After a two week international-break-enforced gap between fixtures, there was always a danger Charlton would lose both the confidence and momentum created by their fantastic performance in the 2-1 victory over Leicester City a fortnight ago. But, to those with a glass half full, the break was also an opportunity for Chris Powell and his side to fine-tune the 3-5-2 formation that had its first run-out in the league against Leicester and helped bring about the Addicks’ first win of the Championship season. Thankfully for the Charlton fans that travelled in number to Vicarage Road this Saturday, the upturn in form continued as an excellent performance was rewarded with a gritty 1-1 draw against Watford.
The first half was an even affair, characterised by wastefulness in the final third. Watford’s pace in attack meant they were able to break free and create openings on a number of occasions, but Fernando Forestieri and Diego Fabbrini couldn’t find the target when shooting opportunities were presented to them. For Charlton, wonderful passing play was the order of the day, a far cry from the dismal displays against Middlesbrough and Doncaster Rovers, but they couldn’t finish off their flowing moves as a final ball evaded them time and time again. When the away side finally got it right, the assistant’s flag denied them the opening goal as Richard Wood was judged offside after poking home following a goal mouth melee following a Dale Stephens set-piece.
After some handbags in Watford’s box from a corner, the result of which saw Simon Church and Davide Faraoni booked, the two sides shared their best legitimate openings of the half just before the break, but neither could apply the finishing touch needed to take the lead. Church’s acrobatic effort to make contact with Kermorgant’s volleyed ball across goal wasn’t quite enough and Lawrie Wilson was on hand to prevent Forestieri from getting his shot away after he latched onto a long ball.
All Charlton needed to do in the second half was find some cutting edge, and they did just that after a matter of seconds. Michael Morrison drove forward and picked out Bradley Pritchard, who fed the ball through to Wilson, allowing him to break into the box and get away from Essaid Belkalem before the defender cynically brought him down; penalty given and the defender fortunate to get away without a second booking after he was shown a yellow card in the first half. Kermorgant stepped and rifled his kick into the top corner of the net to put the Addicks in front. The goal sparked Watford into life and the Hornets wasted a number of opportunities to draw level as a mixture of poor finishing and Hamer’s brilliance between the sticks preventing them from scoring. However, they finally drew level with 19 minutes left to play as Hamer could only parry Fabbrini’s powerful effort from a half cleared corner and Daniel Pudil pounced to put the ball beyond a stranded Hamer. Watford dominated the closing stages of play but, despite having plenty of the ball, never really looked like grabbing the winner and Charlton held on for a valuable point.
For Charlton, their star player was once again missing from the team sheet. After Powell had made it clear Chris Solly would be in contention for the game in his Thursday press conference, the full back was again forced to miss out after failing to fully recover from injury. Also missing was defender Leon Cort, who was also missing through injury, meaning Wood came for his league debut for Charlton. Wood’s inclusion was the only change for Charlton as Powell continued with the highly praised 3-5-2 formation that has sparked an upturn in Charlton’s fortunes. With Hamer in goal, Morrison and Dorian Dervite started alongside Wood at the back, whilst Solly’s absence meant Wilson continued at right wing-back with Wiggins on the left. Pritchard, Stephens and skipper Johnnie Jackson made up the midfield, whilst Kermorgant and Church continued their promising partnership in attack. There was also a pair of new names in the Charlton squad as ‘keeper Ben Alnwick and winger Cameron Stewart were included in the 18 for the first time following their moves from Barnsley and Hull respectively.
Watford made several changes following their defeat to Blackpool a fortnight ago. The Hornets handed a debut to Belkalem, who replaced the absent Joel Ekstrand as part of a trio of central defenders, completed by Marco Cassetti and Gabriele Angella, in their attack minded 3-4-2-1 formation. Despite making his debut for Scotland in the week, Ikechi Anya had to settle for a place on the bench with Forestieri, infamously sent off after receiving a second yellow for diving at The Valley last season, coming in to replace him on the left wing, whilst Pudil started in midfield in place of the injured Alman Abdi. McGugan started on the right, whilst Marco Faraoni, Iriney and Fabbrini completed the midfield. Top goal scorer Troy Deeney led the line on his own for the home side.
The trip to Watford is one of the away games I look forward to most. A slightly shorter journey, meaning I don’t have to suffer through the M25, the atmosphere created from the hundereds if not thousands of Charlton fans and memories of last season’s 4-3 victory all make the trip to Vicarage Road an excellent one. Just like in that 7-goal thriller in the campaign prior to this one, Watford started the brighter of the two sides. Forestieri really should have done better after breaking free down the left and cutting inside, but his curling effort flashed wide of the opposite post. His miss might have proved even more costly just moments later as Pritchard played in Wilson down the right flank, but his ball in the box evaded a red shirt and was gathered by Manuel Aluminia in goal for Watford.
If the first 15 or so minutes were anything to go by, it looked like being a long afternoon for the Addicks. Stephens lost possession in midfield and received a yellow card after pulling back Forestieri in desperation. The resulting free-kick eventually fell to McGugan, who hit a powerful shot plumb into the face of Wood, but the centre back lived up to his name and remained solid, focusing on defending Watford’s throw-in rather than whether he had lost any teeth. But Wood and his fellow centre backs were being caught out by the pace of Watford’s attacks as Fabbrini mustered an effort from the edge of the area that cleared the bar by a considerable margin before Forestieri had a chance not to dissimilar to his first but again curled wide.
Despite coming under heavy pressure from Watford, Charlton hadn’t made a poor start to the game. In fact, they were passing the ball around neatly, with Pritchard and Stephens dominant in midfield, but were struggling to carve out any real openings. So it was somewhat against the run of play, or at least against the tally of chances created, when the Addicks were the first to put the ball into the net. Stephens’ free-kick was headed back across goal by the towering Kermorgant, causing chaos in Watford’s goal area. The melee was resolved when Wood appeared to bundle the ball in, but his and Charlton’s celebrations were cut short by the sight of the assistant referee’s flag signalling for offside.
With Watford’s attacking threat quelled for the time being, the disallowed goal was the catalyst for Charlton to build their presence in the game as they continued to pass the ball around from back to front in a very promising manner. One such passing move ended in an excellent delivery from Kermorgant skipping off the head of Church before Jackson looped a headed effort towards goal, but Almunia claimed it with ease; barely a half-chance, but the Addicks were at least beginning to turn possession into chances. That was shown in Charlton’s next attack as Kermorgant, whose balls through had been off target thus far, slid Church through before the Welshman was brought down on the edge of the area by Belkalem and received a yellow. This was Kermorgant territory, and he placed the ball down, but Jackson took the kick, winning a corner after blasting the ball against the feet of the wall. The resulting set-piece came to nothing for Charlton, but some pulling and tugging in the six-yard box produced a highly unnecessary mini-brawl with players from both sides circling each other. Church and Faraoni were booked for their involvement, much to the displeasure of the Watford fans behind the goal who felt the Charlton striker was deserving of harsher punishment.
From the free-kick that followed the untidy end to Charlton’s corner, Cassetti hit a first time shot way off-target before Church, who was teed up by Kermorgant’s scissor kicked volley from Wiggins’ deep cross, struggled to make meaningful contact with the ball across goal before seeing his follow up effort blocked and cleared as half time loomed. The last chance of the half fell to Watford as Forestieri went down in characteristic fashion to win a free-kick 30 yards from goal. Lewis McGugan fired his effort against the wall, only for Belkalem to pump the ball back into the box, allowing Forestieri to get in behind Charlton’s back line. But, with the Argentinian just yards from goal, Lawrie Wilson came across to fantastically block him off and prevent him from getting his shot away.
Stephens’ optimistic effort from a free-kick 35 yards from goal that that cleared the bar in height by the same distance preluded referee Wolmer’s whistle as the sides went in level after a competitive first half. However, it didn’t take much of the second half to produce the game’s first goal.
Almost straight from kick-off Morrison travelled with the ball down the right flank before knocking the ball forward to Pritchard, who was at the heart of everything Charlton did right in the first half. The Zimbabwean saw the run of Wilson over his shoulder and played the curly haired winger through into the box with Church waiting in the centre. But before Wilson could release the ball, Belkalem came across and recklessly took him to the ground. Referee Wolmer’s view was obstructed, but his assistant on the near side gave the decision and Charlton had their first penalty of the season. It seemed only Wolmer’s inability to see the foul had kept Belkalem on the pitch, with the cynical challenge worthy of a yellow, but the mattered little as Kermorgant stepped up and blasted the ball beyond Almunia to give Charlton the lead with 47 minutes on the clock.
This sent the already vocal travelling support into overdrive as the briefest of homages to Kermorgant was followed by a prolonged sounding of the ‘since I was young’ chant. Back on the pitch, Watford had a golden opportunity to equalise just minutes after falling behind. Deeney knocked the ball down into the path of McGugan but, somehow, the former Forest man blasted well over when it looked easier to find the target. McGugan’s miss had come after several half chances for the home side and they were certainly making Charlton fight to hold onto the lead.
Watford’s attacking threat was bolstered further as Anya entered the fray, with your writer helpfully reminding those around him that ‘this lad is rather fast’ or words to that effect. But his threat wouldn’t have mattered as much had Stephens 25 yard vicious volley swayed either side of Almunia, but the keeper was able to palm the effort up and collect the rebound ahead of Church. Down the other end, Deeney tried a shot from similar range, flashing wide of Hamer’s far post with hearts in mouths amongst the visiting supporters.
With Charlton now clinging on desperately to their lead, their cause wasn’t helped when Kermorgant hobbled off with an injury 25 minutes from time. The Frenchman, who had been excellent in addition to his goal, received a standing ovation from the Charlton fans as Joe Piggott came onto replace him. Big boots for the youngster to fill, and Piggott struggled from the off to win his headers against the strong centre back trio.
Wood left Hamer wrong footed after poking the ball away from Deeney, but the ball crept comfortably wide of the post. However, the Addicks weren’t to be so fortunate from the resulting corner. The ball in was only half cleared and picked up by Fabbrini on the edge of the box. He jinked along the perimeter of the area before finally creating space to shoot, forcing Hamer into an excellent save from a shot that the ‘keeper saw through a number of bodies. Unfortunately for Hamer, he could only parry the effort and Pudil was there to smash home an equaliser for the Hornets. It was no less than they deserved and, with 20 minutes still left to play, they had a very real chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Addicks understandably dropped deeper, but didn’t completely give up on victory as Stephens was allowed to travel unchallenged and play through Piggott, but Cassetti cut out the cross with Church waiting to pounce at the far post. The Italian failed to deal quite so successfully with Charlton’s next attack as Wiggins’ driven delivery was sliced up by Cassetti and into Jackson’s path, but the skipper too sliced a difficult chance well wide of goal.
In Charlton’s half, Watford were being restricted to long range efforts thanks to some solid defending from the Addicks’ back line who dealt well with the constant threat from Anya down the right and several free-kicks and long balls that were pumped into the box. However, a break from Anya gave Watford their best chance of winning the match at the start of five minutes of added on time. The Scot skipped past all in front of him, breaking into the box from the right wing and passing the ball across goal to Deeney. The striker had been wasteful all afternoon and he continued that trend, blasting the ball over the bar from little more than 10 yards out.
The home side had late claims for a penalty turned down as the ball was fired against Stephens and Iriney’s protests earned himself a yellow card, but there didn’t seem to be anything in it and Chartlon held on valiantly for the draw.
Although in the end it was a case of clinging on for dear life, the performance from Charlton was once again superb against a very strong Watford side. For all the wonderful passing play they are capable of, they’re a thuggish side off the ball and the Addicks did well to stand up to the physical challenge as well as defending strongly against Watford’s considerable attacking threat.
Hamer can’t be blamed at all for the goal, he did well to save the initial effort, and whilst most of his afternoon was spent watching balls sail over his crossbar, he did what he had to do well. Up the other end of the pitch, Church ran himself into the floor once again and held the ball up well whilst Kermorgant was superb in his time on the pitch and every Charlton prayer will be asking for the Frenchman to be fit enough to take the field in next week’s derby at Millwall, as well as Tuesday night’s game against Huddersfield Town.
Wilson and Wiggins did well on either flank, defending solidly when needed to and involving themselves in the excellent passing play that dominated the first 70 minutes of Charlton’s performance before a less attractive side to Charlton’s game needed to be shown. The trio of central midfielders were all excellent, Stephens and Pritchard especially with the former having his best game in a Charlton shirt for quite some time. But man of the match has to be shared between the three at the back, who, after being caught a few times to begin with, were superb in keeping Watford’s threat to a minimum. Wood deserves special praise for coming into the side and performing so well.
However, the most promising factor of the performance was the way in which Charlton passed the ball around fantastically well whilst in the lead. To go to a place like Watford and out pass them was fantastic to see. Repeating that, along with the solid defensive display, against Huddersfield and Millwall will surely produce a pair of wins.