After last week’s disappointing display away at Bournemouth, there was a sense of cautious optimism going into the first home game of the season. The performance could only improve, and Chris Powell’s Charlton have often bounced back from frustrating defeats. That sense of positive forward thinking was only made stronger with the Addicks’ 4-0 win over Oxford United in the Capital One Cup in midweek. There was genuine belief Charlton could win this one, but Middlesbrough, who handed out tough punishment in a 4-1 win last season, were the first visitors to the Valley of the new campaign, and they themselves were looking to bounce back after an opening day defeat to Leicester City. Charlton are experts in not living up to expectation; another off the pace, error filled and disappointing, if not depressing, performance saw the Addicks thoroughly out played in a 1-0 defeat.
The first-half was a dire affair, with Charlton taking 45 minutes to muster a shot a goal; Marvin Sordell’s effort from range was as desperate as the performance, clearing the bar by quite some distance. Middlesbrough created the better openings, with the travelling fans believing they had taken the lead just after the half hour through new signing Albert Adomah’s acrobatic effort after Jonathan Woodgate had flicked on from Grant Leadbitter’s corner, but, in addition to the ball hitting the bar and dropping down onto the line without going over, Woodgate was penalised for a foul in the build-up.
The second-half, in terms of both a spectacle and Charlton’s performance, was marginally better, but still well below expectations. Danny Green should have put the home side ahead after the ball fell to him at the back post, but his effort bounced off Jason Steele in the ‘Boro goal. The visitors were still creating chances of their own, and George Friend combined with Mustapha Carayol shortly after Green’s opening, but the former’s effort flashed wide of the far post with a host of players attempting to divert the ball in on the way through. Middlesbrough continued their domination of possession, with Charlton seemingly unwilling to close down their opponents, but couldn’t quite apply the finishing touch to their attacking moves. The fact they were gifted their winner with just 18 minutes left will make it even more frustrating for the Addicks. A corner was only half cleared, with the ball headed back into the box in the direction of Jozsef Varga, who won his header with Ben Hamer racing off his line in an attempt to claim the ball. Kermorgant, not hearing his keeper’s call, attempted to head the ball away but only succeeded in setting up the easiest of opportunities for Lukas Jutkiewicz, who could do little but nod the ball into an empty net. Charlton showed some fight after going a goal down, but it wasn’t enough. The boos that followed the full-time whistle, although normally a sign of overreaction at this stage of the season, were fully justified.
The day started with some early good news for the Addicks as Johnnie Jackson’s name returned to the team sheet. The skipper, who missed last week’s defeat to Bournemouth, came in for Andy Hughes and started alongside Mark Gower in midfielder. The only other alteration from seven days ago saw Danny Green come in on the right of midfield to replace the suspended Bradley Pritchard. That meant no starting role for the likes of Leon Cort, Dale Stephens and Simon Church, who all impressed in Tuesday’s victory in the cup but all had to settle for a place on the bench. After scoring on his debut in midweek, youngster Joe Piggot was also amongst the substitutes for Charlton.
The stand out name in the Middlesbrough starting XI was that of Frazer Richardson. The former Addick spent a season at the Valley, and received a gentle round of applause from the home fans who remember his displays at right-back fondly. Friend, Woodgate and Williams completed in the back four, protecting Steele between the sticks. A central midfield trio of Leadbitter, Varga and Dean Whitehead, all players who are no stranger to a physical duel, were flanked by tricky wingers Adomah, snapped up for £1,000,000 from Bristol City in the week, and Carayol, with Jutkiewicz up top on his own in a 4-5-1 formation. Emmanuel Ledesma, principle destroyer of the Addicks at the Valley last season, and Marvin Emnes, scorer of the goal that got ‘Boro back into the game during the 2-2 draw at the Riverside, gave the visitors some excellent options from the bench.
When I took seat 175 in row X of K block in the north upper, it was the start of the tenth season in which I have watched football at the Valley, all from the same vantage point. During that time, matches with Middlesbrough as the away side have rarely ended happily. Just one win in five previous contests, including three defeats, meant that when Varga was allowed to travel half the length of the pitch and get a shot away inside the first minute, I feared the worst. Thankfully, Hamer was equal to the effort, and the Addicks began to settle shortly after. For the first five minutes, Charlton dominated possession, but couldn’t produce any threat to Middlesbrough’s defence; Green’s over-hit cross was the closest the home side came to causing any concern to the visitors.
However, the spell in charge of possession was a brief one and ‘Boro soon took a hold of the game. Charlton allowed the time and space, meaning they could pass the ball around comfortably, whilst the Addicks were second to every ball; trends that would continue throughout the remainder of the match. Carayol and Jutkiewicz were the beneficiaries of the space offered to them inside the opening ten minutes, but both fired their chances off-target, whilst only a crucial intervention from the head of Rhoys’ Wiggins prevented Jutkiewicz from putting the visitors in front.
Charlton enjoyed a rare spell in the opposition’s towards the end of the first 20 minutes, with a green free-kick finding the head of Dorian Dervite, but some solid Middlesbrough defending prevented a serious opening. Another Green dead ball, after Yann Kermorgant had felt the full force of Whitehead’s elbow in his face, with the ‘Boro midfielder receiving a yellow card for his offence, failed to beat the first ‘Boro man inside the box and the away side were able to break away. Leadbitter’s effort on goal was fired horribly wide and the Valley faithful sighed with relief once more.
Similar breaks followed with the Addicks caught in possession on several occasions, whilst Middlesbrough were now firmly dictating the play, but a cutting-edge in the final third eluded them. Charlton had a break of their own on the half hour as Harriott sprinted past several ‘Boro players with the ball at his feet, running almost the full length of the pitch, and winning a corner to rapturous applause from the home ends. Green’s resulting kick came to nothing though as a sea of bodies challenged for the ball at the far post, only for it to trickle out off a Charlton body for a goal-kick,
When Middlesbrough finally created an excellent opening through Adomah’s overhead kick following Leadbitter’s corner, the referee’s whistle prevented them from scoring as Woodgate, who flicked the ball onto Adomah, was guilty of pushing on a Charlton back as he leaped to nod the ball on. A half that was filled with set-pieces saw another one just before the break as Dervite was guilty of holding Jutkiewicz on the edge of the area. A nerve racking moment for the home side, but Adomah’s effort curled horribly off target. The half came to a close with Sordell hitting and hoping from 25 yards on the angle, but his effort, Charlton’s first of the half, flew over the bar. The Addicks were second best for large parts of the half and needed to up their game for the second period.
Chris Powell was forced into freshening things up before the start of the second half with Jackson, visibly struggling with his calf injury, replaced by Stephens. The half began where the first left off, with Middlesbrough in control and winning a free-kick on the edge of Charlton’s penalty box. Harriott, stood in the wall, took one of the team as Leadbitter’s free-kick bounced off the side of his head and away for a throw. The Addicks, against the tide of the match, then managed to muster a number of efforts on goal. Firstly, Kermorgant’s tame header from Danny Green’s cross floated into Steele’s hands for Charlton’s first shot on target, before the Frenchman attempted to acrobatically connect with another Green cross, only for teammate Sordell to also try to connect, resulting in Kermorgant requiring lengthy treatment after taking a blow to his ankle.
With Kermorgant back on his feet and play resuming, Stephens’ clever footwork through midfield, and Sordell’s tee-up presented another opening for the Frenchman, but he was off balance and was only able to gently guide the ball through to Steele’s hands. However, the Addicks should have been in front in their next attacking move. The ball was played out to Harriott on the left and he showed great pace and determination to beat his man, before sending in a delicious cross from the by-line that skipped off the head of Sordell and fell perfectly to the feet of Green at the far post. But Green’s touch was heavy, and his shot was blocked away by an outstretched Steele. The save was almost a game changing moment as the corner came to nothing and not long after Friend broke down the left. Exchanging neat passes with Carayol inside the box, the full back drilled a shot across goal that just went wide of the far post.
But Green’s missed opportunity sparked Middlesbrough back into life. They’d continued to control possession, but were now coming forward with serious threat. Charlton couldn’t contain Carayol and Adamoh, as the pair continued to cut inside and look for a pass into the box or take a shot of their own. However, the efforts on Charlton’s goal were mostly tame, with Hamer collecting a couple of shots with ease, before saving well from Jutkiewicz with 70 minutes gone. But Charlton were their own worst nightmare, as Hamer rolled the ball out to Gower, only for him to be dispossessed just outside the Charlton box by Carayol. He played in Jutkiewicz, who looked destined to score, but Morrison got back quickly to send the ball behind from a corner; a corner that gave ‘Boro a deserved lead.
The calamitous defending from set-pieces that caused the Addicks to concede at Bournemouth returned as the ball was innocuously headed back into the box after the original ball in was partially cleared. Hamer came rushing out to a ball that wasn’t his to collect with several bodies in front of him, with one of those bodies Kermorgant, whose poor header popped up and was turned into the back of the empty net, with Hamer stranded, by Jutkiewicz. Deserved as it was, Charlton will be frustrated in the manner in which it came about; giving an easily preventable goal away for the third time in two games in inexcusable.
The home side had plenty of chances to pull level. Green unleashed a vicious shot from 20 yards, to which an injured Steele, who came off shortly after, was equal too, diving to palm the ball away for a corner, whilst Stephens’ nodded the ball onto the top of the net when he really should have done better from Kermorgant’s cross. Lawrie Wilson and Church came on for Charlton, replacing the below par pair of Green and Sordell, but they could do little to find the equaliser. Kermorgant headed Solly’s ball in with five minutes to play, but there was Charlton’s least meaningful effort on goal. Middlesbrough saw the came out comfortably; deserved victors over a dreadful Charlton.
Middlesbrough are a decent side, but we made them look like a very good side. Only losing by one goal flattered us.
Much like last week, it’s incredibly difficult to find positives. The one being Callum Harriott, who upped his game after a disappointing performance at Bournemouth; it’s a shame no one else could do the same. Even the likes of Solly, Morrison and Kermorgant were full of errors and looked well off the pace.
The main issue with the team performance was that Charlton didn’t close down ‘Boro quick enough. They were given too much space to knock the ball around with ease, especially in the centre of midfield where a clearly unfit Jackson, Gower and Stephens seemed afraid to get tight to their men, whilst the visitors closed down Charlton straight away, giving them no space and no time on the ball. The Addicks were second to every loose ball, whilst headers were not won. Our ability in the air from front to back was one of the main reasons for some excellent displays last season; today was a stalk contrast with Morrison, Dervite and Kermorgant struggling to win their aerial duels.
On the rare occasions that we got forward, the final ball was seriously lacking. Danny Green’s deliveries, both in play and at set-pieces, were nothing short of shocking, whilst both he and Sordell were guilty of giving the ball away constantly when they had it at their feet. Green once again failed to prove himself, and wasted a glorious chance to put Charlton in front that could have changed the direction of the contest, whilst Sordell has some work to do if he is to make an impression in a Charlton shirt.
It’s not a time to worry or panic, but it is a time to be concerned. Carry on playing like we have done in the last two weeks and we’re in serious trouble. But these players performed last season, there’s no reason as to why they’re now underperforming individually and as a team.
Bouncing back next week at Barnsley is a must.