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Charlton Athletic’s League One slump set to accelerate transfer window plans – with Michael Appleton still backed by club hierarchy


Michael Appleton called for perspective as Charlton Athletic’s season took a drastic turn for the worse over the Christmas period but that is not so easy for supporters to provide when there isn’t any patience.

The Addicks head coach has been the prime target for the club’s fanbase after the festive period proved anything but a cracker with three defeats that left little goodwill or cheer.

Those fans in attendance for the 2-1 loss to Oxford United on New Year’s Day gave their side both barrels at the full-time whistle, the players sheepishly clapping as they headed down the tunnel with boos ringing in their ears.

Three points from a possible 18 have killed off any lingering hopes that Charlton could chase down a play-off spot. The gap to the bottom four is only six points.

The Addicks should have too much to be dragged into a dogfight to stay up but the fact they will have spent four seasons in League One with only one of those seeing them still at least in promotion contention in the final months is damning.

Picture: Kyle Andrews

It’s not as if Charlton haven’t spent money. Previous owner Thomas Sandgaard invested initially – sinking a seven-figure sum on Charlie Kirk and Diallang Jaiyesimi alone – but quite often that outlay was on the wrong players. Those errors in judgement can have long-lasting effects.

SE7 Partners, who bought the club in late July, recently reached a termination settlement with Kirk, who still had 18 months to run on his contract. In terms of recruitment – and Sandgaard’s son Martin was handed a plum director of analysis role – there were far more misses than hits during the US-based Dane’s tenure, that quickly lost impetus and lacked cohesion as well as miserably failing to deliver on his bullish early promises of Premier League football.

SE7 Partners have also paid fees for players with Alfie May’s 15 goals already justifying the expenditure required to persuade Cheltenham to part with their talisman. Terry Taylor, regarded as a hot property at Burton Albion, has endured an injury-disrupted start.

Lloyd Jones, a free transfer after opting to leave Cambridge United, has been one of Charlton’s most consistent players.

There have also been professional contracts for the likes of Nathan Asiimwe, Karoy Anderson and Micah Mbick as well as the imminent arrival of Will Abbott as the new director of performance, once he has worked his notice at Brighton, with his top priority being to reduce the amount of injuries as well as ensuring that the conditioning is in place for players to keep going for matches that now regularly can hit 100 minutes.

The loans have largely failed to deliver. Jesurun Rak-Sakyi was so good in the previous campaign that he romped to the Player of the Year award, despite his affiliation to another club in South London.

Ipswich’s Panutche Camara has played 315 minutes and been out since the end of October while Slobodan Tedic will be returning to Manchester City.

There is a determination from Charlton’s hierarchy to focus their January trading on permanent additions. While the prospect of reaching the top six is over, the plan now is to bed in signings that will be vital components of the squad beyond the end of April.

Picture: Kyle Andrews

“You win and everything is fantastic, you lose and everything is not fantastic – that’s the business we’re in and I get that,” said former Lincoln and Blackpool boss Appleton when asked about the post-match reaction from the stands.

“We’ve got nine injuries and probably at least six or seven are first-team regulars. In the first seven or eight games we never lost and we looked like we were going to roll teams over three or four-nil.”

Crucially Appleton still enjoys the support of those who make the big calls – with recognition he is missing key personnel that saw Charlton go unbeaten in their first seven matches under him and lost just two of their opening 16 fixtures after he replaced Dean Holden.

The intent is for players with pedigree and experience to be added this month. If results did not improve after that – especially with the likes of Chuks Aneke, Conor McGrandles and Taylor hopefully back in the not too distant future – then Appleton has been in the game long enough to know he will be on shakier ground.

One of the priorities for Charlton is to bring in a targetman and they have set their sights on one of the best at this level – bidding in the region of £350,000 for Jonson Clarke-Harris, who is inside the final six months of his Peterborough contract.

One of the Addicks’ issues without injured duo Aneke and Miles Leaburn is that they do not have the option to play more directly into a striker, safe in the knowledge it will usually stick.

That has allowed opponents to press more aggressively because of Charlton’s lack of a number nine.

Derby County’s Curtis Nelson (left) and Peterborough United’s Jonson Clarke-Harris battle for the ball during the Sky Bet League One match at Weston Homes Stadium, Peterborough. Picture date: Saturday August 26, 2023.

Clarke-Harris would help Charlton improve another of their weak spots – attacking set-pieces – as well as act as a foil for May to play off.

The Addicks’ top scorer has rarely played as a lone striker in his career and attempts to utilise him that way – Bolton’s giant Ricardo Santos dominated him until Leaburn’s introduction at The Valley – have not been successful.

Eighteen-year-old Patrick Casey, who recently hit five goals past Cardiff’s U21s, made his debut against Oxford United, replacing Daniel Kanu, 19, in the 88th minute – but this is no time to be expecting the latest promising youngsters to dig the team out of the hole they are in.

What Charlton need now is their senior pros to step up, especially with many of them providing little evidence to dissuade SE7 Partners that they will need to carry out extensive surgery on the squad.

The team’s current malaise is set to push the Addicks into addressing issues more aggressively in this window than they would have done if they had been in striking distance of the top six. But the proof will be in the post-Christmas pudding and there will be plenty of scepticism.

Charlton were still working on a deal for Plymouth’s left-sided centre-back Macaulay Gillesphey when our paper went to press – with Argyle fans highly complimentary about him when the interest broke. West Ham holding midfielder Conor Coventry, so impressive during his last League One loan at Milton Keynes, is another on the list of targets.

This window needs to be a show of intent. Not for what can be achieved this season – but the genuine promise of far better next time around.

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