an aerial challenge. It seemed serious from the start, but instead of a bad landing it turned out to be a head wound and a period of more than five minutes of us playing with only 10 on the pitch. Well, at least that gave us some preparation for what was to come. Given that no substitution was made the assumption was that Sam S would return. Indeed, he did, with a bandaged head. So it was less of a case of a rush of blood to the head than an absence of such when he dived into a challenge with both feet off the ground from a set piece. Whatever was going on in his head, I’ve seldom seen a home sending off greeted with such little complaint (of course we booed, but that’s obligatory). It was a straight red and nobody could argue.

The next crucial moment saw Sodje(A) challenged in the box and going down. The referee had a decent view and said no penalty. Seen them given, but not this time. That didn’t stop Burton continuing the debate and picking up a silly yellow card for his troubles. We’d already seen signs of indecision in Swindon’s defence and we exploited them to score an excellent first goal (if I’m honest I can’t remember if we scored before the first sending off or after it, but that’s celebratory red wine for you; and I’m far too lazy to check the club site). A cross from the right was worked back to Shelvey on the edge of the area and he took deliberate aim to curl a beauty into the bottom corner. His return was mixed before the goal, with some misplaced passes, but that moment just underlined the potential. There is something special about a player that gets a half-chance and instinctively makes the most of it.

One up but down to 10 men. Semedo had dropped back to central defence and Spring and Bailey tucked in to keep the shape. But a difficult situation became dire as Burton had one of those Henry moments and got caught. He was almost in but the ball bounced awkwardly and the keeper came out to collect. I thought at first that Burton was given a very poor second yellow for the challenge on the keeper (which really wasn’t a foul), but enough others pointed out that he had instead had a truly daft moment and had used his hand. Out came yellow again and suddenly the game took on a very strange tone. Like Sodje, you can’t say it was real intent; but like Sodje you have to say the ref had no real choice having already booked the guy. Dumb and dumber is too harsh; these things happen. But in the same game, and in the first half...... The ref deserved criticism for giving a free kick against Semedo and for not booking one or two of their guys for persistent fouling on high balls. But however much it hurts for nothing else, having set out his stall by booking Burton first time (and in that at least he was consistent, later booking Basey for a reaction to not being awarded a corner and one of their guys for dissent).

We managed to scramble out the remainder of the first half, but I think we all would have taken a draw at the break. Playing with nine you need to be tight – and lucky, because there’s no way you are going to stop chances being created. Parkinson kept the same (reduced) team for the second half, which was reasonable as long as Sodje(A) would be replaced when his legs had gone, chasing enough hopeless causes. It was all about defending and holding what we had. But instead of a desperate last 10 minutes two goals from Swindon changed the picture. First, a ball in from the right was met by their forward who gave it enough of a touch to send it into the bottom corner, with no chance for Elliot. No need for a change in formation as 1-1 would still have been acceptable, although around this time McKenzie came on to do the running around up front job with fresh legs (although unlike previous substitute appearances it was rather less effective). But with about 15 minutes left another from the right went across the goal and found their guy at the far post to score.

Heads were not surprisingly down, but then the onus shifted. Swindon just wanted the game over and thought it was won. We were bruised but had nothing to lose, so Wagstaff came on for Omozusi and then Dickson came off the bench. Instead of going for the throat Swindon took their foot off the pedal and that allowed us to hope; any set piece or opportunity. With a couple of minutes left that moment seemed to have arrived as Wagstaff got in a low cross from the right and enough bodies followed it in. But instead of a decisive touch the ball was left sitting a couple of yards off the line and was cleared.

With four extra minutes signalled we were just baying for another chance to get the ball in their box and hope for the best. Instead we were treated to the absolute delight of Swindon, who could have surrounded all our players from any set piece, watching as a ball to the far post was turned past their defender by Llera who then applied the deftest of lobs over the keeper. Cue pandemonium and a desperate howl for the final whistle after the resumption.

Llera takes the accolade as man of the match. He came back into the side and found himself with two different partners in the first half, then scored an absolute beauty. Semedo did superbly as well, as did Elliot in stopping what was possible. Basically this isn’t a game for player ratings as all nine deserve full marks. Sodje(S) had a bad moment and will no doubt hold up his hands for it; Burton had one silly moment and one aberration. But sod it, the pain of a stoppage time equaliser against us has just been more than balanced. You cannot beat a last-minute goal to get something out of a game, one in which all concerned on the pitch deserve credit. I just hope their not too knackered for Monday.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Two Points Dropped

‘Eight goals, and I’m still hacked off ...’ I’d have settled very happily for a 1-0 ground out result, but derbies do strange things to players and today was no exception. Conceding two equalisers to a team down to 10 men is bound to stick in the throat, especially with the second one coming in stoppage time. Over the full game we can have no complaints about having to share the spoils. Fact is overall they showed better control and passing than us through the match, with livelier and often quicker players, all of which left our central midfield outgunned, our wingers peripheral, and our defence with a severe case of the jitters. Anyone other than Millwall and you’d say they earnt their point. We failed to impose ourselves on the game. But it remains one we should have put to bed in the second half – and failed to do so; it was also one that we might have struggled to get back into having gone 2-0 down were it not for excellent work by both Mooney and Burton.

You can’t concede two penalties and have a player sent off and feel the ref did you any favours. But he did. He made a mistake and gave a corner which led to their second goal and didn’t even book the guy for the first penalty. Mooney was set to shoot and if it was adjudged a foul should have gone. The two penalties we were given cannot be considered contentious and on that basis we could have gone in at the break 2-1 up against nine men. Whether we would have made two extra men count is another matter. Otherwise I though the ref handled a difficult game quite well, clamping down early on the inevitable clashes, which involved booking both Sam and their guy, and then avoiding the temptation to square things up by giving Sam another yellow when he played the ball out with his boot a little high (and their guy ducking in).

Team selection was not contentious, with the defence picking itself (given the injuries), and the rest unchanged from Stockport. I thought it was a little surprising that Racon didn’t make the bench, which was heavily weighted towards the forwards, with Spring getting the nod.

The early exchanges were scrappy and indecisive, with plenty of niggly challenges, although it was indicative that from the off we struggled to get Sam and Wagstaff in the game. I’m one of Semedo’s biggest fans, but him and Bailey together in central midfield does leave us short of creativity and guile and places an emphasis on getting the wide men going. Today I thought Semedo was guilty too often of aimless balls hoofed clear, and the wingers guilty of not creating the space to make themselves available; too often we failed to keep possession and usually gave the ball away cheaply.

Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Millwall took the lead. It was one of those defensive howlers that happen sometimes. Two guys covering the ball (I think one was Basey) and making a mess between them, allowing their forward a clear run on Elliot. He didn’t fluff it. So, something of a wake-up call, but nothing really changed. Instead it remained mixed and before long the ref had made his gaffe by giving them a corner. It should have been cleared but wasn’t and ended up dropping to someone in a blue shirt (no, I really don’t care who) to put away.

It was starting to look like a crisis, but the saving grace proved to be the ability of Burton and Mooney to make the most of scraps. The ball was worked down the left and fed through to Mooney. He appeared to be about to shoot when challenged and the ref pointed to the spot. Burton delivered one of the best penalties you could wish to see and we were at least back in it. And before the break we had another. This time Sam seemed to be about to shoot and was brought down from the side. The added bonus was the red card and when Burton duly scored again the match had taken a very different complexion, with us going into the break with a spring in our step and a song in our throats.

It didn’t take long for things to get better, with one of the best goals you’ll see at The Valley or elsewhere this season. A cross from the right was nodded down by Mooney and Bailey from the edge of the area shaped and hit a waist-high ball soundly into the net. A couple of minutes later and it was the first chance to kill them off. A cross to the far post somehow was not headed home, by Mooney I think. One more and surely it would be effectively all over. Instead Millwall carried on playing their way and pegged us back, with our extra man counting for nothing. With the game tending to be played in our half it was only their woeful shooting that kept us ahead, but before long one at the near post was superbly saved by Elliot only to rebound to their guy to score.

The onus was back on us and we did indeed score again. We did, because I saw the scoreboard and afterwards the players kicked off from the centre circle. But exactly what happened I couldn’t say. All I know is that there was a scramble and suddenly we were celebrating. A friend said it was a headed own goal and I’ll take him at his word. Surely this time we wouldn’t blow it. But again the opportunity for a two-goal cushion went begging as Sodje(A), who had come on for Mooney (who seemed to fall awkwardly) only had to square it to Burton for a one-on-one but badly scuffed the pass.

McKenzie came on for the ineffective Wagstaff – and had far more of an impact, often looking threatening in a wide left position. And as the clock ran down Spring came on for Sam to tighten things up in midfield. But Millwall continued to press and to cause problems with their movement and after the fourth official had indicated five minutes of added time their guy moved down the right, evaded a couple of challenges, sold Dailly a dummy before squaring it for someone to score at the near post.

That finally proved to be it. Probably a great one for the neutrals but for us it was two points if not thrown away then not taken up. There was no question which set of supporters was happier at the end. ‘What a game’ was the text reply to the final score from my partner Suzanne. Not really.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Don’t think he stood any chance for the goals and did the rest capably. Not his fault.

Omozusi: 7/10. I missed his early games for us and am rather surprised that some fans seem to think his worse than he looks to me. Can’t attribute any of the goals to him.

Basey: 6/10. Some good work and plenty of tackles. But seemed to have a hand in their first and their final two came from down the left.

Sodje(S): 6/10. Won many headers, but you can’t play central defence and concede four and expect a good score. Would be a lower score if I could pin down why they caused us so many problems; just seemed a collective bad day.

Dailly: 6/10. As with Sodje. He’s been outstanding for us this season, but today our lack of pace in some areas seemed to cost us.

Sam: 5/10. The yellow card seemed to bother him; especially in the second half he should have counted for more with our extra man but struggled to find space and use it.

Semedo: 5/10. Nothing really wrong with the covering and protective work, but we simply failed to control midfield and his distribution out of defence was below standard. Not one of his better games.

Bailey: 7/10. Gets the extra mark for the goal, but he too has to be capable for our lack of midfield dominance.

Wagstaff: 5/10. Seldom in the game as an attacking force and did fail to connect well with one good opportunity.

Mooney: 8/10. Intelligent work in partnership with Burton. Neither has great pace, but they worked us back into the game from two down. Should have scored himself though after we had gone 3-2 up.

Burton: 8/10. Made a right nuisance of himself through the game, even when crowded out, and scored the penalties superbly.

Subs: Sodje(A) (5/10 – had one big moment which could have sealed the game and made a mess of the pass); McKenzie (8/10 – out wide but got involved and went past players, looked good); Spring (not enough time for any mark).

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Enjoying It? Not Likely

I’ve heard a fair bit recently from others saying they are enjoying this season more than any other for some years, including the last few in the Premiership. Personally I can’t go along with them; in fact I think they’re barking. It’s not about airs and graces, thinking we are in any way too good for the third flight (although I still tend to feel that – Leeds, Norwich and Southampton excepted – when we win we’ve beaten rubbish and when we don’t what on earth went wrong to lose to that lot?). Nor is it about entertainment value, or the quality of the football. Being a simple sort of soul I’ve never felt bad about a Charlton win and never better than resigned after some defeats. It's not even about getting less media coverage than even Scottish football for crying out loud (and I preferred the Sunday morning highlights show rather than being treated as a necessary afterthought following Match Of The Day).

For me it’s all about just how bloody important for us getting promoted is. We all know how crucial each of the last three seasons has been. One bad season in the Premiership was enough to change our world, with hindsight we had one decent shot at going back up (and blew it), and getting relegated from the Championship turned a financial crisis into a full-blown disaster. We’ve now got one real shot at going back up and if we fail to take it we pretty much know the consequences. If we go up, next season, as Richard Murray indicated at the recent Q&A, is hardly going to be a cakewalk. It seems we’d have a decent chance of keeping much of the current squad and on that basis of being able to compete, but – barring takeover of course – there’s going to be no thought of anything more and no suggestion of money to spend (hardly surprising given the current plight of Watford, Palace etc). Fail to go up and I would imagine most of those out of contract will be encouraged to walk and everyone else moves up a rank. It will of necessity be a long-term recovery plan based around home-grown talent.

I’ve started and built a couple of (small) businesses. But I’ve never had to deal with the consequences of running a company which has seen its turnover drop from £41.9m to £23.6m in three years, with the prospect of a fall to around £10-11m in the current year (largely through the loss of the Premiership parachute payment). I can’t think of another industry where this would not result in one of bankruptcy, takeover by another company in the same business (for next to nothing), or of course a state bail-out (I’m ready to take on anyone who might suggest that Charlton is not systemically important). In these circumstances it can look truly astonishing, and laudable, that there have been decisions taken (the academy, offers for players) which have involved not selling anything that could be moved.

Of course, there is common interest in going for broke (sorry, promotion) this year, given the alternative. There was a price to pay and the directors have stumped up; hopefully the decision pays off, in terms of the value of the asset at least. In the early years of my main business I became accustomed to the accountant’s notes to accompany the annual accounts. Usually something along the lines of justifying treating the company as a going concern even though the balance sheet and P&L looked like Dubai on a good day (in relative terms). Not surprisingly the Charlton Athletic plc annual report for 2006 contained no note about being a going concern. That for 2007 saw the inclusion of a note to the effect that additional working capital, player disposals and “facilities” from the group’s bankers “in the opinion of directors allow the group to continue its normal day to day activities for the foreseeable future”, justifying the ongoing concern approach. The note was repeated almost verbatim in the 2008 accounts. For 2009 we have an assessment that “ongoing support from directors and banks that in conjunction with the potential to raise funds through future player sales” allows the accounts to be prepared on a going concern basis, which sounds a little like a pledge to sell.

Basically we are at present only different from Chelsea and Man City in terms of the size of the bankrolling of the club by directors (and of course their ability to continue to provide the readies). I still have a slight query over why the fresh investment by the directors was in the form of loans rather than equity. This isn't to suggest that the equity has any value in the event of a takeover (clearly it doesn't), but unless there are practical considerations against issuing new shares the only good reasons for making it debt would seem to be the remote possibility that at some stage in the future the interest would be paid and to possibly ring-fence the money and get something back in the event of a takeover. Corporate bonds held by directors and related companies are secured against the group's assets - ie The Valley - as are bank loans and overdrafts (we may say the club owns the ground but in truth effectively the directors as individuals and the bank do). Bottom line is if they do good luck to them, they've earnt it.

The figures for the year to end-June 2009 underline that if we get promotion turnover next season could amount to perhaps £11-13m against say £9-10m if we don’t (assuming another drop in season ticket sales and matchday revenues, plus some difference in TV money in the Championship). Might not sound like much of a difference, but clearly the closer proximity to the promised land (the Premiership) increases the value of the club, would probably ease relations with the bank, and would make achieving a breakeven position significantly easier. Let’s not forget that Murray indicated at the start of last season that running a breakeven position was pretty much the goal – and we ended up with a net loss of £8m. In addition to probably not being able to cut running costs sufficiently I would imagine that the influx of loan players – in the desperate bid to avoid relegation – plus Pardew’s severance costs contributed to the overspend.

I can’t imagine that even with all the cuts made we will avoid a material loss this year (that is after all the message from the fresh investment by the directors) and I would doubt if there’s the stomach for another significant cash injection from the current board if we fail to get promoted. Of course player sales can alter the figures, most obviously Shelvey (especially if he is unable to carve out a role in the current favoured 4-4-2 formation); so can cup runs, but we’ll gloss over that possibility at least until next season. But surely it is a case of promotion and we can just about manage; failure to go up and it really is time to cut our cloth accordingly.

Given this backdrop, I don’t mind admitting I’m really struggling to actually enjoy games this season. Time enough for that when we are on an even keel. I love it when we knock in a couple and would love it more if we added a further couple, as this would mean the points in the bag long before the final whistle. And I don’t give a monkey’s if we grind out 1-0 wins every game to the end of the campaign (or at least until we are promoted). Curbs attracted far too much criticism from some for placing little weight on entertainment value. There’s going to be none from me this season at least every time we get points – especially on Saturday.

Monday, 14 December 2009

End Of The Road For The Kids

The daily email from the club provided a timely reminder that there was the FA Youth Cup game tonight at The Valley. Having foregone the delights of Stockport (it’s bad enough for any place to be an offshoot of a larger town, but being next to Manchester?) duty called, despite the absence now of a train from Blackheath to Charlton when you need one. It was after all the last chance to enjoy a trip to The Valley this side of Christmas.

The young Addicks lined up with Binks in goal, Cousins and Morris as the full backs, Mambo and Jenkinson in central defence, with a midfield of Bellamy, Warren, Pell and Carter and Tuna and Perkins up front.

The early exchanges set the pattern for much of the game, with Chelsea comfortable in possession and moving the ball around, with Charlton initially at least it seemed placing a priority on containment. We had to work hard to get the ball and tended to lose it quickly, the exception being good work down the right by Bellamy, often assisted by Cousins. But aside from the odd dangerous cross we weren’t unduly stretched – save for one of those moments when Mambo took one for the team, getting in the way of a fierce shot on a cold night which made everyone in the crowd wince. We had the first real chance, courtesy of the Chelsea keeper. Obviously uncertainty at the back when dealing with high crosses is something they teach them from a young age, as he spilt a cross only for the shot to be blocked.

Chelsea’s delivery from set pieces always looked threatening, however, and on the half-hour the deadlock was broken. A wicked ball in saw Binks caught in no-man’s land and one of their defenders got the flick to send it into the net. If the keeper took a little of the blame for that one he was to be faultless for the remainder of the match, making some decent saves and one outstanding one to turn a shot round the post. By contrast their keeper was keeping our hopes alive, almost making a hash of a backpass to let us in shortly after and then in the period just before the break dropping another cross from a corner, resulting in two blocked efforts on goal. And just on half-time we created the chance to draw level, with Tuna played through. However, this time the keeper was out smartly to smother the shot and what was to prove to be our best chance until late on went begging.

Not squaring the game before half-time by one means or another was to prove pivotal as if anything Chelsea took more of a grip in the second half. Their two wide men created chances and their abundance of possession made it difficult for us to apply any pressure. Azeez came on for us for the second half, replacing Carter, with Tuna dropping deeper, while not long into the second half Morris was to pick up a knock and was replaced by Anderson, with Cousins switching to left-back. Aside from a curling Pell shot we seldom threatened, while Chelsea could have extended their lead as an attempt to catch them offside went awry and their centre-forward found himself with only Binks to beat, only to put it wide. And just when it seemed we might gear up for a barnstorming attempt to take the game to extra time Chelsea did score again. A quickly taken short corner was whipped in and the ball broke to said centre-forward, who this time scored.

That seemed to be it, but after Jordan had come on for Warren and the game moved into stoppage time we did manage to pull one back. A corner broke to the edge of the box and Cousins got onto the loose ball, kept the shot controlled and with a deflection it found its way into the net. Five minutes earlier and things could have been different, but there was almost no time left and, as on Saturday, the final whistle blew to leave the home team frustrated.

Certainly no shame in the defeat against a very well organised young Chelsea side, one which managed to drain the life out of our lads for much of the game, especially with a capable defence (when the keeper wasn’t involved). For me special mention in dispatches would go to Cousins (beaten once or twice, but looked the part at left and right-back and scored the goal), Binks (exemplary aside from their first goal and kept us in the game), Jenkinson (who led by example) and Bellamy (who was instrumental in most of our best moments in the first half). Like the first X1, that’s the annoying and distracting cups out of the way now, nothing to divert attention away from the real stuff, resuming Saturday.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Another Professional Performance

Not one to stir the blood, but on a wet and rather low-key afternoon we did what was necessary. Southend will probably feel aggrieved to have come away empty-handed, having often dominated possession. And some around me were talking of us having ‘got out of jail’. I didn’t see it that way. Southend had the physical advantage over us all over the pitch and only in patches did we pass the ball well enough to threaten to put them away. But we were in front for most of the match and were reasonably comfortable through the second half in particular, with their main threat coming from set pieces. These were dealt with admirably for the most part by the defence and if the win wasn’t comfortable and we really didn’t fire on all cylinders it was just about deserved.

The line-up saw Richardson return at right-back – a decision which may have backfired as he was unable to continue in the second half, Omozusi coming on at the break - and Basey continue on the left, with Youga still out injured. The vacant spot in the centre of midfield caused by Semedo’s suspension was taken by Racon, while Wagstaff started again wide left, with Sam on the right (and unlike against Brighton they didn’t swap positions through the game), and Burton and Mooney continuing together up front. The rest of the team picked itself, with Bailey continuing in the centre – and being the subject of sustained abuse from the Southend fans, who seemingly still bear a grudge about him decamping to us.

The early play was scrappy and Southend had more of the play, with their front two happy to drop deep to pick up possession. In that role they were effective through the game; when it came to putting the round thing in the netty thing they were pants. The first decent chance fell to us, with the ball worked down the flank and played in to Mooney, who didn’t make the most of his chance. The shot was blocked and ran on to Burton and then to Racon, both of whom failed to convert. Then it was their turn, with what proved to be their best opening all afternoon. Defenders were drawn to the right side and when the ball was squared one of their number was alone in the box, with time to kill. Instead of burying it first time he cut inside to make a better angle and allowed Elliot to make an excellent save.

We were lacking fluidity, with Racon struggling to get into the game and two wingers not getting any decent service. But it wasn’t long before we took the lead. Sam was once more the provider, playing a ball in from the right that seemed to be going through tamely to the keeper before Burton nipped in with a vital deflection. Burton was to go on to give a demonstration of the art of how to play as a target man and an outlet against bigger defenders, often (sometimes legally, sometimes craftily) keeping us on the front foot by ensuring that their centre-backs were unable to make telling headers clear. The goal proved to be the catalyst for our best period of play, with Racon coming more into it and the passing and movement improving. A couple of half-chances went begging, although Southend always seemed a threat from set pieces, especially with Racon in particular giving away a number of free kicks (which eventually saw him pick up a yellow card).

At the break it seemed far from a classic, but there was enough encouragement for us from uncertainty in their defence, if only we could raise the game and get better service to the wide men and get more of a grip on midfield. But for entertainment value the second half was disappointing. We seemed content to play on the break and seldom threatened, quite content with defending a 1-0 lead, which gave Southend ample possession. But with the defence well organised and they did all their best work outside the box and aside from a couple of shots from free kicks - including on in a dangerous position which their guy put over the bar, only for the ref to take exception to something and book their player before making him retake it, with the same outcome, and one which saw Bailey pick up a yellow - I can’t remember them having any chances. Elliot dealt well with the crosses that came in, while Sodje(S), Dailley, Basey and Omozusi had excellent games.

Sodje(A) came on for Mooney, who had a decent game but failed to convert his one real chance, while later Spring replaced Racon to see out the game. By the last 15 minutes we were content with what we had and saw out the rest of the game reasonably comfortably. Another professional and committed display on a wet afternoon, which coming on the back of the win at Brighton (and with victories for Norwich and Colchester too) nobody should be complaining about.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. One excellent save in the first half and thereafter he dealt with everything he had to. Actually a faultless performance, but to get a 10 they would have had to have had more shots on target.

Richardson: 7/10. In retrospect he clearly must have been struggling with the injury and was replaced at half-time. Hope he hasn’t put back his return to full fitness.

Basey: 8/10. Excellent work at the back. Not much going forward, but it wasn’t that sort of game. Like all the other defenders he was up against physically stronger opponents, but only once (when in the first half he was outpaced by their guy going forward) did he come off second-best.

Sodje(S): 8/10. Probably just about man of the match for me. Powerful headed clearances and basically he and the others ensured that Southend had very few opportunities to score inside the box.

Dailly: 8/10. As with Sodje, telling interceptions and an intelligent and effective game.

Wagstaff: 6/10. One or two good pieces of play, but generally struggled to get involved. It was significant that Sam had an equally mixed game but he was involved in just about all our telling moments.

Bailey: 7/10. Tough game, given their muscle in midfield. Stood up well to the task, as you’d expect.

Racon: 6/10. Not the best of returns, with frustration sometimes getting the better of him as they knocked him off the ball. Was instrumental in our best period, but had little opportunity to dictate the play.

Sam: 7/10. Often frustrating and often a little static when we needed to create space. But again, our best moments involved him.

Mooney: 7/10. Decent enough game, caused them some problems, although with neither he nor Burton blessed with great pace we perhaps didn’t put their defence under enough pressure. If we had more goals would surely have come as they looked far from assured at the back.

Burton: 8/10. Excellent exhibition of how to lead the line against difficult opponents. Scored the goal and was a thorn in their side all afternoon.


Omozusi (8/10; let no-one down in the second half and seems to be improving with each game); Sodje(A) (6/10: failed to have an impact on the game, although by the time he came on we were not going forward much; it is his last appearance for us?); Spring (7/10: came on and did an effective job to see out the game).

Monday, 30 November 2009

What Are They Trying To Do To Us?

Just what are they trying to do to us? Are they oblivious to the fact that the Christmas period traditionally has the highest suicide rate of the year? Or are they perhaps cunningly trying to encourage a culling of the old guard, to pave the way for a new generation of fans undamaged by the events of recent years?

According to the club site, the DVD of the past two seasons (‘The Championship Years’) will finally see the light of day and be dispatched to those among us who stumped up in a couple of weeks – just in time for the ‘festivities’. It was always going to be one to either be filed unopened to keep the series complete, or to save for a truly exceptional evening. After all, it’s not going to have the usual ebb and flow of a normal DVD, following an elaborate plot through to the uplifting or thought-provoking denouement. This one’s going to be something equivalent to Death In Venice: no tension, no final twist, just a steady descent from false optimism, through the despair of dashed hopes, through to unremitting gloom and final resignation. I just hope there are suitable warnings on the packaging; after all, this thing could turn up unexpectedly in Christmas stockings.

The best idea to date is for a number of us to gather, having first sorted out any personal affairs, with a sufficient stash of booze and pills. While still compus mentis we can compile a suicide note and send it off to Dowie, Pardew and a selected top 10 of the most useless or greedy gits that took the field in the two seasons. Just don’t be surprised if the DVD makes the nationals for the second time: ‘Club Highlights Sparks Mass Suicide’.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Random Thoughts On A Quiet Weekend

With a few extra days for the team to prepare for Brighton (thanks fixture compilers, instead of one of the best away outings of the season we’re squeezed into a midweek fixture which for me is impossible to make), there’s the chance for a little reflection on the season to date, fixtures, team issues etc.

Undoubtedly before the season started we would have been absolutely delighted to take second place about a third of the way in. Of course things will fluctuate and no-one can say for sure how the campaign will pan out. But as things stand this period, plus the welcome absence of player sales, means we can say that anything less than automatic promotion will be a real disappointment (as Richard Murray pretty much said on Thursday night), a play-off spot would be the minimum acceptable, and anything less (including not winning the play-offs) would be a disaster.

Of our current nearest challengers for second spot, I would imagine that most would agree with the notion that Norwich are the biggest threat (especially if their start is taken out of the equation). We all have a soft spot for them, it’s one of the best away trips, so them going up in the play-offs would be a decent outcome. This doesn’t look like a league where teams often go on storming runs; the games come too thick and fast and generally there’s not the difference in quality that means a team can often win at a canter. Southampton aside, even this early it’s hard to see a team coming through from the lower half. Leeds are not yet a shoo-in, but signing three loan players this week looks a pretty fair indication of their intentions to cement their position. Perhaps we have to hope for a Premiership bid for Beckford to unsettle him.

So far this season I haven’t bothered about how other teams are faring, but perhaps now’s the time to consider the results of Norwich, Huddersfield, Colchester and MK Dons as almost as important, and to look at the fixture list (another thing I’ve barely done). On the former, aside from Norwich Huddersfield’s home record worries me (seven wins and two draws out of nine, 28 goals scored), Colchester’s strike force as we found out is a concern (although as indicated on Thursday it’s always possible a certain Lisbie will return to Ipswich). Otherwise, most of the teams I’ve seen this season appear limited (and sometimes downright awful).

League games are seldom unimportant, but looking at the fixtures it seems to me that the next 11, to end-January, provide us with at least the opportunity to cement a top-two spot. Home games against Southend, Millwall, Swindon, Hartlepool, Orient and Tranmere, plus away at Brighton, Stockport, Brentford, Walsall and Wycombe are all on paper winnable (of course there will be hiccups). This is the cold, hard slog part of the season, but it’s one where we should be pulling away, if we are to go up. After that it looks more tricky, with especially the away trips tougher (Swindon, Bristol, Southend, Millwall, Huddersfield, MK Dons, Southampton), while Colchester, Norwich and Leeds come to The Valley for the run-in. So, a re-run of the last promotion campaign could be on the cards if we really turn the screws over the next couple of months – although I could do without a repeat of the limping over the line.

It is strange how the team and the tactics have evolved/changed. Killer noted in the Bristol programme that he favours 4-4-2 – and given the comings and goings that may now be the case. Previously, with only one reliable striker and a powerful midfield it was in my view a different picture. It’s also strange that having not made an enforced change for the first 10 games, when the team just about picked itself, I don’t think we’ve since fielded an unchanged side. Of course it’s been down to injuries and suspensions, but the bringing in on loan of Mooney and Sodje(A), plus the purchase of McKenzie, have altered the range of options. We started the season with what looked like a capable and stable defence (albeit one short of cover in the centre and short of pace), a powerful and settled midfield five, and little choice up front. The defence has recently had to be patched up with loan signings due to injuries, but the bringing in of additional forwards and the switch to 4-4-2 have left the midfield now a more open area.

I doubt whether there has been a situation at the club similar to the one now for forwards. On the books we have Burton, Tuna, McKenzie, Dickson, Fleetwood and McLeod. One (Tuna) is still learning his trade, two (Dickson, Fleetwood) are out on loan, quite possibly never to return, one (McKenzie) has been injured, and McLeod would be off if we get a half-decent offer. So out of six actual Charlton forwards only one can be viewed as likely to feature in our strongest side. The two loan signings can be considered next in line after Burton, at least until McKenzie is available, and while Mooney has signed up for another month we quite frankly have no idea who will be with us and available come January. I guess there’s the transfer window to clarify the picture; in the interim we make use of whoever is around. In an ideal world January would see two or three forwards on our books passed on and the two loan signings made permanent, but who knows how it will turn out. We could see Dickson return and nobody wanting any of the others, in which case it’s hard to see Mooney or Sodje staying, especially if they cost money.

The defence still picks itself if all were available. Elliot seems set to return for the Brighton game, with Randolph having to make sure he is ready if needed despite having been passed over in favour of the now departed Ikeme. Richardson with Solly as back-up as right-back, Youga with Basey on the left side. It’s tough on Solly to miss his chance this time around – and tough on Omozusi to come in and be first choice from the start (even when dropped for Tuesday he had to come on to replace Youga). I thought he deserved plaudits for sticking at it against Bristol and getting better as the game went on, but presumably until Richardson is available Parkinson’s first choice now is to switch Youga to the right. Dailly (my player of the season to date) and Sodje(S) are the incumbents, with Llera ready to step in (and Youga, Semedo or Basey capable of playing in the centre of defence if really necessary). It’s a bit patched up at the moment, but nothing fundamentally wrong and, barring further injuries, it would be surprising to see anything done in the transfer window. Let’s not overlook that there’s no guarantee that Moutaouakil won’t return (and cost more money) if nobody else wants him come end-February.

The five-man midfield had for much of the early part of the season a fluidity and goalscoring potential that was a delight (I hope the season’s DVD shows the full five minutes that culminated in the second goal against Brentford). Of course we always at least needed a Plan B (which until recently meant McLeod) and I’m not quibbling about the change of formation. The personnel available have changed, at least temporarily. Both Shelvey and Racon could have been due a rest, but 4-4-2 means no place in the hole at least for Shelvey and Racon has not been at his best in a two-man central pairing. The switching of Bailey to the centre of midfield has reinvigorated him, but there’s always a downside. Wide left hasn’t worked for Racon and Shelvey looked out of sorts there on Tuesday. Also, I would imagine that Spring is less than pleased at being overlooked when it was decided a change was needed. Bottom line is with 4-4-2 we haven’t yet found an ideal midfield four and the current set-up involves the exclusion or marginalisation of two players who at their best would be in the first team (of course it’s all about how the team functions and if that means they’re out so be it).

Given all of these issues and recent changes, it is perhaps surprising – and a testament to Parkinson and his team – that we are where we are in the league. He has made changes when he felt necessary. I just hope that players at the club who may be feeling a bit piqued at the moment – Randolph, Llera, Spring, Racon, Shelvey, McLeod – show the right attitude. Everything Llera says and does suggests confidence in him at least on this front (which is not to suggest in any way that the attitude of others is different). We have had enough of prima donnas over the past few seasons and there will be no forgiving anyone who throws his toys out of the pram given our situation.

We are overdue an away win and most of us I guess will be expecting three points from Brighton. Of course we love turning The Valley into a fortress, but if anything we’ve had most of the breaks at home and not away. Six away winless since Tranmere, but at least three could have been won (we will draw a discreet veil over Colchester and Carlisle). Time to start the run through December and January that provides the real platform for promotion.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Night The Addicks Scored Nine

Following on from last night’s Richard Murray Q&A, and inspired by a couple of comments from the subsequent post that suggest I’m not the only living Addick with a recollection of a particular night back in May 1967, I thought I’d do some searching into the equally chaotic archives of my mind and my programme collection to see if I could dig out details of ‘the night the Addicks scored nine’. Happy to say I found the programme – and also the programme of the March 1965 game at home to Bolton Wanderers that was being played in the North Stand lounge last night.

My only recollection of the friendly against Apoel Nicosia (now about to end their campaign this season in the Champions League), which according to the programme was the first played in England by a team from Cyprus, was that the visitors displayed all the commitment of some team which more recently apparently travelled north for the first round in the FA Cup (although as per the comment they did indeed go on to play against Arsenal a few days later and must have been a little better prepared to have secured a 1-1 draw). I remember that by the end Charlton players were pretty much queuing up to score. The rest is down to the programme, price 6d, which contained suitable ads for Mosaic Cyprus golden sherry and one from the Cyprus Trade & Tourist Centre (Cyprus: “a new country with enormous potential for future development”; well, this was all before a certain rift).

In those halcyon days before squad numbers, the line-up was ‘as printed in the programme’: Wright, Bonds, Kinsey, Gregory, King, Appleton, Glover, Tees, Firmani, Campbell, and Peacock. The first half must have been at least vaguely competitive as we were only 2-0 up at the break, when White replaced Wright in goal and Green came on for Firmani. But by the finish Peacock had a hat-trick, with a brace each for Glover and Campbell, and goals from Firmani and Green. 9-0. Will it ever happen again? Or indeed have we ever scored 10 or more in a any other friendly?

According to the programme, it seems that our visitors were already no strangers to the European Cup/Champions League, having first competed in 1963. The programme, diplomatic as ever, notes that after defeating GJovik of Norway in the qualifying round they came up against Sporting Club of Lisbon, who were to go on to win the trophy that year, and that the “tremendous task” proved “too much” for Apoel (a quick check on Wykopedia reveals that the aggregate score was 1-18). It notes somewhat chillingly that that the club was sponsored by the Greek Cypriot Brotherhood, which I’m sure was an entirely altruistic organisation (although a further check on the club’s history does reveal that one of their track and field athletes was indeed hanged by the British during the uprisings of the 1950s; other more recent notable events have been their being disqualified from UEFA competitions in 1986 as they were drawn against Turkey’s Besiktas and the Cypriot government prohibited them from playing).

As for us, the programme – in addition to a splendid reference to the Charlton supporters as being “the finest in Britain” – gives a thumbnail sketch of some overseas tours by the club. In particular there is reference to a four-week tour of Canada and the USA in 1937, when 13 games were played in four weeks of which 12 were won and the other drawn, with 72 goals for and only 9 against (so by the law of averages perhaps there was a double-digit victory then). For that tour it seems the Charlton contingent travelled on the Empress of Australia liner, something of a contrast with a 1953 trip to Rome for a match against Roma (lost 4-2) as apparently on the return Bobby Ayre managed to get himself locked in the lavatory.

The 1966/67 season itself for us was I guess just another one of those indifferent campaigns in the old Second Division which ended with us celebrating having avoided relegation (we won the final two games, although looking at the table we would have just survived even if we had lost them). Under Bob Stokoe we managed 13 wins and 9 draws in the 42-game season, finishing 19th. The season had seen the return of Firmani, who was to take over from Stokoe after five games of the next season, which did pave the way for that glorious 1968/69 season when we came close to promotion, before normal service was resumed the following year (Theo Foley taking over after Firmani was sacked, finished third from bottom).

As for the Bolton game that was being shown last night, I have the programme so I may well have been there. But the video failed to stir any memories. Well, we did lose (3-1) and selective memory is a wonderful thing (Northwich who? I was out of the country – like it seems most of the directors – and have already erased it.). Perhaps if I’d stayed to watch Mike Kenning get our consolation goal it would have come flooding back. I’m not going to say how old I was then as that would be giving the game away; suffice to say acne was still a distant dream.The team was: Rose, Bonds, Kinsey, Hewie, Haydock, Tocknell, Kenning, Kennedy, Matthews, Peacock and Glover (with of course no subs then). The programme notes call for a “strong pull” from the supporters and the team against a strong Bolton side that had been relegated from the top flight the previous season (and were to go on to just miss out on a quick return, finishing third). It contained an account of the previous game, away at Southampton, noting that the story of the match was “not a happy one” (we lost 4-0). But there was special mention for an 18-year-old Billy Bonds, who had made his debut the match before (a 1-1 draw at home to Northampton).

With another flurry of recent loan signings it made me chuckle to see how it sometimes worked in those days. The programme made reference to a Stewart Scullion having signed amateur forms for Charlton, but that as his club, Chesham Utd, were fighting for promotion from the Athenian League Stewart “cannot be spared most Saturdays” but would “assist us as often as possible”. Bless. As there’s no mention of a Scullion in The Valiant 500 I guess he didn’t go on to assist us that much (wasn’t there a Scullion in Porterhouse Blue?). There is also mention of a certain 20-year-old Keith Peacock, who “studies accountancy in his spare time” and “has a big future as a footballer”.

The 1964/65 season, the last under Frank Hill, saw us finish in the lofty position of 18th but just two points above second-bottom, with 13 wins and 9 draws (a pattern emerging?). I do remember the FA Cup matches against Middlesbrough, with Mike Bailey (who that season became only the second Charlton player since the War to win a full England cap) breaking his leg. I have the scrapbooks to remind me, as well as a poster of the squad for that season hanging on the kitchen wall.

So there you have it. Tales of managers getting sacked and relegation struggles. It’s all getting contemporary again and with a bit of luck next season will see us back to scrapping for points in the second flight. Before then, it’s worth noting in light of the treat that’s in store for us in December that the highest crowd of the 1966/67 season was 29,529 - for the visit of Millwall.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Murray Q&A: Job Well Done

Tonight’s Richard Murray Q&A was a triumph, in that an appreciative audience was treated to honest and candid answers (where possible) to all questions, plus the appropriate mix of asides and anecdotes. There is always the issue of at least an element of confidentiality in these gatherings, not because of any sense of ‘privileged information’ but because the last thing you want is for people to feel they have to be guarded about what they say. Murray asked for no verbatim reporting, which is just as well as I’m far too lazy a git to take notes (and as can be gleaned from match reports there would be the human error component). So overall impressions will have to suffice from me at least.

Before that, the evening was topped and tailed by more surreal elements. In the North Stand lounge the TV was playing a recording of a Charlton match in March 1965 versus Bolton. The pitch had obviously been covered in snow and ice not long before the game, which had melted in some places and not in others, leaving a quagmire mix of mud, large puddles, and patches of ice. We were losing 1-0 when I arrived and I’m that sad that, even watching a video of a game played nearly 45 years ago, I felt downhearted when our efforts to equalise before the break came to nothing and we gave away a penalty (which even allowing for the conditions was about as stonewall as they come). Checking the records we went on to lose 3-1. If this was a PR stunt to remind all and sundry how far we have come it was a masterpiece (but should have been rounded off by turning on the floodlights to show the ground now in all its glory). Then on the train back I picked up an evening freebie and looked at Chelsea’s group in the Champions League. In the pub before the Bristol Rovers game we were chatting to some of their fans and after Wigan’s defeat it was asked if we have ever seen our team score 9. “I have”, I piped up; Apoel Nicosia in a friendly, 9-0, I still have the programme (I think). And there they are. In the Champions League. Oh, the swings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

The meeting itself had very much the air of a valedictory. Murray talked a fair deal about legacy and whether it’s been a job well done. That may have been encouraged by most of the early questions being about finances and a takeover, but it was clear, if it hadn’t been before, that Plan B and not Plan A is to continue as we are. Just for the record, in my view there is no question that Murray deserves the accolade of being Charlton’s finest ever chairman and that the board collectively over the past 20 years have been admirable. The mistakes made have hurt them as much as any other fans. Equally, if that sounds like a verdict on a chapter of the club’s history there was nothing said at the meeting to work against that impression.

On finances, the salient points I think were that if we are promoted and not taken over we would be broadly stable in the Championship, but forget about any ideas of significant new signings (at least in net terms). The goal as things stand is to get back and stay in that league (although of course nothing can ever be that cut and dried), where we could operate and hopefully compete (my words). We haven’t cut our cloth for this league and if we’re not promoted players would have to be sold (how many understandably depending on whether one or two attracted big money). It was noted that we have 14 players out of contract at the end of this season; reading between the lines going up and keeping the bulk of the current first team squad would be the realistic objective. No surprises, but a salient reminder of the reality of the situation. What was dismissed as unreal was the contents of The Mirror’s recent piece (other than an acknowledgement of the damage that such reports can have when the calls from creditors come in the next morning).

On a takeover, nothing specific was asked and Murray was understandably guarded when individuals were named. Irrespective of today’s news regarding Dubai, it was clear that that would have been a very welcome deal for the board (although naturally where that would have left us today is entirely hypothetical). There was no impression that there is any offer for the club on the table (which could I guess be inferred from the meeting going ahead), or one imminent, but of course that can change.

On the management, it is clear that Parkinson has the full support of the board and that, as came across from previous meetings, Murray feels far more comfortable (in a positive sense) with him than Pardew or Dowie. Let’s face it, the value of their asset is in his hands.

On the players (past and present) most of what was said should remain unwritten, especially the entertaining bits (for what it’s worth, the Bristol Rovers fans we talked to on Saturday had fading enthusiasm for signing Dickson – started well but now doesn’t seem to be too bothered). But what was significant was the interplay between the new investment, the financial plans outlined at the AGM, and not selling players before the transfer deadline. Murray confirmed that we had offers for two players and there was a conscious decision not to sell and opting instead for putting in more money (rather than the club having tried to sell and not getting offers). For that alone, if it proves to be the end of an era the penultimate significant act by the board deserves our praise. The final act would be ensuring that if the club is sold it goes to people who will themselves pass it on in better shape.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Surreal, But Points In The Bag

‘We’ve got two Sodjes, he’s got two yellow cards’. I’m not sure if it was my absence from a Charlton game for well over a month (since Huddersfield) but tonight seemed, and probably was, very surreal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a six-goal debacle before, but this was as close as it gets, with the game played in near storm conditions and the simple tenet of if you play in the opposition’s half you will score never seeming so true. Add in an erratic referee and you have all the makings for a night when as far as the football was concerned it was a case of forget about the beautiful game, take the win and move on.

The line-up saw Racon left on the bench and Shelvey taking the wide left berth, with Llera as expected coming in for the suspended Sodje (S), Basey at left back, and Youga on the right side of defence, albeit not for too long as he was to go off injured after about 20 minutes, with Omozusi coming on as a straight replacement. Burton and Mooney kept the places up front, with Sodje (A) also in reserve.

The early exchanges were aimless, but after 20 minutes, despite barely stringing two passes together, we were 2-0 up and Bristol Rovers were looking like the worst team bar none we had played this season. First good persistence by Sam on the right saw him win the ball and square it. Burton for some reason decided against scoring but no matter, it ran on to Mooney who took the easy chance at the far post. Not long after one of their defenders illustrated why not many footballers end up as Nobel Prize contenders. From a set piece the ref stopped the game to talk to him and Burton about their jostling in the box. Burton – who through the game was to give a fair impression of Jim Melrose in being a real pain for defenders – then took the opportunity to go down as the ball came in, the ref duly gave the penalty, and Burton helped himself, shooting low to the left.

At that point most of the crowd thought it was pretty much game over – and so it seemed did the team. The foot came off the pedal and without doing much Bristol came more into the game. It should have been a case of a brief flurry before normal service was resumed, but this ref wasn’t going to stay away from centre-stage for long (a feature of the first half being his predilection for booking our players but not theirs for almost identical offences) and shortly before the break evened things up by giving them a penalty for some equally innocuous pushing and pulling in the box. At 2-1 Rovers were suddenly back in a game that even they seemed to think had been beyond them, but even at the break the impression was that the goal should prove a wake-up call rather than cause to panic.

This was to fail to account for the elements, which got progressively worse. A swirling wind made most attempts to play football quite fruitless and the first 15 minutes of the second half belonged to Rovers. They fluffed a great chance and it was no great surprise when a corner was swept in and flicked on into the roof of the net. This really should have been game on – and the outcome was decided by two moments. Rovers had their chance to go in front, but a shot from inside the box went just wide of the far post. Then Dailly – who I thought had a splendid game – advanced without any sign of a challenge, played it in, the ball was flicked on and after the first effort went up in the air Bailey got on the end of the rebound to restore the lead.

Wagstaff came on for the ineffective Shelvey, with Sam switching to the left, and shortly after Sodje (A) came off the bench for Mooney. His first contact was a header which went narrowly over the bar and with just about his second he put the game to bed. Ball played in from the right and he put it in the net. Sounds very simply and it was.

All that remained was the farce of the ref giving a yellow card to Lines, who started to walk off having, it seemed, already been booked. But the red card stayed in the pocket. I can’t swear that he had been already booked, but it was clear he thought so – and so did enough people in the crowd. Surely, with all the furore over Henry’s handball for the French he would walk up to the ref and confess, for the sake of the game’s reputation. But doing the honourable thing didn’t seem to occur to him (just as it didn’t to the Charlton players all those years ago against Oldham). Plus ca change. The incident gave the game the absurd element that it deserved.

Again, it was no night for drawing any strong conclusions about the team. The conditions made it all but impossible. But if there are any lessons, for me they included: Llera, after being dropped, looks short of confidence. He didn’t play badly, but there isn’t the strut about him that there was at the start of the season. I hope it comes back. Wide left is still a problem. Racon needed a rest and perhaps with hindsight it would have been better to drop him for a couple of games rather than try him out on the flank. Shelvey looked out of sorts in the position. And Semedo and Bailey don’t look an ideal combination as what we gained in solidity we lost in creativity.

The final thought is that personally I was sad that I heard not a single chant for the returning Lennie. Heaven knows he deserved a standing ovation. If I missed it I apologise, if it didn’t happen he deserved better.

It wasn’t a night for player ratings (especially as after a very friendly exchange with some Bristol fans in the Rose of Denmark I’m feeling thirsty and there is yet another glass with my name on it). But plaudits on the night would go to Dailly, Omozusi (who had a shaky start after coming on but got progressively better), Burton (not so much for his football but for being a real nuisance), and Sodje (A), who just came on and scored.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Reds Win Out (And The Frogs Weren't Bad Too)

People always talk about remembering where they were when Kennedy was shot, when Armstrong landed on the moon etc. At least I can say with confidence I will be able to remember where I was when Charlton beat MK Dons 5-1; I won’t have much memory of the precise details, especially as my tasting notes degenerated rather through the process (from ‘delicate, hint of violet’ etc all the way down to ‘bloody nice drop’). But as the texts on Saturday came flowing through I was located underground in Beaune at the Marche Aux Vins sampling 10 different Bourgognes wines (actually more like 10 x 2 as my partner Suzanne is perfect company on such occasions, preferring to take a sip and pass on the remainder), having previously gorged on a plate of fried frogs from one of the market stalls. A French man wearing a beret cooking frogs (as per photo); he only needed the garlic necklace to complete the picture.

So, for the sake of posterity here is my account of the game:

Team details came through by text as a Savigny-les-Beaune 2007 was being sipped. Not surprisingly the tastings began with the more basic stuff (and the whites, which are not my usual tipple). Something of a vin ordinaire for me, but at least it was clear at this stage that Parkinson was sticking with 4-4-2.

As I was informed that Bailey was starting in the centre with Racon moved to the left of midfield we had moved on to a Meursault 2005. A bold move to accompany the most enjoyable of the three whites. As a youth with a leaning towards the books of Camus I had invested in a bottle of this stuff (OK, the spelling isn’t exactly the same but it’s close), only to be disappointed by the lack of body. Probably this was the start of my preference for full-bodied reds. But with age comes appreciation and this time around the glass(es) were finished off with relish.

‘0-1; merde; intercepted back pass in the wind’. This was to be the low point of the afternoon as a Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru (Les Vergers 2005) lacked just about everything and tasted a little too sharp. Things had to get better.

‘1-1 Mooney!’ By now we had moved on to the reds and first up was a Gevrey-Chambertin 2006. At least normal service was being resumed with a complex and agreeable glass made all the better by a second as it failed completely to impress Suzanne. The world seemed a better and warmer place.

‘Should be 2-2; looked like our man handled on his own line’. From the BBC website highlights I assume this was the outstanding non-handball block, but at the time I was holding a Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru (Les Feusselottes 2004). Proved to be something of a holding operation as I noted it seemed unexceptional for the price and for Suzanne it was only a little better. It seemed the afternoon could go either way.

‘2-1 Bailey!’ Now we were cooking, with a Hospices de Beaune 1er Cru (Cuyee Guigogne de Salins 2002). By now the tasting notes were brief and to the point, demonstrating both a lack of wine vocabulary and a reluctance to do more than scribble a few words (‘not bad but even more pricey’). At least things were moving in the right direction, if a little unsteadily.

‘Another handball by us in our box that we got away with’. I’ll drink to that. Hospices de Dijon Pommard 1er Cru 1999. This one saw a glass raised to the ref and the scores for the wines were picking up.

‘HT. Not sure how no more goals were scored. Very windy and chaotic, pitch covered in leaves, both keepers made top saves; end-to-end stuff’. Still had the impression we weren’t hitting the heights as a Corton Grand Cru 1982 looked impressive (with the price per bottle now up to EUR110) but failed to really deliver. Jury was still out on the reds as we moved towards the real stuff.

‘3-1 Sam!’ A Chambertin Clos de Beze Granc Cru 1974 saw some distance put between the earlier rather mixed experience. At EUR290 a bottle it should have done, although it seemed some were still not satisfied as some of the locals were using the spittoon and complaining that it was not fully finished.

‘4-1 Sojde heads in corner’. This was sending me to heaven as an Hospices de Beaune Savigny-les-Beaune (Cuvee Fouquerand 1964) was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. By now the notes amounted to a big tick, but I do remember having to prise this glass from Suzanne (on the spurious grounds that she really likes dessert wine and wouldn’t truly appreciate the contents, that she had to drive later, that we were winning 4-1 ...)

‘5-1 Burton!’ This news was digested while sitting outside having a good cigar as the head was somewhat light. What followed was some confusion on both sides of the Channel: ‘We’ve got another Sodje on the pitch now; where did he come from?’ Sorry, but don’t ask me, I’m headed back for a pastis and another plate of frogs.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Robbed By The Ref

Last night’s game was another reminder of how cruel a game football can be. Losing to the odd goal is always tough, but when defeat comes courtesy of poor refereeing and a creditable draw is snatched from your grasp deep into stoppage time it’s hard to take. Johnstone’s Paint Trophy? Don’t make me laugh. This was the far more important clash between Lyon Duchere and Olympique Lyonnais B, Lyon’s version of the local derby.

With the game staged on Remembrance Day there was the pleasant surprise when arriving at the Stade de Balmont (actually arriving at the Stade de Balmont for the second time, as an error on a website had led us to believe that the game kicked off at 5pm rather than 6pm) to discover that entry would be free. Perhaps a precedent for our local derbies? Nah, I’d need actual payment to go to the New Den and just what incentive would be sufficient to justify a return to Selhurst Park is beyond my limited imagination, should there ever be another game with them. Enough to encourage a decent enough crowd, one that even managed to periodically break into song, encouraged by the Duchere bench (the local chant perhaps lacked the inherent beauty of Valley Floyd Road, but went something along the lines of ‘we live in Duchere and we are going to win’, something akin to Manchester City stressing their local roots when playing the prawn sandwich eaters).

When the teams took to the pitch it was hard to avoid the ‘men against boys’ cliché, with OL’s second string clearly having the height and weight advantage. That impression was strengthened when it was pointed out that in the OL ranks was a certain Jean-Alain Boumsong. Having strutted his stuff for Rangers, Newcastle, Juventus and the French national team, the whole event seemed something of a culture shock for him and in the first half especially he proved to be something of a secret weapon – for Duchere. Put simply, Boumsong was absolutely dire. The only other piece of team news I was able to glean from locals was that the regular Duchere goalkeeper – who had been outstanding in the games I have seen and has contributed significantly to a very low goals conceded tally over the past couple of seasons at least – was injured and that his replacement, having waited patiently for years for his chance, was desperate to play well (which he was to do). Carried echoes of the long-suffering understudy for Sam Bartram.

Duchere started the game well. The manager, Karim Bounouara, is clearly continuing to demand a passing game for the side and OL were slow to pick up the threat. An early through ball was headed for the OL keeper before Boumsong managed his first interception, stopping the ball and falling backwards to leave the Duchere forward through on goal, but the shot from a tight angle was just wide. Duchere were then awarded a free kick just outside the box and an excellent Jensen-style effort was just turned round the post by a very competent OL keeper. Then Boumsong repeated the interception trick only for the OL keeper to save again. Next time around Boumsong had clearly learnt his lesson and allowed a cross to go through, except this time the ball was never going to reach the keeper and the Duchere forward duly got on the end of it, only for the effort to produce another decent save.

After the early enthusiasm it was perhaps inevitable that OL came more into the game and started to dominate possession. They had speedy wingers and one move down the left produced a low cross and havoc in the Duchere area, then the Duchere keeper was called on to make a double save, the second saw him bravely smother at the feet of an inrushing forward. At this stage I was starting to resign myself to never actually seeing a goal for La Duche (this was my fourth game) and for a 15-minute spell it seemed only a matter of time before OL took the lead. But Duchere rallied and worked their way back into the game. And finally the drought was ended. OL’s height advantage was to count for nothing through the game as the quality of Duchere’s crossing and the incompetence of Boumsong meant an ever-present threat. A corner from the left was glanced goalwards and the ball came back off the OL keeper to be buried by a Duchere forward (please don’t ask me for names).

All that was left for the first half was further evidence of Boumsong’s total frustration. He moved forward to meet an innocuous high ball and put in a thunderous header, only for his momentum to see him almost demolish the Duchere player, who ended up in a writhing heap on the ground (does anyone else remember Steve Thomson nearly breaking Nail Quinn in half when falling on him in a Charlton v Arsenal game?). The ref inexplicably awarded Duchere a free kick, leaving Boumsong with arms outstretched as if to say ‘I can’t help being an enormous bugger’.

Duchere had had the better of the first period and were deservedly ahead at the break. But this is a team that doesn’t score many – and concedes fewer. It is also one which was humbled 1-5 in the corresponding fixture last season and seemed well aware of the bragging rights involved in a local clash. Coupled with an obvious touch of the hairdryer treatment for the OL players, this translated into a more cautious approach in the second half, with OL taking the initiative. After about 15 minutes some uncertainty led to an unnecessary corner given away and the curling delivery was met with a header into the net. Equality, if not liberty and fraternity. OL then sent on a substitute, one who had the pace and trickery to cause problems for the remainder of the game. About 10 minutes later OL worked the ball into the box, played it into the sub, who managed to turn and put it away.

It was hard to see Duchere coming back from that, with OL celebrating as if they had managed to get through the Champions League quarter-finals (which usually mark the end of their European campaigns) and the locals seemingly resigned to defeat to the affluent and upmarket neighbours. OL certainly thought they had the game won. But with about five minutes left on the clock the ball broke in the box to a Duchere forward who shot low into the net. Suddenly an honourable draw was on the cards. However, an increasingly fussy and inconsistent ref (is there any other type?) began to impose herself (yes, I mention that it was a female ref, for no other reason than it is the truth) and with Duchere ready to embrace the final whistle she started to give OL a series of free kicks. We were in I think the sixth minute of stoppage time when a corner was awarded. Surely the final act of the game. Duchere committed the cardinal sin of making a substitution at a set piece (bringing on a tall guy for obvious reasons) and perhaps inevitably a knock-down fell to an OL player and it was struck into the roof of the net.

The ref didn’t quite blow for full time at the kick-off but it was mighty close (why is it when they have clearly erred over timing they allow play to continue to suggest that they were not mistaken?). So there it was, a 2-3 reverse for Duchere. On the downside there are no bragging rights for this area of Lyon for a while yet, La Duche’s habit of conceding late goals (on Sunday they did the same, drawing 1-1 at home against Grenoble-Villeneuve) continues, and their habit of conceding late goals when I am in attendance continues (two of my four games have seen them lose in stoppage time). But on the upside, Duchere look stronger and better than before and are likely to continue to improve, to establish themselves as the city’s second team. The club has a site ( and a sponsor. Unfortunately it is stuck with a Jonah in the form of a sometimes visiting Brit (and from the comment on a previous post it seems I am not the only Addick to back Duchere), but the future looks bright, for the club and the area. I have posted the photo not because it is likely to attract visitors to the area (it is the least flattering photo imaginable) but because it includes Tour Panoramique, where my partner Suzanne lives. The Duchere area, which stands on a hill to the north-west of the centre of Lyon, is being extensively redeveloped and should look much better in a few years.

So, despite the cruel injustice of it all there are grounds for optimism. Just as well really as it’s in short supply on other fronts. I left for France very early Sunday morning and am claiming complete ignorance of anything that might have happened in the FA Cup. It may be that it simply didn’t happen. Suzanne and I are headed off to Beaune tomorrow to take in the pleasures of the annual wine auction sales, will return on Saturday in time for the first leg of Ireland v France and then its back to Blighty for me on Sunday. I shall be there in spirit at least for the MK Dons clash (or should I say, given my prospective location, that I will be in spirits). Suffice to say this one isn’t about formations and team selection, it’s about character. A win by whatever means, however ugly, is what is required to stop thoughts of this season going very much the way of our first back in The Championship. I will be drinking to it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Form And Structure

I can’t help feeling a bit of a wally beginning a post with ‘sorry I haven’t written much recently’ (Robert Peston began his latest BBC blog post with a similar phrase, but then he is a wally who doesn’t seem to realise that his minute of fame – offered him by officials wanting to leak some information – has passed). It implies that there is someone out there reading this, that there is someone out there reading this and who is sad enough to realise that there hasn’t been much posted recently, and that there is someone out there reading this who is sad enough to realise that there hasn’t been much posted recently and who gives a monkey’s. But there we are.

The weeks ahead are going to be sparse for me as well. Having only belatedly woken up to the fact that I wanted to go to the Gillingham game, by which time all the tickets had sold out, work commitments (Amsterdam on Monday) prevent a return to Carlisle, then a week in Lyon rules out both Northwich Victoria away in the cup and the home game against Milton Keynes Dons. Unless I can squeeze in Yeovil away, my next game will not be until Bristol Rovers. (Not strictly true as while in Lyon I will be going to watch Lyon Duchere take on Lyon B in the local derby; I hope to post a report on events, although given that Duchere – who stand sixth in their league with a game in hand, with Lyon B top – have managed eight goals in nine games and conceded just two, with Lyon B letting in just nine in 10, I’m not anticipating a goal fest; in the two-and-a-half Lyon Duchere games I’ve seen they haven’t managed to score a goal.)

So this will have to do for a while. Two issues: ownership of the club and the team’s formation. I’ll try to keep it short, but .....

On the former, I’m sure we’re all delighted if the reports that Dennis Wise-led consortium has pulled out of buying Charlton are true. Delight will be complete if we later learn that David Gold buys West Ham (or anyone apart from us). I’m one of the few people (it seems) that don’t resent Wimbledon having upped sticks and gone to Milton Keynes. It could have been us (there was speculation of such a move many years ago) and the bottom line is that in both cases the clubs were facing financial ruin, or stagnation at best. If I was the owner of Wimbledon then I would have done something similar. Our salvation came from the wake-up call that was leaving The Valley, however painful it was at the time. We were lucky that we moved in a fashion that was never going to work (barring a merger with Palace), had a great manager in Lennie and secured promotion to help paper over some of the cracks. The triumphant return, the forging of bonds between supporters and the owners of the club, plus the next great manager in Curbs paved the way for the glory years pre-Dowie.

Of course this is all in the past. If Richard Murray and his board decide that selling to Gold makes sense for them, and in their opinion the club, that is their right. They own the club, and I can’t see my few shares forming a blocking vote. Equally, our right is to disagree – and decide on the implications. Personally, if Gold takes over the first inclination is to tear up the season ticket and to walk away. On further consideration I guess I’d want to hear what he would have to say (something along the lines of ‘no, I didn’t buy Charlton because I failed to buy West Ham’), then decide.

I have absolutely no problem with the club being sold, whether or not it involved overseas investors. But let’s consider an ideal and worst case scenario. The former would be say Dubai/Middle East money coming in, with Murray/Varney retained to run the club; the latter would be being bought by Ken Bates. My gut reaction is that Gold (and Wise) are far closer to Bates. Of course I want to see us back in the Premiership, at least the Championship, but the rebirth of the club was founded on a certain approach and sensitivities which if ditched would leave me at least questioning if it’s a price worth paying. I don’t like life in this division (I still tend to feel that if we win we’ve beaten some rubbish and if we don’t something’s badly wrong – I know it’s not a useful approach and I’m trying to adjust), but we’ve seen it before and it’s better than selling our soul ... and not even for Wales.

As regards team formation, having missed Gillingham I can’t really comment on how well 4-4-2 is really working on the basis of just the Huddersfield game. But the bottom line is that no formation in football is perfect and the simple rule it to play to your strengths. We have (in my view) a capable defence which should continue to improve with familiarity, with cover for all positions. Up front we have currently a choice of one or two from four - Burton, McLeod, Mooney and Tuna, assuming McKenzie is out for a while. Burton began the season is fine form (albeit benefiting from some horrible opposition gaffes), playing as the lone striker, McLeod has come in and still hints that he can deliver the goals we need. But Burton and McLeod together didn’t seem to me to work well (as always, time and increased familiarity may prove this wrong), Mooney is an unknown quantity (for me at least), and it’s clear from bringing him in that Tuna is considered at least not yet ready to start a league game.

In midfield we have Semedo, Spring, Racon, Bailey, Sam, Wagstaff, Shelvey, plus (potentially) Basey, Stavrinou, Holden and (perhaps, one day) Sinclair. That is a line-up which should do well in the Championship, never mind this league, and is our core strength. Shelvey has been rested and I hope is straining for a return, Spring did a decent job covering for Semedo, who is now back. Consider the options in midfield against those up front if we play 4-4-2.

For me perhaps most important is that if we begin a game playing 4-4-2 with Burton and McLeod the options for change are very limited. Basically it’s bring on Mooney for either (or start with Mooney and McLeod with Burton in reserve; he may be due a breather). You make a change up front if it isn’t working or you are chasing the game, which doesn’t make it easy to take off a central striker and bring on Shelvey.

We have come up against teams (well, Oldham) intent on shutting up shop at The Valley and denying us space. In those circumstances 4-4-2 clearly makes sense. Being ready and able to switch to that is a necessity. But otherwise I’m inclined to see 4-5-1 as our best starting option, especially away. Burton has played best so far on his own, with Semedo back Racon is free to do his stuff, and Shelvey comes back in (which despite indifferent form leading up to the change in formation is still a big plus).

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Much-Needed Win, But Peuvent Mieux Faire

What’s best, to focus on the positive or the negative? This was a game that could easily have ended with any combination up to perhaps 4-4. We were pretty much outplayed in the first half and, having switched to 4-4-2, looked ordinary. But we did improve in the second half and today was just about getting back to winning ways. Against a tough and capable team we did indeed win. Good enough for me. Time enough to consider the problems later on, as we look down on the rest of the division.

In the event Parkinson opted for the change in formation, despite McKenzie having a ‘setback’ and not being available. That meant Burton and McLeod up front, with loan signing Mooney on the bench, and Shelvey dropping out. Sodje was preferred to Llera in central defence and there was no immediate return for Semedo – a decision that, to Parkinson’s credit (and not a criticism of Spring), was rectified at half-time, a change that quite possibly won us the game.

If ever there can be a case of scoring too soon this was it. An early corner saw Sodje completely unmarked around the penalty spot and he buried the header. This may have encouraged us to sit back a little. Whatever the reason, Huddersfield went on to dominate possession, winning the midfield battle. That provided the platform for them to create a number of opportunities, while for us, with Sam having a poor half and Burton and McLeod getting little change from their defence – or the referee (and to be fair to him McLeod’s attempts to win penalties were rightly denied) – we had no outlets. Despite the efforts of Racon and Youga to get things moving, we gave the ball away cheaply and far too often. Huddersfield had half-chances and for a while it looked as though we might make it to the break in front, which for any neutral would have looked like something of a steal. However, a free kick was given for another trip, by Spring, and their guy from some way out smashed a shot in off the post. Elliot had no chance, the only question arising being whether someone on the line would have been better (well, it couldn’t have turned out any worse).

At the break it appeared that the switch in formation left us looking ordinary, with two forwards struggling to get involved and a lightweight central midfield being overrun. Better finishing and but for some resolute defending, including from Bailey, and we could easily have been a couple of goals down. A change was needed and Semedo came on for Spring. Again, it’s not a criticism of Spring that it was a necessary move. We had to get more muscle in midfield and to Parkinson’s credit he didn’t wait.

The result was an evenly contested second half and a more entertaining one. It was of course helped by the fact that we again scored early, from another set piece (Shelvey not taking them and suddenly we start scoring from them). A ball into the box was headed on by Sodje and on again, over the keeper, by McLeod. Good goal, well taken. Just a little surprising to see the shirt come off again and another yellow card; do it when you score after a long drought, like a couple of weeks ago against Exeter, but don’t make a habit of it, even after last Saturday’s misses.

After that both sides could/should have scored more. For us, Sam, who improved in the second half, played in Racon, but he delayed the shot and allowed a defender to get in to block. McLeod was played through but couldn’t get the shot away and was left once more appealing in vain for a penalty. But Huddersfield had enough chances too, especially one at the far post that should have been buried. They had the ball in the net but the referee had already blown for a foul. Sodje and Dailly were dealing well with the succession of long throws and corners and if anything, as they became more desperate and increasingly resorted to long balls hit forward, Huddersfield became less effective. That they were no longer going through our midfield had a lot to do with Semedo. Wagstaff came on for Sam and almost created a goal with a good run and cross, while late on Mooney replaced McLeod and looked lively. Despite five minutes of added time (probably the minimum we could have expected, given five substitutions and a number of injury breaks) we were able to see the game out.

The pluses? Elliot had an excellent game, with some good saves and no errors with high balls; Sodje and Dailly stood up extremely well to the task at hand, while Youga was impressive at the back and going forward. And again, Semedo made a key contribution. The negatives? Burton and McLeod didn’t look like a partnership waiting to take off, Racon was not as effective as previously in a tough encounter, and perhaps most telling the jury has to be out on whether the chance in formation worked. It seemed to me that it exposed more weaknesses than enhanced strengths and could be seen as an over-reaction to last Saturday’s game. Perhaps the key message is that if we stick with it there’s no place in the starting XI for Shelvey and Semedo (or Bailey) becomes essential to stiffen the central midfield, especially against teams like Huddersfield.

Let’s take the win and move on. Especially as after having managed to make a complete pig’s ear of cooking last night (smoked duck is a delicacy, but burnt duck, chicken, pork and potatoes is inedible) it’s dining out for Suzanne tonight.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. No chance with the goal and did everything else right.

Richardson: 7/10. Caught out some times, especially in the first half, but overall not bad and played his part in a sterling defensive display.

Youga: 8/10. Sometimes goes forward as if to show how it’s done. But today the defensive work was equally important and he stood up well.

Sodje: 8/10. Scored one, gets the assist for the other, and headed away countless balls.

Dailly: 8/10. Especially impressive first half, when we were under pressure.

Bailey: 7/10. For defensive work the mark would have been higher as he made a number of timely challenges and interceptions, but had little impact going forward.

Spring: 6/10. The physical limitations of Spring and Racon together in central midfield were exposed today; not really his fault.

Racon: 6/10. Never stopped running, but has to take as much of the rap as Spring for the first half performance.

Sam: 6/10. Disappointing game. Failed to threaten in the first half, or to make the most of extra space and time in the second, but gets an extra mark for hte pass through to Racon which should have brought a goal.

Burton: 5/10. Struggled with little to feed off and usually brushed off the ball by strong defenders.

McLeod: 6/10. Scored the winner well, but didn’t take other opportunities and went down too easily.


Semedo: 9/10. His half-time introduction made the difference for the second half.

Wagstaff: 7/10. One very good moment and did his part in running down the clock.

Mooney: 7/10. Not much time to impress, but looked lively enough.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Huddersfield Options

It’s fair to say that for the first time in a while there are some serious selection issues for Parkinson to consider for tomorrow, more down to the shape of the team than injuries and availability. As ever, it should be down to the manager and his people, who are obviously far better placed to assess who is looking fit and sharp in training - and to judge which formation would be best suited for a home game but one against a side that the manager has said likes to play a more open and adventurous game than Oldham (which is not saying much). So my one hope is that whatever team takes to the pitch, the crowd back it – not to start whining about the choices made if we’re not 2-0 up in the first 10 minutes.

It’s not so long ago, when 1-0 down away at Orient, that the Charlton fans started up the chant of ‘4-4-2’, just before we equalised (and went on to win the game). It’s fair to say, as others have, that an earlier change to that set-up would have been a better option last Saturday. But this is another game, against different opponents, and the selection options are in my view nowhere near as simple as ‘it’s a home game and we need two outright forwards on the pitch from the start’. We have played some excellent football – and won most games – with Burton effectively on his own and Shelvey in the hole. It’s just that teams are doing their homework now, some we have played recently have been better than those early on, and we haven’t been able to produce the same fluidity as before. If Parky feels that we still can, and that the key players are raring to go, starting with 4-5-1 and being ready to switch if things don’t go to plan still looks like a good option to me.

The key issues would seem to be first, whether Burton, who has faded of late, is really fit and up to task to play on his own; second, whether Shelvey is tired and needs a rest; third, whether Semedo is ready to start. If the answers are ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘yes’, I would have Semedo in for Spring and the rest as before (the only decision for the defence is whether Sodje comes in for Llera, which given that Big Mig was capable against Oldham would be down to Parkinson’s assessment of Huddersfield’s forward strengths/weaknesses). Spring has done nothing wrong (according to colleagues he was poor away at Colchester, but that was a bad day all round) and in other circumstances would merit a starting place. But in other circumstances Bailey would not be playing wide left. The cliché about a boat sometimes going faster with a crew composed not necessarily of the fastest individual rowers holds good. Semedo seems to bring the best out of Racon and to provide the muscle in central midfield to enable us to dominate teams; I’ve always tended to see Spring as the natural back-up for Racon, not Semedo. He’s been asked to do a more defensive job than normal and has done it well and without (apparent) complaint. But if the best guy for that job is now available again he should come back in.

It has been asking a lot to play Shelvey unceasingly, but he is crucial to the 4-5-1 approach. It seems to me that he’s been a little out of sorts in recent games and giving him a rest would be no surprise. In that event it’s a case of selecting the best forward combination, not necessarily just bringing in McKenzie to partner Burton. It would be brave of Parkinson to pick McLeod from the start (and if he did the last thing we would need would be groans from the crowd – he would need all the support we could give him), given the horrible misses against Oldham, but again two up front is about partnerships and aside from the finishing those two looked good together. To me it would be any two from Burton, McKenzie, McLeod and Tuna – but if Shelvey and Burton are considered fully fit the question may well not arise. After all, its a lot easier to switch to 4-4-2 than change from it during a game.

We all have our opinions and whatever choices Parkinson makes will be open to doubt. But as ever I’m in favour of keeping any reservations for post-match reflections, not to be aired a few minutes into the game. It is a match that we do really need to win to get things back on course – and to send Suzanne back to France happy. As she is from Lyon (and her hairdresser is a relative of Karim Benzema, who according to the reports is a closet Addick and best buddies with Youga), Kelly, please keep the overhead kicks an inch or two lower and the shots after taking on the entire defence an inch or two inside the post. Otherwise more of the same please.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Unsubstantiated Gossip

Much as I might like to, I seldom get involved in gossip concerning Charlton - usually because I'm usually the last to hear anything interesting. But in the interest of impartial dissemination of information (however scurrilous), and given that our current status means that gossip in the media is in very short supply, I was sent the following (apparently posted on some North London message board) by a fellow Addick. As he pointed out, you can assess the reliability of the source by the absurd description it contains of Spurs:

"Been speaking to a mate that is currently on the verge of breaking into Charlton 1st team and have some interesting news. I am an Arsenal fan so have no bias opinion or info regarding what i've been told. Firstly Jonjo turned down Chelsea not solely down to 1st team football appeal but he was hoping for a move to Spurs who have a knack for bringing through young British players, this will go through in summer as he is helping Charlton's promotion push so has agreed not to seek a move till then. Bailey has long been on clubs' wishlist and spoke of his desire to one day move on to greater things but currently is enjoying his football and wearing the armband. Dickson wants to stay with Charlton and not be offloaded in any deal to bring in Simeon Jackson in January, he just wants to be given the chance and will spend his time at Bristol trying to impress Parky. Charlton will be signing a striker in the next window and names around the training ground are Tresor Kandol or Bret Pitman, also they are touted to move for Robin Shroot, a young attacking midfielder who plays for Birmingham and has gone back to the club after a loan spell at Burton Albion, one for the future and could be Shelvey replacement? Parky is very happy at the moment with his squad but will be tinkering come January, loan deals are unlikely as he likes players who are proud to wear the shirt and fight for the cause, last season's number of loanees proved to be costly."