For several years, Charlton supporters have looked on with envy at followers of other clubs who can genuinely become excited in the build up to a local derby.
They’re meant to be the highlight of the season; a bi-annual contest played at extraordinary intensity, strengthened by an incredible atmosphere and capable of creating iconic moments.
But for the Addicks, derby fixtures against Millwall have failed to produce iconic moments of late, only chronic suffering.
A current run of six without victory, with the last Charlton win coming before I had reached my first birthday, is as demoralising as Charlton’s overall rivalry record. A miniscule ten wins in 62 games.
So whenever this fixtures comes around, excitement and expectation are outweighed by dread and a horrible feeling of impending doom, enhanced by what’s gone before.
A slip from Grant Basey to gift the Lions a late equaliser, a miss from Lawrie Wilson that proved pivotal as Jermaine Easter put the visitors ahead moments later and a horror show from my irrational hero Bradley Pritchard assisting Millwall heavily in their most recent win over the Addicks, are all moments that still make you feel as sick as they did while you were sat in your Valley seat.
But even those Charlton supporters who have endured the pain of defeat in this fixture so many times to expect anything other than misery are hiding a sizable amount of something resembling confidence going into Saturday’s clash.
It needs to be whispered quietly, and such positive thoughts are constantly checked by hopes felt before previous encounters, but this is as good a chance as any for the Addicks to overturn their South East London neighbours in recent years.
Unbeaten at home, with a side just clicking back into gear before the international break, and against opposition with just one away win all season, the brave could almost suggest Charlton go into the game as fairly strong favourites.
Of course, the old cliché states that form, and almost certainly logic, mean nothing in these derby games.
But surely this has to be considered an excellent opportunity for the Addicks to heal some wounds and regain the pride lost over recent years. Surely?
LAST MEETING – MILLWALL 0-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Memorable only for being Pritchard’s last game for Charlton, although even I had to double check to make sure that was the case, last season’s contest at The Den appeared to be one played out by two sides who were heading for League One.
A game devoid of any real quality, excitement or chances was hardly a classic derby encounter, nor encouraging for either’s hopes of survival.
That both Charlton and Millwall would go on to maintain their Championship status would have been hard to believe at full-time of this one. That Pritchard would never pull on Charlton red again, probably less so.
After starting the season in impressive fashion, Millwall have won just one of their last 12, a record that makes Charlton’s in this fixture look relatively impressive.
Away from home, especially, the Lions have struggled. Four defeats and just one win doesn’t make for pleasant reading for supporters of Ian Holloway’s side.
But, as draws with Derby, Wolves and Blackburn show, Millwall are still capable of taking points away from those at the top end of the Championship.
For a while, it looked as if the Addicks were going off the boil, but two well-earned points and a hard-thought victory has reminded supporters that this side has got something about it.
Although the exciting attacking play seen in the early weeks of the season remains absent, the welcome return of a solid defensive effort in the win over Reading has increased hopes that Charlton can not only maintain their league position for the duration of the season, but also record their first win over their rivals since 1996.
Milwall look set to be without Shaun Williams after the midfielder jarred a knee in training.
With two goals and two assists, the 28-year-old has impressed for the Lions this season, and will be huge miss should he be absent on Saturday.
Holloway will also be without the suspended Andy Wilkinson and Carlos Edwards, whose knee injury is likely to keep him out for the duration of the season.
But Millwall’s boss will be able to call upon Angel Martinez after the Spaniard recovered from a calf injury that has prevented him from making his Millwall debut since joining the club in September.
And Scott McDonald should also be available with the Australian over a groin injury quicker than had first been anticipated.
McDonald will compete with a place up top with former Addick Ricardo Fuller, a well-liked figure in SE7 who has already made an impression in SE16, but Nicky Bailey, another one-time Charlton player, isn’t expected to be fit as he continues to struggle with a calf problem.
Charlton fans face a nervy wait to see if their star man is available for Saturday’s derby.
Bob Peeters confirmed on Thursday that Igor Vetokele is still struggling with a calf injury, and the talismanic forward’s fitness will be assessed on Friday.
With the Addicks struggling previously without Vetokele’s goals, the result of that fitness test may well go some way to deciding who will take the bragging rights in South East London.
There’s also doubt over winger Frederic Bulot, who played for Gabon on Wednesday and isn’t expected to return to England until late on Thursday, while Rhoys Wiggins (foot) and Simon Church (shoulder) remain absent.
KEY BATTLE: KEEPING VETOKELE QUIET/KEEPING FULLER QUIET
If Vetokele’s fit on Saturday, you would have to make the Addicks clear favourites.
Against a defence that has conceded eight in their last three, Charlton’s top scorer will surely run riot unless Millwall’s back four dig in and play to their absolute best.
But for all the attention on the importance of Vetokele and Johann Berg Gudmundsson this season, the majority of Charlton’s wins have been based around a solid defensive effort.
And should Vetokele be unavailable on Saturday, the importance of Andre Bikey and Tal Ben Haim multiplies.
Important even with the Angolan in the side, as shown by their efforts in the win over Reading, without a player capable of scoring a goal out of nothing, the centre-back duo will need to be especially resolute if the Addicks are to beat their rivals.
And that means keeping Fuller, a player capable of providing match-winning moments despite being on the verge of collecting a bus pass, at bay.
While Reading lacked a player capable of breaking through Charlton’s back four, Fuller, who will no doubt be up for the challenge of facing his former club, gives Millwall hope of creating something throughout the game.
If the Addicks are to use their keep it tight strategy, attention must be given to Fuller.
My confidence is directly linked to Vetokele’s health. Should he be fit, I’m going to allow myself to believe that we’re something resembling the favourite. If he’s not, I’m going to find a quiet place to watch George Tucudean’s miss against Reading and have a breakdown before kick-off.
Regardless, a repeat defensive effort from the win over the Royals and, even with all that’s gone before, Charlton should at least avoid the pain of defeat to their rivals at The Valley.
Charlton Athletic 1-0 Millwall (I already regret making such a naive/stupid/brave prediction)