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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fizzy 32 - Sheff. Wed (a)

Arguably the biggest club in the fizzies, with certainly the biggest ground, Wednesday have spend a total of 66 seasons in the top flight against our meagre 26. On their results in Tier One they are listed as the 12th best club in the country and have won the League Championship no less than 4 times. The bad news is that, sadly, the last time was 78 years ago in 1930 when Ramsey MacDonald was Prime Minister and George the Fifth was on the throne.
So that's a long time in life as well as football and its been nearly 10 years since we played there in a League game, in the Premiership season 1998/99 when we lost 3-0 and of course they did the double over us beating us 1-0 at the Valley on the last day of the season to end any hope that we may have had of staying up. In fact, with them being a Big Club, our results up there in Sheffield have not been very good and you have to cast your mind back to September 1953 to find our last League win there by 2-1. Fourteen games over the last 55 years and we only have 4 draws to show for our efforts but there was that 4-2 cup win ( with goals by the now forgotten Rommedahl twice, Holland and sadly missed little Bent), just two years ago that shouldn't be forgotten.
Back in August 25th last year saw us overcome a 2 goal half-time deficit to win our first game of the season, 3-2 Big Chris scoring the winner just 3 minutes from time. And after now scoring first 19 times out of 31 games, that game against Wednesday has been the only time we have won this season after going behind.. Which nicely points to one big difference between the two sides, a table that shows us at the top and Wednesday at the bottom is the one showing who scores first the most. We've done it the highest, along with our next home opponents Watford, - which should make it a humdinger - while the Owls are really slow starters and have only scored first 9 times, the lowest score of all in the fizzies. And probably the main reason for that is that the first 15 minutes of games is their worst defending period of games, when they've conceded 14 goals.
But they have enjoyed good times this season and back in November they did something we haven't done this season and scored 5, against Southampton at home, and two games later beat Barnsley 2-0 to reach a healthly 14th in the table, their highest point this season. And this was after putting 4 past Stoke at the Britannia in October. An unbeaten November followed, and Manager Brian Laws was unfortunately awarded the dreaded Manager of the Month award. Since then, of course, things haven't gone very well and a slow, slow slide down the table began until now there's only 2 teams below them, those two boggy teams of ours, Scunthorpe and Colchester.
In the 12 games since that Barnsley win on November 27th, they've only won twice, in home victories against Preston 2-1 and in the local derby against United 2-0. Two draws and 8 defeats make up the rest.
With only 18 points won at home from 6 wins, only 2 teams have a worst home record, that's right, Scunthorpe and Colchester. And on current form they've rock bottom with 3 defeats in a row with the only recent highlight being the 2-0 derby win over United a month ago which was then ruined in the next home game by being the first club to be defeated at home by Ipswich this season..
And after pointing out that Palarse were not very good in games played against top half opposition, we can add that Wednesday aren't very good either. While the Addicks have, encouragingly, got 1.73 points per game against the top 12 - equal to the inevitable West Brom, Wednesday record of only 3 wins is only better than the underachieving quintet of Blackpool, Wolves, Colchester and Scunthorpe who have only beaten teams from the top 12 twice each.
And there, perhaps, in a single paragraph is explained exactly what has been wrong with Pardew's team this season. Four of the worst teams in the Division and we only have 1 win against them, a albeit 4-1 hammering, to show from 6 games played against them.
There's been lots of excuses for the failures against the bottom clubs; playing teams at the wrong time, cup-tie atmospheres, the ex-player factor, etc, but the fact remains that those four teams have lost a total of 31 games against other top half opposition and only once to us..... and more to the point of their 8 wins in total against the top teams, no less than 3 of them have been against us...
Well, perhaps it doesn't matter. With 3 of the teams above us winning on Saturday, we're still in 5th place and unless we win an extraordinary number of games that remain, say 12, we are heading for the Play-offs. So at the end of the season, our form against top clubs will be more important than off-days against Scunthorpe.
Top scorers for Wednesday are two players on 7. The first one is number 30 and one of the few Sodje brothers and nephews, Akpo that is, not to have played for their local club, Charlton, and the other top scorer is the ex-Rams Marcus Tudgay. Unfortunately for the Owls, Sodje is out injured as is another of our ex's, Francis Jeffers, - why on earth did we buy him ? - who has only played 10 fizzy games all season and is on 2 goals but has been out for long periods with injury and hasn't featured in the last 7 games. So we'll not see him.
Regarding the history, in League games, as mentioned its dire with only 3 wins and 4 draws for the Addicks out of 18 games played at Hillsborough. We've only spent 18 seasons together in the same League and of the 37 games played the score stands at 13-15 to them with 9 draws.
As for the Addicks line-up, there's only a slight doubt about Varney after Hudson's tackle on Friday, 'it's a bit stiff ', but apart from that it'll obviously be the same eleven especially as Jerry Thomas has been ruled out with hamstring problems and Lee Cook needs a reserve game to prove his fitness.
That will mean a return to Hillsborough for Magic Bougherra who played 29 games for them between May 2006 and January 2007 before Pardew snapped him up for 2.5 last year. And it'll also be a return for Andy Gray who played there for Burnley in a 2-0 win back in September.
The team then should be: Weaver; Halford, McCarthy, Bougherra, Youga; Sam, Holland, Zheng, Ambrose; Gray, Varney.
Subs: Elliot, Basey, Semedo, Iwelumo, McLeod
Prediction? After 6 away games without a win, and allowing Scunthorpe to get the better of us after our last home triumph, Pardew cannot demand this time anything less than a win, especially with all our fellow contenders on the same night facing games against teams at the bottom. It has to be another 2-0 win then....with Gray at last scoring his first goal.

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