Few expected Fleetwood Town to sit seven league positions above Charlton Athletic in February. But the Fishermen have been one of League 1’s surprise packages this season, exceeding expectations while Charlton have struggled to meet theirs.
Playing non-league football the last time the Addicks were in League 1, the Lancashire side have achieved two promotions in three seasons. If surviving in 2015-16 with limited funds was already an achievement, establishing themselves as genuine promotion contenders is spectacular. They are currently fourth, level on points with third-placed Bolton Wanderers, who were on the wrong end of an unlikely 2-1 scoreline when Charlton visited last Saturday.
Jake Forster-Caskey impressed on his debut, grabbing two excellent assists and showing the energy Charlton’s midfield has missed for much of the season. He and the reliable Andrew Crofts will expect to keep their places at the weekend, although Jorge Teixeira’s return from suspension could mean Ezri Konsa is considered as a midfield option once more.
With DR Congo knocked out of the African Cup of Nations by Ghana, Jordan Botaka could be back in the matchday squad, but goalscorer Nathan Byrne is the favourite to keep his place on the right. It will be interesting to see who plays on the left, however, with Ricky Holmes only making brief substitute appearances since returning from injury and Adam Chicksen likely to start at left-back to cover for the suspended Lewis Page. After Nicky Ajose’s surprise loan departure, Tony Watt and Lee Novak will compete for a place up front with Josh Magennis still injured.
Fleetwood manager Uwe Rösler has not enjoyed either of his two trips to The Valley as manager. Last time out saw a famous bust-up with Bob Peeters after Franck Moussa’s last-minute strike secured a 2-1 win against Wigan Athletic in 2014. The former Latics boss said to journalists: “My colleague was running 25-30 metres to celebrate right in front of our bench and I told him what I thought about this”. Peeters then refused to apologise to his counterpart after the tirade of abuse that he claimed had been hurled his way. Prior to his 2014 visit, Rösler’s Brentford had lost 2-0 in 2012, with the German claiming in the post-match press conference that his team had “dominated the game” in South London and had a “clear penalty” turned down. But now, for the first time in a while, he appears to be enjoying a successful managerial spell. He has helped Fleetwood stay in the play-off places for much of the season, building on the work of predecessors Graham Alexander and Steven Pressley.
The Trawlermen arrive in SE7 with Karl Robinson’s side buoyed by an away win that seemed especially improbable when Charlton conceded early and went down to 10 men. Charlton are unbeaten since 21 December but Rosler’s team, astonishingly, haven’t lost in the league since 12 November. Prior to Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Southend United, the Cod Army had won five league games in a row.
The two in-form sides met for the first time ever in September, with Josh Magennis and Lee Novak goals earning Charlton a 2-2 draw. If the hosts win, their two games in hand will give them the opportunity to go within two points of Fleetwood. It is unlikely to be easy, but three points are surely required to stay in touch with the other sides that have play-off ambitions.