Charlton Athletic 2020/21 Season Review: Nigel Adkins’ evolution brought about renewed optimism

4 min

Ownership issues – two words synonymous with Charlton Athletic in recent years.

But with Thomas Sandgaard acquiring the club at the start of the 2020/21 campaign, fans entered the season with the hope on-field events could finally take the headlines instead.

However, with the Dane only completing his takeover at the end of September, it left little time to bolster a squad already decimated by the departures of key men such as Lyle Taylor, Tom Lockyer, Naby Sarr, Dillon Phillips and Macauley Bonne.

And although they did eventually manage to secure the services of defender Ryan Inniss, midfielders Ben Watson and Alex Gilbey alongside Northern Ireland forward Conor Washington it still felt as if Lee Bowyer’s side were light on numbers.

Add to the fact fellow new recruits Marcus Maddison and Omar Bogle failed to deliver in the early part of the campaign and were both duly shipped out of The Valley, Charlton were looking particularly short upfront.

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It didn’t stop them being among the favourites for an instant return to the Championship with six consecutive wins in October seeing Charlton rise to third in the table before struggling for consistency between November and December.

With promotion hopes appearing to be slipping away, the defeat away to high-flying Hull on January 2nd was their nadir as both management and players lost their heads in an ill-tempered encounter. 

Although it didn’t help Watson was forced off injured early on in the contest, Darren Pratley’s dismissal when calm, experienced heads were needed was reckless and the Addicks eventually went on to record a five game winless run.

The campaign continued to stutter before Bowyer decided to resign to take up the role as Birmingham City manager in mid-March.

Having kept faith with him despite the poor form, the departure would have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the hierarchy but ultimately proved a blessing in disguise.

Whilst the team had dropped as low as 12th in the table, the Play-Offs still remained in sight with Nigel Adkins’ subsequent appointment initially appearing a surprise considering he had been out of work for over a season.

Yet the 56-year-old, with an excellent track record in League One (gaining three promotions) as well as taking Southampton to the Premier League, breathed new life into what had quickly become a stale side.

Under Adkins, Charlton went on to lose just once in ten league games with the new manager bringing much-needed uniformity and adaptability to the squad.

Away victories at Doncaster Rovers and Sunderland were prime examples of using the exact same personnel but two totally different approaches to outmanoeuvre the opposition.

Against Doncaster, their lack of confidence was pounced upon while with Sunderland it was all about soaking up pressure and hitting the Wearsiders on the break.

Similarly, Chelsea loanee Ian Maatsen was used effectively as both a left-back and right-winger while Alex Gilbey was given more license to push forward with Pratley appearing more composed, sitting in front of the back four.

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However, Adkins’ only defeat, against second-placed Peterborough, highlighted just how far Charlton were actually off being a top two side – the main difference being a lack of a prolific striker and creativity from out wide.

Nevertheless, goalkeeper Ben Amos was consistent and reliable throughout while Inniss improved as the season progressed and perhaps the only other thing lacking was a constant central defensive partner for the latter.

Jake Forster-Caskey’s ACL injury was another blow for a player who was beginning to show his quality and will likely mean the Addicks look to reinforce in the middle of the park as well this summer.

Although Adkins’ arrival may have been too late to secure a Play-Off place, the end of season run did bring renewed optimism for the season ahead.

Taking over a side mid-way through a campaign is always problematic, even more so with coronavirus limitations and a lack of fans in an already intense and concertinaed 46-game season.

But with a ‘normal’ football summer and Adkins’ first pre-season, Charlton will undoubtedly go into the 2021/22 season in much stronger shape and ready to mount a serious promotion push.

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