April 4th, 2005: Top half but booed off

After Saturday it looks as if the best Charlton can hope for this season is to cling on in the top half of the Premiership.

Chris Perry spared his teammates the indignity of being booed off, but his late, late equaliser was as undeserved as it was unexpected.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Mark Fish was entirely to blame for the defeat, but it was hard to find anyone who thought his selection was a sensible decision.

Possibly there is an explanation that we are all missing here, but if so it is surely incumbent on Alan Curbishley to provide it.

From where most people were sitting it looked dangerously like a two-fingered salute.

The manager is entitled to point to the bigger picture. It remains a considerable achievement to steer Charlton to a top-half finish. But six consecutive years of spring decline cannot be dismissed as a blip.

Such a fate could still be avoided. After all, the Addicks have only lost once in six games. However, the remaining fixture list looks daunting.

Two of the team’s last seven matches are at home to Manchester United and away to Chelsea, which whatever Charlton’s form are likely to end in defeat.

Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace will come to The Valley desperate to win, while the Addicks’ record at Aston Villa is notoriously poor.

That leaves the forthcoming away games at Portsmouth and Norwich City as the most likely route to revival.

Both are places where Charlton have done well in recent years and the Canaries may well have fallen off the Premiership perch by the time of the clash on April 23rd.

I have been following the Addicks for long enough to know that in three weeks’ time they could be sitting pretty. But I won’t be holding my breath.

April 11th, 2005: Political countdown

Alan Curbishley and Tony Blair won’t know it, but they have much in common just now.

Each is a long-term incumbent and the subject of arguably unreasonable public restlessness.

Both have a close colleague regarded as a safe pair or hands.

Just as Charlton have repeatedly kept out of the relegation struggle, so the government has avoided economic crises.

Curbishley’s men have done well in the league but not quite achieved what they might. Blair has significantly improved public services but could have done even better.

Each has had his spending criticised and would like to get more involved with Europe.

Both got things significantly wrong in one isolated arena. For Charlton’s failures in cup competition, read Blair and the Iraq war.

The alternative to each man is the unknown.

None of those who call for Curbishley’s departure after every defeat name a credible successor.

And while it’s clear that Michael Howard is on offer as alternative PM, the nature of his potential government is as mysterious as the people who would form his cabinet.

Implausible messages that come out of The Valley and the Labour Party implying that their respective champions are without fault only add to public frustration.

However, there the parallel ends. Collectively we have a chance to sack Blair, but Curbishley has an impregnable majority in the only constituency that matters.

My sense is that some people want rid of both men in the same way as they like to change their car every few years, even though it remains perfectly roadworthy. That’s except, of course, that Mr Howard isn’t remotely shiny and new.

Taking risks can be exciting but it can also end in disaster. I think we would very foolish to dispense with ether incumbent at present. But my hunch is that Curbishley will go first. 

April 18th, 2005: That sinking feeling

Charlton’s season has now gone into free fall, with Alan Curbishley’s side still unable to resist the force of gravity in the closing stages of a Premiership campaign.

Their points haul from the last ten matches of the four completed seasons since winning promotion has been 11, 7, 4 and 10.

In every case the Addicks’ league position has declined, registering a drop of one, seven, six and three places from their standing after the 28th match.

Even in the year they won the Football League championship, the team registered four draws and three defeats in its last seven outings.

In fairness, Saturday’s patched-up side produced the best performance since the victory over Tottenham that began the run-in a month earlier, but injuries, suspensions and refereeing decisions are stacking up against the Addicks.

Doubtless Curbishley is right when he said that the clubs battling to stave off relegation would love to be in Charlton’s position, but repeatedly raising hopes only to dash them again brings its own frustration.

My experience is that this is felt even more keenly within the club than among the fans.

Some supporters’ expectations are wholly unreasonable. Yet that cannot apply to asking a team to maintain for a few more weeks a standard it has already reached.

The argument that the club has come a long way in a short time also has declining resonance.

It may be to Charlton’s advantage that after this week’s two away games their final home matches are against Manchester United and Crystal Palace, because both fixtures are attractive in themselves.

But with a visit to Chelsea in between, the fear must be that the Addicks will be turned over in the first two games and roll over in the third.

Many people would find the last scenario difficult to forgive.

April 25th, 2005: Plugging the leak

It cannot be coincidence that Charlton have stopped leaking goals since Talal El Karkouri’s return at Aston Villa last week.

In his three and a half match absence since receiving a red card against West Bromwich Albion at The Valley, the Addicks had conceded 11 times.

Villa and Norwich City, on the other hand, managed to score just once between them.

With Manchester United and Chelsea up next, we should be grateful for this small mercy and pray that it continues.

The other notable feature of the two away games was that Alan Curbishley fielded all five of his outfield summer signings in the starting line-up for the first time.

Of these El Karkouri has been the most successful buy, the only criticism being that it took the manager several months to put him at the heart of his defence.

Danny Murphy has likewise earned the affection of the crowd. He made a slow start but has become the dominant influence in central midfield.

Dennis Rommedahl and Francis Jeffers have each been victims of the team’s adopted shape, although Rommedahl has taken his recent opportunity more impressively.

It’s not difficult to imagine either or both leaving The Valley in the summer, although Jeffers has started so rarely that any judgement of him must be considered preliminary.

The same applies to midfielder Bryan Hughes, although he cannot be accused of failing to live up to fans’ expectations because few existed. Cup goals against lower division opposition apart, his occasional contributions have rarely stirred the crowd.

It’s now clear that none of these players will feature in the UEFA Cup next season, at least in Charlton colours. Nevertheless, the final matches could still have a significant impact. With United due at The Valley on Sunday, next Thursday’s initial deadline for season-ticket renewal looks decidedly ill-conceived.


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