Friday, August 31, 2007

Palace Preview

I am now safely back in the US, and thus face the not inconsiderable challenge of following the Palace game without the benefit of either television or radio coverage.

It is tempting to ask someone in the UK to put their radio next to their PC so I can listen to BBC London commentary via Skype, but I'm not sure even I'm that desperate. Indeed with three concurrent Premiership games shown at the Irish pub over the road, and excellent coffee and breakfast available, I may just hunt glory over there with my mobile phone sat teasingly on the bar, awaiting text updates.

Reading some of the pre-match blurb, one is tempted to think that tomorrow's fixture resembles an Old Firm derby, or that infamous 1969 game between Honduras and El Salvador which some claim was causus belli. Prior to the distribution of the infamous leaflet at The Valley in 1985 confirming our move to Selhurst Park (ironically on the day we played and beat Palace 3-1), I am not convinced Palace were much more of a local rival to Charlton than say West Ham or Orient.

As a result, whilst the subsequent 6-year ground share and more recently the Murray/Jordan/Dowie fiascos have certainly added some fuel to any perceived fires, it all feels a little false to me. It reminds me a little of the times I'd watch Barnet in the 1990s, when they saw their traditional enemies Enfield fall by the wayside, leaving them firmly rival-less. Cue desperate attempts to declare war firstly upon Leyton Orient, and then more bizarrely Fulham. Presumably they have now discovered a long, but unrequited hatred of Dagenham & Redbridge.

No doubt the usual rent-a-crowd from South-East London will make their presence felt at Selhurst Park (funny how they never show up at The Valley?), but as far as I'm concerned any attempt to turn the game into 'something personal', will only work to our detriment. And anyhow, other than a rather different style and ego, how does Simon Jordan's actions in the Dowie case differ from those taken by Charlton in the case of say the 'Chelsea sandy pitch', or the Sankofa sending off?

With 7 goals scored in their first 3 games, Palace will present a genuine threat to Charlton's shaky defence. Pards is almost certain to hand a start to Danny Mills, who is likely to be joined on the opposite flank by Chris Powell in a repeat of the 1998/99 full-back pairings. We are starting to resemble the Charlton side of the mid-1990s that saw a succession of former Addicks returning to the Valley (Mortimer, Bennett, Williams, Humphrey etc..).

In central defence, either Bougherra or McCarthy will presumably join Jonathan Fortune, whilst surely Pards will opt for the midfield four which destroyed Sheffield Wednesday in the second half (Thomas, Zheng, Reid, Ambrose). It would be harsh to leave out Semedo entirely, but Pards may choose to sacrifice the youngster when calmer heads like Powell's are required. Upfront, Iwelumo must start and Todorov's highly impressive showings in recent matches will doubtless see him preferred to the raw Izale McLeod.

Hence I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Mills, Powell, Bougherra, Fortune, Reid, Ambrose, Zheng, Thomas, Iwelumo, Todorov. Subs: Randolph, McCarthy, Semedo, McLeod, Sam.

NY Addick predicts Crystal Palace 1 (Morrison), Charlton 1 (Todorov). Attn: 19, 564.

Dark Satanic Mills

At the time of writing, the club has completed four pre-deadline deals, two highly-paid loans out (Bent and Faye) and two presumably less highly-paid loans in. It is probably a fair assumption that neither of the two outs will be greatly missed; indeed the fact that loan deals were the outcome rather than permanent ones, probably speaks volumes for their relative unattractiveness, certainly at their current wages.

Marcus Bent will be joining his 10th club, not bad going for a 29-year old. If ever a statistic spoke louder than words about a player's chronic underachievement (in no small part due to a perceived, and presumably real lack of commitment) then this is it. Wigan boss Chris Hutchings described Bent as, "...a clever player whose game is far more than just about scoring" and more generally as, "...a street-wise player." His words echo those of Alan Curbishley just 20 months ago, when he described £2.5m Bent as providing, "...altogether more options." How many more managers will be conned by this nonsense before Bent's career tails off, and he is remembered more fondly by a succession of nightclub owners than the fans of ten or more clubs?

As for Amdy Faye, his departure (albeit temporary at this juncture) almost completes the total reversal of the Dowie purchasing spree last summer. Only Andy Reid remains as a (popular) member of the squad, following the departures of Traore, Hasselbaink, Walton, Diawara, and now Faye. He showed glimpses of ability, especially under Dowie, but in truth he was revealed as Africa's answer to Brendan O'Connell.

The two loan players brought in already have links with the Addicks, Danny Mills from the 1998-1999 period and Sam Sodje via former Addicks youth player and cousin, Onome Sodje. I was present when Danny Mills became an instant hero, scoring within the first five minutes of his debut at Crewe. He would generally continue in the same vein for Charlton, quickly becoming a highly accomplished right-back as part both of our play-off winning team, as well as in the Premiership. One performance especially stands out during the 4-2 victory over West Ham in which his cavalier forays forward virtually ended the career of a shellshocked Julian Dicks.

His subsequent departure to Leeds for £4m+ was, if I recall rightly, not exactly unwelcome from Mills' perspective, but in the greater scheme of things it represented a phenomenal return inside 18 months on a former bit-part player from Norwich. The fact that he went on to earn several England caps, including a first-team place in the 2002 World Cup, suggests that any bitterness Charlton fans may have had, ought to be seen in the context of the player's subsequently proven potential.

He now makes up a triumvirate of experienced ex-Man City players in Charlton's squad, and at just 30-years old, he probably represents smart business as we await Yassin Moutaouakil's return from injury. Mills is also a member of that rare breed, the intelligent footballer.

I know considerably less about Sam Sodje, though initial suggestions that he is a talented but gaffe-prone defender are not too promising. We will reserve judgement of course, but an old-fashioned stopper might have been a better solution.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Silly Season

Silly Season Example No.1: Charlton were linked today with Robert Earnshaw thanks to an offhand comment from (of all people) Ian Holloway. In common with most neutrals I suspect, I have a lot of time for Holloway; after all, he is a part-time comedian as well as full-time Plymouth Argyle manager.

However, there are at least two reasons to think this is plain silly. Firstly, we are inundated with strikers (exemplified by the 11 goals scored in 5 games already), but seemingly desperate for defenders. Second, he only signed for Derby at the end of June 2007, although he was dropped after their opening fixture.

Silly Season Example No.2: Charlton concede three goals in just 15 second half minutes at home to League Two's Stockport County, before rallying to win 4-3. Apart from being typical that one of the few Charlton games I've voluntarily missed ended up as a seven-goal thriller, it was more evidence that rank defending might scupper my acute sense that we are Championship title material.

Paddy McCarthy has emerged as an early contender for Public Enemy No.1 (following in the footsteps as such Valley legends as Bryan Hughes and Kevin Lisbie). As one of the few players that Pards signed for cash, we may have to trust his judgement on this one - a cultured defender he certainly isn't, but let's hope we can mould him into Steve Brown. Now, he was popular wasn't he?

But in all seriousness, might the fact that we not only have a brand new back four essentially, but also one that speaks several languages be a factor. Have you heard the one about the Moroccan, the Portuguese, the Englishman and the Irishman? It sounds like a joke. Some of our defending has been.

With just three 'natural' central defenders to choose from, Pards would be well advised to focus upon finding some cover in this area, perhaps a loan deal. Harry Worley? Callum Davenport? But would they realistically be any better than what we already have?

Silly Season Example No.3: Poor old Alan Curbishley has had a stressful few months. In television interviews he looks so forlorn, you almost want to draw him into your bosom, cradle his head and ask him tenderly why he never leaves anyone up at corners (though it may not be the best timing).

My concern for his welfare was especially triggered by a comment he made prior to West Ham's fateful trip to Bristol Rovers; "....if you look back at my managerial history then you'll see that I've always attacked this competition...."

Now Alan Curbishley has only managed one other club so he must be referring to his time at Charlton (1991-2006). The first opportunity he had to 'attack' the League Cup was in 1991/92 when we were edged out of the competition by Norwich City (0-5 on aggregate), admittedly having beaten Fulham (who were a bit crap in those days).

Not to be demoralised, he steered his brave side to a plucky 1-0 aggregate defeat to the mighty Bury in 1992/93. A man of principle, he would not be swayed and in 1993/94 (now back at The Valley), he took the opportunity to attack rivals Crystal Palace, restoring local bragging rights with a narrow 4-1 aggregate defeat. And who could forget the way we attacked Swindon in 1994/95, managing to surrender a 3-1 away-leg advantage to lose 5-4.

But wait. His cavalier approach finally paid some dividends in 1995/96 and 1996/97 when firstly, having defeated Barnet, we took on Wimbledon and defeated them 8-7 in an unforgettable two-legged encounter. Unfortunately Wolves were a step too far in the 4th Round and we limped out 2-1. And then in 1996/97, a brave 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool was overturned 4-1 at Anfield.

Normal service was resumed in 1997/98 when the Addicks were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Ipswich over two legs. Luckily Curbs got his priorities right and learnt from the experience to deliver a famous two-legged play-off semi defeat later that same season.

Now a Premiership club, Curbs remained true to his beliefs in 1998/99, delivering a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester (having beaten QPR). A fearsome Bournemouth side then arrived at The Valley in 1999/2000 and sent the soon-to-be Division One Champions packing with a penalty shoot-out win. In 2000/01, the newly promoted Addicks (who would go on to finish 9th) contrived to concede five goals in two legs to lowly Stoke, and in 2001/02 we managed to balls up another glorious chance to reach the 5th Round, losing in a ding-dong to lower league opposition (again), this time Watford. We did win away at WBA though.

The 2002/03 season saw Oxford United (now of the Blue Square Premier) come to The Valley and win on penalties, before a lucky home escape against Luton Town (on penalties) led to an inevitable defeat at Everton in 2003/04. With Curbs reluctant to stop 'attacking' the League Cup despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it was the turn of Crystal Palace (managed by tactical genius Iain Dowie) to embarrass us again, 2-1 this time at The Valley.

At least Curbs left us with a flourish however. The famous penalty shootout win at Chelsea in Oct 2005, was followed by the demoralising 3-2 defeat at home to Blackburn, in which the Addicks contrived to concede three goals inside fifteen minutes (sound familiar?).

So there we have it. Despite managing a team for 15 seasons (7 of them in the top flight), and despite having an unusual number of home draws, Curbs failed miserably to even steer Charlton to the last eight of the League Cup. I mean, even Iain Dowie managed that in his only season with us. All of which begs the question, great manager that he was, in this instance specifically though, what on earth is he talking about?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stockport preview

After the initially traumatic, but ultimately euphoric performance against Sheffield Wednesday, it's time for the last in the series of August fixtures against teams beginning with an 'S'.

I don't know whether it's my age, fatherhood or a result of having spent over three years in the US, but barring a late change of plan (or change of heart), I won't be attending this evening. Arguably this is an unprecedented event - it is difficult to recall the last time I missed a first team Valley fixture whilst I was in the UK.

In truth, having supported Charlton for over 25 years and having never seen us reach the last eight of the League Cup, last season's diabolical result at home to Wycombe was perhaps the final straw as far as this particular competition goes. It was as low as I had felt as a Charlton fan since perhaps 1985 (and in truth I was too young then to appreciate the gravity of events), and my vitriolic posts about the nonsensical appointment of Les Reed that followed the defeat came from the heart, even if I now regret them.

Whilst it is not entirely inconceivable that we could win the competition (most Premiership teams field weakened teams, at least until the final stages), it is difficult to get very excited. The competition lacks the romance of the FA Cup, and there seems little to gain both this evening and going forward from the competition. The funds generated by a proper run (say to the semis) would be welcomed, but in the meantime I would not rule out the possibility that even hosting tonight's fixture is a money-losing proposition. A crowd of perhaps 7,000 or so paying an average of say £8 (plus a few quid spent here and there on beer and programmes) may not even cover our costs.

Having said all of the above, winning begets winning and a favourable result tonight will make it 3 from 5 in all competitions, not a bad return for essentially a brand new team. Stockport have begun this season unbeaten and like Wycombe before them, will arrive with nothing to lose. However unlike Wycombe, they will not be roared on by thousands of their own fans, probably to our benefit.

Pards will have learnt plenty from Saturday's fixture, and whilst it might appear sensible to begin with the eleven that destroyed Wednesday in the second half, he is bound to take the conservative approach and rest several key players ahead of the Palace game, and rightly so. Hence I expect us to line up as follows: Randolph, Semedo, Powell, Fortune, McCarthy, Sinclair, Faye, Zheng, Sam, Todorov, Iwelumo.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 3 (Todorov 2, Zheng), Stockport 0. Att: 6,782

Saturday, August 25, 2007


A stunning second half display from the Addicks secured our first win of the season. If, as I expect us to, we ultimately go onto win the Championship, this result will be seen as a vital catalyst.

The team were booed off at half-time and whilst it would be hard to disagree with their sentiments, their vitriol probably ought to have been reserved for Alan Pardew. It was only the second time that I have found myself questioning his management; the first was at Manchester City when our ultra-conservative approach perhaps cost us two vital points.

The two goals were down to lazy defending, but our general offensive gameplan appeared inexplicably to revolve around pumping hopeful long balls in the general direction of Bent and Iwelumo, thus effectively removing Reid, Ambrose and Thomas from the play. His post-match comments implied this was never the plan, but surely advice can be imparted from the touchline?

Similarly, the decision to play the right-footed Thomas on the left, and the left-footed Reid on the right was clearly flawed, yet he persisted until half-time until common sense took over (the difference was palpable almost immediately). As a result we failed to deliver a single telling cross from anywhere close to the byline for 45 minutes (not a great strategy when you're playing with two big strikers).

If an injury potentially cost us three points at Stoke, an injury may have earned us three points today. The late first-half substitution of Zheng for Thatcher forced Semedo to left-back (where he looked very comfortable), whilst Zheng added additional attacking poise in the middle, perfectly demonstrated with his sublime pass for Iwelumo's equaliser.

Pardew's unforced half-time substitution was however inspired. Todorov may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he was simply superb today; his movement was a constant delight, and his clever touches and flicks (always efficient not extravagant) provided a new and dangerous threat which Bent and Iwelumo would never have provided together. Not coincidentally, Iwelumo's shackles were removed thanks to Todorov's menace, and his two goals were the (brilliantly taken) result.

Sheffield Wednesday's hopes were not boosted by Brian Laws' decision to play with just one striker for the second half, the type of tactical flawed logic that we used to regularly witness under Curbs. As a result, wave upon wave of Charlton attacks were able to be launched without pressure, whilst the forward-looking Bougherra was able to push on knowing we were well covered in defence.

To win 3-2 in this manner is an enormous boost, and far more beneficial than a scrappy 1-0 win. The atmosphere in the post-match dressing room must have been terrific, and whilst the two goals conceded were avoidable, there were several extremely positive takeaways (Chinese? - Ed.)

All three goals were excellent. Reid's goal was taken calmly, but Ambrose deserves the plaudits for his clever hold-up play on the right. Iwelumo's first was cute, but ultimately all about Zheng's pass (plus look how deep the move started), whilst his second was simply superb work by the big man. Like Todorov and notably Semedo, Pardew's canniest signings pre-season may have been the free ones.

There were several positive contributions, but in addition to those mentioned, Jonathan Fortune stood out for a faultless display, whilst Jerome Thomas delivered in the second-half the quality that we know he is capable of at this level. Nicky Weaver meanwhile was probably blameless for the goals and delivered an ultimately match-winning quick-succession pair of saves at 2-1.

A final mention ought also to go to Paddy McCarthy who rebounded from criticism at Stoke, and played the role of makeshift right-back perfectly adequately, and certainly never let the team down today.

If lessons are learned from the first-half display then I saw enough in the second-half to tell me that we will not merely win this division, but will win it by ten points. I have not seen the likes of Watford, Sheff Utd and Wolves but I dare anyone to suggest they are capable of putting together the type of fluid football that ultimately tore apart a well-organised Wednesday side. I intend to put a serious-sized bet on us (despite the narrower odds), and I suggest you do the same. Onwards and upwards.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wednesday preview

The disappointing final half-hour at the Brittania Stadium has turned Saturday's fixture against Sheffield Wednesday into something of a 'must win' game, especially with tricky trips to Palace and Colchester to follow.

However Saturday's fixture ought also to be a time for reflection. It was as recently as January 1996 that our 2-0 FA Cup triumph over the Owls secured as the Sunday back page headlines, yet just over a decade later we are firmly in the ascendancy on far more than a one-off basis. Although it's also a valuable lesson in what can go wrong after relegation, it's also a time to have a reality check and realise how far we've come.

Like the two fixtures that preceded it, this game may be equally problematic but I remain strangely relaxed and confident about our chances even in the event of just a point or worse. Indeed should that occur, I will be plunging an improper amount of money into the hands of an unsuspecting bookie whilst declaring, "....yes my good man, I will snap up the 12/1 on Charlton to win the Championship."

Why am I so confident? Because I appreciate that despite barely 5% of the season having gone, it is easy to focus too much on the somewhat random scorelines that actually occurred in those first two games, and not enough on the points total we would on average expect to have accumulated if we had played as well (within reason) as we did. If we are still sat in the bottom half after say 20 games, then the scorelines take on some statistical significance (and we'd be miles behind the leaders), but not yet. Had we played very badly of course, I would have felt very differently; I have it on good authority for example that Watford look far from impressive.

We didn't look like world beaters, but rather a team with immense promise not quite finding top gear. The quality of some of our football at Stoke especially was first rate (relative to the rest of this division) and with 43 games left to find our rhythm, I'll snap up any double-digit odds after Saturday in the name of 'legalised theft.'

The chances of me entering Ladbrokes (not Paddy Power? - Ed.) on Monday morning have increased in light of the untimely injury to Yassin Moutaouakil. It was probably no coincidence that we conceded two goals after his departure, with Jonathan Fortune asked to act as a makeshift right-back, and his continued absence offers Pards plenty to muse upon.

With the rather unconvincing Osei Sankofa injured, Pards may well continue to ask Fortune to deputise, reluctant I would imagine to shift the impressive Semedo from his central holding role. The arrival of Zheng Zhi (and even perhaps Therry Racon) at least offer alternatives to Semedo in midfield, but I would expect Pards to decline the chance to unbalance a side already lacking a little confidence. Amdy Faye would appear to be an obvious straight replacement for Semedo, but comments in the media today suggest his Valley days are numbered. (seems an ideal time to give Cory Gibbs a first start? - Ed.)

In midfield, Jerome Thomas was lively in the second half at Stoke and will probably start at the expense of Lloyd Sam, whilst Chris Iwelumo may also have done enough to warrant a start, although don't be too surprised if McLeod gets the nod over Bent given his obvious complimentary skillset to the big Scot.

Hence I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Fortune, Thatcher, McCarthy, Bougherra, Reid, Ambrose, Thomas, Semedo, Iwelumo, Bent. Subs: Randolph, Zheng, McLeod, Powell, Sinclair.

I don't miss the Premiership, but I miss the convenience of the Premiership.....the blanket TV coverage, the endless post-mortems, the radio commentaries (!). Before I head back to the veritable Championship-free zone also known as the USA, it would be nice to have that first win under our belts to act as a springboard, even if it does prevent me from pilfering a bookie. NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Ambrose, McLeod), Sheff Weds 0. Attn: 21,249.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The takeover question

The opaque statement that Charlton's board were exploring 'strategic options', has naturally led to all sorts of unfounded rumours concerning Nigerian princes and Russian oligarchs.

Whilst I suspect any new owner (if any) is likely to live closer to Port Talbot than Port Harcourt, the statement has at least provided the catalyst for an inevitable debate over Charlton's future, particularly in light of feverish takeover activity elsewhere.

Readers of this blog will be aware of my scepticism regarding the permanence of the current euphoria surrounding English football. Rather than view it as firm evidence of the unique attractiveness of football club assets, I saw it instead in the context of the crazed liquidity-fuelled global bubble that whipped up the valuations of virtually every asset, and yet is now being unravelled at a terrifying and perhaps unprecedented speed.

The issuance of the statement on the same day that the FTSE 100 suffered an enormous 4%+ fall, had a certain poetic feel to it. It's too early to suggest the club has missed the boat, but the aggressive assumptions upon which money is lent are now being questioned with supreme (and much welcomed) diligence. We'll probably need a cash buyer, and right now 'cash is king.' It is not unreasonable in my view to suggest that the debt-fuelled Manchester United deal of 2005 would not have been completed in this new risk-aware environment, at least not on the terms agreed. Charlton Athletic? No chance.

It's important to note that Richard Murray and his fellow directors owe the club nothing. They have regularly supported the club via equity and debt financings, and at least until last season, steered the club majestically. They are perfectly entitled to realise their investment should they wish to, and whilst we must hope they would only sell to an enlightened buyer, they are certainly under no obligation to do so.

In what other (until recently) listed business are the directors expected to fund deficits personally, rather than through traditional capital market transactions? Similarly, once I've finished banging my head against a wall listening to yet another 6-0-6 caller ask, "..when are the board going to show some ambition?", it's only fair surely to accept that those same members of the board might one day have had enough. As the statement implies however, they may still have the stomach for more investment themselves, we'll see.

The board may conclude that the club needs a new ambitious owner who can afford to help us compete, perhaps not with the true big boys of the Premiership, but at least with the next tranche. The problem with this conclusion is that we were never truly competing before the sudden influx of new capital into football, and we're not competing now. Big ça change. I'm in no particular hurry to switch my allegiance.

More interestingly, if you share my view that football is an inherently money-losing proposition (due to the influence of players, and the vagaries of results) then there is a not insignificant chance that many of the big-spending clubs might simply implode, and their owners sell up at a hefty loss. Charlton overtook the likes of Leeds, Forest and Sheffield Wednesday simply by standing still....what chance West Ham, Newcastle and Villa? Assets fluctuate in value; debts are real. Slow and steady wins the race (though Iain Dowie doesn't help).

Take a look at the clubs which have enjoyed material investment on an ongoing basis. Some have clearly seen their fortunes improve, and that success must be due in a large part to that investment. Amongst the current Premiership clubs, Chelsea, Reading, Wigan, Fulham, 'Boro and Blackburn stand out in this regard. However in each case, their stability (indeed existence) would be firmly in question in the event that the current owners refused to maintain current funding levels, or their form suddenly dipped.

Moreover, in the case of Chelsea for example, there is only a handful of people that could maintain that level of ongoing deficit-funding (and Abramovich happens to be one of them). If that is what is required to 'compete' in the Premiership, then I'd prefer we didn't enter the game.

And the 'hobby' argument (ownership is a mere leisure activity) does not wash very well with me. Billionaires don't think like that, and I've been 'fortunate' enough to meet a few (Any of them interested in Charlton? - Ed.). The pleasure from a yacht or country mansion is immediate; football requires patience (as even Abramovich has found out). Today's new black is tomorrow's grey.

More reassuringly, there are a few clubs (Everton, Bolton and Arsenal spring to mind) who have achieved considerable success (both relative and absolute) without the benefit of a (very) wealthy owner. The old virtues of loyalty, hard work, sensible decision-making and a solid youth set-up have worked wonders for them, just as they did for Charlton (and frankly still do so in large part). Let's stick with that strategic option.

Provided any new owners go down this route, most fans will be supportive. Then again, who (other than an existing wealthy fan) is likely to be interested in investing on these terms? Even well-run clubs end up experiencing the 'prune juice' effect (what goes in, goes straight back out).

When I look at the world, I see so many bubbles I probably ought to be a West Ham fan (...and there's another bubble - Ed.). The current craze for football clubs looks just like another one ready to go pop, and all this talk about 'competing' just leaves me cold. I want Charlton to do well within reason, but I also want it to exist. There's every likelihood I'll go to my grave without seeing us win a major trophy, yet I bet I won't want to exchange the losing memories for anything.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stoking the Fire

2 games, 2 second half opening goals, 1 point. Not exactly the dream start we were looking for, and whilst frankly not a true reflection of the quality of some of our play, it's the nature of the two results which should be of most concern.

I opted for the television option last night, a decision backed up by the result and the weather, and one seemingly taken by many other Addicks judging by the banks of empty red seats in the away stand.

In short, the quality of some of our football was excellent. Pardew's preference for passing football has clearly been stamped upon his young side, and our style was the antithesis of a boorish Stoke side who are clearly the 'Bolton' of the Championship. Unfortunately Stoke took the three points, and therein lies the key lesson.

Having weathered plenty of first-half pressure, I certainly sensed a solid away win after Andy Reid's deflected opener. Unfortunately, the timing of Moutaouakil's injury immediately thereafter forced Pards to bring on McCarthy, when surely Zheng would shortly have been asked to replace Ambrose or Reid to box up the midfield.

Perhaps Pards was premature to make two half-time changes after a difficult, but hardly disastrous first period, thus reducing his subsequent options? Then again, I admire his willingness to act in a swift fashion; once again, a refreshing departure from Curbs (though not yet a winning one).

It would be easy to blame Paddy McCarthy for his role in both goals, allowing first Fuller and then Parkin to turn and shoot, but tackles and headers were lost in each case long before the Irishman tried to take responsibility. It would be also be ironic to blame perhaps the one Charlton player who would be least surprised by the physical aspects of life in this division.

This is no time to panic. Only Watford have shown early signs of serious form, and of course their direct style which saw them exit the Premiership with little fondness, is an ideal foundation for the new season. Accommodating so many new players was unlikely to be easy for Charlton, yet with a bit of luck we could have been sitting on six points with tons of improvement still to come. As a result, I still fully expect us to be in the promotion shake-up.

To ensure this is so, Pards will however have to find an appropriate balance between brawn and brains. It was notable for example that Chris Iwelumo's introduction up front saw us hold the ball up far better; the big man will not win many points for style, but he provides a different outlet.

A small compromise will be fine, but judging from the poor crowd at the Brittania, it seems even the locals have no great desire to watch the likes of Stoke's direct style, and I share their sentiments. For the timebeing, let's keep the faith.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stoke Preview

I've just spent an enjoyable few days in Scotland playing golf, but now thoughts turn back to the Addicks and an important fixture at Stoke. It's the type of game that will give us an important indication of whether we have the stomach for the battle(s) ahead.

The win at Swindon will have given Pards some selection headaches, and with Todorov very doubtful, then McLeod's first league start is likely at the Brittania, unless he prefers Iwelumo's height against a physical Stoke outfit. Elsewhere, do not be surprised to see either Sam or Ambrose relegated to the bench in favour of a less attack-minded midfielder, perhaps Sinclair? Alternatively, Jerome Thomas may occupy the left-wing berth with Reid moving inside.

We ought to have enough class to triumph, but as the game against Scunny proved, possession needs to be converted to goals, whilst defensive concentration is key. Stoke meanwhile will be full of confidence after an impressive opening day win. With this in mind, it would be daft to declare a draw a disappointment and it would at least maintain our unbeaten start. NY Addick predicts Stoke 1 (Fuller), Charlton 1 (Reid). Att: 14, 339.

It was a bonus to realise that the Carling Cup 2nd Round will take place whilst I'm still in London. Naturally our opponents begin with an 'S' and the friendly draw gives us hope (that usually proves false) that a Cup run might light up our season. How many times have we said that?

In other news, on the same day that the FTSE fell more than 4%, Charlton confirmed they were exploring 'strategic options.' This ought not to have come as a surprise but its timing was less than fortuitous with the various assumptions upon which daft football club valuations were justified, now bound to be in question as asset prices plummet across the globe.

My natural reaction is to repel in horror at the thought of foreign ownership, but then again it would be difficult to blame Murray et al if they decided to cash out. Who knows, maybe they need the money? Having watched the debacle at Leeds however, there is nothing to suggest that British owners would be any better. The ideal scenario would be new rich owners with Charlton in their blood, but I suspect they are few and far between (and probably far too intelligent to invest in the football 'industry.')

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hello Mou-Tou

The sun was shining. A healthy crowd (enhanced by a vocal presence from Scunthorpe) sat in anticipation of a flying start for the Addicks. But as is invariably the case it seems, it didn't quite go to plan.

Pards surprised most fans by selecting Lloyd Sam (though his decision was fully justified by subsequent events), but otherwise the team was broadly as expected, with Marcus Bent given a chance to mend his often tense relationship with the fans.

The first half was dominated by the Addicks, but Scunthorpe actually created the best chance, a free header which probably ought to have been buried. At the other end, Reid hit the bar from a deflected free kick, whilst Lloyd Sam lacked the finish to complement some tight ball control on the edge of the box.

Our opening goal had always threatened to come from some combination of Sam and the outstanding Moutouakil, and so it transpired. Some excellent hold-up play from (the otherwise quiet) Todorov released Lloyd Sam, who in turn fed the rampaging Moutouakil whose extravagant cross deceived defenders and linesmen alike, allowing Marcus Bent to smash home from close range.

My friend from Scunthorpe (the editor of FourFourTwo no less) reassured me that, "...I can't see Scunny coming back now." I meanwhile began to consider that my prematch 3-0 'correct score' bet was looking quite tasty. Hubris.

Despite every coach (and club psychologist) in the land knowing that a team is most vulnerable after they've scored, Bent fell asleep at a corner to send the Iron into raptures. The goal was particularly galling because it was the second corner in very quick succession, so there really should have been no excuse not to have been focused again. Moreover it was exactly the type of Scunthorpe goal that we ought to have been most worried about, since they rarely offered a threat from open play.

We showed faint glimpses that we could nick a late (and probably deserved) winner, notably through Reid again, but with Iwelumo partnering McLeod up front for the final quarter, it was too much to expect a sudden 'subliminal' connection between the two, and so the game died away. We could perhaps argue that we deserved a penalty when Bent was hauled down, but let's focus on the things we can control, like defending a corner.

All in all, it just felt a little flat. It may have been my rare position high up in the West Stand, or perhaps the two pre-match pints I enjoyed with Chicago Addick, but my preseason excitement was very suddenly given a reality check. I also found the attendance slightly disappointing, implying we sold only approx 3,000 single-match tickets, for our opening day fixture as Championship favourites.

If one was to focus on the positives, it would be difficult not to mention Moutouakil, whose debutant performance was one of the most assured and exciting that I can recall witnessing. One delightful piece of skill early in the second period, whilst defending deep in his own half was enough to tell me that the club has unearthed an absolute star.

Elsewhere, defending corners aside Marcus Bent looked uncharacteristically dangerous (as he should do in fairness at this level), whilst Semedo again showed plenty to suggest he will play the 'water carrier' role well in midfield. Darren Ambrose got into some useful goalscoring positions, but generally flattered to deceive in central midfield, our perpetual problem area.

Of more concern for me however was the unyielding tendency to always 'look right' when in possession (to utilise the pace of Sam and Moutouakil), because we lacked a genuine outlet on the left, with Reid playing deep and inside, and Thatcher always reluctant to bomb forward. Unbalanced teams rarely prosper, and one hopes Pards can find a way to utilise both a fit Jerome Thomas, and the improving Sam.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Scunthorpe preview

When the opening day fixtures were announced in June, we were not merely brought down to earth following our relegation, but plunged into it and then repeatedly pummelled until the message was received.....we're a Football League club.

Less than three months ago we almost beat the Champions League runners-up on their territory. Only three of the players who started the game are likely to be involved on Saturday (Bougherra, Ambrose, Thatcher), such has been the transformation during the summer.

When I wrote these types of previews last season, I could usually say something reasonably intelligent about our opponents and how they would approach the game, but I cannot even name a single Scunthorpe player (especially now that Billy Sharp has left). Given that they wear claret and blue, perhaps we can just sit back and pretend they're Aston Villa and imagine last season never happened.

Our summer transfer targets have generally been intelligently identified, and the logic behind each can be fully understood. The same applies to the players sold or released. Although we should mount a very solid promotion campaign, nothing is guaranteed and hence the decision to build a largely young and hungry squad will hold us in good stead. The total fees paid for Varney, Moutouakil, Zheng, McLeod, McCarthy and Sinclair are swamped by the Darren Bent proceeds, let alone the extra cash received for Young, Diawara, and Rommedahl.

In my view, Pardew's biggest selection headache both tomorrow and going forward, revolve around how best to use the talents of Thomas, Reid, Ambrose and Zheng without upsetting the balance of the side. With Semedo surely set to start in the holding midfield role, I suspect he will seek to utilise the delicate creativity of both Ambrose and Reid, and will compromise by adding some steel in the centre via Amdy Faye.

The back four looks pretty well set up (although I would prefer to see Chris Powell at left-back), whilst up front I would expect McLeod to accompany Todorov, with Iwelumo's height reserved as a substitute option either defensively or offensively as the game goes on. Hence I would expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Moutouakil, Thatcher, Bougherra, McCarthy, Reid, Semedo, Ambrose, Faye, Todorov, McLeod. Subs: Randolph, Fortune, Powell, Sinclair, Iwelumo.

Nothing will be decided tomorrow, but it offers an early chance to send a warning signal to the rest of the division that Charlton mean business. Despite the ignominy of following up a trip to Anfield with a home fixture against Scunthorpe, I cannot deny that I am approaching tomorrow's game with a frisson of excitement, not felt probably since the start of 2000/01. It will be the first opening day fixture I've attended since Manchester City turned us over in Aug 2003. NY Addick predicts: Charlton 3 (McLeod 2, Todorov), Scunthorpe 0. Att: 22,644

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Remind you of anyone?

You could almost be watching Darren Bent couldn't you? The balance, the pace, the strength, the two-footedness....

The news of Izale McLeod's arrival has been well-telegraphed in the press, but its official confirmation was unexpectedly accompanied by news of Zheng Zhi's return to The Valley on a permanent basis.

Our lack of pace up front (in the absence of Varney) was very evident against Braga, and Pards has moved quickly and intelligently to snap up one of the gems of the lower leagues. At 22-years old, he is the right age and the fee seems reasonable. Once again, it suggests strongly that lessons have been learnt from last season, and if promotion is not achieved instantaneously, we should have a terrific young squad ready to try again in 08/09.

Zheng generally left a favourable impression last season. It would have been hard enough to adapt to Premiership football at the best of times, without the mini-crisis that the club additionally found themselves in.

It was never entirely clear what his best position was, but his all-action style went down well with the fans, and ironically perhaps is better-suited for the Championship. He provides an interesting option alongside Holland or Semedo in midfield, but perhaps most interestingly as a deep lying second striker, particularly away from home.

Although we start with almost a clean slate from last season, it is difficult to deny that we have the strongest and most lively squad in the division. Going forward, we should be a joy to watch with numerous creatively-minded players able to score and create goals. Souleymayne Diawara's (regretful) departure leaves us a little short in central defence, but I continue to believe that 6/1 for the title provides value that might best be described as 'interesting.'

Finally, a word on the news that radio commentary will be unavailable outside of London next season. Lots of people have been screwed by our relegation (not least those that lost their jobs), but now those fans who have the temerity to locate themselves outside of the big smoke are losing their commentaries. Frankly if I'm honest, it makes this blog a little redundant as a result.

The argument that the club would be obliged to give up the independence of its website by offering a subscription-based service, is a little odd given the regular enticements to piss money up the wall with Paddy Power, or via a Llanera Spanish property.

The 'obligation' to charge fans for an audio service sounds like one of those dumb rules unique to the football industry. Then again, give people the option to pay if they want to. There's no fundamental reason why the service should be free. In the meantime, the club have certainly given their many Valley Gold members around the world something to ponder when that subscription comes up for renewal.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Not Much To Brag(a) About

Today witnessed my first trip to the Valley for ten months, and a proper chance to view Charlton's new look squad. As an added bonus the weather was glorious, a rare treat I understand.

Jorge Costa's Braga side were technically superb and an all-round class act, and thus represented an excellent final test for Pardew's side. The fact that we failed to create a single genuine goalscoring chance from open play was testimony to their quality.

Firstly the positives. Jose Semedo looked a class act in central midfield, and if Charlton's scouts were aware of his ability to play the holding role so effectively, then they ought to be congratulated for uncovering such a bargain. Barrel-chested and strong, he stood out as the single outstanding player on the Charlton side and will surely start on Saturday.

The other very impressive young player was the only other outfield player who completed the full 90 minutes, namely Yassin Moutouakil. Only his poor crossing marred an excellent performance that combined defensive responsibility with a willingness to push forward.

Elsewhere Madjid Bougherra demonstrated his unusual propensity to convert himself to a left winger if offered the chance, a sure-fire way to become a cult hero before long. Paddy McCarthy looked solid alongside him (and was clearly the organiser), whilst Darren Ambrose and Andy Reid suggested they will have even more productive days, especially against less accomplished opposition (although both were tucked in to a fairly narrow midfield, obliging Moutouakil especially to provide genuine width).

The obvious concern continued to be central midfield (who will accompany Semedo?), and up front where each of Bent, Todorov, and Iwelumo toiled in the heat, but with virtually no result. Each of the aforementioned trio of big men will do a reasonable job at holding the ball up, but Luke Varney's pace will surely imply a starting berth, if fit. If not, then one might be tempted to throw Dickson into the fray, who at least might provide a different type of threat (though Pardew may well have signed a new striker by Saturday).

Alongside Semedo, Dean Sinclair was an honest worker but the game generally passed him by, whilst Amdy Faye's lack of mobility will ensure he will bring little to the party (except as Semedo's replacement in the defensive role). Matt Holland was absent of course, but his presence perhaps with Reid and Ambrose in an 'inside left' and 'inside right' role, may be our best option presently.

At left-back, Ben Thatcher's own goal was best forgotten but it was reminscent of the error he made versus Sheffield United, and if one can't rely on this fundamentally limited player to at least not make basic mistakes, then one wonders if Chris Powell might not be the better option? Behind Thatcher, Nicky Weaver was generally solid and probably faultless for both goals. The stadium was quiet enough to hear his Northern voice instructing his teammates, and if nothing else he will be a highly communicative keeper. Elsewhere, Lloyd Sam, Jonathan Fortune, Chris Dickson, Martin Christensen and trialist Harry Worley had little time to impress.

All in all, there was enough to suggest a degree of controlled optimism, particularly thanks to Semedo and Moutouakil, but with just a week to go before the Scunthorpe game, there is still a sense that Pards is struggling to find enough round pegs to put into eleven round holes. Expect some last-minute transfer dealing (perhaps also involving the absent Jerome Thomas, and the unused Souleymayne Diawara?).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

London Calling

"The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in.Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin;Engines stop running, but I have no fear. Cause London is drowning and I, live by the river."

It seems The Clash were ahead of their time. There's only so many weeks of endless sunshine, good food and reasonable prices one can handle before pining for Blighty. Alas it's with a heavy heart, and a light wallet (full of rapidly depreciating US Dollars) that we are heading back to London for a while to re-connect with family and friends, and of course Charlton Athletic.

I only managed to attend one game last season; with hindsight, perhaps it was a blessing. However may well be attending five Charlton games in August, all of which are against teams beginning with the letter 'S' for some reason (Sporting Braga, Scunthorpe, Swindon, Stoke, Sheffield Wednesday).

Although I'm not sure Dean Sinclair and a converted Jose Semedo are the solution to our midfield 'problem', I am struggling not to be optimistic about our chances this season. Unlike last season, the transfer decisions we have made seem logical and reasonable, and I am confident we have the right man to build a team that will be greater than the sum of its parts.

With the likes of McCarthy and Iwelumo, he has added the steel which should complement the talents of Ambrose, Reid, Thomas et al, all of whom ought to be a creative cut above anything in this division. There is always a risk of course whenever there is this much player turnover, but the 'miracle of Darren Bent' will hopefully ensure both additional late-summer additions, as well as a small January kitty.

After an intense Charlton-filled August, I will return to NYC knowing full well that my ability to follow our fortunes close enough to warrant a description as 'informed blogger', will be stretched. However with only 8 more posts required to reach the iconic '500 mark', I should find enough to talk about in the meantime. Up the Addicks!