Brentford Preview – 98 days since last win



Craig Sloman looks back to sunnier times and forward to Saturday's crucial encounter.

Oh for August -  a new season full of promise and a short trip on a sunny day to West London to play a not-so-London-derby-like derby against Brentford. A Charlton side packed with new, exotic players, with a new coach were unfortunate not to take more than a point, and in those naive times everything looked rosy for the forthcoming campaign.

It would be an understatement to say that much has changed since that first hope-filled game of the campaign. Fast forward to Tuesday night and the Addicks failure to win for the 14th time in succession after crashing 3-2 at the Valley to a much superior Norwich team. If Charlton can find a way to beat Brentford on Saturday it will end a 98 day drought since we last tasted sweet success.

Apart from 20 minutes in the second half, when you got the distinct impression Norwich weren’t trying very hard, Tuesday night was dismal viewing for Addicks. The second goal typified a calamitous performance and the defence - which look so assured in the first part of the season - now looks like an accident waiting to happen, and we don’t normally have to wait too long. Andre Bikey especially seems to have lost the solidity and assuredness which marked his early performances. Charlton need him to rediscover it soon or Guy Luzon may be tempted to replace him with either new signing Roger Johnson or the sparingly used Oguchi Onyewu.  The youthful Joe Gomez must be another tempting option to continue his first team education in the middle of defence if he isn’t required to deputise for Chris Solly at right back . Behind the defence Marko Dimitrovic looks an improvement on Neil Etheridge but he is still young for a goalkeeper (23) and neither is at Stephen Henderson’s level. That our winless streak coincides exactly with Henderson’s absence is surely no coincidence and everyone associated with SE7 will be hoping rumours of his renewed fitness are accurate.

In the middle of the park Luzon has a number of options to select from but getting the right balance has so far proved a struggle. Captain Johnnie Jackson will want the opportunity to impose himself on the game - something which he wasn’t fully able to do on Tuesday. Yoni Buyens is struggling to find his sparkling start of season form where he controlled the midfield brilliantly. Jordan Cousins is a tempting option in the middle given his relative consistency but he is starting to forge a reputation as our most effective option on the left side. Callum Harriott, however,  could return to his natural left wing role after saying all the right things post game on Tuesday and it will be burned in Luzon’s mind that Charlton’s most successful period of the game coincided with his introduction to the match. Cristophe Lepoint has not had much game time since signing a 3 ½ year deal in January and Luzon may be tempted to put his faith in the Belgian international as Frederic Bulot was uninspiring acting as a conduit between midfield and attack against Norwich although it was a vast improvement on his last outing (against East Anglian rivals Ipswich) before he left for the African Cup of Nations. If Luzon elects to stick with a 4-5-1 formation then Bulot will compete with Lepoint and possibly Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson to act as foil for the lone striker.

Which brings us to the cutting edge. One of the very few positives we can take from the game on Tuesday was that two of our strikers scored goals. In recent weeks Igor Vetokele hasn’t looked the deadly hit man that terrorised Championship defences at the start of the season and first Bob Peeters and now Luzon seem reluctant to start Tony Watt despite some spirited cameo appearances from the bench in his short time at the club.  If the question with Watt is fitness then an energetic performance against Norwich as a half time replacement will have helped his cause. If the question with anyone in the squad is attitude then rumours of a new sports psychologist at the club may be the tonic. Either way if Charlton’s flirtation with a relegation battle is going to end positively then it will be because we have improved on being the Championship’s fourth lowest scorers and managed to rediscover our early season defensive composure.

The visitors to the Valley have shown an almost allergic reaction to stalemates this term and you have to go back almost as far as the last Charlton win to find the last Brentford draw. The Bees are likely to field a familiar face in David Button between the sticks. Button signed from the Addicks in the summer of 2013 and the former Spurs man is currently deputising for number one Richard Lee.

Almost inexplicably, rumours regarding Brentford manager Mark Warburton’s future surfaced during the week. Warburton oversaw the climax of a successful promotion campaign last May after taking the reins from Wigan-bound (and future nemesis of Bob Peeters) Uwe Rosler at Christmas time 2013. This season Warburton has turned his side into real playoff contenders in their first season back in the Championship and they come into the game sitting sixth in the table. Removing Warburton would seem a strange decision, but Brentford have big plans with a new stadium in the near future and dreams of joining their more illustrious West London neighbours in the top flight. However if Warburton is not deemed sufficient enough to be part of this vision the Addicks will be seeking on Saturday to exploit any discord which has been sown.