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.