There were times towards the end of last season when even some of the most diehard Charlton Athletic supporters might have started to question the appointment of Chris Powell as manager. The former Addicks defender was given a hero's welcome on his return to the club in January, but after a flying start which brought four wins in the new manager's first four matches, Powell's men won just two of their last 19 games last season. Having started the year as promotion contenders, Charlton finished the campaign in the bottom half of the table.
Powell, nevertheless, was always likely to be given time to turn the team's fortunes around, especially given his popularity with the fans, and this season has seen a rapid improvement. Despite needing a late penalty to secure a 1-1 draw at home to Tranmere on Saturday, Charlton are three points clear at the top of League One and are one of only two teams – along with Huddersfield Town – yet to be beaten in the competition this season.
For a club which was playing in the Premier League only four years ago, promotion is clearly the overwhelming priority at The Valley. Charlton have made early exits from both the Carling Cup and Johnstone's Paint Trophy – losing at home to Preston North End and Brentford respectively – but have looked in good shape in the league. Their away form is particularly impressive: MK Dons are the only opponents who have taken any points off Charlton on their travels as Powell's team have posted wins at Notts County, Colchester United, Bury, Rochdale and Sheffield United.
Attendances have held up well at a club with a reputation as one of the best for looking after fans. Even in last season's ultimately disappointing campaign their home gates averaged 15,582; this season the figure has already climbed to 16,184; and 22,151 – many drawn by a "Football for a Fiver" initiative - watched last month's win over Chesterfield.
Powell has steadily changed the shape of the team he inherited from Phil Parkinson, who left at the start of January when Charlton were in fifth and only three points off an automatic promotion place. Johnnie Jackson, last season's leading scorer, was the only player in Saturday's starting line-up who also began Powell's opening match.
During Alan Curbishley's 15 years as manager Charlton were a byword for stability, but his departure in April 2006, when he said he needed to take a break from football, was followed by more turbulent times. Two managers – Iain Dowie and Les Reed – came and went within eight months, after which Alan Pardew was unable to prevent relegation from the top flight.
Charlton still had 17,500 season-ticket holders when they began the following season in the Championship, but within two years they were relegated again, Parkinson having succeeded Pardew in November 2008. On-the-field problems brought difficulties off it and at the end of last year the club were taken over by a group of investors represented by the former chief executive, Peter Varney.
The appointment of Powell was one of the new board's first moves. The defender had established a reputation as one of the game's most articulate figures during his five years as chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association and was always thought likely to make his mark in management.
He had his first taste of life behind the scenes when he returned briefly to The Valley as player-coach under Pardew in the summer of 2007 and had been working as first-team coach at Leicester City under Sven-Goran Eriksson when he signed a three-and-a-half year contract with Charlton in January. The first Addicks player to be called up by England for 36 years, Powell put in more than 250 games in three separate spells for the club and was a fixture in the team during their heyday under Curbishley.
While Saturday's draw meant that his side missed an opportunity to move five points clear at the top of the table, Powell is more than content with his team's start to the season. "I'm happy because I've an unbeaten team in the dressing room and I have an unbeaten football club," he said. "From 6 August until now we haven't lost a game in the league. I think that's a fantastic achievement. We should remain positive and calm."