Tuesday, December 23, 2008

QPR and Sheff Utd previews

The final two fixtures of 2008 will bring to a close one of the most painful years in Charlton's history. The club has so far recorded just 10 wins from its 45 matches in this calendar year, and picked up a total of just 42 points.

Both statistics are a damning indictment on the club's mismanagement at several levels during this period. With no game on New Year's Day (for reasons unclear), Charlton fans will be forgiven if they see it in with uncommon gusto.

Relegation at the end of this season would thus appear to represent a deserved outcome in light of the above, but it still may be avoided of course.

Indeed the punters at Betfair still consider it an 'odds-against' probability, evidence of the tendency to view so-called 'bigger' clubs like Charlton as more likely to haul themselves away from trouble, rather than an impartial observation of the garbage served up by the team each week.

A pair of clubs (Leeds and Blackburn) have shown how to undertake an efficient managerial switch in the past week. No faffing about with caretaker managers, thus foregoing valuable rebuilding time (and in our case, points) up north it seems.

Instead a simple acknowledgment that the present incumbent is unfit for the role, the (perhaps prior) identification of a suitable well-qualified replacement, and the near-instant confirmation that the role has been newly filled. At some level, it's rather immoral of course, but football lost its ethical compass decades ago.

Not surprisingly both Simon Grayson and Sam Allardyce were spoken of as potentially interesting candidates for the Addicks, but they can now be safely ruled out. Instead we are being linked with a swift return to management for Paul Ince, a prospect that leaves me somewhat cold given his disastrous short reign at Blackburn, and his rather grating personality.

However, instead at Charlton we were told that Phil Parkinson had the role until year-end at least, in the name of 'stability', as if that's what is needed right now.

I'd imagine that a hefty does of instability is very much required and soon, but it appears those in charge of the club disagree as League One looms large. Did the club learn nothing from the Les Reed fiasco?

As mentioned in my Norwich preview, I am increasingly resigned to believing that our best (and perhaps only) realistic chance of survival rests upon the detachment of perhaps four clubs at the bottom, with Charlton managing to win that mini-league of stragglers with a points total that usually assures relegation.

Results at the weekend have begun to suggest that such a quartet has begun to emerge, with a four-point gap (effectively more due to goal difference) now appearing above Southampton in 21st place. With the Saints facing tricky Xmas period fixtures, this phenomenon may grow more apparent to our likely benefit.

However, such crunching of the numbers will remain moot for Charlton until they very firmly break the back of this diabolical run of no wins from 14.

It is worth noting that Parky's six games in charge have been very kind (on paper), his opponents currently occupying 9th, 21st, 16th, 14th, 15th and 20th respectively (even after accounting for the 14 points they took from us!). By the time we face high-flying Reading, Birmingham and Wolves in the space of five games around Easter, all hope may already be gone.

Speaking of high-flyers, I had wondered where our points total at this stage last season would have put us in the context of this season's table. When the Addicks trudged off the pitch on Boxing Day 2007 at Carrow Road, they had accumulated 39 points from their opening 24 games.

That points total if accumulated this season, would have put us fully 17 points behind Wolves, 11 behind Reading and 9 behind Birmingham. Indeed, it would only have been 1 point better than Preston, currently outside the play-off spots in 8th place.

Thus the idea that Charlton were unequivocably showing promotion form until last Xmas, and that this unstoppable train was derailed by the sale of Andy Reid, is demonstrably false. It was a mere illusion created by the mediocrity of the entire division until that point.

Would a more vivid appreciation of this fact have injected a greater degree of realism into expectations, and thus our subsequent scattergun transfer and loans policy?

Instead of flailing around desperately in the loans market in an attempt to salvage a promotion season, could a more constructive medium-to-long term policy been instigated then, which might have prevented this season's subsequent debacle?

And moreover, seen in this context it becomes clearer to me that Charlton's demise did not begin last Xmas (as many suppose), but can be traced back in all likelihood to Dowie for sure, but also perhaps the last vestiges of the Curbishley era.

The first half of last season rather than being an opportunity lost, was actually a continuation of several seasons' worth of gradual decline.

Given we're discussing 'Last Christmas', the omnipresent Wham song from 1984 contains the line, "Once bitten, and twice shy." If the mistake last Xmas was believing the season's main goal was promotion, when it should have been continued gradual improvement, what is the lesson for this season?

The potential similar mistake this season, would be to similarly flail around in a vain search for a great escape from relegation. Instead we should acknowledge that such an outcome is likely regardless of what we do, and thus ensure that any action taken now is done with a 2009/10 season in League One in mind.

This is not the same as giving up on the possibility of survival, far from it. It merely accepts the most likely scenario, begins to prepare for that scenario, all whilst maintainng an 'option' that said scenario doesn't occur (since the steps the club takes in this regard, may be surprisingly effective this season too).

Sensible initial steps would surely include considerably greater playing time for the club's crop of promising youngsters (Basey, Shelvey, Wright, Sam, Fleetwood, Elliot etc..), in favour of those whose continued employment in League One would surely be challenged (eg. Weaver, Todorov, Gray etc..).

The termination (where possible) of all existing loan agreements should also occur unless a viable and desirable option to become permanent exists. This would appear to comprise all loans except Deon Burton's and perhaps, Keith Gillespie's.

The club's current use of loan players is never more obviously dysfunctional, than when the team is on the present type of long run of poor form.

The likes of Cranie and Waghorn, are used in preference to giving valuable experience-building playing time to the likes of Moutaouakil and McLeod, both of whom might have long-term futures at the club.

The dysfunctionality comes from the fact that the policy is quite patently not working! No wins in 14 games tells you as much, yet we continue to sacrifice our medium-term stability in favour of short-term failure. The new approach might not work either, but at least it has other indirect benefits. As the Americans say, go figure.

Another obvious step is the replacement of the unfortunate Parkinson, with a new man without any prior Charlton connections.

This needs to occur as soon as possible to allow the full utilisation of the January transfer window (for both ins and outs), another vital step as we build for next season. The club's declaration in favour of Parky until at least year-end looks even more unfathomable seen in this regard.

If potential acquirers of the club are hovering, then this might perhaps explain the current Board's reluctance to upset the applecart, evidenced by continued loyalty to Parky and the influx of non-permanent reversible loan signings.

However at this rate it will risk severe unintended consequences, not least of which is the rapidly declining attraction and value of the club, as relegation becomes a near certainty.

In QPR and Sheffield United, we are reunited with recent foes, each representing the first and last opponents respectively of Pardew and Parkinson's reign.

Typical of Charlton's generosity, a fixture against the Addicks is often just the kickstart that a faltering club needs. QPR ended a run of two consecutive defeats with a victory over Charlton, beginning a neat run of 11 points from 6 games, propelling them to a 9th position, a point behind the Blades in the final play-off spot.

Given my reluctance to blame Parkinson (much) for our own recent form, it would be incongruous of me too to declare Rangers' new boss Paolo Sousa some type of mercurial catalyst for their own improved form.

However recent wins over leaders Wolves and Preston, combined with presumably some decent vociferous support, will ensure they will not lack confidence that they can become the seventh away side to be victorious at the Valley this season.

Two days later the Addicks will head north for a peculiarly scheduled Sunday afternoon fixture at Bramall Lane, scene of one of our few impressive away performances in 2008, goals from Iwelumo (whatever happened to him?) and Sam Sodje securing a deserved victory.

With Linvoy Primus no longer at the club, and with Jay McEveley injured, the five loan player rule is not an immediate constraint. However the ongoing failure to find a productive central midfield partnership, or to find any source of competition for Bouazza in left midfield, most definitely is.

Meanwhile the mysterious case of Todorov continues to confuse onlookers, his matchday squad inclusion seemingly a given, yet his appearances limited to little more than 20 minute cameos, when a full half (or even heaven help us, a starting berth) might offer something different and useful.

With two games in 48 hours, Parky is likely to use his squad to the full and I am predicting we might see an inventive 3-5-2 formation at some point. This would appear to better utilise Cranie, obviate the need for full-backs (quality ones of which we are lacking), and allows for the dropping of the frustrating Bouazza, a near impossibility with the current squad in a 4-4-2.

I expect Parky to line them up as follows:

vs QPR (3-5-2): Elliot, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Semedo, Wright, Bailey, Basey, Gillespie, Gray, Waghorn. Subs: Weaver, Sam, Holland, Todorov, Burton.

vs Sheff Utd (4-5-1): Weaver, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Youga, Bailey, Holland, Semedo, Sam, Bouazza, Burton. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Todorov, Gray, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Waghorn, Wright), QPR 2 (Blackstock 2). Att: 22, 829.

NY Addick predicts: Sheff Utd 3 (Beattie 2, Stokes), Charlton 0. Att: 25, 019.


At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Dave said...

Ive always thought a lot of the current problems were due to the last period of Curbs management. He got out at the right time. When West Ham first came in for Curbs that probably would have been the best thing for both parties. There is no denying the money wasted by that fool Dowie (how he still keeps getting employed is beyond me) accelerated the problem. Could Billy Davies be the man to change the decline? I think Parkinson has had enough time now. Im sure the players dont see it as a change in management he was there with Pardew. As they say a change is as good as a rest and new management with no Charlton connections could be enough to keep us up.
How many clubs now have failed trying to push on? Is mid table obscurity in the Prem really that bad?

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I think your approach is right, but I fear that the desperate hope (however in vain it might be) that we can tinker with the squad to change our fortunes, will lead to a second half of the season like last year.

Thus I suspect we will spend thousands of pounds on very short term gambles that will leave us relegated and in even more financial trouble that the summer of 2008.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Suze said...

There is certainly something sadly wrong in the dressing room, and I doubt that a Charlton "insider" would make any difference, from whatever era they came from. Harsh reality stares us in the face, with Notts Forest winning a few games (oh! for even that kind of stability!), we now have a gap between us and them, and our wins would only improve our situation, if they and those above them lost. I agree, I think our slow and now speeding decline stems from the last months of Curbs management...the decision to employ Dowie and then Reed, was mis-management in the extreme, and the seeds of decline were already sown before Pardew arrived. We do need to look in honesty to our future, and where that is likely to be. Plan for League One, fight for the Championship...but show us passion in doing so...show us they care!

With Gillespie being recalled after todays game, Sunday's fixture is going to be even more interesting...will he warm the pitch, the bench or just the white-board?

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Sledge said...

Excellent article. I'm in complete aqgreement with the vast majority. In fact I thought I was the only one holding the same 'Andy Reid' opinion. As to the loanees, only Burton should reamin.

Looking to the future, I can see us coming off the bottom, but four off, depite our better GD, may be a challenge too far.

Dave [comments above] is also quite right in identifying the real commencement of the current difficulties.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Pat said...

I think the beginning of this dates back to Parker - the manner of his going ripped the heart out of the club. I don't think Curbs ever got over it and it all seemed too much when you can't keep hold of your best youngsters when there was no financial need to sell at the time. The type of player he was at the time is exactly what we need in our midfield again. After that the mistakes just kept multiplying. Its all very easy with hindsight isn't it, but Dowie didn't feel right from the beginning. Time to let it all go I feel. I don't believe we will be relegated, and I do believe we will re-build. Please Parky - have the balls to play Shelvey.


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