There is a game of football being played at The Valley on Saturday. An important one, with both sides having reason to feel at least some degree of concern about their Championship status.
But for supporters of Charlton Athletic and Leeds United, the importance of what occurs on the pitch has decreased considerably in recent weeks. Their main focus no longer the points their sides collate, but the points they can make from the stands.
For positive results only provide temporary relief from the disillusionment, anger and confusion that has been caused by the way both clubs are being run. Results almost meaningless to those who have been left apathetic by owners mistreating fans through their words and actions.
Charlton supporters increasingly angered by the arrogance and ignorance of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire as an underqualified interim head coach continues to lead a side put together by a flawed recruitment strategy. Defeats inflicted in front of an almost empty Valley, as those that do turn up express their anger and frustration.
Those of a Leeds persuasion, having to endure barely believable chaos and crisis for more than ten years, finding new cause to be outraged by Massimo Cellino’s regime with each passing week. The so called ‘pie tax’ – an increase in the price of tickets justified with an attached food voucher – the latest in a long line of decisions that have damaged the connection with between supporters and club.
So while both Charlton and Leeds will want to claim all three points this weekend, for neither will wish to return to the third tier, victory for either side will have very little impact on overall supporter happiness. Change needed at both clubs – something that will undoubtedly be called for from all directions throughout the 90 minutes at The Valley.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 LEEDS UNITED
A late turnaround saw the Addicks come from a goal behind to win at The Valley in April. A victory that would ultimately be their final three points of the season.
Despite the chaos of six Leeds players withdrawing from the matchday squad in bizarre circumstances and a run of four consecutive defeats, it was the visitors who offered the greatest threat throughout the first half.
And they should have punished Charlton’s sluggish, end-of-season effort with 37 minutes played after Tal Ben Haim, in time-honoured tradition, clumsily brought down Sam Byram inside the box. The resulting Billy Sharp penalty, however, was wonderfully saved by Stephen Henderson.
But Neil Redfearn’s side were still able to go into the break with an advantage. Steve Morison, a regular scorer against the Addicks if no one else, volleying in from a corner on the stroke of half-time.
The Whites, however, could not offer the same intensity after the interval, and Guy Luzon’s side began to grow back into the contest. Their reward coming with 15 minutes to play, as Tony Watt superbly volleyed in Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s delivery.
And there was to be further joy for the home supporters, as stand-in goalkeeper Stuart Taylor brought down Igor Vetokele five minutes late, and a penalty was awarded. Yoni Buyens predictably converting from the spot to complete a swift turnaround.
Given all the chaos that exists at Elland Road, it is undoubtedly welcome that the league table no provides immediate fear. Saturday’s 2-1 win over Hull City lifting the Whites six points clear of the bottom three.
Steve Evans’ side, unlike the Addicks, able to hold onto a two goal advantage at the break despite second half pressure from the Tigers. Chris Wood and Tom Adeyemi enough for the hosts, as Hull failed to add to Ahmed Elmoamady’s second half header.
But results remain less than convincing, both throughout the campaign and since Evans replaced Uwe Rosler midway through October. The Hull victory only Leeds’ second at Elland Road this season, and coming after defeats against QPR and Rotherham United.
Without taking into account every bit of context, Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at the AMEX could potentially be seen as a heroic effort in defeat.
An early two goal advantage secured with unstoppable counter-attacking football at the home of an unbeaten Brighton side, which might well have been added to before half-time. Instead, the Albion responded after the break. James Wilson’s goal giving them momentum, and Patrick Bauer’s sending off leaving the Addicks in an incredibly unstable position.
Nonetheless, the ten men of Charlton were so close to coming away from the South Coast with all three points, ultimately caving in in the game’s final ten minutes. Bobby Zamora and Tomer Hemed stealing all three points for the hosts.
But such a view is misguided. Instead, the capitulation highlighted three of the key faults with this Charlton side.
The first a lack of depth, with options on the bench unable to contribute positively to the bid to maintain an advantage. The second the interim head coach’s weaknesses, with his tactical changes only weakening the Addicks. The third the weak mentality of this side, as it once again failed to stand up in a time of adversity.
Positives can certainly be taken from the fearless counter attacking football seen in the first half, but it means very little when this side is so weak when placed under any sort of pressure.
Leeds will welcome back Gaetano Berardi after the full-back served his two match ban, punishment for a clash with Leon Best during the defeat to Rotherham.
And Evans will also be able to call upon Tommaso Bianchi, who featured for the U21 side in midweek having recovered following knee surgery.
But the game against the Addicks will come too soon for Sol Bamba, despite having trained all week. The captain has been out for a month with a toe injury, and will have to wait for the midweek game against Wolves to make his return.
Charlton will welcome back Johnnie Jackson following the inspirational captain’s recovery from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the defeat to Brighton.
And there’s more good news for the Addicks, with Gudmundsson and Harry Lennon, having suffered injuries on the South Coast, both set to be fit for Saturday’s game.
But the Addicks appear desperately weak at the back, with Patrick Bauer, following his second sending-off of the season last weekend, absent through suspension. Youngster Lennon likely to start alongside the struggling Naby Sarr.
KEY BATTLE – DEFENSIVE RESOLVE TO COMPLEMENT ATTACKING FLAIR
Ricardo Vaz Te’s link-up play excellent. Reza Ghoochannejhad’s movement clever, supported by both drive and pace. Ademola Lookman, at just 18, sensational.
The attacking play seen during the first half at the AMEX on Saturday was such a thrill that it can be argued it was Charlton’s best 45 minutes of season. Certainly the most enjoyable, as they constantly threatened on the break against a strong Brighton side.
But that was ultimately eclipsed by the unravelling in the second half. An unravelling partially instigated by the Seagulls growing into their stride and discovering a degree of attacking threat, but so too Charlton’s inability to defend with resolve and composure.
In fact, were it not for Brighton’s continual overplaying of the ball and important interventions from Stephen Henderson, the Addicks would have lost their lead much sooner than the 83rd minute. The defence catastrophic without Bauer’s presence, as Sarr racked up individual mistake after individual mistake.
And with Charlton’s backline looking particularly weak on Saturday, you fear any sort of attacking threat the Addicks possess will ultimately be undone by defensive incompetence.
That particularly true with Leeds’ forward line led by Chris Wood. The sort of experienced Championship striker that Sarr has struggled against when given an opportunity this season.
As such, there is a lot of pressure on Sarr, supported by the inexperienced Lennon or possibly the normally reliable Alou Diarra, to provide something resembling defensive resolve. If not, the Addicks will simply be torn apart in the manner they were beyond the break at the AMEX.
It’s hard to feel confident with such a weak defensive line, in addition to all the other faults with this Charlton side. Charlton Athletic 1-2 Leeds United