Sunday, April 29, 2007

Desperate Dan - Player of the Year

Desperate Dan, formerly a character in 'The Dandy' comic has been surprisingly crowned Charlton's 'Player of the Year.' Dan, who bares an uncanny resemblance to hot favourite Scott Carson, beat the on-loan keeper to the coveted award despite a pre-match diet that consists solely of cow pies.

With relegation a near-certainty for the Addicks, first-team boss Alan Pardew intends to build a promotion push upon the broad shoulders of the big defender, alongside promising reserve-team prospects Hungry Horace, Winker Watson and Korky the Cat.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


They say that a second marriage is a triumph of hope over experience, and agreeing to attend a Board-subsidised Charlton away game might be similarly described.

I don't think anyone agreed with my suggestion that the extra-large Charlton following might actually jeopardise our chances rather than boost them. We'll never know for example if Carson's uncharacteristic error, or Thatcher's untimely tackles, or the generally shambolic defensive performance was due to 'trying too hard', but with the exception of a five-minute spell after our gifted goal, the team didn't rise to the occasion (again).

At least West Ham's impressive victory ensures we cannot already be relegated by the time Spurs come to The Valley, but we will probably need three points just to retain a tiny hope of survival. As any decent football fan knows, the Premier League's decision not to deduct points from West Ham is an outrage, but if we finish 19th it makes no difference to us. Indeed, given the choice between battling for promotion next season against Wigan or West Ham for example, I would choose the former so perhaps it will ultimately work to our benefit.

Relegation will not be the consequence of taking only 3 points from our last 5 games. In truth the writing was on the wall last season, and certainly on the opening day of this campaign, when we were comprehensively outplayed by the aforementioned Hammers. And whilst the sums involved in organising 'Operation Ewood' were hardly extravagant, in truth today's fixture might have been meaningless if far greater amounts had not been spurned by the Board on the likes of Marcus Bent or Djimi Traore, the salary of Andrew Mills, or on a clearly malfunctioning youth academy that churns out well-adjusted teenagers instead of footballers.

However let's face it, for a club like Charlton, relegation was an inevitable outcome eventually. If one accepts that we probably began every season with a typical 4/1 chance of being relegated, then there was only a 21% chance that we would begin our eight consecutive Premiership season in 07/08. It was only possible to punch above our weight for so long before we risked getting knocked out.

So whilst lessons need to be learned, it need not be cause for despair. Most Charlton fans didn't begin supporting the club in the top-tier, and after all we've only spent 12 of the past 50 seasons there. Indeed, we probably ought to be surprised that the dream lasted this long, and when one considers that the upwardly-mobile likes of Bolton have been in the Championship more recently than us, I still trust our Board enough to ensure it will be just another chapter in our proud history, not the final one. In the meantime, let's just be grateful that we don't support Leeds who now have no hope, whilst we still cling to a slight one.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Blackburn preview

"I read the news today oh boy,
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire" (The Beatles, 1967)

If you believe in fate, then perhaps it is poetic that our seven-year sojourn in the Premiership might conceivably both effectively begin and end at Ewood Park.

Although somewhat improbable, if Charlton lose on Saturday then we may be relegated before we even take the field against Spurs on 7th May. Two back-to-back wins for both Wigan and Sheffield United, and at least four points for Fulham would consign us to the Championship at least 48 hours before the Valley announcer can bellow, "Its South-East London....It's Premiership football.....Please welcome your two sides....Tottenham Hotspur ....and Charlton ATHLETIC!"

The Beatles may have spoken of 'four thousand holes', but Charlton will boast 'six thousand fans', a fabulous effort. But please forgive whilst I play devil's advocate, and not for the first time. It may be a function of being several thousand miles away, but I can't help finding the club's approach to the game to be curious, at least its public facade anyhow.

By placing so much emphasis on the numbers travelling, has the club inadvertently forgotten that three points is the priority, not how many Charlton fans witness them? The game itself has hardly been mentioned (maybe that's the idea, I don't know). Regardless of the result, I suppose the free travel offer is good PR for the club in the eyes of the fans, with season-ticket renewal forms left teasingly in the 'pending' tray.

Is there actually any evidence that a large vociferous away support directly helps a team? Certainly previous club-funded Charlton away trips have been anti-climatic, though this might just be randomness of course. However, clubs with the largest regular away support usually also have the best away form, but this is coincidence not causation, because both are driven by the same exogenous factor.

Big (rich) clubs typically have the best teams, and big (rich) clubs typically have the best support. Their teams have good away form because they are big and rich (and can afford good players), not because they sell all their away tickets. Paradoxically perhaps, but in the same vein, some poor souls like those that loyally follow Spurs, turn up to away grounds in droves yet they have only witnessed 9 wins in their last 36 Premiership games. Ditto the likes of Newcastle, Man City and West Ham. Thus, when opposition fans bemoan Charlton's poor away support, remember it's a backhanded compliment to our intelligence.

More worryingly and controversially, might a large vociferous Addick presence have the unintended consequence of harming our chances? If our team was packed with 'natural winners' then I would be confident they would find it within themselves to rise to the occasion, and thus be chaired off the pitch by joyous fans. When Charlton visited Villa Park for a similarly important game in May 1999, our starting line-up included Rufus, Powell, Stuart, Kinsella, and Robinson. None of them were blessed with oodles of natural ability but they never knew when they were beaten (and they certainly didn't that day). Fast forward eight years, and our team has plenty of individual talent, yet is painfully short of bottle. It's been the story of our season.

As a result, the presence of 6,000 passionate expectant fans may cause them to become as insular as they did at 'Boro in the FA Cup last season, resulting in a dire performance which let the Addick fans down. Their vocal presence also risks rallying the Blackburn fans for a fixture which would otherwise be virtually meaningless; there's nothing quite like a bit of Cockney-bating when you've spent all week down pit. The end result might be that the Blackburn players are lifted (and theirs are better than ours sadly).

Thus whilst the whole concept of 'Operation Ewood' reminds me why I love Charlton so much, and of course I'm desperate for us to win, I hope our fans are attending because they want to witness a game of such unimaginable magnitude, not because their presence will positively affect the result. After all, we beat Blackburn in December on a pitch with the same dimensions, using the same ball, with the same number of players and under the same rules; I do wonder sometimes why managers make such a big deal about being 'away from home.'

The attack-minded experiment of playing Ambrose/Rommedahl/Thomas/Zheng in the same team clearly failed last Saturday, and surely Matt Holland must start at Ewood Park. It was also clear that if any of the above quartet had been entrusted with supporting Darren Bent, they singularly failed to do so. Hence with midfield the seemingly intractable problem for Charlton, there seems little point in 'packing it', so Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink seems the obvious choice alongside Benty in a 4-4-2, for his experience if nothing else. I would thus play the busy Zheng just outside of Song/Holland, with one of Thomas or Rommedahl given the freedom to roam with intent. And in defence the physical presence of the Herminator should be preferred to Ben Thatcher against a powerful Blackburn side.

The game will be shown in the US on a near-intolerable 2-hour delay, so in the event of a vital win for the Addicks, listen out for a cry of joy from across the pond, just as the convoy of coaches approaches the Stoke-on-Trent area. Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£521) did his best for the lads on Saturday to little avail, but he remains optimistic enough, fancying an Addicks win at 5/2 odds that are tighter than his 1980s shorts. It would be incongruous of me on an occasion such as this not to follow his lead, though I'm glad I can't have any money on it. NY Addick predicts Blackburn 0, Charlton 1 (Zheng). Att: 21, 408.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Player of the Year

The Player of the Year will be announced on Sunday, and if the recipient of the trophy is anyone other than the player pictured then it would be a travesty. However in a disappointing season there are a handful of other candidates worthy of consideration in my view, and they are summarised below but not before I extol the merits of Scott Carson:

SCOTT CARSON: Although he had been a member of the England World Cup squad, few of us knew much about Carson. After all, he had made just 16 first-team appearances, over half whilst on loan at Sheffield Wednesday. However 34 Premiership starts and 191 saves later, it is now clear why he has ended up at a first-rate club like Liverpool, and sadly why his future surely lies away from The Valley, and rightly so. The 49 goals he has conceded in the face of unyielding pressure do not do him justice because you could count on one hand those that he might have done something about. Everything from his body language to his positive attitude, and from his outstanding shot-stopping to his consistent performances as his teammates dithered around him, serve to emphasise why he is the hottest favourite to lift the Player of the Year trophy for many seasons. It is a shame that Anfield will not witness the Charlton fans paying warm tribute to him on the final day, because they need to be reminded what a fine player they have on their books.

DARREN BENT: In all likelihood, Bent will be playing in his final three games for the Addicks and like Carson, he deserves the chance to fulfil his ambitions elsewhere and Charlton fans should support him in this regard. After all unlike the likes of Scott Parker whose talents clearly warranted a grander stage, Bent did not beg for a January move but instead gave nothing less than 100% in every game, despite a starvation of chances that borders on outright famine. However whether the club's obstinacy with regard to his possible transfer was the correct decision remains to be seen, though 5 goals under Pardew in 10 games suggests that it probably was. Just 9 goals from open play overall in 29 Premiership starts is perhaps a disappointing return, but his constant pacy presence forces defenders onto the back foot, opening up space for others. The only genuine threat to Scott Carson's deserved crown.

TALAL EL KARKOURI: The Moroccan's Charlton career appeared to be over when Curbs sent him off to Qatar in mid-April 2006, an inexplicable decision with hindsight given that his preferred centre backs at the time were Chris Perry, Hermann Hreidarsson and Gonzalo Sorondo (the 17 goals conceded in the final 7 games of 05/06 tell their own story). However he returned and frankly has been a revelation, a near ever-present under three managers, the last of which has been especially able to maximise his ball-playing abilities, whilst ridding him of most of his errors of judgment. His three important goals meanwhile earned us five points alone. One would presume he might fancy a return to French football in the summer, but in the event of relegation he's the type of player one could build a promotion campaign upon.

SOULEYMAYNE DIAWARA: The best centre-back you'd never heard of turned out not to be so bad after all. I may have been a little premature in describing him as our best defender since Richard Rufus, but the transfer fee no longer looks outlandish. His reading of the game reminds one of Jorge Costa, and their adulatory songs are similar too. He never represented a threat at set pieces which was perhaps a surprise given his size, but dire performances like those at Spurs were thankfully rare, and for the most part his defending was flawless.

LUKE YOUNG: The 2004/05 Player of the Year did not go to West Ham after all, and for that he rather than us should probably be more grateful. In a season hampered by injury, we are clearly a better team with him than without him, as Osei Sankofa's rather nervy performances showed. A leader he most certainly is not though, and understandably he lost the captaincy during the season. Always solid, rarely spectacular....I suppose that's the very definition of a half-decent full-back I guess.

HERMANN HREIDARSSON: It is hard not to like the Herminator. Moreover he's the only member of the current squad that persuades my wife to watch our matches. Utilised variously at full-back and centre-back, he has been guilty of a number of goal-resulting errors but at least you know he won't dwell on them and will get back to putting in whole-hearted performances. Although the marauding runs down the flank that we used to witness are a mere distant memory (as are his goals), he is the type of player (like El Karkouri) that could help form the core of a Championship side, should we end up there.

MATT HOLLAND: At the start of the season, the likes of Holland and Bryan Hughes summed up everything that I thought was wrong with the team. Whilst Hughes continues to defy rational explanation, Holland has certainly proved this doubter wrong and it is perhaps in times of adversity that his qualities most obviously shine through. The most surprising aspect of this therefore has been his absence from recent disappointing performances, a rare Pardew decision which one might reasonably question. Like the aforementioned Hreidarsson, Rommedahl, and Faye, their wanton lack of goals has cost us dearly however, leaving too much of a burden upon Darren Bent's shoulders. However in the event of relegation, he should be handed the captain's armband for next season before the team bus even leaves Anfield.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Goal of the Season Committee

Upon learning that the club had chosen ten 'Goal of the Season' nominees, I was curious to understand the nomination process in more detail. I managed to secure the transcript of the Goal of the Season Committee meeting, and it certainly makes for interesting reading:



Present: R.Murray, P.Varney, M.Simons, A.Pardew, I.Dowie (by speakerphone), L.Reed (by speakerphone)


Murray: Thanks everybody for coming; I don't expect this meeting to take very long. Peter, after you've finished pouring the tea, would you mind taking the minutes?
Varney: Not at all Mr. Murray.
Pardew: My cup is always half full as you know, Peter.
Varney: One lump or two?
Murray: Thank you. Now, as you all know we are required to nominate Charlton's ten best goals from which our wonderful fans will select their 'Goal of the Season.'
Simons: Have we scored ten goals?
Varney: Comfortably. Up to and including yesterday's Everton game, we have scored an impressive thirty goals.
Simons: So we have to select a third of them?
Varney: Well not quite.....two of them were own goals, and four were penalties.
Pardew: I must admit, I do admire a well-taken penalty.
Murray: We can't include penalties, it would make us a laughing stock.
Pardew: A bit late for that now.

(laughter all round - meeting adjourns for ten minutes)

Varney: So it's ten goals from twenty-four. Where should we begin?
Murray: How about the opening day?
Pardew: That was a penalty. I know, I was at Upton Park as you might remember.
Murray: Not for much longer. Now, when did we score our first legitimate goal then?
Varney: I believe it was at home to Bolton.
Murray: That was also a penalty.
Varney: The second one wasn't. Shall we get Iain on the phone?

(everybody nods; Murray turns white and leaves the room to be sick)

Dowie: Hey guys!
Varney: Great to hear from you Iain. I've been meaning to phone you - you've left behind a book titled, "101 Scenic Jogging Routes along Britain's motorways."
Dowie: I've been looking for that; the Coventry lads are a bit bored of running round the training pitches.
Varney: Now Iain, would you like to nominate any of the goals scored under your tutelage?
Dowie: Not really.
Varney: Not even Benty's second goal at home to Bolton?
Dowie: You must be joking; he just kind of fell over and somehow knocked it past the keeper.
Varney: We're a bit desperate to be honest Iain. Unless you have any objections, we'll make it Goal A.
Dowie: Right you are.
Varney: Do any other goals particularly stand out for you?
Dowie: That Van Persie goal for Arsenal was a real cracker.
Varney: We're trying to only include goals that Charlton scored.
Dowie: Did we score any others?
Varney: Are you kidding? You really had the lads firing on all cylinders.....five more goals in total, not including the own goal at Wigan.
Dowie: Nope, none of them stand out.
Varney: Not even that Benty header against Man City? Amongst the best-executed free headers one could ever hope to see.
Dowie: Nah, not for me.
Varney: Goal B it is then. Now how about Marcus Bent's goal at Wigan? That was the last one we scored during your reign. One for the sentimentalists amongst us.
Dowie: I'd almost forgotten about that one during the emotional turmoil that followed. That really was a good goal!
Pardew: Rejoice, rejoice give thanks and sing.
Varney: Thanks for everything Iain. See you next season.
Dowie: Cheers guys.

(Murray returns to the room)

Murray: Sorry about that guys. I came over a little queer when you mentioned Dowie's name.
Varney: Well it's time to get Les on the line....does anyone have his number to hand?

(Murray runs from the room again)

Simons: Yes it's 0800 LES-REED.
Varney: Les? It's Peter Varney, how are things?
Reed: Just great Peter....had a few weeks to recharge the batteries and now I'm back at Fulham doing the exact same job I was doing at Charlton.
Varney: We were rather hoping you'd say that. Do any of the three goals we scored during your reign particularly stand out for you?
Reed: Well, only El Karkouri's free-kick versus Blackburn but we can't really include it can we? The wall didn't do its job.
Varney: We can, and it's Goal D. Thanks for everything Les.
Simons: Cheers Les. See you next season.

(Murray returns looking a shade of Plymouth Argyle green)

Murray: Sorry chaps.
Varney: No worries Richard. Now Alan, we still need six more goals.
Pardew: And six more points.

(Murray leaves again but doesn't return)

Varney: Let's begin with that Darren Bent header against Villa.
Pardew: You mean the one where Thomas Sorensen dived over the ball?
Varney: Yes that's the one, and it's Goal E.
Pardew: You'll be asking me to include that Jimmy-Floyd goal where he accidentally hit the ball into the ground and it looped over the keeper next!?
Varney: I am. It's Goal F.
Pardew: This is a joke. We may as well include Amdy Faye's goal at Portsmouth; he hit it so softly it only just made it over the line.
Varney: We are.
Pardew: I've had enough, I'm leaving. You pick the rest.
Varney: I will. Now Martin, it looks like it's just you and me - we also need to think about the ten nominees for Player of the Year. I'll get the ball rolling with Scott Carson....your turn.
Simons: Pass the gin.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Happens Next?

When a fellow Charlton fan (let's just call him 'C') emailed me in great and eloquent detail with his views on the club, I was glad to suggest they be read by a wider audience. Like me, he does not yet accept relegation as inevitable, but is realistic enough to know that it's now the most probable outcome. I happen to agree with almost everything he says, whilst hoping of course that it ultimately becomes irrelevant. Here are his views:

What happens next?

Charlton Athletic is in good shape, well managed, financially sound and probably has a larger core support than in the pre-Premiership years. Perhaps most importantly, my sense is that the Club is progressive and has a momentum that will continue even with relegation to the Championship.

It is incredibly important to any organisation that it has high quality management that have passion, belief and confidence and who are there not just because they need a job, but instead because they want to make a difference. I believe that Charlton have this in an industry that is still poorly managed, and that should provide some kind of edge.

Mistakes were clearly made with the appointments of Iain Dowie and then Les Reed, and with the well intended, but ill-conceived and executed new structure, but I’m sure some important lessons have been learnt. Indeed this is already evident because Alan Pardew is clearly more empowered than was the intention with Dowie. Most importantly, with the appointment of Pardew the club now has a highly competent and experienced Manager who would appear to be a good cultural fit and in whom the Chairman clearly has a lot of confidence. The question is what happens next and, in particular, what will the summer bring?

As might be expected, Peter Varney has made it clear that if the club are relegated, savings will need to be made because the business will obviously have to be managed on a much lower revenue base. However, the parachute payment removes the need for panic cost cutting, whilst the club’s balance sheet should mean that there is no urgent need to sell players.

Pardew will no doubt be told to reduce the size of the squad and/or to cut the wage bill. Other forces at work will be the desire of some players to move on, for example Denis Rommedahl, and the tug-of-war for Darren Bent, and others perhaps, who may or may not want to move but where the temptation and incentive for both player and club may be overwhelming. Pardew will undoubtedly want to impose his views and style on proceedings and my guess is that he will be more decisive, i.e. will have clearer views, than Alan Curbishley did.

What we don’t really know is what the new manager thinks of the squad he inherited. His focus has clearly been to build confidence and to develop a very strong team spirit, and I suspect this has meant that he has come across as more positive and confident in his players than is really the case. His after match comments yesterday were very interesting. He was strong, thoughtful and very together and, for example, dismissed the blunder by Ambrose which saw him fail to put Rommedahl in for a second goal and which led directly to Stead’s equaliser, by saying ‘yes, these are the incidents in games that you always look back on’ without the apparent disappointment or angst that might have been expected.

Similarly, he had been trying to substitute Hreidarsson for Thatcher for what seemed like minutes prior to the Thatcher error that led to the goal, but once again was very philosophical when dealing with a question about that. Given the importance of the result many managers would have been fuming. With both Hreidarsson and Holland waiting to come on, it is clear that Pardew had seen what was happening and had planned to replace the injured Thatcher and put more fight into the midfield battle, but for no obvious reason had been prevented from doing so.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into his demeanour, but for me there are only two possible explanations. Either Pardew really is an incredibly controlled and impressive individual, capable of saying the right thing, in the right way at the right time despite whatever he may be feeling inside or, alternatively, he decided fairly soon after he arrived that the squad lacked any real quality and that there was very little chance of survival. I’m inclined to think that the latter is at least in part true which would explain why he has been able to be professional and very effective whilst always appearing calm and in control, in contrast to Curbishley at West Ham for example. The point of all of this is that I think it means that we don’t really know what Pardew thinks of what he has, making the summer difficult to predict and, potentially, very interesting.

My guess, for what it is worth, is that he will want to keep Bougherra, Diawara, Gibbs and Andy Reid. He will try to sign Zheng Zhi and Song, even if it’s only on loan. He’ll want to sell Young, who will be no better in the Championship than in the Premiership, and be resigned to selling D Bent because someone will make an offer which is impossible to turn down – I suspect that in any event he’s not Bent’s biggest fan.

He’ll look to offload Faye, Kishishev, Holland, Lisbie, Hasselbaink, Hughes, Fortune, Sam, Weston, Youga and Walker, but may keep two or more of this group as cover depending on whom he is able to sign; Rommedahl meanwhile will almost certainly want out. Ambrose and Thomas I’m not sure about, but I suspect Pardew will want to hang on, at least initially. Thatcher, Hreidarsson, El Karkouri and M Bent may survive, but obviously aren’t going to be in his long-term plans.

Clearly all ill-informed and likely inaccurate speculation, but on the basis of a strategy along these lines, Charlton ought to have a strong, footballing defence next season, have the potential for creativity in midfield, which could also be a strength particularly if Song stays (he clearly isn’t going to be in Arsenal’s first team squad), but it is upfront that will create the biggest headache. Perhaps Chris Dickson will come good? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marlon Harewood at the Valley. The club will clearly need to sign a goalkeeper and more generally there may well be a lot of ‘comings’ over the summer within what should, overall be a significant pruning of the squad.

What is instructive is the lack of young talent with first team potential, even at Championship level; only Osei Sankofa looks likely to feature next season and something has clearly gone wrong here. Simon Walton might be a bonus (he ought to be at £1m), not least since he can play at the back and in midfield, though I’ve not seen him play.

If I’m right that Pardew hasn’t really felt the pressure this season, that will all change next and we may, therefore, see a different person. Charlton need to aim to bounce back quickly. Logically, the longer it takes the harder it will get so a play-off place ought to be the minimum acceptable outcome. It could be a very interesting summer and, potentially, an exciting 07/08.


If you have something interesting to say about Charlton or football in general, and want to use my blog as a soap box then email me at - if it gets through my exacting 'editorial standards committee' (ESC), I'll be pleased to publish it.

Bees on their Knees

It appears that Brentford FC are not the only 'bees' to have had a poor season. Beekeepers across the US and increasingly across the globe are baffled by the sudden disappearance of millions of honeybees. And although it has had a fair amount of media coverage, it threatens to become the story of 2007.

Einstein is alleged to have said, "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." And although the pesky things have ruined many a barbeque, we perhaps ought to be more forgiving as they do pollinate vast swathes of our food supplies.

Theories that help to explain the phenomenon (known as 'Colony Collapse Disorder') abound, from the effects of mobile phone usage, to the use of pesticides and even to stress caused by being shlepped from orchard to orchard as their numbers dwindle. Until the reason is pinpointed (and of course it may be caused by a confluence of factors), then it's more ammunition for those more enlightened types who warned us that unfettered economic growth would kill us all in the end. If the global warming hasn't drowned us yet, the bees will starve us it seems.

Bee populations are always volatile (albeit not to this degree), but the simple equation is 'no bees = no food'. Other than perhaps putting Charlton's relegation problem in perspective, can anything actually be done? Finding the cause would be a reasonable start, and Presidential favourite Hilary Clinton has joined a bipartisan group asking the US Department of Agriculture to address the problem. At least if it turns out to be mobile phones, we'll no longer get agitated by the person at the next table barking into his Bluetooth headset, because there won't be any restaurants.

As a born worrier, I generally don't have difficulties dreaming up anarchic scenarios; a review of the chaotic scenes after Hurricane Katrina for example always help me in this regard. But assuming the problem doesn't just go away, and in the hope that its effects are only realised gradually, it is thus likely to become apparent through (more) inflation; the markets are good like that. Thus in the UK, governor Mervyn King will get to hone his letter-writing skills more often, and as interest rates rocket through 6%, perhaps we'll get to the bottom of the case of the disappearing bees.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


When the fourth official indicated five minutes of additional time, rather than be excited about the possibility of pumping a few more hopeful balls forward, I was more concerned that we might blow the single point we had barely deserved.

Whether it was due to the over-hyped build-up to the game, or the warm temperatures, Charlton ultimately put up a flat and uninspiring performance. Pardew's positive nature might point to the point gained over Wigan today, but the reality is that West Ham gained two on us (implying finishing above Wigan might still not be enough), whilst Sheffield United and Fulham remain two and three points away respectively, with three very tough fixtures for us still to come.

Pardew's starting eleven implied plenty of attacking intent, but our inability to maintain possession and play passing football rendered 'Plan A' worthless. Hence, by the time Hreidarsson was thrust forward as a makeshift striker in the final minutes, it was clear that we were seeking three points by brute force as opposed to guile. One could point to a disappointing performance by Song, or perhaps the fact that Ambrose and Zheng appeared unclear exactly what roles they were supposed to be undertaking, but if we're honest the truth might simply be that the present crop of players is just not good enough, despite all of Pardew's best efforts.

However having taken the lead thanks to a wicked deflection, it was very deflating to concede such a soft equaliser. For the second weekend running, poor decision-making by Ben Thatcher permitted Jon Stead a route to goal, and he finished with aplomb. In this era of millionaire footballers, it is galling to know that the likes of Thatcher are woefully unable to utilise their 'wrong foot' to intercept a simple through ball, preferring to over-compensate with his left foot and ultimately screwing it up.

Thousands of Addicks will head to Ewood Park next weekend, but the three points we so desperately need will need to be supplemented (even to the extent we managed to gain them) by at least three, and perhaps even four points from Spurs/Liverpool. The more optimistic fans might suggest that a sum total of four more points might just do it, but I can't see three teams finishing on 37 points or less.

With West Ham/Wigan/Sheff Utd guaranteed a combined total of at least four points due to their head-to-head fixtures, an extraordinary triumvirate of performances is now required. If we bow out of the Premiership then let's hope we've done it by throwing caution to the wind in the hunt for three unlikely victories. For those of us that loathe the idea of being 'happy to take a point', at least we now know draws we surely not be good enough.

Meanwhile, we should all be cheering on Liverpool against Chelsea on Wednesday, in the hope that a upcoming Champions League final leads them to rest players in their final Premiership game, assuming we still have hope by then. When you have to worry about Champions League semi-finals because of their effects on Charlton, you know you are teetering on the very brink.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sheff Utd preview

"I, I wish you could swim,
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim,
Though nothing,nothing will keep us together,
We can beat them, for ever and ever,
Oh we can be Heroes, just for one day."

The biggest Charlton game since May 1998? Definitely. The biggest game since May 1987? Almost certainly. How about the biggest since 1947 then?

The stakes are so much larger today than in 1998 for example - after all, having beaten Sunderland we returned to the same division just one season later, so what did we really gain other than the experience? The Leeds play-off game meanwhile might have seen the club disintegrate had we lost it, but then again by 1990 we were back in the second tier again (and still at Selhurst Park), so perhaps the club would have survived after all.

For the last time until the final day, all four of the candidates for 17th place (no disrespect to West Ham) are playing at the same time on the same day. Whether or not the latest scores from their games makes a difference to our approach, is the type of decision that Pards gets paid the big money for.

I have great faith in our manager and the team he has moulded in his image, but we must be realistic enough to realise that fortune always plays a key role in one-off matches. Having seen Sheffield United play against both West Ham and Man Utd, it is clear they are an honest and hard-working side, albeit lacking in flair. There were times that we appeared to be outmuscled by Reading for example, and we cannot afford to be intimidated.

Although he is beginning to frustrate a little, Zheng Zhi is the fulcrum about which the team's fluid formation can turn. Indeed his continued presence should permit both wingers to torment their full-backs, with Zheng able to support the lone striker or Song/Holland in midfield, depending on our risk tolerance at various points during the game. If one accepts that none of our fit central midfield options offers any creativity, then surely we need to maximise our options out wide in order to score goals? Three of our four goals against West Ham for example, were delivered from the flanks and although he played a key role that day, I would prefer Rommedahl to Ambrose on the right, with Thomas on the left.

It's unlikely to be pretty, but the referee Alan Wiley is arguably the best arbiter in the Premiership. Calm heads will be required on the Charlton side, and the fans too ought to be reminded that despite the enormity of the occasion, nothing will actually be decided at 5pm. A frenetic panicky atmosphere could conceivably harm our chances.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£471) fancies either 1-0 or 2-1, though I will back a slightly more comfortable Addicks victory in a game marred by at least one red card. NY Addick predicts Charlton 2 (Bent D, Zheng), Sheff Utd 0. Att: 27, 108.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Week So Far

As hoped, the game in hand for Sheffield United and West Ham proved to be anything but an advantage, but instead an exercise merely in goal difference protection (somewhat well-executed in the case of the Blades). On Saturday, any type of victory is vital; a comfortable victory however could be especially beneficial.

Having seen brief highlights of West Ham's game, their defensive frailities were apparent yet again suggesting their run of three consecutive victories was a mere statistical blip (their 'goal' at Blackburn did little harm in this regard). Is there a worse Premiership player for example than Jonathan Spector? That was a nice parting gift from Pards to Curbs, who presumably hoped he'd seen the last of him.

It is interesting to compare the records of Curbs and Pards at their respective new clubs. Arguably both were in similarly dire straits upon arrival, although Curbs obviously had the larger January transfer budget shortly afterward. The biggest and most interesting debate centres of course upon the degree to which each manager was responsible for the mess left for the other. Curbs might more reasonably plead 'not guilty' given that Pards is the third manager since he left the Valley, but Pards might perhaps point to factors beyond his control. Anyhow, here are the records:

Curbs P17 W4 D3 L10 F17 A34 Pts 15 (0.88 per game)
Pards P15 W5 D5 L5 F17 A18 Pts 20 (1.33 per game)

It's a fairly stark and damning indictment on Curbs who has presided over form which would yield just 33 points over a full season, and the concession of two goals per game questions his well-earned reputation for caution. Indeed with the additions of Davenport, Neill and Upson, he was offered the type of opportunity (injuries not withstanding) to sort out the mess which Pards did not have, relying at various points instead upon boosting Diawara's fragile confidence, the youth of Sankofa and the cut-price addition of Thatcher.

It is obviously unknowable how Charlton would have performed this season had Curbs remained at The Valley. Readers of this blog will know that I have my severe doubts that it would have been much better than what has actually transpired. For example, during the last 50 games that Curbs has presided over (at both Charlton and West Ham), his teams have generated just 52 points (Pards has generated 60 points for the sake of completeness).

The mistakes of the Board in the immediate post-Curbs aftermath did not help our cause, but ironically perhaps if we end up being relegated, we will be stronger in the Championship under Pards than we would have been had we gone down under Curbs, a not improbable outcome in my view.

The confluence of events which brought Pards to the club could not have been predicted (though they are welcome nonetheless). It was inevitable though that the club's upward momentum since the early-90s would hit a bump sometime, but relegation or not we have seemingly now come through it, and the future looks brighter again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Passing the Buck

At the time of writing, the pound was on the brink of breaking through the $2 barrier for the first time since 1981. If you are earning dollars, it's enough to make you want to bury gold in the garden. In the meantime, cue another wave of pale-faced and wonky-toothed Brits to these shores, ready to frustrate me with their dumb questions. "Where's 34th Street mate?" "Erm, it's just south of 35th Street. If you get to 33rd Street, you've gone too far."

Although dollar weakness has been similarly expressed via other currencies, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that the pound is the most overvalued major currency. After all, the same arguments that explain the weakness of the dollar (current account deficit, over-consumption, etc..) also afflict sterling, whilst the UK economy moreover finds its potential growth rate stifled by poor productivity and creaking infrastructure.

Given that currencies can only be valued in 'relative' terms and not absolute ones (a dollar is still a dollar, even when it's collapsing) then to be bearish on the greenback, you have to be bullish on something else. Hence the pound's strength is probably a beneficiary of the hunt for the world's 'least weak currency', as well as some temporary technical factors, rather than a fundamental view on the UK economy. Thus, to find answers to the curious strength of the pound, one would find more insight by visiting Shanghai than London.

To understand the global economy, it helps to remember one seemingly indisputable fact.....Americans spend, Asians save. American consumption accounts for 25% of global consumption, and it is not in anyone's interests for the US to suffer a recession. As a result, the South-East Asians (from whom the US buys its clothes, toys and electronics) and the Middle-Easterners (from whom the US buys its oil and gas) had been happy to keep the US motor running (literally) by recycling its income back into dollars, mainly US government bonds, in order to avoid their currencies appreciating (thus potentially ending the party).

It was akin to doing one's weekly shop at Tesco and then after paying, finding the supermarket manager lending you back the money you just spent to ensure you come back the following week. The Asian currencies (especially the Chinese Yuan) thus remain essentially fixed, and the US current account deficit keeps on rising.

The problem is however that the Asians ended up accumulating trillions of US-dollar denominated reserves, which they also had to worry about sterilising (ie. mopping up) to avoid a dangerous and inflationary increase in their money supply. But eventually these reserves reached levels that created a new and unexpected problem for the Asians that reminds one of the old adage: "If you owe the bank £1,000 then it's your problem. If you owe the bank £1,000,000, then it's the bank's problem." The Australian current account deficit for example is almost as large as a % of its GDP, but since the US economy is so much larger, the Aussie dollar continues to rally, almost as inexplicably as the pound.

Eventually, at some point, but who knows when, Americans will have to spend less, and the Asian currencies will have to appreciate in order to reduce the imbalances that are currently distorting the global economy. But if that probably desirable outcome occurred, then the effect on those aforementioned foreign reserves would be devastating, and therein lies the problem which would put Gordon Brown's gold selling cock-up into some perspective.

As a result, in the interests of diversification the Asians and the oil importers continue to snap up non-US assets (or at least US hard assets), and they have obviously had the UK (especially its high-end property) in its sights. In short, it seems the rationale for the appreciation of the pound can solely be found in the fact that it's not the dollar, hardly the recipe for long-term currency strength. However, now that the trend has momentum, speculators climb on board making further sterling strength a self-fulfiling prophecy, at least for now. With any luck however, someone will step in and buy Charlton.

A concept known as Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) offers one indication of the 'fair value' of a given currency. It postulates in simple terms that identical goods should be identically priced in local currency terms. In other words if a basket of goods costs £1,000 in the UK, and an identical basket of goods costs $1,500 in the US, then the equilibrium exchange rate should be £1=$1.50. If it didn't, then in theory one could profitably arbitrage the difference between the two.

The Economist newspaper (NB: it's not a magazine) created the 'Big Mac index' since the ubiquitious burger was identical across borders, as anyone whose travelled widely and found themselves unusually delighted to see the famous golden arches would know. Its most recent index was produced in Feb 2007, and suggested that the 'correct' exchange rate between the US and UK should be $1.61 because a Big Mac in the UK costs £1.99 and in the US, it costs $3.22. In theory therefore, entrepreneurial Brits should be buying up thousands of Big Macs in the US, and bringing them home to sell. In practice, the stench on the plane would be overwhelming, and the ketchup would ruin the seats.

The unusual recent strength in the pound can also be explained by a confluence of shorter-term temporary factors. The most important of these is that UK interest rates are now 0.25% higher than those in the US, and poised to continue their upward path (whilst expectations for an interest rate reduction in the US increase).

High short-term interest rates attract 'hot money' from speculators, likely to be funding their purchases in low-yielding currencies like Japanese Yen or Swiss Franc. Indeed Yen or Swiss Franc-denominated mortgages are the new hot product for desperate UK homebuyers. This combination of high interest rates and currency strength will likely lead to more comments like those of the English woman I overheard on Fifth Avenue last Christmas, "'s so cheap, they're paying us to shop here," which I roughly translated as, "...we won't have to call Ocean Finance until at least February next year."

British holidaymakers may feel smug, but they are probably wrong to do so. If inflation is already well above the Bank of England's 2% target despite the dampening effect of the strong pound, then interest rates may have to rise to levels which the indebted UK public might find unpalatable. In my opinion the markets are probably underestimating the likelihood of a 0.5% hike by the Bank of England in May, a decision which would surely see the pound fly through the $2.10 mark. It also conversely implies that any sudden slowdown in the UK's stratsopheric house prices would not produce the hoped-for interest rate cuts, because the subsequent fall in the pound would ratchet up inflation.

Whilst people take fright at the size of its deficits, they perhaps lose sight of the unique attributes of the US economy. It has a young, productive and hard-working workforce, an abudance of space and it remains at the very forefront of most growing global industries, particularly technology and healthcare. Compared with the ageing populations of Western Europe, or the UK's crowded island, weak manufacturing base and uncomfortably high bias towards cyclical financial services, then from my perspective (marvelling at the US work ethic every single day), it begs the question, why are people so keen to bet against the US?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Goodison Heartbreak

The only half of football that we 'lost' during the past nine days was probably the one in which we played the best. A cruel but brilliant late goal swiftly extinguished the euphoria that greeted Darren Bent's equally well taken equaliser, and now despite just one defeat in seven, we find ourselves firmly on the backfoot in the relegation scrap.

I witnessed their winning goal with relatively calm indifference; paradoxically perhaps, it was their first goal that hurt the most. Up until then, I genuinely sensed that we could (and perhaps) should take all three points having soaked up a lot of first-half pressure, and seen off James Beattie's aerial threat; Lescott's goal obviously extinguished that possibility. Therefore it is hard to reason with David Moyes' view that, "I think we deserved it..." because the clearest cut chances at 0-0 had clearly fallen to Darren Bent and Zheng respectively.

Each player makes hundreds of decisions during a game, and whilst inherently several are wrong ones, most of these pass without any harm being done (to the extent that they are even noticed).

Unfortunately Ben Thatcher's decision to concede a corner whilst under no pressure, and Madjid Bougherra's decision to chest down an injury-time cross instead of heading it were bad ones that had disproportionately damaging consequences. In between however, our goal came directly from a blatant foul throw-in, a fact which would surely have come up in the post-match analysis were it not for McFadden's brilliance.

Arguably Pardew's own pre-match decision to exclude Holland and Rommedahl in favour of Faye and Hughes was questionable also. Holland's second half introduction improved our performance markedly, whilst meanwhile it is unclear why the perennially ineffectual Hughes should be preferred to Rommedahl, particularly with two defensive-minded central midfielders on his inside.

The Dane is a frustration of course, but he would have offered a pacy alternative outlet to the ever-eager but lonely Darren Bent. In fairness to Hughes, he did okay in his unthreatening way, but it was all a little Curbishley-esque, and not in the good sense of the term. Just like Man City before them, we paid Everton more respect than their mediocre performance subsequently merited. I would assume that if we were facing Everton at home today, we would have seen a different team selection - surely after just a single away win in 31 attempts, a more cavalier approach might be warranted?

Bent's equaliser was our only goal genuinely from open play during the past five matches, and having watched Sheffield United and Wigan score three times over the weekend, it emphasised that our lack of punch upfront is the one key area that Pards has failed to improve. Stripping out the West Ham goals extravaganza, we have managed just 13 goals in Pardew's other 14 games.

I sensed after the Easter weekend, that our failure to take more than two points from the clean sheet foundation that our defence had given us would come back to haunt us, and so it proved. Darren Bent is an outstanding player but he can't carry the goalscoring burden alone; Zheng's miss after El Karkouri's flick from a corner was worthy of a feature on Soccer AM's 'Taxi' segment.

Having done so much to even be in a position to discuss realistic survival prospects, it is hard not to feel deflated after the past three games. Frustratingly our main relegation rivals have been stuttering along, affording us an opportunity quite frankly to put light between us and them, and we didn't take it. As a result, the pressure that now exists next Saturday is almost too much to bear, and whilst we count the hours until that encounter we must pray in the meantime for no nasty surprises in midweek.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Will to Win

Former Addick trialist Prince William has sensationally split with horsey girlfriend Kate Middleton on the eve of the Grand National, in order to focus on his flagging football career.

It is believed that the Prince was once on the verge of being offered a contract by Alan Curbishley, but the deal fell through after a misunderstanding with the player's father caused grave offence.

"He came from a lovely family, though I was a little taken aback when his father described The Valley as a 'monstrous carbuncle'," recalled Curbs, "....I replied that it may lack some character, but it was a darn sight nicer than the Palace."

Diplomatic attempts to prove Curbs was merely referring to Selhurst Park were rejected, though current boss Alan Pardew is thought to be considering a swoop for the future King.

"I contacted Prince Charles again before the Reading game and told him that despite everything they had done for me, I couldn't care less anymore about the Royals,"
admitted Pardew. "Unfortunately he hung up."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Everton preview

Thanks to the Aintree Grand National, our vital game against Everton has been moved to Sunday, presumably to allow the horses to watch the game. I can completely relate to the way they feel; I find it hard to focus on anything else when I know that Charlton are playing, let alone try to jump Beechers Brook with eleven stone of jockey on my back.

David Moyes has once again proved himself to be one of the best managers in English football, guiding his collection of homegrown youngsters and overachieving journeymen towards a European spot. It's the type of budget model (along with Bolton's) that Charlton can reasonably aspire to, and having lost our way this season, then in the event that we stay up, we can realistically do so again.

Our relegation rivals play before us this weekend (though Wigan's game will not be over when ours kicks off), the psychological impact of which is difficult to assess. When I used to play tennis regularly, I found it grossly unfair for example that if my opponent served first and broke my first service game, he would swiftly be 3-0 up but if I did the same I would only be 2-1 up. Ostensibly I had made an equally good start, but it just didn't feel like it. When you serve second, you feel constantly under the cosh; I assume Charlton will feel the same sentiments on Sunday.

An equaliser from Andy Reid (remember him?) secured us a point in the reverse fixture at The Valley under Les Reed, and we can head to Goodison Park with a degree of confidence based upon our decent record there. The thumping 3-0 victory in December 2001 was the most memorable, but we have won there two more times since returning in 2000 (both 1-0).

Unfortunately however those of us with long memories will also recall that we lost 4-1 there on 24 April 1999, a fixture in which the Board again dug deep to subsidise the Addicks travel costs. With Operation Ewood being similarly undertaken on 28 April 2007, the omens do not look good. Indeed, other than winning at Port Vale during our 1997/98 season, have Charlton ever actually won an away game to which the Board have subsidised the travel? If not, one might reasonably wonder if their generosity has unintended consequences.

Injuries to Hermann Hriedarsson and Marcus Bent (who can thus spend more time with his classy new girlfriend) almost certainly mean a return for Ben Thatcher to a defence that has not conceded since March 3rd. I expect Pards to resist the temptation to pair Darren Bent with either JFH or Kevin Lisbie, with Zheng utilised again in a free role just behind him, with Matt Holland returning in midfield.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£421) fancies a draw at 5/2, and also bizarrely Dun Doire in the National (in a tricky field of 40 horses, that's at least one we can safely discount then). The earlier results will dictate our approach, and if Sheff Utd/West Ham finishes level then Pards may well conclude another point at Everton will be a good result. However I expect West Ham to beat Sheff Utd, and sadly I expect Everton to beat us too. NY Addick predicts Everton 2 (Arteta, Beattie), Charlton 0. Att: 33,410.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Brighten the Corners

Fans of indie rock band Pavement will recognise the album cover. Fans of Charlton Athletic meanwhile should appreciate the sentiment. The reason? To the extent that I can ascertain, Charlton haven't scored a goal from a corner this season.

Now I'm not naive enough to think that a team's prowess at corners materially dictates its season, but it's still a ridiculous and disappointing observation, and equally an unsurprising one given our general poor delivery and lack of creativity.

To put our poor showing in perspective a little, Fulham defender Carlos Bocanegra rocketed home two headers direct from corners during the Easter period alone. If his own side had defended a little less like muppets for the duration of both matches (and a little more like Charlton perhaps), that could have been six points in the bag and Premiership survival there and then. Meanwhile, up at Bramall Lane, Newcastle's Steven Taylor leapt prodigously on our behalf to consign Sheffield United to a home defeat.

Our lack of goals at corners is particularly frustrating for two reasons. Firstly, we have plenty of height and natural headers of the ball in our side, from the Herminator to Talal El Karkouri, and from Darren Bent to namesake Marcus.

Second, corners would appear to be a great 'leveller' when playing against an otherwise superior side. We can't expect to compete with say Man United or Chelsea on the overall balance of play because their technical skills are so much better, but in my view we should be as likely to score against them at a corner, as they would be against us.

So where does the problem lie? Clearly our delivery is not good enough, and to the extent that there is even a plan at corners devised on the training ground, it is simply not able to be executed. Some of the corners delivered by Jerome Thomas for example at Man City would not have looked out of place in a Sunday League pub game. It is not only Thomas who as at fault; at various points Darren Ambrose, Andy Reid and Dennis Rommedahl have all attempted to take a more dangerous corner with similar results. Is it really too much to expect a professional footballer to be able to regularly deliver a dead ball at the optimum pace and height to maximise our chances of scoring?

Secondly, even if someone could deliver the ball into the right area, there rarely seems to be much in the way of invention in our setplays, at least to the extent it might be visible to the uninitiated fan. This is not a problem unique to the current Charlton side, nor perhaps football in general; Mervyn Day used to regularly get some perhaps undeserved criticism from fans bored of our lack of innovation in these areas. It still never ceases to amaze me for example that we can be awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area, and no-one seems quite sure who should be taking it. What do they do all week on the training ground?

Oh, and don't get me started on that Jerome Thomas penalty against Newcastle. As a reminder, a vital late penalty was awarded to the Addicks, the successful conversion of which would have assured us three points and move us a step closer to the tens of millions assured by Premiership survival. With Darren Bent off the pitch, surely the previously agreed 'hierarchy' of penalty takers would now come into effect? Erm, not quite:

"That was the first penalty I've taken in about 10 years I think. I saw Amdy Faye show a bit of interest when the penalty was won but I just took the ball off of Shay Given and said I wanted to take it.”

Luckily on this occasion he scored, but the build-up to the penalty hardly engenders much confidence that the team is being prepared in the most professional way possible, not least when the margins between success and failure at this stage of the season are so thin.

On this topic, I had an interesting email exchange with a fellow Addick over the weekend were we both bemoaned the fact that football clubs are not run with the same degree of diligence and professionalism as other industries where the practitioners are similarly well-paid. It brought to mind an article I read last month concerning Bolton Wanderers, and it goes a long way to explaining the success they have had. One particular quote stuck with me:

"Our screening process is so extensive. We recruit possibly eight players every year on, say, an average wage of £1m. If you went into the private sector, the due diligence around recruiting someone on that amount would be incredible, but we're making the same investment here so we have to be as thorough. It's actually quite difficult to sign for this club because of the due diligence we undertake."

Without wishing to pick on Charlton in particular, could we really say the same for example about Franny Jeffers or Djimi Traore?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Reading disability

When Talal el Karkouri thumped a free header against the underside of the bar inside five minutes, one sensed it was perhaps not going to be our day against a determined Reading side who did our relegation rivals proud with their efforts.

Although our only other clear-cut chance fell to Zheng in the final minute, by the midway point of the second half I had resigned myself to the valuable, albeit frustrating point that we never truly deserved to convert into three. Infact Reading arguably looked more likely to find the guile required to break the deadlock, with the effervescent Stephen Hunt heavily involved, and prompted by the impressive former Addicks target Steve Sidwell.

The midfield confrontation between Sidwell and our own Alexandre Song set the tone for the evening, and having shown several promsing signs that he could win his personal battle, Song stupidly got himself booked for a rash kick and was unable to stay as firmly committed thereafter. Indeed Pards had little choice but to withdraw the influential Cameroonian once Graham 'opinion' Poll made it clear his patience was fading along with his own international refereeing career.

Elsewhere for the Addicks, Souleymayne Diawara was calmness personified (whilst Talal El Karkouri did his best impressions of a madman), and further forward Zheng performed enthusiastically despite being pulled from pillar to post by his ever-demanding manager. Scott Carson pulled off a vital first-half save meanwhile, and generally commanded his area with typical authority. Both Jerome Thomas and Darren Bent misfired all evening and as arguably the two players most likely to score, it was perhaps no surprise that we didn't.

It's hard to be overly harsh on a team that has not conceded a goal for 429 minutes, but our lack of creativity is becoming a concern and two points from the Easter period is a disappointment. We seemed to hit all the right attacking notes against West Ham, but hindsight now suggests the thumping scoreline perhaps mainly reflected their own inadequacies. Goalless draws may bring valuable points, but it's not clear yet if, to paraphrase Bruce Forsyth, they'll bring Premiership prizes (especially with harder games yet to come). There is plenty of honest endeavour in the Charlton team, but we seem to lack a player who can slow the tempo down one notch below 'frenetic' and ensure we retain possession in key areas. It's a role that Claus Jensen used to perform admirably for us for example.

Results elsewhere were broadly positive for us though, and it now looks firmly like '2 from 5' at the bottom, as opposed to the '1 from 8' that it resembled just ten days ago; Fulham are now clearly the team moving downwards with alarming speed. We must presumably hope for a draw between Sheff Utd and West Ham, thus keeping us out of the relegation zone, but a win for either side (particularly Sheff Utd) need not be a disaster since their next fixtures are against Man Utd and Chelsea respectively. With West Ham playing at Man Utd on the final day, we must pray that the Premiership is not decided until then (and huge thanks must go to Pompey in that regard).

Reading preview

(yes, that is Cory Gibbs in the photo)

After we played Reading at the Madejski Stadium, Les Reed's managerial career was off to a horrid start, we had just 8 points from 13 games, and the vitriol from the Charlton fans was aimed variously at the Board, the players and even the unfortunate Reed.

Fast forward 19 games, and there is an entirely different atmosphere around the club. For the first time in many months, some bookies now dare to suggest we are more likely to be playing Premiership football next season than not, and the sense of togetherness that used to drive Charlton forward has firmly returned.

After the furore over the timing of the Chelsea/Spurs game, there has been little complaint from Wigan for example who must play two games in 48 hours, whilst Charlton have received an additional 27 hours rest and recuperation. Admittedly their opponents (Villa) also played at 3pm on Saturday, but then so did Reading to our obvious advantage. For this reason alone, it's an opportunity we simply have to take.

The Man City post-match comments from Pards, the somewhat negative performance itself, and also the presumed resting of Matt Holland, all suggested that we headed to the Eastlands with a draw firmly in mind. Readers of this blog will know that I dislike this type of mentality given not only the three points for a win, but also because I sense that 'playing for a draw' paradoxically tends to actually become 'clinging on for a draw', in a game that was probably more winnable than we realised. In this particular game we actually finished the strongest, due I suppose Pards would argue, to the foundations we had laid earlier on, but this was a makeshift Man City side, not Man United.

With West Ham and Sheffield United not playing until next weekend, we have the opportunity to move three points away from the relegation zone (effectively more given our superior goal difference). With one or both of our main rivals assured points on Saturday, it merely emphasises the importance of the game at the Valley.

Presumably Matt Holland will return in the place of Faye, whilst the lack of chances created at Eastlands may see a return to 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 with Marcus Bent returning to the bench. Pards may be tempted to put Ben Thatcher back at left-back but after two consecutive clean sheets, that would be harsh on the Herminator.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£371) fancies either 1-0 or 2-0 to the Addicks against Pardew's former club, but I'm going to suggest more in hope than expectation that we will win even more comfortably. During our promotion season in 1997/98, we beat Reading 3-0 over the Easter period, and on the way home I listened intently as news of the 'Good Friday Agreement' hit the airwaves. With more good news emerging from Northern Irish politics in recent days, I will suggests history repeats itself at The Valley. NY Addick predicts Charlton 3 (Bent D, Thomas, Lisbie), Reading 0. Att: 26,787.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Police Brutality: Fans Demand Answers

Manchester: Representatives of Manchester United were last night demanding answers from Italian police, following evidence that some of their finest hooligans are injured and potentially unavailable for pre-organised fights prior to the second leg.

"It's disgraceful," fumed a United spokesman, "...their nicknames may be Psycho and Nightmare, but they are genuine family men who were merely exercising their basic human right to drink fifteen pints, urinate in the town square, verbally abuse the locals and sing celebratory songs about the War. They're now both carrying slight knocks, and are very doubtful for Tuesday night."

Officials were adamant their fans were innocent, drawing upon sober and impartial eye witnesses who had travelled on club packages from Billericay and Hastings. "Although no-one actually saw the alleged Police brutality," he argued, "...they have all confirmed that they singled out women, children, the elderly and amputees for particularly violent treatment."

"Anyone who has observed the English on holiday will know their behaviour is utterly inoffensive, and thoroughly respectful of local customs. It's just another reason why we should withdraw from the EU with immediate effect."

STOP PRESS: United's allocation at The Valley reduced to 43 tickets.

A Question of Trust

If Bolton were a friend, they'd be the type that always show up on time, that always remember your birthday and who you could always rely upon in a time of crisis. Arsenal meanwhile are great fun to be around, but you're never quite sure how genuine they are, and you certainly wouldn't leave them alone in a dark room with your wife. In short, they simply can't be trusted.

I spent the morning at the pub and it was a vision of what heaven must look like (in the unlikely event I ever get there): three live coincidental Premiership games, twenty beers on draft, a fried breakfast and the newspapers. Unfortunately the story unfolding at the Emirates Stadium was rapidly becoming a vision of hell.

In fairness, Arsenal actually played extremely well today and it was one of the most one-sided matches I have ever seen; if you ever needed reminding why football is such a beguiling sport, just watch a re-run of this game. It was the sort of 'smash 'n grab' away win which Curbs used to regularly conjur up for us, but Robert Green's goal led a ridiculously charmed life and on a different day Arsenal could have emulated Morton, and also won 9-1 today.

But Arsenal didn't win 9-1; they lost 1-0 and as a result, the otherwise perfect scores at Bramall Lane and the JJB Stadium actually feel anti-climatic. The very real possibility that we finish above Wigan or Sheffield United, yet still get relegated would be a sickening blow. And now next weekend, instead of hoping for a West Ham win over Sheffield United, we must presumably hope for a draw. For all of Arsenal's beautiful football, they don't win enough matches and defeats against Sheffield United and now West Ham have done us few favours.

Villa have the chance to do us a huge favour by beating Wigan on Monday to ensure they play Premiership football next season, whilst rapidly sliding Fulham will view their home game against Man City as a 'must-win' (which if they succeed, merely keeps City in the mire).

Fascinating stuff of course, but all this conjecture can be rendered moot if we can keep registering wins, starting with Reading; draws are no longer enough. The Royals' game was also shown here today, and whilst well-organised and efficient, they are a mediocre side evidenced by the fact that there is every chance they will finish on fewer than 52 points, the very underrated total that we ourselves registered when we returned to the top flight in 2000/01.

Out of the Zone

No-one seemed to be quite sure if Good Friday was a bank holiday here in the US. The barman was adamant, and a quick vote amongst other pub-goers was unanimous....the weekend started here.

Admittedly having tolerated the first half, an afternoon in the office would have been positively desirable....five City corners inside the first three minutes set the tone for the remainder of the period. A trio of fellow Addicks in the pub confirmed the general sentiment, "...if someone offered us a point, we'd grab their hand off."

I suppose one shouldn't belittle an away point, or a fourth clean sheet in five games, but City were firmly there for the taking, and we never lifted our game enough to suggest we knew it. Indeed our only chance of any note fell to Zheng late in the second half, and even then the pass from Darren Bent was a poor one.

It certainly feels good, and just a little odd to be out of the bottom three this evening, but it was a somewhat apathetic performance that was just a little conceited, when a rabble-rousing performance was actually required. Where for example were the tactically astute subsitutions that Pards has become renowned for? Surely Rommedahl deserved fifteen minutes instead of fifteen seconds.

Song and Zheng were excellent again, whilst the back five were solidity personified, but the lack of creativity ought to be a slight concern, because it's now three matches without a goal from open play. Jerome Thomas for example offered the type of poor delivery usually reserved for the Post Office at Christmas.

Fulham's hammering at Everton proved once again that they are a soft touch away from Craven Cottage, but I can't help thinking today was potentially two points lost. It would feel like a real sucker punch if Sheffield United or Wigan pull off tricky home wins tomorrow.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Man City preview

After the tension of Saturday's fortuitous win over Wigan, we can perhaps afford to relax a little at Man City, and begin to play the football that was apparently so lacking at the weekend. With our fixture opening the weekend's Premiership extravaganza, we have an outstanding opportunity to send another shot across the bows of our relegation rivals and ratchet up the nerves one more notch.

Football psychology is a complicated thing, so it remains to be seen meanwhile whether back-to-back victories for City leads to confidence or complacency. We can obviously hope for the latter and creep up to within three points of them.

There are several impressive attributes of this new Pardew-inspired Charlton side (at least in comparison to what came before), but the statistics essentially prove that he has instilled not only great heart and belief, but an enhanced level of fitness. Look at the facts:

- 3 of our 5 wins under Pards came courtesy of winners in the last ten minutes (Wigan, Pompey and Villa);

- all 3 of our draws under Pards occurred after we had conceded the first goal.

In short, our heads no longer drop and we keep going until the final whistle. It seems an extraordinarily simple concept until you compare it to what occurred before he arrived. Writing in last weekend's Sunday Telegraph, Duncan White expressed it eloquently as follows:

"It is another stage in the heartening recovery of Charlton, a club who had so badly lost their way. They were guilty of credulity and no little vanity in their appointment of Iain Dowie and Les Reed: false gurus with a penchant for vapid commonplaces dressed up as innovation. Wearing a Bluetooth headset is no guarantee of sophistication. With Brentian truisms ringing round The Valley, Charlton were a club sliding fast: football cliche is bad enough; the management cliche of corporate culture is worse.

That's where Pardew's honesty comes in. With his rolled-up sleeves and his relentless enthusiasm he is like a pepped-up PE teacher, and he is certainly getting the best out of his kids. It is not complicated for Pardew: put good players on the pitch and inspire them to play as hard as they can. The hungry youngsters Alexandre Song and Zheng Zhi have brought zip and bite while some more experienced hands are pushing the limits of their capabilities: the formerly fickle Jerome Thomas looks especially sparky. It is Pardew's sincerity that is winning these players over."

I was always very doubtful about Les Reed's credibility from the beginning, but I could reasonably be accused of falling for Iain Dowie's 'Bluetooth' sophistication. As Bill Shankly eloquently once put it, emphasising the essentially simple nature of the game:

"If you're not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we'll discuss your options afterwards."

Pards has intimated that Ben Thatcher will likely start against his former club, the Herminator's physical presence perhaps less important than it was against the brutes of Wigan. The other key pre-match decision for Pards will be a tactical one, whether to begin again with the 4-4-1-1 that utilises Zheng as a very deep second forward, or the 4-4-2 that ultimately won us the game. Personally I might be tempted to try Ambrose in that position, and push Zheng back to play as a combative right midfielder, with Rommedahl presumably on the bench.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£321) is predicting a 1-1 draw at the very ungenerous odds of 9/2. Meanwhile I will be looking for my third consecutive correct score forecast, and I just cannot shake off this Pards-inspired sense of optimism that pervades not only The Valley, but also this tiny Charlton-obsessed corner of New York. Cheered on by an uncharacteristically large away day Addickted presence, NY Addick predicts Man City 0, Charlton 1 (Bent D). Att: 39, 148.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Run-In on a Full Tank of Gas

I hope I'm not tempting fate by daring to compare our own potential for redemption this season, with Portsmouth's incredible escape from relegation in 05/06. As a source for inspiration, there's really no better place to look.

On 11th Mar 2006, Pompey entertained Man City having accumulated just 18 points from their first 28 games. They subsequently accumulated 20 points from their final 10 matches to finish the season on 38 points, comfortably ahead of Birmingham in 18th place on 34 points.

The nadir of our season (the first two defeats aside of course) occurred after the defeat at Fulham on 16th Oct 2006 had ensured that Dowie's reign had begun with just 3 points from 8 games. Hence whilst we had far more games left than Pompey to rise from the dead (and had 23 points from 28 games, as opposed to 18) hindsight taught the South Coast side that only 35 points would ultimately be needed for safety. Charlton meanwhile are likely to require considerably more.

As a reminder of how desperate our cause was when Pards arrived, this is how the Premiership table looked the day he arrived. Arguably it doesn't tell the full horrific story because our previous four games had been 'Boro (lost 2-0), Liverpool (lost 3-0), Spurs (lost 5-1) and of course the Wycombe debacle. It really has been the most remarkable turnaround:

16 Sheffield Utd 20pts
17 Blackburn 19pts
18 West Ham Utd 18pts
19 Charlton 12pts
20 Watford 11pts

Here's a look at the respective run-ins of the relegation threatened sides:

West Ham: Arsenal (A), Sheff Utd (A), Chelsea (H), Everton (H), Wigan (A), Bolton (H), Man Utd (A)

Charlton: Man City (A), Reading (H), Everton (A), Sheff Utd (H), Blackburn (A), Spurs (H), Liverpool (A)

Sheff Utd: Newcastle (H), West Ham (H), Man Utd (A), Charlton (A), Watford (H), Villa (A), Wigan (H)

Wigan: Bolton (H), Villa (A), Spurs (H), Liverpool (A), West Ham (H), Boro (H), Sheff Utd (A)

Villa: Everton (H), Blackburn (A), Wigan (H), Boro (A), Portsmouth (H), Man City (A), Sheff Utd (H), Bolton (A)

Fulham: Everton (A), Man City (H), Reading (A), Blackburn (H), Arsenal (A), Liverpool (H), Boro (A)

Man City: Charlton (H), Fulham (A), Liverpool (H), Arsenal (A), Watford (A), Villa (H), Man Utd (H), Spurs (A)

Boro: Watford (H), Villa (A), Liverpool (A), Man Utd (A), Spurs (H), Wigan (A), Fulham (H)

Newcastle: Sheff Utd (A), Arsenal (H), Portsmouth (A), Chelsea (H), Reading (A), Blackburn (H), Watford (A)


Charlton's battling results and the mediocre points total required to secure a UEFA Cup place, implies that every single team (perhaps only Blackburn and Watford aside) still has something to play for in the Premiership, other than mere positional prize money. Whilst this will clearly change as the weeks go by, for now the old cliche about 'no easy games in the Premiership' applies.

Having said that, West Ham clearly have the most horrendous run-in and are in need of a miracle, whilst Wigan's look similarly uncomfortable; their final game against Sheffield United may require an 18 certificate. Elsewhere, Boro's spell of three consecutive tough games (Liverpool/Man Utd/Spurs) will be looming large in Gareth 'weakened side' Southgate's mind if they fail to pick up at least four points from their next two games. It really would be a delicious irony if it turns out that his failure to play a full-strength side against Man City, plunges Boro into the relegation scrap that they clearly did not consider themselves to be in.

Mid-table mediocrity was never this interesting.