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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Southend United

The last time Southend United rocked up in SE7, they faced a Charlton Athletic side that were in genuine danger of suffering a second successive relegation.

That the Charlton side the Shrimpers faced in April were four points above the bottom four with five games to play was enough by itself to create discomfort. But the real fear came from the manner in which the Addicks were playing. A pathetically poor performance, lacking both quality and effort, at The Valley against MK Dons four days previously seemed to bring the relegation zone closer than it already was, through fear that few points would be collected in the campaign’s remaining fixtures.

For there was no faith in Karl Robinson’s side, and even less in the club. One win in 14, the manager suggesting that 40% of his squad didn’t care enough, and the chaos created by a failing regime. The embarrassment of a second successive relegation, when a top-six finish as minimum was promised, entirely avoidable, but almost seemed justified.

The subsequent victory for the Addicks, creating something of an upset to defeat a play-off chasing side despite coming into the game in total crisis, was a mightily important one. Not only in the short-term, with relegation worries and fears this side simply didn’t know how to win eased, but going into this campaign. It the start of faith and trust in Robinson’s side developing

Faith and trust feelings that will always be lacking towards the club among many while Roland Duchatelet’s regime remain in charge, a simple and understandable consequence of damage done and continued incredibly questionable running, but faith and trust now certainly existing in those who represent the Addicks on the pitch.

So much so that, in the space of five months, Charlton have gone from fearing the arrival of the Shrimpers at The Valley and anticipating a crushing defeat, to having full belief that Robinson’s men will once again deliver and provide home supporters with a third league win out of three in SE7 this season.

Faith and trust that could have been slightly tested after a somewhat fortunate, and most certainly sluggish, victory over Oldham Athletic last weekend. But the admittance by all, with Robinson and several of his players speaking in honest fashion, that the flirt with capitulation wasn’t good enough has shown this group won’t allow themselves to get complacent on the back of an impressive, victory-filled, beginning. You’d feel, with a degree of confidence, the performance this weekend will be much more fluent as a result.

That not to say Southend don’t provide tough opposition. A slow start to the campaign, drawing their previous three league games as injuries have hurt a small squad, but a well-organised group under the stewardship of Phil Brown that will want to once again challenge for a top-six place. Competition, even with a few absentees, for any side in this division.

But they will face a very different Charlton side to the one they last played in SE7. Not one in total disarray, almost expected to suffer defeat. One that is now expected to win, and will place the Shrimpers under serious pressure.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SOUTHEND UNITED (08/04/2017)

Charlton earned the win that eased very real fears of relegation, as a late Adam Thompson own goal took them five points clear of the relegation zone and seriously dented Southend’s play-off hopes in the final month of last season.

The Addicks came into the game having suffered two dire defeats, to Peterborough and MK Dons, in the previous week, with just one win in 14, and sitting an extremely uncomfortable four points above League One’s bottom four. So Ricky Holmes’ sixth-minute strike provided huge relief around SE7. The winger driving forward, and finishing through the legs of Shrimpers goalkeeper Christian Walton from a tight angle.

But panicked return to the home ends of The Valley as the visitors responded just five minutes later. The Addicks struggling to defend set-pieces for much of the campaign, and here was another dealt with poorly. John White allowed to float free, and head Timlin’s corner beyond Declan Rudd without challenge.

A concern that, given the fragile state Robinson’s Charlton were in, a capitulation would follow. However, the hosts continued to compete, and were showing a great deal more fight and energy that had been the case in the previous seven days. An even contest, with the Shrimpers creating chances of their own, but the Addicks matching their sixth-placed opponents.

Somewhat dogged battle that meant Charlton were in a position to take a decisive lead when Nathan Byrne delivered into the box with 74 minutes played. His cross evading the heads of Josh Magennis and Jake Forster-Caskey, but their challenges meaning that Thompson was forced to make a move for the ball, and only succeeded in nodding the ball into his own net. A touch of good fortune, maybe, but a warranted reward for the improved Addicks effort, and reward that brought great joy around the Valley.

Greater fortune, in fact, was still to come. Former Charlton loanee Frank Nouble needing only to head into an empty net from Jermain McGlashan’s delivery, but somehow managing to divert the ball off-target. A miss that meant the Shrimpers fell out of the top six, and the Addicks could take a huge sigh of relief.

FORM  

Southend: DDDLLW

Despite a build-up of injuries meaning they were forced to field a defensive line with an average age of 14.8, Southend would have been mightily disappointed to have come away from their game with Rochdale last weekend with just a point.

A commendable effort from Brown’s hastily constructed backline, featuring youngsters Harry Kyprianou and Elvis Bwomono in addition to recognised midfielder Michael Timlin, to keep a clean sheet, but the Shrimpers really should have won the game at Roots Hall. Not only because Simon Cox saw a penalty saved in first-half stoppage-time, but the dismissal of Dale captain Ian Henderson at the start of the second period gave them ten men to play against for 40 minutes. Ultimately a result that adds to what has been quite a frustrating start to the season for Southend.

An opening day win against title favourites Blackburn Rovers offered promise, but a defeat and three draws have followed in League One since. The extent of disaster seen in the 5-0 defeat at Rotherham, immediately following the Rovers win, not being repeated, though things aren’t going the way of Brown’s side. A small group, fairly reliant on its structure and functionality, suffering an unfortunate number of injuries particularly at the back, the lead twice held against Gillingham, before Tom Eaves’ 80th minute goal saw the spoils shared in a 3-3 draw, and last weekend’s failure to find a winner.

As such, Southend probably find themselves in a position of indifference. Players returning from injury and some positive results puts them in a handy position; following the recent draws with defeats and frustration will become concern. A few important weeks ahead for the Shrimpers.

Charlton: WWLWLW

It remains incredibly difficult to make perfect sense of Charlton’s 4-3 victory over Oldham last weekend.

The Addicks cruising, against what appeared a hilariously poor side, having gone two-up with little more than 20 minutes played, before losing all attacking flair and composure to allow the Latics back into the game. The scores level six minutes after half-time, and Robinson’s side most fortunate that a red card for Ousmane Fane destroyed the hosts’ momentum just three minutes later. Though even with their two-goal lead restored, and victory seemingly secured, Jack Byrne’s late goal set up an uncomfortable final few minutes.

Robinson and his players quick to admit that, having turned what should have been a convincing win into a nerve racking afternoon, they were far from their best. The Latics really shouldn’t have been allowed back into the contest, the Addicks incredibly sluggish once a 34th-minute penalty had halved the home side’s deficit, and the result arguably owing a lot to Oldham being reduced to ten so quickly after their equaliser. Having beaten Northampton with fluent attacking play, and overseen Rotherham via forward potency and defensive resolve, this was most certainly an ugly win.

Winning ugly, of course, is a positive and something all promotion-chasing sides will need to do throughout the campaign. A positive not least when Charlton have spent most of their time in previous years losing ugly and winning not at all. But an ugly win at this time of the campaign, in addition to providing points, provides the useful reminder that the side is not flawless.

A chance, while still able to bask in the glory that comes with claiming 12 points from a possible 15 this season, to reflect on where this side can improve, and making sure a brief flirt with capitulation over the course of 90 minutes doesn’t become a more certain capitulation during the campaign. Not anything like a wake-up call, but a notice that there are at faults in the side, and that it can’t perform without fail each week. That the mightily impressive start to the campaign is just a start, complacency can’t be afforded, and improvement is always needed.

A game has been won, but manager, players and fans know there’s more to be seen. It’s encouraging, and a sign of the potential this side has.

THE OPPOSITION

Southend are hopeful that their defensive crisis, caused by a build-up of injuries to bodies at the back, will be eased somewhat as they travel to SE7 this weekend, but the Shrimpers are still likely to be short on bodies.

Rob Kiernan, having sat out the goalless draw with Rochdale with a knee problem, has returned to training and has a chance of featuring this weekend, while the injuries that Anton Ferdinand (hamstring) and John White (groin) picked up in the Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Gillingham two weeks weren’t said to be serious, and both may on Saturday.

But Ben Coker (broken leg) is definitely out, Michael Turner (hamstring) is unlikely to return, and left-back Stephen Hendrie, having been withdrawn during the draw with Rochdale through injury, is fresh doubt. Jason Demetriou, however, is available again having been away on international duty with Cyprus.

There also a very outside chance that former England international Kieran Richardson and recently released Gillingham midfielder Josh Wright could be involved. The versatile Richardson, mostly recently at Cardiff City, has impressed Brown while on trial with the Shrimpers, while Wright, linked with a return to Charlton following his departure from the Gills, is in talks over a move to Roots Hall having watched the goalless draw with Rochdale last weekend.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will have Josh Magennis and Jay Dasilva available again after the pair missed last weekend’s win over Oldham having been away on international duty.

Northern Ireland international Magennis scored twice for his country against San Marino, while Jay Dasilva represented England’s U20 side for the first time having previously captained the England U19s. Both are likely to come straight back into the starting XI, replacing Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Johnnie Jackson respectively.

Elsewhere, Mark Marshall (knee), Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) remain absent, while Ben Reeves continues to be carefully managed by Robinson, and as such is unlikely to feature at The Valley.

KEY BATTLE – TARGETING A WEAKENED DEFENCE  

While there a reasonable chance that previously absent faces will return to their backline, it still remains highly likely that the Shrimpers will field a weakened, if not makeshift, defence at The Valley on Saturday.

Hardly ideal when coming up against a side who have largely played with swift attacking fluency this season, managed to score four times last weekend even when playing sluggishly, and have their regular centre-forward returning.

In fact, a first-choice defensive line would struggle to contend with the Addicks at their fluent best. The pace and movement in their counter-attacking play, the drive and trickery on the ball, and the imposing power of Magennis in the centre. When it clicks, it’s rather marvellous, and provides a very tough ask of opposition defences.

There little doubt, as such, that Robinson’s men will look to take the game to Southend, and expose the potential flaws in a defence missing key members. A tough challenge in particular for teenager Elvis Bwomono, should he retain his place in the starting XI. Impressing on his Football League debut, but he would be facing a level of quality he has not yet seen before.

However, the makeshift back four that Brown fielded against Rochdale was able to keep a clean sheet, while the Addicks lacked their usual attacking fluency, in spite of the scoring of four goals, for large parts of the game at Boundary Park last week. It not as simple to say that a weakened Southend defence gives Charlton three points.

But it certainly reason to play in a particularly attacking manner, and look to keep the Shrimpers on the back foot.

PREDICTION

Southend will ask questions of Charlton. But Charlton should have the answers. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Southend United

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