Friday, August 06, 2010

Bournemouth preview

Another season, and another opening day home fixture against a newly promoted side, the fourth in succession.

In a rather strange way (which might be deemed almost Calvinist), I have come to terms with our lowly existence and feel rather emboldened by it.

I thus find myself looking forward to tomorrow more than any of the previous three opening games, each of which I also managed to attend.

In 2007/8, the club was shellshocked by the disastrous events of the first post-Curbishley season, and the squad was a strange mix of ex-Premiership players on lofty wages, and a series of increasingly obscure new signings that generally failed. Hell, even Marcus Bent started that one.

In 2008/9, the club’s negative momentum from the second half of the previous season simply continued, although we eked out three points against an impressive-looking Swansea side on the day. Most fans weren't tricked however.

In 2009/10 meanwhile, the club was shellshocked again by its arrival in the third tier of English football for the first time in nearly 30 years, and another round of ‘rebuilding under duress’ was ongoing, with Phil Parkinson ultimately unable to keep the team’s early form going.

This season however, the squad and the club has seemingly found a degree of calm and balance again, albeit at a lower level than most fans would have liked.

When Nicky Bailey’s penalty soared over the bar in May, few Charlton fans would have predicted the sheer scale of restructuring that has been undertaken.

Difficult but necessary decisions have been made, some of which sadly impacted upon many non-playing members of staff who were blameless for the situation that has forced them to leave.

The longest serving player at the club is now Kelly Youga, whilst only five of the current squad played any part in the first 2007/8 season described above (Youga, Elliot, Semedo, Racon, Wagstaff).

The rebuilding process is far from complete (the squad is still wafer thin), but one can now state with confidence that every member of the squad is happy to be at the club, does not harbour realistic near-term ambitions to play at a higher level, and whose individual share of the rapidly shrinking payroll does not harbour resentment.

The recent Richard Murray news meanwhile is unquestionably positive too, although hopefully merely the first step towards not only financial stability, but true investment again.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of course, but the club’s work on the playing side in the summer appears eminently sensible and understandably conservative.

It is telling that the only signing that might reasonably be termed a gamble was the most recent acquisition of Rory Worner (and if it fails, it’ll be a less damaging gamble than the likes of McLeod, Varney or Moutaouakil were).

Somewhat less logical has been the use of trialists, with considerable playing time given to a number of them, yet none have been offered a contract to date.

Obviously the mere concept of a ‘trial’ implies some outcome uncertainty, but a zero strike rate is not a ringing endorsement of the scouting network.

Although there is always a team or two that surprises to the upside (last season it was Swindon), League One has a rather predictable Premiership-esque feel to it without a ball even being kicked.

This is dangerous talk of course but I just can’t see beyond what I would term the division’s 'big six' (Southampton, Charlton, Huddersfield, Peterborough, Plymouth, Sheff Weds).

Southampton’s virtues are obvious based upon their freescoring and ultimately brave attempt to reach the play-offs last season, despite a 10-point deficit.

However I would not underestimate the potential impatience of their supporters if things do not go to plan, whilst Alan Pardew’s ego can easily stifle their true potential if their Board give him as much freedom as ours did.

Huddersfield are well-supported and finished the season strongly, before their own semi-final heartbreak.

Lee Clark is unproven still, but they are financially strong and have signed an octet of experienced-looking players (eg. Gary Naysmith, Ian Bennett, Lee Croft).

Peterborough were canny enough to make up for their absurd sacking of Darren Ferguson early last season, to snap up ex-Bristol City boss Gary Johnson.

The Posh have proven goalscorers in Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith, whilst they have kept hold of star midfielder (and one-time Addicks reject), George Boyd.

Plymouth may well be the one that is most likely to surprise to the downside in my view, although with Peter Reid at the helm they will not lack for motivation. They will rely on the goals of Rory Fallon, fresh from his New Zealand side’s unbeaten World Cup.

Finally Sheffield Wednesday may have well-publicised financial problems, but they have an experienced-looking squad and an impressive manager in Alan Irvine.

The large stadium and crowd potential is a two-edged sword (as the likes of Southampton and Charlton will be aware), but they spent two seasons at this level from 2003-2005 and will not feel the same sense of entitlement that others like Leeds might have felt for a while.

Elsewhere some pundits have pointed to the likes of Brighton and Notts County as having the potential to be a surprise package, but I’m struggling to see beyond the aforementioned ‘big six’.

Swindon will pack less of a punch for example without Billy Paynter and some of last season’s loan starlets.

Although there may well be some last-minute selection surprises (Bally Smart is a headline writers dream if nothing else), I think Parkinson will look to unpick the Cherries as follows: Elliot, Solly, Jackson, Dailly, Doherty, Wagstaff, Reid, Semedo, Racon, Sodje, Abbott.Subs:Worner, Fry, McCormack, Smart, Mambo, Tuna, Francis.

As part of my Chicago Marathon fundraising, during the course of the season I’m going to emulate Derek Hales and put on my own £10 bet with any winnings going to London’s Air Ambulance.

NY Addick bets: £5 Charlton to win 1-0 (at 13/2)
NY Addick bets: £5 on 1st goal occurring later than the 61st minute (at 5/1)


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