Zaki Dogliani assesses Charlton's opponents this weekend.
New Charlton Athletic manager Karl Robinson faces a tough trip to promotion-chasing Bradford City on Saturday for his first league game in charge of the Addicks. His team will almost certainly need to be sharper than they were in the 0-0 FA Cup draw with Milton Keynes Dons to come away with all three points. The Bradford visit is the second of four consecutive league games against top 10 opposition, and, of the five teams Charlton are still to play in 2016, only MK are lower down the League 1 table.
City sit in fourth place - five points off second-placed Bolton - showing they are serious play-off contenders once again following their semi-final defeat to Millwall in May. After starting the season with 10 points from four games, the Bantams drew five on the spin before winning four in a row.
Their current run consists of three wins and two defeats, most recently joining Charlton in losing at Swindon, but by a smaller margin – 1-0 – and without the glare of the Sky cameras.
Previously at Motherwell and Rangers, their manager Stuart McCall is in his second permanent spell in the City dugout, and he also played for the West Yorkshire club between 1982 and 1988 and 1998 and 2002. He captained the Bantams when they last faced Charlton in April 2001 - a Premier League fixture. McCall’s team won 2-0 at Valley Parade, the same scoreline they had lost by in SE7 earlier in the season, where he was sent off as his side were beaten by Jonatan Johansson and Graham Stuart goals. That season, which saw Charlton finish 9th under Alan Curbishley, was Bradford’s last in the top flight.
Since 2001 they have spent more than a decade in the third and fourth tiers of English football, but they did enjoy some excellent cup runs under former Charlton manager Phil Parkinson. Most famously, Parkinson led them to the 2013 League Cup final and a stunning 4-2 FA Cup win at Stamford Bridge last year. He joined Bolton this summer, and McCall’s side have built on strong foundations to sustain another promotion push, avoiding injuries to key players.
Striker Billy Clarke is the top scorer with six, but goals have been shared fairly evenly with the former Blackpool and Crawley Town man one of five players to score three or more this season. Long-serving target man James Hanson is arguably Bradford’s key player, and has scored four.
Although long-term Charlton absentees Ricky Holmes, Declan Rudd, Chris Solly and Ahmed Kashi are still out, Robinson has most of the squad to choose from. He has described himself as “a 4-2-3-1 man” but he acknowledged that he currently lacks the players to use that system. There is no genuine number 10 at the club, and 4-4-2 could make more sense.
He played 4-4-2 at home to MK with both Ademola Lookman and Jordan Botaka in midfield but it will be interesting to see whether he keeps faith with such an attack-minded line-up for what will surely be a tougher test. Russell Slade rarely used 4-4-2 with two wingers, especially not against the division’s top teams, so it would undoubtedly mark something of a break with his reign to see the pair start in the same team as Josh Magennis and Nicky Ajose.