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.