When we travel to Hillsborough to take on Sheffield Wednesday this weekend we will be pitted against serious promotion contenders for the third time in a week. After two games we are 0-6 down and, to make Saturday's match all the more daunting, we could well be kicking off without all four first choice strikers. The news that Mason Burstow might be suffering from cramp rather than a hamstring problem is welcome but it is a lot to ask an eighteen year old to lead the line alone. A small silver lining is that it might also be possible for Jayden Stockley and Scott Fraser to make some contribution from the bench.
To be honest most Charlton supporters would currently prefer a five month hibernation rather than having to watch the remaining games of this season. How good it would be to be able simply to wake up in July and discover a refreshed and strengthened squad preparing energetically for a new League One season. Alternatively, if that isn't feasible, how about a three week nap at the end of which we are playing the likes of Gillingham and Wimbledon with at least two senior strikers on the pitch and with the real possibility of putting a few points on the board?
But the reality is that there is no magic sleeping pill available and we will have to get ourselves and our team through safely to May as best we can.
After a slow start Sheffield Wednesday have spent most of the season trying to make up ground on the top six and they are now just one point behind Sunderland with two games in hand. Their form since the turn of the year has been impressive and victory in Tuesday's postponed clash at Fleetwood would have seen them into fifth place. They have been strong at home where they have beaten Plymouth (4-2), Ipswich (1-0), Morecambe (2-0) and Wigan (1-0) in the last two months. The only blemish was last time out when neighbours Rotherham put them in their place 2-0. They also had the better of our game with them at The Valley back on the first day of the season and would have left with all three points but for Barry Bannon's late miss.
We have had some great encounters at Hillsborough in recent times. In January 2011 we went 2-0 up in eight minutes with new manager Chris Powell watching from the stands, before a superb last minute save from Rob Elliott (who had already saved a penalty) secured us a 2-2 draw. Who can forget a year later - January 2012 - the first of Jackson's two free-kicks in a week against steel city opposition giving us a 1-0 win? In the spring of 2014 we secured a remarkable double - the 2-1 FA Cup win with Powell swinging on the crossbar followed by the extraordinary Easter Monday comeback courtesy of Marvin Sordell's hat trick.
But unfortunately all the signs are that Saturday's game will be more similar to our last visit in February 2020 when we were hanging on for a point until an injury time free kick was pumped into our area and Stephen Fletcher headed in amidst the chaos created by the giant Atdhe Nuhiu. Most of the eleven hundred travelling Charlton fans would certainly settle for 0-0 going into injury time this weekend.
In the short term there is nothing we can do about the injury situation and in the meantime, as Johnnie Jackson has put it:
“Everyone needs to show a bit of grit and toughness now, a bit of character to get through it. I don’t for a second think that the effort and the endeavour has not been there; everyone’s trying as hard as they possibly can. We realise that we’re short in a few areas and that’s been the difference."