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.

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