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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Gillingham

With the fear of relegation seemingly quelled, in addition to the suggestion that Roland Duchatelet is looking to sell the club, the final three games of this season can’t pass quickly enough for supporters of Charlton Athletic.

An unbearable season certain to pass, and an unbearable period of ownership possibly about to come to an end. Three fixtures to grind out before the weight this campaign has left on the shoulders of supporters is lifted. Three fixtures remaining while, hopefully, the thought of Duchatelet clouds minds.

But there are three games still to play, and Karl Robinson’s side can’t simply ignore them. A need for the Addicks to fight, battle and maybe even play with a touch of quality in these remaining fixtures. If only to restore a touch of pride and prevent the pain that this campaign has caused from growing.

A need to respond to what was a disappointing performance at the Ricoh Arena on Friday, with Charlton fortunate to come away from Coventry with a point. Too many chances gifted to the Sky Blues, and the Addicks horribly sluggish. A need to show a bit more in these final three games.

And that beginning with the game against Gillingham on Easter Monday. An opposition who are still fighting to avoid being drawn into the bottom four. An opposition who will arrive in SE7 full of confidence

An opposition, therefore, that will arrive in SE7 with motivation and focus. The win for Ady Pennock’s side over Bristol Rovers on Friday far from securing their League One status, and further wins still required.

A repeat of the performance shown at the Ricoh unlikely to go unpunished for a second time in four days. A need for the Addicks to battle, despite having little to play for, and end the season with some degree of positivity.

LAST MEETING – GILLINGHAM 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (22/10/2016)

A stoppage-time penalty from Nicky Ajose rescued a point for a Charlton side seemingly set for a defeat that their weak performance would have warranted.

But long before all eyes were on the forward, placing the ball on the spot after Chris Heard had blocked a ball into the box with an outstretched hand, they were facing skyward. A plane flying over Priestfield with a banner attached to it that read ‘DUCHATELET & MEIRE #TIMETOFLY, much to the delight of the Charlton supporters in the away end.

Delight, however, was not something being provided closer to the ground. The sluggish first-half performance of Russell Slade’s side receiving the punishment it deserved four minutes before the interval, as former Charlton trainees combined to give the Gills the lead. Bradley Dack unchallenged as he headed home Paul Konchesky’s delivery.

And it seemed that the Addicks were destined to suffer defeat when they failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to draw level. Ricky Holmes seeing his second-half penalty, awarded after Ryan Jackson had bundled Fredrik Ulvestad to the ground at a corner, saved by Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson.

A side already without fluency threatening even less in the aftermath of that missed penalty, and further criticism for Slade as he replaced the hardworking Josh Magennis with Lee Novak as the Addicks chased for an equaliser that didn’t appear to be coming.

But with stoppage-time approaching, Heard’s loose hand as he challenged Jason Pearce for the ball gifted Charlton a second opportunity to draw level from the spot. And on this occasion, Ajose made no mistake. Sending Nelson the wrong way, and salvaging a fortuitous point for the Addicks.

FORM

Gillingham: WDLLLL

The two goals scored by Cody McDonald in dying embers of Friday’s clash with Bristol Rovers might well prove to be the most important goals of Gillingham’s season. Enough for a first win in six, and enough to give them a four point buffer between themselves and the bottom four.

For the Gills, such was the level of their performances in recent weeks combined with their lack of points, appeared to be one of the most likely candidates to drop out of the group just about maintaining a position of safety and into the relegation zone. Pennock’s management not convincing.

But the 3-1 win over Rovers, secured with McDonald scoring in the game’s final minute and then six minutes into stoppage-time, not only moves them away from the drop, but provides both the side and their supporters with belief than they can survive. That more games can be won to move themselves further away from the bottom four.

Not that one victory transforms a side, and supporters of the Gills will remain wary as they head to SE7. Concerned as to whether the side that failed to win in five will once again appear, while hoping that the side that secured a vital three points on Friday is the one that actually shows up.

Charlton: DWLLLD

The performance in victory over Southend United last weekend was supposed to provide the platform from which a positive end to the season would be achieved.

It not a display full of quality, but one full of energy and effort, and enough to earn a first win in six and only a second in 15. The sort of hard-working performance that supporters of the Addicks wanted to see in the remaining fixtures of a dreadful campaign.

Alas, that energy and effort was not on show at the Ricoh on Friday. A tried, lethargic, and lifeless performance only enough for Charlton to come away from the Midlands with something of a fortunate point.

And so, once again, Robinson’s side have put themselves into a position where they need to prove both their value and their commitment. A performance of increased quality needed against the Gills, and one that shows some energy and intensity.

But at least the point claimed does move the Addicks six points clear of the drop, and mean they’re all but safe with three games to play and plenty of teams between them and the bottom four. It hardly something to celebrate, and a reminder of how dire this season has been that it needs mentioning, but at least some panic has been eased.

THE OPPOSITION

Gillingham will welcome back Bradley Dack for the trip to SE7, with the influential midfielder available again having served out the two-game suspension he was given following his dismissal during the defeat to MK Dons at the start of the month.

But the Gills will remain without another man who spent time in Charlton’s academy set-up, with Scott Wagstaff likely to be out for the remainder of the season with an Achilles problem. A popular figure at The Valley and involved in the League One title winning campaign, Wagstaff would have received a warm reception had he been involved.

Further former academy members in Josh Wright, a scorer on Friday, and Oliver Muldoon are also to be found in Gillingham’s squad, and both likely to be involved in the matchday 18 on Monday, while former Charlton loanee Lee Martin started the victory over Bristol Rovers.

Elsewhere, Pennock will remain without injured duo Bradley Garmston and Aaron Morris, who continue to sit out with hamstring and knee issues respectively, while Zesh Rehman is a doubt having missed Friday’s win with a hamstring complaint.

THE ADDICKS

After he hobbled off with 12 minutes to play at the Ricoh on Friday, there’s a touch of doubt surrounding whether Holmes will be fit to play for the Addicks.

Joe Aribo replaced the winger against Coventry, but should Holmes not have recovered from his knock in time to face the Gills, then a genuine wide man will surely come into the side. Jordan Botaka the most likely man waiting in reserve.

But even if Holmes is available, Robinson might well revert to his policy of rotation after naming an unchanged XI for the first time since taking charge of the Addicks. Changes in the centre of midfield most likely, with the trio of Andrew Crofts, Ezri Konsa and Fredrik Ulvestad less than impressive on Good Friday. Johnnie Jackson, Jake Forster-Caskey and Aribo pushing for their places.

Elsewhere, Lee Novak remains doubtful with a groin problem, while Lewis Page is certain to miss out with the hamstring injury that is keeping him in the treatment room until pre-season.

KEY BATTLE – MAINTAINING POSSESSION IN THE MIDDLE

An increased importance on Robinson’s retaining possession isn’t necessarily a reflection of Gillingham’s ability in the centre of the park. Jake Hessenthaler, Mark Byrne and Josh Wright forming a trio of centre-midfielders on Friday that are certainly competent and dependable, but don’t strike fear into your stomachs.

The importance comes from how dire the Addicks where in possession at the Ricoh. The stats suggest Charlton spent more time on the ball than their opponents, but on countless occasions was it gifted to Coventry in weak fashion. Only Declan Rudd preventing the Sky Blues from taking advantage.

Wayward passes, touches too heavy, and seemingly more willing to begin attacks for the Sky Blues rather for themselves. A real lack of quality and composure in the middle.

And you would think that, with Gillingham coming into the game on the back of scoring three goals in a first victory in six, the opposition might not be so forgiving should the Addicks gift them possession on this occasion.

Changing personnel in the centre might be beneficial, but it as much about personnel as it is about shape and mentality. Robinson’s side without cohesion for long periods of the game at Coventry, too long was being taken on the ball, and there not enough forward mentality or intensity.

A collective improvement needed in the middle, for the Addicks to avoid placing themselves on the back foot once again.

PREDICTION

Was fairly confident of victory prior to Gillingham gaining some confidence and Charlton delivering another sluggish effort. Would still suggest we’re the side most likely to steal victory, but another uninspiring draw now appears to be on the cards. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Gillingham

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