Sunday, 29 April 2012

In Praise Of 2-2- Draws

As the sage that is Sir Chris indicated after Preston, there are 2-2 draws and there are 2-2 draws. There are times (Scunthorpe at home) when you blow it late on and the cat takes another pummelling (OK, I was on holiday at the time, but somebody suffered, just ask my partner Suzanne). Then there are times when you are already promoted, champions, and suggestions of the pain of being deprived of 100 points just somehow doesn't cut it. Well, I wasn't there. I'm sure for those that were the journey back was that bit less sweet, even if we did seemingly afford Alexander the sort of send-off that Powell himself enjoyed not that long ago (thinking of which, can he name himself as one of the subs for the last game?).

Flicking through the season's stats, I thought there would have been more 2-2 draws than just these two. But no. Rather when it came to stoppage time goals we don't have a lot to complain about. Usually they've involved us nicking wins and those around us dropping points at the death. The Bournemouth away stoppage time was the finest example - even if the turnaround left the gap at the top such that we felt obliged to take only one win in the next five to try to make it interesting. So basically no carping from me.

And we weren't alone yesterday in sharing four with the opposition. It seems that Lyon Duchere shared the spoils with Bourg-Perronas in the top-of-the-table clash in France's CFA Groupe B. That much is confirmed (by France Football) but my less than reliable source informs me that Duchere were reduced to nine men and were trailing 1-2 at the end of normal time only to fire in a glorious equaliser. The goal can't prove decisive in the promotion race, but it's got to come in bloody handy. Assuming that the other Duchere-supporting Addick is correct and Olympique Lyonnais B cannot get promoted from this league (they have gone to the top with a weekend win), it's a straight fight between La Duche and B-P for the one place to go up. Duchere are still three points ahead of Bourg-Perronas but they have a game in hand (and in this league you get four for a win as you get a point for turning up).

Four games left for Duchere and it could get tough. The next round sees them away to Chasselay Monts d'Or - who are second-bottom - while Bourg-Perronas are at home to Jura Sud, who prop up the league. I've never had much time for the wine of Jura, which seems to be more of a cooking additive than to drink, while as was pointed out in comments to a post some time back Chateau de Chasselay, with its Monty Python connotations, has to be a different matter (have to say I've never tried any but I'll make a point of trying to dig some out). Following this, Bourg-Perronas play their game in hand, away at Villefranche-sur-Saone, deep in Beaujolais country. Then while B-P entertain SochauxB Duchere have to take on LyonB in what passes as the local derby; perhaps they can lend their neighbours a helping hand, but I doubt it. The penultimate round sees Duchere at home to Valence (the 'gateway to the south', which is another way of saying you have to go to and through it to get to the good bits - the Rhone vinyards and then Avignon etc) while Bourg-Perronas are away at MetzB. The final round of matches sees Duchere travel to take on NancyB, while B-P are at home to Moulins.

There's still all to play for and hopefully Duchere's spirits will have been as lifted as B-P's deflated by that last-minute equaliser. Whether Duchere are ready for a step up to a national league is an open question; and I'd be a bit sorry to see them have to travel to far-flung places in France that possibly don't even make wine. But that's the price you pay. Next season we'll be visiting at least two places that would be right down there on my list of grounds not worth a peep. I don't know how others feel, but for me it's still too early to be thinking about reviews of the season, where it went right, and where we need to strengthen for next season. No doubt it will come, but I think I'm still just enjoying pondering on a season in which we've blown away expectations. Congratulations to all the others that have gone up in our wake, we've still got a party to come.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Bask In The Pleasure

Ah, what to do? A match report and player ratings or just bask in the fun? Cook the fish or just settle for a splendid takeaway? Let’s try for a compromise. We are champions and nothing else matters. And as soon as the maths doesn’t matter, suddenly we’re back to being nine points clear at the top. Sheffield’s two halves can scrap it out for the second place and we don’t give a monkey’s. The planning for next season can begin – tomorrow.

Let’s get the game out of the way; it was a strange one for the neutral. Wagstaff started on the right rather than N’Guessan but otherwise there was no change. An iffy first 10 minutes or so saw a few indifferent Wycombe shots but nothing of real note. What became apparent was that if we played the game in their half we would score as their defence was indifferent, but that they had enough movement up front to cause problems. There wasn’t much in the game before we won a free kick within reasonable range, and Kermorgant simply curled it over the wall and into the bottom corner. Cue renewed celebrations. That should have been the launching pad for a comfortable win, but the chances that we went on to create went begging. Wright-Phillips was played in twice for a one-on-one with the keeper, with one saved and one hit wide, a lovely move ended with Pritchard bursting through only for their keeper to pull off a decent save, and an obvious penalty wasn’t given when Kermorgant was primed to score again.

As the break approached we should have been home free, but instead the game wasn’t buried and as Kermorgant was felled and went down with a head injury neither the ref nor Wycombe thought it necessary to put the ball into touch. Instead they played it in and equalised. That simply wasn’t in the script. Level at the break when a two-goal lead would have been a fair reflection. OK, we just have to keep our heads and do the same things again. Only one problem; their goal gave them encouragement and not just something to cling on to; it gave them the heart to go out and win the game. And for the first 20 minutes of the second half they nearly did.

Suddenly their forwards were finding space between our central defenders and Hamer was called into action to pull off at least two fine saves. But they didn’t make their superiority count when it mattered and having been under the cosh we went up the other end and scored again. Wagstaff had somehow contrived to turn a great position into an overhit cross/shot for a throw in but something of a repeat saw the ball drop in the box for Stephens to hit it home.

On the balance of play in the second half it was tough on Wycombe, but we had the lead again and that was all we needed. Haynes came on for Wright-Phillips and somehow managed to drift offside when in acres of space to collect a ball played in; he also had a one-on-one that their keeper saved well. But the fact is that having regained the lead we saw the game out. As was the case a week ago, then it was just a matter of waiting for confirmation of the important result elsewhere – and then celebrate.

There will be time enough for reflection on the season, and for thoughts about how we prepare for the next. For now, it’s just time to celebrate and enjoy the success. Last season’s DVD is finally out of its wrapper and I can’t wait for the next one. It won’t take me this long to watch it. And forget the fish and vegetables, there’s a takeaway with my name written large and loud on it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Eyes On The Prize (Here and France)

I hope that, like me, everyone this week has been enjoying basking in the glory of a job well done. But it’s not over yet, here or abroad. I don’t just mean the two remaining goals for us – the formal title of champions and 100 points – or even the personal challenges awaiting those contemplating a little jog around London on Sunday. Things have been rather hectic and I hope I can be excused for taking my eye off the ball of late, but while we’ve been storming to promotion it seems that the connected neutrons have been working to the same end for Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team.

Duchere have been on a fine run of their own in recent weeks. When I last looked in early March they were doing pretty well, tucked in in third spot in CFA Groupe B, the regional equivalent of the French fourth division. Since then they’ve rattled off six straight victories to move to the top. They’re even moving in on our points total, with 79 from 26 games played (OK, in this league you get an extra point for turning up). They are four points above second-placed Lyon B (ie Olympique Lyonnais’ reserves) but they have two games in hand and, with 32 matches in the season are still favourites to finish top. I am informed (perhaps not reliably but it’s the best I can do) that the winner of each of the four CFA divisions would be promoted, to National (indeed, a national third division), with the chance of promotion for a fourth team from one of the groups (the one with the highest number of points, best goals scored etc). It also seems that there are some financial conditions to be met before a team can go up to a nationwide league.

What I don’t yet know – and there is another Duchere-supporting Addick out there who may – is whether Lyon B would be able to, or want to, go up as it is a reserves team; and if they decline, would the place go automatically to the second-placed team? If it does, Duchere are handily placed, currently six points above third-placed Bourg-Peronnas but having played one game more (so the lead would be cut to two if B-P win that one).

The season runs to 2 June and I’ll be tracking developments. I don’t go to Lyon until after the conclusion, so to my shame I won’t have managed a Duchere league game this season (I did manage a reserves match). Come to think of it, my partner Suzanne hasn’t been to a Charlton game this campaign either. Are those connected neutrons trying to tell us both something? I can’t say whether Duchere would be allowed to move up if they qualify as their resources/finances may be deficient; it would be a bit like Millwall getting a sniff at the Premiership. It happened before that their elevation was controversially blocked, carrying unpleasant connotations for a team/district associated with the pied noir. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and will ask Suzanne to bring with her my Duchere scarf when she visits London in May, to be with them in spirit, just as she will be at The Valley on Saturday.

I confess to feeling a little guilty for wanting a stonking victory over a desperate Wycombe on Saturday, but I’ll live with it. We have earned the title of champions and hopefully will go out and prove it, while MK Dons do us a small favour. Then we can notch the further win at Preston to get the 100 points – and have a massive love-in at home to Hartlepool with the trophy. For once I’m determined to leave the pub in time to take up seats to give the team the reception they deserve when they come out. Should also give me time to belatedly cast my vote for player of the season. All number would be worthy winners, with a shortlist including Wiggins, Solly, Morrison, Hollands, Jackson, Wright-Phillips and Kermorgant. It’s a tough choice, but for me the defining aspect of our success has been the determination to keep clean sheets in crucial games (Huddersfield at home, the two Sheffield games, and the last three matches). That’s a team effort as well, but you only get one vote and mine goes to Morrison.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

We're Up And We Know We Are

I’m sure I’m not alone in having felt obliged to wait until today to comment on the delights of yesterday. The train back was a bit late and a 23.00 return home meant only enough time to get through the second half of Match of the Day and the first bit of the Football League show before the celebrations gained a fresh boost. Anyway, we were acting under instructions. Sir Chris said he hoped Charlton fans everywhere “have a special moment for themselves and enjoy the moment and raise a glass to their football club”. Having raised several plastic cups on the train back it was only fair to crack open another bottle on our return. I’d bought a half-decent syrah in anticipation on Friday and it served its purpose.

The smug grin on our faces through the season can indeed now be extended to broad smiles; six years of failure forgotten – and at a place where we all knew in our hearts it would be concluded. There is of course still the matters of securing the title of champions and notching 100 points. Nothing wrong with icing on the cake when on Saturday we do indeed stand up for the champions.

The game itself wasn’t pretty, with Carlisle clearly having improved through the season. In a mixed first half the major chance fell to N’Guessan as after an age the ball finally broke to him inside the box, but his fierce shot went well over the bar. They created decent openings, but fortunately their shooting was dire and I don’t recall Hamer having to make a save in anger. Further testimony to a well-drilled defence. We looked more threatening, especially as N’Guessan was finding space down the right, but the quality of our crossing wasn’t top-notch, with too many balls in hanging up for their keeper. We took time to get the deliveries in right. By this time the news from Colchester was being digested, but there was a long way to go.

The second half, perhaps the game, turned on their one decent strike on goal. It wasn’t a bad one, with a curled shot from outside the box leaving Hamer well beaten but coming back off the inside of the post. If anything that galvanised us into our best period of the game. As we upped the tempo Wright-Phillips was played in for a one-on-one. We all held our breath as this looked like the chance to send us up. Instead their keeper came out and blocked the shot well, leaving BWP with his head in his hands. A few minutes later he wriggled free in the box and this time instead of shooting he opted to square it and the ball was knocked behind for a corner.

From one of a series of these, seemingly to a pattern of a curled ball to the far post (we’ll overlook the one that Stephens decided to take rather than Jackson, which curled behind for a goal kick), Kermorgant rose to plant the header, only for their keeper to turn it over the bar. Finally, the back post corner ball worked as Stephens ghosted in at the back and headed it goalwards. It probably would have been cleared off the line had it not been for Wright-Phillips getting a decisive touch to send us into raptures and him into the waiting arms of the supporters.

After that it was a case of holding what we had and waiting for the whistle. We knew that the early hope from Orient had faded, and that Sheff Wed had equalised, but every minute with no more news was good indeed. Wagstaff had already come on for N’Guessan and then BWP gave way for Taylor to keep things tight. In the event we saw out the final 15 minutes as comfortably as you could hope for, then it was a case of confirmation of the Colchester news.

By the time we had final confirmation the players had been ushered off and the minor pitch invasion contained. As we danced and sang we were advised (repeatedly) that the players would not be coming out, to which the response was ‘we’re not going anywhere’. It was something of a game of bluff as a number of us were well aware of the implications of not getting the 17.52 back to London, but eventually the officials relented and the players were able to come back out to join in, giving Sir Chris the requisite platform to milk the applause, joined by the club officials. I don’t know if Richard Murray was among them, but hope he was – and if not enjoyed the time anyway.

So there it is. Back again to where it all began for me, in the second flight. We can live there, just one good season away from the treasures of the Premiership. Thoughts can start to turn to planning for the campaign ahead and of plaudits for this season’s efforts. Having sworn to say nothing about this division being dire until we are out of it, we can finally say good riddance to League One. May we not return again.

It has after all been a tough season for bloggers. We’ve had next to nothing to complain about and no opportunity to debate team formation (4-4-2 last week, this week, and next week). I might even finally find the time and inclination to take the wrapping off last season’s DVD as it just don’t matter anymore. We’re up and we know we are.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

All Trains Lead To Carlisle

Whereas Seville for New Year in one major aspect disappointed (Leyton Orient), Prague for Easter proved to be a delight on all fronts. In a city packed with tourists (including us of course) the priority was to find spaces off the beaten track for the necessary drink to accompany staring at the mobile for text updates and food/wine afterwards to celebrate. Now if you go down a small alley by the side of the chocolate museum, past the erotic chocolates display (I’m trying to make it easy to follow), the small street ahead looks empty and nobody goes down it. But if you do, you reach a small bar playing sixties music and serving the best beer in Prague (heaven knows I tried a few) and two doors further a small restaurant which according to the menu used house upstairs a bordello frequented by (among others) Bismark.

There is now another small corner of a foreign city that is forever Charlton. The bar was the scene of confirmation of the final score against Oldham and the guy behind the bar, whose English was one notch below my Czech, is now fully aware that the Reds are going up. In the restaurant following the beer the waiter was able to follow things a little more clearly and, having inquired where I came from said he had a friend in London. Where? Less than a mile from The Valley it transpired. Further proof of my long-held belief that everyone in the world is really a Charlton supporter, the only problem being that some are in varying stages of denial. Throw in a shop where you can buy (did we have a choice?) a Russian doll with Jackson on the outside, Wright-Phillips inside him, followed by Hollands, Kermorgant and finally Wagstaff, and you have a city that’s hard to beat. Apparently there’s a castle and a bridge as well.

I’ve no words to add to those of Sir Chris regarding the performance away at Oldham (which was tracked on the ipad at the hotel). Only perhaps what he couldn’t state explicitly, namely that the ref was a total disgrace (please feel free to insert chosen expletives as they would all apply). I’ve only seen the BBC highlights, but they are enough. Walsall seemed sweaty, but all is indeed well that ends well. As it’s far from done yet I don’t really feel like voting for a player of the season at this stage; but two more clean sheets in crucial games (following those against Huddersfield at home and in three of the four Sheffield games) and there’s no question that a defender should be taking home the gong. Morrison, Wiggins and Solly would all be worthy winners; so would Hollands for that matter.

Doing the maths has of course become easier. Five points from four games for promotion, after that seven to be sure of being champions. You have to give credit where it’s due and the two Sheffields are making it as tough as it could be. To need 95 points to be sure of going up is some ask. But if we’re exasperated by them, they must be tearing their hair out over us. And having taken 10 points in the four games against them they can have no complaints with the way things are. The fact that they’re winning games more easily than us at the moment is irrelevant; since the turn of the year there’s been the feeling that we could only blow it and that brings pressure of its own kind. We’ve earned the right to have it in our own hands, which is not to say that a slip for the others on Saturday would not be much appreciated.

The odds are of course against the bubbly coming out on Saturday (and mathematically we wouldn’t be sure of being champions if we win and they both don’t). But some things are written – and we all knew when the fixtures came out that away at Carlisle was a weekend that just had to be kept clear. Barring ticket disasters, train cancellations, or the alarm clock failing in its duty I’ll be there.