Friday, February 27, 2009

Swansea preview

With just two minutes of the 2008/9 season having passed, things seemed to be going swimmingly for the Addicks.

New captain Mark Hudson (plucked effortlessly from bitter rivals Palace) had opened his account, and knowing Addicks fans were no doubt quick to suggest Swansea would struggle to adapt at this higher level.

Unfortunately by full-time, despite an Andy Gray header having put an undeserved gloss on the result, those same fans if they were honest, might not be entirely surprised by subsequent events.

As perhaps one of the two best footballing sides in the division (along with Doncaster), purists can no doubt now revel at the sight of the Swans sitting proudly in 9th spot, whilst the boorish Addicks by comparison hold up the division.

Charlton's lack of footballing nous was very evident on that August afternoon, and although luck was on our side that day, we have been embarrassed far too regularly this season by teams who simply pass and move.....repeatedly.

When you see it done well, you are left to wonder what on earth Charlton have been doing in training for the past two years.

Maintaining possession and creating space are the bread and butter of professional football, and I still don't accept the argument that our players are not good enough to produce it. It'd be like a tennis player turning up for Wimbledon, having not worked on his serve.

However in Swansea's specific case, perhaps there is a slightly more curious explanation than mere hard work.

Although there are plenty that have been considerably less successful (think Jan Poortvliet for example), I sense that a foreign manager like Roberto Martinez, so long as he has the intelligence and knowledge to go with the sharp suits, does bring certain inherent advantages.

The most obvious one is simply cultural. Take the great British concept of playful 'banter' for example, prevalent in any football dressing room, particularly as you move down the divisions. Team spirit is one thing, but on the whole it's not a productive trait as far as results are concerned.

The British manager, cognisant of the concept can take one of two routes. He can either embrace it, or reject it (perhaps even forcefully so). One suspects for example that Alan Curbishley firmly rejects it; we know that Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin O'Neill do.

It takes a particularly strong personality and single-mindedness to take the latter approach. Most British managers, particularly given almost all are ex-players, tend to embrace it, which will tend to make them popular rather than successful in my view.

I sense that Alan Pardew for example was probably pretty popular amongst the players. Perhaps popularity is best reserved for say the first-team coach or the physio, not the main man in charge.

Most foreign managers however will earn a grudging form of respect from their players, simply by virtue of being somewhat alien to them (social intelligence is less common than banter in most dressing rooms of course).

Players will also tend to presume that a foreign manager is more intelligent than he actually is, and thus worth listening to because they simply can't tell. That motivational teamtalk delivered after all via a combination of heavily accented English, and interpreters.

When some British managers speak, you can instantly deduce that they're not the brightest, innit? Before anyone jumps to improper conclusions, I'm certainly not suggesting Phil Parkinson isn't very bright (though apparently Therry Racon thinks he's a genius).

It's an impossible hypothesis to prove of course, but aside from the well-known uber-successful foreign managers like Wenger or Mourinho, there is evidence that the likes of Martinez, as well as Roberto DiMatteo and perhaps even Gianfranco Zola, are able to draw upon this same phenomenon.

Given that Parkinson meanwhile was born in Chorley, relegation is presumably thus assured. Indeed, it could well effectively be so by the time the next three extraordinarily vital Championship games are concluded.

Although I shuddered when I heard both Parkinson and Mark Kinsella describe a point as a good result at stuttering Barnsley (have they done the maths?), I'm minded to view this upcoming trio of games in unison, with at least six points absolutely essential. Any more would of course be a huge confidence-boosting bonus.

Only high-flying Birmingham having left the Liberty Stadium with three points, whilst the Swans having scored the 3rd most goals at home (34).

Thus I'm tempted to think that if our managerial duo do mutter those same words after this game, then they might actually have a point (quite literally in this case). Those two home games against Doncaster and Watford are inherently much more winnable.

They will be followed by three consecutive matches against top six sides however, thus further emphasising the urgency of the immediate task in hand.

Our cause might be helped of course if one of our forwards scored a goal. Call me old-fashioned, but isn't that rather an important part of their job?

Whilst it's heartwarming in a sense that they have chosen to tap into the agitated mood of many of the country's workers, it's about time they called off their strike. After all, if you found yourself shocked by the audacity of Sir Fred Goodwin's pension pot, what about the wages of Charlton's forwards?

The last time a recognised striker scored a League goal for Charlton was on December 15th, when Andy Gray slotted home a well-taken goal at home to Derby.

With ten games having passed since then, and even our beloved Chris Dickson finally being given a chance, no solution has been found to this problem which I might dare to describe as 'pressing'.

I think Parky will line them up in a 4-4-1-1 formation as follows: Elliot, Murty, Youga, Hudson, Ward, Soares, Spring, Bailey, Racon, Shelvey, Kandol. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Sam, Dickson, Burton.

NY Addick predicts Swansea 2 (Scotland, Gomez), Charlton 1 (Shelvey). Att: 16,029.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Barnsley preview

Saturday's comfortable victory over Plymouth had provided a glimmer of hope to the Addicks, especially given other Championship results.

Unfortunately those same results during midweek saw vital victories for Barnsley, Watford and Derby put further obstacles between Charlton, and an extraordinary survival bid.

Partly as a result of these constant knock backs, it's been hard to find the impetus to write anything fresh or original on this blog, hence the relative scarcity of posts.

Although we are bottom of the Championship firmly on merit, the league table does provide some evidence that the twenty-four teams are more similar in standard than the leading pack may have us believe.

Take QPR for example, the pre-season favourites. They sit in 11th place troubling neither the top nor bottom, yet have lost the same number of matches as leaders Wolves, whilst scoring fewer goals than poor old Charlton. It's a funny old game.

Doncaster's slick passing football meanwhile is finally winning them points as well as plaudits (22 from a possible 24), yet they're yet to score their 10th goal at home this season!

Unfortunately, speculating about the general mediocrity of the division does little to help our own near-term hopes, given that so many of our problems this season are clearly self-inflicted.

Even a rare victory generates as many questions as answers. Why for example was Chris Dickson ignored for so long, yet now his enthusiasm and unpredictability are seemingly touted as much-needed virtues?

What has happened meanwhile to the 4-4-1-1 formation which plunged Jonjo Shelvey into the public spotlight? Ironically it was at Oakwell that he made his debut last season, but he is unlikely to figure this time around.

It gives the sense that Phil Parkinson continues to experiment, hoping to stumble across a winning formula before it's too late.

A confirmed relegation with several games to go might at least therefore give fans the chance to detect what type of 'grand plan' he has for instant promotion, since results at that point will be entirely moot.

And of course whilst the Addicks seek perhaps an unlikely 8 wins from 14 to save themselves, they remain at the mercy of Stoke, Reading, Wolves and Leeds should their own respective relegation and promotion battles, require the services of their own players back.

Rather than dwelling on the short-term optimism that rare victories might engender (and will likely be fleeting anyhow), I'm tempted instead to focus on the longer-term optimism that an interesting core of a successful League One team may be emerging.

Beginning with Greenwich-born keeper Rob Elliot, through to the likes of Matthew Spring, Nicky Bailey, Therry Racon and Chris Dickson, there is a sense that we may finally have a team next season that fans can rally around again.

Throw in the homegrown types of Messrs. Shelvey, Wright, Sam and Basey, and our likely relegation need not spell doom, at least as far as matters on the pitch are concerned.

I witnessed Barnsley destroy Charlton during a crazy first half on the first day of November, needing to do little more than keep their shape and take their chances.

It seems such a basic approach (which we have miserably failed to aspire to), will be enough again to secure Championship survival, even with tiny resources available to bright young boss, Simon Davey.

Add a tiny amount of extra class to the same formula, and teams like Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol City and Burnley find themselves just a few lucky breaks away from a possible dream promotion to the Premiership. At some point in the past two years, Charlton quite simply lost the plot.

Those seeking lucky omens might desperately point to the fact that Charlton's only away win this season occurred 16 miles east of Barnsley, in Doncaster.

However, whilst it's tempting to consider this game a 'six-pointer', from Charlton's perspective it's no longer about beating rivals, but quite simply beating anyone, and perhaps eight times at that.

I think Parky will line up as follows: Elliot, Murty, Youga, Hudson, Ward, Soares, Bailey, Spring, Racon, Kandol, Dickson. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Shelvey, Sam, Burton.

NY Addick predicts: Barnsley 2 (Campbell-Ryce, Mifsud), Charlton 1 (Dickson). Att: 12, 019.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Plymouth preview

After securing a valuable P-P draw with high-flying Cardiff, the Addicks welcome Plymouth to The Valley as they seek to extend their impressive ten day unbeaten run.

This week I had another version of a recurring Charlton-related dream, that I have found rather disturbing.

On each occasion I am at The Valley for a vital clash, but upon reaching my seat realise I cannot see the action properly due to a 'restricted view'. I also don't recognise any of the players.

However each time I move to an 'unrestricted view' seat, an officious steward tells me I can't sit there for some spurious reason and ushers me out of the stadium. On returning to my car meanwhile, I realise it's been stolen.

Anyone qualified in dream interpretation is welcome to provide some colour, but my conclusion is that I can't see where the club is heading, I don't like our reliance on loan players, and car crime is on the increase.

Meanwhile, speaking of dreams, the Fox Soccer Channel over here in the US occasionally broadcasts a programme called 'Premier League Archives', showing a 30 minute highlights package of a classic game from the past.

Which game did they choose to show this week? Yep, Charlton vs Chelsea from Boxing Day, 2003. The one where we took the high-flying Blues apart 4-2 and Scott Parker pretty much secured his move there.

Watching it was both uplifting and depressing at the same time. It was interesting too that two players that started that game still survive as first-teamers today (Holland and Fortune).

What struck me however was how the eleven on the pitch were frankly pretty mediocre individually (Parker and Di Canio excepted), but the likes of Hreidarsson, Kishishev, Stuart, and Euell gave the team tremendous spirit, and this more than overcame their inherent shortcomings.

Today we have a team whose mediocrity is not enhanced by great spirit, but seemingly deflated even further by a losing mentality that appears systemic. Although considerably more 'likeable' than Pardew upon first impression, Parkinson has done little to change this status quo, not surprising really given he was heavily involved in creating it.

It seems we really can't win this season (literally). When this dire run began in earnest in October we regularly conceded the first goal (and then lost). Now we have begun to put that right and score it, yet we still contrive to lose anyway.

Unfortunately from my perspective, my overwhelming emotion now is not anger or frustration, but merely apathy. When I realised it was a Friday today and that I ought to write a match preview, it dawned on me that I had no idea who we were playing.

If this trend is being replicated across even a minority of our support, then it does not bode well. Our relegation is inevitable it seems, but we can at least go down fighting to give fans the sense that our downward path is reversible.

Comments from Parkinson last week concerning further use of the loan window, merely increase my apathy. By my calculation for example, we have already used 15 players in midfield this season. At what point does trying to improve the ones we already have become an option?

Speaking of which, there were rumours from Ashton Gate that the substitutes Moutaouakil, Sam and Ambrose had demonstrated an attitude that was somewhat less, than that shown by the class of 2003/4 above.

If true then of course this is inexcusable, but also perhaps evidence of the long-term damage that the loan players are causing inside the camp, and yet with scant reward to offset it.

Having said that, I'm actually strangely confident we'll win tomorrow. Plymouth haven't registered a win in 2009, and are now firmly in a relegation battle. They've also contrived to score fewer goals than Charlton this season, which takes some doing in the circumstances.

I think Parky will line them up as follows: Elliot, Murty, Hudson, Ward, Basey, Soares, Racon, Spring, Bailey, Kandol, Burton. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Ambrose, Dickson, Fleetwood.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Spring, Soares), Plymouth 0. Tickets sold: 18, 982.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anger Grows Over Bonuses

Public anger reached a crescendo last night, following annoucement of a plan to pay millions in bonuses dubbed 'reward for failure.'

The recipients are all footballers with Charlton Athletic, a once successful and profitable institution, brought to its knees by the ineptitude of its management.

Despite the unprecedented scale of recent losses, some of the bonuses are believed to be contractual, whilst others are set to be paid to ensure so-called 'talent retention'.

"We're all embarrassed by recent results," admitted Addicks supremo Richard Murray, "...but if we don't pay these bonuses, the players will simply move elsewhere."

Indeed interested scouts from Bromley FC are already believed to be sniffing around, ready to pounce upon any unhappy players.

Many of the deals were agreed during the boom times, although Murray was swift to acknowledge that the payment of bonuses must appear abhorrent to most Addicks supporters.

"Fans have to understand that as ridiculous as it might seem now," Murray interjected, "...but at the time we signed him, there were other teams interested in Darren Ambrose."

Murray was pleased however to confirm that the remuneration of Charlton's strikers is heavily weighted towards 'goal bonuses'.

"We might have gone into administration otherwise," he laughed, "...poor Luke Varney was almost penniless when he left."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bristol City preview

With Bristol City having done their bit for road safety by declaring tonight's game on, our Championship season will be more than two-thirds complete by full-time.

Snowy weather at least brings the possibility of the orange ball, a sight as rare these days as an outfield player in goal, or a loyal footballer.

Buoyed by finally winning a League game, Phil Parkinson boldly threw Chris Dickson into the fray at Burnley, but saw the Addicks suffer the type of late heartbreak that has typified our season.

According to a Burnley-supporting friend who was there, we appeared petrified that we might actually win midway through the second half, subsequently stopped playing and instead indulged in some fairly blatant time-wasting.

This attitude, presumably managerially-ordained, was to cost us one point and perhaps even three. We are not going to achieve one of the greatest survival turnarounds by taking the lead then defending with our lives; instead we will have to try to 'play' our way out of it and hope we're good enough to do so.

Despite last Tuesday's euphoria, the truth remains that we have lost four of our last five Championship games, whilst our closest relegation rivals five games ago have done much better over the same period (Forest 12pts, Doncaster 13pts, Southampton 6pts).

If there's any cause for optimism tonight, it arises from City's poor home form which has seen them remarkably win the same number of home games as Charlton, despite being 19 points ahead of us.

Chris Iwelumo's last-minute goal secured the points for the Addicks last season, and with no recognised striker having scored a League goal for Charlton since 15 Dec, our best hope probably remains a 1-0 victory. This would be tough enough with a regular defence, let alone a makeshift one.

For once I sense I have the chance to predict our starting line-up correctly, with Parky opting for a 4-4-1-1 formation again sacrificing the unfortunate Dickson: Elliot, Murty, Basey, Ward, Holland, Bailey, Spring, Soares, Sam, Ambrose, Burton. Subs: Randolph, Racon, Shelvey, Dickson, Kandol.

NY Addick predicts: Bristol City 2 (Adebola, John), Charlton 0. Att: 13, 981.

Walking Up Madison

(not Charlton related)

"Walking down Madison, I swear I never had a gun." (K. MacColl, 1991)

One of the joys of having young kids, is witnessing the wonderment on their faces when they discover something new and exciting.

One of the miseries however, at least if you are trying to relive your childhood vicariously through them, is the realisation that very little in your own life is new and exciting anymore. Until tonight that was.

Having reached my mid-30s, I was increasingly convinced the only novelty in my life was likely to be discovering a new way to put my back out (ironically through constant lifting of aforementioned children).

Yet tonight for reasons unexplained, other than by the unusual mildness of the weather (in direct contrast to London's), I decided to walk home from my Midtown office.

The distance from my office to my apartment is only two miles, defined as 40 northbound city 'blocks' within the famous Manhattan grid system.

Given that walking in New York (weather permitting) is rarely less than enchanting, this would appear to be a much more attractive proposition than smelly subway trains, or taking the bus along traffic-clogged streets.

However I had always been put off by the stop-start nature of crossing those 40 blocks, and whilst a relatively short detour could take me through leafy Central Park, it was an option I had only taken on rare occasions.

With no nagging postpartum wife demanding I slowed down, I set off up Madison Avenue at a determined clip, wondering how soon I would get sick of the constant road-crossing and jump on an omnipresent bus in the same direction instead.

Within minutes and as if by miracle, I noticed a strange pattern emerging. So long as I maintained my pace (which I would define for a healthy adult as 'brisk, but comfortable'), then the traffic lights were always in my favour.

Before long I was almost in a trance, and with minutes going by like seconds, I reached my destination without once having to stop for traffic, an incredible achievement in New York.

Starting at say 60th Street, the lights would turn to 'WALK' just as I put my foot on the kerb, I would then comfortably cross 61st Street, before (only) just getting across 62nd Street as the lights turned back to 'DON'T WALK'.

Each city block is 264 feet or 1/20th of a mile. However they are designed with the careful 30mph driver in mind such that when motoring up one of the major avenues (such as Madison), each light will change to green just as it is approached, thus obviating the need for braking.

Any passengers in a New York taxi however will know this rarely adhered to, but at 30mph a car will travel 264 feet in exactly six seconds hence the sequencing.

I have also since discovered (although I was oblivious at the time), that the lights on the main avenues change every 90 seconds.

This implies that so long as you are walking in the direction of the traffic (Madison Avenue runs northbound), then a pace as follows will permit non-stop walking between two city blocks:

Distance to be walked: 264 feet x 2 = 528 feet
Time permitted: 90 seconds + 6 seconds + 6 seconds = 102 seconds
Pace required: 5.17 feet per second, or 3.52 miles per hour

Once I had stumbled across this life-changing ephiphany, I began to focus solely on maintaining the right pace. Walk too fast or too slow, and I would have been forced to wait for traffic, thus breaking up the hypnotic rhythm.

As I approached my home street, I was beginning to demonstrate a degree of arrogance, racing past fellow pedestrians patiently waiting for the lights, absolutely confident in the knowledge that I was 'in the zone'.

And as I did so, I began to recall all of those fellow city folk who would regale me with stories of how they always walk to and from work. And with a sense of acute embarrassment now, I would also recall my standard answer, "Don't you get fed up crossing all those roads?

Was I now the member of a select club, the likes of which status-obsessed New Yorkers love to join? A few searches of Google revealed nothing of the sort, perhaps merely adding to the intrigue.

Did they also know meanwhile, that it was vital to always be walking in the same direction of the traffic? If you try 'walking down Madison' then very soon the lights will catch up with you. No wonder Kirsty MacColl sang so wistfully about it.

Perhaps I had merely got lucky. It was getting late, the streets were empty and my pace was only interrupted briefly by an old lady and her ill-behaved dog. A few choice words soon gave Fido the message that I was a man on a life-changing mission, and I continued on my way.

I let myself into the apartment meanwhile, so eager to tell the wife my new discovery that I could barely get the words out with the excitement. She just rolled her eyes as if it was nothing. I wonder why I married her sometimes.