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What does Johnnie Jackson have to do to get the permanent Charlton job?

Johnnie Jackson

In name, Johnnie Jackson is caretaker manager of Charlton Athletic.

In spirit, he feels like so much more.

EFL pundit Gab Sutton tells the story of how short-term lust at the Valley is turning into a fully-fledged romance.

League One Odds

Jackson and Charlton: the back-story

Jackson’s legendary status in SE7 is amplified by recent results, rather than created by them.

The former midfielder has represented the club for 11 years in various capacities, he captained the club to the League One title win in 2011/12 under Chris Powell and was top scorer when the team achieved a ninth-placed Championship finish against the odds.

Although Lee Bowyer took a lot of credit for the clubs resurgence into the Play-Offs in 2017/18, promotion via that route the following season and a gallant effort in the Championship, Jackson had been the former West Ham midfielder’s assistant and thus an influential part of the coaching team.

Sometimes managers can gain preferential treatment because of their history, but equally the fact somebody cares about the club and already has a connection with supporters should not count for nothing.

Incredible transformation

Charlton owe Jackson an enormous debt of gratitude for keeping this season alive.

Supporters had been largely patient with Nigel Adkins, who got the Addicks close to the Play-Offs from a lowly position last season, but things went badly wrong in the first two months of this campaign.

The former back-to-back promotion-winner with Scunthorpe and Southampton was dismissed after October’s 3-2 home loss to Accrington Stanley, with the team four points adrift of safety – let alone 13 points off the Play-Offs.

In fact, by the time Jackson took the reigns, natives considered 2021/22 a write-off and the remit was modest stabilization: what happened next was beyond anyone’s expectations.

Since then, Charlton have won six of their nine league encounters, with no side in League One taking more in that timeframe, while only Portsmouth have accrued more points (Rotherham the same number with one game fewer).

On top of that, the South Londoners are through to the FA Cup Third Round thanks to 4-0 and 2-0 wins over National League South and National League North sides Havant & Waterlooville and Gateshead respectively, setting up an exciting tie with Premier League Norwich.

Having looked consigned, at best, to an uninspiring campaign of lower mid-table mediocrity just two months ago, Charlton now have the possibility of challenging for the Play-Offs and going on an FA Cup run.

League One Promotion Odds

Charlton Athletic
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Odds correct as of 2022-01-21 17:27 Odds subject to change.

MacGillivray magic

Jackson has needed a little help from his goalkeeper, Craig MacGillivray, who has made the fifth-most saves in League One at 59.

The 28-year-old was unlucky at the start of his career to find himself behind some excellent goalkeepers like Richard O’Donnell at Walsall then Dean Henderson at Shrewsbury – even briefly Alex Bass at Portsmouth.

Over the last four seasons, though, he has been one of the best goalkeepers in League One, producing the kind of form this year that shows why Newcastle once scouted him as a youngster.

Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Cambridge was not a dominant performance and Jackson needed his goalkeeper to keep out the likes of Joe Ironside and Adam May in order to secure all three points.

Makeshift defence

Charlton’s form under Jackson seems even more impressive when considering that various defenders have been absent.

Chris Gunter, Sam Lavelle and Ryan Innis would all ordinarily challenge for a first team spot; the Welsh stalwart for his experience and the latter two for their aerial prowess.

Gunter’s absence, though, has allowed Jackson to be creative with his options on the right of the back-three in his 3-1-4-2 setup and give a run of starts to Sean Clare.

The 25-year-old got his best reviews at Hearts for his work in midfield, and Oxford were criticised for misjudging his ability to play right-back, doubts which were validated by some sturdy displays as part of a double-pivot when on loan at Burton in the second half of last season.

Clare has been outstanding on the right of the defensive trio for Charlton, though, doing the basics superbly and making himself a respectable part of a formidable defensive unit that has conceded only four goals under Jackson.

Formational flexibility

Last season, Peterborough won promotion from League One and a big factor was their ability to switch from 3-4-1-2 to 4-2-3-1, in and between games.

The right centre-back shifted to right-back, the right wing-back to the right wing, the left wing-back to left-back and the left forward to the left wing: simple alterations which allowed them to adjust to the needs of each game.

Jackson has a similar strategy at the Valley, because right wing-back Jonathan Leko is capable of pushing further forward, Clare can shuffle across to right-back and Purrington, from left wing-back, can drop into left-back, enabling a switch to potentially a 4-3-3.

Rot-#8-ing midfield

Alex Gilbey is one of many players who have publicly stated their support for Jackson and the former Colchester midfielder is an asset to this side.

The 27-year-old has had a tricky few years due to injuries, which have perhaps occurred as a by-product of his high-energy playing style.

The Dagenham-born dynamo loves to press opponents high up the pitch, but he is also the first to track back and loves and old-fashioned sliding challenge: ideal for getting fans going whenever the team hits a lull.

The ideal scenario is Gilbey being the highest-placed midfielder against the ball, with Elliot Lee dropping deeper to take advantage of his teammates pressing and pick up the second balls.

On the turnovers, Gilbey can drop into midfield and Lee can push up into the number 10 position, where his reasonable ball-carrying, creative and goalscoring attributes can come to the fore.

Dobson: Charlton’s Christmas Elf

George Dobson has had a mixed few years in League One.

On the one hand, the former West Ham academy graduate made himself a popular figure at smaller clubs like Walsall and AFC Wimbledon for his energy, tenacity and control of the ball in tight areas.

The midfielder struggled to endear himself to natives at Sunderland, though, struggling under the weight of expectation.

It was feared that Dobson might have similar difficulties in South London, but Jackson is getting the best out of the 24-year-old.

The caretaker gaffer brought the 6’1” man out from the cold for his first game in charge at the Stadium of Light, where Dobson shone against his former club and has not looked back, becoming a reliable centrepiece of the Charlton revival.

Stockley’s aerial bombardment

Stockley is an excellent target man at this level.

One looks at the likes of Matt Smith at Millwall and Lukas Jutkiewicz at Birmingham – both having carved out a solid career in the Championship – and the former Exeter heading specialist is not too far off either.

Last season, and this term under Adkins, Charlton could justifiably be accused of over-relying on Stockley and making their entire game plan revolve around his aerial prowess.

Under Jackson, though, we are seeing more attacking impetus from the side collectively which means the service to the 28-year-old is from the opposition half, rather than from clearances and goal-kicks.

By George, Washington can finish

Conor Washington starred in the first half of the 2015/16 season for Peterborough, scoring 15 goals up to January.

That month, the Northern Irish hot shot was sold to QPR where, though not helped by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Ian Holloway’s tendency to shunt him out wide due to the reticence to operate with two up top, the forward did not give the best account of himself.

Some had forgotten about Washington’s potential after uneventful stints at Sheffield United and Hearts, where he had been used chiefly as an impact sub, but Jackson has coaxed the very best out of him.

Those who claim Washington needs a more aerially accomplished, physical partner up top to be effective have been vindicated, with the 29-year-old thriving alongside Stockley.

The striker has scored six goals in 11 appearances for Charlton since Jackson’s appointment, after a clinical brace against Cambridge last time out: keep this up and there will be a monument for Washington come the summer.

Top-Six Finish Odds

Charlton Athletic
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Odds correct as of 2022-01-21 17:25 Odds subject to change.

No need to panic

The fact it is taking so long for Jackson to get given the Charlton job is not exclusively a bad thing.

That might sound odd, given the aforementioned ways in which the 39-year-old has transformed this side from relegation fodder to Play-Off outsiders in two months, but hear us out.

Firstly, it means that the players – almost all of whom want ‘Jacko to get the permanent gig – are kept on their toes because they have to fight for their man.

It’s a similar story for supporters: more of them will be singing to show their support of the gaffer, which can have a positive impact on the general atmosphere.

Collectively, there is a positive energy around the club with the perfect blend of confidence, belief and determination, which brings value.

Jackson being named permanent manager would accentuate the sense of confidence and belief, but they may lose a certain edge in which everyone is doing everything to try and get that deal over the line.

Secondly, part of the delay may be that Jackson and the board want to commit to different lengths of contracts.

The gaffer may have requested two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half years, with Thomas Sandgaard and co. only willing to commit to 18-months – or even until the end of the season (this is not a revelation but merely an educated guess at internal conversations).

While the pressure is on Sandgaard due to the form Jackson is delivering, there is also an argument to say that the hierarchy should not allow their business decisions to be dictated solely by positive vibes.

Jackson yielding excellent results from nine games makes him the best man for the job now, unquestionably, but it does not automatically mean that he will still be the best man for the job by 2024.

The club intends to spend a lot of money over the next few transfer windows and have the wherewithal to appoint somebody with a successful track record at this level, like Paul Cook for example.

For that reason, they need to see as much evidence as possible that they would be better off giving that money to a rookie in managerial terms.

From that perspective, while it may seem on the surface an insult to Jackson to not commit, Sandgaard is well within his rights to take things slow and play the long game.

That might seem cold and calculated in a footballing light, but from a business standpoint it makes sense.

League One Winner Odds

Wigan
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Odds correct as of 2022-01-21 17:25 Odds subject to change.
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