Given the fact Lee Bowyer came close to leaving the club this summer amid the ongoing uncertainty and struggles with owner Roland Duchatelet, did you anticipate such a positive start to the season for Charlton Athletic? The Addicks sit fifth in the table and are unbeaten in their first four games.
Probably not, but I would say that I wasn’t totally convinced that Bowyer would leave this summer. Obviously, there were murmurs about what was going on, but he was pretty steadfast in his view that he wanted to stay at Charlton. I think, even when things looked like they could be dicey, he was making it clear that he was still in talks and that his preference was to stay there, so I think that was quite important.
The start they’ve had has surprised a lot of people and I think they’ve continued with the momentum that took them up last season. They’ve certainly stuck to the principles that got them up, in terms of the style of play, which wasn’t a surprise as I don’t think he was ever going to stray away from that passing game. It’s been an excellent start; I’m sure if you’d have asked Bowyer or any of the players about having this kind of tally before the season, they’d have definitely taken it as they were one of the bookies’ favourites to struggle this season.
Lyle Taylor reportedly came close to a move to Brentford on Deadline Day and has proved just why Charlton wanted to keep him with four goals already. Had that move come off, how much bleaker would the outlook have been for The Addicks?
If you talk to anyone on the Charlton side of things, whatever price you put on Taylor, you probably aren’t going to get a player that fits as perfectly and as seamlessly into this system as he does. He is the fans’ favourite, he is the talisman, he is the goalscorer. His performances last season were outstanding and taking him out of the equation would have been an absolute hammer blow to Charlton’s chances of staying in the Championship. Despite the attempts by Brentford to get a deal done, there was a big price on him, even though his contractual situation means that, as things stand, he’s going to be leaving at the end of June.
Everybody is aware of just how unpredictable the Championship is and Charlton could well find themselves chasing a Play-Off spot, just as Brentford did in their first season back in the second tier. That said, what do you think is an achievable target?
This is a tricky one because, when Millwall got promoted, you felt stabilising was the key but they ended up finishing eighth and last season was a struggle. With Charlton, the thing that’s been shown in the opening weeks of the season is that they’ve got nothing to fear. I think sometimes people felt that, with the passing game and the way that Charlton play, it would be difficult to get the same sort of success at a higher level where you’ve got technically better opposition. But so far, it hasn’t really played out like that. Charlton have been creative on the ball, they’ve done some good set-piece routines that have produced the results they’ve wanted. The signings they’ve brought in have aided them so I think everyone has stepped up a level and the performances have been really good. As things stand, I still think the bottom line is that they just try to stay up in this first year.
As is often the case after a promotion, there was quite a high turnover of players in the transfer window. What did you make of the club's business?
I think the last few windows have all been really good, with Steve Gallen as the Head of Recruitment and, obviously, Bowyer as well. I think again, this summer, it’s been successful, with Josh Cullen they knew what they were getting, Conor Gallagher has come in on loan from Chelsea and looked very, very good. There are already players that haven’t been involved in Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal, though they will come into the group at some point. I think they’ve done really good business and they’ve had to make sure they use the loan market very well; I think clubs have to do that because it allows them to stretch the money a bit further and Charlton have done that. Some of the new signings look exciting, like Jonathan Leko. He’s unpredictable, he’s quick and he’s going to get people off their seats. I think what they’ve done, considering the restrictions and limitations on them, has been really, really good.
How are Charlton likely to set up on Saturday?
I think the likelihood – and this will probably get completely thrown round – is that it’s going to be a 4-4-2. They do like to play a diamond in midfield and I think it’s a possibility that they might persist with that. They also tend to play with two target men. I spoke to Bowyer in the summer and he said that all the teams he played for played with two up front and the game hasn’t changed that much, but he is flexible. So if he suddenly turned up with wing-backs, as they have played at stages as well, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The one thing I would say about Bowyer is that he looks closely at the opposition and actually watched every single team before the season started, just to get an idea of the level, the styles and the teams they would come up against. Whatever Brentford do, he’ll look for the weaknesses and, though it’s not ground-breaking, it’s works really well.
What's your score prediction?
I’m going to go for a Charlton win and I’ll go 2-1, but I think this will be a really good game. Brentford are, in many respects, a club with a good model for Charlton to follow in the way they’ve brought players through, sold them on and carried that cycle on to where they are spending more on players, selling players for more and having a better team that challenges. They’re two sides who want to play football and it should be a good one for the fans.