Sunday, August 23, 2009

Charlton First in Second Gear

At around 4.35pm on Saturday, my perception of Phil Parkinson changed, and hopefully for good.

About a minute earlier, Lloyd Sam (who had been a threat throughout) carved out an outstanding chance for Nicky Bailey to double our lead.

But Parkinson saw fit to make his only subsitution, replacing Sam with Scott Wagstaff, a player who had looked utterly out of his depth when I saw him play the first half against Yeovil in last season's Carling Cup.

This was surely manna from heaven for cynical bloggers like me, perched high in the Upper West Stand surrounded by banks of empty seats, and cobwebs that are quite literally occupying the back row.

But just four minutes after coming on, Wagstaff was set clear by Deon Burton following a classy backheel by Kelly Youga. He kept his cool to finish clinically and seal the game.

Indeed his impressive dribbling throughout and eye for a sensible pass, helped the Addicks emerge from a slightly tired period of the game, and take hold of a game that Walsall never deserved to take something from. I guess that's why I blog rather than manage.

The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, "When the facts change, I change my mind." So after a fifth consecutive League win, and just one League defeat in twelve, have the facts changed and if so have I changed my mind (about Parkinson)?

A number of fans in the North Stand are reassessing their view too it seems, finally inviting Parky to let them know the score (even though the scoreboard was working this time).

We are now playing in a lower division, and if Walsall are supposedly a solid midtable outfit, then the gap between League One and the Championship is a chasm.

My fears about a possible third relegation in four years were clearly overstated, given the rather shoddy opposition that must presumably characterise this entire league.

The three summer transfers meanwhile have settled in comfortably, Christian Dailly's experience nicely complimenting Miguel Llera's power, with Fraser Richardson providing honest endeavour and neat link-up with Sam, and then Wagstaff.

But what has been a real surprise has been the quality of the football on show, which once again emphasises what a shambles we were under Alan Pardew.

Charlton are once again a real footballing side, not just in the clichéd media use of the term (which persisted under Curbishley, even when untrue), but in the real nuts and bolts sense of passing and moving, maintaining possession and carving out openings.

Four wins do not make a summer, but there is real hope for optimism based upon performances which thoroughly deserve those results.

We moved to first place on Saturday, without ever having to get out of second gear. The players appeared somewhat jaded in the mid-afternoon heat, but Parkinson has got them playing to their strengths in what might be called 4-5-1, but is really 4-2-2-2.

Shelvey plays just behind Burton, with Sam and Bailey encouraged forward at every opportunity thanks to the defensive discipline of Therry Racon and (especially) Jose Semedo.

Walsall's chances were not aided by woeful away support, with barely 200 making the trip to The Valley.

I suppose that as a percentage of home support, they are probably better supported on the road than we are generally, but it does little to inject the type of two-way atmosphere that football thrives upon.

Indeed the biggest downer of Championship football, let alone League One for me, is the lack of any sense of 'occasion', which we took for granted in the Premiership. If the atmosphere is tepid when we are top of the league, it will be firmly stone cold if we begin to stumble.

The scoreboard operator did his or her best to improve matters however, confirming the crowd as 19,000+, which produced applause and laughter in equal measure. Infact it was a rather disappointing 15,706.

The outstanding player on display was Semedo, who produced a quite exemplary exhibition of defensive midfield play. His upper body strength leaves allcomers in its wake, and he if misplaced a pass all afternoon, then I must have missed it.

You don't see many fans with 'SEMEDO' on their backs but when I spot one, I tend to give them a sly nod as fellow members of a secret society of Charlton fans who like me, have unemotionally acknowledged him as the most important player in the team.

Burton was also particularly impressive, chasing down defenders and finding space when he appeared to be crowded out.

Andy Gray's departure leaves us desperately short of cover for this particular role however, with Messrs. McLeod, Fleetwood and Dickson offering a different type of role that Parkinson is not currently auditioning for.

Here are my match ratings:

Elliot 6 - a quiet afternoon; the line between a 'flap' and a 'confident punch' is a thin one, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt as a fellow Charlton fan;

Richardson 7 - plays with a pleasing sense that he knows what an honest day's work is; already appears to have a good understanding with Lloyd Sam which bodes well

Youga 6 - both at Leyton Orient and here, one is starting not to notice him much during games, which given past experience must surely be a good thing;

Dailly 7 - given he has gone in the space of a year from West Ham, Rangers and Scotland to lowly Charlton, one would expect him to look comfortable, which he does;

Llera 7 - perhaps the first Charlton player with three consecutive letters in his name since Matt Tees; a commanding performance with occasional distribution which Eddie Stobart would be proud of, and capped with a messy goal;

Semedo 9 - can't think of a good reason why it shouldn't be a '10', except that would imply he was like Roy Keane or Patrick Viera, which he isn't (but he was today); simply immense;

Racon 6 - drifted in and out of the game; there will be games where his extra class will be required, but this wasn't one of them;

Shelvey 5 - I was asked for a scouting report earlier this week by a curious Spurs fan, and my short answer was "I've no idea how good he is"; this performance made things no clearer;

Sam 7 - too much talent to be playing in League One; however unlike some others that are blessed in this way, his attitude seems great much to our benefit;

Bailey 5 - never looks entirely comfortable on the left wing, and indeed was largely anonymous during the second period; when he doesn't score he can look rather ordinary;

Burton 8 - leads the footballing equivalent of life in a slum, feeding off scraps; however based on this performance he has every chance of producing a story of 'rags to riches';
Wagstaff 8 - confident finish for the goal, and a highly productive contribution throughout; one mazy run towards the end particularly caught the eye; perhaps the squad members behind the first choice XI are not as mediocre as we feared.


At 6:27 AM, Blogger Wyn Grant said...

Re Semedo. Defensive midfielders like Semedo never get their due. Keith Jones is a case in point. I once dedicated a book to the 'unsung hero of the midfield'. As for Parkinson, some of us thought that he inherited a poisoned chalice from Pardew who is now weaving his magic at Saints.

At 7:05 AM, Blogger Dave said...

NYA - inclined to agree re Semedo, but it has been his understanding with Racon that has helped his game. Too often in the past he has run into other team-mates or the opposition and got us into trouble. Racon appears to have given him the space he needs in the middle whilst operating around him as a foil and, on occasions, cover. I'd like to see him improve his stamina because he has a tendency to run out of stem with 20 minutes to go.

At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Bailey: He has fantastic positional sense and a great willingness to cover. On the ball, on the left wing, I would tend to agree with your comments. But watch him off the ball... watch him cover a defender who's running forward with the ball, watch him put his body in the way of a free-kick, watch how many times it's him clearing the ball from a corner or free-kick.

As Wyn says above, defensive midfielders never get enough credit, but I don't believe that Bailey gets enough credit either for what he does when the ball isn't at his feet.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re. Parky. It has to be remembered it wasn't only us fans who didn't really think he was up to the task. He was given the role as caretaker, in the desperate hope he could cunjure up two or three wins and provide the 'improvement' to justify him being given the role permanently.
He didn't, the board remained silent and he simply carried on!
Now a division lower with a team he has fashioned under extreme duress due to the ongoing saga of 'takeover' He's produced a winning team and chuffin' well done to him too.
I hope we all had it wrong about Parky. So far it looks that way. If he gets us back to the Championship in one season, the man will become a hero, possibly even a legend!
As the man said 'when the facts change, my opinion changes'

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Re Parky: Absolutely agree. I never understand why fans think that an underperforming team is purely down to the manager and that a change of manager is all that will be needed to get back to playing well.

So far this season we have:

a) Done very well with the deals for players who have left
b) Done very well with the quality of the players we have recruited.
c) Done very well with keeping a number of players (many of whom would have agitated for a move if they had no confidence in the manager)
d) Played good football.

Now I'm sure Parky is not wholly responsible for all of the above... but he deserves varying proportions of credit for each.

Who would have thought that a few games into the new season we'd have heard the North Stand chanting "Parky, Parky give us a wave" !!

We will lose a match soon and I just hope that fans don't immediately jump on his back.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

To be fair Parkinson has done all that could have been asked of him and more since we were relegated.

There is always going to be some doubt about the effect that a new face could have had back in November or December, but we will never know.

Clearly, however, at this point in time, and in this division, Parkinson is up to the job that is required. The real test will come when we have a bad spell, but he has showed with Colchester that he can be a winner at this level.

In a strange way, assuming that this season continues with us winning game after game it will ultimately have been a very rewarding experience for the fans; we will have reduced our cost base in a way that we wouldn't have done if we'd avoided relegation; and many of the younger players will have picked up some experience that they mightn't have done in the division above.

However, at no point last season did I believe that relegation had any positives for me, or the club. For that reason Parkinson failed to deliver. Irrespective as to what he inherited, he had just one goal - stay up. It would have been an irresponsible decision to appoint him in November (or December for that matter) on the basis that he was the best man to get us back up, as avoiding relegation was all that mattered.

Anyway, we are where we are, and irrespective as to the route we have taken to get here the manager (and the current playing staff) looks as good as we are going to need to win promotion. Doesn't mean to say we will go up, but if we keep hold of our midfield we are going to have a good run at it.

As for the strength in depth, I remember a couple of years ago Sky Sports started a trend that had every media outlet telling us that Aston Villa won the old First division Championship in 1981 and only used 14 players all season.

I know the modern game has changed, but I would be surprised if the current Third Division is much more advanced than the First Division of 1981. Granted we have some players that are more tenanted than others, and we wouldn’t want any of our main players out for a lengthy period of time, but for the odd knock or suspension we should be able to cover it, particularly if it’s not in one of the top of the table clashes. I wasn’t there on Saturday (Mrs’ friend’s wedding) but from what I’ve heard and read we would have won this game if you’d taken out any two of our eleven (as long as they were not both central defenders).

A central defender and a striker swap or two and I think we will have enough to ‘get us through’. That is the basis for which Parkinson must be judged now. I think he has some real stars in his squad when compared to who we will play each week, but you still have to win those games, and there have been many teams that have failed to do that. I’m more than happy to leave the past where it is. Parkinson has a clean slate and he has delivered in tough conditions over the summer. Two or three new acquisitions and he’ll have a genuine chance to make himself a hero at The Valley.


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