Tuesday 30 December 2008

La Bonne Annee

I suspect that everyone who does one of these has been poised keyboard at the ready today to pen thoughts on either the end of the custodianship of Phil Parkinson or of the merits of confirming him as manager. It is possible that out of respect following the sad news of the death of Sailor Brown the club has delayed any announcement. If not (and a preview of the cup game against Norwich has now taken the prime spot on the club website), the silence is getting deafening. And, in the words of Thomas Cromwell (well, strictly speaking in the words of Robert Bolt attributed to Cromwell), “there are many kinds of silence”.

The absence to date of any statement confirming Parkinson in the post has to at least increase the chances of him not being retained. With no more matches until the other side of the end of the year and with the January transfer window about to open I cannot see the logic of delaying any confirmation of his staying if he is to stay, unless perhaps a new man is being brought in, his appointment cannot yet be confirmed, and it is intended that Parkinson stays on as assistant (the possibility cannot be ruled out, especially if it costs us more money to pay him off). Yes, he is talking in terms of who the club is targeting to bring in and of consultations with the board over possible signings. But he is duty-bound to talk as if he is staying. Perhaps Richard Murray is still using up his available mobile calls and texts to try to persuade a certain A. Curbishley that there is some good reason (ie good for him) to come back.

By delaying any announcement Murray and the board have lost any opportunity to present retaining Parkinson as a positive decision. Nobody can suggest with a straight face that his record in charge presents the compelling case for an extended appointment that Steve Waggott talked about in his column in the QPR programme. The best that the club could realistically come up with if Parkinson stays is something along the lines of “the improvement in performances since Phil took charge have not yet been reflected in actual results and the board believes that he is the man best placed to help us avoid relegation”. If this is to be the case it would have sounded more convincing a couple of games ago.

There can be a difference between poor decisions and decisions that don’t work out – and like economics football can never be a science as you can never repeat the experiment. Over the past couple of years just about every decision the club has made can be said to have fallen into the latter category, some (especially some signings) obviously make it into both. But I don’t think you can include managerial appointments as obviously poor decisions. As ever it depends on the alternatives available and the circumstances. You can look back on the whole affair and say that whatever alternative path had been taken things couldn’t have turned out worse. But nobody can say for sure things would have been better. Most of the time it was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In my opinion the one decision that was poor was to insist to Curbishley’s replacement that he accept a structure involving Les Reed as number two and Mark Robson as number three rather than trusting the new man to bring in people he would be able to work with. Even then there is no guarantee that things would have turned out better.

After selection process which only served to underline the paucity of the candidates who applied for the job, Billy Davies would have become Charlton manager if he had said ‘yes’ when the post was offered; his strange prevarication opened the way for Iain Dowie, a choice which while not ideal was not widely criticised at the time (except of course by a certain someone who felt a little tangoed at Dowie’s move north). Not long after the board was faced with a choice of persevering with a manager who they doubted could turn things around and whose behaviour seemed to be arousing concern or being criticised for acting too soon. Having decided on a change the options were either to turn back to one or two of the candidates who had applied for the job first time around, launch another possibly extended application process (with no guarantee of anyone better applying than before), or elevating Reed. Even now there are obvious pros and cons from the decision taken.

Once Pardew became available the board acted to get him in, with Reed doing the decent thing and standing aside (and whatever his failings as a manager he deserves respect for what he did with Charlton under Curbishley and the dignity of his departure). No quibbles there. Notwithstanding the considerable problems involved in inheriting someone else’s team and having to oversee numerous comings and goings, as pointed out elsewhere the board could reasonably have expected a better return on its investments under Pardew. And this season his position became increasingly untenable. Once the decision was taken to sack him the board was faced with a similar problem to that of a year ago: whether to risk wasting time that we didn’t have in advertising the post or giving a chance to the man on the spot. Pros and cons again.

Like all football supporters we have delusions of grandeur. But to think that a couple of months ago some were thinking that someone like Sam Allardyce might take the job – and that we could afford someone like him – is a reflection of how we have failed to adjust to our new reality. It is only recently that the pitch announcer has not been reminding us that although we are near the bottom and playing pants a play-off spot was only a few points away. I’m daft enough to think that Curbs could conceivably not dismiss in an instant the idea of returning (and no, this wouldn’t be a perfect solution, just one that would be a damn sight better than anything else within our capabilities).

We all feel the pain of decisions that haven’t succeeded. But spare a thought for Murray. The value of his asset has plummeted over the past 18 months and even then there was the brief prospect of being bailed out by Dubai. Our punishment is to quite possibly endure once again the old Third Division; his own particular Sisyphean pleasure is to continue to pay for the decisions made.

I’m not going to speculate on whether Parkinson stays or goes, or on who should replace him. I don’t know the full range of options. Equally, I’m not going to think about who we should sign, at least not until the process begins, save to highlight that the most staggering statistic for this season is our total for goals conceded at home games. Parkinson is talking in terms of three or four new faces and these are players who will have to come pretty much straight into the first team and gel quickly. It isn’t new faces we’re talking about but another new team.

Instead I’m going to get up a little late, get driven over to the Croix Rousse market to buy a duck or a goose (possibly a Bresse chicken), have a pastis or two once the shopping is done before returning. I’m not going to cook said animal, so the afternoon can be spent in a suitably chilled fashion, the day culminating in traditional festivities. And yes, once refreshed and Eurostar permitting I too will be back at it howling and shouting come Saturday (if only so Murray can enjoy the New Year gift of a cup victory cheque). It’s just that every time I think about singing ‘things can only get better’ I remember when we sang it at Old Trafford at half-time in the cup game, after Schmiekel had been sent off. They didn’t. So with that in mind, I hope all and sundry truly enjoy La Bonne Annee in 2009.

Friday 26 December 2008

Mixed Emotions Again

Another game which left mixed emotions at the final whistle. There are clearly positives to take from a vastly improved second-half showing, some good individual performances, and no lack of effort overall. But does that mean we should draw a veil over an inept first 45 minutes, which could easily have seen us beaten at the break? Perhaps we should just focus on a uniformly poor display by a certain P. Taylor, the man in green. His mistakes resulted in both of their goals and generally he was conned by some unsavoury ‘professionalism’ from an unlikeable QPR. Did he redeem himself in the last minute by disallowing their final ‘goal’? Perhaps. But if he’d given the penalty for handball before they went up the other end the question would not have arisen.

Despite their new-found riches it’s been hard to have strong feelings one way or the other about QPR. A few fond memories from many years ago. But their money seem to have gone to their heads and a Portuguese manager has lost no time in instilling some of the black arts of the game. Sneaky fouls, writhing in agony over any challenge, complaints over every fair tackle. I had no intention of booing Lee Cook, who I thought tried his best for us last season. But that all changed when a preening brat insisted on celebrating his free kick goal in front of the North Stand. Good riddance to a nothing club.

With McEverley returning early from injury (and still seemingly stripped of a position on the team sheet in the programme) and Basey dropping to the bench, the rest of the team was unchanged from Derby and Norwich. Shelvey made it to the subs bench too, alongside Holland and Burton, with no places for Gillespie (who is going back to Sheff Utd), Todorov (just what he has done wrong I cannot say) or Dickson (soon seemingly to depart), let alone the out-of-favour Youga or Moutaouakil.

We started OK but without much attacking intent and the game shaped up as so many before this season. The opposition slowly played their way into the match and started to look threatening. Their movement going forward was better than ours and it started to tell. But their almost inevitable opening goal owed much to a poor decision by the ref. Bouazza shaped up to hook the ball clear from outside the box only for their inrushing guy to come in on the blind side, duck his head, clutch his face, and win a free kick in a near-perfect position for a curler. With Charlton declining to put a player on the line Cook duly picked the top corner and went on to celebrate like a child. He deserved a smack on the wrist and to be sent home early to bed with a yellow card.

The goal further deflated an already lifeless performance and it almost became a lost cause before half-time but for an outstanding reflex save by Elliot. 2-0 at the break and it would surely have been game over. As it was, QPR went into the break looking entirely comfortable. Another 45 minutes during which the opposition’s keeper had no meaningful save to make. One blocked shot from Bailey and a few corners. That was it. Nowhere near enough effort, movement, or drive.

The second half seemed a continuation of the first before Sam and Bailey intervened. The former, who had been one of the bright spots of the first half (albeit not to much effect) worked the ball down the right and put the cross in just the right place for a late-arriving Bailey to make it his own. A truly excellent goal, well worked and just reward for a determined and well-timed run.

Suddenly tackles were going in and QPR were knocked out of their rhythm. Once ruffled they resorted to cheap shots and complaining. It was a far more exciting period and Sam was terrifying their full-back, while Bouazza was getting some joy on the other flank. Gray and Waghorn were well shackled through the game, but with Bailey and Semedo (who came in for some stick from some quarters with some erratic passes but who was also highly instrumental in us getting back into the game) winning more possession we at least carried a threat.

Half-chances were coming more frequently and we were having the best of it. Only for the ref to intervene again. This time he ignored Blackstock blatently barging the defender off the ball, taking it on to drill the shot into the far corner. Well taken but an obvious foul missed by a poor official. Fortunately this time, especially attacking the Covered End, the effect wasn’t entirely deflationary and another ball in saw players on the ground and Bailey stooping to head the ball into the net.

The last 10 minutes and it could have gone either way. Burton had come on for an ineffective Waghorn, then Basey and Holland for Bouazza and Semedo (who nearly blotted his copybook by inviting the ref to send him off for a shove after their player had kicked out at him). The key chances fell to Sam: the first a free header at the far post with the goalkeeper beaten by the cross, but he put it wide. Then he cut in and saw the shot blocked. All that remained was some sustained injury-time pressure from QPR, our final handball appeal, and their breakaway which saw a shot come back off the post and then buried, only for the officials to do the decent thing and disallow it. I’m not sure why but I think there had been a clear shove on McEverley to knock him out of the way. It was the sort of challenge QPR had got away with all match.

Of course its another home game where we have dropped points. A further extension of the winless run. And another game which could have been lost in the first half. It was also a game that with a bit of good fortune at the end we could easily have won. For that the main thanks have to go to Elliot, Sam and Bailey. It is also another game from which the positives won’t mean a great deal if we follow it up with a lame away defeat. Will it be enough to confirm Parkinson in the post? The suspicion remains that this is a case of cash as well as what viable alternatives there are. I just want the uncertainty to end quickly, one way or the other, so that we can do as much as possible to sort out the loan signings and whose staying and whose going. Let’s get on with it.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 9/10. His first-half save was absolutely vital. Can we go back to having a player on the line for dangerous free kicks please?

Cranie: 6/10. Not bad but some poor crosses when he got up in support of Sam and didn’t really add much going forward.

McEverley: 8/10. Must have been knackered at the finish, provided good support going forward. Victim of another QPR rollaround to pick up a yellow card.

Fortune: 7/10. No obvious mistakes but another game without a clean sheet – and someone allowed themselves to get barged off the ball for their second.

Hudson: 7/10. Same as Fortune.

Bailey: 9/10. Two goals have to make him joint man-of-the-match. At half-time the rating would have been 5 but much improved second-half irrespective of the goals.

Semedo: 7/10. Was equally responsible for wresting the game back out of QPR’s grip. Some wasted passes, but the guy never stopped working, made some crunching (and fair) tackles. Nearly marked down for giving the ref the opportunity to send him off.

Bouazza: 6/10. Poor first half, much better second. He made some excellent runs out wide and in the middle and wasn’t far off being a match-winner.

Sam: 9/10. Would have got the full 10 if the late header or shot had gone in. Threatening and effective and set up the first for Bailey beautifully (as he did for Waghorn against Derby).

Gray: 5/10. No change all afternoon against robust defending. Could have been awarded more free kicks but didn’t make enough of a nuisance of himself.

Waghorn: 5/10. Also ineffective, probably down to the quality of defender compared with Derby.

Burton: 5/10. No different from Gray or Waghorn.
Basey: 5/10. Less of a threat than Bouazza when he came on.
Holland: Only on for a couple of minutes.

Monday 22 December 2008

The Case For An Early Decision

I remember being told many moons ago that if you’ve got something to say but don’t know how to say it, don’t say it. So a touch of blogger’s block, mixed with work priorities and a reasonably debilitating bout of flu, has encouraged some quiet reflection on our plight. Also, I’m happy to admit that I’ve been disinclined to publish much negative outside of what might sometimes (I hope) pass for constructive criticism. Enough of that, let the verbage resume.

I wasn’t at the Norwich game, but talked at length with a Norwich supporter friend who was, someone with the benefit of no prior knowledge of our tactics or players (gone are the days when people could reel off the names of Charlton players, now the most we can hope for is ‘oh, that’s where he is now’) and certainly no bias against us. He said that we were by some distance the worst team he’s seen at Carrow Road for a very long time. He suggested that Charlton went there desperate for a 0-0 (probably better to say hoping to nick something and hold on) and that Norwich were almost bad enough to let that happen. But with no attacking intent, no support for the forwards from midfield, and with the wide players misfiring (he thought Sam looked useful but very wayward with his crossing, Bouazza he remembered as a good player at Watford but wondered what had gone wrong) it was for him only a question of whether Norwich would fashion a decent chance and score.

I did remind him of the Hudson shot (he accepted that and pointed out that Marshall just makes those kind of saves), the Semedo shot (no, didn’t remember that one) and one dangerous cross in the first half (ah yes, that was a bit threatening). Doesn’t exactly add up to 90 minutes of pulsating action does it? Perhaps his most damning assessment was that once Charlton had to open out a little having gone behind it was easy pickings for Norwich, who he said should then have scored more. Finally, he was astonished that at only 1-0 down Norwich came under so little pressure in the final few minutes. I had to say it sounded like a number of games I had seen this season.

Usually even in a poor season you look at purple patches. At least ours have to still be ahead of us. Back-to-back wins are usually a good indication. Not only have we not had any back-to-back wins, only twice so far this season (away at Doncaster and Notts Forest, then home to Burnley and away to Ipswich) have we had back-to-back points. In other words almost every time we have won or drawn we have followed that up with a defeat. Our longest unbeaten run(s) this season stands at two. To say that the team has got used to losing is stating the obvious.

Assuming that a perfectly understandable desire to avoid Millwall is an insufficient reason to aim for a return to third-flight football, what is to be done? Of course the decision over the manager has to come first. I have no complaints that Parkinson was given the chance in a caretaker capacity and given a little leeway to avoid thinking that each game might be his last in charge. Six games can’t amount to a fair crack of the whip. But it’s long enough to come to some conclusions – and they can’t be positive.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that the Alladyce/Rednapp ‘new broom’ effect is automatic. But it’s not rocket science to suggest reasons why such changes can have an effect. Usually the new broom comes into a club in crisis and is consequently unencumbered by the pressures of failure. To players they must seem like a breath of fresh air whatever they do on the training ground; and of course there is extra effort on their part to impress early on. As long as the new guy has enough nous to harness the brighter mood and direct it, pointing out to the players that they are excellent and that it was all the fault of the last manager, while focusing on the basics, the effect can be dramatic – especially if there is a bit of luck on the pitch. We’ve also seen that internal promotions can work, at least for a while. At Sunderland Sbragia raised morale and seems to have allowed the players more freedom on the pitch, which they have been good enough to exploit.

What I have yet to see work well is a manager instilling confidence in the team he has taken over by commenting that “everyone is waiting for the January transfer window to open .... I doubt that anyone could argue with the fact that this squad needs improving”. I read these comments from Parkinson in the programme for the Derby game with astonishment. What on earth is he trying to do? Win brownie points for honesty? Sorry, you get brownie points for delivering improvement (hopefully leading to points). There are many successful styles of management (although anyone who thinks the way to discover them is a management course shouldn’t bother); all involve leadership of a sort and all involve various ways by which you can maximise the talents available to you. Sometimes they involve lying, or at least playing with the truth. I’m not suggesting we praise deception in itself, but the style of management that involves saying ‘you’re crap and I want to get in new players’ usually ends in tears. After all, if a player is out of the squad at present just how good is he meant to feel about himself? Answer is you put in a transfer request (and who can blame you?).

In my opinion Parkinson has brought some stability to team selection and some plain talking, welcome developments after what had gone before (was it only a couple of months ago that Pardew was reassuring us in the programme that he was not just using Charlton as a stepping-stone?) But on the downside he has singularly failed to ease the tension gripping the players or to lift their morale and confidence. And the ‘back to basics’, safety-first approach has not worked on the pitch. Under Parkinson we have had three tame away defeats with just one goal scored, a poor home defeat, and two relatively encouraging home draws (any benefits of which were quickly wiped out by defeat in the next game) – against six of the most ordinary teams in this division. Of course if Derby had not equalised things might look different. But these moments matter. If Fulham had not been handed their equaliser against us maybe Pardew would still be in charge of a Premiership team. All ifs and buts and might have beens.

Despite the above, I’m not just going to conclude Parkinson has to go. I don't sign the cheques. But I do feel that now is the time for a decision on him as each game becomes more important – and there are two left before the year is out. There were good reasons for Richard Murray to say no decision until January. But by now he must be pretty sure himself whether Parkinson is the best available option. Only he and Chappell are in a position to know, on the basis of our finances and the CVs in the top drawer. If they feel Parkinson is the best bet why not give him a boost and come out and say now that he has the job until the end of the season? That would at least enable Parkinson to be thinking in terms of firming up his plans for the January window; also, if things start to go badly against QPR on Boxing Day it would work against the crowd turning (perhaps even the players for that matter), as at least we would know this is it for the rest of the season and we have to try to make the best of it.

If Murray and the board have all but decided we have to make another change, the only good reasons for not making it now would seem to be the timing of the availability of a replacement and the fact that they said Parkinson would be in charge until the end of the year. Murray might also be forgiven for not wanting to have to play Santa two Christmases running by sacking a manager just before the festive season.

At the moment I can’t get excited about the prospect of Parkinson staying in charge. But I’d rather find out now that he is if he is going to be than in January. Then we can focus on what goes on on the pitch (hopefully that will work in favour of another rallying call) and the possibility of making a better fist of a transfer window than in the past. If he isn’t going to be retained beyond 31 December, don’t hang the guy out for another two matches; we haven’t got the games to spare.

Monday 15 December 2008


I thought football was supposed to be a funny game. I suppose some neutrals watching on TV might have seen the funny side. But I can’t. Lucky generals? It’s a good job we weren’t at Waterloo or Napoleon’s descendents might still be in power in London. These things are supposed to even themselves out over a season, but the fact is they don’t for teams at the bottom. Coming away from the match tonight felt like after Pardew’s first home game in charge against Fulham, when we were robbed in the last minute by a linesman’s error. Robbed may be a little strong, but Derby were poor and deserved nothing. We were better than of late and were a hair’s breath away from the three points. I was tempted just to write b******s. That word just about sums it up, although I hope the players and the fans can take heart from what nearly was and carry it on.

Trying to be rational, it was far from perfect. We were better than against Coventry, Derby provided poorer opposition. But for the first time since early October we were actually in front in a home game. At last we got ourselves in a position to win a game. That we didn’t hold on was cruel, but there you go. With apologies to Lee Hazelwood, I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me. I hope it feels like that in the morning.

The team saw Weaver replaced in goal by Elliot, which was a little harsh (I would have actually made Weaver my player of the month as he didn’t let a couple of poor games affect him) but you can’t argue with the decision; and Elliott did nothing wrong (except a rather poor imitation of Sasha when it came to their penalty) and a lot right. With McEveley out (and seemingly removed from the team sheet in the programme) Basey got the nod. Holland was rested, with Semedo returning to central midfield to partner Bailey, while the reshuffling of the loan signings saw Waghorn come in for Burton and Sam returned in place of Gillespie wide right. One of the notable features was the Dad’s Army bench: Weaver, Todorov, Gillespie, Burton (plus Youga).

In the first half an hour we were livelier than against Coventry, with Waghorn causing more problems than Burton since he came here and Bouazza more involved than in most games (although frustratingly he often failed to make himself available for Basey, which contributed to one or two poor clearances). A run and dangerous cross from Bouazza and then a ball that ran loose to in the box and a shot came crashing back off the post.

Then came the two moments that set the tone for the game. Just as against Coventry the opposition seemed to be making more headway and sure enough their chance came. A dangerous cross from the left and their bald guy had a near free header. He failed to connect properly and it went wide. If that had gone in it would have seemed like Coventry all over again – and would really have tested the crowd’s support. This time it didn’t.

Then we scored a quite excellent goal, the sort of centre-forward’s strike that have been few and far between since Gray came to the club (which seemed to inspire him and he had I thought one of his best games for us, probably helped by the greater mobility of Waghorn as his partner). It was well worked to him and he ran onto the ball and buried it. Saints alive, we’re ahead in a home game – and managed to hold the lead to the break, with the players applauded off the pitch.

Derby made changes early in the second half which made them much more open, but also a little more dangerous. We did manage to exploit the space to create chances. A foul on Bouazza and a free kick just outside the box, then Bouazza played into space with only the keeper to beat only for him to shoot over. We seemed more likely to score a second than they were to equalise, but after they had one ruled out for offside a cross from the right saw a hand stuck out and a rather soft penalty conceded.

At least heads didn’t drop and with the game still pretty open we continued to look the more likely. Finally Gray and Semedo managed to release Sam down the right and he did superbly, cutting back inside rather than playing an early ball in and picking out Waghorn inside the box. His shot took a deflection but had enough on it to loop up and into the net.

As the game wore on we seemed to be holding them quite comfortably, not having to chase the game. Burton replaced Waghorn, who had taken a knock, and Gillespie came on to good effect for Sam. But there were tired legs out there and four minutes of stoppage time was not what we wanted to hear. Derby had no choice but to try to get the ball into the box and their last-gasp efforts saw a couple of throws, the last of which produced a cross, a deflection off a Charlton defender, and the ball swept home by Ellington. Those around me were convinced we were well over the four minutes, but for the sake of appearances the ref played on after the kick-off for a full twenty seconds.

There are for once positives. We put ourselves in a position to win and didn’t end up throwing it away. There was no questioning the commitment and application, just the need for a post-match inquiry as to just who did what to deserve this sort of luck. Elliot looked assured, dealt with high balls well, and had no chance with their goals. Cranie was solid after an indifferent night against Coventry, Basey played well with the exception of one or two mistakes, while Fortune and Hudson generally had the measure of their forwards – but two balls into the box were not dealt with and we paid the price. Semedo and Bailey worked tirelessly, Bouazza, perhaps boosted by his player of the month vote (yes, I was mystified), was more active – but missed the chances to have buried the game. Gray was much improved, Waghorn offered us more mobility (and compared well with an ineffective Varney) and Sam deserves special praise for the way he set up the second goal. Finally, the crowd were, for once, excellent, even at the finish. Please can we provide this support when we are losing.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. No impression of nerves, assured performance. Having chosen him he looks set for a run in the side.

Cranie: 7/10. Not much going forward, but defensively sound.

Basey: 7/10. A couple of errors in the first half but got away with them, useful deliveries from set pieces.

Fortune: 6/10. Seemed to be having a good game, plenty of balls well won in the air. But we conceded two goals as a result of crosses, with another ruled out for offside.

Hudson: 6/10. As with Fortune. A lot of good work, but another two conceded.

Semedo: 7/10. Has had a tough time of late, but with a limited and primarily defensive role did a job.

Bailey: 6/10. Plenty of tackles and covering, but still struggling a little to pick out passes and to make the team tick.

Bouazza: 5/10. Oh, Bouazza. I said I would judge him only on whether he scores and tonight he missed the chances. On that basis it should be a 0, but I thought he actually contributed more for the team than before and at least got in good positions. Could have been a match-winner but wasn’t.

Sam: 8/10. As before not everything goes right for him, but in previous games he has delivered some telling crosses and tonight our second goal was as much his as Waghorn’s.

Gray: 8/10. Much improved, led the line well and took his goal well.

Waghorn: 8/10. He offered a good deal more than Burton has so far and scored. Two central forwards scoring in the same game. When did that last happen?


Burton: 5/10. Didn’t say any significant contribution.
Gillespie: 7/10. Superb at running down the clock when we needed to and almost stole in at the far post to score.

Now I’m going away to cry into a bottle.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Please Sir, I Want More Straws

What is there to say? Were we poor? Undoubtedly. Were Coventry good? Not really, although they had a plan and weren’t the abject no-hopers that came to town at the end of last season. Were we unlucky? A little, although if you make your own luck you have to say we didn’t do enough to earn the tag. Did the players deserve to leave the pitch to a chorus of ‘you’re not fit to wear the shirt’? Not really, but if the supporters can’t call for the manager’s head any more someone has to take the rap; and after the sixth consecutive home game without a win and 12 overall there’s a lot of frustration to go around. Empty spaces on the terraces on a quiet, cold evening accompanied by a nervous, timid display. Are we in a full-blown crisis? Without doubt.

Let’s deal with the game first. Weaver and Cranie were passed fit; Semedo dropped to the bench and Holland returned to play alongside Bailey; and Gray too took a place among the subs, with McLeod leapfrogging both Todorov and Dickson to start alongside Burton. Otherwise it was as you were, with the defence and wide players unchanged.

We probably shaded the first half an hour without really threatening. Gillespie was working well and Bailey and Holland were at least matching their opposite numbers. Burton was allowed the time and space for a shot, a couple of decent crosses went in, and Hudson met a corner well to bring a save out of their keeper. Not bad, but not much of a return. At the other end Coventry started slowly but became more threatening as the half wore on. McEveley slipped while backtracking and seemed to damage his shoulder (if it was dislocated allowing him to play on until Semedo had warmed up was at the least rash). After Semedo came on their player, Simpson, seemed to get more joy from getting wide and running into space (as well as winning challenges in the air by leading with the elbow). A dangerous cross to the near post well met by Hudson, then the ball in the net but ruled out for offside (although in days gone by it would have been given for their guy being played onside).

I began to think that at least the relative improvement under Parkinson of going in at half time at home on level terms was going to continue. But a whipped cross from their left and Simpson ploughed through a static defence to get on the end of it. Just another game in which sooner or later the opposition created a chance – in this case by one player reading a good ball in and showing the determination to make something happen – and took it while we tried to play steadily and hope that something would pay off. But with Burton and McLeod far too static and shackled the percentages were never really being made to work in our favour. We didn’t make enough happen to say we were truly unlucky at the interval – although perhaps it would all have been different if the referee had seen fit to award an appropriate amount of injury time. Two minutes after at least two breaks of longer than that for injuries and then the substitution. Clutching at straws? Well clearly, but what else is there to clutch at?

The second half seemed to be meandering along in a similar fashion when McLeod managed to move onto the ball and get goalside of his marker in the area. There was contact and, while the penalty was soft, it looked like the correct decision. Having given the penalty the only question was why their defender, who was undoubtedly the last man, stayed on the pitch. That decision too changed the game. Burton delivered an unstoppable penalty and suddenly it was game on, with a chance for the crowd to get involved and lift the team.

It doesn’t need saying that the one thing you can’t do in that situation is give the lead back straight away. A silly challenge and a free kick, taken many yards ahead of where the actual offence took place. And this time it was an unstoppable free kick that flew in off the far post, giving Weaver no chance. Cue return to frustration and despondency.

There was a double substitution, with Todorov coming on for Burton and Gillespie, who was injured on the touchline, replaced by Gray (just why it wasn’t Sam to keep the shape I don’t know), with McLeod moving wide. As in previous games Todorov’s introduction seemed to lead to more things happening. But the game was getting stretched and we were just as likely to concede, leaving players forward, as score again. And it was the final 15 minutes that were the most depressing.

Basically, lacking shape and bereft of ideas, and with players tiring, the mistakes came thick and fast. Misplaced passes, poor control, being outplayed by an average team. It all seemed to weigh on the players, whose mood seemed to be summed up by a challenge by Cranie which smacked of ‘I don’t care if you send me off’. If the game had gone on another 10 minutes things would only have got worse. There was nothing more on the bench, nothing more in reserve, and we were being beaten by Coventry.

There will be time enough for reasoned comment over the next few days – although the best thing we can all do is forget about football until Monday and leave it to the players and management to sort it out. It’s what they’re paid for. There are some things that we might usefully change, in particular dropping the very tentative approach adopted under Parkinson. With McEveley looking likely to be out for a while Moutaouakil may return (although whether he wants to is another matter) and I’d also bring back Youga. We’ve bolstered height and strength in defence in return for attacking possibilities and we’re still conceding goals – and not scoring, or creating many chances. Oh, and that notion that the new guy might prove to be lucky. Forget it.

Player Ratings:

Weaver: 7/10. No chance with either goal. A little tentative on some crosses but that’s nothing new.

Cranie: 5/10. That tackle late on suggested to me either he was very tired or was past caring (or both). Seldom got forward.

McEveley: 6/10. Not on long enough for a proper rating.
Semedo: 5/10. Disappointing. Seemed tentative and was getting caught out by Coventry’s tactics, found it increasingly difficult as the game wore on to make passes.

Hudson: 6/10. Can’t say he had a bad game, with one superb interception in the first half. But he is the captain and there was insufficient sign of him providing leadership as things were going wrong.

Fortune: 6/10. Didn’t see him do much wrong, just another game where we concede goals.

Bouazza: 2/10. I said previously that given the lack of contribution to the team from him I’ll rate him on whether he scores. He didn’t and his contribution was unchanged. He is clearly capable of a lot more but if he doesn’t produce it for us what is the point of playing him?

Gillespie: 6/10. I thought he had a reasonable first half, although his crossing from good positions too often provided an easy catch for their keeper.

Holland: 7/10. Decent first half, tried to up his contribution as things went wrong, tired towards the end and made mistakes. No shortage of effort but is it enough?

Bailey: 5/10. OK first half, with some good tackles, but too often he looks up with the ball and doesn’t see or feel what to do, hesitates, and is caught in possession. In part its the fault of those in front of him and their lack of movement. But it’s also about awareness.

Burton: 5/10. Good penalty but nothing much else.

McLeod: 6/10. Won the penalty but nothing much else. Deserves some praise for not hiding when things were not working.

Todorov: 7/10. I’m not sure what he needs to do to start a game. He continues to look by some distance our best forward. Maybe he’s still not up to 90 minutes.

Gray: 5/10. Not effective after coming on.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Demain Il Fera Jour

Perhaps the only way you can assess a game is how you feel at the end of it. Cold, a little damp, mildly disappointed at not winning, but some relief that we didn’t lose - and sheer delight at a clean sheet. I’m not sure what others think (or feel), but for me it was a case of no steps back but none forward either, other than a more solid shape to the team at the expense of quality. We should be under no illusion that we are now in a relegation scrap and the rest of the season is just about staying up. If this is accomplished it is a case of job done and nobody should be looking to pass any sort of judgment on the basis of one game under the new regime (I can’t comment on QPR, I wasn’t there). If today proves to be a basis from which we can build that’s fine.

It proved to be a game that we didn’t win because four good chances in the final 20 minutes of the first half were not converted. One was shot wide, two brought outstanding saves by the Southampton keeper, who has to be given whatever man of the match award is going. But Southampton made one change for the second half and thereafter dominated possession, passed the ball better than us, and through the second half looked the more likely winners without creating a great deal – one superb save by Weaver being the exception. Until the final few minutes when Todorov made some things happen and almost won the game for us. Overall nobody can really quibble about a draw being a fair result; but if we had scored when we were on top and gone into the break ahead it could have been much better.

The team saw Youga go the way of Moutaouakil in the pursuit of more physical presence, with Cranie retained at right-back and McEveley making his debut on the left. Fortune was preferred to Primus alongside Hudson, while Bailey returned in place of Racon from Tuesday alongside Semedo in the centre of midfield. Gillespie and Bouazza provided the width and Gray and Burton were paired together up front. More solid, more dependable, but no great pace about the team.

The first half an hour was fairly even, but with Bailey and Semedo having the better of things in midfield and McEveley getting forward to good effect we started to dictate the game. Burton and Gray seemed to work well enough together and the chances then started to come. That they weren’t taken was as much to do with their goalkeeper as profligate finishing.

The second half was more of a disappointment as less came through midfield, Bouazza did another disappearing act, and their tactical change saw us resorting more to rather aimless balls forward. During this spell we could have lost the game. Sam came on to replace Gillespie, then Todorov for Gray and it was the latter move that saw us look more effective going forward once again. I’m not sure what the guy has to do to start, but he still looks a class apart to me and I hope he will feature more in the games ahead. In the final minutes Holland came on for Bailey.

Overall the quality wasn’t great, but a home game where we don’t concede a goal has to be a blessing at the moment. Again, it’s whether we can build on this, because the more negative interpretation is another home game without a win. That’s five now and 10 games overall. And Suzanne didn’t get her win. I’m trying to think of an appropriate Piaf song, but at the moment Je ne Regrette Rien doesn’t exactly hit the mark, nor does La Vie En Rose.

Of the new boys, I thought Gillespie played well. He knows his stuff and can be relied on to contribute effectively. Burton also looked like he knew the score and what was required, while not setting the place alight by scoring. McEveley had a mixed game. Defensively he was caught out a couple of times and once lost the ball badly and was slow at getting back. But he got forward to good effect some times and added drive and solidity, as did Cranie. Fortune had a good game and seemed to work well with Hudson, Semedo made plenty of tackles and covered well. Bouazza? From now on I’m inclined to judge him on whether he scores as he seems to contribute little else. The phrase defensive duties doesn’t seem to apply to him. He didn’t score. Perhaps the biggest plus point was Weaver. After recent games his confidence could have been low, but he showed character in showing no after-effects and when called on to make the save he did.

Player Ratings:

Weaver: 8/10. Well done.

Cranie: 7/10. Looked solid and adds height to the back four. In contrast to recent games we looked relatively untroubled from set pieces, which has to be attributed to the players who came in.

McEveley: 6/10. Not far short of being an 8 but made some mistakes which could have been costly. Too soon to pass judgement as he looked like he could become a star. More than a passing resemblance to Danny Mills.

Fortune: 7/10. Slotted back in effectively, good game.

Hudson: 7/10. Better game than against Sheff Utd and quietly effective.

Bouazza: 5/10. Contribution still inadequate. Frustrating.

Semedo: 7/10. No real errors, but sometimes looks lost when in possession.

Bailey: 7/10. With Semedo lost control of midfield in the second half, but a steadier game than those of late.

Gillespie: 7/10. Good professional, a git when he plays against us but now he’s one of us.

Gray: 6/10. Not bad but needed a goal when we were on top.

Burton: 6/10. Too soon to judge, he’s only been with us a few days. He and Gray did carve out chances in the first half.

Todorov: 8/10. Made a clear difference when he came on and nearly won it for us.

Sam: 6/10. Not much time to make a mark, had a couple of good runs.

Holland: Not on long enough for a rating but we know all we need to here.

Sunday 23 November 2008

River Of Salt

Well, Pardew did suggest in his last programme notes that this might be the time for the purse strings to be loosened a little. Presumably – barring a takeover of the club - his pay-off further reduces the already very limited scope for the next manager to shape a team, as well as the potential for attracting a new manager if Murray decides against internal promotions. The third successive Charlton manager leaves us in a worse shape than when they arrived. How different we all felt when Pardew arrived. At least the next manager will not have to cope with unrealistic expectations.

Postscripts on the Pardew stewardship of Charlton can hardly be positive. Fortune undoubtedly did not favour him. If a linesman had not made a bad mistake in injury time against Fulham, if the Premiership authorities had not rescued West Ham, if Sunderland had not come calling for Andy Reid. He can’t carry the can for us being relegated (although with eight games to go we were still capable of staying up only to fail to cope with the pressure), can’t take all the blame for the failure to rebound, given the numerous changes that relegation imposed, but as he acknowledged he has failed to arrest the slide that in retrospect pretty much set in early this year as an automatic promotion spot and then a play-off place slipped away. This season he has singularly failed to impose any semblance of a consistent team or style of play, to get the best out of the players, and for that he pays the price.

A realisation of the position we are in should frame the debate over who succeeds him. This season is now all about avoiding relegation, with a dangerous gap emerging between us and teams above us, which is hardly surprising given recent results. Can we afford a lengthy process of advertising the post and interviewing candidates? It’s not as if the incoming manager will have the time or the resources to create a team suited to him. There can be comings and goings in January but the task is much more about shaping the current squad – and righting whatever has been wrong on the training ground and the dressing room.

It seems to me there are two initial decisions to be made by Murray and the board. Parkinson is effectively now the incumbent and it would be invidious to advertise the post a treat him as one of the candidates. Either he is given the job, whether permanent or as a caretaker, for a decent time or he is not. To my mind a decision to open up the position would amount to saying that Parkinson is not considered right for the job. I don’t know the answer.

If not Parkinson you have to assume that it would be worth a phone call from Murray to Curbishley to test the waters. If he wants the job and we can afford him and the associated changes (presumably he still comes with Day, so there would have to be further departures). I have no idea whether Curbs would want to come back, but of the immediate non-Parkinson alternatives he obviously stands out.

If not Parkinson and not Curbs, the choice is to promote from within or go outside. Pros and cons on both sides. Kinsella seems not to be considered as a suitable number one, Robson seemed to be being groomed but found himself out in the cold, and Powell still counts as promoting from within. Gritt’s name is not being mentioned either. None of these options (if they are indeed options) looks especially attractive. One that might – and which may serve as the wildcard factor – is to make Holland player-manager. He is coming to the end of his playing career and seems to be a manger in the making. I have no idea if the time and circumstances are right for him to step up, but of the internal options this strikes me as a possibility. It’s not so different from the start of the Curbishley reign.

If we go outside its anyone’s guess. Bottom line is we would be choosing from a list of motley candidates as no Championship manager is likely to jump ship to join us. Again, our priority now is to stay in this division and to install a manager that maximises our chances of turning things around in a short space of time. Time is decidedly not on our side. To my mind that makes advertising the post as much of a risk as promoting from within. Parkinson would find himself just keeping the seat warm and presiding over a difficult period, especially as he can hardly amount to a new broom.

We have seen, most recently at Tottenham, that a new face can work wonders when the face in question has the happy knack of good man management and good fortune. Equally new brooms have often led to failure. So once more no easy answers. But before we look at possible outside candidates the first two options – Parkinson and Curbishley – have to be decided on.

There’s no sense of joy today, or even relief, just sadness. I’m old enough to have grown up with a succession of short-lived Charlton managers, all of whom for various reasons failed in the job – or at least ran their time at a club going nowhere. Hill, Firmani, Stokoe, Foley (is he too old to come back?), Bailey, Mullery, Craggs all came and went. Lawrence was the exception to the rule for me – and a very welcome one. Fact is he presided over a difficult period but made a success of the job until he too ran his course (maybe he is a comeback alternative?). So undoubtedly did Curbishley. The next guy will at least have something in common with Lawrence and Curbs, that they take over a club in exceptionally difficult circumstances. The qualities they brought are the ones that I hope our next manager shares. Just please let him be a lucky one - and let him, like Lawrence and Curbs and unlike Dowie, Reed and Pardew, leave us in a better position than when he took over.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Another Saturday Shot To Hell

Before the game we were trying to think of the last game against Sheff Utd we’d enjoyed. The unanimous verdict was a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park in the promotion season under Lennie Lawrence. No need for any revisions on that front then. We have (famously) conceded five or more at home and got something from the game. But it’s blindingly obvious that the improvement in the last two away games has not extended to avoiding giving away poor goals. Thirteen conceded in four games and everything else becomes irrelevant. This was a key game after two resolute away performances; but just about everything that could go wrong did.

So, let’s go through the goals. In the first few minutes, having failed to score the early goal that could have changed the game (it was something of a scramble in their box), an attack broke down with Sam left on the floor. A cross to the far post seemed to be being dealt with. But instead of the ball going into the proverbial row Z they were allowed to reclaim possession and it was squared to of all people Beattie. I’d need to see it again, but it was Youga’s area and I’m assuming it was down to him. At least we had got the obligatory Beattie goal out of the way and the game proper could begin. Only problem is playing 4-5-1 at home and behind and chasing the game from the start is not ideal.

A soft foul on Sam, decent free kick delivery and Primus buried the header. 1-1 and it should have been game on. Then a free kick for them and Speed, who has made a career out of escaping markers in the box, was given a free header to give them back the lead. Whose fault? Well, whoever was supposed to be marking him.

Conceding a goal just before half-time is always heart-breaking, but conceding three either side of the break is just about criminal. No doubt about their third. A fairly harmless cross was Weaver’s all the way. He dropped it (he may have been fouled but it wasn’t obvious) and the loose ball was buried. Another cross early in the second half got a touch on at the near post and Youga couldn’t avoid it coming off his toe into the net. Their fifth was apparently quite well worked, but as I was texting the latest update at the time I can’t really say. Let’s blame that one on the cat.

Bouazza pulled one back with his one meaningful contribution of the game (he did have a run and shot in the first half). But any thought of an unlikely comeback effectively disappeared a little later as Gray, possibly Bouazza, put it wide with only the keeper to beat.

Sheffield had other chances, including in the first half when Weaver came well out of his goal and with his clearance managed to find Halford (he of the returning long throw). His effort from well out came back off the crossbar. More chances were missed by them towards the end, but it really didn’t matter. We had a few chances too. Ditto.

To try to be reasonable this wasn’t a case of a spineless performance the like of others of late. There was no lack of effort and at times we didn’t play badly. We just looked like shipping goals and did. It is pointless to talk about whether we played well in the last 20 minutes – and certainly Holland and Bailey, both of whom were anonymous in the first half, came into the game and looked more comfortable when we switched to 4-4-2, with Youga departing, Semedo dropping to left-back, and Waghorn coming on to accompany Gray and then Todorov when Gray was replaced. Whether it was a case of the formation suiting them better or Sheffield sitting on what they had is impossible to say.

Did anyone have a good game? Not everything he did worked and sometimes he seemed to take the wrong options, but Sam was lively and involved throughout. Primus made a number of clearances and could have scored more than one. Semedo did his job in the centre and then at left-back; and Moutaouakil was pretty good. Gray worked hard to no great effect in a system which relies on both men either side of him pulling their weight. Against that Weaver’s frailty from crosses has hurt us in two consecutive games now, Hudson looked more uncertain than in previous games, Youga seemed to let his own goal (and possible earlier mistake) get to him, while Holland and Bailey failed to impose themselves on the game in the first half. But again its all meaningless when we give away poor goals. It’s another match after which if anyone asked me if Sheffield were a good team I’d have to say I don’t know. They didn’t have to do that much to score and win the game comfortably.

Can Pardew survive this? In his defence its not his fault if individuals give away goals, other than to the extent that he has picked them. What is curious, especially in view of the goals we are shipping, is that the loan signing to date is a forward, while another loan signing, Cranie, didn’t feature. Before the game it seemed that the defence at least effectively picked itself. That assumption has to go out of the window in light of the mistakes made. On the positive side it seems that Racon and Fortune are close to being back in consideration, hopefully Zhi before too long. Thoughts that we might have found a new formation and more resilience have just flown out of the window. Whether the manager carries the can for this we will just have to wait and see. For now its a case of another depressing summary of another depressing afternoon. Time enough for reason tomorrow.

Player Ratings:

Weaver: 4/10. Made one decent save when the game was lost. His error before half-time might have been enough to finish us off. Clearly there is a decision to be made over whether Elliot comes in for QPR. One off day is acceptable and happens to every goalkeeper. But his confidence on crosses and general decision-making are low and you just can’t afford that.

Moutaouakil: 7/10. I don’t think he was culpable for any of the goals (unless he was involved in the fifth). The blame lies elsewhere, although I see from the programme interview that he is deeply religious. Maybe having him and Primus in the same defence is costing us as divine intervention does not seem to be working in our favour.

Youga: 4/10. Costly errors saw him substituted. Seems that there is a serious question mark over his position in the team, which is a great regret as when he is playing well he adds a great deal to the team.

Hudson: 6/10. Did a lot right and can’t be blamed for any goals. But it did seem to me that he was less dominant than in other games this season. He’s still a big plus for us, but marshalling a defence that’s shipping goals can’t be good for anyone’s confidence.

Primus: 7/10. Scored one, could have had more. But played in a defence that shipped five goals at home.

Sam: 7/10. As above, was involved and lively.

Semedo: 8/10. Has to have some culpability when you are the defensive midfielder and we concede five. But I don’t think he did much wrong and slotted in capably at left-back.

Holland: 5/10. Seemed unable to influence the game in the first half. Came into it more in the second when we changed formation, but it was too late by then.

Bailey: 5/10. Same as Holland.

Bouazza: 5/10. Gets a plus for another goal but otherwise was out of the game. Always looks capable of so much more.

Gray: 6/10. Not easy to play the lone central forward when you’re losing the game at home. Is he able to not train with personal problems and then play?

Waghorn: 7/10. Not easy to judge in this situation. I hope he plays for us in better circumstances.
Todorov: 6/10. Came on when the game was lost. Was involved in one or two chances.

Collectively the scores look too high for what was another thrashing at home, another game when the last 20 minutes were meaningless as the game was lost. But in the midst of it all this game was about individual mistakes which cost us dear, not the abject overall displays that we have seen of late. Still lost though.

Monday 17 November 2008

Retour Aux Basiques

What lessons can we learn from Saturday? Well, two obviously. First, don’t have your keeper eat bananas during the game and forget where he puts the skins; second – and I really should have known this – never, never, never ever leave the PC and radio when Charlton are winning. Up 2-1 going into the second half and its a quick jaunt around the Village to pick up some necessities. Steeled myself for the possibility of bad news, perhaps they’d equalised. Can’t rule it out. But 3-2 down upon return was a harsh lesson. The Charlton underpants and socks, even sometimes the python-skin boots, have been sacrificed after failing to prove themselves as the quintessential lucky accessory. Now for away games, especially now that there’s no excuse for not enduring full commentary, it’s going to have to be a case of not moving from the seat. At least until this technique fails to deliver.

Two tough away games and only one point when it might easily have been all six. But like most others (it seems) I’m more heartened than disappointed (which is not to say that the players should not take the pain and use it to redouble their resolve for the games coming up). What was essential after Barnsley and previous debacles was to play better – and more like a team, preferably even a team that has an idea of how it’s supposed to play. Two creditable performances later and there’s clearly been an improvement. As long as we maintain the improvement the results will follow. This isn’t blind over-optimism; I think we all know very little is going to be perfect this season (except the January drubbing of Palace) and so far its only a case of one step forward after a number back. It can easily still go pear-shaped again – perhaps in the event that we don’t win at least one of the batch of the next three, in which case confidence could slump once more. We don’t need reminding that we haven’t won a game since 4 October (lost four, drawn three, almost become the next Man City etc).

It’s fair to view the coming three games in seven days as a mini-season. In the past two games performances were everything. Now we need to move on and to produce a victory, whether a glorious, free-flowing rout or a ground-out battling 1-0. It don’t matter. Home to Sheff Utd and Southampton and we could be viewing four points from the two games as a fair target. Away to QPR in between, where a draw would be acceptable (win most welcome). So 4-6 points from the three games would be a decent return, which does not mean winning the first two and viewing it as job done for the third.

(It seems that for these games at least we will be able to draw on the services of 18-year-old Sunderland striker Martin Waghorn who has come in on loan. Described on the official site as pacy, this has to be something of a slap in the face for over-18-years-old-pacy-frontman-recently-returned-from-injury-and-rushed-into-first-team-action Izale McLeod, even for slightly older pacy and hardworking frontman who can’t score goals Luke Varney. Can’t comment on the move as I know nothing about him, but I’m a little surprised. I was at the youth cup game against Sunderland last season when Waghorn apparently scored against us. I find it difficult to remember any goals scored by the opposition and certainly have no recollection of this one (was it the last-minute winner?). At least we have got our own back on him by using a photo on the club site that makes him look like something out of the Munsters.)

As ever its about improvement – and let’s give Pardew some credit for the upturn in attitude and performance. Those of us who sat through humiliation at the hands of West Ham on a freezing Boxing Day some years back remember Curbishley changing formation and the team turning over Man City 4-1 away the next game. My final thoughts (for now) on the Pardew debate are not meant to be as indecisive as they sound. Bottom line is we are not going to attract the acknowledged best managers in the business; we didn’t manage that in the Premiership when Curbs left. Pardew has not proven to be the saviour many hoped and I’m sure the past month or so has shaken him. But if he can emerge from the period as a better manager and show continued improvement he is the right man for the job (that being by definition the best available).

Some clearly have simply given up on Pardew and want a change; personally I try not to lose sleep on issues which are beyond my control (which is a blessed state as very little sleep is lost). If Richard Murray feels that a change would be for the good of the club fair enough, especially as its the money of him and other directors that would be at stake, not mine. Equally, as long as he is the manager, has Murray’s backing, and we show that we can build on the recent improvement he deserves our support too. Now you can interpret this as being in favour of him staying unless and until he is sacked or backing any decision by Murray to make a change.

After all, our season is undoubtedly about to take a turn for the better. Our turnaround is a little more protracted as we have more games to play, but as we are duty-bound to track the fortunes of Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, the omens are very good. Having failed to update their site covering the 11th round of games for CFA Groupe B the results for the 12th (from last weekend) have been added. Taking the results for the season to date it’s not exactly rocket-science to work out how La Duch fared in the missing fixture.

After a decent start to the season in the higher league (after last-match promotion the previous campaign), with three wins, a draw and one defeat in the first five, Lyon Duchere hit a sticky patch. It’s not kind to highlight the fact that this extended either side and through my one attendance at a game, with Duchere losing the game before I visited Lyon (at home 2-1), the one that I saw (0-1 away), and the one that followed (0-1 again at home). Three defeats and one goal scored. So it was a case for them of back to basics and a 0-0 draw was duly ground out away against Marignane. That paved the way for a morale-boosting 4-2 home defeat of lowly Bastia, a splendid 2-1 away success against Montpelier B, and over the weekend a third consecutive victory, 1-0 at home to Saint-Priest (which I regard as a suburb of Lyon but which my partner Suzanne assures me is a separate town, one with certain memories as it was where the wedding was held at which we met – at least I think it was as the pastis flowed freely).

The upshot is that Lyon Duchere have moved up to third in the 18-team division. As the France Football site has the top team in a different shade from the others and those placed second and third a shade in between I’m inferring (and far too lazy to confirm) that the champions get automatic promotion and the second and third-placed teams either go into a play-off or some selection process for elevation to National, France’s third division. It doesn’t take much to turn a season around in France either.

It’s going to be hard for Lyon Duchere to overtake either of the top two, however. With 32 points from 12 games (three for a win, one for a draw, and a point for each game you turn up for) and a record of won 6, drawn 2, lost 4, they are four points behind second-placed Toulon, who also have a game in hand, and five behind top-placed Hyeres. Next up for La Duch: on 29 November away against Hyeres. They can go into it with confidence and no real pressure. So all we have to do is beat Sheff Utd, QPR and Southampton and we can go into December in similar fashion.

Suzanne will be attending the Southampton game (having booked a weekend in the UK some time ago under the impression that I would get around to buying tickets for the Leonard Cohen concert in Brighton before they sold out; I didn’t, so the lucky girl gets to go to The Valley instead). She was at the Reading game and last night informed me that it wasn’t necessary for Charlton to wait until she returns before they win again. French humour you see. But may I echo the sentiment.

Friday 14 November 2008

Belated Ramblings

I don’t know. A string of dire performances and the chattering classes (of which I am a proud member) can’t stop offering their advice and opinion. A marked improvement (by the sound of it) and a decent away draw (albeit one which might obviously have been something better) and what is some people’s response? Total silence. Well, if there’s nothing much new to complain about what’s the point?

In my defence I didn’t go to Plymouth for the game (admittedly a strange sort of defence from a supporter) and had to rely on ITV’s belated Championship highlights (why do they keep changing the time on Sunday morning? It plays havoc with my schedule). As it happens Lyon was visiting London and stayed until Tuesday, which along with one or two work commitments put back any second-hand comments on the game (along the lines of what were you doing between the penalty and ‘news of another goal at Home Park’). Since then I have been waiting in vain for the good folk at France Football to update the section of their site covering CFA Groupe B to at least provide an update on the fortunes of Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team. But they too seem to have gone for an early hibernation. (The team is sitting comfortably in mid-table but a proper update will have to wait.)

So the only part of possible substance in this post is the overdue acknowledgement that Saturday at least gives us something to build on. For heaven’s sake can we please try to do that? After all, we have had the false dawns of late of the first 20 minutes against Bristol City, the second half against Burnley, and the last 10 minutes away at Ipswich. Disappointment at not getting three points is far outweighed by the impression that the attitude all round was better. I honestly don’t care much about our league position at the moment. It’s not being complacent but its too early to be desperate – we have players good enough in this division if they play to anything like their potential - and any thoughts of the play-offs are for the time being at least for the birds. I am content if there is tangible and sustained improvement – given the low base of some recent performances we are starting from.

As regards playing to potential, it seems that Ambrose will never be able to achieve that in a Charlton shirt. In the Premiership he sometimes thrived but was seldom a match-winner or managed to impose himself on games. In the Championship he seems to have gone backwards and the idea of a rejuvenated player post-operation has been something of an illusion. It’s all something of a pity, but no sorrow at his moving on (or back home). We’ll have to see whether Ipswich manage to get more out of him – if they do maybe we’ll have him back in the new year. Whether it’s a good move presumably depends on who Pardew brings in on loan.

As regards the game tomorrow, bringing back Semedo seems to have paid dividends and a bolstered midfield, with a front three/midfield five at least looks worth sticking with for away at Birmingham (assuming Semedo is fit). With Youga and Moutaouakil providing good support going forward the formation doesn’t need to be as defensive as it sounds – and at least with Todorov and Dickson involved there is the opportunity for some changes if needed. Let’s not forget we were losing for a large part of the game on Saturday, prompting changes from Pardew, rather than the starting line-up proving a revelation. Bottom line is that everyone acknowledges there have been too many changes to the team of late, so a little continuity might not go amiss.

It seems that the one area where there has been a change is in Pardew’s preparation for the game. After Plymouth he commented that "I entered the week thinking 'if I was a new manager, what would I do?' I changed everything around - training, the whole shebang - for the game and got the reaction I wanted.” Sounds fine and sensible, good idea to try to freshen things up all round. I was rather more concerned with what he said before the game: "I've really planned the week. I've looked at the team, reviewed what has brought us success and what hasn't, and addressed that. I've concentrated on the team and the players we've got, to prepare them for a tough encounter at Plymouth.” There’s been enough Pardew-bashing of late, but quite frankly what on earth do you normally do during the period before a game?

Birmingham. I can’t imagine anyone actually wanting to go to Birmingham (in truth, as a Londoner born and bred, I struggle to think of what function places like Birmingham have, other than to house people with funny accents). The only possible pleasure comes from a happy return after a Charlton success. Of course, we all know our favourite St Andrews match. But a decent number two for me is still Sasha Ilic’s heroic display in a 0-0 draw to deny Birmingham a play-off place (with our place – and our glorious triumph – already assured). We had little to play for, but with the Brummies, including the utterly unlikeable Jasper Carrot, going out of their way to try to intimidate the team responded magnificently, none more than Sasha. If we can show half the character tomorrow that the team did that day we will be fine.

Sunday 2 November 2008

No Simple Solutions, Or Ain't No Answer In Me

As they might have said in the movies, today is another day. The anger after yesterday’s game has dissipated somewhat, although real sense of concern over the team has not. Whether or not Pardew keeps his job is up to people much closer to the situation – and with much more riding on the decision - than me. All fans can do is draw some inferences from what goes on on the pitch and express their opinions on what may be wrong in as constructive a fashion as possible, at least once the dust has settled a little after another home defeat. More shocking performances like those of late and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that either we have players who don’t want to be here or players who don’t want to play for Pardew. The onus is now on them to prove otherwise.

For what its worth, and this is coming from someone who has regularly expressed exasperation at the attitude of fans too ready to moan and boo at every available opportunity, I think the fans have been quite tolerant and supportive of late. There has been an element of gallows humour in the ‘Charlton ‘Till I Die’ singing, the ‘We Want Pardew Out’ singing was effectively confined to the half-time break and the end of the game. The booing of Youga during the Bristol City game was totally counter-productive, but there has also been good support when at times during recent games the players have demonstrated an appetite for the fight. Perhaps we need to go further. Howls of derision at every misplaced pass needs to go too. We are in a crisis situation and normal rules don’t apply.

Unfortunately we live in an age when everyone feels not only entitled to an opinion but seemingly obliged to express it, however inane. This might sound a touch arrogant from a blogger, but I really don’t think players need to be told when they’ve made a mistake rather than encouragement to keep trying. One of the most depressing post-Barnsley posts was from All Quiet In The East Stand. If genuine supporters are getting so alienated by the attitude of those around them we really are in trouble. Never mind the daft ‘Respect’ campaign to protect referees, perhaps we need one to protect players.

The players that we have at the club are I believe individually better than at least most squads in this division. It seems to me that we are suffering from three key factors (glossing over the fact that at the moment we can’t score more than once at most and we can’t keep a clean sheet).

First, every good team knows its strengths and plays to them; I’ve said it before but if someone asked me what our strengths as a team were I couldn’t say. We ship too many soft goals to say we are strong defensively, clearly we don’t have an out-and-out goalscorer to feed, we haven’t yet found a central midfield partnership that works well (and have been unlucky with the injuries to Zeng and Racon), and we don’t have wide players that are delivering the goods (which is being polite to Bouazza who seems intent on doing his own thing whatever the situation). We can’t play a long-ball game even if we wanted to but equally it’s nonsense to suggest we are at the moment a good passing side or one that is especially blessed with pace.

It has been apparent in recent games that the team plays like a collection of strangers – with the notable exception of the first 20 minutes against Bristol – with very little that seems instinctive. We have lost to very average teams of late but these teams at least knew what they were trying to do, knew their limitations, and had at least a basic understanding of how to play together. Barnsley were big and made it pay (although Pardew’s claim that we missed Primus to help deal with their set pieces seemed a little strange as only one of the three goals was a header); Bristol (to be fair a better than average side) adjusted their set-up after being outplayed early on but relied on fluidity and passed their way through us.

How to address the problem? It is up to Pardew to impose a style of play and to pick the players best equipped to make it work. I honestly find it difficult to say what that should be, but too much of late smacks of trying something in the hope it comes off on the day. I thought the training ground is where you experiment (and from the tone of his post-match comments Pardew seems to be ready to embrace the idea that when it comes to match-day you pick your best team available). From what we’ve seen of late Todorov made the team play better. He’s an experienced player, so ask him who he finds it easiest to play with. We’re clearly not equipped to play a long-ball game, even if we wanted to, so tell Weaver and others that balls hit long, high and hopeful are off the agenda. That approach also supports Moutaouakil (who I thought played well against Barnsley, I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to say so after the game) and Youga as the full-backs.

Second, every good team has a reliable spine. Weaver may never be a keeper to dominate his area but has more than compensated for that in other respects and he and Hudson are the first names on the teamsheet, but that’s about it as far as a reliable structure is concerned. We have to establish one. With Shelvey not really in the picture at the moment and without Zheng and Racon, we seem to be alternating two from Holland, Bailey and Wright in central midfield. I’m not sure why Semedo hasn’t had a look-in here, having done a more than capable job of providing the defensive midfield cover for much of the first half of last season. It has to be back to basics for a while and that suggests one holding player – Holland or Semedo, who can alternate when the fixtures pile up – and one encouraged to play box-to-box. Bailey is struggling after a fine start for us and we’ve not seen enough of Wright to say whether he is what we need. But with a spell now of one game a week it’s up to Pardew to decide on his preferred combination and stick to it, to give the players a chance to get used to each other. Up front for me, as long as his legs are up to it, its Todorov and whoever can best take advantage of his link-up play, be it Varney, Dickson or McLeod.

Third, an inevitable lack of confidence and an unfortunate lack of character. The two are related. Confidence cannot magically reappear but when its in short supply players have to work harder. If they don’t have the character to respond to errors and criticism by redoubling efforts they are no use to us in our current predicament. I can’t say what that means in terms of team selection, you have to be in the dressing room to see the dynamics.

Another ramble bereft of conclusions? Possibly, but what do you expect? There is no magic solution and improvement is down to honest assessments of what is going wrong and what can be done about it. There is a need to acknowledge that at the moment, despite the quality available, we could struggle against a pub team. We don’t need announcements telling us how close we are to a play-off spot when we are playing so poorly (and at least we should be spared them for a while) and it’s pointless to think about our current league position (no, it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference that we are now in the bottom three). The focus has to be entirely on improving performances as a team. If we manage that the rest will follow.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?

In his programme notes Pardew wrote that, while he could not dictate the outcome of this afternoon’s game, he “can dictate the mood in the dressing room”. Well, unless he’s a bloody good comedian he can’t even do that. There is little point in writing a detailed match report. After this latest shambles there is only one question and that is whether the manager stays or goes. On today’s evidence, plus what went on against Bristol City and Burnley – Ipswich too by all accounts, although I wasn’t there – he has some explaining to do to justify why he should keep his job, apart from the cost of sacking him. He’s pretty much lost the fans and the players are giving no indication that they want to play for him. There’s something obviously rotten in the state of SE7 and it has to change because at the moment we’re on a downward spiral.

I think everyone was surprised by the starting line-up. We had been led to believe that Gray would be absent for a while for family reasons, reasons which presumably affected his training of late. He lasted 90 minutes but I can’t remember a meaningful contribution from him. Ambrose we are led to believe is lined up for a swap for Ipswich’s Campo. Bailey is out of form and struggling and Wright is still finding his feet at this level. And Varney looks like he needs a rest. Yet they all played. Bailey and Wright in central midfield, Ambrose and Sam out wide, and Gray and Varney up front. Todorov and Dickson on the bench.

The lack of cohesion in midfield meant very little service to two front men short of confidence. Any team that plays Darren Moore looks set up to be comfortable against a side that hoofs the ball forward to two not especially big strikers. But that’s what we did, including too often from Weaver. More from the programme notes on the Burnley game: “I made a couple of changes at half-time and the response was instant”. Kind of begs the question what were you doing with the formation in the first half.

The cause was not exactly helped by conceding after a minute or so, with a set-piece half-cleared but Macken having all the time he needed from around the edge of the area to pick his spot. Another set piece, another shot, Weaver saved but Macken buried the rebound. And from a corner a headed third. After that it was game over. We scored in the second half but there was no real suggestion of a comeback.

For what it’s worth the half-time change in this game was Bouazza for Sam, with Bouazza going on to provide a second-half performance that epitomised why he should not be considered: a few runs with the intent of producing a Bouazza shot and then total indifference when switched to the left when Dickson came on for Wright, with Varney moving out wide right (where he did look more comfortable and made a few things happen, including getting the free kick for our goal) and Ambrose moving into the centre. We looked more cohesive after that but by then the game was lost and Barnsley were not exactly exerting themselves. Oh, and Dickson looked like a pale imitation of the enthusiastic and exciting player of a year ago.

We have had a lot of games in a short space of time and have been looking to players who might not yet be up to playing two a week. But everything that Pardew has tried in terms of starting X1s has not worked. Making changes at half-time is a poor substitute for getting it right from the start. And when we did that, against Bristol, we fell apart once we went behind. The team quite frankly doesn’t know what it is doing collectively and the responsibility for that has to fall on the manager’s shoulders.

Poxy, wet and cold day. Barnsley weren’t very good, but like all the teams we have played recently they didn’t have to be. There are no positives to take from the game. And I can’t for the life of me think why I’m writing this – or why anyone should bother to read it.

Friday 31 October 2008

Bread For Money

Can’t help it, I hate Barnsley. Well, not really. I certainly don’t hate them as much as some other teams. It’s just that every team we come up against these days reminds me of some time in the past we played them and how much better life was then. Perhaps we need Millwall to get promoted just as a reminder that not everything in the past was enjoyable (which does kind of assume that we don’t change places – but of course if we did drop another division we would not be short of reminders of unpleasant past experiences).

The last time we went into a home game against Barnsley, just nine games into the season, we were sitting in second place on the back of an unbeaten run of seven games, five of which were victories. We had if not a settled and balanced team at least something that looked reasonably coherent, one which certainly had the dab of class that we thought would get us promoted. Weaver, Mills and Powell at full-back, Bougherra and Fortune in central defence, Ambrose, Semedo Zheng and Reid in midfield, and Iwelumo and Varney up front, with Randolph, Sodje, Holland, Thomas and Todorov on the bench. Of that 16, seven are no longer at the club, one is out on loan, and two are out injured; only six will be available for selection tomorrow – and one of those is seemingly about to be swapped for a gnarled old lunatic.

I actually missed the game, having a pre-planned weekend in Lyon. It was disappointing at the time that we did not simply brush aside more inferior opposition and conceded a late goal to be held to a draw. But no more than that. Just a splinter in the banister on the joyride back to the Premiership. Little did we know that that Saturday morning in early October 2007 was the best it was going to get (Palace at home later on being the exception that proves the rule). After an international break we were turned over at Wolves then lost at home to Plymouth and QPR. We all know how it went after that; by the time we tamely surrendered 3-0 at Oakwell in the penultimate game of the season our fate had been sealed.

So basically they owe us one. I’m not sure exactly how and why, but I think we should use our marker tomorrow and have them roll over for a morale-boosting win. After all, we need the points more than them. They are destined to be in a relegation struggle, we still find mid-table to be beneath us, despite some recent performances.

Ambrose for Campo? Seems to have credence, given the comments of the Ipswich manager (although why would someone talk up a player they might be about to sign, surely it can only add to the price?). Ambrose has had so many chances to impress and still so frustratingly fails to impose himself on a game, in whatever position. If he goes I will feel sorry that he has so obviously failed to live up to his promise. As for Campo, why not. It could be fun. He will certainly add character.

As for the team tomorrow, it would appear that apart from Weaver and Bailey nobody covered themselves in glory. In front of Weaver, with Primus seemingly injured Hudson and Cranie are shoot-ins. Moutaouakil will presumably start at right-back, although Semedo replaced him during the game at Ipswich. And left-back is still uncertain, with Cranie and Basey having halves in the spot against Burnley but Youga brought back against Ipswich. I still favour Youga, but others disagree. It is, however, about balance and if Youga plays and Ambrose does not (if he’s going I’d rather he isn’t picked) there has to be a case for Basey on the left side of midfield, even though it’s not ideal. His crossing is a real asset.

Bailey and Holland were reunited towards the end of the Burnley game and started against Ipswich. It’s not a great combination, although I have absolutely nothing against either player with a different partner. I thought Semedo and Bailey could be tried together and this might still be an option. I would continue to leave Bouazza to warm the bench, with Sam kept in. With Gray seemingly absent due to family illness Todorov is (for me) guaranteed to start, provided the legs are up to it. Alongside him it’s a choice of Varney, Dickson and McLeod. Before Burnley I went for Todorov and Dickson to start and that’s still my preferred option. That does raise the possibility of Varney being played out wide, which may suit him better at the moment.

Now a link to the photo. On the subject of times being better tomorrow we may end up in The Crown for a pre-match glass and this would remind me of the last time we did this. Last Saturday. We got there early as some (well one) wanted a drink and others wanted food – and not to have to bolt down some lunch to catch a train. One duly ordered a burger and chips, another what on the menu said was garlic bread, accompanied by choice of sauces etc. In the event the burger went walkabouts and inevitably arrived 10 minutes before we had to leave. The garlic bread arrived earlier. I kid you not, that enlarged slice of bread cost £3.50. Now I like a mark-up, but that is right royally taking the proverbial.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Toddy Saves The Day

What to make of that one? At least this time around it was a case of marked improvement in the second half after a first 45 minutes that was as much of a shambles as much of Tuesday night. And we so nearly went home with a real spring in our step. Nobody was looking for perfection, just improvement and commitment. And at least some of that was evident in the second half as the (changed) team seemed to have more of an idea what it was supposed to do.

From Tuesday night out went Youga (presumably Pardew saw the game more like others in the West Stand than me), Bouazza, Holland and Gray. Hudson returned at centre-back to partner Primus but perhaps surprisingly Cranie was retained. When the team was announced, with Basey brought in and Moutaouakil keeping his place, I assmed we were going three/five at the back with two wing-backs. But no, it was 4-4-2 with Cranie deployed at left-back, Wright coming in to partner Bailey in central midfield, Basey and Ambrose playing wide, and McLeod coming in to partner Varney. Dickson didn’t even make a place on the bench (nor did Youga or Gray, or Semedo for that matter), with the spots going to Elliot, Todorov, Sam, Bouazza and Holland.

McLeod and Varney was one of the forward combinations I had speculated on, given their rather surprising success together in a few games last season. But along with everything else in the first half it didn’t work. Instead Basey and Ambrose gave almost no attacking outlet, Wright and Bailey looked as if they had been thrown together at the last minute, with nerves added to the mix, and McLeod and Varney, rather than running the channels, seemed to try to operate as a standard front two and got no return from the very limited service they received.

If I were the Burnley manager I would have been furious at half-time as this was a game so obviously there for the taking and we hadn’t been finished off. A better team would have taken us apart. As it was, while we had no attempts on goal, they at least summoned up the effort to get the ball in the net twice. The first time the Burnley player was clearly in an offside position when the ball was played through but it also very clearly came off the top of a Charlton player’s head. The linesman flagged but the referee waved play on, with the player allowed to cut inside, past a few halfhearted challenges, and shoot. The ref gave a goal but was persuaded to talk to the linesman, who presumably reminded him of the rules. There was no such reprieve a little later. A poor corner was headed back to the taker and a half-clearance was returned, took a deflection and left Weaver rooted to the spot. Nobody was really surprised.

After that in the first half Burnley did little to suggest that are anything more than an average team. But average was looking more than enough to see off a team that was woefully short of confidence, ideas and structure.

It had to change and Pardew duly took off McLeod for Todorov, with Primus also giving way (presumably an injury), with Cranie moving to the centre, Basey dropping back to left-back, and Sam coming on to provide much-needed pace and attacking intent down the right, with Ambrose switching sides (or rather not having to bother to run over to the East Stand side for the second half). And the game seemed to turn early in the half as completely out of the blue Todorov received the ball and played a penetrating pass forward. It was a reminder that we can play football. Suddenly there was a game on. A cross from the left found two Charlton forwards well placed to score, but the header went straight at the keeper – prompting ironic cheers from the (very patient and supportive) crowd that we had finally managed an attempt on goal.

The improvement seemed in danger of petering out, but just when we needed it the equaliser came, courtesy of a Todorov header from a corner, with the Bulgarian showing the presence to move back from an offside position just in time to create the space.

During the final 20 minutes or so it could have gone either way. Burnley had a fierce shot that for all the world looked a goal, only for the ball to bounce down off the bar and presumably not cross the line. We had a couple of smart shots and at least for the most part showed we could pass, with Sam and Moutaouakil causing considerable problems for Burnley down the right. Then as we were approaching the end of normal time the chance came. A little luckily the ball broke to Varney running through on the right side of goal. He managed to nick it past the keeper, leaving him a little wide but with only one defender in the way. A couple of touches to steady himself but then the defender managed to spread himself and made a legitimate block. It was the sort of chance that is taken without thinking when things are going well. But that’s all it was; a missed chance.

Over the 90 minutes we couldn’t say we deserved to win, but we did deserve something for the vastly improved display in the second half. A last-minute winner would have been a little harsh on Burnley – but bloody nice all the same. The feeling at the end wasn’t so much despair at not having won, just relief that two halves of abject football spread over two games might mark the nadir rather than what we really have in store.

Player Ratings:

Weaver: 7/10. Don’t think he had a chance with the goal and after that had very little to do apart from come for a few crosses and watch Burnley’s one good effort come back off the bar.

Moutaouakil: 8/10. Looked more in the game than on Tuesday night, when he was rusty. Benefited from Sam coming on in the second half and gets an extra point for a superb defensive header in the first half.

Cranie: 5/10. Just why he was asked to play left-back only Pardew knows. It was a slap in the face for Basey, even if Youga’s services were dispensed with. Looked poor in the first half but more comfortable once again when playing as a centre-half.

Hudson: 8/10. Made a significant difference coming back. Held the team together in the first half.

Primus: 7/10. Not sure if he was injured or Cranie was preferred at centre-back for the second half. Seemed OK when dealing with Burnley’s usually limited attacking threat.

Bailey: 5/10. Sorry, but this was another poor game. A partnership with Holland in the centre looks limited but a substantial improvement on one with Wright. He didn’t seem up to assuming the senior role and dictating play and in the first half, along with Wright, was all at sea. He has been a real plus since joining us, but Tuesday and today are reminders that he’s not the finished product yet.

Wright: 6/10. Not an easy debut by any means and for much of the time the play passed him by. There’s no judgement on him after one game but I hope he will settle into the team and improve.

Ambrose: 5/10. During the first half we were crying out for him to get more involved and take some responsibility. It didn’t happen, but when we were playing better as a team in the second he started to feature more. Still an enigma.

Basey: 5/10. A little harsh perhaps. Good delivery from set pieces, but didn’t look like the answer playing left-side midfield during the first half, dropped back to left-back in the second.

McLeod: 4/10. Just a bad first half. I hope he is going to come back stronger, but looked as if he will need more time to get up to speed.

Varney: 6/10. Oh Luke. Please just forget about the miss, you got the chance. Managed very little in the first half but like everyone else perked up in the second with a formation that left us at least looking more like a team.


Todorov: 8/10. Quite simply, he made others play better and added class and cohesion in the second half. And he scored.

Sam: 8/10. Much better showing than on Tuesday night, when he saw as much of the ball but was far less effective. Caused Burnley real problems although didn’t always provide the end-product.

Holland: 7/10. Not enough time for a real score, but you know what you get with Matty. I thought Pardew should have brought him on for Wright or Bailey sooner as our lack of control in the centre could have cost us the game against a better team.

Friday 24 October 2008

Burnley Preview

So, match previews. Don’t usually do them as I really think you need to see the whites of the players’ eyes and we don’t really know what’s going on in the dressing room. But at the moment it should be all hands to the pumps, so here’s my twopenniesworth. Pardew is promising changes, but when you run through who’s available there aren’t that many options.

Weaver in goal is a given; I don’t know how Elliot is getting on but this isn’t the time to be messing around for the sake of it. Hudson returns and will presumably be partnered by Primus, who still looks short of match fitness but looks better than the alternatives. I thought Cranie looked more comfortable at centre-back than right-back, but there were a couple of nearly costly errors.

Right-back is a choice between Moutaouakil, Cranie and Semedo. I thought Moutaouakil looked rather rusty and short of confidence on Tuesday night, but then who didn’t? He will no doubt be the popular choice and I’d keep him in; but I don’t go along with the criticism of Pardew for not picking him more often of late. He made very costly errors last season, was suspended at the start of this one, and had a shocker at Preston. For me it’s just him ahead of Semedo, who may after all be required in midfield. Left-back is a case of Youga or Basey. I evidently saw Youga’s performance very differently from some in the West Stand. In the first half he was, as so often the case, our best attacking option and did nothing wrong at the back. In the second he continued to try to do things, but with others not interested and hiding mistakes crept in. At no point did Youga go into his shell, which might explain the booing. I would keep him.

Assuming we are going to keep things simple on Saturday and go with 4-4-2, the central midfield pairing is problematic and Pardew is justified in saying the loss of Zhi (and with Racon still on the treatment table) is a big blow. Bailey made a mistake on Tuesday night, it’s done. What was more worrying was that Bristol passed their way around him and for the first time in a Charlton shirt he looked lost. That should serve as a reminder that he is still on a learning curve at this level, but he won’t come up against better passing sides than Bristol this season. Holland may not be the force that he was, but he can still do a job. The real problem is that put together Holland and Bailey are not a great combination. The only options are Semedo, possibly Ambrose (although he would be a big risk in a central role in a four-man midfield), maybe Wright (although I really know very little about him). Whatever his form Shelvey is off with England.

We are not blessed with options, which does work against Pardew shaking things up. One possibility would be Semedo and Bailey. I’m not sure it would work, but presumably they try these things on the training ground. Semedo was splendid last season filling in early on for Holland and as long as he doesn’t have to do much with the ball looks good (at that time all he had to do was cover, tackle and give it to Reid). If Bailey can provide the drive it might work. But it would be no surprise to see Wright given a go, or Bailey and Holland retained as the relative safe option.

The wide positions are between Bouazza, Ambrose and Sam, unless Varney is played out wide, which has to be an option (one which might suit him given the pressure on him to put that white thing into the back of that netty thing), Christensen comes into the equation (I'm assuming Wagstaff will not yet come back into the picture), or Basey is played on the left side of midfield (or Basey plays left-back and Youga moves further forward). Personally, despite his obvious skills, I’ve seen enough of Bouazza for a while at least. Recently has has flattered to deceive and I would just leave him out. I would keep Ambrose - despite counting him among those who disappeared on Tuesday night (not just down the tunnel), after a very good early period - and choose between Varney and Sam. Sam saw a lot of the ball on Tuesday but usually didn’t take the right option. But I’d just about go with him at the start.

Rather surprisingly it’s up front where we have more options than at the start of the season, with the return of Todorov and McLeod. Dickson was initially lively on Tuesday night but it was hard to make an assessment given what was going on given the overall confusion. It is really all about partnerships and styles of play. Please can we not put Dickson and Varney together, just as it makes absolutely no sense to go for Gray and Todorov. One possibility, which rather surprisingly worked well last season for the few games it was tried, is Varney and McLeod. Otherwise for me I would be inclined towards Todorov and Dickson. Todorov also looks rusty and slow, not surprising given the time out. But he’s still a class act when linking up play and he could bring out the best in Dickson, who I hope still has that something special about him. Gray has not been impressive of late and a spell cooling his heels may be in order. If we were to go with Varney and McLeod it would have implications for the midfield as the emphasis is then on playing the ball into the channels for these two to run on to.

So, my starting team – which may be one or two steps too far (and which does not include the wildcard factors of Wright and McLeod) - would be: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Primus, Ambrose, Semedo, Bailey, Sam, Todorov, Dickson. Subs: Elliot, Cranie, Holland, Varney, Gray.

I’m not in any way ready to jump on any ‘Pardew Out’ bandwagon – although with Dowie available again he surely must be feeling the pressure. We should find out over the next few games whether the players want to play for him and whether Tuesday night’s debacle proves to be just a new low or the shape of things to come. What I really want to see is signs of improvement and learning. We are still an unbalanced team, which reflects the enforced changes of the past 18 months. Pardew has had little room to manoeuvre and has been unlucky with injuries, but the changes he has made, especially loan signings, have not worked out. The priority between now and the end of the year is to get us into a midtable position with the possibility of a springboard to challenge for a play-off spot. But we shouldn’t even be thinking like that. It’s not a relegation battle yet either. We have to (please) drop all the talk about how many points we are from the top six and focus purely on playing better and as a team.

We all know what’s expected of us on Saturday - and it would be nice to hear a few songs for Richard Murray. The pay-off I would have received for my shares might have eased the cost of pre-match drinks but doesn't really compare.