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.


At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear NYA,
Do I detect a re-evaluation of Pardew? He had a difficult task of rebuilding a team for the Championship but made easier by the generousity of the funds available yet I find it difficult to see that we are any further forward than the beginning of the season. Pardew has made some decent acquisitions but doesn't play them eg Semedo, Moutouakil, but brings in more players to gamble some more with Mr Murrays money.Naturally I don't expect him to become more cautious as the stakes get higher- quite the reverse. I expect we will reach the end of the season like true gambling addicks -penniless and none the wiser.

At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Chris C said...


Agreed. The result yesterday was a hammer blow. A feel a little as I did after the failure last season to beat either Man City away or Reading at home over the Easter weekend. Those results put an end to any realistic chance we had of survival, whilst the combination of the performances and results against Bristol City and Preston last week have removed any realistic hope of automatic promotion and I’m afraid, from an entirely objective standpoint, now make us outsiders to reach to the Play-Offs. If that seems to be pessimistic, consider that since the last game Andy Reid completed (Ipswich at home) we’ve taken just 20 points from 17 games. We’ll need to do much better than that over the next nine matches, a number of which have suddenly become six pointers, if we are to remain in the top six.
I honestly didn’t think Reid would make this much difference. Perhaps I was wrong, but the lack of a consistent system and game plan (4-4-2, 4-5-1) and constant changes of personnel certainly hasn’t helped either. As you say, the interesting question is whether Pardew is directly at fault because he can’t make his mind up or indirectly because he has bought the wrong players. In Pardew’s defence it might be argued, (1) that we have been unlucky with injuries (Todorov may have made a difference; the recent injury to the much improved and influential Bougherra has come at a bad time; Holland missed the start of the season and so on), (2) that some of the good young players he has bought are not quite ready (Moutaouakil; Semedo; even Varney etc) and (3) that his senior, experienced players haven’t been good enough and have let him down badly (Fortune; Ambrose and Thomas). However, it is sobering to note, not least with an eye to the future, that throughout the season we’ve only had 3 players who have been automatic choices (Weaver, Zhi and Reid before he left and when he was fit) and that of the rest, Iwelumo, Fortune, Sam and Ambrose have made the most appearances (in that order). It’s little wonder we’ve struggled; of those players only Lloyd Sam has looked the part as far as I’m concerned and we all know his final ball has let him down.
I sense that a part of the problem has been (and remains) that Pardew is under very intense pressure to achieve promotion this season; that end, which reflects the financial imperative, justifies any means and he just hasn’t had the luxury of patience. A classic example is Moutaouakil who has been undermined first by the arrival of Mills and now by Halford. The consequence of this pressure is that we now face a critical sequence of games, lacking in confidence and without any clear view of either the best system or of personnel. All hope is not lost, but a lot now depends on the ability of individuals to “win us games when it really matters”. It seems that Pards is relying on an ability to scrap and hoping that a Lita, a Sinclair or perhaps even a Zhi will conjure something in the key games and sneak us into the Play-offs. Once there, we are 1 in 4 for promotion. For the entire season I’ve been hoping for much more, but the reality hit me hard yesterday afternoon.

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've thought and said similar Chris.

And i think you have hit that nail re the pressure to go up this season being the root cause

Pembury Addick

At 10:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The blame lies with Pardew. When was the last time you saw a Charlton winger go down the wing and put a decent cross in? We have no width (despite having wingers galore) and the fitness levels are poor. Moo2kil bombs forward all game where Halford seems ike he hasn't got the legs so "hoofs" it forward. Holland for all his effort doesn't have the pace for the Championship and what has Semedo done wrong this season? Pardew is always reluctant to make a change in a game e.g. Bristol City(why didn't he make a change at the start of the 2nd half when we were getting battered?). I would love to see Allardyce at the Valley for the start of next season!

At 11:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem from day 1 has been and remains Ambrose .
If they drop him and play Semedo , all will be well .

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

It was great to meet you and I am sorry you had a poor game. The one thing we don't want to get into is this revolving doors manager game. I am puzzled about why Pards doesn't use Semedo more as I think he is a cultured player. We must beware of the 'Goldfish' syndrome - and I don't think we'd be much better off with Andy Reid.


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