Johnnie Jackson’s lifting of the League One trophy in May 2012 was supposed to be Charlton’s final act in the third tier.
Not just the final act in that title winning season, but the final time the Addicks would feature in this division. A return to being a stable Championship club, and possibly more, awaited.
Alas, Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire had not been accounted for. Their club destroying ways have not only disillusioned supporters, but been punished with a return to League One. Rarely has a new season been met with such little enthusiasm.
And so to suggest there is excitement for Saturday’s trip to Bury might be a little misguided, but there is certainly a degree of intrigue. Intrigue as to how new boss Russell Slade intends to gel together his understocked squad into a functioning unit.
For Slade’s task is to undo the damage done by those above him, and prevent the Addicks from wallowing in the third tier for a number of seasons once again.
A positive start, to calm the unease that exists after what can best be described as a ‘mixed’ summer, desperately required at Gigg Lane.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BURY
Dale Stephens’ strike from the best part of 30 yards rescued a point for League One leaders Charlton at The Valley in January 2012.
No one inside The Valley more thankful for the midfielder’s stunner than Addicks goalkeeper Ben Hamer, who was largely at fault for the goal that gave Bury a first-half lead despite the hosts dominating. The goalkeeper tamely flapping at Lenell John-Lewis’ strike, and the ball deflecting into the back of the net.
And though Charlton continued to create chances, it wasn’t until stoppage-time that an equaliser, the very least they deserved, was found. Michael Morrison’s shot blocked away by Shakers stopper Cameron Belford, with the ball rolling to Stephens, and his beautifully struck first-time effort soaring into the top corner.
The most important moment of a summer for Bury that featured nine ins, twelve outs, and a points deduction from last season’s total, did not occur until a week before the season started.
Leon Clarke, having scored 19 times in 29 games last season, sold to Sheffield United. The loss of the former Charlton forward ending the debate as to whether the revamp of David Flitcroft’s squad had made it strong or weaker. Without Clarke, it’s most definitely weaker.
The departures of full-backs Chris Hussey (Sheffield United), Joe Riley (Shrewsbury Town), and Peter Clarke (Oldham Athletic) also among those that many were disappointed to see leave.
Nonetheless, there have been some promising additions made to the Shakers’ squad. The departing full-backs replaced by young duo Greg Leigh and Niall Maher, Anthony Kay and Leon Barnett providing experience in the centre of defence, and zippy winger Zeli Ismail arriving with potential.
There’s also some pressure on Nicky Clark, a forward signed from Rangers, to at least go some way towards covering from Clarke’s goals. Good luck.
It’s reasonable to say that, after a bright start, Charlton’s summer hasn’t quite gone to plan. At the very least, the anger and resentment towards Duchatelet and Meire still exists as strongly as ever.
For following the arrival of Slade and a trio of Football League signings – Ricky Holmes, Lee Novak and Nicky Ajose – the squad was decimated. Trialist Andrew Crofts the only other player to arrive, as Slade used post-match press conferences to effectively plead for new signings.
And though goalkeeper, a position the Addicks had no senior bodies in following the sales of Nick Pope and Stephen Henderson, Declan Rudd and centre-back Jason Pearce have arrived this week, there is frustration that such moves have taken so long to happen.
A feeling that, given that there remains the need to gel a unit together, Charlton are a touch behind the other clubs in this division.
Midfielders Neil Danns and Andrew Tutte should be available for selection despite missing Bury’s final pre-season fixture against Blackpool last weekend.
Danns, a summer signing following his release from Bolton Wanderers, was left out of the squad that travelled to Bloomfield Road having “done one or two training sessions too much”, while Tutte was rested after playing the full 90 minutes in a behind closed doors friendly against Accrington on Thursday. The absence of the pair merely precautionary.
Centre-back Barnett, another to miss the Blackpool friendly, should also be fit despite being “two-and-a-half to three weeks behind the rest of the lads” having been signed deep into pre-season.
Greater doubt, however, as to whether Chris Kirkland will be available for the season opener. The former England international, a summer signing from Preston, missing the final few pre-season fixtures with his wife unfortunately unwell. Former Bradford goalkeeper Ben Williams, another new arrival, set to start between the sticks should Kirkland be unavailable.
Elsewhere, Tom Pope could be involved despite being transfer listed, while boss Flictcroft has spoken positively about Hallam Hope since his return from a period on loan at Carlisle. Both in contention to start in attack, alongside Clarke, who looks likely to be one of many to make his Shakers debut this weekend.
Charlton’s small squad is likely to be stretched to the absolute limit with several players unavailable to Slade for his first league game as boss.
Homegrown centre-back Harry Lennon (groin) has played no part in pre-season, and remains absent, while Patrick Bauer (groin) has returned to training having been out since January but is unlikely to be involved at Gigg Lane given his lack of proper preparation and match practice. A doubt over whether Jorge Teixeira will be involved, too, given that he seems to be nearing closer to a departure.
Midfielders Ahmed Kashi, after suffering a recurrence of his Achilles injury, and Alou Diarra, following the foot injury sustained in the warm-up of the pre-season opener at Welling United, will also be unavailable.
It means one of Roger Johnson and youngster Ezri Konsa – in what will be his first professional appearance – will start alongside new signing Pearce, while Crofts could make his Charlton debut alongside Jackson in midfield.
Other Charlton debuts also likely, with goalkeeper Rudd almost certain to start following his arrival on loan from Norwich City this week. Holmes, Ajose, and Novak, despite needing to see a specialist over a hand injury, also look set to make their first competitive appearances for the Addicks.
KEY BATTLE – AN UNCOMFORTABLE CENTRE-BACK PAIRING
Though Charlton’s squad is small and understocked, there is just about enough quality in the side that will start at Gigg Lane for it to be considered favourites.
But that doesn’t detract from the fact that the pairing that is likely to start at centre-back are unlikely to have played together before. New signing Pearce likely to partner either Konsa or Johnson.
Konsa has shown quality during pre-season, but this will be his first competitive game, while Johnson has not shown quality during pre-season, nor has he ever for that matter.
It’s really only there where you worry that the Addicks could get caught out. The only area of Charlton’s starting XI that looks unsettled, and Clark, Hope and Pope will be wanting to take advantage.
If Konsa or Johnson stand firm alongside Pearce, then there should be few reasons for concern. An error-free base, setting a platform from which the likes of Holmes, Ajose, and possibly even Ademola Lookman can be creative, adventurous and threatening.
If they don’t, then you worry that this Charlton side that doesn’t appear to be quite gelled together as of yet will find itself a little overwhelmed and on the back foot. They’ve definitely got enough quality to win this game, but some uncharacteristic resilience at the back required.
Needs to be an acceptance that, given the current state of the squad and the fact a side will have to be gelled together once further additions do arrive, a slow start is likely. But a sluggish Charlton should have enough individual quality to beat Bury. Bury 1-2 Charlton Athletic