Friday, 29 August 2008

Preston Preview

A trip to Deepdale for the Addicks tomorrow as 5th take on 6th in the Championship. After a brush with relegation last season, Preston are unbeaten this term and Alan Irvine seems to have organised his team into a well drilled and committed Championship outfit. I've got rather hazy memories of watching this fixture in a West London pub last season after more than a couple of beers, when goals from Zheng Zhi and Luke Varney in stoppage time of either half won it for us. Of the sixteen that made the squad that day, six are no longer at the club (Mills, Sodje, Reid, Thomas, Iwelumo, Bougherra) whilst Zheng is unlikely to feature and Randolph is out on loan for the rest of the season.

Team selection should be a fairly uncomplicated affair for Pardew, picking the same XI that performed so impressively against Reading being the obvious thing to do. The one question mark may be over the left back spot with Youga available for selection after his suspension and the general feeling amongst Charlton blogs being that Basey was the weakest link in the team last week. There also appears to be doubts over the fitness of Lloyd Sam with Ambrose the most likely deputy having come through another reserve run out during the week. The latter of these changes may be enforced, but if possible I would prefer neither were made. Whilst Basey didn't have his best game in a Charlton shirt against Reading, it was his first league start of the season and he got to grips with the game as it progressed. Ambrose has his qualities (although some may beg to differ) but playing on the wing is not one of them, so I would continue with Sam if he is fit to play.

The will he/won't he Linvoy Primus saga seems to have reached a conclusion with the agreement that he will be our player for three months (although according to the website the paperwork still hasn't been signed!) so there is a chance that he may be in Pardew's thoughts, but surely only for a place on the bench at this stage. Even this I think is too much for a man who only trained with the squad for the first time on Thursday, not to mention the fact that he is apparently still returning to fitness. In terms of other options, Pardew hasn't given any kind of indication that he feels Todorov is fit enough to be considered for the first team (despite his mid-week appearance alongside Ambrose in the reserves) and there are no signs that Fleetwood is about to be considered.

With all of the above in mind, my team would be as follows: Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Fortune, Basey; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Ambrose, Shelvey, Dickson.

I don't think anybody realistically expects a repeat of the performance against Reading and all things considered a draw would not be a bad result. That said, two wins on the spin would be a major boost for this team, especially heading into the international break and with a tough fixture against Wolves up next. It may also convince any potential recruits ahead of Monday's transfer deadline that we really are going to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. Substance may be required above style this week, but let's hope it still results in three points for the men in red.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Harry spoils the party

Nothing is ever simple is it? Linvoy Primus was all set to provide us with some much needed central defensive cover and now Harry has decided he doesn't want to let the chap leave for the rest of the season (more). I must admit I haven't seen that much of Primus (although there was a good article about him in the programme on Saturday, coincidentally or not) but he can't be bad if Portsmouth are refusing to let him go for the season despite having more than adequate cover in the centre of defence (Campbell, Distin, Pamarot, Kaboul … not to mention Hermann).

I guess the problem with our limited budget is that we're relying on the good will of a lot of clubs and managers when trying to tie up these kind of season long loan deals. As Pardew has admitted, Roy Hodgson did him 'a favour' in agreeing to loan out Hameur Boazza for the season. Unfortunately however, there aren't many decent and valued players that clubs will allow to go out on loan for the duration of a very long season.

So what now? I would suggest that given that there are only six days left until the transfer deadline we might consider taking Primus until December by way of a compromise, although it would be better to know that we had a player who would be with us until May. That said, it's not clear whether the interest in Sam Sodje has completed died away so that could be another option. In reality we probably need two further defensive options and there continues to be speculation that Martin Cranie might be one of those so we'll have to wait and see what Pardew's thinking is.

In the other direction, speculation around the future of Zheng Zhi continues with reports still linking him with a move to West Brom before midnight on Monday (more). It's highly likely that he's going to go and I think it's something most Charlton fans have accepted now. If he does it's not clear if any of the money will be made available to Pardew, although he did state in his post match interview on Saturday that the money he spent on Nicky Bailey would be 'the only money' he'd be spending. Whatever happens, hopefully by Tuesday morning we will have a tight and solid squad which will take us through until the end of the season … or January at least.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Charlton 4-2 Reading

In his programme notes, Pardew promised "a cracking game", and he wasn't wrong. It was a match which had everything and, crucially, ended in a win for the men in red.

Matt Holland's opening goal was the result of a Marcus Hahnemann error but was deserved on the balance of play after a quick paced start. I had suspicions as to whether the first of Reading's penalties was one, but watching the replay at half time confirmed that Moutaouakil did indeed bundle over his man. Luckily, Doyle sent a horrible penalty crashing against the crossbar. Andy Gray made no such mistake at the other end when Luke Varney's was bundled over in the box and the referee, after consultation with his linesman, awarded the spot kick.

I said to Kelvin with a couple of minutes of the half left to go, the worst thing that could happen would be to concede a goal before half time. Which of course we duly did. Bobby Convey was given far, far too much time to cross in for Ibrahima Sonko to head in. To make matters worse, Reading were awarded another penalty shortly after the break. Stephen Hunt's initial effort was well saved by Weaver but owing to encroachment (although I haven't seen the replay yet and am not convinced) he got a second crack at it, with which he made no mistake.

There were shades of Watford at home last season as a 2-0 lead had disintegrated. But Charlton simply weren't going to let this one lie as they came back and made amends in stunning fashion. I didn't think Lloyd Sam had an amazing game (he checked his runs too much and got run off the ball too often), but there was nothing wrong with his cross for Varney's inch perfect header to restore the advantage. The victory was sealed again from the right with Moutaouakil's cross being smashed home courtesy of Bouazza's brilliant volley. After all this, there with still time for Sonko to get sent off, Andy Gray to crack one against the bar (although the more composed gentleman next to me told me it would have been offside anyway), and for Darren Ambrose to get a run out.

Charlton looked sharp, hungry and played some great football over the course of the game. Varney was given the man of the match award but for me two players really stood, both of them new boys: Bailey and Bouazza. Nicky Bailey looked solid throughout, tackled well and made some incisive passes. He could be just what we need in the middle of the park. Bouazza was quick, controlled the ball well, delivered some good crosses and capped off his afternoon with a fine goal. That is not to take away anything from the rest of the side who could easily have let the three points slip after losing their two goal lead.

It was interesting to read Pardew's comments at the end of the match. He was clearly very happy with what he saw but was also quick to remind us that we put in performances such as this last season (Stoke and Palace at home) only to throw away all the hard work the following week. Preston away next weekend is bound to be a tricky one but the starting eleven yesterday have made Pardew's team selection very easy. For now, we should give them some credit for turning in a marvellous performance and making one of the pre-season favourites look pretty ordinary.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Reading Preview

It's Reading up next at The Valley in what is sure to be a tough encounter and a solid test of this Charlton team's credentials. Alan Pardew's former club have lost fewer players since their relegation than most expected (although there is still a week and a bit left to run on the transfer window) and they look to be a strong unit. With a team sheet boasting the likes of Hahnemann, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Hunt, Harper, Doyle and Lita, it's easy to see why the Royals are one of the favourites to make an immediate return to the Premiership.

Charlton have now lost two on the spin and it would be brilliant to stop the rot tomorrow. Injuries, suspensions and further exits all considered, Pardew is hardly spoilt for choice with his team selection. Weaver had a good game against Watford by all accounts so is a foregone conclusion in goal. Central defence is unlikely to see a change from the Hudson-Fortune combination. Kelly Youga's red card has opened up the left back slot though, for a game at least. The feeling is that Grant Basey's withdrawal from the Wales Under-21 squad was purely precautionary in light of the fact that it was a completely pointless friendly. I hope this is the case because a) I think Basey deserves his chance and b) I'm not sure who else we have to play there. Right back also presents a dilemma. In an ideal world I would like to see Semedo free from his defensive duties and made available for selection in midfield. But I just don't get the impression that Pardew rates or trusts Moutaouakil enough to throw him back in to a match like this. Which is worrying really.

On the assumption that Semedo will continue at right back and Nicky Bailey will almost certainly be making his home debut, there is one midfield spot left up for grabs. Ambrose's lengthy lay off, Racon's injury and the fact that I have no idea where Zheng Zhi is or what he is up to, means there are only two options I think: Shelvey or Holland. My preference would be to go for the experience of Holland and have Shelvey on the bench to offer some energy and drive later in the game if needed (which it surely will be). On the flanks, Sam and Bouazza are the obvious choices and hopefully Bouazza has settled in a bit. Fair enough, he got hardly any game time against Swansea and was played hopelessly out of position against Yeovil, but reports from the Watford game weren't brilliant.

Up front, I imagine Pardew will stick with Varney and Gray but they really need to start proving themselves. Against Swansea they looked pretty isolated and didn't link up at all well with the midfield or each other. Dickson is snapping at their heels and looks to be raring to go, but I suspect he'll have to settle for a place on the bench on this occasion. Todorov is not match fit and Fleetwood already seems to be well down the pecking order.

All said and done, I would line them up as follows: Weaver; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Wright, Shelvey, Dickson,

Former Charlton players have a got a habit of coming back to hurt us and the threat of Lita is well known. Last seen by Charlton fans at Loftus Road as our play-off hopes died with a pathetic 1-0 defeat, he showed during his spell at The Valley what he can do and our back four will do well to contain him and his colleagues. A defeat on Saturday won't be the end of the world and I think getting a point would be a good result. Fixtures against Watford, Reading and Wolves within our first five games is not the easiest of starts to the season and I think it will certainly wake up a few players to the reality of this season. Hoping for a glorious victory in front of the Sky cameras tomorrow, expecting slightly less.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Watford 1-0 Charlton @ Vicarage Road

Firstly I must apologise for the delay in getting the match report up from the Watford match. No excuses, I’ve just been a lazy toad.

I travelled to Vicarage Road on my bill last weekend after a busy morning moving out of my flat and had very little thinking time prior to the match, but walking from the tube station to the ground I predicted a score draw and I think I would have been right had Charlton not gone a man down in the 45th minute.
It was my first trip to Vicarage Road.... what a dump. A horrible ground.... after my year of supporting Charlton, it's clear we have among the best facilities in the league.

The team lined up as most expected with Varney and Gray up front, Racon and new boy Bailey in the middle of the park with Bouazza and Lloyd Sam out wide. Kelly Youga lined up at left-back, Mark Hudson and Jonathan Fortune at centre half with Jose Semedo completing the quartet.

The match started with a stutter and the Addicks found themselves exposed at the rear as early as the 4th minute thanks to a probing run from Jon Harley down the left. His cross set up Jobi McAnuff who had his header cleared by Addicks Captain Mark Hudson. Charlton’s first real effort on goal came from Frenchman Thierry Racon who fired just over the cross bar in the 18th minute. Ten minutes later Charlton found themselves a goal down as a ball played down the left wing outsmarted Jonathan Fortune whose mishap allowed Tommy Smith to turn inside and slot home past Weaver much to the delight of the home crowd and the despair of the travelling contingent.

The goal allowed Watford to settle down and although Charlton had a few efforts the match was much of a stalemate until Charlton were reduced to ten men in the 47th minute. A perfectly weighted through-ball from John Eustace allowed Tomas Priskin to stretch his legs with Kelly Youga chasing the Watford centre forward. Youga caught Priskin but was adjudged to have fouled the Hungarian by referee Iain Williamson who promptly produced a red card for the foul.

Saturday was “Respect the Referee” day or whatever the FA choose to call it…. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to respect referee Williamson on this day. Williamson decided against seeking advice from his linesman and instead chose to send off Kelly Youga in stoppage time in the first half. I sincerely hope that the referee has phoned Alan Pardew to apologise for making a match changing decision that turned out to be so glaringly wrong. I also questioned his use of discretion – if he thought it was a foul why did he not just show a yellow card – surely he knew that it was the end of the half?? Anyhow, I think this decision changed the face of the game and from here on it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Addicks to salvage anything from the match.

The second half was more encouraging for Charlton and I thought that despite being down to ten men, we were still in the game, we were still making opportunities and we were unlucky not to equalise through Luke Varney who saw his effort stopped by Mart Poom.

Grant Basey came on for Bouazza and had a quiet start to his match whilst Racon hobbled his way off the pitch (due to a broken metatarsal) and made way for Matty Holland who did a great job trying to take the game by the scruff of its neck chasing the ball all over the pitch like a mad man….

Striker Chris Dickson was brought on for Jose Semedo and did a cracking job of chasing the ball and giving the game a good go. I’m looking forward to seeing him get a start, his youthful energy and clear ability is something that we will certainly benefit from having on the pitch .

The final whistle signalled a victory for Watford and the boos echoed around the away enclosure, not aimed at the players (this time) instead aimed at the Refereeand his linesman who was down the Charlton end who both had woeful afternoons.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

What's Going On?!

All sorts of Charlton news since our last post, I only wish more of it could fuel my self imposed optimism. By all accounts the display at Watford was by no means terrible but the reports aren't all together encouraging either. Pardew appeared to blame Youga's sending off for ruining the game but it doesn't sound like we were creating anything even when he was on the pitch. An apparent error by Fortune led to their goal and this must surely have hastened Pardew's search for a new defender (mustn't it?!). Matters were hardly helped when Thierry Racon hobbled off with what was confirmed today as a metatarsal break. Don't expect to see him back for three months.

A bit more transfer activity through The Valley exit doors with the news that Scott Wagstaff and Dean Sinclair are both heading out on loan. Wagstaff looks like a decent prospect (although he does appear to have quite a slight frame) and I can see why Pards wants to send him out to get some league action. I must confess though that I don't really understand the point of Dean Sinclair. Brought in at the beginning of last season, he spent the majority of season on loan at Cheltenham Town, where he has returned. Given the recent injury to Racon, along with Ambrose's absence, Pardew really can't rate him if he's prepared to send him out on loan at such a time. I know his wages aren't likely to be huge, but can we really afford to keep players such as this?

Meanwhile, there have been no more players heading through the door marked 'in'. I imagine Pardew is getting frustrated by the financial constraints he has on his transfer activity but there is no doubting that further additions are required. He must be pinching himself … this time last season he was paying out £2m a pop for the likes of Luke Varney and Izale McLeod, whilst Nicky Weaver and Svetoslav Todorov arrived with presumably relatively high wages. He was even allowed to splash out further in the January transfer window on Andy Gray, despite the less than impressive performances (in most instances) in the first half of the season of his acquisitions. Now he is having to operate like a modern day Arthur Daley just to get some cover at centre half.

Anyway, I'm keeping the faith (just about). Zheng Zhi is still a Charlton player (just about), we're two points better off than we were at this stage last season, Ambrose and Todorov are making their comebacks in the reserves, and there are still eleven days to go for some new faces to come and join the party in SE7. I think I also forgot to mention that Amdy Faye is off the wage bill and Jerome Thomas has gone to sulk in Porstmouth reserves for the season. Err … Great Britain are doing quite well in the Olympics too!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Watford Preview

After the mid-week Carling Cup disappointment (read farce), a trip to Vicarage Road is up next to face a Watford side who seem to be facing issues not too dissimilar to Charlton. Relegated from the Premiership, they too flattered to deceive in their first season back in the Championship and were lucky to claim a play-off place following a horrible run of results at the back end of last term. They are also beginning to feel the financial implications and have had to offload some of their more prized assets such as Darius Henderson and Dan Shittu over the summer.

So what to make of Saturday's game? If the form book is anything to go by then it's a nailed on draw, with nothing to separate the sides in the last four meetings. Last year's encounter was a fairly scrappy affair played in atrocious conditions, a Darren Ambrose goal rescuing a point for the Addicks having gone 1-0 down. Ambrose won't be available for selection tomorrow but Pardew is left with some interesting choices to make.

At the back, there is nothing to suggest that Weaver won't be recalled to the side after being rested mid-week. At centre half Pards most certainly doesn't have a selection headache where Fortune and Hudson will surely start ... assuming (and praying) they are both fit of course. Positive reports on Basey from the Yeovil game but I expect Youga to retain his place at left back, although Pardew needs to ensure his casual style of play is kept in check. Right back presents more of a dilemma - recall the available again Moutaouakil or carry on playing Semedo? I am inclined to think that Pardew will keep the faith with Semedo for this one after Yassin's mid-week foray was apparently less than successful.

Midfield is a tricky one and an issue that New York Addick has covered extremely well in his latest post. Bouazza (on the right) and Bailey should both be making their full debuts in my opinion, with the added incentive of a return to his old club for the former. Has Bailey had enough time with the team to go straight into a match like this? I'm not sure, but from the reports I've read he is exactly what we need in the middle of the park. Who accompanies him again raises questions. On this occasion I would go for the experience of Holland, more as a calming influence and figure of seniority than anything else. On the left, I would stick with Thomas for now (although Basey could well lay a decent claim to this spot) but according to AP's latest comments he may well be on his way out along with ZZ. Up front, Varney and Gray to start again.

All in, my starting XI would look like this: Weaver; Semedo, Fortune, Hudson, Youga; Bouazza, Holland, Bailey, Thomas; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Racon, Sam, Dickson

Does either team have it in them to win it? It's too close to call, I just hope the men in red can react to the Yeovil result in the best way possible. I can't make it along on Saturday (I'm still drying off from the last season's trip) but if you're going along then enjoy the game and hopefully there will be smiles all round come 5pm.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Bailey Signs Up

Just as I put the last post up, news on the official website that Nicky Bailey has signed 'in a package that could reach £750,000'. The 24 year-old goes straight into the squad for Saturday's game against Watford and has been given the vacant number 4 shirt.

Let's hope Bailey is the all action, strong tackling, hard working, goal scoring midfielder we've been missing since Reid left. No pressure Nicky, no pressure at all ...

And so it starts ...

Oh dear. I didn't go to the game last night and was out all evening so didn't end up finding out the result until this morning. My radio alarm woke me up to the news that seven Championship teams had been knocked out of the Carling Cup, including Charlton who were booed off at The Valley after defeat to Yeovil Town. I hit the snooze button and hoped it was all part of a dream. Alas, when I was finally awake the news remained the same.

Mixed reports of the match although not too many positives to take away. A very strange line up by Pardew. Why was he playing Bouazza as a second striker whilst Dickson only came on as a substitute (and Fleetwood didn't come on at all)? Bouazza by all accounts is an out and out winger and Luke Varney really is not a lone striker. I can understand why he chose to rest Hudson but at the same time it only served to highlight the complete lunacy of our lack of cover at centre back with Youga asked to step in on this occasion. This was compounded when Fortune got injured, being replaced by Semedo and thus leaving us with no recognised centre halves on the pitch. There is absolutely no way we can allow this to happen in the league and reinforcements must be sought in this position.

Regardless of the performance, it was disappointing to hear that the booing has resurfaced so quickly. Is it really helpful to a (largely) young group of players who are trying to gel as a team after many of their senior counterparts have departed? It is early in the season and if we're losing faith already then it's going to be a very long and depressing nine months. Now is the time to give the team a chance and show us what they can do. Hopefully Pardew will pick the right eleven to enable them to do this.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Charlton 2-0 Swansea City

The opening day of the season is usually associated with glorious weather, so I was hoping the wind and rain weren't a bad omen for our chances against Swansea yesterday. Luckily, these fears were unfounded as the Addicks notched up a win and three points.

To be honest, we are going to face much stronger opponents than the Swans but they still had to be beaten. So it was to everybody's relief when Mark Hudson made a dream start to his Charlton career with a powering header within the first few minutes. Set pieces have never seemed to be our strong point and I hardly remember us scoring from a corner last season. Shelvey's corner was well taken though and Hudson made no mistake.
As only Charlton can do, they made us sweat for the next 80 minutes before putting the game to bed with another header, this time courtesy of Andy Gray. Our cause was certainly helped when the Jacks were reduced to ten men after two yellow cards picked up in quick succession by Garry Monk, but even then we didn't look entirely comfortable.
At the back, Weaver made a couple of decent saves although was also guilty of fumbling a couple (although to be fair the slippery ball and surface hardly helped). Fortune and Hudson looked fairly solid at the heart of the defence and Youga looked decent at left back, showing some pretty good defensive qualities as well as an ability to get forward. For me, Semedo looked out of position at right back and when Yassin is back from suspension I would recall him and revert to playing Semedo where he plays best, as a ball winning midfielder.

This was something that we lacked yesterday. Shelvey and Racon worked hard but are both inexperienced and probably too similar to play together in the middle of the park. In an ideal world I would have Semedo in the holding role in midfield with Zheng accompanying him as a more attacking option. Whether he returns to The Valley after the Olympics remains to be seen though. Shelvey or Racon would certainly be an adequate replacement in the attacking role with some match experience under their belts however.
On the flanks, Thomas was his usual frustrating self and leaves me tearing my hair out whenever he gets the ball. Sam did OK and I think the arrival of Bouazza (which half the crowd did not seem to know about until his name was read out as a substitute!) will certainly provide him with some competition for his place. Up front, Varney and Gray never really got going and didn't show as much of an understanding as I would have liked. Gray took his goal well though and Varney should have added a third late on.

Overall then, not a performance to write home about but we came away with three points against a frustrating team to play against ... something we all too often failed to do last season. Reading some of Pardew's comments, it would seem that there could be one or two new arrivals in the offing to provide some much needed strengthening in certain areas. Hopefully the players we have by the end of August can very quickly gel into a team to compete in this division because it's going to be a long and difficult season. Still, second in the table after day one (if only thanks to alphabetical order) ... let's hope we'll still be there come May.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A New Look, A New Season, A New Captain

Summer signing Mark Hudson has been named as The Addicks new captain for the 2008-09 season, replacing Matty Holland.

I must admit, I've not seen enough of Hudson to comment on him as a player or captain but its a big change for the coming season and I'm sure that Matty H will take it in his stride - I hope that it takes a bit of pressure off him and will allow him to really enjoy the season!

I think it makes sense having a centre-half as the captain this season, particularly given we need the experiance back there!

Either way.... the countdown has started.... bring on saturday!!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

T - 48 Hours and Counting......

Its 48 hours until the kick off of the 2008-2009 Coca-Cola Championship Season, 48 hours until we are all back at the Valley for the start of what we are hoping will be a huge season for the Addicks. I can’t wait for the season to kick off. I’m nervous and I think its going to be a long and frustrating season, but I’m confident that with a few additions to the side we will have that formula needed to progress back to the Premiership.

I thought I’d put down a few thoughts about the forthcoming season, the squad and just some general comments as we countdown to kick off.

The Squad
With the squad numbers announced for the season, we can now decide which player’s name we will get put on the back of our replica shirts (which the club shop might not have in the necessary size due to unprecedented demand!), but I’m not so sure we are all confident about what the starting eleven will be come Saturday. It’s always bemused me why players opt for random numbers (take my mate Kyriakos Papadopoulos who plays for Olympiakos as an example) and why we don’t just go back to the old system where 1 to 11 were your first team, the rest were subs and your second team! But rather than digress as I usually do, I’ll try to keep focus!

The most affected area of the team is clearly the back 4. With the sale of Majid Bougherra and Paddy McCarthy, the release of Ben Thatcher and the return of Sam Sodje and Greg Halford to Reading and Sunderland respectively there has been a lot of change in this department and it worries me that we’ve only really brought in Mark Hudson from rivals Crystal Palace. Our defense last season seemed quite settled and I didn’t think it was the poorest part of the team, even if they were susceptible to the odd moment of madness and lapse in concentration. I’m much more concerned this year that it will take the back four more time to bed in and settle, time that we cant really afford to waste! In addition to this, I think we are very light at the back and should we encounter any injuries we may well find ourselves scouring the loan market for a replacement!

Zheng Zhi’s participation in the Olympics ruled him out of the entire pre-season and means he will miss the first few weeks of the new season which is cause for concern in my opinion. ZZ looked to really tire during the middle of last season, I think he looked visibly shattered on the pitch and what worries me is that he will have forgone a preseason to continue where he finished last season and move straight into a relatively intense competition on the other side of the world. ZZ at the top of his game is a quality member of the side, but for much of the middle of the season I thought he was a passenger in a midfield that needed his youthful presence! I’m hoping that he will be substituted a bit more this season and that we can start to utilize some of the younger members of the team to give them the all important match experience that they’ll need to eventually take over the mantle as we move back into the Premiership.

To finish up with the midfield, I am expecting big things from our younger midfielders. Ambrose and Thomas really need to step up to the plate and ‘grow-up’ in a footballing sense. All too often last season both players faded into and out of matches showing brief flashes of brilliance in what were largely mediocre performances. I want to see Thomas roll up his sleeves and learn to tackle rather than shitting out of every tackle he goes into! Both players have promise and with the departure of big Chris Iwelumo, they should be encouraged to stamp their authority on the game and run at players and generally attack attack attack, rather than hoof hoof hoof!

I’m hoping that the departure of Iwelumo will rule out the ‘route 1’ hoofing that we became so used to last season and that with Andy Gray, Luke Varney and Toddy all fit and fighting for places we will be able to use the speed and skill of these players (and I really do think they are great strikers all of them) to tear apart Championship teams this season.

I think August is going to be a crucial month, I think we need two or three more additions to the squad to give us the depth to cover the entire season…..I’m largely against mid-season spending, rather prefer a proactive manager who will see the gaps in the team and plug them earlier rather than later (and usually at a higher price!)

The Season
I’ve spoken with a few people this week about the forthcoming season and the one thing that has been common throughout all of my conversations is that EVERYONE thinks this season will be infinitely more difficult than last season. In what was my first season of watching the Championship it became crystal clear that the Championship is not somewhere I’ll be putting my money this season. It’s the most random league I’ve ever witnessed with random results occurring throughout the course of the season.

Offering my prediction, I think that the top 6 will be made up of: Birmingham City, Watford, Wolves, Charlton, Crystal Palace and Ipswich this season. But beyond that I think its too tough to call who will get promoted out of this group! Well, I’m sure that Palace won’t, well, I hope not!

Final Word
I’ve had two more friends move down from Liverpool this year both of whom are mad Reds and one of whom I travel away into Europe with following Liverpool. I’m hoping to get them along to a few games this season so if you do bump into three Scousers at the match that’ll be us!

I’m going to try to get to a few more Charlton away matches this season too, I enjoyed the ones that I got to last season, even though we didn’t win any of them, they were always good days out and usually involved lots of beer and a pizza on the way home!

Get some rest tonight and tomorrow night….. its going to be a long ride this season!