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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Blackpool

It might well be better for all involved, rather than sitting through a game between two out of form sides two days before Christmas, if the three points on offer this Saturday were awarded to the club whose dreadful ownership completed their promised sale at the quickest speed.

Rumours of Roland Duchatelet selling Charlton Athletic growing in recent weeks, with an Australian consortium said to be in the latter stages of negotiations, and those rumours were effectively confirmed with the Belgian stating the club was up for sale. Coming after approaching four years of mismanagement, on-the-pitch failure as a consequence of a horrendous footballing strategy, and an attitude that has disconnected supporters and football club. The anger among supporters towards his regime as strong as ever, however, with intense boos for Katrien Meire as she got herself involved in the back to The Valley 25-year anniversary a fortnight ago, and a political party launched in Belgium, coinciding with celebration of The Valley Party, to further the opposition towards Duchatelet.

While a court case that came to its conclusion in November saw Blackpool owners Owen and Karl Oyston found guilty in what was described as an illegitimate stripping of the football club since promotion to the Premier in 2010. An illegitimate stripping that saw the club fall to League Two – with last season’s promotion achieved in spite of the father and son ownership’s lack of investment – with incidences away from the pitch leaving fans disconnected, and forced into boycott in protest. The £31.27m figure they must pay to shareholder Valeri Belokon forcing the duo to place the club for sale; an elongated war almost won for supporters of the Tangerines.

A degree of patience probably required, but it appears the victory both of these clubs are most desperately after is on the horizon. A chance not only to properly rebuild after the damage caused by the outgoing regimes, but equally the craved opening for disillusioned supporters to become reengaged with their clubs. The first home fixtures after both regimes sell will be a joyous occasion.

Nonetheless, the pair also require a victory on the pitch this weekend. Charlton with just one league win in six after a nine-game unbeaten run, and Blackpool without a win in five. The Addicks in danger of losing their play-off place, and the Tangerines beginning to take an uncomfortable glance below them as they slip into the bottom half of the division.

A small gift, compared to the present they’ve long been begging for, but a present of three points needed for both sides at The Valley.

LAST MEETING – BLACKPOOL 0-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (17/03/2015)

Charlton’s upturn in form under Guy Luzon continued as an all-but relegated Blackpool side were dealt a three-goal Championship defeat on a Tuesday evening in 2015.

The Addicks, themselves only three points from the bottom three a little over a month before the fixture at Bloomfield Road, came into the fixture on the back of five victories in seven games that had dragged themselves away from the threat of relegation. But so too did they arrive in Lancashire on the back of a poor defeat to Blackburn Rovers, and the aftereffects of that were displayed in the opening exchanges against the Tangerines. The hosts might well have taken the lead inside ten seconds, but Andrea Orlandi failed to get enough power behind his effort to test Stephen Henderson, and Charlton struggled in the game’s first half hour.

But the opening goal, something of a scrappy one, settled Luzon’s side and allowed them to take control of the contest. Simon Church’s ball across the face of goal bobbled through to an unmarked Johann Berg Gudmundsson on Bloomfield Road’s infamous bog of a pitch, and it appeared the chance had been wasted as Joe Lewis made a strong save from the Iceland international’s initial effort. But Chris Eagles pounced on the loose ball, and slid in to put the visitors in front.

Gaining an advantage against a Blackpool side without confidence, representing a club in total crisis, effectively guaranteed victory, and the three points were as good as confirmed just beyond the hour. Gudmundsson cutting in from the left, the ball just getting away from him meaning the chance to shoot became a poke towards the bodies in the centre, and Church the recipient. The Welshman turning and finishing emphatically from close range.

And with two minutes to play, the excellent Gudmundsson got the goal his performance deserved. A stunning free-kick from the edge of the box, whipped into the opposite top corner, to put the gloss on both his and Charlton’s display. A second three-goal win at Bloomfield Road in as many seasons, after an away victory by the same scoreline on the final day of the previous season.

FORM

BLACKPOOL: LLLDDW

The job that Gary Bowyer has done at Blackpool is a mightily impressive one. Given the conditions he’s been forced to work under, success could probably be counted as avoiding complete on-the-pitch implosion. But the former Blackburn boss has achieved genuine success since taking charge of arguably the worst run club in England ahead of last season.

Promotion from League Two, following successive relegations and the high chance of another, followed by a steady start to this campaign, with the mismanagement of the club making them among the favourites for relegations. There few things that have deserved praise within the club over previous seasons – positive comments reserved mostly for defiant supporters – but Bowyer’s efforts while the Oystons continue their destruction of the club are to be applauded.

In fact, after beating Bury midway through October, the Tangerines were only outside League One’s top six on goal difference. A sixth win from their opening 13 games of the campaign. Commendable for a side playing with the backdrop of absolute crisis, and apparent certainties for an immediate return to the fourth tier.

Alas, a struggle has followed. Bowyer’s men achieving only one league victory in nine, with an FA Cup defeat to Boreham Wood thrown in for good measure. Six of those nine games have ended in defeat, and it the reason supporters are now looking over their shoulders. Closer to the bottom four than they are the top six, and failing to perform.

A more important victory required off the pitch, but victories on the pitch needed to avoid a third relegation in four years.         

                                                                              

CHARLTON: LLLDLW

In the midst of their nine-game unbeaten run, Charlton were seemingly the most likely among the chasing pack to catch either Wigan Athletic or Shrewsbury. At the very least, they further cementing their place in the division’s top six with each passing week unbeaten. Not always in total control of games, but showing character and resolve to consistently come away with points.

Alas, defeat to Blackburn Rovers last weekend, whose rampant form suggests it will be they who break into the top two before anyone else does, left the Addicks without a victory in four league games, and with just one win in six. A mammoth nine points between themselves and second place, only holding onto their play-off spot by virtue of goals scored, and performances poor. At quite a pace, Robinson’s side have suffered a winter collapse.

It not too difficult to see why this situation has occurred. Individual mistakes have become an epidemic in a previously resolute backline, the structure of the whole side appears to have disintegrated without, at first, a fluent Ahmed Kashi and then Kashi at all, and attacking threat has ranged from wasteful to minimal. Injuries, too, with new bodies seemingly joining longer-term absentees in the treatment room each week, certainly haven’t helped.

But so too is there frustration that Robinson has had little answer to the quality of performances, irrespective of the restrictions placed on him by squad size or wasted chances. The same game plan, the same frustrating tempo, and no answer in recent weeks when a side has structure and organisation given how tame the attacking threat has been. The previous suggestion that the boss has no plan ‘B’, something also suggested by fans of his former employers, appearing again.

Regardless, a response is needed, and the quality and character of this group of Addicks needs to be displayed. Four games without a win, and four dire performances, were responded to with an emphatic 3-1 victory over Fleetwood Town, while the two-goal comeback against Peterborough United a reflection of the fight in this side. But something a bit more than digesting a positive buzzword soup is required for the Addicks to pick up form.

THE OPPOSITION

Blackpool will remain without top-scorer Kyle Vassell, whose hamstring injury is expected to leave him unavailable throughout the festive period.

The forward, a scorer of eight goals this campaign, had not long returned from a separate hamstring injury when he again pulled up ten minutes into the defeat against Rotherham at the start of December. His absence keenly felt, with no one else scoring more than four goals for the Tangerines this campaign. Forward Nathan Delfouneso, leading the line in Vassell’s absence, only has one goal to his name this season.

Ollie Turton (muscle tear) and Mark Cullen (hamstring) are also likely to miss out, while Jim McAlister, despite recently being named in the matchday squad for the Checktrade Trophy game against Mansfield, has further recovery work before making a full return from a broken leg that has kept him out for ten months.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton’s already lengthy list of absentees has extended further following the injury sustained by Billy Clarke during the defeat to Blackburn, which will keep the attacking midfielder out for the remainder of the campaign.

Clarke, only appearing in his second game having returned from a separate injury, caught his boot in the Ewood Park turf while twisting in the opposite direction. Hope that it would be a minor twisted ankle, especially with the Irishman making a brief attempt to continue after being treated, but the diagnosis a rupturing of his ACL, keeping him out for eight months. Given his impact in the early stages of the season, his absence is a huge blow.

Clarke’s return to the treatment leaves the Addicks light of numbers in attacking midfield positions, particularly with Ricky Holmes becoming another to sustain an injury. The winger absent from the Rovers loss with a quad problem, and is a doubt for Saturday, while Tariqe Fosu is likely to remain unavailable with a quad issue of his own. Though, given Charlton’s recent lack of form and the lack of bodies available, there every chance that Robinson will push for a return to action from the pair earlier than might be advised.

Ahmed Kashi, whose absence in midfield has been keenly felt with the Addicks lacking structure in recent weeks, also looks set to miss the game against the Tangerines with an ankle problem, while Patrick Bauer continues his recovery from a knee problem.

A further addition to the treatment comes in the shape of Jake Forster-Caskey, with a quad injury meaning he won’t play over until beyond the early weeks of the new year. His absence means the entire first choice midfield five is out. Johnnie Jackson, Joe Aribo, Mark Marshall, Jake Reeves, and Karlan Ahearne-Grant or a pushed out wide Josh Magennis probably making up the stand-in midfield.

KEY BATTLE – AN EARLY ADVANTAGE  

One win in six plays one win in nine. Both sides will believe that Saturday is an excellent opportunity to get themselves out of their slump as the festive period of fixtures begins. An invitation to capitalise on the lack of form and confidence that the opposition possesses.

An opportunity that looks particularly inviting from a Charlton perspective. A home game against a struggling side in which to rediscover attacking threat, complemented with some defensive resolve, and ultimately the return of some confidence. If nothing else, with trips to Southend United, a side with an impressive home record, and Wigan Athletic to follow, this is a game that needs to be won.

But Blackpool will look at Charlton’s recent record, and no doubt the faults in recent performances, and arrive in SE7 without fear. They too face a difficult challenge on Boxing Day, with Scunthorpe United visiting Bloomfield Road, and will be aware they can’t enter that without confidence. Bowyer will believe his side, irrespective of form and being on the road, can claim a positive result at The Valley.

The hope of taking advantage of the opposition’s struggles, however, can quite easily be crushed at some pace. An early goal for either side and both confidence on the pitch and moods in the stands flattened. Genuine confidence born for the side that scores, and the potential for a chasm between the two sides to be created.

An opening goal against the Addicks potentially particularly costly, given that they’ve struggled to break down opposition that have protected their lead thereafter. Little meaningful threat once behind against Scunthorpe United, Portsmouth and Blackburn. A frustrated Valley won’t be impressed.

And so not only does scoring early stand to offer a huge advantage, it might well be match-defining.

PREDICTION

Been given a handy opportunity to respond, with difficult trips to Southend and Wigan to follow. Have to win this, but not totally confident we’ve got enough in us at the moment. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Blackpool

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