“It’s just recruitment – you have to box clever; age of players, injury record and references on players’ ability to be able to repetitively train and play.”
Neil Harris knew a thing or two about signing the right footballer at Millwall. You only need to look at Jed Wallace, Murray Wallace, Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson – long-serving and still core components of their side – to know that.
The Gillingham manager’s comments after their 1-0 loss at The Valley on Tuesday night were interesting. Because Charlton’s summer transfer window business is set to the most stringently scrutinised since Thomas Sandgaard assumed control of the club in September 2020.
Harris blamed Gillingham’s injuries on recruitment and the fact they do not have anyone heading up that department to do all the necessary research and checks.
Part of the reason for Charlton’s struggles this season has been down to either the amount of players in their treatment room or trying to nurse them into tip-top condition. Injuries to all of their first-choice frontline options in January and February hit particularly hard.
But it is a sign of the bloated nature of Johnnie Jackson’s squad that even with six players ruled out due to injury or illness in midweek, he still had five senior professionals not even in his matchday 18.
Two of those – Juan Castillo and Nile John – were brought in on loan from Premier League heavyweights in January and can not even be termed bit-part performers.
Chelsea left-back Castillo played just 82 minutes in the first half of the season at Birmingham City with Lee Bowyer questioning his fitness. Since arriving in SE7, the Dutchman’s game time amounts to one start – the 2-0 home defeat to MK – and 98 minutes in total.
Tottenham midfielder John, whose stats looked impressive in U23 football, is still waiting on a debut. There have been suggestions he is technically adept but too lightweight.
And the decision to hand Chuks Aneke a three-and-half-year contract is a bold one. The Addicks knew from the striker’s first stint in SE7 that his match minutes needed to be carefully managed – and that he prefers to be an impact sub.
But Aneke has been unavailable for the last seven matches after being plunged straight back into the thick of the action after his return from Birmingham.
It’s obvious that any club’s chances of success are increased by having their best performers available as much as possible.
Ryan Inniss’ injury record is a chequered one and he has played 29 matches in the past two seasons for the Addicks. During that period he has missed 53 league games, with that tally set to rise in the coming weeks.
When fit, Inniss has undoubtedly shown he can contribute to the cause – Jackson underlining his influence with the captain’s armband on occasion. But the former Crystal Palace centre-back is one of a clutch on players out of contract at the end of July.
Sandgaard has blamed some of the way the club worked in the transfer market on inheriting a club in disarray and run down after East Street Investments shambolic period at the helm.
And he now feels a vastly-improved analytical system – with more layers to be added and overseen by his son Martin – can bear fruit.
Forming the vast nucleus of the squad this summer needs to happen far quicker than it did this time around. And it also needs to be about quality, not quantity.
Albie Morgan, Pape Souare and Ben Watson were also not required on Tuesday although the former was in a 20-man party that reported pre match. Inniss, Aneke, Akin Famewo, Deje Elerewe and Jake Forster-Caskey all had varying reasons for not being available for selection.
At least Charlton can now begin to map out their transfer plans with more certainty that they will be a League One outfit after a first victory in eight matches.
No-one would have thought before the campaign started that the visit of Gillingham in mid-March would be involving two clubs not clear of drop danger.
But that was the scenario and the wrong outcome would have piled even more pressure on tomorrow’s home game against Burton Albion.
Charlton were due to head to AFC Wimbledon – on a 19-game winless streak – on Tuesday but used Chris Gunter’s international call up by Wales to postpone that fixture for the second time.
By the time it is slotted back in then there is a better chance that Aneke and Forster-Caskey, such a huge miss this season, might be able to play some part.
The Addicks have received some criticism for not pressing ahead with the fixture but there remains a possibility that Northern Ireland could still select Conor Washington, currently on standby.
And Washington underlined his importance against the Gills with his constant channel running. The 29-year-old is due to be out of contract in July but made a persuasive claim for an extension.
Gillingham’s form since Harris was appointed at the end of January would see them finish on 64 points – comfortably clear of trouble – yet they failed to impress in SE7.
Robbie McKenzie’s early long throw had Charlton scrambling but the visitors were only able to offer directness without the requisite amount of quality.
The better sides at this level have been able to effectively press the Addicks backline but Ben Purrington (83), Sean Clare (79) and Sam Lavelle (76) had the most touches. This was no classic. A game heavily laced with nerves and low on moments of genuine quality.
Charlton had control of the ball and midfield thanks to the industry of George Dobson, Scott Fraser and Alex Gilbey.
It took unconvincing goalkeeping by Pontus Dahlberg to decide the game.
Gilbey had already put two efforts wide when the Dane failed to hold Corey Blackett-Taylor’s shot. Although he was able to block Jayden Stockley’s follow-up, Gilbey made no mistake at the third time of asking.
Relief was the over-riding emotion at full time. Not any sense of real satisfaction.
Alex Gilbey. All-action display and a vital goal.
Blackett-Taylor’s positive run and shot in the lead up to Charlton taking the lead.
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD AND PAUL EDWARDS