The goal for Charlton Athletic this season is an instant return to the Championship. Their 2-2 draw with Plymouth Argyle on Boxing Day moved them back into the top six in League One. Here LOUIS MENDEZ assesses their campaign to date.
What’s your take on the start to the season?
There’s certainly room for improvement but I don’t think it’s gone too badly, all things considered. Performances of late haven’t always been as free-flowing as you’d hope but the Addicks aren’t really dropping off in front of goal – they’re the league’s third-highest scorers at Christmas and they’ve notched nine in the last three outings.
Defensively is where the current issues are but that is to be expected with both Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo out. Only one clean sheet in the last nine games off the back of six straight shutouts has meant form has tailed off with just two wins in eight but considering the mess the club had to deal with in the summer means I’m more than happy to be in the top-six shake-up.
Charlton aren’t a million miles off where they need to be and hopefully – if the wage cap restrictions allow – Lee Bowyer can improve the squad next month. All the clubs challenging for promotion seem more than capable of dropping points and the disrupted season has meant many sides have struggled to capitalise on any momentum they build. It’s still wide open.
Are Charlton in a better or worse position than you expected before the campaign got underway?
Much better. After the positivity the Thomas Sandgaard takeover has brought to the club, it’s easy to forget the mess they were in during the summer break. The uncertainty over the ownership of the club and the hurdles placed before Sandgaard as he looked to acquire control meant it was unclear the transfer embargo would be lifted before the end of the transfer window at all.
When Sandgaard did get his deal over the line, the mad scramble to then build a squad capable of competing in League One was completed in barely more than a week. Given the introduction of the wage cap and that other clubs were able to do their business before it came in, I did fear the Addicks would have too much catching up to do. To be part of the conversation at the right end of the table despite all that went before is a decent achievement.
The six-game winning run and long spell without conceding both put Charlton in the shake-up and possibly raised expectation levels above the reality of how much of a long slog this season could still be.
Who has been the best performer?
Chuks Aneke. He’s Charlton’s super-sub – all seven of his goals this season have come from the bench. He poses the Addicks’ greatest goal threat but also makes them look a lot more coherent going forward when he’s involved – he is a focal point for attacks and brings others into the game. That can be lacking when he’s not there.
His fitness is obviously always a concern – and perhaps his effectiveness when he has started games – but he’s a real handful when introduced as a substitute.
Who has plenty of room for improvement?
Dylan Levitt has probably been the player who arrived with the most promise and has yet to live up to it. His season has been disrupted by Covid-19 recently but we’re yet to really see much of the Manchester United loanee, who has struggled for game time. We should remember he is only 20 and this is his first foray into senior club football.
Best team display?
The 2-0 win at Fratton Park in October. After a couple of early scares, Charlton took the lead through a finely-crafted goal – Jonny Williams’ first for the club. They then stood firm in the face of the expected Pompey onslaught, giving away nothing in the way of clearcut chances for Kenny Jackett’s side.
A superb counter-attack goal sealed the points late on as Chuks Aneke headed home from Paul Smyth’s inviting cross. It was the sixth game in a row where the Addicks had kept a clean sheet – although Akin Famewo’s second-half injury was the precursor to the end of that run.
Worst team display?
The 4-2 defeat at rock-bottom Burton Albion.
There’s probably been flatter all-round displays than that – the 1-0 home defeat against Milton Keynes or the 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury – but the individual errors that led to some of the Brewers goals were outrageous and out of keeping with how Charlton had been at the back before then – to get three of them in one game was unbelievable.
What key additions are needed in the January transfer window?
Centre-backs. The long-term injuries to Inniss and Famewo (pictured left) have ruptured Charlton’s defence and left Bowyer needing to fit square pegs into round holes. Those gaps need to be plugged in order to shore up the defence. There’s always room for another striker in any squad as well and hopefully the arrival of Ronnie Schwartz from FC Midtjylland will prove to be an improvement to the squad.
How would you rate the Addicks’ chances of promotion?
They have as good a chance as anyone else if they can tighten up at the back. They’re three points outside the top two with a game in hand at the time of writing and are scoring goals. Some basic errors have led to late points being dropped recently – cut out these silly mistakes and they could easily go on a run.
Charlton have got a number of their squad due to be free agents at the end of May – who would you prioritise re-signing?
Aneke is the standout for me. As discussed earlier, he’s Charlton’s main goal threat and asks plenty of questions of opposition defences. Strikers of his pedigree can be hard to come by.
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