Most would have been happy if Charlton Athletic were to return to The Valley this weekend on the back of collecting two points from two tough away games. Extreme difficulty expected in the games at the Kassam Stadium and Valley Parade. Anything more than two commendable draws a very encouraging bonus.
And so that they face AFC Wimbledon with four points gained from their ventures, and directly after a battling win over third place Bradford City, means SE7 is likely to be a pool of positivity and optimism on Saturday. Belief both in those representing the Addicks, and in victory. Victory over the lowly Dons, who make the trip across the capital having lost to fellow strugglers Plymouth Argyle last weekend.
But to get carried away, both in a long-term and short-term sense, would be silly. The league a competitive one, and concern of collapse lingers alongside justifiable hope of pushing for a top two spot come May. The league’s competitiveness meaning that a run of positive results and performances does not assure Karl Robinson’s men of victory against a side who sit 20th.
But these are the sort of games, if Charlton do wish to push for the top two, that must be won. Home games against sides with relegation worries the perfect opportunity to gain points. An opportunity that cannot be turned down.
And with eight points between the Addicks in fourth and Wigan Athletic in second, dropping unnecessary points could prove particularly costly. A performance required. Whether convincing or not, one that does enough to win.
There not much of an excuse for Charlton failing to build on the position they find themselves in this weekend.
LAST MEETING – AFC WIMBLEDON 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (11/02/2017)
A second late capitulation of the season against AFC Wimbledon saw Charlton drop two points at Kingsmeadow in February, as Tom Elliott struck in stoppage-time to equalise for the hosts.
In fact, Robinson showed greater fighter than his side, with the former MK Dons boss becoming involved in a scuffle with a member of the Dons’ ground staff at full-time.
The Addicks appeared well placed to put the collapse at The Valley earlier on in the campaign, which saw Neal Ardley’s side score twice in the final 12 minutes to come from behind to win, behind them when they took an eighth minute lead at Kingsmeadow. A lead gained in quite spectacular fashion, too. A Ricky Holmes free-kick curling beautifully into the top corner of James Shea’s goal, well behind the reach of his desperate dive.
But Wimbledon were not crushed by the early strike, and increased in their competitiveness as the half progressed. Unfortunate, in fact, not to have successfully found a route back into the contest prior to the break. First Holmes fortunate only to receive yellow after a dangerous tackle on Lyle Taylor, before Sean Kelly’s cross-cum-shot somehow evaded both all in the centre and goal.
Robinson’s men becoming sluggish, if not second best, towards the end of the first period, and an early Tony Watt run and shot, though comfortably saved by Shea, at the start of the second-half was encouraging.
But the visitors really should have killed the game off ten minutes after the interval. Holmes’ deflected cross bouncing kindly through to Lee Novak, but the striker somehow managing to put his effort wide of goal. A huge let off for the hosts, that they would capitalise on.
For thereafter, the Dons were dominant. Pushing and pressuring the Addicks, whose defensive efforts never provided a great deal of comfort. Elliott in particular providing a great deal of worry.
And their pressure finally told in stoppage-time, as Tyrone Barnett nodded on a Shea long ball perfectly for Elliott, and the forward finished superbly across goal. Just reward for AFC’s efforts. Just punishment for Charlton’s sluggishness.
The hosts understandably enjoying their moment, but a little too much in the eyes of referee Boyeson. The already carded Elliott jumping towards the crowd to celebrate, and receiving a second yellow as punishment. Not enough time left in the game, however, for the Addicks to capitalise.
And with the Wimbledon mood high, and Charlton frustration equally so, a member of the Dons’ ground staff developed the confidence to make a comment towards Robinson come full-time that resulted in something of a punch-up ensuing. The visiting boss, rather hilariously and also thankfully, restrained by Ardley to prevent the incident being anything more than a bit pathetic. A rather eventful afternoon at Kingsmeadow.
AFC Wimbledon: LWWLDL
Having suffered a three-goal defeat to Oxford United, leaving them inside League One’s bottom four with just two wins from 12 games played, the successive victories that AFC Wimbledon gained thereafter appeared vital to turning their season around.
A crucial away win at fellow strugglers Northampton Town, followed by an impressive victory over promotion-chasing Rotherham United. A bit of breathing space opened up between themselves and the bottom four, but, at this stage of the campaign, a more important message potentially delivered. The proof they could compete, and possibly that they would not be spending a season lurking in and around the relegation zone.
And with the Dons facing another side with fears of relegation at this early stage of the campaign last weekend – Plymouth Argyle – it seemed they’d set themselves a tidy platform from which to move into a position of relative comfort. A position from which to build upon. A foundation, allowing for a campaign of worry to be avoided.
Alas, a single-goal defeat at home to the Pilgrims has, without undoing the good work of the previous two victories, most certainly undone the positivity created. Bottom-place argyle gaining only their second win of the campaign, and their first away from home. The fragile nature of this Dons side exposed once again.
A season of fighting desperately to maintain their status in League One seemingly on the agenda for Ardley’s men.
It not long ago that four winless games had supporters of the Addicks understandably worried. The performances dire, a positive start undone, and the faults within the squad being exposed. A worry there were certain limitations that would prevent the obvious potential of this group of players from being displayed.
But such worries seem a distant memory, with performances in recent weeks offering the perfect response. A thrashing of Fleetwood, a determined effort against Doncaster when dipping below par, and a battling victory at Bradford. Charlton fourth, and the quality within the starting XI being displayed.
It probably telling that a frustrating effort against Oxford United, in which wasted chances and a failure to make the most of earlier dominance, was the least convincing of the previous four games, but still providing a pleasing point.
But there reason for caution. Without the magic of Ben Amos, points would have been dropped last weekend as occasional lapses in defensive contraction remain, the form and fatigue Josh Magennis, without a reasonable alternative striking option, is a concern to match a sometimes-displayed lack of potency, and options in reserve aren’t plentiful in general. It not a perfect unit by any means.
In one way, it a worry. There may come a time when performances similar to the run of four games without a win return. In another, it shows that this side, largely performing superbly and gaining excellent resulting, can still get better.
And with takeovers rumours in existence, they might well be aided in their efforts to continue to improve, and to gain promotion.
AFC Wimbledon will be without Dean Parrett, with a serious groin injury set to keep the former Charlton loanee on the sidelines for as long as three months.
Parrett, who played nine times for the Addicks in 2011 while on loan from Tottenham, has made himself a crucial part of the Dons midfield since arriving from Stevenage at the start of last season, and will be a huge miss to Ardley’s side while he recovers.
The Dons are also likely to remain without forward Kwesi Appiah, with the summer arrival from Crystal Palace not featuring since September as he continues to contend with a hamstring problem, and the versatile Jon Meades, who nears a return from a knee injury having not featured this season, but Saturday will come too soon.
Mark Marshall should be available for Charlton having missed the previous three games with a thigh injury, more serious than first feared.
The winger was initially expected to be absent for the game against Doncaster Rovers two weekends ago, before making an immediate return to the matchday squad. But the summer signing, who has made one appearance for the Addicks as a consequence of injury, hasn’t featured since. A return to training this week means he stands a chance of being in the 18 on Saturday.
Robinson, however, will remain without Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (groin), and Lewis Page, whose return to first-team availability edges ever-closer having recovered from a long-term ankle injury.
But the players Charlton’s boss does have available to him means he has a few selection decisions to make ahead of the visit of the Dons. Naby Sarr starting at left-back at Valley Parade, but Jay Dasilva’s attacking talents missed and more likely required in a game where the Addicks will be on the front foot, while Ben Reeves will continue to compete with Billy Clarke for the position behind the forward. Sarr moving into the centre to accommodate Dasilva the most likely change, with Ezri Konsa the incredibly unfortunate victim.
KEY BATTLE – AVOIDING COMPLACENCY
Twelve games into the League One season, and the division’s bottom two places were occupied by Gillingham and Plymouth Argyle. Both only winning one game. That one game coming against Charlton.
Were it not for Ousmane Fane’s dismissal three minutes after eradicating a two-goal deficit, the pattern of the game suggested the Addicks would have completely capitulated at Boundary Park against winless Oldham Athletic. The performance against Bury, placed inside the third tier’s bottom four, abysmal. Robinson’s side haven’t exactly been convincing against struggling opposition during this campaign.
And so to suggest that victory over AFC Wimbledon, who arrive in SE7 precariously perched above the relegation zone, is assured would be incredibly naïve. Not only because the Dons have a natural tendency to fight, picking up some positive results prior to last weekend’s costly defeat at home to Plymouth, but because of what has occurred during this campaign. That, and the fact Charlton are experts in bringing supporters down to earth with a heavy bump.
Oldham aside, the problem in those games has been a slow start that the opposition have either taken immediate advantage of, or the Addicks simply haven’t been able to properly recover from. A sloppy goal subsequently conceded, and the somewhat bemused men of Robinson without the confidence and composure to break down a defiant wall of defenders set up to maintain the struggling side’s advantage. I don’t think it’s complacency or arrogance, probably more a combination of poor performances and difficulty in responding to the unplanned, but it feels like complacency.
So too does a look back at least season provide another reminder to remain fully focused. The Dons salvaging points against Charlton in dramatic fashion twice last season, exposing a tameness that you would hope no longer exists. You would hope, but, if nothing else, soft goals have been conceded on several occasions throughout this campaign.
Past experiences offering reminders to Robinson and his side that performance levels cannot drop, and a below-par performance is unlikely to go unpunished irrespective of the opposition.
Scrappily holding onto an advantage for much of the second half, and adding a second with 15 minutes to play to avoid panic attacks, frequent watch-checking, and Ben Amos having to do something that defies logic. Charlton Athletic 2-0 AFC Wimbledon