Fresh from the anticipation we had this time last week of visiting the club against whom we enjoyed our biggest win of the season at the Valley - but with dire consequences - in complete contrast this weekend we travel to face the club against whom we have suffered our biggest home defeat. And to complete this crazy conundrum, the 3-0 Valley defeat on November 27th was also Sheffield's biggest win of the season. I bet they can't wait for the weekend to come round.
And after the abject reverse that was Saturday, Pardew must be in a desperate dilemma as to what to do with his defence for the game against Sheffield. But more of that later.
His first job this week will be to raise the morale of the team after its Blackpool mauling. Conceding five goals is bad news in anyone's book, but perhaps we should all take note that while Blackpool were buoyed by the inspirational Dickov and have a good record at home, Sheffield, now in 15th place are a team with a new manager, Kevin Blackwell, and are more used to drawing at home than winning. Moreover Blackpool, with our help admittedly, are now the 7th highest scorers in the fizzies, Sheffield, meanwhile, are outscored by 17 other teams.
And while we may lament the large number of recent drawn games, only Colchester, with 14, have drawn more games than Sheffield's 13 this season and to complete the picture the surely-to-be-relegated duo of Colchester and Scunthorpe have also managed to win more games at home. And just as Pardew will be urging his players to prove themselves after a bad defeat, its just possible that he'll be able to convince them we were on the receiving end of a similar situation in November when United came to the Valley after suffering only their second home defeat of the season against Plymouth just 3 days before.
And to raise the morale still further Pardew will point out that its been their dismal home form since then that has been key to Robsons departure. In the 7 games since the Plymouth defeat, they've only managed 2 single-goal wins over Barnsley and QPR and since the Valley result only 9 goals scored in the subsequent 15 games that also included the nail in Robsons coffin, the 2-0 defeat at Hillsborough in the middle of January. And since that defeat, 5 consequent drawn games.
So having raised the morale and instilled in the players minds that revenge for the home defeat is a necessity, Pards, after sensing the mood, must then turn to his selection. And after saying on Saturday evening that the team must sweat to see who he leaves out, he has committed himself to make changes and just about the only feasible option is to bring back Jose Semedo to tighten up the midfield. Who makes way though may well be teasing Pardew till match day.
After his experience with Dickov last weekend, Pards will know what to expect this time round. Saturday will see Blackwell's first home fizzy game as manager after the goalless draw with Middlesbrough in the FA 5th round tie. He's already demanded a higher work-rate from his players and his more 'direct' style of play won them a late equaliser last weekend at QPR. And we can only hope that a tiring cup replay tomorrow night will sap their energy levels.
An extra covering midfielder doesn't exactly punish, or correct, the defence for its collective 'off-day' but after singling out Halford for criticism and lamenting the loss of Youga it'll be no surprise to see Yassin and Kelly return as the two full-backs. It remains to be seen what Pardew will do with his central pairing of McCarthy and Fortune. Step forward Sammy Sodje to cope with the more physical nature of the United attack.
As for the Addicks forward line, we have proved previously against Bristol and Southampton that you don't need to score three times away from home to win any game. In fact scoring three got us exactly nowhere, and Pards will no doubt be wondering exactly when Andy Grays first goal for the club is coming.
Nevertheless, he'll have noticed that out of our 17 goals scored in the 12 games since the West Brom defeat on December 15th, only 4 have been scored by our forwards. In fact Gray and Big Chris have failed totally during this period and its Varney that has got all four and this will give Pardew a greater puzzle when he turns his attention to his attack.
With the inclusion of Semedo in midfield, and 4-5-1 on the cards, the decision has to be made as to who will lead the attack, Gray or Iwelumo. And perhaps more important, which one of Varney, Semedo, ZiZi, Holland, Ambrose and Cook will he leave out. Perhaps with both Varney and Ambrose scoring 4 times in those 12 games both will play with the sometimes lightweight ZiZi on the bench.
And speaking of lightweight, it's times like this that we wish we had a powerhouse in the midfield, a Parker, a Song or even a Kinsella, to put himself about and help to remove words like abject and embarrassing from any future Charlton match report.