“The truth” to be told to Charlton Athletic players in a series of individual meetings following the pathetic 3-1 defeat to Millwall on Wednesday night. Karl Robinson, presumably, calling every member of his squad in to tell them they’re not very good at football and need to be better at football. Something the boos that met the full-time whistle at The Den has probably already told them.
It, however, an unfortunate truth of Robinson’s time in charge at Charlton that his words have not reflected his, nor his side’s, actions. So much fighting talk; not enough fight on the pitch. It difficult, as a supporter sat outside these meetings, to believe more talking will instil motivation, determination and quality into individuals and the collective.
But it simply must make a difference. There simply must be a difference between the Charlton that failed so pathetically at The Den, and the one that travels to Stadium MK on Boxing Day. A difference in mentality, as well as in performance and result.
For a repeat of the display against the Lions, with similar seen in defeat to Peterborough United last weekend, when the Addicks face Robinson’s former employers would leave both he and his current club in a very uncomfortable position.
A position that Robinson has created for himself. Not just as a result of failing to organise or motivate his side, but a result of the confident and boisterous manner in which he spoke at the start of his time in charge. Talk of positive relationships, success and promotion has been replaced by an admission that “there are certain aspects of the club” that aren’t what they should be.
And a position that worsens for the club with every defeat, and with every word spoken by Roland Duchatelet. The “stupid” supporters of the club he owns quite rightly demanding more, and merely getting more soundbites.
Time to come out fighting.
LAST MEETING – MK DONS 3-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (13/12/2016)
Charlton exited the FA Cup at the second round as two MK goals in the first seven minutes of extra-time condemned the Addicks to a replay defeat.
The replay required after a goalless draw at The Valley in Robinson’s first game as Charlton boss, but only six minutes needed for the deadlock to be broken at Stadium MK. A mistake from Joe Aribo, one of many fringe players given a start in a rotated side, seeing Darren Potter dispossess the youngster and send Darren Powell through on goal, who finished with ease.
The Addicks second best, and struggling to react to falling behind, but found themselves level with 24 minutes played. Former Don Adam Chicksen creating an opening out of nothing, as he cut inside and finished superbly into the far bottom corner.
That how it remained until extra-time, but Robinson’s side blew a fantastic opportunity to seal progression to the third round in the final minute of normal time. Nicky Ajose played through, the defence beaten, but his resulting shot straight at goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. A chance that really had to be taken.
And Charlton were made to pay for wasting such a glorious opening just four minutes into the additional 30, as Roger Johnson stood of Kieran Agard, the forward teed up Ben Reeves, and the playmaker curled a fantastic effort well beyond the reach of Dillon Phillips from the edge of the area.
A Jorge Teixeira header, narrowly wide of its own accord but almost turned in at the far post by Ajose’s outstretched boot, may have seen the Addicks draw level, but the hosts sealed their place in the next round just three minutes later, as Dean Bowditch raced beyond a motionless defence and tucked beyond Phillips.
Dons through to face Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex in the third round.
MK Dons: LWWDWL
Robbie Nielson’s reign as boss of the dons is in its infancy, but the former Hearts manager has made a positive impression at Stadium MK.
A 1-0 defeat at Gillingham last weekend disappointing, and made more so as a consequence of Dean Bowditch’s missed penalty, but the overall signs shown in Nielson’s first three ‘proper’ fixtures in charge are that his management should comfortably guide the Milton Keynes club well away from the possible threat of relegation.
A more pragmatic style of football then what was seen under Robinson, giving the Dons greater chance of grinding out results and climbing towards the comfort of mid-table.
The victory over AFC Wimbledon, also their first league win at home of the campaign, a very positive way to start, and the performance against an albeit weakened Charlton side in the FA Cup warranted victory prior to extra-time.
Too early to make a true judgement, of course, but Nielson seemingly delivering what is required in the short term.
Remember the optimism and positivity that followed the valiant effort at Valley Parade in Robinson’s first league game? I’m not quite sure I do, actually.
For the impact that performance against Bradford City have, coming away from Yorkshire with a goalless draw but creating enough chances to warrant victory, has since been totally eclipsed by three successive defeats. Part of a run of six games without victory, in which only three goals have been scored, five of which have come under the management of Robinson.
It not so much alarming that points aren’t being collected or goals aren’t being scored, with a Charlton side instilled with Robinson’s brand of free-flowing and attacking football managing just two goals, given that many coaches and managers have struggled to provide both of those when under Duchatelet’s reign.
But the performances, particularly in successive league defeats to Peterborough and Millwall, are concerning. Not just poor performances and poor results, but a side without structure, intensity or effort labouring half-heartedly around the pitch seemingly in acceptance of their defeats. There little fight, and there seemingly little motivational impact from a boss whose greatest strength appears to be the words he produces.
Poor results will also be related back to Duchatelet, given the overall impact he’s had on the club and more specific role this regime have had in creating another weak and understaffed squad, but there blame attached to Robinson for the manner of these recent performances.
Richie Barker added to the coaching staff in midweek, having departing MK Dons, and maybe he will have the required impact to motivate this group of beleaguered Addicks. Either way, better has to be expected.
Defender Joe Walsh is likely to be available for the Dons again having missed last weekend’s defeat to Gillingham with an ankle injury.
The Welshman has trained with the side this week, and looks set to come into the starting XI at centre-back, allowing Dean Lewington to revert to his natural position at left-back.
But Neilson will be without right-back George Baldock, who aggravated a hamstring issue initially sustained in the FA Cup win over Charlton during the loss at Priestfield. George B Williams, who has been playing at left-back in recent weeks, competing with the Wigan loanee Jack Hendry for the right-back spot made vacant in Baldock’s absence.
Elsewhere, Nicky Maynard made a return from injury off the bench last weekend and will be pushing to start, while Chuks Aneke, who impressed against the Addicks in the FA Cup replay at Stadium MK, is another fighting for a place in the starting XI after injury issues. Long-term absentee Scott Wootton, however, remains on the sidelines.
“They’re lucky that we only have so many players fit and they’ve got 10 days until January. That’s not been my mentality…I’ve been quite positive and forward thinking. But these are the cold facts of where we’re at.”
Robinson descending into an excuse-ridden rant following Wednesday’s defeat to Millwall which left wishing he would, for once, forgo his ability to speak. Injuries, and a squad lacking any sort of depth, not an excuse for the lack of effort shown at The Den.
But those injuries do exist. Another victim of this curse seemingly claimed prior to the midweek fixture, with Fredrik Ulvestad carrying a knock and only fit enough for the bench. The Burnley loanee left unused, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll recover in time to start on Boxing Day.
Declan Rudd had been set to return from a hip injury against Peterborough, but the Norwich loanee’s absence has continued into this week. With the goalkeeper having been back in full training for over a week, Rudd will surely be available for the trip to Stadium MK.
But there little chance of anyone else on the length list of injured absentees making an appearance. Jason Pearce (groin), Chris Solly (knee), Ahmed Kashi (ankle), Ricky Holmes (foot), and Lee Novak (foot) remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – RESPONDING
How do you respond to two of your worst performances of the season? How do you respond to wilting, and offering little fight, in a game against your rivals? How do you respond to supporters, understandably, losing faith in your ability as a side to achieve?
At the very least, you don’t allow a lack of confidence to overwhelm, and instead find the energy and effort absent over the previous week and put in a bloody decent shift. A third performance lacking any sort of intensity from the Addicks simply unacceptable.
It not all just about mentality and effort, however, with Robinson referring to the need to shake things up. More with a reference to the long-term, but in the short-term, too. Options limited in terms of changing personal and structure, but instilling cohesion and fluency within the side an absolute must. A more traditional and pragmatic set-up, with Lookman in a wide position, probably required.
But it not just Charlton who need to respond on Boxing Day. Dons responding to their first defeat under Nielson. On a much smaller scale than the grand crisis among the Addicks, but still a test of character, quality, and managerial ability.
A need for Nielson to learn from the mistakes made at Priestfield, for his side to bounce back from disappointment, and again shown the more positive signs that were seen in the Scot’s previous two fixtures in charge.
Dons’ task to respond a much simpler one than Charlton’s, but a requirement for both sides to respond, and show something different.
Characters in this Charlton side that will fight, and will want to prove their worth after recent displays, but others who will crumble. Nothing less than victory will appease in the circumstances, but not sure more than a gritty draw can be expected. MK Dons 1-1 Charlton Athletic