Monday, 25 October 2010

The Eternal Optimist

Modern technology can be a mixed blessing when it comes to periodically tracking the Addicks’ fortunes from foreign shores (I’m sure our resident overseas bloggers have got it down to a fine art), especially as the chances of wandering into a sports bar and finding us on the telly have declined somewhat in the past few years (ah, those halcyon days when in Madrid I managed to catch the last 20 minutes of a home game against Villa and Hughes’ late winner). And while for those actually in attendance in Carlisle on Saturday afternoon it might have been a roller-coaster, for me it proved a veritable montagnes russes.

Having left the rabbit to marinade in the mustard overnight (OK, if truth be told we left it in the salted water overnight because we forgot about it, but my partner Suzanne apparently dreamt about rabbits and corrected the mistake some time in the wee small hours while I was still comatose and probably dreaming of more earthly pursuits), there was no need for extensive shopping at the La Croix Rousse market. But we went anyway, out of habit, with this being an excuse to have some pastis while perusing the property mags. And the afternoon was whiled away in an enjoyable yet fruitless exercise in pouring euros into machines to try to win a cuddly toy for Suzanne. Having given up and settled on another bar, it was time to check how things were going on, since one usually regular supplier of info by texts had, following last Saturday’s setback, decided to go shopping for curtains instead of doing the right thing and staying glued to the radio and updating me.

Zoot alore! We’re winning 3-1! The euphoria was tempered when the mobile made it through to the BBC page on the game, as I realised we had been 3-0 up. And before I had the chance to ponder on the chances of playing out the game the page updated to show 3-2. From afar it seemed inevitable there would be an equaliser and before the pastis was finished that was confirmed. The afternoon sun was setting and the mood darkened as the temperature dropped. Could we hold out? The rabbit couldn’t wait much longer and I handed the phone back to Suzanne for the walk back to the car. As we got in she looked again and the text had updated to say ‘full time’ while the result at the top was still showing 3-3. Bugger. A 4-0 home defeat followed by blowing a three-goal lead. All that was left when back in the flat was to check the details and the table. But wait. Something’s wrong. No, something’s bloody good. Open the good red after all Suzanne, I'm not a miserable old git any more.

I can’t comment on the game, having only watched the highlights on my return to London. But what a difference a goal makes. No, it doesn’t mean all is great; but imagine the reaction if Benson hadn’t buried the header. Small margins indeed; and Parky must have said a quiet word of thanks to whoever he might think is up there.

I was surprised by the vehemence of the reaction to the Brighton defeat. Yes, it hurt and hurt badly. But I didn’t think it was our worst performance of this season (and there were many worse last season). Brighton looked something special (well, they do have Kishishev, who I will always fondly remember for that golden period of him, Murphy and Smertin, plus Rommedahl and Thomas supplying the ammo for Bent), were full of confidence, but were still flattered by the eventual margin. When I said as much after the game to friends, someone I didn’t know took issue and asked me whether I was happy with us drifting to being a mid-table third-tier outfit (we agreed we’d both seen that before). Of course not, but before the season began we all knew that was an entirely possible outcome, given the changes made, so you come back to what can be done about it? Inevitably that leads to ‘change the manager’ as the only available recourse, since I’m not aware that if we’d all turned out our pockets we would come up with the investment needed to make a difference.

It’s clear that a good number of fans after Brighton believed that the stage had been reached when Parkinson had to go. I’m not in that camp, on the grounds that it’s not evident to me that he’s lost the dressing room, that the stage has been reached whereby change of any kind would have to be for the better, that sacking him will cost us more money we don’t have, and that I can’t see a better manager (or at least one with a better recent track record) would see us an attractive option. Winning the first two games was with hindsight a false dawn, one which encouraged unrealistic expectations. I think we all believed before the season started that it would take time for a new team to gel and that results would be patchy at best. OK, the season’s one-quarter old now and a humiliating home defeat to move us down into the lower half of the league hardly suggests that things are moving in the right direction. A last-gasp winner that leaves us one point off a play-off spot and three from second at least provides some balance.

I saw a post on the club site asking whether Abbott and Benson are the worst forwards we’ve ever had. Well, they’re not (off the top of my head Endean comes first). I’m far from convinced about Abbott (but hope I’m proved wrong and he has made a difference in some games), but for crying out loud give Benson a chance. Outside the box he’s struggled, but after four first games without a goal it’s now five goals in five games – and five goals which have earned us six points; not one hasn’t mattered in the result. Of course, four of them have been scored away from The Valley, where one in four games – of which we’ve only won one – doesn’t help as regards the popularity stakes. When it comes to matters on the pitch, for me the greater question is why are we conceding so many goals?

Four seasons of horrible failure have not surprisingly left their mark. For many years being a Charlton fan was a source of considerable pride for us all (it still is a source of pride, but the talk now with others centres on where it all went wrong, not the ‘Charlton model’ for punching above your weight). Looking up at the likes of Doncaster and Shrewsbury, let alone (temporarily) Palace and Millwall, and watching a club like Brighton moving swiftly past us hurts badly. But when the crowd have sung ‘we want our Charlton back’ it can surely only apply to attitude and commitment, not some sort of right to be in the top two leagues. We have to earn that right. I don’t take issue with those who believe that Parkinson isn’t the man for the job; but some of the post-Brighton reaction on the club site came across as people believing that we simply deserve more, because of what we’ve been fed through the Curbishley era and have come to expect and because of the awful extent and pace of our decline.

I don’t think Murray’s done Parkinson many favours with some of his statements. Stressing that we have to do everything possible to get back to The Championship and that a top-six finish is expected is all fine and good. But when you’ve just sold every player with a price tag and released just about anyone that could be (for perfectly good reasons) it just struck the wrong note for me. He’s suggested that the squad is now better balanced; indeed it is, but through the loss of most of the quality that was there. This isn’t real criticism over intent and goals, but rather tone and timing. From Parkinson’s perspective, it might sound like ‘I’ve taken away your best players and given you a shoestring with which to build a new team, now go and get me promotion’. The comments may have been intended to galvanise support, but if the chairman expects top-six how are fans expected to react to the Brighton result (especially with the depressing news that Youga isn’t going to return and that Reid is out for a month)? After all, he doesn’t have to appease activist shareholders any more.

Murray has earned our full support and there’s no-one else around willing to fund us (I’d be very surprised if we manage to break even this season), let alone provide the sort of funds to buy us promotion. Parkinson can’t be blamed for our relegation from The Championship and it’s still entirely unclear to me whether we will finish nearer the top or the bottom, or more important that a change of manager would increase the chances of the former. Carlisle certainly doesn’t mean the pressure’s off. But another brace from Benson on Saturday, a much-needed victory at home, and a move into a play-off spot would make for an entirely different mood than last time around. May it come to pass.


nelson said...

Well said BA, a reasoned and seasoned bit of rabbit. And I'm pleased you have fond memories of a Madrid victory. For me I missed all the pain and heartache of the fluctuating game last saturday as I was away from the net and I'm too old to carry around a mobile. Lets just hope that your optimism will be rewarded this weekend with another 4 goals although I think its about time for one of those boring 1-0's we had last season.

Phil said...

A superb piece BA, very well written with reasoned arguments, well done.

As you say the posting on the OS website about our worst forwards ever is interesting. Obviously the poster hasn't been following Charlton long, I'm sure most of us can name plenty who'd be ahead of them in that particular queue !

I have to say I think Parky should go. Nothing personal, clearly he's a nice bloke doing his best. Sadly that's not enough though. I've felt that for some time but have tried to stick with him and as he often says, look for the positives.

I just feel Parky hasn't got it tactically and with team selection. We should do an awful lot better with the players we have.

I really hope Parky succeeds because we could do with stability aside from avoiding spending money we clearly don't have. I'd be more than happy if he proves me wrong.

Jack said...

As usual a well balanced report, was a shame during the Brighton game to hear such vehement abuse directed towards Parkinson. Brighton were good, but an early goal from us might have changed the whole complextion of the game. What was worrying as the game went on was our complete loss of shape, large gaps in mid field and a ponderous defence which cost us the game.
Tactically PP didn't seem to have an answer, mind you our resources aren't great.
I think you summed up with your comment re the long spell of a downward spiral, leaving a general air of gloom. Hopefully this weekend he can turn it round and I hope for better (as always).