What with Charlton Athletic winless against Millwall since before my first birthday, there’s no such thing as an ideal time for these South East London rivals to meet. But Wednesday’s trip to The Den is particularly unwelcomed, and that not just because it stands to ruin Christmas.
For the Addicks must do battle in this seemingly unwinnable derby fixture on the back of one of their worst performances of this current campaign. A repeat of the effort shown during the 2-0 defeat to Peterborough United would see embarrassment beyond the usual level suffered against the Lions.
There certainly no chance of Charlton recording their first victory over Millwall since 1996 if there is not serious improvement. Both on the performance against Posh, and their historic displays in the blue half of South East London.
Not even the form of Neil Harris’ side, who come into the game on the back of successive defeats and a 3-0 loss at Scunthorpe United this weekend, provides much solace. Millwall’s form has meant little in recent encounters between these two sides. The Addicks always find a way to gift their rivals a point or three.
And so, though Phil Parkinson, Chris Powell, Jose Riga and Guy Luzon have failed before him, the task facing Karl Robinson ahead of his first South East London is to inspire, motivate and organise a side to victory. One that lacked any sort of quality just four days before this match, one that lacks sufficient bodies to make reasonable changes, and one that so often fails against the Lions.
For defeat at The Den, after such a poor performance on Saturday, and already there will be questions asked of Robinson. Maybe not justified, but the emotion that a derby defeat creates means they are unavoidable.
Or, more deservedly, a defeat, particularly given the impact it will have on Charlton’s chances of finishing in the top six, will reinforce that nothing will change at this club while an owner who calls fans “stupid people” remains.
A pathetic defeat and Roland Duchatelet insulting supporters the perfect build-up to a must-win derby, obviously.
LAST MEETING – MILLWALL 2-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (03/04/2015)
An impressive capitulation saw Charlton’s first goal at The Den since 1995 count for nothing, as two Millwall goals in the game’s final 11 minutes gave Ian Holloway’s men victory.
A familiar sense of disappointment in Bermondsey emerging just 28 minutes into the game, as Chris Solly used his arms to block a goal-bound Aiden O’Brien shot and was subsequently dismissed.
But Stephen Henderson responded in marvellous fashion. The goalkeeping saving Lee Gregory’s spot kick, and latching onto the loose ball before a player in blue could make contact. The best part of an hour to survive with ten men, but maybe just a spot of hope for Guy Luzon’s men.
Hope that became genuine belief with 67 minutes played, as Alou Diarra superbly flicked Morgan Fox’s delivery beyond David Forde. On the back foot for the majority of the contest, but Millwall’s lack of potency meant the Frenchman’s goal felt decisive.
Alas, the Lions would be level with 11 minutes to play. Roger Johnson blocking Shaun Williams’ strike, but the ball bouncing kindly to substitute Magaye Gueye. The ball half-volleyed beyond Henderson from a tight angle.
And the turnaround would be completed eight minutes later, as poor Charlton defending allowed Jos Hooiveldt to divert Gueye’s effort into the back of the net.
Even by the standard the Addicks had previously set in dropping points against the Lions, this was a special effort.
Expectations were placed on Millwall to challenge once again this season, having suffered defeat to Barnsley in last season’s play-off final. Full faith in Harris to oversee the Lions’ recovery from such disappointment.
But supporters have only suffered more disappointment since that 3-1 loss in May. The Lions languishing in the bottom half of League One, and failing to find any reasonable degree of form or consistency.
Some impressive results in the first half of the campaign, with Sheffield United beaten and a 4-0 defeat inflicted on Bristol Rovers, but nine defeats taking much of the attention.
Not least the two defeats that have been suffered in the previous two weeks. A 1-0 loss at relegation-threatened Shrewsbury Town followed by Scunthorpe capitalising on an error-prone Millwall effort to record a 3-0 win.
In fact, Harris was so critical of his side’s performance after the defeat to the Iron that he suggested “they didn’t beat us – we beat ourselves”. A reflection of both a tame overall performance, and some rather poor errors that led to goals.
But so too did Harris suggest that the fixture against Charlton has “come at a perfect time” for the Lions. The perfect opportunity to bounce back, regaining lost pride and the full support of their fans.
Saturday’s defeat to Peterborough, a lifeless and pathetic effort, was in some contrast to the bold words that Robinson has offered since being appointed manager of the Addicks.
The confidence that the former MK Dons boss has attempted to portray quite emphatically crushed, as a performance without the intensity and attacking dynamism promised ended in a 2-0 defeat. Few efforts as pathetic as this throughout the season.
It means that, four games into Robinson’s reign, there have been no victories and just one goal scored. Worrying statistics for someone who has, personally, promised so much.
It no so much the stats that are concerning, however, but the confidence that has seemingly been drained by Saturday’s defeat. Increased after the excellent effort to come away from Valley Parade with a point last weekend, but completely reversed after wilting against Posh.
The Addicks now seven points away from the top six. A position in the table that was expected to be reached as a minimum. Defeat at The Den, and it becomes hard to imagine that a play-off place is possible.
Steve Morison is pushing to start for the Lions after making a return from a knee injury from the bench during the defeat to Scunthorpe.
Morison, who has nine goals in all competitions this season, managed 45 minutes at Glanford Park as Harris threw the Welsh forward on in an attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit, and should be fit enough to play from the off on Wednesday.
David Worrall, who was also introduced at half-time at the weekend, is another Lion who will be pushing to start. Joe Martin and Fred Onyedinma replaced to accommodate Worrall and Morison, and the pair likely to be fighting for their places in the XI as a result.
But defender Byron Webster, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered in the FA Cup second-round win over Braintree, will definitely miss out.
If Robinson had a reasonably sized squad to hand, then a whole raft of changes to the side that suffered defeat against Peterborough on Saturday could be expected.
Alas, injuries to a squad that lacks bodies at the best of times means there are few alternatives available to Charlton’s boss.
Goalkeeper Declan Rudd (hip) has resumed full training and may return to the side at The Den, though Dillon Phillips has deputised commendably in his absence, but Chris Solly (knee), Jason Pearce (groin), Ricky Holmes (foot), Ahmed Kashi (probably dead), and Lee Novak (knee) will be unavailable for the Addicks.
Handing a start to Adam Chicksen seems the most likely change that Robinson will make, with the full-back impressing when given a chance in recent weeks and Morgan Fox struggling on Saturday, while the nature of the derby fixture and Andrew Crofts’ efforts against Posh means it seems logical for skipper Johnnie Jackson to return to the starting XI.
But several of those who underperformed during Saturday’s defeat, not least Nicky Ajose and Jordan Botaka, are likely to retain their place in the side.
KEY BATTLE – TURNING UP
Charlton have been poor this season, but shown quality in glimpses. Millwall have been poor this season, but shown quality in glimpses. Both teams heading into the derby fixture with similar fears and similar anxiety.
And so a free-flowing game between two impressive sides is not what will be seen at The Den on Wednesday. These derby games cagey affairs in normal circumstances, but this likely to be more so given the lack of form and confidence both sides have.
Nonetheless, and as clichéd as it is, form isn’t always the most important factor in games between these two sides. Millwall have shown that on several occasions.
And Millwall have been allowed to show that form is irrelevant by Charlton’s persistent crumbling in this fixture. Milwall have shown up; Charlton have not.
Especially given that these two sides have shown glimpses of quality this season, and both know that they do have the collective and individual ability to perform at an impressive standard, turning up on Wednesday evening is really what matters.
Turning up, and as such responding to disappointing defeats on Saturday. The one that does that best the most likely to come away with a positive result.
Misery. Millwall 1-0 Charlton Athletic