It’s hard to think of a weekend worse for Charlton Athletic fans than the one just gone.
Saturday saw four rivals in the battle to beat the drop record three points; causing the Addicks to slip to the bottom of the Championship table for the first time since they were relegated from the division in 2009.
Sunday, a day that began with 5,000 Charlton fans full of hope that their side would secure a place at Wembley, ended in an embarrassing defeat to Sheffield United in the FA Cup; one that has drained the confidence of almost every Addick and left them fearing the very worst.
But, with over a third of the league season still to play and games coming thick and fast between now and the first week of May, Sunday’s defeat can’t be dwelled upon forever. The focus must quickly turn to fighting our way out of trouble and achieving Championship safety.
Chris Powell’s has the unenviable task of motivating his distraught players, as well as setting up his comparatively weak side to out play sides in this division that are simply better than the Addicks, in order to pick up the points that will move the Reds off the foot of the table and out of the bottom three.
Here are five steps I think must be taken if the Addicks are to prevent a tough season becoming a disastrous one.
1. Line-up with five in midfield, or bring back a formation that worked so well at the start of the season
I appreciate that playing five in midfield at home is the equivalent to reporting your own mother to the police, but I feel it’s currently the system that accommodates the players we have best.
We have four very capable central midfielders, all of which suit a formation that includes a trio of centre midfielders better than a pair.
Diego Poyet, as we have all seen, has a presence on the ball belonging to a man with far more experience under his belt, but the defeat to Sheffield United showed that his excellence is lost in a four man midfield.
A holding midfielder is best exploited with two other central midfielders, especially when Poyet doesn’t have the ability to bomb forward with the ball at his feet like Dale Stephens could when he picked up the ball from the back four. Attacks struggled to start yesterday, with Poyet wanting to play a passing game but not having the midfield men to pass to. He cut a frustrated figure, forced to pass the ball back to his defenders.
Having Poyet holding means that Jackson can roam free in the box-to-box role he plays so well; helping out his teenage team mate in defensive duties when needed, but getting forward, being there to receive Poyet’s balls from deep and getting into positions to score.
That’s not to ignore Jordan Cousins. The youngster was superb when he first came into the side, and played crucial roles in the wins over Brighton and QPR; from the centre of midfield. Playing three in the centre gives him a chance to come back inside and play in a deep-lying playmaker role alongside Poyet.
It’s a tough choice to make as to which two of those three plays in the slightly more conservative central role, but playing two teenagers is a huge risk. Also, leaving out the inspirational skipper in a situation like this isn’t going to help. It’s Poyet sitting deep with Jackson alongside, but having the license to roam forward when necessary, for me.
Finally, whichever two play just behind, Astrit Ajdaveric has to start in the advance role. In his brief amount of time in a Charlton shirt thus far, the Swede has proven himself to be a class act. Even in defeat yesterday, he provided something of a spark to a side that had struggled to get forward previously.
I would also argue that deploying a 3-5-2 formation once again has its merits.
Lawrie Wilson and Rhoys Wiggins have appeared reluctant to get forward in the manner in which they have previously done in recent weeks, and yesterday saw the pair trapped in their own half for the vast majority of the game.
Wiggins’ lack of form may be due to the fact that he isn’t fully fit after coming back from injury, but he’s the sort of player we need performing to his absolute best if we’re going to beat the drop.
A return to the 3-5-2 that worked so well against Leicester and Watford in August and September will give Wilson and Wiggins the licence to get forward, whilst also accommodating a trio of central midfielders, covering for our lack of out and out wingers, and given supporters the two strikers which they crave.
A risk, but maybe something different is needed for the Addicks to pick up points. If not, 4-5-1 is a must.
2. Give the King of Zimbabwe his crown back, at least until Solly returns
As the Chairman of the Bradley Pritchard Appreciation Society™, I’m probably (definitely) biased. But Pritchard played a vital role in the successes of the two seasons prior to this one, and deserves to be brought back in from the cold.
Fans will no doubt have three images of Pritchard lodged in their mind from this season; his calamitous display against Millwall, that dreadful miss against Wigan and the night he got stuck in the mud at home to Oxford.
However, we’ve also soon the very best of him against Leicester City, Watford and, recently, in the cruel defeat at the DW Stadium. Some have decided to strangely blame him for the fact Wigan managed to grab two late goals, but, in fact, he helped a struggling Loic Nego a great deal and got forward on a couple of occasions when others wouldn’t, showing great strength and a return of the pace that had seemingly gone missing at the Oxford game.
That performance full of endeavour at the start of February was a glimpse back to his impressive form at the end of last season, where he made the wide position his own with some excellent displays. In several games, the most notable being the 6-0 win over Barnsley, he even looked like a ‘conventional’ winger, beating his man with pace and trickery.
He can deliver a testing delivery, he’s superb defensively and, in a time when we need players to dig in and show some fight, no one will work harder.
The Cousins experiment isn’t working, and there’s only so many more Danny Green crosses that don’t beat the first man I can watch before I throw myself off the top of the North Upper; Pritchard should be starting on the right.
Oh, and he also notched up more assists than Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolalise last season, which is arguably the greatest footballing statistic of the 21st century.
However, once Chris Solly returns, then Wilson must be the favourite to take up the right midfield position than he played so well in the period around Christmas. A fully fit Solly can’t be too far away now…
Read more about my thoughts on Pritchard HERE
3. Sign a winger and a forward with some aerial capability
In my first piece after Roland Duchatelet’s takeover of the Addicks, I said his most pressing task was to secure the services of Cameron Stewart or find an adequate replacement. I also suggested securing the futures of players such as Yann Kermorgant was vital.
Two months on, we have been without Stewart, or a winger of his capability and nature, for that entire length of time, and Kermorgant’s departure has left a huge hole in Charlton’s forward options.
Whilst Harriott is a wide player in a similar mould to Stewart, he has nowhere near the same level of ability. The youngster can’t turn a game on its head with a moment of brilliance, rarely is his decision making good enough and often his deliveries are wayward.
I know many have their reservations, but I would certainly welcome the arrival of Shaun Wright-Phillips. I can’t see us getting anyone better, and he ticks all the boxes.
If all else fails, deploying the left footed Ghoochannejhad, a player who has the ability to beat a man with the ball at his feet, shouldn’t be ruled out.
Marcus Tudgay arrived with the promise of being potent in the air, but I’m yet to see it. In fact, he seems better with the ball played into his feet, like Church, Ghoochannejhad and Sordell.
We’re never going to replace the threat that Kermorgant possessed in the air, but we need someone who can at least challenge opposition centre backs from the ambitions long balls we send forward.
I’d like to think we already have one in Piotr Parzyszek, but it would appear Powell doesn’t believe he’s ready for first team action yet, and whilst Ajdaveric certainly has a presence of sorts in the air and could carry out the target man role from an attacking midfield position, it isn’t ideal.
With that in mind, signing a forward who can win a header on loan is a must. Oh if only Connor Wickham had fancied a move down south.
4. The Wood is full of cracks; play Dervite or Cort
For a great deal of this season, Richard Wood gave me the impression he was a dependable centre-back. He played a major part in the run of clean sheets through October, and can take much of the credit for the win over Blackburn Rovers.
However, since then, cracks have started to appear in Wood’s once solid displays. A number of goals conceded, in both wins and defeats, have come as the result of errors from the former Coventry City man, and, in recent weeks especially, his overall play has been dominated by mistakes and nervy defending.
His horror show against Leicester could be excused, owing to the Foxes’ force, but his display in the defeat to the Blades simply wasn’t good enough. Largely at fault for both goals, hoisting long balls forward that gave no United player, let alone a Charlton man, any hope of preventing it from sailing out of play, and often winning headers only to tamely give the ball straight back to the opposition; an accident waiting to happen each time the ball was sent his way.
By contrast, Dorian Dervite’s superb performance against QPR was at the heartbeat of the win over the Rs. After a very shaky start to the season, the Frenchman has impressed when called upon thereafter, and deserves a place in the starting XI. With our football largely based around the principle of route-one, it has helps that Dervite’s long balls are of an acceptable standard.
And with the rock solid Leon Cort close to a return, he is also a relatively decent option to have start alongside Michael Morrison. Should a 3-5-2 be used, then Morrison, Cort and Dervite would get my vote as the three centre-backs.
5. Get behind the boys, and give your full support to Powell
This one’s simple, and it doesn’t need much explanation. They want to stay up as much as we do, and Powell has an impossible task with the players at his disposal. But, we have to show our full support to them, and Powell also, who remains the right man for the impossible job.
After the second goal went in at Bramall Lane, not only did the players appear beaten, but the fans gave up. An eerie silence populated the away end. The wins over Cardiff City and Bolton Wanderers stick with me so powerfully because of the way the Covered End got behind the side, even when a disaster appeared to be unfolding in front of their eyes. More of that please.
Be loud, be proud, be Red, more than ever in the final weeks of this season.