Charlton Athletic’s game against Port Vale at The Valley this Saturday will be another fixture where the events that take place on the pitch seem almost irrelevant. Another for an ever-growing tally.
For how does a supporter, either committed to a point where this football club consumes their life or a rather more relaxed and passive watcher, motivate themselves to see the game as the sole focus under such circumstances?
How does a supporter feel comfortable, and any sense of attachment, inside a ground where the hierarchy are so open in their distain of them? It has become even more apparent this week that fans are the enemy to Roland Duchatelet and his regime. That their feelings towards to their club are an annoyance to those at the top.
It not just the sacking of Russell Slade, a strange decision made calamitous by the fact it exposes further lies from Katrien Meire, but the comments and actions that have followed. Having failed in their attempts to shift the blame onto the manager, it is now the supporters who are apparently at fault.
The ignorance and arrogance of Duchatelet reaffirmed has he continues to pretend there is no reason behind Charlton fans protesting, behind Charlton fans tracking him down in Belgium. We were once supporters, then customers, and now we are apparently actors.
And while this occurs, it seems the hierarchy care little about the fixture on Saturday. That Kevin Nugent would be leading the side only announced on Thursday, along with the rather suspicious appointment to the coaching staff of form STVV boss Chris O’Loughlin. Duchatelet obviously has more important things to be worrying about.
What a depressing and bleak mess.
LAST MEETING – PORT VALE 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (18/10/2016)
It an odd quirk of the fixture list that means the Addicks will play Port Vale in SE7 a month after their trip to Vale Park, despite having not played against seven League One sides either home or away.
And the reverse fixture proved quite a frustrating one, with Charlton rather tamely throwing away victory with five minutes to play and gifting Vale a point.
For the Addicks, without being totally in control, were comfortable enough from the moment Fredrik Ulvestad gave the visitors the lead. The Norwegian converting from Ricky Holmes’ ball across the face of goal with 30 minutes played.
In fact, with Holmes and Josh Magennis performing superbly, Slade’s side looked comfortable even going into the game’s final ten minutes.
But the then manager’s decision to withdraw the pair immediately invited more pressure on Charlton’s backline, and immediately proved an error of judgement. Harry Lennon hauling down Alex Jones inside the box, and the Birmingham loanee dusting himself down to convert from the spot.
Two points most certainly dropped by the Addicks.
Port Vale: WWLDDL
After an impressive start to the season, particularly so given that there was an element of suspicion regarding the appointment of Bruno Ribeiro and his raft of inexperienced signings for beyond the Football League, results have become a little more mixed in the previous month or so for Port Vale.
Just the one victory in October, against struggling MK Dons, coupled with some heavy defeats to promotion-chasing Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderer slightly forcing supporters to reassess their expectations for this campaign.
But that certainly isn’t to say Port Vale don’t find themselves in a strong position. Just a point separates them from the play-off places, and Saturday’s victory over Fleetwood Town was the sort that can prove the catalyst for an impressive run of form.
What appeared certain defeat became victory in the game’s final 15 minutes, as Rigino Cicilia and Alex Jones struck late goals to overturn a 1-0 deficit. The sort of confidence boosting victory required after an indifference run of form.
The run of form that justified Slade’s sacking wasn’t particularly criminal, though the performance in defeat at Swindon Town last weekend certainly was.
For leading up to that visit to the County Ground, Slade’s side had gone six without defeat. Not the most fluent run of six games without defeat you’ll ever see, with disappointing efforts at Gillingham and in the reverse fixture at Port Vale in particular, but a run of six games without defeat nevertheless.
In fact, it appeared that something of a foundation was being set. Positive signs, that suggested the Addicks were slowly improving under Slade.
Alas, the effort at Swindon rather emphatically saw those foundations cave in. A depleted side it may have been, with several players away on international duty but Sky Sports demanding that the game went ahead, but there no excuse for such a lifeless effort.
The 3-0 defeat entirely justified, even if Slade’s sacking thereafter might not have been.
Vale will be without Anthony Grant after the midfielder was sent off in the latter stages of his side’s victory over Fleetwood last weekend.
Grant, an important player in the spine of Vale’s side, received an unnecessary second yellow during an 89th minute scrap between both sides, and his absence is likely to be felt. Quentin Pereira among the leading candidates to replace him.
But, in more positive news for Ribeiro, Anton Forrester could be available for the first time since the start of October having recovered from hamstring issues. The forward having made a return for the reserves last week.
While Jerome Thomas, who missed the reverse fixture through injury, looks set to line-up against his former side. Having performed impressively when available, Vale coach Andy Smith has suggested that Thomas “is the best winger in this league”, and the 33-year-old will undoubtedly be keen to impress on his return to his one-time employers.
The return of those who were on international duty, and as such missed the defeat to Swindon, was supposed to see Charlton return to something like full strength. But that isn’t quite the case.
While the availability of Ademola Lookman and Jordan Botaka means the Addicks will be able to start a pair of wingers, they are likely to be without arguably their two most important players.
For Josh Magennis has returned from international duty with an injury that is likely to keep him out of Saturday’s game. The forward replaced early on during the second half of Northern Ireland’s friendly defeat to Croatia.
And while Magennis’ injury isn’t expected to be too serious, there is less promising news for Ricky Holmes. What was originally seen as just knock, having sustained a nasty blow during the FA Cup victory over Scunthorpe, has now been reassessed as a broken foot. Holmes unavailable for this weekend, and quite possibly for a further two months.
KEY BATTLE – THE ORGANISED AGAINST THE MESS
Saturday is simply another game for Port Vale. Bruno Ribeiro has been in charge for long enough for his side to have something of a rhythm, and already be accustomed to and aware of their roles.
For Charlton, it’s quite a different story. Adapting to the rather shock dismissal of Slade, and having to very quickly get on board with what those in temporary control have to say.
Difficult at the best of times, but more so given the need to recover from the performance at Swindon last weekend, and the fact it needs to be done without key players. This instability hardly well-timed.
At least Nugent and Simon Clark, supporting the caretaker boss alongside Duchatelet’s latest network recruit, are known to the players. Giving some members of the coaching staff a bit more power on a temporary basis probably counts as stability in SE7 at the moment.
Meanwhile, Vale peacefully go about their business, without any chaos or crisis to deal with. Oh what a pleasure that must be.
Let’s get this over and done with. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Port Vale