While Karl Robinson was still searching for his first win as boss of Charlton Athletic, there were understandable feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. A lack of definitive faith in him, and a side that were failing to impress.
So the win over MK Dons on Boxing Day should allow this group of Addicks to approach the trip to Southend United with a greater degree of confidence. Allow supporters to make the journey on New Year’s Eve with less concern. Allow Robinson to approach the fixture with less pressure on his shoulders.
The problem, however, is that a better side, a more potent side, would have beaten the Addicks on Boxing Day. Robinson himself admitting that the performance was poor, with it hard to argue that Charlton’s single goal victory was entirely deserved, and supporters in the away end exiting Stadium MK feeling very fortunate.
Southend, unfortunately, are that better side. The Shrimpers unbeaten in their previous 11 league games, only Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers boast a better record over the previous ten games, and Phil Brown’s side have climbed into the division’s top six.
So too are they scoring goals, with 22 scored in those 11 games. Far more potent than a MK Dons side that wasted numerous guilt edge opportunities to take the lead, and then to level.
As such, the Boxing Day victory only counts for so much as the Addicks head to Roots Hall. A confidence boost, unquestionably, and a showing that they can grind out a result with the aid of some good fortune, but a repeat performance would not be enough against the Shrimpers.
Further improvement required if the Addicks are to take anything from a tough fixture.
LAST MEETING – SOUTHEND UNITED 1-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (26/02/2010)
There has been a more recent meeting between the two sides, a 1-0 victory for the Addicks at Roots Hall in the Johnstones Paint Trophy in November 2010, but it feels more appropriate to reflect on the most recent league meeting between the pair.
A stoppage-time strike from Kyel Reid required for Phil Parkinson’s Charlton to come away from Roots Hall with three points in February 2010 despite Southend having ten men for the majority of the game.
The Shrimpers taking the lead just six minutes after Jean-Francois Christophe was dismissed for violent conduct. Rob Elliot not covering himself in glory as Matt Paterson’s effort from distance creeped underneath him with 31 minutes played.
And though the Addicks applied unrelenting pressure, it wasn’t until the 73rd minute when they finally equalised. Akpo Sodje converting from close range.
Despite being on the back foot for most of the game, it seemed that Southend had done enough to secure a point. That until Reid found a pocket of space in the first minute of stoppage-time, and struck emphatically beyond Steve Mildenhall in the Southend goal to earn the Addicks victory.
With 12 league games of this season completed, Southend sat 22nd in League One. Six of those games ending in defeat, including heavy losses to Scunthorpe, Northampton and Rochdale, leaving copious amounts of pressure, understandably, on boss Brown.
11 fixtures later, having lost none of them, the Shrimpers have climbed to sixth. Seven of those games won, with impressive victories over Bradford and AFC Wimbledon, and 25 points claimed. An incredible turnaround, led by Brown.
A team with journeymen who have performed at a higher level (Anton Ferdinand, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Simon Cox), long-serving Southend players (Michael Timlin, Ryan Leonard, Will Atkinson), and players with good League One pedigree (Jason Demetriou, Anthony Wordsworth) gelling together into something effective.
There more exciting sides in the division, with younger talent, but this group is certainly proving their worth.
And Southend head into Saturday’s fixture against the Addicks on the back of a mightily impressive 3-0 victory over play-off chasing AFC Wimbledon – their third consecutive victory. Cox scoring either side of an Atkinson strike to take the Shrimpers into the top six.
In truth, there wasn’t a great deal of difference in the quality of performance between the victory over MK Dons and the dreadful defeats to Peterborough United and Millwall.
Application and effort at times when it was required at higher levels, with Robinson’s side working harder at Stadium MK, but the performance still incredibly disappointing. A lack of defensive structure, misplaced passes a regular occurrence, and next to no attacking intensity.
The Addicks securing their first victory under Robinson, and in seven games, with a moment of quality. Andrew Crofts’ through ball marvellous, and Ademola Lookman’s finish excellent. A goal against the run of play, and Charlton rarely looking like threatening throughout the remainder of the contest.
Concerns, however, remain high. That performance, like the ones against Peterborough and Millwall, was still concerning in spite of the victory, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like the foundation for something impressive.
Though something impressive is needed, with this group Addicks still some way off a competent side and some way off the play-offs.
Six points back at the season’s halfway stage incredibly disappointing, and makes finishing in the top six, the apparent bare minimum, come the end of the season incredibly unlikely.
With first choice goalkeeper Mark Oxley expected to be out for a number of weeks with an elbow injury sustained prior to the Boxing Day victory over AFC Wimbledon, homegrown shot-stopper Ted Smith is likely to continue between the sticks.
The 20-year-old, who has played for England’s U18, U19 and U20 sides, is highly rated, but has found first-team opportunities limited.
Brown’s side will also remain without Nile Ranger, who has a thigh injury. Despite the controversial character’s past, and present with a fraud allegation recently made against him, the forward has impressed at Roots Hall, earning himself a contract extension at the start of this month.
Though Zavon Hines was recently recruited after a successful trial, Marc-Antoine Fortune and two-goal Cox are likely to continue in attack on Saturday.
Elsewhere, former Addick Dave Mooney has a long-term ankle problem, while defenders Ben Coker and Ryan Inniss also absent through injury.
Uncertainty exists as to whether Ademola Lookman will feature at Roots Hall, with Everton having agreed a fee for the talented teenager forward.
While Lookman obviously remains a Charlton player until at least January 1st, the risk of the 19-year-old suffering injury, and as such preventing a £10m transfer, is probably too high. Robinson might want him to play, Lookman might want to play, but Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire may have other ideas.
His enforced absence hardly coming at an ideal time, with an already small squad desperately short of bodies. Recognised wingers, though Nicky Ajose and Adam Chicksen have been playing out wide in competent fashion, down to just one (Jordan Botaka). A consequence of Ricky Holmes (foot) being one of several injuries.
Holmes joined in the treatment room by Declan Rudd (hip), Jason Pearce (groin), Chris Solly (knee), Ahmed Kashi (unfunctional body), and Lee Novak (knee), who have all been absent for at least several weeks.
And, following the Boxing Day victory over MK Dons, another body has made its way to the treatment room. Johnnie Jackson withdrawn just after the interval at Stadium MK and, given the quick turnaround, is unlikely to be fit for Saturday.
A real lack of options in the centre of midfield, particularly if Robinson again wants to play three in the middle.
KEY BATTLE – DEFENSIVE COMPOSURE
Before Robinson’s appointment, the most redeeming fixture of this Charlton side was its defensive solidity.
Patrick Bauer and Pearce impressing, Morgan Fox in decent form, and Solly’s absence, whether it be Kevin Foley or Ezri Konsa in his place, not being felt. Declan Rudd also dependable, and Dillon Phillips proving a talented shot-stopper when given an opportunity following the Norwich loanee’s injury.
However, though there have been three clean sheets, the defensive efforts since Robinson has been in charge haven’t been so assured. Bauer and Jorge Teixeira not as comfortable as reputation suggests they should be, Fox in the middle of a horrendous run of form, and Konsa guilty of very poor defending in the derby defeat to Millwall.
MK Dons, sometimes wasteful and often woeful in front of goal, unable to take advantage of that uncertainty at the back, but a more potent Southend side might well be able to.
Having scored 22 goals in their unbeaten run, and boasting three players – Stephen McLaughlin, Cox and Wordsworth – who have struck six times in the league this season, the Shrimpers are much more likely to exploit the flaws in Charlton’s defensive structure.
And, as such, it’s vital that the Addicks show much greater composure at the back than they have in the previous three fixtures.
A repeat of the performance at Stadium MK and the Addicks lose this, but you would like to think that the win will spark some sort of improvement. Enough to end Southend’s unbeaten run? Unlikely, but there’s no excuse for not being competitive. Southend United 1-1 Charlton Athletic