There’s always a certain amount of dread from Charlton regulars before the annual ‘Football for a Fiver’ game. It’s not that they feel threatened by ‘part-time’ fans, a full Valley is a wonderful sight, and it’s not that the queues for trains or on the roads after the game is too much of a problem, it’s that they’re often hugely underwhelming. The 2011/12 season pair of £5 affairs are an exception, but both the 3-1 defeat to Exeter and the 1-0 loss against Barnsley saw Charlton unable to perform and the bumper crowds fail to raise their voices. Whilst there wasn’t an issue with either of those factors in today’s game against Wigan Athletic, with Charlton matching their opponents and the Covered End in fine form for large amounts of the afternoon, the 0-0 score line left season ticket holders unsure as to whether to be pleased or frustrated and neutrals disappointed.
The Addicks started brightly, but couldn’t find the final ball to complement their midfield dominance. When a Charlton ball from wide finally found a red shirt in the middle, Bradley Prtichard was unable to capitalise on a golden opportunity as he blazed over from Cameron Stewart’s cut back. Before the 23,600 inside The Valley had a chance to get their heads around that miss, the home fans amongst them had to contemplate with their star striker, Yann Kermorgant, hobbling off the field. Kermorgant was making his first start since injury at Watford, but he could only last 35 minutes as Marvin Sordell replaced him. But, despite their attacking threat being weakened, the Addicks had their best chance of the game just before half-time with Richard Wood’s header from Dale Stephens’ corner well saved from young Wigan ‘keeper Lee Nicholls, who stepped in just before kick-off with former Addick Scott Carson injured in the warm-up.
Dale Stephens’ effort from range flashed just wide, but a Wigan flag-kick at the start of the second-half from the same corner that produced Charlton’s chance saw the visitors have their first real effort of the game. Chris McCann’s header crashed back off the underside of the bar and away with Hamer eventually gathering as the home fans breathed a sigh of relief. They had to do that on a number of occasions in the second half as Wigan wasted several glorious openings. James MacArthur, Ben Watson and Grant Holt were all guilty of poor finishing, whilst Charlton’s defence stood firm otherwise, even after rock Wood was forced off injured.
But it wasn’t just a case of the Addicks holding on as Pritchard’s header across goal trickled wide with Sordell failing to react at the far past. An incredible run from Lawrie Wilson from one edge of the area to another earned the biggest round of applause of the match, but Simon Church couldn’t connect with his cross. With referee Martin doing his best to slow the game, giving soft free-kicks at what seemed to be a rate of every other minute, the final ten minutes lacked action. There was, however, one last chance for a Charlton side that had faded in terms of attacking threat as the half went on, but Nicholls did well to block Sordell from point blank range after fellow substitute Johnnie Jackson crossed from the left. A well-earned point and a third game without conceding, but the Addicks will feel it was one they could have claimed all three from.
A good, solid performance from Charlton. One that positives should be taken from as appose to cynically assessing the negatives. Whilst Wigan weren’t exactly outstanding, they caused enough problems to give the Addicks a real test throughout the game, and every man reacted to that well. I’d like to think that, even without the goals and excitement, it was enough to convince the £5 chancers to return to The Valley soon.
After the early season shambles at the back, three clean sheets in a row is a fantastic achievement, and one that does justice to the defensive displays of late. It was a quiet afternoon for Ben Hamer, but Michael Morrison and Wood were almost faultless once again. The pair dominated in the air and made a number of crucial interceptions and tackles on the ground. Rhoys Wiggins and Lawrie Wilson also did superbly both going forward and at the back, just letting themselves down with some substandard balls into the box. The few times the defence was breached, pressure from a Charlton man was as much to blame as poor finishing for Wigan’s failure to score.
Pritchard, except for his glaring miss, had an excellent game, working tirelessly as always down the right hand side and linking up well with Wilson defensively and in attacking moves. He seems to have received a lot of unjust criticism for his performance today; sometimes it becomes frustrating to be the chairman of the Bradley Pritchard Fan Club. Jordan Cousins had probably his least promising game so far, but that’s not to say he was dreadful by any stretch of the imagination. He did well against a physically strong Wigan midfield, but found himself giving the ball away far too often late on and he needed to be replaced by Jackson in order to see the game out. There are always going to be tougher days at the office for young players, and he’ll learn from today. Wiggins and Stewart teamed up well on the left, but for all Stewart’s fancy footwork, he often failed to deliver a testing ball. In that sense, he reminds somewhat of Jerome Thomas in his first full season for Charlton.
It was a shame Kermorgant had to go off injured as he imposed himself on the Wigan defence in the short time he was on, and hopefully it was just a slight knock and he’ll be fit to face Birmingham City next Saturday. Church’s endeavour cannot be questioned and he was unfortunate in front of goal with the ball just evading him on a number of occasions whilst Sordell, although failing to react from Pritchard’s header were he really should have pounced, worked hard and, surprisingly, did well enough out on the right flank in the closing stages of the game.
But the stand out player in a red shirt was Dale Stephens. He completely dominated the midfield, showing fantastic strength to win balls he had no right to win, breaking up countless Wigan breaks and knocking the ball around with ease. It’s fantastic to see a player with such potential finally start to show it after some disappointing performances last season. If he maintains the level he’s at right now, rejecting that offer from Aston Villa in 2012 might not look so silly.
Whilst the league table still doesn’t look too pretty, with Charlton 19th and only two points above the relegation zone, four excellent performances and four games without defeat is enough to suggest it won’t be long until the Addicks finally start climbing the table.