by RICK EVERITT
Judging by the sub-1,500 attendances it has attracted to SE7 so far this season, the Papa John’s Trophy continues to be viewed with disdain by the majority of Charlton fans. That is unlikely to change dramatically on Tuesday night when the Addicks take on MK Dons at The Valley for a place in the last eight. Victory, however, would add another layer of complication to an increasingly complicated fixture schedule through to the end of February.
The Addicks have rescheduled their visit to Crewe Alexandra from January 8th to January 12th, to make way for the FA Cup third-round tie with Norwich City at The Valley next Sunday. However, they now need to find slots for the postponed holiday fixtures away to AFC Wimbledon and at home to Gillingham.
The home fixture with Wimbledon on February 5th is also at risk, as it coincides with the fourth round of the FA Cup. While the Addicks will start outsiders against the Canaries, the SW London Dons will be favourites to beat National League high-flyers Boreham Wood, albeit neither result is a forgone conclusion.
Wimbledon have played the fewest games of any team in League One and have been vociferous in their criticism of other clubs, evidently including Charlton, for being less stringent than them in following strict Covd-19 protocols in recent weeks, leading to a string of postponements affecting them.
It means they already face a hectic fixture schedule through the first two months of 2022, with five League One games on consecutive Tuesday nights. The earliest they could obviously play Charlton in a rearranged game, home or away, is February 15th.
Gillingham, meanwhile, are not available on February 5th, when a slot would open up if Charlton go out but Wimbedon win, because both they and their League One opponents Ipswich Town are already out of the FA Cup. They could visit The Valley on Tuesday, January 18th, but this date may currently be on hold in case the FA Cup tie with Norwich is itself postponed. It had been protected for a possible replay, but these have been scrapped.
If the Addicks don’t play Gillingham then, another opportunity appears to have been knocked out by the rescheduling of the visit to Portsmouth to Monday, January 31st, for Sky TV coverage. It’s unlikely Charlton would be asked to play another League One match that midweek, even if they were by then without a fixture the following weekend. For good measure, there’s also an international break at the end of January.
That leaves February 15th and March 1st as possibilities for Gillingham.
Charlton playing Wimbledon on both February 15th and March 1st would also give the Dons eight successive midweek games, which they are likely to want to avoid.
There are, however, plenty of other midweek slots available in March, meaning there is no need for the fixture schedulers to panic quite yet. But the EFL always prefer rearranged games to be slotted in as early as possible, because they never know what else might be coming down the track. In these pandemic times, that is truer than ever.