Thursday 15 October 2009

Huddersfield Town Preview

A week is a long time in football so they say, although this one seems to have whizzed by with another home match just around the corner. I had these two successive home games pencilled in for six points following a difficult run of games, but Oldham had other ideas last week. Will Huddersfield add further to the malaise?

Lee Clark has received a lot of plaudits for the way he has got his side playing, but their away form leaves a lot to be desired. One win in six games tells its own story. Their tails will up though, having beaten Exeter City 4-0 last weekend, with Jordan Rhodes claiming a hat-trick. Although with that said, Oldham were also on a decent run of form when they came to The Valley, yet they still defended within an inch of their lives for a point.

Evidence would seem to suggest that we are in a for a similar game against the team who changed places with the Latics in the league table last weekend. It was interesting to read in Nelson’s match preview that Huddersfield went to Colchester with five in defence in search of a point which they almost got. This hardly seems the ambitious approach of a team seeking promotion, but then again perhaps the percentages game Lee Clark is playing will ultimately play dividends.

So what to expect from Phil Parkinson? Following last weekend’s performance the temptation is there to make some fairly significant changes (something his predecessor would have been panicked into doing perhaps), although I expect Parky to resist the urge to do so at this point. There are some alterations he may like to consider however and I expect to see a different team to that which took the field last weekend.

At the back, I would imagine Miguel Angel Llera will probably make way for the returning Sam Sodje. Whilst Angel’s attacking qualities are superior to those of Sodje, his defending qualities are not, and for all the talk of Huddersfield coming to defend, they are also the league’s second highest scorers and know how to find the back of the net. Llera had a solid, if not spectacular, game against Oldham so may feel aggrieved to lose his place, but I still feel a bit nervous when the ball gets thrust in his direction so would be surprised if he was included at Sodje’s expense.

In midfield, Jose Semedo should be ready to return to action and, providing he is fit, I expect him to replace Matt Spring. Whilst Spring has been an adequate deputy, Semedo looks more assured at protecting the back four and controlling the tempo of the game. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our form has dipped somewhat during his absence and I expect Therry Racon will also be happy to have him back in midfield to work alongside. It’s hard luck on Spring but his chance should come again.

So what about up front? This would be the most obvious area of change given our lack of recent goals, but be that as it may, I can’t see Parkinson making any alteration to the combination of Deon Burton and Jonjo Shelvey. They both had pretty poor games last weekend, although Oldham made it hard for them to get into it. The options for change are a) drop Shelvey and replace him with a more orthodox striker or b) drop Burton and give McKenzie a go as the lone striker.

The problem with option a), as I mentioned earlier in the week, is that I don’t think we have an adequate strike partner for Burton. Perhaps it’s being harsh, but on Saturday’s evidence Izale McLeod isn’t up to it whilst Chris Dickson and Stuart Fleetwood are off elsewhere for now. Speculation regarding the arrival of Tresor Kandol is welcome. As for option b), I don’t think McKenzie is fit enough yet for anything more than a substitute’s appearance, whilst Burton doesn’t deserve to get dropped.

Even if he doesn’t change the starting personnel, I hope Parkinson can use the bench to better effect. If the game scenario is similar to that of last week, I would imagine he will change things around a bit earlier to try and up the tempo as we saw against Oldham. McKenzie should make another appearance based on last weekend’s evidence, whilst Tamer Tuna might feel like he deserves to stretch his legs after a decent outing against Barnet in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Finally, as Parkinson alluded to in his interview on the official website today, it’s not a great idea to start with semi-fit players, even if they would normally be in your first XI. Lloyd Sam and Frazer Richardson looked off the pace last weekend, and in hindsight Parkinson probably would have given them another week to recover. Hopefully they will be good to go on Saturday. So here is what I am expecting:

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

Substitutes: Randolph, Llera Basey, Wagstaff, McKenzie, Tuna, McLeod.

Anyway, I hope we can take the game to the opposition from the off, regardless of how Huddersfield set themselves up to play. Parkinson is being rightly tight-lipped about the team he is going to put out and the way they are going to play, but hopefully ‘the good week of training’ he mentioned will help to yield all three points. You just know it will be another tense afternoon at The Valley though. See you there.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

In need of a Plan B

Judging by the blogs since Saturday’s game with Oldham, I wasn’t the only one who was left a little bit frustrated. I don’t think I recall a game when there was so much anxiety and tension in the crowd, everybody’s mental well being seemed to be hanging on us scoring a goal. It didn’t come and mild panic now appears to have set in, amongst the fans at least.

Oldham came to play for a point and a point is what they got. They strained the life out the game by putting eleven men behind the ball (I don’t recall Elliot being forced into one save in the second half) and a bit of unsporting time wasting. The thing is, who can blame them? As it stands, we are a top two side and most teams in this division will be happy to come away with a point from The Valley.

So on the basis that Oldham won’t be the last side to play 8-1-1 against us, it’s pretty clear we need to come up with an approach to combat this. Many will be clamouring for Parkinson to start with a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation, given the extra chances it seemed to open up once Izale McLeod was introduced on Saturday. It’s just a shame he had forgotten where the back of the net was.

And therein lies the problem. Which two would you pair up front, and would you drop Shelvey as a result? As if we needed reminding, Saturday clearly highlighted Izale McLeod’s limitations as a striker. Missing half chances is one thing, missing open goals is quite another. On the basis that Parkinson would only play one of Deon Burton or Leon McKenzie, our best option for a strike partner would appear to be on loan to Bristol Rovers, a team who could go level on points with us should they win their game in hand.

I do think there were other factors at play during the Oldham game as well. Richardson and Sam were both obviously not completely fit (I did have to do a double take when I saw them both walk out of the tunnel after the injury news gloom during the week) and, as decent a player as Matt Spring is, we are still obviously missing Jose Semedo and the rapport he has struck up with Therry Racon.

So plenty for Phil Parkinson to ponder ahead of what is likely to be a tough game on Saturday against Huddersfield Town, a team many fancy to cause an upset. Parky praised the performance of the team against Oldham and has publicly insisted that there is no cause for panic. However, he must wondering how he can get the team scoring again and how we can get all three points on Saturday.

On a different note altogether, it would appear that Charlton old boy Souleymane Diawara has come over all repentant for the tackle that would have appeared to crocked the world’s most expensive footballer for a month. Surely he didn’t pick up any bad habits whilst he was in SE7, did he?

Friday 9 October 2009

Oldham Athletic Preview

After the successful interlude of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, we are now back to the serious business of picking up points in the league. Whilst one point from two tricky fixtures has seen the chasing pack gain a bit of ground on us, it has not been disastrous, being as we are just three points behind Leeds at the top. In fact with the leaders not in action this weekend, there is every chance we can reclaim the top spot for ourselves should we win in style tomorrow.

However, we will undoubtedly have to work for all three points against an Oldham side whose had won three on the trot before Yeovil held them to a 0-0 draw last weekend. Manager Dave Penney has praised their ‘resolve’ and his team lie eight points behind us in 8th position. They will be looking for at least a point out of the trip to The Valley and it wouldn’t be surprising if they set out their stall to do just that.

After what seemed like an eternity with the same starting XI, injury (Semedo) and loss of form (Llera) has forced Parkinson’s hand in recent weeks with Matt Spring and Sam Sodje being the beneficiaries. It looks like there could be further shuffling for Parky this weekend, with our right side looking to be in need of an overhaul. Both Lloyd Sam, who came at half time against Leeds, and Frazer Richardson, who was rested against Barnet, are both rated doubtful. Sam and Richardson have been two of our most consistent performers so to lose one or both will be a blow.

So how to fill the void? The right wing issue is the more simple to resolve, with Scott Wagstaff ready to come in. I watched the highlights of the game against Barnet and I must say his goal was a cracker. The right back issue is somewhat more tricky. Is Chris Solly ready for his first league start? I must admit I haven’t seen enough of him to be sure. Parkinson obviously rates him (Moutaouakil was loaned out to Motherwell on the premise that he was hindering Solly’s development) but something tells me it may be just a bit too soon for him.

In which case Kelly Youga would move to the right, with Grant Basey slotting in at left back. In my opinion Basey has been unlucky not to get more of a run in the starting XI than he has done in the past few seasons. I don’t really recall him every having done anything calamitous on the field, and there have been a number of occasions when I thought he would get a start after some frustrating performances from Youga. Hopefully he will get an opportunity tomorrow.

The only problem with this of course, is that Youga may be required to cover the centre back position with Sam Sodje off on international duty and Llera short on form and confidence (although he is apparently fully fit). The Spaniard has had somewhat of a mixed start to his Charlton career. He has scored a couple of goals but has also looked shaky at times in defence, something which was painfully exposed against Colchester. He could have done with a mid-week run out against Barnet but it didn’t happen.

Parky has suggested he will start and I can’t imagine he won’t make the starting XI. It really would be quite telling if Llera, as one of only three specialist centre backs we have and one of two who are available, is rested in favour of a specialist left back. So, providing there are no other tactical changes further up the field (I don’t think Parkinson will start with an orthodox 4-4-2), I imagine they will line up as follows on the assumption that Richardson, Semedo and Sam are all unfit to play:

Elliot; Youga, Dailly, Llera, Basey; Wagstaff, Spring, Racon, Bailey; Shelvey; Burton.

Subs: Randolph, Solly, Mambo, Stavrinou, Tuna, McLeod, McKenzie.

I’m looking forward to getting back to The Valley having missed the last two games (against Exeter City and Barnet) due to other commitments. I am, however, a bit nervous about the game given the expectation there is to take all three points. I’m not expecting an easy encounter but hopefully the memories of Colchester are close to being erased and we can close the gap on Leeds again.