Karl Robinson is under intense pressure to deliver immediate results following a difficult start to his managerial reign at the Valley. Charlton Athletic are yet to win since the 36-year-old succeeded Russell Slade and Robinson is only the second manager since Mike Bailey in 1980 not to win any of his first five games in charge.
15 of his 16 predecessors have managed to win at least once - even Karel Fraeye. Phil Parkinson, who inherited a team in freefall and dragged into the Championship relegation zone by Alan Pardew, went ten games without winning. But Robinson can’t afford to wait that long if his new team is to have any hope of making a play-off push.
The most recent result was the most painful for supporters to take - a 3-1 away loss to bitter rivals Millwall. Robinson is not the first to suffer disappointment at the Den, but it was the manner of the defeat which causes the most concern among the Valley faithful. 2-0 down at half-time, Charlton briefly got back into the game when Nicky Ajose converted Ademola Lookman’s low cross, but then went down with a whimper after Steve Morison made it 3-1. Slade at least brought defensive solidity, and the back four that lined up on Wednesday night looked as shaky as any this season.
The result left Robinson’s side seven points off sixth-placed Peterborough United, who have a game in hand, and time is rapidly running out to make up ground if the Addicks are to return to the Championship at the first attempt. Morale is surely at rock bottom.
It is not the Charlton way for fans to want managers seen off quickly and very few are calling for Robinson’s head. But he has not endeared himself to supporters by heaping what many see as unnecessary praise on the owner and chief executive, and there is a feeling that talk is cheap, and it is time he did some talking on the pitch. Few positives could be drawn from the desperately disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Peterborough United, and the Millwall game was even worse. For all the talk of attacking football, a mere two goals in five games ( one of which went to extra time) is deeply disappointing. The insistence on playing Ezri Konsa at right-back is puzzling, and the youngster responsible for the Lions’ second goal lacks the attacking threat of a proper full-back. So it will be interesting to see if Kevin Foley is brought back into the fold.
But the players should surely take responsibility too after once again being beaten by a poor Millwall side who sat below their South London counterparts in the table. Virtually all were below par, and the home side could have made things even more embarrassing. Individual mistakes proved costly, and some players even had their commitment questioned by the travelling supporters.
Robinson’s sixth game since starting work will be the third against his former side, who Charlton will play for the fourth time this season in March. MK are the lowest-ranked team Charlton face until the trip to Oldham Athletic on Valentine’s Day, but they still present a tricky test given the playing squad’s knowledge of Robinson’s style of play, and given the Addicks’ dire run and recent record against the Buckinghamshire side. The head-to-head record is only marginally better than it is against Millwall.
New manager Robbie Neilson has won two of his four games in charge. Club-record signing Kieran Agard, who is expected to start up front, is without a league goal since October, having joined from Bristol City two months earlier. MK’s teamsheet will contain few other familiar faces for Charlton fans, although the sides have met so many times recently that the sight of Dean Lewington bombing up the left flank is becoming normal.
Dean Bowditch has a good scoring record against Charlton. The 30-year-old, who made it 3-1 last Tuesday, also grabbed the winner in the last league clash at Stadium MK - Fraeye’s first game in charge - and netted his team’s goal in their 2-1 defeat in SE7 in February 2012. That was Charlton’s only win in the last seven meetings between the two sides.
It was after that game that then MK Dons boss Karl Robinson said the Valley “is a wonderful place to come and play. The crowd, everything about it… It doesn’t belong here [in League 1], does it?” Indeed it doesn’t, and, under the leadership of Chris Powell, the Addicks broke the League 1 points record and won promotion as champions. But the Valley will not feel wonderful when he returns to face Bristol Rovers in 10 days’ time unless the beleaguered manager picks up four or more points from the next two games.