BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Charlton’s top-six hopes took another dispiriting bashing on Tuesday night – and the size of the task is underlined by the widening betting odds for them to be promoted from League One this season.
The Addicks are as long as 33/1 after bottom club Burton Albion did the double over them in midweek.
And you can see why the bookies – just like the Charlton fanbase – are not feeling confident.
Charlton are five points behind sixth-placed Doncaster Rovers and have played three matches more. Without an upturn in form the threat is that they will slide into mid-table mediocrity.
And whatever the limitations that Lee Bowyer has had to work with before Thomas Sandgaard acquired the club in late September, that would firmly be seen as underachieving.
There is still just about time for a surge. There are still 48 points available to make the play-offs – described by Sandgaard as the minimum target when he took control – an achievable aim.
Bowyer has talked about his squad being capable of going on a run – just like they did with that six-game winning streak during October and November. But the harsh truth is that feels a lifetime ago. That period was characterised by defensive stability with Ben Amos keeping six successive clean sheets. They conceded just twice in seven matches.
To say that robustness has gone awry is an understatement.
Charlton have haemorrhaged 22 goals in their last eight games. Some of those have been superb strikes – Kwadwo Baah and Connor Ogilvie both come to mind – and some of them have been unlucky – I’ve given Burton’s Danny Rowe the clinching goal but his effort was heading wide before it took the cruellest of deflections off Ben Watson.
Yet a whole load more have been avoidable. Take Mike Fondop’s leveller. Diallang Jaiyesimi failed to mark Jonny Smith from a throw in, or provide any pressure as he shaped up to cross. The Burton number 33 encountered no resistance from Deji Oshilaja or Ben Purrington as he nodded home at the back post.
Charlton’s winless run at The Valley stands at seven matches – the first time they have managed that unwanted feat in English football’s third tier. They have banked just 18 points from the last 17 fixtures.
Judging by the bookmakers’ pricing they heavily fancy Peterborough and Lincoln to go up – closely followed by Portsmouth, Hull and Sunderland. Then come the likes of Oxford and Blackpool, the latter heading to SE7 tomorrow. Ipswich and Accrington are seen as outsiders.
The pressure is on. Bowyer has been in the game long enough to know the score. Results have to improve.
He will have been in the job for three years on March 22, although initially that was in a caretaker role. Karl Robinson quit for Oxford – fearing that he was about to be pushed if Andrew Muir’s takeover went through.
Charlton were ninth – five points behind Plymouth. They won six and drew one of their remaining 10 games under caretaker Bowyer to grab sixth spot, losing to Shrewsbury over two legs in the semi-final.
Back then Bowyer’s appointment had a galvanising effect. Now he is arguably cast in Robinson’s role of trying to inject some momentum and belief into his playing personnel.
There was little wrong with Charlton’s opening 20 minutes against Burton. The formation raised a few eyebrows – a 3-4-3 which saw Darren Pratley on the right of the backline with Liam Millar and Diallang Jaiyesimi both in central roles tucked behind Jayden Stockley.
There was a swagger, zip, intensity and urgency to their play.
Oshilaja rampaged down the left and his first time cross was met ferociously by Stockley, Burton keeper Ben Garratt pushed the speeding ball up on to his crossbar.
Nine minutes in and it was 1-0. Andrew Shinnie’s corner was delivered into the dangerzone and Stockley – whose head is a lethal weapon – planted a majestic header into the back of the net.
A Shinnie free-kick clipped the top of the bar. Burton were being buzzed repeatedly.
But the issue – and I’ve mentioned this in a report far earlier in the campaign – is that opposition are showing no respect to one of the division’s biggest clubs.
Once parity was restored the rest of the half saw Burton get on the front foot far more effectively.
Bowyer confronted referee Christopher Pollard at half-time, convinced that Stockley was incorrectly flagged offside for a header which hit the bar – Oshilaja nodding in the rebound.
You have got to be able to roll with the setbacks but Charlton failed to mount any kind of real response after Rowe had turned the contest around.
Garratt did tip over to deny Ben Purrington but the final margin of defeat could have been heavier.
It was almost like we had the Crossbar Challenge back as Tom Hamer and Rowe both struck it. Ben Amos also saved from Rowe after Oshilaja missed a clearing header while Fondup inadvertently produced a near-post block at the wrong end – the move all coming from Adam Matthews gifting possession to Smith.
What will be a worry is that Charlton almost seemed to go through the motions in the final 20 minutes – despite the second-half introduction of Chuks Aneke and Ronnie Schwartz.
The omens are not good for this weekend. Only Peterborough (15) have picked up more points than Blackpool (13) in the last six matches. Neil Critchley’s side will also be fresh after no midweek exertions.
Charlton will need to take down one of the division’s in-form outfits if they are to try and put their own stuttering sequence of results behind them.
We really are reaching the point of no return if they cannot repeatedly pull some big performances out of the bag, and find a way to stem the tide of goals they have been conceding.
Jayden Stockley. It wasn’t the Preston loanee’s fault that the service dried up. Yet again won the most aerials – 11 – and had a game-high three shots.
Stockley’s unstoppable header to make it four goals in his last five matches.
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