Where are the kids?
I suppose Norwich couldn't have scripted it any better - former Charlton striker Matty Svensson comes on with minutes left and grabs a late late winner. He was always a player I valued and frankly we could with some of his aggression right now as our season continues to fade away to mediocrity and worse. The game sounded upbeat and we were inches away from winning it ourselves in the last few minutes, but the fact is we lost (again) and this season is threatening to be the 2nd worst points-wise since we returned to the Premiership, and in terms of expectations the worst for sure. At least anyone who followed my tip that there wouldn't be many goals will have some spare cash to drown their sorrows with this evening.
I am concerned that Luke Young began at left-back, not so much because he can't do a reasonable job there, but because it suggests there is no-one in the reserve or U19 set-up who was able to come in at short notice and do a job there. I've written before about the lack of youngsters coming through to the first team, and it worries me that say, Nathan Ashton was probably not even considered as an option for this game. When one looks at the other teams around us, there are a huge number of young players making real impacts; Villa have Steven Davis, 'Boro have Stewart Downing, Spurs have Stephen Kelly, Man City have the Wright-Philips brothers. Admittedly, we earned £10m from selling Scott Parker but he broke into the first team in 1997. It is all very well us celebrating the quality of our academy set-up (and I don't doubt it) and back-to-back reserve team championships, but what is the point of it all if we have to move our consistent first team right-back to the left and unbalance the whole side?
Unfortunately I can't help thinking Curbs has run out of ideas. During this awful run, the team has barely been changed around, injury-enforced moves aside, and we are now short of ideas, inspiration and perhaps even desire? (not an accusation you can usually level at Charlton) With the season effectively over, what is there to lose by changing things around, throwing in some kids and seeing whether they have it or not? Who wants to bet that we line up versus Man Utd with virtually the same team that lost at Norwich?
If you had to pinpoint where it began to go wrong, it would be the second half versus Liverpool when we got taken apart and then just over two weeks later we got deservedly kicked out of the FA Cup by struggling Leicester. In the space of just two games, we were forced to question whether we were really good enough to compete with the other teams fighting for a top six finish, and were forced to question (again) why we can't turn it on in Cup games.
The issue of the Cup falings remains a serious one and is unfortunately another bullet in the armory of those that are questioning how far Curbs can realistically take us from here. I'm willing to assume that we won't take any points from the next two games, and hence our season will end on 45-48 points and probably an 11th place finish. The club may well consider this a success, but in light of the signings we made in the summer and the usual end-of-season slump, it's definitely a 'marginal fail' as far as I'm concerned.
I'm not advocating the Curbs be sacked - frankly this is ridiculous though it doesn't mean questions need to be asked about his abilities. However, maybe the bigger question is where Curbs wants to go from here? He wouldn't be human if he wasn't on the way back from Norwich right now and thinking, "How much further can I take this team?" Admitedly he has a great relationship with Richard Murray, but he is ambititious and will know that to truly prove himself as one of the great managers he will need to push on to the next level, and it's possible he can't do it with Charlton.