The sign of a good team, or so they say, is that they can pick up points when not at their best. Regardless of the overall performance, they can find a way to steal an undeserved point or three.
Charlton were far from their best at the John Smith’s Stadium; a horrible lack of organisation at the back and a constant failure to maintain possession making for a performance a far cry from the one produced to beat Derby in midweek. In fact, it would be quite some achievement if Bob Peeters’ side were able to perform any worse.
But the Addicks, who had allowed Nahki Wells to put ten-man Huddersfield Town ahead in the fifth minute of the second half, found a way right at the last to claim a point they scarcely deserved and continue their unbeaten start to the season. The predatory instinct of Igor Vetokele, latching onto a knock down by Andre Bikey following Johnnie Jackson’s hoick forward, proved vital as the forward bundled the ball past Alex Smithies in stoppage time.
It was a cruel blow for the Terriers, who had been a man light since Murray Wallace hauled back a seemingly clean through Vetokele at the end of the first period. They’d worked incredibly hard to have the better chances throughout and the game and would have felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty moments before they conceded.
Nonetheless, you can now add character to the list of attributes this Charlton side possess. Oh, and a healthy slice of good fortune.
The Addicks made just one change from their win over Derby in midweek, with Chris Solly coming in for Joe Gomez at right-back. It meant that George Tucudean, having picked up a knock against the Rams, was fit enough to start while Nick Pope continued to deputise in goal with Stephen Henderson’s hamstring injury keeping him out.
And Pope, often leaving you a few finger nails light with his goalkeeping on Tuesday, gave the Charlton supporters behind his goal an almighty scare as early as the second minute.
Bikey, seemingly untroubled by the accelerating Wells behind him, calmly laid the ball back to Pope, putting the youngster under immense pressure. The Huddersfield forward tangled with Pope, claimed possession and rolled the ball into an empty net, but the assistant’s flag curtailed the home side’s celebrations before they had even began. So too were Pope’s blushes spared, and rather fortunately too – it seemed like something of a generous decision.
Reprieved by the officials in the first instance, Pope then had to call on Tal Ben Haim to prevent another disastrous moment for the ‘keeper giving Huddersfield the lead.
Again, it wasn’t solely the former Bury Town man’s fault as a tame pass back from Rhoys Wiggins left him stranded and gave Wells the chance to steal in. With Pope out of position, the pacey forward waltzed round him and give himself a golden opportunity to score. But his touch towards goal, possibly an unnecessary one, was over hit by a fraction, giving Ben Haim the chance to be in a position to superbly block Wells’ eventual effort off the line.
It was celebrated almost like a goal in the away end, but the vocal Addicks weren’t getting the performance from their side that their support warranted. In fact, there was a growing restlessness as Charlton continued to struggle.
Harry Bunn was escorted by the Addicks back four through a path to goal, but his shot was wayward, while only some untidy defending prevented Huddersfield’s delivery from wide positions counting for more.
There was also frustration as Charlton’s commitment to playing out from the back continued to get them into trouble; the spark and creativity that had dominated the victories over Wigan and Derby absent.
So it came as a surprise when, in their next meaningful attack, the Addicks had the ball in the back of the opposition’s net. However, it was now Charlton’s turn to have their celebrations cut short as an offside flag made Vetokele’s exquisite finish over Smithies meaningless.
Nonetheless, it was a positive sign that the visitors were still capable of providing some life going forward, even if they were struggling at the back.
And that was a theme that continued throughout the rest of the half, with the Addicks occasionally offering something when breaking, but all too often finding themselves being put under pressure from Huddersfield’s good work and their own ineptitude.
With that in mind, there was no better time for Pope to find his feet. First, the stopper saved from Wells’ well struck free-kick before grasping Paul Dixon’s long range effort at the second attempt. Relatively comfortable saves, but crucial for building the stopper’s confidence.
In fact, without those saves in his locker, he may not have been able to make the incredible stop he did to keep the scores level. Coming moments after a superb tackle from Wallace had prevented Vetokele from taking advantage after he’d rounded Smithies at the other end, Pope dived full stretch to his left to keep out a curling strike from the tenacious Bunn, who had, not for the first time, wriggled into space.
The ‘keeper was then called upon to save an unmarked Lee Peltier’s header from the resulting corner, before Wells exploited the faults in Charlton’s back four to break into the box and fire a strike goalwards that was met by Pope’s fingertips at the near post. Those earlier errors seemingly now behind the man making his second Charlton start.
But anything the inexperienced Pope can do, the now seasoned professional Smithies can do better.
It took superb work from the increasingly dangerous Vetokele to beat two Huddersfield defenders and carve out an opening, and the summer signing produced a stunning drive that looked destined for the top corner. Smithies, however, had other ideas, reacting sharply and palming the ball over the bar.
It would have been cruel on Huddersfield to go into the break behind, such was their dominance in the opening 45 and Charlton’s below par performance, but the Terriers didn’t end the half on level terms.
The score may have read 0-0, but the amount of men was now 10-11. Once again, Vetokele, performing in spite of his teammates’ lacklustre nature, broke free of the Huddersfield defence and raced through on goal. The only option for Wallace was to drag the forward back and stop his run, sending him tumbling and denying the Angolan of a goalscoring opportunity. There was little referee Robinson could do but dismiss the young defender.
It meant that, regardless of the shambles that had gone before, Charlton supporters felt confident that their attacking threat would be too much for a depleted opposition to deal with in the second half.
However, Huddersfield clearly hadn’t read the script. And nor had Charlton, as some poor defending out on the right flank allowed Tommy Smith to break free and cross for an unmarked Wells to tap in from close range.
It was hard to argue the Terriers weren’t good value for their lead, but to concede against ten men in such circumstances was both disappointing and frustrating. Wiggins and Jordan Cousins, who failed to deal with the threat out wide, were as much fault as Ben Haim and Bikey, the pair letting Wells have the six-yard box to himself.
The goal, at least, should have motivated the Addicks to start playing; to find that excellent passing game that was used so effectively in midweek. Instead, going behind seemed to deflate the visitors, with the rate at which possession was thrown away only increasing.
In fact, Huddersfield would have been somewhat disappointed not to have doubled their lead on the hour. Connor Coady must still be wondering how he managed to turn his header wide after connecting perfectly with Bunn’s excellent delivery.
With Charlton still breathing a sigh of relief, they managed to muster their first meaningful attempt of the half. Jackson rarely thinks twice about shooting when giving a sight of goal, and the skipper’s effort from the edge of the box had his supporters prematurely celebrating before it flashed marginally wide of the post.
But, that chance aside, still Peeters’ side struggled to get forward with any real threat. They were also struggling to contain Huddersfield’s own forward threat, which had only increased with the introduction of the fit again James Vaughan.
And with Wiggins replaced by Simon Church, there was now a gap on the left for the home side’s pacey forwards to exploit. Only another stunning save from Pope prevented Vaughan, who had raced past a sluggish Bikey on that open flank before cutting in, from seemingly sealing Huddersfield’s victory.
Pope’s heroics had at least given his side an outside chance of snatching something from the game as it entered its final ten minutes, with the Addicks now managing to enter the opposition’s half with regularity.
There was, however, a lack of openings for the visitors with a determined effort from Huddersfield’s defence keeping Charlton at bay. An effort from Jackson that was saved with ease aside, Smithies had little to do.
And with Charlton pushing forward, there was always a danger they would be caught out on the break. A cross-field ball picked Vaughan out in space on the left, before the former Everton trainee cut inside past Ben Haim and created a fantastic opening for himself.
But before Vaughan could shoot, Ben Haim got back across and seemingly shoved him to the floor. There were groans in the away end, anticipating the referee’s whistle and more than likely a subsequent red card for the Israeli. Instead, referee Robinson waved for the game to continue. An incredible decision, and one that proved to be game changing.
There was an immediate opportunity for the visitors as Bikey rose highest from a cross only to have his effort blocked on the line, before substitute Callum Harriott’s effort suffered a similar fate. It looked to have summed up a frustrating day for the Addicks, and seen Huddersfield over the line.
Instead, there was one last chance for Charlton. Betraying their passing philosophy, the Addicks pumped one into the box for the big bloke, Bikey, to nod into the path of Vetokele. It was undeserved, it was scrappy, it was horribly cruel on Huddersfield, but none of that mattered to the Addicks who were celebrating their second stoppage time strike in a week.
Given the momentum from their goal and their man advantage, it was no surprise that Charlton pushed forward in the remaining minutes of stoppage time, but Huddersfield stood firm.
And with full-time came mixed feelings. First of all, there was the relief and a certain amount of joy that another trip to Huddersfield hadn’t been fruitless. To be so poor and still come away with a point, as lucky a point as it may be, is a positive. Last season, excellent performances ended in defeat as there wasn’t a player capable of taking the chances created; this season, we only needed to create one with Vetokele waiting to pounce.
However, purely considered in isolation, the performance wasn’t anywhere good enough. Charlton should have been well out of the game long before the equaliser. Wells’ disallowed goal was questionable, Pope’s efforts were extraordinary and the penalty shout was, to take my Charlton cap off for a second, a disgrace. This a game played against ten men for 45 minutes.
At the back, the Addicks were a disaster. Bikey went from Bobby Moore to Titus Bramble in the space of a few days, while Tal Ben Haim was the Tal Ben Haim we’d been promised in the second half, and not the one that had proved the doubters wrong in his first few games for Charlton. Solly and Wiggins, too, were both poor and struggled to cope with Bunn and Scannell. In summary, our ability to deal with genuine pace is a serious concern.
The penetrating passing play was also missing, replaced with passing that belonged to a side who hadn’t played with each other. Yoni Buyens, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Jordan Cousins were particularly disappointing, offering little going forward and giving the ball away constantly..
The lack of cohesion was arguably a sign that Peeters’ men haven’t quite gelled yet, but also a sign the system they’re playing in isn’t quite perfect yet. The goal shouldn’t mask those faults, and instead they should be worked on. This Charlton side can, and will, get better, and today’s like today provide an excellent showing of where exactly we need improve.
Thankfully, there’s an immediate chance to put things right at Derby in the League Cup on Tuesday. And also a chance to include the fringe players, who must be pushing for starting place after some of the individual displays today.
Of course, there’s absolutely no need to write players off and no one can be unhappy with a return of eight points from four games, but performances like today’s can’t become a regular thing.