Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bristol City preview

A crucial eleven days for Charlton begins with the visit of the 'other' Robins, in the shape of Bristol City.

I'm not in the mood to give Pards an easy time, but our current 19th place in the Championship table does certainly not yet imply an imminent relegation battle. After all, we are as close to Cardiff in 4th as we are to Barnsley in 22nd.

But whilst the season still feels in its infancy, by the time we have played Derby in front of the Sky cameras on 15th Dec, the season will already be halfway through. At some point between now and then, Pards needs to find a winning formula (or at least a 'not losing' formula) else I would begin to fear for his future, and ours.

Saturday's defeat had all of the usual traits for which we are rapidly becoming accustomed. A predictably stale team selection, a failure to take chances and no ability to claw our way back into the game. We have failed to gain a point from any game in which we've fallen behind, a deeply worrying statistic which suggests a lack of confidence, heart or both.

After having praised Jose Semedo so forcefully after the Ipswich win, I was surprised to learn that Pards still opted for Martin Cranie at Cardiff. Are our three loan signings required to play under the terms of their loan, because how else can one explain this apparently perverse state of affairs? Such a provision would certainly make some sense from the point of view of the player's club.

When one bears in mind that Semedo has replaced Cranie at half-time in two consecutive matches, the situation becomes even weirder. After all, right-backs are not usually the first to be sacrificed in a half-time tactical switch, and Semedo whilst honest enough, is hardly a rampaging overlapping alternative. However the fact that the Portuguese left the field in tears on Saturday after his red card, makes me warm to him more. You can understand his frustration.

Unfortunately Mark Hudson's own red card has left us dangerously exposed in defence, and none of the gaffer's options are especially comforting. He will choose between Kelly Youga and Cranie at centre-back, which implies more importantly that he must decide whether he trusts Grant Basey or Yassin Moutaouakil more in their stead at full-back. Given that Pards would probably sooner spend a day away from a mirror than pick the Frenchman, I would expect Basey to start.

If Pards continues to opt for 4-4-2, then an unchanged midfield is likely, although it offers a far from comforting sense of stability, particularly against a well-drilled footballing side like Bristol City. They passed it around us in this fixture in March, and a midfield that contains Holland, Ambrose and Bouazza will likely ensure the same outcome.

There are two youngsters itching to play, and with the continual use of Matt Holland's creaking legs clearly not working, then surely now is the time with four games in eleven days, to give Jonjo Shelvey or Josh Wright a chance (or both). Shelvey is just 16 and probably requires greater protection, but Wright turns 19 next month and is already at an age where you have to rapidly prove you can step up from the likes of League Two, else what's the point?

Upfront the much heralded Varney/Gray partnership is stuttering badly, though it is worth noting that Gray has not scored since Pards dropped him at Forest, despite having scored the winning goal four days earlier.

Todorov is likely to be preferred to Gray, but whether Varney is the best partner for the Bulgarian is a moot point. I would imagine the greater poaching nous of Dickson, Fleetwood or a nearly-fit McLeod would be better-suited to Todorov's guile.

Alternatively, whilst one wonders how much more patience can be afforded Darren Ambrose, the option of playing 4-5-1 with him in the 'hole' (presumably behind Varney) is an appealing one. With Cranie and Basey both defence minded first, and attack-minded second, it would also allow Sam and Bouazza more freedom to patrol the flanks, and hopefully do the type of damage they did against Reading.

If I was choosing the team, I would select as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Cranie, Primus, Bailey, Wright, Ambrose, Bouazza, Sam, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Holland, Gray, Dickson.

However, given that Pards is unlikely to seek my pre-match opinion, I expect him to select as follows: Weaver, Cranie, Basey, Youga, Primus, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza, Ambrose, Todorov, Varney. Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Wright, Sam, Gray.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Bouazza), Bristol City 2 (Trundle, Adebola). Att: 19, 102.


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