Roker Report: How would you rate Charlton’s performance so far this season? You find yourself currently 1st in the league. Do you think the Addicks are overperforming, underperforming or just about right with how things are at the moment?
Sam Clarke: After a fairly slow start, we have really picked up form, and some huge wins over teams who have been flying this season.
I was hoping to see us competing for promotion this season after a solid couple of campaigns, but always knew we’d have close competition which had turned out to be the case.
RR: What do you make of your transfer business in the summer window? Happy with the additions, some big losses or need to add some in January?
SC: The key thing we did in the summer was keep the core of the squad together from last season. Consistency is key in a league with high squad turnovers, and keeping a squad together is often a key to teams pushing for promotion.
The recruitment of experienced leaders like Kate Longhurst, Kayleigh Green, and Carla Humphrey seems to have been the piece of the puzzle we were missing in previous seasons.
I still worry with a couple of injuries we could start looking light in defence, so a couple of depth options at the back wouldn’t go a miss.
RR: After a relatively shaky start to the 23/24 season for Charlton, with two draw and a loss at home to Watford, the team has been in fine form and surging up the table. What do you feel this is down to? Key players returning, some players stepping up, tactics etc?
SC: At the start of the season it felt like Karen Hills took some time figuring out her best XI, as you’ll notice a lot of changes in those first few games.
Once the team got settled, we started finding our feet. We got back to the defensive stability that had been the back bone of our success in previous seasons, and started playing with purpose moving forward.
We’ve also developed a knack for getting points from games where we aren’t performing our best, where in previous seasons we definitely would have dropped points.
RR: I notice that you have six clean sheets this season and tend to win games mainly by a one goal margin (last weekend excluded). What is Charlton’s playing style?
SC: As you can tell from those clean sheets, staying strong defensively is very key to our game. Not only out of possession, but our defence is very comfortable retaining possession and keeping the ball away from our opposition.
Moving forward we are at our best when playing quick and with pace, and we tend to take chances we get. When we lead, we limit how much dangerous possession our opponents have.
You look at the Southampton game at the weekend, we scored early in the second half, and for the majority of the second half negated their threats. Only getting the second goal from a quick counter in stoppage time.
RR: Is there anyone who you’d say is having a breakout season or performing above expectations?
SC: Mia Ross has been a consistent performer for us since signing a few years ago, but feels like she’s taken another step up this season and really is key to everything we do. It’s easy to forget she’s still just 20 years old.
RR: Who would you say could be a thorn in the side for Sunderland? Who do we need to look out for?
SC: If Carla Humphrey is on her game, she runs the show in the midfield, and I think that could be key to our success in an important game at home.
Her set piece speciality also makes her dangerous even in games she’s not getting as much joy from in open play, and I think teams have got to be cautious about giving away free kicks in and around the box with her on the pitch.
RR: It’s always tough to give a score prediction, but how do you see this game panning out?
SC: With the two best defences in the league meeting, it’s going to be whoever find that extra piece of magic to break through.
Every time we face Sunderland, I’m blown away by how many attempts we need to beat Claudia Moan, and with those chances limited now with the defensive seemingly much stronger; I am a little concerned.
We have players capable of magic though, and I think that’s exactly the kind of moment that’ll be the difference.
RR: And lastly, what are your expectations for Charlton this season? How do you think they’ll do for the remaining half?
SC: Being top of the league 10 games in, and a win at the weekend meaning we beat all of the current top 6 in the league, I can’t look beyond promotion.
I’m under no illusions at how hard that’ll be, but I want to at least see us in the battle right until the end.