Temperatures are set to rise across London this week but Charlton have already had a couple of weeks of warm-ups. The past two weekends have brought trips to the very different places and levels of Dartford and Sutton. Here, we take a look at what we have learned so far in the not so many miles we have travelled.
Not so long ago, Dartford were playing at a higher level in the League pyramid than Sutton. As recently as the 2010-11 season, the side from Surrey's stockbroker belt were plying their trade in the seventh tier of English football, the Isthmian League. Their rise, since then, has been nothing short of stratospheric. If we'd played them at the start of the 1998-1999 season for example, there'd have been six divisions between us. Now, they've ambitions of soon being up in the same division.
After watching Saturday's game, they've every chance of promotion. They look a good solid side that stopped us from playing the way we did at Dartford. There, after an even first half, our superior fitness showed as we ran out comfortable 6-1 winners in the end. Against our Kentish neighbours from the Conference South, we managed to string our passes together more effectively, showed good technique and played with confident authority throughout. Best of all, the mercurial Miles Leaburn came off the bench to score two goals, bringing later assertions of no need for more strikers
Against Sutton we struggled to establish the same sense of control. Maybe it was the heat, thirty plus degrees at a time when these lads aren't long back from their summer break. But we were missing that essential first touch and efficient passing that characterised our play in the Dartford game. At times, it felt like Sutton were the ones playing the Garnerama
game of fast moves and high pressing. Also they were the ones piling on most of the pressure at the end of each half. Aside from a few breaks against the run of play, a couple of corners and a really good header from a reinvigorated Ryan Innis, there wasn't a lot for the travelling support to shout about. Then again, for Sutton, there weren't many times when Joe Wollacott
got troubled. In fact the greatest trouble at times was distinguishing his yellow shirt from that of the Sutton players in the glaring heat. Every time one of our defenders played the ball back to him, flashes of Naby and Sunderland must have sent hearts racing.
So what can we take from these two matches, the roasting of Dartford and the tougher test in the baking heat of Sutton? Firstly, we have got ourselves a decent enough goalkeeper on the basis of these games. Even in Saturday's sweltering heat, he kept his cool and commanded his area most of the time. Secondly, Ryan Innis looks like he's back to being a beast at the heart of our defence, fit and capable of forming a steady partnership with Eoghan O'Connell. Apparently, too, he's been working on his posture over the summer in the hope of overcoming injury worries. A solid centre back pairing is going to be crucial if we're to play the style Ben Garner wants. In addition, going down the flanks from the back worked well against Dartford but to a lesser extent against Sutton.
Against teams with a tougher central midfield and a better defence, we have to be faster and play the one-touch football Liverpool, for example, are so good at. But we've not got the budget for Darwin Nunez and have we currently got a group of strikers able to dominate the high press? There are stories of Josh Davison being available for sale if the price is right and lingering doubts over the ability of Chuks Aneke to stay fit game in, game out for the whole season. Does that mean there could be another striker or two coming in, or will we rely on the youth of Miles Leaburn
? That'd be a lot of pressure to put on a young player whose arrival on the scene has so far impressed many Addicks fans, even more than Mason Burstow.
Then there's the question of Jake Forster-Caskey, another rumoured to be humming that old Clash number
in his head. By the way he played against Sutton, he clearly has a vibe in pre-season of somebody who wants to stay and fight for his place. Against Sutton, central midfield dominance was an issue so we need somebody in there who can hold the ball, dictate play and battle for alternative routes through on goal when the preferred style's not working. Even if JF-C is not our main man in that position, if we're in pre-season and our central midfield's struggling to dominate, then we have to think of squad depth in the darker and deeper depths of midweek winter nights.
So next up, it's Swansea and time to see if we can clip the wings of opponents from a higher division. This will be our biggest test so far, no disrespect to Kilmarnock who we faced a couple of weeks ago in our Spanish training camp. That game was played in different circumstances but this is one Swansea will be up for, hoping to hit the ground running when the league season proper starts. Like us, last time out, they never really got going at the heights they'd expected. This time around, they're going to be desperate for a better and faster start. So too are we, in individual matches and the season as a whole. After next Saturday, we could be in a better position to evaluate our prospects for the season.