A lot has happened since Deon Burton’s hat-trick relegated Norwich City to League One at The Valley in 2009.
In fact, three players who played for the Canaries that day (Gary Doherty, Darrel Russell and David Mooney) went on to play, or at least attempt to, for the Addicks.
But, more importantly, both clubs have been through turmoil, seemingly got out of it, and then placed in it again over the course of five years.
Norwich’s climb from the third tier back to the top was remarkable, while Charlton’s record-breaking promotion and subsequent 9th place finish in the Championship, although not as impressive, had supporters dreaming of following in the Canaries’ footsteps.
Alas, last season proved difficult for both sides.
While Charlton, with fans enduring an emotionally taxing season in more ways than one, avoided a return to League One, Norwich weren’t so lucky. Despite making a host of seemingly impressive summer purchases, the Canaries dropped back to the Championship after three seasons in the Premier League.
To different extents, difficult seasons were predicted for both clubs this time around. Norwich’s appointment of Neil Adams was seen as an odd one, with many suggesting he wouldn’t be able to lead them back to the top flight, while uncertainty at The Valley saw many pundits tip the Addick for relegation.
So it’s with some surprise that these two sharers of turmoil meet at Carrow Road on Tuesday in positive spirits.
Where there was no real winner from that clash in 2009, the Canaries would have remained in a state regardless of Championship survival, the winner of this game can claim a massive boost as they look upwards.
For Norwich, a win would cement their position at the top of the division while also ending Charlton’s unbeaten start to the season. For Charlton, victory would not only raise a few eyebrows, but convince supporters concerned by a drop in performance levels in recent weeks that there’s better than an outside chance of challenging for a top six finish throughout the season.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 NORWICH CITY
Fraser Foster ruined my 15th birthday, and he’s still not apologised.
The future England goalkeeper showed signs that he would one day be worth £10m, pulling off a string of saves to render Charlton’s unrelenting pressure meaningless, and my birthday a disaster, at The Valley in April 2010.
In fact, the Addicks dominated table-toppers Norwich for the duration of the contest, but Messrs Burton, Bailey and Forster were unable to find a way past the Canaries’ goalkeeper.
It meant that Michael Nelson’s first-half header, Norwich’s only shot-on-target, was enough to give the visitors a 1-0 win and confirm their promotion back to the Championship, derailing Charlton’s automatic promotion hopes and deeply upsetting a birthday boy in the process.
There was some doubt as to how the Canaries would cope following their relegation from the Premier League.
While their squad screamed immediate return to the top flight, their manager, Neil Adams, and a sense of doom and gloom around Carrow Road following an inept 2013/14 season suggested becoming lost somewhere in the Championship’s mid-table abyss was just as likely.
However, Adams has quickly calmed the concerns of Norwich supporters, with the Canaries winning six of their opening nine league games, scoring three or more goals in five of those victories.
It means Norwich currently occupy the division’s summit, and with the form of Cameron Jerome and Lewis Grabban, the pair notching 11 goals between them, they’ve got a fair chance of staying there or there abouts for the duration of the campaign.
A daunting prospect for the Addicks, but, at the very least, some solace can be taken from the fact that the Canaries are not completely invincible. A 2-2 draw with Birmingham City, during which the Blues led 2-0 at one stage, and a 1-0 League Cup defeat to League Two side Shrewsbury, albeit with a rotated but not necessarily weak side, suggest there’s some chinks in the rather impressive armour.
“Ten-man Middlesbrough weathered late pressure to earn a point against draw specialists Charlton at The Valley,” reads the opening paragraph of the BBC’s report from Saturday’s game.
‘Draw specialists Charlton’. I’m unsure if I like that.
In one sense, it’s a compliment to the Addicks’ hard to beat nature. Half through resoluteness, half through luck, Bob Peeter’s side have fought hard this campaign to maintain their unbeaten league record.
In another, it’s a criticism, showing Charlton’s failure to hold onto leads and finish off chances in tight games. And it’s that failure to win, with just one victory in six, which has made some Addicks stop championing the unbeaten run.
Regardless, few Charlton fans would complain should that draw specialist tag gain further substance after Tuesday night.
As you would expect from an in-form side, Norwich’s starting XI has become relatively settled in recent weeks.
Jos Hooiveld and Michael Turner have formed a solid centre-back partnership, Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey are a formidable midfield force, while Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan offer a potent threat from out wide.
In addition to having the privilege of knowing his strongest starting line-up, Adams also has the bonus of a large squad that contains few injuries. Only Gary Hooper is unavailable for the Canaries, but the form of Grabban and Jerome means his absence doesn’t hurt Norwich.
Nonetheless, there’s quality in abundance in reserve for the Canaries, and the impact youngster Josh Murphy had from the bench in their win over Blackpool on Saturday means he’s one of several impressive players, including Kyle Lafferty and Johnny Howson, consistently pushing to start.
Charlton look set to be without Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s draw with Middlesbrough.
The Iceland international has seen the start of his Charlton career somewhat blighted by injury, and Lawrie Wilson may well get another chance to fill in on the right flank.
There is also some doubt as to Whether Chris Solly will be fit enough to occupy the right-back position.
Solly, who briefly wore the captain’s armband on Saturday, has been unable to play Tuesday games this season due to a persistent knee issue.
However, Peeters recently said the need to rest the 23-year-old would soon be at an end. Whether that puts him into contention for the Carrow Road clash remains to be seen.
KEY BATTLE – MIDFIELD VS MIDFIELD
Without wishing to diminish the importance of other factors, there’s been one obvious difference between Charlton’s best and least impressive performances this season. In fact, the same can be said with the better and weaker moments over the course of 90 minutes.
When Charlton press, they look like a formidable force. When the Addicks stand off their opponents, they look like something of a mess.
That difference was clear at the weekend. In the first half, Middlesbrough were allowed to play, while Charlton lacked any sense of urgency. In the second half, pressure was finally applied to Boro while they were in possession of the ball and not only did the Addicks looked a stronger defensive unit, but they began to create attacking openings of their own.
Of course, unless you’re one of Europe’s heavyweights, it’s unreasonable to demand constant pressing for 90 minutes. But, against a Norwich side who will cut the Addicks open should they be given time to do so, it’s of paramount importance that pressure is applied when the Canaries are in possession for the duration of the game.
It’s for this reason that I would advocate a genuine 4-5-1 formation being used at Carrow Road with three central midfielders. Johnnie Jackson and Yoni Buyens sitting deeper with Jordan Cousins slightly further forward, flanked by the hard-working Wilson and Franck Moussa.
Press, press, press.
On several occasions this season, I have logically predicated defeat, only for the Addicks to pull of something of a surprise and take a point or three. On this occasion, playing against a table-topping side with an unbeaten record at Carrow Road, expecting and predicting anything other than defeat would be very brave.
Norwich City 2-1 Charlton Athletic
With Charlton erratic, lacking composure and struggling to retain possession for a large part of the game at the New York Stadium last weekend, there was a real sense Rotherham were going to become the side to inflict the Addicks’ first league defeat of the season.
Alas, in the face of heavy pressure from the Millers, Charlton held on. There was an element of luck involved, with Rotherham failing to capitalise on the poor parts of the visitors’ performance, while some pretty desperate defending also helped to give the Addicks a point they scarcely deserved.
However, with those around him lacking composure, there was also a crucial performance from a prominent figure in Charlton’s side that helped to limit the extent of Rotherham’s threat. Had it not been for Johnnie Jackson, the chances are the club he captains would have a ‘1’ in the league table’s losses column.
For Jackson was first to almost every loose ball, one of the few reacting to the second balls following Rotherham’s knock downs.
Jackson, in a slightly deeper role than he has played in in the past, broke down several attacks from the hosts at vital moments, and made a number of crucial interventions to stop forward passes and crosses finding their targets.
Jackson, when in possession, was composed, calm and always looking for the next pass. That next pass was largely a useful one, helping the Addicks to maintain possession in a match where it was all too often handed over to the opposition without much of fight.
It’s performances, with the Skipper putting in excellent shifts far more often than not this season, like the one at Rotherham that reiterate just how vital Jackson remains to Charlton, while additionally showing the ease at which he has taken to a slightly deeper role in Bob Peeters’ new look side.
However, take yourself forward a week to the aftermath of the goalless draw with Middlesbrough, and the picture couldn’t have been more different.
Against Boro, Jackson was below par. The performance wasn’t at all concerning, he was largely composed and his set-pieces were Charlton’s only real threat in the first half, but a few misplaced passes and a couple of incidents where he gave away possession far too cheaply meant he wasn’t at his best.
The mediocre display, only his second this season after an unimpressive afternoon at Griffin Park, sparked fury on Twitter and forums. Too slow, past it, not creative enough – the full house of Jackson criticisms were made by those intent on sending him off to the retirement home as quickly as possible.
Often the crusade by a vocal few against Jackson is based on an irrational hatred of the man with over 150 appearances for the Addicks or a firm belief that, while once a hero, he no longer possess the pace and ability to maintain a regular place in a Championship side.
However, on Saturday, those who want Jackson’s place in the starting XI handed over to someone else were given extra ammunition. When the skipper left the field, replaced by George Tucudean, Charlton’s forward threat grew.
Jordan Cousins came into the centre alongside Yoni Buyens, and from that moment onwards Charlton looked the most likely to score. As a result, in the mind of those who want Jackson gone, it’s Cousins and Buyens who must start together in midfield.
But the forward intent shown by the Addicks in the game’s closing stages was brought about by a process that began while Jackson remained on the pitch. In fact, it was Jackson and Buyens’ pressing, which started in the second half after an opening 45 in which Charlton stood off their opponents, that pushed the home side into a commanding position.
It’s therefore the case that removing Jackson, putting a more physical forward on the pitch and adding some extra pace in midfield was a perfectly logical move to turn the control gained into something resembling attacking dominance.
It was not a sign that Jackson is holding the team back, nor that his place in the side is no longer warranted. In fact, the 32-year-old remains one of the most important names on the team sheet. One slightly undercooked performance does not change that.
At the start of the season, I wrote a piece for Charlton fanzine Voice of The Valley in which, after similar rhetoric from those wanting him removed from the side, I offered three key reasons as to why Jackson remained an important figure.
The first was that, despite his critics suggesting differently, he remained an excellent player and didn’t hold a place in the side purely because he wears an armband.
In the games after Brentford and before Middlesbrough, Jackson has shown he is still a player of some quality and model of consistency.
There’s of course the performance against Rotherham, which makes the nature of the criticism Jackson received after the Boro game all the more bizarre, in addition to an even more impressive display against Derby County, where Jackson’s pressing, defensive work and passing was central to Charlton’s victory.
In fact, it’s that pressing that has been at the heart of what Jackson has done right this season. In his deeper role, the Skipper has persistently pressed opponents and made their job a difficult task. While the opposition have often dominated possession, rarely have the opposition’s midfield been allowed to turn that possession into something more meaningful; Jackson’s work alongside Buyens one of the main reasons for that.
If that doesn’t convince you, here’s some stats:
My second point was that, as an incredible captain and an inspirational leader, Jackson’s presence in the side was crucial.
It’s fair enough to suggest Peeters hasn’t been afraid to make changes and remove Charlton’s old guard. A previous ever-present, Michael Morrison is yet to start a league game, while Lawrie Wilson has had a restricted role.
If Peeters felt Jackson wasn’t the man to be his leader, a change would have been made. Alas, it would appear Peeters is more than happy to have Charlton’s long-standing skipper as the man to manage his side from a playing position. It’s a decision you can hardly argue against.
Would this new side have settled so quickly without Jackson’s influence? Would Buyens, a more creative influence than Jackson, have been able to make such a promising start to life as an Addick without the perfect foil for him alongside? Would the side, in a number of testing games, shown such resilience without an excellent on the pitch organiser?
They might well have done, but Jackson has certainly done nothing wrong as captain this season. In fact, he’s largely done everything right. There’s no player better suited to leading out the Addicks each week.
Unfortunately, I’m yet to be proved right on the third count. I suggested that Jackson’s ability to produce a game changing moment, whether that be a goal or otherwise, meant losing him from the side could prove costly.
In Jackson’s deeper role, the opportunity to come up with one of his signature extraordinary moments have been limited.
It would seem one of the critics’ main issues with Jackson this season is that he has failed to score, and only has one assist. But the defensive work Jackson’s put in more than makes up for his lack of goalmouth activity; it’s possibly the case some supporters are yet to adjust to his new role.
Regardless, given previous incidences where Jackson’s place in the side has been questioned, a captain’s performance topped off by a match-winning goal will occur in the next week.
Even if it doesn’t, the only change that needs making with regards to Jackson is the song Charlton’s vocal supporters serenade him with. It’s been some time since Johnnie, oh Johnnie Jackson has run down the wing for me. I can’t see sits deep and leads the team for me catching on…
At full-time, a spectator emerged from the North Stand and collected the corner flag as he ran onto The Valley turf.
With the flag’s spike in their direction, the invader charged towards the Middlesbrough fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand, seemingly confident enough to take on 2,000 or so celebratory supporters with just his pitch accessory for company.
Showing speed the quickest of Charlton players would do well to emulate, the 20-something male quickly found himself directly in front of the opposition fans. He hurdled the advertising hoardings and made for the barrier between himself and Boro’s visiting army, only to be stopped rather emphatically by a no-nonsense steward, much to the disappointment of the clearly entertained Charlton fans.
This incident, however, probably didn’t provide as much shock as it should have done. It fact, it was hardly an unusual occurrence.
For the Addicks, well off the pace in the first half and still struggling to make an impact in the first passages of play in the second, found the impetuous to dominate in the game’s closing stages. A Charlton man charging into Middlesbrough territory before falling short at the final hurdle had been seen several times before the invader’s desperate attempt.
Helped by the red card awarded to Boro’s Albert Adomah, a high footed challenge on Rhoys Wiggins that resulted in a second yellow for the tricky winger, Aitor Karana’s men were forced to sit back and cling on as Bob Peeters’ side came desperately close to an unlikely win on several occasions.
A post was hit, a shot was blocked and a header was hoicked away perilously close to the line in the final 15 minutes, but the hosts were left somewhat frustrated.
Boro, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief that their failure to make the most of the early pressure didn’t cost them more than two points. Nonetheless, it was a goalless draw arguably fair to both sides.
And a goalless draw that leaves the Addicks nine league games without defeat, or with one win from six. Whichever angle you choose to take on Charlton’s recent run of results, there was at least encouraging signs in the game’s final moments, rather than the worrying ones that had been on show in recent weeks.
There was also something to be encouraged about before kick-off at The Valley, with youngster Karlan Ahearne-Grant given a place on Charlton’s bench.
While Ahearne-Grant was in the squad for the first time, a first start was given to Standard Liege loanee Frederic Bulot, replacing Franck Moussa as a second striker to support Igor Vetokele.
However, few would have confidently predicted anything resembling an encouraging outcome at any point throughout the first half.
The Addicks may have had a fair amount of possession, but much of their ball retention was done in their own half, with attempts to get forward often let down by a lack of creativity, questionable decision making and poor execution.
There was also a static nature about Charlton, with pace and movement lacking. Boro, on the other hand, were playing in a manner almost opposite to that, with sharp forward passing and intelligent off the ball movement on show.
And one such forward move, started by Adam Clayton’s almost unchallenged burst through midfield, produced an excellent opening for the visitors. Clayton’s resulting pass was cleverly knocked on by Patrick Bamford to the unmarked Adomah, but the winger could only lash his effort against the side netting form a promising position.
Boro’s threat was now clear, but Charlton’s continued to be almost non-existent. Vetokele’s pace, strength and perseverance at least kept Daniel Ayla and Kenneth Omeruo on their toes, while Johnnie Jackson’s set-pieces were consistently delivered into areas that forced the Boro defence to react, but it was hardly enough for the Addicks to create a meaningful opening.
However, although a little desperately at times, the hosts were resolute enough to restrict the visitors to few clear cut chances of their own. Another strike from Adomah, claimed comfortably enough by Stephen Henderson, was all Boro could add to their early opening in the game’s first 20 minutes.
It was largely the work of Chris Solly, constantly denying the lively Adam Reach, and Andre Bikey, dealing well enough with the excellent Bamford, who were almost faultless in their efforts to contain the rampant away side.
But such was the persistence with which Boro attacked, there was always likely to be more chances created. George Friend, just a fraction wide, and Daniel Ayala both came close with headers from Clayton corners, while Tal Ben Haim stuck his head in the way of Bamford’s fierce strike, deflecting it over the bar.
Jackson’s delivery from set-pieces again proved testing for the Boro defence, if ultimately fruitless for the Addicks, and Lee Tomlin’s effort looped over Henderson’s crossbar as a half lacking any real entertainment.
It was fair to say Boro’s early unrelenting pressure had been somewhat relaxed towards the end of the first period, but Charlton remained void of creativity and attacking threat, seemingly not helped when Johann Berg Gudmundsson fell to the ground just before stoppage time.
The Icelandic winger had looked the most likely to create something for the Addicks, but was now visibly in discomfort and hardly able to stand. With Gudmundsson being carried back to the dressing room to end a disappointing half, there was little hope of a more promising second period at half-time.
Alas, with Gudmundsson’s replacement Moussa providing some much needed pace and energy on the left, the Addicks began the second half in much stronger fashion than they ended the first.
Still they remained without a meaningful effort on goal, but this was no longer for the want of trying. There was more urgency about Charlton’s play, a greater intent to get forward down the flanks and Boro’s centre back pairing were having to work harder than ever to limit Vetokele’s threat, with the home supporters responding to the improvement with an increase in the volume.
What was also noticeable was that Middlesbrough were no longer noticeable. That’s not to say the afternoon suddenly became a peaceful one for Charlton’s back four, but a mixture of tiring Boro bodies and an increased amount of pressing from the hosts meant their forward play was no longer as fluent. Peeters had clearly demanded more from his side during the break.
But, with neither side able to make their mark in the final third, a goalless game grew more likely as 25 minutes of the second half passed without much more than a few testing crosses being sent into either box.
Few Addicks would have been unhappy with a point with 20 minutes to play, but events began to turn the way of the home side.
First, the outstanding Omeruo was forced off through injury, removing an irremovable object that had halted almost every Charlton attempt to get forward. Had it been acceptable to do so, Vetokele would have celebrated the substitution, as Ben Gibson came on.
It was then the turn of Charlton’s irremovable object to leave the field, or so thought those of a Middlesbrough persuasion. Not for the first time, Bikey and Bamford tussled, and the former Boro man appeared to strike the Chelsea-loanee across the face. Not so much as a free-kick was awarded to the visitors, incensing the supporters behind the goal Bikey was protecting, and leading to vocal booing each time he touched the ball from those who used to support him.
In turn, the Addicks cheered a man that is quickly becoming a cult hero, and they almost had cause for genuine cheers with 12 minutes to play.
Rhoys Wiggins’ excellent delivery from the left wing picked out Bulot perfectly, and the Gabon international connected sweetly to send a half volley goalwards. With the Covered End prematurely celebrating, the swerve put on the ball by the nature of Bulot’s contact agonisingly diverted the ball onto the inside of the post and into Middlesbrough’s possession. Regardless of the Addicks finally creating an opening, ecstasy had quickly turned to anguish.
However, with Boro seemingly intent to sit back and hold on to a valuable away point and Charlton now pressing forward, a moment of anguish turned to something resembling ecstasy moments later.
Almost as one, the home dugout included, The Valley rose to send their verbal fury in the direction of referee Ward, who was stood signalling for a Middlesbrough free-kick after Adomah and Wiggins had both challenged for a loose ball with high feet.
As the anger raged on, Ward went to his pocked and produced a yellow card, seemingly flung in the direction of the already booked Adomah. It was followed by a red, also in Adomah’s direction. Despite his protestations, the winger had to walk and the Addicks were, if a little shocked, more than happy to see him go.
Ward, who had been poor for both sides all game, had seemingly pointed the wrong way. As a level seven referee who officiates youth league football and the occasional County Cup game, I sometimes point the wrong way at the start of a half as I adjust to who is shooting in which direction.
For a professional to do that in such a situation is bizarre, and the reaction from Boro’s bench was understandable, especially with the Covered End now roaring and Charlton clear favourites to win the game, if there was to be a winner.
However, it remained the case that Boro’s attacking threat was not to be underestimated regardless of their one man shortage. Only a piece of brave goalkeeping from Henderson prevented Tomlin’s through ball being tucked away by Bamford.
Nonetheless, the closing stages were firmly dominated by those in red as Boro attempted to stand firm and run the clock down to protect their point.
And just as they thought they had done enough, up popped the Addicks with two excellent chances in the final minute of four added on.
There may have been confusion when Bikey was spotted acting as a makeshift forward, the clashes with Bamford seemingly resulting in the Cameroonian losing his sense of direction, but his excellent hold up play provided an opening for Vetokele.
As the home supporters rose off their seats in anticipation of the Angolan’s strike, Vetokele cleverly opted to lay the ball off to Lawrie Wilson, whose first time effort brought the very best out of Dimitri Konstantopoulos and the very best frustrated reaction from the curly-haired substitute.
Regardless, there was still a corner for Charlton to attempt to find a winner from, and they came incredibly close to doing so. Only Reach’s heroics on the line prevented Wiggins from sealing a win for the Addicks.
Alas, the full-time whistle blew soon after. The Boro fans, delighted with an away point despite their early domination, celebrated accordingly, while the home fans clapped the efforts of their players, but there was a sense they might well have been appreciating efforts that led to a win.
Nonetheless, the home supporters had every reason to be happy. Their side, coming into the game on the back of some rather disappointing and worrying performances, not to mention a dreadful first half, had matched and then bettered one of the best teams in the division for much of the second half. Where the draws with Wolves and Rotherham were frustrating owing to the the quality of the performances, this was not only an excellent point but frustrating only for the fact one of those late chances couldn’t quite sneak in.
To have beaten this Boro side, who showed their ability in the first half with pacey attacks and penetrative passing on occasions, would have been an incredible effort. It’s with that in mind that I have no complaints with the fact that the Addicks couldn’t quite snatch a win.
Regardless of the failure to score, the most pleasing aspect of the performance was the way in which Charlton throw bodies forward in the final 20 minutes, both before and after the sending off. After weeks of putting men behind the ball and dubiously clinging onto points, it was great to see some attacking intent return.
The likes of Bulot, Vetokele and Cousins really came alive in those closing stages, while Peeters deserve plenty of credit for forcing his side forwards against opposition clearly capable of punishing any sort of mistake on the break.
It was also a delight to see such attacking intent after a worrying first half. It’s incredibly frustrating that we can’t perform with such pace and creativity for 90 minutes, or at least a large part of the game, when we look so poor in the passages of play in which we don’t apply the same intensity to our attacks.
Nonetheless, when we were under the cosh, more often that not the back four stood up. Both Bikey and Solly are deserving of endless praise, while Ben Haim responded well to his awful performance at the New York Stadium and Wiggins was solid.
We were also given a glimpse of the future, with Solly taking the armband after Jackson was subbed. No doubt once the skipper calls it a day, Solly will be a prime candidate to replace him.
Of course, there’s the question about whether this is primarily an unbeaten run or a run with just a single victory. The BBC referred to the Addicks as ‘draw specialists’, which can’t be a good thing, but the disappointment should be with the performances in the draws with Huddersfield, Wolves and Rotherham, not with the one in this stalemate. Overall, it was much improved.
After that, I feel much more encouraged going into the game against Norwich City on Tuesday than I expected to be on the back of the Rotherham performance. The trip to Carrow Road will be an incredibly tough test, but one we might well get something out of if we can repeat that second half display.
It wasn’t just Middlesbrough fans who were celebrating Adam Reach’s headed equaliser against Liverpool on Tuesday night, nor were those that aren’t too fond of the Anfield club the only others showing their delight. Somewhat unexpectedly, Charlton fans reacted with a fist pump from their sofas.
For with that goal, the hope that Boro, Charlton’s opponents on Saturday, would be facing the arduous task of playing 120 minutes four days before they played the Addicks increased.
And while most inside Anfield groaned as the full-time whistle blew and the nuisance of extra-time began, Charlton fans pencilled themselves in an advantage for this weekend’s clash.
Having not been involved in the League Cup this week, a fresh and fit Charlton side will be welcoming a considerably drained Middlesbrough to The Valley.
But it’s possibly though fear that supporters of the South East London club have overstated the importance of a somewhat rotated Boro side exerting themselves heavily in the lead up to Saturday’s game.
After a steady start to the season, Aitor Karanka’s men have clicked into gear in recent weeks, possessing a serious goal threat and performing with some style; their performance at Anfield also more than credible.
The Addicks, however, have let performance levels slip over the past few games, only maintaining their unbeaten start to the campaign thanks to a sizable amount of good fortune.
It’s with that in mind that believing Middlesbrough’s mammoth efforts on Tuesday will have a serious impact on the result at The Valley is really the only way most Addicks can convince themselves they’re favourites for the game.
Regardless, the unbeaten run, having already suffered serious bruising, is at its greatest risk of perishing this weekend.
It’s often said that repeating the same process and expecting a different outcome is a sign of madness.
It’s possibly that the process in this case, Charlton sitting back after taking the lead, has yet to be truly punished, and it’s for that reason that the Addicks continue to intrust in such a method.
But, if the win over Watford was somewhat fortunate and a fair amount of luck was involved in gaining a point from the game against Wolves, Charlton’s 1-1 draw with Rotherham at the New York Stadium was arguably undeserved, and contained any number of moments where the home supporters must have felt the footballing gods were against them.
It could have been so different, though.
It could have been so different had, following a very shaky start, the Addicks built upon the pressure they were mounting at the end of the first half after Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s excellent finish had given the visitors the lead against the run of play.
It could have been so different had Bob Peeters’ side opted to sit back after the break, allowing the not incapable Millers to maintain possession, build attack after attack and play the game how they wished.
The only major difference from the performances in the second half against Watford and Wolves was that the Addicks were substantially worse and, with Henderson’s palms, poor Rotherham finishing and an offside flag denying the hosts, it was only a matter of time before Charlton’s lead was taken away from them.
And Rotherham’s equaliser came from something else that was predictable and had been coming; a defensive implosion.
It had not only been coming over the course of the game, but the previous two. Tal Ben Haim had been far from faultless, and it was his criminal loss of possession that eventually resulted in Luciano Becchio equalising for the Millers.
However luckily, the Addicks held on to claim a point, and there will be an argument that says there’s no need to panic and there’s no need to change anything as the unbeaten run stretches to eight games at the start of this campaign.
And while there’s no need to panic, there is a need to change the way the side attempts to maintain their lead in the second period. In this case, repeating the same process and expecting good fortune to continue to keep the Addicks unbeaten is madness.
Before kick-off, there was an expectation that, against opposition rated less highly than recent opponents, the free-flowing attacking football seen in the opening few games of the season would return. Igor Vetokele and Gudmundsson, replacing Lawrie Wilson in the side, being fit enough to start was part of that, as was the hope that Franck Moussa, in for the out of form George Tucudean, would provide more of a threat up top.
But, from almost the first moment of the game, it was apparent the expectation wasn’t going to quite be the reality.
Rotherham started brightly, looking comfortable in possession as Paul Taylor fired an early effort horribly wide, while the Addicks were quite the opposite, somewhat fortunate that the hosts hadn’t made more of their carelessness with the ball at their feet.
In fact, the usually faultless Yoni Buyens would have been fearing the worst when his slowness to move possession onto another Addick saw him disposed on the edge of the box, but Alex Revell’s eventual shot was poked straight at Henderson.
Jordan Cousins and Johnnie Jackson may have flashed efforts over Rotherham’s bar, but those half chances only served to paper over the cracks on show in the first 20 minutes of the game.
As did a rather optimistic dive from Moussa after he broke into the box. The imitation flop from Rotherham’s mascot suggested the hosts weren’t too keen on the Belgian’s desperate attempts to con referee Deadman.
And those cracks meant the Millers still looked the more composed and more threatening of the two sides.
Their composure, however, evaded them at the crucial moments. If it wasn’t a misplaced pass or a poorly delivered cross in the final third that was preventing the hosts from making their pressure tell, it was some rather unimpressive finishing once a final ball had found its target.
First, Joe Skarz could only head agonisingly across the face of goal following Richard Smallwood’s deep cross, before, under pressure from Tal Ben Haim, Jordan Bowery failed to turn Taylor’s low cross goalwards.
And it was the Bowery chance, which caused a section of the home support to leap in celebration prematurely such was the clear-cut nature of it, that proved most pivotal. Having been on the verge of going ahead, Rotherham soon found themselves behind.
Without warning, Gudmundsson found himself in space on the right with the ball at his feet and was invited to cut inside.
With no red shirt close to him, the Iceland international made the most of the space available, putting the ball onto his stronger left foot and giving Scott Loach no chance with a crisp bottom corner finish from 25 yards.
It meant that, 27 minutes into the game, Peeters’ side had once again snatched a clinical opener somewhat against the run of play.
But, once again, it also meant the opposition were far from out of the game. Not with Revell continuing to be a constant nuisance, holding the ball up well and winning the majority of the aerial battles he was involved in.
And, following Taylor’s cross, it was the play-off final hero who came closest to pulling Rotherham level in the remaining first half minutes. In fact, he really should have done better, placing his free header into the hands of Henderson.
A pained expression appeared on the face of Revell, and it was not just a reaction to the miss. Having taken a knock a few moments early, the forward could no longer continue, and was replaced by Becchio. Seemingly a huge blow for the hosts.
While the events were unrelated, Revell’s substitution was immediately followed by a spell of Charlton domination in the final five minutes of the half that should have really resulted in the visitors doubling their lead.
Moussa’s dipping effort began the onslaught, with Loach forced to back-pedal in order to tip the effort over the bar, before the one-time England hopeful was again called into action as, popping up in an unfamiliar position, Ben Haim struck a powerful strike that brought the very best out of the stopper.
But still the best chance was yet to come, with a half cleared corner falling perfectly to Jackson. The skipper had been as close to faultless in the first period, but his volley was anything but, lashing well over from a position where it looked easier to score.
Rhoys Wiggins’ ambitious effort from distance ended the half and, despite the strike soaring over Loach’s goal, the Addicks went in at the break with a lead and full of confidence, given their efforts in the half’s closing stages.
There was a hope the second period would begin as the first ended, and Charlton would soon put this game out of sight to avoid a nervy end like they had had to endure in the previous week.
Instead, the composure, energy and attacking zip was replaced with what appeared to be a cautious and uncomfortable defensive approach.
The vocal supporters in the away end were left feeling uncomfortable themselves from the first 15 seconds of the half when the hosts were allowed to attack down their left hand side almost unopposed.
The ball into the box was cut back by Bowery to half-time sub Lee Frecklington, but his left-footed effort lacked the pace to beat Henderson, looping into the stopper’s hands as he made an unnecessary dive to save. Had there been any sort of power behind the strike, the scores would have been level.
But that early scare did little to motivate the Addicks into upping their performance levels. Possession was all too often given away, preventing any sort of attacking movement, first balls were rarely won and second balls were rarely reacted to, while individual mistakes were creeping into the performance more and more.
By contrast, Frecklington and one time Charlton target Anthony Wordsworth were enjoying the privilege of being able to knock the ball around at will.
It meant Rotherham’s shot count continued to rise, with an unmarked Becchio tamely heading straight at Henderson, before Taylor, in space at the back post, volleyed horribly over from close range in a miss to rival Jackson’s at the end of the first period.
Charlton were certainly ridding their luck, and that remained the case as Rotherham finally got the ball into the back of the net. The celebrations emerging around the New York Stadium after Bowery had headed home from close range were cut short by the assistant’s flag – the former Aston Villa man occupying an offside position as he scored.
The first cheers of the half were heard from the away end, not too distantly followed by the first ‘ooo’ as the 68th minute saw Charlton’s first chance of the half. The imperious presence of Bikey rose highest from Bulot’s corner, but his header also rose, sailing harmlessly, although powerfully, over the bar.
With the visiting supporters given a much needed lift, the atmosphere was crushed in Rotherham’s next attack as Bikey’s centre-back partner wasn’t quite so imperious.
In fact, he was the complete opposite. Uncertain and weak as, in possession of the ball in his own half, Paul Green pressed Ben Haim.
The Israeli handed over possession without a fight, and allowed Green to cross to the back post where an unmarked Becchio stood to nod the simplest of chances past Henderson.
It was, of course, something of a fortunate equaliser for the hosts, but certainly one they deserved in the overall run of play and a mistake that Charlton deserved to be punished for.
Now the question to be asked was how the Addicks would respond with 20 minutes left to play. Would they continue to unconvincingly sit deep and hold on, or would they push once more to regain their lead?
In truth, it was somewhere in the middle of those two bookends. Charlton continued to defend like a side intent on handing their opponents the victory, especially when Jackson appeared to handle the ball in the area without punishment, but also pressed forward in the game’s closing stages, if to little effect with Vetokele incredibly quiet.
It was from corners and crosses that Rotherham looked the most threatening as the 90th minute approached, with Bowery forcing a decent save out of Henderson and Kari Arnason heading over, while the Addicks struggled to create anything when they attacked down the flank as substitute Callum Harriott failed to make any sort of impact.
That was the case until, with four minutes to play, Jordan Cousins took on his full-back, beat him and cut into the box.
The best option looked to be to cut back to Jackson, waiting unmarked just inside the area, but the academy graduate opted to hit a seemingly tame effort towards goal. However, Loach didn’t get his hands and body behind the ball as cleanly as he would have liked, and the ball trickled underneath him with the Addicks behind his goal beginning to celebrate.
Loach, however, was alive to the situation and dived onto the ball just as it made its first contact with the goal line’s white paint.
To lose it so late would have been incredibly harsh on a Rotherham side that had been by far the best team for what was now almost 45 minutes, and to win it late on, although cruel on the Addicks, wouldn’t have been unwarranted.
Only Henderson’s excellent save, the ‘keeper now worthy of the ‘kept his side in the game tag’, from Skarz’s header prevented the Millers from doing just that. Again there was no pressure on the crosser, former Addick Frazer Richardson, and again a man was left unmarked at the far post. Full-time couldn’t come soon enough.
But, thankfully for Charlton, minus a nervy moment when Henderson was caught off guard by a Frecklington effort that didn’t quite dip in time to beat the ‘keeper, five arduous minutes of additional time passed with the Addicks unscathed. The much celebrated and treasured unbeaten run still intact despite the poor performance.
There will be talk, and I’ve seen some of it already, that complaining about anything in this uneaten start to the season is negative, and ungrateful. And, in truth, there’s no denying the overall start made to this campaign has been plentiful and largely positive.
However, when either a negative approach or poor defending has cost the Addicks dear in three out of the last four games, with a strong argument that further points should have been dropped for at least two of those, it’s naïve and somewhat complacent to suggest things can continue as they are without Charlton eventually being punished more seriously.
Without disrespect to Rotherham, being outplayed by them isn’t an encouraging sign. There’s no doubting they’re a hard working side with both the ability to play a physical game and an effective passing one, but Charlton were victims of their own downfall, allowing the Millers time to play how they wished, and also bizarrely ditching their excellent attacking play that was on show at the end of the first half.
It’s possibly the case that Peeters feels his side is best suited to shutting up shop after taking the lead, but that wouldn’t appear to be the case. If you’re going to sit back, you must show a constant desire to win the ball, the energy to press to at least some extent and a resolute showing in defence.
Charlton did neither of those things once sitting back today. Instead, they were slow, lacking urgency and ridden with mistakes, included an overreliance to pass the ball out from the back when launching clear may be the safest option. It was fitting that Rotherham’s goal came from such an error.
What was also displayed today was that, without an on song Vetokele, the Addicks struggle when going forward.
Never has the Angolan been so quiet, and struggled so much to either create chances, beat his defenders or hold the ball up. With Vetokele so weak, there was no outlet, which invited more pressure, and also few chances to steal a much needed goal. With the Moussa experiment also failing, another striker to support Vetokele, who can act as an outlet, is desperately needed if we’re not going to be brave enough to attempt to attack and double our leads.
So, with composure lacking, thank Christ Johnnie Jackson stepped up to the plate. Winning back possession on numerous occasions, offloading the ball to a teammate far more often than not and putting in all-round captain’s shift, his efforts, combined with Charlton’s good fortune and the spark Gudmunsson showed in the first period, were central the Addicks coming away from Rotherham with a point.
This is, of course, not in any way a desperate state of affairs and, given the ability within the side, I have few doubts there will be an improvement soon.
I’m possibly demanding too much, but it’s so incredibly frustrating when we have the ability to attack and put games to bed, but we’re opting to hold tight and hope the opposition aren’t at the races in front of goal instead.
Possibly not in personnel, but a change of intent from Peeters is needed if these below par performances and dropped points, now eight lost from winning positions, aren’t to become something more serious and regular.
Having come through a week unscathed that saw Watford and Wolves welcomed to The Valley, the prospect of a trip to Rotherham United doesn’t seem quite so daunting for the Addicks.
In fact, when compared to the other opposition Charlton have had to face this season, there’s a fair and reasonable argument to suggest that the Millers are the least frightening opponents that the Addicks have played so far.
It’s therefore easy to see why supporters of the South East London club are in a positive mood ahead of Saturday’s clash. With Charlton favourites, a return for the free-flowing and potent passing football that was on show in the opening weeks of the campaign is hoped for, while a positive result might well be enjoyed without fingernails being bitten for 90 minutes.
But, as we’re told on a weekly basis by every manager, player and pundit, there’s no easy games in the Championship. Facing Rotherham at the New York Stadium, a ground the Millers lost just three times on last season and beat Wolves on during this, won’t be the walkover some expect it to be.
There’s also a different kind of pressure – the pressure of being the favourites. Where Charlton have showed in the past week they can play the role of the plucky fighter quite well, an improvement on recent attacking displays will be needed to break down Steve Evans’ notoriously well organised side.
Evans certainly won’t let the Addicks come away from Yorkshire with any points that they didn’t have to work incredible hard for.
Separated more often than not by several divisions over the past 31 years, Saturday will be the first game between the two sides since January 1983.
That game was also played in the second tier, and saw a Rod Fern give Rotherham a 1-0 victory on New Year’s Day.
Expected to struggle in the Championship following their promotion to the division last season, the Millers have far from disgraced themselves in the opening month and a half of the campaign, with Evans’ direct and pragmatic approach proving to be testing.
Wins over Wolves, the only defeat suffered by Kenny Jackett’s side so far, and Millwall, ending their unbeaten run, along with a last minute goal stealing point from their game with Bournemouth, are all commendable results and show they have the ability to frustrate anyone in this division.
They are, however, without a win in four league and cup games – a run that includes disappointing defeats to fellow promoted club Brentford and Tuesday’s 3-2 reverse at Bolton Wanderers, during which they led and scored an 82nd minute equaliser.
Performances may have dropped slightly, but the rate at which points have been picked up by Peeters’ side have not. If Saturday’s win over Watford was gritty, Tuesday’s draw with Wolves was certainly lucky, but finding a way to pick up points when not at your best is no bad thing.
However, the Addicks will have to make a return to their best soon if their faults aren’t to be exploited by more clinical sides, and if they’re going to pick up their first win away from The Valley at the New York Stadium.
Evans has the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from, and a large squad at that.
Given the controversial figure has already stated he’ll look to rotate his starting XI throughout the season, changes are likely to be made from Tuesday’s defeat at Bolton. Among the most likely is the introduction of Jordan Bowery up front, who has scored twice from the bench in as many games.
There should also be a place from the start for former Addick Frazer Richardson, but Richard Wood, who has only played twice for his new side so far, isn’t expected to be involved.
Despite losing all feeling in his arm following a collision with Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme on Tuesday, Igor Vetokele looks set to be fit enough to start for Charlton.
The forward, who has been in sensational form this season, only suffered a flesh wound and Peeters confirmed he expects his star striker to be in the starting XI at the New York Stadium.
But the Angolan may well have a new partner alongside him attack, with George Tucudean’s recent struggles showing no sign of ending.
The Romanian missed three excellent chances to score in Tuesday night’s draw with Wolves, and was once again hauled off before the hour mark, so Franck Moussa or Simon Church will be hoping to start in his place.
Elsewhere, Chris Solly will return to the starting line-up in place of Joe Goemez having sat out the Wolves clash, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson is expected to remain absent with an injury picked up while away on international duty with Iceland, so Lawrie Wilson will continue to deputise.
KEY BATTLE – IGOR VETOKELE VS ROTHERHAM’S DEFENCE
Going with the notion that Charlton will take to the game to their opponents, it’s of vital importance Rotherham’s back four keep Vetokele quiet.
If he’s not scoring, the Angolan’s presence is giving opposition centre backs an absolutely torrid time and creating openings for his side.
It was Vetokele’s run that won the Addicks their penalty against Watford, and his efforts to chase down an innocuous long ball that won them their corner from which Andre Bikey scored against Wolves.
And Vetokele’s presence has proved priceless in recent games with Charlton failing to display their all-round attacking threat that was shown in the opening weeks of the season. His moments of magic have been one of the key reasons why the Addicks have continued to pick up points after the incredible win against Derby County.
It’s certainly not the case that Charlton are a one man side, but if Craig Morgan and Keri Arnason can limit Vetokele’s threat, Rotherham’s chances of keeping the Addicks at bay will increase dramatically.
Regardless of Rotherham’s organised set-up that has caused many a side to come unstuck when victory was expected, you would like to think that Peeters will set up his side to dominate the game, both in the sense of ball retention and attacking threat. Should that be the case, there’s no reason why the Addicks can’t pick up a relatively comfortable victory.
Rotherham United 0-2 Charlton Athletic
They say a manager, or a head coach as the case may be in this situation, learns more about his side when they perform poorly, rather than when they play to their best.
If that is the case, Charlton boss Bob Peeters’ knowledge about a side that remains relatively new to him will have increased tenfold after tonight. In a high tempo contest, the Addicks were second best to a Wolves side that were allowed to dictate for much of the game, escaping with a point they scarcely deserved.
In the first instance, the Belgian will have learnt he can’t rely on his back four to hold off almost 90-minutes of pressure in every game.
Unable to maintain possession, struggling to find a route forward and lacking the fizz and spark of the victories over Derby and Wigan, the defence were always going to come under pressure.
Nonetheless, if he had hair, Peeters would have torn it out as Charlton’s back line stood firm to Wolves’ excellent attacking moves, only to gift them their best chances from completely avoidable situations and individual errors.
In fact, it was from a set piece that Wolves pulled level, Danny Batth bundling in from a second half corner to cancel out Andre Bikey’s against the run of play opener in the first half, also from a corner kick.
He’ll also have learnt, if he hadn’t already, that Charlton’s good fortune isn’t infinite. Had Leon Clarke, famously woeful when not in a Coventry City shirt, not been leading the line for Kenny Jackett’s men, they would have surely headed back to the midlands with three points. A more clinical opponent would have defeated the Addicks.
Chances, too, weren’t taken at the other end as Peeters was reminded just how desperately his side needs another forward for when the opportunities don’t fall to Igor Vetokele. George Tucudean wasted a hat-trick of excellent chances in the opening 45, while Franck Moussa, the Romanian’s replacement, proved frustratingly indecisive. This was doubly frustrating giving Charlton’s lack of panache going forward.
And Peeters may have to find a solution to that last issue with great haste. A somewhat disappointing night was wrapped up when Vetokele left the field at full-time in agony, a seemingly injured arm supported by Bikey.
But a somewhat disappointing night was all it was. Not a disaster or a travesty. A poor performance and a potentially costly injury, but a precious point against an inform and excellent side.
Without the injured Johann Berg Gudmundsson, replaced by Lawrie Wilson, and the incapable of playing two games in four days Chris Solly, Joe Gomez coming in at full-back, this was always going to be a tough test for the Addicks against a Wolves side who breezed past the likes of Norwich and Blackburn upon their return to the Championship.
But the Addicks, no doubt also feeling the effects of a wholehearted, battling performance to secure victory against Watford on Saturday, made a lively start to the game. In fact, you could argue the hosts should have been ahead inside the first ten minutes.
And they would have been, had Johnnie Jackson’s first touch not eluded him after being picked out by Vetokele’s excellent forward ball, Tucudean’s far post header from Cousins’ deep cross been sent goalwards, and the Romanian’s first time effort, having benefited from Vetokele’s leg work, not sliced harmlessly wide of goal.
Wolves, however, were far from sitting ducks, waiting to go behind. Already their sharp forward passing was on show and their threat down the flanks, with Bakary Sako and James Henry causing problems for Gomez and Rhoys Wiggins, was obvious.
In fact, Henry’s audacious overhead effort from the edge of the box, tipped over the bar by a back-peddling Stephen Henderson, proved to be the catalyst for a spell of Wolves domination with the impressive Sako to the fore.
The Malian showed his class and experience to glide past Gomez, forcing Tal Ben Haim to slide in and inadvertently poke towards his own goal, breathing a sigh of relief as only the side netting rippled, before some casual work in possession by Bikey allowed George Saville to take advantage and slide Sako through, but Henderson was equal to the winger’s effort.
While Wolves were potent, Charlton were only assisting the visitors’ forward threat. Henderson charged out of his goal in fury, to such an extent it was as if Ben Hamer had returned between the sticks, after Jackson stood off Lee Evans and allowed him to flash an effort fractionally wide of goal.
So, with the Covered End restless for possibly the first time this season, a corner won by Vetokele’s harassing of Batth was seen as little more than a momentary reprieve for the Addicks.
Instead, Cousins’ corner was met with some force by the right boot of Bikey, blasting the ball beyond Carl Ikeme and into the top corner of his net. On the back foot and seemingly only a matter of time before they fell behind, the Addicks were in front against the run of play and out of nothing.
If I were making the rules, Bikey’s double somersault celebration would have warranted the goal’s worth being doubled, but the Addicks should have been two goals up under conventional football rules just two minutes after the centre back’s opener.
Latching onto an under hit pass, Vetokele raced forward and picked out Tucedean perfectly, only for the forward to flash his effort across the face of goal. The Valley crowd roared in response, but really it was just to cover up their frustrations; their side should have been out of sight.
It meant the Addicks remained under immediate threat from a Wolves side that had not let the goal knock them off their stride for too long. In fact, with 11 first half minutes to play, Tal Ben Haim’s failure to clear allowed Clarke to steal in and cut the ball back to Saville, whose fierce drive was seemingly goalbound.
But, somehow, the effort rebounded back off the post and across the face of goal with no player in gold able to poke in the easiest of scoring opportunities. The streak of bad luck that hindered the Addicks last season has surely now been levelled out.
Or, at least, Charlton are getting more fortunate in their own half of the pitch. Down the other end, luck was evading them, and especially Tucudean, who fluffed his shot from a promising position after being teed up by the ever-lively Vetokele.
Evans and Cousins flashed efforts wide from similar position, Evans’ low drive a repeat of his earlier strike and just as close to finding the net, as a pulsating first half drew to a close. Wolves were fractionally the better side, but the important moments were going the way of the boys in red in an end to end affair.
But if Wolves were fractionally the better side in the first period, they were without doubt on top once Nouha Dicko entered the fray at half-time. The forward made an immediate impact, holding up the ball well before teeing up the increasingly threatening Sako only for Henderson to tip his fiercely struck effort over the bar.
But it seemed to be the case that Wolves’ leveller would come sooner rather than later as the Addicks found it near impossible to get forward and just as hard to keep the ball. In fact, Charlton sacrificed possession three times in quick succession to allow Clarke the opportunity to score, but his first effort was flashed horribly wide with Sako and Dicko waiting in the centre, while his second and third were skewed horribly off target from excellent positions after he failed to connect properly with cut backs.
Never had Clarke’s efforts been so widely cheered at The Valley, but there was still a very real sense the vocal Wolves supporters behind the goal their side attacked would be celebrating shortly.
A tame effort from Buyens down the other end at least meant the Addicks had found a way forward, even it was never lively to trouble Ikeme, while a similar thing can be said about Vetokele’s blocked strike as he turned on the penalty spot, but they did little to calm the nerves in SE7.
Nor did Sako’s sweetly struck shot, that brought the very best out of Henderson as the stopper turned the ball behind for yet another Wolves corner.
Charlton’s resilience, and good fortune, had to end at some point, and from that 65th minute set-piece, Batth rose highest to head through a sea of bodies and give his side the leveller they more than warranted.
Up to that point, the Addicks had defended faultlessly from Wolves’ corner kicks, so it would have been doubly frustrating to finally see their defences breached in such a soft fashion. Nonetheless, the Covered End immediately responded with a chorus of ‘Red Army’; they were certainly not giving up on their three points just yet.
But, inspired by their goal and their increasingly noisy supporters, it was Wolves who looked the most likely to nab a winner as the game entered its final twenty minutes. Kevin McDonald volleyed over, a last ditch tackle of the highest quality from Rhoys Wiggins prevented Clarke from having an opportunity to score even he couldn’t fail to take and Charlton’s resulting failure to clear saw Henry lash the ball against the post from a tight angle. Dig in, lads.
The Addicks, however, might have had to dig in for all three points in the closing stages if they’d been rewarded for their best attacking move of the match. Sharp passing play eventually saw a battered and bruised Vetokele send Jackson through, but, as if to continue a theme of the night, his first time strike flashed frustratingly wide of the far post with Ikeme beaten.
And as the game ticked towards the 90th minute, it appeared as if Charlton had found had a burst of energy from somewhere. They were more composed on the ball, and had a smattering of opportunities to break. Frederic Bulot, making his debut off the bench, and Moussa’s efforts, a tame strike from 30 yards and an over hit touch meant Ikeme could stop the Belgian in his tracks, were never likely to threaten, though.
But, reversing the partnership of the game’s opening chance, the sight of Vetokele bearing down on goal after being played through superbly by Jackson had the Covered End as one off seats. The Angolan, now possessing the pace of Gary Doherty such was his exhaustion, managed to find a way into the box, but the ball got away from him at the crucial moment and Ikeme was able to bravely dive in to snatch the ball off his toes.
In the clash, however, Vetokele came off worse. While the game continued, the forward lay clearly in pain on The Valley’s pristine pitch as boos emanated from the home ends at Wolves’ failure to put the ball out.
Clearly unable to continue, the Angolan did just that, fighting on as Wolves enjoyed a final surge. In fact, if Dicko had brought Sako’s sublime ball under his control, the visitors would have snatched a late win that they probably deserved.
Instead, the ball ran away from the forward and the Addicks were left feeling a sense of good fortunate that, despite the chances they created themselves, their poor performance had not been punished by a wasteful Wolves.
The below par performance and that the home supporters were dealing with Charlton’s first dropped points of The Valley made for a somewhat muted response at full-time; a stark contrast to the celebratory Wolves fans who were clearly pleased with their side’s efforts.
And the visiting supporters had every right to be delighted with the way their side played. It was not difficult to see how they head beaten such strong opposition, with a real solid back four, a creative midfield and a genuine threat down either flank that possibly made them the most impressive performers at The Valley so far this season. Leon Clarke’s efforts to prevent this side from winning were also commendable.
But those mutterings of discontent from the home ends became somewhat louder as Vetokele, still seemingly in pain from the clash with Ikeme, was helped off the pitch with his arm held in place. He worryingly must become a doubt for Saturday’s game at Rotherham.
And while Vetokele’s fitness is obviously a huge cause for concern, the Angolan Charlton’s only forward outlet and involved in everything positive the Addicks did in attacking positions, the performance and point are, I feel, not.
That is, the performance won’t be a concern if the faults within it are put right over the coming weeks. The overall displays have decreased quite dramatically since the Derby performance, but our ability to grind out results has meant that criticising the side has been both unfair and difficult to do.
However, it’s clear that should Charlton play not only in the manner in which they did tonight, with somewhat erratic defending and a constant struggle to get forward, but also in the victory over Watford, which contained stronger defensive play but equally as concerning problems when going forward, on a consistent basis, then the points will eventually dry up.
Seven games unbeaten, three home wins out of four and fifth in the division is beyond what anyone expected before the campaign got underway. But let’s not avoid demanding more because we’ve picked up a few points in our previous games; let’s not get complacent and laugh off these slightly fortunate victories in the hope our luck will never run out.
And it’s fair to say that the Addicks have got a little lucky of late. The performances over Derby and Wigan showed we’re capable of winning games, and winning games in a deserving fashion. There’s no reason why we can’t look at where we’ve gone wrong in the previous few games, regardless of the positive results, and find ways to make us formidable regardless of any good fortune.
This side, with a few loan market additions in attack, can only get better. Hopefully, with Saturday and tonight’s problem areas picked up on, Peeters will be aware what needs to be altered to make that happen.