League One Match Preview: Charlton (A)
Rovers go on the road for the first time in League One this season on Saturday, returning to a stadium that saw the dramatic end of their promotion hopes in 2019. Charlton Athletic are the opponents, fresh off relegation straight back from the Championship after winning that Play-Off campaign, and with much changed about both sides this promises to be an intriguing contest.
There will also be fans present at The Valley for the game as one of seven EFL matches chosen to participate in the government’s pilot scheme, meaning up to 1000 Addicks fans will be allowed to attend - the first publicly-attended Rovers match since March.
Moore Wants More On The Ball
There were some encouraging signs in the opening day draw with Milton Keynes Dons, but anybody watching could see that Rovers simply didn’t put their stamp on the game in possession as they usually do. In the overwhelming majority of matches in Darren Moore’s first season in charge, the team enjoyed superiority in possession and proved adept at creating chances, but none of that was present at the Keepmoat last weekend. MK dominated the ball and had the majority of the game’s proper opportunities to score as a result, and count themselves unlucky not to have won the match.
The manager has acknowledged this in the press and noted the work done to improve how the players use the ball in training this week. Whether or not this pays off against Charlton remains to be seen, especially if Moore opts for a surprise selection choice again as he did against MK. Rayhaan Tulloch and Tyreece John-Jules gave a glimpse of their abilities but were thrown in at the deep end by Moore and it affected the team’s ability to hold possession higher up the pitch.
To solve that conundrum, Moore can either keep faith with the new boys as they continue to bed in with the squad, or he can turn back to the more established players in his ranks, namely Fejiri Okenabirhie and James Coppinger. Copps would be a smart choice for a game of this nature as Charlton are a high quality footballing side, whilst Okenabirhie’s physical presence could prove invaluable from the start.
Rovers boast a fully fit squad for the game so the options are there, Moore just needs to make the right judgement call on which players to go with.
Addicks Mired By Distraction
To say Charlton Athletic Football Club is a mess at the moment would be a massive understatement. In the boardroom, several parties are vying for power and the club is in genuine danger of going bust if matters aren’t settled soon. Yesterday’s news of Paul Elliott being granted an injunction to prevent the sale of the club before late November only serves to complicate matters further, and it is to the credit of manager Lee Bowyer and his players that the team still look a threat on the field.
They have some very talented players - the likes of Darren Pratley and Jonny Williams need no introduction - and brought in two strong signings in midfielder Alex Gilbey and forward Conor Washington earlier in the summer, but the squad is extremely thin and unless a takeover can be sorted soon, Bowyer may struggle to guide his team far in League One this season. Charlton have only three fit defenders for the game including 17-year-old Charlie Barker, who only made his senior debut this month, so the problems are evident.
Compounding things for this squad is the heavy interest in striker Macauley Bonne, whose sale may help to alleviate some of the financial concerns at the club, although the Addicks did reject a bid from Queens Park Rangers this morning according to reports. Bowyer may hand a league debut to Manchester United loanee Dylan Levitt, who started in the Carabao Cup loss to West Ham in midfield, although this is easily the strongest area of the team in terms of depth.
No Rovers fan needs reminding of the last meeting between these sides, as the remarkable Play-Off Semi-Final in May 2019 is still fresh in the memory. Rovers won the game on the night 3-2 after extra time, but exited on penalties with crucial misses by John Marquis and Tommy Rowe in the shoot-out, and the Addicks went on to beat Sunderland at Wembley and earn promotion, staying just one season in the Championship.
Marquis was on the scoresheet that night as he was in the previous meeting at The Valley, which Rovers won 2-0 in a low-key FA Cup tie earlier in the 2018-19 season. Andy Butler netted the other goal for Grant McCann’s side, and has returned to Rovers after a year at Scunthorpe but is yet to make a competitive appearance - his last was the Play-Off game in which his header took the tie to Extra Time.
Central midfield will be an area to focus on this Saturday, with Rovers keen to improve their performance and Charlton mulling up several options to put into the position. Ben Whiteman must stamp his authority on the game and be ably supported in his efforts by whomever partners him, be it Madger Gomes or Taylor Richards, and will surely have no problem putting further speculation linking him with a move to Barnsley out of his mind - especially after Tykes boss Gerhard Struber suggested he was a “player to develop” which is about as insulting as the offers they have put to Rovers for the player thus far.
For Lee Bowyer, he may opt to put Dylan Levitt in midfield alongside either George Lapslie or Darren Pratley (with the other likely filling an unorthodox defensive role) and hope that his side can get the ball out to the wing and forward line quickly in order to put pressure on the Rovers back-line and avoid getting caught in midfield by Whiteman and the explosive Rovers outlets. If that philosophy pays off, Charlton will have a platform as strong as Milton Keynes to make life difficult for Darren Moore.