Supporters of Charlton Athletic were initially sat down at the finest of tables and offered an updated menu of real quality when dining at the Transfer Window Restaurant this summer.
Their meals delicious, and served in excellent fashion. Few, if any, complaints to be had with the main course. Somewhat unexpected, seen as their trust in the quality of the restaurant’s services had long faded, and they’d only continued to dine there out of loyalty.
But as they sat patiently for the waiters to return upon the completion of their meals, with some expectation given the excitement that the names on the dessert menu offered, they were soon to find themselves creeping back towards the normality of disappointment. Nothing was available on the dessert menu, because they’d run out of the resources required to produce the treats. The diners were going to depart without any dessert whatsoever until a temporary solution, sourcing some supermarket ice cream, was found.
Ultimately, as nights came to an end, there a sense it would be greedy to be feeling anything but content. The taste of your meal still running around your mouth, and a healthy feeling in your stomach. But the thought of how sweet a dessert might have tasted, served to the same standard, leaves you wanting more.
And while the heart of Charlton’s summer transfer activity has been mightily impressive, producing a starting XI of such quality that expectation and some excitement has been injected back into supporters on the Addicks, the failure to deliver the sweet additional figures that the squad required has meant the summer ends with a tinge of frustration. What has arrived, and the performances delivered thus far by Karl Robinson’s strongest side, means the mood remains a hopeful one. But the thought of how strong this squad probably should have ended up, and how fragile it looks with a couple of injuries, leaves you wanting more.
For there no doubt that, both through quality arrivals and the retention of key players, that Robinson has been able to construct a starting XI as strong as anything seen while Roland Duchatelet as controlled the club. Not that that comment holds much value, but Charlton’s current strongest XI is a very strong one for League One level, at least competing with all in the division.
I will maintain, having mentioned it several times before, that the most important pieces of business done this summer has been retaining Ricky Holmes and Jason Pearce, with Josh Magennis latterly joining the duo in signing an improved contract at The Valley. Not only because of the quality of the players, but because of the message it delivered to supporters, the squad, and elsewhere. A display of the Addicks’ ambitions, and that there was a genuine attractiveness in remaining in SE7 even for players who could command moves up the Football League.
The individual performances of Holmes, Pearce and Magennis in the opening weeks of the campaign reaffirming their importance to the side, but they performances that have been matched by the efforts of those wearing Charlton colours for the first time.
After a unconvincing start, Bolton Wanderers loanee Ben Amos has made important contributions between the sticks during the victories over Northampton Town and Rotherham United, Jay Dasilva, actually wearing Charlton colours for the second time having signed up for a second spell on loan from Chelsea, has impressed both in his defensive and attacking duties at left-back, and Billy Clarke and Tariq Fosu have been crucial cogs in the impressive counter-attacking play of Robinson’s side that has created more promise and belief than any other factor.
In addition, there hope that Mark Marshall will emulate the form shown while at Bradford City upon his return from a knee injury sustained during pre-season, while a goal for Ben Reeves in Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Crawley Town as he integrates into the side following his early August arrival provided a glimpse of the ability often displayed in his time at Stadium MK. That Marshall and Reeves sit outside the starting XI is proof that there’s quality beyond it, and that it’s not in every position where strength in depth causes a slight concern.
But it’s quite difficult to fully understand why strengthening beyond the start of the season, when it remained apparent that there were still gaps in the squad as the campaign got underway, was such a complex task. Difficult to understand to for several reasons. And not just because a couple of additions, to match the quality already brought in, without any further outgoings was really all that was needed.
There the perfect foundation from which Duchatelet and chums could prove there was a very obvious goal for them this season, and that they would not be playing games to achieve it. A few further additions to rid fears over lack of depth or what might be a reliance on young players, that have seen the Addicks fail in the past, and create a squad that had everything geared towards promotion. An absolute gift for a regime that has previously done nothing but fail and disillusion supporters, but one not taken.
I find it very hard to believe that having handed the wages of Nicky Ajose, Igor Vetokele, Jorge Teixeira, Cristian Ceballos, Tony Watt and, latterly, Lee Novak to other clubs, budget was a decisive factor. That without considering the money brought in from Ademola Lookman’s sale in January, and the money that Duchatelet should be investing into transfer spending for a club of Charlton’s size and to match promotion ambitions. There surely the resources available to add the finishing touches to the squad.
The required finishing touches that are displayed quite handily as the Addicks head into this weekend’s game against Oldham Athletic without Magennis or Dasilva, who are both on international duty.
It downplayed somewhat, but I’ve found the options in reserve at full-back to be a little concerning, with Lewis Page still unfit and Anfernee Dijksteel a little bit of an unknown quality. Johnnie Jackson probably needing to fill in at left-back on Saturday hardly ideal, and it these kind of situations that you’d like a squad with promotion ambitions to be able to avoid.
But, of course, the main concern comes up top. A worry for a period in the transfer window’s final hours that, with Novak being sold to Scunthorpe United, the Addicks would only have one senior striker until January, but the arrival of Joe Dodoo on loan from Rangers merely brings levels of concern back to where they were at the start of the day. Which was fairly high anyway.
Even if Robinson religiously sticks to a formation with one up top, two senior forwards simply isn’t enough. Not least when one heads off on international duty every few weeks, and the arrival is a striker in quite a different mould. For all his struggles in a Charlton shirt, allowing Novak to leave without another target man style forward lined up is very odd.
Dodoo a young forward of promise, who would be an excellent addition if adding to an already healthy pool of strikers, to provide something a bit different. But the 22-year-old, who scored three times in 20 league games for Rangers last season, is going to be thrown straight in at the deep end on Saturday. Asked to perform the role Magennis usually does, when his qualities are more suited to partnering a forward of Magennis’ nature and running in behind.
The signing, particularly given as the loan is only until January, seems a bit rushed and panicked in response to Novak’s departure. There really didn’t need to be a rush and a panic to sign a forward that is ultimately a little bit of a gamble when there was a reasonable amount of time to attract a striker of real quality to the club from the start of August. Will Grigg, Matty Godden, John Akindie and Matty Taylor among those linked, and any of those or a forward of similar stature would have been excellent.
But the point isn’t to write Dodoo off at all, who I’m sure will have an impact and I say that with the second half performance at Plymouth Argyle in mind. A weak bench, with no useful alternatives, meant Robinson was unable to inject life into his sluggishly performing side at Home Park and defeat followed. A concern that there will be a repeat of that when Charlton are chasing games, and will be unable to break down the barriers that opposition defences have put up, but at least having a forward in Dodoo’s mould provides something useful in those circumstances.
The point, however, is that if his signing was purely as an alternative option, and not Magennis’ one and only understudy, then it would have been a very logical one. International weekends are going to be quite uncomfortable, and a huge worry if the Northern Ireland international suffers injury at any point.
Some might point to the success of young players in cup games to suggest there is adequate depth across the board, and not just up top, but we’ve been in a similar position before and such reliance hasn’t worked. There no question that the Addicks are understaffed in attack, and that this position is such an avoidable one.
Ultimately, it’s a frustrating end to a very promising transfer window. A window that saw a main serving of quality arrivals, and retentions, in SE7. But one where things got a bit sluggish thereafter.
And there no doubt that the creation of a strong starting XI has been achieved during this window, for which supporters have a great deal of faith in, and have so far been offered exciting signs by.
But knowing a finishing touch or two of quality could have, and probably should have, been added to the squad does leave you longing for more. It’s not so much concern, but maybe just a touch of discomfort as a consequence of what’s in reserve.