Trips to Lancashire for Charlton Athletic last season saw some rather desperate displays, and provided very minimal reward. In fact, the scars from defeats at Bury and Oldham Athletic, where the Addicks travel to this weekend, can still be felt.
But the positive start made by the Addicks to this campaign, in addition to Karl Robinson’s side collecting their first away points of the season last weekend, means the need to visit the Red Rose county offers no fears. Existing only is the belief that this Charlton side will continue to build upon this encouraging beginning, and return south with three additional points. Confidence in complete contrast to what it was around the time of, for example, the previous visit to Oldham’s Boundary Park.
In fact, it the Latics who have the confidence concerns ahead of Saturday’s clash. Confidence, and a lack of functioning body parts among a small squad. John Sheridan’s side starting the season with five defeats in five in all competitions, and suffering the embarrassment of being able to name just three substitutes for their 2-1 defeat to Blackpool last Saturday.
And so it certainly not ideal timing for Oldham to be facing this strengthening Charlton force, who travel to Boundary Park having displayed fantastic attacking football against Northampton Town before grinding out victory over Rotherham United. It seems that the outcome of Saturday’s game might well be pre-determined.
But the Addicks, who will be weakened slightly anyway with Josh Magennis and Jay Dasilva on international duty, will need to only look back at those grim defeats in Lancashire last season to know that a failure to perform will be punished. Punished by an Oldham side who, given the state they find themselves in, will be desperate to prove a point.
A point, however, they shouldn’t be allowed to prove if Robinson’s side perform with the same defensive determination and attacking fluency of previous weeks. A level of performance that supporters want to continue to see, and want to see enough of to believe it’s simply par for this Charlton side.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 1-0 CHARLTON ATLETIC (14/02/17)
Oldham broke Charlton hearts on Valentine’s Day as Ollie Banks’ early strike ultimately punished a sluggish and wasteful performance from Karl Robinson’s side at Boundary Park last season.
The Addicks, however, should have found themselves ahead with barely a minute played. Jake Forster-Caskey sending Josh Magennis clean through on goal, the forward having all the time in the world to finish, but his shot fired straight at Oldham goalkeeper Connor Ripley.
A wasted opportunity that proved particularly costly as the Latics took the lead with just four minutes played. Untidy Charlton defending allowing Chris Taylor to tee up Banks, who finished superbly. The Oldham midfielder striking into the far corner with the outside of his boot from the edge of the box.
The relegation threatened Latics immediately retreating, making it quite apparent their objective was to protect their lead for 86 minutes and little more. But, for all the possession and play they were afforded in the opposition’s half, the Addicks lacked any real cutting edge. So much so that Oldham’s Peter Clarke, in rising highest to meet a corner and seeing his header bounce back off the post, came closest to scoring the game’s second goal.
A theme that continued into the second half, as Robinson’s men lacked any sort of genuine threat or potency despite dominating the overall play, while the Latics came close on the counter. Forster-Caskey giving Ripley some work to do, but Oldham’s ‘keeper rarely tested by this wasteful group of Addicks, and defeat would have been confirmed had Declan Rudd not saved well from Oldham’s Taylor.
In fact, it wasn’t until the game’s final moments when a strong intervention was forced out of Ripley. The goalkeeper’s fingertips preventing Lee Novak’s glancing header from finding the far corner. But this sluggish Charlton performance did not warrant an equaliser.
The start John Sheridan’s men have made to the season has been record-breaking. No previous Oldham side have lost their first five games in all competitions from the commencing of a campaign. Reflective of a side that’s underperforming, but so too a side that’s entered the season without being shaped and sculpted anywhere near completion.
They didn’t need an injury crisis, one that left Sheridan able to name just three players on the bench for their weekend defeat to Blackpool, to prove their squad lacked bodies. But it certainly helped prove a point. The Latics are in a concerning state.
A 90th-minute Walsall winner in the second League One game of the season, a game in which Oldham took the lead, is as close as the Latics have come to both taking a point from a contest and successfully competing. The deficit, two by the time 15 minutes had passed, halved at Bloomfield Road on Saturday, but Sheridan’s decimated side always one foot off the pace.
And time is running out for the issues with Oldham’s squad to be addressed, on two fronts. The transfer window of course closes on Thursday night, but talk of investment into the club from Dubai-based agent Abdallah Lemsagam has hung around for quite some time. Completing some sort of deal before the transfer deadline may allow Sheridan to strengthen a side that so desperately requires it.
If not, then Sheridan must battle on with limited resources. He managed to maintain the Latics’ League One status last season, arriving in January and pulling them away from the bottom four in impressive fashion. But this appears an even harder challenge.
They certainly rode their luck, but it was ultimately a clinical edge in front of goal and a steely determination in defence that meant the Addicks came away from Rotherham United’s New York Stadium with their first away league win of the season last season.
Jamie Proctor should have given the Millers the lead, Semi Ajayi and Kieffer Moore were both wasteful, and questions were asked after it appeared that Chris Solly fouled Proctor in the build-up to Charlton’s second goal, but that things went the way of Robinson’s side didn’t diminish from the effort and character shown.
Two genuine chances offered, with Patrick Bauer left unmarked to power home a corner and Josh Magennis converting from Ricky Holmes’ delivery, and two genuine chances taken as Rotherham wasted anything that fell their way. When the Millers were searching for a route back into the game, they were so often thwarted by the excellent Bauer and Jason Pearce at centre-back. The visitors not as fluent as they were in their mightily impressive display against Northampton Town, but showing an equal amount of fight to record a different type of victory.
A third league victory in four, that not only provides the perfect foundation from which to build at the start of this season, but has also offered supporters genuine belief that this side can compete for promotion. Promise in attack, character and quality at the back, and ultimately signs that this group knows how to win games of football.
Such is the extent of Oldham’s injury troubles, Sheridan was able to name just three substitutes for last weekend’s defeat to Blackpool, and an international call-up means one of those that managed to take to the field at Bloomfield Road won’t at Boundary Park on Saturday.
Full-back Cameron Dummigan has been called up to Northern Ireland’s U21 squad, and he’ll be absent alongside Ryan McLaughlin, who is involved with the senior Northern Ireland side having missed last weekend’s defeat with a slight niggle.
And with none of the weekend absentees returning for the Checkatrade Trophy clash with Port Vale in midweek, it likely that the Latics will again be low on numbers as they welcome Charlton this Saturday. Young defender Jamie Stott (back) midfield pair Ryan Flynn and Paul Green (Achilles), and winger Tope Obadeyi and forward Craig Davies (hamstring) join summer arrivals Gyamfi Kyeremeh and Courtney Duffus in the treatment room.
But Sheridan will have Jack Byrne available, after the midfielder made his debut for the Latics in midweek having joined on loan from Wigan Athletic.
International call-ups mean Robinson will need to make changes to his league starting XI for the first time in four games, as the Addicks are left without a recognised left-back and their regular centre-forward.
Jay Dasilva’s efforts as captain of the England U19 side that won the European Championships in the summer have seen him called up to the U20s, while Josh Magennis joins Oldham’s McLaughlin and retains his regular spot in the Northern Ireland squad.
With Ezri Konsa, still eligible for England’s U20s but not picked, and the now departed Jordan Botaka often also required for international service last season, the Addicks had enough players away to call their fixtures off on international weekends. But with only two on duty this Saturday, one less than the necessary three, Robinson’s side will need to make do without Dasilva and Magennis. Two players that have impressed so far this campaign, and are difficult to replace.
Given that there’s no natural alternative to Dasilva, with Lewis Page still recovering from a long-term ankle problem, Johnnie Jackson may have to fill in at left-back. Robinson could also decide to move Chris Solly to the left side of defence, and hand a league debut to Anfernee Djiksteel after the youngster’s positive impressions in cup competition. But either option is a little uncomfortable.
While in attack, as Charlton’s search for additional forward options continues to frustrate both Robinson and supporters, the likely replacement for Magennis lacks the trust of supporters. Despite scoring against Norwich City in the League Cup recently, Lee Novak has struggled in Charlton colours, and lacks both the presence and potency that Magennis provides. International weekends only highlighting the need for another body up top.
Elsewhere, Mark Marshall and Harry Lennon remain in the treatment room, but Ben Reeves is pushing to be involved having appeared and scored in the Checkatrade Trophy win over Crawley Town in midweek.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH DISRUPTION TO THE STARTING XI
With the Addicks first playing with an impressive level of attacking fluency during their victory over Northampton Town, then showing a certain amount of character and resilience to record a hard-fought win over Rotherham United, disruption to their starting XI comes at a time when it seemed to have clicked into place.
A frustrating time, therefore, as you want to see Charlton’s strongest XI continue to perform and build up both belief and momentum. An XI that relies as heavily on each member that forms it for its strength. And an XI that unfortunately loses two of the more difficult players to replace, on the basis of what is available in reserve.
Magennis’ ability to hold up play and cause a threat inside the box, not least with often the Addicks utilise the flanks going forward, is vital, while Dasilva’s contributions both defensively and when joining in on the counter have belonged to a left-back much older than 19. The focal point of Charlton’s forward line lost, with pressure on Novak who will likely slot in, and some untidy reshuffling required at the back that will leave someone unfamiliar to the left-back role starting there.
It not to say that Robinson’s side don’t have the quality to contend with such disruption – their first win of the season over Bristol Rovers came without Magennis and without an 11th man for much of the game – but it’s certainly an annoyance.
At least the fixture list has been kind to the Addicks. It would be more accurate to say that Oldham’s starting XI, both through injury and international call-ups, has been bulldozed rather than disrupted. They not looking to fill in holes within a fluent unit, but scramble together something in which there is little faith of useful functioning.
But, with two important cogs absent that Charlton’s somewhat restricted options in reserve make difficult to replace, it will be interesting to see if Robinson’s side can maintain the same level of defensive stubbornness and attacking fluency.
Glad we’re not facing tougher opposition, for the absentees might well be felt in other circumstances. Oldham’s start to the campaign, along with absentees of their own, suggests victory should still be a comfortable one. Oldham Athletic 0-2 Charlton Athletic
The noise made by those occupying the New York Stadium’s away end loud for the duration of the afternoon. Little motivation required for the visiting Charlton Athletic supporters to break into song. Every positive moment embraced and appreciated.
But the universally shared ironic cheers as it was announced that Rotherham United’s Kieffer Moore had been named sponsors’ man of the match was probably the most telling sound made by those who had travelled from the south.
Not only highlighting the position of strength the Addicks were able to boast, mocking the notion that the Millers could name a man of the match despite having not long conceded a second goal, but also the contribution Moore had made in the two-goal gulf between the two sides. The Ipswich loanne probably given his personal accolade for his aerial presence and boisterous physical play, but he part of a Rotherham attack that failed to punish Charlton when opportunities were offered. Part of a Rotherham side that were undone by a clinical group of Addicks, who took advantage of their opposition’s frailties.
For what was ultimately a relatively comfortable victory for Karl Robinson’s men might not have been the case had the hosts shown any sort of composure in front of goal. Moore guilty of being wasteful on several occasions as the game progressed, but it his striker partner who wasted Rotherham’s best opening with eight minutes played and the scores still level. Jamie Proctor, having been teed up by Moore, needing only to tap the ball into a near-empty net, but somehow managing to skew the ball wide.
So it came somewhat against the run of play when Patrick Bauer rose above Rotherham’s red shirts to power home Jake Forster-Caskey’s corner with 16 minutes gone. The Millers leaving the German in far too much space, and Bauer offering emphatic punishment. Something Rotherham weren’t able to do when Charlton’s defensive sluggishness offered them a gift.
And with that, the visitors began to find their feet. The fluent attacking play, seen during the impressive victory over Northampton Town seven days ago, returned and confidence spread. The course of the contest completely altered on two moments in front of goal.
The Addicks, however, far from being in control. While the Cobblers had created chances last weekend, the nature of Charlton’s dominance meant you always felt confident their football would be rewarded. That wasn’t the case here, as Robinson’s men got forward well without creating, and the Millers continued to create without converting as the second half progressed.
In fact, had a breaking Moore looked up and seen that Proctor was unmarked inside the box, the Millers might well have drawn level. The forward instead opting to shoot, his effort comfortably saved by Ben Amos, and his strike-partner quite visibly frustrated. His frustration replaced by pain of various varieties just five minutes later.
For Proctor was involved in a collision with Chris Solly in the centre of the pitch as the Addicks broke forward, Rotherham appealed desperately for a foul as their forward lay in a heap on the ground, but their appeals fell on deaf ears as Ricky Holmes beat Joe Mattock and found himself in a crossing position. His delivery flighted perfectly to the back post, and Josh Magennis able to convert to the delight of the visiting supports and the fury of the home fans and players. Proctor ultimately carried away on a stretcher, but again the Addicks had taken advantage of a situation where the Millers had seemingly switched off, after the hosts had wasted many.
Victory sealed from the moment Magennis’ header crossed the line despite 24 minutes still to play, and the signalling of nine additional minutes bringing about slight worries of a Charlton capitulation. In part because Rotherham were crushed, and in part because they looked even less confident in front of goal than they had previously. But largely because those who defended the Addicks’ goal had discovered a determination and defiance, benefiting from the Millers’ earlier wastefulness as much as anyone else.
The pleasing attacking play and fight at the back when placed under pressure lauded, even if an element of good fortune was involved in setting up the result. Regardless, when the chances came Charlton’s way, they were taken, and a clinical and warranted victory was claimed.
And it mattered little to those who celebrated the first away points of the season come full-time. The away end as loud as it had been throughout the game, drained players just about finding enough energy to applaud the support, and Robinson enjoying the moment as much as each Addick in the New York Stadium. The positive signs are growing.
Already existing positive signs that meant confidence of victory was felt pre-game, and was only reaffirmed with Robinson able to name an unchanged XI from the comprehensive win over Northampton Town seven days ago. Knowledge that this Rotherham side, who started with Charlton academy graduate Semi Ajay, had beaten Southend United 5-0 in their previous home outing, but nothing to fear.
In fact, before the game had entered its second minute, the Millers were shown it was they who should be spending their afternoon on the backfoot and in fear, struggling to contend with the pace of the Addicks on the break. Tariqe Fosu bursting forward, and always a yard ahead of Ajayi, leaving the robust centre-back with little choice but to drag Charlton’s wide man down before he drove into a shooting position. Rotherham’s wall deflecting Forster-Caskey’s resulting free-kick over the bar.
But, despite getting the away end into full voice, Fosu’s run was not the catalyst for a positive Addicks start. It probably a Holmes shot, slipping as he poked tamely into the hands of Millers stopper Richard O’Donnell via a deflection, that foreshadowed the opening 15 minutes with greater accuracy. The visitors beginning uncomfortably, and without the composure and energetic movement that made their efforts against the Cobblers so impressive.
A warning sign for the Addicks as Joe Newell’s free-kick was met by far too easily by Moore, but the forward not able to generate enough power behind his header. Amos with enough time to get down and claim the nod towards goal. It, however, a warning that wasn’t acted upon.
For a minute later, Moore had taken advantage of Kashi’s misplaced pass to get in behind Charlton’s backline down the right. Time and space to pick out Proctor in the middle, beating Solly and Amos with his driven pass as he did, but the forward somehow managing to scuff an effort wide from a matter of yards. A horror miss for the Millers, a real let off for the Addicks, and confirmation that vast improvement was very quickly needed.
But still there was no intensity to Charlton’s overall play, and the defence continued to look incredibly fragile. Those in blue stationary as Moore turned with a touch of class on the edge of the box, and thankful that they saw his resulting effort struck comfortably for Amos to save. All too simple for Paul Warne’s side, and the Addicks a touch fortunate they weren’t showing greater quality in front of goal.
More than anything else, therefore, it came as a relief to just have the ball in the Rotherham half of the pitch when a Charlton corner was won with 16 minutes played. To test their defensive line would merely have been a bonus. But the Addicks certainly offered a test; a test the Millers had no answer to.
For Bauer cleverly peeled away from his marker, meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery perfectly. A fair distance away from goal, the big German still needed to get a degree of power behind the ball, and he managed to superbly power his header into the far bottom corner, well beyond the reach of O’Donnell. Coming against the run of play, and as quite a shock given the pressure Charlton’s uncomfortable start had meant they’d been placed under, but there a confidence this goal would give the Addicks the boost they required, in addition to the lead.
And that appeared to be the case. The Addicks looking a lot more comfortable on the ball, the pace in the side being exploited, and deliveries asking more questions of Rotherham’s backline. The hosts, as they now found themselves thwarted by a more disciplined defence, beginning to get a little frustrated.
But despite Charlton looking more comfortable, and edging towards the quality they had shown in their performance seven days ago, genuine chances were still few. Billy Clarke lashing the ball goalwards via the crossbar, but long after he’d been adjudged offside, was about as close as the Addicks got to creating something meaningful despite looking threatening in their bursts forward.
Rotherham, on the other hand, were struggling to retain possession in the final third and becoming more and more reliant on aimless long balls in the general direction of Moore, but created an opportunity that should have been draw level with just over half an hour played. Ajayi coming in unmarked at the back post from a corner, but diverting his header wide. Not quite as simple a chance as Proctor’s, but still one that really should have been taken.
The opportunity, coming out of nothing, the beginning of a spell for the Millers that saw them create a number of decent chances to equalise. Amos’ fingertips preventing Moore’s delivery from finding Proctor in the centre, Moore mis-hitting horribly after doing superbly to bring down Frecklington’s delivery, and the robust forward heading straight at Charlton’s goalkeeper from Ryan Williams’ delivery when he should have done better. Just a slight concern that maybe the Addicks should be doing more with their promising attacking play.
So, of course, Holmes attempted to provide the answers. Having not since fired comfortably over the bar from distance, the winger again tried his luck from range but this time drawing a superb save out of Rotherham stopper O’Donnell. The curling effort heading for the far corner without the goalkeeper’s intervention.
But that the half-time whistle blew with the Addicks still holding their single-goal advantage was almost as sweet as it being doubled before the end of the first period. This far from a fluent Charlton display, and their lead constantly threatened, so to head in at the interval a goal up was huge in the context of this affair. A more potent Rotherham would no doubt emerge after the break, and so a more structured and solid group of Addicks needed to line-up for the second period.
So while Rotherham beginning the half on the front foot hardly settled nerves, the response of Robinson’s side was pleasing. Testing balls into the box dealt with, and the Millers denied the opportunity to create genuine chances having got themselves in good positions. The Addicks standing firm, or at least firmer than they had during periods of the first half.
Greater defensive resilience offering hope that a second goal, despite more than half an hour remaining, would kill the game off. A second the Addicks were inches away from when Holmes driven ball across the face of goal evaded the feet of all, not least Magennis, in the centre. Agonisingly close to settling the worry, but instead only increasing it.
For there certainly an end-to-end nature to the contest, and a sense the next goal would be vital. Moore desperately close to turning in a rare Rotherham delivery that Charlton’s defence simply couldn’t deal with, before Michael Ihiekwe’s deflection took all the pace off Holmes’ effort at the other end and made for a comfortable O’Donnell save.
But just beyond the hour, in this game of relative half-chances that sat on a knife edge, Rotherham found themselves with an opportunity to punish the Addicks. Moore busting through on goal, with the shot on but the angle tight, and Proctor unmarked in the centre. The forward opting to shooting, an effort that Amos was able to claim at the second attempt, when a square ball to Proctor would have surely been converted even with his earlier horror miss in mind.
While Proctor was still throwing his hands about in frustration, and probably quite rightfully, Magennis had thrown everything behind an effort towards goal form the best part of 30 yards. His strike flashing only narrowly wide. The margins in this contest remaining narrow with 61 minutes played.
Or at least they would remain narrow for five more minutes, as the game’s decisive goal was struck, and Charlton’s advantage was doubled.
Fury around the New York Stadium as the visitors’ attack continued while Proctor lay injured, the consequence of what appeared a fairly legitimate coming together with Solly, but Rotherham seemingly half-expected the whistle to blow while Charlton drove forward in ruthless manner. Mattock weak, allowing Holmes to burst through him, and the delivery from the talismanic winger was pinpoint. Beyond O’Donnell and his defenders, though perfectly placed for Magennis to nod over the line and give the Addicks what seemed an unassailable lead.
But complacency would allow Rotherham the opportunity to halve their deficit, and a halved deficit would set up a conclusion to this contest that had seemingly been avoided by the scoring for the second goal. Halved it would have been if not for Amos, who saved superbly from Ajayi, latching onto a loose ball following a Rotherham set-piece.
In fact, Ajayi’s presence meant the Addicks couldn’t quite celebrate victory just yet. The academy graduate heading wide from a Newell free-kick, before Newell himself came close to scoring in bizarre fashion, as his overhit cross needed a diving header from Kashi to prevent it from going straight in. The Algerian throwing himself into the net in the process, but you’d expect nothing less.
And while Rotherham flung balls into Charlton’s box with regularity in the game’s remaining moments, including the additional nine minutes, the Addicks showed great determination and character to stand firm. Bauer and Jason Pearce equalling Kashi’s resolve, and Amos continuing to claim anything his centre-backs didn’t. A very weak effort from substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris, comfortably held by Amos, and an effort dragged wide by Newell both deep into stoppage time about as close as a demoralised Rotherham got to getting back into the game.
But this a game that, though for some time was quite evidently in the balance, now belonged to the Addicks. The Addicks that rode their luck, that showed the clinical nature their opponents didn’t, and had shown fight and determination when it mattered. And the Addicks who celebrated, both on the pitch and in the away end, with real pride and enjoyment come full-time.
For there’s no question that good fortune was involved in Charlton’s victory, and there’s no doubt that there will be Rotherham fans cursing their side’s misfortune (and horrendous finishing).
The complexity of the game is totally different if Rotherham score one of the many good chances they created when the game was goalless, or when the Addicks had only a single-goal lead. There was a defensive sluggishness at times today, or at least faults within Charlton’s shape that the Millers were able to expose, but no able to punish.
But that takes nothing away from an excellent performance. An excellent performance in response to being placed under pressure. Clinical, determined and hearty.
Robinson’s men taking the chances that the opposition weren’t able to. There was the attacking quality, those lightning fast counters, on display once again if only in patches. The defence, is shaky in periods, grew stronger as the game progressed, showing great fight in the second period and Amos excelling in his command of the box.
But maybe the most pleasing thing is that we’re winning games this when in previous campaigns previous Charlton sides would have undoubtedly wilted under pressure. Whether with assistance from good fortune or not, we’re battling. We’re showing superb fight.
So too is it promising that there’s obviously still room for improvement. The side is winning games while showing a few faults, and performing a little inconsistently. That can only be a good thing.
The side is slowly moving from one with potential to one that will certainly challenge. Wining in different ways, under different circumstances.
Despite a young side suffering a heavy defeat at Norwich City in the League Cup during the week, Charlton Athletic travel to the New York Stadium this weekend with the confidence gained from inflicting a heavy defeat remaining untainted.
For while the 4-1 defeat in Norfolk was humbling for a much-changed Addicks XI, it the 4-1 victory over Northampton Town that holds greater importance. Karl Robinson’s full-strength side displaying excellent attacking football at The Valley last Saturday, and showing a potency that had been absent from the defeat to Plymouth Argyle. A performance of real promise.
And so, it understandable that there a demand for more of the same. Having seen such an impressive effort from this group of Addicks, there hope that they have already clicked, and an expectation that performances of similar quality will be repeated throughout the season. A belief, too, that the Cobblers win has set the tone, and those sorts of displays will be seen again.
Not least against a side who lost 33 of their 46 league games last season, finishing bottom of the Championship and suffering relegation with just 23 points to their name. The expectation for Rotherham is that bouncing back from such a catastrophic season won’t be simple, and they’ll find themselves struggling again.
But having such a view of the Millers is simply lazy. The squad has been revamped, Paul Warne offered support after enduring a torrid period as interim boss last season, and occupiers of the New York Stadium no longer expecting defeat before they’ve even taken their seat. This not the club it was in the previous campaign.
And in a testing start to the campaign, Rotherham have shown positive signs. Premier League Huddersfield Town given a game in the League Cup during the week, while defensive errors saw an encouraging performance end without reward in their trip to Peterborough United last Saturday, but both following a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Southend United. This group of Millers, though still searching for points away from home, are intent on leaving the events of the previous season in the past.
The Addicks full of confidence, and an expectation of victory existing. But any sort of complacency will be punished, and a strong performance will be required to come away from Yorkshire with the points.
LAST MEETING – ROTHERHAM UNITED 1-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (30/01/2016)
Charlton recorded their first win in 12 – and what would ultimately be their only win in 17 – games with a comprehensive 4-1 victory at the New York Stadium in January 2016.
Occupying a place in the bottom three and with four points separating them and Rotherham, who sat in the final position of safety, the trip to Yorkshire was something of a must win for the Addicks. Not something there was much confidence in being able to achieve, with the visitors coming into the game on the back of 11 games without victory, and having lost 5-0 to Huddersfield Town and 6-0 to Hull City in their previous two away games.
But Jose Riga, three games into his second spell as Charlton boss following Karel Fraye’s sacking, saw his disjointed and demoralised side make the perfect start. The much-maligned Simon Makienok involved in the build-up, as he played Johnnie Jackson’s ball into the path of Zakarya Bergdich, and the goal itself, finishing superbly having been teed up by Bergdich. An advantage for the Addicks with four minutes played.
Alas, a positive result was in serious doubt just seven minutes as Rotherham levelled. Charlton’s backline first of all struggling to clear their lines as the ball bounced around inside their own half, before offering far too much space as the Millers drove forward, ultimately allowing Chris Burke to convert. It not so much the fact that the hosts had equalised that brought about concern, but how this fragile group of Addicks would react.
With a minute to play until half-time, however, Riga’s men regained their lead. The pace and strength of Johann Berg Gudmundsson too much for Kirk Broadfoot, leaving him in a heap, and the Icelandic winger able to deliver across the face of goal for Igor Vetokele to tap home. The hope of victory returning, primarily on the basis of how well the visitors had responded to conceding.
And their victory was effectively sealed with 21 minutes to play. Gudmundsson’s corner picking out Makienok’s 6’6 frame, and the Dane powerfully heading beyond Lee Camp in the Rotherham goal.
But Rotherham were offered the opportunity to get back into the game with 16 minutes remaining, as Jorge Teixeira dragged down Jonson Clarke-Harris inside the box and referee Keith Stroud immediately awarded a penalty. Clarke-Harris stepping up to take the penalty, but ballooning the ball well over the bar.
And the hosts’ misery, as much as Charlton’s joy, was added to deep into stoppage-time. Gudmundsson sending Ademola Lookman through on goal, and the teenager finishing with typical composure and quality.
A win that was meant to start a revival, and see the Addicks begin to climb away from the bottom three. But, with a rather pitiful relegation suffered at the end of the campaign, it mattered little.
The wait for an away victory, now 27 league games long, may continue, but a 5-0 win over Southend United in their first game at the New York Stadium back in the third tier suggests the Millers are capable of competing during this campaign.
A comprehensive 5-0 victory, a fair reflection of the Millers’ performance in the contest, over a Southend side that narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season and will be aiming for a top six finish during this campaign. Warne’s side boasting a four-goal advantage before the break, with Ipswich loanee Kieffer Moore netting a first-half hat-trick. The sort of performance, and win, required at the start of this season to build confidence after their torrid relegation from the Championship.
Alas, this much-changed Rotherham side are far from the finished product. Defensive concerns blighting their promising forward efforts, and a desperate need to end the away day hoodoo. Three very tough away games so far this season – against two sides that boast 100% League One records and one that has started life in the Premier League with two victories – and three defeats.
But even in those defeats away from the New York Stadium, there have been positives to take. Not least in the two that have occurred in the previous week. On top for periods at London Road, but defensive calamity ultimately allowing Peterborough United to claim the winner, while leading for more than 45 minutes at the John Smith’s Stadium, and pushing for an equaliser with genuine threat once Huddersfield Town had gained the advantage.
Greater reward for their efforts will be wanted, but in the circumstances Rotherham’s start to the campaign is largely an encouraging one.
Having wasted glorious openings during the first half of their defeat to Plymouth Argyle, then offered a sluggish and unthreatening effort during the second period, the four-goal win over Northampton Town last weekend was the perfect antidote to concerns about Charlton’s forward prowess.
Ricky Holmes emphatic finish on the hour doubling the lead that Josh Magennis had given the Addicks, while Marc Richards converting at the near post to half the visitors’ deficit with a little over ten to play was made meaningless by two stoppage-time strikes from Jake Forster-Caskey.
The late goals harsh on Northampton, who had competed for much of the contest, but a fair reflection of the quality in Charlton’s attacking efforts. For it not just the fact that they scored four goals that was impressive, but their overall efforts in getting forward. The ball moved quickly, movement off the ball excellent, and both creativity and quality in the final third.
Maybe just a slight question to answer this weekend about whether performances at The Valley can be replicated on the road, and still a little worry about how the Addicks react when chasing the game. Options in reserve still minimal for Robinson, and there was little available to him in order to inject life into his side as it struggled through the second period at Home Park.
But there no real reason why the Addicks can’t dictate and control games away from SE7.
Rotherham will remain without Jerry Yates, as the young forward continues to nurse a foot injury sustained during the Checkatrade Trophy penalty shootout defeat to Manchester City U23s.
But Yates is likely to be the only Rotherham body unavailable for selection this weekend, with Warne otherwise having a full squad of players to pick from.
That set to include former Millwall full-back Shaun Cummings, with the summer signing likely to be included in a league matchday squad for the first time having appeared in both Checkatrade Trophy and League Cup games. Cummings released by the Lions at the end of last season, and is being eased into the first team picture at the New York Stadium having not had a proper pre-season.
Former Addick Richard Wood is another who appeared in the midweek cup defeat at Huddersfield, and will be hoping to force himself into Warne’s League One plans.
Charlton are likely to be unchanged from their impressive league win over Northampton Town, but bodies do return to Robinson’s squad.
Lee Novak, dismissed during the victory over Bristol Rovers, is available for a league game for the first time since serving his suspension having appeared and scored at Carrow Road on Tuesday, while Andrew Crofts has completed his three-game ban following his red card received in the League Cup win over Exeter City.
There could also be a return to the matchday squad for Ben Reeves, who has missed the previous three games with a calf complaint. The playmaker, signed from MK Dons prior to the start of the season, hasn’t had a proper pre-season. A combination of that and his injury niggle has meant Reeves’ introduction into the squad has been a slow one.
But the Addicks will remain without injured trio Lewis Page (ankle), Mark Marshall (knee) and Harry Lennon (hamstring).
KEY BATTLE – TARGETING AN ERROR-PRONE DEFENCE
It probably not an ideal situation when a defensive area has left the team’s manager “incandescent with rage” in the league fixture prior to facing a side who scored four times in their previous League One game.
Rotherham boss Warne furious after Semi Ajayi, who came through Charlton’s academy, failed to deal with a long ball that allowed Jack Marriott to score Peterborough’s winner while his own side were pushing for the decisive goal.
Centre-back Ajayi, a summer signing from Cardiff City having been on loan at the New York Stadium during the second half of last season, is a key figure in Rotherham’s backline, and as such is likely to retain his place in the starting XI. But this isn’t his first costly error of the campaign, with a mix-up during the League Cup win over Lincoln City result in a goal being conceded, and Warne has demanded the mistakes that are hindering both Ajayi and the Millers are cut out.
Frustration comes not only given that Ajayi has performed well aside from moments of madness, with a goal at Huddersfield in midweek helping matters, but also on the basis that the Millers have shown strong qualities going forward. Kieffer Moore scoring for a fourth time this season at London Road, but his goals will count for little if those behind him continue to gift goals to the opposition.
And an uncomfortable defensive line is something Robinson’s side will look to take advantage of. Against Plymouth’s deep-sitting defence and midfield, the Addicks struggled to find a way through, but as Northampton pushed for an equaliser at The Valley last weekend, the hosts were brutal in their exposure of the gaps left behind.
Whether specifically targeted or not, Ajayi and his fellow defenders can’t afford to commit mistakes if Charlton player with the same attacking qualities they showed during the win over Northampton. If nothing else, the young defender is going to have a difficult task dealing with Josh Magennis if he deals with long balls in the same way he did last weekend.
Rotherham will make it difficult, but don’t see why there shouldn’t be belief that victory will be achieved. Rotherham United 1-2 Charlton Athletic
A certain amount of fear filled all four of The Valley’s stands prior to kick-off, with supporters of both Charlton Athletic and the visiting Northampton Town sharing a similar concern.
With the Addicks tame in attack during their defeat to Plymouth Argyle, and the Cobblers arriving in SE7 without a goal to their name in the opening weeks of this campaign, confidence in the ability of both sides to create and convert openings was low. The pressure placed on both sides, with greater offerings in the final expected, equally high. A need for Karl Robinson’s men to offer something more dynamic and potent, not least after the boss offered no promises a new forward would arrive, and those who had travelled from the Midlands simply desperate to celebrate for the first time this season.
But as Jake Forster-Caskey curled a strike delightfully beyond Northampton stopper David Cornell, scoring his second goal of second-half stoppage-time, an emotion of fear, complemented by fury and frustration, existed only in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Addicks marvelling at the beauty of the midfielder’s effort, Charlton’s fourth goal of the afternoon, and enjoying celebrations that were fuelled further by relief, the resting of worry, and confirmation of victory. Cobblers not only contending with a crushing defeat, but a growing concern their robust and battling side lack the potency to compete.
In truth, four for the Addicks was a touch flattering despite showing threatening attacking qualities throughout the afternoon, if only because Justin Edinburgh’s men had performed in such a way that made for a reasonable contest. So much so that, even after Robinson’s men had seemingly put the game beyond doubt with 61 minutes played, there remained a battle for the Addicks to engage in. Clear openings for both sides bisecting Josh Magennis’ clinical second-minute header and Ricky Holmes, against his former club, lashing in from close range having been teed up by Billy Clarke just beyond the hour.
For Cobblers captain Marc Richards, meeting Daniel Powell’s delivery at the near post to nod beyond Ben Amos, halved the deficit with eleven minutes to play. Atmospheres among home and away supporters that suggested victory and defeat was certain suddenly replaced by immense panic and inspired hope. The Valley faithful immediately replaying the chances they failed to take, or even create, in a period of repetitive counter-attacking threat as the visitors abandoned defensive structure in their search for a way back into the game.
But though the visitors had battled, the collective quality in possession, energy and forward threat meant victory was one that always belonged to this much-improved group of Addicks. Forward threat shown in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, as substitute Ezri Konsa broke forward and successfully provided for Forster-Caskey, who confirmed capitulation would not be on the cards. Not the cleanest of strikes, but an accurate finish to calm concerns over both result and attacking potency.
Forster-Caskey’s second strike, however, was most certainly a clean one. Occurring three minutes after his first, the ball whipped deliciously from the corner of the box into the far top corner, and offered the perfect treatment for the frustration a tame and tactically tedious attacking display at Home Park seven days previously had caused. As much as it sealed victory in perfect fashion.
And an impressive victory that answered the concerns, and the need for an immediate response, in perfect style. If the fear grew for one set of supporters inside The Valley, it was replaced by the confidence, expectation and belief that scoring on four occasions offers for the other.
There no reassurance that the pre-game concern, created in part by what appeared a lack of plan b and alternative options during the Plymouth defeat, over goalscoring and attacking play would be cooled as the Addicks took to The Valley’s pitch, with no changes to the 18 named by Robinson.
Teenagers, in the shape of Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, who had failed to make the difference last weekend again the only attacking options available in reserve to Charlton’s boss. A reminder not only the further depth is required, but also that promising forward play, and any chances created, needed to result in reward. A need to dictate and control, for chasing the contest appeared to not suit the hosts.
So dictate and control the Addicks immediately did. There was an obvious intensity and energy even two minutes into the game, and that displayed before the ball found its way to Holmes in a crossing position on the left flank. Deliveries wayward and Magennis wasteful seven days ago, but the Northern Ireland international climbed highest to power a delightful cross beyond Northampton’s Cornell.
The forward, who extended his contract in SE7 during the week, not only giving the hosts the lead, but spreading the intensity and energy on the pitch into the stands. Caution and concern replaced by delight and belief, as Robinson’s men showed no sign of retreating and simply protecting this early advantage. Holmes shooting tamely into Cornell’s hands, and Clarke firing horribly off-target, but there a tempo and cutting edge to the build-up play.
Alas, the Cobblers were not simply going to sit and accept their fate as sitting ducks, and the Addicks were issued with reminders of realism twice before the ten-minute mark had been reached. A charged down clearance falling to Richards, and his volleying flashing wide from the edge of the area, before the Northampton captain was too easily allowed in behind and the palms of Amos were required to push away his strike across the face of goal. Unquestionable energy going forward, but maybe just a little flat-footed at the back.
And while Charlton’s control of possession, in addition to attractive and testing forward play, continued, it was Edinburgh’s physically strong side who were grafting their way to creating the better openings as the half progressed. A free-kick dealt with poorly, and the Addicks fortunate that Ash Taylor could only prod straight at Amos from a central position, with the former Aberdeen centre-back then left unmarked at the far post from another set-piece, but able only to nod harmlessly across goal. Still the hosts appeared uncertain and uncomfortable in defence.
But while Robinson’s side continued to display such intensity, energy and threat going forward, striking a second goal seemed the most obvious solution to the touch of concern created by the openings the visitors were being allowed to have. A second goal that seemed to have been found, as Holmes showed incredible quality against his former employers to burst forward, and a perfectly timed pass sent Tariqe Fosu through. But premature celebrations failed to grow, as the summer signing saw his effort slide across the face of goal and agonisingly wide of the far post.
The worry, of course, was that failing to take such an opportunity would be punished, and Charlton’s lack of potency would be exposed again. Something that might well have happened had it not been for Amos. The Addicks again unconvincing in dealing with a Northampton delivery, Richards knocking the ball on for Billy Waters, and what seemed a certain equaliser prevented by the frame of the Cardiff loanee as he blocked the close-range effort.
And while the half ended with Holmes twice shooting from the edge of the area at the conclusion of lively Charlton attacks, giving Cornell a scare on both occasions, enough had been seen from the Cobblers when not being run ragged by the Addicks’ impressive forward play to know the single-goal advantage maintained into the break was not enough to decide the contest. Irrespective, the ovation received as those in red left the field at half-time was more than warranted. Sideways passing and sluggish attempts to break down an opposition backline replaced by dynamic movement of the ball, relentless movement, and a touch of quality in the final third that offered hope this somewhat precarious lead could soon be doubled.
But just two minutes after the restart, the visiting supporters really should have been celebrating an equaliser. Walters delivering to the back post, Brendon Moloney getting away from Jason Pearce, and the defender somehow heading wide from a glorious position. A concerning start to the second period, but equally a showing of why Northampton remained goalless three-and-a-half games into the season.
Though a showing of why the home supporters had concerns over their side’s own ability to finish was soon to follow. The Addicks immediately regaining their positive forward edge, as Magennis failed to get enough on a Holmes delivery in order to convert and the unlikely figure of Ahmed Kashi broke forward only to see his effort well saved, but Charlton’s second goal would surely come after Cornell had been forced to parry Fosu’s curling effort straight towards Magennis. Alas, without challenge and a near-open goal in front of him, the Northern Ireland international somehow managed to side-foot his first-time effort over the bar, and with it raise a slowly growing level of uncertainty around SE7.
For it these situations, where a clear advantage is there to be had and not taken, that the Addicks have often crumbled in previous years. A worry they may ultimately end up sitting back and inviting pressure, which appeared not the way to go against this robust Cobblers side, a concern wasted openings would crush the energy and confidence in the attacking efforts, and ultimately a worry that punishment was on its way. For all the good Robinson’s side had done, they now desperately needed to settle the nerves.
And settle them Holmes most certainly did just beyond the hour mark. A goal that owed more to Clarke’s efforts in the build-up, carrying the ball forward superbly before teeing up his teammate, than it did to the former Northampton winger’s finish, but an emphatic blast into the back of the net from deep inside the area appeared to provide the signal that this game was won. Charlton’s attacking play finally receiving the reward it warranted.
The sense of confirmed victory not only provided by the nature of Holmes’ finish, but by the sudden drop in intensity and fight from the opposition. The Cobblers looking lost, and the Addicks almost left free to knock the ball around The Valley’s turf in whatever which way they liked. Magennis, still cutting a frustrated figure after his earlier miss and struggling somewhat overall during the second period, going close to adding further shine to the performance as he fired wide from the edge of the box.
Going close, too, was Jay Dasilva, with the Chelsea loanee firing off-target from inside the box. But how he came to be inside the box meant that, had he finished the opening, the left-back would have scored a sublime goal. Running from just inside his own half, and powering past several men in Northampton colours, before working his way into a shooting position.
The sort of run, even without the finish at the end of it, in such a situation that only increased the positive feel and energy among supporters. There even a sense that the remainder of the game would simply be nothing but Charlton attacks, as they continued to control possession and the Cobblers continued to look lost. That sense, however, was not correct.
For with eleven minutes to play, Powell’s cross picked out Richards in the centre, and Northampton’s skipper was able to halve his side’s deficit. A leap towards the travelling supporters, letting them know this game was far from over. A goal that hadn’t been coming, but a goal that was now here.
Maybe Robinson’s men had been a little bit complacent during their period of comfortable control, taking their foot slightly off the peddle and preferring to knock the ball around instead of driving forward with intent. Maybe, having created numerous chances before conceding a second, this was what Northampton warranted. Certainly, there a need to avoid losing points that were seemingly theirs, and almost definitely warranted.
Robinson’s response was to withdrawn Holmes, who received applause from his current and former supporters as he left the field, and replace him with Konsa. A suggestion the Addicks were to see this game out by sitting deep and battling to maintain their advantage. Undoubtedly deeper, but Konsa himself, breaking forward and drawing a foul out of Matt Crooks, showing that there remained a desire to get forward on the counter.
In fact, as the 90th minute drew closer, Konsa found himself inside the opposition’s box. A battle between himself Cornell to reach a ball sent through first, which resulted in the teenager going over the outstretched arms of Northampton’s goalkeeper. The cries for a penalty vocal, but a touch on the ball before making contact with Konsa may have saved Cornell.
Penalty or not, that the Addicks were getting into those sorts of areas showed it was they who remained in control despite Northampton’s desperate need for an equaliser. The signalling of five minutes of additional time not exactly keeping heads cool inside The Valley, but the Cobblers offering next to nothing. They certainly didn’t have the intensity of a side searching for a goal.
A lack of intensity that was soon to become a complete loss of all energy and hope. For the Addicks, again breaking forward following a desperate attempt from the opposition to pose some sort of threat, were able to seal victory. Konsa teeing up Forster-Caskey, and the midfielder’s somewhat mishit volley bouncing goalwards.
The reward they warranted overall, but also a reward for not abandoning what had previously worked for them since conceding. The energy and intent going forward remaining, and not dying even with victory now assured. Substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant cutting inside and curling towards goal, but his effort just bouncing wide of the far post.
Curling towards goal, however, was no issue for Forster-Caskey. His sublime effort from the edge of the box rounding off this marvellous display of attacking football seven minutes into stoppage time. A picturesque finish to an afternoon that had largely been filled with creative and colourful forward play.
So it left the Addicks to celebrate a warranted victory, and receive the appreciation their performance deserved. And there certainly plenty of appreciation among a joyous home support, injected with a strong dosage of belief on the back of such a display. A superb effort.
For undoubtedly, this was a performance of attacking quality that brought about much promise, in addition to three points.
If not the groans being replaced by celebration, then the main contrast between this afternoon and the one at Home Park seven days ago was the manner in which the Addicks moved the ball, and themselves. Too often last weekend they were sideways and static; almost every move at The Valley containing passes with forward intent, while movement with and without the ball was excellent.
So often starting in the centre with Kashi, having either received the ball or broken up play himself, or Forster-Caskey beginning, before one of the pair fed those stationed slightly ahead of them. Holmes, Clarke and Fosu all excellent in carrying the ball forward and working openings, with the first two in particular outstanding. Glimpses of such play, even at Home Park, had been seen in previous game, but today it was rewarded.
Though whether or not a 4-1 scoreline reflected the overall nature of the game is questionable, for Northampton did threaten. Amos made some crucial saves with Charlton’s advantage only a single goal, and it positive see him make an important contribution after a shaky start. But the scoreline certainly a reflection of how good the Addicks were going forward.
It doesn’t, of course, deter from the fact a forward is required, though I’m sure most are sensible enough to see that an afternoon of quality attacking play and a desperate shortage of attacking alternatives are two different elements. There has always been strong optimism in the starting XI, but the bench was again light on attacking options, with those in reserve inexperienced, and there still a concern about responding when chasing a game. You would hate to see a lack of depth, so harmful in previous season under Roland Duchatelet’s ownership, prevent this Charlton side from performing consistently.
For there no doubt that this group can hurt, terrorise and decimate opponents once they have taken control of a game and are in their stride. As was seen today, the quality possessed on the counter means that sides searching for a goal to get back into the game are always likely to have defensive gaps exploited. Controlling games is, of course, something that needs to become a regular thing.
If nothing else, this an exciting performance, in which each player offered moments of quality, the energy levels were relentless, and the forward play was often sublime. A performance of promise.
Saturday’s game at The Valley brings together two sides who will argue they had their previous weekend spoilt by a goalkeeper pulling of an act that defied logic.
Charlton Athletic’s first-half pressure failed to tell at Home Park, and was replaced by a sluggish second-half display that received the punishment of defeat it warranted. But that pressure would have told were it not for Plymouth Argyle stopper Luke McCormick making an incredible reaction save to deny Josh Magennis from a matter of yards out. A Billy Clarke strike tipped into the Northern Ireland international forward’s path, before his stab towards goal was somehow pushed onto the bar and ultimately cleared away.
While over at Sixfields, heads were held in hands as a similar state of disbelief flooded supporters of Northampton Town. With the scores level, Fleetwood Town goalkeeper Alex Cairns first saved superbly from Aaron Pierre’s header, picked himself up to leap across his goal and keep out the follow-up, before completing the triple save by denying by Billy Waters from equally close-range. Devante Cole ultimately going on to get the winner for the visitors.
Even David De Gea was a fan of Cairns’ efforts. I’m still trying to work that one out. Hopefully Paul Pogba will provide some clapping and fire emojis for a video of Ahmed Kashi breaking up play at some point this season.
But the reality is that, for Charlton and Northampton, to focus on two marvellous pieces of opposition goalkeeping is to simply deflect from the truth. The truth being that both sides were complicit in their own downfall, and didn’t do enough to come away from their respective fixtures with a positive result. Having underperformed, there a certain amount of pressure to force a response in SE7.
A different sort of pressure for both sides. The crisis that Roland Duchatelet has brought to the club, twinned with the optimism that Karl Robinson has attempted to inject over the summer, means there is no room for error, and any sign of concern must be immediately corrected. An injection of finance into the Cobblers over the summer means greater expectation and a need to see some reward soon, but so too a willingness to be a patient and an understanding immediate success may not be possible.
But even three games into the League One season, we can’t *keep* ourselves away from important clashes. Which team will *handle* it? Will either be able to *stop* the pressure?
I’d stop reading now, too.
LAST MEETING – NORTHAMPTON TOWN 2-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (04/03/2017)
Crisis continued to cut deep into the heart of Charlton Athletic Football Club in March as, following a midweek loss at Shrewsbury Town that left Robinson accusing 40% of his squad of not caring, the Addicks suffered a tame defeat at Sixfields.
Displaying little quality and continuously placed under pressure, it came as little surprise when the Addicks fell behind with 32 minutes played. A wicked cross from Aaron Phillips found Michael Smith in the centre, and the former Charlton forward climbed highest to head superbly into the top corner.
However, having previously offered next to nothing, Robinson’s side were able to strike back almost immediately. Adam Smith initially pulling off an excelling save to deny Ezri Konsa from Ricky Holmes’ corner, but Jordan Botaka able to volley home the loose ball. A potential turning point in the game.
But while Northampton’s goal did come under more pressure prior to the Addicks drawing level, with former Cobbler Holmes, Botaka and Josh Magennis all trying their lucky, the overall performance remained sluggish and uninspiring.
Not least in defence, where faults remained obvious. Faults that John-Joe O’Toole would capitalise on to regain Northampton’s lead with 62 minutes played. Michael Smith able to send Phillips free down the right, his cross tamely headed away by Nathan Byrne, and the loose ball cannoned beyond Declan Rudd by O’Toole.
Little fight or intent shown by the Addicks thereafter to get back into the game, leaving the same bitter and angry taste come full-time as had been felt at New Meadow four days previously. A genuine threat of relegation beginning to build.
With summer investment from Chinese company 5USport, the Cobblers could no longer settle for simply scrapping to maintain their status as a League One club during their second campaign in the third tier. There needed to be a bit more, and certainly so on the back of a promising off-season of additions to the squad.
But two league defeats, and a League Cup exit to QPR, and the pre-season confidence and expectation has taken something of a knock. Justin Edinburgh’s side are yet to score a point, let alone gain a point.
In truth, the Cobblers have been unfortunate. A Dean Bowditch effort cleared off the line at New Meadow on the opening day, before Shrewsbury’s Lenell John-Lewis struck a 92nd-minute winner. Cairns’ goalkeeping heroics followed by a 72nd -minute winner for Fleetwood’s Devante Cole last weekend. Fine margins.
But, equally, Edinburgh’s side haven’t been clinical enough, and nor have they created genuine chances in those games away from those stand out ones. Promising signs, but it not as of yet coming together.
And with the pressure that comes with new investment, and as such increased expectations, there will need to be a very immediate improvement in results and performances to avoid restlessness. You sense that, despite the level-headed Kelvin Thomas remaining in charge, there will be no fear in replacing Edinburgh if the Cobblers are not competing 15 or so games into the campaign.
Nonetheless, there is patience among supporters, with their expectations of improvement justified but not going beyond the realms of realism. They would, however, quite like to see a goal soon.
Neither too high nor too low, but having shown steel and determination to record victory over Bristol Rovers with ten men, the lacklustre second-half display at Home Park last weekend did provide a degree of concern.
Not that it lacked effort, but it certainly lacked energy, intensity and cutting edge. The Addicks incredibly flat once Jake Jarvis had given Plymouth the lead, spending much of the second period passing sideways, and ending attacks with horribly wayward crosses. Some contrast to the near faultless defence display to keep Rovers at bay a week previously, with defeat effectively confirmed long before Jervis added a second with two minutes to play.
A worry that, despite having obvious creative and attacking talent within the group, Robinson’s side aren’t going to be effective when chasing a game or when needing to break down stubborn opposition. Happy to do their own defensive battling, and cause a threat on the counter led by Ricky Holmes and Tariqe Fosu, but not able to dictate play when the situation demands. Charlton’s boss possibly lacking a plan b, not helped by his lack of options in reserve.
Nonetheless, some excellent attacking football was played during the opening 45, which does provide encouragement in a wider context. The visitors dominant for a spell, and really should have been ahead. The concern there being that the Addicks faltered in front of goal, unable to finish excellent chances, and a prolific striker is required before the window closes.
Some promising signs, a few factors to be slightly concerned about, and elements that desperately need resolving within the next few weeks. A Charlton side that can certainly be successful, but with some creases to iron out.
A slower than expected recovery from groin surgery means Northampton are likely to remain without influential midfielder John-Joe O’Toole for the trip to SE7.
The Irishman had the operation at the end of last season, and was expected to be ready for the start of this campaign, but is yet to resume training. A return nears, but that is unlikely to be at The Valley.
There were returns, however, for full-back Brendan Moloney and midfielder Shaun McWilliams after making their first appearances of the season last weekend from the bench following hamstring and ankle injuries respectively, and both are pushing for starts, while one-time MK Dons winger Daniel Powell is expected to line-up against his former boss following a hamstring niggle.
But midfielder Sam Foley and forward Sam Hoskins will both miss out with long-term knee problems.
Elsewhere, centre-back Leon Barnett will be available having served a one-match ban during the game against Fleetwood following his dismissal in the League Cup defeat to QPR.
Ben Reeves should be available for the visit of Northampton this weekend having missed the trip to Plymouth Argyle last Saturday with a sore calf.
The playmaker, a summer signing from MK Dons, has yet to make his league debut having signed two days before the start of the campaign, but the injury that enforced his absence at Home Park was only a minor one and a quick return is likely.
But the Addicks will remain without long-term absentees Mark Marshall (knee) and Lewis Page (ankle), who aren’t expected to be seen until October at the earliest.
Elsewhere, Lee Novak serves the final game of his three-match ban following his dismissal during the game against Bristol Rovers, while Andrew Crofts still has two more games to sit out after he was shown a straight red in the latter stages of the League Cup victory over Exeter City.
KEY BATTLE – DOING A GOAL
Given that Northampton haven’t scored all season, and Charlton went from not being able to finish to creating absolutely nothing last weekend, there’s every chance this is going to defy logic and be a 74-goal thriller.
But, realistically, a low-scoring affair is likely, born out of several factors. A lack of confidence in front of goal for both, two strong defences, and the fact the Addicks still haven’t signed a striker.
In truth, both sides do have quality going forward. The Cobblers probably missing goalscoring midfielder O’Toole somewhat, but there no reason why Alex Revell, Billy Waters and Chris Long shouldn’t cause a threat, with Dean Bowditch and the potentially returning Daniel Powell further options out wide or up top.
While for the Addicks, Holmes, a former occupier of the Sixfields flanks provides match-winning qualties, Fosu has impressed, and Magennis will hopefully improve on his performance on Home Park having been rushed back following injury last weekend.
But it evidently is yet to click. Chances not taken, yes, but so too is there a failure to create enough chances. Changes may be a possibility, with Reeves yet to make his league debut for Charlton, and prolific non-league forward Leon Lobjoit among those in reserve for Northampton.
Ultimately, however, the strength of both sides probably lies in their defence. The Cobblers boasting two strong holding midfielders in Yaser Kasim and Matt Crooks, with numerous imposing centre-backs to choose from, while the Addicks have Ahmed Kashi breaking up play, with Jason Pearce and Patrick Bauer winning most things in the air.
And so the side that manages to break down the opposition barriers first, and actually convert an opportunity, not least with a little bit of pressure on might well be the side that wins the game.
I feel something similar to the Rovers victory may occur, with an advantage claimed and then a determined effort required to maintain it. Apologies to those Northampton fans who are desperate for their side to score at some point before the clocks change. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Northampton Town
So often as he entered The Valley pitch, those who occupied the stands would chant his name with a level of noise and meaning that made for a genuine message. A shared knowledge that this enigmatic figure required as much encouragement and appreciation as possible, and a strong desire for him to succeed in the colours of Charlton Athletic. Receptive, if not always in his performances, but always towards those who supported him.
And yet, often moments after his name had echoed around The Valley’s structures, there would soon be unforgiving and universally shared groans of displeasure. The flashes of quality occasionally seen made you want to believe he would reach the peak of his potential in SE7, but too often were the same infuriating errors being made. Tony Watt didn’t just divide a fan base, he split the minds of individual supporters.
So as the Scot, following three separate loan spells away in his two-and-a-half-years as an Addick, prepares to exit the club on a permanent basis, there is not the anger that may exist when a key player departs, nor the sarcastic celebrations when a poor one is allowed to leave.
Instead, there a disappointment that the best of Watt, having made 53 league appearances in Charlton colours, was seen on so few occasions. A regret that the 23-year-old did not become the player for the Addicks the occasional flashes of brilliance suggested he could have been. A frustration that, having originally moved to the South East London branch of Roland Duchatelet’s network from Standard Liege, Watt heads for a second spell in Belgium, with Lierse his apparent destination, having failed to get anywhere near fulfilling his potential in SE7.
Potential that, regardless of how you feel towards the Scot as he departs, there is no question was shown. Many will point to that marvellous moment of skill that saw him keep the ball in the corner against Nottingham Forest, and I think the focus on that has left some forgetting that he did provide further contributions. His general form in that period, particularly in performances either side of the Forest game in victories over Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, was outstanding.
So too was there the sensational start from Watt to the 2015/16 season, with the opening goal of the season in a victory over QPR and a long range, though somewhat deflected, effort during a visit to Derby County. “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt, Watt” was sung with some vigour at Pride Park. A connection with supporters always existing to some degree.
I remember, quite explicitly, Watt standing in front of the away end on his own at Vicarage Road applauding the visiting supporters following the shambolic 5-0 defeat there in January 2015. It coming after Guy Luzon, a network appointment that brought resentment and revolt among supporters, had been given the head coach gig. The sort of player-supporter interaction so desperately needed.
I don’t think, therefore, there can be argument that supporters have not given Watt the opportunity to succeed each time he returned, and each time he wore Charlton colours. An opportunity he continued to be given, in part, because of the Scot’s willingness to acknowledge such support, and as such a desire among many supporters for him to perform. Frustration a regular response to Watt’s reaction, but never have supporters turned against him, and never has his name not been sung.
But maybe there’s an argument, not least given the fact his spells on loan at Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers and Hearts between November 2015 and January 2017 had just one appearance for Charlton sandwiched between them, that he wasn’t given a fair opportunity to prove himself by those in charge. Or at least, having been sent away on so many occasions, the conditions and circumstances at The Valley were not right for him to succeed. After that blast of brilliance at the start of the 2015/16 season, Watt faded at a dramatic rate, but maybe the action that would have provided the greater result for club and player would have been to stand by him.
That chance given to him by Karl Robinson upon his return from Hearts last season, and Watt generally did well. Largely utilised as a winger, and making his greater impressions from the bench, he made useful runs with the ball at his feet and appeared a threat. Not simply because he scored twice, but his overall play in the trio of home games against Scunthorpe United, Walsall, and Bradford City was impressive.
But so too were there dire efforts, where he appeared devoid of all quality, energy and intelligence. That two of those performances were against Peterborough United and MK Dons, two defeats that left the Addicks four points from the bottom four with five games to play, hardly helped his cause. Some promising signs seen, but back-to-back grim displays in these circumstances made what had gone before almost meaningless; the frustration of Watt in a nutshell.
Maybe that in part a motivation to make his pre-season successful, as it appeared it was. He certainly continued to make a point of it on social media, and given the criticism he has received throughout his career for being unfit I see no reason why he shouldn’t. Alas, after his name was sung as he stepped onto The Valley turf against Bristol Rovers, home supporters groaned as he failed to close down opposition defenders, and back to square one we all seemed to go.
Nonetheless, it a disappointment to see him depart with this season and exclusively the Watt that has been seen in mind. Regardless of whether this is a decision made primarily by Watt, as it would seem, or by club and Robinson. Despite being an inconsistent nuisance that’s going to cause enough frustration to leave your head rolling down The Valley’s steps, he has more than enough ability, even well below his best, to be a threat in League One.
But that I’m suggesting it would be worth keeping Watt because he might be able to do something from the bench in the third tier of English football is probably a further indicator of the frustration involved in this situation. The greater point is that Watt has failed to deliver on his early promise, and I’m not entirely convinced it’s for the want of trying. The early promise of his career, and in SE7.
Of course, his career will forever be defined by *that* goal against Barcelona as a 19-year-old while playing for Celtic. A goal that has placed immense pressure on him. Maybe he was never actually of the level that goal suggested, or maybe he’s not been able to handle the expectations.
From a Charlton perspective, I still don’t understand how he went from an impressive end to the 2014/15 season and start to the following campaign, to a complete collapse thereafter. A player that could seemingly do everything, to one that appeared lost on the pitch. There didn’t appear a reason for such a loss of confidence, and those levels of performance have not returned.
The, ironically, rather lazy accusation to make is that Watt is lazy. Or at least he has a poor attitude. He’s certainly not your average footballer.
But a poor attitude is not something I pick up when he plays. Poor decision making, yes, but not a poor attitude. I’d also suggest the way his teammates treat him would be very different if laziness and attitude was a greater problem.
I do, given that Watt has displayed flashes of brilliance but not to any consistent level, imagine there is some degree of mental barrier in his way. But I don’t think it’s a self-created one.
To be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure why he’s struggled to deliver like he might have done, but I feel it might well relate to a reliance on confidence. The drop in form at the start of 2015/16, coinciding with poor team displays and the sacking of Luzon, something he struggled to get over, the loan spells not providing the boost required, and a struggle to perform ever since. While others show anger towards the Scot as a consequence, I feel a degree of sympathy.
In fact, as a person, I quite like Watt. Opinions gained from how he interacts with supporters and his social media behaviour only tell so much, but he does seem like a genuinely good guy. I was certainly one of those who chanted his name, wishing him to succeed.
And as such, as he departs, I’m one of those who feels regret and disappointment. We saw quality from Watt in SE7, but were ultimately given more moments of frustration. He leaves making only a minor impression overall, but there a knowledge he could have delivered so much more.