Wednesday 28 April 2010

To Be Or Not Shelvey!

One subject seems to be dominant where Charlton are concerned at the moment. Shelvey’s impending move to Liverpool looks likely to be going ahead given the numerous sources that are reporting on it. Leeds United at home has been put on the back-burner, for now at least.

My initial thought when the news first broke was that this comes as no surprise to me. We all know the perilous state of the Addicks coffers, and regardless of whether promotion is achieved, I’m under no other illusion that we were likely to need to move a notable player (or two) on to fill the financial void. The deal - however small the reported 1.7m figure may initially seem to some for such an exciting prospect – will be loaded with add-on's; of that I'm sure. We may even see him return on loan some time next season once the Anfield giants have had time to assess their new starlet. And what a great opportunity for Shelvey; he will get to train and possibly play alongside his boyhood hero, Steven Gerrard. Opportunities like that don’t come around very often.

Like most, I have been, and will remain a big fan of Shelvey. That said, it was also obvious he has a lot to learn if he’s to push his game on to the anticipated level, although it’s not entirely surprising given that he’s still so young. So now Shelvey will face the dreaded football crossroads, where the pressure to live up to the expectation may lead to the wrong career move or could very well take you down a dingy backwater rather than the glorious road to nirvana. Will he rise to notable success as messrs. Bowyer and Parker have done? Who knows?

I expect the more jingoistic Addicks will see this as a lack of ambition, and although it's never a good sign when one of your better prospects leaves the club, I think the more calculated and fair-minded Addicks will realise this is an essential bit of business in these difficult times, especially as promotion is still far from certain.

Good luck JJ. Look forward to following your career with interest.

Now, Back to Leeds United…!

Monday 26 April 2010

As Clear As Mud!

Well, some things are a whole lot clearer now, but, in many respects, the chase for promotion has become far more complicated. About as clear as mud, in many respects! I predicted a draw on Saturday, and as such, it should be far easier to accept the implausible prospect of automatic promotion now…but I can’t help but feel slightly flat. At the very least, by not being in a position to compete for the second place, it is another obvious sign of the diminishing percentages of an immediate return to the Championship. As the title of Wyn Grant’s recent post in his Addick’s Championship Diary suggests; it’s the ‘half full or half empty’ debate we face in our own minds now.

Automatic promotion may not be totally over, but asides from Swindon, Millwall and Leeds need to loose their remaining two games with us victorious in ours – given their far superior goal difference – and that is simply not going to happen. As I scrape the bottom of the barrel for some small comfort, I considered how tough it would be to miss out on promotion on the final day by the painfully narrow margin of goal difference alone. I’m not sure I’d get over that monumental blow in a hurry, and the disappointment could well have an adverse effect on the spirit and moral of the team leading in to the Play-Off’s.

I feel slightly disappointed that Saturday’s game will undoubtedly have a different feel about it now the automatic spot is highly unlikely. But despite that, on the face of it, nothing has really changed with respect to the need for an Addicks victory. We need a win to maintain our position above Huddersfield (to avoid the likelihood of playing either Leeds or Millwall in the semi’s), and to try and gain the 4th spot from Swindon (so we are likely to be at home in the second leg). In addition, Leeds will know that only a win may prove enough to keep Millwall from leapfrogging them. It is also an uncomfortable prospect knowing we will go some huge way in assisting Millwall towards gaining the second automatic spot by beating Leeds this weekend. Any Millwall fan not travelling to Tranmere on Saturday may well find their attention drawn to matters down the road, and I’d not be surprised if there was a few unusual faces spread throughout the bumper Valley crowd this Saturday cheering on the Addicks through gritted teeth. But the difficult question is which would prove the harder to accept: Millwall going straight up with our helping hand or facing a Millwall team in the Play-Off’s smarting from missing out on the second spot? Considering we’ve conceded 8 goals to our less-than-friendly neighbours, all I will say is that I wouldn’t be too sorry not to face them again this season.

From here on in we face numerous such-like juxtapositions: some easier than others to explain or rational, some harder to accept!

Even the very subject of the Play-Off’s may divide opinion. Whilst going up automatically might offer the obvious and quicker rewards of your season-long efforts and to help you hit the sun loungers before the Germans have unraveled their beach towels, the bean-counters will not be the ones jumping the highest in celebration. Whilst the club would never freely admit to it, an ideal scenario for promotion would be via the Play-Off’s so as to enjoy the all-important financial rewards of both the T.V and additional matchday revenues that will prove a welcome financial boost to the perilous Addick coffers. Memories of sub-standard performances in the not-so-distant passed left me wondering whether were going to throw away even a Play-Off place, so in this respect, I’m trying to convince myself I’m happy enough. Would I have taken this position at the start of the season? Very probable.

Of course the prospect of a glorious day out at Wembley is something every football fan should look forward to, but asides from the two-game obstacle beforehand, it is a day out I’d have happily left for others. Not now, of course. Our 98 Wembley Play-Off Final victory was one of the most emotional and mentally-tiring days of my life given that the raw emotion ranged so agonisingly back and forth from ecstasy to despair and back again. Days like that make me question whether games of such magnitude can ever be truly ‘enjoyed’ or whether they are simply an experience to ‘endure’ in the hope of the right result. You could go your whole life following football week-in, week-out and never see a game like it. Even with the cherished memories of victory, I have no burning desire to face that experience ever again, and I’d hazard a guess that amongst Addicks, I won’t be alone.

So, we are now left to consider the remaining levels of hope or the varying degrees of Play-Off failure. But in any given situation, hope is always the last thing to die, and as a proud Addick, I have plenty of hope left in me…

Monday 19 April 2010

One Up, Two More To Go…

It is perhaps their similarities to our club, or empathy of how far they have fallen, but there could surely be few fair-minded Addicks at The Valley on Saturday who would have begrudged Norwich their promotion celebrations. In fact, I can’t think of many teams who I could observe in total delirium in the Jimmy Seed Stand without any form of bitterness or resentment. Good on ‘em; well done Norwich – a job well done and thoroughly deserved!

Envious? Yes, massively, and I’ll freely admit it. As I basked in the sunshine outside The Valley pre-match, enjoying the sense of promotion fever, I couldn’t help but feel immensely envious of the swathes of yellow and green shirted Norwich fans that had turned up in typically impressive numbers to celebrate together. Lets face it, Norwich have looked nailed-on certainties for some time, but – and I guess this is why I like the club – they didn’t appear to gloat about it or take it for granted. Even those Norwich fans I spoke to on the way to the ground would not allow themselves to speak of promotion until it was mathematically certain. In reality, even after their defeat at Leyton Orient in the week that may have added unnecessary pressure to Saturday’s game, Norwich would have found it almost impossible to have mucked things up! The statistics of the game may rightly give the appearance we had total control, and although I would agree we deserved something out of the game on the basis of the team’s effort and commitment, you always sensed that Saturday was, for Norwich, more about avoiding defeat than a burning desire to win. I think it fair to say they weren’t in top gear at any stage of the game and were quite happy defending the edge of their box. It a shame we couldn’t manage it, as I don’t think they’d have been too bothered if we’d equalized and we could have gone home reasonably happy with a draw. Football just doesn’t work that way and sometimes you have to accept that your best efforts will not prove to be enough as the day belonged to someone else.

Results elsewhere served only to rub salt in the wounds of defeat as victory on Saturday would have put the fate of the season in our own hands. As we face the uncertainty ahead, how I would take that scenario now! Once again, the fine lines between success and failure could not be more evident; the images of the jubilant Norwich fans serving only to highlight the importance and value of promotion and how much we have to loose should it end in failure. You can follow football your whole life and never be able to predict it.

So, thankfully, we move on quickly from Saturday’s defeat and I remain far more optimistic at present than I was a month or so back. I take great heart in the fact we don’t seem to be giving up possession so freely and we look far more solid as a unit, particularly at the back. We look mentally strong enough, and that can't be undervalued. I think Semedo’s great form has lifted and inspired everyone. One area of concern for me is Bailey, who’s clearly struggling to find form and make an impact on the left of mid-field. The solution to this problem is not an easy one - especially as he has the skippers armband - but that's something Parkinson must consider long and hard this week, with more than a passing thought about the leadership qualities of Sir Christian of Daily. up, two more to go, and I bet the BBC Predictor is working overtime at the moment. For the record, I gave it a go myself this morning, making every effort to stay impartial, and the results were most welcome with us taking the second automatic promotion spot with two points between us and Millwall in third.

Of course it ultimately means nothing, and the twists and turns will prove agony in the next few weeks.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

The Road To......Where?

I set my alarm at 5.50am every morning in order to beat the traffic in to London. I like getting up early; I find the early morning solitude a good time to think - my phone never rings that early and I’m under no pressure to respond to emails. Today my alarm was not required because at 5.15am I was wide awake, staring up at the ceiling in the half-light of morning, thinking of Charlton Athletic V’s Colchester United. I can’t help but worry that Colchester United have become a bit of a bogey side for us. The importance and magnitude of the game means I face one of those days where I struggle to focus. Worst still, even if victorious tonight, I face numerous more days like this before the seasons end.

I have always found the best way to level-out my mind state is to run. So, at the time I’d normally be rising from my bed and heading downstairs to fire up the kettle and feed the cat, I was pounding the streets like Forest Gump, unusually, without my MP3 player offering a welcome distraction. Today, I need total focus! As always, I pass the very graveyard my dear old Granddad rests within and as always I look up at the sky and say a few words. Today, I asked him for a bit of luck tonight. He’s not an Addick, he spent his whole life following his local non-league team, but he may know people up there who can pull some strings. Coincidentally, I recalled a time in the early 80’s, when I’d have been 8 or 9, when we were watching our local side play an FA Cup 1st round game V’s tonight’s opposition, Colchester United, when a scuffle broke out in front of us. My Granddad stood in front of me (with my Dad in front of him) in what felt like an impenetrable protective barrier. I’ll never forget that brief moment in my life. I joked with my Granddad as I passed the graveyard that I’d give anything to feel the same feeling tonight regarding our back 4!

The chaps I work with know this mood only too well, and unless I speak, they leave me alone. I’m running a construction site in the shadows of Upton Park, deep in West Ham territory, where, despite this, the on-site support is split 50-50 Arsenal and Spurs. One things for sure, with tomorrows North London derby approaching, they couldn’t care less about my worries! I find the juxtaposition of our respective concerns interesting.

For me, Dave has summed things up perfectly in his 'Drinking During The Game' blog ( We are capable of victory, no question. But what Charlton side will we see tonight? In the away fixture earlier in the season, in which we suffered a hugely disappointing 3-0 lose (our first defeat of the season), we never matched Colchester physically, particularly in the air. Their two lumbering strikers ran riot and had a field day with Llera, which cost the cultured Spaniard his place in the team. Sodje will start this game and will be a better guarantee for the physical requirements. Thankfully, his form has looked far more assured of late after his horror-show V’s Bristol Rovers. Shelvey was totally nullified by a workman-like Colchester midfield. I think we’ll see the 5 man midfield deployed once again. I’d prefer that not to be the case, especially at home, but with Racon and Semedo unmovable in the centre of the midfield, Parkinson will want to find somewhere for Bailey (and so, I guess, he should).

I’ve read from various sources that we were unlucky not to grab a point on Saturday. That may prove costly, but as difficult a task as it clearly is, I think two wins from the next two home games will put us in a very decent position. Those obstacles need to be overcome, but once again, we ARE capable. You can if you think you can!

I predict a long day ahead, an ever-present nervy and twisted feeling in my belly, texts floating back and forth between me and my Addick-converted Mum, but despite this tension, I can see a 2-1 victory.

I wonder if my Granddad has had a word with Him upstairs yet?

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Fine Lines & Nervy Times....Again....

Well, what a fantastic Easter. Two wins, two clean sheets, and other than a few more goals - particularly in yesterdays game - to boost our goal difference, what more could we ask for? Results elsewhere over the weekend went as expected, and so our consolidation of the 5th spot should be viewed as a success. I still can’t quite believe we’re only two points off of the second place, given our less than inspiring form over the last few months. The division is shaping up for a truly nail-biting finish, in which it is looking increasingly likely that the conclusion of the priceless second automatic promotion spot will be decided on May 8th.

Reflecting further on yesterday’s game, I sensed some positives giving me hope that we can put a run together, not least of all, the impressive and powerful performance by Sam Sodje, who appears to have regained that air of invincibility that had all-but-disappeared leading up to that awful performance at Bristol Rovers. He will be so important for us this Saturday against Lambert and co. In the same respect, I thought Semedo looked once again the player who was so impressive in the first few months of this campaign. He is head and shoulders my favorite Addick, and alongside Racon our central midfield looks to be hitting form. As noted elsewhere, the combination of Richardson and Sam, particularly at home, is always threatening. I must also confess that I found it rather comforting to see Dailly with the skipper’s armband. I have nothing against Bailey as a captain per se, but I do feel that his performances have suffered on occasions as he has attempted to single-handedly drag Charlton along. His obvious high standards and self-imposed pressure to lead the team by example is not always productive to his own individual performance. With this in mind, perhaps we need a cooler, more experienced head leading the team, of which there can be few better examples in League One than Sir Christian of Dailly. I thought the colossal figure of Akpo Sodje did very well when he came on. He’s far from graceful, that much is obvious, but he’s an awkward individual to keep quiet. Like an Australian road train, he takes some time to drag his huge frame from a standing start, but once mobile and running, he must strike fear in to any centre-back. Without seeing it again, I though he was unlucky to have his goal disallowed. I wonder whether Bailey could play in that role linking the midfield to a lone striker? At least that would allow the hit-or-miss Reid to keep throwing the dice on the left, with the magic moments justifying his inclusion. Well done, also, to the Valley faithful, who turned out in numbers to make up for the entirely understandable lack of away support. I thought the atmosphere was a little nervy and reserved at times: perhaps as we all recognise the fragile fine line between success and failure is never more evident than at this stage of a season.

I had a look this morning at the remaining fixtures for the 4 teams that appear set to battle for the remaining automatic promotion spot. It pains me to say it, but on paper, our run-in looks by far the more formidable. The consolation being the games against CUFC, Norwich and Leeds are all at home. My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that if we can grab a draw against Southampton (away), then take a minimum of 4 points from CUFC and Norwich (home), then I think we will be left with the daunting prospect, but none the less achievable task of requiring 3 wins from our remaining 3 games (Exeter A, Leeds H, Oldham A) if we are to stand a chance of going straight up. And even then we need goals, which may prove the hardest thing to achieve in volume.

Not too much to ask, is it?

Mind you, it does throw up another issue to consider. A month or so back I would have been grateful to simply ensure a Play-Off place considering our stuttering form, but as we thankfully look upwards once again, we face the dreaded prospect of missing out on the automatic promotion place by what could be the narrowest of margins (maybe even goal difference). The blow would be immeasurable.