The celebrations that followed Jordan Cousins’ dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Fulham prior to the international break were momentous. Not only an expression of joy, as the Addicks stole a point which looked unlikely 15 minutes previously, but amidst the first pumps was a feeling that this was a turning point.
The Charlton seen in the first month of the season, the one able to outplay or at least the match the best sides in the division, would now return, with the Johnnie Jackson-inspired spirit shown in the closing stages of the clash with the Cottagers putting an end to the lifeless efforts in defeat that had been seen in prior weeks.
An immediate solution to all the issues seen in a winless run that currently stands at seven games. Obviously.
But it is, of course, not so simple. The Fulham fightback, impressive though it was, merely laying a base from which Guy Luzon’s side’s chances of returning to their early season form is increased. From which they could possibly have the confidence and self-belief to go toe-to-toe with the division’s inform side.
So maybe having to travel to Reading, an intimidating prospect given the fact they’ve gained 15 points from a period in which the Addicks added just two, is the ideal fixture. A game that will only be profitable if the character, determination and overall performance seen in the last few minutes against Fulham is repeated.
It could, however, be the worst possible sort of challenge to follow when momentum and confidence has been gained, but not secured. Charlton back to square one if Steve Clarke’s side outplay them at the Madjeski.
Either way, much will be asked of Luzon’s men in Berkshire on Saturday.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-2 READING
In something of a shock, a post-October 2014 Yoni Buyens impersonated a competent footballer, scoring twice as the Addicks came from behind to beat the Royals in March.
It was a comeback that appeared unlikely at half-time, with Charlton, in the middle of their run of seven wins from nine under Luzon, unusually sluggish. Reading taking advantage just before the break, with Pavel Pogrebnyak finishing smartly.
But Luzon’s side responded superbly after the interval, irrespective of the fact their route back into the game was gifted to them a little generously. A harsh handball against Michael Hector, allowing Buyens to convert from the spot.
The resurgent Addicks got the lead they had long deserved when Bueyns, uncharacteristically composed in his overall play, turned in Joe Gomez’s cross with his knee, before Simon Church, against his former club, added a third after superb work from Tony Watt.
And the Welshman’s goal, seemingly a bonus at the time, proved match-winning, with Pogrebnyak scoring in stoppage time to set up a nervy finish.
Charlton, however, just about held on for a win their second half efforts meant they deserved.
Few were anticipating the Royals, having performed sluggishly last season, to be challenging for a top six finish during this campaign in the weeks before it began.
Their squad too small, the sort of quality needed to be a force seemingly lacking, and doubts still existing over Clarke’s ability as a manager in his own right, irrespective of his obvious credentials as a coach.
But some eyebrow-raising additions prior to the closing of the transfer window, not least the loan signings of Matej Vydra, Lucas Piazon and Ola John, gave an indication that the Royals were going to be a force.
And anyone who saw their decimation of Ipswich Town in front of the Sky cameras will know that Clarke’s side have the potential to be up there with the division’s best come the end of the season.
Since then, fellow promotion hopefuls Burnley and Middlesbrough, who had won five in a row going into the game, have been beaten, and the Royals do not look like a side hovering in a false league position.
It’s just a shame they’ve ruined it all with that awful club song, really…
Regardless of whether the late comeback against Fulham was the first sign of a revival or merely temporarily papering over some rather large cracks, there remains displeasure with the way the Addicks performed in the period between the first and second international break.
Defensively, goals were given away too easily. In possession, Charlton were far too slow and predictable. Going forward, there was minimal cutting edge. Overall, Luzon’s side were disappointingly lethargic after such a bright start.
And it is in this period, from now until the third international break, that we will discover who the ‘real’ Charlton are. The high intensity, high energy and brutal on the counter side that was seen in August, or the half-hearted rabble that played out September and the start of August.
Something more needed over the next few weeks. Especially away from home, with the Addicks still looking for their first league win on the road this season.
Reading will be without Welsh talisman Hal Robson-Kanu after the forward picked up an ankle injury while playing for his country against Andorra on Monday.
Robson-Kanu, who has also impressed for his club this season, required crutches and a protective boot in order to join with the celebrations that followed Wales’ qualification, and Dutchman Ola John could come into replace him.
Another potential victim of the international break is Danny Williams, who played in the USA’s defeat to Costa Rica late on Tuesday night UK time.
The midfielder, who wasn’t able to start for the Royals after the previous international break, could again be kept in reserve to allow him to recover from his energy-sapping travels. A possible blow for Clarke, especially after the American scored against Middlesbrough.
But Vydra, a potent scorer at Championship level, could return after a knee injury.
Charlton will continue to be without Simon Makienok, who has failed to recover from his injury in time to travel to the Madjeski on Saturday.
And so too is the game against Reading likely to come too soon for goalkeeper Stephen Henderson, who won’t be rushed back into the starting XI after his shoulder injury, while Igor Vetokele and Cristian Ceballos remain absent.
But Ahmed Kashi, who missed the draw with Fulham with a knock, could be available. The midfielder will be competing with Johnnie Jackson for a place in the side, who arguably deserves a start after his role in the comeback against the Cottagers.
KEY BATTLE – MAKING LIFE TOUGH FOR READING’S IMPRESSIVE FORWARDS
In the previous six league games, Reading have scored 14 times. Three times more than the Addicks all season.
The statistics impressive, but so too the manner in which the Royals have scored their goals. Robson-Kanu a loss, but Orlando Sa has led the line superbly, and Nick Blackman, having scored on seven occasions this season, has been one of the best performing players in the division.
As such, Charlton have a task on their hands to keep a ruthless and rampant Reading side at bay. Individual and collective defensive resilience required.
But, beyond the first month of the season, consistent defensive resolve has been lacking. Mistakes costing the Addicks on far too many occasions, with easily avoidable goals conceded and confidence dropping like a stone.
In theory, however, the first choice backline, led by the outstanding Patrick Bauer, remains a strong one. Momentary lapses, and not necessarily monumental catastrophes, the issue.
A performance, therefore, similar to the one seen against Derby, where attack after attack was superbly halted by a resilient back four, needed if Charlton are to take anything from Saturday’s game.
Given Reading’s impressive start to the season, and the two winnable fixtures at The Valley in the following week, this is something of a bonus game. I would settle for a defeat that didn’t dramatically damage confidence. Reading 2-1 Charlton Athletic