Michael Appleton is slowly bringing the memorable moments back to Charlton Athletic

5 min

“We never lose at Fratton Park!” sang a jubilant Charlton Athletic away end as Conor McGrandles’ added time header sealed a draw at League One leaders Portsmouth.

It not only meant the Addicks remained unbeaten at Fratton Park since 2005 but signified the latest in a string of memorable moments in Michael Appleton’s short tenure as Addicks’ boss.

Others include two home wins, against Reading and Exeter, where the side scored four goals; coming back from 2-0 down at home to Blackpool and having a 3-0 lead at half-time away to an in-form Wigan Athletic.

Charlton have also only been defeated twice under Appleton – in stark contrast from the start of the season which saw Dean Holden’s dismissal following a solitary win in the opening five league games.

However, the current revival is multi-faceted with the club’s takeover also playing a significant part, bringing about a sense of stability following the previous dysfunctional Thomas Sandgaard regime.

Recruitment in previous seasons has also been haphazard, with an over-reliance on data meaning too many substandard players signed without holistic consideration of factors such as injury records. 

Under the experienced Technical Director Andy Scott, a marked improvement is already evident by the arrival of one of League One’s most coveted forwards in Alfie May.

The 30-year-old has already scored 15 goals in 20 games and brought a wealth of experience to an Addicks squad with a number of fledgling talents.

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Lloyd Jones, arriving from Cambridge United, and has also become a consistent starter with his physicality, positioning, vision and execution all adding to an increasingly less error prone Charlton defence.

In midfield, Louie Watson, on-loan from Luton Town, has struck up an excellent partnership with George Dobson, complementing each other well in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game.

While the 1-1 draw at home to eighth tier Cray Valley Paper Mills in the FA Cup First Round serves as a reminder there is still plenty of work to be done, overall Scott has been vindicated in replacing Holden with Appleton.

Holden’s tactics were continually questionable, with his five at the back leading to players such as Corey Blackett-Taylor being played out of position at wing back and May deprived of opportunities up front.

As soon as Appleton was appointed, he changed the system to a more attacking 4-4-2 (which becomes a 4-2-1-3 in the attacking phase) and can also switch to a 4-3-3 if necessary.

Charlton now appear to have multiple attacking threats, combining the pace of Blackett-Taylor, the finishing of May with the physicality of Miles Leaburn.

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Appleton also brings a pedigree of developing young talent to a squad brimming full of it as the club strives to not only maximise the output of its Academy but a top down elite environment that promotes high performance standards.

This aspect of Appleton’s management was particularly apparent in the 4-0 victory over Reading where academy product Tyreece Campbell, bought on at the interval, went on to score a spectacular goal from outside the box and produce a pinpoint pass to assist Leaburn for Charlton’s fourth.

Speaking after the game on the specifics he had been working on with the youngster, Appleton said: “Two or three weeks ago Tyreece would have driven inside and tried to hit that one with his left foot. 

“I can’t tell you how hard we have been trying to work with him to strike it early with his left foot.

“He’s one of those players, and there aren’t many around, who doesn’t need much backlift. 

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“So it’s very, very difficult to defend against. It’s just giving him the confidence and courage to be able to do that, because he tends to drive inside – which makes him a little bit more predictable.”

The comebacks against Blackpool and Portsmouth also demonstrated a resilience that had seldom been seen previously and while there are still too many of the misguided signings from the previous regime still on the books, there is a sense the club are slowly moving in the right direction.

Moving those on surplus to requirements while strengthening key areas such as the defence must be the priority in January but if Charlton are still within Play-Off contention by then, there is nothing stopping them from making a concerted push in the second part of the season.

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