It’s always difficult to gauge the significance of pre-season results. Friendlies are little more than an exercise; a chance for the players to regain match fitness and synchronise themselves back into the flow of a game of football. Winning is a nice habit to have, but a habit that will mean nothing when the season itself kicks off.
However, this pre-season has proved itself to be a valuable confidence builder for Charlton. Five wins and a draw going into today’s final friendly before the season begins had raised spirits and diverted attention away from financial concerns, a lack of signings and the gaping hole in the forward department. But an entire pre-season unbeaten couldn’t be achieved with SPL side Inverness Caledonian Thistle coming away from the Valley with a 1-0 victory in Colin Powell’s testimonial.
The game was cagey from start to finish, as is the convention with most pre-season friendlies, but Charlton kept possession nicely in the first half, putting Inverness on the back foot for most of it. Inverness boss, and former England international, Terry Butcher offered Charlton high praise by comparing the opening 45 minutes to “like playing against Celtic”, but his side created the best opening of the first period with Ross Draper’s curling shot from just outside the area hitting the post with Ben Hamer rooted to the centre of his goal.
The second half followed in a similar fashion; Charlton looked comfortable on the ball but struggled to muster anything meaningful on goal with poor decision making in the final third mostly to blame. The visitors rarely troubled substitute keeper David Button, who replaced Hamer at half time, but one clear cut opportunity was enough for Cally to snatch the win. Inverness broke away after a Charlton attack with Josh Meekings carrying the ball into the home side’s half before feeding the ball through to Aaron Doran on the right flank. Meekings continued with his run and connected with Doran’s drilled ball into the box, finishing coolly past Button. As disappointing as the result was, it was another good run out for the Addicks in preparation for the start of the season in a week’s time.
Charlton fielded a side that didn’t look too far off the best available XI. Goalkeeper Hamer was shielded by a back four of Chris Solly, Michael Morrison, Dorian Dervite and Rhoys Wiggins; the combination that performed so admirably as the Addicks finished last season eight games unbeaten. Three centre midfielders, Dale Stephens, Johnnie Jackson and Mark Gower, were flanked by Bradley Pritchard and Callum Harriott in a five man field, leaving Kermorgant up top on his home. The Frenchman will hope to have a partner to occupy him attack at Bournemouth next Saturday with Powell endeavouring to bring strikers in.
Inverness missed out on European football by a whisker last season and would provide the Addicks with their toughest test of pre-season. Dean Brill, Aaron Doran and David were names that would be familiar to English audiences who started for Cally. Striker Billy McKay, second top scorer in the SPL in the season just gone, started up top, whilst Graeme Shinnie, a current Scotland U21 international started at left back.
Before kick-off, Colin ‘Paddy’ Powell took centre stage as the club celebrated his remarkable service to Charlton Athletic with the game doubling up as his testimonial. After years of gracing the Valley turf, successfully enough to earn a first testimonial during his playing days, Powell took to caring for the pitch as head grounds man. 30 years of dedicated work for the club meant awarding him with a second testimonial was more than fitting.
With his pitch, in perfect condition, glistening in the sun as the game got underway, Charlton fans were reminded of the hard work Powell does year in, year out to produce a high quality playing surface. None more so than during this off season, with the pitch back to its best after being worn down by the rain, ice and snow that was thrown at it during the course of the last campaign.
Charlton looked exciting going forward in the early stages, with Harriott causing all sorts of problems for Cally right back David Raven, and managed to win the first corner after five minutes. Kermorgant battled to win Jackson’s delivery but, with the presence of several Inverness defenders around him, failed to make true contact with the ball and ‘keeper Brill gathered the loose ball. The first shot came courtesy of Cally’s Liam Polworth, whose 20 yard free-kick cleared the crossbar by a comfortable margin.
The sides continued to exchange attacking moves, with Solly teeing up Pritchard, who scuffed his shot wide and out for a throw, before Draper’s effort rebounded back off the post with almost 20 minutes played. A Cally free-kick from wide right was headed back across goal with Pritchard fluffing a chance to clear, allowing the ball to fall kindly to James Vincent, who saw his effort well saved by Hamer. Down the other end, Pritchard was gifted with a golden opportunity after running onto a cleverly taken thrown-in by Solly, but the Zimbabwean contrived to fire the ball well off target and out for a Cally thrown-in for the second time.
Although in terms of chances the game was evenly matched, the Addicks were in charge of possession. However, their final delivery was letting them down, epitomised by Jackson’s attempted cross that, instead of whipping into the box, was sliced forward and out of play. When Charlton finally got a ball in the final third right, Kermorgant forced Brill into a low save after he connected with Harriott’s chipped cross.
The half ended with two chances for the visitors as Doran capitalised on a rare defensive mistake from Michael Morrison and fired a vicious shot away from Hamer, forcing the Charlton keeper to pull off a fantastic diving save before reacting to collect the loose ball with McKay ready to pounce. McKay then saw his header float wide of the post with the clock ticking into half time.
To refer to the second half as a dull affair would be complimentary; it was mind-numbingly boring and lacking in quality. Chris Solly’s free-kick from the halfway that dribbled out of play as the right back tried to pick out Pritchard 15 yards away summed it up perfectly. It took almost 20 minutes of the half for an attempt on goal, and even that was a tame effort from substitute Danny Green’s free-kick that Brill had no trouble holding onto after it bounced in front of him.
The wingers, Doran and Harriott, for both sides shared long range shots that were well off target before, in between and after an array of subs from both sides. The game looked to be petering out into nothingness. But with ten minutes to play, Inverness grabbed the winner. Charlton were caught out as Meekings drove forward without a Charlton challenge, set Doran free down the right wing and met the low cross with the inside of his boot, placing the ball beyond Buttons’ reach.
As you would expect, Charlton dominated the last ten minutes in search of an equaliser, but to no avail. Jackson was played in on goal and a mix-up between ‘keeper and defence almost gave the Charlton skipper the chance to finish into an empty net, but Raven got back to clear just in time. Pigott’s weak effort was blocked away whilst Kermorgant came closest with a sweetly struck half-volley following a half cleared free-kick that narrowly missed the target. In a game neither side deserved to win, Inverness managed to hold and come out on top.
The result isn’t important and it’s difficult to assess individual performances; the game itself was dire but no player in a Charlton shirt had a particularly bad game. Each player’s display was steady without ever reaching a peak level of performance. That shouldn’t be a concern in a week’s time, where hopefully Charlton will play to their best at Bournemouth.
However, it’s clear to see where the problems lie. Kermorgant cut an isolated figure upfront on his own, growing frustrated that he could have little affect on the game. The lack of support for Kermorgant was another factor, along with decision making and poor quality of deliveries, which prevented the Addicks from turning possession into chances.
We need strikers.