It’s possibly pragmatic; dropping deep and protecting a lead against opposition capable of exploiting Charlton’s gaps on the break.
Maybe it’s simply the case the opposition improve after they go behind; motivated by the fear of losing to up their performance and push forward with a greater threat.
Or it could well be that the Addicks themselves suffer from fear; too afraid that their advantage may be taken away from them, defending and attacking with a distinctive nervousness and lack of composure.
Whatever the reason may be, Charlton’s failure to maintain their attacking threat, or even their dominance in possession and resoluteness at the back, after opening the scoring is becoming something of a problem.
For when Igor Vetokele’s header gave the hosts an eleventh minute lead against visitors Birmingham City, there was a feeling around The Valley that this could be the day the Addicks showed the full extent of their attacking potential and recorded a dominant victory, both in performance and score line.
But barely ten minutes into the second half, those same supporters were less confidently predicting a scintillating victory, instead starting to panic a point would not even be collected by Bob Peeters’ side.
Nervous and lacklustre passing had replaced a complete control of possession. A sharpness and considerable threat going forward absent in favour of sitting back and inviting Birmingham’s pace-ridden side to attack. A resolute defensive effort quickly turned to one full of individual errors.
The only surprise about the Blues’ 53rd minute equaliser was that it hadn’t come sooner. Had Clayton Donaldson possessed better finishing powers and a wiser, less selfish, head, it certainly would have done. But Donaldson, who tapped in Koby Arthur’s goal bound effort in an offside position during Birmingham’s domination of the first half’s closing stages, breathed a sigh of relief as David Davis pulled his side level with a sweet strike after a corner was only half-cleared.
And while the remainder of the game lacked incident, it was Lee Clark’s somewhat unfancied side who had the best chances to win it. At the very least, their claim of deserving victory was stronger than their opponents’.
For Charlton, what appeared to be a conscious decision to sit back had been cancerous, with individual performance levels dropping the more defensive they got. A seemingly unnecessary rut had been dug, with spark and threat missing as desperate attempts were made to get forward in the game’s final minutes, and not for the first time this season.
It might well be another game unbeaten for the Addicks, but it’s also another game where a greater attacking threat could have been shown and more points obtained.
Such regret and disappointment seemed an impossible conclusion as Charlton began their afternoon in fine fashion.
Even Michael Morrison, playing his first league game of the season in the absence of Tal Ben Haim, looked fluent, as well as solid in his defensive work, in the opening stages as the hosts enjoyed a degree of control.
Again operating with three central midfielders, Chris Solly returning in place of Joe Gomez the only other change from Tuesday night’s incredible win over Norwich City, their persistent pressing made Birmingham timid in possession, while the early passages of passing play and forward moves were promising.
In fact, Charlton should have really taken the lead as early as the third minute. Jordan Cousins’ through ball from his own defensive third picked out the run of Vetokele, who responded in equally impressive fashion, shrugging of pressure from Paul Caddis before taking a touch inside to open up an excellent scoring opportunity.
You would have felt safe placing a considerable amount of money on the prolific Angolan forward making the net ripple, but that cash would have been lost as Vetokele curled his effort wide of former Charlton goalkeeper Darren Randolph’s far post.
While home supporters, and those who had wagered their house on Charlton’s forward scoring, cursed their luck, the Blues nervously celebrated as the ball sailed wide. They knew they’d been let off.
Alas, after Caddis warmed the palms for Stephen Henderson with a well-hit low drive from range, it was seemingly the case that lessons had not been learnt among Birmingham’s back four by the time of the Addicks’ next meaningful attack.
For Vetokele could not have had an easier chance to put Charlton ahead. Unmarked and facing no competition as he anticipated Frederic Bulot’s cross from the left, the Championship’s Player of the Month for August gleefully accepted the opportunity to nod past Randolph for his first goal since winning the accolade. Having passed up one opening, there was little chance another would be missed.
But Birmingham quickly regathered themselves. In fact, with such a solid shape, diligent pressing and near prevention of Charlton’s back four and Buyens being allowed to find an out ball further up the field or out wide, Clark would have been doubly frustrated that such flimsy defensive work had led to his side conceding.
And, after Davis had woefully struck an effort from distance in the general direction of the North East Quadrant, Birmingham’s new found resilience forced the Addicks into what should have been a costly mistake.
Having struck two passes well out of reach of their desired targets, Yoni Buyens hesitation when next in possession saw Donaldson capitalise. The physical forward dispossessed Charlton’s Standard Liege loanee, but could only fire his resulting shot comfortable over and wide of Henderson’s goal. At the very least, the stopper should have been tested.
While excellent work from Vetokele created an opening for Jackson, saved comfortably by Randolph, Donaldson’s miss proved to be something of a turning point in the game. With 25 first half minutes remaining, Buyens’ uncertainty seemed to spread throughout the rest of Charlton’s side. Their previous fizz now lacking, with Birmingham beginning to get on top, reduce a possession deficit that had been as much as 70/30 at one point, and push the Addicks deeper.
With Buyens particularly off the pace, Birmingham’s midfield were given greater time and space to pick out forward passes, constantly picking out David Cotterill and Arthur in wide positions, from which they often threatened. Only a matter of inches were between Donaldson and a sweet connection as Cotterill’s delivery just skimmed past his head.
However, a Donaldson connection would soon prove costly for the Blues.
After Rhoys Wiggins was caught out on the left twice in quick succession by Arthur and then Paul Robinson, the veteran was able to cut back to Arthur, who wriggled his way free of Bikey’s clutches to poke an effort past Henderson.
Without question already heading over the line, Donaldson couldn’t prevent his natural striker’s impulse from sticking a foot out, poking the ball into the goal from a matter of millimetres out.
However, Donaldson was in an offside position, and regardless of a goal being scored without his touch, it was seen fit by the referee’s assistant to raise his flag. A brave and debatable call, but one that wouldn’t have needed to be made had the former Brentford man held back his desire to snatch a goal for himself.
It meant that, with Bikey’s strong header from Bulot’s free-kick looping over the bar the final action of the half, the Addicks were somewhat fortunate to go in at the break level.
More was demanded from the hosts; a return to the football played in the game’s opening minutes. If the first moments of the second period were anything to go by, that was to be the case.
Persistence, strength and skill saw Vetokele bomb forward down the left and turn Caddis inside out, before cutting the ball across the box where Lawrie Wilson awaited. The curly-haired winger, however, possibly allowed the prospect of scoring to affect his composure, wastefully sending his side-footed effort well over the bar.
But Charlton dominance was not a trend that continued through the remainder of the half. In fact, Birmingham immediately responded by going close themselves; only a strong palm away from Henderson prevented Robinson from heading in David Cotterill’s cross.
But, with pressure continuing to be applied, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before the Blues were celebrating an equaliser. Just eight half minutes, to be precise.
The Addicks failed to deal with a Birmingham corner, and no one in red got close to Davis, allowing him to finish superbly from the edge of the box. The ball nestling into the inner-side netting, giving Henderson little chance of keeping the effort out.
It may have been no more than Birmingham deserved, but it left Charlton in a worrying position. Having been so dominant early on, it appeared as if their was a strong likelihood they were about to gift the opposition all three points.
And with Peeters’ side still under heavy pressure, most of which was their own doing, the decision to remove Jackson before the hour mark seemed an odd one. The skipper, a hero in midweek, had been arguably the best performer in Charlton’s midfield, with Buyens and Cousins somewhat struggling.
Despite Solly’s best Lionel Messi impression, taking out two Birmingham defenders with one touch before shooting narrowly wide, and the injection of pace provided by Jackson’s replacement Franck Moussa, it became apparent quite quickly that removing the captain from the side had made the Addicks yet more disjointed and weak in the middle.
In fact, with George Tucudean soon on to replace Wilson, there was a more direct style to Charlton’s efforts to get forward. That isn’t to say they were successful; the Romanian often failed to get the ball under his control and struggled to compete with Birmingham’s back four.
However, Birmingham too were somewhat struggling to get forward, unable to replicate the threat they posed either side of half-time. Two ambitious efforts from two players who had petered out as the game went on, with Bulot’s free-kick simply claimed by Randolph and Cotterill’s strike from distance skewed well wide, summed up the way this one was heading.
Alas, with less than ten minutes remaining, the Blues found a spark. With Tucudean’s heavy touch returning the ball to Birmingham, they were able to break and substitute Wes Thomas was sent through on goal.
Although a scorer in midweek, Thomas showed the composure of a man without a career goal, losing his balance somewhat before tamely sending his effort into the side netting.
And there was yet more worry for the Addicks, but of a different kind, as Cousins lay seemingly motionless after coming off second best in an aerial duel and hitting The Valley’s turf with his head.
Concern only increased as the youngster was placed on a stretcher and taken away in some discomfort.
While Cousins has confirmed there was no injury suffered, such an incident was always likely to be the final nail in the coffin of the game. The expecting roar from the home ends as five minutes of additional time were added was misguided.
In fact, the game’s final shot summed up the afternoon for Charlton. As Bulot moved towards goal, a sudden wave of hope emerged, but his shot was horribly dragged wide, met with frustrated sighs.
The muted nature of the applause was probably still somewhat kind to a performance from the Addicks that had started with much promise, and ended in as much disappointment as has been felt all season.
It does seem wrong to feel somewhat frustrated when the unbeaten run has been extended to 11 games. In fact, every post game comment had a variation of ‘still unbeaten’ within it, reaffirming an idea that this side deserves no criticism.
And, in truth, Charlton’s failure to capitalise upon their bright start may not have been all their own doing.
Birmingham deserve praise for their efforts following Vetokele’s goal, first of all frustrating the Addicks with a tight structure and excellent pressing, before exploiting the growing weakness in midfield and at the back with some decent passing and penetrating pace. Such play forced Charlton back.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that Peeters’ side were incredibly poor. While the Blues did a job, they would not have been able to carry out such a job had the Addicks not once again sat so deep after going ahead.
There’s the sitting back sort of play that was seen on Tuesday, where there’s a resolute nature about the defending and the midfield presses. Then there’s the sort of timid sitting back play that was on show today, where the Addicks looked horribly uncomfortable and on the verge of conceding a dreadfully defended goal at any moment.
With the Wolves and Rotherham game also similar, it’s becoming more and more frustrating that we do have the attacking potential to put games to bed, and are instead throwing our hands over our faces and hoping for the best.
Such a chance in attitude after the excellent opening wasn’t helped by individual performances. Possibly showing his worth further, Buyens was at his poorest when Charlton were. Failing to break down Birmingham attacks or pick out a forward pass, it left the Addicks under heavy pressure and without a route forward, something that wasn’t helped with the bizarre substitution of Jackson.
Regardless, there were a handful of positives, one of the more obvious ones being the performance of Morrison. Showing few, if any, signs of rustiness, the vice-captain put in an excellent shift in the absence of Ben Haim, and gave Peeters a reminder that he’s more than worthy of being a starter in this side.
On top of that, although playing well in the interim, a first goal from Vetokele since August can only increase the forward’s confidence, while Henderson’s efforts in making handful of good saves and commanding his area were excellent.
But it’s fair to say the international break has come at the right time for the Addicks. While they showed much attacking promise in the first block of games, this one has been more about survival; survival that has no doubt left players battered and bruised, especially after the effort shown at Norwich on Tuesday. A break, you would think, will do a number of players the world of good.
And, of course, the main positive being is that the Addicks go into that international break, the second of the season, without a defeat. An incredible achievement for a side expected to struggle, if not all season then at least for the start of it while the side gelled together.
This, you would like to think, was just a bad day at the office. When that can and will be forgotten about quite quickly.
However, there is a sense that when the season has reached its climax, these sorts of games, where Charlton have dropped deeper and failed to hold onto a lead, could come back to haunt them. A point here or there could prove crucial, I don’t want to be looking back at missed points from Birmingham games once again.