After last season’s miserable campaign, Charlton Athletic have had a reset this summer with wholesale changes to both the playing and backroom staff.
After the abrupt sacking of manager Johnnie Jackson at the end of last season, Swindon’s Ben Garner was appointed with a promise of a more progressive, possession-based style of play.
Whereas past windows have seen Charlton’s transfer business done late and appear rather haphazard, there has been a more rational approach this summer with the right players added to strengthen the squad in the right places.
Similarly, outgoings have seen a number of fringe players or those in the twilight of their careers released with the only potential contentious decision being Conor Washington’s departure with Charlton looking slightly light in the forward positions.
As well as bringing a number of Swindon backroom staff with him, Garner has also plundered his former club for goalkeeper Joe Wollacott, right-back Mandela Egbo and creative midfielder Jack Payne.
Adept with the ball at his feet and capable of distributing from the back in order to build attacks, Wollacott is a perfect Garner signing while Egbo will bring an element of youth and athleticism to the full-back position.
Eoghan O’Connell, signed from Rochdale, made the second most passes in League Two last season and is likely to be first-choice centre-back with one of either Sam Lavelle or Ryan Inniss featuring alongside the 26-year-old.
The final piece of the defensive jigsaw sees Steven Sessegnon join on-loan from Fulham and should work perfectly in Garner’s intended high-press while also bringing League One experience from his loan spell at Plymouth Argyle last term.
With Garner preferring a 4-3-3 formation, midfield is where Charlton are currently too top heavy with at least one of the pre-Garner players likely to depart The Valley before the transfer window closes on September 1.
Assuming 2021/22 Player of the Year George Dobson continues at the base of midfield, that leaves Alex Gilbey, Albie Morgan, Jake Forster-Caskey, Sean Clare, Scott Fraser and new recruits Payne and Conor McGrandles (signed from Lincoln City) to fill the two remaining places.
Charlton lacked a strong attacking impetus from midfield last term and to that end Jack Payne’s signing looks to be a good piece of business.
The 27-year-old can play as a 10, between the lines, and contributed an impressive 13 goals from midfield in League 2 last season and, should Fraser remain fit, a promising offensive partnership could blossom.
Corey Blackett-Taylor and Diallang Jaiyesimi will continue to bring pace to Charlton’s wings, while Charlie Kirk may also get an opportunity to get his Addicks career up and running after his loan spell at Blackpool at the end of last season.
Upfront, with Washington’s departure, it means the club only have Jayden Stockley and Chuks Aneke as their main options with the latter’s injury record a cause for concern.
Academy product Miles Leaburn, son of former Charlton striker Carl, has featured prominently during pre-season and is likely to get opportunities to make an impact – although it would be prudent for Charlton to bring in another senior striker, potentially one who offers pace for runs in behind to add another dimension to their attacking threat.
Fellow Academy prospects Deji Elerewe and Charlie Clayden could also make a break-through in defence, considering Inniss’ patchy injury record.
While Charlton appear to have learnt from past mistakes by conducting the majority of their recruitment relatively early, it remains to be seen whether there’s enough quality in the signings due to the fact a number of them are stepping up from League Two.
It will mean further pressure on owner Thomas Sandgaard, after taking the gamble of dismissing club legend Jackson for this new attacking philosophy under Garner.
If Charlton fail to start the season positively, toxicity could quickly creep in at The Valley – especially with games against much-fancied Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday in the opening few weeks of the season.
The clear sense of identity in Garner’s approach and recruitment suggests the club are finally moving in the right direction, but in one of the toughest third tiers in memory, they will have to either hit the ground running or require some patience if they are to succeed in the long-run
LFS Verdict: 6th