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