Aaron Bowater previews this week's game with Reading
When Igor Vetokele put the ball away to take the Addicks to within one point of the play offs and eighth in the league, Charlton fans could have been forgiven for daring to dream of an unlikely promotion campaign as they skipped away from the Madejski stadium at the start of November.
Since then, both Charlton and Reading have endured a winter of discontent, along with the usual managerial merry-go-round. Despite this, both clubs are now all but safe in the Championship for another season. Having seen off Bradford City on Monday night, Reading head into Saturday’s tie at the Valley with a differing dream about what is left of this season.
Having been on the receiving end of a 6-1 mauling at Birmingham two weeks before Christmas, the Royals saw fit to do away with the services of manager Nigel Adkins and to appoint former West Bromwich Albion boss Steve Clarke the next day. Since then, Clarke has overseen something of turnaround in Reading’s season with impressive away victories over championship leaders Derby County and Ipswich Town. These victories, partnered with an FA Cup run that his seen his team into the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1927, have ensured that Reading fans have something to smile about as the season rolls into the final two months. With 44 points on the board, and ten points clear of the bottom three, Reading should be confident that they are safe in the league and can focus on a trip, if not two trips, to Wembley.
This is not to say that it has been plain sailing for Clarke’s men, with inconsistency rife throughout his time in charge. While they have chalked up a number of impressive away results, for every solid win there has been an array of poor home performances and inconsistent returns (sound familiar?!) Last month, for example, after securing a 2-1 win against Derby County away, the Royals were undone by basement battlers Wigan Athletic just three days later. The same happened a week later: having taken all three points off Mick McCarthy’s men at Ipswich, Reading were rocked by three unanswered goals by Chris Powell’s Huddersfield Town, again just 72 hours later.
Charlton will be hoping that Reading bring the same hit and miss form to the Valley on Saturday. After beating Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 at home nine days ago, they were on the receiving end of a 4-1 drubbing away at Watford although they followed this up with a comfortable victory against league one Bradford City in the Quarter final of the FA Cup.
Guy Luzon has plenty of reason to expect a solid performance (with the points to match) against Reading. After a sloppy performance against Blackburn at home, Charlton produced a fine display in front of the brave souls who ventured to Bloomfield Road on Tuesday night. And, with three different goal scorers including a long overdue goal for Simon Church, Charlton bounced back to secure a fourth win in five games and continue the form that has seen them lose only three games in the last twelve.
The performance from the team, and one midfielder in particular, had boss Guy Luzon waxing lyrical about both the ability and commitment in the Charlton dressing room. “Johann Berg Gudmundsson” said Luzon “is like our Beckham. He knows how to score goals in this situation. He is a good player with a good mentality.” As for the cutting edge that was sadly lacking against Blackburn Rovers, Luzon was pleased with his team’s commitment to the cause: “"If you want to win this game you have to show aggression and we did it today. It's very important to score the first one and I'm very pleased because all our players gave everything.” With a number of denied penalties and with Charlton spending plenty of time in Blackpool’s third, it proved disappointing we didn’t score more.
With our own David Beckham and a team that has bounced back from their own poor performance, Charlton fans should be able to look forward to a competitive game on Saturday. Having played his strongest side on Monday night, Clarke will doubtless be moving players around to ensure his squad remains fresh for their cup tie against Arsenal and their remaining games in the league. And with Charlton showcasing our very own Charlton Upbeats, I am confident that Reading will be returning to Berkshire empty handed.