Saturday, March 26, 2011

Paul Weaver RIP

As others have already reported, I learned today that fellow Addick blogger Paul Weaver (also known as Charlton North Downs) tragically passed away last month.

He suffered a heart attack whilst playing tennis, which is particularly upsetting as we had chatted and emailed each other a number of times about our shared love of the sport.

Indeed in one of those emails he told me, "Tennis is fantastic and I absolutely love it."

He was far too young to have died, but without wishing to sound insensitive it happened whilst he was doing something he loved.

I was fortunate enough to sit next to him at a pre-match 'bloggers lunch' at Legends a couple of seasons ago, and I recall a thoroughly likeable genuine guy.

He was understandably less obsessive about writing his blog than some of us are, but his last post written pre-season is particularly poignant in light of this sad news.

I'm especially touched reading it again now, that his penultimate paragraph wished me luck in the Chicago Marathon, a race I'd entered in memory of a colleague who also died whilst participating in a sport she loved.

RIP Paul, and condolences to his wife and children.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Low Point

"However 4 or even 6 points from the next two games would make everyone feel better about themselves, though of course then a really tough set of seven consecutive fixtures begins." (New York Addick, 11 Mar 2011)

When I wrote the above words, it genuinely never even occurred to me that we might conceivably lose our next two straightforward looking fixtures.

With 21st placed Walsall currently on only 39 points from fully 38 games, there is a strong likelihood that Charlton already have enough in the bag to ensure we at least avoid the ultimate humiliation this season.

The fact that Charlton have to travel to both Bristol Rovers (22nd) and Walsall before the season ends is highly uncomfortable, although I'm reassured by the fact that they both also face a tough-looking run-in.

Walsall are still to face MK Dons, Brighton and Southampton whilst Bristol Rovers must face Bournemouth (twice), Southampton and Peterborough.

The problem for Charlton however is its most difficult remaining fixtures are all front-loaded into the next 3 weeks, meaning that outright and debilitating panic may have set in by the time we head to Bristol's Memorial Stadium on Apr 23rd.

As I've repeated on this blog like a broken record, it's a miracle things are not even worse so fortunate were at least two of those opening four Powell-led wins.

When he was appointed I trusted my instinct and put £20 on us to get relegated at 50/1.

Some might call it a catastrophe 'hedge', but I'd prefer to call it a 'trade' on the fact that very few bookies had probably seen the garbage we had been putting out on a regular basis, even pre-Powell (and I wasn't inclined to think things were about to improve).

Charlton fans remain remarkably well-disposed towards Powell presumably out of genuine respect, despite a run of form which has rendered his position virtually untenable in my view.

Some unfortunately-timed injuries have not helped his cause, but he has had the benefit of a stronger squad than his predecessor to cope, as well as easy fixtures.

After the Peterborough win, the next eight fixtures (from which we generated a single point) were against teams then sitting in the following League positions: 13th, 12th, 20th, 16th, 17th, 7th, 15th, 22nd.

Charlton meanwhile were at the time sitting in 5th place, just six points behind Bournemouth in the automatic places, with fully three games in hand.

It would be disrespectful to describe the eight teams that comprised those fixtures as 'gift horses', but Powell didn't so much look them in the mouth as kiss them smack on the lips.

The consensus now seems to be (or is at least spun) that the squad he inherited wasn't good enough, and he deserves time to undertake a thorough rebuilding in the summer.

Yet as Michael Slater made clear on the day Powell was appointed, "With new owners and a fresh and dynamic manager in place, our goal now is promotion to the Championship."

Perhaps Slater genuinely did not imply promotion this season, but that would be an extremely generous intepretation. After all Parkinson had left us 5th in the table, and three points off 2nd.

He quite rightly might not have expected promotion, but he sure as hell didn't expect what is increasingly looking like a relegation battle.

So in order for me to believe that Powell deserves more time than the remainder of this season, I would need to understand why we have tailed off to such a remarkable degree, as well as what (other than financial considerations) justifies the belief that he's the right man to be given the rebuilding task.

To just allow this season to be written off as inconsequential, would be highly disrespectful to the loyal fans who've paid up good money (often well in advance) to watch the charade of the past two months.

The players who are now booed off for lack of effort and accused of being unfit for the shirt, were not so long ago acknowledged at least for being whole-hearted, albeit lacking in quality.

I didn't detect a lack of heart for example at Spurs in the Cup, or on the various occasions we took points despite having ten men this season.

Meanwhile I continue to be amazed by the extent to which some fans' view of Powell is affected by the fact that he was once a playing legend, a view at once both true and utterly irrelevant.

The new Board are probably less concerned about Powell's cult status, but nonetheless troubled by thoughts of how best to 'save face' having taken such an ill-considered risk with his appointment, so early in their stewardship.

Yet worryingly decisions made to save face, may not be those that are best for the club.

When equally difficult decisions had to be made about the appointments then dismissals of Dowie, Reed, and Pardew, the Board at that time had a largely impressive record of ongoing progress to point to.

If the Board asked to be trusted then, I was inclined to do so (even if hindsight taught me I was wrong). I'm not so sure now.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bees Knees

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was writing that automatic promotion was still in Charlton's hands.

Now the team is on its knees, and our season is virtually over.

Perhaps we should merely be thankful that if Chris Powell's team had picked up the points it deserved rather than the points it actually got, we'd have a very serious relegation battle on our hands.

As a result the new Board finds itself in an uncomfortable bind, having placed so much faith in Powell improving results, performances and general 'positivity' around the club.

Infact frankly in ways that even I could not have predicted (given my immediate distrust of his appointment), on all three measures things have actually got worse.

Indeed on the last measure the impact might be deemed mildly catastrophic the next time the Board meets, with season ticket renewals likely to plummet.

I have not seen enough matches to judge whether our playing style has at least improved from the Parkinson era.

However if so, this would be at least a mild positive since under Parkinson we were almost unwatchable at times, even if the results kept plodding along.

The players may simply not be technically accomplished enough to meet the demands of a passing game, and Powell must for now work with a squad largely put together by his predecessor.

Yet if the Board backs Powell in the summer and allows him to build a squad more suited to the style he wishes to play, it would be an enormous and frankly undeserved vote of confidence based upon the ten games so far.

For Powell personally meanwhile, if this awful run continues one wonders whether he might conclude that it would be best for his long-term career prospects to negotiate a mutually beneficial exit.

After all regardless of his plans for the club, there must come a point where his position simply becomes untenable if results continue down their current path.

If the Board (somewhat understandably) fail to acknowledge it, perhaps Powell will be man enough to.

My strong preference perhaps not surprisingly would be to acknowledge that Powell's appointment was well-intentioned but ill-advised, and to parachute in a more experienced replacement (perhaps retaining him as first-team coach) in time for pre-season.

However 4 or even 6 points from the next two games would make everyone feel better about themselves, though of course then a really tough set of seven consecutive fixtures begins.

Speaking of new managers, Nicky Forster was one of the more productive loans of recent times, putting in some useful performances as the Addicks consolidated their play-off position at the tail end of last season.

His appointment may have been borne out of financial necessity, but he has begun to steer the Bees away from relegation trouble and a win at The Valley would leave them just two points behind.

Paul Benson's daft sending off has left Powell very short of attacking options, likely to force him into another 4-5-1 formation with Wright-Phillips up front.

On the face of it this formation (with either Wagstaff or Eccleston on the right, and Reid on the left) seems to suit the squad we have but the central midfield trio are so disappointing, the extra man there is virtually irrelevant.

I will be attempting to follow the game from Brazil where I'm due to arrive tomorrow.

The country's footballers are known for playing to the rhythm of the samba, whilst Charlton play to the rhythm of some combination of death metal and grunge.

The omens are good however. The last time I was in the country, the Addicks picked up a valuable 1-0 home win against Middlesbrough, thanks to a Matty Svensson goal in Oct 2000.

Whilst I should have been enjoying the majesty of the rainforest, I was instead half way up a tree trying to get my short wave radio to pick up the World Service.

I recall my short yelp of joy scared off a nearby monkey, who urgently scampered back up the tree.

Charlton have come down a lot since then sadly, and so presumably has the monkey.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Blog Standard

Charlton bloggers are busy people, and the games are coming thick and fast.

Even Chicago Addick has been known to do a couple of hours work in his Bermuda bolthole, before returning for some more underwater spear fishing.

With Charlton facing a massive six-pointer at MK Dons on Tuesday, I'm pleased to offer my fellow bloggers this handy ready-made post-match report.

Bloggers need only decide if they are in the 'pro' or 'anti' Powell camp, and then simply cut and paste away.

On a deceptively mild/slightly chilly* evening in Milton Keynes, Chris Powell adopted an ambitiously attacking/naively unbalanced* formation for this vital clash.

Powell once again proved he is tactically flexible/unsure of his best team*, as his side sought its fifth win in ten/to avoid a fifth defeat in six*.

Benson was again paired with Wright-Phillips upfront, following their encouraging/disappointing* first start together against Tranmere.

Racon was preferred again to Reid on the left flank, providing the midfield with some extra solidity/too little width*.

Wagstaff kept his place ahead of Eccleston, the Liverpool man best utilised/completely wasted* on the bench.

The first fifteen minutes were cagey, with Powell's men seemingly happy to soak up pressure/unable to gain a foothold*.

Benson was unlucky with/snatched at* an 18th minute half-chance, after finding himself on the end of a delicious/mishit* Francis cross.

McCormack and Semedo were tenacious in the tackle/typically uncreative*, providing the foundation for/placing too much pressure on* Racon and Wagstaff.

In defence, Dailly was experience personified/uncomfortably slow* whilst alongside him Jenkinson again displayed signs of promise/naivety*.

The MK Dons opener was brilliantly taken/should have been prevented*.

Llera was harshly penalised/needlessly conceded a free-kick*, and Luke Chadwick's shot fizzed/bobbled* past Ross Warner who could only watch/was slow to react*.

At the other end, Charlton were dangerous on the break/offered little threat*, and were never afraid to exploit gaps in the channels/too reliant on pointless long balls*.

Despite falling behind, Powell appeared deep in thought/utterly emotionless* on the sidelines, carefully weighing up/clueless about* how to turn the game around.

The half-time whistle was greeted with silence/boos* by the impressive/disappointing* away support.

Powell did not make any changes at the interval, reflective of his side's decent first-half showing/unwillingness to make substitutions*.

The Addicks were patient in their build-up/slow to get going* after the break, with Wagstaff seeing some more of the ball/continuing to frustrate*.

MK Dons were restricted to half-chances/looked the likelier to score*, and with an hour gone Powell considered his substitute options/appeared bereft of ideas*.

Enigmatic/frustrating* winger Reid was brought on for the underrated/overrated* McCormack, with the Addicks sticking with a robust/predictable* 4-4-2.

Charlton's equaliser in the 74th minute was fully deserved/came against the run of play*.

A long pass/hoof* forward by Dailly was flicked on by Benson into the path of Wright-Phillips, who finished with aplomb/the help of a deflection*.

In an attacking/defensive* switch, Wagstaff was replaced by Eccleston as Powell tried to press home the advantage/secure a valuable point*.

MK Dons came closest to a last-gasp winner, but Charlton's resolute/tired-looking* defence stood firm/somehow kept them out*.

A vital/disappointing draw* leaves the Addicks in the hunt for/somewhat adrift of* a play-off berth.

It's important that Powell is given time/the sack* because it's clear the team continues to evolve/has not progressed* since Parky was rightly/unfairly* dismissed.

(*delete as appropriate)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Tranmere Preview

Perhaps the only positive thing coming out of Tuesday night, was the knowledge that a perfect opportunity to return to winning ways would present itself just four days later.

The attendance could be truly dire (the actual one that is, not the published one), and is bound to be worse than the previous Saturday season low of 14,436 against Notts County.

A comment on my last post accused me of being a perennial pessimist, so here’s an optimistic note - if we can play this poorly and still be 8th and firmly in the play-off hunt, what might the season bring if Chris Powell can generate just some moderate improvement?

The vast difference in games played due to postponements and FA Cup responsibilities, has lent the League One table a rather confusing look.

When you support one of the teams with games in hand, there’s a tendency to think you are in a better position than you really are by saying, ”Now, if we just win our x games in hand…”, handily forgetting that even the best teams in a division rarely win more than 50% of their matches.

So in an attempt to equalise for games played, here is the current League One table in terms of average points per game so far:

Brighton 2.00
Bournemouth 1.76
Huddersfield 1.70
Southampton 1.68
Peterborough 1.66
MK Dons 1.53
Charlton 1.52
Rochdale 1.50
Leyton Orient 1.47
Colchester 1.45
Carlisle 1.41
Oldham 1.39
Brentford 1.34
Hartlepool 1.33
Exeter 1.30

In short, Brighton are virtually out of sight but there’s a genuine four-way battle for second place.

Charlton meanwhile are effectively sitting in joint sixth place with MK Dons, turning next Tuesday’s fixture into one of enormous importance. As my most local away fixture, it’s frustrating that I’ll instead be on the wrong side of the Atlantic next week.

Colchester are in something of a false ‘absolute position’ in 7th, however in the case of Rochdale and Leyton Orient, there’s a reminder of panto season because it’s very much a case of ”They’re behind you!

Given that both sides are unbeaten in over two months, the chances of either side leapfrogging us in either the absolute or relative league table before long must be high.

Indeed the Os have only lost to Brighton and Arsenal in any competition since 2nd November, a fabulous achievement.

However for now I’ll spare readers another lecture on the relative resources that their respective (impressive) managers are playing with.

It won’t have escaped the eagle-eyed amongst you that 11 of our remaining 15 fixtures are against teams listed above. This leaves our fate firmly in our hands, but based on recent performances this may not be a good thing.

Consider for example the following seven fixtures between 22nd March and 16th April: Southampton (H), Bournemouth (A), Rochdale (A), Leyton Orient (H), Southampton (A), Oldham (A), Huddersfield (A).

Right now I’m trembling with fear at the prospect of our promotion hopes dying a slow death during those four weeks, but Powell will hopefully view them as a chance to prove the doubters (like me) wrong.

As has been pointed out on Dave’s excellent Drinking During The Game blog, the ‘Sir’ in Sir Chris Powell has quietly been dropped, seemingly the first person to be stripped of an honorary knighthood since Robert Mugabe.

One of course was once a well-respected black leader, more recently blamed for leading his supporters into abject despair on the back of false promises, ill-judged policies and emotional rhetoric.

The other meanwhile is President of Zimbabwe.

On a more serious note, an unlikely but meaningful wildcard to look out for is the possibility that Plymouth Argyle are wound up before the end of the season.

If this unfortunate outcome occurs and their record is expunged, there would be a boost to Southampton, MK Dons and Exeter, the only teams not to have taken points from Argyle this season. Charlton meanwhile took 4 from 6.

Tomorrow’s opponents Tranmere have been unpredictability personified all season, and arrive at The Valley on a nasty little run of form themselves.

Their boss Les Parry must be the only football manager with a PhD under his belt, although one imagines just a couple of GCSEs would provide enough education to unlock the current Addicks side.

This fixture conjures up uncomfortable memories of the 1991/92 season, when a 1-0 midweek defeat at Upton Park virtually put paid to Charlton’s unlikely play-off hopes in Curbishley and Gritt’s inaugural season.

In other news, Addicks chairman Michael Slater has been indirectly linked to secretive property magnate Kevin Cash, currently enjoying some exposure at an employment tribunal.

For those who have missed this ongoing and heartwarming story, two of his former household staff are claiming unfair dismissal after allegedly serving Cash his chicken dinner at 6pm rather than 7pm, much to his (understandable) rage.

My own wife has certainly learned from bitter experience not to make that particular mistake in our home. She's still cleaning the Chicken Tonight off the walls.

Nonetheless, the story has got the rumour mill roaring into overdrive again, with fans wondering if Cash might be one of the secret money men reportedly behind the Addicks takeover.

I’ve no idea of course, but suffice to say that if true he had better get used to having his boardroom dinner before 7pm at evening games.

By the time he’s polished off the chicken, tucked into dessert and indulged in coffee and CAFC-branded chocolate mints, he's likely to miss seeing us go 1-0 down.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Low Interest Rates

The night is supposed to be darkest just before the dawn, but wasn't Chris Powell meant to be the dawn?

There was an air of inevitability about last night's defeat, and that is what should concern our new owners the most.

The lowest gate of the season was not helped by the fact that the likes of me took one look at the weather forecast, considered the aforementioned inevitable, and gave it a miss.

In truth my interest rate is rapidly approaching zero, and as I've mentioned before watching this Charlton side literally makes me feel ill.

I enjoy watching football at two extremes. At one extreme the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona elevate the game to an art form.

Meanwhile at the other extreme, I love the down-to-earth reality of non-League; players competing for the love of the game, and fans feeling part of something positive in their local community.

Inbetween you seemingly have League One. Most Charlton players remain on six-figure incomes, yet are unable to demonstrate the type of ability that would be expected of employees in other industries, earning the same money.

Carlisle are no mugs of course, but they were surely ripe for the taking?

Presumably they travelled down from Cumbria the same day, they could not even name a full complement of subs, whilst away support could probably have left a seat or two free on a minibus.

The loss of former Carlisle man Anyinsah was ill-timed (we look a much better side with him in it), but then Powell allowed both Abbott and Sodje leave the club, leaving just one target man in the squad.

Thus with a forward line that can only be productive with the ball to feet, and a midfield that has continually proved it cannot provide it, the result was as I suggested, inevitable.

Consensus seems to be that the players aren't good enough. Assembled on a shoestring, you reap what you sow.

But that argument misses the fact that League One (like all leagues) is a relative one.

It doesnt matter if we're crap, we just have to be less crap than say 18 (or ideally 22) of the other teams.

Yet patently we are not even that, but why? With the exception of perhaps Southampton, all teams at this level are built on a shoestring. Exeter have paid one transfer fee in five years.

Charlton meanwhile have paid fees for Benson and BWP this season, and have a payroll that would still make most League One finance directors wince, including four loans from higher divisions (with wages to match).

They're also able to proudly boast an academy that has provided useful (albeit not exceptional) homegrown back-up.

It must run deeper than this, to think otherwise is a cop-out.

Why hasn't any manager/coach taught Racon how to play with his head up, or Reid how to funnel his obvious talents more productively?

Why hasn't Rob Elliott been disciplined for not losing the weight that could transform him from an average League One keeper, into one good enough for the upper echelons of the Championship?

These are just examples obviously but hardly unreasonable, and if individual improvement is beyond our well-remunerated coaching staff, perhaps just a consistent workable system of play might be devised for average players to operate in every week?

All of which invariably brings me back to Chris Powell. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I didn't have any when I proclaimed his appointment to be ridiculous. It looks even more so now.

He has generated 12 points from 8 games, but we barely deserved 3-4. In terms of formation and system, we have the same lack of grace as Parky's sides but none of the discipline.

Parkinson was sacked for generating 12 points from his final 8 games incidentally.

As Charlton manager he never lost three League games on the trot, let alone four even during the relegation season.

Last season we never even lost two games on the trot.

His dismissal was correct because the style was sapping the life out of the club but to use a technical term, I didn't expect the Board to balls up the most important decision they had to make.

Powell's appointment was justified in terms of bringing back a sense of 'togetherness' around the club, and because he was apparently the best man for the job.

We know the latter was inconceivable virtually by definition, and now the former has been exposed by Tuesday's attendance.

Some of the 'Parky vs Powell' debates on fan blogs and message boards, remind me of the old Whiskas adverts on TV.

Those adverts informed us that 8 out of 10 cats preferred Whiskas, but I'm not sure they ever made it entirely clear what they preferred it to.

Surprisingly perhaps I prefer Powell to Parky, but there are numerous managers whom I would prefer to both, and with new owners in place we probably could have got one of them too.

The club even with new owners is now in such a funk, that only a credible long-term reconstruction plan with the right man at the helm can save us.

Just because that man wasn't Dowie, Pardew or Parkinson, doesn't mean we should stop looking and take a speculative punt on a popular former player.

I can't be certain that Powell is not that man incidentally, but equally there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that he is.

And with a 3-year contract in his drawer earned on the basis of an hour's interview, I consider this unforgivable.