For the second Saturday in a row, Charlton were facing an ‘anything’s a bonus’ sort of game. The trip to Derby County’s Pride Park looked a daunting one, just as daunting as last weekend’s game with Burnley, and there would be no shame in a spirited defeat.
For the second Saturday in a row, Charlton fans were cautiously optimistic that a bonus point or three were on the cards following a win in midweek. Whilst the Addicks weren’t particularly impressive in the 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest, the confidence boost might well have given them something of a spark.
For the second Saturday in a row, Charlton fans were left disappointed after their side capitulated to a 3-0 defeat. The rather lacklustre display littered with individual mistakes and a lack of composure in front of goal could have blended seamlessly into the three goal defeat seven days ago.
In fairness, this episode of the Addicks losing 3-0 to a promotion chasing side was arguably a little better than the other two. After two first half goals were handed on a plate to the hosts, Charlton responded well enough at the start of the second, something that didn’t happen in the defeats to Leicester City and Burnley.
But, for all of Charlton’s willingness to push forward and have a go, there was to be no repeat of the incredible turnaround that occurred almost a year ago to the day; the 3-2 victory over Bolton that began an unbeaten end of last season for the Addicks.
There were only a few occasions where Derby were really threatened. Misplaced passes, over or under hit crosses and a reluctance to shoot were the order of the day as poor decision making was once again severely hindering any chance of a fight back.
The second half resurgence had already tailed off by the time a third was gifted to the Rams, with Charlton failing to pick up from a corner with less than ten minutes to play, but the remainder of the game was little more than a precession. The best part of ten minutes to sulk and feel frustrated with the display wasn’t ideal.
The defeat was to be expected; you still expected more from the performance.
After Derby’s 5-0 mauling of rivals Forest last weekend, Jose Riga’s men played the role of the geeks brave enough to cross the path of the playground bullies. They really were on a hiding to nothing but they had to give it a go.
Charlton’s hopes were dented further by the news that the coolest geeks weren’t around to help see them through. Dorian Dervite, one of the best performers since Riga became boss, and Astrit Ajdaveric, the one addition from Roland Duchatelet’s network who has impressed, were injured and ill respectively.
In their place came Richard Wood, starting his first game at the back since a rather difficult afternoon at Brammal Lane, and Jonathon Obika, lining up on the left side of midfield with Marvin Sordell the lone front man in a 4-5-1 formation.
Steve McLaren’s side, despite the absence of Will Hughes, was littered with quality from front to back. The forward duo of Patrick Bamford and Chris Martin are always going to cause the opposition trouble, whilst Lee Grant is dependable in goal.
And, amidst a battle of who could sing ‘Since I was Young’ with the most vigour, it was one of this season’s standout performers in the Championship who had the game’s first effort on goal. But Craig Bryson, skewing a shot off-target from the edge of the box, didn’t come close to adding to his 15 league goals.
The hosts had started well enough, with a similar strike from George Thorne following a half cleared corner flying wide soon after, but it was the unfancied visitors who came closest to scoring in the opening 15 minutes.
An excellent passing move, the first time Charlton had really got forward in the game’s early stages, concluded with Sordell setting the ball back to Johnnie Jackson, whose first time drive was well stuck and looked to be heading in. Only a strong diving save from Grant prevented the reasonably well travelled Addicks from exploding into celebration.
Grant was on hand to deny the Addicks again from the resulting corner, as Jackson’s delivery appeared to do little more than bounce off a body, but the ‘keeper got down well to prevent the ball trickling into his net.
These were positive signs for the away side, and the Charlton fans responded accordingly, but the Rams were soon back into their stride. The Addicks, despite standing firm, couldn’t clear their lines as Derby forced a number of half chances and miscued efforts, before a powerfully struck volley from Bryson on the edge of the box flashed past the post, agonisingly so for the vocal home support.
However, that many visiting supporters were thanking a higher power for the ball narrowly ending up off-target mattered little as the Rams took the lead just a minute later with 18 played.
Given the pressure his side were under, you could excuse Rhoys Wiggins for desperately wanting to get the ball up field, but his clearance was easily intercepted and Bamford was sent through down the wing. The Chelsea loanee’s ball into the box picked out Johnny Russell, who had time to twist and turn before picking his spot and firing past a ‘keeper visibly frustrated with Charlton’s poor defensive effort. The players in red were mere spectators as Derby cut open a backline that had kept four cleansheets in five with relative ease
Mistakes were creeping in before the goal, with even Diego Poyet guilty of cheaply losing possession, but now they were rife. There was a lack of cohesion, and appeared to be no clear path for the Addicks to get forward.
There was some relief for the travelling fans growing more and more frustrated as Jordan Cousins, driving forward in similar vain to how he did on so many occasions in midweek, picked out Obika, whose first time pass fell nicely for Reza Ghoochannejhad. But the Iranian international couldn’t score his first for the Addicks, seeing his effort deflected wide.
Despite their frustrations with the display, the away fans were still vocal, and they had praise to give to Hamer with 30 minutes played as the stopper prevented his side from going two goals down. A fingertip steered Thorne’s effort narrowly wide. From the resulting corner, the head of Chris Martin was to thank as Richard Keogh’s goal-bound header took a deflection off the forward, but that the Irish centre-back was unmarked was a worry for the Addicks.
Jackson stung the palms of Grant with a free-kick from the edge of the area in a rare effort on target for the Addicks, but the skipper was partially to blame as Derby doubled their lead seven minutes before half-time.
As with the first goal, the move began with a wayward ball forward; Wood’s pass was plucked off and the Rams countered superbly. A cross-field ball picked out Russell, and his delivery could only be headed upwards by a Derby man inside the box with several red shirts in the vicinity. Jackson made the telling intervention, but his header was similarly miscued, falling perfectly for Bamford to tap home from close range. A dreadful goal to concede and one that arguably put the game beyond the Addicks with over 50 minutes to play.
It could have been three before half-time, but Hamer got out well to block Andre Wisdom after the impressive Bamford spotted a gap in Charlton’s leaky defence and played the Liverpool loanee through, but the ‘keeper’s stop did little to stop the boos from the travelling supporters at half-time.
A response was needed, for the good of confidence let alone points, and Riga’s run of half-time subs continued with Callum Harriott replacing a rather ineffective Ghoochannejhad and the Addicks reshuffled into a 4-4-2 formation.
There didn’t appear to be much of a change in the flow of the contest as Russell tested Hamer from the edge of the box in the opening seconds of the second period, but all of a sudden the Addicks came alive.
A move forward saw an unlikely figure involved, as Michael Morrison got on the end of a Cousins cut back and fired a shot towards goal that was deflected behind by Keogh. The resulting corner led to some rather ugly swipes at the ball as Derby attempted to clear and Charlton tried to get a shot away. When Harriott eventually did, another excellent save from Grant denied the Addicks a route back into game.
With Sordell having a torrid afternoon, the forward was replaced by academy graduate Joe Pigott, and the youngster was immediately involved as Charlton really should have got a goal back.
Pigott did superbly to win the ball in the midfield, and his tackle sent Obika racing clear. But the Tottenham loanee, despite being inside the box and with a clear sight of goal, appeared reluctant to shoot, and gave the ball away to the anger of the travelling fans. Thankfully, it fell straight to Pigott, and his well struck effort forced another fine save out of Grant.
But, despite the pressure Charlton were applying, you felt like you’d seen this all before. The Addicks having a right old go, and creating the occasional opening, but, for a number of reasons, being unable to score. Obika’s reluctance to shoot seemed like the sort of incident that has been a turning point throughout the season.
And it was, as the spark that had gave Charlton the impetus to push forward immediately vanished. Cousins and Harriott attempted to make something happen, but their delivery was poor, whilst Obika again showed a reluctance to shoot despite being in and around the area.
You felt like it would only be a matter of time before Derby added a third, but the Rams too had lost their first half spark. However, a bit like Burnley last Saturday, there was no need for them to exert themselves.
A Keogh header was saved following a corner, and the ever lively Russell saw an effort flash narrowly wide after possession was given away to substitute Conor Sammon and the Irishman played his Scottish team mate through, but the score remained at 2-0 as Davide Petrucci made his Charlton debute, in place of Jackson, with less than ten minutes to play.
But, with six to go until a now increasingly sloppy Charlton were put out of their misery, their afternoon was made worse. Martin’s run wasn’t tracked, and the former Norwich forward turned in Bryson’s corner with ease. A third goal that the Addicks wouldn’t have been happy to concede.
Petrucci and Jeff Hendrick exchanged ambitious efforts, neither of which came close, and a Harriott cross cut open Derby’s defence with none of Charlton’s goal shy forwards able to get on the end of it, but the game petered out in the closing stages. In fact, even the home supporters must have been somewhat unimpressed as Pride Park emptied before the game’s final whistle; the Addicks having the cheek to sing ‘is there a fire drill?’.
The full-time whistle was met without much reaction from the Charlton fans; there certainly wasn’t the boos of half-time. A few claps were given towards the players as they came towards the travelling fans, but it was a rather sombre away end. Expecting anything from this one was always a little ambitious, but you couldn’t blame them for feeling a mixture of frustration and disappointment with the performance.
First of all, I think it’s only fair that I praise Derby. Rather like Burnley last Saturday, I’m unsure if they were at their very best, but you can certainly see why the Rams are where they are. They appear to be a very disciplined and organised side, but what impressed me most was the manner in which they attacked in the first half. Johnny Russell and Craig Bryson were particularly impressive, whilst Martin and Bamford were certainly a nuisance together up top.
But I can’t help but feel the Addicks made Derby’s victory all too easy for them. The first half display lost the match, and the manner in which the goals were conceded were extremely disappointing. Riga’s point collection has been based around a solid defence, but the entire back four were guilty of errors throughout the opening 45, as were the normally reliable Jackson and Poyet.
With Charlton offering little going forward under Riga, a weak back line and midfield was always going to be disastrous. A poor performance was turned into three points thanks to a solid back line and some grittiness in midweek, but not on this occasion.
And whilst the start to the second half was positive and excellent to see, that a period of dominance again wasn’t capitalised upon can only be worrying. Had Obika shown a bit more faith in his shooting ability, the Addicks might well have had a route back into the game with momentum behind them.
I’m a broken record, but our execution and decision making is our cancer, as appose to just our Achilles heal.
Individually, possibly only Hamer and Cousins can be happy with their performances. The ‘keeper made a few excellent saves, and his distribution was intelligent and well directed, whilst Cousins was involved in almost everything positive for the Addicks when going forward, looking a real threat when driving forward if slightly under or overcooking his final ball.
Also, Pigott and Harriott made something of impact after coming on, but Pigott’s influence was hindered by a lack of support and Harriott quickly turned into that frustrating character who appears to lack a footballing brain after Charlton’s start to the second half.
Dervite’s resoluteness and ability to carry the ball forward was a huge miss, as was Ajdaveric’s positive presence in attacking positions. Hopefully Dervite’s injury will heal in time for Tuesday, and Ajdaveric has stocked up on NightNurse.
Charlton’s lead over 22nd has been cut to just goal difference, meaning a win over crisis club Leeds is probably needed. A repeat of today’s performance won’t win the Addicks the points; a return to the resolute and gritty defensive effort and someone, anyone, to discover some confidence in front of goal might well do it.