The period since the Ipswich game has thrown up some questions – has there been a week before in our history when we went into three cup competitions and progressed in each one? When was the last time we were London’s only representative left in a domestic cup competition? Oh, also a fresh debate over whether we should get excited about the cup – and if so how much.
Taking on board the opinions of other Addicks, it would appear my position is at the extreme end of the spectrum. I don’t care a jot about the cups. In other circumstances undoubtedly I would; of course good cup runs are in themselves desirable. Just that right now surely our single goal, our one and only priority, is getting promoted back to the Championship. The chances of that happening this season may not be strong but they exist, essentially on the basis that on our day as things stand we are competitive, plus if we can hang in there long enough injured players will return and we have the potential to strengthen in the January window. Despite the winless run we are not far off the top six.
For sure there are pros and cons. The cups give us the chance to get minutes into the legs of those who need them, they offer opportunities for the further development of some of the emerging youngsters. Also, good cup runs can go hand-in-hand with success in the league; after all, winning is a good habit to acquire and confidence clearly counts for a lot. If we had a fit and healthy, large squad these positives would I think count for more. But we don’t.
Jaiyesimi and Leaburn were already on the injured list before the Ipswich game, after which were added Egbo and O’Connell. Now it seems Thomas and McGrandles have joined them. If you add in doubts about how many minutes/run of games we can get out of Inniss, Sessegnon, Blackett-Taylor and Aneke, include the risk of further injuries and suspensions, and let’s just say the squad is stretched, even given the return from loan of Elerewe and the possibility that whatever was in the way of Forster-Caskey being chosen is being eroded. In defence Clare is covering for Egbo so can no longer provide back-up for Sessegnon or in the centre, Lavelle has gone from being in the cold to an automatic selection (basically its two from Inniss, Lavelle and Elerewe), while the options out wide and up front are not extensive.
In that context, additional fixtures and the risk of more added to the unavailable list are unwelcome. Sure, there is something of a lull now on the fixtures front, with Burton on Saturday followed by a trip to Port Vale the following weekend, a break, then only a couple of league games in the first half of December. But after that its back to congestion.
I’d add in a further consideration. Reaching the last 16 of the League Cup (or whatever it’s called now) and being drawn at home against Brighton in a game to be played just before Santa comes calling might be something to look forward to. But if there’s any suggestion that in the players’ minds (or Garner’s come to that) that the game is more important than the league fixtures around that time that would be entirely unwelcome. They may not be mutually exclusive but I would swap all progress in all cups for a play-off place in a heartbeat – and would rather lose to Brighton than drop points against Morecambe or Bristol Rovers (the two prior games).
Why do I feel this way? I’d put it down to two primary reasons. First and foremost, I fear for our future if we don’t get promoted this season and show no signs of going up early in the next. It isn’t difficult to outline a scenario under which crowds dwindle further, Sandgaard feels obliged to take cost-cutting to another level and/or truly loses interest (and his recent comments regarding a focus on off-field matters can be seen as a step on that path, losing sight of the main goal and distracting yourself with minutiae), and we find ourselves again on the market as an asset with no value, given that we do not own The Valley. It is a pessimistic scenario for sure, but you can’t say it is impossible. After all, prior to the remarkable Ipswich game we were seeing low crowds and increasing apathy. I do believe that our club can only be considered sound if we are playing in the Championship, with regrettable periodic trips to the third flight if they happen, and do not see a viable future framed around expectations of a further extended stay in League One. The alternative scenario begins with being back in the Championship.
The second reason may be more personal/selfish. I’ve seen us sup at the top table, great years they were. I want us to be playing Premiership teams again, either on a regular basis or as a Championship outfit looking to measure progress, not as a plucky underdog. Also, I’ve seen us play at Wembley in a Mickey Mouse competition and have no wish to repeat the experience. Finally, throw in the horrifying thought of potentially having to choose between a March trip to London to watch us play FC Nobody in the Papa thingy or losing a record of never having missed us play at Wembley. Please spare me that.