The festive football feast is, normally, one of the most enjoyable periods of the season. Games coming thick and fast, with little time spare to communicate with relatives and consume leftover turkey in between trips to grounds.
But for supporters of Charlton Athletic, it seems more like a punishment than a treat to watch their side on two occasions over the space of three days.
Harry Lennon’s dramatic, and undeserved, stoppage-time equaliser at Ashton Gate on Boxing Day not enough to cover up the disgustingly poor performance that preceded it, and a repeat will simply not be tolerated when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit SE7 on Monday.
That particularly the case given the lack of enjoyment that is provided on an average trip to The Valley for home supporters in recent times. Empty seats, pathetic performances encouraging a poisonous atmosphere, and apathy and disillusion only increasing.
But maybe, just maybe, Lennon’s late leveller is enough to provide a degree of hope for beleaguered supporters of the club. Evidence that a degree of fight exists in this side, and confidence potentially increasing amongst a side that previously had none.
Regardless, all that can be done is hope there is significant improvement against Wolves. Enough to record the victory that is now required following the draw with Bristol City.
LAST MEETING – WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS 2-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A late capitulation at Molineux in August saw Charlton suffer their first defeat of the season.
After a first half featuring few chances and lacking in quality, the Addicks made what appeared to be a crucial breakthrough at the start of the second. Igor Vetokele teeing up Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who fired an effort underneath former Charlton goalkeeper Carl Ikeme.
But Guy Luzon’s side failed to build on their advantage, and allowed Wolves back into the game in the scrappiest of fashions. Dave Edwards, unmarked in the middle, levelled after his initial strike rebounded off Alou Diarra and fell straight back to him. Charlton’s defending leaving a lot to be desired.
As it did when Adam Le Fondre stole all three points for the hosts with five minutes to play. Sheyi Ojo getting in behind Chris Solly with ease, and Le Fondre unchallenged as he converted the Liverpool loanee’s low cross.
Having missed out on the play-offs last season on goal difference, it’s fair to say that Wolves’ second season back in the second tier has been a disappointment.
So much so that there have been calls, if not wholesale, for the sacking of Kenny Jackett. The boss expected to lead the Molineux club on a push for the top six once again, but his side currently sit nine points off sixth place Ipswich Town in 16th.
There have, in truth, been issues outside of Jackett’s control. The failure of the club hierarchy to adequately replace Bakary Sako and a serious injury to Nouha Dicko leaving just Benik Afobe standing from last season’s often unplayable forward trio.
But so too have there been questions raised over his decision making, and the performances of his players. Defensive errors, plenty seen in the recent 4-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, a midfield lacking both resolve and creativity, and a consistent and potent supply for Afobe all harming Wolves.
Only one win recorded in eight games prior to Boxing Day. Defeat against Bristol City, and a goalless draw with MK Dons. Seven goals conceded in back-to-back games against Leeds and Wednesday. The situation grim.
But Wolves will go into Monday’s game at The Valley with a degree of confidence. James Henry’s early goal, and some stubborn defensive work, enough to give Jackett’s men victory over Reading on Saturday.
Not enough to address all the concerns of supporters, of course, but possibly providing self-belief to an underperforming side.
Lennon’s volleyed equaliser celebrated with some gusto, and the stolen point gleefully taken over coming away from Ashton Gate empty handed, but the late goal against Bristol City has changed very little.
The anger with Charlton’s poor performance, which should have resulted in a four or five goal defeat, dying down not even a fraction. The outrage over Karel Fraeye’s continued leadership of the side as strong as ever. Support not suddenly growing for the flawed running of the club.
For not only do the Addicks continue to occupy a relegation spot, two points from safety and without a win in six, but the manner of the display against a side also in and around the bottom three is extremely worrying. Defensive resolve lacking, midfield cohesion non-existent, and barely any attacking threat.
Had one of several City chances been taking, particularly Jonathan Kodjia’s header or Marlon Pack’s missed penalty, then Fraeye’s side would have suffered the punishment they deserved. Instead, they were somehow able to snatch a completely undeserved point.
Still not good enough. Vast improvement still needed.
Jackett will be sweating over the fitness of midfielder Jack Price, who missed the Boxing Day victory over Reading through illness.
Should he not recover in time, then Wolves could potentially name an unchanged team for the trip to SE7. Kevin McDonald, Connor Coady, and Dave Edwards continuing in the centre.
The likelihood of that increased by a lack of options available in reserve. Emiliano Martinez, Kortney Hause and Nouha Dicko, who suffered his potentially season-ending injury against the Addicks, remain out, while new addition Michal Zyro cannot feature until January.
Charlton are likely to be without Alou Diarra after injury forced the Frenchman off during Saturday’s draw with Bristol City.
The midfielder filled in at centre-back with Patrick Bauer, unlikely to return on Monday, absent at Ashton Gate, and Naby Sarr is likely to partner Lennon at the heart of Charlton’s defence. A weak and inexperienced partnership.
The Addicks could also be without Jordan Cousins, with the academy graduate collapsing in the dressing room at half-time having played on Boxing Day despite being unwell all week. El Hadji-Ba, who made a decent contribution after coming off the bench at Ashton Gate, the man likely to replace Cousins in the middle.
Elsewhere, Gudmundsson is unlikely to make a return from the injury that has kept him out of the previous two games, and Igor Vetokele, Ahmed Kashi and Cristian Ceballos remain absent.
KEY BATTLE: LIMITING THE CHANCES GIVEN TO WOLVES’ FORWARDS
Though Wolves’ attacking play has not been as potent as it was last season, with the Sako-Afobe-Dicko triumvirate blitzing all who stood in their way, there remains goals in this side.
Only Fulham (36) have scored more than Wolves (29) outside of the Championship’s top nine, and Afobe’s nine league goals place him behind just six men in the division’s top scorer chart.
That provides a particular worry for the Addicks, given how poor they have been defensively in recent weeks. Capitulations against Brighton and Bolton, no resolve shown against Burnley, and Bristol City gifted chance after chance.
Charlton fortunate on Boxing Day that the Robins could not finish. Aaron Wilbraham, Kodjia and Pack all missing glorious chances, which were gifted to them by poor defending from the visitors.
Given the attacking threat that Wolves carry, with Afobe supplemented by Henry and the in-form Jordan Graham, a repeat of such tame defensive efforts will surely be punished. Vital that the Addicks find some resolve, and limit the opportunities Afobe and friends have to test Stephen Henderson.
Too many worrying signs seen at Ashton Gate to feel any degree of confidence, irrespective of the late equaliser. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers