It was another one of those days, days that have occurred too often this season. I’m going to refrain from including the ‘l’ word (the one that rhymes with duck) that has featured in almost every report this season, but Charlton failed to take their chances for the umpteenth time, meaning it was two points dropped and not a point gained for the Addicks as they drew 1-1 with Huddersfield.
It seemed to be plain sailing with 30 minutes to go after Rob Hulse’s third goal of the season put them 1-0 up against the ten men of Huddersfield; a red card for a two footed lunge on Michael Morrison by Keith Southern in the first half left them a man light. Without ever dominating an incredibly scrappy affair, the man advantage meant Charlton looked in control, but failed to find the cutting edge. Wasted opportunities to create a chance, poor finishing and a tendency to play backwards and the forward ball was on littered the second half. The Huddersfield equaliser, a penalty from Adam Clayton with just three minutes left, arguably wasn’t deserved, but it felt inevitable.
There were a few surprised faces when the Charlton team news was announced. The line-up contained no recognised left back with Danny Seaborne missing from the 18, as was in form striker Danny Haynes. Ricardo Fuller started up top for the first time since the Barnsley defeat and new loan signing Emmanuel Frimpong came into the middle of park, creating quite a buzz. It later emerged the aforementioned absentees had picked up knocks in training and were not risked, meaning a reshuffle was needed. Salim Kerkar moved to an unnatural left back, with Johnnie Jackson moving out wide and Frimpong slotting into the centre of midfield, partnering the returning Dale Stephens who replaced Eggert Jonson after recovering from illness.
Huddersfield were missing star striker Jermaine Beckford after he failed to pass a fitness test, but their front two of Simon Church and Lee Novak would prove a threat to any Championship defence. They’d be supplied by a strong-looking midfield that included winger Danny Ward, the Addicks’ tormentor during the 2010 play-off semi-final whilst at Swindon. Jack Hunt and Sean Dixon also provided a real threat going forward from their full-back positions.
It was the away side who started the stronger of the two teams and should have taken the lead in just the second minute. A scramble from a corner led to Jackson chesting the ball off the line, only for it to fall into the path of Huddersfield captain Peter Clarke who, with an open goal just five yards away from him, somehow contrived to loop the ball over the bar. Thankfully for Clarke, he’s just missed the deadline to be included in the Christmas blooper DVDs.
With the pitch sodden and the rain continue to lash down, it was no surprise to see neither side manage to successfully keep possession. Misplaced passes were high on the agenda, chances were not. Frimpong was beginning to show his class though, putting his weight around to win the ball and bucking the trend by dishing out a number of accurate passes.
The Addicks were yet to test Alex Smithies in the Huddersfield goal, and it was the away side that created the next opportunity. The ball was played into Novak inside the box, but his effort was blocked away, only for Ward to cross the deflected ball back in and Church flick the ball goal wards. Ben Hamer, however, was equal to it. Down the other end, only the occasional over hit cross was troubling Smithies, in addition to Stephens and Jackson warming his gloves from their respective free-kicks. That was until Fuller showed his Premier League class and went on a fantastic solo dribble, creating the perfect opportunity to finish inside the area, but his shot was scuffed and trickled wide.
With Charlton not beginning to play their football in the opposition’s half, Huddersfield’s ability on the break was being shown to full effect. One such break almost gave them the lead. The ball found its way to Church on the edge of the area, whose shot was saved away by Hamer, only for the keeper to just about react in time to pick up the loose ball with Novak looking to pounce. It was always Charlton’s number one’s ball, but a simultaneous sigh of relief still went around the ground when it was finally under his clutches.
It was just a few moments later that Huddersfield were reduced to ten men. Morrison, collecting the ball inside his own half from a Kerkar pass began to travel but took a heavy touch, Southern saw his chance to win the ball but was deemed to have dived in with both feet off the ground and was given his marching orders. The away fans were incensed, not helped by the referee’s failure to award a free-kick for what they thought was a foul by Frimpong went attempting to win a header from the resulting set piece. The extra man could immediately been seen to work in Charlton’s favour, with more time being offered on the ball and loose balls falling into the path of red shirts. Despite this, there was little meaningful action for the reminder of the 10 minutes after the sending off, and the sides went in level at least in scoreline.
The second half saw Charlton gain control of the game, and although Morrison was offside from a Bradley Pritchard through ball following a corner, his blocked one-on-one attempt was a sign of things to come. Solly and Pritchard down the right were linking up well with Stephens, who was in his element with the time and space given to him following the red card. The right wing pair offered some fantastic crosses, but Huddersfield defended astutely and constant target Hulse was failing to keep his headers down. Thankfully, 15 minutes into the half, Hulse gave the Addicks the lead.
Huddersfield gave possession away inside their own half, with Jackson picking up the loose ball and finding Fuller, who layed it out wide for Pritchard. His cross along the ground picked out Hulse perfectly, who couldn’t miss from just a few yards. It felt like the first of many. Charlton were dealt a cruel blow just five minutes later, as Frimpong took a long range shot, that was comfortably saved by Smithies, but injured himself in the process. The loanee was dictating the tempo along with Stephens at this point and his departure took the calm and composed nature away from Charlton’s play. Danny Green came on to replace Frimpong, with Pritchard moving into the centre.
Charlton were dropping deeper and deeper, playing triangles in small areas inside their own half. They seemed to be inviting pressure but then they had the chance to put the game to bed. Pritchard was involved again as he linked up with Fuller, who broke away and found himself just a few yards from goal with a clear sight. The home fans had already started to cheer as his effort somehow curled wide. The home supporters were given something to cheer for certain just a few moments later, as cult hero Yann Kermorgant came on for his first appearance since September following injury and immediately began to put himself about. The miss couldn’t be forgotten though, and Chris Powell said after the game this was the turning point, Charlton should have sealed the three points, but instead Huddersfield got their equaliser.
The Terriers began to threaten in the last five minutes; a succession of crosses providing a real test for the Charlton defence as Leon Cort somehow blocked a goal bound header. However, the next cross was one too many for the Addicks to cope with, as Solly gave away a penalty for a high boot on Clarke. Clayton stepped up to the spot, calmly sent Hamer the wrong way and sent the away fans into pandemonium. With just two minutes left it looked a point a piece would be the final outcome. Charlton mustered up one last chance, and a very good one at that. A whipped in cross, of that standard David Beckham in his pomp would have been proud of, found the head of Hulse. Head left or right and it’s a goal, but his effort was aimed straight at Smithies who reacted quickly and pushed the ball away. The whistle blew moments later and then game ended in a draw; a bitter pill to swallow for the home side who really should have gained all three points.
Despite Huddersfield’s early chances, it really was a game the Addicks deserved to win and threw away. Despite the disappointing result, the individual performances were of a high standard. Fuller really put himself about well, but just lacked the finish, whilst Pritchard, Hulse and Jackson continued with their form of recent weeks. Solly was fantastic as always and Frimpong was very impressive, showing his much talked about quality. Hopefully he’s been wrapped up in cotton wool for Tuesday, along with Haynes and Seabourne who were really missed. Playing Kerkar at left back is not a viable option, it’s clear it’s not his natural position and, despite a valiant effort, he looked all at sea. Haynes has done superbly since breaking into the team, and the prospect of him returning with a fully fit Kermorgant up top excites me. Ten points from twelve, unbeaten in four and a team almost back to full strength: today’s performance and result should not worry anyone.