Tuesday 24 March 2009

Letting Go

Well, Mark Kinsella says we’re planning for next season and there’s no good reason to disagree. So its time to be thinking about who’s staying and who’s going (in addition to Soares). Actually Drinking During The Game at least has got in there first, even to the extent of using the same song title that I was planning on. As I agree with most if not all of what he’s said there’s a fair element of repetition here. But as I’d written most of it anyway ...

Is there any reason to speculate on why it was Kinsella and not Phil Parkinson giving the post-match interviews on Saturday? The reason is probably mundane, but its worth raising the notion that an acceptance of the inevitability of relegation will be prompting some introspection on the part of management as well as the playing staff. They must after all be feeling the burden of failure along with the rest of us (hopefully including most if not all of the players).

We fans don’t have the option of quitting. For me the die was cast many years ago, before I had any say in the matter it has to be said. I’m ashamed to admit that just briefly, as a teenager, when we were struggling and going nowhere (which was after all the norm) I went to Selhurst Park for a match against Palace. They were going for promotion and I was struck by the possible appeal of supporting a team that seemed to be on the up and that for their supporters (at the time) there seemed to be some semblance of enjoying the process. I was back in my right mind the following morning and it doesn’t even count as a near terrible error. Bottom line is I’m bloody proud of our club, haven’t forgotten what we’ve had over the past 20 years (including the Lawrence era), and know that it will take a damn site more than three consecutive seasons of failure to change that.

For the record, whatever the rights and wrongs of his appointment and the way things have turned out, I’m happy with Parkinson at the helm and hope that after some licking of wounds he will be able to shed any sense of defeatism and show next season why he deserves the job. There are always going to be quibbles about team selection, from people like me who can only guess at some of what goes on behind the scenes. But it’s clear that the board are far more comfortable with him in charge than Pardew – and I don’t mean comfortable in a negative sense – and there’s no doubt that since he took over the players’ commitment has improved. Also, there have been signs along the way (OK, false dawns in terms of staying up) that he knows how he wants us to play and will shape a squad for next season capable of getting us back up.

Just who might be in that squad is of course a matter of finances and we know that everything has to be done to cut the wage bill. I know nothing more than what’s on the club website regarding who is out of contract at the end of the season, but its fair to assume that anyone who is will probably be out of the door, along with anyone who can command a fee and/or is on high wages. The News Shopper is talking about 14 players in the first-team squad being out of contract.

We all know one of them is Zhi. No hard feelings, but I think there’s nothing left to be gained from playing him during the remaining games. We are preparing for next season and he’s not going to be here. Rather more worrying (in my opinion) is that Kinsella talked of Zhi and Racon in the same terms, commenting that we have to benefit “while we have got them”. According to the club site Racon signed a four-year deal with us, so unless there’s some release clause I’m assuming he’ll still be under contract. Whether he wants to stay is of course another matter – and he is someone who could command a fee. I hope he stays; he brightened up my Saturday.

So, let’s do the positions:

Goalkeeper: It seems clear to all that Weaver is on his way. Fair enough; at least he leaves us thinking better about him than before. Elliot has done well enough to be first choice next season (as long as he stays off the pies, sometimes seems less than trim for one so young), with Randolph the number two. Can we manage with two inexperienced keepers? Probably. After all, emergency goalkeeper loan signings are always possible during the season – and there won’t be any shortage of capable old lags if necessary after the summer.

Right-back: Moutaouakil is of course a conundrum. Another according to the site who signed on a four-year deal. It seems clear that Parkinson has problems with his attitude and he may have already decided to head for pastures new. If so, it’s disappointing but so be it. If he stays he has to be first choice next season. I can’t see any reason why Butterfield would or should stay, so if not Moutaouakil it has to be Solly stepping up or a new signing.

Left-back: As for Moutaouakil, so with Youga. Just hasn’t looked the player of last season, so either has to come back after the break refreshed and up for the challenge or out the door. In the third tier I’d have no problem with Basey being first choice. It would be his chance to prove he can nail down the position.

Centre-back: Well, we only have two recognised centre-halves, so assuming Fortune returns from injury and Ward heads back to Wolves, and that Holland will only be used as potential back-up (if he stays for another season), Hudson and Fortune are the pairing – unless either has to be sold, in which case we would need to buy in.

Central midfield: Even assuming no Zhi the full list of options here – Bailey, Shelvey, Holland, Ambrose, Spring, Wright, Racon, Semedo (and eventually Sinclair) - must mean shedding and looking to keep the best feasible combination. I’m assuming Ambrose is out of contract and will be off, so it would seem down to whether Racon and/or Semedo are sold – and whether a decent offer comes in for Shelvey (or for that matter Bailey). My preferred ‘four’ (ie two and two back-up) would be Bailey, Semedo, Racon and Shelvey, but Spring can be expected to do a decent job in the third flight and will probably be one of the four assuming others are offloaded.

Wingers: If Sam stays (I assume he’s on decent money) next season has to be his year. It’s time. I thought this season would be the one when he played a key role in the side – and in some games he shone, just not consistently enough. Wagstaff has to step up next season if he’s going to. Otherwise, barring Ambrose staying, Shelvey being employed out wide (which is possible), Christensen making an unexpected return, or Bailey remaining consigned to the flanks (a worthwhile move but one which has outlived its usefulness) it is an area we are light. Again, the burden rests on Sam.

Forwards: The full line-up at present is Gray, Burton, Todorov, Dickson, Kandol, McLeod and Fleetwood. The key is whether someone bids for Gray (seems Sheff Utd might be interested). If he is offloaded he will go down as one of the worst signings we have made in recent history; if he stays I hope he feels he owes us something (although this may be a little unfair in light of family problems). Why we signed Burton is a mystery to me, but I would have thought he and Dickson could do something together in the lower league. McLeod? I'm assuming he's on good money and will be sold, but if he stays the case for keeping Kandol looks thin. Todorov? Well, he’s already gone I’m sorry to say. Kandol? If Gray goes with Todorov and McLeod we will probably need another, so as long as he’s cheap – and that would give a chance for a Kandol-Dickson partnership, one which showed promise against Plymouth at least.

So, after all the imponderables, here’s my starting line-up for the first game of next season (with the proviso that I’ll be amazed if it’s anything like the eventual outcome as at least two of them might need to be sold in addition to those being let go):

Elliot, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Sam, Bailey, Racon, Shelvey, Kandol, Dickson.
Subs: Randolph, Holland (just has to be, doesn’t it?), Basey, Semedo, Burton.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Please Stay Therry

For the neutral the game won’t live long in the memory; well, it won’t live long in anyone’s memory. We didn’t lose, we kept a clean sheet, but that was about it. At the end there was no sense of despair; our fate had been settled some time ago. The game presumably does mark the end of Tom Soares’ spell with us; the guy didn’t even make the bench, let alone the team. Otherwise, apart from decent spirit and commitment, a sparkling display from Racon (who was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch), and a competent defensive display at The Valley (and there have been far too few of those this season), the only surprise was Preston’s lack of ambition. For play-off contenders they put in a lame display.

The starting X1 was surprising. No Soares, no Spring, with Ambrose coming in to play wide left and Zhi in the hole behind Kandol, while Shelvey was given a start in central midfield – at least for the first 20 minutes. It looked disjointed from the off. Ambrose and Bailey left us short of pace and real attacking intent down the flanks, Zhi made intelligent runs but usually found himself running out of options, and Racon was subdued in the early period, seemingly constrained by uncertainty over where Shelvey would go. After about 20 minutes Zhi and Shelvey effectively swapped roles.

The only meaningful moments of a truly dull first half were Hudson getting free in the box to get in a header from a corner, but making a poor contact, plus a shove in the back on Kandol in the area which went unpunished. Preston put in a couple of dangerous crosses but nothing more, looking themselves short of pace and relying on a couple of lumps up front. Neither side looked capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and an inept stalemate seemed on the cards.

It did get better. The unhappy Ambrose was replaced at the break by Sam. Ambrose had got into some good positions in the first half, but he singularly lacked the drive and confidence to make anything of them. I can’t take any pleasure in watching a decent footballer so out of sorts. Sam was lively early on and with Racon increasingly influential we looked the more likely. But little of this translated into a goal threat. Dickson finally came off the bench, the surprise being that Butterfield was the man replaced, with Bailey dropping to right-back and Shelvey moving out wide left. The obvious replacement would have been Shelvey. We are all delighted that he’s signed a new contract and expect him to be one for the future (if he does indeed stay). But he was largely peripheral.

Taking off a recognised defender looked as if it might cost us more as shortly afterwards Hudson went down and disappeared quickly down the tunnel. Given that Preston’s only real threat was from crosses suddenly we had a problem, but eventually Holland stripped off and as ever fitted in seamlessly.

It only remained to be seen whether either side would eek out a surprise winner. Dickson made a few things happen, but actual chances were thin on the ground. The one real moment came with a header from a corner, from Kandol I think, which was turned over the bar by their keeper. And an excellent move initiated by Racon and ending with him shooting over from a good position. That was about it.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 7/10. Had very little to do, but dealt well with some crosses and everything else that came his way.

Butterfield: 6/10. Struggled to make things happen going forward when in tandem with Ambrose, but defensively OK. A little surprising to see him taken off.

Youga: 6/10. Still to me looks a shadow of the enthusiastic player of a year ago, but did his defensive work.

Hudson: 8/10. He and Ward dealt very well with the aerial threat and seldom looked in trouble.

Ward: 8/10. As with Hudson, good display.

Ambrose: 5/10. Everything about his body language is bad, started brightly enough but once a few things went wrong (and some in the crowd got on his back) became increasingly ineffective. No surprise to see him subbed at half-time. Will that be his last appearance in a Charlton shirt?

Racon: 9/10. Please let us keep him next season. Kept the ball in difficult positions, moved forward well, showed a level of skill that set him apart.

Shelvey: 6/10. Struggled to have an impact on the game. Some good touches but we still expect too much of him at this stage.

Bailey: 7/10. Having to play out of position, but as ever gave it his all – and made one superb block in defence in the second half.

Zhi: 6/10. Dropped back to central midfield during the first half. Decent enough display.

Kandol: 7/10. Played the lone striker role well enough.


Sam: 6/10. Started brightly and made a difference to the game, but didn’t make it count where it mattered.

Dickson: 6/10. Same as Sam really.

Holland: 8/10. What can you say? Will he have the legs for another campaign in a lower division?

Friday 13 March 2009


My dictionary’s definition of ‘diehard’ is “one who resists to the last; rabid opponent of change or innovation”. There have to be a number of adjectives to be applied to those travelling north for tomorrow’s game, but diehard might be appropriate. And, not surprisingly, it looks like they have a figurehead in Kinsella, whose pre-match rallying call seems to strike the right note – not too divorced from reality - for what is required over the remainder of the season.

I won’t be adding to the diehard numbers. My partner Suzanne is over in London for the weekend (which will include watching on TV a game with a different shaped ball which may strain cross-Channel relations). Having inflicted on her a coach trip to Nottingham some years back I don’t think I could sell the concept of a day in the Black Country (‘pourquoi le pays noir?’ ‘Parce que c’est un khazi’). This is not to suggest that otherwise I would have been up for it. She will return for Easter and another trip to The Valley for the Birmingham game. That’s as close as I want to go to the Midlands, at least until next season’s encounters with Walsall and Crewe. The Championship just feels like a place we never wanted to be in.

I don’t want to feel cynical in the event that we beat Wolves. There’s a difference between cynicism and resignation. But a win tomorrow will feel like news of the equaliser on Tuesday night, welcome but still a little painful for what might have been. That said, only those who turn up each home game to carp and criticise can want us to be embarrassed over the remainder of the season. Yes, it will hurt if we get some good results and end up thinking of what might have been. But that’s the lesser of two evils.

I was given a Charlton headlines diary for 2009 at Christmas and I thought I’d just write in it how I felt after each game. It won’t make for entertaining reading in the years ahead (at least not for me). There’s only so many ways to say ‘hacked off’, ‘depressed’ or ‘angry’. I still want the tail end of the season to be as uplifting as it can be.

As for tomorrow, the team, the performance? Let’s just go out and win the bloody game and sod the rest. As its apparently the featured game on ITV’s Sunday morning highlights let’s hope it will be possible to watch without pillows over the head. And I hope the diehards will be able to pick themselves out when the cameras pan to our supporters after the winner goes in.

It’s good to have Zhi back, and I assume Parkinson will stick pretty much to the team on Tuesday. When it comes to next Saturday’s home game, however, I hope we get the opportunity to see Kandol and Dickson play together again up front. At home against Plymouth (admittedly one of the poorest teams we’ve seen this season, on that day at least) there looked like the potential for a genuine partnership, one that could thrive next season if of course Kandol is signed (just for the record, Tresor, it’s actually less than five years since we were playing in the Premiership). Assuming Todorov departs others will have to go too – and the only case to be made for Gray and Burton is that they are under contract and unlikely to attract offers. As for trialist Douala, of course I hope he’s a world-beater; but honestly I haven’t got a clue.

I don’t like ending on sour notes, but here’s one. I was delighted that Coventry put up such a spineless display in the FA Cup last weekend. At the end of last season they came to The Valley with everything to play for to try to avoid relegation and simply rolled over. If they had been relegated they could have had no complaints. Instead they survived through the failings of others and now sit in mid-table safety. Our lot was to start to possibly close the gap on those above us only to see them produce a ridiculous sequence of results. Sometimes there just ain’t no justice; well only a little (especially if West Ham have to fork out bucketloads to Sheff Utd).

Saturday 7 March 2009

So Be It

I said I would try just to enjoy a game of football. I really did. But I knew I was always kidding myself. There is still only one game that Charlton have lost which I enjoyed – 0-4 away to Notts Forest when we had our best season in the top flight under Lennie Lawrence and secured survival with a game to spare. Today, as everyone knows, finally sealed our fate, if there had been any doubt before. And it was a game that at half-time we were winning, at home, only to fall well short of what was required in the second period, against a team that was also poor but had more incentive than us to get something from the game. Enjoying capitulation is beyond me.

The team line-up sparked collective disappointment. The defence was as expected, midfield saw Sam preferred on the right to Soares, but a reversion to 4-4-2 not only saw Burton return to partner Kandol but with Dickson left out completely (was he injured or do we have another case of petulance?). No place for Shelvey even on the bench either, with Todorov, Soares, Holland, Zhi and Randolph forming the back-up. It didn’t look like a set-up full of possibilities, although perhaps Parkinson and his team had done their homework on Watford and had a plan.

That didn’t seem in evidence in the first 25 minutes. Watford dominated the play and, while hardly good themselves at least looked as if they knew each other. It wasn’t a great surprise that the first piece of decent football in the game produced a goal. A ball down the line, played inside to a guy running onto it, who scored. Not rocket science. That put the crowd on notice for booing, but the curtain almost came down with a Watford shot shortly after that went narrowly wide. If that had gone in the feeling was the crowd would really have revolted.

Instead, somehow 10 minutes later we were in front. First, a lofted ball forward was poorly handled by their defenders and Kandol found himself with the keeper to beat. To our surprise and delight he rounded the keeper and scored with aplomb. That gave us some belief and, with Racon increasingly influential going forward, we caused problems. Then Hudson advanced and his shot was deflected for a corner. That came in and Kandol clearly lost his marker and headed home unchallenged. Cue celebrations. There was still time left for Watford’s perpetually fouling lone striker to get in a header (after a clear shove on Hudson went unpunished) which Elliot superbly turned around the post, but at the break this was a game that was at least there for us to win.

Trouble was, we started the second half as we had the first. Instead of coming out of the traps to really win the game we looked as if we just wanted the final whistle to sound and to bag a win. We lost the momentum of the previous 20 minutes and it wasn’t surprising when Watford equalised. Their forward was given too much room to swivel and shoot from just inside the box, although to be fair it was a good strike. Elliot didn’t move.

What followed was painful. There was no real suggestion from the play that we would respond, the crowd seemed resigned, and a third Watford goal, this time the result of poor defending as we gave the ball away in a dangerous area, only deepened the gloom. Zhi came on for the disappointing Spring, then Todorov replaced Burton. Finally Soares came on for an ineffective Sam. But while each of them contributed moments there was a total absence of belief. It seemed in the last 10 minutes that both the team and the crowd just wanted the final whistle to put an end to the suffering.

It’s done and dusted. All that is left now is to prepare for next season. Nobody can say what sort of team we will put out on the opening day of the next campaign as finances dictate that anyone out of contract will go and anyone attracting a bid will be sold. So be it. I don’t think Parkinson should just throw in kids from now on. It’s not fair on them. We have away games at Reading and Wolves to come over the next seven days. Let the players on decent wages play in those games and take whatever comes. After that perhaps we can ditch whoever is not staying.

Player Ratings:

Elliot: 8/10. Another rather nervy start, but he made an excellent save to preserve the lead at half-time and had no real chance with any of the goals.

Butterfield: 6/10. Nothing personal, not a bad game, but we might as well send him straight back to Palace tomorrow. I’m assuming Moutaouakil won’t be here next season either, so its time for one of the reserves to step up – after the next two away games.

Youga: 4/10. He is a shadow of the exciting player who came back to us from Scunthorpe. I am a fan of his, but he played like he doesn’t want to be here. Time for Basey to return, unless the attitude changes.

Hudson: 7/10. There’s an element of déjà vu. I don’t remember him making a mistake but we shipped three goals. Whether he is here next season will, I assume, depend on whether someone else puts in a bid. It’s a pity as he still looks like he cares.

Ward: 7/10. Much as for Hudson. Did his fair share of the work and no obvious mistakes, but we conceded three.

Sam: 5/10. Disappointing game, didn’t look sharp and was largely anonymous in the first half especially. Has shown much more in other games and can’t have any complaints about being subbed.

Spring: 5/10. Also disappointing. Gave way for Zhi in the second half.

Racon: 8/10. Showed skills that were at times exceptional and on another day could have won us the game. Will he be here next season?

Bailey: 7/10. No shortage of effort as usual. But especially in the second half was peripheral – and he didn’t score. The experiment playing him wide-left worked for a while, but with next season in mind it’s central midfield now.

Burton: 5/10. Was instrumental in causing Watford problems in the first half, but he too faded badly in the second and was taken off.

Kandol: 8/10. Any forward scoring two goals in a game has to get a decent mark. The fact that he didn’t feature in the second half – apart from one good shot that was blocked – summed up our afternoon.


Zhi: 6/10. Came on to play in the centre and did some good things. But what can you say about a guy who is now out of place for the next campaign? Goodbye and best wishes.

Todorov: 6/10. Same as Zhi (how can a team bottom of the Championship bring on a Chinese and a Bulgarian international?). There will be memories (obviously the goal at Palace) but so long, farewell.

Soares: 5/10. Game was over before he came on. I can’t remember him touching the ball.

Friday 6 March 2009

Success, Failure & Expectations

I guess I’m the only one who’s really looking forward to tomorrow’s game. Admittedly this has less to do with a keen sense of anticipation of a barnstorming triumph to relaunch a truly great escape than a desperate lack of football over the past month. A week in Lyon ruled out any thoughts of Barnsley or Swansea (well, just do a simple comparison of the delights on offer), while a regular work-related trip to Amsterdam (extended this time to allow a weekend for a proper sampling of the specialities the city offers) kept me away from the Doncaster game. Sounds like good planning, other than the dubious pleasures of negotiating getting to Heathrow and Gatwick for flights at ungodly hours of the morning.

Being a stingy git at the best of times, my plans for the former involved a combination of night bus and first tubes. Any joy at arriving at security at Terminal 5 at 07.15 for an 07.45 flight to Lyon was, however, short-lived as I was promptly informed that they apply timings strictly and I’d missed the flight. Wouldn’t have minded that much except it meant doing it all again the next morning, only earlier. And as for flying Easyjet to Amsterdam at 06.30 on a Saturday morning, there is the delight of mixing with assorted stag/hen weekend parties intent on getting off their heads asap. Oh, the joys of modern travel.

I had departed for France with a spring in the step, on the back of the win against Plymouth and safe in the knowledge that those immediately above us had tough games coming up. In a previous post I’d had a bash at points predictions in light of the poor form of Southampton, Plymouth and Forest. Didn’t take long for those thoughts to go out of the window. How the hell did Plymouth win away at Wolves and then beat Watford at home, Forest win away at Reading and then at home against Preston, Southampton run off three wins on the trot, and Norwich take the spoils away at QPR? We’ve all seen the table, I just haven’t had (yet) to confront the reality of it all.

From friends comments and blog postings it’s clear we can have no complaints about losing to Doncaster (although the howls of delight in an Amsterdam bar at news of the equaliser were supposed to be followed up by a last-minute winner, not killed off moments later). We all know it’s just about all up. There will be plenty of time for further recriminations in the weeks ahead. Tomorrow I’m just going to treat as an enjoyable occasion – kicked off with some decent red wine - and hopefully it will be a good game. Perhaps most of all – and this may be a vain hope – I don’t want to see players hanging their heads or hear a crowd get on their backs. I’d rather see signs that they relish a contest and enjoy doing what they are paid for.

As for the team, I just don’t know. It’s clear we should be looking to revert to 4-4-2 in some way, shape or form. I’ve seen the calls for leaving out all the loan players and starting to plan for the next campaign, but Parkinson really can’t do this until our fate is truly sealed (and what advantage would there be in leaving out Ward to play Holland in central defence?). Dickson has to be partnered by someone, whether it be Kandol, Burton or even Fleetwood. Perish the thought it might actually be Todorov (he did play for most of the midweek reserves game). The prospective return of Zhi just makes me a little sad for what might have been. Reading The Mercury and Ambrose’s talk of disappointment at not having made much of a contribution this season just left me thinking about how little we have had – mostly because of injuries its true - from him, Zhi, Todorov, Racon and even Weaver (which is not to say anything bad about Elliot).

It’s not true that I’ve been completely starved of football of late as I did manage to take in Lyon Duchere versus Saint-Etienne B. Trouble was it proved not to be the goal-fest that I had hoped for. Duchere, despite having won the away fixture earlier in the season, were fortunate to come away with a 0-0 draw (I’ve accumulated two-and-a-half games watching La Duch and I’ve yet to see them score). They look set to play out the remainder of the season in mid-table comfort. Ah, back to a familiar theme of success, failure and expectations. Sod it, I’m getting depressed again. Enough. Bring it on. Whatever the outcome.