Long gone are the days when Charlton were the top dog in South London. Ten consecutive seasons in the Premier League came to an end in 2007 – since then, they’ve spent more time in League One than the Championship. A rogues’ gallery of owners and a succession of unpopular managers have failed to lift the gloom over The Valley, their fans’ misery compounded by the improvement made by their fierce rivals Millwall and Crystal Palace.
Ben Garner is the latest man in the toastiest of hot seats, Charlton’s eleventh permanent manager in the last eight years. His route to football management is far from orthodox, as one of a handful of head coaches to never play professionally. Starting his career as an academy coach at Crystal Palace, Garner bounced around a few coaching jobs before Bristol Rovers appointed him manager in 2019.
Garner wasn’t a success in Bristol, winning just six of his 33 games in charge. Swindon gave him a second chance at the start of last season, where he defied pre-season predictions of relegation to lead the Robins to a play-off place. Charlton became Garner’s third club when they trusted him to succeed Johnnie Jackson, sacked after a 13th placed finish last season.
A full Swindon lot was incorporated into Charlton in the summer – joining Garner in making the move east were full-back Mandela Egbo, goalkeeper Joe Wollacott and Jack Payne, a midfielder with an eye for goal. It is Swindon’s attacking record that Garner will be hoping to recreate at Charlton – they scored more goals than anyone in League Two.
To this end, Charlton have employed the same attacking 4-3-3 shape as Swindon used. However, while Garner could previously call on the services of 18-goal striker Harry McKirdy, there is no clear source of goals in Charlton’s team. Only six teams scored fewer goals than Charlton last season and they’ve lost Conor Washington who provided 11 of them. Other than Payne, attacking reinforcements haven’t been forthcoming.
Jayden Stockley has led the line in each of Charlton’s three league games so far but failed to score in any of them. His inability to recapture the form he showed at Exeter has led Charlton fans to be vocal in their criticism, particularly in the aftermath of an insipid 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday. This 4-3-3 system relies on not only the central striker scoring, but also the two wide attackers. Charlie Kirk and Corey Blackett-Taylor do not have an outstanding record in the goalscoring department.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for Charlton. Their defence was reasonable last season, conceding as many goals as Oxford who flirted with the play-offs. This has persisted this season. Eoghan O’Connell, signed from Rochdale in the summer, has fortified a defence that has only conceded four goals in their four games so far. Argyle fans will know all about loanee Steven Sessegnon’s gallivanting from full-back – a solid central defender is a necessity to cover for it.
Argyle’s trip to Charlton will probably be a tight game. Even if it is Ben Garner’s instinct to attack, he realises he doesn’t yet have the players for that game. Therefore, he will likely set out to frustrate Azaz, Mumba and Mayor et al. Argyle’s capricious start to the new season makes this a hard game to predict. A betting man might split the difference and predict a draw.