Monday, December 15, 2008

Derby preview

Charlton fans wondering desperately how much longer they'll have to wait for another win, ought to ask Derby's visiting fans to offer some perspective.

Between 17 Sep 2007 when Derby defeated Newcastle in front of Sky's cameras, and 13 Sep 2008 when they defeated Sheffield United in the Championship, the Rams did not register a single League victory.

I dare say some hardy supporters attended every one of those 36 matches lasting nearly a full calendar year. Our current run of no wins in 12 is pretty unremarkable in comparison.

Ironically some point to the premature departure of Billy Davies last November, in order to explain their astonishing run of poor form. Many Charlton fans would be pleased to see him appointed at The Valley, after apparently being offered the job before Dowie.

Much like Alan Pardew has, Paul Jewell also looked set to threaten an otherwise impressive managerial record by joining a Premiership club in distress. They were eventually relegated with an absurd goal difference of -69, but he has stabilised their fortunes somewhat this season (at least until he signed Luke Varney).

Charlton's performance at home to Coventry was reportedly as bad as any in recent memory, yet it has earned Phil Parkinson the surety of the managerial role until the New Year.

I attach very little blame to Parkinson for recent performances (although at some point one must assume he has had time to stamp some authority on the squad). However I find the Board's decision to be somewhat curious.

I argued prior to the above defeat that some degree of certainty was required. Either Parkinson ought to be handed the role full-time, or they ought to ratchet up the search for a replacement.

Instead they've fallen between two stools, presumably hoping to reinforce Parky's credibility in the eyes of the players, but the decision arguably adds further uncertainty, rather than lessens it.

The Board implied that with the January transfer window still three weeks away, and given Parky was already installed and 'knew' the players (as if that's an unarguably good thing), there was nothing to lose by removing his job insecurity at least until then.

However with four Championship matches still to play before year-end, we could well be so far adrift that any sensible Board decision at that point would simply be to prepare now for League One.

Moreover, if they do ultimately opt for a new manager, he will presumably not arrive literally on 1st January, and thus he will be asked not only to get to 'know' the players too, but to work some magic in a rapidly closing January window. To imply that a new manager could not achieve anything in December is ridiculous.

Anyhow with Parky now allowed to temporarily remove the 'caretaker' prefix from his job title, he may use the chance after two uninspiring performances to throw some caution to the wind.

With Jay McEveley's Charlton career seemingly at a premature end, he will have no choice in at least one position, but in others his realistic options are rather limited. Who, for example, could replace the frustrating Bouazza at left-wing for example?

The option of giving some of the club's promising youngsters a proper run in the side, is an issue that tends to divide supporters. However with the club's problems seemingly so 'systemic' at present, one could argue they represent the only cohort of players not damaged by recent events.

Moreover, when the likes of Josh Wright and Jonjo Shelvey have been given a chance, they have not looked out of place. Those that argue that 'throwing in the kids' is not the answer usually suggest that the manager should not exercise some form of positive discrimination simply on the basis of age.

Then again, with Nicky Bailey's form taking a worrying nosedive, and with Matt Holland (for me at least) no longer good enough for this level, their argument can be turned on its head. Why is Bailey permitted to play badly for several weeks on the trot, yet Wright is jettisoned having played pretty well, albeit only twice?

No-one would sensibly suggesting throwing in the likes of Wright, Shelvey (plus Fleetwood, Dickson, Christensen etc..) all at once, but if you can't make a case for trying at least some of them on a night like this, then why exactly are they on the payroll?

Talking of players who kept out youngsters from the side for no obvious reason, Luke Varney returns as a Charlton player to face Charlton. The loan system is patently bizarre, and never more obviously so than in this instance, but few Addicks will be complaining I suspect.

Strikers tend to score against their former clubs, but if Varney finds the net on Monday night, let's not jump to any improper conclusions. After all, let's not forget.....he'll be playing against Charlton! He can get a hat-trick and it'll mean nothing; let's see how he does when back facing proper well-organised defences next weekend.

At the final whistle on Monday night, we will already have played half the season. It is hard to find rational grounds for optimism currently, that we can pull ourselves out of this mess.

The only solace I can find is to hope that via a series of small positive steps, and hopefully a little good fortune (like the first goal for example, not achieved since Oct 4th), we can begin to enjoy the benefits of the same momentum that brought us here, albeit in the other direction.

Those small steps can begin tomorrow night, with a performance at least to make us proud, and who knows, perhaps a result too? The attendance promises to be a shocker (if one counts seats actually occupied of course); the players can rest assured therefore that only the true die-hards will be present, and they're the ones most deserving of some respite.

I think they'll be watching Charlton line up as follows: Weaver, Cranie, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Wright, Semedo, Gillespie, Bouazza, Todorov, Waghorn. Subs: Elliot, Holland, Sam, Gray, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Waghorn), Derby 1 (Varney). Tickets sold: 19, 821. Seats occupied: 12, 280.


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