BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Forster-Caskey had personal playing targets this season – but his re-emergence as a player of prominence for Charlton Athletic has seen those goals reviewed.
The midfielder, who turns 27 next month, clocked up his 100th appearance for the Addicks in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Oxford United.
Only club captain Jason Pearce (137) has played more matches for the South Londoners in the current squad – with Forster-Caskey and Darren Pratley both on 101 outings.
Forster-Caskey would almost certainly be out in front if he had not suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury on the eve of the 2018-19 season.
It effectively wrote him off for that League One promotion-winning campaign and he then featured just 11 times in the Championship as he struggled to get any kind of regular run in Lee Bowyer’s side.
But Forster-Caskey is firmly back in favour now.
The former Brighton and Milton Keynes midfielder, signed by Karl Robinson in January 2017, has been one of Charlton’s most consistent performers.
He has started 14 of Charlton’s last 17 matches – only coming out of the side due to a hamstring strain which forced him off in the 3-2 Valley defeat to Gillingham last month.
Forster-Caskey did not want to go public with his own aims before the campaign started – and that remains the case despite re-evaluating what he wants to achieve before the campaign finishes at the start of May.
“I feel that I’m back to playing the best football of my career,” he said. “I feel as fit as ever. I’m showing that on a much more consistent basis.
“I feel I’m affecting games a lot more. My goal-setting has really helped me focus and improve.
“As a team we’ve probably underachieved to this point. We’ve got a very strong squad and we should have picked up more points. But there is still a lot of football to go.
“The season hasn’t finished. We could go and win every game from now and everything looks perfect.
“All the players still believe we can get a lot higher in the league. I don’t believe we’ve lost belief or anything like that. The whole club is still pushing in one direction – which is upwards. I still believe in the group we’ve got.
“We’ve not been consistent enough and we’ve had a lot of fixtures where we’ve given ourselves an uphill battle by conceding first. In any football game that is hard, and it’s happened quite often. Especially when teams come to The Valley and get ahead – it’s a big game when they come to Charlton. They put a lot of people behind the ball and we’ve struggled.”
Charlton are one of the most high-profile clubs in England’s third tier. Forster-Caskey believes opposition still raise their game even if they are playing at an empty Valley.
“No disrespect but you look at The Valley and then some other stadiums – it’s an impressive place to play football,” he said. “It is a big fixture for teams and one where they look forward to it.
“We should’ve picked up a lot more points. The fans aren’t there but they aren’t for both teams, so it’s not an excuse we can use.
“It took a long time to adapt to. Different players perform better with or without a crowd.
“You are there to entertain and when you’re not doing that it is a bit tougher. I’ve been at the club a long time and the crowd at The Valley, on a lot of occasions, can push you through to getting those three points.
“When you’ve got a big crowd behind you it is going to help anyone. They can also affect the other team and make them slightly more nervous with 10 minutes to go. When there isn’t a crowd maybe they don’t feel that.
“We’ve done a lot better away from home. But we need to correct that – and correct it quickly. We’re all aware we’re going to need a good run. The best thing for us to do is take it one game at a time.”
Forster-Caskey is one of 13 Charlton players who could be free agents at the start of July.
He signed a one-year contract in the summer of 2019 and then took up the option of a further 12 months in SE7 shortly after Charlton were relegated to English football’s third tier.
“I’ve been in this scenario a couple of times now,” said Forster-Caskey. “I’m almost getting used to it – but it’s not something you want to get used to as a player.
“Every player wants security from contracts, that’s when you feel most comfortable and at ease.
“Definitely going into this summer I want to have some stability. Hopefully I can get that. Every player is looking for stability and a long-term contract. The only way you do that is by playing well.
“But at the moment nothing has been said [by the club], so I’ll keep my head down.
“Everybody can see I give everything. I always will to this club, because it has got a big place in my heart. Until I’m not wanted I will give them my all.”
Forster-Caskey has 11,500 followers on Instagram but that is his only social media platform.
His former Charlton team-mate Tom Lockyer described Twitter as “an acid place”.
Forster-Caskey deleted his account a long time ago.
He said: “I had Twitter when I was at Brighton. We had a bad season and, as you can imagine, all of the players were getting a lot of abuse off it.
“I find you don’t get that on Instagram so much.
“On Twitter they really try to give it to you – and it’s hard not to read those comments.
“You almost get 10 good ones and one bad one – but you remember the bad one. As a professional athlete you try to block that sort of stuff out, but as a human being that is quite hard. As players we’re not robots.
“Instagram is the only platform I use – it’s not as harsh.
“Instagram is brilliant. Fans get an insight into your dailly life. They get an insight into being a footballer. You could get that abuse when things aren’t going right. It’s about weighing up if it is worth it or not.”
Pics by Keith Gillard, Paul Edwards and PA
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