Total Pageviews

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Looking Forward to Preston...

There were many people anticipating a defeat last weekend, 0-2 seemed to be a favorite scoreline, only to be pleasantly surprised by a stunning 4-2 victory. All reports are gushing in praise of not only new boy Bailey but Holland, Varney, Bouazza and just about everyone else. Of course, Pards was over the moon and emphasized the determination of the team in not letting the 3 points get away from us after another debatable referring decision had appeared to ruin the game, this time in a twice taken penalty. But, and there's always a but, after all the good stuff he wasn't getting carried away and stressed that it's nothing if we don't follow it up with a similar performance at Preston North End next weekend.

So, as a win is soon forgotten, its on to Game 4 of the season and if you still experience the odd pang of nostalgia for times past, bear a thought for the fans of Preston. One of the 12 founder members of the Football League back in 1888, along with the likes of Burnley and Derby, they were crowned League Champions for the first two years and after three spells in the Second Division were sadly relegated 47 years ago and haven't been back since. A long wait then for something to happen with only an FA Cup win back in 1938 to allay the boredom.

So with happy days far behind them, Preston finished last season 15th in the fizzies, 8 points worst off than the Addicks, with a better home record of a couple more wins but only half of the 8 away wins that we managed. That trend was totally reversed in our games against them last season as we won 2-0 at Deepdale for the first time in 53 years but lost at home 1-2.

That home defeat was on March 8, just 4 days after the 1-1 draw with Bristol, and was the first of three straight defeats to Preston, Burnley and Ipswich that really finished off our season.

The Opposition

They have started well this season, with a 2-1 win at Ipswich on day 1 after going behind to a Lisbie goal in the 2nd minute, they then beat Chesterfield 2-1 in the League Cup and then Palarse 2-0, both games being at Deepdale. And on Saturday they dropped points for the first time with a 1-1 draw at Sheff.Wed again after going behind. So they're equal 2nd on 7 points. A 0-1 home defeat to Derby in the League Cup on Tuesday rather spoil the progress but their excuse will be that four changes were made to the usual Fizzy team so its the reserves to blame.

Two of Preston's players have already received Team-of-the-week accolades, in Week Two, left-back Callum Davidson, and midfielder Paul McKenna but problems with the Football League website prevents me from pointing this out and you can't see Therry Racons place in week One either.

They're also the epitome of a settled side. Where the Addicks have already use 18 players, Preston have only called on 15 and would have started every game with the same eleven if it hadn't been for the knee injury to ex-Blackburn left-back Callum Davidson against Palarse and its not clear yet if he'll play against us as there was no sign of him in the League Cup on Tuesday. And as you would perhaps expect from a settled side they have a few long service players in their midst. Main man is captain and midfielder Paul McKenna with reportedly 427 appearances, and 28 goals, for Preston behind him.

With a five man midfield width is provided by Simon Whaley and Chris Sedgwick and with only one forward, the goals have to come from somewhere and Sedgwick is, currently, the only midfielder who hasn't scored yet this season.

Manager Alan Irvine, who joined Preston just before our win there in last November began his rebuilding with the purchase of 23 year old Richard Chaplow, signed in January from West Brom for over £1m. An former U-21 England international, he made his debut for West Brom at the Valley in March 2005 in a defeat that we all remember. He it was that was brought down for the penalty that gave Earnshaw his hat-trick in the 1-4 defeat. He's already scored twice this season. Irvine seems to specialize in only buying players that will go straight into his first-team and the latest is experienced 30 year old Scottish international Barry Nicholson, ex-Aberdeen, who arrived in June on a free transfer and has already scored.

In a team of English speakers there's only one foreign voice that of Frenchman, and defensive rock, centre-half Youl Mawene, an ex of Lens and Derby. But probably the key man for them is their one man up front, number 33 Neil Mellor, scorer of 10 goals last season and who has apparently scored 8 goals in Prestons pre-season and already off the mark with the two goals that sunk Tier Four Chesterfield in the League Cup. He started with Liverpool and played 12 first team games for them before injury ruined his chances.

One man missing from last season will be ex-Addick,Kevin Nicholls, who has now left for Luton.

A tight little team they don't score a lot but don't concede either. Only 4 teams scored less goals at home last season but then again Hull, Ipswich and Leicester (!) conceded less than their 20 goals. And they have improved since we beat them in November last year. Of the twelve played at home since the beginning of the year they've only lost to Palarse and Barnsley, have won 9 (Scunthorpe, Watford, West Brom, Coventry, Stoke, Wolves, Burnley, Sheff.U and Palarse) and drawn against Ipswich. So of the last 36 points available at home they've managed to get 28! But they have continued their low scoring and only managed to score more than twice on one occasion, 3-1 to Sheff.U.


Last season saw our first win since Oct 1954, a gap of 53 years. Not previously a very happy hunting ground, last year's 2-0 win with goals by ZiZi and Varney was our 4th win on the trot and cemented our 2nd place in the table, albeit 5 points behind Watford.

In fact Deepdale is just about the most inhospitable place to visit for the Addicks in the whole of the fizzies as we have our worst record when playing there with us having lost 20 out of the 30 League games. Of the rest we've won just 5 with 5 draws.

The Addicks

In contrast to Preston nobody can accuse us of being settled and they'll be, at most, just 5 members of the team that won 2-0 at Deepdale last November. But after last weeks showing it would appear silly of Pards to change things around and not keep a winning team. But Preston will be a tough nut to crack, and with so many midfielders around at Deepdale, and a clue coming in his 60 minutes played against Swindon on Wednesday afternoon, we could see Darren Ambrose replacing Lloyd Sam on the right.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reading Preview

Blackheath Addick it was that, a few weeks ago, and for some reason I've forgotten, referred to Napoleons preference for lucky generals. All you can say is that at the moment Pardew seems to be pushing his luck as things are not going so well. First of all he's seen his best players ( well, open to debate) sold with probably more on the way, two goalless defeats behind him and thirdly you could argue that Pards has been handed a pretty tough start to the season.
First of all last seasons Champions of Division One Swansea, with only one away defeat in 7 months came to the Valley, then Watford away, where we've had only 1 win in 12 visits, and that's now followed by three games against teams currently in the top 5, all unbeaten, namely Reading (h), Preston (a) and Wolves (h). A tough mini-test for Pards then and it begins on Saturday when his old club, Reading, arrive at the Valley.
Bit of history, then...
Pardew, if you remember, first went to Tier Two Reading in 1997 as Reserve Team manager, took over as caretaker manager for a week the following year but left before they were relegated in May 1998 to Tier Three. Obviously not forgotten, he returned to become full-time Manager in October 1999 and after a midtable finish in his first season, he made the Play-Off Final losing to Walsall the following year in 2000/2001 and then won automatic promotion the following year in 2002, finishing second behind Brighton.
Into the Fizzy Play-offs in their first season (losing to Wolves in the Semi's ) but then in September 2003 it all became a little sour when he was approached on the quiet by West Ham. In somewhat acrimonious circumstances he resigned that September after being refused permission to speak to the Hamsters and then a period of "gardening leave" followed before he finally became West Ham Manager in late October.
More to the point, since that unfortunate departure he's faced Reading 5 times, 4 as Manager of West Ham and once in charge of the Addicks and only won once. With one 1-0 win of the three home games ( the others were a 0-1 defeat at Upton Park and a 0-0 draw at the Valley), he's suffered defeats both times he has gone back to the Madejski stadium. One wonders what the fans think of him as he succeeded in winning 102 of his 212 games in charge. Coppell, meanwhile, has just surpassed that with 103 wins from 233 games in charge and strangely enough made the comment that he felt hampered by his predessors spending on players that didn't make eventually make the grade!

The Opposition
Reading, under Coppell, have gone from strength to strength and were unlucky to be relegated from the Premier on the last day of the season and all you have to do to gauge their promotion chances is to appreciate that the key to a quick return from the Fizzies is to keep as many of your premiership players as possible. Only two have left Reading, Striker Dave Kitson to Stoke for 5.5M and left-back Nick Storey to Aston Villa.
As for the rest they have similar problems to the Addicks with the left-back slot being an issue after Storey's departure and in midfield where they are missing Matejovsky but apart from that they have a settled side with ten players starting both games and only an ankle ligament injury to Matejovsky at Forest spoiling a settled eleven. Mali-born Kalifa Cisse fills in. Also missing will be right-back and club captain Graeme Murty.
In pre-season they have had away games at Forest Green and MK Dons, with 2-0 and 2-1 wins. A three game Swedish tour, all victories and lastly a credible 1-1 home draw ( after missing a penalty) with Aston Villa. Goalscorer against Villa was youngster Jem Karacan, previously on loan at Millwall.

Key Players
Sometime captain number 15 James Harper is another regular having played 275 games for the Royals and is being chased, apparently, by Middlesbro' who at the moment don't reach Coppell £5m valuation. Up front we can expect to be re-aquainted with Zaire international Leroy Lita. He managed just 3 goals for us in 8 on-loan games last season which was an improvement on his recent form with Reading where he recently went 15 games without scoring. He finally got one in their last game of the season against Derby when it was all a bit too late. One goal in last 18 games for Reading.
Alongside him if we're lucky could be Kevin Doyle and perhaps one of the reasons for Readings demise last season was the dip in form from Doyle, he got 18 in their promotion year and 13 in the first year in the Premier but only 6 last year and another player enjoying a barren spell. He recently went 20 Premiership games without scoring and was another one ending that run by scoring at the death against Derby. One goal then in last competitive 23 games for Reading.
We also have the Hunt brothers to contend with, Stephen and his newly arrived brother ex of Dundee, Noel. You'll be sad to learn that Noel is a striker that knows where the net is and scored on his debut during the Swedish tour. And he did it again last week getting the winner at Dagenham in a 2-1 League Cup win.

But with our own scoring problems, it's surely their defence that will give us the most problems, not only because they've yet to concede in the fizzies but also they are the ones getting the goals with the Senegal 6' 3" centre-back Ibrahima Sonko getting the two that sunk Plymouth last weekend. Both were headers from Stephen Hunt crosses.

Have We Got Any Chance?

OK, they were unbeaten in their pre-season and after three competitive games they still are. A draw at Notts Forest, a win at Dagenham in the Cup and a win over Plymouth last weekend. But, in fact, if you've looking for any signs of a weakness, they have failed to score in 7 of their last nine competitive games, admittedly most of them in the Premiership, with only the 4-0 away win at Derby on the last day of the Premier season and that 2-0 home win over Plymouth as proof that they know where the net is.


History in the League is short with only 30 games played and we're losing so far with 9 wins, 12 defeats and 9 draws. At home its a bit better with 7 wins, 4 defeats and 4 draws. We have won 3 of the 4 most recent games at the Valley and you have to go back to the game before that in October 1994 for the last time that Reading have won at the Valley, the score 2-1. That season Reading finished 2nd but because of the reduction in the Premiership from 22 to 20 only the Champions of Tier Two were promoted. Tough luck on Reading as they lost in the Play-Off Final to Bolton.

As for the Addicks

After last seasons excesses when we had 4 left-backs, we now, if we believe the official site, have none available, with Youga suspended and hamstring (!) injury worries over Basey. Fortune was patched up last weekend and finished the 90 minutes so it remains to be seen if Basey is in the same boat. However, Semedo has filled in there before so we could see Moutaouakil making his first fizzy start of the season at right-back with Semedo on the left. No bad thing to have Moot2 back but he'll have to concentrate as Stephen Hunt is obviously the key to Reading's attacks. Lets hope that travelling to Norway for their friendly on Wednesday is leaving him and Kevin Doyle a bit knackered, as they both played the last 30 minutes(ish).

As for the midfield , they'll be a home debut for Nicky Bailey and then Pardew has to decide who's going to partner him in his habitual 4-4-2. And just as we appeared to have received a bonus with the form of Racon on his return from Brighton, another injury problem hit us after 58 minutes against Watford on Saturday with a broken fifth metatarsal ( ie, the bone on the outside of the foot) and he's out till November. All rather sad as, fresh from his inclusion in the Fizzy team of the week after the Swans game, the unfortunate injury comes as Racon was enjoying his best spell at the Valley.

There's still no real news on the return of ZiZi from China and Pards obviously won't broadcast the fact that he's back but clearly with two goalless games behind us and only two set-piece goals to show from 3 games played we do need to look at our attacking options. Playing ZiZi in the hole behind the front two could be an option but with deals pending and an unsettled player to boot, Pards has stated that he won't be considering him. So with Semedo and Racon unable to make the midfield, its possible that Pards will try Jonjo again and see how he makes out with Bailey beside him, but with our improved performance in the second half at Watford with Matty Holland next to Bailey we could see Pards starting with these two hard-working players. Problem being that we'll need a little more than hard work to get something out of a Reading team that look headed back to the top flight.

With another two of our attacking options, Ambrose and Todorov, completing an hour in the Reserves on Wednesday, it remains to be seen whether or not Pards will include them tomorrow. Its possible that Ambrose ( last seasons second highest scorer along with ZiZi, both with 9 goals ) will make the bench but expect Sam and Bouazza to be the wide men with Varney and Gray still learning how to dovetail together seamlessly.

At least, unlike Vita and Doyle, they haven't gone 41 games between them in the stripes of Reading with only 2 goals to show for it. In fact it's a bit close with Gray on 3 from 12 games ( plus 6 sub appearances) since joining and Varney on 5 in his 12 games since Christmas which is, I suppose, approaching 1 goal every other game. But as a partnership is still doesn't seem to work and of the 8 times they have started together, they've only managed 4 goals between them.

So a team of:

Weaver; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Basey; Sam, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza; Gray and Varney.

Subs: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Shelvey, Ambrose, Dickson.

Assistant Manager Phil Parkinson will also enjoy facing his old club after playing 361 times for the Royals.

Verdict: Back in July only 6 out of 37 CAFCPicks punters forecast the game as a win, with 12 seeing a defeat and 19 hoping for a draw. Since then I haven't changed my mind and with an unbeaten defence at Reading and Pards only having managed one goal at home in three attempts against his old club since leaving, its looks like being a low scoring game with the Addicks on the end of another 0-1 defeat.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Watford Preview

After losing our 2008-09 unbeaten home record, albeit only in a League Cup game, on Tuesday to a team we've never lost to before we now face the short, but tricky, trip to Vicarage Road for the game against Watford where we've only managed one win in our last 12 visits.
The last 4 games between us have all been draws so we would expect another tight game but after facing a side last weekend - Swansea - with only 1 away defeat since September last year, we now tackle a team with the embarrassing record of 5 home League defeats in a row. No wonder only 5000 turned up on Tuesday for their League Cup game!
And although Pards did seem genuinely disappointed with the dismal failure of our second string to get a result against Yeovil, it does seem a little fortuitous that the day after the defeat we at last sign the type of midfielder that everyone has been crying out for. They always say that you can even learn from a defeat and the Directors seem to have done just that.
Meanwhile, opponents Watford enjoyed a goalless draw at Sainburys on Saturday ( although nobody should be allowed to use the words "enjoyed" and "sainburys" in the same sentence), whilst on Tuesday, young striker Will Hoskins struck two minutes from time to earn Watford a first home win in four months against League One side Bristol Rovers and earn a place in the Carling Cup second round.
Four months, ( April 5th to be exact), is a long time in football and with successive home defeats to Barnsley, Palarse, Scunthorpe and then Hull in the play-offs, one can understand Manager Aidy Boothroyd's idea to play all of his pre-season games away from Vicarage Rd. Watford have had 4 "first team" friendlies, all away, a 3-1 win over Boreham Wood, a 1-1 draw against Brentford and defeats against MK Dons 1-2 and Barnet 2-3.
In fact Hoskins' goals was the first time they have scored in those last 5 home games so home form for Watford looks like being something they will want to correct pretty soon.
Much like ourselves Watford have been shedding players during the summer with four key members of last years squad having flown the nest. Gone are Danny Shittu to Bolton, last seasons top goalscorer (with 12) Darius Henderson has gone to Sheff. Utd, and both Jordan Stewart and Nathan Ellington have been sold to Derby.
And again, like the Addicks, they rang the changes for their League Cup game with only 4 players, defenders Sadler, Doyley, Bromby and midfielder Harley starting in both games. These along with two players completing for the captains role, American centre-half Jay De Merit and tough midfielder John Eustace will surely form the core of Watford this season.
They also have a trio of Jamacians, number 7 Damien Francis, 11 Jobi McAnuff (ex-Palarse) and 14 Lee Williamson, all of whom finished the game against Palarse. Up front they have 21 year old Hungarian international star Tamas Priskin wearing number 9 but who has failed to shine recently and even spent a month on loan spent at Preston in March, for whom he played at the Valley in their 2-1 win in March. Life for him will be easier now than Henderson and Ellington have departed. Partnering Priskin at Sainburys on Saturday was Number 21 Tommy Smith, 2008 Player of the Year and scorer of 7 goals last season.
The league history between the clubs after 56 games reads 20 wins, 14 losses and 22 draws and at Vicarage Rd its 10 defeats, 6 wins and 12 draws. Our last win there was in Feb 1996 2-1 but that was only win in our last 12 games there....
As for the Addicks, surely no signing since the arrival of Ronnie Moore in 1983 has generated so much enthusiasm as the news that Pards has at last bought a Midfielder. Box-to-box 110% bulldog are the quoted attributes of Nicky Bailey but if you're still wondering why nobody else was chasing him after being on the transfer list since June, then you should read this article which will surely reassure you.
Another surprise addition to Saturdays squad could be the return of ZiZi from China now that the Chinese team are out of the Olympics although I'm not sure if Olympic red cards require 3 suspended games, and there's a question mark over whether or not Pardew will want to display ZiZi's skills in public so close to Deadline Transfer Day.
After resting 6 players for the Yeovil game and giving chances to Elliot, Moutaouakil, Basey, Holland, Wagstaff and Bouazza to show what they can do, its a bit of an irony that the only one to really come out of it with his reputation enhanced - Holland - sees his future chances limited by the arrival of Bailey. There must also be a doubt over the injury to Fortune, replaced after 40 minutes on Tuesday, although Pards emphasized that his presence will be so important that he will be patched up, no matter what.
Nerves were a feature of Tuesdays game and no prizes for guessing to whom Pards was referring in his post-match comments, namely right-back Moutaouakil. And with Bailey pushing for a start in a physical game, temporary right-back Semedo's return to his holding role in front of defence could be in doubt, leaving us possibly with the same defence that kept a cleansheet against Swansea.
In midfield it'll be a surprise if Bailey doesn't make an immediate debut, he played 90 minutes on Saturday in Southend's 1-0 win over Peterborough, although Hollands preformance on Tuesday may make him wait and alongside one of them will be Therry Racon fresh from his teamoftheweek selection and presumably Jonjo Shelvey. Another option, with the demands of Watford's play in mind, and hinted at by Shelvey's early substitution after only 56 minutes last weekend, could see a midfield of Holland, Racon and newboy Bailey with Jerry Thomas out wide.
Up front we can expect to see Gray and Varney partnered again, although Hameur Bouazza will be dying to take the field against his old club for whom he played 83 times in four years, scoring 8 goals before leaving for Fulham for £3m in 2007.
Addicks; Weaver; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Bailey, Racon, Holland, Thomas; Varney and Gray,
Subs; Elliot, Shelvey, Sam, Basey, Bouazza.
Verdict: I was going to make a comment about the fact that we better enjoy the League table while we can as it's likely to be the last time this year that we'll see ourselves up there in an automatic promotion spot, but the arrival of a new midfielder has worked wonders on my confidence and its a 2-1 win for me.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Swansea Preview

Game one and its promoted Swansea City, Champions of Division One by a clear 10 points last season and with only ONE away defeat since September last year, arriving at the Valley. Shades of deja vu then after last seasons 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe where we struggled against another promoted team who exceeded themselves on the day.
One point in our favour however is that Swansea haven't fared very well recently on the opening day with 3 defeats in the last 4 seasons although last years 2-1 defeat at Oldham on August 11th proved to be one of only three away defeats all season....
Its been 24 years since they were in Tier Two so expect the 3000 travelling fans to enjoy themselves and one person head and shoulders above the rest in their affections will be manager Roberto Martinez. Spaniard Martinez has been in the UK 13 years after signing in 1995 as one of 3 Spanish players that Dave Whelan took to Wigan. He's now been at Swansea since 2003 and manager since February last year and in those 18 months he's proved something of a revelation with just 12 defeats in 70 games. By comparison, our own Alan Pardew has figures, with the Addicks, of 22 defeats in 71 games...
I can't recall a Spaniard playing for the Addicks but of course Swansea have a few, namely 6, with the latest arriving in the summer, Spanish defender Serran from Espanol.
And after losing in Spain to Espanol 0-4 they have improved and finished their pre-season by drawing at home 0-0 to West Brom last weekend and then beating newly promoted dutch side Den Haag 1-0 on Wednesday again at home.
Swansea are a bit short of forwards due to injury with the quaintly named number 9 Jason Scotland from Trinidad and Tobago still not 100% after a stomach injury. After 29 goals last season, and scoring one every two games over the last three years, Pards will be pleased to see him sat on the bench. Another useful player is the Dutch number 6 midfielder Ferrie Bodde. Paul Jewell of Derby has spent most of the summer trying to prise him away with offers up to £2m but he's still there and he'll be at the Valley.
So what's the history? Only twenty games played at the Valley, the last back in October 1983, with the Addicks winning 11 and the Swans only 3 with 6 draws. The last game, in a season which saw the Swans relegated, was a 2-2 draw with Hales and Gritt getting the goals in the last 15 minutes and in fact I remember it well because I was so disgusted that I walked out before the end with us losing 0-2. Apparently Mark Hulyer was pretty pissed of as well 'cause he resigned after the game.
As for the Addicks the obvious downside of a settled team is clearly that the opposition will know exactly who's playing and can plan accordingly. With still no sign of any additions to the squad, the only doubts are over the fitness of Hudson and Weaver, but all being well we can expect to see a 4-4-2 of:
Weaver; Semedo, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Sam, Racon, Shelvey, Thomas; Varney and Gray. But an opening day defeat to a promoted side would be unthinkable and a damaging effect on the morale of such a young side so Pards think twice before you hand your teamsheet in.
The midfield is woefully weak and you can't expect a 16 year old to run it with only a willing Frenchman as company. Without the energetic Holland, and no Semedo covering up, we need a little bit of weight in there to help out. Swansea, as you have said, will be all about energy and determined to get off to a good start so, please, put Basey in from the start and leave out one of the wingers, ie Thomas.
Verdict: My confidence levels have sunk and the best I can see is a 1-1 draw.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Spanish Connections....

Telephone conversation between Joaquin Caparros, manager of Athletic Bilbao and Roberto Martinez, manager of Swansea, apparently overheard by a Telefonica employee yesterday..
"Hola, Joaquin, its Roberto Martinez, howsa things in Bilbao."
"Oh, hiya, Roberto, its sure a tado hotter here than in that Engerland of yours."
"Hey, mind your geography, Swansea's in Wales boyo. Anyways up, I wanted to ask you about the team you played in London town last weekend, 'cause we've got them on Saturday."
"Oh, Charlton. Well, you can forget all that premiership stuff. They've got money problems and had to get rid of all their stars and its just kids now. You'll have no problems Roberto, all their experienced players are either injured or at the Olympics."
"But what are their strengths?"
"Well, to be honesto with you I didn't see any. A steady central defence I suppose, but then one of them got injured. And with two young full-backs, one playing out of position, a couple of wide men that promise much but didn't deliver and a two-man midfield of a 16 year old and a Frenchman that looked as if they had just meet. We flooded midfield and their two strikers didn't see much of the ball."
"So what advice, Joaquin, do I givea to my Swans?"
"Easy, Roberto. Check their home record, one win in the last 7, 11th place finish, the whole team seemed nervous to me. So stifle the two man midfield and play with a single striker. As you've got strikers injured should be just the ticket. Its a new division for you, so give the players an hour to get used to it and then go for the win. You'll probably winna 1-0, just like we did...."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Tomorrow's Lineup, Pards...

OK, Pards since you asked for advice here it is. I have it on good authority that these pre-season games are not just about getting fit and finding our best formation. You know yourself that morale and belief in the side is much more useful. A winning side wins, it becomes habit-forming and with such a good pre-season run behind us we need to continue the winning. So lets forget the idea about putting out our best formation ready for Swansea, 'cause if you don't know our best lineup now with so many departed and unavailable you never will. Even Missus Nelson could tell you.
So this Bilbao lot. To tell the truth I'm a bit worried about your midfield come Saturday. These Basque boys are no world beaters but they're no chumps either. They're got a few useful players and we need to plan the game tomorrow just as you would all those future fizzy games.
Apart from a couple of useful wide men, Etxeberria on the right and Lopez on the left they have a choice of Orbaiz, Iraola, Gurpegui, Javi Martinez, Gabilondo and Yeste for the middle of the park. They'll play with the usual 4 at the back, with a lone striker and put 5 across the middle. One of these is usually a wide men Etxeberria or sometimes Lopez, and if its a best eleven they're putting out then 4 of the above 6 midfielders.
So with the treatment table already overflowing with Weaver, Holland, Ambrose, Todorov, Dickson, McLeod and Arter its imperative that we use some creative ideas to get a result tomorrow. Move Moutaouakil to right-back and put Semedo in his holding role, play only one wide man - Thomas on the left and persuade him to help out Youga if Extebarria plays - and put someone else in the middle to help out last weekends midfield Shelvey and Racon. Put in Basey, Sinclair or even Josh Wright.
Last season it was 1-2 to Braga, Dowie didn't bother with one in 2006 and Curbs bowed out with a 1-3 loss to AEK Athens. So it's been 4 years now since we won one of these fixtures, 3-1 to Chievo Verona.
So Pards. For the first half, Christie; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Fortune, Youga; Racon, Semedo, Shelvey, Basey, Thomas; Gray and then when they replace all their stars in the second half you can bring out Varney, Fleetwood and Wagstaff to get the win.