The New Year is starting to feel a bit deja-vu with our visit to Charlton today, writes Tom Morton.
Back in October, we played Ipswich, Bolton and Charlton in quick succession (if a slightly different order). We took four out of nine points from that run of games, so a win today would feel like a pretty similar outcome. I do think we desperately need a win. Here are three reasons why.
Firstly, we now have the joint top number of draws in the league (alongside Fleetwood). In a few cases (say, Sheffield or Plymouth) they have been points won – but a good number are two points dropped (FGR…). Tipping a few games into wins would obviously be a good thing. But it might be a lot better than most realise. Other than the huge stack of draws our performance is pretty decent. Obviously, we are unbeaten at home but we’ve also only lost about half of our away fixtures. That leaves us amongst the lowest number of losses this season. To put that into perspective, the teams currently in league positions 6-11 have all lost more than us.
Secondly, that away performance. Yes, we are struggling away from home. We’ve picked up four wins and a draw but also racked up those six losses. Our last win away from home was in early October against Barnsley. Since then we’ve dropped points against Shrewsbury, Port Vale and of course Burton. You feel like those are all games we should have been competitive in. Even picking up say, four points from those games would have left us in 12th with a game in hand (a very winnable home encounter with MK Dons) that could have sat us in 7th or 8th.
Thirdly, just pure bad eggs. Charlton edged Brighton on penalties in the last round of the EFL Cup, setting up a tasty away fixture with Manchester United next week. It’s hard not to feel we should have been in another part of the same city, grabbing our own six-figure payday. It’s in no way Charlton’s fault, they’ve made their own success, but it might ease the hurt to take some points out of today’s match.
Theoretically, this should be a much easier game than the last two encounters. The Addicks sit one point and two places below us. Admittedly they did seal the Cowley’s fate at Portsmouth with a 3-1 away win last time out. But at home they haven’t won in five games including a loss to MK Dons and a draw with Burton. Stats-wise they seem to be overperforming (scoring 1.83 per game vs. an xG of 1.38) but I think that’s being skewed by an early run of good form – they were unbeaten in the first 7 games at The Valley. On top of that we do have decent form against Charlton in recent years, having lost only once since 2020.
Our home encounter earlier in the season can best be described as turgid. Charlton are a decent team at times but solidly mid-table for the last couple of seasons. The Addicks have a couple of minor injury concerns – in particular, they are missing central defender Eoghan O’Connell. He was solid at the back during our home encounter and interestingly his absence has coincided with a dip in their form. We likely will not see former Sincil Bank favourite Connor McGrandles either. Admittedly we barely saw him last time out (coming on in the 88th minute, I guess as a token gesture). He’s played only 9 times this season and has been out for an extended period. Apparently, he’s managed a game with Charlton’s U21s in the last few days but it doesn’t sound like he will feature.
In contrast, we are very likely to see the other former Imp, Jack Payne. He’s featured 22 times for the Addicks so far this season, most often as a substitute, and scored five goals. We know Jack can be a real threat and it looks like his time at Charlton is working out well for him.
Expect to see a slightly different team and approach from Charlton. They shed manager Ben Garner in early December and appointed newcomer Dean Holden about 20 days ago. This is actually one of Holden’s first significant appointments. Despite managing both Bristol City and Stoke City in the Championship. In both cases he was already an assistant coach and took over from the previous manager (to be honest, he also didn’t last too long). I think this is a great appointment for the Addicks – Holden has good playing experience at this level and it also feels like he has something to prove. He seems pretty straight-talking in interviews too.
Either way, he has made some changes. I sense that Club Captain Jayden Stockley, now in his third season at The Valley, is facing being sidelined. Since returning from suspension in late 2022 he has featured but Holden seems to be favouring forwards such as Miles Leaburn and Jesurun Rak-Sakyi. Both have 6 goals apiece, making them top-scorers, but youngster Leaburn has done it with just five starts and twelve substitutions.
The Addicks may line up 4-3-3. Who knows. I suspect Holden is still playing around with the squad and formation he prefers. From highlights he does seem to have injected a bit more pace and urgency into Charlton’s play – they seem a lot more creative in the box compared to our last encounter. They had about half the possession against both Oxford and Portsmouth and had 10 and 14 shots respectively. By contrast, they managed just 5 against us at the start of October.
At the back, I am less convinced. Their line speed seems a little slow and recently they’ve conceded a number of goals simply by not being organised enough in defence. They definitely feel like a team missing some key calming figures and one that will suffer from the excellent pressing we’ve been doing recently.
The bottom line, though, is that todays game is an important 6-pointer. It puts some clear air between us and Charlton, with a game in hand. Given that, without switching things up, the Addicks could be amongst those scrapping to stay out of the relegation zone come season end that would be a good result.