Charlton have a wonderful habit of clawing you back in just as you’re falling into an irreparable state of disillusionment and apathy.
For while there remains the same uncertainty and resentment towards off-the-field activities as there did two weeks ago, the on-the-pitch turnaround has seemingly removed the chore-like feeling that watching the Addicks was becoming.
In fact, following the impressive three goal victories over Brentford and Wigan Athletic, there is a considerable lack of fear among supporters as the Reds head to the iPro to take on top of the table Derby County on Tuesday night.
The expectation, of course, is for Charlton to suffer defeat. But fear, and fear of humiliation, has been replaced by belief that their side will fight as hard as possible, and even some irrational optimism that a positive result can be achieved.
Given the nature of the tests the Addicks were provided by their previous two opponents, there is a danger of getting carried away; the scoreline at the iPro likely to make sure that doesn’t happen.
But the return of some sort of irrational hope, in whatever form it is in, is most welcome.
LAST MEETING – DERBY COUNTY 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
An unfortunate error from Nick Pope allowed substitute Ivan Calero to grab a late winner in August’s League Cup encounter at the iPro.
Charlton’s young goalkeeper was deemed to have clung onto the ball for too long, resulting in an indirect free-kick being awarded to the Rams inside the box.
And with the Addicks, who had been on the back foot for most of the game, unable to properly deal with the set piece, Calero was eventually able to crash the ball into the back of the net from close range.
Despite only winning one of their previous three league games, a relative slump, the goals of former Charlton hero Darren Bent have helped lift the Rams to the summit of the Championship.
Bent, who will be playing against the club for who he scored 46 goals in two seasons for the first time since leaving in 2007, has notched seven times since joining Derby in January, including five strikes in the league.
But while going forward Steve McClaren’s men have been impressive, scoring nine in their last three league encounters, there are some concerns at the back. Eight conceded over that same period, with a 4-4 draw with Rotherham disappointing and death diced with before Bent’s winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Alas, like all great title winning sides, Derby have found a way to collect points, especially at home, where the Rams have not suffered a league defeat since October.
While the opposition have done their best to assist Charlton’s rebirth, little can be taken away from the impressive nature of the performances from Guy Luzon’s side that have seen two consecutive 3-0 wins.
Coming after a run of 14 without a victory, the results against Brentford and Wigan have shown a resilient quality in this group of Addicks that had seemingly vanished, topped with a genuine threat on the break.
It therefore means that there is an argument both for and against this being the best time for the Addicks to play Derby.
On the one hand, the only way possible to beat a Derby side who have lost just twice at home in the league all season is to play with organisation, determination and confidence. Charlton have shown those qualities in abundance in recent weeks, so there chances of winning are not as miniscule as some might think.
On the other, it’s more than likely that the Rams will claim three points off the Addicks with minimal fuss, destroying the rather fragile confidence built up in the process.
Either way, a repeat of the lifeless performance the last time the Addicks travelled to a top two side, the 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, seems unlikely.
Derby could welcome back forward Johnny Russell on Tuesday, with the Scottish forward having recovered from a hamstring injury.
Russell, who has missed the previous seven games, will provide another dimension to the Rams’ attack, but the form of Tom Ince, Jamie Ward and Bent means he might have to settle for a place on the bench.
But McClaren remains without Chris Martin and John Eustace, with the pair still a few weeks away from recovering from their injury problems.
Charlton will be without Yoni Buyens after the horrendously out-of-form midfielder picked up his tenth booking of the season at Wigan on Friday.
With Johnnie Jackson injured and no replacement found for Milos Veljkovic at the time of writing, it would appear that Christophe Lepoint, who has failed to impress in two substitute appearances, will be making his first start for the Addicks.
Another option for Luzon is to deploy Chris Eagles, who scored on his debut after coming off the bench at the DW, in a central role just off the front two, but doing so against a side of Derby’s nature would surely be suicidal.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH A GENUINE FORWARD THREAT
Brentford were lifeless, seemingly affected by the speculation surrounding their boss Mark Warburton at the time. Wigan were wasteful, blowing a number of fantastic early chances before growing toothless. Derby, however, will provide much more of a threat to Charlton’s back four.
McClaren’s 4-3-3 formation, boasting Ince and Ward either side of Bent, has been almost unstoppable recently, with all three chipping in with their fair share of goals and assists.
And the biggest worry for Luzon is that Derby’s forward line possess pace in abundance; something his back line have struggled to deal with. Roger Johnson was caught out a few times at the DW when Marc Antoine-Fortune was able to run at him, while Tal Ben Haim and Morgan Fox have been exposed when facing quicker men on several occasions this season.
With options in the centre of midfield limited, and weak aside from Jordan Cousins, there is unlikely to be much support for the back four. Nor does it look likely that the Addicks will be able to stem the forward’s supply, with Derby’s midfield impressive. The task of Charlton’s back line a daunting one.
Alas, with Chris Solly thrown into the equation, all three have shown they can mix it with the division’s best attackers on their day. Charlton’s back four are going to need to have a day and a half to stop Derby’s forward threat.
A bonus game, and the sort of bonus game where ‘losing well’ would be a relatively successful result. Despite recent results, suggesting the Addicks have a realistic chance of getting anything from the game is going too far, but I’m not sensing a complete walkover. Derby County 2-1 Charlton Athletic