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Preview: Charlton Athletic V AFC Wimbledon

Throughout England’s football pyramid, you will do well to find two clubs who have showcased the value of committed, diligent, and determined supporters as much as Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon. Fan power shaping the history of both clubs, and treasured as greatly as any footballing success.

Supporters of the Dons forming a club to carry their name, history and identity after the original Wimbledon was stolen from them. Supporters of the Addicks forming a political party in order to return the club to The Valley. Their efforts as fans, unquestionably laying the foundations for great things for their clubs, going well beyond merely applauding from the stands.

And even now, both sets of supporters are required to do much more than simply occupy the stands and sing a few songs. Wimbledon supporters continuing to campaign for a return to Plough Lane, while Charlton fans’ organised and intelligent protesting efforts against Roland Duchatelet’s poisonous regime has earned them great respect.

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Two sets of supporters that understand that winning is important, but the sense of attachment with a football club is more so. Fighting to protect that, and their identity, always taking prominence over a single result.

Nonetheless, that certainly isn’t to say either club undervalues the importance of victories, and the importance of a victory this weekend. A Charlton side yet to fully find their feet under Russell Slade in need of one to reassure uncertain supporters. A Wimbledon side struggling to contend with the step up in quality that League One offers in need of one to escape from the uncomfortable position of occupying a bottom four spot.

Both sets of supporters fully behind the other’s fight, reaffirmed by Wimbledon making mention of our Black and White Day protest in their matchday programme, but both hoping their side will inflict misery upon the other over the course of 90 minutes.

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LAST MEETING – N/A

This will be the first competitive meeting between Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon.

FORM

AFC Wimbledon: LWDDLL

AFC Wimbledon have overcome numerous tough tasks in their relatively short lifespan, but coping with the increase in quality that League One offers would appear to be among the trickiest. Neal Ardley’s side with just one league victory following their promotion to the third tier of English football.

And it’s fair to suggest that last weekend’s narrow defeat to Sheffield United was probably a little flattering. Ardley furious with his side’s “unacceptable” and “poor” defending as the Blades came away from West London with a 3-2 victory.

Frustration as a result that Wimbledon, always likely to struggle in League One given their relative financial restraints, are gifting both goals and points to their opponents. Strong opposition, not being made to work harder for their victories.

But that isn’t to say they are being totally overwhelmed, or that there aren’t some signs that suggest the Dons are beginning to acclimatise to the demands of this division. A draw away at Northampton a commendable result, Dominic Poleon’s stoppage-time winner against Chesterfield injecting Ardley’s men with a sense of belief, and Wimbledon’s forwards beginning to find their feed.

A desperate need, therefore, to cut out the individual and collective defensive mistakes. Only a 95th minute own goal from goalkeeper Ryan Clarke prevented the Dons from recording victory against Rochdale, and forward Tom Elliott reaffirming the point that they “are scoring goals, but…have to prevent them at the other end” in the aftermath of allowing the Blades to score three times last weekend.

He’s got a point, ya know.

Charlton: DDWWDL

There is determination to be found in this Charlton side, but is there the required quality to mount a season-long promotion challenge?

For though persistence was enough for the Addicks, through Lee Novak’s late equaliser, to steal a point at Fleetwood Town last weekend, it was not a result earned on the standard of their performance. The Cod Army given far too much room, constantly exploiting a disorganised unit, and Slade’s men struggling to mount penetrating attacking moves.

An argument existing that, ultimately, the faults and cracks in this Charlton side will be exploited, and that the fortunate rescuing of points won’t persist forever.

But so too is there an argument that it is actually a very encouraging positive that Slade’s men are collecting points while still not quite a cohesive unit. There undoubtedly individual talent within this side, and individual talent that can form something threatening once fluency and tactical structure has been found.

Nonetheless, the point where judgements begin to be made is approaching. Slade and his side must begin to show definitive quality, and not simply scrape points they scarcely deserve, if supporters are to believe a promotion challenge is plausible.

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THE OPPOSITION

Boss Ardley has promised that “loyalty will go out the window” after his side’s poor defensive display in defeat to Sheffield United last weekend.

Such a comment might well have been made in the hope of inspiring those who already form Wimbledon’s back line, Charlton academy graduate Barry Fuller among them, but at least once change in defence is likely. Chris Robertson, having recently joined from Ross County, in line to make his debut.

Elsewhere, there’s competition for places in attack after Elliott came off the bench to score against the Blades last weekend.

Lyle Taylor, last season’s top scorer, also found himself on the bench, with Ardley opting for Tyrone Barnett and Poleon up top, meaning all four will be battling for the two starting forward positions at The Valley.

THE ADDICKS

Johnnie Jackson is likely to be available for selection again after the skipper missed Saturday’s draw at Fleetwood with a hamstring complaint.

The skipper, who sustained the injury during the game against Bolton prior to the international break, has a decent chance of coming back into the side given the underwhelming performances of both Andrew Crofts and Fredrik Ulvestad at Highbury.

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Lee Novak, having scored the equaliser last weekend, will also be pushing to come back into the side, and may well dislodge a somewhat struggling Nicky Ajose in Slade’s starting XI. The former Swindon man yet to truly find his feet in Charlton colours, and his impact might well be greater from the bench.

Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer will continue in his efforts to dislodge Jason Pearce and Ezri Konsa at centre-back, while Jordan Botaka’s efforts off the bench at Fleetwood mean he too will be in consideration for a starting spot.

KEY BATTLE – REDISCOVERING ATTACKING FLOW AGAINST BEATABLE OPPOSITION  

As the 3-0 victory against Shrewsbury Town proved, Slade’s Charlton have the ability to truly dominate a perceived weaker opponent at The Valley.

A stable base giving Ricky Holmes the freedom to run riot, Josh Magennis bullying a backline, and Ajose’s movement excellent. It all seemingly coming together.

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The problem being, however, is that those opening 45 minutes against the Shrews is the only time the Addicks have shown such attacking fluency. Whether the opponent be one whose quality is seen to match Charlton’s or not, Slade’s side is yet to find any sort of real attacking rhythm, with determination largely dragging them out of holes that a lack of quality has put them in.

Of course, there’s no bonus points for how stylishly you achieve results, but that isn’t really the point. There a concern that this Charlton side will ultimately be found out; they can’t keep papering over the cracks in their performances with a bit of persistence and some good fortune.

And with a perceived weaker opponent coming to The Valley this weekend, or at least one likely to take a conservative approach to the game, there is a desperate need for the Addicks to rediscover some sort of attacking fluency. A need to be able to take the game to the Dons, test a defence lacking in confidence, and overwhelm them in the same manner that Shrewsbury were.

Otherwise, a situation could develop where AFC’s useful forward line steal a goal on the break, and Slade’s side find themselves launching weak and directionless attack after weak and directionless attack as they attempt to respond.

An opportunity for this side to prove their quality, and one that really does need to be taken.

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PREDICTION

A real need for Slade’s Charlton to show the first half performance against Shrewsbury was no fluke, and that there is much more to the side than simply escaping suffering at the death through determination. Convincing win required. Charlton Athletic 2-0 AFC Wimbledon

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