Tuesday 30 December 2008

Review of 2008

As we head into the final couple of days of the year, it's worth looking back on what has been a frankly rubbish year which has seen the club move from a position to return to the Premiership, to rock bottom of the Championship with League One football looking almost guaranteed for next season.

I guess the warning signs were there from day one of the new year when bottom of the league Colchester came to The Valley and took away three points courtesy of a Kevin Lisbie brace. Throwing away stupid points at home was always likely to be our undoing, although we witnessed something of a purple patch in the next three home games with a thumping victory over Blackpool, a hard fought win over promotion chasing Stoke and of course that sweet mid-week win over Palace. Unfortunately, that was to be the last time we would witness a Charlton victory at The Valley until the final game of the season.

Much has been made of Andy Reid's departure in the January transfer window and opinions differ on how much this influenced the rest of our season. From my perspective, whilst our dip in form can not be enitrely attributed to the loss of the Irishman, we have certainly lacked a midfielder with similar skill, influence and direction since he left and one is left wondering if things might have been slightly different had he stayed.

In transfer terms, the new year also saw the arrival of Andy Gray as well as the start of the loan epidemic which seems to have continued since. In no particular order, through The Valley doors before the end of the season came Greg Halford, Sam Sodje, Lee Cook, Leroy Lita and (for a very short while) Scott Sinclair. It's fair to say that none of these players particularly endeared themselves to the Charlton faithful and, with the exception of a couple of Lita goals and some fairly solid performances from Sodje at the back, none of them made the telling contribution to the promotion push we were expecting.

With just three wins altogether after the Palace game until the end of the season, it's fair to say the rest of the season did not go according to plan. Particularly bad memories of that period include throwing away a two goal lead at home against Watford, a woeful defeat to Preston North End, last minute heartache against Wolves and abject performances and losses in the away games I went to at Ipswich and QPR. Our season had limped to a pathetic end, although it at least finished on a high was a resounding win over relegation threatened Coventry City and a goal and fitting send off for Chris Powell.

I remember feeling encouraged by Alan Pardew's programme notes on the final day of the season and, along with our performance that day, I was confident for the season ahead. Pardew talked about how he and the squad had learnt their lessons and that they would be coming better wiser, fitter and better prepared. Still with a season of parachute payments to come, surely nothing could go wrong in our quest to the return to the Premiership. Could it?

Err, yes. The club's financial situation was apparently more precarious than many supporters had imagined and the summer saw the departure of a number of players to lower the wage bill and recoup some of the money spent, much to Pardew's dissatisfaction. On their way out were all the previous season's loan signings, Chris Iwelumo, Paddy McCarthy, Madjid Bougherra and Jerome Thomas (a little later). It's fair to say that Zheng Zhi would also have been on his way had the right offer come in.

More worrying from my perspective, was the fact that Pardew had failed to reinforce where necessary ahead of the new season. Mark Hudson arrived from Palace, but with McCarthy going the other way and Sam Sodje heading back to Reading, we looked drastically short of cover at centre half with Jonathan Fortune the only other recognised centre back. The only other arrivals before the season kicked off were Hameur Bouazza and non-league striker Stuart Fleetwood. No sign of the influential midfielder we seemed to be crying out for.

Nevertheless, the signs appeared encouraging against Swansea City on the opening day of the season with a competent 2-0 win. Pardew looked to rectify the midfield issue with the signing of Nicky Bailey from Southend United and all of a sudden I began to feel som optimism creep back. A 1-0 loss away at Watford (not helped by Kelly Youga's sending off) was followed by a thumping 4-2 victory over Reading in front of the Sky cameras which had most Charlton fans genuinely excited about the season ahead.

That was over four months ago and as we all know, the reality is now very different. I missed the home game against Ipswich so the game against Reading was the last time I saw a Charlton victory. What has gone since has been catastrophic and ultimately leaves us our position in the Championship hanging by a thread. It's hardly worth analysing in depth the sixteen games that have passed since we last notched a vicotry, but heavy defeats to Barnsley and Sheffield United at The Valley stick out most in my mind and there can't have been any doubt that Pardew had to go.

Unfortunately, he has left us with a squad whose confidence has been shot to pieces and whose ability to perform to the standard required in this division has been called into question. Luke Varney and Darren Ambrose have left, with Martin Cranie, Deon Burton, Jay McEveley and Martyn Waghorn all arriving (and Linvoy Primus having been and gome) but as we stand it seems like we're shifting around deck chairs on the Titanic. What's more worrying is that Parkinson is now talking about the reinvigorating effect of bringing in more players in January (more).

So where to from here? For me, Parkinson is not the man to take us forward so it's worrying that he is talking about how he has 'mapped out' with Richard Murray and Steve Waggott how he wants the squad to look. I honestly believe that the squad we currently have is strong enough to compete in this division. Without necessarily challenging for a play-off spot, we should at least be sitting comfortably in mid table. As it stands we are five points adrift from safety at the bottom of the table with little sign of a way back.

Unfortunately it looks like the board has dithered too long and you are left wondering how much better our position might look if we had salvaged more than three points from the twenty four available since Pardew's departure. I understand that Parkinson was the cheapest option and so the board wanted to give him a chance, but I'm afraid the record of assistants stepping into a departed manager's shoes is poor. Ricky Sbragia is the exception that proves the rule, just ask Chris Hutchings and Tony Adams.

If the board are thinking of getting a new man in (and it looks increasingly like they might not be), then they are certainly going to have a job on their hands. With vacancies currently available at Blackpool, Derby and Nottingham Forest, all of whom are in a better position than us, there will be some competition to get their man. Whoever in charge is also going to have some difficulty attracting playing talent to the club, with League One football almost certainly on the cards for next season.

So all things considered, 2008 will go down as an annus horribilis for Charlton fans. What seemed to be such a promising year descended into a farce. I would like to say that things can't get any worse in 2009, but something tells me they just might before they can get any better. However, I can't be down beat before the year has even started. I honestly think the squad we have is good enough to stay in this division, it just needs the correct guidance and the insertion of some sorely missing confidence. Let's hope the new year brings a change in luck for the Addicks. Happy new year everybody ... come on you reds!

Saturday 27 December 2008

Charlton 2-2 QPR

I managed to make it up to The Valley yesterday, and was pretty glad I did as it was a decent game of football played out on a lovely winter's day. Shame there it didn't end in three points for the south London team but you can't have it all I guess.

Traffic problems meant I arrived late so hurriedly bought a programme and a pint and had a bit of time to consume both. I don't know if there is any relevance to this at all but the squad list had been stripped of all youth players, those put on loan (Randolph, Ambrose, Varney) as well as Linvoy Primus and Jay McEveley. Surprising then that the latter was in the starting line up but who was I to complain. Keith Gillespie's imminent departure meant he had no part to play, with Jonjo Shelvey taking a place on the bench alongside the displaced Grant Basey.

For the first ten minutes I thought Charlton actually played OK. We pretty much controlled the pace of the game and QPR didn't appear to be offering much. However, the remaining 35 minutes were a total horrow show. The defence looked poorly organised, the midfield sat far too deep and the front pairing hardly got a sniff of the ball. It was little surprise when Lee Cook whipped in a curling free kick after 16 minutes after Hameur Boauzza had stupidly fouled. Even more stupid was the fact that we didn't have anybody on the post for it.

Going into half time, I was more than content to take my time over my pint and miss the first few minutes of the second half. Luckily common sense took over and I was back in my seat for the second half kick off as Charlton began to show a bit more appetite for the game. The first goal came from a excellent passing move which left you wondering why we didn't witness this kind of thing more often. Sam's cross from the right actually found the head of a Charlton player and all of a sudden we found ourselves equal courtesy of Nicky Bailey.

The game had undoubtedly swung in Charlton's favour but as is common with this side, there was a lot of posession with no end result. As such, we were punished at the other end when Dexter Blackstock took advantage of a questionable challenge on Mark Hudson and lack of defensive cover to put the Hoops 2-1 to the good. Charlton kept coming though and another Lloyd Sam cross saw Cerny punch the ball through a crowd of his own players, only as far as the diving head of Nicky Bailey.

We then entered usual last ten minute heart in mouth territory. And the point we had fought so hard to win almost disappeared into a puff of smoke as Heidar Helguson hit the post and Emmanuel Ledesma smashed in the rebound from the underside of the crossbar. Having thrown my programme to the floor in disgust, my head was firmly in my hands. It was a pleasant surprise therefore when I raised it to find that the goal had been disallowed for an earlier foul. This was all too much for Parkinson who got sent to the stands. It looked to me like Kinsella has taken charge of touchline barking orders well before Parkinson headed off, but it was left to the Irishman to guide us through the last few minutes.

So a point won then but valiant draws with good performances will only take us so far and it won't be far enough to preserve our Champiosnhip status. I would doubt very much that this will have been enough to keep Parkinson in a job past the end of the year (although he still does have one game left to prove everybody wrong), and the board seriously need to start considering managerial options to rescue our season. With Colin Calderwood being sacked on the back of Forest's defeat to Doncaster Rovers (which also sent us bottom), they need to act quickly to ensure their preferred candidate is snapped up and also to make sure Forest don't gain any extra momentum on us. We will probably be entering 2009 bottom of the league and on the back of the club's worst run in history, so I guess things can only get better.

Thursday 25 December 2008

Dear Father Christmas

Firstly, Happy Christmas to everyone out there who's been reading A Red Divided.... From Richard and I, we both hope you have a great festive season whatever you're doing and we hope that your 2009 is everything you hope and wish it to be....

And now onto my Christmas wish list.

3 points please boss.

I think we are getting closer to breaking the duck, the 14 game streak without a win is smarting now, and I'm desperate to get that win that we need, and more importantly, we deserve.

I do think we'll get the three points very soon, and ideally, I'd like to do Norwich in the cup on the 3rd.... they were OK opposition wise, but back at The Valley, I think we've certainly got what it takes to do them over and progress in the FA Cup.... which, perhaps, is what we need to boost the teams confidence... a decent cup run....?

So for those who are going to be heading to The Valley on Boxing Day, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a 2-0 victory to the red side from south London....


Wednesday 24 December 2008

QPR Preview

And so we come to the last home game of a year that most Charlton fans will want to forget. What an absolutely gutting one it's been. Visits to The Valley have been all too miserable this year and if any set of fans are in need of something to smile about this Christmas, it has to be the Addickted. Standing in the way of us and a bit of festive cheer is Flavio Briatore's revolution led by Paulo Sousa. They are pushing for the play-offs and will provide a stiff test (although to be honest there aren't many teams who don't these days).

The general consensus seems to be that Parkinson needs to pull rabbits out of hats in this game and the next (against Sheffield United on Sunday) in order to keep the manager's job on a permanent basis. Parkinson strikes me as a fairly decent and straight forward guy but unfortunately it's difficult to disagree with this line of thought. Two points gained from the eighteen available to him so far tells its own story and if we continue in this vein of form then we can probably start preparing for the third tier at the end of January.

Potential candidates for the managerial hot seat continue to be thrown around in the press, with Paul Ince and the combination of Paul Trollope and Lennie Lawrence the latest in the mix. I am not sure what I make of either of those two to be honest. Ince, like many of the Addickted, I do not think I would be keen on. He succeeded in saving Macclesfield from non-league football and getting the Milton Keynes franchise promoted to League One, but his record at Blackburn can not be ignored and I can't help but feel this will have effected him somewhat. On a personal level, he also does not strike me as a particularly nice man. The Trollope/Lawrence combination is an interesting one but again their successes have been played out at a lower level. I am also very wary of a two man management team.

Whether Parkinson stays or whether a new man comes in, I think irreparable damage has been done by the dithering we've seen over the past couple of months. Pardew was given far too long before the axe finally fell (sorry, before he left "by mutual consent") and I think the same has happened with Parkinson to be honest. Some would suggest that he would need to be a magician to turn around what he was left with, but he was given the chance to make his own loan signings and stamp his authority on the team, both to little effect.

The board's statement that they would not be making a managerial appointment until the new year as there could be no change of player personnel until such time simply doesn't wash. Surely you want new man to have as much time as possible to assess the squad, work out who is in and who is out and identify any potential transfer targets in time to hit the ground running in January. What they probably meant to say was, "We'd like to give Phil Parkinson until the end of the year to see if he's up to the job in which case we won't have to make an expensive new managerial appointment".

In player terms, it's difficult to know who is still around and who is available to play these days. Linvoy Primus seems to have returned to Portsmouth (although I never reading anything about it on the club site), Keith Gillepsie is about to head back to Sheffield (more) and Jay McEveley (who I thought was out for ages and heading back to Derby) is apparently fit again. Blimey. Rumour has it, we also have some of our own players rather than those we are borrowing off other clubs but reading down the squad list (as I am doing now) it is looking less than inspirational for a relegation dogfight.

Anyway, Parkinson has to cobble together a team for this game and he seems to have stumbled upon something approaching a starting XI over the past couple of games. It seems to be a fairly sensible line up to be fair, with the only mystery being what on earth has happened to Svetoslav Todorov. I was hoping his return from injury would provide an experienced head around which to base our attacking play (not to mention a few goals) but he seems to be slowly fading into the background.

All things considered, this is what I reckon Parky will go for on Boxing Day: Elliot, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, McEveley, Sam, Semedo, Bailey, Bouazza, Gray, Waghorn. Subs: Weaver, Shelvey, Holland, Todorov, Burton.

Even the optimist in me can't see us getting anything more than a draw out of this but maybe Parkinson can provide a bit more motivation in the knowledge that he probably has two games to save his job. Due to transportation issues I don't know whether I'm going to be able to make to the Valley although hope I can to cheer the team on one more time this year and pray that The Valley will be a happier place to visit in the new year. Regardless, a very happy Christmas to everybody and here's hoping for three points on Friday.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

There Are Places I Remember....

For those who don’t know, the title of this post is the first line of a 1965 track from the album Rubber Soul called “In my life” by the Beatles. Coming from Liverpool, The Beatles have, without a doubt had the greatest musical influence on my life but also on my personal life too!

So the lyrics…

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

So… where was I…...I was on the way to work this morning, taking the tube, rather than on my motorcycle which is my usual form of transport and as a result of not really having to concentrate, my mind was wandering and inevitably it got wandering about football….and specifically about moments in football where something has happened and you will never forget where you were when it happened…. Some are random and some are strange…. But in my life….

Hillsborough 1989 – I was living in the Far East at the time with my family and I remember my ‘arl fella getting a phone call about it telling us what had happened and him then frantically trying to get in touch with his kid brother a match going red and his brother in law to make sure they were ok. In the weeks that followed, I remember being sent dozens and dozens of newspapers and magazines from family back home to let my mum and dad see exactly what had happened….

The 1989 FA Cup Final – I was in Liverpool on holiday with my whole family…. My brother and granddad were the blue noses’ in the house and I remember going mental, dressed head to toe in the new Liverpool kit me ma’ had bought me… and our kid in his new everton kit…. I remember my granddad recording it on the VCR and later wishing he never did, every time I went round, I insisted on watching it over and over again!

Both the 4-3’s between Newcastle and Liverpool are fresh in my memory, we were living in Saudi Arabia, it was about 1am when Colleymore stunned King Kev with his injury time winner…. Cue me and me ‘arl fella screaming in the living room and me ma’ running down stairs shouting, what’s gone on, what’s gone on….what matches they were, Asprilla was immense.

The whole of 2001. Christ, we as Liverpool supporters wait years and years without a trophy and three come along at once. I was on my “gap” year this year… I was in Vancouver for the FA Cup Final with my best mate who is a gooner, I had arrived in Sydney two hours before kick off of the Uefa Cup Final and watched it in a Liverpool supporters bar…the lasting memory was walking around Sydney the next day when a fella in a suit comes running up to me and jumps onto me giving me a huge hug and a kiss… he gets off me, takes off his tie, un-buttons his shirt….and there is a Liverpool shirt….turns out the lad was from Norris Green and moved to oz the year before…. Classic.

Gerrard Houllier returning after his heart operation…. I was at Uni in Newcastle, watched it in Bar Oz where I got chatting to a lad who is now one of my best mates…. A huge game, huge importance…. Roma, the history, the revenge…. The victory. Get in there.

GET IN YOU BEAUUUUUTYYYY!! Haha…. Fucking Andy Shithouse Grey….. I was in the David Lloyd in Kingston where I was living watching this on their big tele…. The goal went in and I was the only one watching, I jumped up, screaming and shouting…. They all thought I was mad….. little did any of us know…. This was going to be the start of the best journey I’ve ever been on.

Fuck Off Mourinho…..Fuck Off Mourinho….I’d grown up with me ‘arl fella telling me about the kop on those famous nights against St. Etienne and against Boroussia Munchengladbach and that… but until the Champions League Semi-Final, I’d never, never, experienced anything like it. YNWA had me in tears, this is what I support Liverpool for, the emotion, the fact the kop and the rest of the ground was full 45 minutes before kick-off…. This was Liverpool FC, this was the KOP, this was our night. The phantom goal, the Gudjohnsson miss…. The Celebrations after…. Standing outside the kop in-front of the man who made us the power house we are (Shanks) singing Fuck Off Mourinho…..Fuck Off Mourinho….was just special!

Tell me ma’ me ma’, to pack my bags up full…. I’m off to Istanbul….I’m not even going to go into details…there are to many to go into, but for those who want to know what my trip was like, my mate who was with us, wrote this a year after the final… sums it up nicely….comfortably the best 4 days of my life.


So…. am I mental? Am I the only one who remembers exactly what they were doing for specific matches?

Monday 15 December 2008

When it Rains, it Pours

*time to take a deep breath and step back and look at the match tonight*

In terms of the match, well, for those who saw it, you saw it, for those who didn't, Ellington nicked an equaliser in the 94th minute much to the heartbreak of the home supporters.

What to say....I'm actually gutted... in fact, devastated is more the word.

Upon arriving at the ground I was surprised to see that Parkinson had dropped Weaver in favour of young keeper Elliot... and to be honest he probably chose a decent match to give the lad some match experience. He didn't really have a lot to do during the match but when he was called upon he did a good job, his distribution was good and although he could have done better with the penalty, I think it must be said that Ellington is very good at wrong footing keepers!

I thought this was a good performance from the Addicks, there was some lovely football played, and following a spell of pressure just short of the half hour mark The Addicks upped the tempo with Lloyd Sam picking up the ball 12 yards out following a Derby slip-up and chose to go near-post and had Bywater well and truly beaten, only to be denied by the post.... "Christ", I thought to myself, "it's going to be another one of those nights in South East London".

Charlton were rewarded for all their pressure with Andy Gray slotting home from 6 yards. Lloyd Sam and Jose Semedo linked up well to get the ball into Gray who controlled the ball with some great skills and got the right side of the Derby centre half to slot home.

Before and after the 34th minute goal, Charlton looked the better of the two sides, with Derby struggling to get a shot on target. Debutant keeper Elliot had little to do in the Addicks goal and at half time Charlton had the lead.

The second half started where the first had left off, with Charlton all over the visitors who were still suffering from the blues that plagued their trip down to London (they got caught in the blackwall tunnel after a lorry carrying knickers had shed its load...I shit you not.... Sorry, I had to get that one in there!) Anyhow, I digress.... back to the match.... Bouazza missed a golden opportunity to put the Addicks two up when he let rip....it was a cracking effort, the only criticism is that he could have probably taken the ball on another 5 yards before having a pop.

However, the tide turned. Derby had a goal disallowed for offside, which I actually thought was a good decision. Having seen the replay on tele, it was clear that when the ball was initially played a Derby man was offside and while he may not have been active at the time, he became active a second later.... However, with the doubt about the disallowed goal still clearly in D'Urso's mind, he awarded Derby a penalty after a Jose Semedo "hand ball".... Christ, if I've ever seen a harsh decision, this was one. Either way, the ref made his mind up and Ellington stepped up and slotted into the bottom left hand corner, with Elliot completely bamboozled!

The Addicks responded well, with Lloyd Sam setting up Waghorn for his first goal for the club. He had a good game despite clearly taking a knock early on in the first half. It could have been 3 or 4 for the Addicks, with Bouazza and Sam both having efforts saved by Bywater who kept the Rams in the match.

urghh.... so here we are again....

15 minutes left......
10 minutes left.....
5 minutes left.....
that's it, surely.... 93 minutes gone....
fucking hell ref, when are you going to blow???
94 minutes dead on and the score is 2-2.

Basey flicked the ball on following a long throw and Ellington, off balance, pounced, and put the ball past Elliott. GUTTED. Absolutely heartbreaking in fact.

So what do I take from tonight:
  • The crowd were brilliant, in full song and really behind the team. They allowed the team to be patient and to play the game they wanted to. Even at the final whistle they continued to support the lads who were clearly devastated.
  • This was a great performance by the Addicks, they were creative, made opportunities and really looked like a team ready to play football. I'm confident they'll recover from this and I'm DEFINITELY confident, there is NO CHANCE that Charlton will be going down this year.
  • The negatives are clearly dropping two points.... the positive is gaining one.
  • Losing to another last minute goal is heart breaking and its something that needs to be looked at by the coaches to try to help the side remain calm under the pressure and in the last 5 minutes of the match.

I'm looking forward to Norwich on Saturday..... Let's take this match, regardless of the result, and build upon it. The foundations are there, it just needs to be tweaked to get the results that we know we are capable of.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The View from the Continent

I wasn't at the game last night as I am still working over in Germany, which also means I am likely to miss the Derby County game next Monday. At the moment, I can't decide whether this is a good or a bad thing but having read some of the reports from last night I may be sparing myself some serious heartache.

Another defeat, without a win in twelve and at risk of being cut loose at the bottom with Forest and Doncaster … not looking great is it? From what I've read about last night's game, it seems we were turned over by another pretty average side which is all it takes these days. I have to say I was pretty confused by the inclusion of Izale McLeod and I'm not sure Semedo deserved to be dropped in favour in Holland. It didn't take long for him to get a run out from the bench though as luck does also not seem to be on our side with Jay McEveley going off with a suspected fractured shoulder.

From my currently distant perspective it is frustrating that we haven't been able to build on what we saw against Southampton. Although it wasn’t electric, it was certainly an improvement and to my mind gave reason to believe that Parkinson may be able to do a decent job for us. However, one point from twelve tells a different story and if you believe the Daily Mail (more) then he is heading the same way as Pardew. As many have pointed out, the problem with Parkinson is his association with the Pardew era and it's difficult to overlook this. His post match interview gives the impression that he is a decent guy just trying to do a good job until told otherwise, but I'm not sure this is enough right now.

This season is quickly beginning to mirror the 2006/2007 season but played out in a league lower. Manager gets sacked, caretaker given a run only to find he's not actually that good, new man comes in just before Christmas but it's too little too late. Will there be a different ending this time around? I do think we would benefit from a complete change of managerial steer and I do think there is enough time to turn things around. My two principle concerns are a) the squad has been, for lack of a better way of putting it, 'mucked around with' so much over the past year and I'm not sure it's good enough any more and b) I think confidence levels amongst the players must have dropped through the floor by now.

So where to from here? Newspaper speculation aside, it's difficult to know what must be running through the board members' heads right now. Whether they stick with Parkinson or twist with a new man, I think they need to make a decision before we travel to Norwich in a couple of weeks time and stand by it for the rest of the season. Any changes beyond this are only likely to be detrimental to our cause. Personally, I think we need somebody new to come in although it has to be the right man and they have to appreciate the magnitude of the task in hand.

Billy Davies and Adrian Boothroyd are still the obvious front runners with Big Sam apparently ready to pack his bags for Sunderland (lend us Andy Reid back would you?). However, I had a strange dream about this last night and there is something in the back of my mind that tells me it could still happen: the return of Curbishley. Whilst many appointments could be seen as a gamble, for me there is no doubt that he could turn this rabble around and save us from an away trip to Hereford next season. Whether this is seen as a backwards step is now a moot point I would have thought. It's all about survival and if Curbishley is the right man to manage it then the board need to swallow their pride and make a move.