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.


At 11:59 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

As ever, a very good piece. Funnily enough, I was thinking about the Man City game earlier this week. You are absolutely right in my view. That was day that our dream of survival in the Premiership ended to all intents and purposes. We badly needed another win (given forthcoming fixtures) and City were there for the taking. The most disappointing thing was that 20 minutes from the end Pards seemed to settle for a draw rather than going all out for a win. As I recalled my frustration of that afternoon I was conscious that “blaming” Pardew for the failure to achieve a miracle was incredibly harsh, but I do think that the way he handled the team that afternoon was the first visible chink in his armour.

I’ve also been torturing the data and as you predicted it has told me everything we need to know. Following the disappointment of relegation, we made a decent start in the Championship taking 37 points from the first 21 games, having just won the last two and four of the previous six. Whilst this had us in one of the two automatic promotion places, it was nevertheless clear that improvement was needed because we hadn’t been entirely convincing or consistent and at the time it seemed unlikely that the 81 points we are on target for would be enough to secure automatic promotion. However, my feeling at the time was that this improvement was likely. I fully expected Pardew to find the right balance and to get his new team performing better as a unit. I was also hopeful that at least some of the summer signings would settle and come good in the second half of the season. With Varney, McCleod, Moutaouakil, Racon, Semedo and Dickson to choose from that seemed an entirely reasonable expectation. The question is, “where did it all go wrong Pards?” With just 27 points from 25 games, Charlton spent the second half of the season picking up fewer points per game than relegated Leicester managed over the entire season. As we all know, this has continued so that we now have amassed a mere 42 points from the last 40 league games. This is certain relegation form.

I’m going to make what may seem like an odd comment. As he looked at the Easter fixtures against Man City and Reading, I think Pards may have sensed that Charlton had a real chance of survival; prior to that he’d probably viewed the situation as hopeless and was hence managing without pressure. Similarly, it may be that when we began last season in the Championship Pardew was fairly confident that with the squad he had promotion was a likely outcome; in a sense, he may have felt that the team didn’t need much managing (though of course he would never have admitted to that). In both cases, I’m inclined to wonder if things went wrong precisely because Pards started to feel the pressure to “make a difference” and hence began to err, producing a counterproductive result; in the Premiership because survival actually became a possibility and in the Championship because it became clear to him that the side needed to improve to secure automatic promotion. The point being that he seems to find it very difficult to fix problems or to engineer “targeted” improvements, leaving the impression that team selection, set up and tactics are all a bit random. I really hope that the Board have sound, non financial reasons to continue to back their manager because these tortured statistics combined with this speculation about the way Pards has behaved suggest that relegation is a certainty unless something changes and that change by design is unlikely.


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