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


At 6:57 PM, Anonymous johnny73 said...

Well written. You say it all, even if it is very depressing. I think Pards is waiting on Sodje regaining full fitness before he signs him on loan. If we are not waiting on Sodje, we are in deep trouble, as 2 central defenders is not going to cut in over a 46 game season.


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