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.

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Preview: Chesterfield

 

Whilst the defeat, and even the performance, against Scunthorpe last weekend can be brushed off as one bad game, having come after three less than convincing performances beforehand (which we took four points from), it is important to produce a win and a performance in this forthcoming meeting with Chesterfield to avoid a spate of negativity sweeping the club.

Having started the season so well, there is the danger now that this team is getting ‘found out’ somewhat by opposition who are making sure to prepare thoroughly for their games against us. That incisive attacking play that was the hallmark of our first three games has proven difficult to get back to in the face of pressure higher up the pitch from the opposition and the inability to switch it up when Plan A comes unstuck.

Failing to register a shot on target against Scunthorpe last weekend was poor regardless of the standards we have set ourselves and the way the opposition set up. It was such an extremely poor performance though that I think we are unlikely to see another such 90 minutes from this team this season. That we came out of it with only a 1-0 defeat could be read as a positive sign, although that may have been more of a reflection of the state our opponents were in.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

There is almost certainly going to be a reaction from both players and the manager for this meeting with Chesterfield, it’s all about how that will be channelled. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Tony Mowbray take a step away from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he has used for most of this season in order to stick two up front.

The impact on team selection is unlikely to be too extreme given that the difference between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 can be almost imperceptible based on the personnel utilised. It’s possible that no changes could be made to last week’s line-up with Marcus Tudgay given more of a brief to stay up front rather than drop in behind Adam Armstrong. The return of Jim O’Brien though is likely to force Mowbray to drop one of either Jacob Murphy or Ruben Lameiras.

Last Time We Met

Tony Mowbray will have fond memories of our last meeting with Chesterfield, providing as it did his first win as Coventry City manager. It came at just the right time too after a couple of disappointing results against Port Vale and Bradford where the team faded badly after taking the lead. It was a real rollercoaster of a game as Marcus Tudgay headed the Sky Blues into the lead only for Chesterfield to equalise via a deflected goal just before half-time.

Sanmi Odelusi and Frank Nouble though demonstrated the top-draw quality that they both intermittently offered during their time at Coventry City by helping the team recapture a seemingly unassailable lead. Despite conceding a sloppy late goal, Tony Mowbray’s Sky Blues held on for a vital win that re-galvanised our season.

How Are They Doing?

After going on to make the play-offs last season under Paul Cook, things seemingly fell apart from the final whistle after their semi-final defeat to Preston. Cook was quickly on his way down to Portsmouth, taking key player Gary Roberts in tow. Those departures were compounded by the further losses of Jimmy Ryan, Tendayi Darikwa and Sam Clucas who were all instrumental in their sixth placed finish last season.

Chesterfield were seemingly acknowledging that all hope of going one step further this time round by appointing Dean Saunders as manager, a man who had endured relegation in each of his three previous managerial postings. This was compounded by a quiet summer in the transfer market, where it appeared that the club were refusing to spend money raised by the summer’s player sales.

Thus far though, Saunders has given greater credence to the argument that he is a manager who has chosen his previous roles poorly rather than being a bad manager with the Spireites currently 7th in the division. Although they have squandered two-goal leads late on in their past two games.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Of those who have stuck around from last season, midfielders Jay O’Shea and Sam Morsy provide the team with quality in the centre of the park. Morsy is a deep-lying midfielder with a wonderful range of passing and has chipped in with three goals already this season. O’Shea, joint top-scorer with Morsy, is a winger who can play centrally and possesses wonderful delivery from set-pieces and in open play.

Saunders has boosted the squad at Chesterfield with the loan signing of Lee Novak from Birmingham who provides a focal point in attack. Think of Novak as a more experienced and intelligent version of Crewe’s Marcus Haber who has caused us no end of problems the last few times we’ve been faced with. The concern is that whilst Reda Johnson is off trying to contend with Novak, pacey players like Jay O’Shea and the American winger Gboly Ariyibi can exploit the spaces left in behind even if Novak fails to win the first ball.

Prediction

This looks to be a tough game given the nature of the opposition and our recent performances. For myself, I am off on holiday to the South of France so I will be missing what could be a difficult and frustrating afternoon of football. As annoying as it is that somehow I have timed a week-long holiday to miss our only home game of the month, part of me feels that I may be dodging a bullet.

Chesterfield have the appearance of one of those teams that tend to do well at the Ricoh Arena, niggly, frustrating and well-drilled on the counter, we’ll have to raise our performance levels in order to come away with a win here. Sitting on the fence here, I’m predicting a 1-1 draw.

*Just a note that this preview was written on Wednesday, September 16th 2015 which may have an impact on the accuracy of possible team line-ups beyond my usual guess-work.