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Addicks set for new dawn

PUBLISHED: 11:14 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:04 25 August 2010

LONDON - MARCH 21:  Alan Pardew, the Charlton manager urges on his players during the Coca Cola Championship match between Charlton Athletic and West Bromwich Albion at the Valley on March 21, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

LONDON - MARCH 21: Alan Pardew, the Charlton manager urges on his players during the Coca Cola Championship match between Charlton Athletic and West Bromwich Albion at the Valley on March 21, 2008 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

2008 Getty Images

CHARLTON head into their second year of life in the Championship hoping to improve on a disappointing campaign last term.

CHARLTON head into their second year of life in the Championship hoping to improve on a disappointing campaign last term.

The club went into the opening game of the season at home to newly-promoted Scunthorpe as one of the favourites, not only to secure automatic promotion, but to win the Championship title. And, when Marcus Bent fired them into a 62nd-minute lead, most fans would have expected the team to go on and record a comfortable win.

However, Izzy Iriekpen headed home an equaliser seven minutes later and Charlton, who subsequently loaned Bent to Wigan, were forced to settle for a draw.

If that hadn't acted as a wake-up call, the club's following match away at Stoke served up a timely reminder of how tough life can be outside the Premier League as goals from Ricardo Fuller and Jon Parkin cancelled out Andy Reid's opener.

Things appeared to being going from bad to awful against Sheffield Wednesday when Burton O'Brien and Tommy Spurr gave the Owls a 2-0 lead after just 15 minutes.

Fortunately, the hosts rallied and newly-appointed skipper Reid pulled one back six minutes after the break before a double-strike from Iwelumo sealed a dramatic fightback.

The improvement continued with a 2-0 triumph over Swindon in the Carling Cup as the Addicks embarked on an eight-match unbeaten league run.

Three defeats on the trot stunted their progress, and although supporters quickly downgraded their expectations from title contenders to playoff challengers,

The departure of Andy Reid to Sunderland in the transfer window heralded a downturn in fortunes. The playmaker had been instrumental in keeping the Addicks up with the leading pack, but defeats to Scunthorpe (1-0) in February and Blackpool (5-3) three weeks later indicated at the problems that lay in store. Charlton's only saving grace was that the teams around them - Watford, Palace, Wolves, Ipswich and Bristol City - were also shedding points.

However, that all changed with three straight losses - to Preston, Burnley and Ipswich - as Pardew's squad started to run out of steam in early March. Attendances remained high (not once dipping below 20,000), but the Addicks' playoff bid hit the rocks with a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to Wolves. There were two further losses on the road, but the season ended on a bright note with a 4-1 trouncing of Coventry, with Chris Powell scoring in his Valeey swansong.

With no vast budget, the summer has been a time of scrimping and saving as Pardew's powers of spotting deals has been put to the test.

Big earners including Marcus Bent and Ben Thatcher have been ditched, but players such as Amdy Faye, Jerome Thomas and Darren Ambrose remain at the club, although whether they will start the season in SE7 remains to be seen.

As a result, Charlton's spending muscle has been restricted this summer and only two players - Mark Hudson and Stuart Fleetwood - have been brought in to add strength to the squad.

Fleetwood - who signed from Forest Green Rovers on a three-year deal - was the Blue Square Premier's topscorer last year, netting 28 goals in 41 appearances. Unproven at Championship level though, the 22-year-old looks like one for the future.

However, the capture of central defender Hudson from Crystal Palace proved a massive coup for Pardew. The 26-year-old was picked up for nothing and has been brought in to lead a defence that looked all too leaky last year.

"Unfortunately for us, Mark was brilliant for Palace last season and I'm absolutely overjoyed with his signing," said Pardew of the former Eagles captain, who missed only one game in Palace's march to the playoffs. "He's a player I have admired for a long time. I think he will be a fantastic player for us, not only on the playing field but off the pitch as well.

"He is a strong character and represents everything that is good about professional football, and I look forward to working with him and seeing him in our team next season."

However, for the first time in many seasons, the Addicks also have an exciting gaggle of youngsters snapping at the heels of their senior teammates and academy manager Steve Gritt, for one, believes this could be the season his charges come of age.

"If they can show the level of ability that they did last year, I see no reason why one or two of our players cannot help the team to push on, get in the Premiership and continue to keep their place there as well," the 50-year-old told the Times earlier this month. "I do believe that the exposure that these players will now get at Championship level - getting, and staying, in the team - will give them an excellent grounding for when the time comes that, hopefully, we do get back into the Premiership. They will be getting the best education they can playing in the first team." "They have all got a very, very good attitude. Grant Basey and Scott Wagstaff are a huge example to everybody within the academy of where you can get to on not just the ability that they have, but sheer hard work as well.

Furthermore, the return of Svetoslav Todorov - absent from the side since last October when a knee injury sustained against Plymouth cut short his season - could be Pardew's smartest signing. The Bulgarian international was linked with a move away from SE7 when his one-year contract came ot an end, but he has been convinced to stay for another campaign, in which the Addicks hope to prise themselves free from the Championship.

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