A mood of fear and worry exists as Charlton Athletic prepare to travel to the side who hover immediately above the relegation zone. Fear from the repercussions that failing to beat Rotherham United will have, and a legitimate worry that the Addicks will crumble under the pressure of this must-win game. It should not have come to this.
Or at least it would not have come to this had the club been run with a coherent strategy, which made success on-the-pitch the primary objective. If a succession of underqualified head coaches had not been appointed, and a boss had been chosen purely on the basis of his managerial ability. If signings of quality had been made on a consistent basis, and not largely plucky from a horrendous scouting network.
Unquestionably committed performances, from a side that showed enough promise at the start of the season to raise hopes of a top ten finish, would have also been useful in avoiding this situation. Maybe the sort of mental strength that means success can be had in adverse circumstances, and pathetic capitulations can be avoided, too. And a bit of defensive resolve, midfield creativity and forward potency absent.
As such, the Addicks can feel no sense of injustice that they head to the New York Stadium needing a win for the same reason as opposition whose ambitions have always been to avoid relegation at all costs. This a position that, as a result of their own faults, Charlton firmly deserve to be in.
And it is a position that they must get themselves out of. Reinforcements can be called for, both on the pitch in terms of new signings and off the pitch with the club handing free travel to supporters, but those that are currently representing the Addicks need to meet expectations in these high-pressure games.
No excuses will be accepted if Rotherham, showing some fight of their own in recent weeks, are seven points clear of Charlton come Saturday evening.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 ROTHERHAM UNITED
Patrick Bauer’s second-half equaliser rescued a point for the Addicks on a frustrating afternoon at The Valley in September.
Rotherham, who needed Lee Camp’s fingertips and Charlton’s wastefulness to maintain a cleansheet into half-time, took the lead in controversial circumstances just before the break.
Referee Keith Stroud awarding the Millers a corner, despite Jonson Clarke-Harris’ free-kick quite clearly deflecting behind off one of his teammates, and Farrend Rawson left unmarked to head in from the resulting delivery.
Despite Guy Luzon’s side continuing to control the game, a result would have been put beyond them were it not for Nick Pope. The goalkeeping saving superbly from Tony Andreu’s header at the conclusion of a Rotherham break.
But Charlton’s consistent pressure finally told with 25 minutes to play, as Bauer bundled the ball over the line following Simon Makienok’s knock across the face of goal.
And though the Addicks pressed for a winner, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson going close, Steve Evans’ men ultimately stood firm. Charlton might have deserved more, but a point the least a hard-working Rotherham warranted.
On the face of it, a somewhat scrappy, and certainly hard-fought, draw against an inconsistent and troubled Cardiff City might not appear like an important result.
Particularly with Rotherham coming from behind to momentarily take the lead in Wales on Saturday, and the Bluebirds reduced to ten men following their equaliser.
But the point picked up at the Cardiff City Stadium has the potential to be a vital one for the Millers. A point that comes after a run of eight defeats in nine in all competitions away from home.
In fact, it was only the fourth time this season Neil Redfearn’s men have avoided defeat on the road. One of those coming at The Valley in September.
It means Rotherham’s home form is relatively impressive. Four victories in their last six at the New York Stadium, including wins over Hull City and Brighton.
But stopping the rot away from home could prove a huge mental boost to the Millers. A few scrappy points here and there on their travels, in addition to maintaining a relatively strong away record, and they’ve got a decent chance of avoiding relegation.
Charlton’s habit of not sticking by their promises is commendable, but the Addicks weren’t too far from matching their fighting talk with their actions during Saturday’s draw with Blackburn Rovers.
A response to the five and six-nil defeats in the game prior was promised, and it was just about provided. Not at all spectacular, particularly not in a second-half performance that grew incredibly sloppy, but Jose Riga’s side certainly showed some improvement from those pathetic efforts at Huddersfield and Hull.
Organisation and cohesion greater, individual improvement from plenty of underperforming players, and even a bit of threat in the final third. The 1-1 draw certainly deserved. Some sort of foundation laid, it has been suggested.
Alas, the Addicks are now 11 without victory, and signs of improvement have been shown at various times in that run. Harry Lennon, scorer of the goal against Blackburn, was meant to have saved our season with his late equaliser at Bristol City, and the second half performance in Karel Fraeye’s last home game against Nottingham Forest was spirited.
Further improvement needed on Saturday.
Andrew Shinnie could make his Rotherham debut after signing on loan from Birmingham City on Wednesday.
The winger, who has made most of his 17 appearances for the Blues this season from the bench, adds to Rotherham’s wide options that have already been boosted in this transfer window by the addition of Chris Burke.
Elsewhere, Rawson, having been named on the bench at the Cardiff City Stadium, is pushing for his first start since returning from injury. The young defender, on loan from Derby County, may come in for Ayman Belaid if he doesn’t recover from the slight groin pull he suffered towards the end of the draw in Wales.
But hopes of Lee Frecklington making a first team return for the Millers have been curtailed after the club captain limped out of a development squad game in midweek.
The midfielder was withdrawn before half-time during the second string’s win over Scunthorpe, and he’ll remain out alongside Leon Best and Stephen Kelly.
Charlton are set to welcome back Ademola Lookman from the hamstring injury that has kept the exciting young forward out of the previous five games.
And Lookman, who has impressed both up top and out wide this season, could come straight into the starting XI with Tony Watt seemingly being allowed to depart SE7. The Scot, on his return to the side following his loan spell at Cardiff City, impressive, but the Addicks still keen to move him on.
As he goes, it appears another is coming in. West Ham youngster Reece Oxford, capable of playing at the back or in midfield, will be available if his loan move is completed in time, but logic suggests he will have to settle for a place on the bench to begin with.
Elsewhere, with Patrick Bauer, Alou Diarra and Ahmed Kashi still absent, further changes to the side that drew with Blackburn last weekend are unlikely.
KEY BATTLE – ADDING EXECUTION TO THE INTENT
While the greater defensive resolve and collective organisation was certainly very pleasing, it was equally promising to see the Addicks show some genuine attacking intent against Blackburn last weekend.
Having barely been able to string a pass together at the John Smith’s Stadium and the KC, let alone enter the opposition’s final third, there was probably more threat in one Igor Vetokele run forward than there was for the duration of the previous 180 minutes.
But so too was there cause for frustration despite Charlton’s increased presence in the opposition’s half. Too often were these promising positions, instigated by the runs of Vetokele, Watt and Gudmundsson, were wasted. Aside from ramming his head into Reza Ghoochannejhad, Jason Steele was largely untroubled in the Blackburn goal.
As such, in what is lively to be a tense and nervy affair given the high pressure nature of it, it is vital that the Addicks add some execution and composure to their efforts in the final third.
That particularly the case given the resolve Rotherham have recently shown at home. Although a three goal defeat to QPR in the previous game at the New York Stadium suggests otherwise, one goal conceded in the preceding five home games is a sign of the resilience that Redfearn has instilled upon his save.
This not the sort of game where a moment of quality will separate the two sides, but more likely an error. Charlton’s forwards have to be able to pounce on the smallest mistake from the home side’s defensive line.
A gruesome battle between two sides desperate to win, but equally afraid to lose. Everyone goes home unhappy. Rotherham United 1-1 Charlton Athletic