Such was the extent to which Charlton responded in the second half, a late Fulham third meant the score didn’t particularly reflect the overall margin between the two sides.
The effort shown by the Addicks after the break was commendable, delivering the energy 2,000 incredibly noisy supporters in Craven Cottage’s away end demanded and deserved. It was a huge improvement on an opening period that lacked fight, any sense of team structure and individual ability.
Bob Peeters’ depleted side went from incompetent to competitive.
But any suggestion that Charlton didn’t get what they deserved is wide of the mark.
For Fulham were ruthless when they needed to be ruthless; capitalising on an embarrassing effort from the Addicks in the opening 15 minutes.
The booed Scott Parker and the lively Hugo Rodallega were gifted goals to put the Cottagers two ahead early on, with Charlton’s normally resilient defensive quality being made to look like nothing more than a myth. Moments of calm defending from those in orange and yellow as numerous as praise from the away end for Parker.
By contrast, Charlton were tame.
In the first half, there was no way forward for the Addicks, who were prevented from playing out from the back by Fulham’s persistent pressing. In the second, the positive response was tempered by individual errors in promising positions and a composed effort from the hosts at the back.
In fact, the Cottagers had clearly opted to sit back, soak up Charlton’s forward moves and only attempt to add to their advantage if an opportunity to break forward arrived. Countless crosses and corners were dealt with with relative ease by Fulham’s dominant back four. Rarely were Kit Symons’ side not in control.
And when they did break forward, they did so with considerable threat. The ball flashing past the post on a number of occasions, and Stephen Henderson was not without work.
So while the Cottagers’ third, with Rodallega striking for a second time, was cruel on the determined Addicks, it was a fair reflection in the real gulf between the sides. At both ends of the pitch, where it really matters, Fulham were considerably more efficient than Charlton
Although few predicted such a scoreline, even fewer Addicks were confidently predicting victory as their depleted side took to the Craven Cottage pitch.
Already without the injured Igor Vetokele and the suspended Yoni Buyens, a foot injury meant Rhoys Wiggins was an unpredicted absentee, with youngster Morgan Fox starting in his place. The appearance of Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the lack of fit first team players possibly forcing the Iceland international back earlier than planned, on the bench at least offered some positive news.
By contrast, Fulham had rested a number of players in midweek, and the likes of Parker, Rodallega and Bryan Ruiz all returned to the starting XI.
But, despite the odds being stacked against them, it was Charlton, cheered on by an unrelenting visiting support, who started the brighter of the two sides.
Andre Bikey scuffed an early chance wide following a corner, while Franck Moussa, although failing to force Fulham stopper Marcus Bettinelli to so much as move, dragged an effort just beyond the far post.
But that was as good as it got for the Addicks, who saw the game taken away from them, or more accurately they gifted if to the opposition, in the space of six minutes.
First, a misplaced pass from Chris Solly allowed Parker, booed as he did so, to collect the ball and drive forward undeterred.
When on the edge of the box, the one-time England skipper fed through Ross McCormack, who unselfishly set the ball across goal, where Parker was on hand to thump the ball against the roof of the net and finish off the move he started. Some frustration was certainly displayed as Parker ran off to celebrate.
And before the visiting supporters had finished off their volleys of abuse towards the man whose departure from SE7 still upsets some, Fulham had doubled their lead.
Again, the hosts were invited to come forward as they pleased, resulting in a scuffed clearance from Tal Ben Haim only finding McCormack on the penalty spot.
Allowed to do his best impression of seal, the Scot took two touches of the ball with his head, before chesting it down and volleying towards goal, only for Henderson to parry the effort away.
But no Addick was alive to the loose ball, giving Rodallega the simplest of chances to increase his side’s advantage. The curse of appearing live on TV, the third kit and Fulham’s class could all be blamed for such a deficit after 12 minutes, but most supporters in the away end were ignoring all excuses and casting eyes on their side’s dreadful efforts.
An improvement was desperately needed, but Peeters’ side couldn’t provide it. There was seemingly little shape, possession was given up far too easily and the back four’s efforts to prevent further embarrassment were largely unconvincing. In fact, Charlton already looked beaten.
A skewed clearance from Tim Hoogland, sent back towards his goal, at least gave Bettinelli something to do, as did a desperately tame effort from Tucudean, but there was no sense the Addicks were to get back into the contest.
So much so that they really should have been 3-0 down just beyond the half hour.
Johnnie Jackson, impersonating Terry Butcher after a nasty cut had him leaking claret in concerning quantities, clattered into Parker on the edge of Charlton’s box, and the resulting free-kick saw Hoogland fire a free header narrowly wide. Again, the defensive efforts were questionable.
Whether it was the knock to the head or purely frustration at his side’s performance, Jackson was the one Addick showing as much fight as the still vocal Charlton supporters demanded.
Constantly attempting to motivate his troops, and occasionally letting them know in no uncertain terms than their performance was not good enough, the Skipper’s spirit at least offered some hope to his beleaguered fans.
In fact, Jackson was involved in Charlton’s best chance of the half, coming desperately close to making the sort of contact that would have turned Solly’s low cross beyond Bettinelli.
But it was far from a sign the Addicks were growing into the game. There was almost a reluctance to get forward, with Frederic Bulot and Lawrie Wilson lacking the confidence to run at Fulham’s defence, while a persistent struggle in holding onto the ball and constant panic as Fulham pressed made the visitors as vulnerable as ever.
The half ended with Rodallega, after more hesitant Charlton defending, looping a volley over Henderson’s bar. The following half-time whistle was met with rather strong boos from the visiting supporters, and it was hard to begrudge such a response. There have been few worse 45 minute performances from the Addicks in recent years.
While the Charlton Upbeats won a half-time penalty shoot-out, there were few Charlton supporters feeling upbeat about their side’s chances. Unless an early second half goal was scored, the game was certainly gone, but some degree of fight needed to be shown at the very least.
And there were encouraging signs in the early stages of the second period. Encouraging enough to reignite hope in the away end.
In fact, after Bulot, finally coming out of the shell he had been stuck in for the entirety of the first half, forced the first of nine second half corners for the Addicks, only the fully extended fingertips of Bettinelli prevented George Tucudean’s header from reducing the deficit.
But Fulham were unwilling to rollover in the face of an increased threat. While they were certainly sitting deeper and somewhat inviting it, Charlton’s attacks were all too often forced out wide, with the imperious Dan Burn dealing with anything that did find its way into the box.
Burn, a talented young centre back treated poorly by previous Fulham boss Felix Magath, was also a strong figure down the other end, heading over from Ruiz’s free-kick.
The former Birmingham loanee was involved again moments later as his pass was turned into the net by Hoogland, but the assistant’s flag denied the Cottagers and kept Charlton with some dignity intact.
Nonetheless, the Addicks were putting in a solid shift in their efforts to restore some pride. Moussa’s well struck effort skimmed marginally wide, before the Belgian was replaced by Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who immediately showed his class operating beyond Tucudean.
And with Charlton beginning to compete, there was now an end-to-end feel to the game.
But while more time was spent at Fulham’s end, the heads of the hosts surely sore after successfully defending Charlton’s umpteenth corner, the more noteworthy chances were occurring in front of Henderson’s goal. Ruiz must still be wondering how he failed to convert after being teed up by McCormack, while Rodallega followed up shortly after with a similarly impressive miss.
For Charlton, it was a case of forward moves breaking down at the final moment. After superb work from Solly saw the academy graduate beat two Fulham men at once before picking out Tucudean, the Romanian’s flick was just the wrong side of Gudmundsson, while fellow substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant, on for the struggling Fox, threatened Fulham’s back four with his pace and trickery, but was left with a look of anguish on his face after his shot was blocked narrowly wide.
Still the Addicks endevoured to find a way back into the game. Jackson, putting in a sensational shift both covering at left-back and coming forward as a midfielder when the Addicks attacked, scuffed a volley and raised an effort well over the bar either side of Wilson’s driven strike wide, but with 15 minutes to go, Charlton’s very slim chances had effectively vanished.
In fact, with Bikey pushed forward and the defence weaker because of it, it was Fulham who looked most likely to score as full-time drew closer.
Lasse Vigen Christensen stabbed narrowly wide from Cauley Woodrow’s cross, before Henderson made himself big to deny Rodallega and latterly Woodrow himself, but there was little he could do as Fulham pushed forward one last time.
It was incredibly cruel on the Addicks, who had worked hard in the second period, and tough on the Charlton fans, who had stuck with their team throughout, but the third Fulham goal had been coming. Rodallega exploited the space available to him with Charlton bodies forward, and lashed an 89th minute into the corner of the net.
At the very least, the supporters behind the goal the Addicks were attacking deserved to celebrate a goal before the game was done, and only the inside of the post prevented Wilson from making that happen in stoppage time, but the fact it was the first time they had come realistically close to scoring told the story itself. A depleted side had been outclassed.
But, as the full-time whistle blew, there was a clear difference in response from the visiting supporters when compared to the first half. Disgruntled at half-time, Charlton fans were now more than happy to applaud their side for their commendable efforts in the second period.
Such a determined and spirited response to being two goals down and seemingly heading for further embarrassment was promising to see, and the way in which the Addicks moved forward in the final period means that the manner and margin of the defeat, to a Fulham side who were well organised and impressive in attack and defence, might not be quite so damaging as it appears on first viewing.
In fact, a dread to think how horrendous Magath actually was, because there was natural and genuine ability within Fulham’s side. Under a competent boss like Symons, they’ll compete with the division’s best.
Nonetheless, it’s very easy to overstate the second half performance. The Cottagers took a step back, content with their two goal lead, and gave the Addicks the opportunities to come forward, with very few leading to a reasonable shooting opportunity. In fact, while the first half exposed Charlton’s frailties at the back, the second showed how weak Peeters’ side are without Vetokele.
And that first half display was extremely worrying, not least for the fact that the Addicks have come unstuck against another side who press. There’s absolutely no way we can play out from the back against opposition who put pressure on our back four in possession, because they’re too slow in moving the ball on. It results in the situation that occurred in the opening 45; a panicked display in possession results in a panicked display when out of it. A Plan B is desperately, desperately needed.
It’s therefore the case that ignoring the first half and focusing on the semi-positives from the second is counter productive. There are clear issues with the side that, although not leaving Charlton in a desperate state of affairs, need to be addressed.
But, away from the effort shown and Jackson’s usual blood and guts performance, there was a rather large positive for the Addicks.
On the night where Charlton’s most successful academy graduate was somewhat unfairly booed and abused, Ahearne-Grant against displayed all the makings of an excellent footballer. He remains raw, and his nowhere near the finished product, but it’s apparent that he’s going to be a very serious player in years to come. In fact, he can do a decent job off the bench for the first team as a 17-year-old.
Ahearne-Grant’s energy, although failing to get the Addicks back into the game, pushed the visitors on in the final 25 minutes; he wasn’t afraid to take on his man and burst forward. It would be nice is such adventure could spread.
And Peeters now has eight days to rejuvenate his side. Take the effort shown in the second half for what it’s worth, and instill that in the side constantly, but don’t disregard how poor the first was, and what needs to be improved upon.