What a difference a week can make in football with Charlton Athletic winless until last Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra.
But that result, coupled with a late flurry of transfer activity and the subsequent 6-1 thrashing of Crawley Town (albeit in the EFL trophy) could act as a much-needed springboard for the rest of the Addicks’ season.
The deadline day arrivals of Harry Arter and Jonathan Leko on season-long loan deals from Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City respectively, alongside the permanent signing of Sam Lavelle from Morecambe also provides manager Nigel Adkins with some much-needed options.
Too often over the course of the last month Charlton’s target man Jayden Stockley was left isolated either side of Diallang Jaiyesimi and Charlie Kirk in a 4-3-3 formation – Jaiyesimi often dropping too deep to receive the ball and Kirk staying wide to get crosses into the box.
It led to a lack of chances created as opposition defences were not stretched enough and, without additional runners from midfield, were often able to double up on Stockley to limit Charlton’s attacking options even further.
There wasn’t enough of a threat in transition either, as Adkins’ side struggled to get out of their defensive zones quickly, allowing opposition backlines to settle and get back into position.
However, the tactical switch to a 4-4-2 against Crewe helped to resolve these issues with Conor Washington brilliantly leading the line alongside Stockley, stretching Crewe’s defence with runs in behind and also proving a nuisance with his pressing throughout.
As well as being restricted by a general lack of depth, Charlton have been hamstrung by a number of injuries to key players at the back end of last season and at the start of this one.
Ronnie Schwartz and Jake Forster-Caskey may be the most notable absentees but Washington has also been beset by injuries.
With this in mind, it’s little surprise to see the return of Leko to SE7 following a productive loan spell under Lee Bowyer in the club’s 2019-20 Championship campaign.
As well as being able to play through the middle as a good foil for Stockley, making runs in behind and latch on to flick-ons, the 22-year-old can also play out wide.
Furthermore, Arter adds much needed experience and pedigree to an energetic midfield lacking Forster-Caskey and also takes some of the senior responsibility off the shoulders of 36-year-old Ben Watson.
If Arter can get up to speed quickly, he’ll add a passing quality and hopefully goals which will help young Albie Morgan and Alex Gilbey – the latter only just returning to training after testing positive for Covid-19 during pre-season.
Charlton may still take time to settle given the relative lateness of some of their business – something of a frustration for Adkins who wanted players through the door early on and this delay has clearly put the side on the back foot compared to some of their rivals.
Fellow promotion favourites Wigan Athletic, for example, had most of their business completed early in the transfer window and looked a strong, settled side when they comfortably beat Charlton earlier in August.
Nevertheless, Adkins’ experience will be crucial in guiding a fairly young side, particularly with fans’ expectations so high after Thomas Sandgaard made big promises when taking over the club.
If the former Southampton and Scunthorpe manager can settle this new-look side from now onwards, promotion is possible – although already being eight points behind the automatic promotion spots it may have to be via the Play-Offs.
Either way, the squad now looks balanced and strong enough to do well in the next eight months and, backed by the fifth-highest attendance in the league, there is renewed optimism around the Valley that promotion can be achieved.
Following the international break, there’s a very winnable home game against Cheltenham Town before playing promotion rivals Wycombe Wanderers and Portsmouth in two of the next three – now the season really starts in earnest for Nigel Adkins’ side.