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…