Our equals and competitive rivals for a number of years, the current gap between Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday perfectly displays how avoidable the crisis at The Valley should have been.
For while Wednesday, led by owner Dejphon Chansiri with an emphasis on footballing success, occupy a spot in the Championship’s play-offs, the Addicks, infected by Roland Duchatelet’s poisonous regime, find themselves trapped in the division’s bottom three. Ambitious leadership, and chants of “we’re on our way back”, contrasted with destructive ownership, and supporters forced to protest to protect the future of their club.
With a degree of common sense, or at least using a strategy that places the development of the football club first and personal gain second, Charlton could have maintained their competitive rivalry with the Owls. Ducatelet’s regime, like Chansiri’s has to Wednesday, should have pushed the Addicks ahead, and not completely crippled them.
In fact, having competed against each other 12 times, many of them memorable encounters, since 2010, Saturday’s clash at Hillsborough looks likely to be the last between Charlton and Wednesday for some time.
The gap, avoidable and unnecessary, between two sides that have been equals for so long yet another frustration provided by Duchatelet’s flawed running of this club.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-1 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY
Charlton unexpectedly recorded their first win in 13 games with an excellent victory over the Owls at The Valley in November.
Johnnie Jackson’s thumping header, latching onto Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s corner, gave the Addicks the lead midway through the first half, and Simon Makienok, turning in another delivery from the Icelandic winger, doubled the hosts’ advantage on the stroke of half-time.
The win, which was also Karel Fraeye’s first as Charlton interim-but-not-interim head coach, appeared to be sealed just after the break, with Reza Ghoochannejhad converting from Morgan Fox’s ball across the face of goal.
But Naby Sarr’s slip, allowing Keiran Lee to beat him on the flank and cross for Fernando Forestieri to finish, set up an unnecessary nervy final 17 minutes.
And though Lucas Joao and Lewis McGugan went close, the Addicks held on for their first win since August.
Sheffield Wednesday: WDLDDL
Relief more than joy was the overriding feeling as the Owls beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 last Saturday. A run of five games without victory, and three without scoring, brought to an end in emphatic fashion.
In truth, the previous month or so hasn’t been as disappointing for Carlos Carvalhal’s side as that run might suggest. Defeats to Preston and Rotherham infuriating, but goalless draws away at promotion-chasing Hull City and Brighton, in the grand scheme of things, commendable efforts and decent points.
But with seventh placed Cardiff and eighth placed Ipswich just a point behind Wednesday in sixth, further slip ups can’t be afforded. The return of Fernando Forestieri, impressive at the City Ground and possessing the individual ability to turn tight contests the way of the Owls, following suspension the sort of boost required.
Such is the extent of the on-the-pitch predicament that the Addicks find themselves in, not even a week in which seven points have been gained from three games is enough to make their chances of avoiding relegation appear realistic.
For though a week without victory doesn’t bare thinking about – a return to League One would have been all but confirmed – a week with two hasn’t reduced the gap between Charlton and safety to a manageable margin.
Effectively six points from safety, with those around the bottom three finding their own ways to pick up points, and a run in that features four of the top six, survival still looks a long way off.
But, if nothing else, it has provided hope to disillusioned supporters that their side will at least fight and battle for the remainder of the season. A distraction from the insults and anger caused by the club’s poisonous ownership.
Sheffield Wednesday will be without Barry Bannan after the influential midfielder was dismissed during last weekend’s victory over Nottingham Forest.
The club were unsuccessful in appealing in the Scotland international’s three-match ban, dished out for a rash challenge on Forest full-back Eric Lichaj at the City Ground, and will be hoping that Sam Hutchinson is fit enough to replace him.
Lewis McGugan and Alex Lopez other possibilities to fill the hole left by Bannan’s absence in midfield should Hutchinson not recover from the illness that kept him out of the side last Saturday.
Jackson could return to the Charlton squad having missed the previous six games through injury.
The skipper, however, is unlikely to come straight back into the starting XI after the excellent performances of Jordan Cousins and Alou Diarra in the centre of midfield against Boro at the weekend.
Simon Makienok should also be involved again after missing Sunday’s victory through illness, and there could be returns for Stephen Henderson and Chris Solly, but both will be assessed prior to Saturday’s game. Nick Pope and Marco Motta will continue to deputise in their absence should they remain unavailable.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer has returned to training, but remains a number of weeks away from match fitness, while Yaya Sanogo sits out the second game of his three-match suspension.
KEY BATTLE – DEFIANCE AND DETERMINATION
Given the performance of the opposition, it’s important not to overhype the manner of the victory over Middlesbrough. Something that can very easily be done if their league position and stature is focused on ahead of their slow, sluggish and Aitor Karanka-less attempts to dominate play.
But there can certainly be some promise taken from the style in which the Addicks played. Organised and defiant, but for the few occasions Jordan Rhodes found some space, at the back, and, through Jordan Cousins’ drive in midfield, countering with pace and determination once possession had been regained.
It’s the sort of style that could be effective against any opposition who will attempt to control the game, but one Charlton’s shambolic defensive efforts and tame midfield battling have prevented from being successful for much of this campaign.
And simply repeating the performance against Boro at Hillsborough on Saturday won’t be enough. Wednesday will be quicker, more effective in their use of the ball, and less likely to be caught flat-footed while the Addicks break.
But defiantly holding off Wednesday’s attacks, before utilising the determination and pace of Cousins, Gudmundsson and Callum Harriott, would appear the best chance Jose Riga’s side have of taking anything away with them from Yorkshire.
Wednesday not crippled by uncertainty, and will be a much tougher opponent. Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Charlton Athletic