Although the term might almost be over, there could still be valuable lessons for Charlton in our last midweek assignment of the season.
Results may not matter so much in the grand scheme of things now for Charlton but it is always important to end the season on a positive note and achieve as high a position as possible in the table. Right now the highest we can finish is twelfth in a position currently held by Tuesday night's opponents Cambridge United.
Although we beat them quite comfortably at home back in December, the Us may provide a stiffer test for us on Tuesday night at The Abbey Stadium. Back then, they were finding their feet in a division that they were new to, having been promoted from League Two in 2020/21. However, as the season rolls towards its end, Cambridge have started to find a new degree of consistency and more of a cutting edge. They've won five out of their last six games, including a very impressive 2-1 away win at leaders Wigan last time out, echoing our own recent defeat of promotion-chasing Rotherham.
A lot of this recent good form has been down to the goal scoring form of striker Joe Ironside. The Middlesbrough-born striker made headlines earlier this year when he scored the winner as Cambridge stunned super-rich Newcastle United in the FA Cup 3rd round. With fourteen goals to his name in the league as well, he's likely to provide a strong test for our defence, again weakened by injury and suspension. Another name we might know very well in the Cambridge squad is Wes Hoolahan, a creative Irish midfielder who starred for Norwich in several of our promotion battles at the start of the decade.
Of course it's very possible that Cambridge will field a more experimental line-up for this fixture. Their head coach Mark Bonner has suggested that we should "expect lots of changes" and "expect lots of opportunity for players" to "freshen the team up" now that his side is safe from relegation. It seems then that Bonner is using this match as a learning experience.
Johnnie Jackson is likely to do the same because there's a lot he can learn in the university city on Tuesday night. With so many players out of contract in the summer, he needs to know who is up for an intended promotion fight next season. One of those that questions are already being asked about is surely Conor Washington. The Northern Irish international scored both goals in our 2-0 win in November at The Valley but questions remain as to whether he will stay in SE7 beyond the summer, despite his undoubted talent and scoring ability when fully fit.
Right now, it feels as if the jury's out on whether or not Johnnie Jackson will stick with a core front three of Washington, Aneke and Stockley for next season. The answer probably depends upon the number of players we are going to recruit in the summer and these last three games are likely to have some influence on that in borderline cases. Since we're unlikely to see any kind of massive overhaul on a par with Chris Powell's 2011 close season, quite a few of the existing squad are probably going to have their contracts renewed. For that to be welcomed as a positive sign, a strong end to the season is essential.
Prior to Saturday's defeat by Morecambe Johnnie Jackson said that "Every game we go into I expect and want us to win and really finish the season strongly" but our high hopes turned into a 3-2 home defeat. The lesson from that is clearly that there is still work to do in building a squad ready to challenge at the opposite end of the table next season to where Morecambe were. Hopefully as a starting point we can get back to the fine away form we showed in recent victories at Doncaster and Rotherham. We'll need to be at the races though to beat a rapidly improving side equally keen to end the season on a high.