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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Rochdale

Charlton Athletic’s record in evening league games, stretching back into 2016, is quite frankly horrific. One victory in their previous ten midweek games under floodlights, with six of those ending in defeat, and no win in five. You could say the rather odd run of form casts a shadow over the Addicks, but I’ll definitely let you say it, and not myself.

A backlog of games caused by international cancellations meaning the midweek games in the second half of last season were largely traumatic. A 3-0 loss to Wigan Athletic, the only loss at home this season, and two draws that were ultimately dropped points at Walsall and Oxford United making up the trio of midweek games had so far this season. And it’s always cold.

But an end to the hoodoo is required, not least after Saturday’s frustrating draw with MK Dons. The excellent run of Karl Robinson’s side giving them genuine top two ambitions, but every dropped point an opportunity for those above them to move away. Every game a must win.

Not least those against sides who appear vulnerable. A Rochdale side that sit inside League One’s bottom four, arriving in SE7 having conceded two late goals against Oldham at the weekend to suffer a 3-1 defeat. The sort of a side that the promotion-chasing Addicks should be beating under the afternoon sun or the stars of the night.

Of course, such rhetoric brings about the chance of compliancy. Charlton’s performances against sides in the bottom half of the division this season not always fluent. Charlton’s finishing at the weekend as complacent as the officiating as the win their overall performance warranted was denied.

But there is confidence in this side. Confidence not only to respond to the frustrations that Saturday produced. But confidence to be celebrating a rare night time victory.

LAST MEETING – ROCHDALE 3-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (18/02/2017)

Jorge Teixeira’s late header rescued a point for Charlton in a bizarre but entertaining game at Spotland in February.

The worst feared as the Addicks fell behind after just four minutes, and in calamitous fashion. Declan Rudd, challenged by his own player in Josh Magennis, failing to hold onto Donal McDermott’s free-kick from wide, and Niall Canavan able to prod the ball into an empty net. Bemused and angry faces populating Charlton’s defence and the Spotland away end.

But the catastrophic implosion many feared did not follow, and Robinson’s men continued to chip away at the Dale. That until their reward came with four minutes of the first half remaining. Magennis nodding onto Jordan Botaka, his initial shot rebounding back off the post, and the Leeds loanee able to convert at the second time of asking.

And it was the Addicks who applied the pressure thereafter, almost going ahead in spectacular style. Arsenal loanee Stephy Mavididi running from inside his own penalty box, beating several men in blue, and finding himself facing up to Rochdale goalkeeper Ben Wilson. Unfortunately, the teenager couldn’t apply the finishing touch, and was denied the most spectacular of individual goals.

The visitors, however, were to find the finishing touch soon after. It coming from Teixeira, helping a Patrick Bauer header through the body of Wilson after the German had been allowed to wander free following a Jake Forster-Caskey corner.

But the advantage would last only three minutes. Ian Henderson’s delivery and the strength of Calvin Andrew too much for Lewis Page and Rudd, and the masked forward was able to head home. Still 20 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner in a game in which defending had seemingly been abandoned.

That winner seemingly belonging to the hosts. Henderson teeing up Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, those in red standing off the winger, and the ball curled into the far corner from the edge of the box. Six minutes surely not enough to find an equaliser for the Addicks.

Though to think so would have been to underestimate the bizarre nature of this encounter. A third leveller of this encounter coming just four minutes later, as Bauer headed a Forster-Caskey corner through carnage in the penalty area, and Teixeira’s dangled leg converted the loose ball.

A long lie down subsequently had.

FORM 

Rochdale: LWDWDD

In achieving three consecutive top ten finishes with a budget considerably smaller than their competitors, and arguably squads containing lesser weight of talent, there little doubt that Keith Hill’s Rochdale had considerably overachieved since promotion to League One in 2014.

But as other squads, whether they be those with certain promotion ambitions or those like Rochdale looking to upset the bigger boys, have improved, Dale’s has weakened. It not simply the case that Matty Lund, Jamie Allen and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing departed in the summer. In that resources allowed for very few replacements, of minimal quality, in a squad that is falling behind.

A glass ceiling hit, and the club seemingly coming down with a bit of a bump. Hill will do all he can do soften the blow, and subsequently push on, with the manager’s efforts during four years in charge respected. But his job a difficult one, and this season has so far proven tough.

A late collapse at Oldham on Saturday, with Eoin Doyle scoring twice in the final ten minutes, seeing Dale drop into the bottom four. No side in the bottom half has lost fewer games than they have, but no side has won less either. Just three wins, and all of them coming inside the comfort of Spotland.

They had, before Saturday’s defeat, gone four league games unbeaten. But this run included allowing ten-man Fleetwood to score a late equaliser, Northampton to take a point having been two goals behind, and a frustrating draw Plymouth, who were bottom at the time. Quality and backbone lacking.

All of which points to the need for Hill’s trademark cohesive resolve and determination to start bearing its mark.

Charlton: DWWWDW

The ‘D’ nearest Charlton’s name should be a ‘W’. It remarkable that the Addicks didn’t claim victory in SE7 on Saturday. On two counts.

The first being that their dominance wasn’t rewarded. The Addicks, during a run of four wins in five, have largely won ugly. But their high energy pressing and cutting edge passing play during the first hour of the game against MK Dons was sublime.

They do, however, only have themselves to blame for that. Numerous chances wasted with the game at 1-0, not least when Mark Marshall was clean through on goal at the start of the second period. Victory should have been sealed long before the opposition stole an equaliser against the run of play, and the contest became a frantic one.

But blame deflected from themselves after referee Andy Woolmer awarded a controversial penalty, in chaotic fashion, three minutes after Scott Golbourne had seemingly turned Tariqe Fosu’s shot into his own net for Charlton’s late winner. Peter Pawlett forcing himself over a loose foot, the referee forcing his assistant to make a decision with seemingly a poorer view, and Kieran Agard converting from the spot. Fury and frustration.

And yet, the run now reads four wins in six, or eight games unbeaten if you prefer. They drop down to fifth, but Wigan Athletic’s defeat to Bradford City means they actually move a point close to second. There unlikely to be an afternoon more frustrating where a point is gained, but the wider contextual situation provides comfort.

THE OPPOSITION

Rochdale will remain without long-term absentee Keith Keane, who continues to recover from groin surgery.

The tough-tackling midfielder, a figure much desired in the current flimsy Dale side, has managed just one league appearance this season. In which he received a straight red card during the opening day of the season defeat to Portsmouth. His return greatly anticipated.

Elsewhere, changes to the side that capitulated in the final ten minutes at Boundary Park on Saturday are expected. Something that Hill can make freely, with few other injury doubts. Joe Bunney replaced full-back Kgosi Ntlhe at half-time, and you would expect the former to appear from the start at The Valley.

The only other certain absentee for Dale is the remarkable Joe Thompson, who has beaten off cancer twice. The midfielder is training more frequently, and is aiming for a Christmas return. Something that will no doubt be celebrated by the entire football community.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will welcome back Patrick Bauer after the defender missed Saturday’s draw with MK Dons with a slight groin injury.

The German centre-back, particularly reliable in recent weeks, is likely to come straight back into the side, not least with both Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr looking a little uncomfortable in the latter stages of the weekend draw. Konsa fortunate after Chuks Aneke failed to capitalise on his slip, while Sarr went from dominant man-mountain to a somewhat panicked figure in the face of pressure. But both have performed exceptionally well in the previous month, and choosing who to leave out will be a tough call.

But neither Billy Clarke (calf) nor Tariqe Fosu (thigh) will be available for Robinson, at least from the start. Clarke is set for a two-week spell on the sidelines, while Fosu, who thought he’d contributed to the decisive goal on Saturday after his wayward shot was turned into his own goal by Dons defender Scott Golbourne, will only be fit enough to make an appearance from the bench. Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall set to continue in attacking midfield roles.

Elsewhere, defensive trio Jason Pearce, Lewis Page and Harry Lennon remain out, but a return nears, with Robinson suggesting they may feature in the Checkatrade Trophy clash against Swansea U21s at the start of December.

KEY BATTLE – AN IMPROVING BIG JOSH, AGAINST A FRAGILE SIDE

Despite the frustration involved in not collecting three points at the weekend, there were a lot of positives to take out of the performance. Or at least an hour of it.

The way the opposition was pressed to the extent that they simply couldn’t play. The slickness and pace of the passing place, with a sideways pass not the first option but only made when required. The cutting edge in the final third, not created the chances that were unfortunately not taken.

But one of the most pleasing aspects of the performance was an individual one. Having been devoid of all energy, barely making a single positive contribution in games to the point that he’d pass through 90 minutes in anonymity were it not for supporters expressing frustration at his efforts, in the period between two international breaks, this appeared to be the return of Josh Magennis. So much so that a first goal in six was just a nice bonus.

Headers won routinely, the ball held up superbly, appearing out of nowhere to win balls he had no right to win, moving forward with the ball at his feet with threat, linking up well with his teammates, and just generally being an absolute 6’2 monster. In some contrast to standing still, seemingly without functioning legs, and second best to every ball.

It gives the Addicks another option. They have someone with confidence to pick out to conclude fluent moves. They can go move the ball forward quicker with faith in their striker, or they can simply go direct if the game gets ugly.

And that sort of presence should prove a real threat for a defence that conceded two goals in three minutes with seven minutes of a game remaining. Who have routinely dropped points from promising position. Who don’t appear to have much of a backbone, and won’t deal well with the threat that Magennis provides, and allows for.

Of course, more importantly than anything else, the Addicks needed to take their chances on Tuesday night. But an inform Magennis keeps Rochdale on the backfoot. Keeps Charlton pushing.

PREDICTION

With Wigan and Shrewsbury both having very ‘winnable’ games, it’s one we need to win to avoid the pair getting away from us again having done so well to reduce the gap. This, however, is equally as ‘winnable’. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Rochdale

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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Milton Keynes Dons

Within a span of 21 days, Charlton Athletic avoided defeat in League One, and managed to claim three victories from their four games. Just a single goal conceded, as defensive determination saw the Addicks grind their way to up the table. Momentum and optimism, irrespective of the fact even Karl Robinson was happy to admit his side weren’t playing at their best, building at pace.

In the following span of 21 days, Charlton Athletic will also avoid defeat in League One. Not a single goal conceded in that time. It’s just that, in that period of 21 days, The Addicks won’t have played a league game.

FA Cup duty, as the spirited Truro City were ultimately dispatched, and international call-ups, that resulted in top-of-the-table clash at Shrewsbury Town was postponed, means the Addicks have gone consecutive weekends without a League One game.

Logic dictates that that is something of a frustration as Robinson welcomes former club Milton Keynes Dons to The Valley this weekend. A speed hump to an excellent run of form. Their little doubt that the Addicks would have preferred for their momentum to be maintained, and League One games to have continued at reasonable pace.

But there are, of course, benefits to such an absence from league football. An absence made less dramatic by the FA Cup encounter, and by a number of first team players appearing in the Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Portsmouth two days later. An opportunity to rest, and a chance also for Robinson to fine tune the flaws in a side that certainly isn’t performing with perfect fluency despite the excellent, gritty gaining of results.

Nonetheless, it is a case of starting again against Robbie Neilson’s men; a group who have underperformed so far this season and have to be treated as a potential threat. Expecting victory on the back on the back of previous results would be naïve. Four victories in five showing the capabilities of this side, but the meaning needing reaffirming after a 21-day absence.

The previous run remains a current one, but for the time being it needs to be forgotten in order to fully focus on starting again after such a long break without league football.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-2 MK DONS (04/04/2017)

Charlton put themselves in serious threat of relegation to League Two as a pathetic display was suitably punished by MK Dons at The Valley in April.

The fixture, a game in hand on those below them, offered an opportunity to create comfortable breathing space between themselves and the bottom four. Instead the Addicks, losing for a third time in a row and playing so poorly that another victory in the five remaining games of the season seemed impossible, left themselves just four points above the relegation zone. The full-time reaction a display of anger, of embarrassment, of supporters insulted.

“You’re not fit to wear the shirt” was the cry. Heard many times before, but it meant much more on this occasion. The Charlton shirt carrying the name of PC Keith Palmer, the officer and season-ticket holder who sacrificed his own life to save others in an attempted terrorist at Westminster Bridge, and to have that sung felt poignant.

Karl Robinson’s side not just second best, but third best when the attitude and courage of PC Palmer’s family is considered.

Just seven minutes played when Harvey Barnes, excellent throughout the evening, would be gifted the space to cut inside and shoot. His slightly deflected effort saved by Declan Rudd, but parried straight into the path of Stuart O’Keefe. Tame defending, the simplest of goals, and previous performances indicated game already over.

The visitors dominant thereafter, or at least allowed to be, but it not until the 57th minute that an unassailable two-goal advantage was claimed. Leicester loanee Barnes allowed to travel forward 15 yards at half pace, before placing the ball into the far bottom corner from the edge of the area. The Addicks a collective mess, and seemingly individually unaware as to what their roles were.

It a relief that Robinson’s side found form in the final weeks of the campaign, winning four of their final five games, but the expression of anger and disgust at full-time appeared legitimate as the prospect of relegation became a legitimate fear.

FORM

MK Dons: WWLDDL

A weekend win over Fleetwood Town may leave them four points off the play-offs in League One’s congested mid-table but, sitting in 14th place as they do, it not unfair to suggest MK Dons have greatly underwhelmed in the opening weeks of the season.

Taking over a side that sat 19th in the third tier, and just two points above the relegation zone with 20 games played, Robbie Neilson had created a considerable degree of optimism during his time in charge last season. Just eight defeats suffered and 11 victories managed over the course of his 26 games in charge, sweetened further still with displays of promising football, leading to a rise to 12th come the end of the season. The damage done by Karl Robinson, somewhat overstaying his stay in Milton Keynes having overseen relegation in the previous season, addressed.

And with handy additions made this summer, much was expected both inside the club and out. Not in a league favourites sort of way, but competitive challengers for a top-six place. Often turgid football and a struggle to grind out results when playing in such a manner has meant otherwise.

The 1-0 win over the Trawlerman, with the winner coming from key man Chuks Aneke, was their first in the league in six. Their first against top-half opposition all season. Relief rather than celebration the main feeling.

So how do the Stadium MK club make the Fleetwood victory a more regular occurrence? Aneke finding form, and staying fit, will certainly help, as will the return to fitness of Peter Pawlett in a side that’s been rather goal shy. Robbie Neilson also has an excellent long-hair-facial-hair combo, which probably helps in these situations.

Either way, improvement is required if MK are to fulfil pre-season expectations.

Charlton: WWWDWD

Four league wins in five, one goal conceded in four, and FA Cup progression after something of a battle with non-league Truro. They even climbed to third last weekend despite not actually playing by virtue of Bradford City’s defeat at home to Plymouth Argyle. Things are going quite well for the Addicks at the moment.

But, quite incredibly, there’s a widely accepted view the Addicks aren’t playing that well. In fact, the performance in victory over AFC Wimbledon was a poor one. The win coming as a result of the quality of Ricky Holmes.

Potential a situation that could leave some supporters fearful. Without improvement the Addicks will ultimately be caught out. You can’t win games without playing well forever; someone will exploit it.

But for others, and particularly with the quality that this side has previously displayed, the fact that Robinson’s men are finding ways to win without displaying fluency is a good thing. They will improve, and they will get better. What they have now is a rather healthy base.

THE OPPOSITION

The recent return of Peter Pawlett, whose cult hero status at Aberdeen made him appear an exceptional summer recruit, means Neilson has almost a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of the trip to SE7.

Pawlett, an attacking midfielder equally capable of playing up top, impressed over the course of 172 league appearances for the Dandies, and has the potential to inspire an upturn in MK’s form. The Scot making his return from the bench in The FA Cup win over Hyde following two months out with injury, before starting against Fleetwood last weekend.

But Neilson will remain without Osman Sow (foot), a forward with an appearanceless spell with Crystal Palace on his CV, and giant midfielder Ousseynou Cisse (unspecified), who joins his teammate in the treatment room.

THE ADDICKS

Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves will be pushing for places in Charlton’s starting XI having impressed in the FA Cup victory over Truro City.

With the Addicks, though becoming increasingly resolute defensively, losing a touch of attacking fluency in previous games, the injection of Marshall’s directness and Reeves’ creativity may be what’s required to inspire a complete performance from Robinson’s men.

Reeves, against his former club, likely to keep Billy Clarke out of the side, whose recent performances have been somewhat indifferent, while Marshall may have to remain patient with Ricky Holmes and Tariqe Fosu to displace.

Elsewhere, the Addicks will welcome back Ahmed Kashi after his hilariously enforced suspension meant he missed the Truro win, meaning a return to coaching duties for Johnnie Jackson and heartbroken sobs for me, while Josh Magennis, following heartbreak of his own while representing Northern Ireland, is once again available and the ineffective Joe Dodoo will miss out.

But Jason Pearce (knee) and Harry Lennon (groin) remain out, while Lewis Page continues to build up fitness having recovered from an ankle problem.

KEY BATTLE – FINDING FORWARD THREAT AGAINST A SIDE WITH DEFENSIVE CONCERNS

There are teams in League One, in terms of goals conceded, with more desperate defensive records than MK Dons. Eight teams picking the ball out of their net as many or more times than the 24 times Neilson’s have. Two of those (Fleetwood and Southend United) in the top half, a further two top half sides (Peterborough United and Rotherham United) only on one less occasion.

In fact, it might well be their goalscoring that’s considered a greater concern around Stadium MK. Only five teams have found the back of the net on fewer occasions than their 18 times, and all five of those are in the bottom four. But with Charlton so defensively resolute of late, an opposition’s efforts in attack take less prominence.

A more inviting statistic, inspiring encouragement for greater attacking intent and fluency, is the fact Neilson’s men rarely go a game without conceding. The cleansheet that MK Dons kept in their weekend win over Fleetwood was their first in six League One games. It was also their first of the entire campaign against a side outside of the division’s current bottom six.

Keeping that cleansheet against a potent side may, of course, be the catalyst for change. And a back four that contains consistent George Williams, the occasional error-prone but generally reliable Scott Wotton, a heavy contributor to Sheffield United’s promotion in the shape of Ethan Ebanks-Landell, and Championship regular Scott Golbourne, should be a strong one. But logic dictates the sudden development of an impassable wall on the back of one shut out is unlikely.

The three of the four most recent league games have been an art-like display of defensive resolve, but the requirement of such against Doncaster Rovers and AFC Wimbledon left even Karl Robinson suggesting the Addicks were not playing at their best. This side has shown previously it’s at its best when it deploys fast pace, fluent and cutting edge attacking football, even in patches. Something that you’d like to think can be to place a side that regularly concedes onto the back foot.

There should be no fear for the Addicks on Saturday of course. Not arrogance, of course, and not playing in manner that invites risk, the opportunity for MK to exploit, or simply puts even greater pressure on a defence that have performed superbly in the past month or so. But a chance to return to the fluent football that has somewhat gone missing, the complete displays that makes the most of the attacking talent in this side.

PREDICTION

A little bit worried the extended run without a league game will do some damage, and a little bit worried Robinson’s emotion will also cause some harm. Though I’m always worried about the latter. Fairly confident that a victory will be grinded out at least, but would like to be reassured by something more convincing. Charlton Athletic 2-0 MK Dons  

Preview: Bradford City V Charlton Athletic

To attempt to decide whether Saturday’s trip to Valley Parade to face Bradford City will provide a tougher test for Charlton Athletic than the one offered by Oxford United on Tuesday night is rather futile.

For regardless of whether the Bantams perform to a level above or below what the U’s offered in midweek, it will still be an incredibly testing challenge for the Addicks. One that means a certain level of performance is going to be required to gain so much as a point. One that means coming away from Yorkshire with a second point of the week has to be seen as a success.

Karl Robinson’s men will no doubt possess a reasonable level of self-belief, and certainly won’t be fearing facing another side that share a spot inside League One’s top six. A certain amount of wastefulness cost them something more positive in midweek, and allowed Oxford back into a game that became incredibly competitive, but Charlton played with confidence and attacking intent throughout at the Kassam. There no reason to feel that such an overall performance cannot be replicated at Valley Parade.

And so too will the Addicks look at recent Bantams results and sense they have vulnerabilities. Capitulating to a 3-1 loss at Bury having taken the lead at the weekend, before drawing with a slowly improving Oldham Athletic side in midweek.

But this a Bradford side who currently sit third in the League One table, were unbeaten at Valley Parade throughout last season under Stuart McCall’s leadership, and have won eight of their 14 league games during this campaign. The threat they offer a very real one. Their reputation as a difficult side to beat remains.

And so it would appear that the Addicks, whether a fluid contest shared by two teams playing with real quality or a gritty and committed battle, will have another highly competitive clash on their hands on Saturday.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BRADFORD CITY (14/03/2017)

Charlton slipped to 15th in the League One table following their draw with Bradford in March, but their performance against a side battling for promotion was an excellent one.

Or at least their second half performance was, with the Addicks starting poorly at The Valley. Romain Vincelot setting the tone with three minutes played, with the Frenchman given far too much and shooting just wide from distance. Charlton’s defensive effort unorganised, and lacking any sort of intensity.

Future Addick Mark Marshall among Bradford’s chief tormenters, but the hosts fortunate that their faults were not more greatly exploited. Tony McMahon’s free-kick comfortable held by Declan Rudd, and Nathanial Knight-Percival’s head sent over the bar. The Bantams really should have been more threatening in the circumstances.

Nonetheless, it came against the run of play when Karl Robinson’s sluggish side were able to take the lead with 35 minutes played. The two centre-backs combining in the opposition’s box as Patrick Bauer nodded on a Ricky Holmes free-kick for Jorge Teixeira, with the Portuguese taking a touch with his chest and ultimately volleying home.

Alas, it was not a lead that would last long, with Marshall heavily involved as Bradford equalised just eight minutes later. Another future Addick contributing as Billy Clarke relayed a half-cleared corner into the winger’s path, before his deflected shot was spilled horribly by Rudd. Timothee Dieng on hand to pounce on the loose ball and head the visitors level.

But the pattern of the contest changed substantially in the second period, with the Addicks taking control. The backline organised, and the side pressing as a unit to prevent Bradford’s considerable attacking threat from getting forward. But Robinson’s men were causing a consistent attacking threat of their own.

In fact, they created more than enough chances after half-time to find a winner. Lee Novak heading over from close range, the otherwise excellent Tony Watt blasting off-target horribly after a bouncing ball fell to him inside the box, and Teixeira heading straight at Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle from a pinpoint Ricky Holmes set-piece delivery.

But the wasted chances, frustrating though they were, not enough to take praise away from the players in a period where performances without intensity or quality had been numerous. Those on the pitch evidently disappointed, but those in the stands appreciative of their efforts.

FORM

Bradford: DLWWLW

Having suffered a play-off final defeat last season, and subsequently saw a handful of key players depart, there was a sense that the task for Bradford to finish inside the top six this season would be a much tougher one.

But under the stewardship of McCall, a man who will always have maximum respect and worship in the city, the Bantams have again made sure they’re going to be given the label of promotion contenders. An impressive start to the campaign, blowing away the indifference that some had about a side after a difficult summer. Eight victories from their first 14 league games, as they sit third in the division.

There is, however, maybe just a small element of frustration. They were only two points off second after beating MK Dons 4-1 at the start of the month, but now find themselves five points off an automatic promotion spot having failed to win either of their previous two games. Having lost last season’s play-off final to Millwall, and lost in the semi-final in the season before that, avoiding that process again would be most welcome.

Frustration that those two recent games that failed to result in a victory were against sides that find themselves towards the foot of the division. A horrible collapse at Bury, where their lead was overturned in the space of two minutes, and somewhat disappointing draw with Oldham the sort of results you need to eradicate if your aim is automatic promotion.

Nonetheless, Bradford’s beginning to the League One season has been a promising one, and certainly enough to suggest a top-six spot at least will be theirs come May.

Charlton: DWWDDL

A positive point for Charlton at Oxford in midweek, but supporters were left somewhat frustrated that it wasn’t more.

For the Addicks, and not for the first time this season, failed to make the most of a position of dominance. In total control, and having created enough chances to be further ahead, prior to conceding an equaliser with 35 minutes played. The U’s, who looked completely out of it up until that point, subsequently invited back into the game, and threatened to steal victory as much as the visitors did thereafter.

The inability of Robinson’s men to take their chances, and subsequently prevent opposition from sneaking back into games, is ultimately going to grow from frustrating to costly if it’s not addressed. But the overall performance at the Kassam, in what became a highly competitive game, was an excellent one. At no point did Charlton settle for the point they ultimately gained, with attacking intensity displayed throughout the 90 minutes.

And with a largely positive performance and point coming on the back of two victories – a hard-fought win over Doncaster Rovers and a sublime mauling of Fleetwood Town – there is certainly much improvement on the sluggish efforts in the four winless games that preceded.

It would just, you know, be a bit less stressful if we showed a bit more potency.

THE OPPOSITION

Bradford will be without former Addick Adam Chicksen after the left-back injured a thigh in the latter stages of his side’s draw with Oldham in midweek.

Chicksen, a steady performer in a Charlton shirt, has been a regular for the Bantams during this campaign, making a positive impression at Valley Parade. On loan Brentford left-back Tom Field the favourite to replace him in the starting XI.

And McCall will also have to make do without influential captain Romain Vincelot, after the midfielder received his fifth yellow card of the campaign on Tuesday. Arguably a much greater loss to Bradford, given his importance in the centre. Dieng, scorer at The Valley in March, in line to come into for his fellow Frenchman.

Elsewhere, defender Tony McMahon remains absent with a hamstring injury that is expected to keep him out for the best part of a month.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will remain without Mark Marshall after it was confirmed the former Bradford winger’s thigh niggle is worse than first feared.

Originally, it was expected that Marshall, whose debut for the Addicks was delayed until the trip to Fleetwood Town by a knee injury sustained in pre-season, would only miss last weekend’s win over Doncaster Rovers. But having sat out the draw with Oxford, he’s highly unlikely to add to his single Charlton appearance at his former home. A return after that, however, is expected soon enough.

Robinson will also remain without long-term absentee Jason Pearce, who continues to recover from a knee injury, Lewis Page, who is likely to be someway off match fitness despite appearing for the U23s in the week having recovered from a serious ankle injury, and Harry Lennon, who is approaching a year since his last appearance as a result of hamstring and groin issues.

But Charlton’s boss will persevere with Josh Magennis, despite himself accepting that his main centre-forward is in desperate need of a rest. The Northern Ireland international, as key a figure for Michal O’Neill’s side as he is Robinson’s, has had a demanding start to the season, and continues to look exhausted beyond the hour mark. But with a lack of alternatives available, and the Addicks facing a tough test, Magennis must continue to find energy from somewhere.

KEY BATTLE – FOSU’S FORM CONTINUING    

A sixth goal in four games for Tariqe Fosu on Tuesday night, as he rounded Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood before finishing coolly, and there no question that Charlton’s recent improvement in both performances and form owes a great deal to the 21-year-old winger.

In each of those four games, the summer signing from Reading has given the Addicks the lead, and that provides a clear indication of the sort of impact he’s been having. Creating moments when nothing seemed to be on, leading Charlton’s attacking efforts, and most importantly scoring goals that change the context of a game. His hat-trick at Fleetwood Town marvellous, but his other strikes and performance showing a man full of confidence.

And it definitely a case that his performances have been as important as his goals. A persistent threat regardless of which winger he’s attacking, with full-backs being forced onto the back foot. An increase in attack intent from the Addicks in recent weeks coinciding with Fosu finding some form, and as such the side able to attack with genuine threat on a consistent basis.

There are, of course, other threats in this Charlton side. Not least Ricky Holmes, who remains the most influential on the Addicks’ chances of victory irrespective of Fosu’s form. But having a threat from either flank of similar quality has given Robinson’s men much greater strength going forward, even if they’re not always making the most of it.

That a particular concern for Bradford, who will face Fosu without either of their first-choice full-backs. Possibly some at Valley Parade who believe they’re getting something of a reprieve with no Marshall to torment them, but that is far from the truth.

The Bantams have attacking threats of their own, and Charlton’s weak finishing in midweek means their strength going forward needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, but there every reason for Fosu to make the difference in a tight encounter.

PREDICTION

Visions of wastefulness from Tuesday night remain. But coming out of this week alive would be excellent, and set a handy platform. Bradford City 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Preview: Oxford United V Charlton Athletic

It’s easy to look ahead to the challenge of facing two top six sides in five days with fear and trepidation. For if Charlton Athletic fail to record victory, or at least compete, against opponents with similar ambitions, then their ability to fulfil those ambitions becomes rightfully questioned. The growing confidence and optimism gained from consecutive wins is punctured.

Grinding out a single-goal victory over Doncaster Rovers, with a performance that was far from flawless, displayed defensive determination and a strong character. But the trip to Oxford United on Tuesday, and the subsequent journey to Bradford City on Saturday, will provide a greater test of the Addicks’ overall quality, as much as it will their character. An overall quality that must be seen in its entirety.

Tuesday’s opponents new entrants to League One’s top six, having stolen victory late on in an competitive contest with Bristol Rovers at the weekend. A third win a succession for Pep Clotet side, who appear to be finding their stride. A threatening mix of the core of those involved the club’s progression in recent years, and bodies pulled in via the wide range of contacts Garry Monk’s former assistant manager has at his disposal.

However, to approach both the trip to Kassam and Valley Parade is a stance that Charlton don’t need to take. And it would not be brazen to see them as exciting opportunities. A chance for Karl Robinson’s side to definitively stamp down their status as promotion contenders, and leave the rest of the division looking upon them with concerned interest.

They have self-belief to their name, and stumbling into a state of concern about the prospects of facing two top six sides takes that away from them without the opposition needed to test it. They have the self-belief, and the required quality, to get at both Oxford and Bradford and cause them problems. Promising performances, and a couple of points, would be encouraging, but the Addicks will believe they’re capable of more.

A big week. Possible the most important week of the season so far, given the confidence and optimism that could either be built upon or crippled. But the challenge should be savoured.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 OXFORD UNITED (21/02/2017)

Charlton’s sluggish and tame performance meant they had no response to Conor McAleny’s early goal, with the former Addick giving Oxford all three points at The Valley in February.

The evening might have been very different for Karl Robinson’s side had luck been on Nathan Byrne’s side. The Wigan Athletic loanee seeing a dipping, swerving effort from the edge of the box bouncing back off the crossbar at some velocity with visiting goalkeeper Simon Eastwood. Only three minutes played but the possibility at least that momentum lied with the hosts

Alas, with 12 gone, McAleny, who played six games as an Addick in 2015 while on loan from Everton, was allowed to come forward unchallenged. Red shirts watched without acting as he found himself 30 yards from goal, having drove from just inside the Charlton half. His resulting effort something of a daisy cutter, but enough to defeat Declan Rudd, and give the U’s the lead.

Momentum now most certainly not with Robinson’s men, crushed and without response to a set-back as has so often been the case. Oxford needing only to remain composed and organised to deal with a Charlton side already appearing frustrated and desperate. A second and they might as well have walked off the pitch, nearly provided by Phil Edwards as the unmarked defender headed over the bar.

If nothing else, questions were asked in the second half, both of the match officials and a little more of the visiting backline. Ricky Holmes, having collected Tony Watt’s cut back, bundled over by Ryan Ledson inside the box in such a way that an attacking team deems a clear penalty and a defending team would march through the streets claiming outrage. Referee Ward unmoved.

And while the deficit remained at one, an equaliser was not impossible while Holmes and Arsenal loanee Stephy Mavididi threatened. The latter dancing into the box from the left flank and firing a fierce strike towards goal through a sea of bodies, only to strike the bottom of the post. It didn’t deserve to be Charlton’s night, but the sense that it wouldn’t be was growing.

The sense that it wouldn’t be confirmed with 20 minutes to play. Chris Solly allowing the ball to get away from him, and subsequently lunging in on John Lundstram with both feet, right in front of the referee’s eyes. The full-back given a straight red card.

There was, however, one last chance for the Addicks to salvage a point they probably didn’t deserve. Goalkeeper Rudd in the tangle of bodies that waited for Mavididi to deliver a stoppage-time corner, ultimately won by Bauer. His header goalbound, but Ledson in position to clear off the line.

The final whistle immediately following. Maybe Charlton could claim misfortune. But their performance was one that warranted little reward.

FORM

Charlton: WWDDLL

The performance that earned victory over Doncaster Rovers wasn’t exactly pretty, and nor was referee Robert Lewis’ being concussed by the shoulder of Josh Magennis, but both were ultimately rather enjoyable.

For too often during Charlton’s run of four games without victory, too often in recent times, have pressurised situations resulted in the conceding of cheap goals or simply capitulation. The game undoubtedly should have been killed off, with chances wasted and Donny allowed back into the game via sluggishness from the home side, and so the pressure the Addicks faced was somewhat self-inflicted. But ten minutes of stoppage-time, ten nervy minutes for supporters, were dealt with defiantly and calmly by a defensive line unwilling to be beaten.

A performance in some contrast to the high intensity and fluent one that saw Fleetwood downed three weeks earlier, but a performance that is sometimes required in order to gain three points. A performance that means, all of a sudden, four grim performances without victory has become four games without defeat. Two of those games without defeat not exactly to be celebrated, but there a platform nonetheless for the Addicks, and confidence and optimism is growing.

Oxford: WWWLLL

Replacing the trustworthy figure of Michael Appleton, departing the Kassam after promotion from League Two and an eighth-place finish in League One last season to become Leicester City’s assistant boss, with Clotet was also going to be a little bit of a gamble. Monk’s sidekick, without much managerial experience and none in England, allowed to roam free. A bold attempt to push a progressing club further forward, with the niggling doubt it might not work out.

The early signs, however, are that Clotet is getting things right. Concern that the wheels were falling off with three successive defeats following a promising start, but three successive victories have more than balanced out those concerns. A 4-1 win at London Road over Peterborough United, AFC Wimbledon beaten by three, and jubilation as Alex Mowatt stole three points for the U’s in an incredibly competitive contest at the Memorial Stadium.

It’s a run made all the more impressive by the fact just about every forward they have with a pulse currently has some sort of body part that doesn’t function correctly. Arguably a sign that Clotet has the side well-drilled. And with the quality that exists in his side’s midfield, that is to be expected.

Of course, the three successive defeats will hang for a little while. Caution, rather than concern, that Clotet’s leadership isn’t faultless as a consequence. But Oxford certainly appear in a positive position.

THE OPPOSITION

Oxford are expected to remain without forward Gino van Kessel, who missed Saturday’s victory over Bristol Rovers with a hamstring injury.

Van Kessel, on loan from Slavia Prague, sustained the injury during the win over AFC Wimbledon, preventing him from going away on international duty with Curacao in addition to playing at the weekend, and he one of several forwards with injury concerns for the U’s.

A torn hamstring means Albanian Agon Mehmeti will definitely be out, while Tuesday is likely to come too soon for former Addick Jon Obika and winger-cum-forward Rob Hall, who are both nearing a return from groin injuries.

Former Swansea full-back Dwight Tiendalli (hamstring) is also a doubt for Clotet’s side, while midfielder Ivo Pekalski (knee), who is yet to make his Oxford debut having joined in the summer, remains a long-term absentee.

THE ADDICKS

Mark Marshall should return to the Charlton squad having missed Saturday’s victory over Doncaster with a niggle.

The summer signing only made his debut for the Addicks during the win over Fleetwood two weeks ago, having recovered from a knee injury sustained in pre-season. But the knock that kept him out of the weekend win was unrelated to his previous injury, and a quick return to the squad for the winger is likely.

Having options of Marshall’s quality in reserve particularly important in a week where two sides in the top six are to be played away from home. The possibility, too, that Robinson may look to rotate his side. Ben Reeves make a second successive appearance from the bench on Saturday, replacing a rather anonymous Billy Clarke, and the summer signing will be pushing for his first league start.

Elsewhere, Jason Pearce’s long-term knee injury means he remains on the sidelines, while Lewis Page remains some way away from full fitness having recovered from an ankle injury.

KEY BATTLE – A CLASH BETWEEN TWO QUALITY CENTRES

There have been pleasing aspects about the previous two victories, with absent qualities returning to this Charlton side, but one of the most important ones is a calmness, control and composure in the centre of midfield.

Even Ahmed Kashi was below par during the run of four games without victory, with his passing particularly questionable, but he and Jake Forster-Caskey have largely been back to their best against Fleetwood and Doncaster. One breaks up play with stunning regularity, the other sets the more attacking midfielder frees. In a side where the likes of Ricky Holmes, Josh Magennis and Tariq Fosu are celebrated, the importance of the gritty centre is not lost.

In fact, one of the reasons they can do their job so successfully is because of the quality of what’s in front. Neither rarely need to take themselves out of position, sitting slightly deeper in preparation for when the ball is lot. Billy Clarke doing a fine job this campaign in the central attacking midfield role.

But they will face a midfield on Tuesday night that can certainly compete with the Addicks’. The quality of which arguably to be reaffirmed by the fact match-winner Mowatt, a player whose ability has previous been displayed in the Championship with Leeds United and Barnsley, only appeared from the bench with 20 minutes to play. And Mowatt, at 22, embodies the overall nature of it; young but excellent.

Ryan Ledson, a 20-year-old previously at Everton who has become the midfield leader after departures in the summer, both a battling and creative presence, Josh Ruffles (23) doing more of the gritty work, while Jack Payne (22), exceptional with Southend United at this level and doing well enough with Huddersfield Town in the Championship, sits just ahead of them.

The importance of both sets of midfields vital. Possibly more so to Oxford, given the quality of what Charlton have out wide, but the Addicks crumble defensively without an on-song Kashi and Forster-Caskey. Much of what Clotet’s side does comes through their quality in the centre, and their do doubt an on-song Kashi and Forster-Caskey is required.

PREDICTION

Tough one, as is the away game to follow at Bradford City. Two points from these two games, with two strong performances to give with them? Promising. Oxford United 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Preview: Charlton Athletic V Doncaster Rovers

Was the enforced international break an inconvenience for Charlton Athletic? A question that many will feel can be answered without needing to dedicate any time towards thinking about it. The chance to build momentum immediately interrupted.

For the response to four sluggish, winless, efforts had been found, only for a 14-day fixtureless interruption to follow. The Tariq Fosu-inspired 3-1 victory at Fleetwood Town arguably the Addicks’ most impressive performance of the campaign, but a barrier was put in place to build on it. You’d have ideally liked Karl Robinson’s side to have taken to the pitch again as quickly as possible.

And while the full extent of the momentum and confidence that might have been gained from such a marvellous performance potentially faded, and Saturday’s opponents gained some of their own. Doncaster Rovers arriving at The Valley on the back of an impressive 4-1 victory over Southend United last weekend. Only their second league win in then.

But to assume disruption will have harmfully disrupted what should follow such a convincing victory may be a little misguided. If nothing else, the training ground will have been a place of confidence and positivity for the previous week and a half, having been one of frustration during the run of four games without a win. Belief will not have subsided.

And to assume that one victory, irrespective of how impressive it was, immediately writes the wrongs that were displayed in the weeks that preceded it is a touch naïve. A period on offer, while confidence and self-belief is high, for Robinson to drill out the mistakes, the sideways passing with no purpose, and the overall sluggish. A period on offer to drill in a mentality the means the genuine quality of this Charlton side is displayed consistently throughout the campaign.

For it has to be displayed consistently now. With such a large chunk of the season still remaining, the word ‘disaster’ is hyperbole. But failing to record victory on Saturday after such an impressive win, and what felt like a turning point after those dire previous performances, will feel like a disaster to the confidence of both players and supporters on Saturday night.

LAST MEETING – DONCASTER ROVERS 3-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (28/01/2014)

Yann Kermorgant waved goodbye and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a single minute of my life since.

Apart from maybe when I opened an envelope that contained a signed photo, a photo that I had taken, from the big Frenchman.

Or maybe when he scored in front of the Covered End for Reading and raised his hands in half-apology, half appreciation as Charlton supporters applauded.

Dale Stephens played his last game for the Addicks, too. And now he’s a regular in the Premier League, having been one of the best midfielders in the Championship for several seasons. Totally fulfilling the potential shown while in Charlton colours.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention something about the game. We were utterly, utterly dreadful, Lawrie Wilson got himself sent-off in the first half, and a three-goal defeat probably flattered the Addicks. The performance reflected a club on the verge of total, Roland Duchatelet-shaped, disaster.

One of the worst nights I’ve had supporting Charlton. I’d really rather not reflect on it properly. Apologies, Doncaster fans.

FORM

Doncaster: WLLWLL

Three relegations and two promotions in the six seasons prior to this one. An impressive promotion, irrespective of a late stumble that saw them throw away a title that seemed theirs for much of the campaign, last season coming after much instability and regression. While it not so long ago that five seasons out of six were spent in the Championship, the value of a dreary season of stability in League One with no shocks or surprises would not be lost on supporters of Doncaster.

But to achieve stability, it fair to suggest that the 4-1 victory achieved over Southend United last weekend must prove the foundation for a more impressive fun of form. Darren Ferguson’s side winning just two league games in 11 prior to beating the Shrimpers, their first League One home victory of the season, and leaving themselves a precarious three points clear of the bottom four. In a league where many teams have performed consistently, consistently strugglers will quickly be judged as relegation favourites, but the confidence gained from striking four past Phil Brown’s men leaves them in a better position than many in the division’s bottom ten.

A ten-minute second-half hat-trick from 21-year-old Sheffield United loanee Ben Whiteman inspiring the victory, coming after John Marquis had earlier equalised for Donny on the stroke of half-time. Discovering goals vital for a side that had only scored 11 prior to last weekend, and Marquis finding the net as important as the young attacking midfielder’s display of promise and quality. A need for the forward to repeat the form that saw him score 26 times in League Two last season.

So too will Rovers hope a kind October fixture list presents hope of getting more points on the board. Peterborough United, Scunthorpe United, Shrewsbury Town and Bradford City all featured in the month of September, with just one point gained from those four fixtures, and just a further three – against bottom of the table Plymouth Argyle – in the month’s seven league games. Winnable games follow The Valley visit, that will be seen as particularly winnable if the confidence gained from last weekend’s victory is maintained.

Simply surviving in the third tier no disaster, but the Southend win shows Ferguson’s side can settle in League One more comfortably than that.

Charlton: WDDLLW

Plymouth Argyle sit bottom of League One, while Gillingham sit just one place ahead of them. Both have only won one game this season. Both winning against the Addicks.

Rotherham United occupy fourth in the division, while Fleetwood sit only a point off the top six in ninth. Rotherham’s record particularly impressive, winning five out of six home games, scoring 19 goals in the process. Both beaten by outstanding Charlton performances on their own turf.

Arguably the ideal display of the fluctuating fortunes of Robinson’s side during the first two months of this campaign. At times, they have been marvellously fluent and determined force against tough opponents. During others, they have wilted against weak ones.

And so the value of the outstanding performance in victory over the Cod Army at Highbury two weekends ago cannot be underestimated. Ending a run of four sluggish, increasingly concerning, efforts, and displaying the qualities of this group of Addicks that had been hiding for several weeks. Providing the belief that performances of such quality can be delivered on a consistent basis, and that the sluggish efforts would be silenced.

It not an immediate solution. The performances against Wigan Athletic, Gillingham, Bury, and Walsall were largely dire, and questions raised by them remain unanswered. But the balance has tipped from anxious concern to hopeful belief as a consequence of the Fosu-inspired victory in Lancashire.

If nothing else, with the Fleetwood win still warm, you can look at Plymouth and Gillingham’s only victories and chuckle, rather than panic.

THE OPPOSITION

Mathieu Baudry is in contention for a return to the first-team after three months out with a stress fracture of a heel.

The French defender played for an hour in a development squad game against Walsall on Tuesday, and Ferguson will consider him for selection if he comes through Thursday’s training session without any after-effects on show.

But Luke McCullough, another who has so far spent this season in the treatment room, will have to wait for his return. The Northern Ireland international, who missed the majority of last season’s promotion-winning effort with a cruciate knee ligament injury, suffered another knee injury in the summer, and picked up a thigh niggle having resumed training last week. Absent on Saturday, but a hope he’ll once again be involved in training next week.

Elsewhere, Andy Williams remains a doubt after the forward missed last weekend’s victory over Southend with a thigh injury sustained during the Checkatrade Trophy win against Sunderland U21s, while goalkeeper Ross Etheridge (ankle), defender Danny Andrew (knee), and forward Alex Kiwomya (back) will be absent with long-term injuries.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton should welcome back Chris Solly after the long-serving full-back missed the victory over Fleetwood Town through injury.

Solly had previously been an ever-present in the league, despite injury and fitness struggles throughout his career that have meant he’s needed to be carefully managed, but a speedy return is expected from the slight niggle that kept him out of the trip to Highbury.

It gives Robinson something of a dilemma in the heart of defence, with skipper Solly likely to start against Donny. That should see Ezri Konsa move inside to partner Patrick Bauer in the centre, with Jason Pearce continuing to recover from a knee injury sustained during the draw with Bury, but an impressive performance from Naby Sarr against Fleetwood throws him into contention. There even the possibility that Bauer, unconvincing to say the least in previous weeks after a superb start to the season, could find himself out of the side, but it highly unlikely that Robinson would drop the ever-present centre-back.

A dilemma, too, for Robinson further forward with the injury sustained by Billy Clarke at Highbury unlikely to keep him out of Saturday’s game. That may well mean that Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall, having both made their league debuts from the bench at Fleetwood, will have to wait for their first league starts in Charlton colours. The pair now fully fit after fitness and injury issues.

Elsewhere, Lewis Page nears a return to first-team duty having appeared in an inter-squad game during the international break.

KEY BATTLE – CUTTING OUT THE DEFENSIVE ERRORS  

It is with some frustration that the word ‘almost’ must precede the description of Charlton’s victory at Fleetwood as a ‘perfect performance’.

For it only a ten-minute period that not so much taints an outstanding display, but prevents it from being a 10/10.

Jake Forster-Caskey unable to keep possession in midfield, Patrick Bauer and Ezri Konsa caught flat-footed, and Bobby Grant played through to equalise for the Cod Army, cancelling out Fosu’s first strike of the afternoon. It was Fleetwood’s first shot on goal of the afternoon, 25 minutes into the game, and first time that a side struggling to string more than a handful of passes together had threatened in the final third. It followed by a period where Uwe Rosler’s side were suddenly allowed to come forward, were able to take shots on goal, with the Addicks standing off them and seemingly a little lost.

Thankfully, Charlton’s forwards had already gained enough confidence and momentum, and Fleetwood as a collective were still stumbling, to mean their dominance was only briefly interrupted. Fosu and Ricky Holmes bringing the visitors back to life, and the former scoring his second of the game shortly before the break. The Addicks in complete control thereafter.

The concern being when these mistakes or lapses in concertation are made while Robinson’s men are not in total control, or with the opposition not completely dysfunctional and standing no hope of getting back into the contest despite some assistance. For they are happening. Teams are taking advantage to gain points, or to get themselves back into games that should have been seen out with relative ease.

In fact, in one way or another, it happened in every game during September. Which is why the Addicks are without a clean sheet in seven games. Two clean sheets in the league this season.

Doncaster may not have been prolific this season – 15 goals from their 12 goals is a modest return – but they come into Saturday’s contest on the back of scoring four against Southend last week. They also have John Marquis up top; a man who scored 26 times last season, bagged a goal against the Shrimpers, and will relish scoring at The Valley having come through Millwall’s academy. Rovers won’t waste an opportunity if gifted to them.

It an odd irony that, in overall play throughout this season, the defensive line has deserved praise. And, of course, with some of these errors coming from possession being lost in midfield and a questionable ability to defend from set-pieces, it not totally the fault of those who play at the back. But their lapses of concentration, seemingly regardless of which figures form the back four, are marring overall efforts far too often.

They absolutely must be cut out, and Doncaster can’t be allowed to gain the advantage in the game because of one.

PREDICTION

It would be criminal, and a confidence-crippler, not to build on the Fleetwood performance. No doubt we’ll find a way to concede a goal the U14s I’ll be refereeing on Sunday wouldn’t manage, mind. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Doncaster Rovers

Preview: Fleetwood Town V Charlton Athletic

The possibility that Charlton Athletic might be travelling to Fleetwood Town on Saturday with confidence and belief reinstated lasted a little over one minute.

For it seemed that Ricky Holmes’ stunning volley at the Bescot Stadium in midweek, struck first-time from the edge of the box and looping over Walsall goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, had done enough to secure an 88th minute victory. Enough to secure a first victory in three games. Enough to end a run of performances that had brought about genuine worry, and bring about hope that the Addicks were about to regain their stride.

But a little over one minute later, however, Daniel Agyei had curled a stunning equaliser for the Saddlers into Ben Amos’ top corner. Karl Robinson’s men sitting deep, standing off their opponents, and allowing Agyei to come forward unchallenged before he unleashed an effort to match the aesthetically pleasing qualities of Holmes’ strike. Mistakes of past being repeated, the same sluggishness of previous fixtures on show, and an injection of confidence replaced by a crushing sense of concern.

The confidence that would have existed had the lead been maintained would have been genuine. The encouraging start that the Addicks made to the match could have been seen as something to build upon, the nature of the strike uplifting, and a sudden sense the performances seen in the early weeks of the season may return. Needed to lift a set of deflated supporters, and also with consideration towards the self-belief required to compete with Uwe Rosler’s counter-attacking side at Highbury Stadium.

Alas, the blow dealt by Agyei’s equaliser has been a tough one to take, or at least it has for supporters. Heartbreak that such a wonderful winning moment was taken away from them, and anger with their side’s inability to maintain a lead. A question over where the result and performance that will see them rediscover their best form is coming from.

You worry, too, that it will be a tough one to take for the players. Who thought they might have finally done enough to end this sluggish run of disappointing performances and results. That they will head to Fleetwood deflated, and be exploited by a side coming into the game on the back of an impressive away win at Bradford.

A response needed. But a response has been needed in the previous four games, and it hasn’t come. As close as they’ve been to delivering one on Tuesday, only for it to be crushed in quite emphatic fashion.

The Addicks need to step up.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 FLEETWOOD TOWN (04/02/2017)

Fleetwood’s second-half pressure ultimately told as Amari’I Bell struck a stoppage-time equaliser at The Valley in February.

It not long into the contest before it became apparent that Charlton would be spending much of the afternoon on the back foot, with a need to defend diligently against a side attacking with intensity and threat. And when the backline didn’t have the answer, the Addicks were thankful that Declan Rudd did. The stopper twice denying Devante Cole, before a Cian Bolger header from a Kyle Dempsey corner was wonderfully tipped over the bar.

And such defiance, unconvincing or not, meant that the hosts were able to gain the advantage when a rare chance came their way with 37 minutes played. A half-cleared corner picked up by Jake Forster-Caskey, the midfielder dancing into the box, and his low pass turned home by Ricky Holmes. The simplicity of it making Fleetwood’s inability to convert all the more frustrating for them.

But it not enough to halt their confidence or intensity going forward, and Charlton became increasingly nervy as the second-half progressed. A mistake from Adam Chicksen allowing Cole through on goal, with Rudd rushing out to save, before David Ball was allowed to wander free inside the area and turn a wonderful opportunity from Ashley Hunter’s delivery over the bar. There a certain amount of determination against the persistent pressure, but greater cracks appearing.

So when Patrick Bauer flicked a Charlton free-kick into the path of an unmarked Tony Watt, The Valley was ready to first express a sigh of relief, and then celebrate a near-certain victory. Alas, the Scot managed to blast over the bar completely unchallenged from six yards out. A quite disastrous miss.

Particularly disastrous as, four minutes into ten minutes of stoppage-time, the Cod Army managed to find the equaliser they arguably deserved. The Addicks unable to deal with a Dempsey corner, the ball falling to Bell, and the wing-back able to bundle home from close range. No question it had been coming for much of the game, but still devastating given the determination to cling on that had been shown by Robinson’s men.

But by full-time, they were quite fortunate to come away with a point. Nathan Byrne dismissed for a two-footed lunge on Ball, before the same Fleetwood man turned on the edge of the box and curled a spectacular effort against the post.

It was, however, a result that gave Uwe Rosler the confidence to celebrate provocatively towards Charlton supporters at full-time. Raising a fist several times towards the West Stand as he departed towards the tunnel, for no justifiable reason. Strange man.

FORM  

Fleetwood: WLLWDL

Of the 18,799 spectators that were in attendance at Bradford City’s Valley Parade on Tuesday night, only 99 of them were sat in the away end.

The huddle of visiting supporters a reflection of Fleetwood’s small size, and an opportunity for many to mock.

But as those that made up that huddle celebrated a fine three-goal victory for the Cod Army at a ground that once graced the Premier League, to have taken such a moment to ridicule the relatively small standing of Fleetwood would have been incredibly misjudged. Instead, while the 99 celebrated and the 18,700 slumped, you were reminded further of this club’s incredible overachievements that have seen them climb from the ninth tier to genuine promotion contenders in the third. It might be for few, but Fleetwood continue to bring unimaginable joy to those who have followed the club through their rise.

A win, nonetheless, that was needed. Before scoring three times at Valley Parade without reply, and in doing so inflicting Bradford’s heaviest home league defeat since April 2015, two heavy defeats had been suffered. A 4-2 loss at home to Southend United last weekend, just seven days after a 4-1 defeat at Portsmouth.

And a win that Uwe Rosler will hope will see his side put those defeats behind them, and regain their stride. Which isn’t to say, not least given that to be flirting with a top six position remains an overachievement for a club of Fleetwood’s stature, that their start to the season hasn’t been a handy one. Five wins from their nine games, and just two points off the play-off positions with a game in hand.

Arguably League One’s smallest club continues to compete with the division’s best.

Charlton: DDLLWW

If there is anything to take from Tuesday’s draw at Walsall, and it’s the fact that the first 35 minutes saw football played that reflected the quality of that seen in the early weeks of the season.

The period between Tariq Fosu’s opener and Tyler Roberts’ equaliser provided the best and most fluent football the Addicks have played for quite a number of games. Most certainly over the course of the previous four. The ball moved with purpose, energy and pace exerted, and there a genuine threat.

The problem being that Robinson’s men were unable to make the most of their period of domination. Chances wasted, and Walsall, without creating anything beforehand, able to steal an equaliser that punished poor Charlton defending. The fluent attacking football replaced by the sluggish and frustrating stuff, which allowed the Saddlers back into the game and arguably have the better of the second half until Holmes’ goal, that has been seen during previous weeks.

No doubt an improvement on a side without a ‘Plan B’ being tormented by Wigan Athletic, and one without any quality whatsoever struggling to make an impression against Gillingham and Bury, but still undoubtedly a frustration.

And still the question remains as to whether this is just a slump, that will be resolved once a few issues have been ironed out and the confidence that a win brings is gained, or whether these recent performances have been more reflective of what we’re likely to see throughout the campaign.

Every reason to believe it’s the former, despite the sloppy response to Holmes’ strike on Tuesday night preventing a first victory in four, but with each game that ends without a win concerns that it’s the latter will grow.

THE OPPOSITION

Fleetwood will welcome back Aiden O’Neill after the midfielder missed Tuesday’s victory over Bradford City through suspension.

O’Neill was dismissed during the defeat to Southend United last weekend, but the Burnley loanee has been a regular in Rosler’s starting XI this season and is likely to come straight back into the side on Saturday.

But the Cod Army are likely to remain without Conor McAleny, with the forward struggling to shake off an ankle problem. The former Charlton loanee, who scored a match-winning goal at The Valley last season while on loan with Oxford United, made a return from his injury during the defeat to Portsmouth, but has since missed the following two games with a reoccurrence of it.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will be without Jason Pearce after it was confirmed that the centre-back would miss ten weeks of the campaign with a knee injury.

No question that the man replacing him, Ezri Konsa, is an excellent young centre-back, but Pearce’s leadership and experience will undoubtedly be missed. There few, if any, other figures in this side who share the qualities he has.

Though a boost does come for the Addicks in the form of Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves being in contention for the trip to Fleetwood. The pair having not made a league appearance yet this season, with Marshall suffering a knee injury during pre-season and Reeves’ lack of proper preparation for the campaign making fitness an issue. Neither are likely to be fit enough to start, but having options on the bench that could genuinely make a difference will be huge.

Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin), however, remain unavailable.

KEY BATTLE – NULLIFYING FLEETWOOD’S COUNTER-ATTACKING FOOTBALL

The game at Walsall on Tuesday might well have been won inside the first 35 minutes had Charlton shown any sort of composure and competence in front of goal.

Their overall performance in that period excellent, taking control of the game and playing impressive passing football, but the inability to add to Fosu’s opening goal would ultimately come back to haunt. Sloppy defending effectively gifting the Shakers an equaliser, and the Addicks fading thereafter. Charlton harming themselves, more than a case of the opposition growing into the game.

And if a similar situation were to repeat itself on Saturday, there very little doubt that the Addicks would ultimately be punished. Punished by a side who are happy to soak up pressure, and counter attack with genuine threat.

For Rosler’s Fleetwood pride themselves on an impressive brand of counter-attacking football. Setting up with three-at-the-back, utilising Lewie Coyle and Bell at wing-back, and boasting an abundance of pace in the forward positions. They needed only 40% possession to win their game at Bradford in midweek by three goals.

If Robinson’s men are able to take control as they did in the opening period at the Bescot, then they must produce greater reward for themselves. For Fleetwood are unlikely to falter while the scores remain level or the Addicks have only a slender leader, irrespective of the pattern of play, when they have such effective options to utilise on the break. The Cod Army capitulating twice in recent weeks, but first those goals need to be scored, and chances need to be taken.

If they’re not, then the hosts will find ways to come at the Addicks, in much more fluent and regular fashion than Walsall managed on Tuesday night. The Saddlers gifted an equaliser; Fleetwood having the quality to create openings and goals of their own against the run of play. An improvement in both boxes required.

It can be nullified by finding some attacking fluency and taking the chances that follow, crushing them as a result. It can be nullified with stubborn resistance, blunting their attempts to get forward and successfully dealing with those that are more threatening. But either way, the threat that Fleetwood pose going forward needs to be dealt with.

PREDICTION

A tough one, even for a side that has form and confidence. Not expecting the winless run to end this weekend but, with Peterborough United coming to The Valley next weekend, showing some quality and competing is vitally important. Fleetwood Town 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Preview: Walsall V Charlton Athletic

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.

FORM

Walsall: WDLLWD

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.

Charlton: DLLWWW

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.

THE OPPOSITION

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.

THE ADDICKS

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.

PREDICTION

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