League Cup first round ties rarely carry with them a great deal of significance beyond the need to progress in an often undervalued competition, but Charlton Athletic’s trip to Whaddon Road to face Cheltenham Town feels slightly different.
For though victory over League Two opposition would not alleviate the concerns that exist in response to Saturday’s tame defeat to Bury, and certainly not alleviate the concerns that exist in response to the overall situation the Addicks find themselves in, there is no room for them to grow any greater.
A desperate need for Russell Slade’s side, having performed without quality or cohesion at Gigg Lane, to make their first positive impression in a competitive fixture. To show a few signs of quality, albeit against lesser opposition, and offer an indication that some sort of base from which a structured unit can form is in place.
Neither the result or performance is going to have a direct impact on Charlton’s League One campaign, of course, but that doesn’t detract from the fact there is a need to provide supporters with something to cling onto. An indication that Slade will be able to shape something competitive in spite of the unrest that exists around the club.
At the very least, supporters are not really in the mood to simply laugh off a League Cup defeat to lower league opponents.
LAST MEETING – N/A
This will be the first competitive meeting between Charlton Athletic and Cheltenham Town. How exciting.
A second-half equaliser from substitute Billy Waters gave Cheltenham a point from their first game back in the Football League, as they drew with Leyton Orient at Whaddon Road on Saturday.
A result that Gary Johnson’s side, promoted back to League Two as National League champions last season following relegation in 2014/15, had every right to feel positive about. One that Johnson himself referred to as a “winning draw” against one of the favourites for promotion from League Two.
Orient taking the lead after just three minutes at Whaddon Road, as Gavin Massey turned in Sandro Semedo’s cross.
But Cheltenham, limited by injury and suspension keeping five of their players out, claimed the point their efforts deserved with 14 minutes to play when sub Waters converted Danny Whitehead’s cross.
A decent show of character and determination from Johnson’s men, as they look to consolidate their position in the Football League upon their return.
With some degree of belief in the air, tainted considerably by the complete lack of squad depth and the overall disillusionment created by Roland Duchatelet’s regime, an uninspiring and unorganised effort in defeat to Bury was not the start to the season the fragile minds of Charlton supporters required.
The Addicks desperately poor as they fell to a two-goal defeat at Gigg Lane, with unrelenting support turning to frustration against club and regime by the time Kelvin Etuhu, tapping in from Tom Pope’s knock down with three minutes to play, had added to Neil Danns’ 71st minute penalty.
As such, the performance merely proving a catalyst to reignite anger and opposition towards Duchatelet’s control of the club – a regime that has disillusioned supporters to the point of disconnected apathy on one hand, and poisonous anger on the other.
Blame not only sent their way for the overall situation, but for Charlton’s squad lacking structure and cohesion as the season begins. The midfield cobbled together and depth lacking, with that the consequence of a summer of activity that has disappointed after some early promising arrivals.
Particularly difficult to take given that the appointment of Slade, and those early promising signings, had created the belief that events on the pitch would provide a distraction from the failing and insulting ownership.
A very real need to show quick improvement, and some form of cohesion, in the coming games.
Cheltenham look set to be without former Addick Jack Munns, after the diminutive midfielder missed Saturday’s draw with Leyton Orient through a knee injury.
Munns, who failed to make an appearance for Charlton but was a key performer for Johnson’s side as they achieved promotion last season, one of a handful of players who were absent at the weekend and are unlikely to be available on Tuesday.
Winger James Dayton (ankle) and attacking midfielder Asa Hall (groin) remain a week or so away from returning from their respective injuries.
The Robins also without long-term absentee Aaron Downes, with the club captain still recovering from an ACL injury sustained in January, and the suspended Kyle Storer, who will serve the second game of an eight-match ban dished out for biting Lincoln’s Bradley Wood in April.
It leaves Johnson a little light on numbers, and without much opportunity for rotation. Waters, having scored the equaliser from the bench on Saturday, among the few pushing to start.
Any temptation Slade might have had to offer a place in the starting XI to those youngsters that currently bolster his squad will have diminished in response to Saturday’s disappointing performance.
It would even come as a surprise to see goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, against the club who he spent last season on loan with, come into the side in place of recent loan signing Declan Rudd. He and Ezri Konsa, having impressed in pre-season and on the back of Roger Johnson’s supporter-insulting misdemeanours at Gigg Lane, the only two inexperienced youngsters with any real chance of coming into the side.
In fact, in hoping to quickly improve upon the effort in defeat to Bury, Slade may look to improve his XI. Ademola Lookman, a substitute on Saturday on the back of a truncated pre-season, might well start at Whaddon Road.
Harry Lennon, Patrick Bauer (both groin), Alou Diarra (foot) and Ahmed Kashi (Achilles) certainly won’t start, however, with the group all injured. Jorge Teixeira, who seemingly moves closer to an exit, also unlikely to be involved.
KEY BATTLE – ADDRESSING A LACK OF COHESION
A horrendous cliché, and one I probably need to apologise for using, but Charlton’s biggest battle on the pitch at present is with themselves.
The lack of structure, organisation and cohesion, particularly and most importantly in midfield, made glaringly obvious throughout the 90 minutes at Gigg Lane on Saturday. Defenders aimlessly punting the ball upfield, midfielders unable to provide any sort of creativity, and forwards isolated.
The few occasions where the Addicks threatened the consequence of Ricky Holmes’ individual skill, and the ball falling kindly to Nicky Ajose. That obviously not to be dismissed, particularly given the ease with which Holmes was able to beat his man on occasions, but it relatively meaningless without an overall structure or cohesion in which to utilise it.
Structure and cohesion should have been in place prior to the season beginning, and so there is a desperate need for it to be implemented into Slade’s side quickly. A need for signs of it to be shown at Whaddon Road not only to avoid embarrassment, but to provide some degree of optimism for the League One games that follow.
There simply cannot be anything but a positive response to Saturday’s performance. Cheltenham Town 0-2 Charlton Athletic
Chris Powell’s Flat Cap won’t be at Whaddon Road. Northants’ T20 Blast quarter-final takes priority. A disgrace, I know.