A Saturday is approaching that sees Charlton face arguably one of the Championship’s better sides, and I’m not dreading it.
For no longer is the mood one of fear, questioning what scarcely believable way the Addicks will find to suffer defeat, but one of relaxed optimism.
The season, realistically, is over for Guy Luzon’s side, but that takes nothing away from how enjoyable the results picked up over recent weeks have been. Brilliant counter attacking football and a complete change in attitude among the players lifting Charlton far away from the bottom three.
Blackburn supporters must also be feeling similar at this moment in time. While their play-off ambitions look unlikely to be met, Rovers have picked up some excellent wins in the league in the past few weeks, and also find their name in the FA Cup semi-final draw after taking Liverpool to a replay.
Regardless, neither side will want their momentum to be halted at The Valley. Relatively stress-free it might be, but there’s no end-of-season feel just yet.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-2 BLACKBURN ROVERS
Charlton’s stay in this season’s FA Cup lasted just one game as a sloppy performance allowed Blackburn to progress to the fourth round.
Chris Taylor’s header gave the visitors an early lead, with the lack of spark from the hosts matched by The Valley’s floodlights, which cut out halfway through the opening 45.
But Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s outstanding free-kick at the start of the second period looked to have kicked the Addicks back into life.
Alas, it took just four minutes for Blackburn to regain their lead. Taylor, capitalising on woeful defending from Bob Peeters’ side, tapped in at the far past for what would prove to be the winning goal.
And Charlton’s misery was compounded when Yoni Buyens received a second yellow card with 18 minutes to play, all but confirming their cup dreams were over for another year.
While indifferent form throughout the season has prevented Rovers from mounting the play-off challenge that was expected of them, their efforts in the FA Cup have allowed supporters to overlook that disappointment.
In fact, the momentum built from their cup exploits appears to be having an impact on Blackburn’s league form. Preventing Bournemouth from scoring at the Goldsands is commendable, while the victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton either side of their goalless cup draw at Anfield suggests Gary Bowyer’s side may enjoy a positive end to the season whether they reach Wembley or not.
However, that there 1-0 win over Bolton occurred on Wednesday should give Charlton a bit of advantage. The Addicks have had seven days’ worth of rest.
The Addicks have not only shown the ability to win games with exciting counter-attacking football in recent weeks, but also gritty resolve at the back and outstanding fight and character to complete an unlikely victory.
Last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff added that third winning quality, with Charlton coming from behind to win for the first time in eleven months. A sloppy performance forgotten as Tony Watt and Yoni Buyens scored the goals to give Luzon’s side a fantastic victory.
In fact, this winning run is much like the 14-game winless run the Addicks endured prior to it. Where it appeared Charlton were simply incapable of winning no matter what the circumstances, it now seems they’re incapable of losing (I’ll take all the blame if that jinxes it).
Blackburn are set to hand a recall to Rudy Gestede after the robust forward was rested in the midweek over Bolton.
Gestede, who was replaced by Chris Brown on Wednesday night, has been in outstanding form this season, and should link up with strike partner Jordan Rhodes in attack, who have scored 27 times between.
That, of course, is if Rhodes remains a Blackburn player. Speculation over the prolific goal scorer’s future counties to mount, with Middlesbrough and Derby among those said to be interested in signing him on loan with a view to a permanent deal.
But Rovers will definitely have Alex Baptiste available again after the Bolton loanee was unable to play against his parent club, and the defender may replace young centre-back Doneil Henry in the starting XI.
With the injury he sustained in the victory over Cardiff only minor, Stephen Henderson is likely to be between the sticks on Saturday.
The goalkeeper was substituted at half-time having looked in pain for much of the opening 45 minutes following a heavy collision when collecting a corner, but Henderson looks set to resume his duties in Charlton’s goal.
There should also be a return to the starting line-up for Igor Vetokele after the Angolan forward was rested on Saturday, especially given the rather questionable efforts of Christophe Lepoint in attack.
Elsewhere, Tal Ben Haim and Rhoys Wiggins are closing in on fitness, but will do well to dislodge Joe Gomez and Morgan Fox in Charlton’s side, but Johnnie Jackson remains injured.
KEY BATTLE – WATTOKELE VS RHESTEDE
Ben Haim and Andre Bikey must still be having nightmares from Charlton’s trip to Ewood Park. I certainly am.
For the centre-back pairing were completely bossed by Blackburn’s front two. Gestede dominant in the air and Rhodes, with assistance of the opposition backline, helping himself to two of the simplest goals he’ll ever score.
In fact, Rhodes regular torments the Addicks. Despite regularly being kept quiet by Michael Morrison in his Huddersfield days, the striker has still managed to notch six times against Charlton in his career.
Regardless of the question marks over his future, Roger Johnson and Gomez will have to perform extremely well to keep Rhodes out on Saturday, as they will to win the aerial battle with Gestede, to avoid a repeat of the reverse fixture.
But, since then, the Addicks have found their own outstanding forward partnership. The unrelenting work, and goals, of Igor Vetokele complementing the skill and class of Tony Watt superbly.
And while Rovers have kept clean sheets in three of their last four games, keeping out Yann Kermorgant, Daniel Sturridge and, erm, Emile Heskey, Charlton’s front men will provide a serious test to their new found resilience at the back.
The quality in attack means the defence who deals with the opposition’s forward pair the best will probably be on the winning side.
Blackburn are building momentum much in the same way the Addicks are, and their efforts in midweek shouldn’t hinder them too much, so I anticipate an event contest. Probably a tight one, too, with no more than a goal in it. A draw a commendable result. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Blackburn Rovers