The reverse of this season’s first fixture taking place at The Valley this Saturday, with Bury the visitors. A fixture that set the tone for the campaign after its first 90 minutes. A desperate performance, a disappointing defeat, and Roger Johnson telling booing supporters that they shouldn’t fucking come if they don’t like.
But even amid the despair of the full-time whistle at Gigg Lane, there remained a degree of expectancy that the Addicks would be competitive in League One. That they would settle into a strong unit, and challenge for promotion.
A managerial sacking, several moments of Roland Duchatelet igniting fury among supporters, and just nine wins from 32 games later, and that expectancy has proven to be incredibly naïve. The only expectancy that can exist while this regime remains in control is despair and failure.
Emotions that were experienced in abundance on Tuesday night. An empty, soulless Valley, watching Karl Robinson’s side offering little fight as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Oxford United. Ten points from the play-offs, eight from the relegation zone; the season over already and failure assured.
A club in a desperate state, and efforts on the pitch doing very little to inject any sort of enthusiasm. So much so that relegation-threatened Bury, led by new boss Lee Clark, have as great a chance as the Addicks of winning this encounter.
At least, what with this being a Football for a Fiver game, the empty seats that reflected an overwhelming sense of apathy will be filled by spectators. But in the club’s current state, apathy is still likely to fill The Valley.
LAST MEETING – BURY 2-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (06/08/2016)
On an afternoon where Charlton were expected to make an immediate impression in their first game back in League One, the only impression that was made was that nothing would change while Duchatelet’s regime remains in charge.
Wounds still being licked following last season’s relegation, and the constant misery inflicted by Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, and they only growing deeper as Bury punished a sluggish Addicks performance under new boss Russell Slade.
It took until the 71st minute for the hosts to take the lead at Gigg Lane, but they had been in control and created the better chances throughout the contest. Jason Pearce pulling back Nathan Cameron from a corner, and Neil Danns converting from the spot.
An opening-day defeat assured with three minutes to play, as Cameron knocked a corner down for Kelvin Etuhu to bundle the ball over the line. A combination of despondency, booing, and calls for the regime to sell emerging from the away end.
The suffering of over 1,000 visiting Addicks compounded beyond full-time, as Johnson issued his infamous line to group of rightfully angered supporters. If fans chose to not turn up as we didn’t like, there would be even more empty seats.
An adversary of the Addicks during the Chris Powell-led promotion season has been appointed to guide Bury away from the relegation zone.
And former Huddersfield Town boss Lee Clark, having replaced temporary head coach Chris Brass last week, got off to the idea start at the weekend. A vital victory away at fellow struggles Chesterfield, with George Miller’s stoppage-time winner taking the Shakers above the drop zone.
Clark, who arrived at Grigg Lane from Kilmarnock, has never quite lived up to the managerial potential that a play-off final defeat and subsequent promotion with the Terries offered, but he has a gritty, fighting equality that’s suited to the situation Bury are in. Kilmarnock kept in the Scottish top flight last season and his management.
And, in addition to the Chesterfield win, the 44-year-old boss has something of a stable base to build from. The previous five weeks seeing a 5-1 thrashing of Peterborough United, a handy draw at bottom four club Port Vale, and another positive result against a fellow struggler with Swindon Town beaten 1-0.
A fifth game without victory, leaving the Addicks closer to League One’s relegation zone than the division’s top six. You’d suggest Tuesday’s desperate defeat to Oxford was rock bottom, if you hadn’t felt the club had already sunk lower than they possibly could over the previous three years.
The performance against the U’s pathetic. Organisation, determination and quality all lacking, as Conor McAleny’s 12th minute strike from distance gave the visitors all three points.
It nothing new, however, with the performances of recent weeks all lacking those qualities. Robinson refusing to make tactical changes, the intensity of the players only dropping, and defensive errors, misplaced passes and a lack of ruthlessness in attack are rife.
Of course, the evidence suggests that no group of players and their boss can succeed under this regime, but it doesn’t excuse their efforts. A response required from Robinson and his side, but it’s difficult to see where that’s coming from.
Prolific forward James Vaughan is in line for a return to the Bury side having missed Saturday’s victory over Chesterfield through injury.
Vaughan, whose career has been blighted by injuries, has scored 18 times in 25 league appearances for the Shakers this campaign, which includes a four-goal haul against Peterborough.
An alternative if the one-time youngster Premier League goalscorer doesn’t recover in time is 16-year-old Callum Styles, who signed a professional contract in the week. The forward the Football League’s first player born in the 21st century, and a talent that has impressed Clark.
Elsewhere, Danny Mayor, is nearing a return having been absent since January with a stomach problem, but there still plenty occupiers of Bury’s treatment room. Thigh problems for both Kean Bryan and Craig Jones, Nathan Cameron out with a knee issue, and a groin injury making Zeli Ismail unavailable.
Charlton are likely to without Chris Solly after the long-serving right was dismissed during Tuesday’s night to Oxford United.
The vice-captain faces a three-game ban, and so would also miss the games against Shrewsbury and Northampton Town, but Robinson has stated his intention to lodge an appeal against the sending off. Referee Gavin Ward’s decision considerably harsh, but it not one that will unquestionably be reversed.
Should Solly be unavailable, then Nathan Byrne will drop to right-back. The Wigan loanee has been playing on the right-side of midfield for the Addicks, but he has spent large parts of his career at full-back.
Elsewhere, Adam Chicksen’s recent absence was finally explained with Robinson revealing he has a knee problem, while Ezri Konsa, Fredrik Ulvestad and Jason Pearce will also be unavailable through injury.
KEY BATTLE – OFFERING A POSITIVE RESPONSE
A motivated Bury will travel to SE7 on Saturday. Boyed by recent positive results, and enjoying the new manager bounce under Clark.
While their position in the league table is a reflection of a lack of quality, and within that a lack of determination, it unlikely that you’ll be able to excuse that Shakers of not playing at a high enough intensity this Saturday.
By contrast, determination and intensity have been absent from the Addicks for several weeks. Half-hearted performances, not doing enough going forward and offering little fight when out of possession.
The expectation has been that, after each concerning performance, there would be a positive response. The only response that has followed is for the performances, and for the attitude of the players, to decline.
And given the desperate nature of Tuesday’s performance, the concern is that the Addicks will lack the mentality to respond. That instead of attempting to prove themselves, they’ll simply wilt.
I can’t say I’m hopefully. But it up to this group of Addicks to answer my doubts.
Sluggish performance, and another failure to gain all three points. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury