The effort, energy and determination of Tuesday’s second-half performance during the draw with Bradford City has come at the perfect time. Putting in arguably the best 45-minute display of the season four days before travelling to the league leaders suddenly makes that prospect a less terrifying one.
A hope that, after such an excellent performance against the Bantams in midweek, Charlton Athletic will at least be competitive in their efforts against Sheffield United. Three weeks ago, Karl Robinson’s men would have certainly wilted against such tough opposition, but they have discovered a touch of fight in their previous three outings.
But so too might it raise expectations to a level where too much pressure is placed on the Addicks, and an unlikely result at Bramall Lane becomes one that is demanded. Misplaced anger and disappointment at Robinson and his side if they return south with a 12th defeat of the League One season to their name.
A defeat that, in truth, remains the most likely outcome. The Blades eight points clear at the top of the division, unbeaten in their previous eight games, and boast the division’s best home record. Chris Wilder’s side a fearsome opponent.
In reality, however, the Addicks travelling to Bramall Lane will do so with a healthy mixture of confidence and caution. Believing their side will offer something, but accepting that taking anything away from the fixture remains an impossible task, and any sort of result would be a fantastic achievement.
But an expectation does exist. A reasonable and fair expectation. That the effort and energy displayed in those final 45 minutes against Bradford on Tuesday night is repeated in Yorkshire this weekend.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 SHEFFIELD UNITED (26/11/2016)
Patrick Bauer stole something of an undeserved point for Charlton with a stoppage-time equaliser against the Blades at The Valley in November.
The Covered End rising in celebration as the German bundled the ball over the line three minutes into additional time, having earlier risen in protest. The game delayed by soft taxis and footballs being thrown on the pitch, accompanied by empathic chants against Roland Duchatelet and his regime.
Charlton, however, had not risen their performance levels for a game against a promotion-chasing side, despite newly appointed boss Karl Robinson watching on from the director’s box. The Addicks competitive for the opening half hour, but capitulating after a cleverly worked free-kick caught out a static defence and allowed Mark Duffy to give the visitors a 32nd-minute lead from a relatively tight angle.
Chances for United both before and after the break as Wilder’s side took complete control of the contest, with the side Kevin Nugent was temporarily in charge of losing any degree of defensive structure and lacking attacking quality.
The only Addick who could be proud of their efforts was Dillon Phillips. The goalkeeper saving from Billy Sharp, John Fleck and Duffy, preventing the scoreline from accurately reflecting the gap between the two sides. The deficit, somehow, only one heading into stoppage-time.
A period of stoppage-time that offered little hope of a Charlton response, even after Jordan Botaka had won the Addicks a free-kick in a dangerous crossing position. It with shock, therefore, that The Valley celebrated as Adam Chicksen’s delivery was flicked on by Josh Magennis and Bauer forced the ball over the line from very close range.
Missed chance after missed chance replaying in the heads of those in Sheffield United colours. Maybe not deserving of it, but Charlton had taken advantage of their opposition’s wastefulness to steal a point.
Sheffield United: WWDWDD
Having been the division’s perennial bottlers for the previous five seasons, Sheffield United supporters will be wary of celebrating promotion too soon, but they find themselves in a position from which even they will struggle to fail. The Blades on the cusp of a return to the Championship.
Comfortably League One’s most threatening team at their best, and more importantly comfortably the division’s most consistent side, a promotion-winning formula has finally been found at Bramall Lane. For which manager Wilder must take a heap of credit.
The former Northampton Town boss, who might have joined Charlton in the summer had the club given him the reassurances he required, set to earn a second successive league title having won League Two with the Cobblers last season. A winning mentality instilled into a stagnating club, and a side of real quality finding themselves eight points clear at the top of the division.
The Blades suffering just three defeats in their previous 33 league games, are the Football League’s top scorers, and go into Saturday’s game without defeat in eight.
And even when questions are asked of them, they respond in style. A two-goal lead thrown away against Swindon Town in midweek, but an advantage almost immediately regained and Wilder’s men ultimately recording a 4-2 win.
An excellent manager, a quality side, and collective mental toughness. A combination that creates champions.
There a combination of frustration and pride come full-time in midweek, as Charlton’s valiant performance against Bradford City warranted more than just a point.
High intensity pressing and quality going forward meant the Addicks dominated the second period, and would have won the game were it not for horrendous wastefulness. Lee Novak and Tony Watt must still be wondering how on earth they failed to take the most glorious of chances.
But, as a sparsely occupied Covered End attempted to make the noise of one at full capacity, the dominant emotion was one of pride. A squad that had given very little over the course of a run of eight games without defeat, having their application and effort constantly questioned, had given their all. It was pleasing to see.
Of course, it doesn’t detract from a season of failure. Too often have they performed without pride, embarrassing themselves and insulting supporters. Robinson’s side sitting 15th in the League One table as a result, marooned among the also-rans.
But that isn’t to say displays of fight and determination can’t be appreciated for what they are. The Addicks doing themselves proud on Tuesday night.
United boss Wilder confirmed after Tuesday’s victory over Swindon that influential midfielder Mark Duffy will be available having recovered from an ankle injury sustained during the draw with Rochdale earlier on this month.
Duffy, who has six goals for the Blades this season, was set to make his return at the County Ground in midweek, but wasn’t risked. The creative midfielder definitely fit for the visit of Charlton, and an immediate return to the starting XI likely.
A return to the starting XI also a possibility for Jake Wright. The defender was on the bench on Tuesday night, having been a doubt for the fixture after coming off midway through the first half during the victory over his former club Oxford United. A starting place for the summer signing made more likely by Wilder’s side suddenly starting to leak goals.
Elsewhere, former Addick Leon Clarke is recovering from an ankle problem and unlikely to feature, while Samir Carruthers, a player who worked under Robinson at MK Dons and was a target for Charlton in January, has struggled for game time since joining the Blades and looks set to have to settle for a place on the bench once again.
The revolving door that leads to Charlton’s treatment room continues to spin relentlessly, with Addicks dropping out as others make a return to fitness.
The latest member of Robinson’s squad to enter the treatment room is one that has already spent plenty of time in there despite being at the club for just two months. Lewis Page pulling up on Tuesday night, and unlikely to be fit for the trip to Bramall Lane.
It gives the Addicks a bit of a problem in the full-back positions, with Nathan Byrne absent in midweek, Chris Solly still recovering from a calf problem, and Jay Dasilva largely untrusted. Adam Chicksen playing at right-back against Bradford, but one option is to revert him back to his more natural position and play Ezri Konsa on the right side of defence.
There are, however, options for Robinson in midfield, with Jake Forster-Caskey and Jordan Botaka returning to the matchday squad on Tuesday, but Joe Aribo is a doubt having missed out through injury in midweek. Magennis’ hamstring injury meaning Lee Novak and Tony Watt are likely to continue in attack.
But the biggest news is that there’s an outside chance Jason Pearce may be involved for the first time since early December. The centre-back recovered from a groin injury, and getting minutes under his belt for the U23s last Sunday. A place on the bench likely, but even that would be great to see.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH AN AERIALLY DOMINANT FORWARD, AND HIS GOAL-SCORING PARTNER
Particularly since the turn of the year, Charlton haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory defensively. Plenty of points dropped and games lost as a consequence of individual errors, or a collective lack of cohesion and structure.
Weak defensive efforts that have been on show this week. Walsall wasting several glorious chances gifted to them and, though tightening up impressive after the break, the Addicks struggling to deal with Bradford in the opening 45 on Tuesday night. Walsall’s goal coming from the simplest of long balls over the top of a defensive line sitting far too high, and Bradford’s equaliser coming from tame defending and a goalkeeper error.
But it against teams with tall, aerially dominant forwards that the Addicks have really struggled in recent months. AFC Wimbledon’s Tom Elliott, Rochdale’s Calvin Andrew and Northampton Town’s Michael Smith just three examples. Whether it be Teixeira, Bauer or Konsa in the centre of defence, all have struggled to contend with any sort of physical presence in the opposition’s attack.
A concern, therefore, that Saturday’s opposition have James Hanson. A figure shaped so perfectly into the target man mould he might well have been created in a laboratory. Just one goal to his name since joining the Blades in January, but his presence telling, and supporting his rather potent strike partner.
Hanson making life even easier for Billy Sharp, who has made a mockery of opposition defences with 26 goals to his name this campaign. The traditional target man/poacher partnership.
And one that means constant cohesion and composure must be on show from Charlton’s backline, and in particular their centre-backs, throughout Saturday’s contest. Promising that Bauer and Teixeira come into the game on the back of an excellent 45 on Tuesday night, but any mistakes will be punished by this pair, and they must remain solid for 90 minutes.
Not too fussed about the result, as defeat at Bramall Lane is the most likely outcome for any team in this division, but desperate to see the Addicks play with the same level of determination and intensity as they did during Tuesday’s second half. Sheffield United 2-1 Charlton Athletic