Promotion Diaries – Charlton Athletic

The top three playoff positions in League One were all but clinched with a month remaining in the season. Charlton Athletic couldn’t quite catch Barnsley for second, but they knew that they’d be fighting for promotion through the playoff. That didn’t stop them from impressing down the stretch, and scoring much needed goals to improve on their finishing position, qualifying as the third-place team after a 4-0 victory over Rochdale on the final day of the season gave them the goal differential advantage.

A come-from-behind victory in the semifinals (on penalties against Doncaster Rovers) set them up for a final at Wembley Stadium against the venerable Sunderland, who were trying to make their stay in League One a brief one. The clubs were tied at 1-1 as the game came to the end of regular time, and were seemingly heading to extra time. Until Patrick Bauer found the net four minutes into stoppage time, sending Charlton Athletic back to the Championship for the first time since 2016, while delaying Sunderland’s own return.

Here’s a quick look at how the Addicks ended up in this position:

What Went Right

The Addicks spent most of the season in playoff position, but waited until the last day of the season to climb as high as third. After a 11 December win at Portsmouth, however, they were in the playoffs for good, and lost only one of their final 15 matches on the season (and only two matches in 2019).

That 10-4-1 stretch to close out the season also saw them expand their goal differential, which ended up helping them achieve third place by one goal over Portsmouth at the end of the season. This was despite scoring the fewest goals (73) of any of the four playoff participants, though surrendering the second-fewest goals (40) in the league helped.

Lyle Taylor (21 goals) and Karlan Grant (14) were responsible for nearly half the goals themselves, while keepers Jed Steer (6) and Dillon Phillips (12) combined for 18 clean sheets during the season. Charlton Athletic Academy-product Phillips conceded only 17 goals over his 27 appearances (0.63 GAA), and will be with the squad next season (Steer was on loan from Aston Villa and left the club in December).

What Went Wrong

In a successful season, it is often hard to find low points, and the Addicks only went more than three matches in a row without a win all season (a 0-3-1 stretch from 26 January to 16 February). They lost 10 times on the season overall – with eight of those losses on the road – including twice to Coventry City (who finished a distant 8th). Their worst loss of the season was to relegated Scunthorpe United, who managed to win 5-3 back in October. Otherwise, the season was mostly filled with successes (they still had a winning record and positive goal differential on the road), and, as mentioned, the club maintained a playoff position for most of the season.

Recent English Football League History

Charlton Athletic has spent the prior three seasons in League One after a 22nd-place finish in the Championship during the 2015-16 season. Earlier this century, after a Championship title (1999-2000), the Addicks spent seven seasons in the Premier League, finishing as high as 7th (2003-04). But for most of the past decade, they have flipped back and forth between League One and the Championship, winning a League One title in 2011-12 along the way.

As for recent League One playoff winners… not a solid track record to say the least. Rotherham United, who won the League One playoff twice in the past five seasons (2014 & 2018), will be back in League One next season after their 22nd-place finish in the Championship this season. Millwall, the playoff winner in 2017, wasn’t much better, finishing 21st. Barnsley (2016) had a great season, earning automatic promotion by finishing second in League One this season… after they were relegated after a 22nd-place finish last season. Preston North End has found a bit more success back in the Championship since their League One playoff victory in 2015, averaging an 11th-place finish over the past four seasons.

Who’s Playing Elsewhere Next Season?

Of the players at the end of their contracts, four players have been offered new contracts for next season. Three of the players were solid rotation members this season; defender Patrick Bauer started 35 matches this season, midfielder Joe Aribo did the same (while also scoring nine goals), and midfielder Tariqe Fosu played in 27 matches (13 subs) and scored twice. The fourth player – Jake Forster-Caskey – was injured all season but made 41 appearances for the club the previous season.

Ben Reeves was the most used of six players not offered renewals, with the midfielder appearing in 29 matches (22 starts) and scoring four goals. Players on loan to the squad this season included Krystian Bielek (Arsenal) and Josh Cullen (West Ham United), and while both players impressed in their loan spells, they could potentially find time next season in the Premier League and might not be available again.

Chances of a One-and-Done?

The Addicks last visit to the Championship was a four season stop in which their best season was the 9th-place finish during the first season (2012-13) following their League One title. Their last six seasons in the Championship, however, have averaged a 16th-place finish with two relegations, so it’s hard to say what the club’s results will be next season. A stretch similar to Preston North End could be achievable, though with their Premier League pedigree, they will probably be chomping at the bit to return to the top flight of English football.

It’s easy to think they’ll just replace the three clubs that just got relegated, settling in at the bottom of the table. On rare occasions, a club will buck the odds and earn back-to-back promotions. More likely still is an immediate return to the lower league (Rotherham United is a great example of this). Per their current SPI, the Addicks (43.6) will begin next season as the 22nd-best club in the Championship, ahead of only Reading (36.1) and, surprisingly, Barnsley (39.8). But it’s close at the bottom of the Championship, with Wigan Athletic (44.3), Preston North end (44.4) and League One champion Luton Town (44.4) not far off.

With their top two scorers (potentially top three should Aribo resign) coming back next season, as well as a capable goalkeeper, they have a solid foundation to build on, and as long as the ownership group is willing to make smart investments, the Addicks could fight through the muddle near the bottom and find success. We’ll be sure to take another once some players start settling on to new clubs.

Until next time…

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