It took place towards the end of October, and was the 12th fixture of the campaign rather than the 10th, but there was a game under The Valley’s floodlights last season that was as season-defining as the visit of Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night threatens to be.
For the 3-0 defeat to Preston North End, who had not won in ten fixtures prior to their visit to SE7, sent the Addicks into the Championship’s bottom three and effectively confirmed that a battle with relegation would be the story of the campaign. A pathetic performance, with no character shown in a game that demanded determination and fight.
The context slightly different as the out of form Latics come to SE7, with a failure to record victory not condemning Russell Slade’s side to a season of struggling to avoid relegation to League two, but the pressure similar. It, particularly in terms of confidence, a must-win.
A need to win not only to avoid becoming dragged further away from the top six at this early stage of the season, but to restore an element of trust in a manager and his side who have performed disappointingly in these early weeks of the season.
The minimum of a place in the top six promised, but so far Slade’s side have performed without the quality and cohesion to suggest anything like that is possible. In moments they have impressed, but more often than not they have frustrated.
Excuses have been made, a need to look at the positives has been reinforced, and now the boss has promised that the wins, after five games without one, will come.
But there can be no excuses for failing to beat a side who have won once all season, and occupy a relegation spot. The doubts about Slade’s side will become genuine worries if Tuesday ends in another disappointment, and those worries will include the question of just where this season is heading.
Victory the only acceptable outcome. A repeat of that crushing Preston defeat not an option.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (07/04/2012)
A single-goal victory over Oldham in a season that saw the Addicks romp to the League One title hardly has the feel of being iconic, but the fight and determination of Chris Powell’s side at Boundary Park in April 2012 is certainly well remembered.
For Charlton, after the less than loveable Trevor Kettle decided to make the game about himself, had to desperately cling onto the smallest of advantages with nine men for the final 14 minutes of the game. That they were successful confirming the side’s immense character, and rewarded with the promotion they warranted just five days later.
That determined fight coming against Oldham’s ten men, who saw Jean-Yves M’Voto dismissed for a second bookable offence as half-time approached after Danny Hollands had rather harshly been dismissed for a late challenge on Kieran Lee.
And it was when the amount of bodies that each team could boast was equal that the Addicks took the lead. Yann Kermorgant, typically the man to score an important goal, converting Rhoys Wiggins’ fabulous cross four minutes into the second half.
But, with less than a quarter of an hour to play, Charlton’s lead suddenly became a fragile one. Kettle deciding that an unfortunate slip from Scott Wagstaff, taking down Dean Furman with him, was worthy of a second yellow card.
The nine men, however, were defiant. Oldham’s forward moves persistently halted, and the defensive effort of those in red outstanding. A proud victory.
It’s probably a fairly obvious sign that things aren’t going too well for you when your manager suggests that nine of those who started a fixture didn’t “come to the game”.
That was part of the honest assessment from Oldham boss Stephen Robinson after they performed poorly during Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Swindon Town. The weak effort resulting in a fifth league game without victory, and leaving the Latics in the division’s bottom four.
Defensively, led by dependable centre-back Peter Clarke and goalkeeper Connor Ripley, Robinson’s side haven’t struggled too much this season. Four league clean sheets a decent effort for a side led by an inexperienced boss, and formed in rather desperate fashion given that the club could barely boast a player at the start of pre-season.
But those four clean sheets have earned just four points, with problems in front of goal particularly evident. A creativity lacking against the Robins, and defensive sluggishness resulting in fatal punishment.
However, there is “good news” according to Robinson. That good news being that they won’t play as badly again.
Such a statement reaffirming the desperate need for his side to make big improvements in the coming weeks.
There were boos come full-time of Saturday’s draw with Oxford United. Boos that were primarily aimed at Russell Slade.
This not the beginning of a movement to rid the recently appointed manager as Charlton boss, far from it, but a show of frustration, and confirmation of the urgent need for improvement.
For the Addicks, who should be playing with the quality and ambition of a side who can challenge for a top two spot, are cautious and disjointed. Defensive errors frequent, the midfield sluggish, and attacking intent rare.
But maybe the most frustrating thing, with players such as Ricky Holmes, Ademola Lookman and Josh Magennis in the side, is that there is enough individual quality at Slade’s disposal to form a competent side. Maybe not enough depth, but certainly a reasonable amount of talent in a regular starting XI, and the manager’s inability to instil a fluent and flowing tactical set-up is extremely disappointing.
It’s left Slade’s Charlton without victory in five, and 16th in the League One table. Far from the play-off challenge that was promised, with an apparent top six budget available.
Having heavily criticised his side after their performance in defeat to Swindon, boss Robinson is likely to make changes to his starting XI for Tuesday’s trip to The Valley.
Marc Klok and Lee Croft, replaced at half-time on Saturday by Darius Osei and Ousmane Fane, will do well to maintain their place in the side, while the struggle for goals could see Billy McKay come in for Lee Erwin.
Elsewhere, there are calls for wingers Ryan Flynn and Ryan McLaughlin, who returned to the bench at the weekend after injury, to come into the side, while full-back Jamie Reckford should be available again after injury.
Charlton will be without Harry Lennon after the defending was sent off in stoppage-time of Saturday’s draw with Oxford.
Slade will be hoping the academy graduate can be replaced by Jason Pearce, who missed the weekend trip to the Kassam Stadium with concussion, but there remains doubt as to whether the former Wigan man will be fit to play. Ezri Konsa likely to come into the side if not.
Elsewhere, having returned via the bench at Oxford, Ricky Holmes should force his way back into the starting XI, possibly for Kevin Foley.
The winger could also be joined in starting XI by Lee Novak, another who made a comeback from injury off the bench at the weekend, which would certainly give Slade’s side much greater balance and attacking intent.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE GAME
Charlton’s performance in the opening 45 of the 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town is going to gain mythical status at this rate. A fast and fluid attacking effort, which allowed the Addicks to take complete control of the game and crush the Shrews.
Mythical in the sense it’s hard to believe such a performance was put in, given how timid and inviting Slade’s side have been recently. A sluggishness in midfield and a reluctance to play with intent allowing weaker oppositions to settle, and Charlton ultimately forced into playing with caution.
There is, however, an exception to that. Fluent attacking football seen for much for the opening 70 minutes against AFC Wimbledon, before caution, the consequence of missed chances that meant the lead was slender, again overwhelmed. The capitulation that followed undoing all the positive work.
Such an attacking effort, however, does show that this side is capable of being on the front foot and dominating a game. They can control contests, and bully the opposition into retreat, instead of retreating themselves as has frequently been the case.
In fact, they are at their best when they attempt to dominant a game. It bizarre why Slade is so reluctant to give his side the freedom to attack with pace and intent, and instead play in a manner that slows the game down and invites the opposition into it.
Oldham must not be allowed to settle on Tuesday, and the Addicks must be given the freedom by their boss to dominate.
Simply no excuses. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Oldham Athletic