Tuesday evening was when the pigeons came home to roost. A spirited come back against Swindon and narrow wins at Milton Keynes and Bristol Rovers did not mean that we were suddenly top six material again. The fragile positivity that had developed during January melted away in the face of a dispiriting display and a comprehensive defeat. Mathematically, of course, anything is possible but after Tuesday, sixth place would seem to be the very height of optimism.
One straw to clutch is that our next eleven games are against clubs whose average league position is eighteenth. Results against Burton, Swindon and Shrewsbury suggest that this doesn't mean a great deal but the optimists among us might like to imagine a points haul that at least keeps us in touch for the run-in when we have to take on all the promotion favourites. At least this would mean that the season stays alive through to April.
The run of games starts on Saturday against the extraordinary outfit that is Rochdale FC. The team that has scored 28 goals in their last twelve games but only won three of them. The team that has also conceded 28 goals in their last twelve games and has lost five of them. The team that has drawn the other four games with a 2-2, a couple of 3-3s and, of course, a 4-4. The team whose goals scored record (40) is second only to Hull (41) but whose defence has conceded more (48) than all but Swindon and Burton. The team with one clean sheet in the last eighteen games who beat Plymouth 4-0 and Wigan 5-0 but who lost at home to Gillingham 1-4 and to Oxford 3-4. The club who signed three new players on deadline day - two midfielders and a forward of course. Although, to be fair, they did sign Gabriel Osho - a defender from Luton - earlier in the window.
Their danger men need no introduction to Charlton fans who are still recovering from the four first half goals they put past us at The Valley last month. Matty Lund (who scored the first from the edge of the box) has the impressive record of ten goals and five assists already this season. Stephen Humphrys (who scored the fourth with a direct free kick) has eight goals . The good news is that the scorer of the other two - eighteen year old Kwadwo Baah - has since been signed by Manchester City. The not so good news is that he is remaining at Rochdale until the end of the season.
Although many Charlton fans are crying out to see a settled team Lee Bowyer is not ruling out continuing to make changes: "You have to look at the opponents, their strengths and weaknesses. We'll always do that." he said this week. There was some hope that Akin Famewo might be returning for the game but Bowyer has described him as looking "rusty" so the bench may be as far as he gets. One of the few bright signs on Tuesday was the performance of Jayden Stockley who was dominant in the air. Is it too much to hope that Liam Millar and new signing Diallang Jaiyesimi might be on the pitch to provide him with some clear cut opportunities?
We are going for an away win. We are a stronger squad than when we played them last month and surely they can't score every time they shoot again?
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