Leeds United do not have a monopoly on in-fighting. Miles away in South London, Charlton Athletic are coping with problems of their own: poor form, crowd unrest and enmity between the owner and sections of their support.
Roland Duchatelet, the Belgian who bought Charlton in early 2014 and controlled Standard Liege until July of this year, has been at The Valley on business this week but is seen by many as an absent figurehead. Charlton say each of their fixtures is beamed live to the 69-year-old but he has not watched a game in the flesh for over a year. He is not expected to attend tomorrow’s clash with Leeds.
The running of Charlton, who are third from bottom in the Championship and have lost seven of their last nine matches, is as contentious an issue as Massimo Cellino’s management of Leeds. Protests have been staged against Duchatelet and his chief executive at The Valley, Katrien Meire, caused trouble recently by claiming that dissatisfied supporters amounted to only “two per cent” of Charlton’s fanbase.
This weekend, Leeds and Steve Evans have the opportunity to exploit a situation which rival clubs often try to use against them. When Evans spoke to members of Hull City’s camp after United’s 2-1 win at Elland Road last Saturday, they told him that City’s manager, Steve Bruce, had stressed to them the importance of scoring first and trying to make the stadium implode.
“I know for a fact, from speaking to one or two of the boys in the Hull City camp, how much emphasis Steve put on Hull getting the first goal and getting the crowd to react negatively,” Evans said. “He won’t be the only coach in the world to have said that.
“Charlton’s a fantastic place to take a team and I enjoy watching games there but it’s important we start right. I think their supporters are on edge. If we get the first goal then it puts on the type of pressure that we get at Elland Road.”
Evans made an astute tactical change in Leeds’ victory over Hull, playing Liam Bridcutt as a holding midfielder and Chris Wood as a lone striker. The formation worked as planned and appeared to lay the ground for a different approach in the run-up to Christmas.
United’s head coach, however, gave a strong hint that he would reorganise his team again tomorrow, potentially recalling Mirco Antenucci to re-establish a two-man attack.
Asked if there was any chance of him altering the successful tactics used against Hull, Evans said: “Yes, I think there is. You learn very quickly in the Championship that it’s about particular teams; shapes and systems for certain opposition. But it’s not really about 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or anything else. We just want to go out and play football and if we play with the right application, we’ll win.
“Every training ground is a positive place to be when you’ve won a derby and played as well as we did on Saturday and the place has been full of beans this week. Our performance was full of vigour and bravery with people getting on the ball.
“There wasn’t a player who you couldn’t say performed well and three or four performed at the top of their game. To win games you need that.”
Charlton had Championship leaders Brighton staring down the barrel of a first league defeat last weekend, 2-0 up at The Amex after only five minutes.
Albion conjured three goals in the second half – helped by a red card shown to Charlton defender Patrick Bauer – and the Addicks’ collapse was symptomatic of a season where little is going right.
Their manager, Karel Fraeye, is essentially a permanent appointment but still has the word ‘interim’ in his title. Evans, whose side could pull nine points clear of the relegation places with a win at The Valley, said Charlton’s football under Fraeye was better than their results and better than their league position.
“Since they’ve changed manager their performances have actually improved,” Evans said. “The results don’t show it but when we do the analysis their performances are up a notch.
“I don’t think there’s any game you ‘should win’ in the Championship. Every game is difficult and we’ve seen that ourselves. This is a team who were comfortably ahead against the league leaders land are probably bemused about how they lost that game.”