In a season where positives have been as scarce as Christmas leftovers four days after the event, suddenly the doom and gloom around The Valley had been lifted; lifted quite dramatically.
The 3-2 win over Brighton on Boxing Day was the perfect late Christmas present for every Addick; it couldn’t get much better than that feeling of sheer jubilation.
But it did get better. The news on Friday that Belgium millionaire, and owner of Standard Leige, Roland Duchatelet had bought the club brought a buzz around the word ‘Charlton’ for the first time in several months. The confirmation from the club itself on Saturday that takeover talks were well underway was glorious news for those who refuse to believe what a certain national newspaper print of their website.
You could call it a massive few days in the course of the 2013/14 season and Charlton’s long term future. A win over the self-proclaimed ‘massive’, and fellow strugglers, Sheffield Wednesday would be just as, well, massive.
But, in a season in which impressive displays have been followed by inept and pointless performances, the worry and panic returned as soon as the team sheets were released.
Chris Solly (rested) and Rhoys Wiggins (about to become a father and therefore lose all rest), two players who are always at the forefront of any outstanding Addicks display, were both absent. Not only were Charlton hurt by the individual players not playing, but it forced an uncomfortable rejig that saw Lawrie Wilson drop to right-back, Cedric Evina on the left, and Dale Stephens play wide right, accommodating Johnnie Jackson’s return in the middle.
If the team news wasn’t enough to burst the bubble of positivity, the pitch was. It wasn’t at its best when Brighton visited The Valley, now it looked, and played, worse than the mud bath that angered so many in the final half of last season.
To round it all off, the football played on the substandard pitch was dire. A first half that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Sunday League, but one that Wednesday should have taken the lead in, was followed by a second half in which the Addicks, despite opening the scoring, were always under pressure and rarely looked threatening going forward.
But, despite the circumstances, Charlton will feel slightly aggrieved to have won as an offside goal and two glorious Addicks chances in stoppage time missed meant Sheffield Wednesday came away from SE7 with a point in a 1-1 draw.
Had the game been on Sky Sports, they probably would have thrilled their viewers in the opening 15 minutes with a graphic showing managerless Sheffield Wednesday emphatically dominate possession. But the Owls, not surprising for a side that contained Jose ‘sideways pass’ Semedo, couldn’t turn the ball retention into chances; Connor Wickham’s shot from a tight angle that was well saved by Ben Alnwick was all they could muster.
It became apparent early on that the pitch would prevent anything in the shape of a spectacle developing, with passes being held up, bounces not rebounding as high as they should and both midfields scrapping for the ball.
It was also obvious just how much Charlton were missing Solly and Wiggins. With no way of getting forward down the flanks, unsuccessful long balls were the order of the day. This certainly wasn’t pretty viewing.
But, even with arguably their most important players missing, this Charlton side can play. When they did finally patiently pass the ball around, the first real chance for the home side emerged at its climax. The move saw Cousins collect the ball on the edge of the area, as he so often does, but he scuffed his shot away from goal.
But, unsighted by Wednesday’s back four, Simon Church reacted and latched onto the misdirected ball. His touch, however, was poor and it diverted the ball well wide of goal when, had he controlled it, he only had Chris Kirkland to beat. No offside flag was produced to spare his blushes. An opening wasted in this game of few chances.
The visitors continued to have the better, if that’s what you can call it, of the scrappy affair, with Jeremy Helan and Wickham firing over from distance in quick succession.
Despite the occasional effort on goal, there was certainly no sign that either side were about to take the lead. And so, it was rather ironic that one of the smallest men on the pitch with a less than prolific goal scoring record almost headed his side in front.
No one had picked up Semedo’s run into the box, and he connected with a Wednesday cross from the right, but his header was flicked well wide of goal and inevitably into the path of Chris Maguire. Wilson got to the ball first, though, conceding a corner.
The resulting flag-kick from Stephen McPhail didn’t seem to be the best, with it flat and towards the edge of the box, but Roger Johnson acrobatically got a boot to the delivery that looped the ball up. Alnwick watched it go over, but it dropped out of the air quickly, and suddenly the ‘keeper and Evina on the line were panicking. Thankfully for them, it didn’t dip quickly enough, clipping the bar on its way out.
Charlton fans were praying for half-time, with the Addicks well off the pace and Wednesday exerting much more pressure in the final ten minutes of the half.
After Evina, collecting his own cleared long ball following a corner, optimistically shot from 30 yards, the Owls broke and Wickham had another opening from a tight angle. Alnwick’s palms prevented the England U21 forward from giving his side the lead.
Alnwick was on hand to deny Wickham once again moments later, with the ‘keeper saving well from a 20 yard free-kick that was whipped around the wall. A sigh of relief was breathed from three sides of The Valley; followed by a grunt of distain with the blowing of the whistle at half-time. The Addicks had been poor, but, by holding on, they had every hope of taking all three points from the game with an improved second half performance.
And the home side started the second period well. Kermorgant’s first time effort from outside the box failed to test Kirkland, but it improved the mood inside The Valley somewhat. Charlton’s next attack, with 47 minutes gone, improved the mood no-end.
As is so often the case, Charlton stuttered and panicked over the taking of a throw, but Wilson released the ball in time with Stephens’ fantastic run in behind.
His movement was sublime; the finish even better.
Faking to shoot, when he could have half volleyed beyond Kirkland, Stephens took the ball away from the Wednesday defender in front of him and coolly tucked the ball past the ‘keeper. Out of nothing, Charlton had the lead.
It probably wasn’t deserved, but the goal was the perfect opportunity for Charlton to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
But, much to the frustration for their supporters, they failed to take it, with Wednesday immediately back in control and coming close to pulling level on a number of occasions.
Wickham had a glorious opportunity to equaliser just two minutes after the Addicks had scored, but he headed over from close range when it looked easier to score. His reaction painted a picture of frustrating and anguish.
Maguire came close with a long range effort that narrowly flew past the post before Wickham fired way off target. Charlton were desperately clinging onto their lead.
And so, whilst a Wednesday goal may have been deserved, the circumstances in which the visitors drew level with 59 minutes played would prove frustrating.
An innocuous long ball caused havoc as Wood and Evina left their ground to both challenge for it. It skipped off Wood’s head and into the path of Maguire, who had all the time and space in the world on the now vacant left.
He crossed, substitute Atdhe Nuhiu’s shot was blocked and Connor Wickham latched onto the rebound and tapped in from close range.
There were calls for offside, with Morrison appealer-in-chief as is customary, but they went unanswered. Replays suggest the goal scorer was a good yard or two offside; the Addicks were left to rue poor officiating and their own questionable defending.
With Charlton so off the pace, it seemed like a good time bury your head and reappear once full-time had come. But the Addicks responded well, and almost pulled back in front straight away.
Evina, attempting to make up for his mistake, drove down the left before crossing to Church, whose header forced a fine reaction save out of Kirkland at the near post. Alas, both referee and assistant signalled for a goal kick, much to the dismay of everyone else inside The Valley.
But, despite the brief opening, Wednesday continued to dominate and the Addicks failed to get forward. Kermorgant and Church were left frustrated by Glenn Loovens, who won almost every ball that was sent forward.
Down the other end, it remained Wickham who was causing all sorts of problems for Charlton’s back line. After teeing up Nuhiu, who blasted over, the forward was off target with two headers in quick succession, the second going narrowly over Alnwick’s bar. Deep breaths.
Dorian Dervite replaced Jackson, whilst Danny Green entered the fray in place of the ineffective Cameron Stewart.
And a Green corner almost saw Charlton retake the lead. His delivery was only half cleared to, as ever, Cousins on the edge of the box. His powerful effort would certainly have found the back of the net, had it not been for a superb block inside the melee of players still inside the box from the corner.
It was then Wednesday who had to curse a fine block from an opposition man, as Alnwick’s legs denied Roger Johnson from giving the visitors the lead with a free header.
The panic in the Covered End wasn’t quelled by whatever Green was up to in the final five minutes. Pumping long when Wilson was overlapping into space and losing the ball pathetically in midfield failed to impress the ever increasingly frustrated home fans. Thankfully for Charlton, and Green, Wednesday couldn’t produce a testing effort on goal.
In fact, it was Charlton who ended the game in the ascendency. Loovens, who had barely put a foot wrong, failed to deal with a punt up field by Dervite and Church was in behind. His touch created the perfect sight of goal with Kirkland in a poor position; all the Welshman had to do was pass the ball into the net. Alas, he was slightly off balance, and the shot was fired well over the bar.
With Charlton fans still licking their wounds, Church picked himself up and created the final chance of the game. He broke down the left and delivered a fine cross for Kermorgant. But Loovens, quite possibly illegally, held back the Frenchman, meaning that even when Kirkland dropped the cross onto Kermorgant’s body, the ‘keeper was able to gather the loose ball into his body. When your luck is out, it’s out.
As lacklustre a display as it may have been, the boos that met the full-time whistle were unnecessary. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a point worth taking giving Wednesday’s dominance, key players missing and the context of the league table.
Despite those missed chances and frustrating calls by the officials, the performance was dire.
In a less than satisfactory performance, it’s only fair I do something regular readers will know I tend to stay away; focus first of all on the negatives. Charlton were utterly void of any ideas going forward in the absence of Solly and Wiggins, apart from long balls that were either won by a Wednesday man and cleared, or won by Kermorgant and then cleared.
The success rate of those long balls weren’t helped by Alnwick’s distribution. The amount of kicks he slices out of play or mishits too short is embarrassing and invites pressure. He’s a fine shot stopper, but no better than Ben Hamer in that department, whilst Hamer’s distribution ranges between fine and sublime, rarely poor. The sooner Hamer returns, the better.
Hopefully the return of Wiggins will be Wednesday, with the less said about Evina’s performance, the better. He struggled to cope with the threat that came down the right and can certainly take some of the blame for Wednesday’s goal. We certainly missed Wiggins, as well as Solly, for both his defensive work and his role going forward.
I’m also becoming increasingly frustrated with Church. For all the off the ball running he does, it doesn’t take away from the fact he’s a striker in a team that’s desperate for goals. He has to be taking chances like that. Charlton fans, and this piece, could have at totally different tune about them/it if he had tucked the ball past Kirkland.
And maybe more chances would have been created had Powell not opted to play Stephens wide right. There was a lack of threat down either flank, with Stewart uncharacteristically off colour for 90 minutes. But when you take Green’s disastrous spell on the pitch into consideration, you can understand why Powell was forced into such action. I know some doing like this excuse, but his hands are tied with the resources he has available.
But, turning to a the positives, not only was it a hard thought point that looks better when the table and other results are considered, it’s five points from three games, which almost everyone would have taken before kick-off against Bolton just over a week ago. The Addicks are also four points above the relegation zone, look to be improving despite today’s performance and Powell will hopefully have the power to improve his squad in January.
It’s about being rational, realistic and assessing everything in context. It’s also about chosen whether to be negative or positive where both are equally valid. Despite the poor performance, overall, the point is a very decent one. I’m positive and I’m happy.
Another point against Ipswich Town on Wednesday and I’ll be very pleased.
Keep on keeping the faith.