The question of whether Charlton have got the games left to still mount a play-off challenge is very much up for debate. But the fact it’s even still viable to discuss shows that things are firmly, and finally, moving in the right direction.
I’m calling it The Jackson Drive. Because the Addicks underlined against Rotherham – League One’s form team and a shoe-in to be in the promotion mix – that they are no longer soft touches under their caretaker manager.
If Charlton keep making more impressive strides under Johnnie Jackson, the pressure to make it a permanent arrangement will ramp up on owner Thomas Sandgaard.
Go back to the grim opening few months of the season and there is every chance that Charlton would have capitulated after Mikel Miller put Rotherham ahead on the stroke of half-time.
But when Conor Washington found the bottom left corner of the net in the 83rd minute to restore parity in SE7 it was nothing less than what the home team deserved.
Since Jackson stepped into the fray after Sandgaard dispensed with the services of Nigel Adkins, it’s like a switch has been flipped. All the fragility and doubt that had dogged a miserable campaign instantly disappeared.
Seven points from a possible nine is arguably better than most fans could have envisaged when their former captain once again stepped into the top job on an interim basis and started with a tricky-looking away assignment at Sunderland.
Rotherham should have been down to 10 men for the final 34 minutes on Tuesday. But Scott Oldham failed to dish out a second caution to Michael Ihiekwe. Paul Warne, far more switched on than the floundering official, quickly whipped the defender off.
Oldham’s performance was the only blot on an excellent contest. It felt from fairly on that we wouldn’t finish with the full quota of players – largely due to the way he officiated it. And if he had followed through with his approach then Ihiekwe should really have been first in the dressing room to get the showers warmed up.
It probably would have sparked more anger in the Addicks ranks if they had not managed to find an equalising goal through Washington. The decision to go with two up front is one of the major changes made by Jackson and the Northern Ireland international’s work ethic and running make him ideally suited to excelling in the new system.
It is the first time that Washington has scored in back-to-back matches for Charlton since March and encouraginly he had at least two other decent opportunities against the Millers.
Opposition bosses keep talking up Charlton’s promotion credentials.
“If you finish above Charlton you’ll at least be in the play-offs…at least,” was the verdict of Rotherham manager Warne.
Blackpool’s slow but inexorable rise from the lower reaches of the table last season, and subsequent promotion, is held up as an example of what can be achieved.
But after 16 matches they were on 23 points and only six points off the top six. Charlton have seven points fewer at the same stage while Oxford, in possession of the final play-off position, have a cushion of 11 points and also a fixture in hand.
You’ve already got Wigan, Rotherham, Sunderland and Wycombe in some of those prized slots – although the latter two suffered heavy losses in midweek – with the likes of Milton Keynes,
Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town all on the fringes. We could have one of the most competitive and fierce promotion battles seen in a number of years.
It’s not impossible for the Addicks to shoulder their way into the party. Implausible? Possibly. Ambitious? Maybe. But Jackson’s appointment has definitely produced an upturn in the endeavour and application shown by Charlton’s players.
There’s no need to have completed a UEFA B licence to see that he has demanded a greater work output.
Jackson’s already made it clear in recent post-match interviews that effort and application have to come as standard. If you don’t produce that, then you don’t play.
Teams are no longer able to come to SE7 and allowed the time and space to pop the ball around.
“I’d have loved to have played them two weeks ago,” said Warne. “The crowd got right behind them in a short of honeymoon atmosphere for the home team. It was difficult for us and I knew it would be.”
Things had got so poisonous and incendiary at the end of Adkins’ reign that opposition knew it wouldn’t take much to silence the crowd and then get them to direct their fury at the team.
Jackson’s advantage is that he played with such distinction for Charlton and had success wearing their shirt. It was the same with Chris Powell and Lee Bowyer, who came through the youth ranks before a high-profile transfer to Leeds.
That trio are the only bosses in recent years who have truly connected with the fanbase. All of them had instant backing and that provides that crucial little bit of forgiveness and wriggle room in any testing spells.
Charlton have 11 matches before the transfer window re-opens, nine of those in the league, and how much they can close down the gap to the upper reaches will surely be key to how extensive surgery will be.
Sandgaard has some big decisions to make. None more so than on the boss situation.
Conor Washington. Flourishing since being switched back to a more central striking role.
Washington’s goal. He had plenty to do after Elliot Lee hooked a ball over the top.
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