Positivity based on decent performances tends to wane when they’re not backed up by results. Having largely matched two of the division’s strongest sides over the past week, we head into this trip to Charlton only one point better off and winless in our past three games. This will be another test, but a win would not just be welcome, it would quell the rising anxiety around the club.
Tuesday night’s showing against Portsmouth can be read in one of two ways. The first is that we kept the league leaders quiet for most of the contest and had chances to win the game ourselves. The second is that it was another occasion where we struggled to test the opposition goalkeeper despite seeing a relatively large amount of the ball.
The return of Conor Chaplin for this game should inject the attack with more purpose than was on display against Portsmouth, however, he is now five games into his Coventry City career without scoring from open play. It underlines the big issue with the team at the moment that even our most promising player is still in need of a goal to legitimise his efforts.
Injuries in defence are likely to leave us with a makeshift back four featuring a right-back at left-back and a youth-team centre-back at right-back. That being said, the former, Dujon Sterling, has looked impressive in his supposedly unnatural position, looking much more willing and purposeful going forward on his, purportedly, weaker side. We’ve seen very little of Jordon Thompson to assess what he can do at first-team level but playing him out of position doesn’t seem the best way to bed in a youngster, he’ll have to be protected by his team-mates.
While Jodi Jones has been fit enough to feature from the bench in the past two games, it’s really too soon to be rushing him back into a starting role. Hopefully, Jones’ presence on the fringes of the squad will at least put the onus Jordan Shipley and Luke Thomas to step up with goals and assists. We cannot afford to put pressure on Jodi Jones this soon into his recovery from such a serious injury.
Last Time We Met
In a weird atmosphere caught between the high of our recent Checkatrade Trophy triumph, the certainty of looming relegation, as well as mutual protests at respective club owners, we last took on Charlton in a game delayed by a reprise of the plastic pig protest that had taken place at the Valley the previous October. A first-half George Thomas strike had threatened to stave off relegation for a few days more, only for a towering header from Charlton’s giant German centre-back Patrick Bauer to level matters, putting the rubber stamp on relegation.
How Are They Doing?
Off-the-pitch, Charlton Athletic exist in a zombiefied state as their hated owner Roland Duchatelet drags his heels looking to complete a deal to sell the club. With reports of significant cut-backs both behind-the-scenes and at youth-team level, Lee Bowyer, in his first managerial assignment, has held the on-field matters at Charlton together admirably.
The Addicks currently lurk just outside the play-offs despite Lee Bowyer’s summer squad-building having been hampered by a lack of transfer funds and several serious injuries to key players. The former Newcastle and Leeds midfielder looks to be a resourceful manager capable of stretching his playing budget and tweaking tactics to suit the players left at his disposal.
Charlton’s biggest threat in this game is likely to come from the front-pairing of Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant. The duo have fairly similar games in that they can both drop deep to create chances but are also capable of running in behind with decent turns of pace. Of the two, Taylor is the more physical, while Grant is more technical and possibly a touch faster. Importantly, the duo’s similar skill-sets have dovetailed rather than clashed, giving Charlton a level of unpredictability up front.
Charlton’s attacking threat is further supplemented by winger Tariqe Fosu, recently returned from injury, who was one of their best players last year as they finished in the League One play-offs and is an incredibly quick and skilful winger who can cut inside and shoot. They also boast the likes of Igor Vetokele, Jamie Ward and Nicky Ajose to call upon, demonstrating that there is still some strong quality lingering in the squad despite their off-field difficulties.
In midfield, academy graduate Joe Aribo looks one to watch. A tall and skilful operator, Aribo is really starting to come into his own under Lee Bowyer. He will be joined in midfield by the little dynamo Josh Cullen, on loan from West Ham, as well as the more experienced presence of Darren Pratley looking to keep things together.
At the back, the Addicks are close to the bare bones after a spate of injuries. They can still call upon the physical presence of Naby Sarr alongside the experienced Jason Pearce, with club stalwart Chris Solly at right-back. As they showed on Tuesday night’s 5-3 defeat to Scunthorpe, a lack of continuity in defence this season has left them brittle, even if individually their defence looks strong for this level of football – backed up by Aston Villa loanee Jed Steer in goal, who has impressed in the past at Championship level.
The concern heading into this game is that Charlton are a team that finds scoring goals easy, while we struggle to create and put chances away. It puts so much pressure on our defence to hold strong as it’s likely that a single Charlton goal will be enough to win this game for them, and could even threaten to open the floodgates if we start to become desperate to get back into the game.
While I’m confident that we will soon enough be rewarded for our efforts over the past month or so, getting anything out of this game looks to be a tall order. I can see us losing this 2-0.