Well Lads and Lasses, the new season is almost upon us! Optimism has found its way back to Wearside, and I for one cannot wait to see what this season brings under new ownership and management.
That being said, League One football is a whole new world, and many of us are unsure what to expect this season. Will this be a walk in the park, or would we be treading familiar territory in totally underestimating the competition ahead of us in thinking we should fighting for promotion?
As such, we here at Roker Report will continue to reach out to opposition fans this season and ask them all the pertinent questions ahead of each and every clash.
RR: Charlton have been around League One for a couple of years now - what have you made of the league, and what can we expect?
LM: You should never underestimate League One. Sunderland will be seen as a massive scalp in this division, something Charlton perhaps have struggled to deal with at times.
Organised sides will come to the Stadium of Light and make themselves difficult to break down.
And as per any league outside of the top flight – it’s physical. The likes of Shrewsbury last season knew how to utilise their physicality to their advantage – something the Black Cats will need to adapt to.
RR: There are a few things that link our clubs - the ’98 Play-off final, for example, or the fact we’re both looking to new owners to restore our fortunes. How’s it going with the takeover?
LM: Damagingly slow.
Members of the Australian consortium, who are in the process of taking the club off the hands of the hugely unpopular Roland Duchatelet, actually attended last season’s home play-off semi-final against Shrewsbury, sitting in the directors’ box and sporting Addicks scarfs. If this were a public display of a changing of the guard, then it was premature.
Unknown delays mean that there’s currently no sign of the deal being completed before the end of the transfer window, and this has probably already laid the forthcoming season to waste for Charlton.
Duchatelet has been trying to offload for well in advance of a year and put a halt to any transfer fees being paid for signings in January – this has continued this summer.
So far only two (Lyle Taylor and Darren Pratley) have come in on free transfers.
The Belgian tycoon has now embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures at The Valley as he looks to stem his outgoings until the sale is completed. Academy players have had their club breakfasts taken away. The fan’s Wifi at The Valley has been disconnected. The club even recently boasted of cutting their electricity bill by 11% - with sources revealing at one point staff were told they couldn’t even turn the lights on during a recent meeting!
Duchatelet’s reign in SE7 has been fraught with mismanagement that has seen the club tumble back into League One and crowds diminish massively – and it’s showing no sign of improvement as it crawls to its end.
RR: And changes in the dug-out for us both. Lee Bowyer seems to be doing a decent job? With the changes, and after finishing last season in the play-offs, do you think this is the year you’ll get out?
LM: Sadly, I’d be surprised.
Bowyer, with club legend Johnnie Jackson as his caretaker assistant manager, got a superb reaction in the final ten games of last season after Karl Robinson left for Oxford. The side had been stumbling towards mid-table mediocrity before a run of six wins in those ten secured a play-off berth – although they came up short against a Shrewsbury side who were the surprise package of League One last year.
With the limitations placed on Bowyer’s squad this year – the two coming in at the training ground negated by nine, so far, leaving for various reasons this summer – I fear that it’s going to be a struggle.
The Addicks do have some quality within their ranks – Tariqe Fosu is one of the best players in League One when fit. Jason Pearce and Patrick Bauer at the back are formidable. Jake Forster-Caskey in the midfield is creative on his day.
But there’s such a lack of experience outside of the core group that any injury problems that arise will strip the south Londoners down to their bare bones.
RR: I think the last time we played each other was back in 2005, when you beat us 2-0 in the Premier League. In fact, I might be right in thinking you did the double over us that season. What did you make of the opening day fixture pitching us back together?
LM: A trip to the SoL was one that plenty of Charlton fans were looking forward to so seeing us paired together on fixture release day was pleasing.
Addicks fans have happy memories of our last opening day clash, when Darren Bent announced his arrival with the club by bagging a brace when a ten-man Charlton took the spoils 3-1 in a Premier League game.
Some fans’ excitement has since been dampened by the summer that the club has had – but come 12:30 on Saturday I’m sure they will be ready to get back into the swing of things.
PRESS CONFERENCE!— Roker Report (@RokerReport) August 2, 2018
Sunderland manager Jack Ross held his very first pre-match press conference today with the media ahead of the game at the Stadium of Light on Saturday with Charlton Athletic - here it is, every word, in full.@AJohno_ | #SAFC ⚪ https://t.co/De4X36oCJA
RR: Any player we should be especially wary of on opening day?
LM: Tariqe Fosu and Lyle Taylor are both expected to be out on Saturday – straight away that’s Charlton’s two most dangerous men out of the equation. Jason Pearce and Patrick Bauer in central defence will be a test for your attacking players. But other than that – make no bones about it, Charlton are looking light this season.
RR: How much of an impact will your injuries have and how will that alter Bowyer’s approach?
LM: I’m certain it will make things harder for us. Not sure what shape Sunderland are in at the moment but I’m worried we’ll be a bit blunt going forward.
RR: Do you think Sunderland are seen as the big fish this season? There’s some big names in the league, of course. Any early tips for top six?
LM: Sunderland will certainly be seen as a big fish due to the size of the club – but whether they can turnaround the downward momentum the club has been on for a number of years remains to be seen.
In terms of the top six, sides like Peterborough, Plymouth and Scunthorpe who were there or thereabouts last year could probably feature. Barnsley could be strong too – but League One is always hard to predict!
RR: Can we have a score prediction to finish off please?
LM: Maybe we can nick a draw.
And there you have it, a difficult season lies ahead but fans have every right to be excited going into this new campaign.
Can we open our League One account with a win? It’s certainly a possibility, and I for one can’t wait to see how the Lads perform.