Friday, October 05, 2007

Barnsley preview

If there's one adjective to describe the Championship experience, it's relentless. The games come thick and fast, and any disappointments (of which pleasingly there have been few), can swiftly be corrected just a few days later.

We have not played Barnsley since the 1999/2000 season, a season in which the Tykes finished 4th behind the three sides that were ultimately promoted (Charlton, Man City, Ipswich), yet found themselves relegated just a year later.

That Championship-winning season began with a Clive Mendonca inspired hat-trick win over tomorrow's opponents, and the same outcome both tomorrow and at the end of the season would do everyone connected with the Addicks just fine. Amazingly, Barnsley have never won at the Valley.

Barnsley's relegation season was their third following demotion from the Premiership in 1997/1998, a lesson therein for Charlton regarding the importance of bouncing straight back to the top flight before the parachute payments end.

Indeed it is surprising how so many of the smaller clubs that ecstactically celebrated promotion to the Premiership, swiftly found themselves not just one division lower, but two and in some cases (Bradford) three divisions lower. It is not unreasonable to wonder if promotion to the Premiership for some clubs is a poisioned chalice.

I was at Oakwell on 12 April 1997 when we gave Barnsley a further nudge towards promotion, by virtue of one of the most shocking Addicks performances I can recall seeing. So shocked had I been at the obvious lack of quality, and the apparent lack of effort during the 4-0 defeat, that I wrote immediately to Richard Murray and insisted that Alan Curbishley had taken Charlton as far as he could. Fortunately, whilst he kindly took the time to reply to the letter, he ignored its sentiments.

Had I not been obliged to book my flights to London before the fixtures were published, I'd have arranged them to ensure I was at The Valley. Instead I will be listening to my newly discovered audio service (Note to foreign Addicks: sign up for one club and it will work for virtually all), and perhaps exchanging insulting text messages with my long-suffering Barnsley-supporting mate in the Jimmy Seed Stand.

The win at Hull on Tuesday night was our most important of the season. By proving that we were willing to match a team both physically as well as aesthetically, we sent a strong message that lessons had been learned, most notably from the Stoke game. A word too about the impact of Zheng Zhi, whose 'second debut' occurred during the 46th minute of our win over Sheffield Wednesday, the very moment in which our season truly began in earnest. He notably also missed our defeat at Luton, so he's very much our lucky charm, and that's not merely a conicidence.

Having seen the highlights of our win at the KC Stadium, I don't entirely believe in Lloyd Sam's innocence, but either way his absence forces Pards to make a change on Saturday. It's a shame because the young wingman might have faced up with former Addick, Jamal Campbell-Ryce whose career has found some foundation at this lower level, much like Sam's has. It's probably only an accident of timing that saw one retained and one released.

Fortunately for Pards, in both Ambrose and the redeemed Thomas, he has ample Premiership-quality replacements, and I suspect he will opt for the latter to retain the balance and true width that Sam offered. Elsewhere, whilst continuing to trumpet Todorov and Moutouakil's abilities, there seems little need to change a team unbeaten since Aug 18. Hence I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Mills, Powell, Fortune, Bougherra, Reid, Zheng, Semedo, Thomas, Varney, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Sodje, Todorov, McLeod, Holland.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 3 (Reid, Iwelumo, McLeod), Barnsley 0. Att: 20,091.


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