Friday, December 31, 2004

Late Drama

Now back in Manhattan after enjoying a second home win in just over a week, I am encouraged about our prospects for 2005. The win over Everton was perhaps slightly fortunate (it looked a cast-iron penalty on the tv), but if a team keeps working hard and doing the simple things well then the luck tends to work in their favour. In terms of hard work, the effort put in especially by Kishishev, Holland and Bartlett probably goes somewhat unnoticed and I infact detected some discomfort amongst fans about the latter's goal record. However, midway through the second half Everton broke from a corner and Bartlett ended up being the last outfield Charlton player back in his own penalty area, having sprinted eighty yards to ensure we kept parity. I'd probably rather a goal machine in the style of Mendonca (it's hard to recall ever seeing him in the Charlton box) but in the absence of a genuine goalscorer in the squad, Bartlett is the best option we have. Unfortunately for Franny Jeffers, who may be that missing goalscorer, it is hard to see how he can fit into the 4-5-1 formation which has served us so well in recent weeks.

Talal al Karkouri continues to impress with his aerial presence and willingness to pass the ball accurately across multiple distances. I have always quite liked seeing Chris Perry in defence too, but he both lacks TAK's height as well as his passing ability. We now have a real presence at set pieces with the free-scoring Moroccan assisted by Hreidarsson, Fortune and of course, Bartlett. Indeed any team that plays us without tall players assisting the centre backs, will have their hands full with Murphy whipping in excellent dead balls. Unfortunately Arsenal don't fit into this category with the likes of Viera but other teams will.

It was encouraging to see Curbs use his substitutes wisely, and Konchesky had a role in both goals within minutes of coming on. Indeed, I wouldn't be averse to using him occasionally as a more defensive alternative to Thomas, even in a 4-5-1 formation, who had a quiet game for once. It was disappointing to see Rommedahl removed again but he continues to look uncertain and lacking in confidence.

The prospects of us picking up at least a point against Arsenal have clearly improved and the Champions have stuttered since surrendering their amazing unbeaten record. The weather forecast for squally showers will hopefully act as a leveller and put a brake on their flowing football.

Finally, it is difficult to focus on the triviality of football in the light of the sheer magnitude of the tragedy that has engulfed South East Asia. Whilst it puts our passion for football in its proper perspective, it also illustrates the shortness of life and the importance of celebrating its wonder since it can be wiped out so tragically. If something as ultimately as pointless as football can help us do so, we shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A new Valley hero?

My first game at the Valley this season and three deserved points though in true Charlton style we were hanging on by the end. Having seen 7-8 games on TV before last night, it struck me how much more you gain from actually being at the game and I enjoyed it immensely. For me there was only one true star last night though there were several solid individual performances. It's been a while since a young player has arrived in the first team and displayed such confidence (bordering on arrogance) as Jerome Thomas. Some of his touches, particularly in the second half, were sublime and his ability to hold the ball up yet break with devastating pace was a joy to behold. I think we have found a true young star, the first since Parker (though he took a while to shine) and one who reminds me of Bowyer and even Paul Walsh on his emergence into the team in the 1980s.

Unfortunately the sight of Thomas terrorising defenders shows up the limitations of Rommedahl who looked entirely lost and frankly not good enough. He spent most of the first half looking inside, at one point standing well inside the left half of the field as we took a throw on that side. In my opinion he should be hugging the touchline for the entire game, looking to receive the ball at every opportunity and then do what he surely does best (though we've not seen it yet) ie. beating players for pace and whipping in crosses. With three men in central midfield, we don't need another player in there.

I was impressed with Kishishev thanks perhaps to his new go-faster haircut, and El-Karkouri proved his worth at both ends with a commanding performance. The fact that he is nearly impossible to distinguish from Fortune from a distance must prove a constant pain for the opposition. Murphy was solid though still gave the ball away too often, but had his individual effort tucked inside the post, he no doubt would have built confidence for the busy Xmas period. Still, it was nice to hear the Covered End singing his name.

Having seen us live, I've more confidence for the remainder of the season than I did from watching us on tv. It's a sign of a good team that you can win games when not playing great and that would probably describe last night's performance which was mainly workmanlike, Thomas' flair aside. With a series of winnable fixtures coming up, and even Arsenal looking vulnerable, we can now confidently look up at the top six for the first time this season.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Rochdale at home.....

The 3rd round draw has been kind to us (as it often seems to be) but our terrible Cup form means that instead of looking forward to the 4th Round, plenty of fans will be praying we don't end up on the Sunday back pages for the wrong reasons in January. Difficult and hard-fought home ties in recent years versus Dagenham and Exeter mean this will not be straightforward, particularly as it will no doubt be played in front of a half-filled stadium with a couple of thousand screaming Rochdale fans in the Jimmy Seed.

However, it's about time we had a decent FA Cup run and there's no reason why, with similar luck in future draws, we shouldn't have a shot at reaching Cardiff. If Millwall and Southampton can do it, then so can we.

Dennis the Menace

So Dennis Rommedahl, perhaps the most disappointing of our summer signings (and believe me there is plenty of competition) has transformed himself into a most unlikely hero with a sense of timing which would have made Rolex proud. With over 92 minutes played (and with the fourth official only having signalled two minutes of injury time), he moved those quick feet into a shooting position and hammered a pinpoint effort inside the near post. To be fair to him, he had looked a little more promising in the second half, but one weak left-footed pass moments earlier had me berating him with language I'm not proud of. Nonetheless as Paul Kitson found out a few seasons ago, scoring your first goal for the club late in the game at Palace is a surefire way to ensure a boost to your popularity. I think Rommedahl's main problem is that he is not an especially talented footballer in the strictest sense of the word, but happens to be blessed with extraordinary pace and quick feet which allows him with one feint of the shoulder, to open up the play. Hopefully the goal will give him the confidence to do what he does best, and perhaps more importantly, Curbs will give him the freedom to do it. There seems little point trying to turn him into a hard-working defensive midfielder in the style of Stuart or Kishishev because he is not cut out for it.

It had been a hard-fought competitive game and 0-0 would probably have been a fair result, and without wishing to sound biased we looked slightly the more accomplished of two average sides. However the slightly fortunate penalty decision was met with an equally fortunate save (it's hard to argue with Sky's replay of Kiely several feet from his line), and the game seemed to be meandering towards a goalless finish. Thomas had looked lively again and had a great effort turned away just before half-time, whilst Holland and Murphy probed and fought without finding the key to opening up the Palace defence. El Karkouri also looked assured again and he will learn from the penalty he conceded.

It wasn't the first fortuitous win of the season (Portsmouth also springs to mind) but it was certainly the most vital one so far, as the teams below us began to creep up and other out-of-form sides like Spurs began to pick up points. With 16 games played, we are over halfway to our first target of 40 points and in light of a number of disastrous performances, we should feel reasonably satisfied given the obvious scope for improvement from hereon.