It’s a big one this weekend. After yet another impressive win on the road, this time at Huddersfield, Charlton look to have put one foot through the door to Championship safety. Yet with the play-offs a distant ten points away, the fixture to Millwall could well be a defining one. Can the Addicks finally notch up a memorable derby day win after three previous attempts? With a sold out away-end already confirmed, and a big home crowd expected, the fixture is likely to be a big occasion and a win could do wonders for the atmosphere around the club as we head into the close-season. Win and we will have at least one memorable Saturday at home to top off an impressive campaign of consolidation. Lose, and it could mean our first season back in the Championship is missing a truly defining game.
For Millwall, however, attention has been largely focused on their FA Cup campaign and their quarter-final tie vs Blackburn. After the insomnia-solving 0-0 at the New Den on Sunday, the two teams had to do it all again yesterday evening in a replay. This was already the best possible result for Charlton as Millwal will have had little chance to recover before they line up for the Saturday lunchtime kick off. Millwall won the replay 1-0 thanks to a goal from ex-Addick Danny Shittu. Not only could Millwall players be feeling tired, but now Millwall heads could well be turned to the big day at Wembley.
Also encouraging for Charlton is the terrible run of form their South London rivals are on in the league. Millwall have picked up just one win in their last six and have gained just seven points from their last possible 36. This run has seen Kenny Jacket’s side sink like a stone down the league and they now find themselves just five points off the foot of the table. This is largely down to a lack of firepower up front. Since Chris Wood’s departure, Millwall have been struggling desperately for goals. Their second top scorer, Darius Henderson, was sold to Nottingham Forest and even their third top scorer James Henry has now been ruled out for the season. As a result, it may be a familiar strike force on show at The Valley. Ex-Addicks Danny N’Guessan and Rob Hulse have both been selected by Jackett in recent weeks yet reassuringly for Charlton they have only mustered 1 league goal between them
Charlton on the other hand look to have turned the corner after two limp home defeats to Nottingham Forest and Burnley. A well-earned draw away to a resurgent Peterborough was followed by the win at Huddersfield. Charlton have tended to surf temperamental waves of form this season; three exciting wins have often been followed by three disappointing losses on the bounce. It has been a recurring theme of inconsistency for the Addicks. Yet after the Peterborough and Huddersfield results, Charlton should be ready to put together another good run.
Of course, there is also the poor home record for Charlton to be concerned about. With one win in their last six home games, just four home wins all season and just one win on a Saturday, Millwall will have plenty of reasons to believe they can grab their sixth away win of the season at The Valley.
Chris Powell has named an unchanged side for the last two games, yet he will have the added option of Yann Kermorgant now that the Breton has served his suspension. It will be interesting to see if Chris Powell does chose to re-elect Kermorgant for first team duties. Fuller would be the most likely to make way (he hasn’t looked as threatening as Haynes in recent weeks) yet he proved against Palace that he is a big game player. Furthermore, Powell may feel that Kermorgant must earn his place from the bench after letting him down in such stupid fashion against Forest.
Also available to Powell this weekend is new loan signing Mark Gower who has joined from Swansea until the end of the season. The veteran midfielder arrives with a good pedigree having played in the Premier League as well as providing an instrumental role in Swansea’s 2011 promotion season – in 2011 Opta stats dubbed him “Europe’s most creative player” due to his high “chances created” stats. Swansea fans describe him as a solid defensive midfielder with an eye for a pass. In other words, exactly the kind of player our midfield has been crying out for all season. Having arrived in time for just one training session before the Millwall game, it is most likely that Gower will start on the bench. If he is deemed ready, however, it will surely be in the place of Bradley Pritchard. Expect the rest of the side to remain the same and for 19 year old Callum Harriott to be given another chance to impress. After a match winning goal against Huddersfield, Charlton’s most exciting player was named in the Championship team of the weak. Still raw and unpredictable, but clearly capable of magic, Harriott is exactly the type of player who can make the difference in a tight derby.
Beyond Charlton vs Millwall there are three other derby’s to look out for in The Championship this weekend. Also kicking off early on Saturday lunchtime are Leeds and Huddersfield at Elland Road. Huddersfield are in desperate need of a win after receiving the Callum Harriott treatment last week, while Neil Warnock will also need a win if he is to stay at Leeds beyond the season – he has said he will step down if he fails to get Leeds promotion – and if they fail to get a win this weekend, that looks like a prospect beyond their reach.
Closer to home is Brighton vs Palace at the Amex Stadium. It’s likely to be a good game for the neutral, both sides are attractive and attacking in philosophy and both boast some of the best players in the division. Glenn Murray in particular will be one to watch as he returns to his former club. The final derby sees Blackburn take on Burnley. Now out of the FA Cup, Blackburn’s season suddenly looks very bleak indeed. Michael Appleton has a pathetically small 26% win percentage since taking over – he will need to win this one to reassure both the fans and the Venkys.
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay should look to this weekend as an opportunity to strengthen his side’s grip on the championship as Hull and Watford have tricky fixtures against two of the form sides in the division. Hull are at home to Nottingham Forest who have won five on the bounce while Watford are away to Barnsley who have picked up 10 points from six games and are now free from FA Cup distractions. Cardiff meanwhile travel to a massively inconsistent Sheffield Wednesday and will be desperate to win after failing to do so in their last three outings.
Meanwhile, at the bottom, Bristol City travel to Wolves in a game that actually lives up to the “six-pointer” billing. To put it plainly, unless Peterborough lose heavily away at a resurgent Blackpool, the loser of this fixture will be bottom of the table with just eight games to go – a position both clubs will do all they can to avoid.
Elsewhere an in form Bolton travel to Ipswich looking to make it six wins out of six while Middlesbrough will travel to Birmingham determined to prevent a third loss in a row. Similarly Derby County will be looking to stop the rot that has seen them pick up just three points out of a possible 18 when they host Leicester City.
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