It seems somewhat perverse to spend Valentine’s Day with someone who you’ve long fallen out of love with. Not least someone who has delivered daggers to the heart twice in recent weeks.
But that’s what those Charlton Athletic supporters who plan to travel to Boundary Park on Tuesday night will be doing. Committing themselves to the Addicks, despite rational judgement suggesting otherwise, in the hope their somewhat estranged football club will reward them. Or at least provide the smallest of gifts at the conclusion of this contest with relegation-threatened Oldham Athletic.
For having spent the period of Roland Duchatelet’s ownership drifting further and further away from their club, losing the connection that was once so very strong, supporters of Karl Robinson’s side have had to contend with heartbreak in weeks leading up to what is meant to be the most romantic day of the year.
Two points dropped during stoppage-time in two consecutive games. Fleetwood Town and AFC Wimbledon both stealing a point, leaving Charlton with heavily dented play-off ambitions, and Charlton fans in states of despair.
So deflated, so sick. The question that so many members of relationships that hang by a thread ask themselves also on the lips of many Addick. Why do I bother?
Because, aside from love being irrational, there’s always the belief that some joy will come. That this group of players in Charlton red will deliver the most heart-warming of performers on Valentine’s Day.
Victory over Oldham, a desperately needed victory, I’ll even let them off if they forget the card and flowers.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 OLDHAM ATHLETIC (27/09/2016)
An 83rd minute equaliser from Peter Clarke suggests Oldham stole a point at The Valley in September, but that is far from the truth.
In fact, such was the dire nature of Charlton’s performance, greater punishment than simply dropping two points would not have been unjust.
Unjust was the lead Russell Slade’s side gained with 22 minutes played. The first time the Addicks had shown any sort of competence in possession, with Oldham in control for much of the opening exchanges of the contest, concluding with Josh Magennis rifling beyond Connor Ripley from a tight angle.
But though the goal gave Charlton an advantage as far as the scoreline was concerned, they remained second best.
Slade’s side without any sort of structure, appearing lethargic, and regularly misplacing passes. The midfield battle constantly lost, and the Latics allowed to break forward time and time again. Parity close to being restored as Freddie Ladapo’s attempt to scramble Paul Green’s delivery over the line was just about halted by Declan Rudd.
But the warnings, and an opportunity to regroup at half-time, did not result in the Addicks appearing in greater control of their lead. Ladapo inches from equalising, a desperate piece of defending from Patrick Bauer required to keep out Lee Erwin, and a Green delivery somehow evading every Oldham body in the centre. A miracle that the game had entered its final ten minutes with Charlton still in front.
However, some form of punishment for their dire performance, and reward for the visitors’ persistence, was to come. A Green free-kick delivered into the box, Charlton without defensive structure, and Clarke able to nod into the bottom corner.
The sound of despair among the home supporters interrupted by the clunk of the crossbar, as Ademola Lookman’s strike came back off the frame of the goal with moments to play, but it not even putting a plaster over a gaping wound.
The Covered End’s booing the overwhelming noise, as those in red left the pitch come full-time with their heads bowed. This, quite frankly, not good enough.
It’s easy to suggest that climbing out of the relegation zone with 14 games still to play means very little, but there no doubt that Oldham’s rise out of the bottom four following Saturday’s victory over Coventry City will give John Sheridan’s side a huge psychological boost.
Not least as a barometer of the improvement made since Sheridan returned to the club for the third time at the start of January. Something of a SOS call sent to the experienced boss, who rescued the Latics from the threat of relegation last season during a similar short-term spell in charge.
Appointed following the dismissal of Stephen Robinson, who had led the Latics on a run of ten games without a League victory, Sheridan has overseen four victories in the seven games that have followed. One more win than Robinson managed during 24 league games in charge.
Oldham rising from 23rd to 20th in that time, and picking up vital points during a period in which a number of those with relegation fears have managed to find a little bit of relative form. The sort of improvement that, should it continue, will certainly see the Latics avoid the drop for a second season in succession.
And, probably of most interest to the Addicks, is the improvement Sheridan has overseen at Boundary Park. One home win all season before he returned; three victories in four since, with only Bradford claiming three points at Oldham’s home in 2017. Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Sky Blues one of the three.
A win that Sheridan has described as “a massive three points”. Three points that have moved the Latics into a position of safety, and given them increased confidence ahead of the contest with the Addicks.
On paper, Robinson has led his Charlton side on a seven-game run without defeat. In practice, this period of seven games is tinged with frustration and disappointment.
If not because the play-offs, both in terms of points and mentality, appear to drifting further away, then certainly as a consequence of the failure to maintain leads during stoppage-time in the previous two weekends.
The defensive capitulation against Fleetwood you could, to an extent, find reason to justify. The Cod Army a decent side, who found their feet in the second half, and struck after a sustained spell of pressure that the Addicks failed to cope with. In fact, it would have been a relative injustice had the visitors, racking up numerous chances in the game’s final 20 minutes, not found a leveller.
But there no justification, no excuse, for Charlton crumbling in the 92nd minute at Kingsmeadow on Saturday. A game they should have had full control of, but showed neither enough attacking quality or intent to seal victory. Tom Elliott’s equaliser, a fantastic strike that capitalised on flatfooted defending, punishment for a generally poor performance, and not killing the game.
A horrid capitulation, and a late lapse in concentration, that have all but resigned the Addicks to being among League One’s also-rans. Six points the gap between themselves and the play-offs, but seven teams to leapfrog, and both confidence and faith lacking.
Failure to beat Oldham will probably be terminal.
Oldham look set to be without Aaron Holloway after the forward was withdrawn through injury 19 minutes into Saturday’s win over Coventry City.
The Welshman is yet to score since arriving from Fleetwood in January, but has impressed for the Latics nonetheless and will be sorely missed if absent. Particularly with Sheridan not exactly blessed with alternatives in attack, to the extent that midfielder Green was the man who replaced Holloway at the weekend.
Leeds loanee Lee Erwin has missed the previous four games with a virus, but Michael Ngoo, a January addition having last been seen at non-league Bromley, is an attacking option for the Latics, and could make his second start in Oldham colours.
Elsewhere, Cameron Dummigan (hamstring) and Charles Dunne (pelvis) remain absent, while Lee Croft, who was an unused sub during the victory over Coventry, is pushing to start having recovered from a hamstring injury.
Robinson will be sweating over the fitness of Jake Forster-Caskey after an ankle injury prevented the creative midfielder from featuring against AFC Wimbledon.
The January signing, who has provided three assists in two games, was sorely missed at Kingsmeadow, with Charlton’s midfield one-dimensional and unable to gain any sort of advantage in a scrappy affair.
But Josh Magennis, having returned to the matchday squad at the weekend, should be fit enough to start at Boundary Park. His presence required, not least given how poorly Novak performed against the Dons.
Elsewhere, Lewis Page returns from suspension but is unlikely to dislodge Adam Chicksen at left-back, while Nathan Byrne serves the second game of his three-match ban. The injured Fredrik Ulvestad and Jason Pearce joining Byrne in being unavailable for the midweek trip to Lancashire.
KEY BATTLE – KILLING THE GAME
In the previous two weeks, four points have been dropped because Charlton haven’t showed the mental toughness, and defensive organisation, required to maintain a lead. They’ve crumbled, and conceded as games approached their conclusions.
But lapses in defensive and mental toughness would not have mattered, or maybe even not have occurred, had Robinson’s side been able to kill games off. To turn their uncomfortable, slender advantages into leads that gave the opposition no way back.
Against Fleetwood, comfortable possession play became too comfortable. The ball knocked around without any real threat being created, and a platform inadvertently built from which the Cod Army could build their way back into the contest. Not enough attacking intent.
Against AFC Wimbledon, though attacking intent was still lacking, chances were created. Maybe more openings would have emerged had Charlton purposefully looked to build on their lead, but Novak was among the guilty of failing to put the game to bed. Not ruthless enough.
Now, for Charlton to find themselves in a position from which they can kill the game, they will need to first of all gain an advantage. Oldham not to be underestimated, and there no expectation that the Addicks will simply rock up to Boundary Park and help themselves to an early goal.
But should the Addicks find themselves ahead, they cannot simply rest on their goal advantage. A need to push forward, and make these periods of dominance tell come the final whistle.
Oldham are growing in confidence, while Charlton stutter. Oldham Athletic 1-1 Charlton Athletic