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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stockport County Preview

Facing the prospect last Friday of our eighth 1-1 draw of the season as the assistant ref put up his board for 6 extra minutes, Parky thoughts turned away from the state of his finger nails and questioned if there really was life after death. The thought of facing Richard upstairs after the game and having to explain away the teams inability to beat 10 men was not something he was looking forward to.
So quite how he felt when Kyel Reid ran clear to bury the ball into the bottom corner a minute later must be obvious to all. For if ever a goal was vital, it was this one at Roots Hall. After throwing what many would interpret as the last dice, he had demanded that his team "stand up to the plate again" and asked for "more conviction in the final third and a bit more belief", and once again had to stomach losing the first goal and recovering from a first half deficit. Nothing seemed to have changed and once again we had conceded the first goal (now 7 times in the last 8) and had been trailing 1-0 for 42 minutes against a struggling side with only 10 men.
So in the end everyone drove home rejoicing in our third come-from-behind win this season (after Orient and MK Dons ) but the question must be asked, is it only a temporary repreive, for while the spanners have been enjoying February with 21 points from their last 8 games, with Norwich following on 18 and the chasing trio of Swindon, Huddersfield and Colchester close behind on 16, the Addicks have responded with a meagre 9 against teams placed 10th, 3rd, 14th, 13th, 11th and 24th in the current form table. Even faltering Leeds managed double figures with 10.
So we move on to March, with four fixtures that look doubly worrying when compared to the easy ones of February with away games against the 1st and 6th teams on current form. And our problems start straight away because this month we play the team with the worst away record in Tier Three, but its not Stockport County, its the next home fixture against the Gills. In fact there's seven teams that are worse than bottom club County away from home, who have won three games on the road, the last one being at Exeter two weeks ago.....

In fact, its probably not the best time to be playing County because, after 14 defeats in 16 games during the period October to January when relegation looked a certainty, they have had a much better February against MK Dons (h) 1-3, Colchester (h)2-2, Exeter (a)1-0 , Swindon (a)1-4 and Wycombe (h) 4-3 to help themselves to 7 points, only one less than the Addicks during the month, who played a game more. While the team that we struggled to beat last Friday, Southend, had the worst February of anyone with only a single point.

So we're up against a team, bottom of the table since the beginning of December, that are beginning to fight and have now won 2 of their last 5 games.

The Opposition

One reason for the change in mood at the Hatters is the addition of seven new players during the January window with 4 players (Swailes, Partridge, Johnson and Ibehre) joining from MK Dons and three more loanees joining from Colchester (Perkins), Watford (Sadler) and Plymouth (Donnelly). And perhaps not surprisingly, all of them went straight into the first team.

Injury problems have hit them lately though and defenders Mullins and Swailes were both missing from Tuesday's game at Bristol Rovers where they lost 1-0 to a goal gifted by their stand-in left-back Adam Griffin. And more problems hit them during the game with Jemal Johnson limping off with a muscle problem and then David Poole being red-carded which means he'll also be missing on Saturday.


Until January Carl Baker was their only dangerman on 13 goals but he's been snapped up by fizzy big boys Coventry. So there's now a fourway tie for top scorer with Bignall, Donnelly, Johnson and Thompson all on three strikes for the season but both George Donnelly and Jemal Johnson, on loan from Plymouth and MK Dons respectively, have got 2 in the last 4 games.

Whats Their Secret?

After three months without a win, and only one win in each of the months August, September and October the change in mood at Edgeley Park should not be underestimated. Although they conceded 12 goals in February they had their best month of the season with 2 wins and closed the gap to the team above them to 5 points and are now only 9 points from safety.

But, although the spanners, worryingly to most people, are the best team against the top half of the table with 8 wins and only 2 defeats in 15 games (the Addicks are 5th also with 2 defeats but a massive 8 draws), Stockport are rock bottom with not a single win against the top half of the table.


The score in League games before this season was even with Stockport at 2 wins apiece, each of us winning and losing once at home with all four games coming in our promotion seasons 97/98 and 99/2000. They did the double over us in 97/98 and we returned the debt two years later.

So anyone believing in omens will see it as good news that we only play Stockport in our promotion seasons but there's also been two cup games at the Valley with the Addicks winning 3-0 in the FA in 1948 and 4-3 in the League Cup in 2008. So after four games in all at the Valley they can only point to only one good result, that 3-1 win in September 1997.

Cheer Us Up Nels!

OK, while we somehow remain best first half team in Tier Three we have also added a further honour to our stats. In complete contrast to our early season habit of scoring first and as a result of all these recent second-half fight-backs, the Addicks now lead the table on points gained after going behind. Although Huddersfield, Norwich and Walsall enjoy coming from behind more times on 4 wins, our three victories and 8 draws mean we top the table with 17 points earned after giving away stupid goals to start with.

And if everyone is already writing off both away games this month, they should remember that although Huddersfield on March 27th are currently on 1 defeat in the last 15 and are unbeaten at home, 7 teams have drawn there including the likes of Brentford, Stockport, Tranmere and Carlisle. They are also not very good against the top half teams and apart from winning our last two games there we have won 5 of our last 9 games in Huddersfield and lost only twice.

The Team

After conceding first yet again but with our 4th 90th minute goal in 5 games coming from Reid last Friday its amazing that the Addicks are still the best League One side over the first 45 minutes with 16 "wins". And although we have only failed to score once in the last 22 games we can point to that Orient game, 8 games ago, as the time when things started to unravel.

And after scoring first 16 times in the first 26 games before facing the Orient and leading 15 times at the break we have now conceded first in 7 of the last 8 and in only one have we been leading at half-time. As for clean sheets we had 8 in the first 20 games but only one in the next 14.

So as Parky seeks to pinpoint the reasons for our Jekyll and Hyde behaviour perhaps we should point out that he only has 12 games left to solve it. Three "easy" home games against Stockport, the Gills and Carlisle (with only 1 League win between them at the Valley) are followed by the more taxing Colchester, Norwich and Leeds while away from home the hard ones come first with the spanners, Huddersfield, MK Dons and Pardew followed by a tailing-off at Exeter (where we have our worst away record of all in Tier 3) and then Oldham on the last day.

We've managed 17 points from our last 12 games so if we continue in our current jerky fashion we'll finish with a neat round 80 points, enough for last seasons 5th place.

As for the line-up, with Robbie Elliot taking the blame for the Southend goal, the defence will probably remain as at Roots Hall in another attempt to keep a clean sheet so the main discussion point will be the shape of the midfield.
Semedo gave way for matchwinner Kyel on 61 minutes last Friday and at the time it looked a useful tactic although the results of it came in rather late. So I think that, aiming for a settled side, Parky will field exactly the same team as as Southend unless Deon Burton is fit again to take Mooney's place.

Elliot, Richardson, Jackson, Llera, Dailly; Sam, Semedo, Racon, Bailey; Mooney, A Sodje.

This game is not going to be the walkover that it appears. Before Tuesday's 0-1 defeat at Bristol, the Hatters were dead level with the Addicks over the last 8 games with 2 wins, 2 draws and 3 defeats and despite the Addicks being 3rd highest scorers in the League with the Hatters 3rd worst, over the last 8 they have outscored us, 10 to 9.

But at the other end no team has let in more goals, 16, than Stockport over the last 8 games and with the Addicks only failing to score once in their last 22 a goalless draw looks unlikely.

Verdict: its a toss-up between the Addicks two favorite scores, 1-1 or 2-1 and I'm going for the 2-1 home win.

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