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Preview: Scunthorpe United V Charlton Athletic

There no doubt supporters of Charlton Athletic walked away from The Valley on Tuesday night both in joy, and with the knowledge that what they had just witnessed meant they couldn’t afford to get complacent.

They had seen their side start poorly against relegation threatened Rochdale. An eight-game unbeaten run threatened as the Dale took a 13th-minute lead, then struck the post eight minutes later. The Addicks requiring copious amounts of good fortune to stay in the game, then somewhat lucky to grab an unwarranted equaliser against the run of play ten minutes before half-time.

But it settled the side. And they responded, responded by finding the winning goal on the hour, and doing enough to win. Just about enough.

How do these lads keep doing it? How do they keep finding wins from situations where victory seems unlikely? Where we’re fearing points to be dropped?

These are impressive displays of character, showing the determination and resolve of Karl Robinson’s side. Fortune is providing the assist, but their own desire and a touch of occasional quality is delivering the all-important finishing touch. Their run of results, and position in the league, is no fluke.

But such a performance, the performance of Tuesday night, is not going to be good enough against League One’s only side to make our current form look a bit pathetic. Five consecutive league wins for Scunthorpe United. Albeit having played two games more, they sit a position above the Addicks in the table.

An impressive win at Valley Parade in midweek making Bradford City their fifth victim of this superb run. They’ve climbed from 12th to third in the space of those five games. A reminder of how tight this division is; how quickly you can rise and, if form implodes, how quickly you can fall.

And so a certain level of performance is required on Saturday. Not a gritty, ugly, and somewhat fortunate victory wouldn’t be celebrated; it would be the most vital victory of the season. But the grittiness and ugliness that led to a somewhat fortunate victory in midweek is unlikely to produce reward at Glanford Park.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SCUNTHORPE UNITED (07/03/2017)

Mark Renton’s decision to abandon heroin paid off as his look-a-like, Tony Watt, converted a last-minute penalty to earn Charlton their first win in nine games.

The win particularly unlikely given the state that Karl Robinson’s side were in coming into the game. Just seven days previously the boss had accused 40% of his squad of not caring about the club following a 4-3 loss at Shrewsbury Town, having seen something he’d never seen before in his time as a manager, while four dire performances in succession had been punished with four deserved defeats. Scunthorpe, sitting third in the table, set for certain victory.

But it was the hosts who had the game’s first chance. Jorge Teixeira’s volley, which might well have been an overhit cross, looping onto the top of the crossbar and away. The cliché suggests that such a chance would sneak in for a side in form.

The mood-changing goal, however, was always going to be reserved for one man. Johnnie Jackson adding to his incredible list of goals that have inspired The Valley crowd in desperate situations. The skipper volleying home Ricky Holmes’ corner to give Charlton an unlikely 33-minute lead; perfect knee slide following.

It normally match-winning goals that Jackson scores, but there few confident enough to predict that Jackson’s strike would be enough to seal victory. Not least with the iron starting the second period strongly. Tom Hopper played through down the right, his cross picking out an unmarked Paddy Madden, and only the faintest of touches from the foot of Declan Rudd deflected the forward’s header onto the post.

But Scunthorpe’s equaliser would come, with Rudd failing to cover himself in glory on this occasion. Hopper’s cross horribly fumbled, an attempt to recover merely knocking the ball straight to the feet of Kevin van Veen, and the Dutch forward converting into an empty net with 15 minutes to play. Typically calamitous.

Fear that this confidence stricken side would now implode. A fifth defeat in a row, and a ninth game without victory, surely to follow. Grim.

At least, as the final minute was reached, it appeared total capitulation had been reached. An incautious free-kick pumped into box from Adam Chicksen, few expecting it to mean much. But Andrew Crofts rose, Teixeira met the flick-on, and Murray Wallace saw it fit to drag the centre-back to the floor; penalty.

Incredible, but the celebration was withheld. The recent run had taught Charlton fans to expect the worst. It difficult to know if a man with more self-confidence than often expressed in ability, Watt, claiming the ball helped or hindered the anxiousness.

But the Scot blasted the ball emphatically beyond Luke Daniels’ dive. Watt jumping over two sets of advertising hoardings to celebrate with supporters, enjoying the feeling of victory for the first time in nine games and six weeks. Not exactly a classic moment given the context, but it felt bloody good as it happened.

FORM

Scunthorpe: WWWWDW

Victory in seven of their final nine games meant Scunthorpe finished just four points off an automatic promotion place. Graham Alexander’s side competitive throughout, allowing them to always hold top six ambitions and beyond. Ultimately denied promotion by a play-off semi-final defeat to Millwall, but they could still be proud of their achievements.

And yet, in that suggestion that they could be proud, there was a patronising undertone that they would not be able to repeat their efforts in this campaign. The Iron had overachieved on a relative small budget. Now back you go to being mid-table fodder for League One’s big boys to beat twice a season.

So it to the credit of Graham Alexander, the talented individuals within his squad that many would rather overlook, and the structured collective that have all come together to once again allow this club to challenge for promotion from League One.

Five consecutive league wins pushing Scunthorpe up to third. And though they have played more games than several teams around them, the confidence they hold from their performances and their victories means it’s a position they will feel they can hold and build on. Not least after winning at fellow promotion-chasers Bradford City in midweek.

To win at Valley Parade a real statement of intent, and a statement of the character. A dire two-minute period saw former Addick Lee Novak, a central figure to the Iron, replaced through injury and Paul Taylor spectacularly give Bradford the lead just a minute before the break. But Cameron Burgess’ equaliser in first-half stoppage-time proved crucial, as the impressive Hakeeb Adelakun’s second-half free-kick gave the Iron all three points.

Confidence and quality high among this Iron side. A belief this run can continue, and that promotion is possible. It’ll take a strong side to halt them.

Charlton: WDWWWD

It a strange phenomenon that Charlton’s most fluent performance, or at least the one that featured the most attacking energy and intense pressing, in recent weeks is the only one that hasn’t ended in victory.

The performance in Tuesday’s night victory over Rochdale dire, particularly when the first half of both games is compared, in comparison to the excellent display against MK Dons. But the Addicks found a way to overturn the deficit the Dale inflicted upon them in midweek and grind out an ugly victory. While they were unable to take their chances against MK, ultimately allowing both opposition and officials to deny them two deserved points.

The foundation, with nine games passing without defeat and a barrier between Robinson’s men and seventh place, firmly set. The need now for this stubborn determination to win games in all circumstances to combine with the side’s known quality. A requirement for when stronger opposition offer greater tests.

For pressure still remains on the Addicks should they wish to push for an automatic promotion place. Albeit with a game in hand, there still five points to make up on Wigan, and there in form teams looming around them. Dropped points are going to prove incredibly costly.

There should not be complacency. Nor should there be an arrogant confidence. But this side have certainly done enough to allow supporters to feel confidence, and to feel little fear.

THE OPPOSITION

Lee Novak should be fit to face his former club after being withdrawn two minutes before half-time in the midweek win over Bradford City.

The forward, who has made himself an important part of Scunthorpe’s side after a torrid time in SE7, twisted his ankle just before the break at Valley Parade, and his availability this weekend is not assured. But Graham Alexander played down the seriousness of the injury post-game, and a quick recovery from such a minor niggle is likely.

Another former Addick could also be available for the Iron, with Simon Church nearing a return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since the end of October. The Welshman another who struggled in Charlton colours, but whose effort wasn’t questioned and who occasionally provided an important goal, has been limited to two substitute appearances in the league after joining as a free agent at the start of October.

Andrew Crofts, a regular on Scunthorpe’s bench who made an appearance for Wales in the previous international break, completing the trio of former Charlton men in the Iron’s squad.

Elsewhere, Josh Morris is nearing a return from a hamstring injury, but Sam Mantom (groin), Luke Williams (hamstring) and Jonathon Margetts (knee) remain absent.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton’s list of injury absentees threatens to build after Ben Reeves was substituted at half-time of Tuesday’s victory over Rochdale.

The playmaker, seemingly finding fluency in his game having failed to make his league debut until October through fitness issues, complained of a tight hamstring following the first period. Robinson suggested removing Reeves was a precautionary measure, but he remains a doubt for the trip to Glanford Park. A huge blow with little proven quality ready to replace him.

That a consequence of Tariqe Fosu set for four weeks out with a quad injury, and Billy Clarke unavailable through a calf issue. Karlan Ahearne-Grant likely to have to start, with the academy graduate going wide left and Ricky Holmes moving behind the forward. Not ideal, not least with Ahearne-Grant, despite Robinson’s faith, struggling to prove he’s ready for League One football.

Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (Groin) and Lewis Page (ankle) also absent for the Addicks, as the trio continue to build up their fitness on route to recovery.

KEY BATTLE – RETURN OF THE VAK

There no certainty that Lee Novak will play against the Addicks on Saturday, having twisted his ankle in midweek, but there is certainty that he’ll be desperate to prove a point if he does.

Novak’s career at The Valley was a horrendous one. Arriving having scored 14 goals in 35 games during a loan spell at Chesterfield, he managed just two in the league for the Addicks, with his overall play heavily mocked and chances regularly wasted. Not simply disappointing, but dire.

At times, with the chances wasted and the sense there was nothing he could do to put the ball in the net, luck went against him. But he did himself few favours in Charlton colours. A late winner against Chesterfield, his second and final league goal for the Addicks, celebrated by pointing his ear towards the covered end; frustrating understood, but hardly something that was going to warm supporters towards a struggling player.

At least, in a step most professionals wouldn’t take, he was willing to admit towards the end of the campaign that it was his worst season ever. He had previously proven himself at League One level, even Championship level for a period with Birmingham City, and was as angry with himself as Charlton fans were with him. An amount of respect earned with that.

But dismissal on the opening day of the season for a challenge on Bristol Rovers’ Stuart Sinclair, unfortunate and questionable though it was, symbolically reaffirmed things weren’t going to work for him at Charlton, and change was needed. A move to Scunthorpe forced by himself. Where things are working.

Already scoring double the amount of goals for the Iron than he did for the Addicks, but it his hold up play and presence up top – something Novak has been famed for throughout his career but didn’t display in SE7 – that has proved just as crucial. An important cog in an impressive Scunthorpe side. A side that have won five consecutive league games.

And there no question against a club where he struggled, against a set of supporters who grew tired of his dire performances, he’ll want to prove a point. He’ll want to give Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr a torrid time, whether that be in general play or getting away from them to score. He’ll be motivated and fired up.

Novak, if fit (and if not he’ll borrow someone else’s ankle), will want to make himself the difference.

Prediction

Of course, dropping any points means the top two potentially get away, but a draw away at a side in such form, who are above us in the table, has to be appreciated. Scunthorpe United 1-1 Charlton Athletic

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