My career as a Charlton supporter was heading towards the end of its second season when I first experienced a major reunion at The Valley. The vigorous booing, and constant accusations of greediness born out of his money-motivated move to Chelsea, sent the way of Newcastle’s Scott Parker in March 2006, before he silenced his former fans in the Covered End with a 30-yard thunderbolt.
The last laugh belonging to the Addicks, as Lee Bowyer, another one-time member of Charlton’s academy, contributed to his former club’s 3-1 victory with a rather unfortunate own goal. But the hostility and friction sparked by Parker’s return, especially for a rather innocent and nerdy child a month short of his 11th birthday, was uncomfortable.
A necessity for some to express their anger towards a player who departed in a fashion that left supporters feeling betrayed and somewhat insulted, but not necessarily an enjoyable experience.
An experience, however, that has not set the tone for future reunions with former occupiers of The Valley. So much so, in fact, that the return of several players and coaches with their new clubs in recent times have provided unforgettable and emotional moments, while additional anticipation prior to a trip to SE7 is created when it is known that a one-time Addick will be renewing acquaintances.
The latest moment of emotional reunion coming as Lawrie Wilson, a substitute for Bolton Wanderers, appeared on the touchline midway through the first half of Saturday’s draw in order to warm up. It far eclipsing the pre-match applause for former Charlton boss Phil Parkinson, respected by supporters but unable to develop any sort of bond with them during a mixed time in charge.
Wilson, however, had certainly managed to create one during his time in SE7. Players of higher quality have undoubtedly represented the Addicks in recent times, but few whose determination, effort and character meant they were able to win the respect of supporters in the same way the curly-haired right-sided player did.
The bellowing of the “he used to be shite, but now he’s alright” chant from the Covered End as he jogged down the touchline on Saturday the most obvious sign of that. Always a little harsh to suggest he was ever shite, but Wilson’s efforts after an indifferent start in red meant he went from scapegoat to almost universally adored fan favourite.
The applause, sent Wilson’s way and returned with a smile, and ‘not worthy’ bow that followed a true reflection of this wonderful, and rather uplifting, relationship.
All this while the game continued, temporarily losing its importance. The mutual expressing of respect between supporters and former player a moment to be briefly enjoyed above the on-the-pitch contest.
In fact, these sort of moments provide a nice reminder that part of the beauty of football, and sport in general, is that there is much more to it than an emotionless gaining of points. Special and meaningful relationships so often created between supporters and players or coaches, and many to the extent that they remain intact regardless of what colours they wear.
Certainly for myself, these connections with those who have provided wonderful moments of joy or represented the club I support with distinction are treasured. A genuine joy in being able to offer my appreciation.
And it undoubtedly the case that these emotional moments of renewed connection have become more important and meaningful in a time where many have felt a loss of connection with the club.
The positive emotion expressed as Chris Powell and Yann Kermorgant returned simply unforgettable.
I feel no shame in admitting that the third minute applause for Powell upon his first return to SE7 since falling victim to Roland Duchatelet is among my favourite moments inside a football ground, as The Valley stood to appreciate their former player and boss, and he showed obvious emotion as he acknowledged it. The nature of the connection with the flat-capped hero reaffirmed by the grand mutual applause as he headed down The Valley’s tunnel both after the defeat he suffered with Huddersfield on his first return, and the victory he gained on the second.
While for Kermorgant, the emotion appears to grow with each return. Plenty of mutual respect and expressing of a connection in his first two returns with Bournemouth, but the applause as he headed Reading into the lead last season reaffirming that these connections can, in certain situations, be as strong as the feeling of winning and losing. Despite the fact that a Charlton side I had all but completely lost connection with were losing once again, the response to the Frenchman’s first goal against his former club from his former supporters rivals that Powell reception.
But, among all of the positivity in those displays of emotion, was a sense of opposition and protest. That more meaningful connection exits with the joy and respect such characters provided to supporters, rather than with a regime that have delivered insults and left many disillusioned with current notion of what represents their club. In the case of Kermorgant particularly, whose goal would not have been appreciated without rejection of Charlton’s regime.
Maybe that even seen to a certain extent on Saturday, though more of a reflection of the contrasting attitude of individuals rather than a contrasting connection with the club. The rightfully despised Roger Johnson was strongly booed and informed by the Covered End that he’s a cunt while he warmed up in the same spot that Wilson did.
It very hard to imagine Wilson telling supporters to not bother turning up if they don’t fucking like it. He’d probably buy them a cuppa, tell them it will all be okay, and give them a cuddle. It very hard to imagine Johnson getting a welcoming back like Wilson’s should he ever return to The Valley in a different club’s colours.
As, of course, there are other returnees who have received the Parker treatment. Jermain Defoe, seen as something of a traitor for departing Charlton’s academy as a youngster, Danny Murphy, not helped by his wife’s comments as he left for Tottenham, and Nicky Bailey, whose return to SE7 in a Millwall shirt reaffirmed the fact the only thing he ever did in Charlton colours was miss a penalty against Swindon Town, among the targets.
But those moments where a former player is booed upon their return are, at least comparatively, completely forgettable. It those positive reunions that spark the real emotion.
Michael Morrison always having time to applaud Charlton supporters at St Andrew’s, and Charlton supporters having plenty of time to sing his name upon his first return to The Valley last season, Dale Stephens showing appreciation to the Covered End following the protest-filled game against Brighton, and a bond between supporters and Darren Bent not dying despite nine years apart.
In fact, it’s almost disappointing that the only other properly notable return this season will be when Gillingham travel to The Valley and bring Scott Wagstaff with them.
A real Charlton lad, with obvious admiration for the Addicks expressed when he appeared in SE7 with Bristol City in the previous campaign. I’m not convinced Kyel Reid, Jerome Thomas and Jonathan Obika will get similar receptions, even if they find themselves a black and white scarf to wear.
Nonetheless, whether it be Wagstaff or Wilson, there is a real pleasure in welcoming back those who have maintained their connection with club and supporters longer after their departures.
A real pleasure in creating moments of mutual appreciation, in spite of the fact they no longer represent Charlton.
In the week that Katrien Meire embarrassed herself, and the football club she represents, by arriving so late to her first FA Council meeting that she missed the introduction for new members, Charlton Athletic left it late in their game against Bolton Wanderers to salvage pride and a point.
For having performed without cohesion and quality for much of the contest, the improving side that had been on display in recent weeks seemingly not turning up on this occasion, it took a rare moment of excellence for the Addicks to draw level as stoppage-time approached.
Ademola Lookman, finding himself in space on the edge of Bolton’s box and with a sight of goal gifted by a gap in the opposition’s defensive line, firing so clinically beyond Mark Howard that most inside The Valley had started celebrating as soon as the ball left the teenager’s foot.
One-dimensional, frustrating and unthreatening prior to Lookman’s powerful strike to the extent that it was an undeserved equaliser, but at least Russell Slade’s side were able to find a way to make a greater contribution to their points tally than a silent Meire could to the FA Council’s meeting.
An equaliser required after the table-topping Trotters had taken the lead eight minutes after the interval. Gary Madine’s cool finish, converting after some rather tame Charlton defending had allowed Liam Trotter to break down the left and pull the ball back to the forward, particularly frustrating given that the Addicks, through Nicky Ajose and Jason Pearce, had failed to make the most of two excellent chances in a very physical opening 45.
And the physicality of a Bolton side well-drilled by former Charlton boss Phil Parkinson, in a game refereed incredibly leniently, contributed to the feeling that Slade’s side, seeing plenty of the ball but struggling to do anything with it, would not get back into the game. Ricky Holmes frequently outmuscled, and lacking an end product, Josh Magennis losing the battle with David Wheater and Mark Beevers, and Nicky Ajose bullied into anonymity.
But so too was Charlton’s structure and shape, in addition to several disappointing individual efforts, preventing the Addicks from seriously testing their opponents. Altered after a first-half injury to Johnnie Jackson, meaning Chris Solly moved into the middle and Ezri Konsa played right-back, there was frequently no man further forward than Konsa on the right-hand side. A real imbalance, and lack of cohesion, to Slade’s side, that meant attacks frequently stuttered to uneventful conclusions.
In fact, though Lookman’s 64th minute introduction at least injected a touch of pace and energy into a flat and frustrated side, support for him was lacking. The teenager often collecting the ball far too deep, and no teammate to assist as his lively runs headed towards dead ends.
So it was with some fortune in the context of the game that Slade’s side were able to rescue a point they scarcely deserved. Nothing fortuitous about Lookman’s emphatic strike, however.
A bonus point certainly gained against tough opposition and a moment of celebration enjoyed, but the overall performance making Slade and his side’s attempt to react post-game as if victory had been achieved feel a little false.
A reminder that, as much as Meire needs to improve her timekeeping, this Charlton side require improvement in order to be considered anything like the finished article.
A reminder, too, that Slade’s starting XI would surely improve from the inclusion of Lookman. The teenager, surely no longer lacking energy after his summer excursions with the England U19s, again kept in reserve as an unchanged side was named.
The individuals within it unchanged, but there an obvious alteration in the way the side lined up shown in the game’s early exchanges. Jackson and Kevin Foley most certainly occupying the wide positions, with Andrew Crofts sitting deep and Holmes, assumingly in the hope of harnessing his ability when running with the ball, given something of a free role further forward.
However, instead of Holmes’ exciting and penetrating runs receiving attention in the opening moments, it was the rather less ascetically pleasing physical battles between forwards and centre-backs that dominated.
Though Magennis too found himself in a tough contest, it was in and around Charlton’s box that the tone of the opening 45 was set, as Madine expressed displeasure with the way Pearce was grappling him, and Jamie Proctor was pulled up for undeniable shoves on Konsa. The Addicks, just about, standing firm.
That need to stand firm increased by the fact Bolton, with a midfield that included Josh Vela, Mark Davies, and Jay Spearing, looked controlled and composed in possession. In spite of both sides being unable to create any genuine openings inside the first ten minutes, it was the visitors who enjoyed the more promising and threatening start.
So it was to some surprise, given that Slade’s men had failed to create any sort of tempo and were seemingly still attempting to find their feet, that the hosts managed to create the game’s first opening.
In fact, such was the extent of the opening, there was some disappointment around The Valley that a goal was not being celebrated. Great pace and movement from Ajose allowing the forward to latch onto Holmes’ almost perfectly-weighted through ball, but Howard off his line quickly to prevent the Addicks taking an early lead.
Nonetheless, the chance lifted a previously sombre home crowd, and seemed to have similar effect upon those they were supporting.
Still openings for Bolton, as Vela troubled those in the Lower North despite the ball falling to him in an inviting position and Proctor nodded comfortably off-target, but improvement in Charlton’s play. Holmes, with his signature drives forward, growing into the game, better link-up between Magennis and Ajose seeing the latter’s shot blocked well by Wheater, and Vela forced to chop down Morgan Fox as the left-back began to take more confident marauds forward.
But the sight of Patrick Bauer, set to make his first Valley appearance since December of last year, being readied meant many assumed the force of Vela’s mistimed challenge meant Fox’s day was done. An injury to the left-back rather fitting in the week that saw the man who previously covered him, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, sold to Huddersfield.
However, it was Jackson who hobbled off, seemingly having tweaked something in an off-the-ball incident. Slade deciding not to replace the skipper with an out-and-out winger, and instead rather bizarrely reshuffle his side. Bauer at centre-back, Konsa to right-back, and Solly moving into a midfield diamond that compressed.
Difficult to make sense of his decision to move several players out of position, rather than introduce a proper wide men. A suggestion it would have been nice to see Lawrie Wilson brought on, as he was given applause by the home supporters while the Bolton substitute went to warm up.
But the reshuffle it didn’t totally derail Charlton’s growth into the game. Fox’s miss-hit crossing appearing poor at first, but Ajose able to get in front of his man, and ultimately rifle an effort against the side netting.
In fact, there was a growing theme of men in red managing to get in front of their opposing player. Dean Moxey earning himself a booking as he horribly scythed down a galloping Holmes, before Vela, fortunate not to already be on a yellow card, managed to escape punishment for illegally stopping another burst forward from Fox.
Managing to escape punishment something Bolton also managed to achieve from the resulting free-kick, as Holmes’ delivery picked out an unmarked Pearce at the back post. Premature celebrations inside The Valley, as his nod across goal bounced agonisingly wide.
Momentum, in spite of that slow start and the disruption Jackson’s injury caused, belonging more and more to Charlton, but it always likely that the division’s leaders would find a way to regain a foothold in the game.
A foothold that would have been a lead had it not been for the quick reactions of Solly. Wheater heading Spearing’s corner goalwards, and the stand-in skipper, with some assistance from the woodwork, just about managing to deflect the ball off the line. The same Bolton man nodding over from the resulting set-piece, before sighs of relief sounded around SE7.
The feeling, therefore, as half-time approached was that this was a rather physical contest lacking proper fluency, in which both sides had managed to create the occasional opening. A sense of equality.
But there a rather large suggestion that the Addicks should have gone in at the break with a man advantage, as Lewis Buxton, a Charlton trialist during the summer before joining Parkinson’s side, followed through with a high boot on Magennis. The referee quick to show he was punishing Buxton for the high boot alone, and dubiously allowed him to escape without a card.
Home supporters unimpressed with the decision expressing their displeasure as a North Korea flag, in reference to CEO Meire’s attempts to end free speech among Charlton fans, was hung from the Upper West. That it was quickly taken away by stewards both ironic, and rather reflective of the half of football witnessed. One that, given its physical nature, had lacked any genuine flow.
That not be addressed at the start of the second half as Davies, attempting to dispossess a stuttering Fox, appeared to trap his foot in the ground and fall down in agony. The Bolton playmaker, with a torrid injury record, applauded down the tunnel by all four sides of the ground.
Selfishly, however, there was hope the Trotters would take time to recover from the disappointment of losing Davies, and the Addicks could take advantage. Not that they were going to with tame Magennis efforts from the best part of 30 yards that just about reached Howard in the Wanderers goal.
Instead, with Charlton’s defence displaying the shellshock that theory suggested this Bolton side might, it took barely three minutes of the game resuming following Davies’ departure for Bolton to take the lead.
Bauer unfortunately caught out, seeming to lose his footing somewhat and not turning quickly enough, as Trotter breezed down the left to pull back to an unmarked Madine. The forward, a handful but relatively quiet up to that point, finishing ruthlessly into the bottom corner and giving Declan Rudd no chance whatsoever.
Out of almost nothing, the game had stopped being something of a physical stalemate, and become one that needed Charlton to turn their fleeting moments of fluency into proper attacking potency in order to get something out of it.
The response of Slade’s side following that goal, however, was not encouraging. Misplaced passes, a loss of the little shape there was, and a horrible short corner routine between Ajose and an increasingly frustrating Holmes played out as chants from the Covered End demanded the introduction of Lookman.
They were to get their wish, as the winger replaced the ineffective Foley, but his teammates were not. Frequent occasions where the ball was carried out from the back, with Bolton sitting deeper and allowing Charlton to do so, with those in red panicking as they failed to see an obvious forward pass. A lack of cohesion, structure, and effective remained.
It was, largely, the individual prowess of Holmes and Lookman that the Addicks were relying on to get them back into the game. The former without end product, and being well marshalled by those in white, while the latter was taking the ball into decent positions without being given useful assistance from the struggling Magennis and Ajose.
To their credit, Bolton were defiant, but Slade’s unit looked so dysfunctional that they were not being given a proper test. A Magennis header comfortably looping over the bar after a rare accurate cross, Lookman, having worked himself into space, dragging a tame effort wide, and on-target strike from Crofts being blocked about as good as it got for a Charlton side that appeared a little desperate.
Desperation that was reasonable to have as the 90th minute approached, so it no surprise that there were rather ambitious cries that Howard, having saved Magennis looping header, had taken the ball over the line as he claimed it. Desperation, amidst frustration at how tame and unthreatening a performance this unorganised side were putting in.
So even though it was apparent that Lookman’s last-minute strike was nestling in the bottom corner from the moment he made contact with the ball, there remained an element of sheer surprise in the celebrations around The Valley. Slade’s side not doing enough to deserve an equaliser, not looking threatening at all, but Lookman had somehow managed to punish an overly defensive Bolton when victory looked theirs.
And with the energy that those celebrations created, in addition to seven minutes of additional time there was suddenly belief, in a game that Charlton had long appeared out of, of an Addicks victory. Belief stifled by Howard’s slow taking of goal kicks, with the Trotters seemingly unwilling to risk their point in search of victory.
A point they might well have lost regardless, as Holmes, after numerous horrendous deliveries, picked out substitute Brandon Hanlan perfectly at the back post from a free-kick. The youngster throwing himself into the ball but able only to able against the side-netting.
But as Ajose, with ball at feet on a rare occasion during the second 45, travelled forward and fired wide enough for Howard to comfortably watch the ball sail past his post, there was an acceptance from both sides that this game would end in a draw.
A performance not worthy of the joy expressed by those in red come full-time, but a point that might well prove important if there are to be further moments of celebration towards the end of this campaign.
For there is no denying that a point, irrespective of the performance, is a positive outcome from a contest against a side who had a 100% record coming into the game at The Valley.
In truth, despite the contrast in emotions come full-time with Slade leading celebrations and several of Bolton’s players understandably appearing devastated not to have held on when Charlton chances were not being created prior to their equaliser, it probably a result that both sides can be relatively happy with.
But, while being grateful and not discrediting the useful nature of the result, Lookman’s late leveller cannot be used to cover up how disappointing and dysfunctional the Addicks were, particularly in the second half.
That the result, I would suggest, of three factors.
The first being disappointing individual performances. A reliance on Magennis’ ability to win punts forward and Holmes’ drives with the ball at his feet, that have allowed for Charlton to threaten in previous games and prevent faults within the side from being exposed, shown as the failure of both to impress in the second half increased the struggles of the Addicks dramatically.
Additionally, Ajose was disappointingly quiet after half-time, Fox has had much better days going forward, and misplaced passes in midfield were regular and felt like a result of a lack of cohesion.
The second issue being the system that Slade deployed, particularly in midfield. It has always been lopsided under the bald-headed boss, but especially so today, with there seemingly no player on the right-hand side for much of the second half. The system unorganised, lacking fluency, and seemingly revolving around getting the ball to Lookman and Holmes and hoping it for the best. It just wasn’t working.
Also, opting to replace Jackson with Bauer remains a very strange call. Solly, though calm and composed, not a midfield, Konsa defensively sound but not really making any sort of influence and going forward, and turning down the opportunity to actually having some balance in the middle with another proper wide man just seems very odd.
And finally, the third issue is a consequence of the lack of bodies available to Slade. Half of that through injury, with Slade persisting with off-colour Magennis for most of the game without Lee Novak available, but half of it through a genuine lack of depth, with no pacey forward to replace Ajose, no creative central midfield option, and a seeming lack of trust in Jordan Botaka.
It means, in addition to keeping a hold of Lookman, worthy of praise not only for his goal but for his persistent attempts to make an impact prior to it while the rest of his side struggling, there is plenty of work to be done prior to the transfer deadline.
And plenty of work for Slade’s side. The feeling of relief that a point was snatched to be enjoyed, but it certainly shouldn’t prevent a search for improvement prior to the next league game in a fortnight’s time. Cohesion, structure and consistency still to be found.
If we were to assess Charlton Athletic’s transfer dealings since relegation from the Championship on the basis of the impact new signings have made in the previous two and a half fixtures, it would be considered a roaring success.
For the individual talent of recent arrivals has allowed Russell Slade’s side, still showing signs of collective frailty as they attempt to make up for time lost during pre-season and move towards gelling together as a unit, to take seven points in a week. Seven points that, following the gutless defeats to Bury and Cheltenham Town, in addition to the first half against Northampton Town, seemed unlikely.
The determination of Josh Magennis, the match-defining brilliance of Ricky Holmes, and the goals of Nicky Ajose all very much admired, without downplaying the importance of Declan Rudd’s saves or Jason Pearce’s defensive leadership. It turns out it only takes two and a half years to work out that new signings are more likely to make an immediate impact if they already have experience of English, or at least British, football.
Focusing on the efforts of those new arrivals in a short time frame, however, would not be telling anything like the full story of this summer’s window activity. The pace with which players arrived, in addition to the sense that Russell Slade seemingly had to fight tooth and nail to make many of the additions he wanted to, and the frustrating departures, made more so by the relatively low reported fees received, just some of the other factors that need to be considered when analysing it in full.
But the most pressing concern, with less than a week remaining before Sky Sports’ bi-annual attempt to create TV entertainment out of ‘deadline day’, is that Charlton’s work in the transfer market this summer remains unfinished.
There still an obvious need to improve the depth of the squad, and maybe the quality of those who hold starting positions, to prevent a combination of injury and limited options again derailing the chance of the Addicks enjoying a relatively successful season. More bodies required in order to maintain a serious and competitive challenge at the top of the division throughout the campaign.
That arguably most true in the centre of midfield, where it is widely acknowledged that Slade’s side lacks any sort of dynamism, pace, and forward-thinking creativity. A rare issue that would still exist should the boss be able to field his strongest XI, and not simply one that is born out of a lack of replacements and alternatives.
For there are no Jordan Cousins or, as has been the case for several seasons, Dale Stephens-type players in this squad. No one with the pace, energy and strength to press and drive in the centre, and no in the attacking playmaker mould, who can play incisive and defence-splitting passes.
Options and quality will increase when Alou Diarra and Ahmed Kashi return, but both a long way off from recovering from their respective injuries. It almost better to put them to one side for the time being, and consider them as new signings when they return.
The one-dimensional nature of the midfield not helped by its current imbalance and lop-sidedness. Three central men built in very similar moulds spread across a middle four, with either Johnnie Jackson or Kevin Foley having to sit wide.
Jackson, at least when in the middle, enjoying an influential and impressive start to the campaign, while Andrew Crofts, the other man in that trio, has improved steadily following his first half horror show against Northampton Town, growing in composure and providing a more dependable defensive influence, but something different is required.
Something that means not all of Charlton’s forward play is born out of Magennis winning knocks forward or drives down the flanks instigated by Holmes, and something that means opposition midfields are pressed with greater intensity and given less time on the ball. Walsall given far too much space in the middle last weekend, for example.
There arguably also a need for another, preferably right-sided, wide man. That true while hoping that Jordan Botaka will show improvement, and Ademola Lookman won’t be cashed in on. A slight lack of depth in that position exposed by the continued need to play unsuitable middle men out there, and the concern that the Addicks would lack attacking threat should Holmes, who doesn’t have a perfect fitness record, suffer injury.
No proper replacement for Holmes, and no proper replacement for Ajose. Lee Novak, whose troublesome hand injury has meant he’s been unable to impress so far, and Magennis providing two options for the target man role, but only one genuine partner for them.
A back-up for Ajose wouldn’t need to be a 20-goal-a-season striker, of course, but someone with decent pace and movement, who can link up well with Novak or Magennis. A young striker on loan from a Premier League or Championship club, maybe.
Greater depth to be found at the back, or at least that was the case until this week. The somewhat frustrating sale of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis meaning that another left-back, particularly with many supporters still doubtful over Morgan Fox’s ability to be a consistent performer despite a solid start to the campaign, is needed.
Given that Slade’s system seems to utilise the attacking qualities of both Fox and Chris Solly – covered by Foley, better served being an alternative at right-back than struggling in the middle, and the perfectly versatile Ezri Konsa – it’s far too dangerous to simply rely on a centre-back covering should the Welshman suffer injury or loss of form. Ironically, someone in the Holmes-Dennis mould required.
The Addicks, however, are perfectly covered in the centre of defence. So much so that we’re hopefully not too far off “NEWS: Charlton Athletic have terminated the contract of Roger Johnson” being Tweeted by the official account, with no wishes for the future being offered.
That depth improved by the return to fitness of Harry Lennon and Patrick Bauer. In fact, to suggest Lennon and Bauer provide depth is unfair – the quality of the pair means they provide genuine competition to Konsa and Pearce.
Competition that will be useful for both of the current starting duo. Konsa, just beginning his professional career, can be used sparingly, while Pearce, whose old-fashioned defending and strong leadership means he reminds me a little of Michael Morrison, will hopefully be more careful in the way in pulls and grapples with opponents, knowing that faults could see him out of the side.
You just hope that, in addition to making the signings required in the coming days to give the squad the depth it requires to be consistently competitive, the regime refuse to oversee further harmful sales.
A desperate need to keep Lookman, and to turn down any offers for Fox if rumours of interest from Birmingham City are true. You hope, too, that Bauer’s return to fitness hasn’t been noted by clubs in his homeland.
In truth, some sales are likely. Jorge Teixeira’s agent has pushed for a move away from the club for his client for the duration of the summer, and El-Hadji Ba’s absence through “illness” is a touch suspicious, so I’ve all but accepted they’ll be off. But, given the depth at the back and Ba’s lack of quality, they wouldn’t be particularly harmful losses.
I think I’d also like to see, in spite of how small the squad remains, some departures that would prove beneficial to Charlton’s younger players.
Dillon Phillips returning to Cheltenham on loan would be ideal, but a professional bench-warming goalkeeper would need to be signed on a short-term deal. Is Tony Warner still about?
Brandon Hanlan, Mikhail Kennedy and Terrell Thomas others that would probably be better served spending some time playing first-team football in the lower divisions, but the environment that Jason Euell appears to have created in his U23 side means there’s no desperate rush for that.
The focus, of course, on adding quality to the midfield, improving depth in almost all other areas, and holding onto those who might attract attention from elsewhere.
For in order for successive victories to become a regular occurrence throughout the campaign, there remains work to be done before August 31st.
There is an argument that says this is the worst time for Russell Slade’s Charlton Athletic to face their first genuine test of the campaign. To face a Bolton Wanderers side, led by former Addicks boss Phil Parkinson, who have recovered quickly from the threat of liquidation and the disappointment of relegation to be League One’s pace setters.
For the confidence gained from back-to-back victories, the first time Charlton have achieved successive wins since November, could so easily be lost.
The sheer determination, and occasional moment of good fortune, required to grind out victory against Walsall showing that there remains faults in a side still needing to discover total cohesion. It might well be more beneficial, for a group that’s still developing, to continue to find confidence a framework against the division’s also-rans.
But then it can be suggested that this is the ideal time for the Addicks to face opponents who possess the quality, and are in the form of, the Trotters. To be able to go into a contest against testing opposition with the confidence and self-belief that successive victories provides, and not fearing the worst.
Ultimately, of course, you don’t get to pick and choose your fixtures for a time when they best suit you, and the visit of Bolton to The Valley would provide an extremely tough test to Slade’s men regardless of when they travelled down from Lancashire.
At the very least, we’re going to have learnt a bit more about this Charlton side come Saturday evening than we knew previously. A bit more about whether, albeit at an early stage of the season, they can match one of the division’s stronger units.
LAST MEETING – BOLTON WANDERERS 0-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (19/04/2016)
Charlton’s relegation from the Championship, accepted for many months, was finally confirmed as a dour performance saw the Addicks fail to breakdown already relegated Bolton at the Macron Stadium in April.
A performance that belonged to a side who had long lost the required fight to escape a relegation fight, with those in red seemingly unmotivated by the knowledge that only a victory would prolong the inevitable.
Bolton themselves seemingly possessing the effort of a side longing for a dire campaign to reach its conclusion, and yet Jose Riga’s side never came close to breaking the deadlock. A truly torrid game of football, on a night where the damage Roland Duchatelet’s ownership has done to the club was reaffirmed.
A night, too, where the divide between club and supporters was also played out in the actions of those representing the Addicks come full-time. The limited group of players that followed Johnnie Jackson towards the away end to acknowledge the small and despondent set of visiting fans not most, including boss Riga, headed straight for the tunnel.
When stature is considered, it not that surprising that a club who were playing in Europe on a semi-regular basis in the previous decade find themselves at the top of League One after a 100% start to their campaign in the third tier.
But given the crisis that Bolton were in throughout last season, and the sense that time would be required for the club to stabilise, achieving four wins in four league games is certainly a case of realistic expectations being exceeded.
Sheffield United, AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers the side’s that Parkinson’s unit, still yet to find full fluency but impressing nonetheless, had already beaten before Josh Vela’s 84th minute strike extended their 100% start to the season last weekend, as a 2-1 victory over Fleetwood was recorded.
Their fourth successive 2-1 win in the league, with it coming as little surprise that the Trotters are winning games by one-goal margins with Parkinson in charge. The former Charlton and Bradford boss, if not the most stylish, one of the more dependable and consistent bosses in League One.
In fact, there has been just one blip in Bolton’s impressive start to the season, with a 4-2 League Cup loss against Blackpool meanings the competition was exited in the first round.
And yet boss Parkinson is adamant that his side can still get better. “There’s still a lot more we can get out of this group of players,” he said following the victory over Fleetwood.
Quite the worrying prospect for other League One sides.
Via the fingertips of Declan Rudd, the poacher’s instinct of Nicky Ajose, and some gritty determination, the Addicks somehow came away from Walsall with three points last weekend.
Not that those three points were undeserved, just that they had to sit deep inside their own half for the majority of the contest, and were required to battle extremely hard for the victory. The celebrations come full-time mixing joy, pride and the occasional bit of relief.
Quite the contrast to the way in which Ricky Holmes almost single-handedly devastated Shrewsbury in the win that preceded the one at the Bescot, but equally as enjoyable. Not least as a consequence of a marvellous atmosphere in the away end, that mixed passionate support with defiant opposition to the regime.
Unquestionably, however, there remains flaws in this Charlton side. Flaws that were incredibly close to being exploited by the Saddlers, with victory almost snatched away on several occasions. Flaws that Slade will be aware of, and look to improve upon.
Supporters still not fully aware of what their side is capable of, but successive victories have certainly created greater optimism than there was two weeks ago.
Bolton are likely to be without Zach Clough after the talented young striker pulled his hamstring during last weekend’s victory over Fleetwood.
The injury provides rare frustration in this positive start to the Trotters season, given that the 21-year-old, who has seemingly attracted the attentions of clubs in higher divisions throughout the summer, missed the start of the campaign with a separate hamstring complaint. Clough’s appearance in the 2-1 only his second of the season, and his first start.
But forward Jamie Proctor, whose own hamstring troubles meant he missed the game against his former club, should return. The 24-year-old, who started in the victories against AFC Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers, likely to come back into the side.
Elsewhere, Derik Osede will be hoping to make his first appearance of the season having been an unused substitute last weekend after recovering from a groin injury, and former Addick Dorian Dervite has returned to training after a knee injury, but Darren Prately (leg) remains absent.
Should Dervite not travel with the Trotters to SE7, it won’t just be Parkinson reacquainting with familiar faces. Lawrie Wilson starting Bolton’s games against Sheffield United and Blackpool, though has been an unused substitute since, while summer trialist Lewis Buxton has settled into Bolton’s back four.
A lack of midweek game this week will have provided Ademola Lookman with seven more days to discover the full fitness he apparently still lacks after a demanding summer away with the England U19s, and Slade may finally unleash the teenage winger from the off on Saturday.
A first league start of the season for Lookman would see Kevin Foley drop out, and Charlton’s midfield finally have some balance and symmetry, with a winger on each flank.
Elsewhere, both Harry Lennon and Patrick Bauer feature for the U21s this week as they return to full fitness, with the latter likely to be pushing for a starting place having made an appearance off the bench at Walsall last weekend, while Lee Novak should return to the matchday squad having sat out the trip to the Bescot Stadium as he continues to nurse a frustrating hand injury.
KEY BATTLE – STOPPING A STRONG MIDDLE FROM PLAYING
If there is only one concern to be had about Charlton’s side, in spite of the two recent victories, then it would come in midfield.
For though both Shrewsbury in the second half of their defeat at The Valley and Walsall for the majority of the game at the Bescot struggled to create genuine openings, it was through no fault of their midfield. The Addicks giving them plenty of time on the ball in the middle, but both sides struggling further forward.
The worry going into the game against Bolton, therefore, is that the Trotters strong midfield will take advantage of the space and time that will potentially be offered to them. Young Josh Vela enjoying an incredibly impressive start to the season, Jay Spearing combative and far too good for this level, Mark Davies a real dictator of play. and Liam Trotter energetic and powerful.
And so there is a need for Charlton’s one-dimensional and so far lopsided midfield, to press with greater intensity. For Jackson and Andrew Crofts, the two most likely to start in the centre should Lookman finally be brought in, to find the energy to continuously pressure their counterparts.
This the sort of midfield contest where the energy of Jordan Cousins, or at least the failure to replace the energy of Jordan Cousins, might well be missed. Anyone got an Achilles they can lend Ahmed Kashi for the day?
A success to come away from the contest relatively unscathed. The determination of last weekend probably going to be required again. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bolton Wanderers
It was by no means a fluent and faultless performance that allowed Russell Slade’s Charlton Athletic side to celebrate victory with real joy in front of their vocal travelling supporters at the Bescot Stadium, but neither was it fortuitous.
For to call Charlton’s victory, the first immediately following another since November, fortuitous would, though accounting for the chances Walsall created and the occasional moments of luck the Addicks enjoyed, totally discredits the collective application and effort of this side.
A 2-1 win achieved largely through determination and drive. Determination and drive befitting of a Charlton side, and a Charlton side vastly improved in terms of attitude upon recent cohorts.
Through fine margins can such a statement be made, and not a sloppy and sometimes sluggish performance be criticised. The Addicks, nowhere near as composed as they were during Tuesday’s victory over Shrewsbury and occasionally finding themselves caught out, could not have claimed an injustice had Declan Rudd not pulled off a sensational double save midway through the first half and Walsall taken the lead.
But Slade’s side – through collective persistence, the pace of Ricky Holmes, and the battle of Josh Magennis- were competing in such a manner that covered the flaws in their performance and meant the lead taken prior to half-time did not come against the run of play. Nicky Ajose on hand to head home his first Charlton goal from close range.
And maybe, as the Saddlers grew frustrated with their attacking failings, the Addicks became increasingly defiant in defence, and the visiting support cried in praise of their side and hatred of the regime that runs their club, there was a feeling that that Ajose goal would be enough. A feeling that existed in spite of Charlton being pushed deeper into their own half, and their hearty defiance being increasingly tested with forward fluency lacking.
A feeling that was, ultimately, to be proven wrong. The Addicks guilty of dropping too deep, inviting Kieron Morris to shoot, and Rudd’s attempt to keep out the drive questionable. The away end silenced out of nothing.
Silenced partly with the fear that collapse would follow, but the drive and determination of this Charlton side was proven as they picked themselves up and responded immediately. Magennis breaking down the right, and his ball across the face just about turned in by Ajose. Prolific, having previously faltered in front of goal.
And the drive and determination of this Charlton side allowed to stand in the moments that followed largely by gritty defending, but also an occasional moment of desperation. Simeon Jackson would have converted into an empty goal had he got on the end of a ball blocked across goal by Rudd, and the goalkeeper needed to deny the Canadian from a tight angle in stoppage-time.
Relief, as much as joy, in those full-time celebrations therefore, but the overwhelming feeling not one that Charlton had ridden their luck.
Instead, it was pride, among a group of supporters who had encouraged and expressed outrage marvellously throughout the afternoon, in the commendable diligence of their side that was felt as fist-pumps between players and fans were shared. Determination, just about, succeeding.
Determination also probably playing a part as Johnnie Jackson and Holmes, despite both nursing knocks, were able to start in an unchanged Charlton side. Unchanged, but for the fact Jackson had again been shifted out wide, as appose to Kevin Foley, who took the graveyard shift in midweek.
And maybe it was that subtle change that meant Charlton’s start in the West Midlands wasn’t quite as impressive as it was in SE7 four days previously. Jackson’s presence in the centre missed as Isaiah Osbourne took control, and the lively Franck Moussa, against his former club, warmed the hands of Rudd.
The Addicks, maybe a little frustratingly so after the attacking intent that saw Shrewsbury dispatched, set up and playing like the away side they were. Walsall the more controlling, and Slade’s men looking to venture forward on the break with limited success. A need for greater patience among the visiting support who might have expected more, as Andrew Crofts blasted over and former Charlton stopper Neil Etheridge gathered Magennis’ tame effort.
And a need for their side to sharpen up at the back. Simeon Jackson allowed the time and space to shoot, Rudd spilling his drive, and a more composed Andreas Makris might well have capitalised on the opening from the rebound.
A warning regardless, and one taken in the right way. Fluency still lacking in the attacking moves, but Holmes’ directness was leading more encouraging charges forward.
Chris Solly in behind down the right, Ajose unmarked at the back post, but a combination of the forward being unable to quite control his feet and desperate Walsall defending denying the Addicks. Frustration on the summer signing’s face once again, but the visiting fans supportive.
Although, that supportive attitude would have certainly turned to very real frustration of their own had it not been for the brilliance of Rudd moments later. Most expecting the net to ripple as an unmarked Simeon Jackson was picked out in the middle, but the goalkeeper somehow managed to beat the goalbound strike away, before picking himself up to deny Morris, who seemed certain to convert the rebound. The Charlton defence, featuring far too many holes, saved by their goalkeeper.
And maybe it was the confidence gained from seeing a teammate pull of something spectacular that meant Ajose felt he could attempt something a bit special himself. A dink from distance having a disorientated Etheridge back peddling, and Walsall’s stopper thankful that Ajose’s audacious effort could only clip the bar on its way behind.
A more open feeling to the game, or at least each side seemed as likely to score as the other. Still Charlton’s defence were a little slow in closing down the opposition on the edge of the box, and Rudd was needed to deny Jason McCarthy, while Walsall’s backline found themselves unsure how to deal with a rampaging Holmes as the winger broke forward and saw a swerving strike parried away, with Magennis thankful that an offside flag sparred his blushes after somehow prodding the loose ball wide.
So the goal the Addicks were able to score with three first half minutes remaining prior to half-time was doubly important. Not only because it gave them the lead in a contest where they had flirted with the idea of falling behind on several occasions, but it meant the momentum built towards the end of the half was not wasted.
Holmes’ corner finding its way back out to the winger, his cross nodded on by Magennis, and an unmarked Ajose alive at the back post to head home his first goal for Charlton after several disappointing misses.
Delight for the man himself among the wild celebrations in the away end, as Etheridge appealed desperately for offside. The moment of good fortune, with Ajose simply being in the right place at the right time, that many felt the forward needed to get off the mark finally found.
A worry, though, that Slade’s men might well play with caution in the second period given that they had now taken the lead. A tactic that could ultimately result in the Saddlers capitalising upon a potentially nervy Addicks backline.
But if the opening moments of the restart were anything to go by, there remained forward energy and intent in this Charlton side. Chris Solly, of all people, pressing high and in a position to intercept a horrendous Etheridge period, but only able to fire his resulting strike straight at the goalkeeper.
A Magennis header, looped back across goal and behind, providing further encouragement that this half was not to be a nervy one for the Addicks, but the expected pattern of the period soon took over. The most desperate of blocks from Johnnie Jackson, resulting in a chorus of “runs down the wing for me”, denying Morris, before Makris headed the resulting corner wide.
Slade’s attempt to avoid Charlton being camped deep into their half was to bring on Ademola Lookman, but runs from the teenager winger and Holmes with no end product were not helping the cause.
Walsall’s frustration, however, most certainly was. A structured and defiant backline, not yet showing nerves, incredibly difficult to breakdown and simple mistakes and misplaced passes were beginning to be made by the Saddlers. Substitute Amadou Bakayoko heading comfortably over from a corner and Matt Preston firing off-target from the edge of the box not reflective of the dominance of the ball Walsall were having, but about as good as it got in terms of chances created for Jon Whitney’s side.
All the while, the visiting supporters were showing defiance of their own. “Please just sell the club, our famous football club, we just don’t really want you here,” rattling around the away end for a ten minute period, as if a reminder was required that any sort of run of performances and results will not be enough for forgiveness. The name of that famous football club then sung, as a moment of relief was found on the field with Magennis, ever a threat, nodding tamely wide.
Relief, however, that was not to last. For all of Charlton’s structured defiance, simply not allowing Walsall to create moves that meant they could claim the ball inside the box, they had sometimes continued to be a little slow in closing down the opposition.
Osbourne, Moussa and Morris all given a yard of space on the edge of the box as the ball was ultimately worked to the latter, and the midfielder taking the opportunity to fire towards goal. An effort that lacked genuine pace and power, but one Rudd could not keep out. His fingertips deflecting the ball into the bottom corner, and he taking as much of the blame for Walsall’s equaliser as Charlton’s static defending.
Frustration that a totally unnecessary goal had been conceded, but the away end were quick to find their voices, if only to shout down the fears of total capitulation. Undoubtedly some genuine belief, however, that this group of Addicks, on the back foot and forced to be determined for much of the half, could somehow regain their lead with 18 minutes still to play.
And with 16 minutes to play, out of almost nothing, they were back in front. The pace and strength of Magennis too much for James O’Connor down the right, and his ball across the face of goal beating everyone in the middle to find Ajose at the back post. A moment where it seemed the ball had got tangled between his feet, but the forward able to bundle it over the line, and claim his second of the game. Sheer, and slightly unexpected, joy among the visiting supporters.
Sheet joy that was, temporarily at least, replaced by caution, knowing full well the previous pattern of the game would return. Bakayoko’s shot tipped behind by Rudd, and Florent Cuvelier testing the goalkeeper from the resulting corner as it again became clear defiance was needed.
Defiance that would hopefully be helped by the appearance of Patrick Bauer on the pitch, replacing a drained Ajose who received the reception his goals deserved. The BFG, slotting into a position behind midfield but not too far in front of defence, making a return after eight months out through injury.
His presence not enough, however, to prevent the need for rather desperate and determined defending from the Addicks. Nor was it enough to scare the fourth official into signalling less than five additional minutes, and five additional minutes that really should have ended in disaster.
For though Walsall were still a unit that looked calm on the ball in the centre but panicked when attempting to go any further forward, they finally found a way through in the dying moments.
Erhun Oztumer, lively without much end product since coming on, sending a ball into the box, which appeared to take a slight deflection off the referee on its way to Joe Edwards. Charlton thankful that his touch was a little away from him, allowing Rudd to block his prod towards goal, but Simeon Jackson really should have found a way to get on the end of the loose ball that ran across the face of goal. A certain equaliser had he made any sort of contact.
Contact certainly made, however, by the Canadian as time remained on the clock for him to break into the box and latch onto the end of a lofted pass. The angle tight, but his volley well-struck, and Rudd’s save that followed, deflecting the ball onto the post, marvellous. The goalkeeper’s overall efforts more than making up for his tame attempt to deal with Walsall’s equaliser.
And so it was fitting that it was Rudd’s grab from a corner, as several Walsall bodies attempted to challenge, that signalled the end of the game. That allowed fear and panic to be replaced by relieved joy and ecstatic pride.
That meant Charlton, through determination, defiance, and the occasional bit of good fortune, had recorded a second successive win.
Of course, to win in such fashion, where slight margins made huge differences, does show the improvement that is still required. Not only would a side with more attacking fluency than Walsall at least taken something from the game, but Walsall would have taken something from the game were it not for Rudd’s brilliance.
The defence, at times, too deep, and opened up a little too easily in the first half. The midfield still lacking pace, and very much struggling to get a proper hold of the ball in the second period. But these are not aggressive criticisms, but points to address, and upon which to improve.
For the overriding feeling, irrespective of how close Walsall came to taking something from the game, is one of pride. Pride in how determined Slade’s side were, both defensively as the opposition attempted to break them down again and again and in response to conceding, in order to achieve back-to-back wins for the first time since November.
A win achieved in a completely different style to one in midweek, but worthy of similar praise. The gritty fight and hearty defiance, not least in the second half efforts of Jason Pearce and Ezri Konsa, as pleasing as the way Holmes blasted through Shrewsbury’s defence on Tuesday.
Pleasing, too, that Ajose finally managed to break his duck. It was not for the want of effort that the forward was yet to score, and though it is slightly a cliché, you do feel the goals will flow now he has two to his name. Not least given the fact his partnership with Magennis, maybe not as consistently effective as he was in the previous two home games but still vitally important and creating both goals, appears a strong one.
And a final mention to the marvellous support in the Bescot’s away end. A defiance and determination, both in support of their side and the prolonged chants against the regime that will remain irrespective of what is seen on the pitch, that matched their side’s.
A most marvellous effort all round.
Apologies for the delay in posting. Yesterday was spent hopping between Edgbaston, supporting the T20 Blast winners, and the Bescot. Supporting the Addicks. I’ve had worse days. Didn’t arrive at Walsall until twenty minutes into the game, so points made on the opening exchanges based on others’ views. Blame them if it’s all rubbish. Blame me for the rest of it.
Don’t say it too loudly, mainly because Katrien Meire’s PR servants might hear and decide they’ve won a war they simply can’t win, but supporters of Charlton Athletic will go into a game this weekend with justified confidence for the first time in many months.
We’ll ignore the fact the game that followed ended with a tame defeat to Bristol City that reassured fans relegation to League One was not going to be avoided, but there has been nothing like the renewed optimism that Tuesday’s impressive victory over Shrewsbury Town has provided since January’s 4-1 win over Rotherham United. Renewed optimism without the baggage of Simon Makienok being a part of it.
Russell Slade’s side displaying an attacking vigour and intent at The Valley for at least the opening 45 minutes in midweek that injected a contagious sense of enthusiasm among fans, creating a complete distraction from the off-the-field chaos and supporter disconnection, that was to be treasured in the circumstances.
But while there is reason for belief and enthusiasm, so too must Addicks approach Saturday’s trip to Walsall with a sense of caution. Caution that comes with the knowledge that renewed optimism has so often been replaced by familiar disappointment in recent times.
A need for Slade’s men to take their efforts in the victory over the Shrews, and replicate them away from The Valley against opposition that is perceived to be somewhat more testing irrespective of a summer weakening.
To prove those 45 minutes in SE7 on Tuesday are not going to be something we’ll be looking back on come the end of the season with a sense of underachievement and wasted opportunity.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-0 WALSALL (09/04/12)
Dany N’Guessan’s first-half header at The Valley in April 2012 edged Chris Powell’s Charlton a step closer to securing the promotion from League One that had long been effectively theirs.
The French forward, on loan from Millwall, turned in a Johnnie Jackson free-kick with ten minutes remaining of the first period, and that was all that was needed for the Addicks to inflict defeat on Dean Smtih’s Walsall side.
The remainder of the game seen out in relatively comfortable fashion, with Charlton regularly creating chances to double their lead and, aside from Ben Hamer almost gifting Jon Macken an equaliser, rarely looking like sacrificing their advantage.
The victory laying the platform from which Powell’s side were able to secure promotion, with Bradley Wright-Phillips’ goal at Carlisle United five days later returning the Addicks to the Championship. That was all very fun, wasn’t it?
In truth, Walsall’s start to this League One season probably reflects what many expected of them during this campaign. Average, unspectacular, and nowhere near their incredible efforts and near-achievements of last season.
Too much to expect a side that lost key performers throughout the summer to be able to challenge for promotion once again, with Romaine Sawyers and Tom Bradshaw particularly difficult to replace. The ambition of Jon Witney’s men seemingly simply being to consolidate in the third tier’s top half.
But, as a comprehensive opening day victory against AFC Wimbledon proved, there does remain quality among the Saddlers ranks. The likes of Erhun Oztumer, Franck Moussa and Simeon Jackson, in one way or another, possessing match-winning qualities.
It disappointing, therefore, that the fixtures that have followed for Walsall have ended in frustration. A failure to breakdown League Two Yeovil Town resulting in an extra-time League Cup exit, a similar inability to find a way through Oldham Athletic despite creating the better chances, and an injury-ravaged side ultimately punished by two late Ched Evans goals at Chesterfield in midweek.
Consequently, there’s probably more to come from this Walsall side, but maybe not too much more.
Having begun the season in truly horrendous fashion, with a dysfunctional side playing atrocious football and boss Slade already speaking in a manner that suggested he was feeling the pressure, a victory of the sort that was achieved at The Valley on Tuesday was desperately needed.
Shrewsbury powerless to stop a rampaging Ricky Holmes, assisted by a marvellous collective attacking intent that was replaced by a sensible pragmatic approach once the lead had become three, from giving Slade his first win since taking charge, and Charlton’s first victory of the season.
The win so impressive that maybe the ghosts of the defeats to Bury and Cheltenham, in addition to the first half of the draw with Northampton Town, can be laid to rest. Not completely forgotten, given how dire those performances were, simply hopefully moved on from.
But the other snippet of form-related data to consider is that Charlton haven’t won back-to-back games since November 2015. A 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, followed by Jackson’s 50th goal for the club producing victory at St Andrews. A need to address that statistic on Saturday.
Walsall will continue to be without 19-year-old Rico Henry after the highly-rated left-back suffered a dislocated shoulder during the goalless draw with Oldham Athletic last weekend.
Henry, linked with a move away from the Bescott throughout the summer but now facing an extended spell in the treatment room following the injury, was replaced by Joe Edwards at left-back at Chesterfield on Tuesday night, and the 25-year-old, a right-back by trade, looks set to deputise once again.
But there is better news for the Saddlers in midfield, with a number of players likely to return from injury for the visit of the Addicks. Skipper Adam Chambers and Erhun Oztumer, who failed to shake off hamstring and back niggles respectively in time for the midweek defeat, are almost certain to be involved, while Isaiah Osbourne and Florent Cuvelier are competing to be recalled.
Their availability would give Witney’s side strength in the middle, particularly with former Charlton midfielder Franck Moussa also option. The Belgian, whose spell in SE7 was injury-hit, has made an impressive start to life as a Saddler.
Charlton will be hopeful that key men Holmes and Johnnie Jackson can recover from slight knocks suffered on Tuesday night to retain their place in the starting line-up at the Bescott.
The midfield pair, scorers in midweek and central to Charlton’s success, have an ankle and hamstring niggle respectively, and they will prove huge losses to Slade’s side should they not regain fitness in time for the weekend.
Supporters will also be hoping that Ademola Lookman, kept in reserve for much of Tuesday’s victory over Shrewsbury, is finally given an opportunity to start his first league game for the Addicks under the management of Slade.
Lookman, used sparingly by his new boss after a testing summer that included playing for the England U19s, would provide greater balance and attacking threat to a side that is beginning to show forward intent. Many desperate for the highly-rated winger to come into the starting XI for Kevin Foley, who has looked a little slow and cumbersome in his early appearances for the Addicks.
Elsewhere, following the impressive effort in victory over the Shrews, further changes are unlikely should Holmes and Jackson be okay to start. Patrick Bauer will again be wanting to make his first appearance since December having recovered from a groin injury, but the form of 17-year-old Ezri Konsa suggests he may have to remain patient.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING THE GAME TO THE OPPOSITION AWAY FROM HOME
It almost seems silly to suggest that, after such an emphatic victory on Tuesday night, Slade’s side still have plenty to prove, but they very much need to show they’re capable of playing with attacking intent away from home.
For their efforts at Bury and Cheltenham, not assisted by the overall disjointed nature of the side, were sluggish and unthreatening. A need for Slade to take the forward qualities seen at The Valley on Tuesday night to the West Midlands.
It’s a task that will be made more testing should Walsall’s midfield be at full strength, given both the dynamic attack-minded playmakers and the defiant deeper central men they possess. A gamble to commit men forward when Chambers, Cuvelier and Osbourne so can readily break up attacks, while Oztumer and Moussa have the ability to exploit any space offered.
This, therefore, an opportunity for Slade to be a touch brave and bold, and there no reason why he shouldn’t be on the back of the midweek efforts. The same level of attacking intent and quality would at least allow the Addicks to take control of the game, irrespective of the greater strength Walsall possess in midfield.
Head says be a tad cautions, heart says remember what Ricky Holmes did on Tuesday. Walsall 1-2 Charlton Athletic
Chris Powell’s Flat Cap will be at the Bescott, but a report probably won’t be online until Sunday. Interrupting a visit to Edgbaston to support Northants at T20 Finals Day with a quick dash across to Walsall in between.