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