Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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Powell’s Elves Create Crucial Point

One of the key requirements needed to become a Charlton fan is a keenness to show amateur detective skills.

Of course, nothing Addicks related is as it seems, and everyone sees it in different ways. For what is an unfortunate or unlucky defeat for the glass half full branch of the Charlton detective society, the glass half empty cohort will scour every player and every minute for as many individual and team errors to remove any sense of cruel misfortune.

And those detective skills are being put to good use by the situation Chris Powell’s side currently find themselves in. How is it that Charlton Athletic are 21st in England’s second tier and without a win in four?

Some will blame the manager; Powell’s tactics, team selections and substitutes are failing to impress a minority. Others look towards the players; they’re disgracefully underperforming and not putting the effort in. The majority point the finger at the board; they’ve failed to support Powell financially and the squad reflects that.

But, whatever the reason is, the Addicks are firmly gripped in a relegation battle.

This provides the detectives with their next question; where is the next point coming from? With chances not being taken, luck firmly against the Addicks and players low on confidence, it was beginning to seem like an unanswerable question.

But, as has been stated many a time in this blog, you can’t accuse Chris Powell’s Charlton of lacking fight, spirit and, above all, determination. Those three characteristics were shown in abundance as the Addicks dug deep to secure a vital point, not just in terms of points over a season but to stop the rot, in the 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers.

You have to have optimism (much of it irrational) to travel to The Reebok on the Saturday before Christmas, especially when your side have done little but break your heart for weeks. As a result, the return of Chris Solly to the starting XI was monumental; a broken heart that had missed him for weeks was slightly healed and the optimism suddenly seemed less irrational.

A small following of fans at a Lancashire club, the Addicks in all red and Richard Wood back in the side made up the factors that formed my irrational optimism. A red-shorted Charlton, with Wood to the fore, snatched a 1-0 victory over Blackburn with 230 away supporters at Ewood Park in October.

And if the start was anything to go by, this was going to be another successful trip for the small collection of Addicks behind the goal Ben Alwnick was occupying in the first half.

After just six minutes, Charlton’s first chance of the game fell to Lawrie Wilson, pushed forward to the right of midfield, after being chipped through by Yann Kermorgant. Wilson’s first time half volley may have flashed harmlessly wide of goal, but it lifted a previously flat away end with the first cries of ‘since I was young’ produced.

Just moments later, Wanderers ‘keeper Andy Lonergan was forced into his first save of the afternoon with the Addicks lively. Wilson found Kermorgant in space on the edge of the area, but Lonergan got down well to save the Frenchman’s effort.

Kermorgant cut the figure of a frustrated man, with his shot a little under hit, but he’d be able to release those negative emotions in celebration from the resulting corner.

The home side cleared Stephens’ initial delivery, but Rhoys Wiggins picked up the loose ball. His run was sensational, driving down the left and beating his man to cut inside, and his pass into the centre for Charlton’s answer to Eric Cantona was perfect.

Kermorgant’s first time strike was superb, leaving Lonergan with no hope of preventing the deadlock from being broken, and his celebration was sensational, rising several feet off the floor with a fist pump for added emphasis. A previously out of sorts Kermorgant was back and, more importantly, Charlton were ahead.

With Charlton scoring early, the similarities with the trip to Ewood Park were becoming more striking, but, unlike at Blackburn, chances for the Addicks didn’t completely dry up.

Another half cleared corner fell to Wiggins, but this time the Welshman opted to shoot, endangering the safety of the already disgruntled Bolton fans several rows up behind the goal.

It would have taken some effort for a shot to be more wayward than Wiggins’, but such an effort occurred in Charlton’s next attack. A cross field ball was flicked on and into the path of Wilson, who had got in behind Bolton’s backline, but the curly-haired winger, from quite a promising position, somehow contrived to direct his effort away for a Bolton throw.

With Charlton fans sitting comfortably, pleased with themselves for making what previously seemed an illogical decision to travel north, the boos and displeasure emanating from the home ends added to their amusement. As did the pitch side Wanderers mascot, who showed a better first touch than many of those in white. But their relaxing afternoon wasn’t to last, as Bolton came forward and the Addicks sat back.

Fingernails were in Charlton mouths when Joe Mason broke into the box, but a superb block from Michael Morrison prevented the on-loan forward converting the opportunity. However, a roar went round three sides of The Reebok, signalling that the home supporters were intending to now get behind their side.

It sparked a period of 25 minutes worth of Bolton domination that saw the Charlton defence work overtime when many have already signed off for Christmas.

Another loanee, Neil Danns, was Bolton’s brightest spark, threatening Charlton in midfield with pace that the Addicks couldn’t match, and he fired off-target from range with the defence standing firm.

That was until the home side’s next move forward, with Chris Eagles as surprised as anyone that a bundle of red-shirted defenders had failed to adequately dispossess him of the ball. Such was the shock of Charlton’s previously resolute defence falling to pieces; the former Manchester United winger snatched at his effort and poked it straight at Alnwick.

With the previously clam away end now full of panic, a heroic goal line clearance from Wood after Lee-Chung Young’s header beat Alnwick brought back that old feeling of irrational optimism. After weeks of missed chances, unbelievably throwing away points and conceding goals via the face of a Charlton defender, maybe this was a sign Charlton’s luck was finally turning. That was only emphasised as Young failed to connect with an inviting chip into the box that, had his boot directed the ball goal wards, would have surely drawn the Wanderers level.

The latter stages were spent with one eye on the pitch and another on the scoreboard, half to watch the clock tick down and half to remind myself that Charlton still maintained the lead.

That’s not to say the Addicks had completely gone into their shell. Simon Church, back into the starting XI, was causing a nuisance in typical Church fashion, whilst Kermorgant saw a long range effort well saved by Lonergan before the ‘keeper beat him to a long ball over the top from his Welsh forward partner.

The second goal would have come as welcome relief to the travelling fans, but it didn’t appear to be totally necessary, with Bolton’s shooting wayward and Charlton’s defence patiently doing their best to keep the home side at bay. When those two factors were flipped on their heads, Alnwick was on hand to frustrate the Trotters, saving superbly from Mason’s near post flick.

A glance at the scoreboard showed ’01:39’; it seemed Charlton had done enough to hold on until half-time. But, possibly deservingly, Bolton drew level with seconds remaining in the opening 45.

Silver haired full-back Kevin McNaughton was given far too much space inside the box, it was as if Charlton were full of Christmas spirit and giving a gift to an elderly member of society, and had the chance to pick a spot and steady himself, coolly slotting beyond a justifiably enraged Alnwick.

After the way the first half ended, it was almost disappointing that the relative calm of half-time had to end, but the Addicks gave the quest for three points a right good go.

They also had to withstand a considerable amount of pressure from the home side, with Alnwick on hand to save superbly from Mason’s header that seemed destined to give Bolton the lead.

Down the other end, the duel between Kermorgant and Lonergan continued as the Frenchman’s sweetly struck dipping volley was somehow tipped over by the Irish stopper. The Frenchman’s resulting efforts to gee up his supporters were well responded to.

Lonergan wasn’t the only one breaking Charlton hearts, with referee Gibbs on hand to add to the frustration. Church, backed by the travelling fans behind him, appealed frantically for a penalty after his cross was blocked at close range by Alex Baptiste’s hand. Whilst there’s little question as to whether there was contact between hand and ball, Baptiste kept his arm low and therefore pointing to the spot would have been somewhat harsh.

After Mark Davies was given a hero’s welcome by the home fans after coming off the bench, the returning Chris Solly almost made himself a hero in red, firing just wide from distance. Appeals for a corner were waved away, despite the effort deflecting off a Bolton body on the way though, and, with just 15 minutes to play, it seemed with that that Charlton’s chances of grabbing all three points were fading.

Bolton threw on Jermaine Beckford, whilst Powell withdrew Church and Cameron Stewart in favour of Cedric Evina and Dorian Dervite as Charlton looked to seal their point. They did so, but not without the already chewed nails being ripped apart.

Beckford saw a shot blocked, Matt Mills headed over from a corner in stoppage time and Jay Spearing, with what was almost the game’s final kick, flashed over the bar with my life flashing before my eyes.

The final whistle came as a welcome  relief. Both teams could argue they did enough to win, but it was a well-earned point for Chris Powell’s heroes, and a vital one with results elsewhere going their way.

The game’s key men, Kermorgant and Lonergan, exchanged words at full time, before the Frenchman, ever the hero, handed his shirt to a young fan. Despite struggling to hide my jealousy, it was a delight to see the Kermorgant that every Charlton fan idolises back.

And that’s where the analysis of the game has to start; Yann Kermorgant’s heroic effort.

In poor runs of form last season, you could count on a Kermorgant, Jackson or Fuller performance to secure vital points with an incredible display. This was last season’s Kermorgant, and hopefully it’s here to stay.

The forward not only won almost every header, but created attacks with them, he dropped deep to win possession on countless occasions and should have had more than one goal to his name, such was his presence in attacking positions.

And maybe Charlton deserved more from the game. They certainly created enough openings and, despite Bolton’s pressure, defended well but for a brief, panicky period in the first half.

It was the returning Solly who impressed the most out of the back four, and Yann Kermorgant’s inferiors. It was like he had never been away, putting in a superb shift at the back whilst creating a few openings going forward.

However, Cousins and Stephens were uncharacteristically weak in the middle, and that may have prevented Charlton from being dominant, which is shown in the possession statistics.

My only other complaint during the game was the fact Powell settled for a point with the best part of ten minutes to play but, looking back, it seems a sensible thing to have done with Bolton putting increasing amounts of pressure on Charlton’s back four.

But, overall, I can’t complain with the point. It breaks the run of defeats, finally rewards the Addicks for a creditable performance and provides a platform to build upon going into the Christmas period.

Any optimism going into the Boxing Day visit of Brighton can be deemed somewhat justified. It wasn’t quite perfect, but there were signs that showed this side can play.

Keep the faith. Especially after that performance.

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