Games involving Charlton Athletic seem to be following a similar script at the moment. The Addicks rarely disgrace themselves, but something is missing from their show to make it a success.
The actors in red, in some scenes at least, appear to be on top of their opponents, but a streak of bad luck and an increasingly frustrating nature to fluff their lines in the final third has prevented more points being put on the board.
On the other hand, the opposition have luck on their side and, more importantly, take their chances. The tales are becoming more heart-breaking with every passing week.
With a failed takeover attempt, fans bemoaning, somewhat unrealistically, a lack of communication from the club and the impending sense of doom that failing to win in three and sitting two points and a place above the relegation zone brings, a repeat script during Derby County’s visit to The Valley would have been disastrous.
Turning poor form around against the division’s in-form side? The chances were that the story of the game would be one of dominance from the Rams.
But Chris Powell’s Charlton are experts in completely ignoring the pre-game script and improvising their own, especially against in form sides, adding in twists that not even the finest writers in the country could have produced.
Much like that incredible season turning victory over Cardiff City in November 2012, there was a feeling of hopelessness before kick-off, the opposition were in blue and Powell sprung a few surprises in his chosen cast; Danny Green made his second start of the season whilst Bradley Pritchard came back into the side in a second striker role in a 4-5-1 formation.
Unlike that famous comeback over the Welsh side, The Covered End Choir rarely raised their voices in song, the Addicks couldn’t take their chances and Lady Luck snuggled up to the visitors.
That familiar script, with Charlton far from poor but not quite doing enough, was repeated in Derby’s 2-0 win at The Valley.
There were some doubts raised before kick-off about Powell’s choice to field just one striker in a home fixture, but it seemed logical when the form of the two sides were compared. It also appeared to be working well in the opening 30 minutes, with Charlton on top.
A lively start from the Addicks saw, rather predictably, poor decision making and execution in the final third fail to convert possession into chances.
But with ten minutes on the clock, Charlton registered the game’s first effort on goal. Michael Morrison, possibly sick of seeing those playing in attacking positions waste promising openings , galloped forward and had the ball played into him 25 yards from goal. His effort was well struck, and forced Rams stopper Lee Grant into a smart save.
Charlton’s next chance, barely five minutes later, would have been quite spectacular had it been finished off. Excellent build up play eventually saw the ball farmed out to Cameron Stewart on the left flank, and the Hull loanee’s cross picked out Dale Stephens perfectly, but the midfielder’s first time volley cleared the bar. It was a glorious opening, but Stephens was possibly in shock that a ball from wide had found its intended target.
Chris Martin’s effort for the away side was deflected wide, and a Buxton header was comfortably held by Ben Alnwick from the resulting corner in a rare Derby attack, but this was certainly an encouraging start for the Addicks.
Kermorgant, Pritchard and Stephens were all impressing, whilst a strong run forward from Jordan Cousins from inside his own half upped the optimism amongst the home fans, and they were in fine voice for a brief period.
Green’s over hit free-kick was heading for goal before Grant tipped the ball away, and Kermorgant almost scored and created an opportunity, seeing a shot blocked and a ball through to Pritchard crucially intercepted by a Rams defender, but the atmosphere and Charlton’s performance fell flat as the half hour mark approached.
Derby were yet to perform like the division’s in-form side; a goal for the rams would have been unwarranted and cruel on the Addicks.
But, with it occurring time and time again this season, there was a growing sense that Charlton would be punished for their failure to take their chances and make the most of their possession.
“Don’t let them come into it, Charlton” was the shout from a spectator behind me as the Rams came forward, eventually winning themselves a free-kick in a very promising position. Jamie Ward stepped up and curled an effort towards goal that, despite appearing to be on target, didn’t look to have the required pace to beat Alnwick.
But a wicked deflection off Rhoys Wiggins’ head in the Charlton wall completed altered the direction of Ward’s attempt. An already committed Alnwick could only stand motionless and watch as the ball bounced into the other side of his goal. Derby hadn’t just come into a game they were previously struggling in, they’d taken an undeserved lead with the most incredible piece of good fortune.
With 13 minutes to go until half-time, there was still sufficient time for the Addicks to equalise, but the goal had seemed to suck the confidence out of Chris Powell’s side. The previously impressive Pritchard suddenly began to struggle, whilst the Addicks as a whole seemed void of ideas going forward.
In fact, only an excellent save from Alnwick kept Charlton in the game going into half time. No one in a red shirt closed down Craig Bryson, with the midfielder opting to unleash an effort from distance that looked to be heading for the top corner, had it not been for the outstretched fingertips of Alnwick tipping the ball behind.
In stoppage time, a Kermorgant ball forward was chased down by Green, forcing Grant to leave his area and head clear straight back to the Frenchman. He attempted to lob the out of position ‘keeper, but there wasn’t enough on the ball and Buxton headed away. That weak chip was symbolic of Charlton’s recent performances; just not quite good enough.
With the half-time whistle blowing, the script reads that the home fans must boo if behind, no matter what the nature of the performance. One very audible noise of displeasure was heard, but, for the most part, Chris Powell’s men were clapped off. There was certainly something in this game for them if they started the second half as brightly as they did the first.
And after just two second half minutes, the Addicks came a whisker away from pulling level. Lawrie Wilson broke down the right and crossed to Stephens, but he failed to make a solid connection with his effort and dragged the ball agonisingly wide, lowering those who had begun to celebrate back to their seats.
Worryingly for the Addicks, Derby had improved upon their indifferent start to the game, and now looked much more of a threat. Simon Dawkins having the best of the away side’s chances in the opening 15 minutes of the half, firing high and wide after the robust Martin teed him up.
Dawkins really should have done better but, as Derby looked to put the game beyond Charlton’s clutches, the Addicks again came desperately close to equalising.
A free-kick eventually saw the ball fall to Kermorgant on the edge of the area, but his shot had a box full of players to break through if he was going to test Grant. It failed to do that, but it did find its way through to Morrison inside the six yard box. The ball bounced off him awkwardly and the stand-in skipper failed to apply the crucial touch.
You got the feeling that had that situation occurred in Charlton’s box, the initial shot would have cannoned off a Derby player’s legs and found the back of the net.
That might not have been the case, however, as the Rams missed another golden opportunity to seal the three points. Martin was again the provider as he set the ball across goal for Bryson, but his effort crashed against the bar.
Dawkins sent another shot soaring over Alnwick’s crossbar before Powell bought on Simon Church and Callum Harriott in place of Green and Pritchard, who had both faded dramatically after promising starts.
The changes proved to be the catalyst for 20 minutes of Charlton dominance.
Stewart set the tone for the period by cutting in superbly from the left and getting his shot away only for a deflection to guide the ball into Grant’s hands; close, but not quite close enough.
After being involved in two of Charlton’s better openings, it was Morrison who had the best chance to equalise for the Addicks. Kermorgant’s cross was perfect and the armband wearer got to the ball in front of his man, but, somehow, contrived to head over from close range.
With less than 15 minutes to play, there were desperate appeals for a penalty as Kermorgant looked to be fouled as he challenged for a cross. Referee Davies, who had made no attempts to please either the Charlton fans or players throughout the afternoon, saw otherwise and awarded Derby a free-kick for an apparent infringement by Kermorgant.
The Frenchman won himself a free-kick shortly after, and received a rather harsh yellow card after applauding the referee for awarding it Charlton’s way.
But the home side continued to pile on the pressure, and a fantastic through ball from Wilson found Church, only for the Welshman’s first time shot to be well saved by Grant.
With five minutes to go there was still hope that the Addicks could snatch a vital point in their bid to stay in the division; with three minutes to go, it was gone.
A clearance from Morrison fell straight to Conor Sammon, a £1,200,000 signing in the summer of 2012 who had spent 84 minutes of the game on the bench, and he fed through Bryson to finish coolly past Alnwick.
The Valley fell silent but for the visiting celebrations; this hurt.
The remainder of the game was played out to the clunk of Charlton fans departing their seats as their players looked defeated.
Bryson almost made it three in the final minute of stoppage time, but his effort cleared the bar from a tight angle. The mood inside The Valley wouldn’t have changed had that shot hit the net; the place was numb. The cruel script had delivered yet another painful blow.
Before I endeavour to rationally explain Charlton’s performance and current situation, it’s only fair that I give Derby the praise they deserve. Whilst not at their best by their own admission, they were very well organised. The centre back paring of Buxton and Richard Keogh were highly impressive, whilst Simon Dawkins, his finishing not including, and Martin were excellent when the Rams attacked.
In one sense, the fact that positives can be taken from defeats is, well, a positive. Rarely have Charlton been outclassed this season, rarely have they not deserved more and rarely has luck been on their side.
At three stages today the Addicks were on top; the opening 30 minutes, the first passages of play after half-time and following Church and Harriott entering the fray. Just a fluke goal and a second that meant very little took the points away from Charlton.
That they’ve not been outclassed is shown by the bizarre statistic that the Addicks have conceded one less time than 4th place Derby’s 26. That the Rams have scored an incredible 42 goals, 26 more than Charlton, highlights the problems in front of goal.
But chances, as they always are, are being created; thereafter wasted.
In another sense, the fact that the same script is repeated week in, week out, is ultimately very concerning. If we can’t turn the positives into points, then surely something is very, very wrong.
Being only one point above the relegation zone with 20 games gone is very concerning, especially when encouraging performances are not bring points.
Whilst I’m certain we’ll be safe, I can’t bear to see this club fall to the third tier again. The fact we’re so close to the drop makes me feel sick.
The players seem incredibly short of confidence, not to mention ability, both in front of goal and in general, optimised by the standard of performance dropping heavily after Derby’s first.
So heavily was that drop, I struggle to name a player who can really be happy with their performance over the 90 minutes.
Powell also seems to have lost a sense of control in recent weeks, tinkering with his selections to such an extent that he too isn’t sure how to go about turning the positives into points. The 4-5-1 worked for a period, but his side certainly posed more of a threat once a second striker was introduced.
That criticism of Powell is by no means an indication that I wish for him to leave. I’m still firmly behind him. However, the defeat has left more Charlton fans before questioning his position.
To those of you who are, I ask you do you honestly believe anyone else could do a better job with the financial restrictions both in the sense of paying wages to the manager and being able to recruit players?
Ipswich seemed like a freak result; Reading filled me with positivity; Yeovil deflated me; and today has destroyed me. I didn’t expect to win, but the manner in which we lost was ultimately very hard to take.
It’s a very difficult time to be a Charlton fan, on and off the pitch. The most disheartening thing for me is the spats on social networks. Disagreements about different aspects seem to go far; I’ve seen several become personal.
The mere mention of ‘Charlton’ throws up negative connotations at the moment.
Even so, I’ll still be keeping the faith.
To reiterate, I’m 100% behind Powell, and will be even if we are in this position in 20 games time. However, with the comments I have read this evening, it seems appropriate to include a poll based around his future.