On Tuesday, ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ faded into the distance. By Friday, ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ had been ripped apart. Saturday was the start of ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton 2.0’.
Ben Alnwick, Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant played their final game for the Addicks in the 3-0 defeat to Doncaster, and only three players who had played a part in Charlton’s League One title winning squad finished the game at the Keepmoat.
Powell had to rebuild, and rebuild quickly. The starting XI for the trip to Wigan Athletic contained just three members with 2011/12 League One winner’s medal, and three league debutants.
Youngster Diego Poyet was joined by full-back Loic Nego and forward Reza in wearing a Charlton shirt in a league fixture for the first time; skipper Johnnie Jackson, centre-back Michael Morrison and left-back Rhoys Wiggins, returning from suspension, the three League One winners.
There were also starts for ‘keeper Yohann Thuram and creative midfielder Astrit Adjaveric; two loan signings from new owner Roland Duchatelet’s main club, Standard Liege.
Whether you look at it cynically, in that Duchatelet is making the signings and sales, or whether you believe Powell’s still in control but being assisted, this wasn’t Chris Powell’s Charlton.
Some might argue that’s a good thing; the Addicks were 22nd for a reason. Most agreed Charlton had lost players that were crucial to how they play, and crucial to the determination, fight and resilience that has epitomised Powell’s team over the past three seasons.
It was hard to take, would surely destroy an already crumbling confidence and created a clear route to League One.
But, for 88 minutes at The DW, that was far from the truth.
A third minute Marvin Sordell strike, a cool, poacher’s finish, appeared to be enough for diligent Charlton.
Chris Powell’s quickly assembled side showed determination that would have suited any previous XI picked by the Addicks boss. They passed the ball successfully going forward, and looked solid at the back. Even at the times when they weren’t exactly textbook in their defending, erratic clearances, last ditch blocks and the occasional bit of good fortune went the way of the boys in red.
But, with the away side clinging on, their resistance fell. Not once, but twice.
An 88th minute sloppy Marc-Antoine Fortune equaliser was followed two minutes later by a Jordi Gomez free-kick.
Heart break and despair; suddenly Kermorgant’s departure felt like a small scratch.
729 Addicks had made a fourth journey north in three weeks, hiding any dejection they felt from the previous five days, with the supporters vocal from the first minute. If the debutants didn’t know what this club meant to its fans, they learned quickly.
However, a nervy hush fell on the fans in the North Stand as Rhoys Wiggins, after doing well to win the ball, gave away possession and allowed Nicky Maynard the chance to fire at goal. It wouldn’t have been the best way to celebrate signing a new long-term contract for the Welshman, but he was able to draw a sigh of relief as Maynard shot wide.
That nervy hush after less than two minutes became uncontrolled joy 40 seconds later.
The ball bounced around in midfield, with neither side able to get it under control, allowing Jackson to slide into a loose ball and send Sordell racing through. A spontaneous look to the right saw the assistant referee with his flag firmly down, and the Bolton loanee finished emphatically; like a man facing competition and with a point to prove.
Chaotic scenes followed in the away end. The only celebrations that come close were the ones that ensued after Jackson’s last minute equaliser at Ipswich Town, but it was more akin to the pandemonium that Ricardo Fuller’s goal against Crystal Palace caused.
If you hadn’t at least stopped yourself from falling over a seat or down a stair, you were probably in the home end. The disregard for my tablet device lying on the floor as I jumped around and hugged anything that moved probably wasn’t wise.
However, whilst a passionate rendition of ‘Since I Was Young’ was sung, the Addicks had reason to curse their luck for a Standard Liege loanee’s squad number time this season with the game back underway.
Wiggins, dealing with the talented Callum McManaman, put in a superb slide tackle to stop the England U21 international in his tracks. But Charlton’s left-back came off worse, unable to get off the floor. It seemed like just a strong knock at first, but he was soon hobbling off to be replaced by academy graduate Harry Lennon.
With the match restarting, former Palace player, and target of abuse from those in the away end, Ben Watson saw Thuram punch a shot away rather unconvincingly; it wouldn’t be the first time in the afternoon the ‘keeper caused Charlton fans’ hearts to skip a beat.
The local ambulance service was on standby to move into the away end moments later as Lennon fell to floor, in almost the exact location as Wiggins had done, after an emphatic tackle on McManaman. He attempted to get back up, but fell straight to the floor.
Thankfully, a bit of treatment and Words of Love from the physio was enough for the player labelled better than John to Twist and Shout once again down The Long and Winding left flank. (Sorry).
It was then Thuram’s turn to twist and shout, as he saved at his near post from the increasingly lively McManaman, before organising his defence for a corner that was successfully nulled.
Whilst Wigan had carved out a few openings since falling behind, they still looked second best. With rain lashing down on already wet surface, it appeared as if the likes of McManaman, Grant McCann and Ben Watson were struggling to judge the weight of their passes, with spells of possession often ending with the ball skidding along the surface and behind for a goal kick.
The Addicks were relatively comfortable, but they really needed a second to swap their football boots for slippers. New signing Reza had clearly brought a lovely pair with him, as he almost doubled Charlton’s lead twice in quick succession.
First, some excellent build-up play, with Reza’s pass to Adjaveric returned into the former’s path with a delightful back-heel, opened up a chance for Iran’s answer to Wayne Rooney to strike. It seemed a little optimistic, but the 25-yard effort was hit with venom and swerve, forcing experienced stopper Ali Al-Habsi to punch away unconvincingly.
From Reza’s next effort, from the resulting throw, Al-Habsi was well beaten. Nego’s throw was quickly taken and Reza let it bounce in front of him before unleashing a sensational dipping volley from an improbable range and angle. Al-Habsi stuttered backwards, but he was spared embarrassment as the ball cannoned back off the crossbar. Kermorgant who?
Reza was given the Kermorgant treatment, with several songs applied to his full name and nickname. ‘The Ghooch is on fire’ and ‘feed The Ghooch and he will score’ among the best.
Meanwhile, the Addicks still only led by one. A Latics corner was met by James Perch, an infrequent scorer, and his headed sailed over the bar. Leon Barnett followed suit five minutes, also heading a Jean Beausejour corner over the bar.
Whilst Wigan were growing into their stride, the earlier mistakes slowly vanishing, the Addicks continued to compete and had their two teenage midfielders to thank for carving out openings.
First, Poyet, who had arguably been the best player on the pitch, hit a sensational ball over the top that was perfect for Sordell. Unfortunately for the Addicks, the ball just got away from the forward, preventing him from having a clear sight of goal with the ball under his control.
Then, Cousins, who had worked exceptionally hard in an unfamiliar wide right role, sent a driven ball through that Stephens would have been proud of. Sordell chased, but Al-Habsi beat him to the ball by fraction of a second. Shouts for a penalty after the Bolton loanee took a tumble were quickly laughed off.
Where Sordell may have been criticised previously for errors in judgement like that, the majority of the Addicks in the away end were now backing him. “Keep going Marv,” became a reoccurring shout.
However, had he latched onto one of the balls, the final ten minutes of the half would have been far more bearable. Wigan had suddenly clicked and were desperately seeking out the equaliser.
A cleared cross fell to Watson, and his first time volley, from the deceptive angle in the away end, looked to be heading in. Thuram’s motionless didn’t help the illusion; he appeared to be watching the ball go in. A sigh of relief was heard as the crossbar was cleared and the ball landed harmlessly away from goal.
However, Wigan’s next effort on goal didn’t clear the bar.
Nego had coped well, if not comfortably, with the threat of James McLean throughout the first half, but the Irishman escaped the Frenchman’s clutches to break into the box and tee up McManaman. He took a touch, before firing at goal, surely about to draw the home side level. Somehow, his effort crashed against the bar and went behind.
The half ended with James McCarthur sending an effort well wide, and McManaman lashing an effort towards goal that, to the naked eye, appeared to clear the crossbar despite a very faint sound of ball on bar. The half-time whistle welcome relief for Chris Powell’s Charlton 2.0, who had shown plenty of fight and determination, but were coming under siege and needed a breather.
However, the breather didn’t seem to do much good, as the Addicks looked to have conceded in the opening moments of the second 45.
A free-kick was played square to McManaman, and the winger’s effort on goal bounced off several bodies before appearing to be diverted into the back of Thuram’s net off a Charlton leg. Alas, the assistant’s flag was up and, after a worryingly lengthy consultation between referee and assistant, no goal was awarded.
Charlton were far from out of the woods, however, and Wigan’s siege on Charlton’s goal continued. A cross-cum-shot from Wigan’s right was gathered by Thuram, before he saved rather unconvincingly from Beausejour.
But that’s not to say it was all one way traffic.
The fact the Addicks weren’t caving in was worthy of praise in itself, but they continued to come forward when the opportunity allowed. Excellent hold up play from Reza created a chance for Cousins, but the youngster could only fire off target.
Wigan boss Uwe Rosler threw on Fortune and McEarchran as he searched for the equaliser, and Thuram saved from Watson, but the impending doom had no impact on the away end.
They had been singing Chris Powell’s name for the best part of 20 minutes; a real sign that, with media speculation his position was under threat, the Addicks wanted their hero to stay.
And it seemed to spur on their heroes on the pitch; they were defending superbly and neutralising the Wigan threat.
However, with 20 minutes to play, Wigan’s threat rose once more.
The home side’s corners had caused chaos all afternoon, with Thuram seemingly unwilling to catch the ball. His punches often fell to a Wigan player, but poor finishing and excellent defending otherwise kept Thuram’s clean sheet intact.
When the corners were delivered away from Charlton’s ‘keeper, Emmerson Boyce and Leon Barnett couldn’t keep their headers down.
Powell threw on Bradley Pritchard, replacing the hard working Sordell, and Rosler introduced Jordi Gomez. Both players made an immediate impact, with Pritchard’s liveliness stopping McLean on several occasions, whilst the Spaniard had that class all Spanish footballers, at whatever level, seem to have.
Chance after chance fell Wigan’s way, but the Addicks, by the skin of their teeth, were holding firm.
Even when Thuram was beaten, Nego was there on the line to clear Fortune’s loopy header. Deep breaths.
Dorian Dervite was brought on to sure up the defence, and it looked as if the Addicks were going to do it. Luck was going their way; it was going to be their afternoon.
A quickly taken free-kick saw Gomez find McEachran, who picked out Fortune with ease, and his tame effort trickled past a motionless Thuram. A rare defensive lapse had cost the Addicks. A carnival atmosphere in the away end turned to the despair of a funeral. This was tough to take.
But surely it couldn’t get any worse?
The immaculate Michael Morrison gave away a free-kick as stoppage time approached. Gomez stepped up.
Charlton’s luck couldn’t be this bad, could it? He’d surely miss?
He didn’t. The Spaniard’s effort curled around the wall and past Thuram. Both parties could have done better.
The despair in the away end was unexplainable. It hurt. How I felt was expressed on the faces of every Charlton player. It hurt them too.
The afternoon’s first Yann Kermorgant chant as full-time approached was telling. He was missed in a situation like this, not only to hold the ball up in advanced positions, but to inspire. It’s not been an easy few days to support this wonderful club.
If the stats are to be believed, it was a one sided game. But the fight and determination showed by Chris Powell’s side was beyond belief. To lose at all was undeserved. To lose in such a manner was unfair punishment for a display full of positives.
Powell’s patchwork side of Standard Liege rejects and Charlton players no one else wanted competed with a side full of class and quality.
It turns out Powell can instil determination and fight in any side, no matter who the individuals are.
And whilst he brought on Dervite and opted to sit back, his tactical change can’t be blamed. Sitting back has worked a charm three times this season; Blackburn, Birmingham and Huddersfield. This time, a lapse in concentration at the back and some dire goalkeeping cost him.
It’s a defeat Chris Powell did not deserve.
But, as I sit in my room several hours after the defeat, the pain has subsided.
I’m left with positive thoughts for the rest of the season. There were plenty of positives to take from the performance, and not just the fight shown.
Morrison and Wood were exceptional, whilst Lennon stepped up in Wiggins’ absence. Nego, despite tiring towards the end and passing up an excellent chance to set Reza free with the score at 1-0 in the second half, also coped well with Wigan’s exceptional threat down the flanks.
The back line’s display is made more exceptional by Thuram’s ineptitude. Having a ‘keeper who refuses to catch and makes comfortable saves look hard can’t instil confidence. I hold him partially responsible for both goals.
It wasn’t a performance from a defensive unit that deserved to be on the losing side, nor to concede two goals.
The midfield was excellent, in equally testing conditions. Cousins worked as hard as anyone out on the right, and rarely gave up possession, whilst Jackson’s experience was key; his calm head guiding the youngsters around him.
Adjaveric, first on the left, then in the centre and finally up front, did superbly wherever he went; his versatility will be a real asset in Powell’s threadbare squad.
The forwards, Reza and Sordell, were also promising. It was arguably Sordell’s best performance of more than 30 minutes, with the striker running the channels superbly and never giving up, like some had accused him of in the past, whilst Reza looked exciting with the ball at his feet. A fully fit Reza with a target man, with the Iranian poor in the air, will be a testing partnership for Championship defences.
But the clear stand out was Poyet. Sitting just in front of the defence, the teenager broke down attacks, won headers during Wigan’s numerous attacks and played some incredible passes forward. He can’t have lost possession more than twice. A real talent.
But, despite all that, the Addicks came away with nothing. Minutes from an incredible victory, cruelly snatched away.
However, I saw enough today to make me feel very positive about the rest of the season. There’s talent in this squad and with Powell, the glue that holds it all together, inspiring them, there’s no reason why they won’t get Charlton out of trouble.
Today hurts, but tomorrow will be better. Get behind Chris Powell’s Charlton 2.0.