You really couldn’t have asked for more from Charlton in the past week. Two fantastic performances and two superb victories had seen Championship safety and Wembley creep closer to Chris Powell’s side.
Nonetheless, it appeared an impossible task for the Addicks to come away from the King Power Stadium with anything. Rarely has a side returned home from Leicester City’s fortress with their dignity still intact, let alone a point.
But the previous two results, not to mention a ten game league unbeaten run against the foxes, had left Charlton fans full of hope that a third win in three could be achieved.
Irrational? Probably. Ambitious thinking? Most definitely. A tired set of Addicks would have to dig in to produce their very best level of performance, whilst Leicester would have to be well below par.
However, that equation failed to materialise; the lacklustre visitors simply couldn’t cope with Leicester’s superb brand of football. The league leaders were first to every ball, always one pass ahead of their opponents and as solid at the back as they were exciting going forward.
The Addicks aren’t the first team Leicester have totally outclassed this season, and they won’t be the last, but Chris Powell’s side did themselves no favours. Error prone at the back, lacking a route forward and wasteful when in and around Leicester’s box; there was always only going to be one winner.
Jamie Vardy’s ninth minute strike signalled the start of a long afternoon for the travelling Addicks, Danny Drinkwater tapped in just after half-time to end any hope of a Charlton fight back and David Nugent added a third to leave the away side embarrassed and beaten. Another club had left their dignity in the King Power Stadium’s away dressing room.
Meanwhile, the architect of the three consecutive 2-1 victories over Leicester for the Addicks prior to this defeat was scoring a hat-trick for his new club. But not even Yann Kermorgant could have made a difference; the gulf between the two sides was remarkably wide.
That pre-game Charlton optimism was only increased with the announcement of the team news.
Whilst seeing an opposition line-up that included the likes of Matty James, Anthony Knockaert and David Nugent was certainly daunting, the XI chosen by Powell looked to be one that would give Leicester as tough a test as possible.
Just one change was made from the side that performed so impressively against Sheffield Wednesday on Monday; the excellent Rhoys Wiggins returned to replace youngster Morgan Fox. With the Welsh full-back’s inclusion, the Addicks were certainly stronger. Could the unlikeliest of victories really be achieved?
But Leicester raced out of the blocks, forcing Powell’s men into rash clearances and misdirected passes with the pressure the hosts applied whenever an Addick was on the ball. Charlton’s slow start, however, did little to prevent the travelling number from singing about a certain football ground in North London.
With that sort of intensity, in addition to a clear composure on the ball, it was of no surprise that the Foxes had the game’s first chance.
A defence-splitting pass from Nugent sent his strike partner, Jamie Vardy, through on goal and a hush of resignation fell upon a previously vocal away end. But Michael Morrison kept on the forward’s toes and Ben Hamer raced off his line to make Vardy’s task a difficult one. His effort, struck whilst off balance thanks to the former Leicester centre-back’s presence, was stopped well by Charlton’s number one, with the ball rebounding back off Vardy and out for a goal-kick.
With the away supporters thankful for their side’s good fortune, an immediate move forward for Charlton was promising to see. But when Simon Church mis-controlled on the edge of Leicester’s area and Knockaert, despite taking an almighty blow from the body of Richard Wood, got the better of a resulting 50-50 challenge on the centre spot, the home side were suddenly through on goal again.
Nugent was the lucky recipient of the loose ball and he played in Vardy once more, and there was to be no mistake this time around. The £1m man faked to shoot, removing Wiggins from his path to goal, before tucking the ball beyond Hamer from close range to give his side the lead.
It was paramount that Powell’s side frustrated the hosts for as long as possible; to fall behind after only nine minutes was disastrous.
And it so easily could have been two just five minutes later as the exceptional Nugent played in Knockaert, but Hamer produced a fine save to keep out the Frenchman’s fierce drive.
Long gone was that pre-game optimism; the Addicks now strapping themselves in for what was sure to be a painful afternoon. However, it might have been different had Church been more clinical in front of goal.
That Charlton had themselves an opening went against the run of play, but a defensive mishap saw Jeffery Schlupp and Kasper Schmeichel leave a long ball for each other to deal with. With neither making a decisive attempt to intercept the hoick forward, Church got in behind and suddenly had an excellent chance to draw the Addicks level.
However, Schmeichel reacted to the danger and got out well to prevent Church’s lofted effort from sailing into his goal. You could sense chances for the visitors would be few and far between; to waste such a glorious opening was criminal.
It almost proved to be doubly costly just 30 seconds later as Richie de Laet and Riyad Mahrez combined to carve the Addicks open down the right. That the latter’s cross wasn’t headed in by an unmarked Nugent was a lucky reprieve for the visitors.
That’s where their good luck ended, however, as Morrison was forced off with an injury less than a minute later, with Dorian Dervite on to replace him. Whilst Dervite’s capabilities can’t be questioned, not having the vice-skipper in the back four was clearly a huge blow for Charlton.
Dervite’s first contribution was a crucial one; blocking a strike from Nugent away for a corner. Despite the Addicks just about standing firm, it seemed only a matter of time before Leicester doubled their lead.
Nugent and Vardy combined again, but the latter was beaten to collecting the former’s through ball by Hamer, and the impressive de Laet delivered another cross that Charlton’s defence had no answer to, with Vardy heading an excellent chance over the bar.
Like at almost every other game at the KP Stadium this season, the away end wasn’t a happy one. The previously vocal support had grown into groans and moans as Leicester tore through an often sloppy Charlton.
Light relief only came for the Addicks when the hosts wasted their attacking moves; Mahrez’s well struck effort from range probably wasn’t deserving of a ‘wahay’ as it flashed past the far post.
But, with half-time approaching, there was at least something for the away fans to applaud. Astrit Ajdarevic, arguably the best player on the pitch in red, turned his man on the centre circle and drove towards Leicester’s goal. His effort from all of 30 yards sailed over the bar, but that an attempt on goal was mustered was positive enough for the Addicks.
Ajdarevic, after some excellent link-up play between himself and Callum Harriott, had another effort from range in the closing stages of the opening 45, but the Swede’s goal bound effort was blocked by Marcin Wasilewski and the Addicks trudged off at half-time a goal down and struggling in the heat of Leicester’s high level display.
However, whilst Charlton remained just a goal behind, there was always some hope they could come back into the game. That hope vanished after just three second-half minutes.
Schlupp’s cross was met by Nugent, but Hamer produced a fine save to deny the one-time England international. With the Charlton fans applauding their ‘keeper’s superb stop, Drinkwater reacted to the loose ball and tucked in the rebound to quickly silence them. Leicester’s supporters were delirious; the three points were sealed with almost a whole half still to play.
With Charlton stunned, Vardy, firing wide, and Drinkwater, forcing Hamer into action, attempted to increase their side’s lead, before the Addicks came close to unexpectedly pulling one back.
Ajdaveric’s delivery from a free-kick picked out Wood perfectly, but the centre-back sent his header way over the bar. The rare sight of goal did little to improve the mood of the already beaten Charlton supporters.
Powell threw on Marcus Tudgay and Andy Hughes on the hour mark, replacing Ajdaveric and Jordan Cousins, in attempt to change the game, but it took just four minutes following the substitutions for Leicester to add a third.
And what a third it was. Although Nugent’s path to goal was gifted to him, with no Addick closing him down, and his strike from range flashed into Hamer’s far corner. An effort fit to kill off any side, let alone a beleaguered one struggling to keep their heads above water.
Although the away side got forward in search of a consolation strike, their attacking moves were easily quelled by an impressive Leicester defence. Tudgay’s blocked shot after the forward cut inside was as good as it got for Charlton.
In fact, the home side really should have added a fourth, and would have done had it not been for Hamer. The ‘keeper got down low to deny Schlupp from the edge of the box, then saved superbly from Nugent’s close range strike and finally kept out substitute Chris Wood’s long range effort.
By now, the away supporters had resorted to Kermorgant chants. Not even an inspirational effort from the Frenchman could have countered Leicester’s dominant display.
One final chance fell the way of the Foxes in stoppage time, but Mahrez could only clear the bar with his free-kick, and the hosts had to settle for three. They had simply outclassed the Addicks; it could have been a lot more.
Despite the result, and the rather poor performance, the players that did come and show their thanks to the travelling fans were applauded and cheered. They were knowledgeable enough to know it wasn’t easy out there for the Addicks, and the tired reds couldn’t compete with a Leicester side on their victory lap as they charge towards the Premier League.
The reaction from the Charlton fans is the perfect way to look at this game; it’s not worth getting upset about. Of course, losing by three goals is never nice, and there were certain aspects of the performance that could have been a lot better, but, in reality, the Addicks were never going to get anything from the game.
It was apparent the two high class performances in as many days had taken their toll on Powell’s men, and they never really got going. By contrast, Leicester looked full of energy and had no difficulty in being first to every ball and closing down their opponents time and time again.
Their pressure stopped Charlton playing, and their moves forward, full of quick passing and excellent link-up play, couldn’t be stopped by the Addicks.
Try as they might, the away side had no answer to Leicester’s threat; even Diego Poyet, who has dominated the midfield in every one of his outings in a red shirt thus far, had a quiet afternoon.
In fact, only Hamer’s performance can really be praised. The stopper couldn’t be blamed for any of Leicester’s goals and pulled off a number of stunning saves to prevent the hosts from running riot.
With results going Charlton’s way elsewhere, meaning they remain in a relatively strong position to avoid the drop, today can be quickly be forgotten about.
However, what I will get upset about are some of the comments I heard from a small group of Charlton supporters located just behind me inside the KP. Several racist remarks and chants, on a day in which Kick It Out was being promoted were made, compounding my less than enjoyable afternoon.
Horrible to hear, let’s hope their actions come back to bite them.
For Charlton, let’s hope their actions this afternoon don’t drain confidence levels too much. This side have proven they’ve got more than enough within them to stay up.
A predictable blip and not the catalyst for another winless run. Keep the faith.