And so we enter the final month of the season. A season that has occasionally flirted with the idea of having some purpose, but rarely been little more than a tedious chore. For every moment of promise, there’s been ten of painful disappointment.
A play-off challenge made impossible many weeks ago, relegation remains plausible but a comfortable final seven fixtures should spare Charlton Athletic from the ultimate embarrassment, and the club seemingly trapped in this position of unrelenting failure while Roland Duchatelet and his regime remain in control.
But there does, in these final seven League One fixtures, remain something to play for for Karl Robinson and his side. In particular, something to play for Robinson, beginning with Saturday’s trip to London Road to face Peterborough United.
Improvement in the four fixtures that preceded the international break, but it the run of eight games without victory that has so far defined Robinson’s time in charge. The inability to end that run, to inject effort and intensity into his players, and the divisive and misguided comments made to the media.
Seven fixtures to follow in which Robinson can leave supporters with serious doubts and concerns about whether he’s the right man to lead the club forward, or can leave supporters with the smallest amount of expectation and optimism that his leadership can bring success to SE7 in what might well be the post-Duchatelet era.
A chance to prove himself, and a chance for his players too. Those that have been in and out of the starting XI, or performed without consistency, can prove they have value in Robinson’s future squad.
Little to play for, and the sooner this season ends the better. But those in red, and the man leading them, cannot relax in these remaining fixtures. For their own sake.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-2 PETERBOROUGH UNITED (17/12/2016)
A desperately poor Charlton performance, lacking defensive structure and attacking intensity, was punished by an efficient Peterborough side at The Valley in December, with the 2-0 defeat leaving Robinson still searching for his first win as Addicks boss.
The points Peterborough’s from the moment Ryan Tafazoli rose unchallenged to convert from Paul Taylor’s 21st minute free-kick. The Addicks offering very little in response, completely unorganised, and fortunate that Leonardo Da Silva Lopes didn’t show greater potency in front of goal. The half-time boos entirely justified.
A flicker of life at the start of the second period, with Josh Magennis hitting the inside of the far post having broken into the box from the left and Jordan Botaka seeing a deflected strike come back off the crossbar, but it was little more than a flicker.
Victory sealed for Posh with 66 minutes played, as Gwion Edwards finished emphatically following a marvellous solo ran that started from just inside Charlton’s half. Red shirts showing little in the way of resolve as the Welshman darted past them, leaving Dillon Phillips powerless to prevent the visitors’ lead being doubled.
Charlton’s afternoon summed up as full-time approached, with what appeared a goal-bound Morgan Fox header deflected away from goal by Nicky Ajose. The forward attempting to flick the ball over the line, but succeeding only in keeping Peterborough’s clean sheet intact.
Occasional wins have maintained a place in League One’s top half, but Peterborough’s form since the turn of the year means the situation they find themselves in isn’t too dissimilar to Charlton’s. A genuine chance of challenging for the play-offs replaced by stagnation, and an acceptance that another season dwelling in the third tier awaits.
Victory over Gillingham at weekend, therefore, came as a welcome relief. And not only because Junior Morias’ winner in the 1-0 victory at Priestfields came in the game’s final minute, giving Posh three points that their performance warranted.
The result ending a run of five games without a win. A run that confirmed their challenge for a top six place was over. Grant McCann’s side sitting in the final play-off spot after their win over Rochdale on February 25th, but now find themselves eight points off sixth even after Saturday’s victory.
That constituting a disappointment for the Posh, who expected to mount a serious and season-long play-off push. A somewhat inexperienced squad failing to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
Little more than pride to play for during the remainder of the campaign, therefore, and some points to prove among McCann’s young squad. A large squad, in which several players will want to prove their worth for next season.
If nothing else, a degree of pride was restored by the Addicks prior to international call-ups enforcing a fixtureless two-week period. A run of eight games without victory finally ending, with some fight and quality shown during periods of the four fixtures that followed.
Some fortune involved in the victory over Scunthorpe United and draw with Walsall, but the second-half performance against Bradford, though only earning Robinson’s side a point, was as good as any that has been seen by The Valley crowd this season.
A valiant display at Bramall Lane following, and offering a suggestion that a platform is in place for a positive end to the campaign. At the very least, a base from which a few positive results can be picked up, and a finish lower than the Addicks have ever managed before can be avoided.
Though that the only hope for the remainder of the season is to continue to avoid a record low finish reaffirms how disastrous this campaign has been. Just four wins under Robinson’s stewardship, the play-offs 16 points away, and that run of eight games without a victory still hanging over the Addicks.
Peterborough look set to be without both goalscorers from December’s victory at The Valley, with Tafazolli and Edwards expected to miss Saturday’s fixture at London Road.
Defender Tafazolli is nearing a return from a groin injury, but this weekend will come too soon for him, while midfielder Edwards, who was mightily impressive in SE7, is a doubt with a knee injury.
There are also concerns over Tom Nichols, after the forward was withdrawn 21 minutes into Saturday’s victory over Gillingham with a hip injury. The 23-year-old is expected to return to training at the end of this week, but there remains uncertainty as to whether he’ll be fit enough to start at the weekend.
Should Nichols be unavailable, replacing him shouldn’t prove too much of a dilemma for McCann, with Morias the man who replaced him at Priestfields. A place in the starting XI reward for his match-winning strike.
Elsewhere, West Ham loanee Martin Samuelsen is available again having been away on international duty with Norway’s U21s, but Jermaine Anderson remains a doubt with a knee issue.
Despite being unavailable for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying victory over Norway, Josh Magennis is expected to be involved for Charlton’s trip to London Road this weekend.
The forward missed his country’s win with a reoccurrence of the hamstring problem that he suffered during the victory over Scunthorpe United at the start of March, but will be fit enough to feature in Robinson’s squad on Saturday. Whether Magennis, who hasn’t scored in his nine appearances that have followed his hat-trick against Bristol Rovers, is involved from the start is less certain.
There will also be a return to the squad for Jason Pearce, expected to feature for the first time since suffering a groin injury at Bradford in December. With minutes under his belt for the development side, there is a chance the experienced centre-back could come straight back into the starting XI, but it more likely Pearce will be eased back in, with Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira maintaining their places.
But Pearce’s expected return is timely, with the Addicks suffering another defensive injury. Ezri Konsa picking up a hamstring injury while away with England’s U20s, and is unlikely to feature at the weekend. The teenager joining Lewis Page, who is out for the remainder of the campaign following hamstring surgery, in being unavailable, while Chris Solly has started running again but remains a doubt.
Joe Aribo, however, is expected to return having missed the Bradford draw and Sheffield United defeat with a slight niggle.
KEY BATTLE – A FINISHING TOUCH IN THE FINAL THIRD
There certainly no embarrassment in coming away from Bramall Lane without points, but Charlton had every right to feel a degree of frustration following their defeat to Sheffield United a fortnight ago.
It the consequence of something that has haunted them throughout this campaign. Passages of positive play few and far between, and an inability to provide a touch of quality in the final third has made the few even fewer.
Konsa wasting a wonderful opportunity to draw the Addicks level midway through the second period, but it much more complex than simply wasting chances. It about getting into promising positions, and then failing to deliver a testing final ball or cheaply losing possession.
There no denying that Charlton have been incredibly tame throughout this campaign, and particularly so since the start of February. Even the fantastic performance against Bradford was tainted by Lee Novak and Tony Watt’s spectacular misses.
And so it’s vital that, at London Road and in the six fixtures that follow, the Addicks find a bit of potency in the final third. Make the most of the chances they create, and the positions they get into, instead of ending games feeling that a touch of greater quality would have earned them greater reward.
Failing to make chances tell a problem that Peterborough, with an abundance of creative midfielders but endless struggles in front of goal, have also suffered from, and so it might well be the case that the side who makes the most of their chances at the weekend comes away with the points.
Despite both sides having very little to play for, both have points to prove. A competitive encounter, particularly if the Addicks emulate the fight and determination shown in the fixtures prior to their enforced break. A chance of victory with greater potency, but a draw would be a reasonable result. Peterborough United 1-1 Charlton Athletic