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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Middlesbrough

If motivation, effort and tactical intelligence were lacking in what was a very winnable must-win game, what hope is there of such attributes existing in what appears an unwinnable encounter when a sense of resignation exists?

At the very least, the required amounts are very unlikely to be seen on the pitch on Sunday. The tame performance against MK Dons in midweek, making the gap between Charlton and safety one that’s almost impossible to make up, only increasing the sense of impending doom before Middlesbrough come to SE7.

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For even though Boro’s recent efforts have been somewhat sluggish, and have included a defeat to Rotherham, they will heavily punish a performance from the Addicks as lacklustre as the one seen at The Valley on Tuesday night. Even a dramatic increase in defensive resilience and attacking energy unlikely to be anywhere near enough for Jose Riga’s men to match their opponents.

But there will be commitment, cohesion and determination on show elsewhere. CARD’s pre-game funeral march and planned 74th minute walk-out part of a battle that has been fought with unwavering determination. The sense that relegation has been all but confirmed, in addition to some extremely bleak figures being revealed in Charlton’s yearly accounts, only increasing the need to force Roland Duchatelet out of this club.

An unlikely victory on Sunday almost meaningless while this regime remain in control. The more important challenge occurring away from The Valley’s turf.

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LAST MEETING – MIDDLESBROUGH 3-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC

Setting the tone perfectly for what was to come, Karel Fraeye’s first game in charge saw Charlton crumble at The Riverside in October.

Though they dominated from start to finish, it wasn’t until the hour mark that Boro finally punished a lacklustre effort from the Addicks. Chris Solly failed to effectively deal with a ball played into Charlton’s box, and David Nugent was alive to poke home the loose ball.

And the hosts doubled their lead in equally simple fashion just six minutes. A number of Addicks standing off Albert Adomah as he cut in from the right, giving the winger the space to pick out the top corner from the edge of the box.

Such was the spineless performance from Fraeye’s side, it was no surprise that Boro added a third before full-time. A horrendously defended corner eventually concluding in the ball popping up to an unmarked Daniel Ayala, who headed beyond Stephen Henderson with ease.

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FORM

Middlesbrough: LWLWWD

Once Jordan Rhodes was pictured with a red shirt, it was universally agreed that Middlesbrough’s promotion to the Premier League had been confirmed. The title theirs, and everyone else in and around the top six fighting for one automatic spot.

But much like the man himself, Boro’s form has been somewhat underwhelming since his arrival at The Riverside. Three wins in eight games since the start of February not the emphatic steamrolling of the division.

And though they sit second in the Championship table, with sluggishness and wastefulness halting their promotion charge rather than a complete crisis, Aitor Karanka’s side certainly need to make improvements in order to keep up with the Burnley and Hull City at the top of the division.

Something that can also be said of Rhodes. Though he has often started games on the bench, contributed to the collective effort, and created openings, just one goal since his signing from Blackburn is not what was demanded from the league’s most feared forward.

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Charlton: DWLLLD

Last weekend’s victory over Brentford did not provide hope, but provided an opportunity from which hope could be gained. A win over MK Dons would have reduced the gap between the Addicks and safety to a more manageable amount, and built something resembling momentum.

Instead, a timid performance, not helped by a tactically inept effort from boss Riga, has completely killed off any sort of momentum that might have been building, and all but ended Charlton’s chances of avoiding relegation. The goalless draw, and the unjustifiable performance, not enough.

A tough run in, featuring man of the division’s top ten sides, while the Addicks continue to perform so poorly makes a return to League One inevitable.

Particularly with the side unable to perform in these high pressure games. Many individuals seemingly lacking the desire to perform to the desired level when only a win will do, and many others simply not good enough.

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THE OPPOSITION

Daniel Ayala is unlikely to make a return to the Middlesbrough side, despite the club’s medical department being able to find evidence to show why he cannot feature.

Ayala has been absent since suffering an injury in the February defeat to Blackburn, and though he should have recovered by now, the defender still feels pain and discomfort. Ben Gibson and Dael Fry likely to continue at centre-back.

But Karanka, who has frequently rotated his quality-filled side in recent week, is likely to make changes elsewhere following the defeat to Rotherham. Stuart Downing could return to the starting XI, while Rhodes looks set to replace David Nugent.

Grant Leadbitter, who was an unused substitute in midweek, could also come into the side after recovering from injury, but has a task on his hands to dislodge Adams Forshaw and Clayton.

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THE ADDICKS

Charlton will be without the suspended Sanogo following the Arsenal loanee’s act of stupidity during Tuesday’s goalless draw.

Though Dons boss Karl Robinson has called for Sanogo to be banned for the remainder of the season, he will miss the next three games. His decision to elbow Kay made even more unforgivable given the influence he had made since joining the Addicks on loan, the impact his absence will cause.

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But Harry Lennon, having served his three-game ban after losing his cool in similar fashion with Preston’s Joe Garner, will be available for selection again. The homegrown defender could come in for Rod Fanni, who has failed to impress so far.

And Johnnie Jackson, who has missed the previous five games through injury, could also return to Charlton’s squad. The lack of leadership and character displayed in midweek makes the skipper’s recovery most welcomed.

Jackson, however, could be the only player leaving the treatment room this week. Alou Diarra, Chris Solly, Stephen Henderson, Igor Vetokele and Patrick Bauer unlikely to be ready in time for Sunday.

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KEY BATTLE – ATTEMPT #78308 TO STOP JORDAN RHODES

That Jordan Rhodes, having yet to completely settle into a Middlesbrough shirt, has scored just one goal in eight games is a statistic more irrelevant than the financial ones that Duchatelet might use to defend his poisonous regime.

For it takes nothing away from how potent the forward is, and will be once he breaks out of the shackles at his new club. This a player that possesses brilliant movement, excellent intelligence, and clinical finishing ability.

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In fact, a more telling stat is the one that shows just how much Rhodes enjoys playing against Charlton. In his previous four games against the Addicks, all for Blackburn, he’s scored seven times, including on three occasions this season.

One of those goals, his equaliser at The Valley in January, came against the centre-back pairing that is likely to start on Sunday. Jorge Teixeira, who has looked more and more unconvincing with each game played, and Harry Lennon, who struggled to deal with the Scot previously.

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And with Charlton’s defending in shambolic fashion in recent weeks, even against Brentford and MK Dons where they fortunate to go without further punishment on both occasions, coming against Rhodes is hardly ideal.

Any chance of getting anything out of this game goes if the supply, from Gaston Ramirez and co, to Rhodes cannot be adequately dealt with, and Rhodes himself prevented from getting into goalscoring potions. He’ll undoubtedly punish us.

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PREDICTION

We’re playing a quality side. We’re on TV. We’re a bit naff. At least the pressure on Duchatelet will build. Charlton Athletic 0-3 Middlesbrough

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