Oldham have loaded their kit and accoutrements onto their coach for the long journey back up the M6. And thankfully they were kind enough to leave the vital three points in SE7, though it was two hours of a cold grey Saturday afternoon quickly forgotten. It leaves us in the midst of the battle for the play-offs, although anything higher than sixth currently look ambitious.
It’s back to the Valley this Tuesday, a chance to see if we can start to build a run of form. Anyway, cheer up, it's time for the cup!
Unfortunately, not that exalted competition with the majestic trophy that graced our shelves in 1947, but the EFL Trophy - currently sponsored by Checkatrade.
The EFL Trophy is a problem child.
The basic principle is a good one, offering League One and Two clubs their second pragmatic chance of a Wembley visit each season. The difficulty is that to do so, they must play against each other. And where’s the fun in playing sides we meet twice each season already. That has an unavoidable lack of glamour. Generating interest is troublesome, and until the Twin Towers (okay kids, Arch) are within sight, it seems an marketing expert's nightmare.
Recent tampering with the format - group stages and B Teams - has proved desperately unpopular for a competition that hardly stirs the loins anyway. Taking it seriously can be a challenge. Especially, for example, as Leicester recently fielded U21s had six, yes six, overage players… and cost a cool £45m! The development of young English players right on course there.
But enough of that. We are now in the knockout stages of the blighted thing. Unusually for perennial cup under-performing Addicks, we’ve made it to Round 3. All thanks to an excellent win at Swansea. But that of course was on 5th December - and magic happens that day.
So, to the matter in hand. The imminent arrival of Oxford United.
And therein lies a tale… if we ever needed a reminder of the positives this competition can offer, our opponents this Tuesday have been to the last two Wembley finals. Okay, they lost them both, but hey… day out and all that. As we approach the 20th anniversary of our last extraordinary trip down Wembley Way, it is a stark reminder how us fans have been starved of such uplifting occasions.
Oxford reached Round 3 with an injury time winner from loanee Alex Mowatt at Gillingham (yes, they beat them) having gone behind to an early penalty. In the group stage they stumbled into second place with just 4 points - behind MK Dons - overcoming Stevenage and Brighton’s “kids” in the process.
In the league they sit on our shoulder, one point behind us in the play-off hunt, having just beaten Blackpool at the weekend. They did recently suffer the rare embarrassment of a seven-nil home reverse against the scary Wigan, but overall their form is above mid-table.
At that’s the worry. Contenders, though marginal outsiders, to feature in the play-offs. Almost certainly safe from relegation and out of the proper cup, they will no doubt fancy their annual trip to the Borough of Brent. Not sure injuries allow us to be that choosy right now, but if we do fancy progressing we should be taking this one seriously.
If you are “Up for Cup!” and not bolting the door and snuggling down on your sofa to “check-a-movie”, it promises but a wintry night of hard work and limited fun. So what’s new, I here you ask?
Charlton - who knows! With the perpetually growing injury crisis, the guess is we will we hope to get away with as much of the U23 side (and maybe a couple of U18s) as the rules allow.
Oxford - well, again, honestly who knows either. But using the last round as a guide, they made a predictable 5 changes to the starting line up of the previous league game. Bet they fancy this one, though.
Date and time: 9th January 2018 - 19.45 kick off (no extra-time, straight to penalties if required)
Weather forecast: Cloudy and 5 degrees - thermals on!
Prediction: Oxford’s march to a third final continues - Charlton 1 Oxford 2