Amid the condemnation of Charlton Athletic’s poor performance in defeat to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night, there was solace to be sought in what was to follow for the Addicks.
For while the Latics, with a high intensity game, had prevented Karl Robinson’s men from playing and exposed a lack of ‘Plan B’ in a side that has been superb when at its fluent best this season, it didn’t feel naïve to look ahead to the weekend fixture and feel the Addicks wouldn’t be facing the same level of scrutiny from the opposition.
Charlton, having suffered their first defeat on home soil this season, travel to Priestfield on Saturday where they face the division’s bottom club. The only inhabitant of League One yet to record victory during this campaign. A side that lacks quality and cohesion, led by an under-pressure boss who himself has admitted he isn’t sure how much time he’ll have left in charge unless things improve quickly.
A dangerous attitude to adopt it might be, but there no denying that the Addicks have been gifted the perfect fixture in which to bounce back from their crushing midweek defeat. A Gillingham side in a far from healthy state. A Gillingham side whose weaknesses are primed for exploitation.
Convert an opening to push ahead, and pen Ady Pennock’s side inside their own half for the remainder of the contest. Bullied and left second best by a comfortable margin in midweek, but a glorious opportunity an offer to take control of a contest. The sort of fragile opposition that the Addicks might well rediscover their fluent attacking play against.
But the Gills, for all their struggles this season and last, aren’t simply rocking up at Priestfield on Saturday to accept defeat. If nothing else, a draw at Kingsmeadow in midweek, despite being a goal behind and down to ten men, was an encouraging sign in a period of very few. A suggestion that there is fight in this Gillingham side, the players are still performing for Pennock, and they won’t simply roll over.
Equally, it would be naïve having witnessed Charlton’s tame display against the Latics in midweek to expect an immediate return to the sort of performances that saw them win five games in six prior to that. The opposition preventing the Addicks from play, but so too was there a lack of composure, a struggle to make the correct decision, and a real tiredness in the display. Bouncing back not a given because the opposition are seemingly inviting.
Nonetheless, the importance of an immediate response to Tuesday’s efforts is obvious. Or, more so, the importance of preventing confidence taking another blow.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-0 GILLINGHAM (17/04/2017)
Charlton’s impressive end-of-season run gained momentum as they comprehensively beat Gillingham at The Valley in April.
The Gills arriving in SE7 on the back of their first win in six, but with relegation still very much a concern. And a concern that would only grow as Jason Pearce climbed highest to head home from Ricky Holmes’ corner with 20 minutes played.
Relegation was a concern the Addicks had only just managed to shake off, with four points from their previous two games coming after just one win in the 14 prior to that, and there remained defensive frailties in the side. Cody McDonald, having turned inside the box and fired wide while the scores were level, taking advantage of a Pearce slip to move through on goal after the Addicks had lost possession in midfield. But the ball got away from the Gillingham forward and his desperate dive, falling to the floor as he passed Patrick Bauer by, only made his efforts all the more embarrassing.
McDonald’s punishment a booking, and further punishment for an obviously weak Gillingham side was to follow. Holmes lifting a free-kick from the edge of the box into the top-left corner of the goal with just over half-an-hour played. Effortless.
And a third was to follow for Robinson’s side, possessing a level of confidence almost unimaginable less than three weeks previously when relegation did seem a real possibility. Jordan Botaka working some space inside the box, the ball set back to Josh Magennis, and the forward finishing emphatically from close range with 54 minutes played.
In fact, so comprehensive was Charlton’s control of the game once they had doubled their advantage, there was almost a disappointment that they didn’t add further in the time that remained. The Gills poor; the Addicks excellent.
Having spent the majority of last season flirting with relegation, and failing to secure a win so far during this campaign, a hard-earned away point at AFC Wimbledon in midweek comes as a significant positive for the Gills.
Sean Clare, a young midfielder on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, equalising in first-half stoppage-time for Gillingham’s ten men after Andy Barcham had scored for the hosts. That the Gills did manager to draw level despite being reduced to ten, with Lee Martin dismissed, and with not much confidence to draw on deserves some credit.
But the relative boost certainly isn’t enough. Only last weekend did Any Pennock’s side collapse at Oxford, conceding three times in eight second-half minutes and leading to supporters calling for the boss to be sacked. There very little faith in this Gillingham side.
And it not rash, either. Four wins in 21 very poor league games meaning the Gills avoided the drop by just a single point. A surprise Pennock retained the job.
A begrudging willingness to accept the judgement of chairman Paul Scally, if only to offer support to the side, but it already apparent that judgement is misplaced. A season spent attempting to avoid relegation inevitable. Relegation inevitable without some sort of change.
The complexities of football mean a single defeat has left you as low as four consecutive wins had you high.
For the one-dimensional Addicks were completely outplayed by a promotion rival on Tuesday night, with the three-goal loss exposing a lack of ‘Plan B’. A genuine test, and rather emphatically failed. There no answer to Wigan’s pressing play.
What the Latics did wasn’t complicated, and others will repeat of that. They pressed high, they counter-attacked with pace, and left Robinson’s side hurried and frantic in possession. A complete lack of composure in possession, and subsequent attacking fluency, giving the visitors total control.
It doesn’t, however, undo the outstanding start to the season, and the level of performance on show when the Addicks have got themselves on top. Moments of fluid attacking football combined with determined defensive efforts had earned Charlton five wins in six games prior to Tuesday night. They’ve fought valiantly for their points.
The defeat provides a few factors to feel concerned about. There certainly Worry about how they’ll cope when a side matches Wigan’s intensity. But there no doubting that the Charlton seen in the previous weeks of the season will return.
The Gills will be without Lee Martin after the former Charlton loanee was dismissed during Tuesday’s draw with AFC Wimbledon.
Martin appearing to throw a punch in the general direction of Wimbledon’s Lyle Taylor after a heavy coming together involving the pair, which led to a scuffle between the two groups of players. The skipper now facing a three-game ban, and looks set to be replaced in the side by Josh Parker.
But Pennock will likely have one former Charlton wide man in his starting XI. Scott Wagstaff a regular in the Gillingham line-up after a difficult period with injury last season. The academy graduate a well-liked figure among Addicks, and will surely receive a positive reception from those in the Priestfield away end.
Elsewhere, full-back Bradley Garmston (calf) and midfielder Aaron Morris (knee) remain absent, but Billy Bingham (concussion) could come back into contention after the midfield man missed the midweek trip to Kingsmeadow.
Maybe for the first time this season, there’s a genuinely tough decision for Robinson to make ahead of the trip to Priestfield. Remain loyal to the XI that has started the majority of Charlton’s league games so far this campaign, and shown its quality during them, or freshen up a side that looked tired and tame in midweek?
Logic suggests Charlton’s boss will probably remain with his usual bodies. Josh Magennis running on empty in the closing stages of the midweek defeat, and Ahmed Kashi’s early substitution a reflection of his uncharacteristically poor performance, but it difficult to imagine either of those key figures being taken out of the side.
But those who watched from the bench in midweek will be pushing more than ever for a place in the starting XI. The athleticism of Ezri Konsa or Joe Aribo may prove useful in the middle, Karlan Ahearne-Grant may well be being considered after Tariq Fosu looked particularly unthreatening, and Joe Dodoo could come in for his first start if Magennis’ requires a rest.
Robinson’s ability to freshen up his side, however, is restricted by the continued absence of Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall. Reeves still not match fit having not had a pre-season, and Marshall continuing his recovery from a knee injury sustained during the summer. Any change would feel forced and made begrudgingly, rather than a purposeful one made with the intent to reinvigorate.
Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) also remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – FINDING THE LOST FLUENCY
The biggest issues revealed on the back of Tuesday’s performance is that Robinson’s side lack an alternative style of play. Their composed passing football was stopped by a high-intensity Wigan side, and they had no way to combat it. The panicked Addicks crushed.
But for now, against a side where Charlton’s main style of play is perfect, the issue is simply about rediscovering the lost attacking fluency.
The Addicks too sluggish, often appearing lost, lost in possession, and too frantic when placed under pressure. Their passing aimless, and latterly pumped in the general direction of a tired Magennis, with no hope of winning the ball. Individual forward moves so often ran into dead ends, as players that have provided spark this campaign looked tame.
The weak attacks and struggles in possession leading to strong Wigan breaks. In truth, the Latics wouldn’t have flattered themselves if they’d scored more than three. Irrespective of the quality of the opposition, that performance can’t be repeated at Priestfield.
The ball needing to be looked after much better, greater pace needing to be seen throughout the side, and some cutting edge rediscovered. Push an opponent onto the back foot, like the attacking quality in this side can. Defensive resolve subsequently becomes an easier task, because the opposition’s first thought is keeping out a rampant attack.
You can’t forget about Tuesday, it has to be used to better this side. But it does need to be put to one side for the time being, to take a specific focus on this fixture. Freedom and fluency, not trepidation and anxiety.
A return to winning ways, but maybe not with the required comfort to immediately dislodge memories of Tuesday night. Gillingham 1-2 Charlton Athletic