Monday 28 April 2008

"He's not happy there mate"

I’ve put off writing anything about Charlton for quite some time now as frankly even the thought of it has pained me. My last post was a preview of the Southampton game and sadly it really has been all downhill from there. I can’t delay any longer however, so here are some thoughts on the past three matches and past three weeks.

To start, how predictably frustrating was the Southampton game? Having secured an excellent result away at Plymouth, it was so very Charlton to put in such a half arsed and limp display against a very poor Saints side. It’s a bit harsh to put attribute too much blame to Darren Randolph for his blunder because frankly we should have had about five at the other end. Remarkably it was still mathematically possible for us to reach the play offs after that game although you certainly wouldn’t have thought it if you were at Loftus Road the following week.

I have to say, I wasn’t overly optimistic on the Central Line on the way to the ground. Loftus Road seemed like quite an enclosed and intimidating ground to go to. However, with a play off place still within reach (just about), I was looking forward to an energetic and gritty performance from the Addicks in attempt to plunder a victory. How wrong could I be. What I witnessed was arguably the worst ninety minutes of football I have seen from a Charlton Athletic side for quite some time. There was absolutely nothing there. The formation was wrong, the players attitude was wrong and the desire to win was almost completely absent. It was quite a sad sight watching Matt Holland try and rouse some kind of energy and motivation from the rest of the players. Kelvin turned round to me during the match and said he would struggle to name one Charlton player who had a decent game and it was difficult to disagree. I enjoyed the warm up and the half time competition more than I did the game.

Saturday’s result at Barnsley was grimly inevitable and frankly the season can not end soon enough now. Lita back to Reading, Cook back to Fulham and time for Pardew to go back to the drawing board. A trip to SE7 on Sunday seems almost entirely pointless, but as my Dad said ‘you’ve paid for the ticket, you may as well go’. So I imagine I will be there with a few other mugs watching us put in the kind of display that will make me not want to renew my season ticket. Credit to the board to extending the free season ticket offer into next year, but they must have made the decision without being too worried at the thought of actually having to cough up having watched our displays this season. I will prolong looking ahead to next season until this one is officially over, but Pardew better have a brilliant plan to make up for the shit awful football he’s made us watch this season. Roll on 4pm Sunday.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

The Feeling Inside....

It’s that time of the year again (when I say ‘year’, I mean football year, not the bloody financial or 'traditional' calendar year) when I begin to tire....and generally become a miserable sod…. I was thinking about it the other day, chatting with the lads in the boozer about why I get like this every April and May?

So... what were our conclusions... well, we came up with a fair few:

  • The long winter?

  • The weather still being shite when the days are getting longer?

  • The fact that we'd just been to watch Charlton vs QPR on a shite day and too be honest, in a shite game?

  • The end of the football season?

  • No England in the Euros? Fuck Off, I’m Scouse.

No, it wasn't any of the reasons above (although I'm adamant I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, the lads generally laugh at me and I'm usually accused of being a shithouse) instead I put it down to the fact that It's Champions League Knock-Out Time.... and we're not talking the round of 16 or the quarter-finals.... specifically its Champions League Semi-Final Time.... It’s that time in April and May when the 4 best teams in Europe are pitted together by the UEFA machine.....

It’s that time of the year where football isn’t fun, where it becomes more than just a game…. It’s the time of the year that it’s for keeps. No second chances, just two legs of football separating you from progression to European greatness, or relegation to European mediocrity.

But this still doesn’t explain everything, surely that alone can’t make me miserable and tired? SO I kept thinking, what is different? What is it? And when I thought about it, I did think that this year is a little different, this year is the first year since 2004 that I decided not to follow Liverpool throughout Europe; the first year since 2004 that I wasn’t getting up at 4am and flying to random locations via half a dozen other locations to save a few quid; that I wasn’t sleeping on the floor of Schipol Airport; that I wasn’t blagging my way into executive lounges to shower and change....and it got me thinking.... "do I miss it?"

The answer was simple. Of course I fucking do.

Who was I kidding.... last year, I travelled over 80,000 miles, travelling to and from Australia (where I was working on a temporary assignment) to watch the Kings of Europe… Arriving in Manchester direct from Oz, only to go and jump on the pikey air from Liverpool two hours later, landing in a random field in Southern France to watch us play Bordeaux.... or touching down in Barcelona at the same time as dozen other flights on from all over the UK, all full of reds, ready to take the Nou Camp (and we fucking well did)…or congregating at Trafalgar Square in the sun with hundreds, if not thousands of other reds wanting to watch Stamford bridge fall down…

So I was getting closer and closer to solving my riddle….

Commuting from Australia to watch Liverpool in Europe was certainly a way to drain my energy and this coupled with the fact that “it was just that time of the year again” could certainly have been the reason last year….

But what about this year and the years before? Well, looking at the years before, there were a few key things that stuck out in my mind: Gerrard vs Olympiakos, the nerves….. Luis Garcia’s wonder strike against Juve, and then having to go to the Stad Adelphi to play Juve with our ‘history’ these were again, not just matches, they were more than that. They were what stood between Liverpool Football Club and regaining its position as the Kings of Europe.

Closer we edge to answering all my questions… but we are still left with this year to answer for, and I think I have hinted at it above. This is the first year I’ve decided to give Europe a miss, and boy do I miss it. I still have ‘that’ feeling when it comes to the Semi-Finals, the arse twitching, the excitement, the buzz, so it cant be the fact that I’ve fallen out with football, that is making me miserable, but what I do think it is, is the fact that I’m not attending ‘church’ regularly…. It’s the feeling that somehow I am letting myself down…letting my granddad (who proclaimed me a red) down and letting the team down that’s getting to me.

So going 360 on myself, I’ve worked out that if I go the match, I’m tired and miserable when it comes to the big games and If I don’t go the match, I’m equally tired and miserable….. One thing is for sure…. I know I’d rather be tired and miserable having watched the reds in Europe than not….

I’d best get my passport renewed for next season, or the wife will divorce me!

Friday 11 April 2008

Southampton Preview

A week is a long time in politics they say and this week has also seemed like a long one in football. This time last week I had all but written off our season, now there is a glimmer of hope. A stunning result at Plymouth and a lot of results going our way (with the exception of the Palace win away at Stoke) and suddenly tomorrow’s match against Southampton becomes a bit more interesting, added to which it looks like we might be approaching something close to a full house.

The result at Home Park was immense and I couldn’t contain my delight when I got the news through. To go a goal and man down away from home and come back to take all three points doesn’t happen very often and it couldn’t come at a better time. By all accounts Elliot acquitted himself very well in goal when called upon, we worked a lot better with a narrower midfield with Zheng on the right (although I guess that only got tested for about 5 minutes before Lee Cook was hauled off to make way for the substitute goalkeeper) and Iwelumo and Lita again looked good together up front. On the evidence of this performance, Pardew seems to have instilled a shit or bust attitude into the players (or at least I hope he has) – nothing but a win from here on in will do.

I am hopeful that we can keep the dream alive a bit longer tomorrow, although how typical would it be of our season to follow up such a victory with a mediocre draw? There will be a couple of enforced changes – Sodje seems to be out for the season but the return from injury of Madjid Bougherra and the part he played in last week’s game would suggest he will start with Fortune warming a spot on the bench. The goal keeping issue presents Pardew with a real poser – go with Elliot who performed so admirably on Saturday or choose the recalled Randolph who has (marginally) more experience? My feeling is that he will go for the latter although Elliot should feel extremely unlucky. Other than that, I do not think any further changes are required – this is about as close to a settled side as we are going to get at this stage.

In football outside of Charlton, Kelvin and I set very nervously through the Champions’ League semi-final between Liverpool and Arsenal on Tuesday, the best game I have seen for quite some time. Walcott’s surge up field for Arsenal’s second deserved to win any game, but you have to admire Liverpool’s tenacity to come from behind twice. In my opinion, they also have the league’s best striker in the shape of Fernando Torres – an incredible finish for the Reds’ second. It was a rollercoaster of a game to watch and I think the feeling at the end for my Scouse friend was one of relief.

Charlton are some way off the Champions’ League and I’m not sure we will see such an exciting game at the Valley tomorrow. As long as we get three points, I don’t care. We’ve been given a play-off life line, let’s hope we don’t hang ourselves with it.

Friday 4 April 2008

Plymouth Preview

It has been a pretty sobering week all round to be honest. Back to work after a terrific week in the French Alps, wading through all the match reports for Saturday to see what I had missed out on (or not as the case may be) and then staring at the stark reality of the table – eleventh place, four points of the play-offs, five games to go. If it hadn’t hit home before, it certainly has now – the final straw has been clutched, we are spending another season in the Championship.

It is difficult to get too excited about the remaining games of the season. Having read a lot of the blogs, most of the Addickted will be spending the next few weeks doing DIY or counting grains of sand such are the levels of apathy at this stage. The debate as to whether selling Andy Reid effectively ended our season has also been reignited. This is a topic that I sat firmly on the fence with initially. My initial reaction was that I was devastated to see him go – he was a player who always looked like he cared, put a rocket up the arse of the rest of the team and simply played very well for us. However, it was also easy to understand the argument that we could not afford to turn down £4 million (or however much it was in the end) for him, he was too injury prone and that the team played too much football through him.

Sadly my initial thoughts appear to be right, never more clear than last weekend when he smashed home a last minute winner for his new team on the back of a man of the match performance. I was always more confident of a decent performance when Reid was in the team – his passing was outstanding, he marshalled play effectively, he drove us forward and he had a positive impact on the players around him. As much as I admire and respect Matt Holland, that is not something that I see from him, not helped by a relatively poor second half of the season from Zheng Zhi. Would we be serious promotion contenders if Reidy was still around? Impossible to say, but I can’t help but feel that we would have been in a much better position. Ifs, buts and maybes …

Anyway, the post mortem can wait as there are still five games left to restore a bit of pride and perhaps a bit of confidence before next season, starting with a trip to Home Park on Saturday. If now is not the time to throw caution to the wind then I really don’t know what is but sadly I am not sure we have too many options to go crazy with. I would continue with Weaver between the posts, retain Halford, Sodje and McCarthy in the back four whilst replacing Thatcher with the more attacking minded Kelly Youga. The midfield I do not know where to start with. Is ZZ still recovering from his trip to China? Is Lloyd Sam fit? Given that I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, I would go with Thomas, Holland, Semedo and Ambrose (although surely Lee Cook deserves a decent run out). Apparently Lita and Iwelumo worked well up front together against Wolves so that front pairing is alright by me, although it would be good to see Luke Varney involved at some point.

I am trying desperately to see us getting something out of this game and many have pointed out that we play best when we have been written off. Plymouth took four points off two of their main promotion rivals before slipping to a 3-1 defeat at Coventry last week so it is difficult to know what to make of them. I think we can expect to feel the backlash of the defeat at the Ricoh Arena though, added to which Home Park seems like quite an intimate venue to go to. I have no idea how this game will go but if it ends in defeat to Charlton then it is safe to say then I will be looking forward to the end of the season as much as Paul Jewell. Let’s hope we show a bit of fight. Come on you reds.

Champions League Quarter Final

Arsenal vs Liverpool @ The Emirates

Although I’ve ‘taken’ to Charlton this year, I’ve still managed to get my fair share of Liverpool matches in and when I can’t get to see them at Anfield or away in the Premiership or in Europe, I do catch them on TV most of the time and I was sitting in the Duke of York this week with Richard and a few other mates to watch this one…

1-1 was a fortunate result for the visitors if I’m honest. Rafa’s Dirk has provided the side from Liverpool with that vital away goal, which means Arsenal will need to come out firing on all cylinders at Anfield in a fortnight which should provide a great spectacle for the neutral supporter. With long periods of control and a very strong penalty appeal, the Gooners can feel a bit hard done by, but football is swings and roundabouts and we’ve been hard done by a few times this season, so I think it was karma for us…

There were no real surprises in the starting line-ups for either side. Mascherano returning after the debacle that was his dismissal at Old Trafford was partnered alongside Xabi Alonso in the middle of the park, with Captain Steven Gerrard on the right and Ryan Babel on the left. The unstoppable ‘Nando Torres was up front with Dirk Kuyt and the back four was made up of Carra, Skrtel, Hyypia and Aurelio. Arsenal had Adebayor and Van Persie up front with Fabergas, Flamini, Hleb and Eboue in the middle of the park.

Arsenal were the quicker team out of the blocks and from the opening whistle they looked the more comfortable of the teams. In fact I thought that they looked extremely dangerous in the middle of the park, but there was a distinct lack of ‘bite’ up front. Whether they are missing Eduardo is debatable – I’d not seen him set the ground alight even before his injury, but what is clear is that Arsenal rely too heavily on two players – Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabergas. At the beginning of the season when Arsenal were the pace setters, both players were on fire and looked lethal, however, following the Christmas break, and a drastic hair cut in Adebayor’s case, the two have seen a downturn in their fortunes and that of their team.

Adebayor left unmarked in the six yard box from a corner kick is a recipe for disaster and once again this season, Rafa Benitez’s ‘zonal’ defence lost the plot and allowed the most dangerous man on the park an open header. 1-0.

Liverpool responded almost instantaneously, through Dirk Kuyt who slotted home following a great run into the box from Captain Steven Gerrard. 1-1.

Arsenal started the second half how they had played most of the match, coming at Liverpool and putting the reds under sustained periods of pressure. With the exception of a Stevie G snapshot and an effort from Kuyt and Torres, Liverpool spent much of the second half defending and with 20 minutes remaining, Arsenal brought on Nicholas Bendtner who’s first contribution was to block a goal bound Cesc Fabergas effort off the line (cheers Nick, you are a champion).

Bendtner’s clearance was the last clear cut opportunity of the match, and I was happy to walk away with the away goal which could prove crucial.

Liverpool will have to concentrate on playing possession football in the next leg. I’m particularly interested to see how Arsenal will react to ‘Fortress Anfield’ - a completely different ground on European nights to the one they will be used to playing at in the league. Given the need for Arsenal to come at Liverpool, I will be bold in my prediction and go with a 2-0 Liverpool win in the home leg.

Man of the Match: Dirk Kuyt (he might not be prolific, but he gets around the park better than anyone else on the pitch and his work effort is immense)