Charlton go to Nottingham this Saturday still smarting from their first home defeat of the season. Both teams need to win this game if they are to stay in touch with the top six. Forest have a poor home record of two wins, three draws and two defeats and, since they lost their unbeaten record on October 18th, they have lost a further four times. Both teams are equal on 28 points, but Forest's goal difference is four goals superior.
Britt Assombalonga will not be playing for Nottingham Forest on Saturday as he was sent off for deliberate handball in their last game at Birmingham. He has already scored 12 goals this season (nearly half Forest's goals) so this surely must be good news for Charlton.
Well, in my experience, such an absence is not always good news. Take, for example, my first proper away game in December 1966. I’d been to Leyton Orient before, but this was the real thing. A five hour Lewis’s coach trip to Burnden Park with rattle, scarf and cheese sandwiches. And the big news was that Bolton had just sold their star striker Wyn “The Leap” Davies to Newcastle. He had scored 66 goals for Bolton in 155 games over four seasons but now he was gone and Bolton had lost their last three games. When the teams were announced it became clear that Bolton were switching some young winger to play as striker. Charlton took the lead through Peter Burridge in the 22nd minute and hung on until the 71st minute when that winger won a penalty which he scored. Five minutes later he set up the winner. It was Francis Lee.
The most painful case of the starring understudy was in the FA Cup fifth round at Molineux in February 1976. Two special trains and about thirty coaches took an estimated seven thousand Charlton fans up for the game against first division Wolves. After 22 minutes one of the best and most popular Wolves players of all time – Dave Wagstaffe - was injured and left the field. He was replaced by substitute John Richards who, although a good goal scorer, had obviously not been considered in sufficient form to make the starting eleven. It was 0-0 at the time and we were optimistic. It took Richards five minutes to score and he completed his hat trick in the second half to send us out of the cup yet again.
I remember how smug I was turning up at The Valley in November 2001 to learn that, because of injuries, West Ham were playing Paul Kitson up front. He had hardly played for them that season and I’m pretty sure it was Freddy Kanoute he was replacing. “Don’t worry about Kitson” I beamed. “He’s rubbish”. Well, Jonatan Johansson, rescued a 4-4 draw with a last minute bicycle kick, but only after Kitson had calmly slotted home a hat trick (a proper hat trick of consecutive goals) to make the score 3-3. He was then substituted to loud West Ham applause in the 77th minute. His understudy ? Jermaine Defoe. Inevitably, it was Defoe who put The Hammers 4-3 up with six minutes to go.
So, by all means travel hopefully to The City Ground on Saturday. But keep your eye on whoever replaces Assombalonga in the Forest line-up. Could be Dexter Blackstock. Might be £1m summer signing Lars Veldwijk who hasn’t even started a game yet. Or maybe, loan signing Tom Ince who has been a disappointment so far. Stuart Pearce could also bring Robert Tesche into midfield and change his formation to 4-3-2-1. Anyway, whoever it is, let’s hope that Bikey and Ben Haim keep him firmly in their pockets and send him back to the reserves once Assombalonga is eligible again.