Since taking over as caretaker manager from Nigel Adkins, the impact of Johnnie Jackson has been immediate and significant. Ten points from his first four games is the form of promotion chasers, something that the fanbase were expecting prior to the start of the season but had seemed unattainable under Adkins.
Tactically, Adkins’ 4-3-3 has been replaced with a 3-5-2 that reverts to a 5-3-2 when out of possession. So far, this formation has led to immediate results and made the squad look like the promotion chasing unit that it was supposed to be. In particular, it has allowed the likes of Lee, Gilbey and Purrington to flourish, while it has given a second chance to the previously exiled Dobson and Jaiyesimi.
The formation has provided both defensive stability and width when attacking, something that had been lacking under Adkins despite the abundance of wide players available. Statistically, there’s been a marked improvement defensively, likely because of the additional player at the back. Successful tackles per game have improved and fewer crosses have been conceded. Generally, Jackson’s pressing game has led to a marginally higher interception rate, which indicates a more pressing style too.
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Within this formation, Ben Purrington has been reinvented as a wing back, scoring twice in Jackson’s four league games so far. Surprisingly, he seems to relish the change, he is often the furthest player forward when attacking and his height brings additional threat in the box.
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that results have remained excellent despite the building injuries. Under Jackson, the midfield trio of Elliot Lee, Alex Gilbey, and George Dobson have been ever-present. This unit is key to Jackson’s success and cannot be easily replaced in the current squad. In Lee and Gilbey, Charlton have two press-resistant midfielders that can break forward through the lines with the ball, relieving pressure on the defence and creating attacks. In Lee in particular, there is a player that can really pick a pass, Charlton would be wise to sign him permanently when his contract comes to an end next summer. Behind them, the steady George Dobson has also been allowed to play to his strengths, simply recycling position, winning back the ball, and doing the dirty work for the other two. Nothing pretty, but very effective nonetheless. Keeping these players fit will be key to Jackson’s success this season.
On the other hand, there are always playing casualties when a club changes their manager mid-season. So far, it would appear that Kirk has fallen into this category. An expensive and much heralded summer acquisition, Kirk has simply not progressed at Charlton. However, neither has he been given a real chance to prove his talent so far. The big question remains, where does he fit in a 3-5-2? He doesn’t have the defensive positioning to play as wingback and isn’t energetic enough to cover for Lee or Gilbey in the middle. Perhaps Charlton need to cut their losses – a shame as he was so good at Crewe.
Regardless, Jackson’s managerial career has started promisingly and he has certainly put himself in contention for the permanent position. He has managed to get something out of a squad that was putting in disgraceful performances just a few games ago. And, as arguably the biggest Charlton legend of the 2010s, he would certainly have strong support from the terraces.