As supporters of Charlton Athletic prepare to make their 23rd and final away trip of the League One season, you are reminded of just how torrid an experience it has been watching the Addicks at opposition grounds during this campaign.
Not to suggest it’s been any more enjoyable at a Valley that has rarely been anything more than disillusioned, but travelling to support this side has been rewarded on very few occasions. Four victories on the road all season, and none since January.
Uninspiring draws against beatable opposition and pathetic defeats where fight and determination has been lacking seen on far too many occasions. Five defeats and three draws making up the previous eight away games, which have included the embarrassing efforts at Oldham, Shrewsbury and Northampton.
And yet, those making the trip to Chesterfield will do so with a hint of expectation. Despite all that has gone before away from home, an expectation of victory.
Not simply because the Addicks are facing a side who have already had their relegation from League One confirmed. The Spireites’ defeat to Scunthorpe United on Monday meaning they will be playing in the fourth-tier next season.
But also because Karl Robinson’s side, somewhat unexpectedly, played with such energy, attacking intent and quality during Monday’s victory over Gillingham that it seems almost inconceivable for such a display not to be repeated against the division’s 23rd-placed club.
Alas, this side has come crashing down after promising performances before, and the numerous dreadful efforts on away trips will play on the minds of Charlton supporters as they head to Chesterfield as much as the excellent display during the 3-0 win over the Gills.
It leads to the question, are we going to end the season with a rare victory away from home? Anything but would add to the list of disappointments, and probably the list of embarrassments.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-0 CHESTERFIELD (29/10/2016)
A sluggish Charlton were rescued by Lee Novak, as the forward’s 86th minute header stole three points for the Addicks against his former club at The Valley in October.
Though Novak’s winner followed sustained, if tame and ultimately unthreatening, pressure on Chesterfield’s goal, Slade’s side struggled to get going and it was the visitors who created the better chances in the first half.
Ched Evans a constant menace, with Rudd required to deny the forward after he’d broken through on goal, while Dan Gardner created space for himself and struck the far post with his resulting shot.
And while Charlton would soon grow into the game and respond by striking the post themselves, as Nicky Ajose’s effort came back off the far post, it was a wasted opportunity that would sum up the frustrations to come. The forward simply had to score, and such wastefulness would be repeated throughout the game.
The Covered End’s grumbles growing louder throughout the second period as, despite taking relative control of the game, Slade’s side lacked attacking intent and struggled to threaten even when in promising positions. Ajose again guilty, as he headed Jordan Botaka’s delightful delivery horribly wide.
But the winner would finally come with four minutes remaining, as Novak did well to turn Ricky Holmes’ cross beyond Chesterfield stopper Ryan Fulton. The much-criticised forward controversially putting his ear to the Covered End as they celebrated, but the relief too great for many to care.
The three points, however, were not yet safe. Jay O’Shea, who would move to Sheffield United in January, seeing a shot taking a wicked deflection off Fredrik Ulvestad and wrong-footed Declan Rudd in the Charlton goal. The ball bouncing just wide.
But Slade’s side, despite their unconvincing performance, held on for three points.
Relegation was all but confirmed before Chesterfield travelled to Scunthorpe on Monday, and victory would have ultimately only prolonged their stay of execution by a day. But that not justification for the level of performance offered at Glanford Park.
For it’s the sort of situation where you want to see your side show some fight. Instead, the Spireites seemed to accept their fate before half-time, as they went in at the break 2-0 down. Gary Caldwell’s side offering very little fight, and only scoring a consolation goal in stoppage-time through Tom Anderson after the Iron had added a third.
It particularly infuriating for Chesterfield fans given that the defeat followed a capitulation at home to Southend United on Good Friday, with three goals in the space of 14 second-half minutes condemning Caldwell’s side to a 4-0 defeat. The brief glimmer of hope offered after beating fellow relegation-threatened club Port Vale quickly replaced by deep despair. Relegation confirmed without much of a fight.
And while the club have already started to look ahead to next season, admitting mistakes and focusing on rebuilding work, supporters of Charlton will vouch that admitting mistakes doesn’t actually hold much value.
While League Two football is uncertain, an uncertain time awaits for both the club and its supporters.
As the full-time whistle blew at The Valley on Easter Monday, a rare feeling of enjoyment spread around the ground provided by the performance of Robinson’s men.
With one of the most impressive attacking displays of the campaign, the Addicks had decimated a tame Gillingham side. Showing both attacking intent, and ruthlessness. Those in red worthy of the praise and applause they were receiving.
But so too, amid that joy, were you forced to fight off a feeling of frustration. With Charlton disappointing for much of the campaign, and having to fend off fears of relegation in recent weeks, where have performances like this been hiding? Why is it only now, when the victory means relatively little, that the Addicks were able to provide a performance of true quality?
For even at the start of this month, the performances from the Addicks were pathetic, and left you questioning whether those wearing red, and the man leading them, were committed to the cause. In fact, the display against Coventry on Good Friday was a poor one, and would have ended in defeat were it not for Declan Rudd.
Nonetheless, there will be no supporter complaining if the Addicks can build on the Gillingham performance with two further impressive performances in the remaining games of this dreadful season. Restore a touch of pride, or at least prevent fans from being inflicted with further suffering.
Said El Fitouri is unlikely to be involved for Chesterfield after the club confirmed that the defender would be facing internal disciplinary action.
El Fitouri, a former Manchester United youth player who joined the Spireites in February, effectively went missing over the Easter weekend having been given Thursday off to “attend to a personal matter”. The Libya international set to be fined, and facing an uncertain future.
External disciplinary action has also been dished out on a member of Caldwell’s squad, with Dion Donohue unavailable as he serves the second game of a three-match ban issued following his dismissal during the defeat to Southend.
Elsewhere, Rai Simons is a doubt having been withdrawn through injury during Monday’s fatal loss at Scunthorpe, Ched Evans remains out, while the confirmation of relegation may affect Caldwell’s team selection, with Chesterfield already looking ahead to next season.
17-year-old Charlie Wakefield made his debut from the bench on Monday, who replaced fellow youngster Joe Rowley, and both are likely to feature for the Spireites this weekend.
Charlton are likely to remain without Chris Solly after the full-back missed Monday’s victory over Gillingham through injury.
The academy graduate’s absence means Nathan Byrne will continue at right-back, with Robinson more than likely to name an unchanged XI for only the second time as boss of the Addicks.
Rotation in midfield, with Johnnie Jackson, Fredrik Ulvestad and Joe Aribo waiting in reserve, possible, but the individuals that performed so impressively against the Gills deserve to keep their places.
Elsewhere, Novak is unlikely to feature against his former club as he continues to struggle with a groin problem, while Lewis Page remains unavailable as a result of his season-ending hamstring injury.
KEY BATTLE – HAVING THE CORRECT MENTALITY
There many occasions this season where Charlton’s attitude has been question, not least by boss Robinson, but there no doubt the Addicks possessed the correct mentality during Monday’s win over Gillingham.
Not only playing with attacking intensity, but performing with commitment and energy at a time when they might well be able to get away with taking their feet even further off the gas. The threat of relegation all but passing, and the feeling around SE7 being that the sooner this season ends the better.
But instead, Robinson’s men performed with as much effort and drive as they have done at any other point this season. At points when there was more to play for than just pride.
You would expect the Addicks, therefore, to build upon their performance on Monday and continue to make attempts to prove their worth after such a dreadful campaign. To continue to have the correct mentality.
But it is easy to lack motivation for a trip to Chesterfield, with the threat of relegation quelled and little to play for. Easy not to perform in a fully-committed manner, as you remember this season remains a torrid failure, and its conclusion will come as a relief.
Much in the same way that it’s easy for Chesterfield to be without motivation now that their relegation has been confirmed, particularly with the likelihood being that many of the members of their squad won’t remain going into next season.
A job on Caldwell’s hands to make sure his players are committed and perform in their final two games, despite their fate being sealed and the mood around the club hardly being a positive one.
As such, their a need for both sides to focus themselves and perform with a fully committed attitude, despite both their seasons effectively ending prematurely and in disappointment.
No away win since January 28th? Well, we didn’t have a clean sheet since January 14th until Monday. Chesterfield 1-2 Charlton Athletic