Sunday, October 31, 2010

Swindon Preview

The 'Parkinson Out' brigade have gone awfully quiet, and for once I can take some comfort for having not jumped aboard the bandwagon after the Brighton defeat.

We are only a point away from an automatic promotion place, but the extreme compression of the League (13 teams separated by just 4 points) implies that the margins between success and failure are wafer thin.

With an average of 1.57 points per game so far, we are only on course for 72 points which is the mark that Colchester achieved last season, effectively nine points from the play-offs if you add back Southampton's deduction.

The points total required for play-offs is likely to be somewhat lower this season but nonetheless, a dose of realism is as warranted in times of both optimism as well as pessimism.

Our four home wins this season have all been by a 1-0 scoreline, whilst the only game we won by more than a single goal (Leyton Orient away) was secured with an injury time Chris Solly breakaway.

In short it's right that some pressure has been removed from Parkinson's shoulders because it was ill-deserved, but consistency and gradual improvement is still required over the course of several months, not merely one week.

However if ever a solid 1-0 win was required it was on Saturday, when enormous confidence must have been generated from successfully holding onto that lead for 67 minutes, having conceded 7 goals in 2 games.

Phil Parkinson rightly acknowledged Scott Wagstaff's scoring record (11 goals from 28 starts), and it should be noted that just like Nicky Bailey before him, it's not as if he neglects his defensive responsibilities.

He is far from the finished product but it's always nice to see a youngster coming through the ranks, having patiently bided his time behind Lloyd Sam.

His body language does not suggest a hint of arrogance (unlike Shelvey's), which should bode well too.

The memories of the Swindon play-off tussle are still raw, but the Robins of Wiltshire had a fraction of our payroll budget last season yet finished just two points behind us.

I sense that it's sometimes forgotten that if Nicky Bailey had scored his penalty, it's not as if we'd have automatically gone on to win the shoot-out.

Instead we'd still have been merely a 50/50 chance just to reach Wembley where we'd face a confident Millwall side. It felt as if we were awfully close to promotion but in truth we were probably at best a 4/1 shot when Bailey stepped up.

Danny Wilson saw one half of his strikeforce (Billy Paynter) leave on a free to Leeds, leaving Charlie Austin with the responsibility of scoring goals (which to be fair he's still managed six times this campaign).

Charlton's two away wins this season have been full of drama, and it would be nice to see us gain three points on the road in 'normal' circumstances.

We have not won three on the spin since December 2009. On that occasion the Addicks extended it to four wins at Stockport, a result which put the Addicks six points clear of Norwich, an acute reminder that the season is a long one.

Given that the above mentioned Wagstaff has a scoring record of 11 in 28 starts, and given he is virtually assured to start on Tuesday, I'm tempted by the 10/3 available on him to score at anytime for my charity bet.

NY Addick bets £10 on Scott Wagstaff to score anytime (at 10/3)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Master Sheff

Although this fixture is probably about as glamorous as League One fixtures get, I'd not realised that the two sides actually hadn't met in the Premiership since 1998/99.

The Owls were relegated in season 1999/2000, so the Addicks leapfrogged them by winning Division One, and did not meet in League action again until meeting in the Championship in 2007/8.

To show how these things ebb and flow, it wasn't that long ago that a Kim Grant and Paul Mortimer-inspired cup win in 1996 earned Charlton the Sunday back page headlines as 'giant killers'.

This season represents Wednesday's second visit to the third tier of English football since the aforementioned exit from the Premiership, a worrying indication of just how difficult it is to return even to Championship-level stability despite impressive support (which has only once dipped below an average of 20,000 in the past two decades).

Wednesday did well to capture Alan Irvine after Burnley strangely opted for their former player Brian Laws during the middle of last season.

Irvine had been sacked by Preston despite a solid record, and although he could not save the Owls from relegation, they have made an impressive start to this campaign, built mainly upon a tight defence (just eight goals conceded).

Tight defence is definitely not a trait that Charlton can claim, their 20 goals against ensuring a negative goal difference and worse defensive record than Leyton Orient in 21st place.

On a related point meanwhile, statistical junkies like me however will have gladly noted the curious fact meanwhile that Charlton and Exeter share identical League records (P13 W5 D4 L4 F18 A20).

Paul Benson's brilliant late header at Carlisle may well have saved his manager's job, although his sudden bout of goalscoring form has at least removed another form of pressure, namely from those questioning the worth of the ex-Dagenham man.

Five goals in five games is a terrific recent return, and it's just as important to note that his perfectly timed goals in the 86th, 90th and 90th minutes respectively have earned the Addicks five vital points too.

Strip those away, and we'd be sitting a point above the relegation zone.

I'm particularly encouraged by the quality of the finishing, which all very clearly have the mark of a 'poacher's finish'.

Watch his 1st, 2nd and 4th goals carefully again and ask yourself whether any other player at the club would have scored them (or indeed any we've had for several seasons).

His partnership with Joe Anyinsah reportedly showed plenty of promise on Saturday and the pair are bound to start again, whilst no doubt hoping any productivity is not ruined by defensive calamity behind them.

It's difficult to pinpoint why a relatively robust defence has suddenly leaked nine goals in three games. Rob Elliot has come in for some blame, rightly or wrongly.

Like any keeper at this level he has some drawbacks but he will continue to improve. However he would surely benefit from more robust competition than the inexperienced Ross Worner can offer from the bench.

Elliot's opposite number will likely be ex-Addick Nicky Weaver, with whom he shares some considerable facial similarity, as well as a penchant for the odd pie it seems.

Apparently it's Phil Parkinson's 100th game in charge (I can only count 96 so far but anyhow). Either way, he's only won 36 of them in League and Cups which isn't really worth shouting about given the opposition he has been facing.

There are unconfirmed rumours circling that another potential takeover of the club may be imminent, but we've been here before so I'll save myself the excitement.

For my charity bet I'm tempted by the 7/1 available on Joe Anyinsah to open the scoring, whilst for the hell of it I'll find a random long-priced bet which might just pay off.

NY Addick bets £5 on Joe Anyinsah to score first (at 7/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on Charlton to win second half 3-1 (at 50/1)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Phil Ender Carlisle?

Carlisle has been the scene of memorable moments in our history; tomorrow's events are more mundane but important nonetheless.

Last season we were well-beaten in Cumbria, and the defeat was a sharp reality check from which we never returned to the form that had seen us arrive with 29 points from 14 games.

Saturday's humiliation at the hands of a well-drilled and confident Brighton side felt like a watershed moment from which Parky might not recover. The question may simply be the amount of time he's allowed on life support before Murray switches it off.

Unlike Pardew, most are inclined to like the present incumbent on a personal level, which is probably why the dominant emotion this week amongst fans has been frustration not vitriol.

Frustration at the lack of tactical imagination. Frustration at the time taken for new signings to gel. Frustration that we are 58th in the League pyramid despite facing challenges that were tough, but hardly insurmountable.

Fans are fickle however which is why my previous post tried to inject a dose of realism into events.

A win tomorrow would put us on 19 points after 13 games, and all would feel relatively good again even if we won't exactly be dancing in the streets.

I'm conscious that this season is already having worrying parallels with 2008/9.

The previous season had seen us come out of the blocks flying, but after Xmas the momentum stalled amidst a flawed experiment with loan signings.

Just like 2009/10 in other words although Parky's side clung on to a play-off spot, albeit in a lower division.

Meanwhile whilst season 2008/9 was a disaster, early signs were not so ominous. A televised thumping of Reading was one of the best performances in recent memory.

By the same stage of this season (ie.12 games), the Addicks had 13 points, only three less than this season. The season did not yet threaten to be the utter embarassment that it ultimately transpired to be.

Pardew was given six more games before the reins were handed to Parky, and whilst most were happy to see the back of the egotist, his successor managed just 4 more wins alll season.

Most would agree that Richard Murray will give Parky at least until Xmas to turn things around, but as 2008/9 proved, the degree of negative compounding can be quite devastating.

In other words, I'd be inclined to think that if dismissal is in Murray's mind, it is better to either do it now or make a decision to give Parky at least the rest of this season (and perhaps even publicly state as much to stop the speculation).

I'm reasonably confident we are not relegation fodder with the current set-up, but a rash decision after say the next quartet of difficult games may have unintended consequences.

Likewise I'm confident Pardew would have kept us up in 2008/9, even though the correct decision in the summer would still have been dismissal.

The desire to get promotion this season is no less deperate than it was that season, with the parachute payments set to expire.

However there's a difference between desire and 'entitlement', and it's worth acknowledging the difference between the two lest we make more poorly-timed decisions and ill-considered appointments.

I had a drink with a fellow fan on Monday and we debated the rather daft notion espoused by Murray, that the club 'cannot' be profitable in League One.

The running costs of The Valley may indeed be higher than many peers, but surely no more than the likes of Southampton, Huddersfield, Sheff Weds and MK Dons.

The flipside of a large stadium of course is that you have plenty of seats to put bums on. Our average attendance of 15,404 is higher than the entire capacity of 14 of League One's stadia.

With substantial matchday revenue and other revenue sources that most clubs at this level are not able to generate (hospitality, banqueting etc.), there must be still more fat to be trimmed that could make us at least viable in League One (please Lord, let someone take Racon off our hands in January).

As if merely to emphasise how fine the margins are, an unexpected Addicks win tomorrow would draw us level with our hosts who currently sit in a play-off place, just three further points behind the Posh in 2nd.

A quick look over our shoulder meanwhile reminds us that no teams are cut adrift like Stockport were last season, and with four teams relegated to League Two the safety net may be set a little higher to avoid that particular catastrophic outcome.

Carlisle have relied upon the six goals of giant striker Gary Madine, although the threat of prison after pleading guilty to ABH hangs over the front man. Meanwhile ex-Charlton keeper Tony Caig will probably start on the bench.

Parky has hinted at changes on Saturday, voluntary as well as enforced. I would expect him to deploy a damage limitation approach, happy to play for a point or steal three if the chance arises.

He will be inclined to return Christian Dailly to central defence, although Madine's sheer presence may be better matched by Gary Doherty or even Miguel Llera, implying a possible return to the bench for Jon Fortune.

Johnnie Jackson is the most obvious replacement for Kyel Reid on the left flank, whilst Scott Wagstaff's all-round athleticism may be preferred to Lee Martin, whose impact may best be provided as a substitute.

Alan McCormack's more muscular approach may be preferred alongside Semedo, although frankly none of the limited options in central midfield fill one with much optimism. Later in the season I fancy Alex Stavrinou may have a role to play.

I'd expect Parky to want to see a target man alongside Paul Benson, with Abbott likely to be preferred although it's the type of game Akpo Sodje might relish.

When all is said and done, I not very confidently predict us to line up as follows: Elliot, Francis, Fry, Dailly, Doherty, Jackson, Wagstaff, McCormack, Semedo, Abbott, Benson. Subs: Worner, Fortune, Llera, Racon, Martin, Anyinsah, Sodje.

The negativity surrounding Charlton is not reflected in the odds, with the Addicks only a best-priced 5/2 to pick up a vital three points.

However as discussed above, I fancy Parky to approach the game with a point in mind and I think he might just get it, the home side to forge ahead but late changes to carve out a vital equalizer.

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Parkinson's Disease

The knives are out for Phil Parkinson in a big way, and the sudden change in sentiment is really quite remarkable.

Unfortunately his team's timing could not have been worse.

Firstly he infuriates the most loyal of all (the fans that travel away), by sending out a team to be humiliated at Brentford, in front of a sizeable travelling support.

Then just two weeks later, his side are thumped 4-0 in front of the largest home crowd of the season, boosted by 3,000+ gloating Seagulls.

Before these two performances, about half the Addicks support were fond of Parky's honest approach, and were willing to acknowledge he had been forced to work in challenging circumstances for almost all of his two years at the helm.

The other half (which included me) also acknowledged the honesty, but could not see the value he added in terms of tactics, coaching and ideas.

Barring an extraordinary run of form on the pitch (which frankly has never looked likely), he was unlikely to ever be fully accepted by the faithful because of the unusual context in which he came into the role.

Brought in as the no.2 to the disastrous Pardew regime, he then embarked on an eight-match winless streak as caretaker boss, yet was still handed the role nonetheless.

Seen in this way, perhaps the speed with which sentiment has turned is not that remarkable after all?

I feel quite strongly that any talk of sacking him (or expecting him to resign) is rather pointless.

One has to ask too whether the clamour for his removal would have quite so strong had we 'only' lost 2-0 to Brighton. If not, then it seems rather daft to go through a managerial overhaul for the sake of two sloppy meaningless goals.

More worryingly by all accounts we were comprehensively outplayed by a side inspired to pursue a pure form of the passing game by Gus Poyet.

They're top of the table for a reason, although it's entirely reasonable to suggest that their resources are probably less than our own.

It's very possible that Gus Poyet is an outstanding manager in the making (as are numerous others dotted around the leagues), but the time to have appointed his ilk was two years ago. It's too late to be regretful now.

I guess that is really the saddest thing about our plight, a plight which could look very much worse after the next four difficult looking games (bottom three anyone?).

There were a number of potentially very interesting managers who would have come from outside and shaken the club up, but instead we opted for the lowest-risk option.

My biggest frustration with Parky frankly is the apparent lack of any overriding footballing philosophy.

Admittedly I've probably only seen a dozen or so games under this stewardship, but I honestly have no idea what style we play.

I thought it was 'high tempo', but I'm really not too sure because the likes of Reid, Martin, Racon and Wagstaff would be far better-suited to a slower game.

If we are a passing side then we utilise the long ball too often, whilst the midfield blend is all wrong.

In all seriousness, it may be an opportune time via the website for Parky to take the time to explain exactly how he is trying to build a promotion side this season.

That must be the nice thing about being a Brighton fan right now. Even when the team loses (which it will soon no doubt), at least they can walk away from the stadium saying "Well, you could see what we were trying to do."

If one believes that Parky is ultimately not adding much value over and above what would reasonably be expected from his playing squad, then the question becomes, "Are the players good enough to earn promotion?"

I have tended to err on the side of 'yes', maybe because I wear rose-tinted glasses, but also because I genuinely believe it when I look at the players at his disposal.

If I'm right, then the case against Parky is really quite damning and becoming ever more so since the squad is now virtually entirely of his own making.

So why am I not yet calling for his head? Because I'm far from convinced that there is any realistic alternative that is both financially viable, and where the likelihood of success (ie. promotion within two seasons say) is virtually guaranteed to be higher.

Once again, I reiterate that the likes of Sean O'Driscoll, Gary Johnson, Nigel Adkins, Billy Davies and Steve Cotterill are no longer in our candidate universe, although each would have been firmly there two years ago.

We would be left with out-of-work managers demanding high wages (Sanchez, Ince, Hoddle etc.), or promising managers at smaller clubs where frankly their recruitment, assuming we could afford it, would be as much of a gamble as staying loyal to Parkinson is (eg. Tisdale, Howe etc.).

And can we please put to bed any talk of appointing the likes of Chris Powell or Paolo Di Canio? It'd be like emerging from the pain of a divorce, and trying to track down your sixth form sweetheart.

There's no denying that the past four seasons have been an unmitigated disaster, and the evidence is increasingly building that the entire success of the 1998-2007 period was down to just one man (who incidentally remains jobless!).

But before anyone else clamours on board the 'Parkinson Out' bandwagon, I ask you to consider just two quick questions.

Firstly, would the club currently be higher than 14th in League One if we'd stayed loyal to Iain Dowie throughout?

And secondly, would the club currently be higher than 14th in League One if we'd stayed loyal to Alan Pardew throughout?

I'm confident the answer to both would be 'yes' (particularly in the Dowie case), yet both sackings were entirely justified based upon the knowledge that fans are privy to. The easy decision is the sacking; the hard one is the new appointment.

Given the squad is now Parkinson's, any new manager would have to be materially better to justify such a decision.

After all we are already a quarter of the way through a season, where we may soon conclude that merely avoiding relegation is a short-term goal.

Don't get me wrong, I find Parkinson to be a most uninspiring manager but the club is 14th in League One for many reasons, most of which do not lie at his door.

Indeed at the time of his permanent appointment, I wrote: "Good luck Phil, you'll definitely need some", so horrified was I at the "..befuddlement that masquerades as calm decision-making by the club's Board."

Depressingly I think it's time to take some deep breaths and be realistic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brighton Rock

The biggest game of the season takes place in front of what should be the biggest crowd of the season, despite the silly restrictions on ticket sales imposed by the club.

Seagulls and Addicks are after all kindred spirits, bonded by a shared hatred of Crystal Palace.

I won’t be attending sadly having just been abroad for ten days, and instead will take my 3-year old to an exciting local FA Trophy tie.

It’s a good job I’m not going given that the Blackwall Tunnel is closed southbound, a very thoughtful decision given it’s only one of three crossings east of Tower Bridge.

Brighton were somewhat fancied by the bookies pre-season, but few would have expected them to be leading the way with an average of 2 points per game so far.

The rest of the League is wide open (also known as ‘mediocre’) with 18 teams separated by just six points.

As Chicago Addick pointed out, we are as close to Brighton at the top as we are to the relegation zone, and as ludicrous as it may sound, we must not be entirely complacent about not looking down as well as up.

It is noticeable, that we have played 5 of the bottom 6, and have only managed to beat one of them (Leyton Orient), whilst the bottom club (Brentford) embarrassed us for 45 minutes.

Indeed, when one considers that we have conversely only so far played 2 of the top 6, then one wonders whether our League position far from being a mild frustration (the consensus view), might actually be somewhat flattering given our fixtures so far. A scary thought, but not one I entirely discount.

Three points on Saturday would go a long way towards putting those fears to bed however, although it is worth recalling that other than last season’s runaway champions Norwich, Brighton were the last team to take three points away from The Valley which has become something of a fortress, albeit one defended at times by ill-equipped soldiers.

We will welcome back Radostin Kishishev tomorrow, a player who deserves a warm reception for his unstinting efforts during the Premiership years.

A classic Curbs signing, he was slow to settle in at right-back but was gradually turned in to a capable holding midfielder who understood his limitations and allowed others to play. Ah, I wonder whatever happened to good coaching?

His role was much like Jose Semedo’s in today’s lowly Charlton side, except the Portuguese doesn’t have the likes of Jensen and Parker around him.

Although Christian Dailly may well continue at right-back, before too long Parky will surely have to make a tough decision about which of his experienced trio of centre backs to leave out.

Jon Fortune is by far the most mobile, whilst Doherty is the most commanding in the air. Ultimately it may be a decision to be made depending upon the types of strikers they will face, with Doherty best suited to a physical target man yet both him and Dailly are easily turned by forwards with pace.

I had initially thought that Benson and Abbott were too similar to play well together up front, but Benson’s trio of goals suggests promisingly that he may well be the type of goal poacher we have sought for some considerable time. If so, then Abbott’s robust approach and clever link-up play may well ultimately be the perfect foil, and preferable to Anyinsah’s pace or Sodje’s raw physicality.

I’m surprised that Matt Fry has already returned to the substitute’s bench despite an outstanding performance at home to MK Dons. Not only is he a more than capable left-back (certainly more impressive for me than Jackson), but with Francis (or Dailly) occupying the other flank, we have an extremely tall back four that represents a massive set-piece presence in both boxes, especially when the likes of Semedo, Abbott and Benson are added to the mix.

Regardless of the style of play adopted either by Charlton or the opposition (and we’ve certainly not been mistaken for Brazil 1970), this is never a bad thing to have in League One.

Failure to beat the leaders on Saturday will take our record to just 2 wins from 10 League games, plainly unacceptable although for now we would continue to cling on to a spot just behind the play-offs earning Parky valuable breathing space to still turn things around.

Although my marathon is now mercifully finished, I will continue to make a charity bet, at least until year-end when I will likely draw a line underneath the fundraising which has already surpassed expectations.

I’m going to try something different this time, and risk a maximum of £12 on a spread bet believing this could be an exciting open game.

NY Addick sells time of 3rd match goal at 78 minutes for £1 per minute

Monday, October 11, 2010

Marathon Effort

However if there's one thing that winds me up when I tell someone I'm a runner, it's the inevitable question, "Have you ever done a marathon?" I haven't and don't intend to. (New York Addick, Nov 2009)

As the above quote emphasises, despite being a keen runner I'd tended to view the marathon as bordering on the dangerous, if not downright insane.

Running of the more genteel type (in distance terms, not speed) has long been my antidote for all sorts of stresses and ills, yet a marathon would appear merely to reinforce them (as ultimately it did).

However when the opportunity arose to run Chicago (one of the world's five 'majors'), I felt duty bound to tick the box marked 'done a marathon' and then swear never to be tempted again.

Assuming it would be the only one I'd do, I was glad it was in a foreign city where it was as much a journey of discovery as a run. Doing London has never really appealed.

Training was as much a mental challenge as a physical one, if not more.

Mileage targets outlined in training guides were elusive virtually from the off, and I didn't even have the seasonal winter excuse that London Marathon trainees can use.

Before long, suggested 'easy runs' became rest days and during the final four weeks, a series of pernicious injuries left me doing just a single long run per week, and nothing else.

The last of these was the Windsor Half Marathon on 26th Sep which I completed in 1.53 (26 minutes ahead of Princess Beatrice, effectively running in her Gran's back garden).

This suggested that 4 hours might be a realistic target for the full distance (for me, not Beatrice), so I set a 9-min mile goal which would still leave a six minute buffer for mishaps.

The date of the race was iconic (10-10-10), a fact not missed by the organisers who plastered it across posters all over the city.

According to numerologists (?), the once-in-a-century date is supposed to symbolise a 'powerful moment of rebirth.'

Unfortunately for me it merely symbolised a 'powerful moment of reflux', as I leaned over the toilet several hours after the race, purging the carbs I'd eagerly consumed in a desperate attempt to stay energised.

I was a bag of nerves for several days leading up to the race, a result of the creeping realisation that I was going to traumatise my body more than it had ever been traumatised before.

Chicago looked beautiful in the sunlight, thanks to its fabulous mix of modern and traditional architecture, combined with a general feeling of 'liveability' which New York lacks (at least until winter arrives).

Sadly as I was to discover, the sunlight doesn't feel so great when you have to run 26.2 miles in its direct glare.

The race was preceded by a massive expo, where all of the major running brands were on hand to give out freebies then lure you in to sell their wares, conscious that our guards were down amidst the nervous energy.

I was persuaded to buy two pairs of running shoes, having long ago decided I would ceremonially dump my current pair straight after the race, a form of cathartic release.

Following the disastrous 2007 race which was suspended midway due to heat, proceedings began at an earlier 7.30am, and an official ongoing 'traffic light style' alert system was in operation to advise runners of the official assessment of conditions.

It started at 'green' with the sun barely up, and a pleasant breeze blowing off Lake Michigan. It was to turn 'red' (dangerous) by 11am, with temperatures exceeding 80 degrees.

My half-marathon personal best earned me a place in one of the seeded start corrals, ensuring that I was across the start within five minutes of the gun, and my desired pace was never once curtailed by people dressed as gorillas or bananas.

At the 1/4 mile mark with just 1% of distance covered, it was already time for a rest (or at least a pee), opportunistically spotting some dark corners within the Columbus Drive underpass. Sometimes it's good to be a man.

5KM: 28:48

The first half of the race was the more picturesque, the route snaking through the city's core business district ('The Loop'), before heading north through salubrious disticts and verdant Lincoln Park.

10KM: 56:48

Packed crowds lined the route, their placards ranging from the witty (Toenails Are Overrated), the cruel (Only 17.3 Miles Until A Beer), to the downright offensive (Run Bitches).

In the gay area known locally as 'Boystown', the residents were camping it up in great style, not least the first set of male cheerleaders I've ever seen.

Soon the majestic sights of the John Hancock and Sears Towers were back in view, as we circled back towards 'The Loop'.

15KM: 1.25:00

At the 11-mile point just as I was losing the will to live let alone finish, I temporarily turned to religion upon seeing a sign that read: Only Jesus Can Give You Strength.

It was a inspirational message I was certainly open to hearing, because Jelly Babies didn't seem to be doing the trick.

20KM: 1.54:03
13.1 MILES: 2.00:22

I had reached the halfway point in 2 hours flat so was on course for my target, but the second half of the race was largely unshaded, and crowds began to thin out as the route winded through some bleaker neighbourhoods.

25KM: 2.23:20

By the 18-mile mark I was still clinging on to a 4-hour pace but I decided sensibly to 'let it go', and focus solely on completing the race.

The alert system had been raised to yellow by now, and organisers urged runners to slow down.

Never one to ignore official advice, I duly did (or more probably, already had).

30KM: 2.54:23

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I was even in control of my bodily functions at this point, and was merely grateful I didn't have an upset stomach that might test the hypothesis.

It was all about survival now, with runners noticeably beginning to drop out, and some of the camaraderie present in the early stages replaced by near-silence as each fought their own personal battle.

After all there's nothing quite like the sight of a collapsed runner receiving medical attention to focus the mind.

A series of Nike pace teams had been set up to help signed-up runners to meet their goals, and I was cruelly reassured that I was often passing overly optimistic runners with paces as fast as 3:40 pinned to their backs. Suckers.

We battled on through some mainly Latino areas where the locals were enthusiastically and noisily out in force, distributing orange slices and ice lollies.

An elderly black gentleman was leaning on a deckchair shouting, "The race is today folks", which might seem blindingly obvious, but his words stuck with me for a couple of miles. This is what I had trained for.

The route then led straight into Chinatown where the odours of local delicacies that would ordinarily make me hungry, merely made me retch.

For a couple of desperate miles, I simply had no choice now except to 'tuck in'.

Although not yet officially recognised by the IAAF, this is a verb I invented to describe the decision to deliberately run behind an attractive female to temporarily take one's mind off the pain.

On this occasion, tucking in was probably best reserved for those with a sweat fetish, but I'm grateful to a couple of tuckees for leading me through miles 21 and 22.

35KM: 3.26:46

I slowly overtook them and reclaimed my independence, conscious that runners etiquette dictates that more than ten minutes of tucking in constitutes stalking.

After we passed the Chicago White Sox stadium, we began to turn back north towards Michigan Avenue for the long straight final stretch.

The route remained very densely packed with runners even at this late stage, and I tried to focus on those who were looking in worse shape than me rather than those who had clearly trained properly. At least then I could be performing well in a relative sense.

40KM: 4.00:39

At the 24.5 mile point, a 'cheer zone' had been set up where the PA announcer kept repeating over the banging music " will finish this race..", which gave everyone a boost.

Even on half-marathons I usually find I've enough in the tank to put on a final mile push for the crowds, but I felt like a petrol car that had just been filled with diesel.

With 400 metres to go, we turned into Grant Park and trudged up the race's only small hill (where races have surely been won and lost), before turning to see that the greatest six letters in sport were finally in sight....FINISH.

I found the strength to sprint for 50 metres to finish, and had to try hard to fight back tears, so overwhelming had I found the whole experience on many levels.

26.2 MILES: 4.15:24

The person who finished in my position in much cooler temperatures in 2009 clocked 4.02, so I'm willing to mentally adjust my time by 13mins to account for the heat.

Sadly however I'd also set myself the target of zero Africans finishing in less than half my time, but a Kenyan and an Ethiopian managed it and they also had to handle the conditions.

The free beer I'd been promised 17.3 miles earlier was duly delivered and was sunk in style. It's full of carbs after all.

The rest of the day was a blur (as in some ways is the race itself), but the feeling of pride I enjoyed wearing my medal around the city for the remainder of the day will remain with me for a long time.

After all, one of the ironies of the major marathon is that large proportions of the people thronging the streets are thinking "I should do this next year". Like me, they want to tick the box.

Most importantly (and in part thanks to many Charlton fans who responded to my appeal), I raised over £3,500 for the London Air Ambulance in memory of a late friend and colleague.

When all is said and done, for that reason alone (but also many more) it was worth the pain.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Plymouth Brethren

A brief preview on this occasion, as it's 10pm here in New York and I've still not shaken off the jet lag.

I will turn 37 on Saturday (John Lennon would have turned 70 incidentally), and whilst three points would be a terrific birthday gift, I would 'imagine' it might require a massive improvement from the Brentford game which by all accounts was a shambles.

Despite being one of pre-season favourites, Plymouth are languishing in the bottom half of the table, and have already lost at home to Hartlepool, Brighton and Peterborough.

Charlton are unbeaten on their past three visits to Home Park, and will have been buoyed by their impressive midweek comeback at MK Dons.

It was a joy to see the damage that Kyel Reid can do seemingly at will again. If only we could play through the midfield often enough to get him enough ball then our prospects would be greatly enhanced.

The superb finishes by Benson and Abbott respectively suggest that the confidence of our strikers is untarnished despite their lack of goals, but like my car they need servicing.

Scott Wagstaff's scoring record is somewhat remarkable, not least given that one can rarely recall him missing many chances.

If only he could add the type of wing play that Reid exhibits, then we would present a potentially devastating threat on both flanks. For now, he remains frustratingly inconsistent in that regard.

I remain far from convinced that Phil Parkinson has the requisite tactical and technical inspiration to deliver promotion, but we must remain hopeful for as long as the division remains so wide open.

Our home form is solid enough, but automatic promotion would likely require 40 points or so on the road, a tally which looks fanciful based upon recent away performances.

The next two fixtures after Plymouth are against sides currently placed 1st and 4th respectively, so avoiding defeat would at least relieve some of the pressure that will inevitably build before that pair of fixtures.

For my charity bet, I fancy the Addicks might start slowly but just as they did in their previous three matches, I will back them to 'win the second half' and earn a useful point.

NY Addick bets £10 on Plymouth/Draw (HT/FT) (at 14/1)