Friday, January 31, 2014

Mind Your Language

Transfer deadline day, Sky Sports very own Christmas Day but not an occasion when Charlton were ever likely to get everything they wanted.

As our new owner started pulling strings yesterday with the sale of Dale Stephens to Brighton and Hove Albion, it was inevitable that talismanic striker Yann Kermorgant would follow the midfielder out of The Valley today. What we didn't expect was the departure of Ben Alnwick on top.

Stephens, a player linked last year with Aston Villa, was having a good season with the Addicks. The Jekyll and Hyde of the team, you never knew quite which Dale Stephens would be playing, the tactical reader of the game that could run the midfield or the ineffectual onlooker who looked both lazy and out of his depth. When the Premier League side from Birmingham came sniffing it was widely reported that the player was homesick and was desperate for a move closer to home. Born in Bolton, it appears the poor lad had his map upside down whilst speaking to the Seagulls.

We knew Bournemouth, the club, wanted Yann, the supporters according to Twitter far less convinced about the acquisition. This morning he broke the hearts of the Charlton faithful and that of the manager Chris Powell too by passing a medical on the south coast and signed on the dotted line for an undisclosed fee. A two and a half year contract with a decent wage is a cracking deal for the 32 year old; he obviously hid his financial delight and security when posing for the obligatory photo holding aloft the new shirt. With a scoring rate of a goal every three games, it was no surprise that Roland Duchâtelet offered the Frenchman a new two year deal himself but something obviously wasn't right for the player, rumours suggest it may have been the long term prospects for Powell that tipped the scales. I believe it was more likely the wage packet.

Ben Alnwick's permanent move to Leyton Orient was a complete surprise. The keeper has had a good little run in the first team since Ben Hamer's injury and did his reputation no harm at all gaining perhaps too many plaudits along the way. We can't of course compare him yet to new stopper Yohann Thuram-Ulien but I would certainly have rather seen Hamer be the goalkeeper to be shown the exit door over Alnwick. As things stand however it could be a good move for the keeper, it may well prove to be a safer bet on securing involvement in Championship football next season.

Three out then, three first team members too, yet with only four hours left of the window I don't think we'll see more departures. With Yann going and young Joe Pigott going on loan to Gillingham, the act of scoring the goals required to secure our future at this level fell to Simon Church, Marvin Sodall and Iranian international Reza Ghoochannejhad. Simeon Jackson, a player we were rumoured to be linked with, appears to be going to Millwall so it's another foreign newcomer that we pin our hopes on.

Piotr Parzyszek, a young Polish striker passed a medical (and the barbers judging by the state of his Barnet) today to become the sixth foreign import to join the club this month. Signed from Dutch side De Graafschap, surprisingly not a member of the Duchâtelet empire, young Piotr has promisingly been prolific at a very good level of football.

Interest in Rhoys Wiggins has been put to bed with the full back penning a new deal at the club, more encouraging than another new signing, especially when you now consider how many languages will now be spoken in the dressing room.

The problem may well be lack of communication, it's a well known fact that any group of players need time to gel even when they all understand each other. There is certainly no time for Chris Powell to take them on one of his favourite jaunts to Spain this time. One thing is for certain, with us sitting uncomfortably in the bottom three Roland may have to act quickly and put his hands in his pockets to fund a few emergency English lessons.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Euphoria to Despair

Forty eight hours of happiness, then it's back to the gloom. A cup victory followed by an encouraging fifth round  draw has soon been forgotten as league form and club politics have once again hit the headlines.

Last night's trip to fellow relegation threatened Doncaster Rovers proved to be more of a washout than the first meeting of the clubs at The Valley late last year. This time however Doncaster's three goals all counted and it wasn't a sign for the referee to bring proceedings to a premature halt.

An uninspired performance, after the first goal Charlton rolled over and conceded defeat and now, nearly twenty four hours later you get the feeling the club have done the same off the pitch as well as on it.

At the final whistle Yann Kermorgant waved and clapped the visiting supporters with more than a hint of finality about it, today it seems certain a reported half million deal has been agreed with AFC Bournemouth. The Frenchman is certainly knocking on, he isn't a twenty goal a season forward and on the face of it it's not a wholly bad piece of business; if we had strength to replace him. These kind of deals could cost a lot more than five hundred thousand in the long run; what price can you put on relegation? The other interesting fact is that it appears this is the doing of  Roland Duchâtelet and not the wishes of the player or even Chris Powell who appears to have been told of the news as Kermorgant boarded the coast bound train.

How much influence does our new owner have with player selection? It now seems he decides who goes as well as who arrives. Anıl Koç is a young player who has arrived this week from Standard Liege, Duchâtelet's flagship team. A youngster, Powell admits his six months here will be spent in the under 21's; useful to our relegation avoidance plan then. Today we signed on a three and a half year deal Loïc Négo, a full back from Hungarian side Újpest; another European member of Duchâtelet's footballing empire. No matter how good this lad may be, the circumstances surrounding his arrival could possibly tarnish his time here.

Simeon Jackson's name has been banded around with the usual carefree January transfer rumours but I'm expecting a more likely announcement to be that of Reza Ghoochannejhad joining the club. Also a striker but this lad has the advantage of his registration being held by a certain Standard Liege. Remember how we all pointed our fingers at Watford as they became the Udinese reserve team?

We are also aware of Dale Stephens probable departure, Brighton seem very keen and there are suggestions Michael Morrison could also be attracting serious admirers; Celtic are known to have been watching him. Roland has probably already got a replacement or two lined up and will inform Chris Powell just as their plane is touching down on our green and pleasant land.

When Duchâtelet first arrived it is known that Powell put new contracts very high up the agenda,  followed closely by a playable pitch. The first point seems to have been somewhat overlooked, the second addressed too late to save the Barnsley game and fortunately for us we've just had to host the one cup match since. 

You just have to wonder how long the gaffer will sit there and take it. On the other hand, you have to wonder after last night's debacle how long a Belgian football club owner famed for his turn over of managers will also sit there and take it. Either way we have to brace ourselves, I foresee darker days lay ahead.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Que Sera Sera

Has there ever been occasion before when the only upset from the sixteen cup matches constituting the fourth round of the FA Cup has been the holders getting through?

A week of football that has seen us beat two and discover a third opponent in this prestigious competition, cup fever has certainly hit our part of South East London to a degree not seen for far too long.

I'm a huge fan of the cup, the extra preliminary round, the third round draw, the sunny final in May with hours of build up, I love every moment of it, even if it hasn't always been that kind to us. You could be forgiven for immediately groaning as the last two draws have been made; trips to the two clubs we escaped from League One alongside. Away from home though we currently stand far more chance as round three proved.

After a scary start we pulled Oxford back to a draw in the much delayed first outing of our assault on the trophy, but on Tuesday, on a proper playing surface, we looked far more professional as we ended up strolling into the fourth round and a third visit of the season to Huddersfield.

I've had some great away days in the cup following Charlton, a quarter final defeat at Bolton Wanderers with charging police horses, a dramatic victory against then Premier League Coventry City and more recently a fine day on the ale at Fulham. But as I'm older, married, working on Saturday mornings, boracic and to be honest just a tad lazy, I wasn't going to seek permission, take a day's holiday, borrow some wedge and get off my posterior to see a third defeat of season at the home of The Terriors.

How I wish I had, and i doff my cap to those that did, just to have seen young Harry Lennon appear from the bench to make his debut to the tune of "He's better than John..." Superb.

Before kick off I was bemoaning the departure of Michael Smith to Swindon Town to a friend. Chris Powell had said that the young lad needed week in, week out first team football. I'd have let him have it over Church and Sodall gladly, and of course he scored the first of two debut goals on the half hour and my theories were confirmed. How was I to know Simon Church would cap off a fine Charlton passing move later in the afternoon to seal our spot in the last sixteen?

As games go it was no classic, the talking point being a rash challenge or two from Dale Stephens culminating in a mass brawl which also saw Michael Morrison have his name taken for squaring up. The tackle on Adam Hammill was, on further viewing, dangerous and deserved far stronger action from the official. Comments Hammill said himself in a roundabout way on his twitter account; these were accompanied by a photograph of his knee which had swollen up like a barrage balloon.

To the fifth round draw then and I, like every other Charlton fan, was glued to the television having watched Chelsea stroll past a lackluster Stoke to join us in the last sixteen wishing that rather than a needless interview with Frank Lampard, Adrian Chiles would just hurry up and send us to Wembley to put pay to this uncontrollable excitement.

Citeh got Chelsea, Arsenal got Liverpool, I feared our big fish was going to be Cardiff, no disrespect. Even they came and went dragging Wigan with them. Out came Wednesday next and I knew, just knew that the number four ball was to follow.

It's a very winnable game, a very real chance of making the quarter finals and then we're just ninety minutes from Wembley.  When I watched Whyteleafe in the extra preliminary round the lads there had a tin foil cup, I wonder if they still have it? I'd love to hold that aloft in England's home of football wearing a huge rosette. Daft? Perhaps, but didn't Harry Lennon once sing "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one"?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

No Running. No Diving.

Tweet of the day was courtesy of Charlton Life, "Charlton have won the toss and will be attacking the Shallow End in the 1st half."
The twice postponed FA Cup clash against Oxford United had finally been given the go ahead, the pitch looked dreadful, the stadium was shut in many areas, and the visitors wore a purple shirt instead of a yellow one. Presumably to make them easier to spot by lifeguards should they get into difficulty and find themselves drowning.

It was Charlton however that found themselves out of their depth. New signings Astrit Ajdarević and Yohann Thuram-Ulien, a highly rated goalkeeper also signed on loan from Standard Liege, were both illegible to play as I believe the team had to be picked from those registered at the original date of the fixture. Chris Powell was nevertheless still determined to show his intentions in the competition by fielding a strong starting eleven.

The two new boys were nonetheless in attendance, part of the reported four and a half thousand cheering on the home side (870 made the trip from Oxford), but they were just getting used to their new surroundings, leaving their silicone swim hats and goggles back at their digs for another day.

Charlton were sinking without a trace on the field, a battling Oxford side taking a two goal advantage into the break, the team desperately trying to prove there's ridicule to be had from more than just our pitch alone. Chris Powell could do nothing about the playing surface, the performance however was another matter. He admitted the first half showing was the worst he'd witnessed in his three year tenure going on to say how he let the side know in no uncertain terms that he wasn't happy.

It did the trick, a much harder work rate coupled with a superb substitute performance from Danny Green saw the Addicks claw the two goals back and set up a third meeting of the season between the sides, probably next Tuesday, at the Kassam stadium. Another exhilarating cup trip to Huddersfield is still a possibility then.

AFC Bournemouth won their own third round replay last night against Burton Albion meaning that whatever the outcome of our own replay, the home fixture against the Cherries scheduled for January 25th has now been postponed.

As a footnote, it would appear that another new signing, Ms Katrien Meire, was in attendance last night. Recently appointed director at Charlton, I have it on good authority from a couple of friends that she is rather pleasing on the eye, well much more so than the first half performance at any rate!

And so we venture to Middlesbrough Saturday after a lengthy absence from league action and there's every possibility we could see a couple of new faces take the field. It's just typical that for the first time during this campaign Boro have found a bit of form...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Nothing to see here

It's nice to know, it's nice to know you're here, now go home. Or words to that effect. We could have saved you the trouble, not to mention the money, and called this off yesterday but we thought we'd get a pitch inspection at one o'clock and inconveniently put you all out. You'll understand won't you?

Needless to say this wasn't the club's official statement. So far all we've really heard is an unconvincing 'sorry to those who made the journey to SE7', and Chris Powell stating that the 'pitch must be addressed'. As my wife so frequently says to me, 'no shit Sherlock'. Barnsley, both club and supporters, are fuming. Quite rightly so. Roland Duchâtelet wouldn't do wrong if he, having had a farcical first 'match', offered to compensate the Barnsley supporters by contributing to coach travel for the rearranged fixture.

On Thursday the club website said there were no fears ahead of the weekend's game. The dome was in place, the pitch was supposedly drying out. Gazza dries out more efficiently.

We were the only professional club to suffer. There were a small handful of level six matches to fall foul, Conference North and South, but nothing other than us above that. To say it's laughable is polite, to say it's embarrassing is accurate, to say it's a sham is truthful. If a game can't be played it can't be played, to call it off two hours before kick off is ridiculous.

Sitting in the Rose Of Denmark I heard stories relaying how the referee bounced the ball on the pitch and it just sunk. Surely it would have done the same at nine o'clock this morning, if not nine o'clock last night. Why did we have to wait until one? Could the match official have not arrived earlier and saved hundreds of people a wasted journey and some hard earned money? He, don't forget, is working, we are giving up our recreation time. I know for a fact that the club could have had a local official check the pitch yesterday and forewarn the club and the match referee.

We can laugh at Crystal Palace and Jason Puncheon's atrocious penalty miss today but they will always have the last laugh when we can't even stage a game. Could this all result in a fine? Will the midweek cup game go ahead? Could we even get docked points in the long run if things don't improve?

I'm angry, I want to defend the club but I'm so frustrated. I took my father-in-law along today to what would have been his first visit to The Valley. Instead we sat in the pub and watched Sheffield Wednesday pick up a six nil victory. That really helped. We could have gone and watched my local club Horley Town play their level nine Combined Counties League match on a pitch which in comparison to the Championship resembles a meadow. They don't have a dome, or for that matter a full time groundsman but their game went ahead.

There was a saving grace, we spent the afternoon in the pub and enjoyed a few ales with fellow bloggers Marco and Rod which believe me was a wonderful afternoon in itself. As Charlton fans we always seem to find the best in any situation.

And so we sit here listening to the pundits on the radio laughing and mocking us. The Football League Show are guaranteed to give us more than twenty seconds tonight as Claridge and co rip apart our flesh and pick at the carcass.

If only Charlton Athletic could give us faithful supporters some decent ammunition to defend ourselves...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Just another week in the life of Charlton Athletic

We are promised excitement, but have been delivered the opposite. Very early stages they may be but how welcome the news of this new adventure is this week considering the latest on pitch (or more precisely off pitch) developments.

Friday morning saw our FA Cup fixture  against Oxford United called off, the first of the weekend's fixtures to fall foul of the persistent wind and rain. A collapsed drainage system at one end of The Valley is said to be at blame, the embarrassment though stems from the game being called off twenty four hours before many non-league fixtures.

A dome tent has now been erected on the pitch but far too late to save the midweek fixture and Wednesday's rearrangement has therefore also been axed. If Saturday's league game against Barnsley also fails to go ahead we'll have been without competitive football for two weeks. At least the postponement guaranteed our name going into the fourth round hat.

Sunday saw the draw, and our reward(?) should we finally get the chance to defeat Oxford will be yet another trip to Huddersfield Town. There have been many stories in both the back and front pages of late regarding match fixing. Has anybody thought to bring draw fixing to the attention of the FA?

Under normal circumstances these events would have deflated even the most upbeat of supporters, but, like Paul Lambert, Addicks up and down the land have this weekend seen the prestigious cup competition as little more than a distraction. The only thing on the lips of the fans at the moment is new owner Roland Duchâtelet and what impact his regime will have on the club.

News of the Standard Liege owner's company, Staprix NV purchasing the club broke over twitter on Thursday evening, and was followed by the clubs official website on Friday stating that Richard Murray was to stay on as a non-executive chairman whilst Slater, Jimenez and Prothero were departing.

We saw this news coming, what we didn't expect was the news that followed shortly afterwards. Astrit Ajdarević a young Swedish attacking midfielder has to come to SE7 on a six month loan deal from, yes you guessed it, Standard Liege. A player and a large tarpaulin, things are moving quickly under our Roland.

Ajdarević, who will wear the number 42 shirt should we eventually take to the pitch again, has FA Youth Cup honours with Liverpool, international recognition with Sweden at all youth levels, and a working knowledge of our manager through their time together at Leicester City. The first of a new foreign influx of players we can't pronounce?

There is black and white proof that Duchâtelet comes into clubs and shakes things up his way, selling the stars for big money and changing managers like he does his socks. We can only hope his cheque book is sitting willingly upon his new oak desk and the inkwell is full. If we don't have on pitch action to indulge in, news of continual contract signing will be more than welcomed.

Chris Powell will be hoping he has the rest of the season to prove his worth, Roland can't help but have noticed how loved the manager is by the supporters. Should he eventually decide that a change is needed, he couldn't begin to compete with Millwall in the farcical stakes. Even Vincent Tan would struggle to match the appointment of ex-Palace boss Ian Holloway at The New Den as a replacement for Steve Lomas.

As we embark upon a new and hopefully fruitful chapter in this football club, it is bracing to know some things will always remain the same. Continued opportunity to laugh at our rivals.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Johnnie Jackson to play Doctor Who?

Johnnie Jackson and New Years Day, they go together like sofas and Doctor Who. Remember the look of unadulterated passion on the face of our skipper twelve months ago during that epic encounter at Vicarage Road? Move forward a year to the day and he's back at it, doing what a captain does best, wearing his heart on his sleeve and rescuing a point. We may not yet need to hide behind him like you would a sofa, but quiz many an Addick with reference to New Years Day and our sergeant-at-arms could well be the first words uttered.

I confess I was not one of the travelling supporters this time around, I had hand picked a Sutton United away fixture to lug my tiresome frame to, knowing full well I was going to welcome the New Year in inebriated fashion. Hayes & Yeading was the destination, or more precisely Woking where they currently ground-share.

I stupidly hadn't factored in this diabolical weather we're enduring, unsurprisingly meaning a waterlogged pitch like the majority of not only the Conference South but most non league football in the bottom half of the country. An announcement of postponement at eleven o'clock meant last ditch plan alterations. The scooter wasn't going anywhere, I took the soft option and went for a televised game between Paul Benson's Luton Town and Barnet, completely farcical by half time on a pitch far worse than ours was for that infamous Doncaster game. The Luton players, at two up at the interval, interestingly never felt the need to appear with forks though.

The pitch at Portman Road despite the persistent rain was more than playable and the seven hundred or so that made the journey were guaranteed a game to watch. Being in the heartland of the tractor, it would have been nothing less than common decency to have returned with a few tips on how to get the best out of our own playing turf. Whether that be knowledge on grass maintenance or, as a last resort, pointers on growing vegetables and crop rotation.With more rain forecast for the week ahead, Charlton have arranged a pitch inspection prior to Friday lunchtime for Saturday's FA Cup visit of Oxford. They may well incorporate one for the following weekend's league visit of Barnsley while they're at it.

Charlton's team sheet rang the changes in along with the New Year, both first choice full backs returning and Bolton loanee Marvin Sodall starting up front in place of Simon Church, chastised for his late miss against Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday. From all accounts Sodall did slightly more than his name implies before limping off with a presumed hamstring injury just before halftime. Could this be held accountable due to a lack of regular football? Again I highlight the shortfall of the absence of a reserve side.

The Bolton man, playing what could be his last moments for us should Wanderers, as has been suggested, somehow want him back, was replaced by Jordan Cook who leapfrogged Church from the bench. Michael Smith is due back from AFC Wimbledon this month, how he must be rubbing his hands together.

Having been beaten by Ipswich at the end of November, for a long time it looked like the Suffolk outfit would do the double over us. Halfway through the first half Richard Wood turned an Ipswich cross past his own keeper and, on top of this, as usual the officials did their best to halt our progress.

Cameron Stewart, also playing what may well be his last football for the club was brought down in the area just as he went to shoot. Rather than being awarded the 'stonewall' penalty it warranted, our tricky midfielder was booked for diving. It wasn't the only penalty decision of the day to impact the match. Ipswich had had a reasonable shout themselves ignored earlier but Stuart Attwell did finally give way and gave the hosts a chance to double their lead ten minutes from time.

Ben Alnwick superbly touched the ball onto the post and away for a corner. Still 1-0 and with renewed belief Charlton made their final change and Captain Marvel entered the fray.

With the ninety minutes already up, Kermorgant and Church (who came on himself for a twenty minute cameo) lined up Jackson for a shot from the penalty spot which, although cleanly struck, needed a deflection to beat the keeper. The 'arms outstretched knee-slide' from twelve months earlier was replicated, the relief and devotion as heartfelt as ever. We drew, but we felt like we won and we remained unbeaten over Christmas.

There has been no more talk of Roland Duchâtelet and his proposed takeover as I write, but if he is still debating a proposal he can rest assured that, yes he may be buying a bottom six club, but he'll be buying one built through fervour and that refuses to lie down.