Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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Corner Turned as Addicks Head in the Right Direction

The most marked characteristic of Chris Powell’s Charlton is determination. Whether that’s in the form of smash-and-grab wins, spirited comebacks or overturning bad runs of form, Powell and his men don’t know when they’re beaten, and when they are, they put it right quickly. The Charlton that had started this season wasn’t Chris Powell’s Charlton. Flat, off the pace and ridden with individual errors, concern was beginning to turn to panic. After being spared humiliation by Doncaster Rovers last week thanks to the rain and a disappointing defeat to Huddersfield Town in the League Cup in midweek, the visit of Leicester City to The Valley was a daunting prospect. Pessimism filled every forum post, Tweet and word uttered by Charlton fans in the run-up to the game, but this is Chris Powell’s Charlton. A performance full of determination saw the Addicks secure a 2-1 victory; their first win of the season.

After a quiet opening 25 minutes, Charlton’s first corner produced Charlton’s first effort on goal, which gave the Addicks the lead. Dale Stephens’ ball in was perfect for former Leicester defender Michael Morrison, who headed home from close range. It was the first time Charlton had led in a league game all season, and their chances of clinging on were improved shortly after half time. Matty James, who had already been booked for a late challenge on Bradley Pritchard early on in the first half, was shown a second yellow and a subsequent red after referee Deadman took exception to something the midfielder said to him.

A little more than five minutes after Leicester went down to ten men, Charlton doubled their lead through another familiar face to the travelling fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Another fantastic corner, this time by Johnnie Jackson, caused havoc in Leicester’s six yard box and the ball found its way through to Yann Kermorgant at the far post. The Frenchman could do little but head past a stranded Kasper Schmeichel and the inevitable had happened; A third goal in as many games for Kermorgant against his former employers, who he infamously missed a penalty for in the 2009/10 play-off semi-final.

But the away side, who were unbeaten going into the game, were never going to lie down and accept defeat. Danny Drinkwater gave them a lifeline after latching onto a poor clearance from Dorian Dervite and smashing the ball beyond Morrison’s attempted block and Ben Hamer’s clutches, setting up a nervy 30 minutes for the Addicks. But, helped by the extra man, it was the home side that created the better chances; the brilliance of Schmeichel kept his side in the game. With six minutes of stoppage time signalled, it was a nail-biting end, but thanks to some excellent hold up play in Leicester’s half of the pitch and some resilient defending, Charlton held on for their first win.

With Charlton fans fearing the worst before kick-off, the glaring omission of Chris Solly’s name from the team sheet did little to raise hopes of a home win. The right-back, who has won the player of the season award for the past two campaigns, was forced to sit out the clash with the Foxes following a minor knee injury. Solly also missed out on Tuesday’s defeat to Huddersfield, where a 3-5-2 formation was deployed, and Powell opted to use the flamboyant set-up once again. Leon Cort and Morrison were joined by Dervite, who came back into the side for Solly after being dropped for the game against Doncaster, in the back three that was flanked by Rhoys Wiggins and Lawrie Wilson in wing back positions that meant Callum Harriott had to settle for a place on the bench. With Jordon Cousins and Mark Gower missing out, skipper Johnnie Jackson started his second league game of the season after overcoming a calf injury alongside Dale Stephens, who had also recovered from injury, with Bradley Pritchard completing the central midfield trio. Kermorgant, whose name produced the expected battle of boos and cheers when announced to the crowd, and Simon Church provided Charlton’s attacking threat.

With just two changes to the side that beat Birmingham 3-2 last weekend, Leicester’s team news was slightly more straightforward then Charlton’s dramatically altered line-up. Captain Wes Morgan returned to the side, replacing Zak Whitbread, whilst Arsenal loanee Ignasi Miquel came in to partner him in the centre of defence alongside Liam Moore. Chris Wood was the unfortunate player who had to make way for Miquel, with manager Nigel Pearson also opting for a 3-5-2 formation that saw Jeffery Schlupp and Richie De Laet occupy the wing-back roles. David Nugent and Jamie Vardy led the line in Wood’s absence, whilst Andy King, Drinkwater and James made up the midfield and ‘keeper Schmeichel completed the XI. The bench contained a number of pacey wingers with the likes of Lloyd Dyer, Anthony Knockaert and Neil Danns in reserve.

The journey to The Valley was a contrasting one to last week’s. Unfortunately the M25 was still its manic self, but no longer were my concerns about whether or not the game would last 90 minutes, but whether or not I would last the 90 minutes stuck in the car in sweltering heat. Gone were the waterproofs and rain of last week to be replaced by shorts and sun. Could the change in the weather coincide with a change in Charlton’s fortunes?

It seemed the answer to that question was yes as Charlton started brightly under brilliant blue skies in SE7. Whilst the Addicks, nor the visitors, could muster an effort on goal in the opening period of play, the home side looked far more assured on the ball and appeared solid at the back. Both sides peppered the opposition’s box with crosses, but for no reward with defences on top. James’ somewhat harsh yellow for a late challenge on Pritchard and Kermorgant’s incredible tackle on Drinkwater, that raised a loud cheer from the Charlton fans, were the only moments of note in the first 20 minutes.

The first effort goal came after 22 minutes of the first half, with James’ corner skidding off the head of Cort on its way through to Moore, but the defender could only nod harmlessly wide. Referee Deadman, who is no stranger to handing out his fair share of cards, produced a second yellow for Leicester after Miquel cynically scythed down Kermorgant just outside the area. Jackson’s dead ball provided the first real test for Leicester’s defence as Schmiechel was forced to punch behind and concede a corner under heavy pressure from Charlton’s forwards. However, there was little Schmiechel could do from the following set-piece. Stephens’ inswinging corner picked up Morrison and the defender powered home an excellent header to give the Addicks the lead. The vice-captain, who was making his 100th appearance in a Charlton shirt, had come under heavy criticism following a number of poor displays in the opening weeks of the season and the goal would have done his, and his team’s, confidence the world of good.

With the Charlton fans in fine voice, as they had been all afternoon, Leicester almost silenced them immediately in their next attack. Hamer came rushing off his line to punch away a Moore long throw, but was quite some distance from making contact with the ball as it was flicked on towards Vardy, who now had an open goal in his sights. But Morrison, battling with Vardy, won the ball and prevented the Leicester forward from equalising for the away side. The ball was eventually put behind for a corner and after James’ delivery was cleared at the first attempt, the ball was put back into the box for Miquel to head wide with Hamer watching bounce out of play.

Jackson became Charlton’s first and the game’s third booking after just half an hour when he went in recklessly on James, and the home skipper was involved again moments later as a succession of corners saw Charlton come close to doubling their lead on two occasions. First, Stephens’ delivery found the head of Church, who forced Schmiechel into an outstanding save before Leicester frantically cleared the ball behind for another corner. That corner was sent in by Jackson, and he picked out an unmarked Church, who somehow managed to volley over when it seemed easier to score. Although ten minutes remained, that marked the end of the action in the first half, and Chris Powell’s men returned to their dressing to the sound and sight of a standing ovation from the home fans; it was thoroughly deserved.

Leicester, as was shown twice last season after they fell behind to the Addicks, were always going to come at Charlton in the second half and cause problems, but it was the home side who created the first opening of the second 45. Kermorgant’s powerful, if not pretty, run saw him take the ball from the halfway line to just outside Leicester’s penalty area before Drinkwater opted to pull back the Frenchman and concede a free-kick. This was right in Kermorgant’s territory, and his effort looked destined for the back of the net if it were not for Schmiechel’s right palm coming across and pulling off another excellent stop. Schmiechel’s save seemed all the more crucial as Vardy broke free in Leicester’s next attack and picked out Nugent in acres of space inside the box. The experienced forward appeared set to draw the Foxes level, but Hamer matched his counterpart with an incredible save to deny Nugent before Morrison thumped the ball away.   

Whilst there didn’t seem to be anything untoward with the build-up for Leicester’s opening from my vantage point, a fine Leicester break was thwarted by a finer Hamer save, James clearly thought otherwise. Whilst Moore was waiting to deliver the throw following Morrison’s clearance, James made it known to referee Deadman that he felt a penalty should have been awarded. Deadman took exception to this and produced a second yellow and sent James off, much to the bemusement of the Leicester players, the anger of the fans and astonishment of James himself. Whilst Leicester had little grounds for complaint in regards to the second yellow if something had been said, the harsh yellow awarded after 12 minutes of play to James had now played a part in the Foxes being forced to play the best part of 40 minutes a man light.

Cries from the away end of ‘you’re not fit to referee’ were aimed at Deadman after he let a strong, but fair, challenge from Prichard pass by without any punishment, but Leicester’s frustration almost turned to joy moments later as Nugent came close again. In an almost identical break, Vardy picked out Nugent again and, with a clear sight of goal, fired his shot towards the bottom corner, but Hamer was equal to it once more. Knockaert replace de Laet as Pearson turned his wing backs into wingers and, despite going down to ten men, Leicester were growing into the game and beginning to provide real threat to Charlton. The home side needed a second goal.

That much sought after second goal came with 58 minutes on the clock. Kermorgant was the recipient at the far post of Jackson’s excellent delivery from another Charlton corner, and he powerfully headed into the back of the net as Schmiechel was finally beaten for a second time. However, the Danish international felt he had been impeded as the ball came into the box, but his protests did little but see Deadman award yet another yellow card to the away side. The goal sparked incredible scenes as Kermorgant celebrated a goal that will no doubt mean so much to him whilst the home fans cranked the volume up a notch to sing the name of their hero at full pelt. You could almost hear the individual shouts of ‘not him again’ from the away end too.

If anyone inside The Valley thought the three points were sealed, they were soon made to worry again just four minutes later as Leicester pulled one back. Charlton’s defensive frailties emerged once again as Dervite’s clearance from Vardy’s cross proved to be the perfect set-up for Drinkwater to lash the ball beyond Hamer and into the net. Leicester’s fans were loud once more as they sensed a route back into the game, but their hope was almost crushed in Charlton’s following attack as Kermorgant’s knock down to Jackson bounced unkindly for the captain and his half-volleyed effort cleared the crossbar when taking a touch before getting a shot away may have been the better option.

Despite the renewed Leicester threat, Charlton continued to utilise their extra man and come forward in the quest for a third goal, but they met a man at the top of his game in between the posts. Wilson’s cross was exquisite, finding Kermorgant whose powerful header was sent towards goal, but Schmeichel pulled off arguably one of the best saves ever seen at the Valley to prevent the Frenchman from scoring again. Church’s follow up was nodded against the post, to which Deadman increased his popularity amongst the Leicester players by awarding a corner, and Dervite forced another fine save out of Schmeichel from the following set-piece. In a rare error, Schmeichel rushed a clearance straight to Stephens shortly after, finding himself way off his line, but the midfielder’s shot from just inside the Leicester half floated well wide. Heads were being scratched as to how the Addick had not doubled their lead.

Leicester brought on Wood, scorer of the equaliser at the King Power Stadium last season, and came close as Knockaert broke down the right and squared the ball to King but his effort on goal was tame and Hamer comfortably collected the shot into his chest. Charlton made some changes of their own as Cousins and Gower came on for Jackson and Stephens, whilst Dyer replaced Schlupp for Leicester and, to the complete surprise of everyone inside The Valley, Deadman wiped the cobwebs of his yellow card to book Wiggins for time wasting. The Welshman then crafted another Charlton chance as some clever footwork saw him break into the box and tee-up Church, but Morgan got his body in the way of the effort.

With the game entering the final five minutes of normal time, Charlton had yet another chance to put the game to bed, and what a glorious goal it would have been. The outstanding Pritchard broke down the right, cut across and played Cousins in, who turned and fired at goal only to see a big Dain in his way as Schmeichel once again pulled off an excellent save. Schmeichel saves were becoming as regular as Deadman yellows as Pritchard received a booking for pulling the shirt of Knockaert.

As you would expect, with Charlton unable to beat Schmeichel, it was a backs to wall job for the final few minutes. Miquel was allowed to run at goal but his shot from distance was stopped by Hamer low to his right and Leicester continued to attack down both flanks. But Charlton were superb, a complete contrast from the defensive shambles of previous weeks, and as Pritchard stole the ball from Knockaert and began to break, frustration got the better of the Frenchman who committed a foul as Deadman, who must have needed to sharpen his pencil by now, gave yet another yellow.

Youngster Joe Piggot was brought on for Church, who received a standing ovation for his hard work, as the fourth official indicated a minimum of six minutes added on time. Piggot almost grabbed himself a debut league goal, but his shot was weak after Pritchard set him up following a Gower corner, before Pritchard was at the other end in a matter of seconds to head the ball into Hamer’s hands; it summed up the Zimbabwean’s incredible performance. There were still several minutes of added time to be played and Leicester produced three final chances to draw level. A flat cross evaded the heads of everyone before Drinkwater fired over, but the away side’s best opening fell to Wood, who didn’t get clean strike of the ball with just seconds remaining and Hamer gleefully collected the loose ball. Full time soon followed and Charlton fans celebrated the win in style. Finally, the Addicks had their first three points of the season.

Whether it was luck, refereeing decisions, the change in formation, players lifting their performance or your writer deciding to wear the away shirt instead of the home shirt, something definitely changed today, and that change produced an incredible contrast from the previous weeks of the season. That was Chris Powell’s Charlton Athletic.

Leicester fans will arguably have their gripes with referee Deadman, and I sympathise with them, but that can’t take anything away from the way Charlton performed. Hamer, who looked shaky in the first half, pulled off two saved either side of the red card that kept Charlton in the lead and stopped the tide of the contest turning, whilst Cort, Dervite and Morrison especially were superb at the back. Morrison looked back to his old, reliable self and it was fantastic to see; the goal the icing on the cake.

Wiggins and Wilson were brilliant in their wing-back roles and after Leicester went down to ten exploited the space superbly, whilst Jackson and Stephens were superb in the middle, keeping things ticking over. Church’s work rate was outstanding and, whilst he may not be the most gifted, he suits the determined attitude of this side. The subs, youngsters Cousins and Piggot especially, also impressed.

That leaves two players. Yann Kermorgant is rarely anything below excellent, but playing against Leicester seems to up his game another level. From running 30 yards to make an incredible tackle to winning his headers and from running through Leicester’s defence on several occasions to his goal, he was nothing short of incredible. But the other name yet to be mentioned beats him to man of the match. The ‘he’s here, he’s there’ song may not be sung about him, but it certainly fits Bradley Pritchard down to a tee. At one point he was supporting Wilson on the right, the next Wiggins on the left before coming back into the centre and winning the ball in midfield. He was the engine room behind the win today and, whilst Kermorgant will take the plaudits, Pritchard’s display was exceptional. He’s more than just someone who will run around for 90 minutes, he has incredible talent.

Whilst some might say having an international break will prevent Charlton from gaining momentum, I think the time off will do Powell his men the world of good and will help to iron out the creases in the 3-5-2 formation; not that there are many of those.

Like Cardiff, Watford and Bolton last season, this where our fortunes change. Play like we did today regularly and we’ll be a threat to every side in this division. 

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Floodgates Open as Referee Opts to Abandon Ship

A bizarre afternoon at The Valley saw the match between Charlton Athletic and Doncaster Rovers abandoned at half-time, with torrential rain leaving the pitch resembling a Sunday League style swamp and rendering it totally unplayable. With the Doncaster down to ten men and  leading 3-1 at the time of the abandonment, the events that preceded the second half failing to start only multiply the strangeness of a ‘game’ that will live long in the memory, and not for the right reasons for both sets of supporters.

The visitors were in front after just two minutes; Charlton were caught out by a quickly taken throw giving Theo Robinson the time to pick out Paul Keegan, who headed home beyond the clutches of Ben Hamer. 16 minutes later, with the ball now holding up in areas of the pitch, Doncaster doubled their advantage. Michael Morrison had just about cleared the danger moments earlier after a driven ball across the face of goal was sucked into the quagmire in and around the six-yard box, but he wasn’t alert to the dangers of the next Doncaster attack as he appealed for an offside that wasn’t there only for Robinson to square the ball for Chris Brown to finish past a frustrated Hamer.

Donny again capitalised on both a lack of concentration and poor defending to grab a third after 23 minutes. David Cotterill’s corner was won without challenge by Bongani Khumalo on the edge of the box, but his header appeared to be causing no concern to Charlton’s defence as it floated harmlessly towards goal. Rhoys Wiggins attempted to clear, only for the ball to ricochet off the body of Brown and bounce, luckily for Doncaster, into the back of net. That goal may not have been weather nor pitch assisted, but they were certainly making a profound effect on the game, and referee Collins opted to suspended play after 27 minutes. The groundstaff, with some ‘help’ from the Doncaster players, attempted to make the pitch playable, and play resumed 30 minutes later.

However, it was clear conditions were no better than they were when the referee ordered the players off the pitch, with passes barely reaching their targets, the ball stopping dead in certain areas of the pitch and players’ mobility limited. But, despite angry calls from the crowd and questioning from Charlton players, the game continued and The Addicks gave themselves an unlikely route back into the match. Mark Gower’s free-kick from the half way line, after some pinball on the edge of the area, was eventually knocked into Simon Church’s path, with the forward finishing clinically past ‘keeper Ross Turnball. Although Doncaster immediately saw a Robinson goal disallowed for offside, Charlton’s hopes were lifted on the stroke of half-time as Keegan was shown a second yellow card for pulling back Yann Kermorgant. But that was the final meaningful action of the contest as referee Collins inspected the pitch at half-time and saw it fit to abandon the game.

With the prospect of a full game in store prior to kick-off, the team news made for some exciting reading for Charlton fans with a trio of changes. Young midfielder Jordan Cousins, who impressed after coming on at half-time in last week’s comeback draw at Barnsley, made his first senior start, replacing Dale Stephens and partnering Gower, a player at the other end of the experience scale. There was also a first start of the season for Leon Cort, who took the place of Dorian Dervite as Powell aimed to freshen up his mistake ridden back four, and a return to the starting line-up for Bradley Pritchard, who replaced Lawrie Wilson, after completing his three-game ban following his red card on the opening day at Bournemouth.

For Doncaster, who have started the season brightly, things were far more straightforward. Manager Paul Dickov had the luxury of naming the same side that conceded a last minute equaliser away at Wigan Athletic in midweek. A strong back four of James Husband, Rob Jones and a pair of Premier League Loanees in the shape of Tottenham’s Khumalo and Man City’s Reece Wabara protected former Chelsea ‘keeper Ross Turnball, whilst experienced pair Richie Wellens and Keegan started in the centre of midfield. David Cotterill and James Coppinger occupied the wings, supporting forwards Brown and Robinson, who had two goals to show from his first two games in Doncaster colours.

“This is going to be called off, you know”. Those were the words of my father as we crept along the M25 on our way to The Valley, putting the meaningfulness of the team news in jeopardy. The windscreen wipers couldn’t cope with the downpour, the surface water on the road made driving conditions difficult, and frustrating slow for someone as inpatient as me, whilst a number of owners, who were unwilling to continue through the heavy rain and guided their cars into the hard shoulder. It was a throwback to the game against Hull City at the beginning of last season, in which the rain lashed down and prevented any kind of spectacle, but I had no doubt the game would go ahead and reach a conclusion.

The water that sprayed up off the pitch during the warms up whenever a boot was placed into the ground or a ball was struck did little to change my opinion; I’d seen worse. Even as Doncaster took the lead, I saw nothing to suggest the game’s lifespan was in any doubt. With barely two minutes on the clock, Charlton’s defensive frailties that had marred them throughout the start of this season were shown once again as Robinson was allowed to move into space unnoticed and collect the ball on the right wing from a quickly taken throw-in. His ball in was perfect for Keegan, but the midfielder still had a lot to do as he rose and powerfully headed into the top corner past Hamer. Robinson himself than almost made it too shortly after as his powerful shot from a tight angle stung the palms of Hamer, but Charlton were all at sea in the damp conditions.

The Addicks fashioned a chance of their own, but Callum Harriott’s strike from just outside the area was straight at Turnball, who comfortably saved, whilst Robinson broke free once more only to fire another shot from a tight angle way off-target and into the side netting. It was at this point, somewhere around the ten minute mark, that the wellbeing of the pitch began to be questioned. The amount of water rising off the surface with every foot movement increased whilst Doncaster’s right wing was beginning to hold up the ball and preventing it from bouncing.

In the meantime, Charlton attacked and, after Church fired horribly off-target, they almost drew level through an unlikely source. Arguably The Addicks’ best passing move of the season saw Wiggins deliver an excellent cross to Pritchard at the back post, whose vicious first time volley brought the very best out of Turnball, who reacted quickly and tipped the ball over the bar. Pritchard had surely never struck a ball so sweetly; the lack of resulting goal suggested it wasn’t going to be Charlton’s day. In Doncaster’s next attack, the certainty of that view grew. After the ball held-up in the waterlogged area surrounding Hamer’s goal, Charlton’s number one attempted to claim the motionless ball only for Morrison to almost kick it straight out of his hands and away. The sloppiness at the back wasn’t punished that time, but Doncaster came again as Robinson was allowed to break free down the left after Morrison seemed to stop expecting an off-side cool, a Sunday League area fitting of the Sunday League conditions, allowing the Jamaican forward to centre for Brown to tap in from close range. Hamer showed his anger by throwing the ball into the water-soaked patch in front of him, only for the ball not to bounce. After watching their team capitulate, Charlton fans now wanted the game off.

But, despite the shambles at the back, along with the healthy layer or two of water covering the pitch, Charlton were looking threatening when going forward. Harriott came close again as Kermorgant played the young winger in only for his shot to be superbly saved by Turnball, who was keeping the score to nil. Mark Gower’s resulting corner was met by Kermorgant, whose header was kept out by a combination of ‘keeper and crossbar. The home side certainly deserved a goal for their efforts, but, almost unbelievably, found themselves three goals down not long after. Khumalo’s header from Cotterill’s corner was smashed clear by Wiggins and straight at Brown, who, although knowing little about it, gleefully accepted his second goal of the afternoon. As lucky as it may have been, they do say you make your own luck, and scoring three past a defensive line in disarray didn’t flatter Doncaster at all. Kermorgant’s header in Charlton’s next attack was well wide of the goal and the grumblings around The Valley grew louder.

But Doncaster’s luck ran out not more than five minutes later as the worsening conditions and unplayable surface forced referee Collins to point to the direction of the tunnel and suspend play. The home fans celebrated, believing the game to be off, but were forced to wait whilst the groundstaff tackled the problematic pitch. Paul Dickov and his team protested vividly to the officials, whilst Dickov, Chairman John Ryan and the players occupied the pitch for much of the suspension period, even ‘helping’ the groundstaff’s efforts by unhelpfully helping themselves to some forks and shovels, only to move the surface water from one area of the pitch to the other. Meanwhile, the professionals were dealing with the swamp in Charlton’s goal area and the right wing Doncaster were attacking down; the two areas of the pitch causing the most concern.

Eventually, in conditions no different from what was left behind, the players returned 30 minutes later and got back underway.  The unplayable nature of the pitch was summed up by Kermorgant’s powerful crossfield ball stopping dead in its tracks, but this wasn’t evidence enough for referee Collins, who continued with the game. With both sets of players frustrated, and the conditions making for some unintentional challenges, the game got a little heated. Kermorgant shared a brief scuffle with a Doncaster player, which was made to look worse by the conditions, and thankfully Collins told both parties to get on with the game without disciplining them, but a yellow card was awarded to Keegan after he kicked the ball away following a separate foul on the Frenchman. Gower’s resulting free-kick saw Church lay back to Cousins, who had the ball nicked off his feet from behind, only for it to fall kindly to Church, who finished past the previously unbeatable Turnball. Game on?

It was almost game over again moments later as a Doncaster free-kick was flicked on for Robinson to finish past Hamer, but the forward was in an offside position and the goal was disallowed. In an end to end second half of the first half, Harriott forced another save out of Turnball before the momentum swayed in Charlton’s favour. Kermorgant, battling with both opposition and the pitch, managed to somehow turn with the ball when others found it difficult to do so without, resulting in Keegan bringing him down and earning himself a second yellow. In truth, Charlton were still a long way from getting anything from the game, and only the bog in front of hamer’s goal prevented Brown from adding a fourth and sealing his hat-trick as he missed his kick with the ball lying motionless after a free-kick, conceded by Gower for which he was booked, was pumped into the box and flicked on.

The referee soon blew for half-time, with a chorus of boos aimed mostly at the officials’ decision to continue the game. Charlton’s substitutes warmed up at half time, but they were openly joking with fans about the farcical situation as their passes barely moved in the soggy conditions. Thankfully, common sense prevailed as referee Collins expected midway through the interval and Doncaster’s players came out and clapped their fans and handed out their shirts shorty after; a clear indication the game was off. Official confirmation soon followed, leaving Doncaster fans angered and Charlton fans confused as to why it wasn’t called off sooner.

Despite Powell suggesting after the game he would have liked to continue, and Charlton have something resembling momentum, it’s hard to deny that The Addicks were saved by the weather. Whilst Doncaster, and especially chairman John Ryan, may wish to believe it was some kind of conspiracy, there is little that could have been done, and the only person that should be questioned is referee Collins for not calling the game off sooner. It was clear the pitch was unplayable from the time of Doncaster’s second goal and, whilst he has a duty to get the game played, coming back out after the suspension was beyond farcical.

Also beyond a farce was Charlton’s defending. Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins, two of the stars of the last two campaigns, looked a shadow of their former selves, as they have done all season. Their individual errors and increasing dramatically game by game, and with the likes of Richard Wood and Cedric Evina waiting in the wings, their positions in the starting line-up must be coming under threat. Leon Cort and Chris Solly coped slightly better, but weren’t without fault. The three goals conceded are another three that could have been easily prevented; the poor defending and individual errors have to stop.

Thankfully, they haven’t cost Charlton any points, and the threat shown going forward is something that has at least allowed me to be somewhat optimistic. Kermorgant looked back to the Kermorgant that we all worship, whilst Church took his goal well, but the build-up play was especially promising with Harriott, Gower and Pritchard doing well in the testing conditions. But the stand out performer was Jordan Cousins. I’m always cautious with youngsters coming into the team, but he really does appear to be the real deal. Composed, strong and a great passer of the ball, he does the simple stuff well whilst carrying off a sense of real quality. Once Johnnie Jackson returns, he could form an exciting partnership with the 19-year-old.

A win in the Capital One Cup at Huddersfield on Tuesday would be nice, but a win is needed in the league sooner rather than later. With Leicester the visitors to The Valley next week, I fear the worst and have little confidence in the defence to prevent The Foxes’ attacking force from causing damage. Dare we dream of another Kermorgant inspired win? My god do we need it.

 

Powell’s Faith in Simon Rewarded as Church Answers Charlton’s Prayers

When watching the season review DVD this week, I was reminded of an important factor in the success of the 2012/13 campaign. There were times last season when points were hard to come by, there were times last season when the performances were substandard and there were times last season when concern outweighed optimism. But whenever such a situation occurred, it was put right, and put right in style. Comeback wins against Cardiff City, after a winless streak culminated in a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, Watford, after a poor Christmas period, and Bolton Wanderers, when it seemed as if the Addicks were about to be drawn into a relegation battle, rejuvenated Charlton and got them back on track. So could coming back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw against Barnsley at Oakwell be the catalyst to kick-start Charlton’s season?

Both sides came into the game without a point in this season’s Championship, and it looked as if Charlton would be heading back to South East London pointless once again as the hosts took the lead inside 20 minutes. The Addicks were a shambles at the back as Scott Golbourne was allowed to get in behind the back four and drill the ball across goal from well inside the box. Chris O’Grady and Michael Morrison battled for the low cross, with Morrison seeming to win it only to send the ball goal-wards with Ben Hamer parrying upwards and into the roof of the goal; O’Grady followed up and knocked the ball into net for good measure. An extraordinary double save from Hamer kept the deficit at one, whilst Callum Harriott forced a fantastic save out of Barnsley ‘keeper Luke Steele before half-time, but the Addicks were second best in every department.

Last season’s 6-0 victory in the corresponding fixture seemed a distant dream as The Tykes doubled their lead shortly after the break. The hard working Chris Dagnell played in Jacob Mellis on the left, whose cross made O’Grady’s second almost as easy as his first, with the forward heading past a motionless Hamer. It appeared to be game over, with Charlton well off the pace once again, but the fight and determination associated with Chris Powell’s side came to the fore as the Addicks got themselves back into the game.

After a string of half-chances, Harriott’s cross caused mayhem in the Barnsley box as Michael Morrison challenged with Steele for the ball, with the keeper punching away. But his clearance fell straight to half-time substitute Jordan Cousins, who volleyed into the ground and saw his effort loop over Steele and into the net to give the youngster a goal on his league debut. Suddenly there was some belief amongst the away side, and with just under 20 minutes to play, Charlton drew level. Yann Kermorgant’s flick on sent Simon Church, making his first Championship start for the club, through and the striker bore down on goal before coolly placing the ball beyond Steele’s clutches. Tykes defender Tom Kennedy got back and tried in vain to clear the ball of the line, but he could only help on its path; a comeback that looked well beyond the Addicks ten minutes previously was complete. Barnsley had the better of the chances in the remaining passage of play, but, mostly through substitute Leon Cort’s resilience and dominance in the air, Charlton held on to claim their first point of the season.

After a disappointing display in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough, Powell made a number changes to his starting XI. Whilst Johnnie Jackson’s calf injury forced Powell into making one of his changes, with Dale Stephens replacing the club captain, Lawrie Wilson and Church were brought in after Danny Green and Marvin Sordell performed poorly seven days ago. However, the main surprise in Charlton’s squad was the inclusion of 19-year-old Cousins, involved in a league match day squad for the first time. He took a place on the bench alongside fellow youngster Joe Piggot, with the pair joined by the dropped duo of Green and Sordell.

For Barnsley, manager David Flitcroft opted for an attacking 3-5-2 formation, as he did in last Saturday’s loss at Blackpool. However, there was some changes to the personal that took the field. Thomas Cywka, who scored the winner at The Valley last season, missed out with Kennedy coming in alongside Jean Yves-Mvoto and Scott Wiseman in defence and Golbourne moving further up the pitch, whilst 18-year-old midfielder Paul Digby had to settle for a place on the bench with former Chelsea trainee Mellis starting in the centre with David Perkins and Stephen Dawson accompanying him. Jim O’Brien took the right wing-back position, whilst O’Grady and Dagnell started up top. On the bench for the Tykes, in addition to Digby, was Cywka and John Cofie, who was rumoured to be training with the Addicks at the start of pre-season.

The day didn’t get off to the best of starts as I, rather naively, opted not to take a jacket or a jumper with me to a northern away fixture. The muggy conditions down south turned wetter and windier with every mile travelled up the M1, before blustery winds and, for a brief period, slightly more significant levels of rain greeted us on our arrival into Yorkshire. As ever, it was rather grim, and cold, up north.

A cup of tea warmed me up somewhat, but I was looking for Charlton to turn up the heat and race into life in the opening stages of the contest. With both sides coming into the game on the back of both poor form (P2 W0 D0 L2) and poor performances, a contrast from last season’s 6-0 that saw both Barnsley and Charlton come into the game in the middle of outstanding runs of results, I can’t say I was expecting much; a nervy game with no more than a goal in it was seemingly on the horizon.

But Charlton did start well, at least to some extent and for a very brief period of time. The midfield duo of Mark Gower and Stephens helped to maintain possession as the Addicks looked a lot more comfortable than they did against ‘Boro. But the visitors could do little with their possession; an over-hit Rhoys Wiggins cross set the tone for Charlton’s first half threat and Wiggins’ day when going forward. However, Barnsley’s first sight of goal saw them coming incredibly close to taking the lead. A defensive error from Morrison led to Dagnell having the opportunity to finish past Hamer, but the ‘keeper won the one-on-one battle, racing out and throwing his body at the striker’s feet. A free-kick from David Perkins in a dangerous position was blocked by the face of Callum Harriott shortly after as Barnsley began to take control.

The Tykes were assisted by some rather generous Charlton defending, along with some rather bizarre calls from referee Simpson, as the Addicks’ box was bombarded with corners and free-kicks from all directions. One such free-kick saw Dervite, who was struggling to cope with Dagnell’s impressive movement and O’Grady’s aerial ability, receive a yellow card after bringing down Dawson with a rash challenge. Morrison, Dervite’s central partner, was also finding it tough, and Barnsley opened up Charlton’s back four to take the lead with 16 minutes gone. After Chris Solly failed to put in a decisive tackle, the ball came through to Dagnell just outside the area. No member of the defence were anywhere to be seen as the forward played through Golbourne, and his low cross was turned into a net, after being helped on by Dagnell, by a combination of feet and hands as Morrison appeared to get there ahead of O’Grady, diverting the ball Hamer’s way, who couldn’t get a strong enough palm to it and O’Grady followed up, smashing the ball over the line, although it may have already been. A very untidy goal and the fourth, out of four conceded this season, that could have been easily prevented.

You would have hoped the goal would kick Charlton into life, but instead Barnsley came desperately close to doubling their lead. An innocuous long ball over the top seemed to be causing Charlton no trouble at all, but Dagnell turned nothing into something by forcing another error out of Dervite and the ball was eventually worked through to Mellis, whose effort was blocked by a combination of Hamer’s hands and the post. Golbourne put the ball back into the box and Dagnell received it just yards from goal, but Hamer pulled off an incredible save, keeping Charlton in the game whilst his defence were all at sea.

The Addicks began to edge back into the game after that let off, and a crunching tackle from Stephens on Perkins delight the travelling fans. They almost had something serious to celebrate just after the half hour as Harriott came close to levelling the scores. A free-kick from Gower on the left wing was drilled across goal towards Harriott on the edge of the box, a carbon copy of the move that saw the youngster score at Huddersfield last season, and his shot look destined for the back of the net, especially after a deflection sent it further towards the bottom corner. With Charlton fans beginning their celebrations in earnest, Luke Steele flung himself across the goal to push the ball around the post. It was Charlton’s first shot of the half, a sign of just how far off the pace they were.

Charlton couldn’t build on their first chance, and the half petered out, with Kelvin Etuhu coming on for the injured Perkins and a wild shot from Wiseman the only events for the remaining 15 minutes of the first period. The half was a continuation from the 90 minutes at the Valley last week, and something had to change. The hapless Dervite came off, with Cort coming on to steady the ship at the back, whilst, rather surprisingly, Stephens, who did little wrong, was replaced by league debutant Cousins.

Powell’s decision to bring the pair on was vindicated straight away as Cort won his headers and Cousins did something no Charlton player had done all season, closed down the opponents quickly. But it did little to change the course of the game as Mellis and M’Voto came close from two separate set-pieces before O’Grady grabbed his and Barnsley’s second with ten second half minutes played. The ball in from Mellis was superb, the header from O’Grady emphatic, Hamer rooted to the spot a picture; Barnsley had seemingly put the game beyond Charlton.

But, after Dawson forced a save out of Hamer, the away side came back into the game. Some shaky defending that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Charlton’s back four allowed Gower to have a clear sight of goal from just inside the area, but he fluffed his shot twice before eventually firing at goal and winning a corner. Barnsley had the chance to clear the resulting corner, but Charlton forced them into another defensive error and Kermorgant’s volley after the ball was put back into the box inevitably found Harriott, whose scissor kick was tame. However, Charlton hadn’t given up, and the travelling fans responded by raising their voices. The XI on the pitch responded by getting a goal back.

One ball from the left, challenged for by Kermorgant, was cleared away, but only back out to the left wing again, and Harriott was able to deliver once more. Morrison put Steele under heavy pressure, forcing Steele to punch the ball away and straight to the feet of Cousins. The youngster appeared to miss-hit his shot, but the volley bounded off the surface and looped into the back of the net. Game well and truly on.

Barnsley weren’t prepared to stop getting forward though, and Hamer did well to get down and collect O’Grady’s shot after a goal mouth melee saw a number of shots blocked away. But soon after, Charlton incredibly drew level. A piece of magic from Kermorgant, who had done nothing up to that point, sent Church through on goal, and the Welshman sent the ball over Steele and, via the stretching legs of Kennedy, the ball hit the back of the net. Cue pandemonium in the away end.

It was a nervy end for Charlton, with the defence and midfield still refusing to close down their men, and Hamer was forced into a number of comfortable saves. But the away side were looking better going forward, and the introduction of Cedric Evina along with Solly and Wilson combining well gave Charlton some threat without producing any real chances.

With just a matter of minutes left on the clock, substitute Digby fired a free headed just wide of the post from a corner, whilst Cort did the same down the other end, before Barnsley fired a couple of shots well off target and both sides had their first point of the season.

Finally some positives to take from a game, but first of all, there are a number of concerns from today’s performance. Once again the defence was all over the place, with Dervite and Morrison especially error prone, whilst Solly and Wiggins were still far from their best. The midfield again refused to close down the opposition quick enough, whilst Kermorgant had arguably his worst performance ever in a Charlton shirt. Failing to control a simple pass in the dying moments summed up his day.

It’s the same criticisms, and they need to be addressed. Even when the performance improved, they were still there. It’s rather worrying that a side like Barnsley can play us off the pitch for 55 minutes and remain on top despite Charlton coming back.

But, thankfully, there are some positives to be taken. Hamer was exceptional, pulling off a number of very good saves, whilst Cort’s introduction hugely improved the defence. Cousins was excellent with the goal a bonus to his all-round play. In fact, he was arguably the best player in centre of the park in the second half. Wilson did very well, both coming back to defend and going forward, as did Harriott, but their end product lacked a little, part of the reason why chances were so few and far between. Despite the lack of service, Church worked hard and deserved both his place in the side and the goal.

However, the most important thing from today is the comeback. A third defeat would have killed the confidence, a comeback will reignite it. Individual errors are our main issue, and once they are removed and the players perform to the best of their ability, the points will come. As Chris Powell has stated, the season starts now.

Barclays Premier League 2013/14 Preview

You hear it at the start of every season, but this time it really is true. The coming Premier League season promises to be the most competitive of all time from top to bottom.

Sir Alex’s retirement has helped to open up the title race, with new boss David Moyes facing a tough first season in charge whilst Manchester City and Chelsea strengthen. In the battle for fourth, Tottenham will be praying they can hold onto Gareth Bale and finally overtake their North London rivals into a Champions League spot. It looks more likely than ever that that will happen. erherh reh eh erh eh er

Everton, under new management themselves after Moyes’ departure, will be looking to grab an unlikely Champions League spot, along with the likes of Liverpool and Swansea, with the trio set to battle it out for sixth place.

Those sides in mid-table have all improved their squads well, and the battle for a top half finish is set to be contested by more teams than ever before. As a result, some teams who expected to challenge higher up the league may find themselves in a relegation battle along with the three promoted teams.

New managers, new world class signings, a new season of excitement; the Premier League is back.

ARSENAL

Season number eight has been and gone for The Gunners without a trophy; a great source of frustration for the fans, with Arsene Wenger’s position coming into question, and excellent ammunition to mock the club with. But in that time, Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League every season without failure; a feat that seems to be the club’s main objective at the start of every campaign. But focusing on Champions League qualification is no excuse; Arsenal are a huge club and should have the resources to challenge on several fronts. There’s always this year. wgwrgh whw

However, for the last few seasons, it’s been a case of scrapping into Champions League qualification by the skin of the teeth. North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have finished one point off the Gunners for the past two seasons, and at times throughout both seasons it seemed as if Spurs would be the ones playing at club football’s highest level. With Spurs having a four point lead on their rivals for a number of weeks towards the back end of the season, Arsenal did well to capitalise on Tottenham’s dropped points and clinch fourth place with a 1-0 win over Newcastle United on the final day.

With Spurs continuing to strengthen, looking more and more of a threat to that treasure Champions League place each season, another source of Arsenal fans’ frustration with Wenger is his lack of spending in the transfer market. Big money departures, such as Cesc Fabregas, Sami Nasri and Robin Van Persie, haven’t been replaced to the level Arsenal fans expect, with Wenger taking an extremely cautious approach to his club’s transfer activity. This trend has continued into the current transfer window, with over 25 players leaving the club in one way or another, including the likes of Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin and Johan Djourou. You could call it a clear out, but a clear out normally occurs in order to make space for new arrivals. Young French striker Yaya Sanogo, signed in the first week of July, remains the only new addition at the Emirates.

Their main transfer target this summer has been Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, the sort of quality signing the club should be making. But despite Suarez’s desire to leave Anfield, Liverpool are desperate to hold onto the controversial striker, and it’s set to be another prolonged transfer story that won’t resolve itself until the window slam shuts. In the meantime, Arsenal must turn their attentions to other potential signings, with the squad containing just 24 players, including the forgotten pair Park Chu-Young and Nicklas Bendtner. All areas of the pitch need some form of reinforcement, and leaving their transfer business so late won’t do much to help the club.

With the likes of Thomas Vermaelen, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, in addition to English trio Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, already at the club, new additions would add to the incredible quality within the squad. But unless deals are completed soon, this stands to be Arsenal’s toughest season yet in the hunt for a trophy and to hang onto fourth place. Even praying to the football gods for Gareth Bale to leave Spurs might not be enough. 5th

Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott

ASTON VILLA

You don’t have to look too far back to find a time in which Aston Villa challenged for a top four place. After two consecutive seasons in sixth, Villa were in fourth at the halfway stage of the 2009/10 season. Martin O’Neil’s side, containing the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Stuart Downing, eventually fell away and once again finished the campaign in sixth, but two Wembley appearances, defeat in the League Cup Final to Manchester United and in the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea, showed just how impressive the team was. gwgwegw eg ewg ewg

However, with both O’Neil and the bulk of his squad departing, the last three seasons haven’t been quite so fruitful. Gerard Houllier led Villa to ninth after spending much of the 2010/11 season in the bottom half of the table, the much despised Alex McLeish finished with a club record low of 38 Premier League points in 2011/12, just two points and two places above the drop, whilst Paul Lambert’s first campaign in charge needed something of a great escape after a season spent in and around the relegation zone. Add former captain Stiliyan Petrov’s unfortunate retirement due leukaemia and a League Cup semi-final defeat to League Two Bradford into the equation and the result is a season that Lambert, and Villa fans, will be hoping to move on from as quickly as possible.

Lambert’s position was called into question a number of times last season, no more so after the semi-final failing, but owner Randy Lerner stuck by his manager, a decision which was justified with the Scotsman leading Villa to safety. He’s now been given the chance to push Villa back up the table with a squad full of exciting young talent.

The likes of Richard Dunne, Brett Holman and Jean Makoun have all departed over the course of the summer, whilst Darren Bent, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given are amongst the underperforming experienced heads that are expected to leave the club before the end of August. The clear out has given Lambert the opportunity to begin his revolution with a number of excellent additions to the youthful squad. Former England U19 goalkeeper Jed Steer, 20, joins from Norwich, former Spain U20 left-back Antonio Luna, 22, joins from Sevilla, whilst current Netherlands U21 international winger Leandro Bacuna, 21, joins from FC Gronigen. A trio of young full internationals have also joined the club with Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Tonev, a 23-year-old winger from Lech Poznan, coming in alongside a pair of Danish internationals who will be familiar to players of ‘Football Manager’, 22-year-old striker Nicklas Helenius from AaB and 20-year-old defender Jores Okore from Nordsjaelland.

Despite the plethora of new names, the most important signing this summer might well be star striker Christian Benteke signing a new contract. The Belgium international, who scored 19 times last season, handed in a transfer request at the start of July, before u-turning 11 days later and agreeing a new four-year deal. With Gabby Agbonlahor enjoying his most prolific season in three and the highly rated Andreas Weimann signing a new deal, the forward options for Villa look as good as any club outside those battling for Europe.

With the likes of ‘keeper Brad Guzan, defender Ron Vlaar and midfielder Karim El-Ahmadi providing some experience to complement the never ending supply of players 23 or under, Villa look to have a promising, talented and, at least to some extent, a balanced squad. They won’t be ready to return to the clubs previous highs this season, but Lambert’s Villa may well be a serious threat in years to come. 14th

Christian Benteke

Christian Benteke

CARDIFF CITY

After four seasons of near misses and play-off heartbreak, Cardiff finally got over their ‘bottlers’ tag and won promotion to the Premier League in emphatic style as champions by a considerable margin of eight points. However, the backdrop to which the title win occurred took some of the gloss of the success. Chairman Vincent Tan opted to rebrand the club with a change of kit colour and a new badge, angering and alienating the fans who felt their club’s identity had been lost. With the club heavily in debt, it was a step that had to be taken to safeguard the club’s future, but the logic of the decision doesn’t make it any easier for Cardiff fans to take. wrgwg weg ewg w

With the original bitter anger dying down somewhat, attentions are almost entirely focused on Cardiff’s battle for Premier League survival. It would be soul destroying for the club to come straight back down after such a prolonged fight to get into the top flight, and the summer signings will help to safeguard against that.

Promising young striker Andreas Cornelius joins for a club record fee of £7,500,000 from FC Copenhagen, replacing Heidar Helguson, who has retired. One criticism, if you can call it that, of The Bluebirds last season was that their strikers didn’t score enough goals, and Cornelius will be looking to correct that in his first season in English football. That fee was a club record for all of a few weeks, as £8,000,000 was spent on Tottenham defender Steven Caulker. The highly rated England international is an incredible signing for the Welsh club, and looks set to form a partnership with fellow Englishman and City skipper Mark Hudson. Another pair of Englishman, ‘keeper Simon Moore from Brentford, and Derby’s John Brayford, also come in. Both players have proved themselves to be exceptional players in the Football League and, whilst Moore will be second choice to David Marshall at first, will be looking to make an impact on the Premier League.

With a £9,000,000 fee agreed for Toulouse midfielder Etienne Capoue, the club record transfer fee was almost broken again, but it would seem Spurs have come in at the eleventh hour to complete a deal for the Frenchman. However, it does show Cardiff still have cash to splash, and the £9,500,000 signing of Gary Medel from Sevilla days after missing out on Capoue shows just that. A very impressive signing.

With the likes of Peter Whittingham, Fraizer Campbell and Craig Bellamy possessing Premier League experience, and players such as Aaron Gunnarsson, Craig Noone and Kim Bo-Kyung looking to prove themselves at the highest level for the first time, Cardiff have the right mixture of drive and knowledge a newly promoted team needs to succeed in the Premier League. It’s not going to be easy though for the side that has spent so long in the Championship, especially with the additions mid-table sides have made to their squads. Survival will be an incredible achievement. 17th

Craig Bellamy

Craig Bellamy

CHELSEA

You always knew they were going to get back together, they didn’t want to break up in the first place and they’ve been flirting without each other ever since. Finally Jose Mourinho has returned to Chelsea, for who he won two Premier League titles, and a host of other trophies, during his first spell at the club. Since he’s been gone, Chelsea have added another Premier League, a Champions League and a Europa League to their trophy cabinet, but it’s never felt quite right. A bit like being happy with someone else who isn’t your true love. Now with the happy couple reunited, ‘The Special One’ will be looking to add further to his list of honours at the club. wregweewg wg ewg e w

After the Champions League win in 2011/12 and the Europa League victory last season under Rafa Benitez, who eventually won over his critics, Mourinho has a tough act to follow. Success of some kind will be demanded at the Bridge this season, and the new boss has responded by chasing England’s leading striker. Manchester United may claim he’s not for sale, but Chelsea have been persistent in chasing Wayne Rooney, and as with the Suarez and Bale transfer sagas, this one won’t be resolved until the window slams shut.

However, Mourinho has been busy preparing his team of the coming season in other ways, starting with a huge summer clear out. Almost 30 players have left the club in one way or another over the course the off-season, including Oriol Remu and Marko Marin, who both leave on loan, in addition to Florent Malouda who joins Trabzonspor. There is also some speculation that defender David Luiz will be leaving the club with the Brazilian subject to a bid from Barcelona, but Chelsea will be desperate to hold onto him.

As a result, a number of players have come in. In addition to Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne returning from loan spells and looking to make an impact on the first team, Mourinho has made a trio of confirmed summer signings to bolster his options. Mark Schwarzer, an excellent keeper, joins to take the place of Ross Turnball and warm the bench until Petr Cech picks up an injury, whilst young Dutch international midfielder Marco van Ginkel joins from Vitesse. The stellar signing this summer so far is that of Andre Schurrle, who arrives for a fee of £18,000,000 from Bayern Leverkusen. The winger-cum-striker gives Chelsea an incredible wealth of attacking options, whether Rooney arrives or not.

Chelsea have quality in every area of the pitch, from Branislav Ivanovic to Fernando Torres, and from Oscar to Juan Mata. It’s very difficult to pick a fault in the squad. With Mourinho back in charge, it promises to be an exciting, and potentially successful, season at Stamford Bridge. 2nd

Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres

CRYSTAL PALACE

After four nightmare seasons of administrations, points deductions and just about avoiding the drop to League One, Palace were again made favourites for relegation at the start of last season. They’d proved their doubters wrong in the past, but not quite so emphatically as this. Instead of scrapping for survival, The Eagles were up the other end vying for automatic promotion. After Dougie Freedman’s excellent start, Ian Holloway maintained Palace’s promotion push, eventually falling away towards the end of the season, settling for a play-off place that looked impossible to achieve at the start of the campaign. A win over rivals Brighton in the semi-finals before an extra-time win over Watford at Wembley saw the Eagles return to the Premier League for the first time since 2004/05. hwrhwrh wrh wrh

The stars of the show last season were winger Wilfried Zaha, who leaves to link up with Manchester United after agreeing a move in January, and top goal scorer Glenn Murray, who will miss the start of the season through injury. The pair added quality to an otherwise average Championship squad last season and, whilst Murray remains injured, the pair will leave a sizeable gap in Palace’s XI.

The summer transfer activity Holloway has overseen does little to increase hopes of survival. In addition to Zaha, midfielder Andre Moritz also departs, leaving for Bolton despite playing an important role in Palace’s promotion last season. 40-year-old Kevin Phillips, scorer of the goal that took Palace to the Premier League joins permanently, but he’s unlikely to have much impact in the top flight, whilst journeyman Stephen Dobbie also joins after a loan spell. Elliot Grandin, who worked with Holloway at Blackpool, joins after doing little to suggest he’s Premier League standard, whilst Jerome Thomas spent very few minutes on the pitch last season, but can be a threat if he can find his best form once again.

However, two signings will excite the Selhurst Park faithful. Dwight Gayle, who arrives for a club record fee of £6,000,000 from Peterborough United, enjoyed a successful season in the Championship, and has the potential to be success, if a little overpriced. Once fit, him and Murray will form a potent partnership. The other excellent addition is that of Spain U20 international Jose Campana, snapped up from Sevilla for £1,750,000. The 20-year-old already has 20 games under his belt in the Spanish top flight and will add a touch of class to the centre of Palace’s midfield. The potential loan signing of Marouance Chamakh, who showed some sign of ability in his first few months at Arsenal, could also be a good one. He’ll act as decent cover until Murray returns.

After overachieving last season, it promises to be a tough campaign for The Eagles. Palace fans will hope the likes of Julian Speroni, Mile Jedinak and Yannick Bolasie can help the club to prove the doubters wrong once again and maintain their Premier League status. It looks unlikely though. The main concern for Palace fans is that defence hasn’t been strengthened. Only one team in the top half of the Championship last season conceded more than the Eagles, and, as shown by the last time Holloway managed a team in the Premier League, goals alone won’t keep you up. 20th

Glenn Murray

Glenn Murray

EVERTON

After eleven full seasons in charge, Everton must now adjust to life without David Moyes. The Scot took over in March 2002 with the club just three points above the relegation zone in 15th. The Toffees eventually ended the season six points clear of the drop, but remained in 15th, their 9th bottom half finish in ten Premier League season. In the following eleven seasons, Moyes’ Everton finished outside the top eight twice, including seven top eight finishes in a row between 2006/07 and 2012/13. In 2004/05, Moyes’ Everton managed to break into the top four, which at the time was an almost exclusive club, and reached an FA Cup semi-final in 2011/12, three seasons after losing out at Wembley to Chelsea. When financial constraints that meant Moyes often had to sell before he could buy are considered, his achievements on Merseyside have been nothing short of remarkable.grgwr gwg w

But there was a growing sense amongst Everton fans that Moyes had done all he could; the club was going sideways. A disappointing defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup and missing out on Europe for the 4th consecutive season meant that many see Moyes’ move to Manchester United as a positive for all concerned. The appointment of Roberto Martinez, who led Wigan to FA Cup glory last season, is an excellent one, and he’ll be look to take Everton to the next level. His brand of attacking football, both home and away and against any side, will please the Toffees’ fans after years of being frustrated with Moyes’ negative setups away from home against the top four.

Moyes isn’t the only figure who has been at the club for a number of years to depart in the summer. Former captain Phil Neville announced his retirement from football and, rather like Moyes, although he will be sorely missed after an excellent nine seasons at the club, his performances were in decline and it was the right time for him to leave as Everton. He remains the only major departure from the playing staff this summer, with Martinez building upon the foundations left by Moyes.

A trio of players that worked with the Spaniard at Wigan come in, ‘keeper Joel Robles, defender Antolin Alcaraz and striker Arouna Kone, whilst the highly rated Gerard Deulofeu joins on a season-long loan from Barcelona. With Everton still restricted by a lack of funds, the signings are excellent value for money, especially the £6,000,000 paid for Kone, which could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer considering the cost of prolific strikers in recent times.

It remains to be seen as to whether Everton will hold onto star players Leighton Bains and Marouane Fellaini, but should they do, the squad is packed full of quality. Add Kevin Mirallas, Phil Jagielka and Nikica Jelavic into the mix and it’s clear to see Martinez has a number of excellent players at his disposal. Martinez’s influence will help to push the club on this season; expect them to do well in both cups and the league. 6th

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines

FULHAM

Fulham are like that old pair of trainers you wear when it snows; completely unfashionable, you almost got rid of them a few years ago and yet they remain in your show cupboard and are likely to stay there for years to come. The Cottagers are about to the start their 13th consecutive season in the Premier League, quite an achievement for a club the size of Fulham, and their place in the top flight hasn’t been under any serious threat since their great escape in 2007/08. They’ve ended the season in the top half of the table for three of the past five seasons and even managed to reach the final of the Europa League in 2009/10. Unfashionable, but highly effective. wegwe gweg wg weg

However, last season was Fulham’s lowest points total (43) since 2007/08, and Martin Jol will be looking to put that right in his second season in charge. Just six points from a possible 42 against the top seven is one of the reasons why The Cottagers couldn’t emulate their 52 point haul from 2011/12. Jol will be aiming to move the club back into the top half of the Premier League, and some excellent summer signings will help that cause.

Excellent Dutch international ‘keeper Maarten Stekelenburg joins for a fee of £4,760,000 from Roma, replacing stalwart Mark Schwarzer, who departs to see out the final season or so of his career on Chelsea’s bench. A defence that was the second leakiest at home in the division last season has also been bolstered by the signing of Fernando Amorebieta from Athletico Bilbao on a free, whilst Sascha Riether joins permanently after a successful spell on loan from Cologne. In midfield, experienced Ghanaian Derek Boateng joins from Dnipro alongside young French midfielder Ange-Freddy Plumain joins from Lens, although the transfer is currently being disputed by a tribunal. Adel Taarabt, beautifully brilliant when at his best, joins on loan from QPR and a deal for Darren Bent is expected to be completed shortly; Berbatov and Bent up top with Taarabt just behind will be a frightening experience for Premier League defences.

With the likes of Chris Baird, Simon Davies and Mladen Petic all departing, the signings Fulham have made have no only replaced those leaving, but better them. The squad also contains exciting young players, such as Kerim Frei, Alexander Kacaiklic and Macello Trotta in addition to the class of Bryan Ruiz and Brede Hangeland. However, the defence is a little short of numbers and that will require further additions before the end of August. Even so, expect Fulham to improve on last season’s 12th place finish. 10th

Dimitar Berbatov

Dimitar Berbatov

HULL CITY

It’s a rare occurrence for a dark horse to actually achieve promotion, but that’s exactly what Hull did last season. After finishing 8th under Nick Barmby in 2011/12, Steve Bruce took charge, signing the likes of Sone Aluko, Stephen Quinn and Abdoulaye Faye, leading some to think there was an outside chance the Tigers would be right up there come May. However, not many would have predicted they’d win promotion automatically. An excellent season saw them stutter over the line and just about secure second place with a draw against Cardiff on the final day of the season, but it was thoroughly deserved nonetheless. s fds fd bdfn dn df ndfn d

This Hull side are far better prepared for the top flight than Phil Brown’s side that, although initially finding themselves in the top half, only just survived in 2008/09 before being relegated the season after. An experienced man at the helm with a squad that, on paper, looks far better than the one that took part in Hull’s first spell in the Premier League. Half-time team talks on the pitch won’t be happening.

The Tigers have also had an excellent summer, cleaning up their squad and brining in some excellent additions. Corry Evans, Jack Hobbs, and Jay Simpson are the stand out names amongst a host of players leaving the club, but their departures have been offset by the new arrivals. Competition for first choice ‘keeper has been intensified with signings of Allan McGregor and Steve Harper, whilst defenders Curtis Davies and Maynor Figueroa will hope to make whoever’s between the sticks’ job an easy one. Attacking options have been bolstered with the loan signing of Danny Graham and Ivory Coast international Yannick Sagbo, in addition to George Boyd and Ahmed Elmohaady, who make their loan deals permanent.

Along with the experience of Liam Rosenior, Paul Mcshane and Robert Koren, young players such as James Chester, Cameron Stewart and Joe Dudgeon, all once of Manchester United, will be hoping to prove themselves at the highest level. However, only a very optimistic view on Hull’s squad would give it enough to survive in the ever increasing climate of quality in the Premier League. They will certainly battle and have the potential to do so, but it’s going to be hard to maintain their Premier League status beyond a one season stay. 18th`

Steve Bruce and George Boyd

Steve Bruce and George Boyd

LIVERPOOL

Gone are the days when Liverpool were almost guaranteed a place in the Championship League; they’ve been a long way off the top four for the past four seasons. But the ultimate ambition for Brendan Rodgers as Reds boss will be to take them back to club football’s most prestigious stage. Champions League football was never going to return to Anfield immediately and last season was always going to be the start of a transition period. There were some positive signs, such as the emergence of young talent like Raheem Sterling, but only beating a fellow top ten side on two occasions just goes to show how far Liverpool are away from challenging for a top four position. rgrgrw gwe gweg weg w

However, they do have a number of players at their disposal that would get into the starting XI of most Champions League sides. The most obvious player of this standard is Luis Suarez; the striker racked up 23 goals in 33 league games putting in a number of impressive displays. But controversy follows the Uruguayan wherever he goes, with almost all of it self-inflicted. Biting the arm of Branislav Ivanovic, which led to a ten game ban and will mean he’ll miss the start of the season, has been followed by a summer full of transfer speculation with Suarez throwing his toys out of the pram in order to force a move away from Anfield.

With Liverpool reluctant to sell, and adamant that no promise existed saying he could leave if the Reds failed to get Champions League football, the saga will drag on and on with Liverpool either losing their key man or keeping him but having to contend with an unhappy player who could be an unsettling influence at the club. In the meantime, especially with Suarez suspended, Rodgers must focus on getting his side ready for the new season.

Four excellent signings have helped to improve Liverpool’s squad for the coming campaign. Kolo Toure, who arrives on a free from Manchester City, will replace the retiring Jamie Carragher whilst another long standing player in Pepe Reina departs for Napoli and is replaced by former Sunderland ‘keeper Simon Mignolet. Young Spanish forward Luis Alberto Romero joins from Sevilla, whilst fellow Spaniard Iago Aspas has been snapped up from Celta Vigo.

With Jonjo Shelvey the only other major departure, and the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge at the club, Liverpool’s squad looks strong going into the new campaign. But losing Suarez, or playing an unhappy Suarez, will seriously hurt the club. If he does go, Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for Europe look to be gone. Even if he stays, they look slim. 7th

Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard

MANCHESTER CITY

The fact a second place finish in the Premier League and losing an FA Cup final isn’t considered a successful season is a sign of how far City have come since spending the 1998/99 season in League One. However, it’s only fair that after winning the Premier League title in 2011/12 that City’s fans expect silverware year after year. The super-rich owners clearly do to, sacking Roberto Mancini after the FA Cup final defeat. Manuel Pellegrini has been handed the task of regaining the Premier League title, as well as improving the club’s form in the Champions League with City failing to get past the group stage in their two previous appearances. wgwe ewg ewg  g

Mancini isn’t the only man who will go down as a club legend to leave this summer, with Carlos Tevez joining Juventus. The striker, who scored 58 league goals in 117 games, was one of the first huge signings the club made after being taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group and showed their intentions to challenge with their Manchester rivals. Despite the controversy in the aftermath of the incident against Bayern Munich that allegedly saw him refuse to come on, he’ll be remembered fondly by City fans. Kolo Toure, an infrequently used squad player, and Maicon, a flop after joining from Inter Milan last summer, are also amongst those who have left the club

But with the clubs bottomless pit of a transfer kitty, Pellegrini has moved quickly to replace the departing Argentinian. The prolific Alvaro Negredo joins for a fee that could potentially rise to £20,600,000 from Sevilla alongside the exciting Stevan Jovetic, with City spending £22,000,000 to secure his services. The pair will compete with Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero for a starting place, giving City arguably the strongest strike force in the Premier League. Also joining the club are excellent winger Jesus Navas, snapped up for a fee that could rise to £22,900,000 from Sevilla, and attacking midfielder Fernandinho, the most expensive of the summer signings after City were forced to part with £30,000,000 to pry him away from Shakhtar Donetsk. Four world class signings to bolster an already world class squad.

An injury to Matijia Nastasic, one of the signings of last summer, has exposed the one flaw in Manchester City’s resources; a lack of options at centre back. Sign one and City’s squad is complete. The likes of Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva, led by Pellegrini’s ability as an excellent manager, have every chance of regaining the Premier League title. 1st

Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero

MANCHESTER UNITED

26 years, 38 trophies, does anything more need to be said about football’s greatest ever manager? Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day at the end of last season, ending his managerial career in style by regaining the Premier League title from Manchester rivals City. Upon announcing his decision to retire, attention immediately turned to who was the right man to succeed Sir Alex. On the Scotsman’s recommendation, another Scotsman takes the hot seat. David Moyes has his work cut out to live up to the expectations of Manchester fans and emulate the success of the man before him. heheth rer j erj rj rej r jt re e

Things haven’t got off to the best of starts for Moyes. A torrid pre-season campaign has, unbelievably, led to some United fans questioning as to whether Moyes is the right man for the job; Welcome to Manchester United, Dave. A 2-0 win over Wigan in the Community Shield would have helped to settle Moyes’ nerves and provide the foundations for a successful season ahead.

He’s also had to deal with one of the club’s star players wanting out. Wayne Rooney has made it clear he wants to leave the club, but Moyes and United are adamant he’s not for sale. After managing him at Everton, Moyes will know he can get the best out of the England striker, and will hope a compromise can be found that pleases all parties and keeps a happier Rooney at the club.

Not only has keeping players at the club proved difficult, but bringing them in to, with United frustrated in their attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona. With Paul Scholes retiring, it’s no secret Moyes wants to bolster his central midfield options, with a move for Luka Modric also rumoured. But, for all the rumour, only two players have come in this summer. Wilfried Zaha, signed by Sir Alex in January before being loaned back to former club Crystal Palace, already has an England cap to his name and will be looking to make an impression at England’s biggest club, whilst young Uruguayan defender Guilermo Varela joins from Penarol. Expect some more transfer activity in the coming weeks, especially with Moyes confirming the club are moving closer to a signing.

As always, United’s squad is filled with class, with the likes of Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie and Ryan Giggs looking to help retain the Premier League trophy that spent more time than it hasn’t under United’s ownership. However, it’s difficult to say what sort of shape their squad is in until Moyes makes his move in the transfer market, and with the other clubs in the title race improving impressively and Moyes still getting his feet under the table, United’s defence of their title won’t be easy. Hopefully United fans are patient with Moyes if he doesn’t succeed immediately. 3rd

Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick

NEWCASTLE UNITED

The word ‘crisis’ is overused to describe the state of a football club, but Newcastle are certainly in a bit of a state. Alan Pardew’s job was under some threat at the start of the summer, but Chairman Mike Ashley opted to bring Joe Kinnear back to the club as director of football to assist the gaffer instead of ending his eight year deal early. Kinnear’s appointment has embarrassed Newcastle fans, which hasn’t been helped by the seemingly clueless Irishman forgetting player names in a radio appearance. He hasn’t worked in football since leaving Newcastle in 2009, but Kinnear’s presence is still likely to undermine Pardew’s position. Chaos. wrgrwhtse jtsj sej trsj r

Fans of The Toon would have been hoping for a positive summer after the disappointment of last season. After being in contention for a Champions League spot in 2011/12, eventually finishing 5th, Newcastle spent almost the entirety of the campaign in the bottom half of the table, constantly looking over their shoulder and flirting with the bottom three. Having to contend with the Europa League is an excuse, as is losing Demba Ba to Chelsea in January, but they don’t justify the poor showing. The French revolution of signings midway through the season briefly improved results, but not enough to totally steer the club away from danger, eventually ending the season in 16th, just five points above the drop.

Pressure is now on Pardew, who took the brunt of the blame for the poor performances last season, to turn the club’s fortunes around. However, the club’s business in the transfer window has done little to improve the atmosphere around the club, with Kinnear, whose job it is to find and sign transfer targets, not having much luck. Whilst plenty of players have left the club, such as James Perch, Steve Harper and Danny Simpson, just two players have joined, and one of those is French youngster Olivier Kemen. Newcastle are rumoured to have missed out on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Darren Bent and Bafetimbi Gomis. The one completed deal for a first team player is the loan signing of Loic Remy, who scored 6 goals in 14 games for relegated QPR last season. An excellent addition, but they will be incredibly frustrated and angered to have added any more names to the squad.

On paper at least, the squad looks relatively reasonable in its current shape. The likes of Tim Krul, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa are all impressive players that would get into most Premier League teams, and they have a strong XI. However, the star names are balanced out by the high number of underperforming players, such as Mike Williamson, Jonas Gutierrez and Gabriel Obertan, that populate the squad. The lack of European football may help with fitness and playing a consistent XI, but there’s no getting away from the fact additions are needed. With the chaos amongst the backroom staff likely to affect Pardew and therefore performances on the pitch and other clubs strengthening, it would appear Newcastle are in for another tough season. 16th

Hatem Ben Arfa

Hatem Ben Arfa

NORWICH CITY

What a turn around it has been for The Canaries over the past four seasons. After dropping to League One and infamously losing 7-1 at home to Colchester United on the opening day of the 2009/10 season, Norwich bounced back to win the division, before securing a second consecutive promotion as runners-up in the 2010/11 Championship season to return to the Premier League. Two mid-table finishes in the top flight have followed; Norwich can begin to claim to be a piece of the Premier League furniture.  erg erw erh erh eh esh

However, last season wasn’t without its difficulties. Chris Hughton’s first season in charge saw the club flirt with the relegation zone for much of the campaign without ever being serious candidates for the drop, whilst a defeat at home to non-league Luton Town in the FA Cup 4th round had some calling for the gaffer’s head. It was never going to be easy for Hughton to replace Paul Lambert, who departed for Villa after leading The Canaries up through the divisions, but, despite the lows, the former Newcastle United and Birmingham City manager led his side to 11th, one place higher than Lambert’s Norwich in the 2011/12 season; progress of sorts. Memorable victories over Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal meant the season’s highs outweighed the lows.

The next step for the quickly developing club will be to finish in the top half of the division, and Hughton has been busy in the transfer market in the hope to achieve that. Simeon Jackson, Marc Tierney and Elliott Ward, all players who helped to push Norwich up the leagues, are amongst a grand total of 13 permanent departures from the club this summer. The highest profile player leaving the club is without a doubt former skipper Grant Holt, who scored 68 league goals in 154 games for the club, who joins Championship side Wigan Athletic. Despite Holt’s hero status at Carrow Road, the calibre of player coming into the club means it’s unlikely he’ll be missed.

Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper, who can boast impressive goal scoring records for Sporting Lisbon and Celtic respectively, have been brought in to bolster an attack that could only muster 41 goals last season; only Stoke scored less. Exciting talents Nathan Redmond and Leroy Fer join from Birmingham and FC Twente respectively, giving Norwich potent threat on both flanks, whilst a defence that shipped more goals away from home than any other club outside the bottom three has been strengthened with the additions of Martin Olsson and Javier Garrido on a permanent deal. Carlo Nash, whose CV reads ‘professional 3rd choice goalkeeper’, completes the list of summer signings.

With the likes of John Ruddy, Robert Snodgrass and Alexander Tettey impressing last season, the signings add quality to an already very respectable squad. The goals that Van Wolfswinkel and Hooper will bring are exactly what Norwich have been missing, whilst their options on the wing will make some more experienced Premier League sides jealous. There should be no need to look over their shoulders, and no reason why they can’t push for a top half finish in the coming campaign. 11th

Robert Snodgrass

Robert Snodgrass

SOUTHAMPTON

Southampton’s rise is not too dissimilar to Norwich’s. Relegation from the Championship, administration and a ten point deduction left the club in tatters four seasons ago, but Markus Liebherr’s takeover not only saved the club, but rebuilt it. £3,000,000 was spent in their first season in League One, including £1,000,000 on now England striker Rickie Lambert, that helped the Saints finish just outside the play-offs despite starting the season on -10. In the first few weeks of their second season in League One, Liebherr died, with Nicola Cortese taking full control and manager Alan Pardew was replaced by Nigel Adkins; Saints ended the season in second and returned to the Championship. A second successive second place finish followed, with the Saints winning promotion to the Premier League, with comfortable survival in their first season back in the top flight completing a remarkable turnaround for the south-coast club. ehe sher herh eh e r

The slight blip in Southampton’s rise saw Adkins sacked, probably unjustly, half way through last season, much to the anger of Saints fans who worship their former boss. But replacement Mauricio Pochettino has been a breath of fresh air, playing exciting attacking football that saw the Saints achieve wins over Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City at St Mary’s. Those performances have raised hopes of a top-half finish in the coming season.

Those hopes have been raised further by two excellent additions to an already high quality squad. Defender Dejan Lovren joins from Lyon for a fee potentially rising to £8,000,000, whilst the Saints have paid £12,500,000 for Celtic’s Victor Wanyama. Both players have experience at the highest level and Southampton beat a host of clubs to their signatures; a sign of both the spending power and perceived potential the Saints can put across to win over new signings.

The Saints have also managed to hold onto their excellent crop of youngsters, with Vegard Forren, who failed to make an appearance following his move from Molde in January, returning to his former club as the only major departure. The likes of Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers, a young defender who recently signed a new contract, have the potential to reach the top, with the first two expected to play a crucial role this season.

With quality all over the pitch, from Nathaniel Clyne to Jay Rodriguez and from Morgan Schniderlin to Gaston Ramirez, it’s hard to pick a fault in the Southampton squad. They could possibly do with an extra striker or two, but Tadanari Lee and Billy Sharp have returned from loan spell, whilst Emmanuel Mayuka may be given more of a chance this season. With Pochettino in charge of this exciting group of players, a top-half finish is well within their reach. 9th

Rickie Lambert

Rickie Lambert

STOKE CITY

After ten seasons over two spells of strained necks, Tony Pulis’ negative, physical and direct style of football became too much for Potters’ fans. The normally vocal Britannia Stadium was filled with grumblings throughout last season as Stoke’s Premier League place came under serious threat for the first time since their promotion to the top flight in 2007/08. A late season serge pulled the Potters up to 13th, an improvement on the previous season, but there was to be no getting away from the disappointing campaign. reh rhe sh h e

However, it’s important to remember just what Pulis achieved during his time at Stoke. Taking an unfashionable club from the depths of the Championship to an established Premier League side, who were more than a match for the top clubs in the division, is an incredible feat. Add to that an FA Cup final appearance and a season in the Europa League and it really is a shame Pulis’ excellence at the Potters will overshadowed by the type of football he favoured. He’ll always be a legend to Stoke fans though, and his departure is a bittersweet moment. Heart-breaking to see him go, but poor performances, his stubbornness and a lack of tactical flexibility meant it was time for a change.

The man given the unenviable task of following in Pulis’ footsteps is fellow Welshman Mark Hughes. Hughes enjoyed reasonably successful spells in charge of Blackburn, Manchester City and Fulham, but you’re only as good as your last job and his failing at QPR means that many are dubious towards the appointment. Although releasing the likes of tough tackling Dean Whitehead and infamous throw-in taker Rory Delap is a symbolic move away from Pulis’ regime, It’s unlikely that there will be any revolutionary change to Stoke’s style of football either; he’ll need to pick up points early to avoid the fans getting on his back in what is set to be a tough campaign.

One sign that suggests revolutionary change won’t occur is Stoke’s lack of transfer activity. There’s no getting away from it, Stoke have one of the weakest squads in the division. Only the centre of defence and the options in goal look strong. So what have Stoke done so far this summer? Welcomed a ‘keeper and signed two defenders. Jack Butland will be available after agreeing a deal in January before being loaned back to Birmingham for the remainder of the season, whilst young Barcelona centre back Marc Muniesa comes in. Both players are excellent signings, but they’re signings for the future as Asmir Begovic between the sticks and Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross at the back are unlikely to be dislodged. However, the other defensive addition, left back Erik Pieters, will have a significant role to play in the starting XI with options at left-back weak.

The main concern for Stoke is a lack of goals. No club in the top flight last season scored less, and no player currently at the club jumps out as having the potential to help change that. Jonathan Walters top scored last season with just eight, and new striking options are desperately needed. An attempt to sign Nelson Oliveria on loan fell through, whilst the £17,000,000 price tag Hannover have slapped on former Manchester United strike Mame Biram Diouf will make a deal for the forward difficult, but the club hope a compromise can be reached. However, Hughes has said he his ‘confident’ of getting the players he needs on board before the transfer window closes, so expect a plethora of players to arrive in the common weeks.

Hughes’ task with the current squad is to get underperforming players such as Jermaine Pennant, Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch playing to the best of their abilities again. But even if he can, the squad simply isn’t good enough to compete in the top flight. A number of good quality signings are needed if Stoke are going to avoid the drop this season. 19th

Robert Huth

Robert Huth

SUNDERLAND

After failing to reach the 40 point mark in their first two seasons in their current spell in the Premier League, staying up by three points in 2007/08 and then just two in 2008/09, the following three campaigns saw the Black Cats settle in mid-table. But last season saw a return to flirting with the bottom three, and for a period last season they looked destined for the drop. In horrendous form under Martin O’Neil and just a point above the relegation zone, the board saw it fit to remove him with just seven games of the season to go. erg regher he  her

A gamble was taken in appointing the eccentric Paolo Di Canio; the former West Ham man hadn’t managed in the top flight before but had impressed at Swindon Town in the Football League and it was hoped his enthusiasm would give the players a much needed kick up the backside, rejuvenating them for the run in. It, just about, did exactly that. Two wins, including a 3-0 victory in the Tyne-Wear derby, and two draws from the final seven games saw Sunderland keep their place in the Premier League by three points, finishing 17th.

Di Canio now faces his first full season in charge, and has set about building a squad of his own after speaking publicly about his frustration with both the quality and professionalism of the team handed to him after becoming manager in March. Out go Titus Bramble, Matthew Kilgallon, two of five players released, and £5,000,000 flop Danny Graham, who joins Hull on loan. Ahmed Elmohamady also departs, joining Hull permanently, in addition to three players Sunderland won’t be entirely happy to lose. Alfred N’Diaye, who impressed after joining in January, heads out on loan to Eskisehirspor (no, me neither), James McClean, who had an indifferent season but is still capable of flashes of brilliance, has been sold to Wigan for £1,000,000, and, in possibly the biggest loss, excellent ‘keeper Simon Mignolet joins Liverpool in a £9,000,000 deal.

With the plethora of departures, Di Canio has brought in nine new additions. Goalkeeper Vito Mannone comes in from Arsenal to replace the talismanic Mignolet, whilst the defence has been bolstered by French duo Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge, signed from Lazio and Martimo respectively. Another Frenchman, midfielder El-Hadji Ba, joins from Le Harve. Holding midfielder Cabral joins from Basel, whilst young Swedish winger David Moberg Karlsson joins alongside Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini. Giaccherini has the potential to be one of the signings of the summer, as does striker Jozy Altidore, who joins from AZ Alkmaar after two prolific seasons. Duncan Watmore, a youngster who impressed in non-league football for Altrincham completes the summer signings with over £16,000,000 spent.

With extremely passionate fans, in addition to the amount of money Di Canio has spent, there will be huge pressure on the gaffer to improve on the club’s disappointing campaign last time out. The midfield and forward options look strong, with the likes of Craig Gardner, Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher at the club, but the defence could do with some strengthening, especially in the full-back positions. If Di Canio can make some more defensive additions, Sunderland can battle for the top half, if not, they still shouldn’t have any need to look over their shoulders. They only other concern will be as to whether Di Canio can cut it at Premier League level over a full season; he certainly has the confidence to do so. 15th

Steven Fletcher

Steven Fletcher

SWANSEA CITY

It’s a story that’s been told thousands of times, but a story worth telling again. Suffering finanaical in a state of crisis, Swansea needed to win against Hull City on the final day of the 2002/03 season to preserve their Football League status. Trailing 2-1 at one stage, it looked as if the Swans were heading for the Conference, but a hat-trick from local boy James Thomas helped to save the club against the odds. Ten years later Swansea are financially secure, finished 9th in the top flight and won the League Cup, qualifying for Europe in the process. They also have a modern stadium, the Liberty, to place their beautiful brand of passing football in. If Swansea’s story had occurred on a video game, you’d accuse the player of cheating; Swansea’s raise has been nothing short of sensational. erh erhbersh eh ers

It seems unthinkable now, but some pundits labelled The Swans as relegation candidates at the start of last season. Brendan Rodgers’ move to Liverpool would leave them weak and incapable of emulating their 11th place finish in 2011/12. But Michael Laudrup’s appointment as gaffer proved to be a master stroke with the former Barcelona and Real Madrid superstar not only continuing the club’s passing philosophy but using his contacts in Spain to secure the services of a number of players who had previously gone under the radar. The likes of Michu, Chico and Jonathan de Guzman helped to give Swansea its highest placed finish since 1981/82 and its first major trophy.

Despite speculation that Laudrup would be leaving in the summer, the Dane remains in charge and has spent the off season building a squad ready for what promises to be a gruelling season with the Welsh club looking to battle on both domestic and European fronts. Kemy Agustien, Mark Gower and Alan Tate, a trio of players that were part of the Championship promotion side, have all gone onto pastures new

The departures have made way for a trio of Spaniards with defender Jordi Amat joining from Espanyol, and midfielders Jose Canas and Alejandro Pozuelo coming in from Real Betis, taking the total of Spanish players at the club to seven, whilst de Guzman extends his loan from Villarreal for another season. Wing-back Jernade Meade also comes in after the youngster was released by Arsenal.

Whilst they are all excellent additions, the stand out signings this summer for the Swans could have the potential to be two of the signings of the season across the entire division. Jonjo Shelvey, frustrated by a lack of consistent playing time at Liverpool, joins a team that suits his playing style perfectly, whilst striker Wilfried Bony, scorer of 31 goals in 30 games in the Dutch Eredivise, joins from Vitesse and looks set to form a prolific partnership with Michu. Shelvey has had a lot of unfair criticism fired his way recently, and will be looking to prove his doubters wrong, whilst Bony, although boasting a goal scoring record similar to flops Matias Kezman and Alfonso Alves, as every chance of following in the footsteps of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Luis Suarez in being a success after arriving from the Netherlands.

Unlike Newcastle, who struggled to cope with the rigors of European football alongside their duties in the Premier League, Swansea’s squad has the strength in depth to cope with everything this season will throw at them. I expect them to reach the knock-out stage of the Europa League, have a say in the latter stages of at least one of the domestic cups and finish in the top half of the Premier League once again. 8th

Jonjo Shelvey

Jonjo Shelvey

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

What more do they have to do to get into the Champions League? After finishing just one place outside of qualification for Europe’s highest level of club football, including a fourth place finish in 2011/12 only for Chelsea’s Champions League win to take their place away from them, a Premier League record points tally for the club of 72 points still wasn’t enough to overtake North London rivals Arsenal, who finished just a point above them for the second season in a row. Despite having sizeable gaps over the Gunners throughout the season, two defeats and three draws from their finals ten games proved costly for Spurs, as Arsenal hit form just at the right time to overtake them into fourth. rh serh eh rehe h erh

However, with that huge points total in mind, there are plenty of positives to be taken from Andre Villas-Boas first season at charge at White Hart Lane. The club continues to grow stronger year upon year, making Spurs the biggest threat to the established Premier League top four. Villas-Boas’ work in this summer’s transfer window has only increased Tottenham’s potential to break into the top four.

Whilst losing Clint Dempsey to Seattle Sounders and Steven Caulker to Cardiff City will be disappointing, the new additions more than make up for the departures. Brazilian international Paulinho, who impressed during the Confederations Cup, signs from Corinthians for £17,000,000. The midfielder, who will bolster a department Spurs are already strong in, is a world class player who will be worth every penny of his rather large transfer fee. Etienne Capoue arrives for £9,000,000 from Toulouse, strengthening the midfield further, whilst Belgium winger Nacer Chadli comes in from FC Twente for a fee of £7,000,000. A further £26,000,000 has been spent on Roberto Soldado, with the excellent striker arriving from Valencia with a prolific record for both club and country. He’ll look to add to the goal threat of the club, with only Swansea scoring less at home last season of the clubs who finished in the top half of the table.

However, the main transfer story at the club this summer has yet to occur, and may not even do so. Gareth Bale, last season’s player of the year, has been the subject of numerous bids from Real Madrid throughout the off-season. It’s crucial that Spurs hold onto their key man if they’re to have a successful season, and with Tottenham not wanting or needing to sell despite Madrid’s offers of over £80,000,000, it looks increasingly likely that they’ll hold onto the Welsh international. Despite Spurs’ resilience, it promises to be another transfer saga that isn’t resolved until the close of the window with Madrid not backing down and Bale rumoured to want a move.

If Bale stays put, he isn’t the type of player to sulk, and his performances shouldn’t be affected. If Bale leaves, Spurs will want it to happen with at least a few days left in the transfer window in order to use the money to improve their squad and cement their position as serious challengers for Champions League football. But there’s already excellent quality within the squad without taking Bale’s presence into account, with the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Mouse Dembele and Lewis Holtby all world class players. After the departures of Caulker and William Gallas, who has been released, a central defender or two is needed to complete the squad, but it looks strong in every other area. Keep a hold of Bale and Spurs are favourites for 4th place, lose Bale and they still have every chance of securing Champions League football. 4th

Mousa Dembele

Mousa Dembele

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

After a season and a half of overachieving under Roy Hodgson, his departure to take on the England job was meant to be met by West Brom sliding down the table after 11th and 10th placed finishes since returning to the Premier League under Roberto Di Matteo in 2010. Steve Clarke’s appointment was seen as a huge gamble, with the former Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool assistant only ever taking charge of one game in his career as caretaker of Newcastle in 1999. But the gamble paid off, with West Brom enjoying their best finish (8th) in the Premier League era. r reh erheh

Clarke’s side won many plaudits for their impressive displays last season, including two emphatic victories over Liverpool, a 2-1 win over Chelsea that led to former Albion manager Di Matteo being sacked by the blues, and an incredible fight back on the final day against Manchester United to draw 5-5 and spoil Sir Alex’s party. Even Peter Odemwingie’s car park antics couldn’t derail an excellent campaign for the midlands club.

The incredible fight back against United was inspired by Romelu Lukaku, whose hat-trick was the perfect end to a fantastic season for the top scorer on loan from Chelsea. He now returns to his parent club, and finding someone to step up and cover for the loss of both his goals and all round play will be Clarke’s most difficult task. The signing of a man at the other end of his career, Nicolas Anelka, will hopefully be something of a like-for-like replacement. The strong forward has every chance of scoring a similar number of goals to Lukaku’s 17.

Also amongst those leaving the club are club legend Zoltan Gera, striker Marc-Antoine Fortune and winger Jerome Thomas. With Odemwingie expected to leave too, the Albion are a little light going forward, and a rumoured loan deal for wide man Scott Sinclair will help to deal with that issue, but some strikers are needed. At other end of the pitch, Goran Popov joins permanently alongside experienced Uruguayan centre back Diego Lugano, who promises to be one of the signings of the summer.

Through Ben Foster, Gareth McAuley and Youssouf Mulumbu, West Brom have an excellent spine that was crucial to their success last season. Some meat, in terms of strikers, needs to be added to that spine, but West Brom have a decent chance of emulating their efforts of last season. They’ll be comfortable in mid-table at least. 12th

James Morrison

James Morrison

WEST HAM UNITED

It’s hard to believe, but Sam Allardyce’s appointment as Hammers manager two seasons ago wasn’t universally welcomed. That seems even more startling after West Ham fans had to endure a season with Avram Grant at the helm, a season in which they finished bottom of the Premier League. Allardyce was even criticised whilst leading The Hammers back into the top flight at the first time of asking for not playing in the ‘West ‘ammmmmmm way’, whatever that is. But Big Sam, along with owners David Sullivan and David Gold, has helped to transform the club after former Icelandic owner Bjorolfur Guomundsson’s bankruptcy in 2009 was followed by a season of flirting with relegation before being relegated the season after. re hersh eh ersh eh es r

With Allardyce well backed by the owners, the likes of Matt Jarvis, Jussi Jaaskelainen and loanee Andy Carroll all joined the club and helped to push the Hammers up to a very respectable 10th place finish in their first season back in the Premier League. A 3-1 win over London rivals Chelsea was the highlight of the season, and won over any remaining doubters the gaffer had. With Allardyce in a secure position at the club, he’ll be looking emulate the achievements of last season.

The summer so far has seen departures kept to a minimum, with Carlton Cole, Gary O’Neil and Robert Hall the only major players to leave the club; a trio who had little impact on the club’s excellent campaign just gone. In their place come ‘keeper Adrian, a free signing from Real Betis, full back-cum-winger Razan Rat, an excellent addition from Shakhtar Donetsk, and youngster Danny Whitehead, who was recommend to the club by Dietmar Hamann after his time at Stockport County.

The key addition to West Ham’s squad isn’t really an addition. Carroll joins permanently for a club record fee of £15,000,000. Although suffering with injuries last season, the robust striker made a huge impact when fit, and could prove to be a potent threat if he can maintain his fitness this time around. Whilst some will have you think otherwise, there’s not getting away from the fact Carroll is a talented player, but the move to Liverpool has stifled his development; a full season of fitness and regular playing time at West Ham might just see him play to his full potential once again.

With the squad containing some of Big Sam’s handymen, such as Kevin Nolan, Matthew Taylor and Joey O’Brien, in addition to the traditional academy graduates from the self-proclaimed ‘Academy of Football’, with Mark Noble and the returning Joe Cole playing alongside youngsters like Danny Potts, there is an excellent blend of talent, grit and players who know how important it is for the club to achieve. Although a little light in attack, Allardyce has promised to address that area before the season starts, meaning West Ham’s squad will only have strengthened upon the side that finished in a comfortable mid-tale position last season. With others improving too, expect a similar campaign. 13th

Kevin Nolan

Kevin Nolan

Awful Addicks Suffer Boro Bashing

After last week’s disappointing display away at Bournemouth, there was a sense of cautious optimism going into the first home game of the season. The performance could only improve, and Chris Powell’s Charlton have often bounced back from frustrating defeats. That sense of positive forward thinking was only made stronger with the Addicks’ 4-0 win over Oxford United in the Capital One Cup in midweek. There was genuine belief Charlton could win this one, but Middlesbrough, who handed out tough punishment in a 4-1 win last season, were the first visitors to the Valley of the new campaign, and they themselves were looking to bounce back after an opening day defeat to Leicester City. Charlton are experts in not living up to expectation; another off the pace, error filled and disappointing, if not depressing, performance saw the Addicks thoroughly out played in a 1-0 defeat.

The first-half was a dire affair, with Charlton taking 45 minutes to muster a shot a goal; Marvin Sordell’s effort from range was as desperate as the performance, clearing the bar by quite some distance. Middlesbrough created the better openings, with the travelling fans believing they had taken the lead just after the half hour through new signing Albert Adomah’s acrobatic effort after Jonathan Woodgate had flicked on from Grant Leadbitter’s corner, but, in addition to the ball hitting the bar and dropping down onto the line without going over, Woodgate was penalised for a foul in the build-up.

The second-half, in terms of both a spectacle and Charlton’s performance, was marginally better, but still well below expectations. Danny Green should have put the home side ahead after the ball fell to him at the back post, but his effort bounced off Jason Steele in the ‘Boro goal. The visitors were still creating chances of their own, and George Friend combined with Mustapha Carayol shortly after Green’s opening, but the former’s effort flashed wide of the far post with a host of players attempting to divert the ball in on the way through. Middlesbrough continued their domination of possession, with Charlton seemingly unwilling to close down their opponents, but couldn’t quite apply the finishing touch to their attacking moves. The fact they were gifted their winner with just 18 minutes left will make it even more frustrating for the Addicks. A corner was only half cleared, with the ball headed back into the box in the direction of Jozsef Varga, who won his header with Ben Hamer racing off his line in an attempt to claim the ball. Kermorgant, not hearing his keeper’s call, attempted to head the ball away but only succeeded in setting up the easiest of opportunities for Lukas Jutkiewicz, who could do little but nod the ball into an empty net. Charlton showed some fight after going a goal down, but it wasn’t enough. The boos that followed the full-time whistle, although normally a sign of overreaction at this stage of the season, were fully justified.

The day started with some early good news for the Addicks as Johnnie Jackson’s name returned to the team sheet. The skipper, who missed last week’s defeat to Bournemouth, came in for Andy Hughes and started alongside Mark Gower in midfielder. The only other alteration from seven days ago saw Danny Green come in on the right of midfield to replace the suspended Bradley Pritchard. That meant no starting role for the likes of Leon Cort, Dale Stephens and Simon Church, who all impressed in Tuesday’s victory in the cup but all had to settle for a place on the bench. After scoring on his debut in midweek, youngster Joe Piggot was also amongst the substitutes for Charlton.

The stand out name in the Middlesbrough starting XI was that of Frazer Richardson. The former Addick spent a season at the Valley, and received a gentle round of applause from the home fans who remember his displays at right-back fondly. Friend, Woodgate and Williams completed in the back four, protecting Steele between the sticks. A central midfield trio of Leadbitter, Varga and Dean Whitehead, all players who are no stranger to a physical duel, were flanked by tricky wingers Adomah, snapped up for £1,000,000 from Bristol City in the week, and Carayol, with Jutkiewicz up top on his own in a 4-5-1 formation. Emmanuel Ledesma, principle destroyer of the Addicks at the Valley last season, and Marvin Emnes, scorer of the goal that got ‘Boro back into the game during the 2-2 draw at the Riverside, gave the visitors some excellent options from the bench.

When I took seat 175 in row X of K block in the north upper, it was the start of the tenth season in which I have watched football at the Valley, all from the same vantage point. During that time, matches with Middlesbrough as the away side have rarely ended happily. Just one win in five previous contests, including three defeats, meant that when Varga was allowed to travel half the length of the pitch and get a shot away inside the first minute, I feared the worst. Thankfully, Hamer was equal to the effort, and the Addicks began to settle shortly after. For the first five minutes, Charlton dominated possession, but couldn’t produce any threat to Middlesbrough’s defence; Green’s over-hit cross was the closest the home side came to causing any concern to the visitors.

However, the spell in charge of possession was a brief one and ‘Boro soon took a hold of the game. Charlton allowed the time and space, meaning they could pass the ball around comfortably, whilst the Addicks were second to every ball; trends that would continue throughout the remainder of the match. Carayol and Jutkiewicz were the beneficiaries of the space offered to them inside the opening ten minutes, but both fired their chances off-target, whilst only a crucial intervention from the head of Rhoys’ Wiggins prevented Jutkiewicz from putting the visitors in front.

Charlton enjoyed a rare spell in the opposition’s towards the end of the first 20 minutes, with a green free-kick finding the head of Dorian Dervite, but some solid Middlesbrough defending prevented a serious opening. Another Green dead ball, after Yann Kermorgant had felt the full force of Whitehead’s elbow in his face, with the ‘Boro midfielder receiving a yellow card for his offence, failed to beat the first ‘Boro man inside the box and the away side were able to break away. Leadbitter’s effort on goal was fired horribly wide and the Valley faithful sighed with relief once more.

Similar breaks followed with the Addicks caught in possession on several occasions, whilst Middlesbrough were now firmly dictating the play, but a cutting-edge in the final third eluded them. Charlton had a break of their own on the half hour as Harriott sprinted past several ‘Boro players with the ball at his feet, running almost the full length of the pitch, and winning a corner to rapturous applause from the home ends. Green’s resulting kick came to nothing though as a sea of bodies challenged for the ball at the far post, only for it to trickle out off a Charlton body for a goal-kick,

When Middlesbrough finally created an excellent opening through Adomah’s overhead kick following Leadbitter’s corner, the referee’s whistle prevented them from scoring as Woodgate, who flicked the ball onto Adomah, was guilty of pushing on a Charlton back as he leaped to nod the ball on. A half that was filled with set-pieces saw another one just before the break as Dervite was guilty of holding Jutkiewicz on the edge of the area. A nerve racking moment for the home side, but Adomah’s effort curled horribly off target. The half came to a close with Sordell hitting and hoping from 25 yards on the angle, but his effort, Charlton’s first of the half, flew over the bar. The Addicks were second best for large parts of the half and needed to up their game for the second period.

Chris Powell was forced into freshening things up before the start of the second half with Jackson, visibly struggling with his calf injury, replaced by Stephens. The half began where the first left off, with Middlesbrough in control and winning a free-kick on the edge of Charlton’s penalty box. Harriott, stood in the wall, took one of the team as Leadbitter’s free-kick bounced off the side of his head and away for a throw. The Addicks, against the tide of the match, then managed to muster a number of efforts on goal. Firstly, Kermorgant’s tame header from Danny Green’s cross floated into Steele’s hands for Charlton’s first shot on target, before the Frenchman attempted to acrobatically connect with another Green cross, only for teammate Sordell to also try to connect, resulting in Kermorgant requiring lengthy treatment after taking a blow to his ankle.

With Kermorgant back on his feet and play resuming, Stephens’ clever footwork through midfield, and Sordell’s tee-up presented another opening for the Frenchman, but he was off balance and was only able to gently guide the ball through to Steele’s hands. However, the Addicks should have been in front in their next attacking move. The ball was played out to Harriott on the left and he showed great pace and determination to beat his man, before sending in a delicious cross from the by-line that skipped off the head of Sordell and fell perfectly to the feet of Green at the far post. But Green’s touch was heavy, and his shot was blocked away by an outstretched Steele. The save was almost a game changing moment as the corner came to nothing and not long after Friend broke down the left. Exchanging neat passes with Carayol inside the box, the full back drilled a shot across goal that just went wide of the far post.

But Green’s missed opportunity sparked Middlesbrough back into life. They’d continued to control possession, but were now coming forward with serious threat. Charlton couldn’t contain Carayol and Adamoh, as the pair continued to cut inside and look for a pass into the box or take a shot of their own. However, the efforts on Charlton’s goal were mostly tame, with Hamer collecting a couple of shots with ease, before saving well from Jutkiewicz with 70 minutes gone. But Charlton were their own worst nightmare, as Hamer rolled the ball out to Gower, only for him to be dispossessed just outside the Charlton box by Carayol. He played in Jutkiewicz, who looked destined to score, but Morrison got back quickly to send the ball behind from a corner; a corner that gave ‘Boro a deserved lead.

The calamitous defending from set-pieces that caused the Addicks to concede at Bournemouth returned as the ball was innocuously headed back into the box after the original ball in was partially cleared. Hamer came rushing out to a ball that wasn’t his to collect with several bodies in front of him, with one of those bodies Kermorgant, whose poor header popped up and was turned into the back of the empty net, with Hamer stranded, by Jutkiewicz. Deserved as it was, Charlton will be frustrated in the manner in which it came about; giving an easily preventable goal away for the third time in two games in inexcusable.

The home side had plenty of chances to pull level. Green unleashed a vicious shot from 20 yards, to which an injured Steele, who came off shortly after, was equal too, diving to palm the ball away for a corner, whilst Stephens’ nodded the ball onto the top of the net when he really should have done better from Kermorgant’s cross. Lawrie Wilson and Church came on for Charlton, replacing the below par pair of Green and Sordell, but they could do little to find the equaliser. Kermorgant headed Solly’s ball in with five minutes to play, but there was Charlton’s least meaningful effort on goal. Middlesbrough saw the came out comfortably; deserved victors over a dreadful Charlton.

Middlesbrough are a decent side, but we made them look like a very good side. Only losing by one goal flattered us.

Much like last week, it’s incredibly difficult to find positives. The one being Callum Harriott, who upped his game after a disappointing performance at Bournemouth; it’s a shame no one else could do the same. Even the likes of Solly, Morrison and Kermorgant were full of errors and looked well off the pace.

The main issue with the team performance was that Charlton didn’t close down ‘Boro quick enough. They were given too much space to knock the ball around with ease, especially in the centre of midfield where a clearly unfit Jackson, Gower and Stephens seemed afraid to get tight to their men, whilst the visitors closed down Charlton straight away, giving them no space and no time on the ball. The Addicks were second to every loose ball, whilst headers were not won. Our ability in the air from front to back was one of the main reasons for some excellent displays last season; today was a stalk contrast with Morrison, Dervite and Kermorgant struggling to win their aerial duels.

On the rare occasions that we got forward, the final ball was seriously lacking. Danny Green’s deliveries, both in play and at set-pieces, were nothing short of shocking, whilst both he and Sordell were guilty of giving the ball away constantly when they had it at their feet. Green once again failed to prove himself, and wasted a glorious chance to put Charlton in front that could have changed the direction of the contest, whilst Sordell has some work to do if he is to make an impression in a Charlton shirt.

It’s not a time to worry or panic, but it is a time to be concerned. Carry on playing like we have done in the last two weeks and we’re in serious trouble. But these players performed last season, there’s no reason as to why they’re now underperforming individually and as a team.

Bouncing back next week at Barnsley is a must.

Charlton Sink Without a Trace by the Sea

The bleep tests have been completed, the training camps in warmer climates are now a distant memory and friendlies have come and gone without telling us anything at all. Pre-season is over and the proper stuff is here again. In traditional opening game of the season weather, Charlton travelled to sunny Bournemouth, aiming to continue the form that saw them end the season eight glorious games unbeaten, to take on the newly promoted Cherries. However, that seemed a world away come full-time at Dean Court, as a lethargic, complacent and off the pace Charlton lost 2-1 to an inspired Bournemouth side.

The first 25 minutes were relatively even, but the Addicks always looked fragile at the back, which wasn’t helped by the midfield being caught in possession on a number of occasions. The Cherries were a constant threat down both flanks, delivering several testing crosses and forcing a number of corners; one of which gave the home side the lead after 26 minutes. Charlton failed to react to Mark Pugh’s quickly taken corner, giving former Addick Harry Arter the time and space to pick out Lewis Grabban, who rose almost unchallenged and guided the ball beyond a motionless Ben Hamer.

A seemingly frustrated Charlton, epitomised by Yann Kermorgant’s sulking, struggled to get back into the half after the goal and were arguably fortunate to be just a goal down going into the break. Thankfully for the 1,400 travelling fans, as frustrated as Kermorgant, the Addicks began the second half well, with a stroke of luck followed by a piece of brilliance from their star striker drawing the sides level. Rhoys Wiggins’ mishit cross failed to beat the first man inside the Bournemouth box, but Shaun MacDonald’s boot could only loop the ball up perfectly for Kermorgant to scissor kick emphatically past Ryan Allsop. The sulking was over; game on.

The Addicks were beginning to get on top of their opponents, but a lack of end product in the final third meant the openings created by attacking moves were wasted. In contrast, Bournemouth carved a goal out of nothing with 66 minutes on the clock to retake the lead and take the momentum away from the visitors. Grabban picked up the ball 25 yards from goal in an unthreatening position, but Andy Hughes stood off the striker, who made full use of the space offered to him and fired past a diving Hamer into the bottom corner of the net.

Charlton rallied in the closing stages, but Bradley Pritchard’s red card for cynically scything down Ryan Frazer on the halfway line with seven minutes left snuffed out the flicker of hope the Addicks had of pulling level. Not the start they hoped for.

There was much speculation in the week as to what XI Chris Powell would put out. The back four of last season’s player of the year Chris Solly, Michael Morrison, Dorian Dervite and Wiggins picked itself, as did Hamer in between the sticks, but the rest of the line-up remained a mystery. Up until Thursday, it seemed Powell would be forced to field his side in a 4-5-1 formation with only one forward at the club, but the signings of strikers Simon Church and loanee Marvin Sordell gave the Chartlon boss the option to play with two up top. That’s exactly what he did, with Sordell starting alongside Kermorgant in attack. Pritchard and youngster occupied the wings, whilst Hughes and Mark Gower started in the centre of midfield after captain Johnnie Jackson was ruled out with a calf niggle; a massive blow for the Addicks. Church began his Charlton career, but there was no place for fellow new signing Richard Wood, with Leon Cort the reserve centre back.

The hosts were playing their first game in the second tier of English football for 23 years and highly rated gaffer Eddie Howe fielded a 4-4-2 formation filled with attacking threat and pace. Grabban and Wes Thomas lead the forward line with Pugh, one of League One’s best performers in recent years, and Mohamed Coulibaly, making his debut for the club, on either wing. Macdonald started in the centre of midfield alongside Arter, whose presence went almost unnoticed by those in the away end, whose attentions were firmly focused on former, and Bournemouth skipper, Simon Francis, who started at right-back. Elliot Ward, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels completed the back four in front of Allsop in the Bournemouth goal. Andrew Surman, signed in the week from Norwich, occupied the bench alongside Ian Harte, also a new addition to the Cherries’ title winning squad.

Your writer regretted not giving more than a ‘I’m not interested, thank you’ to the pair of ladies who knocked on his door in the morning prior to the game questioning as to whether ‘God answers all prayer?’. With the roads misbehaving, a reoccurring event when travelling to any opening game, only a quick dash to the stadium from the parked car meant I arrived on time for the game, that despite leaving four and a half hours before kick for a two and a half hour journey. If only I’d asked God to make the roads clear, Johnnie Jackson to be fit and Charlton to win.

Thankfully I was inside Dean Court, although programme-less due to Bournemouth printing not enough to match the demand, just in time to see the game begin as you would expect for an opening day fixture; nerves, tension and apprehension overriding the messages in the dressing rooms just moments before for the players to not let the occasion get to them. The opening five minutes of both sides constantly losing possession was to be a theme that continued throughout the game.

Harriott’s pace was too much for Francis to contend with, much to the delight of the travelling Addicks, and the youngster won Charlton their first corner of the season. Gower’s in-swinging delivery was met by the head of Sordell, but, under pressure from the Bournemouth defence, he could float the ball well off-target. Harriott was then the lucky recipient moments later as the ball bobbled through to him on the edge of the box; his fortune ended there as his short soared over the bar. Another Charlton attack, this time a flowing move involving several passes, climaxed in Pritchard being a fraction offside, but it was a promising opening period for the Addicks.

However, Bournemouth mustered their first effort on goal with Coulibaly’s shot from range narrowly wide of Hamer’s far post, but Charlton’s number one always had it covered. The effort sparked a spell of Bournemouth dominance, with the home side peppering Charlton’s box with corners and crosses galore. Although Arter volleyed wide after being picked out from a corner, Hamer and his defence were equal to Bournemouth’s threat. A brief moment of rest to the pressure on the back four saw Kermorgant curl an effort tamely off-target, but Bournemouth were soon down the other end and not long after put themselves in front.

A quickly taken corner on the left hand side, to which no Charlton player reacted in corresponding quick enough fashion, saw Pugh knock the ball to Arter, allowing the latter to cross for Grabban who, although under little pressure, placed an exquisite header across goal and into the far top corner. Hamer could do little, and rightly blamed his defenders for not switching on and dealing with the short corner, whilst Kermorgant complained to referee Andy D’urso for no clear to see reason and received a booking for his troubles. Although D’urso was having a very D’urso-esque performance, he couldn’t be blamed for Charlton’s poor defending.

This wasn’t the start the Addicks were hoping for, and it was almost made worse in Bournemouth’s next attack as Pugh was allowed to cross again and Thomas slide in ahead of Hamer, waiting to collect the ball, but could only steer the ball wide. The let off should have sparked Charlton into life, but instead a wasted attack, with Gower aimlessly playing the ball off the pitch whilst inside the box, followed before Hamer was forced into an excellent save from Arter’s powerful effort on goal.

Gower should have done better after being played in down the left, but his cross was over hit beyond Morrison at the far post when a pull-back into the centre looked the better option. D’urso then did something very un-D’urso-esque and played an excellent advantage after Sordell was clipped playing Harriott through, but the youngster’s effort, despite premature cheers from the away end, flashed wide of the far post. It was the closest Charlton had come all half to testing Allsop, who looked beaten as the shot flew wide. The effort was followed by numerous shots on goal from the hosts, but Hamer comfortably saved from Thomas and Grabban before the former saw a shot from distance clear the bar. A blocked shot from Gower was the final action of the half.

Charlton started the second half in a far better fashion than they ended the first and, although through a ‘slice’ of good fortunate, equalised four minutes after the interval. Harriott’s control out on the left was wayward, but he managed to set the ball back to Wiggins who, under pressure from Francis, rushed his delivery and saw it met by the foot of MacDonald. However, MacDonald only succeeded in slicing the ball up and slightly behind him, where Kermorgant was waiting to bounce. His acrobatic volley flew into the corner of the goal and, out of nothing, the Addicks were back in the game.

The away side so easily could have had the lead just minutes later as Kermorgant’s delivery with the outside of his boot was headed over from Pritchard when he really should have scored. Charlton kept up the pressure but couldn’t deliver that killer ball; Harriott was especially guilty of wasting excellent positions out on the left flank. On the other hand, Bournemouth were getting forward and firing shots at goal. Thomas was making a real handful of himself and forced Hamer into another good save, whilst substitute Frazer, who replaced the injured Coulibaly, fired wide soon after coming on before testing Hamer from just outside the area, but the ‘keeper saved well once again.

The largely ineffectual Sordell was replaced by fellow debutant Church with 65 minutes gone, but just a minute later, the Addicks fell behind once more. Charlton’s ability to close down their opponents was again in question as Grabban was awarded the freedom of the final third the Addicks were defending, giving him the chance to shoot, lashing home a brilliant effort from range. A brilliant effort it may have been, it so easily could have been prevented if Hughes, the nearest Charlton player to the Bournemouth striker, had got tight and stopped the shot.

Danny Green and Dale Stephens came on to replace Hughes and Gower with 15 minutes left as Powell desperately searched for an equaliser after a quiet ten minute spell after the Cherries’ second goal. Green immediately delivered an excellent free-kick into the box, but a cross from normal play soon after ballooned well over the bar.

Charlton almost drew level with less than ten minutes to player as Pritchard’s header was cleared off the line after some confusion in the Bournemouth box allowed him a free nod towards an empty goal, but Ward positioned himself well to the disappointment of the away fans to the side of the goal. With that effort giving Charlton hope that there was still a chance for a later goal, almost all hope was lost with seven minutes to play as the Zimbabwean was given the first red card of his league career. With Stephens effectively on his own in the centre of midfield, Bournemouth were able to pick up the loose balls more often than not. Dervite headed wide from Green’s corner before Harriott’s touch forced him to shoot from a position he was never likely to score from deep into six minutes of stoppage time, but Charlton couldn’t find the equaliser. If only I’d asked for divine intervention.

As clichéd as it may be, it was always going to be a difficult game. There’s certainly no shame in losing to a very promising Bournemouth side; there is a shame in the level of performance.

Morrison and Dervite struggled to deal with the pace of Grabban and Thomas, whilst Solly, who was unlike his normal consistent and quality self, and Wiggins equally struggled with the threat from the wings. The defence as a whole appeared a shadow of its solid self from last season; second to every ball, second best in the air and very fragile. Hamer was forced to pick up the pieces.

Gower and Hughes constantly misplaced their passes and were disposed several times far too easily. It’s no excuse, but Jackson was certainly a huge miss. The wingers were both poor, with Harriott’s second half display giving you the impression he was out of his depth. We all know that isn’t the case and he’ll come back stronger from such a disappointing showing, but it does suggest there’s still a long way to go before he’s the finished product. On the other wing, I’ll always stand up for Pritchard, but I can’t today. That was his worst performance in a Charlton shirt and the first one for quite some time that was anything but excellent. Despite his poor display, the three game ban remains a massive blow and Green will have to step up. His delivery from set-pieces was excellent in his time on the pitch, but he was poor in every other department.

Sordell put himself about but it’s hard to expect someone who has trained no more than twice with a team to perform straight away, with the same going for Church. Kermorgant’s first half display was below par but he came alive in the second half. Winning his headers, collecting the ball well and his fantastic finish meant he, along with Hamer, was one of the few in a Charlton shirt who could feel at least some sense of pride in their performance.

Harsh criticism? No, the performance was a huge disappointment. Does it affect the rest of the season? Apart from the lost points, no, I’m certain we’ll bounce back. This side showed its quality last season and will do so again. Onwards and upwards.