And all of a sudden, the remaining fixtures of Charlton Athletic’s season have become even less important.
Nothing to do with the Addicks drawing with Walsall at the weekend, a result that just about cements their position among League One’s also-rans, but all to do with the suggestion that Roland Duchatelet will soon be selling up. The focus of supporters currently away from Tuesday’s fixture against Bradford City, and firmly on the thought of a future without this regime crippling the club.
That isn’t to say the game with the Bantams at The Valley is totally irrelevant. And that not just because the visitors are only two points off the top two, desperately hoping to at least keep on the heels of Fleetwood Town and Bolton Wanderers.
For this Charlton are still fighting to regain a degree of professional pride, and to win back the trust of their supporters. Improvement in the victory over Scunthorpe United and draw with Walsall after their effort and desire was questioned during a run of eight games without victory, but Karl Robinson’s side still far from performing to the level fans have every right to demand.
A level they will certainly have to reach to compete with opponents who have the Championship firmly in their sights. No side losing fewer games this season than Stuart McCall’s team, and firmly deserving of their place in League One’s top six.
But at least if the Addicks do struggle on Tuesday night, at a Valley likely to be largely occupied by empty seats once again, some solace can be taken from the thought that change might well be on the horizon.
LAST MEETING – BRADFORD CITY 0-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (10/12/2016)
Charlton came away from Valley Parade in December with both a point and plenty of pride as the depleted Addicks battled to a goalless draw against the Bantams.
A goalless draw that so easily could have been a hard-fought victory in what was one of the better performances of this campaign. Despite being without several regular starters, and losing Jason Pearce to injury just four minutes into the match, it was Robinson’s side who were the most threatening throughout the first half.
Something of a siege on Bradford’s goal that was led by the unplayable Josh Magennis. The forward hitting the inside the post and having an effort cleared off the line having been denied what appeared a certain penalty. Most Addicks fearing the worse pre-game, but found themselves a little disappointed that their side didn’t have a half-time advantage.
The pattern of the contest, however, reversing after the break. The siege now on Charlton’s goal, and the Addicks barely leaving their own half for the duration of the second period. An incredible amount of fight and determination required to prevent the Bantams from scoring.
Fight, determination, and the efforts of Dillon Phillips. The goalkeeper saving superbly from Jordi Hiwula just shy of the hour mark, denying Bradford’s forward what appeared a certain goal.
And a final test of Charlton’s resolve was to come at the start of four minutes of additional time, with Patrick Bauer given a second yellow card for blocking off Marc McNulty’s run. Shots blocked with desperation, sliced clearances, and general panic from the ten Addicks who all appeared to spend the duration of additional time inside their own, but somehow the visitors clung on.
A point they no doubt deserved. A point that could have been more. But a point they had to work incredibly hard for.
The Bantams, whether it be under the leadership of Phil Parkinson or McCall, have long had a reputation of being incredibly hard to beat. A reputation they have justified throughout this campaign.
Not a single defeat at fortress Valley Parade, and only Sheffield United have lost less than their five defeats away from home. It not always the most attractive brand of football played by Bradford, and their often frustration at a semi-regular inability to turn tight draws into wins, but it that fight and determination that means the Yorkshire side have a very real chance of automatic promotion.
A chance increasing in recent weeks, with McCall’s side picking up points while the likes of Bolton and Scunthorpe stutter. Bolton’s win over Fleetwood at the weekend making the battle for the second automatic promotion spot a real competitive one, and Bradford’s form and mental toughness giving them as good a chance as any of the four or five sides with eyes on second place.
Just two league defeats since the turn of the year, though drawing with Bolton having been two goals to the good will feel like a loss, and three victories of their previous four fixtures ending in victory.
That including a 2-0 win over Coventry City at the weekend. Probably considered a relatively easy game, given the struggles of the Sky Blues, but a professional job done. An eight away win of the campaign, making them the second-best side in the division away from home and dispelling the myth that they are overly reliant on their efforts at home.
Having played a game more than Fleetwood, and two more than Bolton, they are outsiders in this race, but if they remain hard to beat while others struggle, they’ve got every chance.
From four defeats in four, to four points in two. A very slight improvement in SE7, but there couldn’t be anything but.
For the Addicks, in the period without victory in eight and not just during those four winless games, were performing in pathetic fashion prior to the two games at The Valley in the previous week.
A win over Scunthorpe, achieved with a last-minute Tony Watt penalty, a relief for Robinson and his side. The draw with Walsall, though underwhelming, at least ending with the fight, determination and mentality of this group of Addicks needing to be questioned for the umpteenth time this campaign.
Alas, subtle improvements, or at least a greater willingness to dig in, aren’t enough to turn Charlton minds away from the fact this season has been a disaster. A top six finish the absolute minimum promised, but the Addicks sit 14th, and have only just eased relegation fears with the previous two results.
Oh how wonderful change at this club will be.
Bradford could be without Alex Jones, a goalscorer against Coventry on Saturday, after the forward suffered a dead leg at the Ricoh Arena.
Manager McCall rates Jones’ chances of being fit for the trip to The Valley as 50/50, but has confirmed that Alex Gilliead won’t be available. The Newcastle loanee also suffering an injury at the Ricoh, with his hamstring pulled, and is expected to be out for a couple of weeks.
Ironically, it was Jones that replaced Gilliead after he pulled up at the weekend, with Billy Clarke the most likely man to come into the side if the former joins the latter in being unavailable.
The Bantams will also be without midfielder Nicky Law, who requires some time to recover from a knee injury. A handful of injuries that may mean recent signing Daniel Pybus features in a matchday squad for the first time. The 19-year-old former Sunderland development squad member and England youth international joined the club last week after a successful trial.
With Robinson’s squad already depleted by injuries, the pain felt by Ezri Konsa during Saturday’s draw with Walsall was shared by his manager.
The defender in serious discomfort five minutes into the second half at The Valley, and almost in tears as he hobbled off the pitch with what appeared an ankle injury. The young centre-back unlikely to be available on Tuesday night.
It gives Robinson quite the dilemma in defence, with Patrick Bauer missing the previous two games, Roger Johnson (thankfully) out for the season, Harry Lennon enduring a long-term hamstring problem, and Tuesday coming too soon for the recovering Jason Pearce. Jorge Teixeira the only fit centre-back.
Fredrik Ulvestad, though naturally midfielder, impressed when filling in in the position on Saturday, while youngster Aaron Barnes has previously been on the bench. Either way, it far from an ideal situation, particularly with the Addicks hardly impressive at the back as it is.
Problems further forward, too, with it expected that Josh Magennis will be absent for three weeks with a hamstring problem, while Jordan Botaka remains a doubt having not featured since the defeat at Northampton Town.
Elsewhere, calf problems keep Chris Solly and Jake Forster-Caskey out, but a return to the starting XI for inspirational skipper Johnnie Jackson is likely having seemingly been unable to cope with the demands of two games in five days.
KEY BATTLE – BATTLING FOR 90 MINUTES, AND NOT JUST A PERIOD
A draw, though the 16th stalemate of this campaign and the 27th game ending without victory, with Walsall on Saturday wasn’t the worse results in the world for the Addicks. The Saddlers a decent side, and Charlton showed a degree of fight and mental toughness after falling behind and looking well out of the game.
But the frustration for supporters is that Robinson’s side only showed that determination and fight for a relatively small period of the game. An utter shambles for the opening hour or so, and only really matching their opponents in the game’s final 30 minutes.
That a similar story to last Tuesday’s win over Scunthorpe, with the Addicks battling away in determined fashion for much of the first half, but falling apart after Magennis went off injured at the start of the second. The winning penalty Charlton’s only real effort on goal after the Iron had equalised and looked the side most likely to gain victory.
And so, against a side who have a battling and determined spirit drilled into, making them incredibly tough to beat, it’s vital that the Addicks find a way to maintain competitiveness of the duration of the contest.
In respect, that’s a tough ask. It quite apparent as the game came to a close on Saturday that, after playing twice a week for five weeks, every player in red was dead on their feet. A situation not helped by the fact the Addicks are depleted by injuries. It those restrictions that contribute towards a sense that they will find themselves on the back foot for much of the evening.
But there really is a need for Robinson’s men to find a bit of prolonged fight, taking it throughout the 90 minutes and making it as difficult as possible for the visitors. Bradford more likely to punish periods of sloppiness that an out of form Scunthorpe and a wasteful Walsall.
Trying desperately to pretend my mind isn’t completely focused on the idea of Duchatelet selling. But this will be a challenging game, with a side depleted by injuries playing one that knows how to win games. Least I ask is that the Addicks make it difficult for Bradford. Charlton Athletic 1-2 Bradford City