Here’s to you Mr Robinson

CAS Trust member Zaki Dogliani profiles Charlton's newest manager.

Karl Robinson’s first opponents as Charlton Athletic manager will be his former club Milton Keynes Dons. The 36-year-old’s appointment sparks a twist which makes the Addicks’ lacklustre FA Cup draw, well, slightly less uninspiring.

Charlton fans groaned when their team drew Dons – not just cursing the bad luck of drawing League 1 opponents for the second round running but also because MK are a side with so little history and so few memorable meetings with the hosts. A game against intra-division rivals which many regard as the illegitimate heir to a club based the other side of London is hardly “the magic of the FA Cup”.

Many expected the Dons to be challenging for the play-offs this season and indeed they are. But, unfortunately for the Buckinghamshire side, I’m referring to the proper Dons – AFC Wimbledon – who have surprised many with their results and who are only outside the top six on goal difference.

MK Dons, in contrast, started the season abysmally, leading chairman Pete Winkleman to sack Robinson after six years at the club. Since Robinson departed, they have picked up five points from five league games under caretaker boss Richie Barker, who is himself rumoured to be on his way to the Valley to join the backroom staff. In the first round of the Cup, they scraped past Northern Premier League side Spennymoor Town (who sit in the eighth tier of English football) with a 3-2 win at Stadium MK.

Charlton, on the other hand, are on their best run of the season with only one defeat since 1 October if you discount the ludicrous Checkatrade Trophy. Although the capitulation at Swindon Town was embarrassing, the Addicks have taken 10 points from 15 and knocked League 1 leaders Scunthorpe United out of the cup in an impressive 3-1 victory.

For many Charlton fans the identity of Russell Slade’s replacement as manager doesn’t matter as long as Roland Duchâtelet owns the club. Indeed, a Twitter poll run the day his appointment was confirmed showed that two-thirds of the 565 respondents considered the identity of the manager “irrelevant under Roland”.

Unlike Slade, however, Robinson has a promotion on his CV having led MK to second place in League 1 in 2014/15. Prior to that he had achieved fifth, fifth, eighth and tenth place finishes. His 42.5% win rate as a manager looks impressive – certainly more impressive than his playing career, which boasted Bamber Bridge, Oswestry Town and Prescot Cables as its highlights. However, it should be noted that five of his six full managerial seasons were in League 1 where his team had one of the division’s highest budgets. His play-off record of two semi-final defeats is disappointing. This may worry Charlton supporters given the likelihood that the play-offs are our most likely route back to the Championship.

It would have been harsh if MK had fired Robinson after last season’s relegation from the Championship with a team with a “bottom-three budget”. But, just as the standard at the lower end of the Championship last season was particularly dire, this season’s League 1 is considerably weaker than it can often be. His sacking six weeks ago therefore came as no surprise – even from a chairman usually very loyal to his managers.

It will be interesting to see what team the new gaffer picks and what formation he plays. Slade drew understandable criticism for playing Ricky Holmes against Scunthorpe even though he knew the 29-year-old would be the only senior winger available for selection against Swindon a week later. But by and large, most fans approved of his decision to field a strong line-up and take the competition seriously. The few that witnessed the Scunthorpe win were treated to an excellent game of football.

In 2014, Robinson led MK to a famous 4-0 League Cup win against Manchester United, but under his management, his former team only made it past the third round of the FA Cup once. Some will say this means he’ll probably fit in well at the Valley! As we know only too well, Charlton FA Cup runs are rare. In fact, the Addicks have only made it to two quarter-finals since 2000, and not a single semi since 1947. Like we saw in 2014 when Chris Powell led the team to the quarter-finals during a period of chaos behind the scenes, a cup run can be the ideal tonic to a miserable league season.

Ordinarily, Robinson, as an up-and-coming young English manager who knows the division well, would widely be welcomed as a good choice, and many are encouraged by his initial interviews. But he will not enjoy the goodwill of Charlton supporters for long if he carries on calling for the protests to end, as he is reported to have told a fan at the Bristol Rovers match. Allegedly suggesting that “we need to stick together” instead, he implied that it isn’t possible for those following the Addicks to both protest and support the team.

“Support the team, not the regime” was one of the movement’s key mantras right from the start, though, and exactly what most have done ever since the first protest before the 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday. Charlton have won nearly all the games that have involved match interruptions, including the visits of Coventry City, Birmingham City and Middlesbrough.

It will be crucial to build on the momentum generated under outgoing caretaker manager Kevin Nugent. A win on Saturday – setting up a potential third-round encounter with a Premier League side – would be gratefully received. On Talksport, Danny Murphy recently offered the view that it is “all about results” and suggested that Charlton fans would soon be back on side after a few wins. Most supporters who commented on social media felt the former Addicks midfielder showed a lack of understanding. Of course results matter, but what will be equally important in shaping how Robinson is viewed in the Covered End is whether he can succeed in managing upwards and how he communicates with the fans. Honesty and understanding would be much appreciated.