BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Charlton Athletic’s attempt to only make it a one-season stay in League One is meeting heavy resistance. And there is a distinct lack of fear being shown by the opposition towards Lee Bowyer’s side.
The Addicks are only four points worse off than the total they had after 21 matches in the promotion-winning 2018-19 season.
But that side went on to take 51 points from their remaining 25 games to only just be pipped by Barnsley for second spot.
It’s difficult to envisage the current Charlton crop managing to repeat that return – for a whole number of reasons.
They have been plagued by selection issues and will be without Ryan Inniss, Akin Famewo, Andrew Shinnie, Ben Watson, Darren Pratley and Jason Pearce for tomorrow’s match at Bristol Rovers.
Even if Lee Bowyer has an idea of his strongest line up, he hasn’t been able to field it.
And it’s hard not to feel like this Addicks squad is not on a par with the one which trumped Sunderland at Wembley to reach English football’s second tier.
The midfield was a huge strength with the perfect blend – Joe Aribo as a box-to-box operator, Krystian Bielik imperious in the challenge and Josh Cullen industriously knitting it all together.
What Bowyer would give for a Patrick Bauer-type now at the back. Karlan Grant scored 14 goals in 28 starts before being sold to Huddersfield. Lyle Taylor finished top-scorer with 25.
You can always look back with rose-tinted specs – but it’s beyond dispute that Bowyer and director of football Steve Gallen moulded together an excellent squad.
Nothing lasts forever, but the nature of Roland Duchaelet’s tenure and then the laughable East Street Investments meant that change was significantly expedited.
By the time Charlton had a serious owner again in Thomas Sandgaard, the financial landscape of League One had changed.
Charlton are constrained by the salary cap. Ten points from the last 10 matches is not good enough.
Bowyer would shake up his squad this month – but there is no financial room to do so without outgoings.
The gambles of signing Marcus Maddison and Omar Bogle haven’t paid off up to this juncture.
Without the spending restrictions a centre-back would surely have been brought in – even though Charlton look suitably stocked in that area when Inniss and Famewo are both back fit.
The duo’s absence has been a double whammy as Bowyer opted to shift Pratley back – losing the veteran’s physicality in the middle of the park.
It’s been criminally easy for the opposition to cut through the South Londoners.
Colby Bishop’s opener in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Accrington was a clear example of Charlton’s defensive fragility. And while Rochdale’s finishing for all four of their goals on Tuesday would not have looked out of place in the Premier League, they were afforded far too much time and space for the first three of those.
“Have the blip now in mid-season if you’re going to have one – you don’t want it in the last 10 or last eight games,” was the verdict of Alan Curbishley, who was on punditry duty for the club’s in-house broadcast of a chaotic but exciting fixture.
There are only three Addicks managers to have won a promotion since the turn of the millennium – Curbs was at the helm when they romped the old Division One title. Bowyer is the most recent success story and although some of the fanbase are beginning to get restless, it needs to be remembered he is only in his third full season as a boss. It’s never going to be all roses and red wine.
What will have improved his mood is the way his players responded to the setbacks against Dale – because every time they did attempt to respond in the first period it was met with another wonderstrike by the lowly visitors.
Charlton should have won. Chuks Aneke was denied a hat-trick by Gavin Bazunu – without the Manchester City loanee’s intervention it would have put the home side ahead for the first time on the night. It would have been some goal, largely due to Liam Millar’s driving run in the build up.
We’ll only know after this weekend’s fixture at the Memorial Stadium if the decision to keep Aneke on for the full duration has any unwanted consequences.
The former Milton Keynes man’s game time has been carefully managed – usually making way no later than the 70-minute mark.
When Charlton play more direct he is a vital focal point. Bogle has lacked the ability to hold up the ball or possess the same goal threat.
Ronnie Schwartz has served notice that some of the scoring onus on Aneke – now on nine goals in all competitions – can be lifted.
The Dane looked sharp on only his second substitute outing and made a difficult finish look effortless.
Charlton are going to need those extra goals if they cannot tighten things up at the back.
Chuks Aneke. Crucial to Charlton’s comeback – showed power and persistence for the first goal of the evening.
Schwartz clinically picking his spot to announce his arrival in English football.
Photos by Paul Edwards and Keith Gillard
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.