Tuesday, May 17, 2005

End of Season Summaries

I don't seem to share the gloating of some Charlton fans in the relegation of Palace - I've always thought they're strange rivals of ours, given that Croydon and Greenwich are hardly neighbouring boroughs. Indeed, until we shared their ground in the mid-1980s I don't recall them ever being mentioned as a team we disliked. They've got a crappy stadium and it's impossible to get to in the car, but other than that they're just another London club that I'm indifferent about along with Fulham, QPR, West Ham etc..

I suppose their relegation did at least take some attention away from our own awful end to the season, and an 82nd minute equaliser from Jon Fortune saved us from the ignominy of losing our final three games, but no wins in our final nine games was truly shocking and far worse than most of us could have contemplated after the Spurs win. The fact that Man City crept up on the rails and were inches away from qualifying for Europe shows what a great chance we blew this season. I suppose 11th place is perfectly respectable, but 46 points is nothing to crow about and is the more telling statistic in an increasingly mediocre league.

Based on the games that I saw (basically four games live, and say another ten on TV), here is my definitive New York summary of the team's performances this season:

DEAN KIELY: a solid season though at times his positional awareness and command of his area came into question. To be fair, there were games where he must have wondered if he was playing the opposition on his own, and 53 goals conceded in 36 games is an unfair statistic which does him no justice. In my view, he is in the top five keepers in the league.

STEFAN ANDERSEN: suggested great promise and it was brave of Curbs to throw him in against Man Utd and Chelsea. On a number of occasions he showed signs that he was a great shot-stopper though his handling wasn't really tested yet.

LUKE YOUNG: a deserving recipient of the Player of the Year - unlike a number of his teammates, his effort levels are never in question and moreover he has proved he is an excellent defender, rarely beaten for pace and strong and aware in the tackle. It is perhaps only his inability to consistently provide attacking support which prevents him becoming a genuinely top-class full-back.

HERMANN HREIDARSSON: admittedly he was better in his first season than his second, but as with Young you can't fault his effort and he is one of those players that the fans can latch onto. For some reason, he didn't pose such a threat from set-pieces and I certainly wasted a good few pounds on him to score several 'first goals' at 33/1 and above (I still think it's value though the stats don't bear me out). He was at fault for some goals, particularly just before his injury, but he remains a key member of the squad.

PAUL KONCHESKY: a bit of a revelation frankly, especially when he played in central midfield. It seems he has put his disagreements with Curbs behind him and at times he looked the 'real deal.' Given his pace, fitness and ability on the ball, I would be keen to see him start as a regular in midfield, particularly as the left-sided member of a three-man triumvirate. Given some of the garbage elsewhere in the squad, he is the type of player that can form the core of the side for many years to come, and frankly much to the surprise of this fan who had previously been unconvinced.

TALAL EL-KARKOURI: the least known of the summer signings, and the obvious success story. He is clearly vulnerable to the odd error, but I enjoyed his somewhat cavalier attitude and appetite for the game, and particularly his mid-season scoring spree. As with Konchesky, I'm not sure that his best position doesn't lie in midfield, where his tough-tackling and bullet shot may have more to offer.

JON FORTUNE: I suspect he will never fully convince fans that he is more than a squad player, but to be fair whenever he is called upon, he gives a reasonable account and even popped up with a couple of useful goals (including one that West Brom fans will remember for years). I sense that he is good in all areas but not quite strong enough, quick enough or aware enough to be a truly top-drawer player.

CHRIS PERRY: a bit of a stop-start year after a great 2003/4, and as with Fortune I'm not sure he has enough attributes to the defensive core of a team upon. His reading of the game remains in good shape, but it is difficult to conclude that 5 foot 10 centre backs are easily taken advantage of by strikers in the Peter Crouch or Duncan Ferguson mould.

MARK FISH: dear oh dear - I think he's been good for us over a number of seasons, and even very good at times, but I think it's time to release him in the summer.

RADOSTIN KISHISHEV: clearly a defensive central midfielder (no idea who thought he may be a right-back or right-midfielder.....oh yes, it was Curbs) and he has been reasonably consistent. The type of player that will keep us at the current level, but not good enough to help us push on to the next. He gives the ball away somewhat readily, and offers no attacking threat, but he breaks up opposition moves and his hard-running style appeals to old-fashioned fans like myself. A squad player, nothing more.

DANNY MURPHY: Murphy was one of those players who you always recall being better at former clubs than they actually turned out to be (a bit like Neil Redfearn). There was something in his body language throughout which suggested he would rather be elsewhere, though based on what I saw he is a neat (even skilful) player but lacks the pace to be much more. He replaced Jensen's ability from set-pieces, but didn't provide the true flair that the Dane could offer, albeit sporadically. In today's market, I suppose one can't expect too much more for £2.5m sadly.

MATT HOLLAND: probably the nicest guy in football and a player who has deservedly built a successful career on less than average talent. I suspect his quality was exaggerated by playing alongside Parker for half of last season, because he seemed to come up a little short this campaign. Instead of his neat passing and mopping up providing the foil for attacking forays, he was resigned to being another plodding midfielder in a plodding midfield that lacked the pace and drive to get behind the opposition.

JASON EUELL: I can't help thinking he was poorly treated this season - he has been a consistent scorer, and whilst his first touch is often ill-conceived, he does at least either provide some decent finishing or an injection of pace through midfield. His price tag weighs heavily on his shoulders though it derived from the boom years when even a far less experienced Luke Young was worth £4m (what would a better Luke Young be worth today? £1.5m?). I would like to see him retained though I suspect we've seen the last of him.

JEROME THOMAS: initially a revelation, more latterly realism set in though he was undoubtedly one rare bright spot this season. Hopefully over time, his obvious inputs (skill and pace) can churn out greater output (goals and crosses), and not be wasted in part in showmanship which only works when Charlton are leading comfortably (when was the last time that happened?). If we persevere with 4-5-1, he has to be the regular left winger.

DENNIS ROMMEDAHL: all-in-all he was a disappointment, but he remains the only player (along with Thomas) that at least gets the heart-rate up when he receives the ball. Based on what I saw, I thought he may be a better forward than winger given that despite his ridiculous pace, he actually lacks the tricks which give more skilful compatriots half a second to send over a wicked cross. I would be disturbed if he was sold - for £2m he represented reasonable value (and the price tag alone should have tempered our expectations), since real frightening pace is rare and at times near impossible to defend against.

BRYAN HUGHES: he seemed a neat player with an obvious eye for goal (four goals in a handful of appearances), but too lightweight to make much of an impression or impact. As with a depressingly high number of squad members, it is difficult to see him being a core and regular member of the team.

SHAUN BARTLETT: although often vilified for his lack of goals, he ploughed a lonely furrow during the successful mid-season period which put us in European contention. He always gives 100% and chases lost causes, and it is not clear to me at least whether his lack of goals derives from poor service or poor finishing (I suspect the former). Given his age and limitations, it is to be hoped that by the start of next season, a more prolific striker will have taken over the role with Bartlett retained as valuable cover.

FRANCIS JEFFERS: unlike Murphy, it would be unfair to judge Jeffers yet since he played so infrequently. Moreover, his goals-per-game ratio was perfectly acceptable and would probably have improved markedly had injuries and team selection permitted him to have a decent run of games. I saw enough to suggest he has the natural awareness that had allowed him to command two seven-figure transfer fees, and would not dismiss his future at the club prematurely as some fans are.

JONATAN JOHANSSON: he is clearly one of Curbs' favourites, and the type of selection which makes me wonder whether either a) I'm not a good judge of players, or more likely b) he simply isn't good enough and Curbs continual selection of him proves that he will never be a world-class manager. Quite simply he isn't good enough and his apparent lack of effort or willingness to get involved in the more physical aspects of the game are beyond the pale.

KEVIN LISBIE: a sad end to the season though thankfully it seems his health concerns are not serious. Fans remain divided on him as always and whilst I am one of his rapidly dwindling band of supporters, 2005/6 absolutely 'has' to be the season he delivers in (if given the chances). As with JJ, he is obviously 'rated' by Curbs for better or worse.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ridiculous penalty ruins pride restoration

Charlton at least restored a little pride through a half-decent display at Chelsea, though let's face it, the Champions were hardly in top gear exemplified by the substitiution of their goalkeeper with ten minutes to go. The penalty decision was clearly ridiculous and could conceivably cost us a Premiership position if we draw versus Palace and Newcastle win their final game.

Our approach play was fairly laboured but I was encouraged by the performance of Lisbie who surprisingly offers more as a lone striker than Bartlett, despite the obvious height disadvantage. Andersen had a solid game and was of course unlucky with the penalty rebound, but two earlier saves again suggested he is a natural shot-stopper. The only area we've yet to much evidence of is his handling, but he certainly has the size and presence required.

Young and Konchesky gave typically whole-hearted performances, and their effort levels put those of the likes of JJ to shame. I genuinely have no idea what Curbs sees in him, particularly as a wide midfielder - he has no tricks nor any ability to cross the ball. His strength, or rather lack thereof, is truly astonishing for a so-called athlete. He has suggested over the years that he's a half-decent finisher, but he's not a Premiership quality player, period. If no other club comes in for him in the summer, and whilst we continue to pay his wages, I would make him work in the ticket office or club shop.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Curbs deserves another season to prove us wrong

Well, at least we competed for 35 minutes or so but as soon as Andersen's heroics gave way to an error, the game was all over and frankly that was the most depressing take-away from the afternoon (and believe me, there were plenty). The gulf in class was enormous and it is frightening that this was against a team that remains 15 points behind the Champions. I can handle a 4-0 defeat to Man Utd, after all our record against them since we were promoted hardly gives you a sense of optimism. What I find harder to swallow is the impression that as soon as we conceded the first, the players seemed to resign themselves to defeat, the only question was by how many?

After surviving a first-minute scare when Rooney found oodles of space in the area, we actually matched United for a while, if not for flair and class, then at least for commitment. Jeffers was unlucky not to put us ahead when his sharp chest control and early shot forced a good save from Roy Carroll. Indeed, Jeffers' smart opportunism suggested that he may not have lost his natural goalscoring instinct, but it is hardly surprising that he is a bit stale given the paucity of chances he's been given to shine.

The selection of Andersen at least suggested (for once) that Curbs was willing to take risks and offer opportunities to those frustrated on the bench or in the stiffs. Admittedly, Kiely would not have been my first choice for demotion to the bench but Andersen pulled off a genuinely world-class save which not only reminded us of Kiely at his best, but suggested we may indeed have a long-term replacement for the Irishman. Another good save from Scholes was shortly followed by an unfortunate error which the ginger one pounced upon, although replays showed that Rooney's shot took a slight deflection which at least explained the error, though admittedly didn't excuse it.

Heads dropped, United sensed we were fully there for the taking and in the next twenty minutes either side of half-time, we duly obliged, offering scant defence for the hapless Dane who must have wondered what he had done to deserve this merciless treatment. The sight of Alan Smith running fully forty yards before slotting home summed up our defensive inadequacies, and in all honesty it was only a combination of the woodwork (from Rooney), a professional foul from Perry and United's energy conservation which prevented a cricket score.

You had to at least respect those Addicks fans that remained until the end. Had I been at the Valley instead of a New York pub, I certainly would have been inside the Blackwall Tunnel well before Dermot Gallagher put us out of our misery. There is only so much that one can take of seeing the pathetic figure of JJ, the paceless midfield, and a substitution which saw Europe's fastest player replaced by a centre-back when 4-0 down, before health considerations take priority over 'loyalty' to the team.

I have discussed at length the difference in class between the top three and the rest. What concerns me is that in seasons past, we have at least competed with the top three and indeed have beaten them occasionally, the 4-2 win over Chelsea springing to mind in late-2003. Our record in the five games so far this season against Chelsea/Arsenal/Man Utd have yielded a combined score of 1-17 and I shudder to think what score a relaxed Chelsea might rack up on Saturday particularly if they are heady from potentially beating Liverpool on Tuesday night.

There is no denying that we have gone backwards this season. Admittedly 45 points is no disaster, but 55 goals conceded and a goal difference of -15 tells the real story of this campaign. I think the damage was done in the summer; the transfers of Jeffers, Murphy and Rommedahl were all unusual for Charlton because for each, the move represented a move backwards rather than forwards, at least in terms of the size of their new club. This was not true of most of our previous successful signings. There is something in the body language of Murphy in particular which suggests he would rather be elsewhere.

I don't believe that short-termism gets you very far in football; this can be exemplifed by the relative success of those teams that have been loyal through thick and thin (eg. Man Utd, Crewe, Charlton etc..). Curbs is entitled to one bad season in light of what he has achieved after all, and it is on a season-by-season basis that managers should be assessed not on a game-by-game basis as some Chairmen seem to prefer. Hence in my view, it is not yet time for the board to be considering his future but rest assured, if fans like myself are sat writing a depressing blog like this come Summer 2007, then I dare say it will be time to say adieu to Curbs (if he hasn't already walked away, something which I believe is likelier than many imagine). In the meantime, a change at the coaching level would be most welcome - I'm comfortable letting Curbs deal with the motivation problem; I don't trust Mervyn Day to deal with the lack of ideas and basic defensive mistakes.