It seems irrational to suggest a game in the second month of the season qualifies as being a must win. There will still be 37 games to play after Saturday’s trip to the Cardiff City Stadium, and losing out on or gaining three points will not be decisive.
But there is no shying away from the pressure that Guy Luzon’s side are under to get a positive result this weekend.
For not only do the Addicks head to Wales without a win in five competitive games, but also on the back of Luzon effectively admitting this league fixture was a bigger priority to him than Wednesday’s derby defeat to Crystal Palace.
Key members of the squad were rested, for fear they would suffer injury. A weakened starting XI outclassed by Palace, which will prove even more infuriating should Luzon not receive any reward for putting all his eggs in one basket.
So too, however, will the Bluebirds be desperate to return to winning ways. An impressive start to the season tainted by two successive defeats.
A challenging task for Charlton, therefore, but one that the last week has made one that must be passed.
LAST MEETING – CARDIFF CITY 1-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
The introduction of an unlikely hero helped the Addicks snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium in March.
Charlton, in the midst of their run of seven wins from nine, looked set for a deserved loss when Federico Macheda punished the sluggish visitors and tapped in from Kenwyne Jones’ nod across the face of goal.
But their performance dramatically improved after Simon Church was brought on by Luzon. The equaliser coming immediately after, as Tony Watt peeled off his man inside the box and finished coolly from Chris Eagles’ low cross.
And the Welsh forward had a direct impact in the winning goal on the ground where he plays most of his international football. Church bombing into the box, and winning a penalty as Sean Morrison hauled him down.
Yoni Buyens, in typically composed fashion, finishing from the spot with three minutes to play to give the Addicks a dramatic victory that looked unlikely 15 minutes previously.
Written off before the season began, with boss Russell Slade not considered good enough job, sitting in eighth place of the embryonic Championship table constitutes an excellent start to the campaign for the Bluebirds.
But their two most recent results have knocked confidence somewhat. There no shame in a six game unbeaten start being ended by Hull, but that it was followed by a defeat to Rotherham, the first club this season to suffer such fate against the Millers, is extremely disappointing.
As such, a response when Charlton visit Wales on Saturday is demanded. For another defeat and it will not be long for the voices who doubt Slade’s credentials return.
As Johann Berg Gudmundsson bundled in Charlton’s 98th minute winner against Hull, it seemed as if Luzon’s side were near enough invincible.
But since then, just one win, a 4-1 victory over a tame Peterborough side, has followed. The Addicks winless in five, losing four in pretty tame fashion.
The defensive resilience that was at the heart of the unbeaten start to the season replaced by a tendency to concede avoidable goals. Attack threat replaced by indecisiveness. Luzon’s unquestionable decision making replaced by, well, questionable decision making.
None less so than his call to rest the key members of his squad for Wednesday’s League Cup tie with Crystal Palace. The head coach evidently not fully aware of the importance of the clash to supporters, and a tame effort in defeat following accordingly.
A response desperately required.
Simon Moore is set to start in goal for the Bluebirds, with first choice stopper David Marshall suspended for the next two games.
The club appealed the red card Marshall received for striking Matt Derbyshire during Saturday’s defeat to Rotherham, but only succeeded in knocking a game off his ban.
Changes, although otherwise not enforced, are also expected elsewhere, with Bruno Ecuele Manga, Aron Gunnarsson and Jones spending a great deal of time on the bench in recent weeks.
Charlton will be without Simon Makienok for the trip to Wales, with the striker still yet to recover from the injury that has kept him out of the last two games.
And there are also doubts about the availability of Igor Vetokele, who was left out of the squad for Tuesday’s defeat to Crystal Palace altogether amid rumours that Bolton Wanderers want to sign the forward on loan.
It leaves Luzon without much to choose from in attack, with Tony Watt likely to come back into the side, and Conor McAleny set for his first league start.
He will also be without his key man in defence, with Alou Diarra suspended following his red card in the League Cup loss at Selhurst Park. Patrick Bauer likely to come back into the side to replace him.
KEY BATTLE: PREVENTING SOFT GOALS
At the centre of Charlton’s impressive start to the season, while the likes of Watt and Gudmundsson were important, was an almost faultless effort from the backline.
Chris Solly his consistently brilliant self, Alou Diarra and Bauer forming a formidable centre-back partnership, and Morgan Fox proving to those who questioned his ability that he’s good enough for the Championship.
But, since the defeat to Wolves, with two preventable goals conceded, the Addicks have been gifting the opposition the softest of goals.
No one awake to defend the corner against Rotherham, Huddersfield’s opener incredibly soft, and all three conceded against Blackburn the result of poor defending. That’s without even mentioning Diarra’s clumsy efforts at Selhurst.
As such, for Charlton to get back to winning ways, it’s vital that they rediscover the defensive resilience shown in the first few weeks of the campaign.
A task made harder without Diarra, and the unconvincing Sarr playing in his place, but the Addicks must keep it tight at the back and build a solid foundation from which they can look to steal all three points at the Cardiff City Stadium.
It’s hard to be confident on the basis of recent performances, but I do expect Luzon’s side to be motivated for this one. While that might not be enough for victory, it should be enough to avoid embarrassment. Cardiff City 1-1 Charlton Athletic.