Wednesday, October 31, 2012

comeback comeback all is forgiven

Johnny Summers
Of late there's been a sense of disillusionment brewing with the modern game. The back pages have been filled with stories of diving, racism, and overpaid attitudes as opposed to the actual game of football being played. I agree that standards have to be set, and subsequently reached, but i don't really want to concern myself too much with an analysis of a referee's performance and his drawn out trial and eventual execution. I also have no interest in who shakes who's hand before a game. I, like many others, do seem to have fallen out of love with our national sport, Rich at The Football Attic touched on the subject eloquently this week and almost had me in tears!

Football though is a beautiful game and claws you back like a heartbroken lover when it thinks you may just close the door for good. The League Cup (or COC (snigger) for short) is not necessarily the most attractive of  proposals, yet in a time of Premier League Super Sundays is probably the closet we get to seeing football how it used to be, perhaps due to the resting of the so called superstars and the chance for young lads who want to play?

Last night Arsenal beat Reading 7-5 at the Madejski Stadium, coming back from four nothing down. This is a scoreline that many of us had never witnessed and possibly the greatest comeback of all time? It certainly grabbed our attention and reminded us why we can never fully walk away from football. It was as i tweeted last night, reminiscent of 'make up sex', hence the loan of Kirk Brandon's lyrics for the title.

I say possibly the greatest comeback because there was one game in history that potentially outshines it. It occurred on the 21st December 1957 when Huddersfield Town came to The Valley.

Back in the glorious days of medicine balls and flannelette jerseys football was a much different game. It was far more attack minded with wingers, inside forwards and the traditional centre forward. Playing five up front  does give a team far more opportunity to score, and of course on the flip side concede. Football's a lot more cagey now with so many more potential high profile windfalls available to the winners and let's not forget the almost carefree abandonment with which chairmen will change managers. In the fifties you could afford to lose a few games in a row and still have the clubs full backing.

As is the way with Charlton supporters, as soon as the goals went flying in at Reading, the twitter timeline was full of boastful pride as Addicks reminded their followers that they weren't watching the greatest of all comebacks. The greatest was a lifetime before, a time when 99% of these tweeters weren't even born.

Charlton entertained Huddersfield in this league fixture and with only a quarter of an hour played they were reduced to ten men, Derek Ufton having been rushed off to hospital after dislocating his shoulder. The notion of substitutes was still a long way off, Keith Peacock was only twelve years old at this point.

Huddersfield had the run of the play and were strolling 5-1 with just half an hour to go. Jimmy Seed the Charlton boss played a masterstroke by pulling Johnny Summers off the left wing where he was getting no joy and moving him into the centre. Summers in true comic book style had changed his boots at half time, this new pair were certainly his shooting boots as he would go on to score five goals all in all. A feat made even more remarkable as this natural left footer got them all with his right peg! John 'Buck' Ryan also netted a brace as the Londoners ran out 7-6 winners, the Terriers still hold a record as the only club to score six and still lose a football league match.

So which is the greatest comeback? Not being alive in 1957, it's very hard to give a true evaluation. Certainly in times past goals were far more frequent. If you look at club records for the majority of sides their biggest win, their heaviest defeat and their highest aggregate scoring match were all long ago in the distant past which would hint towards last night's game being the greater achievement. Arsenal did it with eleven men on the field though so perhaps Charlton's was the greatest.

The only thing i can decide for certain is that their are four goalkeepers that have had a game to forget!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's black and white.

In a day and age when football sides have third kits, commemorative kits and even European kits, it's refreshing for me to see Charlton often run out with the wrong shorts on. My contempt for Nike aside, traditional red and white home attire complemented with an all black away number works. We have seen red shorts appear occasionally and now we have the home shorts breaking up the black. It all harks back to me of a day when football was a lot less commercial, when you made do with what you had and just for those of you watching in black and white, Charlton are in the lighter shorts.

Chris Powell surprised us with a formula at Leeds that brought home a point and should perhaps have reaped even more reward. There were no surprises that he named an unchanged side at Molineux.
The similarities didn't stop at the line up. Once again Charlton went behind and looked second best during the first half. And once again the Addicks pulled a goal back, having chances a plenty to come back to London with three more points on the board.

Lawrie Wilson started his account after Rob Hulse had been denied, the hard working striker running his heart out during the afternoon and having the greatest of opportunities at the death with a close range header which he unbelievably steered wide.

Two draws away from home in five days at Leeds and Wolves is undoubtedly a great achievement, but that hard work now depends on capitalizing with the home fixtures against Middlesbrough and Cardiff. Will Powell use this formation at The Valley or does he need to go for the throat and play two up front to utilize the home advantage?

Our home form has been very below par, not a patch on the gritty performances on our travels which is why we now languish at a lowly twentieth in the table. The away form is mid table, no-one can take that away but the home form is that of a relegation side. We can draw matches all day on the road but if we don't punish teams in SE7 we'll undo the good work achieved around the country. Three wins in the first thirteen games tells it's own story. Perfect timing for two of the top three to make their way into South East London next then, although on the plus side both these sides may have impeccable home form but can both be dissected and beaten on the road.

A long way to go of course, but if we can address the home form, that mid table security we desire will eventually follow.  November would be a lovely time to put a run together, i still deep down believe we'll go into Christmas in a far more salubrious position.

What better way to build on the week's hard work and start a run than dispatching Nicky Bailey and co! For the benefit of those reading in black and white........

Come on you darker shirts attacking the goal to your left!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

All great managers go to Elland back

Sitting high up in the stands with a panoramic view of the playing field it's easy to cast an overall opinion of how the game's panning out for both the team and the individuals. We can tell if someones performance is under par, if their link up play and distribution is missing something in its execution, or if their legs look like they're made out of lead. It's easy to tell when to bring someone off and make either that tactical switch to break down the opposition or the like for like to save somebody's afternoon from plummeting further into a personal nightmare. Isn't it?

Chris Powell has come under some criticism of late for both his tactics and his substitutions. Perhaps it's a little harder when you're stood in the technical area and fifteen to twenty thousand people are hoping you can see what they can, all few hundred different versions of it. It may even be a little harder when you're reportedly unhappy with the way your new bosses choose to run things. In knowing too many wrong decisions could ultimately cost you your job, these easy like for like decisions with twenty five minutes to play and a winger puffing like a chain smoker climbing a mountain, take a moment or two longer to debate before taking the plunge and informing the fourth official.

Once injury has wreaked havoc on your squad some options will answer themselves but how do you really know where to play someone out of position? Centre halves as emergency strikers due to an aerial prowess is a good old fashioned recipe, and nowadays more and more players are coming through with an ability to use both feet allowing the option of changing flanks, sometimes swapping back and forth during the game. Steve Brown could of course play anywhere. An old fashioned footballer that would give 110% whether in the heart of the midfield or in goal, Chris Powell would find life comfortable with eleven clones of Browny.

Since Chris assembled HIS squad last summer (his first don't forget) things have been decidedly rosy. Following on from Alan Curbishley, the last of the great Charlton managers, Powell has won silverware in the form of a league title and in doing so strengthened his claim as a Charlton legend. And this is in his first full season in charge! Tough times were always ahead of him though, it was just a matter of when. It's how he deals with those tough times that will really make or break him and consign him to being a good rather than great manager. These periods of struggle and resolve will come back time and time to taunt and tease him should he have a long and fruitful career in management, so what better place to learn your trade and be able to experiment than the comfort and relative safety of somewhere you can truly call home.

After what was a criminally poor performance at home to Barnsley we saw something different and drastic up at Leeds on Tuesday evening. Having been criticized by some for an almost pessimistic 4-5-1 at the weekend you may have expected to see a more regular 4-4-2 at Elland Road. Well i'll take my hat off to any man who predicted the 4-1-4-1 formation Powell started with.

Chris Solly went back to his usual berth on the right giving the always overlooked Cedric Evina a start at left back. Evina probably thought this day would never come around. Lawrie Wilson was able to push up on the right to a position he was always very comfortable in with Stevenage, and as his confidence grows by the game he could be tough to displace.

Again injury was to dictate as Dale Stephens pulled up with a tight hamstring during the warm up. Yet another injury headache for the gaffer who would be forgiven for starting to suspect a conspiracy. Bradley Pritchard would have to partner 'a still returning from injury' Jackson in the middle.

Rob Hulse (i had almost forgotten we'd signed him) started, back at one of his old haunts, ahead of Wright-Phillips in the lone striker role, one in which he's probably the most suited of all the strikers at the club anyway.

Behind him though, rather than a five man midfield with an attacking option playing 'in the hole', we had a flat four and defensive cover in the shape of Dorian Dervite behind them. My only view of the Frenchman had been pre season at Crawley where he played a regular centre back role and to his credit played it well. His start at Leeds was a true shock rewarded not only with commendation but also with a full debut goal.
If it wasn't for the Leeds stopper, Paddy Kenny, Charlton would have come away with all three points as time and time again he denied the Addicks who finished the game most definitely wearing their shooting boots. What a complete turn around from Saturday.

Chris Powell showed he certainly isn't going to shirk responsibility and sit back and watch the squad he has built fall apart at the seams in a lackluster attempt at survival.
On his appointment many said it a brave move to risk going back to where you have a great reputation and risk losing it should things not work out. Chris Powell rubbished that at the time, if you worry about failing you'll achieve nothing.

Tuesday was a masterstroke, who could possibly sit in the stands and doubt a man that can pull something like that out of his very stylish cap?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I knew getting up was a mistake

It would appear yesterday that i wasn't the only one struggling to put in a match winning performance. There were times during the morning when my attendance as part of the bumper crowd was in jeopardy, for i was on the road to recovery after a nasty stomach bug that had reduced me to a shivering wreck and bed bound for thirty six hours.

A nice little Charlton win was surely the perfect medicine? In honesty, i nearly turned straight back around at London Bridge and perhaps i should have. The performance on the pitch just added to my discomfort, whilst the half time pie for the best bit of three quid did it's best to completely set me back by a day or two (what was going to line my stomach for a post match pint now?).

Sorry to upset anyone who's job involves the planning of a family day out, but i'm not one for razzmatazz. Cheerleaders, goal music, opera singers, i'm only there for the football so my arrival inside the ground was nicely planned for five to three. The club obviously tried to give all the strangers value for money for their five pounds but even if i'd felt 100% i don't think i'd have gotten too carried away with it. A bumper crowd it may have been, but a large crowd lacking in atmosphere has got to be worse for the team than a small one generating plenty of support.

We started as we did at Blackpool playing with one up front. Even with five in the middle Barnsley had the better of the early stages and at times played the ball around us like it was a demonstration match. I was waiting for the ole's from the good spirited travelling support. Stephens looked like he didn't want to be out there with wayward passes and mistimed challenges while Kerkar didn't seem to have the legs to get through an hour let alone the full ninety minutes.

Don't think i'm picking these two out, we were second best for most of the match, all eleven made a mistake or two, and if Barnsley had shown the killer instinct they did at Birmingham it could have been all over before Gemma Gibbons, the local lass who won a medal in the Olympics, was paraded on the pitch at half time. I didn't see her, i was battling a rubber pie at the time.

Two changes by Chris Powell at the interval saw us start the second forty five in a far more Charlton like 4-4-2. Still we struggled. Barnsley had a little blonde haired lad, David Perkins, who was in the middle of everything. He was playing like he wanted to win, that was the difference. They also had Stephen Dawson, their number seven, who had a solid game with a strong tackle and great ball distribution. On top of this he wore plain black boots, i had total respect for this chap, well until that is he made a meal of a challenge, took forever to go off limping and was sprinting five seconds after coming back into play. Why do all the other 91 league clubs deploy this tactic?

The Barnsley goal was well finished from a very tight angle but Danny Green's mistake let them in. It looked like a slip rather than plain clumsiness but Tomasz Cywka capitalized and finished impeccably.

We had some half chances, a good penalty shout, a six man rugby scrum on the goal line where the ball went close to crossing it but nothing that looked of any real quality. Ricardo Fuller was guilty of one or two step overs too many every time he carried the ball into the box and even when we did manage to gain some kind of forward momentum the referee did his best to stop play and resume it in the opposite direction.
Fuller would make it to the final whistle but certainly was carrying a knock by the end of it. Probably the last thing the gaffer needed.

I'm always short on patience when ill, i'm sorry if this seems negative but i certainly felt negative at the time. These promotions always seem to backfire on us, but on the plus side if there was a future generation of Addick in the crowd yesterday they'll certainly know what they're letting themselves in for, and hopefully how addictive it is!

Leeds away Tuesday, i feel a little more positive when we play away this season but home form is crucial for survival. Time to roll our sleeves up, push on, and take a leaf out of the blonde lads book. Lets at least look like we want to win.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pam Shriver

I like Barnsley. I don't think I'm being impertinent by saying they're not one of the biggest names or attractions in the Championship, they had a novelty value during their Premier League adventure but back in the second tier they exist quite contently out of the spotlight. Reminds me in some respects of a certain South London club. Spending the majority of their existence at England's second level of football, a real scare of administration and the possibility of  extinction, they even play in red and white.
If i were a northerner i might just have been a tyke. As a child my parents probably thought i was and more than likely called me one. 

Charlton have once again brought their 'football for a fiver' trick out of hibernation, as they've done frequently of late, to see bums on seats and a full Valley for a fixture that would otherwise struggle to reach the season's average. Barnsley look set to play in front of a far bigger Valley attendance than any other side this season.

It's a scheme that has received wonderful acclaim from other clubs and supporters around the country but how much of a success is it really? It generates great revenue around the ground for local eateries and public houses, not to mention the catering outlets inside The Valley plus an opportunity to sell a replica shirt or two in the Nike superstore. Let's not forget the return from the empty seats which must outweigh that lost from ticket sales from those supporters that would have come anyway and paid the full amount.
From a business point of view it's a great pitch, but how do supporters feel about it? I'm always happy to see the ground packed, but if a face I've never seen before sits next to me and starts to complain if we're not four up by half time I'm likely to get irritated.

How many faces, or more appropriately bums, will be back for the next home game? On a day when the BBC price of football survey was released, you can see how expensive top flight football in London is. If men (or women) decide Charlton is the place to bring the kids for a football day out in future then fantastic, and if it only serves to sew a seed in some young children that will go on to remember their first game and be regulars in ten or fifteen years time then that's of equal importance.
I am guilty for expecting a short term increase while in hindsight these promotions quite often aim for a long term solution, perhaps why I'm not at the forefront of cut throat business.

Someone who does have a brain for these type of initiatives is Rick Everitt. Rick had a huge part to play in the 'football for a fiver' idea, he had an immeasurable role in the now defunct fanzine 'Voice of The Valley' and spent fourteen years around the club culminating in his appointment as club development officer.
Rumors had been rife about his departure from the payroll and this week Rick confirmed on the Charlton Life forum that he had indeed been sacked.

I've always been guilty of keeping my head in the sand, hoping that through ignorance everything will turn out rosy without any need for me to worry unnecessarily. I can do this quite easily on all matters from football to finances, health to home life. It's not a good approach to take, I'm certainly not advocating it, but in the case of football Charlton make it a very easy option for us as the new owners do like to keep us in the dark.

Things are definitely chilly behind the scenes at the club, but to at what extent we are unaware. Rick said in his statement the best course of action is to keep getting behind both the team and Chris Powell. That seems like great advice to me.

We've endured an international break that contained more talking points than a women's book club meeting. Charlton youth product Jonjo Shelvey won the first of what we believe will be many England caps, the Polish comically couldn't or wouldn't shut the roof during a downpour on par to Hull's visit to SE7, and in Serbia racism raised it's ugly head during an England under 21 fixture to a level akin to 1970's Britain.

Thank goodness that's all over, lets get behind the team on Saturday as Rick suggested, all twenty odd thousand of us.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kiss me quick!

It's been a funny old week, both for me and my football team. I've had a poor performance with results to match whilst Charlton have played superbly with mixed fortunes.

The dreaded misery that is man flu took it's ugly grip on me at the beginning of the week, assigning me to my bed for a couple of days. It would have been longer if my attendance at work hadn't been vital to the cause on Friday.

I therefore not only missed the action at The Valley on Tuesday evening in the flesh, but i also slept through the radio commentary too!
I took from the game that Charlton bossed the majority of the match, despite the 1-2 scoreline, Watford's Italian contingent did a fair impersonation of Tom Daley, and finally, we really need to take our chances at this level.

A trip to free scoring, high flying Blackpool was just what we needed then. In some respects, there was a little less pressure on us to get a result than there was on Tuesday, but two good performances at home still count for something. We would either get the reward these showings have been promising or we'd get a hiding.
I hate to admit it but i was expecting the latter.

Chris Powell decided it was time to shake things up a little, most notably by dropping Bradley Wright-Phillips to the bench and switching to a 4-5-1 formation. New boy Abdul Razak was his replacement coming into the centre of the midfield.

Charlton's solid performance was back and on display in the first half but once again the chances came and went. Fortunately Blackpool were wasteful with theirs too. Ricardo Fuller came the closest when his header came off the underside of the bar. That was the best moment of the first forty five.

The worst moment once again involved a players personal misery. We'll have to find space in an already crowded treatment room back in the capital as Danny Green came off after only around twenty minutes becoming the latest member of the Charlton cripple club.

It was the second period when things really came to life. Only three minutes in and Charlton were in front. Leon Cort once again found the net with his head from a Stephens corner. The Charlton traveling support were, for not the first time, coming through loud and clear on the radio (were there any home fans at the game? It sounded like Craven Cottage), and twitter was already full of tweets urging us to hang on! We really don't have too much faith in holding onto a lead.

We did hang on though, Fuller giving a professional display up front warranting a man of the match accolade. Charlton wrapped it up as Chris Solly scored the second with a sweet right foot drive from around twenty yards out.
As they quite correctly mentioned on the radio, it's a goal that ,with time, will be noted as being further and further out.

The emergence of both 1998 play off final veteran  Kevin Phillips and the very talented Tom Ince off the bench failed to inspire Blackpool to a comeback and Charlton clung on (as we do) to three very welcomed points on the road lifting us to a much more respectable fifteenth in the table as we go into an international break.

After a week of Chris Powell receiving criticism from a certain portion of the Charlton support he's shown that he's quite happy to drop a 'name', quite prepared to try a different approach and quite correct to tell us all to have patience.

I believe he knows what he's doing, i never doubted him for a moment. Honest.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Two In Forty Eight

Chris Powell has dipped into the loan market twice since our match with Blackburn. He's strengthened two areas of the park, one that's come under criticism of late and one that's been plagued by injury.

It's a real mixture of youth and experience that's arrived at The Valley with an exciting young midfielder and a proven old head up front.

Abdul Razak signed just after the match on Saturday having watched the game from the stands. Very highly rated by his parent club, Manchester City, the nineteen year old has already won his first full cap for the Ivory Coast.
Having had spells on loan for both Portsmouth and Brighton on the South coast, he's now set for three months in the capital, a City he knows well after starting his footballing career at Crystal Palace.
This should prove to be some valuable match time for the young midfielder as i expect chances at the City of Manchester stadium will be few and far between.

Monday lunchtime saw the anticipated announcement of the capture of Rob Hulse from Queen's Park Rangers, again on a three month contract.
With injuries to Yann Kermorgant and Danny Haynes, and Ricardo Fuller suffering from a virus, Charlton were very short on cover in attack.
Hulse, a player with top flight experience, has spent large portions of his career at this level affirming himself with the likes of Derby, Leeds and West Bromwich Albion.

At 32 his legs may not make a full ninety minutes but he will make the perfect impact substitute. And measuring over six foot tall he'll also be perfect for the long ball tactic we practiced on Saturday!
Without a squad number at Loftus Road for this season, there's every chance his loan could either be extended or the move made permanent at a later stage. Rangers have made it clear to the player he has no future there. If ever there was an excuse to make a good impression.........

Both players will be in the squad for tomorrow's visit of Watford.