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.