Charlton supporters tuning into the Football League Show on Saturday night were left licking their lips in anticipation of Tuesday’s clash with Leeds United at Elland Road.
For not only did extended highlights of Leeds’ 3-1 defeat to Cardiff City show a side almost completely inept at the back, but those who had been at The Valley earlier on that day had seen their side show glimpses of the blistering attacking play its capable of.
And against a side seemingly intent on handing goals to the opposition, there’s a feeling, if not an expectation, that the positives from the draw with Sheffield Wednesday can be taken and turned into a dominant victory over the Whites.
Simultaneously, there’s concern in the Leeds camp. Off-the-pitch chaos has been replicated by on-the pitch events, and few supporters are still feeling the sense of optimism they did when Massimo Cellino joined them in Griffin Park’s away end for Darko Milanic’s first game of his extremely short spell in charge.
However, despite his own first game as boss offering few positive signs, the appointment of Neil Redfearn has appeased supporters and made them somewhat hopeful.
For Redfearn got the best out Leeds’ mix of Championship journeymen, young English players and men recruited from Europe by Cellino when caretaker manager earlier on this season, and may well do again with the Elland Road crowd behind him.
Although hidden by Saturday’s second half performance, there is also an element of doubt among Charlton supporters. With a match-winning performance seemingly reliant on the health of Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Igor Vetokele, in addition to the Addicks only amassing one away win all season, strong beliefs of victory are possibly a little misguided.
While watching Marco Silvestri and Giuseppe’s Bellusic’s mix up for Cardiff’s third may suggest otherwise, this is not a forgone conclusion.
LAST MEETING: LEEDS UNITED 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
While going through a few tricky spells during his time as an Addick, it was his ability to create special moments that made Ben Hamer such a cult hero among Charlton supporters.
There may have only been a few hundred Addicks there to see it, but the bearded stopper’s stoppage time penalty save at Elland Road was probably the best of the lot.
If it was not the save itself, diving full stretch to his right to keep out Ross McCormack and deny Leeds’ a late equaliser, it was the celebrations that followed. The goalpost that Hamer kicked in jubilation probably still hasn’t recovered.
And Hamer’s save meant Jose Riga’s side recorded a dramatic and vital victory in their fight to avoid relegation, having gone ahead at the start of the second half through Reza Ghoochannejhad’s spectacular curling strike.
With Leeds now seven games without a win, supporters will be desperately hoping that Redfearn can have the same sort of impact he did during his caretaker spell.
Three wins and a draw were picked up from his four games in charge earlier on this season, including impressive victories over Huddersfield and Bournemouth, and showed that Leeds’ squad does have the ability within it to be competitive in the division.
Saturday’s second half performance was not only important for the fact that it earned the Addicks a point, but that it suggested Charlton’s struggles of late will be moved on from once Gudmundsson and Vetokele return to full fitness.
For not only where the pair as individuals superb, but their introduction coincided with an increase in performance from all in Red. Johnnie Jackson and Yoni Buyens bossed the midfield, Chris Solly and Rhoys Wiggins were impressive defensively and going forward, while Jordan Cousins had his best 45 minutes of the season.
However, the Addicks are yet to show any sort of form away from home this season. The victory over Norwich aside, Bob Peeters’ men have often looked fragile, scraping points they’ve arguably not deserved and suffering defeat at the Goldsands and Craven Cottage.
In fact, Peeters’ side have lacked consistency throughout the campaign. Replicating Saturday’s second half display would be a huge step forward.
An already weak back four will be without its leader after Jason Pearce picked up his fifth booking of the season at Cardiff.
Liam Cooper, a summer signing from Chesterfield, is set to replace the Leeds skipper.
And that is unlikely to be the only change Redfearn makes to his side following the horror showing on Saturday, especially with Brazilian playmaker Adryan having a chance of returning following injury.
But, despite hopes he would be available, forward Billy Sharp will remain absent for the Whites having not yet recovered from injury.
With the pair having made an appearance off the bench on Saturday, Peeters will be hoping Vetokele and Gudmundsson will be fit enough to start in Yorkshire.
Gudmundsson looked fluent during his 45 minutes on the pitch against Wednesday, so you would expect the Iceland international to come into Charlton’s starting XI, but Vetokele, having played his first half hour having overcome an Achilles problem, may not yet be quite ready for a full 90.
Should the key duo be fit, Franck Moussa and Karlan Ahearne-Grant, who both struggled somewhat at the weekend, are likely to miss out.
Also pushing to start is Francis Coquelin, who joined the Addicks on loan from Arsenal on Monday, but Chris Solly, whose troublesome knee still prevents the full-back from playing more than one game a week, will be out.
With Joe Gomez yet to return to fitness, Lawrie Wilson is likely to deputise on the right side of the back four.
KEY BATTLE: A PROLIFIC FORWARD VS A PROBLAMATIC DEFENCE
To leave any forward unmarked inside the area is a dangerous move. To give Vetokele the freedom of the six-yard box is suicidal.
Sheffield Wednesday learned that the hard way on Saturday; the Angolan’s cool finish from close range earning the Addicks a deserved share of the spoils.
And while Vetokele may not yet be ready to start at Elland Road, Charlton’s top scorer looked sharp while on the pitch against the Owls.
Regardless of whether he plays for 90 or nine minutes, how a rather fragile Leeds’ defence copes with the lively forward will be crucial to the outcome of the game.
If Charlton have Vetokele and Gudmundsson available to start, and Saturday’s performances from both sides are replicated, a second away victory is coming the way of the Addicks.
But you would expect Leeds, especially on their own patch, to put up more of a fight, and expecting Peeters’ men to perform to such a standard away from The Valley is arguably a little ambitious.
Regardless, the confidence gained from the draw with Wednesday, in addition to players seemingly finding some form once again, suggests Charlton will have the quality to record back-to-back league wins for only the second time this season.
Leeds United 0-1 Charlton Athletic
Note: Chris Powell’s Flat Cap won’t be at Elland Road on Tuesday.