For the latest match reports, click here Volume 6

I'll Settle for That!

After being rubbished by a series of idiot commentators from Big Ron to Danny ('Swiftly into the Valley of Death') Baker in the run up to the start of the premiership campaign, a Charlton side reduced to ten men after twenty-five minutes held Newcastle to a 0-0 draw at St.James's park. It was Newcastle who received the boos from their own supporters after a brave and battling performance from 'never say die' Charlton.

It is quite a few years since I have not been at Charlton's opening match of the year, whether home or away. But a combination of a perception that I wouldn't get a ticket, and the fact that I was still affected by running on Alaska Daylight Time kept me away from Geordieland. Instead, I was able to listen to a live feed over the Internet from (remarkably fair minded) Newcastle web site commentators while sitting in my study in Leamington, accompanied by Bob the Dog who had volunteered his services as match summariser.

Both sides started brightly. A Mills clearance off the line with his knee denied Shearer after six minutes, and three minutes later Robinson sent a powerful shot just over the crossbar for the Addicks. After twenty minutes, Medonca put Robinson through on goal in a quick break, but the attack was snuffed out by the Newcastle defence. Then, Newcastle won a corner. In the scrum, Rufus, possibly reacting to something that upset him, threw a punch that connected with Dabizas. Rufus was sent off for violent conduct. Charlton regrouped with defender Steve Brown brought on in place of striker Andy Hunt. For a while, Charlton were down to nine men after Powell was injured. Newcastle had lots of possession, but were unable to do anything with it as they faced a stalwart Charlton defence.

Newcastle brought Barnes on for Dabzias after the interval. Charlton played a cautious game, retreating to their own half, and just leaving Mendonca out in front. But super Clive was effectively marked out of the game by Charvet, although Youds performed a similar role in closing down Shearer. Indeed, in set piece after set piece, it was Youds who intervened efficiently to bring things under control. Ilic had showed good positioning sense, but it was fifteen minutes into the second half when he had to make his first real save. He stopped a ball from Hamann, but the ball spun away, but he had to be brave to stop Shearer - and he was. After about fifteen minutes of the half, Steve Jones was brought on in the lone striker role and seems to have been a little more troublesome than Mendonca. After a few minutes he gained a free kick nearly the left hand corner flag. Youds nearly won the ball in the penalty area, Newcastle made a break, and it was left to Newton in a defensive midfielder role to tidy things up.

Newcastle forced plenty of corners, but the sense of frustration increased around St.James's Park as it became clear that they were not going to penetrate the Charlton defence. With ten minutes of normal time remaining, Morts came on for the tiring Robinson. In a brilliant move, he got away on the left, and delivered the ball to Steve Jones who was only stopped from scoring by a superb save from Given in the Newcastle goal. But there was still time for action at the other end and in injury time Ilic made an acrobatic save from Pistone.

Bob the Dog says: 'No doubt this will be seen as a Newcastle failure rather than a Charlton success, but it was a good result from a "never say die" Charlton. My man of the match was the authoritative Ilic, but the whole defence played well. Those who doubted Charlton's ability to survive in the premiership should look at the battling performance of Steve Brown: he may have been knackered, but he made some crucial interventions. Youds was superb, Mills did his job well and 'red boots' Powell showed why he was signed. Kinsella had to adopt a more defensive role than he might normally, and made some important challenges. Redfearn was busy and Newton showed his pace, although not always to much effect. Morts showed the sparkle we expect of him when he came on. Robinson seems to have faded a bit, but anyone actually there may have a different view. Steve Jones showed that he may well have premiership potential when he came on. I give this match four woofs. Well done, Curbs!

Bob the Dog Signs for Season

Following his successful debut as match summariser for the Newcastle match, Bob the Dog has signed up for the season for an agreed fee of a quarterly makeover at Elaine's canine beautician. Former Racing Club Warwick supporter Bob was shocked by events at Hampton Road over the summer which had a dramatic denounement when dynamo Dave Draper resigned as manager in a statement issued from his basement flat which accused the committee of the Doc Marten's Midland League club of a 'lack of ambition'. After being read some of the pre-season comments by so-called experts on Charlton' s end of season position, Bob decided that a Heinz 57 mutt couldn't do worse. Bob the Dog will take over the page entirely after his master leaves for Seattle in March.

We've Hit the Ground Running!

'We needed to hit the ground running in the Premiership and we have' was Alan Curbishley's verdict on Radio 5 after the Addick's 5-0 victory over Southampton in the first Premiership game at The Valley which put Charlton top of the table. No doubt there will be some disappointing times ahead, but it was a great home start to the campaign.

We set out bright and early from Leamington for The Valley, encountering heavy traffic in the M40 roadworks and on the M25. My daughter who lives near Southampton had sent me a patronising piece from the Daily Echo in Southampton which started 'For Charlton read Barnsley' and went on 'they now face a real struggle just to cling on.' In patronising tone, the article stated, 'That draw at Newcastle has given the Valiants [sic] a platform to build on from a daunting start to life at the top.

As always, seeing the first LT red bus sign reassured me that I was back home in London. First stop was the club shop where Maggie was able to get a new red shirt to fit her, but there was nothing in my middle range size, so I settled for one of the attractive away shirts in ecru for the time being. Imagine my surprise on opening the programme when I found that an article I had written on Thursday for the Voice had been put into the programme by Rick!

We headed for the Rose of Denmark where a number of well known listers were already gathered. Among them was Richard Sheppard wearing his 'Listers' badge on his anorak and eqipped with a notebook to take down the name of the listers he met. This 'listers spotting' could catch on! The mood in the pub was buoyant but cautious with most people forecasting 2-1 or 1-0.

On to the ground where we had to queue to get into the East Stand turnstiles area! The new West Stand looks really impressive as you enter the East, and the whole ground (apart from a small group of Saints) was a sea of red. Curiously, there was one empty seat near me and Maggie reported one near her.

Charlton started in attacking mode and it was three minutes when Robinson scored that vital first Premiership goal. If Charlton were brilliant, Southampton were mediocre. They did come back into the game a little in the last quarter of an hour in the first half as the Addicks seemed to slacken their pace a little, and did have the chance to score from a free kick just before half time. However, Charlton's dominance was not reflected in the scoreline and Curbs confessed later that this had worried him at half time.

Matters were put to rights thirty seconds into the new half when Jones in the Saints goal parried a shot from Mendonca, but Redfearn put it into the back of the net. The Bloke Behind Me was now convinced that we would quickly concede two goals through silly free kicks. Southampton has brought on Le Tissier at half time. Later on in the evening, Mellor had the inevitable call from a Saints fan saying (i) that he was Southampton's best player and (ii) that he should be playing for England. He didn't impress me, nor the rest of the crowd, and an invitation was extended to him to play for Guernsey. A bloke who sits near us known as 'Del' shouted out, 'I thought the Premiership was supposed to be hard', prompting the sagacious Steve from Sidcup to remark, 'that bloke's dead if we lose.'

The match was put beyond doubt when Mendonca was brought down in the area by Jones who was duly sent off. Mendonca dispatched the penalty with his usual aplomb. The fourth goal was I thought one of the best. Richard Rufus made a great run through the middle of the hapless Saints defence, setting up Mendonca who displayed his brilliant in the box skills. Then Mendonca made it five in injury time. The news quickly spread round the crowd that Charlton were leading the Premiership, prompting the chant 'We are top of the league.'

As chance would have it, my parking position in Canberra Road led me back through Plumstead Common and up Plum Lane, past the house my grandparents moved into when my grandfather started work at Woolwich Arsenal in the First World War and where my mother (an avid Charlton fan) was brought up. At the Dartford toll, the toll keeper gave us a warm victory salute and we were back in the Spa to open the champagne just after 8 p.m.

Match summariser Bob the Dog writes: 'I did several victory rolls on Saturday evening after this amazing victory. A 5-0 win in our first Premiership match at home; a Mendonca hat trick; and top of the league. Is this really Charlton? What really impressed me about Charlton's performance was not just the way they played as a team (which they were doing last season), but the fluency and accuracy of their passing. They looked as if they were playing with a new style, as if they had smoothly made the transition from Division 1 to the Premiership. It was important that we get our first goal quickly and excellent work by Mendonca and Robinson achieved that. We then had a second goal disallowed for a marginal offside (and another later) so it could have been 7-0

It was another clean sheet for Sasa Ilic, but he was rarely troubled in the Charlton goal by an inept Southampton attack. I thought that Ripley was the only Saints player who looked even marginally threatening. The inept Saints defence gave Robbo plenty of room to work down the flanks, but he made the best of it. But he should watch his mouth and concentrate on his football: it's just not worth picking up a booking for dissent over a throw in. Redfearn sgowed that he was worth every penny of the money spent on him, and I thought that Hunt combined well with Mendonca and showed some neat play. Danny Mills had a great game, making some superb runs forward, as did Chris Powell who was always involved. Rufus was as efficient as ever and Youds played his part. Shaun Newton used his pace to good effect, but with some of his runs he would have been better off trying a shot rather than putting in what were sometimes poor crosses. Kinsella marshalled matters in midfield. Morts came on too late to make much of a difference at a time when Charlton were taking their foot off the pedal a little and playing a passing game. It was good to see Keith Jones come on and display his usual fluency and control at Premiership level.

Choosing Man of the Match is difficult, but my vote goes to Sir Clive Mendonca, not just for his hattrick, but for his brilliant displays of ball control and outwitting the opposition all over the pitch. This match deserves five woofs!

Pundi(dio)ts Get It Wrong - Again!

Opening The Independent on Saturday morning, I found that it forecast a 'damn good hiding' as one possibility for Charlton at Highbury. The paper advised Addicks to take advantage of the current bargain price for Charlton Nationwide badges as 'an investment for next season.' And even after the Addicks had secured a 0-0 draw at Highbury, not a lucky ground for them historically, media reaction was to put it down to Arsenal not finding their form, ignoring the fact that Charlton remained unbeaten with no goals conceded in the Premiership so far.

I set off on the Chiltern Line - the last time I had used that service to go to a match was to Wembley Stadium for the play offs. Having watched Fever Pitch I had expected Highbury to be hemmed in by houses, but not to the extent that it was. We seemed to go in under a block of flats, although they were probably Arsenal offices. As I entered the ground, the legendary 'scarfman' was engaging a steward in a deep conversation. Not having been to Highbury before, I was surprised at how intimate the ground was, although with a rather square, wide pitch which I thought would suit us.

The programme had a fair amount of Charlton content, including a piece by Theo Foley, although the contribution from 'Chris of Plumstead', described as an Arsenal supporter for thirty-eight years was, a timely reminder of how many misguided souls there still are in SE18. Looking up from the programme, I saw a confused Mrs Balmer, accompanied by Sweaty Jnr. wearing a 'Balmer' shirt, evidently in the wrong part of the ground. Photographer Tom Morris was sitting in a front row seat along the side of the pitch. I thought that this was an added Premiership amenity, but later discovered he had to take the pictures from there - how that worked out I don't know. Before the match Arsene Wenger was interviewed on the big screen in an office that looked like it was full of Herbert Chapman's ledgers which only served to make him look more like a superannuated economist than usual.

The Charlton faithful were in fine fettle, although 'Woolwich Rejects' was the only original chant (unless you count shouting 'Engerland'). When Pettit came to take corners, I did not hear the promised shouts of 'Vous etes merde et vous connaisez etes vous merde.' Sasa had to make two saves in the first half and Kinsella just missed with one of his thunderbolts.

Arsenal look dangerous at the start of the second half and started to try their diving skills in the area. Pettit got booked for dissent and followed it up with a foul on Newton which got him sent off. Charlton switched into a more attacking mode and Steve Jones was brought on for Hunt and then Morts for the tiring Robinson. But although Morts showed some of his magic, and Steve Jones his characterstic determination, the ball did not find the back of the net. Indeed, England goalkeeper Seaman was always effective. Then it was all over: Seaman gave a friendly wave to the Addicks who were rapturously celebrating a very honourable draw, the first one at Highbury since I started supporting Charlton forty-five years ago.

Queueing for the tube, I heard one Addick say: 'Sasa was brilliant. I'm glad we named Sasa Sasa.' But it wasn't clear whether Sasa was a child, dog or cat. Gloomy gooners were out in force at Marleybone and got off at every station to Banbury (no sign of any Chiltern Addicks), but the only verbal I got was a comment to the effect that my ecru shirt made me a fashion victim. Another great day with the Addicks - and things look good for Old Trafford where I feel that a win is within the bounds of possibility.

Match summariser Bob the Dog writes: 'My friend Hootch the Pootch who supports Coventry was supposed to come round tonight, but he cried off at the last minute. I wonder why? This was an excellent performance by our defence. My master tells me that it was a sad sight before the game to see Richard Rufus sidling down the side of the pitch past Chester the Cheetah and Gunnersaurus, but Brighton battler Steve Brown made up in commitment and determination whatever he lacks in finesse. Youds made some authoritative interventions, Mills was also influential and had some great runs forward, and Powell was also involved, both tidying things up in defence and getting involved in attack.. Although he wasn't tested that much, Sasa Ilic's latest clean sheet deserves my man of the match award. Redfearn was as fearless as ever, Kinsella came close to scoring and Mendonca showed some beautiful touches.

I don't want to give myself a bad name, but I did have a couple of worries about our performance. I did think that our marking was often poor, even when Arsenal were down to ten men, and this gave them too much space to operate on the wings. When we did attack, we often too hesitant, relying on a patient build up which allowed Arsenal to pull all their players back. Sometimes it would have been better to take a half (or even quarter) chance and have a shot at goal as when Steve Jones was one on one with Seaman. Nevertheless, we are playing well, although Alan's dog tells me that his master thinks that our real problems will come when we have significant injuries and suspensions - so far we have had to make only one change in the squad. I give this match four woofs.

It's a Dog's Life!

As my master has been away in Lincoln, he has given me the job of explaining Charlton's 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford writes a disgruntled Bob the Dog. Played in front of a 55,147 crowd, the largest in a regular league match for the Addicks since 1955, this game was effectively settled by Manchester United goals at the psychologically crucial times of just before and just after half time.

Playing their classic 4-4-2 formation, Charlton started well with Danny Mills impresive in defence. Less than ten minutes into the game, a brilliant individual run by Newton saw him going past two challenges. He put the ball into Mendonca who was on his heels and slow to react, Redfearn might have shot, but the ball bobbled off Hunt and out of play with a scoring chance missed.

With Charlton counter attacking whenever the opportunity arose, Stam, billed as the world's most expensive defender, was put under pressure. Just after twenty minutes Ilic saved a Beckham free kick and then saved a ball headed down by Solksjaer with his legs.

Brown and Youds continued to do well in defence. The game seemed to be heading for a flat period when Kinsella livened things up with a 25 yard shot that took a deflection and went into the left hand corner of the net. Manchester United then raised their game and it wasn't long before Charlton conceded their first goal since March with Manchester United's equaliser from Solksjaer. A shot from Scholes would have dipped in under the left crossbar if it hadn't been for a full stretch save from Ilic . After Beckham had dived after being in contact with Robinson on the edge of the area, and with the referee extending stoppage time, Beckham's free kick gave Yorke a free header.

The third goal conceded just after the restart arguably involved a lack of sufficiently tight defending with Yorke presented with a gaping goal. Although Newton had worked well with Mendonca in the first half and had served up a number of his jinking runs, his second half performance was more subdued. He was soon substituted by Mortimer who gave a demonstration of why he should be in the starting lineup if his fitness allows. A not particularly well endowed streaker then appeared on the pitch to make a point about asset stripping and took a while to catch. Solksjaer then got a free six yard header to make it 4-1 for Murdoch United. Further substitutions, first bringing on Steve Jones and then Keith Jones could do little to change the outcome.

The Charlton faithful had delivered a rousing chorus of 'Valley Floyd Road' at a number of points in the match and could be heard singing 'Charlton, super Charlton, we love you' as the match drew to a close. If the Addicks had held on to 1-1 at half time, they might have at least suffering a less convincing defeat. If the match displayed one weakness it was not necessarily defensive but a lack of pace in the strike force. Perhaps a reality check at this point in the season is no bad thing. Now what about a walk?

'Now We Can See The Extent of the Task'

This was the comment of the sagacious Steve from Sidcup as Charlton suffered their first home defeat in nearly twelve months as they went down 1-2 to Derby County. Derby proved to be a strong, physical side, sometimes cynically so, as the number of their bookings, showed. But Charlton's performance displayed a number of weaknesses and it is difficult to complain about the result, despite sometimes dubious refereeing.

It was a succession of defensive errors which led to Derby's early goal from Paul Wanchope which effectively settled the outcome of the match. The Addicks lost the ball in midfield and with Eddie Youds nowhere to be seen Sasa Ilic found himself one on one with Wanchope with little hope of preventing the inevitable. One cannot make mistakes in the Premiership and hope to go unpunished. Ilic did not really have another save to make in the first half, and although a Kinsella piledriver was not far off target, there was little sign of a Charlton reply. Brown sent in a long range shot, but Robinson was unable to make contact as it flew across the face of the goal. A sense of frustration spread through the crowd, and the chants from the Charlton faithful died away.

The second half saw the injured Kinsella substituted by Mortimer and Charlton did their best to get back in the game. But their best was not good enough and the game was put beyond their reach by a Francesco Baiano free kick which left Ilic stranded. It was in the last phase of the game when Charlton looked at their most impressive. Redfearn delivered a powerful shot from a free kick, there was a dispute about whether a ball grabbed by the impressive Hoult in the Derby goal had gone over the line, and Hunt went for glory and hit the post when he should have passed. Finally, Mortimer was brought down on the edge of the area and the subsequent penalty calmly dispatched by leading goalscorer Clive Mendonca. Charlton made a number of attacks in the closing minutes, but to no avail. One young lad sitting nearing my wife was in tears as he had never seen the Addicks lose before.

Our journey down had been disrupted by a crash which held up traffic on the M25 south, possibly a bad omen. We were hence late at the Rose of Denmark where popular Sussex coaster Brian Cole was displaying a sample of his proposed listers' shirt. 'Mad' Milner was also there, although he was disappointingly sensible. We had a good run back up the M1 afterwards, but had the humiliation of having to pass the Derby coaches, an experience of home defeat we have not had since the Stockport County match last year. A group of Derby fans overtook us and made a number of gestures to indicate their considered opinion, although a Derby fan came on 606 and praised the 'family' atmosphere at The Valley.

Match summariser Bob the Dog writes: 'My bark may be worst than my bite, but we are now getting to a stage of the season where it is possible to see which players will make the grade in the Premiership. I though that Danny Mills and Chris Powell were our most impressive players. Powell was always there tidying up at the back and made some beautiful passes, not least to Mendonca . However, my Silver Bone award for Man of the Match goes to Mills who was calm and authoritative in defence, but also made some very impressive runs forward. Although he was not able to score from open play, Mendonca once again demonstrated his composure in front of goal with his penalty. Despite one or two disappointing moments, Redfearn again showed why he was such a good acquisition. Kinsella was effective until he went off injured. On the negative side of the balance sheet, Newton was disappointing and his substitution was no surprise. His pace looks less impressive in the Premiership. He also lost possession at some potentially dangerous moments. Hunt also contributed little and Steve Jones was not on long enough to say whether he could offer more. Robinson is always a key memberof the side, but is at his best when he threatens down the wings and does not drift off to the midfield: his performance on Saturday was a bit up and down. Youds was not there when he was wanted and although Steve Brown made some effective if unsophisticated interventions, he has not made out a case for staying in the team when the much missed Rufus returns. Rumours in the pub beforehand that Ilic would not be playing turned out to be false and he must surely remain first choice goalkeeper, but there are some question marks about his play. When Mortimer came on, he was very much involved, but he sometimes tried to play too much fancy football, which did not work against a physical side like Derby, leading to some losses of possession at crucial moments. Whilst it is not time for the famous cry of 'Sort It Out, Curbishley', this home defeat should act as a wake up call to the realities of the Premiership.

For subsequent reports, starting with the victory over the Super Hoops, go to Volume 2For the Chelsea game onwards Volume 3For the League game against Leicester onwards go to Volume 4

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Wyn Grant
Leamington, Warwickshire