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Port Vale’s late equaliser from the penalty spot to deny Charlton all three points at Vale Park, a sluggish group of Addicks having no response to Ollie Banks’ early opener for Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park, and the performance against Shrewsbury Town at New Meadow that led to Karl Robinson suggesting that 40% of his squad didn’t care enough. Oh, and the pathetic defeat to Millwall at The Den. Midweek away games were rarely much fun last season.
And as Charlton prepare for their first midweek game away from The Valley during this campaign, there’s a fair amount of pressure on them to produce greater reward than many of their Tuesday ventures did last season.
For having delivered three substandard performances in as many games, there is an ever-growing sense of concern among supporters of the Addicks that quickly needs to be blunted. Optimism fading, as the impressive early-season performances are replaced by sluggish and disjointed efforts, while a lack of trust in Robinson’s men to rediscover their previous form is appearing. Something inspiring required, to reinstil belief.
Attempting to obstruct Charlton from getting their season back on track is Walsall. A side with pressures of their own, or more specifically on boss Jon Whitney, but one that come into the game on the back of a few promising results. A draw with Peterborough United and victory over Oxford United reflective of the fact the Saddlers do have the quality to win games of football.
But they’re the sort of side who would struggle to contain a group of Addicks who did rediscover the fluent play, supported by defensive determination, that got the season off to such an impressive start. Like the Gillingham and Bury games before this one, it’s winnable. Unlike the Gillingham and Bury games before this one, the true quality of Robinson’s men needs to be displayed once more.
And needs to be displayed in the sort of fixture that so often brought about heavy sighs of disappointment, and subsequently long and gloomy trips home, last season. A win on the road in midweek required.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 WALSALL (11/03/2017)
Tony Watt, having previously gone without a goal in Charlton colours for the best part of 19 months, scored for the second time in four days to earn the Addicks a point when Walsall visited The Valley in March.
Robinson’s men going into the game on the back of their first victory in nine, secured in stoppage-time via a Watt penalty, but the early indications were not to suggest that the 2-1 win over Scunthorpe United had completely revitalised a beleaguered outfit.
In fact, Charlton continued to look like a fragile side that lacked confidence and self-belief. They sat deep, too afraid to challenge the dominance of Erhun Oztumer in the middle, and allowed Walsall to come at them without showing any reasonable threat of their own. Joe Edwards played through down the left by Oztumer, and Simeon Jackson somehow managing to turn the resulting delivery over the bar from a glorious position.
Only good fortune preventing the Addicks falling behind for much of the half but, with a minute of it remaining, the punishment they had long deserved would finally be inflicted. Jackson, exploiting a horrendously high Charlton line, latching onto a volleyed Kieron Morris clearance, racing through on goal, and converting coolly beyond Rudd. Impressively awful.
A second-half response required, and Watt’s right foot delivered with 61 minutes played. The Scot’s first-time finish rifling beyond Neil Etheridge from a tight angle after Joe Aribo had squirmed the ball to him. Punishment for Walsall’s wastefulness more than reward for Charlton’s efforts, but it instilled energy and confidence into Robinson’s men.
So much so that, for a period, it was the men in red creating the best chances to win the game, with a Watt volley and a deflected Aribo strike requiring intervention from Etheridge.
But ultimately, the game ended in a similar fashion to how it started, with the Addicks requiring some good fortune to maintain parity. Amadou Bakayako horribly scuffing an effort wide having been played into an excellent position by Oztumer, and George Dobson just failing to get what would have been a decisive touch on Jason McCarthy’s low cross. Walsall supporters left to question quite how their side had not collected three points, while Charlton fans took rather large sighs of relief.
Having not won away from home since Boxing Day 2016, Walsall’s first victory on the road in 16 attempts will no doubt act as a massive confidence boost for Whitney’s men.
A side that have typically lacked fluency, and as the ability to take control of a game, under Whitney’s management were dominant at the Kassam Stadium. The second goal given to them by Tyler Roberts just after half-time, adding to Erhun Oztumer’s first-half conversion of Joe Edwards’ cross, a more than warranted reward for their efforts. Not even Ryan Ledson’s 78th-minute penalty, halving Walsall’s advantage, took away their control of the contest.
And it following a commendable draw with Peterborough United, in which the Saddlers led for 34 minutes following the influential Oztumer’s strike gave them the advantage.
The sort of results so desperately required after a 5-1 thrashing at Rotherham at the start of the month that placed further doubts over whether Whitney was the right man to lead Walsall forward. The club stagnating somewhat, a 14th-place finish last season failing to impress, and one victory in the final ten games of the campaign meaning there was pressure on the boss to prove himself at the start of this one. Something he hasn’t quite done.
But there no question that a draw with Peterborough and victory over Oxford are results to build upon.
It the opening 35 minutes at The Valley on Saturday that was so alarming. A group of players in red who looked completely lost, completely baffled as to what to do when the ball was at their feet, and repeating the same sloppy mistakes. They stood and watched as a Bury side, without a win in seven, not only took the lead but continued to have control of the contest.
The immediate response to Jermaine Beckford’s goal, albeit a rather impressive strike, non-existent. As has been the general response to the defeats against Wigan Athletic and Gillingham. The Addicks weak, sluggish, and lacking cohesion.
And while there was eventually a response of sorts, it was tame. Josh Magennis’ equaliser the catalyst for it, but the introduction of energy and intent was not matched by end product. Robinson’s men blunting their own attacks, making wrong decisions or running into dead ends. We did enough to win the game, suggested Robinson, and three points might have been claimed had Joe Murphy not saved from Magennis’ header in stoppage-time, but that felt like an extremely twisted take on a performance that reaffirmed plenty of cracks.
It in some contrast to the impressive efforts seen in five of the first six league games of the season, and that is what is making these incredibly sluggish and sloppy efforts most frustrating. For this side has shown there is a great deal more to it. But at present they are not showing that, and beginning to highlight concerns over a lack of ‘Plan B’, a lack of depth, and simply the general quality of the side.
Is the Charlton seen in the previous three games more akin to the one that will be seen throughout the season, or is the Charlton seen in the early weeks of the campaign just hiding, and that is what we’ll be treated to as the months follow? The performances and results in the coming weeks will provide an answer.
Walsall boss Whitney switched from three-at-the-back to four at the weekend, and might well choose to play the same side in the same shape following their impressive victory over Oxford United.
A back four of Nicky Devlin, Luke Leahy, James Wilson and Jon Guthrie provided more reliable protection to goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, greater freedom was offered to wingers Kieron Morris and Zeli Ismail, while Erhun Oztumer and Tyler Roberts ultimately made the difference.
Whitney does, however, have the luxury of a fully fit side to choose from, and may well make changes to conquer a different opponent or to deal with the three-day gap between fixtures. Shaun Donnellan, Amadou Bakayoko and Dan Agyei among those on the bench for Walsall at the weekend, while Florent Cuvelier and Simeon Jackson didn’t even make the 18.
The Saddlers squad is also likely to feature Liam Kinsella, son of former Addick Mark.
Charlton will welcome back Ricky Holmes after the influential winger missed the draw with Bury through suspension.
Holmes, who was forced to sit out against the Shakers having collected five yellow cards this season, will undoubtedly come straight back into the side, with Karlan Ahearne-Grant unlikely to retain his place in the starting XI.
But there are concerns that a squad that is already short on numbers will be missing key players at the Bescot. Billy Clarke fell awkwardly during the second-half of Saturday’s draw with Bury, and despite attempting to continue was ultimately withdrawn, while Jason Pearce was seen leaving the ground on crutches after Robinson seemingly had Naby Sarr prepared to replace him without doing so for the final 20 minutes of the game. Losing an important creative force and the side’s defensive leader would be huge blows.
In addition, Mark Marshall (knee) remains unavailable, fitness concerns mean Ben Reeves continues to be protected by Robinson, and both Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) are long-term absentees.
KEY BATTLE – OZTUMER V HOLMES
Having Ricky Holmes in your side is an escape clause. In situations where you’re struggling to put together passes, simply force the ball towards the winger, and watch him force the opposition onto the back foot. That sort of ability was so desperately missed on Saturday.
Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Tariq Fosu attempted to drive Charlton forward in the second half, but it was all pace and no bite. They ran into dead ends, delivered aimlessly, or made the wrong decisions. Holmes, in similar circumstances, more often than not glides forwards, creates openings, and forces opposition defences into retreating further and further in order to contain him.
A gradual way in which he changes matches, but so too does Holmes have the ability to provide a moment that wins a game. A quality, given the current sluggishness with which the Addicks are playing, which is welcomed back into the side equally as much. You need only watch his goal against Oldham Athletic earlier on this season, as I’m sure you’ve all done about 6,548 times on repeat already, to be reminded of that.
However, Walsall can also boast a player with the ability to change, and potentially win, a game on his own. Erhun Oztumer, despite being the only professional footballer smaller than Chris Solly, is sublime with his feet, able to dictate play from behind the front man, and capable of scoring extraordinary goals. Whitney’s side would be incredibly weak without him.
He showed his talents at The Valley last season, central to Walsall’s domination of the game, and already has five goals in all competitions this season. Two more than Holmes’ tally of three, though his influence on the Addicks, of course, goes far beyond his ability to convert.
And given Charlton’s recent sluggishness and Walsall’s indifferent quality, it might well be the impact that those two creative and match-winning talents have on the game that will prove decisive.
There can surely only be improvement on the overall performance on Saturday, but it’s difficult to feel confident of victory on the basis of the three most recent displays. Walsall 1-1 Charlton Athletic
For the second weekend in succession, Charlton Athletic will face a side whose start to the League One season has been desperately poor. Who occupy a place inside the relegation zone, and require considerable improvement in order to prevent their season revolving around their proximity to the division’s bottom four. Who appear shot of confidence and strategy.
Bury, like Gillingham before them, seemingly the ideal opponent to face when looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat and a dire performance. But such a notion has been somewhat rubbished by the failure of Karl Robinson’s side to deliver a fluent effort at Priestfield on Saturday in response to the crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan Athletic. Instead there’s a touch of worry about the encounter at The Valley.
It surely self-defeating to approach such a game with a sense of nervousness or discomfort. The result of which only allowing a fragile opposition the opportunity to impose themselves in the game, when an early goal might well crush them. The Addicks, and their ever-confident boss, will no doubt boast belief going into the contest.
And it belief that they can, of course, justify. Their performances in five of the season’s first six games were a marvellous mix of fluent attacking efforts and determined defensive battle. Individual quality, collective shape, and moments of brilliance fulfilling the potential that this side seemingly had.
But as questions have been asked of this side, they haven’t been able to provide the answers. No response to strong opposition, no ‘Plan B’ when required, and no alternative when it apparent that tired bodies can give no more. The first signs of frailties have provided great cause for concern.
And so there a strong need for Robinson’s men to deliver a reminder of their qualities when Bury arrive in SE7 this Saturday. To replicate their early season form, with a performance that mixes determined defensive efforts and fluent attacking moves. To settle any growing discomfort that may exist among Charlton supporters, who have seen promising collapses several times before.
The Valley crowd needing to see that the previous two performances were merely blips, and those in red delivering a performance confidence.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 BURY (25/02/2017)
Charlton sunk to a new Lowe as Ryan’s first-half goal was enough to give Lee Clark’s side victory at The Valley over a sluggish group of Addicks in February.
They only had themselves to blame as they fell behind with 21 minutes played. The backline given several opportunities to clear as Jacob Mellis attempted to deliver for Lowe in the centre, but on each occasion gifted the ball straight back to him. Lowe unmarked as he collected Mellis’ successful pull back, and finishing emphatically.
The response that followed hardly that of a team who knew losing to a side struggling to maintain their third-tier status wasn’t good enough, and were desperate to put things right. But as half-time approached, the Addicks were highly unfortunate not to draw level. Lee Novak, playing against the man who led him at Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City, connected with Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross but saw his header cannon back off the crossbar.
In fact, the much-criticised Novak, and his equally criticised head, seemed like offering Charlton’s best chance of getting back into the contest. A second-half delivery from Ricky Holmes met by the forward at the near post, but Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy doing well to block the nod towards goal.
But those headed openings were not reflective of a side growing back into the game, nor of one taking control. The Addicks remaining sluggish and sloppy, while Bury remained defiant and determined enough to have their lead protected in relatively comfortable fashion. The quick feet of Stephy Mavididi began to become more influential, but the Shakers’ backline remained unmoved.
And confirmation of Charlton’s defeat probably came with another 15 minutes still to play. Holmes picking out an unmarked Novak at the far post, but the forward heading horribly wide. The typically sluggish and wasteful effort that made up so much of last season.
Beckford, Dawson, O’Connell, Ajose, Thompson, Aldred, Skarz, Murphy, O’Shea, Maguire, Bunn, Ince. And, in fact, several more. Few League One sides had a list of summer additions to match the impressive one belonging to Bury.
Enough to make many suggest that the Shakers were dark horses for a play-off position. There enough talent within their squad to challenge and, in the shape of Lee Clark, had an experienced leader who could successfully oversee the gelling of the bodies together. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be spending a season looking over their shoulders, and ultimately finishing one point above the bottom four, as was the case last time around.
Alas, eight league games into a campaign that seemingly promised so much, and Bury supporters are starting to express concern. An opening day victory over Walsall has been followed by seven league games without a win, five of those ending in defeat, and a place in League One’s relegation zone is currently being occupied. Faith in Clark, as performances continue to fail to reflect the pre-season optimism, fading at some rate.
The Shakers were, at least, able to produce an improved display that should have resulted in victory over Plymouth Argyle last weekend. Against another side who occupy a spot in the bottom four, Clark’s men were dominant, going close on several occasions, including hitting the post three times. A run of three consecutive defeats brought to an end, but greater signs of encouragement are certainly required.
And greater additions to their collection of points.
The mind of a Charlton supporter is fragile. And with good reason. It replays the past misdemeanours and failings of Roland Duchatelet’s regime, and fears constantly when the next one will come.
But even the supporter of a football club that has the luxury of being composed, owning an untainted and clear mind, would respond to the events of the previous week and a half with a degree of justified concern.
The crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan at The Valley was deflating, but there appeared enough reason to write it off as an extraordinary event. In combination with the loss at Gillingham, the pair of poor results provided genuine worries. The optimism provided by the impressive beginning to the campaign somewhat dented.
For the Addicks were outclassed by Wigan, unable to respond to their pressing place, and constantly exposed on the counter. Against the Gills, they were tepid and tame going forward, and too easily allowed a side short on confidence into the contest. A common theme in both defeats was that Robinson was unable to provide an alternative plan, while alternative options for his tired and sluggishly performing players were limited.
It brings about the worry of a collapse. The opening partnership’s century stand becomes devalued if the middle-order can’t add to it significantly. Resistance and recovery required.
And there a need to defeat the concerns that exist over this perceived lack of ‘Plan B’, and a lack of alternatives when it comes to individuals. Concerns that simmered while the Addicks were winnings games, but have now reached boiling point given that they are part of the reason why consecutive defeats have been suffered.
So too, however, has this Charlton side shown its undoubted qualities within the first eight games of this league season. Qualities shown both defensively and going forward, that were not displayed in flukish fashion and can be repeated.
But it does, for the fragile minds of Charlton supporters, need to prove those qualities once more.
Bury will be without Charlton loanee Nicky Ajose, with the forward unavailable to play against his parent club.
But Ajose’s absence is unlikely to hit the Shakers hard, with Clark leaving him out of his matchday squad for four consecutive games. Just one goal in four league appearances for the 25-year-old, but with no reported injury, his total absence is somewhat mysterious.
The likelihood is, however, that Bury will have another former Addick up top, with Michael Smith starting the previous two. Smith, who scored against Charlton while on loan at Northampton Town last season, joined the Shakers in the final hours of the transfer window and will be hoping to reform an embryonic partnership with Jermaine Beckford at The Valley. Beckford a scorer of four goals this season, but missed out on the goalless draw with Plymouth having picked up a slight knock to his knee.
Though injuries is one of the reasons that Clark has used a quite staggering 28 players in Bury’s eight league fixtures so far this season. Defenders Craig Jones (groin) and Eoghan O’Connell (knee), midfielder Stephen Dawson (knee), and wingers Danny Mayor (hip) and Jay O’Shea (knee) are all likely to remain unavailable for the weekend trip to SE7.
Charlton will have to manage without their most persistent and potent threat, as Ricky Holmes serves a one-match suspension for collecting his fifth yellow card of the season during last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham.
A loss made more harmful by the lack of genuine wide options in reserve. With Mark Marshall unexpected to return until late October, and Ben Reeves’ fragile fitness meaning he continues to be protected, the likelihood is that a natural forward will occupy the flank Holmes leaves vacant. Karlan Ahearne-Grant has done well enough when deployed as a winger this season, and is arguably the favourite to come in.
But further changes, despite recent performances, appear unlikely. Robinson seemingly with faith both in his system of choice, and those who have made it up for the most part this season. That, and not having a great deal to choose from in reserve.
Elsewhere, Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) join Marshall, Reeves and Holmes in being unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – CREATING AN ATTACKING THREAT WITHOUT HOLMES
Irrespective of how sluggish, disjointed, and tame the Addicks were for the majority of Saturday’s defeat at Priestfield, there were still roars of encouragement from the away end whenever Ricky Holmes burst down the flanks with intent. Still genuine hope while Charlton’s key man remained on the pitch.
For Holmes, irrespective of the situation, has the ability to change a game on his own. Whether that be from a spectacular run forward that leaves opposition defenders for dead, or an incredible goal out of nothing, the Addicks have so often turned to the winger to salvage something from uncomfortable situations.
And in more positive situations, Holmes drives Charlton forward. When Robinson’s men have been at their fluent best this season, their dangerous attacking play has largely gone through the 30-year-old. Quick, creative, and potent.
Alas, the Addicks will have to cope without the suspended Holmes this weekend at a time when his absence will be particularly felt. After two sluggish performances as a collective, the individual brilliance of the winger is desperately required. Relying on him might excuse others, but his ability to make an impression going forward so often lifts the entire side.
His loss made a touch more concerning by the struggle that Tariq Fosu has had in previous games, with the winger’s early impact fading somewhat. An inexperienced and out of position Ahearne-Grant on one flank, with a slightly out of form Fosu on the other, hardly ideal. A need for one, if not both, of them to step up.
The loss of Holmes’ drive also allows Bury to be more forward thinking, and not simply come to The Valley to defend irrespective of their recent form. If Charlton’s attacking threat is perceived to be less threatening, or shown to be as the match progresses, they may well commit more men forward and ultimately stamp their own mark on the game.
No doubt there still attacking quality in this side. Fosu displayed plenty in the early weeks of the season, Billy Clarke has made an impression, and Josh Magennis’ presence is always a threat. But Holmes’ absence, combined with the sluggish nature of the previous two performances, give you a concern that Bury may capitalise.
I fear another sluggish effort, particularly without Ricky Holmes’ influence. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury
Amid the condemnation of Charlton Athletic’s poor performance in defeat to Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night, there was solace to be sought in what was to follow for the Addicks.
For while the Latics, with a high intensity game, had prevented Karl Robinson’s men from playing and exposed a lack of ‘Plan B’ in a side that has been superb when at its fluent best this season, it didn’t feel naïve to look ahead to the weekend fixture and feel the Addicks wouldn’t be facing the same level of scrutiny from the opposition.
Charlton, having suffered their first defeat on home soil this season, travel to Priestfield on Saturday where they face the division’s bottom club. The only inhabitant of League One yet to record victory during this campaign. A side that lacks quality and cohesion, led by an under-pressure boss who himself has admitted he isn’t sure how much time he’ll have left in charge unless things improve quickly.
A dangerous attitude to adopt it might be, but there no denying that the Addicks have been gifted the perfect fixture in which to bounce back from their crushing midweek defeat. A Gillingham side in a far from healthy state. A Gillingham side whose weaknesses are primed for exploitation.
Convert an opening to push ahead, and pen Ady Pennock’s side inside their own half for the remainder of the contest. Bullied and left second best by a comfortable margin in midweek, but a glorious opportunity an offer to take control of a contest. The sort of fragile opposition that the Addicks might well rediscover their fluent attacking play against.
But the Gills, for all their struggles this season and last, aren’t simply rocking up at Priestfield on Saturday to accept defeat. If nothing else, a draw at Kingsmeadow in midweek, despite being a goal behind and down to ten men, was an encouraging sign in a period of very few. A suggestion that there is fight in this Gillingham side, the players are still performing for Pennock, and they won’t simply roll over.
Equally, it would be naïve having witnessed Charlton’s tame display against the Latics in midweek to expect an immediate return to the sort of performances that saw them win five games in six prior to that. The opposition preventing the Addicks from play, but so too was there a lack of composure, a struggle to make the correct decision, and a real tiredness in the display. Bouncing back not a given because the opposition are seemingly inviting.
Nonetheless, the importance of an immediate response to Tuesday’s efforts is obvious. Or, more so, the importance of preventing confidence taking another blow.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-0 GILLINGHAM (17/04/2017)
Charlton’s impressive end-of-season run gained momentum as they comprehensively beat Gillingham at The Valley in April.
The Gills arriving in SE7 on the back of their first win in six, but with relegation still very much a concern. And a concern that would only grow as Jason Pearce climbed highest to head home from Ricky Holmes’ corner with 20 minutes played.
Relegation was a concern the Addicks had only just managed to shake off, with four points from their previous two games coming after just one win in the 14 prior to that, and there remained defensive frailties in the side. Cody McDonald, having turned inside the box and fired wide while the scores were level, taking advantage of a Pearce slip to move through on goal after the Addicks had lost possession in midfield. But the ball got away from the Gillingham forward and his desperate dive, falling to the floor as he passed Patrick Bauer by, only made his efforts all the more embarrassing.
McDonald’s punishment a booking, and further punishment for an obviously weak Gillingham side was to follow. Holmes lifting a free-kick from the edge of the box into the top-left corner of the goal with just over half-an-hour played. Effortless.
And a third was to follow for Robinson’s side, possessing a level of confidence almost unimaginable less than three weeks previously when relegation did seem a real possibility. Jordan Botaka working some space inside the box, the ball set back to Josh Magennis, and the forward finishing emphatically from close range with 54 minutes played.
In fact, so comprehensive was Charlton’s control of the game once they had doubled their advantage, there was almost a disappointment that they didn’t add further in the time that remained. The Gills poor; the Addicks excellent.
Having spent the majority of last season flirting with relegation, and failing to secure a win so far during this campaign, a hard-earned away point at AFC Wimbledon in midweek comes as a significant positive for the Gills.
Sean Clare, a young midfielder on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, equalising in first-half stoppage-time for Gillingham’s ten men after Andy Barcham had scored for the hosts. That the Gills did manager to draw level despite being reduced to ten, with Lee Martin dismissed, and with not much confidence to draw on deserves some credit.
But the relative boost certainly isn’t enough. Only last weekend did Any Pennock’s side collapse at Oxford, conceding three times in eight second-half minutes and leading to supporters calling for the boss to be sacked. There very little faith in this Gillingham side.
And it not rash, either. Four wins in 21 very poor league games meaning the Gills avoided the drop by just a single point. A surprise Pennock retained the job.
A begrudging willingness to accept the judgement of chairman Paul Scally, if only to offer support to the side, but it already apparent that judgement is misplaced. A season spent attempting to avoid relegation inevitable. Relegation inevitable without some sort of change.
The complexities of football mean a single defeat has left you as low as four consecutive wins had you high.
For the one-dimensional Addicks were completely outplayed by a promotion rival on Tuesday night, with the three-goal loss exposing a lack of ‘Plan B’. A genuine test, and rather emphatically failed. There no answer to Wigan’s pressing play.
What the Latics did wasn’t complicated, and others will repeat of that. They pressed high, they counter-attacked with pace, and left Robinson’s side hurried and frantic in possession. A complete lack of composure in possession, and subsequent attacking fluency, giving the visitors total control.
It doesn’t, however, undo the outstanding start to the season, and the level of performance on show when the Addicks have got themselves on top. Moments of fluid attacking football combined with determined defensive efforts had earned Charlton five wins in six games prior to Tuesday night. They’ve fought valiantly for their points.
The defeat provides a few factors to feel concerned about. There certainly Worry about how they’ll cope when a side matches Wigan’s intensity. But there no doubting that the Charlton seen in the previous weeks of the season will return.
The Gills will be without Lee Martin after the former Charlton loanee was dismissed during Tuesday’s draw with AFC Wimbledon.
Martin appearing to throw a punch in the general direction of Wimbledon’s Lyle Taylor after a heavy coming together involving the pair, which led to a scuffle between the two groups of players. The skipper now facing a three-game ban, and looks set to be replaced in the side by Josh Parker.
But Pennock will likely have one former Charlton wide man in his starting XI. Scott Wagstaff a regular in the Gillingham line-up after a difficult period with injury last season. The academy graduate a well-liked figure among Addicks, and will surely receive a positive reception from those in the Priestfield away end.
Elsewhere, full-back Bradley Garmston (calf) and midfielder Aaron Morris (knee) remain absent, but Billy Bingham (concussion) could come back into contention after the midfield man missed the midweek trip to Kingsmeadow.
Maybe for the first time this season, there’s a genuinely tough decision for Robinson to make ahead of the trip to Priestfield. Remain loyal to the XI that has started the majority of Charlton’s league games so far this campaign, and shown its quality during them, or freshen up a side that looked tired and tame in midweek?
Logic suggests Charlton’s boss will probably remain with his usual bodies. Josh Magennis running on empty in the closing stages of the midweek defeat, and Ahmed Kashi’s early substitution a reflection of his uncharacteristically poor performance, but it difficult to imagine either of those key figures being taken out of the side.
But those who watched from the bench in midweek will be pushing more than ever for a place in the starting XI. The athleticism of Ezri Konsa or Joe Aribo may prove useful in the middle, Karlan Ahearne-Grant may well be being considered after Tariq Fosu looked particularly unthreatening, and Joe Dodoo could come in for his first start if Magennis’ requires a rest.
Robinson’s ability to freshen up his side, however, is restricted by the continued absence of Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall. Reeves still not match fit having not had a pre-season, and Marshall continuing his recovery from a knee injury sustained during the summer. Any change would feel forced and made begrudgingly, rather than a purposeful one made with the intent to reinvigorate.
Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) also remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – FINDING THE LOST FLUENCY
The biggest issues revealed on the back of Tuesday’s performance is that Robinson’s side lack an alternative style of play. Their composed passing football was stopped by a high-intensity Wigan side, and they had no way to combat it. The panicked Addicks crushed.
But for now, against a side where Charlton’s main style of play is perfect, the issue is simply about rediscovering the lost attacking fluency.
The Addicks too sluggish, often appearing lost, lost in possession, and too frantic when placed under pressure. Their passing aimless, and latterly pumped in the general direction of a tired Magennis, with no hope of winning the ball. Individual forward moves so often ran into dead ends, as players that have provided spark this campaign looked tame.
The weak attacks and struggles in possession leading to strong Wigan breaks. In truth, the Latics wouldn’t have flattered themselves if they’d scored more than three. Irrespective of the quality of the opposition, that performance can’t be repeated at Priestfield.
The ball needing to be looked after much better, greater pace needing to be seen throughout the side, and some cutting edge rediscovered. Push an opponent onto the back foot, like the attacking quality in this side can. Defensive resolve subsequently becomes an easier task, because the opposition’s first thought is keeping out a rampant attack.
You can’t forget about Tuesday, it has to be used to better this side. But it does need to be put to one side for the time being, to take a specific focus on this fixture. Freedom and fluency, not trepidation and anxiety.
A return to winning ways, but maybe not with the required comfort to immediately dislodge memories of Tuesday night. Gillingham 1-2 Charlton Athletic
One of the sides hotly tipped for a top-two finish prior to the season getting underway travel to The Valley on Tuesday night, where they will face opposition whose start to the campaign has meant they too are quickly becoming favourites for promotion from the third tier.
Wigan Athletic suffering an immediate relegation from the Championship having won the League One title two seasons ago, but returning to the third tier without the crisis that a second drop in three years might suggest. The appointment of Paul Cook a strong one, their squad containing outstanding quality for this level, and it not just on reputation that another short stay in League One has been predicted. This the level of opponent that will offer Charlton Athletic a real test, but the sort of opponent that will relish playing in their current form.
A fourth consecutive league win, that maintained a 100% Valley record so far this season, was earned with victory over Southend United on Saturday. The Shrimpers putting up a real fight, but Karl Robinson’s side doing extraordinarily well to find the quality required to win. They welcome the Latics to SE7 with exactly the sort of confidence and self-belief required for this sort of fixture.
Cook’s men, however, slipped up Shrewsbury Town. This season’s surprise package, and League One leaders, inflicting a league defeat on Wigan for the first time. The possibility of frailties to expose, but the more likely scenario is the Latics arriving in South East London particularly desperate to respond to a disappointing defeat.
But it quite apparent that victory for Robinson’s side would reaffirm their promotion ambitions, with successive defeats for Cook’s men leaving them with plenty of questions to be answered. A reverse, and Wigan’s weekend defeat can be seen merely as blip, while a small dosage of caution would be injected into the veins of Charlton supporters.
Even at this early stage of the campaign, we have ourselves a promotion six pointer.
LAST MEETING – WIGAN ATHLETIC 0-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (20/02/2015)
Charlton opened up a comfortable margin between themselves and the Championship’s bottom three with a Friday night victory at Wigan’s DW Stadium in February 2015.
The Addicks, then led by Guy Luzon, would pull ahead with just 17 minutes played. A loose ball finding its way to Frederic Bulot on the left, the on-loan Standard Liege winger driving forward, before his resulting shot somehow beat Ali Al-Habsi at his near post.
And Bulot was involved again as the visitors doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage-time. The Gabon international delivering for Igor Vetokele in the centre, with the forward heading emphatically into the bottom corner.
The Latics, who would ultimately be relegated, were playing with the quality and confidence of a side who were already accepting of their fate, and a third goal would follow with two minutes to play. Debutant Chris Eagles, having combined with Johann Berg Gudmundsson, tapping home from close range.
Having won their first three League One games, and doing so while showing few signs of faltering, dropping points in their following two has proven a frustration for Wigan.
A 1-0 win away at MK Dons, which would have been by a bigger margin were it not for Milton Keynes goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, a convincing 4-1 victory at home to Bury, and a 2-0 win over Oldham Athletic appeared to have set the tone. Cook’s men dominating games, led by the creative drive of Nick Powell. His whole side seemingly settled quickly into the football he wanted them to play.
And maybe they would have made it four consecutive wins were it not for Chey Dunkley’s dismissal during the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth, occurring while the Latics held the lead. But there were no excuses for Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Shrewsbury. Cook admitting it was his side’s worst performance since he has taken charge, with decision making in possession proving a particular issue.
Nonetheless, to respond to the disappointment of relegation with three wins and a draw from five games can certainly be seen as a positive start. Not least with a new manager at the helm, and several changes to the squad made. Undoubtedly still room for improvement, but a foundation set for the true quality of this Wigan side to show as the season progresses.
There was faith, maybe even excitement, as Karl Robinson built his starting XI over the summer, but there certainly not an expectation for a start to the season like this.
Questions were still to be answered, and ones beyond those about depth within the squad. Robinson’s spell in charge in the second half of last season indifferent at best, following a period of struggle at MK Dons, and players seemingly lost in his system. If nothing else, he still needed to prove himself, and there maybe just a slight concern over how quickly his players would adapt to his ways.
And so that success wasn’t guaranteed makes this start to the campaign all the more impressive. Whether grinding out results or playing fluent attacking football, the collective performances have been excellent, the list of outstanding individual efforts is incredibly long, and Robinson has led superbly. Five wins from the opening six games the reward, with the Addicks sitting second in the League One table.
The fifth win achieved on Saturday, with a 2-1 victory over Southend that required both excellent attacking play and determined defensive efforts. The game a relatively even contest, with half-chances shared and Jason Pearce exceptional, until Josh Magennis nodded in from Chris Solly’s cross and Ricky Holmes’ drove home from outside the box within the space of three second-half minutes. A John White header from Stephen McLaughlin’s corner halving the deficit, and requiring that determination at the back, as a combination of Magennis and Pearce just about kept out a Ryan Leonard strike.
The strengths of this Charlton side shown in the final half hour of Saturday’s contest. Clinical quality going forward, and, while inviting panic, a strong defensive resolve that does enough to secure points. Qualities required for a promotion charge, and ones that that don’t appear temporary.
Wigan will be without Ryan Colclough after the winger was sent off after the final whistle following their weekend defeat to Shrewsbury.
Colclough was shown a red card by referee Mark Heywood, and will join Chey Dunkley in being suspended for the trip to The Valley, with the defender serving the final game of his three-match ban following his dismissal during the draw with Portsmouth.
The Latics are also without first choice goalkeeper Christian Walton, after the Brighton loanee recently broke his leg. Young Serbian Matija Sarkic arrived on loan from Aston Villa in the latter stages of the transfer window, but Jamie Jones filled in at Shrewsbury. Shaun MacDonald (broken leg) and Craig Morgan (hip) will also be absent.
Though following the frustrating defeat to the Shrews at the weekend, changes to the starting XI are likely. New arrival Gary Roberts, a favourite of Cook, could come in for his start for the Latics, while Will Grigg, a reported target for Charlton during the summer, joined Roberts in making an appearance off the bench on Saturday and is pushing for a recall.
There may also be familiar names in Wigan’s squad, with Nathan Byrne a League One regular for the Latics this season, and Addicks academy graduate Terell Thomas an unused substitute at New Meadow.
Byrne spent the second half of last season on loan in SE7 but has worked his way back into the Wigan side, while Thomas, arriving at the DW following his release by Charlton in the summer, has made five appearances so far for Cook’s side, including two in League One.
While the first midweek league game of the season may give Robinson reason to rotate his side, it would come as quite a surprise if there are changes to the XI that started the victory over Southend on Saturday.
That XI, which welcomed back Jay Dasilva and Josh Magennis from international duty, would appear to be Charlton’s strongest, though Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves will have something to say about once they return to fitness. Marshall remains out with a knee injury, while Reeves’ introduction to the first team has been a slow one having not had a proper pre-season.
Elsewhere, Karlan Ahearne-Grant is likely to miss out again having been unavailable for the weekend win with a knee injury sustained during the victory over Oldham, while Lewis Page’s long-term ankle problem continues to keep him out.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING CONTROL OF MIDFIELD
While Ahmed Kashi and Jake Forster-Caskey have pretty much had a free reign in the centre of midfield this season – their quality a class above what opposing sides have had to offer – the pair might well find themselves in battle on Tuesday night.
Kashi and Forster-Caskey so often breaking up play, or carrying the ball from defence into attack, and subsequently feeding the attacking midfield duo of Tariq Fosu, Billy Clarke and Holmes. The trio that have led this side’s forward efforts. But a trio that are, not necessarily reliant, but much better for the service they receive from two quality deeper midfielders that have so often dictated and controlled.
But Wigan arrive in SE7 with a midfield pair of their own, who will also look to take control of the centre and subsequently feed men further forward. Sam Morsy and Wolves loanee Lee Evans are two excellent central midfielders for this level, and have the qualities that allow them to break up play, and look for the next pass in a very composed fashion.
Morsy and Evans have Powell and Michael Jacobs to feed, though Roberts is pushing to start after his recent arrival. Forward-minded midfielders of high quality, that can deliver to the men in the centre or punish themselves if allowed the space. Powell with three goals this season, and Jacobs with two.
It not so much the attacking midfielders, therefore, but their supply. An intriguing contest in the centre between two high quality pairings, that could have quite an important bearing on the encounter.
Take a point? Of course, given the run we’re on, it may come as a disappointment to have it halted, but I’d certainly see no issue in taking four points from the two home fixtures that have occurred this week. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Wigan Athletic
(Apologies for the lack of Southend report. Wasn’t feeling particularly with it during the game, nor after, and even if I had produced something it would have been even greater nonsense than usual. Couldn’t tell you the last time I went to a game and didn’t produce a report, so I’d like to think that it will just be a one off and my nonsense will return from Tuesday. Disappointment spreads throughout the Charlton community)
The last time Southend United rocked up in SE7, they faced a Charlton Athletic side that were in genuine danger of suffering a second successive relegation.
That the Charlton side the Shrimpers faced in April were four points above the bottom four with five games to play was enough by itself to create discomfort. But the real fear came from the manner in which the Addicks were playing. A pathetically poor performance, lacking both quality and effort, at The Valley against MK Dons four days previously seemed to bring the relegation zone closer than it already was, through fear that few points would be collected in the campaign’s remaining fixtures.
For there was no faith in Karl Robinson’s side, and even less in the club. One win in 14, the manager suggesting that 40% of his squad didn’t care enough, and the chaos created by a failing regime. The embarrassment of a second successive relegation, when a top-six finish as minimum was promised, entirely avoidable, but almost seemed justified.
The subsequent victory for the Addicks, creating something of an upset to defeat a play-off chasing side despite coming into the game in total crisis, was a mightily important one. Not only in the short-term, with relegation worries and fears this side simply didn’t know how to win eased, but going into this campaign. It the start of faith and trust in Robinson’s side developing
Faith and trust feelings that will always be lacking towards the club among many while Roland Duchatelet’s regime remain in charge, a simple and understandable consequence of damage done and continued incredibly questionable running, but faith and trust now certainly existing in those who represent the Addicks on the pitch.
So much so that, in the space of five months, Charlton have gone from fearing the arrival of the Shrimpers at The Valley and anticipating a crushing defeat, to having full belief that Robinson’s men will once again deliver and provide home supporters with a third league win out of three in SE7 this season.
Faith and trust that could have been slightly tested after a somewhat fortunate, and most certainly sluggish, victory over Oldham Athletic last weekend. But the admittance by all, with Robinson and several of his players speaking in honest fashion, that the flirt with capitulation wasn’t good enough has shown this group won’t allow themselves to get complacent on the back of an impressive, victory-filled, beginning. You’d feel, with a degree of confidence, the performance this weekend will be much more fluent as a result.
That not to say Southend don’t provide tough opposition. A slow start to the campaign, drawing their previous three league games as injuries have hurt a small squad, but a well-organised group under the stewardship of Phil Brown that will want to once again challenge for a top-six place. Competition, even with a few absentees, for any side in this division.
But they will face a very different Charlton side to the one they last played in SE7. Not one in total disarray, almost expected to suffer defeat. One that is now expected to win, and will place the Shrimpers under serious pressure.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SOUTHEND UNITED (08/04/2017)
Charlton earned the win that eased very real fears of relegation, as a late Adam Thompson own goal took them five points clear of the relegation zone and seriously dented Southend’s play-off hopes in the final month of last season.
The Addicks came into the game having suffered two dire defeats, to Peterborough and MK Dons, in the previous week, with just one win in 14, and sitting an extremely uncomfortable four points above League One’s bottom four. So Ricky Holmes’ sixth-minute strike provided huge relief around SE7. The winger driving forward, and finishing through the legs of Shrimpers goalkeeper Christian Walton from a tight angle.
But panicked return to the home ends of The Valley as the visitors responded just five minutes later. The Addicks struggling to defend set-pieces for much of the campaign, and here was another dealt with poorly. John White allowed to float free, and head Timlin’s corner beyond Declan Rudd without challenge.
A concern that, given the fragile state Robinson’s Charlton were in, a capitulation would follow. However, the hosts continued to compete, and were showing a great deal more fight and energy that had been the case in the previous seven days. An even contest, with the Shrimpers creating chances of their own, but the Addicks matching their sixth-placed opponents.
Somewhat dogged battle that meant Charlton were in a position to take a decisive lead when Nathan Byrne delivered into the box with 74 minutes played. His cross evading the heads of Josh Magennis and Jake Forster-Caskey, but their challenges meaning that Thompson was forced to make a move for the ball, and only succeeded in nodding the ball into his own net. A touch of good fortune, maybe, but a warranted reward for the improved Addicks effort, and reward that brought great joy around the Valley.
Greater fortune, in fact, was still to come. Former Charlton loanee Frank Nouble needing only to head into an empty net from Jermain McGlashan’s delivery, but somehow managing to divert the ball off-target. A miss that meant the Shrimpers fell out of the top six, and the Addicks could take a huge sigh of relief.
Despite a build-up of injuries meaning they were forced to field a defensive line with an average age of 14.8, Southend would have been mightily disappointed to have come away from their game with Rochdale last weekend with just a point.
A commendable effort from Brown’s hastily constructed backline, featuring youngsters Harry Kyprianou and Elvis Bwomono in addition to recognised midfielder Michael Timlin, to keep a clean sheet, but the Shrimpers really should have won the game at Roots Hall. Not only because Simon Cox saw a penalty saved in first-half stoppage-time, but the dismissal of Dale captain Ian Henderson at the start of the second period gave them ten men to play against for 40 minutes. Ultimately a result that adds to what has been quite a frustrating start to the season for Southend.
An opening day win against title favourites Blackburn Rovers offered promise, but a defeat and three draws have followed in League One since. The extent of disaster seen in the 5-0 defeat at Rotherham, immediately following the Rovers win, not being repeated, though things aren’t going the way of Brown’s side. A small group, fairly reliant on its structure and functionality, suffering an unfortunate number of injuries particularly at the back, the lead twice held against Gillingham, before Tom Eaves’ 80th minute goal saw the spoils shared in a 3-3 draw, and last weekend’s failure to find a winner.
As such, Southend probably find themselves in a position of indifference. Players returning from injury and some positive results puts them in a handy position; following the recent draws with defeats and frustration will become concern. A few important weeks ahead for the Shrimpers.
It remains incredibly difficult to make perfect sense of Charlton’s 4-3 victory over Oldham last weekend.
The Addicks cruising, against what appeared a hilariously poor side, having gone two-up with little more than 20 minutes played, before losing all attacking flair and composure to allow the Latics back into the game. The scores level six minutes after half-time, and Robinson’s side most fortunate that a red card for Ousmane Fane destroyed the hosts’ momentum just three minutes later. Though even with their two-goal lead restored, and victory seemingly secured, Jack Byrne’s late goal set up an uncomfortable final few minutes.
Robinson and his players quick to admit that, having turned what should have been a convincing win into a nerve racking afternoon, they were far from their best. The Latics really shouldn’t have been allowed back into the contest, the Addicks incredibly sluggish once a 34th-minute penalty had halved the home side’s deficit, and the result arguably owing a lot to Oldham being reduced to ten so quickly after their equaliser. Having beaten Northampton with fluent attacking play, and overseen Rotherham via forward potency and defensive resolve, this was most certainly an ugly win.
Winning ugly, of course, is a positive and something all promotion-chasing sides will need to do throughout the campaign. A positive not least when Charlton have spent most of their time in previous years losing ugly and winning not at all. But an ugly win at this time of the campaign, in addition to providing points, provides the useful reminder that the side is not flawless.
A chance, while still able to bask in the glory that comes with claiming 12 points from a possible 15 this season, to reflect on where this side can improve, and making sure a brief flirt with capitulation over the course of 90 minutes doesn’t become a more certain capitulation during the campaign. Not anything like a wake-up call, but a notice that there are at faults in the side, and that it can’t perform without fail each week. That the mightily impressive start to the campaign is just a start, complacency can’t be afforded, and improvement is always needed.
A game has been won, but manager, players and fans know there’s more to be seen. It’s encouraging, and a sign of the potential this side has.
Southend are hopeful that their defensive crisis, caused by a build-up of injuries to bodies at the back, will be eased somewhat as they travel to SE7 this weekend, but the Shrimpers are still likely to be short on bodies.
Rob Kiernan, having sat out the goalless draw with Rochdale with a knee problem, has returned to training and has a chance of featuring this weekend, while the injuries that Anton Ferdinand (hamstring) and John White (groin) picked up in the Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Gillingham two weeks weren’t said to be serious, and both may on Saturday.
But Ben Coker (broken leg) is definitely out, Michael Turner (hamstring) is unlikely to return, and left-back Stephen Hendrie, having been withdrawn during the draw with Rochdale through injury, is fresh doubt. Jason Demetriou, however, is available again having been away on international duty with Cyprus.
There also a very outside chance that former England international Kieran Richardson and recently released Gillingham midfielder Josh Wright could be involved. The versatile Richardson, mostly recently at Cardiff City, has impressed Brown while on trial with the Shrimpers, while Wright, linked with a return to Charlton following his departure from the Gills, is in talks over a move to Roots Hall having watched the goalless draw with Rochdale last weekend.
Charlton will have Josh Magennis and Jay Dasilva available again after the pair missed last weekend’s win over Oldham having been away on international duty.
Northern Ireland international Magennis scored twice for his country against San Marino, while Jay Dasilva represented England’s U20 side for the first time having previously captained the England U19s. Both are likely to come straight back into the starting XI, replacing Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Johnnie Jackson respectively.
Elsewhere, Mark Marshall (knee), Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) remain absent, while Ben Reeves continues to be carefully managed by Robinson, and as such is unlikely to feature at The Valley.
KEY BATTLE – TARGETING A WEAKENED DEFENCE
While there a reasonable chance that previously absent faces will return to their backline, it still remains highly likely that the Shrimpers will field a weakened, if not makeshift, defence at The Valley on Saturday.
Hardly ideal when coming up against a side who have largely played with swift attacking fluency this season, managed to score four times last weekend even when playing sluggishly, and have their regular centre-forward returning.
In fact, a first-choice defensive line would struggle to contend with the Addicks at their fluent best. The pace and movement in their counter-attacking play, the drive and trickery on the ball, and the imposing power of Magennis in the centre. When it clicks, it’s rather marvellous, and provides a very tough ask of opposition defences.
There little doubt, as such, that Robinson’s men will look to take the game to Southend, and expose the potential flaws in a defence missing key members. A tough challenge in particular for teenager Elvis Bwomono, should he retain his place in the starting XI. Impressing on his Football League debut, but he would be facing a level of quality he has not yet seen before.
However, the makeshift back four that Brown fielded against Rochdale was able to keep a clean sheet, while the Addicks lacked their usual attacking fluency, in spite of the scoring of four goals, for large parts of the game at Boundary Park last week. It not as simple to say that a weakened Southend defence gives Charlton three points.
But it certainly reason to play in a particularly attacking manner, and look to keep the Shrimpers on the back foot.
Southend will ask questions of Charlton. But Charlton should have the answers. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Southend United
Trips to Lancashire for Charlton Athletic last season saw some rather desperate displays, and provided very minimal reward. In fact, the scars from defeats at Bury and Oldham Athletic, where the Addicks travel to this weekend, can still be felt.
But the positive start made by the Addicks to this campaign, in addition to Karl Robinson’s side collecting their first away points of the season last weekend, means the need to visit the Red Rose county offers no fears. Existing only is the belief that this Charlton side will continue to build upon this encouraging beginning, and return south with three additional points. Confidence in complete contrast to what it was around the time of, for example, the previous visit to Oldham’s Boundary Park.
In fact, it the Latics who have the confidence concerns ahead of Saturday’s clash. Confidence, and a lack of functioning body parts among a small squad. John Sheridan’s side starting the season with five defeats in five in all competitions, and suffering the embarrassment of being able to name just three substitutes for their 2-1 defeat to Blackpool last Saturday.
And so it certainly not ideal timing for Oldham to be facing this strengthening Charlton force, who travel to Boundary Park having displayed fantastic attacking football against Northampton Town before grinding out victory over Rotherham United. It seems that the outcome of Saturday’s game might well be pre-determined.
But the Addicks, who will be weakened slightly anyway with Josh Magennis and Jay Dasilva on international duty, will need to only look back at those grim defeats in Lancashire last season to know that a failure to perform will be punished. Punished by an Oldham side who, given the state they find themselves in, will be desperate to prove a point.
A point, however, they shouldn’t be allowed to prove if Robinson’s side perform with the same defensive determination and attacking fluency of previous weeks. A level of performance that supporters want to continue to see, and want to see enough of to believe it’s simply par for this Charlton side.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 1-0 CHARLTON ATLETIC (14/02/17)
Oldham broke Charlton hearts on Valentine’s Day as Ollie Banks’ early strike ultimately punished a sluggish and wasteful performance from Karl Robinson’s side at Boundary Park last season.
The Addicks, however, should have found themselves ahead with barely a minute played. Jake Forster-Caskey sending Josh Magennis clean through on goal, the forward having all the time in the world to finish, but his shot fired straight at Oldham goalkeeper Connor Ripley.
A wasted opportunity that proved particularly costly as the Latics took the lead with just four minutes played. Untidy Charlton defending allowing Chris Taylor to tee up Banks, who finished superbly. The Oldham midfielder striking into the far corner with the outside of his boot from the edge of the box.
The relegation threatened Latics immediately retreating, making it quite apparent their objective was to protect their lead for 86 minutes and little more. But, for all the possession and play they were afforded in the opposition’s half, the Addicks lacked any real cutting edge. So much so that Oldham’s Peter Clarke, in rising highest to meet a corner and seeing his header bounce back off the post, came closest to scoring the game’s second goal.
A theme that continued into the second half, as Robinson’s men lacked any sort of genuine threat or potency despite dominating the overall play, while the Latics came close on the counter. Forster-Caskey giving Ripley some work to do, but Oldham’s ‘keeper rarely tested by this wasteful group of Addicks, and defeat would have been confirmed had Declan Rudd not saved well from Oldham’s Taylor.
In fact, it wasn’t until the game’s final moments when a strong intervention was forced out of Ripley. The goalkeeper’s fingertips preventing Lee Novak’s glancing header from finding the far corner. But this sluggish Charlton performance did not warrant an equaliser.
The start John Sheridan’s men have made to the season has been record-breaking. No previous Oldham side have lost their first five games in all competitions from the commencing of a campaign. Reflective of a side that’s underperforming, but so too a side that’s entered the season without being shaped and sculpted anywhere near completion.
They didn’t need an injury crisis, one that left Sheridan able to name just three players on the bench for their weekend defeat to Blackpool, to prove their squad lacked bodies. But it certainly helped prove a point. The Latics are in a concerning state.
A 90th-minute Walsall winner in the second League One game of the season, a game in which Oldham took the lead, is as close as the Latics have come to both taking a point from a contest and successfully competing. The deficit, two by the time 15 minutes had passed, halved at Bloomfield Road on Saturday, but Sheridan’s decimated side always one foot off the pace.
And time is running out for the issues with Oldham’s squad to be addressed, on two fronts. The transfer window of course closes on Thursday night, but talk of investment into the club from Dubai-based agent Abdallah Lemsagam has hung around for quite some time. Completing some sort of deal before the transfer deadline may allow Sheridan to strengthen a side that so desperately requires it.
If not, then Sheridan must battle on with limited resources. He managed to maintain the Latics’ League One status last season, arriving in January and pulling them away from the bottom four in impressive fashion. But this appears an even harder challenge.
They certainly rode their luck, but it was ultimately a clinical edge in front of goal and a steely determination in defence that meant the Addicks came away from Rotherham United’s New York Stadium with their first away league win of the season last season.
Jamie Proctor should have given the Millers the lead, Semi Ajayi and Kieffer Moore were both wasteful, and questions were asked after it appeared that Chris Solly fouled Proctor in the build-up to Charlton’s second goal, but that things went the way of Robinson’s side didn’t diminish from the effort and character shown.
Two genuine chances offered, with Patrick Bauer left unmarked to power home a corner and Josh Magennis converting from Ricky Holmes’ delivery, and two genuine chances taken as Rotherham wasted anything that fell their way. When the Millers were searching for a route back into the game, they were so often thwarted by the excellent Bauer and Jason Pearce at centre-back. The visitors not as fluent as they were in their mightily impressive display against Northampton Town, but showing an equal amount of fight to record a different type of victory.
A third league victory in four, that not only provides the perfect foundation from which to build at the start of this season, but has also offered supporters genuine belief that this side can compete for promotion. Promise in attack, character and quality at the back, and ultimately signs that this group knows how to win games of football.
Such is the extent of Oldham’s injury troubles, Sheridan was able to name just three substitutes for last weekend’s defeat to Blackpool, and an international call-up means one of those that managed to take to the field at Bloomfield Road won’t at Boundary Park on Saturday.
Full-back Cameron Dummigan has been called up to Northern Ireland’s U21 squad, and he’ll be absent alongside Ryan McLaughlin, who is involved with the senior Northern Ireland side having missed last weekend’s defeat with a slight niggle.
And with none of the weekend absentees returning for the Checkatrade Trophy clash with Port Vale in midweek, it likely that the Latics will again be low on numbers as they welcome Charlton this Saturday. Young defender Jamie Stott (back) midfield pair Ryan Flynn and Paul Green (Achilles), and winger Tope Obadeyi and forward Craig Davies (hamstring) join summer arrivals Gyamfi Kyeremeh and Courtney Duffus in the treatment room.
But Sheridan will have Jack Byrne available, after the midfielder made his debut for the Latics in midweek having joined on loan from Wigan Athletic.
International call-ups mean Robinson will need to make changes to his league starting XI for the first time in four games, as the Addicks are left without a recognised left-back and their regular centre-forward.
Jay Dasilva’s efforts as captain of the England U19 side that won the European Championships in the summer have seen him called up to the U20s, while Josh Magennis joins Oldham’s McLaughlin and retains his regular spot in the Northern Ireland squad.
With Ezri Konsa, still eligible for England’s U20s but not picked, and the now departed Jordan Botaka often also required for international service last season, the Addicks had enough players away to call their fixtures off on international weekends. But with only two on duty this Saturday, one less than the necessary three, Robinson’s side will need to make do without Dasilva and Magennis. Two players that have impressed so far this campaign, and are difficult to replace.
Given that there’s no natural alternative to Dasilva, with Lewis Page still recovering from a long-term ankle problem, Johnnie Jackson may have to fill in at left-back. Robinson could also decide to move Chris Solly to the left side of defence, and hand a league debut to Anfernee Djiksteel after the youngster’s positive impressions in cup competition. But either option is a little uncomfortable.
While in attack, as Charlton’s search for additional forward options continues to frustrate both Robinson and supporters, the likely replacement for Magennis lacks the trust of supporters. Despite scoring against Norwich City in the League Cup recently, Lee Novak has struggled in Charlton colours, and lacks both the presence and potency that Magennis provides. International weekends only highlighting the need for another body up top.
Elsewhere, Mark Marshall and Harry Lennon remain in the treatment room, but Ben Reeves is pushing to be involved having appeared and scored in the Checkatrade Trophy win over Crawley Town in midweek.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH DISRUPTION TO THE STARTING XI
With the Addicks first playing with an impressive level of attacking fluency during their victory over Northampton Town, then showing a certain amount of character and resilience to record a hard-fought win over Rotherham United, disruption to their starting XI comes at a time when it seemed to have clicked into place.
A frustrating time, therefore, as you want to see Charlton’s strongest XI continue to perform and build up both belief and momentum. An XI that relies as heavily on each member that forms it for its strength. And an XI that unfortunately loses two of the more difficult players to replace, on the basis of what is available in reserve.
Magennis’ ability to hold up play and cause a threat inside the box, not least with often the Addicks utilise the flanks going forward, is vital, while Dasilva’s contributions both defensively and when joining in on the counter have belonged to a left-back much older than 19. The focal point of Charlton’s forward line lost, with pressure on Novak who will likely slot in, and some untidy reshuffling required at the back that will leave someone unfamiliar to the left-back role starting there.
It not to say that Robinson’s side don’t have the quality to contend with such disruption – their first win of the season over Bristol Rovers came without Magennis and without an 11th man for much of the game – but it’s certainly an annoyance.
At least the fixture list has been kind to the Addicks. It would be more accurate to say that Oldham’s starting XI, both through injury and international call-ups, has been bulldozed rather than disrupted. They not looking to fill in holes within a fluent unit, but scramble together something in which there is little faith of useful functioning.
But, with two important cogs absent that Charlton’s somewhat restricted options in reserve make difficult to replace, it will be interesting to see if Robinson’s side can maintain the same level of defensive stubbornness and attacking fluency.
Glad we’re not facing tougher opposition, for the absentees might well be felt in other circumstances. Oldham’s start to the campaign, along with absentees of their own, suggests victory should still be a comfortable one. Oldham Athletic 0-2 Charlton Athletic
Despite a young side suffering a heavy defeat at Norwich City in the League Cup during the week, Charlton Athletic travel to the New York Stadium this weekend with the confidence gained from inflicting a heavy defeat remaining untainted.
For while the 4-1 defeat in Norfolk was humbling for a much-changed Addicks XI, it the 4-1 victory over Northampton Town that holds greater importance. Karl Robinson’s full-strength side displaying excellent attacking football at The Valley last Saturday, and showing a potency that had been absent from the defeat to Plymouth Argyle. A performance of real promise.
And so, it understandable that there a demand for more of the same. Having seen such an impressive effort from this group of Addicks, there hope that they have already clicked, and an expectation that performances of similar quality will be repeated throughout the season. A belief, too, that the Cobblers win has set the tone, and those sorts of displays will be seen again.
Not least against a side who lost 33 of their 46 league games last season, finishing bottom of the Championship and suffering relegation with just 23 points to their name. The expectation for Rotherham is that bouncing back from such a catastrophic season won’t be simple, and they’ll find themselves struggling again.
But having such a view of the Millers is simply lazy. The squad has been revamped, Paul Warne offered support after enduring a torrid period as interim boss last season, and occupiers of the New York Stadium no longer expecting defeat before they’ve even taken their seat. This not the club it was in the previous campaign.
And in a testing start to the campaign, Rotherham have shown positive signs. Premier League Huddersfield Town given a game in the League Cup during the week, while defensive errors saw an encouraging performance end without reward in their trip to Peterborough United last Saturday, but both following a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Southend United. This group of Millers, though still searching for points away from home, are intent on leaving the events of the previous season in the past.
The Addicks full of confidence, and an expectation of victory existing. But any sort of complacency will be punished, and a strong performance will be required to come away from Yorkshire with the points.
LAST MEETING – ROTHERHAM UNITED 1-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (30/01/2016)
Charlton recorded their first win in 12 – and what would ultimately be their only win in 17 – games with a comprehensive 4-1 victory at the New York Stadium in January 2016.
Occupying a place in the bottom three and with four points separating them and Rotherham, who sat in the final position of safety, the trip to Yorkshire was something of a must win for the Addicks. Not something there was much confidence in being able to achieve, with the visitors coming into the game on the back of 11 games without victory, and having lost 5-0 to Huddersfield Town and 6-0 to Hull City in their previous two away games.
But Jose Riga, three games into his second spell as Charlton boss following Karel Fraye’s sacking, saw his disjointed and demoralised side make the perfect start. The much-maligned Simon Makienok involved in the build-up, as he played Johnnie Jackson’s ball into the path of Zakarya Bergdich, and the goal itself, finishing superbly having been teed up by Bergdich. An advantage for the Addicks with four minutes played.
Alas, a positive result was in serious doubt just seven minutes as Rotherham levelled. Charlton’s backline first of all struggling to clear their lines as the ball bounced around inside their own half, before offering far too much space as the Millers drove forward, ultimately allowing Chris Burke to convert. It not so much the fact that the hosts had equalised that brought about concern, but how this fragile group of Addicks would react.
With a minute to play until half-time, however, Riga’s men regained their lead. The pace and strength of Johann Berg Gudmundsson too much for Kirk Broadfoot, leaving him in a heap, and the Icelandic winger able to deliver across the face of goal for Igor Vetokele to tap home. The hope of victory returning, primarily on the basis of how well the visitors had responded to conceding.
And their victory was effectively sealed with 21 minutes to play. Gudmundsson’s corner picking out Makienok’s 6’6 frame, and the Dane powerfully heading beyond Lee Camp in the Rotherham goal.
But Rotherham were offered the opportunity to get back into the game with 16 minutes remaining, as Jorge Teixeira dragged down Jonson Clarke-Harris inside the box and referee Keith Stroud immediately awarded a penalty. Clarke-Harris stepping up to take the penalty, but ballooning the ball well over the bar.
And the hosts’ misery, as much as Charlton’s joy, was added to deep into stoppage-time. Gudmundsson sending Ademola Lookman through on goal, and the teenager finishing with typical composure and quality.
A win that was meant to start a revival, and see the Addicks begin to climb away from the bottom three. But, with a rather pitiful relegation suffered at the end of the campaign, it mattered little.
The wait for an away victory, now 27 league games long, may continue, but a 5-0 win over Southend United in their first game at the New York Stadium back in the third tier suggests the Millers are capable of competing during this campaign.
A comprehensive 5-0 victory, a fair reflection of the Millers’ performance in the contest, over a Southend side that narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season and will be aiming for a top six finish during this campaign. Warne’s side boasting a four-goal advantage before the break, with Ipswich loanee Kieffer Moore netting a first-half hat-trick. The sort of performance, and win, required at the start of this season to build confidence after their torrid relegation from the Championship.
Alas, this much-changed Rotherham side are far from the finished product. Defensive concerns blighting their promising forward efforts, and a desperate need to end the away day hoodoo. Three very tough away games so far this season – against two sides that boast 100% League One records and one that has started life in the Premier League with two victories – and three defeats.
But even in those defeats away from the New York Stadium, there have been positives to take. Not least in the two that have occurred in the previous week. On top for periods at London Road, but defensive calamity ultimately allowing Peterborough United to claim the winner, while leading for more than 45 minutes at the John Smith’s Stadium, and pushing for an equaliser with genuine threat once Huddersfield Town had gained the advantage.
Greater reward for their efforts will be wanted, but in the circumstances Rotherham’s start to the campaign is largely an encouraging one.
Having wasted glorious openings during the first half of their defeat to Plymouth Argyle, then offered a sluggish and unthreatening effort during the second period, the four-goal win over Northampton Town last weekend was the perfect antidote to concerns about Charlton’s forward prowess.
Ricky Holmes emphatic finish on the hour doubling the lead that Josh Magennis had given the Addicks, while Marc Richards converting at the near post to half the visitors’ deficit with a little over ten to play was made meaningless by two stoppage-time strikes from Jake Forster-Caskey.
The late goals harsh on Northampton, who had competed for much of the contest, but a fair reflection of the quality in Charlton’s attacking efforts. For it not just the fact that they scored four goals that was impressive, but their overall efforts in getting forward. The ball moved quickly, movement off the ball excellent, and both creativity and quality in the final third.
Maybe just a slight question to answer this weekend about whether performances at The Valley can be replicated on the road, and still a little worry about how the Addicks react when chasing the game. Options in reserve still minimal for Robinson, and there was little available to him in order to inject life into his side as it struggled through the second period at Home Park.
But there no real reason why the Addicks can’t dictate and control games away from SE7.
Rotherham will remain without Jerry Yates, as the young forward continues to nurse a foot injury sustained during the Checkatrade Trophy penalty shootout defeat to Manchester City U23s.
But Yates is likely to be the only Rotherham body unavailable for selection this weekend, with Warne otherwise having a full squad of players to pick from.
That set to include former Millwall full-back Shaun Cummings, with the summer signing likely to be included in a league matchday squad for the first time having appeared in both Checkatrade Trophy and League Cup games. Cummings released by the Lions at the end of last season, and is being eased into the first team picture at the New York Stadium having not had a proper pre-season.
Former Addick Richard Wood is another who appeared in the midweek cup defeat at Huddersfield, and will be hoping to force himself into Warne’s League One plans.
Charlton are likely to be unchanged from their impressive league win over Northampton Town, but bodies do return to Robinson’s squad.
Lee Novak, dismissed during the victory over Bristol Rovers, is available for a league game for the first time since serving his suspension having appeared and scored at Carrow Road on Tuesday, while Andrew Crofts has completed his three-game ban following his red card received in the League Cup win over Exeter City.
There could also be a return to the matchday squad for Ben Reeves, who has missed the previous three games with a calf complaint. The playmaker, signed from MK Dons prior to the start of the season, hasn’t had a proper pre-season. A combination of that and his injury niggle has meant Reeves’ introduction into the squad has been a slow one.
But the Addicks will remain without injured trio Lewis Page (ankle), Mark Marshall (knee) and Harry Lennon (hamstring).
KEY BATTLE – TARGETING AN ERROR-PRONE DEFENCE
It probably not an ideal situation when a defensive area has left the team’s manager “incandescent with rage” in the league fixture prior to facing a side who scored four times in their previous League One game.
Rotherham boss Warne furious after Semi Ajayi, who came through Charlton’s academy, failed to deal with a long ball that allowed Jack Marriott to score Peterborough’s winner while his own side were pushing for the decisive goal.
Centre-back Ajayi, a summer signing from Cardiff City having been on loan at the New York Stadium during the second half of last season, is a key figure in Rotherham’s backline, and as such is likely to retain his place in the starting XI. But this isn’t his first costly error of the campaign, with a mix-up during the League Cup win over Lincoln City result in a goal being conceded, and Warne has demanded the mistakes that are hindering both Ajayi and the Millers are cut out.
Frustration comes not only given that Ajayi has performed well aside from moments of madness, with a goal at Huddersfield in midweek helping matters, but also on the basis that the Millers have shown strong qualities going forward. Kieffer Moore scoring for a fourth time this season at London Road, but his goals will count for little if those behind him continue to gift goals to the opposition.
And an uncomfortable defensive line is something Robinson’s side will look to take advantage of. Against Plymouth’s deep-sitting defence and midfield, the Addicks struggled to find a way through, but as Northampton pushed for an equaliser at The Valley last weekend, the hosts were brutal in their exposure of the gaps left behind.
Whether specifically targeted or not, Ajayi and his fellow defenders can’t afford to commit mistakes if Charlton player with the same attacking qualities they showed during the win over Northampton. If nothing else, the young defender is going to have a difficult task dealing with Josh Magennis if he deals with long balls in the same way he did last weekend.
Rotherham will make it difficult, but don’t see why there shouldn’t be belief that victory will be achieved. Rotherham United 1-2 Charlton Athletic