Friday 25 September 2009

Exeter City Preview

It’s a sign of heightened expectations and performances that two drawn games in succession is being considered a ‘dip’ by some. Whilst the games against Southampton and Norwich were both winnable, maintaining our unbeaten record against two teams who finished higher than us last season shouldn’t really be considered too disastrous. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard people booing the team off against Southampton at half time!

So a chance to make everybody happy again tomorrow when Exeter City come to The Valley. Like many of our opponents this season, I don’t know very much about them other than that we were playing two leagues apart this time last year, and that they have had a solid if not spectacular start to life in League One. Paul Tisdale is considered to be one of the brightest managerial prospects on the circuit and there is little doubt he will put out a well organised and disciplined side.

It is dangerous to start to think that we will just roll sides like this over when they come to SE7 and I’m sure Phil Parkinson will have prepared accordingly, knowing that dropped points may allow Bristol Rovers to sneak into the second automatic promotion spot. This is a game we should be looking to win however, allowing to us to capitalise on any potential slip up by Leeds who face a tough away fixture at the MK Dons.

In terms of personnel, there are reports that Nicky Bailey and Frazer Richardson may not be fit to play, although I am sure we have heard this before a game more than once this season! Hopefully they will take to the field and if so then it doesn’t really make sense to ‘shuffle the pack’. If not, I would expect Matthew Spring and Chris Solly to deputise, and Exeter will probably fancy their chances a bit more.

When you’re unbeaten in eight, criticism seems a bit churlish but I do continue to worry about us defensively. On the opening day of the season we twice let Wycombe back into the game, and against Southampton I thought we were poor. Throwing away three points in injury time against Norwich wasn’t exactly smart either. Hopefully the team will have benefited from the realisation that they are not invincible and have to stay switched on for the full 90 minutes (or 93 minutes in the case of the Norwich City game).

Another worry (I’m sorry, it wouldn’t be a post about Charlton if there wasn’t something to moan about!), is our options up front. Deon Burton has surpassed my wildest expectations this season, but should he get injured, or Parkinson decide to play a more orthodox 4-4-2, then we only have Izale McLeod or a not yet fit Leon McKenzie to turn to. Whilst the jury is still out on McKenzie as we have yet to see him play, I can’t say I have much confidence in McLeod. Did someone mention Chris Dickson?

I guess this nitpicking is owing to the fact that I’m starting to worry about the next two games, away to Colchester and Leeds. These are surely the litmus test of our promotion credentials and we need to make sure we are going into them on firing on all cylinders. Stuart Fleetwood in an interview this week said that there was clear water between the top two (us and Leeds) and the rest of the league. I’m not convinced of that and think there will be 5 or 6 teams in the mix come May.

I can’t make the game tomorrow owing to plans made in advance of the season starting (I really must stop doing that) but I am hoping for a win to boost confidence ahead of the next two trips. Enjoy the match and I look forward to reading the reports.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Southampton Preview

As Benjamin Disraeli famously once said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. On the bare face of it, Saturday’s game against Southampton should be a walk over: we’re top and they’re bottom, we’ve got six wins and they’ve got none, and we’re twenty-four points ahead of them in the league. Even if it wasn’t for their ten point deduction, they would still be sitting in the bottom three. So how come I’m more nervous about this game than I have been for any other in quite some time?

Well, simply put, our winning run has to come to an end at some point and there is one man who will be determined to ensure that happens this Saturday. Alan Pardew has a point to prove and you can be pretty sure that his team will be pretty well prepared for this encounter. The last time he was at The Valley, he got booed off the field after we lost 5-2 to Sheffield United. He won’t have forgotten that, but then again neither have we. I’m sure there will be a lot of fans looking forward to giving him a little piece of their mind.

Following Charlton is an absolute joy at the moment and I really don’t want the feeling to stop. OK, we haven’t played the divisions stronger teams as yet, but you can only beat what they put in front of you and we’ve done it with aplomb. Watching us at Prenton Park a couple of weeks back was a great experience. The team played well, the fans were in good voice, there wasn’t a negative word said about the performance from those around me, and at the end the players came over and gave us a lengthy and heart warming round of applause. That alone made the trip worthwhile.

Saturday’s game will see the biggest turn out of the season at The Valley, although according to the official website Southampton will be bringing less with them than expected. Still, I imagine the away end will be lively and add to a fiery atmosphere. Those travelling up from the south coast will be hoping their team can return with something, although predictably Pardew has been pleading for time to gel his recruits into the team he believes will make the play-offs. To be fair to him, it is still early days, but I can’t imagine that his task over the summer was any more difficult than that of Phil Parkinson who had to sort out a demoralised mess of a squad.

Unlike Parkinson, Pardew has also been afforded the luxury of a bit of money to spend following the takeover by Markus Liebherr. Rickie Lambert has arrived from Bristol Rovers for a fee thought to be around £1 million, whilst Papa Waigo N’Diaye has been brought in from Fiorentina, albeit on loan but I can’t imagine his wages are insignificant. He has also swelled his back room staff by appointing Wally Downes (ex-Brentford manager), Dean Wilkins (ex-Brighton manager) and Stuart Murdoch (ex-Wimbledon). I wouldn’t imagine the pay off for that lot would be cheap.

So Southampton are well kitted out for a return to the Championship and are actually undefeated in three, even if they were all draws (including playing for an hour against 10 men against Colchester). This could be a difficult game for Charlton and I can see their front two, Lambert and Waigo, causing us a few problems. Pardew also had the advantage that he knows the majority of our squad and will be looking to exploit our weaknesses and nullify our threats.

In terms of personnel, it’s hard to imagine Parkinson will choose this game to start making changes when he’s won six on the spin with the same team. He may need to apply a bit of thought to who he goes for on the bench however. Will Leon McKenzie get into the match day eighteen for the first time? Regardless, unless there is a late injury, I would be very surprised if the following aren’t on the field in a red shirt at 3pm:

Elliot; Richardson, Dailly, Llera, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Shelvey, Bailey; Burton

With our following game being against Norwich City, we will be able to see how well we have adapted to the Championship compared to the two other relegated sides. I don’t think we can take maximum points from both and the warm fuzzy feeling of our 100% record may well be punctured. I know which game I would prefer to drop points in though, and it isn’t this Saturday when I am desperately hoping we can walk away with all three.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Tranmere... and Brentford at Home

We've been a little slow getting a match report up after the tranmere match, apologies for that, I've just started a new project with work so have been manic!

It was a great away day....The day started off with that rough feeling... You know the one, you go to the pub for a quiet one to discuss logistics for getting to the away ground and one pint turns into two and so forth...I wake up at 7:30 and text Richard to tell him I'll be on my way once I've tucked into a fry up...

I get to Richard's and there is no answer on his phone.. The bastards gone back to sleep I thought! Sure enough he wakes up 30 mins later and we hit the road!

A quick petrol stop and were on the M1 following a car full of west ham fans headed to Blackburn, after exchanging the usual pleasentries, a few v-signs and birds getting flicked we unfurled our charlton scarf and asked them who they were fighting today... The running or driving dual I should say, was most entertaining in the bank holiday traffic on the M1!

We got to the ground and i must admit I've never been to an away match that was so easy! We parked not even 10 mins from the ground and headed to a delightful establishment called "break time" for our lunch! A bit of banter with a few locals and the cafe staff and we were off.... £5 for two lunches and two drinks.... I love the North!

The CAFC website said that only 300 tickets had been sold for the match but I would hazard a guess that there was probably nearer to 400 people there in the end. Still there were plenty of blue seats in the away end, but there were far more in the home end's Kop. The Charlton fans were in full voice from the kick off with a loud and full rendition of many miles have i travelled, many games have i seen....

The Tranmere fans were very poor.... I heard them singing once during the match and that was when the Charlton end began chanting "Barnes Out, Barnes Out".... You could see the discontent among the fans, trying to gee the team on after each of the addicks goals, but the players heads had dropped after the second and there was to be no come back.

Charlton were very impressive, they bossed the game from the start and with the exception of about 10 mins of football before half time where Tranmere looked as though they could get a goal, Charlton were in complete control.

Lloyd Sam had a cracking game, tormenting Tranmere in the middle of the park and deep inside their half. He cut through their side like a warm knife through butter...

But it wasn't the only performance that stood out. The whole side performed well, the back four looked solid and in control, the midfield were calm and thought through what they were doing without forcing the ball into positions that it didnt need to be. The attack force had a good game as well, tormenting Tranmere's back four and with so many attacking options, Tranmere found it difficult to manage the pressure and conceeded goals.

League One offers players much more time on the ball than in the Championship and certainly the Premiership. I think that the Charlton lads have realised that they can afford to use their heads to ensure the ball is going to the right place and to concentrate on the delivery of the ball rather than just forcing it and rushing the distribution.

We stopped off in Liverpool and watched the Arsenal Man United Match, got some food and got back into the car for the trip home... in all, it was a cracking day, good banter, good weather, good times! Looking forward to our next little away trip which will be coming up very soon!

5 wins from 5 games, a club record and a position atop the League One table.... it's been a good month for Charlton, but they need to continue this momentum and keep up the pressure on the rest of the league, starting with their home fixture today against Brentford live on Sky...

It's a tough call this one, derbys always are tough, but the Valley isnt a fun place to go, it's big and it's loud and for a lot of the League One lads, it'll be one of the biggest grounds they'll have played on....

I envisage a decent crowd at the Valley this early kick off, despite the match being on Sky and with the news that JonJo Shelvy has signed a new contract keeping him with Charlton until 2012, they should be in full voice.

Brentford don't have the best of records against Charlton, but records are there to be broken and Charlton will need remain switched on for the duration of this match to prevent Brentford from snatching points.