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Josh Cullen: Charlton-Millwall clash won’t have same edge without any fans at The Valley


Josh Cullen has admitted that Charlton’s derby with Millwall tonight will lose a little of the edge due to it being played at a near-empty Valley.

Supporters from both clubs are not able to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic, although the key Championship fixture will be televised by Sky Sports.

Charlton’s last win over the Lions came in March 1996. Matt Smith’s stoppage-time header – his first touch after coming off the bench – saw them lose 2-1 at The Den in November.

“They scored really late on and we probably felt a little hard done by that we didn’t come away with at least a point,” said Cullen, who is on a season-long loan from West Ham.

“But it is what it is, we had to deal with that.

“The break has made it a fresh start for everyone and we’re coming off the back of some good results and go into it full of confidence.

“It’s business as usual. We’ll prepare in exactly the same way.”

Cardiff City’s Joe Ralls (left) and Charlton Athletic’s Josh Cullen battle for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship match at the Cardiff City Stadium.

If Charlton do finally manage victory over their South London rivals, there will be no home support to revel in the moment.

Cullen is a tenacious competitor – his temperament, workrate and quality on the ball ensuring he has played every minute since football came out of shutdown.

But even he concedes that a fan-free scenario takes away a little of the spice.

“I’d probably be lying if I said it was exactly the same as playing in front of a full house,” said the Republic of Ireland international. “If the fans were there I’m sure it would have been another fantastic atmosphere at The Valley.

“But once we pull on the shirt, and I’m sure it is the same for the Millwall players, they’ll know how much it means to their fans. We know how much it means to our fans. Once we go across that white line both teams will be doing everything they can to get three points and ultimately a massive three points for their club.

“In an ideal world I’m sure players, staff and everyone around the football club would love to have fans in the ground. They are the atmospheres you want to play in. But I’d definitely rather be playing football and have it to watch, than not have it at all.

“So this is the next-best scenario. It’s been okay so far. We have to motivate ourselves, you can’t rely on the crowd.

“We’ve had a decent return after a long break. The lads have come back full of confidence and belief. It’s been three very good team performances and three back-to-back clean sheets.

“We’ve done well – but it’s only a start to this mini-phase to the season. We can’t let our guard down or sit back. We’ve got to push on, and that continues Friday night.”

The relegation battle took another twist on Wednesday as Wigan Athletic went into administration and will be deducted 12 points if they finish outside the bottom three.

Cullen won’t be pinned down on a safety total.

“I don’t think you can call it,” he said. “Since we have come back a lot of the teams down the lower end of the table have picked up a good amount of points.

“Last season the team who finished 21st [Millwall] got 44 points but this season the one who finishes bottom is probably going to go past that total. We haven’t set a target as a group. The aim is just to pick up as many points as we can.”

Cullen still has one year left to run on his Hammers contract after they activated an extension clause.

The midfielder has come through their youth ranks and has never wavered in his desire to force his way into the senior set up.

“It’s always been the goal and nothing has changed,” he said. “The [Charlton] fans have liked me being at the club as much as I’ve liked being at the club.

“It’s been brilliant. Until the last minute of the last game, I’ll give everything for Charlton.

“Hopefully when I return to West Ham I’ll be able to break into the first-team there.”

Cullen extended his Charlton stay by an extra month to make sure he could complete what he started in August.

He is one of the first names on Lee Bowyer’s teamsheet, evidenced by the fact he has not been rotated by the Addicks chief since the restart.

“It’s been a busy schedule,” said Cullen. “We had a full week between the first two games but now we’ve gone Saturday-Tuesday with another coming Friday.

“It’s been a good choice by the EFL to allow five substitutes, to allow managers to freshen it up and look after players with staggered minutes.

“I’ll always want to play every minute. I’ve worked hard over lockdown to make sure when we came back I would hit the ground running. I wanted to be in a good place fitness-wise to help us win as many games as possible.”


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