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Saboteur

15 December 2014

Charlton 2 Blackpool 2

It's good to know that Arsene Wenger reads this blog. Two weeks ago I questioned his judgement in letting Francis Coquelin stay out on loan and just days later he recalled him. So it's my fault that Charlton's midfield today was a work of desperate bricolage. When we saw the team no-one could really work out who would be playing where or what the formation would be. By half time we were no nearer an understanding, but were 1-1 down to an awful Blackpool team.

As far as I could tell the plan was to have Solly and Buyens as sort-of defensive central midfielders, with Gudmundssohn on the left, and Cousins wandering where'er he would. (Harriot and Vetokele up front, not that it mattered.) And watching all these square pegs in round holes was Lawrie Wilson on the bench, staring blankly into the bloody big Lawrie Wilson-shaped hole in front of Joe Gomez at right back.

Gomez's performance was the saving grace of the game: he looked ridiculously authoritative and comfortable for a 17 year old. Everything else was disappointment. Even Andre Bikey, who I really hope doesn't read this blog, had a bad day, crowningnotcrowning it with the kind of fluffed shot that would bring forth a delightful missus-related quip from Harry ("Arry") Redknapp.

Cousins' goal was a delight too, but evidence, I submit, that this rubbish Blackpool side were there for the taking. They couldn't defend against an attacking move that had a grain of imagination and daring in it, a grain more than any other attacking move all afternoon contained.

The sense I've had all season is that Peeters is very effective at drilling into the team the importance of holding their position. Once the play goes out of any player's zone, they leave it; it's not their problem any more, they must not get drawn away from their basic role. Defensively, this normally works. Defenders don't get dragged out of position, but regroup back. In terms of attack, though, it's disastrous. Midfielders seem scared to run at the opposition defence, and so the ball spends more time going sideways than a crab on ice.

Oh no, I've broken my self-imposed silence about tactical matters. Things must be bad. Two weeks ago, the first home defeat of the season left everyone feeling not that bad considering. This draw felt much more like a defeat, and the way it was surrendered was morale-sapping. Big Bob has a lot of emotional work to do before the next game, away to Blackburn. At least there won't be many people there to see it. Happy Christmas!

30 November 2014

Charlton 0 Ipswich 1

I did write posts about the last two games, but honestly you should thank me for not posting them. Like any other football blogger I love writing about a win, but draws are hard to get excited about and I was sending myself to sleep trying to find anything remotely interesting to say about the goalless draw against our neighbours, while the draw against their northern counterparts seems not to have left a trace on my memory.

Of course, the best thing to write about is a horrible defeat, but that's not quite what we got yesterday. Obviously it was gutting to see the point slip away, but before then, especially in the first half, we'd seen the best, most positive performance from Charlton for a long time. Because of where I sit - in the West Stand since you ask, basking in unusual winter sunshine because of the lunchtime kick-off - and no, the rays of the sun didn't cause any of the undead sitting around me to spontaneously combust - Jordan Cousins stood out: he was playing as if determined to make the game his own, getting into the right position time and time again, controlling the ball faultlessly and finding the right pass.

But no-one had a bad first half. Callum Harriot was back at his best, for example, and Francis Coquelin again made me wonder about Arsene Wenger's judgement. Coquelin's 23 and by now should either be a squad member at Arsenal (who aren't overflowing with defensive midfield options) or be sold. Still, gift horse/mouth. Thanks Arsene.

As in last year's game, Ipswich played the first half toward their own supporters, and looked like they wanted to repeat last year's early goal. But this year Charlton has a defence, and their initial flurry quickly subsided. Charlton began to make half-chances.

In the second half, the sheer quality of Charlton's play, perhaps inevitably, dropped, but they began to make whole chances. But as in so many games since January 2014 (the window of our discontent) no-one could score. Sorry, what I mean to say is they "lacked productivity offensively". (How I ever came to love the man who could come out with that, I'll never know.) Vetokele, though working hard and covering a lot of ground, looked blunt and maybe a little tired.

When the assistant ref signalled 4 minutes of added time, who didn't know what was going to happen? In another unwelcome reminder of a lot of last season's games the team's concentration was already wavering, and the unavoidable was not avoided.

A defeat, the first at home, that felt horrible but in some ways wasn't. The quality of some of the play was refreshing, and it's now up to the boss to hang on to that positive, rather than return to the negativity that's been creeping in. Next up at the Valley is Blackpool and a quick return to the Valley for the delightful Lee Clark.

22 October 2014

Charlton 2 Bolton 1

Imagine Les Dawson with a toothache. That's me, at most games, but last night I was completely upstaged. The seat next to mine doesn't have a season ticket holder, so I get a random variety of neighbours. Last night it was a stoutish man, probably about the same age as me. We should have got on really well. But by the end of the game I wanted to hit him.

Charlton kicked off the first half, and after the second touch of the ball - literally, the second touch! - he was shouting "That's a terrible pass!" If a player wasn't a "waste of space" (Wilson), he "didn't have the pace" (Bulot), he was "useless" (Buyens), or he fell down like a ... , like a ... (he had to think for a while about this one before coming up with the worst insult he could think of) "like a woman" (Tucudean). All this within the first half hour. You can imagine the miserable fun he had during the panicky last half hour, culminating in the substitution of George Tucudean. Normally, scoring one goal and setting up another entitles a player to at least a bit of recognition, you'd think. Invited to applaud, my neighbour shouted "No way!" and folded his arms tighter around himself, a sullen lump of resentment refusing to acknowledge the Romanian's best performance (by far) in a Charlton shirt.

Once again it wasn't pretty, and some players weren't at their best, but a sparse crowd (13,433) had the rare experience of seeing Charlton scoring two goals in one game and the slightly less rare experience of seeing them hanging on through the second half. And as for Tucudean, it was good to see him finally influencing a game decisively. 

So did I leave the ground a changed man? A dizzy optimist seeing fairy dust a-sparkle around the "train cancelled" sign at the station? Not quite, but I was happy. Imagine Sam Allardyce in a pie shop. Actually, don't imagine that. I just have and it made me feel ill.

05 October 2014

Charlton 1 Birmingham 1

After 10 minutes this normally feet-on-the-ground - even pessimistic - spectator thought that at last we might see Charlton dominate another team. Birmingham hadn't looked very good and surely the Charlton players, even if a little tired after the midweek heroics, had enough confidence to build on the early lead.

Despite once again fielding a defensively-minded team, Charlton had dominated possession, with Vetokele looking back in goal-scoring touch. He'd narrowly shot wide after 3 minutes and was again showing the speed of turn that can bamboozle defences. On 10 minutes a perfect cross from the intrepid young Bulot found him in a huge amount of space in front of goal and he headed home. Let's do something about that goal difference, we all thought.

I haven't seen a good explanation for what happened next. Bob Peeters looked baffled in the post-match interview: relieved, more than anything, that Birmingham hadn't capitalised on his team's rapid decline. Tiredness? That shouldn't be the case, not 20 minutes into a game on a cool October afternoon. Regular readers will know I'm the last person to offer a theory on what went wrong. All I know is that the close passing game gradually failed. Birmingham closed down the space where earlier Charlton had patiently played the ball around at the back, and Charlton didn't have an alternative gameplan. Oh look, I have offered an explanation. Probably best you ignore it, frankly, but here it is in easy-to-understand flow-chart form.


Anyway, once again the damage was limited and the unbeaten run continues and Charlton go into the international break in 6th position. According to some people that's all that matters, and any criticism is misplaced. But I feel perfectly entitled to say that the last few games have been pretty horrible to watch. While for the rest of the week I can look at the league table and feel happy, the 90 minuteses at the Valley are beginning to feel like a duty fulfilled rather than a pleasure enjoyed; like visiting a tiresome distant relative in the hope you'll be rewarded (in this world or the next) eventually.

Would I rather see Charlton playing with a cavalier abandon and losing occasionally? Not sure, but my fear is that sooner or later the rest of the league will work out how to stifle Charlton - if Lee Clark can do it, it's hardly rocket science - and we'll have dull performances that end in defeat. That really won't be fun.

29 September 2014

Charlton 0 Middlesbrough 0

My thoughts turned to valleyology as I saw the squad selection. Only one striker in the starting team. That should do something about the lack of goals. And a 17 year old on the bench. While it's good that he gets a taste of the first-team experience, was it a message from Peeters to Duchatelet? Anyway, I didn't expect a thrilling first half and in that sense I wasn't disappointed.

I'm so glad I don't even attempt to write proper match reports. I'd have had to pay attention during an increasingly lacklustre half, which silenced even the noisy travelling supporters. Instead I was able to contemplate deeper matters. Why do some men call their muscly upper-arms their "guns"?  How pathetic and twisted is that? Why is there not another o in Middlesb[o]rough? What do you call it when a woman tells you - patiently and perhaps patronisingly - what "mansplaining" is? Middlesbrough will always be linked in my mind with defensive play and 0-0 draws, and although they were soundly out-defensived by Charlton, they didn't really look interested. Perhaps it was that league cup marathon in midweek.

When these teams met two years ago I wrote a tricksy, irritating, timey-wimey piece, which even I don't understand anymore. I do apologise but Saturday's match was another game played backwards. Charlton got their second-half slump out of the way before halftime, and actually got livelier as the game went on, partly due to some rather late but smart substitutions, partly due to a crowd that clearly decided a win was possible, and lastly due to a sending off with ten minutes to go.

There weren't many good chances, but the few there were could justifiably have got all three points. So it was an odd feeling. A reminder that this team can attack the goal, even in the second half, and probably should try it more often. Incisive analysis as usual. You're welcome.


17 September 2014

Charlton 1 Wolves 1

I wasn't really paying attention at half-time, when an unfortunate case of banter broke out on the pitch. A dumpy-looking old man in a t-shirt, who seemed to enjoy his own jokes, had a bucket of water poured over him, then made a sexist comment. All the clues were there, but I still didn't recognise him until a scattering of outraged tweets filled my timeline. It was like a calamitous transfer window: we've given away Diego Poyet, but for some reason we've kept Jim Davidson.

I still miss Diego, and these comments by Bob Peeters don't convince me otherwise. As I said in my last blatherings I don't think Buyens, for all his abilities, has got the level of fitness to get through 90 minutes at his best, unlike Poyet, who tended to become more noticeable as games went on and those around him tired. I am surprised Buyens hasn't ever been subbed off, but then I look at who's on the bench and it makes more sense. There doesn't seem to be anyone there who can come on and make an impact, and that's a result of the thinness of the squad.

But it's a lucky team - well deserved after so much bad luck last year - and the luckiest man of all is Tal Ben Haim. He's survived two pretty blatant penalty appeals and last night was almost punished for a terrible bit of play, with only the paint on the left goalpost and the way the grass in front of the goal lies saving him. Sooner or later, though ...

A draw was the least Wolves deserved. They fully showed why they've had such an impressive start to the season: they're quick and well-organised. A series of corners in the first half all looked dangerous but were well defended. When Charlton got their first corner, the last thing anyone expected was that it would lead to astounding acrobatics by Bikey, but that's what happened. Wolves weren't daunted, although if Tucudean had scored one or more of his chances, perhaps things would have been different.

The second half was dominated by Wolves. Their equaliser came from another corner, not one of their best, to be honest, but it set up an exciting end to the game where either side could have scored, but - obviously - no-one did. Bulot made a debut appearance as substitute for Lawrie Wilson, but it's too early to tell how good he is. The bloke behind me (we've all got one) grumbled at the end "two points lost". Really, bloke?

Some other views:
Chris Powell's Flat Cap
Charlton Casualty
The CAFC report

14 September 2014

Charlton 1 Watford 0

In the most unlikely way, Charlton kept the first clean sheet of the season, and extended their unbeaten start in the league to six games. A heroic defensive performance through a second half of about 55 minutes kept all 3 points and put Charlton into fifth place in the table, only one point off the top. Amazing. I haven't got much to add to (for example) the excellent blogs from Hungry Ted, Chris Powell's Flat Cap, Charlton Casualty, Chicago Addick and the report on the club's website. I'm sure there are more, so apologies to any I've misssed.

One thing that I might just be imagining, though, is that Charlton's pace of play always seems to slow down as the game goes on. In the first half yesterday Vetokele was constantly drawing fouls from the ever-willing-to-oblige Watford defenders with the speed of his turns into space: less so in the second half. And Yoni Buyens - although obviously a huge asset to the team - always looks sharper and more creative in the first half.

Maybe it's true what people say about English football being different: faster and furiouser than the game on the continent, and maybe some of the new players haven't quite adapted to that yet. What that means of course is that the team still has room for improvement, and can and probably will play better.


Blimey.

20 August 2014

Charlton 3 Derby 2

After a thrilling night at the Valley, take a look at these stats (from the BBC, so I apologise for the obvious liberal, feminist bias oozing from them. I just hope it doesn't infect me with its blatant pc agenda.)

Sixty-three percent of possession controlled by the visitors should make any particularly clued-up person consider that poor Charlton were pummelled cruelly. And there were times when Derby looked perfectly capable of doing so. For long periods they were persistently camped just ahead of Charlton's defensive line, which came perilously close to positional collapse. Derby were perfectly competent, but Charlton - it turned out - with their patient cat-and-mouse strategy showed pure class. What a preposterous conclusion! So many pre-contest predictions confounded! What a feeling of pure contentment!

[piece concludes]





17 August 2014

Charlton 2 Wigan 1

The first home game of the Championship campaign and, with all due respect to Colchester, the first chance to see what Charlton could do against one of the stronger teams they'll meet.

Wigan started brightly, and, in truth, Jordan Cousins' opening goal was against the run of play. After 8 minutes he found space on the left, Gudmundsson found him with a precsion pass and Cousins shifted the ball onto his right foot and shot into the top right corner to open the scoring.

It was a classy goal, almost equalled by Wigan's reply within 10 minutes. Mcmanaman timed his run to beat Wiggins and finished coolly. Wigan remained dominant for the rest of the half, with Charlton occasionally looking threatening, but neither side was really looking like scoring again.

In the second half the game got more ragged. Charlton perhaps had more fight about them, while Wigan looked more organised, more used to playing as a team, but bizarrely uninterested in scoring a goal. And as the end of the game drew nearer, it was Charlton's willpower that looked more likely to prevail. A succession of decent chances didn't quite fall right, but in about the third minute of added time Moussa's shot was wickedly deflected past a helpless Scott Carson. The remaining few minutes of extra time lasted about a year but with hindsight were comfortable.

So, what do we make of the new team? All but one of the new players had a good afternoon. In a won't-last spirit of positivity I won't name the one who didn't. And I won't be as harsh as someone on twitter who reckoned "he should have shot himself" on a few occasions. Come now, he maybe just needs time to settle. Tal Ben Haim was much better than I expected from pre-season reports, and while Stephen Henderson looks generally fine, I have to agree with comments I've read about his distribution. On the whole, though, it looks like the squad has actually been strengthened.

Biggest impression for me, though, was made by Bob Peeters. Uwe Rosler is one of the least likeable figures in football - if the standard unit of unpleasantness is a Dickov*, he weighs in at 920 millidickovs - so anyone who's prepared to take him on is OK with me.


*(I've checked, and it is.)

09 August 2014

Under new management

Just up the road from me is a pub that has stood empty for about a year after the previous manager had a disastrous fallout with the pubco that owns it. This week, though, the pub is going to reopen after a huge amount of work. The owner claims to have spent £400,000 on the place, which is believable, given the look of the building. It looks terrific, and promises to be a great place to visit, selling good beer and offering decent meals. A whole new set of staff has been recruited and they've been getting training over the last few days. It should be a great pub, but until it opens - indeed, until it's been open for a while - no-one can be sure of that.

In other news, the football season starts today. Roland Duchatelet has had a very good summer. Far from being the asset-stripper some of us feared, he's put a lot of money into the club. There's a pitch to be proud of, some much-needed refurbishment of the stands and some interesting and - by Charlton's recent standards - expensive player recruitment. We haven't seen this level of investment in the squad since the Dowie/Pardew years. And look how that turned out ...

It might be fine. Charlton may now have a manager and a squad that can, at least, easily survive and maybe do better than that. But it's very uncertain. Few of the new players have any experience at this level; the manager, as manager, has none. And while I'm now happy about Duchatelet's good intentions, I can't help but look back at the player deals he made in January. They were, mostly, wildly misjudged and contributed to a wholly avoidable relegation scare. He and his advisers clearly didn't then have an adequate understanding of the Championship. Has their judgement improved since then?

We get the first hint of an answer this afternoon. I'd expect Brentford to be strong and supremely well-motivated, and if Charlton get a point, it will be a good result. Maybe we'll get a better idea from Tuesday's game: if Charlton get a win in the League Cup against lower-division opposition we'll know that things really have changed.

If not, you can find me in the pub.

03 June 2014

... and Peeters doesn't

It's nearly a week now since Charlton announced that Bob Peeters is the new Head Coach. I'm trying to keep an open mind about the appointment. As others have pointed out, many of us, me included, got Jose Riga all wrong when he was appointed and he surprised us with his commitment, attitude and ability. Maybe Peeters will be good for the club. Let's hope so.

But what's odd is that there hasn't been a peep out of Peeters since then. Not even the obligatory few words, however insincere and platitudinous, about his excitement at the new challenges and opportunities facing him. Nothing about the kind of football he wants his team to play, or his ambition for what the club can achieve next season. Not even an automated phone call urging me to renew my season ticket.

A lot of people have legitimate doubts about this appointment: his record as a manager isn't brilliant (though you could have said that about the previous two postholders), and we know very little about him. The underlying fear is that he'll have more loyalty to the Duchatelet network than to Charlton. His silence isn't doing anything to assuage those doubts.

It's worrying that the owner of the club can't see this, or doesn't think it matters. As Matt Wright wrote in Voice of the Valley last week, Duchatelet had the easiest job in the world to win the Charlton fans' affection, simply by not being Slater-Jimenez. Investment in the pitch and training ground are obviously good things. Maybe we should accept that he has good intentions. But he's making it very difficult. Actions don't always speak louder than words.

Update 4 June
Within hours of my posting this, Charlton announced that an interview with Peeters would be posted on the official site at 8pm. I'm perfectly used to my views being proved wrong, but not usually as quickly as this. The interview is here, so make up your own mind.

27 May 2014

Dyer speaks

The South London Press today has an interview with Alex Dyer. It's not online, and for copyright reasons I can't just scan it in, but here are some of the highlights, if that's what you want to call them. If you're in South London, buy the paper. It's only 50p.

First, Dyer confirms that CP had no control over the signings brought in, and seems to have argued specifically that there was no need for Loic Nego. Sometimes the signings were played, "because the owner wants to have a look at them" but "In the end Chris went 'I'm not playing them' ... the owner was always on him, sending him emails and phoning him up... Then it was 'you should be playing him'. We said no."

Dyer also says he believes Riga didn't get the long term job was because he also didn't play any of the imports other than Reza and Astrit.

He describes Duchatelet's methods of tracking players: "He has three or four scouts who just sit at computers and watch WyScout or tapes. One might go and watch players. They just do it in front of a screen and they look at stats. [This means] you can't see the true picture. You can't see how someone reacts in training of what they'd be like around the boys." Once some players find they're not playing "they kick up a fuss or they don't want to train. You wouldn't know half the things that have gone on with players who don't want to play because they are not in the squad or team and want to go home". I think we have a good idea who he's talking about there.

The general impression is that the club was a chaotic mess after Duchatelet took over. Clearly, Powell resisted a lot of pressure from the owner, and we have to assume that Riga did so too. Duchatelet's desire was for his loaned players to be playing, regardless of their suitability. This doesn't do anything to overcome my fear that his priority is not Charlton's success. And his methods are the opposite of Chris Powell's. Instead of selecting a squad that has guts and heart and can fit together, he will build assemble a random collection of players, and expect his coach to get them to work as a team, without any input into the selection.

There's also an interview with Ben Hamer. In it, he says that he tried to open negotiations over a new contract in December, but nothing happened until after the last game of the season. In the meantime, unsure of his future, he'd explored other options. Leicester offered him a four year contract, Charlton just two years. He doesn't say so, but we can assume Leicester offered more money, too. As he says, it was a no-brainer.

If his experience is typical, it's likely that most player contract talks didn't start until after the end of the season, and so there must be other players who've talked to other clubs in the meantime. It's not certain, of course, that Charlton and Hamer could have reached agreement in January, but it seems clear that the delay played a part in his decision to leave, and meant that he's gone as a free agent, for nothing. Let's just hope this doesn't happen with any others.

From my previous posts, you'll realise none of this really surprises me, but it's depressing to have all my worst fears confirmed.

21 May 2014

Apocalypse tomorrow

What a confusing day it's been for us valleyologists. Today, we have mostly been relying on the Belgian press, who seem to have more interest in little old Charlton than the British press do. Personally I've been relying on the francophone Belgian press, my flemish being limited to beer label language.

They all seem pretty sure that Bob Peeters is set to be appointed Charlton's manager.

Here's what dh.be had to say:

José Riga, qui a réussi à maintenir Charlton, est pourtant remplacé du jour au lendemain par... Bob Peeters !
Mercredi soir, José Riga avait encore eu Roland Duchâtelet au bout du fil, ce dernier estimant vouloir s’accorder un petit temps de réflexion avant de prendre sa décision. C’est dire si celui qui a sorti Charlton du pétrin en le maintenant en Premiership à la satisfaction générale est tombé en bas de sa chaise ce jeudi matin en apprenant la nomination de Bob Peeters à la tête des « Addicks. »
« Quand bien même aucune clause de prolongation n’avait été prévue lors de la signature du contrat me liant au club londonien, ce que j’avais accepté bien volontiers, je n’imaginais pas un seul instant que cela s’arrête de cette manière, aussi brutalement. Sans forfanterie de ma part, supporters y compris, on avait été très satisfaits de la bonne tournure des événements et du travail que j’avais pu accomplir dans une compétition que j’ai eu beaucoup de plaisir à découvrir. Maintenant, à savoir pour quelle raison je n’ai plus voix au chapitre, cela reste un mystère total à mes yeux. »

Or, in English (I'm unsure about some idioms, but the gist is OK):

José Riga, who kept Charlton up, is however replaced overnight by ... Bob Peeters! On Wednesday [sic] evening, Riga had still had Roland Duchâtelet on the end of the wire, the latter reckoning to give himself some time for thought before making his decision. That is, whether the one who had got Charlton out of the mess and in the Premiership [sic] to general satisfaction has fallen out of his chair this Thursday [sic] morning when he learnt Bob Peeters has been named as the Addicks' boss.
"Although there was no extension clause when I first signed the contract - which I freely accepted - I never for a moment thought it would end this way, so brutally. Without boasting, I thought everyone, including fans, was very happy with the way things turned out in a competition that I had a lot of pleasure in discovering. Now, knowing that for some reason I no longer have a role to play is a total mystery to me."
Reader, do you spot the mistakes? It reads as if the story should appear tomorrow (Thursday). As if Riga has advance-released his response to a club statement that will only be made public tomorrow.

Well, we'll soon find out.

I suppose the central question is this: if Duchâtelet's aim in appointing Riga was to keep Charlton up, why let him go after he did just that? I can't find an answer that both makes sense and makes me happy.

Everyone assumed Riga had been appointed as Duchâtelet's yes-man. Maybe, but he doesn't seem to have acted like one. He ended up using the loan players even less than Chris Powell had. Pragmatically, Duchâtelet had no choice but to let him get on with it, even if he hated it.

My best guess is that Riga had, in old-fashioned and possibly offensive language, gone native. He fell under Charlton's spell, and committed everything to the team's survival, including, it now seems, his own job. We could sense this, watching the team. It's why the initial mistrust turned so quickly into real affection. He was no longer Duchâtelet's man. The only conclusion I can come to is that Duchâtelet won't tolerate this sort of divided loyalty.

Sooner or later, someone would have to come up the river and take out the renegade.This is the end, beautiful friend.

30 April 2014

Charlton 3 Watford 1

Thank goodness that's over! The season, I mean. The game was terrific entertainment and for once I could have watched more. Watford were surprisingly competitive (by which I mean violent) given their league position, but Charlton finally put together a decent, full-length performance and thoroughly deserved the win.

It was especially good to see Callum Harriot get two goals. He's been so unfairly scapegoated this season by some individuals that you sometimes had to wonder if it would affect his confidence. But he doesn't seem to lack that commodity at all (by which I mean he's cocky) and he got a standing ovation when he was taken off with about five minutes to go - presumably the substitution was made precisely so that he got that ovation.

And once again Johnnie Jackson scored a vital goal at exactly the right time. Watford's equaliser - a rather lovely goal itself - might have a trigger for the kind of collapse we've often seen, but Jackson seemed to use sheer willpower to get the ball across the line.

After the game Jose Riga probably won over any doubters with a simple and moving speech, while Jackson embedded himself deeper into Charlton folklore with his few words. He specifically thanked the crowd for not getting on the team's back during bad performances. And it's true that the support has been exceptional even during the worst times. There has been a real connection between the fans and the team. Comparing this to the Pardew times, it's been clear this season that, to use a tarnished phrase, we're all in this together.

The past is awful, the future is doubtful, but last night was a time to live in the beautiful, glorious present.

27 April 2014

Charlton 1 Blackburn 3

For a while there, I felt I might have over-reacted. The unlikely recovery and win at Hillsborough on Monday, and the news that the club has applied for planning permission to completely renew the pitch, bringing in new-fangled doohickeys like undersoil heating and something called "drainage" (no, me neither) led me to believe that all is not lost. Basically, unless Charlton lose both their remaining games they should be safe, and that'll surely never happen.

But then Chris Powell went on TalkSport, the station that has to shave five times a day, and gave what I think is the fullest account yet of his experience of this season. Clearly, there are still contractual restraints on what he can say about Roland Duchatelet, but what he could say - and what he didn't - told a fascinating, angrifying story.

If you reassemble his comments into chronological order, it's like a descent into hell from the paradise of just two years ago. The first season in the Cham astonished everyone. Finishing ninth, Powell saw that this was one of those tides in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to ... a £2 million pound cut in his budget. Powell said he told the owners that with that budget they could expect a bottom-six finish.

So a season of purgatory began. The owners left him alone, with a barely adequate team and a totally inadequate pitch. But at least they left him alone. League results were OK, not great, but Charlton put together a cup run. A cup run! Even Danny Murphy realised how unheard-of that is.

But then January: lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrate. 

Here's what Powell wanted to say::
[it was t]he slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authority, pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. -
 
But, for legal reasons, he can't say those things. He allowed himself a moment of triumph to comment that Jose Riga isn't playing the Standard players either: "So, I was right". And you could tell that there had been "discussions" about this.

Essentially, nothing here contradicted my belief that Duchatelet was set on sacking Powell as soon as he reasonably could. He wanted to toss aside one of the most promising managers in the country, and eventually did.

So, to return to today's match. It was a performance typical of the season: a good commanding start, playing better than the opposition but lacking a finish. Blackburn scored with their first chance. It looked like Hamer should have saved it, and he clearly thought he should. And then the usual descent into incoherence. A missed penalty was at least a new way of avoiding scoring and while Sordell's goal was taken and finished with the air of a man with a point to make, Blackburn always looked like they could score another if they had to. 

Thanks to other results, with this defeat Charlton have probably secured their place in the Championship next season. But it felt like we'd been relegated. On the last day of every season television cameras have two favourite subjects: a young supporter, in tears as football teaches him or her how cruel life can be; and an old geezer staring blankly into the middle distance, numb.Yesterday, a week early, that was me. 

The slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19839#sthash.rjNaiX6z.dpuf
The slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19839#sthash.rjNaiX6z.dpuf
The slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19839#sthash.rjNaiX6z.dpuf
The slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19839#sthash.rjNaiX6z.dpuf
The slough of unamiable liars, bog of stupidities, malevolent stupidities, and stupidities, the soil living pus, full of vermin, dead maggots begetting live maggots, slum owners, usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authori pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books, obscuring the texts with philology, hiding them under their persons, the air without refuge of silence, the drift of lice, teething, and above it the mouthing of orators, the arse-belching of preachers. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19839#sthash.rjNaiX6z.dpuf

18 April 2014

Charlton 0 Bolton 0

Lucky old Bolton! Sitting 13th in the table, with no danger of doing anything interesting for the rest of the season, they played well within themselves today, and really that was all they needed to do.

Some sanity had prevailed in Jose Riga's selection, and Morrison was back where he should be. I strongly suspect we could have lost without him. The starting line-up also saw Morgan Fox come in at left-back, and he had a generally excellent game, marred by some wayward crossing and some lapses of concentration towards the end. Diego Poyet added to his repertoire by making a superb acrobatic save off the line. There appears to be no end to his talent.

Otherwise it was what we've seen so often. A basically competent performance, but no real threat. A few chances were weakly finished, but mostly the half-power Bolton had nothing to worry about.

Towards the end, Riga replaced Simon Church with Andy Hughes: the clearest possible indication that he thought a point was enough.

Maybe it is, but if Charlton or our relegation rivals are going to win any games, it will surely be against this kind of dead-season opposition.

Sorry, no jokes or vitriol today. But here's a picture of Johannes Brahms. He spent much of his youth playing the piano and writing music in a house of ill-repute. I don't know what made me think of him.

16 April 2014

Charlton 1 Barnsley 2

It would, of course, be ridiculous to even entertain the notion that the creature who walks the world as "Roland Duchatelet" was assembled in a lofty, gothick house in Croydon by a man with a creosote face and Robbie Savage hair and an enduring hatred for Charlton, but it's equally hard to imagine how Jordanstein's monster - created and trained with this single purpose - could have done a better job of ruining a football club.

As this Mariana Trench of a season reached a new low, at last my feelings have #movedon from sadness, but to anger, not acceptance. This time last year we were fancifully imagining a late, improbable and hilariously doomed foray into the playoffs. This year the best we can hope for is a late and improbable escape from relegation. After this result, who do we imagine we can beat in the remaining games? Barnsley were awful, and will be relegated, but they beat us and I'm pretty sure we'll be playing them again next season.

Who's to blame? The players? I'm a firm believer that players basically want to win. They are by nature ultra-competitive - if not, they'd never have made it into the professional game at all. It takes exceptional treatment to beat that out of them, to make them not give a toss about the result. That hasn't happened to Charlton since the great pardewing of 2008.

But there are plenty of ways to make sure the players don't give everything. Leave their contracts unrenewed, maybe. Prove your contempt by offloading three of the best of them. Sack their well-respected manager. Bring in loanees and reserve team players from some other club, saying, in effect that these people could easily do your job.

Bring in a management team, which, in its matching suits, is best understood as a Gilbert and George tribute act. What a dazzling stroke of conceptual art to field a team - for the most important match  of the season - without Michael Morrison. The bourgeoisie was well and truly épaté'd by that.

Of course, when the being known as Duchatelet collects his trophy from the Wreckers Club, he'll pay humble tribute to those who made it all possible: his parents, his creator, his accountant; above all his predecessors who apparently thought that global warming had made drainage a thing of the past, and who cut Chris Powell's already skinflint team budget with the mad-eyed glee of Iain Duncan Smith taking away a disabled child's benefit.

Unsurprisingly, we learned this week that season tickets will remain on sale at the current "bargain" rate until the end of the season. You need to be any kind of cynic to work out what that tells us about the number of renewals so far. You don't need to be Martin Lewis to suppose that the price is hardly going to rise.

So a weak team, a dodgy manager, and even less money. Next season will be such fun.

05 April 2014

Charlton 0 Reading 1

The man next to me came back for the second half with a cup of coffee. He was still drinking it at the end of the game. He must really like bitter dregs. Oh, I'm so depressed I can't even do the obvious joke.

Reading's goal keeper could have done the same. Damn it, he could have have a three-course meal in the second half, so little did he have to do. There was an occasional attack, but he'd always have had time to excuse himself, wipe any grease from his fingers, and deal with it, before returning to the table. No cold soup or soggy dessert for him!

He wasn't much busier in the first half, although Charlton were better. Another truly excellent performance from Diego Poyet; to be unwontedly pretentious for a moment, watching him play is one of those times when football becomes an aesthetic experience. It's so sad he'll inevitably be leaving in the summer, come what may. I hope he goes to a club that plays nice football. There are rumours that West Ham want him. If Fat Sam gets his hands on him, I may cry.

But it was a familiar story. Despite being the better team, Charlton didn't create any real chances. You could blame Simon Church, who looked dispirited from the start, or you could blame the decision to play him as a lone striker, a role that doesn't suit him at all.

Reading came out stronger in the second half. In the battle of managers-who-look-like-management-consultants Nigel Adkins won. He'd no doubt done his research and knew what to do. In any case, the recipe for beating Charlton at the Valley is simple: let them have all the possession they want; wait for a mistake; score a goal; relax; don't forget to tip the waiter. I've a terrible feeling that even Gary Johnson will be able to work that one out. And he'd never be mistaken for a management consultant. Which is perhaps the nicest thing I've ever said about anyone.


23 March 2014

Charlton 0 Burnley 3

A man of wit and distinction tweeted after this game that "the scoreline flattered both teams". Funnily enough, I can see exactly what he means. Charlton's second half performance was so bad they deserved to lose by more. Burnley's failure to demolish Charlton when a tennis score was available meant their last goal - a silly, deflected, nobody-cares-anyway, flap in added time - made it look as if they had. They'll get promoted, for sure, but look nowhere near good enough to survive in the Prem.

Do Charlton look good enough to survive in the Cham? Not really. If the second half was utterly dispiriting for its lack of cohesion and ideas, the first half only showed up the big problem: "Our problem is our productivity offensively" as the head coach put it last week, stating the obvious in silly jargon. He dresses like a management consultant too.

Anyway, he'll probably get the sack soon: he's never yet played Thuram in goal, and the starting eleven yesterday - as on Tuesday - featured none of the imported players. M Duchatelet won't be pleased.

The one loan player who I think ought to be in the team - Ajdarevic - came on at half time to replace fans' favourite Danny Green. Green gets a hard time. On Tuesday night someone a few rows behind me shouted "Get Green off the pitch!" as the teams were coming out for the first half. Thanks. Helpful.

I can understand the view a bit. Green often messes up his final ball. Yesterday he even spectacularly messed up a long throw-in. But the sad truth is that the team, as a team, plays better with him in it. You'll have to trust me on this, because I can't quote the exact incident, but this was at least the second time I've seen it happen: he appears to be playing badly, so he's taken off; and the team then falls apart. Ajdarevic seems a good player, but he was a poor replacement for Danny Green yesterday. Be honest: you never thought you'd read those words in that order.
 
The next three games are away at Forest, Derby and Leeds. Don't have nightmares.

12 March 2014

Heartbreak (part 2)

I'm still trying to work out my response to Chris Powell's sacking. What is clear is that the experience we've had at Charlton for the last three years is one that most football fans will never have. The sense of being emotionally united with the team and manager, sharing in the joy, of course, but more importantly sharing the pain. Sometimes the team played really badly and it was difficult to watch, but most of the time this just brought out a stronger performance, by the team and by most of the fans, next time.

This season it's been obvious that the squad as a whole is only just good enough for the Championship, but every so often they've surprised themselves and us with a performance that massively overreached their abilities. We'll need to hold on fast to the memory of that game against QPR.

There have been other positive things to see. Above all, the emergence of young players like Diego Poyet and Jordan Cousins promised a brighter future if only someone would provide a little cash to build a team around them. And we've seen the way otherwise neglected players have been transformed under Chris Powell's leadership and coaching. Devastated as I am, I can only imagine how Johnnie Jackson, for example, is feeling.

We've been spoilt, perhaps. Or isn't that how it should be? Isn't that the deal? We support the team, financially and noisily, and in exchange we expect the team to do its best, and we expect the club to enable the team to do that. When we see a team skiving, like Pardew's side did, we're entitled to withdraw our support. When it seems the club's owners have no ambition, as happened when the club left the Valley, we're entitled to withdraw our support.

So I can't go along with people I've seen saying things like "We still need to support the team, they're still our club". They're not, and never have been. But for those three years we had the same ambitions, the same passion. They- mostly - kept their side of the deal.

Now, it seems Duchatelet's ambition is nakedly to make Charlton a Standard Liege development team. Charlton will get their reserves, and they will snap up any promising youngsters. Success for Charlton isn't his priority. If it suits his masterplan, he'll be quite happy for the team to be relegated, and he'll just change the level of players he sends over here. And the players employed on this basis will never have the connection with the club and the fans that Chris Powell's hand-picked team developed.

I can't support that. I don't "welcome the new era". I won't be renewing my season ticket.

To be continued, hopefully with some idea of what else we can do ...


11 March 2014

Heartbreak (part 1)


For the outside world, it will look as if Chris Powell has been sacked beacuse of results and the team's position in the league. This is an injustice. It's becoming clear that Roland Duchatelet always wanted to bring in his own man. 

I had been trying to keep an open mind. When Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant were sold in January, I half-closed my eyes and tried to see it as a positive thing: with their contracts running out, it was a chance to get in a bit of cash and build the team either then or in summer.

Now those sales look like part of a campaign by Duchatelet to make Chris Powell's job untenable, to make it so difficult that he'd be forced to walk away. He didn't. A bunch of players were brought in. They may or may not be any good - we still don't really know - but it seemed unlikely that Powell had any say in the deals. He still didn't quit. There were rumours of disagreements over team selections. Key players' contracts remained unrenewed; Powell's contract remained unsigned. He still didn't quit.

Finally, if we are to believe the tweet from Simon Thomas of Skysports, Powell signed.








We can only imagine how humiliating the terms of that contract were. Duchatelet must have calculated that Powell would never sign it. His bluff called, he had to sack him, and presumably pay off the rest of the contract - all two months of it.

Of course Duchatelet is entitled to appoint who he wants. It would have been more honest if he had sacked Powell immediately, but, deliberately or not, the undermining of Powell's position has been reflected in results, giving Duchatelet a figleaf of rationale for the sacking now.

But in the short and long term, I can't see it being anything but a calamitous decision. Managerial changes at this time of the season don't usually work. Teams can sometimes experience a bounce-back when they lose a manager who's lost their respect but that's not the case here.

Most of the squad have contracts that expire in summer. They won't be expecting to be retained. Why should they bother to give anything back to the club? Opponents Huddersfield tomorrow and Millwall on Saturday must be delighted.The loanees will get their chance. Perhaps they'll surprise us all, but anything other than relegation will be astonishing now.

So, back to the third division we go, with all the loss of income that will bring. Financially a disaster, which, with FFP kicking in, may be hard to recover from.


And I haven't even started to cover the emotional response... More to follow.

23 February 2014

Charlton 1 QPR 0

Hmm, how to describe this game? Just look at these two photos:


Or listen to this snatch of Reithian impartiality.

Or look at this list of good things that could happen in a football match:

1. Your team outplays the most expensive team in the division
2. An 18 year old player from the Academy turns in a stunning, mature and controlling performance
3. Your team scores a winner in injury time.
4. Your team's talismanic captain scores that winner
5. Harry Redknapp has a face even more like a smacked arse than usual.
6. Millwall and Palace both lose.

 If Carlsberg made days like this ... it would presumably be another weak pint of piss. This was a day made by The Kernel Brewery: a day of craft, quality and strength. If he wasn't already there, Johnnie Jackson secured his place in the Charlton pantheon, and Chris Powell, watching his gameplan play out to perfection, surely overruled any problems with the details of his contract.

Cher Monsieur Duchatelet, sign that contract. And while you're at it, do all that it takes to keep Diego Poyet. You might also want to look at one of yesterday's mascots, Reggie Gregory. Before the game he gave a brilliant display of keepy-uppy. It reminded me of a Macdonalds advert from some years ago. I wonder what happened to that lad.




30 January 2014

-ologies

You remember Kremlinologists? Back in the days of the cold war, these people used to look at the blank walls of the Russian government, and divine, almost magically, what was going on inside them: who was in, who was out, and what this meant for us, the Western world.

Looking back, it seems likely that their expertise was entirely self-proclaimed. Like the economic experts before 2008, they somehow failed to predict some fairly important things, but not before they'd made their fortunes by telling the American and British governments exactly what they wanted to hear.

Even Wikipedia is somewhat scathing about the Kremlinologists' techniques:

During the Cold War, lack of reliable information about the country forced Western analysts to "read between the lines" and to use the tiniest titbits, such as the removal of portraits, the rearranging of chairs, positions at the reviewing stand for parades in Red Square, the choice of capital or small initial letters in phrases such as "First Secretary", the arrangement of articles on the pages of the party newspaper "Pravda" and other indirect signs to try to understand what was happening in internal Soviet politics.
 So it seems this was an -ology with all the rigour and testability of feng shui.

Yet compared with valleyology it's an  exact, Newtonian science. There was a flurry of valleyology on twitter yesterday, where all the entrails seemed to point to a calamitous perestroika: Yann leaving; Powell overruled and likely to quit; relegation all but certain. Based on what? At one point the discussion revolved around how long a train journey to Bournemouth would take.I took it too seriously and it left me quite depressed.

Today, Chris Powell has addressed a press conference and, as always, a few words from the great man have made me feel better. Dale Stephens has gone and Yann may - nobody knows - still be going: A couple of players with excitingly unpronounceable names have come in. But still, a load of people are examining every word of the press conference, trying to read a message in the tealeaves. The Daily Mail ran a story saying Powell's position was in doubt, which seems to have been based solely on the alarmist tweets of last night.

Despite the kremlinologists, the Soviet empire collapsed, Germany reunited, Russia became more corrupt and Poland more priest-ridden than ever, and the letters CCCP are now just a stuttering tribute to our leader. They, the kremlinologists, got everything wrong. Valleyologists: look on their works, you might as well, and despair.

14 January 2014

Charlton 2 Oxford 2

I wonder what postmodern football looks like.  
Why do you do that, then?
Hang on, who are you? And what are you doing interrupting me in italics?
I'm your creation, you postmodernist fool. For some reason you've decided to write this post in the form of a dialogue. And by the way, I ask the questions. Carry on.
OK. Ask your next question. (I already know what it is, obviously.)
Postmodernism? Isn't that what passes for cleverness in television these days ...
Carry on.
Such as Sherlock
Yes! I'm so glad you mentioned that.
Can I nip out for a fag while you're telling everybody your views on Sherlock?
Fine. Five minutes should be plenty. The thing about Sherlock is that the first half is always rubbish, a bewildering mass of inept characterisation and clumsy exposition. It looks fantastic, but nothing is happening. You're tempted to watch something else. Then, in the second half, some actual plot comes along, some ideas, and for a while it all seems good, and the programme ends and you think that was good. But then, about half an hour later, you think no, actually, it was rubbish. What appeared to be a cleverly constructed plot was in fact all smoke and mirrors. Shit! you think, I've been conned. And you realise you've wasted 90 minutes of your scarce time on this earth.
Excuse me!
What? Back already?
Remembered I don't smoke. As you should have known. And I'm quite peeved that you've used italics. Italics are mine.
Sorry. Well?
You're claiming Sherlock was rubbish. You do realise this puts you in a scorned minority. Even the great Sam Wollaston ...
Don't get me started on him!
Sorry. But can I mention this is, notionally at least, a post about a football match?
Fair point. I'll keep this in note form. First half: rubbish, inept, bewildering, tempted to go home. Second half: some ideas, some skill, seems good. Half an hour later: realisation that rescuing a draw at home to Oxford Utd is rubbish. Shit. Conned.
Still. A cup run, eh?
Strictly speaking, a third round replay doesn't count as a cup run, but, yeah, I'll take it.