Sunday, 19 August 2007


There be Gremlins in the works. First of all the big screen at the Valley is on the blink, and now it seems that even the Sky TV in Bartram’s is suffering from post-relegation burnout after a series of cut-outs during the Stoke game. Has relegation cost cutting meant we can’t afford to renew the warranties on our big screen electrical gadgets? What next? Floodlight failure?
Bartram’s was bustling for the Stoke game. Unable to make the game in person, and with the missus in tow, I headed for SE7 to watch the game on the big screen; the next best thing. I’m starting to wonder whether I should have even bothered doing that, and I’m not talking about the set top box trouble which made the screen cut out and freeze half a dozen times.

Stoke are a good side, the Britannia Stadium intimidating. Stoke manager Tony Pullis has put together a tough, physical side that is perfect for scrapping to get back into and win games, and doggedly defending even the narrowest of leads. Be warned, head up there and expect to play a cultured passing game, and you’ll be liable to get roughed up, beaten senseless, and lose. With people like Liam Lawrence, Rory Delap, Dominic Matteo, Clint Hill and Ricardo Fuller, you’re in for a rough ride. Into this maelstrom of heated football, we unleashed a midfield that included Darren Ambrose. We were doomed from the start.

Now I’m somewhat loathe to repeat the same old litany of errors we made. It’s far easier to sum up the side, and our style of play, like this. We’re playing mediocre Premiership Football in the Championship, and that’s the biggest criticism that is possible to bestow on us.
For starters, there is utterly nothing direct and purposeful about our style of play. Yeah, we’ll win a possession-rate competition, but when it comes to getting the ball into areas where we look threatening, there’s fuck all there. When Andy Reid managed to deflect a free-kick off Jonathan Fortune to take the lead, we were lucky. There was nothing lucky about Stokes equalizer barely minutes later; a brilliantly taken right footed shot from Ricardo Fuller from outside the area which left Weaver with no chance, and the rest of the team clueless, and those of us in Bartram’s with that familiar sinking feeling.
Now please step up please, Stoke substitute Jonathan Parkin.

Now Alan Shearer he is not. Parkin, a man mountain of a centre-forward is nicknamed ‘The Beast’ for a reason; it’s because he’s a walking human rights violation standing at 6ft 4’ and full of muscle. When he put the ball through substitute Paddy McCarthy’s legs after only minutes of coming on, powered his way into the penalty area and scored into the bottom right hand corner past Nicky Weaver however, you got a first class lesson of what a big, brick shit house target man is when he gets proper delivery, and proper support. Route one football.
Parkin was signed for Stoke for mere peanuts, around £275’000. But he’s exactly the sort of substitute, and dare I say it exactly the sort of centre forward you want to batter your way out of this division, and use as a foil for a natural finisher, which Stoke luckily don’t really have. And here in is the lesson. Charlton, for all the errors of the past, need to learn that to not only win but to survive in this division you have to get your sleeves up and work hard, being physical and dogged.

At the moment we’re simply not doing that.

Charlton are slow at releasing the ball, giving it to wingers who can’t cross let alone get the ball airborne. Sam is a fast, mobile winger with excellent technique for this division. But my five year old sister could get it further off the ground than him, and even when he does play it onto the box, there’s nobody there. Ambrose again bottled half of the 50/50 balls yesterday and looked like a total non-entity, whilst Reid and Semedo both looked solid, if unspectacular. At least in the middle of the park we look better than we have done for a while. Losing Yassin however, is a sizeable blow. He’s different class.

If getting the ball in the air to our forwards is the best policy, there is little doubt that we need to get it onto the head of Big Chris Iwelumo. He’s a huge, powerful bloke, better on the ball than Parkin and other target men in this division, and I’ll stick my neck out on the line to say that he’ll be our best centre forward by the end of the season. He simply wins everything in the air. The trouble is that there’s no one there to pick up the knock ons. Bent’s positioning is terrible, he’s rarely anywhere near him to take advantage of the space he creates, whilst Izale McLeod is being played far too deep, acting as almost an attacking midfielder. Whilst he’s best coming from deep, I don’t think anyone means from besides Semedo. Get him further up field, hovering off Iwelumo, and he will score goals. Bent, for all the talk of him being our main man, just doesn’t have it in him.

There are however reasons to be somewhat cheerful about the Stoke debacle. For starters, we played fairly well in spurts, but again that was at keeping possession, not playing it forward into dangerous areas quick enough. Thomas looks dangerous, whilst Bougherra and Fortune show increasing signs of being a very solid central pairing at this level.
On a final note, a big ‘thank you’ to all those who made the trip up to the game. You did us proud; especially the likes of away regulars like Ricey who are a credit to the club week in week out with their support all over the country.
The team should look to them for some inspiration.

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