Back at the start of the 1998-99 season, the DJ and broadcaster Danny Baker offered his listeners a bet. He was so outraged at bookmakers only offering 200/1 against Charlton Athletic winning the Premier League, that he offered anyone that sent him in £5 a Range Rover if Charlton did it. I don’t know what you’d have to offer someone to get them to bet on them now. William Hill’s website isn’t offering odds at the moment (though you can get 750/1 against Portsmouth sneaking up on the rails), and they’re currently a not very attractive 1/3 to get relegated.
Some of you may remember the film, “Mike Bassett – England Manager”, a not particularly funny comedy starring Ricky Tomlinson about a man promoted into the job of England coach by default in the build up to a World Cup finals. I can’t help but think that there is something of the Mike Bassett about Les Reed. Promoted out of his depth, and for reasons that I find unfathomable, he’s now struggling to keep his head above water after a honeymoon period that lasted… well… no matches whatsoever. Are Charlton in a better position than they were when they sacked Iain Dowie? Do the players have more confidence in Mr Reed than they had in Mr Dowie? Charlton have got “relegation” scrawled in black marker pen all over their metaphorical forehead, and I don’t think that there’s anything that anybody can do about it.
When he was appointed into the job, much was made of Reed’s tactical acumen. Little, however, was said of the fact that he had never managed before, or that it was his coaching that had taken Charlton to the heady heights of the bottom of the Premiership in the first place. It was an appointment that smashed straight through the barrier marked “inexplicable” and into the realms of the frankly bizarre. The press is now wondering aloud whether Charlton will have to appoint a third manager this season, and the name Alan Pardew is already being muttered in some circles as their only hope for salvation. Considering that Alan Curbishley, the man whose resignation from The Valley set this whole unhappy saga in motion, is now in charge at West Ham (when Pardew’s sacking was announced while we were in Japan, there was unanimous murmuring that Curbishley would be installed within the next forty-eight hours, to the extent that I would be less than surprised if it became public knowledge that Curbishley had been lined up for this job before a ball was even kicked this season), there would at least be a pleasing symmetry Pardew being appointed at Charlton.
Their season reached a new nadir on Tuesday night when they were bundled out of the Carling Cup by Wycombe Wanderers. I caught the highlights of this match and, my word, they were terrible. Usually, for a lower league side to beat a side from the Premiership, the lower league side has to play out of its skin, ride its luck and sneak a goal on the break. Not on Tuesday night, they didn’t. Wycombe played okay, but they had a hatful of chances, and reduced Charlton to lumping the ball forward in what looked like an act of somewhere between wild desperation and hopeless over-optimism towards Marcus and Darren Bent, who barely had a chance between them. It was a dreadfully inadequate display from Charlton, and the only consolation for their supporters is that at least they have been spared a thrashing in the semi-final by Chelsea, Liverpool/Arsenal or Spurs. Considering that this defeat came off the back off thrashings by Liverpool and Spurs, that 1/3 being offered by William Hills starts to look more and more attractive.
The heat was taken off Charlton by the hype machine cranking itself into top gear by Rafael Benitez and Arsene Wenger whining about their match at Anfield being called off, but the pressure is now on Charlton’s hopelessly under-experienced coach with the busy holiday fixture list just around the corner. With matches against Middlesbrough and Fulham coming up in the next four days, Reed needs to pull something of a rabbit out of the hat if he’s going to prevent the shadow of The Grim Reaper looming even larger over SE7 going into 2007.