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Preview: Wigan Athletic V Charlton Athletic

It not too long ago that Charlton Athletic were breathing down the necks of Wigan Athletic. Five points behind the Latics after November’s win against Rochdale, with both a game in hand and the confidence a nine-match unbeaten run provides strengthening their position. The Addicks seemingly the most likely side among the chasing pack to break into the top two.

Alas, come forward a little over a month and a mere nine games, and Charlton now sit 16 points and eight places behind Wigan, who have risen to the top of the division. Karl Robinson’s side winning just one of their previous eight games. Paul Cook’s men unbeaten in six league games, with only second-place Shrewsbury Town taking any points off them during that run, and only Rotherham, in a 3-1 defeat, scoring against them.

While the Latics were putting seven past Oxford United, the Addicks gifted a late equaliser to a poor Blackpool side. While Charlton were capitulating in embarrassing fashion at Southend United, Wigan were frustrated that their dominance wasn’t rewarded with victory over the side they share the automatic promotion places with, rather than congratulating themselves for claiming a decent point. It not difficult to see why the two sides have grown apart over recent weeks.

It not difficult to see why the prospect of travelling to The DW Stadium on the final Friday evening before the New Year is one that has brought fear to supporters of the Addicks. Already an unpleasant prospect, given the three-goal defeat at The Valley in September, now seemingly a case of self-inflicted torture for those who are going to travel. A dreadfully performing collective without confidence, brought down further by a series of injuries, and a manager struggling to inject any life or improvement into his side up against the rampant league leaders away from home.

Any sort of result would be against the odds, a victory hard to imagine. Though a victory in these circumstances, against such opposition, could provide a huge turning point. The catalyst for Robinson and his side to find their feet again.

Realistically, however, there little hope of Friday being very pleasant.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-3 WIGAN ATHLETIC (12/09/2017)

The Addicks capitulated in the face of Wigan’s substantial threat at The Valley in September, with the Latics inflicting Charlton’s first home defeat of the campaign.

Paul Cook’s side the first that had to SE7 for some time and attempted to take the game to the hosts. Something they did incredibly successfully. Their intense pressing exposing the sluggishness and slowness in Charlton’s passing play, and their subsequent exploitation of the wide areas – with former Addick Nathan Byrne rampaging forward from full-back and Michael Jacobs a menace on the opposite flank – giving them near total control.

Jake Forster-Caskey briefly interrupted the Wigan siege, with a strike that cannoned back off the upright, but the only surprise about the visitors’ 44th-minute opener was that it came so late in the half. No surprise that Jacobs was involved, sending full-back Reece James free down the left, and his ball across the face of goal converted by Gavin Massey. All far too easy.

A chance, nonetheless, with the deficit only one for the Addicks to respond in the second period. But Wigan’s domination only grew. Charlton without structure, without a plan to deal with the intensity of the opposition’s play, and their hopeless long balls causing no danger whatsoever.

Victory for the visitors sealed with 20 minutes to play, as Byrne pulled back for Massey, and the forward finished from inside the area. Byrne bombing forward with ease, Massey free far too much space in the centre, and those in red just watching as the ball rolled goalwards. At least it ended any sense of false hope.

And a margin of victory that reflected the dominance of Cook’s men was achieved with three minutes to play. Neither Chris Solly not Jay Dasilva able to deal with James’ delivery, and the latter effectively teeing up Sam Morsy to finish from the penalty spot. A clear indication of the qualities of this Wigan side, and the improvement the Addicks needed to make to challenge throughout the campaign.

Robinson holding his hands up in apology to the Covered End at full-time reaffirming that Charlton were as poor as Wigan were excellent.

FORM

Wigan: DWWWWD

In scoring seven without reply against Oxford United last weekend, Wigan scored more goals in a single game than Charlton have managed in their previous seven league games.

In scoring seven without reply against Oxford United last weekend, table-toppers Wigan moved seven points clear of second. An advantage that, having played out a goalless draw with Shrewsbury on Boxing Day, has since been reduced to five. But it an advantage that will surely only be built upon.

For the scintillating form of the Latics is, well, not just form. It a reflection of the quality of their side, organised into a dominant unit under Cook’s guideship. Promotion is theirs to throw away, and they don’t look like doing it.

A combined score of 19-1 in their previous six games. A strong centre-back pairing of Shay Dunkley and Dan Burn, the midfield controlled by Sam Morsy and Lee Evans, and goals coming from Michael Jacobs, Will Grigg and Nick Powell. With options in reserve, they’re a complete side.

Shrewsbury may have halted their ruthless winning run on Boxing Day, but the Latics were in control and somewhat unfortunate not to win. Frustration not something that’s likely to become a regular occurrence. If nothing else, the fact that the side in second felt they needed to go to The DW and stick ten men behind the ball, and celebrated the success of a point, shows the fear that Wigan have inflicted upon the rest of the division.

It would be more remarkable now for Wigan to fail to achieve promotion, than actually achieve it.

Charlton: LDLLLL

“Well done, Karl, that’ll show them you’re doing something,” said the voice inside Robinson’s head following the pathetic Boxing Day defeat to Southend United.

The boss revealing that his players would be called in at 7am the following day to re-watch their gutless efforts at Roots Hall. A nice story for the media. But frustrated Charlton supporters not at all won over.

For it would probably have been more beneficial if he’d done something, and something more meaningful than a bit of PR, over the course of the previous eight games. With just one win in eight, and one point from the previous five, the Addicks have been in dire form for some time. Robinson doing very little to alter his side’s set-up or performance levels, and creating bizarre positive assessments from dreadful displays.

Of course, to focus the attention solely on Robinson would be incredibly unfair. Individual mistakes, a build up of injuries, and the exposure of a squad lacking depth are not his fault. The lack of options in reserve, with a weak bench of six at Roots Hall, restricting the changes the boss can make.

But he’s not doing himself any favours. In his words, and beyond. It up to him to get the best out of a starting XI that should still be winning games, it up to him to find a plan ‘B’ in this time of struggle, and it up to him inject confidence into a side that have roughly none; he’s not succeeding.

The consequence of which is a fall from challenging the top two, to ninth place. From a position where a play-off place seemed certain, to a really struggle existing to finish inside the top six. A struggle that will become almost impossible to overcome if this form isn’t quickly addressed.

THE OPPOSITION

Despite the pressure of the festive period, Wigan boss Cook is unlikely to make changes to his in-form side ahead of the visit of Charlton on Friday.

There options for Cook to introduce if rotation is required, with Max Power, Paul Roberts and Ivan Toney among those in reserve, but the confidence and quality of a side who won 7-0 less than a week ago likely to guide them through.

The chance to continue with an unchanged only possible given that Wigan haven’t collected any new injuries. Goalkeeper Jamie Jones, well deputised by Simon Walton since sustaining a shoulder injury at the start of the month, remains unavailable, while defender Craig Morgan (hip) and midfield Shaun MacDonald (broken leg) are long-term absentees.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will remain without a series of injured players, with two more likely to be absent at the DW Stadium.

Ahmed Kashi, making his first since returning from an ankle problem, was hauled off at half-time against Southend United, while a hamstring injury meant Mark Marshall was unavailable. Kashi unlikely to be rushed back for a second time, but Marshall has a chance of being in contention with his problem only light.

But Patrick Bauer (knee), Jason Pearce (knee) and Chris Solly (calf) will all definitely fail to face the Latics. Their absences keenly felt, given Charlton’s recent defensive efforts, and not least those seen at Roots Hall on Boxing Day. Robinson limited in the alterations he can make.

Further forward, Billy Clarke (knee), Leon Best (hamstring) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) will also remain absent, with midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey (quad) also unavailable to Robinson.

KEY BATTLE – STOPPING THEM FROM SCORING SEVEN(TEEN)

Wigan were stopped from scoring for the first time in seven league games on Boxing Day. Stopped from scoring two or more for the first time in six. The Latics, with 19 goals scored in the five league games the preceded the draw with Shrewsbury, aren’t too bad in front of goal.

Credit to the second-place Shrews, therefore, for frustrating Cook’s men for 90 minutes. Not a meaningful chance created, with just four shots on goal to Wigan’s 17, but they stood firm and halted their rampant opponents. They took a point away from The DW that was celebrated.

Unfortunately, Charlton aren’t Shrewsbury Town. At the very least, they don’t currently possess the structure, organisation and defensive resolve of Paul Hurt’s side. They possess the structure, organisation and defensive resolve of a Sunday league team with a collectively high blood alcohol level.

And if the Addicks perform with the sort of defensive quality that was seen at Roots Hall on Tuesday, then the scoreline will probably need to be spelt out in capital letters to reaffirm its accuracy when published online or in print.

The sort of defensive quality that has been on display for several weeks. Opponents gifted goals, breaking in behind with ease, and neither Naby Sarr nor Ezri Konsa looking totally comfortable in the centre. A desperate need to find some sort of defensive resolve if a surprise result is going to be achieved in Lancashire.

Given those defensive weaknesses, you could argue Robinson’s side are better off throwing caution to the wind and having a go. But the attacking tameness is as serious a fault, and the Latics will simply exploit us on the break. Crumbling in the face of their pressing game, as was the case in the reverse fixture.

And so, from somewhere, a defensive resilience needs to be found to frustrate as Shrewsbury did. Or even just finding a way to avoid assisting Wigan for 16 of the 17 goals they’re going to score. That would be nice.

PREDICTION

Be lovely to get it over and done with, really. Wigan Athletic 3-0 Charlton Athletic

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