Rarely have events on the pitch at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium been anything short of painful for Charlton supporters.
Never have the Addicks celebrated a goal in the ground’s away end; the plush seats often sunk into by sombre or worried souls in red. Never has the mood while waiting for a train out of Falmer been celebratory; a hard fought goalless draw as close as the Addicks have got to basking in positivity while shuffling away from the arena. Never is the trip to the South Coast an easy one; the entire division can vouch for that.
However, when Igor Vetokele’s struck past David Stockdale with 15 minutes left to play, regaining a lead the Angolan had given the Addicks early on, it looked as if this was going to be a joyous occasion for the vocal 1,992 supporters in the away end.
But it was always going to be the case that, to some extent, Charlton fans’ trips back away from Sussex would be tampered by some sort of suffering inflicted upon them by the Seagulls. Centre back Lewis Dunk made sure of that, heading past Stephen Henderson from Kazenga Lua Lua’s cross in stoppage time to rescue a point for the hosts.
It hadn’t been the only time in the game that Dunk had put a dampener on the atmosphere in the away end, having previously leaped highest from a Danny Holla corner to score the Albion’s first equaliser.
But, as gut-wrenching as the manner of Brighton’s late leveller was, it wasn’t a regular day at the AMEX for the Addicks.
In a game that was largely dominated by Sami Hyypia’s side, their passing and forward play as classy and penetrative as ever, a share of the spoils was not only testament to Charlton’s determined display at the back but to their predatory powers of their forward.
A point gained, rather than two lost.
Charlton, welcoming back the fit again Henderson between the sticks, started the game on the back foot. The hosts’ ability to pass and move with pace, and therefore dictate play, evident from the moment referee Hill blew his whistle for the first time.
But, as has been shown on several occasions this season, the Addicks don’t tend to follow the idea that the general run of play should prevent them from scoring.
In what was the visitors’ first real move forward, Yoni Buyens punt over the top picked the run of George Tucudean perfectly, but the Romanian’s touch took the ball behind him and had seemingly given the chance for Brighton’s back four to clear up.
But they were slow to react, giving Vetokele the opportunity to pounce on the loose ball, cut into space and rifle an effort past a hapless Stockdale to put the Addicks ahead after just four minutes..
It gave his supporters the chance to celebrate their first goal at the AMEX in Charlton’s third game at the stadium, and the moment was enjoyed with great pleasure. There may have even been some frustration from last season’s horror show on the South Coast released as almost 2,000 Addicks involved themselves in the away end’s chaotic scenes.
Nonetheless, Vetokele’s fourth goal of his debut season in England failed to knock the Albion out of their stride. They returned immediately to their attractive and effective style of play, almost changing the mood of the visiting supporters from ecstatic to despair in the space of a minute.
In fact, only an incredible save from Henderson kept Charlton’s lead intact, tipping the classy Joao Texeiera’s close range effort behind after the Liverpool loanee had wriggled free of Tal Ben Haim. It earned the stopper a standing ovation, and gave the Addicks a reminder that this game was far from won.
But, despite knowing a considerable threat stood against them, there was little Peeters’ side could do to prevent Brighton’s possession percentage from rising. Led by the movement, quick feet and intelligent passing of Texeiera, The Seagulls were far too quick to find the next man as they came forward.
Thankfully for the struggling Addicks, Brighton’s efforts in the final third didn’t match the excellent football they were playing to get there. Andre Bikey and Ben Haim dealt with the crosses Chris Solly and Rhoys Wiggins couldn’t, while Bruno’s horribly wayward half-volley from Joe Bennett’s delivery summed up the home side’s struggles in front of goal.
There was, however, still a desperate need for Charlton to get a hold of the ball and have a spell of possession of their own. Their attempts to do so rarely saw Brighton’s half ventured into, with forward balls often misplaced and both Jordan Cousins and Johann Berg Gudmundsson struggling to create an impact out wide.
But still Brighton failed to create a clear cut opening as the back four, dealing with forward move after forward move, stood firm. Stood firm, that is, until the 40th minute when Bikey’s clearance bounced out of play via a Brighton shirt, only for referee Hill to signal for a corner.
There would have been much anger had the set-piece resulted in a goal, and Holla’s delivery was inches away from providing just that. The initial ball, glanced goalwards by Dunk, was seemingly heading wide, but for the intervention of Adrian Colunga at the far post.
With Henderson out of position, the Spaniard simply couldn’t miss, but, somehow, Brighton’s summer signing sent the ball soaring over the bar when it looked easier to score. The momentary hush in the away end said all you needed to know; the Addicks had got away with one.
An ambitious effort from Tucudean, who had struggled to hold the ball up throughout the half, that hit the stanchion proved to be the final act of the opening 45 and the Romanian’s impact on the game. He was replaced by Simon Church for the second period, a period in which Charlton knew they were unlikely to be as fortunate as they were in the first.
However, from the first minute of the second half, Brighton again failed in front of goal. The lively Joe Bennett picked out Craig Mackail-Smith in space, but the experienced forward could only send his shot, executed on the turn, fizzing past the far post.
Bennett, cutting in form the left and driving towards goal, then had an effort of his own, fooling half the stadium into believing the Albion had equalised, with his well-struck effort crashing against the side netting and rippling the net. Already Charlton supporters were looking up at the AMEX’s scoreboard, saddened to see another 40 minutes remaining.
But Brighton’s attempts on goal were somewhat limited thereafter; the imperious figure of Bikey standing firm.
Charlton’s efforts to keep their lead intact were also helped by the appearance of a number of opportunities to break, with Buyens galloping through the midfield on several occasions, only for the moves to break down when they looked at their most promising.
So it was incredibly frustrating for the Addicks, especially given their near formidable defensive efforts in the second half, to concede the equaliser from the simplest of set-pieces.
There was nothing particularly special about Holla’s corner; it was merely a regular delivery hung up to the far post. But Dunk rose highest and found the back of the net via Solly’s desperate attempts to clear on the line. In terms of the general run of play, it was hard to argue Brighton’s performance hadn’t merited a goal, but that didn’t make the manner in which it came about any less disappointing for a Charlton perspective.
The worry now for the Addicks was not that they wouldn’t gain three points, but that they would go away with none. With the goal given the hosts confidence, and giving their supporters a lift, it was now Brighton who were favourites to steal a victory.
Especially the case with regular Charlton tormentor Lua Lua on the pitch. His first effort may have horribly ballooned out of play for a throw, but his second, accurately driven goalwards, drew a smart stop out of Henderson.
But, with the Addicks on the verge of impending doom, Charlton’s forward duo saw it fit to create and finish their second real opening of the match to regain
Coming completely against the run of play, Church, who had been criticised for so much as breathing out of tune by the visiting supporters, broke superbly down the right, being clipped by Bennett as he did so.
The Welshman is no stranger to hitting the deck with relative ease, but his decision to regain his balance and drive towards the box proved vital. Waiting to receive Church’s pull back was Vetokele, who dropped a shoulder to beat the Albion defender in his path and coolly finish via the post.
You only had to look at the reaction of Church to see what the goal meant to Charlton; the forward probably popped a blood vessel or ten as he celebrated in front of 1,992 supporters, exploding with similar emotion.
Still, though, against such strong opposition this game was far from won. Not even with the Addicks looking composed and able to combat Brighton’s threat, which now included Sam Baldock.
In fact, Charlton were still capable of pushing forward, as something of a scramble gave Church a foot race with Dunk he was never likely to win. Instead, the Welsh international used the faintest of touches from Brighton’s goalscorer to hit the deck and claim a penalty. A duly punished dive, and quite an embarrassing one at that.
Down the other end, Brighton similarly ambitiously appealed for a penalty after Baldock’s effort bounced off Ben Haim. There claims of handball were turned away by referee Hill, as was the resulting corner by Charlton’s back four. With just over minutes to go, those in the away end were crossing everything they could and praying to every religious leader they’d heard of.
And they almost had their prayers answered with three minutes to go. Excellent work from, who else, Vetokele won the Addicks a corner, from which Jackson’s delivery perfectly picked out Bikey. The Cameroonian’s header, however, flashed inches wide of the far post, leaving him characteristically angry and those behind the goal hopeful hoping that Bikey’s miss wouldn’t prove costly.
But, with the Seagulls ramping up the pressure deep into four minutes of stoppage time, Bikey was forced to give away a corner at the other end, blocking the ever lively Texeira.
With the AMEX crowd in full voice, and Stockdale racing forward to be involved, the scene was set for a dramatic end. With the initial delivery cleared, Lua Lua gathered the loose ball and picked out Dunk, who had found his way into a pocket of space between Ben Haim and Bikey, to head past a stranded Henderson.
Cue pandemonium in the home ends. An awful sight to see after such valiant work for 93 minutes.
For any Addick who might well still be feeling somewhat disappointed by the result, let’s attempt to but things into perspective
Brighton are a very good side, as they showed last season in their 3-0 victory over us. I would suggest this Brighton side, although not dramatically so, is a touch better than the one the Addicks faced in April, if lacking something in the final third.
The point is, despite Brighton looking just as, if not more impressive, Charlton have managed to close the gap. They’ve managed to compete, so much so that few on either side can argue a draw wasn’t the least the Addicks deserved.
Of course, some will point to the stats which show the hosts having 64% possession and 20 shots to Charlton’s five, but there’s more than one way to be impressive in a game of football. It was Peeters’ side’s determination, their resoluteness and their show of character, all only faltering in the game’s dying moments, to constantly break down and block forward move after forward move that deserves plenty of plaudits.
On top of that, it’s also the case that the impact of Charlton’s poacher can’t be underestimated. As I stated after last weekend’s draw with Huddersfield, the Addicks failed to make pressure and chances count on so many occasions last season without a man capable of putting the ball in the back of the net.
This season, Charlton merely need to give Vetokele a sight of goal and the ball will undoubtedly end up in it. His two strikes, Charlton’s only two on target, were superbly taken, and you feel that, regardless of how well the Addicks are playing, an on-song Igor will constantly pick you up points.
And, in truth, the Addicks weren’t faultless at the AMEX.
As resolute as the back four was, individual mistakes let Brighton in on a number of occasions. Ben Haim’s efforts summed that up more than most. At times, he was superb; at other times, he came dangerously close to costing Charlton a goal or too, and his and Bikey’s positioning for the goal was questionable.
It would be oh so harsh to drop the Israeli, but I can’t help but feel a change needs to be made at the back. For all Charlton’s ability going forward, that’s now five league games without a clean sheet, and there would certainly be no harm in giving Michael Morrison or Joe Gomez a league start at centre back.
Cousins and Gudmundsson were also disappointing, the former especially, who seemed unable to keep hold of the ball or make an accurate pass. It may be the case that the international break will do the pair some good, but with Lawrie Wilson, who impressed off the bench, Franck Moussa, Callum Harriott and new signing Frederic Bulot, there’s a healthy amount of choice for Peeters should he feel the need to make changes to improve his side.
Nonetheless, this work in process Charlton side has gotten through to the international break without defeat. Few would have predicted that before the season got under way.