Friday, November 28, 2008

Southampton preview

”…if they play anything like they did at Queens Park Rangers in midweek, the Addicks can surely be confident of a return to winning ways.” (CAFC Website, 28 Nov 2008)

Tom Harvey at Charlton Athletic FC clearly hasn’t lost the faith. We don’t even have to play like we did at QPR; just anything like it will do. You have to admire his optimism.

Saturday’s game is being well-hyped, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a relegation six-pointer in November. However with Watford facing a very beatable Doncaster side at Vicarage Road, there is a risk of a sizeable gap opening up between the bottom three and the rest.

Instead I’d rather look at the remaining 27 games in their entirety, and assess the challenge ahead for the team and whoever is leading them.

The points required for Championship safety over the past few seasons has been as follows:

2007/08: 53pts
2006/07: 43pts
2005/06: 42pts
2004/05: 51pts
2003/04: 52pts
2002/03: 47pts
2001/02: 50pts
Average: 48.3pts

Thus a simple average suggests that say 49 points will be enough to survive, although one would want to be sure of accumulating perhaps 53 points to be on the safe side. From Charlton’s current position, that requires us to accumulate 37 points from 27 games, equivalent to 63 points over a full season.

This points target is already filling me with a sense of doom. After all we picked up 64 points last season (the type of form required now), and were in the top two in the division for much of the first half of it.

In short, it requires a win and a draw from each trio of matches between now and season’s end. Playing well but losing simply won’t cut it anymore.

Although Southampton have made a stuttering start to the season, it is notable that 13 of their 20 points have been acquired on the road. Wins at Reading, Preston, Doncaster and Derby suggest they are far from a soft touch, and they may slowly be finding their feet under obscure boss, Jan Poortvliet.

After finishing bottom of the Premiership in 2004/5, they have struggled to find any kind of stability, not helped of course by the forced sale of the likes of Theo Walcott, Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones and Gareth Bale.

Losing to Derby in the 2006/7 play-off semi-finals on penalties would have been a bitter blow, and further managerial turnover and ongoing Boardroom shenanigans suggest that like Charlton, mere Championship survival for a couple of seasons would represent success of sorts.

They include two of Charlton’s most underrated players of recent seasons, both signed by Curbishley before seemingly falling foul of his well-known ability to hold grudges.

Jason Euell’s record of 34 goals in 102 games (albeit including several penalties) stands up well to comparison against virtually any of the club’s other strikers in the Premiership, although at £4.75million he perhaps merely repaid his lofty fee.

He endured the tragic loss of his baby daughter in 2001, but was always a consummate professional. Perhaps unsure if he was best utilized upfront or in midfield, he ended up doing neither and was soon sold on the cheap to Middlesbrough.

Chris Perry meanwhile has made a career out of proving wrong those that doubted he could perform in central defence, despite his lack of height. He joined the Addicks in September 2003 (initially on loan from Spurs), and would start 25 matches during that initial outstanding 2003/4 season.

The remainder of his Charlton career coincided with the tired end of Curbishley’s reign, although what would fans give today for that type of boredom? He was hastily released by Iain Dowie in the summer of 2006, and the rest as they say, is history.

The events of the past week at The Valley have descended into farce, with a manager (correctly) jettisoned, three loan signings acquired, and the club’s great blond hope hurriedly offloaded to a Championship rival.

Too many decisions over the past 2 ½ years have been made on the hoof, and the result is a club with no workable structure on the playing side, and a team rapidly descending towards League One. As they like to say in America, it’s a total ‘sh*tshow’.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Parkinson will be given until the end of the season to somehow make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Pardew’s personality is such that one can well imagine Parkinson was relatively blameless for the recent garbage served up by Charlton, but to give him the role purely in the name of seamlessness and finance would be myopic. If he is genuinely the most impressive of the candidates available then so be it (but it would be unlikely surely).

Trying to guess Parkinson’s line-up tomorrow is akin to picking lottery numbers, but here is my best guess: Weaver, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, McEveley, Racon, Semedo, Gillespie, Bouazza, Burton, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Youga, Bailey, Todorov, Sam.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 2 (Burton 2), Southampton 2 (Wright-Phillips, Surman). Tickets sold: 21, 829.

I Think We're A Loan Now

For the third successive away trip, Charlton were seemingly in control of large swathes of the game, and reportedly looked the better side. Yet we have just a single point show for our efforts.

Optimists would suggest that our luck will eventually turn. Indeed my previous post focused on the recent absurdly skewed distribution of the first goal, even notwithstanding our oft-demonstrated propensity to shoot ourselves in the foot.

However, football history is littered with stories of teams that were supposedly ‘too good to go down’, yet ultimately football is about winning matches, not possession, chances created etc..

All of which brings me to Luke Varney of course. His glaring miss at QPR might well have been ruled offside, but he was not to know that. It can be added to that diabolical miss at home to Burnley, the costliness of which is becoming ever more apparent.

Who knows what confidence boost a late win would have given the team? It might have been enough to turn the aforementioned three solid away performances into much more than one point.

His apologists argue that all strikers go through bad spells, which is of course factually correct. However not all strikers continue to go through bad spells after they have been given several gift-wrapped chances to end that spell.

Charlton fans wanted him to succeed (he seems such a nice fella after all), but it was in vain.

When you think of Charlton’s most natural goalscorer in recent times (Mendonca), he was not blessed with the type of natural talent that a scout would instantly spot upon first viewing.

Super Clive was not especially quick, rarely headed the ball, and his harrying of defenders was not particularly enthusiastic. And herein lies the mistake I believe Pards has made with Varney, and it ties in nicely with my prior post on 'randomness'.

Upon first sight, Varney ticks many of the important boxes for any curious scout or interested manager.....he's quick, always gives 100%, and for that one season only he was also scoring goals (17 in 31 starts).

Seen in this context, it is certainly forgivable that Pards was so keen to pay upwards of £2million for his services.

Yet whilst one fears of course that he will suddenly find his scoring boots at Derby, it is now clear to me at least that the 2006/7 season was mere randomness (enough randomness - Ed.).

Although often overlooked, he had been at Crewe for three seasons prior to 2006/7, yet his record was only 10 goals in 37 starts (plus many more as substitute).

If one adds his Charlton career (10 goals in 39 starts), to those Crewe seasons excluding 2006/7, his record is a soporific 20 goals in 76 starts. A poor record for any team's leading striker.

Of course that 2006/7 was not merely a figment of Pardew's imagination; it really did happen. But these types of one-off seasons are likely, even inevitable for a striker at some point in his career.

The challenge for a manager when assessing a goalscorer is to decide whether it was mere luck (randomness), or a function of an innate skill that is repeatable. Could we have done more in this regard?

Most consistent goalscorers have a certain arrogance and self-belief, and when those lean spells come along, they do not begin to doubt themselves (merely the ability of their teammates to provide them with chances).

Something about Chris Dickson's manner for example suggests he has it in abundance; the question is perhaps whether he has the ability to execute upon his self-belief (frustratingly Varney did not lack for ability).

The way Varney went around the Burnley keeper expertly, yet lacked the wherewithal to shoot, proved he patently lacked these vital traits.

Pards had been fooled, and when he began to emphasise Varney's general contribution to the team, we should have known the game was up. Whilst they did not dither enough when he was signed, full credit to the club for not dithering over his sale, even if financial considerations were perhaps paramount too.

It had always troubled me slightly that Varney was already 20 years old when he was still playing at Quorn (who knew vegetarians played football, eh?). When he was subsequently signed by Crewe, they became the lowest-ranking club in the English pyramid ever to command a transfer fee.

The market for footballers is not entirely 'efficient' (Ian Wright signed professional terms at aged 21 for example), but is it likely Varney would have been overlooked for that long if he was truly a two million pound player?

However it seems Paul Jewell is willing to give him another chance. Let's hope for Derby's sake that it's not what the stock market calls a 'value trap', because I've seen enough of Varney to conclude that any goalscoring spell will be merely fleeting.

Based upon my theory that a transfer fee is 'undisclosed' to avoid embarrassing one of the parties involved, Charlton have surely taken a very large write-down on his transfer fee in just 18 months.

After Dowie's succession of poor signings, can the Board be doing more to assess the efficacy of a manager's proposed acquisitions? And having been stung so many times in recent seasons (Traore, Faye, Varney etc..), does that explain our extraordinary new reliance upon loans?

The acquisitions of Deon Burton and Jay McEveley would seem to add value at first sight, but seen in the context of the five loans we already have, they appear acts of desperation. The theory presumably is that if the Board give the manager enough options, eventually he'll stumble across a winning formula, hopefully in time to keep us up.

When the League brought in a rule limiting a matchday squad to 5 loan players, one suspects they never imagined it would be tested. Nonetheless, when Charlton fans and bloggers alike try to second-guess the manager's team selection, we now have an additional constraint to consider.

McEveley would appear to be perhaps the pick of the septet, at least on paper. He is just 23 years old, but has both Premiership and full International experience (3 caps for Scotland). And unlike the likes of Cranie or Bouazza (22 and 23 respectively), he will not view a spell at Charlton as an obvious step down (at least not yet).

It is hard to imagine we will have a realistic option to buy him, but he at least provides a short-term alternative to the far from convincing Kelly Youga.

Deon Burton has seemingly had as many clubs as Marcus Bent, and looks disturbingly like him too. His scoring record is not dissimilar to Varney's (albeit over 300+ games), but it seems that unlike Varney, he has more facets to his game, able to hold the ball up, and score his fair share of scrappy goals.

What a fine mess our (fine) club has got itself into. In 2002, the BBC wrote an article suggesting Charlton were Britain's best-run club. It seems so much good work has been undone at worrying speed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fooled by Randomness?

There is a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb called 'Fooled by Randomness' which I have referenced several times on this blog, and whose importance has very much returned to the fore given recent events at Charlton.

The key conclusions of the book (which I urge you to read), are that humans tend to overestimate 'causality', and view the world as more 'explainable' than it actually is.

When Charlton's Board chose to dismiss Alan Pardew, it is vital that they were not being 'fooled by randomness'.

I have been very adamant of course that it was not randomness that explained our lowly position, and it seems the Board agreed. However if we were wrong, then it would have potentially very detrimental effects on the club's future.

Moreover, if results under Phil Parkinson (or his permanent successor) suddenly improve, then it would be easy (and perhaps wrong) to suddenly proclaim the new man as some type of managerial genius, and Pards as a fool.

It is well-known that when teams sack the manager of an underperforming side, the subsequent results under the new leader tend to improve. Spurs under Harry Redknapp would appear to be a very obvious and recent example of this phenomenon. Pards himself seemed to have a similar impact when he first joined Charlton.

Very few Spurs fans would suggest that Juande Ramos would have presided over the same set of results, yet all one may be witnessing is a simple 'reversion to the mean'.

Moreover, form has momentum (a team's most recent results provide predictive value), yet the catalyst for a sudden run of good or bad form is likely the mere reversion, not some silver bullet like the arrival of a new manager.

When Ramos departed, Spurs were languishing on 2 points from 8 games. Even the most pessimistic Spurs cynic would have concluded that it was most unlikely that they'd have finished the season under Ramos on just 10 points, yet that is what their points-per-game implied.

In short, it is impossible to conclude definitively that Redknapp is responsible for the club's turnaround. Random factors will have played a part too, yet one suspects 'Arry would be loathed to admit it.

That amazing point they secured at Arsenal galvanised their season, but the manager does not influence the outcome at 4-2 with injury time looming. His excellent record at Pompey suggests he does add considerable value over time, but quite patently in this case, not yet.

When I argued that Pardew's reign at Charlton had reached a natural end, I tried to present it not merely in terms of no wins from his last eight games, but as relegation form over the equivalent of a full season.

I placed this form into the context of what a reasonable expectation should have been over that period, given resources at the (well-remunerated) manager's disposal.

Clearly the more data points one uses, the less likely it is that random factors will override non-random ones. I thus concluded that 49 points from 46 games was unacceptably bad for such a well-paid individual, and likely not randomly explained.

Pardew has now gone, and Parkinson's reign has begun with a seemingly undeserved defeat. With Saturday's game being described as a relegation six-pointer, there is clearly a risk that fans misguidedly make conclusions on Parkinson's suitability for the role full-time, at full-time. This would be a mistake.

One particular statistic from the last 9 games (4 home, 5 away) is an amazing outlier, yet it goes a long way to explaining the miserly three points we've accumulated over that period: we've conceded the first goal in all of them. This statistic is extraordinary.

Approximately 1 in 11 matches finish goalless (expressed in odds as 10/1). In the Championship meanwhile given the relative closeness of most match-ups, it is reasonable to conclude (again ignoring a profit margin) that the odds of the home team scoring the first goal are typically say 4/5 and the away team, 15/8.

Thus if you wanted to place a £100 bet before the away game at Cardiff that Charlton would concede the first goal in its next nine games, you'd have collected a whopping £129,096 and still retain the option to roll it forward to Saturday at 15/8!

Nobody did place that bet, but I highlight it to demonstrate just how incredibly unusual this run is. It is more unusual than doing ten coin flips, and getting a head on each of them.

Given the expected number of points a team will take from a game drops precipitously as soon as that first goal hits your net, a sudden turnaround in form under Parkinson is just as likely to be driven by the same high degree of randomness, if it comes after we've begun scoring the first goal again!

After all, if the only piece of information that you had on our last 9 games was that we'd conceded the first goal in all of them, your best guess for the total points we'd have accumulated would likely not be much more than the 3 we did pick up. It is surprisingly rare how often teams win matches from behind.

As I've noted before, we scored the first goal in 7 of our first 10 games accumulating a respectable, albeit not earth-shattering 13 points. We contrived to lose 3 of those 7 which is also extremely unusual, but anyhow perhaps it's just a weird old season.

If Parkinson was given 10 games as caretaker boss, and if he accumlated 13 points, I suspect most fans (and the Board) might conclude he was worthy of earning the job full-time.

Yet as I've hopefully demonstrated, this might be nothing more than a return to a more regular distribution of the first goal, which realistically Parkinson will not be able to affect.

He might claim otherwise, but he this would be a prime example of so-called 'confirmation bias'. Eventually the coin flipper will turn up a tail.

Anyone who'd seen those 9 games however, would probably not conclude that we had mere randomness to blame. The fact that we can't pick up markers in our penalty box, that we are overly reliant on flaky loan signings, and that Luke Varney can't hit a cow's backside with a banjo are all clearly factors too, which Pards surely did not do enough to address.

In conclusion, the factors which I urged the Board to use when evaulating Pardew's future, should be the same as those used to evaluate Parkinson's. Short-term results should not be key amongst them, just as I don't believe ultimately they were under Pards (the rot started a year ago).

Instead, the Board should decide whether Parkinson can improve those aspects of the team that he does have influence over, and does he have the organisational skills and vision to build all aspects of the playing side of the club for the long-term. In other words, is he a manager in whom we can have confidence, whichever division we begin 2009/10 in (and beyond)?

I dearly hope we wallop Southampton on Saturday, but let's not read too much into it if we do; it's highly unlikely Parkinson will have had anything to do with it yet. In short, we will have been fooled by randomness.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

QPR preview

Charlton head to Loftus Road tonight in a state of managerial flux, yet in dire need of some positives upon which to rebuild this terrible season.

The best that can be hoped for from Phil Parkinson is a form of triage. In his playing days he was renowned as a leader and a battler, and one hopes he will very forcefully remind his new charges of their responsibility to at least give their all.

The diabolical run of form that we have been on since mid-September is not an accident, explained by random factors.

The lack of a playing ‘system’ is all too apparent, the team seemingly prepared with the same amount of due care and attention as a typical pub side. We've been turned over all too regularly by sides arguably with less natural talent, but where each player understands his role in the side, and more importantly can execute it.

Defensively, we have been revealed us as a ‘soft touch’, this despite the addition of two so-called ‘Premiership’ defenders in the shape of Cranie and Primus.

Yet it seems the club continues to go on the type of borrowing spree that would make Alistair Darling proud.

Out of the blue, we learned today of the arrival of Keith Gillespie, the fifth loan signing of the season and amazingly the tenth since Danny Mills returned to the Valley during 2007/8. One wonders if the club will soon look to consolidate all its existing loans into one simple monthly payment.

Fans are led to believe that new signings are the sole prerogative of the manager, yet Gillespie arrives before Parkinson has even had time to adjust the manager's chair to his larger dimensions. It reminds me of when Cory Gibbs arrived in mid-2006 when we didn’t even have a manager at all.

It all adds to the unfortunate sense that something has gone wrong with the usual checks and balances at the club, which the mere removal of Pards (welcome as it was) will not solve. One can trace this worrying trend back to the nonsense with Andrew Mills when Dowie arrived.

Thus without wishing to be unfair to Parkinson, I thus have a sense that a true outsider with a strong personality is needed, just as it was ironically when Pardew arrived. We just need to get the right man this time.

In the meantime, Parkinson does at least have real former direct managerial experience so we are in reasonable hands for the timebeing.

He has generally had a low profile since joining the club, so few will have a good sense as to his character and style. That could potentially work to his benefit.

For him to be able to persuade the fans that he’s the right man to take over permanently, it is futile to claim that the results from the next few games should be the deciding factor.

However we would like to see evidence that he’s got his own ideas, that the players are motivated, and that he’s able to instill at least a modicum of defensive organization, even in the few days he’s been in charge. After eleven consecutive games without a clean sheet, he will have plenty to work on.

He is generally held in high esteem by fans of Colchester, despite walking out on them to join Hull. And it is notable that the team he left behind finished in a highly creditable tenth position in the Championship, suggesting he left the club with a valuable legacy.

In his opening comments to the media as caretaker, he was swift to apportion some blame, highlighting the lack of discipline of the wide players. With Ambrose now on loan elsewhere, he was clearly referring to Bouazza and Sam, two players more than capable of leaving their brains in the dressing room.

Some quick research suggests Parkinson prefers a 4-4-2 formation. If true tonight, then it would imply a change from three games starting 4-5-1 which despite the ostensibly more defensive nature of the formation, resulted in ten goals leaked.

It was not particularly hard to tell that QPR’s installment as pre-season Championship favourites was absurd, and so it has proved. Despite sitting comfortably in mid-table, they have the joint second worst goals scored total, perhaps prompting the club’s billionaire owners to opt for the supposed Continental flair of Paolo Sousa.

Following relegation from the Premiership in 1995/96, the past twelve years until their latest buyout, have been characterized by a further relegation, financial troubles and dwindling crowds. The lesson for Charlton could not be starker.

Rangers were eventually turned around by Ian Holloway, who secured promotion back to the Championship in 2003/4. Will Charlton find their own saviour before another relegation?

Their squad is the usual mix of journeymen and ex-Premiership dropouts, including former Addick Lee Cook about whom Pards had very few nice things to say. Giant ex-Palace defender ‘one size’ Fitz Hall meanwhile will be suspended after his red card at Watford.

Charlton have a decent recent record at Loftus Road. Our play-off dreams died there last season, but we registered three consecutive wins there in 1989/90 (0-1), 1996/97 (1-2), and 1997/98 (2-4). We also won the 2nd leg of a League Cup tie there in 1998/99.

Its claustrophobic surroundings require adapting to, especially at night. If we concede the first goal for the 9th consecutive game, all of Parkinson’s motivational powers will be needed to salvage at least a vital point.

With injecting some solidity into the team surely the key, I suspect he will opt for a defensive looking line-up that narrows up the midfield, and encourages playing on the break with Gray's hold-up play an essential element.

I think he’ll make his first team selection as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Cranie, Bailey, Holland, Gillespie, Basey, Gray, Waghorn. Subs: Elliot, Semedo, Bouazza, Varney, Todorov.

NY Addick predicts: QPR 2 (Blackstock, Agyemang), Charlton 1 (Waghorn). Att: 14, 842.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pardew Gone - Who Should Be Next?

As Charlton fans, we are not used to this degree of managerial turnover. But as of this evening, the Board will begin to draw up a shortlist of candidates for the role as Charlton's fifth first team manager since May 2006.

Alan Pardew's career as Charlton manager had begun promisingly, but since the end of 2007 it has degenerated almost into a farce of poor results, abysmal performances, illogical team selection and questionable transfer decisions.

If he were an easier man to like on a personal level, I would feel more sympathy since after all, his long-term managerial career looks challenged at this point.

Whilst his very visible self-confidence was welcome after it was clear Les Reed was embarrssingly out of his depth, he has been revealed as being all media spin, yet with no end product.

At another club he may prosper again since surely his decent record at Reading (especially) and West Ham, was not down merely to good fortune. However having tried countless players and team selections, it is clear he has lost the ability to motivate the squad.

Once he also patently lost the fans after the Barnsley game, it was curtains for him, and fairly obviously so too. It is thus rather confusing that the Board waited until this final Valley humiliation to wield their axe, and one has to hope these wasted three weeks have not done irreversible damage to our hopes of staying up.

Now the club finds itself in an almost identical position to the one it found itself in almost two years ago. Pardew arrived after 19 games of 2006/7 when the team had accumulated just 12 points.

After 18 games of 2008/9 and having picked up only 16 points, the Board faces another vital managerial decision. In fairness to Pards, he only had 19 games to get it right - the new man will have perhaps 26, assuming no decision is made before next weekend.

I think the club must choose (quickly) between either opting for a short-term 'emergency' appointment with the sole aim of survival, or a true long-term appointment which importantly acknowledges that relegation is today a very real possibility, regardless of who steps in.

Whichever option they choose, our precarious finances may steer us towards the 'promising but cheap' rather than the 'accomplished but expensive'.

If the club goes down the long-term route, it's vital for fans in my view to accept that we need a manager that we would want beginning 2009/10 in either the Championship or League One, and not merely the former. It is Pardew and his players that have got us into this mess; we should not view our continued presence in this division with any sense of 'entitlement'.

Moreover, most fans (me certainly included) welcomed Pardew's appointment enthusiastically, but have since watched our hopes for him dashed. Hence let's not rush to judgment if the next appointment doesn't initially set our pulses racing. After all, when Curbs was handed sole charge of the team in the mid-1990s, many argued the Board had jettisoned the wrong one.

Having set out the context above, I think one can reasonably divide the likely candidates into three buckets:

1. Charlton-related appointments: someone from the existing coaching staff, former players or (dare one say it?) former managers. However given the last two managers would fall into this category, and neither worked out, does it suggest an outsider might be warranted this time?

2. Out-of-work managers: some would be far more speculative than others (are they even looking for work?). Others may be so-called 'big names' particularly attracted to a possible short-term appointment, Joe Kinnear style.

3. Currently employed managers or coaches: given Charlton are currently 42nd on the League ladder, we are a less appealing prospect than we once were. However, with still reasonable crowds and (yes) a half-decent squad, we may be more appealing to certain Championship managers than we realise, and certainly to those below.

In the first category, the names inevitably high up the shortlist would include Phil Parkinson (now in caretaker charge), Mark Kinsella, Chris Powell and of course, Alan Curbishley.

Whilst I would understand the logic of appointing Curbs, especially on a six-month contract, this would be far from my first choice. Just because we have so far failed to find a replacement of his calibre, does not imply it is right to go running back to him.

But from his perspective, I'd imagine it's getting surprisingly interesting again. He is viewed (unfairly) in many quarters as having failed at West Ham, and I don't see an attractive opening for him elsewhere in the near-term (and certainly none that would let him remain in his Essex house).

I would be vociferously against the appointment of any of Kinsella, Powell or say Mark Robson. This is no time for such speculative gambles, especially sentimental ones. I feel strongly that some of our current predicament is a function of too much appointment 'from within'. If it means Kinsella has to accept a P45, then so be it; we're not a charity.

Phil Parkinson would be an easy and seamless choice, but he is surely tainted by association, and whilst a sensible caretaker option, he ought not be considered seriously for the role.

His most recent managerial role at Hull was a failure, and only if the senior players championed his cause, would I be comfortable with his appointment. Then again, most of our senior players have as much credibility as Pards at this point.

Other unlikely options with Charlton connections include Mark Bowen (a well-regarded assistant to Mark Hughes), Ronnie Moore, Jorge Costa, Keith Peacock and perhaps Paolo di Canio.

Bowen might be a surprisingly interesting choice, and he may well view negative rumours about the future of Hughes at Man City as likely to jeopardise his own position, encouraging him to consider a new challenge.

Ronnie Moore (who many Charlton fans including me 'helped to buy' in the 1980s), meanwhile has a solid lower division managerial record at several clubs. However at 55 years old, the club might be better served opting for a younger hungrier manager. Few currently attending the Valley regularly would remember his long blond locks anyhow.

As for the others mentioned, they would be appointments firmly from the heart not the head, and a rather irregularly beating one too.

All of which brings us to the second category, namely out-of-work managers. Sam Allardcye was very public in today's Times newspaper about his availability, and was clearly an unqualified success at Bolton, but was treated abysmally by Newcastle.

An advocate of a 'scientific' approach to the game, his methods might not be welcomed by all, but we'd certainly be considerably harder to beat. Whilst keen for work, would he really consider Charlton and could we afford him anyhow? And if he took us down, can you really see him managing in League One?

For Billy Davies meanwhile, it could be second time lucky for the wee Scot since he was offered the job before Iain Dowie. Like Allardyce, he has a admirable record and was treated poorly by his last club. He would be cheaper too, and is clearly one of the front-runners. His feisty but honest style would be most welcome at a time like this.

I suggested after the Barnsley game that Glenn Hoddle might be an interesting albeit controversial choice. Although he attended the same school of self-aggrandizement as Pards, he was somewhat more worthy of it than our former manager. When you've been the most gifted midfielder of your generation, and managed Spurs, Chelsea and England, you will at least command respect. We would begin to play with some panache too.

Lawrie Sanchez would be an interesting choice. Intelligent but irreverent, he carved out a reputation at Wycombe before performing minor-miracles as Northern Ireland manager. Jettisoned without good reason by Fulham, they almost received their comeuppance before Roy Hodgson's late late intervention. He might even persuade David Healy to join on loan.

Aidy Boothroyd was sacrificed just two weeks ago, and his and Pardew's paths have now taken another uncannily similar turn. Their respective club's form began to unravel at virtually the same time, although the Hornets fans were certainly not demonstrating for Boothroyd's head. A thoughtful student of the game, and at just 37 years old is both young and experienced, a rare combination. His Watford side was renowned for the long ball, but did he merely mould the tactics to suit the players he had rather than the other way around?

At a time of such distress, Ian Holloway's humour would be most welcome. His impressive record at three clubs was rather ruined by relegation at Leicester, although it should be noted he was not their manager for the whole season. Unquestionably passionate and instantly likeable, he would be a realistic choice and one with experience of winning promotion from League One.

Some high-profile options rather out of leftfield might for example include Graeme Souness, David O'Leary, Joe Royle or George Graham. Each would surely only make sense on a short-term deal (with Graham perhaps the pick of the bunch).

Whilst it's inevitable that the club will look at currently employed managers/coaches for possible candidates, there is a financial compensation aspect which the club can probably ill-afford at this point. Nonetheless, there are certainly plenty of interesting managers who would bring the appropriate amount of fresh ideas, enthusiasm and prior record of achievement.

Within the Championship, one has to inject a sad amount of realism into proceedings. After all, despite his Millwall connections, Mick McCarthy was a genuine Charlton candidate before Dowie was appointed, yet he would hardly leave Wolves now to rebuild the mess at Charlton.

The same is doubtless true of any existing Championship manager with some genuine promotion ambitions this season, unless they are operating on a ludicrously tight budget.

Amongst the more realistic and potentially attractive candidates however would be Gary Johnson, Simon Davey, Roberto Martinez, Chris Coleman, and Brian Laws.

With his neat Bristol City side slowly losing the impressive momentum built up over the past two seasons, this may be an opportune time to take a good look at Gary Johnson. He has a consistently impressive record at both City and Yeovil, preceded by an odd but presumably insightful spell as Latvia's coach. Known as a motivator, and with clear 'form' in both the Championship and League One, he must surely be near the top of any Charlton director's shortlist.

This type of challenge may have come a little early for both Davey and Martinez, but both (especially the latter) are carving out reputations as some of the most promising young managers around.

Anyone who saw Swansea pass the ball around us on the opening day, will not be surprised to see them in clear play-off contention having walked League One last season. Martinez would be a brave choice, but one I would welcome for its audacity. Foreign managers have a mixed reputation, but if he were British, I dare say Messrs Murray and Chappell would be driving down the M4 as we speak.

Barnsley were impressive at the Valley three weeks ago, and showed our fans how an organised and drilled side is meant to play. Davey took them to the FA Cup semi-final, but is yet to prove he can build a side to compete in the Championship, and it may be premature to champion his skills at this point.

Chris Coleman is operating under an austere budget at Coventry, yet just a couple of years ago was one of the most exciting young managerial prospects in the country. Fulham have gone backwards since he left, whilst a short spell at Real Sociedad will have been as they say, an 'experience'. However after Dowie and Pardew, surely the club has tired of anyone that arrives with strong ex-Palace connections? And like Pardew, he has indulges in a little too much self-love for my liking.

Brian Laws performed miracles at Scunthorpe, but has had a mixed record at Sheffield Wednesday. However like Martin O'Neill, he played for many years under perhaps the greatest manager of them all (Clough), and like the Irishman has a reputation as someone not to be messed with. However successfully ensconced at another Championship club with 20,000+ crowds, would he be tempted away?

There are several interesting managers operating below the Championship. By definition, regardless of the relative stability of their current role, at least Charlton would be a clear 'step up' in their career. Some interesting candidates would include Danny Wilson, Steve Tilson, Darren Ferguson, Nigel Adkins, Peter Taylor, and Mike Newell. Each would represent a highly conservative appointment, one with financial constraints and the realism of our potential relegation firmly at the fore (but none the worse for it necessarily).

Wilson is only 48 yet he feels like the forgotten man of management having guided Barnsley to the Premiership in 1997. After stuttering at Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol City and MK Dons, he has found his feet again at Hartlepool winning promotion and securing a solid mid-table League One berth.

Tilson meanwhile has performed admirably on the seaside in Southend, securing two promotions on a limited budget (witness our steal of Nicky Bailey for example), whilst ensuring some stability following their inevitable subsequent relegation. The archetypal 'Essex man', he would surely jump at the chance to rejoin his former midfielder at the Valley.

Darren Ferguson certainly has the managerial genes, and whilst one might declare 'nepotism', his record at Peterborough suggests his achievements are on merit. At just 36 years of age, he would bring youth and presumably outstanding contacts, but a recent conviction for assault (on his wife) would put question marks against his character.

For those sick of Pardew's arrogance, the arrival of Nigel Adkins and his refreshingly self-deprecating approach would be most welcome. A failure to put up a decent Championship survival battle last season would count against him, but his ability to immediately launch another promotion battle suggests he has built the type of stability at Scunthorpe that we are now sorely lacking.

Like the aforementioned Hoddle, Peter Taylor has both Spurs and England connections. However despite his reputation as one of the game's best coaches, his managerial record is mixed suggesting that his understated personality is not best-suited to the hot seat. Leicester fans would argue that their current predicament can be traced directly back meanwhile to his disastrous brief reign there.

Mike Newell has recently joined Grimsby after a spell out of the game, but his sides earned a reputation for success playing good football. Not one to suffer fools gladly (and very publicly so), he would demand respect even if the Board might fear another faux pas. Given that he was touted by some (including me) as a candidate back in the summer of 2006, nothing has happened since which should make him any less so today.

It's my day job to select managers of another kind, so I trust you'll excuse my extravagantly wordy assessment of the Board's realistic options as I see them.

There is clearly no single outstanding candidate that ticks all of our boxes. I hope they do not go for the 'easy option' of Parkinson in the name of stability, because stability in our current situation implies relegation.

I would not be surprised if the club opts for a short-term fix, and then makes a more informed decision in the summer, hopefully whilst still in the Championship. If they go running back to Curbs then so be it, but at some point we need to get his successor right so let's move on. It'd be the equivalent of comfort sex with your ex-wife.

In order to summarise where I think we stand today, this is how I would price up a book on our next 'permanent' manager:

Davies 3/1
Parkinson 7/2
Curbishley 4/1
Johnson 15/2
Sanchez 9/1
Boothroyd 12/1
Martinez 12/1
Taylor 16/1
Newell 16/1
Holloway 16/1
Coleman 16/1
Allardyce 16/1
Laws 20/1
Bowen 20/1
Tilson 20/1
Adkins 25/1
Davey 25/1
Kinsella 25/1
Graham 33/1
Hoddle 33/1
Royle 33/1
Wilson 33/1
50/1 Bar

And after much consideration, I am pleased to declare the following:

NY Addick endorses Lawrie Sanchez, Roberto Martinez, Gary Johnson or Billy Davies.

Pardew's Press Conference

At the time of writing, Pards hasn't yet faced the media but when he does, I suspect his remarks may sound something like this:

"Well, what a game that was! It could have gone either way to be honest. At the end of the day, we're in the entertainment business and 13 goals conceded in 4 games shows we're not afraid to give the opposition's fans their money's worth.

It's a tough defeat to take to be honest - we'd worked so hard in training all week on not conceding more than three goals. We had some cones out and everything, and even trained in the rain on Thursday. I don't think anyone could accuse me of not trying as hard as possible to get things right.

We had to score six to win which was always going to be tough, even with Luke Varney on the bench. Luke is going to be a really important player for us this season. I don't think he realises how good he is; indeed I don't think anyone does.

I thought we really missed Martin Cranie, Grant Basey, Chris Dickson, Jonathan Fortune, Zheng Zhi, Jonjo Shelvey and Josh Wright today to be honest, with all due respect to the lads that played. I said to Parkie at 5-1 that the match situation was 'made for Dicko', but unfortunately he was at Bluewater and his mobile was switched off.

Amazingly today was the first time this season I've been able to name an unchanged side. Well that's not strictly true; I've been able to name one lots of times, but I've chosen to tinker just for the hell of it. I couldn't find a pen when the Ref asked for my teamsheet so I just handed him the one from Birmingham; not ideal as Toddy probably would have started.

We've had so many problems all season with injuries and suspensions. I had to put Therry Racon on the bench today, even though he still had one of his legs in plaster. Andy Gray meanwhile didn't arrive at the ground until 2.55pm, and had to play the first half in a pair of loafers. I thought he did ok though to be honest as it wasn't the easiest playing surface.

The fans were really terrific today, although I wanted to correct the North Stand when they sang, "There's only one Billy Davies." There was of course a Billie Davis who had a No.1 hit with 'Tell Him' in 1963. Different spelling of course, but pronounced exactly the same.

The referee didn't do us any favours, although I'm not looking for excuses. I said to him just before kick-off, "Are you going to do us any favours today Ref?" and he said, "No, how dare you?" This is what us managers are up against, and it makes it so hard to respect them to be honest.

People who know Alan Pardew know Alan Pardew doesn't walk away from a challenge. A lot of people claimed Alan Pardew walked away from Reading, but if the truth be known, I drove the car to the station, took the train to Paddington and then the tube to Upton Park. (Meanwhile West Ham sacked me as you know).

I think there's every chance we'll bring in one or two loan players this week, although finances are very tight. The Chairman asked me if I'd take a 50% pay cut to help bring in seven new players, but I said if I did that the squad would lose all respect for me.

You call up a player's manager and they say, "Charlton? You're having a laugh mate. My player's not interested in League One," and then they start laughing hysterically down the phone. I wouldn't mind, but I was only asking Jim Magilton how Darren Ambrose was getting on up there.

We can go to QPR in great spirit however; I do love a real midweek ding-dong derby under the lights. If any Charlton fan hasn't bought a ticket yet (and I understand there are still over 2,000 remaining) they should rest assured we'll approach it in the exact same way that we did for the Palace game. And if that's not enough, the new Westfield Centre is terrific apparently and just a short walk from the ground.

I'm not one to set unrealistic targets, but I've told the lads that if we win our last 28 games, we can still get to 100 points. That ought to be enough to seal the title which remains our aim."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sheffield United preview

A vital seven days for the Addicks begin on Saturday, with the visit of 5th placed Sheffield United to The Valley. Omens from this fixture over the past two seasons are not good.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Blades arrived in South-East London for a Tuesday night fixture against a Charlton side smarting from four consecutive wins and clean sheets.

With 31 points from 17 games, arguably it marked the high point of Alan Pardew's managerial reign. It certainly compares well to the 16 points accumulated from the same number of games this time around.

A comfortable 3-0 away win brought us swiftly back to earth, and suggested Charlton were somewhat more fragile than recent results would have predicted. As mentioned in my previous post, we have picked up just 49 points from the 46 games since.

Just a few months earlier, the points were shared in a desperate relegation six-pointer with the Addicks unable to capitalise on Talal El Karkouri's flukey opener. A diabolical late error by Ben Thatcher secured the visitors a point, and virtually sealed Charlton's fate.

It wasn't enough to save Sheffield United meanwhile, despite the administrative shenanigans going on a few miles north of The Valley, caused by players ironically both signed by Pards.

Unlike fellow relegated sides Charlton and Watford, the Blades have shown some solidity this season under the stewardship of Kevin Blackwell. Indeed it merely reflects a continuation of solid late 2007/8 form which almost secured them a surprise play-off spot. His record in far from ideal circumstances reflects well on him, and poorly on Pards by comparison.

In James Beattie, the visitors have one of the division's most potent goal threats, and he will likely be accompanied upfront by former Addicks target, Anthony Stokes. Meanwhile, if Chris Morgan's recent diabolical assault of Barnsley's Iain Hume is anything to go by in defence, then we can expect the type of physical challenge which we have not always relished.

Although the 4-5-1 formation seemed to serve us somewhat well on our recent travels, it is hard to see Pards opting for it in a home game we need to win, particularly if Andy Gray's personal problems prevent him starting against his former club. Instead I would expect Svetoslav Todorov's mercurial talents to offer a foil to debutant Martyn Waghorn.

In central midfield, one of the recently-utilised trio will need to be sacrificed with Matt Holland perhaps the most likely, given positive comments pertaining to Jose Semedo's recent contribution. On the flanks Bouazza will surely start on the left, with either Luke Varney or more likely Lloyd Sam on the right.

Thus I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Primus, Bailey, Semedo, Bouazza, Sam, Todorov, Waghorn. Subs: Elliot, Cranie, Holland, Varney, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 1 (Waghorn), Sheff Utd 1 (Beattie). Att: 19, 222.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pardew Gets The Horn

"There will certainly be one body before the Birmingham game, maybe two." (Alan Pardew, 6 Nov 2008)

He turned up a week late, but it seems the first body Pards had in mind was Martyn Waghorn, Sunderland's 18-year old striker.

You could almost cut the suspense with a knife as we await the second one.

I'm sure young Waghorn is an exciting prospect. He signed a new Premiership contract as recently as February, and given that Roy Keane doesn't suffer fools gladly, it's a fair bet that the kid can play. Then again he's only 18, and ergo he'd better be at least as good as Darren Ambrose.

Unfortunately it's yet another damning indictment on Pardew's management. After all, the six first-team strikers currently at the club (Varney, Gray, Todorov, McLeod, Dickson, Fleetwood), were all signed by him.

The transfer outlay on that sextet was over £5million, whilst I'd estimate their total monthly payroll to be perhaps £150,000. Given that we will have no chance of signing Waghorn at the end of his loan, where is the accountability for this extravagance?

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if Waghorn bags plenty of goals at Championship level, and each will rightly be cheered to the rafters. But what does that say about Luke Varney (3 goals since 8th Feb), a player to whom Pardew has until now, offered consistent and very public support?

I have genuinely been boosted by the changes Pards has apparently made to our training regime, and the early promising signs from the 4-5-1 formation he has utilised since Barnsley.

John Maynard Keynes once said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?" In what other context can one understand his sudden (and correct) fancy for Jose Semedo for example? Or his sudden willingness to sacrifice the previously untouchable and aforementioned Varney?

The supporters of Pards will highlight this type of flexibility, and willingness to acknowledge errors. Meanwhile, those fans like me who remain doubtful, prefer to suggest he is merely reshuffling the deckchairs aboard the proverbial Titanic.

By way of example, having performed admirably in two games at The Valley, it seems Josh Wright is now superceded again by Jonjo Shelvey in the 'young central midfielder's stakes'. I've genuinely no idea which of the two is the better player, but it seems Pards doesn't either.

Four goals in two tricky away games has won Pardew some time in the eyes of some doubting Charlton fans. The fact that only one point was gained has seemingly been lost in the vortex of our manager's spin.

It's just 2 Championship wins from 14 now; those keen to give him more time are playing a dangerous, if somewhat understandable game.

My favourite assessment of Pardew's managerial competence (Charlton's form over our last 46 games) is now flashing red lights all over the place.

The 46 Championship games we have played since hosting Sheffield United (ironically) on 27th Nov 2007, have generated just 49 points!

Fans of Leicester (52pts, 2007/8), Gillingham (50pts, 2004/5), Walsall (51pts, 2003/4) and Crewe (49pts, 2001/2) will not need reminding that this is quite possibly relegation form.

And Pardew's reaction after Birmingham?: "I wouldn't say we're in a relegation battle." And after Plymouth?: "If we can produce that kind of display week in, week out, we'll be up near the play-offs in no time."

Cardiff in 6th place have 28 points from 17 games (at 1.65 per game). If one is patient with Pards, and allows him say 40 games to be 'near the play-offs', then assuming the team in 6th place has continued to accumulate 1.65 points per game, we will need to have 'near' to 66 points.

If by 'near' to 66 points, he perhaps means 'within one win' (ie. 63 points) then we will need to accumulate 47 points from our next 23 games.

That's form which implies 94 points over the course of a full season. It's say 14 wins, 5 draws and just 4 defeats. It's surely utter nonsense, to suggest we're on the cusp of accumulating anything remotely like this.

As I wrote before the Plymouth game, the case for keeping Pardew (financial considerations aside), would seem to rest very squarely on two criteria.

Firstly, is there a reasonable expectation that he can and will safeguard our Championship future this season. And secondly, once having done so, is he the manager we would want in the Championship at the start of 2009/10?

The two are obviously linked. If results begin to suggest he will fulfil the first criteria, then one will gain confidence that he has a viable long-term vision for the club, which he would thus deserve to continue to take on next season.

What does the signing of Waghorn tell us in this regard? We all hope obviously that the lad scores goals, but it's something of a 'no-win' situation for Pards.

If he succeeds, it questions Pardew's judgment regarding those half-dozen that failed before him. And if he fails, we'll all doubtless declare that Pards hasn't learnt any lessons about tinkering with loan signings.

The bottom line for me, is that with the players already at his disposal (almost all of whom are now his signings), and with the three loan signings already onboard, he might be better served focusing on those rather than bringing in more new short-term recruits.

Our memories are not so short that we have forgotten the likes of Lee Cook and Scott Sinclair, whose presence (and the selection headaches they brought) might reasonably be claimed to have taken us backwards as last season faded away.

It's an unfair amount of pressure to place on young Waghorn's shoulders, and probably an unnecessary amount too. Welcome to Charlton, Martyn.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Birmingham preview

A trip to one of the country's most unpleasantly hostile stadiums awaits the Addicks tomorrow afternoon.

My last trip to St Andrews was on the final day of the 1997/98 season, when Charlton denied the Blues a possible play-off berth with a battling goalless draw.

We had started that afternoon with slight hopes of automatic promotion, but by half-time results elsewhere had ensured the guaranteed play-off place was likely the best we could hope for.

The Birmingham PA announcer and scoreboard operator took considerable delight in informing Charlton's fans and players of the news from elsewhere, presumably in the vain hope that we would cave in to the defeat which might just give their own team a play-off chance.

I recall genuinely fearing that Charlton's fans might not exit the stadium in one piece that afternoon, although we just about managed it.

This was back in the days of course when we had eleven real battlers on the park, and they kept that same work ethic through to Wembley and promotion to the Premiership.

However St Andrews is a stadium where we have an outstanding recent record, and the current team whilst patently lacking that same spirit, is nonetheless in dire need of at least another point to try to build confidence for the hoped-for climb out of relegation trouble.

In our last eight visits dating back to a terrific televised 4-3 win in 1995/96, we have secured three wins, four draws and only one defeat (in 1999/2000). Ironically the only goal that day was scored by Bryan Hughes.

Alan Pardew has made much of the performance at Home Park last Saturday, and whilst one cannot fail to admire his optimism, it seems a little overboard given the lateness of our goals.

At least he finally ended Luke Varney's illogical permanent presence on the pitch this season, by substituting the striker-cum-winger early in the second half.

Having scrambled an injury-time lead meanwhile, it was undeniably sloppy not to have closed out the match. For every step forward this season, we continue to take at least one large one back.

Although Pards began with a 4-5-1 formation at Plymouth, and was presumably happy with the way he claims we controlled the game, it was only after bringing on Todorov as a second striker that we belatedly found the net. However one would imagine he will revert back to a five-man midfield, at least until we concede what now seems to be the inevitable first goal.

Birmingham still lie in 2nd place and have conceded just 11 goals all season, but are on a mini run of poor form, failing to win any of their last three. Both Blackpool and Coventry have sneaked 1-0 wins at St Andrews this season, so there is certainly hope for Charlton if we perform.

There is plenty of attacking strength in the Birmingham side, with the likes of Kevin Philips, James McFadden and Cameron Jerome all capable of scoring regular goals at this level.

They also have Marcus Bent whose engagement to Gemma Atkinson was recently announced. Bent reportedly bought her an £83,000 engagment ring, paid for if you think about it indirectly by Charlton fans. I'm sure you'll join me in sending the happy couple our warmest congratulations.

I expect Pards to line them up as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Youga, Hudson, Primus, Bailey, Holland, Semedo, Bouazza, Sam, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Cranie, Basey, Todorov, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts Birmingham 2 (McFadden, Bent), Charlton 0. Att: 16, 221.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That's Entertainment

"It doesn't matter if we never meet again, What we have said will always remain, If we get through for two minutes only, It will be a start!" (The Jam, 1980)

'Start' by The Jam reached No.1 in the charts in August 1980. Alan Pardew would have been just 19 years old at the time, and interestingly both band and future football manager were firmly 'made in Surrey'.

Thus with just two minutes of injury time left, dare I suggest that Pards might have had flashbacks of his teenage years, and muttered the above lyrics to himself at about 4.51pm on Saturday?

Unfortunately we didn't get through those final two minutes, and the rollercoaster end of the game ultimately resulted in just a point. Despite Pardew's understandable post-match upbeat mood, this remains relegation form.

It is curious to note the following statistics about our opening 16 games:

- During Charlton's first 8 games, they scored the first goal 6 times (1 game finished goalless);
- During Charlton's next 8 games, they conceded the first goal 7 times.

Nonetheless, we have notably 'won' the second half in the last four games we've played (but only picked up 3 points). This sudden change in form between the first half of matches and the second half, and between the first half of this season so far and the second can be seen as follows:


1ST HALF: P8 W5 D1 L2
2ND HALF: P8 W2 D4 L2
Total Pts:10


1ST HALF: P8 W0 D2 L6
2ND HALF: P8 W5 D1 L2
Total Pts: 6

So a brutally honest review of our season so far would show that we've basically been cr*p throughout, but at different times. Or a less honest review, might conclude that we defy explanation. Perhaps our home crowds are holding up because we are so unpredictable, thus ensuring entertainment.

By a beautiful accident of symmetry, our first half form during the opening 8 games exactly reflects our second half form during the latter 8 games.

Did those three early games where we led but lost (Preston, Wolves, Sheff Weds), cause Pards to become more conservative from the get-go, with unintended negative consequences? Did the team become fearful of losing, when they'd previously started games with gay abandon?

They've refound their fighting spirit it seems, but at what overall price? If only Pards could marry those early first halves, with the more recent second halves and we'd have play-off contenders on our hands even from our current position.

You sense Pardew's ego can't resist a challenge, so there's one for him.....and there's still 90 points there for the taking if he accepts it.


(Left: Charlton fans mourn departure of Darren Ambrose)

Darren Ambrose has returned to Ipswich on a two-month loan, presumably with a view to a permanent signing.

He was signed from Newcastle for £1.5million in July 2005, and thus his arrival coincided with Alan Curbishley's final anti-climatic season as Addicks boss.

Before I launch into a tirade of criticism, I suppose this unfortunate timing ought to form the basis of the 'case for the defence'. Indeed, perhaps aware of the pressure on his shoulders, he was sent off on his debut.

Now aged 24, Ambrose should be in the prime of his career and given his talents, frankly a cut above the rest of the Championship. Instead we are comfortable loaning him to one of our rivals.

The biggest problem with Ambrose, as has been debated ad infinitum, is his inability to be pigeon-holed. Is he a winger? Is he a goalscoring central midfielder? Is he a striker?

The truth is that he's none of the above, which is why such a promising player with ten England U-21 caps is now so easily disposed of despite our League position.

Another factor is probably his wages, with Ipswich's new owners presumably willing to take on all of his contractual demands. As I joked back in July when I hacked into the club's email server, it was perhaps a surprise that he remained for so long.

He was mainly utilised as a wide midfielder by all four Charlton managers that he played under. Given that he could never remotely perform the task of a more defensively-minded industrious wide midfielder, it is reasonable to suppose that he could at least occasionally beat a full-back.

Unfortunately he lacked the tricks and the pace to do so, and thus we were left with a usually anonymous luxury player, whose very rare high moments came when he cut in from either flank. His left-footed equaliser against Manchester United in November 2005 was a very clear high point.

It was perhaps his two goals against his new club at The Valley last season, which reignited Jim Magilton's interest. Interestingly they arose when Ambrose was utilised at the tip of a midfield triangle, the only position in which he threatened to fulfil his potential.

Unfortunately this position is tactically restrictive since it requires managers to opt for a 3-5-2 or 4-5-1, and moreover in recent seasons Ambrose had some very able competition for this role, in the shape of Zheng Zhi.

One way of assessing Ambrose's disproportionate number of first-team starts as a wide man, is in terms of the tactical flexibility that he can help engender.

After all, it improves a manager's options if you can shift from say 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 without making a substitution (by for example moving Luke Varney wide right, and shifting Ambrose inside).

Seen in this team-oriented context, perhaps one can forgive him some of his inadequacies. Is it any wonder he was signed by Curbs given his obsession with flexible players?

The whole disappointment with Ambrose however, ought perhaps to be seen as yet more proof that there's never a 'free lunch' as a Charlton fan.

When he signed for Charlton, many Newcastle fans bemoaned his departure and told us we'd bagged a bargain. Young, English, talented......we'd get two or three seasons out of him, then flog him to Spurs for £10million.

Instead he joins the illustrious recent list of Charlton signings whose excitement I felt upon learning of their signature, was matched only by the sheer scale of my disappointment once they actually wore the red shirt.

Others recently added to that list include the likes of Dennis Rommedahl, Jonathan Johansson, Neil Redfearn and Francis Jeffers.

In Ambrose's case, it's a particular shame because he seems such a pleasant unassuming chap. It's so much easier to hate the likes of Marcus Bent.

It reminds one of an important lesson that every Charlton fan needs to learn at an early age. It's one that I fully intend to impart upon my own children, just as soon as they are old enough to fully digest it, "Son, if he was really any good, he wouldn't be playing for Charlton."

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Plymouth preview

For sheer uniformity of opinion and depth of resentment towards our manager, this week would be difficult to beat.

Interestingly and somewhat unexpectedly, Watford (who have an identical record to Charlton) relieved Aidy Boothroyd of his duties during the week.

The experience of both clubs since 2006/7 is eerily similar, as Alan Pardew will no doubt be aware. But unlike the rather unfortunate Yorkshireman, Pards has it seems a little more time to put things right.

Whether or not he deserves more time is a different matter. The case for giving him more time seems to rest upon one of two arguments. Firstly, one might argue he will turn things around and avoid relegation, thus implying a change would be unnecessarily destabilising.

Second, there is obviously a financial argument. Rumours of supposed compensation clauses (some of which sound implausible), render the club somewhat helpless in the face of his apparent ineptitude.

The Board's desire to sell the club does not sit well with either further instability, nor the need to pay compensation (which unlike a transfer fee, is an 'immediate loss').

By definition if given time, Pards may improve the team's form (whether by accident or good judgment) and we may secure a comfortable mid-table finish. The play-offs already seem a near-impossibility given ten points and fifteen teams already stand in our way.

Thus the question is whether this would even be good enough, and more importantly whether beginning 2009/10 with Pards still at the helm in the Championship is a palatable option.

If not, then given this is likely the most positive outcome that can result from this season under Pards, might we not be better off installing a new man at the helm now, whilst acknowledging the risks?

Debating whether or not we will definitively go down under Pards this season is moot, and best used as a source for lively pre-match pub chat. However you would have to be a rose-tinted optimist not to conclude that we looked like a 'relegation side' on Saturday.

Thus the evidence so far is not promising, with many fans asking whether he even has the appropriate character to manage through a relegation battle, let alone the appropriate tactical nous.

If you torture statistics enough, then they always eventually confess. However I have in the past pointed to the away fixture at Manchester City on Good Friday 2007, as the date when Pardew's managerial honeymoon at Charlton ended.

Until then, he was feted as a hero by most of the Addicks faithful and arguably rightly so after securing 5 wins from 12.

But his tactics that day were overwhelmingly negative despite coming after two consecutive wins, and he incorrectly declared himself happy with a point. An opportunity to put real breathing space between Charlton and the bottom three was thus lost, and we did not win another game that season.

Since that day, Charlton's record under Pards makes for depressing reading and forms the basis of fans' discontent:

P68 W21 D20 L27 Pts83

I sense however that if his job is genuinely on the line, then he would already have been sacked this week. In a sense we may therefore be stuck with him for the foreseeable future, unless he acts against his own financial self-interest by walking away.

But if the results continue their downward trend, then the relationship between Pardew, his players and the fans would become intolerable. This would cost the club far more in the medium-term, than whatever his contract requires us to pay him in compensation.

Pardew's post-Barnsley comments have focused upon returning to 'experience', and perhaps bringing in another loan signing or two. Not surprisingly, neither plan brings much joy to this fan's face at least but maybe with a bit of luck, he can buy himself a bit more time with some better results.

Home Park was the site of one of our rare recent true battling performances, ten-man Charlton keeping their faint play-off hopes alive with a Leroy Lita-inspired 2-1 win in April.

Paul Sturrock's men lie comfortably in midtable this season, and with barely a couple of hundred hardy Addicks likely to make the trip, similar character will be required to secure even a point.

As a result I sense Pards will opt for 'safety first' with a conservative line-up that makes us hard(er) to beat, but offers some hope of sneaking the type of 1-o win we secured at Doncaster.

When these types of negative tactics backfire, the pressure grows exponentially on the manager, yet the alternative more cavalier approach requires considerable courage. Thus I expect a dire game, hopefully at least a point for the Addicks, and plenty of post-match talk of 'spirit'.

I expect him to line them up as follows: Weaver, Cranie, Basey, Primus, Hudson, Bailey, Holland, Semedo, Ambrose, Varney, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Wright, Sam, Todorov, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts: Plymouth 0, Charlton 0. Att: 11,928.

Monday, November 03, 2008

All Change

"Meanwhile, the possibility of the US electing a first black President has increased thanks to the rapidly growing groundswell of support for Barack Obama, the new political superstar of the left." (New York Addick, Nov 2006)

An interminable electoral campaign ends tomorrow when the talking can finally stop, and in all likelihood Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States in waiting.

Although Obama's mere presence has made it a memorable electoral campaign, at some levels it has been a disappointment. Discussion of the issues rarely gets more than an inch deep, with both candidates guilty of repeating tabloid style 'impact' messages, dreamt up by policy wonks lurking in the background.

It is an amazing story. Unless the pollsters have got it terribly wrong, Obama will have defeated two of the most efficient electoral machines in the US, the Republican Party and the Clintons. He will have defeated them with an even more efficient campaign of his own.

McCain's hopes have taken a battering from the financial meltdown that accelerated in September, with swing voters viewing it as a suitable final legacy of eight disastrous years under Bush.

Sarah Palin meanwhile, far from being the energetic leftfield choice to galvanise the Republican party, has become an acute and often embarrassing liability, revealed whenever she attempts to discuss issues not dear to her fellow Alaskans.

Interestingly, approximately one third of likely voters will already have cast their ballot before Tuesday. In a sense therefore, the election may already be sewn up although we will have to wait until all polls close before the TV networks can 'call' the result. Memories will still be fresh of the 2000 broadcasting shambles when Florida was 'called' for Al Gore.

McCain can certainly still pull it off, although his campaign has become increasingly narrow, essentially conceding every single state won by John Kerry in 2004 except for Pennslyvania.

His campaign has thus focused on securing the narrowest of victories, by picking up enough of the smaller swing states by the tiniest of margins. However his problem is that the polls are suggesting that even some previously 'solid' Republican states (eg. Virginia, Georgia) are potentially 'in play', thus draining his meagre campaigning resources.

Obama was always likely to energise young urban voters, but he has skillfully avoided alienating core swing voters through either his rhetoric or policies. The Republicans have increasingly desperately thrown everything at him, and nothing has stuck.

McCain is a decent man and a brave soldier, but his tired speeches and monotone voice compare badly to Obama's inspirational message. And he has appeared totally out of his depth when discussing the economic challenges facing average Americans.

Tomorrow promises to be a special day for America, and I'm excited to be here to witness it in a city where the vast majority are backing Obama. Many will remain excited even when their first Obama-inspired tax bill arrives, which I find a strangely reassuring phenomenon.

His rise from humble origins to the White House, would represent proof that the concept of 'American dream' still exists, whilst his ascendancy can begin to repair America's damaged reputation in the world.

He will inherit enormous challenges, and his soaring oratory will have to give way to honest hard work. The broken healthcare system, dysfunctional housing market and enormous foreign policy issues will not be solved in four years, let alone one.

Like Bill Clinton before him in 1992, he will hope the economy's recovery concides with his second campaign so voters let him build on progress made first time around.

Despite the likelihood of a Democratic sweep of the White House and Congress, he will be wise to build bridges with the Republicans to mend the obvious divisions that exist within the electorate. There are huge swathes of the country whose mood will be far from celebratory on Tuesday night.

NY Addick predicts: Obama 337, McCain 201.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Charlton 1, Barnsley 3

One of the most depressing afternoons in Charlton's recent history has surely left Alan Pardew's managerial career hanging by a thread. I don't think I'd be alone in quite happily cutting it.

Yet again, Charlton were dismantled by a team that was better organised and considerably more committed. Everything Barnsley did was done with conviction and belief. Charlton were a shambles.
Pardew's team selection continues to be impossible to predict, with Andy Gray, Grant Basey and Josh Wright starting (despite none being involved at Ipswich), whilst Kelly Youga and Matt Holland did not even make the sixteen. Naturally enough Luke Varney started and ended the game, as he is required to do.

The half-time scoreline was perhaps a little flattering to Barnsley, but there was absolutely no doubt that they were the better side. When teams go about their business with a sense of togetherness and purpose, then good things can happen.

Hugo Colace did a sterling job in front of their giant centre-backs, whilst the pint-sized pair of ex-Addick Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Iain Hume provided eager support to lone front-man Jonathan Macken.

Charlton created virtually nothing except a half-chance for Gray, and yet again the total absence of a discernible shape and pattern of play was evident. Passes lacked conviction and movement was half-hearted.

Change was inevitable at half-time, but our starting second-half formation seemed to come squarely from Pardew's famous proprietary 'random tactics generator' (RTG).

It is possible that he had given up on the result, and chose to experiment for the remaining 45 minutes in a real first-team situation. In a way this would be somewhat understandable and excusable, because how else could one explain why we began the half with a strange 4-2-3-1 formation?

The left-footed Bouazza started on the right of the trio behind Gray, with the right-footed Varney on the left. As a direct result, we had no width whatsoever with both players continually running into dead ends, forced as they were to cut in onto the stronger foot. Bizarre was the only word for it, and not surprisingly we were garbage until they swapped.

In between them Darren Ambrose, perhaps crowded out by the pair either side of him, was a virtual spectator and fluffed our only decent chance created from open play. Rumours suggest we might swap him for Ivan Campo. I'd glady swap him for Ivan Lendl.

All the while, Messrs. Todorov and Dickson warmed up on the sidelines, both potential 'impact' players in their own way, yet only Dickson was given a paltry 17 minutes to make one.

The mercurial Todorov, the single most outstanding player against Burnley was not used at all, not even when Hudson pulled one back with still time remaining to make a game of it. Those of us that trudged back home through the rain deserve explanations.

Other than Nicky Weaver and Josh Wright, not a single player emerged with any credit. Our young blond midfielder has bags of potential, and never hid although the same cannot be said for many of those supposedly 'experienced' players that Pards now intends to revert back to again.

When Wright was substituted for Dickson, he earned a respectful round of applause from fans who were able to identify his efforts despite the ineptitude around him. But did his manager consider him worthy of a handshake or a pat on the back? How about just a glance, Alan?

As I walked back to Charlton station, I assumed that surely Pardew's post-match comments would finally contain an element of contrition. By the time I read them on my phone, I nearly through it onto the tracks.

"Speaking afterwards, Pardew bemoaned the absence of Linvoy Primus after watching his side's inability to deal with Barnsley's set-plays."

One of the nice things about being a club in the midst of some type of 'crisis', is that strangers and fellow supporters start chatting to one another. And I would bet that not one of those thousands of enforced chats bemoaned the absence of Linvoy Primus, with all due respect to our on-loan defender.

There was even some black humour amongst the faithful. One fan on the train commented that at least he still had a free option on a Premiership season ticket; I offered him 50 pence for it.

I can tolerate bad results. Indeed I try very hard to avoid knee-jerk reactions, because football is inevitably a sport of small margins. However it is very clear to me that the players are not responding to Pardew's methods, and most crucially we are in freefall, now occupying a relegation spot after nearly one third of the season.

It is hard to argue that 15 points from 15 games is somehow unjustified. Indeed, having seen us comprehensively outplayed by Swansea on the opening day (yet pick up three points), it could conceivably have been much worse.

Nevertheless, those that would like to see Pardew go can scarcely be accused of knee-jerk reactions anyhow, because the statistics make for some horrid reading:

- 2 wins in 12 games
- 9 goals in 12 games
- 9 wins in 34 games
- 53 points from our last 46 games

All teams have a run of poor form. However who other than the most fervent optimist, could build an intelligent argument why ours might be about to end? Perhaps I'm too much of an optimist too, but surely this bunch of players with the right leadership should not be 22nd in the Championship?

I would certainly not miss Pardew if he went, but am aware that it may be a financially prohibitive agreement. I have tired of his arrogance, his myriad of excuses and our poor performances and results. Whatever the potential cost to the club, it surely pales compared to the potential cost of relegation.

Meanwhile I don't imagine it's in Pardew's long-term interests to cling on for financial reasons alone, given that his managerial reputation is taking a formidable battering.

He will not want potential employers marking down his achievements at Reading and West Ham as perhaps merely 'lucky' with hindsight. Thus I'm confident some reasonable compromise could be reached.

If this were to occur, I would be vehemently against the possibility of Phil Parkinson or Mark Kinsella being offered the role(s), in anything other than a very short-term caretaker capacity. We cannot risk another Les Reed-esque scenario.

Instead, we need a credible and genuine outsider, who will be able to take a top-down view of all aspects of the playing side, and not be afraid to suggest wholesale changes. Someone who can build a real foundation to the first team, and create a true system that fans and players alike recognise and respond positively to.

If certain players cannot adapt, then get rid of them in January. One of the few factors sparing me from outright despair is that evidence from the likes of Wright, Basey, and Jonjo Shelvey suggest there is hungry talent waiting in the wings.

The name of Billy Davies is one that inevitably springs to mind. Out of work, and allegedly offered the job before Dowie was in 2006, he would appear to bring an impressive record and the type of personality that is more aloof, and less egotistical than Pardew's. He would presumably be cheaper too.

Funnily enough, and feel free to call me crazy, but I've had this nagging sense for a while that Glenn Hoddle might be a surprisingly good candidate for us. Given that he's only indirectly involved in the game currently (via his Spanish-based academy), he may be tempted by a London-based challenge, even if only initially on a short-term basis. We might even play some decent football too.

Meanwhile much as it didn't feel like it at 5pm tonight, Charlton would be an attractive challenge to many existing managers of other clubs, including frankly those of certain Championship clubs with lesser budgets, but several more points. Could the likes of Gary Johnson be tempted away?

Anyhow, this is all moot unless Pardew is sacked or resigns. If he refuses to fall upon the Charlton sword, and assuming he is not pushed, then he will be delighted surely that we now have three weeks away from the Valley.

Unfortunately we have decidedly tricky away games at Plymouth and Birmingham inbetween, by which time we may be somewhat adrift in 22nd place. For that reason, I suspect most fans will have seen their last home game with Pardew in charge.