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Panic? What Panic? – A Pre-Season Squad Assessment

It’s that time of year again. The players are back in for pre-season training, informing us via Twitter how hard it is to earn thousands of pounds a week to run around a bit, the start of the pre-season friendly campaign is just over a week away and plans have been made for the first few away games. The return of domestic football is becoming very real.

With the start of the season barely more than a month away, it’s also a time for Charlton fans to find something to panic about. Last season it was financial constraints and a lack of signings, the summer before the promotion season there was a question as to where Chris Powell’s host of signings would jell and in the summer preceding the disastrous 13th place finish in League One, a severe shortage of numbers in the playing staff caused many to worry.

Maghoma opted for another club; hopefully not the start of a trend this summer

This summer, it would appear the topic of concern is a lack of signings along with shortages in the squad in certain areas. Baring in mind there’s still five weeks until the big kick off at Bournemouth, these concerns are of course incredibly premature. Those concerns were only made worse this week with Jacques Maghoma, an apparent transfer target, opting to join Sheffield Wednesday over the Addicks. With last summer marred by Powell’s frustration at losing out on his targets, such as Sam Baldock and Sone Aluko, losing out on potential signings is a worrying trend that can’t continue.

However, only a fool would doubt Powell’s ability to bring in the signings needed, no matter what the financial constraints are. With time on his side, I have little doubt that new signings will be made in due course to improve a side that impressed many by finishing 9th in the Addicks’ first season back in the Championship. The squad isn’t that far from being complete, but there are areas that need some improvement.

Goal Keeper

This is one area that can safely be said is covered. Baring is minor blip in form that saw him dropped; Ben Hamer impressed through the majority of the season and won the Addicks a number of points with his displays. There is no doubting his shot stopping ability whilst his command of his area has improved along with his distribution which caused frustration amongst some Charlton fans. Hamer’s understudy David Button has proved himself to be an adequate replacement without being at the same level, but that’s all that’s needed for a replacement keeper at a Championship club with a tight budget. The promising Nick Pope waits in the wings if an injury crisis forces Powell to call upon him, but he should be full of confidence following his title winning campaign with the U21’s and an appearance for the first team on the final day of the season.

Hamer’s made the ‘keeper’s position his own

Right Back

Can Charlton keep a hold of the best right back in the division? I hope so. Chris Solly is an integral part of this side and a second consecutive player of the year award just goes to show how talented the academy graduate is. If Solly were to leave, a high quality replacement will need to be found with the versatile Lawrie Wilson being better suited to a position on the wing despite filling at right back when needed last season. If Solly stays, I’d like to see a versatile defender come in who can perform adequately across the back four and act as more appropriate cover than Wilson in case the ‘5’3’ full back suffers from injury.

Will these two provide enough support at right back?

Centre Back

This is another position in which the Addicks have a number of high quality performers and should be covered already going into the new season. Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite proved themselves to be an impressive partnership in the end of season unbeaten run, whilst Leon Cort was a rock at the back at the beginning of the season. The loss of Matthew Taylor following his release should be covered by the growing talents of Kevin Feely and Semi Ajayi, who both played for their respective countries’ youth sides over the summer.

Kevin Feely; hope for the future

Left Back

With Cedric Evina reporting to pre-season training, it would appear hope of him signing a new contract isn’t dead. If the former Arsenal trainee signs up for another season, the left side of defence will be covered. The impressive Rhoys Wiggins’ return to the side and form coincided with the unbeaten end of season run, whilst Evina showed promise, especially in his performance away at Watford in the 4-3 win. There’s also high hope for youngster Morgan Fox, who can fill in as a reserve if Evina leaves or injury strikes.

Signs suggest Evina will appear in a Charlton shirt again

Right Midfield

Bradley Pritchard made this position his own towards the end of the season and began to look more suited to a position on the wing than his more natural centre midfield position. His display against Barnsley was most promising, scoring goals, providing assists and beating his man like an out and out winger. Lawrie Wilson and Danny Green provide adequate cover for the Zimbabwean.

The first choice right winger for the next season?

Centre Midfield

The permanent signing of Mark Gower beefs up a strong contingent of centre midfielders at the Valley. Skipper Johnnie Jackson impressed last season with his 12 goals, whilst Andy Hughes’ return from injury was a breath of fresh air, helping to change the course of the season. Although transfer listed, along with Green, Dale Stephens and Danny Hollands are both excellent talents and I fully expect at least one of them to stay put. Stephens added fuel to the fires of his critics with a number of disappointing displays, but maintains a level of quality, whilst Hollands showed he can perform in the Championship with an excellent performance away at Middlesbrough. With Pritchard able to come inside if needed, the midfield should be sorted.

Gower may well be a regular starter in the season to come

Left Midfield

With Jackson now firmly in the centre of midfield and Salim Kerkar released alongside Danny Haynes and Scott Wagstaff, the left wing position is a little short of numbers. Whilst youngster Callum Harriott impressed and fully deserved his call up the England U19 squad, he is far from the finished article, often lacking an end product to his talents on the ball. It’s also difficult to expect a 19 year old to cope with an entire 46 game season. Whilst Jordan Cook might be ready to step up to the first team, some left wingers are needed. Losing out on Maghoma becomes even more frustrating when this is considered, but Powell will have more targets in mind to plug the gaps.

Harriott will need some support

Striker

Now this is where we have an issue. With game changers Ricardo Fuller and Haynes released alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips, Yann Kermorgant is the only senior striker at the club. Hopefully Jonathan Obika will come in on a permanent basis, but he lacks that game changing ability that will be sorely missed without Fuller and Haynes. Despite being an average Championship club, I’d like to think we’ll be able to secure both an impact forward and a 20 goal a season striker to accompany Kermorgant in attack. Obika along with two strikers fulfilling those criteria is what’s needed. If I were to suggest some names, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Simeon Jackson would be my targets of choice, but both are unlikely to be within our wage budget. From within the club, a host of promising strikers can be called upon, such as Michael Smith and Adebayo Azezz, can be called upon if needed.

Obika’s return would be welcomed

It would seem that the only real cause for concern is on the left of midfield and upfront; not too bad considering we’ve got weeks and weeks until the season begins. It might take a sale to trigger the club into action; the money from selling one of the three transfer listed players might be what’s needed to make some additions. Whatever happens, Powell will have a squad fit and ready for the kick off on August 3rd.

‘People doubt me? Ha.’

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Bradley Wright-Phillips: the Forgotten Hero

14/04/12. Carlisle away. 76 minutes had been played when Charlton won a corner. With fellow promotional hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday being held by Colchester United, the Addicks need only to score in order to seal promotion back to the second tier. Johnnie Jackson’s corner swings in, Dale Stephens heads it back across goal, Bradley Wright-Phillips stabs at the ball in hope and, via a Carlisle body, is bundled over the line. Pandemonium. Whether you were sat tentatively in front of the TV and now informing everyone in a mile radius of your delight with some excessive celebrating, embarrassing yourself in public after seeing the score update via Twitter or one of the lucky few to be right at the heart of the moment up in the stands at Brunton Park, it was a moment every Charlton fan would never forget as the goal proved to be the match winner and promotion confirmer. His 21 goals prior to kick-off on that day had gone a long way to putting Charlton in a position in which promotion could be achieved; his 22nd had made him a hero.

But with the news this week that New York Charlton Reserves, or Red Bulls as they are more commonly known, were set to take another player with an Addicks connection on trial, it would seem Wright-Phillips’ days in a Charlton shirt are over. Dropped, vanquished from the first team and sent out on loan to League One Brentford, the striker couldn’t quite make the step up to Championship footballer and with the 28-year-old out of contract, an opportunity to ply his trade in the ever improving MLS with, it would appear, no deal from Charlton on the table is an opportunity impossible to turn down. Despite one and a half prolific seasons in League One, including ‘that’ goal, it’s almost certainly the correct decision to let Wright-Phillips go. Requiring a number of chances to score, his often indifferent finishing could be forgiven in League One but not in the Championship were clear cut chances are few and far between; a succession of unexplainable misses against Watford in October summed up his frailties. However, it would appear many are being left with the lasting impression of Wright-Phillips as a poor finisher who failed to adjust to a higher level of football and got lucky in a lower division. It’s vitally important that is corrected; Bradley Wright-Phillips deserves hero status within Charlton Athletic Football Club.

Chris Powell’s first signing as Charlton manager; the former Southampton striker joined the Addicks for an undisclosed fee from Plymouth in January 2011 after scoring 13 goals for the Pilgrims in the first half of the 2010/2011 season. Wright-Phillips joined just days after the Addicks beat his previous employers 2-0 at the Valley in Powell’s first game in charge, two factors which helped to spark excessive positivity amongst Charlton fans that promotion to the Championship would be achieved come May. He made his debut a week after joining as he lined up against Colchester on a chilly Tuesday night at the Valley. The game offered little to liven up the frozen crowd; that was until Wright-Phillips acrobatically turned in Scott Wagstaff’s cross to seal a second consecutive three points for the Addicks with 15 minutes left to play. A second goal and a third win on the bounce followed away at Yeovil as Charlton climbed back into the play-off spots with games in hand meaning an automatic promotion place wasn’t beyond the grasp of Chris Powell and his team. Another goal and another win followed in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Peterborough, but that was where the honeymoon ended for Powell. A run that saw just two wins in the final 19 games of the season saw the Addicks finish the season languishing in 13th and many disgruntled fans calling for the manager’s head. However, amidst the chaos and depression, Wright-Phillips grabbed himself another five goals in what was seen as the only positive to come from the final period of the season. It may seem like an exaggeration now, but at the time it felt like his goals had kept Charlton away from any threat of being considered a relegation candidate.

It also seems incredibly silly to use words such as these now, but the board stuck by Powell and gave him the chance to build a squad capable of challenging for promotion for the 2011/12 season. The defence was shored up with the likes of Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins in the hope a solid foundation at the back would provide more points from Wright-Phillips’ goals, gifted midfielders such as Dale Stephens and Danny Green were snapped up to provide Wright-Phillips with the ammunition to shoot and striker partners in the shape of Paul Hayes and later Yann Kermorgant were brought in to compliment Wright-Phillips’ attributes and assist in goal scoring positions. The squad was almost flawless in every department and it showed as the Addicks, and Wright-Phillips, took the league by storm. It took the striker three games to get off the mark, although he had played provider in the first two games of the season, with a double in a 2-0 win at Colchester and the goals flowed freely after that. Goals against Scunthorpe, Sheffield Wednesday, Exeter, Chesterfield, Sheffield United, Carlisle, Preston North End and Brentford, along with braces against Wycombe and Hartlepool, meant Wright-Phillips could boast an impressive 14 goals in his first 17 league appearances.

However, the goals dried up for Wright-Phillips after his close range finish at Griffin Park as he was forced to wait 14 games for his 15th goal of the season, an excellent finish in the 2-0 win over Stevenage, but his performance away from in front of goal remained high, running the channels, working hard and contributing with a number of assists. Charlton’s team performances also failed to decline with the Addicks losing just one game during Wright-Phillips’ barren spell; an indicator that the striker has more to his game than just goals. His first hat-trick for the club came in the game following the Stevenage win, a 4-0 win at Chesterfield, and it seemed Charlton’s number 10 had his mojo back. Four more goals, including that all important goal at Carlisle, followed as Charlton raced to the title with 101 points, seeing him finish the season on 22 goals and becoming the first Charlton striker to achieve 20 or more league goals in a season since Andy Hunt in 1999/2000, another title winning campaign. Every championship winning side needs a prolific striker; the ever-so-hard to find 20 goal a season striker. Wright-Phillips’ goals were crucial to Charlton’s success in achieving promotion in such emphatic style.

Could Wright-Phillips produce another 20 goal season in the Championship? The answer was ultimately no, but the early signs were promising. A hard working performance in the cruel draw away at Birmingham on the opening day of the season was followed by arguably Wright-Phillips’ best performance in a Charlton shirt. Terrorising the Leicester defence all night along with his fellow partner in crime Yann Kermorgant, the striker grabbed a goal with an exquisite finish to cap a wonderful display. The message boards and social networks were awash with Wright-Phillips based praise, but he wasn’t to reach those heights again. A factor as simple as a wrongly called offside decision, disallowing Wright-Phillips’ goal against Crystal Palace, is seen by many as a grand ‘what if?’ moment. If the goal had been given, would he have had the confidence to turn in simple chances against Blackburn and Watford in the following weeks? It’s a possibility, but ultimately it would appear the Championship is a level too high for the striker; a return to League One with Brentford were he impressed a large portion of their fans only strengthens the idea that the third tier is his level. Before he left for Brentford, there were some glimmers of hope in cameos against Millwall and Derby in January, but a start against Huddersfield United in the FA Cup left many unimpressed and ‘subs not used: Wright-Phillips’ became a familiar site, if the striker was fortunate enough to even receive a place on the bench. The hope and potential from one Tuesday night in August was never fulfilled.

Football’s a cruel game, and it’s ever so cruel that Wright-Phillips wasn’t able to flourish in the Championship in a red shirt, whilst it’s crueller still that those less than pleasing performances in the final year of his Charlton career will form the lasting memory of some, but hopefully, as time passes, what Wright-Phillips did for the club will be appreciated to the extent that it should be. He succeeded where Mooney, Burton, Sodje, Abbot, Benson and Anyinsah all failed; he scored the goals to get Charlton Athletic out of the third tier of English football. He scored the goal to get Charlton Athletic out of the third tier of English football. There was no one more dissevering. In my eyes, he’ll always be better than Shaun.

Unemployment FC: the Best Free Agents for Championship Clubs this Season

What’s the first thing every budding Chris Powell, Lee Clark and Nigel Pearson does when beginning a new career on ‘Football Manager’? Is it work out an effective training routine? What about organise match winning tactics? Or how about transfer list those 31 year olds with one year left on their contracts? No, it’s none of them. As every avid player of the computer game series would know, it’s search for the bargains to be had in the free agents player search category. It’s like having a long list of women lined up for you in a club, all of the small talk and negotiation being put to one side and you getting the chance to hand pick your favourite lady to take home. Oh what fun.

Thankfully, the PFA have made every socially excluded football simulator loving freak’s favourite activity a reality with their very own list of free players. From 18 year olds without a pro deal to seasoned pros looking for their last pay cheque, it’s got all of the hottest unattached property on show. With money in short supply in SE7, Chris Powell’s browser must auto-fill the letter ‘p’ with the PFA transfer list, and with that in mind, it only seems right to look at the best options available for Charlton Athletic and the other 23 teams in the Championship as they prepare their squads for next season.

The XI is made up of players listed on the PFA Transfer List; they may still be retained at a club but be out of contract and looking for offers. I haven’t included anyone who may be out of contract but isn’t listed as being available on the website, so the likes of Marlon Pack are not included, who doesn’t feature on the site. I’ve also decided against picking any player recently let go by Charlton, so whilst Ricardo Fuller and Danny Haynes may well have made it onto the bench, they aren’t mentioned. Finally, in the interests of reality and fairness, Premier League players who will more than likely return to Premier League clubs are not included; sorry Carlton and Titus. There’s the boring technical stuff over with, how about we look at the team?

GOAL KEEPER – LEE CAMP

I’m sure if we asked Lee to turn the clock back and reconsider his decision to move to Norwich City in January, he might well opt to remain at Nottingham Forest. After three first team appearances in the second half of the season following his move to the Premier League outfit, Camp was deemed surplus to requirements and shown the exit door by manager Chris Hughton. A dependable performer and with several hundred Championship appearances to his name, the Northern Irish international would be a steal for any club searching a safe pair of hands for next season.

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A club must now step in to reunite Camp with his beloved goal post

RIGHT BACK – GONZALO JARA

The second of three players who featured for Nottingham Forest last term, the Chilean international was let go by West Bromwich Albion after the 27 year old’s contract was not renewed. Despite over a half century of caps of his South American home nation and a regular in the Albion side when first arriving in England in 2009, the attack minded full back has spent time on loan at both Brighton and Forest, suggesting a permanent step down isn’t out of the question.

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The tears won’t stop until Jara gets himself a job

CENTRE BACK – CHRISTOPHE BERRA

Wolverhampton Wanderers: the best team on paper to ever be relegated from the Championship? Probably, and this has left a number of talented players without a club. One such player is Scottish international Berra who, despite being signed to great fanfare in January 2009, never quite lived up to his potential at Molyneux but still amassed 141 appearances during his 4 year stay at the club with most of them coming in the Premier League. At 6’3 he’s strong in the air, excellent in the tack and when 27 caps, and 2 goals, for Scotland are added to the package, he seems more than worth a punt for any Championship club.

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Berra has retrained as a kitman in case offers for playing roles are in short supply

CENTRE BACK – MATTHEW KILGALLON

Paolo Di Canio doesn’t understand the meaning of a second chance. The latest player to receive a Leon Clarke style volley of abuse from the Italian eccentric is the former England U21 international Kilgallon, for taking a trip to a casino the night before a game. The former Sheffield United man hardly made a name for himself at the Stadium of Light prior to that incident with just 23 appearances in 3 years, but the defender has proven Championship quality and would be a useful addition to many sides looking to expand their defensive units.

Scoring at the Valley; Kilgallon’s career highlight

LEFT BACK – NICKY SHOREY

They say never go back, and Shorey’s 17 appearance second spell at Reading is the perfect example of that saying. Relegation, second choice to the like of Ian Harte and released quicker than you can say ‘club legend’, the club legend leaves the Madjeski without adding much to his reputation at the club. Always a valiant performer prior to this season with spells at Fulham, West Brom and Aston Villa, in addition to his first involvement with Reading, all proven successful, there’s undoubted quality at the 32 year old’s disposal. But with the former England international (I’d forgotten too, don’t worry) the wrong side of 30, it might be time for the left back to take a step down and provide that valiant service to a Championship club.

Shorey was as shocked as all of us with his England caps

RIGHT MIDFIELD – GARY TAYLOR-FLETCHER

Much like the illuminations and the pleasure beach, Taylor-Fletcher had become part of the furniture in Blackpool. Two play-off finals, a goal in one of them,  five Premier League goals in 22 games and 36 in 215 in total for the Seasiders later and, in true undesirable sofa fashion, the winger-cum-striker has been dumped ready for another fortunate club to smuggle him into the back of a car and make use of his talents. An excellent finisherand a fantastic deliverer of the ball, his versititlity only increases the attractiveness of the free agent. Whilst at 32 age certainly isn’t on his side, experience coupled with ability would make him an excellent addition for most Championship clubs.

Club shops rub their hands in glee at the prospect of Taylor-Fletcher

CENTRE MIDFIELD – NICKY BAILEY

Some Charlton fans will have you believe that missing just one penalty results in every single aspect of a player’s ability being lost. Okay, it was a fairly important penalty, and yes, it did miss the target by quite some way, but that does not take away from the reality that Bailey is an outstanding Championship player.  Shown during his time at SE7, the tough tackling and goal scoring midfielder became a fan’s favourite winning player of the season and being one of very few positives from the side that were relegated without any fight in 2008-09. His season in League One with Charlton was just as excellent, proving himself to be far too good for that level of football, and ‘that’ miss placed kick sped up his summer transfer to Middlesbrough. With Tony Mowbary utilising his defensive qualities and turning Bailey into a holding midfielder, the former Charlton captain overs versatility in the centre and the ability to play on the wing if required. At just 28 I can’t imagine there isn’t a club in the Championship on the phone to Bailey’s agent.

Everyone deserves a second chance; Bailey is too good a player to ignore

CENTRE MIDFIELD – KEITH FAHEY

A fan’s favourite at Birmingham City, the Republic of Ireland international had a troubled season last time out with personal issues and injury restricting his playing time to just a handful of games. But the 30 year old has proven his ability in the past, in the Championship, in the Premier League and at international level, and would be an excellent addition for any Championship side. Scorer of the spectacular and possessing the ability to player that killer pass, he’s the kind of play-maker every team requires.

Fahey has promised not to grow facial hair again in return for a new club

LEFT MIDFIELD – JEROME THOMAS

Another familiar face to Addicks fans, the skillful winger found getting a place in the West Brom team a challenge with the form of his fellow wingers coupled with injury problems preventing him from ever mounting a serious challenge to be included regularly in the side. A loan to Leeds last term, where he impressed,  may suggest he’s willing to step down a league to get regular first team football. Whilst often accused of lacking an end product for all the fancy stuff during his time at the Valley, he improved on that side of his game with West Brom and became a regular starter during the Albion’s first two seasons back in the Premier League. Possibly out of Charlton’s reach, but a club hunting for promotion to the Premier League would be silly to miss out on someone of Thomas’ caliber.

A regular occurrence for Thomas last season, he’ll now want to play regularly again

STRIKER – SYLVAN EBANKS-BLAKE

Despite being inclined to the odd cake, or so the chant suggests, Ebanks-Blake guarantees you one thing in this division; goals, goals, goals. 21 goals in one and half seasons for Plymouth was followed by 37 for Wolves in the same time frame and, whilst the goals dried up in the Premier League, last season saw him hit the back of the net 14 teams despite Wolves’ woes. Strong in holding up the ball, surprisingly effective with the ball at his feet and a quality finisher, all talents that were shown in his goal of the season scored at the Valley in the 2007-08 season, the striker is a must for any club.

Could Ebanks-Blake be scoring goals like this at the Valley in a red shirt?

STRIKER – SIMEON JACKSON

A prolific goal scorer in the Football League, the Premier League was a step too far for Jackson with Norwich deciding not to renew the Canadian international’s contract. Scoring 13 goals in the Norwich side that won promotion to the Premier League, including the goal the confirmed their place in the top flight against Portsmouth, the striker has proven himself previously in the Championship and his pace and finishing would be a vital asset for most sides in the division. A name that has popped up alongside Charlton in the rumour columns in the past, a link up with Yann Kermorgant up top would be tasty.

I wonder if there’s a player on this list who hasn’t scored against Charlton?

SUBSTITUTES:

GOAL KEEPER – DEAN GERKEN

An experienced keeper who pushed David James and Tom Heaton out of the starting line up at Bristol City on various occasions. Certainly worth his place in a Championship side.

DEFENDER – ELLIOT WARD

The former Coventry centre back has spent most of his career in the Championship, including a loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season where he impressed. The 28 year old would contest for a starting place in many Championship sides.

DEFENDER – IAN HARTE

Once a trialist at Charlton, the former Republic of Ireland left back finds himself without a club following his release from Reading where he made himself a cult hero with his excellent displays and occasional magic set piece. Coming to the end of his career now, a one year deal to provide cover looks likely for the 35 year old.

MIDFIELDER – STEPHEN HUNT

He may not have warmed himself to the heart’s of Charlton fans in April with his antics in the game at the Valley, stamping on Ben Hamer was the climax to a petulant display, but the Republic of Ireland player is a talented performer on his day. Another player who would push to start in most Championship sides.

MIDFIELDER – DAVID JONES

With a new management team coming into Wigan Athletic, Jones may yet still have a chance to prove himself, but for now he remains available to be approached. The journeyman midfielder spent the end of last season at Blackburn and a side with promotion ambitions in the Championship is probably his level.

MIDFIELDER – JACQUES MAGHOMA

One of the stars of League Two in recent years, and Burton’s successful season that saw them clinch an unlikely play-off place, the former Tottenham trainee is ready to make the step up to a higher level. More than worth a punt for several Championship clubs.

STRIKER – JON STEAD

Whilst not being prolific, the 30 year old always has a knack of making a nuisance of himself to opposition defenders. His spell at Bristol City was arguably the best of his career, winning player of the year in 2011-12 and making himself a fan’s favourite. A lower half Championship side could do a lot worse than offering Stead a contract.