BY PAUL BREEN
As a football writer they say that you have to keep ahead of the game. Tonight there’s a match in the Football League Championship that seems to be have slipped into the wrong scheme of things and somehow missed its destiny.
Charlton Athletic take on Nottingham Forest in a match to decide which end of the mid-table region these clubs will fall into at the end of the season.
Although Forest under Dougie Freedman have shown a massive improvement in recent weeks, they may have left it just a little too late for a play-off surge. Too many teams, at this stage, would have to fail for them to sneak into the top six – which was the very least they seemed destined for earlier in the season.
Charlton’s fortunes this season have mirrored Forest’s in some ways, going into a tailspin between mid-November and the New Year, changing managers, and then making a sudden, striking recovery just as they hit their lowest point.
Maybe in another lifetime, as in a line from a Bob Dylan song, things could have been very different for these two clubs united by red jerseys, riverside stadiums, grander days in times past, and Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre anthem. Charlton’s version has mists rolling in from the Thames across the sea of desire, while Forest’s fans sing about the mists rolling in from the Trent.
Tonight, as the supporters sing their respective anthems, it is fitting that both clubs are on a roll. Forest have won five of their last six games while the Addicks have seen three out of their past four games end in impressive 3-0 victories. Forest, tonight’s visitors to the Valley, have also only lost one of their last five matches away from home. This has lifted them to ninth in the table, ten points short of the play-off places, and eight above Charlton in twelfth position.
Battle commences this evening then in a mood of expectation for both teams. Defeat for Forest would pretty much put paid to their slim play-off chances. Victory for Charlton would give them hopes of a morale boosting top ten finish in a season that promised much at the start and delivered little in the middle.
That would set them up nicely for a fresh assault on promotion next season if they can hold onto the current players in their ranks – the exciting Icelandic international Johann Gudmundsson on the wing, and the striking partnership of Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt who, a few years ago, almost moved from Airdrie to Liverpool.
Glasgow Celtic signed him in the end and it was there that he showed flashes of brilliance in such moments as scoring the winning goal in a Champions League game against Barcelona in November 2012. Unfortunately, things never really worked out for him at Celtic and he ended up playing in the Belgian League for Lierse and then Standard Liege – who have the same ownership network as Charlton Athletic.
Now he’s back in Britain and starting to find form, and maybe finding the ideal situation for his career at Charlton. A couple of seasons in the Championship should get him fully back on track, and ready for an assault on the Premier League, hopefully with a Charlton team that’s also gearing up for promotion at the same stage.
That’s why, going back to the beginning, I suggested that football writers needed to be ahead of the game. Maybe this is wishful thinking, but there’s a part of me that feels as if we’re seeing promotion contenders from another age doing battle at the Valley this evening. One part of that is the thought of what might have been if these two clubs had found consistency without going through such a dramatic mid-season blip. Another part though is the feeling or the hope that tonight we’re seeing two of next season’s promotion contenders warming up for better things to come.
Forest at the start of the year were seen as genuine challengers for a top two position, and with Andy Reid fit are capable of beating anyone in the division. They have shown that in flashes this year, as in their 2-1 away victory over neighbours Derby County in January, but have struggled to put a run of good results together.
Charlton’s hopes in the early stages of the season would have been to make the play-offs and for a time that seemed possible. They just lacked options in the final third, which has sadly been a feature of their play for much of the past two seasons.
With that resolved and the hope of more additions than subtractions over the summer, the Addicks can use the rest of this season as consolidation and preparation for better things to come in 2015/16.
So I am looking forward to an epic match in tonight’s promotional twilight zone, though some might say it’s just a dreamer’s way of livening up a mid-table clash on an evening when the March winds are going to cut in chill from the Thames.
Either way, both sides will be singing from a similar hymn sheet!
FOLLOW PAUL ON TWITTER @CharltonMen
In another incident that unites these two clubs Paul Breen’s book The Charlton Men is reviewed here on The Football Pink by Nottingham Forest fan Keith Menary – http://footballpink.net/2014/09/17/book-review-the-charlton-men-by-paul-breen/