It’s too simplistic to say that survival was achieved purely on the basis of their midweek results, but Tuesday nights at The Valley played a huge part in Charlton maintaining their Championship status last season.
While performances were frequently disappointing on Saturdays, often losing without much of a whimper against the division’s better sides, playing under the floodlights seemed to inspire the Addicks to come out on top in tight affairs.
There was fight, determination and a spirit so great that even those supporters most hurt by the events of that campaign couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride. It culminated in one of the great Valley nights – the 3-1 win over Watford that confirmed Charlton’s safety.
And with the Addicks once again facing a very real threat of relegation, an evening fixture offers hope of a dogged display that transforms their season, or at least provides a buffer between themselves and the bottom three.
Alas, these circumstances, while not contrasting, are considerably different to the ones Charlton found themselves in eleven months ago. And that’s not just because Guy Luzon’s side face seventh place Norwich City.
The collective spirit and individual fight of the squad could not be questioned last season; even if it appeared to be lacking on certain afternoons, you knew that would only produce a strong, unified response in the following game.
That cannot be said about this crop of Charlton players. Some, both new and old, fight, but others don’t. Combine that with a crippling lack of confidence and a tactically questionable head coach who’s unable to lift spirits and the chances of triumphing in adversity appear slim this season.
LAST MEETING: NORWICH CITY 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Oh what we would give for the Addicks to just show 1% of the organisation, determination and spirit shown on this scarcely believable night at Carrow Road.
With a technically superior Norwich side completely dominating possession, Charlton were forced to sit deep and frustrate their opponents. But they did it to perfection.
At times, luck was on the side of the visitors, with at least one Andre Bikey volleyball spike ignored in Charlton’s penalty box, but it was largely their own persistent, resolute and whole-hearted defensive efforts that limited the Canaries to just a handful of clear openings.
In particular, it was Johnnie Jackson who shone for the Addicks. He had pressed, hassled and tackled in every minute of the ninety, to the extent that he carried the look of a completely exhausted man when the ball came to him on the edge of the box with four minutes to play.
But, such is the unrelenting fight inside the body of the skipper, Jackson had enough in the tank to send an effort just beyond the reaches of John Ruddy and celebrate with his signature knee slide. Pure pride and elation.
The inconsistency of the Canaries, with winning runs frequently followed by uninspiring defeats, has prevented them from breaking into the top six, but the early signs under new boss Alex Neil appear promising.
Having replaced Neil Adams following Norwich’s FA Cup defeat to Preston, the former Hamilton boss has won three of his five games in charge of the club, keeping the Canaries on the tails of those who occupy the play-off spots.
And following Saturday’s 4-0 thumping of Blackpool, which included a hat-trick for the previously goal-shy Gary Hooper, confidence is high ahead of Norwich’s trip to SE7.
I’m writing this at 9pm on February 8 – roughly three months and four hours since Charlton last celebrated victory. A 1-0 win over Reading on November 8.
It was a result that moved the Addicks to within two points of the play-offs, provided supporters with hope of further success given the battling qualities of the performance and furthered the argument that Lionel Messi wasn’t fit to clean the boots of Igor Vetokele.
Since then, Charlton have put themselves within six points of the relegation zone, provided supporters with fear of further misery given the nature of the performances and the way the club is seemingly being run, and Vetokele is emulating Frank Nouble.
In fact, Norwich, who were a point behind the Addicks after that Reading win, have since moved 14 points ahead of Charlton.
It’s not pretty.
Norwich look set to be without Sebastian Bassong after the centre-back was forced off injured during Saturday’s convincing victory over Blackpool.
Charlton academy graduates Michael Turner replaced the Cameroon international in the heart of the defence, and is the most likely candidate to do so again.
West Hoolahan also picked up a knock at the weekend, but the tricky Irish winger should be fit enough to start at The Valley.
Charlton will be without Tottenham Hotspur loanee Milos Veljkovic after the midfielder dislocated his shoulder during Saturday’s defeat to Middlesbrough.
It opens the door for Jackson to make his first start since returning from injury, who will have surely convinced Luzon of his worth after his relatively impressive performance at The Riverside.
Elsewhere, there will surely be further changes made to Luzon’s side following the disappointing performance at Boro, with Yoni Buyens, Oguchi Onyewu and Morgan Fox the most likely victims of any potential cull.
KEY BATTLE: CHARLTON ATHLETIC VS CHARLTON ATHLETIC
If Charlton offered as much threat in front of goal as they do themselves, then they would score bundles every game.
For the Addicks are their own worst enemy. The number of times this season that periods of competitive play from Charlton have been ended by a confidence-destroying individual mistake is endless.
In fact, even at The Riverside, a ten minute spell where Luzon’s side battled hard against Boro was made worthless by some simply embarrassing defending at the start of the second half which led to the hosts’ second goal and sucked the life out of the Addicks.
It’s therefore vital that Charlton begin to show some inner steel. For heads to drop and intensity to decrease so dramatically after conceding has reached a stage where it is beyond excusable.
It’s highly likely that the Addicks will struggle again on Tuesday night, and probably concede a goal or two, but there must be a response and some fight. That I’m even calling for that, which should be the bare minimum, just amplifies our struggles and the very real threat of relegation we face.
“Stop, stop he’s already dead.”
Charlton Athletic 0-3 Norwich City