Rochdale have never made it into the top two divisions of English football but they look much closer to doing so than Saturday’s opponents Charlton, who remain six points and four league places behind after a demoralising 1-0 defeat to Oldham Athletic on Tuesday.
The loss to the Latics was the second of four games against Greater Manchester clubs in the space of a month, with Bury visiting The Valley on February 25th. With the win at Bolton Wanderers Charlton’s only one in six games against opponents from the region this season, the Addicks surely can’t afford to drop more points on Saturday if fading play-off hopes are to stay alive. The South Londoners are now only one point closer to sixth place than they are to the relegation zone. They are behind two newly-promoted sides, with a third, AFC Wimbledon, just two points behind.
More and more fans are beginning to question Karl Robinson’s perceived obsession with the 4-2-3-1 formation. His preferred set-up does not suit Tony Watt, who has looked promising since returning from Hearts. It also left no room for Nicky Ajose, League 1’s second top scorer in 2015-16. The 25-year-old has returned to Swindon Town on loan, leaving his parent club without an out-and-out goalscorer.
Lee Novak’s 14 League 1 goals in 2015-16 were the most league strikes he has ever scored in a season, but as part of a 4-4-2. And though he has been one of Charlton’s star performers this season, Josh Magennis has never been prolific. The 10 league goals he scored for Kilmarnock last season marked his best haul. With only one of these forwards played at a time, it is little surprise Charlton have scored just six goals from open play in Robinson’s 13 games in charge. The failure to secure Ben Reeves from Milton Keynes Dons means Charlton also lack a natural number 10. This was masked by Joe Aribo’s early performances, but a 20-year-old cannot be relied upon to carry a team up, and the academy product has faded somewhat in recent weeks.
Some of the gaffer’s team selections have also puzzled supporters. With Ricky Holmes deemed fit enough to start against AFC Wimbledon it was surprising to see him benched on Tuesday, while the decision to only give Watt 11 minutes frustrated many. Jorge Teixeira was another surprise omission, while the call to play Johnnie Jackson at left-back with the skipper’s team clinging on to a narrow lead against Fleetwood still seems bizarre.
The defeat to Oldham was admittedly Charlton’s first in 2017. But 3 wins in the 13 games since Robinson arrived at the club is a poor record, and a defeat to a side fighting relegation following two morale-sapping draws that involved conceding injury time equalisers hurt. Rochdale are themselves on a bad run, slipping out of the top six after two consecutive 0-0 draws followed by a 1-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Keith Hill’s side last won in the league on 2 January. It is no surprise the Dale are comfortably the favourites with the bookies though. They have home advantage, and though they have slipped up recently, their season certainly doesn’t feel like it’s falling apart.
Charlton and Rochdale have only met 13 times in their history. The Addicks’ 4-1 FA Cup win in 2005 was the first meeting for more than 30 years, and five League 1 games since have comprised a draw and two wins for either side. Calvin Andrew’s goal earned the Dale a 1-0 win at the Valley earlier in the season before the former Crystal Palace striker was banned for nine games for violent conduct after elbowing an Oldham player.
Hill is in his second spell at Rochdale, who he has twice led to promotion from League 2. The 49-year-old won League 1 Manager of the Month in January, when midfielder Matty Lund was named Player of the Month. The Dale are yet another example of what stability and loyalty to managers can do, and they are one of many clubs whose league position makes Katrien Meire’s “top-six budget” comments all the more embarrassing.