The argument goes that Charlton’s relegation to League One was confirmed following the abysmal defeat to Sheffield United. The players were beaten, and so was the manager; the club was only heading in one direction.
It isn’t an argument I follow. Chris Powell had picked up his players time and time again, and I certainly would have backed him to do so on this occasion, even with the clearly strained relationship between owner and manager. Powell and his players, throughout their three years together, more often not rose to the challenge.
In fact, I believed our relegation to League One was confirmed the moment Powell left the building and Jose Riga came in to replace him. In a purely practical and football based sense, it seemed suicidal to make a managerial change with two months of the season remaining, especially to replace a manager doing a respectable job in testing circumstances with one who had never worked in England before.
But, whether you wish to believe so or not, Powell’s sacking was much, much more than just a decision based around results. As Powell said himself, Roland Duchatelet’s plans ‘didn’t sit right with him’, and his period working with the owner was tough. With Powell handed a bunch of Duchetelet signings who weren’t good enough, forced to sell two of his best players and tensions running high, Charlton’s boss was effectively forced out with his job, which was already testing thanks to a lack of investment, made almost impossible. (more…)
I’ve often imagined what surviving in a relegation threatened season feels like. Of course, there would be relief, and an element of jubilation, but I’ve never been able to create an artificial response to the idea of staying up.
What I do know, however, is the pain of relegation. I’ve known both the feeling of a bid to stay up fail at the penultimate stage, my stomach sinking as Berbatov rounded El Karkouri and my tears flowing as Defoe smashed in, and a season of humiliation resulting in relegation long before May, a campaign in which supporting Charlton was something to hide.
I also know, thanks to this season, that ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’, or at least what’s left of it, are beatable in those moments where you expect their spirit and determination to see them over the line. Doncaster, Wigan, Sheffield United, Brighton, Barnsley, Blackburn; only so much fight and hard work will stop you from falling to defeat, and a lack of quality, diminished further throughout the season, has shown regularly at crucial moments.
And so, with the Addicks knowing a win over Watford in their final home game of the season would secure their Championship status for another season, there wasn’t much confidence emanating from myself. In the past few months, Charlton supporters have been subjected to the gut-wrenching pain of seeing their talismanic forward depart, their heroic manager following and anxious worries about the club’s short and long-term future. It seemed only right that there would be one more day of punishment; defeat against the Hornets would set up a must win final day scenario at Blackpool, or I’d almost certainly be experiencing that relegation pain once again.
Of course, I hoped for one of those famous nights at The Valley under the floodlights, a night that would see this gruelling season reach a memorable conclusion, but I kept those thoughts to myself. Hope had not produced much reward throughout the campaign.
But, with stomachs churning, prayers still being made and The Valley rocking to rival any other atmosphere in SE7 of late, the players responded to the task. In what will surely be the last time a great deal of the players who previously made us feel proud to support our club again took to The Valley turf, they produced one last performance fitting of the tag ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’.
In turn, Jose Riga organised his players so successfully. Although a little belatedly, the Belgian finally reverted back to 4-5-1, and brought Lawrie Wilson into the side on the right of midfield.
It was the man on the other wing, the much criticised Callum Harriott, who turned Charlton’s positive start, so often meaningless this season, into a lead. A stunning individual goal was only topped by Watford’s somewhat undeserved equaliser just after half-time; Troy Deeney’s dipping half-volley lobbing a previously unbeatable Hamer.
But The Valley crowd were unfazed by Watford’s goal, and their commendable support was rewarded when Morgan Fox crossed to, who else but, Jackson to regain Charlton’s lead at the second attempt. The trademark knee slide followed, as did a Harriott volleyed goal, assisted by Wilson, and an Albert Riera red card, also assisted by Wilson, to seal both the victory and Championship football at The Valley for the 2014/15 season.
So perfectly set up by Riga, so proudly embodying the spirit of ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ and so thoroughly deserving of their victory; the win felt good, it’s reward felt like, if only successful in numbing it, a medicine to cure the pain of the previous few months. I now know what it feels like to avoid relegation, and it’s certainly as joyful as it is a relief. The Reds are staying up.
The emotional release of full-time was a distant dream in the nervy infancy of the game; the case in the stands and on The Valley’s somewhat recovered playing surface.
In fact, despite the Addicks starting the game in a composed fashion, with Diego Poyet extraordinary in midfield, a piece of defending that embodied that nervousness almost allowed Watford in. With Michael Morrison failing to attack a long ball, the dangerous Deeney took advantage, only to be stopped in his path to goal by an alert Hamer, rushing off his line to block the ball away. It would be the first of several times Charlton’s number one and Watford’s top scorer would do battle.
It proved to be the catalyst for a previously tense affair to somewhat open up, as both sides exchanged efforts on goal. Jordan Cousins, finally back in his favoured central position, saw his pull back met by Harriott, but Lloyd Doyley’s crucial intervention blocked the ball’s path to goal.
And the Addicks, firmly in their stride with 15 minutes played, had another chance to take the lead when Harriott’s quick feet were too good for Doyley and Charlton were awarded a dangerous-looking free-kick. Jackson’s effort wasn’t particularly threatening, but that old adage of always testing the ‘keeper from set-pieces almost paid dividends as Watford stopper Jonathan Bond fumbled and, with former Hornet Marvin Sordell lurking, just about gathered at the second attempted.
The noise from the Covered End was only enhanced by these chances, and there was a feeling the Addicks were well on top. But, as has happened so regularly this season, an opposition goal can so quickly change that, and Deeney would have been disappointed to fire straight at Hamer with the goal at his mercy after creating space for himself.
Despite Watford’s gruesome away record, one that made the passionate, flag waving Watford fans even more barmy, Deeney’s effort was a stark reminder that Watford still packed a punch. Charlton’s early pressure needed to be capitalised upon, and quickly. Another opportunity went begging as Jackson’s header at the far post was superbly saved by Bond, but it wouldn’t be long before the ‘oooo’s turned to cheers.
And it was those sort of cheers that follow a special, special goal. There didn’t appear to be much on as Harriott drove forward, but Watford’s shaky defence didn’t appear too keen on closing the academy graduate down. He took advantage, unleashing a fierce strike that gave Bond no chance whatsoever. The manner of the goal, along with its importance, sent The Valley into a frenzy of celebration; SE7 hadn’t been this loud since Jackson scored against QPR.
But the hosts couldn’t afford to be complacent, especially with Watford, despite having nothing to play for, seemingly intent on ruining Charlton’s evening. Deeney, who was forcing Morrison and Dervite to constantly raise their performance, flashed an effort towards goal that was tipped behind by Hamer, before Charlton’s bearded stopper added a late contender for save of the season.
The resulting corner was met by Essaid Belkalem, and his powerful header looked for all the world to be drawing level. But Hamer, diving to his right, pulled off a remarkable save that earned him a standing ovation. A wonder goal and a wonder save; you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be a wonderful night.
The Hornets, however, kept coming forward, with Sean Murray drilling an effort with such force that it broke an advertising hoarding after flashing past the post, and Daniel Tozser’s free-kick, despite what seemed like enough preparation to take us into the 2014/15 season, sailing over the crossbar. With less than ten minutes to go until half-time, some serious digging in was occurring.
But, in this competitive game, with intense battles all over the pitch, Ikechi Anya finally got the better of Fox has the half drew to a close, and his cross picked out Mathias Ranegie, who only had to divert his header goalwards to convert. Thankfully, the Swede only succeeded in nodding the ball back from whence it came and Charlton were reprieved.
The greater reprieve game when Referee Bond (no relation of the Watford ‘keeper, or James) blew his whistle for half-time. It was a lead that was far from secure, but one the Addicks more than deserved.
And the interval appeared to be exactly what Riga’s side needed, with Charlton starting the second half in a confident fashion. There was a roar of anticipation whenever the Addicks moved forward, not least with Harriott on the ball, who forced Doyley to be substituted such was the torrid time he was giving him, but, for the 45th time this season, the final ball was lacking somewhat.
Meanwhile, those subplots continued to develop. As former Liverpool midfielder, playing at full-back, Riera won a cheap free-kick, Wilson was quick to tell the Spaniard that he wasn’t best pleased with the way in which he went down. Soon after, Riera decided trip up the ‘alright’ winger, incensing The Valley faithful and forcing referee Bond to pull them over. Tension defused, for now.
It didn’t take long for a tension to return, but this was an anxious tension, the sort of tension felt after your side concedes an equaliser in a must win game.
Gabriele Angella’s free-kick pumped long pick out Deeney, who took a touch, made space for himself once again and struck an unbelievable dipping volley that finally saw his nemesis in the Charlton goal beaten. There have been several sensational goals at The Valley this season, and Deeney’s was arguably the pick of the bunch.
I’ve been critical of The Valley crowd after we’ve conceded in recent weeks, but it took a matter of seconds before they found their voices again. The Red and White Army were not going to give up those three points so easily.
Nor were they going to stop informing Riera they didn’t approve of him as human being, with the Spaniard receiving a long overdue booking for tripping up Poyet as the outstanding teenage broke down the right. The resulting free-kick was met be a half-hearted overhead kick from Sordell; his final effort on goal in a Charlton shirt at The Valley as he was replaced by Jonathan Obika moments later.
There were groans that Riga had not gone to 4-4-2, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to persist with 4-5-1 with the Addicks playing so well. However, when Deeney got past Fox and crept into the area, it looked as if a second striker would be needed in search of an equaliser. Thankfully, Deeney’s lash towards goal sailed harmlessly over Hamer’s bar.
And thank god it did, as Charlton’s next attack resulted in one of the best moments at The Valley this season. There was composed passing play, a wicked final delivery from Fox and a sensational skipper, after slipping at the first attempt, on the end of it to prod home with 69 minutes gone. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES is a better descriptor than any exaggerated sentence.
Anya responded quickly, but his effort from range was greeted with sarcastic cheers as it failed to test Hamer, as was Obika’s strike down the other end, that, erm, went out for a throw. Nonetheless, there was a real desire to celebrate in SE7, and that was only enhanced when safety was secured with 13 minutes to play.
If Fox’s delivery was wicked, Wilson’s was plain cruel, to Watford at least. His cross picked out an unmarked Harriott perfectly, and the youngster volleyed home with panache; a goal fitting of keeping the Addicks in the division.
The first two goals I’d gone completely crazy, but this was firstly more of a relief, and secondly the chance to soak up the atmosphere around me. In the past few months, what with what has gone on off and on the field, The Valley hasn’t been a place I’ve particularly enjoyed going to. To see it like this meant so much to me.
Riera clearly wasn’t too keen on soaking up the atmosphere, however, as the visibly disgruntled Spaniard led with his foot high into the chest of Poyet, and received his second yellow card, much to the delight of the already delirious Addicks. Wilson 1-0 Riera.
Events on the field in the game’s final few minutes were a little irrelevant, but for Fox’s glorious turn and less than glorious finish, and what will surely be a final career appearance for the heroic chap, and bigger Charlton than Leeds fan, that is Andy Hughes. It was all just getting in the way of the final whistle.
It seemed as if Watford had got one back at the start of five minutes of stoppage time, but the assistant’s flag denied Anya, and a brief break in those celebrations was averted.
Then came the final whistle. Of course, I’d known for almost 20 minutes that we were safe, but to see the players celebrating with such passion, and love for each other, really brought home that we’d done it.
The customary end of season lap of honour was, once again, one where the players deserved the applause they received. They’re certainly not the best, but they’ve got a will to win, plenty of fight and an incredible amount of determination to do well for this club.
There were probably some goodbyes in those waves, but what a way to go out. The final team Chris Powell’s Charlton will play together on that glorious, in its own way, Valley pitch, and they reward us with one final performance; fitting of a bunch of players who many of us will always adore. They certainly didn’t deserve three years of hard work to be spoiled by a relegation that would have tainted previous success.
And can you blame at least one of those players for wanting to depart? Ever since Powell handed a league debut to Poyet in the testing times of Wigan away, he’s been unreal. Tonight might well be his best game, which is saying something. He was utterly magnificent, breaking up play and starting new attacks. I’d love him to stay, but I think I’d love it more if he reached his full potential. Another season with us might be good for him but, either way, I hope his next career choice is a wise one. It’s been a pleasure to watch him play, nonetheless.
Then of course there’s the out of contract club. Hopefully Hughes, thrown in the air by his teammates come full-time, will remain at the club in some capacity, whilst Hamer, Morrison, Dervite and Bradley Pritchard (okay, he wasn’t there and okay, I’m his only fan, but come on, please?) will be signing new deals to stay in a playing capacity. The three who did feature, despite Deeney’s constant threat, were superb, and Hamer’s saves kept Charlton on top.
You can add Sordell to that list too, and whilst he was quiet tonight, his hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday, you could argue, is going to be the difference between safety and relegation.
Finally, there’s those who will hopefully be here next season, and were outstanding tonight. Wilson was excellent, Cousins dogged, Solly back to his usual self after a poor performance on Saturday and Fox also recovering from a nightmare display against Blackburn.
And, of course, there was Harriott and Jackson. What a joy it was to see Harriott finally play with confidence again, and what a captain’s performance it was from the skipper.
And whilst the players deserve the bulk of the credit for the entirety of the campaign as well as tonight, Riga can hold his head high. He got it spot on, arguably for the first time in a while, and I can’t even criticise his substitutions. I don’t wish for Riga to be our manager/coach next season, for a number of reasons, but I wish him well and I think he can be proud of the job he’s done, at least to maintain the fight and spirit amongst the players.
But it isn’t really time for assessments; it’s a time for celebration and relief. At no point did survival seem too far away, but at no point was it anything like secure. Sorry Tranmere, maybe we’ll see you in the cup.
THE REDS ARE STAYING UP.
As Marvin Sordell fired in his third goal at Hillsborough five days ago, there was jubilation and relief amongst the celebrating Charlton supporters. Jubilation that a 2-0 deficit had been overturned and Championship survival looked to be a formality; relief that this painful season, in some regards more painful than previous campaigns that ended in relegation, had a silver lining.
And as Sordell stepped up to take a penalty, one he had won himself, with the Addicks a goal down against Blackburn Rovers, hope filled The Valley; hope not only that the confidence-filled forward would convert, but that an equaliser would all but mathematically secure Charlton’s Championship status.
These moments of hope have occurred on numerous occasions this season; openings and glorious opportunities to score at crucial times during games. In fact, huge wins at crucial moments in the season have continuously given Charlton fans hope that their side is turning a corner. All too often, that hope has vanished quickly and been replaced by yet more suffering.
The hope this time was crushed with Sordell’s tame penalty blocked by the body of former England ‘keeper Paul Robinson. The Addicks had matched their play-off chasing opponents for 26 minutes, battled well for the 14 minutes between Rudy Gustede’s headed goal and Sordell’s penalty miss, but looked disjointed, void of ideas and beaten for the remaining 50.
Nonetheless, even after Rovers had doubled their lead through Michael Keane’s header, hope returned. Sordell made up for his penalty miss with a superb finish to get Charlton back into the game and get The Valley crowd back onside.
But, once again, that hope was meaningless. Blackburn’s third, tapped in by Tom Cairney after Johnnie Jackson blocked Jordan Rhodes’ effort on the line, ended the game once and for all with just over 25 minutes to play.
In this hellish season, one that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, safety was never going to be secured in a simple manner. All that can be done is hope, but the mistake laden and lacklustre effort as Blackburn strolled to their victory in the final period of the game suggested our punishment may last a little longer than had been hoped when Sordell was hauled down inside the box. It is, after all, the hope that kills you.
There was hope before kick-off that, despite the calibre of opposition Charlton faced, the incredible comeback victory over Sheffield Wednesday could be built upon, especially with the XI that performed so impressively for the majority of the second half picked to start by Jose Riga.
That meant there was no place for Simon Church, with the hardworking forward dropped to the bench in place of the rather more technically gifted Astrit Ajdarevic. The Swede, although occupying the right side of midfield at Hillsborough, was deployed just behind Sordell with Riga opting for a 4-4-1-1 formation.
For the visitors, their forward duo leaped out of the teamsheet with the same force the pair leap for balls in the air. Gustede, scorer of a hat-trick on Easter Monday, partnered Jordan Rhodes, but Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite kept them at bay with relative ease in the opening minutes.
In fact, you could argue it was the Addicks who looked more of a threat going forward in the game’s infancy. As ever, there wasn’t a final ball in sight, but Charlton looked composed on the ball and, through Ajdarevic and Harriott, there was at least some spark to the home side’s play.
The home supporters responded to the bright start, encouraging rather than criticising after the occasional misplaced pass, and they had reason be excited with 11 minutes played as they were treated to the wonderful sight of a killer pass. Diego Poyet’s superb ball picked out Harriott but, on Academy Day, the winger couldn’t convert from his fellow academy graduate’s pass with his route to goal blocked.
Harriott, receiving the ball from Cousins after the youngster was hauled down by Grant Hanley, looked to be in on goal once again moments later, but his shot was blocked and looped up into the arms of Robinson.
However, referee Naylor was wise enough to bring play back and award the Addicks a free-kick in a promising position. But Ajdarevic wasn’t wise enough to make use of the situation with the ball fired against the wall.
Despite those final third frustrations, this was still a positive start from Riga’s side, not least at the back, with Charlton’s defence looking much more disciplined than in the opening stages at Hillsborough. Dorian Dervite, who kept the Addicks in the game on Monday, was again on hand to deny the opposition, superbly diverting Craig Conway’s cross away from Rhodes.
But Rhodes got away from Charlton’s back four in Blackburn’s next attack, with a simple ball over the top finding its way through to the prolific forward. Appeals for offside proved fruitless, with Morgan Fox playing the Scot on, and it appeared as if the Addicks would be punished for their first defensive laps. However, Ben Hamer, charging off his line, just about managed to get to the ball before Rhodes did, palming the ball back against his head before it trickled behind for a goal-kick.
Whilst Rhodes received treatment having taken a blow in the face from Hamer’s hand, the Addicks were given the chance to regroup following Blackburn’s first few meaningful forward moves. The break in play probably came at just the right time for Charlton, but it mattered little, as the visitors had the lead barely a minute after the restart.
As has been the case so often this season, the first goal conceded against strong opposition was easily avoidable. Harriott, in plenty of space whilst breaking away, attempted to pick out Sordell, but the winger’s pass was slightly away from the Bolton loanee and Hanley was able to intercept, allowing Blackburn to break back.
The manner in which an opportunity to cross fell to Joshua King should take nothing away from his delivery, nor should it take anything away from Gestede’s towering header, which couldn’t be clawed away from goal by the desperate dive of Hamer. Blackburn had men on the wings who could cross and players in the middle who could win a header; Charlton did not. The difference in quality between the two sides was obvious.
Whilst the goal left The Valley flat, bar the 900 or so noisy and scarf waving Lancastrians, the players didn’t appear totally shot of confidence as they have done when falling behind against top half opposition in recent weeks. Ajdarevic’s audacious bicycle-kick was not the attempt of a player lacking in self-belief, but the effort was, in truth, comfortably wide.
Whilst Charlton certainly weren’t out of it, they were far from helping themselves. Again, Harriott, in attempting to break, gave away possession, giving King a clear run on goal. With home supporters around the ground fearing the worst, the former Manchester United trainee fired wide; a huge let off for the Addicks.
And that miss should have proved costly for the away side as the hosts earned themselves a penalty five minutes later.
Ajdarevic’s superb lofted pass picked out Sordell, who knocked the ball to his right just inside the box and shaped shoot. But the shot didn’t materialise, as the forward was brought crashing to the ground by the outstretched leg of Hanley; not awarding the Addicks their second penalty of the season would have been a travesty.
But, with the man who took, and scored, Charlton’s only other penalty this season otherwise occupied, a new taker was needed. It seemed obvious for Jackson to reclaim spot-kick duties, but hat-trick hero Sordell stepped up to take.
Nonetheless, Sordell was full of confidence and he seemed like a safe bet to convert. However, his effort lacked conviction, and Robinson, despite diving to his right, was able to block the straight down the middle effort with his body.
Sordell picked himself up to create an opening for himself that was blocked wide just before the break, but this was yet another half of football that summed up Charlton’s season. The opposition were handed the chance to score and finished; Charlton were handed the chance to score and couldn’t. The clinical finishing at Hillsborough was surely a dream.
With Blackburn ending the first half on top after Sordell’s penalty miss, a confidence zapped Charlton needed to get themselves back into the game as quickly as possibly at the start of the second.
But there was a disjoined nature to the Addicks; they struggled to pass anywhere but backwards and were seemingly void of ideas, summed up by Harriott’s gesticulation that he had no options available to him when on the ball.
Blackburn quickly took advantage, with Conway firing a warning shot, comfortable saved by Hamer, but it took just six first half minutes for the away side to double their lead.
It was oh so simple; another teasing delivery, this time from Conway’s free-kick, and another excellent header, with Keane there to meet it, had surely won the game for Gary Bowyer’s side.
With the Addicks shambolic, and as Tom Cairney fired wide, there was a real danger this could turn into a self-belief destroying, goal-difference harming hammering. But, with home fans despondent, a lift came their way unexpectedly.
Fox’s quickly taken throw found its way to Sordell, and the forward twisted and turned before firing a stunning strike beyond Robinson from the edge of the area. It didn’t quite make amends for the penalty miss, but Sordell was no longer the villain and The Valley was lifted.
With 35 minutes still to play, there was certainly time for the Addicks to get an equaliser, and Harriott came close in Charlton’s next attack, firing just wide. But that was the young winger’s last impact on the game, replaced immediately by Reza Ghoochannejhad.
He went up top alongside Sordell, who, lifted by his goal, was putting a real shift in. The Bolton loanee has often been accused of looking uninterested, but that was far from the case as he chased down a lost cause and almost created a chance for himself.
If only that sort of selfless work could have been emulated by Ghoochannejhad, who enraged The Valley crowd by failing to offload whist options were available to him before attempting a pathetic dive as his gave away possession.
With Blackburn still a real threat, that rage turned to despair as the visitors regained their two goal lead with 64 minutes played.
There was far too much space for Rovers at they broke forward, and no one was catching King as he drove down the left hand side. His cut back was met by Rhodes, and there appeared to be a reprieve for the Addicks as Jackson denied the Scot on the line, but Cariney was there to convert the rebound.
There was now a feeling of resignation amongst the home supporters, which was only extended as Sordell fired over the bar and their side continued to be carved apart down the other end. In fact, a repeat of the ‘Operation Ewood’ scoreline was on the cards as Gestede’s header cannoned back off the post following a corner.
Fox’s speculative effort brought a moment of relief for the frustrated Addicks, with the academy graduates strike leaving Robinson at sixes and sevens, but the frustration returned with no Charlton player alive to what would have been the opportunity to tap in the rebound.
Ajdarevic was withdrawn with 20 minutes to play, arguably the player most likely to create a chance for the Addicks, and replaced by Church, leading to more frustration, but at least he wasn’t on the pitch to volunteer to take a free-kick in a promising position four minutes later. Jackson’s effort was certainly executed better, but there was no finish at the end of it, with the ball sailing over the bar.
Charlton’s shot count was increasing in the final passage of the game, but those season-long problems in front of goal remained. Church somehow failed to divert Sordell’s effort from a tight angle past Robinson and the ever lively Bolton loanne couldn’t quite turn his shot goalwards after breaking through down the left, but the goal to make the final few moments interesting wouldn’t materialise.
In fact, only poor finishing from substitute Liam Feeney, firing wide when through on goal, and an outstanding stop from Hamer in the second minute of four added on to deny another Gestede header prevented Blackburn from adding to their margin of victory.
There was a muted response as the final whistle, and some appreciation for the players who had put up at least some sort of fight against an opposition of a much higher quality.
And Blackburn deserve plenty of praise for their performance. There was a sense something would happen each time they attacked, with wingers Conway and King a constant threat and Gestede dominating in the air more and more as the game went on. Rovers were also solid at the back for the best part of the game, and with the players they have at their disposal, you could almost accuse them of underachieving.
Nonetheless, as has been the case in the defeats against those sides in and around the top six under Riga, Blackburn’s job was made easier by a lacklustre performance from the Addicks.
Of course, there could have been a different outcome had Sordell converted his penalty, but the response from the moment onwards was disappointing to say the least.
The midfield was non-existent as Blackburn mounted attack after attack. I can’t work out why the three man central midfield pairing of Jackson, Poyet and Cousins has been broken up; the trio have been superb together and I’d certainly want them back together for the remaining two game, if not to keep Cousins off the right wing. It’s frustrating to see Cousins struggle there, especially when Lawrie Wilson is sat on the bench.
Riga’s decision not to start Wilson is as frustrating as his subs and tactical tweaks, which killed the game for the Addicks. Taking off the lively Harriott, although error prone in the first half, and Ajdarevic whilst completely destroying the shape was, as ever, frustrating.
However, Wilson might be starting at full-back after Chris Solly and Fox also struggled desperately, with their wingers giving them a troublesome afternoon. With Solly so error prone, it would appear he’s been rushed back too quickly, whilst Fox, although looking a little drained having played three 90 minutes in eight days, looked somewhat out of his depth against the experienced Conway.
And, on Academy day, as wonderful as it is to see so many academy graduates in the first team, it’s half the problem. The side lacks experience in these crucial moments, and we shouldn’t be totally reliant upon them. The non-academy graduates who game off the bench, Ghoochannejhad and Petrucci in particular, don’t fill me with munch confidence either. That there’s been a failure to invest, star players have been sold (especially that one who can take penalties) and they’ve been replaced with dross really shows on days like today.
Ironically, despite his costly penalty miss, it was Sordell, one of the more experienced players with well over 100 career appearances, who stood out above the rest in red. Hopefully his goal and his hard working performance will heal the damage in confidence caused by his penalty miss. It seems almost mad to say this, but if the Addicks are to survive without praying for other results, an in-form Sordell will be central to that.
Results elsewhere today certainly could have been better, but they could have been a lot worse. Defeats for Birmingham and Doncaster leaves them in pole position to take the final relegation spot with Barnsley and Yeovil’s relegation confirmed.
It’s going to be nervy, and today’s performance hardly instils the belief that we’ll make ourselves safe with minimal fuss, but we’re still in a position where safety looks more likely than relegation. There’s every chance we could survive without picking up another point.
Who knows, we might even sneak a win against Watford on Tuesday and make ourselves safe, avoiding a stressful final day. I shall live in hope.
Back in August, that wonderful time before we were all crippled with the stress of this season, there was genuine excitement when a multi-million pound forward arrived at The Valley on loan from Bolton Wanderers. Marvin Sordell; the 20-goal-a-season striker Charlton were missing.
But it’s not quite worked out that way. In fact, seeing Sordell’s name in the starting XI sparks a considerable stream of Twitter moans and shared looks of disgust from those making their way to ground. Like most others, with faith long since lost in his goal scoring abilities, I’m guilty of those reactions.
So when Sordell, along with the out of form Callum Harriott, was picked to start against Sheffield Wednesday, with Reza Ghoochannejhad and Astrit Ajdarevic then men to miss out, there was utter bemusement. If fan reactions counted for anything, the Addicks would be starting the game several goals down.
Whilst fan reactions mean little, defensive errors count for a lot. In this Easter Bank Holiday fixture, Charlton’s shell was cracked open and Wednesday were gifted a two goal lead in the opening eight minutes. Worry turned to resignation; there was little hope of the Addicks getting back into this, especially with the players responsible for driving Charlton forward, and relegation to League One drew ever closer.
But, with Charlton seemingly crucified, a lifeline came their way after Wednesday sacrificed possession. Two men who many wished were banished combined, with a superb Harriott ball sending Sordell clear to score. Suddenly, the pair had confidence.
Nonetheless, the visitors could have gone in at half-time any number of goals behind; at least two clear cut chances fell the way of the Owls before the break.
But one fell the way of Charlton, and that’s all they needed to draw level. Again Wednesday gave the ball away, again Harriott found Sordell and again the former Olympian converted. Charlton, and Sordell, were taking their chances; another Easter resurrection.
And with the hosts unable to find the level of their first half performance in the second, a miracle occurred. The Owls cut out the middle man, with a misplaced pass sending Sordell through on goal, and the forward completed his hat-trick with a finish as classy as the first two.
There was character, there was fight, and there was quality; every player in red was outstanding in the second half and there was only one winner from the moment Sordell’s third bounced in off the post. Few could argue the Addicks didn’t deserve their crucial win come full-time.
Finally, Sordell had lived up to that pre-season excitement at the time when his touch of quality was needed the most. Never had being proved wrong felt so good; never had Charlton’s character and fight been so crucial.
But, as the players took to the famous Hillsborough turf before kick-off, a win seemed the world away. Jose Riga’s side, although lacking that touch of quality in the final third, had performed well enough in Friday’s goalless draw with Bolton; vastly improved upon Tuesday’s defeat to Barnsley.
So Riga’s decision to field an XI without Ghoochannejhad and Ajdarevic, the players at the heart of Charlton’s best attacking moves three days previously, there was rational concern. In fact, the XI wasn’t too dissimilar to the one that failed to impress against the Tykes, with Sordell and Harriott in the side, whilst many were left frustrated as Jordan Cousins started out of position on the right hand side of midfield despite Lawrie Wilson being available to play in his natural position.
Wilson’s absence at least meant there was a return for Chris Solly, and it was of paramount importance Charlton’s back four stood firm against a Wednesday side that had scored freely of late, especially with the Addicks seemingly lacking any real attacking threat of their own.
And the 5’3 full-back did his job early on, getting to the ball ahead of Chris Maguire to clear, but his teammates didn’t.
Solly’s clearance was hoofed back forward by Miguel Llera (some things never change), and Maguire’s offside position left Michael Morrison complacent. Charlton’s vice-captain let the ball bounce, allowing Atdhe Nuhiu to steal in behind, outmuscling Morrison and unleashing a vicious volley past Ben Hamer, who was predictably furious.
That fury was replicated in the away end, with the previously supportive Addicks forced into anger and frustration just three minutes in. The list of goals gifted to the opposition by truly shambolic defending had another addition.
The small, but hearty, Charlton following picked themselves up, encouraging if not demanding an immediate response after the embarrassment of conceding such a goal, but it failed to materialise. In fact, more abysmal defending allowed Wednesday to help themselves to another five minutes later.
The mightily impressive Nuhiu again outmuscled Morrison, this time with the ball at his feet, and the Austrian found himself inside the box with several players awaiting his cut back. He opted to tee up Maguire, but the Scot slipped as the ball came his way, surely ending his chance to double Wednesday’s lead.
But, with Solly not tight enough to his man, Maguire was allowed to go about his business at his own pace. Lifting himself up, the winger-cum-forward took a touch before curling an effort past a faultless Hamer. As the net of the goal he did so on rippled for a second time, memories of Chris Powell swinging on the crossbar after Charlton’s last visit to Hillsborough couldn’t have been more distant.
There was resignation and anger in the away end above that goal, and not much belief that they would see the ball put in the net at the other end before half-time. This was shaping up to be an afternoon full of hurt in a poisonous atmosphere which would, ultimately, near enough condemn the Addicks to League One.
So, with Charlton’s supporters turning, the goal that came their side’s way with ten minutes played was triply important. First, it got the voices of the Addicks going again, second, it gave Charlton hope of avoiding defeat, and third, the manner of the goal was a huge confidence boost.
A misplaced pass fell to Harriott, and his ball into the path of Sordell was sublime. Nonetheless, the forward still had a lot to do, showing superb strength to hold off Owls defender Onyewu and finishing with the style of a man who once commanded a large fee for his services. Through their efforts, and a set of supporters now keen to show their appreciation, Harriott and Sordell had the belief in their own ability to come out of their shells.
Charlton’s defence, however, hadn’t quite worked out their forwards were attempting to change the game. They continued to be carved open, with Michail Antonio and Maguire’s pace on the break too much for the Addicks. One break from the Maguire’s left saw Nuihu scuff an effort wide; another from Antonio’s right couldn’t be turned in by Kieran Lee. These were guilt edge chances for the hosts, and Charlton’s hopes hung in the balance.
However, amidst the chaos around him, Dorian Dervite stood firm. His stunning tackle kept Maguire at bay, and his crucial block from the following corner prevented Nuhiu from heading home.
Thankfully, not least for an enraged Hamer who probably would have burst a blood vessel had his defence been opened up again, the game entered a lull. There was a half chance for Sordell, tamely struck straight at Kirkland, and Cousins blasted an effort well over the bar as half-time drew near, but Charlton couldn’t quite find their way through as Wednesday took their foot off the pedal.
Just as the half looked to end with the Addicks just behind, their opponents’ complacency presented them with an excellent chance to find that way through they couldn’t previously. Antonio gifted possession to Harriott, and the winger drove forward before picking out Sordell, who finished with the confidence a man who was not only scoring his second of the afternoon, but seemingly his 22nd of the season.
With only two minutes remaining until half-time, there was little opportunity for the Addicks to capitalise on their momentum, but already you could sense they were on the front foot and the Owls had lost their grip on the game, not helped when Antonio was forced off, replaced by Jermaine Johnson.
And those passionate Addicks, who previously thought they were in for an afternoon worse than the last time they were in Sheffield, roared their side off at the interval, expecting something a little more like the last time they came to the blue half of Sheffield.
The early signs in the second half were promising; Sordell had two chances to complete his hat-trick but couldn’t find the finishing touch that had got him his first two goals, and a Jackson corner effectively hit Morgan Fox, who had performed admirably despite his side’s car crash defending, on the head and only just missed the target.
Ajdarevic, who had been readied in the first half, came on for the quiet, but certainly not lacking in effort, Church and he immediately impressed with some clever passes and the occasional trick. The confidence amongst the players, and in the away end, was polls apart from the start of the first-half.
There was space for the confidence-filled Addicks to exploit, and Cousins fired wide after being teed up by Ajdarevic, but, unlike in previous weeks, these missed chances wouldn’t cost the Addicks, especially with Wednesday so helpful.
In a moment of madness, the impressive Nuhiu completely lost his head and, instead of making any number of simple forward passes, decided to play the ball back to Llera. Unfortunately for the Austrian, his ‘pass’ ended up being a superb through ball for Sordell to race on to.
Before today, no one would have even thought about celebrating as Sordell raced through on goal, but there were already arms aloft as he went to strike the ball goalwards. His effort, via the help of the post, was a third clinical finish and it sparked pandemonium in Hillsborough’s away end.
“Marvin Sordell, he scores when he wants,” was sung almost sarcastically as he notched his second; now it was belted out with real force. All it took was the formality of a game changing hat-trick for Sordell to win his supporters over.
But the three points were far from Charlton’s, especially with Wednesday still providing something of a threat and the Addicks not quite right defensively. Jeremy Helan and Nuhiu fired over from promising positions, but no longer were they carving the visitors apart with ease.
In fact, it was Charlton who were making their opponents look a little silly. Ajdarevic roasted his full-back, before cutting the ball back to Cousins, who saw his goal bound effort blocked superbly (no, really) by Miguel Llera. From the following corner, Jackson’s delivery again found its way through to Fox, but the off-balance full-back couldn’t finish.
The fourth would have been ideal; instead those hardy souls in the away had to endure a gut wrenching final 15 minutes for their side to cling onto their lead. Maguire’s crafty free-kick was comfortably saved, Nuhiu continued to cause problems for Charlton’s centre-backs, and Johnson’s pace was a worry for the Addicks, but they stood firm. In fact, Diego Poyet and Jackson were hardly letting a Wednesday move develop into anything serious in the centre of midfield.
But, as the game entered stoppage time and Sordell was replaced by Obika to an ovation that even the striker himself surely couldn’t have imagined before kick-off, there was one last chance of the hosts. However, Giles Coke’s wayward overhead kick summed up the desperate nature of Wednesday’s forward play in the second half; there was no way through for the Owls.
Moments later, what seemed like the most prayed for final whistle in sporting history blew. Somehow, whether through fight, luck or quality, the Addicks had overturned their two goal deficit and clung on; the elation and relief in the away end was only matched by the emotion of the players in red.
There was sheer delight as the players applauded their supporters, with Jackson celebrating as if he were a fan, as ever. What character his players have, and what a vital, vital victory in Charlton’s quest to stay up.
Nothing will ever get to close to the emotion felt on Charlton’s last visit to Hillsborough; as one of the best nights of my life, that won’t be beaten. But today isn’t that far off it; I still have the same buzz I did at full-time right now, several hours on.
Some will scorn, maybe accuse me of not being a true Charlton fan, but I’ve found watching the Addicks a chore since Powell’s departure and Duchatelet’s had his way. I’ve had to force myself to feel anything like the enthusiasm I once did, and not taken anywhere near as much pleasure as I would have liked from victories.
But today was the first game I’ve managed to enjoy and properly celebrate since that last trip to Hillsborough. How could I feel any different when those players showed such character and fight for our club.
That fight had been missing recently. Of course, we’d shown elements of it to grind out results, but too easily had we capitulated after conceding. There was almost a sense, especially in the 3-0 defeat to Brighton, that there was no fight left.
But it was all there today; the classic Charlton fight. You could have the Grim Reaper hunting down this bunch of players, and they’d still find a way to avoid a near certain death.
Some will call today lucky, and there was certainly an element of luck involved in the goals the Addicks scored. But, after recovering so well from that disastrous start, victory was no less than we deserved.
Victories and defeats of late have often resulted in petty debates around who should be managing this club, but those sorts of discussions can be forgotten about tonight, I’ll even put my overall concerns to one side for a few hours. Riga’s rather shy wave to the away end from the halfway line as the players had finished applauding their supporters said it all; this was a performance and result that can be completely attributed to the players.
That’s not to avoid giving praise to Riga, because his selection was brave and there was little he could do about the defensive errors that gave Wednesday their two goal lead.
But the players, by lifting themselves and finding some confidence, turned the game around almost on their own. That was optimised by the displays from Harriott and Sordell. The pair have had desperate seasons, but to find that little bit of spark when it was most needed was an unbelievable show of character. We may well talk in years to come of that day Marvin Sordell’s hat-trick kept us in the Championship. Now isn’t the time to ask where that’s been hiding all campaign…
Another excellent, and hard fought, display was also put in by Poyet, who remains a pleasure to watch. If this is the only half a season I get to see of Poyet in a Charlton shirt, I’ll be thankful just for that. His fellow academy graduates, Fox and Solly were also excellent and, along with Morrison and Dervite, recovered well after that awful opening period; a show of character in itself.
And days like today are a reminder that we have the best captain anyone could ask for. I’m so proud to have Johnnie Jackson as the captain of my football club. His performance was calm, helping to steady the ship, and his passion was powerful.
Now, that was slightly more enjoyable than a 0-0.
And now you’re gonna believe us, the Reds are staying up.
It’s Just Like Watching Charlton – Southampton Disappoint But Show What Could Have Been for the Addicks
Charlton Athletic and Southampton have a great deal in common. On the one hand, both clubs churn out promising academy graduates on a regular basis; on the other, both have had to endure Alan Pardew managing their club and Dan Seaborne wearing their colours.
But the biggest factor these two clubs have in common is that, after years of Premier League stability, they’ve both recently been rather large fishes in League One’s small pond. In fact, Charlton and Southampton were relegated together from the Championship in 2009; the Saints entering administration and the Addicks on the borderline of financial meltdown throughout their time in England’s third tier.
Whilst both clubs, Southampton in two and Charlton in three, escaped those dreaded trips to Carlisle, Oldham and Tranmere, the way in which they’ve progressed thereafter is where the similarities end.
Charlton’s inability to build upon Chris Powell’s impressive first two seasons in charge can be placed almost totally at a lack of investment. With Powell unable to recruit the players needed to bolster his side at the start of this campaign, a relegation battle was always likely.
But when that investment finally came through Roland Duchatelet, the Belgian owner split the club’s fans with his decisions to sell key players and latterly sack the popular Powell for non-footballing reasons. With the signings, largely from Duchatelet’s other clubs, unable to drastically improve the side, new Charlton boss Jose Riga still faces a fight to keep his side safe from the threat of relegation.
By contrast, with sustained investment on hand from Nicola Cortese and the Liebherr family’s millions to support Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton were promoted from the Championship at the first attempt and followed it up with a respectable first season in the Premier League.
Under the guidance of Pochettino, the Saints have become the darlings of English football. Their style of play, the results they’ve achieved and the crop of young English talent at their disposal has brought about admirers and created an incredible buzz around the South Coast side.
They’re also respected for the way the club has been run; a recent boardroom reshuffle that saw Cortese depart and Ralph Krueger appointed chairman has left the majority of Southampton supporters feeling a lot more positive than their Charlton counterparts.
So maybe that’s why I have something of a soft spot for the Saints; I look at them and think what might have been. Not too long ago, we were equals; now Charlton could hardly be further behind the club they followed out of League One hoping, although not expecting, to emulate. In a parallel universe, Yann Kermorgant is Rickie Lambert, Chris Solly is Luke Shaw and the multi-million pound signings Southampton have made are Addicks.
But, in this cruel world where I’m forced to watch Marvin Sordell and his fellow strikers fail the Trade Description Act, the only way I could get a glimpse of that parallel universe was by taking time out of Charlton’s struggles and submerging myself in a day with the Saints at Villa Park.
The opportunity to ‘be in that number’ arose after Charlton’s game with Bolton Wanderers was put back to Good Friday; a predictably frustrating 0-0 that left me craving Premier League, and Southampton’s, quality football more than I probably should have done.
In fact, this was the first time I would be attending a top flight fixture since 7 May 2007; a night that ended in tears with Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Charlton confirming the Addicks’ relegation to the Championship. I was expecting a lot better than the day before, and probably a goal or two to celebrate, but I would have settled for leaving the ground without tears streaming down my face.
I was, however, feeling relatively confident that the Saints would come away from Villa Park with all three points.
But none of the Southampton fans I spoke to before kick-off were confident enough to predict victory. You would think that going into a game against a side in turmoil that have lost ten times at home this season, and four consecutive games on the spin, there would be belief from a set of supporters who have seen their club record more away wins this season that in any other Premier League campaign.
Of course, there’s always apprehension from fans before a game, predicting victory is almost considered to be a sin, but these seemed to be very real anxieties. Not only were the creative forces in Southampton’s side, Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramirez, injured, but the Saints have won just seven of their last 22 league games. With a disappointing FA Cup exit also in that run, this season has curtailed rather disappointingly for some supporters.
Nonetheless, an eighth place finish is likely to be theirs; the best of the rest in the Premier League. To an outsider like myself, and to the majority of level headed Saints supporters, that’s quite an achievement for a club who were in League One not too long ago. But those who want more are not be mocked; this a club on the up and they have every right to feel ambitious.
And how can you not feel ambitious when you have the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana in your side? The Brazil bound pair started brightly and not long after the first rendition of ‘when the Saints go marching in’, Shaw’s pace and drive down the left hand side created the game’s first opening. His testing cross picked out another man hoping to be representing England this summer, Rickie Lambert, but the forward’s header lacked the power needed to beat Brad Guzan in the Villa goal.
After Morgan Schneiderlin, anchoring Southampton’s midfield alongside Victor Wanyama, played a delightful ball over the top into the path of Steven Davis, his cross created another opening for the Saints with less than five minutes played. Lambert was on the end of the delivery, but a crucial intervention from Nathan Baker saw the ball deflected wide.
This was a bright start by Pochettino’s men, shown by the 87% possession they had with ten minutes played, and the vocal away supporters were keen to sing the name of the manager who has instilled such a manner of play in this Southampton side. Those cries of ‘we sign Pochettino’ have surely only been enhanced in recent weeks with rumours surrounding his future and Saints supporters desperate for the Argentine to stay in charge.
However, despite that complete dominance of possession, there were few ways through for Southampton after Lambert’s early chances. Already you could tell they desperately missed a creative influence as patient passing moves all too often lacked that final killer ball. It was almost like being back at The Valley, but that would be doing a disservice to Southampton’s clear quality.
It was now easy to see why there was a lack of strong confidence before kick-off, but credit must also be given to Villa. They were equally patient in midfield and at the back, holding their lines and closing down avenues that the away side attempted to exploit.
And with pace up top, not least through Gabby Agbonlahor, the hosts were always likely to be a danger on the break. In what was their first meaningful foray forward, the former England international appeared to have a clear route to goal from a Villa counter, but a superbly timed tackle by Jose Fonte kept Agbonlahor at bay.
Although gradually coming under more pressure from Villa’s forwards, Southampton continued to control the game without being able to break through the opposition’s defensive line. With every misplaced forward pass or failure from a player to take on their man, the away following grew more restless.
With chances now few and far between, the one created by the Saints just beyond the half hour mark really had to be taken. An excellent cross from James Ward-Prowse picked out Lambert, who set the ball back to an unmarked Davis. But, to dismay and anguish in the Doug Ellis stand, the former Villa man failed to get his shot away cleanly and Guzan pulled off a stunning save to keep the scores level.
That miss almost proved costly has half time approached, with a low Villa cross from the left causing havoc in Southampton’s penalty area and a combination of Artur Boruc and Dejan Lovren just about deflecting the ball behind. The first corner was dealt with, put behind by the impressive Wanyama, and the second appeared to be, but Villa managed to carve out one more chance with the ball only half cleared. Thankfully for Southampton, Marc Albrighton’s cross couldn’t be converted by Karim El Ahmadi.
With Lee Mason’s half-time whistle blowing shortly after, the Saints were applauded off but more in encouragement than appreciation. They were certainly controlling the game, but rarely did they look like turning that possession into a clear cut opening.
But the restart saw the hosts race into life, and they really should have taken the lead three minutes into the half. The booed El Ahmadi, who had made some rather robust challenges in the first half, broke into the box, faked to shoot to clear Fonte out of his sight of goal, but could only scuff an effort that was easily saved by Boruc. The frustration, however, was continuing to grow amongst the visiting supporters.
If the Saints were going to score, it was almost certainly going to come via a move down the left. Shaw, living up to his billing, was solid at the back and impressive going forward. One such move saw Davis send the England international free, but his cross was just behind Lallana, who surely would have finished had the delivery been a fraction further forward.
With that missed opportunity, I began to believe I’d brought Charlton’s final third curse along with me to Villa Park. It seemed it was having an impact on Villa’s goal scoring hopes too, as a number of half chances for the home side failed to test Boruc in Southampton’s goal.
I finally had the pleasure of seeing a football pass the white line between the goal posts for the first time this weekend, but Adam Lallana’s strike was ruled out correctly for offside. With a little over 20 minutes to play, I wasn’t banking on such a rare event occurring legitimately.
The goalless scoreline edged ever closer as Victor Wanyama, arguably the best player on the pitch, took a hefty knock with 15 minutes to play. The Kenyan attempted to continue, but the composure he’d possessed prior to it was lacking.
However, before Wanyama could be replaced by Cork, there was a huge penalty shout for the visitors. Clyne, who had been somewhat reluctant to get forward throughout the afternoon, saw his cross blocked by Bertrand by what appeared to be the defender’s hand. Referee Mason wasn’t interested, and for the second day in a row, the side I was supporting could have strong complaints they weren’t awarded a spot-kick in a frustrating 0-0 draw.
So frustrating that there was a smattering of boos from the Saints supporters come full-time. Again, those expectations and ambitions meant Southampton fans wanted more from this game, despite their pre-match worries.
And given the dominance Pochettino’s side had for most of the afternoon, you can’t blame the away fans for feeling somewhat disappointed with the result. It was certainly a better point for Villa; two points dropped for the Saints. Nonetheless, the players were applauded vigorously when they came over to the away end.
Along with the third tier spells, the academy graduates and Pardew, it would also seem Southampton and Charlton share an incredibly frustrating to watch nature without their key creative men. Without Dale Stephens, Yann Kermorgant and, to a lesser extent, Cameron Stewart, an already goal shy Charlton have found it hard to add a killer final ball to their promising overall play.
And without Rodriguez and Ramirez, Southampton were restricted to keep ball without much of a real threat in the final third; not helped by Lallana and Lambert’s below par performances.
Nonetheless, the quality on show at Villa Park was, obviously, at a much higher standard to what was on show at The Valley yesterday. Defensively, Southampton were solid, with Fonte and Lovren looking like a formidable centre back paring.
Schneiderlin and Wanyama were also impressive as a defensive midfield pair, whilst Shaw was Southampton’s only real constant threat and dealt with Villa’s stand out performer, Albrighton, admirably.
Whilst I didn’t get to see the Southampton I’d hope to, the one that had won the hearts of so many this season, I was still relatively impressed with what I saw, although I imagine that has a lot to do with what I see week in, week out watching Charlton.
As I made my journey home, I caught the conversation of a set Southampton fans discussing the result and others in the Premier League today. They laughed that the point, along with Newcastle’s defeat to Swansea, had strengthened their grip on eighth.
But if Southampton are to progress to the next level, they do need strengthening. The bench was rather weak, without a player who could make a real positive impact on the game, and depth is clearly an issue. Obviously losing Rodriguez and Ramirez is huge, but it shouldn’t totally hinder the way they play. With that in mind, wide creative players would be at the top of my wish list, along with a forward or two.
They also desperately need to keep a hold of their star performers, not to mention Pochettino. Just like for Charlton, this summer will be huge for Southampton.
Nonetheless, mocking an eighth place finish in the Premier League; ah what could have been for us Addicks.
I’ve never quite understood the fascination that theatre goers have of attending the same show on several occasions. Unlike sport, where every ‘show’ tells a completely different story, plays and performances rarely deviate from the script. Knowing what’s coming must take a large amount away from the entertainment.
And it does; watching Charlton this season has proved that. With every positive passage of play, you get your hopes up that something different will occur; that the Addicks performing will finally result in goals.
But, no matter how spirited the actors in red are, there are always the same frustrating issues. Promising first-half displays are rarely built upon, the final ball is all too often lacking and chances are wasted when they’re finally created.
Today’s goalless draw with Bolton Wanderers was as predictable as the tenth watch of Mama Mia. The Addicks started well enough, a vast improvement from Tuesday’s defeat to Barnsley, and for much of the afternoon were on top, but sheer incompetence in the final third prevented Jose Riga’s side from claiming the three points that probably should have been theirs.
Incompetence was also rife amongst match officials and the coach. Simon Church, after stealing in to dispose Bolton ‘keeper Adam Bogdan, looked to have been fouled but no penalty was awarded, whilst Riga’s substitutions appeared to suck the life, energy and what little threat they had out of the Addicks.
The most bizarre of all saw Church, hardworking and causing problems throughout his time on the pitch, replaced by Andy Hughes with ten minutes left to play; a draw seemingly good enough for Riga.
With that, and with heads already dropped, the final few minutes of the game were more frustrating than the miss-filled previous 80. The passionate ‘sea of red’ gave out a rallying cry on several occasions, but there was no drive or desire to press ahead in search of what was surely a much needed winner.
Whether it’s a point gained or two dropped won’t be known until the end of the season but, if the Addicks do go down, it’s failing to win games like this one that will be high on the list of reasons for a rather cruel relegation.
There was, for what it’s worth, more of a positive feel around the ground before kick-off than there should have been following a dire defeat. The ‘sea of red’ initiative did its job, brining Addicks together and hammering home the need for Charlton supporters to get behind their side in this crucial game, whilst Riga did his, selecting an XI that raised hopes.
In came Astrit Ajdarevic, Reza Ghoochannejhad and Church, replacing Jonathan Obika, Callum Harriott and the ineligible Marvin Sordell.
The previously ever present Michael Morrison also returned to the side, replacing Richard Wood, whilst Lawrie Wilson came in for Chris Solly, with the 5’3 full-back clearly unable to cope with two games in quick succession.
Solly’s absence was felt doubly with Rhoys Wiggins, after breaking his foot in midweek, out for the season, leaving the Addicks with neither of their first choice full-backs. Youngster Morgan Fox, making his first league start, came in to replace Wiggins.
But, despite the inexperienced left-back in the side, this was probably Charlton’s best XI with the players available.
That was the case without seeing what formation would be used. The 4-5-1/4-3-3 line-up seemed ideal with the personnel chosen, but Riga opted for a diamond 4-4-2, with Jordan Cousins on the right, Jonnie Jackson on the left and Ajdarevic the man behind the front two, Church and Ghoochannejhad.
Breaking up the three man central midfield trio of Jackson, Cousins and Diego Poyet was always going to be something of a risk, and it looked to be one that had backfired as Bolton started brightly.
Only superb, and brave, goalkeeping from Ben Hamer denied Jermaine Beckford after he was played through by Lukas Jutkiewicz’s ball. The bearded stopper raced off his line, colliding with the forward after he’d blocked Beckford’s stab towards goal and appeared to be in some pain. But, with Yohann Thuram’s presence on the touchline causing concern, Charlton’s number one was thankfully able to continue.
And after a pair of tame efforts from Jutkiewicz were stopped without concern by Hamer, the ‘keeper had to make another crucial intervention to keep the scores level with ten minutes played.
It was a corner from the visitors that broke the deadlock in Tuesday’s fixture, and it might well have been from a similar source that Bolton took the lead in this one. Former Palace winger Neil Danns’ corner was met by former Millwall midfielder Liam Trotter and volleyed through a sea of bodies towards Charlton’s goal. Hamer saw it late, but the stopper managed to get something behind it and, with Beckford unable to react to the parry, the Addicks escaped with their clean sheet intact.
This was a nervy start for the Reds, but not for Fox. The academy graduate looked composed and comfortable on the left hand side, and an excellent ball from Ajdarevic picked out the 20-year-old in acres of space. His resulting cross into the box was one that his fellow Welsh full-back would have been proud of, but no Addick could connect with the teasing delivery.
Also looking comfortable was Morrison, seemingly out to show everyone inside The Valley why he deserved to be back in the starting XI. His excellent block prevented the lively Jutkiewicz from giving Hamer anymore work to do in the opening 15 minutes.
And with that, Charlton had weathered the early Bolton storm and began to create one of their own. In fact, when the ball fell to Ajdarevic inside the box, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Addicks to take lead. Alas, this is a Charlton side incapable of finishing even the clearest of openings, and the Swede’s effort was skewed off-target.
But Charlton’s best chance of the half came the way of Ghoochannejhad moments later. It appeared for a moment as if referee Malone had stopped play after Jay Spearing went down, and Bolton’s back four seemed to lose their focus as a result with Charlton’s Iranian forward played through on goal with ease. Bogdan, however, was alert to the situation and won the one-on-one duel, saving well.
Although these moments were promising, and the Covered End were in full voice as a result, there was already that familiar feeling that these chances wasted would come back to bite the Addicks. Danns was awarded the freedom of The Valley’s turf, given the space to shoot powerfully from range and only just clearing Hamer’s bar; a reminder that Bolton were far from lacking in threat.
The excellent Ajdarevic responded, firing a shot of his own from distance wide, and Charlton continued to come forward. But, more often than not, a killer final ball was deserting them. Crosses were over hit, crucial passes were misplaced and several efforts from the edge of the box were blocked away by Bolton’s imposing back four.
Half chances, if we’re being kind, littered the final few minutes of the first half, with Ghoochannejhad firing well off-target for the Addicks and Jackson following suit either side of a crucial block from the continually impressive Morrison to deny Jutkiewicz following Danns’ free-kick.
But, despite the continued frustration in the final third, this was a decent enough response from Riga’s side following the two dire defeats prior to it, and the Addicks were given an excellent reception as they headed off for their oranges and isotonic drinks, both in praise and encouragement. The ‘sea of red’ was certainly expectant.
However, as they did in the first half, Bolton began the second 45 seemingly intent on scoring. After Jay Spearing fired an early effort wide, they might well have done had it not been for one of Charlton’s bright young talents.
Again, it was a set-piece that caused the Addicks concern, and the masked Tim Ream’s corner found Matthew Mills, who headed powerfully towards goal. The expletives around me suggested many had accepted their side were about to go a goal behind, but an outstanding acrobatic clearance from Poyet kept the scores level.
This wasn’t quite the start to the half the vocal Valley faithful had in mind at half-time, but at least their side were showing some resilience that had been missing in the previous week. They were almost rewarded for it as the hour approached.
Bogdan, a ‘keeper prone to the occasional error, spent a fraction too long in possession and was dispossessed by a determined Church. It looked as if Church, who had been superb all afternoon after a torrid run in and out of the side, was about to get the goal his hard work deserved. But, whether via a trip or the foot of Bogdan, the Welshman hit the deck and the ball got away from him. Outrage and disgust filled The Valley as no penalty was awarded; a decision that replays seem to suggest was an incorrect one.
Once the dust had settled, and Lukiewicz had stung Hamer’s palms, the hard luck only raised the volume inside The Valley even higher. There was a real concerned effort from the supporters to drive their team on.
But still the players couldn’t respond with the goal their fans so desperately craved. Cousins, having a Callum Harriott/Bradley Pritchard/Danny Green of an afternoon out on the right, teed up Ghoochannejhad, but his effort lacked the pace and power needed to beat Bogdan. Rather harshly, with the Iranian proving lively if not clinical, that was Ghoochannejhad’s last impact on the game, with Riga hauling him off and replacing him with Obika.
Even without Ghoochannejhad, the Addicks continued to find ways to get forward, if not to finish. Cousins, heckled as Harriott was on Tuesday, put that to one side to pick out Church inside the box, but his effort might as well have been a pass back to Bogdan, who gathered the ball with ease. The same old frustrating story was unfolding.
Bolton fans could have similar complaints, as Beckford was equally wasteful for the Trotters, firing off target after a promising break, before Ajdarevic’s side foot effort called Bogdan into action. There was another opening for Jutkiewicz, but Hamer saved well, and Cousins dragged a shot wide after breaking into the box in what was becoming an end-to-end game.
However, most of Charlton’s promising play in the opposition’s half was coming through Ajdarevic, so it was a surprise to see him taken off and replaced by Danny Green, who appeared to occupy the Swede’s central role. With that, Charlton’s hope of scoring appeared to vanish.
And hopes of a win appeared to completely disappear as Beckford surged forward, picked out Danns and the winger cut inside. But despite faking to shoot to get a better sight of goal, the former Eagle could only send his effort soaring over Hamer’s bar. It was the best chance of the game for either side, and the Addicks were fortunate not to be a goal down.
Nonetheless, this was still a game there for the taking. But Charlton’s head coach had other ideas, withdrawing Church and replacing him with Hughes. The draw good enough for Riga, but not for the majority of supporters inside The Valley.
Consequently, there proved to be little goal mouth action in the closing stages, although Obika’s overhead kick that ended up as a pass out wide to Jackson summed up Charlton’s lacklustre finishing.
It was with Charlton’s frustrating efforts in the final third and Riga’s negative substitutions in mind that boos rang out around The Valley at full-time. It would be at this point that theatre goers would demand a refund after watching their 42nd show with same mistakes.
But, once those boos died down, there was strong applause for the players as they headed off the pitch. This wasn’t a point worth celebrating, and it was certainly dispiriting to see the Addicks once again look like a side that could play all day without scoring, but the players’ efforts were unquestionable. The fight missing in the Brighton and Barnsley defeats was at least back, if nothing else.
And this was a vastly improved performance, as a team and by individuals.
Whilst not capitalised upon, there was a certain amount of spark and threat as the Addicks attacked, whilst there few moments where the defence looked like being caught out.
In the attacking half, Ajdarevic was creative and shouldn’t have been taken off, Ghoochannejhad lively and Church superb. The Welshman, especially after his recent struggles, deserves no end of praise for his performance, which was reminiscent of his efforts away at Blackburn and Birmingham earlier on in the season.
Defensively, Morrison was a wall of titanium in the sea of red. If he put a foot wrong, it was missed by my eyes; the centre back was first to every ball. There was also a promising debut for Fox, who started brightly but faded in the second half, whilst his fellow academy graduate Poyet was his usual sublime self.
In fact, I’d go as far to say that this was the best performance under Riga if those final third issues are ignored along with the coach’s clear intention to settle for a point.
However, they can’t be, and I really feel that today is two points lost.
Of course, before the game, I would have settled for a point. Bolton came to The Valley in form, and in fairness, they did threaten occasionally throughout the afternoon; their failure to finish similar to Charlton’s.
But given the way the game panned out, I can’t help but feel a little deflated to have only gained a point. Chances should have been taken, Cousins should have been brought off or moved inside sooner and the actual substitutions killed Charlton’s attacking intent. There was, of course, the turned away penalty, but I find it difficult to blame that with our finishing so poor; it shouldn’t have mattered.
Meanwhile, a certain Frenchman scored yet again, but I do digress…
Whilst the point does lift the Addicks above Blackpool, positive results for Millwall and Barnsley tomorrow could create the squeakiest of squeaky bum times in the relegation battle.
It also makes the trip to Sheffield Wednesday in two days’ time something of a must win. With Blackburn and Watford to come at home, Wednesday is arguably our best chance of getting three points.
Now, if someone can put the ball in the back of the net and Riga can get to grips with his subs at Hillsborough, today might not be such a negative result. Confidence is somewhat lacking.
Through the boos that met the half-time whistle came a roar. The Addicks may have been 1-0 down to relegation rivals Barnsley, but there was certainly no sign that anyone inside The Valley of a Charlton persuasion was giving up. The skipper, Johnnie Jackson, called for the crowd to up the volume as he jogged off; the players were far from beaten.
The Covered End, who had already been in fine voice throughout the first half, certainly performed throughout the best part of the second period. They were loud, passionate and, despite their side continuing to frustrate, supportive.
But those players they were supporting didn’t respond. Against a poor Barnsley side, there were mistakes to capitalise on and openings to take advantage of, but none of them were. The second goal for the visitors, a deflected strike from Tom Kennedy, ended the game as a contest.
The stats will tell you Charlton dominated, but a two goal defeat was no less than the Addicks deserved. The hosts were shambolic, not helped by a bemusing team selection and strange substitutions.
But, after conceding five goals in two games without offering an ounce of fight, Charlton did offer their hurting fans a glimmer of hope in the first minute of stoppage time. A free-kick was eventually turned in by Astrit Ajdaveric and, with four minutes remaining, another roar filled The Valley.
The Addicks huffed in those final few minutes, but it was a case of too little, too late. Nonetheless, had a point been salvaged, there would have been few bigger injustices.
From that half-time hope came the pain of full-time. The Valley turned cold. The mood suited the situation perfectly; falling to two desperately depressing defeats in four days, relegation fears more alive than ever before and the other concerns that so many Addicks have. A night that couldn’t have been any less pleasant.
Charlton supporters were expecting the worst from the moment Jose Riga’s team selection was announced.
Riga’s odd subs in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Brighton were justified by the hope that the players taken off were being rested for the more important fixture four days later. But only one of the players withdrawn early at the AMEX, Jackson, started in the crucial six pointer. Out went Ajdaveric and Ghoochannejhad, in came Jonathan Obika, lining up on the left, and Callum Harriott, starting out of position on the right.
It seemed doubly odd that Harriott was on the right of midfield when Lawrie Wilson was once again available to push further on with the return of Chris Solly. The 5’3 full-back was making his first start since New Year’s Day, in place of his masked deputy.
Whilst seeing Solly’s name on the team sheet was a shock, it was only his ninth appearance, Michael Morrison’s name not in the starting XI was equally as surprising. The reliable vice-captain had to settle for a place on the bench, with Richard Wood coming in.
Whether these were deliberate tactical tweaks or players being rested, it was hard to justify the changes either way. But, against bottom of the table Barnsley, who were skippered by former Addick Martin Cranie and gave a start to former Bayern Munich man Dale Jennings, there was hope the XI would be good enough to secure a vital three points. There had to be.
And in the opening half hour, that hope didn’t look misplaced. The Addicks certainly settled quickly and looked nothing like the disjointed outfit that were ripped apart at the weekend; the side were cohesive and, especially through the threat Obika provided on the left, there were positive early signs.
All that was missing was an opportunity, and it took eleven minutes until the first effort was fired towards goals. Jordan Cousins, already looking lively, collected the ball with his back to goal, turned his man and fired an effort that wasn’t too far wide of Luke Steele’s right hand post.
The Tykes responded with an effort of their own, but Ryan McLaughlin’s strike veered way off target to the enjoyment of the vocal Addicks, encouraged by their side’s start to the game. Barnsley’s start to the game was also rather encouraging from a Charlton perspective; Danny Wilson’s side struggled to get out of their half and were left down by dire passing and even worse control when they did.
The visitors surely couldn’t be so poor for the entirety of the game, so Charlton desperately needed to capitalise whilst their opponents seemed incapable of stringing a pass together. But there wasn’t a great deal from the hosts going forward; that final ball was as absent as ever.
It was appropriate that Charlton’s next chance fell their way through a touch of good fortune. Barnsley failed to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly to Jackson, but his effort was superbly charged down by the towering figure of Jean-Yves Mvoto and sent behind for a corner.
“You’ll never get past Mvoto,” sang the 900 or so supporters in the Jimmy Seed Stand, but the Addicks did from the resulting set-piece. Jackson’s delivery picked out an unmarked Wood at the back post, but the centre-back couldn’t direct his header towards goal; a glorious opportunity not taken by the hosts.
It was a case of whatever you can do, we can do worse as McLaughlin headed softly into Hamer’s hands from Kennedy’s cross down the other end, and the Tykes still looked somewhat disjointed.
Not only were they struggling to create a route forward, but their defence was at sixes and sevens when the Addicks attacked. Great work from Marvin Sordell saw him get away from his marker and deliver an excellent cross to an unmarked Harriott at the far post.
But Harriott was having a horrid night, struggling to maintain possession when given the ball and finding it near enough impossible to make a successful pass. It was written in the script that the young winger would miss, and so he did, skewing his header horribly off target to the outrage of The Valley. Meanwhile, Wilson was sat twiddling his thumbs on the bench.
Of course, that these opportunities were being created was promising, but as Barnsley again failed to clear their lines and Jackson curled an effort over the bar, there was a familiar feel to it all.
“This will be just like Huddersfield if we don’t take one of these chances,” suggested a fellow supporter, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Charlton’s poor finishing wasn’t punished when the Terriers came to The Valley; Charlton’s poor finishing was punished with the Tykes’ first real opportunity.
It was oh so simple. The visitors’ first corner of the night was swung in by Jennings, and immediately you could sense danger. Mvoto had left his marker and was making an untracked move towards the delivery. He connected and headed powerfully into Charlton’s goal to give his side a 32nd minute lead. Deserved? Probably not. Predictable? We’ve been here so many times before this season.
Like a goal would do, Mvoto’s header had given Barnsley the confidence boost they needed to settle. They now looked much more of a threat, and Liam Lawrence’s deflected effort almost crept over Hamer. In truth, the deflection may have proved fortunate for the Addicks, with the initial strike well hit and goal bound.
There was one final chance for the Addicks as half-time approached, with the excellent Rhoys Wiggins leaving men for dead, before cutting back to Jackson. But, from a tight angle, the skipper’s drive was blocked behind.
But that wasn’t the last action of the half as, in his desperation to take a throw quickly, Cousins sparked a brawl that resulted in himself and Stephen Dawson receiving yellows. Dawson might well have felt fortunate that he wasn’t walking off at half-time not to return for the second half, with the midfielder appearing to throw a punch at Cousins.
The guilty pair, along with their teammates, trudged off at half-time initially to the sound of boos from the home fans. To an outsider, that would have seemed harsh, but to fans who had witnessed this sort of display all season, it was justified. It was the classic play-okay-waste-a-few-chances-concede-and-turn-into-a-shambles sort of performance that has marred this campaign.
Nonetheless, a response was needed in the second period. Diego Poyet, putting his poor performance on Saturday behind him and returning to his excellent self, drove forward and fired an effort not far wide. It was a positive start, at least.
But, for all the possession and apparent dominance the Addicks had, there simply wasn’t enough threat in the final third. A change was needed, and off came the luckless Harriott, sarcastically cheered as he left the pitch, to be replaced by Ghoochannejhad.
The Iranian was lively, immediately picking out Cousins, who scuffed a shot wide of goal, but Charlton’s best chance of the opening 15 minutes of the second half was gifted to them by a Barnsley man.
Dawson’s back pass was horribly misjudged, and Sordell latched onto the loose ball. But the forward’s effort was ballooned over, and the home fans were beginning to get a little restless. This was far from good enough.
That restlessness turned to outrage as, seemingly out of nothing, the Tykes doubled their lead with 63 minutes played. Where Charlton couldn’t apply a finish at the end of their regular attacking moves, Barnsley finished from an impossible angle; Kennedy’s deflected effort from out wide left Hamer flat-footed and flew past him into the far top corner. The points as good as gone, once again handed to the opposition with barely a whimper from the Addicks.
A supportive and positive atmosphere quickly turned poisonous. It only got worse and Sordell was played through on goal, but the striker’s reluctance to shoot saw Mvoto get back and make an excellent tackle.
So the sign of Wilson being readied on the touchline was a hugely positive one. Surely Sordell would come off, and Ghoochannejhad or Obika would head up top. But the Bolton loanee remained on the pitch, with Solly hauled off to make way for Wilson; a like for like swap that added little to Charlton’s cause. Solly might well have not been fit enough to last for 90 minutes, but he certainly looked okay in his final few moments.
There was a rare effort on target for the increasingly lacklustre Addicks, as Obika flicked on and Ghoochannejhad’s first time effort was unconvincingly palmed away by Steele. It was the first save Steele had to make all night, having had to pick the ball out of the net six times at Oakwell just over a year ago.
And as if that afternoon couldn’t be any further away from this evening, an injury to Wiggins compounded Charlton’s misery and left them with ten men with all their subs already used after, bizarrely, the excellent Poyet had been taken off and replaced by Ajdaveric.
However, the seemingly beaten ten men forced a goal as five minutes of stoppage time were signalled. Jackson’s free-kick was flicked on and volleyed goalwards by Ghoochannejhad, but the Iranians effort was blocked, only for the ball to fall kindly to Ajdaveric. He had to wait for the assistant referee to give the goal after the ball was once again blocked, but the Swede’s effort was well over the line. Game on?
It certainly gave the Addicks some spark, and a cross from Wilson forced Steele into action, but it just wasn’t enough. Those dying embers of hope were finally put out when Cousins, steaming towards goal, was seemingly fouled on the edge of the box, but no foul was awarded.
The final whistle, met with a chorus of boos, followed soon after. The Addicks might have performed poorly for a number of weeks, but a battling quality had seen them grind out a number of crucial results. Tonight, both the quality and the fight, although not by all, were largely absent. Those boos, although not to encourage them, were not misplaced.
As a team and as individuals, the Addicks simply weren’t good enough, especially against a side who really weren’t that impressive. Nonetheless, it was the sort of classic away performance; nick a goal or two, show a bit of resilience and cling on for dear life. The time wasting wasn’t great, but I applaud Barnsley for their dogged display. It’s what’s been winning us points recently, but tonight a determined resilience was missing from Charlton, as was any sort of quality in front of goal.
They may have spent a great deal of time in Barnsley’s final third, but their execution in that area of the pitch was dire. Long gone has a time when these sort of okay performances that are let down by poor work going forward can be excused.
But, during the second half especially, it wasn’t an okay performance, it really was very poor. The consolation goal aside, there was no time where the Addicks looked a real threat going forward, and their disjointed nature, with passes misplaced continuously, returned. Watching the hard work of Cousins and Poyet, arguably the only two players in red who performed, go to waste was frustrating and agonising in equal measure.
But booing the players might well have been a touch harsh. What can you expect from a depleted squad, weakened further by the actions of their manager? Riga must take the brunt of the blame.
Nowhere is that more obvious in the case of Harriott. Booed and heckled all night, the youngster’s withdrawal was celebrated, but should he really have been starting? Should an out of form left winger been picked to play on the right when three players more than capable of playing in that position sat on the bench? Surely having Wilson available to finally play on the right should have been utilised? Unjustifiable decisions.
And taking out the ever present vice-captain and replacing him with an error prone centre-back is also hard to explain. The defence certainly looked weaker without Morrison, and it was Wood who lost Mvoto for Barnsley’s first goal.
On top of that, leaving Sordell on the pitch and instead taking off both Solly and Poyet was incredibly frustrating. On Saturday, Riga’s bizarre subs were justified as resting players for tonight, with the game already lost. If that’s how they’re justified tonight, then it would appear Riga gives up far too easily.
I don’t believe that to be the case, and I think Riga shares the fight the players have, but it is incredibly hard to explain his substitutions in the previous two fixtures.
Now Riga has five games to keep us up; a statement that many won’t like, especially with Charlton still out of the bottom three. But the displays in the previous two games, combined with the remaining fixtures, leave me struggling to confidently predict points from any of them apart from the final trip of the season to Blackpool.
And the situation isn’t helped by the injury to Wiggins, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot. Solly over to the left and Wilson back to full-back; Solly’s return suddenly isn’t as exciting as it once was.
Nonetheless, the performance has to improve from the first of those five games, Bolton’s trip to The Valley on Friday, or relegation concerns will become a reality.