Who could have predicted that with two games to go, playoffs would still have been a possibility for Charlton? Even if the chance to play for a day at Wembley is probably just beyond our reach, to be so close in our first season back is a remarkable achievement for Chris Powell and his squad. It is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that just over a month ago Charlton were 15th and a whopping 12 points off sixth spot after losing to Millwall.
In the weeks since, Charlton have looked like a reformed team. A run of four wins and two draws – both impressive clean sheets away to Brighton and Cardiff- Charlton have catapulted to the summit of the Championship form table.
Last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Wolves saw the Addicks secure their third home win in a row, Jonathan Obika’s second last minute winner in as many home matches securing the three points that keep the slim play-off hopes alive. Powell named an unchanged XI for the fourth game in a row, suggesting he now (somewhat belatedly) knows what his best XI is.
However after injuries sustained to both centre midfielders, Johnnie Jackson and Andy Hughes, Powell may have to stray from the winning formula. Against Wolves Charlton finished the game with Gower and Pritchard in the middle, Pritchard shifted central after Danny Green was introduced for Jackson. If both Hughes and Jackson are injured, then Powell may wish to start the next match with the same midfield that finished the last one. However Danny Green has proved himself to be a far more effective player off the bench this season, so the more defensive minded Lawrie Wilson could be given the nod. Alternatively Powell could get Dale Stephens off Twitter and back into the heart of Charlton’s midfield after a lengthy exclusion.
Powell will also have to make a big decision on who partners Kermorgant up front. Ricardo Fuller has been the preferred choice throughout Charlton’s impressive run, but Jonathan Obika’s calls for a start will be increasingly hard to ignore after his winner last Saturday. On top of his goal Obika looked sharp, urgent and pacy in contrast to Fuller who had struggled to make any impact on the game after stinging Dorus De Vries’ fingertips early on.
In stark contrast to Charlton, this weekend’s opponents Middlesbrough are in woeful form, having won just twice in their last 12 games. Yet Charlton will be taking nothing for granted as they head to the Riverside. Boro’s last home game was an impressive 1-0 against Nottingham Forest and they were unlucky to lose in a closely fought game at Bolton last week.
Chris Powell will also have November’s 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Tony Mowbray’s men at the forefront of his memory. That result at The Valley saw Middlesbrough go into the top two, while Charlton slipped to just one place above the relegation zone. On that day Charlton were completely outclassed by a side that looked a good bet for promotion. The fact that the Addicks travel to Teesside now sitting above The Boro is not only a testament to the learning curve our squad has been on this season, but also to the catastrophic collapse in form suffered by Middlesbrough. The feel good factor will therefore be with Charlton, and if they can get the crowd restless early on, it could be yet another famous away day for the travelling Addicks this season.
Play-offs may still be a possibility for Charlton, but by the time Charlton kick-off that door may have been well and truly slammed shut, locked and bolted. Leicester City play Watford in a Friday night fixture that if Leicester win, will put the Foxes seven points above Charlton. Neither side is in great form, Leicester picking up just six points from their last five and Watford seven. However both are in desperate need of a win; Watford to keep alive their automatic promotion hopes and Leicester their playoff hopes.
Two other games to keep an eye on for Addicks fans will be Cardiff v Bolton and Millwall v Nottingham Forest. A win for Bolton will also end any talk of play-offs, however Cardiff will be desperate to put on a show as they collect the Championship trophy. Nottingham Forest travel to Millwall in a game as important to the relegation battle as it is to the promotion race. Forest realistically need to win to keep their play-off hopes alive, while Millwall will be desperate for a win that puts them safe after a disappointing 2-1 loss to Blackburn on Tuesday.
A Brighton win away to Leeds this weekend will book the Seagulls’ place in the playoffs. Gus Poyet’s men have surged into form right when it counts. They are unbeaten in six and scored that same number of goals against Blackpool last time out. However Leeds boss Brian McDermott will be looking to add to the two home wins he’s already gained since taking over at Elland Road.
Sitting just below Brighton are Crystal Palace whose recent form has been laughable, especially so for Charlton fans. Palace haven’t won in seven and before last week’s 2-2 draw with Leicester, hadn’t scored in five. They travel to Blackburn who have won their last two home games to leave them on the brink of safety. Both clubs look relatively secure in their positions however lose this one and both will be set for final day jitters – Palace could yet slip out of the play-offs and Blackburn will not want to get pulled back into the relegation scrap.
Also looking to grab wins that will see them safe are Burnley and Blackpool, 16th and 17th respectively and both on 55 points. Sean Dyche’s side travel to Wolves while Blackpool host Derby who look comfortable in their familiar mid-table position. Wolves look to be in serious trouble and must get a win here as they face a difficult away trip to Brighton on the last day. The problem for them is that Dean Saunders really doesn’t seem to have a clue.
Also in a precarious position are Barnsley who 23rd on 51 points. Since their humiliation at the hands of Charlton Barnsley have picked up two reputable points to Forest and Derby, but will need to go one better and get all three against Hull. Steve Bruce & co will not show the Tykes any mercy, however, as a win for them would seal their place in the promised land of the Premier League next season.
Two more almighty scraps at the bottom will be found in the matches between Peterborough & Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol City and Huddersfield. Hovering above the dreaded drop zone only by goal difference, nothing less than a win for Posh will do. Yet three points will also pull a not-safe-yet Wednesday right into the think of the fight. Bristol City are already down, so Huddersfield will be looking at their trip to Ashton Gate as an excellent chance to stay in the driving seat ahead of their final day showdown to Barnsley.
Finally, Ipswich v Birmingham is a game of little consequence, but could potentially be a cracker. The two sides sit third and fourth in the form table respectively.