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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

The steady hand of Michael Appleton could be ideal for Charlton's latest change of direction

Nobody ever wants their club to become ‘that kind of club’, but orthodoxy in football now dictates that replacing one manager with another is the easiest way to encourage an upturn in fortunes. That is what happened when Dean Holden stepped in as Charlton boss, initially on a non-committal six-month contract in December 2022. Charlton won three of their next five games, pulled away from the threat of an unthinkable relegation to League Two and duly offered Holden a three-year deal in March.

Holden was relieved of his duties at the end of August, leading Charlton to appoint Michael Appleton as their seventeenth manager in the past seventeen years since Valley favourite Alan Curbishley departed.

It was a statement released by the Charlton Supporters’ Trust that bemoaned the Addicks becoming ‘that kind of club’ upon Holden’s sacking, and they have plenty of recent experience to prove change is not always for the better in this corner of south-east London.

New owners SE7 partners finally took control of the club in July, yet it was they who advised on the appointment of Holden during a period of exclusivity to buy from Thomas Sandgaard at the end of last year. Sandgaard had purchased the club three years previously following a chaotic few months under the control of East Street Investments after the abominable ownership of Roland Duchatelet came to an end in 2020.

Another of the early moves from SE7 – who are fronted by one-time Sunderland co-owner and forever Netflix star Charlie Methven – was to appoint former Brentford and Swansea City recruitment chief Andy Scott as technical director. Scott has set about replacing the chaos that has become almost customary at Charlton with something closer to a coherent plan to get the club back in to the Championship.

Methven has spoken of a five-year project to make the club upwardly mobile, but five defeats in a row in the early weeks of this season was enough to encourage a change of direction. Scott recently called Charlton’s current predicament “embarrassing”, saying that the club “has been too easily rolled over in the past”. The ruthless decision to part ways with Holden was part of creating an “elite performing environment”.

The early days of Holden’s reign saw him mingle with supporters in local pubs and invite club legends to spend time with him at the club’s Sparrows Lane training ground. Scott’s assessment of his time in charge – and issues that date further back – indicates a shift away from sentimentality and towards structure has been ordered. This has led them to Appleton.

Although Appleton has become synonymous with encouraging his sides to play attractive football throughout a 12-year coaching career that has encompassed both success and failure, he undeniably allows his teams to do his talking for him on the pitch. “I know the side needs to win games,” was his blunt admission following a 3-1 victory in what was his first taste of the Valley against Wycombe Wanderers – just a second league success since the opening day of the season.

Even members of Appleton’s incoming backroom staff had to go through five-hour interviews with Scott before having their appointments confirmed. The 47-year-old is aware of what he has signed up for and is on board with the promise of change from above. When he was introduced to the Valley by the PA announcer ahead of Saturday’s game, there was no wave to the Covered End or nervous looks in the direction of the executive boxes. The game was about to start, and Appleton was firmly in the mood to get to work.

There is understandably plenty of excitement about a crop of homegrown Charlton youngsters who are currently getting plenty of opportunities because of a series of first-team injuries. Appleton played a role in the development of players like Brennan Johnson and Kemar Roofe at his previous clubs but has urged caution in terms of asking too much of the Valley youngsters too soon. “It was a reason that I was keen to speak to the club,” he confessed. “There are players coming through with lots of potential, but I want to help them improve in areas.”

He let them loose on his home debut against Wycombe though, with attackers Tyrese Campbell and Miles Leaburn linking up to give Charlton a first-half lead. But Appleton rarely fails to leave you with the impression that he always demands more. “The young players made it difficult for Wycombe,” said Appleton, who started his post-match press conference by apologising for losing his voice on an up-and-down afternoon. “They are learning the game, but they have to do it quickly.”

Leaburn allowed himself to get marginally more carried away, admitting that it is “always a nice feeling” to score at the Valley, but he stressed that the new boss has emphasized organisation and defensive solidity above all else. “We’re doing our best to deliver,” was his perspective on the first two weeks under Appleton, and surely the least that has been asked of the forward and his team-mates.

The inexperience that comes with youth allowed Wycombe back into the game after half-time, and hopes of a maiden win looked slim after Freddie Potts scored a spectacular equaliser during a period of away dominance. “We knew it would be tough at times, they are a group of men who have been at the top end of this division for years,” said the Charlton head coach. “But there were moments where we showed bravery.”

The new boss praised the “grit and determination” shown to maintain parity as the second half progressed. However, he offered another glimpse of his managerial acumen in changing the momentum of the game to secure victory. With just over ten minutes to play, Appleton made a triple substitution that included two changes to his back four. “We tried to give them a bit of a help,” he said of his tiring side. Refusing to take any sort of credit for the late Charlton goals that followed was entirely in character: “It was good to see it come off, that’s not always the case.”

Fresh from the bench, Manchester City loanee Slobodan Tedic bundled home a cross from fellow substitute Tennai Watson to give Charlton the lead once again. Corey Blackett-Taylor, who excelled on the left flank on his 26th birthday, scored a superb clinching goal in injury-time as he beat a succession of wilting Wycombe defenders before finding the bottom corner. “I gave him a lot of praise for the goal, but he did his bit out of possession as well,” was the sort of assessment from his new head coach that the winger should start getting used to.

“It was nothing more than I expected,” was Appleton’s assessment of his first day in the home dugout. “You want to get that first win early, like a striker joining a new club and getting off the mark.” It is hard to imagine the man from Salford getting carried away even if he was taking home the match ball every week, and he admitted that future contests “can’t be a game of basketball every week”. Yet in collecting four points from his first two games and cutting through the noise to remain laser focused on the job in hand, Appleton has shown signs that he may be well-suited to Charlton's change of tact.


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