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.