Total Pageviews

Friday, November 28, 2008

Southampton Preview

So another undeserved defeat, making it eleven defeats so far, although not all undeserved, of course. But by all accounts Parky brought an improved performance with just a couple of surprises. Gillespie, now 33, brings experience on the right and the early return of Racon, paired with Semedo, gave us at last a balanced, functioning midfield. A pity then that the defence continues to disappoint.

Despite the warnings, not least by myself, to keep a careful eye on their number 9, the phase "unmarked Blackstock" seems to appear in all of the match reports. A couple of chances and he scores from both of them, but then that is what, in comparison with our own experiences, strikers are meant to do. For no matter how slick and pretty is your passing, its all wasted unless the striker can score. So Varney's gone to Derby. Has a certain ring to it, but makes you wonder which game, or games, they had him watched.

Regarding our defence, we now have the worst in the fizzies, along with Watford, both on 33 goals conceded. And perhaps more important, we have the third worst goal difference with -11, after Doncaster and Forest. And is it worrying us that Southampton, slowly escaping into the mist, arrive next full of confidence after becoming the first team this season to beat Reading at the Madjeski.

And just like QPR, its another club with a Head Coach as opposed to a manager, although Southampton have a more experienced one. Dutchman Jan Poortvliet has a reputation for succeeding in lower Dutch football and is reputed to have a good record of succeeding where there is little or no money to spend. Sign him Richard!

A turbulent time of late they've had a total of 12 managers/head coaches in the 13 years since Alan Ball left in 1995. A far cry from the 39 years between 1955-1994 when they only had 4.

And in contrast to our last opponents, QPR, where a tight little ground currently makes them home bankers, Southampton have only one win at home all season and have the worst home record in the fizzies. Unfortunately they are clearly better away from St. Marys with 4 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats and they have won at Derby 1-0, Doncaster 2-0 and Preston 3-2 and more recently Reading 2-1...

Form Guide The Addicks are the only team in the fizzies without a win in the last 8, let alone last 9. Southampton, meanwhile, have won just two in their last 8. The Addicks have of course conceded the most in the last 8, while outscoring 7 other teams.

Whats Their Secret? There's no secrets here except a bundle of confidence from winning away from St. Marys 4 times this season. They have the 6th best away record in the fizzies. At Preston they came back to win 3-2 after being behind 2-0 and that game perhaps spells out one defect. Only one team, Norwich, have been winning at half-time fewer than their 3 times out of 19. So they're slow starters and although they wake up in the second half we obviously need first half goals to give them a problem.

Who They Got? As befits a team with money problems - part of their ground is closed to save money - top goalscorers are two youth products David McGoldrick with 7 and Andy Surman with 4.

And there's an old boy for us to worry about - the now 35, Chris Perry, at the heart of their defence, who played 84 times for us in those distant premiership days. And there were Addicks who wondered why Dowie let him leave in the fateful summer of 2006. And there'll be no sign of our most expensive signing Jason Euell, now 31. He was sent-off against Wolves on the 15th and is still suspended.

History Just when you'd fancy our chances on visiting St. Marys with them having the worst home record in the fizzies its just our luck that the games' at our place. And doubly bad because their away form is pretty good - and although its 11 to 7 to the Addicks at the Valley its still 23-16 in their favour with 13 draws.

Their last win at the Valley was in our relegation season of 89/90 by 4-2 but they haven't won now in the last 7 which have ended in 3 wins and 4 draws.
What're They Saying? Parky assumes command with another two arrivals and the departure of Luke, "I felt it was very important that we changed the dynamics of this group around, and I feel that's what we've done."

Team News Two new on-loan arrivals with the expected left-back 23 year old scouser Jay McEveley from Derby and 32 year old striker Deon Burton from Wednesday. And if you're losing count regarding loanees, we've already got 5 (only 5 allowed in any 16 man squad); they're the two defenders Cranie and Primus, two wingers, Bouazza and Gillespie and the striker Waghorn. Burton can't be here because of his goalscoring - he's only got one this season after 10 starts plus sub appearances and only 7 last season from 23 plus 19 from the bench - so it must be as stated; understudy to Andy Gray. As for McEveley he's had plenty of experience in the relegation zone with Derby last season in the Premiership.
After Thursdays additions, the team sheet is anyones guess but Parks may be thinking of reaquainting Hudson and Fortune in the starting eleven, as there seems a doubt over Primus playing twice a week and apart from the fact we're leaking goals we have to "rest" a couple of our loanees.
But expect one new loanee to start, namely Jay McEveley with Moutaouakil perhaps enjoying a comeback at Cranies expense at right-back. The midfield will remain unchanged, so there's only the strikers to worry about. And then there's the question mark over the three players that were missing completely on Tuesday - Moutaouakil, Bailey and Todorov - so Saturday could tell us whether they are injured or simply out of favour with the new boss.
Weaver; Moutaoukil, Hudson, Fortune, McEveley; Gillespie, Semedo, Racon, Bouazza; Gray and Waghorn,
Subs: Elliot, Holland, Sam, Burton, Todorov (Loanees in red)

Prediction A clean sheet these days would appear a distant dream so it all depends on how many goals we decide to gift away. A couple seems to be the average, so with an attacking 4-4-2 a must these days, a 2-2 draw is a possibility. Perhaps we all need to remember the heady days of 1998 when a 5-0 win set us on our way in the Premiership, although at the end of it all they survived and we didn't, proving how long a season can be. So can you have a true six-pointer in November? If Parky fancies the job he needs a win and now rather than later. But what is most important to kickstart the recovery is a committed, gritty performance from a home team in front of cheering fans.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Parky versus Paulo

In the end, no matter what we thought, he had to go. With dire home performances, ten victories in the last 43 games, one win in the last 12 and without back-to-back victories since Dec 8th last year all told the story. Somehow surviving the Barnsley defeat and seeming to have negotiated a bend rather than turned a corner with improved displays away at Plymouth and Birmingham, a 2-5 howler on Saturday and descend into the bottom three meant the end for Pardew.
A handsome payoff then for a man who couldn't, much like Dowie and Reed before him, stop the rot. Makes you wonder what kind of manager will, or can, turn us round. Because all of the last three promised us attacking, entertaining football which was meant to show, I suppose, how wrong Curbs had been with his boring, grinding draws. And just to emphasize the point, we've scored 6 times in the last three games. But Curbs won't come back so perhaps we need someone completely different to really enforce a change, someone like......Sam Allardyce.
So anyway, enough joking, its on to Lotus Rd with caretaker Parky. There are many that have already written off our chances but hang about. Its a game between two new managers with Portuguese legend Paulo Sousa, who joined last Wednesday, managing his first home game. That's because they sacked the even more legendary Ian Dowie after only 8 wins in 15 games ( we should be so lucky). This is Sousa's first job in management after being assistant manager for Portugal and he can only hope to improve things after a bad start at Vicarage Rd on Saturday with a 0-3 defeat. And you'll be pleased to learn that he comes highly recommended by such renowned names as Capello, Mourinho and Solari, apparently.
So its Parky versus Paulo. QPR are in 12th place with 25 points and with the fourth best home record after Reading, Wolves and Birmingham with 6 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats. Wins over Barnsley, Doncaster, Southampton, Forest, Birmingham and Cardiff whilst the only teams to score more than one goal against them at Loftus Rd were the two teams that beat them, Derby 0-2 and in their last home game Burnley 1-2.
Form Guide As for Form, in wins and points, there's nobody worst in the fizzies than us over the last 8 games. Rock bottom with no wins and only 3 draws and only Watford comes close to us in the race to see who can concede the most goals. We've let in 19 in the last eight. But there's five teams that can't match our strike force in hitting 9 goals and one of them is QPR with a palty 5. Perhaps we should ask them how they accumulated 11 points from the last 24 with only 5 goals. Oh, they only conceded 8. But things are not going too right at the moment, two defeats in a row, at home to high-flying Burnley and a real slap in the face for Paulo in his first game, a 0-3 defeat to that second-worse-defence Watford on Saturday.

Their Secret?Well, we've already told you. Five goals scored in the last 8 games with only 8 conceded paints a picture of a mean conversative side with only one team, Doncaster with 8, scoring less than their total 16 goals. But then there's only 5 teams that have conceded more than their 19 goals. Their favorite score is 1-0 and of the last 12 games they've only scored ONCE before half-time.
Who They Got? Well, to start with they have just signed injury-plagued Bolton striker Heidar Helguson on loan although he didn't play against Watford, obviously still in the treatment room. Icelander Helguson is ex Watford and Fulham and was rumoured to be chased by Pardew a couple of weeks ago obviously impressed by his renowned work-rate in closing down defenders but clearly QPR are paying more than ourselves these days. Top scorer for QPR is the 22 year old Dexter Blackstock. Six goals last season he's already beaten that with 7 so far.
And due no doubt to Flavio's influence they do go in for players with fancy names. There's Damien, Damion, Damiano, Dexter and Dani. Rowan and Hogan. Mikele, Fitz and Kaspars. Emmanuel, Matteo and Samuel. You get my drift, there's not a lot of northern grit here. And it seems to have showed on a damp Saturday afternoon at Vicarage Rd where a bad performance lead to being 3-0 down, and the game over, at half-time.
And they also seem to be having a bit of a nightmare with injuries. Missing from Saturdays defeat at Vicarage Rd were Hungarian midfielder Akos Buzsaky, captain Martin Rowlands, Matthew Connolly and ex-Addicks Lee Cook, back on-loan from Fulham. And they now have key defender Fitz Hall unavailable due to a late red card against Watford.
History There's only nine of the 23 other teams in the fizzies that we have a winning record against and QPR aren't one of them. Current status in the League is 17-16 to them with a near record number of draws at 17. And to emphasize their mean Arse-like attitude to football, last season was one of little excitement with two 1-0 games, both going against us.

Team News After fielding an unchanged team on Saturday for the first time this season, it'll be interesting to see who Parky selects now that he is in sole command. This will be his first game in charge of a team since 2nd Dec 2006 when a 2-4 home defeat to Southampton (better replace him before Saturday, Richard) spelt the end of his short six month reign at Hull, conveniently opening the door to first team coach Phil Brown. We don't know much about Parkinson except from his 3 years at Colchester whom he took into Tier Two football for the first time in their history in 2006.

Strangely ungrateful for what he had done for them, they dealt him a 1-5 defeat the first time he returned with Hull with Chris Iwelumo getting 4 of them and that was probably the main reason that Big Chris enjoyed a year at the Valley.

Anyway, its anybody's guess who's he going to choose this evening with even 100% -so-far Weaver far from certain to start after another appalling game. But its reassuring to see that he's moved already to fill what he sees as a weakness on the right with the arrival of Keith Gillespie. And he seems to know what he wants because he has apparently already picked his team. Two key players will surely be Hudson and Primus, or will it be Cranie, with orders to prevent Blackstock from adding to his total.

Prediction Of all the 37 punters on cafcpicks only one, tabletopping Angela Risebro, forecast a win at QPR. But that was back in July and things have suddenly changed and its become even harder to forecast. A tough derby game with two new managers in the dugouts, its become impossible to call with the added complication that one team loves 1-0 games and the other leaks goals for fun, so its a clash of two teams that won't know what to do with themselves. A 0-0 looks possible as Parks seeks to stop the rot and avoid defeat except that the last time we kept a clean sheet was eleven games ago at Forest.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sheffield United Preview

Down at the treatment centre they get you together with people of similar problems so that you can understand that its not just you having a difficult time. And there's a separate table reserved there for ex-Premier teams, one table for Birmingham, Reading and Derby and another, smaller one, for Watford, Sheff. U and the Addicks.
As regards the success of the therapy, perhaps we should look at the fortunes of the 30 relegated teams over the last 10 years to see what happened. Six of us like it so much that we've done it twice, so that's 24 different teams in all. And of those 24 teams, 6 are back now in the Prem, 4 have ignored all warnings and have descended into the depths of Tier Three which leaves 14 of us still pissing about in the fizzies. Fourteen out of 24, perhaps that's what makes this Division so difficult and for the record only 6 of them managed promotion at the first attempt - one being us in 2000 - while 4 others went up in the second year.
Anyway, as for the current situation at our table, Watford and ourselves are the struggling ugly sisters while Sheffield are the Cinderellas dancing up there in 5th position on 28 points, just 3 points less than her two siblings put together.
Relegated in 2007 with Mr Warnock, the manager now at Sheff. U is Kevin Blackwell, ex of Leeds and Luton, who took over from Bryan Robson on Feb 14 this year. He was reportedly rather upset to suffer his first League defeat, against the Addicks on March 1st at Bramall Lane, and would clearly want some revenge but his ravings that day had an affect and they've only lose 7 times out of the 29 games since then. And a clear sign of the opposite direction that the rtwo teams are taking is that since that day we've won even fewerthan they have lost, just 6, in a similar 29 games.
Form Guide
Away from home they've beaten Blackpool, Doncaster and Barnsley, drawn with Bristol but lost to Birmingham, Derby, Norwich and Sheff. Wed, with three of the defeats being 0-1 and the other, 1-2, to Derby. And they've only conceded 7 goals away from home, only Bristol and Cardiff have let in fewer.
In the Form Guide over the last 8 games, they've won 4 of them, conceding just 4 goals. The Addicks in comparison have conceded nearly four times as many goals, 15 and have won only once. But down the other end while the topsy-turby Addicks have scored 9 times in getting just 6 points, Sheffield have run up a total of 15 points from just 8 goals scored. Looking further back while the Addicks have only managed 1 win in the last 11, the Blades have won 6. So we score but lose while they defend better and still win.
Whats Their Secret?
Well, that best defence in the fizzies to start with at only 11 goals conceded and along with Bristol City they have the most clean sheets, 8 so far, and once they go ahead in a game, 8 times now, they always win it!
But their good defence hides a failing. Whilst never losing once they go ahead, of the 6 games their opponents have scored first, they have lost 5 and only drawn one. So their powers of recovery are pretty bad. The Addicks in contrast have come back from losing three times to get draws, against Ipswich, Burnley and Plymouth.
Its a shame then that every time we face the leagues top defences, Birmingham, Cardiff and Reading are next best after Sheffield, we do the worst thing possible and concede goals more goals than usual, namely 7 in those three games.

Who They Got?
Top goalscorers are James Beattie and Billy Sharp on 7 and 4 respectively. Beattie joined from Everton for £4m in July 2007 and has scored 29 times for United in 50 appearances while Billy Sharp is ex-Scunthorpe and cost around £2M. But starting the last few games beside Beattie has been the 20 year old number 8 Anthony Stokes. You remember him, Pardew tried to sign him from the Arse in the last January window but he fell into the arms of fellow Irishman Roy Keane instead and is now on loan at Bramall Lane, but hasn't scored yet.
As for defence, Greg Halford will return to the Valley after making 16 appearances for the Addicks last season, scoring twice but because of the form of local boy Kyle Naughton - included in the U-21 England team this week and rumoured to be moving to the Premiership pretty soon - he's not the first choice right-back and at left-back there's the twice-dismissed-already-this season 31 year old fiery chinese international Number 12, Sun Jihai. In June this year, in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Qatar, Sun was shown a straight red card for dissent while he was warming up as a substitute on the bench. China lost the match 0-1.
Blackwell is clearly a believer in experience and in central defence there's number 33, 36 year old ex-Aston Villa and Middlesbro Ugo Ehiogu who was red-carded against Barnsley but returns against us, while there's a doubt hanging over fellow central defender, no-nonsense skipper Chris Morgan, holder of the record for most times dismissed Blades player with 5, after his elbow smashed the skull of Barnsley Ian Hume two weeks ago.
There's also lots of experience in midfield where there's 39 year old Gary Speed, the player with most Premiership appearances apparently, and Number 25 is 28 year old Matthew Spring ex of Leeds and Watford and who has followed manager Blackwell around, and is currently on loan from Luton. And completeing the regular midfielders is Number 28, 22 year old Irishman Stephen Quinn who played his first Premiership game against us in the 1-2 defeat back in December 2006.
With nine players playing all of the three last games, (the Addicks have only 5 ) they have a settled side with 4 of them, goalkeeper Kenney, midfielders Quinn and Speed and striker Billy Sharp all appearing in the current top 100 players in the actimindex whereas the Addicks have just two, Mark Hudson and Nicky Weaver.

What They saying Then?
Pardew in his summing up said, "Two errors cost us so much hard work, but it happens, and we have to stay strong, believe in ourselves, and take that performance into next week."
Alex McLeish, also after Saturdays game, "Heads seemed to drop but at the break I told them that it wasn't the mistakes but the reaction that matters and we showed good spirit."

Team News
Some surprising words have been used in the reports from our last two games; awesome, stunning, real commitment and no little skill, a break of punishing swiftness, a deserved lead. And they were all talking about the Addicks.
So after being the first team this season to put two goals past Taylor in the Birmingham goal, and with the Guardian giving MOM to Nick Bailey, perhaps we should be confident of a result come the weekend. And a astonishing statistic has come to light, if you can believe the Sporting Life. 3, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 9, 11, 12 are the numbers for our shots, not all on target of course, in our successive 9 away games. We started against Watford with only three shots and an ever-improving sequence has lead to 12 shots against the Blues on Saturday. Other facts highlight the attacking game that we played at St. Andrews with a total 8 corners, only bettered in the defeat against Bristol City.
Perhaps it's a pity that we can't always play away because we now face the uncertainty of two tough home games in 8 days sandwiching another difficult game at QPR. Sheffield and Southampton have identical away records of 3 wins, 1 draw and 4 defeats, while QPR have won 6 at home already.

Racon and Fortune both played for the reserves on Tuesday but its surely too early for a first team return for either so with only the one current addition to the bench, in 18 year old "powerful hitman" Martyn Waghorn, we will probably see the same side that started at Birmingham.

Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Primus, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Semedo, Holland, Bouazza; Gray


So the difficult bit. Two stirring improved performances on the road have not given us the points deserved but the big question is; can the team bring back to the Valley the same level of improvement? Forecasting a win at Plymouth and a draw at Birmingham, I was expecting something to happen simply because the atmosphere at the Valley and the pressure on Pardews head is bound to be greater at home games. So you either have to agree a) that Pardew does still have an good influence over the players to get a good performance away from the Valley or b) the players themselves feel more at ease away from their fanbase.

So after someone noted the high level of support given to Brum at the weekend, perhaps its time to really get behind the players and the manager.

Anyway, these are no times for the faint-hearted, we need to turn the tables on these nasty Yorkshire cinderellas and raise the roof with noise, this game is as much about us as it is the team, 1-0 home win.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Birmingham City Preview

I don't know about you but a 2-2 draw means for me a pleasant, relaxed kind of week. A defeat just upsets me till about Thursday afternoon, like a sore toothache that won't go away, while on the other hand the kick that I get from a win only lasts till around Monday lunchtime before I then need another one. A draw though is a nice medium, lets you sleep and dream. So that's got all the shite out of the way, who's next then.
After the leafy drive westward into pleasant Devon, we now face the dull, featureless drive up the M1 to the concrete jungle that is known affectionally as Birmingham, as in Burrminyum. But this time, as so many times in the past, we won't have to face the city's number one team Aston Villa, because someone's decided we're not good enough, so on this occasion we're playing the second best that the place has to offer, Birmingham City. With posh neighbours Villa winning the Cup and the League 7 times each, the Blue half of the city are reportedly pretty pissed off with life because despite lots of top flight football, they've been distinct under-achievers. In fact, despite winning Tier Two a few times, they have accumulated even less major honours than we do. Just one League Cup win in the distant sixties, '63 to be exact.
Recent manager was the strangely likeable Steve Bruce who tried to set the place on fire but a while back he decided he'd had enough and just to rub it in upped and left for struggling Wigan just one year ago.
So in November last year the Scot Alex McLeish arrived seeking a piece of Premiership action and took over with the Blues in a healthy 14th place. Sadly, his learning curve was a bit steep and with just 3 wins and only 14 points from the remaining 20 games they rather foolishly, depending on your point of view, declined a continuing relationship with the Big Boys and now find themselves once again slumming it in the fizzies.
And rather in keeping with their being a second-best Second City club and an up and down sort of team - 2 promotions and 2 relegations this century - or maybe its their Scottish manager, but whatever, they tend to keep things very tight up there and don't give much away, have only been losing at half-time twice and haven't lost either of them.
And its pretty obvious that for the experienced ex-Rangers and Scotland manager, Alex McLeish, defence obviously comes first and only Sheffield U with only 8 goals conceded have a better defence than Birmingham with only 11 goals let in. And in terms of efficency we can't fault them. Although they've only scored a total of 19 goals, only 2 more that the Addicks, while we struggle on 16 points they have accumulated near twice as many and are on a total of 31. So that's 1.6 points for every goal scored, the highest in the fizzys.
So oddly enough Birmingham sit in exactly the same position as the Addicks were in just one year ago, in second spot with their 31 points ( we had 28 a year ago!) struggling to keep up with a flyaway leader. And just to stress the length of a season, all of the teams that filled the two automatic promotion slots and the 3 relegation positions at this point last year either fell apart or improved and are still loafing it right now in the fizzies. Back to Brum and as far as points are concerned they've got the 4th best home record in the fizzies with 6 wins, no draws and only 2 defeats, both 0-1 against those mid-table giants Blackpool and Coventry.
But while Addicks fans prize entertainment above all else (!) and have witnessed a feast of goals - although it must be said that goals conceded are obviously not enjoyed so much - with a total of 26 goals scored at the Valley this season with 3.25 goals per game at a goal every 27 minutes, Birmingham have witnessed a meagre total of 12 in the 8 games, only 1.5 per game - one goal every hour.
As if Birmingham wasn't boring enough you might say, and I bet they never sing "We've gonna score in a minute, we are going to score in a minute" and it has been rumoured that the home fans take a pack of cards or a good book to read to while away the time whilst setting their phone alarms to ring every 1 hour 10 minutes that it takes the home side to score a goal. So with 9 goals scored by Brum in 6 wins, I suppose waking up has its delights but is it all worth waiting for? In fact there's only 3 teams that have scored less goals than Brum at home and they're struggling Southampton in 21st place and relegation certs Forest and Doncaster.
But, Pards, we mustn't be lulled into the languid state that affects the locals because these are another one of those teams that start well and have gone in for their half-time tea losing only twice, away at Southampton and Burnley, and they beat the first 2-1 and drew 1-1 with the second. But once ahead, they then relax and on 2nd half turnouts have only scored 6 times in 16 games and conceded 8 during the second period. So to beat them you need to defend for the first half to keep it at 0-0 and when they have run out of ideas in the second half, sneak a goal.
Anyway, after a surging start to the season, things haven't been going quite right these past few weeks for Birmingham. They did go top a couple of weeks ago but they obviously suffer from vertigo and a 0-1 at QPR stopped what had been a good run and they then promply lost again the following week at home to Coventry 0-1. And last weekend a dismal 1-1 draw at Forest.
So only one point, and one goal, from their last three games but an impressive total of only three defeats so far, all with a 0-1 scoreline, and all have happened on the only three occasions that they have failed to score.

Who They Got Then? As for players, they have, of course, the usual four strikers one of them being our old nemesis' in the aging 35 year old Kevin Phillips who always seems to score against us. He's currently top scorer for the Blues with 6 but didn't start the last game against Forest, whilst the number two striker, ex-Locomotive Moscow favorite, Scottish international Garry O'Connor bought for 2.7M just over a year ago, had a lean time last year in the Premier but has finally brushed the snow off his boots and has notched 5 goals already this season. There's also the young U-21 international Cameron Jerome who cost 3.5 from Cardiff and he's on a trio of fizzy goals.

Oh, sorry almost forgot, the fourth striker, sorry front-man, is the 4 times relegated ex-Addick Marcus Bent who hasn't had much to do recently although the bad news is that because of the recent spate of no goals scored he did in fact play the full 90 minutes in their last game (1-1 against Forest ) and is obviously itching to sink a knife into all our bad mouthing. And no, he hasn't scored yet for the Blues!
There's also two dangerous ex-Everton men in James McFadden and Lee Carsley.

The History? Surprisingly for their recent failures in the top flight they've spent a remarkable 55 years up there, to our 26, so consequently there's only been a mere 26 years that we've spent in the same Division and currently we've winning the tie with 20 wins to 16 although we've only won 5 times at St. Andrews, losing 13 and drawing 8. But of our last 8 visits, going back 12 years, we've only lost once - a 1-0 in 2000, have won three and drawn four and we've won 2 of the last three.
Of course, St. Andrews should only be remembered for one thing and one date. Friday 29th May 1987, the occasion of our 2-1 Play-off victory over Leeds United with two late, late goals in just 4 minutes from captain Peter Shirtliff just when Leeds thought they had won it.
Team News Well, there's no Ambrose to get upset about anymore and Jose Semedo is rumoured to be fit again after his couple of dead legs. But the big question this week is will we see Luke once again starting the game or will Pards bit the bullet and leave him on the bench and finally give a start to Dickson? Can't see it myself and Luke is odds on to start yet again although as least now he knows he'll be replaced if he's not achieving anything.

And perhaps the performance against Plymouth has put a temporary brake on any loan deals, with now up to 4 being promised by Richard Murray before Shefffield arrive at the Valley. With both Darren Powell and Ian Hart appearing for the reserves on Tuesday, maybe there's a couple of the new names.

As for this week, with another difficult away game it would seem sensible to play exactly the same team that performed so well a week ago, although this time they'll be probably be a more measured approach from Birmingham than we received from Argyle.

Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Primus, Youga; Sam, Bailey, Semedo, Holland, Bouazza; Gray and Dickson.

Prediction Out of the 37 pundits on cafcpicks no less than 33 forecast a defeat, with only 3 seeing a draw and only one brave soul, Frankie himself, hopefully forecasting a win. Maybe it's a forlorn hope, and it would be typical to get hammered after such a good result at Argyle, but I can almost see another fighting 1-1 draw.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Luke's Long Walk

It must have been a long trudge to the touchline for Luke Varney on Saturday and an even longer trip back from Plymouth. Substituted for the first time this season, the only mention we can find of him in the reports, eg sportinglife refers to the "ineffective Varney". He was the only player to have played every single minute of every single game this season, even Yeovil, but the manager's patience and faith in him seems to have finally come to an end after 56 minutes at Home Park.
In truth Pardews' been much too patient with him and after just 2 goals this season from almost 17 games, the constant demands on Varney to deliver have clearly drained his confidence and he's been driven into a corner from which there has been no escape and he must wonder now what lies in store for him.
Looking back at the game, we could easily have won but for that last gasp equaliser strangely reminiscent of what happened against Fulham 2 years ago, but will we rue the lose of those two points the same way we were to regret the Fulham ones?
Pards was full of praise for the teams fightback, again, and perhaps we should give the man credit for his part. He made 5 changes and the team obviously took the game to Plymouth when a more conservative manager, like Curbishley for example, would have packed his team with defenders and gone for a 0-0 draw. Perhaps that was what was needed. A clean, clinical goalless point to prepare us for Birmingham but after losing a goal and the influential Semedo (according to the unbiased Plymouth official site ) and then playing with Gray in midfield we still surged forward and took the lead 2 minutes into injury time. OK, defending set-pieces are not our style but then neither are 0-0 draws. Take your pick.
As for 0-0's there's been but one so far, at Forest and last season only one as well. In Curbs' last full season we had no less that 6 in that "boring midtable Prem season", even mentioned by Curbs himself in a recent interview detailed on addicks diary. At least Pards has kept that part of the bargain in providing more attacking football.
And although only QPR have scored less away goals than we have, they are 6 teams that have won less points away from home and if we had won at Home Park we would have got the same points away from home as 3rd placed Reading. Lack of a consistent goalscorer has perhaps been crucial, but give Pardew the credit for at last taking off Varney and leaving eventual penalty scorer Gray on the park.
But there's one stat that begins to stick out. In first half records the Addicks aren't so hot, in fact, along with Watford, we've got the record of losing at half-time more times than anybody else. Eight out of 16 in fact, a nice round 50%. And perhaps it's a pointer to how disorganised we are. About half of all fizzy teams start conservative and are drawing about 50% of their games at half-time, whereas the Addicks have arrived at 45 minutes drawing just 3 times. Sheff. Wednesday also have been drawing three times and only the crazy boys at Watford, on the same destructive path as the Addicks, with only two draws, have less.
And call it entertainment if you like, or maybe cavalier football, or just perhaps a sign of the lack of a clear plan but whatever, these three teams stand apart. Apart from rampant Wolves who've scored nineteen times before half-time and conceded 12, entertainment is most obvious at the three clubs already mentioned. The fans at Wednesday games have now witnessed a total of 27 goals in the first 45, Watford fans had seen a total of 29 and ourselves with 21 are the teams that have seen the most goals scored in the first half.
Of course, a more worrying statistic concerning all three is that most of them have been at the wrong end. Of the total 23 goals we have conceded, while most fizzy teams are being efficient and conservative, we have now let in 13 goals before half-time, and surprise, surprise, there's only two teams that have conceded more, Watford on 14 and Sheff. Wed on 15.
But lets forget all those numbers and after a couple of away goals and another comeback, perhaps we should be looking forward to next weekends trip to Birmingham, and try to forget the visit of Sheff. U one week later. For while we have a dismal 6 points from the last 8 games, with exactly the same record as, for example, Forest, Sheffield have a massive 17 points from a maximum of 24 from 5 wins and just one defeat. Meanwhile Birmingham have only won 3 of their last 8 and have 2 defeats and a draw from their last three....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Be Positive and Get in Their Faces.....Unquote

Home is where the heart is but Home Park is obviously not where I thought it was. Of course, Plymouth's in Devon, always has been. Obviously those tasty Cornish pasties made more of an impression than the Devon ice cream last time I was down in those western parts.
Anyway, Pards, now that we've sorted out where you're going - in the short term anyway - whats the Plan for match day? Its already been pointed out that Plymouth haven't got a single point after going behind this season but they feed 'em well down there on fresh air and those imported Cornish Pasties and they always start like there's no tomorrow, which if you lose this one they may not be. Eleven goals in the first half-hour and only 7 in the last hour paints a picture doesn't it of a team that thinks it has something to prove, but one which a simple setback, like a bulging net behind them, can serve to puncture their enthusiasm. So what's the plan?
Do we, A, shut up shop for 30 minutes and deny them any chances or B, do we hit them with another 3rd minute goal ( for the 4th time this year) and sail to victory? Hard one that but I'd go for Plan A and try to wear them down first of all before dashing down the other end but then I always was the cautious type.
But todays good news, with them being the direct type of team, is that the reason for our last defeat, the missing Linvoy Primus, is back again although it does mean that Pards will have to find a different excuse tomorrow if things don't work out. So expect a central defence of Hudson and Primus trying to stop that Paul Gallagher fella from getting more goals.
And before you pick the rest of the team perhaps we should listen to what the Plymouth manager, Paul Sturrock, says about it all. "Its a big game for us. If we were to lose again it would be three defeats in four games and the negative side of things comes back. It'll be a difficult game. We have to be positive in our approach and get in their faces."
Well, it seems that at least Pards knows what to expect 'cause he's already told us "Paul Sturrock's teams are in your face, aggressive and good at set-plays. They're always a test and if you're not up to that test, they'll beat you."
And after adding "It's tough on us; we have to play under that pressure. We need strong characters now to get us out of this mess we're in" which is quoting the obvious really but it does mean that youth is out, for the moment anyway.
So as our best players recently have been Hudson, Primus and Cranie, according to Pards, expect them all to play at Home Park with Moutaouakil at right-back. Remember that the first half-hour is vital so don't be too disappointed to see Cranie subbed at 45 minutes for a more attacking option for the second period.
So with toughness, and experience, seemingly a requirement for Plymouth, it'll mean a midfield of tough Bailey and experienced Matty with, dare I saw it, the experienced Todorov and Gray up front. No, only joking, of course not, only one of them will play with Luke alongside him and which one will depend on whether we are going to play a 4-4-2 or a defensive 4-5-1. Will Semedo play? Probably not as he's not obviously an in-your-face kind of player. And with ZiZi still missing, the hole that I can't think of anyone suitable to fill could well be our undoing tomorrow afternoon.
But, on another note, its rather encouraging, Pards, to read that you're looking for strikers because to win we have to score goals and we haven't have we?
What a shame we haven't got a Leaburn these days. The only player that scored at a "park" and nowhere else, he only netted at Villa Park, St. James Park and a third that I've forgotten but which could well have been quaint little "selhurst park", and what a dream he would have at green and homely Home Park, easy-peasy. Leaburn v Varney, now there's an interesting comparison, perhaps another day...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Plymouth Preview

After losing to a team that has never won at the Valley, things now take a turn for the worst with a long boring trip to Plymouth Arygle where we've only won 6 times in last 88 years. And if you were hoping for an easier fixture list during the rest of November, you can think again, because after Argyle comes another away trip this time to 2nd placed Birmingham with 4 wins in their last 8 games, then 5th placed Sheff. Uoo (h) with 5 wins out of 8 and with the added bonus of an impregnable defence conceding just 2 goals in those 8. Things do improve a bit at the end of the month with a mid-week visit to QPR (only 2 wins in 9) on the 25th, before another relegation 6 pointer with the arrival of, currently struggling, but now above us, Southampton.
As for the first, Argyle are now managed by Paul Sturrock, who joined on 27th November last year after Ian Holloway jumped ship to join 15th placed Leicester in search of better things. Of course, way back then things were all very different with a local team called Charlton Athletic in 2nd place behind Watford on 31 points and Argyle were breathing down our neck at 4th, just 4 points behind. With Holloway eventually sinking into Tier Three with his new club Leicester, Sturrock, in his second spell with the club, didn't improve things either and they finished 10th just one place above the Addicks. But this season has seen an improvement and they are currently flying in a healthy 12th place with 4 wins in the last 8 games.
So Nels, tell us what they're good at? Well, they usually score first, 9 times out of 15, only Brum, Reading and Ipswich have done more, so Plan A must be - Pards, we will need to defend. But while they start like a train - they've scored 11 times in the first half-hour of games - they can't keep it up and have only scored 18 altogether, just 3 more than us.
So where's the good news in that? Well, unlike the Addicks, Plymouth, along with the relegation no-hopers Doncaster and Forest, haven't won a single point this season after going behind. Its happened 5 times this season and their powers of recovery are zero.
And their home record is not so good and they are 18th best in the fizzies looking at home games, ( the Addicks after Barnsley are now 20th). And with 10 points won at home out of the 21 total, even with a proven goalscorer, they have scored less goals at Home Park than the Addicks at the Valley in a record of 3 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats. They've lost to Swansea, Ipswich and Norwich, drawn 2-2 with Wolves and enjoyed wins over Forest, Wednesday and Preston. And their last home game was 1-3 defeat to Ipswich which saw a total of 10 yellows, 6 of them for Argyle.
As you would expect having a Scottish manager they have 5 Scots in the squad including top goalscorer 24 year old Paul Gallagher (that's him above), on loan from Blackburn. Signed on the last day of the transfer window when Argyle were in the bottom three, he's already proved his worth with 5 goals in only 8 games. And he's just been voted PFA player of the month in the fizzies. Watch him Pards! Alongside Gallagher they'll have the tall New Zealander Rory Fallon who has got 4 goals this season. They also have an ex-Addick in number 4 Simon Walton. He joined Plymouth during the summer for a record fee for Argyle of around 750k but is not enjoying his football too much with only a handful of starts so far.
So what about the History then? Well, its not very good I'm afraid, in fact its diabolical. After Preston, its the second worst place of all for the Addicks in the fizzies with just a meagre 5 League victories in 30 games and a massive 19 defeats. Overall, its 23 wins to their 25 because they can't win at the Valley either. Makes last season's win, 2-1, after two goals from Leroy Lita in the last 25 minutes, all the more incredible as we came from behind to win ( the last time we did so) and with playing 87 minutes with 10 men after Nicky Weaver was sent off in the 3rd minute. Elloit was the hero for the Addicks although the Argyle keeper McCormick played his part helping us to two goals and they now have the more reliable Frenchman Romain Larrieu back in goal.
This win was, of course, after losing 1-2 at the Valley, which was our first home defeat of last season. And its not unusual to have tit-for-tat games with Argyle, the best example being 1960/61 when we beat them 6-4 on Boxing day and lost by the same score just a day later. Crazy fixture lists then and appalling defences. And more crazy football followed two years later with a 3-6 defeat at Home Park followed by a 6-1 win at the Valley 5 months on.
Team News
All reports suggest an addition - or swap - to the squad before Saturday but people keen to join a club in the middle of a relegation battle at the beginning of November will be few and far between so I don't expect too much to happen and its looks now as if any change has been put off till next week. Ambrose for Campo? Stranger things have happened and Campo was accustomed to relegation battles in his early career when he played for Charlton's spanish twin, Valladolid. Whether he wants to renew the experience is another thing.
For me the key this weekend has to be the midfield. We have to forget 4-4-2, at least to start with. With so many players lacking confidence, we'll need five bodies in midfield to share the weight and to keep the players together. Nobody in our half of the field should be isolated. I'd like to see Semedo back as anchor man, something he did so well last season, although the current habit of crying over errors seems to have affected him as well after his recent sending-off. The latest bout of crybaby was, of course, the Athletico full-back who gave away the "disputed" penalty on Tuesday at Anfield. Whatever, Jose knows how to fill the role, or used too, and perhaps we need to try to get back to the hope of one year ago.
Another sign of the times is that there's only Weaver, Semedo and Holland available from the starting eleven that day 7 months and 20 games ago and there's only one injured in ZiZi, all the others have left including the entire back line of Halford, McCarthy, Sonje and Thatcher and even sub Bougherra. Although it seems that we are not the only ones changing things about for Argyle only had one player, the Hungarian defender Krisztian Timar, in the side last weekend against Sheff.Utd that faced us last April.
And it has to be Bailey and Holland together again. I know they are alike but we need Holland's experience and he's one player who doesn't give up. And Bailey's already scored more goals than Varney so we need him as well. Put Basey on the left and play with one wide player, Sam, because he does seem to encourage Moot2 to come forward and leave Varney (who else) up front to run about a lot.

Weaver; Moutaouakil, Hudson, Cranie, Youga; Sam, Semedo, Bailey, Holland, Basey; Varney

Football's full of surprises and after last weeks showing you wouldn't expect anything other than a bad thumping. But Plymouth is a long way away from the Valley and a lot can happen on that coach on that long twisting journey to Cornwall. Perhaps its just the thing they need to gell and away from the embarrassing expectations of the Valley perhaps something will happen. An injection of spirit from the togetherness, a calming influence from the swaying in the back seats, a bloodymindedness from having to travel so far, who knows.
The only person to forecast correctly on Cafcpicks all those months ago for the game against Barnsley was Toby Jones who now goes with a win, as does (or did back in sunny, expectant July), top forecaster with 8 correct so far, Angela Risebro.
So I'm going to dream - a surprising 1-0 win for me. And Varney to score? No, that's not something even I could imagine.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Losing Mentality

I don't know about you but I knew we were going to lose on Saturday. In fact I was so confident, that I had already written Plymouth's Preview with that in mind.
And if the fans expect to lose against a team with only 2 away goals all season and that has never won at the Valley, it would be surprising if the players thought otherwise and clearly after reading the blogs yesterday it appears they expected it as well. It all put me in mind of something I read recently, someone, referring to a sportsmans mind, saying that you either have a winning mentality or a losing one and quite clearly we as a team have a losing one.
So can anything be done? Well, sadly or not, while luckier (?) people than me were at the Valley on Saturday I was in front of the TV watching Spurs being outplayed by a stylish Liverpool. One nil to the away side and it was only a matter of time before the second and third when in. The bar was hit, the post was hit but it stayed at 1-0. Harry wasn't doing much but his team, although outplayed, were. They kept running and chasing and one guy up front - you know who I mean - never stopped believing that he was going to make a difference. A lucky break with an og which had been won from a corner after Darren had chased a ball running out of play, but you could see, although bottom of the table, Spurs didn't have a losing mentality. Someone had installed in them a fighting spirit.
Two weeks ago, it was a joke to be a Spurs fan but it isn't now and the only plus I can see from the state we are in is that there's not 2 weeks left till the end of the season, there's about 24. So time is on our hands and if we could look back and see the fizzy table one year ago after 15 games the three teams in the relegation places were Norwich bottom, Palarse above them and then QPR. All survived the drop.
Norwich had sacked their manager of one year, Peter Grant, just one month before and after Glenn Roeder took over would sink lower in the table before finally finishing in 17th. At Palarse Peter Taylor had been also sacked on 8th October after just 10 points in 10 games and Warnock, of course, took over and they finished 5th.
As for QPR, John Gregory had been sacked on October 1st after a 5-1 defeat by West Brom had left them at the bottom of the table and after Luigi De Canio took over they finally ended up 14th.
So all three changed their manager and survived. And I can't take my mind away from Darren Bent chasing till he dropped on Saturday battling back from defeat to table-topping unbeaten Liverpool. Such belief we need to find from somewhere and the only person who can provide it is the manager.
And one final thought. Four months ago I asked a mate, a Hull fan, what it takes to win promotion from the fizzies. He gave three reasons, after seeing us only once, the most surprising of which bearing in mind the performance 2 days ago, was that they had a team who wanted to play for their manager and as a further comment, he thought that our problem was that we didn't. Enough said really..