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