Thursday, 28 February 2013

Leaving It Up To Fate

Seems it worked when I promised to eat cheese if we won (before Leicester); promising a large takeway and more wine (before Notts Forest) obviously didn’t cut the mustard with the powers that be. So what to opt for ahead of Burnley on Saturday? As we only won at Leicester by the odd goal in three, and lost by two clear goals against Forest, there doesn’t seem to be much margin for error in finding something less distasteful than trying cheese and less enjoyable than the takeaway while still ensuring the right outcome. I’ve got no ready ideas, but will consult my French partner Suzanne (who is the closest thing to a power that is that I know).

She will no doubt point out that last Saturday’s result was set in stone as soon as I had taken back the egg and bacon muffin in the Eurostar buffet on the way back to London. We’d been stopped just the French side of the tunnel due to another train breaking down and, given uncertainty over the length of the delay, I thought it prudent to get something before they sold out. Just a sandwich would do. Try finding one without cheese, so the muffin it was. As I opened the steaming, limp packet just extracted from the microwave, it was clear that it wasn’t dripping with just moisture and melted lard. It was bloody cheese. I went back to check the menu and, sure enough, it said ‘egg and bacon muffin’. When I pointed out that the item was not exactly as described, there came back an incredulous shrug. Why would someone possibly object, or think this in any way curious? It was nevertheless willingly exchanged for a full English, not exactly what I had in mind but Hobson’s Choice. Is it enough that I promise not to turn away from cheese if confronted with it?

I’m almost happy to leave Saturday to fate, as most other things tried for home games haven’t worked (and I can’t remember what I had in mind before the Cardiff game). There are some good reasons to help explain why our away form (and results) have been the better of the two this season, involving formations, expectations, pattern of play etc, plus good and bad fortune; and that’s not unique. But just four wins from 17, and two of them coming against top-six sides, really does stretch the imagination. The fact that our home statistics are identical to those of Wolves isn’t any comfort; only Peterborough have secured less points (one less to be precise). As Sir Chris pointed out on the club site today, we’ve got the fourth-best away record in the division and this far into the season the contrasting form can’t be put down just to varying fortune.

Powell talked of the Championship being a “brutal” division. Compared to the relentless slog of League One it is, in that your mistakes tend to get punished much more consistently (Forest’s wayward finishing notwithstanding) and better defences result in most games being decided by small margins. If only the standard of refereeing was better. I’ve seen the replay of the Kermorgant sending-off, and noted Powell’s comments, but still feel that the decision was harsh. That might be down to the rather different angle we had from the East Stand, looking pretty much down the line. Sitting there it did seem that Yann swung a rather tired and aimless leg in the direction of the ball, which was being shepherded out. There was no chance of making contact with the ball, but that didn’t make it a deliberate kick on the defender (who was of course Halford). It was silly to the extent of perhaps being a cheap shot and as it invited the officials to make an interpretation, one which from their angles may well have appeared differently.

Whatever, we are without Kermorgant for the three games and that has to force a decision on the line-up for Saturday. There’s been plenty of talk about the drawbacks of playing 4-5-1 at least at home; trouble is, the record playing 4-4-2 hasn’t been any better. And now, having effectively swapped Wright-Phillips for Obika, we are back having three available strikers (one or more of the youngsters could come into the equation but are unlikely to be considered for the starting X1). If we had a full complement of four available the pressure would no doubt be on for a standard front two.

Nobody covered themselves in glory last Saturday and a number of changes could be made, but if all are fit for me the major decision is whether we stick with 4-5-1 and begin with Fuller on his own, perhaps asking Haynes to adopt a wide role, or change to 4-4-2, in which case for me Haynes is a shoo-in and his partner is whoever seems to work best with him in training, whether or not it’s Fuller. The time they were together last Saturday wasn’t encouraging, (I thought Fuller’s contribution was weak) but it wasn’t the best game to judge.

Irrespective of formation, the individuals chosen simply have to play better than the ones last time out, before and after the sending off. The frequent inability to hold and/or pass the ball with any accuracy or intent was shocking; let’s just hope it proves a one-off and has been forgotten. And although the focus is on midfield and the enforced change in attack, surely the priority – even at home - has to be to do something we’ve not managed since early December: keep a clean sheet. If that means being patient, fine. Let’s just not interpret keeping things tight as an excuse to waste the ball when we have it. Winning the individual battles and getting a grip on midfield is after all the best way to keep the opposition from scoring.

I do usually try to avoid such matters in a football blog, but being in Lyon when the Spurs fans were attacked can’t be just ignored. I was nowhere near the centre when it happened (I was on Friday evening, by which time the pub concerned had been repaired and nobody would have known anything had gone on). It goes without saying that the actions of a small group of disgusting thugs have nothing to do with football, nor are they in any way representative of Lyon. All the people I know there are horrified, and ashamed, by what happened in their city (and Suzanne was especially impressed by the interview with the Spurs fan attacked outside the pub with his son, for his considered and balanced comments). I’ve always found Lyon to be a delight, with people there as friendly as it’s possible for the French to be and with no evidence I’ve come across of the sort of social tensions seen elsewhere (Suzanne lives in Duchere, which has a strong North African-origin community). I was there during the ‘riots’ but from what I saw in Lyon these amounted to youths taking the opportunity for some summer fun; it was (and is) nothing like Paris in that respect.

That said, the attack on the Spurs fans did happen in Lyon and it’s not enough to just brush it off on the grounds that all cities have a least a little scum. I don’t think Lyon will do this. Suzanne sent me the local reports covering the arrest and charging of three Lyonnais. Hopefully there will be more and that those involved are dealt with appropriately.

Only remains to note that Lyon Duchere brushed aside PSG II in their latest game, winning 2-1 away (I don’t believe that they came up against a certain Mr Beckham, which might have been fun for them) but have actually dropped to third in the table as scheduled midweek matches for Duchere and Mulhouse (Suzanne did find it very funny when I mentioned them, saying the name of the place as it is written; ‘ha, you mean Myluz’) were postponed while Grenoble thumped Auxerre II 7-0 to overtake them both. Much as I too like Grenoble as a city, their team contributed to the dire match that I sat through against Duchere (0-0 doesn’t do it justice), so I can’t warm to them. Anyway, they’ve played 21 against 18 for Mulhouse and 19 for Duchere and have only the same number of points as Mulhouse and one more than Duchere. As you get one in this league for turning up, with 15/16 games to go it still looks like Mulhouse in the driving seat and Duchere hopefully set to pounce on any slip-up, although if I read the fixture list correctly it may be that Grenoble are the only one of the three with a league game this weekend, which means they will go at least one point clear if they put out a team. Hopefully they’ll be too busy eating cheese.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Limp Either Side Of Sending Off

Nothing went right today, from the opening minute. I don’t know whether the team was tired after the midweek efforts, whether there were still scars from the earlier game at their place, or whether it was just one of those days (it did begin at 04.00 French time to get back in time). We can’t really say that the game for sure turned on a dreadful decision by the officials, but it put paid to what chances we had. After barely getting a kick in the first 20 minutes or so, and being unable to pass the ball (can’t blame the difficult surface as they had no problems doing so), there was just the possibility that having not gone behind we might start to get a foothold in the game when we game took a decisive turn for the worse. We may well have gone on to lose anyway as we were being outplayed by a decent, if cynical, Forest team. But we will never know. And our response to being a man short wasn't the plucky backs-to-the-wall, spirited display that you hope for.

Let’s deal with the sending off first. From where I sit in the East Stand it looked like a rather cheap shot by Kermorgant against a centre-back who’d been giving him a battering. The ball was going out and Yann swung his leg towards it, with little chance of making contact with anything other than their guy, not with the boot but part of his leg. It was a foul, possibly a tough yellow, but no more. By no stretch of the imagination could it have been interpreted as violent conduct. Their guy reacted and turned nothing into something, with him grabbing Kermorgant by the face and others getting involved as Kermorgant was backing off. The ref, who had a decent view of the original contact, seemed far from clear that anything untoward had happened, consulted the linesman on that side of the pitch without any hint of a problem (he seemed to be asking if anything had happened in the subsequent melee), then noticed that the linesman on the far side, more than the full width of the pitch away, had something to say. After that exchange the red card came out. If Kermorgant did something after the original contact that I didn’t see, so be it. But if he was dismissed for the first foul it was a nonsense. Their guy walked away with nothing despite his reaction.

(As I took time out to watch the England v France rugby – well, it’s the one time the entente cordial gets suspended, I thought I’d better check some details on the BBC site and have seen that Powell accepts is was a deserved red card; I didn’t see it that way but haven’t seen the replays; subject to these I remain convinced it wasn’t Kermorgant kicking their guy, but swinging his leg in the direction of the ball but surely aware that he wouldn’t make contact with it; there was no actual kick of their guy.)

Sir Chris had opted to put out the same starting XI as on Tuesday night, presumably with a view to negating their midfield and keeping things tight, with Dervitte in front of the back four, Jackson and Stephens in central midfield, and Pritchard and Wagstaff operating out wide. But in a strangely subdued atmosphere we started not just slowly but poorly as nobody in midfield seemed able to either hold the ball or play it to another in red. Stephens was having a mare, Jackson was combative but no more, while Pritchard and Wagstaff were regularly brushed off the ball. And when they got the ball they tended to hold it, with Reid in particular showing the virtues of working the ball and not giving it away.

The only consolation was that we didn’t fall behind during that period. They didn’t fashion that much, but did put us under pressure and prompt moments of panic, with it difficult for defenders to keep their feet especially when turning. One chance did go begging as two weak attempted clearances ended with the ball falling to one of theirs on the edge of the box only for him to blast over. But otherwise the thoughts were either let’s get to the break level and come out and simply play better, or just that we’d seen off the early problems and just might start to turn things around. The sending off clearly put the emphasis on the former, and with Wagstaff seemingly taking up a more central position it was obvious that a change would be needed, to bring on Fuller to hopefully be better able to hold the ball and provide some outlet.

The change was made at the break, with Stephens giving way for Fuller. He had had a dire first half and could have no complaints, but there was also the feeling that Wagstaff and Pritchard were too peripheral in a game in which we were being outplayed before the sending off.

Anyway, we settled in for the second half just hoping for life to fast-forward and somehow to hold out. Those thoughts evaporated quite quickly as Forest scored twice in fairly short order. They actually spurned four or five excellent chances, including one that looked more difficult to miss than score, hitting the woodwork twice and pulling us apart. The disappointment was that the two they scored were truly bad goals to concede, the result of defensive mistakes rather than some flowing moves which merited better finishes.

The first came from a dangerous move inside the box, but as their forward skipped past Solly he was covered and the danger seemed to have passed. But both our guys froze and their forward was able to poke the ball home as they watched. There’s no question where the blame for the second lies as a run-of-the-mill shot wasn’t held by Hamer and the forward ran on to the loose ball to score. That mistake seemed to unsettle him badly too, with a nervy period following (albeit with one good save to turn one round the post).

2-0 up and Forest relaxed a bit, happy to keep possession but still fashioning good chances. We did go for it in the sense that Haynes came on, for Wagstaff. We needed a moment out of the blue from either him or Fuller to provoke an unlikely comeback, but while Haynes did unsettle them Fuller seemed lacklustre. We even brought on Obika (for Pritchard) at the death, ending the game with 10 men but three forwards. But it was all to no avail as Forest saw out the game comfortably.

It was a sobering experience after Tuesday night and nobody, with the exception of Haynes and some of the defence, emerged with any credit. We were poor before the dismissal and the response was less than fighting. We could have lost the game 5-0. They missed their best – and well-crafted – chances and scored twice from mistakes. No Kermorgant for three games presumably (Powell’s comments don’t exactly point towards an appeal), further evidence of poor home form, and because we lost (badly) inevitable questioning of the formation. Basically nothing could have turned out worse. My imminent large takeaway will probably be a disaster too.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 4/10. One good save but a poor mistake for their second (following the one against Hull) and a worrying reaction afterwards. He’s still well in credit for me, but it is now a decision for Powell whether Button should get the nod.

Solly – 6/10. Can’t say he carries some of the blame for their first without seeing it again, but it was one that shouldn’t have gone in. Otherwise tough to tell in a team display that was well below par, with not much opportunity to get forward.

Wiggins – 6/10. Some good moments, including one going forward and one piece of covering in the first half, but seems to be feeling his way back, which is not surprising.

Morrison – 6/10. No obvious mistakes but they could have scored a hatful and their centre-forward pulled our defence apart.

Cort – 6/10. As with Morrison. Found it hard to keep his feet sometimes but usually managed to get it out of the danger zone when under pressure.

Dervitte – 5/10. In the team to protect the defence and we were unable to keep things tight.

Pritchard – 4/10. Never gave up but ineffective against strong opposition. Brushed off the ball and passing not crisp enough.

Jackson – 5/10. We were outplayed in midfield before and after the sending off; his contribution didn’t go beyond being combative and covering, while perhaps today we also needed someone shouting at people to rouse them into action.

Stephens – 4/10. Stream of misplaced passes in the first half; we do rely on him to make the team tick and today it stuttered badly.

Wagstaff – 4/10. Like Pritchard, today he was peripheral.

Kermorgant – If the red proves to be justified the score would have to be very low; I still think it was very harsh, but it was an action which invited the officials to make an interpretation of what was done.

Subs – Fuller (4/10 – disappointing in that we needed a guy to hold the ball and work tirelessly, which he didn’t seem to do today); Haynes (7/10 – did make a real difference and caused them the few problems they had); Obika (only on for a couple of minutes but hope switching BWP for him will prove an astute move).

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Promises, Promises

What a win indeed! The required goal from Yann and what has to go down as substitution of the season by Sir Chris (who has come in for some reasonable criticism for changes made – and more often not made – during games). Splendid – and when you look at the table undoubtedly timely. 
Talking of timely, I had to suffer last night the BBC’s failings. My French partner Suzanne and at least one other Addick recently spent a happy Saturday evening in the belief that we had beaten Birmingham at home, having relied on the Beeb site. Suzanne and I, having consumed the marinated goat and most of the St Joseph while glowing at the news of Kermorgant’s opener, followed the game on the laptop and ipads (here you can’t even get Radio Five Live properly as once they switch to live reports the service reverts to a rehash of previous items with regular reminders that ‘due to licensing restrictions this part of the service cannot be broadcast’). The gloom of their equaliser gave way to a mix of admiration and concern at the brave introduction of Haynes, then the euphoria of his immediate impact (especially with the note of Yann’s assist). After that it was a matter of trying to while away the minutes with an occasional nervous cigar on the balcony, anything to fast-forward my life. We made it to the beginning of stoppage time OK, then the BBC site went completely doolally. First it stopped updating, then reverted to pre-match comment (and not just for our game).
It took another 20 minutes of checking other sites and frantic calls back to the UK to confirm the outcome. Thanks BBC. Cutbacks there are a matter of concern, given that the Beeb is indeed a treasure to be safeguarded; but if they start screwing up Charlton coverage it’s a full-blown national disgrace. I know I should sign up for the Charlton player, but I just can’t stand listening to live commentary on our games. Tracking progress on a site still allows you to take a few minutes out, so I’m just a nervous wreck through the process. Having to listen to it going on unrelenting would lead to full breakdown. 
Suzanne had been patiently waiting for confirmation, with a couple of bits of bread and something unspeakable. She had been (relatively) kind, selecting something called Comte, from the Jura region. I’ll admit that it didn’t smell too bad until you were close up and, given the circumstances, I was delighted to have to eat it. The first impression was not awful as the bread tasted good; but then that flavour was overpowered by a sort of slime, like someone had coated the bread in something off the street. Just really unpleasant. So, no change on that front – and no need to repeat the experiment for another year (or so). 
It is a daft bloody league. We now sit squarely in mid-table, only eight points off a play-off spot (equivalent to those dropped in recent games, with the BBC having mentioned in its pre-match notes that we have conceded more goals in stoppage time than any other Championship side and are the only team not to have scored one). At the same time we are conceivably just four points above the relegation zone, were Peterborough to win their two games in hand on us (and others currently just above them pick up points with their one). I could never be really upset about someone giving Millwall a drubbing on their own patch (or anywhere for that matter), or indeed be pleased that Palace beat a team to keep them away from us. I just would feel more comfortable if three at the bottom just gave up. 
Just a quick calculation shows how tight it is. Bristol City are bottom with 0.939 points per game, while Peterborough are effectively third-bottom with 1.065. In the Premiership QPR are bottom having mustered just 0.654 points per game and Reading third-bottom with 0.885. If Peterborough had that ratio in the Premiership, they would be 15th with a five-point cushion on the bottom three. In League One (remember that horrible place?) Portsmouth are bottom with only 0.697 points per game and Colchester third-bottom with 1.000; and in League Two the three bottom teams are all on 1.000. 
There’s comfort in the fact that there should be sufficient bodies in the way of us and the bottom three and that, with 13 games left for us we are only a couple of wins from a points total that usually means safety. But if Peterborough were to just continue their current points-per-game ratio to the end they would amass 49 points (and it’s not unreasonable to expect teams in the final stages of a relegation fight to improve their ratios). As things stand, it is possible that the ‘50 points for safety’ rule will not apply (but I'll be happy if it does). 
Let’s just win again on Saturday and put such idle speculation further behind us (I shall be there, assuming my 05.50 – French time – train on Saturday morning departs as planned and I am on it). This time around I am ready to promise that if we do win I shall drink some wine and consume a stonkingly large takeaway (and yes, I will probably do the same even if we don’t).


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Exit Bradley, Yann & Cheese Please

Some things you can infer from the comments on the club site; and when it reports on BWP going on loan to Brentford for the rest of the season, with no mention of recall clauses, and adds that his contract is up at the end of the season, even I can guess that we have in all probability seen the last of him - and for the last time sung that he’s better than Shaun. We will of course always think fondly of him and wish him well, not just for the winner at Carlisle, while the memory of his bloody awful penalty away at Notts County will, in time, fade (after all, we have a French striker who apparently missed a penalty once). 
For the first half of last season he was superb, full of confidence and knocking them in for fun. But after his drought that confidence never seemed to really return and many chances went begging (his winner at Carlisle, from about a yard out, had been preceded by him failing to convert a one-on-one). Whether or not he could cut it at Championship level was a key issue for this season (I do remember thinking at the time when Curbs said he’d put him in his fantasy team on the grounds of him being a ‘goal machine’ that we’ll have to wait and see) and, although the goal at home against Leicester boded well, we soon learnt that sniffing around for Kermorgant’s knock-ons, taking advantage of crap defending, and the periodic strike from outside the box might not be enough to thrive against better opposition, while his hold-up play was never good enough. It’s fair to assume that Sir Chris made his mind up not long into the season and since then it’s been a case of Wright-Phillips being a fringe squad member rather than the 20-plus goals lynchpin of the attack that we hoped. 
He clearly still has the time to prove he can make at least the Championship grade. If he does it with Brentford, good luck to him. But unless I’m very wrong (I always accept the theoretical possibility) it won’t be with us. 
It will be interesting now to see whether Green is loaned out, after the two were about to join Swindon on deadline day, and, if so, whether this clears the space for one to come in. Having Kermorgant, Fuller and Haynes available (and there is Smith) and sometimes going for 4-5-1 (or variations) doesn’t point to an obvious need for a fourth striker, but the injury records to date do suggest a risk of being a bit thin on the ground. We shall see (as usual I’m not privy to any inside information). 
In the interim, of course there is the small matter of Yann’s return to Leicester. Sir Chris has made the appropriate comments about having moved on from that penalty, but judging from the comments from some Leicester fans we chatted to in the pub before the game at The Valley they might have a little further to go in the adjustment process. Nothing that a hat-trick tonight for Kermorgant wouldn’t cure. 
If that produces a glorious victory for us, there will be a little suffering involved, not just for the Leicester fans. I have normal taste buds and a proper palate, which means that cheese is disgusting muck. But I am ready to accept that, however strange it may seem, some people apparently get enjoyment from consuming the rotting concoction and it is sometimes a mild inconvenience to be unable to stand being in the proximity of it, especially sitting in France. So I do periodically check to make sure that my position is not based on prejudice. I have promised my partner Suzanne that if we win tonight I will try to eat a lump, with a large glass of St Joseph at the ready to try to wash away the taste (and something bunged up my nostrils for obvious reasons). She is currently in a Lyon fromagerie selecting something 'suitable', having set off this morning with just a little too much enjoyment at the prospect for my comfort.
A week working from Lyon is a delight, but there is the small matter of the various tasks that Suzanne stores up for my arrival, just those odd jobs that she seems unwilling to do. So to date I’ve fixed the shower, drilled holes in the wall to be able to hang the stepladder (don’t ask), humped huge bags of soil for some plant repotting, and of course carried all the bags when stocking up on various animal parts on the Saturday Croix Rousse market shop. The Thumper with various bits attached went down a treat but now it seems I’m required to prepare the goat for tonight (apparently to insert bits of garlic and persil – that’s parsley in the real world – into it and leave to marinate). Oh, and go to the local market this afternoon to buy some fish, drill more holes and put up some shelves, and sort out the electrician (who is arriving to price up some work, which I am somehow supposed to communicate to him; if Suzanne ends up with a new plug in the ceiling and a light strip at ground level she only has herself to blame). 
It would have been good to report on a glorious victory for Lyon Duchere on Saturday evening. But having held on for confirmation of no last-minute equaliser at Hull and dashed to the ground, we witnessed what has to be said was a game that will not go down as a classic. Duchere had a couple of weeks without a match and it showed. They played out a 0-0 draw against Grenoble in which neither goalkeeper had a save to make. Duchere did put one over the bar from close range but the guy was offside anyway, Grenoble had one shot from a free kick that went narrowly wide, and as the game wore on Duchere might have nicked something from a set piece (the team has changed a bit since I last saw them and they are a good deal bigger than before, and a bit more route one). But they didn’t get a late break, and neither did we. 
We still have tonight to put things right, even if it means a rather nasty lump going down my throat.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Sense of Perspective

I’ve been struggling to think of a theme to pull together disparate thoughts, but haven’t come up with one yet – except perhaps that since around the ninetieth minute of last Saturday’s game for some reason I’ve been in a bad mood. Even the surprise (for me) and most welcome return of Voice of the Valley didn’t seem to help that much. A sense of perspective is supposedly sometimes useful; but for their equaliser I might have had one. I guess the mood was set by having to spend ages on Saturday evening on the phone convincing my French partner Suzanne – who along with others it seems had been relying on the BBC site – that we hadn’t won and no I wasn’t joking (how could someone possibly attempt to introduce humour into such a situation?). 
The mood doesn’t present an ideal backdrop for assessing the 2013/14 season ticket prices. As I surfaced this morning in Lyon I haven’t even got the information to hand to consider the actual percentage increases, while the club site promises “substantial savings” for coughing up by early April - for an item you can’t start to consume for at least four months (usually longer given that the first game or two will go with the summer holidays). Just what the saving is remains unclear; by comparison, Wolves at least have published the prices that will apply once their ‘early bird’ offer ends. I know all clubs do it and I know it’s an annual whinge; I also know that my cheque will be bouncing it’s way to the club just in time. Just not this week. 
There’s nothing that a couple of away wins (hopefully ones totally undeserved and involving huge dollops of luck) won’t cure and fortunately these are close at hand. I hope the Beeb won’t repeat its performance of a week ago as I shall be dashing out immediately after confirmation of the Hull result to get to Lyon Duchere v Grenoble, assuming it isn’t postponed (their midweek home game was). With my recent luck the BBC site will say we’ve won, I’ll go out to find the Duchere game put off and return to find … well, you can guess the rest. 

I take it all back. I've just seen something that has made me laugh. According to the BBC, Birmingham manager Lee Clarke has dropped his giant Zigic from the squad for not training hard enough. The quote from the manager is apparently "the absolute minimum is to give everything every single day". Jut what is the absolute maximum then? There is, always, someone worse off than yourself. After all, just think of poor Richard III. He's spent centuries under a car park in Leicester and now that he's finally surfaced he's informed he has to stay in Leicester.
I wasn't going to end on a sombre note, but there are times when football fans have to face up to their responsibilities. It was unsettling to see the reports of the investigations into match-fixing. We all want to preserve the good name of football, but now the lid has been lifted it is probably incumbent on all of us to come forward with what we know to help to truly clear the air. After all, it has been going on for many years, at least since the Second World War (and probably before), and it is still happening. Not surprisingly the reports have focused on allegations involving a Champions League game, but match-fixing has been spread through the English divisions. 
So wWith a heavy heart, I shall be contacting the relevant authorities to confirm that I have irrefutable evidence that the following league games were fixed by the officials (and they may wish to investigate at least one play-off game): 
15 Sep1964:  Charlton Athletic v Crystal Palace
30 Sep 1964:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
02 Oct 1965:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
14 Jan 1967:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
09 Sep 1967:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
05 Mar 1968:  Charlton Athletic v Crystal Palace
10 Aug 1968: Charlton Athletic v Millwall
01 Mar 1969:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
05 Sep 1970:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
27 Mar 1971:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
30 Aug 1971:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
25 Apr 1972:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
30 Nov 1974:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
28 Feb 1978:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
10 Mar 1979:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
17 Apr 1979:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
06 Sep 1980:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
12 Sep 1981:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
23 Apr 1984:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
26 Dec 1984:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
11 Jan 1986:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
10 Sep 1988:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
02 Jan 1989:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
16 Dec 1989:  Charlton Athletic v Crystal Palace
21 Apr 1990:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
10 Apr 1991:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
26 Feb 1992:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
18 Oct 1992:  Charlton Athletic v Millwall
24 Apr 1993:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
15 Mar 1994:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
20 Mar 1994:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
08 Apr 1995:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
21 Dec 1996:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
30 Sep 2008:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic
13 Mar 2010:  Millwall v Charlton Athletic
14 Sep 2012:  Charlton Athletic v Crystal Palace
02 Feb 2013:  Crystal Palace v Charlton Athletic

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Not What We Deserved

Today, we didn’t get what we deserved. On a difficult surface we won the key battles across the pitch, created enough half-chances to have been a couple of goals clear well before the closing stages, had defended stoutly, had seemingly overcome a series of strange refereeing decisions (which ranged from the daft – giving them a corner when their forward clearly miscontrolled it out – to the blatently wrong – giving a foul against Fuller after he’d ridden one unfair challenge and managed to stab the ball out wide – and to the gutless – not giving us a blatant penalty in the second half), and had finally fashioned the breakthrough. Birmingham, who’d been content to see out a 0-0, brought on the giant Zigic having gone behind and went long. That they got their stoppage time equaliser was hard to take, especially after the lost leads of the previous two games. Those games explained the air of panic that descended on us for the final few minutes, and the devastation on the face of Kermorgant and others at the final whistle. It just shouldn’t have happened.

The team saw an unchanged defence, with Cort retaining the spot alongside Morrison over Taylor (not least with Zigic in mind) and Evina still keeping out Wiggins. In midfield Pritchard dropped to the bench with Stephens and Jackson in the centre and Wilson and Wagstaff out wide, while Dervite gave way for Kermorgant to return to partner Fuller in a basic 4-4-2. Given that the pitch was difficult – sticky in some places but fine in others – and not lending itself to a passing game, the set-up seemed reasonable.

The opening 10 minutes or so were pretty even, with Birmingham enjoying possession but not fashioning anything dangerous. We were competing well and began to fashion chances, with the tactic of Kermorgant winning the ball in the air and Fuller feeding off seeming to work, especially as they clearly couldn’t handle Fuller when he had time and space (and sometimes when he didn’t). A series of corners came and went, but Fuller then brought a fine save from Butland, who was to frustrate us a few times, just getting fingertips on a shot to turn it around the post. The best they managed was a poor appeal for a penalty after a superb challenge by Evina and a few wild shots. Through the half Jackson and Stephens worked hard to break things up, Wagstaff saw a good deal of the ball and almost got in a couple of times. We were steadily gaining the upper hand but without converting that into goals as the pass wasn’t quite right, the shot was blocked, or the cross didn’t quite work out.

If we’d edged the first half, we went on to dominate the second. And this time the chances became more frequent. Fuller somehow danced past their defender to the by-line but found a defender with the cross, Wagstaff had one soft shot saved and then a better one that Butland did well to get down to. The penalty we should have had came after we intercepted in midfield and created havoc, but it seemed that after the trip the ball still ran our way but with the shot stopped we didn’t get a clear advantage. After that a decent cross by Fuller saw Kermorgant glance it just wide and one cross that fell for Fuller saw him blaze over. They had a few moments, with one across the face of the goal and Cort throwing himself at King as he prepared to shoot, while a free kick just outside the box was hit harmlessly through to Hamer. But in general we were controlling the game, as reflected in their readiness to waste time. It was really a question of whether the goal would come.

Green came on for Wilson, who’d got into decent positions but hadn’t found the telling cross. And finally, with the clock ticking down, the goal came. Solly, Green and Fuller worked patterns down the right and one of the three curled in a peach of a cross for Kermorgant to finally give Butland not a prayer.

With just a few minutes on the clock to go, surely we couldn’t give it up this time. But on came Zigic. We put on Dervitte and Wright-Phillips for Wagstaff and Fuller and it was just a matter of seeing out the four minutes of stoppage time. We managed three of them, but, just as at St Andrews, not the last. Sure we were panicking but surely we’d get enough bodies in the way. I don’t really remember how they actually scored and have no wish to. They did and justice was not done.

I hope the players don’t dwell too much on a third successive game in which we got ourselves in a position to win only to be pegged back. I’d rather concentrate on the fact that we progressively overcame stubborn if limited opposition and put ourselves in the position to win. Fact is, you have to go back to before Christmas to find a game of ours that has been decided by more than one goal. You also have to go back to the start of December for the last clean sheet. But highlighting that would be unfair on the defence today, which one moment aside did all that could be asked.

On to two away fixtures, ones which will present different challenges. For me it was a day to focus on the positives, not the cruel last minute undeserved equaliser and the points surrendered in the last three games.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 7/10. In truth he didn’t have a difficult save to make. The BBC stats show they had 15 attempts on goal and eight on target, but of those only one proved to be a real threat.

Solly – 8/10. Nothing wrong defensively and got forward to good effect in the second half, including involvement in the goal.

Evina – 8/10. I thought he had a superb game, including one well timed challenge in the first half. Nobody got past him.

Cort – 8/10. Immense. He was throwing himself in the way of anything dangerous and otherwise dealt with what came his way. Always a threat at set pieces.

Morrison – 8/10. Fact is, apart from the aberration of that final minute they didn’t get a look in on our goal.

Wilson – 6/10. Not a bad game, but he will know he screwed up a couple of crosses in good positions (the pitch might not have helped) and did get caught out trying to play his way out of defence.

Jackson – 7/10 – Not dramatic, but very effective in breaking up their moves and putting us on the front foot. He and Stephens won the central midfield battle.

Stephens – 7/10. Wasn’t easy on the pitch to measure a forward pass and not everything came off. But worked his socks off and like many others deserved to come off the pitch a winner.

Wagstaff – 6/10. Close to having a great game, with a couple of shots that might have gone in and enough possession in good areas. Just failed to make either really count.

Fuller – 8/10. They couldn’t handle him all afternoon. He made things happen from impossible situations. Only thing missing was putting it in the net.

Kermorgant – 9/10. If you give a guy a mark for putting in a stint it would be a 10. Worked tirelessly, missed one that he perhaps should have scored, but buried what should have been the winner. My French partner Suzanne is as gutted as Yan seemed to be at the finish; I hope we all have a decent bottle of wine tonight and focus on the positive.

Subs – Green (7/10 – effective for the last 20 minutes and was involved in the goal); Dervitte/Wright-Phillips (only on for stoppage time; sorry Brad, you were offside).

Sunday, 3 February 2013

These Days

They say that there are days when you just shouldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t have that luxury. I awoke yesterday on the sofa, having crashed out while picking at an indifferent box of chocolates. I immediately feared the worst and having unstuck myself surveyed the rather disturbing scene of a sofa covered in a morass of melted chocolate, toffee and caramel, with a similar mix on the jeans. Someone coming in could have come to very worrying (and I must emphasise very wrong) conclusions.

So, after ablutions and a quick check to confirm that I hadn’t won the Euromillions lottery, it was off with the sofa covers and a quick check in with France for some advice on how best to cope (most of which went over my head but I couldn’t persuade my partner Suzanne to look up instructions for my washing machine and read them).

No matter. Thoughts turned to food for later and I opted for a mackerel and potato recipe from one of the Sunday’s. Out to find that the fish shop in the Village is closed for holidays. In February?? My immediate world does seem to be falling apart as plans recently for a Chinese takeaway fell foul of them being closed for refurbishment. No matter, like Sir Chris I have to have a Plan B. To the butchers. Decent chunk of lamb at what looked like a bargain £7. Of course, I’d misread the label and it was £17 (not quite as damaging as when I bought a very nice jumper with Suzanne in France under the mistaken impression that it cost about £12; only one decimal place out in my conversion).

No matter. By this time the early Premiership game was about to start and time to see how my bold decision to draft QPR’s Remy into my Fantasy Football team would pan out. Not in their team (now it seems he has a groin injury and will be out for a while). Bit worrying as it’s unclear whether another of my forwards, Ba, will be picked to play against his old team. Hey, things are looking up, he’s starting. Now I hear on the radio he’s going off with a broken nose.

None of this matters. Because by this stage we’re 1-0 up and set to win, rising to ninth in the table. I really should have bloody known better. For good measure I went on to break my watch strap, completely screw up the timings for the lamb, and end the day wishing I could be bothered to wander outside to find some stray cat (or fox) to take it out on. What's the Jackson Browne song (I do love the Nico version): "please don't confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them".

I’m well aware that some people will have had genuinely bad days yesterday. But in my universe it will go down as below-average, just where we sit in the league now. All that’s left is to somehow avoid the papers, somehow manoeuvre sofa covers back on without pulling them apart, get up at sparrow’s fart tomorrow morning, stagger off to Amsterdam for a few days’ work, and hope that by the time I get back it will all be a distant (if not eradicated) memory. Then I will be able to focus on the fact that there’s another game coming up and that we’re Charlton fans. For them, as earlier in the season, there is only the prospect of continually having to come to terms with being a Palace fan. All is still well.

Friday, 1 February 2013

One Window Closes, Another Opens

So there we have it. Despite the rumours, the window’s closed with no fresh ins or outs, with the club site indicating that the loaning out of Green and BWP – for them to get some ‘game time’ - fell foul of Swindon’s situation. But as one closes another opens, with attention shifting to the loan window. We know what a mixed blessing that can be, even this season - Hulse excellent, Seaborne capable, and Frimpong a real disappointment (perhaps his finger may be pulled out a tad more at Fulham). But needs must and I’ve no objection to an entertaining cameo or two for the months ahead.

Especially with no actual new signings materialising, the impression has to be that one or more would have to exit for one to have come in. And we really can’t grumble about that (undoubtedly I will at some points in the months ahead) given the state of the club’s finances, as discussed in New York Addicks’ excellent post. I can’t help thinking that if Sir Chris was hoping for new signings he shot himself in the foot with the three consecutive league wins in January, which must have encouraged the owners to feel they could put the chequebook back in their pockets. Engineering a home defeat to Sheff Wed seemingly wasn’t sufficient to redress the balance.

After all, we do have a big squad; even excluding youngsters if all were fit we could put out two teams and have some left over: the previous starting X1 - Hamer, Solly, Evina, Taylor, Morrison, Wilson, Pritchard, Stevens, Jackson, Wagstaff, Kermorgant – then a prevailing ‘team B’ - Button, Wiggins, Kerkar, Cort, Dervite, Hollands, Hughes, Green, Fuller, Wright-Phillips, Haynes, plus Cook). That doesn’t leave much space for youngsters to be given a chance. There are clearly some promising ones coming through, but also some that have been knocking around long enough that you would have thought would by now be in one of those two teams (Mambo, Cousins, Bover, Harriott – who does seem to be back on the fringe – and Smith).

The club assembled a team/squad at the start of last season that did the job perfectly. At the start of this season we really didn’t know if effectively the same team could blitz the Championship or would struggle. Well, we know it’s not going to be the former. Undoubtedly the priority is avoiding relegation and, while that job is obviously far from complete (especially with the teams at the bottom stubbornly refusing to give up), we are looking likely to avoid that fate. I like the way the team under Sir Chris is developing a Curbs’ Premiership era-like attitude to bad results. The character is still clearly there.

If there’s disappointment/criticism it’s that some of the players brought in for this campaign haven’t so far cut the mustard. It is indicative that the line-up against Sheff Wed contained only one (Wilson, who's been splendid) who wasn’t with us last season. Dervite can be excluded from any flak as each time he’s been called on, either as a defensive midfielder or centre-back, he has performed admirably. But Kerkar, after what I thought was a very promising start, has faded badly, Cook hasn’t taken what opportunities have come his way, and Fuller’s injuries have worked against a consistent run. Haynes we can call a newcomer and he has taken his chances, only for injuries to intervene.

I suppose the point I might be getting to is that we’re clearly in no position at the moment to be spending any money unless there was a decent fee for someone exiting. This might be getting ahead of ourselves, but come the end of the season, assuming we’ve avoided relegation, there’s got to be a case for reducing the size of the squad and upping the quality where possible. To my mind, some players have the rest of this season to prove they are worth retaining (which does of course beg the question whether they can be offloaded if they don’t).

I penned something late last year about how this season at least we supporters probably just have to live with the ongoing uncertainty that is the Championship. Perhaps now some of that uncertainty has shifted from the pitch to the boardroom. The value of the investment made by our owners (whoever they may be) in buying the club has risen, but holding onto the asset would seem to unavoidably involve ongoing investment given the size of our operational deficit. That does mean that for the foreseeable future we are dependent on their largesse and patience; not an issue for this season but who knows for how long?

Just how do the owners of Championship clubs position their finances? If money is not an issue clearly you do your best to get on board the gravy train, especially if you have an above-average ground capacity. I did post a comment on NYA’s article musing over how our running losses might compare with other clubs in the division, to which the reply was a perfectly reasonable open invitation to download their results and do the homework. Homework was never my strong point, so I’ll stick to assumptions.

I’d guess we’re not unique as regards the size of underlying losses. But clubs in this division could reasonably expect to have their coffers bolstered by decent cup runs (obviously not an option for us) and the occasional sale of a rising youngster/key player to a Premiership club. It’s not so different these days after all – and perhaps another reason for us to ensure that the path to exposure for our promising youngsters is made easier by squad size reduction. Of course if they’re good enough they’ll get in, but it was a good deal easier for Jenkinson to move into the spotlight (and us to take the benefits) than it appears now given the numbers involved.

This season to date, with the exception of the occasional aberration on the pitch, has been fine and if we stay up it’s mission accomplished. But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the bar gets raised for the next campaign (again, hopefully that acts as a spur for some in the period before then). That has to apply to all concerned, with the onus on the commercial staff and others to come up with fresh initiatives to raise revenues (preferably ones that don’t involve cash coming out of my pocket of course). Only the Barnsley concession game has seen the attendance top 22,000 and most home games its 16,000-18,000. I’m sure everyone’s thinking about how we can get more in (and watching the numbers who flooded out after Wednesday scored their second on Saturday was a reminder of how fickle some are).

Perhaps something to ponder on once more immediate issues are taken care of. I won’t be at Palace tomorrow; I did my time at Selhurst Park and vowed never to return, except under truly exceptional circumstances (it’s a bit like thinking just what would they have to give away inside for it to be acceptable to buy the Mail or Express?). My guilt is assuaged by our allocation selling out anyway, but if there’s one thing I’ll miss is another opportunity for a final chance to applaud Kevin Phillips following his loan move. I thought his appearance for Blackpool was the last time we’d come up against him. Disappointing also that Hulse has gone to Millwall as that’s two of theirs (N’Guessan) I might be forced to applaud when they come to The Valley - even three if Racon is on view (just for the fact that he's drained their coffers and contributed next to nothing). But they have to make a living. Even Sir Chris was forced to remind us on the club site that he had a less than honourable start to his playing career before he found his true path and spiritual home.