In an attempt to avoid getting carried away with Charlton’s start to this campaign, comparisons have been made with the last.
The results the same, the points the same, the performances similar. Sides tipped to be up the top come May outplayed in impressive fashion at The Valley, and teams of equal quality defied with resolute efforts away from home.
A fresh side, made up of individuals lacking experience in English football, defying the accepted belief that they require time to gel and adapt. A defender leading the defensive line superbly, a holding midfielder impressing, and a forward proving talismanic.
A head coach, through his charisma and the standard of football played, immediately earning the respect of those who support the Addicks. A dramatic reaction to a stoppage-time winner expressing their somewhat bonkers character.
A suggestion that Roland Duchetelet had learnt from the mistakes made in the previous the season, that now his ambitions matched those of the club’s supporters, and the club under his ownership would finally move forward, instead of swaying in and out of crisis.
It’s almost quite unnerving how similar the first four league games of this season are to the first four in 2014/15. Fears that the chaos that followed last season is impending in this.
But those comparisons are not the ones that should be being made with any seriousness. They’re quirky, and a little bit fun, but not anything that should be used as evidence to suggest we’re going to lose 5-0 at the side who will ultimately finish second in January.
For while we cannot predict that this side will continue this form throughout the season, it can confidently be said that this side is of greater quality than the one that represented the Addicks last season.
The type of player signed so very different. While I certainly had reservations about the lack of Championship experience among the new recruits, it is apparent at this early stage that their qualities are suited to this division and, more importantly, they want to be here.
The squad is not populated by network and aging players who have been moved here in lazy fashion and whose motivations are questionable. You would hope the current crop will not lack character in tough situations.
You cannot see Patrick Bauer, Ahmed Kashi and Simon Makienok falling away like Tal Ben Haim, Yoni Buyens and George Tucudean did. Possibly, given their desire to prove themselves in England and the fact that they are here purely by choice and not by convenience, the only way their individual performances can go is up.
So too is it hard to see Guy Luzon imploding in the same way Bob Peeters did. The flexibility shown in his system this season, pressing high and dominating QPR and sitting deep to frustrate Derby, suggests it is unlikely he’ll be ‘found out’. The relationship between head coach and squad also appears very, very strong.
And while it was naively suggested that Duchatelet’s ambitions had changed at the start of last season, and the players brought in primarily to better Charlton, I think it’s accurate to say there has been a very clear change in principles from the owner.
It has taken a lot longer than you would have liked, far too many periods of disillusionment have occurred, and the mistakes made in the past should not be simply forgotten. But the indications from the summer and the start of this season suggest Charlton are no longer a relatively meaningless cog existing in an experiment for the benefit of one individual, but a fully functioning football club who can share the ambitions of any club in this division.
Even if Duchatelet’s first thought is to gain financially, the players signed, and the players kept, suggest it will not be at the expense of the Addicks on the field.
The club, despite the similarities between the two periods, in a stronger position than it was 12 months ago. While I would suggest the fact there are several stronger teams in the division makes promotion tough, you can certainly have the belief that will be challenging for a top six place, even if it’s an ultimately failed bid, throughout the season.
But while drawing on similarities between this season and last should be done with tongue firmly in cheek, there are still lessons to be learned from the events that followed Charlton’s impressive start.
There were many faults that contributed to the implosion and subsequent crisis that occurred in the previous campaign, but the catalyst for them all was the failure to have enough numbers in the squad, and the failure to strengthen when the need was desperately there.
For some, a lack of genuine competition allowed compliance to slip in. Character possibly a contribution too, but it’s hard to imagine Ben Haim, Andre Bikey and Buyens would have performed so poorly without genuine challengers to their place in the starting line-up. Roger Johnson and Christophe Lepoint brought in too late, and not the answers to the problems anyway.
For others, their performances dropped as a result of tiredness and playing through injury. Igor Vetokele’s body broken, having been forced to play when evidently not fit enough.
And for Peeters, the resources available to him meant he was always going to struggle. His sacking less an indication that he had got it wrong, and a more showing of the club’s failure to support him adequately. The resources available to him not enough.
So, with no attempt to take anything away from one of the most brilliant days spent at The Valley in recent years, it was extremely worrying to see the state of the starting XI and the bench were left in after just a few injuries.
In very crude terms, the Addicks began with a centre-mid at right-back, a centre-mid at centre-back, a left-back on the left wing, and a winger as a striker. Thankfully, Jordan Cousins would do a job in goal if you asked him to, Alou Diarra has proved himself to be solid at the back, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson was soon moved to a more natural position. Only Zakarya Bergdich struggled.
The bench resembled the crèche it had done at times under Peeters. Callum Harriott and Regan Charles-Cook struggling somewhat after their forced introductions.
Of course, you can look at that positively. Charlton able to win with a weakened squad, the talent in the academy getting a chance, and performances will only get better once the likes of Stephen Henderson, Chris Solly and Tony Watt return.
But as we saw last season, injuries will always occur, and winning games with weakened squads doesn’t happen every week. In fact, it might not have happened yesterday with the Addicks genuinely struggling during the period before and just after Hull’s equaliser. A shared moment of quality from Makienok and Gudmundsson the difference.
As such, if we are to avoid the implosion of last season, then the steps that weren’t taken then must be taken as early as possible in this. Especially with Cristian Ceballos and El Hadji-Ba also picking up injuries yesterday.
The squad, for all the quality it contains, remains low on numbers for one with ambitions to challenge for a play-off spot. No second choice right-back, no fourth centre-back, and the alternative options out wide weak. So too would you like another forward.
And this squad appears particularly small for one that features a number of players who have not experienced the demands of football over the Christmas period. That was the time when the Addicks seriously struggled last season, and there will undoubtedly be a need to rotate.
For all Luzon’s ability as a boss, having to rotate a small squad, and call upon young players who aren’t quite ready, would be an incredibly tough ask. Even a capitulation in the winter half as dramatic as the one suffered last season would make a top six finish almost impossible.
As such, in this final week of the window, signings must be made. It seems almost greedy to demand more given the recruits made so far this summer, but you can certainly justify wanting further additions in the context of last season’s collapse.
So too must Duchatelet not ignore the loan window when it does open. The constant suggestion that there is not enough quality available in that period, while clubs of similar size in the Championship were making decent temporary signings and we had added Francis Coquelin, last October and November was incredibly frustrating. Waiting on an injury crisis to pass over, and not utilising the loan market, would once again be naïve.
A balance is still required. Packing the squad full of players who won’t get a game most weeks is not healthy for the togetherness of the group or the likelihood of getting a decent performance out of the player when he does finally play. Lawrie Wilson evidence of that.
But, at this moment in time, it is too far the other way. In truth, the squad is only three or four decent additions away from having serious strength in depth, but that was the situation throughout last season. So close, but never addressed.
To fill the ambitions that are now seemingly held by the club, the same mistake of hoping a slightly small squad will cope cannot be made. Given the mistakes Duchatelet has already seemingly learned from, you would expect that to happen.