For the second successive fixture, Charlton Athletic will be facing a club whose supporters are also arguably more concerned with matters off-the-pitch than they are on it. The Addicks and their opposition both questioning the running and the future of their club.
While Charlton supporters call for Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire to depart, or at least the end of their failing and identity-harming experiment, Bolton Wanderers’ desperate financial state has left their fans fearing a scenario where they no longer have a club to support.
The Trotters, in a “critical financial position” according to financial advisor Trevor Birch, were issued with a winding up order last week over £600,000 in unpaid taxes, and face the threat of administration unless a deal is reached with one of four parties believed to be interested in taking over the club from long-standing owner Eddie Davies.
Davies, who has written off £172.9 worth of debt in order to push through any potential takeover, is unwilling to put any further funds into the club, players haven’t been paid, and non-footballing staff may not be given their December wage. Bleak.
But neither Charlton nor Bolton can afford to underestimate the importance of their clash at The Valley on Tuesday. A huge six pointer, as both to look to maintain their Championship status.
Victory for Neil Lennon’s side not only the sort of momentary distraction needed in these troubled times, but also required to prevent the rest of the sides in and around the bottom three pulling away from them. Defeat disastrous for confidence, and would leave them marooned at the bottom of the division.
Defeat would also be disastrous for Karel Fraeye’s men, crushing an already fragile side, and dramatically increasing relegation worries. Only a win will appease a half-apathetic, half-disillusioned set of supporters.
A game not as important as the more consuming off-the-field issues both clubs face, but a game that doesn’t lack importance.
LAST MEETING – BOLTON WANDERERS 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
An easily forgettable end-of-season affair saw a late Adam Le Fondre goal deny the Addicks all three points at the Macron Stadium in April.
Frederic Bulot’s excellent volleyed finish gave Guy Luzon’s side the lead with just nine minutes played, and rarely did that advantage look like being taken away from the visitors. Charlton defensively sound, and Bolton toothless.
But the Trotters, having ridden their luck for the majority of the game, were able to find a burst of energy in the final twenty minutes. Barry Bannan feeding Le Fondre to equalise with 11 minutes to play.
And Guy Luzon’s side were somewhat fortunate not to concede another as full-time approached, with Liam Feeney blasting over from close range.
No win in 14 games, just one victory this season, and five points separating the Trotters from safety. It’s an extended run of form that has left Lennon questioning whether he’s the right man to lead the club through this dire period.
Chupa Akpom’s goal on Saturday enough for Hull to inflict a sixth defeat on Bolton in their last seven games away from the Macron. Lennon left unconfident about his future at the club after failing to encourage the sort of inspired performance required in the circumstances.
Sharpness in the final third also desperately needed. The Trotters, having found the back of the net just 14 times this season, the division’s lowest scorers.
The goalless draw with Leeds may have seen the Addicks crawl out of the bottom three, but it did little to dramatically increase confidence in SE7. Confidence that’s fragile after just two victories in 16 games.
For though Fraeye’s side enjoyed brief periods where they threatened Leeds’ goal, particularly unlucky not to take the lead when Marco Silvestri saved superbly from Ricardo Vaz Te, their faults were also exposed.
Leeds, most notably when Tom Adeyemi somehow flicked wide from close range, exploiting Charlton’s sluggishness in the final twenty minutes but unable to punish them.
But whether that point is a positive one or not won’t be known until the result of Tuesday’s game. A poor one should the Addicks fail to record victory against Bolton; a positive one if they do.
Bolton’s hopes of earning a temporary reprieve from their dire predicament have been hindered further by a growing injury list.
One-time Charlton trialist Shola Ameobi, having been forced off with a groin strain during the defeat to Hull City, will miss Tuesday’s trip to The Valley, leaving Lennon desperately short of options in attack. Only the availability of Emile Heskey is assured, with Zach Clough and Wellington Silva definitely out, and Lennon hopeful that Gary Madine can recover from illness.
The Trotters could also be without Darren Prately, who suffered a concussion after being hit in the head on Saturday from a free-kick taken by teammate Neil Danns, while former Addick Dorian Dervite is a doubt with a swollen knee that kept him out of the trip to the KC Stadium.
And Charlton supporters are unlikely to see another well-liked figure return on SE7 on Tuesday, with Lawrie Wilson absent from Bolton’s side since September.
Patrick Bauer will serve the second game of his two match ban following his sending off during the defeat to Brighton.
Having performed with a relative degree of resolve in the draw with Leeds, Harry Lennon and Alou Diarra are likely to continue at centre-back, but the Frenchman has not always been able to feature in more than one game a week.
In fact, the ability to play in more than one game a week is a worry for several members of Charlton’s side. Ricardo Vaz Te, having only recently joined the club and struggled to perform for more than an hour in the games he’s started, Johnnie Jackson, after returning from injury, and Ademola Lookman, not yet used to the demands of professional football, will certainly struggle to complete 90 minutes.
KEY BATTLE: EXPLOITING THE FRAGILE NATURE OF THE OPPOSITION
The Addicks have been at their best this season when they’ve been in a position to threaten on the counter. The victory over QPR and the opening 45 minutes against Brighton perfect examples of that.
For this side, irrespective of its struggles, maintains a strong threat on the break. Primarily led by Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the pace of Lookman, Vaz Te and even Reza Ghoochannejhad have provided further assistance in recent weeks.
But that counter-attacking play has been largely nullified once the Addicks find themselves in a position of adversity. Charlton losing their attacking spark the moment they concede, with their confidence weak.
Fragile confidence is also something that Bolton, in their dire situation, are guilty of possessing. Falling behind could be crushing given the importance of the game to them.
As such, either side conceding an early goal would be disastrous. Charlton facing the struggle to rekindle some sort of counter-attacking play, and Bolton having to lift themselves in a situation where it is hard to motivate.
An early goal, or at least taking the lead, seemingly crucial.
Bolton’s weakness, rather than Charlton’s strength, likely to be decisive. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Bolton Wanderers.