Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A right-back to write home about

Charlton’s performance against Exeter on Saturday was not as intoxicating as we would have liked. In fact, it was pretty poor.

However, there were a couple of positives: the three points, of course, but also another excellent display from Chris Solly.

The Addicks right-back may lack the dynamism of Frazer Richardson – and, thankfully, Simon Francis’ concentration span – but he makes up for that with his intelligence on the ball.

Solly begins many of our attacks, has a fantastic understanding with the winger in front of him, Scott Wagstaff; and, as Saturday’s crossbar will testify, has a pretty fierce shot on him.

Yet, he has shown during the embryonic stages of this season that he is possibly the most defensively adept full-back Charlton have had in some time.

He has a diminutive stature – as forumers on Charlton Life never tire of telling you – but that very rarely proves his downfall, and he has come out on top in most of his duels with opposition wingers.

The Addicks youth product seems pretty unflappable, makes excellent decisions, and mops things up at the back very well when Michael Morrison and Matt Taylor have their dodgy moments.

It has taken Solly a while to cement a place in the Charlton side but now he’s there, he’ll take some shifting.

After Saturday’s trip to the Valley, I opted to watch football from my sofa the following day.

With a cup of tea and a quartet of crumpets at hand, I decided to peruse ESPN’s Serie A offering of Juventus v Parma, the first competitive game at the new Juventus Arena.

The hosts – augmented by a summer recruitment drive that saw them sign Andrea Pirlo, Mirko Vucinic and buccaneering Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner – were brilliant in claiming a comprehensive 4-0 victory.

What made the game even more enjoyable was the work of the co-commentator – Addicks alumnus Mervyn Day. Our erstwhile first-team coach made some very well–structured and incisive points, something that many ‘analysts’ fail to do. Well done Merv!

Charlton are back in action tonight against Preston in the Carling Cup, an extremely winnable tie even if Chris Powell, as expected, makes a cavalcade of changes.

Bradley Pritchard, Cedric Evina and Jason Euell are all likely to get run-out and we may even see Mikel Alonso – if he exists that is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Someone new and someone new-ish

Shaun Wright-Phillips’ immediate future is still to be resolved, but his younger brother, Bradley, knows where he will be playing after penning an 18-month deal with the Addicks.

The 25-year-old has joined from cash-strapped Plymouth for an undisclosed fee and brings with him an excellent goal-scoring record – this season at least – having netted 13 times for the Pilgrims since September.

A slight concern is that the former Manchester City trainee is also carrying a knee strain – an ailment he insists is not too serious, but one that stymied a transfer to play-off chasing Championship outfit Reading earlier this month.

Further investigation reveals the Lewisham-born frontman has regularly suffered with a gammy patella since he arrived in Devon in 2009, so while Wright-Phillips’ merits are obvious, there is an element of risk to Chris Powell’s first signing as Charlton chief. I would, however, argue that it is a calculated gamble.

The Addicks have accrued someone with that sought-after knack of rippling the net and, because of Plymouth’s unfortunate financial plight, almost certainly for a knock-down price. The fact that Wright-Phillips is from the capital should also help him settle in quicker.

And the one-and-a-half-year deal ensures that should the ex-Southampton man’s knee flare up, or bust completely, he won’t become a financial burden, like the way Owen Hargreaves is rapidly becoming for Manchester United.

That’s quite a negative view, though, so let’s hope Wright-Phillips stays fighting fit and forges a potent partnership with one of Joe Anyinsah, Nathan Ecclestone and Paul Benson. I could even see the diminutive striker working well with the much-maligned Pawel Abbott – but I suspect the Polish Yorkshireman will have moved on from The Valley by the end of the month.

Those eagle-eyed readers amongst you will have noticed that I plan to talk about “someone new-ish” in this post as well, and that man is Alan McCormack.

The tough-looking Irishman has made an inauspicious start to his Charlton career due to a mixture of injury, a couple of sub-par performances and the presence of Therry Racon. But since caretaker boss Keith Peacock instilled the ex-Preston and Southend man on the right side of midfield, he has been quite impressive.

McCormack typified the spirit the Addicks showed at White Hart Lane and, by most accounts, was solid at Sheffield Wednesday as well. And against Plymouth, I thought the 27-year-old was superb.

He constructed a good partnership with former Shrimpers colleague Simon Francis down the flank, while his method of cutting inside and dragging Argyle’s left-back out of position allowed Francis plenty of space to bomb into. If the latter's delivery becomes more precise, that could bode well.

A central midfielder proving effective out wide. Have we found the new Nicky Bailey?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Powell and Plymouth

One legendary Addick (Keith Peacock) took charge of Charlton when Phil Parkinson was given his marching orders, and on Saturday another will be in control when Chris Powell begins his managerial career in earnest.

The pros and cons of Powell’s appointment have been raised far more concisely and analytically in other blogs, so I won’t dwell on it too much, though I will add it was a choice that pleased me.

While, like many others, I was a sceptic last Thursday when the odds of our much-loved left-back returning to the club as manager kept dropping, and he was eventually named as the new boss by all media outlets – excluding the official site, of course, which only outpours news when every conceivable I has been dotted and T has been crossed – I believe we may have stumbled upon the perfect candidate.

Despite being a Valley hero, Powell will bring freshness to a club that that has had an air of depression for too long. His beaming smile and positive attitude will certainly change the mood of the place for the better.

Add that to his respected coaching techniques, his will to win and the admiration he immediately garners for his off-field endeavours (PFA chairman, ambassador for the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign), and it seems that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez – and possibly Peter Varney and Richard Murray – have selected well. For the first time since Alan Curbishley, the Addicks board have picked a manager on the up, one without the stigma of losing.

Powell’s namesake, Charlton groundsman Colin, does not believe our new head honcho will suffer a debut defeat on Saturday and neither do I, though I can’t quite take Colin’s view that we will “run riot.”

When I have written this blog before, I have gone into detail about our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, but quite frankly, my eyes hurt and I have a cold, a cat that won’t leave me alone and an episode of Neighbours cued up on Sky+ – it should be a good’un because it looks like that perpetual plotter Paul Robinson is about to embark on another nefarious scheme.

So with all that in mind I’ll make my preview short; Plymouth may have secured a morale-boosting victory over MK Dons in midweek, but they won’t triumph at The Valley. Chrissy Powell’s Red Army will do ‘em 2-1 in front of a raucous crowd – raucous by Charlton standards, anyway.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What if...

I’m going to pose a question which at the moment is hypothetical but if there are any more performances like Saturday’s debacle will soon need answering: who should be our manager if Phil Parkinson packs his bags?

This post isn’t designed to lambaste Parky (if that’s what you want, I’m sure you wouldn’t have to look very far to find one), as I think our leader should be persevered with for the time being.

But say last weekend was not a blip but a sign of things to come, say we fail at Carlisle in a few days time and against Sheffield Wednesday in our next home fixture, and Richard Murray decides the only way we can move forward is by installing a new head honcho. Then what?

I’m opening up the floor to my readers, all two of you. Who would you select if Parky was no longer around? A proven name? An up and comer? Someone with Charlton connections? Or a name completely out of left field?

And without trying to sound like an examiner, if you are going to give me your view, back it up with a reason. There’s nothing worse than an opinion without substance – expect possibly Pawel Abbott’s diet.

I suppose I shouldn’t start a debate without airing my preference – Exeter manager Paul Tisdale. He is a bright young thing who knows the lower leagues, has worked wonders at St James Park in taking the Grecians from the Blue Square Premier to League One, has had to deal with a tight budget (something he would once again face at The Valley), plays some tidy football – and has some wonderful hats.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A look ahead to...Plymouth

Which Charlton team will turn up at Home Park, I wonder? Will it be the professional, Leyton Orient-slaying side of week two, or the meek outfit that succumbed so easily to an albeit-talented Huddersfield during week four?

Will Parky's boys showcase the attacking flair of the first half against Dagenham & Redbridge, or the nervous, lacking-in-ideas display of the second half against Dagenham & Redbridge?

Will be there be a repeat of the cumbersome opening 45 versus MK Dons in midweek or a duplicate of the second period, where intent was discovered and quality was prevalent? I'm sure even our sweater-loving manager doesn't know.

On Saturday, however, The Addicks take on a side even more inconsistent than themselves. Peter Reid's Pilgrims began the term with a battling 1-0 win at Southampton but have not yet managed to claim back-to-back victories.

Argyle edged Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon in five-goal thrillers, but have also suffered home defeats to an attackingly-powerful Peterborough, league leaders Brighton and, perhaps most disappointingly, to Jeff Stelling's favourites Hartlepool last weekend. The men in green are only three points behind Charlton but that equates to nine places and they currently sit in 17th.

They do have quality, though, and it would be surprising if they were not in the play-off hunt come May, but they could be let down by their choice of leader. Reid is a charismatic and likable man, and someone that I'm sure most players would enjoy playing for. Yet, his recent managerial record has been tepid.

The Scouser did excellently to keep a waning Leeds side in the top flight in 2003 - a feat helped no end by a 6-1 demolition of Charlton at The Valley - but once he was given the permanent job the following season, he purchased plenty of dross and was sent packing in November. An uninspiring spell at Coventry lasted just eight months, before periods as Thailand head coach and Stoke assistant manager preceded his switch to Home Park this summer.

The gig in Devon is the former Bolton midfielder's first in club management since January 2005, a five-and-a-half-year gap. That is a long time to be away from the pressure cooker of being the top man, and a boss more au fait with League One could have been a better bet when the Argyle board pondered who should replace Paul Mariner following relegation from the Championship.

As I said, though, there is talent amongst the Green Army; Craig Noone is a tricky winger who impressed during a loan spell at Exeter last term and is now getting his chance at Home Park, while Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose formative years have been blighted by alleged off-field indiscretions, appears to have finally settled down and will be the Pilgrims' premier goal threat.

Argyle have experience to boot, with ex-Crystal Palace workhorse Carl Fletcher and the cosmopolitan defensive duo of Iceland's Kari Arnason and Marcel Seip of the Netherlands.

It should be quite the battle on Saturday, one which may be better suited to Pawel Abbott than Lee Martin. Our semi-Polish frontman netted a bullet header at MK Dons and his physical presence could be pivotal up against Argyle's seasoned backline.

Technically, the crafty Martin is our best player, but he has been a tad subdued in the last few games and could be better utilised as an impact player this weekend, if we need that spark in the closing stages.

Elsewhere, I would keep faith the full-of-running Scott Wagstaff on the right and the fit-again, MK Dons match-winner Kyel Reid on the left, who if he can steer clear of niggles and last the full 90 minutes, has the potential to tear this division to shreds.

Jon Fortune also deserves a start; his half-time introduction on Tuesday evening gave our rearguard a far more solid feel and he could form a formidable partnership with Christan Dailly. Gary Doherty would be the one to make way, but then he has been suffering with flu - and a frustrating case of lossofformitis.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A look ahead to...Dagenham

I could begin this post by commenting on Charlton's fall from grace and our opponents' ascent to it, but having trod that path in my Notts County preview a couple of weeks ago, I won't rehash such banal spiel - I'll leave that to the speakers at the Liberal Democrat Party conference.

Instead, I'm going to focus on the hear and now. The previous few games have seen plenty of tweaks to the Charlton first team, some due to injury and others due to poor displays or tactical reshuffling - and it's fair to say that most of these minor adjustments haven't worked.

After collecting seven points from our initial three encounters, we have accrued just five from our last four, a situation made all the more frustrating because, Huddersfield aside, the teams we have faced are not as good as us. I blame Parky's mode of transmogrify for our relative mini-slump. I'm not opposed to change, I just don't like the way he is doing it.

In our first trio of matches, we were not carving teams apart and seducing all that watched us, we were merely efficient. Amongst that competence, however, there were some stand-out performances.

Scott Wagstaff looked lively and more mature on the right flank, Lee Martin seemed perfectly at home in that elusive position just off the main frontman, Pawel Abbott was an assured presence up top, and Chris Solly - whether starting or making encouraging appearances from the bench - was a vital cog.

But in the search for perfection - or as close as he is ever going to get to it with a League One side - Parky has opted to calibrate. The problem is in making those adaptions, he has dispensed with what was working in the first place, and left the problem areas unresolved.

Wagstaff, although he started last week, has generally reverted to "super sub", Martin has dropped back into a right-wing berth he doesn't feel as comfortable in, Solly has bizarrely disappeared from the matchday 18, and last week Abbott was benched, yet the under-performing Jose Semedo (yes, I have just come out with that bold statement) is a shoe-in to start, as is unconvincing left-back Johnnie Jackson.

I can sort of see Parky's logic; he reportedly spent a princely sum on Paul Benson, Solly's replacement Simon Francis is one of the best right-backs at this level when on his game (something he began to show against Notts County) and playing Martin wide does allow you to play two strikers rather than one - but all the vicissitudes have punctured any momentum and fluidity we had, not heightened it.

It's time for Parky to step up. If he has any idea what his best XI is he needs to select it and stick with it, and if he is still in a state of ponder, then he must make the correct alterations, and not just change for change's sake. We have more than enough to defeat the struggling Daggers at the weekend, but any more peculiar modifications and it could be a difficult afternoon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A look ahead to...Tranmere

When Charlton ventured to Prenton Park last season, almost everything went right. We scored four times in a positive and effervescent performance, Rob Elliot’s goal was not breached and to cap it all, Jose Semedo found the net – an event that proves you’ve had a good day.

A replication of that this weekend, though, looks unlikely. Our clutch of signings towards the back-end of the summer transfer window undoubtedly boosted the strength of our squad, but the influx of numbers has also muddled Parky’s thinking.

Should Paul Benson start? If so, who should partner him? What should do we do with Lee Martin? Who should comprise the back four? At the start of the campaign, our first X1 picked itself (mainly because we had very little in reserve), but now that our ranks have been swelled, is seems as though our manager is scratching his head as how best to fit everybody in.

Despite last week’s narrow – and extremely lucky – victory over Notts County, there is scope for change this Saturday. Parky openly criticised the way Benson and Pawel Abbott played as a unit, and coupled with the way Joe Anyinsah and Akpo Sodje gave us a huge lift when they entered the fray, I would not be surprised to see some striker shuffling.

Abbot was better then Benson, and his superior hold-up and link skills should secure him a starting spot in Birkenhead, probably alongside Anyinsah, whose pace could be an even greater asset away from home. That said, I can see Parky standing his ground and playing his two cash purchases in unison once again, but if that does happen, I would like to see a lot more from Benson than just willing running.

Elsewhere, Therry Racon should replace Alan McCormack in the centre of midfield. I barely noticed the cultured Frenchman in the second half against County, so either the game passed him by, or he got on with his job without fuss.

Whichever of those statements is true, he had a better afternoon than the off-colour McCormack, and should definitely be handed a start. We might be playing an out-of-sorts Tranmere, but we are likely to have less of the ball than we do at The Valley, so Racon’s ability to pick that defence-splitting pass could be crucial.

At the back, it will probably be same again. Simon Francis had his best outing in a Charlton shirt last weekend, Johnnie Jackson is an unenthusiastic but capable left-back, and with Christian Dailly injured and Jonathan Fortune (the first name on my team sheet if we get him anywhere near match fitness) having played about as many professional games of football in the last year as I have, Gary Doherty and Matt Fry should form our central-defensive pairing once more.

Miguel Llera could return, I suppose, to try and combat the commanding presence of 6ft 5in powerhouse Enoch Showunmi, but that would be harsh on West Ham-loanee Fry, who outshone the more senior Doherty against The Magpies.

The ‘Ginger Pele’ actually had quite a poor showing in our previous fixture and under most circumstances would be sweating on retaining his place, but with the Dailly and Fortune situations, I have no doubt that he will. I just don’t see any occasion where Parky would select Llera and Fry together by choice.

The goalkeeping conundrum is a simple one to decipher – if we snap up someone temporarily he plays, if we don’t Ross Worner does, with teenager Connor Gough providing cover on the bench.

Tranmere have begun this season like the last – not very well. They have beaten the occasionally electric but occasionally poor Peterborough 1-0 at home, held hotshots Huddersfield at the Galpharm Stadium, and clawed back a two-goal deficit to draw at Dagenham. But there hasn’t been much else to cheer about with defeats to Oldham, Bournemouth and Yeovil leaving them in the embryonic bottom four.

Early-term form only matters if you let it, though. Last year, Bristol Rovers were flying high and Southampton – admittedly with the frustration of a point penalty – were struggling to pick up results. Fortunes altered as the campaign progressed and I’m sure Tranmere’s will do too.

The strike partnership of Shounmi and Ian Thomas-Moore – now happy again it seems after handing in a transfer request during the summer – could do some damage, and they do have a solid hand in charge in ex-physio Les Parry. He kept them up last season after the ill-fated John Barnes reign and I reckon he’ll lead them to a safe mid-table position in 2010/11.

4-0 last year, I’d take 1-0 this (which of course is a stupid thing to say because if you win 1-0 every week, you’re going to have a lot of success). What I’ll be looking for most, though, is some team identity and cohesion – something that should clarify Parky’s currently-cluttered mind.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A look ahead to...Notts County

This is a game that really emphasises how far Charlton have declined.

Since I got sucked into this mad world of football, I only really remember Notts County languishing in the lower reaches of the Football League. They may have been the oldest club on the planet but that accolade was not transferring into results.

While we were pitting our wits against Arsenal and Manchester United - beating the former and drawing with the latter - English football's pioneers were battling minnows, suffering severe financial problems, and struggling to preserve their status amongst the elite 72 teams in the country.

Fast forward to now, though, and we are on an even playing field. Whereas the Addicks' band of brothers failed in their attempt to jump up a division, the Magpies', like their namesakes up in Newcastle, did not. That said, their promotion campaign involved no shortage of tumult.

June 2009 created plenty of excitement when Middle Eastern consortium Munto Finance sauntered in. They brought money, which they used to acquire players far too good for League Two, such as Kasper Schemeichel and our very own Johnnie Jackson. Mild Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson followed and was instilled in a Director of Football capacity. Elevation was expected. The Premier League in the shortest possible time frame was the goal.

But County's success was modest. They floated around the play-offs, looked capable of surging forward but couldn't quite manage to sustain their push. Then Munto Fiance were proved to be dodgy, boardroom battles ensued and I think I even recall a rumour that the Magpies could have slipped into administration.

Ultimately though, some good old English intervention saved the day. New owner Ray Trew - a salt-of-the-earth chairman if ever I've seen one - entered with realism, reminding everyone that this is Nottingham, not Madrid and that such outlandish goals should be forgotten. They were aiming for Charlton, not Chelsea.

Steve Cotterill was the manager that led them to the peak of League Two and because of that, into League One. He left for Portsmouth over the Summer, though, and ex-Blackburn defender Craig Short plonked himself into the Meadow Lane hotseat.

County have had a mixed start to life in the third tier - losing their opening two games 3-0 before narrowly defeating Dagenham & Redbridge, drawing a six-goal thriller with Bournemouth and then last weekend, tonking Yeovil 4-0.

Browsing through their squad list, one name sticks out like a sore thumb - Lee Hughes. The ginger frontman once transferred for the entertaining sum of £5,000,001, but he made headlines for all the wrong reasons years later when after driving recklessly through a Warwickshire town, he collided with another car and killed one of the passengers. For his crime he was sentenced to six years imprisonment but ended up serving just three.

Whether or not Hughes deserves a second chance after performing such a stupid and dangerous act is up for debate, but I must credit the man for seemingly turning his life around. He could quite easily have felt sorry for himself and frittered the rest of his existence away, but he hasn't done that. He has got his head down, rebuilt himself and last season played a huge part in County's promotion. Some will argue that he can never redeem himself fully and that may be partly true, but he owes it to himself - and the man whose life he prematurely ended - to try.

This piece has taken a rather sombre and moralistic turn, so I will now return to the football. Other than Hughes, who is always liable to pop up with a goal, the Magpies also have experience in the shape of ex-Chelsea left-sider Jon Harley and guile in the form of 29-year-old midfielder Ben Davies. Goalkeeper Rob Burch has also impressed me whenever I have seen him but he is playing second fiddle at the moment to Stuart Nelson.

The Addicks have played second fiddle over the last few weeks, firstly to Huddersfield and then Exexter, and could really do with their first convincing home performance of the season on Saturday.

Conuty alumnus Johnnie Jackson should replace Matt Fry at left-back, while after a distinct lack of attacking substance in our previous few games, Scott Wagstaff and Therry Racon will be especially disappointed if they do not force their way into the starting line-up. Christian Dailly is out for a month or so with a fractured eye socket and missing man Kelly Youga won't play, but is stepping up his training schedule.

I'll be at The Valley as always, hoping for a win, but not quite believing that we are playing Notts County in a league game.