One of my favourite moments as a Charlton fan came during arguably the most depressing season I have endured.
Having slogged through 18 league games without victory, most of which were gutless defeats, an unexpected display of character and fight gave the Addicks a victory over Crystal Palace.
But it was not the enjoyment of Matt Spring’s goal that sticks in my mind. Instead, it was Rob Elliot’s release of emotion at full-time.
He threw himself into his net, fists raised and bellowing in celebration towards the Covered End. As a Charlton fan himself, he got it. He got just how much a derby victory meant, especially after such a torrid spell, and felt the same incredible feeling that those in The Valley crowd did.
Alas, it is the last time I or any other Addick has celebrated a derby victory of any sort. It will be no win over Crystal Palace in 2,257 days and, more importantly, no win over Millwall in a disgusting 6,961 days when Charlton’s game at the Den gets underway on Friday.
The list of woe is a long and sorry one. Each game looked forward to with anticipation and expectation; each ending in misfortune or disgrace.
However, in those recent meetings, the two sides have gone into the games reasonably matched. Favourites not always completely clear, with both in similar league positions.
It means that not for some time has the gap between the two in terms of league position and form been quite so large. Millwall facing the very real threat of relegation to League One and without a win in ten; Charlton in the top half having won seven of their last nine.
Never will we have such a fantastic opportunity to regain a bit of derby pride. Surely we’ll take it. Surely this is where the hoodoo ends. Surely the Lions won’t find a way to avoid defeat yet again.
Come Friday evening, that Elliot celebration might well have been bettered.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-0 MILLWALL
In truth, Friday isn’t the best chance Charlton have had to beat their local rivals. Their best chance game in stoppage time at The Valley in November.
Played through on goal by Igor Vetokele, George Tucudean was presented with a glorious opening to win the game for the Addicks.
The Covered End had already risen in expectation. This was it. The Millwall hoodoo was about to come to an end.
Alas, Tucudean, instead of taking the sensible option of absolutely walloping the ball beyond David Forde, decided to lift the ball over the Irish ‘keeper. Not lob the ball into the net, but take the ball over the ‘keeper and tap the ball into the subsequent empty net.
But the execution of the effort suggested the Romanian had had second thoughts at the last minute. A half lift-half chip landed too far away from Tucudean to run onto and too far away from the line for the ball to cross it. The simplest of chances wasted in barely believable fashion.
And still the hunt for an elusive victory over the Lions continues.
On paper, coming away from Griffin Park with a point is commendable, especially for a side struggling at the wrong end of the table.
But Millwall’s 2-2 draw with Brentford before the international break might well be the final nail in their coffin.
For the Lions had led by two goals with five minutes remaining, and looked set for their first win in ten. A win that would have put them within five points of safety, and provided some momentum for the remaining seven fixtures.
But a barely believable capitulation saw the Bees gifted two goals, denying Neil Harris’ side a crucial three points and destroying the confidence that would have been gained from their first win since the former Millwall striker took charge.
However, the optimistic will suggest that two points from the previous two games, as well as the first 85 minutes against Brentford, have laid something resembling a platform from which a push for Championship safety can be achieved.
For some time, it appeared as if this clash was going to be a massive six pointer. A 13-game winless run in the league leaving the Addicks desperately close to the bottom three.
But an outstanding run of 21 points from a possible 27 has moved Charlton 21 points clear of their rivals. Wins involving pure class, gritty fight and the character needed to perform comebacks have made the last few weeks incredibly enjoyable for supporters.
And with the campaign effectively over for Guy Luzon’s side, this is the last real important afternoon of the season. Another failure in a derby fixture and that impressive run will be somewhat tainted.
Millwall are set to welcome back Nicky Bailey after the former Charlton captained returned to full training.
The midfielder, who has endured a torrid season due to calf and back problems, could make just his fourth appearance of the season on Friday.
Harris may also be able to call upon another former Addick in the shape of Lee Martin, as well as January signing Paris Cowan-Hall, who have both recovered from injury.
Charlton will be without Yoni Buyens after the midfielder picked up his tenth yellow card of the season in the victory over Reading.
But the loss of Buyens, whose form has been questionable regardless of his exploits from the penalty spot, will be minimised by the return of Johnnie Jackson. The skipper is set for his appearance since 14 February.
There should also be returns for Chris Solly, who missed the game against the Royals after picking up an injury during the warm-up, and Igor Vetokele, who was rested for Charlton’s two games prior to the international break.
KEY BATTLE – OVERCOMING THE HOODOO
More often not, the story of Charlton’s woe against Millwall has revolved around wasted opportunities and comical individual errors.
For, one obvious exclusion aside, rarely have the Addicks been outplayed or outclassed in fixtures with the Lions. A succession of Charlton sides have merely melted at a number of vital moments in closely contested games.
Before Tucudean, there was Grant Basey’s slip, Lawrie Wilson’s equally horrendous miss and Bradley Pritchard’s, erm, general disaster. Victory snatched away, the course of a game turned in an instant and a winning goal in a scrappy encounter presented.
Some of it is, of course, bad luck. But this run without a victory has largely been Charlton’s own doing. Big moments bottled on derby day.
Nonetheless, should the Addicks play to the standard they have shown in recent weeks, then they will almost certainly leave the Den with that much sought after derby win.
All that is required, you would think, is some composure in attack and at the back. A sensible performance, that one plagued by nerves, misfortune and criminal mistakes, and the hoodoo will be no more.
Logic suggests a comfortable victory; past experience suggests it would be naïve to predict that. Even so, on this occasion, I cannot see even us finding a way to mess this up. Millwall 0-2 Charlton Athletic
If you’ve not interviewed Katrien Meire this week, you’re probably not very relevant. With a radio appearance, TV feature and newspaper piece, she’s popped up everywhere, and seemingly at random.
Arguably the most interesting element of her PR drive was the interview she did with the London Evening Standard. Interesting not only because it focused more on Charlton explicitly than her other media appearances, but because it revealed a few things not previously said.
Some of it was promising. Particularly the admission that the criticism her and Roland Duchatelet received over some of the network signings has been fair. The players brought in last year, as she says, ‘were not of the right standard’.
That is probably the first genuine admission that they have, at times, got things horrendously wrong in the transfer market. For an ownership that I have, over certain things, found quite stubborn, it’s pleasing that someone within it has been a little more realistic and suggests that, possible lessons over things could be learned in the future.
Additionally, it also suggests that, to begin with, they were simply not aware of the quality needed to succeed in the Championship. Inexcusable that they came in without that knowledge, but excellent that have accepted the type of player Charlton require.
It should mean the dross flung upon us from the network or for the network’s purposes is minimal. Fewer Christophe Lepoints, more Tony Watts, and hopefully a few more Chris Eagles.
Personally, I’m still dubious about the overall quality within the network – as fellow blogger Valley Talk pointed out to me earlier today, Watt saved the network. A slogan I want to see on t-shirts before long. But an acceptance that we deserve better than Liege’s cast-offs deserves a fist pump or twelve.
Equally pleasing is the indication that Guy Luzon, as has been said before, will stick around for more than a few months. The process behind his appointment remains as wrong as it was at the time, but his achievements mean that those questioning his actual managerial ability, myself included, have been silenced emphatically.
Stability can only be beneficial, while the relationship between Luzon and the board means some compromise may be found over the demands to play certain players where it wasn’t with the previous bosses.
Speaking of previous bosses, less pleasing is the nonsense spouted over Chris Powell’s sacking, but I’ll choose to ignore that. The side of the story given by absolutely everyone else is the one I’m going to stick with. Moving on…
The continued drive to invest in the club’s infrastructure and financially support it is mentioned. That is something few, even the harshest critics of Duchatelet, have been critical of. The club does appear to be on firm financial ground.
So the suggestion that we have the third smallest budget in the league is very odd. How is that possible? It simply doesn’t make sense.
To me, that comment is very worrying. My fears that players will be sold in the summer only increases with it, and a squad that has shown it is capable of competing will be broken up.
Charlton have, of course, always been a selling club. But my fear with regards to selling is not just the loss of a player, but knowing the money gained may not be used exclusively for Charlton’s benefit. Has the money spent on Lepoint and Piotr Parzyszek benefited us?
Also concerning is the suggestion that the strategy involves having clubs at different levels.
There has been plenty of talk about Duchatelet’s goals not strictly being based around footballing success, and I think that comment goes someway to increasing that belief.
His ambitions in this project, of course, are purely financial and low risk. Keeping clubs at separate levels makes moving players easier, and means no additional investment needs to be made in order to push a club forward.
And it also means that clubs’ ambitions are restricted. We can’t dream of the Premier League because, weirdly, getting there doesn’t seem to suit Duchatelet’s project. Poor old Carl Zeiss Jena.
But, of course, we fans don’t understand.
With the rest of her comments interesting or leading to quizzical concern, I’m a little bit annoyed by the use of the phrase “fans don’t understand”. Patronising rubbish that increases the distance between board and supporters.
It’s used in relation to Duchatelet not having enough time to build a relationship with fans. The idea that his clubs are his children, as he suggested, dismissed. More distant cousins that get birthday and Christmas presents, with maybe the occasional Easter egg thrown in.
So, as with most things regarding the Duchatelet regime, some of it’s good, some it’s confusing, some it seems very wrong and some of it is incredibly frustrating.
I don’t criticise as I want it to fail, nor because I’m only capable of negativity, but merely because I remain extremely concerned
I’m not totally dismissive of this ownership and its strategies bringing genuine success. I would be a fool not to embrace the air of positivity, and I’m enjoying the recent performances as much as anyone. A genuine sign this could work.
At the very least, the promise of sustaining the quality brought in recently and letting a head coach do his job properly is great. But I remain concerned that pure footballing success will only come almost by accident.
For all the financial good he has done, Duchatelet’s focus on the pound sign is also a hindrance. He’s not trying to get us into the Premier League, merely exploit our existence as part of his game. Still, there is the feeling that Charlton Athletic Football Club is not a separate entity.
I’ve said this so many times before, but the ethos the regime has instilled means success, without losing any praise that will be deserved should it come nor enjoyment felt, will be tainted from the perspective of an emotional attachment to the club.
There have been noises from several Charlton players in the media that they and their teammates are perfectly in tune with the way Guy Luzon wants his side to play.
The evidence for that has been there for several weeks, but the second half performance in the 3-2 victory over Reading provided arguably the greatest example of a side executing the head coach’s plans to perfection.
For the Addicks were extremely sluggish in the opening 45. Lacking the pace and tempo to their game that had been so crucial to recent success, as well as an end product when the final third was entered, their often calm possession proved meaningless.
And before the half was up, the Royals had taken advantage of a Charlton side with some huff, but absolutely no puff. Steve Clarke’s men allowed to knock the ball around at their leisure, before it finally came through to Pavel Pogrebnyak, who finished smartly.
But Luzon, who did not have it, and justifiably so, from players and supporters upon his arrival in SE7, now has an abundance of respect from his team and the Valley crowd. Calls were made for changes, but the boss, it would appear, merely drilled into the Addicks what he wanted from them.
It certainly showed. Right from the off after the break there was attacking intent, a high tempo and a bit of creative spark. While their route back into the game, through Yoni Buyens converting his seventh penalty of the season after a rather harsh hand ball call, was generous, their overall play meant the turnaround that followed was deserved.
The net may have rippled five or six times, with several glorious openings wasted as Reading’s back line were put under unrelenting pressure, but three was enough for the hosts. Buyens’ knee gave Charlton the lead, and an outstanding run and cross from Tony Watt allowed Simon Church to double it against his former side.
And, despite Danny Williams petulantly earning himself a second yellow after coming together with chief tormentor Watt, Church’s goal proved crucial. Comical defending allowed Pogrebnyak to halve the deficit in stoppage time, but it was merely false hope for Reading.
The pattern of the game suggests a dogged, gritty win. But labelling it as such does not do complete justice to the quality involved in a turnaround inspired by head coach and performed by players.
Nonetheless, there were some questions over Luzon’s initial team selection.
Given the success Charlton have had with a definite 4-4-2, it not only seemed harsh to drop Church after his goal in midweek, but odd to fill the forward spot with Chris Eagles, a player more naturally suited to playing out wide. The absence of Igor Vetokele somewhat restricting Luzon.
Eagles pushing further forward meant a return to the side for Frederic Bulot, as there was for Buyens, who came back into midfield ahead of Alou Diarra.
But Diarra, named originally on the bench, was thrusted back into the starting XI at the eleventh hour. An injury to stand-in skipper Chris Solly meant the former France international was forced to start at centre-back, with Joe Gomez heading to the right and Stephen Henderson claiming the armband.
The disruption, however, did not seem to negatively impact upon the Addicks in the opening exchanges. A pre-planned corner routine resulted in Johann Berg Gudmundsson flashing just wide of the post, and Eagles sliced an effort over the bar as Charlton started on the front foot.
But the warning signs were there from as early as the tenth minute. A momentary loss of concentration from Roger Johnson allowed Pogrebnyak in behind, only for Diarra to block the Russian’s effort.
And the robust striker continued to cause problems. His header forced Henderson into his first save of the afternoon, while his superb link-up play was vital to a Reading side who were beginning to enjoy more possession in Charlton’s final third.
The Addicks attempted to counter the visitors’ growing threat by getting forward themselves. They had no trouble in moving into the opposition’s half, but it was from there that they appeared a little lost for ideas. The passing too cautious, the runs with the ball likewise, and crosses persistently misdirected.
It allowed Reading, their confidence boosted by the resolve they were being allowed to show at the back, to gradually become dominant.
In fact, you could almost accuse the Royals of overplaying. Their insistence on passing when a sight of goal had seemingly opened up, often resulting in an overhit through ball running out of play, prevented a real opening from being created and sent the game into an almost unbearable lull.
Seeing Morgan Fox, duelling constantly with Gareth McCleary, slam a clearance onto the East Stand roof was the only reward for those committed enough to stay awake throughout the heart of the first half.
There could, however, be comfort taken in the hosts not conspiring to concede. The punishment just a lack of entertainment, and not a deficit.
Or at least that was the case until the 40th minute. Questionable, if not catastrophic, Charlton defending saw several opportunities to stop a Reading attack wasted, before Jordan Obita’s drive across goal fell at Pogrebnyak’s feet.
The player of the half made no mistake. Half-turning and calmly slotting beyond Henderson with ease. An avoidable and scrappy goal to concede that summed up Charlton’s overall lethargic performance.
In truth, although themselves contributing to a first half that led to home supporters providing their own source of fun by laughing at Millwall and chanting ‘Churchinho’ as the Welsh forward warmed up, Reading were marginally the better side. But it was more of a case of Clarke’s men capitalising upon their opposition’s struggles, and not them blowing the Addicks away.
It meant all was not lost for a side who trudged towards the tunnel to a collection of groans at half-time. The performance very much a disappointment, but even the slightest of improvements would give Charlton a real chance.
So the first foray forward from Luzon’s men in the second period, after McCleary had lashed a strike from distance wildly off-target, was promising.
Fox, outperforming many of his more experienced teammates, delivered an inviting cross for the unmarked Watt. But the ball bounced up just before it reached the Scot, meaning his connection sent it soaring over the bar.
Nonetheless, it lifted the spirits of a previously somber Valley crowd, and proved the catalyst to lift Charlton’s overall efforts.
For two excellent and direct attacking moves, the sort seen so often in recent weeks, followed. The first concluding with a sea of blue and white shirts desperately diving in front of a Buyens strike that was destined for goal, while the second saw a fabulous turn and shot from Eagles fail to result in the equaliser it deserved courtesy of Adam Federici’s superb reaction save.
The equaliser, however, was not far off. That despite a Reading break threatening to burst Charlton’s bubble, with Chris Gunter’s effort crucial blocked away inside the area.
With the increasingly lively Watt lurking, Bulot’s cross had to be dealt with, and Michael Hector had seemingly done just that, heading the delivery away. But the defender succeeded only in nodding down onto his outstretched arm. Arguably a harsh call, as Reading argued, but referee Deadman immediately pointed to the spot with some authority.
And with the Addicks possessing such a composed penalty taker, the premature celebrations as the spot kick was awarded were not misguided. Buyens, who had once again struggled in open play, stepped up and converted with no fuss whatsoever. The momentum now with the hosts with 32 minutes to play.
Inspired by the roar of the Covered End, Charlton showed no intention of settling down after their equaliser, and immediately pressed forward in search of the goal that would put them ahead.
In fact, heads were in hands just beyond the hour mark as Eagles wasted the most glorious of chances to put his side ahead. The recent signing unmarked at the back post, but could only nod Gudmundsson’s pinpoint delivery over.
Gudmundsson then had an effort of his own, curling a strike comfortably into Federici’s hands, before Watt, in typical fashion, drove through and forced the Reading stopper into a slightly more demanding save. The intent, tempo and flair was all there, but the finishing was ever so slightly eluding the Addicks.
So maybe, with Charlton trying absolutely everything to score and not succeeding, it was fitting that the 70th minute goal that put the hosts ahead game from an unconventional body part.
It was also, to an extent, an unconventional goal scorer. Gomez’s cross turned in by the knee of Buyens, his first goal from open play for the Addicks, sparking excellent celebratory scenes in the Covered End. The season may be all but over for Charlton, but to find the reward for their brilliant second half efforts felt marvellous.
Such was the level of a joy that yet another horrendous miss could be laughed off as Reading remained unable to counteract the unrelenting dominance of Luzon’s side. Cries of “he scores when he wants” followed as substitute Church, receiving Buyens’ cut back, struck his effort straight at Federici.
But the Covered End were not laughing for long. Instead, with eleven minutes to play, they were lauding the previously heavily criticised Welsh forward and celebrating a third.
Absolutely outstanding work from Watt, dancing past several Reading men as he drove into the box, made Church’s chance a simple one. But his tap-in from the Scot’s ball across goal was a special personal moment nonetheless. His first goal at The Valley in 16 months, and well appreciated by the home support.
However, a game that had long been so dull that the players themselves would have fallen asleep had they not been standing up still had action left. The frustration of falling further behind evidently getting the better of Williams, who clashed with Watt and received a second yellow card as punishment.
But Reading, to their credit, did not give up any point. At times, they were outplayed and outclassed, but their attitude was always correct.
And despite Charlton, especially Gomez, defending superbly for much of the final ten minutes, the Royals’ intent was rewarded three minutes into five added on. Comical defending, with Johnson failing to cut out a ball across the face of goal, resulted in Pogrebnyak giving Reading some genuine hope.
It set up a nervy conclusion, and those nerves evidently got the better of Johnson. A needless foul on the edge of the box giving the Royals a free-kick in a good position.
Relief, however, followed. Henderson claimed the delivery with ease and the full-time whistle was blown almost immediately. In a manner more stressful than was necessary, the Addicks had hung on for their seventh win in nine.
Regardless, the feeling of relief was minuscule compared to the one of pride in Charlton’s overall second half performance.
The character shown to respond to not only falling behind, but a rather flat and disappointing first half performance, was outstanding. It’s another to add to the list of games the Addicks would have lost just over a month ago.
But the turn around, in attitude as well as ability, continues to become increasingly incredible with each passing victory. For that, Luzon and his troops deserve substantial praise.
This is, of course, a team effort. Fox and Gomez, while Johnson and Diarra were uncomfortable, were outstanding at the back, Buyens recovered substantially from a horrendous first half performance to not only score twice but look more comfortable in possession, and Church worked hard for his goal.
But special praise must once again go to Watt. Without his direct attacks that set the tempo for the entire side and eases pressure on a defence that still has its cracks, in addition to his individual brilliance, a run of this nature would simply not be possible.
And it’s a run we take into the fixture at the Den in just less than two weeks. Have we ever faced Millwall in such a rich vein of form?
I just pray this two week break doesn’t kill our momentum. Surely, with such character, confidence and quality in the side at this moment in time, especially when compared to the Lions, it’s time to regain some derby pride.
Knowing Charlton, it’ll be the only game we lose between now and the end of the season.
(Apologies for the rather naff photos. I might have accidentally left my camera at home)
The nature of Lawrie Wilson’s success during his time at Charlton can be seen in the reaction to his departure.
For few, if any, have celebrated his loan move to Rotherham United that, with the curly-haired hero out of contract in the summer, probably signals the end of his career as an Addick.
Instead there was an almost universal sense of disappointment.
Disappointment that a player who was arguably Charlton’s most consistent performer last season hasn’t been able to hold down a starting place during this campaign, has looked short of confidence when brought into the side and ultimately been moved on for his benefit.
Disappointment that, regardless of his recent struggles and it probably being a good move for Wilson, another long-serving player has been moved on ruthlessly and quickly. Despite his dip in form, most fans were fully aware he still had plenty to give.
Disappointment that a crowd favourite who has excellent rapport with supporters will no longer represent the Addicks. In many of the Tweets sent to Wilson, a wish of good luck is followed by an admission that they are gutted to see him leave.
And that he leaves as a crowd favourite is one half of his biggest achievement as a Charlton player.
The other half is that he was far from it to begin with. His efforts and endeavour were such that someone who was originally heckled and treated as a scapegoat become a bit of a Covered End favourite.
It’s some achievement to turn those who grumbled at the sight of Wilson’s name appearing on the teamsheet into ardent admirers.
Personally, I thought the treatment he received at times during the 12/13 season was incredibly harsh. There were, of course, a few poor performances and a few criminal errors, but his hard work seemed to go unnoticed even at the best of times.
Many will point towards his two goal-performance against Brighton and Hove Albion on Boxing Day 2013 as the turnaround for Wilson, and with good reason.
His overall display was excellent, the strikes clinical, and it produced a chant of “he used to be shite, but now he’s alright”, for the first time. Something that the smile on Wilson’s face each time it was sung after that day suggested he rather enjoyed.
And it was probably that chant that created a very strong rapport between player and fans. He became adored very quickly thereafter.
But Wilson had been in excellent form long before that Brighton performance. Supporters who had previously unfairly criticised him had already been won over.
Chris Solly, of course, was a huge miss last season, but Wilson’s performances at right-back were consistently of such a standard that his fellow academy graduate’s absence was rarely noticed.
From early season games, such as in the win over Blackburn, to his outstanding displays of defensive brilliance, fight and determination against QPR and Sheffield Wednesday in the space of three days, and his gritty efforts as Charlton confirmed their survival in the final months of the campaign, Wilson was outstanding.
And it’s the knowing how well he played last season in addition to the connection he had with supporters that means I’m gutted he’s off.
You could argue he isn’t that player anymore. The Wilson of last season would not have struggled so much against Michail Antonio as he did in the recent victory over Nottingham Forest, but I’d suggest that’s a more a lack of confidence, game time and form rather than a loss of quality.
Nonetheless, it’s so disappointing that it just hasn’t quite worked out this season for someone who was so committed to Charlton’s cause.
I’d be delighted if Wilson’s time isn’t completely up, but the evidence suggests it is.
Good luck, and thanks for being bloody brilliant, Lawrie.
It seems somewhat fitting that Charlton’s fixture following Simon Church’s submission for individual performance of the decade comes against his former club.
For it means attention, deservedly so, will increase on the man who does Gareth Bale’s running for him.
But there is a more serious element to the former Reading forward’s first league goal of the season than merely celebrating a target for harsh criticism delighting those who have struck by him with irrational support.
It reaffirms that confidence is not just high among Guy Luzon’s starting XI, but within Guy Luzon’s squad.
Regardless of the quality of opposition the Addicks faced on Tuesday, the 3-0 win over Blackpool was an excellent result. A rotated squad bouncing back from a rather unfortunate defeat to Blackburn that could have killed self-belief is massive.
Confidence, however, is also high in the Reading camp. The Royals may have disappointed in the league this season, but with Monday’s victory over Bradford seeing the club progress through to the FA Cup semi-final, their position in the Championship table has been ignored in favour of really weird pitch invasions.
Simon Church is happy. Charlton supporters are happy. Reading supporters are happy. Isn’t everything just really bloody marvellous?
Or at least that’s the case until the Addicks find some sort of barely believable way to suffer defeat at The Valley on Saturday.
LAST MEETING – READING 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A disciplined, organised and determined display from Bob Peeters’ side earned them a deserved victory over a toothless Reading at the Madjeski Stadium.
In fact, such was the professional nature of Charlton’s performance, that talk of a promotion challenge that had been quelled after three games without a win returned.
Instead, the Addicks went onto embark on a 14-game winless run that cost Peeters his job and saw Luzon’s reign begin terribly.
Igor Vetokele’s fantastic first-half header would be the last winning goal Charlton supporters would celebrate for over three months.
With the Royals a comfortable ten points from the Championship relegation zone, and having a game in hand on those below them, it’s fair to say their attentions are elsewhere.
It might not be for another month, but the league fixtures Reading must fulfil before their trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-Final must surely be something of a nuisance for the club’s supporters.
Regardless, Steve Clarke’s side have picked up a handful of respectable results since the start of their cup exploits, including away victories at Wolves and Ipswich, which show they have the capability to beat any side in this division.
And with the Arsenal clash a month away, it would be amiss of Reading to attempt to build some momentum through their league results beforehand.
After a sluggish performance in defeat to Blackburn at the weekend, compounded by comical if not criminal individual errors, the Addicks responded in pleasing fashion with a three goal victory over Blackpool in midweek.
While the opposition may not have been the strongest, the result remained just as impressive. Previously, the character and depth of this Charlton side could be heavily and justifiably questioned. Now, it would seem, it can only be praised.
And with the Addicks boasting a record of six wins from their last eight matches, it’s fair to say they remain one of the division’s most feared sides at the moment.
The Royals could be without influential midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah after the Chelsea loanee picked up an injury in the cup victory over Bradford.
Chalobah has been in excellent form since joining Reading in January, but Clarke is unlikely to risk him should his fitness not be 100% with the semi-final somewhere on the horizon.
But Clarke has reaffirmed his desire to treat the league games before their trip to Wembley with professionalism. While a host of youngsters were brought in for last weekend’s defeat to Watford, with the quarter-final replay played on Monday, Reading should field their strongest XI possible at The Valley.
Following impressive performances by those brought into the side to allow others to rest in midweek, Guy Luzon has some decisions to make.
The easiest one comes at the back, where the excellent Joe Gomez should continue in place of Tal Ben Haim, who looked extremely uncomfortable in the defeat to Blackburn. But there is uncertainty over who will start in a number of other positions.
After a string of disappointing displays, justified by his penalty-scoring exploits, Yoni Buyens has long deserved to spend some time on the bench, and Alou Diarra might well keep his place, while a first home start for Chris Eagles, who scored his second Charlton goal at Blackpool, would be deserved were it not harsh to keep Frederic Bulot out of the side for a second game.
Up top, it’s more than likely that Igor Vetokele will come back into the side and be reunited with strike partner Tony Watt, but Church’s performance and goal in midweek has strengthened the argument that he deserves to play a more prominent role in the side on a consistent basis. Either way, it’s nice to have options.
The Addicks, however, remain without the injured Johnnie Jackson, Rhoys Wiggins and Franck ‘call home, mate, just let us know you’re safe’ Moussa.
KEY BATTLE – HALTING READING’S MOMENTUM
Charlton supporters know as well as any the mix of emotions the FA Cup can provide. The trip to the blue and white half of Sheffield was simply unforgettable; the trip to the other half unforgettable for all the wrong reason.
And after Reading’s FA Cup quarter-final replay win over Bradford on Monday, players and half-hearted pitch-invading supporters will come into this one on a huge high.
That could potentially result in one of two things.
The first being that the Royals start the game at such a pace and tempo as a result of the emotions from the cup victory that the Addicks are blown away, and unable to get back into the game.
On the other hand, it may be the case that Clarke’s side are overconfident, and suffer from complacency, allowing Charlton to take advantage should they perform professionally.
Regardless, there’s a bubble that needs bursting if the Addicks are to have a slightly less difficult afternoon that the one they did against another team enjoying a FA Cup run last weekend.
For both sides, scoring early is crucial.
The result is largely an irrelevance. For whatever the scoreline come full-time, Charlton will still have Simon Church, and will therefore be the real winner. We’ll win on the pitch, too. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Reading.
“At least we’re not Blackpool.”
It’s a comment that’s been said many a time this season, by clubs struggling on-the-pitch and by those with question marks over the way they are run off it.
And while I don’t agree with downplaying the serious issues that remain over the way Charlton are run, the sentiment of the comments remains. Bloody hell, thank god we’re not them.
For not only are the Tangerines hurtling towards League One at a pace that would be impressive if it were not depressing, Karl Oyston’s bizarre running of the club has left it completely on its knees.
The best efforts this season from anyone connected to Blackpool coming from the supporters, whose continued protests and valiant attempts to support the side regardless deserve plenty of praise.
However, my sympathy will be minimal if not absent when the Addicks travel to Bloomfield Road on Tuesday.
It’s a game that provides Guy Luzon’s side with a wonderful opportunity to bounce back from their self-inflicted weekend defeat to Blackburn Rovers. In fact, you could make argue to say this is the perfect fixture in the circumstances; one that will prevent the possibility of a winless run.
Nonetheless, Charlton, who failed to beat Lee Clark’s makeshift group in December, cannot afford to be complacent. A dominant and professional victory the minimum expected.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-2 BLACKPOOL
At a time when it appeared Charlton could not buy a win, a last minute Steven Davies equaliser reaffirmed those beliefs.
Chris Eagles, now an Addick, opened the scoring for Blackpool midway through the first half, bundling the ball into an empty net after Nick Pope had misjudged the flight of a corner and Nyron Nosworthy headed on.
But Charlton were given the opportunity to equalise before the break when Igor Vetokele was tripped inside the box. Yoni Buyens made no mistake, converting coolly to draw his side level.
And ten minutes into the second half, Bob Peeters’ men were ahead. The Tangerine’s defence stood off Jordan Cousins, and the youngster finished superbly from the edge of the box.
The Addicks, however, never looked comfortable, and as full-time approached, Davies capitalised on some woeful marking and more rash goalkeeping from Pope to steal a point for Blackpool.
With his side a mammoth 18 points from safety, without a win since January, and routinely suffering heavy, if not embarrassing, defeats, it’s no wonder Clark has given up hopes of his side avoiding relegation to the third tier of English football.
For things, almost incredibly so, may have even got a little worse on the pitch in recent weeks. Flightless drummings to the division’s top sides, such as the 4-0 loss to Bournemouth on Saturday, has left supporters, players and Clark himself incredibly demoralised.
“To keep coming to these teams at the top of the table and being lambs to the slaughter is not acceptable. We’re going down by a massive margin,” the Blackpool boss told the Blackpool Gazette after that loss at the Goldsands.
Having seemingly been in unstoppable form, the Addicks were a little disappointing in their defeat to Blackburn on Saturday.
Luzon’s side were without the high tempo they had shown in recent weeks, and were hugely let down by individual errors at both ends of the pitch.
For Roger Johnson’s errors for both goals were shocking, especially from a man who has been at the heart of Charlton’s upturn in form, and Tony Watt and Igor Vetokele might well have done better in front of goal.
However, with the season now over for the Addicks, anger is minimal. That’s not to say that will also be the case should they suffer defeat at Bloomfield Road.
Blackpool will welcome back Miles Addison after the Bournemouth loanee was unable to play against his parent club at the weekend.
But they will be without Tony McMahon, who begins a two game suspension after picking up his tenth yellow card of the season on Saturday, and the injured Jamie O’Hara.
Charlton could make some changes in defence after the entire back four struggled in Saturday’s defeat to Blackburn.
One of Tal Ben Haim or Johnson will surely miss out, with Joe Gomez coming back into the side, while Chris Solly, who missed his side’s most recent midweek clash with Nottingham Forest, may be given the chance to rest his troublesome knee, with Lawrie Wilson possibly coming in.
The Addicks, however, will definitely be without Rhoys Wiggins, Johnnie Jackson and Franck Moussa, who all remain a few weeks away from fitness.
KEY BATTLE – PLAYING WITH TEMPO ON THE BLOOMFIELD ROAD BOG
While Blackpool’s woes away from home have regularly been embarrassing in their nature this season, the Tangerines have kept some dignity in defeat at Bloomfield Road.
Incredibly, only four times this campaign have they suffered a loss by two or more goals at home, and three of those have come against the division’s current top seven.
One reason for that must surely come down to the state of Blackpool’s pitch. Somewhat hypocritical to bemoan, given the nature of Charlton’s playing surface last season, but the Bloomfield Road turf is currently making the pitches I see on a Sunday morning when I referee youth football seem attractive.
And although Luzon has implemented a somewhat direct approach since becoming Charlton boss, it’s a direct approach that relies heavily upon the pace and trickery of his widemen and forwards.
It therefore might prove tricky for the likes of Watt and Johann Berg Gudmundsson to play to their game-changing best. However, overcome the pitch difficulties, and Charlton should have no worries with dealing with what a scrambled together Blackpool side can throw at them.
A pleasing response to Saturday’s disappointment, with the Addicks, regardless of the tough conditions they will have to play in given the state of Blackpool’s pitch, finding their excellent counter-attacking tempo once again. Blackpool 0-3 Charlton Athletic
With all the resilience of the England cricket team’s batsmen in defence and all the accuracy of their bowlers in attack, Charlton only had themselves to blame as their winning run ended in disappointing fashion.
They were not outclassed to the extent that a 3-1 defeat suggests; Blackburn Rovers certainly made to work harder, and longer, for their victory than England’s opponents in Australia.
But the visitors were gifted their win by moments of madness in the hosts’ defence. The previously reliable Roger Johnson imploding in emphatic fashion to allow regular nemesis Jordan Rhodes and winger Craig Conway to give Rovers a two goal lead after just twenty minutes.
And while there was fight shown for much of the second period that Peter Moores’ men could only dream of, multiplied after Yoni Buyens’ second penalty in as many weeks halved the deficit, Charlton’s wastefulness in front of goal prevented their pressure from telling. Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt guilty.
However, a crime of a more serious manner was still to be committed. Like bowling half-trackers to the world’s best batsmen, leaving Rhodes free in the box, arguably the division’s best finisher, is suicidal. The Scot nodding home after a deflected shot looped up perfectly for him.
Charlton’s effort did not die, a disallowed goal, after a push in the build-up, from Simon Church suggesting just that, but the third defensive mistake had killed their momentum. Attempts to get back into the game felt as meaningless as a cricket victory over one of the associate nations. Blackburn, if a little nervy, seeing out the game commendably.
There’s no need to look at the data for this one. The error-prone Addicks victims of their own frustrating downfall.
While the return of Vetokele, replacing the totally absent Christophe Lepoint to the disappointment of his fan club In the West Stand, encouraged optimism before kick-off, disruption to the back four brought about some concern before Rhodes had even made his first attempt to get beyond it.
In truth, Tal Ben Haim was always likely to come back into the side after impressing earlier on in the season, but it seemed very harsh on 17-year-old Joe Gomez. The teen also arguably a better partner for Johnson than the Israeli, with the experienced pair both similar in style and lack of mobility.
Those concerns only increased with the promising start Blackburn made to the game. Alex Baptiste striking from 30 yards and forcing Stephen Henderson into a save, with Chris Brown heading over from the resulting corner and Rhodes latterly getting the better of Johnson and blasting an effort off-target.
The Addicks, through the diligence of Watt and Vetokele, looked threatening when they moved forward without actually creating an opening, but attentions were largely focused on the ease with which Rhodes had been able to get in behind.
And worry turned to anger with 14 minutes played as Charlton laid the red carpet down and allowed the forward the simplest of routes to goal.
Failing to react after Conway’s quickly taken throw, Ben Haim and Johnson were left looking at each other as Rhodes collected the ball and drove through the gap between them. Johnson attempted to make amends, but was brushed aside with the same defiance that Rovers have laughed off interest in their star striker, allowing Rhodes to give his side the lead via the post.
A huge blow it may have been, and especially disappointing given the manner in which it came, but belief had not been totally crushed. Guy Luzon’s side showing in the victory over Cardiff that they had the character to overturn a one goal deficit.
Whether they had it within them to come from two goals down was a more testing question. Defending that would have drawn tears and created a poisonous atmosphere had Charlton’s Championship status not yet been secured meant that question was about to be asked.
Having been given the ball by a team mate and without a blue and white shirt in his immediate proximity, there seemed to be little pressure on Johnson. But the centre-back completely lost his head, swinging and missing with his foot and only succeeding in deflecting the ball with his hand as he attempted to get his body behind it.
It gave Conway the chance to intervene, brushing aside the disorientated Johnson and finishing clinically beyond Henderson’s desperate dive. He may have injured himself in the process of doubling Blackburn’s lead, but nothing was hurting more inside The Valley than Johnson’s ego.
Thankfully for the former Wolves man, there was no witch hunt from the home crowd. Recent form and their status in the division meant, after laughing in disbelief at the comedy of errors, support for Charlton immediately continued.
Spurred on by their supporters, the hosts almost pulled one back immediately. Watt driving forward and playing Vetokele in, but the Angolan could only fire over from a tight angle.
That move probably summed up Charlton’s efforts in the opening period. Intent not lacking, but execution way off. Their endeavours into the final third littered with misplaced passes, over-hit crosses and rather soft shots. Watt’s strike from the edge of the box comfortable for Jason Steele and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, after a signature run into space, scuffing his effort wide.
And although the Addicks continued to press forward, they remained horribly uncomfortable in defence. The back four and Buyens doing very little right in the first period, and such error-filled play might well have given Rovers a third.
After failing to control the ball, Chris Taylor robbed Ben Haim and won himself a free-kick for his efforts, which was directed towards three blue and white shirts that had been left unmarked in Charlton’s box. Home supporters thankful that Ben Marshall could only head wide.
Blackburn, however, were not immaculate at the back themselves. As half-time beckoned, Watt was gifted the ball inside the opposition’s half, and was only prevented from scoring by brave goalkeeping from Steele. But bravery was lacking from the referee, who opted not to give the Addicks a penalty after Vetokele’s follow up appeared to be blocked by Henry’s hand, and Frederic Bulot, who backed out of the battle to get to the loose ball first.
Nonetheless, it was a positive note to end the half on. A reminder that Charlton still had it within themselves to turn their intent into something more meaningful, and equally that Blackburn were not infallible.
That was reaffirmed ten minutes into a quiet start to the second half. A half that would not be quiet thereafter.
The simplest of balls forward from Jordan Cousins caught out Henry, forcing Steele to clatter into Vetokele in order to deny him the opportunity to score. Whistle blown, penalty spot pointed to and Steele somewhat fortunate to receive just a yellow card.
Alas, that was where the good fortunate ended for Blackburn’s goalkeeper. Buyens might have been struggling otherwise, but he again converted his penalty with all the composure and calm of a man in the form of his life.
With one rash bit of goalkeeping and one excellent spot kick, the entire complexion of the game had changed. The Addicks still behind, but momentum, and an increasingly vocal Valley crowd who celebrated the goal with real belief, was on their side.
In fact, the roar of expectation from the Covered End may have again become one of celebration just two minutes later.
Blackburn were struggling to deal with Charlton’s sudden increase in tempo, and equally unable to prevent Bulot from delivering a stunning cross. There were arms a loft in premature celebration as Vetokele flung himself at the ball and headed goalwards but, agonisingly, those arms were soon holding heads as the effort bounced off the crossbar and away.
That did not deter the Addicks, however, and an even better chance to equalise was created just beyond the half hour. Vetokele playing in Watt, who outmuscled Henry and raced towards goal. You would have heavily backed the in-form forward to score, but Watt, to the dismay of the Covered End, dragged his effort behind.
And for all Charlton’s fight, character and determination, it was that moment that proved crucial. For Blackburn soon realised they could not afford to sit back and hold onto their slender advantage, instead beginning to press forward again.
In truth, you could almost suggest Blackburn, having endured a spell of pressure, began to dominate. The Addicks struggling to dispossess their opponents in and around their box, resulting in Johnson making a stunning block to deny Tom Cairney, before he and Corry Evans forced Henderson into two fine saves.
But Gary Bowyer’s side continued to press forward, and were eventually rewarded when yet more comedy defending from Charlton gifted them a third. Taylor’s effort from the edge of the box ballooning up off an Addick and straight to the unmarked Rhodes, who had all the time in the world to pick his spot and nod past Henderson. With 12 minutes to play, it was now certainly game over.
To their credit, however, Charlton did not give up. Ben Haim did his best to give Blackburn a fourth, almost letting Brown in, but thereafter the Addicks found one last burst of energy to increase their tempo.
Crosses were pinged into the box with regularity, through balls sent into the path of Vetokele and Watt, and possession was largely kept by the men in red. But the Addicks continued to be frustrated as Blackburn saw the game out in a professional and organised fashion, cementing the belief that, despite the three helping hands they were offered, their win was deserved.
Only when Eagles headed wide from a Gudmundsson cross and Watt forced a strong save out of Steele from a header of his own were Luzon’s side allowed a sight of goal. Charlton’s day rounded off with Church unfortunate not to score his first league goal of the season after Watt, reacting to his own saved header, was penalised for a push as he attempted to tee up the Welshman.
Regardless, there were no boos or angry cries at full-time. A ripple of applause followed a sort of stunned silence.
For this performance was not a total disaster, and you could not question the effort and fight of the side. But it was a performance uncharacteristic of the recent upturn in form.
There will be suggestions that Charlton were unlucky. Even after going two goals behind, the game might have had a different outcome had one of the many chances created at the start of the second period been taken.
And while that’s not a totally inaccurate suggestion, it seems fairer to say that the more organised and fluent side were victories against one who struggled at both ends of the pitch.
Defensively, it was rather embarrassing. Rhodes now has eight career goals against the Addicks, and most of them have been gift wrapped for him.
Chris Solly and Morgan Fox were nowhere near their best, but it was centrally where the problems occurred. The costly errors horrendous from Ben Haim and Johnson, but their overall play wasn’t any more promising.
Luzon spoke about being more aggressive defensively post-match, and that’s a fair enough comment with the Addicks frequently bossed off the ball.
But composure and agility were the factors most missed today. Johnson and Ben Haim normally have the first quality in abundance, to make up for their lack of the second. Without a calmness about their work, they’re incredibly painful to watch.
With both out of contract in the summer, performances like that won’t do the pair any favours. Personally, I’d like to think they both just had a terrible, terrible day, but they cannot play together. They’re far too similar, and allow strikers like Rhodes, who pride themselves on their movement, to run a mock.
Going forward, the Addicks were considerably more impressive. The drive of Jordan Cousins again excellent, and the forward four consistently attempting to make things happen.
But, much like the back four, it was just one of those days where almost everything that was attempted failed to come off. At the very least, the potency on the break that has been seen in recent weeks was not there, the accuracy of Charlton’s passing was consistently disappointing, and the finishing was frustrating.
Nonetheless, it’s not a performance worth getting too angered about. You would hope it was simply an off day, and not the beginning of another poor run of form.
In fact, more telling that today’s performance will be how the Addicks respond on Tuesday. After such a defeat, there’s probably no better time to play Blackpool.
A win there, and maybe I’ll be able to get away with laughing at our defending, instead of crying.