There was an irrational optimism before kick-off and booing come the end of the 90 minutes; a repeat of the infamous derby defeat 10 days ago. But this was very different. The irrational optimism was care free, not bogged down by the burden that playing Millwall brings, and focused on replicating the atmosphere of the Cardiff comeback under similar circumstances last season. The booing come the 90 minute mark wasn’t to serenade the Charlton players off the pitch after a poor performance, it wasn’t aimed at a Charlton player at all, or even the referee. It was at Nottingham Forest ‘keeper Karl Darlow’s time wasting tactics as his side clung onto a point in a 1-1 draw at The Valley.
It was an outstanding display from the home side, fuelled by an almost unparalleled level of noise from the Covered End all night. They could have turned after former Addick Andy Reid’s over hit free-kick from out wide drifted over Ben Hamer’s desperate out stretched fingertips, especially after three defeats in a row leading up to the game, but the home fans continued to sing as if Reid’s effort had floated over the bar. Inspired by the fans’ backing, at its best when mistakes were made and encouragement as appose to disgruntlement was issued, Charlton slowly worked their way back into the match to the point where they were on top going into half-time. Dale Stephens spurned a glorious chance to level with moments left before the break, but there was certainly cause for optimism for a fight back in the second half.
The Addicks carried on from where they left off and started the second half brightly, and it took just five minutes for Charlton to grab a deserved equaliser. Callum Harriott’s driven ball across goal evaded the stretching Marvin Sordell, but it came through to Lawrie Wilson on the right, who lashed (as appose to simply ‘drove’) the ball back into the middle for Sordell to finish coolly past Darlow. The two sides exchanged chances for the remaining 40 minutes, but it wasn’t an equal exchange as the home side came close to a winner on a number of occasions. A Stephens corner gave Forest their biggest scare with less than ten minutes to play as an astonishing five chances game from the set-piece. Substitute Joe Pigott inadvertently headed away the initial delivery away from goal, only for it to fall at the feet of Jordan Cousins, whose sweet effort rattled the post with a follow up blocked away. However, it was only half cleared as Pigott was presented with another opportunity, which Darlow saved well, and Stephens volleyed the rebound over the bar. Charlton kept coming, and it was Forest, to the frustration of their fans, who were unexpectedly running the clock down, but couldn’t find the winner. The looks of disappointment amongst the boys in red were a sign of just how well the home side had played; they had every reason to hold their heads high.
Chris Powell, who for the first time in his managerial career has faced strong criticism in recent weeks, was forced into changing both formation and personal again as his injury-hit squad crumbled to the bare bones. The 4-5-1 that was used during the 3-0 hammering at Turf Moor on Saturday was replaced by an intriguing 4-3-1-2 formation, with Harriott the man operating in a free role behind the front two of Simon Church and Sordell. Pritchard (injured) and Stewart (benched) were the men to make way for Harriott and Sordell, whilst Dorian Dervite also had to settle for a place on the bench with Richard Wood coming into a back four the contained Wilson, Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins. Stephens, Cousins and Mark Gower were the three in midfield, whilst Hamer continued in goal. In reserve, Jordan Cook featured in a league 18 for the first time this season.
Forest came into the game on the back of a derby win over, erm, Derby at the weekend and were looking to build on an impressive start to the campaign. Despite the victory, the visitors made a number of changes from Saturday’s starting XI as Guy Moussi, Radoslaw Majewski and Darius Henderson were replaced by Nathaniel Chalobah, Dexter Blackstock and Matthew Derbyshire, with the latter pair starting up top. Chalobah was joined in the centre of midfield by Henry Lansbury, with the pair flanked by Jamie Mackie and former Charlton winger Andy Reid, who received a warm round of applause from the home fans. A back four of Eric Lichaj, Danny Collins, Jack Hobbs and Chris Cohen protected ‘keeper Darlow. There was also a familiar face on Forest’s bench as Greg Halford was in reserve for the visitors, although his welcome wasn’t quite as warm as Reid’s.
The home fans were in fine voice from the off and not even Forest’s opener could silence them as they sought to inspire their team to victory. Cousins conceded a needless free-kick out on the right flank after pushing Reid in the back, especially needless considering the Irishman’s prowess when it comes to talking set-pieces. Even with such talent, Reid can’t have intended to send his curling delivery straight into the net, but his ball in the box evaded everyone and looped beyond a wrong footed Hamer into the far corner of the goal.
The Covered End could have easily got on the backs of their players, who could have just as easily caved in, but the opposite happened. ‘Chrissy Powell’s Red Army’ continued to be sung amidst the Forest celebrations and the Addicks responded on the pitch.
Reid fired wide from the edge of the area shortly after his opener, but that was to be the last meaningful effort the away side had for quite some time as Charlton gradually grew in confidence with every passing moment. It took 14 minutes to arrive, but their first chance almost drew Charlton level. Wiggins’ cross from the left took a deflection on the way through, setting the ball up perfectly for Church to head home, but his connection was weak and the ball was cleared off the line with some Charlton fans (myself) already celebrating.
By the 20 minute mark you could almost argue Charlton were on top, but sloppy mistakes were breaking down attacks and the final ball was lacking somewhat. Another Wiggins ball in was cleared, with some difficulty, by the Forest defence with Church waiting to pounce once more, whilst Harriott got into a good position on the right but could only chip the ball well away from both a red shirt or the goal. When a chance finally arrived, the finishing touch couldn’t be applied as Stephens scuffed his shot from just inside the area into the awaiting palms of Darlow. Sordell also came close, striking a volley perfectly, only for Cohen to make a superb block with shouts for handball coming from both sides of the stadium.
With Charlton putting in a valiant effort to get back into the game, a second goal for Forest would have been very cruel indeed, but they wasted a glorious opening to do just that approaching the half hour. Mackie broke free and found himself one-on-one with Hamer, but the former QPR man appeared to take too long on the ball and incisively poked the ball only slightly wide of Hamer, who was able to make a half stop. The ball was still trickling towards the net by Wilson was able to get back and clear well after an uncomfortable bounce. Blackstock was then a whisker away from connecting with a Reid cross, injuring himself in the process, but it was a stark reminder of the threat Forest possessed to this depleted Charlton side.
However, the Forest chances failed to knock the home side off their ever increasingly fluent stride; Wiggins sliced a shot well wide of goal, but a Wilson attempt in the next attack flashed past the post by the narrowest of margins after the curly haired full-back collected his own pass via a block from Hobbs. You could sense a goal was on its way, but the home fans were left perplexed after a serious of efforts failed to find the back of the net with less than a minute remaining until the break. Stephens unleashed a vicious drive that could only be parried by Darlow, whilst Church’s follow up efforts were blocked and saved by a vigilant Forest defence before the ball fell perfectly to Stephens once more, only for the playmaker to go for all out power and send the ball soaring over the bar when he really should have scored. It led to gasps of frustration from the home fans, quickly followed by a gladiatorial cheer and applause as they made it clear just how much they appreciated the sudden upturn in performance following several disappointing displays.
Stephens’ miss proved to be the final action of the half, a half that, just like ten days ago, saw the Addicks go in at the break a goal down, but the atmosphere and performance couldn’t have been more contrasted as the players were clapped in on the way to their oranges, isotonics and a team talk of ‘more of the same’ from Powell.
An early corner after Collins put behind under no pressure suggested more of the same, but Harriott’s delivery was poor and it was Forest, through Blackstock’s tame header, who mustered the first effort on goal of the half with Hamer equal. Darlow was also equal to Sordell’s effort in Charlton’s next attack but the striker, who had a quiet first half, was suddenly coming to life. He gave Charlton new life with 50 minutes played. Harriott’s ball across goal (that was almost definitely a really rubbish shot but we’ll pretend it wasn’t) couldn’t pick out Sordell, but it did find Wilson on the other flank. He drove forward before smashing the ball square and straight at the feet of the striker who hit a first time shot with the composure of a man who had plenty of goals under his belt, not a man about to score his first league goal for the club, past Darlow to grab a deserved leveller. It was celebrated with vigour from the Covered End who finally had rewarded for their excellent support all night.
Charlton were now incredibly searching for all three points and the endeavour shown by Wilson and Harriott to dispossess Cohen carved out a chance for Sordell, but he could only tamely curl into Darlow’s hands with Church and Stephens screaming for the ball in the middle, but the Bolton loanee finally had some much needed confidence. A succession of corners, one for Charlton that saw claims for a handball after Harriott flicked the ball onto Collins’ forearm from close range before the youngster forced a save out of Darlow, and three for Forest that didn’t come to much, appeared to be the final straw for Forest gaffer Billy Davies as Simon Cox and Dan Harding replaced Derbyshire and Chlobah.
The substitutions certainly gave Forest a much needed boost and they began to show more of a threat, with Reid striking the ball one way with the outside of his boot before it turned the other only for the ball to clear the bar. But Charlton, with a little over 15 minutes to play, were still on top. Andy Hughes came on for the hardworking Gower and was immediately involved as he volleyed Morrison’s knock down from Stephen’s free-kick into the path of Cousins, but he stabbed at the chance and could only poke the ball wide after Sordell wasn’t too far away from 25 yards moments before.
Then came the 15 second spell of madness that should have put Charlton in front. Stephens’ corner should have been headed home by Piggot, but the youngster nodded the ball away from goal and towards Cousins, who rattled the post with his shot before seeing his follow up blocked. Forest couldn’t get the ball away from their goal as Hughes reacted quickest to a sliced clearance and poked the ball to Piggot, who forced Darlow into a fine save before Stephens, once again, fired over on the volley when he really should have at least hit the target. Oh what I’d give for a bit of luck.
Harriott joined an exclusive club by sending a shot rocketing into the Upper North, much to the crowd’s amusement and Harriott’s embarrassment, before Forest had a chance of their own to win it. Cohen’s effort was almost certainly heading for the back of the net, but Cousins excellent block prevented that and topped off an incredible performance from the youngster. Charlton had to withstand the pressure from three successive corners, but they dug deep and managed to prevent Forest troubling beyond a wayward Reid shot.
Morrison hooked over from a corner during four minutes of stoppage time and Forest were clinging on as they did all they could to run the clock down. But Charlton couldn’t find a deserved winner and had to settle for a very credible point.
I have never known a result to create such differing emotions. There’s pride and positivity to be taken from the performance and the fact a point was taken from a very good Forest side with a war wounded squad, but there’s also frustration from the fact Charlton were the better side, deserved to win and created and wasted so many chances to do so.
Whether it’s two points dropped or one point gained is something to be considered at the end of the season, but right now only the positives can be focused on. The performance was arguably better than the one shown in the defeat of Leicester; a truly outstanding display of Chris Powell inspired fight, belief and character. The fans certainly helped to, and they were at their loudest for quite some time. Some contrast from the doom and gloom of Millwall.
Individually there is only praise for every player. Hamer recovered well after being at fault for the goal, whilst Wood and Morrison won every header in a superb performance at the back. Wilson and Wiggins were both excellent going forward and at the back, whilst Gower helped to keep things ticking in midfield. Stephens was a little hit and miss, and wasted a number of glorious openings, but I lost count of the amount of times he broke up a Forest attack of break, whilst Harriott improved after the interval after losing possession to easily on several occasions in the first half. Sordell’s goal will be crucial to him and hopefully there will be many more to come, whilst Hughes acted as a calming influence and Piggot did well after his derby day nightmare.
But special praise must go to Simon Church and Jordan Cousins. Church may not have been a completely obvious choice, but the shift he put in was exceptional, fighting hard to win the ball and playing unselfishly for the benefit of those around him. If only could he finish, we’d have a very decent player on our hands. Meanwhile, Cousins showed the talent that has seen him linked with a move to several Premier League clubs. He was excellent in the tackle, intercepted the ball on several occasions, started moves and finished them off. How he didn’t score is a mystery.
Credit must also go to Chris Powell. The gaffer had wingers on the bench and could have easily gone for a conservative formation, but he tried something different and it worked like a charm. The man has his mojo back.
After a disappointing few weeks bordering on depressing, things are starting to look up again. It may be prematurely so, but a repeat performance against Blackpool on Saturday and there’s every chance Charlton will grab a second win of the season. Bring your voices and inspire them once more.