Both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic have been relegated from the Premier League to League One in embarrassingly quick time. Both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic won League One with over 100 points. Both Wolverhampton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic were kind enough to give Leon Clarke a League One winners’ medal.
There’s some overlap in the recent history of Wolves and Charlton, and there’s also some overlap in the current state of the two clubs. Lying third and fifth respectively, the pair are the surprise packages of the early weeks of this Championship season.
With Wolves fans wanting little more than stability in the second tier after a traumatic few years and Addicks fearing their new look side wouldn’t gel, these starts are beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic of supporters.
So, with that in mind, no one in either camp is getting carried away yet. In fact, there’s an expectation that both will fall away relatively quickly, taking cover in the less daunting surrounding of the lower half of the division. Given their not too distant struggles, you can’t blame the supporters of both for constantly having a feeling of impending doom about their sides.
Nonetheless, should there be a winner at The Valley on Tuesday, the victorious side in this clash might have to get used to an alien feeling of optimism and confidence, no longer treating Championship victories as something of a shock.
For either side, three points against their fellow inform club would be a massive statement that they’re intent on hanging around in the top six of the division for the duration of the campaign.
LAST MEETING – Charlton Athletic 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
He came from White Hart Lane, and he could play. He could play football, especially once a game of football had entered its final minute. Jonathan (Obi Obi) Obika (Obika Obika) scored his second late winner in the space of two weeks to continue Charlton’s excellent end of season form and all but condemn Wolves to League One in April 2013.
In a game that was largely dominated by the Addicks, a poor Wolves fell behind just after the hour when Dorian Dervite scrambled in a Danny Green corner that actually managed to beat the first man.
But Dean Saunders’ side responded immediately, with Kevin Doyle heading beyond Ben Hamer to give them hope of securing a vital three points in their quest to avoid the drop.
The Addicks, however, kept pushing, and finally found their reward when Green’s shot was blocked into the path of Obika, who finished from close range.
Saunders responded by ignoring the three strikers on his bench and bringing on centre back Danny Batth for the seven minutes of additional time. It really is a wonder how, with genius tactical moves like that, Wolves were relegated two seasons ago.
Much like Charlton, Wolves’ start to the season is only made more impressive by the calibre of opposition they’ve beaten. Wins over the three clubs relegated from the Premier League and a comprehensive 3-1 victory over promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers has shown that Kenny Jackett’s side’s brand of passing football is as threatening in the second tier as it was in the third.
But an away defeat to Rotherham and a goalless draw with crisis club Blackpool at Bloomfield Road on Saturday suggests Wolves are far from perfect away from Molineux.
The fearless, free-flowing attacking football that resulted in victories over Derby County and Wigan has seemingly vanished, replaced by a resilient/gritty/ridiculously lucky sort of football that involves the one or two chances created being taken.
Regardless, the Addicks know how to avoid defeat away from home and win at The Valley, whether that be pleasing on the eye or not.
Kenny Jackett may recall captain Sam Ricketts to the starting XI after the Welsh international wasn’t fit enough to start against Blackpool on Saturday. The full-back, who was sent off for Bolton in his last appearance at The Valley, would replace Matt Doherty in the Wolves’ side.
There may also be a place from the start for Bakary Sako after the Malian began the goalless draw at Bloomfield Road on the bench. The highly rated winger, who scored against Charlton at Molineux in 2012, will be pushing to start ahead of Michael Jacobs.
Elsewhere, former Addicks Carl Ikeme, who played four games on loan at Charlton in 2009, and Clarke, likely to be sat in the familiar surroundings of The Valley’s dugouts, will be involved against their old club.
Having come off injured after half an hour against Watford, Charlton look set to be without winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The Iceland international, who picked up the injury while away with his country, will be replaced by Lawrie Wilson, who put in a commendable shift against the Hornets.
Elsewhere, there’s some doubt as to whether Chris Solly, at his brilliant best on Saturday, will be able to cope with starting two games in quick succession. The full-back’s knee troubles have prevented him from playing midweek games so far this season, so Joe Gomez could come into the side.
Bob Peeters may also look to make an unenforced change or two in the wide and attacking areas, given Charlton’s struggles going forward against Watford. Franck Moussa and Simon Church will be pushing to start ahead of George Tucudean, while Standard Liege loanee Frederic Bulot may be involved for the first time.
KEY BATTLE – CHARLTON STOPPING WOLVES’ MIDFIELD FROM DICTATING THE GAME
There’s no question that Wolves have quality in abundance in midfield. In fact, while neutrals may well be more impressed with the likes of Sako, Dicko and summer signing Rajiv van La Parra, it’s Kevin McDonald that Wolves fans appreciate the most.
In Jackett’s 4-2-3-1 formation, McDonald and new signing George Saville sit deep, acting as ball winners and playmakers behind two wingers and a more advanced central man, breaking up opposition attacks carving out chances for their more celebrated forward men.
On Saturday, the most pleasing part of Charlton’s performance was that, despite their struggle to retain possession, Watford were left frustrated. Johnnie Jackson and Yoni Buyens persistently pressed, forcing the Hornets sideways, while forward balls were more often than not cut out at the back.
It forced Watford to adopt a desperate, long ball game and disrupt the natural balance and game plan of the side.
It’s likely to be the case that Wolves will dominate possession, they’re good at that, but the Addicks must also do what they’re good at, and remain resilient in the face of such perceived midfield dominance from the opposition.
There’s no easy games in the Championship, as the Peter Beagrie and Steve Claridge types constantly remind, but Charlton’s seem unrelentingly testing. Another contest against an inform side means the Addicks will once again be called upon to dig deep to get something out of this one. Given the efforts of Saturday, and the frailties shown, I’m unsure if Charlton will have it in them to achieve a similar result, but this side continue to surprise. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers