Less than ten years ago, contests between Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City were part of the ingredients to any Premier League campaign. A traditional mid-table game, the Stoke City Vs Aston Villa of 2014, between two clubs who had stability in both league position and ownership.
If anything, Charlton were the club viewed as the better of the two; often beating the Blues, pressing for Europe in a season in which Birmingham were relegated and seen as the model club for those in the lower tiers to look up to.
Fast forward to today’s visit of Birmingham to The Valley, and two clubs with ownership concerns were facing each other in something of a six-pointer in England’s second tier.
Roland Duchatelet’s takeover of the Addicks hasn’t quite had the impact many had expected; Chris Powell remains without a new contract, two of Charlton’s star men have been sold and a number of dubious signings have been made. Last weekend’s heart-breaking defeat to Wigan did little to cool the angst.
The Blues will soon be facing a new dawn of their own, with owner Carson Yeoung resigning in the week, something that the City fans had been craving for quite some time.
And both sides went into the game craving points; the Addicks languishing in the bottom three and Birmingham not too far above.
A must not lose for Birmingham; a must win, if only to bring calm around SE7, for Charlton.
The hosts did more than enough to secure a valuable victory, looking composed in possession, passing the ball patiently and opening up the visitors on several occasions. You could almost go as far to say the Addicks, for much of the game, were dominant.
But that dominance wasn’t turned into goals; chances were wasted and confidence in front of goal, and the rest of the pitch, was fading with each missed opportunity.
The away side, camped in their own half more often than not, didn’t look as comfortable on the ball as the Addicks, nor did they create anywhere near as many openings. But they didn’t need to.
In this contest to reignite a former top flight club’s campaign in The Championship, a Premier League loanee, Federico Macheda, had two chances and could do little but score from both of them. A 2-0 win that rounds off a promising week for the Blues as they look to recover from the mess left by Yeoung.
Another undeserved and hard to take defeat for Powell’s side; a defeat that sums up Charlton’s season and the situation they find themselves. A world away from top flight stability.
There was some degree of optimism before kick-off as Powell made just two changes to the side that fought and performed so valiantly at the DW Stadium.
Lawrie Wilson, in for Loic Nego, and Cedric Evina, replacing the injured Rhoys Wiggins, both came into the side, whilst Yohann Thuram, Astrit Ajdaveric, Diego Poyet and Reza all made their home debuts.
Despite the loss of Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, not to mention Ben Alnwick, there’s always a sense of excitement in seeing new players with your own eyes for the first time, which many inside The Valley were doing. Those who had already seen the new boys knew there was plenty to be positive about. This was their chance to convince every Addick that there was no reason to mourn the departing players.
And the home side started well enough. Ajdaveric immediately looked classy playing wide left, Poyet continued from where he left off last week by looking composed in the holding role, whilst Reza was making a nuisance of himself up top.
An early break into Birmingham’s box produced half-hearted appeals for a penalty as Marvin Sordell went down with the ball at his feet, but there was nothing in it for referee Adcock.
The Covered End was again up in arms minutes later as Reza chased a long ball and found himself blocked off by Will Packwood. Adcock was quicker to signal no penalty would be awarded then Reza was to plead.
Despite the ball spending much of its time in the away side’s half in the opening stages, it was the Blues who had the game’s first effort on goal. An Emyr Huws corner was met at the near post by Lee Novak, but the forward’s flick could only find the side netting.
The Addicks immediately went down the other end and created their first real opening of the afternoon; an opening that more should have been made from.
A long ball was brought down by Sordell into the path of Ajdaveric, who had a clear run on goal. But the Swede opted to poke the ball goal wards first time, sending it sailing over the bar. It was promising play nonetheless, and The Valley faithful, who had previously been very subdued, sounded their appreciation.
Their support was almost rewarded in Charlton’s next attack, as Ajdarevic was presented with an even better chance to open the scoring.
A Wilson free-kick was met by Richard Wood at the back post, in a fashion Kermorgant would have been proud of, and sent across goal into the direction of the Standard Liege loanee. Unmarked, Ajdarevic had a free header, but he could only tamely direct the ball straight at former Addick Darren Randolph.
But, despite the early Charlton pressure, frustration and fear was already growing. The Valley already three parts silent; you would have thought the Addicks were behind.
Chances were exchanged, with Ajdaveric’s long range effort comfortable held by Randolph and Macheda meeting a Chris Burke cross but sending the ball wide of goal, in the eerie and somewhat depressingly quiet Valley, but little was there to suggest Charlton were about to fall behind. They looked comfortable and patient in possession, just lacking an end product to put themselves ahead.
However, that has been a persistent problem in Charlton’s season; matching, even bettering, teams but not putting them to the sword.
And when the excellent Huws delivered a glorious out-swinging free-kick into the box with 22 minutes played, there was a sense of déjà vu. As good a delivery as it was, Macheda was allowed to get away from his marker and the faintest of touches off of his head was enough to direct the ball out of Thuram’s reach. Charlton didn’t deserve to be behind, but missed chances and a defensive mishap had combined, once again, for them to be so.
In a carbon copy of the moments after falling behind to Middlesbrough last month, the goal kicked the stuffing out of the Addicks and they momentarily fell flat. Burke was played through on goal just moments after his side had scored, and only an excellent save from Thruam, racing off his line to deny the Scot, prevented Birmingham from doubling their lead.
Sordell’s volley hit so horribly wide that you hoped it had taken a huge deflection was the only source of hope for Charlton fans in a ten minute period of Blues domination.
Despite a characteristic nervy punch from Thuram, several Birmingham efforts blocked and the away side surging forward down either flank, the Addicks came out the other side of the spell with still just a one goal deficit. That deficit should have been wiped out in the ensuing 15 minutes before half-time.
The first of several Charlton chances in the final third of the first period was the best of the lot. Reza held the ball up superbly, showing great strength, and laid the ball back to influential Ajdaveric. He picked out the run of Jordan Cousins perfectly, and the youngster was through on goal with only Randolph to beat.
But Cousins’ effort was tame, blocked away by his fellow Charlton academy graduate, and no player in a red shirt responded quickly enough to the loose ball. It did enough to lift the bitter tension in the Covered End, but it should have sent the home fans into celebration.
With guilt edge chances missed, it would have been ironic if an incredible strike had pulled the Addicks level. Ajdarevic’s sensational overhead kick from just inside the area forced Randolph into a smart stop low down. Had the effort been just an inch or two away from the Irishman, the scores would have been level.
The momentum was firmly with Charlton but, with half-time just over five minutes away, the home side needed to capitalise on their dominance before the break. But Randolph, keen to show his former employers what they were missing, had other ideas.
A goal mouth scramble following a corner eventually saw the ball fall to Johnnie Jackson, and his volley looked destined for the back of the net. And it would have been, had it not been for Randolph’s superb reaction stop that deflected the ball away from goal.
And, after Jackson’s free-kick couldn’t breach the wall and Sordell’s effort was blocked, there was one final first half chance for Charlton to draw level.
Cousins was again picked out with acres of space to himself on the right, and his ball across goal was threatening, so threatening that Birmingham couldn’t deal with it at all. All it needed was the faintest of touches from Reza and the Addicks would have equalised. The ball narrowly evaded his dive as it flashed across the face of goal. A faint touch had put Charlton behind; a lack of one had stopped them from getting the parity they so clearly deserved.
A few undeserved boos met the half-time whistle, but many were rational enough to realise Charlton had performed well and showed appreciation for their efforts. However, Powell’s side needed to be more potent in the second half if they were to get back into the game.
The second 45 started as the first ended, with Charlton well on top, but the Addicks still couldn’t turn their possession, and chances, into goals. Another mirror had been smashed in Charlton’s dressing room, and no one had bothered to move the ladder in front of the dressing room door.
A superb turn by Reza opened up a path for him towards goal, but the forward’s effort was blocked by a Birmingham defender. Even so, the ball looked to be looping over Randolph in the visitors’ goal, but the stopper got back and tipped the ball over the bar.
A Charlton free-kick was then cleared and sent back in twice, with the ball finally falling to the feet of Michael Morrison. Arguably not the man you want in those situations, but his decision to shoot was mystifying with better options all around. Adjaveric cut a frustrated figure as the ball flew well off target and Morrison held his hand up in apology.
With chances being wasted, there was always a danger that Birmingham would cruelly grab a second and put the game beyond doubt. In a rare move forward, Tom Adeyemi flashed a shot just wide of goal to remind the Addicks what they were capable of.
But Charlton kept carving out chances to draw level, and excellent chances at that.
Reza beat Randolph to Wilson’s through ball and knocked it past the ‘keeper, but he was too wide to draw the Addicks level. Caught in two minds as to shoot or cross, the Iranian trickled a ball across goal that was easily cleared.
Randolph had a more affirmative say in Charlton’s next attack, as he saved well from a long range Sordell effort that was hit with venom; the strike of a man who was growing frustrated with heckling from the crowd and his own level of performance.
Bu the moans and groans, not just towards Sordell, in the stands had picked up once again. They grew louder as the struggling Evina hashed a clearance and Burke capitalised, picking up the loose ball and driving towards goal. Thuram, once again, was on hand to race off his line and save well.
After a beautiful piece of Jackson trickery, a free-kick from Ajdarevic was hit well, but Randolph saved well and got down to collect his parry; the frustration growing and grew further when Huws only received a yellow for a high kick on Poyet.
Powell threw on Simon Church, with cheers unfairly greeting the decision to withdraw Sordell, and Danny Green for Jackson in attempt to add some width and find that much needed equaliser with less than 20 minutes to play.
A long ball just evaded the stretching Church before Reza broke into the box and, once again, hit the deck. There could be few complaints as referee Adcock pulled him up for diving and produced a yellow card. However, Paul Caddis’ intervention, probably informing Reza that we don’t do things like that over here, wasn’t needed.
Football purists will argue, after Reza’s act of deception, what happened in Birmingham’s next attack was just deserts. However, few could argue the Addicks really deserved to be two goals done.
Charlton had committed too many men forward and when Green lost the ball in midfield, Adeyemi’s run on goal couldn’t be stopped. He squared the ball to Macheda who had the easiest of tasks to tap home for his and Birmingham’s second. The away side had taken their chances; Charlton had not.
The remaining ten minutes were little more than a procession played out in front of a silent Valley, but the Addicks should have pulled one back immediately. A corner caused chaos in Birmingham’s box, with Wood’s header saved before a goal mouth scramble couldn’t poke the ball over the line. If the Addicks couldn’t score from that opening, they were never going to.
Not even the introduction of highly rated Piotr Parzyszek (Polish Pete to me and you) could make a difference.
Green’s pathetic free-kick and Reza’s hashed shot that flew over the bar were the final acts in a painful afternoon at The Valley; two efforts that summed up how those trying to hold back the tears in the home ends felt.
It hurt. It hurt as much if not more that last week’s defeat to Wigan. It hurt so much because the Addicks had played so well and got no reward for their efforts. On the other hand, Birmingham had done a job; an effective job that wasn’t particularly eye catching but enough to beat this beleaguered Charlton side.
I found myself slumped into my seat as full-time approach, questioning what to believe in. If a performance of domination like that doesn’t get Charlton at least a point, let alone the victory they deserved, how can I expect to see another win this season? What does Chris Powell’s side have to do to pick up the points they deserve?
The obvious answer is, of course, to take the chances they create. Had one of the excellent openings towards the end of the first half been taken, a Charlton victory was surely the only outcome. But a side already low on confidence had it drained further with each opening that failed to produce a goal.
It feels hard to preach positives from another disappointing defeat, and I know many won’t wish to hear them, but there were certainly a lot of promising displays.
Adjaveric was superb, and arguably the best player on the pitch, with Poyet not far behind. Many had been crying out for passing football, and those two were at the centre of an excellent display of patient and composed possession football. Wilson, Jackson and Cousins were also central to that, whilst Reza, if I ignore the pathetic dives, was a real handful in attack.
However, the performances of several players simply weren’t good enough. Sordell, after a hardworking display last weekend, struggled for much of him time on the pitch, whilst Evina looked totally out of his depth. It was blindingly obvious how weak we were on the left, and the sooner Wiggins returns, the better.
But the most disappointing event of the afternoon wasn’t conceding either goal, it wasn’t Evina’s attempts to deal with Burke or come forward, it was the reports of racist abuse that was aimed at a player from a Charlton fan at full-time.
We used to be a club that many looked up to. Now we find ourselves criticised for our transfer policy, languishing in the bottom three of the second tier and having supporters who deem it fit to offer racist abuse.
We have one last thing that many look up to us for; Chris Powell. A man who acts with dignity and, despite the position the Addicks find themselves in, continues to do a good job in tough circumstances. How on earth has he got a makeshift side performing so well? The results will surely come.
Keep the faith, even if it does seem hard.