A period of five weeks without a midweek league fixture for Charlton Athletic will come to an end this Tuesday, but it would have been useful if that period had continued for a little while longer.
For the Addicks, trapped firmly in a state of Roland Duchatelet-shaped crisis, will travel to the Memorial Stadium on Tuesday with the position of manager still vacant. Kevin Nugent will again act as caretaker, with the side that temporary belongs to him facing a difficult challenge away at overachieving Bristol Rovers.
There no getting away from the fact that those of a Charlton persuasion will travel to the West Country with uncertainty on their minds. Fans fearing the present and future while Duchatelet’s regime remains in control, and all concerned at the quality and competence of the manager this flawed ownership will be able to attract to replace Slade.
Long has a time passed when the game itself was the most important aspect of following the Addicks, but it has become even more of a secondary factor as a result of the events of the previous week.
As such, having a second game in four days is a little bit of a frustrating distraction. It might have been better suited for the Addicks if they were allowed time to focus on finding a new manager, and could head into their next game with at least a certain amount of structure.
However, Charlton do travel to the West Country with a victory to their name since Russell Slade’s bizarre sacking. The 2-0 win over Port Vale on Saturday not the most fluent of performances, but the result desperately needed.
Not only providing confidence, the sort required after a traumatic week, but so too showing those representing the club on the pitch have the capability to perform professionally irrespective of the circumstances.
Certainly a need to perform with confidence and professionalism at the Memorial Stadium, against a team who are likely to provide more testing opposition than the tame Vale did.
LAST MEETING – BRISTOL ROVERS 2-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (23/04/2011)
The nine men of Charlton failed to hold onto a two-goal advantage at the Memorial Stadium in April 2011, as a late Gavin Williams goal rescued a point for relegation-threatened Bristol Rovers.
A spectacular Kyel Reid goal, struck beyond Rovers goalkeeper Conrad Logan from distance, just after half-time had seemingly put the Addicks on course for three points. The winger’s goal doubling Charlton’s lead, after Paul Benson’s header had put the visitors in front with eight minutes played.
But the hosts would have a two-man advantage before the hour mark. Reid, for two rash challenges in quick succession, shown a second yellow card, with Jose Semedo receiving similar punishment six minutes later.
Rovers’ advantage in numbers allowed them to half the deficit in the scoreline six minutes later, with Wayne Brown converting from close range.
And with six minutes to play, the pressure the hosts were applying finally told, as Williams finished emphatically from inside the box.
Bristol Rovers: DWLDWL
Consolidation in League One would have been the aim for Bristol Rovers this season following promotion from the fourth tier in the previous campaign, but Darrell Clarke’s side have shown themselves to be far more competitive than that.
Three league defeats, only one of which has come at home, since the start of September contributing towards the Gas sitting outside the play-offs on goal difference alone. A four point advantage over the Addicks.
In fact, such is their impressive start to the campaign, expectations may have changed somewhat. A capitulation at the New Den, with Rovers losing 4-0, and a frustrating goalless draw with MK Dons in the previous two weeks not simply being brushed under the carpet.
A belief among a confident, but grounded, Clarke and his club’s supporters that Rovers can compete for a top six place for the duration of the season, and that the somewhat disappointing results of the previous two weeks were merely blips.
In most circumstances, winning a game after the sacking of a manager justifies the decision to depart with him, but Saturday’s win over Port Vale made Charlton’s dismissal of Slade seem even more odd.
For that was a fourth game won at The Valley in succession, the performance, instigated by Slade’s assistant Nugent, was a very familiar one, and a reliance on the impact of those who were unavailable for the horrendous defeat to Swindon was highlighted.
To base a sacking on one performance, an inexcusable one but still only one, and not consider the greater context reaffirming that Duchatelet’s decision making is entirely flawed. The work that Slade was putting in on and off the pitch, that the Duchatelet would be aware while he spends his Saturdays in restaurants, commended by many.
Nonetheless, that isn’t to suggest that Slade and his side weren’t flawed, and that there isn’t still plenty of room for improvement. The play-offs only one point closer than the bottom four, and performances far from fluent.
Matty Taylor could return to Rovers’ starting XI after the prolific scorer was benched for Saturday’s goalless draw with MK Dons.
The forward, who has 14 goals to his name in all competitions this season, wasn’t introduced until the second half at the weekend after boss Clarke said he wanted “fresh players” to start against the Dons. Rovers having been taken to extra time by Crawley in the FA Cup last Tuesday.
As a result of Clarke fielding that freshened up side, there could be further changes for the game against the Addicks. Chris Lines and Rory Gaffney, replacing Hiram Boateng and Ellis Harrison introduced at the same time as Taylor against the Dons, and they’ll be pushing for starts.
Elsewhere, the wonderfully bearded Stuart Sinclair is likely to start, and he’ll earn the honour of being the first player I’ve seen play for non-league Bedford Town and against Charlton in a competitive match. How exciting.
Charlton are likely to remain without Chris Solly after the full-back missed Saturday’s win over Port Vale with a knee complaint.
Given Solly’s injury history, and his notoriously troublesome knees, it would be unwise to rush the academy graduate back. Kevin Foley, the most agile or natural right-back but capable enough, set to deputise once again.
In fact, with Ricky Holmes a long-term absentee and the lack of alternatives available to caretaker boss Nugent, changes to the XI that started at the weekend are unlikely.
KEY BATTLE – THE RESPONSE TO GAINING AN ADVANTAGE OR FALLING BEHIND
Despite the dismissal of Slade, one of the most frustrating factors of Charlton’s play this season was once again visible on Saturday.
There a reluctance to truly dominate and control a game. Having taken that two-goal lead against Vale, the Addicks could have dictated the pattern of play. Instead, they sat back, and allowed the visitors as much of the ball as they wanted.
It not simply nervously grinding out results, but inviting unnecessary pressure and allowing opponents back into games they were seemingly out of. Points lost as a consequence of such caution on various occasions this season.
Thankfully, Vale were incredibly tame on Saturday. Unable to take advantage of the possession they were allowed to have.
But Bristol Rovers, on their own ground, might not be so lenient. Especially not with the prolific Taylor likely to be leading their attack.
Not only in terms of being able to respond to falling behind, especially if they are allowed to see plenty of the ball and create openings, but should it be they who take the lead. Rovers with the potency to exploit the still fragile confidence of the Addicks.
The first goal, and the response to that goal, very important.
Showing a touch of quality, and subsequently grinding out a victory, means I’m not dreading this as much as I was. But a tough test, and victory not to be demanded. Bristol Rovers 1-1 Charlton Athletic