Effort and determination. Character and belief. Resilience and fight.
If football hipsters were in charge of the game, and by definition they wouldn’t enjoy that, words of such nature would soon be removed from the football lexicon. No amount of abstract ideas can overcome an opponent filled with quality and led by a tactical genius.
In fact, the only way to beat a better side or overcome adversity is to improve yourself. Uncover hidden gems and appoint a bearded, suited, 3-5-2 with inverted wingers lover.
Alas, the two sides who will meet at The Valley this Saturday are more than aware that such qualitative ideals can match pure skill.
For without character and fight, neither would be playing their football in the Championship this season. Neither would have battled crisis of varying degrees. Neither, although to varying extents, would be keeping their head above water in this campaign.
For Birmingham, in the face of on and off the pitch turmoil, an incredible show of determination saw Paul Caddis score a last minute equaliser against Bolton Wanderers to keep the Blues in the second tier, while Charlton shrugged off key player sales, the not universally supported sacking of a popular manager and regular disappointment to find their best level when it mattered to also maintain their Championship status.
And in this campaign, the Addicks have shocked all pundits, with relegation largely predicted, by so far surviving ten games without defeat. Although there’s an improvement in on the pitch quality, Charlton’s side remains weaker than some of those at the very top of the division, and it’s a steely resolve that has contributed heavily to such a fine start to the season.
The Blues, also condemned to relegation before the season began, haven’t made quite such an emphatic start, but a relatively weak squad led by under fire boss Lee Clark has picked up creditable results and showed a respectable amount of fight to keep them away from the relegation zone.
In fact, both these sides portrayed their fighting qualities perfectly in midweek. To a man, Charlton could not work harder in their dramatic victory over Norwich, while Birmingham withstood heavy pressure to secure a vital victory over Millwall.
Whatever result this weekend, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to criticise either side for a lack of effort.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-2 BIRMINGHAM CITY
In Charlton’s first home game following the sales of Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, the already deflated Valley crowd were punctured further as Federico Macheda gave Birmingham a 2-0 win.
Like so many games last season, the Addicks weren’t particularly poor. In fact, they matched their opponents in the overall run of play. But individual errors at both ends of the pitch hampered Chris Powell’s side.
A poorly defended set-piece allowed the Blues to take the lead midway through the first half, with Macheda heading past a flimsy Yohann Thuram.
And with the hosts failing to take their chances, it was left for Macheda to double his side’s advantage in the second period, rounding off a Birmingham break after Danny Green cheaply lost possession in midfield.
Given their dramatic last day survival in the previous campaign and boardroom issues preventing the former Premier League club from strengthening to the extent that others in the Championship have this summer, Birmingham were always likely to endure another season of struggle.
And while the home curse has been lifted, the Blues winning their first game at St. Andrews since October with a 1-0 win over Brighton in August, only an additional seven points have been collected, leaving Lee Clark’s side just three points above the bottom three in 20th.
In fact, Tuesday’s impressive 3-1 win over Millwall was their first win of September, a month which had previously seen Birmingham throw away a 2-0 lead at Carrow Road, draw with Leeds and suffer home defeats against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham.
Alas, underestimating Birmingham is unwise. The win at Charlton’s neighbours showed what they are capable of when performing at their best.
At the very least, former Charlton stopper Darren Randolph is bound to have a blinder.
Had Bob Peeters’ side achieved just a draw, as creditable as that would have been, against Norwich on Tuesday, their ten game unbeaten record would have been something of an illusion.
Although three wins and seven draws wouldn’t have been a bad start by any stretch of the imagination, Addicks were beginning to become somewhat concerned by their side’s failure to turn one point into three.
Alas, Johnnie Jackson’s incredible late winner has lifted the Addicks into the top six, and the unbeaten record once again becomes something to boast about.
And while their had been signs of fragility before the Carrow Road clash, a resilience, desperate or otherwise, that has constantly been on show throughout the course of the season means you would be a brave man to bet against Charlton maintaining their unbeaten run.
Birmingham have been given a huge boost with the news that exciting teenage winger Demarai Gray is fit to make the trip to SE7.
But Gray, who missed Tuesday’s win over Millwall with an ankle injury, will do well to force his way back into Lee Clark’s starting XI following a man of the match performance from David Cotterill and a promising full debut for youngster Koby Arthur at The New Den.
However, the Blues’ injury list remains lengthy, with Jonathan Spector, Gavin Gunning, Neal Eardly, Lee Novak and Matt Green unavailable for Saturday’s clash at The Valley.
Charlton will be without the previously ever-present Tal Ben Haim, with the Israeli centre back absent on religious grounds.
But Addicks shouldn’t be praying for divine intervention to cover for Ben Haim’s absence. Ever dependable vice-skipper, without a league appearance this season, Michael Morrison will come into the side without a point to prove.
Ben Haim joins a list of players likely to be absent for Saturday which is larger than Charlton, with such a small squad, can afford it to be.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Joe Gomez and George Tucudean are all injury doubts, leaving Peeters without much room for manoeuvre should any of his players need a rest following their exertions on Tuesday, while the bench is likely to be a considerably young one.
However, Chris Solly, after again sitting out a midweek fixture, will come back into the starting XI.
KEY BATTLE – CLAYTON DONALDSON VS MICHAEL MORRISON
In a game where you would suggest Charlton are the favourites, it’s easy to point to a duel between an Addick attacker and Birmingham defender. After all, Bob Peeters will no doubt be expecting a showing of forward intent from his side.
However, the Blues may well spot an area in Charlton’s side that could be exploited.
Replacing Ben Haim with Morrison is relatively like-for-like in terms of ability, the side certainly doesn’t become weaker by putting Morrison into it, but with the Charlton stalwart lacking game time, there is a danger he may take some time to get used to his surroundings again.
Regardless of Morrison’s undoubted ability, stepping into the side somewhat out of the blue will not be an easy task for Charlton’s vice-captain.
In addition, breaking up the Ben Haim/Bikey partnership, however indifferent it proved to be against Wolves and Rotherham, could also lead to some disorganisation in the back four.
Should there be any signs of rustiness, Donaldson is an unlikely to be unforgiving in his exploitation of such hesitation or sloppiness. As Charlton showed themselves on Tuesday, a momentary break in defensive stability can prove costly in this division.
While Birmingham arrive at The Valley with as much confidence as Charlton, you feel the Addicks would have to be feeling their efforts from Tuesday’s win to such an extent that their performance levels would drop considerably. A decent home performance from the Reds should be enough for victory.
Charlton Athletic 2-1 Birmingham City