In the justified jubilation that followed last weekend’s stunning 4-1 victory over Rotherham United, it was easy to allow yourself to get carried away.
The intensity of Charlton’s efforts uplifting. The emphatic nature with which the Millers were beaten incredible. The joy of recording a first win in 12 games momentarily eclipsing the pain that has been suffered in previous weeks.
But though the excitement the performance created was to be enjoyed, and the celebrations equally so, it would be misguided to ignore the bigger picture.
For once the dust settled, the Addicks remained in the bottom three. There remained doubts about their survival credentials, irrespective of the win. The club remained in a state of crisis, which is not healed by results.
In fact, the mood of positivity and hope that was created at the New York Stadium will be immediately destroyed should Jose Riga’s side fail to follow up that impressive display against Bristol City at The Valley on Saturday.
Another game against a relegation rival, and another six pointer. Victory could move Charlton out of the bottom three, but defeat could leave them in the sort of position they were prior to the Rotherham victory.
This remains a must win.
LAST MEETING – BRISTOL CITY 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Harry Lennon’s stoppage-time equaliser gave the Addicks a hugely underserved point at Ashton Gate on Boxing Day.
Charlton, as was often the case under Karel Fraeye’s so-called leadership, were abysmal, and deserved to fall behind long before Nathan Baker’s header gave the hosts the lead in first half stoppage-time.
And Bristol City, constantly finding gaps in Charlton’s defence, would have sealed victory were it not for a lack of composure in front of goal. Jonathan Kodjia wasting a number of chances and Marlon Pack’s penalty, awarded after Lennon brought down Kodjia, bouncing back off the crossbar.
Ultimately, Steve Cotterill’s side were made to pay for their wastefulness, with Lennon bundling a volley in after a delivery into the box was only half cleared.
A result that may yet prove decisive in the battle to avoid the drop.
Bristol City: DLLWLD
Their form has not been spectacular, they missed out on transfer targets towards the end of the window that would have dramatically improved their chances of survival, and their manager appears to be attempting to beat Karel Fraeye’s record for longest reign as an interim boss.
And yet, Bristol City arguably strengthened their bid to maintain their Championship status as much as any other side in the division’s bottom five over the course of January.
For while the month featured three narrow league defeats, partly a reflection of their continued failures in front of goal, so too did it contain confidence-boosting results. Ending Middlesbrough’s incredible run of nine Championship games without defeat or conceding a goal, taking Premier League West Brom to a reply in dramatic fashion in the FA Cup, and a point gained from play-off chasing Birmingham.
Though offers were turned down for Walsall’s Tom Bradshaw and Gillingham’s Bradley Dack, City’s transfer business remains relatively impressive. The addition of Lee Tomlin, a forward who impressed for ‘Boro last season, particularly exciting, with Richard O’Donnell, Alex Pearce, Ben Gladwin and Scott Golbourne all improving the squad.
And while frustration over exists that John Pemberton remains in interim control several weeks after Cotterill’s departure, John Pemberton has instilled a greater resolve among the Robins, providing a platform from which a new boss can build upon once he is appointed.
The only thing that’s missing is goals. Something that City will want to put right at The Valley on Saturday.
There was fear as Charlton travelled to Rotherham last weekend. Fear that a spineless side would not be able to withstand a pressurised situation for the umpteenth time the season, and capitulate in spectacular fashion.
Now, as Bristol City head to SE7, there is a sense of expectation upon Riga’s men. An expectation that they will once again with stand the pressure of a six-pointer, and decimate the Robins.
This not necessarily a form of positivity. That sort of level of belief restricted by the disastrous results, not least the five and six-nil defeats to Huddersfield and Hull, and the concern that the gutless Addicks seen over the run of 11 league games without victory will soon return.
But Riga’s side have now set standards. Their performance at the New York Stadium, regardless of Rotherham’s weak efforts, is one that must be repeated for the remainder of the season.
Knowing what we’re capable of means it will now be demanded. No excuses.
City should welcome back Joe Bryan after a knee injury forced the full-back to miss Saturday’s goalless draw with Birmingham.
The 22-year-old has been a regular for his hometown club this season, making 24 appearances, and is likely to come back into the side for Mark Little.
But interim boss John Pemberton will remain without Frank Fielding, despite the goalkeeper returning to training last week. An issue that’s problematic given that Richard O’Donnell’s loan move from Wigan Athletic was made permanent on transfer deadline day.
Luke Ayling will also be absent from City’s squad, having undergone knee surgery. The former Yeovil man will be out for around a month.
Elsewhere, there could be an appearance for Charlton academy graduate Scott Wagstaff, who has returned to the Robins’ matchday squad in recent weeks. The winger playing his first minutes since August in the recent victory over Middlesbrough.
Yaya Sanogo and Rod Fanni are likely to be involved in a Charlton matchday squad for the first time, having joined the club on transfer deadline day.
But both may have to wait patiently for their debut, given the impressive nature of the performance at Rotherham last weekend. Arsenal loanee Sanogo unlikely to break up Simon Makienok and Igor Vetokele’s partnership, while Fanni, rescued from the Qatari wilderness, has seemingly been signed to provide cover from the unmovable Chris Solly.
In fact, the collective effort of the Addicks at the New York Stadium makes any changes to the starting XI unlikely. Particularly with Patrick Bauer, Alou Diarra and Ahmed Kashi still hibernating in the treatment room.
KEY BATTLE – ATTACK V DEFENCE AND ATTACK V DEFENCE
At Ashton Gate in December, Charlton’s backline were left a little embarrassed by City’s forwards.
Lennon and Sarr unable to deal with Kodjia’s movement, while the pace of the Robins’ widemen saw Morgan Fox and Chris Solly struggle. Those four Addicks more thankful than anyone else that their opponents were unable to properly capitalise.
A worry, then, that City’s forward options have been boosted by Tomlin. Man of the match on his debut on Saturday, and also a player that has caused Charlton problems in the past.
But the backline that struggled at Ashton Gate is quite a different one to the one that will feature at The Valley on Saturday. Not necessarily in personnel, with Jorge Teixeira likely to be the only fresh face, but in terms of the composure, resolve and organisation that Jose Riga is beginning to instil into it.
There were still signs of faults during the victory over Rotherham on Saturday, with the Millers gifted several big opportunities to get back into the game that were wasted, but there’s certainly more faith in Charlton’s ability to hold off forwards than there was on Boxing Day.
So too is there greater trust in Charlton’s own attackers. Igor Vetokele sublime at the New York Stadium, Simon Makienok a constant threat, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson back to his best.
As such, City’s backline, which will feature recent additions Alex Pearce and Scott Golbourne, will also have some defending to do.
This likely to be a slightly more competitive game than the one at Ashton Gate.
After the Lord Mayor’s Show or carrying on from where we left off? Bristol City will offer more of a challenge than Rotherham, but a positive outcome is demanded. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Bristol City