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Do you remember the belief that was created by Charlton Athletic’s performance in their final game of 2017? The defiant goalless draw at Wigan Athletic. Johnnie Jackson raising his fists in celebration, as the Addicks’ performance earned them an unlikely result.
A performance and result that was supposed to earn them something of a revival. The ending of a winless run. A return to the play-offs, and promotion hopes increased.
Alas, tame defeat to Gillingham on New Year’s Day meant the injection of positivity didn’t last in the blood stream long. The performance weak, as the Gills won at The Valley for the first time in their history. An eighth League One game without victory; this side not looking like one capable of promotion.
Defeat to Oldham Athletic on Saturday could see the Addicks fall to 11th, and be left seven points off the relegation zone. Oldham slipping to 20th after their defeat to Shrewsbury Town on Monday, and without a win in five, but Karl Robinson’s side haven’t taken advantage of lowly or out-of-form teams. A response, and a victory, required, but victory has been required for the previous eight games.
The Latics likely to do what almost every other team has done at The Valley in recent weeks. Defend deep, deal with weak deliveries from wide, and punish the hosts on the counter. All so simple for opponents, and you worry Charlton have now been found out as a weak and flawed side.
A game the Addicks should be winning. One they have to win. But recent performances and results makes it difficult to have faith.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 3-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (02/09/2017)
A bizarre game at Boundary Park in September saw the Addicks come out on top in a seven-goal thriller, having appeared to have thrown away a dominant position.
The game seemingly only having one outcome with 21 minutes gone, as Robinson’s rampant side gave themselves a two-goal lead that reflected their dominance and control. The deadlock broken by a stunning 30-yard strike from Ricky Holmes 18 minutes into the contest, and Tariqe Fosu was able to cut inside and finish without sufficient challenge three minutes later. Embarrassment set to be suffered by the hosts, who had lost their opening four games.
But, against the run of play, Oldham were able to half the deficit 11 minutes before the break. The Addicks failing to deal with a corner sufficiently, and Holmes illegally hauling down Craig Davies as the ball came back into the box. Penalty awarded, Davies taking the spot-kick he won, and firing emphatically beyond Ben Amos in the Charlton goal.
And with the two-goal advantage went not only the control of the visitors, but their composure too. The Addicks appearing incredibly uncomfortable, and Oldham getting on top. Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce challenging for the same ball six minutes into the second period, resulting in Eoin Doyle finding himself through on goal, and the Irishman finishing strongly to draw his side level.
Fears of total capitulation, however, were cooled just three minutes later. Robust midfielder Ousmane Fane receiving a second yellow card having brought down Chris Solly, and the Latics reduced to ten men. An incident that swayed the game back in Charlton’s favour.
A man advantage that they took advantage of just beyond the hour. Fosu pulling the ball back to Billy Clarke just inside the box, and the Irishman calmly rolling the ball into the corner of the goal. The points surely Charlton’s again.
And with Oldham committing their ten men forward, spaces to exploit became available for the Addicks. A bouncing ball allowing Joe Dodoo to break between the opposition’s centre-back pairing, and score what would be his first and last goal for the Addicks. With 18 minutes still to play, the chance of the outcome being embarrassing for the hosts returned.
Instead, the Latics set up a nervy finish. Robinson’s men offering far too much space on the edge of the box, and Jack Byrne subsequently able to strike into the bottom corner. The home crowd believing; the away panicked.
But Charlton dug in, and came away victorious. A victory made more difficult than it needed to be. But a quite remarkable victory all the same.
Seven of their first nine games lost. Only able to name three substitutes against Blackpool at the end of August, before signings from far and wide in the final days of the transfer window gave them something that resembled a squad. A manager sacked after a 5-1 defeat at Rotherham, which left them firmly rooted to the bottom of the division.
Oldham’s start to the campaign suggested total disaster, and certain relegation. The short-term appointment of John Sheridan had impressively allowed the club to stave off the drop for the second season in a row, but the experienced boss unable to inject life into his side at the start of this campaign. Caretaker boss Richie Wellens, at least in the short-term, tasked with getting the Latics to compete.
But so impressive was Wellens’ interim period in charge, remarkably winning three and drawing one of the four games he oversaw, the 37-year-old was given the job on a permanent basis. His first managerial role, but his impact huge. Only two of his first 13 league games in charge ending in defeat.
In fact, it appeared that Wellens’ stewardship had comfortably dragged them away from the mire. Closer to tenth than they were the bottom four after a 5-1 win over Northampton Town at the start of December. Six points clear of the drop; four points off the top ten.
But the Latics have since been reminded that they can’t lose sight of the notion that their main ambition this campaign is to avoid relegation. Five winless games, including three defeats, leaving Wellens’ side occupying the final position of safety. Just a point above the bottom four.
Worry increased by the loss of top-scorer Eoin Doyle, whose loan from Preston North End has expired, and a return unlikely as a result of injury. The Irishman arguably the catalyst, alongside Wellens, for Oldham’s revival, with nine goals in the first eight games following the managerial change. Difficult for a club of such standing to replace.
The second half of the campaign, therefore, likely to be a slog for Wellens’ men. Nonetheless, it can’t be overlooked that survival would be a relative success. Not least after such a terrible start.
The importance of the goalless draw at The DW Stadium last Friday felt huge. Defensive resolve discovered, having thrown away victory against Blackpool than subsequently capitulated at Southend United. Character and fight shown by a side that had desperately been lacking it.
Alas, after 32 minutes of Monday’s game against Gillingham, defeat had all-but been confirmed. Another defensive capitulation, as the Gills were allowed to score two very simple goals, and exploited the Addicks on the counter with ease despite their relatively lowly position in the table. The response in the second half, as the visitors sat deep, tame, and Joe Aribo’s goal consolation more than it was a sign that Robinson’s side had made an adequate job of getting themselves back into the game.
A return to square one. Exposure of defensive flaws, followed by a tame attempt to get back into the game, has been a consistent feature during this winless run of eight games. See Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers, Southend, and now Gillingham. The nature of defeat predictable and dull, with Robinson seemingly having little answer.
The takeover, if completed quickly, will help. The prospect of January signings will at least provide fresh impetuous into a side lacking confidence, and hopefully goals. Players returning from, and subsequently avoiding, injury would also be quite nice too.
But none of that is justification to excuse the level of performance in recent weeks. A drop from being on the tails of the top two, to the play-offs slowly edging further away. Promotion, for a side not playing like one who warrant promotion, looking increasingly difficult to achieve.
The Latics will need to adapt to life without three players who played key roles in the first half of their campaign as their loan deals have expired.
It forward Eoin Doyle, scorer of 12 goals this season, whose departure will arguable be most damaging. And the Irishman, who was unavailable for the final two weeks of his loan spell, is unlikely to return to Boundary Park. A suspected blood cut likely to keep him out for a considerable length of time.
But boss Wellens does hope to see Jack Byrne (Wigan Athletic) and Kean Bryan (Manchester City) back in Oldham colours again despite their return to their parent clubs. Wellens making the re-signing of defender Bryan his priority, with the 21-year-old impressing and belonging to a club who won’t play him. But midfield Byrne, despite some performances that haven’t impressed Wellens in recent weeks, could also have another temporary spell at the club.
The Latics, however, will have a new addition in their squad for the trip to The Valley. Northern Irish forward Patrick McEleney joining from Dundalk at the end of December, and is now able to make his debut for his new club. The 25-year-old apparently holding talks with other League One clubs, including Blackburn Rovers and Doncaster Rovers, before opting to head to Boundary Park.
Stephy Mavididi could make his second debut for Charlton after re-joining the club on loan from Arsenal this week.
The forward, who impressed before injury cut short his time in SE7 during the previous campaign, has been on loan at Preston North End during the first half of this season, but has struggled for game time. Only ten Championship appearances, and failing to score. A return to The Valley will hopefully see a return to confidence.
The 19-year-old a welcome addition has injury has again struck members of Robinson’s squad, just as it appeared bodies were returning. Jake Forster-Caskey, in his first game back after injury, pulling his hamstring during Saturday’s defeat to Gillingham, and Leon Best unlikely to have his short-term contract extended after suffering a serious knee injury having only been on the pitch for six minutes. They’ll join Chris Solly (calf), Jason Pearce (knee), Billy Clarke (knee) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) in being unavailable.
But Patrick Bauer returned to the bench at the weekend following injury, and the German might well come into the starting XI after another defensively poor performance.
KEY BATTLE – DOING SOME DEFENDING IN THE FIRST HALF
Inside 11 minutes at Southend. Inside 32 against Gillingham. Charlton’s desperately poor defending in the early moments of games, taking Wigan out of the equation, has had defeat confirmed before they’ve even faced fury from Robinson at half-time in recent performances.
To concede the first goal when on such poor run, and subsequently a second, is terminal for a side lacking any degree of confidence. Or any real degree of attacking quality. Predictable runs down the wing, tame delivery, or chances wasted when they do arrive.
Once again capitulating in the first period is more than likely to again confirm defeat with many minutes still to play. Oldham themselves struggling for form, struggling for confidence and now having to make do without their top goalscorer, and an early lead for the Latics heavily sways the game in one direction. The visitors lifted, the hosts crushed.
Not to mention that the home crowd will quickly become restless, if not angered. Boos at half-time and full-time on Monday, with frustration displayed throughout the game. Justified, given what supporters have had to witness of late.
A return to the starting line-up for Patrick Bauer might well help. Naby Sarr performed well at Wigan, but has otherwise been catastrophically poor of late. Replacing Sarr with Bauer will hopefully provide some individual defensive resolve, and insert a player into the side who can marshal a backline.
But regardless of who features, the Addicks must show some defensive resolve. And it’s not like they can’t do it. Display the sort shown at Wigan, with a little more attacking intent when not defending.
Struggling for confidence, as much as the team are. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Oldham Athletic
When it appeared that 2017 was to be ending in disaster, Charlton Athletic were able to end the calendar year by restoring some pride.
Their determined and spirited performance away at Wigan Athletic on Friday night a mightily impressive one. The League One leaders, rampant in recent weeks and threatening to be on the night, maintained for 90 minutes. Admirable defensive resolve, each member of the side working tirelessly, and appreciation shared between players and supporters at full-time.
A moment of pride to be had in their side, as it appears pride will soon return in their club. Despised CEO Katrien Meire departing from her position the day before the game, and owner Roland Duchatelet confirming the club was in the process of being sold. A hellish experience under this regime, on the pitch but more importantly in the disconnection achieved between club and supporters, coming to an end.
But while supporters await the finalised sale of the club, and allow themselves to continue to appreciate the performance at The DW, there no denying that attentions must firmly be on what is to follow on the pitch.
For the goalless draw, though feeling like a victory, extends Charlton’s winless record to seven games. The play-offs now four points away from their reach, despite a spot in the top six looking so secure not so long ago. The change of ownership might not occur before the end of January, and Karl Robinson will have to make do with the restricted resources he currently has available.
The Wigan result, and hopefully the news of a change in ownership being on the horizon, needs to be a foundation for positivity. Positivity displayed in performances and results. Failure to record victory against the Gills on New Year’s Day, and the hard work in Lancashire becomes undone.
The Kent side beatable opposition, but they arrive in SE7 having lost just one of their previous ten games. A much more resolute unit under Steve Lovell than the relegation certainties that Ady Pennock led. Though the Addicks were the only side to lose to the Gills under Pennock’s leadership this season.
Victory, therefore, not assured. But victory must be achieved.
LAST MEETING – GILLINGHAM 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (16/09/2017)
Charlton became the first side to suffer defeat at the hands of Gillingham in September, as the then bottom-of-the-table club claimed a single-goal victory over a group of Addicks who lacked cutting edge.
The Addicks sluggish, and undeserving of a result, but the Gills did have goalkeeper Tomas Holy to thank for a series of saves throughout the game. Reacting well to keep out Josh Magennis, after the forward hadn’t quite got enough power behind a Ricky Holmes delivery. Decent save, Charlton player should have done better; a story that would repeat itself.
But if the hosts had their goalkeeper to thank, the visitors had the crossbar and the assistant’s flag. Sean Clare’s free-kick rattling the woodwork, before Gabriel Zakuani turned in the rebound. The defender, however, a yard offside.
For all the faults in their performance, however, it remained Robinson’s side who looked most likely to score. Just that, when the chances came, they continued to be finished poorly. Magennis had to score after controlling a Holmes pass-cum-shot, but could only prod straight at Holy.
And punishment for wasted chances and overall lethargic effort would come with 54 minutes on the clock. Clare allowed to move down the left wing unchallenged, Max Ehmer fed in behind, and his ball across the face of goal turned home by Tom Eaves. All far too simple.
Time for Charlton to find an equaliser, but their own finishing capabilities and Holy continued to deny them. With two minutes to play, Holy parried a Patrick Bauer header straight to Konsa, but the defender fired straight at the goalkeeper, who reacted well to block the follow-up as well. Much like the other openings, a fine piece of goalkeeping but the chance had to be taken; the Addicks victims of their own downfall.
Frustration the overwhelming emotion at Priestfield on Saturday. AFC Wimbledon’s Harry Forrester levelling late on to deny the Gills three points that appeared theirs. The hosts leading twice in the 2-2 draw, but unable to do enough to secure victory.
But frustration, and most certainly discontent, has quietened since the dismissal of Aidy Pennock in September. Steve Lovell, initially caretaker before being appointed permanently in November, has overseen commendable improvement. The Dons draw making it just one defeat in their previous ten league games.
Four of the games during this current resulting in victory, with particularly impressive away wins over Rotherham United and Fleetwood Town, along with a 4-1 home thumping of Bristol Rovers. The three points collected at Walsall in November accounting for the other victory.
It enough to take a side that looked certain for relegation into 18th place, four points above the bottom four.
But no one at Gillingham will yet believe they’re anything like out of very real danger of losing their place in the third tier. Defeat to Plymouth Argyle in December, another side struggling to avoid the drop, a reminder that they’re still in a fight to stay up. But Lovell’s leadership has certainly put them in a better place to achieve safety.
From the outside, a club of Charlton’s pedigree effectively celebrating a goalless draw in the third tier of English football may seem a little odd.
From within, an injection of pride had been given to supporters of the Addicks having seen their side perform without determination or fight in recent weeks. A disgraceful capitulation at Southend United on Boxing Day followed by a display of character and fight. A threadbare Charlton side holding Wigan, and immense credit warranted.
Of course, the Latics had chances to win, not least when Sam Morsy struck the inside of the post in the stoppage-time, but defeat would have been incredible cruel on the Addicks. Each member of the side working relentlessly. Each member of the side worthy of the result they achieved, and the praise received.
Unfortunately, previous efforts mean that, for now, it a result that can only be celebrated in isolation. Seven winless games, one win in nine, and 14 points off second. Automatic promotion dead, and four points to make up in order to get back inside the top six.
But it a result that can become the catalyst for improvement in performances and results. After such a dire spell, to see a battling display was encouraging. A battling display from which the Addicks can build, and build up some form.
Scott Wagstaff’s return to The Valley is in doubt having missed the previous two games for the Gills with a hamstring injury.
Academy graduate Wagstaff, a popular figure during his time in SE7, also missed The Valley fixture between these two sides last season, and will no doubt receive a positive reception if he does feature.
Another former Addick is also a doubt for the game, with one-time loanee Lee Martin missing the AFC Wimbledon draw through illness.
But long-term absentee Billy Bingham will definitely be unavailable, with a broken ankle having kept the midfielder out since October.
Charlton’s injury crisis is on the brink of easing slightly, with a number of players having a reasonable chance of returning to action on Monday.
Jake Forster-Caskey and Patrick Bauer could return from their quad and knee injuries, while Leon Best may feature again following the hamstring injury he picked up during the draw with Blackpool.
Ricky Holmes should also be fit enough to start against the Gills, having made the bench on Friday night.
But Chris Solly (calf), Jason Pearce (knee) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) all remain unavailable, alongside long-term absentee Billy Clarke.
There also some concern about Harry Lennon, who hobbled off at The DW during his first start for 14 months following a long injury lay-off.
KEY BATTLE – ROLES REVERSED
The Addicks stood firm on Friday night, placing ten men behind the ball and holding structure for 90 minutes, to record a determined point that seemed unlikely before kick-off against the League One leaders.
But their task as Gillingham come to The Valley is a very different one. Grinding out a goalless draw is not to be celebrated. There will not be a feeling of immense pride if such a result is achieved; rather immense disappointment.
And so Robinson’s side must get at the Gills, who are likely to attempt to emulate Charlton’s structured and defensive approach applied at The DW.
Taking games to the opposition has been as problematic in recent times as defending without error. Threat lacking in forward moves, and chances wasted when they have arrived. Breaking down Lovell’s side won’t be a simple task.
But there is attacking quality in this side. Ricky Holmes and Ben Reeves likely to return to the starting XI, and an improved Karlan Ahearne-Grant might well keep his place in the side ahead of Josh Magennis and the potentially returning Leon Best. It’s just attacking quality that hasn’t performed in recent weeks.
With defensive resolve discovered, there a foundation from which the attacking quality can be found once again. At the very least, intent is required on New Year’s Day. And intent that will result in three points being claimed.
Not immediately expecting the Addicks to become a fluent attacking unit on the back of Friday’s efforts, but the hard work at The DW is undone without a positive result here. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Gillingham
It not too long ago that Charlton Athletic were breathing down the necks of Wigan Athletic. Five points behind the Latics after November’s win against Rochdale, with both a game in hand and the confidence a nine-match unbeaten run provides strengthening their position. The Addicks seemingly the most likely side among the chasing pack to break into the top two.
Alas, come forward a little over a month and a mere nine games, and Charlton now sit 16 points and eight places behind Wigan, who have risen to the top of the division. Karl Robinson’s side winning just one of their previous eight games. Paul Cook’s men unbeaten in six league games, with only second-place Shrewsbury Town taking any points off them during that run, and only Rotherham, in a 3-1 defeat, scoring against them.
While the Latics were putting seven past Oxford United, the Addicks gifted a late equaliser to a poor Blackpool side. While Charlton were capitulating in embarrassing fashion at Southend United, Wigan were frustrated that their dominance wasn’t rewarded with victory over the side they share the automatic promotion places with, rather than congratulating themselves for claiming a decent point. It not difficult to see why the two sides have grown apart over recent weeks.
It not difficult to see why the prospect of travelling to The DW Stadium on the final Friday evening before the New Year is one that has brought fear to supporters of the Addicks. Already an unpleasant prospect, given the three-goal defeat at The Valley in September, now seemingly a case of self-inflicted torture for those who are going to travel. A dreadfully performing collective without confidence, brought down further by a series of injuries, and a manager struggling to inject any life or improvement into his side up against the rampant league leaders away from home.
Any sort of result would be against the odds, a victory hard to imagine. Though a victory in these circumstances, against such opposition, could provide a huge turning point. The catalyst for Robinson and his side to find their feet again.
Realistically, however, there little hope of Friday being very pleasant.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-3 WIGAN ATHLETIC (12/09/2017)
The Addicks capitulated in the face of Wigan’s substantial threat at The Valley in September, with the Latics inflicting Charlton’s first home defeat of the campaign.
Paul Cook’s side the first that had to SE7 for some time and attempted to take the game to the hosts. Something they did incredibly successfully. Their intense pressing exposing the sluggishness and slowness in Charlton’s passing play, and their subsequent exploitation of the wide areas – with former Addick Nathan Byrne rampaging forward from full-back and Michael Jacobs a menace on the opposite flank – giving them near total control.
Jake Forster-Caskey briefly interrupted the Wigan siege, with a strike that cannoned back off the upright, but the only surprise about the visitors’ 44th-minute opener was that it came so late in the half. No surprise that Jacobs was involved, sending full-back Reece James free down the left, and his ball across the face of goal converted by Gavin Massey. All far too easy.
A chance, nonetheless, with the deficit only one for the Addicks to respond in the second period. But Wigan’s domination only grew. Charlton without structure, without a plan to deal with the intensity of the opposition’s play, and their hopeless long balls causing no danger whatsoever.
Victory for the visitors sealed with 20 minutes to play, as Byrne pulled back for Massey, and the forward finished from inside the area. Byrne bombing forward with ease, Massey free far too much space in the centre, and those in red just watching as the ball rolled goalwards. At least it ended any sense of false hope.
And a margin of victory that reflected the dominance of Cook’s men was achieved with three minutes to play. Neither Chris Solly not Jay Dasilva able to deal with James’ delivery, and the latter effectively teeing up Sam Morsy to finish from the penalty spot. A clear indication of the qualities of this Wigan side, and the improvement the Addicks needed to make to challenge throughout the campaign.
Robinson holding his hands up in apology to the Covered End at full-time reaffirming that Charlton were as poor as Wigan were excellent.
In scoring seven without reply against Oxford United last weekend, Wigan scored more goals in a single game than Charlton have managed in their previous seven league games.
In scoring seven without reply against Oxford United last weekend, table-toppers Wigan moved seven points clear of second. An advantage that, having played out a goalless draw with Shrewsbury on Boxing Day, has since been reduced to five. But it an advantage that will surely only be built upon.
For the scintillating form of the Latics is, well, not just form. It a reflection of the quality of their side, organised into a dominant unit under Cook’s guideship. Promotion is theirs to throw away, and they don’t look like doing it.
A combined score of 19-1 in their previous six games. A strong centre-back pairing of Shay Dunkley and Dan Burn, the midfield controlled by Sam Morsy and Lee Evans, and goals coming from Michael Jacobs, Will Grigg and Nick Powell. With options in reserve, they’re a complete side.
Shrewsbury may have halted their ruthless winning run on Boxing Day, but the Latics were in control and somewhat unfortunate not to win. Frustration not something that’s likely to become a regular occurrence. If nothing else, the fact that the side in second felt they needed to go to The DW and stick ten men behind the ball, and celebrated the success of a point, shows the fear that Wigan have inflicted upon the rest of the division.
It would be more remarkable now for Wigan to fail to achieve promotion, than actually achieve it.
“Well done, Karl, that’ll show them you’re doing something,” said the voice inside Robinson’s head following the pathetic Boxing Day defeat to Southend United.
The boss revealing that his players would be called in at 7am the following day to re-watch their gutless efforts at Roots Hall. A nice story for the media. But frustrated Charlton supporters not at all won over.
For it would probably have been more beneficial if he’d done something, and something more meaningful than a bit of PR, over the course of the previous eight games. With just one win in eight, and one point from the previous five, the Addicks have been in dire form for some time. Robinson doing very little to alter his side’s set-up or performance levels, and creating bizarre positive assessments from dreadful displays.
Of course, to focus the attention solely on Robinson would be incredibly unfair. Individual mistakes, a build up of injuries, and the exposure of a squad lacking depth are not his fault. The lack of options in reserve, with a weak bench of six at Roots Hall, restricting the changes the boss can make.
But he’s not doing himself any favours. In his words, and beyond. It up to him to get the best out of a starting XI that should still be winning games, it up to him to find a plan ‘B’ in this time of struggle, and it up to him inject confidence into a side that have roughly none; he’s not succeeding.
The consequence of which is a fall from challenging the top two, to ninth place. From a position where a play-off place seemed certain, to a really struggle existing to finish inside the top six. A struggle that will become almost impossible to overcome if this form isn’t quickly addressed.
Despite the pressure of the festive period, Wigan boss Cook is unlikely to make changes to his in-form side ahead of the visit of Charlton on Friday.
There options for Cook to introduce if rotation is required, with Max Power, Paul Roberts and Ivan Toney among those in reserve, but the confidence and quality of a side who won 7-0 less than a week ago likely to guide them through.
The chance to continue with an unchanged only possible given that Wigan haven’t collected any new injuries. Goalkeeper Jamie Jones, well deputised by Simon Walton since sustaining a shoulder injury at the start of the month, remains unavailable, while defender Craig Morgan (hip) and midfield Shaun MacDonald (broken leg) are long-term absentees.
Charlton will remain without a series of injured players, with two more likely to be absent at the DW Stadium.
Ahmed Kashi, making his first since returning from an ankle problem, was hauled off at half-time against Southend United, while a hamstring injury meant Mark Marshall was unavailable. Kashi unlikely to be rushed back for a second time, but Marshall has a chance of being in contention with his problem only light.
But Patrick Bauer (knee), Jason Pearce (knee) and Chris Solly (calf) will all definitely fail to face the Latics. Their absences keenly felt, given Charlton’s recent defensive efforts, and not least those seen at Roots Hall on Boxing Day. Robinson limited in the alterations he can make.
Further forward, Billy Clarke (knee), Leon Best (hamstring) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) will also remain absent, with midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey (quad) also unavailable to Robinson.
KEY BATTLE – STOPPING THEM FROM SCORING SEVEN(TEEN)
Wigan were stopped from scoring for the first time in seven league games on Boxing Day. Stopped from scoring two or more for the first time in six. The Latics, with 19 goals scored in the five league games the preceded the draw with Shrewsbury, aren’t too bad in front of goal.
Credit to the second-place Shrews, therefore, for frustrating Cook’s men for 90 minutes. Not a meaningful chance created, with just four shots on goal to Wigan’s 17, but they stood firm and halted their rampant opponents. They took a point away from The DW that was celebrated.
Unfortunately, Charlton aren’t Shrewsbury Town. At the very least, they don’t currently possess the structure, organisation and defensive resolve of Paul Hurt’s side. They possess the structure, organisation and defensive resolve of a Sunday league team with a collectively high blood alcohol level.
And if the Addicks perform with the sort of defensive quality that was seen at Roots Hall on Tuesday, then the scoreline will probably need to be spelt out in capital letters to reaffirm its accuracy when published online or in print.
The sort of defensive quality that has been on display for several weeks. Opponents gifted goals, breaking in behind with ease, and neither Naby Sarr nor Ezri Konsa looking totally comfortable in the centre. A desperate need to find some sort of defensive resolve if a surprise result is going to be achieved in Lancashire.
Given those defensive weaknesses, you could argue Robinson’s side are better off throwing caution to the wind and having a go. But the attacking tameness is as serious a fault, and the Latics will simply exploit us on the break. Crumbling in the face of their pressing game, as was the case in the reverse fixture.
And so, from somewhere, a defensive resilience needs to be found to frustrate as Shrewsbury did. Or even just finding a way to avoid assisting Wigan for 16 of the 17 goals they’re going to score. That would be nice.
Be lovely to get it over and done with, really. Wigan Athletic 3-0 Charlton Athletic
The Grinch might well be wearing a Charlton shirt this Christmas, for the festive period hasn’t come at an ideal time for the Addicks.
There a possibility that the hectic schedule might offer several opportunities to break out of their run of form that has seen them win one league game in six. But it appears unlikely. Performances poor, confidence low, and a lengthy list of injuries restricting improvement.
Not least when the opportunity to achieve the victory so desperately required was thrown away on Saturday. Dire Charlton defending punished as Armand Gnanduillet met a free-kick and Clark Robertson helped the ball over the line to give the Tangerines a late equaliser. It would have been a scrappy and somewhat unpleasant victory for the Addicks, but one that they should have had.
And without time to address faults or instil a fluent alternative style, the Addicks head to Southend United on Boxing Day, with confidence crushed further.
Southend themselves not in the greatest of nick, with defeat to Scunthorpe United at the weekend their third in succession. Three defeats that have seen them lose their unbeaten record – falling 2-1 to Bradford City – and drop outside of the top half. Boss Phil Brown demanding more from a side that finished just outside the play-offs last season.
Encouragement possibly to sought from Southend’s form. But the Shrimpers, not least on their own patch, will seek encouragement of their own from Charlton’s efforts. It understandable that playing against a flimsy group of Addicks, struggling to threaten and wobbling at the back, is seen as a promising way in which to at least address their first home defeat of the campaign.
But with a trip to Wigan Athletic to follow for the Addicks, an almighty amount of pressure is on them to record a Boxing Day victory.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SOUTHEND UNITED (09/09/2017)
A three-minute burst from the Addicks, in a game that had previously seen both sides cancel each other out, meant the season started with five victories from six, and a sport in the automatic promotion places.
Each side generating half-chances, but turning them into genuine openings a problem. Cutting edge in the final third not quite there. Strong defending cancelling out the threats that appeared to be turning into something more serious.
But with 25 minutes to play, Charlton were able to find a way through. Tariqe Fosu and Chris Solly linking up nicely on the right, with the latter delivering perfectly for the head of Josh Magennis. His header right in the centre of the goal, but far too powerful for Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley to react.
And just three minutes later, a game that appeared destined for deadlock seemed to have a certain winner. Ricky Holmes turning on the edge of the box, and converting into the far bottom corner. The first goal giving the Addicks confidence, and possibly dismantling what had been an excellent defensive structure from the Shrimpers.
Victory, however, was not yet confirmed. A concerning final 12 minutes as Luke White, in all too simple fashion, was able to head home from Stephen McLaughlin’s corner. Any failure to record victory would have been entirely self-inflicted.
And come full-time, the Addicks were somewhat fortunate to have maintained their advantage. Ben Amos, under pressure from Nile Ranger, getting nothing behind a punch, Ranger able to scoop the ball onto Ryan Leonard, and the midfielder seemingly about to volley into a near-empty net. But Magennis, amid a sea of bodies, was able to clear the ball off the line, and protect a win that his opening goal had instigated.
Given that the Shrimpers finished just a point off the top six last season, losing four of their final six games to gift the final play-off place to Millwall, it not unreasonable of the club’s supporters to be demanding more.
Brown’s men hovering around mid-table for much of the campaign, usually keeping their place inside the top-half, but never doing enough to push towards the top six. Occasionally in positions where a run of form might see them challenge for a play-off place. But those runs of form never materialising.
And with a third successive defeat suffered on Saturday, the Shrimpers find themselves closer to the bottom four than they do the top six. Trailing Charlton by eight points, and only five above AFC Wimbledon in 21st. A touch of pressure on Brown.
Southend’s manager turning most of the blame onto his players after Saturday’s defeat at Scunthorpe, after some dire defensive efforts. The Shrimpers taking the lead at Glanford Park, but the Iron overturning their deficit with three goals that all came from corners.
They have, however, had their home form to fall back on. Victory at Roots Hall over Oldham at the start of the month moved them to ninth, a point behind Portsmouth and Peterborough, and made it ten games unbeaten at Roots Hall this season. But Bradford becoming the first visiting side to come away with points this campaign means faith in the side to perform at home is also slipping.
Confidence low among the Shrimpers.
Had Leon Best converted two excellent first-half chances to double Charlton’s advantage, given to them by a wonderful individual goal from Joe Aribo, then the Addicks might well be heading to Roots Hall with greater confidence.
Had they not invited Blackpool into the game in the second half, and subsequently gifted a poor 89th-minute equaliser to a weak side, then the Addicks might well be heading to Roots Hall with greater confidence.
But there certainly no sense of injustice or misfortune in the events of Saturday’s draw with the Tangerines. It a poor result, in a performance that became increasingly poor, which the Addicks invited upon themselves. That extends a torrid run, a torrid run of performances, and cripples confidence further.
Too often have wasted chances been punished. Too often has sitting deep, and subsequently untidy defending, allowed opponents to come back into games they should have been out of. Too often in recent weeks have the Addicks not looked like a side capable of promotion.
With just one win in six league games, Robinson’s side have slide 11 points behind the top two. Their gap actually increasingly over seventh, as a result of Portsmouth’s defeat, but, with Peterborough United wining, now two teams sit a point behind the Addicks. What was an incredibly secure play-off place on the verge of being lost, along with automatic promotion ambitions.
Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley is a doubt for the Boxing Day fixture after sustaining a hand injury during Saturday’s defeat to Scunthorpe.
Oxley, a league ever-present this season, was replaced by Nathan Bishop at half-time, with the 18-year-old stopper making his first appearance in senior football. The youngster set for a full debut if his senior doesn’t recover in time.
Oxley will join Michael Timlin in missing the game against the Addicks if he’s deemed unfit to play, with the midfielder recovering from an ankle injury sustained in the loss against Bradford City.
But the Shrimpers will have Ryan Leonard available, with the midfielder returning having served a suspension following his dismissal during the Bradford defeat.
Leon Best has joined an already overpopulated treatment room after pulling his hamstring during the defeat to Blackpool at the weekend.
The absence of the forward, battling strongly but guilty of failing to take two big chances against the Tangerines, will likely see Josh Magennis move into the centre-forward position and, with attacking options limited, Karlan Ahearne-Grant start out wide.
Billy Clarke definitely out with a season-ending knee injury, while the Boxing Day fixture is likely to come too soon for Ricky Holmes and Tariqe Fosu, who are both recovering from quad injuries.
Chris Solly, an unexpected absence from Saturday’s game with a calf problem, will also be unavailable, while Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce’s respective knee injuries leave the Addicks light in defence.
However, Ahmed Kashi’s appearance from the bench against Blackpool means he’s likely to come back into the side, replacing Johnnie Jackson despite the skipper performing well. But regular midfield partner Jake Forster-Caskey’s quad injury means he won’t feature at Roots Hall, and Saturday’s goal-scorer Joe Aribo will continue in his absence.
KEY BATTLE – BREAKING DOWN THE OPPOSITION WITH WHAT REMAINS
Despite losing their unbeaten record to Bradford City this month, Southend’s home record is a stubborn one.
Even with that defeat, no side has lost fewer games at home this season than the Shrimpers, while only three sides – Shrewsbury Town, Wigan and Portsmouth – have conceded fewer goals. A struggle to turn draws into wins means there many sides that have picked up more points at home than Brown’s men this campaign. But few have found the trip to Roots Hall anything less than difficult.
Meanwhile, the Addicks have scored just one in their previous three league games, and three in the previous five. A lack of pace, fluency and final ball making their attacking play easy to defend against, and chances wasted when they do come. Saturday seeing the first part of the problem in the second half, and the second part in the first half.
There no doubt that injuries in attacking positions made the problems in attack worse. Tariqe Fosu and Ricky Holmes desperately missed, and Leon Best’s absence leaves the Addicks further limited in attack. But the failure to take chances has been an issue all season, that quickly needs resolving.
There some hope that the Southend side the Addicks face at Roots Hall won’t be the structured and defiant one seen for most of the campaign. And it not simply a consequence of the unbeaten record falling. Brown critical of his side’s sloppy defending in the defeat at Scunthorpe on Saturday, while the possibility of an 18-year-old goal hardly helps matters.
But the Addicks need to turn their tame threat, both in terms of creating and then making the most of what is created, into something more substantial on Boxing Day.
Increasingly difficult to feel confident. Southend United 1-1 Charlton Athletic
It might well be better for all involved, rather than sitting through a game between two out of form sides two days before Christmas, if the three points on offer this Saturday were awarded to the club whose dreadful ownership completed their promised sale at the quickest speed.
Rumours of Roland Duchatelet selling Charlton Athletic growing in recent weeks, with an Australian consortium said to be in the latter stages of negotiations, and those rumours were effectively confirmed with the Belgian stating the club was up for sale. Coming after approaching four years of mismanagement, on-the-pitch failure as a consequence of a horrendous footballing strategy, and an attitude that has disconnected supporters and football club. The anger among supporters towards his regime as strong as ever, however, with intense boos for Katrien Meire as she got herself involved in the back to The Valley 25-year anniversary a fortnight ago, and a political party launched in Belgium, coinciding with celebration of The Valley Party, to further the opposition towards Duchatelet.
While a court case that came to its conclusion in November saw Blackpool owners Owen and Karl Oyston found guilty in what was described as an illegitimate stripping of the football club since promotion to the Premier in 2010. An illegitimate stripping that saw the club fall to League Two – with last season’s promotion achieved in spite of the father and son ownership’s lack of investment – with incidences away from the pitch leaving fans disconnected, and forced into boycott in protest. The £31.27m figure they must pay to shareholder Valeri Belokon forcing the duo to place the club for sale; an elongated war almost won for supporters of the Tangerines.
A degree of patience probably required, but it appears the victory both of these clubs are most desperately after is on the horizon. A chance not only to properly rebuild after the damage caused by the outgoing regimes, but equally the craved opening for disillusioned supporters to become reengaged with their clubs. The first home fixtures after both regimes sell will be a joyous occasion.
Nonetheless, the pair also require a victory on the pitch this weekend. Charlton with just one league win in six after a nine-game unbeaten run, and Blackpool without a win in five. The Addicks in danger of losing their play-off place, and the Tangerines beginning to take an uncomfortable glance below them as they slip into the bottom half of the division.
A small gift, compared to the present they’ve long been begging for, but a present of three points needed for both sides at The Valley.
LAST MEETING – BLACKPOOL 0-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (17/03/2015)
Charlton’s upturn in form under Guy Luzon continued as an all-but relegated Blackpool side were dealt a three-goal Championship defeat on a Tuesday evening in 2015.
The Addicks, themselves only three points from the bottom three a little over a month before the fixture at Bloomfield Road, came into the fixture on the back of five victories in seven games that had dragged themselves away from the threat of relegation. But so too did they arrive in Lancashire on the back of a poor defeat to Blackburn Rovers, and the aftereffects of that were displayed in the opening exchanges against the Tangerines. The hosts might well have taken the lead inside ten seconds, but Andrea Orlandi failed to get enough power behind his effort to test Stephen Henderson, and Charlton struggled in the game’s first half hour.
But the opening goal, something of a scrappy one, settled Luzon’s side and allowed them to take control of the contest. Simon Church’s ball across the face of goal bobbled through to an unmarked Johann Berg Gudmundsson on Bloomfield Road’s infamous bog of a pitch, and it appeared the chance had been wasted as Joe Lewis made a strong save from the Iceland international’s initial effort. But Chris Eagles pounced on the loose ball, and slid in to put the visitors in front.
Gaining an advantage against a Blackpool side without confidence, representing a club in total crisis, effectively guaranteed victory, and the three points were as good as confirmed just beyond the hour. Gudmundsson cutting in from the left, the ball just getting away from him meaning the chance to shoot became a poke towards the bodies in the centre, and Church the recipient. The Welshman turning and finishing emphatically from close range.
And with two minutes to play, the excellent Gudmundsson got the goal his performance deserved. A stunning free-kick from the edge of the box, whipped into the opposite top corner, to put the gloss on both his and Charlton’s display. A second three-goal win at Bloomfield Road in as many seasons, after an away victory by the same scoreline on the final day of the previous season.
The job that Gary Bowyer has done at Blackpool is a mightily impressive one. Given the conditions he’s been forced to work under, success could probably be counted as avoiding complete on-the-pitch implosion. But the former Blackburn boss has achieved genuine success since taking charge of arguably the worst run club in England ahead of last season.
Promotion from League Two, following successive relegations and the high chance of another, followed by a steady start to this campaign, with the mismanagement of the club making them among the favourites for relegations. There few things that have deserved praise within the club over previous seasons – positive comments reserved mostly for defiant supporters – but Bowyer’s efforts while the Oystons continue their destruction of the club are to be applauded.
In fact, after beating Bury midway through October, the Tangerines were only outside League One’s top six on goal difference. A sixth win from their opening 13 games of the campaign. Commendable for a side playing with the backdrop of absolute crisis, and apparent certainties for an immediate return to the fourth tier.
Alas, a struggle has followed. Bowyer’s men achieving only one league victory in nine, with an FA Cup defeat to Boreham Wood thrown in for good measure. Six of those nine games have ended in defeat, and it the reason supporters are now looking over their shoulders. Closer to the bottom four than they are the top six, and failing to perform.
A more important victory required off the pitch, but victories on the pitch needed to avoid a third relegation in four years.
In the midst of their nine-game unbeaten run, Charlton were seemingly the most likely among the chasing pack to catch either Wigan Athletic or Shrewsbury. At the very least, they further cementing their place in the division’s top six with each passing week unbeaten. Not always in total control of games, but showing character and resolve to consistently come away with points.
Alas, defeat to Blackburn Rovers last weekend, whose rampant form suggests it will be they who break into the top two before anyone else does, left the Addicks without a victory in four league games, and with just one win in six. A mammoth nine points between themselves and second place, only holding onto their play-off spot by virtue of goals scored, and performances poor. At quite a pace, Robinson’s side have suffered a winter collapse.
It not too difficult to see why this situation has occurred. Individual mistakes have become an epidemic in a previously resolute backline, the structure of the whole side appears to have disintegrated without, at first, a fluent Ahmed Kashi and then Kashi at all, and attacking threat has ranged from wasteful to minimal. Injuries, too, with new bodies seemingly joining longer-term absentees in the treatment room each week, certainly haven’t helped.
But so too is there frustration that Robinson has had little answer to the quality of performances, irrespective of the restrictions placed on him by squad size or wasted chances. The same game plan, the same frustrating tempo, and no answer in recent weeks when a side has structure and organisation given how tame the attacking threat has been. The previous suggestion that the boss has no plan ‘B’, something also suggested by fans of his former employers, appearing again.
Regardless, a response is needed, and the quality and character of this group of Addicks needs to be displayed. Four games without a win, and four dire performances, were responded to with an emphatic 3-1 victory over Fleetwood Town, while the two-goal comeback against Peterborough United a reflection of the fight in this side. But something a bit more than digesting a positive buzzword soup is required for the Addicks to pick up form.
Blackpool will remain without top-scorer Kyle Vassell, whose hamstring injury is expected to leave him unavailable throughout the festive period.
The forward, a scorer of eight goals this campaign, had not long returned from a separate hamstring injury when he again pulled up ten minutes into the defeat against Rotherham at the start of December. His absence keenly felt, with no one else scoring more than four goals for the Tangerines this campaign. Forward Nathan Delfouneso, leading the line in Vassell’s absence, only has one goal to his name this season.
Ollie Turton (muscle tear) and Mark Cullen (hamstring) are also likely to miss out, while Jim McAlister, despite recently being named in the matchday squad for the Checktrade Trophy game against Mansfield, has further recovery work before making a full return from a broken leg that has kept him out for ten months.
Charlton’s already lengthy list of absentees has extended further following the injury sustained by Billy Clarke during the defeat to Blackburn, which will keep the attacking midfielder out for the remainder of the campaign.
Clarke, only appearing in his second game having returned from a separate injury, caught his boot in the Ewood Park turf while twisting in the opposite direction. Hope that it would be a minor twisted ankle, especially with the Irishman making a brief attempt to continue after being treated, but the diagnosis a rupturing of his ACL, keeping him out for eight months. Given his impact in the early stages of the season, his absence is a huge blow.
Clarke’s return to the treatment leaves the Addicks light of numbers in attacking midfield positions, particularly with Ricky Holmes becoming another to sustain an injury. The winger absent from the Rovers loss with a quad problem, and is a doubt for Saturday, while Tariqe Fosu is likely to remain unavailable with a quad issue of his own. Though, given Charlton’s recent lack of form and the lack of bodies available, there every chance that Robinson will push for a return to action from the pair earlier than might be advised.
Ahmed Kashi, whose absence in midfield has been keenly felt with the Addicks lacking structure in recent weeks, also looks set to miss the game against the Tangerines with an ankle problem, while Patrick Bauer continues his recovery from a knee problem.
A further addition to the treatment comes in the shape of Jake Forster-Caskey, with a quad injury meaning he won’t play over until beyond the early weeks of the new year. His absence means the entire first choice midfield five is out. Johnnie Jackson, Joe Aribo, Mark Marshall, Jake Reeves, and Karlan Ahearne-Grant or a pushed out wide Josh Magennis probably making up the stand-in midfield.
KEY BATTLE – AN EARLY ADVANTAGE
One win in six plays one win in nine. Both sides will believe that Saturday is an excellent opportunity to get themselves out of their slump as the festive period of fixtures begins. An invitation to capitalise on the lack of form and confidence that the opposition possesses.
An opportunity that looks particularly inviting from a Charlton perspective. A home game against a struggling side in which to rediscover attacking threat, complemented with some defensive resolve, and ultimately the return of some confidence. If nothing else, with trips to Southend United, a side with an impressive home record, and Wigan Athletic to follow, this is a game that needs to be won.
But Blackpool will look at Charlton’s recent record, and no doubt the faults in recent performances, and arrive in SE7 without fear. They too face a difficult challenge on Boxing Day, with Scunthorpe United visiting Bloomfield Road, and will be aware they can’t enter that without confidence. Bowyer will believe his side, irrespective of form and being on the road, can claim a positive result at The Valley.
The hope of taking advantage of the opposition’s struggles, however, can quite easily be crushed at some pace. An early goal for either side and both confidence on the pitch and moods in the stands flattened. Genuine confidence born for the side that scores, and the potential for a chasm between the two sides to be created.
An opening goal against the Addicks potentially particularly costly, given that they’ve struggled to break down opposition that have protected their lead thereafter. Little meaningful threat once behind against Scunthorpe United, Portsmouth and Blackburn. A frustrated Valley won’t be impressed.
And so not only does scoring early stand to offer a huge advantage, it might well be match-defining.
Been given a handy opportunity to respond, with difficult trips to Southend and Wigan to follow. Have to win this, but not totally confident we’ve got enough in us at the moment. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Blackpool
There several clubs in League One who will suggest their status matches, if not trumps, the two clubs who will meet at Ewood Park this weekend, but a game between Blackburn Rovers and Charlton Athletic is one that doesn’t belong in the third tier of English football.
One club that were in the Premier League for 18 of its first 20 seasons, winning the title in 1994/95. Another that spent eight out of nine seasons in the top flight between 1998/99 and 2006/07. Much time spent in the Championship in recent years, and that at least their level.
But status counts for very little when self-destruction of it has occurred. A pair of clubs with recent memories of the top flight very aware that their positions in the third tier are what they warrant. Instilled largely by ownerships whose actions have not only disconnected club and supporters, but overseen huge failures on the pitch.
In similar fashion, Venkey’s and Roland Duchatelet have dragged the clubs downward, treating the clubs with distain and showing a complete lack of footballing knowledge and ideas. Their actions, and their failures, causing fan revolt that has largely been treated with similar distain to the way the clubs have been treated as a whole. Little question that supporters of Roves and the Addicks have suffered heavily in recent years at the hands of horrendous ownership.
Their only belief that they warrant a place above this level in immediate terms comes from the understandable notion that anything less than promotion has to be considered a failure. Climbing above this level something only they can achieve, through their own efforts. But it has to be achieved.
A success that, if recent form and performances are to go by, Blackburn look the most likely of the two to obtain. Five successive league wins, in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten run, that has seen Rovers climb to third and just a point off the automatic promotion places. Charlton’s nine-game unbeaten league run has become one win in five, along with a horrid FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon, resulting in their play-off place being seriously threatened for the first time in many weeks and supporters growing increasingly concerned with performances.
As such, the importance of this encounter for the Addicks cannot be underestimated. It not merely the need for three points, to bounce back from a poor effort in defeat to Portsmouth last weekend, but the need to challenge a fellow promotion rival and make a statement that confidence and quality has not faded ahead of some more testing fixtures. The reverse turning considered concerns into more obvious worries.
Status most certainly meaningless, when the need for any sort of win in the third tier is massive.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BLACKBURN ROVERS (23/01/2016)
Charlton responded to two shambolic away defeats in succession, which amounted to a combined score line of 11-0, one offer to reimburse travelling fans, and an interim head coach impressively managing to get himself sacked, by earning a gritty point, while Charlton supporters made their point with protests against the Roland Duchatelet regime following the 1-1 draw with Blackburn in January 2016.
The Addicks, occupying a relegation spot and four points from safety, were led at home by Jose Riga for the first time during his second spell in charge. The Belgian magically appearing immediately after the embarrassing Karel Fraeye had been ‘dismissed’, despite his ‘interim’ period in charge lasting two and a half months. The continued appointment of bosses from inside Duchatelet’s network, despite continued failure on the pitch, one of many reasons why supporters of the Addicks had had enough.
Universal renditions of chants against the regime heard throughout the game, and the protest colours of black and white seen throughout the ground, but those on the pitch were at least making some attempt to redeem themselves after previous results and performances. A 30th-minute lead for the hosts as Jorge Teixeira nodded down Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s free-kick for Harry Lennon, and the centre-back’s heavily deflected knock towards goal crept past Luke Steele. Fortunate, but fortune was a factor the Addicks required in such a desperate situation.
Alas, they were not fortunate enough to protect their lead into half-time, despite surviving into the 45th minute. A stoppage-time header from Jordan Rhodes tipped onto the inside of post by Stephen Henderson, earning great respect from supporters following an emotion response to the 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town, but the ball bouncing back onto the goalkeeper and over the line. Little more the goalkeeper could do; leaving Rhodes unmarked probably not so clever.
The first half’s two goals papering over the game’s lack of quality, and it followed by a second half that would have been a neutral to sleep. But despite Blackburn creating the best chance to win the game, with Henderson doing well to save from Rhodes when one-on-one, there was at least some improvement from this Charlton side. The Addicks doing enough to hold out for a point, and showing much greater defensive determination than in previous weeks.
Improvement in the boardroom, however, could no longer be expected or appreciated. A huge turnout of supporters behind the West Stand calling for Duchatelet and Katrien Meire to depart. The first of many protests on such a scale, which now appearing to be nearing the desired response.
Following defeat to Oldham Athletic in October, albeit with games in hand, Blackburn sat as low as tenth in the League One table.
It a reflection of an indifferent start for a side that were expected, both among supporters and from viewers outside the club, to make relatively light work of an immediate return to Championship. Complacency, given the context, some might suggest. But the six wins and four defeats accumulated from their first eleven games were more a reflection of a side of great strength finding their feet after a high turnover of players in the summer.
But now it would appear that Tony Mowbray’s side have found the desired cohesion in which to display their undeniable qualities. A run of five consecutive league wins has seen 16 goals scored, while they remain unbeaten in nine since the defeat at Boundary Park. And even when placed under threat, as they were on Saturday with Peterborough taking a lead into half-time, they have serious answers; a ten-minute blitz meaning Rovers were 3-1 up before the hour, and would ultimately go on to win 3-2.
And within that performance the strength of their squad was displayed. Corry Evans replaced at half-time by youngster Willem Tomlinson, with Evans himself having replaced Whittingham, and Mowbray’s men in a situation where they might have crumbled. But the teenager impressed assisting the side in reversing the game’s position.
Maybe too their strength is displayed by the fact Danny Graham, good for a goal wherever he’s been and a scorer of 13 goals as Rovers were relegated last season, has struggled to nab first team places off Leeds loanee Marcus Antonsson, and summer signing Dominic Samuel. Goals also coming from defender Charlie Mulgrew, who has scored five in the previous four league games, and Bradley Dack, whose quality at this level is undoubted after impressing for several seasons at Gillingham. Defenders, midfielders and forwards all chipping in.
And so it they now who threaten Shrewsbury Town’s position in the top two most obviously. Only a point off second place and in rampant, seemingly unstoppable, form. You worry that once they do climb into the automatic promotion places, catching them will be an incredibly difficult job.
A performance of quality, or at least one that did enough to record victory, was effectively demanded on Saturday. One that would match the celebratory mood as 25 years since the return to The Valley was acknowledged. Every effort to make the day special, except by those on the pitch.
For the Addicks were dire. Portsmouth’s single-goal victory much more comfortable than such a scoreline would suggest, and that little to do with the fact that Ben Amos saved Brett Pitman’s penalty to prevent the visitors from going two goals ahead. The response to that, in fact, reaffirming how comfortable an afternoon it was for Pompey, with Karl Robinson’s men offering no meaningful attacking threat and playing in incredibly sluggish fashion.
The problem being that this wasn’t just a one off. This something that has been seen, in several guises, throughout a run of one win from six league and FA Cup games. Whether it be defensive calamities, a failure to take chances, or simply playing without an energy or quality, Charlton haven’t been good enough to match their ambitions of challenging the top two in recent weeks.
Particularly frustrating given that the Addicks, on several occasions this season, have displayed the extent of their qualities. They’re a side that can press with intensity, that can move the ball quickly, and be a threat in the final third. So too are they a side, when not performing to the highest of standards, that can find a way to defensively dig in and grind out a victory.
But it would appear that the winning without playing well scenario, seen by many (myself included) as almost entirely a positive from which the players would build upon, has instead lead to failing to win without playing well.
Improvement desperately needed. In previous weeks, there was trust in this side to achieve the desired improvement. The continued questionable performances mean that trust has faded somewhat, and confidence is low.
The impressive midfield that Rovers boast will be dented somewhat with injuries striking down central figures.
The experienced Peter Whittingham will definitely be unavailable having picked up a calf strain during the victory over Peterborough United, while Corry Evans, who replaced Whittingham just after the half hour at London Road only to be hauled off 13 at half-time with an impact injury, will be assessed in the days before the game.
Fellow midfielders Ben Gladwin, a peripheral figure having arrived from QPR in the summer but a handy option in this situation, and Middlesbrough loanee Harry Chapman, another who has struggled for a starting role given the usual strength of Rovers’ starting midfield, will join Whittingham in definitely being out, while long-term absentee Darragh Lenihan is also unavailable.
Teenager Willem Tomlinson, making only his second league appearance for Rovers, impressed having replaced Evans against Posh, and he’ll likely be competing with 17-year-old West Brom loanee Rekeem Harper for a place in the centre if the Irishman doesn’t recover in time.
Elsewhere, Elliott Bennett serves the third game of a four-match ban having received his second red card of the campaign during the original FA Cup clash with Crewe.
Charlton will travel to Ewood Park without several key men, who remain absent for this important encounter.
A particular problem with flat performances in recent weeks, and the desire to make changes following the defeat to Portsmouth last weekend. Mark Marshall and Ricky Holmes offered little threat in the final third, but Tariq Fosu continues to nurse a thigh problem, while the unavailability of Ahmed Kashi, recovering from an ankle knock, while again be keenly felt as shape and structure was lost in midfield against Pompey. Centre-back Patrick Bauer another who won’t play in Lancashire, who you’d particularly want available given the defensive struggles of recent weeks.
But the starting places of Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr will come under threat by the return of Jason Pearce from a knee injury of his own. Forced back earlier than would have liked by Robinson’s own admittance, on the bench last Saturday after getting 45 minutes under his belt against Swansea City’s development squad in the Checkatrade Trophy, but another week of training to his name may mean the experienced centre-back will be fit to start against Rovers. Harry Lennon, another returning after an extended period out with injury, also an option.
Changes further forward also likely, with Leon Best threatening the position of Josh Magennis after the Northern Ireland international’s recent struggles, while Karlan Ahearne-Grant another who could start in attack, as much as he could in one of the wide positions.
KEY BATTLE – FINAL-THIRD THREAT
Irrespective of how diabolically poor Charlton’s efforts against Portsmouth were, there were moments in the game were positive attacking positions were taken up.
But the inability to make anything of them only increased frustration and disappointment among supporters. Best summed up by Mark Marshall and Ricky Holmes consistently bursting into promising wide positions, only to float balls into the box that were simple for Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess to deal with. Marshall cutting in from the right and, with better options awaiting a pass, choosing to shoot tamely with his weaker foot, while Holmes overhitting a pass that would have sent Josh Magennis through on goal, not helping matters.
And Magennis, too, struggled as much, if not more than, the wide men. Hardly receiving any service, but the issue lying more obviously in his ability to hold up the ball, to challenge centre-backs in various areas of the pitch, and his frustrating lack of sense that saw several needless offsides, fouls, and confrontations with the opposition. The Northern Ireland international no longer looking the shattered figure he did earlier on in this season, but just simply not performing.
Combine such tameness with an inability to take chances in crucial moments, and Charlton’s attacking efforts in recent weeks have been as concerning as the error-prone ones seen in defence.
At times this season, the Addicks have played fantastic attacking, or at least counter-attacking, football that has placed the opposition on the back foot. They now not only appear sluggish, but without a genuine plan. Pass the ball with little intent, find a wide man, hope for the best.
And even if Robinson’s men were to head to Ewood Park seeking to frustrate, placing men behind the ball and grinding out a result, the lack of cutting edge is likely to make such a plan difficult to execute. That in addition to defensive faults, and the absent of Kashi, meaning digging in and allowing an in from team to control the game being quite a terrifying prospect. Some kind of threat on the break required.
A change of personnel may be beneficial. Ahearne-Grant possibly pushing Marshall out of the side, and Best surely replacing the ineffective Magennis, but the game plan as great a concern as the form of individuals. Something better than seen in recent weeks required to test most teams, not least Rovers.
Recent performances, and the form of Blackburn, means it’s difficult to find confidence. Blackburn Rovers 2-0 Charlton Athletic
I wasn’t even alive 25 years ago, and yet I feel no sense of exclusion from Saturday’s anniversary celebrations of Charlton Athletic’s return to The Valley in 1992.
For the event is one that defines the identity of this football club. An identity that all supporters attach themselves. An identity that is passed down through generations.
The story of the Addicks being forced out of their home, the fight of supporters to win back The Valley, and the subsequent return is a story that must be heard before you’re inducted into the world of Charlton Athletic. The scenes of The Valley in a state of disrepair, the Valley Party’s campaign posters, and the scenes of celebration as a return to The Valley was announced all images that sit as strongly in my mind as anything I have actually witnessed. The clips of the gates being opened, Alan Curbishley’s plea in the dressing room for “plenty of shots” before his side took to The Valley pitch for the first time in seven years, and Colin Walsh converting in the seventh minute against Portsmouth to the sound if “and it becomes the perfect start”; iconic scenes, that evoke meaning even for those that weren’t there.
I cannot, of course, replicate the emotions of those who were involved the process of fighting to get back to The Valley. Who formed The Valley Party, who fought against every barrier put in their way, and ultimately helped to achieve a return home through the most remarkable display of fan power. The feeling upon returning to The Valley, and the pride and wonder that must be felt in recalling those feelings now, on 5 December 1992 cannot be imagined.
But I can acknowledge my own incredible moments I’ve had while watching Charlton at The Valley. From my first game in 2004, from which I still remember my first sighting of The Valley under a late summer’s evening sun, to incredible games and goals, and as sometimes a sanctum of release from the misery of the real world. Maybe soon, the process of fighting for something as a supporter and getting reward will become part of that, with Roland Duchatelet’s reign nearing its end.
Without those who fought so hard 25 years ago, I and supporters like myself would not have had those experiences. We probably would not have had a club to support. They have the assist for all I have witnessed, experienced and felt as an Addick.
There is, of course, a football game within all this. And quite an important one for the Addicks. Portsmouth returning to The Valley; the same opposition faced 25 years ago.
A Pompey side in relatively handy form, winning three out of four games to climb to eighth. A Charlton side that have stuttered in recent weeks, with results and more obviously performances deteriorating. The Addicks in need of a win, and a strong performance, to tame concerns and keep the pressure on those above them.
But foremost, this is an afternoon with an opportunity for Charlton fans to admire the unique heart of their club. For those that were involved in fighting for a return to The Valley to relive the journey and the achievement, for those born too late to admire those that fought, and to remember the many incredible moments experienced inside Charlton’s home over the course of the previous 25 years that might not have been possible. And to hope that, with Duchatelet on the verge of selling, the attachment between club, supporter, and home will strengthen in the coming months and years.
LAST MEETING – PORTSMOUTH 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (20/01/2007)
Amdy Faye’s first, and last, positive contribution in a Charlton shirt earned Charlton their first, and last, away victory of a season that would end in relegation from the Premier League, as the Senegalese international’s goal gave the Addicks what appeared a crucial three points at Fratton Park in January 2007.
Not only was it Faye’s first goal for Charlton after arriving in the summer amid a number of questionable signings made by new boss Iain Dowie, replacing the outgoing Alan Curbishley after 15 years in charge, it was his first, and last, during an eight-year period spent in English football.
And not only way it Charlton’s first away win of the season, it was their first since October 2005, also achieved at Fratton Park. Four managers – Curbishley, Dowie, Les Reed, and leader at the time Alan Pardew – had tried and failed to win a game away at The Valley during that 15-month period. A period that took in 25 games.
There little confidence that this horrid run away from home would end for the relegation threatened Addicks on the South Coast, with Portsmouth challenging for European football and the Addicks coming into the game on the back of consecutive defeats following a semi-positive start under Pardew’s ‘guidance’. Pardew was also unable to call upon the injured Darren Bent, meaning goals in the side were minimal. A start for Marcus Bent, with a mammoth two goals to his name all season.
And so it was the goalless Faye who stole an unlikely three points with 11 minutes to play. The midfielder combining with Bryan Hughes, and firing home against his former club.
The win leaving the Addicks just three points from safety, but ultimately a relatively meaningless one. Only three further wins would follow in the remaining 14 games, and they would join Watford and Sheffield United in being relegated to the Championship. A fate finally sealed with defeat to Tottenham in the penultimate game of the campaign, with no return to the top flight ever coming close.
A grounded sense of expectation preceded Pompey’s first campaign above League Two level in five, gained having been promoted as champions. No frantic demands for successive promotions from supporters, for desperation to return to former glory is an emotion eclipsed by strong attachment to a club that they saved from liquidation, and will always remain theirs despite the Supporters’ Trust selling the club this summer. Gaining a stable footing in the third tier, not least after needing to replace boss Paul Cook with Kenny Jackett, and continuing to operate with the same bond between supporters and club would surpass.
But this a club who played in the Premier League for seven consecutive seasons, who won The FA Cup ten years ago, and played in Europe. When a club holds such status, when it is so well supported, and when momentum from the previous season instils confidence, there always going to be a degree of belief that something more than stability can be achieved. Belief that is increasing on the back of recent results.
In fact, while the gap between Charlton Athletic, and their fellow play-off occupiers, and those below the top six is a comfortable six points, Portsmouth are one of two clubs (along with Peterborough United) who are six points away. Three League One victories in four games placing Pompey almost at the very top of a congested mid-table. Their only defeat in that period, frustratingly, coming against Peterborough.
Blackpool, Southend United, and Plymouth Argyle beaten. Their home record the fifth best in the division, and in Brett Pitman they have the second best goalscorer. In Jackett, they have a boss who has utilised his comparatively limited resources well, and created and an efficient side.
But concern for Pompey comes in their record against top six opponents. With Charlton and Shrewsbury Town still to face in this first round of fixtures, Jackett’s men have picked up just one point (from a 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic) against the current occupiers of the top six. Concern ahead of the trip to The Valley, and maybe a reminder that keeping expectations grounded, irrespective of what the league table suggests, might be the best policy.
There little doubt that December stands to be a crucial month for Charlton. And that not simply because they face two in-form promotion rivals away from home, and three other sides in the division’s top half. There a need for the Addicks to improve the standard of their performances, and regain form.
For nine league games without defeat has become four with only one scrappy win. A horrendous display in FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon for good measure. Karl Robinson’s dropping to sixth, with Scunthorpe United and Blackburn Rovers now appearing the most likely sides to challenge the top two, and missing out on The FA Cup Third Round.
Various elements of performances, both at the back and going forward, causing concern. A failure to take chances meaning brief periods of attacking threat go without reward. Defensive errors allowing teams to take advantage of an increasingly uncomfortable side.
But it is concern, rather than any sort of panic. A hurdle to get over with a stable foundation, rather than a fence while leaping from a waterlogged field. There positives to extract, and it not simply a case of returning to the nine-game unbeaten run and believing the Addicks will soon resume that form.
The incredible comeback against Peterborough Untied, in which two goals were scored in stoppage-time to equalise, reaffirming the character and determination of this side to earn points even when performances are below par. Key players are returning from injury, desperately required to stabilise a side losing its defensive resolve and liven up one lacking potency in attack. There no question of the side’s underlying qualities, just a desire for improvement.
And it improvement that needs to be seen during this month. One that could eat away at Charlton’s comfortable lead over seventh place. Or one that could take them into the top two of the division, displaying their strength by beating promotion rivals along the way.
Portsmouth boss Jackett is hopeful to have several additional bodies available to him this weekend, after injury hit his squad heavily prior to last Saturday’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Northampton Town.
Oli Hawkins (knee) and Kal Naismith (hamstring) both had to be withdrawn during the league victory over Plymouth a fortnight ago, but both are set to appear at The Valley, while Dion Donohue is also nearing a return following a back complaint.
And, most importantly for Pompey, an appearance for Brett Pitman looks likely after recovering from a hamstring problem. Summer signing Pitman has struck 12 times in 15 games this season, with only Rotherham’s Kieffer Moore (13) scoring more than him. A huge boost for Jackett’s side.
Christian Burgess will also return, after the defender missed the win over Plymouth through suspension.
But Pompey are likely to remain without Ben Close. The midfielder missed Saturday’s victory over the Cobblers with a thigh complaint, and more time is required to nurse the injury. A regular in the side, the academy graduate’s absence will be felt.
Close is joined in the treatment room by long-term absentees Milan Lalkovic (Achilles), Jack Whatmough (knee), and Damien McCrory (knee). Charlton academy graduate Tareiq Holmes-Dennis another with a serious knee injury, suffered less than 45 minutes into the new season. The left-back, who played 14 times for the Addicks before joining Huddersfield Town, is on loan at Fratton Park from the Premier League club.
Robinson’s squad should be strengthened by the return of a number of players who have missed several weeks through injury.
Skipper Chris Solly, having missed the dramatic draw with Peterborough and The FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon, will be available, while Ben Reeves and Billy Clarke, whose presence in the central attacking midfield role has been missed in recent matches, are also set for a return.
Charlton’s boss may also have Jason Pearce available to him, with the defender featuring in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek 11 weeks since suffering a knee injury during the draw with Bury. Particularly useful given Patrick Bauer, hauled off during the draw with Peterborough, set for a period in the treatment room. Harry Lennon, who made his first appearance in 13 months at Kingsmeadow after a torrid time with injury, another centre-back option Robinson can call upon, providing competition after a horrid defensive display after the Dons.
But a quad problem will keep the influential Tariqe Fosu on the sidelines. The winger’s seven goals meaning he remains the club’s top goal scorer, despite missing the previous four games.
Elsewhere, a start for recent signing Leon Best, particularly with Clarke and Reeves returning to give the Addicks further options in the final third, is unlikely to start as he continues to build up match practice.
KEY BATTLE – A STRUGGLING DEFENCE KEEPING PITMAN QUIET
So poor were Charlton in defence during last weekend’s defeat to AFC Wimbledon, the home supporters at Kingsmeadow saw it fit to thank the error-prone Naby Sarr by singing his name. The centre-back, who has been impressive since returning to the side but endured a torrid afternoon in West London, part of a backline that too frequently allowed the Dons in behind as a collective, and too often made individual mistakes that gave the hosts the opportunities from which they struck three times.
These not errors that can be ignored because it was The FA Cup. The extent of the errors too great. And the committing of defensive errors merely a continuation of what has been seen in recent weeks.
The Addicks a complete mess in the early stages against Rochdale, allowing the Dale to take an early lead and would have been two behind had they not had some fortune in seeing Matt Done’s strike come back off the inside of the post after a mix-up between Ben Amos and Jay Dasilva. Peterborough’s counter-attacking play constantly seeing them in behind Charlton’s backline, and truthfully, they should have had more than a two-goal lead by the time the Addicks started their comeback. What was only a few weeks ago a backline that was successfully grinding out single-goal victories has now become a great concern.
Defensive uncertainty that Portsmouth forward Brett Pitman will be eyeing up with great delight. The forward scoring 12 times in 15 games, in a team that has struck 25 times in 20. His important to the Pompey side, and his potency, unquestionable.
And so should the collective faults, and more importantly the individual errors, or recent weeks appear again on Saturday, it highly likely that they will be punished. A prolific forward in the opposition ranks to capitalise upon such mistakes. The Addicks can’t invite such a threat into shooting positions.
Charlton’s position will hopefully be helped by having defensive alternatives. Fit again Chris Solly will certainly come back into the side, after Anfernee Dijksteel conceded a penalty at Kingsmeadow, while if Jason Pearce is fit enough to start then Sarr and Konsa’s places are in doubt after their efforts against the Dons. Pearce, with his leadership and composure, the sort of figure required when things aren’t quite going to plan.
But irrespective of who forms the backline, with Pitman lurking, it has to show a greater deal of resolve than it has in recent weeks.
Well, there’s only one result, isn’t there? Charlton Athletic 1-0 Portsmouth