After Middlesborough and Bournemouth slipped up at the weekend, Derby County climbed to the top of the table courtesy of their 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday. It will be a tough challenge for Charlton but they can take encouragement from the fact that the last time they travelled to take on the league leaders was back in September when they emerged from Carrow Road with all three points.
Further encouragement comes from the knowledge that, although they are a formidable attacking force, Derby have been defensively frail in recent weeks. Wednesday led 2-1 until the 68th minute on Saturday. Rotherham put 3 goals past them the previous week and were leading 3-1 with twenty minutes to go. In fact, Derby have come from behind in their last three matches as they also trailed at Bournemouth before managing a 2-2 draw. This strength in the last quarter of games may well come from opponents tiring in the face of Derby's unrelenting pressure.
Their already strong squad has been recently bolstered by the arrivals of Tom Ince, Jesse Lingaard and our very own Darren Bent. The loss through injury of leading goalscorer Chris Martin (19 goals) has gone unnoticed as Ince and Bent have seamlessly taken over the job. Such are the riches at manager Steve McLaren's disposal that he had the luxury of starting Lingaard on the bench on Saturday. It is no surprise therefore that his team have recorded seven wins in the last ten games and only been beaten once (at home to Forest). They are averaging 2.4 goals per game this year
Charlton, however, are averaging over 3 goals per game since the belated introduction of Tony Watt at half time against Norwich. Since 8.40pm on 10th February they have suddenly looked like a team in which everyone is playing in his favoured position and knows what he is doing. Igor has been revitalised and Bulot has been a revelation. Watt's willingness to run at defenders has made a real difference. Meanwhile, Henderson's return in goal and Roger Johnson's leadership seem to have inspired confidence at the back.
Two weeks ago most Charlton supporters would have written this game off. An evening match against a Premier League-bound club in front of a near 30,000 crowd would have looked like a free hit. Fans would have pointed to home games against Huddersfield and Forest as being far more important in terms of gathering points. Now, although Derby will be a completely different proposition to poor dispirited Wigan, we can approach the game with a bit more of a spring in our step. Defeat will be no disaster provided we can collect points in the following two home games but a creditable draw is not out of the question if we can retain our sharpness up front against Derby's frailty. A 2-2 draw would give further enhancement to Mr Luzon's reputation.