The bleep tests have been completed, the training camps in warmer climates are now a distant memory and friendlies have come and gone without telling us anything at all. Pre-season is over and the proper stuff is here again. In traditional opening game of the season weather, Charlton travelled to sunny Bournemouth, aiming to continue the form that saw them end the season eight glorious games unbeaten, to take on the newly promoted Cherries. However, that seemed a world away come full-time at Dean Court, as a lethargic, complacent and off the pace Charlton lost 2-1 to an inspired Bournemouth side.
The first 25 minutes were relatively even, but the Addicks always looked fragile at the back, which wasn’t helped by the midfield being caught in possession on a number of occasions. The Cherries were a constant threat down both flanks, delivering several testing crosses and forcing a number of corners; one of which gave the home side the lead after 26 minutes. Charlton failed to react to Mark Pugh’s quickly taken corner, giving former Addick Harry Arter the time and space to pick out Lewis Grabban, who rose almost unchallenged and guided the ball beyond a motionless Ben Hamer.
A seemingly frustrated Charlton, epitomised by Yann Kermorgant’s sulking, struggled to get back into the half after the goal and were arguably fortunate to be just a goal down going into the break. Thankfully for the 1,400 travelling fans, as frustrated as Kermorgant, the Addicks began the second half well, with a stroke of luck followed by a piece of brilliance from their star striker drawing the sides level. Rhoys Wiggins’ mishit cross failed to beat the first man inside the Bournemouth box, but Shaun MacDonald’s boot could only loop the ball up perfectly for Kermorgant to scissor kick emphatically past Ryan Allsop. The sulking was over; game on.
The Addicks were beginning to get on top of their opponents, but a lack of end product in the final third meant the openings created by attacking moves were wasted. In contrast, Bournemouth carved a goal out of nothing with 66 minutes on the clock to retake the lead and take the momentum away from the visitors. Grabban picked up the ball 25 yards from goal in an unthreatening position, but Andy Hughes stood off the striker, who made full use of the space offered to him and fired past a diving Hamer into the bottom corner of the net.
Charlton rallied in the closing stages, but Bradley Pritchard’s red card for cynically scything down Ryan Frazer on the halfway line with seven minutes left snuffed out the flicker of hope the Addicks had of pulling level. Not the start they hoped for.
There was much speculation in the week as to what XI Chris Powell would put out. The back four of last season’s player of the year Chris Solly, Michael Morrison, Dorian Dervite and Wiggins picked itself, as did Hamer in between the sticks, but the rest of the line-up remained a mystery. Up until Thursday, it seemed Powell would be forced to field his side in a 4-5-1 formation with only one forward at the club, but the signings of strikers Simon Church and loanee Marvin Sordell gave the Chartlon boss the option to play with two up top. That’s exactly what he did, with Sordell starting alongside Kermorgant in attack. Pritchard and youngster occupied the wings, whilst Hughes and Mark Gower started in the centre of midfield after captain Johnnie Jackson was ruled out with a calf niggle; a massive blow for the Addicks. Church began his Charlton career, but there was no place for fellow new signing Richard Wood, with Leon Cort the reserve centre back.
The hosts were playing their first game in the second tier of English football for 23 years and highly rated gaffer Eddie Howe fielded a 4-4-2 formation filled with attacking threat and pace. Grabban and Wes Thomas lead the forward line with Pugh, one of League One’s best performers in recent years, and Mohamed Coulibaly, making his debut for the club, on either wing. Macdonald started in the centre of midfield alongside Arter, whose presence went almost unnoticed by those in the away end, whose attentions were firmly focused on former, and Bournemouth skipper, Simon Francis, who started at right-back. Elliot Ward, Steve Cook and Charlie Daniels completed the back four in front of Allsop in the Bournemouth goal. Andrew Surman, signed in the week from Norwich, occupied the bench alongside Ian Harte, also a new addition to the Cherries’ title winning squad.
Your writer regretted not giving more than a ‘I’m not interested, thank you’ to the pair of ladies who knocked on his door in the morning prior to the game questioning as to whether ‘God answers all prayer?’. With the roads misbehaving, a reoccurring event when travelling to any opening game, only a quick dash to the stadium from the parked car meant I arrived on time for the game, that despite leaving four and a half hours before kick for a two and a half hour journey. If only I’d asked God to make the roads clear, Johnnie Jackson to be fit and Charlton to win.
Thankfully I was inside Dean Court, although programme-less due to Bournemouth printing not enough to match the demand, just in time to see the game begin as you would expect for an opening day fixture; nerves, tension and apprehension overriding the messages in the dressing rooms just moments before for the players to not let the occasion get to them. The opening five minutes of both sides constantly losing possession was to be a theme that continued throughout the game.
Harriott’s pace was too much for Francis to contend with, much to the delight of the travelling Addicks, and the youngster won Charlton their first corner of the season. Gower’s in-swinging delivery was met by the head of Sordell, but, under pressure from the Bournemouth defence, he could float the ball well off-target. Harriott was then the lucky recipient moments later as the ball bobbled through to him on the edge of the box; his fortune ended there as his short soared over the bar. Another Charlton attack, this time a flowing move involving several passes, climaxed in Pritchard being a fraction offside, but it was a promising opening period for the Addicks.
However, Bournemouth mustered their first effort on goal with Coulibaly’s shot from range narrowly wide of Hamer’s far post, but Charlton’s number one always had it covered. The effort sparked a spell of Bournemouth dominance, with the home side peppering Charlton’s box with corners and crosses galore. Although Arter volleyed wide after being picked out from a corner, Hamer and his defence were equal to Bournemouth’s threat. A brief moment of rest to the pressure on the back four saw Kermorgant curl an effort tamely off-target, but Bournemouth were soon down the other end and not long after put themselves in front.
A quickly taken corner on the left hand side, to which no Charlton player reacted in corresponding quick enough fashion, saw Pugh knock the ball to Arter, allowing the latter to cross for Grabban who, although under little pressure, placed an exquisite header across goal and into the far top corner. Hamer could do little, and rightly blamed his defenders for not switching on and dealing with the short corner, whilst Kermorgant complained to referee Andy D’urso for no clear to see reason and received a booking for his troubles. Although D’urso was having a very D’urso-esque performance, he couldn’t be blamed for Charlton’s poor defending.
This wasn’t the start the Addicks were hoping for, and it was almost made worse in Bournemouth’s next attack as Pugh was allowed to cross again and Thomas slide in ahead of Hamer, waiting to collect the ball, but could only steer the ball wide. The let off should have sparked Charlton into life, but instead a wasted attack, with Gower aimlessly playing the ball off the pitch whilst inside the box, followed before Hamer was forced into an excellent save from Arter’s powerful effort on goal.
Gower should have done better after being played in down the left, but his cross was over hit beyond Morrison at the far post when a pull-back into the centre looked the better option. D’urso then did something very un-D’urso-esque and played an excellent advantage after Sordell was clipped playing Harriott through, but the youngster’s effort, despite premature cheers from the away end, flashed wide of the far post. It was the closest Charlton had come all half to testing Allsop, who looked beaten as the shot flew wide. The effort was followed by numerous shots on goal from the hosts, but Hamer comfortably saved from Thomas and Grabban before the former saw a shot from distance clear the bar. A blocked shot from Gower was the final action of the half.
Charlton started the second half in a far better fashion than they ended the first and, although through a ‘slice’ of good fortunate, equalised four minutes after the interval. Harriott’s control out on the left was wayward, but he managed to set the ball back to Wiggins who, under pressure from Francis, rushed his delivery and saw it met by the foot of MacDonald. However, MacDonald only succeeded in slicing the ball up and slightly behind him, where Kermorgant was waiting to bounce. His acrobatic volley flew into the corner of the goal and, out of nothing, the Addicks were back in the game.
The away side so easily could have had the lead just minutes later as Kermorgant’s delivery with the outside of his boot was headed over from Pritchard when he really should have scored. Charlton kept up the pressure but couldn’t deliver that killer ball; Harriott was especially guilty of wasting excellent positions out on the left flank. On the other hand, Bournemouth were getting forward and firing shots at goal. Thomas was making a real handful of himself and forced Hamer into another good save, whilst substitute Frazer, who replaced the injured Coulibaly, fired wide soon after coming on before testing Hamer from just outside the area, but the ‘keeper saved well once again.
The largely ineffectual Sordell was replaced by fellow debutant Church with 65 minutes gone, but just a minute later, the Addicks fell behind once more. Charlton’s ability to close down their opponents was again in question as Grabban was awarded the freedom of the final third the Addicks were defending, giving him the chance to shoot, lashing home a brilliant effort from range. A brilliant effort it may have been, it so easily could have been prevented if Hughes, the nearest Charlton player to the Bournemouth striker, had got tight and stopped the shot.
Danny Green and Dale Stephens came on to replace Hughes and Gower with 15 minutes left as Powell desperately searched for an equaliser after a quiet ten minute spell after the Cherries’ second goal. Green immediately delivered an excellent free-kick into the box, but a cross from normal play soon after ballooned well over the bar.
Charlton almost drew level with less than ten minutes to player as Pritchard’s header was cleared off the line after some confusion in the Bournemouth box allowed him a free nod towards an empty goal, but Ward positioned himself well to the disappointment of the away fans to the side of the goal. With that effort giving Charlton hope that there was still a chance for a later goal, almost all hope was lost with seven minutes to play as the Zimbabwean was given the first red card of his league career. With Stephens effectively on his own in the centre of midfield, Bournemouth were able to pick up the loose balls more often than not. Dervite headed wide from Green’s corner before Harriott’s touch forced him to shoot from a position he was never likely to score from deep into six minutes of stoppage time, but Charlton couldn’t find the equaliser. If only I’d asked for divine intervention.
As clichéd as it may be, it was always going to be a difficult game. There’s certainly no shame in losing to a very promising Bournemouth side; there is a shame in the level of performance.
Morrison and Dervite struggled to deal with the pace of Grabban and Thomas, whilst Solly, who was unlike his normal consistent and quality self, and Wiggins equally struggled with the threat from the wings. The defence as a whole appeared a shadow of its solid self from last season; second to every ball, second best in the air and very fragile. Hamer was forced to pick up the pieces.
Gower and Hughes constantly misplaced their passes and were disposed several times far too easily. It’s no excuse, but Jackson was certainly a huge miss. The wingers were both poor, with Harriott’s second half display giving you the impression he was out of his depth. We all know that isn’t the case and he’ll come back stronger from such a disappointing showing, but it does suggest there’s still a long way to go before he’s the finished product. On the other wing, I’ll always stand up for Pritchard, but I can’t today. That was his worst performance in a Charlton shirt and the first one for quite some time that was anything but excellent. Despite his poor display, the three game ban remains a massive blow and Green will have to step up. His delivery from set-pieces was excellent in his time on the pitch, but he was poor in every other department.
Sordell put himself about but it’s hard to expect someone who has trained no more than twice with a team to perform straight away, with the same going for Church. Kermorgant’s first half display was below par but he came alive in the second half. Winning his headers, collecting the ball well and his fantastic finish meant he, along with Hamer, was one of the few in a Charlton shirt who could feel at least some sense of pride in their performance.
Harsh criticism? No, the performance was a huge disappointment. Does it affect the rest of the season? Apart from the lost points, no, I’m certain we’ll bounce back. This side showed its quality last season and will do so again. Onwards and upwards.