Whatever happens on Saturday, something won’t be quite right at The Valley. And it’s not that the normally half-empty home of the Addicks will have a bum on almost every seat.
For a man who previously patrolled the home technical area with such class, dignity and to great success will pass it as if it were an alien environment. Instead, he will take homage in the away dugout.
He played 270 times for the Addicks over three spells, and gained five England caps as a result of his outstanding performances in Charlton red. He not only won a League One title with 101 points, but provided magical moments for two following seasons despite circumstances making success almost impossible. He injected a squad that will take some beating as my favourite Charlton side with fighting qualities and a simply sensational spirit.
He just got this football club. As a player and as a manager, Chris Powell submerged himself in the club’s ethos. Constantly expressing his love for it, and standing up for what he felt right for Charlton Athletic until his final days.
Some will say this isn’t about Powell at all, and they are correct to the extent that this remains a game of football with three points on offer. He is the Huddersfield Town manager and nothing more, apparently.
But the return of such a legendary figure to SE7, adored by so many, means the game itself will always be something of an afterthought. Excitement to welcome back Powell, and pay the gratitude that wasn’t allowed at the time of his departure, existing in abundance.
But he will be the enemy on Saturday. He will be hoping his Huddersfield side rock up at The Valley and come away victorious. Charlton supporters, some for the first time in their time as an Addick, will be hoping Powell is unhappy come full-time. There won’t be split loyalties, but it will certainly be odd.
LAST MEETING – HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Shithousing of the highest order allowed an out-of-sorts Charlton side to steal a point at the John Smiths Stadium in August.
It looked like being a completely different afternoon for the Addicks when Murray Wallace denied Igor Vetokele a goalscoring opportunity and was dismissed accordingly.
But the ten men of Huddersfield took the lead just after the break when Nahki Wells converted Tommy Smith’s cross.
And Bob Peeters’ side, who had lacked fluency and rarely looked like scoring throughout the game, looked set to go two behind when Tal Ben Haim shoved James Vaughan to the floor inside the box late on. But referee Robinson, bizarrely, waved for play to continue.
It meant Charlton remained in the game when Andre Bikey’s flick on was met by Vetokele. The forward finished coolly deep into stoppage time to salvage a largely underserved point for the visitors.
With impressive wins being followed up by disappointing defeats, inconsistency has prevented Powell’s side from moving up the table.
But Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Reading, their third game unbeaten and fourth league win of 2015, has moved the Terriers into the division’s top half.
And no longer do Huddersfield appear to be pushovers away from home. Having not won in eight away trips, Powell’s men have picked up two wins and an impressive point against Bournemouth from their last three games away from the John Smiths Stadium.
It means that the Terries will provide a strong test for the Addicks, and that’s without even taking into consideration the extra motivation Powell will have to get his side fired up for this one.
Having capitalised, and capitalised impressively, on two out-of-sorts sides, the midweek defeat to Derby raised concerns about the mentality of this Charlton side.
For heads dropped the moment the Rams helped themselves to an opener. The organisation that had stood the Addicks so well completely lacking. Quality going forward complexly lacking.
Of course, to compete against a side like Derby was always going to a tough ask, so it is not the defeat itself that has worried supporters. It is the manner in which that defeat occurred.
Were the wins over Brentford and Wigan fortunate, or was Tuesday just a minor blip in Charlton’s recovery? Playing against a Huddersfield side, arguably on the same level and in relatively decent form, will provide the answer to that.
Huddersfield should be able to call upon top scorer Wells despite the Bermudan being forced off with a shoulder injury during Tuesday’s win over Reading.
The forward, who scored his 12th goal of the season while a replacement was being readied on the touchline, was involved in a collision with Royals ‘keeper Adam Federici, but appears to have suffered no long-term damage.
Powell should also be able to call upon winger Sean Scannell and midfielder Conor Coady, who missed the midweek action through a hamstring injury and illness respectively.
Charlton will be sweating over the fitness of Jordan Cousins after the key figure missed Tuesday’s defeat to Derby through injury.
Cousins, who was given his debut by Powell, has been mightily impressive in recent weeks, and his continued absence could leave the Addicks desperately short in the centre of midfield.
Johnnie Jackson remains injured, Christophe Lepoint has seemingly been deemed not good enough and Yoni Buyens deserves to be deemed similar.
And despite an impressive debut off the bench in midweek, Alou Diarra is unlikely to be ready for his first start for the Addicks.
The former French international replaced an out-of-position Lawrie Wilson at Derby and provided the composure that was lacking from Charlton’s performance, but a lack of game time in recent months means Saturday’s game may come too soon for the recent signing to play from the off.
KEY BATTLE: CUTTING OFF THE SUPPLY
Even in those convincing victories, Charlton couldn’t manage to hit 40% possession.
They were, however, resilient at the back and relentless midfield running from Cousins meant the opposition regularly had to pass backwards.
It meant possession was just a meaningless stat, with Charlton able to show the potency in attack their opposition could not.
But, without Cousins, Charlton’s midfield looks incredibly weak. Derby were allowed the freedom of the centre of the pitch in midweek, and suitably punished the Addicks.
And with Huddersfield’s midfield, containing Jacob Butterfield as its main creative influence, relatively strong, the same half-heartedness in the middle will surely be punished again.
That especially true with the pace the Terriers have in attack. While Tal Ben Haim and Roger Johnson can read the game superbly, players like Nahki Wells and James Vaughan are capable of capitalising on their lack of pace.
Everything is crossed for the return of Cousins, or at least some heart to be shown in the middle.
The first goal is evidently important. Huddersfield score it, and heads will drop among Charlton players. The Addicks score it, and 25,000 home supporters will encourage confidence to spread throughout the side.
Either way, it’s going to be an evenly matched and quite tight affair. But, I’ll settle for a 70-0 defeat if Powell wear his flat-cap. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Huddersfield Town