It takes absolutely no effort whatsoever to find comments on social media following the conclusion of Charlton games that suggest the Addicks don’t deserve to be unbeaten.
On a number of occasions this season, opposition supporters have been bemused by the fact that not only did they fail to beat Charlton, but that no other side has been able to inflict defeat on Bob Peeters’ side.
In fact, supporters of the South East London club are more than happy to admit that, at times, their side has underperformed this season. A handful of limp and lifeless displays probably deserved defeat.
However, the Addicks, with four wins and seven draws, remain unbeaten.
Had this unbeaten run stretched just four of five games, then possibly those suggestions that Charlton don’t deserve to be without a loss would have some substance. You can fluke a few positive results.
But what you can’t do is fluke eleven games, largely against strong opposition, unbeaten. No matter how you dress it up, reaching this stage of the season without defeat is an incredible achievement, and one that has largely been deserved.
So how is it that, with others regularly suggesting they shouldn’t be, Charlton remain unbeaten?
Peeters’ ability to set his side up perfectly for the situation
It’s fair to say Norwich fans weren’t in the mood to dish out many compliments after Johnnie Jackson gave the Addicks a 1-0 win at Carrow Road.
Negative, cynical, boring; the full house of ‘anti-football’ shouts were aimed Charlton’s way by supporters of the Canaries, who were clearly frustrated that their side’s possession, dominance and forward moves had resulted in absolutely nothing.
But such criticism was incredibly unfair, not only on Charlton’s players, who worked diligently and carried out their roles superbly all night, but Bob Peeters, who set his side up perfectly.
There’s no way the Addicks, regardless of the quality added to the squad, can go to Carrow Road and set out to attack fearlessly from the first minute until the last. Even if they wanted to, Norwich wouldn’t allow it to happen.
But the structured, defensively solid, pressing game that Peeters got his side to play was perfect for the situation. The stats may point to Norwich dominance, but rarely did you feel Charlton weren’t in control of their own destiny.
In fact, that’s not the only occasion where Peeters has got his side to play in an excellent style to counteract an opponent’s strengths. The pressing against Watford frustrated, and forced them to play more directly, while the well-timed attacking play against Wigan Athletic and Derby County gave the Addicks the edge on those two considerable opponents.
Peeters may have made a few mistakes in the first few months of his Charlton career, but more often than not he’s got it very, very right.
A genuine quality within the squad
It may be something that goes unnoticed by other spectators around The Valley, but one of my favourite aspects of this new Charlton side is an out ball of theirs.
It normally starts with Tal Ben Haim in possession, who drives forward slightly before playing the ball into midfield, where Johann Berg Gudmundsson awaits with his back to the opposition goal, and normally with an opposition player close by.
With a sharp turn, Gudmundsson takes out the opposition player and cuts inside, before sending an inch-perfect ball out to Jordan Cousins on the left. The ball has gone from front to back in a matter of seconds, and in some style, too.
With a carpet to play on, players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet and a passing philosophy, there’s certainly a quality to Charlton’s play.
It’s such quality that, although not always on show, has given the Addicks an advantage in many games.
A largely resolute back four, and an excellent shot stopper
On the train away from Charlton yesterday, I heard three separate sets of Birmingham fans say something along the lines of ‘that Charlton number six is incredible’.
I would imagine similar sentiments have been made by all opposition supporters this season, apart from the Boro fans lamenting a loose elbow and the Norwich fans focusing on a slightly outstretched arm or two.
For Andre Bikey has been nothing short of immense. Almost every header is his, almost every ball played through is cut out by the Cameroonian and rarely does an opposition forward find a way to get pass the rather imperious unit.
Alongside him, Tal Ben Haim, although showing some signs of being the calamitous Tal Ben Haim that was promised upon his arrival in SE7, has largely been just as solid, while Rhoys Wiggins has recovered after a difficult start to the season, and Chris Solly has been, well, Chris Solly.
It’s meant that, even when the Addicks have allowed their opponents to get on top, or even dominate, an encounter, possession has not been turned into clear cut chances. The defence has stood firm to almost any test, even if the rest of the side has crumbled.
And even in the rare moments when the back four is passed, Stephen Henderson is rarely in the mood to concede. While his distribution could do with some work, Henderson’s shot stopping ability is unquestionable, and the ‘keeper has played a huge role in keeping the unbeaten run intact.
As poor as the Addicks may have been on occasions, having a back five that would all sell the members of their immediate family in exchange for their goal’s protection has made the side hard to beat. There is, after all, more than one way to skin a cat. I bet Bikey could do it with his bare hands.
A goal scorer who takes the lion share of his chances
There were a few grumbles and groans as Igor Vetokele curled his third minute chance wide against Birmingham, but the miss largely produced a positive response from The Valley crowd. They knew, should another chance fall his way, it would not be missed.
And, just eight minutes later, the Angolan nodded beyond Darren Randolph to give the Addicks the lead.
If the same situation had occurred last season, one miss would have led to several more. Chances would have been created, but Marvin Sordell and friends would have found a new way to miss each time.
The value of having a forward capable of scoring is priceless. The difference between a good and a poor side. The Addicks don’t have to be at their best to score and pick up points. As long as a handful of chances are created, Vetokele will take one of them.
However, Vetokele isn’t alone. Having gone without a goal since August before scoring against Birmingham, other Addicks have chipped in. Charlton are much more clinical this season.
Spirit, effort, determination and all that sort of nonsense
One of the main fears before the season began was that, for all the quality in the squad, there would not be the spirit and determination to overcome tricky opposition and testing situations.
Alas, that fear has proven to be a misguided one. The last thing you could criticise this side for is lacking in effort.
From Vetokele’s relentless work in attack to Johnnie Jackson’s pressing in midfield, every ounce of energy has been exerted throughout the season; you only had to look at Vetokele after the Watford and Wolves games to see how much he’d given for the cause, and Jackson after the Norwich encounter.
In addition, it’s such spirit that has played a large part in the side gelling so quickly. Led by Jackson, the side has rarely shown signs of being disjoined, and looks to be a solid unit already.
Luck. Buckets and buckets of luck
If Charlton’s first eleven games of this Championship season were made into a film, the ‘with thanks to’ section on the credits would be rather large. Let’s try to work out just how large.
Thanks to the referees involved in letting Ben Haim get away with murder inside the box at least twice, not to mention referee Russell who turned a blind eye to Bikey’s handballs at Carrow Road on Tuesday night. In fairness, I wouldn’t fancy giving a decision against Bikey.
Thanks to Leon Clarke, Clayton Donaldson and Troy Deeney for being somewhat woeful in front of goal.
Similarly, thanks to Birmingham, Wolves and Rotherham for not capitalising on Charlton when they were at the most flimsy, and thanks to Brighton, Watford and Norwich for not turning possession into something more threatening.
Thanks to Huddersfield’s back four for defending so poorly at a vital moment in a game which they only deserved to win.
Is that it? There’s certainly more, and less obvious occasions, where things have gone the way of the Addicks. After last season’s seemingly never ending run of poor luck, fortune appears to be favouring Charlton unrelentingly during this campaign.
Part Two of the Eleven Game’s Gone Review will look at where the Addicks have shown signs of fragility and how they could improve. Look out for it later on this week.