In Chris Powell’s programme notes the Charlton manager called winning just four games at home all season ‘not good enough’. Last week’s performance at home to Nottingham Forest was not good enough. The flaws in the home performances needed to be corrected and with an out of form Burnley visiting the Valley, the opportunity was there to right the wrongs of last week in particular. A response was expected. Powell responded, doing what many of the most critical were calling for, by reshaping the team and brining in fresh faces; the players responded with another disappointing and below par performance that, despite Burnley rarely troubling the Charlton goal, got exactly what it warranted in a 1-0 defeat. The odd chance was created, the ball rarely left Burnley’s half for the final ten minutes of the game and there was certainly some puff from most of the eleven, but a failure to keep the ball, a lack of organisation and a general impression that Powell and his team were void of ideas made the performance frustratingly poor.
Burnley also failed to impress in what was a tedious game; the sort of game that requires a moment of magic to snatch the three points. The prolific Charlie Austin, a regular scorer on his visits to the Valley, supplied just a moment with a fantastic long range effort that crashed into the top corner of Charlton’s goal just before halftime. There seemed to be nothing on, but the former bricklayer wasn’t closed down, giving him a clear sight of goal and chance to try to his arm. Danny Haynes came close in both halves and Michael Morrison should have scored in the second, but it wasn’t to be for the Addicks. The doubters’ voices are getting louder and the pressure is on Powell to turn this form around and start picking up points again.
Changes to Charlton’s line up were expected, but Powell was a little bolder than most predicted. Out went Ben Hamer, dropped for the first time in his career as a Charlton player after a string of errors, with David Button coming in to replace him. The change split the home fans. Despite Hamer’s recent calamities, he remains one of the players of the season and his ability, especially in terms of shot stopping, is unquestionable, but the mistakes of late opened the door for former Tottenham keeper Button. With injuries hitting key mean in the shape of Chris Solly and Dale Stephens, Lawrie Wilson and Danny Haynes came into replace them with the later hovering between the left wing and upfront. The other enforced chance saw Ricardo Fuller replace the suspended Yann Kermorgant whilst Scott Wagstaff dropped to the bench, giving Jonathan Obika a first start, who operated up top and along the right hand side in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.
For Burnley, Sean Dyche set his men up in a conservative 4-4-2 formation filled with experience Championship players and developing young players. The exciting Alex Kacaniklic, signed on loan from Fulham on Friday, made his debut on the left flank with former West Ham youngster Junior Stanislas on the right. There was also a start for Martin Paterson, who joined Austin up front for the Clarets. The former Derby, and summer transfer target for the Addicks, Jason Shackell partnered David Edgar at centre back, whilst Kieran Trippier, sent off in the reverse fixture in November, started at left back.
The first 10 minutes were almost identical to last week’s with neither side managing to keep the ball nor create anything of any real note. The first opening for the Addicks five minutes into the game saw the ball land at the feet of Haynes but, under pressure from Kevin Long, he completely miss-kicked the ball, slicing it out of play. Down the other hand, Paterson had the first respectable shot of the game, opening up his shoulders and firing well over from distance, whilst Button was tested for the first time moments later, doing well to save from an Austin header. It looked like Button was beaten in Burnley’s next attack after Stanislas had dispossessed Haynes and fed in Paterson to finish past the keeper, but he was saved by the offside flag.
A sloppy start, but the first real bit of fight and determination crafted Charlton’s first clear cut opportunity just past the ten minute mark. It appeared Marvin Bartley had no red shirt challenging him for an aerial ball, but Haynes showed great strength to come from behind him and powerfully head the ball into the bath of Fuller. He connected with Pritchard and Wilson down the right flank and the latter’s cross was headed just wide by the man who started the move, Haynes. This sparked a brief spell of Charlton dominance and just moments later, a Johnnie Jackson corner was headed back across by Morrison, who was lurking at the far post, onto the head of Haynes and brilliantly tipped over by Lee Grant in the Burnley goal. From the corner that followed, the ball again found its way through to the far post but Cort’s powerful volley raced across the face of goal with no Charlton player able to connect.
Charlton continued to cause a threat from their set pieces and, after a several minutes of Burnley possession which saw crosses from Kacaniklic and Bartley just about dealt with and the first sense of frustration aired by the home fans, produced another opportunity from a Jackson free-kick twenty minutes in. The delivery itself was headed away by Shackell, but only as far as Dorian Dervite, who headed back in setting Morrison and Haynes free. Whether they both feared they were offside or unsure as to who should challenge for the ball as unclear, but they both appeared tentative in sticking a foot on; Morrison’s connection trickled off his foot and, through a scramble of legs, was blocked away. The final effort of the move, Jackson’s curling effort after Fuller had collected the cleared ball, was sent well wide of the far post.
Burnley soon came back into the game and, after pressure from several corners, carved out an excellent scoring opportunity. The corner wasn’t dealt with and Kacaniklic collected the ball inside the area but his shot was saved superbly by Button and cleared away. The replacement keeper had passed his first real test with flying colours. With the away side pressing, Charlton managed to catch Burnley on the break as a fantastic cross field ball from Dervite found its way to Haynes who found Fuller who in turn played in Bradley Pritchard but the Zimbabwean’s tame shot caused no concern to Grant. With Pritchard putting in an excellent shift in midfield, it was no surprise to see him causing a threat down the right hand side, but his excellent outside of the boot cross was only glanced off the head of Haynes and rolled safely into Grant’s hands.
Despite the Charlton chances, it was Burnley who were now dominating possession and looking calmly in control of the game without creating any significant openings. Charlton’s back four were equal to the numerous crosses delivered in, with Kacaniklic posing a real threat and having a shot of his own that in truth sailed harmlessly over the bar. But with a player like Austin in their side, Burnley were ever only going to need the slightest opening to capitalise on, and that’s exactly what was offered to the striker after Kacaniklic played the ball to him on the left and no Charlton player got tight enough to him. Knocking the ball inside, Austin had a clear sight of goal and thumped an outrageous effort from range that, despite the distance, looked in from the moment it left his foot, leaving Button helpless as the ball rifled into the top corner. With just three minutes left of the half, the strike had come at a crucial period as Burnley went in at the break in front. Charlton were left to bemoan their missed chances and sloppy play in terms of conceding possession time and time again that allowed the away side to get on top as they trudged off the pitch to a chorus of boos.
The second half started brightly for Charlton as Pritchard was played in by Fuller, but his volley was deflected wide of the far post. The resulting corner caused more concern in the Burnley box as Jackson’s delivery was sent again to the far post for Cort to head across goal, but Long managed to clear after the ball evaded everyone in a red shirt. Ricardo Fuller then had an effort after Pritchard teed him up, but the Jamaican, putting in a substandard performance, dragged his shot well wide. With Charlton failing to finish, Burnley almost capitalised after a fumble from Button saw the ball land at the feet of Austin but Wilson was able to prevent him prodding the ball into the empty net. With Charlton fans still shaking their heads at Button’s error, Burnley fans had their keeper to thank for a fantastic save moments later. Wilson was played in down the right wing by Fuller and the full backs cross was perfect for Haynes to head powerfully into the bottom corner. It looked destined for the back of the net by Grant pulled off a fantastic fingertip save to tip the ball around the post. The following corner found its way through to Cort again, but the defender was able to control his shot and fired a considerable distance wide. It was beginning to feel like one of those days where nothing would go right for the Addicks.
Powell seemingly thought changes were needed to get the home side back into the game and off came the ineffective Obika and Dervite to be replaced by Danny Green and youngster Callum Harriott. The pair added some pace down the flanks, allowing Haynes to head permanently up top, with Green immediately forcing Austin to bring him down when breaking away and Harriott exciting the crowd with a nutmeg of Long, but both of their final deliveries were lacking, especially in the case of Green’s long throws that were continuously cleared. Even when the balls in were won by a Charlton player, it appeared that the referee blew up for an infringement more often than not, especially in the case of Cort who had been pushed further forward by Powell in a desperate attempt to cause havoc in Burnley’s box.
Green had taken over corner taking duties had his first few led to nothing, but with 15 minutes left to play, his set piece created arguably Charlton’s best chance to level. Fuller flicked on and Morrison slid in at the far post but he couldn’t connect. Any slight touch would have surely seen the Addicks equalise. Green’s introduction had put Charlton on the front foot, and another Green cross moments later saw Cort’s looping header tipped over the bar by the impressive Grant with the resulting corner being headed over the bar by Morrison. The final ten minutes saw the ball spend most of its time in the Burnley half but, try as they might, Charlton couldn’t carve out a meaningful opening. Green’s volley looked to be troubling Grant before it was blocked away and Haynes’ follow up shot saw a similar fate. Cross after cross, corner after corner and throw after throw came to nothing and despite five minutes of added on time, there wasn’t enough time for Charlton to snatch an equaliser. The boos returned with the sound of the final whistle as once again the Addicks hadn’t done enough at home.
On another day, it might have been different. Enough chances were created to suggest a point was a far outcome, but there have been too many games this season in which that can be said and the performance as a whole didn’t warrant anything. I’m not one to blame him, but today I feel it’s justified. Powell’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 backfired with the team lacking organisation and shape, but this wasn’t helped by the players lacking the ability to keep the ball. The strikers failed to hold up the play, especially Obika who looked completely out of his depth. It’s wrong to judge a player on wrong performance but a comparison with Frank Nouble’s impact two seasons ago isn’t unjust on his display today. Haynes was frustrating, looking good in patches, poor in others, whilst Fuller had what was probably his worst day in a Charlton shirt. The decision to bring Button in is also a questionable one, which I didn’t welcome pre kick-off. After seeing Button twice now, and both times look uncomfortable, I’d much prefer to see Hamer in between the sticks.
Unlike last week, it’s possible to take a one or two small positives. Harriott looked exciting as ever when he came on, as did Green. I’m one of Green’s harshest critics but if he puts in shifts like that on a consistent on basis I’ll be willing to take back my moans and groans about him. Pritchard was also outstanding, winning headers, winning possession and putting in some excellent deliveries. Apart from that, it was pretty bleak.
Is it time to panic? Is it time to think about the r word? No to both, at least not yet, but the coming week is huge. Two away games, where Charlton’s best performances are put it, against two beatable sides, Peterborough and Huddersfield, could go a long way to deciding how comfortable we really are. Six points and all his calm once again; no points and the panic buttons will be pressed.