Charlton Athletic have now played a total of twelve games, near enough a quarter of the season has finalised and points have been taken and lost. Earlier in the season Russell Slade said that Charlton fans should begin to look at the table after the first twelve games to gauge the league.
Adhering to Russell Slade’s instruction given to the fans earlier in the season we shall examine the League One table.
From examining the table above it is clear that Charlton are not performing to the majority of fan’s expectations – with statements from the regime that we have a top 6 budget, the play-off places are a minimum finishing spot, and promotion a requirement.
After the 3-0 victory against Coventry City at the Valley on the weekend, Charlton Athletic now sit in the league at 15th, with 15 points. The only reassuring sight about that position is we are above Millwall and Gillingham.
But what is going wrong? Because if we look at the squad there really is no reason for us to be sinking or embedding ourselves that low down in the league. Now, the reason, at least when you only consider the on-pitch performance, is we are ‘drawing masters’.
Charlton have drew a total of six games, with only Coventry, Oldham, Northampton and Bradford equalling that number, a selection of teams dispersed throughout a range of positions in League One.
So drawing is the cause of our League position, but why are we drawing?
There are two reasons:
- Lack of confidence which has lead to a deterioration of spirit and fight (as seen at Rochdale and Oldham).
- Tactical and strategical decisions as well as formation.
These two core issues in football are extremely dangerous for a footballing squad, and is a concerning sight for fans, because these two issues feed and grow off each other, leading to an exponential growth of dire performances.
Think about it.
In order to improve confidence, players need to start believing that they can go out onto the pitch, wear the shirt, and play football worthy of the Addicks and take three points consistently. However, how is one supposed to achieve such a goal, when the manager has essentially been setting them up to fail in recent weeks with a bizarre imbalanced midfield, and a formation which does not benefit our striking team, 4-5-1.
The decision for Russell Slade to utilise this formation and tactical setup has lead to dire experiences, including defeats to Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon at home, as well as sub-par performances which have lead to draws against Oxford United and Oldham Athletic.
But what frustrates me more than anything is when he plays 4-4-2 we play much better and expose other team’s weaknesses, as we have witnessed with a 3-0 victory against both Shrewbury and Coventry. So why does he not do this all the time, but with minor adjustments based on the circumstance?
I understand his logic, the first step in creating a successful squad is to make sure you are hard to beat, you are resilient and a difficult team to net a goal against. However, that does not mean you setup the squad to be imbalanced, as a result we have not been taking our chances, we have not been clinical, we have not pressed them hard, and we have not killed games. And this is exactly what has let Slade down in the first quarter of the season, the fear of committing an attacking intent, playing two wingers, and a man to support Josh Magennis and structure a system worthy of creating goals.
At Coventry City yesterday I saw with my own eyes, other than flying pigs, in which I may or may not have launched two, a squad which is still gelling, but are beginning to play with fluidity. We have two fantastic players in Ricky Holmes and Ademola Lookman who drive the game forward and can create real chances as well as score goals themselves. An absolute titan in Josh Magennis who has exceptional upper body strength, bursts of speed and stamina which exceeds 90 minutes. We have Nicky Ajose, a 25 goal scoring machine last season, who I still think has not been able to play in a style which benefits him, but I think we are beginning to play with the ball more on the ground, which is what Ajose needs to start scoring goals.
I think most of us can agree that our back four, along with Declan Rudd are becoming a well-structured and organised unit, although I was rather concerned with Morgan Fox on Saturday, but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and mark it down as an off-day.
We are only being let down in central midfield, however, I did thank Ulvestad was beginning to perform as a true a box-to-box midfielder, and I believe was the key component in driving that midfield engine, connecting our team together, while supporting Holmes and Lookman.
Charlton Athletic now sit five points from the play-off spots and nine points from an automatic spot, with a game in-hand which we will cash in on Tuesday, against Port Vale.
As a fan who doubted Russell Slade in the recent few games, my passions were running high, I was becoming rather concerned of a possible relegation fight this season – I do think he needs more time, I do think he is a good manager. However, he needs to setup his team to be pressing and take chances as he did against Shrewsbury and Coventry.
He needs to stick to a 4-4-2 formation for the majority of the game until we kill it off, afterwards in the last 10 minutes he can close up shop, and return to a 4-5-1. We have a squad here, who have excellent ability. Slade needs to setup as he did against Coventry consistently, with two wingers on each side, utilising both Holmes and Lookman who can create chances and feed Maggenis, along with Ulvestad pulling in a shift to sew everything together nicely.
The 3-0 victory on Saturday was not a perfect performance, but it will reassure Slade and the squad that they do have what it takes to fight, and with that confidence, which is so important in football, hopefully can continue to improve and become a team – playing with fluidity, spirit and fight.
We are heading to Vale Park on Tuesday night, and Port Vale experienced a 4-0 defeat to Sheffield United away on the weekend. Slade and his side need to build on the victory from Saturday to secure all three points and expose Port Vale’s lack of form.
Slade and the squad do have what it takes to challenge this season, but they need the confidence, and I think we still need a boost from the winter transfer window in January.