Championship Preview: a lack of transparency at Charlton


Karel Fraeye

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in the Championship. Middlesbrough hope to build on last week’s impressive 3-0 win at Brighton with another victory at Blackburn, but the Lancashire hosts have proved hard to break down in recent weeks. Bristol City aim to move further away from the drop zone when they host fellow relegation contenders Charlton, who are enduring a torrid year on and off the field.

Blackburn v Middlesbrough

Blackburn Rovers have had a solid start to life under Paul Lambert. It would be inaccurate to say that the football they have played under the Scots tutelage has been sublime, but he has maintained the solidity of his team’s defensive structure. The back four of Adam Henley, Grant Hanley, Shane Duffy and Martin Olsson had benefited from playing together for a long time and Lambert would have been wrong to try and disrupt that.

Rovers have only conceded one goal in their last four games. Centre-back Hanley is in superb form at the moment and has been one of the best defenders in the Championship this term. Hanley’s attacking teammates were perhaps unlucky not to fire against Nottingham Forest recently, as the side played well in the first half and Bengaly Fode Koita missed a key chance.

Middlesbrough ended Brighton’s unbeaten record last time out, romping to a deserved 3-0 win. Aitor Karanka’s side looked really strong on the counter-attack in that game, but now they face the challenge of being the team everyone wants to beat. Strange as it might sound, sometimes getting that kind of result in the first half of a season can make the rest of the campaign harder, because other teams have no doubts about your strengths.

When Reading won the title in 2012, they did it by surging up the table in the second half of the season. When Cardiff won the title, they did it by winning a lot of games 1-0 and scoring from set pieces, rather than eye-catching attacking play. When Leicester won the title, they ground out results in the first half of the campaign and then found form later on. When Bournemouth won the title, they did not start climbing the table until around October time. Due to the competitive nature of the Championship, there are very few teams that threaten to dominate in the first half of the season and end up doing so.

Middlesbrough’s result against Brighton comes with a certain pressure of expectation and it will encourage teams to sit deep against them. That could be a concern for Boro, because the results of their games tend to be decided by the first goal. While they can defend a lead for fun, they have lost four of the five Championship games in which they have gone 1-0 down this term. That, ultimately, was the reason they went down last season and the challenge remains for them this term. At the moment, they are banking on scoring the first goal and such is the unpredictable nature of football, it is not always possible to do that.

This blog predicted Middlesbrough to win promotion in the summer but it will not be a straightforward task for them. There are a lot of twists and turns still to come in the Championship and it would be premature to say that any side will run away with promotion from now on. Due to Blackburn’s impressive defensive record, this blog backs them to knock Boro down a peg and win 1-0.

Bristol City v Charlton

Charlton Athletic is not a happy place at the moment. Tensions between supporters and owner Roland Duchatelet are growing and with the Belgian so distant from the club, it is hard to see relations being repaired. Duchatelet has managed to sack four managers and still end up with one arguably worse than all of them. Chris Powell was given the chop despite being very popular with Charlton supporters, and Jose Riga was dismissed too, even though he achieved his remit of keeping the club up. Passion-less long ball merchant Bob Peeters was perhaps the most understandable departure while Guy Luzon, in many ways the antithesis of Peeters, was sacked as well.

Their latest head coach, Karel Fraeye, has been associated with the club’s recruitment programme for a couple of years, against either the knowledge or will of previous bosses, which underlines the lack of transparency at the Valley.

Charlton started the season superbly but they have fallen downwards since August. The Addicks have struggled with injuries, they have conceded too many goals and Fraeye, a man who appears more suited to politics than managing a football team, has made little impression since joining. The whole club is in a state of flux and uncertainty from top to bottom and everything whiffs of a relegation campaign.

Bristol City’s problem earlier on in the season was conceding too many goals, but recently they have not been scoring enough. Striker Jonathan Kodjia has perhaps become a marked man, he was certainly targeted during the 1-1 draw against Hull in November. Kodgia has lost his form and with that, a large chunk of the goal threat Bristol City carry has evaporated.

Despite the club enduring a turbulent campaign, chairman Steve Lansdown, who played his part in the club’s promotion from League One, has underlined his support for manager Steve Cotterill. In many ways, the emphatic nature in which the club went up last term slowed down the summer recruitment process. Lansdown may be guilty of thinking that the players who had played so well in the third tier, would at least compete well in the Championship, and that was understandable. It would have been wrong of the club to make the other mistake and invest too heavily in the squad and change too much of a team that, at the time, seemed to have a winning formula.

While Lansdown and the Robins board may have over-estimated the quality of their squad, you would rather have a chairman that is sometimes too loyal, rather than one that looks to exert power at any opportunity. While Roland Duchatelet is in charge of Charlton Athletic, that club is only going downhill.