Monday, 31 March 2008

Charlton 2 - 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers

With Richard away sunning himself on the slopes of Val d’Isere this week, I made my way from London Bridge to SE7 on what was a blustery winters day in the capital, hoping that we’d be able to take the three points we needed so much from the game.

There was a start for Chris Iwelumo alongside Leroy Lita. ZZ was on the bench following his 48 hour midweek excursion to play for the Chinese National Team against Australia, which meant a third successive start for Portuguese midfielder Jose Samedo. Jerome Thomas and Darren Ambrose finished up the mid-field, whilst the back four were lined up as they have done for the last several matches, Thatcher at left back, Sodje and McCarthy at centre half and on-loan defender Greg Halford at right back.

2 points from a possible 18 in the last six matches meant the Addicks went into the match on relegation form and suffering from what I believe are two key issues: 1) The inability to score goals and put the ball in the back of the net and; 2) Silly lapses of concentration from the back four allowing too many goals to be conceded at crucial times.

As the match kicked off and as Mother Nature began to flex her might in South London, the rain and wind came, and so too did Wolves on the attack. The visitor’s first real opportunity of the match coming only 4 minutes in, a swinging cross from the right wing led to evasive measures from Sam Sodje who headed behind his own goal.

Chalton’s initial attacking opportunities were limited as the ball was hoisted up to big Chris Iwelumo up front and amid scenes that have become commonplace at The Valley this season, Chris found himself having to put up with defenders putting moves on him that were more likely to be seen in the up-and-coming WWE Wrestlemania Extravaganza than on a football pitch. It frustrated me that the referee didn’t (and most have not) given Chris any benefit of the doubt, yet from my vantage point in the upper north, they looked like clear fouls…go figure hey?

12 minutes in and following some lovely link play between the Charlton centre-forwards, Leroy Lita was dumped onto his hands and knees in the penalty area, only for all appeals to be waved away by the stand-in referee.

With Wolves on the counter attack and looking increasingly dangerous, their pressure paid dividends when Keogh played the birthday boy Ebanks-Blake, who stitched up both McCarthy and Halford to fire past a wrong footed Nicky Weaver.

As the first half progressed, Wolves looked more and more dangerous, Elokobi headed over the bar just short of the half hour mark. Things were looking fairly grim for the team in red, we struggled to make use of Thomas and Ambrose on the wing, and when we did call our speedy wide players into the game, they were ineffective and rather than running at their defensive counterparts, would stop their runs and with it all chances of catching Wolves off-guard.

However, on 31 minutes Charlton found themselves level, Greg Halford popping up from another corner this time scoring with his foot in what was a well taken goal from the right back. Perfect timing for the goal, and the atmosphere in The Valley really picked up, Charlton had quarter of an hour to assert themselves on the match and to head into the changing rooms with the momentum, however, Wolves were not done and one the stroke of half time, the birthday boy popped up again, beating Weaver, but not the post….
Half Time Charlton 1 – Wolves 1.

ZZ replaced the largely disappointing Darren Ambrose at the break and from the restart Chalton looked a different side. Iwelumo and Lita were linking up well and were really testing the resolve of the Wolves defence. On 52 minutes, Greg Halford produced a brilliant free kick which demanded a stunning stretched save from the Wolves keeper.

Lita and Iwelumo continued to chase the game and in doing so nearly put the hosts in front, only to be denied by some last gasp Wolves defending. The on-loan Fulham winger; Cook came on for Jerome Thomas in the 72nd minute and had an impact from the word go, his strike curling agonisingly wide of the keepers right hand post.

With ten minutes to go, a moment of magic from….. yep, you guessed it, birthday boy Ebanks-Blake, put Wolves back in front. With McCarthy running Ebanks-Blake to the byline, the attack looked like it had come to nothing only for McCarthy to lose his concentration and allow Ebanks-Blake the opportunity to turn him and unleash a shot from a tight angle that beat Weaver. This was a gutting blow for the Addicks who undoubtedly had the advantage in the second half.

With time running out, the assistant referee (4th official, or whatever they are called today) showed 4 minutes on his lovely electronic board when Sam Sodje crossed a ball which Leroy Lita connected with to score his first goal in a red shirt, which was promptly removed as the striker and crowd went ballistic! A goal which surely had kept Charlton’s post season play off chances alive…..(or so we all thought)

As Charlton pushed on for a winner, they left themselves horribly exposed at the back and in a league where the slightest mistake is punished, Charlton allowed Wolves to counter attack down the wing through Kyle who crossed the ball for Henry (who eluded Mc Carthy and Halford) to slot home deep into injury time and to send the Jimmy Seed stand into raptures.

“Gutted” was my text message to Richard in France at the final whistle. It had been a long season and a run of 7 poor results have all but ended any hopes of a trip to Wembley for the South London side.

Man of the Match: Matt Holland

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Final Chapter of the Sinclair Saga....

The rumour mill had been in overdrive a fortnight ago amid comments that Sinclair was on the verge of leaving The Valley, but with no comments from either Charlton or Chelsea on the status of Scott Sinclair, it went a bit quiet.....until today.

Charlton have confirmed that Scott Sinclair has left The Valley, after Alan Pardew took the decision not to extend his one month loan deal. Sinclair will remain in South London (I mean, give the young lad a break, he's moved 4 times this season so far....), moving on to try his fortunes at Selhurst Park for Crystal Palace where he will spend the remaining 6 or so games of the season.

After making just three substitute appearances for Charlton I can't really say that Sinclair set the world alight, although if he run fast enough it would probably give the false illusion that his feet are on fire with those appalling glowing orange boots.

On a more positive note, Leroy Lita will remain at The Valley until the end of the season, as he searches that illusive first goal. Lita has, in my humble opinion, looked very sharp in a red shirt. I can't say that I've agreed with how Pards has played him (I mean, come on, he is about 5 foot tall, so the long ball is not the right tactic) but after seeing him in action in the Premiership and now the Championship, I'm confident that he has the ability to score prolifically in both leagues - hopefully opening his account with a hat trick this weekend.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Lawro Says ...

Not a bad weekend of results for us, although it could have been a lot better had Wolves and Palace not popped up with last minute equalisers. Still, we remain in the hunt (just about) and the next two games have taken on epic proportions. This hasn’t been lost on Pards and he is targeting four points out of six from the home tie against Wolves and the trip to Home Park to take on Plymouth. I would imagine he sees the win coming from the fixture at the Valley, although frankly this is anybody’s guess at this stage.

It was interesting to read Pardew’s notes on Friday where he took full responsibility for the slide out of the play off places having ‘muddled with the team’. I think it’s a bit too easy to put our decline in form down to team changes though and if anything it is a symptom rather than a cause. If I was asked to pinpoint a moment when our promotion hopes took a nose dive then I would say the two minutes in the second half of the home tie against Watford when we went from being 2-0 up and closing the gap on the chasing pack, to being pegged back to a very nervy 2-2 draw and moving nowhere. I think that took a lot of belief out the players, there for all to see in the 5-3 defeat to Blackpool a week later.

As the ever smug and aloof Mark Lawrenson commented on Football Focus on Saturday, the Championship this season has been extremely competitive but has ultimately lacked quality. It is difficult to disagree with this. No one team has put together a really decent run or shown much consistency. Any team who had would surely have been out of sight by now. It’s thanks largely to this that we remained in the play-off places for so long but with home defeats to Colchester, QPR, Sheffield United, Plymouth and draws against Barnsley, Hull and Scunthorpe to reflect on, we can hardly feel hard done by if we don’t go up. Assuming we do remain in the Championship, I think we will be a lot stronger next season but the problem is so will the rest of the division.

In other news, it seems to be another case of ‘boy done good’ for one of our players out on loan. Thierry Racon has been a bit of a hit at Brighton and Hove Albion by all accounts, following in the footsteps of Chris Dickson, James Walker and co. who have made an impact for their loan clubs this season. It’s a shame the same can’t really be said for our temporary acquisitions, although I struggle to understand how Scott Sinclair has been given such a hard time when he has had hardly had an opportunity to prove himself. The same is true of Lee Cook to an extent.

I can’t make it to the game on Saturday unfortunately but will be watching from afar thanks to Sky making their second trip to the Valley in the space of eight days. At least Wolves have extended us the courtesy of sending Jay Bothroyd out on loan so another Charlton old boy can’t come back and inflict any further damage on us. I’m hoping for a display which starts with the things we got right against West Brom and ends with a goal or two for at least one of confidence drained strikers. Whatever happens from here on in, I think Lawro summed us up best when he said, "If Plan A fails, they could always revert to Plan A."

Friday, 21 March 2008

Charlton 1-1 West Brom

It could have been a lot worse, but then again it could have been a lot better.

Once again, a different starting line up with Semedo preferred to Zhi in the centre of midfield and Gray starting up front with Lita. The change to 4-4-2 helped Semedo immensely and he looked twice the player he was against Ipswich, although the extra strike partner didn't seem to help Lita very much.

The match wasn't a particularly electric affair and it was a slightly scrappy headed goal from Halford that put our noses in front. Personally, I was pleased to see him score as he has been receiving the brunt of many supporters' frustration recently and he managed to get (most of) them off his back with a decent display.

Unfortunately, when you leave the league's top goal scorer with enough space in your penalty box to have a picnic you will pay the price. And so it proved when Kevin Phillips was given the time to lash in a strike from the underside of the cross bar. Losing the lead three times in our last four matches (all against promotion rivals) hasn't been particularly clever and I can't help but feel it will cost us in the final reckoning.

The second half was largely forgettable , especially when Chris Iwelumo came on and we reverted to long ball football within seconds. Zoltan Gera's shot against the crossbar a couple of minutes from time was perhaps a sign that we should just have been grateful to have stopped the rot and walked away with a point. Up two places, although the teams below us have games in hand.

I'm feeling slightly underwhelmed by it all at the moment to be honest. It doesn't seem that long ago that we beat Stoke and were only four points from top spot, ready for 'the final push'. Unfortunately any grandiose aspirations have been extinguished in recent weeks and Pards is left scraping around for 'four or five' wins out of the last six just to get into the play offs. Our recent form suggests this to be unlikely.

For now I'm going to enjoy my Easter eggs and hope that some of our rivals for the play off spots trip over themselves tomorrow. Enjoy your chocolate.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

West Brom Preview

Not much positive energy flowing around the Charlton blogging community right now and it’s not difficult to understand why. Down to 10th and confidence shot to bits by three defeats on the spin. It had to happen eventually. We couldn’t expect to remain in the play offs places given our current form and only stayed there for so long thanks to the teams around us failing to put any kind of decent run together. Unfortunately everybody else seems to have decided to put their foot to the floor with the end in sight and we’ve been left in their slipstream.

What has gone wrong? Or was it ever right in the first place? This is something that has been covered in depth and extremely well by a lot of blogs and I won’t depress myself by saying much more. Some things are pretty obvious though; an overly bloated squad, no settled starting XI, huge expectations and no consistency. The question now is, what can be salvaged from this season? Unfortunately Pards doesn’t have the luxury of time to sit and ponder this for too long. We are only 2 points outside the play off places, but if we want to remain in sight of them then points (9 would be nice) out of all our next three games against promotion rivals is an absolute must.

First up is West Brom on Friday. They are the best team in the division to my mind, added to which we haven’t beaten them in three attempts this season and they will be smarting from the 4-1 beating they were served up by relegation threatened Leicester on Saturday. The match is live on Sky, presumably as they thought it would be a battle of the promotion contenders. Unfortunately only one of the two teams can justify that tag right now and it isn’t the men in red.

I’ve given up trying to second guess the XI that takes to the field each week, but one thing is for sure; it won’t be the same as it was at Ipswich. Bypassing the certainty of Weaver playing in goal, the back four offers Pardew his first dilemma. In the absence Madjid Bougherra, Sodje and McCarthy are shoo-ins at centre back but the full backs pose more of a problem. Halford came in for a lot of stick at Ipswich (some justified, some not) and I would give the woefully under used Moutaouakil a run out. At left back, Youga offers a bit more attacking flair but Thatcher’s ‘no nonsense’ approach should mean he keeps his place.

Midfield has been a dilemma all season and it’s no clearer now who should be starting than it was in August. Ambrose is not winger though and given that he is unlikely to displace ZZ or Holland I would put him on the bench with the much maligned Thomas and Scott Sinclair on the wings. Up front, Gray looks out of form and playing Iwelumo encourages the kind of route one football that is both unattractive and ineffective. Lita’s touch looked good at Portman Road and I would retain him with the addition of a much needed strike partner in the shape of Luke Varney. Accompanying Ambrose on bench warming duties, I would have Elliot, Gray, Semedo and Cook (if he still exists, failing that Fortune).

I’ve never been one for making predictions and I’m not about to start now. Suffice to say though, I am less than optimistic of our chances against Baggies. There are still a few straws that I’m clutching at however and I’ll be there trying to put any kind of pessimism to one side when the team runs out. Let’s just hope that come the final whistle, Good Friday hasn’t turned bad for the Addickted.

Something To Talk About

This is it, the first post from the Charlton supporter who dragged Kelvin down to The Valley to share in the experience. The first match I took to him to was the 2-0 victory over a very poor Leicester City team this season and he has come along to most home games after that. Good on him. I probably wouldn’t have gone to too many more games having watched us get thumped by Burnley and Sheffield United in successive weeks, but he has stuck with it. Good job because I’ve needed a shoulder to cry on quite a lot this season.

I started supporting Charlton back in the 1996/1997 season when a friend from school introduced me (I still meet up with him on match days) and my Dad obliged when I asked if he would take me along. The first match I went to was a 1-1 draw with Luton (Kim Grant scored for us), sitting in the Jimmy Seed Stand with just a bit of plastic meshing separate us from the away lot. Not a great game of football, but I loved it and somehow managed to convince my Dad to take me to some more games that season. And the season after, which ended one sunny May afternoon at Wembley … My attendance at The Valley was a bit patchy for a few seasons after thanks to university and a couple of stints working abroad. I’m now firmly ensconced in London though and have a season ticket in the North Upper.

Such is the strength of the Charlton blogging community, it is difficult to know what Kelvin and I can really add. For me, I guess it’s just an opportunity to put down my thoughts into something tangible rather than just reeling it off to disinterested friends and family. So here goes …

Isn't East Anglia Abroad or Somthin'?

On the midday train from Liverpool Street, I had a good feeling, tucking into my M&S butty (chicken and bacon, if you were interested), I thought that 3 points were headed home with us, I genuinely did.

A brief wander around Ipswich town, a new pasture for me, followed by some chips outside the ground, we headed into the away end for the festivities to commence.

The match started….

A few grumbles about the starting line-up, but no real discontent….(yet).

Two minutes in and a slip from Samedo allowed the tractor boys to have their first (and not last) effort on goal, a lightening bolt just over the cross bar. What then followed was a period of ping-pong between both sides – which looked a bit like my 2 year old nephew playing Forest Gump – We would hoof the ball up field – the Ipswich back four would boot the ball back, our back four would miss the ball and Ipswich would have another attacking opportunity.

It took about 20 minutes for the Addicks to get more than 2 or 3 passes put together, which when playing a 4-5-1 formation is poor. Jose Semedo was non-existent in the middle of the park, he looked like an average park footballer who didn’t know when to attack, when to defend, where or when to make runs and offered little or no support to Matty Holland or Zheng Zhi.

Ipswich had the better of the first half, Weaver made two very good saves to keep the scores level. A thundering Greg Halford header cannoned off the cross bar after 15 mintues when the scores were at nil-nil but the rub of the green was not with the Addicks this weekend. A cross gone wrong from Owen Garvan (which the Ipswich Star will have undoubtedly stated as the goal of the season) wrong footed Nicky Weaver and Ipswich were one nil up. My positive feeling was replaced by a feeling that this formation and this team were not going to take points away today.
We really lacked the bite in the middle of the park to allow us to stamp authority on the match. In addition to this, Greg Halford at the back was caught out on several occasions and Weaver was called into action to save his blushes. Leroy Lita started up front on his own and it took a while for him to get his first touch with his feet – route one football was not the right game for him and I think that despite him not touching the ball with his feet that much in the first half, when he did, he was quick and his movement was good – without a doubt a good loan signing and someone who is a premiership quality striker.

The second half kicked off and within 7 minutes three points were no longer an aim, rather the aim rapidly became a damage limitation exercise. We were denied two penalty shouts which, on another day may have been given, but non-the-less there were few, if any moments of magic for the remainder of the match, and to be honest, I would rather talk about something that annoyed me more than the game unfolding infront of me.....

Sat in block V1 – there were a group of lads behind me to my right, who began chanting “Send Him Back…..Send Him Back…..Send Him Back” to Leroy Lita following a wayward effort on goal. At first I thought it was a joke, but they continued and made it clear that they were being serious.
Leroy Lita is a proven goal scorer in the premiership, posessing more quality, more pace, a better touch with a better footballing mind than any of the existing strikers in the Charlton squad; so it really got to me that these “supporters” couldn’t see that it wasn’t Lita who should have been blamed, rather, the rest of the team who continued to 'hoof the ball' upfield rather than playing the ball on the ground as I’m sure Pardew would have told them….. (or at least I hope he did...)

So the match ended – 3 points in the wrong direction and a set of results that couldn’t have played any worse for us in the league. Out of the play off zone, it was a bit of a depressing train ride home, coupled by the fact that Arsenal cost me my accumulator on the day. In the aftermath, I will admit, I’ve not been thinking about the match that much, however, its Wednesday, Friday is firmly on my mind, Sky, West Brom are now the priority.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Last 8 Miles

So here it is; my first post, and my first effort at a blog.

If you’ve read about me, you’ll know that I’m ‘new’ to CAFC and that it’s really this season that I’ve followed them with rigour.

First off, fair play to the guys and girls who made the trip up to Burnley – midweek, no trains, appalling conditions – I remember the last time I was at turf moor – a certain Djimi Traore scored a stunning Zidane’esque turn, but unfortunately put it into his own net, it was not a fun night. But good on you for getting up there and supporting the side.

It’s been an interesting last few weeks, some ‘poor’ results with some lovely football (the first half against Bristol was a great half) mixed in, a tit for tat striker loan, that’s ended in tears and 9 months on the touch line for Izale. All this and really no change in terms of the table. It is, HOWEVER, fairly safe to say, that any ‘comfort’ zone that was in the bank and all 9 lives have been used.

On the train back to London after the PNE match, trying to analyse the match got me thinking about the rest of the season. 8 matches to go, 4 home, 4 away, including a trip to the valley for champions elect West Brom, what can we really expect in the run up to the end of the season and where do I think it will go….

I’d be happy with a point away at Ipswich. I think a win at home to Wolves is a must and I think anything from West Brom would be a bonus….4 points from 3 very tough fixtures will mean that we will need to pick up a few more in the last 5. I see a draw with Plymouth and QPR, and wins against Southampton, Barnsley (who will be caught up in their cup run) and a HUGE win at home to Coventry on the last day of the season…. But will it be enough? 15 points will take the total for the season up to 71. That would be the lowest total for a side to get into the play off’s this millennium.

Is it all doom and gloom though? No, I don’t think it is. There is an opportunity to pick up the points to get to the 73 - 75 target that should ensure play off football against Ipswich, Plymouth and QPR – the side will need to be up for these matches and I think its now that Pards will earn his wage. The players need to play through the end of season trough and I don’t see why that can’t start away at Ipswich this weekend, will a full away end and a few new ‘injections’ into the side, lets take it to them and enjoy the football again.