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.