There should be a single focus at The Valley on Tuesday night. A focus that leaves football itself playing second fiddle. A focus that totally diminishes football’s importance.
For Tuesday’s fixture against MK Dons should merely be existing as a platform from which to honour PC Keith Palmer. The Charlton Athletic season ticket holder who lost his life in the Westminster terrorist attack. It should be a night that’s all about him.
And as much as possible, the club have taken numerous steps to ensure PC Palmer will receive the memorial he warrants, going beyond the traditional minute’s silence in moments of sadness. Half of all ticket sales being donated to his family, the players contributing their match fees, and PC Palmer’s warrant number. ‘P204752’, to feature on Charlton’s shirts. A permanent memorial alongside the Sam Bartram statue to follow.
Supporters, too, endeavouring to make sure PC Palmer is honoured in the manner he deserves. Those that have rarely attended The Valley this season, turned away by the actions of the club’s poisonous ownership, returning to pay their respects. Many more Addicks than usual expected to be in appearance.
But Charlton’s incompetence means that the importance of game itself cannot be lost. For shirking the importance of it would be to ignore the very real threat of relegation to League Two that faces Karl Robinson. A threat formed by a combination of Roland Duchatelet’s regime, intent on inflicting failure and destruction, and a group of Addicks lacking both quality and character.
Just four points between themselves and the bottom four following Saturday’s disastrous defeat to Peterborough United with six games to play. The bottom four of League One. It quite remarkable that this club has been allowed to find itself in such a position.
It has regained an enormous amount of pride in its efforts to honour PC Palmer. But it continues to attract only embarrassment with regards to all footballing matters. From dire performances to incompetent ownership and club representatives insulting supporters.
There will be a feeling of pride as PC Palmer is remembered. Pride that will quickly turn to pain if the Addicks are unable to salvage a positive result.
LAST MEETING – MK DONS 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (26/12/2016)
Karl Robinson, on his second return to Stadium MK following an FA Cup replay defeat two weeks previously, earned his first victory as Charlton boss with a hard-fought single-goal win over his former employers on Boxing Day.
Robinson’s first, and Ademola Lookman’s last. The teenager scoring the winning goal in his final game as an Addick before making his January departure to Everton.
Lookman’s 38th minute strike, a rare moment of quality in an incredibly scrappy Charlton performance, giving the visitors a lead their performance probably didn’t warrant. MK much the better side, and wasting a number of openings, prior to falling behind.
But the Addicks were rewarded for showing the potency the hosts had been lacking. Andrew Crofts’ defence-splitting ball sending Lookman through, and the winger finishing emphatically across the face of goal.
The pattern of the game not changing thereafter, however, as Robinson’s side remained error-prone and on the back foot. Rarely did they look like adding to their single-goal advantage, and never did that single-goal advantage look truly safe.
But a determined, if somewhat unconvincing, effort from the Addicks was enough to protect their lead and earn Robinson his first three points four games into his tenure as Charlton manager.
MK Dons: WDWLDL
Dean Lewington’s stoppage-time winner, after the side he captains had thrown away a two-goal lead again and seemingly two points, against Gillingham on Saturday, brought about relief to the occupiers of Stadium MK in two different ways.
The first obviously being that a damaging capitulation had been everted, and that the pain of Gills’ last-minute equaliser from the spot had been replaced by the joy of a late winner. A relief that those two points were not lost.
But the second is arguably a much greater form of relief. For Lewington’s late nod towards goal has all but secured MK Dons’ third tier status. The gap between themselves and the bottom four, having gained seven points from their previous three games, now a comfortable seven points with six to play.
In truth, neither under the stewardship of Robinson or Nielson have MK ever appeared genuine relegation contenders. But nor have they ever been able to move themselves away from the bottom four to the extent that the drop could be ruled out. An important header from the skipper.
It not, however, cause for celebration. That the Milton Keynes club have responded to last season’s relegation from the Championship by spending almost the entirety of this campaign in League One’s bottom half can only be seen as failure and disappointment. Even since the removal of Robinson and the introduction of Nielson, form has rarely been more than indifferent.
But there is trust in Nielson, who has the opportunity in these final six games to lay a foundation for a more positive campaign next time around.
A performance that first of all lacked quality in front of goal, then lacked fluency in possession, before ultimately lacking any degree of composure or fighting quality in defence contributed to Charlton’s 2-0 defeat at Peterborough on Saturday. A 13th loss of the season, 13 games passing with only one victory obtained, and performances of embarrassment outnumbering those of encouragement.
In fact, only two teams – the bottom two- have won less games than the Addicks this campaign. Quite startling for a club who were supposed to be finishing in the top six as an absolute minimum. Or at least that’s what their supporters were promised.
There a very real reason why Robinson’s side sit in a position where their future in League One is not secure, that accompanies the damage done by Duchatelet. They haven’t been good enough. They haven’t showed enough quality. They haven’t fought hard enough.
To the extent that despite Charlton’s run in seeing them face four of the division’s bottom five, there isn’t the confidence there should be that this side will claim the required points to secure their third-tier status.
For this Charlton side shouldn’t be four points from the bottom four with six to play. This Charlton side has disappointed and disgraced on countless occasions throughout this campaign. This Charlton side have offered few signs to suggest that placing faith in them will be rewarded.
The worry of relegation, until the points required are picked up, is perfectly justified. That the worry of relegation exists is completely unjustifiable. A disaster of a campaign for a club; a disaster of a club.
Nielson will have to make do without George Williams (who I met in a motorway service station McDonalds after our defeat to Oldham, which is exciting) after the defender was dismissed having given away the last-minute Gillingham penalty on Saturday. His one-game suspension to be served on Tuesday.
Paul Downing the man most likely to come in at centre-back and replace Williams, though an alternative option is to move Dean Lewington inside and hand a start to young full-back Callum Brittain, who was on the bench at the weekend. Scott Wootton, still rehabilitating after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in September, another unavailable centre-back.
Elsewhere, forward Dean Bowditch will be pushing for a starting spot having returning to the squad on Saturday after illness, and midfielder Chuks Aneke remains absent with a hamstring injury that has cut short his season.
Tony Watt is a doubt for the Addicks after the forward was withdrawn midway through Saturday’s second half with an ankle injury that almost prevented him from starting at London Road.
And should the Scot be unavailable, then Charlton’s starting XI is unlikely to feature either of the forwards that started against Peterborough. Lee Novak dealing with a groin niggle, but his performance not good enough to maintain his place in the side regardless of his fitness. Josh Magennis almost certain to come in, but with Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Brandon Hanlan the only other alternatives in attack a change in formation might be enforced.
Concern, too, that Johnnie Jackson, who battled valiantly at London Road, might not be available having been withdrawn early on during the second period. This the sort of high-pressure game that really requires the captain’s influence.
But there hope that Chris Solly, who was in contention for a return on Saturday following injury but didn’t feature, will be available for the first time since the defeat to Oxford United nine games ago.
Ezri Konsa, however, is likely to remain absent with the hamstring injury sustained while away with England’s U20s, sitting the game out alongside Lewis Page, whose hamstring tear has ended his season.
KEY BATTLE – WITH THEMSELVES
In many ways, Charlton inflicted defeat upon themselves at London Road on Saturday. If not through Novak’s horrendous miss midway through the first half, then most certainly in their response to falling behind.
In the 15 minutes that preceded the Addicks allowing Martin Samuelsen to convert the simplest of chances, they were already showing signs of capitulation. Growing increasingly weak in possession, offering little composure in defence, and finding themselves more and more on the back foot.
In the 16 minutes that followed falling behind, the capitulation was emphatic, and not merely a consequence of Peterborough doubling their lead. The response an embarrassing one, with no fight and determination in an effort to claim something from the game. The attitude of those in red suggesting they had accepted defeat.
That far from the first time this campaign where falling behind has been followed by the weakest of responses. Where the attitude of those in red has simply not been good enough. Where there has not been the willingness to battle in testing circumstances.
And Tuesday’s game, irrespective of whether the Addicks find themselves behind at any time, is a testing circumstance. A set of supporters as enraged as ever after Saturday’s debacle that need to be impressed, and a bottom four that needs to be moved away from.
There’s pressure on Robinson’s side, and pressure is something they have largely responded to by crumbling. His former employers will take great pleasure in capitalising upon the faults of his current side. The Addicks fighting against themselves as much as they are themselves, and their mentalities.
Show some fight. Show some character. Show that they’re capable of achieving a result and delivering a performance in testing circumstances. No excuses.
Struggling to see a response to Saturday’s debacle. Charlton Athletic 0-1 MK Dons