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.