After a strong finish last year following promotion from League One, Charlton Athletic have struggled in the Championship this season. Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting at the Valley, Dan Webster, tells us what to expect from the home side…

What are your expectations for 2013-14?

Whilst last season’s late surge saw us finish just outside the play-offs in a credible ninth position, most would be happy with a similar finish in mid-table this season. Obviously you always want to see your side improving, but given the off-field situation, Chris Powell has been unable to strengthen. A similar finish this season in a league that looks far more difficult would therefore be an even greater achievement.

What’s the fans’ general opinion of Chris Powell?

He’s still very much the right man for the job, and still regarded as a club legend. The issue he is having to grapple with is the weakness of the squad, thanks to the financial situation off the pitch. To counteract the lack of quality in the squad, he’s had to experiment tactically. This led to a victory at home to Leicester, but little success since then. One of his key attributes is his ability to motivate players and bring the best out of a team that isn’t brimming with star players. It’s a tough job at the moment, but he remains very much the right man for it.

Have there been many changes since last season?

Not many. A number of players were let go, including Ricardo Fuller, Danny Haynes and Bradley Wright-Phillips. The main reason for Fuller’s departure was the high wage, and similarly the club thought Haynes was too injury prone, so let him go in order to search for more reliable alternatives. Simon Church has been signed on a free transfer, whilst Marvin Sordell has been brought in on a season-long loan. Church has been preferred of late, leading the line with his pace and energy.

Whilst he keeps putting the effort in, the role of Yann Kermorgant is even more important this year as a number 10 playmaker. Without him in the past few games we have been bereft of a physical presence up front, and a creative player dropping deep. Sordell has struggled to settle into the team.

The other changes this season have been an increased usage of academy products in the first team. Jordan Cousins has made a breakthrough in central midfield, looking composed and technically sound. Joe Pigott was thrown into the deep-end for the Millwall home game, and despite a poor performance, he promises much for the future as a striker who can hold up the ball. Callum Harriott — a winger with talent and skill, always making to look something happen — has also been given game time, but the change to a 3-5-2 formation has recently limited his participation.

What can we expect tactically?

Powell’s tactical approach on Tuesday is difficult to predict, given the recent injury problem with Kermorgant, as well as the continued absence of Chris Solly, two-time player of the season already at the age of 22.

With the strength Forest have in midfield, I would expect Powell to play three central midfield players. He prefers doing this to avoid being too easily overrun in the middle of the park. For Saturday’s defeat by Burnley, Powell went for a 4-5-1, with the lively Cameron Stewart (on loan from Hull) starting out wide, and just Church up front.

However, if Kermorgant has regained full fitness then Powell will want to start him. He is the pivotal player in the 3-5-2 system, which deploys three centre backs, two wing backs, a trio in central midfield, and Kermorgant playing in behind the main striker. His presence enables a mixture of approaches, given that he is imperious in the air and technically gifted on the ground. Powell therefore has options open, but I would expect to see Kermorgant involved whatever the system chosen.

Who are the key players to watch out for?

Kermorgant, as alluded to above, is definitely the most talented attacking player at our disposal. He was sent off for a rash kick at Greg Halford last time out, so he will be wanting to prove a point and make amends. Church is a tough player to mark if he gets the service, as he often looks to make runs into space behind the defence. Dale Stephens has the ability to make plenty of passes from central midfield, although often he doesn’t show this when pressed high up the pitch by the defending team. Stewart and Harriott have the ability to make an impact coming off the bench. Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite are looking stronger as centre-backs, but Charlton have still failed to keep a clean sheet in the league this season.

What’s going to happen on Tuesday?

With the strength of Forest’s midfield, I would expect an away victory. There is, unfortunately, a growing impatience among many home fans who are unable to make the connection between the summer’s transfer activity and success on the pitch. If Forest take an early lead and the encouragement is drowned out by the discontent, it could be a difficult night for the home side. Powell will need to consider defensive solidity in his team selection, which may result in a less potent attack and a subsequent bemoaning of negative strategy.

However, Powell has faced these situations many times before, and often pulled a surprise result out of the bag. In a similar league position last year, an early 0-2 lead for Cardiff was transformed spectacularly thanks to five unanswered goals for the Addicks, before eventually winning 5-4. The critical aspect of that turnaround was that the home crowd stayed behind the team, and didn’t voice their fury — I hope the same would be true of this game. Whilst a repeat scoreline is incredibly unlikely, it does go to show that Powell can inspire performances from his side. So you can never be totally sure what happens in football…

I still think Forest will win, though. But if they don’t, it’ll be a big surprise, and also a fantastic lift for a side that have made a stuttering start to this season’s campaign.

You can follow Dan on Twitter:
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And Rambling Addick is very much worth a read.

Image: John Mills (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

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