Saturday, April 25, 2009

Derby preview

Despite just one win in nine games, Derby probably need only a solitary point against the relegated Addicks to secure Championship football next season.

When the Rams beat Sheffield United on 13 Sept, they ensured the club did not go an entire calendar year without a League victory, with just four days to spare.

However whilst like Charlton they chose to jettison their manager mid-season (Paul Jewell), their ostensibly risky and potentially sentimental choice of Nigel Clough appears to have paid off.

He has hardly been an indisputable triumph, but that typical 'new manager effect' paid off during the winter, when they recorded four straight League wins. Given they hover just five points above the relegation spots today, that short spell looks like being enough to keep them up.

However merely being called 'Clough' has been enough to galvanise this famous club. Crowds have consistently topped 30,000 since he arrived, and they are comfortably the best supported team in the division despite very little to cheer about in the past two seasons.

The achievements of his father continue to fascinate, and understandably so. He helped the club to the 1971/72 League title just three years after promotion, following fully sixteen years outside of the top flight.

It is relevant to note therefore that in my view, despite all of Charlton's sterling work with the likes of Target 20,000, Valley Express and the like, it is unfortunately impossible to rewrite history, and engender the type of fervour that those types of heady times at the Baseball Ground must.

The stories must be handed down the generations, and help to explain their strong support today. They also benefit from the 'one club city' effect, which again the likes of Charlton are not able to tap into.

We are likely to face two former Addicks tomorrow, in the shape of Luke Varney and Andy Todd. If outward appearances do not lie, then you could not find two more sharply different characters.

Todd was signed by Alan Curbishley for £750,000 (from Bolton) in Nov 1999, and would play an important role in securing the First Division title. His reputation as a 'hothead' would not have gone unnoticed, given he had been sent off at The Valley playing for Bolton earlier that season.

He would go on to win my vote as Player of the Year in 2000/01, his wholehearted approach appealing to my traditional sensibilities. He was also quite obviously as hard as nails in his quiet, but ever so slightly unnerving way.

Unfortunately his hardness was channelled towards teammate Dean Kiely in a well-documented training ground fracas, and he was sent on Grimsby.

Luke Varney meanwhile would not win any prizes in a hardness competition. He played as if frightened of his own shadow, as the sun set over the Jimmy Seed Stand.

He continues to retain some admirers at Charlton, and no-one could fault his work ethic. Unfortunately he simply wasn't good enough (mentally as much as anything), and his ridiculous price tag and presumably wages, ensured his stay was a brief one.

If Pardew had spent say £500,000 on Varney as a hard-working winger (in the John Robinson type mould), then few would have complained. But £2million as a goalscoring striker was a very bad joke.

Varney's career at Charlton effectively ended in the 88th minute at home to Burnley. It is probably unfair to suggest it would have been a turning point for the club's season, but one suspects it may have been so for the player himself. A further loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday suggests he still hasn't fully recovered.

Phil Parkinson has seemingly had a change of heart this week, with regard to the blooding of youngsters. Personally I found his team selection on Tuesday night to be ridiculously unimaginative; some have suggested he is only concerned with his own position.

However having argued that giving kids their chance too early might be damaging, he has since talked up the chances of perhaps two being involved at Pride Park.

I don't know if Parky is an Elton John fan, but when it comes to team selection, we'll see whether 'Solly seems to be the hardest word'.

I think he'll line them up as follows: Elliot, Solly, Youga, Hudson, Ward, Bailey, Spring, Racon, Sam, Burton, Tuna. Subs: Randolph, Butterfield, Shelvey, Kandol, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Derby 2 (Varney, Hulse), Charlton 1 (Bailey). Att: 31, 212.


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