Friday, February 23, 2007
Charlton V West Ham - says it all really
Says it all really, fantastic writing
After a week’s sabbatical due to non involvement in the FA Cup (in which West Ham have FA interest), it is back to the league programme. In theory, this is last chance saloon, a game against Charlton Athletic, who have only managed to obtain as many points as us so far, but I’ll go further into my ideas on just how important this game at the end, when I predict the score.
The facts of the matter are that we kick off on Saturday afternoon at 3pm, at the Valley. Our opponents are currently one place behind us in the league, though they have the same points tally of 20, but with an inferior goal difference of three. However, as I am sure you are aware, our respective points total is not the only thing that the two clubs have in common.
Charlton started the season with a new manager after their boss of 15 years, Alan Curbishley had amicably left the Valley technical area with parting applause ringing in his ears. After reportedly missing out on Billy Davies, Charlton plumped for the services of the Palace manager, Iain Dowie. The unsightly replacement lasted just 12 Premiership games before being dismissed, for reasons alleged to be as much to do with his explosive temper as the team’s poor on field performances. Next up was Les Reed who lasted just 41 days, in which time, he demonstrated the ability to see only good in every Charlton performance, despite his less than successful string of results. His exit paved the way for the appointment of one Alan Pardew, who it appears is carrying on in the way any West Ham fan would expect, by sorting it aht.
Results wise, Charlton have recorded just four home league victories, at the end of last year over Aston Villa, and pre-Pardew against Blackburn, Man City and Bolton (back in August). They have also drawn with Everton, Fulham and Watford at the Valley but only the first of those has come under the latest coach. He did, however, mastermind their solitary away league victory, at Fratton Park last month. The latest run of results has not been great, their last six league games have resulted in the four defeats, a draw and the win at Portsmouth. However, their fixture list in this time has been horrific, away to Arsenal, Man Yoo and Bolton (where they drew) and at home to Chelsea make up the lion’s share of the run.
The performances under Pardew have given the supporters cause for enthusiasm. They feel that the run of results has been that of a mid table side and they are impressed with their team’s enthusiasm and the combination of both effective yet attractive play and most of their fans go into this game with the belief that their side is capable of getting something.
Pards switches from tactics to tactful.
Their coach, Alan Pardew, needs no introduction as he started the season as West Ham manager. He will be fondly remembered as the coach that took us back after to the big time via our second play off final and few people could complain about last season. There are too may highlights to dwell on but taking us to the cup final, his Dad at a Wedding dance at the semi and the performance at Highbury should be enough to make most Hammers smile.
This season got off to a nightmare start with a disastrous run of eight consecutive defeats including a Carling Cup exit at Chesterfield. Issues out of his control included the change of club ownership and the arrival of Tevez and Mascherano in a blaze of glory and he seemed to have contributed to his own downfall by being too loyal to several of his underperforming players. Further stories have come out regarding player unrest and there are also several rumours floating around regarding his personal life but whatever the reasons, Eggy decided to get shot of Pards swiftly and without ceremony.
Saturday will be our first chance to show our appreciation for this efforts and I’m sure that he’ll be in for a warm round of applause pre kick off on Saturday. If nothing else, he was the man who got Wenger into a scuffle and that deserves a shout on its own.
In goal is the highly rated Scott Carson, on loan from Liverpool. He has impressed all with a string of impressive performances and has been one of the players to consistently perform well throughout the entire season. Rumours suggest that L’Arse are sniffing around with a view to taking him out of Anfield in the summer, such as been his impact this year.
The back four will likely feature academy product, Osei Sankofa on the right, a central defensive pairing of Madjid Bougherra (acquired from Sheffield Wednesday for £2.5m in the latest transfer window) and Souleymane Diawara with notorious henchman, Ben Thatcher, on the left. There is a doubt over Bougherra, who sustained an injury in the last outing at Old Trafford so either Talal El Karkouri or Hermann Hreidarsson may start in his absence. Club captain Luke Young is likely to be fit to play but his lack of match fitness and the good form of his replacement may keep him out of the starting XI.
Charlton have experimented with a 4-4-2 and with a lone striker this season and either is possible for Saturday. One of the players likely to feature regardless is Matt Holland, who has relished under Pardew’s stewardship. His tendency to graft and his unrelenting commitment to the cause have endeared him to the home crowd, particularly of late.
Alongside him in midfield is likely to be Alexander Song, on loan from L’Arse, in the deeper holding role after a decent debut at Old Trafford in the last outing. Other options include disappointing summer signing from Newcastle, Amdy Faye or another possible home debutant, current Chinese footballer of the year and national team captain, creative midfielder, Zheng Zhi. ZZ, as he has been christened by the home fans, makes up a nice “three-for-a-tenner” Chinese Premiership trio with compatriots, Sun Jihai (Man City) and Sheffield United’s Li Tie.
There is plenty of width in the Charlton line up, but much of it is of dubious quality. The most talented could be Dennis Rommedahl, the Dane, who has class on his day, but his day seems to come as infrequently as his goal contributions; his Charlton tally is a mere 6 in 78 appearances. There may be a return for Andy Reid, if he is able to shrug off a hamstring injury. The former Sp*rs and Nottingham Forest player can certainly be described as a wide player but anyone who saw his wonder goal for Forest at the Boleyn during our last stint in the lower league will be aware that we need to respect him more than you would think from his physical appearance. Winger, Jerome Thomas is also a contender for some involvement and possesses both skill and the ability to cross a decent ball.
Upfront, collective Charlton breaths will be held for the return from knee injury of Darren Bent. He remains the club’s top scorer with a tally of 11 goals this campaign, despite a lengthy injury lay off and the supporters will be hoping that he can return to the side, and to form, as soon as possible. Bent is a two footed player who has an abundance of pace, particularly over distance. He is fairly adroit in the air, due to being able to jump well rather than any particular height advantage (he’s 5ft 11) but key to his goalscoring is his ability to shoot on site, either from outside the box or within. One to watch if he returns.
Alongside him will be his namesake, Marcus Bent. He is less prolific than Dazza, having only bagged a solitary League finish in the current campaign but he is held in high regard by the supporters, having been placed in the thankless lone striker role where he has put in a high level of graft and commitment and held the line well. Other options include the less than enthusiastic figure of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, youth team product, Kevin Lisbie and former Newcastle man, Darren Ambrose.
- Lauren, character in The Catherine Tate show.
When I last sat down to write one of these previews (pre Watford), West Ham were doing an impression of a hitchhiker in the pissing rain (ie we were in desperate need of a lift). Continuing in that image, we are looking like the same man standing by the roadside, who has realised that no one will be stopping for him. Now if this man takes it too seriously, the passing wheels of a speeding juggernaut may seem the target to chuck yourself under (thumb first, of course) but when he stops and reflects, it'll make more sense to shrug off his misfortune and head to the local hosiery for comfort (well, it always works for me).
You see, win, lose or draw on Saturday, I am resigned to a collision course with the good ship, Champion, some time between now and May. In all honesty, we’ve not had enough about us at any point this season to look worthy of staying up and we are now looking for miracles in terms of points and a 180 degree turnaround in terms of performances.
I, personally, think that even if we were to find the football genie in the lamp and that he was to grant us sufficient numbers of three points to better three of our rivals, then the FA would intervene and Carlos and Javier would cost us our place. It has been that sort of year.
Whilst relegation is never as bad as you think it will be, it does make wishing for survival this year a bit of a waste of time. Let’s face it, if Curbs was running the Dog and Duck Sunday morning team (and we do an admirable impersonation at times), this would be the stage when he phoned up the league chairman and withdrew, citing player disinterest as the reason leaving our future opponents with a 3-0 win and a Sunday morning lie in.
Unfortunately, the Premiership rolls on for another three months so there is a need to look for some alternative ambitions before the summer. I personally am hoping to see the following:-
1. A Carlos Tevez goal for West Ham. Despite popular opinion, he is not the messiah and he is neither the cure nor the cause of the problems. However, as well as being a fantastic footballer, he is certainly industrious and he has given us plenty more effort and commitment than we could have reasonably asked for. For the sweat alone he deserves to pop his cherry and when that strike comes, I suspect it will be celebrated as though it had just won the cup.
2. Victory over one (or more) of Sp*rs, Arsenal and Chelsea. Just to shut the twats at work up for one Monday morning.
3. An already relegated West Ham side putting in yet another “obscene” level of performance to stop ManUSA winning the league on the closing day. I admit that of the contenders, I’d prefer them to come out on top, but I think that we’ve all suffered enough this season to justify enjoying someone else’s misery first hand.
Finally, I don’t want this to read as though I’ve given up all together. My hope of staying up has gone but my support for West Ham continues, I’ll still be at as many games, still hoping that we win, still singing Bubbles as loudly as I can, still West Ham 'til I die. As any supporter knows, suffering the bad times makes the good times that much sweeter and I’m sure they’ll be a few smiles on the way this season and plenty more beyond that.
In respect of a score for this game, I’m going to go 2-1 to Charlton but as always when I predict a defeat, I hope I’m wrong.
Enjoy the game.