Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Awayday success continues

Another good result on the road put Charlton three points clear at the top of League One after Huddersfield could only manage a draw at Scunthorpe. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his 9th and 10th of the season to extend Charlton's impressive away record.

The Addicks were dominant in the opening 45 minutes with Wright-Phillips opening the scoring after only six minutes. The striker tapped in a loose ball after Yann Kermorgant narrowly missed putting Charlton ahead with a spectacular overhead kick, which came back off a post.

The move was started by Rhoys Wiggins who tore down the flank and his cross came off a Wycombe defender which allowed Kermorgant to get his opportunity. Wiggins has been excellent for us lately and his influence showed again.

Bradley's finish for the second goal was superb. A neat ball from Danny Hollands sent him away and he found the bottom corner brilliantly. It's another great start for the striker, his goals are going to be essential in our promotion campaign so I hope we manage to keep him fit.

The second half was a different affair. As seems to be customary with this team, we grab a two goal lead and things start to get a bit shaky. Wycombe had some good spells with the ball, and whilst in the first half they failed to create anything of note, in the second period they looked a bit more likely to do something.

The hosts got their goal on 63 minutes after Ben Hamer pulled off two amazing point blank saves to deny Wycombe, but the ball eventually fell for Stuart Beavon who made sure it was third time lucky. Beavon could have opened his account 10 minutes earlier, but Hamer pushed a long range effort from the winger over the bar.

All in all it was a good night's work for the team. The second half was a bit nervy, and there were times when we should have been holding on to the ball for longer, but chose long clearances over finding another red shirt. That said, Wycombe pressured us a lot more in the second half and deserved their goal.

A trickier tie is on the horizon next with a trip to Hartlepool. If we can keep our form going into November it should stand us in good stead, as we face some particularly difficult sides over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Perfect Response

I've been lucky enough to see the majority of games at The Valley this season, but have always found our performances a little bit lacking compared to our displays on the road. After losing to Stevenage last week, an immediate response was required, and the team delivered with the Addicks putting in probably their best home display of the season.

I was critical of Powell's team selection last week, not least because our style of football has suffered since Kermorgant replaced Paul Hayes in the starting line up. Powell however stuck with Kermorgant and in fact the only change he made was bringing Solly back into the fray, and it paid off. The majority of the football was played on the deck, I saw little of the long ball game, and we were back to the passing style that has elevated us to the top of League One.

Danny Green had impressed little up to this point, but against Carlisle he showed what many of us had been waiting to see. He was lively throughout, put plenty of decent crosses into the box, and was unlucky early on as he saw a shot turned away by the visiting keeper. This is the type of performance we need to see week in week out and I hope that he has turned a corner.

Carlisle came to The Valley with an impressive away record, having lost only once in the league on their travels this season, and must have fancied their chances. But, Powell and his team clearly did a great job of preparing the troops throughout the week and the players were fully focused and knew exactly what was required of them.

Kermorgant grabbed the first goal after some superb play culminating with Rhoys Wiggins putting in an inch perfect cross for the Frenchman to head home. Our second was courtesy of some great vision from Hamer who launched a kick for Wright-Phillips to pressurise the Carlisle defence. As a result, Tavernier failed to connect properly with a headed backpass to his keeper and BWP finished very well.

At 2-0 things were looking comfortable, all the play was Charlton's and Carlisle were struggling to get a foothold in the game. Rhoys Wiggins once again unlocked the Cumbrians defence and zipped in a low cross, BWP had a shot blocked but the visitors failed to clear and Kermorgant eventually blasted in his second from close range.

The day then got worse for United as Matt Robson was sent off for a second bookable offence. 3-0 down and only 10 men left on the field wouldn't be anyone's ideal scenario going into the break, but to be fair, Carlisle offered little resistance and Charlton were in the mood for dishing out a drubbing.

Danny Hollands grabbed his third of the season within a few minutes of the restart. The midfielder stole the ball, ran 20 yards and shot, fortunately goalkeeper Adam Collin somehow let the ball slip through his fingers, which sent the Charlton fans around me wild with a mixture of laughter and cheering.

Carlisle had the opportunity of grabbing a consolation goal after Michael Morrison was adjudged to have handled in the Charlton area and a penalty was given. It was a harsh decision in my view, it looked purely accidental, and even after seeing it on TV, I'm not convinced. It didn't matter anyway, Ben Hamer guessed the right way and saved the spot kick ensuring we kept a clean sheet.

Credit to Powell for sticking to his guns in terms of team selection. I was one of many calling for a return to the original team that started the season, but actually what was needed most was a return to passing game we had so much early success with. Solly coming back into the team helped a lot though as we had natural width on both sides of the pitch, which allowed us to exploit Carlisle's narrow midfield.

We now need to ensure that our next couple of performances and results are of the same standard. Once again we showed what this squad is capable of and it will be disappointing if we can't pick up a couple more wins before November starts, as it looks like it could be a tricky month.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Change it back Powell, it's not working!

I can't say 'I told you so' because I didn't predict the loss, what I did predict was that Stevenage are the perfect side for Charlton to lose their unbeaten run to. We just do not play well against the lesser sides. This has been the case for as long as I can remember.

I don't have an issue with losing, it was bound to happen sooner or later, in fact it probably should have happened against Tranmere last week but we got away with it. My problem is that we look a shadow of the side that started this season, and partly I think the problem is to do with Powell's player selection policy.

We started off the season with a consistent team selection, but as the weeks have gone on, Powell has made changes where they just were not needed, and it has upset the whole balance of the side. Whatever happened to not changing a winning team?

Chris Solly was dumped on the bench today. This is the thanks he gets for working his socks off in every game and actually being one of our most improved players this season. Leon Cort was brought in, most likely for 'tactical' reasons, but it didn't work. Morrison looked every bit the centre-back who had been pushed to right-back.

Scott Wagstaff may not have had the impact of late that he had in his first few games, but was he playing so badly that he needed to be replaced? I personally think not. The team was winning, he was a part of that, and his replacement (Danny Green) hardly set the world alight in his brief substitute appearances, so I find it odd that a change was made here. I could understand it more if his substitute appearances had been so great that he forced Powell to act.

Kermorgant did well in his first couple of games and grabbed a couple of goals, great, they were important ones too. I can see why Powell would want to give him a chance to start some games, he has probably earned that much, but Hayes adds so much more to the side than Kermorgant.

When Kermorgant is playing the ball goes long too much, we are a passing side, so hoof ball isn't going to work. Kermorgant doesn't have the ability that Hayes has to hold the ball and link up play, they are totally different players and I think Hayes is more suited to our style. Ok so Hayes isn't going to score 20 goals a season, Powell didn't buy him for that, his scoring record isn't great, but the job he does of supporting the midfield and bringing others into play is very under-rated.

We haven't been playing anywhere near the quality of football over the last few games, and it's no surprise that things have dropped off since Powell started tinkering with the side. We need to go back to basics, he needs to pick the team that got us this amazing points haul. Why is he messing with a winning formula?

I realise that some teams have worked us out a bit, and they know that a more physical approach yields better rewards, but it's not like we were losing, we were still managing to pick up the results. It's only two weeks since we beat Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, but since then we've had three totally different teams put out, and every one of them has struggled. In fact two of them have lost.

There is a worry that Powell is doing some damage to players confidence with his current selection policy. If they think they might be replaced for having one bad game, or making a bad decision, it will play on their minds and that will be reflected in their form on the pitch. We have to breed confidence in our players, and we were doing that. The same players were getting picked week after week and they delivered. We need that consistency and stability in the team, the changes are not working, it's time to change it back.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Stevenage Concerns

Stevenage have been a real mixed bag this season. After a fairly decent start they picked up 9 points in the first 6 games with comprehensive wins over Bournemouth, Rochdale and most memorably a 5-1 battering of Sheffield Wednesday. The last six games however have been far less fruitful; picking up only 4 points and losing thier last four on the spin.

The warning signs are there for the Addicks however. Their match against Huddersfield last week was a tight one, and the Hertfordshire outfit gave a good account of themselves. Not many teams will put 5 past Sheffield Wednesday this season so we have to be mindful of the fact they can and do score goals. They have had particular success scoring in front of their own fans with 12 goals to the good at so far at the Lamex, the same in fact as Charlton at The Valley.

It remains to be seen if Powell gives Green and Kermorgant starts after both failing to impress in the Tranmere match. Personally I would prefer to see Hayes start in front of the Frenchman. With Kermorgant up front against Tranmere we had a tendancy to pump it long to Kermorgant, not a strategy that we will get much joy with against this Stevenage team.

I'm indifferent to whether Wagstaff or Green gets the nod. Wagstaff had a good couple of games at the start of the season but hasn't offered much since, whilst Green hasn't really pulled up any trees in the limited appearances that he has made. Maybe Green needs a few more games to settle in so I don't want to be too unfair to the lad.

We are in a very good position to keep our unbeaten run going, and we definitely have the quality within the team, but I do worry that recent form has not been up to standard. It could be a little embarrassing if our first away defeat comes at the hands of Stevage, though knowing what Charlton are like, it wouldn't surprise me if we did lose this game.

If my comments sound a touch negative, it's probably because Charlton have had a habit over the years of beating the bigger teams yet fall short when faced with the minnows. Hopefully the squad will be fully prepared for a tough fight because there are going to be spells when they have to dig in.

I'm not going to make a prediction on this one, I just hope that we walk away with the points. The next few games gives us the ideal opportunity to cement ourselves as leaders of the division, but we need to start by winning tomorrow.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Second best but still first

Another weekend passes with Charlton sitting top of League One. It wasn't a great match on Saturday, and in the end we might have been fortunate to snatch the point.

The game was pretty awful to watch if you were an Addicks fan. The first half performance was very ordinary and Tranmere deserved to go in at the break a goal ahead. Their deflected strike left Ben Hamer no chance and should have been a wake up call, but it wasn't. There definitely seemed to be some kind of hangover from Wednesday's game against Brentford, even though there were changes made within the team.

There was improvement in the second half and Charlton created more but nothing clear cut. The referee awarded us a penalty, I'm still not sure why even after seeing it on TV, but Johnnie Jackson struck it well and sent the keeper the wrong way.

The crowd were both relieved and elated, not least because Tranmere had resorted to a fair amount of time wasting tactics throughout the second half with Owain Fon Williams being the major culprit. His antics ensured that JJ had to wait some time before eventually being allowed to take his spot kick. It was a well taken penalty which headed straight for the bottom corner.

Charlton stepped up a gear afterwards and put some pressure on the Tranmere back four at last, but it was not to be, even Bradley Wright-Phillips was off the mark and failed to properly connect with a great chance from six yards. A draw was probably the right result, though Tranmere were a bit aggreived at the penalty being awarded.

There was some disappointment at this result, but I think we need to accept that we are not going to win every game we play. We are still unbeaten and are in an excellent position. We are going to hit a bad patch at some point in the season, this might actually be the start of it, so we need to dig in and grind out a few results until we get ourselves back on track again.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Back to League business

Tomorrow sees our league campaign get underway once again with the visit of Tranmere Rovers to The Valley. We've played Rovers a lot over the years, particularly during the 1990's where both teams spent some time in the second tier of football.

There have been 28 matches involving the two clubs with each side winning seven games, and there have been 14 draws. In fact the last three fixtures all ended in 1-1 draws. Biggest wins for both sides came in the shape of 4-0 victories, all of them coming on Tranmere soil. Charlton of course managed this in 2009 in our first season in League One. Tranmere notched up two 4-0 wins against us, one in 1996 and one all the way back in 1972.

Tranmere made a decent start to the season losing only one of their first six games, an away defeat to Notts County. Results haven't been as good of late though having lost three of their last five league games, two of those defeats came at the hands of Huddersfield and Preston who are both on a good run at the moment.

Rovers are a side that like to play football. This is a bonus for us as we have done well against the footballing sides this season. Manager Les Parry has stated that they intend to stick to their usual game plan which means we could see a decent passing game from both sides if all goes well. Parry is confident of picking up a result against us on Saturday. Despite their recent losses the Tranmere boss thinks his team have been playing better than the results show.

Powell will revert to the usual starting XI though many are speculating that Kermogant and Danny Green could start the match with Hayes and Wagstaff missing out. The team should be fired up after the heavy loss against Brentford in midweek and Powell should not need to remind them what is at stake and what we need to do to get back to winning ways.

Other Charlton news worthy of a mention is that Nottingham Forest are trying to pry Paul Hart away from his position as Academy Director. It is said that the two clubs are in talks and it's just a matter of agreeing a compensation package. It seems that Forest are looking to bring in some more experience after David Pleat left the club last week.

It's hard to know exactly what kind of impact Paul Hart has had on Charlton. Hart hasn't been with us long, but he does have good ties with Nottingham Forest so it will not be a huge surprise if he does go. It will be disappointing however, as Hart has a good reputation for working with the young players, and finding a replacement with as much experience would prove very difficult.

Back to Saturday now and we are all hoping for a win. It's not going to be an easy game by any stretch, and I hope that the lads are fired up and ready to show the rest of the division that we might have wimped out of the JPT, but in the league, we are as strong as ever.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Charlton crash out. But who cares?

Brentford dumped Charlton out of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy last night in a pretty dire performance from the Addicks at The Valley. I watched the game on Sky, it was by no means a thriller. Brentford obviously cared about winning, Charlton were just about going through the motions. The side beared little resemblance to that which beat Sheffield United on Saturday with Powell making numerous changes.

Brentford scored after two minutes when Gary Doherty gifted them the opportunity. Instead of cushioning a header back to keeper John Sullivan, he gave it straight to the opposition who took their chance well. Sullivan saved the initial shot but couldn't do anything about the rebound.

If the fringe players are looking to break into the first team, then they didn't do much of a job of convincing the manager. Gary Doherty was pretty woeful throughout the game and Andy Hughes looked almost as bad. We finally got a chance to see Mikel Alonso in a red shirt and we found that his passing was poor, he couldn't control the ball and his tackling left a lot to be desired. A particularly clumsy one gave the visitors a penalty, which they duly converted to make it two nil before half time.

After the break, nothing much changed. Although there was a slight improvement for 10 minutes but there was no attacking threat from Charlton. Brentford passed the ball better, they closed us down better, they looked more dangerous with the ball. The Charlton players were just not interested.

Brentford finally killed the game off on 60 minutes after some hapless defending. The linesman raised the flag for what seemed like offside but after the goal went in, he had a chat with the ref and the goal was given anyway.

It was clear from the team selection that Powell wasn't interested in winning the game, despite his comments after the match. The players had none of the spirit we've seen throughout our league campaign, and they showed none of the quality either. Also, if fans thought we had good competition for places, I think last night's game showed that if we get a few injuries, we could have some issues.

Personally I'm glad we're out. I know there are some who would like the trip to Wembley and all that comes with that, but it would be disastrous if we lost some of our better players through injury in this competition.

Hopefully we can get back to winning ways against Tranmere on Satrurday when we go back the the competition that actually matters.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Put to the sword

Charlton pulled five points clear at the top of League One after a hard fought win against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

The Blades edged the first half and had plenty of chances to get themselves ahead, but some good defending and some fine saves from keeper Ben Hamer ensured that the hosts were denied, and the teams finished all square after the first 45 minutes.

The second half looked to follow a similar pattern to the first with United having the better chances in the early stages. That changed however after 65 minutes when Chris Powell replaced Paul Hayes with Yann Kermorgant. The Frenchman was sent on as The Addicks won a corner and immediately put the Londoners ahead with his first touch of the game. Midfielder Dale Stephens provided from the corner and Kermorgant headed home his second goal in as many games.

Two minutes later a lapse in the United defence gave Bradley Wright-Phillips a one on one with keeper Steve Simonsen. The former Stoke and Everton stopper did well to deny Wright-Phillips initial shot, but the ball fell well for BWP and he put it away for Charlton's second.

Sheffield United still had enough opportunities to make a come-back but were again denied by Ben Hamer and at one point, by one of his uprights. It was a game that I didn't expect to win and maybe if the hosts had their shooting boots on the result could have been very different. The result is what is important however and we've stretched our lead though Preston could close the gap if they win their game in hand.

With games against Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United and MK Dons now out of the way, we are slowly beginning to get a picture of the strength of our squad. We've played some of the better teams in the division and so far we haven't been found wanting. There are some big games ahead however, with Preston and Huddersfield still on the 'to play' list, but all in all we have done fantastically well to pick up 27 points from a total of 33.