Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pardew's Press Conference Guide

A good friend of mine is a Barnsley fan, and he stumbled across this amazing piece of paper whilst walking back from Oakwell. Now I'm desperate to find versions 1 and 2:


"Obviously I'm very disappointed with the result, but I'm pleased with the effort shown/some of the stuff we played/the way we kept on going* (*delete as appropriate)"

"It was always going to be hard today because (insert opponent's name) are fighting for their lives/in terrific form/a big strong side* (*delete as appropriate)"

[IF HOME GAME] "I thought the home fans today were a little bit subdued/obviously frustrated/needing a lift* (*delete as appropriate) and it affected the players."

[IF AWAY GAME] "The Charlton fans were terrific right from the off."

"It was a blow losing (insert recently injured player's name) during the week, and whilst (insert name of player who replaced injured player) came in and did a job, it affected the balance of the side."

"I don't mean to keep going on about injuries, but I do feel we have really missed the guile/strength/pace* (*delete as appropriate) of Todorov/Thatcher/McLeod* (*delete as appropriate)."

"If Ambrose/Varney/Iwelumo* (*delete as appropriate) had tucked away that early chance, it could have been very different but we've been done by another defensive howler/long-range effort/refereeing decision* (*delete as appropriate)"

"The referee/wind/injury/pitch* (*delete as appropriate) has done us no favours today, and it really threw our gameplan out the window."

"I thought (insert name of debutant) was our best player today, and he'll be a big influence for us next season/one day/in the future* (*delete as appropriate) but he's still got a lot to learn."

"There are clearly areas of the team that need improvement in the January window/the summer/training* (*delete as appropriate), and that's what I'll be working towards."

"We'll learn our lessons from this defeat and bounce back in time for next Tuesday/next Saturday/next season* (*delete as appropriate)."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tickety Boo

Back in November 2006, I wrote a rather verbose piece about how Charlton ought to copy the likes of Starbucks, and introduce a little more guile into its ticket pricing policy.

The general thesis was that particularly on a match-by-match basis (and to a lesser degree for seasons tickets too), the club's generally flat pricing structure whilst admirably simple, was infact rather illogical.

In short, the club was missing out on the chance for its less price sensitive supporters to signal their willingness to pay more, whilst potentially alienating its more price sensitive fans from attending at all. Appropriately structured, it was also missing out on the chance to increase revenues too, for any given attendance.

I wrote that piece as someone who considers themselves extremely price sensitive when it comes to certain material goods (clothes, electronics, watches etc..), but unashamedly price insensitive when it comes to certain services (air travel, hotels, event tickets etc..).

Not surprisingly therefore given my devotion to Charlton, I'd gladly pay considerably more than say £15 per game for the best seats in the ground. It was illogical of the club not to free me of some more of my cash, whilst at the same time using some of the excess to part-subsidise those that feel differently.

Lo and behold, fast forward 18 months and I read the news that Charlton are adapting their ticketing policy for 2008/9 broadly on the lines I suggested:

"We have made some changes to the price structure because we wanted to reintroduce different match prices around the ground. The new season-ticket structure reflects that by introducing differentials in the more popular seating areas, so some prices have gone up and others have gone down."

If they did indeed find inspiration from my blog, I'm delighted to confirm I'll be providing the consultancy advice on a strictly pro bono basis (they're virtually a charity after all).

More seriously, the changes make a lot of sense and I welcome them. The continuation of the free Premiership season ticket offer was a 'no-brainer', although the value of the free option now embedded in a 2008/9 season ticket has been rather tarnished by this season's performances. Unfortunately I suspect it won't be a particularly powerful selling point this time around.

The only aspect that seems rather unnecessary is the implication that there are fixtures in the Championship that are more 'attractive' than others:

"The board has agreed that there will be a wider range of adult match prices next season, with a top price of £30 in the most expensive season-ticket blocks of the east and west stands for the most attractive fixtures and a standard price of £25 in those areas."

Other than possibly the fixture against Crystal Palace (who we may not play anyhow), none of the fixtures in this division whet the appetite. Perhaps it's time for the club to introduce a three-tier pricing structure for home games in 2008/9: "moderately attractive", "somewhat unattractive", and "how the hell did they get promoted?".

I'd even argue the number of fans at the Valley who even feel anything different about the Palace game, is broadly proportional to the number who saw the Addicks play home games regularly at Selhurst Park ie. not very many.

Although some of the claimed attendances at the Valley this season are about as credible as the government's official inflation figures, matches have been played on average to an 85% full stadium. Given the often sparsely filled Jimmy Seed Stand, this should be a source of great optimism. Meanwhile our average attendance of 23,024 is almost 50% higher than Palace's, and higher or on a par with Wigan, Portsmouth, Bolton, Reading, Fulham and Blackburn's.

I don't subscribe to the oft-held view that the team would be better off playing to a smaller but more passionate home crowd. A half-full stadium is truly a depressing sight to behold; just ask fans of Sheffield Wednesday (52% full on average), Burnley (55%) or Barnsley (49%). Let's instead pay tribute to the hard work of those who've worked tirelessly behind the scenes ever since even 'Target 10,000' seemed merely a pipe dream.

Friday, April 18, 2008

QPR preview

Charlton fans currently resemble sick animals, where the humane thing to do would be to put us out of our misery.

It remains absurd that the play-offs even remain a possibility with just 61 points from 43 games, but a win for Charlton tomorrow, defeat for Palace at Watford, and draw at Molineux would see us right back in the shake-up again. Ridiculous, but true. Then again, a defeat (and probably even a draw) for Charlton, and a Palace win and it's all over for the season.

I witnessed the home defeat to QPR in October, and in many ways it typified our season. Performances have lacked a cutting edge at home, and the players swiftly retreated back into their shells as the fans expressed their discontent. It's debatable which way the causation goes here, but just 8 wins from 22 home games (the same as our final opponents Coventry in 21st) is a sorry statistic.

However in defence of QPR, they did not look relegation material that day, and are now firmly in mid-table thanks to new management, and an injection of capital. One Charlton player assured a warm welcome however is Lee Cook, who donated his signing-on fee back to QPR before the recent takeover. One wonders if he got the money back, but knowing the ethics of most people involved in football, it's a silly question.

It's not clear what the motives are of the new owners, but QPR fans expecting a Chelsea-esque revival are likely to be disappointed. Some of their home attendances meanwhile have threatened to dip below the 10,000 mark this season (in a famously crappy stadium). In all likelihood it's a short-term bit of fun for their owners (they paid virtually nothing for it), with no desire for it to become a material cash burner as Chelsea has become for Abramovich.

Unlike Charlton however, they did benefit from being on the 'right' side of London (in the eyes of the world's billionaires at least), which should perhaps not be undestimated in light of our own failed searches for fresh capital.

Pards has shown more cavalier intent than Curbs ever did, but his risk-taking has not paid off often enough this season. Nonetheless, with anything less than a win almost worthless tomorrow, an extremely attacking line-up is assured. I expect us to line-up as follows: Weaver, Halford, Thatcher, Bougherra, McCarthy, Cook, Ambrose, Zheng, Holland, Gray, Lita. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Shelvey, Iwelumo, Varney.

NY Addick predicts: QPR 0, Charlton 1 (Gray). Att: 14, 372.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Player of the Year

Voting for the 2007/08 Player of the Year will begin at The Valley on Saturday. The season has been as disappointing in some respects as 2006/07, but whereas Scott Carson stood out as a shining light amongst the darkness last time, there is no such obvious candidate this time around.

I feel strongly that the winner of this award should be the player whose consistent value-added is the greatest (and thus probably transfer value too), rather than the one who is seen merely to 'give his all'. The latter ought to be a given (although it's not sadly), and we should not be seen to reward players who have been promoted to roles they are not ultimately good enough to perform in. Unfortunately this might mean Andy Reid scoops the prize, but it remains to be seen if he's on the ballot.

The legitimacy of my views is compromised by having seen only perhaps a dozen games live or on TV, but nonetheless here are my brief views on the genuine contenders:

My vote as the photo suggests would be for Zheng Zhi, whose faultless effort, versatility and vital goals (albeit not lately) make him the single most important player on the teamsheet. His biggest fault is perhaps an indirect one; it's not clear what formation or playing style gets the best out of him. I suspect the freer the role, the better he becomes (like a modern-day version of Lee Bowyer in 1995/96), but we do not yet have the players around him to permit it. It's worth continuing to experiment however because he has plenty to offer; the team should be built around him next season.

My 2nd place vote would go to Nicky Weaver, which may come as something of a surprise. However if your goalkeeper does not stand out due to his brilliance (like Carson or Dean Kiely), then the best compliment you can pay them, is that you almost forgot they were there. The mistake at Plymouth joined others this season that could be counted on one hand, and the speed with which he won over doubting Addicks fans speaks volumes. An excellent pre-season piece of business by Pards.

My 3rd place vote would go to Paddy McCarthy who was so poorly treated earlier in the season, yet has been team's outstanding defender since returning to the side. There's nothing complicated about his play; he simply completes the basic defensive tasks with aplomb (tackling, clearing, blocking etc..), whilst providing the occasional threat at our own set-pieces too. He walks and talks like a leader, and should be made club captain for next season.

The remaining contenders do not fill me at least with great enthusiasm, although I'm conscious that Matt Holland is probably a warm favourite. His case is always aided by the consistent way he undertakes the least glamorous aspects of midfield play, but take that away, and there's nothing much left. If one was being super critical, one might suggest that those positive attributes are the very least one expects from an experienced and presumably well-paid central midfielder. Then again, we used to have Bryan Hughes.

Also sure to garner many votes, again albeit not necessarily for the right reasons, will be Chris Iwelumo. Until he powered home successive headed winners at Southampton and Bristol City, his height had appeared to be a burden rather than an asset. Indeed, his general physical presence is not the force it perhaps should be, and instead his most valuable contributions have often been of the more subtle kind (witness those two well-taken goals at home to Sheffield Wednesday for example). Like Holland, his commitment is not debatable, and like the Irishman too, he is the type of player who will only take you so 9th for example.

The forgotten man who we ought to be reminded of at this time is Jose Semedo. If the vote had taken place over Xmas, the Portuguese may well have topped the poll thanks to his low-profile but highly effective performances in the holding midfield role. The departure of Reid forced Pards to reshuffle his hand, and Semedo was one of the obvious cards to be tossed away. Results thereafter provide plenty of evidence that he got it wrong, and if the Plymouth game provides any clues, he may still make a late and valuable impact on our season.

Several other players have shown fleeting glimpses of their potential, and at various times fans have waxed lyrical variously about Kelly Youga, Lloyd Sam, Svetoslav Todorov, Yassin Moutaouakil, Sam Sodje, Grant Basey, Madjid Bougherra and Luke Varney. However none has managed it on a consistent basis, or more pertinently in those cases where injuries were not a big factor, none have persuaded Pards that they should be given the opportunity to do so.

Others plainly have the requisite talent and skills, but for whatever reason (probably lack of desire I fear), contribute very little except consistent frustration. I am thinking of course about the likes of Jerome Thomas (no goals) and Darren Ambrose (plenty of goals, but not much else). It's time for Charlton and them to move on.

Of those players not yet mentioned above, and who started more than five League games, none made either a notable positive impact, or suggested they might have done (Jonathan Fortune, Andy Gray, Greg Halford, Danny Mills, Ben Thatcher, and Chris Powell).

Finally I'm holding out late hope that Leroy Lita (6 games, 3 goals) can propel us to a highly unlikely play-off place, and perhaps Premiership promotion glory. For that alone, he should be awarded the trophy.

Southampton preview

Charlton's season has not left much to say, which partly explains the infrequency of my posts recently. We fight on to the end of course, but the overwhelming sense is one of an opportunity lost, not least given that we are still amazingly just ten points from top spot.

However that relatively narrow gap (at least when viewed in the context of our form since Xmas), should not blind us from the true size of the challenge awaits us next season, almost certainly in the Championship.

If one views the 2007/08 Championship as being an outlier in terms of its compactness, then we may well have an additional 20 points to find next season if we are to go straight up at the second attempt. With little net new money available for transfers, Pardew's (admirable) policy of buying players with potential, rather than fading Premiership stars, will be genuinely tested.

A glance at the bottom six in the table makes for grim reading, not only for tomorrow's visitors Southampton, but also as an example of what can go wrong for formerly 'stable' Premiership clubs.

Just above the avowed minnows of Colchester and Scunthorpe (albeit collectors of 8 points from Charlton this season), sit Leicester, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Coventry. Each has had well-publicised financial problems, and whilst one has been led to believe Charlton is on a firmer footing, the inherent leverage within a declining football club can be devastating.

Saints fans will drown the Jimmy Seed Stand in a sea of yellow, the colour of cowardice. If Charlton's own attempts to drum up extra special away support are anything to go by, three points are assured for the Addicks. The most recent two performances at Blackburn and Middlesbrough respectively were a shambles.

After countless tactical and selection changes, Pards stumbled across a winning formula at Plymouth.....the tried and tested Halford and Thatcher at full-back, three ball-winners in midfield, and an old-fashioned 'little and large' partnership upfront. Each might reasonably be described as a retrograde step, but as ten years under Curbs proved, sometimes the best risks are the ones you don't take.

I expect Pards to line up as follows: Elliot, Halford, Thatcher, McCarthy, Bougherra, Cook, Semedo, Holland, Zheng, Iwelumo, Lita. Subs: Randolph, Fortune, Ambrose, Varney, Gray.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 2 (Lita, Zheng), Southampton 0. Att: 24, 810

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Plymouth Tonic

Coming from a city famous for its gin, it was appropriate that Charlton finally received a much needed tonic. My tipple of choice this evening is no contest.

I had unselfishly foregone Qatar's famous nightlife (surely some mistake - Ed.), to listen to commentary from the Wolves game, and their last minute equaliser felt very much like the final nail in our play-off coffin.

As a result of the Wolves deflation, plus the effect of jet lag from my flight home, I could not even summon up the enthusiasm to write my usual Plymouth match preview. Matters were not helped by the fact that other than its gin, I knew nothing else about the city except that it had delightfully named suburbs called Mutley and Pennycomequick.

It seems I was a little premature in writing this team off, and other results went firmly our way too. However, that Wolves winner could prove extremely costly indeed, because without it we'd now be sitting in a rather undeserved 6th place.

It does seem absurd that a team averaging less than 1.5 points per game, should even be remotely in touch with the play-offs, let alone just one point behind. However, notwithstanding the obvious mediocrity of this division, if we can show some of today's same fighting spirit over the final four games, that we maintain an outside chance.

The remaining fixtures of Charlton, Palace (game in hand), Cardiff (two games in hand) and the two teams immediately above us is as follows:

CHARLTON: Southampton (H), QPR (A), Barnsley (A), Coventry (H) Max: 72
IPSWICH: Cardiff (H), Norwich (H), Wolves (A), Preston (A), Hull (H)
Max: 75
WOLVES: Bristol C (A), WBA (H), Ipswich (H), Cardiff (H), Coventry (A), Plymouth (H)
Max: 79
PALACE: Stoke (A), Scunthorpe (H), Watford (A), Hull (A), Burnley (H)
Max: 74
CARDIFF: Ipswich (A), Blackpool (H), Scunthorpe (A), Wolves (A), Burnley (A), Barnsley (H) Max: 74

Ipswich would appear to be well-placed, given that three of their next four matches are against teams with nothing to play for. However the Tractor Boys aside, we would appear to have the second best run-in, particularly compared to Palace who have three treacherous away games against automatic promotion contenders.

Wolves still have to play Ipswich meanwhile after consecutive fixtures against automatic promotion contenders. Cardiff meanwhile will play a vital role, either directly (they can still reach 74 points) or indirectly through their fixtures against Wolves and Ipswich. What those three intra-rival matches means of course is that every team cannot meet its maximum, but in return between 6 and 9 points are in the bag, to be split amongst that trio.

From our perspective therefore, I would be confident that 72 points will be enough, whilst 69 or 70 points could well be. Before we get too excited that three more wins might do it however, fully our last twelve matches only yielded as much.

Pards opted for a narrower midfield today, something I had been advocating here before. His plans went out the window after just two minutes however, leading to the type of spirited ten-man display which has become the norm, not the exception for us this season. If only the management team could impose the same inspiration on the team, that a red card seems to engender, then we really could be onto something.

Leroy Lita meanwhile made it three goals in 74 minutes for the Addicks, and it's not beyond the realm of fantasy to suggest we have the best striker in the Championship for the run-in. If there's a lesson herein for Pards, it's perhaps to highlight the difference between being a 'proven' Premiership player available on loan, and a wholly 'unproven' one (Halford, Sinclair, Cook etc..). Whilst the former are not on offer very often, the two should not be confused as being one and the same.

On a different topic, if there was one story this week that summed up our season, it was the news that Jerome Thomas would be 'reassessing' his options should we fail to secure promotion. It was the implication that our likelihood of promotion, and Thomas' own form are mutually exclusive, that really rankled. Yet more evidence of the parallel universe that many young (and often English) footballers inhabit, not least given that he has contributed precisely zero goals to our campaign this season. He hasn't created too many either.

Presumably far hungrier to be involved this season (and for many more to come), will be Rob Elliot who has patiently waited for his chance via Notts County and Accrington Stanley. His compatriot Darren Randolph meanwhile will surely be recalled from Bury, and the two will fight it out on Saturday as the only ever-present appearance record for the Addicks comes to an end.