Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monkey business

A brace from Bradley Wright-Phillips plus one apiece from Danny Hollands and Scott Wagstaff secured a very comfortable 4-0 away win in the north east at Hartlepool United. That monkey wasn't just hung, but skinned and eaten for dinner to boot.

Yesterday for me was a shining example of the difference between this squad and that of last season. After the midweek win at Wycombe, and the soaking up of pressure at the end, the Addicks travelled north full of confidence. A long trip to a mid table side would have caused us a mountain of problems previously but not any more. Again we took control early on and Hartlepool never really recovered.

Chris Powell kept faith with the side that beat the chairboys, Andy Hughes keeping his place in the centre of the park. It's a good situation to have when the early season starlet, Dale Stephens, is going to struggle to regain a starting eleven place.

Rhoys Wiggins who only a couple of months ago was getting a little bit of flack from the Valley faithful has started to show why the gaffer was so keen to buy him. He races forward and poses a threat with each venture, how he must thrive in having a left back as his boss.
With the front two starting to sing from the same songsheet, and a midfield more than willing to pitch in with the goalscoring duties, this Charlton side has not only taken shape but gelled into a well oiled machine.

Stronger tests than a poor Hartlepool side will come but with confidence sky high, we have the ability to play any side in this division off the park. We had our first set back up at Stevenage and now we have seen exactly what this team is made of with nine points out of nine, ten goals and two clean sheets. Yes, i still have to pinch myself.

A little distraction came today with the draw for the first round proper of the FA cup. Cups and Charlton really haven't gone together in recent times and I'd absolutely love a little cup run and a chance to do battle with a glamour club. The thought of seeing The Valley full in a third or fourth round tie is a wonderful image, and no side in the country would relish that task the way we're playing at the moment

First however we have the small matter of FC Halifax Town of the Blue Square North at The Shay.
We had to endure tough battles against non league opposition in the past, who could forget Dagenham drawing at our place or the trip to Northwich (not for the want of trying). Just last season Luton, who i still find it hard to think of as non league, gave us a scare and took us to a replay.

It's not the nicest of draws but at least The Shay is one of the best grounds outside the league and won't feel too different an environment than some of the League One grounds we've become far too accustomed too.

On the subject of the FA cup, Sutton United's name was still in the hat today. One time FA cup giant killers, the reward if they can overcome local rivals Leatherhead is a home tie to Kettering Town, a side i last saw down Gander Green Lane back in the GM Vauxhall Conference days.
Like i say though, there's the small matter of dispatching Leatherhead first. The Tanners who are bottom of the Ryman League Premier division gave a battling performance on Saturday to earn a surprise 3-3 draw.

Although it wasn't in our favour i do still love the FA cup and these sort of performances. When the first round proper does kick off next month you can guarantee there will be an upset or two.
Lets just hope it's in Sutton and not Halifax!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wy combe away with the points

All through my childhood and teens, Wycombe Wanderers were great rivals of my non league heroes, Sutton United. It stems back to the Chairboys time in the Isthmian League, we were two of the big fish fish in that smallish pond.

Wycombe of course have outgrown the non league pyramid and, along with Yeovil Town, have become one of the real success stories of automatic promotion between the old fourth division and the Gola league. Or GM Vauxhall Conference as it was known when Wycombe won it.

They have become in the past few years a little bit like a lower league West Bromwich Albion, a yo-yo side. True to form, this season is already looking like it's going to be an uphill battle for them to hold on to their League One status. All the makings of a banana skin for the addicks then!

Charlton however took the lead after only six minutes when Yann Kermorgant's spectacular overhead effort bounced back off the upright for Bradley Wright-Phillips to latch on to. No better way to steady the nerves than an early goal.
The striker, who is far superior than his brother if you speak to anyone from SE7, then reached double figures for the season when he found the bottom corner after receiving the perfect pass from Danny Hollands just before the interval.

Charlton wouldn't be Charlton if we didn't make things a tad nervy as the second forty five progressed. Wycombe pulled a goal back just pass the hour when Stuart Beavon netted after Ben Hamer had denied the home side twice in quick succession.

The final whistle was music to the ears of the travelling support as there were a few worrying moments in the latter stages of the game but the Londoners held on to take a very valuable three points on the road. Another tough trip follows on Saturday when we visit the monkey hangers of Hartlepool. Tonight is a great platform to mount that challenge on.

Huddersfield dropped a couple of points at Scunthorpe meaning Charlton are now three points clear at the top and five clear of the blue half of Sheffield in third.
A clear bit of daylight which is very welcome looking at the fixtures we have in November!

Chris Powell has certainly built a team that has bonded well and gelled on the field. I expect the board at Leicester are ruing the day they let him leave, now they've axed Sven Goran Eriksson.

As the twitter hashtag goes.................................#chrissypowellsredandwhitearmy

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Four better for worse.

This weekend i dusted down the whistle and made the trip oop north for a wedding. I do enjoy a good wedding and the opportunity to put the best threads on and this was certainly no exception.

Tim, the groom is a childhood friend of Heidi's and yesterday it was his turn to jump the broomstick.
After leaving school he headed north for further education and never came back, much like his brothers before him. Heidi was always going to be there for the big day and although we headed up there a little worried only knowing a half dozen people between us, we left knowing a fair few more as is always the way.

We stayed at the hotel which was to host the reception, The Marriott Victoria & Albert, a five star place just up the road from Old Trafford. We drove up on the Friday so spent two nights, all paid for with Tesco clubcard vouchers. What a great feeling that was handing over these vouchers when faced with a three hundred quid bill!

Once we had found the room and unpacked, i decided a boozer and a curry house were on the agenda. Manchester's curry mile is world famous and my lamb bhuna certainly lived up to all expectations as did some of the local ale.
Manchester is a beautiful friendly city from my experience, yet according to Heidi this didn't deter me from entering full cockney mode. It seems that when I'm far from home i have a safety blanket that comes out! The London accent gets stronger and my use of rhyming slang is far more evident.
Well, you need to let these Mancunians know who's boss don't you!

Saturday and the day of the wedding. After pigging out on the complimentary fry up and having far more than i needed we sat in the bar for a quick pint before the off. We had to set the sat nav and the bar seemed by far the most sensible place to do it! Plus a little taster just to get us in the swing of the day ahead you understand. We then departed to Bury, home town of the bride.
The first thing i noticed was Gigg Lane, not quite as impressive as Old Trafford! We saw the ground driving around Bury whilst the sat nav refused to admit it was lost. The normally polite lady seemed to change her tone as i refused to take the third exit off a non existent roundabout. She also seemed insistent i drove through a pedestrianised part of the town centre!

We did eventually find the small church, parking in a cobbled side road. This was a real Coronation Street type experience which made me chuckle and helped make my trip up north complete.

I was on best behaviour throughout the weekend. The biggest achievement was not getting drunk, just a little merry, whilst nearly as impressive as that was my restraint in the church. Not once did i look at my phone to check the score during the service.

On return to the hotel we were all ushered in the bar for a glass of wine whilst some photos took place by the grand entrance. The bar just so happened to have a large screen showing sky sports news. Myself and another lad stopped dead in our tracks to check how our respective sides were doing as the second half was underway by now. I was by far and away the happier of the two as we were four up and his Barnsley side were on the receiving end of a hammering.

If Charlton are going to put four past a team (and save a penalty) you can guarantee I'm not going to be anywhere near the ground. I've been racking my brains all day and I'm sure Southampton opening day all those years ago is the last time I've seen us put a hatful past a side.

As the beers went down Barnsley cheered up a bit and turned out (along with his fiancee) to be great company, another side's results to keep half an eye out for. We agreed about many footballing issues but agreed to disagree on a certain Neil Redfearn!

The wedding reception went well and gave me many a laugh. The father of the bride speech went on and on, drifting totally off subject at one point as he started complaining about his energy bills. These northern folk can't half talk. It's just such a shame the best man couldn't. He sobbed and stumbled his way through a handful of words before giving up. We were so sympathetic on the outside yet hysterical inside. I was reminded of James Corden's character Smithy and his best man speech in Gavin & Stacey.

As if this wasn't a good enough memory to cling to from the day, the food came out and our lamb and vegetables lay on a bed of mushy peas. As a Sarf Landan boy, i felt very privileged to be treated to this delicacy and scoffed it down.

We had the traditional wedding band playing all the old favourites, but they got better and more adventurous as the evening progressed and did a wonderful cover of Pulp's Common People. The singer/bassist seemed in my slightly inebriated condition to be far too good to be playing these type of gigs.
The night was rounded off a treat when trays of bacon sarnies came out. A lovely touch that went down a treat, something to soak the beer up before retiring for the evening. I'd lost track of Barnsley a few drinks before this. I think he'd already left so i had his as well. I'm sure he'd of approved.

Today we drove past Old Trafford on our way home an hour and a half before kick off of the Manchester derby. We had already seen a fair few United supporters in the hotel who had flown in the day before for the big match all of whom had a big smile on their face. How the whole place seemed to be buzzing! I felt a little disappointed i wasn't going what with being so close, but drive past we did. On arrival home i couldn't believe my eyes as i looked up the score. How i would have liked to have seen those same faces this evening.

A good weekend then both for myself, the happy couple and all those with a love of Charlton Athletic. A great response to the defeat at Stevenage, i personally am glad to see young Chris Solly back in the starting eleven. I've only seen a handful of minutes highlights but it sounds like he had a great game as did our other full back Rhoys Wiggins. Add to that two goals for Yann the man, a beautiful finish from BWP and some comical keeping to help Danny Hollands shot from distance find the net. Hamer's penalty stop and a hard working performance from Andy Hughes in the middle in the park and it's of no surprise that every Addick woke up with a smile from ear to ear this morning.

Things are really looking good, so ladies and gentlemen would you please raise your glasses.................

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Half full

I'm not really one for letting my emotions known. Events that come my way, no matter how small or large they appear, are always covered up by my 'i'm good as gold' smile.
In fact i can only think of a couple of funerals where I've shed a tear. Although someone did mention recently (i can't remember if it was in person, on twitter, or a bloke on the telly so apologies for not crediting it) that if I put a sad film on with made up characters and made up situations and I'll bawl like a baby. Perhaps it's my way of letting go.

It's not often I'm angry either. Moody sometimes granted (just ask Heidi) but rarely angry. The past couple of weeks things have been brewing up and at the weekend it came to pass that that pressure cooker boiled over.

A set of circumstances at both work and home (neither of which are important to the story, or fair to those involved) culminated in a distinctly black mood and a lot of stomping and door slamming.

Saturday, Charlton made the relatively short trip to Stevenage. I kind of fancied this one and i knew a lot of friends were going so i was a little disappointed when i couldn't get the time off work. I did however manage to get out just before kick off. This of course meant i could listen on-line to the commentary. Except i couldn't because people needed the computer for other more important uses. In the great scheme of it's a small small thing but at the time it was the perfect catalyst.

I decided a fast motorcycle ride to a far off pub the best medicine for a comforting glass of ale. So whilst the Addicks were being taught a little lesson in Hertfordshire, i was sticking like glue to the speed limits of the country lanes of Surrey. Well, cheap glue.
And it helped a little. Heidi came with me and to be honest, just to get a chance to talk to her outside the flat and it's distractions helped a lot more.

So i came home, feeling a tad happier, to the news Charlton had been beaten for the first time this season but it really didn't matter. You see, we came home to other news as well.
A friend of ours is finally pregnant after a few miscarriages. There is however a 'but'. At thirty three weeks they have discovered there are problems with the baby and offered her a termination.
Now accepting this was never on the cards for them both. It appears that two of the chromosomes aren't formed correctly (or something like this) and the baby is disabled in some way. Mentally not physically.
Our prayers are obviously with this couple and no matter how this baby is when he/she is born, they are going to be loved beyond measure.

With such a sobering thought on my mind, i went into prepping for Sunday school kids ministry for the following morning. I got out the rota and the topic, thankfulness! (Numbers 11 4-35 in case you are interested)
The kids always make me laugh and smile no matter how I'm feeling and this Sunday was no exception. We chatted about what we have, what we want and what we need. They are sometimes a lot more compassionate and thoughtful than me. I'm sure they teach me a lot more than i teach them!

Last night, being Tuesday, it was our church home group meeting. An evening with wonderful friends guaranteed, the discussion was based around 2 Corinthians chapter 4. A constant everyday battle with what are small matters in the bigger picture. I don't choose the subjects honest!
Somebody wants me to realise this for sure and are working on my case.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4,17.

There will be countless problems in the future, that is a given fact, and i will more than likely struggle again to make sense of them. I do however have scripture to keep close to hand and a delightful insight into something far greater than this.

So I've pulled myself together and realised these little problems are small and temporary. My glass is half full, not half empty. Actually that's not strictly true. My glass is full and overflowing!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

sign on sign on

He looks like such a nice lad doesn't he? And I'm sure Rochdale and Stockport fans will be quick to tell me that he is. Owain Fon Williams is now first choice goalkeeper for Tranmere Rovers and he 's fitting in a treat.
You see, even before yesterday's league fixture, the lads from the Wirral had a reputation for playing by stretching the rules a little and running the clock down. The young Welsh shot stopper has adapted to this 'style' of play like a fish to water.

After the great results on the road and the bumper crowd for the last home match, everything was lined up to continue this momentous start, the blip in the paint cup aside of course.
We were back to picking our strongest side and Chris Powell made two changes to his regular starting eleven. No, it wasn't Doherty and Alonso but Green and Kermorgant in for Waggy and Paul Hayes.
I don't think anyone was surprised to see the Frenchman get a start after his superb substitute performances of late.

With so much promise beforehand, it was a little surprising to me that The Valley was as flat as a witch's you-know-what in the first half. 15,000 fans had very little to cheer as Tranmere stopped us playing the neat passing game we are coming to expect. If their game had been a little better you could have been forgiven for thinking Brentford were back in town. I remember tweeting in the opening half that we looked like Chris Powell had actually won that dreaded manager of the month award!

It was therefore no surprise that Tranmere opened the scoring, although in fairness our defensive play wasn't as shocking as it was midweek. A little bit of luck with a deflection off Chris Solly and Tranmere's Adam McGurk shot home. The deflection left Hamer, in the Charlton goal, no chance and although fortunate for the visitors, it had in fairness been coming for a while. We had failed to put any authority on the match and had been duly punished. Half time and a goal down.

I'd met former club director Mick Gebbit outside the ground prior to kick off and he had told me how a good friend i hadn't seen in years, Mark Garvey, was at the game.
Mark was one of the original Charlton drummers in the old covered end and we had become close friends. He came to my first wife's funeral and even organized a collection in the north stand for flowers all those years ago.
So at half time i knew to get a quick pint in and then go searching for him. Fortune favoured me though and as i turned away from the bar i saw Mark grinning like a Cheshire cat two places behind me.
His resounding comment? Al i can't get over how normal you look! I suppose he's got a point, last time we met i had a peroxide mohican.
There is something wonderful about greeting a long lost friend and yesterday was no exception. We watched the second half together and no matter what the final outcome of the game was to be, my day had been well and truly made!

I guess there was no real surprise as to that outcome considering we drew one all twice last season. Johnnie Jackson levelled for us with just over ten left from the spot. Eventually.
Tranmere did everything they could to stop our skipper from concentrating on the spot kick.
After bickering around the area which seemed to last forever, our friendly sporting keeper removed the ball from the spot whilst the man in black looked the other way.
The ref did warn the young man for time wasting more than once during the afternoon but i fear if he'd seen that he may well have scribbled his name in the book.
Super cool Jackson fired the ball home to send the Valley faithful wild. Never has a penalty needed to be converted like that one did.

The sign of a quality side is one that can still come away with a point against opposition that is determined to stop you playing one way or another. On paper it's a game we should have won but I'm content with the draw under the circumstances, we are still top of the table and still unbeaten.

We'll have a lot more to offer when the front two gel a little better. Wright-Phillips took a real battering early on that we all felt and I'm not sure he was 100% afterwards.
Yann Kermorgant looks a quality act although it didn't look like others around him read the game in quite the same way. Once they're all on the same wavelength..........
The only criticism i have of the fondly nicknamed 'Kermit' is that he looks like he goes to ground a little too easily at times. But he is French i suppose.

Years ago when we faced any scousers we sang 'sign on sign on, with a pen in your hand, and you'll never get a job, you'll never get a job' to the tune of that Merseyside anthem.
If any future prospective bosses saw yesterday's behaviour, Tranmere's young goalkeeper may well discover this for himself.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stung in the old paint pot.

Whether it was the Sky cameras or Chris Powell being nominated for manager of the month, one things for sure, Charlton were totally outplayed tonight by Brentford.

Sky's arrival at The Valley helped keep the crowd down to just under three and a half thousand despite tickets at just a fiver once again. The always depressing sounding Garry Birtles struggled with the pronunciation of Evina as much as Charlton struggled with good quick passing football from the Bees.

The ginger Pele made a return to the defense tonight and looked shaky from the off. Another starter was Mikel Alonso. The Spaniard looks very off the pace, as you would have to expect a little.
A goal in the opening two minutes  to wake up those of us still getting comfortable followed by a penalty twenty minutes later gave the visitors a two goal lead well before the break. The above mentioned were both to blame for the goals.

Big Miguel Llera returned to SE7 as he's on loan to the west Londoners from Blackpool. He soon got his name in the book like the old days and gave Danny Green the chance to pull something back with a free kick on the edge of the box. A stunning shot forced the first save of the game from the Brentford keeper.

Paul Hayes had a chance after a rare defensive error shortly afterwards but his early shot was high and wide.
Then it was Alonso's turn. Johnnie Jackson's free kick was cleared out the area to the Spaniard who shot for goal. The ref quite rightly awarded a Brentford throw.

A very poor first half. The second forty five started slightly better with the introduction of Euell but it didn't last. Our performance soon deteriorated to the same level as the visiting fans conga in the Jimmy Seed stand.

On the hour the visitors wrapped it up. Always threatening, Diagouraga finally got his goal after plenty of confusion. The lino had flagged for offside but the ref overruled him quite correctly too as our own Waggy had had a touch the assistant didn't see.

After this it was too late even for Yann Kermorgant to salvage something. Scott Wagstaff tried his luck five minutes from time forcing the keeper to make, i believe,  his second save of the game but if that's the best effort i can find to praise it says it all.
Charlton fans were leaving ten minutes before the final whistle and no one could possibly blame them. We were all ready for the ref to blow a long long time before he did.

Chris Powell said before the game that we don't do well in cups. How right he is. Yes it's a weakened side but then so was Brentfords. Rules state we needed to field six regulars and the others that came in are first team squad members. An unwanted distraction or not, this was not a performance worthy of a Charlton XI.
It's disappointing, we want to win them all, and Wembley may just have to wait a little longer for us.
Back to the important stuff on Saturday then and put this firmly in the back of our minds.
On the bright side that could be our last ever showing in the paint pot cup!

Over land and sea. Well, canal.

Charlton haven't been the only ones spending a week on the road. I have taken in Milton Keynes, Somerset and Wiltshire by motorcycle, car and narrow boat.

It has been a perfect holiday. We've had a much needed time of relaxation from work, whilst Charlton have taken four points away from home to give them some distance from the chasing pack.

It started last Tuesday when i rode up to Milton Keynes for my first away game in ages. I arrived at their stadium around six o'clock and parked the bike, for free, spitting distance from the away ticket kiosk.
With the match ticket purchased, once the window finally opened, i headed to the Red Dot bar at the other side of the ground to meet up with friends. It was a nice little place and very hospitable to travelling supporters. Definitely more suitable for a pre match pint than the bar inside the turnstile on the concourse. The entrance to that, behind screens, looked more like the entrance to a sheep dip!
The padded seats and excellent matchday programme were of quite some standard and two very high points to an MK Dons away day experience.

Charlton took around 1200 fans who sang their hearts out. If we had only taken 120 I'm sure we would have made more noise than the home support. I think the upper tier had nearly as much atmosphere up their end and that is unfinished and closed!

The first half performance from the Addicks was very flat and it was no surprise really to go in a goal behind. The always impressive Dean Lewington won a penalty which Shaun Williams duly slotted away.
In the second period Charlton looked a lot more like their normal selves. Always searching for the equaliser, it eventually came, and to new boy Yann Kermorgant. After only being on the pitch for four minutes, he headed home from a superb ball from Danny Green to give us a point to take home. A point which over ninety minutes was, i thought, deserved.

A great night, good to catch up with Charlton faces old and new, a good sing song and another new ground visited. So i rode home happy even with the knowledge that i had an early start the following morning.

After all of five hours sleep we were on the road again. This time in a packed car heading down to the west country for a few days. Although very tired, i was still buzzing about the game the night before.

We drove to Bath to meet Heidi's parents who were on a narrow boat for a week. We joined them for the last two days of their holiday, literally substituting Heidi's grandparents who started the week, and met them right in the centre of the city under the gaze of Bath Abbey.
From there we headed towards Bradford on Avon and our first of many locks.
Heidi had stumbled and sprained her ankle on arrival. This had not only swollen and badly bruised but also excused her from the hard manual work of lock operation. Under normal circumstances, the locks are effort enough. We of course had picked the hottest week of year, or so it felt, and by the sixth straight lock in a row i was in dire need of cold beer.

Considering i was only on the boat for forty eight hours, beer was certainly not in short supply. If you are ever on that stretch of water, The Brewery Inn in Seend, Melksham, is a pub known by all which serves good beer, fantastic food and a cider called Wacky which looked a little like Irn Bru in colour. Of particular interest in there, other than the steak and ale pie, were the cricket trophies hanging on the wall made out of old outhouse doors.
I've decided canal boat holidays make a good short break (especially when paid for by clubcard vouchers). I'd certainly do it again but i can imagine it's similar to caravaning. Fun in the sun yet as boring as it comes in the pouring rain.

On Friday we made our way to my brothers in Taunton. This was just a shortish drive from Bradford on Avon. As the boat was given back at nine that morning and my brother not getting home from work until five, we had a day to kill.
A final pub lunch by the canal after visiting the town museum rounded our stay off perfectly. We chose Glastonbury as a stop off point mid afternoon.
A wander around the festival town and it's shops ended in disappointment. It's a town that attracts a different kind of person to towns at home and i know I'm going to sound judgemental and i apologise now to anybody I'm going to offend but it didn't look like anyone there had ever done a days work between them.
Even the atmosphere in the town seemed a little odd, maybe even a little dark. It wasn't the place for us. It was a short stay and time to move on.

So we arrived in Taunton and had a very relaxing weekend at my brothers. I got the chance to play with his new shiny gadgets. An iPad 2, my first ever attempt at Gran Turismo 5 on the PS3, and a chance to experience 3D television!
Saturday morning i watched the Merseyside derby wearing special Sony glasses. As clever as it is (and impressive) I don't think i could cope with too much of it and actually preferred watching in good old fashioned two dimensional when we switched back.

To keep Heidi happy we strolled around the very good shopping centre in the town in the afternoon. It wasn't until about half past four that we returned to his house and i looked to see what was occurring at Bramall Lane against promotion rivals Sheffield United.

I think i may well have jumped in the air with sheer delight when i saw the score. Our very own David Fairclough, supersub Kermorgant popped up again to score seconds after coming on. This was followed by a goal, albeit with a little good fortune, from Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Four points on the road against two of the main competition is a fantastic achievement. We sit comfortably at the top of the table with real daylight between us and second place.
Now we have the little distraction of the paint cup and Brentford Wednesday night. I'm sure Yann the man will get a start in a much changed starting eleven. I know Chris Powell isn't overly concerned about the competition but i, like many others, would love a day at Wembley.

We returned home Sunday evening, with our new television set (my brothers old 42" flat screen (yes i know I'm blessed)) and the reality of going back to work. It's harder than normal after such a relaxing time but at least I've got the thought of a trip to The Valley on Saturday to get me through the week.

Come on you reds!