There’s a Severn Bridge and a few motorways worth of difference between South East London and South Wales. Enough to suggest Charlton Athletic and Cardiff City have little in common.
And, at first glance, there seems little more beyond a shared frustration that Tony Watt no longer represents their clubs. The two paths of these clubs’, having faced each other just nine times since 1986, not crossing enough to create any sort of connection. Charlton’s recent history formed around their fall from the top flight; Cardiff’s based around their ultimately short-lived and controversial climb to the Premier League.
Even when assessing the current Championship table, a reasonably-sized gap exists. While supporters of the Bluebirds are frustrated that their side has not made a serious challenge for promotion under the leadership of Russell Slade, Addicks are beginning to resign themselves to having to endure League One football next year.
But if there are to be celebrations in SE7 Saturday, with either side picking up a victory they so desperately need, they will be somewhat muted. Or, at least, muted when compared to how emphatic celebrations in similar on-the-pitch circumstances might have been in a time gone by.
For both sets of supporters at The Valley this weekend are facing a battle. A battle to overcome the apathy and disconnection that has been created by ownership that has insulted tradition, culture and fan identity, and a battle to overcome ownership which is failing in ways that can be seen without the need for subjective feelings.
Protests to return the Bluebirds to their true colour, and rid the club of Vincent Tan’s red revolution, may have been successful at the Cardiff City Stadium, but the ill-feeling still lingers. Not helped by the club currently being in a transfer embargo – the reason the Addicks won’t be facing Watt.
Protests, of which there will be more this Saturday, continue at some strength in SE7 in a bid to remove Roland Duchatelet, Katrien Meire and their poisonous and failing regime from The Valley.
Differences, certainly, but the supporters of these two clubs both understand there is more to supporting a football club than just following the events that occur over the course of 90 minutes. Much more.
LAST MEETING – CARDIFF CITY 2-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A lacklustre Addicks effort at the Cardiff City Stadium was ultimately punished in September, as the Bluebirds came from behind to win.
The hosts were dominant throughout the first-half, and really should have had the lead before the break. Charlton’s defence offering very little resistance, with Nick Pope needed to keep out Anthony Pilkington’s effort and Jordan Cousins’ goal-line clearance preventing Sean Morrison from scoring.
But, against the run of play, it was Guy Luzon’s side who went ahead just after the interval. Future Bluebird Tony Watt teeing up Karlan Ahearne-Grant, who finished smartly for his first Championship goal.
The Addicks, however, failed to build on the lead they had given themselves. Instead allowing City back into the game just four minutes later, with Joe Mason taking advantage of some soft Charlton defending to poke beyond Pope.
And despite there still being 14 minutes to play, defeat was confirmed the moment Morrison rose highest to powerfully head home from Peter Whittingham’s delivery. Charlton’s effort feeble.
Like so many clubs in each season of the Championship that find themselves on the outskirts of the play-offs, it is inconsistency and unnecessarily dropping points that is limiting the seriousness of Cardiff’s bid for promotion.
The last seven games, a run that features just one defeat, providing a fantastic example of that. Away wins over improving Wolves and Huddersfield undoubtedly positive, and strengthening their push for a top six finish, but dropped points at home to strugglers Rotherham and MK Dons limiting the impact those relative impressive wins have.
It’s an inconsistency so frustrating and damaging that support for boss Slade, from both club and supporters, is weak. Tan unsure whether to retain the services of the former Leyton Orient boss beyond this season, and followers of the Bluebirds increasingly losing patience as avoidable points are dropped.
And though the gap between the play-offs and ninth place Cardiff, who are unbeaten in four, is just five points, the strength of those around them makes the challenge to achieve a top six finish all the more testing. Sheffield Wednesday, as they have threatened to do all season, clicking into an excellent unit, while Ipswich and Birmingham possess that quality to pick up hard-thought points that Slade’s side seems to lack.
Even at this relatively early stage of the season, more dropped points against a relegation threatened side could be fatal.
Genuine and realistic belief of avoiding relegation, not just irrational hope, lasted a mammoth seven days. The emphatic victory over Rotherham United followed by a dismal effort in defeat to Bristol City, and rendered almost meaningless.
For the Addicks now find themselves at the foot of the division, effectively five points from safety when goal difference is considered, and with the need to restore all the confidence lost, both by players and supporters, following last Saturday’s gutless performance.
At least greater faith can be placed in Jose Riga to invoke a reaction from his players than the incompetent Karel Fraeye, but it remains a seemingly impossible challenge such is the damage that has been done by the defeat to the Robins. One victory in 13 league games simple not good enough.
A response desperately needed once again, and not just to the efforts of the protesting supporters. Their enduring support of the team needs greater reward.
Cardiff look set to remain without defender Morrison, despite the 24-year-old making a return to light training.
Morrison, who scored the winner for the Bluebirds in the reverse fixture against Charlton, has been unavailable since picking up a knee injury in the 1-0 defeat to Birmingham prior to Christmas, with Bruno Ecuele Manga and Matthew Connolly likely to continue their centre-back partnership in his absence.
Slade will also be without Craig Noone, a scorer in the memorable 5-4 victory for Charlton in this fixture three seasons ago, who is recovering from a rib injury.
But recent signings Lex Immers and Kenneth Zohore are pushing for starts, while summer signing Idriss Saadi, plagued by injuries during his time at the club, could make only his second appearance in a Cardiff matchday squad having recovered from a groin injury.
Igor Vetokele should return to Charlton’s startling line-up after the forward missed last weekend’s defeat to Bristol City through injury.
The Angolan, whose efforts were so vital in the victory over Rotherham, could come into the side for Ademola Lookman, or the youngster may retain his place if he is deployed on the left instead of Zakarya Bergdich.
That would leave Bergdich free to play at left-back, and allow the confidence-stricken Morgan Fox time out of the side. Riga must seek to protect the young Welshman, who was heckled as he was substituted on Saturday following another afternoon of struggle.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer posted a photo on Instagram which suggests he’s returned to some sort of outdoor training, but both he and Alou Diarra remain a few weeks away from fitness, while deadline day signings Yaya Sanogo and Rod Fanni could be involved in a matchday squad for the first time.
KEY BATTLE – MAKING AN EARLY STATEMENT
A vital part of the victory at Rotherham a fortnight ago was how flustered the opposition appeared to be by the intensity of Charlton’s start to the game.
Though the Millers cancelled out Simon Makienok’s early opener, they never really found any sort of composure after the Addicks pressed with pace and purpose in the first few minutes. Erratic passing under pressure became a complete lack of control and composure, as Riga’s side run riot.
In other words, the tone was set from the opening moments. Much like it was during the defeat to Bristol City, with the Addicks slow, sloppy and lacking any sort of composure.
All that intensity that had been seen at the New York Stadium seemingly left there, and replaced by a half-hearted and gutless effort, that allowed the Robins to settle relatively quickly, and control the game with minimal fuss. The visitors never really tested.
As such, particularly given the need for a response to last weekend’s disappointing effort, it is of vital importance that the Addicks make a strong and intense start to Saturday’s affair. Pressure Cardiff from the first moment, and not allow Peter Whittingham and co. to dictate play.
The return of Vetokele, whose relentless running was certainly missed against Bristol City, will certainly help, but this requires a strong collective and cohesive effort. The Rotherham display, or at least the opening moments of it, needs replicating.
Hard to feel confident after the performance in defeat last weekend. The ghost of Tony Watt to score Cardiff’s winner, while representatives of Tan and Meire discuss their contempt from supporters. Charlton Athletic 0-1 Cardiff City