Friday, 26 September 2008

Fleetwood's off, Fortune's injured, I'm confused

It's always a good idea to check the official website before writing a match preview, something which I forgot to do yesterday when writing the Wednesday preview (admittedly after a couple of beers). What you think you know can be completely turned on it's head by the club's communication department or a few words from Alan.

As it turns out, Primus isn't fit to play, Jon Fortune won't be either for the next six weeks, Martin Cranie will be though, Jose Semedo will probably get a game ahead of Yassin, and Zheng Zhi is still 'feeling his way back' (more).

So what to make of all this? Firstly, it looks as though our lack of cover in central is going to be exposed rather sooner than anybody would have liked. It doesn't really help when you bring in a loan player for cover who isn't fit in the first place. According to Pardew, Linvoy Primus still has 'a long way to go' but has 'an outside chance of being ready for Palace. What?! He is either fit or he isn't fit, and if he isn't then the Palace game is no time to bring him back. It will be interesting to see how Cranie plays at centre half tomorrow (if he does indeed start there ahead of Semedo and Youga). Having stated that this is his preffered position I am hoping for good things.

With regards to the Moutaouakil situation, I'm really not sure what he has to do to get a game. I, along with many others, have been saying for some time that we want to see him play but I don't think I can say anything about this that hasn't been said before. Just play him Pards! One suspects that Pardew indifference to bringing Zheng Zhi back probably has something to do with holding him back for the Palace game.

Stuart Fleetwood's one month loan move to Cheltenham (more) could be taken one of two ways. Either he has joined the 'not as good as we thought' category (Dean Sinclair) or he really is just being given the chance at some first team football in the hope he'll be more ready for the Charlton first XI (Chris Dickson). It looks to be the latter fortunately, with Pardew recognising that he has been scoring freely in the reserves.

So all in all, we're nowhere near where I thought we were less than 24 hours ago. No change there then.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sheffield Wednesday Preview

It's a return to the Valley after a fortnight away with a visit from Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. Like Charlton, the Owls have endured a mixed start to the season, with wins over Burnley and Watford tempered by heavy losses to Wolves and Reading. They're just a point behind the Addicks in the league and will be looking to build on a solid draw against Ipswich when they come calling at the weekend.
Charlton return home with four points out of six from their travels. I guess this can not be considered a bad return but reading the report from Forest, I can't help but feel this could have been a maximum return had we showed a bit more attacking endeavour. Once again Pardew's tinkering ways came to the fore and Andy Gray was dropped in favour of Grant Basey to provide a more packed midfield. As our top scorer, and having scored in the previous game (against Doncaster), I was surprised that Pardew sacrificed the Scot. Even more surprising was the decision to include Grant Basey in a holding midfield role, when surely Jose Semedo would have been a preferable and more experienced option. Why we lined up so negatively against a team with such a poor defensive record in the first place remains even more baffling.

The game gave more cause for concern with injuries to both Jonathan Fortune and Martin Cranie. Our already limited defensive options look like they are being stretched already and leaves Pardew with some interesting decisions when naming his team for Saturday. Providing that those two remain out of the equation, I expect Yassin Moutaouakil to make the return to right back that many of the Addickted have been craving. That would leave Hudson to try and strike up a partnership in central defence with Linvoy Primus, with Kelly Youga continuing at left back.

I can't see Pardew being so negative as to stick with the 4-1-4-1 formation he deployed against Forest and expect a return to 4-4-2. With that in mind, I imagine he will stick with the quartet of Sam, Holland, Bailey and Bouazza. There is a case for the return of Zheng Zhi and one that I would fully advocate, if only to give Matt Holland a break. But Pardew is clearly happy with the work the senior midfielder has put in so far and I don't think he will be dropped. Ambrose still doesn't seem to be getting a look in with the starting XI and Semedo is likely to see his frustration mount as he watches on from the bench.

With Andy Gray once again partnering Luke Varney up font, I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Primus, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Semedo, Ambrose, Dickson.

I have a suspicion that is likely to be completely wrong however, as Cranie may be fit to start and Pardew may choose to give Zheng a place on the bench. Last year's home tie against Wednesday was a cracker with the now departed Chris grabbing a brace in a 3-2 victory. I'm not expecting to see a repeat of that but I do hope we can show a bit of the attacking flair that sadly seems to have gone missing after the Reading game. Like the Royals, Wednesday will be playing in blue and white stipes (albeit vertical) so let's hope that jogs a few players memories.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Nottingham Forest Preview

The Charlton roadshow rolls into Nottingham tomorrow for a match against the last of the three promoted sides we have yet to play. Nottingham Forest got a great result to kick off their season, securing a 0-0 draw against a Reading side who had come to the Championship from the opposite direction. However, with the exception of a 3-2 victory over Watford at the City Ground, things have gone pretty much downhill from there. With the opposition second from bottom having only secured 4 points from six games, we really should be looking for a maximum return from this game.

However, this is Charlton we're talking about and our last visit here was a complete catastrophe. The 2-0 loss (to a team two tiers below us at the time) and abject performance aside, perhaps the most humiliating aspect was Talal El Karkouri's repeated foul throws which the Match of the Day team took great delight in repeating and laughing at that Saturday evening. It was a low point in a bad season and Pardew will surely want to make sure some dignity is restored with a solid performance tomorrow.

A 1-0 midweek victory at Doncaster was more than most were expecting and it would be great to add to the away tally before heading back to the Valley next Saturday. A record of three wins and three losses from six games looks to have set the tone for our form this season though and given our record of turning in rubbish performances on the back of impressive ones, it's not surprising that most of the Addickted are being realistic in their expectations for this game.

In terms of team selection, it's difficult to see how Pardew could justify any changes and I fully expect him to start with the same XI that took the field against Wolves and at Doncaster. We are told by the official website (more) that Zheng Zhi is still not fit to play and part, and also that the ludicrous Linvoy Primus situation has taken another twist with the big man returning to the physio bench at Portsmouth for treatment on an injured knee (although not the same knee that was originally injured if that makes things any less farcical). Todorov could be fit to take his place on the bench, presumably at the expense of Chris Dickson, which would be a bit harsh on the latter if you ask me as he has hardly been given an opportunity to show what he can do.

Anyway, this is the team I'm expecting: Weaver; Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Basey, Ambrose, Dickson.

I was at university in Nottingham and would have loved to have made the trip back tomorrow, but unfortunately I had already made commitments prior to the fixture list being published (I should have known better). The City Ground has a great setting on the river, although I do remember having bottles thrown at me last time I went to a match there as I walked to the ground through the infamous Meadows area. If you're going, watch your heads and enjoy the game.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A Gray Day

I had a rubbish day yesterday and was fully expecting Charlton to compound my misery by failing to get anything out of the game at Doncaster. So I was cheered up no end when the news came through of an improbable 1-0 victory for the Addicks. As I found myself jumping around the front room punching the air, I was reminded just how much Charlton's results can influence my mood. A bad day didn't seem so bad after all courtesy of eleven men in a white shirt. Thanks lads.

The initial euphoria (heightened by a win for Liverpool to keep Kelvin happy) was tempered slightly by reports of the performance. By all accounts we sat back and soaked up way too much pressure, as highlighted by the 14-1 corner count. It sounds like Doncaster played neat and attractive football which we defended resolutely against, without creating anything of note ourselves. However, if nothing else it's pleasing that we a) kept a clean sheet and b) did not let another 1-0 lead slip through our fingers.

After a disappointing game on Saturday, it was good to see Andy Gray get back on the score sheet and also pleaseing that it was Jonathan Fortune, another who was not at his best against Wolves, that provided the ball from a free kick. It was unsurprising to learn from Dave Peeps (more) that it was Mark Hudson and Nicky Bailey who were once again the stand out performers in the team. The importance of these two players is evident, and will be doubly so if one of them should get injured. Let's hope that this result gives the team the confidence they need to play a slightly more expansive game against Forest on Saturday and come away with three more points.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Doncaster Rovers Preview

The first mid-week league fixture of the season and a tricky trip to Doncaster Rovers and their spanking new Keepmoat Stadium. I've hardly had a chance to gather my thoughts from Saturday to be honest, but hopefully the players have and are focused on this game because we need some kind of result here to avoid looking down at the wrong end of the table. Most journalists have written us off for even a place in the play-offs now, so if we are to prove them wrong then we need to start picking up points in games such as this.

Doncaster, like fellow promoted side Swansea, have made a solid start to the season and are sitting one point ahead of the Addicks with wins over Derby and Coventry, and a very respectable 1-0 defeat to Birmingham at the weekend. Sean O'Driscoll seems to have got the measure of this division and I'm sure mid-week games at home are where they will be looking to pick up some crucial points this season.

In his interview after the Wolves game, Pardew recognised the superiority of the opposition but also expressed his disappointment to the players' reaction to the visitors' goal. Throwing away 1-0 leads in successive games is not clever and he'll certainly be looking for better tonight. I really do think that we need to establish a settled starting XI and to that end, whilst I don't agree with the selections he currently has, I would like to see him stick with the same side that turned out on Saturday. However, he said he has "some thinking to do" and I don't think he can resist the urge to make at least one change.

The most obvious candidate to drop to the bench would be Lloyd Sam who did not have a great game against Wolves and could easily make way for Darren Ambrose on the right. Elsewhere, I don't really think that Kelly Youga did enough on Saturday to show that the left back spot is his, so there is a chance Grant Basey could reclaim the spot. The one player I would like to see return, Zheng Zhi, has been ruled out with a bruised foot but I do think he should be restored to the side as soon as possible. Elsewhere, I'm not sure there is a great case for changing things around although Fortune certainly needs to have a decent game if he wants to retain his place, with Primus knocking at the door.

All things considered, I would expect the following team to start this evening: Weaver; Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Ambrose, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Primus, Basey, Sam, Dickson.

Pardew has often stressed that this side is 'still learning'. So, after two failed attempts, let's hope they've already learnt how to pick up points away from home.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Charlton 1-3 Wolves

Oh dear. And the afternoon had started so well! Nicky Bailey's thumping volley less than five minutes in (reminiscent of Robin Van Persie's effort a couple of seasons ago) had raised expectations of another Reading-esque performance, but unfortunately Charlton were nowhere near that level on Saturday. Credit where credit is due however, Wolves looked like a very good side and well worth their early season position at the top of the table. They simply didn't give up, eventually breaking us down to get all three points.

I'm not going to go into the match in detail as plenty of blogs already have excellent reports up. It's fair to say though, that we were lucky to go in at half time still in front. After the goal went in, we seemed to look in control for the next twenty minutes before letting it slide away. The warning signs were there when the half time whistle blew, although had we gone two in front then it may have been a different story. Yet we never showed any degree of attacking flair after the break. I didn't really see Bailey's challenge which gave away the penalty, but once that went in it was always going to be a case of 'when' rather than 'if' the men in gold stole in for the points.

There were a number of disappointing Charlton performances on Saturday. Weaver was at fault for at least one of their goals and his distribution was poor throughout the game. In defence, I thought that Youga looked like a headless chicken, Fortune looked slow and awkward, and Cranie gave a performance which did nothing to suggest he is a better option at right back than Yassin. Disappointing. Only Hudson had a decent match and he looks to be captain dependable.

Our midfield never really seemed to get going unfortunately. Nicky Bailey's goal was sublime and, despite giving away the penalty, he had another superb game. He was all over the pitch, although he seemed to be harshly penalised too often by the referee when making tackles on the edge of our area. Holland had a fairly indifferent game and, calamity free kick efforts aside, did nothing of note. On the wings, Bouazza had a great first half and showed he isn't afraid to have a go at goal, but unfortunately he faded in the second and became a virtual passenger. Lloyd Sam had a very frustrating game, his forays down the right all too often ending in nothing. Up front, Gray was practically anonymous and Varney didn't have a much better game.

I must say, I continue to find some of Pardew's decision making very baffling. For example, why have Linvoy Primus on the bench if, by his own admission, 'he needs a bit more work'? Why wait so late to bring in Chris Dickson when Andy Gray had had such a poor game? Why replace Sam with Basey and not Ambrose, forcing Bouazza to switch to the right and upset the balance even more? If I was Jose Semedo or Yassin Moutaouakil I'd be getting seriously pissed off if I wasn't even making the bench and Pardew needs to have a long think about how he is going to balance the side and keep everybody happy.

Defeat was a disappointment but we now have two matches in the space of week to try and put things right. Away matches against Doncaster Rovers and Nottingham Forest are tricky fixtures though and will give us some indication as to whether this team has it in them to compete in this division this season. We need something out of both of them though or else already diminished expectation levels will be pushing a new low.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Wolves Preview

A tricky game awaits tomorrow as Mick McCarthy and his table topping Wolves side come to the Valley. Whilst early season form shouldn't be read into too much, the men in gold are unbeaten, free scoring and bound to be a stiff test for this Charlton team. Memories of this fixture last season are probably best forgotten, their late late winner pretty much signalling the end of any play off ambitions we harboured. With a team containing the likes of Michael Kightly, David Jones, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and, of course, Chris Iwelumo, it's fair to say that our defence will be in for another busy afternoon.

With only one enforced change to the team that performed so convincingly against Reading, the defeat at Preston can't be regarded as anything other than a disappointment. The thinness of our squad was highlighted by the fact that Nicky Bailey, who performed so admirably in the middle of the park against Reading, was forced to move to the right in Lloyd Sam's absence. I'm not sure one change should have disrupted the side so much though and it suggests we may be in for more of the 'hot and cold' form that we experienced last season.

Despite the disappointment a fortnight ago, I hope that Pardew resists the temptation to tinker with the side. This was a tendency which, by his own admission, put a large dent in our promotion hopes last time round. I am in agreement with Chicago Addick (more) regarding the right back position and do think that Yassin Moutaouakil should continue. However, the general feeling seems to be that new boy Martin Cranie will get a start at the expense of the Frenchman. I haven't seen Cranie play so will reserve judgement, but I'm sceptical as to whether he can combine as effectively with Lloyd Sam as Yassin does.

Elsewhere in the side, Pardew has stated that Jonathan Fortune will be playing, so with him partnering Mark Hudson that only leaves the left back position up for grabs. I expect Kelly Youga to be reinstated for this game, and to be honest it's difficult to choose between him and Grant Basey right now. There is a bigger dilemma in midfield than I was expecting with no less than eight players seemingly in contention: Sam, Ambrose, Bailey, Holland, Shelvey, Bouazza, Semedo and Zhi.

Given the imbalance in the side at Deepdale, Lloyd Sam can expect to be restored and I can't see Bouazza being changed on the left. So that leaves five players and two spaces. Bailey will presumably continue so the only question remains whether Pardew will continue to partner him with Matt Holland. I imagine the answer to this is 'yes'. Whilst I can understand this, I would really love to see the return of Zheng Zhi although do not expect given that he is not even mentioned in the match preview on the official club site (more) . It would be nice to know why. Is he still recovering from the Olympics? Is he injured? I know there are mixed opinions on ZZ, but personally I think he's a great player and needs to be used in games like this.

Anyway, with Luke Varney and Andy Gray starting up front again, I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver; Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Semedo, Ambrose, Dickson.

This game appears to be full of goals so will probably end up a 0-0 draw. I'm looking forward to it though and will be interesting to see the side we put out and the way we perform. Come on you Reds.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Well ... that was a bit of a surprise wasn't it??

I didn't watch the England match last night, instead I decided to ride my motorcycle from my office out by Heathrow Airport through London (via Clapham to meet up with another mate) out to the Essex Arena.

Yes, Essex does have an arena ... well, sort of. We got lost and ended up riding through Grays (which I must admit was a pretty rough area) until we found the most randomly located Internet Cafe I've ever seen on a dimly lit road off an industrial estate which was full of people chatting and "gaming" online ... funny as ...

"Why on earth would you ride 40 miles in the evening through rush hour to go to Grays?", I hear you ask. Well the answer is simple. We went to watch the Lakeside Hammers take on the Bell Vue Aces in one of the final rounds of the 2008 British Elite Speedway League. The whole night resembled a night at the dogs although much louder and more dangerous (well except for the hare at the dogs, but it's only up north they still use live hares).

It turned out to be a smashing night - I know this isn't football related, but since I passed my test in April, I've done 7,000 miles on the bike and too be honest, I'm enjoying it more than footie ... which is mental, but true! The Hammers battered their opponents and it now looks like the league is theirs for the taking, with Ipswich slipping up at opponents Poole last night.

I watched extended highlights of the match last night when I got in though and it looked interesting. I do wonder though, what would have happened had England not scored the first goal. In all though it was a good performance from the younger side and I thought that Heskey did a great job up front. Although he didn't look like scoring, he did his job and held the ball up well. I'd thought the score would be 2-1 last night in favour of the home side, so the actual result was a suprise and it should take the pressure off England when the two sides meet at Wembley. That does however presume that England do not slip up in Kiev or Khazakstan, which given the performance in Andorra is a distinct possibility.

I've got to echo what Richard said in his post though, it just really doesn't bother me the whole England melarky. I dont see how anyone who supports Chelsea week in and week out can suddenly cheer Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney just because he has a white shirt on. For me, if you are not wearing the red of my team then you're not my team. I've nothing against people who love Ingerland and who go home and away to support them, but I just couldn't do it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

International week ... am I bovvered?

It's international week and you'll have to forgive me for feeling very indifferent towards it. When it comes to England internationals, Kelvin and I agree on one thing: we don't really care. Whenever the question has come up as to whether I'd prefer Charlton to win the league or England to win the World Cup (admittedly neither a likely prospect at the moment), it's really never been a dilemma. In fact, I would rather Charlton won the Carling Cup than England being crowned the greatest footballing nation in the world.

So what is it that drives my apathy towards the national team? I guess their poor form can't really help. Watching them grind out a 2-0 victory over Andorra on Saturday is as painful a watch as I can remember and, with the very rare exception such as the 5-1 thumping of Germany, it's been pretty much that way since a brief glimmer of hope in Euro '96. Managers have come and gone but the performances seem to have remained at the same level of mediocrity. Is it really that difficult to craft a team containing Gerrard, Beckham, Lampard, Rooney et al. into world beaters? Apparently so. My flatmate (who knows not very much about football) commented that the national team would perform better if it was stripped of the egos and was made up of lesser Premiership or Championship players. In some ways, he has a point.

I guess another thing which I get frustrated by is the media hysteria that surrounds England games. Never have so many column inches been devoted to such worthless comment and information. Remember Rooney's metatarsal break before the 2006 World Cup? Pretty difficult to forget it given the amount of coverage it got. It also pains me the way that everybody jumps on the footballing bandwagon and suddenly starts to think they know a thing or two about the beautiful game. People who have no interest in the game any other time of year have St. George's crosses flying from the car and are in the pubs shouting at the screen with their thoughts. This year's European Championship was a very enjoyable tournament if only for the fact that we didn't have to put up with any of this and were allowed to simply enjoy the football on show.

Perhaps I'm just a football snob but being a Charlton fan has always been a lot more satisfying than being an England fan. A fortnight without a Charlton fixture has seemed like an eternity and I'm very much looking forward to getting down to the Valley again at the weekend. In the mean time the England show rolls into Zagreb to try and conjure up a better performance than last time they played there, Paul Robinson making an absolute mess of things. I'll have one eye on it but my thoughts will already have turned to the Wolves game. Roll on 3pm Saturday …

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Game On!

There we go, the football season is now officially “ON” with the closure of the summer transfer window.

Richard made a comment about staying up until the end of the transfer window to get the comings and goings and I must admit, so did I ... but so too did all of my mates!

I think as transfer windows go, it doesn’t get much more exciting.

Manchester City:
Who the hell envisaged Thaksin whatever-he’s called selling the blue side of Manchester to a gaggle of Arabs? I certainly didn’t and I sure as hell didn’t see them bidding on Dimitar Berbatov or Robinho.

I’m not sure what Robinho is going to bring to the Manchester City side. I don’t think he really wanted to play for them, rather, I think he sees his time at the Eastlands as an opportunity to sit in the shop window until January when it becomes clear that he’s not adapted to life in Manchester, at which point Mr. Abramovich will come calling with his millions and take him to the bright lights of London. There is no doubt he is a good player, but is he worth over £30m? I’ve seen him a few times for Real and I really think that the price tag is grossly over inflated and that Real Madrid must be laughing at the price they got.

Dimitar Berbatov:
As a Liverpool supporter and with it being a VERY important season this year (Manchester United have the ability to make it 18 league wins, equaling Liverpool as the most successful domestic club in England) I was fascinated by the Berbatov saga and really hoped that he’d sign for the blue side rather than the red side, but alas it was not to be. I think I was deluding myself thinking that he’d go to City over United, but what I was hoping, was that Spurs wouldn’t allow United to ‘talk’ to the striker.
I know that Liverpool are not squeaky clean following “Barry-gate” but what has really disappointed me is that the whole transfer process has been turned on its head, with teams now contacting players directly (or indirectly through agents – all of whom should be banned from the game and sent to Siberia in my opinion) before a fee has been agreed with the club. Effectively they are holding the club that own the player's contract to random by agreeing with the player before the club and it puts the club in the awkward position of having a player who isn't 100% focused.

I’m glad that we’ve seen the end of “Barry-gate” for this year, I personally thought that £18m was a grossly over inflated price tag for a midfielder who has had one very good season and a number of mediocre ones. I didn’t see where he’d fit into the side and I don’t think he is that much better than the incumbent, Xabi Alonso.

The signing of Espanyol winger Albert Riera was another that’s been on the cards for a while. Admittedly I’ve not seen him as much as I’d liked to have and I hope that he doesn’t become another Josemi or Jan Kronkamp and not step up to the Premiership plate. We also said goodbye to Steve Finnan who has left Anfield bound for Espanyol as a make weight for the Reira deal, he did a sublime job in his time at Anfield and I’m sure Liverpool supporters will wish him the best in the twilight of his career.
The rest of the singings were just no-marks really, the young Hungarian lad had been brought over on loan last season with the agreement that we’d buy him permanently this year and Vitor Flora ("who are you?" I hear you say) from Botofogo.

The rest of the Prem:
£15m for Standard Liege midfielder Marouane Fellani seemed steep in my opinion and speaking to my bitter mates it seems that they are not particularly impressed with David Moyes’s transfer dealings. Louis Saha from Manchester United – I can only hope they didn’t pay anything for him because I can’t see him keeping fit for an entire season.

Spurs were quite active too – buying Corluka is a great move as was buying Pavlyuchenko who I think will shine in the Premiership. They’ve started VERY slowly, but I certainly think they will pick up as the season moves on.

Moving on to looking at Charlton ... I’ve got to echo what Richard said – the whole Primus melarky is very odd and I don’t know whether he is worth the effort really. Martin Cranie – if I’m brutally honest, I don’t even know who the fella is, so I can’t really pass judgment … I’ll wait until I see him in action before I comment.

I think that from a squad perspective, we are nowhere near having a squad that will be challenging for automatic promotion. It’s going to be a real battle this year and I think that January will see a strengthening of the squad if we are in the top four… but otherwise, we better had get the trenches dug and dig in for the long winter!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Midweek musings ...

It's been a funny old week really, here are some thoughts on what's been going on:

Preston Away - Not a very good display by all accounts with Pardew making his usual cryptic comments about 'a few players' needing to take a look at themselves. When I switched on the radio with 20 minutes gone and heard we were one-nil up, I really wanted to believe that we could build on what we achieved against Reading and come away with a result. But then the other half of me thought it was all too good to be true and there was no way we could hold onto our lead for the rest of the game. And so it proved. Not going to say any more on this one as I think other blogs have said it all. Disappointing.

Linvoy Primus - For the love of God, how is this not sorted out?! The paperwork still hasn't been signed but despite this he turned out for the reserves against QPR yesterday. And by all accounts he struggled a bit. I have to agree with a number of people and say that this has been a complete balls up by Charlton on the communications front. Pardew announced it in euphoric mood after the Reading game but should we really have known about it until it was a done deal? I'm as interested by new signings as anybody else but it is nice to know exactly what terms they are arriving on.

Martin Cranie - I have to confess to being a sad man and staying up until midnight on Monday watching Sky Sports news. Twenty minutes to go and as a footnote to the hysteria around the Robinho transfer, it was announced that we've signed Martin Cranie on loan until the end of 2008. I've never seen this guy play but I'm a bit confused by him really. I was under the impression that he is a left back and the picture of him on the club website clearly shows him in the England Under 21 number 3 shirt. But then the same website tells us he plays at right back or centre half. Is nothing ever simple?! I hope he can play centre half because that's where we need him.

Zheng Zhi - He's staying! I was expecting news of Mr Zheng becoming a Baggie by the close of the transfer window but no deal could be agreed after the clubs entered discussions. And today Steve Waggott has stated on the club's website that "we were only prepared to let players leave if it was the right deal for the club, and the player in question"(more). It leaves the player in a bit of funny position though. He knows that the club were willing to get rid of him if the price was right but is still going to be playing his football with us (until January at least). Personally I don't think his attitude and commitment have ever been in question and I hope this doesn't alter now. If he isn't too tired (the guy never seems to stop playing) and Pardew uses him wisely then he could play a very important part this season. That said, the opportunity to cash in still presents itself in January when we should have a better idea of whether we're going to be up there this season.