A vital game may have been in its infancy on the somewhat greener Valley pitch, but for the first two minutes and 59 seconds, all eyes were on the big screen. An image of a celebrating Chris Powell had flashed up not long before kick-off, and now the focus was on the scoreboard’s clock.
An important moment in the context of the match may have unfolded whilst the lowest crowd of the season watched in anticipation as the seconds, seemingly ticking through slower than they should be, went by, but few would have noticed.
A hush went around the ground as the screen displayed 2:50; calm before the storm. In perfect unison the troubled and hurt Addicks rose from their seats as 3:00 appeared. A minute’s applause had been planned to honour the departed great, but this was more than that.
There was vigour and anger as pairs of hands crashed together; passion and purpose in the chants of ‘Chrissy Powell’. Some cries were aimless, hoping Powell would somehow hear, a minority of cries were directed towards the previously booed Jose Riga, to show he wasn’t wanted here, most were sent towards the directors’ box that housed Roland Duchatelet and his sidekicks, a clear sign that his decision to remove the popular manager wasn’t respected.
An appropriate thank you, a tough goodbye or a show of dissent; whatever it was, every Addick inside The Valley from the third minute to the fourth felt something strong.
And for half an hour, the side so obviously selected by Alex Dyer and Damian Matthew played like one motivated by their leader’s departure to achieve victory. In fact, if a flat-capped fellow stood in the technical area, you would have believed this was Chris Powell’s Charlton.
There was fight, determination and the excellent play before the final third that had been seen for the majority of the time throughout the season. There was also an inability to finish; a seriously flaw that has only got worse as confidence has drained from the hurting Addicks.
And the remaining 60 minutes weren’t pretty. This Charlton side that still belongs to Powell in spirit had possibly given too much to honour their boss in their opening dominant spell. The drive and urgency vanished, more mistakes crept in and, even on the odd occasion when the home side managed to break forward, guilt edge chances continued to be wasted.
But tonight wasn’t about the goalless draw with Huddersfield Town, tonight was about seeing what was left of my club and whether my heart could warm to it again.
Applause in the third minute and another in the 90th made me feel a sense of pride I and many other Addicks needed. Honouring Powell was special; appreciating Johnnie Jackson’s performance , a display of leadership and fight that personified everything Powell brought to this club, was similarly so.
The result wasn’t ideal, the performance far from perfect, but something that was needed for so many disillusioned Addicks. It’s not what it was, but there’s something still there.
Those fearing the worst received their first small boost of the night with the team sheet possessing a familiar feel to it.
Yohann Thuram was expected to start in goal, whilst Loic Nego appeared set to make his second appearance for his new club, but neither of Duchatelet’s men featured in Riga’s first starting XI.
In fact, just two January recruitments, Astrit Ajdaveric and Reza Ghoochannejhad, lined up for the Addicks in a side that seemed to be selected by Dyer and Matthew.
The former Standard Liege pair replaced Jordan Cousins and Marcus Tudgay from the side that fell to a lifeless defeat at Sheffield United in Powell’s final game in charge, whilst Marvin Sordell came in for Simon Church and Richard Wood dropped to the bench in favour of Dorian Dervite.
The home side, operating under a 4-5-1 formation with Ghoochannejhad occupying the wide right position, took a little while to get going, as did their opponents, themselves boosted by the inclusion of Nahki Wells in the starting XI.
But from the moment the tribute towards Powell progressed from a ripple to a roar, his former players too seemed to move on from finding their feet and raced into life.
An effort from distance from Ajdaveric not 30 seconds after Powell’s name had stopped ringing around The Valley, that forced highly rated Huddersfield ‘keeper Alex Smithies into a sharp save down to his right began a spell of Charlton dominance that could have seen the a Reds in front on several occasions.
From the resulting corner, three more followed, and although no chance was created, Jackson, Harriott and Ghoochannejhad all forced Town defenders into blocks and desperate headers behind. One tackle from Jackson to force a set-piece received an applause only second to the one for Powell on the night; the skipper was up for this.
The positive start was needed, and the disgruntled Valley faithful were onside, but there was always a danger the atmosphere could quickly turn poisonous if the home side fell behind. Thankfully, Ben Hamer was on hand to deny Wells with a strong pair of palms and was happy to watch on as Jonathan Hogg flashed an effort wide.
That, however, was as good as it got for Huddersfield, who struggled to come to terms with a fired up set of red-shirted players. Harriott had started brightly down the left, Reza likewise down the right and both Jackson and Ajdaveric, supported by Diego Poyet’s ability to regain the ball, we’re dominating in midfield.
There was the wonderful sight of a hard working Sordell, who looked determined to impress. Although yet to test Smithies, the Bolton loanee was getting in behind the Terriers back four and making a real nuisance of himself.
With everything flowing so smoothly, it was only a matter of time before another meaningful effort was carved out. Not many would have put money on Michael Morrison being on the end of it. The centre-back was left free at another Charlton corner, but somehow contrived to smash his volley horribly off target. Whilst Peter Clarke was left to bemoan his side’s marking, a familiar feeling of angst from poor finishing filled The Valley.
It seemed wise to place the expert finisher Ghoochannejhad in the space Town were seemingly reluctant to fill, and another Jackson corner four minutes later picked out the unmarked Iranian. His volley was technically flawless, there was a crisp, venomous nature to the strike, but the ball flashed wide by the narrowest of margins. Reza’s frustration as visible as the crowd’s.
But, whilst they could have sulked and turned against their side, the supporters raised their voices and attempted to encourage the players that had given them signs of encouragement. Another chance followed, but once again it passed Charlton by as Ajdaveric’s volley from Lawrie Wilson’s deep cross was held by Smithies.
And just a minute later, the Addicks had another superb opening. Harriott’s dummy was genius, Wiggins’ pace allowing him to break into the box with Sordell and Ghoochannejhad making movements ahead of him. The Welshman picked out the latter, and many in the Covered End had begun to celebrate, only for a stunning block from Clarke to deny the Iranian.
This had been a problem of Powell’s side all season; promising performances weren’t rewarded as chances couldn’t be taken. Even more so, the players appeared bereft of confidence in front of goal, and their confidence in general began to fade as Huddersfield came back into the match.
It was now the visitors’ turn to lay siege on the opposition’s box, and Hamer was called into action to deny Hogg from distance with an excellent stretching stop.
Adam Clayton, who no doubt exchanged facial hair grooming tips with Charlton’s number one, failed to test him with his effort, whilst both Wells and regular Addicks nemesis Danny Ward had shots comfortably saved by Hamer, at either end of a succession of Huddersfield corner’s akin to the home side’s in the early stages.
The tide appeared to have turned, but another Charlton corner gave the Reds one last chance before the break; and what a chance it was. Jackson’s delivery picked out Ajdaveric perfectly inside the six yard box, again some were preparing to celebrate, but somehow the Swede’s header failed to find the back of the net. Cursed in front of goal, the Addicks remained.
However, they were applauded off at half-time; far from perfect, but much better than the capitulation many expected. At times, it looked pretty, but there was no bite.
But just a minute into the second half, Charlton had yet another chance to take the lead in a game they really should have already been in front in. Hogg’s misplaced pass landed straight at the feet of Harriott, who superbly sent Sordell through on goal. Murray Wallace had no hope of catching up with the forward, but the effort that followed flashed wide of the far post. Frustration was turning to agony.
There was a sense that these wasted opportunities would come back to haunt Charlton, and when Hamer stuttered to come off his line, and Sean Scannell looked to be free on goal, it seemed as if they would. But good work from Wilson, followed by a show of displeasure towards Hamer, ushered Scannell into directing the ball away from goal.
But now the moans and groans had started; you couldn’t blame the disgruntled Addicks for being quick to pick up on Charlton’s second-half sloppiness.
And they might well have been punished had it not been for Dervite’s quick thinking to get back and clear a goal bound effort from Wells after he was played through and rounded Hamer with relative ease.
That flow, urgency and spark that populated the first 30 minutes appeared long gone, and Ghoochannejhad’s attempts to liven things up with an outrageous dive earned himself a talking to by referee Hill and his place on the pitch taken by Bradley Pritchard.
The much criticised Zimbabwean seemed determined to answer the boo boys, and he began well, passing sensibly and throwing himself into a diving header duel from a Wiggins cross that, whilst he didn’t win, was a commendable effort.
Ajdaveric tested Smithies with another drive from distance, and the resulting corner saw the Addicks come close to forcing the ball goalwards during a scramble, but there was a growing resignation, and displeasure, that no Charlton played would be putting his name on the scoresheet.
The lively Harriott dragged a shot a wide, before an outstanding ball over the top by Poyet sent Sordell racing through on goal.
This was it; this was the moment the suffering of the previous week ended.
Alas, the goal shy forward could only direct his effort straight at Smithies, who only needed to arch his leg to block the ball. Morrison’s header from the corner wasn’t far wide, but confusion reigned as to how Sordell hadn’t converted.
Finally the ball found its way into Huddersfield’s net with just over ten minutes to play, but Morrison was deemed to have fouled Smithies as the ball left his hands and crept over the line. Celebrations for the first time under Riga’s gaze were cut short.
Church replaced Sordell and Cousins, oddly occupying a left wing role, replaced Harriott as the clock ticked down, and the substitutions took a lot of attacking impetus away from the Addicks. Not that Huddersfield had any of their own, with Keith Southern’s horribly wayward shot the only thing resembling an effort on goal in the closing moments of the match.
There were boos at the final whistle; more a reaction to the events of recent days than the performance itself, but the second half display was very sloppy, from both sides, indeed.
The Addicks will have mixed feelings about their point; a better side that Huddersfield would have capitalised, but the amount of chances created by the home side suggest they probably had the better of the game.
And whilst there were some good individual displays, and positive football at times, the continued inability to finish is a huge worry. Gone is the point where missed chances can be blamed on bad luck.
Dyer and Matthew, who spent the game assisting Riga and his assistant, set up the side as Powell would. I’ve seen that performance quite a few times this season; the one where we perform admirably but can’t finish.
If we are relegated, it won’t really be the fault of any manager, it will be primarily at the fault of poor finishing; primarily the fault that men who could finish those chances, and win games singlehandedly, are at Blackpool, Bournemouth and Hibs.
But, after the initial dissent, applause broke out for a Charlton side that had fought hard in difficult circumstances. The previously booed Pritchard trudged off first, now widely applauded, whilst Jackson approached the Covered End and received a rapturous response from his supporters, fitting of his superb performance.
Riga attempted to steal some of the applause, but this had nothing to do with him; it had everything to do with players, despite their inability to finish and obvious flaws, still willing to give their all despite feeling as downbeat and demoralised as the rest of us.
Riga’s time to make an impression on the side may yet come, he might even get us scoring, but tonight was Chris Powell’s fight channeled through Dyer and Matthew.
That the fight remains is heart-warming to see. I expected capitulation and a gutless defeat, like the one that was seen in Sheffield with players already knowing their man was gone, but we got something more than that.
But tonight didn’t feel right. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it was, because in the bubble of supporting my side it felt as close to normal as it could possibly be.
@ramblingaddick explains the emotion better than I can:
“I was there as a supporter tonight and fully backed the team. Doesn’t mean I can just revive the care and passion as if nothing happened.
“I’ll keep going to watch our football club, and keep supporting it, but you can’t tell me how to feel about it. The heart of it is missing.
“I’ll keep enjoying the great performances of our skipper, and those who’d give everything for Powell. It’s all we’ve got left.”
And so, the result to me lacks meaning. The tribute to Powell and Jackson’s incredible performance, which really can’t be praised enough, means everything.
I feel better and I even feel hopefully that, with Powell’s fight still in these players, they might remain in the division. But it’s still not right.
As the Covered End sang: “we want our Charlton back.”