One of the most intriguing elements of the League One playoffs this season has been the “past Premier League clubs fallen on hard times” narrative. Last night, Sunderland knocked Portsmouth out and became the first confirmed finalist, while tonight they could be joined by Charlton Athletic. Seasoned top-flight watchers will remember Charlton as the side who always used to perform way above expectations for the first half of any season but, when it looked like they might unhook a European place, would suddenly play like a relegation contender for the last few months. While that may have become tiresome for Addicks fans, we’re sure they’d prefer it to another season in the third tier of English football.
Tonight, they enter the home leg of their tie against Doncaster (who’ve never had the pleasure of a season in the Premier League) holding a 2-1 lead. Their victory at the Keepmoat Stadium was more convincing than the scoreline may suggest, and had it not been for a late Matty Blair strike for Donny, this second leg would feel more like a coronation for the London side. Yet with just one goal in it, the visitors will come into tonight’s match confident that they could progress to the final and have a shot at returning to the Championship after five seasons of scrambling around the bottom two divisions of the Football League. Here, we will look at the best bets in advance of tonight’s game.
An end-to-end clash in prospect?
In the first hour or more of Sunday’s first leg, Charlton built a comfortable ascendancy and could have added to it multiple times but, as the game drew to a close, they looked ready to settle for 2-0. A late, scrambled goal for Doncaster has now ensured that tonight’s game won’t be the stately procession it could have been, and you have to wonder if Charlton will end up kicking themselves for not having turned a comfortable lead into an insurmountable one. One goal for Rovers is all it would take to neutralise the first-leg advantage, and the Addicks’ young squad may yet have an attack of nerves.
For the visitors, the maths are very simple. If Charlton score, then Donny need to throw caution to the wind and turn the game into a slug-fest. Even if the hosts don’t score, Grant McCann’s men will still need at least one, so they need to be on it from the first whistle. This should lead to an entertaining game. The 6/5 odds on offer from Betway for both teams to score and the game to have more than 2.5 goals in it are tempting, in that light. Sunday’s game showed us, with goals for Charlton in the 32nd and 34th minutes, that there is the scope for explosive bursts of action tonight.
Experience to play a part?
For many reasons, including what has been deemed to be large-scale mismanagement of the club, Charlton have not been in a position to accumulate high-value players in the way the club used to. Under manager Lee Bowyer, the focus has been on delivering better results through use of younger, local players and a few loan signings – which has worked well enough to put them on the brink of a return to the Championship. There is, however, no getting away from the fact that experience often plays a part in high-pressure occasions, and it’s something in very short supply at the Valley these days.
Doncaster, for their part, have a squad that is on average two years older than the Addicks’ set-up. Among the players they can call upon is James Coppinger; at 38, he’s twice the age of some of the others who may start here – but he’s been over this road before and knows what it takes. He may have lost a yard of pace, but Paddy Power’s odds of 11/2 on Coppinger to score at any time in tonight’s contest are still tempting. The last time he played in a play-off semi, he helped himself to a hat-trick against Southend United – taking Rovers to a final showdown with Leeds, which they won 1-0 to earn promotion.
Charlton should have too much for the visitors
Liverpool vs Barcelona, Tottenham vs Ajax, Leeds vs Derby – the last fortnight has shown us that predicting the outcome of a two-leg tie can be a fool’s errand, even after the first leg has been played (and often won resoundingly). Charlton come into a home game with a lead in the bag and, on the away trip, outplayed this same opponent just five days ago. So, clearly, they should be confident of taking what they need from this game and moving on to Wembley. Right?
The answer to that question is “Probably”. Yes, things can turn around across a period of 90 minutes – or, as Spurs demonstrated, just 45. However, just because we’ve witnessed some impressive comebacks over the last few weeks doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen here. What we do expect is for Doncaster, knowing what is possible, to have a right go at overturning the narrow deficit. They may even get close – but the evidence points to Charlton doing enough to win here. Backing the win will get you odds of 21/20 at Ladbrokes. If, however, you back them to win and Both Teams To Score, you’ll get 14/5, which offers much better value.
Bets of the Day
Charlton and BTTS (Ladbrokes, 14/5); James Coppinger to score (Paddy Power, 11/2); BTTS and >2.5 goals (Betway, 6/5)