Sunday, January 27, 2013

A massive shock!

Should you happen to glance at either the #cafc or #swfc hash-tags on twitter, you'll see very little love from either set of supporters towards their counterparts. Of late, Sheffield Wednesday have escalated in the rankings of Charlton's rivals to a level just below Crystal Palace and Millwall. Definitely up there with the West Ham's of this world.

There are many contributing factors to this. On one hand, the clubs have met four times as 'big fish' in League One before getting promoted together last season. On the other, the clubs have shared a fair few players including Morrison, Llera, Lita and Semedo who all got a run out yesterday. Perhaps the biggest problem from the south Londoners perspective is Wednesday's perceived status. They are often regarded as a sleeping giant, a team that should be gracing the Premier League and it's grand arena, Old Trafford, St James Park, Goodison Park and the multitude of new Lego stadiums that abound. So the likes of Peterborough, and last season Rochdale and Hartlepool, are seen by many as beneath them. At least that's the impression I get. With all football clubs, Charlton included, there will be eighty to ninety percent of supporters who know the game, respect one another and generally would be lovely folk to share a pint or two with. Then there's the rest, quite happy to sit at a keyboard or nestle their smart phone in their lap tapping obscenities to rival fans, idiotic enough to take these brave words to heart and retort with an equally obnoxious 140 characters of drivel. How many of us thought we were too big for League One?

Sheffield Wednesday may not be a 'massive' club, but they are certainly a famous old name plying their trade at one of the finest traditional stadiums I've ever had the pleasure to visit. Other than a League Cup win twenty years ago, success has however eluded them, even we have won the FA Cup more recently that the Owls! If truth be told I think both clubs have found their level and have returned to a division entitled to be called home.

All rivalries have to start somewhere I suppose. Having won three league games consecutively, Charlton's hopes to make it to the end of the month with a one hundred percent record were high. A defeat, and Wednesday's first double of the season, were out of the question weren't they? A team already caught up in a relegation battle against a side in a rich vein of form. That would be a massive shock.

With only the highlights available to view (stuck at work I had to make to with radio commentary) it did appear that the home side were in charge. In the first half Michael Morrison hit the woodwork from three yards out when putting it in the net would appear to be a far easier option. This of course was to the delight of the away support in the Jimmy Seed stand whose opinion of our centre half is probably lower than ours of our former Charlton defender Miguel Llera.

The second half began in suitable fashion when Johnnie Jackson found the net. A Chris Solly cross was perfectly controlled by Bradley Pritchard who brought the ball down and in the path of our ever improving skipper. A goal that would have caught many still returning to their seats. Unfortunately the woodwork would intervene once again preventing the home side from doubling their tally during the afternoon.

Wednesday had opportunities to draw level but when a wayward shot went over the roof of the Jimmy Seed, Charlton must have thought the one goal was more than enough of a cushion. The Owls, on a superb run away from home, had other ideas though with first Reda Johnson and then substitute Leroy Lita both finding the net in the last five minutes of the game. Charlton had been mugged, Chris Powell made three changes at once in the final minute to desperately try and claw a point back but it was far too late. Often criticised for his substitutions, I know, I'm a culprit, the final whistle blew to a tirade of boos.

Two sides in the same division, eleven against eleven, the result isn't necessarily a shock, the manner in which it occurred however most definitely is.

This game only went ahead because both sides fell at the first hurdle in this seasons FA Cup. Whilst we slogged out a league fixture we'll hope to forget, other sides were stepping into the headlines on this, the fourth round of the cup weekend. If you wanted a massive shock, this was the place to look.

Millwall started the weekend by compounding Aston Villa's misery and knocking them out of their second tournament in a week. Villa have become a shadow of their former selves, unsurprisingly parting company with Paul Lambert before the weekends end.

Queen's Park Rangers did their best to steal all of Villa's limelight on Saturday by getting a good thrashing from MK Dons (Wednesday's conquerors in the previous round) on their own patch. Liverpool went one better today by crashing out at League One opposition in the shape of Oldham Athletic. The Latics rewarded with a pop at the blue side of Merseyside next!

Brentford held Chelsea, Leeds beat Tottenham, wherever you looked the shocks kept coming. The real massive shock came in Norfolk though. Norwich City of the Premier League fell at home to Luton Town of the Blue Square Conference.

I've struggled with modern football for a long time, having a television station claiming to be the 'home of live goals' and Manchester United getting their 300th consecutive cup tie shown live, football needed a kick up the backside to appease the working class, ticket buying football going  chap. Bradford, Luton and co have done this to some extent although I'd be lying (and only from a truly selfish perspective) if I said I was truly happy with the Hatters victory at Norwich. No longer can I now say I was present the last time a non league side defeated top flight opposition in the FA Cup. The seventh of January 1989, three days before my eighteenth birthday remains one of my fondest footballing memories, closely tucked behind the 98 play off final in my affections. Sutton United have found their name banded about this weekend through no doing of their own, and let's face it, all publicity for a small non league club is good publicity, but the real sting in the tail is that Sutton (and myself) went to Carrow Road in the fourth round only to get a real pasting to the tune of 8-0. Of all the places for that great achievement to be equaled!

Luton's reward is that of a visit from Millwall who infamously visited the Bedfordshire town for a cup quarter final back in 1985. Like Sutton, they may well have had their moment of fame but it's truly well deserved. Along with Bradford City in the League Cup, these really are massive but very welcomed shocks.

You can keep your Champions League, despite the FA trying to schedule the final as just another game, the FA Cup has truly lost none of it's magic.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ewood Blues

Everybody needs somebody to love, even long suffering Blackburn Rovers supporters. Jack Walker, God rest his soul, and that title winning team must seem a lifetime ago after the Steve Kean and Henning Berg fiascoes. Michael Appleton's introduction to the Ewood crowd could therefore have gone better for all concerned bar the visitors.

With a win rate of under 19% at Blackpool during his sixty five day tenure, marginally better than the 10% of his predecessor in this new post, the Blackburn fans understandably are short on patience. How short was however a little surprising. There can't be many managers listening to the fans boo at half time during their first match in charge. These fans went on to show their feelings with their feet, flooding out of the stadium before the end.

If Appleton had lasted just sixty six days at Blackpool he would have lost to Charlton two weeks on the trot with two different sides. What a quiz question that would have been!

I hadn't realised previously that today's crowd of just over thirteen and a half thousand was typical for Blackburn, I just presumed they got a fair few more despite all the bad feelings. The Charlton contingent, I'm led to believe, was around three hundred hardy souls that had battled the snow and the cold (not to mention broken down trains) for the long trip to Lancashire, the team certainly made their valiant efforts worthwhile.

Putting the FA Cup to one side, Charlton are unbeaten in the league this year having won three times on the spin. Sitting happily at twelfth in the table we are certainly looking above us first before we look below. Days like today are big results, who'd have predicted a win at Blackburn at the beginning of the season?

The game contained a real contender for goal of the season from Dale Stephens. A rather special strike from twenty five yards which, from an audio only point of view, seemed against the flow a little. Blackburn had certainly started the brighter yet failed to convert possession into goals. Stephens definitely put the cat amongst the pigeons with his wonder strike. Not only were the home fans riled, the rumour merchants could get some more mileage from the possible Villa move story all over again.

Charlton should have really made it two shortly afterwards. Jackson and Kermorgant came close but the ball was cleared off the line amongst the melee. These are the moments that so often come back to haunt us, three minutes after the restart Blackburn were back in the race. The always dangerous Kazim-Richards crossed it for Jordan Rhodes to head home into the bottom corner for his fourteenth goal of the season. Not the first time in his career he's hurt the Addicks.

The winner though came fifteen minutes later courtesy of striker Yann Kermorgant. A wonderful cross from Pritchard followed by a strong and powerful header from the Frenchman restored our lead setting up a typical nerve wracking finale for those of us tuned in to the radio commentary.

Sheffield Wednesday come to The Valley next, we could get to February without dropping a point in 2013. When you look at the awful way we muddled our way through December that's some turnaround!

Chris Powell said afterwards that "we were very positive in our mindset and I think it showed today".
I should imagine Michael Appleton is dreaming of the day he can say that.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Red Saturday

The advertising world has one main mission in its existence, to promote a product so well that either the product itself or it's catchphrase become an everyday phrase or saying. Part of the English language itself if you like.

When it works it drives you up the wall. There is a jingle from distant times past, 'Nice people to do business with' that I hum almost daily all these years later. I've no idea what company's television commercial contained it but it certainly left an impression on me. Mobile phone network Orange have certainly caught themselves a whopper of a catchphrase with their Orange Wednesday. It's not just a catchphrase, it's an event. The Blackpool Gazette must list it as one of their most overused headlines after a midweek Tangerine victory. Therefore I have no remorse in my blatant and shallow robbery. Yesterday was a Red Saturday, the first in SE7 this season.

Leicester, Cardiff and Peterborough had all previously come to The Valley this season and lost, yet not one on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it was Hartlepool on the final day of last season that were the most recent team to suffer a Saturday defeat in Charlton.

As the game kicked off many may have thought a victory was the last thing on Charlton's agenda. The victory at Bloomfield Road back in October is one of the stand out results of the season so far, Blackpool were, don't forget, play off material last season. With their charismatic manager Ian Holloway now at Crystal Palace fortunes this season have proved to be a lot different, stability under new boss Michael Appleton seemingly essential to get their season back on track. So when news broke in the days preceding the game that the new gaffer had accepted an approach from Blackburn, belief we could do 'the double' over Blackpool rose considerably.

Fielding a 4-5-1 formation, we a looked a little slow in the freezing conditions. Blackpool were sharper with their passing and quicker with their movement, if anything it was ourselves who were there for the taking in the early exchanges. Matt Taylor had returned to the heart of defence due to Cort's injury and Dervite's suspension whilst Scott Wagstaff was enjoying a very rare start after returning from his loan spell at Leyton Orient.

Blackpool couldn't capitalize on their dominance despite an early brush with the woodwork, Hamer was rarely tested throughout, and I was starting to believe a rather demoralizing 0-0 draw was in the making. From somewhere out of  the blue though a chance was carved out as Solly played a through ball into the box. A visiting foot connected and changed the balls course, falling to Johnnie Jackson to roll the ball home from the edge of the area, catching the entire Blackpool defence on the wrong foot.
As many supporters were heading for the food kiosks to purchase a much needed warming Bovril, Charlton pounced again. Kermorgant was on the end of a cross, meeting it with a powerful header which the Blackpool keeper could only parry and it fell to Wagstaff who fed on the scraps like an abandoned dog not knowing where its next meal would come from. Speaking to an Orient supporting colleague, young Waggy didn't have the greatest spell at Brisbane Road. His confidence will have sky rocketed after this.

A 2-0 lead at half time certainly took our minds off the Arctic temperatures and gave one of the dreariest forty five minutes of football an almost unbelievable glow. There was a fair bit of stoppage time added on, due mainly to a head injury sustained by Matt Taylor. He played a large percentage of the first half giving a fine impersonation of Stuart Balmer with a white bandage wrapped around his head. Whether this was in fact worn for a medical reason or just seen as a cheeky opportunity to don some needy head wear for the conditions remains to be clarified, but I will say that Taylor wasn't at all afraid to head the ball once back on his feet!

I fully expected Blackpool to throw everything at us during the second half having come so far but alas, moments of note were fewer and farther between than before the interval. It was to be the substitutions that would adhere in the memory.

Chris Powell brought on young Callum Harriott who impressed from the start. The youngster had made some noises for us in League One last season but was one to suffer in the step up last summer. Opportunities hadn't just been limited, they had been non existent this term, so when he started a collection of step overs on an eclectic run into the box to win a corner the Covered End erupted.

My own personal memory will consist mainly of Bradley Pritchard's contribution to the resulting corner. As Harriott ran back towards the half way line to take up a defensive role, the aged and experienced head of Pritchard ran back to take Harriott's position and he sent the young substitute back up into the mix. I fully believe this is the first occasion in Pritchard's Charlton career that he's carried any kind of superiority 'clout'. From where I was sat he looked like he enjoyed it too!

The other substitution of note was the departure of stalwart striker Kevin Phillips. Sections of the upper north stood and applauded as he walked off much to my bemusement. I wondered if it had anything to do with that day in May '98, Phillips being to my knowledge the last remaining man still plying his trade at a professional level. I shouldn't look so deep into the actions of The Valley faithful. It was only in the pub afterwards that I discovered the player replacing him and the recipient of the applause was Nathan Eccleston, the young striker who was on loan here a couple of seasons back.

Eccleston would give Blackpool a moment of hope in the final minute of the match as he struck a peach of a volley from the edge of the area to pull a goal back for the visitors. It was all too little too late. A poor spectacle of a game finished with three important points in the bag, a first league double under our belts and the horror of the FA Cup showing the previous week forgotten about.

This season I'd quite happily take victorious unattractive football with great regularity as we aim to solidify our membership of the Championship. Here's to many more Red Saturday's!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

It's A Knockout

Stuart Hall used to laugh a lot. In fact if I remember correctly he used to laugh all the time. The action was certainly entertaining, never a dull moment and the winners would come back for another crack whilst the losers were forgotten forever. It's a knockout really was great family entertainment, unlike Charlton Athletic at The Valley today. The only similarity between the two is that the FA Cup is a knockout competition and that's exactly what happened to us. Even Stuart Hall would have found little to laugh at.

We fell at the first hurdle of the League Cup against Leyton Orient back in August and now we've fallen at the first attempt in the world's most famous knockout competition. It's fair to say we really aren't known as a cup side.

Speculation before the game centered around who would be not just rested but avoiding being possibly cup-tied too. Chris Solly was the high profile name absent from Chris Powell's squad, read into that what you will but Pritchard and Stephens, both of whom linked with Premier League moves this January ruined any chance of a cup final appearance today.

A disappointing crowd of just over six and a half thousand coupled with a below average (or rather below acceptable) performance saw Huddersfield walk out 1-0 winners, the gaffer was quite rightly annoyed and apologetic after the final whistle. He never dreamed of recreating the glory of 1947, although a little run in the competition would give a welcomed distraction for the squad. That quarter final appearance at Bolton Wanderers back in 2000 seems an eon ago now, a game you'll remember that Powell played in.

A defeat was of course no surprise to the majority of us Addicks, I had even predicted such an outcome earlier in the week when I was invited to be Buddy Bet's guest predictor.

Buddy Bet were gracious enough to sponsor the most recent Socrates bloggers meet up in London late last year where I met the very likable James King. James asked me to predict the outcome of eleven tasty looking third round ties for their 'Kicked Upstairs' blog. I correctly called Brighton's victory over Newcastle and West Ham's draw with Manchester United, beginner's luck you may say. Let's see who's still laughing when Mansfield beat Liverpool tomorrow and confirm my impeccable knowledge in such matters!

So it's back to the league for Charlton, a Wembley visit still ultimately possible as it's not too late to count out a play-off charge, especially if we can recreate the desire we showed at Watford when Blackpool visit The Valley next Saturday. This match is marked as the closest fixture to my birthday and a few ale's will be supped, hopefully in a double celebration.

I don't think I'll bother watching the fourth round draw tomorrow.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Neuton and his law of motion

I fully expected only one name to stand out on New Years Day at Vicarage Road, a certain Mr Trevor Kettle. Yes that Mr Kettle, the one who supports Huddersfield. To his credit he put in a very average performance, he's treated us worse, and he gracefully left the headlines for someone else. A Brazilian named Neuton.

Neuton is currently on loan at Watford from Udinese in Italy, unsurprising in itself with Zola probably having a strong scouting network back in his homeland. This must also be where the young twenty two year old learnt the art of cheating.

Now before you all jump to conclusions, we have had a few lads ourselves over the years who go to ground a little too easily. A big French lad currently playing up front for the team springs to mind, although with Watford it didn't seem to be an individual choice, more of a game plan. Therein lies the problem. I'm picking on this one individual because he was playing a role nearest to the away supporters and in the best view, but man to man they fell to the ground so frequently it was hard not to mimic Ray Wilkins' overused catchphrase. Their number 41, Fernando Forestini (also on loan from Udinese), was also a main culprit especially during the first half when again in plain view of us.

It was quite evident during the second half how much the traveling support had got to Neuton. His interpretation of the law of motion included force, velocity, mass, and most importantly, downward movement.

I am of course deriving this opinion of Watford's tactics solely on the basis of one match, however if this is a week by week event i feel sorry for their, largely silent, fans. In that particular respect Vicarage Road was very similar to Craven Cottage. I would rather see a team lose every week whilst trying to play football in a largely legal fashion than see a team battle for promotion immorally. If you look again at Watford's third goal they played some lovely football and are obviously more than capable of doing it 'the right way', which makes the niggly stuff even more infuriating.

For our third goal, and to pull level, Ricardo Fuller did wonderfully well in the box 'staying on his feet' (as Ceddy Evina had done earlier for our second) when he could so easily have gone down hoping Mr Kettle would take pity and point to the spot. A small little victory for real football.

As for the game itself, what can i say. Seven 'legal' goals, three more disallowed, a real roller coaster of emotions. Credit must go to the groundsman for what can only be described as a gorgeous looking playing surface, enhanced by the glorious winter sunshine.

After sloppy defending for the Watford opener Charlton showed great resilience coming from behind twice and leading at half time. The Johnnie Jackson header that sealed it from a corner was strong, determined and summed up everything about the Addicks performance. This had been coming for a while and once again was helped by awesome vocal support. It was our turn to be the twelfth man, in much the same way as we had been for the home fixture against Cardiff back in November. The youngsters down the front, the Red Division, were superb and was was fitting to hear a song in respect of the Captain, a old diehard away traveler who regrettably died earlier in the week from cancer.

I had a good feeling about the game before it kicked off expecting to snatch a win and witnessing two very drab sides not fully awake due to the early kick off after the new year celebrations. We didn't snatch the win really though, no matter what order the goals went in. From midway through the first half Charlton wanted this and were stamping their name on the game. Just look at Jackson's face as he celebrated the winner, not to mention the fist clenched air punching from the whole side as they thanked the supporters at the final whistle. It was a momentous Charlton result, almost to the point of being season defining. We knew it in the stands, they knew it on the pitch.

Jordan Cook picked up a rare outing coming on for Lawrie Wilson who had to leave the field with a facial injury whilst the compelling Fuller gave way for Rob Hulse, making his Charlton farewell having now returned to parent club QPR. The charismatic Frimpong has also left the club returning to Arsenal. I have to be honest and admit my disappointment at seeing Hulse go. He may not be a big scorer but reads the game well, can supply a deft touch and runs his socks off. A very type-cast Charlton forward really.

After the game myself, Jim, Spanish, Catford Dave, Crispy and fellow Charlton bloggers Hungry Ted and Marco enjoyed a few real ale's as you do both in Watford and then back in Euston. As days out at the football go, this was right up there with the best of them. Thank you lads.

Now the transfer window is open be prepared for either a coming or going this afternoon, Chris Powell always waits for ten minutes after i post before announcing some breaking news. I don't hold that against him, or in fact hold anything against him after masterminding such a fantastic result Tuesday.

No explanation needed