by Rick Everitt
Having taken four points from their last two matches, the chances of Charlton being relegated to League Two for the first time in the club’s history have thankfully receded.
Manager Karl Robinson has attempted to frame the challenge facing the team in its final matches as finishing top of the nine – or ten – club min-league at the foot of the third-tier table.
The fact the number of teams in his nominated group changed when the Addicks edged above Northampton Town perhaps illustrates what a strange argument this is.
However, with all three matches remaining against teams below 15th-placed Charlton, Robinson is likely to be judged by fans against several historical benchmarks.
The first, simply, is to avoid defeat against Gillingham on Easter Monday.
While SE London based Charlton fans eschew the description of this clash as a derby - and those of us in East Kent can testify that the Gills are equally invisible at the coastal end of Kent - this is a fixture that does have local pride as stake for the significant contingent of Addicks in the Medway Towns and thereabouts.
Moreover, Charlton haven’t lost a league fixture to these particular neighbours since 1929 and Gillingham have never won at The Valley, their three wins in 27 attempts all coming on home territory in the 1920s.
Movingly swiftly past the FA Cup humiliation at Priestfield in 2004, it has to be acknowledged that Gillingham have been getting closer to lowering Charlton’s colours in recent years. The Addicks were lucky to get a draw on their two most recent visits, requiring an own goal in 2009 and late penalty last October to secure a share of the points.
Indeed, with the 2-2 draw at The Valley in March 2010, it’s 36 years since either team recorded a victory in the fixture. The rare meetings in Charlton’s two promotion campaigns of 1974/75 and 1980/81 both ended 2-1 at The Valley and 1-0 at Priestfield.
More meaningfully, Gillingham’s 3-1 win over Bristol Rovers on Good Friday was their first in six matches and went a long way to easing their own relegation fears. Should they win at The Valley, they will go above Charlton, opening up the possibility of them finishing above the Addicks for the first time since 1926.
Therein lies the second historical challenge for Robinson. He has to get the team up to 14th or better – in effect escaping the mini-league of his construction – to avoid the Addicks’ lowest finish in 91 years. That badge of dishonour currently belongs to Theo Foley's 1973/74 side, which finished 14th despite the presence of Mike Flanagan, Derek Hales, Keith Peacock and Colin Powell in its ranks.
With a zero goal difference and three clubs clustered four points above them, there is still a chance to do that if he can secure six or more points from the final matches, which take in trips to doomed Chesterfield and the final-day Valley clash with teetering Swindon Town.
That situation cannot be entirely pinned on a manager who took over 19 games into the 46-game season, but there is no escaping the awfulness of his own record with just five wins matches to date, an average of one point per game.
Over a full season that would be highly likely to see a club relegated, with or without the “famous trainer” who owner Roland Duchalelet claimed was sacked in 2014 for a similar performance.
In fact, the draw at Coventry City on Good Friday means it is now statistically impossible for Robinson to end the season with a better record than his sacked predecessor Russell Slade, even if the Addicks win all their final three fixtures.
Such an outcome, however unlikely, would at least avoid a humiliation of historic proportions. Beating Gillingham, who have sold more than 2,000 advance tickets for the Easter Monday clash, is a necessary but not sufficient part of even that modest task.
VOTV167, the final issue of the 2020/21 season, was published on May 1st (see front of website). There are three pricing options - for UK (first class), European and worldwide delivery.
You can subscribe here (desktops and laptops). Payment is annual and covers eight issues. Subscriptions ordered now will start with VOTV168, to be published in August.
To order issues published between April 2013 and April 2021, please see the back issues pages. VOTV124 and VOTV127 are sold out.