Wednesday, April 30, 2014
This was a chance to seal our own survival, a game in hand and opportunity to mathematically savor Saturday's trip to Blackpool as little more than an enjoyable day out at the seaside. But it would take much more effort and much more concentration than they showed against Blackburn. Watford have already proved they are no walkovers and frustratingly they had nothing but pride to play for, no pressure and freedom to just enjoy their football. Lucky old them, back on planet Charlton my nerves were in tatters all day.
José Riga's starting eleven for the match saw a welcomed return for Lawrie Wilson playing in front of Solly whilst once again there wasn't a Duchâtelet signing included. If Riga was going to complete the job on the day he was going to do it with Powell's team. Cally Messi retained his place even after a shocker against Blackburn three days earlier. Now I'd have probably dropped him, as proud as I am of youth academy players starring in the first team I've been more than critical of Harriott (and others) of late. It's been said on numerous occasions before that my working knowledge of football team selection is atrocious and once again you've all been proved right. Harriott was tremendous last night working hard and scoring two goals his Argentinian namesake would have been proud of. For the first he collected the ball just outside the centre circle, had two defenders stand off him as he ran goal-wards and unleashed his shot from the edge of the area past the reach of the keeper to put the Addcks in front. His second and the teams third was a venomous volley on the end of a perfect Wilson cross. In between these skipper Johnnie Jackson had also found the net to regain Charlton's lead after Watford had equalized on the hour. A cross from another young starlet Morgan Fox found Jackson who looked more likely to fall over than score but he held his footing long enough to beat a defender and the keeper which resulted in another typical celebration where he looks like he may just explode.
It was a good night for goals, the solitary Watford score a stunning strike from the edge of the box after some delightful ball control, the final shot almost bursting the roof of the net. Unfortunately such skill was overshadowed by some of their other attributes. Watford were definitely a physically strong team but too often that advantage was used unlawfully as they started to get flustered. There was little surprise when the full back received his marching orders after a second booking although his protests and almost a refusal to leave the pitch will have done his case further harm. It certainly didn't seem to dampen the spirits of Watford's young 'ultras' who relentlessly sung for the whole ninety minutes and then all the way back to the centre of London on the train home. Full of enthusiasm, there must have been bin bags full of empty Red Bull tins left outside The Valley this morning for the dustmen.
The only other downside of the evening (excluding once again the obligatory substandard match officiating) was the activity in the East Stand during the first half. A reported heart attack, we plainly saw chest pumping, I can only echo everybody else and say my prayers are with the individual and his family right now as we wait for the club to announce an update in due course.
I've no doubt there was the usual last home game lap of honour, I didn't hang around as the idea of such a ceremony seemed almost hypocritical although I have seen the You Tube videos of both Riga and Jackson addressing the crowd. I was far to keen to celebrate in my own fashion, with a pint in my hand.
No matter what your thoughts on the Belgian ownership and all that it entails you cannot deny Riga has done his job well. He knew which games he could gain points in and which he couldn't during a far too hectic season run in. The Barnsley game was probably the only real hiccup in his plan and he certainly got the best out of a poor Championship squad. I'm just thrilled he did it in the main with Chris Powell's team although it again highlights the owners shortcomings; obviously different rules if one of your own disrespect an order.
Many of the team waved a Valley farewell last night, the squad will look entirely different come August for sure whether that be for the good or not but for once I'm not going to dwell on such gloomy scenarios. As I tweeted last night, Charlton had put me through nine months of pain and misery and then went and kissed me like I'd never been kissed before. I was jubilant to the point of ecstasy, it almost seemed like it was my Charlton again. I cheered, I sang, not in acceptance of any new regime but because my club had once again given me a reason, the players, the supporters (who certainly deserve credit for their performance).
Just for an evening I didn't want to give Roland a second thought, merely to toast a good victory and our Championship survival. And it felt refreshingly good!
Sunday, April 27, 2014
After the Easter Monday victory at Sheffield Wednesday, we had every reason to be expectant of an equally passionate performance yesterday with the possibility of actually securing safety and putting this rather frustrating season to bed. In reality Charlton didn't turn up, they played during the first half some of the worst football I'd seen all season at any level and left us still unsure as to where our future lays for the next campaign.
Sordell was a hero Monday scoring a fine hat trick leaving his doubters (including myself) to eat large slices of humble pie. It certainly showed the potential that others have seen in the player warranting high transfer fees and ludicrous contracts yet it was, for us, only a blip on what has been a rather lackluster loan spell. Still flavour of the month with the fickle hoards of Charlton tweeters, he won a softish penalty that he then chose to take himself. True his eye had been on goal of late but we have a recognized penalty taker in Johnnie Jackson and at a goal down in such a crucial end of season tie I'd have expected a captain to assert his authority, do his job and take the shot himself. As it was Sordell played the ball lamely down the middle to a waiting Paul Robinson in the Rovers goal.
It wasn't just the Bolton man who had a bad day at the office. Callum Harriott had a shocker, Morgan Fox looked completely out of his depth, Chris Solly seemed a long way off from being the player he was before the injury and Ben Hamer never looked in command of his goal. Those I haven't mentioned weren't really any better.
At two down just after the break plenty around me left for the pub, it was a tad early in the match for me but I have to say I was tempted. Sordell pulled one back for the home side and briefly looked determined to repeat history and reproduce his results from Monday but Charlton's best period of the game soon dwindled out as the home side once again choreographed their own downfall as comical playground defending gifted rovers their third. That penalty miss just before the interval certainly proved to be a game changing moment. By the end we introduced Reza and Church to aid Sordell but they all chased shadows in a weak attempt to find an elusive goal. Blackburn took the three deserved points to keep alive the faintest of play off hopes whilst we sloped away quietly licking our wounds.
Duchâtelet had better get the cheque book out in the summer, if we do survive you feel we'll be going through all this again next time around and if we don't this lot couldn't score their way out of League One. I'd like to think the owner would put some of the five million refund he'll receive from relegation back into the squad. Fortunately Blackpool were the only side below us to win, Barnsley secured another relegation spot alongside Yeovil, so with three others below us the permutations from the fixtures left do appear to favour us. Charlton are bound to take it to the wire though, it wouldn't surprise me if at least three different clubs at some stage occupy that last spot on the 'live' table next Saturday afternoon.
After a good Easter weekend of non league football it was almost with some reluctance that I headed to The Valley. If it wasn't for the time with cherished friends the day would have been far worse. We sat in The Pelton Arms in Greenwich (a wonderful boozer that has somehow eluded me all these years) and it dawned on me that the game really isn't the best part of the day, far from it, and how long has it really been since the actual football was more than just a mere excuse to catch up with your mates? That matchday camaraderie is possibly the only reason holding me back from transferring to non league for good. News that will please the lads at Horley Town who got their survival bid back on track with a much needed 3-2 win over Frimley Green in the Combined Counties League. I am without doubt a bad luck charm on them as my presence almost assures defeat. Fortunately I can't make their last two fixtures so they can enjoy firing their way to a couple more end of season victories over the next few days. Charlton could do with taking a leaf out of their book starting with the Watford game on Tuesday.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
We'd booked a week in the Lake District months ago when we carefully balanced the odds of missing the 'in season' prices, yet avoided missing any potential vital games. Thankfully Charlton capitulated against Sheffield United in the cup as I was faced for a long time with the very real possibility of missing a cup semi final at Wembley, best laid plans and all that. Originally it was just the trip to Brighton I'd have to forfeit, although a rearranged Barnsley game later fell into the equation followed quickly by the Bolton fixture which was moved twenty four hours forward to Good Friday, the day of our drive back south. Never mind, three fixtures to excel and pick up points; if there's a great game to be had Charlton are always cruel enough to save it until my eyes are elsewhere. As it transpired I missed two dismal defeats and finally a slightly better performance resulting in a no score draw. You missed a chance there Charlton, missed a chance.
If you thought a break from football was my sole reason for escaping to the country (and goodness knows it's reason enough), you'd be wrong. Upon arriving in the land of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck my first inclination was to Google the local football. Kendal Town seemed closest, a club nestling mid table in the Evo-Stik Division One North, NOT the Northern League as I was quickly informed was something completely different. Not only were 'the Mintcakes' (do they really use that nickname) close, but they were at home the following day against Harrogate Railway Athletic, possibly the most northern sounding team in existence. I just had to go.
The Evo-Stik league is a feeder league to the Conference North with the Premier Division level seven of the pyramid and Division One North and South level eight. I was told I could expect a crowd of about a hundred and fifty, in not only a ground I'd never visited before but a league I'd never witnessed too. Never had a holiday had such a promising start.
The ground was everything you'd expect from a distant northern outpost. A wooden grandstand, rickety roofs of corrugated iron above sections of terracing, a scoreboard on a hill yet not a man with a dog in sight. Perhaps I was a little too north for that? The hospitality of the club was second to none and a credit to not only the league or to football in general but a continuation of the warm welcome I received from the whole community. I thought my strong South London accent and charm would isolate me immediately but I was greeted with a smile everywhere I went, although in typing that I realise that I bought a large quantity of beer everywhere I went too. I certainly never heard the words 'flash cockney git' if they were ever thought...
The club bar served a lovely pint and at reduced prices too, the cheap beer an aid to entice supporters to drink feverishly as half the proceeds over the bar go to the players. Everyone you saw working or wearing club overcoats (the northern version of the club blazer) was a volunteer and happy to tell me all about the community club. The ground is owned I believe by Clarks shoes who ten years ago bought out the K shoes company that was not only owner of the ground but also one of the major employers in the town and survives on the whole, like many other small clubs, from the revenue generated by the social events held in the clubroom. I got the impression the landlords were refreshingly rather proud of the association with the community football team and it's history, and I instantly felt at home.
The game itself was of a slightly better quality than I expected, Kendal kicking uphill for the first half and going into the break 2-0 after their number ten had finished with panache on both occasions. Sitting in the grandstand we could hear the benches with some clarity, the Kendal management team disputing every single decision the officials made with language you never heard on Last of the Summer Wine. The second half saw a penalty a piece as the home side ran out eventual 3-1 winners. As a seemingly meaningless mid table affair it was full of intensity and dedication, nobody ever dreaming of pulling out of a tackle.
I fell for it, I almost wished I lived closer so I could watch their run in and their big local derby on Bank Holiday Monday against Lancaster City. Romanticism in football certainly isn't dead but I've my own love affiliations back at home and as we all know, holiday romances have to remain just that, short lived flings. But you never forget them.
So back home for a day and my attentions turned to my local club Horley Town and their ongoing courting with relegation. A home match with third placed Westfield from Woking may not have been the easiest evaluation of Combined Counties Premier Division (level 9) survival but they certainly gave it a go. And this with me watching from the touchline. On arrival at The New Defence, home of Horley Town, joint caretaker manager Anthony Jupp came over and said words to the effect of "not you again, we never win when you're about". He was of course jesting but if he knew about 'the Charlton effect' he'd demand I bought a new wardrobe for non league alone rather than curse them with Charlton off casts!
Horley battled well against an under strength and young Westfield side but their inexperience and nerves unfortunately got the better of them. Unlucky to concede just before the break, they clawed their way back into the match to gain a deserved equalizer after wonderful skills from the always impressive Ashley Nadesan as he beat a couple of defenders to send in the cross for the goal. But again the similarity to Charlton raised it's head, for the visitors went down the other end nigh on straight from the restart to snatch all the points. It was as gut-wrenching at this level as it is at any other, it's a cruel game for sure when you're struggling.
Things will only get tougher for Horley as they venture to South Park for a Bank Holiday derby tomorrow morning. South Park have already been crowned champions and are looking forward to a season of Ryman (Isthmian) football in August. Sorry Juppy, I plan to go. In fact with an early kick off I can watch Horley in the morning then ride the scooter up the A217 to Sutton United for their last Conference South home league fixture against Concord Rangers in the afternoon. A double header to round off my non league season sounds like a perfect and adulterous orgy of football.
I often find myself drifting, disillusioned with so many aspects of modern football . Normally I catch myself and pull myself back in line but recently it seems harder. I'm married to Charlton, we swore oaths when I was a child at a time in every lads life when he knows there is no turning back and it's the other kids in school that will have to settle for a life of supporting the cup winners. In sickness and in health it's Charlton I'm stuck with but of late my eye roams more than ever. And never with the stunning head turner of a club that has won the heart (wallet) of every replica shirt wearing armchair fan but the plainest of the plain, the club ignored by the masses yet more appreciative of my attention. It is just a harmless 'bit on the side' I tell myself, something to keep me amused while my Charlton are working miles away from home and not giving me a second thought.
I know I'll never leave them, the day out on the beer with your mates, the sound of the Covered End in full voice, It's all too much to throw away, and besides, I don't want to become the badly dressed slightly eccentric old man weighed down by a couple of bulging carrier bags that every non league ground seems to attract. But I'm a bloke and it's only natural for me to get a flustered when the club next door offers me a quick hour and a half behind the bike sheds isn't it?
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I ventured through the turnstile just a couple of minutes into the game, little did I know then that the sprint across platforms at London Bridge would be so worthwhile. Our goal was scored in the ninth minute, I'd have missed it. One nil with eighty to go, the usual and with plenty of time to spare.
It would appear a complete lottery as to who José Riga picks to start up front. Reza scored at Leeds then was dropped for Reading. Church was up front for Reading then absent last night. My guess is hat number one contains formations whilst hat number two accommodates the names, Riga then asks a couple of ball boys to pick at random. Last night it was formation 'two up front' and players Reza and Sodall. No bonus ball.
Charlton commenced battle against a Yeovil side whose kit was far more dazzling than their silky touch on the ball, and backed by a good few hundred that had made the midweek trip from Somerset. Possibly the most important game for both sides so far this season, it certainly started with a flourish. Astrit Ajdarević became the second member of 'the Duchâtelet six' to open his account with us as a superb strike from well outside the area beat everybody and surprised us all with the early goal. We just needed to hang on in there and show the visitors why we have such an impressive 'goals against' column next to our name. With Lawrie Wilson missing, Solly of course long term, it fell to Michael Morrison to play in the right back berth and allowing Wood to come into the middle to partner Dervite. Perhaps this accounted in some way for the shambolic defending that would ensue. Two minutes later Yeovil played the ball out of their area and passed it effortlessly up to our own culminating with the ball nestling in the back of the net. The most telling pass of the lot split the defence open on our right hand side between Morrison and his centre half...
The first half continued in much the same vein. We attacked without danger, so did Yeovil, but our defence made it appear more threatening. A half time beer was needed, this football lark wasn't at all as relaxing a pastime as some people would have you believe. We needed to sharpen up at the back if we were to hold onto this point, Yeovil were in the habit of two goals a game and we weren't due another one until Saturday at the earliest. Our surprise then, whilst releasing the pint we'd just supped was more bewilderment as the roof came off with whoops and cheers. We raced up the stairs (this running lark was becoming habitual) to discover Dorian Dervite had headed home from a corner. Did it matter I'd missed a goal? Not at all as, especially for the latecomers, Sodall of all people added a third two minutes later to send us into dreamland. A deft flick from Poyet released Reza down the right, his cross was parried by the keeper and Sodall was quickest to the rebound. In fact our Marvin would treat us to the best performance of his spell here, tricking his way past defenders. 'Same old Sordell, taking the p**s' sang I!
A fourth goal would have really killed them off but it wasn't to come, instead we dithered and reverted to suicidal defending to give Yeovil a lifeline with a gift of a goal. There was still fifteen nail biting minutes to go. It was all too much for one steward who endured the wrath of one Yeovil player as he kicked the ball away from him. This along with five substitutions (including a welcome return for Leon Cort) resulted in five agonizing minutes of stoppage time. When the referee finally called a halt to proceedings the relief was staggering, it felt like safety was assured but of course it isn't. For Yeovil though I think that could be that.
Two songs from the Covered End were poignant last night. Diego Poyet had another man of the match performance, he proved once again that he's head and shoulders above everyone else on the park and this on his nineteenth birthday too. Finally he was rewarded with a song, 'he's better than Gus' although we soon changed that to 'he's better than us'. The other song that echoed around The Valley hailed the management of José Riga. Now to upset the 'move on' brigade but I still refuse to verbally parade a man who I not only believe to be an interim manager, but who also encapsulates the Duchâtelet theory of maneuvering the club away from independence and into the 'fold'.
Don't misjudge my loyalty. I was immensely proud of the team last night and delighted with the win. There was plenty of Charlton spirit on show from the players. However a club tie and a few wins does not instill that spirit into a man in just a calendar month. We may well go on to survive to play Championship football again next season, although there's still plenty of hard work on the pitch to be done, but in the long run there remains a far bigger and graver danger which ultimately could test that spirit in each and every one of us.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
As usual the final ball lacked not just quality but substance. Charlton attacked time and time again during the first half but struggled with too familiar predictability to find any killer instinct or threatening edge when approaching the Reading area. This was all a far cry from the euphoria of Tuesday night and the trip to Elland Road.
At Leeds, admittedly like Forest a club in turmoil and free fall, Charlton gained an encouraging three points due to first, a sublime first goal for the club from Dave (Iranian Reza Ghoochannejhad), no doubt in the process ruining the club's goal of the season event as a competition in one foul swoop, and then secondly the spirit lifting penalty save from Ben Hamer at the death. Hamer would once again perform heroics as he spectacularly saved a Reading shot in the first half whilst still level, yet Reza found his reward for Tuesday as a place on the bench. Any real chance of carrying the winning momentum forward from Leeds was always going to come to an abrupt halt upon discovery of our sole attacking threat being Simon Church. The chances of him scoring against his former club mirrored my own at picking the winner in The Grand National.
When Reza did get his opportunity from the bench he snatched at his chances and showed little of the composure on display at Leeds. His fellow substitutes showed little more, Obika looking a shadow of the player we saw last time around and as for Manchester United's Davide Petrucci, you have to ask yourself why we would at this late stage of a season take on board somebody who looks out of his depth and far from match ready. It was his mistake which led to the fateful Reading break, an unfortunate assist although he cannot be blamed for them going on to actually put the ball in the net. We can see the team are tired from their twice weekly routine, but surely the squad is big enough to not warrant such mediocre loan signings? Andy Hughes, Mark Gower? Where are they when they could do the job. Even Danny Hollands down at Portsmouth has as much to offer at the moment as young Petrucci.
Back at The Bunch of Grapes we concluded that José Riga must have already decided which games he can get the required number of points from and will attack those while aiming for damage limitation in the others. It was obvious that the game at Derby County, a place Millwall saw success whilst we were at Sheffield, was not seen as a point hauling match, the same applies for yesterday even though for periods you'd be hard pushed to tell whether it was Reading or Charlton in sixth or twenty first. This is a dangerous game to play with possibly catastrophic consequences, helped less still by Millwall and Yeovil picking up unlikely victories once again to keep the pressure on.
There has been plenty of discussion on how Riga's points total fares against Powell's and I don't intend to keep harping back to 'the good old days' but I'd be more inspired by this head coach if I believed he set out to win every game. Deep down I don't suppose we'll see him next season, I think he may well only be here for the short term to maneuver this particular ship of Duchâtelet's onto the owners preferred course before setting sail next season with a more permanent member of his admiralty at the helm. Riga I believe could be seen as Roland's troubleshooter and will move from ship to ship deploying lifeboats as he sees fit.
With no disrespect to Yeovil, never would I have conceived such a fixture as we have this coming Tuesday could be viewed with nervous apprehension. I can only assume (and pray) Riga sees this match as a point gaining exercise otherwise as I leave for the Lake District on Friday it won't be for the week of relaxation I envisaged but another week of stress, disbelief and upset.
I'll pack a life jacket.