Saturday sees Charlton Athletic face a tricky test against promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers, who, 14 points better off, sit where many supporters hoped the Addicks would after being relegated from the Championship together last season. Away from home and without several key players, the game is likely to be one of the hardest Charlton face all season.
Disappointment that last week's Scunthorpe United clash was called off was countered by relief that the postponement will allow some of Charlton’s injured players to return by the time the Lincolnshire side visit the capital. But any hopes that the week off would save supporters from the prospect of watching Roger Johnson’s first league start since August were extinguished by Karl Robinson’s Thursday press conference, in which he confirmed that “No-one will be available that wasn’t last week”. Jorge Teixeira’s suspension rolls over, Patrick Bauer only started training today, and Harry Lennon remains out.
You certainly have to feel sorry for Lennon. After finding himself one of six centre-backs vying for first-team places this season, when three of his counterparts finally become unavailable, he finds himself on the sidelines having to sit and watch the unpopular Johnson play in a game that could have been his opportunity.
The only consolation vis-à-vis Saturday’s game is that the extra week has given Lee Novak, Ricky Holmes and Tony Watt more time to get fit, and there is a slim chance that Josh Magennis or Lewis Page may be back in contention by the time the Scunthorpe fixture takes place.
It will be interesting to see whether Novak is fit to start on Saturday and, if not, whether Robinson will be prepared to change formation given how ill-suited Tony Watt, Nicky Ajose and Karlan Ahearne-Grant are to leading the line in a 4-2-3-1. It is unclear whether Holmes will be fit to start on the left ahead of Jay Dasilva, with Adam Chicksen expected to be at left-back. Jordan Botaka’s DR Congo side progressed to the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Tuesday, leaving Nathan Byrne as the favourite to start on the right.
When he joined Bolton last summer, Phil Parkinson inherited a team in crisis; much like when he took over from Alan Pardew at Charlton in 2008 (he and Robinson are the only Charlton managers since 1980 not to win any of their first five games in charge). Bolton had finished bottom of the Championship and faced huge financial uncertainty, with staff going without pay at times last season. All their summer signings were either loans or free transfers. Nonetheless, Parkinson’s side immediately showed themselves to be promotion contenders, occupying the top two positions for most of the season, and the 49-year-old has added to his excellent CV during his time in native Lancashire.
Unlucky to be sacked in 2011 with Charlton in fifth place, just three points from second, he did a fantastic job at Bradford City, helping the Bantams get from 18th in League 2 to the League 1 playoffs and becoming the first fourth tier manager to lead his team to a major cup final (in the 2013 League Cup). He has already won two League 1 Manager of the Month awards this season, a prize he has now won more times than anyone else.
Goals have been fairly evenly shared across his Bolton team, with Zach Clough, Josh Vela and Gary Madine scoring eight, seven and six respectively. David Wheater and Jay Spearing are perhaps the Trotters’ best-known players, both having Premier League experience, but Charlton fans will be more familiar with a couple of other faces. Former right-sided player Lawrie Wilson has been a first-team regular this season, while centre-back Dorian Dervite, who was bizarrely allowed to leave the Valley on a free transfer in 2014, has struggled to get into the first-term since relegation despite having made 59 appearances in the Championship. Another one to watch is Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee James Henry who has repeatedly been linked with Charlton over the years.
Bolton’s recent results have been mixed though, with only one win in five. A 2-1 FA Cup replay defeat at Selhurst Park was unsurprising, but a home loss to strugglers Swindon Town and 2-2 draw against Russell Slade’s Coventry City courtesy of an injury time equaliser were far more disappointing for a team that has spent much of the season in the top two.
Although Wanderers are now third, they can overtake first-placed Sheffield United by winning their three games in hand, and like Charlton, they also had a week off last week. The Addicks only grabbed a point at The Valley in August due to a last-minute equaliser from Ademola Lookman, and with the young forward now gone, games like Charlton at home are surely the type Parkinson’s team will expect to take maximum points from.