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Charlton rising out of The Valley of gloom

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Paul Fletcher | 22:30 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009

At The Valley

Walking down Floyd Road towards The Valley in Saturday lunchtime's late summer sunshine I heard a dad trying to convince his young son that Charlton had never lost a game in the history of football.

Optimistic, I thought, given the recent history of the south London club. The boy, no more than four or five, must remember virtually nothing of the steady years of Premier League achievement but might have seen plenty of the rapid decline that followed.

The young fella was having none of his dad's bluster and let his old man know it in no uncertain terms. Nonetheless, the nature of the wind-up hinted at a burgeoning sense of belief around SE7 after a start to the campaign that saw Charlton win their opening six League One fixtures to lead the table.

Charlton Athletic manager Phil Parkinson

The early-season form must have come as blessed relief to the club's management and supporters alike after the misery of the last campaign, when the team mustered a paltry eight league wins and finished bottom of the Championship.

As manager Phil Parkinson told me earlier in the week: "I always feel that it is important for a club that goes down to start well and our winning form has galvanised the supporters to get behind us."

And there was no question that the fans were fully behind their team as they watched Saturday's match against Southampton. However, this particular fixture was always guaranteed to stir the emotions of the home supporters as it saw the return of Alan Pardew to the club that he managed until he left by mutual consent last November after a 5-2 home defeat by Sheffield United.

Pardew, who took over at Southampton in July, was the subject of abuse from the home fans all afternoon but admitted afterwards that he had not been surprised by the torrid reception given that his time in charge at the club had not been a success.

His Southampton side were the superior team in the opening half and just about held firm as Charlton stormed back into the contest after the break. By and large, Pardew's Saints deserved their point after the 1-1 draw that ended Charlton's 100% start to the season.

Saints remained anchored to the foot of the table after beginning the campaign on minus 10 points but Pardew believes he can see the first green shoots of a team starting to take shape and grow in confidence.

I'll be heading down to Southampton in a couple of weeks to interview both Pardew and executive chairman Nicola Cortese, who was a pivotal figure in the takeover at the club by Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr. If you're a Saints fan with a question you would like me to ask please post it at the bottom.

Parkinson was Pardew's assistant at Charlton and went on to land the manager's job permanently despite a caretaker period in charge that saw him win just one in eight games. The two men had a cup of tea together before Saturday's feisty contest but with both of them competing in the same division, contact has been at a premium over the summer.

Parkinson was able to start planning for the current campaign as soon as last season ended but he readily admits there was an element of the unknown over the summer. Rumours that financial troubles might lead to Charlton entering administration have surfaced on and off this year.

"All through the summer I was never quite sure of what squad I would be left with when the season started," said Parkinson. "I just prepared the ones that were left the best I could."

Parkinson freely admits that decent players such as Andy Gray and Mark Hudson left because they were earning top-end Championship wages that the club could not afford. What he was able to do was bring in experienced players such as central defender Christian Dailly.

"We managed to bring in some good players but most of all good characters and I think that has been the key," added the Addicks boss. "When you are a club that is developing a lot of younger players it is important you have really good senior pros. Players like Christian are of that ilk."

Jonjo Shelvey is extremely highly rated

Seven of Saturday's Charlton team were 25 and under. The youngest of them, 17-year-old Jonjo Shelvey, is extremely highly rated. With his shaved head and sturdy frame, he cuts an imposing figure for one so young. Shelvey took charge of just about all the dead ball situations on Saturday and showed plenty of invention, generally from the left side. It was his cross that led to Deon Burton's equaliser.

The fact that he recently signed a contract extension is a major boost for the club but he is far from alone in providing attacking creation and energy. Lloyd Sam's early season form saw him named League One Player of the Month for August, while skipper Nicky Bailey has been in impressive form and Therry Racon showed a strong competitive spirit against a Saints team not scared to try to ruffle their opponents.

Charlton's equaliser minutes into the second half really lifted the crowd, who in turn seemed to further energise the players. It was a classic example of home advantage and Pardew admitted as much afterwards.

The Addicks were suddenly full of running and it was easy to see why they had won their opening six fixtures. They had the ball in the net twice more - both efforts ruled out for offside - while Kelly Youga struck the post. It was in sharp contrast to a rather stodgy opening half from Parkinson's team. I thought they looked very unsure in defence, particularly Spaniard Manuel Llera, who cuts a very distinctive figure in his rugby-style skull cap. The back line looked nervous and uncertain.

Parkinson told me that he feels the squad is short of numbers in defence and he will be looking to strengthen in January. This could be one area where Charlton will struggle at some point but I guess there is no room for complaint at the moment as the team have conceded just four goals in seven games.

What has been the most remarkable about Charlton's start to the season has been the consistency of selection. Parkinson has named the same XI for all seven games. He has never been able to do that before and attributes it to a combination of luck and hard work in conditioning and preparing the players.

It is perhaps a metaphor for the changing fortunes at the club - so much turmoil and instability finally giving way to some much-needed continuity.

Charlton might not have the money that Southampton now boast but they do have 19 points from their opening seven games - and as Addicks chief executive Steve Waggott suggested in the matchday programme there is nothing like a winning team to keep everyone happy.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Very pleased to see a positive bbc blog about us!

    Llera was dodgy today. The ugly atmosphere, due to the return of satan, unsettled our players. The super Spaniard in particular.

    There's going to be some really tough fixtures in the next few weeks - Norwich, Colchester and Leeds away, Huddersfield at home.

    Hopefully we can hold our nerve, play our good football and keep battling.

  • Comment number 3.

    It says a lot about how well we're playing that Lloyd Sam was probably our 4th/5th best player in August. Jose Semedo doesn't get a mention in the article, but for me he's been our best player. He has dominated every game this season.

    One small correction I'd like to make: Mark Hudson is in no way decent. Christian Dailly is twice the player Hudson is.

  • Comment number 4.

    jonjo shelvey looks a bit like a bald zlatan ibrahimovic from that angle?

    http://wdkf.co.uk/

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done Saints, a hard fought for point against the top placed club in the division. COYR!!!

    Paul, you say above that you are going to be in Southampton in a couple of weeks time and are looking for questions from the fans, can you please ask Alan Pardew why he leaves it so late in the game to make some of the substitutions he's making; to bring on players with just a couple of minutes to play seems pretty pointless to me. I'm not knocking him for what he's done so far for the club, but this point is puzzling me, and I assume there is some logic behind it?

  • Comment number 6.

    Question for Pardew:

    Had he personally seen Ricki Lambert play before signing him ? And if so how many times...

    What is his thoughts on him now after seeing him train week in week out and does he think he is worth 1 million pounds....

    Also a big thank you from all rochdale supporters as we received £250 k as part of the sell on clause

    Paul

  • Comment number 7.

    i was at the game at the Valley yesterday - among the excellent saints support in the away end. it was a great game of football imo, esp for the 3rd div. saints are on the up but its taking time - i think charlton will find saints a different proposition come 10th april at st mary's.
    first half was definitely all saints and also the start & finish of the 2nd half, but after the equaliser charlton played some good stuff and a draw was prob about right in the end.

    charlton are doing really well in this div, and fielding the same side for ll games thus far is a major factor - well done to the manager.

    my son and i are enjoying travelling to some of the 3rd div grounds and in some ways enjoy it better than the prem & 2nd div away games. huddersfield was a dire game for us on the pitch, but we enjoyed the ground, the town and yapping with the huddersfield supporters. charlton was a bit different as it was a prem fixture recently and we were at last seasons 0-0 in the rain.

    good luck to charlton for the rest of the season - i've always thought that they are a very similar club to saints and we were both good footballing small sides in the prem for years.

  • Comment number 8.

    Saints fan Questions for Cortese

    Is there any chance of St Marys being used in the 2018 World Cup if England wins the bid?

    Can you install a railway station outside the ground?

  • Comment number 9.

    dabos83 - you're quite right about Jose Semedo - he impressed again against Saints.

    I would be keen to know whether any Charlton fans reading this think their team will last the distance - is that largely dependent on the club remaining injury free?

  • Comment number 10.

    Before the start of the season, i thought we would lose our holy trinity in midfield (Bailey, Racon, Shelvey), struggle to score goals and concede many due to 3 out of our back four being completely new.

    For me mid-table was beckoning, simply because i couldn't imagine another relegation. Thats what i thought in the Championship! But then it didn't occur to me how much Alan Pardew would lose the plot.

    We have started extremely well because Parkinson made his signings early in the summer, a smart move which gave him a full pre-season to gel them together.

    Despite being given no real backing from the board, he has assembled a half decent first 11 for this division out of freebies.

    In answer to your question, i think injuries will take their toll, and we will go through a rough patch eventually.

    I can only hope that things off the pitch can be sorted by the time the next transfer window opens - so money can be thrown at Parky left right and centre to strengthen our paper thin squad.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Paul - your question about whether we think we can go the distance...

    I think the start we've had means there is an air of optimism around the Valley which is great after the disappointment of last season. That being said, you will get a much better idea of where we are at after our next 4 or 5 games which consist of Leeds, Norwich & Huddersfield. If we come out of those still in the top 2 I think we'll be full of confidence and will carry it on for the season.

    As you mention, injuries will play a big part as well. If we lose 1 CB now we have Sodje which is great, if we lose Burton we have McKenzie but if we lose someone like Bailey, Racon, Semedo or Shelvey we don't have anyone capable of replacing them which is a worry but something you have to deal with at this level.

    It will be a successful season for me if we finish in the top 6 considering the thin squad and uncertainty in the boardroom (even though Parky has given me reason to hope for a bit more).

    COYR, UP THE ADDICKS!

  • Comment number 13.

    I think we will definitely be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

    Our midfield starting 5 is capable of holding their own in the league above and that is what sets us apart from most teams in this league (that said, this is quite a strong league with 4 or 5 teams who are probably capable of winning it).

    Hopefully we will strengthen again in January (at the back and up front) in case we get a few injuries.

    We are out of the league cup, and should field the reserves in the JPT as the league is by far and a way the priority.

  • Comment number 14.

    Parkinson, of course, knows the way out of League One, as he proved by winning promotion as manager of Colchester in 2006.

    I asked him to compare the standard back then with what he has found so far this season. This is what he said:

    "League One is very competitive this year. There are teams who have spent money, like Huddersfield, and others who have played together for a while, like MK Dons, Colchester and Southend.

    "We had Forest in the league when Colchester won promotion. This season the likes of ourselves, Norwich and Southampton as well as Leeds are in the third tier.

    "There are more so-called bigger names but that doesn’t win you anything – it about spirit of players and quality on pitch each Saturday."

  • Comment number 15.

    It’s rare to find a thoughtful football blog nowadays, well done! (Yes! I do creep!).

    Comment and Question for Nicola Cortese: First of all, could you thank Mr Leibherr for saving our club?

    Second, what was the reasoning behind making the whole of the Chapel Stand a Family Enclosure? Please, don’t misunderstand me, its great that Southampton are doing so much to encourage young people to come to football, however, we ancient ones now find our Saturdays chums are dispersed all over St Mary’s.

    It’s an old codgers’ thing; meet you mates for pre-match pint, all go to the game together, grumble about the centre forward and/or the manager, go home searing you’ll never go again, but would die rather than miss a game.

    For the record I’m seventy-year-old season ticket holder, travel down from Salop for every home game and attend all away games along the M6 corridor.

    Oh! Could you also mention to Mr Pardew, we know he’s got his work cut out just clearing the League-imposed penalty pints, but a win, any sort of win, would be nice! And soon!

  • Comment number 16.

    I listened to the Charlton v Saints match on radio Solent, as I have for all the games I have not been able to afford to get to.

    Whilst I was impressed with the way we put Charlton on the back foot in the first half, I felt we were too late in making changes in the second half when they started dominating the game.

    Jaidi was only introduced with 10 minutes to go, when it seemed obvious to me we needed his presence on the field with 30 to go. The youngen Mills was like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter as he tired from the physical mauling he received and Lallana thought he was playing in the Premiership as he kept falling over in the box, (this is a mans league). Jaidi once on, made me regain my composure as he dealt with everything coming his way like the pro he is, and need, week in, week out.

    Papa Waigo was a breath of fresh air when he came on in the 92 minute and if Lallana had thought team rather than individual we could have seen Papa Waigo score a fantastic late winner.

    Are there any lessons to be learnt from todays game?

    The answer is yes.

    I am not going to tell anyone that Alan Pardew is not doing a good job, because I like him, I like his style and he is doing a first class job in the timescale he has been with the club. The players he has brought in, the scouting network that is now in place, the management team he has surrounded himself with and his general demeanour are to be commended however; I would like to see the best 11 on the pitch at the start of games. I would like to see quicker substitutions made when things are getting on top of us.

    It is only my opinion but I think we have dropped 4 points in the last 2 games because of failure to uphold my last 2 points.

    We are playing good football and will clearly finish in the top half this season, a more than well deserved point away at the league leaders is proof of that.


  • Comment number 17.

    Paul, A question for Nicole Cortese: As fans, we always suspected that despite the hard work of day-to-day staff at the club, as whole, the club was in a mess. Was he shocked at the extent of the work needed to get the club back on an even-keel? And how long does he realistically think it will take the club to stabilise before moving forward?

  • Comment number 18.

    Question for Nicola and Alan. Its not often that the result of one game becomes a turning point in a season, but will you be satisfied with anything less than a win against Yeovil on Saturday?
    Supplementary:
    Even a one-goal win would be a disapointment for many people, and another draw even more so, but if its a defeat, will there be a review of management performance at the highest level?

  • Comment number 19.

    Walterlittlewood, thanks for sharing those positive vibes with the rest of us. It appears that some Saints fans, just still don't get it. Or they've only known the club as one that has a revolving door of managers and consider it the norm to go through 3 managers a season... despite the fact its one of the key reasons were in League 1.

    I expect Mr Cortese will confirm to Paul the reason they gave Pardew a 3 year contract, because that's how long he'll be in job and how long they will take to judge him on results & his performance.

    It's a novel approach for Southampton to actually plan ahead based upon stability, but perhaps it's time for some Saints fans to realise this and instead of constantly undermining the manager and posing stupid questions just TWO MONTHS after the club was saved from the brink of disaster.

  • Comment number 20.

    Dear Chocolate Box - a management review does not mean the sack. It means managing the manager, something that was crucially absent during the Wilde/Crouch tenure at SMS. This would require the manager to account for his decisions and to explain his strategies - one of the reasons why clubs do appoint a Director of Football, especially if the club chairman is not well versed in the tactical game. A win against Yeovil and the season will have well and truly started, especially after a draw at the league leaders. A home defeat though, and you will see large numbers of fans becoming very negative. There are three posibilities on Saturday, hence the conditional approach to the question.

  • Comment number 21.

    Timeframes.
    Obviously 90+ minutes are critical on the pitch. Hanging onto a lead for the last 10 minutes seems to always be a problem both in Championship and, so far, League 1. This is for the manager to encourage the players, make appropriate substitutions and to develop tactics and strategy.
    Monthly - season's progression in the table (very difficult starting -10), but an issue for fans as well as the management. Setting realistic periodic objectives through the season and adapting of targets are not met (or even exceeded). Communication can be key here to prevent neagative reactions or to avoid panic measures that might make things worse.
    Seasonal - a manager is not just for a season and a board must itself have longer term stability. Saints' big failing in recent years. The hate figure at the top (good-bye Rupert) and the revolving door to the managers office are not good ways. Give Alan time (OK he might get a better offer elsewhere, but he also has committed to Saints). Above all earn trust in all levels of the club, board, management, players, fans. Give us a reason to be patient and let's make some steady and sure progress up the league.

  • Comment number 22.

    Lifelong Saints fan, and just a question probably on any fans mind, for Alan Pardew.

    Q. Firstly i was shocked when i heard of a Manager like yourself being appointed at Southampton! Being a successful Manager in the top flight of English Football, will you ever be tempted to leave Southampton for the next Premier League Vacancy in the future?.. as promotion is looking doubtful for the first year and being a manager in the lower leagues can also be daunting, Southampton will make it to the premiership under your management Alan and im very impressed with your running of the club in such a short period of time, however Southampton needs a lifelong Manager to remain successful like Strachan and Burley & such as Man Utd and Alex Ferguson.

  • Comment number 23.

    Paul,

    Can you please ask AP if there is any thoughts on the team captaincy? Whilst Super Kelv is a great keeper, many feel that an outfield player such as Jaidi or Hammond may be better placed to lead the team. Super Kelv for Club Captain perhaps?

    Ta.

 

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