Thursday, May 04, 2006

United till the end

We have all now had the best part of a week to get over the trauma of losing the clubs manager; possibly the best manager that Charlton have ever had, and certainly the only one who has ever come close to matching the deeds of Jimmy Seed. The numbness that was felt just before kick-off last Saturday has subsided; the gloominess that followed has wained. A positive outcome and outlook is what is needed, but only after the final game of the season; Curbs last stand.

Why Old Trafford? This is the third time in 16 years that Charlton's final game of the season has been held in the United half of Manchester, a slightly quirky statistic. Way back in 1990/91, the relegated Charlton team put in a fine display, losing 1-0, with the fans in fancy dress singing "Your gonna win the cup" (which United did after a replay against a Croydon based team). It was Paul Williams final match in a Charlton shirt (for a few years anyway...). Three years back, we had Jorge Costa's final Charlton game, where he performed heroically in a nil all draw. Jorge would have scored the winner but for Kevin Lisbie's outstretched boot...And now this season's game - Alan Curbishley's 729th as manager.

United need the result to confirm their runners up spot in the Premiership, and Champions League football without the qualification rounds. Charlton just need a result for Curbs.

Which team will be the last that our current manager writes up on the board? Well, it's unlikely to be very different to any other put out recently.

In goal, the choice is between Thomas Myrhe (dropped last week) and Stephan Andersen. The Dane could be blamed for both goals against Blackburn in that he didn't command his penalty area in a way that he should. If Dean Keily had been in goal, we would have understood... Curbs could shock us all and give a debut to Darren Randolph, but the trauma if it all went pear-shaped would be harsh on a youngster with enormous potential like Randolph.

The defence is fairly straightforward - Sankofa (who made his debut three years ago in the Costa match), Perry, and Powell and are likely to play. Fortune or Sorondo will also play - probably the Uruguayan if his groin is well enough to start. Luke Young should make the bench, but I doubt he will start the match.

The midfield will also have a familiar look - Hughes, Holland, and Kishishev are all likely to start, with Ambrose or Sam on the wing. It seems that Rommedahl is persona non grata at present, and Jason Euell will be offered nothing more than the bench again.

Up front, Darren Bent will attempt to get closer to the 20-Premiership goal mark he craves, and he will probably be joined by Lisbie, Bothroyd or Bartlett. Personally, I wouldn't mind a switch back to 4-5-1 with Sam and Ambrose assisting Dazza up front.

This is the team I expect Curbs to select:

Andersen, Sankofa, Perry, Sorondo, Powell, Kishishev, Holland, Hughes, Ambrose, Bent, Lisbie. Subs - Myrhe, Young, Sam, Euell, Fortune.

At the end of every season, some players will have played their final games for the club, due to summer transfers elsewhere. That may well be the case on Sunday. In Chris Powell, who is likely to retire after the match, we have an outstanding player who has represented Charlton and England at a very consistent level for a number of years. When Chrissie rejoined Charlton last summer, he certainly didn't expect to be playing most weeks - which is what has happened. It's a shame that Curbs will get most of the plaudits this weekend, because Chrissie deserves a big round of applause too. Hopefully, the club will find a suitable coaching position for Powell and he can take the first steps on his own management ladder.

Gonzalo Sorondo may also be saying farewell; he will return to Inter Milan, and we will see if he is allowed and decides to join an English club or spend a third season on loan.

Radistan Kishishev's contract is up this summer, and we may not see another offered to our Bulgarian midfielder. I guess it all depends on who the new boss is going to be, but old dust tends to go out with new brooms...Ditto Chris Perry.

Jason Euell is also likely to leave the club this summer, after abortive attempts by Birmingham to sign him in the last two transfer windows. Where he goes is now open to debate, though I fancy he may end up at one of the promoted teams.

It could also be the final matches for other players, including surely World Cup bound Darren Bent and Luke Young, but their departure is too painful to contemplate in this mournful week.

Pedro45's score prediction is a hard, but realistic 4-0 defeat.

My one-to-watch this Sunday just has to be Alan Curbishley. He may not have much personality; he may not be flambouyant enough for some; he may be too negative in his tactics; he may have favourites, and stick by them through thick and thin; he may be slow to make changes, when the obvious is apparent to every other fan in the stadium; but I don't care. He is the Charlton manager now; he is one of the best in the country; he is going to be sorely missed by players and fans alike over the summer, and onwards.

The King is dead; Long live the King!

Kish is contracted until 2007 I believe.
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