Cook: If We Don't Turn Up Tomorrow, We'll Get Beat
Friday, 16th Apr 2021 13:03
Town travel to Charlton for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off aiming to get their floundering play-off push back on track and claim what would be the first away win of Paul Cook’s time in charge.
The Blues go into the match ninth, five points off the top six with six left to play and without a victory in three having lost 3-0 at AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday.
Under Cook, their away record reads drawn two and lost four. Their last victory on the road was at Accrington with Cook watching from the stands with caretaker bosses Matt Gill and Bryan Klug taking the team that day. Overall, Town have won two, drawn four and lost four since the new boss took charge six weeks ago.
However, history is on the Blues’ side at the Valley, Town having won their last four competitive games there stretching back to 2012. Their last competitive defeat on Charlton turf was a 2-1 loss under Jim Magilton’s management in October 2008.
While Cook has made a frustrating start to his time at Portman Road, Charlton boss Nigel Adkins has enjoyed a brighter beginning to life with his new club having won two and drawn won of his games since taking over on March 18th following ex-Blues midfielder Lee Bowyer’s departure.
All three of those matches were away from home with a 2-2 draw at AFC Wimbledon having been followed by impressive wins at Doncaster, 1-0, and Sunderland, 2-1. Charlton are eighth, two points ahead of the Blues.
“Good luck to Nigel, I like Nigel a lot,” Cook said of his fellow Merseysider, who was his team-mate at Wigan.
“He was at our game [at Wimbledon] the other night. He's probably gone home and had two great nights’ sleep because if I'd have watched us I'd feel exactly the same as Nigel.
“They are in a play-off position, they're going really strongly and they've got a lot of men in the team, Jayden Stockley, Jason Pearce, Ryan Inniss, Darren Pratley, right through the team, Alex Gilbey. All good, strong players, all men.
“If we don't turn up tomorrow, we will get beat. Simple football. If we can't raise a fight and we can't challenge and we can't be strong and we can't create chances and score goals, then we will just fall away to 15th, 16th in the league and that will go down in the history books.”
In normal circumstances an April game at Charlton would see thousands of Town fans make the short trip to South London and pack the away end. But tomorrow will be very different towards the end of a season in which fans have been absent aside from a couple of games midway through the campaign when a few thousand were present.
“Last night watching Rotherham and Coventry, tonight it's a Sky game from the Championship, football has been a shining light whilst it’s been such a tough year for everyone.
“Going to a match on a Saturday is one of the greatest days for people who go to work in every town and city in the country.
“Going to support your team is an absolute pleasure and when your team has tough times, like we're having, I think you support your team more.
“I'm a Liverpool fan and I know what Liverpool fans do. We support our team home and away in thousands and thousands because they represent the city.
“At the minute, going forward, we don't represent our town very well. But what I'm saying to our supporters, you keep believing and you keep supporting us, it will change.”
Second-guessing Cook’s team is even harder than usual given his scathing comments regarding the 18 which was beaten so embarrassingly at AFC Wimbledon onsideteam at Plough Lane, Cook will almost certainly have to field at least some of those who were involved against Wimbledon.
Tomas Holy will probably continue in goal, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if Dai Cornell got a chance to show what he can do at some point in the remaining matches.
System-wise, Cook may opt to return to his favoured 4-2-3-1 with his switch to a three-man backline and then further tinkering from there having made little difference to the Blues’ fortunes.
That will probably see skipper Luke Chambers and Toto Nsiala at the centre of the defence although Mark McGuinness might be in with a shout of his first game under Cook with Myles Kenlock perhaps returning at left-back for Stephen Ward.
Cook hinted that Kane Vincent-Young could be back at right-back, which would see Luke Woolfenden drop out.
In midfield, Cook may look at bringing Cole Skuse back in alongside Flynn Downes, while Tristan Nydam may also play a part at some stage, with Armando Dobra or Teddy Bishop perhaps in the number 10 role ahead of them.
Out wide, Gwion Edwards will probably be on the right, while Freddie Sears and Keanan Bennetts are options on the left.
James Norwood has been the most effective striker under Cook but made little impact at Wimbledon and missed Town’s one serious chance. Oli Hawkins and Kayden Jackson are among the alternatives.
If Cook looks to include any younger players in his squad, then midfielder Liam Gibbs, who coincidentally made his league debut against the Addicks at Portman Road earlier in the season, is the most likely to make the trip.
Josh Harrop will miss out as he is suspended for three games following his red card at Wimbledon.
Addicks boss Adkins can’t wait to finally taking charge of his first game at the Valley but is disappointed it’s behind closed doors.
“I’m really looking forward to being in the dressing room and on the pitch, it’s just a shame the supporters aren’t there,” he told the Charlton official website.
“I’ve got to familiarise myself with being in the home dugout and the surroundings of the game as well so it’s something I’m really looking forward to.
“Every game is now vitally important. We need to get a certain amount of points to be in a play-off position.”
Reflecting on what he saw of the Blues at Plough Lane, he added: “I went to watch Wimbledon against Ipswich on Tuesday evening. They’re having a challenging period but one thing I can guarantee is it’s going to be just as tough as it was against Sunderland for us.
“They’re going to be really fired up for the game because they’re like us. We’re very close in the league table, they’re pushing for the play-off positions and so are we.
“Having played with Paul and knowing him over the years, I know that his team are going to be fully committed so we’ve got to be right up for the battle.
“Whatever formation and whatever personnel they put out, it’s going to be a tough game but we’ve got to make sure it is a tough game for them as well.
“We can’t rest on the laurels of what we’ve been doing so far, we’ve got to keep pushing on and driving on.
“I must say the players have applied themselves really well so far. We’ve got to keep that going. We’ve got some good quality players, the spirit has been good but the work ethic and the determination to keep improving will constantly be here with the standards that we’re after.”
Striker Conor Washington, a Mick McCarthy target during his time as manager of the Blues, has been ruled out with a knock, while Ian Maatsen and Chuks Aneke also picked up niggles and will be assessed tomorrow ahead of the game. Alex Gilbey is over a problem he picked up at Sunderland.
Town just have the edge historically having won 23 games (19 in the league), Charlton 19 (16) and with 11 (10) ending in draws.
In November at Portman Road, a goal in either half from Albie Morgan and Omar Bogle saw Charlton to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Town.
Morgan put his side ahead with a low shot on 21 in an evenly-balanced first half, while sub Bogle scored with his first touch in the 68th minute to seal the three points for the visitors with the Blues never looking like staging a comeback.
The teams’ last competitive game at the Valley was in November 2015 when Daryl Murphy scored twice and Freddie Sears once as the Blues comfortably beat Charlton 3-0.
Murphy put Town in front in the 28th minute, Sears added the second just before half-time and the Irish international sealed the three points on 68.
Patrick Bauer, Tariqe Fosu and Josh Magennis (2) put the Addicks 4-0 up at half-time before two Ricky Holmes strikes sandwiched Andre Dozzell’s solitary goal for Town.
Charlton central defender Luca Vega came through the academy at Portman Road having joined the club at seven before being released in the summer of 2019 when he signed a professional deal at the Valley after a trial. So far Vega’s only first team appearance was in the Papa John’s Trophy earlier this season.
Centre-half Deji Oshilaja came very close to joining the Blues in the summer of 2018 from AFC Wimbledon.
The former Dons skipper, who signed for the Addicks in July 2019, was at Portman Road to complete the deadline day deal only for the clubs to be unable to agree a fee. Midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey is the stepson of ex-Blues striker Nicky Forster.
Saturday’s referee is Craig Hicks from Surrey, who has shown 77 yellow cards and four red in 28 games so far this season.
Coincidentally, Hicks’s last game was the Portman Road defeat to the Addicks in November in which he booked Ward, Judge and one visiting player.
He also refereed the 2-0 win at Bristol Rovers in September in which he yellow-carded Edwards, Norwood and two home players.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 0-0 draw at AFC Wimbledon last season in which he booked Downes and one home player.
Before that he refereed another 0-0 draw, at home to Gillingham on Boxing Day 2019 in which he showed yellow cards to Alan Judge, Nsiala, Edwards and Norwood.
Hicks’s first competitive Town match was the Leasing.com Trophy tie with Tottenham’s U21s in September 2019 in which he showed just the one yellow card to one of the visitors.
He also took charge of Town’s July 2017 pre-season friendly against Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium, which the home side won 2-1.
The Kent side, who had current Blues keeper Holy in goal, went in front via a soft penalty awarded by Hicks, who kept his cards in his pocket throughout, won by ex-Town midfielder Lee Martin following a challenge by Blues captain Chambers and converted by Tom Eaves.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Vincent-Young, Chambers (c), Ward, Nsiala, Woolfenden, McGuinness, Dozzell, Skuse, Nydam, Gibbs, Bishop, Downes, Edwards, Bennetts, Lankester, Sears, Dobra, Norwood, Jackson, Parrott, Hawkins, Drinan.
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