Oxford United provide the opposition this weekend. Anything less than a win could leave us in a perilous position even at this stage of the season, raising fears of another season becoming academic before it's barely started.
After the new term kicked off with a win over Leyton Orient, the past few weeks have taught some home truths to Charlton. Fittingly then, this weekend we head to a city that's famous for being a seat of learning. Currently, Oxford United are riding high in League One, sitting in 4th place with nine points after three wins out of four. Meanwhile, their University Challenge and boat race rivals, Cambridge United are on top of the division thanks to a better goal difference ahead of Bolton, Peterborough, Oxford and Stevenage. For both Oxford and Cambridge that's a big improvement on last season when at times they both flirted with the division's lower reaches.
Just a few short weeks ago in this rainy summer, we thought Charlton would see a big improvement this time around too. Though for many the jury has been out on the new ownership, we did expect this team to do the business on the pitch. Although signings weren't as plentiful as expected, they appeared suited to the style of play we've been trying to achieve. Unfortunately, since the opening day win against Orient, we've looked like a team more in line for relegation than promotion. The thing that really gives a sense of that is the fact that Wigan started the season on minus 8 points and now just a single point separates us. Ominously too, they are one of the sides we face in a tough September so we need points on the board now.
Regarding points and boards, while not finger-pointing, a lot of fans are calling for reinforcement to stop the rot. Presently, and not helped by injuries, we are weak in key areas of the field. Indeed, the one area where we felt the greatest need for reinforcements just a short time ago has now given us some hope, with the form of young Daniel Kanu. Still though, over the course of a long hard season, we're not going to be able to rely on youth. Just as sure as the scant sunshine turns to cold rainy nights, we're going to find ourselves facing a bleak winter of more injuries, fixture pile-ups and the need for a bigger squad. Signings such as Alfie May gave us hope of better times to come but here we are again, heading for Oxford as if we've learnt none of the lessons from seasons past, when we've left it too late to put together a squad capable of a promotion challenge. Then the rest of the year rolls by with us thinking about what might have been, wondering "what if".... At this stage, fans are probably sick and tired of "what ifs" or - even worse - losing interest at the prospect of another season of struggle.
Oxford, however, are unlikely to have any sympathy for our situation, having recovered well since the tenure of Karl Robinson came to an end back in February after a run of seven defeats in eight games. The U's have been achieving narrow but convincing wins over decent opposition, with away victories at both Barnsley and Derby, after an opening day defeat to Cambridge. They're doing what we really needed to be doing to get where we want to be, instead of now playing catch-up.
The arrival of Chem Campbell on loan from Wolves will add some much-needed height to our forward line and, as there are still a few days to go before the transfer window closes, we can hope there will be further reinforcements. This has become a feature of several seasons past now, sometimes resulting in managerial departures in mid-flow. But if the gaffer isn't given the tools to do the job, then how can he be expected to hammer out success in a division that's getting tougher every season?
If we're still at this end 0f the table by the time we play Stevenage just a few weeks from now, we could soon get a very stark reminder that names and histories mean nothing in a league that's becoming increasingly hard to get escape from - or at least escape from in the right direction.