For the second weekend in succession, Charlton Athletic will face a side whose start to the League One season has been desperately poor. Who occupy a place inside the relegation zone, and require considerable improvement in order to prevent their season revolving around their proximity to the division’s bottom four. Who appear shot of confidence and strategy.
Bury, like Gillingham before them, seemingly the ideal opponent to face when looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat and a dire performance. But such a notion has been somewhat rubbished by the failure of Karl Robinson’s side to deliver a fluent effort at Priestfield on Saturday in response to the crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan Athletic. Instead there’s a touch of worry about the encounter at The Valley.
It surely self-defeating to approach such a game with a sense of nervousness or discomfort. The result of which only allowing a fragile opposition the opportunity to impose themselves in the game, when an early goal might well crush them. The Addicks, and their ever-confident boss, will no doubt boast belief going into the contest.
And it belief that they can, of course, justify. Their performances in five of the season’s first six games were a marvellous mix of fluent attacking efforts and determined defensive battle. Individual quality, collective shape, and moments of brilliance fulfilling the potential that this side seemingly had.
But as questions have been asked of this side, they haven’t been able to provide the answers. No response to strong opposition, no ‘Plan B’ when required, and no alternative when it apparent that tired bodies can give no more. The first signs of frailties have provided great cause for concern.
And so there a strong need for Robinson’s men to deliver a reminder of their qualities when Bury arrive in SE7 this Saturday. To replicate their early season form, with a performance that mixes determined defensive efforts and fluent attacking moves. To settle any growing discomfort that may exist among Charlton supporters, who have seen promising collapses several times before.
The Valley crowd needing to see that the previous two performances were merely blips, and those in red delivering a performance confidence.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 BURY (25/02/2017)
Charlton sunk to a new Lowe as Ryan’s first-half goal was enough to give Lee Clark’s side victory at The Valley over a sluggish group of Addicks in February.
They only had themselves to blame as they fell behind with 21 minutes played. The backline given several opportunities to clear as Jacob Mellis attempted to deliver for Lowe in the centre, but on each occasion gifted the ball straight back to him. Lowe unmarked as he collected Mellis’ successful pull back, and finishing emphatically.
The response that followed hardly that of a team who knew losing to a side struggling to maintain their third-tier status wasn’t good enough, and were desperate to put things right. But as half-time approached, the Addicks were highly unfortunate not to draw level. Lee Novak, playing against the man who led him at Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City, connected with Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross but saw his header cannon back off the crossbar.
In fact, the much-criticised Novak, and his equally criticised head, seemed like offering Charlton’s best chance of getting back into the contest. A second-half delivery from Ricky Holmes met by the forward at the near post, but Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy doing well to block the nod towards goal.
But those headed openings were not reflective of a side growing back into the game, nor of one taking control. The Addicks remaining sluggish and sloppy, while Bury remained defiant and determined enough to have their lead protected in relatively comfortable fashion. The quick feet of Stephy Mavididi began to become more influential, but the Shakers’ backline remained unmoved.
And confirmation of Charlton’s defeat probably came with another 15 minutes still to play. Holmes picking out an unmarked Novak at the far post, but the forward heading horribly wide. The typically sluggish and wasteful effort that made up so much of last season.
Beckford, Dawson, O’Connell, Ajose, Thompson, Aldred, Skarz, Murphy, O’Shea, Maguire, Bunn, Ince. And, in fact, several more. Few League One sides had a list of summer additions to match the impressive one belonging to Bury.
Enough to make many suggest that the Shakers were dark horses for a play-off position. There enough talent within their squad to challenge and, in the shape of Lee Clark, had an experienced leader who could successfully oversee the gelling of the bodies together. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be spending a season looking over their shoulders, and ultimately finishing one point above the bottom four, as was the case last time around.
Alas, eight league games into a campaign that seemingly promised so much, and Bury supporters are starting to express concern. An opening day victory over Walsall has been followed by seven league games without a win, five of those ending in defeat, and a place in League One’s relegation zone is currently being occupied. Faith in Clark, as performances continue to fail to reflect the pre-season optimism, fading at some rate.
The Shakers were, at least, able to produce an improved display that should have resulted in victory over Plymouth Argyle last weekend. Against another side who occupy a spot in the bottom four, Clark’s men were dominant, going close on several occasions, including hitting the post three times. A run of three consecutive defeats brought to an end, but greater signs of encouragement are certainly required.
And greater additions to their collection of points.
The mind of a Charlton supporter is fragile. And with good reason. It replays the past misdemeanours and failings of Roland Duchatelet’s regime, and fears constantly when the next one will come.
But even the supporter of a football club that has the luxury of being composed, owning an untainted and clear mind, would respond to the events of the previous week and a half with a degree of justified concern.
The crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan at The Valley was deflating, but there appeared enough reason to write it off as an extraordinary event. In combination with the loss at Gillingham, the pair of poor results provided genuine worries. The optimism provided by the impressive beginning to the campaign somewhat dented.
For the Addicks were outclassed by Wigan, unable to respond to their pressing place, and constantly exposed on the counter. Against the Gills, they were tepid and tame going forward, and too easily allowed a side short on confidence into the contest. A common theme in both defeats was that Robinson was unable to provide an alternative plan, while alternative options for his tired and sluggishly performing players were limited.
It brings about the worry of a collapse. The opening partnership’s century stand becomes devalued if the middle-order can’t add to it significantly. Resistance and recovery required.
And there a need to defeat the concerns that exist over this perceived lack of ‘Plan B’, and a lack of alternatives when it comes to individuals. Concerns that simmered while the Addicks were winnings games, but have now reached boiling point given that they are part of the reason why consecutive defeats have been suffered.
So too, however, has this Charlton side shown its undoubted qualities within the first eight games of this league season. Qualities shown both defensively and going forward, that were not displayed in flukish fashion and can be repeated.
But it does, for the fragile minds of Charlton supporters, need to prove those qualities once more.
Bury will be without Charlton loanee Nicky Ajose, with the forward unavailable to play against his parent club.
But Ajose’s absence is unlikely to hit the Shakers hard, with Clark leaving him out of his matchday squad for four consecutive games. Just one goal in four league appearances for the 25-year-old, but with no reported injury, his total absence is somewhat mysterious.
The likelihood is, however, that Bury will have another former Addick up top, with Michael Smith starting the previous two. Smith, who scored against Charlton while on loan at Northampton Town last season, joined the Shakers in the final hours of the transfer window and will be hoping to reform an embryonic partnership with Jermaine Beckford at The Valley. Beckford a scorer of four goals this season, but missed out on the goalless draw with Plymouth having picked up a slight knock to his knee.
Though injuries is one of the reasons that Clark has used a quite staggering 28 players in Bury’s eight league fixtures so far this season. Defenders Craig Jones (groin) and Eoghan O’Connell (knee), midfielder Stephen Dawson (knee), and wingers Danny Mayor (hip) and Jay O’Shea (knee) are all likely to remain unavailable for the weekend trip to SE7.
Charlton will have to manage without their most persistent and potent threat, as Ricky Holmes serves a one-match suspension for collecting his fifth yellow card of the season during last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham.
A loss made more harmful by the lack of genuine wide options in reserve. With Mark Marshall unexpected to return until late October, and Ben Reeves’ fragile fitness meaning he continues to be protected, the likelihood is that a natural forward will occupy the flank Holmes leaves vacant. Karlan Ahearne-Grant has done well enough when deployed as a winger this season, and is arguably the favourite to come in.
But further changes, despite recent performances, appear unlikely. Robinson seemingly with faith both in his system of choice, and those who have made it up for the most part this season. That, and not having a great deal to choose from in reserve.
Elsewhere, Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) join Marshall, Reeves and Holmes in being unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – CREATING AN ATTACKING THREAT WITHOUT HOLMES
Irrespective of how sluggish, disjointed, and tame the Addicks were for the majority of Saturday’s defeat at Priestfield, there were still roars of encouragement from the away end whenever Ricky Holmes burst down the flanks with intent. Still genuine hope while Charlton’s key man remained on the pitch.
For Holmes, irrespective of the situation, has the ability to change a game on his own. Whether that be from a spectacular run forward that leaves opposition defenders for dead, or an incredible goal out of nothing, the Addicks have so often turned to the winger to salvage something from uncomfortable situations.
And in more positive situations, Holmes drives Charlton forward. When Robinson’s men have been at their fluent best this season, their dangerous attacking play has largely gone through the 30-year-old. Quick, creative, and potent.
Alas, the Addicks will have to cope without the suspended Holmes this weekend at a time when his absence will be particularly felt. After two sluggish performances as a collective, the individual brilliance of the winger is desperately required. Relying on him might excuse others, but his ability to make an impression going forward so often lifts the entire side.
His loss made a touch more concerning by the struggle that Tariq Fosu has had in previous games, with the winger’s early impact fading somewhat. An inexperienced and out of position Ahearne-Grant on one flank, with a slightly out of form Fosu on the other, hardly ideal. A need for one, if not both, of them to step up.
The loss of Holmes’ drive also allows Bury to be more forward thinking, and not simply come to The Valley to defend irrespective of their recent form. If Charlton’s attacking threat is perceived to be less threatening, or shown to be as the match progresses, they may well commit more men forward and ultimately stamp their own mark on the game.
No doubt there still attacking quality in this side. Fosu displayed plenty in the early weeks of the season, Billy Clarke has made an impression, and Josh Magennis’ presence is always a threat. But Holmes’ absence, combined with the sluggish nature of the previous two performances, give you a concern that Bury may capitalise.
I fear another sluggish effort, particularly without Ricky Holmes’ influence. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury