It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to follow Charlton Athletic the last time the Addicks made the journey to Deepdale. A desire to simply savour the final weeks of the most spectacular of seasons, with Chris Powell’s side having secured the League One title the previous weekend.
The mood relaxed and celebratory. Powell found himself posing for a photograph with some rather questionably dressed characters, before him and his coaching staff engaged in a crossbar challenge that, such was the relationship between club and supporters at the time, had the away end hooked.
Not even Graham Alexander’s stoppage-time equaliser, an incredible moment in itself with the Preston North End legend scoring in his final game, enough to taint the mood. Supporters able to enjoy a bond with their club, embrace their side’s success, and be excited about the potential this group had.
But as the Addicks prepare to return to Deepdale less than four years on from the penultimate fixture of the 2011/12 season, it’s fair to say that potential has not at all been fulfilled. Stifled by an ownership without financial clout, and completely destroyed by a regime without intelligence and respect. Joyous moments and enjoyable days, that helped to create the impression that we had our Charlton back, replaced by despair and detachment.
In fact, it is with fear that the resolute supporters of this club travel to Lancashire on Tuesday night. Attending without expectation, and not heading up north because they feel their side has done enough to warrant their committed support. Habit and duty the only thing keeping some sort of bond alive.
For the likely defeat to a hard-working and well-functioning Preston unit, who have moved into the top half of the division, will further increase the disillusionment supporters have with the crippled shell of Charlton Athletic, and increase the weight behind the notion that a return to League One is nailed on.
This certainly won’t be like that day at Deepdale in 2012.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-3 PRESTON NORTH END
A shambolic Charlton performance was suitably punished by an efficient Preston in October, as a 3-0 defeat heaped further pressure on underperforming players, a struggling head coach, and an under fire ownership.
It took just two minutes for the visitors to gain an advantage, with Paul Gallagher’s free-kick lifted over a feeble wall and beyond the desperate dive of Nick Pope.
And Gallagher would double North End’s lead before the break, picking out the far top corner from a tight angle after only he responded to Pope’s punch clear. Horrendous defending from the Addicks.
Luzon’s side, continuing to invite pressure and lacking the composure to make any sort of threatening move forward, never looked like forcing their way back into the game, and their defeat was confirmed just beyond the hour. Daniel Johnson curling in superbly from the edge of the box, as the Covered End made their frustration known.
A third successive win, this one particularly impressive given that it came against an in-form Sheffield Wednesday, lifting an unfancied side into the division’s top half. Quite the achievement for Simon Grayson and his men.
In fact, it’s fair to suggest that Preston’s move up the Championship table has not attracted the attention it deserves. With a wage bill smaller than at least 20 other teams in the division, and a squad that seemingly has the quality and depth to reflect that, this is a huge overachievement.
It is their efficiency and effectiveness that is most impressive, with Grayson’s well-organised side, in a 3-5-2 formation, grinding out results in the sort of manner that Powell’s Charlton were so often capable of. Only two, one coming against Charlton, of their 11 league wins this season have been by more than a single.
And their reward for displaying such a winning mentality throughout the season is that they can afford to approach games without fear. Their task always to survive in their first season back in the Championship, and a 19 point gap between them and 22nd means they have effectively achieved that already.
A third successive game without victory. A third successive game without a goal. Just one victory in 16 games. Jose Riga’s inept side, the consequence of Roland Duchatelet’s destructive ownership, embarrassed once again.
In fact, as the half-hearted Addicks slogged around the Craven Cottage pitch, it was hard to believe that this gutless bunch had even been able to manage that one win. Their return to the bottom of the division after a 3-0 defeat to Fulham reflecting their efforts.
Reflecting, too, the mood that all hope is lost. Charlton supporters were defiant at the Cottage, but their side is not rewarding them. Little chance of what is effectively a seven point gap between the Addicks and safety being made up.
Such is the confidence of Grayson’s side, in addition to his current favoured starting XI making it through the weekend unscathed, Preston are likely to name an unchanged line-up from the victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
Wednesday loanee Marnick Vermijl, illegible for the game against the Owls, is once again available, but the versatile Belgium is unlikely to dislodge any of those that started on Saturday.
Elsewhere, forwards Jermaine Beckford and Stevie May remain absent through long-term injuries.
Charlton look set to welcome back Jordan Cousins, after the midfielder missed Saturday’s defeat to Fulham through injury.
And Jose Riga is also hopefully that Igor Vetokele, absent since the victory over Rotherham, and Yaya Sanogo, troubled by a back complaint, will be available to the trip to Lancashire. Both forwards will be assessed on Monday.
But the Addicks will definitely remain without skipper Johnnie Jackson, while long-term absentees Alou Diarra, Patrick Bauer and Ahmed Kashi are not yet ready to return.
KEY BATTLE – DOING SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE IN THE FINAL THIRD
For all of Charlton’s horrendous efforts in the previous weeks, there have been incredibly brief moments of positivity.
The Addicks getting into the right areas and taking up decent positions, but failing to make the most of those openings. At times, even on Saturday, a final ball was all that was lacking.
Their failure to make more of those moments particularly important given their continued proneness to errors at the back, and the dramatic drop in effort and confidence once Riga’s side fall behind. We’re not getting out of this mess if we can’t start showing some composure and quality in the final third.
Nor are we getting anything at Deepdale on Tuesday night without making the most of any chances that come our way. Preston not the sort of side that afford an opposition team several opportunities to score, nor will they be willing to sacrifice a lead once they have predictably taken advantage of our inadequate defensive efforts.
A step closer to League One. Preston North End 1-0 Charlton Athletic