27 April ~ Since taking seventh place in the Premier League in the 2003-04 season, Charlton had declined as dramatically as any club in English football. A new low came last season when they finished 13th in League One, five months after fans' favourite Chris Powell replaced Phil Parkinson as manager. After the brief boost in form that almost routinely follows a new manager's appointment, Powell oversaw an appalling run of just two wins in 19 games, including 11 defeats. When he was appointed, Charlton were just six points off the automatic promotion places.
That period at least allowed Powell to begin preparations for a complete overhaul of the squad. In the summer alone, 18 new players joined. He has added to this with recent loan and short-term signings. "I felt I had no option but to start again," said Powell. "In each of the last seven seasons we'd finished in a lower position, and it had to stop." Powell gave seven full debuts in the season's opening fixture against Bournemouth; Charlton won 3-0 and remained unbeaten until mid-October. Since then, their consistency has underlined Powell's prudence.
As a key player in Charlton's ascent under Alan Curbishley, Powell would have noted the success of signings like Dean Kiely. These players arrived from smaller clubs with a desire to succeed and their success contrasted with bigger-name players, such as Dennis Rommedahl, who failed to buy into the club's ethos. Powell sought players who would treat Charlton as a step up and, crucially, he was not undermined by the budgetary constraints that affected Parkinson.
Man-management is just as important as finding the right players. With 22 goals, Bradley Wright-Phillips is Charlton's top scorer, but from mid-November until the end of February he failed to score a single goal. Given the options within the squad and the way Wright-Phillips' confidence had deserted him, Powell could have dropped him. But he persisted and the player's form since has more than justified his faith.
Goalkeeper Ben Hamer also needed backing when an error ensured Charlton lost their first home League game of the season against Colchester in March. He conceded four goals in 40 minutes of the following fixture against Notts County. But Powell stuck with him and he once more looks assured. Powell, to his credit, always attributes any success to his players.
Collectively, Charlton have looked confident. In previous seasons, big games appeared to overwhelm the team in front of an over-expectant, yet understandably frustrated, crowd. They are now beating their rivals: November's 2-0 home win over Huddersfield was the visitors' first defeat in 43 League games and ten points were taken from the Sheffield clubs.
Although Charlton's form stuttered in March, they still won at Oldham despite two red cards, a result Powell described as "the best of the season so far". Charlton's previous record tally of 91 league points has been surpassed already. They could finish the season with more than 100.
Given the backing he received in the transfer market, anything less than promotion would have been a failure and for that reason Powell remains unproven. Recent consecutive promotions for Norwich and Southampton mean fans' hopes will be high but Powell will know as well as anyone that consolidation has to be the aim. Declan Warrington