There's always two sides to every argument and all the optimists among us last weekend saw two gifted goals by Stockport in the first 10 minutes that allowed the Addicks to relax a bit during the second half and ease to three easy points whilst saving themselves for the spanners cup final. Meanwhile the pessimists will fret over how we failed to push home our advantage to improve our goal difference and dispair how we allowed the bottom club to force the issue in the second half when we were second best.
The action in midweek saw 4 other teams play games in hand, namely Leeds, Colchester, Swindon and the spanners. No surprises at Tranmere where Leeds extended their lead over us to 5 while both Colchester and Swindon wasted their chances with a goalless draw with Brighton and a defeat at MK Dons respectively. Meanwhile, the spanners eased past Carlisle with the pace of Morison playing havoc with the defence all night and he got two more goals and narrowly missed out on another couple.
So its on to Millwall's first home cup final for a long 15 years. How they have managed to survive so long without us is a mystery that nobody in the country cares about. Manager at the den is the 48 year old Kenny Jackett, now on his third managerial club and has been with the spanners since November 2007. Loyal as a player, he had 337 games with Watford, his only club, before retiring with an injury at 28. He took the spanners into the Play-off final last year, seeing off Leeds on the way, and this year he plans to do even better.
As for current form the spanners have been trying emulate the party poopers from Norwich and currently are managing it pretty well. Over the last 8 games you'll be pleased to learn that the spanners, are top of the league with figures of 6 wins, a draw and only 1 defeat in the last eight. In fact its an impressive 9 wins and 29 points in their last 12, while the team we're all chasing, Leeds, have only got 15 in the same number of games ( we have got 19 and its only bettered by Norwich with 30 points from their 12). And if they continue at the current rate we can all say goodbye to any worries abut playing the spanners in the Play-offs because it'll be Leeds that we'll be facing.
Meanwhile, we've noticed that if you're ever searching for an ex-player that enjoys playing his old team, look no further than ex-spanner Gary Waddock. Now manager of Wycombe Wanderers he loves playing the boys from the den and Wycombe's only win in their last 6 games was a 1-0 home victory over Millwall, 3 weeks ago and that, as it turns out, was the spanners only 1 defeat in their last 12. Millwall, meanwhile, are also listed as the 3rd best home team, after Norwich and Colchester, and have only lost once at home, and yes, you've guessed it, it was against Wycombe, 0-2 at the back end of November. That was Wycombe's first clean sheet for 7 months and their first win in 15 games.
Last season's loanee Darren Ward was an un-used sub in December at the Valley but is back in favour at the spanners and is playing regularly at centre-back alongside captain Robinson.
Millwall have been unchanged in the last three, before the Carlisle game, whilst the defence has been unchanged for at least the last 5 games ( couldn't be bothered going back further) so at least Parky knows what to expect. As for midfield, while we have 35 game Nicky Bailey the spanners also have a midfielder that stands out in the 25 year old number 26, Frenchman Nadjim, Jimmy to his mates, Abdou, ex 0f Martigues, Sedan and Plymouth. He's played 30 games this season and once upon a time played a full season of Ligue One football with Sedan. And if you can't remember him from December, he's the one that left for an early bath after his red card.
The other three in midfield are normally Schofield, Hackett and the 21 year loanee Youth Cup winner from Ipswich, number 40 Liam Trotter.
Up front its usually that man Harris and the man from non-league Stevenage Steve Morison who got 2 at the Valley in December and already has 14 this season. And they also have the 19 year old Yeovil top scorer Jon Obika, on loan from Spurs.
All-time top scorer for the spanners is their number 9, Neil Harris, currently enjoying his best season on 17 goals despite starting only 18 games. Two weeks ago in their last home game versus Hartlepool, 'Harris picked himself up after being fouled and curled a deflected free-kick past Pools keeper Scott Flinders for his 11th goal in as many games.' But you'll be sad to find out that he suffered a bad knock to his knee in last weekends win at Walsall, missed the win at Carlisle, and is a tad doubtful for Saturday.
Whats Their Secret?Its their defence that wins all their prizes with only 35 goals conceded, and fourth best behind the mean experts Leeds with only 29 let in, while the Addicks are 7th best with 38 conceded.
But its those two Wycombe defeats that highlights the spanners' failings this season because against crap teams, sorry Gary, they have come unstuck with 5 defeats, whilst they raise themselves in games against the big boys of this League and have only lost once (0-2 away at Bristol in September) against teams in the top half of the table.
And it shows in their home games for while Carlisle, Brighton, Yeovil and the Saints have all drawn at the den, top boys Leeds (2-1), Norwich (2-1), Colchester (2-1), Huddersfield (3-1) have all been beaten. And, in fact, remembering Wycombe's surprise success in November, the key thing in our favour will be the spanners optimism of winning their first home cup final for 15 years.
But something to clearly bear in mind, especially after the 4-4 at the Valley, is that the game is never over till that final whistle, for no less that 11 of their 52 league goals have come after the 85th minute.
What Are They Saying?
Mark Kinsella never played at the den but he knows what to expect, "We're expecting a tough game. It will be big atmosphere and there will probably not be a lot of football played - both sides will have to earn the right to play first. Once that whistle goes, everyone will have to stand up and be counted."
Martin O'Neill, after Villa's cup win over Reading, "Sometimes it's nothing to do with pretty football. Sometimes it's to do with character, determination and the ability to fight and I think we had lost that there in the first half. It came back to us in the second half in great abundance."
OK, we have worst overall records against Colchester and Leeds but lets admit it the one that grates just a tad more is our dismal record against the lot from the den. You won't need any reminding what the score is over the 89 years (if you do its 11-30 with 22 draws) with just 4 wins at their place whatever they chose to call it. But hell, one of those 4 was a 2-0 win the last time we went there on 5th December 1995 - we completed the double with another 2-0 win on March 9th, only the third time we've done that ( you won't want to know but they have done it 9 times over us) - and, after the crazy 4-4 in December, we are now amazingly unbeaten in the last three games against them.
Johnnie Jackson only played 40 minutes on Saturday before a hamstring injury and is out for six weeks so its likely that Chris Solly will continue at left-back. And with Sam Sodje not even making the subs bench against Stockport the rest of the defence, especially after only its second clean sheet for 15 games,will surely remain as is. And we can only hope that after conceding 4 in December with a back four of Omozusi, S Sodje, Dailly, Basey, the changes perform somewhat better. But this is a derby and Parky will want players with the experience to handle it and he has mentioned that Llera could play left-back...
As for the midfield, will Parky dare to field a side with two wingers, from the off? Our last away game at Southend saw Semedo play the first hour before giving way to Reid with the score at 0-1 and the opposition tiring and Kyel played his part with an assist and a late goal but perhaps a key would be Parky's selection against the spanners in December where Semedo and Bailey were the central pairing with Sam and Wagstaff on the wings. Meanwhile Jonjo, just turned 18 and our 11th player on most minutes played this season, hasn't played a single minute in the last 5, after a full 90 against Swindon, and must be wondering when this, his longest rest period this season, is going to end.
As for the strike force, we must be one of the few teams where the number 9, the traditional main striker, hasn't started a game yet. Leon McKenzie must also be wondering when its going to happen but with games becoming more and more vital there's just no more time for experimentation. With only 242 minutes played from 14 sub appearances and only 1 goal from his third of those he only has 11 more games to impress but with Akpo getting three goals in the last 3 games his chances would appear to be fading.
Elliot; Richardson, Sodje(S), Dailly, Llera; Sam, Semedo, Bailey, Shelvey; Burton, Sodje(A).
They always beat the top clubs down at the den so, with our dismal record against them, we really have no chance. That's the position and I have to say I'm proud of the 3000 Addicks that are making the short journey to witness what will probably be, if December was any pointer, a 5-3 thrashing.
But we have the fixture gift of them having a tiring midweek game against distant Carlisle in our favour (although we couldn't make an extra man count at the Valley) and home certs don't always win in football. But our bad form there and their form means there can only really be one result, so to increase their confidence even more, its bound to be a 1-3 defeat for the Addicks.