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.
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.
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.
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.