By virtue of the fact Nottingham Forest and Rotherham United are playing each other, there is no scenario that would see Charlton Athletic mathematically relegated this weekend. Derby County, having inflicted a fatal defeat on Bolton Wanderers, cannot send a side to League One for the second successive Saturday.
But that it is yet to be confirmed, and won’t be this weekend, takes nothing away from the acceptance that The Valley will host just three more Championship fixtures in 2016. The gap between the Addicks and safety, effectively 11 points with five games to play, too substantial to make up. Relegation is an unavoidable fate for this crisis club, even if an unlikely win is recorded against the Rams.
In fact, so destined are Charlton to a return to the third tier that nor would defeat have any real impact in shaping the future of this football club. Confirmation would draw nearer, but it is almost unnecessary. Relegation is accepted; the fatal blow inflicted a long time ago.
The fatal blow not QPR’s inflicting a stoppage-time defeat on Jose Riga’s side, as those above the Addicks picked up points and moved further away, but the injections of poison into the veins of this club by Roland Duchatelet’s regime over his 26 months in control. Charlton finding themselves in this position because of the damage the ownership has done.
And so, with the fate of the Addicks sealed, it is not the result that matters most on Saturday, but the need to rid the club of the disease that has overwhelmed it.
With three fixtures left in SE7 this season, a limited amount of opportunities remain to prevent the regime from being allowed another summer to inflict further damage on this club, and make this certain relegation impossible to recover from.
LAST MEETING – DERBY COUNTY 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Charlton continued their encouraging start to the season with a hard-fought, if somewhat fortunate, draw at the iPro Stadium in August.
The Addicks, on the back foot but relatively composed for the duration of the first half, took an unlikely lead just after the break when Tony Watt’s deflected effort looped over former Charlton goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Momentum, however, did not shift to the visitors after their goal. Instead, they merely hard to fight harder to keep Derby at bay. Goal line clearances, desperate blocks and the occasional narrow escape needed for Guy Luzon’s side to maintain their advantage.
But the Rams were always likely to draw level, and got the goal their pressure warranted with 22 minutes to play. Chris Martin turning inside the box and finishing with class beyond Nick Pope.
It set up an anxious end to the contest for the Addicks, who continued to fight valiantly in the face of persistent Derby threat. Their fight, and the wastefulness of the Rams, enough for Charlton to avoid a defeat they arguably would not have deserved.
The combination of relief and a sense there was some reward gained for their efforts meaning those in red were applauded at full-time as if they had just achieved victory.
But maybe the match is best remembered for Cristian Ceballos’ incredible corner at the end of the first half. A moment that foreshadowed what this season was to become.
How do you ease concerns that you’re about to emphatically throw away a play-off place for the second consecutive season? By scoring four goals in two consecutive games and extending the gap over seventh place to seven points, of course.
While Derby’s season, once again finding consistency hard to come by despite possessing one of the best squads in the division, can be deemed another relatively frustrating one, it at least seems fairly certain the Rams will have a shot at achieving promotion through the play-offs at the conclusion of this campaign.
It would appear that the appointment of Harry Redknapp as an advisor to Darren Wassall, who replaced the underperforming Paul Clement has had the desired effect. Three wins out of four since the experienced coach has appeared at the iPro, including a victory over rivals Nottingham Forest and emphatic 4-0 win over fellow promotion chasers Hull City.
And though the Rams have struggled away from home in 2016, with just one league win on the road, momentum is on their side as they travel to The Valley this weekend. Momentum they will look to maintain ahead of the play-offs.
Defeat may have been harsh on the Addicks at Loftus Road, who performed so impressively in the second period that they may have warranted victory, but it served only as a reminder that this recent improvement has come far too late to be anything more than a token gesture.
For even if they had beaten QPR, relegation would still have been certain. Only the confidence it would have provided giving any cause for unrealistic and not logical hope.
Nonetheless, that does not provide an excuse for Riga’s side to half-heartedly slog through the remaining five fixtures. The effort and energy that has been shown in recent weeks needs to be replicated until the conclusion of this campaign, if only to prevent further insult to supporters.
Derby are likely to remain without Bradley Johnson, with the midfielder only managing to do a small amount of running away from the rest of the squad this week.
Johnson missed Saturday’s victory over Bolton after suffering a knee injury during the win against Hull City, and Jacob Butterfield is likely to continue in his absence.
There is also a slim chance that Will Hughes, who made his first appearance since the opening day of the season with a few minutes off the bench last weekend, could come into the side. The homegrown talent recovering from a long injury lay-off.
But Wassall, after his side scored four goals for a second consecutive game, looks likely to name an unchanged XI.
The means Darren Bent’s first appearance at The Valley since departing in 2007 will have to come from the bench. The forward, Charlton’s record signing and sale, deserving of an excellent reception from his former supporters, as he has received from visiting Addicks in the East Midlands in recent season.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson should return from the head injury that kept him out of last weekend’s defeat to QPR.
The Iceland international, who clashed heads with Ipswich’s Jonas Knudsen during the goalless draw at Portman Road and failed to recover in time for the trip to Loftus Road, is likely to replace Yaya Sanogo in Charlton’s starting XI. The Frenchman suffering a muscle injury during the defeat in West London, and unlikely to be fit for the clash against the Rams.
Elsewhere, Yun Suk-Young will be available again after being unable to play against his parent club last weekend, while Patrick Bauer could be involved in the matchday squad for the first time this calendar year as he continues his recovery from injury.
But the game is likely to come too soon for Ahmed Kashi to have any involvement, despite the Algerian playing 45 minutes for the U21s on Monday.
KEY BATTLE – HALTING DERBY’S FORWARD THREAT/HALTING DUCHATELET’S FUTURE THREAT
Assisted by the scoring of eight goals in their previous two games, only two sides (Burnley and Fulham) have scored more than Derby (60) during this Championship season.
Four Rams (Martin, Tom Ince, Butterfield and Johnny Russell) have scored more goals this season than Charlton’s top scorer – the potent Simon Makienok, who has five.
With Ince and Russell flanking Martin to form a dangerous forward three, Butterfield, George Thorne and Craig Bryson supplying in the middle, and attacking full-backs Cyrus Christie and Markus Olsson providing further threat, it’s fair to say Derby are a very strong attacking force. Bent’s waiting in reserve, too.
Ideal, then, that only Bolton (76) have conceded more than the 72 times Charlton have this season. That despite the recent improvement in performances, defensive disaster is never far away. That sides with a strong forward threat can exploit the instability and lack of confidence that often cripples this group of Addicks.
It is, therefore, of vital importance that Riga’s side show a strong level of defensive resolve if they are to get anything out of this testing fixture. That particularly true in wide areas, where they have so often been exposed this season. Ince and Russell, who ripped Bolton apart last weekend, must be maintained, and Martin tracked closely in the centre.
But the more important battle is the one against Duchatelet. Keep building the pressure. Keep making our message clear.
Against strong opposition, I can’t see us recovering from Saturday’s disappointment. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Derby County