Wednesday 19 March 2014

Don't Leave Early...

If you're the type of fan to leave early to beat the traffic then you'd have missed another late, late Charlton winner last night courtesy of Dervite's powerful header. As was the case against QPR, the goal came via an excellent corner, this time from Jackson. The Valley erupted once more. A rare and vital goal. The win lifts Charlton out of the bottom three with further games in hand, and after a third consecutive clean sheet and some small but encouraging signs of progress on the field, Addicks will be hoping we can keep it that way. One thing is clear, the spirit of Powell lives on in these players and their desire and fight remains unquestionable.
Credit must be given to Jose Riga for embracing that element of Charlton, even if you still do so through gritted teeth. I like the way he has carried himself at a very difficult time. My early impressions are that he is a good man. After 3 games I think we can begin to analysis his team selections enough to call into question any accusations of him being a puppet of Duchatelet. 
After an uninspiring and error-strewn start Riga was decisive enough to make a refreshingly early substitution, bringing on Obika for Harriott late in the first half. It was tough on the young winger; he looked willing but heavy legged. It was the right call and it made a huge difference. One of the louder criticisms of Powell's management was his reluctance to use his subs early enough.
Even Sordell's appearance lifted Charlton going forward!  
The sub-plot of the evening was the return of our former Breton Warrior, Yann Kermorgant. It was tough enough watching him go through his usual routine of taking free-kicks into an empty goal during the warm-up, let alone the prospect of watching him actually playing against us. He was rightfully well received on occasions and was open in his appreciation back. 
His appearance last night - and the build up to it - reminded me of the one and only time I ever got to see my footballing hero, Paul Gascoinge, play. It was back in '98 and fresh from promotion to the Premier league we entertained Middlesbrough at the Valley. Gazza was fading, we knew that, but I worshiped that man; still do in many ways. For weeks I was looking forward to that fixture, hoping Gazza would stay fit. I wanted to see the Gazza that had given me the chance to dream of World Cup glory 8 years previous. Bizarrely, once the ref blew for the start of the game I wanted nothing more than for Keith Jones to nullify his obvious threat (coincidentally, at the time, Keith Jones was one of my favourite players). Older Addicks may recall that Jones' performance in man-marking Gazza was so good the England playmaker was taken off at half time. He had a truly awful game and gave a penalty away midway through the first half.
By the way, I'll never forget Gazza's appearance at the Valley that day by virtue of the reaction he received from the Covered End. As he prepared to take a corner the entire Covered End stood in unison to give him a heartfelt standing ovation. For a moment Gazza looked stunned and confused as if unsure if the applause was for someone else. It was a great moment born out of respect for one of the finest players England have ever produced.
Full of surprises, The Covered End chanted the name of Jose Riga for the first time yesterday. Some will say it was too early after Powell's departure. Some will say it shows how fickle fans can be. I admit I found it rather weird, but upon reflection I'm pleased it has happened. For Charlton to have any chance of surviving we need to support the team.
Last word on young Diego Poyet. What a player he is. As the pain of loosing Powell subsides with the passing of time, I'm filling with dread at the prospect of Poyet leaving for nothing more than a nominal development fee in the summer. Whatever that fee is will be light-years away from his true worth. It looks highly unlikely Charlton will be able to offer him a contract comparable to some of the heavyweight teams waiting in the shadows. That lad is destined for very big things. Shame it won't be with us.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Moving On...

If there's one thing that has divided Addicks recently it's the suggestion that we should all 'move on' from the recent heavyweight disappointments of  loosing Kermorgant, to a lesser extent Stephens, but most certainly Chris Powell. Add to this the on-going concerns about the loss of identity of our club since Duchatelet took over and Addicks are understandably restless.
It seem some fans cannot accept the thought of 'moving on' as they believe to do so would be to somehow endorse Duchatelet's worrying strategy going forward. They may also feel it would be disrespectful to the memories they hold dear of mssrs. Kermorgant, Stephens and Powell. All noble stuff and understandable to a point, but in reality, it does nothing of the sort. The term 'moving on' simply implies you will not stand still. Beyond that it means absolutely nothing so people shouldn't get too precious about it.
Chris Powell will be 'moving on', you can be assured of that, and good on him.
Alternatively, there are some that are clearly happier to forget the past and embrace the future. Amongst them are some that are even pleased with the change in management and are prepared to give Duchatelet a chance. I don't share their optimism, but I respect their view.
I can see both sides of the coin, but if pushed I would be more inclined to say that if we all took the stubborn refusal to 'move on' approach then we would never alter any of the concerns we have going forward. Our actions will speak far louder than words. It won't bring Powell back, but then it would be foolish to even dwell on that. 
Already some of the clubs more high-profile fans - all with an impressive history of campaigning for the greater good of Charlton Athletic - have come together to try and open dialogue with the club, with particular concerns regarding the intentions of the new owner and the loss of identity. Their statement can be found here. Thankfully, they are not 'standing still', but are mobilizing themselves for action.  
This subject has both fascinated and irritated me in the last week, so your views are welcome...   
My end conclusion to all this is that Charlton fans should stop bickering amongst themselves and get on with supporting the team at a time when they need it the most. Starting with tonight.

Sunday 16 March 2014

South Bermondsey Boredom...

It has been a truly awful week to be a Charlton fan. Cup heartbreak and then facing up to Powell's departure made a trip to Millwall just about the last thing we needed. At one stage, as I sat enjoying a pre-match pint in the Old Loyal Britons waiting for Marco, I was genuinely tempted to sack the football off and enjoy a few more drinks instead. A good honest pint of ale was far more appealing than the high possibility of yet another kick in the bollocks.

I wasn't alone. I don't think anyone could be arsed with this fixture, including Millwall. It's the most one sided derby game in British football but it's also got to be the worst in terms of value for money. Against my better judgement Marco and I made the short trip to the New Den where we was joined by Rob. Even the atmosphere inside the ground seriously lacked effort despite a healthy turnout from the locals (I didn't think they cared about us?) and the usual threats of physical violence from the knuckle dragging, toothless Millwall fans failed to raise the pulse either.

Once again we all held our breath at who Riga would pick in goal and once again he chose the right option. Perhaps further proof that Roland isn't pulling the strings (or perhaps too early to judge?). When team selection is more interesting than the game itself you know you're on a hiding to nothing. For the 3rd game in a row Charlton failed to find the net, or perhaps most worryingly, even look like they would. Once again Sordell was preferred up top but although there is an improvement in his effort of late I question his desire to score. I want him to really look like he wants to score, but he just doesn't. On a plus side defensively we look solid enough and some of the approach play was decent albeit without an end result. Just like on Wednesday, Poyet stood out in the midfield and it is becoming increasingly frustrating that he has not been tied down with a new deal by Duchatelet. He looks an outstanding prospect and it would be a real shame to loose him on a free in the summer. The effort was there, but that alone won't be enough to save us. We desperately need goals.

I'd love nothing more to predict that sooner or later someone is going to get a real hiding from Charlton, but they're not. If Charlton do go down then the analysis as to why will not take too long. Selling Yann will be the most significant factor, but I'm left wondering if Mr. Duchatelet even realises that or whether he still stubbornly believes it was the right choice. It wasn't.

If you was editing this game for T.V then I'd be surprised if the footage lasted longer than 10 seconds and 8 of those would involve the mandatory shot of the captains shaking hands at the coin toss and then the other 2 would be the ref blowing for full time.

The police kept the Charlton fans back for 45mins after the game but they really needn't have bothered. Nobody was up for anything other than forgetting the football and getting on with their Saturday.

Upon our release we headed back over to the Old Loyal Britons via the fish and chip shop and once there I had the pleasure of meeting Charlton Live's very own Peter Finch who was excellent company. Alongside Peter, a well-spoken local and an ageing Millwall fan who was getting steadily more drunk on red wine, we spent the remainder of the afternoon and well into the evening shooting the breeze on all manor of subjects.

A very good day but a forgettable game.

Despite Charlton's perilous position, we still have up to 4 games in hand over some of the teams around us. It will account for nothing unless we pick up a win or two quickly. The relentless fixture list will see Bournemouth visit the Valley on Tuesday where our current top scorer could be back from injury. Shame he won't be playing for us.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Trespassers May Be Persecuted...

It was always going to be a tough night for Addicks. As if Sunday's cup disappointment wasn't enough, the loss of our hero and leader on Tuesday was the icing on a very shit cake. It felt odd being at the Valley under a new regime of management, but it was to the credit of the 12,000 or so hardy Addicks in attendance that the focus was on supporting the team. The period of applause on 3 minutes to mark our respect and gratitude for Powell was universally received and was an emotional moment for us all. One I won't forget.  
The new man, Jose Riga, stood in a suit as sharp as one Chris would have worn, but it felt like he was trespassing in the Charlton dugout. I will give him my support as it is not his fault, but it will take some getting used to. The anticipated widespread persecution of Roland Duchatelet never materialised and given that he was in attendance last night, he may well consider that he's dodged a bullet. I can only recall the Covered End singing 'We Want Our Charlton Back' on one occasion. It was an odd atmosphere, but certainly not toxic as many predicted. My personal view is that's a good thing; as I said above, the focus was on supporting the team.
Perhaps, in truth, some people are ready to move on far quicker than others. Each will deal with Chris going differently. I sit in an area almost dead centre of the East stand, predominantly around older faces who've been there, seen it and done it before and the atmosphere felt no different. Perhaps in the Covered End, where some of the younger lads sit, the mood was not quite the same. Roland's intentions seem questionable to put it politely, but only time will tell if they were misinterpreted. I can only hope with all my heart that they were. 
Despite the dark clouds surrounding this game, Charlton got off to a decent and lively start, lead, as always, by Johnnie Jackson's passionate drive. There was a very visible difference in the play and thankfully an absence of those long balls up field that never, ever worked. Morro and Dervite were solid at the back and to his credit Sordell looked lively and hungry up front. Ajdarevic continued to look for the killer ball, but sadly we still look as blunt as ever up top.
To everyone's relief, Hamer was included over Thuram-Ulien and he pulled of a decent one handed save from a rare Huddersfield attack very early on. It is not clear who picked the team yesterday (some reports it was Dyer) but hopefully Riga will disprove the 'puppet' accusations and stick with Hamer going forward. The keeper position is the perfect litmus test of how influential Duchatelet is in team selection. 
As time went on you could see the edginess creeping into Charlton's play, but all things considered, that was more than understandable. Considering most of these players know only too well they won't be here next season, you could not fault the effort and commitment. 
A simple look at the stats of the game would suggest a draw was the right result, but in Charlton's position, a point was not really enough despite games in hand. More pressure on us getting a result Saturday, then, when we head over to our not-so-friendly neighbours for a real 6 pointer.
A trip to Millwall. Just what we need after the few days we've had.     

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Chris Powell...

Forgive me if I'm a little behind my fellow bloggers and repeat what has already been said, but this blog has always been about me getting things off my chest and in some small way marking the events of Charlton in my life. I'll try and keep this as short as I can...
I'm not in any way talented enough as a wordsmith to even begin to articulate just how gutted I am that Chris Powell has been sacked by Charlton. Sad I may well be, but unfortunately I'm not surprised.
Dealt a bum deal by the new owners, our hero stood firm by his principles but has finally fallen. In reality, we knew it was coming, even if we was in denial about it. Roland Duchatelet was always going to bring his own man in despite occasionally hinting otherwise to appease restless Charlton fans. I don't buy this rumour that Powell signed a new deal recently but had it returned with a note saying 'you're sacked'. That sort of nonsense serves no good. I prefer to believe Powell refused to become Roland's puppet all along. Good on him.
My guess is that the FA Cup run simply delayed the fall of the axe and if that's the case, then perhaps some small credit may go the RD for allowing Chris to chase his Wembley dream.
Powell wasn't the finished article as a manager, we all know that. He got things wrong but boy did he get so many things right. After the dark, dark years following relegation from the Premiership he gave us our Charlton back when he took up the reigns as manager 3 years ago. He put a smile back on our faces comparable to the one he wore. He motivated average players to sweat blood for us, the fan. He knew what it meant to be Charlton.
But there is more to this heartbreaking decision today that goes way, way beyond any obvious disappointment and sadness for Powell. No, it resonates much deeper. This is just the beginning of the loss of identity of my football club. The very identity Chris held so dear and cherished. The very identity he valued. The very identity he knew meant everything to us. I've never felt so demoralised at Charlton's prospect going forward.
But maybe, just maybe it was that sentimentality that was holding us back. Only time will tell on that. I won't dwell too much on this point for now.
And all this on a day when my season ticket renewal form dropped through my letter box. It's like a sick, twisted nightmare!

I'm going to end this post now as I'm struggling massively to hold it together... 
Thank you, Chris. You are a man that I cannot have greater admiration and respect for. Your dignity in adversity is inspirational. I wish you all the very best in whatever challenge you take up next.

Monday 10 March 2014

Steel City Heartbreak...

I tried really hard on Saturday to pay little attention to the Championship results elsewhere even though I knew only too well they were horrendous enough to have left Charlton rooted to the bottom of the league. This weekend we could put our perilous league position to one side. This weekend was about chasing FA Cup glory. It was about us enjoying rare cup success. We was just 90 mins from a Wembley semi-final; so close we allowed ourselves to dream a little. So close...and yet in reality, light-years away.

Deep down we all knew how it would end up. In a way, if you think about it, Charlton don't really disappoint you at all. They are actually frighteningly consistent.

And it all started so well. Me and my mate, Bolts, drove up to Sheffield on Saturday afternoon determined to make the most of the weekend. Sheffield has something like 10 independent breweries and we were both more than happy to give them as much support as we could in our short stay.

As soon as we ditched our bags in the hotel we headed over to The Fat Cat in the Kelham Island area of Sheffield. I got stuck into a delightful pork pie and an outstanding pint of 'Breakfast Stout' from the Ales Without Limits Brewery. It was a good start. The beer calmed my nervous tension a little but I would need more. Before long we was joined by fellow Addicks, Al, Jim, Marco & Crispy. Ales flowed and the merriment continued in the Dada Bar nearer the city centre where I found comfort in the excellent Founders 'All Day IPA' session ale.

After the mandatory late-night curry and a few drunken renditions of various Grandmaster Flash tunes on the walk back to the hotel we retired to our rooms content and full of hope. It was a very good day spent with some good chaps.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was shit. Yesterday was not so much about enjoying a few beers with mates it was about winning games of football. Thanks in part to a shocking kick off time we managed neither.

5,000 or so travelling Addicks turned up in force and in great voice, but once again, when the spotlight was on them, Charlton didn't.

If success was measured in short, meaningless passes across our back four then Charlton would not have a care in the world. Except it isn't. Our forward play is frighteningly slow and completely devoid of ideas. We just don't look like we're ever going to score. The general consensus amongst fans post match was that there was not enough effort or passion. I don't share that view. This is a team that is even struggling to put a brave face on to hide a complete lack of confidence. We are about as fragile as a football team can get.

It doesn't help when the team is disjointed by questionable decisions from Powell and a lack of options in the squad (I accept the two are not mutually exclusive). Jordan Cousin is not, and never will be, a right-sided midfielder. We missed his drive and force in the centre of the pitch where our talismanic skipper never stopped running but chased shadows for most of the game. Harriott looks the part and may turn out to be a real player, but for now, his feet are clearly much quicker than his ability to make the right choices at the right time. It's hard to pick out a single player who played anywhere near his potential.

And why no Ajdarevic from the start? I don't understand why our most creative player was not on the pitch from the start. You sacrifice creativity over effort if you're playing for a draw, perhaps, but this was winner takes all. No, I just don't get it.

Our full backs looked frightened to cross the half way line for reasons known only to them. Both are more than capable of rampaging up and down the flanks. We rely on them doing so but they didn't.

Sometimes, Charlton, you have to roll the dice and attempt a forward pass, even if it has an element of risk. That's how chances are created. And no, when I say forward I don't mean a Morrison style 40 yard up in the air special!

Sheffield may not be a better side individually, but they showed how important it is to have belief as a team. Yes they got lucky with the second goal, perhaps even the first, to some degree, but they deserved it. No questions about that. So in the end, Charlton blew it yet again. Full credit to Sheffield United, their fans were loud and passionate and they deserved to win. I have come away from this game with a new respect for that football club. Bramall Lane is a great, tradition football stadium and today it was absolutely rocking. I wish them every success in the semi-final.

And as for Charlton, we have a series of 'cup finals' coming up starting on Wednesday against Huddersfield at the Valley followed by the small matter of Millwall away next Saturday. There is so much uncertainty behind the scenes at Charlton that it's hard to see a positive outcome to all of this. Without the carrot of a Wembley cup semi-final as an incentive, I'm left to wonder what's left for the players. After all, with so many of this team and perhaps even the manager looking certain to leave in a few month, why should they give a shit?

I do hope I am wrong...

Monday 3 March 2014

Sold Out...

So, despite receiving an almighty kick in the nuts from the FA and BT Sport with a truly awful KO time, and with not a single train running into Sheffield from London on the morning of the game, Charlton sold out their 5,298 allocation within a few hours of going on general sale this morning. Awesome effort. Once again Charlton fans overcome adversity!

I've laughed in the face of the travel nightmare by booking a room in Sheffield on the Saturday night, meaning I can drive up in more relaxed fashion, enjoy a few beers in good company and be up and fresh for the game (after a good, honest fry-up, no doubt). It will be an expensive weekend once done, but these opportunities won't come around very often. Like a kid before Christmas, I can't wait.

Back home my boy will be round my mums; the pair of them will watch the game together, clad in Charlton colours...

Obviously those fortunate enough to get a ticket will be wishing the days away this week, but spare a thought for those that couldn't grab a ticket in time. Inevitably there will be great disappointment amongst a good number of Addicks. I picked up on a few comments from 'regular' away fans over the weekend who were already looking down their noses at the 'glory supporters'. I can understand that in part so I won't be too critical, but I do think it's a shame. Not everyone is fortunate enough (dependant on how you look at it) to watch Charlton regularly on the road. Speaking personally, this will be only my 4th away trip of this season, but I feel absolutely no guilt. I would dearly love to do more away days but a mixture of family and work, let alone finances, restrict it to around a half a dozen a season. I'm not complaining about that; I've missed less than a dozen games in nearly 2 decades at the Valley, so I believe I have every right to take my place at Bramall Lane.

A very tough game awaits. Chris Powell's battle-weary charges will need to be on top form. One thing's for certain, they will have a very partisan 12th man behind them all the way. Come on you Addicks!