Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chris Powell - Used Car Dealer

The need to buy a new family motor to accommodate three kids has forced me to endure some editions of What Car? magazine.

Sadly the reality has dawned that a man cannot both transport his offspring in comfort and maintain any semblance of cool.

To draw my focus away from this depressing state of affairs, I began to ask myself, "If Charlton players were cars, which ones would they be?"

In other words, if Chris Powell was a used car dealer, what would he have on his forecourt?:

Ben Hamer = Toyota Prius: efficient and green; unconvincing handling

Rhoys Wiggins = Ford Mustang: left-hand drive beauty; not so comfortable on the other side of the road

Chris Solly = Lotus Elise: much-admired homegrown pocket rocket; too small for some

Michael Morrison = Volvo XC90: not the prettiest, but a big reliable beast with an emphasis on safety

Matt Taylor = Seat Alhambra: unflashy, big and highly functional; does the job effectively without drawing attention

Danny Hollands = Kia Sedona: slow but dependable vehicle (with room for three baby seats)

Gary Doherty = Fiat Multipla: painfully awkward mover with prominent nose; will do a job reliably when asked but best kept in garage

Dale Stephens = Nissan Qashqai: slightly unsure what it is trying to be, but classier looking than rivals; made in the North

Andy Hughes = Ford Kuga: SUV/family car crossover, and not convincing as either; better alternatives exist in each category

Danny Green = Ford Galaxy: rather ugly but useful mover that can put plenty across; close links to Dagenham

Scott Wagstaff = Alfa Romeo Brera: fast but looks better than it really is; not guaranteed to start

Bradley Pritchard = Jaguar XF: educated buyer's choice but lacking in several key areas; likely poor resale value

Jason Euell = Rover 45: mediocre performer forced into bankruptcy; rarely seen these days

Johnnie Jackson = Volkswagen Golf: ever popular award-winning car but possibly overrated; basic engines lack acceleration

Mikel Alonso = Maybach 57: reported to be very classy but hardly ever spotted; lives in shadow of more famous model from same manufacturer

Yann Kermogant = Renault Espace: big French brute with elevated driving position; much loved by owners, hated by everyone else

Bradley Wright-Philips = Mini Cooper: small and nippy front-wheel drive; famous pedigree

Danny Haynes = Renault Twingo Renaultsport: small and very pacy; not popular with some buyers so negotiate hard for a discount

Leon Clarke = Volkswagen Polo: uninspiring, slow and often used as loaned courtesy car

Paul Hayes = Seat Ibiza: almost identical to Volkswagen Polo but much more elegant; manager discounts available

Paul Benson = Honda Civic: unusual looking but surprisingly capable; finished off in Swindon

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


You can imagine Chris Powell’s teamtalks before the Bury, MK Dons and Rochdale games:

”Now listen lads. It’s freezing cold out there and we’ll be lucky if there’s 10,000 fans in reality. There’s no point making a special effort to impress this lot because they will clearly come out to watch us regardless. It’s the 17,000 extra ones against Stevenage that we have to be conserving energy for. I’m happy to take a point.”

The first half-hour was fairly lacklustre against Stevenage, but in the second two thirds of the game we finally showed the kind of high-tempo passing football that can put even one of the better sides in the division firmly in their place.

I had taken my 5-year old son to his first game and completely forgot about Rule No.1 of taking young kids: don’t get to the ground earlier than 2.55pm (we walked in nearly an hour before kick-off).

Luckily I had remembered Rule No.2, namely: Bring copious amounts of snacks and if possible, an IPad.

Incidentally Rule No.3 is:Don’t forget Rules Nos. 1 and 2.

It’s fair to say he isn’t hooked despite the good weather, atmosphere and performance.

Indeed his remark after the game that his favourite player was Laurence Bloom was positively surreal.

I very much enjoyed the view and atmosphere from the North-East quadrant – highly recommended for anyone with kids. Not a single audible swear word in the vicinity, although the low sun between the West Stand and the block of flats was annoying.

As for the match, I will keep it brief because the vast majority of my readers will have been there too.

BWP could easily have had five goals, and thus despite being happy that he fortuitously did get on the scoresheet, a few more would have really put him firmly back on track.

The back four were awesome as usual – with Wiggins flying up the left flank with such purpose, you wonder again what Powell was thinking against Rochdale.

Kermogant is a special footballer, and the better passing on show demonstrated that he is more than capable on the floor when given an opportunity (creating at least two of BWP’s golden chances).

Stevenage were disappointing and seemed to have one eye on their Cup replay. Ex-Addick Lawrie Wilson buzzed around with dangerous intent in his free role, but otherwise they were very flat.

The Valley looks terrific when it’s full and it was a nice reminder of the Premiership days when every game felt like that.

Of the current squad, I think that Hamer, Solly, Wiggins, Morrison, Taylor, Stephens, Jackson (maybe), BWP and Kermogant are good enough for a club likely seeking to 'do a Norwich', so plenty of summer activity can be expected again.
STOP PRESS: BWP finds his shooting boots.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Roch Motel

Last night was part two of a rare five consecutive home game run for me, and this time I invited a Dutch colleague who grew up watching the great Cruyff and Neeskens-inspired Ajax of the 1970s.

Surprisingly he thought Charlton reminded him very much of that three-time European Cup winning side, "Yes you also play in red and white," he said dryly.

Given that Charlton have 'only' taken six points from their last four games, it is amazing how good the League table still looks.

As written before the Sheff Weds game, it's now a relative war not an absolute one, and we are winning it although it increasingly feels like one of attrition.

Rochdale have a new manager and look a solid midtable outfit, rather than relegation fodder on this display.

They packed the midfield and the shaven-headed pair of Jones and Kennedy were alive to every loose ball, whilst Symes ploughed an impressive lone furrow upfront.

It would be wrong to say they bossed the game, but an alien would have been hard-pressed to guess which team were the runaway leaders.

Since late November (roughly coincidental with BWP's last goal), performances have tailed off but the points tally keeps ticking over thanks to beautiful free-kicks, penalty gifts, stunning late speculative goals and brave defending.

The sign of a good side or a lucky one? Hmm, not sure - probably a bit of both.

The starting line-up had an odd feel, unbalanced on both sides with Wiggins and Green on the 'wrong side'.

I had wondered how we had managed to snatch the mercurial Wiggins from Bournemouth despite his obvious ability to play at a higher level, but on tonight's evidence maybe I have a clue.

He has a special left foot, but he literally has no right foot whatsoever. Watching him play passes up the right touchline with his left foot was painful.

At half-time Green was switched to a more familiar right-hand berth, but this in turn left Pritchard looking uncomfortable in his place.

You can understand after the Stevenage experience why Powell was reluctant to split the Morrison/Taylor partnership, but by moving Wiggins he weakened the team twice.

Against one of the division's worst sides at home, couldn't Hughes, or even Wagstaff have done a job?

It also would have allowed Evina to start in left midfield where at least some balance would have been restored, although it sounds as though he wasn't meant to be involved at all.

In midfield, Stephens frustrates not so much because of what he does (which is ok), but for what he is capable of doing.

Instead of driving the team forward, he plays the 'quarterback' role. The memory of him ghosting in to score our opening goal of the campaign are long gone sadly.

The limitations of Hollands (reliable but as mobile as a oil tanker) are thus laid bare infront of him, but unlike Stephens he is playing to his (lesser) potential.

We must all be thankful for Kermogant on a night like this whose contribution was outstanding, at least in terms of raw effort and strength.

It is hard to imagine many players in League One could be at once both battering ram and magician, but his free-kick equaliser was indeed magnifique.

Frankly if we played better football through the midfield, he would make a less vital contribution, but as it is his ability to win headers is remarkable (and there are plenty of them).

I'm convinced he might actually have levitated for his late-game headed chance, although maybe the amazing power and spring he produces with every leap was deceptive again.

With the Frenchman probably seeking ibuprofen for a post-match headache, at least Powell didn't insult our intelligence by bemoaning the fact that we didn't get our 'passing game' together (what passing game Chris?).

BWP's horrendous scoring form has given his manager an extraordinary dilemma - drop him and you shatter his confidence further; continue playing him in this form and the team is carrying a passenger.

The irony may be that Kermogant is infact le problème as far as BWP is concerned, the Frenchman winning every header but not really creating chances (other than a snap first-half effort).

As a tactic it's more akin to territorial rugby (something the Frenchman is presumably familiar with) than more cultured and subtle football.

A threaded pass will always be more accurate than a flicked-on header, and this is not his forte, whilst BWP lacks the raw pace to make the most of the latter.

With no goal from open play for the pair since 2011, you sense someone has to go and maybe it's Kermogant for Hayes, assuming BWP is indeed sacrosanct.

Interestingly BWP scored 7 goals in 10 games when partnering Hayes, but only 7 goals in 16 games when partnering Kermogant (of which none have come in the past 9).

Powell to his credit has not previously been shy to make tough selection decisions for the good of the team, and now is time to make another.

Our defence is so good that scoring just one goal (as we have in six of the last seven matches) is enough to keep the points total ticking over, but he must know as well as the fans do that cracks are being papered over.

Fortunately we are so far clear of third place that there is little risk of the edifice collapsing.

On Saturday I am bringing my 5-year old son to his first game at The Valley, one which has been given a little more spice by virtue of last night's result.

Stevenage are the fittest team in League One, their all-action pressing game incorrectly being mistaken for a 'long ball' one.

They may have one eye on their Cup replay at Spurs, but a win on Saturday could leave them 15 points behind us with two games in hand, depending on tonight's result at Notts County.

Surely this is still a near insurmountable gap, but if Charlton bums do start to get squeaky, we could do without another team ready to gang up on us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kermit the Frog

“Why do weathermen say “it’s 40 degrees…. but with the wind chill factor it’s 2” Everyone walks around wondering is it 40 or is it 2? Tell me, do you feel two temperatures? I never heard a guy say I feel 40…but with the wind chill factor I feel 2. It’s like saying it’s raining, but without the rain…. it’s dry.” (Jackie Mason)

An increasingly rare trip to The Valley was ruined somewhat by my pre-match sartorial focus on the actual air temperature, instead of the forecast ‘real feel’ temperature (as if anyone cares about the former).

Events on the pitch did little to warm up the sparse crowd - to say that this Charlton team ‘grinds out’ results is surely an understatement.

After 83 minutes with the prospect of me getting on the vital 2140 train dwindling as every dull moment passed, then like Ben Hamer approaching a high ball, I considered my options, I made a quick and brave decision....and ran out to catch it.

Chris Powell cannot realistically claim to have developed an attractive side (only one passing side was on show last night), but they are brutally effective and the League One table doesn’t lie.

If we were a tennis player, we’d be Ivan Lendl not John McEnroe. If we were a car, we’d be a Volvo not an Alfa Romeo.

However with nine very comfortable-looking fixtures coming up, automatic promotion may well be virtually assured by the middle of March, a remarkable achievement.

Unlike the 2140 train, maybe the panache and style can wait.

From my perspective (admittedly not a full one), this season’s results have been broadly built upon three pillars: defence, fitness and resources.

The signings of Taylor, Morrison and Wiggins were truly inspired.

The central pair are good old-fashioned defenders who do the simple (but vitally important) things really well. The so-called 'blocking and tackling' as they say in the States.

Wiggins meanwhile is a shoe-in for Player of the Season, and Solly has improved by playing alongside this trio.

Improved fitness is also readily apparent, and credit here must go to Laurence Bloom.

Perhaps conscious that we were out-muscled and out-run at times last season, we now look like a team of real athletes.

The full-backs in particular look exceptionally well-conditioned.

The resources meanwhile speak for themselves. In July, I suggested that net of the Jenkinson proceeds and the offloaded wage bill (Semedo, Racon etc.), the Board hadn’t really provided meaningful investment.

Since then however, this initial theory has been firmly blown out of the water. We have signed Clarke, Cort, Ephraim, Euell, Haynes, Hughes, Kermogant, Russell, and Smith – most of these will be on Championship type wages.

Powell was thus handed a clear mandate to ‘go and get promotion’ and he appears to have taken it.

However I can’t escape the nagging sense that this season’s team can be expressed mathematically as follows:

CP = PP + 23BP

(The first person to correctly solve the riddle wins a free ticket a Millwall game of their choice. The second person to correctly solve the riddle wins two free tickets to a Millwall game of their choice).

It must be a disappointment to the new owners that attendances have barely budged this season, despite the improved results. This is certainly the case if you back out the impact of some of the generous and forward-thinking ticket offers.

Charlton’s attendances are remarkably stable. It seems as though there is a consistent hard core of 13-14,000 fans who will come to every home game, yet a floating group of only a couple of thousand more (like me) who are tempted on a game-by-game basis, regardless of any discounted offer.

Both of these two observations are somewhat strange and present a medium-term dilemma: how do you encourage the many thousands seemingly willing to pay five quid, to begin paying twenty quid regularly?

Certainly not the type of football on show last night I’m afraid. I wonder if the new owners are bothered?

Probably not yet, but some more bums on seats would certainly help the annual deficit.

The match was hardly shaping up to be a classic (both teams seemingly cancelling each other out), but it was ruined as a spectacle once Kermogant (our wind-up merchant extraordinaire) did what he does best in the opposition box, and wound up his marker with typical Gallic charm.

It’s best to say nothing about the second half except to acknowledge the (unfortunate) possibility that not over-exerting ourselves with so many upcoming matches, was indeed the agreed tactic.

It’s rather anathema however to that famous Danny Blanchflower quote about doing things in style and with a flourish (not waiting for the other team to die of boredom).

I think this is a shame. Any chance we could give Rochdale a right hammering?