If you were to wake up after a few alcoholic beverages on the centre circle of Reading’s Madjeski Stadium, you could be forgiven for being a little confused as to your whereabouts. The generic blue seated, single tier, bowl shaped arena bears some resemblance to Leicester City’s King Power Stadium and the Cardiff City Stadium; the settings for two of Charlton’s most acclaimed performances of last season.
The 2-1 victory in the Midlands came as a result of the now departed Danny Haynes’ volley. The pacey forward, along with Ricardo Fuller, could change a game in an instance with a piece of individual brilliance.
The hard fought 0-0 draw in Wales earned the Addicks a thoroughly deserved point, with a solid performance from every one of Chris Powell’s men.
In fact, the list of points won by a game changing moment of magic or faultless resoluteness throughout the team is a substantial one. Those characteristics were what helped to propel Charlton up to 9th in The Championship.
Return to the present (you’re definitely in Reading) and you’ll see that those qualities are amiss.
An individual error, and not for the first time this season, gifted the Royals the game’s solitary goal, whilst the Addicks, despite creating chances and making a real impression in the second half, couldn’t find that moment of brilliance to take anything from the game.
And it’s those fine margins, it would seem, that are the difference between 9th and 21st in England’s second tier.
With Reading unbeaten at home so far this season, most Charlton fans were under no illusions as to just how difficult a task their side was facing under the floodlights at the Mad Stad. Those pre-match apprehensions were reaffirmed within the first minute as Pavel Pogrebnyak broke into box and delivered a teasing ball across the face of goal, forcing Dorian Dervite to scramble it away.
A succession of corners for the Royals, a Charlton fan’s worst nightmare after Saturday’s five minutes of mayhem in the defeat to Ipswich Town, resulted in Alex Pearce heading over for the first effort on goal of the game.
But the Addicks were by no means disgracing themselves early on. They started the game in a comfortable manner; knocking the ball about well when they had it and winning it back quickly after they lost it. That isn’t to say Reading’s back four were coming under any threat.
If one man was to breach the home side’s defence, it was always going to be Simon Church. The Welshman was playing against his former club for the first time since departing in the summer, and a signature successful chase of a lost cause looked to have won his current employers a penalty with ten minutes played as Stephen Kelly hauled him down. A moment of brilliance to swing the game Charlton’s way? No, referee Sheldrake waved away shouts for what appeared to be a certain penalty.
But the vocal travelling support didn’t have long to feel a sense of injustice, as Billy Sharp’s 13th minute opener brought emotions of heartbreak and anger to the fore.
Dale Stephens, taking far too much time on the ball, was dispossessed inside his own half by Danny Williams, who fed through to Sharp. The forward was still some distance from goal, but no one in a red shirt closed him down and the prolific poacher seized the opportunity, firing a sweet drive beyond Ben Alnwick from just outside the area.
It was a poor goal for the Addicks to concede, something that has been said far too many times this season, and immediately any sense of confidence and urgency seemed to disappear from Chris Powell’s side.
The 800 or so Charlton fans were forced to watch on in dismay as their side looked hopeless for the remainder of the half, and they were fortunate not to be two goals down with 20 minutes gone.
Again no red shirt was in sight as Pogrebynak chanced his arm from range, unleashing a shot that Alnwick could only parry down in front of him. It seemed to take the stand-in ‘keeper an age to respond and gather the loose ball, allowing Sharp to steal in and make the first connection as Alnwick’s body blocked the ball away.
On the odd occasion that the Addicks broke into the opposition’s half throughout the half, some absolutely atrocious crossing prevented those attacks concluding in anything of note. Cedric Evina, in the side on the left of midfield in place of skipper Johnnie Jackson, Cameron Stewart and Rhoys Wiggins were those guilty of failing to deliver from wide positions.
It therefore seemed appropriate that Charlton’s best chance of the opening 45 minutes, right on the stroke of half-time, came through the centre. Yann Kermorgant’s through ball picked out Church, who had a clear run at goal. He drove into the box but chose to place his shot into the near corner, when lashing the ball across goal might have been the better option, allowing Royals ‘keeper Alex McCarthy to deflect the ball behind. The resulting corner came to nothing, and Charlton’s players left the pitch to a neutral response from their supporters; neither boos nor claps were audible.
A big response was needed from Powell’s side from the off in the second half, but it was Reading who started the brightest and came close to doubling their lead. Gareth McCleary’s effort from distance rattled the outside of the post, and Charlton could thank their selves fortunate that they still had a chance to take something from the game.
Stephens, attempting to make up for his earlier error, tried his luck from just outside the box after being teed up by the hard working Chruch, but dragged his shot horribly wide, whilst Williams’ low drive called Alnwick into action, but the ‘keeper saved comfortably. There was still hope for Charlton, whilst Reading were desperately attempting to seal their victory.
But as the half wore on, and as the home side sat deeper, more space opened up for the Addicks to mount attacks. Wiggins was becoming more of a threat and, after seeing a shot blocked and sending another wide of the far post, the left back won his side a free-kick inches from the box in a wide position.
Scurrying back to a position 40 yards from goal, the Welsham crept forward out of Reading eyes and was picked out by Stephens’ set-piece. His shot flashed across goal with an ensuing scramble eventually seeing the ball go behind for a corner. The delivery was testing, with McCarthy forced to punch away, but Kermorgant’s follow-up overhead kick lacked the accuracy to match the ambition.
Whilst the set-piece shenanigans took place, three Charlton substitutes had been readied to come on. Church, Stephens and Evina left the field to be replaced by Danny Green, Marvin Sordell and Jackson. It was a move by Powell that possibly should have happened sooner, but it saw Charlton dominate the final 20 minutes.
Inspired by the noise from the away end, with the Charlton fans singing in great volume without a breather in the final period of the game, the Addicks gave their all in search of the goal they desired.
All manner of problems were caused by the adventurous Green down the right, whilst Sordell showed, finally, his ability by holding up every ball played into him and began attacks thereafter.
In fact, a Green corner saw Sordell put the ball into the net, but the forward was met by the offside flag as he wheeled away to celebrate after turning in Wiggins’ shot from the half cleared set-piece.
Sordell had the ball taken off his head at the last from a Green cross, Jackson blazed over and Stewart skewed a shot horribly off target after cutting inside, but the Addicks couldn’t find the equaliser despite the pressure they were applying.
The fourth official held his board to signal for stoppage time, but the anxiety amongst both sets of supporters was made worse by the fact no number was shown.
Hal Robson-Kanu and Danny Guthrie missed two chances in the unspecified amount of additional time to end Charlton dreams early, before Michael Morrison, playing as a centre forward, collected a long ball and teed up Green. The winger glided into the box, the ball was firmly under his control and he had a clear sight of goal. This was it, the Addicks were going to equalise.
Alas, Green’s effort dissected the crowd huddled around an exit waiting for the final whistle behind the goal. Three points to Reading; regained pride for Charlton.
It was a game of what ifs. What if Church had been given the penalty? What if Stephens hasn’t lost possession? What if Church had taken his chance on the stroke of half-time? What If Green had broken the net with his late effort, not the cohort of people desperate to leave to catch a train?
What if last season’s Charlton side, especially the one that finished the season, played this game? I wouldn’t be playing those what ifs over and over inside my head.
This side is crying out for some calm and resolute play, avoiding the stupid mistakes that have cost us umpteen points this season, and a game changer or a player who can finish the chances presented to him.
It’s hard to assess the first deficit in the side, because after every game I find myself feeling like the defence, and the midfield in their defensive roles, did well. Small errors or lapses in concentration are costing the Addicks on a grand scale.
That was the case tonight. Morrison and Dervite did well enough, but their error in judgement not to close Sharp down was costly.
Wilson and Wiggins, after starting slowly, did well going forward , whilst a lack of threat from Reading down the flanks came as a result of some solid defensive work by the pair.
Baring the first five minutes after half-time, Cousins was energetic and helped to tick things over; in contrast to Stephens’ slow and off colour performance.
The Evina experiment failed to work, with the makeshift left winger rarely looking a threat, whilst Cameron Stewart recovered after a poor first half, in which he wasted a number of promising Charlton forward moves, to make a real nuisance of himself in the second half.
The performances of Kermorgant and Church were almost identical to how they played against Ipswich on Saturday. They did well in tough circumstances.
But it was the substitutes that impressed the most, and two of those in particular.
Could Green and Sordell be the players this side is missing in terms of that game changer character? In Green’s case, it’s unlikely. We’ve seen it all before, an impressive substitute display followed up by filth for ten months, but I feel there’s cause to be excited about Sordell’s performance. He of course, like Green, will have to prove he can follow it up, but he looked a real threat in the short period he was on the pitch.
The defeat leaves Chris Powell’s side just two points above the relegation zone, with a huge game against Yeovil Town awaiting the gaffer and his boys on Saturday.
If you had asked me about our chances of beating the Glovers after the first 55 minutes or so, I would have been highly pessimistic. After seeing the way responded thereafter, my confidence has risen somewhat.
The response from the fans was also telling. After a few embarrassing comments at The Valley recently, I felt proud to be an Addick again. That support is going to be needed once again at Huish Park.
Keep the faith. I certainly am.