The Grinch might well be wearing a Charlton shirt this Christmas, for the festive period hasn’t come at an ideal time for the Addicks.
There a possibility that the hectic schedule might offer several opportunities to break out of their run of form that has seen them win one league game in six. But it appears unlikely. Performances poor, confidence low, and a lengthy list of injuries restricting improvement.
Not least when the opportunity to achieve the victory so desperately required was thrown away on Saturday. Dire Charlton defending punished as Armand Gnanduillet met a free-kick and Clark Robertson helped the ball over the line to give the Tangerines a late equaliser. It would have been a scrappy and somewhat unpleasant victory for the Addicks, but one that they should have had.
And without time to address faults or instil a fluent alternative style, the Addicks head to Southend United on Boxing Day, with confidence crushed further.
Southend themselves not in the greatest of nick, with defeat to Scunthorpe United at the weekend their third in succession. Three defeats that have seen them lose their unbeaten record – falling 2-1 to Bradford City – and drop outside of the top half. Boss Phil Brown demanding more from a side that finished just outside the play-offs last season.
Encouragement possibly to sought from Southend’s form. But the Shrimpers, not least on their own patch, will seek encouragement of their own from Charlton’s efforts. It understandable that playing against a flimsy group of Addicks, struggling to threaten and wobbling at the back, is seen as a promising way in which to at least address their first home defeat of the campaign.
But with a trip to Wigan Athletic to follow for the Addicks, an almighty amount of pressure is on them to record a Boxing Day victory.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SOUTHEND UNITED (09/09/2017)
A three-minute burst from the Addicks, in a game that had previously seen both sides cancel each other out, meant the season started with five victories from six, and a sport in the automatic promotion places.
Each side generating half-chances, but turning them into genuine openings a problem. Cutting edge in the final third not quite there. Strong defending cancelling out the threats that appeared to be turning into something more serious.
But with 25 minutes to play, Charlton were able to find a way through. Tariqe Fosu and Chris Solly linking up nicely on the right, with the latter delivering perfectly for the head of Josh Magennis. His header right in the centre of the goal, but far too powerful for Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley to react.
And just three minutes later, a game that appeared destined for deadlock seemed to have a certain winner. Ricky Holmes turning on the edge of the box, and converting into the far bottom corner. The first goal giving the Addicks confidence, and possibly dismantling what had been an excellent defensive structure from the Shrimpers.
Victory, however, was not yet confirmed. A concerning final 12 minutes as Luke White, in all too simple fashion, was able to head home from Stephen McLaughlin’s corner. Any failure to record victory would have been entirely self-inflicted.
And come full-time, the Addicks were somewhat fortunate to have maintained their advantage. Ben Amos, under pressure from Nile Ranger, getting nothing behind a punch, Ranger able to scoop the ball onto Ryan Leonard, and the midfielder seemingly about to volley into a near-empty net. But Magennis, amid a sea of bodies, was able to clear the ball off the line, and protect a win that his opening goal had instigated.
Given that the Shrimpers finished just a point off the top six last season, losing four of their final six games to gift the final play-off place to Millwall, it not unreasonable of the club’s supporters to be demanding more.
Brown’s men hovering around mid-table for much of the campaign, usually keeping their place inside the top-half, but never doing enough to push towards the top six. Occasionally in positions where a run of form might see them challenge for a play-off place. But those runs of form never materialising.
And with a third successive defeat suffered on Saturday, the Shrimpers find themselves closer to the bottom four than they do the top six. Trailing Charlton by eight points, and only five above AFC Wimbledon in 21st. A touch of pressure on Brown.
Southend’s manager turning most of the blame onto his players after Saturday’s defeat at Scunthorpe, after some dire defensive efforts. The Shrimpers taking the lead at Glanford Park, but the Iron overturning their deficit with three goals that all came from corners.
They have, however, had their home form to fall back on. Victory at Roots Hall over Oldham at the start of the month moved them to ninth, a point behind Portsmouth and Peterborough, and made it ten games unbeaten at Roots Hall this season. But Bradford becoming the first visiting side to come away with points this campaign means faith in the side to perform at home is also slipping.
Confidence low among the Shrimpers.
Had Leon Best converted two excellent first-half chances to double Charlton’s advantage, given to them by a wonderful individual goal from Joe Aribo, then the Addicks might well be heading to Roots Hall with greater confidence.
Had they not invited Blackpool into the game in the second half, and subsequently gifted a poor 89th-minute equaliser to a weak side, then the Addicks might well be heading to Roots Hall with greater confidence.
But there certainly no sense of injustice or misfortune in the events of Saturday’s draw with the Tangerines. It a poor result, in a performance that became increasingly poor, which the Addicks invited upon themselves. That extends a torrid run, a torrid run of performances, and cripples confidence further.
Too often have wasted chances been punished. Too often has sitting deep, and subsequently untidy defending, allowed opponents to come back into games they should have been out of. Too often in recent weeks have the Addicks not looked like a side capable of promotion.
With just one win in six league games, Robinson’s side have slide 11 points behind the top two. Their gap actually increasingly over seventh, as a result of Portsmouth’s defeat, but, with Peterborough United wining, now two teams sit a point behind the Addicks. What was an incredibly secure play-off place on the verge of being lost, along with automatic promotion ambitions.
Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley is a doubt for the Boxing Day fixture after sustaining a hand injury during Saturday’s defeat to Scunthorpe.
Oxley, a league ever-present this season, was replaced by Nathan Bishop at half-time, with the 18-year-old stopper making his first appearance in senior football. The youngster set for a full debut if his senior doesn’t recover in time.
Oxley will join Michael Timlin in missing the game against the Addicks if he’s deemed unfit to play, with the midfielder recovering from an ankle injury sustained in the loss against Bradford City.
But the Shrimpers will have Ryan Leonard available, with the midfielder returning having served a suspension following his dismissal during the Bradford defeat.
Leon Best has joined an already overpopulated treatment room after pulling his hamstring during the defeat to Blackpool at the weekend.
The absence of the forward, battling strongly but guilty of failing to take two big chances against the Tangerines, will likely see Josh Magennis move into the centre-forward position and, with attacking options limited, Karlan Ahearne-Grant start out wide.
Billy Clarke definitely out with a season-ending knee injury, while the Boxing Day fixture is likely to come too soon for Ricky Holmes and Tariqe Fosu, who are both recovering from quad injuries.
Chris Solly, an unexpected absence from Saturday’s game with a calf problem, will also be unavailable, while Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce’s respective knee injuries leave the Addicks light in defence.
However, Ahmed Kashi’s appearance from the bench against Blackpool means he’s likely to come back into the side, replacing Johnnie Jackson despite the skipper performing well. But regular midfield partner Jake Forster-Caskey’s quad injury means he won’t feature at Roots Hall, and Saturday’s goal-scorer Joe Aribo will continue in his absence.
KEY BATTLE – BREAKING DOWN THE OPPOSITION WITH WHAT REMAINS
Despite losing their unbeaten record to Bradford City this month, Southend’s home record is a stubborn one.
Even with that defeat, no side has lost fewer games at home this season than the Shrimpers, while only three sides – Shrewsbury Town, Wigan and Portsmouth – have conceded fewer goals. A struggle to turn draws into wins means there many sides that have picked up more points at home than Brown’s men this campaign. But few have found the trip to Roots Hall anything less than difficult.
Meanwhile, the Addicks have scored just one in their previous three league games, and three in the previous five. A lack of pace, fluency and final ball making their attacking play easy to defend against, and chances wasted when they do come. Saturday seeing the first part of the problem in the second half, and the second part in the first half.
There no doubt that injuries in attacking positions made the problems in attack worse. Tariqe Fosu and Ricky Holmes desperately missed, and Leon Best’s absence leaves the Addicks further limited in attack. But the failure to take chances has been an issue all season, that quickly needs resolving.
There some hope that the Southend side the Addicks face at Roots Hall won’t be the structured and defiant one seen for most of the campaign. And it not simply a consequence of the unbeaten record falling. Brown critical of his side’s sloppy defending in the defeat at Scunthorpe on Saturday, while the possibility of an 18-year-old goal hardly helps matters.
But the Addicks need to turn their tame threat, both in terms of creating and then making the most of what is created, into something more substantial on Boxing Day.
Increasingly difficult to feel confident. Southend United 1-1 Charlton Athletic