Wednesday 24 August 2011

Belated Thoughts On A Positive Night

I haven’t as yet quite managed to shake off the holiday cobwebs (the process usually lasts as long as it takes for Palace to fall back to the bottom of their division after an early flourish), so when returning from last night’s unexpected treat I’m afraid that the attractions of food, drink and sleep proved too much. Consequently all I’m going to offer up are some reflections on what proved to be a thoroughly entertaining Charlton v Reading reserves match. I’ve no gripes at all about Sir Chris putting out the current second eleven (only wish we were allowed to do the same for the Johnsons thingy), nor even for shelling out £2 on the outdated programme; after all, that still leaves me £198 ahead on the season to date as the points from the first four games ensured I collected on the first bet with my friend (whether I see the readies is another matter as he’s currently arguing that the bet involved us getting specifically eight points rather than eight-plus; I have the emails to prove otherwise).

So, what did we learn last night? First and foremost, that some footballing clichés (if not all clichés) usually have an element of truth. Never make a substitution when the opposition has a corner. Chris, that’s any substitution. Replacing a centre-half when the opposition has a corner, even if the guy has picked up a strain, is just asking for trouble. I said as much when the move was being made and the resulting confusion let Reading back into the game and ensured a rather different final 15 minutes or so than might otherwise have been the case (although in truth they were enough chances at either end through the game to have kept us guessing; on chances I reckon we should have won 5-3). Second, can the fans please not encourage a sense of panic if and when we get pegged back (to date we’ve gone 2-0 up in each of the five games, extended the lead in one, held it in one, conceded but held on in two, and pulled back to a draw in one). It’s a time for increased support but not suddenly groans at errors and outrage at refereeing decisions against us, all of which cannot help nerves on the pitch.

Third, as things stand we can be satisfied (in a number of cases more than satisfied) with the ability of those waiting in the wings to do a job when called on. Clearly we don’t know whether there will be further comings and goings, with continuing doubts about whether Elliot, Francis and/or Benson will end up staying. Quite frankly in each case I hope they do. Last night I had Francis as my man of the match (I don’t know if he was trying to impress the boss or someone else in the stands), while Benson took his goal very nicely and still looks to me like the back-up goalscorer in the event of Wright-Phillips not being available (I’m pleased we’ve signed Euell but am inclined to see him as another option rather than the one we turn to first if – perish the thought – BWP gets injured or suspended). We may now be well covered if Elliot does go, but if either of the others do we would need to bring in a replacement.

Individually, these are my comments (rather than any ratings) on last night’s players:

Hamer – Sensible selection as Sullivan is something of a known quantity and it gave him the chance to show Reading what they’ll miss. Looks big and strong and made a couple of outstanding saves. Only negative for me was some indecision and uncertainty with crosses.

Francis – I thought he was excellent. One very dangerous ball in was cleared behind wide of the goal, tackled well, and was key to our second goal getting forward. I haven’t seen Solly so far this season, but on last night’s display Francis should be pushing him hard.

Evina – Clearly a different option to the more reliable Wiggins. Reading seemed to target his lack of height and he did get caught out a couple of times by their winger in the second half. But undoubtedly offers something fresh going forward and as we saw can operate left-midfield (Solly came on late in the game). Only problem for him (and others) may be getting and staying match fit without reserve games.

Doherty – Impressed in that he played well and was up for the game, despite having to accept not being first choice, and seemed to have a positive influence on Mambo alongside him. We know he’ll do a decent job as and when required.

Mambo – Undoubtedly positive as he gave every indication that he is maturing as a player. Didn’t stand out, but for a centre-half that’s usually a plus as it means no bad mistakes. If he continues in this vein he can be included as the fourth centre-back.

Bover – Interesting game for him, being asked to play wide left when I’m sure he’d rather be in central midfield. Part of the learning curve as he gets used to English League One football. No doubt he’s one for the future, but not just yet. Struggled to get truly involved and in a league game would probably have been taken off sooner than he was, but did manage to end with a flourish, cutting in and hitting the post before going down with cramp.

Hughes – By accident I spoke to a Norwich fan at the start of the week and he was less than complimentary about his abilities. Looks set to play the role of Spring, who came in to play the role of Bryan Hughes – unlikely to be first choice but reliable when needed. Looked like a sensible addition as a squad player (especially if Alonso remains the invisible man).

Pritchard – Lively, enthusiastic, nearly scored. Hopefully will press the current central midfield pairing, although here too the absence of reserve games may not help his progression.

Green – Had the opportunity last night to show Powell that he should get the nod over Wagstaff and didn’t really take it. Nearly scored with a couple of wicked corners (although presumably other clubs will pick up on that trick) but missed the target early on having cut back to open up the goal and wasn’t all that involved through the game. I think we’re going to have fun as the two wingers battle it out through the season to show who should be first choice.

Benson – Took his goal well, ghosting in late and undetected. For me our major vulnerability as of now is what happens without BWP and Benson is the best alternative natural goalscorer.

Euell – Good game against some big defenders and he too arrived in the box at the right moment to score. I’m not sure he signed up in anticipation of having to chase for 90 minutes, but it will have done him good. I felt years ago that converting him to an attacking midfielder was a mistake and having him around undoubtedly increases our options.

Anything else? Well, only to add that in the years to come there will no doubt be the question posed on sports and general quizzes ‘what links the Italian towns of Longoio, Colico and Stresa?’ The answer is that a certain daft English holidaymaker was in each to receive news of a glorious Charlton victory at the start of the 2011/12 promotion season. And I’ve got the embarrassing photos to prove it.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Irrational Exuberance

So that’s it. While everyone else’s mouths are starting to salivate and shiny new, full season tickets are waiting expectantly on the shelf (mine arrived almost by return post, before the cheque had cleared; the fools!), I’m obliged just as it’s got hot in London to don jeans and cowboy boots plus a jacket which I’ll never use and tote a bag full weighed down by Suzanne’s spare shoes (and we are covering every possible angle here, just on the off chance that global warming hits over the next couple of weeks and produces either Saharan heat or Arctic freeze) to struggle across London and onto a train for France, before assuming my full donkey duties on Friday to pack a car full of all those not quite essentials and head off for Italy. With luck we’ll be installed on the terrace (of a different sort) basking in Tuscan sun when the first texts confirming glorious goals and inevitable victory begin on Saturday afternoon. Without it we’ll be stuck on an Alpine pass or struggling round an Italian supermarket as texts confirming the bursting of bubbles begin.

We do have a pressing need to hit the ground running this season. It comes in the form of two bets I’ve struck with an Irish friend (he is not an Addick, so knows nothing about football other than that Dean Kiely and Mark Kinsella were true gods). A sporting bet between friends is normally a mutually respectful way of testing differing opinions (I did win one such with another friend as a result of which I own every shirt he has and will ever have, which gives me the option of taking the shirt off his back if I wish each time we meet, or just requesting him to send them in the post; trouble is he’s crafty and wears shirts you wouldn’t wrap your dog in). A bet with this friend is a usually futile attempt to try to scale things down to something within the realms of reality which ends up being an attempt by both parties to screw as much as possible out of a recalcitrant and belligerent opponent (with balances seldom settled as he refuses to acknowledge how much in debt he is over previous unpaid bets). Well, he does make his living as a day trader. Having been cruelly robbed in a Wimbledon bet, I gained revenge with the Open (two of his three picks didn’t make the cut and he didn’t have the gumption to select another Irishman as the third). And now I’ve well and truly got him. He thinks a new team will take time to gel and doesn’t realise we’ve signed 15 worldbeaters (and counting).

The first bet, £10 at 20/1, requires us to get eight points or more from our first four games. As we’re going to get 12 that’s £200 in my bank. The second, for £10 at 25/1, requires us to get 13 or more points from the first six. As we’ll have 12 in the bag after four, it’s the proverbial candy from a baby. With a prospective £450 coming my way, the season ticket cost is more than covered. This friend’s hedging strategy amounts to perpetually doubling up on ever less likely related bets to try to head off the big pay-outs (I believe Nick Leeson tried something similar and feel I should inform the Irish equivalent of the FSA, although they have other irrational exuberance-related issues to worry about at the moment). With that in mind, I have declined his latest offer – £10 on Charlton to win the league by 10 points or more at 50/1. The prospect of raising his exposure to £950 was tempting, but by the time we’re confirmed as champions by such a margin he will no doubt have deleted the emails and done a runner.

As the first four games will have been completed before I return to Blighty (and the first six will have run their course before I actually get to see one as confirmation of an early September Amsterdam trip has ruled out Sheff Wed for me), I see the money I will be due as a welcome home present. In the interim I hope he’s stocking his piggy bank and the players realise just what is resting on their early performances. (And for those inclined to feel sorry for me over my enforced travels, a birthday card from Suzanne was a photo of a bottle of recently recommended Lirac waiting for me in Lyon.)