It is only a couple of months since Blackburn Rovers strolled to a 2-1 victory at The Valley in the third round of the FA Cup. Manager Gary Bowyer chose not to call on his formidable strike force of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes for the game and they watched from the bench instead. Chris Brown and Chris Taylor were more than adequate replacements. In contrast, Charlton manager Bob Peeters started with George Tucudean and Simon Church up front and named Nick Pope and six teenagers as his substitutes. The game ended with Pigott and Ahearne-Grant leading the attack for Charlton. Johann Berg Gudmundsson's equalising free kick was memorable but at that point it was beginning to look as if the only way we would ever score again would be through one of his wonder strikes. It was a gloomy time and the only possible shaft of hope came in Peeters' post-match comments when he revealed that he hoped to be signing Tony Watt soon.
As we all know the arrival of Tony Watt (once he started playing ninety minutes) revitalised Charlton, although this came too late to help Bob Peeters. Henderson's return in goal has been important and the signing of Johnson, Eagles and Diarra has enormously strengthened our options but there can surely be little dispute that it is Watt who has made the crucial difference - scoring and making goals and lifting the mood of team mates and crowd alike. Although there is little resting on the outcome of Saturday's game, Charlton supporters will be going into it in an optimistic frame of mind.
It is four and a half years since Venky's took over Blackburn Rovers, appointed Shebby Singh as their global advisor and sacked Sam Allardyce in order to give the job to Steve Kean. Relegation was followed by some astonishingly unwise transfer dealings which saw Singh recruiting mediocre players, mainly from Portugal, for high fees and generous wages. Venky's stood by the embattled Kean for month after month before he finally found the pressure too much and relented to fan pressure by resigning. Things became even more farcical as the club were quick to appoint and dismiss Henning Berg and Michael Appleton before finally opting for Gary Bowyer after his two spells as caretaker. Venky's seem to have at last understood that success is rarely achieved without stability as they are now willing to take a more background role and leave day to day management to their staff in Lancashire.
Last season Rovers finished eighth and they must have fancied a good tilt at the play-offs this year. They have rarely achieved any consistency however apart from an unbeaten run in October and November which took them to sixth place. Their only win in December was against Charlton, and since the turn of the year, they have remained off the pace. Their last minute win against Bolton this week leaves them in tenth place, but eleven points off the play-offs. In fact, one of our trademark 3-0 wins would put us above them in the league.
An otherwise mediocre season has however been greatly enlivened by their FA Cup run which has seen them go on to beat Swansea and Stoke before holding Liverpool to a draw last weekend. Jordan Rhodes was not selected for the Anfield game, giving rise to speculation about his future at Ewood Park. Bowyer has ridiculed these rumours and has confirmed that Rhodes will be starting at The Valley on Saturday. Assuming that Gestede will also play, the Charlton defence will have a challenging afternoon and it is good news that Guy Luzon is hopeful that both Ben Haim and Henderson might be fit. Gestede and Rhodes have scored nearly thirty goals this season and, although they appear to be the sort of players who are not quite good enough for the Premier League, they are certainly a class apart in The Championship. Blackburn also boast solid experience in the shape of Kilgallon, Spearing, Marshall and David Dunn who, despite his girth, was impressive at The Valley in January.
Nevertheless a confident Charlton will fancy their chances. A narrow victory, maybe 1-0.