Does the EFL fixture computer have a soft spot for Charlton Athletic or did the club request that we kick off the season playing Bristol Rovers?
The Gas were certainly our favourite opponents last season. At the Memorial Ground in November the team, apparently released from the shackles of Russell Slade, dominated the opposition for a 5-1 victory under the temporary management of Kevin Nugent. Early in the new year a 4-1 win with a Josh Magennis hat trick and the arrival of Joe Aribo seemed to promise great things for Karl Robinson, only for a disappointing February and March to drop the team towards the relegation places. In the end, despite this 2-9 thrashing, Rovers finished six points and three places above Charlton.
They are a club which is on the up and which demonstrates the value of continuity and stability. Their manager Darrell Clarke, after an unspectacular playing career at Mansfield and Hartlepool, cut his management teeth at Salisbury City in the Conference. He joined Rovers as assistant in June 2013 and became manager in March 2014 but was unable to stop the club being relegated out of the league. Rovers stuck by him however and he led them straight back via a play-off penalty shoot out victory over Grimsby in May 2015 followed by promotion to League 1 the following season. His managerial record (including his years at Salisbury) is highly impressive - at 1.73 points per game he is more successful than any Charlton manager ever. It would seem that he also sees the value of stability, having turned down the opportunity to take over the helm at Massimo Cellini's Leeds United last season.
There was plenty to get excited about at the Valley last weekend when Charlton beat Ipswich 6-1 in their final pre-season game. It was a very impressive performance with aggressive pressing and some slick interplay and assured finishing. Ahmed Kashi in particular stood out, but Dasilva, Holmes, Magennis and Fosu also caught the eye. Clarke and Forster-Caskey were quietly effective. They looked like a team that, in their manager's word, are "ready".
However, lest we get complacent, we should note that Bristol Rovers were at the same time seeing off West Bromwich Albion 2-1. There were very positive reviews for their new centre half Tom Broadbent - an ex soldier just signed from Hayes and Yeading - who apparently kept the highly rated Solomon Rondon under control.
A motivated Bristol Rovers might be a sterner test than a complacent Ipswich but we owe it to ourselves to be positive. Someone on this site foolishly predicted a 0-0 draw against Ipswich last week but we won't be caught out again. Another 6-1 victory is expected.