While Charlton might well be on their deathbed, attached to a life support machine, victory at Brentford on Saturday meant it wasn’t turned off.
Surviving remains unlikely, with success at Griffin Park maintaining rather than improving the situation. Victories elsewhere for MK Dons and Rotherham meant the win did not move the Addicks any closer to safety, and the performance not emphatic enough to instil the sort of dramatic increase in confidence required to believe avoiding relegation is possible.
But without the win against the Bees, Jose Riga’s side would most certainly be dead. What would have been effectively an 11 point gap would not have been made up.
Instead, Charlton have been rewarded with a potentially life-saving, or at least prolonging, operation. A game against the Dons, the side who occupy the position of safety that they are currently eight points away from once goal difference is considered.
Should it be completed in perfect fashion, then the Addicks give themselves a genuine chance. The task still a tough one, but momentum building out of nowhere and the point gap more manageable.
Should there be any complications, then it is game over. Failing to produce the required result against a relegation rival in a high pressure situation likely to have a crippling effect, and the gap will remain a mammoth one.
Do or die it is not, but prevent death or die it is. It’s as simple as that.
LAST MEETING – MILTON KEYNES DONS 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A gutless, structureless and spineless performance at Stadium:MK saw the Addicks suffer the defeat they deserved against the Dons in November.
Such was the pathetic nature of their performance, Karel Fraeye’s side’s loss was effectively confirmed from the 29th minute. A flowing Dons move ending with Dean Bowditch converting, as Charlton’s defence simply stood and watched.
In fact, a second goal for the hosts seemed more likely than the Addicks scoring their first in five games. Stephen Henderson denying Nicky Maynard and Samir Carruthers, before former Charlton striker Simon Church failed to convert the simplest of chances from Lee Hodson’s cross.
But a failure to convert their chances was never likely to prove costly for Robinson’s side, who were rarely tested by the Addicks. The visitors booed off by the away supporters come the conclusion of a 12th game without victory.
MK Dons: WLDLWD
Supporters of the Dons will argue their weekend victory over QPR was deserved on two fronts.
The first on the basis of an impressive second-half performance against Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s side. Dead Lewington’s opener emphatic, their lead would have been doubled had Josh Murphy showed greater composure from the spot after being hauled down by Paul Konchesky, and Ben Reeves sealing victory after another penalty was awarded in stoppage-time.
The second argument being that Robinson’s side have deserved much greater reward from their previous five games. As Charlton supporters are all too aware, they can only have themselves to blame for conceding late equalisers against Middlesbrough and Huddersfield, and losing the game in stoppage-time at Blackburn, but their overall efforts in those fixtures deserved more.
Throw in an impressive victory away at Derby in that run, and it’s fair to say the Dons are in better form than their results suggest. A stronger backbone required, rather than dramatic overall improvement, to extend the gap between themselves and 22nd place Rotherham.
A sixth win of the season, and only a second in 19 games, celebrated in a fashion that such a rare moment deserved. The away end at Griffin Park full of excitement and enjoyment, and the more than occasional anti-Roland Duchatelet chant, as Callum Harriott’s goal gave the Addicks victory.
But though the winning feeling was a sweet one, it is a win that will prove meaningless if it is not followed up. The poisonous nature of Duchatelet’s regime inflicting such a level of damage on the club, and this Charlton side, that much more than a single win is needed to even paper over the deep wounds.
In fact, a series of wins will not prevent the emphatic nature of the calls for this regime to depart from continuing to increase, but they will provide something supporters also crave – Championship survival.
The damage to the club’s character, and the connection with its supporters, cannot be healed, but some fight on the pitch may well reward the Addicks with an unlikely survival.
And for that to happen, there needs to be further improvement. Brentford incredibly poor on Saturday, and even then created enough chances to take something from the game with Charlton enduring spells of defensive sloppiness.
There can certainly be no complacency, or a sense of getting carried away, on the basis of a single hard-fought but somewhat unconvincing win.
Karl Robinson will have Jay Emmanuel-Thomas available for selection after the QPR loanee was ineligible to play against his parent club on Saturday.
But the forward, who has made three appearances since joining the Dons on transfer deadline day, is unlikely to come into the starting XI. Forward duo Dean Bowditch and Alex Revell in excellent form.
And though Emmanuel-Thomas will return, Karl Robinson’s side will remain without Carl Baker, Matthew Upson and Joe Walsh, who all continue to recover from injuries.
Charlton are likely to be without Alou Diarra after the midfielder was forced off during the first half of Saturday’s victory over Brentford.
Diarra, who had only just returned from injury after two months out, appeared to damage his foot once again, and had to be helped to the dressing room at half-time by teammate Reza Ghoochannejhad. Arguably the most useful thing Ghoochannejhad has done in his entire Charlton career.
With Johnnie Jackson still out, Diego Poyet is the man likely to replace the Frenchman should Riga keep a 4-4-1-1 formation. The West Ham loanee set to start against the club he played for until January this season.
Chris Solly, Igor Vetokele and Patrick Bauer are also unlikely to available on Tuesday, while Harry Lennon serves the final game of his three game ban.
Whether Stephen Henderson will return to Charlton’s starting XI remains something of unknown, however, with the goalkeeper’s absence at Griffin Park yet to be explained. Nick Pope deputising in competent fashion.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH THE PRESSURE
Charlton’s last game against a relegation rival came about in very similar circumstances. The Addicks playing Bristol City at The Valley, having taken points and positives from victory over an unimpressive Rotherham side.
And on that occasion, Riga’s side failed to build on their efforts in the previous fixture, and instead played in a sluggish and error-ridden fashion. City’s 1-0 victory a lot more convincing than the scoreline suggested, with their backline defiant and Charlton’s forward unstructured and unimaginative.
In fact, that Rotherham clash aside, the Addicks have struggled to perform when facing their relegation rivals this campaign. The defeat in the reverse fixture against the Dons, the capitulation against Bolton humiliating, and the draw with Bristol City at Ashton Gate totally undeserved given how dreadful they were. Fitting of Duchatelet’s regime that the soulless Addicks crumble in these testing circumstances.
But so too have the Dons capitulated when faced with pressure in recent weeks. Conceding important late goals the reason they sit just three points above the relegation zone.
It is, therefore, fair to suggest that the side who shows an uncharacteristic level of composure in this game will be the one that wins it. A tight and tense affair, that could so easily be decided by once chance being taken or one defensive mistake.
A very nervy affair, with not much likely to be in it. Dons will certainly offer a bit more than Brentford. Charlton Athletic 1-1 MK Dons