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The rule in the Premiership is that the team that scores first generally wins. But Charlton are the unhappy exception to this rule. Having gone ahead at Selhurst Park with an outstanding 25 yard goal from Redfearn, they conceded the equaliser in four minutes with a second half goal from the Wombles making the final score 2-1. With Aliosi, nearly signed by Charlton, getting a late equaliser for Coventry, and Blackburn unexpectedly beating Villa, the Addicks fell into a relegation slot for the first time this season.
Our family Christmas was spent with Ros and her husband in deepest Didcot and we set out early on Boxing Day morning full of foreboding expecting another defeat. Radio 5 commentators announced that the relegation positions had been sorted unsually early in the campaign, the three teams going down being Charlton, Forest and Southampton.
For my wife it was a return to her native heath (Thornton that is) where she was brought up in a Palace supporting family. (I might add that she later lived in Blackfen and worked in Woolwich). My brother-in-law now claims to have no interest in football, but years of supporting Palace can have that effect. We went past the park she used to play in, past her old secondary school and she expertly found a parking place for us. On the way to the ground, she pointed out where a widowed aunt had lived, her husband having been killed by a collapsing flagpole while listening to the band at the seaside. That's what comes of living near to Selhurst Park. Seeing and entering Selhurst Park again reminded me what a dump it is and how fortunate we are to be rid of it. The presence of a large contingent of Addicks, perhaps as many as half the total, pushed the crowd up to 19,106. As was the case at The Valley, former Addick Carl Leaburn was greeted with a mixture of applause and boos.
Curbs dropped both Hunt and Mendonca, the former apparently having fallen victim to the 'flu bug and the latter having been injured in training and seemed to be experimenting with a 4-5-1 formation with Steve Jones up front, although lister Kap thought it was really 4-4-1-1 with Redfearn just in behind Jones. In any event, the Addicks mounted some early pressure and Sullivan in the Wimbledon goal managed to drop a Shaun Newton cross at the feet of Brighton battler Steve Brown, back in the team again. Dons centre back Blackwell was able to clear, but Charlton looked up for it. Redfearn managed to infuriate Robinson (who had been spoken to early ob by the ref for dissent) by sending a wild shot in on goal when Robinson was unmarked way out on the left. On 25 minutes, Jones found himself in one on one with Sullivan, but sent his strike wide. Five minutes later Redfearn picked up a ball some twenty-five yards out and put in a stunning shot past the gawping Sullivan. Kinsella then put a fierce shot into the side netting which, if it had gone in, could have decided the game.
Charlton are at their greatest danger in the Premiership when they have just scored and once again they proved unable to hold on to a lead. Euell fired home for the Wombles from eight yards among a crowd of defenders. With Leaburn heading across goal and finding Gayle, Sasa Ilic showed his finest qualities by plucking the ball from Gayle's feet. In the last few minutes of the half, the Addicks were under pressure and pushed back into their own half.
They nearly went ahead again less than a minute into the new half when Steve Jones put in a neat sideways pass to Newton who scuffed his shot on the slippery surface. It was Wimbledon who went ahead in the 51st minute. Alan Kimble had come on a sub for Dean Blackwell after the break. He put in a long ball to Leaburn who provided one of his famous lay-offs to Hughes who saw that Ilic was off his line and fired in his shot. This was once again greeted by ludicrous music and some signs of animation from the largely somnolent Wombles. Charlton did their best to push forward, but lacked real finishing quality. Robinson found himself one-on-one with Sullivan but put a tame shot into the goalkeeper. A possibly injured Newton was replaced in the 73rd minute by Youds (otherwise the substitution doesn't make much sense). There were moments of intense pressure from Charlton with the Addicks camped out in the Wimbledon goalmouth. Parker was brought on in the 83rd minute for Mills and put in a chip from far out on the right which required a stretching save from the suddenly alert Sullivan. However, Wimbledon were now playing for time. When Sullivan decided that placing one of many offside kicks required a minute inspection and rearrangement of the turf, even the fair but officious Graham Baxter from Planet Tring had had enough and booked him for time wasting. He joined his team mates Thatcher and Hughes in the referee's book with Redfearn the only booking for Charlton.
As one Addick commented as we left the ground, 'it's not that other teams win, but we lose to them.' Charlton's historical failing has been a lack of ambition and it may be that this trait is once again resasserting itself to deny them another season in the Premiership.
Match analyst Bob the Dog has awarded the coveted Silver (Turkey) Bone to controversial Redfearn . His superb goal must be in the running for goal of the season and Bob is prepared to overlook some of his other lapses. Less so with Sasa Ilic . He made one superb save and some good ones but must be faulted for the second goal. Surely time to give Royce a chance? The rest of the defence generally played well. Rufus had an excellent game, spot on in his defensive role and sometimes surging forward - something he should do more often. One of the most enthusiastic welcomes to the Addicks faithful was given by Chris Powell who is one of the unsung heroes of the squad. Mills may not have had his best game, but he was still good. Tiler has become something of a scapegoat, and Bob the Dog criticised him last week. But he had a competent game, although he sometimes lacks the necessary pace. Steve Brown is one of Bob the Dog's favourite players and it was good to see him in the team. He sometimes seemed to be out of position, but he did put in one superb long range diagonal pass to Robinson. Kinsella was not as prominent as in some games, but generally played well. Robinson made some penetrating runs, but fluffed his two chances to score, exemplifying the lack of finishing quality in the squad. Newton made some superb runs into the Wimbledon defence, fearlessly taking on defenders, and really gave the Wombles some trouble. One one occasion he had to be stopped by being brought down by Hughes, a yellow card offence which might have prevented a goal. He was missed when he went off. Steve Jones gave his all as always, but does he really have the quality needed for Premiership success, particularly in front of goal? Youds appears to have been brought on in some kind of bizarre attacking role in an effort to win at least a point. That it didn't work out is not his fault. It was good to see youth being given a chance, if only for ten minutes when Parker was brought on. What happened to our much vaunted youth policy? Why are we so reluctant to use our younger players when other clubs in the Premiership do so? As one lister commented, given the dearth of strikers, why not put Leigh Hales on the bench. I give this match two woofs.
That was the reaction of a saddened Steve from Sidcup to the state of Charlton's Premiership campaign after the Addicks lost 0-1 at The Valley to Arsenal through a 53rd minute penalty scored by Overmars. It was a battling and totally committed performance by the Addicks, praised after the game by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who apparently said that if they played like that in their remaining games, they would avoid relegation. However, with seven defeats in a row, the search for points is now desperate. The last three matches have been lost by one goal margins. It seems that even when the Addicks play at their best, they are not quite good enough. Understandable frustration among fans boiled over into calls for Curbs to go for the first time in two years, while Radio 5's 606 programme saw a robust exchange of views between a fan and a director.
Graveyard humour predominated at the Rose of Denmark before the match. With the pub full of gooners, the listers congregated on a table outside and enjoyed the invigorating air of the Woolwich Road. As a particular elderly jogger came past, there was speculation that he might be the much awaited new striker on his way to the warm up. The view was that the Cup match at Blackburn should be used to try out Royce and to play Parker for ninety minutes. We've had the Wembley experience and what we care about is staying in the Premiership for the Millennium year.
One of the most infuriating aspects of the match was the inconsistent behaviour of the referee, Uriah Rennie. When he was in the Nationwide, I thought that he was one of the better referees, but on this occasion he earned a rare chorus of 'You're not fit to be a referee' just before half time. He may be a Justice of the Peace, but he came close to losing control of the match, booking seven players in total and sending one off. There were times when one thought he might have to call on his hobby of kick boxing. Some of the bookings were justified, but it was his inconsistency that appalled me. And I'm still not clear what the justification was for booking Keith Jones. I suppose that the only defence that could be made for Rennie is that the professional quality of Arsenal's diving had to be seen to be believed.
Once again the lack of strikers through injury and illness led to Charlton playing a 4-4-1-1 formation. Arsenal retained possession from the kick off and Luis Boa Morte nearly scored an early goal when he hit the crossbar with a powerful shot after one minute. Then after five minutes the larger of the Jones brothers was brought down fractionally outside the area, the offender Keown was booked, and in the following free kick Redfearn hit the angle of post and bar.
Bergkamp drew two good saves from Ilic, one on six minutes from a powerful shot and then again after twenty minutes. This time the shot was deflected and Ilic had to change direction, showing good reactions and putting in a powerful block. If only he had done that much against a far weaker shot at Blackburn! Bergkamp was not to remain on the pitch for long, however, after a powerful tackle from behind by Youds sent him limping off the pitch at forty minutes to be replaced by Wreh. The Scouser might have been quite fortunate to escape with a yellow card.
Six minutes into the second half Arsenal were reduced to ten men when Vieira was sent off yet again. He got involved in a competitive tussle for the ball with Redfearn who was snapping at his heels. Redfearn got a yellow for his back tackle but it was Vieira's use of the elbow that got him sent off. Whether or not it simply made contact with Redfearn's shoulder rather than his face is a matter for dispute, but in terms of the laws of the game it was a sending off offence. However, Charlton showed once again that they find it difficult to reap the benefit of any advantage they gain, whether of goals or players. Within three minutes of the sending off, Kinsella brought down Parlour just inside the area. It was clearly a penalty and it was too much to expect Ilic to stop the forecful shot from Overmars.
Given the strength of Arsenal's defence, '1-0 to the Arsenal' is a result difficult to overturn. In this case, the expected outcome was aided by the weakness of the Charlton attack with both Hunt and Mendonca out. According to The Independent 'The last 40 minutes were spent almost entirely in Arsenal's half, but the only time Alex Manninger made a save of note the ball was already going wide.' This failure to finish was particularly unfortunate, given that Manninger often seemed to show his lack of experience. It might be argued that Charlton did have four half chances. One was when Newton used his pace to the right, put the ball across to Keith Jones who in turn passed it on to Robinson who shot straight at the keeper. A long ball by Mills from a free kick landed in front of goal, but was cleared for a corner by Petit. Scott Parker had a chance in front of goal, but put the ball wide. And Manninger did have to block a late shot by the impressive Chris Powell. But in general the game looked like a cup match between a plucky and determined Division 1 side and the champions.
Travelling back to Leamington, I listened to the Radio 5 phone in. On came angry 'Andy' who argued that we were going to be relegated and accused the board of lacking a modicum of ambition. Charlton were 'toothless tigers' and Curbs was not top man as he had a number of failings as a tactician. This drew a response from supporters' director Mick at the end of the programme. He argued that we had to take a long term view and that the directors were as committed to the club as anyone. I accept that, but what is the long term view? Relegation and regrouping in what eventually becomes Division 2 of the Premiership with limited promotion and relegation? After the Wimbledon game, The Independent referred to the club's 'financial war chest' and commented, 'Prudent or not, the increasing danger is that the war will be over before any of it has been spent.' Of course, it's hard to find good signings we can afford. Where the club has possibly been too conservative is in looking for players abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia: like it or not, it's part of the modern game in the Premiership. What does worry me are calls to get rid of Curbs because I doubt that anyone else could have done as much on limited resources. Plenty of other clubs would like to have him, and who would replace him?
A disgruntled Bob the Dog has had to visit the vet and also received a message from substitute match analyst, Homer the Cherry Hound, noting Bournemouth's promotion surge and looking forward to playing Charlton in Division 1 next year. Bob wishes to make it known that Homer was barred from the Wrexham message boards after Bournemouth's recent visit there after he had expressed his views on sheep.
Bob has given the Silver Bone to Chris Powell . As Mic Milner has pointed out on his page, Chris Powell does such a good job that we tend to take him for granted. But he is one of our few players who is genuinely of Premiership standard. His only failing is that he is not yet scored - but he came as close as anyone yesterday. Sasa Ilic had a good game, making two excellent saves from Bergkamp. He can hardly be blamed for not saving a powerful penalty from Overmars. Danny Mills seemed to be putting in a lot of long balls which were often not very accurate, but in a sense he was forced into that by the Arsenal defence. I thought that Richard Rufus had another good game, another of our players who can cope with the Premiership. It was good to see Eddie Youds back in place of Carl Tiler and he certainly attended to Bergkamp, although this drew criticism on MoTD. The appearance of Keith Jones in the starting line up clearly worried some supporters. I thought that he showed some deft touches and made some good blocks. He is always professional and dependable, but whether he is really good enough for the Premiership is another question. Kinsella gave away the penalty, but it was right on the edge of the area, and his overall contribution was substantial. Newton managed to out run the Arsenal defence a number of times, but his one shot on goal was well side and his crossing left something to be desired. Robinson should have sticking plaster placed across his mouth before the match: he got himself booked again for dissent. He is another player who looked sharp in Division 1, but doesn't seem to be quite good enough for the Premiership. Steve Jones did his best as he always does, but his best was not good enough against a leading team like Arsenal. The problems facing the squad were illustrated when Lisbie was brought on after being given a pain killing injection. He hustled and bustled, but he could not really penetrate the Arsenal defence. Parker contributed more and could have been on from the beginning instead of Keith Jones. The scepticism of the master of the horse notwithstanding, I think that he does have something to offer. Although we lost, it was an exciting match and is an example of why we want to stay up. I give this match three woofs, and (a new ranking) I give the crowd 8/10.
What many Addicks regarded as something of a sideshow in the FA Cup at Blackburn was enlivened by some changes in the team selection. With Steve Jones out injured, Andy Hunt returned from 'flu to take his place as the lone striker. Scott Parker made his first start of the season proper with Shaun Newton relegated to the bench. The subs also included Matty Holmes, making his way back from injury, and breakfast tv presenter Mark Bright.
Charlton missed an early chance when Powell put a cross into Hunt and the striker failed to score from a diving header. At the other end Ilic made a good save from his nemesis Kevin Davies. Parker put in a good ball to Redfearn who drew a diving save from the Blackburn keeper. The first part of the first half saw Eddie Youds fulfilling a key and effective role in the central defence, but impressive debutante Scott Parker was booked for a foul.
Possession was about fifty-fifty in the first half with Charlton failing to make anything of three good scoring chances. The nearest they came was when Hunt hit the post with a header in the 30th minute. Hunt always looked as if he might conjure something out of nothing, but Robinson disappointed when he made a good run, evading two defenders, and then tried a chip to the far post which went out of play when Charlton had players coming in to the near post.
In the 41st minute Blackburn won their fourth corner of the match, following some poor clearances by Tiler. They managed to create panic in the Charlton defence, with Ilic unsure what to do and only Chris Powell keeping his head under pressure. Then a Route 1 punt up the middle which promised nothing created danger when the normally reliable Youds and the hapless Tiler (Steve Brown, where are you?) collided. Even so, Ilic should have been able to save the resultant shot from Kevin Davies, but he couldn't last time and he couldn't this time. So, when they had the prospect of going in at half time on a fair 0-0, the Addicks found themselves one behind again because of a silly mistake.
Charlton had plenty of possession in the second half, but Blackburn created the better chances. Robinson sent a drive wide eleven minutes after the restart and then hit the post two minutes later. Bright and Holmes came on in the 67th minute in a double substitution for Parker (a good contribution, but he picked up an injury) and Tiler (not before time), but Blackburn seemed curiously unperturbed by Bright and Hunt up front, although Bright impressed some listers as someone who could control the ball and flick it on. When I saw him in the reserves recently, I thought that technically he was superb, even if he was slowing down a bit.
Content to hang on to their 1-0 lead, Rovers let the Addicks camp out in their half much of the time, confident that they would be unable to score. Charlton conjured up ten minutes of sustained pressure halfway through the half, but it produced no real scoring chances. Indeed, the Blackburn keeper did not have to make a save in the last hour of the game.
Fifteen minutes from the end, Newton was brought on in place of Mills, but seemed to be well below his best. He put in an awful cross to Hunt who looked daggers drawn at the Camberwell Charger. Then Newton managed to give the ball away in a potentially promising attack. With concerns that Rufus might have picked up a knock that was bothering him, Charlton won their third corner of the game a few minutes from time. Ilic went up field in an imitation of Peter Schmeichel, leaving his goal unguarded and was unable to get back in time to prevent Jason Wilcox putting the ball in the net.
It was a familiar story. Unable to score themselves, Charlton went 1-0 behind because of a silly defensive error and then found it difficult to get back into the game. Eventually their efforts became so desperate that they went down by more than their usual one goal margin of defeat. Bob the Dog has named quality player Chris Powell as recipient of the Silver Bone award for an excellent all round performance. He gives the match one woof.
Charlton's goal drought can surely only be ended by a signing. But is there enough money (which has to cover signing on fee and wages as well as any transfer fee) in the kitty to get someone really good, rather than a carthorse hyped up by his agent? Some would argue that the club should go into debt, but having spent the money, it could still be relegated, ending up going down insolvent, making it difficult to regroup next year. Who would be a manager or director at this time?
The away match at The Dell is a clear six pointer. Southampton only managed to draw with Fulham today through an injury time equaliser and had a player sent off. That doesn't mean I or Bob the Dog are optimistic. Unfortunately, I have to be in Glasgow to chair a speech by Lord Sewell who, as I am sure you all know, is the Scottish Minister of Agriculture. And because my Scottish team, Clyde, are away at Forfar, I won't even be able to see them. At least my non-league team, the Diamonds, sparkled today against Leeds.
A match report from Southampton will be provided by Joe the Saint, Milly Candelent and substitute match analysts Homer the Cherry Hound (last heard of celebrating Bournemouth's cup victory over the Baggies).
For coverage of the Southampton game by Homer the Cherry Hound, please go to Volume 7.
Addick since 1953
Row Q, In front of the Bloke Behind Me