Charlton assistant-manager Johnnie Jackson says that striker Nicky Ajose needs to be ready to take his first-team opportunities when they come along.
Ajose, 27, has found his chances to impress boss Lee Bowyer limited this campaign, with prolific duo Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant in hot form up-top for the Addicks. Igor Vetokele has also been ahead of Ajose in the pecking order so far, although he is now set for a lengthy lay-off with a dislocated shoulder.
The former Manchester United trainee had scored 24 league goals for Swindon Town in the season before joining the South Londoners back in summer 2016, but has failed to ever hit those heights at The Valley – finding himself loaned back to the Robins and then to Bury as he struggled to hold a place down in SE7.
Ajose endured a frustrating 90 minutes for Charlton during their 1-0 home defeat in the EFL Trophy against Swansea u21s on Tuesday night, just 48 hours after featuring for 76 minutes against Mansfield in the FA Cup.
“Certainly, tonight it was frustrating,” explained Jackson after the Addicks were eliminated from the EFL Trophy against the Swans.
“I don’t think he really got the service that was required. I’ve had a chat with him and when you are starved of service you have to be ready sometimes just to take that opportunity. The Mansfield game he had a chance to score when he went clean through and missed. The frustrating thing as a forward is sometimes you’re not in the game for such long periods and it’s not always your fault. It could be down to the service or the team getting dominated.
“When you are called upon, you’re remembered for that chance. I said to him he has to take that responsibility to step up and score there but equally we have to find a way to give him more service and get him involved in the game. He’s worked hard over the last two games, we asked him to go again and it’s a tough schedule. There will be opportunities now. Vetokele is out injured, we’re light in that part of the pitch.
“There’s places up for grabs. People need to step up and take these opportunities where they come. I’m not just talking about Nicky, all the squad need to be ready when they’re called upon. The manager is looking at every training session. Every match. Weighing up who has done well and who didn’t. Who he can rely on. Who he can put in different positions if need be.”
Another first-team regular who appeared alongside a youthful Charlton team against Swansea was Tariqe Fosu – and Jackson hopes that he is coming closer to replicating the form that saw him bag nine goals from midfield last season.
“We know what he’s capable of,” he said.
“We saw it last season. He hasn’t hit those heights yet this season. Walsall he did really well. He needs to play his way back into form. That was the idea behind giving him more minutes tonight. He’s missed a lot of football with injuries and sometimes to really get up to speed and back to top form you need to keep playing.
“That was the idea behind playing him again. The more he plays the more he’ll get back to that level. But he needs to look at his performance and say is he at the level that he was and figure out what he needs to do to get there. Slowly and surely, he’s improving. That will come with more games and fitness for sure.”
The defeat against the young Swans side means that Charlton have been eliminated from the EFL Trophy during the group stage, despite registering a club record 8-0 win at Stevenage last time out in the competition – although Jackson admitted that this particular cloud does have a silver lining.
“Disappointed to lose,” he added.
“You never want to lose. It’s an opportunity missed for a lot of the young lads out there. But in the grand scheme of things, is it a disaster? No. Because of the fixture pile-up we’re faced with and the injuries we’ve got in the squad.
“It’s stretching us right to the limit at the moment. If you’re going to put a positive spin on it, you would say that, but we don’t like losing games of football.”