Zaki Dogliani previews the visit of our friends from Bermondsey
Millwall are the last club Charlton Athletic want to see in SE7 after finally starting to put a run together under new manager Karl Robinson. The Addicks have a wretched record against their South London neighbours, and December’s 3-1 loss at the Den was a devastating blow. Charlton have taken seven points from their last nine though and go into the latest derby buoyed by a 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers.
If Charlton’s morale was boosted by their last result, the Lions’ confidence must have grown significantly after an impressive 3-0 FA Cup win against Premier League Bournemouth. Eddie Howe drew understandable criticism for making 11 changes from his side’s 3-3 draw with Arsenal, but the scoreline did not flatter his opponents, who eased to victory against a side ninth in the top flight.
Predictably, Neil Harris’ then struggling side’s win over Charlton started a run of good results. Swindon Town and Gillingham were beaten 2-0 and 2-1 respectively before the 39-year-old’s team drew 2-2 at AFC Wimbledon and turned their attention to the FA Cup. It has become customary for Millwall to save their best form for the second half of the season, and Charlton fans are right to regard their rivals as one of the biggest threats in the play-off race.
Steve Morison, who returned from injury just in time to torment Charlton with a brace once again in December, has now scored five goals in his last seven appearances, taking his total for the season up to 13. The 33-year-old grabbed four goals in the two 2009-10 South London derbies, in the 4-4 draw at the Valley and Millwall’s crushing 4-0 home win. He also netted in Charlton’s 2-1 victory over former club Leeds United. Strike partner Lee Gregory has been on the scoresheet 10 times in 2016-17.
Chris Solly made a welcome return to the Charlton line-up for the Rovers game. As good as he is, however, Solly is one of the more injury-prone defenders in the game and Ezri Konsa is not a full-back. So, with some fans worrying that Kevin Foley wouldn’t be replaced, it was a relief to see Nathan Byrne brought in as another right-sided player to add to the squad. It was disappointing, however, to hear that it was yet another loan, and owner Roland Duchâtelet has barely spent any of the Ademola Lookman transfer money at all.
Karl Robinson has implied that new central midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey is not yet ready to go straight into his starting line-up and has suggested that he might be on the bench alongside Ricky Holmes and Tony Watt. With Jordan Botaka at the African Cup of Nations, Morgan Fox departing for Sheffield Wednesday and Adam Chicksen likely to drop back into defence, it seems likely that either Byrne or Chelsea loanee Jay Desilva will make a start on one of the wings. It was surprising not to see Robinson bring on Desilva while Charlton were 4-1 up against Rovers to give him a pressure-free introduction to League 1 football.
Joe Aribo and Andrew Crofts are expected to start after impressing in recent games. The youth product has excelled in his last two appearances, while Crofts has followed an improved couple of months with a goal or assist in each of his previous three games. Although they performed poorly on that miserable night just before Christmas, Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira have looked better in recent weeks and appear likely to continue at the heart of the defence.
Chants of “You’ll never beat Millwall” three weeks ago were painful to hear, reminding the Valley faithful that it is nearly 21 years since Charlton last beat their South London rivals. There may be more positivity in the Charlton camp now than there was prior to last month’s derby defeat. But so too is there at Millwall despite off-the-pitch worries about Lewisham Council’s plans to approve a compulsory purchase order for land around their stadium. And Addicks have learnt never to expect too much from this fixture.