The largest crowd of the season so far will assemble at The Valley on Saturday for the match between fifth place Charlton and third place Sunderland. Supporters of the home club have been encouraged by an inspiring performance from an inexperienced team on New Years Day and, although Sunderland should provide a much stiffer test than Walsall, there should be an buoyant atmosphere in the ground.
Sunderland's recent form is good but not exceptional. Since beating Barnsley 4-2 at the end of November they have beaten Bristol Rovers (2-1) and Bradford (1-0) at home and Blackpool (1-0) away but failed to see off Shrewsbury (1-1) at home and lost (1-3) at Portsmouth. Not exactly intimidating.
Twenty year old Lewisham-born danger man Josh Maja failed to break through as a youth player at Palace and Fulham and seemed out of his depth in The Championship last season with one goal in seventeen appearances. In League One, however, he has scored 13 in 21 including the equaliser against The Addicks on the opening day. He has been given a deadline of this Friday to sign a new contract and, if he refuses, will presumably leave the club during the window with a high fee move to The Premier League rumoured. However, manager Jack Ross has confirmed that he will continue to select Maja even if no contract is signed.
To no-one's surprise Lee Cattermole has beaten Lyle Taylor to ten bookings and is suspended for Saturday's game. But Sunderland can call on the likes of Chris Maguire, Aiden McGeady and Max Power who has turned his loan from Wigan into a permanent deal.
This will be Sunderland's first visit to The Valley for thirteen years. On that occasion in December 2005 a crowd of 26,065 saw goals from Bent and Ambrose give the home side a 2-0 win, but five of the last eight encounters have been drawn with only one Sunderland win since they became the first team to win at the rebuilt Valley in February 1993. In fact, during the last twenty five years the two clubs have faced each other at five different grounds - Roker Park, The Stadium of Light, Upton Park, The Valley and that place off the North Circular Road.
That season Charlton's two main strikers (Mendonca and Bright) scored thirty five goals between them with Robinson and Jones chipping in with nine and seven. This year Taylor and Grant are well on course to reach thirty five but we do need back up from midfield where only Joe Aribo has looked likely.
A close encounter is expected and a draw would not be a bad result for a patched up Charlton side which might contain Welsh international Johnny Williams on loan from another South London club.