Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bees Knees

No-one sensible leaves Charlton matches early to beat the traffic.

If games only lasted 85 minutes, the Addicks would have drawn with both Notts County and MK Dons, and earned a valuable point at Exeter.

Early leavers meanwhile would have missed a two goal finish at home to Dagenham, as well as Chris Solly's smart late finish at Leyton Orient.

Margins are extremely thin in football, and it's worth acknowledging the degree of fortune involved (not merely Jonathan).

There was no lack of commitment on show on Tuesday night, but once again a discernible and (more importantly) repeatable game plan was not obviously in evidence.

If this season was to fizzle out due to our inability to find a degree of consistency, it would be enormously frustrating given the opportunity that this season's medicore League One presents us.

It's worthwhile noting that Norwich City had just 9 points from their first 9 games last season, yet embarked immediately thereafter upon a run which saw them generate an amazing 86 points from just 37 matches.

When I suggested in my last post that it wasn't clear that Parky was adding much value over and above what might reasonably be expected from our current crop of players, the same accusation could certainly not be levelled at Paul Lambert last season.

The Canaries side that he took over had lost to his former side Colchester 7-1 on the opening day, and appeared to be on the brink of meltdown yet he turned it around.

In fairness he probably inherited a more talented squad than Parky currently enjoys, albeit one temporarily lacking any semblance of organisation at the time.

Brighton are the early pace-setters, but I am not yet convinced that Gus Poyet is top management material. The lack of atmosphere at their home matches meanwhile may begin to work against them eventually.

Colchester are quietly unbeaten under new boss John Ward, whilst Bournemouth continue their remarkable story under young Eddie Howe. Either may conceivably be the dark horse of the division based on evidence so far, and cannot be underestimated.

Elsewhere it's hard to see the likes of Carlisle and Rochdale having the depth of squad to maintain their momentum, which leaves the likes of Peterborough and Huddersfield as the other sides that we need to forge ahead of for now.

One imagines that Southampton will eventually find some form, but after just nine games their pre-season hot favourites tag is already looking somewhat absurd.

In short, the division is there for the taking if only Charlton can find those small improvements that we've been promised by virtue of us having a 'new team'.

That excuse will fade over time (if it hasn't already done so), which leaves me setting Parky high expectations because I believe strongly that we have enough to compete for an automatic promotion place.

Anything less will represent failure, although worryingly I'm not hugely confident that I won't be left disappointed.

Brentford is nearer to my house than The Valley, but I'll be giving the game a miss as I'm off to the US again on Sunday for a nine-day trip that will culminate in the Chicago Marathon next weekend.

Parky may welcome back Christian Dailly on Saturday, which if true presents him with a real (and positive) selection dilemma given that Gary Doherty is the only all-present so far, and that Jonathan Fortune acquitted himself so well on Tuesday. There seems no reason to rush the Scot back.

Kyel Reid must surely start if fit, which presents a further dilemma since Matt Fry was exceptional at left-back and must start there ahead of Johnnie Jackson.

The Martin/Benson strikeforce misfired somewhat on Tuesday until the Ipswich man moved into midfield, so Joe Anyinsah may start again with Martin pushed to right midfield ahead of the inconsistent Scott Wagstaff.

I expect us to line up as follows: Worner, Francis, Fry, Doherty, Fortune, Semedo, Racon, Reid, Martin, Benson, Anyinsah. Subs: Daniels, Llera, Jackson, Stavrinou, Sodje, Abbott, Wagstaff.

Brentford are surprisingly bottom of League One despite showing a glimpse of their potential in the Carling Cup, but their squad has a distinct ex-Addicks feel thanks to Nicky Forster, Charlie McDonald, and Myles Weston. With all due respect to that trio, we should hardly be quaking in our boots.

For my charity bet, I noticed that Jon Fortune is one of the obvious targets at set pieces so 12/1 to score anytime seems pretty generous.

Meanwhile if Benson's late contribution has lifted confidence, then this might be the type of fixture which sees the Addicks secure its second away win by more than one goal.

NY Addick bets £5 on Jon Fortune to score at anytime (at 12/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on Charlton to win (with -1 handicap) (at 5/1)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dons Key OT

As the second half of last night's match drifted towards what seemed an inevitable conclusion, I began to plan what I'd hoped would be a witty post-match blog post.

When Paul Benson completes a mortgage application and is asked for his job function, I speculated that he would put 'link-up man' not 'out-and-out goalscorer'.

Unfortunately this is almost certainly what Pawel Abbott would write too, which made me wonder why Parky had chased Benson for weeks, when we had a perfectly good one already at the club.

But then as the game headed towards overtime, he found the key to unlock the Dons and scored a classic poachers goal, utterly ruining my plan (not that I wasn't pleased for him and the team of course).

Until the goal, I had also worked out that I was the last striker to score a goal at the Covered End, thanks to my near-post finish during May's Football Aid match.

And of course, Benson went and ruined that stat too although he did secure another £60 for my chosen charity.

It was the third win of the season making for a tidy return so far on funds invested of 33% in just six weeks. Compare that to your average high street deposit rate, and it's tax free.

I had watched the game from midway down the lower tier, a vantage point which offered a fresh perspective.

It made me realise just how little time players have on the ball which, given the technical deficiencies at this level, probably explains why so many League One matches are such awful spectacles.

The non-League football I've been watching recently is considerably more entertaining because the players are not fit enough to close down space as energetically, thus providing more time.

Admittedly given that Charlton's inspirational game plan under Parky might be summarised neatly as "get the ball forward quickly and try to keep hold of it if at all possible", it didn't help that MK Dons boss Karl Robinson seemed to have attended the same coaching courses.

With a bit of luck (or at least defensive concentration), we could have nicked six points from the past two games, but I can't help thinking that the management team are not 'adding value' right now over and above what might reasonably be expected on a sum-of-the-parts basis.

The team lacks spark and imagination, but thanks to (still) having one of the larger payrolls in the division, there is enough quality available to put is in 7th place after nine games, a satisfactory return but no more. We may have to settle for 'satisfactory'.

Parky handed a first start to Jon Fortune who moved effortlessly into central defence, further evidence perhaps of just how poor the quality is in League One given how little football he has played.

Matt Fry was asked to occupy Johnnie Jackson's left-back berth, and looked every inch a Premiership player in waiting.

It's just a shame that the two of the most determined and classy players on the pitch (Fry and Lee Martin) are precisely the pair that will never be permanent Addick players.

However the flipside of that frustration is the fact that this is certainly not always something you've been able to say about our previous loan players.

Jose Semedo did what he did best in midfield, breaking up play, keeping the ball moving and even popping up in scoring positions on two occasions.

Therry Racon won plaudits for an energetic performance, but where others see a midfield engine, unfortunately I see a headless chicken (or poulet sans tete as they say in France).

Rarely if ever does he pause to reflect and change the pace of play, but again I feel the whole Parkinson project is overwhelmingly based upon energy not contemplation.

The same criticism could be levelled at Martin, particularly in attacking positions.

Both Martin and Racon could learn from the late cameo role executed by Kyel Reid, particularly the way he slows down the play when required to maintain possession and allow others to provide support.

However when the play leading to the goal begged for an early cross, he delivered it in spectacular style.

I was unaware of Reid's minor injury, else it would have been senseless to have left him on the bench in favour of either Wagstaff or Jackson. It would be like dating Gemma Arterton then dumping her for Anne Widdecombe.

Here are my match ratings:

Worner 6 - continues the recent theme of talented goalkeepers who are too small to ever be top class; had little to do

Francis 6 - defensively very solid but embarrassingly poor going forward; however the back four last night comprising four strapping six-footers looked the real deal

Fry 8 - outstanding throughout; everything one could hope for from a loan player

Doherty 7 - always in control; looked more comfortable knowing Fortune's pace could get him out of trouble (not something one can say about Llera)

Fortune 7 - could have smoked a cigar and read a book, and still not have been troubled

Semedo 8 - I was ready to suggest that his position might come under threat, but his value to the team was clear throughout

Racon 6 - unless there is some end product from all the frantic running around, then I don't see what he adds I'm afraid

Wagstaff 4 - he is anonymous far too often; take away his valuable goal contributions and he'd be on the first bus to Gillingham on loan

Jackson 6 - more involved than Wagstaff and typically maintains possession, but a woeful lack of mobility

Benson 7 - you could see what he was trying to do whenever he got the ball, even if he didn't always pull it off; a terrific finish for his goal

Martin 6 - needs to play with his head up more often; rarely linked up with Benson and looks more comfortable out wide


Reid 8 - the best player in the side, period; could we turn down a reasonable January bid? I daren't even think about it

Abbott 6 - too similar to Benson to play alongside him which begs a question

Friday, September 24, 2010

No Place Like Home

All being well, I will land back at Heathrow on Saturday morning after a busy week in New York.

Although the weather here has been variously described as 'glorious' (sunny, mid-80s), it has left me cowering in the shade panting like a overheated dog.

I'm not a hot weather person, and it reminded me just how little I have missed it since moving home. I consider the UK's mild weather to be its most underrated virtue.

I've been known to drive as far as Sheffield to watch the Addicks straight after landing back from a US trip, but I will be sensible this time and give the Daggers game a miss although I have a ticket for Tuesday night.

Instead if I have enough energy, I'm going to get an early taste of FA Cup action when my newly adopted non-League side Chesham United take on local rivals Wealdstone.

Just three wins separate The Generals from a potential dream tie (for me at least) against Charlton. It's humbling to note that Chesham play at the same level of the pyramid as Northwich Victoria (our nemesis last season).

Events at The Valley will mark the 25th anniversary of our temporary departure from what was then our enormous (indeed the country's biggest), but decrepit ground.

I attended the Crystal Palace game at which the departure was announced, the final Stoke game and the first game at Selhurst Park against Sunderland.

At just 12-years old, I was probably too young to appreciate the implications of what was going on.

However looking back, rather than wallow in sad nostalgia it's better surely to ask what might have happened to the club had we stayed at The Valley.

It's difficult to say of course but the club needed to hit rock bottom (off the pitch at least) in order for so many who held it dear to find the spirit to lift it back up again.

On the pitch however, there was a five-year miracle going on thanks to the incredible job that tomorrow's special guest Lennie Lawrence did. His contribution to the club's recovery was as important as anyone's during the past 25 years.

The Valley looks resplendent today when compared to those photos from 1985, but now it is on-pitch matters that have hit a low point, the team lying 54th in the domestic League hierarchy.

Our season is tantalisingly poised, easily able to spring in either direction in the space of just the next four days.

Two perfectly achievable home wins would give us 17 points from 9 games, probably automatic promotion form.

With plenty of potential for improvement, this would represent a most satisfactory start especially given the mediocrity of much of our play thus far.

I argued last week that Parky just needed to find an extra 10% from his side to be realistic promotion contenders, based upon his League One win ratio of 50%.

In the same post I made all of the predictable tactical adjustments that any fan could, but I stopped short of suggesting that the answer lay in good old-fashioned coaching and organisation.

Unlike numerous players who came and went under Curbishley, it's difficult so far (admittedly in only two years) to think of many of Parky's team that have categorically improved under his stewardship.

In addition to ongoing frustration about the rather unimaginative direct style in which the team plays, this remains a concern. As stated ad infinitum, the team spirit is not in question.

Those that attended the paintball tie against Dagenham were most uncomplimentary about the Essex side's quality, which rather begs the question why we only won 1-0.

With just local rivals Leyton Orient below them in the table, this really is a fixture that the Addicks have to win, and ideally to do so in some style with strikers scoring for once.

MK Dons will likely represent a more challenging task, their season off to a good start under young boss Karl Robinson, assisted by player coach, Dietmar Hamann.

Most of the best work has been done at their impressive stadium however, and defeats on the road at Carlisle and Brighton provide the Addicks with a benchmark.

Parky continues to have considerable team selection dilemmas in all areas, from goalkeeper to striker.

He will likely opt for the more experienced Luke Daniels between the sticks, whilst I would expect Matt Fry to return for the gaffe-prone Miguel Llera.

Scott Wagstaff continues to offer a goal threat (just as he did last season), but his all-round game remains a work-in-progress.

Kyel Reid was surprisingly dropped on Saturday, especially so given he regularly gives the impression of being far too good for this division.

Indeed with the woeful lack of creativity in central midfield, it is hard to believe that our best hopes do not rest upon both Reid and Lee Martin starting most matches (which of course likely means Wagstaff must again begin on the bench).

Speaking of central midfield, Racon will probably get the nod again ahead of McCormack although going forward I would not consider the popular Semedo's place to be sacrosanct given his solid, but ultimately limited approach.

Paul Benson needs to end his goal drought fast, else Parky must surely face the prospect of dropping his star signing to the bench in order to give the likes of Anyinsah and Sodje their own chances to find the elusive net.

For my charity bets, I'm going to back Benson to get off the mark with aplomb against his old club, whilst I fancy an edgy 1-0 win for the Addicks against MK Dons.

NY Addick bets £10 on Paul Benson to score 2 or more (at 5/1)
NY Addick bets £10 on Charlton 1-0 MK Dons (at 6/1)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mere Mortals

At this stage last season, the Addicks had already accumulated 18 points, yet last Saturday's rather fortuitous win has left us on a mere 10 this time around.

They say the sign of a good side is winning without playing well (not true of course), and whilst we can thus take comfort from our position tucked in behind the League One leaders, the expected bedding down time for our new-look side is taking as long as we feared.

Indeed those six consecutive wins last season remind us that current leaders Peterborough would have been a half-dozen points adrift behind ourselves and Leeds, suggesting that there is already evidence that the division will be highly competitive.

Our fixtures so far might have appeared quite straightforward on paper, but four of the six are sitting in the top half, whilst hot pre-season favourites Southampton languish somewhat amazingly in 22nd place.

In short, if there is plenty of improvement to come from Phil Parkinson's side (and frankly there needs to be), then the potential rewards are enormous because early evidence suggests that considerably less than 86 points might be required for automatic promotion.

If one is willing (somewhat generously) to file Parky's 28 games in season 2008/9 under 'Pardew's legacy' then his League One record is 26 wins from 52 games, a nice clean win ratio of 50%.

Something slightly better (closer to 55%) is usually required to virtually guarantee automatic promotion, so we are probably not too far away with the big if being if he can eke out that 10% of improvement.

Where might that 10% come from? Early indications suggest that a Semedo/McCormack midfield partnership has too much brawn and not enough brain, whilst the lack of goals from Abbott and Benson will begin to become critical if not swiftly solved.

The injury to Rob Elliot is most untimely, and as already indicated and expected, it is too much to expect Ross Worner to fill his gloves for the busy period ahead.

I sense that we are yet to see the best of Lee Martin, and his ultimate role may well be as a deep-lying striker, taking some of the creative burden away from the aforementioned midfield, whilst providing Benson with more service facing the goal.

Defensively we look in reasonable shape, although neither full-back has given the wingers much support, although this may be by design.

Prenton Park was the scene of one of the team's outstanding early-season performances in 2009/10, and their season is already suggesting it will be another relegation scrap.

Interestingly their solitary win came against leaders Peterborough, but with 32 goals conceded at home last season (the 2nd worst in the division), this is the type of fixture that the Addicks need to win to demonstrate promotion credentials.

Manager Les Parry (like new Saints boss Nigel Adkins) was a former club physio, whilst he is surely the only League manager with a PhD.

I'm reassured to find managers gradually being recruited from outside the traditional route of ex-pros. As the saying goes, " don't have to have been a horse to know how to ride one..".

Try telling Jose Mourinho or Gerard Houllier that they're missing some unique insights by virtue of not having played the game. Indeed the opposite is most likely true, namely a fresh perspective not warped by the game's introversion.

Whilst the game is taking place, I'll be making my sixth trip of the year to New York, but will look forward to receiving news of what will hopefully be an important three points upon landing.

For my charity bet, as discussed above I fancy Lee Martin may be asked to play a more attacking free role, and if true then the 11/4 odds on him scoring any time represent good value.

NY Addick bets £10 on Lee Martin to score anytime (at 11/4)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Forget Me Notts

During the mid-1990s, the country's oldest professional club were regular opponents for the Addicks, but this will be the first competitive fixture for over fifteen years.

Clashes between the sides usually promised goals, with the last four encounters showcasing 19 goals alone, including two 3-3 draws at Meadow Lane and a 5-1 home win at The Valley.

The teams are equal on seven points, but the visitors have the momentum following two consecutive wins compared to two disappointing away defeats for the Addicks.

County managed to finish last season in style, putting the embarrassing Eriksson/Campbell charade behind them to lift the League Two title under Steve Cotterill.

The much-travelled manager was strangely tempted by the Pompey challenge, opening the way for Craig Short to take on his second managerial role, after.....Ferencvaros naturally.

Charlton's impressive start to the season is already a somewhat distant memory, and with the squad now beginning to display some depth, it's time for Phil Parkinson to repay the faith so publicly shown in him by Richard Murray.

The spirit in the team is not in doubt, but much of our football is rather uninspiring, overemphasising endeavour in favour of patient quality.

Questions are already being asked about the similarity of Semedo and McCormack in midfield, whilst the enforced absence of Christian Dailly provides an early and unwanted defensive headache (quite literally in his case).

Paul Benson will no doubt relish his home League debut, and a goal will calm his nerves because plenty of hopes rest upon his shoulders.

I suggested in the summer that persevering with Parky would be to tolerate mediocrity, which may have been harsh given the difficult circumstances within which he has worked so far.

However the squad now firmly has his stamp on it, and whilst financial constraints have again played a part in its formation, there should be plenty enough to work with to be highly competitive in this division.

Miguel Llera's late mishap against Exeter may cost him his place, with Matt Fry the obvious replacement with Johnny Jackson returning at left-back.

Scott Wagstaff was perhaps unlucky to start the last game on the bench, but it is likely that Lee Martin will again start on the right, unless Parky is comfortable pairing Benson with Martin rather than Abbott.

I expect us to line up as follows: Elliott, Francis, Jackson, Fry, Doherty, Semedo, McCormack, Reid, Martin, Abbott, Benson. Subs: Worner, Llera, Solly, Wagstaff, Racon, Sodje, Anyinsah.

Charlton don't scream value at 10/11, but with the fixture having its fair share of goals in the past, I'll opt for the same again this time.

NY Addick bets £5 on 2-2 correct score (at 16/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on four total match goals (at 5/1)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Grecian 2010

Exeter would hardly be considered a hotbed of sport, but with its rugby team (Exeter Chiefs) enjoying promotion to the Guinness Premiership, the local football team has temporarily lost bragging rights.

The Grecians maintained their belief in passing football under young snappily-dressed manager Paul Tisdale last season, and were rewarded with survival by just a point.

Defeated just four times at home however, they also notably conceded fewer goals on their patch than runaway champions Norwich. This is anything but a straightforward looking game for the Addicks.

However, Exeter’s season has begun disappointingly suggesting another relegation battle beckons. Respectable draws against Colchester and Bristol Rovers, were followed by a 3-0 thumping at Leyton Orient.

Admittedly short-term results were put in perspective by the tragic death of striker Adam Stansfield last month, and his no.9 shirt has been retired for nine seasons as a mark of respect.

After a pair of disappointing League One performances themselves, Charlton risk having a third consecutive game without a win. This would hardly be a disaster of course, but this did not occur last season until December 28th (after an away draw at Brentford).

As promised by Richard Murray, the club brought in three players in the exact positions Parky was seeking additional cover. The most important addition will hopefully turn out to be Paul Benson, on whose shoulders now rests the responsibility of scoring the goals that we are presently lacking.

With Pawel Abbott’s role as the link-up man crucial to the fairly direct way that the gaffer likes us to play, the arrival of Benson surely signals that a true 4-4-2 beckons (as opposed to the 4-4-1-1 that has previously seen Lee Martin utilised ‘in the hole’).

Despite two goals so far this season, Scott Wagstaff’s position appears under grave threat with the generally impressive Martin unlikely to be dropped to the bench to accommodate Benson. Indeed, Martin occupied the right wing in Tuesday’s nights paintball win over Dagenham.

However Parky has waxed lyrical in the past about Wagstaff’s athleticism, a trait he may favour on the road for now with Martin ready to be utilised as (in some cases a very early) substitute.

Christian Dailly is extremely doubtful, which likely implies another chance for Miguel Llera and a benchwarming seat for new old boy Jon Fortune.

Elsewhere, Matt Fry’s outstanding but meaningless goal at Huddersfield will have furthered his claims for a starting berth, with current incumbent left-back Johnny Jackson’s performances rather flattering to deceive.

Therry Racon’s rare midweek goal will have improved his claims, but Parky will prefer the solidity of Semedo alongside McCormack for now, especially away from home.

Rob Elliott will undergo a late fitness test meanwhile, with Ross Worner having been thrown in to the fray considerably earlier than the club surely would have liked.

Indeed, if Elliott’s back problems continue one would imagine the club would utilise the ‘emergency loan’ market rather than somewhat unfairly expecting Worner to be ready for such regular action.

I expect us to line up as follows: Elliott, Francis, Jackson, Llera, Doherty, Semedo, McCormack, Reid, Wagstaff, Abbott, Benson. Subs: Worner, Fry, Fortune, Anyinsah, Martin, Sodje, Solly.

This is the type of fixture that the Addicks really need to be winning regularly if automatic promotion is going to be a realistic prospect, and indeed last season we did a pretty good job of ticking off the away wins at League One’s less glamorous locations.

However for my charity bet, I’m going to favour the same 1-1 scoreline that we achieved last season.

NY Addick bets £10 on 1-1 correct score (at 6/1)