In terms of tests in the play-offs, Doncaster Rovers could hardly have landed a tougher test in Charlton Athletic.
The form of Lee Bowyer’s side, in the second half of the season in particular, has been exceptional.
It saw them power into the play-offs and nip in ahead of long time top two challengers Portsmouth and Sunderland to claim third place.
So where has it all gone so right for the Addicks?
We spoke to Charlton expert Louis Mendez of BBC London and the South London Press to get the lowdown.
Q: Two defeats in 21 matches since the turn of the year - it's safe to say form is pretty good for Charlton heading into the play-offs?
LM: Charlton are absolutely flying. Unbeaten in the league at home in seven months, seven clean sheets in their final nine outings and finding the back of the net with regularity as well as the season came to its close – the Addicks are top of every form table. Portsmouth and Sunderland stumbling over the finish line opened the door for Lee Bowyer’s side to steal third place on final day as the south Londoners head into the play-offs in excellent spirits.
Q: What do you put the superb second half of the season down to?
LM: Even with then top-scorer Karlan Grant being sold to Huddersfield in January, a couple of useful additions in the window along with players returning from injury saw the Addicks become more settled and they haven’t looked back since. Ben Purrington came in at left-back to balance a back-four that has seen a resurgent Naby Sarr excel. Jonny Williams added another option in midfield, where Joe Aribo returned from injury and added more goals to his game. Lyle Taylor needed a partner to replace Grant and Igor Vetokele stepped up to the plate – although he may be touch and go fitness wise for Sunday.
Q: How would you describe the differences in the Charlton teams from last season's play-offs and this year's group? Are they better equipped this time around?
LM: It’s clear that they’re in a better place this year compared to last season. They only snuck into the top six late on twelve months ago and the deficiencies that had seem them hover around mid-table for spells of the season were still there. They didn’t score enough goals last season – and whereas they are still the lowest scorers in the top six this time around, 14 goals in their final five games show that they have hit their stride at the right time. There’s a much better feel around the place, on the field at least, this year.
Q: Reflecting on the three meetings between the two sides already this season, how confident will all involved at the club be of getting past Rovers over two legs? And how are confidence levels that they can go all the way to the Championship?
LM: It was a fairly comfortable win for Charlton back in November at The Valley before a much-changed side limped out of the FA Cup to Donny a month later. The return league fixture at the Keepmoat in March was a strange one – the Addicks probably felt they took a deserved lead twenty minutes from time but then were hanging on to a point by the end, with a goal controversially ruled out in added time for the hosts. But Bowyer will have seen that his side can compete with Donny over the course of the two league fixtures and in reality, will quietly fancy his chances against any side at the moment. In his own words, Charlton are the full package at the moment.
Q: Who do you see as the threats to Charlton from the Rovers side?
LM: You don’t get 25 goals in a season without being a real handful so John Marquis, himself a south London boy, will certainly keep Charlton’s back-four busy. Another to keep an eye on will be Malik Wilks. The Leeds loanee scored against Charlton in March and looked a constant threat in possession.
Q: Remind us what system and style of play Lee Bowyer favours?
LM: Bowyer has tended to go for a 4-4-2 diamond formation over the course of the season as his team look to play out from the back – but he can be flexible. At times he’s opted for a 4-3-3 or even a 3-5-2 and he’s been known to tweak things during games if needed. It will be interesting to see how he attacks Sunday, especially if Vetokele is unable to start as the only other option to partner Lyle Taylor would be Josh Parker – who has struggled for minutes and goals so far since he joined from Gillingham in January.
Q: And who should we be looking out for as the danger men?
LM: Charlton have their own goal machine in Lyle Taylor. He’s the all-round striker. Scores all sorts of goals, excellent hold-up play and not afraid to get his hands dirty either. Opponents hate playing against him. Joe Aribo will also be a constant thorn in Donny’s side. He glides forward with the ball as if it were glued to his foot and has added goals to his game recently. He’s destined for big things and has hit his best form at exactly the right time – just like the Addicks as a collective group.