Wednesday 24 February 2010

Dark Clouds Lead To Fair-Weather Blogging

When I started this blogging site I had every intention to offer a post the day after a game, or as close as possible. I made a decision to stay clear of specific match analysis, for no other reason than there are numerous fellow bloggers who cover that angle perfectly well (and far better than I could, I may add), in favour of an attempt to offer a personal insight in to my mind state post-game should anyone care (after all, I’d never flatter myself and assume my written word is worthy of the attention of anyone). Normally, the solo drive home after a game is enough to set my mind right and consider the opening lines to my response from which the remaining text will follow. When I first started ‘blogging’, The Addicks were flying and I reveled in the positive vibes and upturn in fortunes. The dreams of promotion had banished the dark thoughts of the previous few years. In this environment, my responses became easy to pen and thoroughly enjoyable to do so. I’m generally a positive-minded person, and any time reading or writing about my beloved Charlton was time well spent. But since late November (around the time I started this blog, oddly enough), our form has dipped dramatically and the promotion feel around matchdays has slowly lessened with every passing game. Last night’s defeat left me feeling as low as I can remember as an Addick. The hugely disappointing fall from glorious hope to what could well be a totally disastrous failure to win promotion is very difficult to take. I feel completely deflated, fed up and let down. The latter feeling the hardest to accept. At this point, I will comment briefly on the specifics of last night to straight-bat any accusation I was naive in thinking we would thrash Brighton based on their league position. I certainly didn’t think that would happen. Last night we got the basics wrong yet again: wasted possession, wrong decisions, stupid fouls in key areas, not enough desire inside the 6 yard box, too little responsibility from our key players, too little passion over the full 90 mins, too lightweight in challenges, failure to pick up loose balls...and so it goes on! The previous sentence could be recycled from any of the last dozen or so games, including, in my humble opinion, Saturday’s victory against Yeovil. From last night’s game Robbie Elliot is excluded from the criticism, as is Llera. Granted, the pitch was awful – another sad indication of the financial state of the club – but it was the same for both sides...blah, blah, blah!

Bizarrely enough, however, I will be at Roots Hall Friday night, and in doing so, will miss another evening with my two kids. I considered not going on the way home last night. I even suggested so to my missus when I got home in some sorry attempt to court a response that may, in turn, convince me that others believe I’m capable of making such decisions. She said nothing: it didn’t even appear to register. She’s heard it all before, and so have I.

I genuinely envy those individuals who claim to love their favorite football team, but when quizzed, couldn’t tell you who their opposition is this coming Saturday. They care when they want to. I'd love to know what that feels like.

So I have a problem. Like a parent who will stand by their child whatever they do, I can’t turn my back on The Addicks. I know that, and nor do I want to. I appreciate you have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs as well as anyone. However, some things have to change. I have no desire whatsoever to waste any more time lamenting Charlton above all those things around me that should take priority, from family to my work. For too long my life has been dominated by Charlton fixtures, my mood-swings after defeats and over-the-top excitement in times of success (plus everything in the middle). How can it be that I stare in to my boy’s eyes and sometimes feel guilty that he may grow up an Addick! God help me, he knows the Nicky Bailey song and sings it freely around the house (before you get social services involved, I have cunningly changed the key line of the song, which I won’t repeat here for obvious reasons, to ‘ride my bike’…try it, it does work, especially when you're 3)! Some things I can’t easily control, but some I can, so, to cut a long story short, this will be my last post until such time as I’ve something positive to comment on. I'll make no appology for becoming a 'fair-weather blogger'! I’m taking a step out of the ‘blogging’ circle and sadly, on current form, it could be a while before I return, if at all.

I will not be missed, but I will really miss doing it.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Common Themes & Distant Dreams

Let’s face it, this whole descent in to averageness or worse has an all-too-predictable feel about it. Even when things were going well up until mid-December, any regular Addick would have been secretly bracing themselves for the inevitable. It is, unfortunately, oh so very typically Charlton! I’m no great statistician, and my memory isn’t great, but a brief look over my dusty collection of Charlton programmes reveals a common theme throughout the last decade. It will no doubt extend much further back.

That said, in the interest of fair balance, I will go a bit further back as a starting point, and to the hugely memorable Play-Off Final winning season of 1997-98 where we saw the rarity of a glorious winning streak of 11 victories from the final 14 games. As we will all remember, that form carried on in to the Play-Off’s and to the ultimate ‘Greatest Game’ victory at Wembley. After a fairly straight forward relegation from the Premier League in the previous year, the 1999-2000 Championship winning season ended in an unnecessary nail-biting, anti-climax finish as The Addicks won only 3 of their last 12 games of the season. Thankfully, despite doing everything possible to throw away promotion (including that infamous Kiely own goal V’s Swindon), we had won 12 games in a row beforehand! In the 2001-2002 season we were sitting in a very respectable 7th after 30 games before failing to record a single victory in the remaining 8 games, losing 5 in the process before finishing in 14th. We went one better (or worse) in the 2002–2003 season by somehow managing to record just 1 victory in the final 10 games, meaning from a position of 6th after 28 games we finished mid-table. In the 2003–2004 season we actually showed a reasonable amount of consistency and as a result we finished a very respectable 7th. I bet I was totally bored out of my mind that season! After 29 games in 2004-2005 we were in 7th position, before failing to record a single victory in the remaining 9 games, picking up just 3 points in that time before finishing in 11th place. The 2005-06 season saw us win 5 of our first 6 games, before the growing stagnation finally gave way to the slow slide backwards, with The Addicks ultimately finishing in an uninspiring 13th place. Unsurprising, the following season ended in relegation.

Perhaps most worryingly, the similarities with this campaign and the 2007–08 season is most concerning. In that year we were 3rd after 21 games and yet we could only manage to record 6 victories in the remaining 25 games and finished a hugely disappointing 11th. Perhaps even more worryingly is what happened the year following, after Charlton were forced to off-load a number of highly paid individuals. It doesn’t even bear thinking about!

Can lightning strike twice? Of course it can, but, to end on a slightly more positive note, I don’t believe it will. For what it’s worth, my prediction is that we’ll record a victory of sorts this weekend. Football is consistent in only one thing: it’s inconsistency! Just as good runs come to an end, so do bad ones, and even a couple of scrappy 1.0 home victories in our next two games will paint a different picture. Better still, a couple of convincing home victories and we’ll all be rushing to Southend thinking we’re back in the race. I couldn’t care less how bad our recent form has been, we should still view the next two home games as ‘winnable’, and we have the players with both experience and ability to get themselves out of this sticky rut. A Play-Off place will be achieved this season: I’ll be bold in that prediction. You’ll note that I’m not being any braver than that just yet.

Fingers crossed on Saturday. Come on you Addicks!!!

Monday 8 February 2010

Spirited If Not Spectacular

My initial reaction after the final whistle on Saturday was one of disappointment that we couldn’t capitalise on a Leeds draw and Norwich’s rare defeat. Upon further reflection, I think a point away from home at an in-form Swindon may prove to be a decent result, especially taking in to account our own very average form. I wasn’t at the game, but from the reports I’ve read it appears we were lucky to have come away with anything especially with the matchday statistics unusually well against us. Scoring so late on - as was the case against Swindon at The Valley on Boxing Day - is a positive sign that despite their indifferent form the players are remaining spirited enough collectively throughout the game to overcome set-backs. As a positive, it may be clutching at straws a little, but although it’s a trait you’d hope not to have to rely on very often, it’s certainly a good trait to have and we’ve shown it a number of times recently. The ability to respond well to going behind in a game (as has been the case in recent times V’s Millwall, Swindon, Brentford and Walsall) should be noted: only against Leyton Orient was our response not good enough to gain something out of a game. But our form isn’t good enough overall, and most worryingly, shows no signs of improving fast. If we are to push for promotion, we will need to break out of this cycle of averageness quickly. What is encouraging is that Norwich and Leeds still haven’t pulled sufficiently away from us for me to completely give up on an automatic position (especially given both those teams have to come the The Valley later this season). The chasing pack are a constant concern, but again, I’m still looking up not down. How long that continues, we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and hope! I'm trying to remember the many important factors that are not ideal in a promotion chasing season, with a serious lack of finance at the top of the list. We must also appreciate that there are 21 teams below us that would swap places in a flash.

Like others, I can’t quite work out what Parkinson’s team selection was all about on Saturday, although I suspect it was more to do with Swindon’s anticipated formation / playing style than our own. Was it 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1? Does it really matter? Clearly Parkinson felt Solly wasn’t the answer at left back, and I’d have to agree with him. Until Youga finally returns, Basey is the best option in the full back position. I does seem strange that if we was to play two deeper-lying midfielders that Semedo wouldn’t be amongst them. I guess in this regard Parkinson may have felt it would be tough to have dropped Racon a game after recalling him. Up top, I believe Burton has to play. His hold up play, experience and goal threat (albeit, not too threatening of late!) makes him the best option from those we have at the club. Mind you, a spell out of the team may help him refocus a little if he’s hit a rut. I’m not sure you’ll see this formation against Bristol Rovers, and from a continuity point of view, especially when the team is desperate to find it’s groove again, that's not ideal. My preference would be 4-4-2.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Norwich face a tricky, banana-skin looking game at Brighton, and Leeds travel to a resurgent Orient. If my predictions of two draws from those games come off, by the time we face Rovers we could rightly hope that a victory may close the gap at the top to just 4 points. Best case scenario, I do think a Brighton victory is not out of the question (they'll certainly need to go for a home win given their position), meaning it could be as little as 3 points. Worst case just isn’t worth thinking about!

Friday 5 February 2010

Llera Los Left Back??

Just a thought, but could Llera do a job at left back? I appreciate he may not be a natural there, but with just a little bit of tweaking, in the same way Herman ‘The Herminator’ Heriderson made the switch from notable centre-back to left-back, I believe it could work. In fact, in Herman’s case, he made the switch with such aplomb that most would recognise that as his natural position now. They’re not too dissimilar in many ways both in stature and playing style. Llera could even be taught to snarl like HH!

I get the impression that within Llera there could well be a galloping left sided player waiting to burst out. Granted he has the odd dodgy slice of the ball here and there, but most importantly, he clearly shows confidence and a desire to have the ball at his left foot: something he’d have a lot more of at full back. He could be a decent attacking asset with a bit more freedom going forward as well. I can just picture him now: neat one two’s with Reid, quality diagonal cross-field passes to Sam/Wagstaff, far post headers hitting the back of the net as he runs the length of the pitch on the counter-attack!

I can’t imagine he’d put up too many defenses (pardon the pun) if asked to play at full back as you’d have to hope he’d be keen to get a start.

Consider the back line of Richardson, Dailly, Sodje, Llera los Left Back!

Worth a go?

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Hope Always Dies Last…

I never made it to Walsall last night. I’d love to say I wanted to but couldn’t, but in truth, I just didn’t fancy it. Recent performances aside, as stated in a previous post, I travel alone to matches, and whilst the solitude doesn’t bother me, I can’t spread the cost of travel and with a young family it’s difficult to justify. It’s a shame, as this was a fixture I’d ear-marked at the start of the season when I made a conscious decision following last years relegation that I would try and step up my support away from home. I’ve been a season ticket holder for nearly 16 years and missed only 4 home games in that time, but I’ve never been a regular away from home. There is little doubt that following your team away is a different experience from attending home matches, and I’ve enjoyed the half-dozen games I’ve taken in so far this season (normally I’ll do one or two). The support is naturally more hardcore and vocal, not least of all because you are together rather than spread out across The Valley. The ‘tribal’ feel appeals to me, but not, may I quickly add, in a hooligan sense. My attempts to listen to the commentary lasted less time than it took to write this sentence.

After Saturday’s disappointment, I faced up to the harsh realism that the early season excitement and optimism is fading fast – too fast for my liking - and the future of the club is still very fragile. In fact, perhaps most worryingly, the matchday experience never even felt like a promotion push at all – certainly not an automatic one – and that concerns me greatly. To me, our game felt a bit ‘mid-table’ at best. Even the 16,000 gate was a tad disappointing. I suppose a month or so back I would have imagined that as we reach this stage of the season the momentum would have built sufficiently to see our home gates nudging the 20,000 mark, regardless of opposition. We need to find our groove fast or within a month or so our Play-Off place could be under threat and the fear is whether we’ll slip away altogether? Generally, by the following Monday after a poor weekend result I’ve come round a little and started to search for the positives. This Monday I was still struggling!

After the loss to The Orient, I predicted / hoped we’d get 2 wins and 2 draws from the following 4 games. Realistically though, I felt we’d need more than that if we still held any hope of an automatic place. Based on last nights result at Walsall, we now need to go to Swindon and Bristol Rovers and get wins: something I don’t think will happen at either. Further slipping, I fear.

I haven’t had much time to digest the full reports from yesterday’s game, but based on those I have and the match statistics, notably the large amounts of corners we had, I’m again disappointed we couldn’t turn a draw in to a win. I am pleased Parkinson is prepared to make changes, although I’m sure the cynics will say it’s because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m not amongst them in this regard. I’m a massive fan of Semedo - always have been - but I have been questioning whether his role in the team was under threat in favour of a slightly more creative player: certainly a player more comfortable with the ball at his feet. Clearly this must have been in Parkinson’s thoughts when he bought back Racon. Time will tell if this change of approach bears fruit. In Akpo Sodje we have a bigger, more physical man up front and that should help. Fingers crossed Youga is back soon. I’ve not always been a fan of his, but this season he’s been on good form, and I think we’ve missed him.

So, next up Swindon. I’m debating whether to go or not. There's not an awful lot encouraging me to do so. Everything suggests we’ll struggle to beat them, not least of all, they’re in good form and we’re not. But I believe hope always dies last and without that you have nothing.