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.


At 6:27 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

I watched the 1999 Villa game in a bar in Seattle which involved me leaving my apartment at 6 a.m. to follow a complicated route on the trackless across the city. Agree with you about team formation, but I share your concerns about raised expectations. BTW, Manchester City had a big away following even when they were in what is now League 1. I remember seeing miserable coachloads of them as they returned from a 1-1 draw at some obscure ground. Portsmouth also have a fanatical and very irritating away following with their bell ringers and so on. At least Fratton Park is now to go.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

I don't know I have been to some away games when a large away support has encouraged results and performaces. I remember the day we went up at Carlisle (2nd time), we were 2-down and once we pulled a goal back the backing from Charlton fans most certainly helped us win the game.

Another rickshaw excursion to Port Vale got us a fully undeserved draw as well once. Bristol City away in the Cup another.

The boards and blogs do seem very quiet on the game, rather unerving.

Hopefully you will hear me from Chicago tomorrow NYA...

At 4:24 PM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Many years back went to Loftus Road with Marsh a co playing. . There was a large Charlton crowd with loud support including myself we turned them over 4-1 Ray Treacy and Alan Campbell were on fire. Rangers couldnt believe it -plenty of that tomorrow Please. Really showing my age.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger worcestershireleaburn said...

What about the game at Chelsea back in 1988 when Paul Miller's equaliser was enough to secure First Division status? Plenty of Addicks fans at that one, and I think we sucked the ball in when it looped over the goalkeeper's head!!

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

That Chelsea game was the most intimidating atmosphere I have ever experienced. For some reason I was sat with my Dad amongst the home fans! I remember when Carl Leaburn got knocked out and then went totally mad for about a minute after he came around.

At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear NYA,
4,000 holes in Blackburn Lancs is 10,000 too few to put JFH in.Keep him at home and put ZZ in behind Big Bent.If its close after 70mins I hope we really go for it- better to go out with bang than a whimper.And please not another draw(unless it saves us).
NYA-are you suggesting that we take 6000 fans who are totally silent? just to help the team play better?Brilliant !it would scare Blackburn sh-tless-
God Bless you all who are travelling especially Scott Carson
David Whyte-Whyte-Whyte

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I was purposely being a bit argumentative, but I think we have to be a bit careful what we wish for. It was a nothing game for Blackburn, but now it threatens to be like a Cup tie (and we all know how we tend to do in those!)


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