Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Tonight's result was simply unacceptable, coming less than two months after another 2-0 lead was given away at home.

Curbishley's team selection was tired and predictable - when will he learn that El Karkouri and Hreidarsson are not a centre-back pairing? Or that Spector isn't a full-back? When will he tell Kishishev not to give the ball away in his own half? What chance the fans ever seeing a youngster make his debut? Or seeing us get past the 4th Round of the League Cup?

It was commented last season that 4-0 and 4-1 type defeats were most un-Charlton like. Five defeats in a row is also most un-Charlton like. We have now won just five home games in the last twelve months. Serious questions have to be asked of the manager - does he have what it takes to motivate the best squad in our history and take us to the next level?

The optimism which heralded the new season has rapidly disintegrated. The Man City game is absolutely huge now. Nothing less than a win is acceptable.

The Kids Aren't Alright

I've written about this topic before, but the lack of talent coming through our very well-funded youth system is still a serious disappointment. The last player to come through was Jonathan Fortune several seasons ago. One could argue that the sales of Scott Parker (especially) and Paul Konchesky prove its worth, but surely the point is to find talent for our first team, and the system has singularly failed to do so for over five years now. Moreover these fees have to be set against those we paid out for players who were moulded by the selling club (eg. Euell, Young).

Indeed not a single player has come close to making even a handful of appearances during this period. Fans regularly read in the programme and on the website about some up-and-coming player, and before we know it they are playing for Southend et al.

This issue becomes all the more frustrating when the teams which we now compete with in the mid-section of the Premiership seem to have no such problems finding talent. We lost to Bolton (goal by Kevin Nolan) and Villa (goal by Steve Davis), whilst the likes of Man City and 'Boro have plenty of youthful exhuberance.

We can only find out if players are good enough by giving them a chance. I don't recall for instance being overly impressed with Scott Parker initially, but the confidence garnered from a long run in the side saw him develop into a £10m player. If Curbs is frustrated with the inconsistency of Rommedahl and Thomas, then what can we lose by giving Lloyd Sam a chance for example? Given Powell's inadequacies at left-back, throw in Kelly Youga and see what he can do.

If the problem is Curbs' unwillingness to take the risk then he is overly cautious. If however the problem is that these players are genuinely not good enough, then questions need to be asked of the coaches and the scouting process. When we were more cash-strapped, we had no choice but to give the likes of 16-year old Paul Konchesky an early debut. Maybe now, given the choice between blooding a youngster or paying £1m for an experienced player, the club will always take the latter, which makes you wonder why we have a youth system in the first place. The Defoe and Samuel situations were unfortunate, but one wonders whether the latter certainly would still be sat in our reserves? Fans love to see a homegrown player come through the ranks; there is a good reason why the likes of Ledley King, Steven Gerrard or John Terry are so revered at their clubs, not simply the fact that they're damned good players.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Slide Away

A Thanksgiving weekend away with the wife ensured I didn't even bother to listen to this one on the web, but frankly our dire record at Villa Park (the 4-3 'miracle' win in 1999 excepted) may have led me to avoid it anyhow.

Curbs clearly had no choice but to change some personnel around, but surely Danny Murphy should have been No.9 or 10 on his list of players worthy of the chop, perhaps only behind Darren Bent and Alexei Smertin? Admittedly his most recent performances have been disappointing, but that's probably a compliment to him since teams know if they stop Murphy, they strangle our attacking options. Curbishley's thinking might make sense if we had a squad like Chelsea's, but a midfield trio of Kishishev/Holland/Smertin had all the creativity of a karaoke night down the King's Head. Throw in the absence of the perennially frustrating, but occasionally devastating Rommedahl, and it was clear a 0-0 was about the best we could hope for. It was 'conservative Curbishley-ism' at its very worst, to misuse political terminology.

The problem throughout this season has not been the central midfield trio but the defence, yet
somehow Powell keeps his place and the unconvincing pairing of Hreidarsson/El Karkouri persists at the expense of Perry whose lack of height would hardly have been an issue against Baros and Philips. Surely it makes sense now to shift Hreidarsson to left-back until we can find a decent replacement for Powell in the transfer window, and play some combination of El Karkouri, Perry, Fortune and a fit Sorondo at centre-back.

It seems to me the 'problem' over the past few weeks has ironically been the re-emergence of Ambrose who, despite clearly worthy of a place, has disturbed the balance of the side. The classic 4-5-1 which served us so well early on in the season did so because the wide men (Thomas/Rommedahl) were exactly that. Ambrose is clearly not a natural wide man and hence to maintain his place in the side, we either have to a) replace Murphy with Ambrose, b) play him as a deep-lying forward or narrower wide midfielder in a 4-4-2 or c) not play him at all. In my view a) and c) are suboptimal, and hence we have to kiss goodbye to 4-5-1 for the timebeing. It's unfortunate because the 4-5-1 was great to watch, but something needs to be changed since the model is clearly broken.

On a different note, Andersen has come in for some criticism again, and whilst not entirely without merit he is the future between the sticks, and not Kiely, and deserves a little while longer to prove he can mould his undoubted talent with some better decision-making.

The game against Man City (also out of form) is pretty massive now, win it and we will leapfrog them back into the top half. Any talk about 'looking over our shoulders' at the bottom three is premature - there are several worse teams than us in the league, and I suspect one of them (Sunderland) will fail to accumulate 19 points in total.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Defence Spending

When I wrote my season's preview in August, I suggested that Man Utd would have the best chance of challenging Chelsea largely due to their devastating strike pairing of Rooney and van Nistelrooy. Unfortunately whilst we played reasonably well in the second half, and scored a stunning equaliser, we were ultimately undone just a few minutes later by the link-up between two of the best strikers in the world. It could be argued that Rooney should have been stopped well before he got into our penalty box but he left the Dutchman with plenty to do with an opportunistic flicked pass, and the finish was absolutely breathtaking. Whilst the goal again showed up the inadequacies of Chris Powell these days, you had to applaud its brilliance even though it killed us off.

For the first 30 minutes or so we were totally outclassed with United moving the ball around like a pinball, but ironically the best chance of the game fell to Darren Bent (who looks worryingly quiet right now) who failed to find the net when El Karkouri's kick ricocheted into his path. However few could have denied United deserved the lead they took, again some slick passing found Smith via Fletcher, and I perhaps wasn't alone in thinking another 4-0 drubbing could be on the cards.

However, Curbs had a few words and most importantly made an early change, bringing on Thomas for the largely ineffective Rommedahl, which allowed Ambrose a freer role which he used devastatingly just a few seconds later driving home from 20 yards after some slick passing of our own. At this point, one felt the confidence generated by the equaliser may lead to a concerted push for a winner, but football has an unfortunate habit of dashing hopes, and it only took five minutes for United to score the winner. The final nail in the coffin came with five minutes left and for the second game running, some blame must be given to Andersen who got down too slowly.

The second half should give fans hope that we can pull out of this mini-slump relatively quickly, but I sense that there is something wrong with the balance of our defence, and we will remain vulnerable there until sorted. We have now conceded 17 goals in 12 games (more than Birmingham and Everton) and this should be cause for concern. I can't quite put my finger on the problem, but certainly Powell isnt good enough, and his replacement in recent weeks Spector looked uncertain in that position also. Against a side like United who tend to use brain rather than brawn to break teams down, I was surprised to see Perry on the bench, and he will have watched with a degree of schadenfraude as the back four was caught too square on more than one occasion in the first period. In short, we need a new left-back (assuming the Herminator remains in the centre) and we need to work out which centre-back pairing is the most effective. (by the way, what happened to Jon Fortune?)

Certainly the return of Ambrose to the side has given us a new attacking option, and it is disappointing to see him stranded on the left since he is clearly one of those players who can make things happen. Perhaps he is best suited in a free role as a deep-lying second striker with Curbs sacrificing one of the midfielders to play a narrower 4-4-1-1? Either way, three defeats on the spin and all those goals conceded suggest some sorts of changes either to personnel or formation at Villa, a ground where our record is shocking.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Invested Interests - A New Blog

Rather than stray from the subject of this blog, namely Charlton (and occasionally New York), I am pleased to announce the launch of my new current affairs blog 'Invested Interests.' My first post is an extremely lengthy tome about the state of the UK housing market, a subject rather close to my heart as any of my long-suffering friends will tell you (especially those that followed my advice).

This has been a subject I have retained an interest in, albeit from afar, and my rather opinionated views are contained therein. Whenever I find the inspiration to write about a current topic, I will put a link on this site to it.

Roy Keane - the new Di Canio? Discuss.

The last time a very talented but highly volatile player left a club, Charlton pulled off a masterstroke by signing him and his inspiration (but alas not many goals) helped us to a best-ever 7th finish. I am probably being fanciful, but what chance Curbs may be sniffing around Roy Keane to persuade him to join the Addicks?

In my view to do so would be a masterstroke - how many times have we cried out for the type of leadership he would bring? He would breach the self-imposed salary cap of course, but on a short-term deal wouldn't jeopardise the financial strength of the club.

Come on Curbs - get on the phone and let's announce it just in time for Saturday's game against.....Man Utd.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Flying Scotsman?

There are some fairly 'soft' rumours in the media about the possibility of Curbs taking the Rangers job in the event that Alex McLeish is given the boot. The mere fact that McLeish is still in the job surely makes the mere discussion virtually pointless, but I can't help thinking Curbs may be more tempted than some fellow Addicks suspect.

Curbs has one of the safest jobs in football - it is hard to envisage any near-term scenario whereby he would get sacked, relegation included (even successive relegations). He is well-paid and has a phenomenal relationship with the board and fans (though even Charlton fans have been shown to be fickle, myself included). However there must be a ongoing sense that he may have taken the club as far as he can (which to be fair is further than most of us ever dreamed possible). One can take a look at the League table and rightly say that European qualification (even Champions League) is a realistic prospect, but the Everton experience may have made him realise how quickly that euphoria can disappear. Moreover the UEFA Cup increasingly comes over like a slightly more prestigious version of the infamous Anglo-Italian Cup, and the crowds aren't much bigger either.

The Scottish League is of course a joke. Hearts are at least making some inroads into the Rangers/Celtic domination, but their treatment of George Burley and subsequent appointment of Graham Rix suggests it will be short-lived. Only four League games matter, and they're played in an atmosphere of religious hatred. However, it's human nature to want to be loved - if he made a success of things, won the title and maybe led them to some reasonable performances in the Champions League, he would get more personal admiration than any success at Charlton (so long as he stayed away from the Catholic areas). It's like a 'free option' (to coin a financial term) - if he fails, his long-term success at Charlton will ensure he won't spend long out of the game - if he succeeds, then the financial and personal rewards are potentially enormous. Just look at Martin O'Neill who is being tipped for the England job.

I'd always thought that from a career standpoint, Curbs may have become a victim of his own success. By turning Charlton from a basket-case into a top ten club, he has essentially narrowed down to just a handful the number of clubs to which he might consider a move. Unfortunately for him, he is still considered an old-fashioned 'English-style' manager, when the fashion at the biggest clubs is for Continental managers in sharp suits and sexy accents. Hence with the exception of perhaps the jobs at Newcastle, Liverpool or Spurs, there aren't any jobs in England that he is likely to get offered or would take.

Do I expect him to go? No. Would I want him to go? Of course not. But we shouldn't discount the possibility of him becoming tempted.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oh Andy Hunt, He Plays Up Front

Some random surfing of various Charlton blogs and message boards led me to the well-written blog of none other than Andy Hunt, scorer of a quarter-century of goals in 1999/2000 and probably the club's best target man in living memory.

In many ways, that title-winning season was the one that set the foundations for the ongoing success we have had since - the Coca-Cola League today is littered with clubs that had one season in the Premiership and are now probably worse off than they were before their promotion (eg. Watford, Barnsley). Who knows what might have happened if Hunt's goals hadn't led us to the title, and straight back to the Premiership, with several games to spare?

A brief email to Andy requesting we exchange blog links was politely and swiftly answered (see links on right-hand side), and hence New York Addick now has a proud link on Andy's blog alongside others including his own wife Simone's (whose cute post below about her love for Andy is a nice touch).

Now I am about the same age as our former striker, but it doesn't stop me suddenly getting as excited as a five-year-old when an email popped into my inbox from 'Andy Hunt.' This was my last direct contact with a Charlton player since I wrote a letter to Mark Reid in 1986, informing him that he was my favourite player and that my teachers had warned me about writing his name all over my exercise books. Again a quick reply followed, with Mark advising me that my studies should take precedence over football (though thanking me for my kind words). When I subsequently secured a place at university just five years later, and with my parents and teachers overly eager to take some of the credit, the simple truth was that it was all down to a piece of advice from our former full-back (now driving instructor).

Back to Andy Hunt though, and you don't have to be a Charlton fan to be moved by his honest description of his struggle against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (see link below), and the slow realisation that he would have to find other ways to fill his time.

However judging from the photos on his blog, he hasn't really looked back and with the journey time to Belize far shorter thanks to my New York base, it's tempting to head down there to meet one Charlton's better ex-players, and certainly one of the most thoughtful.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Black Burned

Oh well, it had to happen someday and we have lost our first away game since Chelsea on May 7th. To put that in context, over that near-six month period, I have got married, moved apartments, made four return trips to London, and blissfully gone to sleep some 180 times wondering where the next away day defeat was coming from. Admittedly it is hard to lose away games during the summer, but you get my drift.

I suspected it might not be our day when I opted to make a coffee at 10.00am and by the time I'd located the commentary on my PC at 10.03am, we were already one down. Listening is difficult enough when we're merely drawing, so I opted for the genius of Jeff Stelling who gently guided me through the 4-1 defeat in his own inimitable style.

Perhaps we missed Smertin? Perhaps Blackburn are better than we might have imagined? Anyhow, with two defeats on the spin and one win in five league games, Curbs now has his first real challenge of the season ie. does he change the 4-5-1 formation which had served us so well, because it's possible we are getting found out?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Lancashire Hot Pot

After being outmuscled and outfought ultimately by one highly physical side from Lancashire, so we head off to Ewood Park, a ground where we have a mixed record albeit fond memories of our promotion in 2000. We lost 1-0 there last season, but a Di Canio-inspired side reversed that scoreline in 2003/4 thanks to a flying Herminator header early on. For some reason a Carl Leaburn goal in a surprise win there in the early-1990s also springs to mind, coming I recall at the time when Jack Walker had begun to splash the cash in a big way.

I suspect it's not the Lancashire air which produces two such hard sides (I think Hidetoshi Nakata was brought up elsewhere for example), but it's useful in a way to play Blackburn so quickly after the painful performance last weekend to see whether lessons have been learnt.

However with Darren Bent hopefully fit and well again, the need to play a 2nd striker has been reduced somewhat since he has already proved he is more than capable of holding the line alone. Other than possibly replacing Perry with El Karkouri, and Spector potentially losing his place back to Powell (a backward step in my view), I don't foresee any huge changes in our line-up and rightly so since our away form is the least of our problems.

It will no doubt be a fairly dire affair, but at least games against Blackburn offer otherwise law-abiding players the opportunity to kick Robbie Savage into the air, an act which would land us mere mortals in court, despite the obvious temptation.

It is perhaps paradoxical that most fans will watch this game (or more likely 'listen to') with far more confidence than the upcoming Carling Cup tie at the Valley. Clearly our phenomenal away form will have to end somewhere but if we get stuck in early and get the ball down and play, then there is no reason why I can't be celebrating the 'joy of six' at noon on Saturday.