Charlton Athletic’s game with Chesterfield this Saturday will see ‘Free Speech Day’ take place at The Valley, with protest group CARD encouraging as many supporters as possible to deploy homemade banners in an attempt to prevent the club’s hierarchy from silencing them.
A sea of anti-regime messages, and the occasional North Korea flag, will create quite the emphatic picture. An organised attempt by the club to remove those banners and flags will increase the sense of alienation supporters feel. A message that can’t continue to be ignored.
But there is one message that is being ignored. The one from manager Russell Slade that followed Saturday’s disappointing draw with Gillingham which seemed to suggest the performance, and result, was acceptable.
The second-half improvement, an improvement that required a late penalty to steal an undeserved point and was not enough to take the Addicks off the back foot for the duration of the half, heavily overstated by the boss. Frustration among supporters – already angered by results, Slade’s cautious tactics, and the fact their side sit 17th in League One – increasing as a result of the manager’s bizarre take on the game. This is far from good enough.
Increasing, too, is the sense of pressure on Slade. Not the sort of pressure that might see him lose his job, but the sort of pressure that requires him to desperately build some sort of relationship with his supporters. That needs a performance to back up his words, in the same way Charlton supporters have plenty of evidence behind the words in their banners.
And, with the Addicks playing a side at The Valley who haven’t won away all season and are without victory overall in six games, there can be no clutching at straws or desperate attempts to make the best of an underwhelming performance.
A need for Slade to lead his men to a comprehensive win over Chesterfield this weekend.
LAST MEETING – CHESTEFIELD 0-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (28/02/2012)
A Bradley Wright-Phillips hat-trick helped Charlton to a 4-0 victory over Chesterfield in February 2012, and moved the Addicks 13 points clear at the top of League One.
Wright-Phillips, who last weekend claimed the MLS golden boot having scored 24 goals in the regular season for current club New York Red Bulls, put the visitors ahead at the Proact Stadium two minutes prior to half-time. The forward pouncing on a Danny Green effort that had bounced down off the crossbar, and claiming the goal having made sure the ball crossed the line.
The points effectively sealed for Charlton 11 minutes into the second period, as Wright-Phillips turned inside the box and finished in typical fashion to double his side’s advantage.
Any lingering fears that the division’s bottom club, who boasted current Addick Ajose in their XI, might make an unlikely comeback were quelled just minutes later, with Green, enjoying a rare night where he lived up to his promise, crossing for Johnnie Jackson to finish.
And Green would claim a third assist, as he provided for Wright-Phillips to seal his hat-trick. An emphatic for Chris Powell’s side confirmed as the forward finished coolly from Green’s low cross with 24 minutes remaining.
With five defeats, and just a single draw, from their previous six league games, Chesterfield find themselves rock bottom of League One’s form table.
In fact, only Rotherham United, without a single point in their last six games, are in worse form than Danny Wilson’s side across all three division of the Football League. Form that has left them second from bottom in the overall table, and four points from safety.
Even the one point that Chesterfield have gained in their previous six league games came in circumstances that meant it felt like a defeat. A two-goal lead lost at home to Gillingham, with a Scott Wagstaff equaliser deep into second-half stoppage-time denying the Spireites victory.
It is, therefore, fairly reasonable to suggest that Chesterfield are struggling. A three-goal defeat to league-leaders Scunthorpe United last weekend reaffirming that, with supporters beginning to lose patience with the performances of their side and Wilson suggest it was effectively men against boys.
Hope existing in the form of Ched Evans, who returned to the side against Scunthorpe and is now without distraction, but the forward’s goals are unlikely to paper over all the cracks. Improvement required if points are to be picked up, and the boos are to stop.
On few occasions has a single kick of a football papered over as many cracks as Nicky Ajose’s equalising penalty in the 90th minute of last weekend’s draw with Gillingham.
For Charlton’s performance, one which saw them allow the Gills to dictate the game and find themselves rather fortunate to have the better of the referee’s decisions, was hardly worthy of a point.
The Addicks never truly recovering from a bizarre first-half performance, which highlighted the tactical faults in Slade’s set-up. Charlton playing like a team recently promoted from League Two, without the resources to compete, and refusing to press their opponents. Gillingham in complete control, and this exploitation of Slade’s defensive side coming after bizarre and defensive substitutions cost his side three points at Port Vale in the previous fixture.
The half-time introduction of Ajose did at least give Charlton some degree of cohesion and threat going forward. The midfield still far too deep, and Gillingham still finding ways through with Cody McDonald denied a clear-cut penalty after Ricky Holmes had missed a spot-kick at the other end, but at least Slade’s men no longer looked so hopeless in attack.
Improvement, however, that was only enough for the Addicks to steal a point they probably didn’t deserve. Performances concerning, just one win in the previous ten league games, and the idea of the club having a “top six budget” being mocked each week. Capitalising on Coventry’s woes feels like an exception to the norm, rather than something that can become a norm.
Confidence seemingly only to be found in Ajose, who made his point clear following his first goal for the club since August. Slade might say otherwise, but his celebration in front of the boss was quite clear. The forward believing he can play an important part in the Addicks improving, and many supporters would agree.
Chesterfield could hand a second senior start to 17-year-old Ricky German after Wilson suggested the young striker could “potentially…be very good” having made his full debut in the defeat to Scunthorpe.
German, possessing strength belonging to a man far beyond his years, is likely to partner Evans in attack, who will be hoping for an uninterrupted run in the side with injury and his well-publicised court case having disrupted his return to football.
But the positives of German’s unearthing and Evans’ return have been offset by injuries, set-backs and suspension leaving the Spireites without a number of players ahead of Saturday’s trip to SE7.
Full-back Paul McGinn (hamstring), forward Kristian Dennis (calf) and Bolton loanee Connor Wilkinson (knee) are all likely to remain absent having missed the game with Scunthorpe, while Tommy Lee’s hopes of returning to action have hit a snag after the long-serving goalkeeper suffered a minor set-back in his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Elsewhere, centre-back Tom Anderson will be unavailable against the Addicks having received his fifth yellow card of the season last weekend. The experienced Ian Evatt the man set to replace him in the back line.
Pressure, from both supporters and the player himself, is being placed on Slade to hand a first start to Ajose since September’s defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
Many are desperate for the summer signing from Swindon, dropped initially after a few wasteful games in front of goal, to be brought back into the starting XI as a result of the disappointing displays that have been seen when a 4-5-1 formation has been used, in addition to the impact Ajose had off the bench last weekend. The forward’s celebration increasing the demand on Slade to pick him.
Ajose replaced Jackson at half-time at Priestfield, and the skipper could be the midfield man to drop out so a second striker can start, but Andrew Crofts will do well to keep a hold of his place in the starting line-up.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer will be available having missed last weekend through illness, looking set to replace Ezri Konsa in the XI, but Jordan Botaka is unlikely to return from the injury that was suffered while on international duty with DR Congo.
KEY BATTLE – DICTATING, RATHER THAN DROPPING DEEP
The results, performances, and Slade’s tactical failings have been made more frustrating by the fact that this Charlton side can play.
When they have been allowed to play with energy and intent, the Addicks have impressed. Shrewsbury blown away, the first-half performance against AFC Wimbledon should have resulted in a larger lead, and Slade’s bizarre decision to withdraw Ricky Holmes and Josh Magennis at Port Vale meant a period of dominance was left meaningless.
As such, cautious efforts that see Slade’s side sat deep make even less sense. Too often this season have beatable oppositions been allowed to take control of periods of games, and ultimately take advantage of the lack of pressure on them when in possession.
An out of form Gillingham side allowed to dictate last weekend, and an out of form Chesterfield side can’t be allowed to do similar this weekend. Energy, high pressure and attacking intent required.
A part of that, in terms of shaping the side as much as bringing the individual in, will come down to whether Slade decides to give into supporter wishes, as well as logic, and provide an Ajose-shaped partner for Josh Magennis in attack.
Isolating the Northern Ireland international, despite his immense efforts in recent weeks, part of the reason why the Addicks have struggled to show energy and intent. Slow midfield passing, followed by long punts up field, and no support for Magennis.
This Charlton side can play better football than that. And they can afford to be brave and adventurous against the struggling Spirerites.
There is surely no excuse for Slade’s side failing to record victory. Surely? Charlton Athletic 2-1 Chesterfield