Following yet another disappointing defeat yesterday, it’s looking increasingly likely that this season may not end in promotion. But now is not the time for an overreaction…
Let’s be honest, chances of an immediate return to The Championship are looking slimmer than ever. Yesterday’s 2-3 defeat at home to Gillingham leaves the Addicks outside the play-off places having played significantly more games than the majority of their promotion rivals.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Charlton have collected just 17 of 45 points available in the last 15 games. Lee Bowyer’s men have conceded a whopping 26 goals in that period, shipping two or more in 10 of those fixtures. Charlton’s home form has been even more worrying, with no win and 16 goals conceded in the last six games at The Valley. Ben Amos hasn’t kept a clean sheet at home since October.
There’s no denying it’s been a disappointing season. When Thomas Sandgaard assumed control of the club in late September, quickly followed by six wins on the bounce, Charlton fans were fully justified in having high hopes of spending just a singular year in the third tier. Then injuries to both first choice centre halves Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo in the space of three games put an abrupt halt to the promotion charge.
Injuries are, of course, unfortunate, but Charlton’s poor run can’t be solely attributed to bad luck. There have been numerous instances of players being played out of position, with seemingly more suitable options being overlooked. Who could forget Paul Smyth playing at right wing-back while Adam Matthews sat on the bench. Another bugbear for Charlton fans has been the incessant changes Bowyer has been making to his starting eleven. He had made 87 changes in 27 games prior to finally naming an unchanged side for yesterday’s game.
Perhaps the biggest mistake was not signing a defender during the January transfer window, when the side was clearly crying out for some stability at the back. Granted Inniss and Famewo are close to full fitness, but it appears to be too late for them to make a difference when they do return. All this is to say that Bowyer is not an innocent party in Charlton’s underwhelming season. His comments yesterday that his side are currently ‘overachieving’ were, quite frankly, laughable.
Despite all this, I don’t believe that now is the time to press the reset button. The volume of calls for #BowyerOut on social media shows that not all Charlton fans agree with me, and I do understand their frustration. But Sandgaard is looking to build something special in SE7, and stability is the key to success for a club that has been anything but stable in recent years. Promotion from League One is the first step on this journey, and in Bowyer Sandgaard has a manager who achieved exactly that not even two full seasons ago.
Bowyer and Steve Gallen were working within the constraints of a transfer embargo throughout the vast majority of the summer transfer window, and even when funds did become available they still had a wage cap to contend with and just 10 days to build a squad for the season ahead. The same was true for January’s dealings as the wage cap proved a great equaliser between clubs large and small. It’s futile having the sort of money that Charlton now do if EFL restrictions won’t permit any of it to be spent on player wages.
As we know, the wage cap has now been scrapped and, promotion or not, Bowyer and Gallen should be able to work their magic this summer with more freedom than ever thanks to the financial security that the club has now been afforded. Let’s not forget the loyalty Bowyer showed the club last year during the tumultuous ESI era. The grass must have appeared significantly greener at one of the several Championship clubs that made their interest in his managerial services known. Perhaps now is the time for fans to show him some loyalty in return.
Less than six months ago, the future of Charlton Athletic Football Club was in serious doubt. That is no longer the case. That was always going to be the most important thing to happen this season, whatever happened on the pitch. I for one would much prefer another season watching League One football at The Valley, than watching no football at all. Now is not the time for an overreaction, but perhaps time for reflection on what could have been and, more importantly, what is still to come.