It is undoubtedly difficult to avoid appearing both arrogant and patronising when talking about the difference in long-term status between two clubs in the same division, so I shall allow the gap that existed between Charlton Athletic and Fleetwood Town ten years ago to talk about it for me.
In the same season that Charlton’s seven-year stay in the Premier League came to an end, Fleetwood were finishing 8th in the Northern Premier League. An average of 26,195 attended games at The Valley in 2006/07, with 537 the average at the yet to be redeveloped Highbury Stadium. Three England internationals (Luke Young, Darren Bent, and Scott Carson) were among the Addicks, while those that represented the Cod Army did so on a part-time basis.
Charlton’s two falls since, the first instigated largely by Alan Pardew’s management and the second the ownership of Roland Duchatelet, and the rise of Fleetwood, taking in six promotions between 2005 and 2014 as a consequence of chairman Andy Pilley’s heavy investment, meaning the clubs will meet in a league fixture for the first time this weekend.
And so, as relegation loomed on Charlton last season, it was not surprising that the prospect of a trip to Fleetwood constantly crept into conversation. Despite this being their third season in the third tier, in terms of status alone, they remain arguably the division’s smallest club.
That this fixture would exist used as another tool to criticise a flawed and failing regime, with only those who enjoy quirky away trips taking any solace from it. There something attractive about Saturday’s long journey to stand in a terrace that many would find bizarre.
Regardless, the feeling being that anything other than victory would provide further embarrassment.
However, without a proper competitive game for two weeks, Russell Slade’s side and its supporters will travel to Lancashire with a degree of caution preventing excessive confidence. Caution that comes as a consequence of Fleetwood’s impressive start to the season.
Only table-toppers Bolton Wanderers have beaten in Uwe Rosler’s side in 90 minutes this season, and that they currently sit third in the table is made even more impressive considering the German boss was only appointed a week before the season began following the resignation of Steven Pressley.
A tougher test for the Addicks than many might have anticipated, irrespective of the fact that Slade’s men, who still require gelling and improvement, gained confidence through results prior to their enforced international break.
That contrast in status really will be immaterial come kick-off on Saturday.
LAST MEETING – N/A
Saturday will see Fleetwood Town and Charlton Athletic meet for the first time.
The feeling among many, myself admittedly one of the many, was that Fleetwood’s third season in League One would prove too much for the club to cope with.
A consequence of a flirtation with the bottom four in the previous campaign and Pilley’s attempts to make the club more self-sufficient restricting the quality of players that the Cod Army are able to attract.
A feeling that only increased with the disruption that would seemingly be caused by the need to replace Pressley just a week before the season began. No real pre-season for Rosler to work with his players, and instil any sort of philosophy or identity into his side.
And so, that Fleetwood currently sit third in League One after six games of the new season is an achievement that cannot be underestimated. The side, set up to play counter-attacking football with a solid midfield three and pacey forward line, immediately adapting to the demands of their new boss.
Draws with the ever unbeaten Northampton, and a Scunthorpe side who have also started the season in impressive fashion, both commendable results, while three of the following league fixtures have been won 2-0. A late goal at the Macron the only small dent in this impressive beginning to life under Rosler.
The question, of course, is whether this promising start can lead to a season-long flirt with the top six.
And while Rosler is adamant that the ambition for this season is simply to stabilise, the German also believes that “there will definitely be more improvement”.
Charlton’s start to the season, and life under Russell Slade, has undoubtedly been a mixed one, but a mixed one from which positives can be drawn.
A flawless and dominant performance seen only once, in the victory over Shrewsbury, but it more encouraging to see that this group of Addicks, while still needing to gel and improve as a collective unit, have unquestionable determination.
Determination that seemed to be lacking in the opening two and a half fixtures of the season, but has since been undoubted. The right attitude required to respond in the second half of the draw with Northampton, to battle for victory at Walsall, and to rescue a point against Bolton.
That determination, and certain individual performances, meaning that the lack of total coeshion and fluency has not been too damaging. Charlton frustrating at best in the second half against the Trotters, but persisted, and were eventually rewarded through the brilliance of Ademola Lookman.
And with Lookman maintained, after deadline day approaches from Crystal Palace and West Brom, there is an even greater sense that a mixed start with positive signs can be built upon over the course of the next month. A period in which Slade’s Charlton side will, hopefully, properly find their feet. Cohesion and fluency combining with the right attitude.
Conor McLaughlin is available once again having missed the victory over Coventry while away on international duty with Northern Ireland.
The full-back, a team mate of Charlton’s Josh Magennis at international level, is likely to come straight back into Fleetwood’s starting XI, replacing Michael Duckworth.
Elsewhere, Watford loanee Alex Jakubiak is set to be involved for the first time having arrived on transfer deadline day, while there could also be a full debut for Huddersfield loanee Kyle Dempsey, who impressed off the bench against the Sky Blues.
Martyn Woolford, another who impressed off the bench last week by scoring the second goal, should also be in contention despite suffering a head injury during the midweek Lancashire Senior Cup win over Blackpool.
The former Millwall man withdrawn 15 minutes into the game after a clash of heads, but seemingly only as a precaution.
Charlton could hand a debut to Fredrik Ulvestad after the midfielder joined on loan from Burnley on transfer deadline day.
The one-time Norwegian international, expected to give the Addicks the pace and tenacity that they have so far been missing in the centre of midfield this season, is likely to come in for the injured Johnnie Jackson. The skipper pulling his hamstring in the first-half of the draw with Bolton.
The man who dramatically stole a point in that game with the Trotters is also in line to come into the side, with many supporters hoping that Lookman will finally be given a start in a league game for the first time this campaign. The teenager, who has been away with the England U20s, set to replace Kevin Foley, which give Slade’s side two natural wingers and much greater balance.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer, having come off the bench against Bolton to make his first appearance at The Valley since December following injury, will be pushing for a start, but will do well to dislodge Jason Pearce or Ezri Konsa.
KEY BATTLE – SETTLING INTO A NEW SYSTEM AGAINST AN INFORM SIDE
It has taken no time whatsoever for Slade to have instilled the right attitude into his players, who have responded with unquestionable effort from the second half of the draw with Northampton Town and beyond, but there remains tactical deficiencies within the side.
That seen perfectly throughout the second half of the draw with Bolton, as persistent and unrelenting attempts by the Addicks to mount attacks regularly broke down as a consequence of a lack of cohesion, and something of a structureless formation that meant the right wing was constantly unoccupied. Lookman, thankfully, rescuing a point.
The introduction of Ulvestad and the prospect of playing two proper wide men, therefore, will almost certainly allow for improvement. There enough individual quality in this side for it to thrive in a structured and balanced 4-4-2, though a bit more cohesion will still be required.
Cohesion, and the need to adapt to a slightly altered system with players having slightly different roles, that might well mean the expected improvement comes slowly. The midfield gaining greater balance, but losing its definite defensive solidity. A more fluent attacking threat likely, that doesn’t rely solely on Ricky Holmes, but a need for the winger to stick more firmly to one position.
You would expect, given it being such a wildly used formation, that the difficulties in the slight change in system will prove too testing, but deficiencies might well be capitalised upon by this inform Fleetwood side. That particularly true in midfield, where a narrow three persistently breaks up play and feeds a pacey forward trio.
Though if such a change in strategy works immediately how many hope, then that Fleetwood midfield three might find themselves pushed deeper and defending desperately against unrelenting fluent Charlton moves.
A tough one to predict, given the slight unknowns that come with wondering how Charlton will respond to their international break and whether Slade will adopt a balanced 4-4-2. Testing opposition, too, who shouldn’t be underestimated. Fleetwood Town 1-1 Charlton Athletic