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NEW ARTICLE: Charlton Athletic 2018/19 Review - MIDFIELDERS (1/2)


A player who was kicked in the nuts three times in one season including once by a fan celebrating the winner from a Grant penalty against Accrington Stanley back in January, it’s certainly was a season that Krystian Bielik really got stuck into. Throughout his time with us, he played at centre back in a partnership with Pearce and Sarr, within a back three at both the start and the end of the season, but the majority of the time Krystian was deployed in the defensive midfield role at the base of the diamond that served us so well. Bielik’s athleticism, reading of the game and fantastic ability to break up play and start attacks by himself was a cornerstone towards our success. There’s a great YouTube video of his highlights of this past season (

For a young player, he played beyond his years, often shielding in front of the back four; he allowed us to overload on each width with the player at the top of the diamond allowed to float out on either side. The big Polish youngster on loan from Arsenal wasn’t just a competent defender but he added a real attacking side to our game, chipping in with 4 goals including the header against Doncaster in the home leg of the Play-Offs, and our 4th against Rochdale to seal that 3rd place. Bielik markedly improved too as the season wore on, taking fewer touches of the ball, a greater range of passing, some incredible driving runs forward from deep in midfield, and exhibiting some wonderful close control and skill that shows he has got much of his development from a Premier League club.

At Wembley, I was sat in front of Bielik’s family and friends, they were all in tears at the end, celebrating his and our success. You wouldn’t able to tell he wasn’t our player permanently, but it’s little details like this which show how great our loanees have been this season.

Having joined us at the end of the summer transfer window on loan from West Ham United, Josh Cullen made an instant impact on his debut, setting up the winner for Bielik to head in from a corner out on the right. This form continued where he assisted Grant to make it 1-0 away at Bradford City in his next game for us after missing Wycombe Wanderers at home due to international duty. Josh was someone who Bowyer deemed to be so important to our side that he was an ever present when available.

His energetic and industrious nature would mean he took third place in the Player Of The Year. He arguably could have won it if it wasn’t for dislocating his shoulder in a freak game against Walsall away at the beginning of November, that injury would keep him out for 11 games. It comes to no surprise that Cullen played a pivotal role in the Play-Offs, consistent contributions show that Josh is a big game player as shown by his assist to Aribo against Portsmouth in March. But with the Play-Offs, Cullen provided the assists for 3 vital goals, the opener at Doncaster for Taylor to score, Bielik’s header in the home leg from a set-piece, and of course putting in the cross for Bauer to score that winner at Wembley.

High praise keeps on coming for Josh with Bowyer previously stating, “He’s better than I was at that age”, and Everton and Republic of Ireland right-back Seamus Coleman recently calling Cullen, “Different class, he’s very brave, wants to get on the ball and pass it forward. He’s been impressive and is a great lad too”. If Cullen doesn’t make the grade at West Ham United this pre-season, bringing him back for next season could be considered as one of the best bits of business we could do. 

Just like Cullen was ever present when available, George Lapslie made 41 out of 46 eighteen man squads. Very impressive for a young man who had never really been properly involved with the first team prior the his introduction in pre-season. George started the campaign playing the first three league games, a surprise but a necessity due to the lack of players we had at our disposal. However, given the situation, he done himself no harm by assisting the opener on his full home league debut against Shrewsbury for Taylor to score at the far post.

Once August had finished, Lapslie had to wait until the end of November before making another start, this time against Bristol Rovers. Without a doubt, his best performance of the season, and the second best individual performance of the season according to Charlton Life’s Statbank with an average score of 8.73, was away at Portsmouth in December. A performance which included taking one for the team by clearing a goal bound effort with his face. That clearance and his eagerness to impress cost him his chance to progress further as he suffered a concussion. It wouldn’t be until the beginning of February until Lapslie made his next start for the team.

A credit to George is his willingness to get on with the job he is asked to do, even if it is not the most natural for him. Bowyer has trusted Lapslie to play in a variety of positons which include behind the strikers, central midfield, right midfield, and even right wing-back. A target for next season would definitely be to play and complete a full 90 minutes more often having only done that only 3 times in the league so far. Whether that is with us in the Championship or out on loan to a League One club is up in the air, but after a breakthrough season of being involved in the first team, Lapslie needs to carry on his development by getting more minutes under his belt. 

On the theme of high praise, it continues with Darren Pratley after Bowyer called him an unbelievable pro after the penalty shoot-out against Doncaster Rovers in the Play-Offs, “You’ve got all these young kids and they are good and they are exciting. But you need a man who is going to step up and steady the ship sometimes. When we go away, he is the one you need. He is a winner. He is a leader. Is he as good as some of those kids, technically? No, but that’s not why he is here. You’ve just seen why he is here tonight. It’s not just what you see on the pitch, it’s every day around the training ground. You’ve got the young kids – Albie Morgan and George Lapslie – they are looking at him. He is so good, always encouraging them. He is an unbelievable pro”.

Pratley was the type of player we lacked in midfield in 2017/18, yes we had far better quality players this season, but what Darren brings is the experience of knowing how to win. Wycombe Wanderers away was an example of his value to the team, Bowyer recognised the type of game it was going to be so made the necessary changes, a game that was made for players like Pratley and Pearce, a game we would have lost the previous season. An incredible statistic supports this where in every league game he played in 2019, we did not lose - winning 11 and drawing 3.

Pratley’s contribution to the side has been an important one, and what he lacks in quality at his older age of 34, he certainly makes up in effort. This proved to be vital come the Play-Offs where he scored one of the most important goals of the season, levelling up the aggregate scores less than 60 seconds after Doncaster Rovers had taken a 3-1 lead on the night. If you rewind back to the beginning few months of the season, Pratley’s commitment to the side is shown by playing the first full 5 games when he wasn’t fully fit,. He later played as a centre back in October when we were suffering with injuries, a position that Bowyer feels could prolong Pratley’s career.

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  • Excellent summary there , as always Sage !
  • Excellent summary and I like that stat about Pratley. I know I haven't rated him a lot but it's clear what he brings and it's clear that Bowyer rates him and values him for it.
  • Great write up Sage, thank you for taking the time.  Fitting that you ended on Pratley to be fair.  I think a number of us (myself included), hadn’t seen what an impact he would have against Donny and in the final 
  • Really glad Pratley got to show what he was about in the Play-offs. He got a lot of negative comments on his contributions this season until he dragged us through the second leg of the semi-final and scored that equaliser. Then he started the final and when we were all at sea in the first half he was the one haring after Sunderland players, getting about the pitch and geeing the other players up until we properly settled and started to play. You could really see why Bowyer rated him so highly in those games
  • edited June 2019
    There were times during our successful run at the back end of the season when I could not imagine Pratley getting a sniff of being near the starting eleven. Huge credit to him he showed his dedication and professionalism and played his way back to the eleven. 

    Unsung hero for me. 
  • loved watching the youtube clips of Bielik. Would have got my POTY if it wasn't for Taylor. Assured on the ball & also a great passer. His ability to be able to bring the ball out of defence & set up attacks was one of reasons why we got so many goals last season. Him & Cullen made an awesome pairing in midfield -shame both wont be here this coming season.
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