BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Dillon Phillips is keen to pass around the credit for Charlton Athletic’s defensive stability – despite only one other keeper in the top four divisions in England boasting more clean sheets in 2019.
The Addicks stopper has recorded 13 shutouts since the turn of the year and will look to add to that haul at home to Birmingham City tomorrow.
Only Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson – with 15 – has managed more.
“Don’t get me wrong – it is a great stat,” said Phillips, who has gone 192 minutes without conceding.
“But at the end of the day it is a team effort. We have been very solid defensively as a team.
“I like to think when I’ve been called upon that I’ve done what I’ve needed to.
“To say it is the best form of my career, well my career has only really started happening now. I’ve played 60 games for Charlton and the bulk of them have been in the last year.
“I’m happy how I am performing but I always look to improve. I’ve got more to give.
“The team have been excellent during this period that I’ve been in the side.”
A Valley victory this weekend could see Charlton leapfrog Swansea and go top of the Championship table.
The Addicks were one of the favourites for the drop with the bookies in the summer but are now priced 7/1 to go down.
Charlton are still unbeaten heading into mid September.
“I don’t think anyone expected it,” said Phillips. “If we had kept hold of what we had here last season then I think we’d have backed ourselves, because we knew everyone’s capabilities. We’d have expected to do well.
“But players moved on, that’s part and parcel of football. The last two weeks of the transfer window really helped us and come the first couple of games of the season we looked a really strong squad – ready and raring to go.
“Our ambition won’t change, it’s still to make sure we stay in the league. You look at the next run of matches and you don’t see an easy team to play against, every one of them can turn it on.
“The first six games have given us a little taster of it. Maybe the promotion campaign has rolled over into this one with the feel-good factor still there.
“People need to not get too far ahead and think we’re going to win every game – that is not going to happen. No team goes a full season without losing matches. It will happen but we want to delay it as much as possible.”
Three of Charlton’s next four fixtures are at home – Birmingham, Leeds United and Swansea visiting. Lee Bowyer’s side have not lost a regulation league game in SE7 since October 6.
There have been just three defeats in all competitions for the South Londoners since January 1.
The backing from fans, both home and away, has also gone to another level. There were plenty of posts from Reading supporters after they saw their side lose 2-0 at the Madejski Stadium before the international break, praising the Addicks performance but also the 2,200-plus travelling contingent.
“They have been louder than the home fans when we are away and louder than the away fans when we’re at home,” said Phillips. “They have played a massive part.
“They’ve been unreal. The last year we have given them quite a lot to shout about. Performances help. It is not just results – they can see we are trying to do the right things, trying to play football and putting our bodies on the line.
“If we’re not having as much possession as the other team then we can do both sides. And the fans don’t stop making noise.
“We haven’t been beaten there [at The Valley] in a long time. If we can get through the next four matches it will be very successful. Every team brings a different threat.
“I’ve seen enough of the Championship to know what it is about. You can’t take your foot off the gas because teams can get on top of you, you might not see the ball for half an hour and have to defend.
“In the second half of last season we showed we were a very good team. If we had performed like that from the start of the season then we’d have at least have taken Luton a long way closer [in the title race] then we did.
“The sign of a good team is not conceding goals. We’ve had quite a few 1-0 and 2-0 wins in that period. We work hard in training and on our defensive units.
“When we are putting those blocks in at the end of the Brentford game, you can’t buy that – it’s just a team spirit. We want to work for each other.”
You’ve got to enjoy the good times in football – because heartbreak never tends to be far away.
Phillips has savoured every second, especially the League One play-off final when his early slip – misjudging Naby Sarr’s passback – did not prove costly at Wembley.
“You are always going to remember it – whether you have a quiet day or something like that happens,” said Phillips.
“I wouldn’t change it. I’d rather let the ball under my foot in the first five minutes 10 times over if it meant us getting promoted and winning that game.
“That match summed up our season – going behind and never knowing when we were beaten.
“Even though we were 1-0 down I always thought if anyone was going to score next and take the win it was going to be us. I don’t think I was tested at all in the second half.
“I’ll never forget it. We had a night out after that but it is amazing how quickly it is all over – four weeks off and then back at it.
“I remember Bow saying in pre-season: ‘You did great – but that’s gone now’.”
It might have gone but more feel-good memories have been added since May.
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