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.

Half-Way Review: The Other 23 – The Play-Off Race

Top Scorer: Ian Henderson (8) Most Assists: Joe Bunney (7)

Top Scorer: Ian Henderson (8)
Most Assists: Joe Bunney (7)

Rochdale (4th Place)

I felt prior to the start of the season that Rochdale were a decent bet to at least challenge for the top six and, despite a seven-game winless run at the start of the season, Keith Hill’s side have justified my faith in them. Rochdale’s ability to mix-up smart possession football with telling diagonal passes towards Ian Henderson and Calvin Andrew up-front, along with a zealous pressing game has always made them a real nightmare team to play against for many and they’ve been added a level of consistency that was missing last season.

Keith Hill’s ability to shuffle his pack on a miniscule budget has also given Rochdale an edge over most of the other play-off contenders. An example of which comes from when left-back Scott Tanser picked up an injury and striker Joe Bunney was moved to left-back – he the joint-third leading provider of assists this season. They should be feeling confident of at least securing top six place, and are potential dark horses for an automatic promotion spot if they can find another level over the next few months.

Top Scorer: Billy Clarke (6) Most Assists: Nicky Law & Mark Marshall (3)

Top Scorer: Billy Clarke (6)
Most Assists: Nicky Law & Mark Marshall (3)

Bradford City (5th Place)

There were some significant doubts surrounding Bradford City heading into the start of this season, Phil Parkinson had left after a long and mostly successful era at the club and in his place had come Stuart McCall, who was arriving with a mixed reputation as a manager. By-and-large though, Stuart McCall has managed to maintain a sense of momentum and identity at Valley Parade, despite being forced to make some big changes to the squad over the summer.

A new-look defence featuring Romain Vincelot and Nathaniel Knight-Percival in central defence has largely been solid, while Mark Marshall and Nicky Law have impressed out wide for the Bantams. A lack of a reliable goalscoring centre-forward, and Stuart McCall’s tendency to constantly tweak his starting line-up, has held Bradford back from being in the automatic promotion race. If Bradford can find some additional quality in the January transfer window, they should be in a good position to at least secure a top six place, but they’ve maybe left themselves too much to do to make significant ground on the top two.

Top Scorer: David Ball (9) Most Assists: Three Players (4)

Top Scorer: David Ball (9)
Most Assists: Three Players (4)

Fleetwood Town (6th Place)

Having been appointed with around a week to go before the start of the season, Uwe Rosler could have been forgiven for pleading for patience at Fleetwood as he settled into the job without any time to stamp his mark on the squad. Instead, Fleetwood started the season in excellent form thanks to Rosler discovering a devastating attacking trident of David Ball, Ashley Hunter and Chris Long, while his one major signing of midfielder Kyle Dempsey added further potency to a Fleetwood squad that had lacked a cutting edge for much of last season.

After some underwhelming form over the autumn, Uwe Rosler has re-jigged the formation to a back three and it seems to have Fleetwood playing with a level of consistency to see them move into the top six. They haven’t been entirely convincing in many of their games but have developed a habit of nicking the odd goal in tight games, whether that is enough to mount a play-off push remains to be seen.

Top Scorer: Simon Cox (7) Most Assists: Simon Cox (6)

Top Scorer: Simon Cox (7)
Most Assists: Simon Cox (6)

Southend United (7th Place)

A lot of Southend’s success this season can be put down to the gambles that Phil Brown took on signing strikers Simon Cox and Nile Ranger in the summer. Although neither are particularly prolific goalscorers, Cox’s creativity and Ranger’s hold-up play have given Southend a real presence and threat in the final third that they lacked last season, with former Coventry City man Marc-Antoine Fortuné playing an effective role as back-up. The form of the often inconsistent Stephen McLaughlin out wide and the return to full fitness of midfielder Anthony Wordsworth have been real boons for Southend too as they’ve defied most pre-season predictions that they would struggle.

It’s worth noting that Southend were in a similarly close position to the top six around this time last season before falling apart in the final months, which makes it hard not to feel that they’re currently on a good run of form that must end at some point. They have shown touches of genuine quality over the past month or so which could make this season different to last. How they cope with their next loss could provide a better indication of how they’re going to do than their current good form.

Top Scorer: Gwion Edwards (7) Most Assists: Marcus Maddison (9)

Top Scorer: Gwion Edwards (7)
Most Assists: Marcus Maddison (9)

Peterborough United (8th Place)

Peterborough have flattered to deceive over the past few seasons but Grant McCann looks to have garnered a semblance of consistency from the Posh thus far this season. Strangely, Peterborough have been rather good defensively this season, but despite currently boasted an array of impressive attacking talent, they’ve struggled to push on into the top six. Attackers Marcus Maddison, Gwion Edwards, Leo da Silva Lopes, Tom Nichols and Paul Taylor have all shown intermittently thus far, but not yet on a consistent basis.

With last season’s top-scorer, Lee Angol, returning to full fitness and the impressive West Ham loanee Martin Samuelsen arriving in the early days of the January transfer window, it won’t be a lack of attacking potential that will let Peterborough down this season. The concern is that manager Grant McCann has overloaded his squad with attacking options and will waste precious time searching for the right combination. A position just outside the play-offs looks to be where Peterborough will spend much of the rest of the season.

 

Top Scorer: Lee Gregory (10) Most Assists: Steve Morison (4)

Top Scorer: Lee Gregory (10)
Most Assists: Steve Morison (4)

Millwall (9th Place)

Seen by many, myself included, as one of the teams best-set to challenge for automatic promotion this season, Millwall have struggled to live up to expectations, finding themselves in the bottom half for much of the campaign. That identity of physical, aggressive football that Neil Harris brought roaring back to Millwall last season hasn’t been quite as effective this time around, with Harris appearing to lack the tactical acumen at times to change things up.

However, Millwall have improved a lot over recent weeks and find themselves surging up the table, not unlike last season’s run to the play-off final. Striker/winger Aiden O’Brien has been in excellent goal-scoring form, and the returns to form and fitness of last season’s brutally effective strike pairing of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory has effectively guaranteed Millwall a steady source of goals throughout the rest of the season. They’re getting closer to striking distance of the play-offs and appear to be rising up through the gears as the season enters its crucial phase.

Top Scorer: Matty Taylor (15) Most Assists: Chris Lines (5)

Top Scorer: Matty Taylor (15)
Most Assists: Chris Lines (5)

Bristol Rovers (10th Place)

Bristol Rovers have looked at times this season like they could challenge for the top six but have been let down by a lack of consistency – both in form and team selection. For Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke, the inconsistent team selections haven’t merely been down to not knowing his best eleven, it has been down to a desire to calculate how he can get the best out of his squad against every specific opponent. It has regularly proved an effective formula with what is a fairly similar squad to one that played in the National League two seasons ago.

The January transfer window could be the difference between a season of adjusting to League One and a top six place. Darrell Clarke has stated a desire to re-jig his squad after admitting that some of his players are not up to League One standard. With the backing of a rich Jordanian owner, Bristol Rovers should be able to add quality to the squad to supplement the goalscoring brilliance of Matty Taylor.

Top Scorer: Josh Magennis (8) Most Assists: 5 Players (4)

Top Scorer: Josh Magennis (8)
Most Assists: 5 Players (4)

Charlton Athletic (11th Place)

In retrospect, the appointment of Russell Slade as Charlton manager in the summer was a case of picking the wrong manager for the task of assembling a promotion-winning side. Slade does not have a promotion on his CV and tends to build solid, rather than spectacular sides. Charlton found that out after a series of obdurate performances in the first few months which cost Slade his job. The Addicks have since gone for a manager who builds spectacular, rather than solid, sides in Karl Robinson.

It’s taken time for Robinson to stamp his mark at Charlton but the past few performances have suggested it might not be too late for a play-off tilt. Bulldozer centre-forward Josh Magennis recently scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers, but it was the performance of young winger Joe Aribo that really caught the eye, and he now has four assists in four league appearances. With the January transfer window to re-shape the squad to his liking, Robinson should be able to make a further impact at the Valley, it may be slightly too late though to salvage a top six spot.

Preview: Charlton Athletic

With our ‘crisis’ (i.e. a more succinct term for a 16-year long decline) entering the national media and being the subject of an MPs debate since we last played a game of football, the return to action feels almost novel. We’ll see what the ultimate upshot of this increased awareness of us being in the shit is, but in the meantime, it would be nice to see us sort the on-the-field mess out as soon as possible.

Despite having won both of our last two games (one of which uselessly came in an almost meaningless cup competition) we’re still bottom of the division. Although we face a team in Charlton that we could overtake with a big enough win (three goals or more), there’s nothing like being bottom of the table to sharpen the urgency to go out and win a game.

It was confirmed today, in the obliquest terms possible, that the club currently aren’t looking to rush into the appointment of a new manager. On the one hand, it feels a bit slapdash that the club has taken two weeks to decide that they’re not ready to make a decision. On the other, if there is this level of indecisiveness behind-the-scenes, it’s probably best they aren’t rushing to appoint a new manager. With three league games over the next week, what may be required of a new manager could be different to what would be required right now.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The win over Northampton in the Football League Trophy demonstrated the attacking potency that this team potentially has, Dan Agyei, Jodi Jones and Ruben Lameiras all scored spectacular goals in differing manners. However, Northampton’s goal – where Jamie Sterry and Jordan Willis were both easily outmuscled and caught out of position – demonstrated that the defence remains a problem area. Although performances have improved, we have been lucky over the past two games that our opponents have missed some good chances.

I would imagine that Venus’ team for this game won’t be too dissimilar from the one he named against Northampton Town. A front three of Dan Agyei, Jodi Jones and Marvin Sordell looks like the best configuration in attack, although Ruben Lameiras might have something to say about that. Gael Bigirimana and Chris McCann have demonstrated considerable quality in midfield over the past few weeks, it’s a choice between Ben Stevenson or Vladimir Gadzhev to make up the three. The main selection dilemma is whether to restore Reice Charles-Cook in goal, if he’s fully fit.

Last Time We Met

Thanks to Charlton’s various promotions and relegations over the past 15 years or so, we haven’t played the Addicks on a regular basis for quite a while. Our last meeting came in 2009 at the Ricoh Arena while Charlton were busy being inexplicably relegated from the Championship in just their second season after a long spell in the Premier League. It was a 0-0 draw, but I thought it would interesting to state some of the players involved in a dull bottom end of the Championship game in 2009. Charlton had Rob Elliott in goal, and the likes of Zheng Zhi, Nicky Bailey and Jonjo Shelvey in midfield with Tresor Kandol leading the line, Phil Parkinson was their manager. We had Keiren Westwood, Scott Dann, Danny Fox but also Kevin Thornton, Isaac Osbourne, Freddy Eastwood, brought Ashley Cain off from the bench and were managed by Chris Coleman.

How Are They Doing?

Charlton’s decline over the past few seasons is directly attributable to a single party – chairman Roland Duchatelet. For those who don’t know, Duchatelet bought Charlton as part of a wider European network of clubs he owns (similar to Watford’s Pozzo family) and tried to use Charlton as a springboard to sell cheap foreign talent to richer English clubs or abroad.

In addition, Duchatelet has rattled through a series of foreign managers with no experience of English football – they were managed by three different foreign managers during relegation from the Championship last season. Duchatelet has attempted to make amends after relegation from the Championship by appointing an experienced English manager, Russell Slade, and stopping the import of random foreign players, but things haven’t really improved.

There are three main factors behind Charlton’s lowly league position at the moment (they’re currently 18th, just three points above us), a fire sale of promising homegrown youngsters over the summer, those funds not being invested back in the team and Russell Slade. Those three factors have seen would could have been an exciting, enterprising side made up of players fans could identify with, replaced with a slow, dour bunch of cloggers.

While Russell Slade is a well-respected manager in the bottom two divisions, he is someone who’s never won promotion and is used to working at smaller clubs. Like Nigel Adkins Sheffield United last season, Slade has tried to build the team on a core of experienced players such as Andrew Crofts and Johnnie Jackson who lack the athletic capacity and dynamism of their younger days.

Aside from crosses and set-pieces directed towards target-men Novak and Magennis, Charlton’s main attacking threat comes from Ademola Lookman and Ricky Holmes. Lookman is a hot property after making an impression at Championship level last season and was surprisingly not sold over the summer. Holmes has had a different career trajectory, working his way up from non-league to be where he is today (although, Lookman was signed from non-league Waterloo FC). Both are exciting wide players who can beat players for fun and are capable of producing moments of magic. The key to this game is stopping those two.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, the summer signing of last season’s League One second top-scorer Nicky Ajose hasn’t gone to plan, with Slade struggling to find a way to get the best out of a striker who’s had an inconsistent career if you take last season out of the equation. Jason Pearce and Patrick Bauer are a strong centre-back pairing at this level and they have Declan Rudd in goal, who played 11 times in the Premier League for Norwich last season and should really be playing at a higher level.

I’m not sure what this stat really means but I’m going to throw it out there anyway, Charlton have picked up just five yellow cards in 11 league games. Maybe they’re a soft touch, maybe they’ve been lucky with referees.

Prediction

We should be wary of Charlton despite their poor form – they haven’t won since August – as they’re a side that contain three or four players who can just win games on their own. With a physical threat in attack allied with pace and skill out wide in Ricky Holmes and Ademola Lookman, Charlton look to have a decent way to exploit our young, inexperienced defence and they should at least threaten from set-pieces. It’s a case of whether we can dominate the ball and take advantage of being on top.

I am fairly confident about this game, we’re showing signs of finding form and there’s going to be a strong away support. I’m predicting that we’ll win 3-2 in a fairly crazy and chaotic manner.