Originally published in Give Me Sport – 25 January, 2016
Jose Riga has earned his first point as Charlton Athletic boss, after he was reappointed manager earlier in the month (previously having managed the Addicks in 2014), as his side fought to earn a well-deserved point at The Valley.
Harry Lennon scored in the 30th minute to put Riga’s side ahead before Jordan Rhodes equalised with a header. The game finished 1-1 and Charlton made precious ground on Bristol City, who lost 1-0 at Leeds.
Charlton have been in dismal form this season, managing only four wins and conceding a whopping 54. At the other end of the pitch, they have the lowest goals scored in the Championship, managing only 22 in 28 matches. With the tight nature of the league, however, a few wins could see the Addicks rise out of the relegation zone.
Lennon has experienced a rather exciting rise at Charlton. The 21-year-old has seen loan moves at Cambridge United and Gillingham, impressing at the latter and being recalled by Karel Fraeye in November 2015. His first senior goal, against Bristol City, saw Lennon become a fan-favourite, praised for his hard-work and spirit.
Riga looks set to stick with Lennon, even with defensive reinforcements coming in the shape of Roger Johnson and Rhys Williams (re-signed from FC Pune City and on-loan from Middlesbrough, respectively), although the latter is currently only in South-East London on an initial 28-day loan deal.
Charlton fans are sure to be proud too. Lennon has been a rare bright spark in a disappointing and lacklustre season for the London club. An opening day win against QPR ensured a promising start for the Addicks but, since then, they have conceded three or more goals on nine separate occasions.
Fingers may be pointed at Lennon, as a defender, but he has only appeared in four of those nine defeats. Also, young defenders need to be given a chance to make mistakes and learn – a Premier League debate rages about this exact situation, over John Stones, with Rio Ferdinand, among others, leaping to defend the young Englishman.
The young defender has a strong aerial presence, bags of pace, and passion to match. His celebrations at the weekend show what it means to him to get his chance to shine, having been at Charlton since 2001. A scoring defender is always a great asset to a side and who doesn’t want the accolade of having fouled the great Emile Heskey? Even if the result was a booking.
Sticking with youth could be a winning formula for Riga, much like Pochettino. One point from two games is a fairly good start considering the 6-0 thumping did come away at league leaders, Hull. If spirits can be lifted, and Lennon continues his impressive feat of scoring from the back, then Charlton could see the tables turn and points amassing.
The coming games are going to be a real test for Riga’s boys, with a trip to fellow strugglers Rotherham in the next outing. Charlton also host fellow relegation candidates Bristol, as well as mid-table Cardiff, before crossing the Thames to play Fulham on February 20. All winnable games for the Addicks and a good points haul in them could see the relegation zone waved goodbye to.
If Lennon can continue his form and emulate some of his inspirations’ performances, of who he names Vincent Kompany and Laurent Koscielny, alongside every 2000s-child’s idol, David Beckham, then there’s no reason Charlton cannot rescue their season and prevent relegation.
There’s a long way to come for Riga and Charlton, but things are looking up and a win is sure to come soon enough. A famous pundit once said: “you don’t win anything with kids”; but maybe you prevent relegation with them.