Charlton Athletic FC

Key player: Jake Forster-Caskey

Charlton’s success this season (or lack of it) will largely depend on one key variable: the fitness of Jake Forster-Caskey. JFC’s Charlton career has been somewhat punctuated by injury. He missed almost all of the 2018/19 promotion season following an injury to his cruciate ligaments and has had a series of on/off niggles that limited him to just 12 appearances last time out.

On his day, when fit and firing, there’s little doubt that the man shouldn’t be a League One player. He was regarded as an extremely bright young English talent when he broke through at Brighton and injuries have meant he largely hasn’t fulfilled his talent. On pure technical ability however, there aren’t many sides who wouldn’t jump at the chance to have him in their team. If he plays regularly, Charlton may well challenge at the top end and dominate possession. If he doesn’t, there’s a danger that they may slide into obscurity or worse.

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Manager: Lee Bowyer

It’s hard to think of Bowyer’s debut job in management as anything other than a success in very challenging circumstances. He took over at Charlton near the end of the 17/18 season and whilst they didn’t manage to make the top six, he signed wisely over the following few months and took Charlton to promotion, playing a relatively attractive brand of football in the process. 

His bold diamond formation did the trick and they began life in the Championship very well indeed, not least helped by talismanic striker Lyle Taylor. As time passed however, reality bit. Bowyer was good but he wasn’t good enough to hold back the tide. Charlton weren’t well backed amidst off pitch turmoil and they’ve found themselves in League One again.

Charlton can take comfort from the fact that despite their continued issues, Bowyer is a manager who has them constantly punching above their weight and is confident in building a system that works.

Engine: Alex Gilbey

Alex Gilbey arrives at Charlton off the back of two player of the season awards in consecutive seasons with Milton Keynes. His undisclosed fee transfer was the club’s first signing since the transfer ban was imposed on the club mid-way through last season. Though Charlton’s squad is frail, and lacking depth, Gilbey is yet another quality addition that compliments the way that Bowyer wants to play. He is a skillful midfielder, with the passing range to dictate a game and the dribbling abilities to carry the ball forward if nobody is showing for the ball.

Gilbey was by far the best footballer in MK’s team last season and would slot neatly into a central midfield position in Charlton’s diamond formation along with Johnny Williams, Jake Forster-Caskey and Darren Pratley. What they lack in depth, they more than make up for in quality: that midfield is definitely one of the best in the division.

Last season: 22nd in the Championship

2019/20 was quite simply the year that Charlton Athletic stopped defying gravity. Lee Bowyer had them punching well above their weight to even get promotion into the league and the way the season began was beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. They won 4 out of their first 6 games with former Pilgrim Ben Purrington starting the season in fine fettle. 

They dipped a little over the next few weeks but were still very much keeping one eye on the play-offs as the clocks went back. Ultimately, they couldn’t keep punching above their weight forever. They picked up just three wins between September and January, a pretty alarming total but fans mostly kept behind Lee Bowyer, instead directing their ire at their divisive and unpopular owners.

Their form picked up a little. 5 wins from 11 games were sandwiched by the biggest global health crisis in a century but the feel good factor didn’t last long. A win at Birmingham in their third from last game would have surely seen them survive but former Pilgrim Lukas Jutkiewicz struck late to ensure the Blues survived. Charlton would go on to suffer last day heartbreak at Leeds.

Key departure: Lyle Taylor

It couldn’t really be anyone else, could it? Taylor was an excellent player in their promotion season out of League One in 18/19, scoring a staggering 21 league goals on their way to Wembley. Having so far only really proved his worth at lower league level, some questions were asked as to his suitability for the Championship. 

He answered his critics, and then some, taking to the league like a duck to water and eventually earning himself a big move to Nottingham Forest. He didn’t finish the season with Charlton due to the risk of injury ruining the move that he’d worked so hard for. His style of play was dynamic, energetic and intelligent: getting himself into good positions before ruthlessly putting the chances away. Charlton need to find someone who can take on the mantle and fast. Otherwise, they may find themselves blunt up front, however creative their midfield may be.

Target: Play-offs

Okay, okay. It seems ambitious. But, amidst fan led protests and owner pigheadedness, it looked ambitious that they could do it in 2018/19 too. It looked ambitious that they could stay up last season, which they very nearly did. Their squad is weaker now than on either of those occasions but that still doesn’t mean they’ve not got an outside chance. They certainly do.

They’ve got a lot of players likely to play who are the envy of a lot of other squads in the league. Dillon Phillips, Jake Forster-Caskey, Johnny Williams, Erhan Oztumer, Ben Purrington, Chuks Aneke and Conor Washington are all surely players who’d start for more clubs in this league than not. Their squad is paper thin and it may yet get thinner but Bowyer has defied the odds before. They probably won’t quite make the play-offs, but they’ll give the chasing pack a run for their money.

Opposition view:

(provided by Charlton Athletic forum Charlton Life)

After suffering relegation in true Charlton gut-wrenching style, the club as a whole have been through it the last couple of months. With off-field problems ongoing at the time of writing this, Charlton have suffered from an embargo; so strengthening a side which lost many key players has been an almost impossible job for Bowyer. We have though managed to sign Conor Washington and Alex Gilbey, the latter having won player of the year in the last two seasons for MK Dons. Currently, we are having to count academy players who have played as little as 15 minutes of first team football as our ‘23 senior pros’, this shows the task we’re up against.

On the positive side, we do seem to have some very talented players for this division. Macauley Bonne scored 11 in 33 last season so would be expected to better that this season. If we manage to keep hold of Alfie Doughty, a young left-footed wide player with explosive pace, he could cause a lot of problems for opposition teams this season.

Bowyer usually aims to play with two up front whenever possible – often using the diamond in midfield to much success. However, this mini pre-season has seen us try out a few different ways of playing. 4-3-3 has been favoured of late, so a new style and approach could be used this season.

As things stand, a tough season is expected for Charlton where a top half finish would be seen as successful to many. With a takeover and a bit of backing, Bowyer has proven more than capable of getting us into the top 6. It’s very clear that our fate this season will be decided within the next 4 weeks.


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League One Season Preview 2020/21