12 January ~ However much Charlton Athletic manager Chris Powell plays down his side's next two games, the coming fortnight is likely to define the race for promotion at the top of League One. Powell's team travel to Hillsborough on Saturday to face a Sheffield Wednesday side that are unbeaten at home in all competitions this season. The following weekend Charlton will host Sheffield United, who have won nine of their last ten matches. Win both and Charlton will extend their current four point lead at the top of the division, while harming their rivals' chances and confidence. Lose them both and the Addicks will be dragged into the scrap behind them for the first time since the opening few weeks of the season.

First up are Gary Megson's Owls. Although not a first-against-second match, by virtue of Sheffield United's midweek victory over Yeovil Town at Bramall Lane, it still promises to be a tense affair. Wednesday will be confident after dispatching Championship promotion hopefuls West Ham United in the FA Cup last weekend. They will also take heart from their successful defence during 11 minutes of additional time in that game, having thrown away five points against Huddersfield and Walsall after the 90 were up in recent weeks.

Though unpopular among many other fans, Gary Megson has cemented his place in the hearts of Wednesday fans this season. He has built a team that plays with honesty, passion and power. They are a menace from set plays, but it would be unfair to label their style of play "hoofball". Their build-up play is often fast and smooth, getting into dangerous positions before delivering accurate balls into the box. Megson has also brought the fans on side by making them feel appreciated, which goes some way to explaining Wednesday's good home form.

For a decade Hillsborough has been a poisonous place to play. Confidence in the players' ability – and the effort they were putting in – has been rock-bottom, with any conceded goal automatically spelling the start of another decline. This season the fans appreciate the players' effort and know that even when they go one or two goals behind they still have a chance, as proved against both Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town already.

There is a rapport between players, fans and coaching staff. For the first time since the 1990s the Hillsborough crowd has chants for the majority of their players because, for the first time since the 1990s, they feel like their players deserve them.

Wednesday are not without their problems, having relied heavily on loan players. Ben Marshall, from Stoke City, has arguably been the best performer. The Charlton match is the final one of his loan spell, with negotiations to extend it hampered by the 20-year-old's ongoing contract talks with his parent club. The loss of his creativity, along with James Tavernier's return to Newcastle United, would leave Wednesday relying on the ever-unreliable Jermaine Johnson to provide a bit of ingenuity on the wings.

For Charlton the worry is that, despite their impressive form in the first half of the season, they are still not clear at the top of the table. At the same stage last season, League One's runaway winners Brighton had 46 points. This season that total would leave Gus Poyet's eventual champions in sixth, eight points from the summit. Such is the relentless pace in the promotion places of League One this time around.

Hillsborough this Saturday is where both Wednesday and Charlton are focussing for the moment, though. Both Megson and Powell will be acutely aware that Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and MK Dons will be watching closely, eager to take advantage of whoever slips up. Tom Hocking

Comments (8)
Comment by markcurtains 2012-01-12 10:52:24

Nice to read an accurate appraisal of Wednesday's style of play under Megson. Yes, they're not playing like Brazil but it's not the up and under hoofball that Megson's many detractors would have you believe.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2012-01-12 11:33:43

Meanwhile Town (Huddersfield) will be hoping to take advantage of fixtures with Oldham (h), Brentford (h) and Tranmere (a) before squaring off with the club we don't mention on WSC (h). We really do have a good chance as we have already played all our rivals (Charlton, Sheff Utd & Wed and Franchise) away. Although a valid criticism that Lee Clark continues to chop and change and seems to have no idea what his best team is, he was the same last season when we went unbeaten from December until the end of the season. Still, we lost out on automatic promotion due to our failure to pick up maximum points in a few home games we were expected to win. And there's also the small issue of Jordan Rhodes' whereabouts post-January.

Comment by tempestinaflathat 2012-01-12 11:48:03

I'm not at all surprised to see Megson doing well with Wednesday. After all, this is a manager who got WBA into the top flight and who kept Bolton their steadily (even if his methods weren't popular) - he's more than good enough for the second division.

Comment by jameswba 2012-01-12 12:24:41

I'm pleased to see Wednesday going well under Megson. Perhaps not that surprised, though, given his old links with them. We WBA fans actually feared he might leave us for Wednesday back in 2000/2001, just when it was becoming clear that he was the best manager we'd had in years.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2012-01-12 13:06:12

I fear that you might be playing the haddocks just a tad too early, Tom.

My expectation is that we will win our next two games against the Sheffs, comfortably. Three nil, four nil, something like that. And then what? Then the famous Charlton End-of-Season slump(TM) will slowly kick in. You know the one - it starts late January every year, regular as clockwork, and normally sees us through to May. It's inevitable, we all know it's coming, but there's absolutely nothing we can do about it. Right now we're hot hot HOT as mustard - but give us another couple of weeks and we'll be finished, all done for 2011/2012. We'll be cannon fodder for every tom dick and harry that comes a-calling.

So, Tom, my message to you is: brace yourself for a right ol' spanking this Saturday. And best of luck in the Championship next season, but please don't forget to spare a thought for us haddocks, still stuck down here in League One with the likes of Orient and Millwall....


Comment by Sheds 2012-01-12 13:50:03

Quite right. It's about time our end of season collapse was officially incorporated into football parlance and general pundit blather.
'Bayern should wrap up the Bundesliga when the competition resumes after the winter break if they can avoid a Charlton Slump'.

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2012-01-15 11:04:03

Colin Wanker must be delighted his best friend in football is doing so well with the Wednesday and an ex-Wednesdayite doing so well with his beloved United! Fascinating battle between the two sides for promotion though, deserves a bit more media coverage. Unless anyone can point me in the direction of some decent articles?

Comment by jonmid 2012-01-15 20:49:33

well moe found one here from september

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