This the beginning of the week where the motivation, determination and fight of Charlton Athletic supporters will be anything but questioned. Addicks travelling to Belgium on Saturday to protest against the regime that’s crippling their club. Doing absolutely all they can to force Roland Duchatelet into ending the destruction he’s overseen in SE7.
But before then, there is a game on Tuesday night. A trip to Shrewsbury Town, where motivation, determination and fight might well be questioned. Qualities that have been questioned of those representing the Addicks in recent weeks.
Six games passing without victory for Karl Robinson’s side, and without an acceptable level of performance being reached. Actual footballing qualities largely absent, and tactical structure ranging from flimsy to non-existent, but the mentality of those in red hasn’t helped. Particularly in the previous two games, ending in defeats at The Valley, where much more has been demanded.
But where is the motivation to improve going to come from? The play-offs long gone, and this season resigned to failure. Professional pride all that remains for this group of Addicks to play for, but have they even got the determination to prove they have that?
Maybe they should look towards a set of supporters that are starting to, if they haven’t already, lose faith in their side. Not just in the sense of needing to prove their worth, and to disprove the legitimate doubts of their fans. But in the sense that emulating such determination would surely see success.
There is, however, no maybe about it at the New Meadow on Tuesday. Nothing less than a victory will do for Robinson’s side. Nothing less than a fully-committed performance.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-0 SHREWSBURY TOWN (16/08/2016)
A brutal nine-minute first-half period was enough for the Addicks to claim their first victory following an indifferent start to the campaign, and claim it in convincing fashion as Shrewsbury were crushed at The Valley in August.
A brutal period led by the match-winning qualities of Ricky Holmes. The game, with reasonable chances at both end, evenly contested until the 22nd minute, as the summer signing from Northampton Town cut inside before striking a spectacular effort beyond Shrews stopper Jayson Leutwiler.
And Russell Slade, for who this would be his first victory in charge, saw his side double their advantage just two minutes later. The visitors unable to clear a delivery into the box, something of a goalmouth scramble ensuing, and Johnnie Jackson capitalising. His signature kneeslide following having forced the ball over the line.
By this point, Shrewsbury were already deflated, and the Addicks had started to settle into a rhythm that would go uninterrupted for the remainder of the contest. Holmes’ second goal, therefore, guaranteed the points for the Addicks with a little less than an hour still to play. The winger, intentional or not, scoring direct from corner.
And despite Charlton sitting deeper during the second period, inviting the Shrews to have more possession and seemingly settling for a three-goal victory, the hosts never looked threatened.
In fact, were it not for Nicky Ajose making his first of many horrendous misses before ultimately being loaned back to Swindon Town, a fourth would have been added. A fourth that wouldn’t have flattered Slade’s side.
A convincing first win of the season, and for Charlton’s new boss. But those that were convinced that this level of quality would be repeated throughout the season were soon to be having second thoughts.
When Paul Hurst left behind the impressive job he’d done at Grimsby Town to take the reins at the New Meadow, Shrewsbury found themselves in a bleak situation. Bottom of League One with 15 games played, only two victories to their name, and the threat of relegation a very real one. A seemingly impossible task for the former Rotherham United left-back.
And so for Hurst to describe his side’s weekend defeat to MK Dons as below-par carries with it a sense of dread and fear. Or at least it would have done had it occurred immediately after his appointment.
For such is the improvement under his stewardship, a four-point cushion sits between the Shrews and the bottom four in spite of suffering defeat at Stadium MK. A four-point cushion that doesn’t guarantee safety, not least with 21st-place club Port Vale having two games in hand, but one that puts survival in their own hands. That in itself an impressive achievement after the state Shrewsbury were in when Hurst arrived.
Their climb away from the bottom four helped by five victories in their previous eight games. Clubs who are focusing on the top end of the division, such as Bradford City and Scunthorpe United, suffering defeat against Hurst’s hard-working and resilient side.
In that resilience, and the increase in confidence that comes with it, that has allowed the Shrews to go on such an impressive run. All five of those recent victories coming by a single goal.
And it those qualities of resilience and confidence, that Hurst has instilled since his arrival, that means there isn’t a fear the Dons defeat will lead to a longer term drop in performance levels and results. An immediate response expected, from the club that were not so long ago resigning themselves to the drop.
It seems quite incredible that we have gone from Robinson’s emphatic fist pump in front of the Macron Stadium’s away end to the Charlton boss heading as quickly down The Valley’s tunnel as possible after a sixth successive game without victory.
Six games that have seen Robinson’s decision making appear questionable, the defensive structure of his side vanish, and ability on the ball become non-existent. The Addicks stuck in a rather grim rut, reflecting the overall state of a club being dragged into the ground. The promised play-offs out of sight, and failure assured.
Those wishing to make excuses for Robinson and his side will point to the amount of chances created that haven’t been taken over the course of these six winless games. If Lee Novak’s first-half header was an inch lower against Bury, if Patrick Bauer’s nod towards goal hadn’t found the man on the line against Oxford, and if any sort of composure in front of goal had been shown at Oldham, then the Addicks might well have accrued more points.
But, aside from those chances being created in spite of, and not because of, the overall performances, these wasted openings are exposing a lack of potency and ruthlessness. Part of the problem, and not an excuse for it.
And it not just frustration and disappointment that exists over the previous six games, but a fear of what will follow in the next 13. Performances so poor, and confidence so low, that it’s difficult to see an immediate turnaround.
Having scored off the bench in the weekend defeat to MK Dons, forward Stephen Humphrys is in contention for a starting spot in Hurst’s starting XI on Tuesday. The place of Stefan Payne, yet to score since arriving on loan from Barnsley, under some threat.
The Fulham loanee one of several alternatives, which include AJ Leitch-Smith, Louis Dodds and Adam El-Abd, available to Shrewsbury’s boss after he suggested his side’s performance at the weekend wasn’t good enough.
Alternatives available to Hurst despite injury ravaging his squad. A chance that West Brom loanee Tyler Roberts will be available after hamstring troubles, but Joe Riley (hamstring), Olly Lancashire (calf) and Abu Ogogo (knee) remain absent.
Charlton not only ending Saturday’s defeat to Bury without pride or points, but also a number of their players.
Stephy Mavididi sustaining what appears to be the most serious injury of the three that were picked up at the weekend, with the impressive Arsenal loanee stretchered off in the game’s closing stages. The forward incredibly unlikely to be available on Tuesday, or for some time thereafter, with Tony Watt and Jordan Botaka in line to replace the 19-year-old.
Jake Forster-Caskey, having limped off ten minutes into the second period, is also a major doubt for the trip to Shrewsbury. Andrew Crofts or Johnnie Jackson the alternatives available to Robinson should he be without his January signing from Brighton.
But Patrick Bauer, having been replaced at half-time following a clash of heads during the opening 45, should be okay to start. The German, you would hope, withdrawn with a bit of grogginess and nothing more than that.
Elsewhere, Chris Solly serves the second game of his three-game suspension, while Jason Pearce (groin), Adam Chicksen (knee) and Fredrik Ulvestad (niggle that seems to be lasting a lifetime) remain absent.
KEY BATTLE – UNSETTLING THE SHREWS/ACTUALLY TAKING A CHANCE
Shrewsbury are grinding out results. Claiming leads, and then defending with guts and determination to claim all three points. The opposition offered very little.
And as such, chances for a Charlton side that seemingly need at least 3,928 to take one are likely to come at a premium. The defensive capitulation from the Shrews that allowed the Addicks to help themselves to three goals at The Valley in August highly unlikely. Hurst’s side a much more resilient beast than the one Mellon oversaw.
Really not ideal when Robinson’s side have not only struggled to break teams down in recent weeks, but wasted the openings when they have done. A situation worsened by the likely absence of Mavididi, who had both Oxford and Bury on the back foot.
Nonetheless, an early MK Dons goal at the weekend seemed to unsettle the Shrews, and it’s what Hurst has suggested prevented his side from playing to the standard they have done in recent weeks. Kieran Agard giving the Dons a fifth minute lead, which was Harvey Barnes was allowed to double just six minutes later.
And so, if the Addicks can show both the intent and potency they have been lacking in recent weeks, there may be an opportunity for them. Racing out of the blocks, capitalising on a Shrewsbury side that will probably want a few moments to settle into the game after suffering defeat at the weekend, and claiming an early advantage.
Take the game to the opposition. Something we can do, with the likes of Holmes and Watt available, but not something we’ve done for some time.
I want a response. I’m demanding a response. It’s just hard to believe it will come after the dejection the previous showings have created. Shrewsbury Town 1-1 Charlton Athletic