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.