Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Deadline Day

With just hours to go until the end of transfer deadline day, it looks increasingly like Curbs will not be adding to the nine players we signed in the summer, with the exception of young Icelander, Rurik Gislason. Indeed, he is the third unknown young foreign player we have signed this season (Kelly Youga and Goncalo Brandao being the others), an interesting and unusual (for Charlton) trend which suggests that we may be waiting even longer for a homegrown player to get into the first team, Jonathan Fortune being the last to do so and become a regular.

It is in our interest to find talent wherever it exists, but it does perhaps suggest that our well-regarded academy has in recent years done little more than provide lower division fodder, Alex Varney seemingly the latest. Of course the emergence and subsequent sale of Scott Parker not only helped the team whilst he played, but the £10m transfer fee has enabled us to improve the depth of our squad, but as I have mentioned before he made his debut back in August 1997 and he was perhaps a highly talented one-off. Given the sour memories of Jermaine Defoe and Jay-Lloyd Samuel, and the seeming inability of any club to prevent its very best young teenagers being poached, it does beg the question whether our investment in the academy is necessarily always money well spent.

Elsewhere, the transfer of Michael Owen has obviously denominated the headlines. A ridiculous 20,000 fans turned out at St James' Park and I would hate to suggest that the job centres in the city must have been quiet today. I intend to write in due course about our poor away support (and the fact that is doesn't matter), but in short there is a fine line between heartfelt support for your team, and irrational fanaticism and those Newcastle fans have clearly crossed it. This is a team which through its players, directors and managers has continually let down its fans and singularly failed to win a single trophy for decades. Radio Five Live have suggested it is little more than a 'glorified loan deal', and the type of transfer which is so clearly overpriced that there is likely no realistic contribution that Owen could make which will justify it.

He has always struck me as an over-rated player, albeit one blessed with genuine pace and neat finishes. His most obvious flaw is a left-foot so rarely used that, to mis-use a common cliché, he must have trouble even standing on it. Admittedly he wouldn't be the first one-footed player to have made a big impact on the game, but how a striker can be considered world class when he cannot shoot with both feet is beyond me. Defenders know they can always show him onto this left foot and neutralise his threat. The Premier League is blessed by only three genuine world class strikers (Van Nistelrooy, Rooney and Henry).....I'm afraid Owen is not amongst them.

Elsewhere Jermaine Jenas left Newcastle for £8m, and whilst one again has to question where exactly the money is coming from at Spurs (the next Leeds anyone?), I suppose they are another club trying to appease frustrated fans by at least showing some ambition. Unfortunately perhaps for Martin Jol, prior managers could always claim they weren't getting the support from the board and thus had a viable excuse for their failings - Jol will not have this option available, and whilst having a 40-man squad may look great on the back of the programme, there will no doubt be some negative vibes emanating from those players not in his immediate plans. For example in central midfield alone, they have to pick 2 or 3 from Davids, Brown, Davis, Mendes, Tainio, Carrick, and Jenas. Still, it's their problem not ours.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Pride of England

A great win at 'Boro was capped (sic.) by the confirmation that both Luke Young and Darren Bent had been included in the England squad for the Wales/N.Ireland games. Admittedly, we had two players picked for England not so long ago for that pointless international against Australia, but finally it seems we are getting some recognition for being a genuine and regular source for the England squad.

I can't honestly say that I normally care in the slightest whether England win or lose any of their games, but my interest is certainly piqued when an Addick wears the shirt. No doubt Sven will choose Carragher (suddenly Europe's greatest defender) or Phil Neville at right-back instead of Young, but at least it seems he didn't choose either him or Bent for the sheer fun of it.

It has been pointed out that Danny Murphy might have done enough to warrant inclusion, but in fairness Jermaine Jenas has performed superbly for Newcastle this season and whilst I haven't seen their games, he must have played a part in at least some of their no goals. Indeed, with Jenas in this type of form one awaits a ridiculous bid from Spurs to boost their tiny squad (they've already bid £8m. Ed.).

Sunday, August 28, 2005


According to the commerical, "Red Bull gives you wings." Well, thanks to Curbs' new found cavalier approach, he now also gives us wings, and more generally a devastating new formation which has delivered three wins, seven goals and a genuinely exciting team to watch. Indeed, with Thomas, Rommedahl and Bent providing our attacking thrust, we undoubtedly have the most pacy forward line in the country, and at last a reason for the opposition to fear us aside from our organisation and teamwork.

I was forced to watch the game live on a Mexican feed, and it was clear that the commentators were going to be struggling to pronounce 'Hreidarsson', probably preferring to call him 'el hombre grande' at the back. Right from the off, we looked sharp with Smertin once again the pivot around which the rest of the team worked, with some help from his loyal assistant Kishishev (very much the Baldrick to Smertin's 'Blackadder'). Rommedahl was lively and give Queudrue such a torrid time, he didn't reappear for the second half. Meanwhile on the opposite flank, Thomas did what he does best, namely running at terrified defenders, as opposed to the fancy-dan stuff that belongs in Riverdance, not at the Riverside. Ironically given the degree to which the wingers were dictating things, their crossing was diabolical, and frankly neither managed to deliver a single telling cross throughout the game, a single black spot on an otherwise outstanding performance.

Our first goal came from an unlikely source, namely a 'Boro throw-in midway in their own half, but by the time we had regained possession the ball was in the back of the net within seconds, Bent feeding Murphy whose sublime through ball was brilliantly finished by Rommedahl who used his devastating pace through the middle to great effect. The remainder of the half belonged to 'Boro as we relaxed a little, and only heroics from Young on the line and then Andersen ensured that we went to the interval deservedly ahead.

We were comfortable in the second half, but at only 1-0 up and with the undoubted ability of Viduka and Yakubu up front, the second goal was vital, though it came from the most unlikely source, Chris Perry finishing a clever Murphy freekick with rare aplomb. This was the cue for a mass exodus from a stadium that was only ever two-thirds full, and Bent's fine run and finish in the final minute lent the game a scoreline which properly reflected our dominance.

It is hard to recall seeing us dismantle a quality side away from home in such style. With the sole exception of our awful crosses, everything was positive, from Andersen's assuredness to Murphy's class to Powell's age-defying display. Indeed, if Powell is able to bottle the potion that has taken all of those years from him, he could make a fortune over here in image-obsessed America.

If one incident summed up our performance, it occurred in the 88th minute. With the team already 2-0 up and 'Boro showing little sign of getting back into the game, Darren Bent (surely exhausted from his lone front-running) chased back deep into his own half to make a sliding tackle, ensuring a faint threat was expunged. Three minutes later he powered through a static defence to join Geoff Horsfield as surely the League's most unlikely joint scorer.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Top Treble

Occasionally 'football investors' like myself ('gamblers' to the uninitiated) feel that the stars are aligned for landing a big treble, the bet of choice for many fellow investors. The start of the season often offers some interesting value as bookies tend to over-react to the statistically insignificant signals from just 2-3 games.

Hence I am encouraging my loyal readers to consider the following investment:


The first two teams have got off to a poor start but on Saturday play against teams who were rated below them pre-season, yet have got off to a far better start (WBA and Luton respectively). The fact that odds of better than evens are available on both (and considerably better in the case of Birmingham, with 7/4 widely available) seems outstanding value. Walsall are a little bit of a 'filler' (which I am loathed to have) but at odds of 5/6 or better they seem compelling value to beat Swansea who are still adapting to life at this higher level. The fact that Addicks hero Mark Kinsella is involved with the Saddlers is of course, merely a coincidence.

At overall odds of around 9/1, there are worse ways to invest a few quid this weekend.

As for 'Boro vs Charlton, I suspect I will be the only person at famous NYC football bar Nevada Smiths at 8.30 am on Sunday (bar staff aside), but I am mildly optimistic though wonder if Curbs might switch things around to deal with in-form Viduka who is likely to rough up Chris Perry big-time if the Herminator loses his marker.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Joy of Six

Two games, six points and a sudden sense of optimism has drifted over from the Valley, even reaching me here in New York. When the fixture list was published, it was clear we'd been handed a relatively relaxed start (if there is such a thing in the cut and thrust of the Premiership) but we have gone about our games professionally and by all accounts fully deserved the two wins. If nothing else, these two wins will have hugely boosted our confidence when the tougher fixtures begin up at the Riverside next Sunday.

Thomas was an obvious replacement for Ambrose, and it was reassuring that Curbs had no concerns about fielding two out-and-out wingers, suggesting perhaps that he is slowly learning we should give the opposition something to worry about, especially at home, rather than thinking first about how they might hurt us.

Whilst there is every likelihood that both Sunderland and Wigan will spend the season at the wrong end of the table, there are a number of very clear positives emerging from our first two games. The two I would highlight are the link-up in central midfield between Smertin and Murphy, and the possible emergence of a genuine goalscorer in Darren Bent.

As mentioned in my blog after the QPR friendly, Smertin looks the 'real deal' but perhaps more importantly he gives Murphy the comfort and freedom to look forward instead of back, which is his natural style of playing. If these two can stay fit, we have every reason to expect to dominate midfield battles in the majority of our matches.

It is not very Charlton-esque to have a striker atop the scoring charts despite having missed at least two further gilt-edge chances. His two goals at Sunderland were brilliant individual's a more mundane goal, but no less vital. The problem with our other strikers is not so much that they miss countless chances (JJ has a pretty good goals-to-chances record for example), but that they don't seem to get many chances in the first place, and the fault cannot entirely lie in the distribution. If Bent can continue to both fashion his own chances, as well as finish off those created by others then we may finally see the 15 goal plus striker that fans have been crying out for.

It may be a bonus not to have a midweek game, particularly against an improving Liverpool side, and instead we can look forward to a winnable game against a goal-less Boro side and hopefully show TV viewers that we are again something of a 'dark horse' in this season's Premier League.

Apologies to those who followed by Charlton/Blackburn/Wolves treble, though 2 out of 3 ain't bad as Meat Loaf said.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Bitter Sweet Symphony

I don't know too much about their football team, so when I think about Wigan I tend to think first about The Verve who were one of my favourite bands before they split prematurely. I'd like to think I was into them well before they were on Capital Radio as much as XFM (always a sign that it's time to move on). I would then think about George Orwell (who wrote "The Road to Wigan Pier") and George Formby, and I suspect that other than both being called 'George' they probably wouldn't have too much else in common.

However it is now their football team which has propelled the town into the spotlight, and whilst they have had huge financial backing from David Whelan, the truth is that Paul Jewell has done an amazing job and even stirred a little more interest for football in a town best known for rugby league.

I'm reluctant (as difficult as it is) to read too much into our promising 3-1 win at Sunderland, and equally I don't think too much should be read into Wigan's battling but ultimately fruitless display against Chelsea. Chelsea were on a hiding to nothing with all neutrals and the media willing the Latics to put one over them, and they were also bedding in more new signings in an unfamiliar environment. The bottom line is that Wigan didn't score and they lost the game, so let's not get carried away.

Our home form wasn't bad last season though it disintegrated with the rest of our season from the Spurs game onwards. We had a mixed time against the three promoted clubs at home last season - we played and thrashed Norwich 4-0 early on, but then got outplayed by WBA before we limped to a 2-2 draw versus Palace by which time all we had left to care about was putting them down.

If we are to push on this season and genuinely challenge for a European place, then it has to be based upon solid home form (maybe 10 or 11 wins), and Saturday offers a perfect opportunity to begin the right way. Curbs is forced to make at least one change, and it would seem logical to put Thomas in for Ambrose in a straight-swap, and thus line up with the two out-and-out wingers that I think we should always have at home. I still don't rate Kishishev and would probably still opt for Holland longer-term, but the Irishman may be injured. Curbs clearly also has Hughes figuring in his plans, and he may be a surprise inclusion.

Betfair is showing odds of approx 10/11 Charlton, 4/1 Wigan and 5/2 Draw. If the traditional bookmakers are offering reasonable odds also, then I'd be inclined to include Charlton in a treble with Wolves and Blackburn. Smertin is available at 25/1 at William Hill to score the first goal which seems good value given his thundering shot against the bar at Sunderland. As for a correct score, 2-1 looks decent value at 10/1 on Betfair.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Perfect Start

I awoke on a typical hot muggy summer morning in New York with the type of spring in my step that only a new season can bring, and only other football fans would understand. I was encouraged by the line-up Curbs chose, which had a nice balance between defence and attack and gave Murphy the clear free role behind Bent. Two players, namely Jeffers and Fortune, will have been hugely discouraged however, and whether the former remains a Charlton player beyond the end of this month remains to be seen. Perhaps Curbs decided he needed the option of Bartlett's height defensively as much as offensively, should an injury have befallen Hreidarsson who lined up in central defence alongside vertically-challenged Perry. Surprisingly perhaps, Curbs chose Rommedahl over Thomas suggesting that he is willing to give the flying Dane enough opportunities to disprove his doubters.

As any fans that travelled to the game will no doubt confirm, it was a day of rapidly changing emotions - the first half-hour seemed comfortable, with Darren Bent doing his already strong confidence the power of good with a well-taken goal, and Smertin and Murphy dictating affairs in the midfield. However we lost the momentum and the lead and ironically it sounded as if we didn't regain it again until Ambrose saw red, and then we were barely troubled.

The psychology of sport and football in particular can seem illogical at times. One would imagine that a team with eleven players at home would have a clear advantage over ten, yet the sending-off probably caused the inexperienced Sunderland side to panic and go after the three points with impatience. Charlton meanwhile had set up to play on the break anyhow, and simply moved to 4-4-1 which put added pressure on Bent (who knew he wouldn't receive support if and until he clearly had possession) but still left nine players behind the ball, the same number that began the game essentially. Displaying admirable experience which perhaps six consecutive seasons in the top flight gives you, we soaked up some pressure then two pieces of class from Murphy and Bent sealed the three points.

So there you have it. Ambrose will feel a little embarrassed no doubt tonight, but whilst he would have run his early bath awaiting the inevitable roar that will have signalled Sunderland's second goal, his foolish act actually changed the game in ways that few will have predicted.

Perhaps the most positive aspects of the afternoon at the individual level were firstly Bent's two goals (when was the last time we had the top scorer in the Premiership?.....Mendonca perhaps, briefly in 1998/99?), and fans will be hoping that finally we have replaced our last goalscoring hero, his debut goals ironically occurring in Super Clive's hometown. As I mentioned in my blog following the QPR game, Bent offers the option to hit it over the top to utilise his pace; it sounds like both goals came from this very route and if so, it is a hugely promising sign since it gives the defence and midfield us a great alternative outlet, with Murphy able to provide cultured support behind him. Secondly, the solid performance of Andersen who was again unlucky to concede a goal after making a great save (think last minute at Chelsea), but sounded in control and unlike Deano, wasn't stuck to his line. It would not surprise me at all if Deano played second fiddle, even when his dislocated finger re-locates.

So there you have it - a perfect start. Three points, top of the Premiership (sorry Hammers, 'C' comes before 'W'), the top goalscorer and most importantly a solid controlled win in sometimes difficult conditions, not least the ten men. Roll on Wigan.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Season 2005/6 Predictions

It seems to come around quicker every year, but the new season begins on Saturday and it's time for New York Addick's inaugural season predictions.

ARSENAL: losing Vieira can't have helped their cause and given the age of their squad, they may need a season of consolidation as the likes of Fabregas, Flamini and Reyes continue along their learning curves. However, with Wenger's tactical mastery and Henry's brilliance, they will easily finish in the top three. NYA PREDICTS: 3rd.

ASTON VILLA: Villa have been extraordinarily inconsistent over the years, veering from relegation scraps to comfortable top six finishes. Their fans blame Doug Ellis for their failings, so O'Leary has their sympathy and support, so he is assured a comfortable ride during another season of mediocrity. The signings of the likes of Stuart Taylor, Patrick Berger and Kevin Philips have merely plugged a gap left behind by Vassell and ex-Addick, Carlton Cole. NYA PREDICTS: 12th

BIRMINGHAM: Although never one of my favourite clubs, to be fair the Brum have quietly become a fairly established Premiership side without showing many signs of taking things to the next step. With two from Morrison, Pandiani, Heskey and Forssell up front, and solid back-up from the likes of Nicky Butt and Matthew Upson, they could be one of the surprise packages this season. NYA PREDICTS: 8th

BLACKBURN: Mark Hughes steadied the ship last season after Souness jumped, but their physical style didn't win them many friends, and the acquisition of Craig Bellamy will win them even fewer. Defensively they were strong last season (conceding just 43 goals, fewer than Everton) built ironically around Andy Todd, another dislikeable character, and will have too much to flirt with relegation. NYA PREDICTS: 13th

BOLTON: A real success story last season, and their strong finish reflected badly upon Charlton since both were in contention for Europe with ten games to go. They will miss the experience of Hierro, and it's not clear whether their strange concoction of foreign imports will be able to match their sixth finish last time around, but they have the flair and confidence to compete again. NYA PREDICTS: 9th

CHARLTON: As discussed in earlier posts, our preseason signings have given us cause for optimism though a string of injuries sees us head to Sunderland with a squad that already looks stretched. Certainly a fully-fit squad is arguably the strongest we have ever assembled, but this is clearly a big season for not only certain players (Jeffers, Rommedahl, Murphy etc.), but Curbs himself as we begin our sixth consecutive Premiership campaign. Relegation shouldn't be a concern, but I'm not convinced we will be good enough to mount a serious top six campaign. NYA PREDICTS: 11th

CHELSEA: Not much you can really say other than wondering if they could potentially reach 100 points, given they accumulated 95 last time and are a stronger team today than they were then. They have world-class players in every position, except perhaps up front, and their fluid 4-3-2-1 formation with Robben, Duff or Wright-Philips providing support for a lone front man should be enough to strike fear into the opposition. NYA PREDICTS: 1st.

EVERTON: A number of astonished onlookers expected to see the Toffeeman lose their momentum last season, but they were deserved Champions League qualifiers and amazingly did whilst scoring just 45 goals, the same number as bottom side Southamption. They have made some strange signings, splashing out millions for the likes of Simon Davies and Phil Neville, and this season may see a 'return to the mean.' NYA PREDICTS: 10th

FULHAM: The Cottagers threatened to flirt with relegation last time around, and with the loss of giant keeper Van der Sar and top scorer Andy Cole, they will be one of the sides which the promoted teams will have in their sights as they eye 17th place. Chris Coleman began his managerial career brightly, but will have been disappointed last season, and if they repeat their 60 goals concedeed it may well be curtains. NYA PREDICTS: 18th

LIVERPOOL: Their astonishing Champions League win shouldn't be allowed to draw attention away from their continued underachievement in the Premiership. Losing 14 games will be seen as simply unacceptable, and losing at the likes of Southampton and Palace should be unacceptable for any team claiming to have title aspirations. Although the strongest outside the top three, their squad doesn't look strong enough to compete over 38 games with Gerrard still perhaps the only player the other three covet. NYA PREDICTS: 4th

MAN CITY: City's amazing finish to the season under Psycho's surprisingly calm leadership may have flattered them and with the loss of talisman Wright-Philips, I would still reserve judgment on their prospects for this season. Despite a reputation for a cavalier approach, they only conceded 39 goals last season, and are thus a more solid outfit than many believe. However, they lack quality in midfield and unless a Cole/Vassell/Fowler partnership can begin firing, they may be brought down to earth quickly. NYA PREDICTS: 14th

MAN UTD: With the furore of the Glazers takeover dying down slightly (it was never clear to me exactly what their fans were unhappy about having been fleeced for years), attention will again turn to the incredible gap which Chelsea opened up last time around, and whether it can be closed. On paper at least, United are stronger up front and a Van Nistelrooy/Rooney link-up could be devastating, but the likes of Scholes, Keane and Giggs are past their best, and the new generation (Fletcher, O'Shea etc..) are unconvincing. NYA PREDICTS: 2nd

MIDDLESBROUGH: Steve McLaren has quietly been building a strong and successful side, albeit one backed by the considerable resources of his chairman, though the emergence of Stuart Downing was not money-related. They took a gamble on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka and it paid off, and with the more youthful Yakubu joining from Pompey, they will expect to continue their positive momentum. NYA PREDICTS: 7th

NEWCASTLE: Their fairly rapid descent from top three contenders to a team that won just ten games last season has been remarkable, and the regularity of their internal bust-ups suggests a club ill at ease with itself. However Souness has slowly begun to build a team in his own image, kicking out Bellamy, Kluivert and Robert, and they certainly have the talent in Jenas, Parker, Boumsong, Dyer and Given to have a decent enough season, particularly if they find a striker to partner Shearer before the deadline. NYA PREDICTS: 6th

PORTSMOUTH: Previously unknown boss Perrin steered them away from danger last season, but they are likely to flirt with danger again having lost top scorer Yakubu and midfield dynamo Patrick Berger. The remainder of their squad looks lightweight to say the least, and they will be another side in the sights of the promoted teams. NYA PREDICTS: 16th

SUNDERLAND: Mick McCarthy surprised many by comfortably winning the Championship title with few resources and a very young squad, albeit one cheered on by a passionate home crowd. Their inability to add much in the way of quality talent to their squad however is likely to ensure a rapid return to the second rung, thus continuing their amazing yo-yo pattern. NYA PREDICTS: 20th

TOTTENHAM: As much as it pains me, Spurs may finally have found a team to do what no other Spurs team has done for 15 years, ie. finish in the top six (a damning indictment on a so-called 'big club'). Whilst building a squad of 40 odd players can be a burden as well as a benefit, they do now have a reasonable combination of youth and experience, though it remains to be seen how Davids fares. It will be a big season for them though, because failure to qualify for Europe may draw attention to where the money to finance this spending spree has come from, and it may not be pretty. NYA PREDICTS: 5th

WEST BROM: I thought the WBA board had taken leave of their senses by appointing Bryan Robson, but in fairness he somehow got them out of trouble whilst playing some pleasing football, not least when they took us apart at the Valley. However their escape needs to be put in perspective: they only got 34 points and won just six games, and more of the same can be expected with little new blood and the likely loss of starlet Richardson. NYA PREDICTS: 15th

WEST HAM: Having seen the talented side that finished top half of the Premiership summarily dismantled, it is hard not to be pleased to see the Hammers back in the top flight, albeit unrecognisable. They have made some sensible signings in Konch, Benayoun and Gabbidon though they are likely to be punished especially hard if they repeat the type of defensive errors that clown prince Repka makes. Perhaps the most likely of the promoted teams to survive. NYA PREDICTS: 17th

WIGAN: I can't recall seeing a team promoted to the Premiership that I knew any less about, perhaps not since Bradford made a fleeting visit, but it is reassuring to know that dreams can come true for a side that was still non-league when I was at school. We won't have long to find out about them as the visit the Valley next weekend, but I will simply have to assume they will struggle, get relegated then tumble back down the divisions in the style of so many others that shared the brief euphoria of promotion. NYA PREDICTS: 19th

And for those who follow the lower divisions, they will finish as follows:

CHAMPIONSHIP: 1st Norwich, 2nd Ipswich, 3rd Wolves
LEAGUE ONE: 1st Forest, 2nd Tranmere, 3rd Bristol City
LEAGUE TWO: 1st Wycombe, 2nd Northampton, 3rd Boston