After the expansive, flowing and chance-ridden game on Tuesday, this was going one of two ways. The performance, arguably the best of the season, against Nottingham Forest would be repeated and Charlton would run riot over today’s opponents Blackpool, or a dull and lifeless affair would be played out to the tune of disgruntled voices and frustration with a goal, if that, between the two sides. We were treated to the latter as the defences were on top in an uninspiring 0-0.
That’s not to say the performance was poor, nor that the crowd were quiet, but neither the players nor fans lifted themselves to the dizzy heights of Tuesday night. Had Dale Stephens’ first minute free-kick found the back of the net then things might have been very different, but instead the phrase ‘this game needs a goal’ was heard continuously for the entire 90 minutes. That goal rarely looked like coming in a first half of few chances, with Blackpool wasteful from a handful of shooting positions and Charlton unable to deliver a telling final delivery from promising attacking moves. Not even the returning Ricardo Fuller, given the welcome of a man who had been at The Valley for more than just one season, could find a way to break the deadlock with his header saved well be Ben Hamer.
The second half started well enough, Tom Ince’s free-kick deflected just wide, but it soon fizzled out to the point where a goalless draw could be predicted with 20 minutes to play. It was the home side who came closest to breaking the deadlock, with Jordan Cousins’ searing drive from distance kept out by a combination of Matt Gilks’ fingertips and the post. With the game nearing its close, the visitors had an excellent chance to steal all three points, but Ince’s effort flashed wide of the far post after capitalising on a mistake my Lawrie Wilson. In truth, the breakthrough never looked like coming with Wood and Michael Morrison for the Addicks and Gary MacKenzie for the Tangerines in such magnificent form right the way through to the final whistle. A solid, if unspectacular, performance, a first clean sheet at home in eleven months and a valuable point against a promotion chasing side; the positives outweighed the negatives in the less than enthralling contest.
An injury room occupied by a whole host of players and the performance against Forest made manager Chris Powell’s decision to name an unchanged team an easy one. The 4-3-1-2 that worked so well in midweek was deployed once again, with Callum Harriott operating in a free role just in front of the midfield. Simon Church and Marvin Sordell continued up top in the absence of Yann Kermorgant, whilst a Johnnie Jackson-less midfield three contained Stephens, Cousins and Gower. Michael Morrison was skipper once more, starting in defence alongside Wilson, Wood and Rhoys Wiggins. With Hamer continuing in goal, the only change to the 18 came on the bench, with a fit again Bradley Pritchard replacing Jordan Cook.
All Charlton eyes turned to one name on the Blackpool team sheet; Ricardo Fuller. The techniquely gifted striker was returning to The Valley for the first time after departing SE7 this summer despite all indications suggesting he wanted to stay. The Jamaican received a hero’s welcome on several occasions before kick-off; no less than he deserved. He started up top on his own, with Ince, Palace loanee Stephen Dobbie and Neal Bishop behind him as an attacking midfield three. Isaiah Osbourne partnered Chris Basham in a holding midfield two, whilst Kirk Broadfoot, Craig Cathcart, Gary MacKenzie and Jack Robinson made up the back four with Gilks in goals. New signing Dan Gosling, signed on loan from Newcastle United on Friday, started on the bench.
With many fans enduring a nightmare journey to The Valley, with chaos on both road and rail, it was written in the stars that the game wouldn’t be worth the hassle that it was to attend. Nevertheless, the home faithful were in excellent voice once again as Charlton were awarded an early free-kick after MacKenzie clumsily fouled Sordell. With Kermorgant and Jackson both missing, Stephens took on free-kick duties and wasn’t too far away from giving the home side the lead, just clearing the bar with his effort. Despite Stephens firing a shot well wide moments later, Charlton had started well and were passing the ball around nicely but were let down in the final third with neither Wiggins nor Gower able to produce from either flank. The excellent start was to the extent that it took Fuller the best part of seven minutes to get a touch of the ball. When the Jamaican did, he immediately won a free-kick that, in the spirit of the afternoon, game to nothing.
Fuller was involved again in Blackpool’s first clear opening of the afternoon as his header sat up nicely for Dobbie, but he could only slice his volleyed effort horrendously off-target. Dobbie’s effort was the catalyst for a handful of half chances for the visitors with Hamer scrambling back and falling into his net after Morrison’s block from Ince’s shot caused the ball to loop up and dip just over the bar. A Broadfoot cross unearthed frailties in the Charlton backline as they failed to clear after the ball was cut back across the face of goal on two occasions, whilst Dobbie was given space to shoot and fired narrowly wide, but neither the ‘pool or the Addicks could muster a serious effort on-target.
Charlton were restricted to little more than promising breaks without reward, especially down the left where Wiggins was unable to neither deliver nor beat his man when attempting to do so. Even when Gower sent through Church, the striker cut the ball back into the box in the direction of no one in particular and Blackpool were able to clear. Blackpool were given one last chance to go in at the break a goal up when Wilson, attempting to shield the ball out of play, conceded a throw-in right by the corner flag. Robinson’s flat throw was won by Fuller, but his header was met by Hamer, who flung himself rather dramatically through the air to prevent his former teammate from beating him. An uneventful first-half, but one where Charlton had played well enough before the final third to create some optimism going into the second.
However, that optimism proved unfounded with a half almost absent of chances and entertaining football was played out in the second 45. Blackpool were given a chance to take the lead early on in the half after being rewarded a free-kick not to dissimilar to the Charlton had in the opening stages, but Ince’s effort was helped on its way wide by a deflection off the wall. The resulting corner failed to test Charlton’s defence that was growing stronger as the game went on.
Pritchard replaced Gower in a bid to give the Addicks more energy in midfield and going forward, but the game hit a lull with neither side able to create a meaningful chance. It took until the 72nd minute for another newsworthy effort on goal, and it was the closest either side came to taking the lead. Pritchard’s excellent delivery from the right was headed away, but only far as Cousins 25-yards from goal. Amidst cries of ‘shoot’ from the Covered End, the youngster let fly with a drilled effort that forced Gilks, previously enjoying a peaceful afternoon, to wipe the dust off his gloves and tip the ball onto the post; Cousins’ reaction was one of a man who, like the entire home crowd inside The Valley, was utterly bemused as to how he hadn’t scored this week. The resulting corner saw Gilks forced into action once more as he tipped the ball over the bar from Wood’s header, but referee Hill had already blown his whistle after Wood had pushed Cathcart to connect with Stephens’ ball in.
It was the sort of game that needed a bit of Ricardo Fuller piece of individual brilliance to break the deadlock, but when he left the field, amidst a host of substitutions of both sides, to a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground, those that had placed money on a 0-0 were counting their winnings. However, the gamblers’, and Charlton fans’ hearts were in their mouths with just a minute to go as a poor pass from Wilson was capitalised on and Ince broke through, but his effort skipped across the face of goal and comfortably wide. The fact that such a glorious chance was spurned summed up the afternoon perfectly as the full time whistle blew and both sets of fans were left hoping that their Saturday night television would provide more valuable entertainment.
It’s hard to argue that two points from the games against Nottingham Forest and Blackpool isn’t a decent return given Charlton’s form leading up to the fixtures and the ever growing injury list. Despite the disappointing spectacle, the performance from the Addicks was once again promising and will hopefully be built upon after the international break.
Hamer had little to do, so little that the phrase ‘but what he had to do, he did well’ can’t really be used, but that is a testament to the excellent display from Morrison and Wood. The centre back paring won almost every header and gave Fuller absolutely no space whatsoever to perform with the ball at his feet. Only Blackpool’s MacKenzie, who did win every header, can claim to have played better on The Valley turf this afternoon. Wiggins did well defensively, but his crossing was substandard once again, whilst Wilson’s solid performance was marred by two errors that could have proved costly.
The midfield did well again, with some of the passing play before entering the final third very un-Charlton-like. Cousins and Stephens, despite the latter drifting towards the end, picked up several pieces at the back and did well going forward, whilst Gower and Pritchard were steady if nothing more. The only real criticism of a performance I have is that of Harriott’s. The youngster’s first touch kept getting away from him, when he did have the ball he was unable to beat his man and his crossing was very wayward. There are always going to be tough days in a young player’s development, and hopefully Harriott will come back stronger from a bad at the office.
No player works harder than Church and the reward for him will surely come, but his ability in the air is a reminder of just how much Kermorgant is missed. Like Sordell, who faced undeserved heavy criticism after that much after an average display ended in him leaving the pitch incredibly slowly, Church is fine with the ball played into his feet or body, but the pair seriously struggle when the ball is played long. Could Kermorgant have been difference between six and two points this week? I think so. He certainly would have given MacKenzie a more taxing afternoon.
Arguably the most promising factor to take from the game is the clean sheet; a first at home since November 27th 2012. By contrast, the most worrying is the lack of threat up front with a third game without a goal in four very concerning indeed. But the two points this week has stopped the rot and given the Addicks a base to build upon after the international break. With the break providing a chance to clear the treatment room, the trip to Ewood Park in two weeks’ time may well provide a second three points of the season for Chris Powell’s men.
We can only hope.