If Charlton avoid defeat in their next two games at Bournemouth and at home to Bolton the team will beat the longest unbeaten opening run in league games in the club’s history.
The draw with Birmingham on October 4th was the eleventh game without defeat since the season began at Brentford on August 9th. The result meant that the proud record of the 1992/93 squad had already been beaten.
The 1992/93 season is usually remembered for the excitement and emotion of the return to The Valley but the months of August and September 1992 saw the team compiling a run of ten consecutive games without defeat from the opening day until 10th October.
There were five wins in the first six games (including the notable 1-0 scalp of West Ham in an away home game at Upton Park and a 2-0 victory at Roker Park). After that things went a little off the boil with 0-0 draws against Cambridge and Tranmere, a 2-0 home victory over Swindon and a disappointing home draw with Southend. The run looked likely to be continued at Ashton Gate when Carl Leaburn gave us a 1-0 lead after seven minutes, but Bristol City equalised in the sixteenth minute and won the match with a last minute goal.
Nagging doubts about the real quality of the team were then confirmed as there were a further six defeats in the following eight games. The disastrous run was only stopped when we played Portsmouth at The Valley on December 5th when everything was forgiven. The club’s final position of 12th was proof that an unbeaten start means very little over a 46 game season.
Younger readers may struggle to recall the exploits of the team of Autumn 1927. Competing in the Third Division (South) the lads won six and drew six during August, September and October. Some of these games don’t linger in the memory however. 0-0 draws home and away to Merthyr Town did not set the pulse racing. A late penalty at Swindon gained a 2-2 draw but an 89th minute equaliser saw Millwall escape with a point in front of a 27,000 crowd at The Valley on October 8th. There was another 0-0 draw with Exeter at The Valley in late October after which the team headed for Selhurst Park on November 5th hopeful of extending the run. Palace beat them 5-0.
Once again, early form proved to be unreliable in predicting the season’s outcome. Charlton were also thumped 5-0 by Millwall at The Den in February and finished in eleventh position.
The finest opening run of any Charlton team is without doubt that of Chris Powell’s 2011/12 record breakers whose first twelve games brought eight wins, four draws, twenty four goals and twenty eight points. There had been disappointing home draws with Scunthorpe and Tranmere but these had been compensated for by the emergence of Yann Kermorgant in a battling draw at Milton Keynes and an eye catching win at Bramall Lane. Bradley Wright-Phillips was in sparkling form and most supporters heading for the club’s first ever league fixture against Stevenage on October 15th were confident of another victory but, with Chris Solly replaced at right back by Michael Morrison, the team were beaten 1-0 by a deflected shot from former youth player Stacy Long. The defeat seemed, however, to galvanise the team even more and they won their next six games while scoring eighteen goals. They went on to become champions with 101 points.
Will it mean anything at all if the current team manage to become the first Charlton side to complete their thirteenth game still undefeated? Well, it obviously means that they are hard to beat. It probably proves that they have a sound defence and a good spirit. It should be enough to convince the doubters that they are not relegation material. But the fact that seven of the eleven games have been drawn should be enough to make us recognise that, as in 1929 and 1993, even a top half finish cannot be guaranteed. There is the further worry that defending the record creeps into the minds of players and management so that, consciously or not, they become cautious and fail to take the risks required to win games. Avoiding defeat is laudable but a team that remains unbeaten through a whole season by drawing every game is more than likely to be relegated.