To attempt to decide whether Saturday’s trip to Valley Parade to face Bradford City will provide a tougher test for Charlton Athletic than the one offered by Oxford United on Tuesday night is rather futile.
For regardless of whether the Bantams perform to a level above or below what the U’s offered in midweek, it will still be an incredibly testing challenge for the Addicks. One that means a certain level of performance is going to be required to gain so much as a point. One that means coming away from Yorkshire with a second point of the week has to be seen as a success.
Karl Robinson’s men will no doubt possess a reasonable level of self-belief, and certainly won’t be fearing facing another side that share a spot inside League One’s top six. A certain amount of wastefulness cost them something more positive in midweek, and allowed Oxford back into a game that became incredibly competitive, but Charlton played with confidence and attacking intent throughout at the Kassam. There no reason to feel that such an overall performance cannot be replicated at Valley Parade.
And so too will the Addicks look at recent Bantams results and sense they have vulnerabilities. Capitulating to a 3-1 loss at Bury having taken the lead at the weekend, before drawing with a slowly improving Oldham Athletic side in midweek.
But this a Bradford side who currently sit third in the League One table, were unbeaten at Valley Parade throughout last season under Stuart McCall’s leadership, and have won eight of their 14 league games during this campaign. The threat they offer a very real one. Their reputation as a difficult side to beat remains.
And so it would appear that the Addicks, whether a fluid contest shared by two teams playing with real quality or a gritty and committed battle, will have another highly competitive clash on their hands on Saturday.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BRADFORD CITY (14/03/2017)
Charlton slipped to 15th in the League One table following their draw with Bradford in March, but their performance against a side battling for promotion was an excellent one.
Or at least their second half performance was, with the Addicks starting poorly at The Valley. Romain Vincelot setting the tone with three minutes played, with the Frenchman given far too much and shooting just wide from distance. Charlton’s defensive effort unorganised, and lacking any sort of intensity.
Future Addick Mark Marshall among Bradford’s chief tormenters, but the hosts fortunate that their faults were not more greatly exploited. Tony McMahon’s free-kick comfortable held by Declan Rudd, and Nathanial Knight-Percival’s head sent over the bar. The Bantams really should have been more threatening in the circumstances.
Nonetheless, it came against the run of play when Karl Robinson’s sluggish side were able to take the lead with 35 minutes played. The two centre-backs combining in the opposition’s box as Patrick Bauer nodded on a Ricky Holmes free-kick for Jorge Teixeira, with the Portuguese taking a touch with his chest and ultimately volleying home.
Alas, it was not a lead that would last long, with Marshall heavily involved as Bradford equalised just eight minutes later. Another future Addick contributing as Billy Clarke relayed a half-cleared corner into the winger’s path, before his deflected shot was spilled horribly by Rudd. Timothee Dieng on hand to pounce on the loose ball and head the visitors level.
But the pattern of the contest changed substantially in the second period, with the Addicks taking control. The backline organised, and the side pressing as a unit to prevent Bradford’s considerable attacking threat from getting forward. But Robinson’s men were causing a consistent attacking threat of their own.
In fact, they created more than enough chances after half-time to find a winner. Lee Novak heading over from close range, the otherwise excellent Tony Watt blasting off-target horribly after a bouncing ball fell to him inside the box, and Teixeira heading straight at Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle from a pinpoint Ricky Holmes set-piece delivery.
But the wasted chances, frustrating though they were, not enough to take praise away from the players in a period where performances without intensity or quality had been numerous. Those on the pitch evidently disappointed, but those in the stands appreciative of their efforts.
Having suffered a play-off final defeat last season, and subsequently saw a handful of key players depart, there was a sense that the task for Bradford to finish inside the top six this season would be a much tougher one.
But under the stewardship of McCall, a man who will always have maximum respect and worship in the city, the Bantams have again made sure they’re going to be given the label of promotion contenders. An impressive start to the campaign, blowing away the indifference that some had about a side after a difficult summer. Eight victories from their first 14 league games, as they sit third in the division.
There is, however, maybe just a small element of frustration. They were only two points off second after beating MK Dons 4-1 at the start of the month, but now find themselves five points off an automatic promotion spot having failed to win either of their previous two games. Having lost last season’s play-off final to Millwall, and lost in the semi-final in the season before that, avoiding that process again would be most welcome.
Frustration that those two recent games that failed to result in a victory were against sides that find themselves towards the foot of the division. A horrible collapse at Bury, where their lead was overturned in the space of two minutes, and somewhat disappointing draw with Oldham the sort of results you need to eradicate if your aim is automatic promotion.
Nonetheless, Bradford’s beginning to the League One season has been a promising one, and certainly enough to suggest a top-six spot at least will be theirs come May.
A positive point for Charlton at Oxford in midweek, but supporters were left somewhat frustrated that it wasn’t more.
For the Addicks, and not for the first time this season, failed to make the most of a position of dominance. In total control, and having created enough chances to be further ahead, prior to conceding an equaliser with 35 minutes played. The U’s, who looked completely out of it up until that point, subsequently invited back into the game, and threatened to steal victory as much as the visitors did thereafter.
The inability of Robinson’s men to take their chances, and subsequently prevent opposition from sneaking back into games, is ultimately going to grow from frustrating to costly if it’s not addressed. But the overall performance at the Kassam, in what became a highly competitive game, was an excellent one. At no point did Charlton settle for the point they ultimately gained, with attacking intensity displayed throughout the 90 minutes.
And with a largely positive performance and point coming on the back of two victories – a hard-fought win over Doncaster Rovers and a sublime mauling of Fleetwood Town – there is certainly much improvement on the sluggish efforts in the four winless games that preceded.
It would just, you know, be a bit less stressful if we showed a bit more potency.
Bradford will be without former Addick Adam Chicksen after the left-back injured a thigh in the latter stages of his side’s draw with Oldham in midweek.
Chicksen, a steady performer in a Charlton shirt, has been a regular for the Bantams during this campaign, making a positive impression at Valley Parade. On loan Brentford left-back Tom Field the favourite to replace him in the starting XI.
And McCall will also have to make do without influential captain Romain Vincelot, after the midfielder received his fifth yellow card of the campaign on Tuesday. Arguably a much greater loss to Bradford, given his importance in the centre. Dieng, scorer at The Valley in March, in line to come into for his fellow Frenchman.
Elsewhere, defender Tony McMahon remains absent with a hamstring injury that is expected to keep him out for the best part of a month.
Charlton will remain without Mark Marshall after it was confirmed the former Bradford winger’s thigh niggle is worse than first feared.
Originally, it was expected that Marshall, whose debut for the Addicks was delayed until the trip to Fleetwood Town by a knee injury sustained in pre-season, would only miss last weekend’s win over Doncaster Rovers. But having sat out the draw with Oxford, he’s highly unlikely to add to his single Charlton appearance at his former home. A return after that, however, is expected soon enough.
Robinson will also remain without long-term absentee Jason Pearce, who continues to recover from a knee injury, Lewis Page, who is likely to be someway off match fitness despite appearing for the U23s in the week having recovered from a serious ankle injury, and Harry Lennon, who is approaching a year since his last appearance as a result of hamstring and groin issues.
But Charlton’s boss will persevere with Josh Magennis, despite himself accepting that his main centre-forward is in desperate need of a rest. The Northern Ireland international, as key a figure for Michal O’Neill’s side as he is Robinson’s, has had a demanding start to the season, and continues to look exhausted beyond the hour mark. But with a lack of alternatives available, and the Addicks facing a tough test, Magennis must continue to find energy from somewhere.
KEY BATTLE – FOSU’S FORM CONTINUING
A sixth goal in four games for Tariqe Fosu on Tuesday night, as he rounded Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood before finishing coolly, and there no question that Charlton’s recent improvement in both performances and form owes a great deal to the 21-year-old winger.
In each of those four games, the summer signing from Reading has given the Addicks the lead, and that provides a clear indication of the sort of impact he’s been having. Creating moments when nothing seemed to be on, leading Charlton’s attacking efforts, and most importantly scoring goals that change the context of a game. His hat-trick at Fleetwood Town marvellous, but his other strikes and performance showing a man full of confidence.
And it definitely a case that his performances have been as important as his goals. A persistent threat regardless of which winger he’s attacking, with full-backs being forced onto the back foot. An increase in attack intent from the Addicks in recent weeks coinciding with Fosu finding some form, and as such the side able to attack with genuine threat on a consistent basis.
There are, of course, other threats in this Charlton side. Not least Ricky Holmes, who remains the most influential on the Addicks’ chances of victory irrespective of Fosu’s form. But having a threat from either flank of similar quality has given Robinson’s men much greater strength going forward, even if they’re not always making the most of it.
That a particular concern for Bradford, who will face Fosu without either of their first-choice full-backs. Possibly some at Valley Parade who believe they’re getting something of a reprieve with no Marshall to torment them, but that is far from the truth.
The Bantams have attacking threats of their own, and Charlton’s weak finishing in midweek means their strength going forward needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but there every reason for Fosu to make the difference in a tight encounter.
Visions of wastefulness from Tuesday night remain. But coming out of this week alive would be excellent, and set a handy platform. Bradford City 1-1 Charlton Athletic