When it appeared that 2017 was to be ending in disaster, Charlton Athletic were able to end the calendar year by restoring some pride.
Their determined and spirited performance away at Wigan Athletic on Friday night a mightily impressive one. The League One leaders, rampant in recent weeks and threatening to be on the night, maintained for 90 minutes. Admirable defensive resolve, each member of the side working tirelessly, and appreciation shared between players and supporters at full-time.
A moment of pride to be had in their side, as it appears pride will soon return in their club. Despised CEO Katrien Meire departing from her position the day before the game, and owner Roland Duchatelet confirming the club was in the process of being sold. A hellish experience under this regime, on the pitch but more importantly in the disconnection achieved between club and supporters, coming to an end.
But while supporters await the finalised sale of the club, and allow themselves to continue to appreciate the performance at The DW, there no denying that attentions must firmly be on what is to follow on the pitch.
For the goalless draw, though feeling like a victory, extends Charlton’s winless record to seven games. The play-offs now four points away from their reach, despite a spot in the top six looking so secure not so long ago. The change of ownership might not occur before the end of January, and Karl Robinson will have to make do with the restricted resources he currently has available.
The Wigan result, and hopefully the news of a change in ownership being on the horizon, needs to be a foundation for positivity. Positivity displayed in performances and results. Failure to record victory against the Gills on New Year’s Day, and the hard work in Lancashire becomes undone.
The Kent side beatable opposition, but they arrive in SE7 having lost just one of their previous ten games. A much more resolute unit under Steve Lovell than the relegation certainties that Ady Pennock led. Though the Addicks were the only side to lose to the Gills under Pennock’s leadership this season.
Victory, therefore, not assured. But victory must be achieved.
LAST MEETING – GILLINGHAM 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (16/09/2017)
Charlton became the first side to suffer defeat at the hands of Gillingham in September, as the then bottom-of-the-table club claimed a single-goal victory over a group of Addicks who lacked cutting edge.
The Addicks sluggish, and undeserving of a result, but the Gills did have goalkeeper Tomas Holy to thank for a series of saves throughout the game. Reacting well to keep out Josh Magennis, after the forward hadn’t quite got enough power behind a Ricky Holmes delivery. Decent save, Charlton player should have done better; a story that would repeat itself.
But if the hosts had their goalkeeper to thank, the visitors had the crossbar and the assistant’s flag. Sean Clare’s free-kick rattling the woodwork, before Gabriel Zakuani turned in the rebound. The defender, however, a yard offside.
For all the faults in their performance, however, it remained Robinson’s side who looked most likely to score. Just that, when the chances came, they continued to be finished poorly. Magennis had to score after controlling a Holmes pass-cum-shot, but could only prod straight at Holy.
And punishment for wasted chances and overall lethargic effort would come with 54 minutes on the clock. Clare allowed to move down the left wing unchallenged, Max Ehmer fed in behind, and his ball across the face of goal turned home by Tom Eaves. All far too simple.
Time for Charlton to find an equaliser, but their own finishing capabilities and Holy continued to deny them. With two minutes to play, Holy parried a Patrick Bauer header straight to Konsa, but the defender fired straight at the goalkeeper, who reacted well to block the follow-up as well. Much like the other openings, a fine piece of goalkeeping but the chance had to be taken; the Addicks victims of their own downfall.
Frustration the overwhelming emotion at Priestfield on Saturday. AFC Wimbledon’s Harry Forrester levelling late on to deny the Gills three points that appeared theirs. The hosts leading twice in the 2-2 draw, but unable to do enough to secure victory.
But frustration, and most certainly discontent, has quietened since the dismissal of Aidy Pennock in September. Steve Lovell, initially caretaker before being appointed permanently in November, has overseen commendable improvement. The Dons draw making it just one defeat in their previous ten league games.
Four of the games during this current resulting in victory, with particularly impressive away wins over Rotherham United and Fleetwood Town, along with a 4-1 home thumping of Bristol Rovers. The three points collected at Walsall in November accounting for the other victory.
It enough to take a side that looked certain for relegation into 18th place, four points above the bottom four.
But no one at Gillingham will yet believe they’re anything like out of very real danger of losing their place in the third tier. Defeat to Plymouth Argyle in December, another side struggling to avoid the drop, a reminder that they’re still in a fight to stay up. But Lovell’s leadership has certainly put them in a better place to achieve safety.
From the outside, a club of Charlton’s pedigree effectively celebrating a goalless draw in the third tier of English football may seem a little odd.
From within, an injection of pride had been given to supporters of the Addicks having seen their side perform without determination or fight in recent weeks. A disgraceful capitulation at Southend United on Boxing Day followed by a display of character and fight. A threadbare Charlton side holding Wigan, and immense credit warranted.
Of course, the Latics had chances to win, not least when Sam Morsy struck the inside of the post in the stoppage-time, but defeat would have been incredible cruel on the Addicks. Each member of the side working relentlessly. Each member of the side worthy of the result they achieved, and the praise received.
Unfortunately, previous efforts mean that, for now, it a result that can only be celebrated in isolation. Seven winless games, one win in nine, and 14 points off second. Automatic promotion dead, and four points to make up in order to get back inside the top six.
But it a result that can become the catalyst for improvement in performances and results. After such a dire spell, to see a battling display was encouraging. A battling display from which the Addicks can build, and build up some form.
Scott Wagstaff’s return to The Valley is in doubt having missed the previous two games for the Gills with a hamstring injury.
Academy graduate Wagstaff, a popular figure during his time in SE7, also missed The Valley fixture between these two sides last season, and will no doubt receive a positive reception if he does feature.
Another former Addick is also a doubt for the game, with one-time loanee Lee Martin missing the AFC Wimbledon draw through illness.
But long-term absentee Billy Bingham will definitely be unavailable, with a broken ankle having kept the midfielder out since October.
Charlton’s injury crisis is on the brink of easing slightly, with a number of players having a reasonable chance of returning to action on Monday.
Jake Forster-Caskey and Patrick Bauer could return from their quad and knee injuries, while Leon Best may feature again following the hamstring injury he picked up during the draw with Blackpool.
Ricky Holmes should also be fit enough to start against the Gills, having made the bench on Friday night.
But Chris Solly (calf), Jason Pearce (knee) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) all remain unavailable, alongside long-term absentee Billy Clarke.
There also some concern about Harry Lennon, who hobbled off at The DW during his first start for 14 months following a long injury lay-off.
KEY BATTLE – ROLES REVERSED
The Addicks stood firm on Friday night, placing ten men behind the ball and holding structure for 90 minutes, to record a determined point that seemed unlikely before kick-off against the League One leaders.
But their task as Gillingham come to The Valley is a very different one. Grinding out a goalless draw is not to be celebrated. There will not be a feeling of immense pride if such a result is achieved; rather immense disappointment.
And so Robinson’s side must get at the Gills, who are likely to attempt to emulate Charlton’s structured and defensive approach applied at The DW.
Taking games to the opposition has been as problematic in recent times as defending without error. Threat lacking in forward moves, and chances wasted when they have arrived. Breaking down Lovell’s side won’t be a simple task.
But there is attacking quality in this side. Ricky Holmes and Ben Reeves likely to return to the starting XI, and an improved Karlan Ahearne-Grant might well keep his place in the side ahead of Josh Magennis and the potentially returning Leon Best. It’s just attacking quality that hasn’t performed in recent weeks.
With defensive resolve discovered, there a foundation from which the attacking quality can be found once again. At the very least, intent is required on New Year’s Day. And intent that will result in three points being claimed.
Not immediately expecting the Addicks to become a fluent attacking unit on the back of Friday’s efforts, but the hard work at The DW is undone without a positive result here. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Gillingham