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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Preston Preview

Another "unlucky" result then, with a penalty save by Elliot and a goal by ZiZi the highlights, as another game passes us by. ZiZi did himself no harm by getting himself into the fizzy team of the week although there must be question marks over Parky's continuing use of a 4-5-1 when three points are so urgently needed. Then again if he had any strikers scoring goals there won't be any argument, but of course we don't.

So with only 2 wins in the last 28 League games and, thanks to Barnsley's win over Palarse, now 14 points adrift of the safety net of 21st place ( but with a game in hand!), Parky will fight on till the maths rule out any lingering hope of a miracle although the Board should by now be preparing the club for the return to League One after our 28 long years away, and surely all we can speculate on now, apart from ghoulishly forecasting the exact date of our official demise, is exactly how many of Saturdays players will still be around come August.

Precious few perhaps, as it was mentioned - as a plus point in our favour - in the Fans Forum last week that many players contracts will be up this summer, with most therefore leaving on a free and with the fizzy big spenders grabbing whatever choice players remain, we face the prospect of a team built around Elloit, Youga, Wright, Fleetwood and the never-say-die Matty Holland, soon to be 35. The shame is that with Bailey, Racon and ZiZi now playing we have a team that at least can be called one. ZiZi is a cert to go but will Hudson, Shelvey, Racon and Bailey form the heart of the team next season or will they be sold off to the highest bidder?

And judging from the bloggers recently there won't be many turning up in the stands cum August either, with dejection and apathy reaching levels we haven't experienced for decades.

So as a bit of a pick me up perhaps we should take a look at Leicester now 9 points clear at the top of League One, as a case to follow. Far from keeping all of their team from last season, you'll be pleased to know that of Saturdays winning team at Millwall only 5 played in their last fizzy game at Stoke back in May. The question is can we rely on Parky choosing the winning 5 to retain for next season, always assuming, of course, that they wanted to stay.

Of course, there's more of a case for comparing ourselves with last season's fizzy wooden spooners, Colchester, rather than Leicester, who, rather than sitting at the top of League One are down there in 11th place, 6 points away from a Play-Off spot. And maybe even that comparison would be unfair to Colchester, who, at this point last season had 33 points, 5 more than we have, finished on 7 wins, 22 defeats and 38 points - a figure that at the moment looks distinctly distant for the Addicks.

So on to Parkys next test with the arrival at the Valley of Preston, who are currently just outside the Play-Offs in 7th place equal on points with 6th placed Cardiff but unfortunately having played 3 games more and with only 3 wins in the last 11 games have it all to do. Those three wins were all at home and in fact their only away win in the last 4 months came at unlikely Molineux 3-1 back in January. And to emphasize that problem, only the relegation-struggling quartet of Norwich, Barnsley, Watford and the Addicks have a worst away record than poor old Preston.

Current Form So perhaps its just the time to welcome Preston North End, currently the worst away team in the fizzies over the last 5 games, with only a single point gained. After reaching a top six place a few weeks back they have managed somehow to lose their last three away games at Palarse 1-2, Forest 1-2 and Southampton 1-3.

DangerMan Top goalscorer is Number 33 ex-Liverpool Neil Mellor, currently on 9 goals but with only one goal in the last 5 months and that in January, so this weeks DangerMan has to be number 26 the giant beanstalk, ex of Stoke and Hull, 6' 4" Jon Parkin, ominously carrying the nickname of "the beast" and with 8 goals in total but with 6 in his last 8 games!

Whats Their Secret? The time to attack Preston is in the first 20 minutes when have managed to score a meagre 3 goals this season but conceded a wapping 15! In fact their first half record over the season is pretty appalling for a top six chasing club and they have only been leading at the break eight times.

And this match could well be billed as the First-Half kings against the come-back Giants as, amazingly, the Addicks have been leading 14 times at the interval, with only Wolves and Reading having "won" more, while poor old Preston have sat down to their cup of tea with a leading smile only 8 times in their 38 games. Cue some choice words from manager Alan Irvine because, while the Addicks traditionally fall apart after the break, the Lilywhites do exactly the opposite during the second half because after the interval Preston have the best record of all in the fizzies with 18 "wins".

And while there remain three teams that just cannot win after falling behind - Plymouth, the Addicks and Cardiff - Preston, after the first twenty minutes, have more determination and have come back from the dead no less than 5 times to win, with only Burnley better at the job.

History You'll all remember our last home win over Preston in the old Third Division on the very last day of the season back on 29th April 1975. A 3-1 win, after being a goal down at half-time, secured third place and took us back to the Second Division at the first attempt. Happy days!

However, our home record against Preston has not been very good of late with defeats in the last two games. 1-2 last season and 0-3 in 1979. Overall its a distinctly unimpressive loss of 20-30 although they have only won nine times in 30 League games at the Valley. And Preston it was, who gave us our second away defeat of the season back in August, a 1-2 loss after we have lead 1-0 at half-time, a bit of a prophetic happening as a half-time lead turning into a defeat has now occurred 5 times this season. In fact a 1-2 scoreline has been our favorite this year with no less than 8 of them.

Team News Will we see two strikers take the field this weekend? With such a strong midfield, all scoring goals, its extremely unlikely, although the last two times we used 4-4-2, at home to Plymouth and Watford, we scored twice both times. But with Dickson falling from favour, he hasn't started the last three, and is still looking for his first fizzy goal perhaps we should have a detailed look at our strikers.

Kandol has at least scored twice in his 560 minutes played, making him our leading available striker, whereas Dickson with 788 minutes played, has just a single Cup goal against Sheffield Utd. On a par with him is Deon Burton who has only started once in the last 8, and has only one goal, a penalty against Coventry, to show for his 783 minutes on the field. Meanwhile Todorov, also on one goal back in October against Burnley, has 395 minutes under his belt but was at least seen in the last home game against Watford, his first first-team appearance since the away defeat to Norwich in December. Not a very inspiring bunch then and with so many scoring midfielders Parkys got a hard choice to make.

At least we'll see the return of Darren Ward which should be the only change from the team at Molineux.

Elliot, Summerfield, Ward, Hudson, Youga; Soares, Racon, Spring, ZiZi, Bailey; Kandol
Subs: Randolph, Basey, Holland, Sam, Dickson

Summary The start of an 8 game winning run, or another sorry nail in our League One coffin? After the promise of February when we had our best month since August will we have another month without a win? Its yet another of those must-wins games for Parky although even he must be getting a bit sick of the expression. A 2-0 win to the Addicks would be in order but who is going to be brave enough to bet on such a scoreline? And with Prestons favorite scoreline of a 2-1 win being exactly the same as the Addicks favorite score of a 1-2 defeat, looks odds-on then another 1-0 half-time lead with two second-half goals for the Lilywhites.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Watford Preview

So that's it then! Reading's 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday, after being 0-1 down at half-time finally means that we won't make one of those two automatic slots after all and you'll notice that the gap between ourselves and the leaders Wolves, is already an embarrassing 40 points, a total between top and bottom that is normally not expected till seasons end.
Our demise has been so rapid, and unexpected, as a look at the table on right side of cafcpicks illustrates. It starkly highlights our pathetic expectations last summer as Ken's computer programme savagely deletes the end-of-season points forecast of each punter as the games continue to reduce our possible points total.
For your piece of mind the current possible points total is 27 plus 11 victories giving us the impossible total of 60 points. I suppose it proves that we still have a mathematical chance of survival but how exactly can we conjure up a magic formulae for winning games.
As Dickson and Kandol continue our striker goal drought - our last 11 goals have incredibly all been scored by midfielders - can we expect the imminent return of midfield wizard ZiZi to make a great difference. It's expecting a lot of one player so perhaps we should partner him up front with Stuart Fleetwood; what exactly have we got to lose?
However, its doubtful that even a 12 point gap to safety, with relegation all but achieved, will affect a change of mood inside the camp while the maths can prove otherwise and although there are fans pleading for building a team now that will be available next season, we all know it won't happen until we're definitely down. With games coming up in March against the 1st, Third and Sixth in the table perhaps we won't even survive until April but my guess is that knowing us we'll save it till a home game before bowing out, probably Birmingham.
So we should prepare to wave a goodbye to the Big Names of English football. The Prem and the fizzies; the names that we have learnt to ridicule will have the last laugh as we leave behind the top 44 teams in the country and find ourselves reduced to a mere number - League One.
Anyway, its a welcome this weekend to the worst away team in the fizzies - apart from us that is. Watford have only managed two wins on their travels, twice as many as the Addicks, although you won't like to find out that their last one was just two weeks ago, a 2-0 victory at Blackpool.

After playing host to the leagues lowest scorers, Doncaster, we now play a team with the 6th best scoring record, a total of 49 goals. But if you enjoy goals then Watfords your team because they also have the second leakest defence in the fizzies - after us of course. The Addicks top the list on goals conceded with 58 while Watford, and Norwich, follow dutifuly behind with 55.

Current Form Only two teams have failed to win away in their last 5 away games and Watford aren't one of them (The Addicks and Brum if you're interested). Flirting with death a few weeks ago, mainly due to their cup run, they entered the bottom three but have since then exploded into form with three home wins in a row over Burnley, Swansea and Palarse all without conceding a goal. As for their away form its not great with only two wins at Southampton 3-0 in october and that second one at Blackpool 2-0 a fortnight ago that gave them three wins in a row.

DangerMan Number 21 Tommy Smith currently has 13 goals and second-up is number 9, the tall Slovian Tamas Priskin on 10.

What's Their Secret? Tend to fall asleep badly in the last 5 minutes when they conceded 10 goals, nearly a fifth of their total conceded.

History Our 1-0 defeat in August spoilt a run of 4 draws in this fixture and you have to go back over 13 years to August 1995 to find the last time we beat them at home. Their last away win against us was at Sainburys in 1990 a season in which they beat us twice. But its been a fixture with an overwhelming number of drawn games with more draws than results, a massive 22 out of the 57 league games.
The current score at the Valley ( plus Norwood) is 14-4 in 28 games. Overall its 20-15 in our favour in League games.

Team News
Expect the return of ZiZi to first team action with Matt Spring giving way although we may need a five man midfield to bolster his lack of fitness.

Elliot; Butterfield, Ward, Hudson, Youga; Soares, Racon, ZiZi, Shelvey, Bailey; Dickson

Subs; Randolph, Holland, Spring, Kandol, Ambrose

Summary A team that likes scoring and conceding but doesn't really like playing away, in a fixture begging for another draw. We mustn't loss again and with both teams badly needing points we'll maybe need to score twice to get anything out of the game. Will Parky chance ZiZi and maybe Fleetwood, both fresh from the reserve game on Tuesday? Its fast approaching a time for a bit of daring-do and what have we to loss?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Doncaster Preview

This is clearly the time of the season when the primitive survival instincts kick in so to speak. When at long last the players, of all teams, start to realise that unless they pull their socks up they're gonna get relegated and maybe looking for a new job.
It happened last season as well. Preston sitting in the third from bottom slot with a meagre 33 points from 32 games suddenly woke up and got 23 points in the remaining 14 games. Sheffield Wednesday was another one. Fourth from bottom after 32 games on 35 points they accelerated away with 20 points in the last 14 games. All this meant that Leicester's fairly good haul of 18 points in the same 14 game period wasn't enough and they went down on 52 points!
And unfortunately for us the same thing is happening this year with Saturdays astonishing treble of the previously struggling trio of Plymouth, Forest and Southampton all winning 1-0 games against the cream of Wolves, Reading and Cardiff and making our solitary hard-earned point at Swansea look pretty dismal in comparison.
Of course, our next opponents, Doncaster Rovers, have woken up a long time ago. It's maybe a struggle to understand what sort of spirit they put into the Christmas pudding up in Doncaster but whatever it is its had a profound effect on the form of the local football club. There they were on Christmas Day rock bottom of the fizzies with only 4 wins from 24 games and only 16 points ( and only 11 goals, scored at never more than one a game). And as they travelled down the motorway to Nottingham on Boxing Day game they were also definitely headed back to League One with a pig-headed determination only understood in Yorkshire.
Amazingly, they scored four goals that day - a figure that would normally have taken them 8 games - and no less than three in the first 45 minutes to sink Forest 4-2.
And they haven't looked back since that day because over the next 4 weeks they dispensed with Burnley 2-1 (h), Southampton 1-0 (a) and than a 1-0 win at Bramall Lane to win four in a row and jump out of the bottom three. In fact, since that extra helping of invigorating Christmas pudd, they have suddenly become world beaters with 8 wins out of 10 and a total of 18 goals in the last 10 games.
And after their 2-1 comeback win at home to Derby last friday they now sit very comfortably in a midtable 15th place with no less than 9 teams below them, a situation that looked laughable before Christmas. And I know because I was doing the laughing when a Rovers mate told me back then how unlucky they were..
But this upward motion may be one point in our favour as they hopefully approach the time when midtable sides tend to take their foot off the pedal and lose concentration and relax a bit.
On the other hand it must be said that, although they are still the lowest scoring team in the fizzies with 29 goals, they have scored in every one of their last 10 fizzies.
Current Form Its the time in the season when the leading clubs start getting nervous and the bums all start fighting for their lives so the current form table is currently being turned upside down with top teams like Wolves and Brum on the same number of wins in the last 8 games as the Addicks. And while we can take some comfort as the Addicks rise to 18th in the current-form table with 8 points from our last 8 and remain unbeaten in three, you have to blink to see that todays opponents Doncaster have now enjoyed 6 wins in the last 8 (equal in their points haul of 19 with the best of all, Bristol) and with only 2 defeats ( to Swansea and Aston Villa in the Cup) in their last 14 games.
DangerMan Top striker is number 14 Paul Hefferman on 7 goals in all competions while midfielder Brain Stock is also on 7 with three of them penaties.
What's Their Secret? Not a second half team and like the Swans if they are losing at half-time they never win. And not so hot at the end of games either where they have conceded 11 goals in the last ten minutes of games and have scored only one.
History There's only been two games between us at the Valley, and Doncaster are another team from Yorkshire looking for their first Valley win. The two games played so far have given us a 2-0 win in 1957 and another 3-0 win pre-war. Overall its 3-1 in our favour and of course we have the chance of our first double of the season after our 1-0 back in September at the Keepmoat that does seem a long way away now.

Team News
Just when it seemed that we were getting a settled defence to build on, injury-prone Graeme Murty departs the scene and is immediately replaced by a Palarse full-back. The 29 year old Danny Butterfield has apparently played 30 times this season for Sainburys including turning out at the Valley in January. Whether he goes straight into the team is not clear but he's certainly fit as he's featured in Palarse's last 4 games although mainly as a sub and in midfield at that. The only other option, unless Matty Holland tells us he used to play full-back back in his youth days, is Moutaouakil who can't be called Parky's favorite as he's only played in 5 out of the nineteen games of Parky reign so expect Butterfield to step in.

Elloit; Butterfield, Ward, Hudson, Youga; Soares, Racon, Spring, Bailey; Kandol, Dickson.
Subs: Randolph, Holland, Shelvey, Sam, Ambrose

Summary So as the gap to safety grows to Grand Canyon proportions and becomes a chasm of 10 points (but with a game in hand), we just can't afford to leave the escape act any longer and this game is as near a must-win Cup Final for the Addicks as an appearance at Wembley. And what Parky plans to tell the players before the game may well decide the outcome as we all know that building up pressure is not always good for a player. This game will therefore need players that can perform under that pressure and that may well decide his starting eleven as the fans will be expecting another three points after our successes over Palarse and Plymouth.

And although Wyn sees the next four games as deciding our near future I can't help thinking that this game is crucial to the Addicks. We need a win.