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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Walsall

A victory on Tuesday night for Charlton Athletic that brought about both relief and joy. Tony Watt’s last-minute penalty ending a run of eight games without victory, and giving the Addicks in a bit of breathing space between themselves and the bottom four.

But, in the position the Addicks find themselves in, those positive emotions are only temporary. If not as a result of Roland Duchatelet continuing to have a poisonous grip of the club, then because a single victory does not yet prove the baggage from that run without a win has been left behind.

Not least because back-to-back league victories have been recorded only twice this season, and Karl Robinson is yet to put successive wins together. There still great concern over the strength of this Charlton side, and an equal amount of fear that they will find a way to implode when Walsall visit The Valley on Saturday.

An implosion made more likely by the confidence Jon Whitney’s Saddlers currently have. Stuttering somewhat away from home, but victory over Chesterfield on Tuesday night was their sixth in succession at home, and enough to push them to within touching distance of the top six.

Robinson’s side, however, have set a platform from which to build on. Not a platform from which the season can be made a success, but from which professional pride can be restored. From which they can end a torrid season in relatively positive fashion.

There times on Tuesday night when the Addicks struggled, and there ultimately an element of good fortune involved in their victory, but enough fight and determination was shown to make it warranted. Enough fight and determination shown to mean similar levels of mental toughness should be again this weekend.

And now that a degree of mental toughness has been shown, there not really an excuse for Robinson’s side returning to the ways of their winless run. A performance against Walsall as important as a performance against Scunthorpe was.

LAST MEETING – WALSALL 1-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (20/08/2016)

A display of resolve and resilience allowed Charlton to grind out victory at the Bescot in August, recording back-to-back wins for the first time since November 2015.

Some concern that a second successive victory would not be achieved with the Addicks placed under a degree of pressure during the game’s opening 40 minutes. There certainly not the control and dominance that had been throughout the 3-0 win over Shrewsbury Town four days previously, and only Declan Rudd’s interventions prevented Russell Slade’s side from falling behind.

The goalkeeper pulling off an excellent double save, first denying Simeon Jackson from close range, before pushing Kieron Morris’ follow-up around the post.

Rudd’s efforts, in partnership with a back-line largely standing up to the pressure they were being put under, provided a base from which the Addicks were able to steal an advantage just before the break. Ricky Holmes’ cross met by Josh Magennis, and Nicky Ajose pouncing to divert the ball goalwards.

Chris Solly wasting a glorious opportunity to kill the game off after the break, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge misplacing a pass straight to his former Charlton teammate, but it seemed Ajose’s goal was going to be enough for three points. The Addicks resolute, and frustration growing among the Sadlers that was hindering their attacking play.

But with 72 minutes played, Charlton lost that resolve. Morris allowed to shoot from the edge of the area, Rudd’s attempt to keep the effort out weak, and the hosts had drawn level.

A real danger now that the Addicks would capitulate, but those fears were quelled just two minutes later. Magennis bursting down the right, and putting a ball across the face of goal that Ajose just about managed to bundle over the line despite his best efforts to miss from a yard out. The lead regained.

Victory, however, not yet assured. Rudd denying Amadou Bakayoko, before a combination of goalkeeper and crossbar kept out Jackson’s effort from a tight angle deep into stoppage-time.

But the Addicks would hold on, and claim the victory their determined efforts warranted.

FORM

Walsall: WWLWDL

It no doubt an impressive achievement for Walsall to currently find themselves eighth in League One, just six points off the top six, but it’s an achievement that’s tinged with a touch of frustration.

For the Saddlers have been mightily impressive at home, recording their sixth consecutive victory at the Bescot on Tuesday night with a 1-0 win over Chesterfield. A second home win-to-nil in the space of four days after beating Oldham 2-0 on Saturday.

Sheffield United, Bristol Rovers and Peterborough have also suffered defeat at the Bescot since the turn of the year, with the league leaders taking a 4-1 thumping, and only three goals have been conceded during this excellent run of home form. Few sides you’d want to face less at their home ground in this division.

But it’s form that Whitney’s side haven’t been able to take on the road with them. Plenty of single points picked up, with goalless draws against Oxford, Millwall and Scunthorpe probably all positive results, but Walsall are without victory away from home since the Boxing Day win over Port Vale. Six winless games away from the Bescot.

Those goalless draws with sides who also have one eye on the top six show the Saddlers have still been competitive away from home, but conceding a late equaliser at Gigg Lane and suffering defeat at Kingsmeadow are particularly frustrating. Games where Whitney’s side should have been capable of getting more from, and as such putting themselves right into the play-off picture.

Nonetheless, Walsall’s efforts at home mean that a top six spot is not out of the question. Goal difference meaning that it’s effectively seven points to make up over the remaining ten games, having played a game more than sixth-place Millwall. A need to take that home form away from the Bescot, beginning this weekend.

Charlton: WLLLLD

It quite bleak that a last-minute victory was required to alleviate fears of relegation to League Two, but that’s the nature of the situation Charlton have put themselves in.

A run of eight games without a win coming to an end on Tuesday night as Watt converted from the spot in the game’s final minute. A win that looked to have been lost after Scunthorpe took control of the game midway through the second half and, through Kevin van Veen, were allowed to cancel out Johnnie Jackson’s opener.

A run of eight games where the Addicks performed without any degree of competence, quality or desire. A run of eight games that had left supporters genuinely fearing that a second successive relegation was on the cards. A run of eight games, occurring while opposition to a failing regime continues to increase, that won’t simply be forgotten.

There still plenty of work for this Charlton side, and for Robinson, to do in order to regain trust from supporters. Even Tuesday’s effort, with a strong first half followed by a rather sketchy second, wasn’t convincing.

But, if nothing else, Watt’s winner has allowed Addicks to breathe a little easier. A second successive relegation would have been fatal under this regime, and with a nine-point gap between Charlton and the bottom four, SE7 is a touch calmer.

THE OPPOSITION

Jon Whitney could name the same side for the third game in succession, with no new injuries being picked up over the course of Walsall’s successive home victories this week.

A winning formula found, with Scunthorpe and Southampton loanees Scott Laird and Jason McCarthy part of a frugal defence, Adam Chambers and Isaiah Osbourne a combative midfield pairing, and the match-winning qualities of Erhun Oztumer giving the Saddlers half a chance of finishing inside the top six.

And with a limited number of long-term absentees, Whitney has plenty of alternatives available should he wish to alter his side. A calf injury continues to deny Belgian midfielder Florent Cuvelier a return to action, and recovery from a dislocated shoulder keeps home-grown Reece Flanagan out.

One such alteration could see Amadou Bakayoko, the sort of tall and strong forward that Charlton have struggled to defend against in recent weeks, replace Simeon Jackson, while former Addick Franck Moussa is another option available to the Saddlers.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton look set to be without Magennis after the forward was forced off just before the hour mark during Tuesday’s victory over Scunthorpe.

The Northern Ireland international went down off-the-ball, having seemingly suffered a hamstring injury. A decision for Robinson as to whether he changes his formation, or throws match-winner Watt up top at the weekend.

Magennis joining something of a packed treatment room, with Patrick Bauer and Jordan Botaka doubts having missed the midweek game through sickness and injury. The former likely to return, but mystery over Botaka’s injury means he’s a major doubt for the weekend.

Chris Solly is also unlikely to recover in time for Saturday’s contest. The full-back expected to return from suspension on Tuesday night, but a calf issue prevented the long-serving Addick from making his first appearance since being sent-off during the defeat to Oxford United.

Elsewhere, Jason Pearce has returned to light training following groin surgery but remains a number of weeks away from being fit enough to return to the side, while a calf injury keeps Jake Forster-Caskey out.

KEY BATTLE – SHAPE AND STRUCTURE WITHOUT MAGENNIS

Until injury meant Magennis needed to be withdrawn on Tuesday night, the Addicks were performing commendably.

Led by the Northern Ireland international, there was determination in attack, with loose balls being chased down with intent and Scunthorpe being pressed in possession, while the rest of the side appeared confident, composed and structured. A bit of fight and the basics being done right, but this a huge improvement on recent weeks.

And a huge improvement from Magennis, who had struggled since returning from injury. The Iron’s backline struggling to contend with the forward’s physical threat, and his effort unrelenting. This more like it.

But once Magennis had been forced off, Charlton appeared to almost immediately capitulate. Scunthorpe finding gaps in Robinson’s structure straight away, the Addicks uncomfortable and full of panic, and a figure to lead the line had been lost.

A capitulation in part from the loss of an out ball, with Holmes almost anonymous in the central forward position while Lee Novak tired, but so too from a loss of shape. Andrew Crofts replacing Magennis didn’t seem the wisest of ideas, bodies all over the place in midfield, and the backline suffering as a result. The period between Magennis going off and Teixeira winning the penalty very much the fragile Charlton we have become accustomed to in recent weeks.

And with Robinson unlikely to have Magennis available this weekend, it’s vital the boss sets his side up in such a way that means structure and composure are not lost despite the forward’s absence. It certainly seems obvious that Watt, rather than Crofts, should replace Magennis in the starting XI, with Novak giving the central striker position.

That, you would hope, would mean the midfield and backline can find the confidence and shape that they had shown for much of the first hour of Tuesday’s game. Everyone aware of their roles, a determination being shown, and no gaps for the opposition to exploit.

For it a slight concern that, despite stealing victory, there was still a large period of Tuesday’s game where the Addicks looked incredibly uncomfortable.

PREDICTION

There no reason why, after Tuesday’s efforts, the Addicks should return to their ways of wilting and capitulation. A tough test, nonetheless. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Walsall

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