Charlton travel along the River Thames to face AFC Wimbledon on Saturday after a disappointing 1-1 draw against Fleetwood Town last weekend. Blowing a lead late-on against a top six team meant missing an opportunity to close the gap on the Cod Army and other play-off rivals, who threaten to pull away if the Addicks fail to record a bounce-back win.
Star striker Josh Magennis should be fit to return, but may only come off the bench. Despite being substituted against the Trawlermen due to injury fears, Jake Forster-Caskey is expected to keep his place in the starting-line up, hoping to build on his haul of three assists in the last two games, while it would make sense to rest Joe Aribo considering the midfielder’s relative loss of form and the number of games coming up.
With Nathan Byrne suspended for three games after his late red card against Fleetwood, Jordan Botaka may get the nod on the right, although Robinson briefly played Tony Watt out wide on Saturday, and it would be harsh to leave the Scot out. Lewis Page is also suspended, but Adam Chicksen is likely to be able to play left-back after illness. Jorge Teixeira could return to the back four, allowing Ezri Konsa to start in midfield, where he – surprisingly – finished Saturday’s game, with Johnnie Jackson put at left-back.
In their current form, Charlton and Wimbledon are virtually polar opposites. The Dons have long been moving up the divisions. They have stood by a popular long-serving manager, former player Neal Ardley, who has been in charge for nearly four and a half years, and allowed him to assemble his own squad, which doesn’t contain a single loan player. Kingsmeadow tends to be more or less full every week. There is little disconnect between the club and their supporters. Chief Executive Erik Samuelson, who gave a fascinating interview in the October edition of Trust News, is hugely respected by his fanbase. And, unlike the Addicks, Wimbledon are on an upward trend.
It seems like it is every week that Charlton come up against a side whose trajectory in recent years could hardly be more different. A non-league side as recently as 2011, Wimbledon’s transformation from Combined Counties League newcomers in 2002 to Conference South champions six years later was remarkable. When the sides met in September, the Dons scored two goals in the last 12 minutes to claim a surprise 2-1 win at The Valley. Ardley’s team have been on a poor run lately, winning only once since Christmas. But 15th place, just three points behind Charlton, is respectable for a newly-promoted side, for whom a foray into the play-off places in October was impressive.
Key man Lyle Taylor, who scored 21 goals in League 2 last season, including a famous strike in the play-off final against Plymouth Argyle, has scored 10 goals this term. But the top scorer is Dominic Poleon, who netted the equaliser in SE7, with 12. The 23-year-old has one more than fellow striker Tom Elliott. The squad boasts two former Addicks in the form of right-back Barry Fuller and midfielder Tom Soares, who joined on loan in 2009. Signed from Bury on deadline day, the former Crystal Palace player made his Wimbledon debut in their 4-0 defeat at Sheffield United on Saturday.
Charlton’s allocation sold out almost instantly, despite the lack of a free breakfast. Even the club “know how important it is for fans to visit a new stadium”, and being one of only two London away trips this season surely further incentivised Charlton fans to snap up tickets. Some will travel to Kingston by boat. Many will have cringed to hear the clash described as a “cup final”, and a beamback of a game between two mid-table sides without a rivalry is unusual to say the least. But the pressure is surely on Karl Robinson’s men to come away with a second straight away victory. If his side are unable to win against Wimbledon, momentum will well and truly have disappeared, and the Greater Manchester games against Bury and Rochdale would become genuine “must-win” matches for the play-offs to remain a possibility.