Charlton Athletic’s FA Cup tie against Norwich City on Sunday is far more of a glamour tie than their midweek EFL Trophy win over Milton Keynes. But Craig MacGillivray never likes to miss a match – regardless of a competition’s prestige.
Nathan Harness played in midweek as the Addicks booked their place in the last eight of a competition that has drawn more than its fair share of detractors.
And manager Johnnie Jackson strongly hinted afterwards that Stephen Henderson would extend his record of starting all their FA Cup matches by featuring against the Canaries.
MacGillivray has been an ever-present in League One since his summer move from Portsmouth but was an unused substitute for the fixtures against Gateshead and Havant & Waterlooville.
The 28-year-old was part of the Pompey side which lost 4-2 on penalties to Salford City in the 2020 EFL Trophy final – his heroics ensuring the contest was a stalemate after 120 minutes.
“The last three years I had at Portsmouth I played pretty much every game – whatever cup competition it was,” said MacGillivray.
“I still feel I’ve missed out on a lot of football in my professional career, unfortunately that is how it is a goalkeeper.
“I’d love to play every single game in a season. A couple of years ago I ended up playing 55 games – I’d love to try and beat that.
“But, at the same time, we’re in every competition still – bar the Carabao Cup. The focus has to be on the league, of course it does, as well as balancing minutes so everyone is fresh when called upon.
“It’s been frustrating I’ve missed the FA Cup games and trophy games. But I understand people need minutes and it keeps me on my toes, because if they play well then I know I’ve got to respond.”
Charlton saw their fixture schedule shut down over the Christmas period after Covid-19 cases and injuries postponed their matches against AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham.
MacGillivray’s pregnant partner is expecting their child any day now. The goalkeeper, who was nominated for December’s League One Player of the Month, admits he is “very surprised” he is yet to contract the virus.
MacGillivray said: “You are around lads that have got it, they are testing positive and you’re sat there scratching your head. How have I avoided that then? Because you’re in the same building as people before they test positive.
“Thankfully I haven’t, because my missus is 39 weeks pregnant. So for me to get it now, bring it back and potentially give it to her – it would rule me out of being able to help and support her through labour when the time comes.
“It’s even worse for her, she is classed as someone who is vulnerable. In that sense it has been a bit nerve-racking, especially with the cases we’ve had recently.
“I’m on red-alert more than I would be before. It’s trying to keep yourself as safe as possible not to bring anything out of the training ground.
“We all want to be playing football, we didn’t want the two games called off – you’ve then got to fit them in again. It’s a lot harder when you’ve got to play catch-up because you know what everyone else has done.
“The safety and health of the lads who have had it is the most important thing.
“You could have symptoms but not be positive, then a couple of days later feel a bit better and test positive. It doesn’t work in a simple format. That’s where it becomes difficult and disruptive to assess.
“Quite a few people were negative at one stage and then even a day later they were tested again and then positive. What’s happened in a couple of days? Because they still feel exactly the same.”
MacGillivray is friends with former Addicks stopper Neil Etheridge. He contracted Covid during Birmingham’s pre-season training camp and ended up in intensive care on the advice of the club’s doctor.
“He is back fit now but said it is no joke – it is really bad,” said MacGillivray. “He was fearing for his life at one stage. He could not breathe.
“Luckily the lads who had it here are all fit and well, no one has been taken into hospital seriously ill.
“When people are fighting for their lives it makes you realise it is not something to mess around with and needs to be taken very seriously.
“Alex Gilbey was in a bad way, it felt like forever he was away from the training ground.
“It’s how long it can take you to recover, especially when you’re a professional athlete who is putting your body under a lot of fatigue and stress. It’s getting it back up to speed again.”
MacGillivray conceded 22 goals in his first 13 matches – a 3-2 home loss to Accrington spelling the end of Nigel Adkins’ short-lived reign.
He kept four clean sheets in the next five matches under Johnnie Jackson – his goal has been breached just five times in the last 11 League One fixtures.
“As a team we’re on the same wavelength,” said MacGillivray. “We all know what we’re doing, which helps. It’s clear on the pitch to see what we’re about – when we’re going to press and how we’re going to play. The team is a lot more settled in terms of personnel. There are no grey areas.
“I don’t feel I’m having as much to do, that’s a massive thing.
“I was sat with Brett [Shaw, analyst] after 13 games and I think it was only Gillingham who had more shots at their goal than us. I’m like: ‘Really, how is that possible? This is bonkers’.
“I didn’t see that coming with the squad and talent we had.
“I was thinking ‘this really shouldn’t be happening – we’re getting carved open here’.
“I don’t know what the difference is after those first 13 games to now, but I’d think it would be chalk and cheese.
“I’m my own worst critic but I feel I’ve had a good start at Charlton. Yes, there are always things you can tweak and get better at – like any footballer. We’re in an industry where we all want to get better and find that extra half per cent.
“Sometimes I’ll be straight on the coach after an away game and say to Brett that I want the laptop to watch it back.
“That’s not just about me. Sometimes it’s easy to be in a game, think something and you watch it back and it’s completely different – because your emotions kick in.
“You lose a game of football and it feels horrendous. You win a game of football and it feels brilliant. But sometimes you can win a game of football and it’s not been great at all, but when you win it feels like the best thing in the world.”
One memory of Adkins’ final fixture was the home support – patience completely eroded – directing their fury at the players and manager as Charlton seemed wracked with indecision trying to play out from the back.
MacGillivray said: “When Jacko got the job I had a conversation asking: ‘What do you want from me? Simplify it. Because at the moment you have got people doing different things on the pitch when there’s a goal-kick’. You tell me what you want’.
“He told me: ‘Put the ball down, look if it’s on to do it – if not get them [the defenders] off’. Before I was told put the ball down, get everyone in their positions to play and then try and go off that. Okay, so it’s on me…but everyone can still take things how they feel is right.
“Jacko has said: ‘This is what is happening, this is what we’re doing – nothing changes’.
“Wycombe away epitomised people doing different things. It happened for a considerable amount of time and supporters got frustrated with us not winning many games. The expectation is for us to get promoted and we were getting further and further away from the teams at the top of the league.
“Football is a simple game. It really is – outscore the opposition – but there are things that it needs to be simplified at times. You see teams all the time trying to play total football and they get caught – there is your goal. There is a time and place to play.
“You always get a new manager getting a reaction but his messages haven’t changed since he took over the role. It’s working.”
PICTURES: PAUL EDWARDS
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