Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wolves preview

I'm writing this preview from Doha, Qatar where I landed late last night after a lengthy trip from New York, via Heathrow. Qatar is of course the new home of former Addicks cult hero, Talal el Karkouri (although that's not why I'm here).

As it happens, his new club (Qatar Sports Club) have a home game this evening, so if I have nothing better to do I might pop along and see if he still does that funny over-the-head clearance. Then again I suspect I'll have something better to do.

I was struggling to work out why the game kicked-off at 10pm until I left the hotel to go jogging at just 7am this morning, and it was already brutally hot. In case I didn't already stand out enough here being white and fair-haired, I decided to throw 'jogging in the blistering heat' into the mix. I dread to think what it's like here in August.

This trip will take me onto Dubai tomorrow night, and then finally Abu Dhabi before taking the tortuous 14-hour direct flight back to New York. Reading about the incredible amount of development in the region, I had been curious to visit for some considerable time.

Given the exceptional wealth transfer that has occurred as energy prices have rocketed, it's probably a pre-requisite for understanding the world today. It makes a refreshing change to be somewhere whose prospects look so bright, and I'll write a full report in due course.

Ironically the only person I know here (a sports presenter on Al Jazeera) is a Wolves fan, but she's flown over to Dubai to cover tonight's horse racing World Cup. I haven't managed to work out if the game will be shown here (my Arabic is a bit rusty), but I may be able to catch it on the internet if nothing else.

It was big of Pards to come out during the week and admit he'd made mistakes, specifically with regard to the loan players. Frankly, he's being a bit harsh on himself because they have only been mistakes with the benefit of hindsight. Few Charlton fans were complaining at the time when they heard that Messrs Cook, Halford, Sinclair and Lita were coming to the Valley. Cook and Lita in particular may still come through for us, we'll see.

Where the loan players may have indirectly caused problems is in terms of the extra options it offered Pards, because he did not seem what his preferred system was, even before they arrived.
Again I would argue this season was essentially a 'fresh start', and it was perhaps too much to expect instant gratification. The loan players have not had a big impact for sure, but other factors have played a bigger part, some enforced (eg. injuries) and some not (eg. constant selection/tactical switches).

Our play-off hopes will effectively end tonight if we lose, since the gap between us and sixth will be at least four points with just five games remaining. If we were in seventh place, there might still be hope, but we could well be 11th and there will be too many sides to overtake. Pards says we have 'nothing to lose' now, but it's a strange logic.....we have our (currently genuine) 'play-off' chances to lose!

I hope he lines up as follows: Weaver, Halford, Youga, Sodje, McCarthy, Cook, Zheng, Semedo, Thomas, Lita, Iwelumo. Subs: Elliot, Bougherra, Ambrose, Holland, Varney.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Lita), Wolves 0. Att: 22, 844.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Email Server Update

It's been a tumultuous few weeks for the Addicks. The team's form has taken a nosedive, whilst off the pitch our much-loved Chief Executive has handed in his resignation.

Despite the club's best efforts to stop me (they recently changed the password from 'bartram' to 'derekhales' for example) , I once again hacked into the email server to gauge the truth about recent goings on at The Valley:

Subject: Re: Ashley

Hi Jerome

Thanks so much for your lovely email. It's certainly been a difficult few days for me.

Although I'm obviously very flattered by your offer, I'm not currently willing to consider anyone from outside the Premiership.

Take care



Subject: Disability Living Allowance

Dear Mr Gibbs

Congratulations! You are now eligible for a Disability Living Allowance of £43.15 per week.

Please call the Benefit Enquiry line on 0800 88 22 00 to make your claim.

Subject: Greetings from across the pond

Dear Senator Obama

Firstly let me begin by congratulating you on your recent results in the Democratic primaries. We have a similar system over here called the 'play-offs' (where my record is just as impressive as yours, even if I say so myself!).

I couldn't help noticing that we were born within just days of each other in 1961. However, the similarities don't end there.....we both have the looks, the inspiration, and a willingness to embrace change (for example only last Friday, I unexpectedly gave Greg Halford his debut against Crystal Palace).

All the very best

Alan Pardew
Commander in Chief, Charlton Athletic FC

Subject: Muchas gracias!

Senor Par-doo

Muchas gracias for bringing your team to Spain for much-needed break! We hope you had lovely time.

Senor Halford was so funny...he really loves his sangria! I hope he feel better now.

Good luck for rest of season!

Maria Lopez

Subject: Great news


The doctors have confirmed that the serious life-threatening heart irregularity that you've had since birth has miraculously cleared up, so you're free to move to Southend United.

Good luck from all at CAFC.


Subject: Hotel complaints


Would you kindly telephone the Marriott Bexleyheath on my behalf and complain in the strongest possible terms about the service I've received so far?

I've lost count of the number of times I've asked them to change the towels twice a day, whilst the internet connection is patchy at best. I think it might be starting to affect my form.



ps - you could also mention the Corby trouser press hasn't been working since Tuesday.

Subject: Loans

Shalom Avram!

I don't understand it....Chelsea are in cracking form, yet it seems the media still have it in for you.

Unfortunately as I learnt to my chagrin, they're obsessed with style not substance, so take this bit of advice from Uncle Pards....make sure your shirt is always at least a shade lighter than your jacket.


ps - fancy sending SS on loan to The Valley?

Subject: Blackpool


I just wanted to apologise for describing you as a "...a f*cking useless slow lanky waste of space..." in front of the other lads.

Upon reflection, you are clearly not 'useless' since your throw-ins are pretty effective.

I stand by the rest of what I said however.

See you on Monday


Subject: FW: Hotel complaints

That's it. I can't take it any longer. I'm resigning.


ps - If he wants to moan about service, tell him to have a word with our so-called midfield, not the staff at the flippin' Marriott.

Subject: Re: Osei Sankofa

Hi Alan

Thanks for your email. I must confess I've never heard of Osei Sankofa, and thus I've no idea how he's getting on.

Is he on loan at Brentford perhaps?

Regards, Stu

Subject: FW: Re: Loans

I don't believe it....that shmuck Grant thinks I want Scott Sinclair, not Steve Sidwell.

We've spent more money on our wings than Boeing.

Subject: Re: FW: Hotel complaints


So sorry to hear that you'll be leaving. Any chance you could stay until 30 June to see out the ongoing replacement of the club carpets?


ps - I'll put it down to 'personal reasons'.

Subject: Re: Mr McLeod's operation

Dr Roberts

Thank you for your email regarding Mr McLeod. I am very sorry to hear about the seriousness of his injury; we had great hopes for him in season 2011/12. This email should serve however as authorisation to go ahead with the required operation.

Good luck

Mr A. Pardew

ps - Funds are a little tight here, and between you and me, his form this season doesn't really warrant a private room.

Subject: Je ne comprends pas

Monsieur le Gaffer

After Blackpool match you say, "No disrespect to Grant Basey but we really missed Kelly Youga."

Now for Burnley match you prefer Ben Thatcher. I don't think you know what you want.


Subject: Ipswich team selection

Do you have an up-to-date squad list handy? I'm sure I've forgotten someone.

Subject: Misunderstanding


I just wanted to apologise about the misunderstanding after training.

You thought I'd asked you if 'you liked Tibet', when infact I was wondering whether you enjoyed a flutter!

Thatch, JT and some of the lads were heading to Ladbrokes for the Gold Cup, and we were wondering if you wanted to come, that's all.

No harm done, eh? I'd never heard of Tibet to be honest.


ps - Can you teach me some of those karate moves?

Subject: Re: Re: Ipswich team selection

LEE COOK! I knew there was one.

I had a about a 3-1-2-2-1-1 formation? Sounds daft, but it adds up to ten and we've not tried it yet. LOL!

Subject: May 24th


I've not received a response to several previous emails. Will you still be requiring 176 coaches going to Wembley Stadium on May 24?

We've had an identical enquiry from a Mr S. Jordan of Croydon, and do not have sufficient drivers to fulfil both bookings. Please let us know either way.

Kind regards, Redwing Coaches

Subject: Your order 103-49829901-118928 has shipped!


The following item(s) were shipped today:

- 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, by Ron Fry

If you have questions about your order, you can visit

Thanks for shopping at

Saturday, March 22, 2008

St Patrick's Day

Just four days after St Patrick's day, it was appropriate that Charlton discovered their own patron saint, also Irish and called Patrick.

His heroics were not enough to gain an extra two points (but they did plenty to salvage one), but it was another fine performance from the club's single most outstanding player during the second half of the season. All of which begs two questions: Why was he overlooked for so long? And second, why is he not wearing the Captain's armband?

We probably just about deserved a draw, although our nemesis Zoltan Gera almost denied us even that with a stunning late effort. Indeed it was noticeable that it was his far post header that set up Kevin Phillips for his equaliser; seemingly no lessons have been learned from the reverse fixture when the Hungarian virtually ended Chris Powell's career.

It was a bit of a 'nothing' performance; plenty of endeavour but no creativity. Very much the story of our season. If an unelightened American had leant over in the pub, and asked simply, "I'm not familiar with soccer; what exactly are the team in red attempting to do?", I might have been struggling for an answer. Admittedly for much of the game he could easily have interchanged 'red' with 'navy and white', but WBA showed a little more class, albeit in glimpses.

However if I had been required to find an answer for my imaginary new friend, I'd probably have spluttered something about 'getting the ball wide' as often as possible. All well and good, but with Ambrose and Thomas on the wings, you're more likely to get 'good service' in the concourse bars at half-time (and that's not saying much). A poor cross is far worse than no cross at all, because it surrenders possession.

So with Plan A unlikely to be very productive, there isn't really a Plan B, at least not with our current central midfield options. I like Jose Semedo and think he should play more often, but alongside Matt Holland, there's no prospect of a killer pass, nor a player breaking the back line from midfield. I don't like to blame the Irishman because he always gives his all, but he's neither good enough as the 'holding' player, nor the 'playmaker'. Our form since he reclaimed a regular berth don't do him many favours either; at least Semedo can fulfil the former role.

Zheng offers goals and a bit more pace, but we would then be too lightweight given the reluctance of the wideman to 'mix it' and get involved. Just one goal from a striker in our last nine matches says it all really (just look how average Leroy Lita looks in this line-up).

To get out of this division in an upwards fashion (very likely now a goal for next season, not this one), we will probably have to accept that 'luxury' players are not the answer. The impressive thing about Bristol City a couple of weeks ago was their sheer organisation, allied with hard work and a hefty premium placed on ball retention. There offered nothing spectacular whatsoever (they have scored just 46 goals after all), but it looks to be enough to win promotion.

If one thinks back to the team that lifted the Championship title in 2000, our midfield then was not exactly brimming with creativity. However the outstanding work-rate of the central pairing (two of Kinsella, Jones or Stuart), was matched and even bettered by that of Robinson and Newton on the flanks. So much so infact, that either could (and occasionally did) slot in at full-back when required; can you imagine the debacle that would result if Ambrose, Thomas or Sam did the same?

Although Andy Hunt's goals and consistency that season were helpful obviously, he did not enjoy the benefits of a regular partner, partnering Mendonca, Svensson and Pringle in almost equal proportions. However the system was consistent (always 4-4-2) and every player understood his responsibilities. If it sounds like I'm showering Alan Curbishley with praise, whilst comparing unfavourably with namesake Pardew, then indeed I am. I would merely suggest however that this need not be a permanent state of affairs.

The key difference that season was that Curbs essentially kept his entire relegation squad intact, adding only Dean Kiely, plus one or two squad players (Shields, Todd etc..). Pards meanwhile was given a blank canvas on which to paint, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly the result has been more Jackson Pollock than Claude Monet. We will be better next season.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

WBA Preview

Having managed somehow to maintain a play-off place despite stuttering form since late-November, the gravitational pull of mid-table has finally sucked us down. I've desperately tried to remain optimistic about our chances, but just 4 wins in our last 18 matches tells its own story.

Some will point out that this disappointing spell of form began when Andy Reid last wore a Charlton shirt (ironically against tomorrow's opponents). But does that really tell the full story? A quick scan of the apparent talent available to Pards suggests not, and would do a disservice to Reid's genuine but ultimately flawed ability.

So where does the blame lay? Perhaps we all simply had unrealistic expectations (me very obviously included), and that this season is merely setting the foundations for a medium-term building process. Certainly whilst achieving promotion from here is an unlikely prospect at this point, I see no great reason for abject pessimism. The core of our team is young, currently underperforming, but will surely only improve.

I am concerned however that a number of our players lack the hunger required to go to say Turf Moor on a miserable Tuesday night, and dig in for a result. Consider for example that fully nine of our starting eleven that night have played Premiership football before. One would hope that professional pride would be motivation enough, but who believes that anymore?

Pards will doubtless come under pressure from some quarters if our season continues to fade away, but we need to allow him to finish what he has started at The Valley. Consider the sheer number of players currently out on loan in the lower divisions; if just a couple return with the spark of Kelly Youga, then we really could be onto something. Not all of his transfer signings have paid off meanwhile, but the likes of Varney, Gray and Moutaouakil have plenty of potential. Injuries to the likes of Todorov and Bougherra just as they were coming into form meanwhile have not helped in the slightest.

On the back of three defeats, most fans might have preferred relegation fodder to be visiting The Valley rather than high-flying WBA. However it is precisely those types of games that we have squandered valuable points in, so I don't resent the visit of the Baggies, not withstanding our failure to beat them in three previous meetings this season. Sixth place remains a possibility, but it's no longer in our hands. Let the players just relax now and see what happens.

Some of Pardew's team selections in recent weeks have been a little baffling. Fans don't know as much as the manager (nor as much as they like to think), but equally they can see from bitter experience for example that Ambrose is not a wide player, or that Lita is not well-suited to playing as a lone frontman etc. etc.. Let's get back to basics in a classic 4-4-2: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Sodje, McCarthy, Cook, Holland, Zheng, Sinclair, Gray, Lita.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Lita, Cook), WBA 0. Att: 24, 108.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stripped Bear

(not Charlton related, but just as depressing)

It's been an interesting week for Wall Street. Firstly, the financial world's arch nemesis Eliot Sptizer was forced to resign after being embroiled in a prostitution ring.

Then just a few days later, the ongoing rumours about Bear Stearns became reality with terrifying speed, the company ultimately being flogged last night to JP Morgan Chase for a humiliating $2 per share.

Some random thoughts firstly on Eliot Spitzer. He was already independently wealthy thanks to his family's real estate fortune, but exactly how good at sex does a prostitute have to be to warrant $4,300 per hour?

Maybe I'm naive, but that's about the same amount I pay the wife for two months of shopping and child-raising, and I bet the lovely Miss Dupre didn't iron Governor Spitzer's shirts. Then again, with stock markets and house prices falling as quickly as they are, at least he got a decent return on his money.

Let's imagine that she can summon up the energy to do four hourly assignments per day (that's Dupre, not my wife). If I was her agent, I'd sell the work/life balance aspects to her as 'one hour on, two hours off'. If she started at a rather civilised 9am, she'd leave her last satisfied customer at 7pm, allowing plenty of time for dinner and a well-earned gin and tonic.

So she could earn $120,400 per week, or approx £60,000. Do those types of earnings remind you of any other profession by chance? For the first time I'm starting to think footballers might be underpaid, even the ones that play for Charlton.

Talking of people that needed a few grand before they got f*cked, Bear Stearns was the other big story last week in New York. Joe Lewis, the Bahamas-based UK billionaire is rumoured to have personally lost over $1billion buying up Bear Stearns stock during recent months.

Interestingly, Lewis is indirectly the owner of Tottenham Hotspur which really does prove that every cloud has a silver lining. Darren Bent meanwhile was said to be 'over the moon', that he was now only his second worst investment of all time.

As someone who has been cynical, and at times downright contemptuous about the sham that masqueraded as US/UK capitalism over the past five or so years, we are now firmly in the 'I told you so' stage. Unfortunately as I relayed to a journalist friend at the Financial Times today, we are about to head into the 'now I'm also really scared' stage.

A quick recap on how we got here. Global interest rates were cut sharply after the tech bubble burst in 2000, and again after the terrorist attacks in Sep 2001. The (flawed) attraction of low nominal interest rates set in train a wave of leverage which lifted asset prices across the world, particularly property and equities. As asset prices rose further, confidence grew that even more leverage could be applied, thus creating a seemingly virtuous circle that the bulls tried to explain in the language of a 'new paradigm', as opposed to just another bubble.

I think there's an Arabic phrase that, ' fills the cracks.' Inevitably with the application of leverage seemingly being risk-free, money did indeed fill the cracks, most notoriously in the realm of the US subprime borrower. However this current crisis is not about unemployed 'homebuyers' in Michigan, because the first cracks could have appeared anywhere across the spectrum of dumb lending. Thus any forlorn hope that the crisis would be limited to the large (but ultimately manageable) losses of $250bn or so from subprime, are clearly now in tatters.

Barely a week has passed during the last year, when even those who pay a keen interest in the markets, have not been forced to learn about some new grotesque financial creation. Terms such as SIVs, conduits, Alt-A mortgages, option ARMs, monoline insurers, and CDO squared, have entered the lexicon of even the tabloids, as editors scurry to explain to their readers what it all means to them.

The degree to which the world's banks have expanded their balance sheets in just a few years is truly mind-boggling. By way of an example, Merrill Lynch has so far written off $24.5billion in capital, equivalent to fully 68% of its book value at 1st Jan 2007. That book value represented the accumulated equity and reserves of a 93-year old institution, the sum total of the hard work and innovation of its countless past employees, just simply now vanished at the stroke of an auditor's pen.

The solution to most financial crises, is simply to cut interest rates. Unfortunately this has not, and more worryingly will not solve this crisis. The problem ironically is not a lack of money nor the cost thereof; the sovereign wealth funds of Asia and the Middle East particularly are flush with cash, as ultimately are the central banks whose ability to print money is essentially limitless, inflation concerns aside.

The problem this time is one of solvency, and a complete lack of transparency; the banks need equity right now, not liquidity. Those aforementioned sovereign wealth funds initially provided some, and have already been burned. They won't be so forthcoming this time around.

Millions of loans issued to US homebuyers (and UK ones too I suspect) are fundamentally 'insolvent'; there is no interest rate (including zero) which will allow the borrower to make good on the loan. Meanwhile, thanks to the aforementioned financial creativity of the banks in recent years (especially as it pertains to 'securitisation', ie. the slicing up of debts) no-one can be sure where the losses lie, or more pertinently how much they amount to.

Thus cue a complete unwillingness to lend even to other banks, let alone to apparently creditworthy homeowners, investors or corporations. The virtuous circle has turned vicious, and to its list of victims one can now add Bear Stearns to Northern Rock.

At some level it was reassuring that the Federal Reserve negotiated a successful bailout for Bear Stearns, before the demand for cash from its counterparties and clients turned into a devastating rout. At least for now, they have avoided the humiliation of nationalisation that now haunts the UK. However the share price action today, particularly as it pertained to another venerable Wall Street institution Lehman Brothers, suggests that the 'great unwind' remains firmly in motion.

In all likelihood, the Fed will cut US interest rates by a further 0.75% on Tuesday (possibly by more), in another desperate, but surely flawed attempt to kick start the credit motor again. Eventually the Bank of England will cut UK rates to 3% and beyond, and damned be the pound and inflation.

The main benefit of the rate cuts however will be to further 'steepen' the yield curve (increasing the difference between short-term and long-term interest rates), allowing those banks in the strongest relative positions (think HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, Lloyds TSB etc..) to slowly increase margins, and to begin rebuilding capital. The weaker financial institutions meanwhile will either fail, be nationalised or be snapped up at firesale prices.

The authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are terrified of recession, but it's exactly what both countries need to reassert equilibrium. The UK's current account deficit is now larger (as a % of GDP) than America's, which is the only statistic you need to be highly sceptical of Messrs. Brown or Darling's assertions that the economy is in good shape, or at least immune from the current financial shenanigans. The days of 'spend today, save tomorrow' are over; for the timebeing, cash is king and the piper finally needs to be paid.

When global interest rates were cut after 2000 (see above), it was occurring alongside deflationary pressures emanating from China, India and other emerging markets, aided by the fixed currency pegs that many of them still adopt. Thus the authorities in the West were seemingly able to produce the so-called 'Goldilocks' scenario of solid growth and controlled inflation ('not too hot, not too cold').

By extrapolating this pleasant but unrealistic scenario forward, many of the stupid assumptions that inflated this bubble were built, as if our new friends in Asia wouldn't one day demand the same living standards that we now take for granted.

Unfortunately for us, those same nations have now created a degree of self-sufficient growth, from which their demand for commodities is seemingly insatiable, whilst their supply is inherently constrained (think the 'peak oil thesis' for example). Thus unlike after the tech bubble, the central banks in the developed world now seemingly face a choice between either 'stagflation' (rising inflation and unemployment), or 'deflation', a catastrophic debt-fuelled bust, similar to that experienced by Japan in the 1990s.

Neither prospect is particularly edifying, but for now they seem to have opted for the former as the lesser of two evils. I trust you've buried gold in the garden.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ipswich preview

It is not clear what Charlton have to do to give up fifth position in the Championship, but we must give up at least a place if we lose at Portman Road tomorrow.

Given that the Tractor Boys will begin the day in tenth place, it shows how thin the line ultimately will be between a play-off place and midtable mediocrity. Unfortunately, whilst it may be the result of a combination of travel and work-related fatigue, it's hard for me to summon up much excitement about tomorrow's encounter, or indeed the rest of the season.

Our best hope thereof is to limp across the play-off line, at which point the slate will be wiped clean for the contenders. A four-way battle meanwhile for the two automatic places may conceivably work in the favour of the teams finishing 5th and 6th, since they will not be wondering 'what might have been'.

The performance at Burnley appears to have been a marked improvement, but the result was the same. In light of Ipswich's outstanding home record, we will have our work cut out not to record three consecutive defeats for the first time since October.

Portman Road has been the site of some famous away wins in recent years. Few of us will forget the day Carl Leaburn sealed a hat-trick with a penalty in 1995/96, nor Kevin Lisbie's stunning late winner 2001/02. Meanwhile, although an unlikely prospect at this point, the omens for a possible play-off rematch against Ipswich would be good given our two previous victories in 1986/87 and 1997/98.

Although partly injury-enforced, Charlton fans often find themselves scratching their heads at yet another unpredictable Pardew team selection. As Liverpool fans will tell you, when such rotation leads to good results, the manager can be labelled a genius. When they do not, he quickly becomes a 'tinkerman'.

I expect Pards to tinker as follows: Weaver, Halford, Thatcher, Sodje, McCarthy, Thomas, Ambrose, Zheng, Holland, Gray, Lita. Subs: Elliot, Fortune, Semedo, Varney, Iwelumo.

NY Addick predicts: Ipswich 2 (Counago 2), Charlton 0. Att: 25, 938.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Burnley preview

After the shameful display at the weekend, tomorrow night offers a fixture for the romantics to reminisce about....Burnley vs Charlton.

In light of Saturday's performance, the horrid weather and the usual midweek travel challenges, our away support at Turf Moor could well be in just double figures. At least Pards won't be able to blame the unrealistic expectations of the watching Addicks.

In case anyone had forgotten where the humble supporter lay in the 'priorities of the authorities' (a good name for an album there), Blackpool travel to QPR, on the same evening that we travel to Burnley. Of course it would be too difficult to carve the league into 'north' and 'south' for the purposes of selecting those fixtures to be played midweek.

A good friend of mine here in New York is a Burnley fan. Along with a fellow WBA fan here, we struck a unique betting proposition. For each of the six fixtures between our respective clubs, the loser (if applicable) would be obliged to purchase a top-quality bottle of champagne to share with his two compatriots. In addition, further bottle(s) would be due at the end of the season based upon respective league positions.

Ever the charitable type (especially where northerners are concerned), I leaped to the defence of my Burnley friend and declared the competition fundamentally unfair given the relegation battle they would surely soon to be embarking upon. "Have a 26-point head start," I offered eagerly, perhaps the most costly misjudgment since Richard Murray turned to Les Reed and said, "...well done, you've got the job." Just for good measure, I gave WBA a 2-point start as well.

In light of the two defeats so far, the current league table, plus a bonus FA Cup defeat for good measure, it's not for nothing that I'd surely be heartily cheered if I visited the vineyards of Moet & Chandon, or Verve Clicquot. I wouldn't mind, but it's not even my tipple of choice; it's guaranteed to end in a headache.

I've been desperately searching for positives from Saturday, and I think I've found one. If there's something worse than losing when you've played badly, it's losing when you've played well. The latter requires a tender approach from management to lift the players from their morose state. The former meanwhile requires a good old-fashioned kick up the backside, and hopefully (even in the minds of today's modern footballer) a strong motivation to win back some pride.

The omens are actually pretty good. Firstly let's cheer up a bit; we've only lost 5 of our last 18 league games, a run that immediately followed the home defeat against the Clarets. Admittedly we've only won 6, but the last two (shocking) defeats (versus Scunthorpe and Blackpool) were followed immediately by excellent controlled wins over Palace and Sheffield United respectively. Indeed we've only had one pair of back-to-back losses since October.

It's that Jekyll and Hyde nature of our form particularly in 2008 which continues to surprise and infuriate, probably not least Pardew himself. Some have suggested the spate of loan signings has destabilised the club, but the jury is out in my view. It is difficult to argue that Mills and Sodje have not added value, whilst it is surely too early to form a conclusion about Cook, Sinclair and Lita. Greg Halford just doesn't look like a footballer to me, and I'd much rather see Moutaouakil partnering Youga on the flanks, as he did to good effect for a while.

However the true value of the loan players may emerge just when we need it to, in the play-offs. Rather than a last-gasp attempt to secure automatic promotion, perhaps it is actually a moderately high-risk strategy to mould a new short-term team which can just do enough to secure a top six berth, but which then reaches its peak as others are fading. It doesn't take a enormous leap of faith to imagine that the nervous looking Sinclair, or the rusty Lita might both be tearing defences apart in two months time.

The answer probably just lies in the 'work in progress' nature of the team this season, emerging as it did from the ashes of last season. The sum of our bulging squad has clearly been less than its parts, but we're still fifth for goodness sake and still probably (just) odds on for a play-off berth. If I retrospectively inject my early-season optimism with a healthy does of realism, and handily ignore my champagne bill, then I might dare to suggest this season has been a minor success. Go on challenge me, I dare you.

I'm determined to second-guess Pardew's team selection at least once more this season, although his unpredictability, combined with Saturday's disaster, make this an even more precarious choice than usual. The away games at Burnley, Ipswich and Plymouth will define our season, so it's vital he gets it right: Weaver, Halford, Youga, McCarthy, Sodje, Cook, Zheng, Holland, Semedo, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliott, Fortune, Ambrose, Iwelumo, Lita.

NY Addick predicts: Burnley 1 (Cole), Charlton 2 (Zheng, Lita). Att: 14, 209.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Preston Dead End

As half-time approached, I turned to the fellow sufferer next to me (who was well-aware of my NYA alter ego) , and declared, "I'm glad I don't have to watch this every week."

When you have only seen seven games in the flesh this season, but they've included those at home against Scunthorpe, QPR and now Preston (Total points: 1), one is torn between two opposing conclusions.

Either those performances (and presumably several more like them), are a damning indictment on Alan Pardew's ability to maximise the potential of such a strong squad, albeit on paper only. Or perhaps alternatively he should be warmly congratulated for having managed, despite being let down with such regularity by his players, to keep us firmly in the top six essentially all season, and not allowed us to tamely fall away like say, Sheffield United.

Yesterday's result could have been considerably worse. After all, Tamas Priskin had already wasted a golden chance before his compatriot Chris Brown scored, whilst the Hungarian was thwarted superbly by Nicky Weaver early in the second half. Meanwhile one could argue Paddy McCarthy's slightly fortuitous equaliser was Charlton's only meaningful chance of the game.

The first surprise occurred before the game had even started. As expected Leroy Lita started, but most would have presumed his ideal strike partner would be Andy Gray (or perhaps Chris Iwelumo), but certainly not Luke Varney, an eager channel-runner, but hardly a target man. Meanwhile, as a result of reverting to 4-4-2, Darren Ambrose was returned to a position on the left-flank from which he has never impressed, and did not do so again today.

However given that Varney did start alongside Lita, it presumably was not in the gameplan to hoof hopeful long balls in their general direction, rather than seek to exploit their pace in a more subtle fashion. Unfortunately it seems Greg Halford (total transfer value: £5.75m) in particular must have missed the teamtalk.

Inevitably we failed to retain any sort of quality possession, the ever-enthusiastic central midfield pair of Zheng and Holland were threatened with neck strain as the ball sailed over their heads, whilst Ambrose and Sam/Sinclair were rendered redundant. It really was one of the most dreadful first half performances I can recall seeing, and whilst the booing was hardly helpful, the blame lay squarely on the pitch.

We looked better (all relative of course) when Andy Gray had replaced Varney at half-time. Whilst the Scot has yet to open his scoring account, there's something about his style that suggests to me he will be a big asset next season if we remain in the Championship (an ever more likely outcome at this point). Not only is he also called 'Andy', but he looks like our former hero Hunt, and plays an awful lot like him too. Fans will recall meanwhile that he also took time to settle, before catapulting us to a Championship title as top scorer in his second season.

It was poetic justice of sorts when Brown's brilliant second goal killed off any hopes of a Charlton victory, that would have been totally undeserved, but for a minute or so was not entirely off the cards. We had shown a greater inclination to pass the ball in the second period, but the frequency with which promising situations were curtailed by miscontrols or crosses that failed to beat the first defender, suggested that any goal we scored would ultimately be a messy one, and so it transpired.

I am reluctant to list my player ratings for fear of wearing out the '4' button on my PC. Suffice to say that Weaver and Holland in particular were largely blameless, whilst Pards needs to swifly learn how to say, "Zheng, please play for us next season" in Mandarin. Leroy Lita meanwhile should be commended for showing considerable enthusiasm, even if he was surely tempted to call Steve Coppell at half-time and beg for parole. He needs to start alongside Gray for the remainder of the season.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Preston preview

Saturday's fixture will be the last of the trio that I will get to see on this trip, one that began with considerable optimism at Bramall Lane, now injected with a dose of realism after a flat performance on Tuesday night.

Away from matters on the pitch, it's been a unusually busy week for the Addicks, one that's seen the arrival of yet another Premiership loan signing (our fifth), as well as the confirmed departure of Peter Varney. As if that wasn't enough excitement, Izale McLeod's career at Charlton went from bad to worse following a serious injury sustained for Colchester.

The arrival of Leroy Lita can't be anything but a positive for us, but it perhaps does not reflect well on Pardew's judgment, having spent approx £4m on Andy Gray and Luke Varney, and brought in Iwelumo, albeit on a free. With the additional presence of Scott Sinclair (who can presumably play as a striker), it implies he does not consider that trio good enough.

With the squad now at our disposal (now including five Premiership players with a total market value of perhaps £12m+), it would be something of an indictment if we fail to at least reach the play-offs. There's been a nagging sense that Pards has never worked out what his best team (or even formation) is, and thus just adding new personnel arguably increases the problem, rather than solves it.

Peter Varney's departure meanwhile was not an enormous surprise to me at least, although the exact details of his 'personal reasons' were not disclosed. Notwithstanding the lack of disclosure, it must be deflating after seven Premiership years, to find yourself managing the day-to-day shrinkage of the club's balance sheet. It can't be much fun declaring redundancies, cutting back budgets and 'enjoying' the hospitality at Scunthorpe or Blackpool.

I have never met Varney, although I treasure the framed letter on my wall confirming that they would not be pursuing my application to be first team coach. Given the nature of my application, it's perhaps indicative of the warm regard in which he's held, that he took the time to even sign the rejection letter.

The positive direction of the club was clearly inspired by the likes of Richard Murray and Martin Simons (and not least by their money), but Varney was entrusted with executing their plans, and it's firmly been a job well done in that respect. Some of the cases he argued on the club's behalf smacked a little of unrealistic self-righteousness (Chelsea's sandy pitch; the Osei Sankofa High Court injunction etc..), but presumably he was only obeying orders. Either way, thanks Peter for all your hard work, and good luck in the future.

I perhaps ought to see some sort of Harley Street specialist, but I still can't shake off the thought that we might still win automatic promotion. Eight wins from ten would take us to 80 points, quite possibly enough to ensure one of the two top spots. I'm not sure I fancy our chances at Ipswich, or at home to WBA, but as for the others, why not? They begin on Saturday.

Guessing Pardew's line-up in recent weeks has been akin to selecting numbers for the National Lottery; essentially a random process, with virtually no chance of being correct. However I'm relatively confident that we will line up as follows on Saturday: Weaver, Halford, Youga, McCarthy, Sodje, Thomas, Zheng, Holland, Sinclair, Lita, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Thatcher, Ambrose, Cook, Varney.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Lita), Preston 2 (Carter, Mellor). Att: 23, 181.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bristol Cream

After the high of seeing my first Charlton away win since 2003, it was inevitable that tonight would feel flat. However I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the floodlit Valley atmosphere, not withstanding the difficulty in getting there by 7.45.

Having bemoaned our slow starts at The Valley, we began where we had left off at Bramall Lane, scored a terrific opener, and thereafter we were mediocre, and arguably lucky to secure a point. It was as if we scored too early.

As expected, Pards named an unchanged side although Darren Ambrose appeared to be playing at the apex of the central midfield 'triangle', with Zheng reverting to a deeper role. Andy Gray returned to a bench meanwhile that was full of attacking intent, but ultimately to no avail.

The opening goal was somewhat unexpectedly contrived. Greg Halford had trotted 30 yards or so from the right flank to take a throw-in, yet the enigmatic Kelly Youga opted to throw it quickly and short, before being involved again on the edge of the box, teeing up Ambrose who finished cooly. In a way, the build-up to the goal emphasised our subsequent problems; too little football, and too many speculative long balls and in Halford's case, long throws.

Whether under the direction of Pards or otherwise, the goal served to stall our momentum, and although Nicky Weaver was rarely troubled, we seemed only too pleased to watch Bristol City maintain the bulk of possession. Jerome Thomas was lively on the left flank, but the 4-5-1 formation that worked so well in Sheffield lacked guile and inspiration tonight. It was no surprise when one of Saturday's heroes Chris Iwelumo, was withdrawn in the second half.

If anything we only got worse in the second period, Bristol City earning a deserved equaliser perhaps not in terms of chances created, but their willingness to play passing football to a higher quality than we managed for 82 minutes. They probably sensed three points were there for the taking as opposed to just one, which offered Charlton a sniff or two of a winner on the break, but Matt Holland's strike was the closest we came (ironically deflected over by Luke Varney).

Given that City hit the crossbar and forced a last-gasp tackle from Youga at the death, it was very much a point gained at the final whistle, but any dreams we may have had of winning an unlikely second consecutive Championship title, are now surely dashed.

City were hardly world-beaters tonight, but one could see why they are currently the cream of the division. Their passing was generally crisper, their movement subtler (especially from the impressive Nick Carle), whilst Dele Adebola led the line admirably, and seemingly bravely too. Andy Gray gave one or two hints that he might have done a similar job for Charlton had he started, but it would have been harsh on big Chris.

Perhaps Pards could have moved to a 4-4-2 sooner, or perhaps Sinclair and Cook could have been given a genuine chance, but in truth for the first time I'm inclined to conclude (for numerous reasons) that we've run out of excuses....we're simply not good enough for automatic promotion this season.

If only we could effectively secure at least a play-off place, one senses we can relax and push on either for an unlikely 2nd, or at least 3rd or 4th place that would give second leg home advantage. However with away trips to Plymouth, Ipswich and Barnsley still to come, if you offered me 6th right now, I'd probably grab your hand off. Say what you like about the Championship, but it's a fascinating division.

Here are my player ratings:

Weaver 6 - was not forced into any meaningful saves, but handling was secure enough
Halford 5 - laboured going forward, and did not convince in defence; throw-ins were nullified
Youga 5 - far too casual on occasion; plays with Ronaldo-esque confidence, but the Portuguese winger warrants it
Sodje 6 - given a harder time by Adebola than James Beattie
McCarthy 7 - a natural leader; kept the defence together under pressure
Thomas 7 - showed touches of real class; he should have been the best player in this division
Ambrose 6 - hard to argue with his scoring record, but does he do enough elsewhere?
Holland 7 - you always know exactly what you'll get, and guess what? You got it.
Zheng 7 - arguably the most important player in the side; just a little too similar to Holland
Varney 5 - didn't get the breaks tonight; if Pards insists on 4-5-1, would Sinclair or Sam not be a better option?
Iwelumo 5 - well-shackled and under-supported
Gray 6 - no obvious telepathy with Varney, but a cannier footballer than Iwelumo perhaps
Sinclair 5 - lovely yellow boots, but not clear he was wearing studs underneath
Cook - a pointlessly late introduction for the obviously tiring Ambrose

(brief) Bristol City preview

Time constraints prevent me from writing a fuller preview, but having enjoyed a thoroughly professional win at Sheffield United, I'll just say that we should expect the same line-up, appeal for the same performance, and hope for the same outcome.

Many of us have been expecting Bristol City's momentum to falter, but their amazing propensity to register single-goal wins has seen them climb to the Championship summit. I'm not sure which was the last team to win two consecutive promotions to reach the Premiership (Manchester City perhaps?), but it would be a marvellous achievement if they managed it.

The nine-point gap between the two sets of 'Robins' is less of a chasm than it seems given tonight's opportunity, and City's amazing goal difference of just +3.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Varney, Ambrose), Bristol City 0. Att: 22, 820.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Closer than a Blade

I had already begun to plan my post-match blog before the game had even started….."...if only the players could show the same effort on the pitch, that I had shown just getting here." That’s what nearly three months without an away win can do for you state of mind; I shouldn’t have worried.

An overnight flight with no sleep, and then a 180-mile drive punctuated by two stops for power naps and copious amounts of Red Bull, was cause enough for me to be questioning my own sanity, particularly as my Sheffield United-supporting friend had cried off at the last minute.

However, as I weighed up the decision whether to go or not at about 7am yesterday morning, I miraculously received guidance from above, or at least from 10,000 feet or so. As the plane circled in one of the ‘stacks’ to the south of the city, I could see Selhurst Park out of the left side of the plane, and then as we banked to begin our final approach to Heathrow, I could coincidentally see The Valley out of the right side, thanks to the clarity of the morning light.

It was like a real-time embodiment of ‘good versus evil’, ‘yin versus yang’, or 'Jekyll versus Hyde' (that's enough contrasts - Ed.). At that very moment, my decision was made; I had to go to Bramall Lane.

Curiously, on the drive home, it dawned on me that I haven’t seen Charlton win away from home (in the flesh) for several years (not since 28 December 2003 at White Hart Lane to be precise) – no wonder it felt so sweet.

Despite well-advertised weather-related problems on the trains, the M1 was blissfully traffic-free, and I arrived in Sheffield for my first visit to the stadium, a rather understated collection of modern prefab-style stands, surrounded by the type of scenery that is best described simply as ‘Northern’.

By my estimation, about 800 Addicks had made the trip, and were in good voice and spirits throughout, offering ‘Super’ Alan Pardew plenty of support even before the opening whistle, a gesture he duly acknowledged. Our first hint meanwhile that the lads might well be ‘up for it’ (at least more so than at Blackpool) occurred immediately after the teams emerged from the tunnel.

Rather than indulge in their own individual pre-match routine, they ran en masse to the far corner flag to undertake a short intense series of shuttles. Presumably it was a premeditated plan to avoid the type of sluggish start that we suffered last weekend, but it was done right in front of the away fans congregated in that corner, and perhaps the visual message to them was not unintended.

Upon first sight, Pards’ team selection appeared rather conservative, leaving both Cook and Sinclair on the bench, whilst preferring the less subtle talents of Iwelumo, over the absent Gray. However within the opening seconds it was clear that the changes were more subtle than they perhaps appeared.

Luke Varney soon took up a position wide right, whilst Zheng was utilised virtually as a second striker, albeit a deep-lying one. With Darren Ambrose shifted inside, and Matt Holland clearly the ‘holding’ player, we suddenly had a quartet of runners to support the hard solitary work of Iwelumo, and it worked a treat.

We dominated the first period, denying the Blades even a sniff of goal (thanks to an exemplary four-man defensive display), but appeared to be heading back to the dressing rooms on level terms having seen Paddy Kenny deny Varney, Ambrose and Zheng, each chance a direct result of the exact deep-running mentioned above.

However an injury-time long throw from Greg Halford caused mayhem, and Iwelumo was on hand to pick up the pieces from close range. Halford’s throws really are a thing to behold, and far more dangerous than a mere corner because not only are two-handed throws far more accurate than one-footed kicks, but they are delivered from a height of two metres or so. They were a threat all afternoon, whilst offering a useful route out of defensive trouble thanks to his ability to hurl the ball towards the halfway line, from close to the corner flag.

It was clear very early in the second half that the game would be more open, with Varney for example seeing more space in the first few minutes, than he had during the entire first period. It wasn’t long meanwhile before Zheng had embarked on a breakaway solo run that produced a solid save from Kenny.

With the Blades attacking a noticeably subdued ‘Kop’, it was inevitable that we would face some pressure (particularly of the aerial kind given James Beattie’s presence), but in truth we were rarely seriously troubled, thanks to McCarthy and particularly Sodje’s faultless work.

Moreover, their second half ‘need’ to attack their visitors played somewhat into our hands given the pace we continued to maintain on the break, even more so when Scott Sinclair replaced Luke Varney (though the youngster almost learned a painful lesson about not dribbling on the edge of his own box). I think it’s an exciting signing for Charlton, though I might have advised him not to make his debut in yellow boots.

I had been offering Chicago Addick regular text updates, and midway through the second half I informed him that the Blades had most of the possession, but we still looked more likely to score next. Just a few minutes later, my hypothesis was proven right, Sam Sodje leaping magnificently to bury a Darren Ambrose corner and secure the points. His joyous celebration dance (not to mention his superb all-round performance) was enough to suggest he is the one current loan signing that we really must try to secure full-time. His infectious enthusiasm is positively Chris Powell-esque.

Our second goal was the cure for an exodus on a scale, last seen during biblical times. If the official crowd was 23,000+, there was barely a third of that number left at the final whistle. The early leavers missed a red card for Stephen Quinn (somewhat harsh in my view), and Sodje’s last-gasp copycat header which would have been the icing on a terrific day’s cake.

I’ve not seen Charlton enough times this season to form very high-conviction conclusions, but it is hard to believe that we would be languishing so far from an automatic promotion place, if this type of performance had exemplified most of our away days. It wasn’t that our football was that sparkling, but we played as a unit, defended with honour, and exhibited enough attacking nous to secure the three points.

Indeed, I was once again reminded that Championship football is typically played at the same pace as the Premiership, but with less technical ability on show; the result is often a mad ‘kick ‘n rush’ which wouldn’t look out of place in a pub league, although the fitness levels are superior. If there was a way of calculating how often the ball was firmly under the ‘control’ of one team or the other (as opposed to merely in their very temporary 'possession'); I’d be surprised if the sum total was more than a few minutes of the ninety.

Here are my player ratings:

Weaver (7) – had little to do, but his handling was largely efficient.
Halford (7) – on this showing, Pardew’s ticking-off worked wonders – he seems a perfectly capable full-back (albeit not of the overlapping type), whilst his throw-ins and height offer alternative attacking options
Youga (7) – he clearly loves playing football and is blessed with great talent; tie him down to a long-term contract
McCarthy (8) – along with Sodje, did not put a foot wrong; why was he missing for so long in 2007?
Sodje (9) – sublime in both penalty boxes; James Beattie’s mid-second half substitution said it all
Thomas (6) – flattered to deceive, but looked more interested than normal and posed an occasional threat
Holland (7) – as always, he sets a great example even if his ultimate value added is rather limited
Zheng (7) – ran his socks off, but did not quite get the breaks in front of goal; the position probably suits him
Ambrose (6) – frustrating as always, though created perhaps three half-chances – doesn’t play as if he cares enough
Varney (6) – was generally well-shackled out wide, but his work-rate impressed again
Iwelumo (8) – ploughed a lone furrow to great effect; deserved his goal, and won his fair share aerially
Sinclair (6) – missed a half chance late on; plenty of pace and promise
Semedo (-) – late substitute; Quinn had it in for him for some reason; got straight up