It feels fitting that, for the second time in four seasons, Charlton Athletic and Brighton and Hove Albion will meet on December 5. A date with a special meaning to the Addicks, which is understood by supporters of the Seagulls.
For Saturday will be the anniversary of Charlton’s return to The Valley. Twenty-three years since more than seven years of tireless work and campaigning were rewarded with the Addicks once again playing in SE7. Colin Walsh’s goal giving the hosts on a 1-0 win over Portsmouth on their first game at their spiritual home since 1985.
Brighton fans able to appreciate the emotion of such an event given their own period of homelessness. Councils fought and obstacles overcome in order to move into their wonderful AMEX Stadium in 2011, following 14 years in the wilderness.
And given the similar issues these two clubs have faced in their recent history, the chasm that exists between them is even more frustrating from a Charlton perspective.
The Seagulls not a perfectly run club, shown this week with a loss of £10.4m revealed, but one that the Addicks can be envious of. Owner Tony Bloom a supporter, who invests wisely, provides adequate financial support to his manager, and covers the club’s losses. Chris Hughton, who Bloom decided to be patient with, and his side sit top of the Championship, having yet to suffer defeat.
The Addicks a shambles, with the disillusionment, detachment and anger caused by the actions of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire forcing supporters to protest in a manner they have not done since a return to The Valley was at stake. Karel Fraeye, an interim head coach appointed despite being underqualified for the job, leading a weak squad through a relegation struggle.
While Brighton have downed their placards in favour of fist-pumps of celebration, Charlton are cleaning the dust off of theirs. Home supporters likely to be cheering come full-time at the Amex, while the visitors call for their owner and CEO to depart.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION
Rohan Ince’s second-half header was enough to inflict defeat on a lacklustre Charlton, and end Bob Peeters’ reign as boss of the Addicks following a run of nine winless games.
Charlton, playing without confidence or energy, rarely threatened, and allowed a struggling Brighton side to play in a slightly more composed fashion. The Seagulls on top in a dire game of football.
And though the Addicks came close at the start of the second half, with Chris Solly’s effort cannoning back off the bar, a lead would have been undeserved.
Ince’s goal, heading in at the far post after Neil Etheridge had come off his line and failed to intercept Solly March’s delivery far more fitting of their efforts. Not enough shown from Peeters’ side, or Peeters himself, in response to going behind in order for the Addicks to take anything from the game.
Suggesting a team has an ability to grind out results is often something of a back-handed compliment given to an underdog, fighting heroically to somehow gain points from games that logic suggests they should surely lose.
But in the case of Brighton, their ability to grind out results has been admired without any sense of patronisation. Saturday’s 2-1 win over Birmingham their tenth victory of the Championship season, and their tenth by a single goal. A result of a well-organised side, offering a potent threat on the break.
It was also their 19th league game without defeat, 18 of which have come this season. A record-breaking run, that has left the Seagulls top of the division.
It’s a position that few predicted Hughton’s side to occupy. Improvement certainly expected on last season’s 20th place, particularly given the quality recruited during the transfer window, but not to this extent.
Though few are getting carried away on the South Coast, with the draws that have been played out in seven of their last eleven games keeping feet firmly on the ground, there can be no denying that Brighton have shown a stubborn quality that will make them a constant figure in the promotion picture through what remains of the season.
Two back-to-back victories, one of quality and one of character, suggested the Addicks had discovered some sort of backbone. But the manner of the defeat to Ipswich Town last weekend indicates any hope felt was both premature and misguided.
For the performance given in the 3-0 loss, the third by that scoreline in the previous four home games, lacked quality, cohesion and energy. This the side seen in the 12-game winless run, and the one that feels more reflective of the ‘real’ Charlton.
The Tractor Boys clinically capitalising on the Addicks’ defensive woes, and easily holding off a forward line lead poorly by Simon Makienok. Fight not seen until the final few ten minutes, by which point it felt little more than a token gesture.
The inability to deal with moments of adversity, with those that make up this Charlton side cowering as appose to fighting back, extremely worrying especially in the context of the relegation battle the Addicks are in.
Brighton are likely to be without Liam Rosenior after the full-back was hauled off 27 minutes into last weekend’s win over Birmingham through injury.
Rosenior was replaced by Inigo Calderon for the remainder of the game against the Blues and, with Gaetan Bong still in the treatment room, the Spaniard will fill in at left-back should the former Hull man be absent.
James Wilson, having made his debut off the bench on Saturday after joining on loan from Manchester United, could also come into the side, but he’ll do well to dislodge Bobby Zamora from the side, who scored the winner on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Brighton’s midfield will include former Addick Dale Stephens. The well-respected figure, who was a consistent performer during his time in SE7 and a part of the 2011/12 title-winning squad, has been in impressive form for the Seagulls.
Charlton are likely to be without Johnnie Jackson after the influential skipper was forced off with a hamstring injury in the opening moments of the defeat to Ipswich.
Though the severity of Jackson’s injury is not as bad as first feared, and there is hope he’ll be back relatively quickly, it takes little away from how damaging his absence is to a fragile side. His leadership desperately needed, with youth and inexperience preventing others from steeping into his shoes.
Either Stephen Henderson, as he did on Saturday, or Solly will take temporary possession of the armband. The latter likely to come into the side in place of Morgan Fox, allowing Tareiq Holmes-Dennis to start at left-back.
Elsewhere, having made an impression off the bench last weekend, Ricardo Vaz Te could make his first start for the Addicks having joined the club during the previous international break. The forward may replace Makienok, who struggled against the Tractor Boys.
KEY BATTLE – SHOWING SOME FIGHT WITHOUT THE SKIPPER
From the moment Jackson was forced off last weekend, the crushing defeat to Ipswich that followed was almost inevitable.
The captain the incredibly strong glue that has been able to hold this side together in recent weeks. His leadership crucial, his overall play composed in a time of panic, and his goals the catalyst for victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham.
Without him, the Addicks had no shape, no structure, and no fight as the Tractor Boys tore through them. The side seemingly lost without his influence.
Something they can ill-afford to be this weekend, against an incredibly strong Brighton side that will pounce on any flaw. Structure, shape and fight all required to fend off the Seagulls.
The particular worry coming across the middle, with Beram Kayal and Stephens likely to dictate, while Solly March and Jamie Murphy provide creativity down either flank. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t dominate, and so some sort of resilience will be required.
Pressure is on Jordan Cousins, underperforming of late, to step up, Alou Diarra’s experience and composure will be vital, while Solly and Holmes-Dennis must be tireless in their work to stop the wide threat.
You fear Brighton might win a game by more than just a single goal. A grim afternoon on the south coast. Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 Charlton Athletic