Do you remember the belief that was created by Charlton Athletic’s performance in their final game of 2017? The defiant goalless draw at Wigan Athletic. Johnnie Jackson raising his fists in celebration, as the Addicks’ performance earned them an unlikely result.
A performance and result that was supposed to earn them something of a revival. The ending of a winless run. A return to the play-offs, and promotion hopes increased.
Alas, tame defeat to Gillingham on New Year’s Day meant the injection of positivity didn’t last in the blood stream long. The performance weak, as the Gills won at The Valley for the first time in their history. An eighth League One game without victory; this side not looking like one capable of promotion.
Defeat to Oldham Athletic on Saturday could see the Addicks fall to 11th, and be left seven points off the relegation zone. Oldham slipping to 20th after their defeat to Shrewsbury Town on Monday, and without a win in five, but Karl Robinson’s side haven’t taken advantage of lowly or out-of-form teams. A response, and a victory, required, but victory has been required for the previous eight games.
The Latics likely to do what almost every other team has done at The Valley in recent weeks. Defend deep, deal with weak deliveries from wide, and punish the hosts on the counter. All so simple for opponents, and you worry Charlton have now been found out as a weak and flawed side.
A game the Addicks should be winning. One they have to win. But recent performances and results makes it difficult to have faith.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 3-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (02/09/2017)
A bizarre game at Boundary Park in September saw the Addicks come out on top in a seven-goal thriller, having appeared to have thrown away a dominant position.
The game seemingly only having one outcome with 21 minutes gone, as Robinson’s rampant side gave themselves a two-goal lead that reflected their dominance and control. The deadlock broken by a stunning 30-yard strike from Ricky Holmes 18 minutes into the contest, and Tariqe Fosu was able to cut inside and finish without sufficient challenge three minutes later. Embarrassment set to be suffered by the hosts, who had lost their opening four games.
But, against the run of play, Oldham were able to half the deficit 11 minutes before the break. The Addicks failing to deal with a corner sufficiently, and Holmes illegally hauling down Craig Davies as the ball came back into the box. Penalty awarded, Davies taking the spot-kick he won, and firing emphatically beyond Ben Amos in the Charlton goal.
And with the two-goal advantage went not only the control of the visitors, but their composure too. The Addicks appearing incredibly uncomfortable, and Oldham getting on top. Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce challenging for the same ball six minutes into the second period, resulting in Eoin Doyle finding himself through on goal, and the Irishman finishing strongly to draw his side level.
Fears of total capitulation, however, were cooled just three minutes later. Robust midfielder Ousmane Fane receiving a second yellow card having brought down Chris Solly, and the Latics reduced to ten men. An incident that swayed the game back in Charlton’s favour.
A man advantage that they took advantage of just beyond the hour. Fosu pulling the ball back to Billy Clarke just inside the box, and the Irishman calmly rolling the ball into the corner of the goal. The points surely Charlton’s again.
And with Oldham committing their ten men forward, spaces to exploit became available for the Addicks. A bouncing ball allowing Joe Dodoo to break between the opposition’s centre-back pairing, and score what would be his first and last goal for the Addicks. With 18 minutes still to play, the chance of the outcome being embarrassing for the hosts returned.
Instead, the Latics set up a nervy finish. Robinson’s men offering far too much space on the edge of the box, and Jack Byrne subsequently able to strike into the bottom corner. The home crowd believing; the away panicked.
But Charlton dug in, and came away victorious. A victory made more difficult than it needed to be. But a quite remarkable victory all the same.
Seven of their first nine games lost. Only able to name three substitutes against Blackpool at the end of August, before signings from far and wide in the final days of the transfer window gave them something that resembled a squad. A manager sacked after a 5-1 defeat at Rotherham, which left them firmly rooted to the bottom of the division.
Oldham’s start to the campaign suggested total disaster, and certain relegation. The short-term appointment of John Sheridan had impressively allowed the club to stave off the drop for the second season in a row, but the experienced boss unable to inject life into his side at the start of this campaign. Caretaker boss Richie Wellens, at least in the short-term, tasked with getting the Latics to compete.
But so impressive was Wellens’ interim period in charge, remarkably winning three and drawing one of the four games he oversaw, the 37-year-old was given the job on a permanent basis. His first managerial role, but his impact huge. Only two of his first 13 league games in charge ending in defeat.
In fact, it appeared that Wellens’ stewardship had comfortably dragged them away from the mire. Closer to tenth than they were the bottom four after a 5-1 win over Northampton Town at the start of December. Six points clear of the drop; four points off the top ten.
But the Latics have since been reminded that they can’t lose sight of the notion that their main ambition this campaign is to avoid relegation. Five winless games, including three defeats, leaving Wellens’ side occupying the final position of safety. Just a point above the bottom four.
Worry increased by the loss of top-scorer Eoin Doyle, whose loan from Preston North End has expired, and a return unlikely as a result of injury. The Irishman arguably the catalyst, alongside Wellens, for Oldham’s revival, with nine goals in the first eight games following the managerial change. Difficult for a club of such standing to replace.
The second half of the campaign, therefore, likely to be a slog for Wellens’ men. Nonetheless, it can’t be overlooked that survival would be a relative success. Not least after such a terrible start.
The importance of the goalless draw at The DW Stadium last Friday felt huge. Defensive resolve discovered, having thrown away victory against Blackpool than subsequently capitulated at Southend United. Character and fight shown by a side that had desperately been lacking it.
Alas, after 32 minutes of Monday’s game against Gillingham, defeat had all-but been confirmed. Another defensive capitulation, as the Gills were allowed to score two very simple goals, and exploited the Addicks on the counter with ease despite their relatively lowly position in the table. The response in the second half, as the visitors sat deep, tame, and Joe Aribo’s goal consolation more than it was a sign that Robinson’s side had made an adequate job of getting themselves back into the game.
A return to square one. Exposure of defensive flaws, followed by a tame attempt to get back into the game, has been a consistent feature during this winless run of eight games. See Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers, Southend, and now Gillingham. The nature of defeat predictable and dull, with Robinson seemingly having little answer.
The takeover, if completed quickly, will help. The prospect of January signings will at least provide fresh impetuous into a side lacking confidence, and hopefully goals. Players returning from, and subsequently avoiding, injury would also be quite nice too.
But none of that is justification to excuse the level of performance in recent weeks. A drop from being on the tails of the top two, to the play-offs slowly edging further away. Promotion, for a side not playing like one who warrant promotion, looking increasingly difficult to achieve.
The Latics will need to adapt to life without three players who played key roles in the first half of their campaign as their loan deals have expired.
It forward Eoin Doyle, scorer of 12 goals this season, whose departure will arguable be most damaging. And the Irishman, who was unavailable for the final two weeks of his loan spell, is unlikely to return to Boundary Park. A suspected blood cut likely to keep him out for a considerable length of time.
But boss Wellens does hope to see Jack Byrne (Wigan Athletic) and Kean Bryan (Manchester City) back in Oldham colours again despite their return to their parent clubs. Wellens making the re-signing of defender Bryan his priority, with the 21-year-old impressing and belonging to a club who won’t play him. But midfield Byrne, despite some performances that haven’t impressed Wellens in recent weeks, could also have another temporary spell at the club.
The Latics, however, will have a new addition in their squad for the trip to The Valley. Northern Irish forward Patrick McEleney joining from Dundalk at the end of December, and is now able to make his debut for his new club. The 25-year-old apparently holding talks with other League One clubs, including Blackburn Rovers and Doncaster Rovers, before opting to head to Boundary Park.
Stephy Mavididi could make his second debut for Charlton after re-joining the club on loan from Arsenal this week.
The forward, who impressed before injury cut short his time in SE7 during the previous campaign, has been on loan at Preston North End during the first half of this season, but has struggled for game time. Only ten Championship appearances, and failing to score. A return to The Valley will hopefully see a return to confidence.
The 19-year-old a welcome addition has injury has again struck members of Robinson’s squad, just as it appeared bodies were returning. Jake Forster-Caskey, in his first game back after injury, pulling his hamstring during Saturday’s defeat to Gillingham, and Leon Best unlikely to have his short-term contract extended after suffering a serious knee injury having only been on the pitch for six minutes. They’ll join Chris Solly (calf), Jason Pearce (knee), Billy Clarke (knee) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) in being unavailable.
But Patrick Bauer returned to the bench at the weekend following injury, and the German might well come into the starting XI after another defensively poor performance.
KEY BATTLE – DOING SOME DEFENDING IN THE FIRST HALF
Inside 11 minutes at Southend. Inside 32 against Gillingham. Charlton’s desperately poor defending in the early moments of games, taking Wigan out of the equation, has had defeat confirmed before they’ve even faced fury from Robinson at half-time in recent performances.
To concede the first goal when on such poor run, and subsequently a second, is terminal for a side lacking any degree of confidence. Or any real degree of attacking quality. Predictable runs down the wing, tame delivery, or chances wasted when they do arrive.
Once again capitulating in the first period is more than likely to again confirm defeat with many minutes still to play. Oldham themselves struggling for form, struggling for confidence and now having to make do without their top goalscorer, and an early lead for the Latics heavily sways the game in one direction. The visitors lifted, the hosts crushed.
Not to mention that the home crowd will quickly become restless, if not angered. Boos at half-time and full-time on Monday, with frustration displayed throughout the game. Justified, given what supporters have had to witness of late.
A return to the starting line-up for Patrick Bauer might well help. Naby Sarr performed well at Wigan, but has otherwise been catastrophically poor of late. Replacing Sarr with Bauer will hopefully provide some individual defensive resolve, and insert a player into the side who can marshal a backline.
But regardless of who features, the Addicks must show some defensive resolve. And it’s not like they can’t do it. Display the sort shown at Wigan, with a little more attacking intent when not defending.
Struggling for confidence, as much as the team are. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Oldham Athletic