Blackburn's 2-0 defeat of Millwall on Tuesday evening was devastating news for Charlton supporters as it greatly reduced the likelihood of us finishing ninth and equalling the achievement of Chris Powell's 2013 heroes. Saturday's opponents Birmingham also threw their hat into the ring by winning 1-0 at Reading on Wednesday and they now join Forest and Sheffield Wednesday as our main competitors for the more realistic but nevertheless coveted tenth spot. This is a major achievement given their position both at the end of last season at the end of October this season.
This time last season, Birmingham looked destined for League One. In their final game they were 2-0 down at Bolton with twelve minutes to go but a goal from Nicola Zigic and a 93rd minute equaliser by defender Paul Caddis earned them the point which meant that Doncaster took the drop instead. It looked a similar story this season and, when they took a point from a 1-1 draw at The Valley on 4th October, they were only a couple of places above the relegation places. When they lost their next game 0-1 at home to Bolton manager Lee Clark was sacked. They were still without a manager the following Saturday when they entertained Bournemouth at St Andrews and were thrashed 0-8. Blues supporters must have thought that it couldn't get any worse, and, in fact, it didn't.
The appointment of ex-Charlton defender Gary Rowett (13 games between 2002 -04) made the difference. First, after the humiliation of Bournemouth, he steadied the ship with a creditable 0-0 draw at Wolves (I seem to recall another club doing that in January). They were then undefeated in November (three wins, two draws) and by Christmas they were fifteenth and nine points above 22nd place. Their run included a 6-1 demolition of Reading in which eighteen year old striker Demarai Gray scored a hat trick.
Progress on the field has been steady since the turn of the year. Despite being in a select group of teams beaten by both Blackpool and Millwall they have continued to consolidate their position and they will host Charlton on Saturday with only a three point disadvantage, albeit with a vastly inferior goal difference. Clayton Donaldson (who scored the winner at Reading) is the main danger with eighteen goals. Welsh international David Cotterill has notched nine, with last year's hero Caddis scoring seven. It seems unlikely that Nicola Zigic will play. He rejected terms with the club last summer but was re-signed in January without having any impact in the nine appearances he has since made.
Darren Randolph has played pretty well every game in goal for The Blues since his transfer from Motherwell at the start of the 13/14 season. Michael Morrison returned to the team for Wednesday's game at Reading and will presumably play on Saturday. Many Charlton supporters are still scratching their heads about our decision to let him go in January, although some see it as a healthy vote of confidence in Joe Gomez. Jonathan Spector also returned from longer term injury at Reading.
Off the field, Birmingham have had an interesting time. They went into voluntary receivership in February and their former owner Carson Yeung was jailed for six years in March for money laundering. Receivers Grant & Young report a healthy interest from potential new owners and the club seem to be financially sound. With Rowett at the helm their future looks bright.
Charlton are on an unbeaten seven game run (Millwall doesn't count) and will be unwilling to surrender this. Let us hope that JBG is selected to start which might give us the edge we were lacking for 45 minutes against Leeds. A draw is the likeliest outcome and then we can all look forward to the party pooping on May 2nd.