Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Great Escape?

As I correctly predicted yesterday, an edgy affair would be sealed 1-0 by a Darren Bent goal. The transformation in our fortunes under Pards has been remarkable with virtually the same squad of players that his predecessors 'enjoyed', and arguably with worse injuries. If you strip out the Arsenal/Man Utd/Chelsea fixtures, we have taken 18 points from the other 9 'winnable' games under Pards, and have been beaten only once (by 'Boro).

Today's game threatened to give me heart failure; it also had me turning to religion for the first time in my life. My father-in-law is in NYC for the weekend, and being a slightly more pious sort, he asked if I minded if he said a small prayer for young Toby Charlton, the baby who doesn't know what it is to witness an Addicks defeat. "Of course not," I replied, secretly and selfishly putting my own interests before my son's; after all, with six minutes left to play, some divine intervention might indeed be required. The prayer was duly delivered, and within seconds the ball was on the penalty spot. Glenn Hoddle, eat your heart out.

Whether we stay up or not, Pards has given us our pride back and I really can't praise him highly enough. Everything he has said in the media, and all that we have witnessed on the pitch, suggests he is a wonderfully competent manager, and I think he knows it too. We finally have a worthy successor to Curbs, and his abilities clearly undermine the two sorry managers that failed in this regard. I just pray (enough religiosity - Ed.) that we can hang onto him in the event of the relegation that seemed a near certainty before his arrival, yet now is perhaps just a 50/50 proposition.

For me, two examples from today emphasise his tactical nous during a game we probably never quite deserved to win. Firstly his willingness to quickly acknowledge the starting formation was suboptimal, and to switch at half-time to two genuine strikers. Second, he proved he will be no hostage to players feelings by withdrawing Darren Ambrose, just minutes after putting him on as a substitute. The game had changed, and Ambrose's presence was no longer additive. Such as the emphasis of the team over the individual that Pards has engendered, the radio suggested Ambrose accepted his fate with just a wry smile.

Sheffield United's defeat leaves them just a point behind with identical goal difference, and their momentum and confidence is being sapped away. If we can garner a draw at Man City on Good Friday, we will find ourselves outside of the drop zone for the first time this season, a near unthinkable prospect back on Christmas Eve.

Fulham's late deflected equaliser was a blow, whilst West Ham are frustratingly refusing to give up (though defeat for 'Boro implies they are far from safe). Meanwhile, Aston Villa's game on Monday suddenly takes on monumental importance for that supposed 'big club' and their billionaire owner. Man City however are now pulling clear of the drop zone (a defeat against us not withstanding), which paradoxically may not be such a bad thing since our game there is not as critical for them as it once threatened to be. Oh, and keep an eye on Newcastle.

Newcastle, eh? When Pards spoke about dragging teams in, I don't suppose they would have been in most people's thoughts despite their volatile form. Four games ago they were 16 points ahead of us, now the gap is down to 7. And who do they play next? Yep, Sheffield United. I'm beginning to rather enjoy this relegation business.


At 9:50 AM, Blogger Kappacino Kid said...

last time a substitute was substituted as far as I can remember was the old cart horse cole,this time however there was no sullen face or sulks, excellently handled by the management, all of whom approached Ambrose as he left the field (to a standing ovation - for picking up an appearance fee I believe)including Pards to commiserate and presumably explain. Ambrose has been hard hit this season by substitutions, he was the fall guy when his colleagues Traore and HH got sent off earlier in the season, so accepting a cameo appearance in good grace will do his long term addicks prospects no harm. Good man management and tactical management by Pards who has proved himself to be a worthy, if not superior replacement for Curbs


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