Charlton Athletic’s record in evening league games, stretching back into 2016, is quite frankly horrific. One victory in their previous ten midweek games under floodlights, with six of those ending in defeat, and no win in five. You could say the rather odd run of form casts a shadow over the Addicks, but I’ll definitely let you say it, and not myself.
A backlog of games caused by international cancellations meaning the midweek games in the second half of last season were largely traumatic. A 3-0 loss to Wigan Athletic, the only loss at home this season, and two draws that were ultimately dropped points at Walsall and Oxford United making up the trio of midweek games had so far this season. And it’s always cold.
But an end to the hoodoo is required, not least after Saturday’s frustrating draw with MK Dons. The excellent run of Karl Robinson’s side giving them genuine top two ambitions, but every dropped point an opportunity for those above them to move away. Every game a must win.
Not least those against sides who appear vulnerable. A Rochdale side that sit inside League One’s bottom four, arriving in SE7 having conceded two late goals against Oldham at the weekend to suffer a 3-1 defeat. The sort of a side that the promotion-chasing Addicks should be beating under the afternoon sun or the stars of the night.
Of course, such rhetoric brings about the chance of compliancy. Charlton’s performances against sides in the bottom half of the division this season not always fluent. Charlton’s finishing at the weekend as complacent as the officiating as the win their overall performance warranted was denied.
But there is confidence in this side. Confidence not only to respond to the frustrations that Saturday produced. But confidence to be celebrating a rare night time victory.
LAST MEETING – ROCHDALE 3-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (18/02/2017)
Jorge Teixeira’s late header rescued a point for Charlton in a bizarre but entertaining game at Spotland in February.
The worst feared as the Addicks fell behind after just four minutes, and in calamitous fashion. Declan Rudd, challenged by his own player in Josh Magennis, failing to hold onto Donal McDermott’s free-kick from wide, and Niall Canavan able to prod the ball into an empty net. Bemused and angry faces populating Charlton’s defence and the Spotland away end.
But the catastrophic implosion many feared did not follow, and Robinson’s men continued to chip away at the Dale. That until their reward came with four minutes of the first half remaining. Magennis nodding onto Jordan Botaka, his initial shot rebounding back off the post, and the Leeds loanee able to convert at the second time of asking.
And it was the Addicks who applied the pressure thereafter, almost going ahead in spectacular style. Arsenal loanee Stephy Mavididi running from inside his own penalty box, beating several men in blue, and finding himself facing up to Rochdale goalkeeper Ben Wilson. Unfortunately, the teenager couldn’t apply the finishing touch, and was denied the most spectacular of individual goals.
The visitors, however, were to find the finishing touch soon after. It coming from Teixeira, helping a Patrick Bauer header through the body of Wilson after the German had been allowed to wander free following a Jake Forster-Caskey corner.
But the advantage would last only three minutes. Ian Henderson’s delivery and the strength of Calvin Andrew too much for Lewis Page and Rudd, and the masked forward was able to head home. Still 20 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner in a game in which defending had seemingly been abandoned.
That winner seemingly belonging to the hosts. Henderson teeing up Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, those in red standing off the winger, and the ball curled into the far corner from the edge of the box. Six minutes surely not enough to find an equaliser for the Addicks.
Though to think so would have been to underestimate the bizarre nature of this encounter. A third leveller of this encounter coming just four minutes later, as Bauer headed a Forster-Caskey corner through carnage in the penalty area, and Teixeira’s dangled leg converted the loose ball.
A long lie down subsequently had.
In achieving three consecutive top ten finishes with a budget considerably smaller than their competitors, and arguably squads containing lesser weight of talent, there little doubt that Keith Hill’s Rochdale had considerably overachieved since promotion to League One in 2014.
But as other squads, whether they be those with certain promotion ambitions or those like Rochdale looking to upset the bigger boys, have improved, Dale’s has weakened. It not simply the case that Matty Lund, Jamie Allen and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing departed in the summer. In that resources allowed for very few replacements, of minimal quality, in a squad that is falling behind.
A glass ceiling hit, and the club seemingly coming down with a bit of a bump. Hill will do all he can do soften the blow, and subsequently push on, with the manager’s efforts during four years in charge respected. But his job a difficult one, and this season has so far proven tough.
A late collapse at Oldham on Saturday, with Eoin Doyle scoring twice in the final ten minutes, seeing Dale drop into the bottom four. No side in the bottom half has lost fewer games than they have, but no side has won less either. Just three wins, and all of them coming inside the comfort of Spotland.
They had, before Saturday’s defeat, gone four league games unbeaten. But this run included allowing ten-man Fleetwood to score a late equaliser, Northampton to take a point having been two goals behind, and a frustrating draw Plymouth, who were bottom at the time. Quality and backbone lacking.
All of which points to the need for Hill’s trademark cohesive resolve and determination to start bearing its mark.
The ‘D’ nearest Charlton’s name should be a ‘W’. It remarkable that the Addicks didn’t claim victory in SE7 on Saturday. On two counts.
The first being that their dominance wasn’t rewarded. The Addicks, during a run of four wins in five, have largely won ugly. But their high energy pressing and cutting edge passing play during the first hour of the game against MK Dons was sublime.
They do, however, only have themselves to blame for that. Numerous chances wasted with the game at 1-0, not least when Mark Marshall was clean through on goal at the start of the second period. Victory should have been sealed long before the opposition stole an equaliser against the run of play, and the contest became a frantic one.
But blame deflected from themselves after referee Andy Woolmer awarded a controversial penalty, in chaotic fashion, three minutes after Scott Golbourne had seemingly turned Tariqe Fosu’s shot into his own net for Charlton’s late winner. Peter Pawlett forcing himself over a loose foot, the referee forcing his assistant to make a decision with seemingly a poorer view, and Kieran Agard converting from the spot. Fury and frustration.
And yet, the run now reads four wins in six, or eight games unbeaten if you prefer. They drop down to fifth, but Wigan Athletic’s defeat to Bradford City means they actually move a point close to second. There unlikely to be an afternoon more frustrating where a point is gained, but the wider contextual situation provides comfort.
Rochdale will remain without long-term absentee Keith Keane, who continues to recover from groin surgery.
The tough-tackling midfielder, a figure much desired in the current flimsy Dale side, has managed just one league appearance this season. In which he received a straight red card during the opening day of the season defeat to Portsmouth. His return greatly anticipated.
Elsewhere, changes to the side that capitulated in the final ten minutes at Boundary Park on Saturday are expected. Something that Hill can make freely, with few other injury doubts. Joe Bunney replaced full-back Kgosi Ntlhe at half-time, and you would expect the former to appear from the start at The Valley.
The only other certain absentee for Dale is the remarkable Joe Thompson, who has beaten off cancer twice. The midfielder is training more frequently, and is aiming for a Christmas return. Something that will no doubt be celebrated by the entire football community.
Charlton will welcome back Patrick Bauer after the defender missed Saturday’s draw with MK Dons with a slight groin injury.
The German centre-back, particularly reliable in recent weeks, is likely to come straight back into the side, not least with both Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr looking a little uncomfortable in the latter stages of the weekend draw. Konsa fortunate after Chuks Aneke failed to capitalise on his slip, while Sarr went from dominant man-mountain to a somewhat panicked figure in the face of pressure. But both have performed exceptionally well in the previous month, and choosing who to leave out will be a tough call.
But neither Billy Clarke (calf) nor Tariqe Fosu (thigh) will be available for Robinson, at least from the start. Clarke is set for a two-week spell on the sidelines, while Fosu, who thought he’d contributed to the decisive goal on Saturday after his wayward shot was turned into his own goal by Dons defender Scott Golbourne, will only be fit enough to make an appearance from the bench. Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall set to continue in attacking midfield roles.
Elsewhere, defensive trio Jason Pearce, Lewis Page and Harry Lennon remain out, but a return nears, with Robinson suggesting they may feature in the Checkatrade Trophy clash against Swansea U21s at the start of December.
KEY BATTLE – AN IMPROVING BIG JOSH, AGAINST A FRAGILE SIDE
Despite the frustration involved in not collecting three points at the weekend, there were a lot of positives to take out of the performance. Or at least an hour of it.
The way the opposition was pressed to the extent that they simply couldn’t play. The slickness and pace of the passing place, with a sideways pass not the first option but only made when required. The cutting edge in the final third, not created the chances that were unfortunately not taken.
But one of the most pleasing aspects of the performance was an individual one. Having been devoid of all energy, barely making a single positive contribution in games to the point that he’d pass through 90 minutes in anonymity were it not for supporters expressing frustration at his efforts, in the period between two international breaks, this appeared to be the return of Josh Magennis. So much so that a first goal in six was just a nice bonus.
Headers won routinely, the ball held up superbly, appearing out of nowhere to win balls he had no right to win, moving forward with the ball at his feet with threat, linking up well with his teammates, and just generally being an absolute 6’2 monster. In some contrast to standing still, seemingly without functioning legs, and second best to every ball.
It gives the Addicks another option. They have someone with confidence to pick out to conclude fluent moves. They can go move the ball forward quicker with faith in their striker, or they can simply go direct if the game gets ugly.
And that sort of presence should prove a real threat for a defence that conceded two goals in three minutes with seven minutes of a game remaining. Who have routinely dropped points from promising position. Who don’t appear to have much of a backbone, and won’t deal well with the threat that Magennis provides, and allows for.
Of course, more importantly than anything else, the Addicks needed to take their chances on Tuesday night. But an inform Magennis keeps Rochdale on the backfoot. Keeps Charlton pushing.
With Wigan and Shrewsbury both having very ‘winnable’ games, it’s one we need to win to avoid the pair getting away from us again having done so well to reduce the gap. This, however, is equally as ‘winnable’. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Rochdale