When watching the season review DVD this week, I was reminded of an important factor in the success of the 2012/13 campaign. There were times last season when points were hard to come by, there were times last season when the performances were substandard and there were times last season when concern outweighed optimism. But whenever such a situation occurred, it was put right, and put right in style. Comeback wins against Cardiff City, after a winless streak culminated in a 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, Watford, after a poor Christmas period, and Bolton Wanderers, when it seemed as if the Addicks were about to be drawn into a relegation battle, rejuvenated Charlton and got them back on track. So could coming back from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw against Barnsley at Oakwell be the catalyst to kick-start Charlton’s season?
Both sides came into the game without a point in this season’s Championship, and it looked as if Charlton would be heading back to South East London pointless once again as the hosts took the lead inside 20 minutes. The Addicks were a shambles at the back as Scott Golbourne was allowed to get in behind the back four and drill the ball across goal from well inside the box. Chris O’Grady and Michael Morrison battled for the low cross, with Morrison seeming to win it only to send the ball goal-wards with Ben Hamer parrying upwards and into the roof of the goal; O’Grady followed up and knocked the ball into net for good measure. An extraordinary double save from Hamer kept the deficit at one, whilst Callum Harriott forced a fantastic save out of Barnsley ‘keeper Luke Steele before half-time, but the Addicks were second best in every department.
Last season’s 6-0 victory in the corresponding fixture seemed a distant dream as The Tykes doubled their lead shortly after the break. The hard working Chris Dagnell played in Jacob Mellis on the left, whose cross made O’Grady’s second almost as easy as his first, with the forward heading past a motionless Hamer. It appeared to be game over, with Charlton well off the pace once again, but the fight and determination associated with Chris Powell’s side came to the fore as the Addicks got themselves back into the game.
After a string of half-chances, Harriott’s cross caused mayhem in the Barnsley box as Michael Morrison challenged with Steele for the ball, with the keeper punching away. But his clearance fell straight to half-time substitute Jordan Cousins, who volleyed into the ground and saw his effort loop over Steele and into the net to give the youngster a goal on his league debut. Suddenly there was some belief amongst the away side, and with just under 20 minutes to play, Charlton drew level. Yann Kermorgant’s flick on sent Simon Church, making his first Championship start for the club, through and the striker bore down on goal before coolly placing the ball beyond Steele’s clutches. Tykes defender Tom Kennedy got back and tried in vain to clear the ball of the line, but he could only help on its path; a comeback that looked well beyond the Addicks ten minutes previously was complete. Barnsley had the better of the chances in the remaining passage of play, but, mostly through substitute Leon Cort’s resilience and dominance in the air, Charlton held on to claim their first point of the season.
After a disappointing display in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Middlesbrough, Powell made a number changes to his starting XI. Whilst Johnnie Jackson’s calf injury forced Powell into making one of his changes, with Dale Stephens replacing the club captain, Lawrie Wilson and Church were brought in after Danny Green and Marvin Sordell performed poorly seven days ago. However, the main surprise in Charlton’s squad was the inclusion of 19-year-old Cousins, involved in a league match day squad for the first time. He took a place on the bench alongside fellow youngster Joe Piggot, with the pair joined by the dropped duo of Green and Sordell.
For Barnsley, manager David Flitcroft opted for an attacking 3-5-2 formation, as he did in last Saturday’s loss at Blackpool. However, there was some changes to the personal that took the field. Thomas Cywka, who scored the winner at The Valley last season, missed out with Kennedy coming in alongside Jean Yves-Mvoto and Scott Wiseman in defence and Golbourne moving further up the pitch, whilst 18-year-old midfielder Paul Digby had to settle for a place on the bench with former Chelsea trainee Mellis starting in the centre with David Perkins and Stephen Dawson accompanying him. Jim O’Brien took the right wing-back position, whilst O’Grady and Dagnell started up top. On the bench for the Tykes, in addition to Digby, was Cywka and John Cofie, who was rumoured to be training with the Addicks at the start of pre-season.
The day didn’t get off to the best of starts as I, rather naively, opted not to take a jacket or a jumper with me to a northern away fixture. The muggy conditions down south turned wetter and windier with every mile travelled up the M1, before blustery winds and, for a brief period, slightly more significant levels of rain greeted us on our arrival into Yorkshire. As ever, it was rather grim, and cold, up north.
A cup of tea warmed me up somewhat, but I was looking for Charlton to turn up the heat and race into life in the opening stages of the contest. With both sides coming into the game on the back of both poor form (P2 W0 D0 L2) and poor performances, a contrast from last season’s 6-0 that saw both Barnsley and Charlton come into the game in the middle of outstanding runs of results, I can’t say I was expecting much; a nervy game with no more than a goal in it was seemingly on the horizon.
But Charlton did start well, at least to some extent and for a very brief period of time. The midfield duo of Mark Gower and Stephens helped to maintain possession as the Addicks looked a lot more comfortable than they did against ‘Boro. But the visitors could do little with their possession; an over-hit Rhoys Wiggins cross set the tone for Charlton’s first half threat and Wiggins’ day when going forward. However, Barnsley’s first sight of goal saw them coming incredibly close to taking the lead. A defensive error from Morrison led to Dagnell having the opportunity to finish past Hamer, but the ‘keeper won the one-on-one battle, racing out and throwing his body at the striker’s feet. A free-kick from David Perkins in a dangerous position was blocked by the face of Callum Harriott shortly after as Barnsley began to take control.
The Tykes were assisted by some rather generous Charlton defending, along with some rather bizarre calls from referee Simpson, as the Addicks’ box was bombarded with corners and free-kicks from all directions. One such free-kick saw Dervite, who was struggling to cope with Dagnell’s impressive movement and O’Grady’s aerial ability, receive a yellow card after bringing down Dawson with a rash challenge. Morrison, Dervite’s central partner, was also finding it tough, and Barnsley opened up Charlton’s back four to take the lead with 16 minutes gone. After Chris Solly failed to put in a decisive tackle, the ball came through to Dagnell just outside the area. No member of the defence were anywhere to be seen as the forward played through Golbourne, and his low cross was turned into a net, after being helped on by Dagnell, by a combination of feet and hands as Morrison appeared to get there ahead of O’Grady, diverting the ball Hamer’s way, who couldn’t get a strong enough palm to it and O’Grady followed up, smashing the ball over the line, although it may have already been. A very untidy goal and the fourth, out of four conceded this season, that could have been easily prevented.
You would have hoped the goal would kick Charlton into life, but instead Barnsley came desperately close to doubling their lead. An innocuous long ball over the top seemed to be causing Charlton no trouble at all, but Dagnell turned nothing into something by forcing another error out of Dervite and the ball was eventually worked through to Mellis, whose effort was blocked by a combination of Hamer’s hands and the post. Golbourne put the ball back into the box and Dagnell received it just yards from goal, but Hamer pulled off an incredible save, keeping Charlton in the game whilst his defence were all at sea.
The Addicks began to edge back into the game after that let off, and a crunching tackle from Stephens on Perkins delight the travelling fans. They almost had something serious to celebrate just after the half hour as Harriott came close to levelling the scores. A free-kick from Gower on the left wing was drilled across goal towards Harriott on the edge of the box, a carbon copy of the move that saw the youngster score at Huddersfield last season, and his shot look destined for the back of the net, especially after a deflection sent it further towards the bottom corner. With Charlton fans beginning their celebrations in earnest, Luke Steele flung himself across the goal to push the ball around the post. It was Charlton’s first shot of the half, a sign of just how far off the pace they were.
Charlton couldn’t build on their first chance, and the half petered out, with Kelvin Etuhu coming on for the injured Perkins and a wild shot from Wiseman the only events for the remaining 15 minutes of the first period. The half was a continuation from the 90 minutes at the Valley last week, and something had to change. The hapless Dervite came off, with Cort coming on to steady the ship at the back, whilst, rather surprisingly, Stephens, who did little wrong, was replaced by league debutant Cousins.
Powell’s decision to bring the pair on was vindicated straight away as Cort won his headers and Cousins did something no Charlton player had done all season, closed down the opponents quickly. But it did little to change the course of the game as Mellis and M’Voto came close from two separate set-pieces before O’Grady grabbed his and Barnsley’s second with ten second half minutes played. The ball in from Mellis was superb, the header from O’Grady emphatic, Hamer rooted to the spot a picture; Barnsley had seemingly put the game beyond Charlton.
But, after Dawson forced a save out of Hamer, the away side came back into the game. Some shaky defending that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Charlton’s back four allowed Gower to have a clear sight of goal from just inside the area, but he fluffed his shot twice before eventually firing at goal and winning a corner. Barnsley had the chance to clear the resulting corner, but Charlton forced them into another defensive error and Kermorgant’s volley after the ball was put back into the box inevitably found Harriott, whose scissor kick was tame. However, Charlton hadn’t given up, and the travelling fans responded by raising their voices. The XI on the pitch responded by getting a goal back.
One ball from the left, challenged for by Kermorgant, was cleared away, but only back out to the left wing again, and Harriott was able to deliver once more. Morrison put Steele under heavy pressure, forcing Steele to punch the ball away and straight to the feet of Cousins. The youngster appeared to miss-hit his shot, but the volley bounded off the surface and looped into the back of the net. Game well and truly on.
Barnsley weren’t prepared to stop getting forward though, and Hamer did well to get down and collect O’Grady’s shot after a goal mouth melee saw a number of shots blocked away. But soon after, Charlton incredibly drew level. A piece of magic from Kermorgant, who had done nothing up to that point, sent Church through on goal, and the Welshman sent the ball over Steele and, via the stretching legs of Kennedy, the ball hit the back of the net. Cue pandemonium in the away end.
It was a nervy end for Charlton, with the defence and midfield still refusing to close down their men, and Hamer was forced into a number of comfortable saves. But the away side were looking better going forward, and the introduction of Cedric Evina along with Solly and Wilson combining well gave Charlton some threat without producing any real chances.
With just a matter of minutes left on the clock, substitute Digby fired a free headed just wide of the post from a corner, whilst Cort did the same down the other end, before Barnsley fired a couple of shots well off target and both sides had their first point of the season.
Finally some positives to take from a game, but first of all, there are a number of concerns from today’s performance. Once again the defence was all over the place, with Dervite and Morrison especially error prone, whilst Solly and Wiggins were still far from their best. The midfield again refused to close down the opposition quick enough, whilst Kermorgant had arguably his worst performance ever in a Charlton shirt. Failing to control a simple pass in the dying moments summed up his day.
It’s the same criticisms, and they need to be addressed. Even when the performance improved, they were still there. It’s rather worrying that a side like Barnsley can play us off the pitch for 55 minutes and remain on top despite Charlton coming back.
But, thankfully, there are some positives to be taken. Hamer was exceptional, pulling off a number of very good saves, whilst Cort’s introduction hugely improved the defence. Cousins was excellent with the goal a bonus to his all-round play. In fact, he was arguably the best player in centre of the park in the second half. Wilson did very well, both coming back to defend and going forward, as did Harriott, but their end product lacked a little, part of the reason why chances were so few and far between. Despite the lack of service, Church worked hard and deserved both his place in the side and the goal.
However, the most important thing from today is the comeback. A third defeat would have killed the confidence, a comeback will reignite it. Individual errors are our main issue, and once they are removed and the players perform to the best of their ability, the points will come. As Chris Powell has stated, the season starts now.