Friday 20 February 2009

Barnsley Preview

The win against Plymouth Argyle last Saturday has sent Charlton fans rushing for their spreadsheets and calculators in order to work out what is required from the team to try and stay in this division. Whichever way you cut it, it still looks like a long shot and it doesn't help when those around you are winning. Mid-week victories for Watford, Derby and tomorrow's opponents, Barnsley, made for particularly grim reading when I flicked on Teletext. However, the fact of the matter is we have got ourselves into a position where we are reliant on the results of others and this is never a good thing.

The trip to Oakwell is being touted as a six pointer by most blogs and it's not hard to see why. Fourteen games left to play and although a win against anybody will do, most Charlton fans must surely have run down the remaining fixtures and picked out the key ones from it. Games against the top three sides and play-off chasing teams such as Cardiff, Preston and Swansea are unlikely to offer little in the way of return, so one would imagine Parkinson must be targeting the games against the sides around us and those stuck in no man's land i.e. little chance of either relegation or making the play-offs. Ten points ahead of us Barnsley are in the former category, looking to break into the latter.

To get any kind of result, perhaps the most important thing is that the Charlton side banish any memories of the horror show that was the reverse fixture at The Valley this season. What a truly terrible day that was as the Addicks slipped into what has now become our home - the relegation zone. The fact that only two of the starting XI are likely to feature tomorrow (Bailey and Hudson) is proof of the unsettled and chaotic season we've had. Two are injured (Weaver and Gray), five are out of favour (Moutaouakil, Basey, Sam, Wright and Ambrose) and two are no longer at the club (Cranie and Varney). We should probably be grateful that so few are left to remember that torturous first half when Macken and Moore made us look totally inept.

Coming out of the ground after the Plymouth game on Saturday was a strange experience as it is the first time I'd seen us win since we beat Reading back in August (I wasn't at the Ipswich or Palace games … perhaps there is a pattern emerging here). I wasn't really sure how to react. On the one hand I was happy we'd one, on the other I had to recognise that Plymouth were a very poor team and that, all things considered, the result probably wasn't going to make much difference to the end of season reckoning.

However, if I was slightly more of an optimist I could of drawn on a number of positives which I would be looking to take to Barnsley. Like Therry Racon's superb goal, like Nicky Bailey's ability to pick himself up from a penalty miss and blazing a six yard shot into the stand to score the decisive second, and like the lively front pairing of Dickson and Kandol. These are things I hope Parkinson has taken from the game to build on this week.

Given the rarity of a win these days, I would be surprised to see any changes for tomorrow's game. Against Plymouth I thought the midfield looked a little unbalanced. Soares and Bailey didn't look particularly comfortable on their wings and Spring wasn't particularly effective down the middle. But then again both goals came from midfield, so what do I know! I would imagine the only change will come on the bench, with Deon Burton suspended after managing to pick up a yellow card in the ten minutes he came on for against Plymouth. I don't think anybody will be losing too much sleep over this.

With this in mind, I see them starting as follows:

Elliot; Murty, Hudson, Ward, Youga; Bailey, Racon, Spring, Soares; Dickson, Kandol. Subs: Randolph, Shelvey, Holland, Sam, Ambrose.

One of my Dad's Barnsley supporting colleagues pointed out that his team completed the double over Sheffield Wednesday for the first time in 63 years on Tuesday night, so there is a chance that all their luck has been used up. I wish it was as simple as this, but our chances of recording back-to-back since 2007 are probably going to rely on more than just luck. Our previous two away performances (when we tossed away 1-0 leads against Burnley and Bristol City) are hardly encouraging, but at least the players have been reminded what it is like to win following victories against Palace and Plymouth. Would another be too much to ask for? Let's hope not … come on you Reds!

Thursday 12 February 2009

Plymouth Argyle Preview

Saturday's fixture against Plymouth at The Valley will be the first since the win over Palace and, on paper at least, it looks like one we really should be taking advantage of. Argyle are thirteen without a win now, scoring only five goals in that period, and are dropping down the league faster than Rik Waller on a water slide. They're coming to London on the back of a three goal beating by Derby, whilst we had the chance to rest last week and get some of injured players back to fitness whilst bedding in the new signings. We're odds on aren't we?

We're not of course and this is going to be a hard fought battle between two teams who desperately need the three points. Much depends on what frame of mind the Charlton players are in having lost two on the spin having been in front. What is most worrying is that it seems to be short lapses in concentration which have done for us, with the opposition goals coming in quick succession at both Burnley and Bristol. Hopefully Parkinson has been able to knock a bit of discipline into them over the past week and a half, although I'm not holding my breath.

Guessing the line up is futile and unrewarding these days. You're likely to get the same performance from whichever XI take to the field, and it's only very rarely that any player manages to rise above the mediocrity. I can't really remember the last time I saw the same Charlton team play in two consecutive games and in terms of player turnover, this season must have trumped even the previous one. Keeping up with who is in the squad is as difficult as watching some of the performances. Darren Ward and Tresor Kandol are the latest recruits to the cause and I'll be interested to see the kind of displays we get from them tomorrow.

Elliot seems to be Parky's preferred guardian of the goal at the moment and I wouldn't expect any change for Saturday. This preview is being written before the official one has appeared, so I'm speculating here but hopefully Mark Hudson is fit to return to the centre of defence to accompany Darren Ward. The dearth of resources at centre back has been crippling since the start of the season and it's difficult to understand how we got into a situation where we expected Matt Holland to play there. That's a discussion for another time anyway. Murty and Basey to flank the central defensive duo.

Midfield is one area where we do have a wealth of personnel, it's just a shame nobody has worked out how best to play them together. Thierry Racon's return from injury adds to the confusion and it's hard to say who is going to get the nod. My preference would be to play four across the middle; Bailey and Spring in the centre, with Sam and Soares out wide. There is probably room for only two out of Holland, Racon and Ambrose on the bench and I expect Ambrose to be the man to miss out.

Up front, I must say that the combination of Dickson and Kandol appeals a lot more than Burton as a lone striker. There is always the prospect of Fleetwood getting his chance after his recall from Brighton. Does anybody know where Todorov has disappeared to? I don't expect him to re-emerge on Saturday (or in fact this season) but it would be nice to be told what is going on with him.

So all things considered, here’s my punt at what we can expect:

Elliot; Murty, Hudson, Ward, Basey; Sam, Bailey, Spring, Soares; Dickson, Kandol. Subs: Randolph, Youga, Holland, Racon, Burton.

It's really too close to call this one. If we can maintain the kind of start we get to games throughout and cut out some of the silly mistakes, then they are there for the taking. But can we really fix this thirty-one games in? I doubt it but hope springs eternal. Saturday is of course Valentine's Day, so let's hope the team can show the supporters a bit of love by playing like they mean it and getting a win. Come on you Reds!

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Back to the Frontline

Right, it won't have escaped your attention that this blog has not been updated for quite some time now. In fact it's been twenty six days since I wrote a preview for the Sheffield Wednesday game, on a high after our first win in what seemed like forever in the cup against Norwich. Like many Charlton fans, I was hoping the victory against the Canaries would be the inspiration we needed for a result in the steel city. Unfortunately a 4-1 defeat (including a goal from Francis f*cking Jeffers) meant things didn't go quite as I had imagined they would.

That result left me gutted to be honest and the team's failure to push on after getting the win at Carrow Road was incredibly frustrating. Continuing work commitments auf Deutschland meant I wasn't able to attend the Palace game so I didn't even get the briefest of morale boosts that most did from watching us put one over Tango man and his team. It didn't stop me jumping up and down in a German bar of course, much to the bemusement of those watching a drab 0-0 draw in the Bundesliga.

So what has happened since Sheffield? In summary:

- Our cup 'run' was quickly ended back in Sheffield courtesy of the red and white half of the city.
- We beat Palace! Great. I missed it. Not great.
- Played Burnley. Lost 2-1 having been 1-0 up.
- Played Bristol City. See above.
- Didn't play Cardiff City. It was too cold.
- In: Ward, Soares, Kandol. Out: Waghorn.
- Gray and Fortune injured for the rest of the season.
- Curbs isn't very happy that all his hard work has been undone.

So we're only three points and a couple of loan players better off than we were twenty six days ago. Losing twice when having been in a winning position typifies the shambolic season we've been having, as does the fact that we had no fit centre backs available until we got Darren Ward on loan.

Even thinking about Charlton has left me tearing my hair out in recent weeks. When I am now confronted with the question by various friends and colleagues, 'So what's gone wrong at Charlton?', I simply reply 'I could go on forever'. Of course I could go on forever about how we ended up where we are, but that's only half the truth of it. The other half is that I just don't want to talk about it. It's too frustrating, too upsetting, too painful … use whichever adjective you like, it's just not a pleasant topic of conversation right now.

Before the Cardiff game was called off, I was seriously thinking about not going even though I had no prior engagements preventing me from doing so. The simple fact of it was that watching Charlton play the way they are at the moment, accompanied by the aggro of a train ride home with a load of pissed up, pumped up Cardiff fans simply did not appeal. But then I got a text from my Charlton supporting mate: 'See you for a beer at 1 on Saturday? We've got to support them really haven't we?'. Two sentences, but it made sense.

The game against Plymouth on Saturday will be the first time I've seen Charlton since the defeat to Forest on January 10th. As sure as eggs is eggs, any kind of optimism I have at the start of the day will probably be crushed by the end of the afternoon and Phil Parkinson will still be there claiming, 'there is still time to turn this around, I just need to bring in a couple of fresh faces'. Like most fans, I think I've accepted the inevitability of relegation now, I'm just looking forward to catching up with some friends and hopefully watch Charlton turn in a half passionate and skilful performance.

So, twenty six days without a blog and come Saturday it will be thirty five days without watching Charlton play. Maybe it's done me some good, maybe it's allowed to get a bit of perspective on things, but it's time to roll the sleeves up and get stuck into things at the business end of the season. What else am I going to do … watch the rugby?