Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pards poser after Palace defeat

Well, 12 years of barely-challenged supremacy had to come to an end at some point, but tonight's limp defeat at Sellout left a nasty taste in my mouth. I think plenty of us, in all honesty, saw it coming. I think I did too - defeat's sometimes better taken on your own, and I ended up perched towards the foot of the grotty-as-ever Arthur Waite stand, and ended up walking out seven minutes before the end, taking out my frustrations on that sodding great hill that takes you up to Crystal Palace Park. At least I'm a bit fitter for the trip...

So, what have we learned? We have learned that we are bloody awful at a 4-5-1 formation. Luke Varney had no chance at the head of that. We have learned that we are bloody awful at a long ball game. Especially when you play a fairly muscular side like Palace. Okay, our weaknesses on the wings may force us into hoofing the ball, but we looked undeniably better with the ball on the ground. We have learned we still have serious problems in defence. Well, the increasingly erratic Kelly Youga, for a start. And I'm still scratching my head as to what Martin Cranie actually brings to our side - at Forest, he seemed to add a few IQ points to the back four, but they weren't in evidence tonight.

My deeper worry, though, is the team itself - it's less than the sum of its parts. For all Bailey's efforts, for all Varney's toil, it's as if our players simply don't believe they can take on the best. So we get run ragged by the likes of Victor Moses, or outclassed by Ben Watson, let our heads drop, and tamely surrender.

Which surely comes back to... the manager. Sorry, Pards, this defeat has your fingerprints all over it. There's no point saying you plan to shake the team up when you said exactly the same thing three days ago after another defeat. His implication that our tactics involved playing long balls is also worrying.

So, we've got a problem. The Evening Sub-Standard - which hates Charlton as much as it loves the current mayor - stuck its oar in with a "vote of confidence" story. Or, as Sky regurgitated it - the "dreaded vote of confidence".

The Dowie/Reed fiasco aside, we aren't one of those mug clubs who go through managers every couple of years. Instability wrecks sides. But I've a nasty feeling we're on a slippery slope. Only one man can change it. Pards - it's down to you, mate. Make us believe in you again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On the edge of a crisis?

"Crisis" is an over-used word in football. When your badly-run bank has to be taken over by the government, that's a crisis. When your football team doesn't win a match, it's a mere misfortune. But I'm not alone in feeling something deeper is amiss at Charlton right now. But I can't put my finger on what's quite wrong.

I should have known we'd lose yesterday when that pillock of a pitch announcer drivelled on about facing Sheffield Wednesday "on the back of two clean sheets". I wasn't at the win over Doncaster Rovers, but the day out at Nottingham Forest was pleasant enough, and I still wake up in sweats over Andy Gray's shot being saved at close range.

Alan Pardew tweaked our suspect defence ahead of the Wednesday clash - with returning loanee Linvoy Primus coming in for the hapless Jonathan Fortune. But did it do any good? Er... no. Luke Varney's opener was swiftly overturned by a nightmare three minutes which saw two goals go in and left defenders and goalkeeper yelling at each other.

Much like at Forest, a frantic (and entertaining) second half saw us batter the Owls' goal - but to no avail. (Did you see how good we were for that spell with just three at the back, by the way?) And then the boos ran out yet again...

There's definitely something broken at Charlton. I've dealt with the fans often enough, but our ridiculous level of expectation just makes The Valley a welcoming place for opponents. Our team's good enough to beat any of its rivals in the Championship. Most of them are level-headed pros rather than the oafish blinged-up dimwits who spoil the Premiership. But the spirit isn't there. Is it the manager? Alan Pardew says he's now got players who can play his way, rather than having to adapt to a team created by his predecessors. But it's clearly not working. Unfortunately, I really fear that if we lose to Crystal Palace on Tuesday, it'll start a chain of events that we may live to regret.

So, what to do? I haven't a clue. I fear that getting behind the team is beyond too many Charlton fans, who just use their visits to the Valley to take out their frustration. I've got a nasty feeling about Tuesday's trip to Selhurst, since we've had it our way there for what seems like an age - that can't go on forever. It was always going to be a big fixture - this could end up being our biggest for a couple of seasons. Here's hoping it's for the right reasons.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ravaged by the Wolves

There was a different context to this weekend's match for me. As some readers may know already, I was in the Midlands last week at the funeral of a Wolves-supporting pal of mine who I was hoping to have seen at yesterday's match. Think it's desolate in Wolverhampton on a matchday? You try it on a wet Tuesday morning when you're in a black suit. But there's a certain class attached to the old gold, and I don't just mean memories of George Berry's afro.

After the service and a tipsy wake, I discovered the funeral cortege had been driven through the grounds of Molineux. The traffic was stopped so the cars could pause at the statue of Billy Wright - and the club staff stood, in their blazers, to attention. Like I said, a certain class.

Class brings expectations, but Big Mick McCarthy's showing every sign of delivering on them this season. Yes, Nicky Bailey's goal was one of the best I've ever seen at The Valley - but Wolves showed a resillience that we, at the moment, can only dream of. And how good a striker is Sylvan Ebanks-Blake?

I thought both sides looked a bit fuzzy in the first half - international break and all that. Wolves looked like they missed Big Chris Iwulemo, who's been - surprise, surprise - doing the business for them since he moved north. I expected a sharper match in the second half, but instead we just seemed to wither away. The defence gave up - Jon Fortune increasingly looking like the weakest link, while Martin Cranie didn't do much to impress on his debut. Alan Pardew is delighted we still have Zheng Zhi - and so am I after having seen our midfield implode. And despite those great runs, Luke Varney's still flattering to decieve.

There's a lots of things we can learn from Saturday's match - me, I'm lumping a fiver on Wolves to win the division; and it's just an awful shame my pal isn't around to see them top of the league.

For us, there'll be better days, and hopefully one will come at Doncaster on Tuesday.