A midweek trip to a side who have recently climbed to the top of the division can’t really be well timed, but Charlton Athletic’s visit to Scunthorpe United on Tuesday comes at a time that makes it particularly unpleasant.
The Addicks would have travelled to Glanford Park with a sense of caution and a degree of fear even without Saturday’s horrendous capitulation at home to AFC Wimbledon. Caution and fear primarily created in response to the opposition, rather than their own weaknesses.
For the Iron, continuing a theme set under Graham Alexander’s management during the second half of last season, find themselves in scintillating form. Particularly at home, where they have scored 12 goals and conceded just one in their opening three games of the season, and are without defeat in the league game since December.
But so tamely conceding what appeared a certain victory against the Dons means Russell Slade’s side will have doubts, concern, and issues of confidence before the quality of opposition is even considered. The defeat opening up cracks in the side that had been papered over with relatively good fortune and undeserved late equalisers in recent weeks.
And not only do Charlton travel to Scunthorpe without confidence, but with significantly more pressure placed upon them. An expectation that Slade’s side will respond to Saturday’s disaster, and reward those supporters who they quite emphatically let down.
At the very least, in spite of Scunthorpe’s table-topping start to this League One campaign, the Addicks must compete for the duration of the game. There can, after those final 20 minutes at The Valley this weekend, be no excuses.
LAST MEETING – SCUNTHORPE UNITED 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (17/03/2012)
In the overall context of Charlton’s title-winning 11/12 season, a hard-fought draw away at Scunthorpe can be easily forgotten.
But it’s a result that has always been referred to as an important one, given that the Addicks travelled to Glanford Park on the back of suffering successive defeats for the first, and final, time during that campaign.
One that stabilised, and allowed for a run of seven wins from the final nine games of the season to follow. That meant the title was ultimately claimed at a canter.
Chris Powell’s side needing just six minutes to take the lead against the Iron, as Bradley Wright-Phillips turned in Chris Solly’s cross. The forward’s 20th goal of the season.
But they were pegged back with 21 minutes played, as Rhoys Wiggins brought down Garry Thompson inside the box and conceded a penalty. Jon Parkin converting in typically brutal fashion.
And though goalkeeper Ben Hamer was called upon to make a number of useful saves in the second half, the Addicks were able to come away from Glanford Park with the increase in confidence required to reaffirm their romp towards promotion.
The attention that Scunthorpe received prior to the season getting underway was surprising, given their finish to the previous one.
Not too many placing them in and around the top six in their predications, despite the fact they lost just three games beyond December, won seven of their final eight fixtures, and finished outside the play-offs on goal difference alone. Alexander and assistant Nick Daws, who had been in temporary charge between January and March following Mark Robins’ sacking, evidently building a more than useful unit.
And that has been reaffirmed at the start of this campaign, with the Iron enjoying their best beginning to a season for 59 years. Alexander’s side, following Saturday’s gritty victory at Shrewsbury Town, climbing to the top of the division with a game in hand on those around them.
In gritty fashion is how they’re picking up their points away from home, with two one-goal victories, a draw with Fleetwood and defeat to Port Vale, but their outstanding performances at Glanford Park suggest Scunthorpe’s position in the table is much more than just a fluke.
A real vibrant attacking force, which has seen the Iron score 18 times in their seven league games this season, overwhelming opposition at home. Those who occupy the full-back positions assisting in the forward intent, impressive midfield additions Josh Morris and Duane Holmes threatening and creative, and forwards Paddy Madden and Kevin van Veen prolific.
But to ignore their defensive qualities would be misguided, and not just because they have had to fight for points away from home. One-time Charlton loanee Luke Daniels a reliable goalkeeper, Murray Wallace and David Mirfin forming a solid centre-back pairing, and Neal Bishop and skipper Stephen Dawson the sort of experience and combative midfielders required to battle hard for points.
In fact, the only real question is how the Iron would respond to key players suffering injury, but those on the outskirts of the starting XI have proved dependable when called upon this season.
Even if not to the extent they are now, Scunthorpe likely to challenge for the duration of this campaign.
With the greatest of respects to both, particularly given their remarkable rises, how does a club that were seven divisions above Fleetwood Town and nine in front of AFC Wimbledon take one very fortunate point from fixtures against both?
It, in a slightly wider context, is of course the consequence of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire’s horrendous mismanagement of Charlton. The drop to League One, continued disappointment, and the disconnection among supporters with their club the result of their actions.
But, in the short-term, it’s the consequence of a side failing to live up to the expectations that have been placed upon them. The Addicks, despite appointing an experienced Football League boss and making a handful of signings that appear handy at this level, underwhelming and underperforming at the start of this campaign.
Saturday’s dreadful defeat to the Dons the perfect example of that, with Slade’s side showing their quality for much of the contest. Fluent attacking play should have seen Ademola Lookman’s goal added to on a number of occasions, but an inability to kill the game off and a horrendous capitulation in performance, intensity and tactical shape allowing the visitors to claim a victory that was not undeserved.
With Slade’s bizarre lack of substitutions, individual mistakes, and a pathetic response to conceding Wimbledon’s first goal, The Addicks really only had themselves to blame. As they have done for the best part of 30 months, and will do if they fail to compete during this campaign.
Improvement and positive impressions need to be made soon.
Scunthorpe will be hoping that Mirfin makes a quick recovery following a head injury sustained during Saturday’s victory over Shrewsbury.
Mirfin, having scored what ultimately became the winning goal, was withdrawn at half-time with an eye swollen to such an extent that continuing was impossible. Charlie Goode deputising, and may well do so again should Mirfin not recover in time for Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Jamie Ness and Luke Williams could return having recovered from injuries, but Tom Hopper, who missed Saturday’s victory with an ankle problem, will remain out.
Conor Townsend, having suffered a training ground injury on Thursday, is also unlikely to return, so Harry Toffolo, who impressed on debut at the weekend, looks set to continue at left-back.
Slade’s reluctance to make unenforced changes to his starting XI might well be tested on Tuesday night, with a response to Saturday’s capitulation required.
Many supporters wanting Patrick Bauer to make his first league start of the season, with the starting positions of Jason Pearce and teenager Ezri Konsa both uncertain. Pearce unconvincing and cumbersome in recent weeks, while Konsa struggled in the second half of the defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
After such a capitulation, it also seems like the perfect game to reintroduce the previously injured Johnnie Jackson back into the side. His leadership desperately needed, and Fredrik Ulvestad might well struggle to complete 90 minutes in back-to-back games having had limited game time prior to his loan move from Burnley.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING CHANCES IN A GAME WHERE THERE WILL BE FEW
If Charlton’s forwards had shown any sort of composure in front of goal at The Valley, discussions about a horrendous capitulation would probably not have needed to be made.
For Slade’s men should have killed the game off long before they dropped deep, lost intensity, and allowed the Dons to steal victory. Opening after opening ending in disappointment.
But the Addicks won’t have that problem at Glanford Park on Tuesday night, as creating as many openings against a side who have conceded once at home in the league all season is unlikely to happen.
Instead, there will be a problem that might well prove an even more decisive one should Charlton be equally as wasteful. The need to take every chance that comes away against a solid side, who are more likely to dictate the tempo of the game and create the greater number of opportunities.
Pressure, most notably, on Nicky Ajose. The forward, who was meant to burst into life following his goals at Walsall, has been the most disappointing of those summer signings who were expected to impress. Playing with his back to goal far too often, anonymous for large parts of games, and not able to apply the finishing touch on the rare occasions he’s been able to show his excellent movement.
The Addicks simply cannot afford for Ajose, who missed a glorious chance at 1-0 on Saturday to double Charlton’s lead, to be as timid in front of goal in midweek.
Misery. Scunthorpe United 2-0 Charlton Athletic