It was said that Charlton’s orange and yellow third kit would make the Addicks look like Barcelona.
And look like them they certainly did; the design, adorned by Bob Peeters’ men for the first time, a copy of the one worn by the Spanish giants previously.
The similarities, however, were purely materialistic. The players in orange and yellow performed as if they were attempting to emulate Bath City, not Barcelona, as they slipped to their first defeat of the campaign away at Bournemouth.
The scoreline may suggest a close encounter, Callum Wilson’s early goal the difference between the two sides, but this was as one sided as they come.
Charlton couldn’t emulate their early season displays, let alone Barca, as composure throughout the side was non-existent, creativity and attacking threat was absent and neither the midfield nor the back four were organised.
It meant Bournemouth could effectively run riot. Marc Pugh and Matt Ritchie provided a constant threat, Harry Arter and Andrew Surman completely dominated midfield and Wilson exposed the frailties in Charlton’s defence on several occasions. In fact, a 5-0 win would not have flattered Eddie Howe’s side, and it would have been achieved but for some brilliance from former Cherry Stephen Henderson.
It’s therefore fair to say the single goal defeat was the very least punishment the Addicks deserved. After several performances that were worthy of defeat but weren’t capitalised on by the opposition before the international break, the loss is arguably the wake-up call a sometimes sluggish Charlton needed. It’s not the single woeful display and defeat that is particularly important, but the response that follows.
Regardless, whether it’s the first defeat since records began or the 13th in a row, losing, and in such a disappointing manner, remains incredibly difficult to take. Barcelona couldn’t envisage such pain.
With a sold-out away end filling up in positively barmy conditions for an October afternoon, the apparent mood among the visiting supporters possibly didn’t transfer into optimism before kick-off.
In what seemed like a huge gamble, especially against such strong opposition, 17-year-old Karlan Ahearne-Grant was given his first senior start, partnering Igor Vetokele in attack. The argument is that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. But Charlton supporters were yet to see if the teenager was good enough.
The return of Johann Berg Gudmundsson did provide some positive news for the Addicks, while the absence of Yann Kermorgant, but for a poster in the programme and his face appearing on the big screen, would seemingly give Peeters’ side an advantage.
However, it became immediately clear that wasn’t going to be the case. The hosts quickly took control of the game, and might well have gone ahead when Gudmundsson’s misplaced pass gave Ritchie a sight of goal.
The talented winger’s strike was fierce, but not fierce enough to beat Henderson. The Charlton stopper pulled off an excellent save, tipping the effort behind.
It appeared as if the Addicks had got away with an early moment of sloppiness, and not for the fist time this season, but before the visiting supporters had finished applauding their goalkeeper, Bournemouth had created another chance. A chance they would convert.
Largely, short corners are a waste of a set-piece, and the frustration of many a supporter, but the Cherries have seemingly perfected them. The ball found its way over to Marc Pugh on the opposite flank, who drove at and beat Jordan Cousins with ease, before his resulting low cross was turned in by a gleeful recipient in Wilson.
It was an incredibly poor goal to concede, not least with just three minutes played, and the early frustration in the away end wasn’t tempered as Bournemouth bossed possession and referee Linington found any excuse possible to penalise the Addicks.
Half chances did fall the way of Charlton, with Aderne-Grant, showing signs of promise, seeing a shot blocked from a tight angle, before Jackson failed to keep his effort from the edge of the box down after more good work from the academy graduate.
But Peeters’ side remained disjointed. Passes were often misplaced, the midfield was frequently absent as Surman and Arter steamed forward, and Bournemouth remained in control of the contest.
In fact, only a stunning reaction save from Henderson prevented the Cherries from doubling their advantage. Wilson was on the end of Ritchie’s driven free-kick, but Henderson blocked the effort superbly to keep the Addicks in the game.
And that save looked to have been a doubly important one when Gudmundsson, moving forward with momentum, was cynically hauled down on the edge of Bournmouth’s box.
The Icelander dusted himself down to take the resulting free-kick, and forced the very best out of Southampton loanee Artur Boruc. Although the effort was directed towards the side of the goal the stopper occupied, a save of the highest order was required to push the ball over the bar.
At that moment, you could be excused for thinking the Addicks had a platform from which to come back into the game. The confidence built from Henderson’s stop and Gudmundsson’s strike would surely put Charlton back into the contest.
Alas, it made no difference to the run of play whatsoever. Charlton remained fragile and lacking a way forward, while Bournemouth attacked with a sense of purpose.
It was the pace, strength and trickery of Pugh, Ritchie and Wilson that was causing the visitors to be most concerned, with even the normally faultless Chris Solly and Andre Bikey struggling, and one such exhibition of Wilson’s pace created yet another clear cut opening for Howe’s pulsating side.
Played through by Pitman, Wilson raced past Rhoys Wiggins and Bikey, before skipping around the on-rushing Henderson, only to disappoint the prematurely celebrating Bournemouth supporters by lashing his effort against the side netting from a relatively tight angle.
Sarcastic cheers emerged from the away end, but they were only covering anger and panic. It was surely only a matter of time before the second goal was scored.
A blocked Wilson shot produced a corner, from which Steve Cook headed narrowly wide, but still the hosts couldn’t get the sort of lead their dominance warranted.
If Bournemouth weren’t going to increase their advantage, then Charlton might well have increased their disadvantage.
Johnnie Jackson was one of few in hideous orange and yellow that looked comfortable in possession, but his off-the-ball work was woeful. The skipper couldn’t get near to Bournemouth’s midfield men, and a yellow card for tripping the exceptional Pugh made his afternoon even more uncomfortable.
The resulting free-kick was worked to Surman, who forced Henderson into yet another excellent save, but concerns continued to grow over Jackson.
The skipper was soon adjudged, rather unfairly, to have handled just outside the box. Thankfully, both Jackson and Charlton avoided further punishment, with Pitman lifting the dead-ball high over Henderson’s exposed goal, but the 32-year-old was walking on thin ice.
And that ice appeared to have been smashed when, with half-time approaching, Jackson lost possession and attempted to regain it with a horribly mistimed tackle. But referee Linington, for possibly the first time all afternoon, showed a degree of common sense, offering Jackson a stern final warning.
The difference in Jackson’s performance and attitude when compared to Charlton’s last away game at Norwich summed matters up for the entire side. The energy and pressing was not there, the back four was anything but solid and inspiration was nowhere to be seen.
Nonetheless, Charlton went in at the break with a full quota of players and a deficit of just one. They were extremely fortunate on both counts.
But it meant the Addicks remained in the game. The most positive of supporters even believed their was a genuine chance to turn things around in the second half, which began with two Charlton changes.
Jackson was withdrawn for his own protection, replaced by Franck Moussa, while Vetokele, largely anonymous in the first period, was forced off with an injury and replaced by Callum Harriott.
Losing a normally calm head and Charlton’s main source of goals, especially with a 17-year-old now alone up top, was hardly ideal, but changes of any sort were a must in the circumstances.
But still the Addicks struggled. Their possession increased as Bournemouth’s high energy levels dropped somewhat, but they remained without a way to cause a threat going forward, even with the additional pace Moussa and Harriott provided.
On the other hand, the pace in Howe’s side remained a persistent threat. Solly, now armbanded, had to horribly haul down Wilson to halt his run as he raced towards goal, a foul that earned the academy graduate a booking despite calls for a red from the home ends.
And while nothing came from the resulting free-kick, the Cherries produced arguably their best chance so far to double their lead with a little over an hour played.
No Addick had picked up Arter, leaving him free to collect Ritchie’s short corner and knock the ball onto Surman. The midfielder’s close range effort was stunningly blocked by Henderson, only for the rebound to fall straight to Arter.
The Charlton academy graduate had admitted in the week he remains a fan of the South East London club, and the moment possibly distributed Arter’s composure as he blasted over from a position that looked easier to score from.
A further wayward shot from Arter followed, as did an effort from Ritchie that was stabbed just wide with Bournemouth upping gears and looking to put the game beyond doubt.
But, with finishing frequently letting them down, it remained the case that Charlton needed only one sight of goal to steal an undeserved point.
If Ahearne-Grant’s shot was to be that one sight of goal, it summed up the afternoon endured by the visitors. The youngster had not lacked effort nor the occasional moment of spark with the ball at his feet, but his effort had all the pace of a Gary Doherty sprint. Bournemouth could continue to miss until May; the Addicks simply did not have a goal in them.
And so the Cherries did. Had Cook’s header been any lower, it would certainly have been game over.
But Bournemouth’s ambitions of adding a second goal were abandoned as the final 10 minutes were entered. Even with the imperious figure of Bikey now in attack, they remained disciplined, well organised and first to every ball; the polar opposite of the Addicks.
Frustrations in the away end continued to grow as full-time approached, not least with the willingness of the officials to overlook Bournemouth’s time-wasting despite the fact Henderson had been bizarrely booked for such an act.
The performance of the referee was no excuse, however, as the visitors remained lacklustre into two minutes of stoppage time.
In fact, the only chance Charlton could muster came midway through those additional minutes. Harriott’s deep cross found substitute Lawrie Wilson, and his header forced Boruc into something resembling, blocking the ball away with his legs, before Wilson’s follow up could only find the side netting.
The rush of departing Charlton supporters in that moment told you all you needed to know; defeat a certainty, the unbeaten run over and a performance that didn’t particularly deserve appreciation after the full-time whistle.
Of course, the unbeaten run was going to end at same point, and there is no shame in Bournemouth ending it.
Howe’s side were superb; their efforts as crucial to Charlton’s poor performance as the Addicks’ own faults.
At times, the Cherries were pulsating in attack. Possession at the back became a forward move with ease and at pace, whether that be by exploiting the speed and strength of Wilson and or allowing a dominant midfield to carry the ball and pick out one of the enterprising wingers. In fact, the performance of Pugh, constantly driving forward and giving Solly no rest, is an early contender for best display from an opposition player.
And such forward play was supported by diligent work when off the ball. Arter and Surman pressed, forcing Charlton’s midfield into numerous mistakes, while I’m struggling to recount a single error made by Bournemouth’s back four.
There really is no shame in losing to a side like that.
Regardless, there is shame in the performance Charlton offered. When high standards have been set, such a display is incredibly disappointing.
Far too often Tal Ben Haim and Bikey were caught out by the simplest of long balls forwards, while Solly and Wiggins struggled for much of the game.
The job the back four were tasked with was only made more challenging by a completely non-existent midfield. Cousins, largely at fault for the goal, offered very little, Gudmundsson continuously gave the ball away in what was his worst performance in a Charlton shirt, while Jackson and Buyens were horrendous off the ball.
And in attack, the one dimensional nature of this Charlton side was shown. While Bournemouth had plenty of routes forwards, and aren’t afraid to go long when needed, the Addicks can seemingly only attempt to pass forward, often without pace or penetration.
However, without a strong presence in the air, it’s impossible for Charlton to attempt a direct style of play when their passing play offers no rewards.
While Ahearne-Grant worked hard, his isolation in attack, along with Vetokele’s potential injury lay-off, reaffirms the belief that the Addicks are in desperate need of a target man, or a least a player who can make the most of punts forward. These struggles have been clear for a few weeks, and a defeat only amplifies them.
Nonetheless, how Peeters’ side respond is more important than any comment on the defeat or the dire display.
There are two plausible outcomes. Either the defeat kicks Charlton back into life and get return to their early season form, or the loss knocks confident and wins start to become scarce.
There’s enough quality, regardless of the performance today, to suggest the first is more likely, but not really yet seeing how Peeters’ side reacts to a defeat means there is some uncertainty.
It’s therefore the case that the coming week, with games against Bolton and Fulham, will provide Peeters’ biggest test.