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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Peterborough United

It an unavoidable truth that both the players and supporters of Charlton Athletic will arrive in SE7 on Tuesday night with the taste of disappointment lingering. Frustrated that their nine-game unbeaten run game to an end during the trip to Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park on Saturday. A game that, with greater potency, could have been so very different.

But the defeat needn’t be crushing. It might well only be a small interruption as the Addicks attempt to make up ground on the division’s top two. Something they can do against Peterborough United, with it being their game in hand on Wigan Athletic and Shrewsbury Town.

And so it the response that is vital. Will all momentum and energy be drained from Robinson’s men, in the middle of a gruelling fixture schedule in addition to having to deal with the disappointment of their first defeat? Or will they express their quality, delivering the response this side is capable of?

If not confidently expecting, not you can certainly have faith in Karl Robinson’s side to deliver some degree of response. That despite the disappointment, and injuries making a number of players available. They have made a habit of winning in testing circumstances this season.

But so too is which Peterborough turn up important to the equation of whether the Addicks bounce back. Posh’s inconsistency summed up by their failure to win consecutive league games since August, and defeat at Rochdale on Saturday left boss Grant McCann fuming with his side’s tame performance. They do, however, remain just outside the play-offs and have shown quality at times this season.

And with no league game next weekend, in order to travel to AFC Wimbledon in The FA Cup, this fixture is an important one for the Addicks. To bounce back from the first disappointment of defeat since September. To remain in a positive position, in a positive mindset, during a brief break from League One fixtures.

LAST MEETING – PETERBOROUGH UNITED 2-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (01/04/2017)

Charlton suffered their sixth defeat in nine games and were left just four points above the relegation zone after a tame performance at London Road saw Peterborough inflict a two-goal defeat in April.

It was not, as was the case with many of the dire defeats for the Addicks in the final half of last season, a game that they simply couldn’t have won. Their performance sluggish and supporters growing increasingly frustrated throughout the afternoon, but Posh, the more fluent side, lacked a final ball to be considered genuinely threatening. The game’s overall quality not to be admired, but Robinson’s men might have taken advantage when Luke McGee saved from Lee Novak’s half-volley.

But the fact that Peterborough were more fluent meant they were never too far away from making Charlton goalkeeper Declan Rudd concerned. The stopper required to push Marcus Maddison’s snap shot away from goal, before needed to save at his near post after Jerome Binnon-Williams was given the space to run and shoot down the left.

And their better use of the ball was always likely to pay dividends. Woeful Charlton defending exposed as an unchallenged Maddison crossed to an unmarked Martin Samuelsen at the back post, and the West Ham loanee headed home. Frustration turning to fury in the away end, with defeat, despite 16 minutes still remaining, effectively confirmed given the weakness of this group of Addicks.

Though the extent of their fury was justified just nine minutes later, as the hosts doubled their advantaged. Maddison allowed to run forward from just inside the Charlton half and into the box, before finishing with an outrageous chip above the reach of Rudd. The goal to be admired; this group of Addicks to be shamed.

The anger made worse among the visiting supporters by Katrien Meire sitting just a few yards away from the away end, showing a general lack of interest in the dire events on the pitch and general discontent for her ‘customers’. She laughed and smiled away as they continued to watch crisis unfold.

FORM

Peterborough: LWLWDD

It probably a reflection of Peterborough’s performance at Rochdale on Saturday that boss McCann saw it fit to make three substitutions at half-time.

Two goals in the space of three minutes just beyond the half-hour from Calvin Andrew and Callum Camps enough for Rochdale, but their margin of victory made much more comfortable by Posh’s tame efforts. McCann furious post-game, referring to it as one of the worst performances in his time in charge. And that coming after an impressive win against 7th-place Portsmouth last weekend.

It a summary of Peterborough’s season after an impressive start. Their first four games won, but only a further four in the 15 that have followed. Enough to keep them in a reasonable position, six points off the top six in eighth, but not enough to prevent supporters and McCann from growing frustrated.

No back-to-back wins since August, a defeat to Gillingham, but a victory over Shrewsbury. Inconsistency is a huge problem. And with the gap between those outside the top six and those within it already beginning to widen, it vitally important that they begin to find some consistency.

Charlton: LWDWWW

In what might have been their toughest game of the season so far, and possibly their most important, the Addicks were the better side for 45 minutes at Glanford Park on Saturday.

So much better, in fact, that they should have had the lead at the break. Mark Marshall one-on-one with goalkeeper Matt Gilks by firing comfortably for him to save, and Gilks getting a fingertip to tip Josh Magennis’ header onto the post. Chances not taken, and that would prove costly.

For Josh Morris would punish the Addicks in the second half. Two incredible strikes giving Scunthorpe the win, and leaving Charlton to once again rue their inability to finish. Frustration, too, that the Addicks offered very little after Morris’ 63rd-minute second.

But this defeat coming at the end of a nine-game unbeaten run. One that has put Robinson’s side as firm promotion contenders, despite what will hopefully be a temporary slip down to sixth. One that has shown both the quality and the determined stubbornness of this Charlton.

It’s a frustrating defeat, but not one that derails the promotion efforts of the Addicks.

THE OPPOSITION

Grant McCann has threatened to make wholesale changes to his side after their disappointing performance in defeat to Rochdale at the weekend.

Having made three changes at half-time on Saturday, the players McCann brought on will be pushing for starts. Midfielder Chris Forrester and forwards Idris Kanu and Ricky Miller couldn’t inspire a two-goal comeback, but McCann noted the improvement from his side. The places of Michael Doughty, Jermaine Anderson and Danny Lloyd under threat after they were withdrawn after just 45 minutes.

Another very likely change for McCann is to reintroduce Gwion Edwards to his starting XI. The utility man was suspended for Saturday’s trip to Rochdale having collected his fifth yellow card of the season during the victory over Portsmouth.

There could also be a start for defender Ryan Tafazolli, who was on the bench at Spotland after being a doubt for the game with a foot injury.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will remain without the injured Ben Revees despite hoping to have the midfielder back for Tuesday’s clash with Peterborough.

Reeves was withdrawn at half-time having pulled his hamstring during the victory over Rochdale last week, and missed the weekend defeat to Scunthorpe, but will now also sit out the game against Posh with Robinson unwilling to rush his summer signing back in case of aggravating the problem.

The Addicks also remain without Billy Clarke (calf) and Tariqe Fosu (quad), leaving Robinson incredibly short of available attacking options. Full-back Jay Dasilva playing on the left wing at Glanford Park, while Charlton’s boss was forced to call upon teenagers Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild in hope of changing the game.

Elsewhere, Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (groin) and Lewis Page (ankle) all remain unavailable, but all have returned to some form of training following their long-term injuries.

KEY BATTLE – CHARLTON AGAINST THEIR DEMONS IN FRONT OF GOAL

Against Plymouth Argyle, two first-half chances were wasted as Luke McCormick in the Argyle goal saved well from Josh Magennis. Plymouth won 2-0.

Against Bury, Magennis had a fantastic opportunity to grab Charlton an undeserved victory in a drab grab. But his later header was saved by Shakers goalkeeper Joe Murphy. The game ended 1-1.

Against Walsall, the Addicks were firmly in control of the game, creating chance after chance. They ultimately allowed the hosts back into the game, and had their momentum halted. The game, in dramatic fashion, ended 2-2.

Against Oxford, Robinson’s side were playing marvellous football, having gone a goal up at the Kassam Stadium. But they couldn’t make their dominance count, and the hosts ultimately equalised. In fact, despite the game ending 1-1, the U’s had numerous chances to win.

Against MK Dons, the officials took much of the blame for awarding the visitors a dubious stoppage-time penalty. But the game should have been out of sight before Milton Keynes equalised for the first time, with Mark Marshall in particularly wasting an opportunity to double Charlton’s lead. The game ending 2-2.

And against Scunthorpe this weekend, golden opportunities were missed to give the Addicks an advantage before the break. Magennis and Marshall really should have converted. Morris instead taking advantage in the second period.

Charlton’s inability to take their chances has now stretched from annoyance, to very serious issue. Not least for a side that can’t afford to be dropping points in order to make up the ground on League One’s top two.

Even when they’ve converted enough chances, and kept the opposition at bay, to win games, and there remains an inability to kill games off. As recently as last Tuesday night, having turned the game on its head, the Addicks couldn’t find the third goal to double their lead as they pushed forward against Rochdale. Karlan Ahearne-Grant in particular wasting a great chance.

Of course, you’re not going to take every single chance you get. Goalkeepers make great saves, and the one that stands between Charlton’s posts has made enough of those this season. But the trend has become an unavoidable, and harmful, one.

There needs to be ruthlessness in front of goal.

PREDICTION

Trust in this side to immediately respond. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Peterborough United

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Preview: Scunthorpe United V Charlton Athletic

There no doubt supporters of Charlton Athletic walked away from The Valley on Tuesday night both in joy, and with the knowledge that what they had just witnessed meant they couldn’t afford to get complacent.

They had seen their side start poorly against relegation threatened Rochdale. An eight-game unbeaten run threatened as the Dale took a 13th-minute lead, then struck the post eight minutes later. The Addicks requiring copious amounts of good fortune to stay in the game, then somewhat lucky to grab an unwarranted equaliser against the run of play ten minutes before half-time.

But it settled the side. And they responded, responded by finding the winning goal on the hour, and doing enough to win. Just about enough.

How do these lads keep doing it? How do they keep finding wins from situations where victory seems unlikely? Where we’re fearing points to be dropped?

These are impressive displays of character, showing the determination and resolve of Karl Robinson’s side. Fortune is providing the assist, but their own desire and a touch of occasional quality is delivering the all-important finishing touch. Their run of results, and position in the league, is no fluke.

But such a performance, the performance of Tuesday night, is not going to be good enough against League One’s only side to make our current form look a bit pathetic. Five consecutive league wins for Scunthorpe United. Albeit having played two games more, they sit a position above the Addicks in the table.

An impressive win at Valley Parade in midweek making Bradford City their fifth victim of this superb run. They’ve climbed from 12th to third in the space of those five games. A reminder of how tight this division is; how quickly you can rise and, if form implodes, how quickly you can fall.

And so a certain level of performance is required on Saturday. Not a gritty, ugly, and somewhat fortunate victory wouldn’t be celebrated; it would be the most vital victory of the season. But the grittiness and ugliness that led to a somewhat fortunate victory in midweek is unlikely to produce reward at Glanford Park.

LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SCUNTHORPE UNITED (07/03/2017)

Mark Renton’s decision to abandon heroin paid off as his look-a-like, Tony Watt, converted a last-minute penalty to earn Charlton their first win in nine games.

The win particularly unlikely given the state that Karl Robinson’s side were in coming into the game. Just seven days previously the boss had accused 40% of his squad of not caring about the club following a 4-3 loss at Shrewsbury Town, having seen something he’d never seen before in his time as a manager, while four dire performances in succession had been punished with four deserved defeats. Scunthorpe, sitting third in the table, set for certain victory.

But it was the hosts who had the game’s first chance. Jorge Teixeira’s volley, which might well have been an overhit cross, looping onto the top of the crossbar and away. The cliché suggests that such a chance would sneak in for a side in form.

The mood-changing goal, however, was always going to be reserved for one man. Johnnie Jackson adding to his incredible list of goals that have inspired The Valley crowd in desperate situations. The skipper volleying home Ricky Holmes’ corner to give Charlton an unlikely 33-minute lead; perfect knee slide following.

It normally match-winning goals that Jackson scores, but there few confident enough to predict that Jackson’s strike would be enough to seal victory. Not least with the iron starting the second period strongly. Tom Hopper played through down the right, his cross picking out an unmarked Paddy Madden, and only the faintest of touches from the foot of Declan Rudd deflected the forward’s header onto the post.

But Scunthorpe’s equaliser would come, with Rudd failing to cover himself in glory on this occasion. Hopper’s cross horribly fumbled, an attempt to recover merely knocking the ball straight to the feet of Kevin van Veen, and the Dutch forward converting into an empty net with 15 minutes to play. Typically calamitous.

Fear that this confidence stricken side would now implode. A fifth defeat in a row, and a ninth game without victory, surely to follow. Grim.

At least, as the final minute was reached, it appeared total capitulation had been reached. An incautious free-kick pumped into box from Adam Chicksen, few expecting it to mean much. But Andrew Crofts rose, Teixeira met the flick-on, and Murray Wallace saw it fit to drag the centre-back to the floor; penalty.

Incredible, but the celebration was withheld. The recent run had taught Charlton fans to expect the worst. It difficult to know if a man with more self-confidence than often expressed in ability, Watt, claiming the ball helped or hindered the anxiousness.

But the Scot blasted the ball emphatically beyond Luke Daniels’ dive. Watt jumping over two sets of advertising hoardings to celebrate with supporters, enjoying the feeling of victory for the first time in nine games and six weeks. Not exactly a classic moment given the context, but it felt bloody good as it happened.

FORM

Scunthorpe: WWWWDW

Victory in seven of their final nine games meant Scunthorpe finished just four points off an automatic promotion place. Graham Alexander’s side competitive throughout, allowing them to always hold top six ambitions and beyond. Ultimately denied promotion by a play-off semi-final defeat to Millwall, but they could still be proud of their achievements.

And yet, in that suggestion that they could be proud, there was a patronising undertone that they would not be able to repeat their efforts in this campaign. The Iron had overachieved on a relative small budget. Now back you go to being mid-table fodder for League One’s big boys to beat twice a season.

So it to the credit of Graham Alexander, the talented individuals within his squad that many would rather overlook, and the structured collective that have all come together to once again allow this club to challenge for promotion from League One.

Five consecutive league wins pushing Scunthorpe up to third. And though they have played more games than several teams around them, the confidence they hold from their performances and their victories means it’s a position they will feel they can hold and build on. Not least after winning at fellow promotion-chasers Bradford City in midweek.

To win at Valley Parade a real statement of intent, and a statement of the character. A dire two-minute period saw former Addick Lee Novak, a central figure to the Iron, replaced through injury and Paul Taylor spectacularly give Bradford the lead just a minute before the break. But Cameron Burgess’ equaliser in first-half stoppage-time proved crucial, as the impressive Hakeeb Adelakun’s second-half free-kick gave the Iron all three points.

Confidence and quality high among this Iron side. A belief this run can continue, and that promotion is possible. It’ll take a strong side to halt them.

Charlton: WDWWWD

It a strange phenomenon that Charlton’s most fluent performance, or at least the one that featured the most attacking energy and intense pressing, in recent weeks is the only one that hasn’t ended in victory.

The performance in Tuesday’s night victory over Rochdale dire, particularly when the first half of both games is compared, in comparison to the excellent display against MK Dons. But the Addicks found a way to overturn the deficit the Dale inflicted upon them in midweek and grind out an ugly victory. While they were unable to take their chances against MK, ultimately allowing both opposition and officials to deny them two deserved points.

The foundation, with nine games passing without defeat and a barrier between Robinson’s men and seventh place, firmly set. The need now for this stubborn determination to win games in all circumstances to combine with the side’s known quality. A requirement for when stronger opposition offer greater tests.

For pressure still remains on the Addicks should they wish to push for an automatic promotion place. Albeit with a game in hand, there still five points to make up on Wigan, and there in form teams looming around them. Dropped points are going to prove incredibly costly.

There should not be complacency. Nor should there be an arrogant confidence. But this side have certainly done enough to allow supporters to feel confidence, and to feel little fear.

THE OPPOSITION

Lee Novak should be fit to face his former club after being withdrawn two minutes before half-time in the midweek win over Bradford City.

The forward, who has made himself an important part of Scunthorpe’s side after a torrid time in SE7, twisted his ankle just before the break at Valley Parade, and his availability this weekend is not assured. But Graham Alexander played down the seriousness of the injury post-game, and a quick recovery from such a minor niggle is likely.

Another former Addick could also be available for the Iron, with Simon Church nearing a return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since the end of October. The Welshman another who struggled in Charlton colours, but whose effort wasn’t questioned and who occasionally provided an important goal, has been limited to two substitute appearances in the league after joining as a free agent at the start of October.

Andrew Crofts, a regular on Scunthorpe’s bench who made an appearance for Wales in the previous international break, completing the trio of former Charlton men in the Iron’s squad.

Elsewhere, Josh Morris is nearing a return from a hamstring injury, but Sam Mantom (groin), Luke Williams (hamstring) and Jonathon Margetts (knee) remain absent.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton’s list of injury absentees threatens to build after Ben Reeves was substituted at half-time of Tuesday’s victory over Rochdale.

The playmaker, seemingly finding fluency in his game having failed to make his league debut until October through fitness issues, complained of a tight hamstring following the first period. Robinson suggested removing Reeves was a precautionary measure, but he remains a doubt for the trip to Glanford Park. A huge blow with little proven quality ready to replace him.

That a consequence of Tariqe Fosu set for four weeks out with a quad injury, and Billy Clarke unavailable through a calf issue. Karlan Ahearne-Grant likely to have to start, with the academy graduate going wide left and Ricky Holmes moving behind the forward. Not ideal, not least with Ahearne-Grant, despite Robinson’s faith, struggling to prove he’s ready for League One football.

Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (Groin) and Lewis Page (ankle) also absent for the Addicks, as the trio continue to build up their fitness on route to recovery.

KEY BATTLE – RETURN OF THE VAK

There no certainty that Lee Novak will play against the Addicks on Saturday, having twisted his ankle in midweek, but there is certainty that he’ll be desperate to prove a point if he does.

Novak’s career at The Valley was a horrendous one. Arriving having scored 14 goals in 35 games during a loan spell at Chesterfield, he managed just two in the league for the Addicks, with his overall play heavily mocked and chances regularly wasted. Not simply disappointing, but dire.

At times, with the chances wasted and the sense there was nothing he could do to put the ball in the net, luck went against him. But he did himself few favours in Charlton colours. A late winner against Chesterfield, his second and final league goal for the Addicks, celebrated by pointing his ear towards the covered end; frustrating understood, but hardly something that was going to warm supporters towards a struggling player.

At least, in a step most professionals wouldn’t take, he was willing to admit towards the end of the campaign that it was his worst season ever. He had previously proven himself at League One level, even Championship level for a period with Birmingham City, and was as angry with himself as Charlton fans were with him. An amount of respect earned with that.

But dismissal on the opening day of the season for a challenge on Bristol Rovers’ Stuart Sinclair, unfortunate and questionable though it was, symbolically reaffirmed things weren’t going to work for him at Charlton, and change was needed. A move to Scunthorpe forced by himself. Where things are working.

Already scoring double the amount of goals for the Iron than he did for the Addicks, but it his hold up play and presence up top – something Novak has been famed for throughout his career but didn’t display in SE7 – that has proved just as crucial. An important cog in an impressive Scunthorpe side. A side that have won five consecutive league games.

And there no question against a club where he struggled, against a set of supporters who grew tired of his dire performances, he’ll want to prove a point. He’ll want to give Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr a torrid time, whether that be in general play or getting away from them to score. He’ll be motivated and fired up.

Novak, if fit (and if not he’ll borrow someone else’s ankle), will want to make himself the difference.

Prediction

Of course, dropping any points means the top two potentially get away, but a draw away at a side in such form, who are above us in the table, has to be appreciated. Scunthorpe United 1-1 Charlton Athletic

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

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