Preview: Charlton Athletic

Last Saturday’s win over Peterborough was perhaps the most enjoyable home game of the season. The game itself was a fairly mediocre one that we slightly edged, however, it was the atmosphere brought on by the good weather, legend’s day, and the chance to congratulate our Wembley heroes that made it such a wonderful afternoon.

Already, that’s feeling like a distant memory following the announcement of the season ticket prices this week. Personally, I don’t feel like they’re as scandalous as it’s being made out, but I also appreciate that people making a decision with their own money may feel differently. Regardless of the actual pricing of the tickets, the announcement has seen the battle lines drawn for what’s inevitably going to be a summer of mud-slinging and what could be a really difficult next season ahead.

Possible Line-Up

While the Peterborough game was an opportunity to bask in the sunshine and forget about the reality of the situation we’re in, this Charlton game where they’ll be protests and relegation could be confirmed looks set to serve as a cold, hard dose of reality. For Mark Robins and the players, it’s about displaying that they can cope in a less advantageous atmosphere, potentially having to deal with disruptions to the game, which could be a truer mark of their ability to produce the goods next year.

After a hectic list of fixtures in recent weeks, Robins should benefit from having a better rested squad than the past few games. Hopefully, the likes of Jordan Willis, Kwame Thomas and others dealing with minor knocks will be fit enough to enter contention for selection, potentially offering the manager some difficult decisions to make.

With Ruben Lameiras in good form over the past few games, it’s hard seeing even a fit Kwame Thomas taking his berth just behind Beavon in the starting line-up. The main selection quandary could well be whether to hand Jodi Jones a rare start ahead of Kyel Reid, even though the latter has been much-improved under Robins.

Last Time We Met

As I tried to locate the away end at The Valley back in October I heard a mysterious cockney voice utter “beware of flying pigs” darkly into the South London air. Thinking nothing of it other than that Londoners are weird, I took my seat for a game of football that I hoped would kick-start a season that hadn’t exactly gone to plan yet.

That cockney wisdom soon came to make sense when the referee blew his whistle to start the game and pigs did indeed fly (well, fall in style). Point made, the game resumed after a lengthy period where rubber pigs were removed from the pitch by the players and we proceeded to lose 3-0 to a team managed by Russell Slade. In fairness, it wasn’t actually a terrible performance, but we were too weak at the back and lacked the ability to convert possession into goals, however, it was a display that screamed relegation.

How Are They Doing?

Charlton have been beguiling this season, at times they have been one of the best teams in the division but they’ve so often been sub-par and appearing to be lacking in motivation that they now find themselves in mid-table with nothing to play for. A high level of squad turnover this season hasn’t helped, first in Russell Slade clearing out the mess of a squad he’d been left after relegation from the Championship, and then Karl Robinson making sweeping changes after replacing Slade in November.

While Karl Robinson has the excuse of not working with a squad entirely of his own choosing, Charlton’s performances under him at times have questioned the concept of him being a good up-and-coming young English manager. He’s got a very strong squad to work with, possibly one of the best at this level, yet he’s only picked up 20 points from the 21 games he’s had in charge – 10 fewer than Slade managed with the same number of games.

The quality in Charlton’s squad comes mainly comes from midfield/attack, where Ricky Holmes has been the star player this season. Remarkably for a player who’s never played as high as this level before, Holmes has looked a cut above in his wing play and end product. Former Swindon winger Nathan Byrne provides further quality out wide, while the attack boasts the physical prowess of Josh Magennis and Lee Novak, as well as the enigmatic former Celtic striker Tony Watt.

Karl Robinson’s big signing Jake Forster-Caskey has been a class act in a deeper midfield position, supplying creativity alongside academy product Joe Aribo who was rather exuberantly likened to Dele Alli early in the season by Robinson. The experienced Andrew Crofts provides a physical platform at the base of midfield to build from, while there’s also club captain and hero Johnnie Jackson to call upon despite his advancing age.

Possible Line-Up

At the back, Charlton have an array of high-calibre centre-backs who could all really be playing at a higher-level. Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira are domineering presences in central defence and the only random foreign players to last Russell Slade’s summer cull. There’s also Jason Pearce who has excelled in the past at Championship level, while Ezri Konsa has emerged as a big prospect this season after playing in a number of positions in defence and midfield.

There’s also the reliable Chris Solly to call upon at right-back, who has stayed loyal over the years despite previous links to Premier League clubs, and Declan Rudd in goal, who made several appearances last season in goal for Norwich in the top-flight. All in all, this is a time that shouldn’t be languishing in mid-table in League One.

Prediction

There are similarities between this Charlton side and the Peterborough one we faced last week. Both have aspirations of playing pretty, passing football and have a number of dangerous attacking players, but both have appeared to lack a cutting edge to their play and have a soft underbelly that can be exposed with proper organisation and the right mentality.

I would be confident predicting a win in this game, however the potential protests present an unknown factor both in how they may happen and whether it will have any effect on the team. Given that it is an unknown factor, I’m going to stick to my guns and tip us to win this game 2-1.

Advertisements

Preview: Gillingham

After two seasons of needing results in the final weeks of the season to secure survival, the season being effectively over before the start of April remains a familiar feeling. A limp defeat at home to Colchester, summed up by an easily-saveable Jacob Murphy penalty, sums it all up – we’ve had every opportunity to arrest this slump but have lacked the nerve to take any of them.

All that’s left to play for is pride, based on the evidence of this run we’ve been on, it’s not exactly something we’ve seen in droves from this side. With a month of just about the toughest possible fixtures remaining, this slide looks unlikely to end before the season is out.

Although it’s hardly ideal to be considering sacking another manager, this isn’t just a bad run of form, not over 21 games. I really want Tony Mowbray to be our manager next season but we can’t just limp through the rest of the season in the hope that next will be better. We saw with Chris Coleman what happens when you just let a manager off the hook for letting another season peter out.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

A trip to one of the teams with strongest home records in the division doesn’t hold out much hope. The return of Adam Armstrong is a boost but we just aren’t creating enough chances for him to be effective. Trying to play Joe Cole and Marc-Antoine Fortuné in the same frontline has taken out so much of the dynamism that worked so well for us earlier in the season, at least one should be dropped to facilitate Armstrong’s return.

In an ideal world, Sam Ricketts would be dropped from the team too with his performances remaining abject for a defender of his experience. It’s not that he’s lost pace but his decision-making and positional play has been poor. With Chris Stokes still injured and Ryan Haynes out on loan, Mowbray is certain to persevere with his captain.

Last Time We Met

You would imagine that following our previous meeting with Gillingham, our forthcoming opponents will have extra motivation to capitalise on our brittle confidence. Back in November a Gillingham side who looked rather flat for a side engaged in a second vs first game, were shellacked in a twelve-minute four-goal blitz at the Ricoh Arena. A Jacob Murphy hat-trick and Ben Turner header rendered a second-half in which Gillingham made a reasonable attempt at getting back into the game academic. The intent and dynamism of our first-half performance is a far cry from the slow, stodgy football being served up right now.

How Are They Doing?

Gillingham have been resilient near the top of the table this season, thanks in no small part down to the management of Justin Edinburgh. Since the former Newport and Rushden manager’s arrival, Gillingham have transformed from relegation candidates to genuine promotion contenders, all achieved via combination of free transfers and loan signings (it can be done).

Having started the season so well, Gillingham haven’t been in amazing form, sitting just 12th in the form table since the turn of the year. Yet unlike us, they haven’t fallen completely to pieces as the season has progressed but have generally been able to grind out results when the situation has called for it.

Injuries to their two key players – midfielder Bradley Dack and centre-back John Egan – have played a large role in disrupting some of the early momentum they’ve built-up. Without a direct replacement for Dack, Gillingham had to alter their tactics having lost the ability to force it through the middle more directly. Hard-as-nails Adam El-Abd has stood in for Egan fairly well although lacks the same mobility.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Andrew Crofts has recently returned to the club on loan from Brighton. Having been a strong performer as box-to-box midfielder at Championship level, his signing should be seen as something of a coup for Gillingham. He’ll be joined in midfield by Josh Wright who is enjoying his most consistent season having previously impressed intermittently at Scunthorpe and Leyton Orient.

There is plenty of pace in this Gillingham side, with wing-backs Ryan Jackson and Bradley Garmston having impressed this season with their ability to stretch the play. Similarly fast, Dominic Samuel in attack was mightily impressive for us last season but has registered a slightly underwhelming seven in 22 for the Gills. Ben Dickenson, Luke Norris and Jermaine McGlashan also add to Gillingham’s vast array of pacey footballers.

Prediction

There was a suggestion this week from Sam Ricketts that somehow, we may be better off playing the better teams in this division, but the length of this run suggests to me that whoever we play, we’re struggling against at this moment in time. With Gillingham boasting a strong record at home and with a strong motivation to avenge a humiliating defeat earlier in the season, it’s hard to look at this fixture with even a quantum of hope.

Back in January of last year we threw away a 1-0 defeat with three goals conceded in the final 10 minutes at the Priestfield Stadium. With the players having to trudge past the away stand to get back into the dressing room, they were subjected to a torrent of abuse from the travelling fans. Having hit the heights that we did since that game, it’s a depressing thought that we could be heading back full circle come the final whistle on Saturday.

I can only see a fairly hefty defeat coming our way, a 4-1 win to Gillingham.