Back on Valentine’s Day we made the rather unromantic prediction that Charlton would not be promoted this season. 10 weeks later, we’ve never been so happy to eat our words.
Let us take you back to February 14th. Just three wins in 12 had left Charlton outside the play-off places having played considerably more games than the sides both directly above and below them. It felt like the only reason Lee Bowyer’s men were in the top half of the table was thanks to those six wins on the bounce at the start of the season and the sheer volume of games they had played compared to every other team. The form was much more that of a mid-table side, at a push.
There was a general feeling of unrest at the Football Club, with many fans calling for Bowyer’s head. It was quite the comedown from the jubilation of a few months prior when Thomas Sandgaard finally put an end to the seemingly everlasting ownership woes. All in all, our prediction that Charlton wouldn’t be promoted to the Championship this season was hardly groundbreaking – only the most optimistic of supporters still held much hope.
Things only got worse throughout the remainder of February, with an uninspiring draw away at Fleetwood followed by embarrassing back-to-back home defeats at the hands of Burton and Blackpool. A top-six finish started to look like an absolute pipe dream, as the Addicks started to slip further and further down the League One table with all their promotion rivals still holding all-important games in hand.
Bowyer started to steady the ship with two wins and two draws to start the month of March, before his unexpected departure to Birmingham City once again left the club in a state of uncertainty. Fan-favourite Johnnie Jackson took the side as Charlton came from two goals down to win 3-2 at home to Bristol Rovers, but Jackson’s stint in charge lasted all of three days as Sandgaard announced that Nigel Adkins was to be named Charlton’s new boss. It’s fair to say that feelings were mixed about the appointment – fans felt that it was a bit of a strange choice. Not the worst option available, but perhaps a bit uninspiring. How wrong the doubters were.
Just five games into his reign and Adkins has won the Valley faithful over and then some. Two draws sandwiched gritty away wins at promotion rivals Doncaster and Sunderland – games that you get the feeling Charlton wouldn’t have won a month or two prior. If those results were built on stoic defence and determination, then yesterday’s 6-0 win away at Plymouth was all about flair and attacking prowess. Equalling the clubs record league away victory isn’t bad going in just your fifth game in charge.
It isn’t just what’s happening on the pitch which has endeared Adkins to the Charlton family though, it’s his positive outlook off the pitch as well. Watching his daily videos on Twitter has become part of many fans’ morning routine – hearing him speak about setting goals and attacking the day ahead is truly inspiring. Once his career as a football manager comes to an end, Adkins could easily work as a life coach or motivational speaker, such is the positivity he exudes.
Adkins’ personality can only be a good thing for a group of players who probably needed a bit of love after a tough period. Bowyer was the very opposite of Adkins, and we don’t mean that as a negative – every manager has their own style and Bowyer had obvious success. But after a period of poor results and playing under a manager who wasn’t afraid to call out individual players, Adkins’ relaxed and easy-going nature seems to have been a breath of fresh air for the squad. In no player has this been more evident than Alex Gilbey. Under Bowyer, Gilbey was out of form and often left out in the cold. Now, he has started each of the last four matches and chipped in with two goals in that period. It’s been quite the turnaround.
There’s still a long way to go. For the first time all season, Charlton are the side with games in hand over their promotion rivals but as we know, games in hand are futile if you don’t make the most of them. With five games remaining, Adkins’ side have 15 points to play for. If they can win three of those, a play-off spot would be all but secured. As Charlton fans know more than most, the play-offs are a lottery and anything can happen. They’ll also know that the team with the best form going in can often be the most dangerous. One thing is for certain – no one’s going to fancy coming up against Adkins’ Addicks if they’re still in the mix come mid-May.