Following Charlton over land and sea this season hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s often been soul destroying.
Each time the Addicks look to be moving away from danger, each time there’s legitimate reason to be hopeful of a brighter tomorrow, that hope is cruely snatched away in circumstances that are often difficult to take.
The sensible would have given up, or at least given Charlton’s longest away trip of the season a miss. The sensible wouldn’t have been won over by the faint glimmers of something resembling hope.
Going into the game against Middlesbrough, the Addicks were unbeaten in four league games. The midweek comeback draw over Oxford United in the FA Cup extended that run to five in all competitions, and suggested Chris Powell’s Charlton’s signature determination was still emanating throughout the side. The sort of determination a team needs to pull away from the threat of relegation.
The positive mood from Roland Duchatelet’s takeover was also providing some degree of hope to emotionally battered and bruised Charlton fans. Some hope Powell’s resources would be bolstered and the ‘R’ word would be removed from the Addick dictionary.
Alas, like on so many occasions before, that positive feeling of hope was dashed by a heartbreaking Charlton defeat.
A single goal from Boro’s Emmanuel Ledesma was enough to give the in-form home side the victory, a victory that they were made to work hard for by a determined and spirited Addicks performance.
Yet another negative result Powell’s men didn’t deserve. Heartbreak, frustration and a destroyed soul rather than anger.
Powell, and Charlton’s, streak of bad luck showed no signs of stopping before kick-off, with the boss forced into selections he probably didn’t want to make.
Chris Solly, a player who ups the overall performance of his side by 100% on his own from right-back, remained absent after missing the Oxford cup tie, forcing Lawrie Wilson to cover at the back with Jordan Cook starting wide right.
Both Ben Alnwick and Hamer were also unavailable, forcing Powell to hand a debut to French ‘Keeper Yohann Thuram, a recent loan signing from Standard Liege.
There were also starts for Dale Stephens, after missing the midweek fixture, and Callum Harriott, after a long absence from the starting XI, as Powell opted to field a 4-5-1 formation.
The Addicks could have provided the percect reward for the 250 travelling fans’ dedication after just two minutes, but a supporters’ hero made himself an unlikely villain.
Harriott broke at pace before linking up with Cook, only for the former’s soft pass to be intercepted. But ‘Boro’s defence made a hash of their efforts to clear, with the ball pinballing off bodies and falling perfectly to Yann Kermorgant inside the area. Some had begun celebration preparations, whilst others already had their arms aloft. Their actions were misguided.
Confusion and frustration rained as, somehow, the French forward scuffed his shot horribly off-target.
But the opening, and a hint that Boro had some defensive frailties to be exploited, gave the Charlton supporters tucked away in one of The Riverside’s corners reason to dream of a victory.
Another strong run from Harriott, that concluded with a shot being blocked behind by Ledesma, only increased the positivity in the away end, with Charlton fans in fine voice.
They were brought straight back down to earth with the home side’s first meaningful attack. Curtis Main got in behind Wilson on the wing, and the Boro striker reacted quicker to the loose ball than the curly haired right-back after Michael Morrison briefly dispossessed him.
Main broke into the box and had an excellent site of goal, but flashed his effort just wide with Thuram seemingly beaten.
The two sides exchanged chances again with just over ten minutes played. Jordan Cousins’ tame shot from distance was comfortably gathered by experienced stopper Shay Given, whilst Marvin Emnes fired into the side netting with Wood hot on his tails.
But, despite Charlton looking settled and marginally having the better of an even opening 15 minutes, it was Boro who took the lead.
Ledesma’s 25 yard effort was hit well enough, and the fizz off the surface made life difficult for Thuram, but the Addicks would have been disappointed to concede a goal of such nature.
The Argentine was invited to shoot, with no player in a black shirt getting close to him, and the French stopper really should have kept out the driven strike. Not the best way to introduce yourself to an already impatient and worried set of supporters.
But the visitors responded well enough, and could have been level almost immediately.
Morrison had stayed inside in the box following a free-kick, and he was whisker away from connecting with Harriott’s cross.
However, it was clear the nature of the goal had knocked the stuffing out of the Addicks, and Middlesbrough almost took full advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness.
Mustapha Caroyal’s quick feet bamboozled Stephens, leaving him on the deck, and the Boro winger tried his luck with a shot at goal. Thuram appeared to see it late, saving a less than testing effort with his legs, before the ‘keeper just about held on to Emnes’s follow up. Hearts were in mouths every time a Boro player shaped to shoot.
The Addicks had lost all spark going forward, were misplacing simple passes and struggling to close down their opponents, who were passing nicely and maintaining possession with ease.
But one final chance fell to the visitors just before half-time. Stephens’ corner was tipped away by Given with Jackson lurking. Had Given failed to make the crucial interception, Charlton’s skipper would have surely leveled.
Nonetheless, the Addicks went in a goal down at half-time, clapped off by the travelling fans who knew their side, despite falling away slightly towards the end of the half, were far from out of this one.
A big response, one akin to the second half performance that prevented certain defeat against Oxford in midweek, was needed.
It might have taken an early second half effort from Dean Whitehead, a first time strike the flew horribly wide, but the SE7 club finally kicked into life a little more than five minutes into the second 45.
In fact, Charlton had their best chance to equalise thus far with 53 minutes played.
Stephens’ free-kick into the box was won by the head of Richard Wood and knocked down into the path of Morrison. The centre back paring combined again with Morrison setting the ball back to Wood and the former Coventry man poked a shot just wide of goal. Premature celebrations in the away curtailed once more.
Harriott and Wiggins were causing distress to Boro’s right-back Jozsef Varga, whilst Stephens’ work as a deep-lying midfielder was given the Addicks plenty of possession, but, as has been the case so frequently this season, they lacked a cutting edge.
In fact, it was Boro who had the next meaningful attempt on goal. Another teasing run from Caroyal saw the winger break into a position to shoot, but Thuram did well to stop the effort. Calm restored.
Whilst Charlton were much improved, something was still missing. The introduction of midweek hero Danny Green, replacing the ineffectual Jackson, and hard working Simon Church, coming on for the anonymous Jordan Cook, should have pulled Charlton level immediately.
Danny Green’s overhit cross was superbly kept in play by a classy Kermorgant overhead kick, and the ball hung in the air with Given and Church challenging.
It was almost impossible to make out whether Given’s palms or Church’s head got to the ball first, but the ball was somehow bundled into the goal. No flag from the assistant seemed to suggest a goal had been given, but referee Stroud opted to blow his whistle and award Boro a free-kick for a foul on Given.
The decision infuriated the Addicks but, with 20 minutes still to play, they had little choice but to refocus and go again.
Powell hauled off Cousins, who struggled once again, and brought Astrit Ajdarevic on for his Charlton debut in the hope he’d provide the spark to steal a point for the visitors.
The Swedish midfielder looked useful in his brief time on the pitch but, with Charlton still failing to test Given significantly, his chances impacting the game were scuppered by Stroud’s red card.
Wiggins had been a vital cog in everything Charlton had done well; arguably a man of the match performance. And so, when he lunged in on Whitehead, a challenge that Stroud deemed to be worthy of a dismissal, all hope appeared to be gone for the Addicks.
Any faint hope remaining of a late equaliser seemed to be fading as Lukas Jutkiewicz burst through on goal with five minutes to play, but Thuram burst out and stopped the former Everton forward. It was one of those one-on-one challenges that would have resulted in a penalty had Thuram misjudged his lunge; the Frenchman had just about redeemed himself.
The save meant the game entered five minutes of stoppage time with Charlton still just a goal away from deserved parity.
And when Kermorgant found some space on the left to deliver a low cross, it looked like the goal the Addicks had been searching for was about to be produced. But Church, despite getting to the ball first, failed to make contact and the ball fizzed through the goal mouth.
Thankfully for Charlton, Kermorgant had been swiped down as he delivered the ball, and referee Stroud awarded the Addicks a free-kick. Green sent the ball back to Wilson on the edge of the area, but the full-back cracked an effort not too far wide.
With the five minutes almost up, Boro looked to have doubled their lead. Jutkiewicz broke free, and Thuram raced out again, but instead the forward rolled the ball across goal and into the path of Ledesma. Incredibly, the wingers goal bound effort was kept by a flying Frenchman’s palms, before aa follow up strike was blasted over the bar.
Thuram quickly turned from villain to alright-ain, and he would have been a hero if it wasn’t for the heroics of his opposite number.
A ball into the box fell kindly to Stephens. The midfielder had time to pick out a spot in the goal and finish, but his half volley was incredibly saved by Given. The Irishman held onto the strike, preventing one of a number of Charlton forwards tapping in a rebound. Heartbreak.
The players were warmly clapped off at full-time; they’d thought hard against a strong side and certainly deserved more for their efforts.
First of all, credit must go to Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka has got his talent side playing an excellent brand of football, whilst the resilance of his outstanding back four, and ‘keeper, gave them the edge over a slightly error prone Charlton side.
But, despite the occasional error, the Addicks matched them.
Wiggins was excellent up until the red card, Harriott caused all sorts of problems and delivered the occasional testing delivery whilst Stephens’ holding role helped to keep possession ticking over.
The performance of Ajdarevic was also promising, with midfielder looking comfortable on the ball and making some neat passes.
In fact, in the second half I’d go as far to say Charlton were on top.
On top in terms of possession that is, not on top in terms of chances created. And there in lies Charlton’s problem; and inability to carve out chances, and an inability to finish them when they are. The sooner Powell is able to bring in some more potent wingers and a finisher to partner Kermorgant, the sooner this side will be in a position in the table that better reflects their efforts over the course of the season. They certainly don’t deserve to be 21st.
But the Addicks are 21st, and only out of the bottom three on goal difference.
Part of that is down to individual errors costing Charlton points. From Lawrie Wilson’s poor performance at right-back, with mistakes almost resulting in Boro goals on a number of occasions, to Cousins failure to keep possession and Thuram’s poor piece of ‘keeping for the goal; they’re all costly.
And into that errors in attacking positions, such as Kermorgant’s miss, Church’s failure to connect and Wood’s inability to direct his stab goal wards, and it’s not hard to see where it’s going wrong.
It’s almost there, the Addicks are so close to finding their feet again, but individual mistakes are preventing the side from picking up points.
Solly’s absence was also a huge factor in Charlton’s failure to pick up any points. With Wiggins now out for three games, it’s vital the right-back returns. Vital.
With results going horribly against the Addicks, some have descended into panic. I won’t be joining them. I saw enough to suggest that Powell and his side won’t be down where they are for too long; especially if new attacking options and brought in.
Keep the faith. Keep the faith in the players. Keep the faith in Powell.