Saturday, August 31, 2013

and Leicester

Hands up who didn't fancy today. Who else would have quite happily taken a point before kick off? With warm sunshine indulging South London there was absolutely no opportunity of using the same excuse as last week, it just wouldn't wash again no matter how many sprinklers we had on the pitch before kick off. it's quite demoralizing how little faith we now have.

I thought we'd be on the end of a real pasting, Leicester, once again, are a useful side put together with a tidy amount of cash and a wage bill to match, which I may add is always paid in full and on time. A quality team that has all the attributes to make the transgression to the big time. And how we wish we could play them every week!

Our defending has of course become infamous throughout the division and Leicester brought a fair number with them to witness a goal fest in the capital. Chris Powell, well aware of his rear guards reputation, has understood the need to address this and decided that if two centre halves don't cut the mustard then simply add a third. A ploy he used in Huddersfield midweek which worked well for eighty minutes. This dimension does require full backs that are prepared to run the flanks all game, today in Wilson and Wiggins (my man of the match) he had just that. Chris Solly apparently is out with a niggly knee and not in the final throws of signing a ludicrous deal with a club that can further his career. He'd better get his skates on then, the transfer window closes on Monday and we've the gas and electric to pay.

Jackson drove the troops from the middle admirably alongside Pritchard and Stephens while Simon Church led the line alongside penalty expert Yann Kermorgant. The script once again would write itself.

We showed little enterprise I'm afraid from open play, the final ball always falling a short yet from set pieces we looked solid. Corners, free kicks, the smell of a goal was always in the air when the referee gave the vital decision our way. Now Michael Morrison has come in for some severe criticism this season already, not least from myself, and in all honesty I thought it may do him good to be dropped. True to form then he scored the opener with his head from a corner just before the half hour.

To lead at half time was a good achievement. The tackling was very impressive, strong and decisive although possibly needed a little too frequently as we struggled at times to keep possession, especially when clearing the ball from our area. Leon Cort saw the ball return quicker than he could keep up with as his long clearances rarely found a red shirt. We continued to press strongly though and the second half merited a superb performance from Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.

There were at least three occasions where the keeper pulled off saves straight from his fathers locker. The first, very impressive as he got across his goal line to turn a Kermorgant free kick around the post. Kermorgant won the free kick himself, plummeting to the ground where there appeared to be absolutely no contact from any opposition player. Neatly done and a trick Simon Church would try to emulate later in the box with less success. The second save was far more elaborate as a one handed stop denied a Kermorgant header and the third a brave one on one with substitute Jordan Cousins.

Kermorgant did get Charlton a second, again from a corner although Leicester protested for pushing with no success. The fact we had doubled our lead was relatively surprising as the referee had tried his best to level the odds by sending off a Leicester midfielder, Matty James, for a rather too verbal outburst. Very little dampens my enjoyment than the opposition being reduced in numbers as it has so often been our undoing.

Any new found confidence developed by our defence was soon shattered as the visitors duly pulled one back. A loose ball in our area was captured quickly by a blue shirt, the lad had a little space and slotted home. You didn't think for one moment that it would all be plain sailing did you? On the plus side the Charlton safeguard took two steps forward today to their one backwards which is undoubtedly a huge improvement.

A first victory could have been far greater if it wasn't for superb goalkeeping and a missed first half sitter, yet in true Charlton form we made it a nervy six minutes of stoppage time. But a first three points it is, and a real victory as opposed to last weeks mental achievement.

It was worth celebrating so we headed to The Grapes at London Bridge. Unfortunately so did Stoke who had been at West Ham this afternoon. A small mob arrived at first, young spotters followed by bigger and uglier lads and a police entourage. These weren't the Met either so had come down to London for day out too. As we supped our beers more appeared, wave after wave of Stone Island clad brutes arrived, there were police wagons parked all around and there was no doubt that something nasty was brewing. Too old for such fisticuffs we downed said beers and found a much quieter watering hole. It was an evening of celebration after all, not confrontation.

As a footnote today also saw a new Charlton fanzine hit the streets called Valley Talk. The brainchild of a very enthusiastic Joe Hall, this debut issue is proving to be an enjoyable read of many well known Charlton writers. Keep an eye out for future issues, as great as it is to have the Voice return, you can't beat a little competition.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Capital One at the John Smith's

Sponsorship, loads of money thrown at events and places (amongst other things) that already exist in an attempt to get your name 'out there' and on the tip of every tongue. It's big business, plenty of smaller fish depend on it. I see it's need but it still bugs me. The League Cup is thought of as a pretty meaningless competition by the big boys, and everyone else once they've been knocked out of it, Capital One can throw thousands at it, I still very much doubt I will ever use one of their services.

Huddersfield's ground is now known as the John Smith's stadium. I can't even begin to think how much money would be needed to make me drink that horrible bath water of a beer. The brand name is owned by Heineken, just as awful. Money well spent all round then. Yet when it was called the Milk Cup, now that's a product I'm very keen on........

Once we'd gotten past the branding we realise this is most certainly not the tie of the round as Huddersfield entertain Charlton in knock out football. Again. How we groaned in South London when the draw was made, and how they groaned in West Yorkshire also. It was going to be tough to get the home supporters interested let alone those travelling from SE7. In the end the number in the visitors section numbered 159 and I tip my hat to each and every one of them. Imagine going that distance on a Tuesday to watch Charlton in a cup match, we've all seen villains in the movies torturing poor unsuspecting souls with pliers, flame throwers and other implements of mutilation. Even Hollywood script writers aren't cruel enough to endure a Charlton cup tie on them.

Tonight it sounded from the commentary and from the tweets of those there (yes Spanish, I mean you) that Charlton for once looked good despite ultimately getting knocked out of the competition. The opinion seems to be that the result was a little harsh and the better side lost.

Chris Powell opted for a different formation, three centre halves and Evina and Wilson as wing backs. Jackson was back in the middle and Sordell started up front with Piggott. Huddersfield put out a strong eleven not to dissimilar to a team they would field for a league match.

Twice Charlton led, first from a Dale Stephens strike, then a goal for the immensely irritating Sordell. All strikers need a goal for confidence and getting off the mark is important when joining a club, but I fear as we continue to watch him he will persist in provoking and inciting us with a lack of effort, interest, and results. Perhaps I'm harsh, I'll quite happily eat my words if proved wrong.

Can we complain if we've scored two goals away from home? I suppose we can a little if we've conceded three. At the moment we are shipping goals at a rate of knots. Leaking boats sink. Teams that concede lots lose, I've no more low quality nautical analogies left after Saturday I'm afraid, but suffice to say our defending remains a worry.

For now though at this late hour I shall sleep content in the knowledge that we can concentrate on more important issues than a two bit cup that nobody has any real interest in. Except for Peterborough and Bristol City possibly.

I'm not jealous.

Really I'm not.

One day............

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cats and dogs.

Some football matches will remain with us for years and years to come, big wins, spirited comebacks and haunting defeats. A game that never was though, that will be etched permanently in our heads even if the record books refuse to acknowledge it, a story that will pass down through families for generations, told by future grandparents that currently still go to school.

An abysmal pitch matched by equally atrocious defending saw Doncaster Rovers three goals up after twenty three minutes. A surface that refused to allow the ball to roll saw football of comical proportions, unfortunately all at our expense. Indeed, their were two teams out there but the north end of the pitch, which we were defending certainly seemed the more waterlogged. When the third goal went in we couldn't take any more, the game had the makings of a record breaking home defeat and we headed for an extremely premature half time beer. Five minutes later we were joined by the masses as the referee suspended proceedings. Tucked away in the upper North concourse we watched events unfold on the TV screen although without subtitles it was anyone's guess what was happening. I'm not sure anybody in the ground had any clearer an idea than us either.

The obvious decision would be to abandon the match, and if the scores had been level I've no doubt the referee would have done that immediately. With the visitors three goals up I had a niggling feeling he'd bottle it. I agree, in the olden days they played in mud baths, and pulling their socks up they dug in and got on with it. In the modern era of health and safety, not to mention the modern game based primarily on a fluid passing initiative, this match needed to end. It was farcical. We had threatened at times, their keeper had produced three good saves, but we were guaranteed to come out of this as villains and deplorable 'bad sports'.

Conversation on the concourse seemed to focus on the away support. Charlton seems an easy place to come these days, many away fans say it's one of their favourite grounds to visit. Probably because they're made to feel so welcome. We give them the stand with the best acoustics and relative comfort. There is absolutely nothing hostile to worry a visiting supporter, not even a drop of rain. Take the roof off, that will quieten them down, or better still give us the Jimmy Seed stand where we can sing our hearts out (remember how loud Palace were last season) and give the away fans a couple of blocks of the lower West. The upper class above them could even hurl prawns down on the unsuspecting travelers from their sandwiches.

After much forking, sweeping and rolling from both the ground staff and desperate Rovers players, the pitch remained unplayable. The officials duly lived up to my initial fears and brought the teams back out. Simon Church pulled a goal back whilst Paul Keegan made two rash challenges within eight minutes to get his marching orders. Momentum was definitely with us, attacking the goal in front of the North stand would certainly have given us opportunity to claw back the deficit in the second half, which by my calculations would have finished around six o'clock!

Fortunately though the half time whistle became the final curtain and the match was finally abandoned. perhaps the ref thought it fairer now that we had the impetus. We cheered, Donny mourned, we would do this again one Tuesday evening and starting on level terms. We were lucky, pray the defence train and work a little harder before the re-match!

I remember years ago arriving at The Valley for a West Ham match by motorcycle, absolutely drenched as it rained cats and dogs for the entire journey, only to get straight back on the bike as the game was called off a half hour before kick off. That should have happened yesterday, we would stand in a better light, even the awful Football League Show on the BBC portrayed us, perhaps unintentionally, as swindlers and sharks. The one true rapscallion got away without blame. He sent the rain, not us.

From our encounters with a group of easily agitated Donny supporters both at Charlton station then again on arrival at London Bridge, I think it's fair to say they weren't best pleased with the situation. We may well have overtaken Rotherham as the most despised team in Doncaster. Twitter as usual has lived up to it's very low standards and confirmed this.

Today has been much kinder, after an early morning downpour the weather remained sunny and dry for a pleasant scooter ride to Brighton as Mods up and down the land converged on the seaside resort for some Bank Holiday fun. Sitting on the pier enjoying an ice cream it was hard to imagine the two days were from the same weekend. It's one I won't forget.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Up And Running

All around the world people were today celebrating the start of the English football season. The FA, in conjunction with Sky, had chosen today to unleash their money making new Premier League campaign on a football hungry public willing to spend their budget on expensive TV packages and lucrative match day tickets.

I had a customer this morning in the bike shop who jubilantly remarked that football is finally back. Staggered, I casually mentioned that the real stuff started two weeks ago, he was completely oblivious. He honestly had no idea, where this chap had been hiding I really don't know, but for a fifty-odd year old man (and apparently staunch Chelsea supporter) to not know the lower divisions had already kicked off, and have no clue which division Charlton played in, I realised the brain washing of the Premier League machine was taking hold. How can someone who claims to "love his football" be so blinkered? I was, to coin a phrase, bloody angry. His motorcycle duly failed it's MOT.

Do these people think exciting football can only happen if multimillionaire footballers take to the pitch? Just look at Reading and Watford today. An end to end 3-3 draw that could easily have been 6-6, Watford did indeed find the net six times only the week before. What about the action at Oakwell today? A home team two goals up, then a spirited fightback sees the visitors claim a point. And this a fixture that saw a 6-0 away win only last season. Yes, I do have a lot of arguments with modern football, but for all the issues with TV companies, club chairman, the FA and like, supporters with their heads in the sand probably wind me up the most.

So Charlton then. Sordell was dropped, shame, Jackson was injured, and we started with a 4-3-3 formation. At half time we were a goal down, ten minutes later it was two. All the comments of  'a long hard season ahead' were fluttering around inside my head. Three played, nil points, both ourselves and Millwall were in danger of going to the fancy dress party as Denmark's Eurovision entry, propping up the entire division. Three played, and beaten by three teams that I really don't believe are good enough for a top half of the table finish, one or two of which could even find life a little harder than that. And then I hear on the radio that there are club's in the Conference that have plenty more in their bank accounts than us. It's looking like it's all over for us already, and according to the media the season is only forty five minutes old!

Football, whether top flight or not, is an intriguing game though, and fortunes can turn on their head in a matter of moments. It only takes a goal. Young midfielder Jordan Cousins was given his debut as a half time substitute, along with Leon Cort, by Chris Powell. He went on to emulate Rickie Lambert's England midweek showing by marking the occasion with a goal. Momentum was with us and eight minutes later Simon Church doubled our tally with his first league goal of the season.

A point grasped from the hands of defeat, it almost feels like we won. Our first point on the board, a little confidence instilled in the team and the impetus now to address the home performance before the visit of Doncaster Rovers next week, cue hundreds of Addicks falling back in love with their football team.

How many of you didn't even realise this type of thing happened up and down the country week in week out to real working class folk? Football is much more than a Super Sunday.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

twenty four hours later........

I honestly thought we would be pumped up and raring to go yesterday. An opening day defeat needed redressing, a natural high after midweek cup success, the first Valley league match of the season, all the ingredients were there, but we were poor. Poorer than poor at times.

I remember Solly turning and winning the ball on the touchline in front of the dugouts, I remember Gower making a solid and powerful tackle to thwart a Boro attack, two positives from ninety minutes. I remember plenty more, Kermorgant spending most the game on the deck, Morrison playing the ball sideways, backwards and always looking so uncomfortable, and I remember Sordell doing, well nothing really.

This was supposed to be the light at the end of the tunnel after a very tough week, I hadn't managed to get to the 4-0 drubbing of  Oxford United in the League Cup as I was stuck at work, no, this was my release of a week's worth of pent up aggression and disappointment. I boarded my train back to London Bridge in a far worse state that I had arrived in. We had been beaten by a team no better than ourselves, and a team that really didn't look like they wanted it that much either. And I had paid good money to feel this depressed.

The goal that won it for the visitors was soft, but more worryingly the build up had been equally soft. Poor clearances combined with a lack of communication, the third Saturday in succession that poor defending has been penalised.

And it's hard to see why. The defence is the one area that has been strengthened. Dervite has shown he's more than able at this level, Morrison, Cort, Wood and the full backs have all also proved themselves in the second tier, but we are playing like a team very low on confidence of their own ability, and this on the second week of the season!

The midfield is no better. Jackson started but obviously wasn't anywhere near ready only managing to last the first forty five. Why did the gaffer take this gamble? Is he not trusting enough of the rest of his squad? Stephens came on and showed a couple of moments of the promise he could posses but generally was as poor as Gower alongside him in the middle. Harriott ran at everyone but never knew what to do with the ball once beating his man while Danny Green just looked out of his depth.

Up front Kermorgant did his usual falling down and moaning when it wasn't going his way, his relationship with Sordell was non existent as if they'd only learnt each others names a few days ago. Oh hang on.....

Simon Church came on for Sordell and quite frankly couldn't have been less effective than the Bolton man if he'd tried. He ran a lot, chased lost causes but offered little in the great scheme of things.

Sure enough, as is the Charlton way of waiting until it's almost beyond us before having a go, a goal down and seventy five gone on the clock we had a little rally, a tiny little spell of pressure culminating in Green finding an opportunity but he took far too long to compose himself and wasted it. Just as we got this momentum Powell then made a double substitution and quashed it as quickly as it started. Lawrie Wilson came on alongside Church, you'd have to say looking at the player that married life agrees with him.

And so it fizzled out. As a spectacle it was abysmal, the world and it's dog are busy saying don't panic, we're only two games in but really, where do you see the improvement coming from? Harsh I may be but I think we are in for a much tougher ride this season than we were the last.

Sordell is on loan from a team in the same division, where will his loyalties lay? Church wasn't wanted by Reading, or Birmingham who gave him a trial, in fact a week before the season started he wasn't wanted by anyone. Now there is talk of resigning someone we didn't really want ourselves anymore in May. If I was Fuller I know exactly what I'd say to any job offer. It's hard to lay blame at the boss, he can only do his best but I do wonder how long even his infectious smile can keep geeing up a group of despondent footballers.

The post match beer at London Bridge really didn't promise much jollity. Even though the talk was diverted away from the match, the previous week's events fashioned forlorn conversation. Little did we know a group of lads and lasses from Wigan would befriend us. Drunk long before we met them, hat appreciation was the initial key and from then on we had our very own northern fan club. We certainly got the chance to finish the day with an unexpected good laugh.

In London, obviously, for today's Charity Shield match at Wembley, we asked one lad what his plans were for match day. His reply? "Avoiding the police." Top lad.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cherries and peaches.

Charlton Athletic today started their 'Sky Bet' (oh dear) Championship campaign on the south coast at newly promoted Bournemouth. Resplendent in their new white away shirts the home supporters may have been forgiven for thinking the mighty Real Madrid had returned for a rematch. Those supporters that had seen another pay day and could afford to attend another football match that is.

Of course this was a far more even affair than the high profile friendly The Cherries played last month, and a good indicator for both sides on how the summer and the new season preparation had gone.

With the arrival of two new strikers on Thursday of last week, Chris Powell finally had a realistic claim to play something other than a 4-5-1 formation, opting to give Marvin Sordell a debut alongside Yann Kermorgant up front. The big team news however was Johnnie Jackson missing out with a calf niggle, Morrison was named skipper in his absence. Dervite partnered Morrison with Solly and former Bournemouth full back Rhoys Wiggins completed Ben Hamer's defence.

New signing Mark Gower started alongside another veteran, Andy Hughes, in the middle of the park with Pritchard and Harriott running wide.

Charlton started steadily enough but the home side soon began to mount some continuous pressure, culminating in the opening goal. A defensive lack of concentration saw Lewis Grabban nod home from former Charlton youngster Harry Arter's cross. Very highly rated on the coast, a Bournemouth supporting friend jested with me last season on how we let this lad through the net. It always comes back to haunt us doesn't it.

Bournemouth came close again only two minutes later and in many ways Charlton could think themselves lucky to go into the break still very much in the game. Bournemouth had certainly played the first forty five minutes in the same manner as they finished the previous campaign and with the enthusiasm and gall of a newly promoted side.

If they were now accustomed to seeing world class opposition at Dean Court, Yann Kermorgant's equalizer four minutes into the second period will have come as no surprise to them. Anything Ronaldo and company can do.....

A lovely scissor style volley of pure power (do we still use the term 'peach' or is that old hat?) from the Frenchman livened a consistently audible away following to new levels, these new kids on the block needed taking down a peg or two from experienced Championship hands. If only. That lesson may have to wait a week or two and be dealt by another club.

Grabben grabbed his second (bugger, I promised myself I wouldn't sink that low) with another 'peach' of a strike from the edge of the area. There was no way back. Bradley Pritchard came closest but his effort was cleared off the Bournemouth goal line while Dervite also had a header go close.

Pritchard didn't last much longer after his attempt to score. A straight red after a late lunge on Ryan Fraser saw the midfielder walking only five minutes after Charlton had used their final substitutes. Simon Church made his debut replacing Sordell not long after the hour mark,  while Green and Stephens then came on for a double substitution replacing the aging and tiring old boys in the middle. With a combined age of 69 in the heart of our midfield it was no surprise they didn't see out the full ninety minutes!

It's early days and as Hungry Ted quite rightly pointed out on twitter, no side has been relegated on the opening day of the season. Let's put this down to experience, allow the new boys a happy start to life at this level and just enjoy the fact that football is back. We've plenty of time to start the moaning properly, perhaps even on Tuesday night after Oxford United have visited us in the League Cup.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nine and ten.

When I was asked to contribute to a Reading supporter's website, The Tilehurst End, regarding our hopes and expectations for the impending season, I secretly hoped my words would be out of date sooner rather than later.

Good old Chris Powell, he always comes up trumps, I'm reminded of Paul McGann and his delight in Jake the poacher, "Good old Jake , let's all have a good laugh eh Withnail, good old Jake he's back." We too have been saved, we were all laughing at ourselves but the gaffer seems to have produced a rabbit out of his hat (or an eel out of his trousers) and saved the day. Chris Powell has sprung to action just when we all thought we could possibly be on the end of a buggering away from home come Saturday.

So, sure enough, the day The Tilehurst End posted their latest article which sees me sweating about our front line, Charlton announce the signing of two strikers. But then we all knew something was imminent didn't we?

In my eyes the Obika situation would have happened weeks ago if it was ever likely too, Fuller was training with us but again would have signed on the dotted line by now if both the gaffer and the player really wanted it. This afternoon then, trialist Simon Church and Bolton youngster Marvin Sordell have agreed terms with The Addicks, the former signing permanently on a two year contract, the latter on a season long loan from Bolton Wanderers.

I'll start with Church (seems a little fitting considering the blogs name), released by Reading in the summer, four years after initially breaking into their first team. A reliable Reading source has told me that after his first full season his time at The Madejski went downhill, he still runs his socks off, works hard but there is very little end result. You'd be hard pressed to find someone in Berkshire that shed a tear on his departure. That said, Powell has been very impressed with his trial and considering the lad was still without a club at this late stage suggests he was desperate for a contract and didn't argue too much over the slightly below average wages I presume we could afford to offer. Church is also, let's not forget, a full Welsh international with twenty two caps to his name. If he can kick-start his career in SE7 he could once again rub shoulders with some of the best in Europe (and Wales) gaining experience and tutorials at every turn. It could be the start of something magical, but then he could be another Luke Varney, time will tell.

Marvin Sordell on the other hand is a real footballing talent, it's just a shame we have him only on loan. I know loan players like to think of themselves as being in a showroom trying to impress their 'real' boss but unfortunately that's exactly where their main interests lie. For their temporary employers, the player is just a stopgap and it's very rare one of these signings adopts the attitude of Jorge Costa and actually starts to bleed the club he's representing. Again though, we've acquired a lad with international experience (England U-21 and Great Britain) and definitely a star of the future. His goal scoring record was wonderful at Watford yet dropped to one in five at Bolton, although he did of course net at The Valley last season. Let's pray Bolton don't endure an injury crisis and subsequently need to recall him by October!

They are two different players with different dynamics and very differing styles, whether they are going to become revered at Charlton remains to be seen but three strikers has got to be better than one. A burning question that seems to be doing the rounds now though is regarding Rhoys Wiggins. Do we need to offload the full back to balance these wages? Let's hope this is just doom-mongers jumping at a sour scenario.

I may hold slight reservations but beggars can't be choosers and although that statement makes things sound a lot more desperate than they are, at least we can start the campaign with a number nine and a number ten listed in the matchday programme.