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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Northampton Town

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.

FORM

Northampton: LLL

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.

Charlton: LWW

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.

THE OPPOSITION

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.

THE ADDICKS

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.

PREDICTION

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

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