In many a history essay, the main them is turning points; specific events have more importance than any person, period or regime. In Charlton’s 1-1 draw with Derby at The Valley, a specific turning point completely changed the game. With the home side 1-0 up well and truly on top, a break down the right by Chris Solly in the 65th minute climaxed in Bradley Pritchard finding himself with a golden chance to double the lead. With no one around him, just eight yards from goal and in line with the centre of it, there was surely no doubt the net was about to ripple. The Charlton fans began to cheer in earnest as the Zimbabwean lifted the ball, or so it seemed, into the net. Unbelievably the ball crashed against the ball, spun onto the line and was cleared away. Just a matter of minutes later, Derby had levelled through a Jamie Ward penalty and Michael Morrison had been sent off for the Addicks. The tide of the game changed and for the closing stages, Charlton found themselves on the back foot after looking set for a certain three points.
Danny Haynes had given the Addicks the lead in the first half through a goal of the season contender, cutting across to the wing, coming back inside and smashing the ball into the far top corner. Putting in another fantastic performance, Charlton fans will be hoping the hamstring pull that saw him hobble off towards the end of the first 45 minutes isn’t too serious. The lead could have so easily been doubled on numerous occasions, but as has happened so many times this season, the luck was out and the finishing was poor. Derby had their best chances before and just after the Charlton goal, Ben Hamer making a number of remarkable saves, and after the equaliser as Charlton were pushed back by Derby’s numerical advantage, Hamer and the width of the post helping save the point for the Addicks. Both fans will feel frustrated, but Charlton’s will be more aggrieved following some awful refereeing from Carl Boyeson. Yellow cards were dished out at apparent random, fouls were given in Derby’s favour when similar offences were let off when committed by Derby players and the game changing penalty, therefore the red card too, was a scandalous decision.
Following three defeats in a row, Charlton manager Chris Powell rung the changes in order to stop the rot. Out came Dan Seaborne and Emmanuel Frimpong from the team altogether after two disappointing displays by the pair, in came Cedric Evina, making his first appearance since injury in October, and Bradley Pritchard, who sparked the Charlton fight back on Boxing Day against Ipswich. There were also changes up top with both Rob Hulse and Ricardo Fuller dropped to the bench, Yann Kermorgant coming in to start and Haynes moving further forward. Captain Johnnie Jackson returned to fill the gap on the left, whilst Lawrie Wilson returned from his suspension to replace Danny Green. However, one constant has been Solly, and the young right back made his 100th appearance for the club.
For the away side, the stand out name on the team sheet was wonderkid Will Hughes. The 17 year old midfielder had earned a number of rave reviews for his performances this season, attracting the attention of a number of Premier League clubs. He was partnered in the centre of midfield by one time Charlton target Paul Coutts, whilst another former target of the Addicks, Michael Jacobs, was on the bench.
As seems to be the trend at The Valley, the game failed to kick start into life from the off. Misplaced passes and scrappy play was the order of the day as Derby camped themselves in Charlton’s half without threatening. Straight away it was clear the hype about Hughes was justified; his touch, calmness and ability to look up and make a pass belonged to a man of more years. On several occasions his passes to the wings created excellent opportunities for Derby to create Chances, but the Charlton defence did well in preventing them from finding their targets. Hughes then took matters into his own hands, jinking in and out like a slalom skier round red shirts, only to be brought down my Morrison on the edge of the area as the youngster attempted to dart pass him. A yellow card was awarded to the centre back, on another occasion he might have avoided such punishment, but it could have been worse, such was the proximity to goal and lack of red shirts for Hughes to still go past. Free-kick specialist Ben Davies stepped up, but Hamer was equal to his effort, tipping it over the bar.
Derby continued to control the game, coming close from two separate free-kicks from the flanks, especially another effort from Davies, that somehow evaded everyone before running wide of the far post. With Charlton barely getting it out of their half, a lead for the home side looked completely out of the question. That was until a moment of pure brilliance from Haynes just under midway through the half. Breaking away, Kermorgant played the ball to Haynes 30 yards from goal and, seemingly going nowhere, found himself pushed out to the wing with the ball still at his feet. Instead of using the option of Jackson asking for the ball back, Haynes opted to turn towards goal, beat his man and unleash a rocket of a shot that rifled into the back of the net. Haynes clearly enjoyed it as much as the home fans, running half the pitch to celebrate. After all the pressure, Charlton had somehow pulled in front.
The away side were still pressing though, and Hamer made his first of many wonder saves shortly after the goal. Hamer, Morrison and Evina exchanged passes around the Charlton goal mouth, only for Evina to take a heavy touch and give the ball away to Coutts. His cross found Theo Robinson, but his side footed effort was clawed away by diving Hamer. After Haynes suffered his injury, Wright-Phillips came on to replace him and immediately looked up for it, fighting for every ball and putting in some strong challenges. But a strong challenge from Morrison on the edge of the area somehow resulted in a free-kick and an unjust final warning from the referee. Hughes fired the dead ball way over the bar. Derby then had arguably their best chance of the half, as the dangerous Robinson got through one-on-one with Hamer, but he got down well to save with his legs.
In the final five minutes of the half, Charlton began to create some chance, and two in particular were guilt edge. Substitute Wright-Philips was played through by a fantastic ball from the midfield, but he opted to take one touch too many and his attempt was well blocked by Adam Legzdins in the Derby goal, and just before half time, Wilson cut into the box from the right and fired across the face of goal when he really should have made more of his chance. Unlike just a few days earlier, a round of applause met the Charlton players as they walked off the pitch for half time, with the boos being saved for the referee, whose performance was already angering Charlton fans.
Charlton started the second half well, but failed to create anything of note. They were almost made to pay when Hamer’s clearance was blocked by Robinson, but his shot was turned away by Cort. Evina was impressing despite the early error and almost had a goal to his name when his long range effort was tipped over by Legzdins, but the resulting corner was wasted. With Charlton starting to take control, it didn’t take long for another opportunity to arise, and Solly’s cross was only headed away as far as Stephens on the edge of the box, but he couldn’t keep down his scissor kick volley. A similar story of a failure to take chances was developing.
The best two chances were saved for a period between the 60th and 70th minute, and both involved Pritchard. The first one saw his hard work earn Charlton a free-kick; hauled down by Roberts after the diminutive centre midfield robbed him of the ball right by the corner flag. Stephens’ free-kick was pulled back to Jackson in the centre and his deflected effort was somehow kept out by Legzdins; a truly remarkable save considering the bodies the ball had come through and bounced off. It was then followed by that decisive miss by Pritchard. Solly broke down the right hand flank, out pacing his man, and played a brilliant cross field ball into Wright-Phillips. He held the ball up long enough to knock the ball into the bath of Kermorgant, whose side footed ball across goal found Pritchard who somehow conspired not to score. Kermorgant was visibly furious, and he and the rest of the Charlton players had more reason to be just five minutes later.
A Derby corner was swung into the box, only for Morrison to slide in, win the ball from John Brayford and get it clear. However, the referee deemed it to be worthy of a penalty and a second yellow, suddenly the game seemed to be in Derby’s hands. Substitute Jamie Ward confidently put the penalty away and the scores were back level. Charlton had 20 minutes to survive the Derby onslaught. It looked a winner could come at any moment, especially with the growing amount of corners the visitors were getting, but Hamer was equal to everything being thrown at him. This was especially the case when his brilliant double save from Robinson and Sammon, both from a small number of yards away, kept the scores level when all seemed lost.
With the pressure, and corner count, rising, Derby headed wide on a number of occasions, as well as hitting the post. It seemed to be getting all too much for the referee to deal with, as Hamer was ludicrously booked for kicking the ball away in the direction of the corner flag for a corner to be taken. Charlton failed to get out of their half, only mustering a tame header that was easily picked up by Legzdins, but the defence held strong and the draw seemed a fair result. Once again the Charlton fans should their pride in the performance, and utter disliking towards the match officials, who may have cost Charlton all three points.
After a number of disappointing displays, it was wonderful to see Charlton play like we all know they can once again. Despite his miss, Pritchard was excellent in the middle, and stood out along with Solly, Wilson and Jackson, whilst a special mention must go to Evina, who played fantastically and is definitely a huge step up from Seaborne. Kermorgant battled well and both Haynes and Wright-Phillips did excellently whilst on the pitch. But without doubt, man of the match was Hamer. Countless saves, 4 of them world class, got Charlton something out of the match. He still has his critics, mainly because he’s a little eccentric, but I doubt there is a better shot stopped in this division. Again, as I’ve said many times this season, failing to take our chances is a huge problem. With better finishing of 100% clear cut chances, we’d be far higher up this division. Ifs and buts, of course, but the ifs and buts are realistic.