Addicks out of FA Cup and battling relegation
11 March ~ Following Sunday's defeat by Sheffield United and the sacking of manager Chris Powell this morning, there's now a genuine fear among Charlton's fans that they could be relegated back to League One. Powell has had much to juggle this season: the pressures that follow new owners when Roland Duchâtelet, who also owns Standard Liege, completed his takeover in January, the departures of key players in Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, injuries to others and, harshest of all, uncertainty surrounding his own future. It now seems he has been replaced by ex-Liege manager Jose Riga.
Both Duchâtelet and Powell previously stated that "good progress" had been made on talks about a new contract but in a statement this morning the owner said they "could not reach an agreement over the club's football strategy going forward". Duchâtelet has already brought in players from Belgium and a manager he knows and has worked with before seems like a natural next step, as John Chapman explained in WSC 325 last month.
Relegation would be a significant price to pay for a first FA Cup quarter-final in eight years. Bottom of the Championship and four points from safety, Charlton at least have between three and four games in hand on their relegation rivals. The suspicion is, however, that their Cup exit has robbed the team of any momentum their run to the last eight had built, and that the inevitable feelings of disappointment could make survival even harder.
Whether FA Cup semi-finals should even be played at Wembley is, of course, another matter entirely, but if the worst should happen, those saying Wigan's relegation was a worthwhile sacrifice for winning last season's FA Cup cannot argue similarly for Charlton: there was no day out at Wembley, there wasn't even a fixture against a Premier League team to enjoy (Oxford, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United were their opponents).
The new manager will have to contend with Charlton playing twice a week until their final match of the season away at Blackpool – potentially a season-defining fixture for both teams – is another consequence of reaching the last eight, though the fact that they have to rely on a relatively thin, inexperienced squad isn't. The previous unplayable condition of the Valley's pitch also caused fixture postponements and their subsequent build-up.
Had the team won on Sunday, the situation would be vastly different. Inevitably, there'd be an excitement and optimism around the club, and the lengthy fixture list wouldn't seem such a burden; form in a cup can be taken into the league. Powell was even being linked with succeeding Harry Redknapp at QPR, but the new manager will need to raise the whole mood of the club immediately. If he doesn't, the only positive is that of those 16 games left to play, nine are at home. Declan Warrington