There was a state of panic when Charlton’s fixtures for the season were revealed back in June. The three sides who lost out on promotion in the play-offs last term were to be faced in the opening five games; three games that were effectively a write off. A disastrous start to the new campaign was on the cards, something a newly appointed head coach with a new side could ill afford.
And yet, few are fearing this Saturday’s visit of Wigan Athletic. Instead, there’s a healthy amount of optimism, excitement and anticipation.
That’s not to say Charlton fans are expecting victory; no Addick is escaping from the fact that the Latics are an incredible tough opponent. But, early on in the life of Bob Peeters’ Charlton side, this sort of test is most welcome.
After two promising displays against a Brentford wide who fell away in the second half and a Colchester side who completely collapsed, Uwe Rosler’s men will provide a real test for the Addicks. An excellent yardstick as to where Charlton stand.
A defeat doesn’t end Charlton’s season in August, nor does a win see their name written on the trophy, but a positive result would certainly raise a few eyebrows. Even another promising performance, regardless of the final score, against strong opposition would raise a bit of confidence for the season ahead.
Chris Powell was minutes away from one of the most impressive results of his managerial career, but Yohann Thuram had other ideas.
The ‘keeper was largely at fault as 80 minutes of incredibly diligent and resolute defending, made more testing by Thuram’s antics, counted for nothing.
With the Addicks losing Dale Stephens, Ben Alwick and, crucially, Yann Kermorgant in the days leading up to the game, and injuries throughout the squad, the side fielded by Powell was hastily put together.
But an early goal from Marvin Sordell looked to have won the game for Charlton; the visitors impressively standing firm against a Wigan onslaught.
But a scuffed Marc-Antoine Fortune shot, easily savable, and Jordi Gomez’s free-kick, bent around a poorly positioned wall and past a ‘keeper who might as well have been standing by the corner flag, stole three points away from the Addicks in the dying moments.
Uwe Rosler’s men haven’t quite clicked yet, salvaging a point in the final minute of their opening day game against Reading and suffering a shock defeat to Burton in the League Cup on Tuesday, but a quality side will be keen to pick up their first three points of the season in what they’ll view as a very winnable game.
James McClean joins long term absentees Grant McCann and Ben Watson as the only players not available for selection, and there’s plenty of depth in midfield to plug the gaps.
In fact, it’s in midfield and out wide in Wigan’s 4-3-3 formation where the most impressive members of this squad are found, and they’ll come back into the side after Rosler made ten changes in midweek.
James McArthur is as good as anyone in this division, Emyr Huws showcased his talent at The Valley last while on loan at Birmingham, while Callum McManaman can win a game on his own.
At the back, Rosler has options. Two different defences have conceded soft goals in both of Wigan’s games so far, so the German boss may well look to mix things up. Regardless, someone with a bit of strength and pace will be needed to deal with Igor Vetokele, so Leon Barnett, who sat out the opening league game, seems a wise choice at centre-back.
Behind the back four, former Addick is set to start in goal for the second league game in a row. Scott Carson, however, is less likely to be at fault for any potential Charlton goal.
Bob Peeters has himself a selection headache, and not the sort of one that comes from deciding which god awful players should undeservedly start.
Lawrie Wilson scored twice in the midweek win over Colchester, and will be pushing to start in the league after being an unused sub at Griffin Park.
Callum Harriott and Franck Moussa are now fully fit, and the pair will also be high in the thoughts of Peeters.
With a host of options available in midfield, George Tucudean making a less than impressive start to life as an Addick and Vetokele more than capable of playing up top on his own, the Belgian coach might well opt for a formation that accommodates five men across the middle.
There’s also some thinking for Peeters to do at the back, with Michael Morrison his solid self in midweek and arguably worthy of a place in the starting XI ahead of Tal Ben Haim.
KEY BATTLE: CENTRAL MIDFIELD THREE VS CENTRAL MIDFIELD THREE
It’s no secret that Rosler likes to get his side playing football on the deck, with purposeful passing and exploitation of the wings Wigan’s ways of getting forward.
But it would also seem the Addicks are attempting to adopt a similar approach. Although somewhat lacking in the final third against Brentford, there was certainly a case Charlton were looking to build from the back and look out wide at the first opportunity.
Should Peeters opt for a formation that accommodates three central midfielders, which seems likely, then the two sides will match each other like for like.
And while the attacking threat for both Charlton and Wigan will be important, the side that wins the battle in the middle will be the one that comes out on top at The Valley.
Brentford’s first-half pressing had the Addicks struggling at Griffin Park, and the visitors seriously improved once they were given a bit more time on the ball in midfield. Should Wigan, as you would imagine they would, press with some sort of intensity for 90 minutes and give Charlton’s potential midfield three little time, the hosts might well be in for a tough afternoon.
McArthur, Huws and Don Cowie will contest against Johnnie Jackson, Yoni Buyens and Jordan Cousins – Wigan’s three better on paper but Charlton’s certainly capable enough to compete.
It’s easy to consider a Charlton side full of confidence against a Wigan side coming into the game on the back of a couple of disappointing results as the sub-plot to this encounter, but that isn’t quite the case. A Wigan side looking to get going against a Charlton side that’s still an unknown quality is the more suitable theme. The Addicks might well prove themselves, but the Latics start as favourites. 1-2.