As Charlton Athletic stormed to the League One title in the 2011/12 season, several opponents were informed they would be facing the Addicks for the final time.
The “we’ll never play you again” chant was, of course, tongue in cheek. Directed at those clubs they were leaving behind in League One, but more reflective of the feeling that Charlton were about to move into a position from which the third tier would never again be entered. That winning the league with 101 points was just the start of something special.
Alas, four seasons on, and legitimate hope of rapid progression has been replaced by fear of total implosion.
A newly appointed interim head coach, unqualified for the job and insulting supporters with his most-match comments, taking the winless run to an eleventh game, the Addicks dropping to 23rd in the Championship table, and many made too apathetic by Roland Duchatelet’s ownership of the club to care. The situation bleak.
In fact, one of the clubs that were told they wouldn’t be playing Charlton again, the opponents on Tuesday, appear better placed to avoid a return to League One. MK Dons only three places and a point above the Addicks, and their form as poor, but the atmosphere at Stadium:MK far superior.
Irrespective of their controversial birth, they do not feel poisoned by the actions of their owner. Regardless of the fact they have lost their previous three, the mentality among a squad, that you would suggest is weaker on paper, is much stronger. Their boss, though yet to prove himself completely at Championship level, one with far greater understanding of the English game than Charlton’s.
And it is the Dons, in what is effectively the must-win scenario of Tuesday night at Stadium:MK, that appear better placed to record victory than the Addicks. Karel Fraeye’s side have some extremely justified doubters to prove wrong.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 MILTON KEYNES DONS
Dons defender Gary MacKenzie’s stupidity, opting to pick a fight with Yann Kermorgant, proved the catalyst for Charlton’s victory at The Valley in February 2014.
After a first half lacking action, MacKenzie clashed with Kermorgant off the ball, resulting in a red card for the Scot, a look of bemusement from the Frenchman, and a penalty for the Addicks. The spot-kick coolly dispatched by Johnnie Jackson.
And the skipper had another opportunity from the spot before the break, with Alan Smith haling him down as he broke into the box. Jackson again converting in composed fashion.
The deficit was reduced late on, with Dean Bowditch lashing in from a tight angle with three minutes to play, but Chris Powell’s side held on for a victory their efforts deserved.
MK Dons: LLLWDL
Just one victory, though a convincing three goal one against Blackburn Rovers, since August suggests it may be time to start to panic at Stadium:MK. Karl Robinson’s side, having enjoyed a promising first month of the season, have endured a relatively torrid two since.
In fact, the Dons go into Tuesday’s game on the back of three consecutive to-nil defeats. Huddersfield and Hull scoring twice, either side of a 3-0 defeat away at QPR.
But supporters of Robinson’s side, who must surely have been aware that their first season in the Championship since their controversial birth was always going to be something of a struggle, will take some solace from the fact that they are largely competing, and not simply capitulating irrespective of the scorelines in recent weeks.
Encouraging, too, particularly with Tuesday night in mind, is the fact that the Milton Keynes club, while struggling against the division’s best sides, have picked up points against those around them. Their league wins this season coming against Rotherham and Bolton, in addition to Blackburn.
No wins, and nine defeats, in 11. No goals scored in four. One shot on target managed in three of the previous four games. Three consecutive 3-0 defeats. The worst goal difference (-13) in the division. No player with more than two goals to his name in the league.
An ‘interim’ head coach plucked from the third division of Belgian football, whose naïve, if not insulting, post-match comments following the loss at Middlesbrough on Saturday have only increased the tension between himself and supporters. A CEO silent for the longest period since she’s been in the position, probably because she can no longer justify that her job at Charlton has been nothing but successful. An owner, as ever, nowhere to be seen, and whose stubbornness is inviting anger, disillusionment and protest.
A squad playing without confidence, fight or determination. The resilience seen at Boro, keeping the hosts at bay until the hour, followed by a predictable capitulation. The squad, though containing some talented players, lacking the mental toughness to deal with adversity.
Poisonous atmospheres, a destructive ownership, and a complete lack of belief in the side. All while the Addicks are 23rd in the Championship, when a play-off push was promised.
It’s all going superbly.
Dons will be without Kyle McFadzean after the previously ever-present defender picked up his fifth yellow card of the season during the defeat to Hull on Saturday.
And with Joe Walsh and Matthew Upson both long-term absentees, Robinson has a shortage of defensive options. Lee Hodson could come into the side at right-back, with Jordan Spence moving into the centre.
Robinson also has absentees in midfield, with Ben Reeves, Dale Jennings and Mark Randall all expected to miss the game through injury.
But two former Addicks could play a part at Stadium:MK on Tuesday, with Diego Poyet impressing for the Dons since arriving on loan from West Ham, and Simon Church playing a part in 13 of his new side’s 14 league games this season.
Fraeye, once he has taken off his rose-tinted glasses and realised his side were thoroughly outclassed, will surely make at least a handful of changes from the side that were beaten by Boro on Saturday.
The most likely is a return for Tony Watt, who could come in for El-Hadji Ba if the Addicks are to go two up top, while a natural winger, such as Franck Moussa or Conor McAleny, may come in ahead of Karlan Ahearne-Grant to improve the balance of the side.
But, with such a small squad and Igor Vetokele, Cristian Ceballos and Ahmed Kashi still out, wholesale changes are effectively impossible.
KEY BATTLE: MAKING THE MOST OF POSSESSION
According to whoscored.com, no club in the Championship has better average possession this season than MK Dons’ 57.3% per game. Even against the stronger sides in the division, Robinson’s side retain the ball very well.
And given that the Addicks managed just 27.9% against Boro on Saturday, it’s reasonable to suggest that the visitors won’t be seeing an overwhelming amount of the ball at Stadium:MK on Tuesday evening.
It’s also probably asking a little too much of this confidence-depleted group to press with intensity for 90 minutes. Holding some sort of shape a more realistic request, and then making the most of possession once the ball has been claimed.
Too often have Charlton been far too tentative in previous weeks, without the self-belief to get at sides and test them. It almost worked in the opening minutes against Brentford, but they’ve been lethargic and without threat otherwise.
Especially with Dons lacking a little at the back, it’s absolutely vital that Fraeye’s side show a bit of intent once they’ve gained possession, and play in that counter-attacking style that worked so well under Guy Luzon at the back end of last season. Time for Johann Berg Gudmundsson and co. to shine again.
A game that must be won, and one that should be won. But a lack of confidence in this side means it’s hard not to predict failure. Milton Keynes Dons 1-0 Charlton Athletic