Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm streaming all over.

Charlton Athletic are in the FA Cup quarter finals! We were in the blue half of Sheffield, and via Bulgaria, Algeria and then finally the United States of America we booked our place in the red half of Sheffield for the last eight.

A dodgy internet stream meant the clarity of the action was poor, the Bulgarian one I first discovered had a commentary five minutes out of sync with the pictures. The Algerian one was in their native tongue and became painful on the ear. The American Fox Soccer stream I ended with was the best of the lot, although for the half time highlights from Brighton we lost the dulcet tones of Peter Drury and were treated to some chap far more used to baseball and it's razzmatazz. Still, beggars can't be choosers and it was the closest I was going to get to the action in Gatwick.

Ben Hamer returned in goal, and along with Morgan Fox making his debut, was the main talking point before kick off. The bearded wonder remaining the hottest topic of conversation at the end of the match too.

Callum Harriott looked bright at the beginning, his pace causing the defence problems and it was the youngster himself who put the Addicks ahead with a fierce shot in the first half that the American production team had a field day with as they conjured up headlines.

Charlton had the best of the first half except for the last five or ten minutes when Wednesday realised that perhaps the dream derby may just be slipping away. Rejuvenated after the half time team talk, the home side continued where they left off and pulled themselves back in it with an equaliser after scrappy Charlton defending.

For the first time during the evening we at home could hear the Wednesday support.

The Owls looked like they were going on to dominate the game but a Simon Church goal against the run of play soon had the Londoners singing again. After that it was Hamer who made all the headlines.

Wednesday thought they had their second equaliser of the night as Hamer clawed the ball from behind him, hip height, and finally smothered the ball on the floor. The replays certainly looked to me like the ball was over the line but without goal line technology we shall thankfully never know.

The home side continued to pile on the pressure whilst at the same time getting rather cynical with their challenges. At the death Hamer made the save of his career as he changed direction at the last moment and still had enough strength in his hand to turn a certain goal away.

Cue jubilant dancing around the lounge as 'er indoors tried to watch EastEnders or whatever girly trash it was. Proof to my theory that there is no-one worse to celebrate a football victory with than my missus.

Back to Sheffield then for the quarter final at Bramall Lane in less than two weeks time. I'm praying I wont need to find a foreign far flung internet stream for that, first thing tomorrow morning I beg my boss for a Saturday off. Let's hope he understands the importance of all this far more than my good lady wife!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Press Confidence

Roland Duchâtelet gave his first Charlton Athletic press conference on Thursday afternoon. Katrien Meire, Richard Murray and Chris Powell all sat alongside him, the press room was a little more densely packed than normal whilst, back at home, we got the chance to experience the latest offering from the Charlton Athletic media team, the CAFC Wall.

With so many burning questions and matters of insecurity that urgently needed addressing, it was with rather a bleak sense of hollowness that we noted the owners reluctance to give straight answers, preferring to waffle like a politician aimlessly hinting at the obvious. Then, as quick as it began, the public side of the press conference ended, the new virtual wall stopped updating and it was the press reporters present that got the chance in private to interrogate those in the chair. Surely with all their experience they'd get the answers to the questions we all wanted to ask.

Sure enough the club website published an article later that day stating that the board were in talks with Chris Powell over a new contract. It seems my initial feelings were, as usual, far from the mark and Duchâtelet didn't already have another man in line to lead the club when he originally laid his pound notes on the table. In fact quite the opposite, he rates Powell highly, knows full well about the mans status in SE7, and most importantly respects and admires his ability to perform his job admirably with very limited resources.

All this faith and overdue assurance has a knock on effect from the board, through the management team, through the players to us, the supporters. Finally we have a team, and I include Powell in this, that has conviction for those it plays for. For all the turning points that may have happened during the actual game time yesterday, none were more critical to gaining the three points than this vote of confidence from above. Well played Roland, just next time don't wait so long.

Queen's Park Rangers came to The Valley on the back of a little 'wobble' in their form. If your team sheet shows Yossi Benayoun amongst those named on the bench, truth is a little wobble is a couple of defeats on the spin rather than finding yourself in the bottom three. There is no doubt about it, on paper Harry Redknapp's Rangers team are a league above our own, just look at the wage packets. We also got to witness the Rangers debut of a certain Ravel Morrison, a lovely lad who has hit the front pages with as much regularity as he has the back during his short career. For someone so used to the spotlight, he must have felt yesterday like there was nowhere quite far enough away from The Valley to escape to.

The pitch was, unsurprisingly, it's usual wreckage, a point Redknapp would stress post match, but even what has become known as the shallow end (south end) looked worse than it did a fortnight ago. Nedum Onuoha certainly knew which end was which. The central defender was a little out of both position and ideas as he ran into our box in the deep end, then with a leap of faith flung himself to the ground as he auditioned for the latest of these dreadful celebrity reality shows. Needless to say, neither Vernon Kay or Gabby Logan were there to interview the dripping wet defender in his Speedo's afterwards.

If you've caught up with the BBC's Football League Show, you'll know it was the programme's featured match. They failed to give verdict on whether it was or wasn't a penalty feigning a theory that there may have been some contact from Dervite's leg. It wouldn't be the only time that they would side with Redknapp's men.

Steve Claridge hinted how Rangers would have put the game to bed if they had put their chances away. They only had a couple and Morrison fluffed his lines both times, whereas we, it could be said, had the better of them and perhaps we could have been the team to kill the game off, but that sort of loose tongued tomfoolery obviously doesn't entice viewers. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with fifteen seconds of fame every week, along with about seventy other clubs, and if we can go about our business quietly and unnoticed so much the better. But why then when first Cousins and then Reza Ghoochannejhad with the rebound hit a post each did the monotone panelist not think that a worthy chance had gone begging? I believe the answer lays in uninformed former players judging by league position as opposed to having any working knowledge of the club.

A quiet but steady first half and more than happy to go in level with our heads held high, Rangers certainly hadn't looked particularly special, yet the real drama was still to come. If the visitors weren't able to fire a single shot on target, they had just as little luck when we tried to gift it to them. A backpass (admittedly poor and unwanted) from Dervite to rookie goalkeeper Yohann Thuram-Ulien nearly cemented itself in every future footballing blooper DVD as the keeper played it back out straight to the advancing hooped shirt. As comical yet unbearable as it was, how the Rangers player then ran it out of play was quite remarkable, finally I witnessed the effect of looking a yellow shirted French gift horse in the mouth. I also stood there and listened to our crowd angrily sing Ben Hamer's name, Charlton's number one. I'm not a fan of this loanee keeper by any means, but there's no way I'm going to dent the lads confidence whilst he keeps goal by singing the name of the substitute goalkeeper on the bench. It's a fair shout to him that he was as composed as he was at the end when our old friend Ravel Morrison once again goofed a clear cut goalscoring opportunity.

Looking at it from the North Stand, Morrison had three quarters of the goal open to place the ball and wheel away in jubilation. What we did not see was Thuram-Ulien, or the black panther as I may now call him, spring from nowhere to pluck the ball out of the air and actually catch the thing. The replays don't seem to do it justice, at the time it was far more a superb piece of goalkeeping than the weak effort on goal that television portrays.

The ball then came back up the deep end, we were in our four minutes of stoppage time, I never thought we would score but was just glad to have the point we more than deserved. To actually go on and win the game still seemed far fetched. We had the ascendancy, we even had new loan striker Marcus Tudgay on at this point (less than twenty four hours after coming to South London), yet still I could not see how our pressure would result in the ball finding its way into the back of the visitors net.

A goal mouth scramble followed, the ball came out with a Rangers shirt, merely for Diego Poyet to make a wonderful challenge and the ball to fall to Astrit Ajdarević who struck an astonishing shot which was only just matched by Robert Green turning it around the post. We had a corner which seemed little reward for such a great strike. There can be no argument that of all the new signings made in the January transfer window, Ajdarević is the pick of the crop. Harry Redknapp would go on to say there is no excuse for conceding a corner that late in a game. Perhaps he too thought the Swede's sublime strike deserved more.

The corner proved more than fair reward as it contributed to Johnnie Jackson's winning header from the acutest of angles. Momentarily I didn't even realise it had gone in, presuming it physically impossible; but then the place just erupted. Our skipper ran to the crowd and launched himself over the barrier, there are no words that can describe just how euphoric The Valley became. We sang our hearts out, we collectively stood bigger, bolder and louder than we had all season. Once again we remembered why this club is so much better than any other and quite how much every individual supporter IS Charlton Athletic.

I love non league football, I flirt with it with increased regularity but days like yesterday crop up from time to time and remind me exactly why I couldn't walk out on the club that has shaped me for over thirty years. We have a distraction of the FA Cup tomorrow evening, but I fail to see how that can even begin to compare with the relief of having our Charlton firing on all cylinders and fighting like it means something.

Chris Powell epitomized what it's all about as emotion seemed to get the better of him, and now with the security of belief behind him from the board and the playing staff we ponder once again at just what is possible under his reign.

Standing in a pub with close friends post match that have been on the same ride as you has never tasted so sweet. There's a long way to go of course but there was pleasure in enjoying a few more than expected ales and reassuring each other that the Charlton Athletic we all fell in love with are back!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

Yesterday I watched Charlton Athletic and listened to The Smiths. They fitted together like a couple of jigsaw pieces. Panic, That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, How Soon Is Now?, Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before, I Started Something I Couldn't Finish, What Difference Does It Make?, all Smiths tunes that could also be titles to my Charlton blogs.

The effort certainly wasn't lacking, but yet again the same old story; stupid mistakes on a sorry pitch performed by a team that debunks belief and who's collective sorrowful body language emits defeat. And this was a game where we enjoyed two thirds of the possession!

It could have been so different, Cousins should have scored when put through and one on one with former Charlton custodian Darren Randolph, but the visiting keeper showed how far he has come since that farcical own goal against Southampton thwarting what was in fairness a tame effort from the young midfielder. Swedish midfielder Astrit Ajdarević had a fantastic acrobatic effort finely saved again by the keeper whilst Iranian striker Reza Ghoochannejhad looked for a penalty in either half, neither given and the second resulting in a booking for diving. Birmingham had a couple of chances too, they took theirs.

The first a free kick swung in from the right, the Charlton defence were slow to move allowing an unchallenged Federico Macheda to nod home past the hapless Thuram-Ulien in our goal. Their and Macheda's second, ten minutes from time, saw the striker turn inside Michael Morrison and slot past the flapping Thuram-Ulien once again.

Considering the time the new faces have had to gel, the overall performance wasn't too bad. The 'engine room', the heart of the team, Ajdarević and young Diego Poyet were superb, our 'light that never goes out'. The attack minded Swede was always in support and is starting to look match fit, the more defensive of the pair, the young home grown prodigy once again looked like he was the experienced pro. Always aware of his surroundings, if any of the back four were caught out of position young Poyet was quick to slot himself in whether it be full back or centre half. When on the ball he took his time, was never hurried, showed great vision and stroked the ball through the mud as best as was possible. His young talent certainly riled the opposition as they started to bully him through their frustration, finally settling for a move more akin to the WWE as he was knocked to the floor an eon after the ball was played as a blue shirt leapt on him from the top rope.

One thing that had been a saving grace this season was our goal difference; we may have shown an awkwardness in finding the back of the net but we had kept a relatively tight ship at the back. Yesterday demonstrated how that ship was one hit from sinking. You can't help a bit of bad luck and the injuries to Rhoys Wiggins and Chris Solly have certainly been felt, showing up a lack of ability further down the squad. I'm not a fan of Lawrie Wilson as a defender, I've no problem with him in a more forward role but his defensive qualities seem a little sporadic to me. Cedric Evina on the other hand was comical for all the wrong reasons. He seemed to have little awareness of his companions actions and even less of his own. It may well be one of the worst individual performances I've ever witnessed in a Charlton shirt, it says something really when the team have, in the past, merrily banded about a term 'having a Ceddy' on their social media sites.

One supporter was, according to a club statement, ejected for directing racial abuse towards the full back. There is obviously no place for this in any football ground, no matter how shocking he was and how much he warranted 'normal' abuse, the colour of his skin certainly didn't contribute to his dreadful performance. Take note as I'm sure Thuram-Ulien will come in for plenty of abuse before Hamer returns from injury.

We jested how Powell may have been conned in a similar way to Graeme Souness back in 1996 when someone pretending to be George Weah rang about his cousin Ali Dia. This keeper also looks like he's never played the game before and has blagged his way into a career. Morrison and Wood looked perturbed about the security both behind and next to them and by doing so their game also faltered. The defence has gone from the stronghold it once was to a weak link in a worryingly short time.

Still struggling to make the breakthrough, Powell made a double substitution Danny Green and Simon Church came on after Church had stood, stripped ready for action for so long the benefit of his warm up became redundant. I love Danny Green albeit if he is a one dimensional player, he'll run down the wing and put in a cross all afternoon in the same way that Simon Church will run after lost causes all day rather than meet crosses with his head. Our Polish striker Piotr Parzyszek was also on the bench, all 6'3" of him, the sort of player that would love a cross or two to get on the end of. Fortunately Powell didn't bring on Dervite with twenty minutes left on the clock to defend a one goal deficit.

I deliberately hung on before posting this, something in the back of my mind nagging that more breaking news would emerge from the club before the weekend was out. Four league matches under the Duchâtelet Empire, and four defeats. Powell, the longest serving manager in the division, it all makes sense doesn't it? I'm most definitely not shouting for his head, I'll support him all the time he's in charge but I think the writing is unfortunately on the wall. During the week, Powell went on record saying he wouldn't walk away from the club. Malky Mackay said the very same thing at Cardiff two weeks before Vincent Tan waved him goodbye.

If you asked me for my honest opinion, I'd have to say it's too late in the day to turn it around. That many new signings need more matches to get into their stride than we can spare, and the remaining fixture list looks intimidating. The current bottom four are starting to find themselves adrift and we've still got to go to South Bermondsey yet!

We don't really know what's going on behind the scenes, suffice to say the jubilation of a month ago and the takeover has whittled quickly away to leave a cloud of despondency in its place. as I tweeted yesterday, "football club in a coma, I know, I know, it's serious."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Only Charlton could park the bus on a double yellow

It could have been a great day for football. The new look Charlton, full of fresh faces and tongue twisting names headed north to Wigan in an effort to kick start our season whilst I, stuck down south, had a choice of either Sutton United or Horley Town to visit thus quenching my thirst for some non league football.

Torrential rain last night soon put paid to any hopes I entertained for some live action, not for the first time this year meaning radio commentary from the DW Stadium would have to suffice; three minutes in I was almost convinced I'd had the best decision made for me.

It was an exciting and brave looking starting eleven, if not expected or conformist. Diego Poyet made a well earned debut alongside keeper Yohann Thuram-Ulien, full back Loïc Négo and striker Reza Ghoochannejhad. It would be none of these that would grab the headlines mind, more so a certain striker that I believe scored his first goal in thirteen outings today, Marvin Sodall.

I'm not his biggest fan as you know, but I was as happy as anybody when he put the Addicks in front right at the start of the match.Skipper Johnnie Jackson split the defence open and put through Sodall who coolly finished to give the travelling supporters fresh hope after the huge disappointment of transfer deadline day.

Moments later Rhoys Wiggins' afternoon came to an abrupt end after a collision so another youngster, Harry Lennon was called upon to play a large part of the game.

Charlton had a great chance to double their lead when Reza Ghoochannejhad's volley hit the crossbar. The Iranian pleasing club shop staff and parents alike by choosing to have his Christian name above the number eight on the back of his shirt.

We know all about nail biting closing moments at Charlton, but does any other club drag that anxiety out for over twenty minutes with such regularity? Never good at defending a single goal lead Charlton 'parked the bus' very early in the second half, bolstered by two defensive substitutions from Chris Powell and then tried tried to soak up unbelievable pressure from the home side. The chronic strain on our goal was always going to reap reward but it happened twice in the last two minutes to snatch a rather deserved bounty from the visitors. Firstly as they followed our lead and carved through our defence, then shortly afterwards showing the need for a free kick specialist as they converted the direct set play.

Those in attendance blamed the tactics and the substitutions, those listening on the radio did the same. It's not as if it's the first time Powell has been chastised for his poor use of the bench. Now I'm still right behind our manager, I still believe he's got what it takes to pull us out of this grievous position and save our season, but then I'm biased and I feel like I know the man as a close friend.

It begs the question, if it wasn't Powell, or more chiefly a Charlton legend at the helm would we be so understanding and so patient? Certainly if it was someone of Alan Pardew's ilk, we'd be stood outside The Valley with placards by now demanding the board address the situation before we finally sink without trace. How does our Roland view Chris Powell? Not with the same love and loyalty as sixteen odd thousand supporters, that's for certain. He'd definately be aware of the history, but he won't know Powell like we do, to Roland Chris Powell may just appear as a better dressed version of Iain Dowie. Add that we've heard the deep respect doesn't seem to flow the other way either and the term 'pressure cooker' springs to mind.

The Belgian may have seen some cup success but he's witnessed three out of three league defeats since acquiring the business. Next Saturday's visit of Birmingham may be vital to the club for more than one reason, providing of course that our pitch is somewhere near playable. Has anyone thought to look at it over the past two weeks?

On the bright side, every week something somewhere in the footballing world never fails to put a smile on our despondent faces. As Russell Howard would say, it's not all doom and gloom. Today, making his Barnsley debut, Emmanuel Frimpong lasted just thirty minutes before picking up his second yellow and getting his marching orders. I don't think I've enjoyed a footballers misfortune so much since the days of Tomas Brolin.

Kermorgant pictured this afternoon in his Bournemouth shirt, a disastrous two minutes in Wigan, I said a week ago that dark days lay ahead, I didn't expect two of them to come in such quick succession.