Thursday, December 29, 2005

Snow Clue

Maybe I was one of the fortunate Charlton fans, my trip to Newcastle being as much about seeing old friends as a football match, but to describe last night as an almighty cock-up on behalf of Newcastle United would be an understatement. Ironically I'm writing this at Newcastle Airport in full view of Peter Varney who is on the same flight home, and his quotes last night summed up the feelings of most fans.

In short, the decision to call off the game was absolutely the correct one, but it could easily have been made at 5pm when the snow was bucketing down amidst rapidly falling temperatures. The roads around the ground were dangerous in the extreme and there wasn't a gritting lorry in sight. As someone based in New York, where winter storms make this one pale into insignficance, the difference in efficiency between the two sets of authorities is frightening. If the council couldn't get its act together, at least the club itself could have gritted the roads in the immediate vicinity and the stands/concourses to give the fixture half a chance of going ahead.

Exactly what the safety officer/police were thinking is beyond me - it was an extremely easy decision to make; by 7pm we simply couldn't believe it hadn't been called off yet. Unfortunately it shows the dangers of putting people in authority who have neither the intelligence nor foresight to make rational decisions.

I suspect no more than 200 or so Charlton fans even made the trip; I certainly didn't see any at all. Even if 500 tickets were sold, surely many sensible fans wouldn't have bothered setting off - it could've taken them hours just to drive through Kent. As has rightly been pointed out, some of the other fixtures yesterday were just as ludicrous - Barnet away at Darlington for example. In five years time, when I expect Premier League games generally to be played in half-full stadiums (many already are), then it will be decisions like these which will be to blame; most fans are not mugs (or total mugs at least). Hopefully more fans like myself will realise attending matches is voluntary not required.

Whilst I'm on the subject, why exactly is there a full set of fixtures on New Years Eve? I can't imagine the Met Police are delighted about having 3,000 Newcastle and Birmingham fans in the city, many of which will drink from lunchtime and hang around the city.

Footnote: New York Addick made a surprise appearance on Sky Sports News, casually walking behind Varney at Heathrow as the great one is delivering an interview. Although none have so far been forthcoming, I expect a series of media agents to be seeking to tie up a deal for future image rights.

Monday, December 26, 2005

An A for Effort

There are finally some reasons for optimism after a more promising performance, not least defensively, but it didn't aid our points total unfortunately. On the way to the game, I speculated that Curbishley's idea of 'wholesale changes' may be less drastic than mine, but he surprised me with a genuinely different line-up which clearly had the aim of making us harder to beat.

Sorondo and Fortune moved seamlessly from the reserves to the first team, and gave us a degree of solidity at last. Indeed Sorondo reminded me of Steve Brown, thanks to a combination of a quasi-mullet, and good old-fashioned defending in the inimitable style of our former homegrown favourite, and not before time. Myhre was excellent throughout and made a number of good saves, not least in the build-up to the only goal. It was notable that finally Hreidarsson moved to where he belongs whilst Spector's brief appearance at centre-back was more promising than his entire prior Charlton career to date. One wonders why it took Curbs so long to spot something the fans recognised weeks ago.

The midfield four was exceptionally narrow and lacking in flair, but at least it prevented Arsenal from strutting their stuff with ease. Unfortunately the downside of such a tactic is that we created little going forward and frankly our attacking play in the second half was non-existent, with or without Murphy. Given our defensive frailties in recent weeks, maybe it's a case of not running before we can walk, so the likes of Ambrose have to be sacrificed in the name of damage limitation.

Hughes was a strange choice - neither aggressive enough to add much steel, nor cute enough to provide anything in the attacking third, much like Matt Holland whilst we're on the subject. We clearly missed Smertin whose absence had to have been explained by injury, and it was. One wonders whether Curbs was planning to play Euell and Smertin, but the latter's absence forced him to put in the more defensive Holland. Kishishev looked reasonably comfortable at right midfield, but it's painfully obvious that we're lacking natural wide midfielders of a defensive bent. As for Murphy, he was the only midfielder on show with the guile to open up the Arsenal defence, and his sending-off was a pointless exercise in childishness which blew our admittedly slim chances of nicking a point.

The fans finally got the 4-4-2 they were crying out for, and at times in the first half it looked promising, with Bartlett getting the better of Campbell in the air, but a more versatile striker must be a top priority in the transfer window. The late appearance of the hapless Lisbie merely emphasised the paucity of options available to Curbs right now.

So all in all a few minor positives to take away, but the team is playing without much confidence and we need a series of new faces in the transfer window in several key areas. It was reassuring in a perverse way to see Arsenal also forced to put square pegs in round holes, and the sight of Cygan at left-back reminded us it was clearly panto season. The Gunners are a shadow of the team that strolled to the title in 2003/04, but they possess world class players like Henry who is so good it's frightening. The difference in class between him and the Charlton team is as wide as the gap between a pub team and the Charlton squad.

Indeed, their extra individual ability was never more apparent than midway through the first half when through a combination of pinball-like passing they somehow created a one-on-one situation for Ljungberg via a move which had begun ten seconds earlier by their own corner flag. It would have been the 'goal of the season' hands-down - they could have awarded the trophy to the Swede as he jogged back to the centre circle. Thirty-yard rockets into the top corner (the types of goals that usually scoop these awards) have a huge element of good fortune about them and are simply the result of the 'law of large numbers'; this however was simply sublime, and whilst I hate myself for it, I wanted him to score so I could show the video to doubting Yanks and say, "this is why it's called the beautiful game."

Weather-permitting, I'm off to Newcastle tomorrow morning for a hopefully enjoyable couple of days, punctuated no doubt by another defeat and a continuation of our worrying, but not yet terrifying, slide down the table. Curbs needs to pluck a win from somewhere soon otherwise his job will be on the line at Hillsborough.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A few observations...

Having had the 'benefit' of seeing the Wigan game in its entirety, I have a few observations, none of which change my general view that the club is in need of a fresh start, but give me an additional perspective not available from the radio and press:

1. It was a poor performance for sure, but this wasn't in the league of 5-0 at West Ham in 2000 or 4-0 at Man City in 2004, which rank in a Hall of Shame for all-time away performances;

2. Both Wigan and Charlton are mediocre teams in the context of the Premiership - the Arsenal/Chelsea game was no classic, but they may as well be playing a different sport - this is perhaps the 'real' issue at stake here;

3. It's been said elsewhere but we lack a leader - some players clearly give their all (particularly Young and Kishishev) but they are not 'talkers' - this has to be addressed in the transfer window;

4. Smertin is the best player in the side - I thought this at the start of the season and nothing I've seen since has changed my view - he runs all day and rarely gives the ball away - having played last season at Chelsea surrounded by the likes of Makelele and Lampard, playing in Charlton's midfield must feel like jail-time;

5. Darren Bent is a top-class striker in a mediocre side - he has scored 11 goals already (put that in context, our top scorer in all competitions for a full season since 1999/2000 was JJ with 14) - we have to find a way to get the best out of him and get him chances, because he can clearly take them - pair him up with Ambrose, Jeffers or Bothroyd and we could have a 20+ goals a season striker on our hands;

6. The goals we conceded were calamitous for sure but not clearly down to one individual but due to a crisis of confidence throughout - for example, on the second goal, do you blame Perry for standing off Roberts for the header, Hreidarsson for not taking responsibility or Kiely for getting in the way?

7. Ambrose is a fine footballer playing in a position that neutralises his strengths - he says he has a 'subliminal' link with Bent, and they certainly seem to have plenty in common (witness our goal vs. Man Utd for example) so why not play them together? What is there to lose? Either way, Ambrose has to play more centrally;

8. Chris Powell does the simple things well but he doesn't have the pace to overlap anymore and hence deprives us of an attacking option in a side already short of them - given that Hreidarsson is clearly uncomfortable at centre-back, this seems an obvious swap;

9. If Curbishley is the brilliant manager that some of his peers claim him to be, someone will have to defend his decision to replace Ambrose (4 goals in 10 games) with Spector (utility defender) at 3-0 down - I'm not interested in tactical mumbo-jumbo, this is nonsensical;

10. Curbs has promised on more than one occasion to make drastic changes but so far it has hardly been the 'night of the long knives' - Sorondo, Fortune, Euell and Rommedahl played for the reserves tonight and must start on Monday - otherwise his words are cheap and he is digging his own grave.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Charlton's Problems: A Mathematical Solution



Name of Student: Mr A Curbishley

Dissertation Topic: How to maximise Charlton Athletic's points tally

Alan has had a difficult year and has struggled with various new concepts. At the start of the year, he sat down with Professor Murray and agreed his maths-related dissertation for 2005, "How to maximise Charlton Athletic's points tally." Prof. Murray felt that this was an appropriate project given how much progress Alan has made in recent semesters, and is a natural progression from his prior 1995 accountancy project named, "Balance the books" and his 2000/2001 science project, "What goes up musn't go straight down."

In his two former projects, Alan discussed important concepts including, "Solid defence", "Get value for money in the transfer market," and "Conservative tactics and team selection." Thanks to Alan's suggestions, the team since they returned to the Premiership in 2000 have won 71, drawn 53 and lost 82 of their 206 games, yielding 266 points at an average of 1.29 per game. Expressed as probabilities, Charlton enter each game on average with a 0.345 win probability, 0.257 draw probability and 0.398 loss probability. In terms of goals, Charlton have scored 247 goals and conceded 297 goals during these 206 games, at an average rate of 1.199 and 1.442 respectively.

Given that over the course of 206 games, Alan has proved that the team's tactics will deliver on average 49.1 points over the course of a 38 game season, Prof. Murray was surprised that he did not feel this gave the team a suitable buffer from which to launch more attacking tactics. Alan has expressed his interest in continuing his studies, perhaps at a European school of learning, but he will need to adapt in order to progress in this way. It is perhaps not surprising that other students such as Mr Alladyce and Mr Jol have nicknamed Alan, "the worrier."

Indeed, Alan's continual concern about 'reaching 40 points' (which he uses as a basis for his conservative tactics) is not backed by empirical evidence since 'safety' in the prior five seasons was 35, 37, 43, 34 and 34 points respectively (average: 36.6). Infact Alan's alma mater West Ham United are the only club to be relegated with more than 37 points since 2000.

Hence Prof. Murray's main criticism of Alan's work concerns his unwillingness to consider the possibility that more attacking tactics which increase the number of matches the team wins, even if at the expense of some draws, might actually maximise Charlton's points total. For example, if Alan was willing to contemplate 2 strikers, backed up by 2 true 'wingers' then he may find that we win more games, lose more games but draw less. It is feasible that these tactics may result in new probabilities of 0.45 for a win, 0.1 for a draw and 0.45 for a loss.

However Prof. Murray then used complex equations to produce an interesting result which surprised Alan. The new probabilities actually increased the total expected points from 49.1 to 55.1. This points total would have seen Charlton finish 8th, 7th, 8th, 7th and 7th respectively over the past five seasons, enough to see Alan fulfil his European dream in 2004/05 at least.

Alan admitted to feeling a little faint upon hearing Prof. Murray's outstanding analysis, and began to provide aggressive counter-arguments. "My cautious approach provides plenty of hard-fought wins and draws. What if a more cavalier approach sees these matches lost, even if some other current draws or defeats turn into victories?" Again Prof. Murray had an answer ready. "Alan," he explained, puffing hard on his cigar, "...given that all matches begin tied, then any attacking tactic is rational provided the increase in the probability of a win is at least half of the increased probability of a loss." This 'leverage' is thanks to 3 points for a win, introduced in 1982, which favours an attacking side. Prof. Murray was not sure if Alan was aware of the change.

Alan continued to be confused. "How am I supposed to keep the team motivated if they are coming off the pitch 17 times a season on the losing side? I often tell them before games that we should be 'happy with a point'." Prof. Murray had the final word, "Alan, just show them the League table."

Grade: C-

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Thanks for the Memories

This is not a piece that I am enjoying writing, nor expected to write. I know that for every reader who agrees with my sentiments, another will accuse me of being rash. Perhaps others will happen across my blog and wonder what an 'Addick' is. Either way, the fact of the matter is that our slump is not just seven or eight games in length, but began in January. We have conceded 51 goals in our last 30 League games; we have conceded three or more goals in eight of those games. This is not the well-organised, motivated Charlton that we have come to expect and it is happening whilst we 'celebrate' the strongest squad in the club's history.

Steve Brown may not be the most eloquent radio commentator, but he cares about Charlton and he knows something is not right. The defensive problems are the result of a deeper malaise in my view, not the cause of it. There are too many players in the squad who don't care as much as the fans do. How many of them are feeling as lousy about another shambolic performance as we are? Luke Young maybe? Chris Powell probably? But Danny Murphy? Or Jerome Thomas? More importantly, can Curbs persuade them any longer that they should be feeling as lousy?

We lost our way after the sale of Scott Parker, and most worryingly those proceeds have been spent and then some. Our end-of-season slumps are so regular, it is almost tragi-comedy, but this one has started early. Where are the next points coming from? Arsenal? Newcastle? We are fortunate that this season at least, there are at least three teams that are even worse than us. All this talk about 'just reaching 40 points' doesn't impress me anymore; this is our sixth consecutive season in the top flight. The way I feel right now, I'd rather see the club take a few risks even if they don't pay off. If this is what 'competing' in the Premier League now means for Charlton and football in general, then I will find alternative ways to spend my Saturday afternoons (or evenings, or Sundays, or Monday nights).

The club is planning to extend the stadium in the near-term. This is a serious mistake, and an issue on which I have written a lengthy letter to Richard Murray (I didn't receive a reply). If we finish this season in say 15th or 16th place, season ticket sales will plummet (the Blackburn attendance should have been a warning sign). I should be looking forward to going to the Valley next Monday, instead I'm almost dreading it.

I've often wondered how I'd feel if I switched on the Internet, and learned that Curbs had resigned. Until the past year, I would have been shocked, even angry. Not any longer, right now it would be a relief like the passing of a sick relative. His conservativeness, obstinacy and lack of flexibility was exactly what Charlton needed a decade ago, but not anymore.

I shouldn't get so emotive, but like Brownie I also care. I will be one of perhaps a hundred or so Charlton fans at Newcastle in ten days. I was mascot for the club twice in the 1970s; I'm not a Johnny-come-lately (not that they're unwelcome by the way).

The fans need a lift right now, something new to grasp onto, a surprise win for example (or just an original free-kick routine would do). I don't believe Curbs can deliver this any longer as he has done so manfully for fifteen years. The person who builds an institution from the bottom is not necessarily the person to take it forward once it's grown. He is a victim of his own success, and 'success' is absolutely the right word because we have been perhaps the most successful club (relatively) of the past decade. Whatever happens he would deserve a place in our annals alongside Bartram and Seed. We should even name a stand after him. He helped to give me the most memorable day of my life at Wembley in 1998, (until my wedding day of course, at least that's what I tell the wife).

I don't have any brilliant ideas for replacements. I don't have any great confidence that a new manager (whoever he is) will be successful. I just know it's time for a change. The club owes it to Curbs not to sack him, but I believe he should resign.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Fixture list gods are shining on us

The fixture list gods are clearly shining on us, and willing us out of our current mini-slump. Firstly they present lowly Sunderland on a plate, fresh from eight straight League defeats, and now they offer Wigan Athletic following five consecutive losses including a morale-sapping 4-0 midweek derby defeat at Man Utd.

Admittedly however, Wigan's own mini-slump has never been as dire as our own. They only lost by the odd goal to both Chelsea and Arsenal, and unlike us, they had a Cup win over Newcastle amidst the League defeats. However, their 'surprise package' status is rapidly fading, and they will be keen to put some more points on the board and will no doubt see Saturday's game as the perfect place to start. Hence all is set fair for a fairly ugly and hard-fought battle.

Two months ago, we would have been heading to Lancashire fully expecting another away win, but right now a point would at least build on our fragile confidence as we enter the busy Xmas period. If Darren Bent is indeed injured, this would clearly be a blow given he has refound his scoring boots, and none of his obvious replacements (Bothroyd, Bartlett, Lisbie) fill me with great confidence, particularly in a lone role.

If I was a betting man (which of course I'm not anymore as it's banned in NY), I would have a small investment in a 0-0 draw.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another keeper?

A few rumours in today's papers about us looking to sign Antti Niemi from Southampton for £1.5m. Whilst he is (or at least was) an outstanding keeper, I would have thought there were far better ways to spend money in the transfer window. The goalkeeping department is probably our strongest, with gaping holes existing in the areas marked 'left-back', 'striking options' and 'defensive wide midfielder.'

The Guardian suggested that Stefan Andersen refused to travel with the reserves to Leicester which, if true, is the type of behaviour to ensure he disappears from the scene for several months given Curbishley's record on these matters. I would have thought a quick dressing-down and a fine would suffice, particularly when it involves a key young talented player, but Curbs doesn't seem to work this way (remember Jason Euell anyone? Or Greg Shields? Or Franny Jeffers?).

Talking of Jeffers, it seems odd that we'd pay £2m for him yet he has never been given a decent run in the side - either way, serious questions need to be asked either about our transfer policy in this case (what checks were done on his lifestyle if this is an issue?). Whenever I've seen him play, he looks like he has plenty to offer - surely the real test of a manager's skill is the ability to motivate and get the best out of difficult players, particularly when you've gone to the trouble of spending a lot of money on them. I was hoping he would score loads of goals at Rangers and come back in January brimming with confidence but it hasn't happened. Either way, it would be nice to think the Jeffers option could save us a couple of million in the transfer window.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Pain Relief

It didn't sound like the most accomplished performance, but after a month of pain, it was a relief to get back to winning ways and with a clean sheet and a first 'double' to boot. We are blessed with two genuinely natural goalscorers in Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose (I would prefer my goalscorers to have macho names like 'Dave' or 'Mick' but Darren will do for now), and they did the job again for us today.

It was notable that nine of the ten outfield players also began the season at Sunderland, and the 'back to basics' approach served us well on this occasion. It was also notable that JJ and Spector were nowhere to be seen, having rightly took the brunt of the criticism for the dire Man City performance. Whilst Spector may still have something to offer at centre-back, JJ should be put on Ebay in time for the transfer window.

The win neatly leapfrogs us above the other North-East representatives in the Premiership, and back into the top half. We now have five vital games in sixteen days beginning with a very winnable fixture against a rapidly fading Wigan side, and it would be nice to think we might return to the type of away form that led to such early-season optimism.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Team for Saturday

Curbs has had plenty of time to think about ways to rectify Sunday's debacle, and whilst I don't hold my breath for radical changes, I would like to see the following team take the field against Sunderland.

Andersen, Young, Hreidarsson, Perry, Sorondo, Rommedahl, Thomas, Smertin, Murphy, Ambrose, Bent.

This would be set-up as a 4-4-1-1 with Ambrose in the 'hole', but capable of going either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 if the game requires it. The big risk is whether the midfield is too lightweight - the alternative would be to play Kishishev on the right side of midfield in place of Rommedahl, with the flying Dane available from the bench.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

9 October, 1940 to 8 December, 1980

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fond memories of April 1997

April 12, 1997 is meaningless for most, but it was the day we lost 4-0 at Barnsley, following a performance as passionless as any I could recall at the time. Clint Marcelle tore us apart that day and we limped to the end of the season finishing 15th with just 59 points.

Admittedly our season was over by mid-April, and the Tykes were on their way to the Premiership but I was so angry at having driven 200 miles to watch that garbage, I penned a lengthy letter to Richard Murray suggesting that Curbs had "taken us as far as he could."

Murray duly took the trouble to write me a lengthy reply, and whilst sharing my disappointment at our poor league position, he expressed his confidence that Curbs was the best man for the job. Just thirteen months later, we beat Sunderland at Wembley and won promotion to the Premiership.

Murray was clearly right that time, and I was embarrassingly wrong (though very happily so). Few fans anticipated the Mendonca-inspired turnaround which followed in 1997/1998. It's a useful lesson for those of us (myself included) currently again questioning the future of Curbs. The night was certainly darkest then just before the dawn.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

From Very Bad to Worse

The weekend started on a positive note after I became an uncle for the first time, but any hopes I had of persuading her to support the Addicks probably fizzled away pretty quickly. It's not often Charlton get humiliated; sure, we lose games sometimes and play poorly but we usually have too much heart and organisation to leave us all with faces as red as the shirts.

Fans don't expect to win every game, but they do expect their manager and players to stop making systematic errors, and to at least give the appearance of caring as much as we do.

Losing six games in row is fairly dire but not necessarily fatal. Bolton lost six Premiership games in a row last season and still qualified for Europe - however after ending the streak with a draw, they then won five in a row. However the manner of our defeats suggest this is not a likely outcome for us right now. The statistics don't lie: 17 goals conceded in our last 6 league games; 22 goals conceded in our last 10 league games; no clean sheets in any competition since Birmingham away on Sep 10.

If you include the last fourteen League games from last season, we have now conceded 48 goals in 28 games and have won just 7, and drawn 7 of those 28 accumulating 28 points. This is relegation form. Meanwhile we have won just two League home games since Jan 22 - over ten months of dire home form. And Curbs wonders why the fans are frustrated? Put in these stark terms, it is surprising that the pressure hasn't been building on him for longer. Interestingly this dire home form began after the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, the manner and timing of which clearly hurt us, and at the time I think we all knew it would. And now to cap it all, and if I am not mistaken, today was only the third time we have conceded five goals in a League game since returning to the Premiership in 2000 (5-3 and 6-2 defeats to Arsenal and Leeds respectively the others). Those four wins at the start of the season are now looking increasingly like a statistical aberration that bought Curbs time rather than, as we had hoped, the start of a new dawn.

The defence is as shambolic today as I can ever recall it under Curbishley. I thought the return of Perry might be the answer but he had a shocker also, however he remains a lesser of several evils right now. We haven't yet exhausted our defensive options, and it was notable that Sorondo came through a second reserve game, whilst Osei Sankofa played eight games on loan at Bristol City, and Jon Fortune has been notable by his absence. However Sankofa (along with Lloyd Sam) will probably have to wait until he's in his mid-to-late 20s before Curbs will risk playing him.

After the Blackburn capitulation, team changes today were inevitable but surely the answer to our problems doesn't lie with the likes of JJ, a player with less passion than a corpse. If he is ever seen in a Charlton shirt again I'm tempted to send back my season ticket.

And what on earth is persuading Curbishley that Spector is a full-back? His positional sense is diabolical and he offers nothing going forward either. Curbishley's mindless persistence with this crazy ploy risks ruining the confidence of a clearly talented but inexperienced player. From what I saw in two preseason friendlies, Spector is a perfectly capable centre-back and quite clearly no worse than the current incumbents. A straight swap with Hreidarsson would at least be a step in the right direction. Continual systematic team selection errors like this concern fans because they suggest a degree of obstinacy, similar to the investor who holds onto a losing investment convinced the market is wrong and he is right.

And has Andersen really done enough to not even warrant a place in the 16? It is pretty clear he has had minimal resistance in front of him and none of his errors have exactly been result-defining. Anyone who campaigned for the return of Kiely will be feeling sheepish this evening. Thomas Myhre anyone?

The next issue is of course the formation. Frankly if we defend with suicidal intent, then it is a pointless discussion. However, it would seem fairly obvious that whether we play 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, it would be helpful if Curbs selected players who naturally fitted into it. I don't think 4-5-1 is necessarily the problem if he selects genuine wingers (Rommedahl, Thomas, Sam etc..) alongside the central trio. This provides the width and some pace to support the front man.

Instead we (again) have to watch Ambrose (who continues to look lively and creative) stuck in left or right midfield constantly forced to cut inside, and unable to do what he does best ie. create chances and score goals. If we are going to play 4-5-1, either Ambrose doesn't play or he is the creative replacement for Murphy (who was worryingly anonymous again), it's as simple as that. Otherwise play 4-4-2 with Ambrose as the second striker. Watching Darren Bent (who in my view is the best Premiership striker outside the 'big three') toil away quite literally on his own is painful to watch and risks damaging his fragile confidence. At least in the second half he had some players to link with, unfortunately by then the defence had committed hari-kiri.

A home game against the League's worst team on Saturday should be a chance for blessed relief from this awful run (strangely it's on live TV in the US, if I am able to bear to watch it). It may sound premature, but if Lord help us, we conspire to lose that game also, I believe Curbishley will resign, talking about "taking them as far as I can." He won't want to risk ruining his own strong reputation by taking us headlong into a relegation battle. I don't yet want that scenario because he is a decent loyal man, but he is being as severely tested now than at any time in his career.

Someone commented that I had been fickle having suggested the board would never sack Curbishley, yet at the same time questioning his abilities. I don't see the contradiction. It is clear Richard Murray believes Curbishley is the best man for the job and thus will not sack him, period. This is not say that Murray is right to believe this, especially as evidence over the past twelve months begins to pile up to counter his view. I fall somewhere between Murray's total-confidence and the 'Curbs-Out' brigade, but the only true way to judge his abilities is on results. In this context 28 points from 28 games is not acceptable particularly in light of the squad he began with, and the number of players he has been able to bring in.

Footnote: The FA Cup draw away to Sheffield Wednesday brought back fond memories of our last Cup meeting, a 3rd round clash in the mid-1990s at the Valley, which saw us complete the highest-profile 'giant-killing' of the day and ensured us plenty of Sunday back page coverage. In the space of just a decade we've turned the tables to such a degree on the Owls that we go there as giants, not the minnows. It provides a useful perspective to our current problems and reminds us (again) how far we've come. However many fans, myself included, want to stop harking constantly back to the past and to try to take the next step forward, whether it's European qualification or winning a cup. To say that it's possible Curbs isn't the right man to do this is not to take anything away from his phenomenal achievements in getting us here in the first place.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Upon Reflection

Surfing the message boards this morning, plenty of fans have had time to reflect on last night's debacle and comments are more reasoned this morning. If I had to summarise my own thoughts, it would go something like this:

- Fans are right to be concerned that Curbs is no longer able to motivate the team - it's been pointed out that the team lacks an obvious leader, but surely that begins from the top?

- Fans are also right to be concerned at some of his team selections and apparent favouritism for certain players despite so-so performances. Why has Perry suddenly disappeared for example? Was Rommedahl really any worse than anyone else?

- Our home form is in short, not acceptable. Losing two 2-o leads suggests the team had no clue how to strangle a game.

- It's clear we have made no progress for two years now despite about a dozen new faces coming into the club. We still have obvious weaknesses in certain areas eg. left-back, a 2nd striker, etc.. Some current squad members have no place in the Premiership, eg. JJ.

- However, in light of how far clear the top three clubs are (still), perhaps bouncing around mid-table is the future for Charlton for the foreseeable future? The problem is that this will be deadly dull and crowds will drop as a result - last night's half-full stadium should serve as a big warning for the Board with regard to their (flawed) expansion plans.

- Something needs freshening up - if it's not Curbs yet, then surely it's time to say goodbye to Mervyn Day? What on earth does he do with El Karkouri on the training ground for example?

In my view, only four players in the current squad have to play every game - Young, Murphy, Smertin, and Bent. Around this core, Curbs somehow has to make it clear that no-one else's place is safe and he's ready to throw in the kids if necessary. If we have not turned things around by the New Year, not only will we be in a relegation battle, it will be time to think the unthinkable.