Are Nottingham Forest Charlton in disguise ?
Both clubs began the season with a new manager and in sparkling form. They were both unbeaten for the first eleven games. On October 18th they were both beaten for the first time (Charlton 0-1 at Bournemouth, Forest 1-2 at Cardiff).
Both teams then went through a winter slump although Forest's was more pronounced than Charlton's. They lost ten of their next fifteen games and picked up only thirteen points between the middle of October and the end of January. Although this run included wins over Norwich (h) and Derby (a) there were also defeats to Rochdale in the FA Cup and at home to Millwall. Manager Stuart Pearce came under media criticism for lacking tactical awareness although, such is his status at The City Ground, that the supporters remained loyal.
Both clubs changed manager in the new year (although Charlton of course changed head coach). Dougie Freedman's effect on Forest's performances has been sensational. Were it not for a last minute equaliser by Blackpool at Bloomfield Road (4-4), he would have won his first six games in charge. In those six games the team have scored 19 goals and conceded 8. Yes, five of those games were against teams in the bottom third but the run also included victory over Bournemouth. Their prolific goalscoring is all the more remarkable given that leading scorer Assombalonga was injured in the second game under Freedman and will not play again this season. In his absence, goals have been shared out amongst the team. Dexter Blackstock, Chris Burke, Gary Gardner, Matty Fryatt and Henri Lansbury have all chipped in, but perhaps the most potent force is Michail Antonio whose pace and power when running at defenders can be breathtaking.
But, meanwhile, Charlton are experiencing their own revival. Guy Luzon's tenure as head coach took a little longer to have an effect, but three emphatic wins in the last four games have lifted spirits around The Valley. It seems that the penny has finally dropped that success in The Championship cannot be achieved with teenagers and Liege fringe players. I'd like to know what Bob Peeters thought as Guy Luzon deployed a fully fit Tony Watt and Stephen Henderson against Huddersfield, and decided whether to bring on Eagles or Diarra as sub. Such luxury.
It promises to be an exciting game with the likelihood of goals although I am disappointed that long-term injury will deprive us of the chance to see Andy Reid play. Apart from his many skills, it is always entertaining to try to guess what diet he is on. Last year, he was almost unrecognisably slim-line which must have been the result of great efforts in the gym. Maybe his injury is related in some way to playing at an unnatural body weight ?
Neither club really has any chance of making up sufficient ground to the play-off places and relegation isn't a likely threat either. Both sets of supporters will rue what might have been if early season momentum had been maintained, but both can also dream a bit about next season although Forest still have restrictions on player recruitment because of their breach of FFP rules. Charlton supporters will just be worrying about a sale of players in the summer like the one that Liege experienced last year. If the owner is still aiming to break even in The Championship he will need to cash in one of his current assets at least.