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Fox No Longer Trapped in the Headlights

It was two games in quick succession against Blackburn Rovers that saw many Charlton Athletic supporters decide that Morgan Fox was out of his depth.

Those who had made such a call argued it was not a rash one. A catalogue of errors was attached to the young full-back, filling the void left by the injured Rhoys Wiggins. Pacey and strong Championship wingers giving him a hard time, his composure questionable, and his ability going forward uncomfortable and awkward.

But it was the games in December and January against Rovers that were seemingly decisive.

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Fox not the worst performer as the Addicks capitulated at Ewood Park, but his substitution after half an hour a reflection of his struggles. Almost every forward pass intercepted or sliced out of play, while Ben Marshall run him ragged.

And while he dealt with Blackburn’s wide threat well enough for the majority of the FA Cup tie at The Valley, two mistakes proved costly. Chris Taylor able to easily rise above Fox to head the visitors in front, and the same man putting his side back ahead when he wondered free of the left-back.

Supporters begged for the club to sign another full-back, and Twitter rumours that he was being chased by Ipswich Town were met, by some, with delight. His place in the side seemingly only maintained owing to Wiggins’ injury struggles.

So that the 21-year-old has been called up to the senior Wales squad shows an incredible turnaround in less than 12 months. A call up his efforts warrant.

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For the Welshman, born in Essex to a Welsh father, has made an incredibly impressive start to the season. So impressive that his call up has been followed by the suggestion that he will be offered a new contract by the Addicks, just eight months after some supporters were hopeful he would be dispatched with.

Of course, some luck, and misfortune for others, has been involved in Fox’s rise. His first opportunities, when he seemed like a gold fish in a pool of sharks, handed to him through a combination of injury and a lack of first team squad depth.

But hard work and genuine development has seen the academy graduate become a footballer worthy of international attention, and make the left-back spot at Charlton undoubtedly his own.

Those first few appearances, his debut made on that incredible FA Cup night at Hillsborough in February 2014, could be viewed in two ways.

The first, in a certain context, is with some degree of positivity. Evidently pushed into the starting XI when he was not quite ready, the full-back showed great character to do is job, although with some awkwardness, without imploding.

In addition, when things did go wrong, there was a response. The comeback in the league game against Sheffield Wednesday towards the end of 2013/14 as much about Fox, directed and inspired superbly by Johnnie Jackson, and the defensive unit regrouping as it was about Callum Harriott and Marvin Sordell remembering how to play football.

The academy graduates were superb

But so too could you understand why some were only criticising his performances. A lot of it was attached to his nightmarish first start of the season against Fulham during the last campaign, with any slight individual error picked up upon and scrutinised, but there were elements of his general play that, admittedly, were worrying.

While, although awkward and faults exposed by the division’s better wingers, there was always a decent amount of defensive resilience, it was his composure on the ball that was most disappointing.

Little was offered going forward, too long taken to move the ball on, and possession gifted back to the opposition regularly. Defensive mistakes frequently following. Composure completely lacking.

So maybe his goal, not normally something you use to judge a full-back, on the opening day of the season against QPR is the biggest sign of his new found solid composure. A touch taken, the resulting strike hit from a solid pace, and superbly drilled into the bottom corner. Fox maturing dramatically.

This hasn’t just been a change that has occurred in the first few weeks of this season, though. His rise began after those poor afternoons against Blackburn.

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There was a visible improvement in each game he played. His resoluteness improved by a greater reading of the game, greater positioning, and strong defensive technique. His forward play, in partnership with the rejuvenated Frederic Bulot down the left, stronger thanks to an increase in confidence and composure, growing ability with the ball at his feet, and a cross that kept getting better.

In fact, his efforts were vital in Charlton’s run of seven wins from nine under Guy Luzon. Particularly in two of the more impressive victories, against Huddersfield Town and Nottingham Forest, it was Fox who stood out.

And they have been the standards that Fox now repeats again and again. Some of the best wingers in this division, including Matt Phillips, Tom Ince and Ahmed Elmohamady, silenced by the full-back, and his stunning delivery should have been finished by Simon Makienok to cap off a superb display at the City Ground by the young Welshman.

He now leads attacks, both having won the ball for himself and having been played in. The Addicks not afraid to pick him out with a cross-field pass, with his much improved touch taking the ball in, and create an attack through him bombing down the wing with confidence and penetration.

In less than 12 months, he’s grown from an uncomfortable defensive full-back into a competent, composed and threatening wing-back. Immense development in such a short space of time, and immense character required to move on from his indifferent start and make the left-back spot his own.

Such is the improvement, that there would be a great sadness and worry if clubs were linked to him now.

But there is a place I want Fox to go this summer. And that is with Wales to France for Euro 2016. If his form continues as it should, there is no reason why he shouldn’t.

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