They sat back, they dug deep and they held their breath as an incompetent ‘keeper flapped in the general direction of the round thing that was constantly flung towards his goal. They only retreated further in the final ten minutes. It wasn’t enough. It was never going to be, regardless of the fight shown.
Two late goals crushed this depleted side – this depleted side that was surely only heading one way. Crushed, too, were the Charlton supporters who sat in the away end at the DW Stadium six months ago. That Wigan turned defeat into victory so late on was painful enough in itself, but the way in which the Addicks could do little but take cover inside their own made for an extremely bleak mood.
They bombed forward, they put the opposition’s back four under incredible pressure and they completed ignored the fact they’d been put under some pressure themselves in the preceding moments. The final ten minutes were largely dominated by the hosts. It almost wasn’t enough, fantastic chances were horribly wasted, but it proved to be. Just.
A late deflected strike, looping over the goalkeeper and floating into the goal, gave this rejuvenated side a huge boost – this rejuvenated side that still has plenty of room for improvement and has the potential to get better. A Huge boost, too, was given to those in The Valley’s home ends who were revelling in the joy a last minute winner brings. That Charlton came forward with such purpose in the final ten minutes was promising enough, but Franck Moussa’s first goal for the Addicks meant promise became points in a 2-1 victory.
A massive win against an impressive Wigan side, and the difference in performance and mood could hardly have been more contrasting from the previous meeting between the two sides.
There were, however, some similarities. Uwe Rosler’s men were a constant threat, and started the game brightly against a Charlton side that were unchanged from their 1-1 draw with Brentford a week ago.
In fact, but for the intervention of Stephen Henderson, the visitors might well have taken the lead. An early low cross from Callum McManaman, who raced past Rhoys Wiggins with relative ease, was met first by Charlton’s ‘keeper with forward Oriol Riera waiting to pounce.
The Latics were in their usual imperious form, knocking the ball around with ease and always seeming to have space available for the next pass. But, despite the first shot of the new season at The Valley falling their way, a wayward drive from distance by James McArthur, they couldn’t turn their possession into anything meaningful in the final third. Charlton’s back four, Andre Bikey in particular, were standing firm.
By contrast, the hosts mustered a testing effort on goal in their first foray forward; an effort too testing for former Addick Scott Carson to keep out. Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cross-field ball picked out Jordan Cousins in space on the left, and the academy graduate cut inside before unleashing a curling strike which gave the Wigan stopper absolutely no chance.
Some would suggest it was against the run of play, others might point out that Cousins’ goal was the perfect example of Charlton’s potent attacking potential, but all that really mattered was that the Addicks had the lead and The Valley was a wall of noise.
The hosts, however, had to improve quickly if they wanted to hold onto their lead. In the immediate aftermath of the goal, they did just that. They pressed quicker, they passed quicker and, at the very least, matched Wigan stride for stride.
Nonetheless, there remained a danger that the Latics would find a way through. While Charlton’s back four remained impassable, there was still enough zip in the visitors’ passing play for them to be considered a real threat.
With that in mind, it was incredibly frustrating that Wigan’s 22nd minute equaliser was oh so very soft. McManaman, again beating Wiggins for pace without struggle, latched onto a simple punt up field, before some clever footwork allowed him to cut inside and drill an effort beyond Henderson from a tight angle.
While the highly rated winger did incredibly well, both leading up to the goal and with the strike itself, there were three occasions where you’d have liked Charlton to have done better.
The goal had come at a time when Charlton had just managed to find their stride, Bikey, Tal Ben Haim and Yoni Buyens helping the Addicks to play out from the back and build attacks. But, undeterred, Bob Peeters’ side regrouped and continued to find ways forward.
Like the speed at which Wigan picked out the next man helped them to create space, so to do did Charlton’s snappy passing. An excellent through ball from the impressive Buyens picked out Cousins in their next attack, but the youngster couldn’t quite repeat his earlier heroics, firing over from a similar position.
Possession continued to change hands as Emyr Huws, who had been at the heart of much of Wigan’s best play, fired well over after Charlton’s defence had stood off the Manchester City loanee and invited him to shoot. But it was the Addicks who continued to turn ball retention into something more noteworthy, if lacking potency.
Wiggins found himself in a similar position to the one he had let McManaman get into at the other end, but the Welshman’s effort was comfortable for Carson, while an ambitious bicycle kick from the quiet Vetokele was wider than the gap between Rolser and his technical area.
The half ended with Gudmundsson poking a poor effort wide, and Cousins’ third attempt at an ambitious curling strike drew groans from the Covered End with better options available.
It was conceivable to say that the Addicks were on top, but the final meaningful moment of the opening 45 had those who were previously sitting comfortably somewhat worried. An awful clearance from Henderson, not his first of the afternoon, landed straight at the feet of Huws, who fed through Marc-Antoine Fortune. There was space for the Frenchman, but an excellent recovery from Bikey prevented anything from materialising.
It was, however, a warning that the Addicks couldn’t afford to be complacent in the second half, and that they did not, starting brightly after the break.
A midfield splitting pass from Ben Haim picked out Gudmundsson early on in the second period, but the Iceland international’s effort was again weak, while Vetokele made light work of Ivan Ramis to break into the box, only for his shot to take a slight deflection and Carson to beat it away comfortably.
But, just ten minutes into the half, it was then that the chances dried up and the Addicks lost their forward spark. It certainly wasn’t the removal of George Tucudean, replaced by Moussa, who had again been poor, but slack passing and a lack of imagination grew into Charlton’s game.
It meant Wigan could regain control, and that they did. But it was a timid, unthreatening control; possession being kept for the sake of possession and no real chances being created. The game hit a lull.
In fact, partly down to how organised and resilient his back four was, and partly down to Wigan’s own lack of adventure, Henderson had needed to do very little by the time he was taken off injured 68 minutes in. Charlton’s new ‘keeper seemed to fall innocuously, but he hobbled off in some discomfort and was replaced by Nick Pope.
But Pope, too, had little to do. But for a cross or two, easily plucked out of the air by the towering goalkeeper, the Addicks rarely had to call on divine intervention to save them.
Nonetheless, Wigan were continuing to press forward, and it would have been wise to sit back and settle for a well-earned point. However, Peeters saw things differently, withdrawing Johnnie Jackson and replacing him with Lawrie Wilson. It was not only a signal if intent, but a change that actively saw the Addicks push forward in the final ten minutes.
And with stoppage time approaching, those in the Covered End had their heads in their hands on several occasions as Charlton came oh so close to a winner.
First, an excellent move concluded with Wilson playing through Solly, who delivered the perfect low cross with plenty of red shirts awaiting. But, somehow, Vetokele completed missed the ball, passing up what would have been the simplest of chances in the process, and Gudmundsson, who the ball eventually fell to, was closed down before he could get his shot away.
With the Addicks feeling like their chance to secure victory had gone, another superb move saw Buyens given the space to break through on goal. However, the Standard Liege loanee slipped, and for a moment it appeared the chance had gone. But clever work saw the midfielder play in Moussa, who flashed a shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
But still they kept on coming, Wigan now cowering. He might well have been a little below par, but a moment of magic from Vetokele, turning Ramis on the halfway line and powering through towards goal, looked to have won the game for Charlton. But, once again, the chance wasn’t taken; a fantastic save from Carson denied the forward.
It felt like a familiar story was developing. The Addicks were well on top, and playing superbly – their attacking intent in the final few minutes a joy to behold. But these chances were glorious, and really had to be taken. Poor finishing again looked to be costing Charlton.
But there was one last chance; the luckless were about to become lucky. Vetokele teed up Moussa, who fried an effort straight against the onrushing defender blocking his path. Carson was caught off guard, and the ricochet took the ball over his head and beyond his desperate diving attempt to claw the ball back.
SE7 saw plenty of last minute goals in the final months of last season, and this was celebrated as vigorously as any of those. In fact, Peeters enjoyment of the goal angered his opposite number, but this was such an important strike that criticising the head coach for over celebrating is something I won’t be doing. The hosts held on in the remaining minutes of stoppage time with relative ease for the new boss to record his first league win.
The Valley a much happier place than the DW’s away end.
This was by no means a perfect performance. At times, the Addicks were a little flat, showed signs they hadn’t quite gelled as a unit yet and were fortunate that errors at the back weren’t capitalised upon. In fact, without that final ten minute serge, it would have been a fairly average display.
But the fact Charlton showed such intent, such drive and such fantastic forward play in the final period of the game is as big a positive as you’re likely to see. Rarely has a Charlton side had the same level of forward threat as this one, and rarely has a Charlton side been willing to sacrifice what would have been a credible point in the hope of getting all three.
Of course, there was more than an element of luck in the winning goal, but it was luck that Peeters and his side had carved out for themselves. It was deserved.
Not only deserved for the work going forward, where the Addicks have gone from having no players who could change a game on their own to, in Gudmundsson, Vetokele and Moussa, plenty, but also deserved for their diligent work in all other areas of the pitch.
At the back, Solly and Bikey were again utterly sublime, while Ben Haim was much improved from his shaky display last week and Wiggins recovered well enough from his early set back.
There was also an improvement from Jackson, who pressed and did the simple things well, while Cousins was lively in the first half and Buyens absolutely bossed the midfield in the second half.
In fact, it’s one of those games were awarding a man of the match detracts from the efforts of the other players in red. A genuine effort has been made to correct the mistakes that were made in January and the early parts of this summer, and the players retained, the players signed and the boss recruited certainly seem up to task.
If anything, it’s Peeters that deserve most of the plaudits. His back to front passing approach suits the player he has perfectly, while his decision to throw on Wilson and go for it clicked the Addicks into life and got the reward that was warranted.
The Addicks welcome Derby County to The Valley on Tuesday, this result meaning the pressure will be off in a game they’re unlikely to win. But with confidence high, there might well be a little more than just a spirited defeat.