Good fortune not something Charlton Athletic have had a lot of in recent times, but Saturday’s trip to Spotland might well feature some.
For if this fixture had taken place on its original date, the Addicks would have faced one of the most feared sides in the division at their own ground. Rochdale having won 13 home league and cup games in succession prior to the turn of the year. Their progression in the FA Cup preventing the game from going ahead on January 7th.
Instead, Karl Robinson’s side will face a team that haven’t won in six games, and have lost that incredible winning streak at Spotland. The Dale sliding out of the play-offs in recent weeks, and now find themselves three points off the top six. Keith Hill’s side stuttering.
And so, the prospect of a trip to Rochdale appears less terrifying than it was a little over a month ago. No aura about Spotland, no incredible winning run to end, and a side whose confidence has been somewhat dented. Something to take advantage of.
Alas, all of that is rather meaningless when Charlton themselves are crumbling, and crumbling from a position that makes recovery all but impossible. A midweek defeat to Oldham Athletic coming after conceding stoppage-time equalisers in their two previous games. Three wins were required to maintain a play-off push, but only two points have been claimed from a possible nine.
In fact, Rochdale will be viewing this deflated group of Addicks as the perfect opposition against which to rediscover some form. Assisted by the motivation that comes with knowing a play-off spot remains very plausible, while Charlton are assisted by the motivation that comes with fear of further embarrassment.
It too late for good fortune to hold much value.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 ROCHDALE (01/10/2016)
Boos met the full-time whistle from The Valley’s smallest ever Football for a Fiver crowd as a dire Charlton performance resulted in Rochdale coming away from SE7 with a 1-0 victory in October.
Lacking structure, intensity and quality from the off, Russell Slade’s side were suitably punished with just 25 minutes played. Weak defending allowing Joe Bunney to get into a crossing position, his delivery deflecting off a Charlton body, and the floating ball headed home by Calvin Andrew.
Andrew, a threat for much of the contest, exposed the fragile home defence once again less than minutes later, racing past several bodies in red before sending Joe Thompson through on goal. Only a fantastic double save from Declan Rudd keeping the Addicks in the game.
A double save that appeared crucial just three minutes into the second half, as Ricky Holmes’ burst into the box was illegally halted by Bunney. Penalty awarded.
Johnnie Jackson, with a mixed penalty record but having scored against Oxford from the spot in the previous month, stepped up, but saw his effort tipped onto the post by goalkeeper Josh Lillis. Dale’s stopper quickly back on his feet to deny Josh Magennis’ follow-up, and undeserved chance to draw level wasted.
Lillis’ palms required to maintain the visitors’ lead as full-time approach, with an effort from Morgan Fox pushed away from goal, before Keith Keane blocked a tame goalbound strike from Lee Novak, but this late rally of sorts was nowhere near enough for the Addicks.
Defeat just punishment for a pathetic performance.
The Dale sat comfortably in fourth following 2017’s first fixture. A 2-0 victory over Walsall leaving them six points clear of seventh place, and in such good form that a play-off place seemed almost certain. The win at the Bescot their fifth in succession.
But since then, Hill’s men have slumped to ninth, find themselves eight points off the fourth place they occupied at the turn of the year, and three points off the top six. Five league games without victory, a run of 13 wins in a row at Spotland ended emphatically by a 4-0 defeat to Oxford, and no goal scored in 474 minutes.
It unquestionably a terrible run of form for Rochdale, that has dented their hopes of making the top six, but it not yet a fatal one.
And maybe there’s some positives to take from their previous two fixtures. A goalless draw away at Fleetwood by no means a poor result, and Hill was adamant that his side deserved something from the game at the Macron Stadium before Bolton snatched victory with five minutes to play.
A need, however, to turn these very slender positives into something meaningful and address this slump quickly. A few wins puts the Dale right back into the top six; a few more defeats, and confidence becomes so low that you begin to wonder whether this slump might actually be fatal.
The efforts of the Addicks in their previous three fixtures is made considerably worse when the belief that was created by the victory that preceded them is considered.
Charlton’s ten men overturning a one-goal deficit at the Macron Stadium through ruthless finishing, then showing incredible defensive resolve to maintain their advantage for more than 45 minutes. The 2-1 win over Bolton supposed to be the platform from which a play-off push would be built from.
Alas, Robinson’s men have instead capitulated. Ruthlessness absent, the defence being far from resolute, and the overall performances receiving the punishment they deserve. Two points from a possible nine a fair reflection of how the Addicks have performed.
It could be a very different scenario if the ruthlessness and resolve of Bolton away had been repeated in the following three fixtures, with late equalisers avoided and chances taken.
But those qualities haven’t been repeated, and a side that warrants a play-off place would have been able to deliver them again and again. Nine points the gap now between 13th place Charlton and the top six; game over.
Rochdale will remain without Josh Lillis as the first-choice goalkeeper recovers from a knee operation.
The relatively inexperienced Ben Wilson standing in for Dale’s long-serving shot-stopper, who saved a penalty at The Valley in this season’s reverse fixture.
Hill is also without midfielder Matty Lund and forward Steven Davies, both nursing knee injuries of their own, while forward-cum-full-back Joe Bunney requires more time to recover from a metatarsal fracture sustained at the turn of the year.
But the Dale boss is not without alternative options as he looks to end his side’s dreadful run of recent form. Peter Vincenti being eased back into the picture following injury, Callum Camps benched in recent weeks having started the season in fine form, while the pace and directness of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing may threaten a less than composed Charlton defensive line.
Ricky Holmes and Tony Watt are in line to return to Charlton’s starting XI having been rested for the trip to Boundary Park.
The pair, both coming off the bench during the second-half of the defeat at Oldham, are still shy of full fitness following recent spells of injury and absence, but are vital figures if the Addicks are to start showing some genuine threat in the final third.
Jordan Botaka and Stephy Mavididi the men set to miss out, but the latter can feel hard done by if his dropped to the bench following his first professional start. The Arsenal loanee’s performances one of the few positives to take from Tuesday night.
A change is also possible at left-back, with Adam Chicksen enduring a rather torrid night in Lancashire. Not the best time for the former MK Dons man, who has performed consistently for much of this season, to falter with Lewis Page, who was involved with the pre-match warm-up but not in the matchday squad, returning from suspension.
Elsewhere, Nathan Byrne serves the final game of his three-match ban, while Jason Pearce and Fredrik Ulvestad remain injured.
KEY BATTLE – BEING RUTHLESS ABOUT BEING RUTHLESS
The importance of being ruthless was made apparent after wasted chances gave AFC Wimbledon the opportunity to snatch a stoppage-time equaliser last weekend.
The importance of being ruthless was stressed before Tuesday’s trip to Boundary Park, as Robinson called upon his side to turn one goal leads into two, then three, then four.
The importance of being ruthless was made apparent after Magennis’ missed opening in the first few seconds against Oldham was followed minutes later by Oliver Banks giving the Latics the lead.
And so, with a small catalogue of wasted chances from Tuesday night that occurred while the Addicks were behind also to call upon, the cries for ruthlessness are increasing.
A small catalogue of chances, however, is probably not something the Addicks will come away from Spotland with irrespective of the score. Hill’s side, despite this recent poor run of form, showing a degree of resolve having kept consecutive clean sheets against Bristol Rovers and Fleetwood before conceding late on against Bolton on Tuesday night. Chances possibly harder to come by.
But so too are Rochdale struggling in front of goal. No goal scored in their previous five games, and so one Charlton goal might well be decisive.
One moment of ruthlessness.
We’re not going to be ruthless, are we? Rochdale 1-0 Charlton Athletic