For the first time since the start of the season it would appear we have team selection issues for the next game, given doubts over whether Bailey and/or Racon will be fit. It’s great (and something of a contrast to the past three seasons) to have a settled side – and to have options in reserve. But if either or both don’t make it there will need to be decisions made over whether to simply draft in replacements or whether the shape of the team gets altered.
If Bailey is not fit, Parkinson would seem to have the choices of playing McKenzie wide left (which would be a tad ironic, given his interview in The Mercury about looking forward to playing as a central striker), opting for the youthful promise of Holden, or bringing in Wagstaff from the start and playing either him or Sam on the left side. All are possible and there’s little point in suggesting a preferred option, given I have no idea how the new arrivals are shaping up in training. What is perhaps more worrying is compensating for the work that Bailey does in defence, which will be hard to duplicate.
If Racon doesn’t make it, the obvious choice would be to bring in Spring as a straight replacement. The alternative would be to switch Bailey (if fit) inside and choose one of the above options for wide left. That’s one that’s down to Parkinson and how he feels about who would play best with Semedo, whose partnership with Racon is clearly something we don’t want to be disturbed. I guess it would be a slap in the face for Spring if he didn’t get the nod, and on the grounds of minimal disruption it looks like the sensible option.
If neither Bailey nor Racon are fit, it would raise the broader question of whether to revert to 4-4-2, perhaps with Shelvey occupying a wide position rather than playing in the hole. That would seem to be down to whether Burton and one of McKenzie, McLeod or Dickson (unless he does go out on loan to Gillingham) are striking up a good partnership on the training ground.
Clearly we have to hope that all are fit and there are no changes. If it ain’t bust .... And Parkinson deserves the benefit of any doubt with his decisions if changes are enforced. I just don’t want his manager of the month bubbly (or more pertinently my weekend) to be spoilt by losing to Pardew.
He’s bound to get a lively reception, but I won’t be joining in any booing. We embraced him as the potential saviour when he came to us – and he nearly pulled it off. Were it not for that linesman’s decision in injury time against Fulham it all might have been so different. What happened subsequently revealed his shortcomings as a manager, but nobody’s perfect and perhaps he will learn from mistakes. We won’t look back on his tenure with anything but pain and sorrow, but that doesn’t in my book give rise to booing (compared with a greedy git who leaves the club for bigger riches elsewhere – yes, I do mean you Darren Pitcher). I guess there is a case for alienation on the grounds of his attempt in the media to present himself as the ‘former West Ham manager’ rather than a ‘failure at Charlton’, but it’s a close call. Let’s just beat Southampton and leave Pardew to his own world.
Pardew’s return does raise one issue in my mind. In the early games in The Championship after relegation we had a strut and arrogance about us, which came from the manager and the players. We outclassed a number of teams and for a while a return to The Premiership looked highly likely. Then it appeared that visiting teams both upped their game against us and worked out better how to stop us playing (you might say they worked on our shortcomings, including an inability to score or to prevent goals against, which is not a happy combination). There has to be a danger that this will be the case this time around. We haven’t yet come up against a team determined to shut us down and defending in numbers. Hopefully it will become clear that teams in this division are just not good enough to adapt their game to stopping us, but we’re in the spotlight now and there to be shot at. If we have to change the team for Saturday it might just provide the occasion for less coherence than of late against stubborn opposition that may still have a residue of Championship class.
I hope this all proves to be just pre-match nerves and that the evidently better spirit among the players (is this installed or just the result of winning games?) will see us through. I am really encouraged by the attitude they are showing during and after games and if Bailey and Racon aren’t a part of it on Saturday it’s up to the replacements to make sure it’s business as usual.
Just one more cautionary note. Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, saw their splendid start to the season (three straight wins to top the league) suffer its first hiccup with a 0-1 home defeat against Montpellier B. Some day we’re going to lose. Let it not be tomorrow (or the week after and the week after that for that matter).