If I hadn’t been too busy licking my own wounds, I’d have had some sympathy for Brentford fans this week. Anxious uncertainty is a feeling we Addicks have had to endure plenty of times over the past 18 months, and it’s not something I’d wish on any committed football fan.
For such feelings occupy your thoughts constantly. Despite the man himself speaking with defiance, and his players speaking out in support, a confusing club statement means it remains unclear if popular boss Mark Warburton’s long-term future will be at Griffin Park.
But, while the ten men of Brentford may have fallen to a late defeat against Watford on Tuesday, on-the-pitch events will provide a release for the club’s somewhat confused fans. There will be strong support for Warburton, and a unified, well organised and technically gifted squad will give their all for the Bees.
Especially should they continue to exceed expected expectations as they are, uncertainty will be replaced by a very definite feeling of pride on most match days.
In truth, uncertainty in SE7 has also been replaced, and by a sort of certainty. But this is not good news.
There are few who have any faith in Guy Luzon’s ability to turn Charlton’s fortunes around, and even fewer who believe Roland Duchatelet’s ownership model is right for this club.
Additionally, in complete contrast to the determined way in which Brentford’s players will no doubt respond to this uncertainty over their well-respected manager, there is now a growing feeling of hopelessness reserved for the players alone.
Those who fought so hard on more than one occasion at the start of the season are now playing without fight, determination or effort. Given the performances of Chris Solly and Rhoys Wiggins during Tuesday night’s defeat to Norwich, such attitudes have even spread to Charlton stalwarts. There is a very real feeling that no Addick wants to play for Luzon.
So much so that not even the brief comeback against Norwich, which saw Tony Watt and Igor Vetokele draw the Addicks level before Cameron Jerome gave the Canaries a victory they did their best to throw away, failed to raise spirits. Apathy, anger and disillusionment with almost every aspect of the club rife.
It means I probably shouldn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for the Bees. Instead, I should be envious.
Despite the uncertainty, they have two very important things Charlton fans currently don’t have. A team they can believe in, and a club they feel a strong connection to.
LAST MEETING: BRENTFORD 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A late equaliser from debutant Tommy Smith rescued a point for the Bees on the opening day of the season, but the Addicks were left disappointed having wasted a glorious chance to secure the points.
After their own debutant, Igor Vetokele, gave Charlton the lead midway through the second half, Callum Harriott was presented with a glorious opening to slot into an empty net and double their lead with ten minutes to play.
But Harriott could only hit the bar, meaning Brentford were able to draw level five minutes from time, with Smith capitalising on some indecisive Charlton defending to convert past Stephen Henderson.
Even while they were seriously flirting with the automatic promotion spots earlier on this season, few were including Brentford when predicting who would finish in the top six.
For there was an expectation that this season’s surprise package would fall away. Their early season momentum would leave them, their inexperienced players wouldn’t be able to cope with the rigours of a full Championship season, and teams would begin to figure them out.
Alas, that has not been the case. While the occasional defeat, five in the league since having won all five games in November, has meant those top two ambitions have had to be checked, the Bees remain in a play-off spot, and could climb up to fourth with a win at The Valley.
In fact, Brentford have won eleven times in the same time the Addicks have managed a solitary victory. The goals of Andre Gray, the creativity of Alex Pritchard and Jota, and the defensive resoluteness of Harlee Dean and David Button, a vastly improved goalkeeper from his time in SE7, keeping the Bees on track for a top six finish.
It’s easy, especially by an outsider, to be fooled by Charlton’s efforts in Tuesday night’s defeat to Norwich. For coming from two goals down, regardless of then going onto concede again, suggests that there remains character within this side.
Alas, you’re only kidding yourself with such a view. The moves that produced the goals saw the Addicks benefit from sloppy Norwich play, and scoring had no impact on the overall performance and effort levels.
So that Luzon, instead of berating the inexcusably unorganised, error-prone and largely gutless display, chose to #takethepositives from one of the worst nights many had endured at The Valley for quite some time is extremely worrying.
No wins in fourteen, the relegation zone just three points away and displays that offer little hope of victories being recorded any time soon. Grim.
Brentford are facing something of a crisis in defence, with first choice left-back Jake Bidwell forced to sit out Saturday’s game through suspension following his dismissal in midweek.
It leaves the Bees with no recognised left-sided defender, meaning a square peg will have to fill a round hole. Centre-back Tony Craig, right-back Nico Yennaris and left-winger Stuart Dallas among the options available to Warburton.
The Bees could also be without centre-back James Tarkowski, who was forced off injured during the defeat to Watford.
Having linked up superbly in the second half against Norwich, Guy Luzon must surely partner Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt in attack against Brentford.
The pair, who scored the goals that put Charlton back into the game in midweek, are yet to start together for the Addicks, but Watt’s performance means he’s given Luzon no choice but to bring the Scot into the side.
And Watt, who looks set to replace Frederic Bulot in Charlton’s side, is unlikely to be the only new face in the starting XI.
While the effort and application was lacking from so many, the performances of Yoni Buyens and Andre Bikey were particularly disappointing, and it would be equally disappointing to see the duo maintain their place in the side. Callum Harriott would be the most likely candidate to come in for Buyens, with Jordan Cousins coming into the centre, while Joe Gomez or, if fit, Roger Johnson may replace Bikey.
KEY BATTLE: PREVENTING POSSESSION FROM BEING ANYTHING MORE THAN A STAT
Brentford will dominate possession on Saturday. That is a certainty. Since Luzon took charge at Charlton, the Addicks have managed an average possession of 40.2%, bumped up considerably by the 49% managed against Rotherham, while Brentford have recorded 53.8% in the same time frame, which would be much higher were it not for only recording 41% with ten men against Watford on Tuesday.
Norwich were somewhat cautious in their passing play on Tuesday, and Nathan Redmond a little wasteful from out wide, but I would expect the Bees to be more potent. With so many creative influences in Brentford’s side, in addition to a handful of decent finishers, it’s unlikely such an opportunity to control the game will be wasted.
With Charlton simply unable to match the Bees in midfield, they must instead attempt to contain, and keep the possession Brentford have to nothing more than that. A gritty, organised and resolute display, an old-fashioned Charlton performance, is required.
On Tuesday’s showing, hoping for such efforts in midfield and at the back is almost certainly asking too much, but Brentford will run riot should the Addicks replicate that farcical display.
A partnership of Watt and Vetokele, who will both have been given confidence boosts by their goals, offers something that sort of looks like hope if you squint, but Luzon’s car crash organisation and the disharmony within the squad means an increasingly motivated Brentford side will have no trouble recording victory at The Valley.
Charlton Athletic 1-3 Brentford