It really is a shame that supporters of Charlton Athletic can’t simply admire the efforts of last weekend for a much greater length of time. Remaining detached from reality, overwhelmed by emotions of enjoyment and pride that still exist as a result of ten men in red recording a remarkable 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers.
But the time set aside for the Addicks to enjoy the win at the Macron Stadium is drawing to a conclusion, with the challenge of needing to claim a result from another side in the division’s top six on the horizon.
For the reality for Charlton is a little less picturesque than the one created by the win achieved last weekend. The performance and result reflecting an almost perfect side, sitting in a promising position within the league. Karl Robinson’s men, however, know improvements must continue to be made over the remaining 19 games, with a six-point gap between themselves and the play-offs.
And should the Addicks fail to record a positive result against Fleetwood Town, a side unbeaten in ten and working their way up to fourth, then the efforts of last weekend, though not forgotten, become somewhat tainted. The situation Charlton find themselves in meaning that points and performances are required from each and every game.
Defeat, as such, would be crushing. To lose the momentum and confidence gained in Lancashire a horrible thought. To drop further away from the play-offs not what this group deserves after their efforts against Bolton.
A win, however, and that momentum and confidence might well become something more permanent. A second consecutive victory over a top six side, and belief may suddenly spurn. Belief that says Charlton themselves can become a top six side before the end of April.
A season defining fixture? No, not with 19 games still to play, but an important one. One that can indicate what Charlton’s chances of moving up the table really.
LAST MEETING – FLEETWOOD TOWN 2-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (10/09/2016)
Lee Novak’s late equaliser salvaged a point for a Charlton side that found themselves second best for much of the contest at Highbury in September.
Russell Slade’s side were behind from as early as the fifth minute, as the now departed Chris Long picked up the ball 25-yards from goal and struck beyond Declan Rudd with relative ease. Neither defence nor goalkeeper covering themselves in glory.
But Charlton, despite being on the backfoot, restored parity just beyond the half hour. A good bit of work from Ricky Holmes teed up Josh Magennis, who headed clinically back across the face of goal and into the bottom corner.
The hosts, however, had restored their lead before half-time. Fredrik Ulvestad dispossessed, the ball falling kindly to David Ball, and the forward curling the ball beautifully into the top corner of Charlton’s goal.
There few indications that the Addicks would take anything from the encounter for much of the second half, not least with Fleetwood still a threat on the counter, but a move that saw all three substitutes combine gave Charlton a somewhat unlikely equaliser with just three minutes to play.
A Kevin Foley played into the box after a strong from Jordan Botaka down the right, and the Irishman’s ball across the face of goal was bundled over the line by Novak. In the circumstances, a point the visiting supporters were more than happy to take.
The last time Fleetwood lost a game of League football, Russell Slade was still manager of the Addicks, Karl Robinson was sat on his sofa watching Soccer Saturday in his underwear, and Joe Aribo was as far away from Charlton’s first team as I am.
A 2-1 loss away at Port Vale on November 12th the last time Uwe Rosler’s men haven’t at least gained a point from a League One Fixture. An impressive run of 12 games without defeat, of which eight of those have been victories. The Cod Army rising from 13th to fourth in that time.
But were it not for a 90th minute strike from David Ball, and a stunning strike at that, against Southend United last weekend, that run would have come to an end. Fleetwood on course for defeat until forward Ball picked out the top corner in the game’s final minute to rescue a point.
The point still a positive result for the Cod Army, given that it came against a rival for a play-off place, and came a few days after an incredible 2-0 win away at Sheffield United.
So was that salvaging of a point a show of character, or a sign that faults exist in this seemingly unbeatable force? The Addicks will be hoping it’s the latter.
While Zach Clough’s marvellous free-kick was still travelling towards the top corner, many Charlton supporters in the Macron Stadium’s away end had quite justifiably resigned themselves to seeing their side suffer defeat.
The Bolton youngster, who has since joined Nottingham Forest, putting the hosts in front with a little over ten minutes played, and scoring from a free-kick that was given away at the cost of a red card. Lewis Page dismissed, and the Addicks a goal down and a man down for the majority of the contest.
And yet, by half-time, Robinson’s men found themselves in front. Jake Forster-Caskey’s delivery converted by Patrick Bauer, before the diminutive midfielder ran from inside his own half to tee up Nathan Byrne for Charlton’s second. Two chances, two well-taken goals.
By full-time, there not a single ounce of energy more that any man in red could have given. Bolton’s persistent attempts to find an equaliser persistently thwarted by an organised and determined effort. Somehow, Robinson’s men had recorded the most unlikely victory.
A victory not only incredible in its own right, but one that brought about an increase in hope. A hope that the play-offs could be achieved.
And the victory also puts Charlton on a decent run of overall form. Five without defeat, three of which are victories, and some positive signs being shown after a difficult start under Robinson’s management. Encouraging.
Rosler could hand a Fleetwood debut to Cameron Brannagan after the Liverpool youngster arrived on loan last week.
The midfielder, signed last Friday but not in time to feature against Southend, will be hoping to dislodge George Glendon in the Cod Army’s midfield, but he may have to wait to make his debut from the bench.
Fellow Liverpool loanee Joe Maguire will also be hoping to make his first appearance in Fleetwood colours, while January arrivals Markus Schwabl and Wes Burns, who appeared off the bench last weekend, are pushing for a place in Rosler’s starting XI.
But long-standing captain Nathan Pond (knee) is unlikely to feature, with Jimmy Ryan (foot) and Martyn Woolford (knee) also injury doubts.
And one man who certainly won’t be involved is former Addick Eggert Jonsson. The midfielder, who delivered one of the very worst individual performances I’ve seen from anyone in Charlton colours during the 1-0 win over Burnley in 2012, joined Danish club Soenderjyske on transfer deadline day.
An absentee, a returnee and a new addition must all be factored in Robinson’s team selection for the visit of Fleetwood on Saturday.
Lewis Page’s dismissal at the Macron Stadium means he serves the first game of a two-game ban, with Adam Chicksen and Joe Dasilva the two candidates to replace him at left-back. Chicksen, having impressed in defence whenever called upon this campaign, the man likely to fill in.
Chicksen starting at left-back would mean a new face is required on the left-side of midfield, given that he started there against Bolton. Ricky Holmes edging towards full fitness, and may well be given his first start since recovering from a foot injury, while Botaka has returned from international duty.
While the start of a suspension gives Robinson’s one dilemma, the end of another gives the boss something else to consider. Patrick Bauer and Ezri Konsa superb together against the Trotters, and breaking that partnership by bringing Jorge Teixeira straight back into the side might not be the best call.
Something for Robinson to consider in attack, too, with the arrival of Stephy Mavididi on loan from Arsenal. The 18-year-old without a senior appearance, but seemingly more suited to the lone forward role than Tony Watt.
The dilemma over who starts up top existing as a result of Josh Magennis still nursing his ankle injury.
KEY BATTLE – WINNING WITH THE TABLES TURNED
Rosler often sets his Fleetwood side up in a 3-5-2 formation, giving plenty of forward freedom to full-backs, who provide for a pair of forwards who are also assisted by the impressive creativity of midfield Kyle Dempsey.
By no means are Fleetwood a defensive side.
But, on this impressive run of theirs, six clean sheets have been kept and five of their victories have been by a single goal. Rosler’s men know how to grind out a result. They know how to deliver the sort of performance Robinson’s side did at the Macron Stadium last weekend.
And so, a different sort of performance from Charlton might well be required. One where they need to take control of the game and put pressure on their opponents, rather than withstand pressure from the opposition and threaten on the counter.
The Cod Army will offer resilience, in addition to their own attacking threat, and the Addicks will need to find a way to break them down. A timely return to the starting XI for Holmes, you would think.
An unbeaten run to end, but it’s difficult not to have a degree of confidence after last weekend’s result. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Fleetwood Town