Within a span of 21 days, Charlton Athletic avoided defeat in League One, and managed to claim three victories from their four games. Just a single goal conceded, as defensive determination saw the Addicks grind their way to up the table. Momentum and optimism, irrespective of the fact even Karl Robinson was happy to admit his side weren’t playing at their best, building at pace.
In the following span of 21 days, Charlton Athletic will also avoid defeat in League One. Not a single goal conceded in that time. It’s just that, in that period of 21 days, The Addicks won’t have played a league game.
FA Cup duty, as the spirited Truro City were ultimately dispatched, and international call-ups, that resulted in top-of-the-table clash at Shrewsbury Town was postponed, means the Addicks have gone consecutive weekends without a League One game.
Logic dictates that that is something of a frustration as Robinson welcomes former club Milton Keynes Dons to The Valley this weekend. A speed hump to an excellent run of form. Their little doubt that the Addicks would have preferred for their momentum to be maintained, and League One games to have continued at reasonable pace.
But there are, of course, benefits to such an absence from league football. An absence made less dramatic by the FA Cup encounter, and by a number of first team players appearing in the Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Portsmouth two days later. An opportunity to rest, and a chance also for Robinson to fine tune the flaws in a side that certainly isn’t performing with perfect fluency despite the excellent, gritty gaining of results.
Nonetheless, it is a case of starting again against Robbie Neilson’s men; a group who have underperformed so far this season and have to be treated as a potential threat. Expecting victory on the back on the back of previous results would be naïve. Four victories in five showing the capabilities of this side, but the meaning needing reaffirming after a 21-day absence.
The previous run remains a current one, but for the time being it needs to be forgotten in order to fully focus on starting again after such a long break without league football.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-2 MK DONS (04/04/2017)
Charlton put themselves in serious threat of relegation to League Two as a pathetic display was suitably punished by MK Dons at The Valley in April.
The fixture, a game in hand on those below them, offered an opportunity to create comfortable breathing space between themselves and the bottom four. Instead the Addicks, losing for a third time in a row and playing so poorly that another victory in the five remaining games of the season seemed impossible, left themselves just four points above the relegation zone. The full-time reaction a display of anger, of embarrassment, of supporters insulted.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt” was the cry. Heard many times before, but it meant much more on this occasion. The Charlton shirt carrying the name of PC Keith Palmer, the officer and season-ticket holder who sacrificed his own life to save others in an attempted terrorist at Westminster Bridge, and to have that sung felt poignant.
Karl Robinson’s side not just second best, but third best when the attitude and courage of PC Palmer’s family is considered.
Just seven minutes played when Harvey Barnes, excellent throughout the evening, would be gifted the space to cut inside and shoot. His slightly deflected effort saved by Declan Rudd, but parried straight into the path of Stuart O’Keefe. Tame defending, the simplest of goals, and previous performances indicated game already over.
The visitors dominant thereafter, or at least allowed to be, but it not until the 57th minute that an unassailable two-goal advantage was claimed. Leicester loanee Barnes allowed to travel forward 15 yards at half pace, before placing the ball into the far bottom corner from the edge of the area. The Addicks a collective mess, and seemingly individually unaware as to what their roles were.
It a relief that Robinson’s side found form in the final weeks of the campaign, winning four of their final five games, but the expression of anger and disgust at full-time appeared legitimate as the prospect of relegation became a legitimate fear.
MK Dons: WWLDDL
A weekend win over Fleetwood Town may leave them four points off the play-offs in League One’s congested mid-table but, sitting in 14th place as they do, it not unfair to suggest MK Dons have greatly underwhelmed in the opening weeks of the season.
Taking over a side that sat 19th in the third tier, and just two points above the relegation zone with 20 games played, Robbie Neilson had created a considerable degree of optimism during his time in charge last season. Just eight defeats suffered and 11 victories managed over the course of his 26 games in charge, sweetened further still with displays of promising football, leading to a rise to 12th come the end of the season. The damage done by Karl Robinson, somewhat overstaying his stay in Milton Keynes having overseen relegation in the previous season, addressed.
And with handy additions made this summer, much was expected both inside the club and out. Not in a league favourites sort of way, but competitive challengers for a top-six place. Often turgid football and a struggle to grind out results when playing in such a manner has meant otherwise.
The 1-0 win over the Trawlerman, with the winner coming from key man Chuks Aneke, was their first in the league in six. Their first against top-half opposition all season. Relief rather than celebration the main feeling.
So how do the Stadium MK club make the Fleetwood victory a more regular occurrence? Aneke finding form, and staying fit, will certainly help, as will the return to fitness of Peter Pawlett in a side that’s been rather goal shy. Robbie Neilson also has an excellent long-hair-facial-hair combo, which probably helps in these situations.
Either way, improvement is required if MK are to fulfil pre-season expectations.
Four league wins in five, one goal conceded in four, and FA Cup progression after something of a battle with non-league Truro. They even climbed to third last weekend despite not actually playing by virtue of Bradford City’s defeat at home to Plymouth Argyle. Things are going quite well for the Addicks at the moment.
But, quite incredibly, there’s a widely accepted view the Addicks aren’t playing that well. In fact, the performance in victory over AFC Wimbledon was a poor one. The win coming as a result of the quality of Ricky Holmes.
Potential a situation that could leave some supporters fearful. Without improvement the Addicks will ultimately be caught out. You can’t win games without playing well forever; someone will exploit it.
But for others, and particularly with the quality that this side has previously displayed, the fact that Robinson’s men are finding ways to win without displaying fluency is a good thing. They will improve, and they will get better. What they have now is a rather healthy base.
The recent return of Peter Pawlett, whose cult hero status at Aberdeen made him appear an exceptional summer recruit, means Neilson has almost a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of the trip to SE7.
Pawlett, an attacking midfielder equally capable of playing up top, impressed over the course of 172 league appearances for the Dandies, and has the potential to inspire an upturn in MK’s form. The Scot making his return from the bench in The FA Cup win over Hyde following two months out with injury, before starting against Fleetwood last weekend.
But Neilson will remain without Osman Sow (foot), a forward with an appearanceless spell with Crystal Palace on his CV, and giant midfielder Ousseynou Cisse (unspecified), who joins his teammate in the treatment room.
Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves will be pushing for places in Charlton’s starting XI having impressed in the FA Cup victory over Truro City.
With the Addicks, though becoming increasingly resolute defensively, losing a touch of attacking fluency in previous games, the injection of Marshall’s directness and Reeves’ creativity may be what’s required to inspire a complete performance from Robinson’s men.
Reeves, against his former club, likely to keep Billy Clarke out of the side, whose recent performances have been somewhat indifferent, while Marshall may have to remain patient with Ricky Holmes and Tariqe Fosu to displace.
Elsewhere, the Addicks will welcome back Ahmed Kashi after his hilariously enforced suspension meant he missed the Truro win, meaning a return to coaching duties for Johnnie Jackson and heartbroken sobs for me, while Josh Magennis, following heartbreak of his own while representing Northern Ireland, is once again available and the ineffective Joe Dodoo will miss out.
But Jason Pearce (knee) and Harry Lennon (groin) remain out, while Lewis Page continues to build up fitness having recovered from an ankle problem.
KEY BATTLE – FINDING FORWARD THREAT AGAINST A SIDE WITH DEFENSIVE CONCERNS
There are teams in League One, in terms of goals conceded, with more desperate defensive records than MK Dons. Eight teams picking the ball out of their net as many or more times than the 24 times Neilson’s have. Two of those (Fleetwood and Southend United) in the top half, a further two top half sides (Peterborough United and Rotherham United) only on one less occasion.
In fact, it might well be their goalscoring that’s considered a greater concern around Stadium MK. Only five teams have found the back of the net on fewer occasions than their 18 times, and all five of those are in the bottom four. But with Charlton so defensively resolute of late, an opposition’s efforts in attack take less prominence.
A more inviting statistic, inspiring encouragement for greater attacking intent and fluency, is the fact Neilson’s men rarely go a game without conceding. The cleansheet that MK Dons kept in their weekend win over Fleetwood was their first in six League One games. It was also their first of the entire campaign against a side outside of the division’s current bottom six.
Keeping that cleansheet against a potent side may, of course, be the catalyst for change. And a back four that contains consistent George Williams, the occasional error-prone but generally reliable Scott Wotton, a heavy contributor to Sheffield United’s promotion in the shape of Ethan Ebanks-Landell, and Championship regular Scott Golbourne, should be a strong one. But logic dictates the sudden development of an impassable wall on the back of one shut out is unlikely.
The three of the four most recent league games have been an art-like display of defensive resolve, but the requirement of such against Doncaster Rovers and AFC Wimbledon left even Karl Robinson suggesting the Addicks were not playing at their best. This side has shown previously it’s at its best when it deploys fast pace, fluent and cutting edge attacking football, even in patches. Something that you’d like to think can be to place a side that regularly concedes onto the back foot.
There should be no fear for the Addicks on Saturday of course. Not arrogance, of course, and not playing in manner that invites risk, the opportunity for MK to exploit, or simply puts even greater pressure on a defence that have performed superbly in the past month or so. But a chance to return to the fluent football that has somewhat gone missing, the complete displays that makes the most of the attacking talent in this side.
A little bit worried the extended run without a league game will do some damage, and a little bit worried Robinson’s emotion will also cause some harm. Though I’m always worried about the latter. Fairly confident that a victory will be grinded out at least, but would like to be reassured by something more convincing. Charlton Athletic 2-0 MK Dons