Monday, March 30, 2009

The Damned Athletic

FILM REVIEW: The Damned Athletic (15) is a powerful new movie about Les Reed's forty days as manager of Charlton Athletic. It's undeniably a triumph.

Reed (Michael Sheen) is portrayed as a tortured and misunderstood genius, whose unique methods were not readily accepted by his pampered players.

On his first day, Reed starts on the wrong foot by telling his new charges that they could throw all their medals away, because they won them by cheating.

His assistant Mark Robson (Timothy Spall) whispers softly in his ear, "Gaffer, they don't have any medals."

Seemingly unimpressed by his famous achievements with Woodford Town and Wealdstone FC, the squad fails to respond to Reed's increasingly desperate motivational techniques, as defeat follows inevitable defeat.

In the film's darkest moment, Sheen superbly interprets Reed's sadness after devastating defeat by Wycombe, yet also his absolute certainty that he will turn the ship around. It's not surprising that some intepreted it as arrogance.

Alone with Robson deep in the bowels of The Valley, and with the sounds of "Reed Out!" clearly audible from the fans above, he states simply in vintage fashion, "Next up is Middlesbrough. We could do with three points there."

In another brilliant scene as the film draws to its inescapable conclusion, Reed's legendary man management is demonstrated as he dares to tell the club's star player he's not playing against Liverpool.

"Hughesy," he explains, "'ll be on the bench on Saturday." Stunning.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Preston preview

There's an old joke about a driver who asks for directions, only to be told "Well if I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Charlton's current depressing state can be seen in this context.

If you were seeking to build a successful club, then you wouldn't want to start from here, but it's here that we find ourselves and so we just have to get on with it.

I sense that the mathematical assurance of relegation will come as a relief to most fans.

It is likely that if we lost all of our next three games, then relegation will be confirmed at home to Birmingham on 11th April. I may be back in London as it happens; that'll be something to look forward to.

I feel like a need a break from blogging about Charlton, and the guarantee of our relegation would seem an appropriate time to take one, albeit not permanently I hope.

The two articles that I referred to in my last post, sought to emphasise the difficult readjustment required of clubs relegated from the Premiership.

Certainly having enjoyed seven consecutive seasons at that level, we were entitled to think we finally belonged. This is not true for example of the likes of Reading, Sheffield United or Watford, to their advantage.

The two longest-serving Championship clubs are Burnley (1994) and Preston (2000).

Both are riding high in the table despite never having enjoyed a single Premiership windfall, suggesting that promotion and subsequent relegation is at least somewhat destabilising. However Charlton have quite clearly royally screwed it up nonetheless.

After having won the Second Division title in 1999/2000 (the same year Charlton won the First Division), Preston actually came remarkably close to achieving the much feared promotion to the Premiership on more than one occasion.

They finished 4th in 2000/01, 8th in 2001/02, 5th in 2004/05, and 7th in 2006/07, benefiting from the assured guidance of David Moyes and more latterly, Billy Davies.

Just in case Charlton fans needed reminding of its virtues, they have benefited from a small squad this season, with just 22 players starting a Championship fixture.

However their position just outside the play-offs is down largely to their home form (45 points), the very best in the league. On the road their form has been poor, securing wins only at Ipswich, Blackpool and Wolves.

As something of a sentimentalist, it would be nice to see the likes of Preston or Burnley back in the top flight, but anything less than a win for the Addicks will be a death knell surely.

At least the club hasn't lost its sense of humour however, excitedly announcing plans for a DVD containing action not only from 2007/08 but also from this season! Form an orderly queue.

I continue to await a more interesting line-up than our manager has offered us in recent matches, one that perhaps accepted the inevitability of our fate and had one eye on next season.

As much as I admire the skills of Zheng Zhi for example, his Charlton career is effectively over. As his compatriot Confucius might say to Phil Parkinson, "If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow close at hand."

Ironically enough, Confucius also said, "Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses." However Parkinson may be forced to ignore the wisdom of the great philosopher, and perhaps play some of those overlooked souls who might reasonably have a role next season.

I think he'll line up as follows: Randolph, Moutaouakil, Basey, Hudson, Ward, Bailey, Racon, Zheng, Sam, Ambrose, Kandol. Subs: Weaver, Holland, Shelvey, Burton, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Kandol, Zheng), Preston 2 (Parkin, McKenna). Tickets sold: 20, 248.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Read All About It

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers."

Two honest and well-written articles about Charlton have recently been published by the The Guardian and the Evening Standard. They both read like obituaries.

Neither told us anything new. However their unemotional style puts into context the sheer speed of our downfall.

After three terrible seasons and four managers, it is tempting again of course to revert to the tired refrain that it was all down to the departure of Alan Curbishley.

Certainly his achievements albeit hardly unappreciated at the time, have gained further kudos given what has come since.

However this point of view, whilst broadly unarguable now, circumvents an obvious question.

At some point Curbishley's success and own personal ambitions would eventually have tempted him away anyhow, and probably not very long after his actual departure date in May 2006.

Both articles feel like they've been 'planted' by the club's PR department however, not least given their coincidental timing.

All of the talk of Charlton being an 'attractive investment' should be set against the truth of negative cashflows, dwindling crowds, and large debts (albeit to friendly directors).

Certainly the failure of the Zabeel deal was a disappointment, but surely it only held back the long-term aspirations of the club?

The idea that it can be blamed for the team winning only two Championship games since the deal was announced, is clearly absurd.

At the time we had 13 points from 10 games, hardly promotion form but it offered little indication of the disaster to follow.

The PR-driven nature of the Evening Standard article really strikes me however with regard to the term 'marked improvement', used by Murray apparently to describe Phil Parkinson's reign, and not for the first time.

It would be disengenuous to claim that Parky was given a straightforward challenge, whilst clearly Alan Pardew began his failed Championship campaign(s) from a clear position of relative strength in August 2007.

However, if our Board considers that 2 wins in 20 constitutes a 'marked improvement', then I shudder to think what a backward step might look like.

Moreover, even if you somehow consider that we have pushed on, then one might question whether it is likely to be sustained given the continued reliance on loans, and players whose Charlton careers are effectively almost over.

My concern now is that having been honest enough to acknowledge a series of destabilising mistakes, the Board now risks confusing stability with improvement. As Curbishley proved, it's only a virtue if the right man is in charge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pardew: Unacceptable Comments

Alan Pardew unreservedly apologised last night, following allegations that he had made 'appalling' and 'wholly unacceptable' comments.

The comments are believed to have caused great offence to a long-suffering minority known as 'Charlton fans'.

The allegations date back to December 2006, when Pardew reportedly told the Board, "I am honoured to accept your offer to be manager of Charlton Athletic."

"How dare he use the word 'manager' with such disregard?" said one anguished supporter, "...this usually implies a degree of organisation, motivation and results."

Club insiders admitted that it was 'unlikely' he would be invited back to manage again.

STOP PRESS: Fans outraged again as Pardew reportedly told Board, "Bid £2million for Luke Varney....he's a natural goalscorer."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wolves preview

After gaining a creditable point at Reading on Tuesday night, the Addicks face the formidable task of winning at leaders Wolves in order to keep any realistic hope of survival alive.

The fact that Charlton have now secured three consecutive draws from tricky away fixtures, is more of a frustration than an encouragement.

The way I see it is simple. I've never really bought into the idea that the players are 'not good enough'.

Instead we have a lot of good players (albeit not all 38 of them used so far), but no sense of team spirit or organisation.

Thus it's inevitable that on occasion, they will function to a sufficient degree to earn some surprising points, but the general trend will remain negative. We must be a punter's nightmare.

Back in July, I wrote that the sale of Chris Iwelumo represented, " great loss given his obvious limitations." Nothing that he has done since changes this view, despite the natural conclusion otherwise.

We received a decent fee for a player signed a year earlier for free, and his scoring record for Charlton was no better than Nicky Bailey's (from midfield).

Moreover, having begun his Wolves career in explosive fashion, he has not scored since November.

He ended last season in similar fashion, scoring only once between 15 Dec and the end of the season. When being tall and trying hard are your only attributes, it's not hard for teams to remove your threat once they cotton onto it.

Instead, it's the failure of his various replacements as pure 'target men' which have hurt us. Andy Gray's season threatened to get going, but was hampered by injuries and personal issues. Deon Burton has meanwhile not scored from open play, whilst Tresor Kandol is a Leeds player, and a desperate throw of the dice.

Phil Parkinson's team selection at Reading did not bring many surprises, though I must confess I did not expect to see Zheng Zhi start a Charlton match again.

I'd like to see some youngsters being given a proper chance with an eye on next season, though I suppose he would claim the Reading result ruins my argument (it doesn't).

I think he'll line up as follows: Elliot, Butterfield, Youga, Ward, Hudson, Bailey, Spring, Zheng, Soares, Ambrose, Kandol. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Dickson, Burton, Sam.

NY Addick predicts: Wolves 2 (Ebanks-Blake 2), Charlton 0. Att: 23, 882.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reading preview

With Charlton having taken precisely zero points from two so-called 'must-win' home games, they now face top six teams in four of their next five matches.

Results are now effectively irrelevant, so it will be interesting to see how Phil Parkinson's team selections reflect this.

His willingness to experiment may win back those fans (who must by now comprise a large majority), who are now convinced a new manager is essential in time for next season.

Whilst their presence might ordinarily assist the team, I see no point to the likes of Zheng, Todorov, Ambrose, etc. wearing the red shirt again. They obviously won't be Charlton players next season.

The loan signings represent a different issue potentially given that Ward and Kandol (particularly), are realistic permanent signings even in League One.

However Soares is quite clearly not, whilst Butterfield may not feel a step down is required at aged 29, unless forced upon him.

The problem for Parkinson is as follows in my view. If he picks a 'full strength' side (or as I call it, a 'least weak'), and the team gets walloped in either of its next two fixtures, then frankly I believe his position will become untenable.

If however he picks a handful of youngsters (as he did notably at Norwich in the FA Cup), then he has nothing to lose. Get walloped and he will rightly defend his players in the name of 'useful experience for next season'.

Somehow salvage a point or better however, and his reputation amongst the faithful will be materially enhanced.

After all, it is certainly in need of some enhancement. His career record in the Championship (for both Hull City and Charlton) makes for deeply uncomfortable reading:

P39 W6 D10 L23 Pts28

However as we know, the impressive promotion he achieved with Colchester in 2005/6 was rightly heralded as signalling a potential new young managerial star in the making.

With Charlton now effectively relegated, is it the memory of that particular success which is ensuring the Board remain loyal to him now? Because if not, there's precious little else to back up his claims unfortunately.

After seven months of such rank disappointment, it's hard to believe that the 4-2 home win over Reading in August really happened. We were exceptional, full of fast-flowing energetic exciting football. How on earth could it have gone so badly wrong?

Reading have scored 37 goals at home, and conceded only 11. With automatic promotion ensured if they win all of their remaining games, they will view a visit by Charlton as a good place to start.

Steve Coppell's men were my pick for promotion at the start of the season, and whilst they will not accumulate the 106 points they managed in 2005/6, I still fancy they will finish up as Champions again.

NY Addick predicts: Reading 4 (Doyle 2, Hunt N, Little), Charlton 0. Att: 19, 288.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

No Reservations

"A satisfied customer. We should have him stuffed."

This statistic will hardly come as a shock, but did you know that Charlton's
league record since Zabeel abandoned takeover talks on 23 Oct, is as follows?:

P24 W2 D8 L14 F26 A45 Pts 14

Our record this season until 23 Oct was:

P12 W4 D1 L7 F12 A16 Pts 13

Whilst we were hardly setting the world alight until then, it is almost indisputable in my view, that the pivotal moment this season was the day the Zabeel deal fell apart. Was this a mere coincidence, or is there a degree of causation?

At the time, I was tempted to bemoan the deal's collapse, but concluded generally that you couldn't miss something you never had. The veritable beautiful stranger you might fleetingly catch the eye of. The club would move on.

However everything that has happened since, and unfortunately will likely continue hereafter, is a function of the fact the club remains in limbo.

The indicative deal was announced during the week of October 6th, perhaps the week when the global financial system was closest to a total meltdown.

It all seemed too good to be true, and so it proved. At least Zabeel's stated case for not proceeding appears to have been valid.

The disappointment of the club's directors can only be imagined. Whilst it's clearly not in their interests to let the club completely disintegrate (they own virtually all of its debt and equity after all), there is also little incentive to do more than merely avoid this outcome either.

I was trying to think of a 'real world' analogy (football existing in a parallel universe as we know), and the best I can come up with is as follows.

Imagine one of those lovely country house hotels. You know the type where you might escape for a few nights of pampering, or perhaps enjoy a meal on a special occasion.

Many of these are owned by the big chains, but many are lovingly managed by individuals and their families who really care that you enjoyed your stay. If Charlton were a country house hotel, it'd be one of these.

But then picture that hotel now, a little run down these days, the decor is stuck in the previous decade and business is starting to dry up.

"I'll ruin you. You'll never waitress in Torquay again."

You had a fantastic manager who brought the best out of all of his staff, but he was determined to run a bigger hotel, and you could hardly have stood in his way.

Regretfully you were tempted to poach the manager of the nearest hotel, you know the one with that awful nouveau riche owner, and its on-site tanning salon.

You should have known better; the place has been in decline ever since it was touted as the 'hotel of the Eighties'.

"Oh, you're German! I'm sorry, I thought there was something wrong with you."

In a state of panic, you stupidly appointed the concierge as manager. With hindsight he remains a great concierge for sure, but he wasn't cut out for management.

His replacement was slightly better, but he thought he was bigger than the hotel (and the chambermaids found him creepy).

When the economy was booming however, even slightly run-down mismanaged hotels were easy to sell, either to the big chains, or to the Russians or Arabs who sought a private bolthole in the countryside.

You thought about selling up (and there were certainly plenty of offers), but the property meant to much to you just to become yet another Marriott, or the plaything of an oligarch.

You'd hold out for someone who cared about it as much as you did. Those Sheiks really seemed passionate about it however, promised to maintain its core virtues, and said you'd be welcome back whenever you felt like it.

"What I'm suggesting is that this place is the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe."
"No! No I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne."

But then the world changed, the Sheiks sent their apologies, and you'd realised you'd missed the boat. Business continued to dry up meanwhile, credit was in short supply, and your dreams of retirement were firmly on hold.

Pumping in that much-needed investment is unthinkable. After all, you're already overexposed to the hotel and it's far from clear you'll earn a return.

Meanwhile some of your investments outside of the hotel have gone sour, so it's not clear where you'd get the money from.

However, letting it simply fall into ruin is equally absurd. You have too much financial capital tied up, but more importantly you care too much just to see your life's work become derelict.

"You mean to tell me you didn't realise this man was dead?"
"Well, people don't talk much in the morning. Look, I'm just delivering a tray, right. If the guest isn't singing "Oh What A Beautiful Morning", I don't immediately think "Oh, there's another snuffed it in the night."

So instead you find an uncomfortable middle ground. You lower your costs but make sure you pay the bills. You ratchet down the expectations of your customers, and forget about those dreams of earning 'five stars'.

And of course you put up with the current hotel manager because he's cheap, he was the assistant to the previous manager, and at least he knows all the staff by name.

Neither had a problem employing temporary staff, which is good because at least they're cheap.

And you won't be splashing out on expensive new staff any time soon, thus no more of those temperamental French chefs who never show up for work.

"Is there anywhere they do French food?"
"Yes, France I believe. They seem to like it there. And the swim would certainly sharpen your appetite."

Those picky corporate types have largely stopped attending, but at least you can rely on those core regulars who have been coming for years.

You've been laying on buses for some of them, which you can tell they appreciate. They still love the place, though you'd never know it from their constant complaining, especially about the manager.

"Look, all kitchens are filthy Mr. Fawlty. Infact, the better the kitchen, the filthier it is. Have you read George Orwell's experiences at Maxim's in Paris?"
"No. Do you have a copy? I'll read it out in court."

You've been somewhat shocked at how quickly the property has deteriorated, but the cost of the upkeep is enormous.

Occasionally you wistfully look back, and wonder how that previous loyal manager kept things ticking over so well, on such a tight budget.

You dare to suggest you perhaps didn't appreciate him enough, especially when those regulars started to moan that stays had become boring.

Upon reflection, they always find something to moan about. Perhaps you shouldn't have bothered reopening the place in 1992 after those seven years of renovation.

The hotel's occupancy rate is way down, and you can only dream of filling all of the rooms, but thank goodness you didn't build that extension.

"I couldn't find the freeway. Had to take a little back street called the M5."
"Well I'm sorry it wasn't wide enough for you. A lot of the English cars have steering wheels."

It is tempting to declare bankruptcy and start again, but your creditors may be in no mood to restructure on good terms; they may just close the hotel down and convert it into flats.

So you'll just plod along, keep the thing afloat and if you go from 'four stars' to one, then so be it. When things turn around, you can always earn them back again.

Thus if one thinks of Phil Parkinson as the Basil Fawlty-esque manager of the above fictional hotel, it suddenly all makes sense. And it also means he's almost certainly here to stay.

Charlton's diabolical run of form, can perhaps best be explained as being the partly inevitable (but nonetheless unwelcome) result, of a conscious decision to run the club on the basis laid out above.

The Board attempted to patch up this season, hoping it would be enough to survive and buy some time.

The fumbled appointment of Parkinson, the absurd use of loan signings, and his constant tactical tinkering can be seen in the context of their desperate hopefulness for the best.

The above described vicious circle of underinvestment and underperformance could thus conceivably continue for some time. It does not end with another relegation.

It's perhaps some comfort that most clubs outside the top flight are facing the same challenges, but ours are especially acute.

Unfortunately our relegation from the Premiership coincided almost exactly with the start of the financial world's 'great unwind'. That could probably not be helped.

However after yet another defeat, most fans are now just desperate for a weekend break away from football. I think I can recommend a great place (though it's seen better days).

"Ah yes Mr O'Reilly, well it's perfectly simple. When I asked you to build me a wall, I was rather hoping that instead of just dumping the bricks in a pile you might have found the time to cement them together, you know one on top of the other in the traditional fashion."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Parkinson's Last Resort

Charlton's disastrous season took an extraordinary twist last night.

Manager Phil Parkinson has been given authority to begin printing more points, in a process known as quantitative easing.

It was hoped that this unprecedented step may be enough to prevent Charlton's season lapsing into depression.

"It's risky, but it just might work," admitted an unnamed Board member, "...our biggest fear is that other clubs notice, and begin printing points themselves."

That would of course lead to severe inflation, a situation common in the Zimbabwean leagues for example, where over ten million points are typically needed just to secure a play-off berth.

It is believed that Parkinson will be allowed to begin the process, in time for the vital clash against fellow strugglers Watford.

"It's a real relegation eight-pointer," he acknowledged.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Watford preview

After being outclassed by Doncaster on Tuesday night, it was insightful to review some of their season statistics compared to ours.

Only 22 players have started a Championship game for Donny this season, compared to 37 for Charlton.

Of those 22, fully eight have started 25 games or more implying a settled side. By comparison, Charlton have just two relative stalwarts in Mark Hudson and Nicky Bailey (both with 32 starts each).

Ten different Charlton players have started at least one, but fewer than five matches meanwhile*. We may have been disproportionately influenced by injuries, but even the world's greatest managers would struggle to impart a system upon such a disparate squad.

I had an enjoyable beers session with Chicago Addick last night, in which he ran out a narrow 7-6 winner in a real ding-dong battle reminiscent of the Charlton v Huddersfield game from 1957.

We both bemoaned the fact that neither of our managers this season appeared to have any philosophy for playing the game, or a consistent system in which they believed in.

Unlike in the Premiership, there were no true individual 'stars' in the Championship, and thus any manager with the requisite spark and imagination, could develop a successful side from what are largely indistinguishable squads.

Perhaps the 'greater resources' argument could explain say Reading or Birmingham's lofty position, but Preston, Cardiff or Burnley's?

Parkinson's first three games in charge for example saw him prefer a classic 4-4-2, with genuine widemen and at least one target man.

Now his favoured formation seems to be a 4-5-1 (yet oddly with no 'true' width), with a striker who might be a half-decent poacher, but cannot hold up the ball.

This type of tinkering is not wrong per se, but in the absence of a well-understood general playing philosophy, it suggests desperation. And when players have come and gone with such regularity, the chance of imposing any such philosophy is effectively impossible anyhow.

We fully expected Parkinson to remain in charge next season, but feared a vociferous backlash if after say ten games, we are only in midtable (or worse).

The universe of realistic potential new managers shrinks inexorably all the while, but we suggested that we would still represent an attractive enough challenge for virtually any other League One manager (Adkins? Ferguson?), or even still some higher profile but out-of-work types (Sanchez? Hoddle?).

There are no guarantees of course, but the club needs to be firmly shaken up by an outsider with new ideas in my view to halt this decline.

A few miles down the road in New Cross, it seems we can't even get rid of our own loaned players. Izale McLeod is apparently now back at The Valley but unable to play for Charlton. This season never ceases to surprise.

Given the paucity of our striking options, it appeared one of the stranger deals anyhow. If he went to Millwall and scored goals, then one ought to question why he wasn't doing it in a red shirt (they are only five places below us in the pyramid after all).

He was replaced meanwhile by an unwanted striker from the same lower division who, if he was successful for Charlton, would presumably be wanted back by Leeds. Can you blame me for being pessimistic about next season, let alone the remainder of this one?

With Blackpool sitting in 21st place and already on 39 points, even that tally is starting to look like a challenge too far for Charlton with 11 games still remaining (it would alone require form equivalent to 50 points over a full season).

And with teams as high as Crystal Palace in 15th looking nervously over their shoulders, a manic final quarter of the season looks likely to ensure a survival target that represents the nightmarish scenario for Charlton that we all dreaded.

Parkinson has spoken of a points target of 50 being the 'almighty task' he has set his players, but even this looks implausibly optimistic, especially given our poor goal difference. A team could go down with 53 or so points. Hence better to accept the inevitable in my view, and begin to build for League One.

Watford also sit on 39 points, but have begun to generate a degree of consistency under new boss Brendan Rodgers, plucked from relative obscurity at Chelsea.

The reverse fixture that I attended at Vicarage Road in August was a showcase of dire football, and whilst surely no-one present expected to witness what has come since for Charlton, there were perhaps some tentative signs if you were willing to unemotionally look hard enough.

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

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Bailey), Watford 1 (Smith). Tickets sold: 21, 334.

(*Butterfield, Gillespie, Kandol, McLeod, Randolph, Thomas, Todorov, Waghorn, Wright, Zheng).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

This Is A Low?

"Hit traffic on the dogger bank, Up the Thames to find a taxi rank, Sail on by with the tide and go asleep, And the radio says....THIS IS A LOW." (Blur, 1994)

I suspect most Charlton fans will be forced to admit that deep down, we're now sunk.

There's something darkly poetic perhaps about a home defeat on a filthy night, against a club that was playing non-League football as recently as 2003.

By all accounts we were given a footballing lesson tonight, by a side with a fraction of our resources, but a multiple of our heart.

They say bad weather is a great leveller. But not if one team acknowledges that pretty five-yard triangles will largely be unaffected, whilst the other punts it long to a solitary pint-sized striker.

Despite embarking on a small run of improved form (at least in a relative sense), Charlton have actually been left further adrift as their relegation rivals begin to lift their game.

The form guide has been firmly thrown out of the window in the Championship in recent weeks.

As I pointed out to a Burnley-supporting friend here in New York for example, the stuttering Clarets have simultaneously seen their play-off chances reduced, at the same time that their automatic promotion chances have increased.

Perhaps most gallingly for Charlton, some of those relegation rivals (especially Watford and Derby) are seemingly receiving a short-term boost, from making the type of brave managerial appointment that we skirted.

Even Billy Davies has presided over five League wins already at Forest, and he is reportedly under pressure.

Interestingly, the two teams that currently sit in the other relegation places both took the same easy option as Charlton did, making an internal appointment. However neither was the assistant to the previously discredited manager.

Three years of rank and uncharacteristic mismanagement have come to this. Much like stock market investors who vainly hoped 2009 would represent a fresh start, in truth there's no reason why this is the bottom for Charlton, even though it sure feels like it.

Danny Butterfield tonight became the 37th player to start a Championship game this season. There are 854,992,152 ways to select 11 from 37. At times it feels like we've tried them all, and still to no avail.

Even our last great hope Chris Dickson was reportedly embarrassingly poor tonight. This season really has been an abject failure.

It's time to start preparing for next season. If the bulk of the team likely to play for Charlton in League One get eleven games together now, then this gives us a chance of hitting the ground running.

Few will expect a Leicester-esque victory parade through the division. Indeed, at best next season may have to be the year of consolidation, that this season was probably meant to be.

Ignoring the loan signings for the moment, it's hard to find many more than a dozen or so of the current squad who will likely feature next season. They should all feature now to as far an extent as possible, without compromising our integrity.

A quick look down that long squad list suggests only the following are realistically going to wear a Charlton shirt next season: Bailey, Basey, Burton, Dickson, Elliot, Fleetwood, McLeod, Racon, Sam, Semedo, Shelvey, Sinclair, Spring, Wright, Youga.

Rather terrifying isn't it? Four of the above are strikers who never score, whilst one can probably presume that the foreign trio of Racon, Semedo and Youga might be tempted by a return to sunnier, and more familiar climes.

The finances available to reinforce those bare bones will meanwhile be severely limited, assuming of course the club does not take the option of administration, one that is effectively now 'free' given the irrelevance of the points deduction.

The club will set its PR team in motion to rally the fans behind a swift Championship return, but it should be viewed as being as pithy, as that free Premiership season ticket offer was now ridiculous with hindsight.

I told my Dad recently that if I returned to live in the UK, I'd probably choose to follow a local non-League team until my sons were old enough to properly appreciate a regular trip to The Valley.

Maybe it's just the bitterly cold weather, and the dire state of the economy that's additionally getting me down, but I'm genuinely worried I may get the chance to do both concurrently.

Merely steadying this ship under Captain Parkinson represents an enormous challenge. We may already have hit the iceberg.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Doncaster preview

Addicks fans have had to wait over a year (since a home draw with Watford on 16 Feb 2008), to witness their team putting together a three-game unbeaten run.

With a battling draw at Swansea completing the latest triumvirate, one is not quite sure whether to hail the slow progress being made, or to emphasise (again) just how ridiculous these past thirteen or so months have been.

Tuesday night's fixture with Doncaster represents one of only two remaining chances for Charlton to register a home and away 'double', the other being Reading on 10 March.

Unfortunately for Charlton, they face Donny in an extraordinary vein of form, having looked like near-certainties for relegation approaching Christmas. They were in an even worse state than us.

Now they might represent good value as an outsider for the play-offs, as the teams above them seek new and original ways to lose their momentum.

An impressive 4-2 win at fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day, set in train a fabulous run of 25 points from a possible 30, proving that it is possible to play passing football and succeed in the Championship, despite evidence from the likes of Stoke last season.

A statistics junkie like me cannot fail to notice the amazing lack of goals that their fixtures have generated at their Keepmoat Stadium. Their 17 home games to date have registered the following scorelines: 1-1, 1-0, 0-1, 0-2, 0-2, 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 2-1, 1-1, 1-0, 1-0, 2-1.

With just 29 goals to their name all season (six fewer than Charlton, and the lowest in the division), they are clearly advocates of what I might term 'total footballing efficiency' (TFE).

Charlton's relative proficiency in front of goal, is thanks in no small part to the somewhat unheralded goalscoring heroics of midfielder, Nicky Bailey.

His record of 8 goals from 31 starts is an outstanding return in such a poor side, and it is a credit to his obvious gutsy nature that he has seemingly rebounded so well from a decidedly dodgy spell towards the end of Pardew's reign.

Indeed, it makes him the joint 18th highest scorer in the division, level with the likes of Dele Adebola, Clinton Morrison, Jay Bothroyd, Leroy Lita and Tamas Priskin, each of whom has considerably less defensive responsibility. If we are indeed relegated this season, I sense a Valley hero in the making in Division Three.

Although three games unbeaten and eight points from our last six games, is indeed progress, it's still not the automatic promotion-type form that we need to put together in these last dozen games to survive. Two home wins in the next five days will make it fourteen points from eight games, which is not too far away from what's required however.

And whilst this mini run of form of sorts has some fans warming slightly to Phil Parkinson, lest we forget that his 16-game record as boss reads as a sorry P16, W2, D5, L9, Pts 11.

However, one factor in the slight improvement appears to be a more sensible use of the inevitable loan signings (Butterfield is the 12th to take that mantle this season*).

Whilst the medium-term point of it all remains firmly unclear to me, at least we are largely focusing on either the experienced or the hungry, rather than Premiership cast-offs, and only those with a realistic chance of permanently signing (perhaps only Tom Soares excepted).

On this topic, the likely debut of Danny Butterfield on Tuesday will see him become the 37th Charlton player to start a Championship game this season, surely some sort of record (and who knows when it will stop?).

Each squad member has thus generated just 0.73 points each this season. That must please the directors when they dip into their pockets to make another loan to the club.

I think those directors will be watching Parky line them up as follows: Elliot, Butterfield, Youga, Hudson, Ward, Bailey, Soares, Spring, Racon, Kandol, Dickson. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Shelvey, Ambrose, Burton.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Dickson, Soares), Doncaster 1 (Heffernan). Tickets sold: 18, 891.

(*Bouazza, Burton, Cranie, Gillespie, Kandol, McEveley, Murty, Primus, Soares, Spring, Waghorn, Ward).

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Complete Lottery

Given the ubiquity of my sleep deprivation these days, the insomnia cure masquerading as the Carling Cup final was most welcome.

However I was duly roused from my slumber by Harry Redknapp's post-match comments, taken straight from that well-thumbed reference book, 'Irrational Excuses Losing Managers Can Use.'

He excused his team's 33% penalty conversion rate (compared to United's 100%), by using that famed comment oft used by England managers, " came down to a lottery in the end." It's no wonder the big four clubs have lost interest in this type of old-school manager.

If it truly were a lottery, then rather than put their players through the potential heartbreak of a shoot-out, surely both managers would agree to utilise an actual lottery. Perhaps it could be sexed up asking the respective players' WAGs to pick out cards saying 'GOAL' or 'MISS'?

The core trait of a true lottery is randomness. In the case of the original form of the National Lottery for example, the only 'skill' as such is to try to select six numbers which are least likely to have been selected by someone else.

This would not make those numbers any more likely to come up of course, but it makes it less likely that you'd have to share the top prize. The numbers 1,2,3,4,5&6 are unlikely to meet this criteria for example.

However a penalty shoot-out is far from a lottery, because its outcome is far from random. If it were truly random, then when a team is awarded a penalty during normal time, surely fans would be wondering who will take it (when infact there is a clear hierarchy of takers).

Instead it's a neat way for managers to abdicate responsibility for their own failure to have instilled in their players, the fact that the probabilistic outcome of a shoot-out can be changed in their favour.

In the case of today's final, the bookmakers were suggesting that the odds of a draw after 90 min were roughly 2/1, or 33%. Once the teams began extra-time meanwhile, I would estimate that the chances of it also finishing tied are approximately 60% (tiredness and the acceptance of the 'lottery' of penalties tends to ensure a lack of ambition).

In other words, as the teams prepared for the final, they could be relatively sure that there was a 1 in 5 chance that the tie would be settled by penalties. From Tottenham's point of view, this represented their only prospect for European qualification next season, quite a big deal despite their apathy about the UEFA Cup on Thursday.

So surely Redknapp is doing Tottenham's much-suffering fans a disservice by implying that the end of extra-time took the outcome out of their hands?

It's true of course that the tension of a Cup final shootout cannot be replicated on the training ground, but each likely penalty-taker should at least be comfortable (through intense practice) with which particular 'type' of penalty they are most likely to have the ability and werewithal to execute when the time comes.

Unless each of their top 8 or 9 penalty-takers practiced at least say 100 penalties in the build-up to this final, then they're totally unprofessional.

I'm prepared to assume for example that Spurs will have meticulously revised their set-pieces for hours, but then again they've been doing that all season (so presumably they're fairly well-understood). Only a handful of matches meanwhile could end in a shoot-out, and none as important as this one from their perspective.

It's the type of managerial b*llshit which managers (often seemingly British ones) seek to foist on unsuspecting fans to excuse their own shortcomings. Other favourite well-used excuses include, "It can be harder to play against ten men", and "I thought we deserved a draw."

If it were truly harder to play against ten men (which is plainly preposterous), then managers should presumably only name ten starting players.

However when the opposition manager received the teamsheet, he would realise he'd been 'had' and revert to nine players. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would continue until both managers named zero players and the match would be postponed.

As for 'deserving a draw', I'd like to place it here on record that if I am ever fortunate enough to own, run or manage a football club, then my manager will face instant dismissal for gross misconduct, should he ever acknowledge that a draw was an 'intended' outcome, not a mere accidental one.

Occasionally when I'm watching a match as a neutral, I'll place a 'correct score' bet to add some interest to an otherwise meaningless fixture.

I will always opt for a goalless draw for two reasons. Firstly, it's the only scoreline which is guaranteed to be correct for at least some portion of the game. Second, once the first goal is scored and my bet is thus lost, I can cease watching and go and do something more useful.

Anyhow the key points is that that every (regular season) game begins as a draw, suggesting that to be happy with a draw, to feel your team deserved a draw, or even worse insist that your team plays for a draw, implies a singular lack of ambition that thus would merit the aforementioned dismissal at my club.

A game of football is not like the old gameshow Bullseye, where you can declare what a lovely time you've had and take your prizes (Jim). They give you a draw to start with; they increased the points for a win to three in the hope that teams might actually try to get them.

Back in October, I had a bit of fun at Alan Pardew's expense when I took him to task for some of his equally nonsensical post-match comments.

Nobody is suggesting that professional football management is easy. However whilst some outcomes in a match are truly out of their hands (injuries, wicked deflections, refereeing mistakes etc..), it would be refreshing if a manager did not insult the intelligence of fans by implying a penalty shoot-out is a lottery.

Doing appropriate preparation work does not ensure an outcome of course (that too would be random), but it would be a very good way of influencing it.