Friday, August 29, 2008

Preston preview

After the ecstasy of last Saturday's stunning televised performance, we return to the far more mundane business of an away fixture in deepest Lancashire.

The Reading performance proved we potentially have the class to succeed this season, but fixtures like Preston away will determine whether we also have the bottle.

Although we won at Deepdale last season, all too often we headed north and underperformed as our play-off hopes withered away (think Scunthorpe, Blackpool, Burnley etc.).

We obviously can't perform as we did on Saturday every time we take to the field. Reading were presumably surprised by the extent to which we used the flanks to 'make the pitch big', but our forthcoming opponents will be more prepared. They will also become increasingly aware that Nicky Bailey is the most important player in the team, and seek to nullify his presence.

It is important therefore that Pards has a 'plan B' if last weekend's classic 4-4-2 approach is not working. The return to fitness of Darren Ambrose is thus timely given his flexibility, particularly if utilised in the 'hole' in a 4-4-1-1. Meanwhile, although Pards has shown no prior inclination to opt for so-called 'wing-backs', each of Moutaouakil, Basey and Youga would appear to have the requisite energy to operate as such if required.

The likely arrival of Linvoy Primus provides some much-needed defensive cover, but I can't deny it underwhelms me. I'm disappointed that we've had to resort to an ageing defender who missed all of last season with a serious knee injury; I hope that there is another younger version coming. From a selfish perspective however, it's always nice when my favourite team still has at least one player older than I am, so thanks for that alone Linvoy.

Primus' off-field activities threaten to give Premiership footballers a good name, and his faith is welcome in a side whose defending certainly needed some divine inspiration last season. None of this is relevant though, whilst Pardew's claim that "..he's loved by the fans here.." is odd given he played just four games for the Addicks, and left in 1994.

I'd have preferred us to have taken say a £200,000 punt on a promising lower-league defender, or at least to have loaned a young Premiership player that we'd have a chance of signing. Perhaps Sunderland's Paul McShane fits this latter bill at least, though it remains a rumour, albeit one confirmed by Pards.

Lloyd Sam is carrying a knock which would be a shame as he was a vital contributor to last weekend's performance; Ambrose however would be a natural replacement. Pards could opt for Varney on the right flank, but this is unlikely given his own outstanding last outing upfront.

In defence, Kelly Youga is available again, and with Grant Basey's performance on Saturday decidedly questionable, I would expect him to return at left-back. The rest of the team will surely remain unchanged and thus I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Bailey, Holland, Ambrose, Bouazza, Gray, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Shelvey, Dickson, Basey.

Preston have begun the season unbeaten, so this will be a genuine examination of the realism of our promotion hopes. Charlton fans have learnt from bitter experience that short-term bouts of optimism can suddenly be dashed, so a point at Deepdale ought to be viewed as a decent result.

NY Addick predicts: Preston 2 (Chaplow, Mellor), Charlton 2 (Bailey, Gray). Attn: 13, 890.

McCain's Vice

Early rumours suggest that John McCain has opted for the surprise choice of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate. If true, I wonder which group of voters he is aiming for with the choice of the Alaska governor?

Some of her photo shoots look like they've come straight out of that niche men's magazine, "Specs and the City" (not that I'm a subscriber). In the UK meanwhile, the press would doubtless refer to her as a 'Yummy Mummy' - she has five kids called Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig.

Palin is both a woman and three years younger than Barack Obama, thus partly nullifying the Chicago senator's differential appeal, and notably adding another obstacle as he seeks to win over Hilary Clinton's staunch female voters. She is also that rare thing, a Republican with a sense of humour, and is thus always good value as an interviewee, adding a fresh twist to McCain's tired public persona.

The enormous but lightly-populated state of Alaska is rarely at the forefront of American politics, but right now the highly-contentious issue of 'offshore drilling' is a vital one as the country seeks to reduce reliance on foreign oil. As Obama put it last night in Denver, "..drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close." The McCain camp begs to disagree.

Although the media's first reaction is likely to be 'lightweight', I think this appointment by McCain is actually quite smart, except in the event that she actually succeeds to the Presidency in the style of President Lyndon Johnson. Given that McCain will be 72 on election day, this is not a non-negligible risk. Maybe America will get its first female President after all.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack to Basics

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama will tonight in Denver, formally accept the Democratic Party's nomination, in front of 70,000 fawning supporters.

The indoor arena where the rest of the Democratic convention was deemed too small. Thus Obama will deliver his soaring oratory on America's inequalities and its pandering to big business, from a football stadium sponsored by Invesco, an investment management company.

Once Obama had finally seen off the Clinton electoral machine, he appeared to be a dead cert for the Presidency. However recent opinion polls has McCain back on parity, and in some cases even forging ahead in a remarkable turnaround.

For this reason alone (but also for plenty of others), Obama's speech tonight takes on vital resonance for a campaign which has been faltering in recent weeks. It is crucial that his message of 'hope' and 'change' delivers the typical bounce in the polls, because if not the Democrats face the real risk of failing to win an election that they dare not lose. It is not clear how the party could recover.

From my perspective as a non-voting onlooker, Obama seems to resemble the wild nymph that you are only too pleased to date on a noncommittal basis, but who is now daring to speak of marriage.

Cocktail party chatter has seemingly given way to ballot box reality. Instead of commenting upon his electric charisma, the media has begun to pick at Obama's slightly unnerving self-confidence. His wife Michelle's down-to-earth demeanour (she often comments on Barack's morning breath and how he leaves his dirty socks around), is now interpreted as 'weirdness'.

John McCain meanwhile is benefiting largely from doing nothing except continue to reassure both nervous independents, and even former Clinton supporters that America's future is safe in his hands (or at least safer in light of his age and experience).

His relatively liberal social policies (at least by Republican standards) are not so liberal meanwhile to scare off the core religious right who would sooner give up their guns that vote for Obama. The recent fall in the oil price and the surprising resilience of the US economy (despite overwhelming negativity) are also benefiting the incumbent party.

Perhaps it's just an inevitable mid-campaign slump which will soon turn around, beginning tonight? Obama continues to use the Internet to its fullest, generating enormous campaign sums from small donations, whilst utilising highly-motivated volunteers across the nation to spread the message, and ensure high turnout. McCain readily admits he doesn't 'get it'.

Nonetheless, can a man with such disappointing support from so many core sections of the electorate really do enough to swing those vital states he needs to secure the White House (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio etc.)?

His urban sophistication does little to reassure white blue-collar voters, or aspirational Hispanics. It would be easy (and wrong) to wallow for example in Manhattan's Obama lovefest, but then to extrapolate those trends across the nation.

Nonetheless, he still has several weeks to work on those groups. Tonight however will offer his most important chance yet to begin to add real policy meat to the bones of his core message of hope. Expect less "Yes we can," and more "how we will." The world will be watching.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympic Spirit

The Olympics went out in style yesterday, although the beauty of NBC's American coverage is that the Games were extended for just a little longer thanks to its peculiar 'as live' form of broadcasting.

Having spent such an inordinate amount of money for the TV rights, the station deigned not to even show Usain Bolt's iconic 100-metres live which proves that they don't really 'get' the Olympics over here.

Last night, despite the world knowing the Games were over, with the euphoric athletes having long since returned to the village en masse presumably to seek out the Swedish swimming team, we were treated to the strange sight of the Men's volleyball final seemingly taking place after the closing ceremony. The US won gold though, naturally enough.

If one takes out Michael Phelps (a freak who could have been born anywhere), then they only won nine more golds than 'Team GB', and they got to win medals in sports like softball that no-one else cares about.

According to the US media, their team actually 'won' the Games because they won the most medals, albeit not the most golds. The news that a bronze is as good as a gold will be welcomed warmly by America's friends in Cuba (see below). This is thus the Olympic equivalent of school sports day where ever child gets a prize, even the fat ones (who should instead be encouraged to focus on the shot put).

For London 2012 we ought to campaign to have special sports included that Britain specialises in to guarantee more medals. Morris Dancing for example is not materially different from gymnastics if done properly, whilst we would surely triumph in the Binge Drinking Pairs event, or Teenage Knifing (a derivative of fencing). You may laugh, but then so did the IOC when someone first suggested BMX.

Fortunately I was in the UK for most of the Games, and the tremendous accomplishments of our team definitely generated a 'feel good' factor despite the typically lousy summer. Unfortunately whilst the rest of the country basked in our 'golden Saturday' on Aug 16, I misguidedly chose to watch Watford versus Charlton instead. In true Olympic spirit however, some of the long balls on display were certainly 'higher', albeit not quite so obviously 'swifter' or 'stronger'.

Much has been made of the inevitable comparison between the accomplishments of our Olympic team, compared to those of the England football team, or lack thereof. The comparisons are a little unfair; firstly, the England players have day jobs at their clubs, convening only occasionally to play for the national side. Second, with all due respect to our sailors or rowers for example, it's a lot easier to excel as a pampered Brit in these elitist sports, than it is in the world's only true global sport.

However one comparison was a fair one, and it concerns our typical response to yet another penalty shootout exit. We were often told that one couldn't prepare for penalty shootouts because it was impossible to recreate its inevitable tension. This is a point of view as ridiculous as Chris Hoy or Christine Uhuruogu blaming defeat upon the difficulty of recreating the tension of an Olympic final, that they've also waited four years for. Unlike our football team, they won, and thus they didn't.

It is also notable that when you participate in a sport for which money is at best a secondary concern (ie. virtually every Olympic event), then you will inevitably prepare absolutely meticulously, or else why bother at all? With most of our footballers already financially comfortable for life, despite their inevitable protestations, does anyone truly believe that they do everything on and off the pitch to ensure they are the absolute best they can be?

The closing ceremony was fun, and there was a great contrast thanks to Boris Johnson between the brutally efficient Beijing approach, and what will hopefully be a more self-deprecating fun approach in 2012. The little skit with the double-decker bus was original, but wholly unrealistic. Firstly it arrived on time, second the bus stop wasn't vandalised, and third the upper deck contained the lovely Leona Lewis, rather than a mugger. Nice idea though.

A glance at the final medals table makes for interesting reading, less so in the upper echelons that we occupy, but further down. Take South Africa for instance, which in the past year has humiliated England at both cricket and rugby, and which as a nation churns out muscle-bound brutes at a terrific clip.

How many medals do you think a nation containing some of the most terrifying-looking (and sounding) people on the planet took home? Erm, just a single silver the men's long jump, the same haul as war-torn Sudan. An open bus parade through the streets of Soweto surely awaits.

The mighty Armenia (Pop: 3.2m) took home a rather respectable six medals, yet strangely every one was a bronze. As the US approach implies above, is it fair that they finished so far below Bahrain, Tunisia, Cameroon, Panama and Tunisia who each won just one medal, but which just happened to be gold? Is there something in Armenia's rich culture that makes them so adept at finishing third?

Cuba (Pop: 11.3m) meanwhile managed a superb 24 medal haul, yet just two golds. There are lots of countries I'd want to return to having almost done enough to win, but Fidel Castro's Cuba is not one of them. Their open bus parade will probably mow them down. Roll on 2012.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pleasant Reading

From time to time, one can wonder exactly what attracted you to spend such a large proportion of your life watching football. In my case, and certainly in recent years, Charlton has been central to that wonderment.....and then something like this happens.

Where exactly did that performance come from? One would have to go back to the West Ham thrashing in Feb 2007 to find an equally complete performance, yet on that day the Hammers were woefully out of sorts.

Today Reading were really quite good, but Charlton were simply outstanding, and for just a couple of hours at least, we are top of the Championship. If we'd scored ten goals, Reading couldn't have complained.

It really demonstrated everything that one dared to dream that this raw team could become, yet there was precious little evidence of it prior to today. With all the deadwood now effectively cleared from the squad, it was a supremely positive sign of just how good some of these players could be, particularly now that Pards has no choice but to play them week in, week out.

It's easier to demonstrate it on a warm Valley day in August, but can we reproduce it under more trying circumstances, beginning at Preston next weekend? We won't reproduce every week of course, but if we can do so regularly enough we can compete this season, because Reading will do so for sure, and we completely ripped them apart.

Within just a few minutes, one could sense it was going to be an entertaining open game, and so it remained for the full 90 minutes to the credit of both teams. For the purposes of my blog I had begun to note down the key chances, but was forced to give up long before half-time for fear of missing some key action whilst I was writing.

Pards opted for the pace of Moutaouakil, but otherwise chose a predictable eleven reinforcing the sense that Jose Semedo's versatility makes him an easy player to drop when a tactical change is required. Hopefully he won't take it personally because he's a key player for us.

There were awesome performances all over the park, but Bailey and Bouazza were sublime. The ex-Southend man looked every part the midfield fulcrum that we've lacked for so long, displaying a superb range of passing, allied with an admirable attitude. It is worth reviewing the incident that led to his worrying second half injury to witness the workmanlike shift he put in all afternoon.

Bouazza meanwhile looked a man transformed. Pards cryptically discussed one 'small problem' he had to iron out, and whilst I've no clue what it could have been, it must have been quite a 'large' problem infact, because he was awful at Watford. He almost scored a goal-of-the-season contender early in the first half when he shaved the post, so it was fitting that his finish for our fourth goal was so stunning.

Perhaps inspired by the heroics on the opposite flank, Lloyd Sam was also uncharacteristically productive. He was involved in the build-up to all four goals, tracked back diligently when required, and showed a highly promising understanding with Moutaouakil behind him. When he can play this well, we certainly don't need Jerome Thomas strutting around.

The equally frustrating Luke Varney was also highly impressive, finally offering a threat from his inevitable channel runs, whilst his superb headed winner showed that good things can come from him on the rare occasions he occupies a central berth. Obviously a 'confidence player', it was instructive that he launched himself straight into Pardew's arms upon scoring, momentarily forgetting that our gaffer reportedly has the 'flu.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the day was the way we bounced back from Reading's controversial equaliser, refusing to drop our heads, but instead simply reverting to the same flowing football that had brought us the lead we'd just lost.

It's not a day to dwell on refereeing decisions, but in fairness the decision to penalise Weaver was a correct one, albeit a rarely-given one. From a goalkeeper's perspective, it's simply a risk/reward proposition; the risk that you make a 'wasted save', versus the potential reward that you get away with it, given that obviously that your chances of making the initial save are enhanced by the encroachment.

Interestingly had Hunt missed the retaken spotkick, the assistant referee would presumably have been forced to signal Weaver's forward movement again because he repeated the manoeuvre. However lest we be accused the same partiality that we blamed the referee for, our own penalty was rather dubious, whilst Sonko's sending off killed off Reading's chances.

Here are my matchday ratings:

Weaver 8 - made several important saves, none spectacular but safely made nonetheless
Moutaouakil 7 - excellent link-up play, and generally solid defending, the needless penalty aside
Basey 5 - the only slight disappointment; given the first-half runaround by Kebe, and corners were generally poor
Fortune 6 - silly penalty to give away; but generally solid alongside Hudson
Hudson 7 - another solid performance; increasingly looks an excellent free acquisition
Sam 8 - as noted above, showed how good he could be
Holland 7 - his oft-unnoticed work allowed Bailey to control the midfield
Bailey 9 - superb; spread the play outstandingly well, and hardly ever gave the ball away
Bouazza 9 - Premiership quality on this performance; pace, flair and a brilliant finish
Varney 8 - can this be the catalyst to fulfil his potential?; a rare but superb headed goal
Gray 8 - a quality target man at this level; slightly at fault for Sonko's goal though

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reading Preview

My three-match visit back to the UK was enlightening, but did not leave me cloaked in great optimism for the rest of Charlton's season.

One of the ironies of English football's top-heavy structure, is that it's not clear whether Charlton is unequivocally better off today for having spent 8 out of the past 10 seasons in the Premiership.

The stadium and the number of fans regularly occupying it may suggest this is a daft statement, yet the manic firesale of players since last season is scarily reminiscent of those dark days in the 1990s when we sold Robert Lee to ensure survival.

This week's transfer news concerned Jerome Thomas, and his now permanent transfer to Portsmouth for a 'small' and contingent fee. It's not clear why the deal was originally structured as a loan but either way, in light of his expiring contract and sporadic form, it is a satisfactory conclusion for all parties.

If one steps back and unemotionally assesses our squad, there is still a core rump of solid Championship players that ought to be able to compete this season. This will particularly be the case when Ambrose and Todorov return to fitness, and in the unlikely event that Zheng remains a Charlton player.

However, the frustrating injury to Racon and Youga's sending-off emphasise the importance of quality in depth, and this is not abundantly clear particularly in central defence. Meanwhile with the obvious exception of Mark Hudson, we continue to lack 'leaders' on the pitch, a situation that doesn't bode well for the proverbial 'rainy Tuesday nights' that we will face during the season.

It is somewhat curious that Sinclair, Wagstaff, and Thomas have all recently been loaned out in light of our super-thin squad, and does not say much for their chances of long-term Charlton careers. As a result, and as I would become acutely aware of below, it is surprisingly difficult to name 16 fit senior players for tomorrow's squad.

I highlighted Reading as my pre-season pick for the Championship title back in June, and their solid start to the season has done nothing to change my view. They have retained the core of the squad that accumulated 106 points in 2005/6, and in Steve Coppell have one of England's most thoughtful and surely underrated managers.

Alan Pardew had plenty to do with the Berkshire club's rise from obscurity, but at Charlton is confronted with an altogether different challenge, namely one of ensuring stability in the short-term, any thoughts of true progression surely on hold for the timebeing.

Charlton's starting eleven seems fairly obvious, with Basey and Holland providing straight cover for Racon and Youga. However given Nicky Bailey's attacking abilities, Pards may opt for Semedo rather than Holland as a central midfield anchor, with Yassin Moutaouakil slotting in at right-back.

On the flanks one suspects that Sam and Bouazza have more to offer than they showed at Watford (and frankly what other option does Pards have?), whilst he will presumably continue with the rather unconvincing pairing of Gray and Varney upfront.

The former Crewe man's enthusiastic penchant for running the channels would add more value, were it not for the fact that both Sam and Bouazza are both naturally attack-minded themselves. Pairing Gray instead with a natural poacher like Dickson or Fleetwood would give us more potency in my view, especially at home.

The game appears to be being shown by Setanta USA, my main challenge thus being to find a pub that finds it economical to open at 7.45am for those legions of New York-based Charlton and Reading fans.

Anyhow, I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Semedo, Basey, Hudson, Fortune, Sam, Holland, Bailey, Bouazza, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Shelvey, Wright, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 0, Reading 2 (Lita, Doyle). Attn: 17, 892

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Broken Herts

In a game that nicely summed up the woeful lack of quality in this division, Charlton were edged out 1-0 despite arguably being the better side. Given that Swansea were the better side last weekend, I suppose a haul of 3 points from 2 games might be considered fair.

Pards preferred Racon to Holland, whilst Moutaouakil paid the full price for a rather tepid Cup performance, but otherwise his team selection sprung no surprises on a windy day in one of Hertfordshire's less salubrious towns.

There are certain similarities between these two clubs, evidenced by a 'family' atmosphere, a gradual development of a previously ramshackle ground, and a sense that fighting Premiership forays were somehow 'above their weight'.

At least in the case of The Valley however, our last remaining undeveloped end is firstly behind a goal (and thus ideal for dumping away fans), and second still operable. Vicarage Road's current three-sidedness makes for a decidedly lukewarm atmosphere, and with financial constraints likely putting its development on hold for some time, this will remain a blight on their ground for the timebeing.

About 1,500 noisy Addicks made the relatively short trip, and most are probably now wishing they hadn't. Despite the wind arguing for a more cultured approach, both teams were soon lofting long balls in the general direction of their strikers, and clearcut chances were as rare as songs from the home fans.

Not surprisingly therefore, the only goal came from the first long ball that either defence had failed to deal with. Jonathan Fortune seemed to mistime it, allowing the ball to bounce into the path of Tommy Smith who finished calmly past Weaver's left hand.

A minute before half-time, the game's other turning point also arose from another hopeful punt forward, Youga accused of felling Priskin outside the box, and once the foul was awarded, I feared the worst for our wild-haired full-back.

The rules state that a red card must be awarded if a defender denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Notwithstanding any question marks over whether the quality of the striker concerned should be taken into account (should any foul on Luke Varney be considered for instance?), it seemed rather harsh.

It wasn't clear that Youga was the last man (there seemed to be at least two defenders alongside him), and it wasn't even clear that he'd even fouled him. Had the incident occurred inside the box, the ref may have concluded a penalty was punishment enough. As it was, it seemed to stir us into a rousing fightback because we played our best football after the break.

Bouazza was sacrificed at half-time to restore balance (he was reassuringly described to me by a Fulham season-ticket holder as 'useless'), with Pards not tempted to play just one upfront. At least we have a manager who is prepared to 'go for it' in situations like this, evidenced again when he later removed Semedo for Dickson, pushing the attack-minded Sam to right-back.

Varney failed to convert our only clear-cut chance of the half, threaded through the middle of the penalty area, he could not get sufficient purchase on his shot to beat Mart Poom, though he had to hold off a defender at the same time.

Thereafter we continued to press (whilst leaving understandable gaps in defence), and despite Dickson looking lively, and Bailey dictating matters in midfield, we could not make any of our pressure count. The worrying injury to Racon capped a disappointing afternoon, particularly as he had been impressive up to that point.

Based upon the three games I have seen, we look a comfortable midtable side, but little more at this point. We are not creating enough chances (no goals from open play this season), which puts too much pressure on the defence to keep clean sheets.

Occasionally our football shows glimpses of promise, but too often we fall back upon a hopeful punt or speculative cross, rather than patiently keep possession to find openings. Our two forwards never seem to receive quality distribution to feet; the addition of Bailey should at least help in this regard.

Here are my match ratings:

Weaver 8 - two outstanding second-half saves kept us in the game; faultless handling throughout
Youga 3 - sending-off was harsh, but he was guilty of hoofing the ball forward when a more cultured approach was warranted
Semedo 6 - looks perfectly comfortable at right-back; unlucky to be withdrawn
Hudson 7 - a solid sizeable presence in midfield; looks a good signing
Fortune 5 - a costly mistake; the partnership with Hudson has potential, but some cover is essential
Racon 7 - demonstrated he might be the ideal partner for Bailey....then he broke his foot
Bailey 7 - lacks pace, but wanted the ball, drove the team on and rarely conceded possession
Sam 5 - if he fails to deliver quality crosses (which he did again), his role in the team is unclear
Bouazza 4 - an early longrange shot aside, he rarely featured
Varney 5 - spends too long in the channels where we already have two wingers
Gray 6 - did his best with lousy service; must be a frustrating existence
Basey 6 - will have three games to prove he's a more reliable option than Youga
Holland 5 - a wayward late shot summed up our afternoon
Dickson 6 - heads to goal whilst Varney heads to the corner flag; which would you prefer?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Watford preview

If Charlton's thin squad can squeeze through the already crowded exit door at The Valley, they will be travelling today to Watford for a clash that will sadly demonstrate the harsh financial reality of Premiership relegation.

Watford's summer has also been a tale of forced sales (Henderson, Shittu), rumours of financial calamity and all-encompassing pessimism. Like Charlton, they also sold their best player in January 2008 (Marlon King), a decision which saw their promotion hopes largely dashed, though unlike us they clung on to a play-off berth.

After a promising result (if not performance) on the opening day, Charlton have had a mixed week, the disappointment of the Yeovil defeat soon forgotten after the promising signing of tigerish midfielder, Nicky Bailey.

Meanwhile, on the transfer front, whilst I suspect neither Amdy Faye or Jerome Thomas will be greatly missed, if one looks closely enough, one can detect further worrying desperation from Charlton.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that something may have occurred at Charlton, which goes beyond the simple understandable requirement to shore up the club's balance sheet, and shift to a more sustainable ongoing budget. Given the harsh environment for borrowing, one wonders whether some type of previously assumed perpetual facility (an overdraft perhaps), has simply been called in.

Both Thomas and Faye were on high wages, so for that reason alone, their departures are not a great surprise. However in the case of Thomas, if it was certain he was leaving (and given his age and talent, some sort of offer would surely have been forthcoming at the right price), then why did Pards unnecessarily Cup-tie him on Tuesday night?

In the case of Faye, the fact that he has only signed a one-year deal (a sensible move by relegation-threatened Stoke in light of Charlton's own experiences), suggests to me that the undisclosed fee was 'nominal' as they say.

Now that he's finally gone, if one steps back and unemotionally assesses Faye's contribution, his overwhelmingly negative reputation is perhaps a little harsh. He unwittingly became the 'poster child' for Dowie's brief reign, given his transfer fee and rumoured wages, but neither are exactly his fault. Some of his early performances in 2006/7 actually showed some promise (at least compared with Djimi Traore), but his lack of natural ability ensured he could never be more than a wholehearted ball-winner.

Jerome Thomas meanwhile in my view typifies the problem with English football. Blessed with exceptional talent, pace and trickery, he knows that he can eke out a 'comfortable' living without ever leaving the 'comfort zone'. It was only straight after he broke into the first team, that Charlton fans saw both the talent and the effort. Once ensconced amongst the 'core' first-team squad, he rested firmly back on his laurels.

This seems a problem especially acute in England because it happens to be blessed with the best-paid leagues, and increasingly suffers from a materialistic 'bling' culture that values money per se, not the labour that generates it. Arsene Wenger is rarely wrong about young players, and I suspect he was right about this one.

Our recent record at Vicarage Road is not a good one. The late fightback that was almost completed by Kevin Lisbie in the 2-2 draw in 2006/7 (but typically wasn't), was a big late-season blow to our chances of escaping relegation. Indeed, we have just one solitary win to remember there since the 1970s, Lee Bowyer and John Robinson securing a 1995/96 victory.

With former Watford man Hameur Bouazza an obvious straight replacement for Thomas on the left, it may not be a surprise meanwhile to see the stuttering (but honest) Luke Varney preferred instead of Sam on the right, allowing Chris Dickson a rare start upfront. Alternatively, the more defensively-minded Basey may slot in on the left, with Bouazza perhaps utilised as a pacy substitute option.

At right-back Pards may still opt for the versatile Semedo despite the return of Moutaouakil, whilst in midfield Jonjo Shelvey will surely make way for debutant Bailey to start alongside Racon, or more likely Holland.

I would expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Semedo, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Basey, Bailey, Holland, Sam, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Racon, Dickson, Bouazza.

NY Addick predicts: Watford 1 (Rasiak), Charlton 1 (Gray). Att: 14, 911.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Young Bailey

Charlton yesterday confirmed the long-rumoured and much-needed signing of Nicky Bailey. For an encouraging synopsis of his ability, read here.

The last time we were financially strapped, and signed a promising young midfielder from an Essex club, he went on to make over 200 appearances and earn 48 international caps. If Bailey can be half the player Mark Kinsella was, then he'll be a snip at 'up to £750,000'.

Given our well-publicised financial issues, I suspect the initial cash upfront is materially less than £750,000. With any luck our Board has negotiated utterly improbable add-ons like 'reaching the play-offs'.

A Barnet-supporting friend describes him as, "...a good player who scores spectacular goals....chunky with a low centre of gravity." By 'chunky' I suspect he meant 'lacks pace', which immediately rules out a direct comparison with Scott Parker, but then again the West Ham man rarely scored goals. In that sense, Bailey is probably better compared to Lee Bowyer.

The last true 'bulldog' we had in midfield was probably Brendan O'Connell, or Headless O'Chicken as I liked to refer to him. Despite being rather useless, the fans never gave him a hard time because everyone loves a strong tackler. The same will doubtless be true of Bailey who has already suggested that, "I love my tackles and doing hard graft for the team."

The last time I watched my old local team Barnet, they destroyed Dagenham & Redbridge 5-0 in October 2004, with Bailey outstanding throughout, and scoring a fabulous 25-yarder. Interestingly Dean Sinclair accompanied him in midfield that day, but Bailey was comfortably the best player on the park.

The big question is not whether he will go straight into the team (that seems a given), but which central midfield partner would bring the best out of him. If one assumes Zheng's Charlton career is likely over, then Pards must realistically choose (when all fit) from Racon, Ambrose, Semedo, Shelvey, Wright, Sinclair and Holland. One can probably rule out Wright and Sinclair for now, as I would expect one or both to soon be back out on loan.

Given the importance of protecting Shelvey (who is likely rather too similar anyhow to Bailey), the obvious choices would be either Racon or Holland, with 'Captain Cleanshorts' likely preferred for his experience alone.

Holland continues to underwhelm me (I still struggle with the idea that he was our 'Player of the Year'), but he is the safest choice. However Racon showed glimpses on Saturday that he has a bit more of the 'devilment' that Pards likes. A perfect compliment perhaps to Bailey's graft?

If Pards wants Bailey to focus more on the attacking side of his game, then Semedo would be an ideal choice to sit as the holding man in front of the back four. The Portuguese man is the most underrated player in the squad, and his brute strength and simple passes should not be underestimated.

Finally the longer-term and rather leftfield choice would be to pair him up with Darren Ambrose. We all know that he is a round peg in a square hole played out wide, but when utilised centrally we were left lacking in defensive situations (the same applied to Andy Reid in truth).

If one focuses less on Ambrose's limitations, and more upon the limitations of the players around him, then in Nicky Bailey, one might conceivably have found the answer to the 'Ambrose Conundrum' (one which has been troubling fans and academics alike for several years now).

Curbs used to accommodate the tender talents of Claus Jensen by partnering him with a central midfield battler (eg. Parker, Kinsella), and narrowing up the flanks through the likes of Stuart, Robinson or Konchesky, none of whom were true wingers.

If Pards was sensible enough to drop the idea that you can tolerate two genuine wingers, also narrowing up the midfield through the likes (particularly) of Grant Basey, but also perhaps through Holland played on the right, then I think we would be potentially both harder to beat and a better team (because the talents of Ambrose would finally be released). Remember where you heard it first.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

UEFA Cup Dreams Threatened

An uninspiring evening of football at The Valley ended in a typically pathetic, and all too regular Cup defeat for the Addicks against lower League opposition. The FA Cup thus remains our only route into the UEFA Cup next season.

Pards was correct to point to our domination of possession, particularly in the second half, but we did not create a single chance during that period, so frankly what was the point? Indeed our only very clear opening occurred inside the first few minutes, when debutant Bouazza pounced on a loose ball but could not convert from 12 yards.

The result is irrelevant (as indeed is the entire competition in truth), and I perhaps wasn’t alone in willing keeper Rob Elliot not to score from one of his late forays forward, because had he have done so it would have meant 30 minutes more purgatory. However the game did raise one or two questions.

Firstly why did Pards pick 16-year old Jonjo Shelvey, and moreover play him for the full 90 minutes? Had we equalised, he would have been forced to play in extra time too.

Shelvey is potentially a big talent (and showed glimpses thereof last night), but pre-season Pards implied he would use him as sparingly as possible, within the constraints of our tiny squad. With Dean Sinclair or Josh Wright available on the bench, what was the purpose of his selection with Watford to come on Saturday? It seemed ludicrous to me, and potentially highly risky with such little cover (ditto Jonathan Fortune, who as I feared did indeed hobble off injured).

Second, presuming that Bouazza will not be used as a deep-lying striker, but instead as a wide midfielder, why use him there last night when it was an ideal opportunity to give Dickson or Fleetwood a proper run-out to see how they fared? Instead he could have slotted straight into the wide left position which he’ll likely fill on Saturday when Andy Gray returns.

As for the game itself, other than the wasted tactical opportunities above, none of the fringe players demonstrated much desire to prove a point to the gaffer, particularly Wagstaff who looked like he needs a loan spell at Ebbsfleet or Grays.

Youga and Semedo actually surprisingly looked competent in central defence (although they weren’t really tested), whilst I like the look of Basey longer-term. With his sweet left foot, solid build and obviously good attitude, I see a potential Premiership player someday. Moutaouakil was so-so, but would benefit from a more intelligent right-sided partner than Sam, perhaps Luke Varney (see below) or even a rejuvenated Darren Ambrose in due course?

On the flanks, Thomas and Sam were their usual non-productive selves, whilst in between them the aforementioned Shelvey and Holland toiled away, but neither has that touch of guile that can unlock defences it seems.

Upfront, one really wants Varney to be a success because his attitude is spot-on, but whilst he runs more channels than Rupert Murdoch, his end product is considerably worse. His game includes traits one finds in each of target men and outright finishers, but as a blend it leaves him neither here nor there, and one expects more for £2million.

Bouazza began the game meanwhile with great intent (demonstrating noticeable pace and strength), but before long he was anonymous and I’d be challenged to conclude exactly which position he was playing in.

In a way then, it wasn’t all that dissimilar from the Swansea game, except that with no discernible presence at set-pieces this time, a single defensive mistake cost us the game. The lack of creation from open play is a concern, and one perhaps that Nicky Bailey (rumoured to be on his way) can address.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yeovil preview

Charlton have only reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup once in its history. Apologies for all those who have sought to erase the painful memory, but it occurred of course in 2006/7 under the wise stewardship of Les Reed, the Addicks going out bravely at home to Wycombe Wanderers.

Given that we have played virtually all of our football in the top two divisions since the Cup's inauguration in 1961, my attendance this evening is firmly based upon hope rather than experience.

We have a proud 100% history against Yeovil, giving them a footballing lesson at The Valley in the 2005 FA Cup, securing a comfortable 3-2 victory. Somewhat surprisingly given the player turnover that has occurred since, three of the players that began that tie may well also begin this one (Thomas, Fortune and Holland).

Having previously been best known as non-league giantkillers, under the wise tutelage of Gary Johnson (now enjoying similar success with Bristol City), they achieved promotion to League Two in 2003.

Their achievements since then (narrowly losing to Blackpool in the 2006/7 League One play-off final for example), suggest that they are one of the best run small clubs in the country, with ex-Grimsby boss Russell Slade continuing the good work.

In common with most Championship clubs these days, let alone League One clubs, I haven't heard of most of their players, although at one time former QPR midfielder Marc Bircham was rumoured to be on the brink of greater things. I guess that never happened then.

I'm not sure what the rules state on team selection (not very much judging from the likes of Arsenal), but I see no point risking any injuries or suspensions to key players within our absurdly thin squad.

The only true first-teamers who ought definitely to start in my view are Moutaouakil and Bouazza, but with only two centre-backs, someone like Semedo, Youga or even Holland will likely deputise for Hudson who will surely be rested, meaning Fortune will presumably play. The lunacy of our defensive situation will be hit home if he gets injured this evening.

The team that I expect to start (as opposed to the one I'd like to see start) is as follows: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Basey, Fortune, Semedo, Racon, Holland, Bouazza, Wagstaff, Varney, Dickson. Subs: Weaver, Youga, Fleetwood, Wright, Sam.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 3 (Dickson 3), Yeovil 0. Att: 8, 092.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hudson Valley

"I don't know much about football. I know what a goal is, which is surely the main thing." (Victoria Beckham)

Posh Spice would have relished this Charlton performance surely. Two goals scored either side of 84 minutes of mediocrity were enough to seal an opening day win for the Addicks.

But make no mistake, we'll take it because winning without playing particularly well is a very promising sign.

The starting eleven was as I predicted, but it was encouraging to see that Matt Holland really was fit for the bench, and that my contact lens-aided eyes were not deceiving me during the warm-up.

Some fans will have missed the loan signing of Hameur Bouazza, a useful squad addition for sure, but we remain desperate for central midfield and defensive cover. Unless Pards is planning an ultra-cavalier 4-1-5 formation, I'm not sure I understand the 'end game' here.

I don't have any scientific proof, but players do seem to score disproportionately often on their debuts, even defenders it seems. From the top of my head, I can think recently also of Phil Chapple and Danny Mills for example. To that illustrious list one can now add 'Captain' Mark Hudson, who had clearly spent his summer reading, "How to swiftly endear yourself to Charlton fans after moving from Crystal Palace."

The delivery from Jonjo Shelvey was immaculate, and Hudson buried the resulting free header, but the neat passing move that led to the corner was notable too. Unfortunately we did not see enough of that for the remaining 88 minutes, at least not from players wearing red.

Swansea seemed shell-shocked, and one wondered whether Charlton might seize the initiative, and perhaps go on to register an opening day hammering. Unfortunately, our failure to maintain possession was carried forward from last season, and by the 25th minute or so, Swansea began to stamp their authority, with Lloyd Sam the only Charlton player to have threatened their goal again. It was a spectacularly acrobatic effort though, matched only by an equally impressive save.

A Charlton fan on BBC Radio Five's 6-0-6 suggested that we had resorted too much to the long ball (again), but I beg to differ. Instead I saw evidence that we were keen to play passing football, but that we simply didn't do it well enough. The widemen in particular (Sam and Thomas) often gave the ball away too cheaply, preferring to try beating a marker, when a simple five yard pass would suffice.

When Bristol City gave us a footballing lesson at The Valley in March, it was clear that one underestimates League One's promoted sides at one's peril. There is clearly much to be said for maintaining the same squad by definition (or better), whilst beginning the Championship campaign full of confidence from prior success. Derby fans will be thinking the same about Doncaster Rovers one can safely assume.

Swansea were not quite as slick as Bristol City, but their neat passing was palpably superior to ours, although they lacked the pace to seriously threaten Nicky Weaver's goal. It was only when the inappropriately named Gary Monk was red-carded for two bookable offences inside a minute, that Charlton fans could relax just a little.

When Matt Holland replaced Jonjo Shelvey shortly after half-time, it was clear that Pards also recognised that the game had passed the teenager by. Given the shaven-headed prospect won't even turn 20 years old until February 2012, I think we can safely assume we will see better performances from our most promising youngsters. His depressed reaction upon substitution was full of teenage angst, which in a sense was reassuring.

Our second goal was a virtual carbon-copy of the first, although the execution of the header by Andy Gray required more 'devilment', as Pards likes to say. Grant 'the Count' Basey's first 2008/9 contribution in a Charlton shirt, was to deliver a magnificent free-kick which Gray met at full pelt to secure three points. That's three goals in three home games for the Scot, reiterating my view that he may perhaps be our underrated talisman this season.

Here are my player-by-player ratings:

Weaver 6 - forced to be alert, albeit not outstanding - an unsighted first-half save was probably better than it perhaps looked.
Semedo 7 - if you don't notice a defender much he's probably had a good game; strong as an ox, and occasionally ventured forward. His verstatility may make him the squad's most vital member.
Youga 6 - his crossing remains dire, but he generally stayed (just) on the right side of the line between class and casualness.
Hudson 6 - carries himself like a captain, so no surprise he's been appointed. We shouldn't expect him to bring the ball out of defence with grace, but he did the simple things well.
Fortune 6 - he seemed to relish having leadership responsbility taken by Hudson - it's not ideal to have zero cover for them, but early indications they could be a decent partnership.
Shelvey 4 - the game largely passed him by, but he can only improve. He has plenty of time to do so.
Racon 6 - rarely looked hurried, and was always comfortable to play the simple pass.
Sam 5 - as usual showed some glimpses, but rarely got into positions that could threaten.
Thomas 6 - he looked interested, which is something I suppose. However you still sense that he would be a cut above this level if he wanted it even more (today he wasn't)
Gray 7 - had to deal mainly with scraps, but held the ball up when he could, and won useful free-kicks when he couldn't. His goal was terrific.
Varney 6 - outstanding work-rate; a goal in injury-time would have boosted confidence, but the keeper saved with his legs.
Holland 7 - appeared to change the game, which is probably a little unfair on Shelvey. Still, you can't put a price on experience it seems.
Basey - a late defensive substitute for Thomas; I'd not be surprised if he starts at Watford for tactical reasons.
Bouazza - not on the pitch long enough to even gauge his favoured position.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

1997/98 - Can history repeat itself?

The 1997/98 season brings back wonderfully fond memories for all those Charlton fans fortunate enough to have witnessed it.

Interestingly, it was also the last time that Charlton began a season in the second-tier, having also played there the previous season.

If my memory serves me correctly, Charlton began the 1997/98 season as 50/1 outsiders for the First Division title, ranked alongside other unfancied and (at that time) equally unglamorous rivals including Crewe, Stockport and Bury.

We had finished the prior season in 15th place, in what history subsequently suggests was arguably Alan Curbishley's most disappointing season as Charlton manager. Indeed after a dire 4-0 defeat at Barnsley in April 1997, I had written to Richard Murray insisting Curbs had taken us as far as he could. Luckily Murray (politely) confirmed he had a different view.

Therefore, when I joined a few hundred other hardy souls up at the Riverside Stadium on 9th Aug 1997, it was fair to say that much like today, few dared to predict anything more than another midtable finish, and potentially much worse. Nine months, 26 League wins, and a remarkable 88 points later, we celebrated promotion at Wembley.

Ever the romantic, I had treated my then girlfriend (and remarkably now wife) to a weekend in historic York, which just so happened to be a comfortable 48 mile drive from 'Boro. The highlight of the afternoon was when Steve Jones opened the scoring in the 8th minute, and in her excitement she spilt her Diet Coke all over the fans in front of her. We still laugh about it now.

Our team that afternoon was: Petterson, Brown, Barness, Jones, Rufus, Balmer, Newton, Kinsella, Robinson, Mendonca, Jones. Subs: Nicholls, Bright, Kerslake.

It would be easy to take a look at that team and argue it is comfortably stronger on paper than any team Pards can put out on Saturday. However we did not know on that warm afternoon that the likes of Brown, Kinsella, Newton, Jones, Robinson and Mendonca would go onto have such outstanding seasons. Indeed with the possible exception of new signing Mendonca, the remaining quintet had been little more than adequate First Division players until then.

A quick look at the full squad that began the 1997/98 offers considerable hope for 2008/9, particularly if one assesses it based only upon what was known then, and without the considerable benefit of hindsight:

Goalkeepers: Petterson, Salmon
Defenders: Brown, Rufus, Barness, Balmer, Chapple, Stuart, Kerslake, Konchesky
Midfielders: Holmes, Jones, Kinsella, Parker, Nicholls, Emblen, Mortimer, Newton, Robinson
Forwards: Mendonca, Jones, Allen, Bright, Leaburn, Lisbie, Whyte

So how did a decidedly average squad end up accumulating a points total that would have secured automatic promotion in almost any other season? And what are the potential lessons and omens for 2008/9?

Firstly and most obviously, Curbs added to the above squad with some outstanding signings at various points throughout the season. Admittedly, this was before the advent of the transfer window of course, but each of Messrs. Mills, Youds, Bowen, Ilic, and Heaney made material positive contributions throughout the season. Could some combination of last-minute loans and signings make a similar impact this time around?

Secondly, although we didn't know it at the time, Curbs had uncovered a goalscoring gem in the shape of Clive Mendonca. He would go on to become surely the single most outstanding Charlton striker of the past two decades, scoring 28 goals in 1997/98 alone. Could Andy Gray be similarly poised to prosper? They are different types of players of course, but then you could have said the same about namesake Hunt.

Thirdly and interestingly, none of the promising youngsters in that squad above made any impact, even to the extent they started matches at all (eg. Parker, Konchesky, Lisbie, Nicholls). They would each go on to build successful careers to varying degrees, but little was known about them at the time. The lesson for 2008/9? We may be making a mistake to assume we can rely on so many home-grown kids performing all at once. If we rush them, we may not see the best of them longer-term; it was not until a loan spell at Norwich in late-2000, that we began to see the best of Scott Parker for example.

Fourthly, as our season gained momentum, the fans sensed something special was occurring and generated a terrific atmosphere at The Valley, which resulted in just one home defeat all season (to Stockport of all teams). The 4-2 win over Forest, or the play-off victory over Ipswich must rank as some of the most memorable times when the players and fans lifted each other in unison. The stadium is now larger, and the expectations very much higher, but that season proved that fans really can make a difference.

Finally, we learned during 1997/98 that what the likes of Robinson, Brown, Chapple and Keith Jones lacked in natural talent, they made up for with their heart. Do we have enough of those types in today's squad? It's difficult to suggest that we do.

Notably Curbs swiftly got rid of two talented but questionable characters (Jamie Stuart and David Whyte) very early in the campaign. Little was heard of either thereafter. With the exception of perhaps Hudson, Holland and Varney, how many of the present squad truly play with their hearts on their sleeves? It is essential that any new signings address this obvious problem.

Fast forward to today, and what do we find again? Painful memories of the previous season, abject pessimism, concerns about lack of signings, and question marks over the manager. So maybe the omens are quite good after all, so long as lessons are learned and actions repeated.

And then, if you're still not convinced, then remind yourself which date the current season again begins on...... oh yes, it's the 9th of August. Scary yet exciting isn't it?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Swansea Preview

Charlton news during the summer has tended to be fleeting, yet almost consistently depressing.

Departures have been regular and often surprising; promised signings are notable by their absence.

Just as any empathetic person would therefore, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I could no longer witness Charlton's decline from afar, and thus purchased return air tickets to London, and match tickets for Swansea, Yeovil and Watford. All being well, I will thus be there in person on Saturday to comfort the club in its time of need.

The Kubler-Ross model of grief acceptance describes five key stages in the process, and it has probably taken me until this week to reach the all-important final one:

1. Denial: "We'll still have one of the strongest squads; after all we were a Premiership club until 2007."

2. Anger: "It's all the fault of that Chappell bloke. Where the hell has the money gone?"

3. Bargaining: "Reaching the play-offs would still be a good season."

4. Depression: "We'll be just like Leicester last season. We're doomed."

5. Acceptance: "We have played the bulk of our post-War football in the second tier, but today we've a great stadium, a decent manager and a sensible Board."

So I've accepted the new reality of Charlton in 2008/9. Reality is the key word, because it's not a question of optimism or pessimism.

Reality tells me that beginning the season with two central defenders is suboptimal. Reality tells me that it's unlikely that all of our youngsters will flourish at the same time (but equally, some of them will flourish nevertheless).

Reality tells me that there are at least six teams better than us this season, but vitally considerably more than three that are worse (so let's not panic). Reality tells me that winning 6 of our last 24 Championship games last season does not bode well, given that our squad is surely weaker now.

Reality also most importantly tells me that failing to take the necessary steps to cut the club's budget may lead to oblivion. We've been there once before, and there's no great desire to return.

The last teams to win automatic promotion back to the Premiership two seasons after relegation (as opposed to one), was WBA last season, and Sunderland in 2004/5, so it can be done. Notably however, they had finished 4th and 3rd respectively during that interim season. Blackburn also managed the same feat in 2000/01, after they got relegated with us in 1998/99. Interestingly they finished 11th in their interim season, the same place we occupied last season.

However in short, teams that win promotion to the Premiership typically either bounce straight back, or much like us in 1997/98, emerge somewhat out of the blue thanks to some combination of a smart manager and/or rich benefactor (think Fulham, Reading, Wigan, Portsmouth etc..).

Indeed, if one wants to get very depressed, consider that the bottom two divisions today contain fully six teams that have played in the Premier League since its foundation in 1992/93 (Oldham, Bradford, Leicester, Leeds, MK Dons and Swindon).

This season's Championship meanwhile will contain sixteen teams that have tasted the Premier League (all except Preston, Plymouth, Doncaster, Swansea, Cardiff, Blackpool, Burnley and Bristol City).

Thus if our minds occasionally drift longingly for those halcyon Premiership days, then we are presumably in good company. Strangely I find that a rather comforting thought.

Swansea might be described as having completed a 25-year transition period, but now find themselves in a new (and typically bland) stadium, and with a young exciting and apparently very capable foreign manager at the helm. Interviewed in last weekend's Sunday Times, Roberto Martinez assured readers his team will try to play football, so we shouldn't fear the kick and rush style that we struggled against last season.

After our disappointing opening game against Scunthorpe last season, this was not the type of fixture I wanted to see again, with the Swans cheered on by 3,000+ of their own expectant fans, ensuring it will feel more akin to a Cup tie (and we know how we fare in those).

With less than 72 hours to go until kick-off, the chances of any surprise last-minute signings look increasingly remote. I would thus expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Semedo, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Racon, Shelvey, Thomas, Sam, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliott, Basey, Faye, Fleetwood, Sinclair.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Varney), Swansea 0. Att: 21, 932.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bougherr Off

The big Charlton summer sale continued last night when Madjid Bougherra's move to Glasgow Rangers was confirmed.

Seemingly given the choice to live in Seville, Birmingham or Glasgow, he has opted for Scotland's largest city. It must have been their famed Mediterranean-esque climate.

His likely sale has been rumoured for some time, and whilst he did not exactly fulfil his potential at Charlton, I'm still sad to see him go since I've a weakness for stylish defenders.

His career started badly after joining the Addicks in Jan 2007, firstly when a calf strain ruled him out of some early games, and then when he sustained a knee injury during his debut at Manchester United. As a result, he started just two games during the second half of our relegation season, and much of Pardew's raison d'etre for the purchase had presumably gone away.

Last season he was more influential, starting 24 times in the Championship, most coinciding with our more promising form before Xmas. Unfortunately he missed two months of the season during February and March, and then by the time he returned our season, and now clearly his Charlton career, had fallen by the wayside.

It is fair to say we never really got to see those famed runs out of defence, that Sheffield Wednesday fans loved him for. Given he was also occasionally responsible for our annoyingly regular defensive mishaps, he never remotely looked like a £2.5million player for us.

Frustratingly he had all the attributes required to eventually become a fan's cult hero, but alas it wasn't to be. Hence whilst our squad is now scarily thin (see below), the club ought to be congratulated for retaining his transfer value during the 18 months he was a Charlton player.

Some aspects of the club's activities this summer have given cause for concern however. The information emanating from the club has been less than satisfactory in my view for example, whilst our pre-season schedule appears hastily put together, even if it has only yielded confidence-boosting wins.

If you disagree about the lack of information, then tell me for sure what happened to Ben Thatcher (using the website as your sole investigatory tool). The site confirmed that fellow full-backs Powell, Gibbs and Sankofa were released, but what about 'Gentle Ben'? The only mention of his whereabouts since May appeared as a footnote in a story about the loan of Darren Randolph.

Funnily enough, Pards himself said on 4 May (about Grant Basey), "..I'd like to keep Ben Thatcher at the club as well - so Grant may have to play a little further up field." I've no great desire to see him play in a Charlton shirt again, but it'd be nice to have it confirmed either way (not least given that the gaffer paid £500,000 for him just before he bought Bougherra).

With only eight games to go until opening day, by my reckoning our three first-choice goalkeepers are quite possibly unavailable, and we have just two recognised centre-backs (Hudson and Fortune).

Most fans have the club's longer term interests at heart, and thus accept that it is not a sensible risk/reward to 'go for broke' this season. Nonetheless, we are entitled to be concerned having seen six senior players depart (McCarthy, Bent, Iwelumo, Bougherra, Thatcher, Powell), and only one join (Hudson). The recruitment of promising youngsters like Stuart Fleetwood is laudable to some degree, but surely only if they are adding to an existing stable core.

There are obvious doubts presumably too about the long-term Charlton future of Zheng and Thomas , and let's not forget Amdy Faye (who may end up playing centre-back versus Swansea at this rate). And of course there are also injuries currently with the likes of Ambrose, Holland and McLeod.

Eagle-eyed observers may have noticed that the 'players' section on the official website, has suddenly added all sorts of virtually unknown lads to the club's roster (Messrs Solly, Uchechi, Jensen and Yussuff for example).

I always welcome the sight of our own youngsters coming through, albeit not quite so many all at the same time. The drop-down menu may be reassuringly longer, but the message is still unfortunately the same.

It is hard to believe the club will begin the season with the current squad (or less). Surely at the very least, a couple of loan players (maybe a keeper and centre-back) will be confirmed in the next few days? That's what they keep implying anyhow.

Our financial position is bound to be precarious at this point, but it appears the club did not even have the ability to 'bridge' any delay between the sale of outgoing players, and the purchase of replacements. With just one pre-season friendly left to play, this is hardly ideal preparation. Not a criticism, just an observation of our new and rather worrying situation.

In terms of players likely to play more than a marginal role this season, our squad is presently as follows:

Goalkeepers: Weaver, Elliott, Christie
Full Backs: Youga, Moutaouakil, Basey
Centre Backs: Hudson, Fortune
Central Midfielders: Holland, Faye, Sinclair, Semedo, Zheng, Shelvey, Racon
Wide Midfielders: Ambrose, Thomas, Sam, Wagstaff
Strikers: Varney, Gray, Todorov, McLeod, Fleetwood, Dickson

The word that jumps out of that current squad is 'imbalanced'. Too many strikers and midfielders, and far too little cover behind. It's possible of course that Semedo is infact a defender for example, but then again perhaps Basey is really a midfielder.

A realistic first-choice eleven of say Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Thomas, Shelvey, Holland, Ambrose, Gray, Varney, should at least be competitive in this division. However, just a couple of injuries would require us to call upon the wholly untested likes of Racon, Sinclair, or Fleetwood. They may rise to the occasion of course, but we learnt last season that the Championship is no place to continue one's footballing education.

If Pards can produce a play-off side from the list above, then in my view he really has proved he's still one of the best young managers around. As some other fans have mentioned, it feels like the 'old Charlton' is back, and this may be the catalyst for the return of that fans/squad togetherness that was missing last season. After all, who's to say Jonjo Shelvey isn't the next Scott Parker or Lee Bowyer?

However we would also be kidding ourselves if we didn't at least acknowledge the non-negligible probability that we may be fighting another relegation campaign, particularly if injuries take their toll again.

Pards forged his reputation at Reading by moulding promising young players (eg. Nicky Shorey), with more experienced hands (eg. Phil Parkinson, Darren Caskey, John Salako). He now has the unwanted opportunity to do so again.