It’s the return of the familiar that means the start of a new football season is so eagerly anticipated. Losing yourself deep inside a game from the stands is such an important part of the weekly routine for some that the off-season is a period of painful boredom.
Without a matchday routine, there is little distraction from the monotony of everyday life. Knowing that you’ll once again be poisoning your arteries in The Valley Café, performing as part of the Covered End Choir, and miserably walking back down Floyd Road at 5pm is almost euphoric.
But as much as reacquainting yourself with old surroundings is exciting, it would be tedious without the intrigue created by the feeling of the unknown that exists at the start of each season.
In truth, some teams will not be experiencing either positive or negative uncertainty. They will turn up on Saturday, demanding their side are victorious, and expecting a promotion that many are predicting.
For Charlton and Queens Park Rangers, however, there is no way of confidently knowing what they’ll be subjected to on Saturday, and whether they’ll be ecstatic or miserable come May.
Both have seen a number of changes over the summer. The Addicks recruiting a host of players, largely from Europe, who have created some excitement. QPR removing Harry Redknapp’s demotivated old boys, and building a much younger squad.
And both will be asking the same questions. Will the new recruits, many of which haven’t played in the Championship before, adapt to the rigours of the division? Will the boss be able to gel together a number of different personalities and nationalities into a competent side? Will that side be able to fulfil promotion ambitions?
Those questions will not be answered on Saturday, irrespective of what happens. But with supporters inpatient and quick to make judgements. The impression created at The Valley will tip the balance of positivity and anxiety one way or the other.
LAST MEETING: CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Rarely have celebrations at The Valley been so euphoric and powerful. Few images from recent seasons are as iconic as Johnnie Jackson wheeling away in celebration. No act amidst the chaos best details the incredible release of emotion as Chris Powell attempting to kiss the fourth official.
For the conclusion to the last meeting between Charlton and QPR saw one of the great Valley moments.
The game was entered with a feeling of despair around SE7. No league win in six, the first mumblings that Powell was under pressure had emerged, and new owner Roland Duchatelet’s signings had yet to impress, while Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens were desperately missed.
And with the R’s arriving at The Valley boasting a side assembled using the sort of finances the Addicks could only dream of, there was little hope of the victory desperately needed to avoid getting trapped in the bottom three.
But the hosts, while not dominant, were impressive. Two banks of four restricted and frustrated QPR for an hour, during which Charlton should have taken the lead through Reza Ghoochannejhad.
Beyond the hour, however, and the Addicks looked to press forward. They got a little lucky, particularly when Ravel Morrison poked straight into the hands of the hopeless Yohann Thuram, but a chance of victory remained as stoppage time was entered.
Diego Poyet’s sublime tackle, followed by Rob Green’s seemingly heart-breaking stop to deny Astrit Ajdarevic set it up perfectly. It felt like the chance of a dramatic victory was gone, even with Ajdarevic sprinting across to take a corner.
His delivery was superb, picking out Jackson at the back post with pinpoint accuracy. Green’s efforts on this occasion not so impressive, letting the ball squeeze through him. The apparent heart-break turning to sheer euphoria.
There’s no way of describing the celebrations that followed that will do it justice. Saying it was one of the best moments of my life does the job better than any inferior words. What an incredible feeling.
There was a suggestion that QPR were in a state of crisis that could not be halted at the back end of last season. A cancer spreading throughout the dressing room, their efforts to avoid relegation tame, and off-field issues creating a great deal of discomfort.
But the R’s appear to be in a much healthier state than expected at the start of this campaign. A change in transfer strategy bringing in young and exciting players, with faith put in Ramsey to get the best out of them and move on from the woes of their dire Premier League campaign.
In truth, the Addicks ended last season in somewhat sluggish fashion. With little to play for, Guy Luzon’s desire to rotate, and Roger Johnson turning into Roger Johnson, only one of the final seven games resulted in victory.
But, before that, Luzon’s side had won seven out of nine. Side’s decimated by a ruthless counter-attacking style, while results were ground out against those that put up more of a fight.
The task for Charlton’s boss is to blend his new recruits into the shape he deployed during that run of wins. Two very organised and tight banks of four while defending, and a forward four given freedom to cause havoc while going forward.
With the forward fully fit and no Premier League club yet willing to match QPR’s valuation of a player who scored 18 times in the top flight last season, Charlie Austin is expected to start in SE7.
Another man who might well be involved on Saturday who didn’t seem like he would be is midfielder Leroy Fer. The Dutchman seemed set to move to Sunderland earlier on this week, but a failed medical means he remains a QPR player.
But someone who did pass a medical this week is a familiar face to Valley regulars. Charlton academy graduate Paul Konchesky, signed on loan from Leicester, could be one of a host of players to make their debut for the R’s.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Massimo Luongo, very un-QPR-like signings, will surely start, while exciting Dutch midfielder Tjaronn Chery is also in line for his first competitive R’s appearance
Charlton will be without Stephen Henderson after the goalkeeper suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-season victory over Dartford.
Henderson, whose presence was greatly missed while he recovered from a shoulder injury during the entirety of last season’s 13-game winless run, will be replaced by young stopper Nick Pope, given a chance to prove himself throughout the first month of the season.
Igor Vetokele will also be absent on Saturday, having struggled with niggles throughout pre-season. Tony Watt expected to be joined by 6’7 Simon Makienok in attack.
So too are there are doubts about the match fitness of a number of Addicks who have had limited game time during pre-season. New additions Naby Sarr and Zakarya Bergdich featured in a development squad friendly against Chelmsford on Tuesday, as did captain Johnnie Jackson, who is slowly returning to full health after an extended injury lay-off.
But many of Charlton’s recent signings will make their debuts at The Valley on Saturday. Patrick Bauer is expected to start in defence, former Tottenham man Cristian Ceballos could make his first appearance in English football, and El Hadji-Ba looks set to partner Jordan Cousins in midfield.
KEY BATTLE – GIVING AUSTIN’S ADMIRERS SECOND THOUGHTS
The collective Charlton groan on social media as it was announced that regular tormenter Austin would be fit and available for the R’s was mightily impressive. It was almost as if QPR were given a one-goal advantage prior to Saturday’s kick-off.
And, in truth, they might as well be. On top of the goalscoring abilities that Austin displayed in the top flight last season, the impressive forward has scored six career goals against the Addicks. His record, in a higher division and against Charlton, suggests keeping him quiet is unlikely.
Especially when the centre-back pairing attempting to deal with the target of a host of Premier League sides will be playing their first competitive game together. Bauer in his first in England, and Alou Diarra in a somewhat unnatural position.
But it is of vital importance that the Addicks deny Austin the opportunity to score. With both sides raw, opportunities are likely to at a premium, and having the former non-league forward gives QPR a huge advantage on that front.
In fact, the relative lack of cohesion both sides might well have at this stage may not even affect Austin. He showed last season that, with his movement and intelligence, he can effectively carve out openings for himself.
As such, Bauer and Diarra must immediately step up. Keep him away from goal to such an extent that his admirers have second thoughts, and the Addicks have every chance on Saturday.
Having Austin probably gives QPR the advantage – a poacher to finish the odd chance in a game between two newly put together sides – but a somewhat tense affair, as both sides attempt to find their stride, is likely. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Queens Park Rangers.