Following the weekend defeat to Nottingham Forest, some have raised concerns about the way things are going. Obviously the performance on Saturday wasn’t good enough, but it appears that some believe that, in general, the performances and points won haven’t been good enough. The majority disagree with this and believe this season has gone well, which I concur with. Here’s my take on a few negative shouts that I disagree with along with why this season, thus far, has been a success. Now’s your cue to put on your rose tinted spectacles.
Charlton have played poorly at home this season
Wrong to a certain extent. The games against Watford, Barnsley, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest were all incredibly poor performances, there’s no getting away from that, but in the other fixtures, you could make a case in each and every one of them that the performance, or at least chances created, deserved more. Excellent performances against Blackburn, Huddersfield, Derby (before Morrison’s red card), Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham deserved 15 points instead of the 4 earned in reality whilst bad luck in front of goal and refereeing decisions going against us saw points dropped against Ipswich and Palace. Yes, that’s football; things don’t go your way all of the time, but the point remains: we haven’t played as poorly as is being made out.
Ben Hamer should be dropped
Quite simply, no. The number of games in which Hamer has won us points requires a second hand to count, the number of games in which he’s lost us points doesn’t. Not only that, but he’s kept us in games in which we’ve come away with nothing; it’s no wonder only a handful of games have seen us lose by two or more goals.
Stephens and Pritchard aren’t good enough
Their performances on Saturday were well below what is expected from them, and that’s the point, there is a level of performance that both of them have shown throughout the season that means a lot better is expected. Neither Stephens nor Pritchard is a bad player, the very opposite in fact. Stephens went through a period of poor performances just before the New Year, but since the start of 2013, he’s hardly put a foot wrong. He’s the complete midfielder: excellent in the tackle, keeps things ticking over with his passing, plays the occasional ball to die for and chips in with the odd goal. Criticism of him was completely fair in relation to the Forest game, but to believe him to be not up to scratch in general is a ridiculous overreaction. Similarly with Pritchard, he’s had the a couple of bad games this season, Saturday including, but apart from those he’s one of the most consistent performers which is only helped by his considerable work rate and the fact he has 8 assists this season. Once he gets some confidence in front of goal, I’ll view him as the finished article.
Powell is tactically inept
Wrong. At times he has made mistakes, such as playing Salim Kerkar at left back, or been outdone by his opposite number, Palace away comes to mind, but Powell is far from clueless. The reaction when we win a game proves that, he’s often credited with a large role in the performance. There is no reason for Powell to be doubted.
This season has been a failure
Completely wrong. It’s been a success. If things stay as they are and we keep picking up the occasional few points, we’ll have a mid-table finish in our first season back in the Championship after three seasons away. In addition, the below tables and stats only support the fact we’ve done very well this season.
2012/13 Transfer Spend for Championship Clubs (source: transfermarkt.com)
- Blackburn Rovers: £15m
- Wolverhampton Wanderers: £13.5m
- Cardiff City: £11.5m
- Hull City: £7.4m
- Nottingham Forest: £5.4m
- Leicester City: £5.2m
- Bolton Wanderers: £2.8m
- Peterborough: £3.3m
- Derby County: £3.2m
- Huddersfield: £3m
- Bristol City: £2.6m
- Ipswich Town: £2.5m
- Leeds United: £2.1m
- Burnley: £2m
- Brighton and Hove Albion: £1.9m
- Crystal Palace: £1.5m
- Sheffield Wednesday: £1.4m
- Middlesbrough: £1.1m
- Charlton Athletic: £1m
- Millwall: £830k
- Birmingham City: £280k
- Blackpool: £220k
- Watford: £0
- Barnsley: £0
It’s also important to note that apparent £1,000,000 we’ve spent was on a substitute keeper, David Button, and a player who has been in and out of the first team, Lawrie Wilson. We’ve not had the finance to improve our squad significantly, and with only Cort, Morrison, Fuller, Jackson, Haynes, Hughes and Kermorgant having any significant Championship experience, anything beyond staying up was always going to an achievement. The successes of Norwich and Southampton in the past two seasons have blurred that. Not only were their squads full of players with experience and quality, but they spent £4.5m and £5m respectively. What Charlton have achieved so far with their squad and their financial backing is brilliant.
Number of current internationals (defined by winning a full international cap since January 1st 2012)
- Wolverhampton Wanderers: 9
- Blackburn Rovers: 7
- Cardiff City: 7
- Hull City: 7
- Bolton Wanderers: 7
- Crystal Palace: 7
- Birmingham City: 6
- Nottingham Forest: 5
- Leicester City: 4
- Brighton and Hove Albion: 4
- Middlesbrough: 4
- Burnley: 4
- Blackpool: 4
- Leeds United: 4
- Watford: 4
- Derby County: 3
- Huddersfield: 3
- Bristol City: 2
- Sheffield Wednesday: 2
- Charlton Athletic: 2
- Millwall: 2
- Ipswich Town: 1
- Peterborough: 0
- Barnsley: 0
I could have done a similar stat based on Championship or Premier League appearances for players and similar results would have come up, only Charlton would have probably been 24th, but whatever way you look at it, there is a lack of quality and experience in the squad. That’s not to say the players we have at our disposal are bad, far from it, but they’re playing above expectations (most of the time at least) to match and better their opponents.
Following promotion last season, I too felt that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance of consecutive promotions, but I knew both investment, an improvement in the squad and luck would be needed. We’ve had none of those. Within the first two months of the season it was apparent survival would be a great achievement, and we’re getting there. As a result, if the season continues in a similar manner to which it is now, it’ll be a success.
It’s one of those curious quirks that makes football as exciting and unpredictable as it is; how can the same set of eleven players perform so contrastingly in the space of just four days? After a hardworking, determined and, above all, excellent display against Leicester on Tuesday night in a 2-1 win, you would expect the same starting line up to perform just as admirably against Nottingham Forest, but it wasn’t to be. Lifeless, uncoordinated and mistake ridden, Charlton gave themselves no chance at all with Forest in complete control from start to finish in a 2-0 victory for the away side.
With Forest dominating to the extent Charlton couldn’t muster an effort on goal for the best part of 40 minutes, the job for Charlton was made all the tougher when a moment of madness from Tuesday’s hero Yann Kermorgant saw the Frenchman lose his head and kick out at former Charlton defender Greg Halford. The referee, after consulting both assistants, including the official an entire pitch width’s away, produced the red card and left Charlton to fend off the Forest threat a man lighter and considerably weaker in opposition’s half. Despite reshaping at half time, Charlton were powerless to stop the second half Forest onslaught; it really could have been any score to nil. As such, it was disappointing that Forest’s goals came from defensive errors. Radoslaw Majewski capitalised on some defensive uncertainty to poke home the opener in the 53rd minute and Henri Lansbury made it two eight minutes after a soft shot from Simon Cox was parried right into the path of the former Arsenal youngster, who could do little but finish. Whilst Forest were excellent, Charlton were exceedingly atrocious and had still failed to test Karl Darlow in the Forest goal come full time. A real case of after the Lord Mayor’s show for the Addicks.
In terms of team news, as previously mentioned, Charlton fielded an unchanged line up from their midweek exploits. This meant a first home start for Dorian Dervite since being sent off in the FA Cup against Huddersfield back in January with the Frenchman slotting in between the midfield and defence. There was also a first home appearance of any kind for left back Rhoys Wiggins since the injury he suffered against Crystal Palace in September. On the bench, Chris Powell’s latest loan signing Jonathan Obika, signed from Tottenham on Friday, came in to replace Salim Kerar in reserve. The young striker had previously spent time on loan at Yeovil, Crystal Palace and Millwall, amongst others, and was looking to make an impression from the off at his latest temporary home.
For the away side, former Millwall frontman Darius Henderson came in to replace Dexter Blackstock in their only change from their 6-1 thumping of Huddersfield in midweek. Henderson partnered Republic of Ireland international Simon Cox, whilst attacking options in the shape of top scorer Billy Sharp, Lewis McGugan and Blackstock gave Forest plenty of firepower from the bench. After his hat-trick in midweek, Majewski started in midfield looking to add to his impressive haul from Tuesday night. Andy Reid, a player Charlton fans still respect highly after his 18 month spell at the Valley, started on the left flank, whilst another former Addick, Greg Halford, started at the back, although his reception wasn’t to be as welcoming as the former Republic of Ireland international.
The opening 15 minutes was scarce, if not absent, of real chances with neither side looking threatening. The majority of the play occurred with Forest attacking down the left, but left back Chris Cohen and the classy Reid were thwarted on consecutive occasions by the head of Dervite who prevented their crosses from finding a man in the blue of the Forest away shirt. The resulting corners came to nothing but Charlton were struggling to effectively clear the ball, let alone keep it, with Forest maintain possession well but creating little from it; Majewski taking the only shot of the opening period, slicing the ball well high and wide from long range. Despite Charlton continuing to misplace passes and lose possession, Dale Stephens and Dervite the chief offenders, it took until just before the 15 minute mark for Forest to cause any real concern in Charlton’s defence. A long ball from the robust Adlene Guedioura played in Reid, who had popped up on the right, but his driven ball across the face of goal was easily cleared away from goal by Stephens. A similar move moments later saw Gonzalo Jara Reyes outmuscle Michael Morrison and break free down the right, only for Cort to intercept and get the ball clear.
With Charlton on the back foot and struggling to get out of their own half, it was no surprise that Forest, dictating play more and more, began to create a number of very real chances. Cohen had the away side’s first sensible effort on goal in the 20th minute, shooting from just inside the area, but Hamer was calmly able to watch it trickle past the post, but Forest’s best chance of the half was to fall to the feet of the inform Majewski just two minutes later. Henderson made a nuisance of himself inside the box when challenging for a header, causing confusion and a sliced clearance from Cort that fell straight into the path of the Polish international. You would have been foolish not to back him to finish just 15 yards from goal, Majewski could only send the ball soaring over the bar. A let off for the Addicks.
Without exactly coming alive, Charlton did enjoy a period of possession in the Forest half; a succession of throws down the left led to Rhoys Wiggins breaking into the box and winning Charlton’s first corner. Stephens’ over hit set –piece summed up his lacklustre afternoon. Kermorgant smashed clear from a corner and unintentionally played in Wagstaff, who seemed to be popping all over the width of the pitch, put his attempts to run on to the looped ball were desperate as Elliot Ward comfortably cut it out. But that was about as adventurous as Charlton’s play got as Forest created another chance through Majewski but his tame effort was comfortably collected by Hamer.
With Charlton struggling to string two passes together with eleven men on the pitch, the last thing they needed was to go down to ten, but with Kermorgant unnecessarily kicking out at Halford following a tussle for the ball, that’s exactly what happened. Whilst the decision proved to be a correct one, the manner in which it came about appeared a little baffling. Referee Madley raced over following the altercation, as the Forest players quickly came over to ‘defend’ their team mate by getting physical with anyone in a red shirt, but delayed making a decision. Communication with the near side assistant, who was no more than 10 yards away from the incident, apparently proved inconclusive, but after discussions with the far side assistant, Madley give Kermorgant his marching orders. Why an official 60 yards closer to the incident couldn’t make a decision is anyone’s guess. The home fans, already frustrated by the performance, made their feelings known to all three officials and Halford, who became the subject of boos from the home ends and loud cheers from the away end for the remainder of the game.
With the clock edging ever close to half time, Charlton finally had their first shot on goal. Wagstaff chipped the ball into the path of Bradley Pritchard, and despite some uncharacteristic power behind the effort, the ball sailed well wide of the post. Down the other end, a volley from Reid picked out the third row of the upper north and Guedioura fired wide with the final kick of the first half. A first half performance not saw Charlton rarely get out of their own half and Forest dominate in every statistic apart from goals, sections of the home support made their feelings clear with a chorus of boos directed at the players, then at the referee and his assistants as they trudged off the pitch.
With Wagstaff filling in up top after Kermorgant’s sending off, Powell brought on Ricardo Fuller for the start of the second half, taking off the disappointing Stephens and moving Dervite into midfield alongside Johnnie Jackson. The change provided little change to the direction of the game as Forest quickly picked up where they left off in dominating the play. Reid and Guedioura swung in a couple of early corners that were just about dealt with by Hamer and the Addicks defence and Guedioura had another long range attempt that sailed harmlessly over the bar, but it wasn’t to be long until Forest did get the goal their dominance deserved. A cross field ball from Reid fell straight to the feet of Majewski, who was able to take a touch and, with neither Chris Solly nor Wagstaff shaping to make a challenge, poke the ball past Hamer’s far post. A very soft goal indeed. The visitors finally had what their hard work had deserved, but for it to come in such a context was ever more frustrating for the Addicks.
Hoping he would provide the same kind of magic as Tuesday night, Powell sent on Danny Haynes to replace Wagstaff and partner Fuller up top, but it proved futile as Forest quickly doubled their lead. Cox cut in from the right and hit a tame shot directly at Hamer but the keeper fumbled, creating the perfect opportunity for Lansbury to tap into an empty net. Another soft goal and it seemed even a point was well beyond the Addicks with half an hour still left to play. It so easily could have been three in Forest’s next attack as Reid continued his masterclass to deliver a perfect whipping cross into the box for Ward whose connection clipped the post with Hamer stranded and continued to be so, seemingly short on confidence, until Morrison finally cleared. Hamer’s confidence can’t have been helped by the sarcastic cheers from the home fans after he collected successive crosses, but a fantastic save from Lansbury’s drilled effort from just outside the area would have given him some belief in his own ability. Henderson headed over and a Forest break that saw their number vastly outnumber Charlton’s resulted in a perfect chance for Majewski to double his goal tally for the day but he could only fire over. It seemed to be only a matter of time before Forest got their third as Hamer long balls were cleared time and time again by the Forest defence. Charlton were completely out of ideas.
There was no sense of the onslaught stopping with 15 minutes still to play as Henderson hit the post and Cohen’s rebound was saved by Hamer, whilst Cox had an effort saved in the next attack before being replaced by Sharp, a sign of just how strong the Forest side is. Charlton did manage to get forward on occasions, but to no avail, summed up by Haynes opting to play Fuller in when the latter was clearly offside. Darlow’s gloves remained unused. Reid was also subbed off, replaced by Jonathan Greening, and received a round of applause and chants of ‘Reidy’ from all corners of the Valley. With two minutes left to play, Powell handed a debut to Obika with the youngster coming on to replaced Pritchard, but he had little to time to prove anything about his level of ability. A succession of free-kicks from just outside the box in stoppage time was as good as chances got for the Addicks. Fuller’s effort trickled against the wall, Jackson’s first attempt was blocked away and in the final action of the game, his second kick flew just over the bar, arguably the closest Charlton had come to testing Darlow. Forest were fantastic in their victory; Charlton pathetic in defeat.
There were a few Charlton fans that let Powell know at the final whistle that the performance wasn’t good enough, and, quite simply, it wasn’t. Even before the red card it wasn’t pretty and when the whole game is taken into account I struggle to think of a performance worse than that this season. Even the abject display against Middlesbrough saw Charlton create some chances, string some passes together and even score a goal. But it would appear some are disappointed with the current league standing and the season as a whole. They surely can’t have been expecting more? Charlton still sit comfortably in mid-table. This season has still been successful.
It’s pointless lambasting individual performances, no man can proud of how they played, it’s pointless lambasting Powell, there was nothing he could have done differently against an impressive Forest side, and it’s pointless lambasting the officials who, despite the confusion, appeared to get the red card decision, and most other incidents, right. It’s a case of moving on to another tough test in the shape of Burnley next week, putting an excellent performance and pushing the Forest game right to the back of people’s minds.
Mention the name ‘Yann Kermorgant’ to a Charlton fan and you’ll no doubt receive a lecture on his hero like qualities and a recreation using whatever props are available of ‘that’ volley against Hartlepool on the final day of last season. Mention the name ‘Yann Kermorgant’ to a Leicester City fan and you’ll be forced into a dark corner, beaten until you plead for forgiveness and forced to promise to never mutter those words again; or possibly lead in the direction of that YouTube video that explains it all. His penalty exploits, a missed chipped attempt, in the 2009/10 Championship play-off semi-final saw Leicester crash out and the Frenchman become public enemy number one. Finding shelter in SE7, Kermorgant scored what turned out to be the winner in the reverse fixture at the Valley in August, silencing the boos from the Leicester fans.
But before the game, even the most optimistic of Charlton fans had their doubts about this one. No clean sheet in 12, no win in 4 and playing against one of the inform teams, and a team packed with quality, in the Championship, the away side certainly had their work cut out to go back down to South East London with even a point. The only realistic hope was a warrior like performance from Kermorgant, supplemented by plenty of fight and desire from the rest of the team, or failing that, a miracle. That’s exactly what the travelling fans got. Not only did the defence remain firm and the midfield work and work, but Kermorgant won every header, chased every loose end and, to put the icing on the cake, grabbed another goal against his former employers. Capitalising on some Leicester defending suited to a Christmas bloopers DVD, Bradley Pritchard teed up Kermorgant, who finished coolly from inside the box to give Charlton the lead after 19 minutes. The script was written for that to be the winning goal, but Leicester clearly hadn’t read it, as Chris Wood equalised with a clinical finish with 69 minutes on the clock. With Leicester pressing and dominating possession, it looked like it would be a familiar story of dropped point from a winning position for Charlton, but instead of attempting to cling on for a point; Chris Powell threw on Danny Haynes, a move that suggested he wanted all three. Haynes’ first touch was to volley a Kermorgant flick on into the top corner from an impossible angle; there was the miracle. Charlton hung on with minimal fuss for the remaining 12 minutes and, somehow, secured an unlikely and impressive victory.
In terms of team news, Charlton made a number of changes following the weekend defeat to Hull. The main change was in terms of set up as Ricardo Fuller was left out in favour of Dorian Dervite, who slotted into a position in behind the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. There was also a shock as Cedric Evina, who had performed admirably in recent weeks, had to settle for a place on the bench with Rhoys Wiggins coming in for his first start at left back since breaking his foot in September. The third and final change for Charlton saw Scott Wagstaff come back into the side with Lawrie Wilson missing out.
Arguably Leicester’s strongest team was able to take to the field after a return from injury for a number of their key men, including Ben Marshall and January signing Chris Wood. Leicester’s more successful Frenchman in their colours, Anthony Knockaert , started on the wing and big centre back Wes Morgan partnered Michael Keane in defence as they aimed to counter the considerable aerial force of Kermogant. There was a place in the side for former Charlton player Paul Konchesky at left back, whilst former Addicks loanee Martyn Waghorn was on the bench.
The opening 15 minutes of play wasn’t exactly inspiring, but a few chances were created with Leicester having the best of them. The first chance of the game fell the home side’s way as Knockaert’s effort from the edge of the area was fantastically tipped round the post by Ben Hamer. Despite the resulting corner coming to nothing, Leicester were the only side looking likely to score and the fashioned another opening through former Manchester United youth team player Matty James, but Hamer was again equal to the effort, and a chance for David Nugent was ballooned over the bar. It took Charlton the best part of 10 minutes to create their first chance as Kermorgant beat Morgan in the air and found Pritchard who could only fire wide. Morgan won a header himself in the opposition’s half moments later, nodding well over the bar from 10 yards.
With Charlton seemingly camped in their own half and desperately defending an onslaught of Leicester possession and chances, no better signified than by Michael Morrison, against his former club, pulling off several desperate tackles and blocks in the final third, their opening goal came against the run of play. Wagstaff, as he so regularly does, wasn’t prepared to give up on what appeared to be a lost cause and kept the ball in play by the corner flag with drag back, but Danny Drinkwater was there to collect the loose ball. Attempting to send the ball sideways to Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal, Drinkwater hadn’t spotted the diminutive figure of Pritchard lurking in the box. He pounced on the tame pass, had time to look up and calmly lay the ball back to Kermorgant who placed the ball into the far corner of the goal. The away fans, who had been singing Kermorgant’s name all night, responded with chaotic celebrations and another rendition of ‘we all dream of a team of Kermorgants’.
Play carried on as if no goal had been scored with Leicester continuing to control possession and carve out the better openings, but most of these were from range as the Charlton defence remained solid with Hamer having little, if any, real work to do. The one piece he did have to deal with before half time had Charlton fans’ hearts in their mouths as a powerful strike from Marshall was fumbled straight into the path of a melee of players, but the keeper just about managed to recover and safely snatch the ball away from the challenging Nugent. As the half drew to a close, Leicester were starting to look more and more threatening, and a fantastic touch from Ritchie De Laet kidded Wagstaff before the full back drifted past Wiggins and played in a pinpoint cross to Knockaert, but the Frenchman could only fire over from close range. A rare Charlton break saw Jackson fire over just as the referee was about to blow for halftime, and despite all the pressure, the away side went in at the break a goal to the good.
The opening period of the second half would surely be crucial to Charlton’s chances of maintaining their lead, and they started brightly despite Leicester continuing to look comfortable in possesion. Kermorgant, again collecting the ball well, played a perfectly timed through ball for Pritchard to run onto, but the midfielder rushed to take the chance and fired over when another touch looked the better option. The Addicks best chance to double their lead was to come just moments later as a Jackson free-kick was mishit by the fists of Schmeichel, falling perfectly to Morrison who fired his shot on target for what looked like a certain goal. But as the away fans began to anticipate a celebration, Schmeichel pulled off a marvellous reflex save to keep the deficit at just the one. Leicester themselves thought they had scored in their next attack, but Wood was flagged offside after slotting past Hamer.
The home side had weathered the early Charlton pressure and were now firing balls into the Charlton box one after another, and desperation led to various shouts for free-kicks and penalties from the home fans, but nothing was given. However, it wasn’t long before Leicester’s pressure paid off. Substitute Paul Gallagher travelled with ball and forced a collective of Solly and Morrison to attempt to stop him, but the ball popped up kindly to Wood, who fired home past a helpless Hamer into the far bottom corner. On the run of play, it was deserved, but Charlton’s fight hadn’t warranted such a harsh blow. Wood came close again in Leicester’s next attack after their goal and it appeared as if it was only a matter of time before they took the lead, but Danny Haynes had other ideas.
The substitute, who had been on the field a matter of seconds, showed his impressive turn of pace to latch on to a signature Kermorgant flick on following Solly’s punt forward, but out wide and with seemingly little on, it appeared the fine work would come to nothing. Haynes wasn’t to believe that though, and the pacey striker took a swing with his weaker left foot on the half volley, sending the ball crashing past Schmeichel into the far top corner of the net. The goal of the season competition, as if it needed any more, had another entry added to the ever growing shortlist of strikes. Charlton fans, and Haynes himself, celebrated in a manner that the goal warranted, but with 12 minutes left to play, no one was taking anything for granted just yet.
The final passage of the game saw Leicester in control of the ball but fail to create many clear cut chances, the best one falling to Wood, who rifled in a shot from outside the area, forcing Hamer to pull off a wonderful save diving to his right. Charlton broke away twice in stoppage time, but with numbers in the Leicester half in short supply, they came to nothing, and in the last minute of the additional four, the Addicks were wishing they had made more of one of them. A free-kick to Leicester was awarded just 20 yards from goal; a perfect position for Wood to fire home from. To the delight of the cheering travelling fans, he sent the ball well wide of the far post and the game was up almost immediately. The Charlton players and staff came over to join the away fans in their celebrations and it was clear how much it meant to them. A vital three points and a fantastic, fighting display.
Where did it all go right? Just the one goal up with ten minutes to play had spelt trouble for Charlton in recent weeks, but Powell got the response spot on. Changing to a 4-4-2 formation after Leicester’s equalizer showed the attacking intent Powell wanted to instil in his team for the remaining 20 minutes, and although the players dropped deep and a fifth defender came on in the shape of Matthew Taylor when defending their lead, they did so at the right time, and with Kermorgant and Haynes continuing to fight for every loose ball up top, there was an outlet to be found from the desperate attempts to clear.
But the foundations for the result were laid well before the closing stages. The defensive display was one of the best all season: Morrison and Cort won every header, Morrison especially showing exceptional form and one of several possibilities for man of the match, whilst Solly and Wiggins did well under pressure from constant threat down either flank, and when they didn’t, Hamer was there to pull off some fine saves. Dervite, although somewhat wasteful in possession, played a highly important role in cutting out Leicester’s attacks and, along with Jackson and Stephens, worked incredibly hard to get forward and back throughout the game. Wagstaff and Pritchard showed similar fight and work rate, and both proved to be impressive when going forward. This is especially true for Pritchard who seemed to be on the end of every Kermorgant knock down and won a few headers of his own, but the highlight in Pritchard’s display was a piece of trickery that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of to get himself past Konchesky and James when seemingly trapped by the pair. Finally, of course, the display of Kermorgant was a joy to behold. Playing in the difficult lone striker role, the Frenchman had an almost perfect game and got the goal that he was always destined to get. Not forgetting Haynes’ strike, it was a fantastic team performance filled with everything this Charlton side under Chris Powell has in abundance: fight, desire and determination.
The win elevates the pressures of possibly being dragged into the relegation battle with the Addicks now moving eight points clear of the bottom three, whilst also being eight points behind the play-off places. Just one win can make the table look far more attractive in this league, and that’s exactly what it’s done.
It’s the kind of form that would make you switch off in anger if it happened on a football video game. Dominating for long periods, if not the whole game, but only having one goal to show for it, Charlton sit back and the opposition, who haven’t looked like scoring, pop up and steal the points. Not once, not twice, but three times in consecutive fixtures has this sickening outcome occurred, all be it today’s last minute capitulation saw Birmingham City head back to the midlands with just a point after a 1-1 draw. Just a point, but a point that was seemingly beyond them when the forth official lifted up the electronic board to reveal four minutes of additional time.
After a slow and scrappy first half (and that’s being kind), Charlton’s second half display was up there as one of the best 45 minutes of football this season. Chance after chance fell the home side’s way but a mixture of poor finishing and an inspired Jack Butland, showing all the qualities that have seen him fast tracked into the England set up, in the Birmingham goal prevented the Addick’s getting any reward for their considerable effort. With a sense of inevitability that the game was heading for a scoreless draw, a wonderful cross into the box from Chris Solly was met by the head of Yann Kermorgant who powered the ball past the stranded Butland with just two minutes left on the clock. With just stoppage time to hold on, Powell and his team rightly reshaped to sit back in an attempt to finally hold on to a lead, but once again, it wasn’t to be. A ball drilled across the face of goal by Chris Burke was scrambled home by Wade Elliot, an apparent transfer target for the Addicks in January, to steal an undeserved point. Sickening, agonising, painful; there isn’t really a phrase that can do it justice.
In terms of team news, Charlton reverted back to a 4-4-2 formation after cracks had begun to appear in the 4-5-1 that, before the defeats over the last two weeks, had been used in victories over Blackpool and Blackburn. Dorian Dervite was sacrificed from the holding role he occupied with distinction against Crystal Palace in order to allow Kermorgant to return to the starting line-up and partner Ricardo Fuller up top. The partnership had left the Watford defence in tatters during their last game together on New Year’s Day and, with both of them in good form, Charlton fans were excited by the prospect of a repeat performance. The only other change from the defeat at Selhurst saw Dale Stephens come back in to replace Bradley Pritchard, with the Zimbabwean unlucky to miss out after a series of hard working displays.
The away side packed their team with experienced Championship players. Curtis Davies partnered Steven Caldwell at the back, Elliot and Burke were in midfield whilst top goal scorer Marlon King was up front. Most eyes, however, would have been drawn to Butland’s name on the Birmingham team sheet. The 19-year-old stopper, who secured a move to Premier League side Stoke in January before being loaned back to the Blues, has attracted rave reviews from many a respected name inside the higher esculents of the game. There were also a few Charlton fans disappointed that former Addick Darren Ambrose wasn’t in the squad. If included, he could have been sure to receive a ‘warm’ welcome after leaving Charlton for Palace in 2009.
The first ten minutes, much like the entirety of the half, was sparsely populated by action with the tattered pitch having an effect on both teams attempts to maintain possession. A free-kick from Birmingham’s King was blocked away and the follow up shot from Gomis was fired way over the bar whilst Charlton, despite Fuller looking dangerous and winning almost every ball he challenged for, only had a number of corners to show for their efforts without creating any real chances. That was until a free-kick from the right was played into the box along the ground by Jackson and met by Stephens, only for youngster Callum Rielly to get a desperate block in and divert the ball away for a corner.
It was Fuller who forced the first save out of either keeper just beyond the minute mark, running at the Birmingham defence and displaying an array of stepovers before unleashing a driven shot heading into the far bottom corner but Butland reacted well top tip the ball around the post. But the next 15 minute period contained even fewer chances than the first, with Birmingham limited to wayward long range attempts, whilst it took Charlton until just before the 30 minute mark to create another opening; the lively Scott Wagstaff nodded Solly’s cross to the far post into the path of Kermorgant who saw his shot blocked away for a corner, which resulted in the home side’s best chance to date. A short corner routine that was in use for almost every flag kick saw Stephens interchange lay-offs with Wagstaff before the former crossed in. Lawrie Wislon beat his man to the ball at the near post but, still under pressure, contrived to head the ball wide and against the stanchion.
Despite the game lacking any sense of excitement, Charlton were growing into it come the end of the first half. Fuller fired a shot from inside the area just wide of the far post whilst Wilson latched onto a drop kick from Hamer but could only shoot straight at Butland. With that the last real action of the half, there was a sense of relief that the first 45 minutes were coming to a close as, despite a respectable performance from the home side, there really wasn’t anything to write home about. Both sets of fans inside the Valley were hoping for something a bit different in the second half, and they got their wish, although it probably wasn’t what the Birmingham fans had in precisely in mind.
The change in tempo coincided with Yann Kermorgant upping his game. Despite battling throughout the first, much of what he tried in the first period failed to come off, but his second half performance was a Yann master class in holding up the ball, winning aerial battles and unselfishly creating openings for his team mates. The Frenchman was at the heart of Charlton’s first chance of the half; Birmingham failed to clear in defence and eventually gave the ball away under pressure to Kermorgant with the ball running loose. Competing with Davies, it seemed for a moment as if Kermorgant was in but the centre back got back to block his charge on goal, only for the ball to fall straight into the path of Wagstaff, whose powerful shot took a deflection that saw flash past the post.
With Charlton dictating the play in midfield, especially with Stephens showing the form that had seen him heavily linked to Premier League side Aston Villa, Birmingham’s only efforts came on the break. West Ham Loanee Rob Hall forced Hamer into a couple of saves for which Charlton’s number one barely had to move, whilst, in arguably the away side’s best opening, a break from Burke saw him drive into the box before cutting back to King with a clear sight of goal, only to fire way over the bar. This was partially down to Cedric Evina’s last ditch attempt to block the shot by diving across the ball and seemingly distracting King from his finish. Evina then showed his talents going forward after a curling effort from Fuller just evaded the top corner. The left back beat his man and cut inside into the middle of the park, distributing the ball back out wide and continuing his run in to the box. Jackson’s resulting cross caused chaos as Wilson beat Butland to the ball, with it falling to Evina. An open goal and the perfect chance to score his first goal for the Addicks, his eyes lit up but the youngster could only fire wide on the volley when off balance. A player with more experience in front of the opposition’s goal might have fared considerably better.
Fuller, continuing his trend from last week of collecting long balls and dribbling past all comers with the ball stuck to his feet, was giving the Birmingham back four a torrid time. Lovely interchange between himself and Wilson saw Fuller battle his way into the box from out wide and, from a position where all he had to do was pick out a body part belonging to a Charlton player for a goal, knocked the ball against Davies with Butland just about gathering before it crossed the line. Birmingham continued to break well with the pace of Gomis and Hall looking threatening, but chances remained at a premium with only long rage efforts lacking any accuracy and tame stabs from inside the box threatening the Charlton goal.
Charlton on the other hand continued to create glorious chances one after the other. None more so than when Fuller and Wagstaff were involved in a goal mouth scramble, with both appearing to be fouled but remained on their feet, that eventually resulted in Wagstaff shot fantastically saved by the inform Butland from just a matter of yards out. Birmingham, settling for the fact only breaks would produce any threat to Charlton, brought on the pacey duo of Wes Thomas and highly rated Nathan Redmond, with the latter immediately getting to work with terrorising Charlton’s defence, but to no avail. With just ten minutes left on the clock, and with Caldwell’s header from a corner saved by Hamer and Wagstaff’s effort from inside the area, which looked destined for the back of the net, again saved fantastically well by Butland, the smart money was on neither side grabbing a goal irrespective of all the chances.
This was reflected on the pitch in the closing stages as both sides seemed more nervous of conceding than scoring a late winner. A free-kick from Birmingham no more than 20 yards from goal was blocked away and just about cleared, whilst Green, on as a substitute, almost capitalised after a sloppy pass back from Rilley but could only clatter into Butland as the keeper managed to clear. Fuller, again finding himself out wide, crossed to Kermorgant but he could only head wide under serious pressure from Davies, but that proved to foreshadow what was to come next. Solly, Fuller and Green built up the play superbly out on the right hand side, with Fuller coming into the middle in an attempt to get the ball into the box, but it was beaten away, only to fall back into the path of Solly. First time, the right back swung a peach of a cross into the box and Kermorgant, free of his man, could do little but header the ball home. The home fans, who had grown frustrated not only by events of recent weeks but the failure to take the chances offered to them in this game, let out all their emotion as it appeared Charlton were receiving their own late gift of three points.
With only two minutes plus stoppage time to play, it looked like even the Addicks could hold onto this one, and it seemed to be beyond any doubt in the first minute of stoppage time. Substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had come on alongside Dervite , raced onto a pass from Kermorgant and tucked the ball into the far corner past Butland, only for offside to be given, which seemed a correct decision. If only Wright-Phillips had held his run back for just a few more seconds, as Birmingham went down the other end and, despite not creating a serious chance all game, grabbed a late equaliser. Charlton failed to clear after Redmond attacked the left and the ball eventually came to the dangerous Burke. He took a touch before hit a shot across the face of goal that was flicked home by Elliot. Just as they had done in the reverse fixture, the blues had secured a dramatic point with almost the last kick of the game, and an unjust point at that. You only had to look at Kermorgant come the final whilst, striking a pose of agony, to see how much the dropped points meant to the Charlton players.
Again, as in the two previous games where points were dropped late on from winning positions, it’s difficult to find any real negatives from the performance. Once again, the only negative is a failure to finish off a number of golden opportunities. The Addicks could easily have been three of four up by the time of the late leveller, much as they could have been against Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace. It’s difficult to find anyone to blame for this gut-wrenching run; Powell got it wrong against Wednesday by sitting too deep too quickly, but Palace was down to the Eagles changing shape and personnel, whilst you can’t criticise Powell for wanting to hold on with just moments left in the game. The performances are superb, but something needs to be done about the composure of the players in the final moments. What that something is, however, is anyone’s guess.
In terms of individual performances, almost every player deserved to feel a sense of pride in their performance, so much so that Solly, Evina, Wagstaff, Stephens, Fuller and Kermorgant all stood out as exceptional. Solly and Evina were excellent going forward and at the back, with the latter’s form emphasised by the fact a fit again Rhoys Wiggins remains on the bench. Stephens put in some fantastic tackles, seemed to be the man that collected every loose ball and knocked out some excellent passes both long and short. Wagstaff continues to show both fight and talent since coming back into the side and in reality could have had a hat-trick if he had converted his chances today, whilst Fuller showed again his undoubted ability that probably could still see him do a job in the top flight, and Kermorgant’s desire is matched by none, not to downgrade his ability, which again saw the front man cause all sorts of issues for the opposition defence.
Eventually the wins will come, but it’s horrible to see that if the deserved 9 points had been collected, Charlton would sit 6th in the table; a play-off position. It does show we can compete, and we’re in no danger of relegation. If Powell can lift heads and get the performances to continue, there’s nothing to say a late surge on the play-off picture isn’t out of sight. No one is going to argue with a mid-table finish though, are they?
In almost identical fashion to the game against Sheffield Wednesday just seven days prior to this South London Derby, Charlton took the lead, dominated for the majority of the game and went away empty handing thanks to two Crystal Palace goals in a five minute period. A wonder strike from Ricardo Fuller had given the Addicks the lead a quarter of an hour into the first half and, despite creating several glorious chances, couldn’t add to it in an impressive opening 45 minutes. The second half continued in a similar fashion with Charlton well on top, but Palace’s introduction of Jonathan Williams and new signing Stephen Dobbie in the 67th minute swung the game in the home sides favour; producing dominance in midfield as Charlton began to tire. The pressure was mounting, and despite some excellent saves from Ben Hamer in the Charlton goal, there was nothing he could do about Glen Murray’s equaliser, whilst the second, just five minutes later, came about as a result of a Hamer slip, giving Murray the simplest of chances to add his second. Agonising for the away fans and yet another close of what could have been for the Addicks.
There were a few confused heads when the Charlton team news was announced. Out were arguably three of the star performers in recent weeks: Matt Taylor, Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, with the fit again Leon Cort, Dorian Dervite and Fuller into replace the trio. The reintroduction of Cort seemed fair, but there was little explanation for the other two changes. The three to miss out were forced to settle for a place on the bench alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips who saw a deadline day loan move to Swindon fall through in the final minutes of the window.
For Palace, their deadline day signings of the experienced Kevin Phillips and Dobbie started life as an Eagle on the bench, whilst another man who had filled the gossip columns throughout the window fowling his move to Manchester United, Wilfried Zaha, started on the wing after being loaned back to the South London club. January loan signings Jaz Richards from Swansea and Jacob Butterfield from Norwich also started, as did fringe players Alex Marrow and Stuart O’Keefe due to a number of absentees for the home side, including Kagisho Dikgacoi, scorer of the winning goal in the reverse fixture in September.
Charlton, inspired by the passionate 3,000 away fans, roared into life in the opening stages, controlling possession and creating the early openings. A dangerous cross from Dervite could only be headed out by Damien Delaney and the resulting corner, swung in by Jackson, was met by the head of Cort but he failed to keep the ball down and it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Just moments later, the away side had an even greater chance to open the scoring when Bradley Pritchard cut back to unmarked Lawrie Wilson just inside the area, but his effort was blocked away by Delaney and desperate appeals for handball were turned away by referee Halsey. Palace soon had their first opportunity of the game, and a spectacular one at that, as great strength from Yannick Bolasie saw him move a long ball pumped up to him on the right into the centre and, with Evina and Morrison on his back, pulled off an overhead kick that Hamer was comfortably equal to.
Fuller had started brightly, winning headers and showing great strength to hold up the ball in the lone front man position, and it was exactly that kind of work that produced the opening goal for the Addicks. A punt up field by Chris Solly, impressive in his own right for keeping Zaha quiet, found the target man a fair distance from goal, who controlled, turned and travelled down the right flank, before cutting inside and unleashing a fierce drive into the opposite corner from the tightest of angels. Pandemonium resulted in the away end as the travelling supporters couldn’t have wished for a better start.
Palace heads didn’t drop however, and in their next attack, confusion between Hamer, Morrison and Cort led to the keeper dropping a cross with Cort obstructing him from the loose ball. Thankfully for the Addicks, Hamer was able to pick up the pieces before any opposition player could respond. That was to be Palace’s last threat on the Charlton goal for a considerable amount of time, as the away side created a series of attacks and wasted a number of guilt edge chances. Pritchard, uncharismatically, found himself inside the opposition’s box following a lovely ball into him by Fuller, but the angle was tight and his shot was blocked away for a Charlton corner. Jackson’s set piece was met by Cort who, somehow, contrived to miss the target from a couple of yards out when it appeared easier to score. Jackson himself then had two good opportunities, first a cross from Pritchard that, after some confusion between the skipper and Cort, was eventually poked at goal, only to be excellently saved by Julian Speroni, but his second chance has to go down as an embarrassing miss. Fantastic and patient play on the left by Cedric Evina and Scott Wagstaff saw the left back cross into the box for Wilson to head across goal to Jackson no more than four yards away from goal and under no challenge from a Palace defender, but his effort floated across the face of goal and evaded the far post.
A familiar story was already being told with a failure to take chances surely being paid for at some stage, but despite a late effort from Marrow that in truth was well wide of the post, Palace could offer little counter against the Charlton first half onslaught. Charlton went in at the break by far the happy side; Palace just thankful not to be out of the game completely.
Palace manager threw on Phillips off the bench at the start of the second half and he immediately began to throw himself around and hold the ball up like someone far younger than his 39 years. It was Charlton who remained on top though, and fantastic strength and desire from Dervite, who had been excellent in the first half despite his questionable start, saw him break into the Palace box only for the connection with his shot to fail him leaving Speroni to gather comfortably. Dervite had another chance with a long range effort that was drilled just wide, a far more pleasing attempt than Richards, who ballooned over from similar distance for the home side.
With Fuller continuing to win his aerial battles, it was no surprise to see him bring a long ball down and turn his marker with ease. What was a surprise though was the strikers attempt on goal; a curling effort from all of 30 yards that forced Speroni into a scrambled save over the bar. It certainly appeared to be heading in over him with the keeper’s intervention. Chaos then reigned from the resulting corner as Jackson and Pritchard exchanged passes in a short corner routine, only for Jackson to be given offside despite Palace having players on their goal line. One of a host of questionable decisions from the referee’s assistant on the right hand side.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Palace began to slowly come into the game, and created their first real opening. Good build up play saw the ball for perfectly to Phillips inside the Charlton box but Hamer pulled off an outstanding (or ‘worldy’ as the keeper himself would call it) save to tip the ball around the post. Palace came close again moments later as Zaha, now on the right, beat Evina and put in cross that set O’Keefe up for a glorious chance, but his header went over when, like Cort and Jackson in the first half for the away side, it appeared easier to score. Amidst the pressure from Palace, Wagstaff saw a long range attempt taken well by Speroni, but that was to be his last real action as he was replaced by Rhoys Wiggins who was making his first appearance since the return fixture after breaking a bone in his foot. By this stage, Williams and Dobbie were on and Palace were dominating the play, but in the build up to their goal, it was Charlton who were camped firmly in the oppositions half. A succession of throws on the left, all of which landed at the feet of Fuller with no defender able to get near him, eventually resulted in an offside call being given. Speroni took the deal ball quickly, finding Moxey, who had made himself an enemy with the Charlton fans for some unprofessional remonstrating with the referee, who was able to hoard off the challenge from Jackson and put a ball into the box for Murray, who controlled and finished into the bottom corner; the array of goal music making the moment all the more painful for the travelling fans.
The impressive Dobbie almost had a goal to his name as Hamer pulled off yet another stupendous save, tipping the ball over the bar from long range, but it seemed Palace were now increasingly likely to grab a winner. The resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly and the ball back in left Hamer in two minds, causing him to slip and giving Murray, who yet again and controlled well, to rifle the ball into an almost empty net. Joy to despair in five minutes; unbelievable for the away fans that experienced the same feeling just a week ago.
In desperation, Charlton threw on Kermorgant and the fit again Danny Haynes, but neither could change the course of the game as Palace passed the ball around with little Charlton threat. The only real attempt on goal in the final 10 minutes of the game from a Charlton perspective came from Pritchard, as Morrison teed him up for a volley that was fired straight at Speroni. In fact it was Palace who applied the pressure late on, with Murray having three chances to seal a hat-trick, the final of which was an outrageous slice from just a few yards out. But luckily for the Eagles it wasn’t to matter, they had done enough to seal the win and do the double over their South London neighbours.
A soul destroying loss, but the first hour of the game was as good as Charlton have played all season; a fantastic team performance with the likes of Fuller, Solly and Evina impressing. But after that, it all seemed to fall apart. Tiring in midfield, Palace were able to dominate with ease, and despite only having 30 minutes of the play, they deserved their victory. This wasn’t a case of being robbed in the same sense as last week, but it was a case of missed chances and little going Charlton’s way, as has been the story of this season. But it was another closing stage where the Charlton performance just wasn’t good enough to hold on, and that’s the problem, we’re always trying to hold on. Palace didn’t sit back on their lead, they continued to attack, and that’s what we should be looking to do in similar positions. Hopefully Powell has seen enough of these situations now to have a better understanding of what to do the next time one occurs.
I also feel it’s important to mention some of the ‘unsavoury’ scenes that followed the final whistle, and in fact, occurred during the game. In a week in which Chelsea fans were arrested for being possession of flares at Swansea during their Capital One Cup Semi Final, a series of flares and smoke bombs were let off throughout the game. Some may argue it creates an atmosphere, but I don’t see it. In my view, it’s unnecessary and dangerous. But this pales in comparison to the damage caused to the stadium, including by all accounts total destruction to the away end toilets, and damage to cars parked along the streets outside the ground as Charlton fans were held back by police cordons. The atmosphere was fantastic, and there can be nothing but praise to the vast majority of Charlton fans who went along purely to support their club in a local derby fixture, but that has been damaged by several thugs and idiots who seem to feel the need to act against the laws of the land to show passion to the club. It’s embarrassing. This type of behaviour has been growing recently and I for one really hope something is down to control it, or even better, stop it all together. I want to attend football with other football fans and feel safe, not have the thought of ‘it’s all going to kick off after we leave’ playing on my mind for the duration of the game’.
This season was all about staying up, and as hard as it is to take this defeat, Charlton are still more than likely to stay up. Take the positives and bounce back next week.