There are two ways in which Charlton Athletic can respond over the coming days to Saturday’s victory over Bolton Wanderers. A victory rightfully celebrated as a proud performance by a determined group of Addicks left a man light from the tenth minute onwards.
The first plausible response is to use the win at the Macron Stadium as justification to avoid engaging in the transfer window’s hectic final exchanges. A performance so good, against a side flirting with an automatic promotion position, that the desperate need for Karl Robinson to add to his squad has been dispelled. To the delight of Roland Duchatelet, the cash collected from the sale of Ademola Lookman need not be relinquished.
To respond like that, however, would not be to the benefit of the football club. It certainly wouldn’t be to the benefit of Charlton’s play-off ambitions. A sign of complacency, if not an act worthy of more aggressive criticism.
The response required is for the Addicks to use such a marvellous performance, and impressive result, as a foundation from which serious momentum can be built. Admiring the effort at Bolton for too long, and allowing it to rid from the mind faults within that squad that have long been acknowledged, a dangerous perspective to take. An immediate need to remind one’s self that tougher tests are ahead, the gaining of points must become persistent, and that the squad still requires strengthening.
Even if you could make argument that there is enough ability and depth in each and every position, a look to the league table tells you that the recruitment of further players of greater quality is not to be sniffed at. The character and quality of the victory at the Macron Stadium worthy of making the gap much smaller, but six points still separate Robinson’s men from the top six. A need to be better than their opponents on a regular basis to achieve what was this season’s minimum target.
But, in reality, it’s not a case of strengthening for the sake of strengthening. This squad is not yet complete.
True, it’s not in the disastrously weak state that it has been for most of the time under Duchatelet’s reign. There are at least a reasonable amount of bodies in reserve who can contribute. Johnnie Jackson, Ricky Holmes and Lee Novak rising from the bench yesterday.
Particular improvement to be found in the centre of midfield. A position which seriously lacked quality and depth not too long ago, but is beginning to appear in much better shape. The signing of Jake Forster-Caskey, the emergence of Joe Aribo, and Ezri Konsa’s efforts further up the pitch all contributing to that.
Nonetheless, another body in the centre of midfield would not be unwelcome, particularly with it appearing apparent that Robinson will be committed to playing a formation that accommodates three central men. Another with similar attributes to Forster-Caskey would be quite nice, considering our other midfield men are the sort that are better off sitting deeper.
Then there comes a very slight concern at centre-back. Only through injury and suspension did the horror of Roger Johnson being involved seem quite realistic, but he has been far too close to the first team on too many occasions this season.
Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira form a formidable pairing, while Konsa reaffirmed his quality yesterday, but I would feel more comfortable with another centre-back of similar status around. A shame that a return for Jason Pearce seemingly remains quite some way off.
But, given that the signing of a centre-back and a centre-mid would merely be adding strength in depth, I would suggest the main priorities are to be found further forward. Particularly with it seeming that Nicky Ajose, who has underwhelmed anyway, will be leaving on loan.
I think that regardless of Robinson’s commitment to playing one in attack, you would still want to replace Ajose with a similar style of player should he depart. A pacey and an agile goalscorer, able to offer something different.
In fact, Ajose has largely been deployed as a winger since Robinson has taken control, and it may well be the case that the former Swindon man, should he depart, will be replaced by a genuine wide option.
Nathan Byrne’s start encouraging, Holmes’ return to fitness a cause for celebration, and Botaka, though often frustrating when given a starting role, capable of having an impact off the bench, but another winger would be nice. Particularly given that I much prefer Adam Chicksen at left-back, and, though writing him off immediately would be unfair, Jay Dasilva’s debut wasn’t particularly impressive.
But the immediate concern is to find cover for Josh Magennis. Tony Watt ran himself into the ground at the Macron, and fought for every single ball, but he really isn’t suited to the lone forward role, while Novak has failed to impress since his summer arrival. A quality target man, who can provide competition once Magennis does recover, the main priority in these coming days.
Is the signing of a centre-back, a centre-mid, a winger and a striker going to happen? It incredibly unlikely. But strengthening the squad in such a manner would, in combination with the Bolton victory, provide some impetuous for a genuine play-off push from a position where we’ve long flirted with giving up on achieving a top six finish.
At the very least, given the funds that should be available and the chance we have to build a little bit of momentum, I would be incredibly disappointed if there isn’t a Magennis replacement, and subsequent competitor, through the door by 11pm on Tuesday.
A couple of days to definitively shape the squad, and make it one with a definitive chance of making up the ground between themselves and the top six. A hope the Addicks won’t simply settle for what they have already.
These are supporters of a beleaguered football club who boast tales of woe. Who own wounds that cut deep into the skin as a consequence of following this football club. Who have witnessed the sort of horrors that would leave even the most resilient mentally scarred.
Afternoons of suffering for followers of Charlton Athletic are not a rare event. An afternoon of suffering at the Macron Stadium accepted just 13 minutes after the referee’s first whistle. Lewis Page dismissed for a cynical foul on Bolton Wanderers’ Josh Vela, and Zack Clough beautifully curling the resulting free-kick into Declan Rudd’s top corner.
The Addicks without a man, without the central figure of Josh Magennis, and seemingly without reasonable hope. The likelihood of defeat enhanced as Clough came close to a second. Full-time bound to feature a sombre Karl Robinson, effectively apologising to his travelling supporters, hurting once again.
But then a German centre-back, making something of a heroic appearance given that he only returned to training on Thursday, rose at the back post to meet debutant Jake Forster-Caskey’s free-kick. Patrick Bauer directing his 23rd minute header back across the face of goal, and levelling the scores. Joy in the celebrations that followed, no doubt, but shock and surprise the overriding emotion.
Could this be the start of something heroic? Surely not, surely it was simply the sort of false hope that would ultimately make the hurt even worse. The Addicks combining successful flirtations with lady luck and the sort of hard work that was tiring to watch to stand determined in the face of a Bolton Alamo.
The extent of their Alamo reaffirmed by Charlton’s next shot on goal not occurring until first-half stoppage time.
There a cheer of hope at the sight of Forster-Caskey carrying the ball through midfield, but a shot on goal was not on the thoughts of many Charlton minds. It merely an opportunity to keep the ball away from their own box with half-time approaching.
But Forster-Caskey kept going. There were some fortunate bobbles off Bolton legs, but they were bobbles his determination and tenacity warranted. The rapid Nathan Byrne overlapping, the ball through to him perfect, and the Wigan loanee finishing with class.
Unreal. Simply unreal. How the Addicks entered half-time ahead defied all logic and reason.
And it would surely require an effort above all logic and reason to avoid Bolton’s 11 men at least regaining parity in the second period. A group of supporters conditioned to suffering encouraging their valiant troops, inspired by their efforts, but still fearing failure.
But as the minutes passed, and as Bolton grew further frustrated with the impassable red wall in front of them, there came a growing sense of belief. As Rudd wasted every minute possible, as Ezri Konsa and Bauer won each and every header, and as those further forward chased every loose ball, a win started to seem likely. The Trotters simply not creating.
Never was there confidence, not least because Rudd was required to grab loose balls on several occasions as full-time approached, but there was a sense that this fight and determination warranted victory. Victory that would be celebrated with every positive emotion imaginable as the referee’s final whistle blew following four minutes of additional time.
The tales of woe momentarily forgotten. The wounds patched up. The mental scarring replaced by unbelievable joy, created by a performance that displayed the fight and pride so often absent of beleaguered Charlton efforts.
The sombre, apologetic figure Robinson was supposed to adopt replaced by a chest-pumping, fist-pumping boss, celebrating not only an incredible win in the context of the figure, but a win needed to keep a fading season alive.
So often left embarrassed by the actions of a poisonous regime. So often let down by a side not possessing the quality and courage to contrast the image created by those above. So often wondering why it’s all worth it.
This, this brief moment of joy created by a Charlton side giving their absolute all and achieving the most unlikeliest of results, is what makes it worth it.
A joy not only in contrast to what has largely been felt over the previous three years, but a joy in contrast to the anxious fear that existed before kick-off.
A starting XI, though still lacking the suspended Jorge Teixeira and the injured Magennis, slightly stronger than was expected at least cooled the extent of the concern among Addicks. Bauer and Page recovering from injuries in time to take to the Macron Stadium turf, a debut in a three-man centre-midfield for Forster-Caskey, and Tony Watt tasked with the lone striker role. A side strong enough to at least compete with the Phil Parkinson’s promotion challengers.
A belief reaffirmed in the game’s fluid opening exchanges. Bolton confident in possession, always looking to feed wide options that included former Addick Lawrie Wilson, but Charlton’s defensive structure was strong. Forster-Caskey’s first-time strike, well-saved by Bolton’s other former Addick Ben Alnwick, keeping the Trotters on their toes and signalling this was not a game Robinson’s men intended to let their more fancied opponents dominate.
Or at least that was the mentality among those in red until Bauer’s failure to deal with a bouncing ball left Vela with a clear run on goal.
The Macron Stadium rose in anticipation, and so did Page. It’s just that Page rose about three feet off the floor to take out Bolton’s young midfielder. The newly signed left-back, guilty of both serious foul play and denying a goal scoring opportunity, had no grounds whatsoever to contest the red card that followed.
A piece of recklessness that, you could argue, would have had some justification to it had the Trotters wasted the resulting free-kick. But Clough’s effort, curling over the wall and well beyond Rudd into the top corner, was as picturesque as Page’s ‘tackle’ was ugly. Deep sighs in the away end as the young forward sprinted away to knee slide in celebration.
The Forster-Caskey effort on goal had only occurred three minutes ago, but this dramatic change in the overall picture of the game meant it felt like it had taken place on a different day. Parkinson’s side not only having a goal and a man advantage, but taking firm control of possession.
Possession that should have payed with 20 minutes played. Andrew Taylor’s knockdown perfect for Clough, the forward’s volley unquestionably bound for the back of the net, but Gary Madine unable to get himself out of the shot’s trajectory. The ball striking Madine’s head, and deflecting off-target.
There no doubt that the Addicks had been fortunate, and there seemingly little doubt pressure of similar nature would be applied for the remainder of the game. Byrne winning his side a free-kick in a wide position a momentary respite rather than opportunity from which to threaten.
But Bolton’s defence, the least leaky in the division, were caught flat-footed by Forster-Caskey’s excellent delivery. Bauer peeling away at the back post, and heading unchallenged into the opposite corner of Alnwick’s goal. Somehow, and completely against the run of play, the Addicks had drawn level.
No question that this was a goal enjoyed by the travelling support, made more enjoyable by its unexpected nature, but, in the context of this encounter, there was an acceptance that Charlton’s leveller had done little more than give the visitors something to defend. The equaliser not altering the pattern of the game at all, as Taylor found a way into the box and saw a cross-cum-shot bounce back off the frame of the game.
Nor deterring the lively Clough, whose quick feet and pace were proving very difficult to deal with. The diminutive forward sent through on goal, but marvellous work from Rudd meant the goalkeeper beat him to the ball by the narrowest of margins. Had the Norwich loanee been a split second later, then Clough’s exaggerated leap might have counted for something.
And as this Bolton pressure continued, against which a determined and hard-working Charlton faltered on very few occasions, the last line of defence remained firm. Wilson, a constant threat down the right, picking out an unmarked Vela in the middle, but his header was held well by Rudd, before the goalkeeper did well to beat away a swerving strike from Jay Spearing.
In fact, Charlton’s continued stubbornness also owed something to their first line of defence. Watt not suited to the lone striker role, and more often than not was losing the battle with David Wheater, but you certainly couldn’t fault his relentless effort. In these conditions, Watt’s attempts to hold up play were commendable.
This sort of effort, with the collective determination of a Charlton side under relenting pressure, was seemingly enough to get the Addicks through to the interval on level terms. But such was the pressure they were under, the relatively minor two-minute extension of the half brought about great concern.
Two minutes that appeared to have been successfully survived, as Forster-Caskey carried the ball forward in break after a Bolton delivery into the box was cleared. The sweet sound of the referee’s whistle awaited.
Instead, Charlton supporters would be drowned by the sound of their own celebration. A quite incredible run from the debutant, matched with the most intelligent of through balls, sending Byrne through on goal. The winger, as tenacious and tireless as anyone in red, capping a commendable individual first-half effort with a clinical finish beyond Alnwick.
The sound of celebration not silenced until the half-time whistle, by which time the simple question of “how?” was being asked en mass. How on earth had Charlton’s ten men, penned in their own half and defending desperately for much of the opening 45, gone in at the interval with an advantage?
That such a question was being asked meant no Addick was getting carried away. Bolton would surely respond after the break with even greater pressure than was applied in the opening period, and Charlton would spend 45 minutes desperately attempting to cling onto advantage that felt so slender.
Robinson had fearlessly beckoned his side in upon the moment the half came to a conclusion, and there no doubt that a faultless tactical structure would be required alongside unrelenting effort.
The half’s first five minutes probably setting the tone. Charlton sitting very deep, Bolton’s midfield allowed to the knock the ball around before a winger bombed into space, and the resulting delivery needing spirited intervention to be blocked away. Chris Solly preventing Taylor from picking a man out in the middle on two occasions in those opening moments, with Rudd doing well to claim the ball from the resulting corners.
The Addicks surviving, but there this was going to be a gruesome watch. A situation not helped with Watt receiving very little assistance from the officials. Quite clearly body-checked by Mark Beevers, but ignored by the referee, before what seemed a 50/50 tussle left the Scot on a booking.
Common-sense suggested it was not worth leaving Watt, exhausted from his commendable efforts, on the pitch for much and he would soon be replaced by Lee Novak. But not before a handful of Bolton half-chances had increased nerves.
Clough nodding wide, James Henry tamely firing wide, and Rudd called upon to claim Madine’s header from another Bolton corner. Full-time still a little less than 30 minutes away, but it simply couldn’t come soon enough.
Full-time always an age away for the visiting supporters, but it creeping ever closer for a set of home fans that were growing increasingly frustrated. Their patient passing play a cause for consternation as Charlton formed a formidable barrier of defence, but long balls or deliveries into the box were so often met by the imperious pair of Konsa and Bauer. With Rudd’s anger-inducing time wasting also to deal with, expectation was being replaced by dismay among Bolton supporters.
They had long become aware that their side’s possession, having seen so much of the ball to prevent the Addicks from having a single shot on goal since the one that had given them the lead, was meaningless without some sort of reasonable end product. Spearing volleying horrendously over the bar, though an enjoyable sight for the nerve-crippled Addicks, not what the hosts hand in mind.
In fact, as the game entered its final ten minutes, Bolton were still struggling to find any gaps in this formidable red wall. Partly a fault of the Trotters, best summed up by Clough’s prod into the palms of Rudd from a relatively promising position, but more so a result of Charlton’s resilience. Pressing with energy, solid in the tackle, and still commanding in the air.
There were whispers. Whispers that we were going to do this. Whispers untainted by the tameness of substitute Conor Wilkinson’s effort, which Rudd dived low to claim with ease.
But for every whisper, for every ounce of belief that this performance of fight and determination was to receive its reward, there was a reminder that the lead was only one. One moment all Bolton needed to snatch something.
Scrambles in the area, the ball headered back and forth, the Addicks not quite clearing their lines with the certainty that they had done for much of the game. Thankfully, composure and certainty something Bolton still lacked. Madine found at the back post, but his chested touch merely teeing up a tame volley wide.
Four additional minutes of this to survive. Four minutes of panicked attempts to pump the ball into the box, and nervy clearances. Bolton supporters momentarily hid their frustration and roared for an equaliser; the visiting Addicks not so good at hiding their nerves but found the composure to encourage further determination.
The scenes inside Charlton’s box frantic. A shirt might have been tugged, a penalty called for out of sheer desperation, and Madine shooting straight into Rudd’s hands. Watches and phones checked more frequently than the game itself, with Addicks hoping minutes would in fact last seconds.
And then there was a whistle. Three blows of it. The sound that signalled the need for panic was no more.
The sound that signalled Charlton Athletic, the ten men of Charlton Athletic, had found the determination, shown the character, and delivered just enough quality to achieve a victory that, from some many perspectives, they had no right to claim.
Those in red gathered in a circle as their supporters celebrated. Robinson’s words issued before his men were allowed to join the celebrations. Celebrations both on the pitch and in the stands that showed all were aware of what an achievement this was.
And the final world, or at least fist pump, left to Robinson. A giant punch of celebration towards his supporters. A giant punch that echoed the sheer joy felt by these Addicks, so often left to experience contrasting emotions.
A fist pump of celebration, and of relief. For there no question that Charlton had been required to dig deep and cling on for the most unlikeliest of victories.
A victory that simply wasn’t possible after the game’s 13th minute. A defeat that might well have been certain had Madine’s head not blocked Clough’s goal-bound shot just moments before Charlton equalised. A defeat that, in truth, still seemed the most likely outcome as Bauer celebrated.
But from that moment forth, the determined organisation, the relentless energy, and the character-filled heart of the Addicks meant their efforts were worthy of the final outcome. Some fortune to create a situation where such efforts would result in victory, but not enough to diminish in the slightest the incredible efforts of those in red.
The tactical intelligent of Robinson, who sat his side deep but still allowed them the freedom to press, which prevented Bolton from creating anything and so often left them looking lost in possession.
The individual determination, from the calmness and cleverness of Rudd to the fight of Watt. From the unbeatable defensive duo of Konsa and Bauer, assisted superbly by Solly and Adam Chicksen, to the relentless pressing of Aribo and Andrew Crofts. From the creativity of Forster-Caskey, to the persistent pace of Byrne.
And the collective effort. A collective effort, considering the circumstances and the context of the game, as hard-fought and inspiring as has been seen for some time.
There are, of course, factors that bring you back down to earth. The state of the league table, the fact performances and victories of similar nature are required on a consistent basis for a genuine play-off challenge, and the uncertainty that surrounds any activity in the transfer market. And that without mentioning that a regime who embody the complete opposite of a performance like this remain.
But, in a sense, it’s factors like those that make this win more special. That a most marvellous win was achieved against the odds, in a period of regular disappointment, while a crippling regime remain. Unexpected and unbelievable joy.
Embarrassment so often the emotion that has swarmed Charlton fans in recent times. Today, it is pride.
The last time Charlton Athletic travelled to the Macron Stadium, they did so fully aware that their fate was likely to be sealed. They returned to SE7 knowing that they would spend the following season in League One.
For their goalless draw with Bolton Wanderers, the Trotters themselves having their relegation confirmed ten days previously, meant the drop to the third tier became a mathematic certainty. Two former residents of the Premier League, both crippled by mismanagement, left to wallow in self-pity and face the reality of relegation.
Equals in more ways than one on that night, but this campaign has created quite the divide between the two sides. Bolton far from faultless, but with eyes still firmly set on an automatic return to the Championship. Charlton faulting more often than not, freezing on other occasions, and a quite staggering 14 points behind their third-placed opponents.
A gap so big that, before January has reached its conclusion, the Addicks are effectively out of the running for a top two spot. And with nine points to make up between themselves and the play-off positions, currently occupied by several form sides, a break into the top six is looking increasingly unlikely.
No mathematic certainties to be defined on this trip to Lancashire, and there still plenty of time remaining for Charlton to climb the table. But there is a sense that the mathematics required for the Addicks to make up the gap between themselves and the play-offs will soon defy logic and reason.
At a time where Karl Robinson’s side can’t afford to drop points, there as much need to record victory at the Macron this Saturday as there was when the Addicks travelled to face the Trotters in April.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BOLTON WANDERERS (27/08/2016)
Ademola Lookman’s late leveller not only earned the Addicks a point against Bolton at The Valley in August, but also showed promising signings of togetherness and mental toughness among those in red.
Gary Madine, converting from Liam Trotter’s cross, had given Phil Parkinson’s side the lead eight minutes into the second period, and it appeared that that would be enough to give the visitors all three points. Charlton launching numerous moves forward, but lacking any sort of cutting edge.
Or at least that was the case until the ball feel kindly to Lookman on the edge of Bolton’s area. His resulting strike rifled beyond Mark Howard in the Bolton goal and snatching a point that had seemed unlikely for much of the afternoon.
A point, and a moment, that then Charlton boss Russel Slade was keen to make the most of. His men called into the centre-circle come full-time, before collectively acknowledging the three sides of The Valley occupied by home supporters.
An effort to create the impression that this equaliser was the start of something special. An impression that would not last.
With games in hand and the two sides above them stuttering in their own respects, Bolton’s position is far from an uncomfortable one, but there is certainly work to do in order for Parkinson’s men to regain one of the automatic promotion positions.
It quite hard to believe that a few postponements and a couple of poor results has left Bolton in third, five points off the top two, when their form prior to January is considered. A remarkable run of eleven victories from 13 games, ending with a vital win over fellow promotion contenders Scunthorpe, showing that this group of Trotters know how to win.
And though their efforts in taking Crystal Palace to a FA Cup replay, ultimately losing 2-1 at Selhurst Park, are to be admired, their start to 2017 in the league has been somewhat concerning.
A late Max Clayton equaliser required to steal a point from relegation-threatened Coventry City, while Yaser Kasim’s 89th-minute winner meant Swindon became only the second side to inflict defeat on the Trotters at the Macron this season.
This, you would therefore suggest, is a relatively crucial period of the season for Parkinson’s side. A victory over the Addicks, with a few more positive results to follow for good measure, and the concerning start to 2017 is forgotten. A poor result this weekend, and maybe a few supporters will begin to question whether their side is starting to slip up.
With a frozen Valley pitch preventing his side from facing Scunthorpe last weekend, a definitive judgement on Karl Robinson’s Charlton remains one that’s difficult to have.
Are they the side that embarrassed themselves with horrifically poor performances in defeat to Peterborough at The Valley and against Millwall at The Den? A defensive shambles, offering little going forward, and residing in a league table position that reflects their qualities.
Are they the side that displayed positives but still left quite a lot to be desired during the draws with Southend United and in the reverse fixture with the Lions? Fixtures that could have as easily ended in defeat as they could victory, and showed that this group of Addicks are from a lost cause.
Or are they the side that emphatically thumped Bristol Rovers with a second-half performance as good as many have seen in SE7 for quite some time? Probably not without the talismanic Josh Magennis, but there no reason why similar levels of intensity among the rest of those in red cannot be replicated in the forward’s absence.
Either way, the combination of inconsistency and postponement has prevented Robinson’s side from really stamping their mark and displaying to supporters what sort of side they can be on a consistent basis.
A winning side required on a consistent basis if the Addicks are to have any chance of reaching the play-offs, and that must begin at the Macron.
Changes to Bolton’s starting XI in recent weeks have been few and far between, and a lack of activity in the transfer market means changes ahead of the visit of the Addicks are unlikely.
In fact, there is talk that one of those on the fringes could depart the Macron before Saturday. Oldham interested in recruiting winger Chris Taylor.
An unchanged XI from their previous fixture, the FA Cup defeat to Palace, would mean start for former Addick, and crowd favourite, Lawrie Wilson. The full-back, who used to be shite but is now alright, received a warm reception on his return to SE7 in August.
Elsewhere, the Trotters remain without Mark Davies, who injured his knee in the reverse fixture, while goalkeeper Mark Howard (thumb) and midfielder Darren Pratley (ankle) are both long-term absentees.
Despite last Saturday’s postponement providing an additional week for Charlton’s many injured bodies to heal, Robinson remains short of numbers ahead of the trip to Lancashire.
Given that he couldn’t serve his suspension last weekend, Jorge Teixeira will be absent having been dismissed following the goalless draw with Millwall. A hope that the week without a fixture will have at least allowed for some recovery in the centre of defence, though Jason Pearce definitely remains out while Patrick Bauer and Harry Lennon are doubtful.
Lewis Page another who, having sustained injury during the Lions stalemate, would have been absent against Scunthorpe and is unlikely to be fit to face Bolton this weekend. Adam Chicksen the man set to start at left-back should that be the case.
But the week’s additional rest does at least mean Lee Novak is closer to match fitness, with the forward’s return from injury coming just as Magennis begins his spell on the sidelines. Novak pushing for a place in the starting XI alongside Tony Watt, with the pair likely to partner each other in attack should Robinson opt to go with two up top.
Elsewhere, Jordan Botaka remains on international duty, but Johnnie Jackson should be available after a hamstring injury.
KEY BATTLE – THREATENING THE DIVISION’S TIGHTEST DEFENCE
On just 19 occasions has Bolton’s backline been breached during this campaign. Mark Beevers and David Wheater forming a formidable centre-back partnership, with Wilson and Andrew Taylor providing amble assistance either side.
Breaking down that defensive barrier, with former Addick Ben Alnwick standing behind it while first choice goalkeeper Howard recovers from injury, would be a difficult ask regardless of the circumstances. For Charlton to do so without their main attacking threat, and the focal point of their forward play, is incredibly tough.
Magennis’ presence would not only provide a testing aerial battle for Bolton’s centre-backs, but also allow Robinson to play his favoured one-up-top formation with a degree of assurance and certainty. Logic suggests Charlton’s boss, without his talismanic centre forward, will have to revert to a formation that contains two in attack.
And so such a scenario leaves an uncomfortable, or at least unfamiliar, Charlton attack against a settled and solid Bolton backline. A difficult challenge for Watt, Novak and co.
Bolton to do what they have done on several occasions this season at the Marcon and grind out a result. Bolton Wanderers 1-0 Charlton Athletic
In the three years of Roland Duchatelet’s ownership at Charlton Athletic, those connected to the regime have desperately attempted to promote relatively minor positives in the face of footballing failure, heavy general criticism, and supporter disconnection.
For example, the suggestion that, having been left in a precarious state by the previous regime, financial security has been achieved is constantly offered. Dubious, considering financial security has been achieved through Duchatelet loaning money to the club.
Then there’s the continued, if not enhanced, promotion of talented homegrown players. Tainted by the willingness to sell them, and the sense that they are effectively being produced for the benefit of other clubs.
And some may even attempt to claim that the occasional positive bit of recruitment, beyond the capabilities of previous regimes, has been made. But for every Johann Berg Gudmundsson, there’s five Piotr Parzyszeks.
However, if there is one positive that the regime cling onto that, it seemed, couldn’t be questioned it’s the improvement of The Valley’s pitch. A transformation from disgraceful bog, following the collapse of a drainage system, to an immaculate playing surface brought into the 21st century. Not only has the turf consistently been in almost perfect condition since the summer of 2014, but an undersoil heating system was supposedly instilled.
So it no wonder that the postponement of Charlton’s home game against Scunthorpe United, with The Valley’s pitch frozen, has caused a considerable amount of discontent among supporters of the Addicks. Quite possibly the one unquestionable positive this regime has had on this club now with a question mark over it.
The pipes required for the undersoil heating system instilled, but not the heater required to get the undersoil heating system to function. Like wearing a coat without a hood in the rain. Not something that has been admitted to in the past.
Too costly, it would seem. Too costly to even hire some sort of heater as a temporary measure to make sure this game would go ahead. Too costly despite the £11m made from Ademola Lookman’s sale.
Something that Nathan Chapman, The Valley’s groundsman, was required to explain. Rather unfair considering this postponement, in part, is quite evidently a financial issue and there hasn’t been a suggestion that Chapman and his team didn’t do enough. Those with financial power, as ever, hiding away.
Of course, it impossible for any football club’s ownership to control the weather that their ground must contend with. We would not be aware about this issue were it not for the freezing conditions.
So too is there an argument that it’s not worth being angered, frustrated or embarrassed by Charlton’s failure to get this game on as it might well have benefited us. The need to play a fixture against difficult opponents with several key players absent avoided
And, in truth, I’m not displeased that the game was postponed. I had a very troubled morning, collapsing several times before ultimately having a seizure, so escaping the need to force myself to SE7 when clearly not in the state to do so has probably done me some good.
But that all beside the point. The point being that even in the most ‘celebrated’ impact this regime has had on the club, corners were cut. Even with the finances clearly available to utilise something as a temporary measure, those finances were not spent.
The pitch improvements, clung onto for 30 months, not totally as indicated, and mistakes evidently made in the build-up to this fixture. Only one other League One game postponed, and the majority of non-league fixtures in relatively close proximity to SE7 getting the go ahead. Embarrassing, really.
And that, in summary, is what this is. Another huge embarrassment for this regime, on top of the countless embarrassments they have already inflicted upon themselves. The pitch positive heavily tainted, if not lost, and the general failure to get the game on rather poor.
Ultimately, this another day where the lack of trust in this regime increases, and where the wider footballing public’s opinion of this club decreases further. All, as ever, avoidable.
The first of what would appear to be five season defining fixtures for Charlton Athletic sees Scunthorpe United travel to SE7.
While it no cause for shock to see Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers, clubs who arguably belong above the third tier, that the Iron have slotted themselves between the two relative big boys of League One has shocked many.
Of course, Scunthorpe do have a past in the Championship, playing in the division as recently as 2011, but have rarely threatened a return since. In fact, one of the seasons since their relegation from the second tier has been spent in League Two.
But Graham Alexander’s side are in the top two on merit, and certainly not to be underestimated. A blend of rugged League One regulars, whose playing styles aren’t too dissimilar to what Alexander offered in his playing days, and a touch of quality to give them the edge going forward. Many a side undone by Stephen Dawson’s tough tackling and Josh Morris’ goals.
The Addicks, however, need not fear their opponents. Be wary, of course, but not fear. The width of the post denying Charlton three points at Glanford Park in September, and Ademola Lookman’s brilliance knocking the Iron out of The FA Cup in November. The Addicks, though then managed by Russell Slade, were arguably the better side on both occasions.
Alas, to use those games as evidence for another positive Charlton result would probably be a little naïve. Partly because Karl Robinson now leads the Addicks, and partly because Lookman is an Addick no more, but more to do with key absentees. Particularly the glaring Josh Magennis-shaped hole that now exists.
A difficult game, in circumstances made more difficult by absentees, but this is what the Addicks need to get used to over the next few weeks. And very quickly if their chances of finishing in the top six are to extend beyond February.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-1 SCUNTHORPE UNITED (05/11/2016)
Two goals from the now departed Lookman helped the Addicks to progress to the second round of The FA Cup, knocking a relatively full-strength Scunthorpe out of the competition.
Lookman making the most of his unexpected early introduction to the contest, replacing Ricky Holmes with 27 minutes played. The winger withdrawn having sustained a foot injury that would ultimately keep him out until the start of January.
The teenager’s stunning strike giving Slade’s side the lead 11 minutes before half-time. A delivery into the box cleared straight to Lookman, the Iron standing off him, and the winger finding the top corner of Luke Daniels’ goal with a fine curling effort.
And the Addicks, who had been placed under a reasonable amount of pressure by the visitors in the game’s opening stages, somewhat surprisingly found themselves two ahead before the break. Johnnie Jackson, striking a timid Scunthorpe clearance back in the direction from which it came, with a characteristically cool finish.
The game, however, not yet won. And Charlton really only had themselves to blame for allowing the Iron back into the game, as an uncontested Tom Hopper was allowed to head beyond Declan Rudd following a short corner routine.
But with seven minutes to play, Lookman sealed his side’s progression to the second round. Fredrik Ulvestad’s pass perfectly timed and weighted, allowing the teenager to convert in calm fashion.
More often than not, a club that have exceeding expectations throughout a period of the campaign will have some sort of slump eventually.
And if Scunthorpe’s slump was to be found in December, then the Iron can consider themselves rather fortunate. A 3-0 victory over Millwall their only win over the course of six games between the final weekend of November and the first of January.
Losses away at promotion rivals Rochdale and Bolton, both by a single goal, cause for frustration and not at all suggesting the Iron didn’t deserve to be among the division’s top sides. Draws with Bradford and Peterborough, two other sides with top six ambitions, important.
For defeat at Bolton, with their winner coming in stoppage-time, is now Scunthorpe’s only loss in their previous six league games. Back-to-back victories over Bury and Northampton totally dismissing the idea that Alexander’s men were in danger of falling away.
In fact, that 2-1 victory over Northampton last weekend have a very familiar feel to it. A tenth goal of the campaign for Kevin van Veen, and an 18th for Josh Morris. With goal-scoring tallies like that, it no wonder the Iron have a firm grip on an automatic promotion position.
Frustration the feeling around SE7 following the conclusion of Saturday’s goalless derby draw with Millwall.
Frustration as a result of Keith Stroud’s decision to disallow a perfectly legitimate Patrick Bauer goal. Frustration as a result of the overall performance, with Millwall creating the better chances over the course of 90 minutes. Frustration as a result of the amount of bodies made unavailable for the fixtures to follow.
There have, unquestionably, been worse afternoons and evenings against Millwall, but that of no comfort to those Addicks frustrated with another clash against their rivals where almost everything seemed to go against them.
And frustration something that has been felt for much of this season among Charlton supporters, highlighted by the fact their side sit seven points off the top six.
There have been better moments, and the victory over Bristol Rovers that preceded the stalemate with the Lions was undoubtedly one of them. A Magennis hat-trick, and Robinson’s system seemingly taking shape.
But it seems typical of this campaign that that has been followed by an injury to Magennis, and Robinson’s system being left in an uncomfortable state ahead of arguably Charlton’s most crucial run of fixtures.
Scunthorpe’s most recent signings are pushing for a place in the starting XI, having appeared off the bench during the victory over Northampton last weekend.
But Craig Davies, Ivan Toney and Matt Crooks are likely to have their chance to impress again limited, with those who currently hold first team places in the Iron’s side hard to displace. Forwards Davies and Toney mostly likely to come in, with Hopper, scorer of just one league goal since August, looking over his shoulder.
Davies and Toney’s chances of starting are increased by the absence of Paddy Madden, who remains side-lined by a groin injury. A similar story for full-back Conor Townsend, while David Mirfin, despite featuring in a behind-closed-doors friendly in midweek following a foot injury, is unlikely to be fully fit in time for Saturday’s contest.
Better news for Scott Wiseman, however, who should be available after missing the trip to Sixfields with a hamstring injury.
Just as Charlton’s injury crisis showed signs of nearing a conclusion, a few more damaged bodies have taken up residence in the treatment room.
The most concerning of which is Magennis, who looks set to be absent for a month with the ankle injury sustained during the draw with Millwall. Though Lee Novak, a forward in similar mould to the Northern Ireland international, is nearing a return, there no one within Robinson’s squad who can replace the presence and impact Magennis so often has. A talismanic figure lost.
So much so that the forward’s absence may force Robinson into a change in formation. Even if Novak is available, he’s unlikely to be fit enough to start, while Tony Watt and Nicky Ajose, left out of the 18 last weekend, are not the sort of strikers suited to playing up top on their own.
Though while one impressive summer signing will be unavailable, another is pushing for his first start since suffering a foot injury in the FA Cup victory over Scunthorpe. Ricky Holmes making an appearance from the bench against the Lions, and could come into the starting XI on the left side of midfield.
That particularly likely with Lewis Page likely to absent as a result of the injury he sustained last Saturday. Given that Jay Dasilva struggled, to the extent that he was substituted off having been substituted on midway through the first half, Adam Chicksen looks set to drop to left-back, with Holmes starting on the wing.
Further reshuffling at the back will be required as a consequence of Jorge Teixeira’s mindless dismissal following full-time last weekend. The nightmare of Roger Johnson starting not impossible, but Ezri Konsa dropping to centre-back Robinson’s most sensible choice. Fredrik Ulvestad, Johnnie Jackson (if fit) and Jake Forster-Caskey available to replace Konsa in the centre should the boss stick with five in midfield.
Jason Pearce (groin), Jordan Botaka (international duty) and Ahmed Kashi (Achilles) the other Addicks unavailable for this weekend.
KEY BATTLE – RESHAPING THE SIDE WITHOUT ITS MAIN ATTACKING THREAT, WHILE ATTEMPTING TO STOP THE OPPOSITION’S ATTACKING THREATS
There two reasons why Robinson’s fist pump to the Covered End and Magennis’ tunnel jump come full-time of the victory over Bristol Rovers felt important. A celebratory moment in itself, but also a suggestion that Robinson had found the way for his Charlton side to play.
Magennis marvellous in the lone striker role, the best of Andrew Crofts seen alongside Konsa and Joe Aribo in a central midfield trio, and those in wide positions attacking without fear. There fluency, and there threat.
But it not an overreaction to suggest Magennis’ injury has thrown this growing feeling of comfort to one of particularly uncomfortable discomfort. Novak the only man properly suited to playing up top on his own, and he unlikely to be fully fit for Saturday, with Watt and Ajose likely to be prohibited if played in such a position.
It creates quite the dilemma for Robinson. Play two in attack, and disrupt a formula that was beginning to impress, or stick with the formula in the hope it will work without it’s focal point. Either way, Charlton are going to have discover a new way of producing in the final third without Magennis’ presence.
All this while attempting to contend with the division’s top scorers, and the division’s top scorer. Morris’ 17 league goals helping the Iron to clock up 53 goals during this campaign.
Not particularly ideal, therefore, that there will be enforced changes at the back while a solution to this attacking conundrum is being considered.
Teixeira’s suspension and Page’s injury easier to solve than what’s to be addressed further up the pitch, with Konsa probably dropping deeper and Chicksen likely to get the nod at full-back, but most certainly an annoyance. Not least with a centre-back pairing that has conceded twice in four games being broken up.
The focus might well be on working out how best to set up offensively, but how to keep Alexander’s men at bay is equally important. Saturday a very real test of Robinson’s managerial nous.
A full-strength team, and in particular Magennis being available, and I’d possess a reasonable degree of confidence. Enough to think three points were more than possible. But fear a lack of fluidity in attack will see us placed under considerable pressure. Do well to escape with a point. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Scunthorpe United
Very concerning injuries, a disallowed goal, and a frustrating performance, but maybe the biggest disappointment for Charlton Athletic as a result of their goalless draw with Millwall was the state the League One table was left in.
A rather large seven points between the 11th placed Addicks and the play-offs, and just two points separating them from the three teams immediately below. Not the position that a club who promised its supporters the top six as a minimum should be in with 26 games played.
In fact, the gap between Charlton and top six has extended since Karl Robinson replaced Russell Slade in The Valley dugout. Five points to make up after the now Coventry boss was dismissed, and just three by the time Robinson took charge of his first game after Kevin Nugent’s impressive caretaker spell in charge.
It not a statistic that reflects the positivity the former MK Dons boss has attempted to bring to SE7, both in brief passages of play and in spoken word. Instead, it one that reflects an indifferent beginning to life in a role that has proved a difficult one for the many who preceded him under Roland Duchatelet’s regime.
Not so much a criticism of Robinson, just that there have been positives and negatives in his first few weeks in charge. On the pitch, and in what he’s said. It remains difficult to make a true judgement on the most recent man brave enough to lead under the Addicks with this regime above him.
The performance over Bristol Rovers one to be lauded, the fact Charlton are currently four games unbeaten is promising, and his attempts to motivate and an inject positivity into a largely apathetic or disconnected fan base is commendable.
The performances in defeat to Peterborough United and Millwall deeply concerning, the league table not ideal, and quite often Robinson appears to overstep the mark between motivational and moronic. A negative for every positive.
But whether Robinson is that rare breed who can succeed under the constrains of this regime, or merely another soon to be tossed aside as Duchatelet and Katrien Meire seek protection for their own mistakes, may well be revealed in the next five fixtures. Undoubtedly a decisive part of this season.
First of all, Scunthorpe United travel to The Valley. League One’s grand overachievers, sitting second in the division and just a point off leaders Sheffield United, but also a side that Charlton have impressed against this season. The Addicks having the better of the chances in the goalless draw at Glanford Park, and the 3-1 FA Cup over the Iron, though Ademola Lookman-inspired, mightly impressive.
Then, having dealt with second, the Addicks travel to the side that occupy third. Only three teams have a better home record than Bolton Wanderers, and this arguably not even the toughest test for Robinson’s side in this crucial run.
Sixth place Fleetwood Town then follow. A relief that this fixture is to be played in SE7, with the Cod Army taking just 12 of their 45 points on the road this season. On paper, this most winnable game of this five.
That’s followed by what might well be the toughest encounter of this mini-run. Fifth place Rochdale have won ten consecutive home league games since a 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon, boast the division’s best home record, and sit top of the form table. A trip to Spotland on a Tuesday night not exactly appetising.
And the final game of this rather hellish run sees the Addicks travel to Kingsmeadow to play AFC Wimbledon. The Dons currently only behind Charlton on goal difference, and have only lost at home this season to the division’s top four.
Fleetwood aside, they’re the sort of games where you’d settle for a point. The problem being that settling for a point in four out of five fixtures is likely to leave us someway off the top six. A run that, on paper, is less testing follows, but there every chance the Addicks could be too far off the top six by the time that comes around.
And so the challenge for Robinson is to win games against opponents who look incredibly difficult to beat. To keep the gap between his side and the top six to a minimum, before the less testing games arrive. To prove Charlton can compete with the division’s best, and as such definitively show he can succeed in this tough environment.
Robinson’s task made all the more challenging but the absent of a key man during this run. Josh Magennis has Tweeted that the ankle injury he sustained in the goalless draw with Millwall isn’t as bad as first feared, but you would still expect him to be out for a number of weeks. Possibly a period of time that encapsulates this testing run of fixtures.
Of course, Magennis the individual will be sorely missed. No one in this squad can hold up a ball like he can, his ability in the air is fantastic, and his exploits against Bristol Rovers showed he’s got a goal or three in him. Dare I say it, he’s as close as we’ve got to replacing a certain Frenchman who was bloody good in that particular forward role.
But his injury also causes a huge dilemma for Robinson. Does he stand by his favoured 4-5-1 formation, which worked for him at MK Dons and has certainly got the best out of the Charlton trio who have been playing in the centre of midfield, or accept it might not be ideal without Magennis?
I love Tony Watt. He might be a bit of an arse, but he’s also a joy to watch when at his best, and certainly has the ability to determine games at this level. But he’s not a forward that can play up top on his own.
It was seen against Millwall. On the rare occasions he had the ball at his feet and was running towards goal, he looked a threat. When he had his back to goal, attempting to hold up play, he struggled.
With Lee Novak still out and Nicky Ajose’s absence on Saturday leading some to question his future in SE7, there isn’t exactly an abundance of forward options to partner Watt. Brandon Hanlan, who has provided a physical presence in attack when given a go during this campaign, and Josh Umerah probably all that’s available if Ajose is being binned.
That issue in attack met by a very short-term one at the back that is likely to cause a reshuffle of Robinson’s side. Jorge Teixeira’s stupidity (though I sort of want to commend a man in a Charlton shirt for throwing a ball at Steve Morison, but I probably shouldn’t) moving the much-loved Roger Johnson closer to the starting XI. I’ve seen Jon Fortune around The Valley recently, and I’d prefer him in.
A safer bet would be to drop Ezri Konsa, despite impressing in midfield, into the centre of defence, and then either replacing him with Jake Forster-Caskey, or the forward that will partner Watt. It quite concerning how quickly the need to change things around and scrape a side together appears.
This does point to a need to strengthen the squad. The side being unbalanced or weaker than it needs to be could curtail the season before February has come to an end. Playing a formation, or footballers, Robinson isn’t a fan of won’t help his, or Charlton’s, cause.
But it would appear the bulk of the money made from Lookman’s sale is being invested into the training ground. A training ground development that has been used constantly by this regime to save their skin, and was apparently already paid for. Not that I’d want the whole sum thrown at signings, just that using it for something that was supposedly paid pain for, and being developed since 2014, is very frustrating.
You may call it short-termism, but there really is a desperate need for the Addicks to be at their best in the coming weeks. To be fluid, fluent and flowing.
For the sake of this season, that is supposedly going to end with a top six finish as a minimum, and for Robinson to stamp ownership on The Valley’s home dugout.
A respectable points totally from these five games and we’re right amongst it. Anything less, and we’re struggling. A decisive period.