One of the sides hotly tipped for a top-two finish prior to the season getting underway travel to The Valley on Tuesday night, where they will face opposition whose start to the campaign has meant they too are quickly becoming favourites for promotion from the third tier.
Wigan Athletic suffering an immediate relegation from the Championship having won the League One title two seasons ago, but returning to the third tier without the crisis that a second drop in three years might suggest. The appointment of Paul Cook a strong one, their squad containing outstanding quality for this level, and it not just on reputation that another short stay in League One has been predicted. This the level of opponent that will offer Charlton Athletic a real test, but the sort of opponent that will relish playing in their current form.
A fourth consecutive league win, that maintained a 100% Valley record so far this season, was earned with victory over Southend United on Saturday. The Shrimpers putting up a real fight, but Karl Robinson’s side doing extraordinarily well to find the quality required to win. They welcome the Latics to SE7 with exactly the sort of confidence and self-belief required for this sort of fixture.
Cook’s men, however, slipped up Shrewsbury Town. This season’s surprise package, and League One leaders, inflicting a league defeat on Wigan for the first time. The possibility of frailties to expose, but the more likely scenario is the Latics arriving in South East London particularly desperate to respond to a disappointing defeat.
But it quite apparent that victory for Robinson’s side would reaffirm their promotion ambitions, with successive defeats for Cook’s men leaving them with plenty of questions to be answered. A reverse, and Wigan’s weekend defeat can be seen merely as blip, while a small dosage of caution would be injected into the veins of Charlton supporters.
Even at this early stage of the campaign, we have ourselves a promotion six pointer.
LAST MEETING – WIGAN ATHLETIC 0-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (20/02/2015)
Charlton opened up a comfortable margin between themselves and the Championship’s bottom three with a Friday night victory at Wigan’s DW Stadium in February 2015.
The Addicks, then led by Guy Luzon, would pull ahead with just 17 minutes played. A loose ball finding its way to Frederic Bulot on the left, the on-loan Standard Liege winger driving forward, before his resulting shot somehow beat Ali Al-Habsi at his near post.
And Bulot was involved again as the visitors doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage-time. The Gabon international delivering for Igor Vetokele in the centre, with the forward heading emphatically into the bottom corner.
The Latics, who would ultimately be relegated, were playing with the quality and confidence of a side who were already accepting of their fate, and a third goal would follow with two minutes to play. Debutant Chris Eagles, having combined with Johann Berg Gudmundsson, tapping home from close range.
Having won their first three League One games, and doing so while showing few signs of faltering, dropping points in their following two has proven a frustration for Wigan.
A 1-0 win away at MK Dons, which would have been by a bigger margin were it not for Milton Keynes goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, a convincing 4-1 victory at home to Bury, and a 2-0 win over Oldham Athletic appeared to have set the tone. Cook’s men dominating games, led by the creative drive of Nick Powell. His whole side seemingly settled quickly into the football he wanted them to play.
And maybe they would have made it four consecutive wins were it not for Chey Dunkley’s dismissal during the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth, occurring while the Latics held the lead. But there were no excuses for Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Shrewsbury. Cook admitting it was his side’s worst performance since he has taken charge, with decision making in possession proving a particular issue.
Nonetheless, to respond to the disappointment of relegation with three wins and a draw from five games can certainly be seen as a positive start. Not least with a new manager at the helm, and several changes to the squad made. Undoubtedly still room for improvement, but a foundation set for the true quality of this Wigan side to show as the season progresses.
There was faith, maybe even excitement, as Karl Robinson built his starting XI over the summer, but there certainly not an expectation for a start to the season like this.
Questions were still to be answered, and ones beyond those about depth within the squad. Robinson’s spell in charge in the second half of last season indifferent at best, following a period of struggle at MK Dons, and players seemingly lost in his system. If nothing else, he still needed to prove himself, and there maybe just a slight concern over how quickly his players would adapt to his ways.
And so that success wasn’t guaranteed makes this start to the campaign all the more impressive. Whether grinding out results or playing fluent attacking football, the collective performances have been excellent, the list of outstanding individual efforts is incredibly long, and Robinson has led superbly. Five wins from the opening six games the reward, with the Addicks sitting second in the League One table.
The fifth win achieved on Saturday, with a 2-1 victory over Southend that required both excellent attacking play and determined defensive efforts. The game a relatively even contest, with half-chances shared and Jason Pearce exceptional, until Josh Magennis nodded in from Chris Solly’s cross and Ricky Holmes’ drove home from outside the box within the space of three second-half minutes. A John White header from Stephen McLaughlin’s corner halving the deficit, and requiring that determination at the back, as a combination of Magennis and Pearce just about kept out a Ryan Leonard strike.
The strengths of this Charlton side shown in the final half hour of Saturday’s contest. Clinical quality going forward, and, while inviting panic, a strong defensive resolve that does enough to secure points. Qualities required for a promotion charge, and ones that that don’t appear temporary.
Wigan will be without Ryan Colclough after the winger was sent off after the final whistle following their weekend defeat to Shrewsbury.
Colclough was shown a red card by referee Mark Heywood, and will join Chey Dunkley in being suspended for the trip to The Valley, with the defender serving the final game of his three-match ban following his dismissal during the draw with Portsmouth.
The Latics are also without first choice goalkeeper Christian Walton, after the Brighton loanee recently broke his leg. Young Serbian Matija Sarkic arrived on loan from Aston Villa in the latter stages of the transfer window, but Jamie Jones filled in at Shrewsbury. Shaun MacDonald (broken leg) and Craig Morgan (hip) will also be absent.
Though following the frustrating defeat to the Shrews at the weekend, changes to the starting XI are likely. New arrival Gary Roberts, a favourite of Cook, could come in for his start for the Latics, while Will Grigg, a reported target for Charlton during the summer, joined Roberts in making an appearance off the bench on Saturday and is pushing for a recall.
There may also be familiar names in Wigan’s squad, with Nathan Byrne a League One regular for the Latics this season, and Addicks academy graduate Terell Thomas an unused substitute at New Meadow.
Byrne spent the second half of last season on loan in SE7 but has worked his way back into the Wigan side, while Thomas, arriving at the DW following his release by Charlton in the summer, has made five appearances so far for Cook’s side, including two in League One.
While the first midweek league game of the season may give Robinson reason to rotate his side, it would come as quite a surprise if there are changes to the XI that started the victory over Southend on Saturday.
That XI, which welcomed back Jay Dasilva and Josh Magennis from international duty, would appear to be Charlton’s strongest, though Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves will have something to say about once they return to fitness. Marshall remains out with a knee injury, while Reeves’ introduction to the first team has been a slow one having not had a proper pre-season.
Elsewhere, Karlan Ahearne-Grant is likely to miss out again having been unavailable for the weekend win with a knee injury sustained during the victory over Oldham, while Lewis Page’s long-term ankle problem continues to keep him out.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING CONTROL OF MIDFIELD
While Ahmed Kashi and Jake Forster-Caskey have pretty much had a free reign in the centre of midfield this season – their quality a class above what opposing sides have had to offer – the pair might well find themselves in battle on Tuesday night.
Kashi and Forster-Caskey so often breaking up play, or carrying the ball from defence into attack, and subsequently feeding the attacking midfield duo of Tariq Fosu, Billy Clarke and Holmes. The trio that have led this side’s forward efforts. But a trio that are, not necessarily reliant, but much better for the service they receive from two quality deeper midfielders that have so often dictated and controlled.
But Wigan arrive in SE7 with a midfield pair of their own, who will also look to take control of the centre and subsequently feed men further forward. Sam Morsy and Wolves loanee Lee Evans are two excellent central midfielders for this level, and have the qualities that allow them to break up play, and look for the next pass in a very composed fashion.
Morsy and Evans have Powell and Michael Jacobs to feed, though Roberts is pushing to start after his recent arrival. Forward-minded midfielders of high quality, that can deliver to the men in the centre or punish themselves if allowed the space. Powell with three goals this season, and Jacobs with two.
It not so much the attacking midfielders, therefore, but their supply. An intriguing contest in the centre between two high quality pairings, that could have quite an important bearing on the encounter.
Take a point? Of course, given the run we’re on, it may come as a disappointment to have it halted, but I’d certainly see no issue in taking four points from the two home fixtures that have occurred this week. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Wigan Athletic
(Apologies for the lack of Southend report. Wasn’t feeling particularly with it during the game, nor after, and even if I had produced something it would have been even greater nonsense than usual. Couldn’t tell you the last time I went to a game and didn’t produce a report, so I’d like to think that it will just be a one off and my nonsense will return from Tuesday. Disappointment spreads throughout the Charlton community)