There was not fury or anger on show as Saturday’s draw against Birmingham City came to its conclusion.
No supporters were being ‘greedy’ and irrationally demanding more from the first eleven games of the season. Negative attitudes were not taken up unnecessarily, and it certainly wasn’t the case that Addicks were thriving off an excuse to predict doom and gloom.
Instead, there was simply a feeling of frustration.
Frustration that the attacking intent shown in previous home games unexplainably vanished after eleven minutes. Frustration that, after such an incredible defensive display against Norwich, the Addicks looked fragile. Frustration that such a relatively poor performance had seen two points dropped, and not for the first time this season.
It’s therefore the case that those so called ‘moans’ can be accurately described as legitimate concerns. Performances haven’t always reflected the additional attacking quality within the side, points have been dropped where they possibly shouldn’t have been and it certainly isn’t the case that Bob Peeters’ side are faultless.
If the Addicks want to remain challenging for a top six spot all season, which early signs suggest they might well be capable of, there’s a need for some subtle improvements.
Respond positively, but pragmatically, to going ahead
As Igor Vetokele headed beyond Darren Randolph, there was only going to be one winner. In fact, I felt relatively confident that Charlton’s excellent opening spell against Birmingham would result in a comprehensive victory come full-time.
Alas, the Addicks decided to sit back, allow the Blues to take control of the game and wilted quickly, when they really should have pressed on and looked to build upon both the performance and the lead gained in the opening moments.
The negative attitude taken to the positive of scoring is costing Charlton points.
Of course, if a lead is taken late on, or against opposition with considerable threat, then adopting a style that protects that advantage is without question the best policy.
It was done to perfection against Watford. Going forward would have left gaps to exploit; remaining structured and continuously pressing prevented the Hornets from taken advantage of the possession they had.
Against Birmingham, Wolves and Rotherham, it appeared to be the case that Charlton simply sat back and let the opposition come at them. Individual errors followed, the chances of getting forward once the equaliser had been conceded diminished accordingly and the Addicks were lucky to gain a point.
It’s therefore not necessarily a case of going hell for leather for 90 minutes, but there certainly needs to be an effort to prevent the opposition from playing the way they would like in every minute of every game no matter what the circumstance.
Remove the hesitation to adopt a more direct style, should the need be there
One of the main factors in Charlton’s failure to build on their early advantage against Birmingham was that the Blues did a very effective job of preventing Peeters’ passing football from being played.
While the football the Addicks have played this season has been enjoyable, taking full advantage of The Valley’s carpet and the ability of players within the squad, it can often be a touch too slow.
Birmingham showed that if you remain diligent, structure the side well and press to the extent that Yoni Buyens is forced to make a pass where he would rather hold onto the ball, Charlton can begin to struggle.
In fact, such passing football where the ball is often exchanged between the centre backs and Buyens has almost seen the Addicks caught out on a number of occasions; Tal Ben Haim’s howler at Rotherham they only time the opposition have been able to punish Charlton having gained the ball in their half.
I don’t believe Peeters to be stubborn, nor do I believe him to be lacking a Plan B, but it would seem to be the case his philosophy overrides the need to be pragmatic. In some situations, it is wise to abandon passing ideals to pick up points.
It may simply be the case of clearing the ball as appose to looking to pass out from the back when under pressure, or knocking the ball forward more quickly and to wide areas when the opposition press as Birmingham did.
And becoming more direct in certain situations doesn’t mean aimlessly hoicking long balls up field in the general direction of a red shirt. It’s about finding the right balance between passing play and utilising a direct style when demanded.
Find a target man to partner the poacher
While playing more directly doesn’t necessarily require a target man, not having a forward who provides an adequate aerial presence and has the ability to hold up the ball is likely to be a major deterrent against the Addicks knocking the ball up field.
When played up top on his own, Vetokele has worked tirelessly, but largely to no avail. Standing at the relatively short height of 5’8, the Angolan, for all his efforts, isn’t suited to that sort of role, and needs support for him to play at his best.
Both George Tucudean and Franck Moussa have made attempts to support Vetokele, but neither appear adequate for the job. Tucudean, the performance against Derby aside, has been largely poor, while Moussa, given his similar lack of height and abundance of pace, isn’t the type of player to partner Charlton’s goal scorer.
With that in mind, it’s the case that the Addicks require an addition to their forward options. A player who can win headers, hold up the ball, and act as a creative influence for a strike partner capable of finishing most of the chances that come his way. I’m not even going to say it…
Utilise the loan market, and the transfer window thereafter, to allow for rotation
In addition to signing a physical forward, the player that would complete the starting XI, Charlton’s relatively small squad could do with some bolstering in general if the Addicks are to maintain a play-off push for the duration of the season.
The other sides that will be hoping to secure a play-off place come May, the likes of Middlesbrough, Watford and even current mid-table Cardiff, all have mammoth-sized squads. They will be able to carry on largely unaffected shoud an injury crisis or a run of games over Christmas and Easter take their toll. Charlton, however, will not.
That was shown recently, with the bench looking more like a crèche. Of course, Charlton and Peeters’ commitment to giving young players their chance is to be commended, but the need for those players to be included does expose how small the squad is.
It also means that, should a player lose form, there are limited options to replace them. Again, other clubs looking to finish in the top six have an array of options that Charlton simply don’t have.
A handful of loans and a few permanent additions are all that are needed in order to make sure the Addicks remain competitive throughout the season.
Where possible, show more adventure away from home
There was a strong suggestion by many that the performance in the game against Birmingham was the worst of the season. Devoid of creativity, mistake-ridden at the back and largely lifeless.
The manner in which Charlton’s dominance quickly turned to chaos has probably convinced supporters to make such claims. To go from pulsating to painful without reason remains difficult to understand.
It was certainly the worst home performance, resulting in a large negative response.
But was it the worst performance overall? I would suggest the displays at Huddersfield and Rotherham were significantly worse, with the former being the most disappointing display of the season.
Of course, Vetokele’s last minute equaliser at least showed something about Charlton’s character, but never has a point been so undeserved. All over the place at the back, wasteful in possession and creating next to no chances until the late goal made for an extremely disappointing afternoon.
In fact, in almost every away game this season, the Addicks have looked fragile; a complete contrast from their largely composed and exciting attacking efforts at The Valley.
And such performances have been even more frustrating considering Peeters’ side have shown they’re capable of putting in the perfect away display against stronger opposition. Brighton and Norwich come to mind as examples where the Addicks were diligent in the face of domination, and rarely looked out of control despite the possession the opposition had, before delivering a sucker punch or two.
However, against the division’s lesser sides, you would like to think the attacking intent shown at The Valley could be transferred to grounds across the division. It was done for a period against Brentford, so Peeters’ side are more than capable of showing some adventure away from home.
For more on Charlton showing more adventure away from here, click here.
Find a level of consistency, both game to game and minute to minute
It must be said that the problems mentioned in the previous five points have not been seen in every minute of every game. In fact, the frailties have only been on show in the minority, and rarely for the entire 90 minutes.
Therefore, it’s arguably the case that what Charlton require above anything else is some consistency. To perform with the attacking flair that was shown against Derby and Wigan each week. To defend and press as they did against Norwich. For the Tucudean that played against the Rams to pull on a red shirt every Saturday and Tuesday. For the squad to remain fit throughout the campaign. For the second half performance at Griffin Park to become the norm, not the exception.
Above anything else, it’s vital Charlton press as much as is physically possible. It may be a simplistic approach, but the most obvious difference between the fantastic and the flimsy has been constant pressing, and very little pressing.
Am I demanding too much? Yes, of course I am. I don’t expect the Addicks to be able to play to their brilliant best each week, nor do I expect the unbeaten run to last until May and maintaining a promotion push all season isn’t a realistic target. Before the season, I would have taken a lower mid-table finish, and I’d probably still take that now.
But when such high standards have been set, with impressive wins over the division’s better sides, hoping for positive performances and results most weeks seems rational, and feeling somewhat upset by performances that don’t reach those standards is equally as justified.