Charlton’s indifferent start to the season can be summed up in one stat. The Addicks have failed to win two games in succession throughout the entire campaign. Impressive wins have been followed by sluggish draws or disappointing defeats.
But, after an outstanding performance in the 2-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night, hopes were high that the visit of Ipswich Town would provide Chris Powell’s side with their second three points in the space of five days.
With Powell naming the same side, the home supporters were anticipating a repeat performance of fast paced, attacking football from that confidence boosting win in midweek. But, in one of football’s great unsolved conundrums, it’s often the case that the same 11 players can go from marvellous to hopeless in the space of a few days.
Whilst Ipswich executed the perfect smash and grab away display, frustrating the home side for 90 minutes with their resolute and structured defending, the Addicks were flat, error prone and unable to utilise the wings in the same manner which proved so fruitful against Doncaster. Charlton rarely caused any concern to the visitors.
Once again the Addicks failed to record back-to-back wins, with the Tractor Boys coming away from SE7 with a well-deserved 1-0 victory.
On the day that Charlton celebrated the 21st anniversary of their return home, at least one member of the home support was making his first trip to The Valley.
“I’m from Greece, I support Olympiakos, I chose Charlton because of the red and white”, said the character that stopped me to ask for directions after arriving at Charlton station. That he also asked if he would be able to get a ticket suggested he wasn’t quite aware just how far apart Charlton Vs Ipswich was to a game at the home of the Greek giants. I thought I’d let him find out for himself.
Although a world away from Champions League football, he can’t have failed to have been impressed by the video on the big screen detailing the Addicks’ return to The Valley. It seemed appropriate to celebrate such an anniversary with the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust securing the future of The Valley on Friday night admits reports that a prospected takeover could see Charlton move away from the home the worked so hard to make their own again.
But Charlton’s defence couldn’t emulate the protection the ACV brings to The Valley as they were overawed by a quick-starting Ipswich. The celebratory atmosphere could have vanished at any time during the first five minutes, with Ben Alnwick on hand to save well from David McGoldrick inside the first minute after he capitalised on some sloppy play by the Addicks (a theme of the afternoon) to break through on goal.
The resulting corner was met powerful by the head of Aaron Cresswell at the near post, but a combination of ‘keeper and Dale Stephens managed to block the effort and divert the ball behind for another corner.
Ipswich’s second consecutive flag-kick caused even more panic in the Charlton defence as Daryl Murphy headed towards goal with Alnwick performing miracles to keep out the forward and Christophe Berra, whose follow up effort was superbly saved by the man replacing the injured Ben Hamer. Cole Skuse volleyed over after Charlton half-cleared, and the Addicks were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
But that relief lasted barely more than three minutes as another corner from the visitors gave them the lead with five on the clock. Cresswell’s delivery found Tommy Smith in the middle, with the New Zealander leaping almost unchallenged to head past Alnwick via a deflection off a Charlton body. A poor goal to concede by the home side, who had failed to learn the lesson of previous set-plays, but it was hard to argue Ipswich weren’t good value for their lead.
With plenty of time left in the game, Charlton were far from out of it, but they needed to find their feet quickly. No one challenged for Michael Morrison’s inviting header across the face of goal, whilst a glanced header from Stephens caused a muttering of premature celebrations from the home fans as it sailed just wide. Frustrating, but the openings just two minutes after going behind suggested Town would have their work cut out to hold onto their lead.
Alas, Charlton struggled to get a hold of the game thereafter, taking far too much time on the ball and forcing themselves to hit desperate long balls forward in the hope Yann Kermorgant would create something with a flick on or Simon Church would chase down and win a lost cause. Their effort couldn’t be faulted, but, with both wings and the midfield ineffective, there’s only so much they could do on their own.
Jordan Cousins for the home side and McGoldrick for the visitors both skewed efforts horribly off-target from inviting positions, before the Addicks finally carved out an opening from the previously unused right wing. Lawrie Wilson drove into the box after Cameron Stewart had laid the ball back to him, but the curly-haired full-back’s ball across the face of goal skipped agonisingly beyond Church in the middle.
Church was again a matter of inches from connecting with a delivery after Kermorgant’s volleyed ball into Ipswich’s area came his way, but a crucial header from Skuse prevented the Welshman from levelling. Charlton’s following corner was wasted; the difference between the two sides.
The Addicks still hadn’t tested Dean Gerken in the Town goal, but an over-hit cross almost caught the ‘keeper off guard. Wiggins misdirected delivery became a testing effort on goal as Gerken, with the assistance of the post, scrambled to keep his clean sheet intact.
Although Charlton were coming forward, the restlessness in The Covered End was clear for all to see and hear. Every minor error was met with moans and groans, with disastrous long balls and misplaced passes angering The Valley faithful. Dorian Dervite’s tame header, from a position in which he at least should have tested Gerken, at goal after Kemorgant’s nod across goal only increased the animosity.
Murphy’s shot straight at Alnwick was the final action of the opening 45, with the Addicks leaing the field to a chorus of unnecessary boos; a bright second half start from Charlton was needed to get the crowd back on side.
That bright start was almost provided two minutes into the half by Johnnie Jackson. The skipper found space inside the box with a clear sight of goal, but his angle was narrowed after he delayed his shot and he was closed down. The effort he eventually had on goal was blocked by Gerken and cleared away by the Ipswich defence. It was something to lift the despondent mood inside The Valley, at least.
McGoldrick tested Alnwick again, but the ‘keeper saved the long range drive comfortably, whilst Wilson’s volleyed cross almost dipped in with Gerken backpedalling and tipping the ball away for a corner. The resulting delivery was met by the head of Morrison, but he couldn’t emulate his opposing centre back’s effort in the first half as Gerken calmly collected yet another tame Charlton effort on goal.
The chances kept coming for both sides as McGoldrick, ever a threat, forced Alnwick into another relatively comfortable save, whilst Stephens fired well over from range, but the threat Ipswich continued to cause and Charlton’s wasteful nature in front of goal had once again increased the frustration amongst the home fans.
And when Church, who had caused more problems to Ipswich’s defence than any other a player in a red shirt, was bizarrely substituted with 20 minutes to play, it seemed as if all hope was lost of a Charlton comeback.
Joe Pigott replaced the Welsh forward, whilst Danny Green was also introduced in place of Jackson, meaning the Addicks would now have to make do without his leadership qualities in a situation that was crying out for them.
But Pigott was involved straight away after leaving the bench, teeing up Stewart to strike at goal and force Gerken into a save low down to his right.
However, both Pigott and Green offered little after that, with Green struggling to beat the first man with any crossing opportunity he had and Pigott coming up second best in his aerial battles with Smith and Berra.
With the Addicks struggling to create anything, Powell threw on Marvin Sordell with five minutes to go, and he should have been claiming the assist for the goal that drew Charlton level in stoppage time had it not been for referee Duncan’s hastiness to give a free-kick.
Charlton maintained possession after Kermorgant was fouled by Berra and Sordell’s superb ball found its way through to Stewart with a clear sight of goal, but Duncan opted to bring play back for the foul despite the Addicks having an obvious advantage. It summed up the frustrating afternoon.
The free-kick was pumped long and skipped off the head of Morrison before going out of play, but defender sparked a brawl that resulted in a yellow for himself and former Charlton forward (as much as we would like to forget he ever was) Frank Nouble
That signalled the end of Charlton’s chances, and boos once again serenaded the players as they left the pitch; not the way many envisaged celebrating the return to The Valley’s anniversary. The booing was somewhat harsh and certainly not needed, but the frustration and disappointment was felt by every Addick.
Praise must go to Ipswich first and foremost. Their lightening quick start won them the game, whilst the pace at which they closed down a Charlton man every time a player in red received the ball prevented the Addicks from replicating the football displayed on Tuesday night. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Mick McCarthy’s men ground out the result to perfection.
But, despite Ipswich’s resolute display, Charlton were lacklustre and well below the standards of recent weeks. Time and time again a hopeful punt up field lost the Addicks possession, whilst promising attacks often broke down with a poor pass or an over/under hit cross from an attractive position. Whilst the stats suggest Charlton were on top, with 60% possession, that certainly isn’t how it felt watching the game pan out across the course of 90 minutes. Our friend from Greece must have regretted not choosing another red and white English team.
Whilst Alnwick kept the Addicks in the game early on, his distribution was dreadful and got worse as the game went on. His performance certainly made me appreciate Hamer more than I already did.
In front of him, Dervite and Morrison did well enough in the air, but the pair took far too much time on the ball, with the Frenchman especially appearing to be playing in slow-motion. Like the centre backs, Wilson and Wiggins did well defensively, but their wing play was poor with crosses mishit on most occasions.
At times, the midfield was completely forgotten about with back to front long balls exclusively being played, meaning Stephens and Cousins didn’t have the chance to make any sort of statement on the game. Likewise, Stewart couldn’t express himself in the manner in which he did on Tuesday night, whilst Jackson failed to create much out on the left.
As mentioned previously, Kermorgant and Church gave their all, with Kemorgant winning most of his headers and Church continuing to chase everything until he was taken off, and the pair can’t be blamed for the lack of serious chances created with the service they were given poor.
The fact that two players, in Green and Pigott, who aren’t good enough for this division came on when Charlton were chasing the game shows just how little Powell has to play with and how much investment is desperately needed. With just over a month until the transfer window opens, every Addick, including Powell, will be praying investment occurs sooner rather than later.