Ben Garner is spinning plates to keep Charlton Athletic’s league and cup hopes alive

4 min

From beating Plymouth 5-1 and an eight-game winless run to scintillating high-scoring draws against Ipswich and Burton, the only thing predictable about following Charlton Athletic is the unpredictability.

While this inconsistency has been detrimental to the Addicks’ League One promotion hopes, currently finding themselves 14th in the table and six points adrift of the Play-Offs, it has had little bearing on cup performances.

Despite the FA Cup, League Cup and EFL Trophy bringing a welcome distraction to what has been an infuriating league campaign so far, manager Ben Garner has to remain acutely aware as to where his priorities lie.

It has seen the Charlton boss continually spin plates in order to send out a side able to deliver safe passage to the next rounds while ensuring the overall squad remains ready for league action.

The narrow 3-2 EFL Trophy defeat to Plymouth may have put paid to the lesser of the three competitions, where wholesale changes and Charlton’s youngsters were used throughout the competition, but both the FA and League Cups provide much bigger selection dilemmas.

The FA Cup Second Round clash at home to League Two Stockport County not only presents a potential banana-skin but should they navigate it successfully, the possibility of a plum Third Round tie against one of English football’s elite.

Against non-league Coalville in the previous round, Garner opted to take no chances – surprisingly opting to field a number of first-teamers against the minnows as Charlton ran out comfortable 4-1 winners.

Similarly, having scraped past League Two high-flyers Stevenage on penalties in the League Cup following a 1-1 draw, the Addicks will now face Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion at The Valley in a few weeks time for a place in the last eight.

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Traditionally the competition has not been a happy hunting ground for the club, with progression to the Third Round achieved only once in the past 15 years before this season.

Granted, after beating QPR on penalties in the opening round, Charlton may have had favourable games against lower league opposition, but they have nevertheless taken their chance to become the only remaining London side left in the competition.

Against Stevenage, Garner fielded the strongest possible starting XI as well as utilising the bench to great effect in order to salvage a draw and take the game to spot-kicks courtesy of substitute Chuks Aneke’s late strike.

Immediately after the victory over Stevenage came a frustrating league draw away to bottom of the table Burton Albion, followed by a defeat on the road to Port Vale.

Garner will be disappointed not to have been able to carry the cup success into the league – although in fairness the side were hampered at Burton by Sean Clare’s suspension and Jojo Wollacott’s late injury withdrawal.

The latter’s fractured finger will not only see the goalkeeper now ruled out for a number of weeks but also forced his withdrawal from Ghana’s World Cup squad.

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His subsequent Charlton replacement, Craig MacGillivray, was then injured for the game against Port Vale – forcing Garner to turn to third-choice keeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer.

This goalkeeping injury crisis highlights the precarious nature a long run in cup competitions can bring – an increased risk of fatigue and injury due to overloading players because of the amount of games.

With three league games between the FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, it is imperative Garner continues to shuffle his pack to not only progress in the cups but remain within touching distance of the Play-Off places.

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