After promotion from League One last season, Chris Powell’s Charlton Athletic side are settling back into life in the Championship. Dan Webster tells us what to expect from the home side…
What were your expectations for this season?
Initially there were a few who thought it would be possible to do what Norwich and Southampton managed, and go for back-to-back promotions, but that talk quickly ceased when it became clear there was little money to spend. Expectations differed wildly, but a solid mid-table finish was generally considered a reasonable aim. Personally, I felt that with the years of turbulence we’ve had, and still with some doubts about the financial situation, it was important not to set expectations too high. Given that Chris Powell has mainly last year’s players at his disposal, staying in the Championship would represent a good achievement. As things stand, some of the performances from this bunch of players have been magnificent and mid-table should certainly be achievable.
What’s the general opinion of Chris Powell?
Chris Powell is a club legend. When appointed manager, he was asked about the possibility of ruining his reputation he gained as a player. His response was that he wanted to enhance it. He retains his immense popularity with the majority of the fans, but it is inevitable in this day and age that a bad run will lead the more impatient supporters to question his methods. Particularly of late his tactical awareness has been placed under a lot of scrutiny. A lack of substitutions has been highlighted, as well as a tendency to sit too deep on a one goal lead. The criticism came due to a run of just one point from four games, where in three of those Charlton had the lead. But Tuesday’s victory at Leicester City rewarded our faith in him, marshalling a fantastic team performance, as well as bringing on Danny Haynes in an attacking move at 1-1, who scored a stunner with his first touch. His critics struggled to comprehend what had happened.
Have there been many changes since last season?
Not many, no. Lawrie Wilson arrived from Stevenage, and after a slow start he has really grown into a solid right midfielder, complementing Chris Solly on the right very well. Ricardo Fuller has been the only big name addition and, whilst he has picked up the odd injury here and there, he has contributed vital goals. Dorian Dervite played an important role in front of the back four at Leicester, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts on Saturday. Despite some brief cameos from players brought in on loan (Rob Hulse and Emmanuel Frimpong among others), the core of the current side is that which won the League One title last season, and the team spirit is there for all to see. Some fantastic results have certainly proven Powell’s worth as a motivator of men. Inconsistency has been an issue, however, and the home form this campaign is in stark contrast to last season – there’s been just one home win on a Saturday afternoon all season.
What can we expect tactically?
Last season it was 4-4-2 all the way for Powell – the quality of players available meant tactical superiority was not the chief concern, as if the players performed as well as they could, games would take care of themselves. This season though, he has been forced into adapting that ethos. The away form has been strongest because of a perceived preference to counter-attacking football, hence the employment of 4-5-1 at Leicester on Tuesday, as well as in a number of other games. It has been less successful at home, given the travelling side tends to be set up slightly more defensively. That said, I would not be surprised at all to see an unchanged team with a lone striker for Saturday, particularly given the number of goals Forest racked up on Tuesday. Powell will want to control the midfield and make sure the team are not overrun there. He’s more of a cautious manager, with faith in his players, which explains his reluctance to make a snap substitution. With Danny Haynes coming off the bench and scoring at Leicester though, Saturday could see an attempt to incorporate him into the starting XI. His pace out wide or upfront means that with the right link-up play he poses a very potent threat indeed.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Haynes, certainly, if and when he is introduced. The pace he has is alarming, he’s scored some fantastic goals this season, and found the net consistently on the rare occasions he has been fit. Crucial to that is the role of Yann Kermorgant, who put in a flawless performance on his return to Leicester the other night. He is strong in the air and technically excellent on the ground, and his passion is there for all to see. The weakest area compared to opponents this season has been the centre of midfield, man-for-man. Powell’s way of countering this disadvantage is by playing with a central trio, which worked well on Tuesday. Dale Stephens can pick a pass if given time and space, and Bradley Pritchard has been finding himself in threatening positions in and around the penalty area thanks to his boundless energy. Other threats come in the form of Chris Solly marauding down the flank from his right-back position, as well as the fit-again Rhoys Wiggins on the left. But its the Haynes/Kermorgant combination that really excites, and could pose a number of problems for Forest’s defence if they’re slightly off their game.
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
A question every Charlton fan has been asking all season. I’ve no idea. The formbook suggests Forest will at least pick up a point, especially given the recent mauling of Huddersfield, and our solitary home win on a Saturday afternoon all season. Charlton have tended to go on good runs and bad runs this season, so the Leicester win could provide the springboard necessary for a short charge up the table. Such is the unpredictability of our home form that we’ve witnessed defeats to Ipswich and Barnsley, but beaten Cardiff 5-4. With the nature of the Championship, it is another match which feels impossible to predict, but wishing to avoid getting splinters from sitting on the fence, Tuesday’s performance suggests things are back on track for the Addicks. But it’s a Saturday. So a draw. Possibly.
You can follow Dan on Twitter: @ramblingaddick
Image: John Mills (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons